Monday, October 8, 2012

Iceland, Part One

At times I feared it would never happen, but I finally got myself out of the States, and just finished up a pretty spectacular weekend in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Reykjavik was a late and somewhat random addition to my travel plans. Less than a week after my Ironman, I had one of those drink-a-bottle-of-red-wine-while-researching-flights-to-London evenings (completely normal, right?). I stumbled upon a competitive fare offered by Iceland Air. After flipping on to their website, I learned that Iceland Air allows for multi-day stopovers in Reykjavik, completely free. I knew approximately two things about Iceland--- it's home to the Blue Lagoon, and they have cute little penguin-like creatures called puffin, which are treated both as mascots and eaten as delicacies. That's two things enough for me, especially when I've had that quantity of wine, and the decision was made...weekend in Iceland, game on.

Blue Lagoon preview

Then, in a second instant of bottle-of-wine-induced-impulsivity, I texted Blaine, a friend I'd just met during my most recent stint at Camp Naperville, and invited him to Iceland. I hardly knew Blaine, but I just kinda sorta had that feeling that he'd be the type of person that might appreciate and be able to swing a completely random, last-minute trip to a completely random, Scandinavian country. I was right, and he booked his flight (after a completely understandable, somewhat puzzled reaction).

Viking Statue

Fast forward a few weeks, and I was on the flight to Reykjavik, 24 hours after initally planned, and completely wired. My (5.5 hour) flight left New York in the evening, and was scheduled to land in Reykjavik at just a little after 6 AM, Iceland-time. With only a little over two days in Iceland, I knew I needed to get there rested and ready to roll right into the day. That 5.5 hour flight was my opportunity to sleep. So I ran all over New York all day, trying to wear myself out, then washed down two Advil PM with red wine in the airport bar before my flight, confident that I'd get to my seat nice and exhausted and ready to sleep.

Come to find out, Advil PM does not knock me out, and Iceland Air provides in-flight entertainment that includes several episodes of Arrested Development. I love, love, love Arrested Development. And of course, instead of sleeping, I watched ALL of the episodes (mind you, I'd seen them all already, multiple times), guffawed my way over the Atlantic Ocean, even rewound the episodes to watch the funniest parts over again, and got not a wink of sleep.

Needless to say, my irresponsible late-night TV viewing pretty much ruined the first half of my first day in Iceland, which I spent passed out in the hotel. I felt like a jerk (we should be out exploring right now and here I am sleeping in the hotel room!), but when we called to get a dinner reservation for the evening and were given the option of 11:30 PM, I realized that when it comes to late nights, Reykjavik is like Miami on steroids. Nothing's getting started until midnight anyway, so me sleeping all morning wasn't such a bad thing, after all.

Once I'd finally gotten my lazy bones out of bed, we bundled up and headed out to explore Reykjavik. Blaine, having arrived a day earlier, had already gotten the lay of the land, and he led the way down to a path along the ocean, past unique Nordic statues and buildings, to the central part of town.

And Reykjavik was almost exactly what I expected. Charming little colorful buildings dotting the hills that rise up from the sea. Cobblestone streets. Cold rain, that seemed to come down about once an hour, always stopping within 15 minutes, but leaving us totally chilled to the bones. Extremely friendly people, most of whom spoke flawless English. Lots and lots and lots of wool sweaters. (And yes, it took every ounce of self control that I could muster not to buy one of those sweaters).

We wandered around, grabbed lunch, and then spent the afternoon hunkered down in a soccer (sorry, sorry, sorry, football) bar that had about 6 different games showing, drinking Icelandic beer. We didn't really care about the football (see, I'm learning), but the bar seemed to be packed with locals, not tourists, and the people watching was priceless.

This guy, watching football in his Icelandic sweater and looking AND acting just like Zach Galifianakis, became my Iceland hero. Would have watched him all day, but he stormed out when his team lost..
Pure Iceland. I wish I had a video to illustrate his animated reactions to the soccer game, but this was stalker-y enough for me.
That evening, we headed out to a fancy sushi restaurant (research indicated that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes dined at the same restaurant just days before the shocking, completely earth-shattering announcement of their divorce), and then experienced Reykjavik-at-night. Let me tell you, Icelanders know how to party. The streets were packed and the many, many bars were overflowing. We made it until 3 AM. Pretty impressive, huh??? Until you realize that 3 AM in Iceland is really 9:00 PM in Chicago. So really, being pretty well still on American time, yeah, we partied it up all the way until 9:00. Wild and crazy kids, we were.

Up next....the rest of the trip, which (spoiler alert), mostly consisted of lounging in Iceland's famous hot spring/ mineral pools. Who goes to Iceland to swim outdoors, you might ask? Well, pretty much everyone. But more on that, later.


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