Iceland: Part 2
Even though we've already been on another vacation since this vacation and Evy started Kindergarten, I haven't forgotten about Part 2 of our Icelandic trip. Blogging our journey lets me escape to when I pretended to live the life of a National Geographic correspondent.
My last post ended as we were taking off from the mainland and departing on a ferry toward the islands of Vestmannaeyjar. This was the place I wanted to see more than anything. It's where Mark lived and played soccer for two seasons back in the mid 2000s. When we were friends and a lot younger, he sent me emails from Iceland telling me of the cliffs he would climb and the puffins he hunted (when it was still legal). I loved living vicariously through his stories and to be honest, I always thought that was the closest I would ever come to experiencing this remote, far-off land.
Then he came back, we finally went on a real date, got married, had some kids, and booked a flight. And just like that, my passport gets an Iceland stamp and I'm walking on a volcano.
I had the opportunity to tell our story in WALTER, a local Raleigh magazine. If you live around the Triangle and find a copy, you'll see some of the pictures below along with a story about soccer, Iceland, and our adventures.
This blog shows a few (actually a lot - it's a long one) highlights that didn't make it into the final article. Don't miss my Iceland travel tips at the end too!
I'm happy to report that the ferry ride was mostly uneventful. The waters calmed as we glided into the harbor and my stomach finally settled. I was able to look around and appreciate the majestic cliffs that surrounded the rows of fishing boats. And I couldn't help but investigate the Icelandic people talking in their native tongue.
We were greeted by Mark's good friends (mine too!) Arny and Oli. They live on the island and invited us to stay in their home during our visit. Arny is the blonde beauty you see in the pictures below. She served as Mark's Icelandic mom when he played and since then she's been a team mom for many other players on IBV Vestmannaeyjar.
Right when you meet Arny, you get this sense that she could move mountains - like physically pick them up - for people she loves. She's truly a force of nature in the sweetest sense. Our very first stop was to the island gymnasium where Arny's trophies are displayed. Up until recently, she was running competitive sprint races in track meets throughout Europe (while also a Grandma!).
She is yet another example of that Icelandic determination I wrote about in my last post. I mean seriously, look at all these medals and trophies! She's absolutely amazing and I love how her husband, Oli, is forever cheering her on and smiling at his energetic wife.
Since we got in pretty late that night and neither of us had slept in 24 hours, we went to bed after the gymnasium visit and woke up the next morning to bright and sunny, blue skies.
This was crunch time. We had one day to explore the island and visit all the places Mark wanted to show me. At first I doubted we could do it but then I remembered we have four kids all five and under with a set of twins in that mix.
And they were all at home!
When you remove yourselves from a life full of kids you suddenly realize how much time you have and wonder how you didn't accomplish more before having them. How am I not a doctor or something?
As I'm sitting here writing during naptime/quiet time, I've already done more in my work-from-home-mom life than I did by 10 am that morning on vacation.
Just one little island?
Our first stop was the Eldfell volcano which erupted in 1973. Oli is a retired fisherman and told us stories about how all the islanders had to escape to the mainland on fishing boats. In my imagination, a volcanic eruption involves red, fiery lava flowing rapidly and engulfing everything and everyone in its path. However, Oli told a different story. He described smoke, ash and rock bursting from eight different holes along the archipelago. There was some lava, but not "destroy everything" lava. Everybody survived and Oli even stayed on his boat in the island's harbor to help people and clean up once the dust settled. I can't imagine how scary it must have been with no warning and not knowing when it would stop.
They recently built an interactive museum at the base of the volcano around the remains of one of the houses destroyed in the blast. If we would have had more than a day, we would have checked it out.
We chose to stay outside soaking up the amazing views from the top and warming our hands in craters along the path (see Mark doing this in the pictures below). I couldn't believe how warm the "hot-holes" still were! They felt just like a sauna after someone pours fresh water on the rocks.
We started a tradition of bringing along one of our kids' toys (not babies' yet) on any away-from-kid trips we take. It began when Mark had to go to Brazil for a work trip and he posted stories and pictures of Cinderella and Grave Digger having adventures. This time around we had Pink Bunny and Grave Digger. You can check out their stories on Mark's instagram @bc_she_asked if you're interested.
Here we are taking pictures of them warming their paws and tires near a hot hole.
I took the pictures below of a Mom and her three little children when we were about to climb down from the volcano. How different it would be to grow up in this place. When unreal views are the norm and a hike to the top of a volcano is something you do on play dates.
I am a traveler that constantly imagines myself living in the place I'm exploring. What if I would have been born here? What would it be like to parent in this place? Could I get used to eating all that fish?
And then, if I like it enough, I'll conjure up some plan for finding us jobs and relocating our lives to the location. Even though Mark is the logical engineer in our family, he has wanderlust in his soul too. If the opportunity ever presented itself, he'd be all in.
I clearly remember feeling like a sitting duck on that volcano. That eruption in 1973 took them completely by surprise. What's to say that couldn't happen again? And this time with fiery, engulfing lava. Shouldn't that mom get her kids off of this thing?!
I had this feeling of volatility from the moment I arrived in Iceland. It's a place where you never know what to expect. Adventure and risk are a way of life and it seems like Icelanders have no choice but to embrace it.
For example, Oli is somewhere in his mid to upper 60s. He told me a story about how he and his friends rappel down the enormous cliffs you can see behind his house to collect puffin eggs. I guess they're a delicacy. I imagined him as a young man doing this, but he did it just two years ago and said he was hoping to go again. A true Icelander.
Below is Arny and Oli's house that we stayed in. They recently moved here so their son could take over the bed and breakfast they own on the island. It's called Arny's Guesthouse. Check out the website here - https://www.arny.is/
As a guest of Arny's in her new home, I know I'd give her Guesthouse a 5 star rating. I'm sure their son has the same gift of hospitality as his parents.
The shot above was taken from their back porch. You can see the field where the professional soccer team plays and the new soccer dome to the left of it. We asked a lot of people how they think Iceland qualified for the World Cup, even though they have a mere 335,000 people (the U.S. has 326 million and didn't qualify). They kept crediting these new domes because kids can play year round in them.
Mark wasn't convinced. We have those domes too. Maybe it's the shark they eat?
Below is a picture of one of the many Bakaris we visited during our trip. The carbohydrate intake was pretty obscene for both of us. But that chocolate eclair thing pictured below was SO worth it.
After the bakari, we headed to another part of the island to climb a mountain. You won't see any warning signs or people monitoring cliffs for falling tourists.
In true Icelandic fashion, you believe you will conquer, so you climb.
I got pretty high, but what you don't see is that I am clinging to the earth with all of my might while taking these shots. I have a fear of heights that I always try to deny. I wish I could say I enjoyed this beautiful climb from beginning to end but at one point, my mommy deathdar was on and I couldn't ascend any farther. All four of my kids' faces flashed before my eyes as I predicted tripping on a rock and plunging to my death.
I watched Mark go the extra bit so he could see the views he once saw 13 years ago. He was very understanding and didn't laugh too hard at my suffering.
Next we visited the field where he played. I got some shots for the magazine article and could not believe the beauty of it all. Do these people know they live in a fantasy land?
After the field we went back to Arny and Oli's house for dinner with a couple of Mark's old teammates. Ian (far left) and Matt (second in from left) are English men who played for IBV around the same time as Mark. They married Icelandic women and made a life for themselves on the island. It was so fun watching Mark completely in shock over how well they speak Icelandic now.
I guess they could barely say a word when Mark knew them. And since the language is so difficult, he was totally amazed at their fluency. They sounded like true locals to me.
Arny and Oli cooked us a wonderful meal and we enjoyed chatting about the team, their lives, and America's President (many Europeans were curious about our politics, not surprisingly).
After eating, Oli brought us down the street to a small arena for the last few minutes of a professional handball game. The Vestmannaeyjar team was in the finals so it was a big deal and lots of the locals were cheering them on. Handball is the second most popular sport in Iceland (after soccer). I guess young kids have a hard time deciding between the two.
The island's team won, but it was a game within a series, kind of like our NBA finals where they go back and forth to each other's stadiums. I was running around with my camera and when we watched the local news later that night, I could see myself running across the screen!
Post-game we walked back to Arny and Oli's.
Then they brought us to a puffin observatory.
I could never describe how beautiful everything was and how kind the people were. It felt like a fairy tale to me. I truly hope to go back someday.
It's hard to see below, but the clouds were resting on the mountains like an icelandic sombrero. Mark and Matt obliged my excessive picture taking (actually everyone did. Thank you!).
We went to sleep that night very tired but so thankful for the chance to visit this special place together. This trip was a reminder of the adventurers we once were and hopefully will be again someday. Our season of life right now is so busy and even though this day was packed to the max, it felt different. Probably because no one was whining at us or planning to wake us up at 4 in the morning with a poopy diaper.
Instead of changing poops, we got to spend our morning connecting with another friend of Mark's from the team, Gisli (I have no idea if that's spelled correctly). He and his girlfriend (far right) hosted breakfast. You can see they are fit and thin people in the picture below. I guess Gisli, who worked in the team office, was around 150 pounds heavier when Mark last saw him. This was by far more shocking for him than Matt and Ian's Icelandic fluency. I heard about it throughout the rest of our trip. "He's more buff than I am now!"
Before catching the ferry ride back to the mainland, I wanted to see the place where Arny and Mark first crossed paths. When he came to the island, Mark was wandering around after climbing up a mountain and he saw this cross below shining brightly in the night. He felt called to go in and that's where he met Arny, who happened to be in a bible study.
It's amazing thinking of how that initial meeting connected Arny with the team and the kind of impact she's brought to many of the players' lives. She told us a story of one player from Africa who found out he had stomach cancer while playing for the team. Arny served as his prayer warrior and surrogate mother throughout his battle with the disease. She was even there in the hospital, praying with him, when he passed away.
Arny is bold and brave in her faith. She loves sharing the ways God works around and through her. I know her joy and dedication made a huge imprint on Mark's heart as well as so many other people (including me on this trip!). What a gift it was to finally see this special spot, the place where a long-lasting friendship began.
It was the perfect way to end our fast and full adventure in Vestmannaeyjar. I had a glimpse of Mark's life during his two seasons on the island and I went away wishing I gave into his advances earlier. Maybe I could have tagged along back then.
Even so, the timing seemed perfect for us to visit on this 10th anniversary trip.
After hugs and promises to return again, we went into the ferry station and found out the boat was delayed. It was the only way back to our rental car which we needed to drive to the airport to catch our flight to Copenhagen. Once we finally got to the mainland, Mark had to drive like a mad man to get back to the airport. We arrived 10 minutes before our flight was scheduled and missed it.
The volatility of Iceland couldn't be escaped, even in our travel plans. But we made the best of it and found this cute and cozy cabin near the airport in Keflavik.
This was the first thing Mark did when he walked in and he didn't move until the next morning.
I definitely want to go back, but next time we'll give it more than two days. Hopefully the kids will join us too!
Last but not least, my Iceland travel tips:
- Take advantage of the Icelandair stopover deal. You can stay for up to five days in Iceland for no additional airfare on your way to Europe.
- Skip the Blue Lagoon and go to a neighborhood swim club. They have many and they are much cheaper than the touristy Blue Lagoon. We went to Laugardauslang which had a variety of hot tubs all at different temperatures.
- Stay at Arny's Guesthouse! You will be treated like royalty.
- Prepare for a diet of fish and lamb. Those were the main options at restaurants.
- If you need a place near the airport, we recommend the Alex Guesthouse (with the little bungalows pictures above). It was clean and reasonably priced. Plus, breakfast is included.
- Save up! Everything is expensive. To save on costs, we stopped at a grocery store and picked up some basics.
Let me know if you go! I'd love to hear about your Icelandic adventure.