I have the most awful memory, so I’m going to put some of this in writing, if only to look back on it later.
Day 1: Saturday
We landed on Saturday morning at 6:30am. We stumbled out of Keflavík airport bleary and jetlagged, and wandered around in a daze trying to find our rental car place (we failed). Eventually we jumped in a taxi and asked the driver to take us there, and he was happy to oblige, as well as tell us a couple of stories about Iceland on the way. He was a police officer in Reykjavík for many years. His English wasn’t the best, but he managed a joke:
“When all the soldiers from America come here, they were excited because they are told that in Iceland, there is beautiful Scandinavian woman behind every tree, but when they got here, they were very sad!”
He waved proudly at the barren landscape, and followed up with, “Get it? No trees!”
We got to the car rental place, jumped in our big, noisy 4×4, and after a couple of wrong turns, found our way to the Airbnb house we rented just outside of Reykjavík. The neighbor (and owner) was there to greet us: a wave hello, a “Welcome!” and a “Yes! You can park here”, before retreating back into his house. Icelanders aren’t all up in each others’ business. I like that a lot. No vapid chit chat. They say what they need to say, and then leave you alone.
After claiming bedrooms and unloading our bags, we worked out how to fill the hot tub – turns out it’s geothermal, fills quickly, and you empty it out after each use. (The sulphuric-smelling hot water here takes some getting used to. It’s a potent, eggy smell, but it doesn’t linger on your body, even after showering in it.) I jumped in as quickly as possible, and Jesse and I relaxed as we discussed how best to force our body clocks into the right timezone. We agreed to take an hour-long nap, then try and keep ourselves awake until bedtime.
We fell asleep around 10am and woke up at about 4pm. Our alarm had gone off at 11am, but we hadn’t woken up. The others went to get food, and tried waking us up by banging on our bedroom door – we slept through that, too. Realizing we urgently needed a proper meal, we ventured downtown and ate at the first restaurant that looked good: Café Paris. It was here that we realized how expensive everything is. It’s around 2x the price of what we pay in San Francisco – often more. But we were too hungry and too tired to care.
We left the restaurant and found a supermarket. We grabbed some snacks and Icelandic treats.
We drove back to the house, jumped back into the freshly refilled hot tub, and realized it was almost midnight but still light outside. We climbed into bed and I slept restlessly. I woke up several times drenched in sweat, and realized I was still sick with the same virus I’d had on and off for a few weeks. The sleep deprivation and flying had kicked it back into gear.
[Edit: This is where it started. This was the beginning of what would be diagnosed – around a year later – as ME/CFS.]
Day 2: Sunday
We woke and ate. I took some cold and flu tablets to mask how awful I felt, then we headed downtown to Reykjavík’s flea market. It was a mixture of handmade crafts, recycled clothing, food, and souvenirs. I met a kind woman who knitted beautiful lambswool garments from the sheep on her farm, situated ~100kms outside of Reykjavík. Jesse bought a beautiful polar bear pendant, hand carved out of walrus tusk by a talented man named Grétar who was happy to show us all of his handiwork. I purchased a volcanic rock pendant from a sweet younger jeweller. I’ve barely taken it off since.
It was at the flea market that Jesse and I started noticing that we seemed to blend in with the people here; most Icelanders would start talking to us in íslenska before switching to English and apologizing profusely, saying “oh, I thought you were from here!”
From the market, we found a cheaper supermarket and stocked up on groceries before heading back to the house, cooking dinner, soaking in the hot tub, and heading to bed – after taking several photos of the most beautiful, late sunset I’ve witnessed in a long time.
Day 3: Monday
Woke up drenched in sweat (again), with an increasingly sore throat and body aches. The virus was well and truly holding me hostage, so I stayed at the house for the day, napping, soaking in the hot tub, and trying to kill the virus as well as I could. Jesse stayed and kept me company because he’s too nice. I tried to get him to go exploring with the others, but he wanted to stay.
Later, we drove into town, grabbed sushi, and poked around in some shops before heading home to the hot tub… and bed.
Day 4: Tuesday
The Blue Lagoon!
The Blue Lagoon is a huge geothermal hot spring. Words and photos don’t really do the place justice – you need to see it yourself to believe it.
There’s a swim-up bar that serves drinks (I had a fruit smoothie instead of wine, given my physical state), tubs of silica mud that you rub all over yourself and then wash off (my skin still feels amazing), and well-appointed shower and change facilities. Jesse and I had lunch onsite at the Lava Restaurant; it was delicious, and we ended up lolling about in the Lagoon – full and happy – for another couple of hours afterwards.
We drove back to Reykjavík relaxed and sleepy, and had dinner at a Scandinavian restaurant before heading home and crashing early.
Day 5: Wednesday
We woke, ate breakfast, then drove to Þingvellir National Park.
Tectonic plates, eh? I knew what they were, but I’d never seen anything like this before. After only a few minutes of walking, we came across a beautiful waterfall – then after just a few more minutes of walking, we were standing in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, dwarfed by rock faces on either side of us. Another (much larger) waterfall followed. Jesse climbed some rocks and took some incredible photos. We explored some more before walking about 20 minutes back to the car.
I really don’t have words to describe the natural beauty of this place, or of any place I’ve seen in Iceland so far.
Realizing how hungry we were, we hightailed it back to Reykjavík for noodle soup (just what my sick, aching body needed), and split off into separate groups. I made a beeline for 12 Tónar, a famous music store and record label, while Jesse wandered off to take some photos.
12 Tónar was pure delight. I was greeted by the friendly owner, and offered free espresso. Here, you can take any of the CDs, sit down on a couch, and listen for as long as you like using their CD players and a pair of headphones. I asked the owner for Icelandic electronica recommendations, and he delivered (check out GusGus’ album, Arabian Horse). Jesse eventually joined me, and we sat listening to music while I wrote and doodled in the guestbook. Obviously, we walked out with vinyl and CDs.
Feeling a little better after some downtime, Jesse and I wandered up to Reykjavík’s famous church, took some photos, grabbed some more souvenirs and gifts, then found ourselves a spot to eat dinner. We ordered far too much food but did our best to eat it all.
The half-hour walk back to the house along the waterfront from Reykjavík was pure magic, even though I could walk hand-in-hand with Jesse just about anywhere and enjoy it.
Day 6: Thursday (today)
I still feel awful; sore throat, body aches, and overwhelming lethargy. I stayed at the house again and Jesse stayed with me, editing some photos and giving me plenty of cuddles. We’re back inside after a blissful soak in the hot tub. It’s now 10pm and still light outside. Tomorrow we move to our next Airbnb – one that is far more isolated than this one. I hope this day of rest gives me some health back; I had a good frustrated cry earlier. Being in a foreign country and sitting around in a house, sick, is not something that anyone wants, and I’m itching to get outside and explore. I want to be well enough to explore properly.
So far, aside from being unwell, this place has been nothing less than magical. I can’t wait to see what the next week holds.