Just about 6 months ago, I was given the opportunity to travel to Iceland with two of my dearest friends in the world, Elizabeth Gadd and Rob Woodcox. Ever since they had started talking about Iceland–well before the invitation was extended to me–I wanted nothing more in life than to join them. I didn’t think it would even be a possibility, so I resigned myself to simply being jealous of their travels in the coming months.
Sidenote: Lizzy and Rob are two of the first photographers I ever met from Flickr. I met the both of them at a photography meetup in Lizzy’s hometown of Vancouver, BC, in the summer of 2012. Ever since then, I have been lucky enough to see them again on multiple occasions (Rob in Las Vegas, New York City, Oregon and Los Angeles; Lizzy in Oregon and Yellowstone), talk with them over social media, and otherwise keep in touch with them, and they have become two of my favorite people in the universe. I love them with all my heart.
Anyways, when the friend they were initially going to take along with them had to back out suddenly, they asked me if I would fill the space. Of course, I said yes. No other thought even crossed my mind (I mean, of course I had to think about whether I could afford it, if I would have to put off my big move to NYC, if it would even be realistic, etc.) but I knew I wanted to go. So. Bad.
So, I started planning, and before I knew it, I had made my decision. I was going to go to Iceland, and nothing and nobody was going to stop me.
Flash forward to this day, 6 months later, and I could not be more glad that I made that choice. I know that I am at the place I am at in my life right now because of that choice, and I am so grateful for the experiences I had on my trip to Iceland with my friends. Iceland changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly.
These next few blog posts on my journey should give you some idea why.
Flying to Iceland felt like crossing over into another world. The 10 hour flight felt like a century, each minute ticking by slower than the last, as I counted down the seconds until I landed. I have been in love with Iceland for years, before I ever knew I would be given the chance to visit. You see, I have this belief that you can love a place before you go there–it’s as though your heart and body knows it is meant to experience it before you actually do. I felt my love building for this strange unknowable country as we flew through the atmosphere, as day turned to dusk and day again.
And the strangest thing happened. As we flew, on my side of the plane I watched the moon rise over the earth, and at the same moment, I looked over and watched the sun setting from across the aisle in a stranger’s window. It was as though our plane was hanging between time itself, suspended in a place where the rules that govern the universe do not apply. I had entered a strange new world, and I couldn’t wait to see was in store in the coming two weeks.
We had time between flights, when the first half of our group arrived, and when the second came. Rob, Kelsey, and I were the first to step foot in Iceland, and we were met with the eeriest expanse of fog, rain, and volcanic rock I had ever seen. We made arrangements for our car and then the three of us made our way to Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city. We found our hostel for the first two nights and then we went to explore the city a bit before Lizzy and Sian arrived.
Our first stop was the Sun Voyager sculpture in downtown Reykjavik, which is a metal modern representation of the ships Vikings used to conquer the northern hemisphere in the past. It was gigantic and beautiful, and we couldn’t help stopping to take some photos–despite the cold and drizzly weather.
We rested for a while at our hostel, because jet lag is a scumbag and we had all traveled several hours into the future to get to Iceland. Our place was quaint and pretty, with big wide windows in every room to let the sun in. Honestly, it was perfect.
Soon, we were back at the airport and we picked up our two remaining team members, Lizzy and Sian. We headed back to Reykjavik, and after getting all our stuff arranged in the rooms, we went back out into the city to explore.
Reykjavik is known for its culture of wild and spectacular street art. So many walls we passed held some sort of intriguing graffiti upon the plaster, and I was amazed by the talent that went in to creating such masterpieces. It all seemed to have some meaning as well, unlike much of the graffiti one might see in the states. All of these artworks were intentional, and were meant to inspire and decorate–not to vandalize.
Reykjavik is also a city of color. Every house and apartment lining the streets was a different color, ranging from neutrals to vibrant hues. It reminded me of San Francisco, in a way, where every house is different and yet they all flow seamlessly together.
“Reykjavik Roasters” became our haunt for those few days we were in the city. In the morning, we would start our day with a warm cup of cocoa or espresso, a buttery croissant, and good conversation as we sat around the table together.
Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland, sits in the main square of Reykjavik, looming over the city with its gigantic steeple. The “steps” in the design is meant to mimic the blocky way the rocks are formed throughout Iceland–you will see further examples of that in the ensuing blog posts. Something incredible about the church is the acoustics. You could hear a pin drop in the nave, and Rob took full advantage of the sound system to whistle Icelandic hymns into the empty air.
I wanted to take portraits of each member of our group, and to use the colors of Reykjavik as an inspiration.
Rob Woodcox — Detroit, Michigan
Kelsey Kienitz — Bay Area, California
Whitney Justesen (Me) — Sacramento, California
Elizabeth Gadd (hereby referred to only as Lizzy)– Vancouver, B.C.
Sian Davies — Scotland
We each found our own personalized Icelandic sweaters (known as Lopapeysa’s) while in Reykjavik, made friends with the adorable Icelandic store owners, and then we headed out to the Blue Lagoon. Tucked into the volcanic rock landscape, the blue waters of the hot springs running through the area are what Iceland is known for. Along the way, we had to stop and take some photos with the pillow moss.
Kelsey taking a nap in the soft pillow moss.
The blue water running through that particular region looked like dyed milk and wound through the volcanic rock as if it has been doing so for centuries. I had never seen water so strange and opaque, and it intrigued me.
Rob, being the crazy photographer that he is, wanted to take photos in the blue water. The air was frigid and the water was as cold as ice, but that didn’t stop my friend from getting in up past his knees. He shows more dedication to his art than I ever do, and that inspires me so much.
In my next post from Iceland, I’ll take you on our journey to Vík, in the south of Iceland. There we met up with four other photographer friends and explored waterfalls, black sand beaches, and abandoned plane wrecks. Stay tuned for more coming soon 🙂