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Monday, February 16, 2015

Nordic Travel Adventures

This evening I'm sitting in the international departures terminal at Bostons Logan Irport, in elated disbelief that my dream of visiting Iceland is being realized.  11 years ago, I found myself seriously unhappy with my choices and direction (or lack thereof) in my life, so, I dragged my sorry self to classes, and peer activities, but in my free time, I scoured the Internet for international jobs working with horses.  One October day, I found a job that called to me.  I immeadiately fired off an email, inquiring about logistics and job details.  Within a week, I booked a flight to London, had formally become a college dropout, and had never been more sure that this was the right decision, for me, at that time.   There is such a sense of freedom, when you find a way to pursue your passions.  The following year, I'd booked a return flight that happened to have a layover in Rejykavik, Iceland.  One of my coworkers had gone on, and on about its beauty, from a tour she had been on there, flying in, I remember being captivated by the essentially black ground, amidst shrubbery, and sparse fields.  Very curious.  I decided then, I would return, to learn more of this land.

I now realize that so many of us allow our fears to stop us from pursuing our passions.  Myself included.  Last year, I was thinking about this, while reminiscing about some of the sights and differing perspectives I once had the opportunity to glimpse. One of the many, supposedly common brain injury characteristics is impulsive decision making.  Whether it was my overwhelming fear of being swallowed whole by federal aid programs, or a compulsive behavior that I'm not prone to, I cannot be sure.  The moment I saw a travel excursion to Iceland, on Living Social, all of these memories poured in.  Before I knew it, I had a flight and hotel in Iceland.

Once I gathered the strength to tell my dad, I was surprised when he wanted to come.  Soon we were both booked to go to Iceland.  It's my opinion that Iceland has a quite hospitable weather climate during the winter.  Although, I sincerely believe New England winters are particularly adverse.  Iceland had projected temperatures for above freezing, so I was immediately excited.  Temps in Vermont have been hovering between 0 and 10 degrees Farenheit.  Temps in Iceland were projected to be around 40 degrees midday.

Flying in!

As we finally boarded our overnight flight, 2 hours late, it settled in that I was actually going to visit a new (to me) land.  Honestly, for me, the adventure, and thrill of new place, and experiences is what I crave, always have.  I love meeting new people, learning new customs, heritage, and taking in new landscapes.  The 'red-eye' flight passed quickly, even though I was too excited to sleep.

Landing in Reykjavik Monday morning, the airport seemed as welcoming, if not more than it had 10 years before, on a layover from London.  We easily found our way to the bus terminal, and boarded a Reykjavik  bound bus.  This country has tourism facilitation down to a science.  Although, we learned of a growing fear/concern, that because almost all of the countries GDP (gross domestic product) relates to tourism, their national economy could shut down if any kind of tourism decline occurs.  One of the guides informed us that the country receives 6-10 million visitors/year, while the countries population is fewer than 650,000.  Tricky business.  Although, the tourism industry appears to be coordinated quite seamlessly.  Everything we saw, and experienced was handled extremely well, even when tours were cancelled due to foul weathe conditions.

The bus dropped us off at the hotel where we were booked, Plaza Centre.  Unbelievably, they were quite accommodating with early check in.  We had to wait 2 hours for the others to checkout, and for them to clean it, so we ventured forth, to find a meal.  We walked maybe 2 blocks, and discovered a somewhat French themed cafe.  Breakfast foods are my favorite of the day, and I got French toast, and an interesting chai latte.  Curious combination, I like them both as their own things, but together was strange, in my opinion.
 Inside the church'attrium
 Curious brand name, in the grocery

Monday evening, we had scheduled a trip to the blue lagoon, one of the 25 wonders of the world.  Truthfully it's a man made mistake, from extraction and mining difficulties, that formally created this wonder, however it is absolutely magical.  We boarded the somewhat empty tourbus, and took in the sights, through an ever strengthening snowstorm.  As the bus slid all over the road, though still climbing the steep incline, we all collectively wondered about a) the ever decreasing possibility the blue lagoon would even be open, and b) surviving the bus ride.  Soon, the driver anounced that upon our arrival, the bus would remain on site, until the road reopened.  There was a brief uproar from all the unhappy tourists, although, upon arrival,we could go into the parking, and booking Center to use the facilities.  Back on the bus, we befriended a Blue Lagoon employee, Erla.  She had a true gift for keeping people at ease.  She shared many interesting tidbits about local culture, and we learned more about local customs, as well as stories about her family.  After 2 hours passed, the road was reopened, and we were allowed to return to Reyjavik.  Although we missed the oppottunity to relax in the healing waters of the blue lagoon, our tickets remained valid for another visit, and we had the opportunity to converse with so many different people.

Iceland has a very group centered approach to tourism.  The tourism industry herds everyone, 'en masse', into packed tour buses, where a guide talks about points of interest, and tells fun facts along the way.  I was worried about my dads response to this type of tourism, although we both did remarkably well, being on a bus, with intermittent stops for waterfalls, the black sand beach, a museum tour, a lunch break, and a visit to what's referred to as a glacier tongue. This is where a glaciers is attached to a land mass.)  That was such a mesmerizing day, as there was so much to take in.  This trip was so short, and gave such a brief introduction to the multitude of majestic natural wonders this land has to offer.
Ice on volcanic matter
Countryside in motion!
Traditional Viking craft restored in a museum
Skogarfoss-almost the same name, however, Yet an even more grand waterfall!

As it was such a quick trip, we found ourselves constantly torn, with regard to choosing tourism ventures throughout the country, and blazing our own path around Reykjavik.  Wednesday, I was very excited to go on a tour, referred to as the golden circle tour, When 2 English ladies recognized us from the day before, and gave rave reviews of the local public bathhouses.  We had already heard great reviews Monday, as well, and the idea of hot tubs, and a sauna, combined with more more movement seemed far more appealing than another 11 hour bus tour.  Deciding between volcanoes, and glaciers, or the public bath-houses seems like a no brainer, I admit.  However, given our need to stay moving, it made sense to learn more about the local culture by hitting the pools, and hot tubs, and then checking out a nearby market, where I stocked up on a couple of my dietary staples, (bananas, chococolate milk, yogurt, and teas to bring home.  The final 'piece de resistance' was the the Saga museum, where their cultures history as it has been handed down through story-telling (sagas) , and is shared in audio format, via headsets, as you wander through various scenes of the ages.  I have no adequate means to describe how captivating this museum experience was.  We basically walked around looking at depictions, and scenes, while listening to an audio guide tell stories about each charachter, on a headset.  Yet, the stories were so captivating.  Sometimes you just need a classical experience of foreign culture to tie everything together, or at least I did.  That evening we had our classic debate over food choices, although, in the end the food was  still great.

Friday was our last morning, and we were rebooked at the Blue Lagoon, as it was en route to the airport.  Rising that morning, I felt somewhat forlorn, and disappointed to have say good-bye, before I was ready.  The night before, I had needed some time to myself, and had responded to emails, and orgaznized travel notes.  When I was 20, I traveled the U.K. And Fance alone.  Mostly to meet friends, where they were living while studying abroad.  Sitting there watching the groups of people, I got lost in reminiscing about my former freedoms.  Although, it made me glad I had those earlier experiences, as they had provoked my Iceland fascination, and now I truly understand why I'm so passionate about visiting new places.

After our final breakfast at the hotel, we loaded our things, and headed back to the Blue Lagoon.  This experience was so different than Monday's.  Whe could see stark black and white contrast of the hardened lava fields, bathed in the sun-sparkling snow.  Amongst this contrast were small pools of baby blue water.  Reminded me of a blueberry freeze-pop, and the funky color they turned your toungue when I was a little kid. Putting on my bathing suit seemed counter intutive in this climate.  Ice water plunges? are one thing, but it didn't seem possible to get into 80-100degrees Fahrenheit water, surrounded by snow, and ice.  You leave your bathrobe on a rack, before stepping outside, and descending into the blue lagoon.  The lagoon is much larger than it first appears, accommodating over 600 people t one time.  We did one full loop. Stopping at the bar for smoothies, continuing on through surprising water temperature differences, inspecting caves, observing the many different nationalities, experiencing a steam room,and playing in a waterfall.  They had given me swim noodle, to use for stability, as I've lost the ability to swim.  I had to resist the compelling urge to smack the water with it, and splash passer-bus.  Juvenile amusements never cease, altogether...  
Surrealism at the Blue Lagoon!

They are currently preparing to build a luxury resort on the property, as well.  Hearing this, I grew extremely grateful that we had visited before that was built.  Resorts often change the existing serenity amongst such grandeur.  I'm sure it will still be worthy of its heralding as a wonder of the world, the commercialization will just reach new heights.  After 3 hours in the Lagoon, I was ready to get out, However, not ready to leave.  We said our goodbyes to Erla, and were so grateful for her accomdation.  , Then it was time to board a bus to the airport.  We had a good 4 hours before our flight, so we ate our final Iclandic meal, paninis, and salad, and then went shopping.  Part of the airport, is literally a shopping mall.  I am much happier walking around looking at new things, than I am sitting around waiting for time to pass.  My dad views shopping differently, and wasn't quite as excited as I was, though he was a good sport.  The only disappointment was the ridiculously high prices.  I found a coat I loved, it was $350 for a light wool coat, if I made any income that could be a consideration, although it still struck me as ridiculous for a coat I might wear 4 times in a year.  Still, it felt difficult to walk away from.  In the blue lagoon souvenir shop there were cosmetic testers, and tons of trinkets with the Blue Lgoon logo.  As we walked back to our gate, we passed a gigantic liquor store, and beyond that, 4 bars, a Brookstone store, and a newsstand.  We were still unforgivably early, so I went on a coffee hunt.  I had my decaf mocha latte, and returned to the gate area, to hunt for an outlet, to give my tablet more life.  Eventually, they made the boarding call, and we bid adieu to this grand land of wonder, and beauty.  On the flight home, I savored every last sip of Icelandic spring water, and tried to surmise a list of the top 3 moments, of the trip, with my dad.  It was a great idea, but I couldn't favor any one experience, over another. Im alreadysaving my  pennies to return, and go horseback riding, and glacier hiking.  I wonder if it's compable to walking on a frozen lake, except there's more comfort in knowing you cannot fall through the ice...

The flight back returns over incredible views of Greenland.(which is, ironically, more icy than Iceland)


Anonymous said...

Awesome blog, awesome trip! It will be great to go visit again with more time! I would recommend to all to see Iceland! It is extremely beautiful.. We made a lot of friends too!

Julie/Mom said...

Sounds magical, so glad you got to see that beautiful country. You write a lovely "picture postcard" of Iceland. Now I want to go.
Love you the most!

Marti said...

Great blog, Court!! This is some of your best writing. Two things:

a) I, too, want to go to Iceland

b) I want a Tea Pig.

I love your sense of adventure!!