Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a tastefully-edited version of the journal I kept during the time I spent in Iceland. You can find all the entries and more on the “Iceland Transcribed” page.
In Akureyri now. I didn’t write yesterday because, although this journal was packed near the top of the bag, my pen, well, was not. Not much of interest occurred, anyway.
After I checked out of the hostel and inhaled breakfast (bread and peanut butter), I headed downtown to the Harpa to see the Icelandic Book of Drawings exhibit.
The exhibit was a collection of twenty-two illustrations depicting the life and death of Christ, dating as far back as 1330. While the religious aspect didn’t interest me, the art definitely did, and it was fascinating to see how much the style differed from modern art: namely, that faces could be drawn so crudely, but so much attention and care was applied to roses and motifs.
I was the only one in the exhibit, so I was a little unnerved when a small man in a black shirt approached me and asked what I thought of it, what drew me in, and would I recommend it to someone. I answered him honestly, gathering he was somehow in charge of the building or the exhibits on display. He had an intensity to him that reminded me of my boss at home.
I realized later that only two buses went up to Akureyri, and I had missed the first one at 8:45 in the morning by a long shot, so I had to wait until 5 pm for the next one. I spent most of the afternoon wandering aimlessly, soaking in the sunshine, and paying exorbitant amounts for sub-par smoothies.
The bus ride itself was beautiful, albeit uneventful. We passed through plenty of farmland, and clusters of sheep and free-roaming horses dotted the green hills. At one point we drove through a dense cloud, unable to see more than a few yards on either side of the road, and to be so blinded by the fog, with the gray-green hills on either side, and brooks running red with iron… it was impossible not to believe in faeries and trolls and elves ruling the land.
Towards the end of the seven hour ride (only seven hours to get from one side of the country to the other… it would take that long just to cross my home state!), the young Austrian man who had been sitting across from me struck up a conversation.
Mostly we discussed politics and the economic standpoint of the States, which seems to be what everyone wants to talk about when they learn where I’m from.
His name translates to Stephan. He was on a solo hiking journey from the northernmost point of Iceland to the southernmost. Now that’s a trip I envy, but I don’t trust myself to accomplish something like that.
We arrived in Akureyri at midnight, and I walked to the hostel in the semi-light. Even at midnight, I could see clearly.
I can feel the same kind of panic setting in that I felt in Akranes; I think the solution is to explore. I should find two cafes, a tourist info center, and a hiking route – that ought to keep me occupied for a while.
The tourist info directed me to a hiking club across the street, but they didn’t open until three, so I had some time to kill.
I found the downtown shopping area, and as soon as I got there I felt less anxious, more at peace, which is strange because I generally avoid touristy areas (this trip excepting). I even stepped into a trinket stop, just to be around something familiar.
This raises all kinds of questions, namely: is this the kind of person I’ve become, afraid of the new instead of excited by the unfamiliar? and What made me think I could do this?
I found a bakery, three cafes, and a bookstore, as well as a museum with two art exhibits.
The first exhibit focused on the obscene – although they called it conspiracy of Pleasure. the pamphlet said it was to ask ourselves where we draw the line between eroticism and pornography, although some of the more memorable features were: a “children’s” puzzle of “untangle the streams to find which man is urinating in the lady’s mouth”; two large textural pieces of white rabbits with very pink vaginas; and a painting of a moth titled “Butterfly Strap-on”.
The second exhibit was about the architecture of Akureyri, which, although very boring, was much safer territory for me, the prudish American.
After the museum I meandered until I came upon a large glass building that happened to be the library. Immediately inside the front door was a handful of poems and short stories on display that seemed to be focused on emigrating to Iceland.
Beneath those was a guestbook. I’m not sure why I flipped through it, but i did, and landed on a page where someone had written, “Remember to be happy.” For some reason that set me off, and I was blinking back tears as I scrawled, “Love from Seattle” in an empty page.
I found an empty chair and cried. I don’t even know the cause for the tears, not really. The few thoughts that kept rising to the surface were that I shouldn’t have come alone, or for as long, and who did I think I was that I could do this, and so on.
I texted Mom (because I can’t call her), and she talked me through it until I stopped crying.
I need to focus on the positives. I’m here, in Iceland. I’m exactly the right age, I’m in exactly the right place, and I’m doing exactly what I need to do. Even if I’ve only been on one hike, the reason I left my trip so open is so I could do whatever it is I felt I wanted to do. I don’t know why I’ve been so emotional lately. Either depression is kicking my butt (possible), I’m about to start my cycle and I’m feeling everything so strongly because this is all so different than what I’m used to (likely), or I’m losing my mind (improbable).
When I finally stopped crying, I went to the beautiful botanical garden, where I took pictures of whatever made me happy, which turned out to be most things.
As I was finishing up my tea in the garden cafe, a young mother, infant son in arms, asked if she could get behind me to the highchairs. Since the corner I was sitting in was a bit crowded, she set her baby on the floor so she could get to the chair. Her baby started to crawl after her and I feared he would be stepped on, so I scooped him up out of harm’s way.
“Takk fyrir.” Thank you, the mother said, over and over. “This is how we do it in Iceland, everyone is friends here.”
I wanted to spend more time with her and her sapphire-eyed children, but she was sidetracked by the other members of her family, and I needed to be going.
I picked up a few things at the bakery, bought a map from the hiking club center, and bought some tea, honey, and crackers from the store before returning to the hostel for a late lunch.
And so here I am.
I still very much miss home and all its comforts.
I just have to keep busy, I suppose.
I apologize for the lengthy delay between posts. My plate hasn’t been full, but it has been incredibly heavy, and it’s been increasingly difficult for me to put effort into anything. More to come soon. xo