Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Blue Lagoon

I'm not really one for communal soaking but you can’t really come to Iceland and not go to the Blue Lagoon, it’s just not done. And unlike the tubs at the spa at the Hilton which I visited last night, this promised to be spacious and interesting (as opposed to awkward and an invasion of personal space [sat in a tub with four other ladies in a nicely designed room which contained three other tubs which were also packed; sitting in what was at best a six-person hot-tub with strangers isn’t really my cup of tea. To be fair though, there were two nice, young therapists giving in-tub neck massages - from outside the tub- and getting a neck massage while soaking is a wonderful thing, regardless of others soaking next to you]). So the Blue Lagoon is a must, and I was definitely looking forward to the excursion.

The Blue Lagoon is located out in the middle of nowhere (most things in Iceland are out in the middle of nowhere) and close to the airport, so it was easy to book an excursion there and then a transfer on to the airport for my flight home.

And now it’s time to acknowledge that it might have been a little crazy for someone who gets cold as easily as I do to come to Iceland in November. But it also needs to be said that me and my warm blood were doing just fine on this trip. I wore either jeans with long underwear or my ski pants, my usual three layers on top, my winter coat, a scarf, hat, fleecy boots, and a double layer of mittens for walking around in, and I was just fine (as opposed to roasting like a bacon-wrapped hot dog like a normal person might if wearing all that). However, I was a little nervous about the few steps I was going to have to take IN MY SWIM SUIT to get from the spa dressing room to the lagoon itself. I wasn’t actually sure that I would survive. Look, there was frikkin snow on the ground and I walked outside, barefoot and nearly naked… probably ten steps
before sinking down into the water. It might have been the single most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done, but it was totally worth it. It was an overcast day which added to the ambiance – the clouds were really low and the steam coming off the water swirled around the pool surface. The lagoon water is saline, ranges from about 98-102° F, and is rich with silica (hence the murkiness). There are hot spots/currents running though the lagoon so you can experience different temperatures by paddling around the pool, and the best part of the whole thing is being outside. Mostly undressed. In winter. Yes, I just said that. And then it was on to the airport, an uneventful flight back to Seattle, and a day of doing nothing at home today before heading back to the office tomorrow. I’m really glad I trusted my instincts and decided that going to Iceland for only four days in winter was not actually a crazy idea. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Snowy Day in Reykjavik

Woke up this morning to a couple of inches of snow on the ground and a date to meet one of Cheryl's friends for lunch. Benni works for an on-line music store/streaming service called gogo yoko ( -- part Pandora, part iTunes, part CD Baby. We had a nice lunch at the Kex Hostel which is where KEXP broadcasted from last month during the Iceland Airwaves Music Fest, and then walked to the gogo yoko office which had the look and vibe of every tech start-up I've ever walked into; some things are universal, and it's always fun to meet friends of friends' in foreign lands. Oh, and that's a puffin perched on the table in the background in the portrait; from what I can tell, the national symbols of Iceland are puffins, trolls, and sweaters.
Benni and the President of Iceland

local graffiti

After I left Benni's office I went to the Hallgrimskirkja, which is in fact the name of a place and not an indication that my hands are going into spasms on my keyboard. The Hallgrimskirkja is a church, the belltower of which is the tallest structure in Iceland.

After I left the church, I wanted to do some shopping outside the donwtown-tourist area so I had asked Benni where his wife would go if she wanted to buy clothes. He told me to go to a place which sounded like "Gringotts" which I recognized as the place where Harry Potter does his banking, but after questioning the lady at the bus station, speaking to a lady on the bus, and quickly repeating what she said to the bus driver, I found myself at Kringlar, the local shopping mall. It kind of reminded me of Northgate Mall, and like at Northgate, there wasn't really anything there I couldn't live without. I would have liked to have bought a little something to take home, maybe something to wear or something for the house, but Icelandic fashion is a little too forward for me (and like next year's fashions which I've seen at home, everything appears to be shades of gray or brown which just don't work for me). I did see a cute coffee mug in a home store that I liked, but it was nearly $50 and that was $40 too many. There was a Hagkaup (excuse me) in the mall which is a grocery store (note about food shopping in Iceland: chocolate covered raisins are really popular here), so I bought some snacks and took the bus back to the hotel. Note about the bus: I don't often take buses when I'm abroad, preferring to stick to walking and subways/rail when available (not as easy to get lost), but earlier today I spent nearly $13 for a ten minute taxi ride (I heavily tipped the driver which Benni told me was completely unnecessary) and since buses are the only public transportation option in Reykjavik, I decided I had to hop on a bus. There is a small central bus terminal downtown where I found out what bus to take to the shopping center and the return bus dropped me off directly across from the hotel. I even got some smug satisfaction when a hapless traveler came up to the bus stop in front of the mall and asked a local guy how to get the bus going in the other direction, and when the guy said he didn't know, I butted in and told traveler-dude how to find the pedestrial bridge which crossed the highway and where to find the bus stop on the other side. The fact that this would have been fairly obvious if the dude had just looked around for a minute did not diminsh my sense of pride, given my deeply deficient sense of direction.

View from hotel looking toward downtown

Ice Land

Yesterday (Thanksgiving!) was spent on an all-day tour which took me back out into the nothingness, across the vaguely lunar mostly colorless landscape, and onto a glacier for a walk on the ice. Along the way, we crossed Iceland's longest river which supports five hydroelectric plants. Icelanders get their water not from rivers though, but from deep groundwater. The water is processed only by natural filtration though the lava rock,and piped into homes -- at no cost; people only pay for the electricity to heat water, cold water is free. After crossing the river and passing the farms, some with ponies and sheep, and after a quick stop for lunch, we  arrived at the glacier. We got geared up with crampons and ice axes and trudged on up. The guide gave us the run-down on the geologic happenings and history and we wandered around taking care not to plunge to our deaths by falling into a crevasse.
Notice tour group, center bottom third, for scale.

lunch - why aren't all hotdogs wrapped in bacon?
Dinner was a delicious lobster soup in a yurt which was conveniently located next to the ghost museum and the troll and elf museum. They were both ridiculously hokey but quite hilarious after a glass of wine, and the visit seemed like a perfectly appropriate way to cap a day of glacier-walking and lobster soup-eating, which I have to say, beats turkey and mashed potatoes any day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reykjavik, Iceland

Apartment-living, Icelandic style
It was still pitch dark at 9am on Wednesday when I got to the hotel. I left Seattle in the late afternoon on Tuesday, and 3 movies and 7 hours later, landed in Northern European sleety cold blackness around 7am. Short line at passport control then onto the shuttle bus for a drive through what appeared to nothingness punctuated by pelting rain to the Hilton. My plan had been to keep moving upon arrival, but that came with an assumption that I would sleep on the plane, which I did not, not even for a minute, didn't even try. So I got into bed around 9:30am, set an alarm for 1:30 (which I slept right through) and finally got up at 3:30 and walked into town. It's cold but not unbearable. Jeans and long-underwear, couple of shirts, sweater, parka, mittens, scarf, hat - pretty usual winter wardrobe for me. I hit just the main street of downtown Reykjavik which is lined with shops and not much else. I stopped into a few but they were either super-designery or tourist-kitchy so since I didn't need any troll dolls or $50-socks, I didn't buy anything. Wandered around for a few hours, got a tiny bit lost since suddenly it was dark out again, then back to the hotel for dinner. Trying local food is really important to me but I couldn't bring myself to stop for minke whale which seemed to be on a lot of the local menus so I ended up with a lovely open-faced roast beef sandwich at the Hilton. I told myself it was authentically European because it lacked a top slice of bread.