Silver Cup Artist Sponsor and photographer Radhika of Radian Photography recently visited Iceland with her husband. She shared with us not only her beautiful scans from the trip but also a unique tradition she and her husband share on their travels. She shares, “Two of the things that have been the foundation of my relationship with Ian is seeing the world together and writing each other letters. After each trip, we write a letter to each other about our memories from the trip.”
They shared their letters below—keeping them anonymous so you can only guess who wrote which letter. But first, here is her guide to traveling in Iceland.
Travel Guide to Iceland
We just returned from the land of fire and ice, where we have been yearning to visit for quite a while. Seeing the northern lights has been a bucket list item for years, and we finally decided to make Reykjavik our annual travel spot because we were captivated by its opposing extremes. Here volcanoes and glaciers co-exist (sometimes right next to each other!), and while water falls from great heights, steam rises out of the depths of the earth. During our trip, we saw the most beautiful of sights and learned the most unexpected of facts that we will absolutely keep in mind when we return!
Do rent a car.
Driving in Iceland is an absolute dream, and renting a car was, by far, one of the best decisions we made. Not only did it allow us to quickly get to and from our Airbnb to downtown Reykjavik, but allowed us to drive along the southern shore to Vik, home of black sand beaches, and on even further to Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland. Route 1, better known as the Ring Road, is a two-lane highway that circles the entire country, leaving active volcanoes, glacial plains, and black sand deserts in its center. On our drives, we were able to see some of the most beautiful and popular stops: the Golden Circle, waterfalls, glaciers, and all of the moss-covered rocks our hearts could ever desire.
Don’t call them ponies.
The Icelandic countryside is dotted with all types of animals: we saw so many cows, sheep, and horses. We even explored some of the areas surrounding Reykjavik on horseback! The Icelandic horse is smaller than its American counterpart and has a special gait called the tölt, but that didn’t make the rides any smoother! Cows produce the majority of the milk in Iceland, much of which is used to make skyr, a yogurt that tasted like a slightly more sour version of Greek yogurt. The sheep in Iceland produce wool that is used in all types of products, and Icelanders swear by its ability to keep them warm in the harsh winters; we bought a blanket. We cannot wait to use it when the temperatures drop!
Do enjoy grown-up kid food.
The meal we ate more than any other in Iceland? Hot dogs. In Iceland, hot dogs are made of mostly lamb meat, and they are delicious. If you are a big hot dog aficionado, that reason alone might be why you should plan a trip to Iceland! We didn’t only eat hot dogs, though. Iceland is also known for its amazing seafood, and in the rainy and windy weather, we enjoyed many a warm stew. It is safe to say that we left Iceland with our stomachs as full as our hearts!
Don’t mess with the moss.
Icelanders are serious about their environment, and it is clear why. From geysers to glaciers, there are so many stunning natural wonders there. While Icelanders are careful to protect all of these beautiful resources, even making sure to instruct tourists not to remove moss or build cairns, there is one human mark on their terrain that they actively embrace. The Sólheimasandur beach outside of Vik is home to a plane crash that has been left relatively untouched for the past four decades. This other-worldly site was equally haunting and beautiful. Since local landowners have closed the road to cars, we had to walk five miles to get there and back, but it was well worth it to see yet another of Iceland’s reminders about the fragility of life.
Do drink the water.
The water in Iceland, whether it came from a faucet or the sky, was unexpected. We were not ready for the smell of sulfur in our shower or when we washed our hands, but we embraced the geothermal energy that powers Iceland anyway. As for the rain, though a constant guest on our travels, our Airbnb host quickly reframed our view of it when she asked us, “But isn’t it a refreshing change from the heat of North Carolina?” Undoubtedly, our favorite part of the trip was when the skies finally cooperated with us: on a clear night, we drove out of Reykjavik to escape the city lights and watched as the aurora put on a quick but unforgettable show for us. As we cross one more item off of our bucket list, we feel thankful to have witnessed the breathtaking beauty of Iceland. We cannot wait for the day that we can return.
Love Letters from “the Smoky Bay”
When I first mentioned traveling to Iceland, you already knew it was going to happen. You recognized the spark in my eye, and as faithfully as ever, you fanned it. You recognize that my fascination with the world and all of its secret wonders cannot be subdued, because you feel the same way. We learned about all of the places we would be able to see, and our hearts beat faster at the thought of volcanoes and glaciers and the sea and mountains existing in the same place. You said, so long ago, that we are cosmic twins. I never know that to be true more than when I get to experience the world with you.
Just after landing in Reykjavik, we drove around the rainy city, stopping to eat an amazing breakfast and wander into the little shops filled to the brim with sheep’s wool products. The fact that your first meal included the famed Icelandic hot dog surprised no one, least of all me. But what I was truly excited about was exploring the amazing natural sites outside of Reykjavik. As we toured the Golden Circle, we drove by endless stretches of moss-covered rocks, ones that the Earth cast from within itself as molten and flowing lava, ones that hardened over time to provide a surface for the green carpet that spread as far as our eyes could see. We watched the Geysir erupt, walked between two tectonic plates, felt the mist of Gulfoss Waterfall, and soaked in the heated waters of the Secret Lagoon. All the while, we learned about the science behind the Earth’s playgrounds. And as the world grew larger before me and I felt smaller as a result, you met my “what ifs” with “if it happens, it happens,” reassuring me, as always, that we will face them together.
We decided to try our luck and find the northern lights. Bundled up and filled with hot cocoa, we set out hoping to see what textbooks explained to be a phenomenon occurring due to charged particles from the sun striking our own planet’s atmosphere. We drove far out of the city to escape the lights and find a place dark enough for small particles to dance freely. But when I saw the lights of the aurora swaying in the Icelandic sky and I looked at you, and you looked at me, and we both knew to put our cameras away and stand hand in hand, I knew there was only one word to describe the show. Magic.
Your cosmic twin
Adventures are our safe space—seeing new places, eating new foods, collecting new experiences, all along the way towards living lives well-lived. I have always loved doing new things in new places, but since I have known you it has been the constants—you and your smiles and your car naps and your gasps of excitement—that truly make it special. Sharing the world with you has been the unending highlight of our time together.
We just added another adventure to our list, Iceland. We rode horses, swam in hot springs, peered down waterfalls, and saw the elusive northern lights, but I really cherished the last two days, spent driving across the southern coast from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón, stopping whenever and wherever, eagerly collecting the sights and sounds of our final hours in Iceland. Being in that car with you was so familiar (how many hours have we spent driving together?), but at the same time so new.
Outside our windows were miles and miles (kilometers and kilometers?) of deep green moss blanketing the rounded remnants of volcanic eruptions centuries old. In the distance, and sometimes too close for comfort, we saw hills and mountains that came seemingly out of nowhere to tower over us, their sides dotted with sheep and lined with lava flows. We walked along black sand, enveloped in a cool, eerie mist, as waves crashed against the rocks that decorated the coast, just off the shore. We walked hours to see the infamous shell of that crashed plane, frozen in time before our eyes. We stood on the edge of the world, awed by the sheer magnitude of time and space so perfectly embodied by such a small, but truly otherworldly, country. We did it all side-by-side, eyes forward, but always together.
I wish I could say that I will always remember everything we saw and everything we did, that years from now I will remember the blue glow of the glaciers floating off the shore or the green streaks of the northern lights flowing across the night sky. But the truth is that what I will probably remember most clearly is the excited gleam in your eyes when those lights started dancing for us and the way you tugged at my sleeve before you asked me to take a picture of you holding the piece of glacier that washed up on shore and the warmth I felt in my soul when you snuggled up on my arm to sleep on the plane ride home, both of hearts full to bursting with the time we had spent together discovering a new corner of the Earth. My world is so much bigger with you in it.
Your faithful companion
To see more from Radian Photography follow the links below. You can also find her beautiful work in The Grace Issue debuting on newsstands Monday, November 14th!
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