Monday, February 11, 2013

Iceland: The Layover...Goldring Travel Style- Part III

With my third day in Iceland was taken up by work my fourth day was something I was really looking forward to:  Glacier Hiking and Ice Wall Climbing.  Let me say this about my icy day:  “It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.” But in the end it really was a great time.

Our small group of seven waited for the last two people to arrive…and quite an entrance they made.  One was just late, the other was a “travel agent from hell”.  This woman was loud, obnoxious, rude…and had a terrible cough…while complaining about the smell our boxed lunches and bragging about the food she took from the hotel breakfast buffet.  And when we arrived at the glacier she said, “Oh, I can’t do this.  I don’t want to hurt myself.”  Yes, she was every reason I encourage you to use a qualified and responsive travel agent…and take private tours.  She was, without a doubt, the worst of times.

But I shall now focus on the best of times.  The rest of our group was eclectic to say the least.  Aside from myself there was young man on a mission to expand his burgeoning energized tour/hiking company, a young woman from Surrey,  Canadian adventure tour agent, a man from Stockholm and, believe it or not a Lithuanian pork slaughter house butcher (yes, it’s true) along with our two guides.

The day was raining and all the snow I had seen on my first day in Iceland was gone.  The formerly snow covered lava fields near Reykjavik were now showing their warm yellow-green moss coverings.  It was as if I was in a totally different place with a cool mist replaced the ice cold winter of just a few days earlier.  We headed south and then eventually along Iceland’s coast driving coast past beautiful cliffs and waterfalls, black lava sand beaches, Icelandic horse farms, barley and hay fields.

Eventually we arrived at a tongue of the Solheimajokull glacier, given ice axes (which actually were more to make us feel the part), crampons and helmets a brief bit of instruction and were off to climb a glacier.  (Of course “that” woman immediately put the brakes on things, but our guides expertly neutralized much of her antics.)

As there had been a good bit of rain, the snow that often covers the glacier was gone.  This, fortunately for us, gave an amazing experience of seeing down into the ice rather than just walking over it. The colors and different types of ice were mesmerizing. We could see the path of the running water by the ash laden streams running here and there.  Our guide showed us how that shallow pool of water was actually very, very, deep so to avoid the puddles.  The beauty was staggering…and it was all pretty cool.


It was then time to climb an ice wall.  OK, it was not a 100 foot wall, but it was more than enough to get the idea…and understanding that trying to climb a 100 foot wall would be a bad idea!  With safety ropes installed and climbing axes in hand we each had our turn climbing and repelling down….with varying degrees of success.  I was most certainly not the best, but I was not the worst.  Regardless, it was fun and a great experience!



After that we began a bit more of walk around the glacier the guide advised (with “that” woman) we would not have enough time to take the scheduled path and get back on time (a bit of slightly poor planning had our tour’s normal length shortened one hour at the outset) without eliminating the scheduled stop at one waterfall. As an alternative he offered to have us stop at two waterfalls if we cut our time on the glacier down.  The answer was obvious…but as you will see, it most certainly did not spoil the best of times.

As we walked down the glacier I took some time to just look. I seem to be doing a lot of that here in Iceland.



We were then off to the waterfalls (after the guides allowed us a beer stop).  The first one was pretty cool,


 but the second one, Seljalandsfoss,  was awesome…and you have the ability to walk behind it.  Words don’t do it justice.





 It was then back to the hotel for a quick shower and the off to a conference dinner.  I left early as Gunner, from Friend in Iceland, called and invited me to go out for dinner with two of his Icelandic friends. (Iceland is a very friendly place!) 

We had dinner at Restaurant 101, a very sleek modern restaurant where I had black ink pasta with seafood.  I have noticed that Icelandic chefs always slightly undercook their fish by American and European standards, so the flavors are really fantastic.  From there we headed to the Marina Hotel and its Shipbarren Bar for dessert.

The nightlife in Iceland doesn’t get going until midnight and I had not yet truly indulged in it, so it being Saturday night I was er’ umm, obliged.  After an hour or so and with a larger group (some from the conference joined us) and we were off to Dublin Pub for some really excellent music and a beer and then it was to another club and then another club and then to Esja-bar, which is “the” club with the Icelandic celebrities and, thus, the beautiful people.  The folks in Iceland, young and old, truly enjoy there nightlife.  At 3:00 a.m. the party was actually just starting, but I needed to get some sleep before heading home so I left my friends, and walked back to the hotel in a refreshing mist.

With a late morning start, I did what I just didn’t want to do:  Go to the Blue Lagoon.  It sounded so much like a tourist trap to me with its hot mineral water and silica mud that you are supposed to put on your face.  I figured sometimes you have to do things just so you know what it is you think you don’t like.  


Well, I don’t like it.  It is a very large manmade hot mineral pool with various facilities, some complimentary and some not (like massages).  Charges are made by RFID wristbands that you charge things to…and you can’t get out until you pay for them and deposit your wristband in the turnstile.  Was it better than hanging out at the 3 star Radisson Blu Saga Hotel with all the construction noise?  Yes.  Was it one of the least satisfying experiences of my stay?  Yes.  Was it terrible?  Not quite.

From there it was a short bus ride to airport for a quick check-in, some lunch in the Icelandair Saga Lounge and an uneventful flight home.

Next up my thoughts on why Iceland really is a great close-in destination for nature lovers, those wanting a spa holiday or just a place to unwind.