Whether I'm trying my best to not fall off an Icelandic glacier, or standing in an ice-cold stream in Austria, or watching a lioness snack on a zebra on the African plains, or (more often) just sitting at my desk overhearing 16-year-old girl gossip, every day's a holly-day for me.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Day 1-3: Rekajyvic? Reklyvic? Rekykvalic? Reykjavik?



When I read on the itinerary that we were going straight from the airport to the Blue Lagoon, I thought it a bit odd. Now that I've been there, I realize it was genius! I got up at 6 a.m. Central Time on Tuesday morning and traveled until 7:00 a.m. Iceland time on Wednesday morning. What better way to relax after a day of  (literally) limping through airports than soaking in 98-degree natural spring water? The Blue Lagoon is the top attraction on every Iceland travel site I’d looked at, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s unlike anyplace I’ve ever seen. A huge geothermal power plant sits in the background, overlooking a very large pool of steamy, almost iridescent, warm blue water. The Icelanders take hygiene seriously, especially when it comes to mucking up their lagoon. We were given towels and lockers and were required to shower sans bathing suits BEFORE getting in the water, an idea I was in complete favor of, given the number of humans who dip in and out of the water each day. The second I stepped into the lagoon, I wanted to move to Iceland. All around the lagoon are stations with buckets of “mud” from the lagoon floor and walls that people spread all over their bodies and face. The mud contains minerals that are very healing and good for the skin. 



Of course we slathered the white mud all over our faces, took plenty of pictures and then relaxed on the side of the pool while the mud dried and did its magic. I rinsed my face after about ten minutes and felt sure I looked five years younger. What I didn’t account for is what the mud-water combo would do to my contacts. I felt like I had a gallon of sand and salt poured in each eye. I blindly found my way back to the locker room and spent ten minutes reviving my contacts, but it all ended well. We stayed in the lagoon for another couple of hours, taking tons of photos of people of all races, ages and sizes wading through the steam and water with white mud smeared all over their face. We made our way over to the swim up bar, had a green smoothie and some very pure, very delicious Icelandic Glacier bottled water and even though we didn’t really want to leave (ever!), we decided it was time to head to the hostile.









Our hostile was basic, but very clean and comfortable. After an hour or so of getting settled, our Nat Geo leaders, Erika and Peter (both awesome!) led us a couple of miles into the city center so we could get familiar with the city and take in the views from the water. Dinner was very good pizza and pasta and then we headed back to the hostile for our first group meeting and early bedtime. Unfortunately, the sun didn’t realize how tired we were. I laid down at 11:00 pm, and it was as bright as 5:30 pm is in Houston. It was unsettling and made sleep difficult, but I was exhausted enough that I managed to sleep with the aid of earplugs and a sleeping mask.

On Thursday, we took taxis to the largest cathedral in the city and broke up into small groups for some photography practice. The kids did a great job following instructions and practicing techniques. We walked around, stopping in shops and cafes, took lots of photos of locals and ended up eating Indian food for lunch. It was very good! After lunch, we visited the photography museum to view an exhibit by local photographer Ragnar Axelsson. He talked to us about his work and answered lots of questions.
















We went back to the hostile, learned the basics of Adobe Lightroom with Erika, ate fish at a nearby restaurant for dinner and walked home at 10 pm in broad daylight. I was up until 2:30 a.m. because I can’t get used to the sun being out all night. Even with my $13 sleeping mask on, my brain knows it’s light outside. I finally took a zzzzzzz-quil, which did the trick.



Friday was a packed day. At breakfast, we met our Nat. Geo photographer, Gianluca Colla. Gianluca is an Italian photographer who lives in Switzerland. He did a great lesson with the kids before we set out for lunch and a 2.5-hour bike tour around Reykjav√≠k. At lunch, we sampled mink whale. I was most reluctant to try it…I mean, I’ve watched Whale Wars! We learned, however, that the mink whale is not endangered. There are about 25,000 of them in the waters around Iceland and only 150 are killed each year by the Icelandic fisherman. Nevertheless, there is a lot of controversy among Icelanders about the ethics of killing the mink whales…most agree that it is acceptable, but some are adamantly against it. I tasted the meat…tasted like steak, actually, but chewier. I can’t say I want to eat it again, but I can say I tried it. After my bite of whale, I had lobster soup and a shrimp kabob – both delicious.





Besides the Blue Lagoon, the bike tour was the highlight of our time in the city. Our tour guide, Stannar, was entertaining, we saw parts of the city we’d never normally see and – bonus! – I got a glut workout! We learned a bunch of interesting facts about Icelanders on the tour:

  1. Most Icelanders either believe in elves or at the very least, don’t dismiss them. There is a lot of superstition about messing with or moving “elf rocks” and most locals won’t do it, even if they don’t whole-heartedly believe in elves…just in case.
  2. Icelanders are considered laid-back and easy going, for the most part. They don’t get too stressed about much of anything, especially the men. AND…they are often late. Being up to 20 minutes late in social situations is pretty much expected and not considered rude. I think I may be Icelandic!
  3. There are usually only 2-3 murders in the entire country each year. Theft is very rare and parents will go in to a store to grab some groceries or have a cup of coffee and leave their sleeping babies in carriages outside. No one bothers the babies, no one thinks twice about doing this. 
  4. The divorce rate in Iceland is the highest in the world – 60-65%. Stannar explained that many, many couples do a “trial run” for several years before getting married (maybe I actually am Icelandic???). They also often have children out of wedlock, which is not really considered taboo.
  5. Stannar also explained that when the Vikings left Scandinavia to pillage and plunder England, they killed ¾ of the men and stole 60% of the women. He explained that they “obviously took the prettiest 60%” and took them to what is now Iceland. Taking the most beautiful of the English women, combined with the Nordic ruggedness of the Vikings, resulted in a “spectacular gene pool,” which is why Icelandic women and children are known for being so beautiful, why the Icelandic men are “near-perfect specimens” and why “England has still not recovered.” Perhaps a little biased in his explanation, but entertaining to hear!
  6. Finally, Stannar explained that the women who were brought to Iceland were most unhappy about their abduction (duh!), causing them to become angry, bitter, tough-as-nails women who pretty much hated men. These traits were also apparently passed down through the gene pool and, according to Stannar, is the reason the divorce rate is 60%. 








After the bike tour, we set out for a Viking Festival in a town about 20 miles outside the city.  We took two city busses and arrived to find about 75 locals dressed in very authentic Viking garb, selling a variety of jewelry, stones with magical powers, sheep horns, and leather works. We also watched aViking Battle and talked to several locals. Everyone we’ve encountered speaks excellent English and is very friendly. The festival offered endless photo ops, especially good people pics, so the kids got some great practice. We ate at the Viking Village restaurant afterwards, which was very over-priced, but fun. I ate $40 ribs and coleslaw.  No worries…Iceland is not taking over Texas as the bbq capital of the world anytime soon.
















We walked back to our bus stop at 10:00 pm in broad daylight, got on the wrong bus, got off the wrong bus and onto the right bus and made it back home by 11:00. I finally fell asleep around 1:30 a.m. to the sound of birds chirping and was up at 7:15 for our departure from Reykjavik. Even if I can’t spell Reykjavik correctly, I like it! It’s clean, colorful, and seems to be “well-plotted” as described by Erika and the people are friendly and laid back.





I’m currently typing this on a bus that will be our transportation around the island for the rest of the trip. I wish I could tell you what town we are stopping in first, but I can’t pronounce it, much less spell it…suffice it to say, it’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s cold and windy, and it’s beautiful!


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