In June of 2008 I realized another of my travel dreams by capping off a stay in Europe with a visit to a place I’d always longed to see: Iceland. I’d already seen Norway and Sweden, and while both were beautiful and offered many adventures, Iceland sounded more wild and more exotic. And given my fascination for volcanoes and hot springs, Iceland seemed to have the edge over its quieter Scandinavian neighbors to the east.
The flight to Iceland from London was 3 hours long and departure times are extremely inconvenient, so I arrived at 11:10 PM after a rather uncomfortable flight. The seats were “utilitarian” to say the least and the flight attendants were some of the coolest and most aloof that I have ever met. It reminded me of the Scandinavian demeanor that I´d experienced in Norway and Sweden, and of course Iceland IS a Scandinavian country, though I thought the Icelanders had a reputation of being a bit more outgoing and less uptight. I got my rental car with no trouble and soon was bound for Reykjavik on a cloudy evening, the skies still light at 11:30PM. I again used my reliable, instinctual GPS (my sense of direction!) and found my hotel easily, got checked in, and decided to head out to the downtown area, as Reykjavik has a reputation as a wild place on weekend nights and I wanted to check it out, even if it was after midnight already!
Now I know that many of you think I watch way too much TV, and here I am predictably using a Star Trek reference for another chapter in my travel journal. But I still maintain that TV can provide us with many life lessons and often parallels real life in many unexpected ways, so work with me here and listen up!
On the original Star Trek series, there was an episode in which the Enterprise crew visits a planet on which everyone is in a peaceful, trance-like state in their daily lives, and they call themselves followers of their god, Landru. They greet everyone with the phrase, “Hello, friend…” and they are soon able to sense when they meet someone new (like the members of the Enterprise crew) who is not one of their group. They would accuse someone by saying, “You are not of the body!” They would then drag this person off to an “absorption chamber” in which they become “absorbed” into the body of Landru, and when they emerged from this chamber, they too know “the peace of Landru”. Interestingly, every few days the peaceful demeanor of the populace was replaced by “festival”, in which everyone abandoned their quiet demeanor and went on a wild and drunken binge for the night, while on the next morning, peace resumed and they cleaned up the mess they’d made the night before.
“So what in hell does this have to do with Matt in Iceland?” you are asking. Well, I experienced such a phenomenon in Reykjavik… here “festival” is replaced by Runtar, a weekly ritual on Friday and Saturday nights when the normally quiet and reserved Icelanders take to the streets after 11:00 PM and make a circuit of the bars and drink in the streets like a very cold version of Mardi Gras. Guide books describe flying bottles and broken glass, and I couldn’t imagine that things were that extreme. Having arrived at my hotel at 12:20 AM on Saturday night, I decided to drive into the downtown area and check out Runtar for myself.
I drove downtown with no trouble at all and little traffic, but I did hit a snarl as I drove on Laugavegur, the main shopping street. Cars were lined up, windows rolled down so that passengers could chat with pedestrians, in a sort of cruising parade for several blocks. I’d stumbled upon Runtar. I parked in front of a very upscale bar called Vegamot, with a line of maybe 50 – 60 young, well-dressed, couples waiting to get in. I got out of the car and walked for a few blocks, just checking out the area.
It was now 1:00 AM, and there were hundreds of people in the streets. Some were casually dressed in jeans and a t-shirt like me, but the majority were dressed up for a night at a swanky club. Most of the women were in sexy gowns or dresses and high heels, and the men were mostly in sport coats and wore ties. No one wore outer jackets or sweaters, despite the 40 degree temperatures. They traveled in packs; many had beers in their hands, several seemed drunk, and all seemed jovial and in the mood for fun. I saw small groups of men walking together and thought perhaps they were gay and would follow them to see if they were going to a gay pub, but invariably they were just meeting women at some bar.
Then I heard it: the sounds of breaking glass. Every few minutes you could hear or see a beer or soda bottle being hurled into the street or onto an unpopulated stretch of sidewalk. They didn’t seem to be aiming at anyone, and the intention didn’t seem aggressive, but woe to the person who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time without a helmet and a pair of safety goggles! I returned to my car and stood up against the wall of a building, drinking in this fascinating social scene (and thinking about that Star Trek episode) when I was approached by a man wearing a suit that somehow made him look more like he was going to church in a small rural town than going out to a swanky city nightclub. He appeared to be about 40 years old, with a mop of blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He greeted me with, “Hello, friend, I am Olaf”, and my imagination raced; could he tell that I was not “of the body” and that I did not know the “peace of Landru”? And was he wondering why I was simply watching “festival” instead of participating in it? I wanted to reach for my communicator and plead, “Beam me up, Scotty! They’re on to me!”
At any rate, Olaf was a very kind and amusing guy who’d been at a wedding party earlier that evening and who wanted to go out to participate in the Runtar, but all his friends and family had pooped out and said they were too tired. What’s wrong with them? It was only 1:30 AM! As bottles were hurled around us, he assured me that no one ever gets hurt at Runtar and that it’s all innocent mischief. He asked why I wasn’t in the clubs, and I explained that I was just checking the scene out, and then having read that Icelanders are very open about sexual matters, I told him that I was gay and had been looking for a gay club. He seemed surprised and amused, and said he didn’t know any gay clubs, but that there was a place called 22 that USED to be a gay club on weekends. He told me his nephew is gay and is legally married to his partner and that they’d been together for years, otherwise he’d have called his nephew and gotten information on gay bars from him! Too funny. I told him it didn’t much matter as it was almost 2:00 AM now and I was probably going to need to get back to my hotel soon.
Olaf kept me talking for at least another 30 minutes. He (and many of the folks I’ve met all across Europe this summer) was fascinated with the American elections and wanted to know all the details and what I thought of the candidates. Those who know me well know that I really hate to talk about politics, and I have been blissfully removed from all the political mess back home on this trip, but I had heard that Barack Obama had just won the nomination on the Democrat side, and Olaf did not seem happy about that. He said, “Tell your friends at home to think very carefully about who they vote for, because the U.S. is still the most influential place in the world and the choices you make in America affect everyone else in the world.” It was an interesting perspective.
And finally, at 2:15 Olaf decided he needed to go get himself a drink and wished me a safe trip, and off he went on foot, as I got into my car, thankful it had not been hit by any broken bottles, and drove back to my hotel for a few hours of sleep. I’ve only been here for 3 hours and I can already say that Iceland is a fascinating place.
My Icelandic adventure finally began in earnest when I woke up at about 9:00 AM on Sunday morning, after crazy dreams about Star Trek and broken glass. (I have had bizarre dreams this entire trip. One of the most memorable was one in which I was lecturing to a group of students and I made the statement, “In our society today, the concept of God has been replaced with political correctness.” The students reacted as if I’d said something truly profound, and while I am not sure what it really meant, it has been on my mind ever since!)
It was time to set out and explore Iceland on my first full day here. I decided to see some of Reykjavik first before heading for the countryside. It was a cloudy, overcast, drizzly morning and I have to say that this may have contributed to my first impression of Rekyjavik: depressing. It is a very gray city, though there are a few homes in the historic area painted in colorful shades – especially the roofs. I drove and walked the city center for about 3 hours and really never found one opportunity to get a nice photograph of anything. I was impressed that all the broken glass from last night’s Runtar was gone, and it actually made me wonder if I’d dreamed the whole thing. One famous landmark, a white church built to resemble the front of an approaching glacier, was completely in scaffolding, and what appeared to be a nice street of cafes and shops leading to the church was completely torn up with construction.
I did have a hot chocolate and a waffle with rhubarb jam at a nice little cafe, but otherwise things were bleak. I visited the glacier church and rode the elevator to the bell tower, from which I was able to take a few nice pictures of the colorful roofs of houses in the historic area. Of course I almost had a heart attack, coupled with temporary deafness, when the bells of the church tower signaled that it was noon and I was in an enclosed tower 20 feet away from the bells. THAT got my adrenaline pumping. Yikes! I made one last stop along the northern waterfront area to see a famous sculpture of a Viking ship, and had a fun chat with some visitors from the Czech Republic, who wanted to have me in the pictures they were taking because they thought I bore a striking resemblance to the martial arts star Chuck Norris! I HAVE lost a few pounds and a couple inches around my waist in the last month, but Chuck Norris I’m NOT! Anyway, that was pretty funny.
I headed east and the landscape almost immediately became more dramatic as I left the city. Expansive fields of very blue lupine were everywhere, and as I got closer to the place I was staying that night, Hverageroi, a town only an hour from Reykjavik, the landscape here was punctuated by huge clouds of steam pouring out of fissures in the ground. This is of course volcano country. Iceland straddles the Mid Atlantic Ridge, a huge crack that runs the length of the Atlantic, right down the middle. New magma is oozing from the crack, gradually building an undersea mountain range, while pushing North and South America one or two inches a year farther from Europe and Africa. Iceland is the only place on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that is above sea level, and there are many active volcanoes here. They’d just had a 6.2 earthquake here two weeks ago, related of course to these volcanic processes.
I spent Sunday night in Hverageroi at a place called Frost and Fire Guesthouse. Now please don’t think these Icelandic names were easily tripping off my tongue. I basically looked at the place names and focused on a few letters and made up my own names. Hverageroi became in my mind “Hurdy Gurdy”, and the Myrdalsjokull Glacier became, “Murder Skull”. This worked fine for me, unless I had to refer to the place in a conversation with someone, and then it proved to be rather embarrassing!
Anyway, the guest house was charming; it is a row of small units, each named after a famous person in Icelandic history, and sits along a river. Across the river is a hillside covered in wildflowers, but from the top of the ridge, huge clouds of steam billow from fissures and natural pots of boiling water and mud. The geothermal heat warms the guesthouse’s swimming pool to about 80 degrees, and then there are two “hot pots” (Jacuzzis with no jets) that are probably 100 degrees each. The air temperature was probably in the 40s, so it felt wonderful to soak in the warm waters. My room was decorated in bright, primary colors… blue ceiling, white walls, red accents, and orange bed covers and striped drapes… it sounds gaudy, but it was actually bright and clean and festive looking.
Around 5:30PM I set out on a 90 minute drive to see the sites of Geysir and Gulfoss Falls. It’s wonderful when sunset isn’t till 11:30 PM, as it gives you so much time during the day to sightsee and explore. It was very cloudy and grey most of the way to Gulfoss, but when I arrived, the sun had started to break out and created a lovely rainbow over the falls, a two-tiered, Niagara-like cascade sending clouds of spray into the air. Then I headed to the nearby town of Geysir. This was actually the first place that the phenomenon we call a geyser was observed and so the English word geyser is derived from the place name in Iceland. The main geyser explodes about every 7 or 8 minutes, and there are colorful bubbling pools in a variety of colors in the area to explore. I probably saw the geyser erupt 7 or 8 times while I was there.
It was after 8:00PM when I started back toward the guesthouse and I realized that there were virtually no towns between where I was and where I was going, so I began to fear that I might not get dinner that night. Luckily, when I got back to “Hurdy Gurdy”, I spotted an open restaurant in an Icelandic version of a strip mall. It looked from the outside like a very mediocre establishment, but I was starving and there were no other options, so I went in and learned that I had 5 minutes to order before they were closing. What timing! I ordered a lamb steak and fries for a ridiculously expensive price (approximately $30 U.S.), but to my utter surprise, it was one of the most delicious meals I’d had on my whole trip. It was so tasty and a plentiful helping and I think I scared the owners because I was so complimentary about the meal! I then returned to the Frost and Fire for an evening soak in the hot tub, and slept well with the sound of the river outside all night… Well, of course it never was night. The sunset is officially at 11:30PM and sunrise is around 2:30 AM, but between those times it remains quite light outside.
On Monday, after a wonderful breakfast of smoked salmon, cheese, ham, hard boiled eggs, warm, homemade bread and good coffee, I started out on the Ring Road, heading east to my next stop, Hof, about 200 miles away. The day was cool and sunny, and the scenery changed dramatically along the way. One thing that is odd about Iceland is that there are no trees! It seems that there used to be forests when the first Scandinavians discovered Iceland, but they literally cut them down for timber, not realizing that the Icelandic trees, because of the much harsher environment, grow at far slower rates than those in Norway and Sweden, and therefore, could not recover from being cut down. The upside of this is that the vistas are spectacular; you can literally see for 100 miles in any direction, depending of course on the weather. There were immense fields of blue lupine, impossibly green hillsides and wind and water-carved canyons, expanses of lava fields covered in an olive-green colored moss, waterfalls everywhere, and huge glacier-capped, volcanic mountains that can be seen off in the distance like floating white islands in the sky. As I approached the area of Hof, the sky ahead looked dark and threatening, even though it was sunny where I was. There was an odd glow behind one of the hills in the distance that looked like the area had been nuked, but I gradually realized it was an odd rainbow making a backdrop behind a hillside. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
And then I entered the storm. Within a space of maybe 20 miles, I went from a calm and sunny day into what felt like hurricane-strength winds, driving rain, and temperatures that seemed to have dropped 20 degrees or more. I entered Hof, which is really simply a collection of a dozen white farmhouses with red roofs and a bizarre and charming, traditional turf church (built mostly below the ground for warmth), and started looking for my guesthouse. I was staying at a place called Hof I (at least that is what it said on my voucher that I’d obtained when I made my online reservation with Icelandic Farmhouse Stays). But nowhere did I see any place that had a sign like that. I hopped out of the car and braved the winds and rain to knock on several doors, only to be met by people who didn’t speak English and knew nothing about the damp voucher I was showing them. I noted that there was a branch of the Frost and Fire Guesthouse here in Hof, and so I decided to drive there and inquire. It turned out that my reservation was with them; it just hadn’t said so on my voucher… a rather important piece of missing information that would have helped immensely! This version of Frost and Fire was not as cute as the prior night’s branch, but it was clean and painted in the same bright colors, and the food was identical… just no hot pools to soak in out here.
I learned that the bizarre weather I’d stumbled into was caused by the glaciers… the prevailing winds blow across the surface of the glacier and send rain, fog, wind, and cold temperatures to the areas immediately beneath! Sure enough, after a hot shower, some dry clothes, and a very nice lamb dinner at the Frost and Fire, I left the guesthouse at 8:00 PM and drove about 25 miles around the backside of this glacier to visit the Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon. The weather was not sunny, and there was a very cold wind, but the driving rain stopped completely. The iceberg lagoon is a huge body of water at the mouth of one of the largest glaciers on Iceland, and huge chunks of the glacier break off, filling this lagoon with gigantic floating icebergs of various shapes that slowly make their way toward the open sea. Birds were everywhere, dropping into the icy waters and coming up with beaks full of fish. Seals were bobbing and splashing all around as well, and I probably saw at least two dozen of them. It was one of the most dramatic places I had ever seen and I had it all to myself. I stayed till about 11:00 PM, and then headed back to the guesthouse, where the storm was still raging and I truly thought the wind was going to topple my car onto its side.
The next morning, which was now sunny and calm, I filled up with a breakfast of coffee, warm bread and smoked salmon and I went back to the iceberg lagoon. I’d intended to take a boat trip into the lagoon, but when I arrived, I realized that the noisy motor boats were crowded with 30 or 40 people (there were a couple of busloads of tourists already there), and that they only went out to the middle of the lagoon and back. I decided to save $35 and simply walk the shore of the lagoon on my own. It was a good decision. I had the place all to myself again, and must have walked a total of 5 miles along the shore. The sounds were wonderful… there were seabirds everywhere, but the sound of melting ice was sometimes deafening… like being caught in the middle of a big bowl of Rice Krispies as they snapped, crackled and popped! Suddenly a big iceberg would be lifted up by the current and start drifting out to sea, like a huge float in the Rose Parade or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but instead of waving beauty queens, these “floats” were being ridden by dozens of birds. Seals frolicked very close to the shore. It was one of the most relaxing and wonderful hikes I’ve ever had.
I then decided to take a bird-watching excursion on the nearby Ingolfshofoi peninsula (in my mind I called it “In Golf Shoes”). A group of about 25 of us were herded into a giant hay wagon being pulled by a huge tractor with tires the size of Volkswagen Bugs. Our host was a farmer named Aena (I am guessing at the spelling, but it sounded like AY-NA) and he began driving us toward a distant promontory, 5 or 6 miles out toward the ocean. The wind had picked up considerably now, and I might have described it as a wind from hell except that it was way too cold to have come from Hell! As the hay wagon was dragged out across mud-flats. Which were covered in an inch or two of water, mud began to be thrown up through the gaps between the planks of the hay wagon and into the back where of course, I was sitting. We were subjected to bone-shattering jolts as we crossed streams, and if I didn’t have back problems to start with, I would by the time this ride was over. The wind howled and blew black volcanic sand all over me, as my pants and shoes became covered with splashed mud. I actually laughed out loud as I thought, “It must really suck to be hay” if this is your typical mode of transportation.
Aena finally stopped on a huge black sand expanse near the top of a thin, grassy promontory overlooking the open ocean. He then described the scene we were looking at. Far in the distance, across the perfectly flat sandy expanse we’d crossed, was the gigantic Vatnajokull ice sheet, a glacier/ice sheet that lies directly atop a 6,000 foot tall active volcano. In 1362, and again in 1727, this volcano erupted, instantly melting the vast glacier on top of it, and causing what is referred to as a “glacial burst”, sending Biblical floodwaters down from the summit in all directions. These floodwaters obliterated everything below: farms, trees, roads, grass, animals… everything. Imagine for a distance of about 50 miles around the base of this mountain, and out to a distance of at least 10 miles to the ocean, everything was obliterated. After the 1362 event, this area was dubbed Oraefi, which literally translates as “wasteland”. The name fits. There was a minor glacier burst again in 1996 that took out parts of the Ring Road and many local farms. The only good thing is that the population in this area is probably less than 500 people total.
At any rate, with the wasteland below us, Vatnajokull hovering in the sky in the distance, and gale force winds blowing from random directions, we followed Aena up across the grassy promontory that is a bird sanctuary, and he told us that since this is prime breeding season, we’d be getting rather close to some nests and that we should follow him closely. He also cautioned us that some of the gull species are aggressive if you are too close to their nests and that to keep them from hitting you in the head, you should raise an arm above your head to ward off the attack… “Use your LEFT arm, so you will still be able to write postcards with your right hand” Aena said, and he wasn’t kidding! We were dive-bombed a few times by protective gulls, but we got to see a few nests of unhatched eggs, a hatchling that had likely only broken out of its egg a few hours previously, and a couple of newborn, fluffy gull chicks being protected by their parents. We also saw some of the famous puffins, a bird unique to Iceland that resembles a small penguin. It was a very exciting trip, and I just wish the wind hadn’t been so intense. Aena had to warn some of the group to stay away from the cliff edges, as the wind was constantly shifting directions and could have pushed you over the cliff in the blink of an eye.
Then it was back to the hay wagon, where I made sure I was in the middle, away from the splattering mud. An unfortunate Dutch woman of perhaps 40 was seated where I had been, and her mother, observing the mud splattering up from the floorboards all over her daughter, erupted into such violent convulsions of laughter that I thought they might kill her. She actually made me laugh with her hearty guffaws as her good-natured daughter hung on for dear life and tried in vain to brush the mud balls off of her jeans! Yes indeed, it would suck to be hay.
Encrusted with mud and sand as I was, I returned to the guesthouse for a good hot shower, and then set out again for some more hiking in Skaftafell National Park and an evening drive to the far-eastern town of Hofn (which is pronounced like HOEP and should not to be confused with Hof, where I was staying!). Hofn is known as the lobster capital of Iceland, so of course I had to sample the local delicacy. Icelandic lobsters are smaller than Maine lobsters, more like a langostino. For dinner I had a platter of probably 10 lobster tails done in white wine and butter sauce, served along with rice and vegetables. Dessert was equally wonderful: the local dairy product called skyr, which is half-way between yogurt and ricotta cheese in taste and consistency, was mixed with mandarin oranges, served atop a dark chocolate biscuit, and accompanied by a scoop of rhubarb sorbet. Wow. What a treat that was. And compared to what I’ve been paying for much more ordinary dinners at other restaurants or at the guesthouse, it wasn’t that much more expensive given that it was lobster.
The 90 minute drive back toward my guesthouse was among the most beautiful I have ever taken. Between 9:00 and 10:30PM the light was amazingly sharp and accentuated all the colors: the green of the hills, the blue of the rivers and the sea, the gleaming white snowcaps on the volcanoes and glaciers, and the coal black lava rock. Sheep and goats wandered everywhere, scampering off the road as my car approached. The wonderful Icelandic horses frolicked in fields along the road, shorter animals than our own horses and looking like a cross between a horse and a Shetland pony. Their distinctive characteristic is their amazingly long, lush manes, which would have made even Farrah Fawcett circa 1977 envious.
Beautiful cloud formations swirled overhead. I played CDs I’d brought to enhance the mood: a collection of Olivia Newton-John songs from the 1970s in which she hits high notes and creates a dreamy mood that makes you feel you’re floating among the clouds. Music by Enya, haunting Celtic music by Sarah McLaughlin, and springy pop tunes flavored with pipes and fiddles by the Corrs also made the ride more pleasant. I may have passed a handful of cars the whole time, and all in all, it was just a magical trip.
The day ended with another stop at the iceberg lagoon, where the setting sun at 11:00PM gave the icebergs a wonderful orange tint. This has to be the most memorable place in Iceland I’ve visited.
I woke on Wednesday to my last full day in Iceland. After my usual hearty breakfast, I hit the road at about 9:00 AM on a calm, sunny day, bound for Reykjavik, about 220 miles away. I stopped for a short hike at a beautiful canyon area near Kirkjubaejarklaustin (“Kirka Jerk” to me) where a river has cut through the lava rock making amazing columns of various shapes. I stopped for lunch at the small coastal town of Stokkseyri at a restaurant called Fjorbordid (“Floors boards” in my dialect!). I include these names so I can remember where I went if I’m lucky enough to return to Iceland someday. This place was purported to have, according to my tour book “the best lobstersoup (it’s all one word in Icelandic) in the Republic of Iceland”. I had it as a main course, which meant they served it in a huge tureen that contained two and a half large bowls of creamy chowder-like lobstersoup, with perhaps 3/4 pound of lobster meat in it. It was served with delicious bread and spreads made from skyr and cucumber, tarragon and honey, etc. What a find!
I arrived in Reykjavik at about 3:00 and I must say that the sunny weather and the activity of a work day made it seem much brighter and more alive than it had on that rainy Sunday morning. Outdoor cafes were bustling, lots of people were feeding the ducks and swans in the park, and I was a bit more impressed. I searched for souvenirs, which were few and hard to find, but opted for something functional: a hooded sweatshirt with the Icelandic flag on it and a refrigerator magnet! Hey, big spender!
I then had either an early dinner or a second course for my lunch at a place called Icelandic Fish & Chips, noted for selling only organic foods. I ordered haddock and chips (they bake the chips instead of frying them, and they dip the fish in a batter with barley and rye – healthier and delicious). Meanwhile, I was the only person in the place at this early hour, and the waitress was playing music by Bjork, the famous and quirky Icelandic pop singer, who, if you’re not familiar with her stuff, tends to shout and scream and make very strange sounds in some of her songs. Suddenly one of the kitchen staff started calling out the name OLIVER, first just loudly and sternly, and then with more urgency and panic in her voice. Before long she ran through the dining room out into the streets, running a block or two in each direction and screaming “Oliver” over and over. The waitress went to the window and looked back and forth in each direction. I had no idea whether Oliver was a child or a run-away dog, but was observing all this with great interest.
And then I heard the voice of a child calling out from somewhere within the restaurant. The frantic woman heard it too, and began screaming Oliver’s name with even more urgency. Then I heard what sounded like a blood curdling scream, and in my mind’s eye, I envisioned that Oliver was a run-away dog and that the child had just found the dog dead somewhere and was screaming about that. But my waitress, who had also looked very concerned was now laughing, and I couldn’t fathom why until I realized that the “blood curdling scream” I’d just heard was part of the Bjork music that was playing and she was amused by my reaction! The waitress finally explained that Oliver was the woman’s son and that he had been playing hide and seek in a trash can somewhere in the restaurant. I don’t think I’d want to be Oliver when his mother got through with him.
I then drove about an hour to Keflavik, the area near the airport and checked into my lodgings for the night at The Motel Best, run by a big, bear-like man whose name was ironically Gummi. In e-mail communications with him, I’d expressed worry about whether there’d be some wake-up service, since my flight out in the morning required me to be up by 5:45 AM. He joked in his e-mail reply that he’d give me two alarm clocks, just to be safe. That was months ago when I made the reservation, but to my amusement. Gummi had remembered and he actually had two alarms clocks waiting for me along with the key to my room!
My final stop was at the infamous Blue Lagoon Spa, about 10 miles from the airport. It is a man-made hot springs set amidst jagged black lava fields and because of the heavy silica content of the water, the water is an unearthly milky blue color against the black rocks. It is an amazing complex of pools, waterfalls, steam jets, saunas, restaurants, massage areas, and bars. I arrived at around 7:00 PM and stayed till the 9:30 closing, and it was really a great, relaxing place, and not so busy at that time of day. There might have been 100 people there, but the lagoon is so vast, you don’t feel crowded at all. The air temperature was probably 40 degrees, making a nice contrast with the 95 – 100 degree waters. I floated in the hot water, staring at the clouds and the blue, blue sky and thought this was a very fitting way to end my brief but wonderful stay in Iceland.