When I travel out of the country, I like to bring my tea with me because I do not know how available my favorite tea is—so my one item to pack is my thermos even though I always travel light, like no more luggage than a carry-on no matter where I go and for how long. So, on an early sunny morning in Iceland where I recently revisited, with my thermos of Earl Grey Oolong, I ventured across the street from our hotel and visited the award winning Harpa Concert Hall.
Harpa is unusual in that it is both contemporary and baroque (I know it sounds contradictory, but, think of Gaudi’s Holy Family Church in Barcelona). It sits alone on the water front with one side lopsided and prismatic windows, totally in contrast to the sleek Danish style architectures across the street. Once inside, the windows not only reflect prismatic rays of the morning sun but also cast interesting shadows across the various lines and geometric planes which all come to a disappearing perspective point.
As I sipped my tea and watched the glimmering blue sea, it was hard for me to remember that Iceland is a place of fire and ice—a place with 300 volcanoes and countless glaciers. I had just finished visiting the waterfalls of southern Iceland, the Golden Circle, and Pingvellir National Park, but I miss the Iceland of my 2015 trip. Since then, tourism in Iceland had increased so much that people now come by the bus loads and everywhere I went there was a parking lot with at least ten buses. During my 2015 trip, there had been, at most, three passenger cars parked on the side of the road.
In my previous trip I was able to see ubiquitous moss-covered grounds that looked like fields of closely planted broccoli but felt bouncy to the feet like a mattress. On this trip I hardly saw moss even though we travelled at only one week later in the season than my previous one. Maybe the moss dislikes too many people as well. I also remember being able to walk along a quiet slope and was suddenly surprised that I had come to the very edge of Gullfoss. I felt the sense of awe and wonder at the unforgettable sight and sound up close, as torrents of glacier water plunge down 50 feet and 800 feet across, and then split into two, one—a cascade 400 feet wide and the other tumbled 100 feet down into the narrow gorge along the mighty Hvita River. On this trip I was required to follow the herds of tourists along a wooden tourist path safely away from the mist. Even though I could still see the three falls in the same frame at great angles to each other but somehow there were too many people there to take a photo that was worthy of the waterfall.
I believe that the rapid development of tourism has somewhat spoiled the landscape with vacation cottages, restaurants and parking lots which to me appeared haphazardly plunked down, not to mention the well-intentioned tourist boardwalks. Iceland has acquired a touristy look, yet it is still a beautiful island. If you ever go to Iceland or plan to revisit, do try to include places beyond the roundtrip distance of Reykjavik in a day, places where you can be lost in its pristine beauty, where you can feel small in a vast universe, where you can sense the vital co-existence of the people and the land, and, if you were like me, where the deep sea provides a rich harvest of fresh sashimi. Ah yes, remember to bring a thermos of your favorite tea: an Earl Grey or a Keemun will work very well in the autumn and winter seasons and a Jasmine or Organic Inspire from Buckhead Tea will be excellent for spring and summer!