“We have to go back,” my best friend L told me one night after spin class over salads the size of our heads.
“Iceland. But in the summer, this time. Because everyone’s going and I miss it and dammit, I want to see the midnight sun.”
“God, I miss Iceland too,” I said wistfully.
It’s been nearly two years since our trip to Iceland, and we both still talk about it all. the. time.
L has a framed photo of us from our trip to Iceland that stands proudly on her bookshelf. We’re squinting because we’re facing the sun, which is reflecting off every snowy and icy surface that surrounds us. The ocean is behind us, and we’re standing on the edge of Reykjavik Harbor. We look cold with our Icelandic wool layers and heavy parkas, but we also look really, genuinely happy. The kind of happiness people get when they’re in the throes of the kind of travel that satiates fervent wanderlust. The kind that doesn’t let you in on the secret that we’d been wearing the same clothes for four days due to a delayed luggage mishap that could’ve derailed our trip had we not loved Iceland so much and embraced adventure so well.
We booked our Icelandic tickets more than six months in advance of our trip, breaking a cardinal rule in the shoestring traveler’s guidebook. Don’t book too early or you won’t get the best prices! But we found an amazing package with a tour group that included airfare, accommodation, tickets to the Blue Lagoon and a tour of the Golden Circle — basically, everything but food and souvenirs. At a price we could pay, in full, at the time of purchase. During a week in February that we were both free. And when there was a decent chance we’d see the Northern Lights.
You don’t question when the universe gives you so many reasons to do what you want to do exactly how you want to do. YOU JUST GO AHEAD AND DO.
The only teeny tiny downside to this amazing package was the fact that we had an eight hour layover in Toronto. The day of our departure, our first flight was canceled, which had a cascading effect on the rest of our travel itinerary. We barely managed to convince the most unhelpful airline agent to get us on the only flight to Toronto (via Chicago) that had even the slightest chance of us making our flight to Iceland on time. The shoddy treatment we received would later prompt us both to write letters of complaint to the airline and receive monetary vouchers as compensation.
We made it to Iceland, in the end, on our original inbound Icelandair flight, but our luggage did not. The full saga can be found here, on my YouTube channel, filmed in real time. Long story short, we didn’t get our luggage back until the end of the fourth day of what was only a six day trip. And yes, I get progressively more disheveled throughout my vlog for that reason.
But L and I were determined to enjoy Iceland with or without our luggage, and so we made do with what we had. Grateful that we were smart enough to wear our parkas and hiking boots on the plane, we bought Icelandic wool hats and mittens and scarves and socks at the airport that we later expensed to the travel insurance company. We went to the mini mart next to our hotel and picked up toothpaste and dry shampoo. We showered twice a day, sometimes three times a day, and slept in our underwear so that our clothes could air out, somewhat. We managed. We were fine.
Because we were in Iceland.
We wandered around the Harpa looked out onto the coast of Reykjavik within the many glass panels. We made friends with an Icelandic pony and marveled at just how blue everything was in Iceland. We took the requisite tourist photo of the Viking ship sculpture in Reykjavik Harbor. One of our planned days was derailed by a blizzard that shut down major roads so we drank wine in our hotel instead. We went on the Golden Circle tour and spent the day with our jaws dropped, marveling at the raw, natural magnificence of everything we saw. We explored Reykjavik, bought souvenirs and knickknacks, and marveled at the distinct Icelandic architecture. We ate fermented shark (disgusting), whale steak (upsettingly good), smoked puffin (not eating that again), fish and chips (phenomenal), lamb soup (good), lobster soup (YES), Viking ramen (amazing), and countless Icelandic hot dogs (more, please). We debated walking across the icy surface of Tjörnin, “The Pond,” like so many of the locals were doing. We saw the Northern Lights dancing in the sky and would’ve danced ourselves, too, had we not nearly frozen to the bone waiting in the cold for so long, impatient for the lights to appear. We soaked in the Blue Lagoon, smearing our faces with silica mud and toasting the beers we got at the lagoon bar with, “To glacier water!
Ah, glacier water.
Our thrice-a-day hot showers and constantly topped up water bottles were fueled by what we deemed “glacier water.” Iceland’s heating and hot water is pretty much all powered by geothermal heating, and our minds made the connection that the fine water streaming from the tap of our bathroom sink and shower head were from glaciers. (I tried to look this up just now and couldn’t verify that that’s true, so it probably isn’t. But we didn’t bother to check at the time.) Glacier water or not, the water in Iceland was amazing. It tasted better than the bottled Icelandic Glacial Water sold overseas, which I’d only had once before because a fancy friend purchased it for me. I’m much more of a “bring my own water to events rather than pay for the bottled kind” girl, and luckily for me, glacier water was available for free everywhere throughout Iceland.
“Glacier water!” became a frequent refrain during our trip. It was what we said when we were so ridiculously happy to be in Iceland and had too much to put in words, so we stuck with just two instead. “Glacier water” summed up so much: lucky fortune and amazing experiences and good fun and one-of-a-kind adventure.
It’s been nearly two years since our Icelandic adventure, and I miss it every day. L does, too. Every now and then we’ll tag the other on social media with a post about the latest Icelandic news or Viking fun fact. We’ll text each other periodically with a statement like, “I wish we were back in Iceland,” apropos of nothing. We’ll send each other Snapchats sporadically of a face covered in white silica mud, since of course we each bought a tube of the stuff to bring home from the Blue Lagoon. Most of all, we’ll still randomly mention “Glacier water!” to each other in conversation. And then we both get this look on our faces, a look of wistfulness and nostalgia and wanderlust, the kind of look that carries such intensity that only someone who’s enjoyed glacier water the way we did would understand.
Iceland, we’ll be back. Someday. Someday soon.