Iceland. I love you.
A place the Vikings discovered in the 9th century daring to settle amidst fire and ice, where the world founded it's first parliament, the land of ancient sagas and weathered texts, tectonic plates colliding creating astonishing beauty, gurgling ponds of mud waiting for the stir of a witch's spoon, water bursting in to the air from the earth below and streams so naturally hot you can only stand back in awe and wonder.
Awe and Wonder. This is Iceland.
And lets not forget Bjork (don't mention her when you go though) and Iceland beating England in the European Cup too (I was secretly very happy).
(and an Icelandic Horse ride for beginners where my horse sort of bolted whilst I was screaming 'too fast Helki, too fast' and Helki's baritone 'just brrrrreathe' hit the back of my ears when all I can think of is ‘my bum is going to fly off this horse's back any minute and am I really meant to be holding on to it's mane?’)
For a magical 6 days in mid-June, I spent most of my time on 'Planet Wow' exploring Reykjavik and the surrounding landscapes. Regularly repeated words were crazy, amazing, wow, flipping heck, too fast Helki, it's still light, what time is it?
I’d landed in Reykjavik exhausted after a relentless 5 weeks at work and still feeling battered by Dad flying off. Ready for the break, I was almost going for a good rest alone. But oh no, in June it stays light all night in Iceland and that plays with your body clock, your mind and soul. In turn, Iceland dragged me out of my exhaustion and in to it’s heart and soul.
My Reykjavik highlights:
Quirky, quaint, seriously cool and full of amazing graffiti art, Reykjavik has a way of slowly enchanting you with it's colourful houses, endless shops and beautiful coastline. Small enough to walk around it feels more like a big village full of very friendly locals than a capital city. For high season, Reykjavik didn't feel cramped (except on Independence day), just pleasantly bustling.
Favourite coffee shop: enter Reykjavik's first coffee shop, Mokka and you are welcomed into a womb-like space with wood panelled walls, soft red carpets, Icelandic art, dim lighting and no music except the hum of locals and travellers in deep conversation. Staring at art work, pen in mouth, pretending to look philosophical whilst sipping a soya hot chocolate to the buzz of other people chatting was bliss. Mokka is a home for coffee lovers (except me), no decaf served here and for serious conversationalists. I loved it's purist ideals and it's no music policy.
Favourite nosh place: holy vegetables, did I glow and go after eating almost everyday in GLO. Solla Eiríks, is a world class raw food chef and creates a daily feast of raw and vegan food that makes you feel religious just looking at it. From raw lasagne to the sexiest nut roast I’ve ever had to raspberry mocha vegan desserts (I want to fly back right now) a meal here will thoroughly nourish you until your insides shriek with delight. A light and peaceful space to hang out, eat and write for hours and hours.
Phallological Museum: hmmmm, not sure if it was a highlight but this is the world's only museum dedicated to The Penis and was on my to do list. I did it! Nuff said.
Haunted Walk of Reykjavik: I read somewhere that Iceland is one of the most haunted places per square mile on earth and I love a good ghost tour. The highlight of the walk was Oli the guide’s captivating story telling skills, with exaggerated rolls of his rrrrs (careful how you say that) and dry humour. We learnt all about the Huldufolk (elves) who live in boulders whilst visiting a relocated dwarf stone, the history, folklore and hardships of Reykjavik residents through those still walking the streets and a visit to the oldest graveyard in the city…
Best organic pastries atBraud & Co: the delicious graffiti on the outside of this shop wowed me before I realised that it also created the most incredible organic pastries and bread too. I mean, really - too cool. And the baker, he ought be in hiding, he’s just gorgeous and I could've watched him knead dough all day whilst telling customers what a wonderful day it was. Chocolate croissants were my favourite.
Tarot Delight:and it get’s better, next door to Braud & Co lived Sandra, my lovely Airbnb host who offered to read my tarot cards in exchange for a bag of pastries from said shop. That’s my kind of deal. We had a long morning of sharing coffee, pastries, stories and tarot. Her reading was spine chillingly spot on, especially for a healthy skeptic like me.
The Minke Whale: when in Reykjavik go whale watching. We were delighted by a very close encounter with a minke whale who played with our boat, swimming under and around for what felt like ages, popping it’s face up to us repeatedly. The guides were going a little bit crazy because this was a rare event for minke whales to explore this close. I flung myself in to the moment rather than taking photographs and was left utterly wowed, awe-struck, delighted and peaceful. I opted for the smaller boat trip.
The Cinema of fire, ice and northern lights is a tiny cinema on the harbour nestled in to the eves of an old dwelling and working space for fishermen. Seriously cosy with leather sofas, tea lights and a tiny tuck shop we were made to feel very welcome by Bryndis, the filmmakers wife. We watched documentaries on the Northern lights and ‘that volcanic eruption’ that stopped flights across Europe in 2010. Utterly delightful. And it got better as we then met the filmmaker who is working on a top secret film on the first black person to settle in Iceland…he would tell me no more except I have to come back and watch the film…
Fish & Chips Vagninn: probably the best place I’ve ever eaten fish and chips in the world and not been attacked by seagulls. Need I say more?
(to clarify in case you’re wondering - I eat a mostly dairy free, vegetable-based diet but I do occasionally eat fish and poultry)
It was in the aftermath of losing Dad when a friend suggested we go to Iceland. I jumped in to the opportunity and then for weeks wondered if I'd committed to the trip too soon. My friend and I agreed that we’d travel together but mainly go with our own flow once there. Slowly as the days in Reykjavik passed I could feel myself being lifted out of my current stage of grief, experiencing a lightness in my soul as if the friendliness and high energy of Iceland was inviting me in to anther way of experiencing, urging me to move on. It was a welcome interruption to my then emotional state although part of me was clinging on. I realised again how much I loved being a stranger somewhere else, being anonymous, being deliciously alone amidst fire and ice.