Iceland: A Photo Diary

Sunday 1:30 PM

The brisk, briny air stings my cheeks and helps bring me to life after the three-hour nap that was meant as a stand-in for the sleep I didn’t get on the red eye flight from New York. Mount Esja sits solemnly across Reykjavík’s Old Harbor with Faxaflói (Icelandic for the Faxa Bay) in between. I pass few people as I walk along the harbor, except for the groups clustered around Sun Voyager, the steel sculpture made to resemble a Viking ship.

I walk up only as far as Höfði, the house where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met to end the Cold War, then retrace my steps back toward city center. I duck inside Harpa Concert Hall for a closer look; during my last trip to Reykjavík, I only admired from the outside. Designed by the artist Ólafur Elíasson (one of my favorites), the crystalline facade draws inspiration from Iceland’s landscape and plays with light and color to project movement both inside and out.

Monday 8:30 AM

Reykjavík hasn’t fully awoken yet, but I can’t sleep, so I take a walk through the city while few others are out and most businesses are closed. I walk straight up Bankastræti then make a slight right onto Skólavörðustígur to reach Hallgrímskirkja (the church of Hallgrimur). A Lutheran church, Hallgrímskirkja is among Reykjavik’s tallest buildings and looks unlike any of Europe’s other famous churches, favoring a modern symmetrical step-like design for the more ornate gothic and roman structures. But it’s no less impressive. Part of me may even like it more.

Tuesday 3:10 PM

I’m supposed to like the Blue Lagoon. A geothermal spa in the middle of a lava field, the Blue Lagoon pitches relaxation and rejuvenation through its healing mineral waters. And it is beautiful. The milky, cornflower blue waters are still against the lava fields, with steam rising up as the hot water meets the cool outside air. But it’s crowded. And some people can’t help but spill their drinks in the water, while others treat the lagoon as a private couples retreat. From a distance, though, it looks deceptively idyllic.

Wednesday 11:00 AM

I’m on the lite version of the Golden Circle tour: six hours, with stops at Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir (pronounced thing-vellir) National Park. We stop at Gullfoss Waterfall after roughly an hour and a half of driving and off-color jokes mixed with Icelandic history from our tour guide. Gullfoss is magnificent, and even though it - along with the other stops on the Golden Circle tour - is now known for being over-touristed, it doesn’t feel over-touristed, and I’m close enough that I can feel the falls’ mist on my face.

Wednesday 1:05 PM

The Geysir geothermal area feels otherworldly with steam rolling across the brown, bubbly mud pools and rock-strewn field. Like clockwork, Strokkur, which lies near the dormant Geysir, erupts every five minutes, spewing hot water straight into the air as the crowd marvels.

Wednesday 2:50 PM

I’m just as in awe of the craggy, moss-covered landscape of Þingvellir as I was the first time I visited, and that’s probably because it looks like Middle Earth, and there’s no getting used to that. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian Plates meet. Faults, fissures, valleys, gorges, waterfalls. Þingvellir is a portrait of nature’s endurance and evolution over time.