Friday, February 8, 2013

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

My first twelve hours in Iceland behind me, but still very fresh in my head, I checked my emails and saw that Rut Magnusdottir, of  Friend In Iceland, had left a message that I should bring my bathing suit because she and her partner, Gunner Sigurdsson decided they were going to take me to a luxury spa before going to dinner.  Now, that is a friend in Iceland!

Not knowing what to expect, we arrive at World Class and Gunner shows me around and I see a pretty amazing fitness center...after I have my retinas scanned as this is the way they control what parts of this massive, and very cool, facility you may enter.


Fortunately for me this was only Gunner showing off the facility because a workout is not what I was signed up for!

We then head downstairs, have our eyes scanned and we enter what is the nicest luxury sauna, steam room, hot tub, cold dipping bath, etc. facility I have every been in.  No photos, obviously, but rich stone, beautiful woods, aroma therapy everything, hot (and I mean hot - no American laws limiting temperature) steam rooms and wet and dry saunas.  It was fantastic.  And then to cool down, we went outside and into the geothermal pools.

Then it was off to dinner at the Marina Hotel for drinks and dinner at the very trendy Slippbarrenn Bar where we enjoyed a wonderful Fish Soup, Salted Cod with Salad on Flatbread and Chicken Salad while getting to know each other and becoming, well, better friends.


I pause here to mention that Friend in Iceland is not just an ordinary tour operator, but rather a company founded on crafting the best experience for each individual.  Rut, with a background in art and taking care of special needs children among other things, is immensely involved in details (you wonder how they picked taking me to a luxury spa, huh?) while Gunner knows everyone and simply makes things happen (as a person with a directorial background does) like getting me into the spa.  There are many companies that tell you, "Of course we can do that." or say the know what you want, but you find out too late that they really didn't.  In my world, folks like Rut and Gunner are few and far between.  And, more importantly, they are now truly my friends!

After dinner I was given a quick night time tour of Reykjavik ending at a dark end to a road where I am told that bright light is actually a lighthouse with a great view of the neighboring islands and glaciers that I should see in the daylight (and at low tide you can actually walk out to the lighthouse).  After that we said good night and promised to see each other at the next evening's event.

Well, the next morning I took my rental car and drove back to that lighthouse and it was as beautiful as promised (and, by the way, not a single other tour company I met with ever mentioned it to me).  Just sayin'!



I did, however, have to make another stop:  The Icelandic Phallological Museum, where male genitalia allegedly from every animal that has one is displayed.


Who knew such a place existed?  Well, I have this Friend in Iceland...

After that I returned the rental car, and took a 10-15 minute walk from the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel to downtown, where did some shopping for Icelandic chocolate - which is truly excellent - and a wander around.

During my last visit to Iceland I had a fantastic 14 course meal at the now-closed Seafood Cellar.  So I figured I would look to see what, if anything, took its place in the basement of the building that houses the Visitor's Center.  Well, it is a gem:  Rub 23.

It was about 2:00 PM and they were about to close, but said I could order lunch.  I ordered just a starter of Icelandic Blue Mussels and French Fries.  They were huge and the best mussels I have ever eaten anywhere.  The Rub 23 ale was pretty darn good too!


I then strolled back to the hotel for a rest before heading out to the opening cocktail party at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica where I ran into Gunner and Rut.  After the event, the Reykjavik Restaurant (which never looked to appealing from the outside) was holding an event downtown...so Rut and I headed there to check it out.  As we approached downtown there was a very interesting light sculpture in a small park.  After  checking it out Rut took me into a bar where they have Thursday night Samba classes.  (Seriously, would you have ever thought there would be Samba classes in Iceland?)

With no dancing for me (to everyone's relief I am sure) we headed over to the restaurant for some really excellent food (including some very tasty smoked puffin and roast Icelandic lamb among many others) and music.  It was then time to call it a night; thus ending my first 36 hours in Iceland.

So now I pause and remind you that I have gone from frozen waterfalls to beautiful lakes to steaming geysirs,  to a luxury spa, to gourmet meals, to a stylish bar, to a beautiful lighthouse hidden in plain sight to a weird (really weird) museum to open air art exhibits to great nightlife in a day and a half and without rushing around.  That is pretty impressive.

While my time here in Iceland is far from done, I want you to ask yourself something:  Wouldn't Iceland be a great stopover for a couple of days before you start your Northern European cruise? Or how about for a long weekend?  Something to think about!

So while my "layover" is done I will be writing more about my short, but very enjoyable and impressive time here.  Stay tuned!