Monday, May 3, 2010

Iceland Adventure: Day 1

Today, or yesterday, I'm not quite sure which, I flew into Iceland. I slept most of the seven hour flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, Iceland, but woke up to see the sunrise over Greenland :D

Notice in the picture the interesting "triple sun" phenomenon - you can see a bright blob about 15 degrees to the left of the sun (and there's another one to the right not pictured). I've never heard of it or seen it before, any ideas about the cause? The second picture is of my location during the sunrise.

As we landed in the Keflavik airport about 20 minutes southwest of the capital, Reykjavik, I saw a cute little church just off of a black beach on the Atlantic. The terrain was incredibly flat - a perfect place for an airport! Customs took awhile - mostly because they had to re-screen all the passengers - ugh.

After retrieving my luggage I bought a round-trip bus ticket to Reykjavik for 3,500 isk (about $30 USD). Last week I scheduled a bus trip to the Blue Lagoon and I found out in the airport that during peak season (June - August) buses go directly from the airport to the Blue Lagoon only 20 minutes away and store your luggage for you! Note to self: Next time I have a layover in Iceland for a few hours, definitely hit up the Blue Lagoon. (You can rent swimsuits and towels and take a shower afterward to be back in the airport in about 2 hours!)

Once I got to Reykjavik I made my way to the Downtown Hostel (part of the HI hostel network) where I had previously made reservations. I thought they would just store my luggage, but they let me move in right away because it wasn't full the night before (the time was 9 am Iceland time - but about a million pm Nick time!). I put my valuables in a locker in the (very nice!) dorm room and the stored my luggage in their secure luggage room. I had breakfast (Muesli, toast with jams, and orange juice - mmmmm) and then caught the bus to the Blue Lagoon at 10:30 am.

So far I've noticed that Icelanders love sweaters and jackets. They pretty much wear them year-round from what I can tell. All the models pictured in store windows or airport advertisements are dressed very warmly. Public Immodesty is not a problem in Iceland!

The capital, Reykjavik, looks generally clean with very low traffic. The roads downtown are incredibly narrow - the bus drivers are very brave. Everyone seems to speak English well-enough, but they sure do love the Icelandic language. Apparently the language is such a pure remnant of the Viking language that most Icelanders can read the ancient Viking texts. They also love compound words. Looking out the window of the bookstore right now I see Islandspostur (Iceland post), Ausurstraeti (I have no idea), and vioskiptavinir (again, no idea). Long words! Sometimes it even sounds like they're speaking Russian...

11 am Iceland time, 5 am Utah time, ugh. Pushing through - time for adventures! Check out these awesome pictures of the Blue Lagoon!

You're not seeing things - the water really is blue! It's apparently caused by the perfect balance of minerals and blue-green algae - all natural of course. They've built a resort out of it, but this place has been around a lot longer than anyone ever cared enough to get to it. This has to be the most rugged terrain I've ever seen. Getting to the Blue Lagoon without roads would be a nightmare. These lava fields make talus slopes look like fairways. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to try to move any pack animals or even people across it without taking an enormous amount of time to blast out a road. The Vikings named it the "Evil Lava." It was formed about 300 years after settlement began - it must have been a huge eruption lasting months.

The Blue Lagoon is a large hot springs resort. In the pools where people swim the water is a very pale green but where it's undisturbed it's a milky blue that's out of this world! There are warm and warmer spots all around the extensive pool which visitors can swim in. The almost-freezing-rain at whipping through the lagoon produced copious amounts of steam rising from the hot water. Visibility in the air was only a few feet at times:
The water itself was cloudy - visibility drops off after a couple inches. The water was very salty, but not really ocean salty - it wasn't quite as traumatic in your mouth as the ocean. Floating was easy because of the extra buoyancy provided by the high salinity. The water over time has deposited thick layers of white minerals over the lava rocks making the pool bottom smooth and white.
The whole experience was eerily quiet. There were a few dozen other visitors exploring the pools of different temperatures and covering themselves with the white "therapeutic" sand. The pools were surrounded by dramatic lava rocks completely covered in moss and lichen.

Despite the perfect combination of driving rain and gloriously warm water - I was definitely overheated when I finally got out about 90 minutes later. In Japan, where they've perfected the public bath, I would then get in very cold bath for a few minutes to bring my body temperature back down before I shower. Somehow standing in the cold wind isn't the same - it stings all the time instead of just the beginning! So in this respect, Europeans have a lot to learn. I couldn't even get the shower to give cold water.

So after dressing (which isn't fun when you're really hot) I started looking for a water fountain. Oh yeah, I'm in Europe. They don't believe in drinking fountains here! (Or so I've heard.) So I had to settle with buying a soda for 200 isk. But wait, Europeans don't believe in ice either! Nooooo! So here I was standing in the driving Icelandic rain drinking a warm soda trying desperately to cool down. Iceland: Plus 10 points for the beautiful warm water, minus 1 for no ice! So much for the name.


Matt said...

The "triple sun" phenomenon looks like sun dogs (

JB Herrick said...

Great post, Nick. I can definitely sympathize with the lack of ice. I've experienced that in every country in Europe I've visited and in Japan. Generally speaking they have an aversion to water, too... at least the kind that comes from the tap. My theory is that it comes from the days when water carried everything from typhoid to cholera and you just couldn't trust any of it. Much better to drink beer... really. Much much safer. As for why they don't like ice... I really don't understand it. I do remember all the little old ladies in Switzerland saying how bad it was for you to drink ice cold water when you were hot. One even told me that someone they knew had *died* doing that. Uh, okay. Hard to imagine.

Keep up the posts! It's great fun to read them. And those pictures of the Blue Lagoon are mystical and beautiful.

Rachel said...

I like warm soda.

Linden said...

I hate ice