Friday, April 12, 2019

Iceland Report 2019/Now I'm 26 ...

I’m back from Iceland, guys! Man, was it an amazing trip! My main reason for doing this trip was to be inspired and I’m so utterly inspired for Red Hood.

Day 1:

My sister arrived and after eating lunch we took a car to the airport. Security went pretty smoothly (I didn’t get stopped! Woo hoo! For those of you who don’t know I have incredibly bad luck with TSA.). We hopped on our flight and were off to Boston where I finally got to meet the lovely Sara Letourneau at long last! 

Day 2:

Though the flight was short (four hours) I was hoping to catch a couple of Zs on the flight to Iceland but because we had crappy middle seats next to the bathroom sleep did not happen. So the only thing keeping me awake was adrenaline lol. We arrived at Keflavik Airport in Iceland at dawn and got to see the sunrise.

After customs (which was much less stressful than I thought it would be), then we got breakfast at this popular Icelandic juice bar called Joe & The Juice where we had juice and sandwiches because sandwiches for breakfast is an Icelandic thing haha.

We took a shuttle to our hotel in Reykjavik and enjoyed the beautiful Icelandic scenery of the Arctic Ocean, the towns, and the tundra. I’ve never seen land like this before in my life. The ground looked like it was splitting; blooming is the best way I can describe it. Then the mountains were just breathtaking and I saw stone statues that looked a lot like Inukshuks. I was only in Iceland for a few hours and I was already inspired.

Then we arrived at our hotel and we got to check in early. Our hotel room was ice-themed and this is the view from our window!

After that, we walked through 30 miles per hour winds on this beautiful walking trail among snow, spruces, rocks, and even some World War II sites to the Perlan Museum! Now the wind was cold, but Iceland does not get as cold as say its next-door neighbor Canada. While we were there the lowest it got even with wind chill was the 20s and the highest was in the mid-40s. No crazy Canada -40 stuff. THAT's cold. All of that is to say I was really enjoying the weather.

At the Perlan, we saw exhibits about wildlife, Icelandic water, volcanic activity, hot springs, geysers, and glaciers, but the highlight was definitely the manmade ice cave which simulated what it would be like to walk under a glacier. In there it was -15 Fahrenheit, so dat's cold. It was so cool to walk in the tunnels of ice though.

We returned to our hotel, ate lunch, I picked up my Iceland Writers Retreat goodie bag (which included fun stuff like Icelandic salt, Icelandic chocolate, Icelandic cookbook, an awesome planner, and other stuff. I should have taken a pic but I forgot. Oops.). Then after some chill time, we went down to the welcome dinner where we had lamb (cause this is Iceland and the three main food groups are lamb, fish, and bread) which was really good and then I had dessert and attended part of the evening author readings before I went to bed because at this time I hadn't slept in almost 36 hours. XD

Day 3:

I woke up far more refreshed the next day and had an amazing breakfast that included sandwiches, bread, and bacon. In Iceland, they eat sandwiches, raw fish, and even cod liver oil for breakfast. I didn't try the latter two (I tried the raw salmon the next day and it was sorta like sushi with dill), but it was all really culturally interesting. Then I had my first class, which was all right. It was called Borrowing or Betrayal: How real lives become fiction. It was okay. I learned some interesting things about the pickles other people have gotten to when they used family members in their writing. My take away was: be a good person and you'll do fine in this area. XD

After class, I walked with my sister down to the only "white sand" (I put it in quotations because Daytona Beach is like stark white. This was kinda tan haha.) beach in Iceland called Nautholsvik. It was so different than any other beach I've been to. There's so much rock, muscles, and seaweed, and the fact that there's a legit hot spring right nearby was very different too--like not a jacuzzi. This is actual thermal spring water. Swimming is very integral to Icelandic culture so even on this rainy forty-degree day we saw people soaking in the thermal pool and even swimming in the ocean! 

After yet another amazing Icelandic meal at the hotel and another class which was all right, we were off to Bessasstadir which is the President of Iceland's residence! It had an amazing view of the mountains and the inlet nearby. And inside we got our coats hung up by freaking servants and then got to sign a book then I got to shake the President and the First Lady's hands. SQUEE! Then the president gave a speech about how writing is so integral to Icelandic culture.

Then we got to explore Bessasstadir where we go to see the artifacts found under the house because Bessasstadir was built over a house that was burned down. And we got to see upstairs which had a lot of cool artwork and the magnificent library. 

Along the way, we got to have hors d'oeuvres served to us. They had these amazing mini lemon pie things. At one point, my sister, Sara, and I went out on the porch where some other people were (I was mostly there to get out of the crowded house lol) and one of the servants comes out with a tray and says, "You can go anywhere but I will find you." After we all chuckled he told us about the seal that comes up on the shore in the morning, the falcon that lives there, and how in the summer some Icelandic horses are boarded there.

And my sister and I also got a picture with the President so there's that.

After we got back to the hotel, my sister, Sara, and I walked into downtown to Svargrilld to go to a restaurant for an early birthday dinner. ^ ^ We had this amazing salted cod with chorizo, tomatoes, and couscous. It was so good! 

Day 4:

TOUR DAY! WOO HOO! First stop was Halldor Laxness's house! He was a Nobel-prize winning Icelandic author. His granddaughter gave a lecture about what he was like. Unfortunately, a bunch of our fellow tourists kept asking too many questions which put us behind schedule so my sister and I only had time to see the river at the back of Halldor's house, but man, was it beautiful. I felt like I was in a fantasy world. 

After driving through some more beautiful countryside, we reached the Hjalfjodur or Whale Fjord, which was absolutely breathtaking. Like you see pics like this while browsing on the internet and they look so perfect that it seems fake and you grow kinda calloused toward these kinds of pics, but when you see it in person, it's like man, what a beautiful world we live in.

Because in World War II the British and Americans were stationed at Hjalfjodur there is a privately-owned WWII museum nearby called Hladir. There we got to have tea and Icelandic doughnuts called "kleinur" which are thicker and less sugary than American doughnuts but very good. 

The owner of the museum then gave us a lecture about Iceland's involvement in World War II and then we got a chance to explore the museum a bit. He has such a collection of amazing artifacts!

After that, we went to Reykholt which is where famous writer, historian, and chieftain Snorri Sturluson lived. He wrote the Prose Edda and the Icelandic Sagas which preserved Icelandic culture and history and were actually influential to J.R.R. Tolkien! We heard a great lecture by the priest Sr. Geir Waage about him. I wish we had longer because I could have listened to that guy for hours! He even recited some old Icelandic and Danish poetry!

After a lamb stew lunch, we went to the Hraunfossar and Barnafossar waterfalls! The Hraunfossar actually come from beneath an old lava field! And the Barnafossar water was so blue. It was so breathtaking and absolutely amazing to be able to walk on a lava field.

Icelandic ponies cause Icelandic ponies.

Our last stop on the tour was Deildartunguhver, the hottest hot spring in Europe! It was so cool to see water boiling right out of the ground and the steam very much smelled like eggs haha. 

Speaking of eggs, our tour guide boiled eggs for us in the hot spring and we got to eat them with Icelandic rye, butter, and dried cod with malt and applesin to drink!

This adorable local dog was begging us to feed us some the whole time. XD

Our next activity was a reception at the Reykjavik City Hall! Unfortunately, we missed the mayor's speech because of our other tourists, -_- but we did get to have some of the yummy reception food and go on the literary walking tour. Our guide took us to different artistic sites of Iceland and read different Icelandic stories and legends.

Map of Iceland in City Hall

Yet again because of our slow fellow tourists, we were late to well the bus. My sister, Sara, one other woman, and I were like, "Peace out, bros," and we walked back to our hotel (it was about a 30 min walk). And we ended the day with another great meal and my sister and I tried minke whale. It actually tastes a lot like beef.

Day 5:

Today was my B-day! I started the day by taking definitely the best class of the retreat was called "Fiction and the Senses." It taught about mapping your description and I feel very happy about writing the following flash fic in fifteen minutes for the writing exercise. This is something that happened on yesterday's tour but in the point of view of the raven. 

The Raven’s Summoning 

The raven, Huginn, flew over the farmland knotted with hillocks. Even in April, the snow still lingered in icy patches on the ground, but in large quantities on the mountains. The strong whistling wind lifted him higher into the air and he let out a caw of delight, still tasting some of the herring he had for breakfast. Even so far out into the country, the brine of the sea lingered in the cold air.
Nearby the umpteenth tour bus Huginn has seen in his long life drove by on the coal-black road, carrying in its belly humans from all across the globe who’ve come to see the land magic still calls home. The guide had mentioned his name, so he had to make an appearance. He landed on a pumice rock and ruffled his soft feathers, the cool stone with holes like Maribo cheese under his scaly claws. Odin would be pleased to hear that their stories are still shared with others so in this ever-changing world they will never be forgotten.

Then my sister and I played hooky for the rest of the day and explored Reykjavik! First, we walked along the coast and got to see the Sun Voyager! 

Next stop was Helgramskirkjar where we also got to see a statue of Leif Ericsson then we went all the way to the top of the bell tower to see Reykjavik from the top!

We had fish and chips for lunch and then went to the ferry to Videy Island!

Videy Island felt so untouched and was covered with hillocks, peppered with basalt columns and rimmed by cliffs and black pebble beaches. 

Then I ended the day with another hotel dinner and a massage at the hotel spa, which really helped my muscles relax after 20,000 steps worth of walking.

Day 6-7:

Today we had to say good-bye to Iceland which was sad, but I was already making plans to visit again, so I'm hoping to return in two or three years. 

Our flights went pretty smoothly and we had a long layover in NYC so I got to spend the night at my cousin's house though for me that mostly consisted of talking her ear off about the trip. Love you, Anne!

Then the next day we flew home and my mom and I celebrated my birthday with a little birthday cake and she left me this welcome note because my mom is the best.

Conclusion - Overall, I really enjoyed this trip. I'll admit I enjoyed seeing the country more than the conference itself, but I feel extremely inspired, which is what I wanted, and I feel so hopeful about my writing career since it felt like all of my writing research was lining up (more of that in another post). Iceland is a beautiful country and I want to return in a few years on my way to a trip to the United Kingdom!

Milestones I Hit During My 25th Year: 

1.) I went to Iceland - As the former part of this post focused on, I went to Iceland for the first time!

2.) I saw the Arctic Ocean! - I'd like to see all of the world's oceans in my lifetime and now I'm at three out of five. Woohoo!

3.) I signed with my agent! - This was definitely the biggest highlight of my 25th year. My 25th year was fraught with a lot of doubt and thinking of what else I should do with my life because this writing thing doesn't seem to be working out, but when all hope was lost I got accepted by an agency! My confidence has definitely skyrocketed and I feel like I'm on the right path again.

4.) I walked on a glacier! - I feel like I've brought this up fifty times, but hey, this was an awesome experience. It felt like I was in another world when I stood on that vast plain of ice surrounded by mountains and it's one I'll remember forever.

5.) I cosplayed as Lady Bishamon! - I try to do at least one new cosplay a year and Bishamonten is a very personal cosplay to me. I relate to her journey so much and she has a special place in my heart.

6.) I met celebrities Elijah Wood, Grey Griffin, Jewel Staite, and Carey Elwes! - These actors have been on my to-see list for quite a while and I'm so happy to finally be have been able to meet them! My favorite experience had to be with Grey Griffin (Azula from ATLA) because she was so nice. 

7.) I went to the Statue of Liberty! - This was another bucket list item of mine. Gotta do all the big USA monuments!

8.) I attended two Chinese festivals - I was hoping to nail the Chinese New Year too, but welp there's next year! But I go to do the Chinese Festival of Lights and the Chinese Lunar Festival and eat moon cakes, see amazing handmade lanterns, and watching fantastic acrobats and traditional dance!

9.) I finally played Kingdom Hearts - I've been wanting to play these games for literally ten years and after getting a PS4 I've finally gotten a chance to play them. I haven't finished but I'm loving the series. 

10.) I fell in love with my stories again - The majority of my 25th year was probably the least productive I've been with my books in a long time. I was riddled with doubt and weighing my options about what direction I needed to take my life. I was regretting all of my past decisions. I debated moving to Florida to be closer to friends, going back to school, and/or getting a full-time job even if that meant cutting out all of my writing activities that seemed to be getting me nowhere. I barely finished one draft last year when in past years I've finished three. 

But after getting my agent, my hope soared again and I began to really immerse myself in my stories because it felt like all of my decisions were worth it because they finally came to something. The journey is far from over, but I feel like I'm connecting with my characters again and ideas are flowing like crazy. And the fact that it's a real possibility that in my 26th year I'll have a publishing contract just makes me over the moon.

Have you ever been to Iceland? What are some of your bucket list items? Where did you go on your most recent vacation? 

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