In the early 2000s, my family and I were living in Iceland for a span of three years. Before landing in a place where we would be living for well over a decade once we moved back to the US, the land of fire and ice was where I called home.
Iceland was a fascinating place to live, from the physical landscape to the history and culture of the country. I have vivid memories of hiking up the sides of an inactive volcano and seeing massive geysers for the first time. Once we moved back to the States, I knew I wanted to go back one day.
Living in Iceland was certainly a massive part of what would soon become a continuous wanderlust that I still have to this day. Travel is something that I’ve always loved, even if it’s just taking a short day trip. So when the Covid-19 pandemic started and quarantine became our global norm, I knew any trips I’d had planned for 2020 and any I wanted to make for the foreseeable future were not happening.
As quarantine carried on, I definitely found myself missing the excitement of getting to day-trip and plan longer escapades. It’s something that many people were missing, but travel was a no-go.
Thinking about travel though? Completely doable.
I found myself thinking back to the hypothetical trip I wanted to take to Iceland. This hypothetical trip was something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid, and even before the pandemic I really had no idea when it was going to happen.
But in November 2020, one game that I’d been extremely excited about finally released. As a longtime fan, I was looking forward to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla just a little bit more than usual. With the game centering around Vikings and the main character Eivor, part of the setting is based in Norway.
Norway and Iceland have similarities in their landscapes, with both being Nordic countries and being so close to the Arctic Circle. Mountains, snow, and sprawling fjords are common sights. That’s why I spent the first 10 hours of Valhalla just exploring the opening section of the game in Norway. I played through the main story line and greatly enjoyed it, but I was very keen to just travel around the map, checking out different areas and the side encounters that were available.
Valhalla’s Norway section was gorgeous. And to me, who really missed the actual geography and sites of Iceland, it captured a little bit of what I remember being in Iceland was like.
Once night falls in Valhalla, you pretty much see the aurora borealis all the time. I had seen clips of the northern lights in the first trailer for the game, but it’s different to see something in the trailer compared to seeing it during your first play-through.
When I was living in Iceland, I saw the northern lights several times. It’s kind of hard to describe just how amazing they look, but “magical” does catch some of what it’s like. So in Valhalla, I took time to trek up to one of the fast travel points that was at the peak of a mountain to both gain access to the point and to get a really good view of the northern lights.
It’s a simple thing in the context of playing a game; checking out the scenery as you play and explore. But seeing the northern lights as I was climbing across mountains (and falling to my death a handful of times) very much brought me back to a specific moment.
I can’t remember the exact year, but it was just after Christmas in early January. There’s an Icelandic holiday called Þrettándinn, which marks the end to the Christmas season. In celebration, large bonfires crop up. Christmas trees are also taken down. So this particular Þrettándinn, my family and I went to a bonfire that was in the city near where we were living at the time. It was absolutely massive! I can remember seeing old wooden furniture and people’s Christmas trees (the live kind) in the giant pile that made up the bonfire.