Reykjavík waterfront and my checklist mentality

I was walking down Laugavegur this afternoon when I caught a glimpse of the bay from between two buildings. Not just the bay, actually, but the mountain Esja too, which is more rare; on cloudier, wetter days it’s not much more than a vague dark mass in the distance. And there were sailboats.

Esja and the bay

{as always, click on photos to enlarge, or mouse over for description}

Sailboats on the bay

I went home and told Erik, “Let’s eat dinner out by the harbor,” and he agreed. So we made broiled open-faced sammiches (ham and cheese and mustard on Danish rye bread) and filled my water bottle, and off we went.

Sun Voyager

People sitting on the rocks and a girl standing and taking a picture

The waterfront trail on the north side of Reykjavík is only a few blocks from where we’ve been staying, and it’s an ideal place to walk at all hours: a nice paved trail, an unobstructed view of the bay, and these great rocks to sit on. I could do weeks of posts just about the view from here — it changes every day and it’s always beautiful. 

Bikers and walkers along the paved trail

Lisa eating an open-faced sandwich

I have to include this next photo because it makes me laugh. A couple of fishermen passed by as we were eating, and I heard them speaking Mandarin so I turned to look. Then I did a huge double-take because I noticed they were carrying a plastic big with what looked like two big fish in it. Erik caught my goofy expression and exaggerated head-turn — you can practically see the cartoony puff of smoke as I whip my head around!

Lisa making a ridiculous face as she does a double-take

“I can’t believe we’ve been here almost a month,” I said. “What have we been doing all this time, anyway?”

Erik widened his eyes at me. “Enjoying life!” he said.

“Well, yeah,” I said, “but it feels like we’ve barely seen anything.”

“You like your checklist, don’t you,” said Erik. “I bet if we left Iceland right now, you’d feel like you’d wasted your time.”

“Maybe,” I said. We haven’t seen the countryside, or the geothermal beach, or gone swimming, or ridden Icelandic horses.* We have three more weeks here, and I want to do all those things, not to mention my usual menu of sketching and writing in cafés. But I’m already making plans for our next stop — we’ve decided on a week or two in London, since we have to change planes anyway to get to Istanbul — and I’ve been feeling the time pressure.

Yesterday morning I woke around five and couldn’t get back to sleep. All my thoughts just came to life at once: the London AirBnB listings I’d been perusing the night before, our Reykjavík errands, my list of things to do in Iceland before we go, random Icelandic words. I got out of bed, thinking I might check my email, but then I decided to go walk along the waterfront instead. The sky was deeply overcast, but light enough, and though there were very few people on the trail, I was greeted by another of Reykjavík’s friendly cats.

Grey and white cat by rocks

I have noticed — though I often fail to act on this knowledge — that when I’m stressed or anxious and I stay inside, my thoughts go round and round as if confined by the walls of the building. But once I’m outside, especially if there’s a view, my anxieties dissipate as if on the air. It feels pretty pointless to fret about “not enough” when I’m striding alongside the North Atlantic at 6 AM, alone except for the gulls, the cat, and the occasional jogger.

I walked for about an hour, and on my way back home I passed Björnsbakarí just as they were opening for the day. I went in and got a couple of ham and cheese croissants from the cheerful woman behind the counter. Back in the apartment, I ate my croissant and then got back in bed and slept until the afternoon.

That evening, sitting upstairs at a bookstore cafe, I wrote it all out and realized that when I feel I’m not doing/seeing enough, some of that’s my own real desire to explore, but some of it is also my fear that some invisible, imaginary, powerful authority is evaluating my actions and finding them wanting. “What?!” it barks. “You went to Iceland and you didn’t do x, y, and z? Then you didn’t see Iceland at all!” In other words, it’s imposter syndrome, same as ever. Funny how much it helps just to recognize that for what it is.

The thing is, I really do believe it’s perfectly okay to travel around the world living quiet and peaceful rather than living large (isn’t the world large enough?!). Sure, there are lots of things I want to do here (and I would be disappointed if we never saw the countryside… or went swimming), but I don’t get stressed about that… until the inner critic starts bearing down. So I’ve resolved that as long as I do things because I want to — or don’t do things because I’m not interested, even if everyone else says I must — then that’s okay. It’s my life, after all.**

I’ve written about this before, haven’t I? Like all our most tenacious patterns, it comes up again and again, and I have to keep re-learning how to deal with it. As they say: wherever you go… there you are. If that is the only lesson I learn from our travels, that is good enough!

I’ll leave you with some more views of the waterfront, from other days and other times of day.

Blue blue ocean

Lisa standing on the Sun Voyager

Glossy rocks along the harbor

Waterfront by night

*If you know me well you won’t be surprised to know that I have a spreadsheet of things I want to do here, which I update almost daily. I like to be organized, and since we’re traveling so much, it helps clear my head when I write everything down where I can find it again. But yes, I know it’s a little OCD. Go back up

**This is kind of ludicrous (and perfectly illustrative of the way I think!), but I really fear that imaginary authority telling me that I’m not a good enough traveler. There are pages and pages in my journal, which it would be too self-indulgent to post here, about how I think maybe we should be meeting more people or going on more adventures or… I don’t know, living out everyone’s early-20s travel story which I never got to experience because I came out of the womb cautious and reserved, which involves getting lost or getting drunk or going home with someone I just met. Am I just afraid I’m not cool enough, because in the part of my mind where I’m still a teenager, I think cool travelers do that kind of thing? Let’s be honest: I’m not cool in that way, and frankly I doubt I would enjoy being so. If that makes me boring and uptight, I guess that’s my fate. I like my life — no, I love my life — but I do have a hard time getting over this shameful feeling that there’s a “good time” somewhere out there that I’m not having because I’m too much of a nerd/homebody to go looking for it. And for every “it is okay to be the way I am” affirmation, a little voice tells me, “on the other hand, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone!” Go back up