Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Ice(land), Ice(land)! baby

We just got back from an awesome trip to Iceland, our first visit to the northern Atlantic volcanic isle. After our last vacation trip, our friend Lara found a great deal on including airfare to Iceland, three nights in a hotel, and a glacier walk. You could even add extra nights for a reasonable price, so we did: just one more. Three nights seemed too much like just a bit more than a weekend, you know?

Noontime, Friday: drive over, grab our first vacation lunch while still in town and meet up with Tim and Lara. After lunch, Robin surprised the rest of us with, what else? Home-knit Viking hats for all! Thanks to Shove Mink and her croshame ability, we started this trip in style. (Wait for it, wait for it: you'll see the photos below.) After that, straight down the Thruway to JFK airport, NYC. The first leisurely vacation dinner, then time to board the overnight flight to Iceland.

We flew through the night, sleeping on the plane, landed, took the FlyBus to our hotel, the Reykjavík Natura, and then stayed up mostly all day, wandering around downtown Reykjavík, checking out the local shops, bars and restaurants. First beer at The English Pub. Also the first shot of Brennivin, the classic Icelandic schnapps, semi-dramatically known as the Black Death. We found some lunch at a waterfront place called The Sea Baron, with really great "lobster soup," loaded with langoustines. I tried the Minke whale, too: ask me about that if you want to know. After that, we wound our way around and back to ye olde English Pub for another beer before the evening hit. The ladies made fun of the guys as we started nodding our heads from not quite enough sleep, and perhaps just one more beer/cider than we probably should have had.

We wore our hats constantly. People recognized us as "the vikings" everywhere we went. Most thought we had bought the hats somewhere over there and wanted to know where they could buy them. (Google Croshame, people, that's her, right there in all 10 of the top 10 results.) Shove, you could make a killing if you went over there for a few weeks during the summer and just made and sold these hats to tourists.

Here we were that Saturday afternoon:

We had an evening "northern lights tour" scheduled, so we headed back to our rooms on the 18:00 hotel shuttle to catch a one hour nap before the 19:30 tour... it ended up getting cancelled, though, because of the weather. Too many clouds to see them well. We tried to get it rescheduled for another night, but it kept getting cancelled each night. Too tired to venture back downtown again, we ended up ordering "take away" Chinese and having it delivered to the hotel.

Sunday, we got to go on a glacier "ice walk"... literally walking on the ice. A tour bus took a whole group of us down to Mýrdalsjökull on the southern coast of Iceland, and it was spectacular!

The ice of Mýrdalsjökull:

Vikings on ice (that's nice):

Most of the photos in this Best of Iceland photo album are from this glacier walk. It was incredibly huge, and we were just walking on a little "tiny" tongue of it sticking down from the mountain.

Best of Iceland

I kept singing (mostly in my head) the line about "the land of the ice and snow" from Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song for like three weeks before this trip. It stuck with me even as we toured the glacier that day. In fact, I've still been singing it since our return. It's funny, or maybe just the way things work: I looked it up on Wikipedia after we got back: they actually wrote that song after visiting Reykjavík in 1970 to kick off their tour that year. The words to that song describe Iceland exactly. You know there's no other place on Earth they could possibly be talking about. I find stuff like that amazing and fascinating.

The land of the ice and snow is also the land of fire and ash: balance in all things, the yin and the yang, ice and glaciers are cool male energy, while lava and eruptions are fiery passionate female energy.

Sunday evening dinner: hot dogs. At the most popular restaurant in all of Iceland. Pretty darn good, too. We'll be recreating these hot dogs best we can at our next annual chili/cocktail bash in January. They grill the buns, they put crispy fried onions, a smidge of chopped raw onions and a bunch of sauces on these dogs, and they really are quite yummy.

Monday, we went horseback riding on Icelandic horses, thanks to Íshestar. My horse's name was pronounced Ah-tee, emphasis on the "Ah," but I have no idea how you actually spell that. My guess is it's the Icelandic equivalent of Otto or Eddie. He was a bit of a stubborn beast. These tour rides are all single file, and mostly slow walking and trotting. Luckily, even the stubborn horses pretty much know to just follow the horse in front of them. After a little while, the leaders pause and say experienced folks to the left to move a bit more quickly, beginners to the right, to continue moving slowly. We all went with the beginners... but then, we all met up again at the half-time mark to give the horses a rest and a grass snack. After the break, Robin ventured on with the more experienced group to try riding a little faster. She loved it! We got back to the stables and she was giddy from galloping. She was beaming! They fed us a wonderful lunch as part of our package, and then offered to allow us to stay on for the afternoon sessions, too. Robin and I stayed on, and I even ventured to gallop with the faster group on the afternoon ride. On a new horse, this time, whose name I could not quite get, so I kept calling him "Buddy."

Back to the hotel, quick dip in the hot tub, venture into downtown again to find dinner. Dinner at the place with puffin on the menu. Not just plain puffin, but a puffin feast. And a lamb feast. And a langoustine feast. Feasts had by all. I would describe puffin meat as about halfway between duck and venison.

Tuesday, we rode on the FlyBus again, this time to the Blue Lagoon spa. Waded around the geothermally heated waters. Warmed up in the steam bath. Got massages while floating on a pad in the water. Ate lunch in our robes. Like the billionaires we are. Steam bath again. Back to the hotel, in to Reykjavík, shopping for gifts, quick before the shops close, then dinner at Hofnin, by the waterfront, at the recommendation of one of our cab drivers: best lamb in Reykjavík. After our cab back to the hotel, we walked out the back of the hotel, where about a dozen people were looking up into the sky, and there they were: the northern lights on display for even those in the glimmer of the city lights to see. They were faint green shifting curtains of light, but they were definitely the Aurora Borealis. It was Lara and Robin's first time seeing them: they were both thrilled by that, too.

Wednesday, we went on a whale watching cruise in the morning before we had to fly out in the evening. We saw Minke whales and dolphins. Got a couple of video clips of the action, not sure whether I'll call them "good" or not yet. And we let the teacher from Denmark (who was chaperoning a trip including 65 students, 65!) take a picture of us in our Viking hats. Cha-ching, Shove, Cha-ching! I asked her if it was true that the Danish people are some of the happiest people in the world, and she got a slightly skeptical look on her face and said, "No, I don't think so." But then she smiled.

Straight to the airport with you.

Ah, crap. Vacation's over already. Who said four nights was enough?

Iceland: definitely recommend a visit. And if you do: walk on the ice, it's incredible!

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