Day 1 in Paradise
Today was the day. Oh my gosh. I still could not believe that I was actually going to accomplish my dream of traveling to Iceland. I had fallen in love with the country when I was 14, and here I was, 3 days before my 19th birthday, heading onto a plane to fly to my dream destination. The most common question I received when I told people I was traveling to Iceland was “Why Iceland?” I still don’t know if I can fully answer that question in words. For some reason, it just felt right. It felt like it was apart of me. It felt like it would be home, a home that’s far far away. I can only describe to you why I love Iceland in feelings. It’s the feeling of the wind whipping through my hair on the shoreline, engulfing my body and making me feel free. It’s the feeling of wonder and awe as I stare up the sheer cliffs of the black mountains. It’s the feeling of peace and tranquility out in the open fields, where you can’t see anything but the untouched landscape for miles. It’s the feeling of home. I don’t why, and I don’t think I could ever fully explain it, but I adore Iceland. I would journey back again and again and explore every last mountain and valley. I don’t think I will ever find another place in the world that makes me feel the way I feel in Iceland. This is the story of how I accomplished my dream of traveling to Iceland and the experience I will never forget.
Some backstory is definitely necessary. My love for Iceland started when I was 14. I don’t know the day or the place when I first fell in love with the country, or even how really. I just know that one day I saw a picture of something, I don’t remember what. It was just something that took my breath away. Immediately, I had to know more about where the photo was taken. I had to know where that magical place was and how to get there. I wish I wrote down or saved that photo, but I honestly have no recollection of the first moment I saw Iceland. But, I wish I could thank that photographer for changing my life and starting me on this journey.
I had planned and researched Iceland for years, I probably have more knowledge about Iceland then my own country. I can tell you things you probably would never need to know about Iceland or want to know. I was, and still am, obsessed. Obsessed with the culture, the landscape, the food, the people, the animals. Everything. It all fascinated me, everything about Iceland just seemed perfect in my eyes. I had such an urge and desire to be there. Finally, my dreams came true.
On April 7th, 2019, at 8:57pm, I boarded an Icelandair plane with my incredible boyfriend Greyson and flew over the ocean to Iceland. “This is it.” I thought to myself, “All the hard work, all the times when I was afraid it might not happen, everything I worked for was about to come true. This is it.” Now, I’m not going to lie, there were some tears of joy shed. I just couldn’t believe it, it didn’t feel real. But off we flew, going to what felt like a new world to just explore.
The flight was extremely uneventful and boring. The entire flight was at night, and I was in and out of sleep for most of it. Once, I woke up and thought I saw the northern lights. Because I was exhausted and it was around eleven at night or three in the morning, depending on how you look at it, I don’t know if I really saw them on the flight or not.
On April 8th, 5:56 am, we landed at the Keflavík International Airport. The sun was not even up yet, but gorgeous pink and orange pastels covered the early morning sky. I stepped off the plane and into Iceland. After anticipating that moment for years, I wish I could tell you of some happy-sad story of falling to the ground and sobbing from joy or being ecstatic and leaping out of utter bliss. But, because it was six in the morning and I hadn’t slept well on the plane, all I cared about was finding the nearest bed.
So in our dazed quest to just sleep, Greyson and I acquired the rental car and heading from Keflavík International Airport to our Airbnb in Reykjavik, about a 45-minute drive. Foolishly, something I didn’t account for in Iceland is that there would be no English on the street signs. Anywhere. I adore traveling, and I am extremely familiar with traveling in the US and being able to read street signs. Growing up in New England, I am very familiar with the boring names for streets. “Constitution,” “Columbus,” “Washington,” and even “Main” always seemed unoriginal and in every town. However, I never thought I would miss these names so much.
As we dazedly drove into Reykjavik, Greyson and I realized we had no easy way to find out Airbnb and Google Maps was failing us. Eventually, we found the street that our Airbnb was on. Sadly, this is not the end of the story. In our fatigued state, we forgot how to read house numbers. I know, I know. Something as simple as counting to 11 seemed impossible. There were houses on one side of the street, and they were even numbers and counted up to 10. Further down the road and around a corner was a dead end with more houses. But from the beginning of the road, house 11 was no where in sight. What is the logical thing to do in this situation? I will tell you what my exhausted brain came up with. Turn around at the corner and find free wifi to call our Airbnb host. I know, this makes absolutely no sense. Obviously, the house was around the corner. But for some odd reason, neither Greyson or I thought of driving all the way to the end of the street. Why would we not just follow the street further down? There are some other components and facts that I can use as excuses, but for the sake of keeping this long story short, I won’t mention them.
Eventually, we rolled up to a grocery store and were convinced we could connect to wifi there. Any logical and not sleep deprived person would know that there is no wifi at a grocery store. This just shows you how out of it both Greyson and I were. The next logical step after there was no wifi at the grocery store was to continue to look for the Airbnb. I will save you the boring bits that happened next. The summary is that we drove around for 15 more minutes and turned around at the corner of the street where we thought our Airbnb was again. Finally, we were ready to give up and just sleep in the car. There was only one more idea my tired brain could come up with, which was to knock on a random person’s door and ask them for directions. Sleepily, Greyson and I stumbled up the porch steps on house #10. With bloodshot eyes and deep purple circles around our eyes, we knocked on the door. A very cheerful elderly man opened the door and looked a bit confused, rightfully so. The only thing I could muster to say was, “Are you our Airbnb?” I knew he wasn’t the Airbnb, I don’t know why I asked. The actual Airbnb was house #11, which we could not find.
Greyson took over from here, “We can’t find our Airbnb, do you know where house #11 is?”
Would you like to know what this very kind old man said? With an Icelandic accent, he went, “Well, this is house #10, house #11 is around that corner with the other houses.”
Yup. We basically turned around not once, but twice next to our Airbnb. From where we were standing on this man’s porch, I could have thrown a stone and hit it. Feeling a bit sheepish, we politely thanked the man and stumbled on our way to take a nap.
We were finally well rested and refreshed, it was time to mosey down to the grocery shopping. So being very sensible and over-prepared people in general, Greyson and I had packed most of our food for the week in our carry-on. You see, Iceland is very expensive. You know what’s cheaper then Icelandic grocery stores? Walmart brand oatmeal and cliff bars. So with our necessities already packed, we set out to buy food for the rest of the week.
Shopping in a store where everything is in another language is a lot harder then you think. I just wanted to know where the Provolone cheese was, but everything looked like someone slapped a keyboard a couple times and threw in some weird letters. Eventually, we purchased what we think was roast beef, the cheapest cheese they had, pasta, pizza, and some other miscellaneous things. One of the most incredible things that I ate in Iceland was mustard. The mustard is just one of the most fantastic tasting things, and I need to figure out how to purchase it in America. In short, the only way I can describe this mustard to you is spicy brown mustard mixed with the most fantastic, sweet bread and butter pickles juice. Sounds nasty, it’s the best thing on the planet though. Also fun fact, I got catcalled in Icelandic. No idea what the guy said, nor do I care. Instead, I just walked briskly down a different grocery aisle.
After our grocery adventure, it was around 4 in the afternoon. Still struggling with street signs, Greyson and I wandered out to the city center. There was one goal to this mission, transfer our US dollars into Icelandic kronas. After some research at our apartment, we found a bank where we could make the transfer. Ecstatic and ready to adventure, we sent off in our little grey rental car. After following the directions, we found what we thought was the bank. Phase two was to find parking, this is where the story starts to become amusing. Once we found parking, we attempted to the meter to pay. Hoping and praying that they would take credit cards, we walked up to a blue rectangular box on a metal pole. On the box, there was a touch screen interface. This sounds very modern and impressive, but there once one problem. It was in Icelandic. As a gen Z child, the first thing I did was pull up Google Translate. You will learn throughout this whole story that there is a common theme, which is Google is useless in Iceland. We could not for the life of us figure out how to type this code into Google Translate or get service to translate it. Disheartened, we abandoned the cause and searched for another solution.
Generally, all my plans this day involved wifi. So, we headed back to the apartment and tried to download an app that might help us figure out how to read this parking meter. Afterward, we drove back to the parking lot and tried to scan the text and translate it. That plan failed. Feeling slightly frustrated at trying to accomplish this simple task, we drove off and found a parking garage. They didn’t ask for money on the way in, so we just had to figure out how to leave, which we manged to do just fine. Side note, about 3 days into our trip, we realized that there was a tiny button in the bottom left corner of the parking meter that translated everything to English. I wish parking meters were something I studied about Iceland.
After we conquered our parking struggles, we were off to find the bank. According to Google Maps, the bank was right above us. Here’s that theme again, don’t trust Google. So, the building was actually a museum. Yep. Thankfully, the people at the museum were very used to this happening because they handed us a printed map that went from the museum to the bank, which I find absolutely hilarious. So long story short, we met an Australian couple that was also looking for the bank and wandered our way downtown to find the bank together.
Our day had been an adventure, but we had accomplished all the tasks we needed to. To finish our day out in the city, we just wander around the breathtaking city. The most notable and outstanding thing about the city of Reykjavík is that as long as there’s not a building in your way, you can observe the otherworldly mountains in the distance. They reached so high in the sky and were as black as night. The land was flat for miles until the ground erupted into a sheer cliff. Awestruck, I looked at the mounds of rock with snow speckled on the side that looked like shooting stars in the night sky. There is absolutely nothing in this world like an Icelandic mountain. Greyson and I walked to go check out the Sun Voyager, and on the way we got to admire the breathtaking, ashy mountains. One of my favorite photos that I took of the Icelandic landscape was standing right in their capital. Once we arrived at the Sun Voyager, it was quite the site. The whole structure is completely made out of stainless steel and shines in the sun. Contrary to popular belief, the Sun Voyager is not actually a viking ship. There is so much history and stories about this magnificent sculpture. But to summarize, the ship is meant to be a "dream boat" with a promise of hope, discovery, and freedom. I could go on and on about all the incredible things we saw and did in Iceland, but this blog is long enough. I will write other parts for each day of our travels and share with you all the adventurous and exciting things we did. The next blogs will be different and completely focused on landscape and less of the city. We did spectacular things like ride Icelandic horses, see dormant volcanoes, eat puffin and whales, and even got stuck in a windstorm! But for now, please enjoy the photos that we took that day. Until next time!