There’s a broken rainbow at Keflavik airport. Its steel frame arches out of the parking lot, reaching into the sky. And when the sun hits it just right, the rectangle cuts of stained glass inside the sculpture make a colourful mosaic on the ground.
The airport was a military base in a past life and is surrounded by lava fields sheathed in a verdant coat of moss. I press my nose to the bus window as we head to Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city, and eye the volcano-looking mountains in the background. It’s hard not to wonder if they’re active, dormant, extinct, or even volcanoes all.
I traveled to Iceland for the Nordic culture and the diversity of the landscape. It is, after all, smaller than Newfoundland and is home to Europe’s largest glacier. As we tumbled along, from airport to city, the lava fields diminish and ardent architecture, painted brightly with European charm emerge.
It was early August and wet, but the constant rain didn’t seem to dampen the mood of city-goers bouncing along. Cafés, each with a signature style, were perched on almost every corner and not one was a Starbucks.
The streets of Reykjavik are hilly and I realize I’ve come unprepared. No raincoat or wellies. Not even an umbrella to keep my hair from having that ‘just showered’ look.
Everything is expensive, food included, and it makes sense. Iceland is a country dependent on imports. It wasn’t until my traveling companion and I rented a car that we realized how little room there is for garden-variety agriculture.
Since Iceland is going to be our temporary home for nearly five weeks we pop our tent in a campground outside the city’s core. It’s a short walk to the ocean and there’s a smooth trail weaving along the waterfront with sculptures here and there.
Reykjavik is a walkable city and, on one such walk, I discovered Ásmundur Sveinsson’s sculpture garden and studio – a breathtaking collection with additional pieces all over the country. I didn’t go to Iceland with the intent of falling madly in love with Sveinsson’s work. It just happened; kind of like how the moment I discovered hot pots I quickly got over my inhibitions about showering naked with strangers – it’s a bit of an insult if you don’t.
Hot pots are pools of relaxation, gossiping grounds for locals and for tourists. They’re filled with natural minerals, geothermally-heated, and can be found all over the country. The locals know where the best ones are and those are often kept secret.
Renting a car is certainly the best way to explore. For roughly two weeks I cruised the Golden Circle where the original geyser – the one all other geysers are named after – puts on a rare, but spectacular show. The Ring Road circles the country. Sheep on the hillside are plentiful. Seals can be seen swimming around icebergs in the blue lagoon. Icelandic horses graze at leisure; and puffins bob out to sea.
We didn’t hesitate to take an off-road trip to Husavik, a quaint fishing town with a phallus museum – it lives up to its expectations. And the isolated Westfjords were unlike any other part of the country. It’s a hiker’s dream – the hills were laden with blueberries.
After exploring touristy and remote corners of Iceland, returning to Reykjavik was refreshing. I’d wake up and explore in the silence of the morning just to watch the city break into chaos.
I left Iceland with wool souvenirs, fantastic exfoliated skin, and a love of sculpture without getting too close to the fire and ice.