Iceland Writing Residency Pt. 2

[To check out what brought me here at the beginning of February and read about the first part of my experience, click here.]

Surprise! I extended my stay here in Iceland by a couple weeks. I just couldn’t leave so soon. Maybe it’s because the month of February is already too short. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m in a perfect bubble here that I don’t ever want to break out of. Maybe I was too inspired, too immersed in this experience to leave it. Or, maybe it’s because I’m subconsciously avoiding reality and the uncertainties that await me back in the States. Whatever it is, I felt like my time here wasn’t quite finished.

Since this was my first writing residency, I had mapped out some goals before I came. I knew I wouldn’t necessarily stick to them, but I wanted a guideline, as that was strongly recommended to me. Here it was:

I’m happy to report that for the month of February, I accomplished nearly all of this. Even if it was for a short duration of time, I read, walked, did yoga, and wrote every single day. And I ended up writing way more poems than that 20-25!

I had at least ten poems accepted for publication, and I also was a finalist in a poetry contest. (More on that here.)

I have also had a lot of adventures since then:

Kerid Crater

This was incredible to see the teal water frozen over, against the backdrop of the reddish green earth. And you usually have to pay an entrance fee, but since Covid hit, nobody is working the booth so it was free to get in. A plus side to being a tourist during this time 🙂

Some nearby spots:

Laugarvatn, the village where the writing residency is located, is right on the famous Golden Circle route. On one of our day trips, we visited a restaurant & farm: Efstidalur. You can see the cows right next to the dining area downstairs, where they serve ice cream. We also saw many small beautiful churches, and Faxi waterfall, and the most stunning sunset at Skálholt.

Gulfoss

Not a single person in sight. It was incredible to admire the beauty of this place all to ourselves!

Geyser

Again, another place that was empty compared to the many tour buses and crowds of tourists that I experienced when I visited in 2016. My favorite was seeing my friend Kristel’s reaction when it erupted. Priceless! Is it crazy that I almost miss the sulfur smell?

Fontana Spa

Fontana was where we made the rye bread in the ground. (Also where Zac Efron filmed part of Down to Earth on Netflix. Super cool, FYI.) I had the most perfect night here! We arrived a little past 4 p.m. so we could be there in the daytime and also experience it at night. There are three steamrooms, a sauna, and multiple pools. I even braved the cold for a minute to venture into the lake! So weird to come back into the hot water after being in the freezing water– felt like little needles on your skin. To top it all off, right as we were getting ready to leave, the auroras came out to put on a show. It was the best ending to an incredible experience!

Lake Picnic with Boiling Eggs

Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River

Ahhh!!! Honestly probably one of my favorite adventures. It’s an hour hike to get to this river, but it’s so worth it. I mean, I’ve never been in a hot river before. We don’t have those back in Pennsylvania, haha. It was surreal. Be careful with where you sit, I definitely burned myself at the mouth of the river. Move a little further down for a better temperature 🙂 We met some friends, Igor and Khalid, and had Malt og AppelsĂ­n, a traditional Icelandic drink, and witnessed the most beautiful purple sky on the walk back down.

Black Sand Beach

…which may or may not have turned into a frozen skinny dipping adventure. But with an empty beach, and living in the moment, why not? Warmed up with hot tea afterwards.

Many hikes with Kari

We experienced what felt like every season in February. I went for a hike or walk each day, often with the residency dog Kari. It was incredible to see the landscape emerge with the everchanging weather.

Red Mountain

Unlike nothing I’d ever seen before! The colors were mesmerizing here. This is a mine very close to Kerid Crater.

Not a bad place to write, huh?

More Northern Lights

Will I ever get tired of seeing them? Absolutely not.

OH YEAH, and I also felt my first earthquake, which was SO surreal on Wednesday, February 24th. I had been sitting at the kitchen table in the cabin when I felt a sudden shake, so quick I nearly doubted if I had felt it at all, especially since I immediately had texted the other resident here (who is staying in the studio) and they said that they hadn’t felt anything. Minutes later, we find out there was an earthquake near Reykjavik. Turns out that the two houses were built quite differently, so the studio has a more solid/stable structure whereas the cabin, you could feel it. I had never experienced an earthquake, so for me, it was quite exciting.

I had some days toward the end of the month where the days felt foggy, I couldn’t focus, I was moody, I was stressing about things beyond my control, and then of course in the next breath was upset about the fact that I was spending even one second not appreciating being fully in this moment, not taking full advantage of my time here. Has anyone ever felt similar on their travels or in their experiences?

Such is life, though, and I had to roll with those waves for a while. Feel every emotion and let myself just be in it. I’m just pinching myself every day I wake up, here in Iceland.

Here’s to healing landscapes and the gift of time,

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Back to Iceland- Writing Residency Pt. 1

Remember when I got accepted to two international writing residencies in the middle of a pandemic?

While it is certainly not the most ideal time to be traveling at all, the news came at a perfect time during my career and personal life. I wanted both of them to work out, but I didn’t have high hopes of getting across the border of a country that I wasn’t a resident of. As everyone knows, traveling isn’t really possible right now.

Still, I had to continue accordingly. I’d planned to go to the Iceland residency first, and then to the Finland one, and then return home. However, my flight from Reykjavik to Helsinki got canceled due to Covid/border control changes. The residency in Finland ultimately fell through because there were too many unknowns. I could’ve deferred to next year, but again- too much is up in the air for me to commit to that. Yet, Iceland was still a go! I was so happy to come back here! [Read about my first visit to Iceland back in 2016 here.]

The folks here at the Gullkistan residency prepared me with a list of paperwork I would need to provide not only in order to enter the country, but to even get on the flight here. I was so nervous, I printed two copies of everything and held my breath the whole time at the airport. Everything went seamlessly, and those worries quickly were replaced with excitement for this new adventure and complete awe to be in such a beautiful place.

I was tested upon arrival and then went straight to the residency, which is in the town of Laugarvatn, a little over an hour from the capital of Reykjavik. It is mandatory to quarantine for five days and then get the second test. Everything was so streamlined and easy to track through the Rakning C-19 app. I arrived at 6 a.m. on Monday, February 1st and received my negative test results later that evening. I quarantined for longer than five days, actually, because they don’t test on the weekends in Selfoss (the town we are closest to) so I had to wait until the next Monday. Once I got my results back, I was then free to visit shops and restaurants. I was so impressed by how organized the entire process was!

For the month of February, there is only one other resident here. Her name is Kristel, and she is a visual artist from Estonia, and will stay for two months. We are great company for one another, (the only company, actually!) but it’s been so peaceful here and nice to be tucked away from everyone. We are also able to have our own spaces: she stays in the studio center while I stay in the cabin. The majority of my time is spent inside working, and since it’s cold out (very similar to back home in Pennsylvania) I didn’t mind being in quarantine. In fact, I loved it. The cabin fills with the most gorgeous light at sunrise, which is usually around 9:30-10 a.m. Kristel and I kept sane and active during quarantine by going for a walk early in the day, which is a routine we are still sticking to. There’s always so much writing to do and books to be read, and I even started a 30 day yoga challenge, which is steadily kicking my ass. I am learning to “find my breath” and realizing that I should take care of my body much more than I have been. It’s important for me to stretch, too, since I spend so much time sitting and with my head bent (thanks to typing, reading, and phone scrolling) and to work on my balance (which anyone that knows me can attest to being pitiful at best).

A typical day might look like this:

-Wake up, sometimes morning yoga
-Morning hike for sunrise with Kristel
-Return to cabin for coffee and meal
-Listen to writing podcast or craft talk while eating/doing dishes
-Check e-mails, submissions, etc.
-Reading craft book, maybe trying my hand at some prompts
-Journal writing
-Dinner
-Free writing and/or editing
-Finish the journal entry for the day
-Yoga before bed (if I didn’t do it in the morning)

I have my manuscript from my MFA program that I finished, but it needs revised and reordered. It is currently spread out on the floor of the top room of the cabin. I’ve been working on that and will submit it when I feel it is ready for publication.

I keep saying it, but to really sit with your work is such a beautiful thing.

I wanted to dive deeper into craft books this time, so that’s one of my goals. And always reading and discovering new work from contemporary poets, of course. I’ve had a couple Zoom meetings with my writing groups, and have attended several readings, though this also is a bit tricky with the time change. Often, they don’t start until 7 PM, so if I stay up for it, I don’t go to bed until after 2 AM my time. But I’ve also caught the northern lights this way 🙂 They came out several times my first week here and I felt so strongly that this is a sign that I am right where I belong:

Not a bad view to stay up all night writing to 🙂

Of course, it isn’t all work. We’ve done some amazing day trips so far as well. My friend Ævar who I met as a tour guide back in 2016 took us on an adventure where we visited not only Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss but two lesser known waterfalls that are right nearby: Nauthúsagil and Kvernufoss!

Fun fact about the village of Laugarvatn: if you’ve seen Down to Earth on Netflix, you probably saw the episode in Iceland where Zac Efron and Darin Olien go to where they bake bread in the ground.
That’s actually right across the street from where we are! And we got to experience that. The rye bread bakes for 24 hours. It’s delicious, like the texture of cake almost, and often paired with Icelandic butter (which is to die for), trout, or herring. Even plain, it is mouthwatering and I want it as we speak!

Laugarvatn has lovely geothermal baths, which we’re trying out this weekend, as well.

And who knows, the work that comes from these dramatic landscapes may just be pointing me into the direction of a new book.

Again— I am so happy to be here. 🇮🇸

I hope these moments of Iceland’s natural beauty bring you the same peace they have given me. Keep well, everyone. ❤

To writing on,

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Land of Fire & Ice (And Everything Nice)

Bright rainbows breaking through clouds, the rush of a waterfall around every corner, rolling green fields, and the nicest people you’ve ever met?

Sounds like heaven, but the name is Iceland.

I was lucky enough to visit this incredible country this past week- this time with my boyfriend for our three year anniversary. It was our first international trip together, and his first time outside of North America- something I’ve been wanting to experience with him since we started dating!

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On our flight over, our captain woke the passengers to instruct us to look out the left side of the plane for the Northern Lights! We did see some tint of green, but not much.

Due to the weather, this would unfortunately be the only sighting we’d have the rest of our trip, but the views alone of this country and the adventures we went on more than made up for it! We spent the first full day exploring Reykjavik. The country’s capital and largest city, and it charmed us from the very start. Take a look at some of the city’s gems:

We saw the Sun Voyager, a striking steel sculpture along the water.

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Harpa, a concert hall near the harbor where we saw an awesome exhibit.

HallgrĂ­mskirkja, an immense church that boasts outstanding panoramic views of the entire city.

Perlan, a glass dome rotating restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious dessert after a long day of hiking.

Lake Tjörnin, Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (City Hall), Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat,  etc.

As much as we adored the city, we loved the countryside even more. We couldn’t pass up one of the most famous routes out of Reykjavik- the Golden Circle- featuring Þingvellir National Park, Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur), and Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall– This double-tiered waterfall reminded me at first of Niagra Falls, but I loved how close we could get to it!  Not to mention the way the sun reflected off the water- the rainbow was a gorgeous payoff for the long climb and the downpour of rain we got caught in!

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Ăžingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park the site of two tectonic plates (American and Eurasian) that drift apart at a speed of 2 cm/year, and also the site of Althingi, the oldest functioning parliament in the world. We couldn’t get enough of the history and autumn colors here.

Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur, etc.)

Bright blue bubbling pools, hot springs, and mud pots, this place was a delight to see! Although the sulfur smelled like rotten eggs, you forget all about it with the excitement of seeing Strokkur explode every 5-10 minutes.

We made a stop at Fákasel Horse farm to see the famous Icelandic horses. They are all pure bred- once an Icelandic horse leaves the country it cannot ever return, and no horses can be imported. They also have five gaits instead of four, making them very unique.

We didn’t think we could top the Golden Circle, but we were proven wrong during our exploration of Iceland’s South Coast shores:  SkĂłgafoss waterfall, Reynisfjara’s black sand beaches, SĂłlheimajökull glacier, Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and Seljalandsfoss waterfall, among others.

SkĂłgafoss We were able to climb to the very top of this powerful waterfall. (Look to the top right of the photo- that’s where we were!) The slippery steps led us to an unbelievable view looking down below.

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Black sand beaches of ReynisfjaraThis world famous beach was like nothing we had ever seen before! Gray pebbles, dark sand, basalt sea stacks, rocky pyramids towering over us. The impressively strong, high waves crashing into the shore and gusts of wind were scary and wonderful all wrapped into one spectacular visit.

Sólheimajökull glacier- This glacier emerged right as we rounded the bend after a 10-15 minute hike. It completely took our breath away- it was the first time either of us had ever seen a glacier in real life! We learned it covers Katla, a dangerous volcano that is threatening to erupt in the near future. (Which we were glad we missed.)

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Eyjafjallajökull – You can’t see the glacier here in this photo below, but the left photo is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and stopped air traffic throughout all of Europe. The photo on the right is a massive rock in which houses have been built into. It’s been called the “elf house.” Many Icelandic people believe in elves. We weren’t convinced, but it is ironic that after we took this photo, our camera stopped working…

Seljalandsfoss– By far one of our most favorite destinations. This magnificent waterfall has a path that leads you BEHIND it, so you can actually walk to the other side for an even more stunning view. But beware: you absolutely will get soaked to the core. Definitely worth it!

So okay, you get it. We saw some extraordinary things in nature and played under a lot of waterfalls. But what did we eat?

Pylsa– Iceland is known for their hot dogs, and I certainly had my fair share of them. Not joking, I could really go for another one as we speak! The picture on the right is at Bæjarins Bestu, which proudly displays a picture of Bill Clinton enjoying his meal. If you order one with everything on it (which I recommend), it includes raw onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, special Icelandic mustard, and remoulade.

Don’t believe me about how AMAZING and renowned they are? Check it here.

FlatbrauĂ°- rye bread with smoked lamb & Malt drink (non-alcoholic, typically mixed with orange soda for holidays)

Skyr– A thick yogurt that was very filling.

Several different soups to help warm up on colder nights:

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Traditional Icelandic Meat Soup.

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Turnip soup- never had a turnip in my LIFE but this was delicious!

And, of course, who could forget FISH?

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The best fish either of us had ever tried at the Drunk Rabbit.

Chuck Norris Grill– we couldn’t stop laughing at all of these sayings!

Dillon Whiskey Bar– Sampled some Balvenie (aged 12 years) here that I loved!

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Drinks- Icelandic Pale Ale & White Ale, Viking, Thule,  Egils Gull beer, Somersby cider. etc. We tried it all but the Black Death, Brennivín.

Blue Lagoon– How could we come to Iceland and not visit one of the 25 wonders of the world? On our last day, we spent a full day here relaxing and literally soaking it all in. With blue water the temperature of 100° F, a swim up bar, and silica mud masks that left your skin feeling 10 years younger, there was no better way for us to wrap up our romantic, fascinating, and completely breathtaking vacation.

We could not have asked for a more beautiful adventure, and already can’t wait to go back. Iceland captured our hearts from the beginning, but if you’ve read this post, it’s not hard to see why.

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