Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Iceland The Director's Cut - Days 1 and 2

First, a preface. For as long as I can remember, my family has traveled. My dad was an airline employee, so flights were always cheap. My mom is a geographer, so the trips were seldom anywhere that involved a beach or other typical relaxing setting. We also tended to cram three weeks worth of travel into one. For instance - we did Paris and the surrounding country (beyond Versailles) in a week. We covered 3000km in northern Italy, the south of France, Monaco, and Spain (and back again) in 9 days. The Alps (France, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Switzerland) in a little over a week... etc.. It continues.

We went somewhere interesting every year for a long time, and the list is very impressive. Often we'd hear the phrase, "you should appreciate this. It's a once-in-a-lifetime trip." But as I and my brothers grew older, the trips became fewer. My mother and brothers have gone on two trips without me in recent years, and I've done a few on my own, Israel being the most recent.

So, as my brothers were simultaneously graduating this year, and therefore losing their flight privileges, the time had come for one last family trip. Originally, it was to be Peru in July, but we just couldn't coordinate vacation time. So it became Iceland in August. My mother, me, and my two brothers heading to Iceland. My dad staying at home to watch over the various things that apparently couldn't go untended for a week. While traveling with my family can be... stressful to say the least, I was looking forward to this.


We started our journey heading to Nova Scotia. There's no direct flight from Toronto to Reykjavik until later this year, so we were going via Halifax. My middle brother was out on a different flight than the rest of us (pass situation), and ended up waiting an hour for us to arrive. I slept from takeoff to landing on the first leg -- apparently I missed a croissant. We arrived with 7 hours to go until we had to check-in for the flight out. We grabbed our rental car and drove out. The decision was made to swing by Peggy's Cove and Lunenburg instead of hanging around Halifax all day. I had been to both, my brothers had not. The day was sunny and bright, so it couldn't have been better to see two places known for being scenic.

Peggy's Cove hasn't changed much in decades. Big lighthouse, rocky outcropping, lots of people. I started taking pictures. There will be a link to vacation shots eventually, but for now, I have to work them down from the current count of 2600+.

Then came Lunenburg - known for being a shipping town, with a unique architectural style. The pictures were fewer due to our tighter time, but I still got plenty of one of the coolest-looking schools I know of.

Enough of Nova Scotia for now though. We got to the airport where I deftly stepped in front of a large tour group to get to the desk. Seats spread across the plane, but it didn't matter because my plan was simple - sleep. For the majority of the 4 1/2 hour flight, I did just that. It was night so I wasn't missing much. I did, however, miss dinner. We landed in Keflavik (where the airport is) around 5am local time, meaning it had been 18 hours since I got up to leave, with about 6 hours of broken-up airplane sleep. Our day was far from over though, as you can't check in to a hotel before 3pm apparently.

So we rented our car and started driving around. First around Keflavik, looking at a viking ship, old farmhouse, and one giant sword statue. Exciting stuff for sure. Then to Grindavik, a largish town on the south tip of the Reykjanes peninsula. As usual though, it's the journey, not the destination that is important.

First I straddled two continents. The European and North American continental plates meet at the North Atlantic Ridge, which runs through Iceland. There are gaps throughout the country, including one in Reykjanes where they've cleverly built a footbridge, allowing us tourists to walk between continents. A short walk up a narrow path in the wind brings you to the gap, filled with and surrounded by black volcanic sand. A sign explains the concept of continental drift, and countless tourists before have left message written in rocks on the floor of the gap. As far as initial sights to see go, it's impressive if you give some thought to the reason for its existence, and not the fact it's neither all that wide nor deep.

Iceland is known for having a rather poor road system. Their ring road circumnavigating the country is relatively new, and not paved everywhere. In fact, most of their roads are unpaved, untended, and narrow. There are plenty of blind turns and hills, and most bridges are 1-lane jobs where right-of-way goes to whomever is closest.

Our paved road turned to unpaved, and we turned off that to an even worse road in order to chase down a view, a lighthouse, and some hot springs.

Running over a rock on a "gravel" road, fighting the wheel, and fearing small, steep hills, we made it past a lighthouse to the ocean. Where we caught a view of the the island Engey, which is a big volcanic rock of an island in the ocean. There's a few of these in Iceland. The shoreline was impressive as well, what with the rather large faulted uplifts.

Iceland is powered by geothermal power. Its water system comes directly from cold glacial sources (for cold) and hot springs (for hot). Throughout the country there are telltale plumes of water vapour from the various springs and the geothermal plants on top of them.

The shore we were on happened to be right near some, so we continued on our bumpy trail to the steaming mud and smells of sulfur. I'll say this for Iceland, you learn to drive quickly. Our area had a few cars coming in and out, and there was that narrow, rocky road. It appears that when you pass hot springs, there's a good chance you'll suddenly find yourself engulfed in a cloud of vapour, completely blinded. Luckily, we didn't pass anyone. We pulled over in a clear spot, and my brother and I went for a walk to get a closer look at the steaming, bubbling mud. We quickly found ourselves surrounded by a sulfur-rich cloud, and were instantly wet. Unfortunately for us, my brother has dreads, and I had hair paste and glasses, which made for an interesting sight when we walked out covered in condensation.

We dried off quickly and continued on our way, coming up on a Grindavik a noise was heard and our hubcap spun off down the road... odd. To the side of the road we did pull and discovered our flat tire. It was changed quickly enough and we continued on our way... to the Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon has nothing to do with a young, naked Brooke Shields and her journey into womanhood. Well, it does... but not this one. Yet another hot spring, but this one turned into a spa as well as geothermal plant. It is aptly named -- in the middle of a lava field, surrounded by nothing, there is a large pool that is a shade of turquoise you'd swear was fake. Think berry blue Kool-Aid, or blue cotton candy. It's natural, caused by the silica particles in the water refracting the light. During some periods, a particular algae takes over, turning the water green instead. This seemed as good a place as any to stop and eat for the first time since the plane (which, if you recall, I slept through). Monkfish on potato was alright, but didn't live up to the hype. The fish was chewy and lacked flavour, although the sauce, veggies, and potato were good. I came very close to falling asleep at the table, so a trip into the water wasn't going to happen that day.

We headed to Reykjavik and the hotel, but arrived too early to check in, so it was off to the downtown flea market to see their wares. To say it was underwhelming would be... accurate. To kill enough time to get back to the hotel and find a bed, we swung by Hallgrimskirkaja - possibly the most famous church/building in Iceland. A tall obelisk of a front, with wings that resemble a pipe organ, it's an impressive sight. It could be said that I took a picture or two.

We finally made it BACK to the hotel and were able to check in... 6 hours later I woke up, changed, and fell back asleep until the morning. This was, after all, the first time I'd found a real bed since I woke up 33 hours earlier.


Schaubs said...

I look forward to part two. I can't see how you could remember all of those places you visited. You could spell them anyway you want and I would believe it. Welcome back.

lj said...

yay! long posts are back! yayyyyyy!