Day 1: Arrival in Iceland
“So, how was Iceland?” my co-workers asked on Thursday when I returned.
“How much time you got?” I’d joke back. But I am really not kidding. How can I possibly describe five days spent in an environment that is completely different than anywhere I’ve been? How do I describe my experience with a landscape that changes itself with spreading tectonic plates, volcanos and wind? How do I describe a land that I was only able to see for only a few hours each day due to the limited daylight? I will try in a series of blog posts.
Just to give you an idea of how far north Iceland actually is. The Arctic Circle is at 66 degrees north, Iceland is at 64.9. The house icon is Rhode Island.
Flying eastward to another country is weird. We flew for five hours and we also went ahead in time five hours. By the time we landed at Keflavik it was five in the morning, but our bodies thought it was midnight. By the time we got through customs, got into our rental car and headed east to Reykjavik it was closer to seven.
Seven in the morning. At home seven in the morning means that the sun is up. Whatever birds stuck around for the winter are thawing their wings from their cold sleep and chirping around. But in Iceland, at seven in the morning, it means pitch dark. We arrived a few days before the winter solstice, which means the daylight only lasts around four hours. We drove to Reykjavik, gesturing to the names of streets, towns and stores that we passed in the dark. We speculated about what the landscape may look like, as it was not yet visible. There wasn’t any snow on the ground, which wasn’t what I expected from Iceland. I learned later that it had been unseasonably warm. I speculated about what was on the roadside in the dark. Was it grassy? Rocky? Sandy? I had no idea.
We arrived at our hotel in Reykjavik. It had occurred to Todd while we were flying here that our hotel room may not be ready. Check in times are often in the afternoons. I rubbed my eyes. I didn’t manage to sleep much on the plane, even though I had even thought to pack a sleep mask in my purse. The thought of trudging around Reykjavik when I’d rather curl up on crisp hotel sheets for a cat nap, was threatening to bum me out.
Thankfully our friends at the Hilton Nordica scrounged up a room for us. The bellman hauled our four gigantic suitcases to the room. Four of them. The reason why we had four was because we also brought our dive gear for the upcoming dive at Silfra. In the room on the sixth floor I gazed out over the lights of Reykjavik before I firmly drew the blackout curtains. I fell into my bed and seemingly minutes later started awake when our wakeup call knocked on our door. Apparently they don’t just call on the room phone to wake people up. Someone from the front desk comes up to the room and sharply knocks. Thump thump thump…. Wake your ass up.
We learned how to drive to the city center, and ended up on a narrow one-way street with quaint shops decorated for Christmas. The street was blocked with a gate in the shape of a bicycle. On certain days entire blocks of the shopping district are closed to car traffic. We parked on a side street and struggled to pay for a parking spot on a machine with instructions provided in Icelandic.
“Wait, do you have to leave the card in there or take it out right away?”
“Try again, I think the ticket is supposed to come out on this side.”
“Push the green button.”
“What the hell does this even mean?”
We laughed as Todd repeatedly jammed his card into the machine and pulled it out. Then he tried leaving it in.
“Wait, now it says ‘Takid Kort.’ Look, it says ‘kort’ on the picture of the credit card. So, that’s card, I think “takid” might mean we have to take it out.”
“Oh look, ticket!”
After about five tries and cracking ourselves up, we finally managed to pay for parking. We wandered down to Noodle Station for lunch, and had a broth soup with chicken for me and beef for him. The week before we left I managed to contract a sinus infection. Then Todd managed to catch a cold. I gobbled antibiotics and fistfuls of Sudafed. Todd had been fighting congestion and an all around plunge in his energy. The broth soup did him good, and we roamed the shops for an hour or two.
We returned to the room exhausted, after stopping in to visit the concierge to learn about tours. We booked a tour to the Blue Lagoon for that night. We headed back to the room for another nap for a few hours, then packed up our bathing suits for our first Icelandic destination.
We arrived at the Blue Lagoon around seven PM, again in complete darkness. The sun had set around 3:45. The path to the lagoon from the parking lot is a valley between two large piles of lava rocks. Iceland was made from volcanos, and there are still active ones on the island today. The most recent eruption, you might remember, happened in 2010. The mountain thrust a column of ash into the sky that had grounded air travel to and from Europe via Iceland for two weeks. We changed into our suits, showered and met up lagoon-side.
The Blue Lagoon is a resort which features a large pond of silica rich geothermal heated water. The water is pumped from six thousand feet below the earth’s surface, and the pond takes approximately 40 hours to flush itself out completely. We stepped into the water, and found we were walking in a hot tub that is roughly the size of a mill pond. The water is more than waist deep in most places, we ducked down to cover our shoulders. With our package we received one free silica clay mud mask and one free algae mask. We headed over to the left and coated our faces in clay.
Visiting the Blue Lagoon at night is mysterious. The air is cold, the steam from the water produces a large cloud of fog. We made our way through the night and the puffs of steam, feeling hot pockets of water as we waded through to the far side of the lagoon. We swished our way to this side and that side, visited the swim up bar for a drink, went back to the other side for our algae masks. We felt the clay squish between our toes.
The water in the Blue Lagoon is naturally a milky blue, because of the high silica content and the way it reflects the light. It is rich in minerals that are known to soothe the skin. Visiting the Blue Lagoon on the first day was a brilliant idea because it relaxed my body, which thought it was two in the afternoon, enough that it would consider sleeping when we returned to the hotel.
Because our bodies thought it was still dinner time we headed to City Center. We walked down the cozy street and checked out the menus. We ended up at an Italian restaurant, and Todd googled about hot dogs.
Hot dogs in Iceland are a delicacy. They are made of real food, like lamb, and not the pretend food we put into hot dogs in the States. The Italian restaurant was situated across the street from a small stand called Hot Dog House. Todd stared at it longingly all through dinner. He went there for dessert.
The hot dogs are served there on a grilled bun, with fried onions (like the ones in the green bean casserole) raw onions, a sweet mustard and a remoulade. He bit into it, and again his eyes rolled back in his head. Then when we got back to the hotel he googled how to import hot dogs and mustard to the states.
We fell asleep, hard. The next day a jeep tour of the south shore was on the schedule.
The next entry in the Iceland blog series is available here.
added on 12.26.16