WHAT PLANET DID I VISIT? OR, MY ADVENTURE IN ICELAND
In June 2015, I traveled to another planet.
Not really. I went to Iceland. But the experience, in all honesty, was completely out of this world.
I had been reading about Iceland, and got it in my head that I wanted to go. I had previously traveled throughout Europe and went to China for a program in college, but I had a yearning to go someplace new and out of my element, totally on my own. As I planned a way to get myself there, constantly talking about it with family and friends, I mentioned it to my sister, Ellen, and we decided that this was going to be a trip better experienced together.
And so we set off, booking our airfare via Wow Air, and driving to Baltimore for our take off. Our parents, who have always encouraged both of us to explore new places, hid their nerves and wished us happy travels as we boarded the plane and headed off to our new adventure.
We landed on an overcast day in Keflavik, and took the airport shuttle through lava fields to Hallgrímskirkja, a church in the heart of Reykjavík which served as a meeting place for hostel and hotel shuttles. We were exhausted and on a high with the time change, not to mention overwhelmed by our surroundings. While waiting for our room, we ventured out to find groceries and explore what would come to be our new home for the next few days.
We stood at a crosswalk, map in hand, trying to figure out where the store was. From behind, a voice, authoritative and confident, asked “Are you lost?” An older woman with short orange-tipped hair smiled at us as we explained to her that we were on a hunt for snacks, and clearly tourists. She only glanced at our map before leading us in a steady and brisk walk to the store, telling us about the bus system and her favorite bakery. “I’ll show you where it is; I’ve lived here my whole life. This is my neighborhood, and all of my children grew up here,” she mused. Ellen and I, at first on guard, could feel ourselves opening up to her and taking her story in. This chance experience began to set the tone for our trip. We returned to our hostel, our bags heavy with pasties from the bakery and snacks without a word of English on the labels.
But when I say I went to another planet, it truly felt like it over the next few days. Ellen and I kicked off our exploration at a tomato farm outside of Reykjavík, and continued through the country to the Gullfoss Waterfall. The waterfall was breathtaking, but I don’t think I really ever appreciated the vastness of the sky until that moment. It continued for as far as my eyes could see, interrupted only by mountains far off into the distance. We hiked through Þingvellir National Park, our single frustration being that the pictures we were taking couldn’t even begin to capture the breathtaking view.
We took time off after our country adventure to explore downtown Reykjavík, walking two miles from our hostel along the coast to the city. Harpa glittered in the distance, becoming closer with each step we took, and there was a Color Run taking place that day. Throughout our walk we were surprised to see children walking or riding bikes well ahead of or behind their parents, and nobody seemed to give that a second thought. There was a relaxing and trusting atmosphere in the city center; no one seemed worried about strangers or the unknown. For two young women traveling alone together, it brought us comfort. We dined at a restaurant completely dedicated to Chuck Norris, and even after more pastries, found room to eat gelato while camped out in the middle of the square. We shopped and took in the small town feeling of the capital, trying to find souvenirs that could accurately capture the vibe of the country for our friends and family back home.
You learn so much about yourself while traveling, but the bigger picture is much more important. To borrow from Mark Twain, travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” My sister and I took our relatively small budgets and our uneasiness about traveling on our own, and transformed the experience into something that is difficult to put into words. Iceland is considered one of the safest countries in the world, but we also found it to be one of the friendliest places either of us have visited to date. At Hallgrímskirkja, while trying to locate the shuttle that would take us to our hostel, we quickly learned our destination wasn’t on any of the drivers’ lists. “Don’t worry, we won’t leave you. We will get you there,” one of men assured us. And they did. There was a shared feeling of excitement; the man seemed genuinely glad that we were there to explore his county, and welcomed us with open arms. He had our backs. I believe we carried that feeling with us back to the states, having a renewed appreciation for the human spirit. We couldn’t stop talking once we were picked up at the airport by our parents in Baltimore.
I wrote earlier that I went to another planet. The visuals may have been out of this world, but we returned feeling much more connected with our fellow humans who, together, share this one Earth. Traveling is a joy and an experience I would wish for everyone, so for those itching to get away, no matter where, I say to you: Go make it happen. You’ll never regret it.
Author: Kait Herick
Bio: Kait lives and works in the Columbus area. She lives off of coffee, attempts to be vegan, and (when her ankle isn’t sprained), enjoys yoga and kickboxing.
Link to social media or website: https://www.instagram.com/k8linrose/