Travelogue! Days 0-3
Days 0-1: Minneapolis
Never trust a travel agent.
We arrived N hours early at the Minneapolis airport (“we” being my parents, my sister, and myself), Mom bearing a purple multi-compartment binder full of tickets and reservation numbers and an unimaginable amount of Pure Organizational Essence. When she dropped it on my suitcase, my socks rolled themselves into pairs. So when, after having obtained our boarding passes at the gate and passed through security, we checked in at the gate and the gate agent demanded shiny paper tickets, her incredulous impatience was wholly unwarranted.
The person who’d given us our boarding passes swore she’d seen our tickets, we must’ve dropped them – but there were never any paper tickets, we had e-tickets! Except we didn’t. Despite having sworn up and down that we would be getting e-tickets, the travel agent had bought us paper tickets and then forgotten to mail them out or mention them at all.
Travel agents are worthless, travel agents without 24-hour phone numbers doubly so. With a stroke of luck, we managed to reach someone else at the office who’d gone in for some random task before leaving on her 4th of July holiday; this wonderful woman looked in our file, found the tickets, and dropped them off in our mailbox. In Iowa City. Which is not a drive that many people can make in under 5 hours, and our plane had left by then anyway. Oops.
Lil’ Miss McMoots and I went off for supper and a Powerball ticket* to balance out our karma, while my parents and aunt (I have the greatest extended family in the world) prepared to spend the night driving to Iowa and back. We’d be on the next day’s plane.
Days 2-3: Iceland
The flight, once we finally got on, was uneventful. We all slept fitfully on the plane, and arrived at KeflavÃk with the ability to form complete sentences. I astonished some French people sitting behind me by insisting that Iceland from the air looks just like Hawaii (it does! Modulo vegetation and, more importantly, glaciers, one island of overlapped basalt flows looks just like another). We grabbed our rental car and hightailed it for the tourist attractions.
If I were a real travel writer, this is the point at which I would segue into a digression on some minor point of Icelandic history and culture, of the type you can research at home and drop in just where it will make you seem an informed and responsible tourist, rather than some drooling yokel who goggles at the wrong statues. Whenever I’ve read all the books I have with me plus the latest Harry Potter, I tend to buy travel writing in airport bookshops. I’ve been reading rather a lot of it lately, enough that I’ve run out of Bill Bryson and had to settle for A Journey Round The Shipping Forecast on the way home. Which is where the usual digressions become transparently obvious ploys to convince you that small islands in the North Atlantic are not, in fact, all the same – they have differently-eccentric lifeboat captains living on them, and some have been ruined by tacky souvenir shops whereas others are undergoing a vacation-home induced housing crisis! But anyway, I’m just a lazy blogger, so rather than write my own digression I’ll simply link to one – Jill at Inhabitat was in Iceland just a couple weeks after me, and has a series of posts up about environmentally-conscious architecture, Modernist churches (what is it with you wacky Nordic peoples and your wacky love affair with Modernism?) and geothermal energy.
The amazing thing about driving around Iceland is that once you get a little bit away from the coast, you become quite isolated – like driving through an unpopular stretch of the Great Basin, or on the moon. There are sheep and a few ponies, plus the odd summer house, just enough to remind one that there are living creatures on the planet beyond rocks and lichen and lupines**. The one-lane gravel road is all yours. Then, when you’ve just gotten used to the idea of dying out on the windswept lava with no one but a sheep to see you go, a gaggle of tour busses appears on the horizon to herald your destination.
We saw Geysir – the original, after which all other geysers are named, though it was only its smaller sibling Strokkur that spouted for us – and the massive waterfall Gullfoss. On a tip from someone in the souvenir shop, after Gullfoss we drove an astonishingly short distance to be completely alone with a white-tinted glacial river. But we failed to complete the Holy Icelandic Tourist Trio with âˆšÃ»ingvellir, alas! By the time we drove back to the hostel, we were singing sea shanties to keep ourselves awake.
The following day, we met up with a friend of a family friend for a tour around Reykjavik. As we had been scheduled for the day we were stuck in Minneapolis, we weren’t able to meet his wife, a former Feminist Party MP – but we did get to hear a bit about the anthropology of Icelandic genome-sequencing, which was good fun.
But, to repeat: There was*** a Feminist Party! With MPs! News briefs in an old copy of the Reykjavik Grapevine I found lying around the hostel included
Conservative Women Pressure for Gender Equality and
Whaling Still Banned, which seems to be the Icelandic political situation in a nutshell.
That evening we visited the Blue Lagoon, which has got to be one of the most overrated tourist attractions in the universe. You pay ~US$20 to sit around with other tourists in a pool of tepid effluent, which turns your hair to a crackly mess faster than a swimming pool on PCP. Although the silicic muck at the bottom is supposed to do amazing spa-like things for your skin, on the way in they actually give you a little packet of moisturizing lotion to counter its effects. The “ethereal mist” that rose up from the water was nice, but not quite thick enough to hide the snogging couples in every corner.
I’m sure there are many, many excellent hot springs in Iceland; with such a combination of climate and geology they must be bursting out of every corner, and I certainly saw many promising clouds of steam in the countryside. It’s quite clever of the Icelanders to set up such a diversion away from them.
On our way out of the country the next morning, we left the car in the airport parking lot with the key in the ignition.****
*We didn’t win, not even in that kinda-sorta-almost way where two or three numbers match.
**I am crushed that I never managed to get a good picture of the lupines. They were everywhere, in bright purple clumps, really astounding against the dull gray basalt. Oddly, there were no pink lupines blooming in Iceland, though there were plenty of them in Norway – does anyone know why?
***The Feminist Party has since been eaten up by one of the other left-wing parties, I don’t know which.
****This isn’t actually a cliffhanger ending or a mistake on our part. Since we were leaving so early, they told us to just leave it like that, and gave us funny looks when we asked if they weren’t worried about theft.