In Love with Iceland

In October 2016, my teammates and I assembled ourselves from all over the US (Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin, Boston), found ourselves a few token Canadians, packed up our gear, and headed to Iceland to compete in the International Ice Cup, an annual hockey tournament in Reykjavik.

As a group of hockey-and-travel addicted  women, we’d skated together in various combinations in previous tournaments (Hong Kong, Phoenix, Vancouver, Wisconsin pond hockey), but never as an entire team. I knew (almost) everyone, however, and was confident we’d have a fantastic group dynamic.

While the three-day tournament was the primary reason we went to Iceland, we extended our trip to ten days. For the first half, I’d organised a road trip around southern Iceland, from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón, and back. We spent the remainder of our time exploring Reykjavik and playing in the tournament.

Just prior to the trip, I’d forced myself to write a blog post about my 5 favorite trips (to date); this was not easy. However, I can say unequivocally that this Iceland trip blew all of the other ones away in the sheer magnitude, intensity, and sustained level of its awesomeness.

It was so amazing, in fact, that I couldn’t capture every facet in one post, so I wrote an entire series of posts, and even then I didn’t cover everything I wanted to share.

I hope this story encourages you to get on board with TWOW hockey and do some of your own exploration as well!

-Jean

Icebergs at Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, Iceland
Icebergs at Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, Iceland

Magical Iceland

Iceland is a hot destination right now, so hot that I was hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. As one of my friends lamented, “Everyone I know is going to Iceland.” This is usually my cue to avoid a place. However, when my teammates and I found out we could play hockey there, the decision became a no-brainer.

Life hasn’t felt the same since.

The thing is, you can replicate our itinerary exactly (I’ll even share it with you). You can go at the same time of year and retrace our steps, but you will never have the experience we had. Maybe your experience will blow your mind and make Iceland your favorite trip ever, too. Maybe you’ll just end up saying “Meh, that was nice.” But this Iceland trip and its combination of location, timing, people, activities, weather, and the gods-know-what other variables can never be replicated.

That, my friends, is the beauty of travel and sharing experiences with others.

“When you share something so beautiful, you can’t help but feel closer to your companions.”

Landscape of volcanic ash at the foot of Gígjökull, an outlet of the glacier Eyjafjallajökull
Landscape of volcanic ash at the foot of Gígjökull, an outlet of the glacier Eyjafjallajökull

The landscape

Iceland itself deserves much of the credit for the fun we had. Around every turn was a breathtaking vista, an alien landscape, a fairyland. We wandered across fields of volcanic ash at the foot of a glacier, explored hidden ravines and climbed behind waterfalls, hiked through hills and valleys full of vibrant fall colours, and crawled among ice “diamonds” washed up on black sand beaches.

“Each sight was more magnificent than the last, some of it eerily familiar and others like nothing we could have ever imagined.”

When I was planning the trip, I was afraid that, at some point, we might lose a bit of enthusiasm: “Oh, look, another waterfall.” I shouldn’t have worried. Each sight was more magnificent than the last, some eerily familiar and others like nothing we could have ever imagined.

In addition to the stunning scenery, the people were friendly and welcoming; the hotels were clean and comfortable; and the food and drinks were all all high quality and quite tasty (though pricey). Everything about Iceland contributed to the magic of the experience.

The people

The people, both the locals and the members of our group, played an essential role in making the experience so unforgettable. My travelling companions were really what made this trip for me. They came with an adventurous spirit and trusted me to put together a trip that everyone would enjoy.

The whole group at Geysir (photo credit: Mary Bonifield)
The whole group at Geysir (selfie credit: Mary Bonifield)

While Iceland is a great place for solo travellers, and we all enjoyed our moments alone, sharing such an intensely beautiful place made it that much more magical. It was like we fell more in love with each other and the world around us, the deeper into Iceland we went. We were continuously sharing wide-eyed looks of amazement and awestruck exclamations “Holy f*** that’s beautiful!” (We’re hockey players, ok?) We couldn’t believe such a place was real. Somehow Iceland brought my team closer together in emotions we still struggle to articulate but continue to feel.

I guess that’s the real magic of this place. When you share something so beautiful, you can’t help but feel closer to your companions.

We enjoyed our time with the Icelandic locals, both human and equine
We enjoyed our time with the Icelandic locals, both human and equine (selfie credit: Cat Hovell)

The road trip

Before settling down in Reykjavik for the hockey tournament, my teammates and I embarked on our 5-day road trip around southern Iceland. Though we were a big group (14 people, 4 cars), having our own vehicles gave us more flexibility than a bus tour would have, and travelling together prior to the tournament was the ultimate experience in team bonding.

It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road in Iceland
It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road in Iceland

Though we were limited somewhat by schedule, daylight, weather, and availability of activities in October, it’s amazing how much we saw and did, without feeling rushed. In brief, we started off with the classics: the Blue Lagoon, a stop in Reykjavik, and the Golden Circle. Then we left the ring road for a SuperJeep excursion through Þórsmörk and headed on to Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Along our way, we made stops at the Secret Lagoon, Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, Svartifoss waterfall, and Ölvisholt Brewery, to name a few.

This itinerary worked just about perfectly for the time and number of people we had. I had some help from a booking service, which set us up with a baseline self-drive itinerary and helped me modify it to meet our group’s needs. I also booked several activities for the group on my own. The pacing and types of activities made the most of the short days (we had about 8 hours of full daylight in mid-to-late-October), kept us active, and left us some flexibility for optional activities and spontaneous detours.

The hockey

And finally, the hockey…

Ice hockey vies with travel (and beer) as one of my greatest loves, so combining the two is a truly transcendent experience. My teammates and I came together because we love the game and have adventurous souls. Though it was just one part of the trip, hockey was literally the reason we were all there.

Post-game handshake, X-Factor and Björninn
Post-game handshake, X-Factor and Björninn

The tournament is an annual affair, organised through a joint effort by The Women of Winter, Travel and Play, and Bjorninn Hockey Club. Eight teams from the US, Canada, and, of course, Iceland came together for a friendly competition organised by people who have made it their mission to increase women’s opportunities to play the sport.

Exchanging swag with our more-than-worthy opponents
Exchanging swag with our more-than-worthy opponents, SA Ásynjur, from Akureyri (photo credit: Shanon Holman)

My team, Chicago X-Factor, lost the championship game in a shootout to SA Ásynjur, from Akureyri in Northern Iceland, but with such tight competition and great sportsmanship, the sting of the loss wasn’t quite as hard to take.

We’ll be back, Iceland.

Want to play in Iceland?

TWOW is going to Iceland twice in 2018 – once in July and once in October. Check out our event pages if you’re interested in learning more.

The author

Jean Zelt, an avid hockey player, traveller, and beer drinker, is TWOW’s US Ambassador, and has her own travel blog and website, Global at Heart. This story originally appeared there shortly after her return from Iceland. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @globalatheart. She apologizes – er, apologises – for any American spelling oddities. 😉 

 

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