Today was one of the most odd and surreal days of my life. After some hanging out in the airport, a six hour flight, and two hours of sleep, my first day outside the country was spent in a full-speed tour around Iceland.
Arriving in Iceland was immediately exciting. The airport was the first of the endlessly beautiful architecture of the country, and the Icelanders in transit embodied somewhat of what I learned to be the spirit of Reykjavík. It was slow-paced. People are quiet and friendly. And there are plenty of sweaters and Icelanders making the fluent switch from Icelandic to English.
The bus ride in to Reykjavík was unreal. The landscape changed in ways I had never seen before, as rolling hills of rock slabs turned into mountains in the distance. The homes looked like a Christmas miniature decoration. It was an amazing experience to take in so much new at once. The bus wound around a bit more, followed down a hill where the road met an expansive lake that reached a snow-capped mountain, and we were at our hotel.
We toured the city a bit in the morning via our professor Althea Legaspi and I did everything to take in the atmosphere and culture around me. I had never experienced something so culturally different in my life. We toured the cities busiest streets, were shown some of the venues we will be attending during the Iceland Airwaves festival, and eventually found ourselves at City Hall to speak with Heidi Einarsdóttir.
She’s the international relations and marketing manager of Visit Reykjavík, and she warmly welcomed us to her city. She explained to us how Visit Reykjavík is 100 percent publicly funded, and went on to discuss the city’s various annual events (Did you know Reykjavík celebrates “December in Reykjavík” instead of Christmas?) They celebrate a winter light festival in February to counteract the darkest month of the year. They host museum nights, pool nights, fun runs, anything to get the city involved and closer together. This approach is integrated with Iceland’s very ahead-of-time open-mindedness about people and diversity.
There was more sightseeing, the unbelievable Lutheran church, Hallgrímskirkja (which is not a cathedral, though you’d swear it is), and we were off to Sundhollin, one of Iceland’s popular pools. These weren’t the natural pools Icelandic is famous for, but a city pool that reflected the pool culture of Iceland nonetheless. But in a class of dreadful swimmers (sorry guys) that were crowding up the indoor pool while the Icelanders attempted laps, we were more interested in the outdoor hot tubs. If you can make it through the bitter cold, the heat feels great.
We took a short break before dinner (which we all desperately needed) and were back out again. We filled into a tight burger shack, Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar and had some amazing cheeseburgers, and were back out again, this time to see the Northern Lights.
We didn’t see them. Well, in their full green dancing glory at least. The biggest takeaway of the night for me, though, was our tour guide. She was sweet, peaceful, and had a somewhat Buddhist mindset through everything she said. When we missed out on the Northern Lights, she simply told us: “With a little hope, all things will pass.” The bus traveled through the dark, and in my tired delirium I drifted off as our guide’s relaxing narrative carried me through the ride. There was something about the darkness, the hum of the bus, the peaceful nature of our guide, and maybe my body’s intense exhaustion from an overworked day, that created almost euphoria as we traveled.
This was the end of our first day in Iceland. This city is amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it before, and with all the chaos in America right now, it’s easy to often think: “Would it really be that crazy to move here???” Probably. But for now, I’m looking forward to taking as much of the city in as I can in the remainder of this week.