In a cozy café in Reykjavik, Iceland, I was sipping my latte out of an oversized cup when a raven alit on the top of a bright red house outside the café. For the umpteenth time since I’d been in the country, I tried to pronounce the Icelandic word for Raven. Hrafn. I rolled the letters over my tongue, speaking the word aloud. As soon as I heard my voice, I knew I’d said it incorrectly. Hrafn. The fn makes a “p” sound, I reminded myself. But how do you pronounce Hr? Hrafn. Hrafn. I realized I’ve become that odd-looking traveler sitting alone at a table talking to myself.
I’d been thinking a lot about ravens. I’d come to Iceland to, among other things, work on my writing. The raven, or hrafn, is an important bird in Icelandic folklore. It is said that the Norse god Oðinn had two ravens that counseled him, Huginn (“Thought”) and Muninn (“Memory”). I’d hoped the raven outside the café would help inspire my thoughts and memories, and therefore my writing. But really, the bird was just the beginning, because so much in Iceland inspired my creativity.
For one, downtown Reykjavik is charming. Tiny streets are filled with adorable design stores selling the latest in Icelandic art and design, cozy coffee shops and bookstores are everywhere, offering a warm place to sit for hours to read, sip, and watch the birds or the boats in the harbor. And too there are the restaurants. Not many people, myself included, knew that Iceland had incredible cuisine, from world-class sushi to traditional lamb dishes. Truth be told, most people come to Iceland to experience the awesome natural beauty—to climb to the top of a glacier, ride an Icelandic horse through a lava field, or glimpse the adorable puffins (the national bird) from atop a wind-swept cliff in the West Fjords.
Of course, I wanted to do all those things too. Sitting in a café with my laptop was a good way for me to get some words on the page, but it was the time I spent exploring the country that filled me with the most inspiration. I started with the Golden Circle, a day trip from the capital, Reykjavik. Driving over rolling hills, I marveled at the steam escaping from geothermal vents in the earth. We stopped at Thingvellir, the original seat of government, where the continental plates between Asia and North America meet creating massive fissures and buckling rock—a geologic marvel. Despite hearing how amazing it was, I opted not to put on a dry suit and snorkel in the freezing clear-blue lake. Instead we traveled onward to Geysir, the original geyser, where every few minutes a massive shoot of water exploded thirty feet into the air beside bubbling hot streams. After a lunch break, we went onward to massive Gullfoss Waterfall. And this was only my first tour. Subsequent days were spent soaking in the hot waters of the Blue Lagoon, searching for the “hidden folk” elves in a garden park outside the city, and walking on the black sand beaches of Vik beside basalt columns.
Turns out, I’m not alone in thinking Iceland is a great place to write. Reykjavik was the first UNESCO non-native English speaking City of Literature in the world. The country, with a total population of about 320,000, has more writers and more books published per capita than any other country in the world. Some statistics say that one in ten Icelanders will publish a book. And too there is an Icelandic phrase that translates roughly to “every Icelander has a book in their stomach”—meaning a story to be told/written.
Be it the raven, the natural wonders, or the maybe just the “hidden folk” doing their magic, Iceland inspired my creativity, allowing me an escape and a chance to develop my writing, my favorite hobby.
– Erica J. Green
Erica J. Green is the co-founder of the Iceland Writers Retreat, an event April 9-13, 2014 that is open to all. Famed authors from around the world will lead small-group workshops on the craft of writing. Between intimate workshops and lectures, delegates will have a chance to tour the spectacular Golden Circle, sit in the cozy cafes of Reykjavik, soak in geothermal hot springs, listen to new Icelandic music, meet contemporary Icelandic writers, and learn about the country’s rich literary tradition.
Photography courtesy of Erica J. Green