This morning I went to get myself some hot tea and noticed sugar cubes wrapped in thin paper. I was so exhausted from traveling, jet lag, and getting up early that I forgot my anxiety and made a comment about how cute they were next to the hot water. A woman with an English accent commented how back in the UK in certain places there are tongs that are used for the sugar cubes. She described this as very “posh.” I had never heard this word used other than when it is in reference to a Spice Girl. I realize it means fancy or upper-class, I had just never heard it used that way and it definitely tickled my fancy.
During the bus ride around the Icelandic countryside, I learned a lot of interesting tidbits about this country. Apparently they fiercely protect their own language by not just adopting new words as they come, like “telephone.” Instead, they will use their own language to make up something such as “line between two places” for telephone. Additionally, you can’t just name your child whatever you want. You must have permission from a priest. Apparently there is also gold inside a mountain that some farmer owns… but the farmer wants to leave the mountain as it is and doesn’t care about the gold or the potential money to be made–I absolutely love that. Crooked bankers gave themselves too many bonuses, so Iceland let the banks go bankrupt and then went after the bankers for all they had. Maybe the U.S. should follow suit.
Today we traveled to the fishing town of Stykkisholmur and took an afternoon cruise on the Breidafjordur fjord.
During the cruise, I became a little nauseous which is not uncommon for me. Even though I took Dramamine well before we boarded the boat, I still felt the queasy-ness coming on which made me sad because I really wanted to try the scallop soup. Luckily, Francoise from Belgium saved the day. She pulled some small white pills out of her purse and told me to put one under my tongue and let it dissolve. Literally, within 5 minutes I was fine and didn’t miss out on the soup.
One of our Australian friends had a little scare with exceptionally cold toes. After eating our soup, Petula called me over to where she was seated and I saw one of her comrades had pretty stark white toes, probably because his shoes weren’t insulated. She asked if I had any handwarmers left from the night before (while searching for the northern lights). Luckily, I did, and our friends toes thawed out eventually. In addition to Australia, we met people from Argentina, Holland, U.K., Ireland, and Scotland.
We had to skip a stop where we could try fermented shark (uniquely characteristic of Iceland) because of weather conditions. All I can say is that if an Icelander tells you the weather is too harsh… it’s real talk. I was surprised we traveled around during some of the gnarly wind… so you know it’s legit if you’re being rerouted. Everything is extreme in Iceland in my opinion. I imagine the Icelanders would find my home in Pennsylvania very boring. Some of the wind can get up to 150 mph. Our tour first gave the measurement in meters per second, which sounded like a lot but didn’t make much sense to me since in the US we use MPH… then he converted it for us and my eyes bugged out.
A particularly powerful experience was in a local swimming pool facility. There were hot tubs and swimming pools … OUTSIDE that people used in 32 degrees Fahrenheit! And yes, we did it too. Well, the hot tubs at least. But what was especially powerful for me was that all of the women in the locker rooms walked around naked unapologetically. It was beautiful. It actually seemed weird if you didn’t get naked, plus you had to wash yourself before entering the hot tubs and pools. Westerners were giggling nervously, myself included. It was just a refreshing experience to see women completely comfortable with themselves, which, to me, is a rare sight in the United States. Another interesting experience was jumping into a tub of freezing salt water from the ocean and then getting back into the hot tub. Our guide said it’s good for the skin and it opens your pores. Well, when in Iceland, do as the Icelanders do…
Here I am in the salt water.. and my expression says it all.
Unfortunately, the best times to see the northern lights are also during the Winter months in Iceland which can be particularly harsh and unpredictable in terms of the weather. Every day there was an adventure. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. The cold is so utterly unnerving it’s not an annoyance-like cold found in Pennsylvania. It is so magnificently powerful it cuts right to your bones and it doesn’t just come with the wind… it just is. Exposed skin can be in pain in seconds, especially if it’s windy, but then at times, Pennsylvania weather is colder. So odd.
That evening, after searching for the northern lights in a field adjacent to our hotel with no luck, everyone warmed themselves with hot chocolate and went to bed. We were assured that should any activity begin, we would be awakened with a knock in the middle of the night. And we were! We received sudden knocks on the door around 1:30 am. Disoriented, I jolted awake and then I felt like a child on Christmas morning … the northern lights were visible! We scrambled into our warm snow pants and jackets, grabbed our cameras and headed outside. I managed a makeshift tripod (a sweatshirt in a huge ziplock bag), and the results were great. It was gorgeous. Absolutely a spiritual experience
Icelandic Tip: Bringing waterproof/insulated boots is a must. Additionally, bringing a few hand warmers is probably a good idea, you might just save yourself from some frozen fingers or toes.