/Kingdom of Ice-olation

Kingdom of Ice-olation

The Sólfar, or Sun Voyager, statue in Reykjavik Harbor.

What do you call a polar bear in Iceland? Very lost. (Because—sorry to disappoint all those who were banking on me wrestling one—there are no polar bears in Iceland.)

I have finally made it to Skagaströnd (or “Skagi,” for short). The trip involved about 19 hours of flight and layover time, one lost suitcase, two and a half days in the capital of Reykjavik and almost seven hours on the bus. There were a few times I wondered if I’d ever arrive. “But,” I told myself, “if Bilbo Baggins can make it to the Lonely Mountain, I can make it to Skagi.” And, finally, I did.

But first, Reykjavik 101. Reykjavik sort of reminds me of Navan, Ireland. It’s just the right amount of bustle. The house I stayed in was on Hafnarstræti, a semi-busy street a couple of blocks from the harbor. A few streets behind me was Laugavegur, a main commercial street that smells very distinctly of cherry syrup and smoked meat. When I arrived on (need specific date), I was greeted by a temporary housemate—a professor and photographer from Montreal on her way to Sweden for a showing of the project she’d been working on in residence last month. We cased the main street and she tipped me off about the cheapest grocery stores and best cafés, only making a brief stop for the best cup of hot chocolate I’ve ever had (seriously, Icelandic chocolate alone makes the airfare worth it).

The next day, I had planned to walk down to the harbor for photos of the mountains across the bay, but the air was so thick with snow and cloud cover that it wasn’t visible at all. Instead, I and my new housemate covered a small area of the city from the harbor to Alþingi (the government building, pronounced like “all-thing”), behind which is a now frozen over duck pond. The ducks and geese, no doubt frustrated about the uncooperative weather, had taken over the square and were “yelling” at all passersby for hours. While on this unguided tour, I also learned some interesting things about the history and politics of Iceland.

Towards the beginning of Iceland’s economic crisis in (which hit in 2008), Reykjavik rebelled: the people met in the square outside Alþingi banging angrily against pots and pans, demanding the government take notice of their plight. This was called “The Kitchen Pan Rebellion.”

The majority of Icelanders promote the traditional belief in elves (we’re talking mischievous little imps, not Legolas style hotties) and the land is littered with “elf rocks.” Now, one can’t disturb elf rocks. For example, if Alþingi decides to pave a new road that would require an elf rock to be relocated, an elf expert must come to check in with the elves before any decisions are cemented. I expect many would think this a silly notion, but I think it says something about the resilience of those whose families settled here so long ago. When the decision was made in 1000 CE about the role Christianity would play in Iceland, people weren’t willing to simply give up their Northern gods. I admire that one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world still makes room for the spiritual, the whimsical, the mysterious.

My favorite tidbit, however, is the magic that is Candy Day. To encourage people to make healthier choices during the week, every Saturday is Candy Day and on Candy Day, all candy (everywhere!) is sold at half price. Children are warned that eating candy on any other day of the week is a “grave legal offense” and Candy Day is a celebratory experience for everyone. I myself am also very much looking forward to this coming Candy Day because, as I said, Icelandic chocolate is a gift from the gods.

For now, Montevallo, I will leave you with this: the sun rises at a different time every day. The light here is never constant and the snow crunching under my feet is satisfying in a way indescribable. In the months leading up to my departure from Alabama, I found myself a bit terrified of being alone in a place so completely different. Some mornings I’ve had to give myself a moment to adjust to seeing the snow covered sea cliffs outside my window. This is a part of my journey that I will not regret.

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