Why Reykjavík?

Text & photos © Catherine Nichols

THE NEIGHBOR LADIES and I met up for “Wino Wednesday” at our local watering hole right before the end of the school year. It’s a cozy, classy place in downtown Encinitas, California, with tables set among racks and racks of really good wine. The proprietors have made it especially difficult not to add a bottle or two to your own stash before heading home.

Breath-taking view

As we sipped our wine, one of the gals asked the table, “Where’s everyone going this summer?” We each took turns telling the others about our upcoming trips. One was going to Boston and the Cape, another was heading to Maui, and one neighbor was using the built-in benefits of living in a tourist destination to enjoy a staycation with her family.

Maybe this counts as traffic

When it was my turn, I mentioned that I was taking two of my girls to Iceland. One of the ladies stopped mid-sip, turned to me and asked, with such incredulity that I was taken aback, “Why in the world would you go to Iceland?” She reacted as if I were contemplating a trip to the fiery depths of Hell!

From that day forward, I wondered if I had made a mistake. Should I try to get my money back? How badly did I really want to go? Why was I going to Iceland and dragging two completely innocent children with me?

Dramatic skies with a rainbow

The self-doubt resided in my belly for over a month. It gnawed on my psyche like a vulture gnaws on the bones of the recently deceased.

I truly didn’t have an acceptable answer to any of the questions I asked myself but kept the process of traveling to Iceland moving forward. I bought rain gear, waterproof boots, warmer clothes, various electrical converters, and a waterproof backpack. Thank goodness for those outdoor stores like REI—we don’t normally need waterproof anything in southern California, and it’s not very often that we need anything more than a sweatshirt to keep ourselves warm.

Varied landscape

The final days before our departure quickly came and went. I couldn’t change my mind about Iceland; the final payments for all three of us had been paid, the supplies purchased, and plane tickets issued.

On the day of departure, I awakened at 2:30 a.m. and was neither excited nor ambivalent about Iceland. At 2:30 a.m., my only goal was to get myself and two children to the airport without forgetting anything important at home.

Walking through glaciers

The first leg of the flight went smoothly, as did the final leg into Reykjavík. The Reykjavík airport was unremarkable and the weather was dreary—a steady, unrelenting drizzle. The vulture of doubt had returned.

We waited for our tour guide and then set off to our first destination. Who makes tourists go somewhere after traveling for 24 hours? Answer: A tour guide on a tight schedule (pronounced sed ule, don’t you know?)!

The weather in Reykjavík

Yay that we’re finally here? The weather in Reykjavík.

Our first stop was a combination of Viking museum and small restaurant. We were forced to get on the same time zone as the rest of Iceland. How better to do that than a hearty breakfast? I hoped for something really interesting to eat so I could report the experience to my fellow followers on Facebook.

Reykjavik Viking Monument – The Sun Voyager

Many people who know me well know I loved Anthony Bourdain. Meeting him one day in some exotic location and sharing a meal was on my bucket list. I had no doubt this was one thing I would eventually check off. When he died right before our departure, so many friends texted me as if I had lost a loved one, and I really feel like I truly did.

Water, rock and moss – all in one

With his death on my mind, I decided I was going to be more like Tony in all my future travels—and my first opportunity was Iceland. In one interview, he commented that he tried every food offered to him in every country he visited. He believed he should be the one to “take one for the team.” Like Tony, I wanted to be the one to take one for the team for the Nichols family.

Very colorful streets

Because my children knew my goal and my love for Anthony Bourdain, after being presented with unknown fare, the common refrain was, “What would Anthony do?” I’m not really sure if the girls cared whether or not I ate something new so much as potentially witnessing their mom tossing her cookies!

While standing in line at the extensive buffet located on the outskirts of Reykjavík, I wholeheartedly embraced the idea of trying a country’s delicacies. I stabbed unknown rectangles of something gelatinous swimming in a thick, green sauce and put it on my plate. I poured some pink goo into a bowl. My stomach turned just a wee bit—but I was committed to my goal.

Geothermal cooking – simply the best

Heading back to the table with a hearty helping of boiled eggs, sliced cheeses, various breads, tomatoes, cucumbers, a sweet of some kind, pink goo, and the Guacamole Surprise, I looked around at the building we were in and had high hopes for the upcoming days. The building was modern in its styling with lots of glass, cement, and stainless steel, but at the same time felt cozy.

Geothermal baths

We ate our first breakfast in Reykjavík bleary-eyed, sitting beneath an ancient Viking ship, staring out at the gray sky, the moody Atlantic, and a statue of a fisherman. And for the next eight days, we discovered why I spent my summer vacation in Iceland and dragged two innocent kids along with me.

To be continued. . . .


Cathie Nichols, staff member at Milliver's Travels

Catherine Nichols

Originally from the East Coast, Catherine Nichols has spent the last 29 years in San Diego, and stays in the area because of its extraordinary beauty and a lovely lack of humidity. Accused by her three children of looking at too many rocks while visiting Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the deserts of Nevada, she continues to marvel at the ever-changing southwest landscape. With trips to Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland, and Europe planned, Catherine plans to reawaken her desire to see the world, and leave no stone unturned. Catherine writes in her blog at and tweets as @bloggoneit.

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