I had no idea what to expect from an Icelander nor from the country itself. I had learned it was a country that enticed outdoor adventurers as well as others looking for a variety of urban opportunities. We arrived in downtown Reykjavik and I immediately noticed Harpa, a contemporary, geometric building displaying a kaleidoscope of neon colors. Harpa is Reykjavik’s new concert hall and conference centre which opened on May 4, 2011. The building’s distinctive colored glass facade was inspired by the volcanic landscape of Iceland.
The streets of downtown Reykjavik were walkable and filled with an eclectic assortment of eateries and boutiques. What stood out to me were the large number of charming bookstores with coffee shops. Or were they charming coffee shops with bookstores? Inside, the store clerks were relaxed, pleasant, willing to help yet noninvasive. They knew patrons came inside to lose themselves from the cold reality of weather and escape into a book.
We left Reykjavik for the Golden Circle, a popular tourist route in southern Iceland, covering about 180 miles looping from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. We were joined by a local guide. He took us to dramatic geysers, spectacular waterfalls and dramatic black volcanic beaches.
Although it was raining, as we drove along the winding roads of the Iceland countryside, we could see the steam billowing into the air from the hot springs which are often located in volcanic regions. We stopped our vehicle.
As we walked closer to these temporary geological hot springs, we could smell the familiar scent of rotten eggs. Everyone gathered in silence as if we could disturb the churning taking place below the large circle of bubbling blue water in front of us. Whispering from within the arctic parka fur that surrounded our faces we realized the geyser was set to erupt at any moment. Suddenly a powerful explosion of steam and water burst from the bubbling waters. It defiantly shoots towards the sky. Primordial screams burst into the steaming sulfur air as we quickly snap photos and selfies as we exchange descriptions of our surprise and astonishment.
Next we drove to Gullfoss (Golden Falls), the most impressive of Iceland’s waterfalls (to me) located in the canyon of the Hvítá River in southwest Iceland. It is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull and is a roaring cascade of water descending down an angled stair-step as it plunges and disappears deep into the earth’s ravine.
We ended our day at the world-famous Reynisfjara shore, near the village Vik in Myrdalur on Iceland’s South Coast. It is widely regarded as the most impressive black-sand beach in Iceland. Reynisfjara is a black pebble beach and the area features amazing cliffs with dramatic basalt columns in spectacular shapes called Reynisdrangar. The Reynisfjara shore has a rich birdlife, including puffins, fulmars and guillemots but we saw very little wildlife as the black beaches were complemented that day by gray skies and thick mists of rain matched by waves which were especially strong and looked unpredictable and unforgiving.
Our guide, on the other hand, was relaxed and welcoming. He shared his thoughts opening on all things Iceland. He described himself and other Icelanders in healthy ways, they eat organic, protect and enjoy nature, and power their country with clean, hydropower. He reminded us that Iceland is considered the safest place in the world and that kindness and nonviolence were strong parts of the Iceland culture. He encouraged us to notice that there were very few signs with rules and regulations. Even in relationships, regulations seemed unnecessary as he described that most marriages were not a legal relationship as they are in the United States.
I left feeling a love for Iceland that was completely unexpected. It was such a strong feeling of protectiveness. How will they be able to maintain a peaceful atmosphere of trust and nonviolence in the world in which they exist? I hope beyond hope that they do.