Hello, Iceland

If there is one thing I kept hearing about Iceland while researching for this trip, it is this: Do not come with any expectations, and you will be fine.

Usually, this is said with regards to the weather. It’s a warning against the siren song of those dazzling clear skies presented in promotional photos. In reality, your entire week can and will be cloaked in rain and fog, because that’s just what Iceland is. Don’t expect good weather, don’t expect to see the aurora, and you won’t leave feeling like your time there was a total waste.

Check, I said to myself. That’s easy. I know Iceland has a lot more to offer; I’ll just focus on that instead.

But that’s just expectation-abstinence for beginners. What happened next puts you to the real test.

Because you can look forward to pretty much everything going crazy and doing its own thing. Once you land at the airport, you’ll discover the website lied and there is no where to buy a SIM card. You will go to a mall to find it but it will be closed. The restaurants you were looking forward to eating at will also be closed (or altogether vanished despite the website’s claims). You will be unable to visit museums, either because it’s changed its names 3 times and Google doesn’t know what it’s called anymore, or because it doesn’t exist. Craziest of all, the town will be completely asleep and unaware of the fact that you exist and are hungry, so you will spend about 3 hours wandering through deserted streets with other bemused tourists, gazing hungrily at the window displays with their unfulfilled promises of waffles and hot chocolate.

I’ve lived in New York for 3 years and not being able to trade money for food whenever I want… I… I just don’t know how I feel about that.

Of course, there are basically two ways to react to this first day: be a New Yorker, or be Icelandic.

Before coming here, I read a blog called I Heart Reykjavik, in which an Icelandic native explains the concept of Þetta Reddast. This translates roughly to “everything will be all right.” The writer observes that, in Iceland, time is seen as almost circular. Missed opportunities can always reappear. Mistakes can always be amended. Late meetings can always be caught up on. It’s remarkably Bob Marley-esque, for a remarkably un-tropical area of the world.

Her theory for why this is so all goes back to the weather in Iceland. It can change so fast from agreeable to deadly that Icelanders have grown accustomed to dropping everything to save their sheep from an oncoming blizzard. Planning is futile. Good reflexes, creativity, and problem-solving in the moment are more important.

Once I remembered this concept and pretended to be an Icelander, the day took a turn for the better. We ditched our original lunch aspirations and discovered this bizarre and delicious shawarma place that put pizza sauce on their shawarma rolls, to good effect. We wandered into an underground museum that showcased an actual, recently excavated viking settlement.  We explored not one, but TWO Icelandic supermarkets (I have a crazy, unexplained passion for foreign supermarkets). And we finally landed that SIM card.

One of the things I love about visiting really different places is how it offers you a totally clean behavioral slate. Here is this unfamiliar new environment, with its own rules and challenges. You don’t know it yet, and it doesn’t know you. This is freeing. You don’t have to be your usual cranky, jaded self, or whatever behavioral coping mechanism you evolved back home. (Just, you know, speaking unspecifically here.) You can learn, adapt, and act differently here. And, if it’s better, and you like it, you can hope to carry a little bit of that back home.

I will be in Iceland for the next seven days with my husband, and I will attempt to blog every single day. This is an experiment, to loosen me up, and ease back into writing more. I won’t be obsessed with quality, so much as quantity. Consider yourself warned, and wish me luck!