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Monday Crack – Iceland, A Volcanic Adventure

The Blue Lagoon adventure. Hot steamy water, wonderfulf for a good soak.

Glaciers and Waterfalls

About three years ago I went to Iceland, a place I was interested in, but never really thought I would see.  My girlfriend Nadine from Santa Cruz was in NYC visiting and staying with me in my apartment.  We had been threatening to take a trip to Amsterdam together for years, but it had never happened.  Nadine mentioned during her stay that Icelandic Air was going to be starting non-stop service from San Francisco to Keflavik, the airport closest to Reykjavik, that May and that she and another friend of ours had talked about going.  Thinking of all the fun we could have, I said if you decide to go count me in.  When I said that I thought perhaps some time in the next year or 3 or 4 we might make the trip.  I can’t tell you my surprise when Nadine left my apartment and just days later I got an email addressed to me, and two of our other friends from California.  It appeared that she had booked flights for all four of us to Iceland, and included in her note, “you have four days to buy your tickets.”

All of the sudden this dream of an idea started to take real shape and form and none of us wanted to be the one left out of this adventure.  Each of us started to approach our work situation to see if we could get the time off.   Miraculously we were all able to and by day 4 we had each purchased our ticket and were committed to the trip.  Then came the communal decision about where to stay.

Being someone who likes to research things, I found myself absorbed.  I started reading everything I could about Iceland and exploring all our housing possibilities.  We threw all our ideas in a pool and finally we all settled on this great place called “Room With A View.”  It’s a wonderful apartment hotel located in the city center walking distance to everything, with great views and terrific hospitality. Everything we wanted was at our fingertips.  (I’ll do a piece on them some other time, as they deserve a page.)

It’s funny because I had seen so many pictures of Reykjavik and it looked colorful and green and beautiful, but when I landed in the Keflavik Airport although very excited I felt like I had landed on Mars.  It’s very barren and flat and all you can see for miles in any direction is a volcanic rock desert.  I couldn’t imagine Reykjavik fairly close by translating itself into the pictures I had seen, but some how it does.  FYI the population of Iceland is only about 320,000 with the majority of its residents living in the capital, Reykjavik.

When you look from almost any vantage point in the city, sitting on top of a hill in the city center, is the famous modern Lutheran church, Hallgrimskirkja, which houses a very large beautiful Nordic designed pipe organ.  I marveled when I saw it, so different from the big older church pipe organs you see throughout the rest of Europe.  Surprisingly to me, most the buildings in Reykjavik are new.  Iceland won their independence in 1944 and many of the houses and structures have been built since then.  There are also lots of brightly painted corrugated houses that if they were Victorian, with the hills and the water of Reykjavik, you could almost think you were in a neighborhood in San Francisco.

There is a thriving art, cultural, and music scene in Reykjavik.  In October for the past ten years a big music festival, the “Iceland Airwaves Festival” has taken place and even with the difficulties the country is now facing it is scheduled to go on as normal.  The people who live in Reykjavik also know how to party and do.  They are infamous for their weekend drinking and late nights.  I guess with extreme living (cold, with long days of sun or long days of darkness) comes extreme partying, but I found during the weekdays the population to be surprisingly sober and hard working.  Iceland has up until now, and I hope it continues, one of the highest standards of living in the world.  I also found the people to be very friendly and helpful and they all speak English.

At the time that I went it was very expensive!  Getting there was inexpensive, but being there made Paris and NYC reasonable and almost cheap.  With the recent financial collapse it is probably more affordable.  But the experience of being some place that extreme, in such a different way from Manhattan or California living, for me was exhilarating!  We walked all over the city, went to museums, ate at some fabulous restaurants, one in particular called “Siggi Hall” I remember, shopped, mostly window, and stayed up late into the night and early morning as when we were there it never got dark so it was harder to go to bed.   Your body just couldn’t register it was time to sleep.

While in Iceland we took a day trip to the hot thermal baths of the “Blue Lagoon” and swam in its waters soaking in all those good minerals.  It was strange to be at a place surrounded by big lava rocks, where you are going to be swimming outside, and you arrive dressed in your winter coat with scarves and gloves.   It’s difficult to imagine yourself soon changing into a bathing suit and splashing about.  But this is what you do and it feels great and is really a lot of fun! (see the above photos).  On another day we decided to be adventurous and rent a little car to explore some sites outside of Reykjavik.  Two of us became the pilot and co-pilot.  At one point it became quite comical.   We were trying to find these geysers and we didn’t know if we were supposed to take a right or left turn.  We made a collective decision to turn right and continued driving.  Then all of the sudden the road just stopped.  In front of us stood this massive glacier.  It became very clear to us that one couldn’t go further in this direction and that we had most definitely made the wrong turn.

We did eventually make it to these amazing geysers, and from there we drove to Pingvellir, the very first Icelandic Parliament built and formed in the year 930.  I think it’s the oldest parliament in the world?  On the way we met some Icelandic horses that are special to the country, brought in by the Vikings in the year 800.  They’re almost pony size with a long coat of fur.  Being animal lovers all of us, we of course stopped to take photos and talk to our new furry friends.  From there we drove to the beautiful waterfalls of Gullfoss (see photo).

I have to say it was a lot of fun driving around in Iceland.  There is so much open space, so much freedom, I wanted to open the windows of the car and yell out to the world in happiness and joy, and I did.

Needless to say we had a great time and it is a vacation I will always remember.  It was an incredible memory to make with my girlfriends, a wonderful adventure and experience to have shared together.  I think during our travels together throughout that week, our laughter could be heard all the way to NYC and on to California.

This is such a short article about the wonders of this country and what a terrific destination it can be.  To begin your discovery about travel to Iceland either click on the link below, or cut and paste it into your browser.


* The above photo’s are courtesy of my friend Karl Westman who took them on a previous trip to Iceland and was kind enough to share them with me.

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