Hiraeth : Iceland

By Welcome Walks | 28.06.2018

Hiraeth (noun, m, Welsh) – A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

My memory is fickle sometimes.

I remember the things people wouldn’t find important at all, and misplace things that others insist are important. I must remember.

I don’t remember visiting Philadelphia when I was around eight, but I do remember the creepy little marionette my parents bought for me tap dancing in the aisle of the tour trolley. I remember my father greeting our guide with a hearty, “Hi, Al!” after the man introduced himself.

I remember him always using people’s names.

I remember him singing Call the Wind Maria in a big, bold baritone while I sat in the back of the van smelling warm vinyl and a hint of gasoline.

I remember so much music.

And that’s how I remember Iceland.

I went on a trip with two other women to a place no one we knew had ever gone before. We arrived at Keflavík International Airport in the blue-black dark before morning, unprepared for just how cold I was about to be.

I’ve flown in and out of my fair share of cities, but I’m no Travel Master. (This trip was the first time I’ve ever actually stood on a tarmac in the snow and hauled my carry-on luggage up the steps.) I’ve seen grey, faceless airports meant only to service the commuter crowd. I’ve seen elaborate art galleries between expertly designed concourses.

But Keflavík looks like the inside of an Ikea’s dreams. It is both airy and modern, warm but aloof. And in one of the bubble windows, I saw the lyrics of a Björk song printed:

“I feel
emotional landscapes
they puzzle me”

  • Björk ,

I thought, that will look cool on Instagram.

I hadn’t really listened to Björk since I was maybe fourteen years old, seething and frustrated and listening to Army of Me over and over.

Things are a little different now.

We arrived just in time for New Year’s Eve, when the locals began to detonate more fireworks than I have ever seen in my life. We watched them from the balcony of our AirBnB for a little while, the TV on in the background.

We managed to tune in to a circus performance, and when the aerial silks came on, I sat down to pay attention. The music struck something in me, and when I looked it up, I realized that it was Björk’s Joga, a song about the incredible importance of close personal relationships.

To me, my friends are everything. They’ve waited patiently with me while the worst times of my life have bowled me over, and helped to dust me off.

I watched the performers spin in a tight spiral before returning to each other’s arms and I really listened to what this song was saying. The window missed the context:

All these accidents that happen

follow the dot.
Coincidence makes sense
only with you.
You don’t have to speak,
I feel

Emotional landscapes
they puzzle me. 
The riddle gets solved, 
and you push me up to

This state of emergency
how beautiful to be. 
State of emergency 
is where I want to be. 

I listened to the song over and over, committing to my memory, like I could sear it straight into my heart. I wanted to hear it in my head always. There are a few songs in life that stay with us like that.

They open up a searing cool cavity in our chests and bellies, almost like the gaping arches of a cathedral, big and full of sound and light.

There are a few songs that we hold on to like those teenagers, desperate to hold on to their favorite songs, feeling their lives take shape and form, their tastes first begin to develop. They tie songs to memory, heartbreak, hope, and helpless longing. 

Like a grade school poem—once you memorize it, you’ll never forget it. Whether or not you want to.

So I sat in the little kitchen in the apartment where we were staying, in the dead black of late night, and I brushed my teeth in the light of a Christmas star, looking out at the snow.

I felt warm, and safe, and impossibly new.




I ignored my own fears and anxieties, and I dove into exploring a place so unlike anywhere I had ever been. I puzzled out bus stops that got tangled up in my mouth, and tried on thirty five pounds of chainmail.

I made a long trip out to the countryside, where they sell fresh wool fiber and beautiful sweaters, and I stood by the brook while what little sunlight we would have would fade away.

And I didn’t feel sad at all.

What about you?

Is there a song that brings back memories for you? A place you think back of fondly, and wish you could return to, even for a few moments?

  • We’re always working on new and exciting tours here at Welcome Walks. Would you be brave (and well-padded) enough to take a walking tour in Iceland?
  • Check out our Music link in the header for a look at our Spotify. We’ll be adding some of our favorite songs for packing, traveling, and a few things in between.