[Emily Carr] Although I am firmly rooted in my dense urban Washington DC environment, I recently rediscovered the appeal of wide open spaces and my appreciation for exploration and doing things just because they are fun and different, not because I understand them or planned them.
Last month I went on a trip to Iceland with my best friend Lisa to celebrate her 40th birthday. (Her husband hates the cold.) We had never taken an international trip together, so when she requested Iceland, I thought, “Why not?” I had never ventured into Nordic territory before.
Emily Carr, at left, with Lisa.
We jumped into the trip relatively uninformed. We arrived in Iceland at 5:30 a.m. in freezing rain. Not snow or the bitter cold I’d expected, just crappy freezing rain. I said to Lisa, “Great, just like home,” but it’s exactly not like Washington, D.C.—the airport is small and cozy, with one typeface used uniformly throughout. Lots of black licorice. (Oh my God, I love this place already!)
We rode to our hotel in the darkness, not entirely unusual for that hour of the morning. But I realized that, when we arrived at 8 a.m. and it was still dark, we were going to Iceland at the darkest time of the year, with approximately five to six hours of light per day.
Our first order of business was to explore. We quickly discovered that despite its cosmopolitan reputation, Reykjavik is a very small city. We stopped first at the Icelandic Cultural Center ready for a tour, but no one seemed to to know whether it had started or not. Iceland is very laid back, and a thing like the precise hour at which a museum tour starts is not important. It’s a good cultural lesson to absorb, as life in Washington, D.C., focuses on precision and how much you get accomplished.
We learned the history of Iceland, which is the story of Viking exploration told through the sagas. The illustrated sagas are beautiful and made me long for my days of print design (almost as long ago as the days of Vikings).
We learned about the Viking alphabet and the processes for making parchment and animal skins.
After our cultural instruction, we headed upstairs to the modern art gallery…this is where we began to embrace the art of the weird. The entire room was full of assorted x-rated pillows.
We didn’t understand the concept of the exhibit, and there wasn’t any explanation to be found. So we just enjoyed the fun and strangeness of it, then decided it was definitely time for a drink—which of course comes with fish jerky.
With a further walk down the street, we experienced more art of the weird. I found out later that the sign below was based on an Icelandic Christmas creature called the Sausage Stealer, but at the time it made no sense and provided great entertainment.
On our big exploration day we went on a glacier walk and Northern lights tour. The several-hour bus ride to the glacier gave us a great opportunity to view the spacious, frozen expanse of the Icelandic landscape. We took a ridiculous amount of photos, but it was like nothing else we had ever seen — it looked like the surface of Mars with snow.
The population of Iceland is approximately half a million (Google tells me 319,000) in 40,000 sq. miles—a shocking cry from the 10 square miles of the District of Columbia with its half a million people. I realized then that people in Iceland have the luxury of being used to a lot of space, darkness and quiet. A culture of calm, thoughtfulness and peacefulness. Life is very different when you have several square miles to yourself.
The glacier walk gave me a new appreciation for winter, and suddenly I didn’t mind being bundled up in so many layers and looking like the Michelin man.
Our trip was filled with leisure, spontaneity and spaciousness. We “went with” the culture, eating smoked whale and fish jerky, and a multitude of hot dogs, which Icelandic people seem to be nuts about. We wandered around Reykjavik, enjoying the more traditional Nordic cityscape that contrasts with the spaciousness right outside the city. With the physical space came a mental space that was incredibly liberating.
Emily Carr works for Deloitte Consulting specializing in social media and technology learning strategies. A former web designer and design strategist, she now explores her creativity through interior design, travel, knitting, training for marathons on the streets of Washington, D.C., and dancing like a Vegas showgirl with Joy of Motion.