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This is a personal recap (and mostly a photo gallery) of my trip to visit friends in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland in January 24.
However, make sure you subscribe to The Storied Recipe Podcast so you won't miss upcoming episodes with famed Icelandic Chef Stefan (recorded on location at Þrír Frakkar Restaurant and releasing next Wednesday, February 7th) and Alda Sigmondsdottir, author of the hugely popular Little Books of Iceland (episode releasing Wednesday, February 21st).
It's been less than a week since I returned from Iceland, where I spent 6 glorious days catching up with my dear friend Gudmunda, as well as her husband Nathan and their 4 children. Marcus and I traveled together and Jack flew up from Berlin to meet us there. It was such a joy to watch Jack and Marcus fall right back into the same easy friendship with their friends that Gudmunda and I have maintained since we last saw one another.
The main intent of our trip was to see our friends. However, Iceland IS, in my opinion, the most magical place on earth, and we had the advantage (twice now) of staying there with native Icelanders, who showed me - or encouraged me to find - some of the most special places in their hometown.
Highlights of the Trip:
- Hours and hours of deep, supportive, fun, real conversation with the entire family.
- Two days entirely by myself - one exploring Hafnarfjörður, the other Reykjavik
- Seeing a whale! In the most low-key way possible. He was happily hanging out in the Hafnarfjörður and I watched for about an hour as he surfaced and disappeared, only to resurface again, usually in the opposite direction of where everyone was looking and pointing their phones!
- Being outdoors SO much.
- Traveling with Marcus.
- Eating elegant Icelandic cuisine at Prir Frakkar (I sampled whale, puffin, horse, and Skyr Creme Brulee, among other things!) AND interviewing famous Chef Stefan on location there!
- Seeing Jack! (Who lives in Germany now.)
- Watching Gudmunda just *crushing* it in her new career - and talking business together with someone who completely understands my values and phase of life.
- Cooking with Gudmunda. We've always enjoyed being in the kitchen together.
- Watching the kids cook together! Hers are *amazing* cooks and all the kids made sushi together one night!
On Inviting the Darkness In
January isn't the darkest month in Iceland - December is. Nevertheless, when we were there, sunrise was around 11 and sunset around 4pm.
To be totally honest, I was dreading it a little bit - all the darkness. I didn't know if I could handle it even for 5 days (which begged the question how Icelanders handle it all winter!)
Marcus and I landed about 6am Sunday morning. By the time we made it through all the airport formalities, Gudmunda and her son Fróði were there to pick us up. When we arrived back at their house by 8am, it was still dark through the huge, gabled picture windows in the back of the Stackhouse home. There was no blue in the sky yet, but there were golden lights flickering all around the harbor and surrounding town.
When we stepped into their home, Gudmunda didn't turn on the lights. In fact, after spending a winter week there, I'm pretty sure there *aren't* overhead lights in their home.
Instead, she lit a few candles, made us both cup of coffee (oh, the coffee), and settled down for a chat.
In the hours as sunrise approached, the sky turned indigo, then navy, then sapphire, royal blue, turquoise, and finally, pastel shades streaked across the sky. It was glorious. And we would have missed it with all those lights on.
In the evenings, we cooked by soft spotlights, only where absolutely necessary. We ate by candlelight and the soft glow of accent lighting on white textured walls.
I loved waking up in the mornings and coming out to a low lit, cozy room where I didn't have to squint against the light. (And - also - where the world's best coffee awaited.)
It took me a little while, but I soon came to see the secret to living with the darkness in Iceland is to welcome and make friends with it. This approach allows a connection with nature - an appreciation of the hours and hours of sunrise and sunsets, along with the quiet dark - that felt soothing and, somehow, right.
The darkness isn't the only thing Icelanders welcome. Cold, snow, ice, and wind are accepted (enjoyed, I'd suggest, given the popularity of public ice baths), as they must be for a people who experience them for the majority of months in the year.
Snow swirling around the city streets didn't seem to send anyone inside. I watched a kid's team practicing through a storm. We went to the public pool while some combination of ice or snow sprinkled down on us. (I stayed in the warm pools!!) And every morning, I woke up to watch an entire kindergarten class happily playing in (the dark and) whatever weather happened to be going on at the moment. Colder days, they all had on snowsuits; warmer days they wore coats and hats.
The key, Gudmunda told me, is simply to dress properly.
Remembering the wind chill when I was last there - in July, the height of summer - I took her advice seriously. And in that spirit, there are a couple of things I'd suggest if you're thinking of visiting Iceland any time of the year.
- Waterproof gear. In the winter, it's snowy. In the summer, you'll constantly be around waterfalls. When we went in the summer, it was on and off all the time as the weather changed.
- For the winter, a long coat. I got this in preparation for my trip AND LOVED IT. I left one morning for a walk... and came back more than 7 hours later. This coat made it possible.
- These are my favorite waterproof hiking pants. I wear these all the time and, 2 years in, they show no signs of wear or tear. They also come in a Tall length, which I need when wearing hiking boots.
- Waterproof boots. I maybe stood in a little bit of surf for some of these photos. (P.S. Don't do that on the famous black beaches of Vik - several tourists die there every year. When I found this beach, I called the Stackhouses to find out if it was safe for me to get close.) I love winter boots that I can zip because my fingers get so cold, sometimes its difficult to tie and untie hiking boots.
- Hat and mittens.
- This isn't just for Iceland, but if you love photography also, I highly recommend a hands-free camera strap that keeps the weight off your shoulders.
- I used this one for our trip to Germany and never, no matter how long the day or how many miles we walked, felt tired in my shoulders. Recently, I got this one for Christmas and love it even more!! I can carry *just* this with my phone, wallet, and extra camera battery.