Two months ago, I was invited to a press junket. In Iceland. Like, no kidding, the country Iceland.
We would be wined and dined and wined again and meet titans of industry and also, government officials who are much more attractive than any government official has a right to be.
I would be stupid to pass that up, right?
I am not stupid. At least sometimes I’m not.
It was a very short trip, which seems odd, because you think of Iceland as being practically the North Pole, but in reality, the flight was less than six hours from Minneapolis, smack in the middle of the US, and even less on my way back when I came in through JFK. Kind of crazy to be able to go to Europe in such a short jump, but it really was all about readjusting my perceptions. I think nothing of the flight to Las Vegas and that’s well over 4 hours from the Midwest, and when you land, you’re just in stupid old Las Vegas. If I had only ever realized that I could land in a place where you can get pear-flavored Skyr and beautiful wool and angora sweaters for pennies on the Kronur for the very same amount of time spent in a coach seat!
I landed at 6 am and was greeted in the Keflavik airport by my driver, Oli, who had to have been 7 feet tall. I seriously felt like I was eight years old again, standing next to him. Then he folded himself up into a Mercedes Benz sports car and we drove off through a foggy magical landscape to get to Reyjavik about forty miles away. Oh, there’s the Atlantic Ocean, and people are just like “Yeah, that’s always been there.” And oh, there’s steam vents from where the volcanic activity is just kind of busting through the ground, and yup, there you go.
I started thinking that Oli was just taking me on the pretty route to the city, but even later that day when I took another route through the countryside to find the black sand beaches of Vik, it’s all beautiful. It’s all amazing. Your brain just can’t soak up enough to comprehend how every single brain snapshot is a freaking tourist postcard.
This photo? I took it from inside of a bus, going 75 mph down a highway. Everything is just that freaking picturesque.
It turns out that a lot of movies are shot in Iceland. That’s somewhat because there are so few people and so many huge vistas of open space that it’s easy to pretend that you’re in Westeros or Asgard but also I have come to understand it’s also because everyone looks a million times more attractive in Iceland. Seriously. I couldn’t take a bad picture there. Even the day I arrived when I ventured out on little sleep and serious jet lag and zero makeup to hide my rosacea shame, the photos are all either the best I’ve ever looked in my entire life or filed under “Actually not bad considering that I felt like someone had hit me in the face with a sledgehammer”.
Also, everyone in Iceland is very tall. So very tall. Or, conversely, not tall at all and very fine boned and wee. I’ve never felt so petite and also, like a giantess at the very same time. It was very conflicting and also, awesome because everything was made for tall peoples! Lots of leg room! Super high shower heads! Long beds! I want to live there very much.
As for traveling in Iceland, it was pretty easy to do. You drive on the right side of the road and everyone speaks English fluently. What’s more, they are pretty good at assessing whether you’re going to be able to speak Icelandic or not just by looking at you, because it’s a fairly isolated island so the natives tend to stereotype foreigners and default to English on sight.
Oddly, I only learned thing about the stereotyping foreigners by accident after my fellow journalists remarked that they had heard not one single person speak Icelandic in their presence and they were beginning to suspect that it was dying out, like Gaelic. I was so confused, because I’d lost count of the many awkward exchanges in which I said “Hello” and the native Icelander would default to Icelandic. Basically, if I didn’t start the conversation in English with a very specific and flat Midwestern-accented “Good morning”, they assumed that I was a native.
Of the other journalists at the junket, only two guys and I were being treated like locals, and those two guys were both over 6’5”. I’m not THAT tall (although I’m taller than the average American woman). Later, a waiter explained that my pale skin and eyes combined with my dark hair and particularly my hooded brows are a fairly distinct Icelandic feature.
In fact, I never
really thought it was that unique until I started noticing that about a quarter of the women had exactly my look going on. I looked more closely at my genealogy and I definitely inherited my browline from my paternal grandmother, whose father was Norwegian (which is basically what the Icelandic people are, genetically). Science!
When I wasn’t working, I was falling in love with Iceland. It’s hard not to, as it’s incredibly pretty. Also, they value sweaters. I’m a sweater girl, myself, so I appreciate the enthusiasm for lopapeysa and angora socks. (I should have bought more socks while I was there. I’m kind of kicking myself, honestly.)
Also, you don’t sweat there. And Skyr? Skyr is a freaking miracle. Basically I don’t know why Icelandic food gets a bum rap because they have Skyr, and why would you eat anything else if there was Skyr available? It is a mystery.
It was a pretty glorious break in the year. It was a reminder of the person I am when I travel.
Some people think I’m brave because I’ll just go exploring on my own.
Honestly, it’s the most cowardly thing imaginable.
I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone and out into the world for a selfish reason —
— because I’m afraid of what I might miss.
I’m doing Holidailies this year. Last time I did this, I punked out about halfway through due to family stuff, but hopefully this year will be the year to go all the way. Join me, won’t you?