My family and I recently took a trip to Iceland over my winter break. I was really in need of the hiatus from the stress of everyday life, and Iceland was the perfect palate cleanser. The country is beautiful and was founded sometime in the 800s by Norse Vikings whose influence is still very much there. The architecture of Reykjavik, the capital city, is so different than what I’m used to in New York: the buildings are low-rise cement structures, oftentimes with bright, beautiful wooden roofs. Reykjavik is probably the most peaceful city I’ve ever been to. It has winding roads and street art dedicated to Vikings, trolls, and landscapes. Its people are warm and kind despite the temperature. And best of all are its beautiful sunsets.
In the winter, Iceland has only about 3.5 hours of sun because of its distance from the equator. So sunrise is sometime around 11am and ends close to 3 or 4pm. It was incredibly weird to wake up and not see the sun as I am usually accustomed to, but I'll never forget seeing Iceland bathed in a warm blue tint, nor watching that wash of color transition through purples and pinks into a darker blue.
It was a great vacation because it truly felt like I was connecting with both my family but also my surroundings. Iceland is not a country with huge amusement parks, endless gift shops, and other typical tourist institutions. There is tourism, of course, and that industry is definitely growing, but what I found wonderful was how truly respectful of nature the country is. The biggest tourist attractions are all nature-focused and emphasize the importance of care for the environment.
My family did a self-driving tour of the Golden Circle, which encompasses 3 main landmarks: Þingvellir national park; a geothermal area that hosts 2 geysers; and the Gullfoss waterfall. Each of these sites is still owned by the Icelandic government, and because of this, there are distinct limitations on what can be built nearby so as to not disrupt the land. Learning about the culture, traveling outside of the city, and simply seeing huge mountains for the first time in years was gratifying. I didn’t realize how much I craved a tech-free vacation until I found myself immersed in my surroundings. I love technology, but sometimes when I’m totally digitally connected I can miss out on what’s really around me. Iceland was a beautiful place to refocus, realign my thoughts, and learn some new things. My advice? Don’t worry if your camera isn’t capturing all of the beauty you see—I kinda think it’s impossible to capture it all.
Ting Ting Chen