Wow, wow, wow — what a place. I just arrived back from a week in one of the northern most inhabited places on the planet — a country of only 300,000 people, and lots and lots and lots of snow. I went mostly because my sister had been pestering me for nearly 2 years to go chase the Northern Lights with her, but I think I may have come back with some inspiration and a softer, more inspired and natural outlook on future designs for skirts.
Early March — especially with the impact of global warming — falls near the end of the winter season in Iceland. As you can see from the landscapes here, there's snow, but just a light dusting on the moss-covered black lava rocks that make up the landscape. We traveled this road the first night we arrived, and then later in the week after a healthy snowfall, and the cookies-and-cream effect was replaced with just a heavenly white blanket of untrodden snow.
Places and experiences like this give way to incredible room for changing your outlook. I was inspired by the way white snow could look so blue, or pink, or grey, or just brilliant white — depending on the time of day and the cloud cover. I loved this mix of soft snow and hard, violently cut mountain peaks; brilliant white against piercing black; and the incredible sharpness of such immense mountains popping out of the long, broad plateaus. It's a land of contradictions, and it's wonderful.
We had the incredible fortune of seeing the Northern Lights on our first night. According to the Northern Lights tracker, this display was just a 3; which is in large part why this photo has such a pale yet iridescent quality. I used a really long exposure to capture as much of the light as possible, and in doing so, the ground appears to glow from the reflections of the lights. I love the pale, alien colors and the mix of hard, gnarled and knotted snowpack against the soft and eery sky.
And gosh. Wow, this incredible night sky — so impossible to see from my urban San Francisco home, and so breathtaking. This was from the top of the Langjökull glacier, in the middle of an extended snowmobile ride. We stopped a few times to just lay in the snow and marvel at the sky. I think this is where my heart had wanted to go with the Final Frontier skirt, but seeing this in such incredible detail made me want to come back and just put this exact visual on a skirt. I love with this image, how you feel like you're peering into possibly some other worlds and galaxies.
It made me feel small, and yet big all at the same time. Here and connected despite the distance. Inspired to refer more to my lived experience than the musings of my pen and some disconnected notions of beauty. It's all right there for us, if we're willing to look!
Back in Rekjavik, we stopped in to see the new ice cube-inspired performing arts center. It's located right in the heart of downtown, and I imagine that if Iceland had a national ballet, they would perform here. But alas, while we were in town, I think it may have been an ACDC tribute band.
I had to wonder whether the original Viking folks that discovered the island would have stayed, much less thrived, had the island not been blessed with the fortune of geothermal energy. There are hot springs and geysers all about the island, and plenty of hot, natural lagoons to lounge in. On the shores of some you can really see how the heat and mineral rich waters create beautiful textures of growth on the dark volcanic rocks.
The Blue Lagoon is something of a tourist hangout, and while its waters have an incredible, mineral-fed, aqua hue, it was a bit disappointing to learn that the lagoon was never a natural occurrence; that instead it had been created by workers that were building the nearby geothermal power plant. Still, its beauty is breathtaking and worth the short trip from Rekjavik. For my taste though, I preferred the quieter locations in the north country much more.
The landscape and the play of whites with simple pops of color are just so amazing. I also loved the ambiguous, blurred lines of sky and land. Here is a shot from a morning drive we took past Arnes, to see the Hekla volcano. This is apparently one of the most active on the island, and I'm pretty thankful that it didn't erupt while we were driving around that day — as the road was a bit sketchy from the freshly fallen snow.
This incredible landscape looks nearly dirty in comparison — I left it a bit underexposed because the play of color between the sign and sky was really fun. As my sister pointed out, one of the more incredible aspects of Iceland was that these incredible, majestic peaks stood so tall and sharp, and at such a distance — that you were almost forced to just appreciate their beauty in their entirety. Unlike some road trips, where you quickly get lost in the twists and turns of the roadway as it winds up and around the mountains, here the plateaus extended so far into the distance, that you had plenty of time and space to just appreciate it all.
I don't typically like to travel back to places I've visited — I have the sense that there are so many places on earth to visit and experience, that I couldn't imagine going back. But with Iceland, it seems clear that the summer would offer an entirely different experience. There were a few places we wanted to go, but due to roads conditions, we just couldn't pass in our rented Kia. We went in March to see the Aurora Borealis; we felt like we saw what we came for — and so much more. But a summer trip would offer a chance to see the far reaches of the island more easily, while still offering a chance to do the fun things like snowmobiling on a glacier.
Something to dream about, I suppose — as I work on my next collection of skirts!
- I debated about it for a long time before I left, but was so grateful I decided to rent an f/2.8 lens from BorrowLenses.com. A good quality lens makes all the difference in the world. But also — just a little sad that the many photo classes I took in high school and college didn't really sink in. I learned so much on this trip with regards to metering and f-stops, and am excited to travel and practice capturing more. I have become a big fan of renting lenses, and I totally recommend it — you can get much higher quality lenses than you might normally buy, for just a small rental fee.
- Shout out to Mountaineer.is for an incredible 2 trips up the glacier. Thank you for 2 truly exhilarating experiences!
- Shout out to my sister, for having pushed me to join you on this incredible journey!
- If you found this article because you're researching places to go in Iceland, I have just a few recos:
- Book key trips in advance — including the Blue Lagoon. There are so many tourists, and the busses book up tiny places quickly!
- There are extremely limited dining options in the country. We were grateful to have bought a brick of cheese and a loaf of bread — it fed us for a few days, along with a few small items from a quick mart.
- Take Super Jeep tours when possible and avoid the 50-person busses. You'll pay more, but you'll also have some flexibility to do what you want and to avoid the tourist traps.
- Be ready for adventure and enjoy!