Sunday, July 8, 2012

Iceland – Day 10: Reykjavik to Denver

The day of our departure back to Denver had arrived.  Though both Zack and I were feeling some what depressed that our holiday was finally over it really was time to get back to Denver.  There were family, friends and puppies to see.  And of course there was that insidious thing called work that I needed to return to so that we could continue to take vacations like this. 

Waking up early I spent about an hour organizing our stuff so that it was well packed and important stuff was in the 3 pieces of carry on luggage that we were taking on the flight.  Thankfully Icelandair doesn’t charge for checked bags!

(Snob warning:  The next three paragraphs I am going to write sound like am a snob.  So if you would rather not experience my significantly stuck up attitude, please skip these paragraphs.  If you do choose to read them, please just realize that I AM an ASS!)

We left the hotel around 9:30AM and headed to a little bakery that we knew of 2 streets over as we wanted a greater choice of food than what was offered at the “hotel” breakfast.  Ordering our food we then picked out a seat in the main section of the café.  As we ate our breakfast I sat there listening to the conversation that was taking place between the next two tables.  At the table next to us were two American women in their late 30’s to early 40’s.  The table next to them was occupied by a young American male in his mid to late 20’s.  The more I listened to the conversation the more I cringed.

The guy two tables over was doing his damnedest to try and pick these women up and they were not interested.  To be honest, I felt sorry for the guy because he couldn’t pick up on the cues that the women were sending that the conversation should end.  Then my ears really pricked up when he started taking about touring around Iceland.  I wanted to hear what he had to say.  And then that was truly when my travel snob attitude kicked in.  This guy had been in Iceland for about 3 weeks and was talking about seeing Iceland and then he dropped the thing that made me laugh.  He had spent all of his time in Reykjavik and had just taken tourist day tours to “catch the highlights”.  Dear god, I thought you haven’t seen crap of this country then!

My thoughts are if you really want to see and experience a foreign country you really have to get off the tourist beaten track and see the things that the locals see on a day-to-day basis.  That is the only way you are ever going to get to truly experience a country or a foreign destination.  I am not going to sit here and make all kinds of judgments about this guy or tourists who just go on tourist excursions and think they are seeing the country, but the bottom line is that you don’t really see it or experience it.  I think to really see a place you at one point or another have to get utterly lost or if you don’t get lost, just pick a road or a bus, or a train and go somewhere that you never expected to end up.  Go someplace where the common people of that country spend their days.  Don’t just seek out the tourist sites.  I know I sound like an utter snob by saying these things but unfortunately it is the way I feel.  To me it is part of my attitude of travel that the journey begins where the road ends and that the journey itself is the destination of the trip as opposed to one specific location.  Ok – I am off my snobbish traveler high horse and please know without a second thought that I know I sound like an utter ass.  But those who are part of my personal life know how much of an ass I can be – seriously!

So after I sat there scoffing to myself at this guy and the two women we finished eating and headed out.  There were a couple of destinations around Reykjavik that I wanted to get photos of and so we took care of that before heading out on the road toward Keflavik, which is the location of Iceland’s major international airport and about 50 kilometers outside of Reykjavik.  Along the way we planned to stop and visit the Blue Lagoon – the internationally known “hot springs” and spa.  I put hot springs in quotes because the blue lagoon is actually the cooling pond for a geothermal power plant.  Extremely hot water is pumped up from below ground and is used to generate electricity.  Once the water cools to the point it is no longer usable for electricity generation, it is pumped into a series of man-made lagoons to cool before being pumped into the ocean.  One of these lagoons is just the right temperature for hot spring bathing.  The Icelanders have turned this lagoon into an internationally recognized spa.  The waters are filled with minerals that supposedly rejuvenate the skin and body. 

 (Iconic Viking ship sculpture that is a symbol of the city on the waterfront in Reykjavik.)

You can tell that you are approaching the Blue Lagoon from many kilometers away as you can see the rising steam.  The lagoon is located in the midst of what appears to be a very young lava flow.  The landscape around the facility looks like the broken landscape of some extremely hostile exo-planet.  To reach the welcome center you walk through a path that has been carved through the broken lava.  The path provides some spectacular imagines for pictures as you can see below.

Since we didn’t have time to take a spa treatment we just wanted to get a glimpse of the lagoon itself.  Given the high profile of the location, there is a specially built viewing platform at the top of the facility so that you can see it all.  Zack and I climbed up to the top of that and were reward with a wonderful view of the entire place.  What was so remarkable about it all was the fact that the water is as blue as blue can be.  It is because of all the different minerals that are in the water.  For whatever reason, these minerals then turn the rocks that line the lagoon white.  It presents a very powerful image that remains in your minds eye for a long time!

(The Blue Lagoon - how beautiful is that?)

(Path to the  Blue Lagoon that is cut through the lava follow.)

Leaving the Blue Lagoon we headed towards a small town called Grindavik on the coast.  Instead of returning to the main road to Keflavik, we were taking the long way to the airport, winding around the coast.  There wasn’t anything very special at Grindavik so we just stopped there to fill the rental car up with gas and then got back on the road.  Driving along the coast we saw many wonderful views of the ocean, but then eventually we turn back inland.

Traveling through the broken lava flows that dominated the landscape we saw a roadside attraction sign.  We didn’t know exactly what was there as we were out in the middle of no where and no one else was around, but we decided to stop.  It turned out the attraction was a small little walking bridge that had been built across a very steep gully in the earth.  The gully was the intersection between the North American continental (tectonic) plate and the EurAsian continental plate. The bridge was a bridge that spanned two continents!  If you stood right in the middle of the bridge you could have one foot on one continental plate and your other foot on a second continental plate.  Of course Zack utterly loved this!

Getting back on the road after this experience, we realized that would be the last highlight of our trip.  For much of the rest of the drive we passed the former American military base of Keflavik on our left.  I never in my wildest imagination thought that the US had such a large presence in Iceland!  This base had been huge!  Thinking about it, I can see the reason for it as the former Soviet Union had just been across the North Pole from Iceland.  The base was used mainly as a Naval Air Station that supported anti-submarine activities in the North Atlantic.  However there were a variety of other commands located at this base and hence the reason for its size.  After being scaled back at the end of the Cold War, the base was formally decommissioned in 2006 and has been turned over to the government of Iceland.

Everything from that point on was the normal airport check-in stuff.  We dropped off the rental car and then walked to the terminal with our luggage.  Check-in was relatively quick, but we came to realize how busy Keflavik International Airport is.  There were Icelandair and other airline flights leaving for all over Europe and North American from the airport.  The amount of passengers connecting through this airport for flights to or from North America or Europe was very large.  I had never really known that the airport supported this much traffic and we hadn’t seen evidence of this on the inbound flight.

Our flight back to the US was routine.  Zack and I spent a lot of time watching movies as Icelandair has an excellent onboard entertainment system on its airplanes.  One point I did want to call out was a documentary that I watched by an Icelandic photographer by the name of Magnus Vidar Sigurdsson.  The documentary was called “Last Days of the Arctic” and it was an amazing movie.  It tells the story of the photographs that Magnus has taken over the years and how things have changed since he started taking photos in the 1970’s.  It is a powerful and moving film.  I am not sure if they have it on Netflix, Hulu or Vudu, but if they do I highly recommend watching it.

We arrived in Denver about 10 minutes late due to headwinds that we faced in flight.  Lisa was in Orlando for the week so my brother Tim came and picked us up.  And that was it.  Our trip to Iceland was finished.

Despite the fact that our trip was done, I have come to feel a very strong connection with this small, remote part of the world.  I intend to follow up on all the contacts that I made while I was there and continue to learn more about this wonderful piece of the world.  Both Zack and I are of the strong opinion that we want to go back to Iceland in the near future. 

I intend to pen one more entry about Iceland.  It will be something of a summary of all the things that I learned and observed while I was there.  But I also intend to keep up on all the happenings in Iceland and will report on them in the blog every once in a while.

My greatest hope is that all of you my readers have found this story to be interesting and enjoyable.  Hopefully it has provided you all with some insights to this wonderful country.  I have appreciated hearing from those of you who have e-mailed me with thoughts and comments about what I have written.  Thanks so much for all of your feedback.  Please always continue the dialog with me.

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

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