Sunday, April 14, 2013

Iceland Is A Nice Land

...but more importantly it's the land of my dreams
You know how there are certain places you've always wanted to visit and sometimes, when asked to examine why, you can't come up with an intellectual response, only an emotional one.
Since I was a little kid, checking out my grandmother's globe I've always wanted to visit, Japan, Alaska, The Outer Hebrides, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Patagonia...and Iceland. The list has remained pretty constant all through my years of travel dreams, yet by the same token, I've never really aspired to be a world traveler, and therefore have never actively aspired to see any of these places.
For someone who's lived in several foreign countries, I've always found  "traveling" kind of distasteful. Don't get me wrong, I love adventure and enjoy the anonymity and exotic locales of foreign destinations as much as the next girl, but ever since my generation decided that seeing the world on a grand tour with a backpack was the gateway to "experience" and adulthood, something you had to check off your list, I've preferred staying in a place and getting to know it.
And as you may know, about seven or eight years ago I developed a little bit of an aversion to flying, so at this point, I doubt I'll ever reach many of those destinations.
Still, when the opportunity arrived to spend some time in Iceland, which along with Alaska, is my oldest travel obsession, I could hardly contain myself.
I made no plans, I looked at no travel guides. I just got there and marveled at the vast, primordial expanse of it from the bus window.


I walked the streets of Reykjavik (a whole post in and of itself) at dusk, and wondered what tomorrow might bring.

I slept very little, woke up a stranger in a strange land, and did something I never thought I'd do.
No, I didn't hike a glacier, or get wasted at the heavy metal bar directly below my hostel room; I signed up for a bus tour of the local sights along with Japanese grandmothers and Americans from Wisconsin.
What travel often teaches you, is that it pays off to think outside your box. Chattering tour guides aside, this was the most fun, magical ride I've had in a long time.
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From the Medieval gathering place, seat of the parliament, and the scene of executions by drowning, to the waterfalls and Geysers, sitting on my seat, the predictable sound of Björk in my ears, I felt fully immersed in the landscape, yet totally present in the moment.

And while it took all my strength at times, to not just wander off into the hills, I also enjoyed the company of our fellow travelers, all people who wanted to be there and marvel at a land so completely different than their own.
I don't know if it's just the nature of being removed from your own reality, but the days (and nights) I spent in Iceland, seemed longer and more full of experiences than most any before.
One moment you're looking at the largest Volcano on the island, Hekla, the one you learned about in fifth grade, blowing smoke, getting ready to unleash holy hell and streaming lava, at the next you're eating lambstew, or petting Icelandic horses, or craning your neck to see the Northern Lights.
All around you a landscape unlike any other unfolds, with mountains in unfamiliar shapes, glacial lakes and rives, small houses under a huge sky.
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You can stand on two different continental plates, not just in the same day, but within fifteen minutes; see where the world under your feet actually cracks.
Around the bend might lay a valley full of geothermal green houses, or you might rise on a mountain's side into a sudden snowstorm.
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It's hard not to wax lyrical about Iceland.
The moment the tour started, my instant traveling friends and I were imagining other lives for our selves, ones where we herded sheep along the steep hillside, slept in a house that looked like as it were made of old wood, but was actually constructed from corrugated shipping container-metal.
"We could live here." We said to each other dreamily. "How could we live here?"
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The land is, not to be redundant, primordial, ancient, yet familiar. A million pictures, music videos and films and books later, a lifetime of exposure to exotic places, its hard to differentiate that secondhand knowledge of somewhere from the sense of having been there before; but my own sense of geographical and emotional deja vu was keen. I felt like this was not the first time I had walked these hills and fjords.
I can't explain in words, but I felt it. A connection. If not to this place than to this state of being, some cellular memory of the earth in it's volcanic beginnings.
Yes, it is easy to wax lyrical about a place that's among the youngest on the planet, where the earth is still alive, constantly shifting and moving.
Where water flows boiling and frozen. Where hillsides look like crouching trolls in the night.
Where everyone can trace back their roots to the first settlers and people speak thousand-year-old Norwegian and believe, actually believe, in the supernatural in the everyday.
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In a landscape both utterly alien and oddly familiar, it's easy to believe in how different your life might be here, how much less mundane. That, of course is part of the magic of travel.
In so many ways we are differently people when we travel. We are more laid-back, more adventurous, happier, more curious. We meet people easily. We stay engaged with the present, instead of being distracted and contemplating the past or the future.
If we lived in the countries we travel to, the towns we visit, we would slowly, day by day, return to our ordinary selves, the ones that are ordinary everywhere. An office is an office still on the edge of glacier. A kid's swimming class is still a swimming class in a geo-thermal pool. Bills must be paid, relationships cultivated, winter coats bought and dinner made.
Yet if we can retain a little of the spirit of our traveling selves, we are better for it. True freedom and adventure see, comes from having freedom and adventure each day, not just on special vacations and in extraordinary places.
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Which is why, I will carry Iceland with me always now, through the though times and the good, a secret place inside myself in which the earth is still very young and I am curious and wild and free.

(And possibly protozoan nummulite?)
Where is the land of your dreams?

ps. stay tuned for more Scandinavian adventures!


  1. Great story and great photos - i have a lot of photos from Iceland and also some video clips -

  2. this is so wonderful. iceland was never super high on my lst, but it might be now.

  3. Amazing. Iceland is one of my dream travel destinations too. (And Hawaii, since I was a child!) It may be that we will get to travel to Iceland this year.. we will see. Horse trekking in Mongolia would be awesome too. Yes to Patagonia and Alaska.. Oh there are just so many amazing places. I really dislike flying too, especially now with a kid..

  4. Beautiful! I want to travel now! Such amazing photos and I loved your story so true- love how you say when we travel we stay engaged with the present not worrying about the past or the future.

  5. Wow, what a gorgeous place! Loving it! My dad went there a couple of times so I've always wanted to go :)

    Take only Memories

  6. Gorgeous! I just got back from Turkey, myself. I was in Istanbul for most of the trip and longed for some wide, open space like that!

  7. oh so beautiful!! Iceland has long been on my list (I feel you about the aversion to flying, so hard for me...)along with Ireland and Norway. For some mysterious reason Maine and New Mexico have been loudly summoning me for the last few years. And I could drive to them... xo m

  8. Iceland has been on my list too, for no apparent reason other than I just want to go! Finland is at the top of my list too (which I know you hail from!) For years and years Ireland was the number one land of my dreams and I had the opportunity to go there, it did not disappoint- I still love it. I'm also dying to go to Bavaria and Switzerland.

    I love all of your photos, what a wonderful experience!!

  9. I would really love to spend some time in Alaska-- and see the Aurora Borealis (kind of an obsession, but I think we had that conversation already). For somewhat different reasons I would really love to visit my father's home country of Portugal (Azores Islands actually, but mainland would be fun too). Oh and Teeny's home of New Zealand. I should probably also add Brazil to this list. Maybe Argentina. Should I keep going? The only problem is that as i get older I too really don't want to fly. This creates quite the conundrum doesn't it?

  10. It's like a dream! So beautiful!

  11. Beautiful post Milla! the words and the photos!
    Can you tell me what is sparkling in the water in the 16th photo?
    My dream place is Finland. When I was a child my mother read me the moomin books. Living in little old New Zealand I was enthralled with everything to do with Finland and thought it was full of magic.

  12. this post is great! beautiful pictures and wonderful words."In so many ways we are different people when we travel. We are more laid-back, more adventurous, happier, more curious. We meet people easily. We stay engaged with the present, instead of being distracted and contemplating the past or the future." this is SO true! i think i need to pretend i'm on vacation everyday, i'd probably be more pleasant to be around ;D

    hmmm, the land of my dreams. i'd love to visit alaska and i've always wanted to visit the northern states like montana, wyoming and the dakotas.

  13. I'm finally getting to comment here. Is Iceland as otherworldly as your photos depict?? I have never seen nor imagined that part of the world could look like that. Which makes me wonder about much of the world would still look as alien as Iceland had it not been plundered to make room for the billions of humans. I am glad you got to go there, and experience first hand your dreams. Our travelling selves are great aren't they. I am still a bit of a Francophile (boring)....I still want to go there and pretend to be someone much more exotic than I really am.

  14. Kun olin nuori tyttö, ehkä vielä lapsi, näin usein valtavan todellisen tuntuisia unia, sellaisia että kun niistä herää, tuntuu kuin heräisi vain jälleen yhteen rinnakkaielämistään. Yhdessä lempiunessa olin nuori nainen, seisomassa tuollaisessa maisemassa kuin nuo sun kuvat. Karun kaunis maisema, saari meren ympäröimä, tuulta, taivasta, tappuraa. (oon aivan täysin heikkona kaikkeen rumaan, karuun, kauniiseen, säröihin, halkeamiin, äärettömyyksiin, liekö sitten kun oon asunu lapsena pohjois-afrikassa, saharan horisontissa ja karuudessa on sama kauneus kun meressä.). Ja tietenkin mulla oli siinä unessa partasuinen, ahavoitunut kalastajamies. jolla oli vakaa ja syvä katse. En ole vielä päässyt Islantiin asti, mulla on päähänpinttymä päästä sinne laivalla :). Lienee sanomattakin selvää, en pidä lentämisestä! Kiitos kuvista, jaamme saman sielunmaiseman! Maria

  15. It's so beautiful to read that your fear couldn't stop you from following your dreams :)! Last year, I wanted to travel to the US and I made it - and I'm no longer afraid of flying :)! I had one of the best times so far and am still happy that I experienced all this :)! We can do this :)!

  16. mmmm, this is a post to visit again and again. the photos wouldn't come up for me last night, and it was such a tease! i love that you found so much magic by not trying to find it. isn't that always how it works? so why is that easy to forget? you put it so well, the cellular memory of volcanic beginnings. it makes sense you would be drawn to something so close to the source of things, since what you share here always contains a piece of that. i love this trip, i'm so glad you'll be sharing more!

    p.s. the land of my dreams might be new zealand or madagascar. but i'm with you on the flying bit. :/

  17. I would love to go to Iceland one day...

  18. Oh my goodness, Iceland is so beautiful! I'm so glad you went and got to experience this magical place ~ hooray for following your dreams! Thanks for sharing your story and these awesome photos. The land of my dreams is Finland, actually! ~ It seems really magical. I think my ancestors want me to go. I would love to see where they came from. :)

  19. Gorgeous! Actually my dreamland is Finland. When I lived in Michigan, my boyfriend-at-the-time's family was Finnish, and his grandpa told me about Finland, which I had previously conflated with Sweden, like a lot of people I'm sure. There are a lot of Finnish Americans in Michigan. I became entranced, even studying Finnish for a semester (er, that was hard). One day I will go!