Homeward Bound: A Farewell to Iceland

My last 24 hours in Iceland. Back in Reykjavík, this capitol of maybe 200,000 people. I am done with tourist sightseeing, with the frantic pace of the camera-clad. For my last 24 hours I am just living.

I find I know this city rather well. Not once since returning have I cracked open a guidebook. I order coffee and beer in Icelandic and actually understand the questions I’m asked. Hop on and off the bus with the locals as they head home from school and work. Browse the newest titles to be translated into Icelandic in the local bookstores. Journal in my favorite cafe where the barista actually recognizes me! Yes, I know this city about as well as a tourist can. The next step would be to become a long-term exchange student. (And I even know the Icelandic word for that! Frá ferðamaður til skiptinemi. Be impressed. I am!)

So what’s included in my Reykjavík farewell tour? It was a stunning, gorgeous, strip-off-your-itchy-Icelandic-sweater warm autumn day. Everyone was out walking, pushing their classy strollers that are a hybrid of classic pram and soccer mom, walking dogs, chatting with friends, sipping coffee at cafes, and just soaking in the soon to be hibernating sun. So I did what everyone else was doing – I found a seat at the cafe in town to see and be seen on a warm day, the Cafe Paris. As I people-watched and marvelled at the mix of humanity, white lupines, and just-turning fall colors, I pondered my proximity to the Alþing, Iceland’s parliament, a humble stone building just a stone’s throw across the grassy square from my cafe table. I cannot think of a more humble and accessible national government building, except maybe in the Faroes, the humblest of them all.

Took a final soak in steaming hot water at the local sundlaug. My fibromyalgia muscles will miss this piece of Icelandic social life the most. I cannot determine when I passed over from standoffish tourist to friendly, relaxed and chatty with the locals out for their daily dip, but it happened somewhere between Ísafjörður and Heimæy, unseen and unnoticed.

Wrote odes to the Faroes and reams of poetry in my favorite cafe, a ramshackle, laidback affair on the main shopping street. I can now ask for regular coffee, know to get my free refills myself with my little handless ceramic mug, and am actually considering buying one of these local handicrafts as a souvenir (the barista mentioned that would not be a problem!) Sat among locals gossipping, reading the piles of newspapers, and typing furiously away on their laptops.

Tomorrow will be my final Icelandic meal and I have a picnic of my favorites planned, foods I will be unable to attain in the States. I will walk to the local bakary for vinarbrauð (“friend bread”, my favorite pastry here), the real chocolate covered cinnamon roll, and hverabrauð. Pop into the grocery corner store for my last skyr, that amazingly creamy yogurt I’ve had for breakfast every day I’ve been in Iceland. And a sandwich of flatkaka með hangikjöt (flat bread with smoked lamb). I am already bracing for the tears of farewell to be shed.

I am laying the groundwork for further Icelandic study. Still actively learning new vocabulary (today shrimp from a waitress excited by my learning and even more excited I’m from Portland – apparently so is her martial arts coach! Small world.) Purchased four of the Harry Potter books in Icelandic with the goal of actually reading them. (Purchased them at the fleamarket for cheap, will purchase an English-Icelandic dictionary back in the States where books don’t cost a fortune.) I am also contemplating tackling Faroese, as it’s very similar. There is an intensive language course for beginners every summer in Tórshavn. Something to ponder for the future…

My relaxing day in the footsteps of the locals has soothed me, resigned me to the fact I must return home. I know I am comfortable here. I know I am on the right track learning the language – it is starting to come easier. Now the trick is not losing what I’ve gained.

And irony of ironies, “Homeward Bound” just came on the cafe sound system. Oh, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel have it right. I am truly homeward bound.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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2 Responses to Homeward Bound: A Farewell to Iceland

  1. inretrospect21 says:

    Hi Karina,

    I’ve always been partial to self-discovery through traveling. I haven’t had the opportunity to do so myself just yet, as I’m still looking for something that will give me the stable income and experience in order to travel more. You’re lucky that your husband has the stability, my partner does as well, but it’s currently a career transition time for him, after 10 years in the Canadian military, he’s looking to re-enter civilian life, work-wise, so it’s a tougher time financially than I’d like it to be.

    That being said, I would love the opportunity to travel Greenland and Iceland the way you have. Traveling to places like that really hits home on how small your own world, your life and your worries are-I know I would feel dwarfed just by the scenery around me.

    I definitely appreciate your travel tips. I have a friend who traveled to Nice, France, a few years ago and he told me the apartment he rented for a week cost less than a hotel room. So I see what you’re saying about saving money by forgoing the luxury resorts and just experiencing some of the local life for once.

    However, I do have to be careful about what I choose, backpacking and roughing it has never been for me, due to some mobility problems I’ve always had stemming from my premature birth. I don’t mind forgoing luxury hotels so long as I can still be comfortable. And I suppose, it’s also dictated in some way, the kind of travel writing I’ve been focusing on and I’d like to focus on. I love talking and writing about accommodations, the architecture, history, features, service etc. in all the different places I’ve stayed in, but I also love writing about food and culinary events.

    Beyond that, it’s hard to pinpoint a niche to write about with travel writing, there’s so much more that interests me. Ironically, it’s much easier to pin down what I won’t write about, either because of lack of interest or the ability to do certain things (owing to my mobility issues).

    • chronictraveler says:

      Wow, sounds like you rush out and embrace wherever you are and all that it has to offer! I studied history, art history, and anthropology in college, so I find I love the “participant observation” approach to travel. I carry and guidebook or two, but usually I’m watching for the locals and where they are, which leads to some of the best discoveries. Like watching the Faroe Islands v. Italy soccer match with all the locals for one astonishing David and Goliath match! That topic became my “in” to talking with people, since everyone was talking about for days after.

      How open are you to talking about your mobility issues? I won’t pry too much, but that I somewhat understand having to adjust how I look at and approach travel. I know I have been very lucky with my fibro – as long as I take a day off from anything immediately following, I can do quite a bit of hiking. But I have to be smart and pace myself, then rest a good 24 hours afterwards. Some activities I have discovered are bad news, no matter how much I want to do them. Like horseback riding and kayaking. I also find bike riding on hilly terrain super painful on my joints and knees.

      As far as lodging, I don’t multi-day backpack anymore, so I look for hostels and guesthouses that have a certain level of comfort, with the communal atmosphere I like. Some places surprise me how comfortable they are and others turn out to be less than optimal. The Bolti Guesthouse in Skaftafell National Park in Iceland is actually a family residence, where they built super comfy bunkhouses. Best bunkbed mattress ever, warm and cozy cabins, and attached modern bathrooms. Outside, the most amazing cliff views and nearby day hikes to glaciers and mountains. Yeah, that was heaven! On the flip side, the hostel I found in Gdansk, Poland was horrible. I had a single room with a real bed, but it was lumpy and hard, the room smelled of smoke, and the bathrooms down the hall where cold, concrete, and unreliable hot water. That was pretty bad. So now I read tons of reviews. I also look for hostels that have doubles and singles at a fraction of the cost of guesthouses if I want a real bed or a more comfortable sleeping setup. (Especially when I need a break from bunkbeds.) But this makes sense only in high cost of living places – in Croatia I found a sobe single room for $15 a night with a super friendly family and amazing Adriatic sea views.

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