Monday, March 09, 2015

A Sad Tale's Best for Winter

An edited version of this post appears in the TFCA Current this month, but I wanted to post the extended version here.  

I never look forward to winter.  I cower under the dark, bleak cold. It makes me draw inward. This past summer, I saw a production of William Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, which has both redeemed the name of Winter for me, and also given me reason to reevaluate how I think about the season. 

 Long after I saw the play, my mind kept returning to the final scene.  It develops around the statue of Hermione, the virtuous and long-suffering victim of her husband's misconceptions. Leontes, Hermione's husband and King of Sicilia, and Paulina, Hermione's faithful servant, enter with the rest of the characters.  The scene opens under the assumption that everyone in the room is gazing at Hermione's uncanny likeness carved from stone.  The guilt-ridden king sincerely laments the wrong he has done: "I am ashamed: does not the stone rebuke me/ For being more stone than it?"  When the King reaches out to touch the statue, Paulina threatens to draw the curtain back around the statue, and Leontes implores her not to. Finally, Paulina bids the statue to move, and Hermione, not dead but fully alive, wordlessly descends from her pedestal and embraces Leontes. Paulina says: “When she was young you woo'd her; now in age/Is she become the suitor?” Hermione takes her errant, tormented husband into her arms and the woman hardened into stone comes to life again.  The sweetness of this role-reversal, forgiveness, and transformation is heartbreakingly beautiful.

The season of winter can be an emotional, mental, physical, professional or relational metaphor.  I remember particularly a pastor's words on the winter season during a prayer, using the image of a tree. He said that even in winter the life of a tree continues, that a tree doesn't hate winter, but in fact NEEDS winter.  During that time, the tree on the outside may look forlorn or dead.  But inside, it is shoring up strength and nutrients.  It is growing, changing, maturing.  It is getting ready for the season in which it has been appointed to bear fruit.  This imagery came flooding back to me when I saw Hermione, unfrozen and matured in years, step down from her pedestal, ready to forgive her husband who had wronged her, causing the death of their son, the exile of their daughter, and bringing her even to the brink of her own death.

St. John of the Cross says in his 16th century book Dark Night of the Soul: "Even though this happy night darkens the spirit, it does so only to impart light concerning all things." Still, how can he call it a happy night? Simply because night, if we let it, is redeemed into day through Christ Jesus.  In my mind, Hermione forgives Leontes so readily, wordlessly even, exactly because of her years of being "frozen".  The time she spent as stone was her winter season, where she seemed void of life, color and all things good on the outside, but inside was maturing, dealing with the business of seasons past, and preparing for a new season of life to come at the appointed time. She held out hope that whole time for reconciliation, and goodness. And Leontes, through the grace of her forgiveness and invitation back into relationship, is freed to be a real father and husband after his long winter of guilt.  Permafrost melts, crocuses push through the toughened soil, stretching for new warmth and light.

I used to dismiss winter as a cruel period through which I must annually suffer, bereft of any intrinsic value. In many ways it felt like everything was on hold during those first months of the year. Mamillius speaks my heart best in one of the earlier lines of the play: "A sad tale's best for winter."  But it is right, and a good and joyful thing, in these days of darkness and hard weather, to draw close to one another and consider it a happy night because it will, in God's Providence and Sovereignty, lead to the rejuvenation of spring.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Iceland Day 4 and 5: Snaefellsnes and Reykjavik

We woke up the next morning ready to tackle the last of our road tours: Snaefellsnes peninsula.  The way we were pronouncing the name, it sounded more like Snapple-sneeze.  We found out from our chef at the restaurant on Saturday night that it was pronounced Sn-AY-fell-snis. However you say it, it certainly held the most stunning views of our entire trip.  We headed north out of Reykjavik around 8am, getting to our first stop on the Peninsula around 10am, just as the light was full and still low in the sky, creating a heavenly glow  against the cliffs and the huge breaking waves in Arnarstapi's overlook.

It was dangerous to stand on the overlook for too long because, although it was clear and sunny, the winds were 50mph and it was hard to stay upright.  When we opened our car doors we had to hold on to them so they didn't fly away from us.  But my oh my...that view.  That sea! 

I wish I had more to write for you about what we saw, but basically we just stopped the car whenever we saw something pretty, or a road that actually wasn't covered in ice.  The snowdrifts from the mountains on the inland side of the road would occasionally blow across the road creating a momentary white out, and some of the roads were completely coated in ice.  I tell ya, I'm a pretty good hand at extreme winter driving conditions now.  It also helped that in the 4 hours we were on the road on the peninsula, we could count the number of cars we passed on one hand.  

Our next stop was the sea coast at the very end of the peninsula, our windiest stop yet! 65 mph.  The big waves crashing in against the lava rocks were against the wind, so there was this great backcomb of spray in the opposite direction whenever the waves would crest.  Sometimes the sun would hit it just right and make a rainbow.  The glories written into this earth are sometimes overwhelming.  

We drove the rest of the way around the peninsula and back towards the fjords on the northern side of it.  We passed little fishing villages that were largely uninhabited or deserted for the winter season.  Mostly we just enjoyed the sunny drive and the gorgeous scenery.  I stopped at a few more places to get out and take photos.  

Our tour ended early in the afternoon because it was too windy to get out and hike and do much of anything else.  We headed back to Reykjavik, I squeezed in a quick workout which felt great after so much driving, and then we headed into the downtown area in search of woolen goods.  Yarn in Iceland is CRAZY cheap.  I bought a ton for some of my friends who knit.  I almost bought one of those sweaters you see everyone wearing but ended up skipping it.  

 We had our best meal of the trip that night at a place called Fish Market.  I didn't really want to eat anything other than fish the entire trip because during the days for breakfast and lunch we were eating out of the food suitcase exclusively.  The inside of Fish Market was gorgeous. It looked like an enchanted forest downstairs where we were. They sat us right by the kitchen in front of the sushi station so we got to watch all the action go down.  And we made friends with the sushi chef, who clearly likes to chat up the American lady tourists who get sent his way.  Never caught his name, but when he found out we were from the US, his very first question was "Do you know Snoop Dogg?" Not the president, not any sports star, not any movie star, Snoop Dogg.  I wish I could have told him yes.  

My meal consisted of a starter of arctic char and salmon nigiri.  It was fresh, flavorful and beautifully presented.  They gave us a canvas bag with a loaf of that brown steam bread in it, that had warm lava rocks at the bottom to keep the bread warm. And when the guys next to us ordered mussels it was one of the most interesting and beautiful presentations I had ever seen.  They actually put dry ice underneath a bed of fresh sea kelp, and then put the pot of mussels on top of that, and when they bring it out, they pour water on the dry ice so that the vapor seeps outward from the kelp and down over the sides of the large deep plate holding everything.  

My appetizer wasn't so impressive in its presentation but it was certainly delicious and the fish was very fresh.  For dinner I had monkfish and Kristen had catfish, both of which were excellent.  After chatting with the sushi chef guy a bit more, he convinced me to get the appetizer of minke whale they had on the menu, saying it was his favorite kind of meat.  I tried it and he was right, it was very tender, had great flavor, and a color and gaminess similar to venison. Outstanding!  I was sad to think that I had seen many minke whales in their natural habitat in Tadoussac in Fall 2013 and now I was eating one. But they are pretty delicious, it turns out.  

The meal was flawless, start to finish, everything was excellent and beautiful and we had a great time rehashing the trip and talking to a viking... I mean an Icelandic guy.  But we had one more order of business, and that was to see if we could find the northern lights.  It was our last night, and the weather was clear, so we had our hopes up.  After dinner, we went back to the hotel, and not wanting to drive very far again, we looked up a few spots around the outskirts of Reykjavik where we could go see the lights.  We decided on a lighthouse, and after dawdling a bit more, we left and headed outside to the car.  

As soon as we exited the hotel, I looked up at to my left and I saw a streak of green in the sky.  I just about smacked Kristen and breathlessly pointed and told her to look up.  We started to freak out and got really excited.  We were seeing the northern lights!  We saw another streak appear.  We hustled to the car and I have never been so anxious to get anywhere in my life.  It was only a 7 minute drive and it felt like an eternity.  

Kristen kept her head outside the window as much as she could but the wind was still very stiff and it was freezing cold now the sun was down, so it was hard.  We arrived at the light house along with every other tourist in Reykjavik who was either already there or was hightailing in there at that very moment.  We got out and stood outside in the arctic wind and freezing temperatures staring up at the sky in awe.  It was such an incredible thing to see.  

Every time I have seen pictures of the northern lights, they seem fake to me.  I didn't believe they are real.  They don't look like they could really be a thing that happens. Especially the really intense, multi-colored ones.  That night, we really only saw green, and we saw a few bands of them.  I took a few photos and it's hard to see it, but they are there: 

I had my camera on 30 second exposure for the first and 60 second exposure for the second. It wasn't the greatest display of Aurora borealis that has ever happened, but for me, it was a really special moment.  I kept thinking of the Andrew Peterson song that describes all these beautiful images in each verse with the chorus, "Don't you want to thank someone for this?" and I thought yes, yes I do.  And I thanked God for making such strange and beautiful things happen here on earth, and for the chance to see one of them.  

So much beauty in one day left me plumb tuckered out. And we were saying goodbye to that beautiful island nation the next day, so we had some work to do as well. After the last of the green had faded from the sky that we could see, we headed back to the hotel.  Before we went to sleep, we both made a pact that if the other woke up in the middle of the night and saw the lights, we would wake the other person up.  Neither of us saw them, but both of us woke up several different times separately and we checked for them every time.  

We didn't do much on our last day in Iceland.  I went for a run, and then we headed down into Reykjavik to collect some more souvenirs and hit up a cafe before it was time to head to the airport.  We wanted to go to church but none of the service happen before 2pm! I thought that was a pretty lenient allowance for Saturday night partying. They know their congregants in Iceland, I suppose.  

I was sad to fly away from the island, and to say goodbye to our trusty 4x4, and the feeling of wildness and disconnectedness I had enjoyed while there.  Leaving the country is so important for me. It helps to have that barrier in communication where I can't use my phone and my computer isn't always on and in front of me.  I don't feel a need to respond to things constantly and quickly.  But even on the plane ride home I could feel that shifting back to its normal place at the forefront of my mind.  

I do hope I will make it back to Iceland someday, in verdant summer when it's a bit warmer.  But Iceland in winter still did wonders for my soul and I am deeply grateful for the time I got to spend there, soaking in its untamed beauty and drama, written into every cliffside, every seascape, every grassland, volcano, and waterfall.  

Iceland Day 3: Road Warriors

We spent basically all of our third day in Iceland in the car.  We were up by 7, hit the road by 8 and had a four hour drive along the south coast out to Vatnajokull glacier.  We went in search of Svartifoss waterfall, which is a short hike, but mostly we just wanted to drive along the coast and see the territory out there.  It was unbelievable.

I never realized how much I love driving when I have beautiful unknown territory around me.  I was loving riding in our 4x4 on these roads, through a landscape that looked otherwordly in color and shape.  Kristen played DJ and we chatted, and the 4 hours passed quickly. Here's some of what we saw:
The not-so-early morning sunrise in Iceland's winter (9:00am) 

Country church in Vik

Further east along the southern Ring Road - frozen ponds, glaciers, and volcanoes abound. 

Rt 1 near Eyjafjallajokull (yeah, THAT volcano that shut down Europe in 2010)

We arrived at Skaftafell, which is at the foot of the Vatnajokull Glacier (see below) and just took in the scenery for a moment.  I would like to add here that in the 4 hours we spent on the road driving out there, we MAYBE saw 6 other cars. Total. The entire time.  Bliss!
Vatnajokull glacier (largest in Europe) 

The hike out to Svartifoss isn't long, about 1.5 miles, but when we arrived at the visitor's center we saw signs that said that the trail was VERY icy and that the walk should not be attempted without crampons (ice picks that attach to your shoes).  We didn't have those, and neither did the visitor's center (big oversight on their part I think!).  So we decided it had been worth the drive all the same, seeing that amazing landscape, and so we turned around and headed back to hit all the sites that awaited us on the ride home.  

Our first stop was the beautiful black sand beach of Reynisfjara.  There is a gorgeous basalt rock formation that came from a volcanic eruption.  When the cold water hits the hot lava it cool so quickly that it crystallizes in a way and forms a hexagonal pattern in the rock. Thus, there is wall which looks like a haphazard, hexagonal staircase.

I've never seen rocks form like this.  From the above picture you can sort of tell how the rocks look like feathers on a bird, they formed in such intricate, fluid patterns.  It's really beautiful.  There's a cave there too and since it's so cold, it's full of icicles from the sea spray when the tide is high that look like fangs (think Sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi).  

The beach itself was gorgeous.  Something out of a dream, really.  IMDB just told me that part of the recent film Noah was filmed there.

I lived on an island with a volcano for the better part of a year and the black sand beaches in the north had similar features, caves, striking rock formations, but nothing like those hexagonal basalt columns and pebbly beaches.   

We pressed onwards to Skógafoss, a big waterfall still further westward on the main road back to Reykjavik.  In addition to seeing a beautiful waterfall, I fulfilled my goal of meeting and petting some fuzzy Icelandic ponies.  They were wholly uninterested in my affection after they found I had no snacks to offer them.  

Then we climbed a lot of stairs to the top of the waterfall to get this lovely view: 

Then we climbed back down the stairs and got THIS lovely view: 

Mmmm.  Waterfalls.  Is there anything prettier? The spray of ice cold glacial water on my face, beautiful icicles decorating the rocks.  And we weren't even done with waterfalls that day.  We had one more to go.  We hopped back in the car and headed to our last stop of the day, Seljalandsfoss.   

You can actually walk behind Seljalandsfoss when the path isn't covered in ice.  It was beautiful but the real stunner of this stop for me was Gljúfurárfoss, which is set back about a 500m walk from Seljalandsfoss, and it's in a cave you have to shimmy back to.  But it was so beautiful.  I used to work at a an outdoors store in high school, and it had a little stream in it where you could test fishing rods, and it also had a rain cave, where you could test the waterproof jackets.  This waterfall was a for REAL rain cave.  
That's not snow, it's the water droplets suspended in air reflecting my flash.  
Inside a real rain cave.  
In order to get into the cave, you had to navigate a series of small rocks sticking out of the ice cold stream flowing out of the cave.  The only problem was that because it was so cold, they were covered in ice, so that made their navigation all that much more exciting.  I had a few close calls and almost went in the drink, and Kristen did, soaking her leg and one of her boots with near freezing water.  We were glad it was our last stop.  No one can handle wet clothes in that kind of cold and wind.  

We were pleased with the day, even though it was a long one. We got home, cleaned up, rested a bit and then went into town for an earlier dinner.  We ate a restaurant that was nothing to write home about but I did discover that chicken is more expensive than salmon in Iceland. Gotta love that.  Chicken of the sea? It was great salmon too.  Once again it was too cloudy that night to see any Aurora Borealis, but the forecast for Saturday said that the skies would be clear.  We were ready to hit the road again the next day, but with a less ambitious itinerary this time.   

Iceland Day 2: The Golden Circle

I woke up a few times during the night since by body was still quite confused about what time it was, but ended up getting a pretty good stretch of rest in the end.  I woke up around 9am on Thursday morning ready to take on the Golden Circle, the most famous sights within easy reach of the capital and a must for visitors.  

Morning broke in Reykjavik much clearer than the previous day, giving us renewed hope in the possibility of surviving our trip to Iceland and actually being able to see things.

View from our hotel room window on Thursday morning.  

Kristen and I opted to rent a car and do everything ourselves instead of going the tour company route, although there are plenty of options in that category.  As with most things, I just like to design my own itinerary and do it at my own speed and stop where I want to stop, and not have someone dictating those things.  So we set off from our hotel, our suitcase of food in tow.*

We drove through the central highlands and Þingvellir National Park. It was cloudy and very windy up there. At times the snow drifts were blowing sideways across the road and you almost couldn't see the asphalt. It looked like I was driving across a white frothy sea with dry ice smoke underneath the car. We made it out to Geysir, which is the namesake for all other geysirs on planet Earth.  I was messing around with the high speed burst function on my camera and caught an eruption in real time:


Being around here reminded me of being in Yellowstone.  The terrain looks so similar.  Though Yellowstone has Iceland beat for geysirs and hot springs in my book.  Our next stop after Geysir was Gulfoss, a huge waterfall just a bit further northeast.  I'll stop typing now and just show you the pics.

Waterfalls are my favorite natural feature. I've already mentioned many times over how I will hike any distance and travel out of my way many miles to see one, even a small one.  This one was much bigger than I thought it would be, and the biggest of any we saw on the trip.  The snow-filled canyon and icy trail leading down to it were so gorgeous, and highlighted the gray-blue water.

I knew that I wanted to go to Iceland in winter to be able to see the Northern Lights.  I went knowing it would be very cold, dark, and knowing there was a very real possibility I wouldn't even see the Northern Lights.  I also went knowing it was important to look for beauty in this cold and bitter time.  I keep trying to use that as inspiration for when things feel dark and cold and barren in my own life. I try not to miss the beauty that is always around me just because the environment may not be my favorite one.  Sure enough, I saw stunning beauty in the ice sculptures naturally formed from the spray of the waterfalls on the walls of canyons.  I went seeing the dramatic cliffs made even more stunning by the white snow's contrast against them.  I keep thinking I would like to go back and see Iceland when it's all green in the summer, and everything is mossy and full of life.  But the ice and snow set the blues of the sea and sky off so beautifully too.  No matter the season, there is loveliness to be found.

Driving home was a bit trickier than getting out there. At one point, when driving back through Þingvellir, there was a total white out and we had to stop our car because we couldn't see anything around us.   We saw multiple cars slide off the road due to ice. It was adventurous driving for sure.  I was thankful to get back to Reykjavik where the clouds were starting to roll in over the city and snow kicking up again.  I knew our Northern Lights tour that night probably would not yield any sightings but we got on the bus all the same.  It was included in our package after all, and it was our dinner ticket.

We were transported out to Laugarvatn to another outdoor hot tub area called Fontana.  It's right next to a thermally heated lake as well.  It was snowing again and the wind had picked back up to howling, yet put on our swimsuits and dutifully shower we did before we stepped back out into the subzero temperatures.  We couldn't run on the cement because it was iced over, so we walked as quickly as our wet personages would allow us and it was so cold I literally jumped into the first pool I came to to keep out of the wind.  After I had thawed enough, I got out and tried the very next closest one which was much hotter.  Blissfully hot.  My hair and fingers thawed, and I regained feeling in my feet quickly.  I stayed in as long as I could stand it then went back to the lukewarm pool.  Then I found the entrance to the thermal lake which was almost pitch black. I walked out across snow and ice in my bare feet and walked to about knee deep in the water.  It was definitely not warm enough to merit a swim, plus being in unknown water in the darkness is scary to me, so I got out and got back in the lukewarm pool.

After swimming around a bit more, we got out and went to eat dinner at the buffet the place had set out for us. By this time it was 10pm.  The buffet was amazing. They had this incredible brown bread that they bake in steam ovens heated by the geothermal pockets in the ground. The bread is dense, moist and sweet.  SO good.  You eat it with Icelandic yogurt sauce, pickled herring or smoked salmon.  And the smoked salmon here is absolutely delicious.  I tried Gravlax for the first time, which is basically just smoked salmon with herbs and spices on it.  The pickled herring was also very good.  Icelandic yogurt is delicious and the only dessert they had was Skyr (the yogurt) with coconut in it and it was incredible! I would have eaten it at every meal if I had ever seen it again.

Anyway, after the trip all the roads taking us home were closed due to weather so we had to take a rather extreme detour to be returned to Reykjavik that night.  We did not stop to try and see the northern lights because it was so late and the roads were terrible.  Our tour guide happened to teach geology and so she had lots of fun facts for us on the way home. She probably could have talked the entire 2 hour ride back but she got wise to the fact that we were all entering a food coma and stopped lecturing about volcanoes about an hour in.  She definitely knew her stuff.  She had seen the northern lights many times and talked about the most spectacular times she had seen them.  I really didn't want to hear it.  I wanted to see them so bad and I knew we weren't going to that night, so it felt cruel to hear about someone else's Best Of compilation, when I don't even have a debut album to work off.

It was blissful to arrive back at our hotel that night.  We had our biggest road warrior day ahead of us and knew we needed to be up early.  We crashed almost immediately.

*Kristen and I had decided that to save money we would bring some snacks with us.  Food is very expensive in Iceland so we thought we could probably get by just eating breakfast and lunch from the stuff we brought and figuring out dinner on our own.  Well, we had this generous baggage allowance and so we decided to just bring an extra suitcase and put snacks in it.  We filled an ENTIRE suitcase with bars, bags of almonds and walnuts, 3 different kinds of jerky, freeze dried fruits and vegetables, and more.  It was slightly out of control, but I tell ya, I don't regret it.  It was kind of hilarious heading out each day and bringing a big pink suitcase with us to load into the car with our backpacks and things.  I'm glad no one but us knew what was actually in it.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Iceland Day 1 : Gale force winds and getting in hot water

This trip has been a glimmer in my eye for so long, it’s hard to believe it’s now over.  I’m on my way home from Reykjavik now.  My co-worker Kristen and I are both avid travelers and when the amazing deals for Iceland started coming fast and furious to our inboxes, we couldn’t resist.  We both decided back in November that we wanted to see the Northern Lights and so we booked a trip over a few random days in February our office gives us off each year.

Even in late February, when I should be heading south in search of sun and some reprieve from the bitter cold and ice of this 2014-2015 DC winter, somehow this year it was very important to me to fully embrace winter.  This means looking for beauty and joy even in the ice, snow and cold.  I can wholeheartedly recommend Iceland to anyone in the Winter months.  Hopefully you won’t need to read this whole thing, you’ll only need to see some of the pictures to agree.  

So we set off on a Tuesday to IAD, which we discovered is a relative ghost town on Tuesday evenings. We flew through traffic, baggage check-in, and security.  Our flight over was easy and we arrived ahead of schedule.  Which was a good thing, because soon after we touched down, all flights were grounded due to a blizzard.  There were 60mph gusts and snow so thick you couldn’t see anything more than 15 feet in front of you. Luckily, although this makes it unsafe to travel by air, it doesn’t phase Icelandic bus drivers.  

Keflavik Airport during the start of that day's blizzard.  

Kristen and I had purchased a bus ticket from the airport to our hotel which included a stop at the Blue Lagoon. We wanted to check it off our list early on.  We headed there and after we dropped our bags off at the luggage station and then walked to the actual entrance to the Blue Lagoon.  It was a long quarter mile because we were being pelted by snow and freezing rain, blown all over the place by the fierce wind, and trying to see the path which was icy.  

Finally making it to the Blue Lagoon, we arrived exactly at opening time, and went right to the locker room. We were with many other tourists coming straight from the airport as well as a few other tour buses trying to make the best of the day.  We found out later that many of the regular tours that run in Iceland were cancelled due to weather and so all rerouted to the Blue Lagoon since it was basically the only manageable tourism game in town that day.  

We dutifully changed into our swimsuits, showered like they told us to, and headed to the entrance area. The deck where we would normally enter was closed (iced over) and they told us to enter the pool through the covered area.  We got in the water and it was warm, but definitely not hot.  Then we opened the door and waded out into the blizzard, already wet from our shower.  My hair froze instantly and I dropped down to my knees in the shallow water so I could only have my face exposed to the elements, using the water as warmth and protection.  Kristen and I high tailed it for a cave where we found shelter for a few minutes, listening to the story of the Blue Lagoon’s geothermal wonders and the healing powers of the silica in the water that turns it that lovely milky turquoise color.  

We decided we should at least try to see more of the Blue Lagoon and we had been given a description of the facilities by my check-in lady.  We had to take her word for it because we couldn’t actually see the whole pool, only parts of it at a time.  The pictures you see if you google it all have a nice layer of welcoming, healthful steam coming off the water, and it’s usually sunny and the water is calm and glassy.  In our case, the water in the pool actually had waves, and the steam off the water wasn’t rising, it was being blown horizontally and it was mixed with micro-grenades of freezing rain.  My skin was trying to be pampered by the magical watery powers under the surface, but any part of me that was exposed, namely my face, was stinging from the rain and snow, and the wind chill was so low that it hurt to have it outside the water for too long.  

The Blue Lagoon in a Blizzard, with some brave bathers.

After wading around the pool backwards to keep our faces out of the wind, we managed to find shelter against a rock outcropping on one side of the pool.  We also found that the water over there was much warmer, and even uncomfortably hot in certain areas.  We stayed there a long time.  To our dismay, others from our bus and from other tour groups quickly discovered our secret alcove and it became crowded.  We decided to try and explore other areas of the pool.  We had very serious discussions, strategic ones, about what moves to make and when.  It sounded like we were in a war situation.  Okay, where are we headed next? That bridge? Okay on my count, go when this gust of wind is over and STAY LOW! Our main target is the steam room, but understand that you'll be exposed and completely out of water for at least 5 seconds while you run up the gangplank to gain entry.  Good luck, and Godspeed.  

The covered real-estate was hard to come by and it just seemed a little silly to cower under bridges and in caves.  We headed to the steam rooms and the sauna but good reason dictates one can only stay in those for about 10 minutes at a time.  In between those sessions, the cold, wet, windy weather outside continued to hiss and spit at us.  But we lasted about almost two hours in between bridges, the cave, the cove, the sauna and steam rooms.  Then we packed it in, got cleaned up, bundled up and headed to the cafe area to wait for our bus to the hotel.  The cafe was completely overrun with people because it was so bad outside.  We did find a seat, thankfully, and then we dragged ourselves through the blizzard again to the bus.  We felt woozy and unenthused about the rest of the day.  

So we took the bus into the city and checked into our hotel, where we thawed, and rehydrated.  Even the people at the front desk said that the weather was really bad that day.  We didn't want to seem like the pansies we felt like about the weather, so it was comforting hearing that this was very bad weather, even for natives. Though, that afternoon we did venture into downtown Reykjavik amidst the snow and biting wind again.  We had a bit of trouble catching the bus and getting there, getting splashed by icy street water and getting passed by a few buses to begin with. Once we got downtown we had about a 20 minute walk ahead of us to get to the place where we would pick up our car.  

On the little shopping street we found that many storefronts were boarded up or closed. We also saw lots of quirky American pop culture themed bars, i.e. The Chuck Norris Grill, Lewbowski Bar (a whole menu of just white russians!), and Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, to name a few.  

We turned off the little narrow shopping street and into a wide open area and were hit with an arctic blast that cut right through the many layers of winter clothing we were wearing like a hot knife through butter.  The gusts of this wind basically blew us in the direction of the car rental place and I was SO glad we didn't have to walk back to catch the bus.  Getting the car made me immediately feel better about life in general.  We turned on the seat heaters and drove home and crashed.  Not a chance at seeing the northern lights that night, it was way too cloudy.  Day 1 in the books.

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