A Wedding in Iceland: 118 People & 2 Coach Buses in the Land of the Midnight Sun
I have talked to so many people who came back from Iceland in love with the place. Though I knew it was because of the sort of breathtaking sights that make a person take stock of being alive, to feel, as you do on the best vacations, that we live in a world filled not just of dullness and cruelty but also unspeakable wonder, I never was driven to book my own ticket. There are natural wonders everywhere; heading toward the Arctic Circle seemed a bit out of the way.
When I went for my brother’s wedding this summer, I got it. Iceland is beautiful, yes, but also there is something delightfully weird about it — like just a little off, but in the best possible way. It’s fitting then that my brother, Arthur, and his wife Kat chose to get married there, because they too are delightfully weird in the best possible way. (I should also note that I’m very weird, whether or not delightful).
Part of its oddness has to do with the light patterns. In the summer, it’s the land of the midnight sun. Sunset is after 12 a.m. and sunrise around 3 a.m., and the sky is never fully dark. The constant daylight seeps into your brain in a way that makes you feel a little freer and a little crazier.
Then there is Iceland’s otherworldliness.
The 118 of us who came for the wedding were transported over three days by coach bus from one breathtaking landscape setting to the next, courtesy of the hyper-organized wedding and tour planning company Pink Iceland.
Each stop felt like walking onto a different movie set: volcanic rock field, waterfalls with rainbows, the maritime village of Reykjavik.
The wedding weekend also had my brother’s entertainer’s instinct of bringing different people together and seeing what happens.
Here are some highlights of the trip. Hopefully this will be helpful for anyone who is considering planning a similar group event — I think it is the perfect place for a wedding or family reunion!
Day 1: Reykjavik
My parents and I arrived from Chicago after an overnight flight on Icelandair and took a car to the Natura hotel, which is right next door to Iceland’s much smaller municipal airport. The hotel looks like a sixties airport on the outside and has a sleek but warm Scandinavian ambiance inside, with quirky wood cutout art and portrait paintings like rebooted Modiglianis.
After a nap, my parents and I took the city bus through quaint and rainy Reykjavik to the Grandi Mathöll food hall, which would have been just as at home in Brooklyn. We ordered meat soup—a dish so classic that asking for it at a restaurant was included in the Icelandic language tapes my mom studied before the trip, a sweet/savory salad, and some Viking beers.
Over the course of the afternoon, more of my family joined us — my sister, her husband, and their son; my aunt and uncle; and my first cousin, his wife, and their daughter. We sat around a long table drinking Viking beers, catching up, watching the two kids, who are both around age two, play with each other, and looking out on the working waterfront as the skies cleared. They would stay blue for the rest of our trip.
Day 2: Golden Circle Tour
On the second day, we boarded one of two coach buses, which would take us over the course of the day around the Golden Circle, a popular tourist route in southern Iceland with stop-offs at national parks, a geyser, and a waterfall.
Thingvellir National Park
We stopped at Thingvellir National Park, which sits directly between the North American and European tectonic plates. After a stop in the national park store and bathroom area, we went on a short walk and marveled while catching up with everyone. It was surreal and one of the many joys of this wedding seeing so many of my brother and his wife’s friends, as well as our family, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, all the way in Iceland, at the intersection of two major tectonic plates, no less.
“Icelandic Hot Dog Party” at Skjól Camping
We went after the park to lunch at Skjol, which hosted us for what was billed as an “Icelandic Hot Dog Party.” Hot dogs, unexpectedly, are particularly popular in Iceland, and this wouldn’t be my first encounter with them. After eating hot dogs we could top with crispy fried onions, ketchup, and mustard and washing it down with a beer, many of us made the perhaps unwise but incredibly fun decision to jump on a trampoline just outside of the restaurant, that was inflated from the ground.
The next popular site on the Golden Circle Tour is the stunning Gullfoss Waterfall, known as one of the most impressive waterfalls in a country filled with impressive waterfalls. The water flowing down comes from the Langjökull glacier, and the river is supposed to be great for rafting.
Geysir geothermal area
We then stopped in a geothermal area where there are two geysers, one known as the Great Geyser, which erupts infrequently, and the other called Strokkur, which erupts around every ten minutes and which our tour guide, Ziggy, said Icelanders liken to a female orgasm.
We filed out of the tour bus and to the geyser to see for ourselves. I shot a video of the first explosion, but it was horizontal, and I wanted to also get a vertical video, so I planted myself in front of the geyser to wait for it to burst again. But before each time that it did burst, I would turn my head and miss it — usually to chime in to a nearby conversation that was going on. So I kept just missing the geyser until it became kind of a Mr. Bean moment. I finally forced myself to buckle down and focus and yes, catch a vertical video of the geyser. The things we do for Instagram!
Welcome dinner at Friðheimar Greenhouse
Dinner was at Friðheimar, a greenhouse that produces a wide variety of tomatoes — a crop you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Iceland, until you hear about the ingenuity in how they are grown here. As we sipped sweet, tomato juice cocktails, owner and horticulturalist/agronomist Knútur Rafn Ármann welcomed us and explained the workings of his family’s farm. The natural, heated water in the ground is used to heat the greenhouse and grow the tomatoes. The plants are able to weather the dark months of the Icelandic winter because they are grown under artificial lighting, and the entire climate of the place is controlled through a computer system.
We dined on tomato soup with basil we could cut ourselves and home baked bread, on which our hosts recommended we spread butter, sour cream, and a cucumber salsa on top. The soup was also accompanied by a “soup stick” which looked like Edible Arrangement toothpicks but with chunks of fresh vegetables, meats, seafood, and cheeses. Dessert was a delicious cheesecake with a jam made from green tomato, cinnamon, and lime.
At the dinner, my brother’s officiant, his friend and former director of him in the feature film, We Made this Movie, Rob, said a few words. He spoke about a friend of Kat and Arthur’s named Devra Freelander, who was struck and killed by a truck while biking just three days before, in New York City. It was shocking and sad and especially painful to think she would have been sitting right there with us. I had met her a few times. She always went out of her way to say hi and was incredibly kind, funny, and calming to be around. I can’t imagine how it must have felt for my brother, his wife, and their friends who were close to her given how much of an impression she made on me. But I know that it made us appreciate the importance of being with those you love and that her spirit was still felt even if she could not be there.
Hot dog midnight run
We arrived back at the hotel after 9, though outside it looked like 5 or 6 pm. A few of us got drinks at the hotel bar and then decided to go, at the suggestion of Rob and his very fun family, to a hot dog stand in Reykjavik that Bill Clinton had once patronized. Initially, it seemed crazy to be heading out into the streets of Reykjavik after a long day of touring, but the Midnight Sun effect was hard to resist. And the hot dogs were good!
Day 3: Wedding day!
We took a 90 minute bus ride to the sight of the wedding, a beautiful and secluded waterfall at the head of a creek.
On the way there, we did what had come to be one of my favorites thing about the trip — stoping at an Icelandic rest stop. Every one we had visited, it seemed, was immaculately clean, bursting with American and Icelandic snacks alike, from Doritos to fish jerky to fair isle patterned winter wear and Route 60 hats.
Then, we boarded the bus and arrived at the wedding waterfall.
As the wedding unfolded, it came to feel like a variety show, appropriate given that my brother used to have us perform sketch comedy shows for my parents on Saturday night, that in his senior year, my brother had been head writer of our high school’s annual variety show, and that he was then co-head sketch writer on the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
Rob recalled the heaven and hell parable about long spoons and brought out his daughters and son to actually give Arthur and Kat two long spoons and the opportunity to feed each other a choice of two Icelandic delicacies: some kind of shark meat and sort of insides of a lamb (if I’m remembering correctly). Some of my brother’s comedy friends dressed as “Vikings” with fake beards and performed a song with lyrics like “We came for gold, but we found love.” Kat’s friends performed a song that Devra was supposed to have sung. Arthur had asked my sister and I to read a passage from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and another friend and co-director of We Made this Movie Jon, to read the verse in the song “Rapper’s Delight” about a guy who tries to desperately avoid getting served seconds during a bad dinner at his friend’s house. Kat and Arthur each read vows, and then Rob married them. And then they did an amazing dance — doubly impressive because Kat was wearing that beautiful wedding dress — that their friend Yael had choreographed.
Afterwards, we went over to a table to toast the newlyweds with champagne, Icelandic donuts, and other light dessert, and took opportunities to get photos in front of the eye popping waterfall that had been the backdrop for the wedding the entire time.
Reynisfjara Black Beach
After the ceremony, we packed into the buses and headed to Reynisfjara Black Beach, which is known as one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world. Here, we could climb on the basalt columns, which remind me of the silhouette of a city skyline, and look out at the ocean from which burst out the Reynisdrangar Sea Cliffs, like blackened sea creatures and shipwrecks frozen in time. There is also a spacious cave and a rest stop where the soup and, of course, the hot dogs, come highly recommended.
Next we took the bus to Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall that created the most in tact rainbow I had seen thus far — which was saying a lot. It was also the tallest waterfall we had seen. Walking behind it, we found ourselves in a gorgeous, lush cavern with an intense backspray depending on where you stood.
Reception at Ingolfsskáli Viking Restaurant
We ended the day and started the night with the wedding reception at a “viking restaurant,” a wooden building with a turfed roof. Inside everything was made of wood, from the long dining tables, to the stage, to the bar. We sipped Bjork tonic (pretty sure this is not named for the singer but a liqueur), ate salmon, lamb, or a vegetarian option for dinner, and danced the night away after a series of hilarious toasts. Those of us who took the last bus back to the hotel lined up outside the lodge with sparklers as Kat and Arthur ran through, sending off the newlyweds into the night. Well…they were actually on the bus with us.
Day 4: the Blue Lagoon
On the last day, we went to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa supplied by water from a nearby power station not far from the airport, and one of Iceland’s most visited sights. Here you can wade to a bar to get smoothies, beers, or champagne, and to a mud mask station to lather up your face with silica and algae that is supposed to strengthen and soften the skin. (I think it helped, or at least the placebo feeling was in full effect!). Then, after not long enough, I took a van with a few of the other guests to the airport, which is only about 20 minutes away, and started the glidepath back to reality.
The best parts
Quality bus time
A significant chunk of our time on this trip was spent on coach buses. This meant I had a lot of time to catch up with my neighbors. We talked about jobs we loved and jobs we were glad to have left and life after New York City for those of us who’d moved away and what it would be like to live in Iceland in the winter (and whether the near constant darkness would drive us to depression), and of course, hot dogs.
At one point my dad yelled up from the near back of the bus, where we were sitting, if the driver could turn up the air conditioning. My mom and I slunk down into our seats, realizing at the same time that we couldn’t pretend we didn’t know him in this crowd (Sorry dad!). But happily enough, my dad actually became very friendly with the bus driver, and at just about every stop, as the rest of us were heading off to see a geyser or waterfall, the two of them were in conversation — covering, as my dad so effortlessly manages to do, a wide-ranging assortment of topics, from the financial crisis in Iceland to our bus driver’s time spent in Boston.
Kat & Arthur’s spirit throughout
There were many things I got out of this short yet deeply meaningful and enjoyable trip, but perhaps the most important was having the opportunity to appreciate the approach to life that my brother and his wife share: and that is one of bringing people together and having fun in a way that is both genuine and wacky. My brother Arthur always has appreciated things in a way that could be called childlike. He has found someone who clearly shares this in Kat. Here are some photos from the wedding that capture this spirit.
We are all lucky to have passed four perfect days in Iceland during a crazy time in the world and in our lives. Thank you, Arthur and Kat.