"Want to go to Iceland?" I asked my husband and 14-year-old daughter.
She immediately said yes, but my husband looked at me quizzically and asked, "Why Iceland?" I responded, "Why not?"
I had gotten a brochure from my alma mater, detailing an "Iceland Weekend Getaway" scheduled during my daughter's spring break in March. She had never been to Europe; this would be a good opportunity to get her feet wet. But I wasn't sure how being vegetarians would go over in Iceland, which is known for unusual food options such as rotten shark and puffin. Oh, my gosh, could we survive in a place where those adorable birds could end up on a plate?
However, after expressing my concerns to the tour company, I was assured we'd have enough to eat. Besides, part of the beauty of a short trip is that we wouldn't be irreparably damaged by eating less than optimally.
Landing in Iceland in the morning to very cold air and snow, we were whisked to our hotel a few miles outside the city center. There we enjoyed an expansive breakfast buffet with everything from tofu to waffles to loads of fresh fruit, which we hadn't expected. Then, off on our first real look at Reykjavik aboard a tour bus with a marvelous Icelandic guide who was everything you could want in a person charged with schooling you in everything Iceland in only four days. We saw many sites, including the Hallgrimskirkja church and the Perlan, a landmark domed building atop hot-water storage tanks.
On our second day, a "free" day, we decided to go horseback riding in the morning - a wonderful adventure even for those of us with little experience riding. We visited the Kolaportid Flea Market and the Reykjavik Art Museum and had a lovely vegetarian meal at a cafe.
Our last stop of the day was one of the city's many pools, Laugardalur, a 10-minute walk from our hotel. We wanted to try a local geothermal pool with fewer tourists. And we got our wish. Fortunately for us, although signs are written in Icelandic (a language I found baffling), they were also in English, which one would assume would make things easy to understand. Not so.
After paying admission to the pool, we made our way to the women's locker room, where we were greeted with an endless sea of naked women of all ages and shapes. My daughter looked at me and slowly said, "Ooookay." I smiled back at her and said: "We are here now. Let's just go with it." We hadn't brought our own towels, so my daughter temporarily fled the locker room to rent two, which were bright blue and had "rented towel" emblazoned across the front, thereby ruining our chances of blending in.
I asked whether we were to shower with our bathing suits on or off, and was told in no uncertain terms, "Off." We entered the communal shower, then put our suits on and headed outside - yes, outside in freezing temperatures - to enter the amazingly warm pool. There were several smaller pools, a waterslide, and lots of locals happily lounging and laughing their way through the weekend.
On our third day, we left our hotel at 9 a.m. and returned at 11:15 p.m. after an amazing day of touring the Golden Circle Route. This included the Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, the Gullfoss waterfall, and a view of the northern lights, all breathtaking.
On our final day, we packed up and boarded the tour bus for the airport, with a stop at the famous geothermal spa Blue Lagoon. It is a mystical place filled with steam, mineral-rich water, and mud purported to have therapeutic properties. We relaxed and started to feel the inevitable melancholy of a trip coming to an end.
On the plane, we recounted funny moments and beautiful vistas. How amazing it was that in such a short time, we developed an appreciation for a magical country that we look forward to returning to - though maybe in the summer next time.
Julie Reinke Hazzard writes from West Chester.
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