Posted by: nmancini04 | August 31, 2011

Day 13: Blessaður Ísland

It’s 4 pm Iceland time and Maggie and I are sitting at Gate 35 at Keflavík International Airport, waiting to board our flight. The internet access here is expensive, so I’ll have to post it when we get home. Our flight, originally scheduled for 5 pm, has been delayed by a half an hour. Considering it’s been drizzling on and off for most of the afternoon, the cloud cover is so low it looks like the climactic scene from Casablanca…and there was a hurricane in New York City two days ago…I’d call that lucky.

We had to be out of our apartment by noon today. That means if we had gone to the airport directly, we’d have an awkward four hours to kill — if not more — before our flight. So instead, we woke early, finished cleaning the apartment and packing and got the 11 am bus to the one crucial tourist attraction we had yet to see, the one that Iceland is probably most famous for and the one we’d been saving: the Blue Lagoon.

Maggie awaits our bus to the Blue Lagoon

In fact, we had not been to any hot springs or swimming pools on our trip. Public bathing and swimming is a central part of Icelandic life, with most major towns featuring a swimming pool, most of them thermally heated. The Blue Lagoon, of course, is the most famous, so I must admit I was hesitant about visiting a site that was so obviously a spider’s web for tourists.

But I’m very glad we went. We had a place to lock up our baggage, so we could relax and enjoy ourselves, and the surroundings are unbelievable. The Lagoon’s water, of course, is blue, but that alone doesn’t describe how weird it is. It’s an unearthly, shimmering, milky blue and the day was so foggy, we couldn’t distinguish between the steam rising from the water and the fog settling from above. We couldn’t see the main building after we’d waded out about 100 feet.

The Blue Lagoon

The bathers in the Blue Lagoon

The incredible blue water

The locker rooms were almost as impressive as the Lagoon itself. They are sleek, modern and high-tech. The lockers are large enough to accommodate a moderate to large backpack and a full set of clothing. When entering, everyone is given a blue, plastic wristband with a white node on it. After closing your locker, you must press the node to a sensor which then locks the locker door and will only open when you apply the node to the sensor again. The wristband can also be used to charge food and drinks, the balance due when the wristband is returned.

Before entering the pool, everyone must shower without bathing suits. From what I’ve read, the showers and changing rooms at other pools are universally communal, but at the Blue Lagoon, the make certain concessions to the modest, uncomfortable tourist. There are one or two tiny, private changing rooms inside the larger locker room (although I didn’t see anyone use them) and the showers, while out in the open, are at least separated by opaque glass dividers. Let’s just say I saw a lot more asses today than I have for a while.

Maggie and I spent a pleasant, warm hour wading around the pool, which is quite shallow in most places, the deepest coming up to about neck level, the ground an uneven hodgepodge of smooth rock, mud and moss. We spent a little time in the sauna, dipped our heads under the man-made waterfall and then went looking for a bite to eat.

There are two food options at the Blue Lagoon: the cafe, which serves pre-packaged sandwiches and salads, and a proper restaurant. If you ever go there and need to eat something, I strongly recommend the restaurant. We didn’t eat there, so I have no idea if it’s good, but I do know that the cafe is awful and so expensive for what you’re getting that you might as well splurge for a real meal. We ordered two small pre-packaged salads, two fruit smoothies and a coffee. It came out to about $45 and was almost inedible. Not good times.

After that, we took a quick walk around the part of the Lagoon that is closed to swimmers (and is even more eerie for its emptiness), but has a walking track around it, then caught our bus to Keflavík.

Maggie at the Blue Lagoon

So here we are, waiting to board after almost two weeks in this amazing country. Here are 10 things we’ve learned:

1) Icelanders love pasta, pizza and hot dogs. I mean, they LOVE them, even more than Americans. There are pizza places everywhere and every restaurant, whether or not it has anything to do with the rest of the cuisine, has at least one pasta and one pizza option. Every gas station sells hot dogs and (as I mentioned on our first day) one of the most popular places to eat in Reykjavík is a 70-year-old hot dog stand.

2) Iceland’s geography and scenery is more astounding — and more varied — that I could have imagined. I knew it would be beautiful, but I didn’t know it would be this beautiful. Around every bend of every drive is something amazing to look at. After a while, I almost became accustomed to it. “Oh, there’s another picture postcard mountain;” “Oh, there’s another tiny glacial stream carving its way down the side of that mountain in a delicate, mini-waterfall.” It’s ridiculous. It’s the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been, and really, it’s not even close.

3) The water in the Blue Lagoon makes your skin and hair incredibly dry. They’re not kidding when they say, “We recommend everyone use conditioner before and after bathing.”

4) My cuticles suck. Seriously.

5) The tourists come from everywhere, but we noticed a strong difference between the tourist demographics on the road and those in Reykjavík. On the road, we saw mostly French and German tourists, and to a lesser extent, Italians, followed by Spanish, Americans and Brits. In the city, native English speakers are far more numerous. We heard probably twice as many American, British and Australian accents in four days in Reykjavík than we did in a week on the road.

6) As we speak, there is probably a bunny and any number of cats playing in a yard on the corner of Unnarstígur and Öldugata in Reykjavík.

7) Icelandic words and place names are hard to spell, but impossible to pronounce.

8 ) If Satan were to design the picture uploading tool for a blogging website, he would find it difficult to top WordPress.com’s picture uploading tool. It’s extremely frustrating and the last two nights it has literally taken me HOURS to get my posts up not including writing time because the site has been so twitchy and unresponsive.

9) Driving like an Icelander entails going really fast, even on gravel roads, and mostly in the middle of the road.

10) Maggie is an awesome driver (but we knew that already).

I’m glad to know I will sleep in my own bed tonight. I’m glad that the next pair of socks I put on will come from a drawer and not my suitcase. And I’m glad I won’t have to upload any photos to WordPress for a while. But mostly I’m glad we did this, that we got to share our trip with all of you and that we will have this record years from now to relive our vacation. We’re both going to miss this place.

Thanks for reading. And takk fyrir Ísland.

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Responses

  1. thanks for sharing this with us Nick & Maggie. It was exciting and interesting. See you tonight for dinner?
    Love,
    Julia, Rafe, Rosy & Vince


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