My trip to Iceland

2 weeks, 5 friends, one Iceland

Three weeks ago I found bliss.

It’s not my intention to write a guide for visiting Iceland. This country is already so sexy for tourism that has tons of free online documentation. It’s heaven for anyone who secretly believes having a little talented photographer inside their head. That’s most millennials plus half of the older population. My intention is to put here some stories of my trip and a few pictures, hoping I will not have to repeat them to all my friends.

This was, probably the most beautiful, disconnecting, spiritual holiday I took. I imposed on myself to connect less on Facebook and just enjoy the ride through land of fire and ice. It could also be called the land of ashes and moss, of whales and sheep, of puffin and elves.
One thing I learned from this trip was that we do not need so much in life to feel happy. Food is pretty basic, but you get so used to eating sandwiches and fish cans on the edge of the road! I packed way too many clothes and used half of them. Looking back I realise that in all my pictures I’m wearing the same orange waterproof jacket to which I am eternally thankful. That’s one thing you will actually need in Iceland: an waterproof jacket.
I also got used very quickly to the shower water. In Iceland hot water comes directly from natural hot springs. It smells like rotten eggs and turns silver jewellery yellow or black. I also got used to drinking tap water in restaurants. Btw, tap water is really good there.

Now, let me put in random order what I remember from the trip.

The Blue Lagoon

I was warned not to go to the Blue Lagoon, but, the spa junkie in me, couldn’t resist.

The scenery around is magnificent: steams in the middle of a black lava field. The water is white-blue, enriched with minerals, known for their benefits for the skin (they help even treating psoriasis). All is nice and beautiful until you get to the price. The common 70 euros / day package includes two masks, a towel and a drink. Therefore, most visitors of the Blue Lagoon are spoiled rich kids in their early twenties. They do selfies with silicate white masks on their faces. It looks like the Venice carnival… without Venice.

Facilities include a steam bath and a sauna. In case you don’t know: I love sauna, so I’ve put big hopes in the Blue Lagoon. Unfortunately, the hygiene conditions cooled me down too quickly. The floor of the steam bath burns like the inside of a volcano. Everyone went in the sauna with swimming suits and sat with their wet butts on the wood, opening and closing the door whenever they wanted. I was afraid that the temperature inside is not high enough to kill the bacteria. It also smelled weird.

Going out, I count’ find my towel. There was just a pile of wet textile, which was definitely stepped over by a bunch of dirty feet.
The water is enriched with minerals, but these are not naturally in the water – they come from an exploitation next door. Despite the hair balm provided, these wonder minerals made my hair feel and look like Icelandic wool for a few days.

I do not regret going there, but I’ll not do it twice. Also, if you’re hesitating, there are plenty of other less expensive hot springs where you can enjoy really Icelandic bathing.

Nature in Iceland is the sexiest thing around

The word “geyser” probably comes from Geysir, the most known in it’s time. Now it’s extinct and its celebrity place is taken by Strokkur. Strokkur is the star in the middle of a field with boiling water pots. Seeing Strokkur surrounded by its paparazzi (many with very expensive photographic equipment), was a reminder of how much we are at the will of nature. We live under the illusion that we control many things (like our Facebook posts), but we can not know when and how Strokur will strike. People just wait there, fingers clenched on the camera, staring to a mini pond that gathers water. The water expands and waves and you feel tension building as the waves get bigger. Sometimes there is a deep bubbling sound but then nothing happens and people wait and wait.

Then out of the sudden Strokkur makes a roaring sound, like a call to war and boom! It sends the water up in the air and everyone wows and waves. It’s nature porn at its best: a huge crowd gathered with cameras  to record a massive ejaculation. And once in a while the blow is so violent and high that the water gets in the head of all the poor humans waiting around who all start to run away with their tripods and cameras as if they were not expecting this guy to come as quickly and powerfully.

But in the nature of Iceland one could find also the equivalent of the female orgasm: volcanoes. It happens more rarely but when it does, it’s an event with earthquakes and all. Remember Eyjafjallajokull?

But enough dirty talk for now and pass to a different subject.

Seals are divas on the rocks

We were driving in the East Fjord, along the water, on a gravel road when I noticed it in the middle of water. “Is that a seal? Quick, stop the car!” We ran down the road on the water edge to take a picture. After us, I counted 7 cars stopping in a few minutes and soon the seal had gathered about 30 paparazzi. It seemed to be a young female seal with  big eyes and a white tail. It was too far away from me to take a decent picture. Nevertheless, the seal was posing like a pro, turning its head towards the crowd, as saying “suckers, you don’t get me so far away!” Sometimes it was raising its tail up, and looking to us over the shoulder. Later on, I’ve read some folkloric tales about how seals are in fact beautiful women who sometimes go on earth to party in caves and leave their skins at the entrance.

Whales are also fascinating. We took a boat and had the luxury to see two swimming together like pals. Unfortunately another boat filled with noisy tourists went too close and I could feel how the whales got defensive and went down for a deeper dive.

Elves and trolls and ghosts
When I saw the formations of lava, the rocks and the moving earth on glaciers, I started to see in them faces, skulls and once in a while ex boyfriends. Therefore there is no wonder that Icelandic have so many myths and stories about ghosts, trolls and elves.
Let me explain what an elf is. An elf looks exactly like a human and has human characteristics, including very changing moods and ambiguous morals, but it’s a hidden human. What differentiate an elf from a us is the power to decide whether humans can or can not see them. They live in rocks and hills (these are actually houses but we don’t see them as such) and occasionally they annoy or save humans.
On our last day, we made a “haunted tour” in Reykjavik where a charmingly sarcastic historian takes the tourists through the town to tell stories. The tour includes everything from the visit to an elf’s house to a walk in the cemetery. It is not actually intended to be scary, though the guide involved in a consensual chat with American tourists about  the dark future: Trump. After two weeks without Facebook or news I had forgotten that we are in the middle of that horror show.
The tour finished at dusk in the old cemetery. To add a creepy story of my own, on the first tombstone I looked at, the deceased had the same birth date as me. Bu ha ha!
Human Experiences
I pushed my limits a little in this trip through Iceland.
One time I took the wheel. I haven’t drive in two years, and I wasn’t an experience driver even before. Therefore I almost killed my friends taking the car off-road. I am very lucky to have friends like this. They didn’t get upset despite the little roller coaster ride. They even encouraged me to try again. So I drove them back safe, through a horrible fog and serpentines. I’m proud of it.
They also, let me play the music from my phone, for an entire day in the car!!! After that everyone was intoxicated with my music, whistling Johnny Cash’s “Ring of fire”.
But they got their revenge. I climbed a very steep slope because, like a sheep, I followed my group and not my instinct. At a crossroad, I realised that the road downhill looked pretty impossible. My feet refused to leave the ground for half of hour. Under them little rocks were sliding, falling.  I could visualise myself rolling down and being peeled of my skin on the way. It took a lot of persuasion and encouragements. I managed to walk down on a 70 degrees slippery slope and get back to the sulphuric field below. That’s an incredible memory.
I also went on Tinder and had some very nice chats with the Icelandic guys. I’m not sure if they were human or elves, because I only met one, for a coffee. He bought me a cookie, but I’m not sure this proves anything but his kindness. People were nice and open minded and live a peaceful life, despite the cold and the wind.
Food stories
The return to civilisation was harsh. The only comfort is eating vegetables that have (a little) more taste and food which has a minimum of seasoning. Food (especially in most restaurants) is not Iceland’s strongest point, in my humble opinion.
One friend ordered a salad and some bread. The waitress looked puzzled: “we do not have any bread here.” I never thought I’ll ever hear this phrase in a restaurant. After some reflection, she said: “Only hamburger bread.” She went away and returned with the salad, ostentatiously called “The Real Cesar salad” but had more peanuts than parmesan. My friend does not like peanuts so he gathered aside a fistful. However, they were considerate enough to bring him only the top side of the “hamburger bread”. Yes, they actually went through the effort of separating the halfs to keep the bottom.
The woman president in sheepskin
One unexpected surprise was a museum in Akureyri. In my ignorance, I didn’t know that Iceland is the home for the first woman president in Europe, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, elected in 1980. The museum featured a collection of her clothing. She is renowned for having worn a traditional wool costume. An Icelandic woman knitted it for her and offered it with the request to wear it if she ever becomes the first woman president. Vigdis wore it in recognition the evening when she was elected. She also went on an official visit in Denmark where she wore a traditional sheepskin coat. It was to promote the Icelandic wool, but this brought her the nickname of “President in sheepskin”.
During my short visit to the museum I grew an immense respect for this woman. She is still an elegant lady with diplomatic qualities, the type of politician that does not exist anymore. And I loved how she challenged the current standards of fashion where black has become the norm: “When did we all started to dress like Italian widows?”.
Back to Luxembourg
The return to work was harsh. It’s the kind of trip that puts you in a different world. Returning to buildings of glass and metal is like a return to civilisation. There is always a nostalgia for a lost piece of paradise. I left a little piece of my soul there, on those black volcanic beaches and on those lava fields covered with moss. And I also think this country will haunt me for a long long time.
PS: I didn’t see any famous footballer. Just a few empty stadiums.

One thought on “My trip to Iceland

  1. Oana, sounds like a great holiday. I enjoyed your comparisons and metaphors and loved the paragraph about their woman president. Exactly: when did we all start to dress like Italian widows?!! Even though real Italian widows dress different then most of the “divas” we see in the offices and on TV posing as politicians. 🙂 My hope is that somehow we will be able to preserve somehow this nature, to be able to have at least form time to time an escape that will remember us about who we really are and especially about how vulnerable we are…

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