I’m not a travel writer, but I had to write about my recent 10-day vacation, a tour of Iceland.
Iceland is unlike most tourist spots. Weather is unpredictable, cities are few and far between, and the things to do there probably don’t include any of the top ten items on many U.S. vacationers’ lists, such as visiting amusement parks, sunbathing on sandy beaches, or bobbing in the ocean.
Part I focuses on preparing for the trip. Don’t laugh. Before leaving home, we suffered mightily over how to prepare for a visit to a place so unfamiliar. We knew it wouldn’t snow, but what about rain, cold and wind? After all, “Ice” is part of the country’s name and one northern town we were to visit was located about 24 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The tour company recommended we bring hiking boots and poles for rough and muddy terrain; waterproof pants, coats, and hats; warm gloves, flashlights and umbrellas…but also swimming suits.
I sent several emails asking for advice from friends who had been there. I quizzed another friend who had just returned from Norway. Did we really need all this stuff? Would it rain every day? Would the wind blowing off the North Atlantic turn us into Popsicles? Should we have gone to Hawaii instead?
Practicality entered into our final packing decisions. Our hiking poles didn’t fit in the suitcase. When else would I ever need waterproof pants? The umbrellas also stayed behind. No room. And even if they did fit we could picture them whipped inside out with the first Atlantic gust. A friend donated two Seattle Seahawks rain capes, which we took, along with the swim suits and a flashlight. The latter was to aid us finding our bathroom in the middle of the night.
As it turned out, we used much of what we had packed. But the Seahawks rain capes never came out of their plastic cases. That’s because it was sunny nearly every day we were there. The two photos below, which were taken from our hotel room, show why we needn’t have brought a flashlight.
In the summer the sun sets very late and rises again a few hours later. It never really got dark. No matter how tightly we pulled the curtains shut, our hotel room had plenty of light.
We were thankful we hadn’t brought the hiking poles or the umbrellas, or any of the other recommended items more appropriate for navigating in freezing rain than strolling in the sun. We did have several opportunities to use the swimming suits as we soaked in different pools fed by geothermic springs. Hot pools are an Icelandic tradition. Our guide told us that friends soaking in a public pool after work was her country’s equivalent to meeting in a bar at the end of the day. The same hot water piped in from below the earth’s surface provided us with very warm showers in the hotels we stayed in.
So why did we think we had to prepare for life at the North Pole? As our guide said, “When people ask me what the weather will be like tomorrow, I tell them I can’t even predict what the weather will be like later today. It’s always changing.” And even she was surprised by our days of fair weather.
The other reason for our uncertainty about what to pack is that Iceland is an island obviously named by a Viking with a bad sense of geography. We bused 1,300 miles around this plot of land the size of Kentucky and saw snow-capped mountains looking down upon a mostly-green landscape. (The mountains are not high enough to loom.) Coming home, we flew over a completely white Greenland accessorized by icebergs along its coast. Whoever named the two countries got it all wrong. Or was that the whole point of the naming?