Last November Mike and I took a trip to Iceland. It’s a place that we’ve both been wanting to go to for a while and even though we’d been flirting with the idea for ages, we never made the plunge. The end 2015 was when we finally decided to go all in. We spent 12 days driving around the edge of Iceland on the Ring Road: the one highway that runs around the entire island. It’s also known as Route 1, and literally, it’s the only (mostly) paved highway that connects all of the tiny costal towns. Almost all of it is only two lanes and it is incredibly, beautifully photogenic.
We landed at night and after a quick pause to pick up our trusty rental car, we drove to our first stop, not too far from the airport in Reykjavik. It was dark, as it’s wont to be in Iceland in the late fall, so we didn’t get to see much, aside from the orange glow of the street lamps on the highway.
Come morning though, when I looked out the window, my jaw dropped. We were just on the side of the highway, at a little hotel but the scene before me was incredible. The sky was immense, the horizon was flat, and there was a light dusting of icing powder snow gently covering the houses in the distance. I’m sure Icelanders would laugh at me if they saw my reaction because it’s equivalent to me staring in awe at the side of I5. Really though, the landscape in Iceland is like nothing I’ve ever seen.
I must have said to Mike a million times, “It’s like we’re on the moon!” The endless sky, the ribbon of road, and the barren landscape were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Truly, Iceland was a feast for the eyes and the soul. It was one of the first trips in which we didn’t focus on food, but I felt nourished in a way that I’ve never felt in a city.
We spent our days driving during the few hours of daylight that were available. We never made it very far – inevitably, every two minutes or so, either Mike or I would want to stop to take a photo (or 30) of the mountains, the sea, the beach, the ice. It would take us four hours to drive what should have only taken one because we kept stopping to pull over by the side of the road and stare in amazement.
I’m trigger happy in the worst of times and this was decidedly the opposite which meant even more photos than usual, which meant that by the end of it we had 2400 plus photos to sort through. We would pull over on the side of the road, put on our winter coats, hop out of the car and take photos until our hands were too cold to press the shutter. After a couple of days, we started to roll the windows down and take photos while we were inside the car. Not the most adventurous, but when the temperatures are -4, your body does not want to leave the comfort of heated seats.
Sometimes warm butts have to be sacrificed and to be honest, I’m happy to say we froze our butts off to see the aurora. It’s been a dream of mine forever to see the Northern Lights and even though being in Iceland doesn’t guarantee a sighting, my fingers and toes were crossed in anticipation. We ended up being lucky after several nights of cloudy skies.
With the aurora forecast checked (we lucked out on a KP index of 5, which is kind of like winning the aurora lottery – it doesn’t happen very often), we bundled up in our winter gear, stepped outside of our little Airbnb, and immediately saw a streak of green in the sky. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen and all the photos and videos could not have prepared me. As satisfying as the little bit of green was, Mike and I decided to head out to a completely lightless area of town.
The aurora comes in waves: they start out as a single green streak in a dark sky full of stars. The wave builds and shimmers, picking up more emerald greens, teals, blues, purples, and even pink. They surround and curtain around you, making you feel physically tiny and enormously emotional all at once. I cried; it was so incredibly beautiful. It felt like a once in a lifetime show and I felt so grateful that I was there with Mike. Standing under a blanket of stars with the sky on fire, my best friend’s hand in mine, I’ve never felt more present.
The beauty of Iceland left me breathless: the black sand beaches, the glacial blues, the pale yellow of the winter sun. I fell completely and utterly in love. It stole my heart in the best way possible: intensely and immediately. I know we’ll be back.
PS – There were a couple of must sees: the black sand beaches of Vík, Jökulsárlón for the glaciers, and the Goðafoss waterfall. But for the most part, all you need to do is drive around and you’ll be met with gorgeousness at every turn.
PPS – Icelandic butter is out of this world.
PPPS – I’m in love with my Incase DSLR Pro Backpack: it was the perfect bag for our photo focused trip.
PPPPS – These photos were taken with two lenses: my super-wide 20mm and a borrowed 70-200mm, both on my trusty D810. Thanks Nikon for the lens loan!