Eric Dinerstein William C. Young
Iceland, 20-25 August 2016
Arrival in Iceland: Saturday, 20 August
I picked Bill up from his condo in the morning and we headed off to Dulles Airport. The plane departed at 2:00 pm.
We flew Icelandair - for Bill, this stop was him taking advantage of their layover offering, where you can layover in Iceland for up to 7 days on your way to another country for no additional flight charge. In their magazine, you can see that each plane in the fleet is named after some geological feature in Iceland. This was handy, with a pronunciation guide included for each name, so I spent some time studying that. Not that I needed it, in the end: everyone we encountered, except in one small café, spoke English.
Our plane was named Dyngjufjöll (DEENG-iu-fiudl). The magazine said: "Dyngjufjöll is the name of a volcano highland massif in North Iceland. The famous Askja caldera, a popular tourist destination, is situated in Dyngjufjöll."
After perusing their in-flight food offerings, I opted for the Red Curry Chicken, which was obviously microwave food but was quite tasty, with tender, moist chicken. The Saga line of products utilizes the packaging of their meals to teach something about Iceland: this one taught me that "kvika" (QUICK-ah) is the word for molten lava floating beneath the earth's surface. Printed inside the box was a basic map showing the locations of some of the geothermal places of interest.
I also ordered chocolates because I'm a chocolate fiend, and I was glad I did. Why is America's everyday chocolate so bad?? I may as well eat a candle! I bought all five chocolates they offered, even though one was a KitKat bar, which I don't really care for. I was glad I did - that was no American KitKat! It tasted like actual chocolate, almost dark, not like sweet wax, and with a creamier texture. The other two bars offered with that one were interesting - one called "KROPP" had small crunchy malt balls in it, and the other had small chunks of black licorice. Chocolate and licorice aren't flavors I would think to put together, but it was so good I later bought more. I'm describing these because the menu doesn't tell you what they are, so in case you're a chocoholic traveling to Iceland, having read my notes, you can consider if you want them. The other two bars of "Traditional Icelandic Chocolate" were a nice 45% dark chocolate, and a milk chocolate with salted toffee, which was more like crunchy bits of butterscotch candy.
Additionally, I got a "Happy Marriage Cake", which was tasty and not too sweet, some kind of crumbly moist cookie-cake around jam. This packaging taught me that sætukoppar (Sigh-tu-koh-par) is an Icelandic name for the small flowers of the bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), which is found all over Iceland. As a point of reference, Vaccinium is the same genus that blueberries are in.
Even the air sickness bag has a nice graphic design layout on it with a small photo of fluffy white clouds in a blue sky, and tells that 'Loftslag' is Icelandic for 'climate', "which is one of the things that is a surprise to every visitor to Iceland."
It goes on to describe the climate, and says "it's not unusual to experience all four seasons in a single day." We didn't experience summer or winter, but I can't complain about that.
The flight landed at 7:50. It's four hours later in Iceland; I'll be referring to local time from this point. This means that locally, our flight landed at almost midnight. We flew into Keflavík Airport, which is pronounced "KEHB-lah-veek". I read that, in general, the first syllable gets the emphasis in the Icelandic language. This airport is located southwest and outside of Reykjavík, on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
As we walked through the airport from our gate, we passed people sitting on the floor, backs against the walls of the passageway. I wondered why they were all sitting out here in the hallway, but I think that was all there was. We didn't pass many areas of chairs, and when we did, there weren't many chairs. Sometimes we'd pass a line of people up against the wall, and it looked like the gate door was right there in the wall of the passageway.
Despite being a fairly sizable airport, this is not like the airports I'm used to, which have large waiting areas full of seats right next to the gate doors. There, the waiting areas appeared to be indistinct from the passageway itself through which people were trying to get places.
We went through the lines, got our bags, and finally found the Lagoon Rentals guy. We chose them because their prices were lower than others. We found this reflected in most of their service. The guy was young in presentation as well as age, and the whole operation lacked a professional feel. He refused to hold his sign up high even when people he was speaking to on his cell phone were having a hard time spotting him and I suggested it, holding it instead in front of his chest in the crowd. In the van, he listened to a station playing American rap and rock, and he tailgated other cars like there was a magnet in his bumper. Once at the office, we waited a long time for service, and the office felt thrown together.
We finally got out of there with our charcoal VW Golf. Initially after we left, I thought I wouldn't use them again in the future, but really when I think about it, the next time I'll know what to expect, and the interaction with the office is only one small part of renting a car. At the end of the trip, I had no complaints about the return process. Lagoon's office is located not far from the airport. If you use them, just set your expectations accordingly.
The Golf was brand new - I think we were the second people to lease it. It was a good car, with some odd features - to me, at least. I guess they're pretty normal for a modern car these days, and my 2013 Mazda just isn't with the times. I know it's normal for the headlights to go out when a car is turned off, though I've never owned a car with that feature. This was a good feature to have on a car in Iceland, as it's apparently illegal to drive there without headlights. Given all the fog we encountered throughout the trip, that's a good idea so a person doesn't have to constantly remember to turn them on when encountering yet another fog bank.
The car had a back-up camera, and proximity sensors that beeped when things got too close to either side, front, or back. I found this simultaneously handy and annoying, like a helicopter parent. "Yes, I know there's something in front of me while I'm trying to park! Settle down, it's only a small bush." The strangest feature was that the motor shut off automatically when the car came to a stop, and cranked right back up immediately when my foot came off the brake. This caused a slight and initially unexpected delay at times when I wished there was none, which took some getting used to. Several times it asked me to start it again manually, though I hadn't turned it off with the key. This didn't happen on the street, but when I had pulled over for a few minutes. Since then I've looked this behavior up, and discovered it's a fuel-saving feature that's becoming more common. For the most part, it was responsive enough.
It was VERY dark when we left Lagoon Rental. We rented a GPS as well, which came in very handy throughout the trip, though it was offset also by map apps on my phone. Getting out of the area Lagoon is in was a slight challenge, as it was in an office park sort of area, but right next to some empty land, where it was extremely dark. Thankfully the GPS set us straight.
After driving through the dark for a bit, we came to the lights of Reykjavík, wound our way into a neighborhood of houses, and there found the Reykjavík Peace Center at 2:30 am.
Reykjavík Peace Center Guesthouse
One out of several parking spots out front was open, much to my relief. The building was the size of a large house and mostly dark, but with a light at the front door and light evident from one or two rooms within. Trying the door, we found it locked. Bill remembered something about a key being somewhere, so we searched unsuccessfully for a place that looked like it may be hiding one. Finally we gave up and called the number posted in the window. A man's voice instructed Bill to enter a numeric code in the box attached to the wall next to the door, which he did. He then pushed a button on the side while I tried to open the door, but nothing happened. We tried it several times before the guy said he'd come out.
The door opened to reveal an older gentleman, white hair in disarray, wearing a white undershirt and briefs. That was a slight but amusing shock, which I overcame within a matter of seconds, as we had apparently awakened him. He greeted us and we explained we were unable to open the door. At some point in this conversation, he looked down at himself and blinked, then apologized for forgetting to put on trousers. I brushed it off with a smile and let him know we don't care. He came out to the coded box and pressed two buttons on either side. With a light pry at the top, the front swung down to reveal an internal compartment containing keys in plastic bags. Asking our name, he dug through and found ours.
We fetched our bags from the car and brought them in, where we were instructed to remove our shoes. This reminded me that I'd read that Icelanders in general prefer to remove shoes when entering a house. We added ours to the sizable array just inside the door. An office was to the left of the door, and somewhere along the way our host gained a white terrycloth bathrobe. We sat at the desk as he checked us in. When I commented that he had supreme self control, to have a chocolate bar just sitting open there next to him, he offered me a piece; it was delicious dark Icelandic chocolate. In all, I found him to be gruffly charming with his scraggly hair and beard, chocolate, and white terrycloth robe.
This place isn't exactly a hotel, but I don't know that I'd call it a hostel, either. We had a private room, but the bathrooms are shared. The layout is like a large house. Our room was small with two twin beds, but it was a place I could have stayed for a few days. It did have internet, which I didn't try to use; a guy was camped out on a sofa near one of the bathrooms trying to use it. I gathered the signal isn't strong in all parts of the building. The upstairs bathroom had a tub, while the downstairs bathroom had a rather tight shower.▲