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Iceland – Last Day

Posted by joeabbott on December 26, 2009

A final transcription of Iceland memories …

12-14-2009, Monday

Last Day!

Monday came early again with a wake up at 4 AM. Suzy couldn’t sleep either and after tossing about, I got up and dressed for a morning stroll. Suzy stayed back to continue trying to get some sleep. My observation is there are no stars in Reykjavik. Or at least none that I have seen.

The clearing of yesterday left us without rain and mild temps but still too many clouds for me to see the skies. My hopes of rushing in to wake Suzanne for a last chance viewing of Northern Lights were dashed. We’ll go without this trip.

I retrieved our Troll Lads treat for the day (chocolates!) and got a Coke as I sat to write this.

Today will be full: horseback riding, Blue Lagoon soaking, and heading out.

While it seemed like we packed our days, they haven’t felt that way. Time for writing and visiting and doing a bit of shopping was in plenty. Or, plenty enough.

The people here are friendly and as most speak English, it’s almost natural to assume that they all do. A couple of times we’ve bumped into someone with halting English and I recall being surprised we were having trouble communicating. I guess I’m not a good foreign traveler.

I got back to the room around 6:30 AM and Suz was finishing her shower. I started packing , took my shower, and then finished packing. I have to say that when Suzy and I are in sync, we’re awesome. Everything was packed and ready in a jiffy. Time to go.

I pondered grabbing the next door people’s Troll Lad gift as I saw the lady leaving with her luggage earlier. Suz objected as someone else might be within and I agreed. I was just looking for another Troll Lad sack but I’m not a candy thief!

We went to breakfast and I avoided the scrambled eggs and fried tates that day. But I had my share of hard boiled and 4-minute eggs. Delish. Add some toast and tea and all was fine. We enjoyed a leisurely meal but headed up when it was clear we were done.

We took the “lift” to the 4th floor and I shot a movie of the process. On the elevator here it has glass entry doors that open like a pull door to a room. You get in and the door “stays behind” and you can touch the wall and the 2nd & 3rd floor doors as the lift rises! Crazy! I’m surprised some American (like me) hadn’t yet lost a finger playing around with this!

At the room we double and triple checked things, grabbed our bags, and headed to the lobby to await our ride to the horses!

We sat for a bit and then a disheveled, frenetic-looking guy came in. He motioned to us and before we could confirm he was our ride and we his customers, he was heading out of the building. Guess he was running late! Before getting into the van we had our confirmation and were off.

Our driver was a genial guy who seemed like he would have been fun to talk with. Unfortunately, the next two tourists we picked up were chatty college guys; the sort who prate on about nonsense in a constant stream. They drowned out everything else.

Then the second worst thing that could have happened did happen: a single young gal got in. Worse would have been 2 single young gals, but this was bad enough. So, we rode on listening to them (or one for them) hitting on the gal and making idle chat. Ugh.

After that we picked up one more couple and were off to the races. Or at least the horses!

Now Icelandic horses are unique in that they’re small, powerful, and shaggy. They were bred to deal with the cold weather and for endurance. The stocky body helped to suit them for traveling over rocky undulating volcanic plains. They ended up being great little ponies.

The ride wasn’t long and we headed out to an area busy with stables. Before long we approached our destination and the van unloaded. We milled about the lobby of this place, stashed our luggage, signed away our right to bring suit against them, and head out to get our gear and horse.

I got a helmet and then announced I was a pro rider and wanted one of their broncos in need of breaking. Suzy immediately interjected that I was a noob and might be able to pet a dog for a while without getting hurt if I were chaperoned. OK, she didn’t make it out that bad, but she made I clear I needed a gentle horse.

And so I met “Socky”.

Socky was named for his abundantly shaggy “socks” or hairy legs. He was a gentle giant. A bit bigger than most and docile as could be. He’d trot but didn’t have a lot of wind so we didn’t sustain it long.

He and I got to know one another for a bit as I was saddled first and had to wait for the others. Suz was ready  but was helped into the saddle nearly last. She had prior horsing experience and they appear to have trusted her more. Perhaps for ratting me out. 😉

Anyhow, we left the paddock nose-to-tail and made a long circuit into open broken “mossland”. Most places an area like this would have been deemed “grassland” but here most of the vegetation was moss accentuating the jagged volcanic rock.

We rode like that for a short while and then a great thing happened. As Suzy and I were leaving a bit early (we had an appointment at the Blue Lagoon), a separate guide was taking us on a slightly shorter track. So we ambled on atop walking horses before coming to a Y in the road … most riders to the right and, with some small effort, a guide took Suzy and I with our ponies to the left.

Off we went and that was probably the best thing that could have happened to us. We got a private ride in, a chance to trot, and enjoyed good conversation with the guide. When we were with the big party (the seven tourists and a couple of guides) it was a silent gently jerking affair without much conversation or details by the guides. They may have been good equestrians, but not great at showing people the area or talking about Iceland. When we pulled off with one guide alone, she was downright chatty.

Suzy’s horse liked a big gap between her pony and mine, so when my horse would trot a bit, there’d be a long delay and I’d then hear a galloping as Suzy’s horse rode up quickly but would then brake about 10’ back from me.

But on we rode, sometimes walking, sometimes trotting. The sky was leaden but the temps were mild, little to no wind and the plain was open to us without anyone else in sight. We dropped down by a lake, skirted a road, and ended up behind the stables for a final trop to the stalls.

As soon as we were in sight, the office lady was hooting that we were running late and needed to hurry. The next 5 minutes were a manic rush of returning the helmet, final good-byes to horse and guide, getting our bags, and jumping in the van. Off he sped.

The driver was the same guy who drove us out but now he was fretting about us being late, interjected with assurances that we’d make it. After tailgating anyone in front of us, we were dropped off on the sidewalk at a standard bus stop and he took off saying “he’ll be here any minute”. I was sure we’d just been dumped.

About 3 minutes later, I became positive and then a short bus pulled up, accepted us as fares to the Blue Lagoon, and headed down the road with our gear stored and us in the back seat. Smiles all around.

The Blue Lagoon is a big communal spa or outdoor pool. And by “big”, it’s probably an acre or so in area.

Backing up a bit more …

Iceland is heavily volcanic. The landscape looks it. And all over you can find fields of broken and tumbled stone. Pumice or lava fields. Dark brown and black rocks, light to pick up but with sharp cheese-shredder edges all over its many-pored faces. Great stuff but a hazard to walk over.

Well, in one such field that appears naturally shaped as a low, shallow bowl, they cleaned off the rock (moss loves this stuff), laid in thick blue layers of silica, and fused it to the stone. The end result is a huge bath tub with slick, rounded sides everywhere! Just add water.

Hand-in-hand with being volcanic in nature come hot springs and thermal reserves. Well the Blue Lagoon pumps in tons of heat and through several stations around the pool drives in heated water. It’s great!

Around the pool are a spa, restaurant, the ever-present gift shop, shower areas, and lounging places. Add a bridge or two over different sections, a few grottos, and some “landscaping” and you have the Blue Lagoon. Oh, they even had a heated waterfall you could stand under.

The bus dropped us off and after a small bit of confusion with our bags (they’d store them in a small storage shed), we headed in. We took a few pics on the trail in (you walk through a mini canyon of volcanic rock), tried to avoid the “smoking woman” just in front of us (unsuccessfully … she had a knack for speeding up, slowing down, or stopping to take pictures whenever we did the same), and then got in a long line.

While it seemed to take a lot longer than you’d think to process a person, we waited patiently but expectantly. Our turn came and we got our RFID wristbands and were heading to the lockers in about 30 seconds. Yay, Suzy! She always does her homework and knows what we need and how to proceed. 🙂

In the locker room (separate men’s and women’s) it took me a bit longer to get through than I thought. I guess I hadn’t done as much homework as Suz! Working the locker is simple once you get it but it’s different. You pick an empty locker, put your stuff in, close it, and hold your wristband over a central scanner. Click! The next time you wave your wristband in front of the scanner, it pops open the locker that had been closed.

I decided against bringing in my towel … only after starting to bring it in. I got a lot of practice opening and shutting that locker. But, minor confusion aside, I was in my trunks and heading out to the Lagoon!

I got in before Suzy which allowed me time to soak my newly stubbed toe (ouch!) but she joined me shortly. We lurked about and paddled around to find the warm currents. Then we searched for the silica buckets.

In a few places around the Lagoon were “silica stations”. Buckets of fine, silty silica that us tourists would spread on our faces and allow to dry. Then gently exfoliate off in the water for a health skin treatment. I’m sure you’ll notice my new “glow” the next time you see me.

I got a whole head treatment and it was chilly! With it being an outdoor pool, the 40 degree temps made a wet and exposed head cold! But I endured my treatment.

When I went to rinse off, I inadvertently rinsed a contact from my eye! Ouch! I found it and tried to get it in again. What a mess. The silica slurry all over made putting it in akin to rubbing tiny glass fragments across my eye. Yeouch! Once I gave up I was miserable for having but one contact in but forced myself to not let it ruin the experience.

Suzy and I paddled about a bit more, sharing our space with a couple hundred others. But, it was such a big place you were never that close to anyone else.

We found the heating stations and enjoyed the warmest waters. Suzy tired of this long before I would have but we did need to get our stuff, dry off, have a bit, and then get on the shuttle to the airport. We’d already been in just over an hour. As she has hair to deal with, she went in first; I lolled and paddled the shoreline, then went in myself.

In short order I was with her in the gift shop, we picked up a cookie and Coke in the restaurant, then out to the bus.

At the bus we had a bit of a scare about our luggage. Our bags were nowhere to be seen. After a prolonged search we found they pre-loaded it onto the bus and it was under a million other bags. Whew! Off to the airport.

Again, a bit of a scramble as every airport is a bit different. Here you get your e-tickets with your passport, not a credit card. It’s also a bit mad as they had just dumped off a completely full bus full of people all trying to get through the same airline windows!

And then to the gift/restaurant/lounge area to wait. Here we got a decent sandwich for lunch, Suzy bought some candies for work, and I browsed expensive coats, hats (I still like the full-fur hat I saw that girl wearing a few days back), and souvenirs. Then off to our gate.

Very disappointingly, our flight was delayed a couple hours. It’s disappointing as, had it not been late, we would have chased the sun on our trip west, seeing Greenland, northern Canada, the Rockies, and then home. Instead we had no sights at all … an inky blackness the entire way.

The problem in boarding was “a new system” requiring all passengers not resident in the US to state where they’ d be staying. OK, not tough. Unfortunately, they took this information as you boarded and a single person on a single computer typed it all in! The people doing this blamed US policy for the problem. OK … but did the US require the single person, single computer part?

But we eventually boarded and the flight was long and I was between Suzy (at the window) and a woman who made no eye contact and didn’t say a word the entire trip (on the aisle). She was the sort of person who, when the plane finally landed, didn’t stir a muscle until everyone in front of her had left the plane … then she got up to get her bag from the overhead and head down the aisle.

I didn’t get up or stir the entire trip. Thought my bladder would burst!

But captive as I was, I “enjoyed” an old episode of The X-Files, the movie Ice Age 3, and the movie The Proposal. For a guy who doesn’t watch that much TV, it was onerous. The crampness kept me from getting in my bag too much and TV was the easiest other option (to all the stuff I brought with me). The flight was long.

At SeaTac we whisked through Customs, happy to be home. On the US side we had plenty of red tape but lots of lines, lots of people, and we just marched through. We ran the gauntlet of getting bags, sending them through belts, riding the shuttle, getting our bags again, heading to the parking garage, getting a cab, and then after too too too much time, getting finally home.

This was a great trip. Kudos to Suzy for planning it all and finding such fun things to do. It was a blast!

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