Phew today was a day of adventures that never ended. Seriously. We didn’t go to bed until almost 1am. Why? Well, stay tuned.
We started off with our breakfast, which we had purchased the day before from the 24-hour convenience store. We’d each gotten some type of caffeinated beverage and a variety of food items. When we’d brought them up to the checkout, Jen said to the clerk that we were “trying some new items.” Looking past the weird “protein balls,” Icelandic candy bars, and odd pastry, he looked at her one piece of fruit and said sarcastically, “Oh, like apples?” Hah. Good one.
We had two items on the agenda for the day: horseback riding, and the famous “Golden Circle” tour, which featured some of the famous natural landmarks of Southern Iceland. But before we could embark on either of those, we had to figure out how to get to the buses. Our pickup spot was labeled again as the Hallgrimskirkje, which was a quick five minute walk from our hotel. So we approached the bus stop there, looking for the bus that had the same logo as the receipt we’d printed for our tour. We found one, and we asked the driver if he was going to the horseback-riding excursion. He just nodded and said, “Yeah, sure, you can get on here and then get to the excursion from the bus terminal.” So we shrugged and got on.
We arrived at the bus terminal and didn’t see any bus for the excursion, so we went to the counter and asked where it was. Exhaustedly, the agent was like “Let me guess, our bus driver said you could get the bus from here?” Apparently this was a common thing. But luckily, in a flash, she was on the phone with our actual bus driver, saying that we’d been “kidnapped” by a one of the bus terminal’s drivers and asked him if we could be picked up there. Turned out it was no problem at all, and soon, we were on the proper bus, headed out to the horse farm.
It was at this point where we started to eye the weather. It was about as grim as you could get. Dark, low-hanging clouds that made visibility limited. Rain that was oscillating between a cloudy mist and a torrential downpour. We had our phones fixed on the weather app, but although it promised sun at some point in the day, the prediction of when that would happen kept getting further and further away.
We were at “cloudy mist” when we reached the horse farm. It was there where we met Yolanda and our other guide whose name I never heard. These girls were the most amazing guides we could have possibly had on our horseback riding adventure. You never know what you’re going to get with this type of excursion. Horseback riding is not in my wheelhouse. I rode a few times in middle school but I was certainly never good at it. And it’s so easy to wind up in a situation where the professional guides can get a little patronizing, like “Hm, you’re definitely doing this wrong.” But these girls were so patient, so positive, and had just such a great energy on a bleak day. They were also such crazy horse people. They talked about horses the way I talked about dogs. Like, “Aw, look at how happy he is! He’s got such a cute face!” That kind of stuff. They were amazing.
They gave us very attractive rain gear to keep us dry in the steady rain, which was a godsend, considering we were still damp following the ride. But hey, between damp and “soaked to the bone,” I’ll go with damp. I also learned very quickly from photos that safety orange is not my color, nor is it really anyone else’s, so at least I was in good company.
As far as our horses go, I’d say they were fitting. Jen’s was a brown mare named Meatball who was very sweet and like nudged her upon meeting her, like “Hello friend.” Meatball had a habit of stopping mid-ride to find dandelions for snacks. My horse, whose name I never learned, but referred to fondly as “Bitey,” was sassy right off the bat. He nipped at me a little bit so I had to give him the stern teacher face and be like “Look buddy, I’ve had enough of this attitude.” Once I was in the saddle, we were on good terms, though he did enjoy cutting off the other horses in front of us, and at one point gave up on trotting when he was tired. I was kicking him like hell to get him to catch up to the horse in front of him, and he just kept walking along like “I feel you, but no.” At the end of the day, yep, Bitey and I were a perfect couple. Also he had like the same hair color, blonde streaks included, so definitely a match.
The trail ride itself was so cool. We got to ride through a river, through some rifts, and along roads, upon which we got to speed up a little bit and trot rather than walk (y’know, as long as Bitey felt like doing so). Because the horses were so small, it was much more comfortable than my last time on a horse. They were really Christina-sized horses. Very convenient. Thanks, Iceland. It really was an amazing experience, though the one thing it was lacking was the view. Because of the low-hanging clouds, we really couldn’t see much of the scenery. At one point, one of our guides was telling us a story about a volcano behind us, and she was like, “Well, it’s right there… You can’t see it, so just use your imagination.”
After bidding Meatball and Bitey goodbye, we walked over to the farm’s corresponding hotel for lunch, which was included in our tour. It was kind of odd, because it was just a buffet of cold cuts and apple and celery soup. With limited other options, I made a sandwich and ladled out some soup, then made myself a cup of tea. The tea and soup were very much necessary considering I couldn’t feel my nose or fingertips. And the weird soup was actually surprisingly good. Definitely wouldn’t think “Yeah, sure, apple and celery! Good call!” but it wasn’t bad. Also the tea I had was like black currant something, and that was good too.
After killing quite a bit of time waiting for our Golden Circle bus, we hopped on and rode 45 minutes to our next destination, Geysir Geothermal Area, featuring, well, geysers, and geothermal pools. Shocking, I know. This little spot was like “Yellowstone Lite.” There was one big geyser that went off about once every five minutes. The best part about watching this one was looking at the crowd of people circled around it, phones at the ready to record it going off. And then of course as soon as it did, everyone went “Oooh!” all at the same time. It doesn’t matter where you’re fun or what language you speak: everyone loves hot water squirting out of the ground.
It was between this stop and our next, Gulfloss Falls, that we found out that our 7:40am flight for the next day had been cancelled. Despite all the questions that circled through our minds as a result of this revelation, we decided it was best for our day to just put it to the back of our minds for the time being and deal with it later. Which is exactly what we did. Again, stay tuned.
We got off at Gulfloss and were greeted by downpour. After a few minutes going to the bathroom and hiding in the gift shop, we embarked down to the falls. It really was a gorgeous waterfall, over two peaks and into the river, flanked on both sides by volcanic rock cliffs. According to our guide, the falls had originally been on land owned by a farmer, and a company tried to buy it from him to use for hydroelectric power. But he refused, saying that the falls meant so much to him it would be like selling a friend, and so in a couple spots around the park there were little signs that said, “I cannot sell my friend.” Basically his daughter appealed to the government for him after his death to prevent the destruction of the falls, and she is hailed as Iceland’s first environmentalist. And now it remains untouched, intact, and gorgeous. Iceland’s own Niagara Lite. And we of course got the full immersive experience, being hit by the heavy rain, the low-hanging clouds, and the waterfall spray.
We only had one more spot, which was the National Park and Lake, the formal names of which I have forgotten, and probably couldn’t spell anyway. But regardless, the national park was pretty cool because it sat over the rift in the tectonic plates, so driving into the park, we were on Europe’s plate, but when we crossed over, our tour guide welcomed us to America. Technically there’s no spot where you can officially say you’re standing in both at once, because the rift between them is multiple kilometers wide, but there was a point where we were standing in between them, so that was pretty cool too.
It was at this point where we attempted to rectify our plane issues. I called the number of the airline to see how long we’d be on hold. The little robot voice said that I was “92nd in the queue,” so I hung up at that point, and decided to tackle it later.
After what seemed like forever on the bus, dropping individuals off at various stops (but somehow not going back to the church? For some reason our stop wasn’t an option), we got off the bus at the same stop we had the day before, where we’d found the consignment shop and the penis museum. (Hey, it was an easy landmark.) From there we were in search of these magnets we’d seen the day before that were balls of wool with sheep for faces. They were kind of ridiculously overpriced for magnets, but considering we’d spent the whole day talking about how cute they were, we both agreed that they’d made an impression and were worth the money. Of course, the shop we’d found them in was already closed (at 6pm! On a Saturday!) so we had to go searching for them elsewhere. Lucky for us, we found them pretty quickly and were able to carry on satisfied with our sheeps.
Once again we were on the prowl for reasonably priced food. I also wanted to try a beer, cuz going to a country without sampling its alcohol is just a travesty. After checking a few menus and wandering the streets, we came across a place with a title that stood out: Bastard. Yep. What a lovely thing to name a pub. Turns out it was a microbrewery of your hipster dreams, also covered in old-school photography and waited on by beardy men covered in tattoos. And the menu looked somewhat reasonable and palatable. So we decided our meals in Iceland would consist of the Vape shop, and Bastard. What a pair. I got a beef flatbread topped with arugula, nuts, some kind of lemon sauce, and all kinds of other stuff (I forgot what else, but it was really good). And Jen got barbeque chicken and fries. Oh, and I also got one of their house beers, called the “Hazy Bastard,” which I obviously ordered because of the name. It was an IPA, which isn’t always my favorite, but it was pretty good. I can respect your beer game, Iceland.
From there we took a stroll around town, mostly because we left the restaurant at about 9pm and saw, for the first time in two days, blue sky and sunshine! Y’know. At 9pm! So we went on an adventure, looking at cool architecture and seeing what we could see. Of course, we wound up walking in circles and got a little lost, then had to speed back to the apartment before our phones died, cuz that’s how we were getting directions. But hey, in doing so, I saw the courtyard where Amazing Race contestants had to drink gross alcohol, and also this really awesome street mural of a fabulous unicorn.
We reached the apartment at 10ish and prepared ourselves for the emotional labor that would be solving our flight crisis. We called the airline and were once again put on hold. We started off at like 70th in line. In the meantime, we switched back and forth on phone duty, allowing each other to shower and freshen up while we got to listen to bad Icelandic elevator music and Bjork while on hold. Literally, Bjork. After an hour and a half, we finally heard from Helga, who was less than helpful. Basically her solution was for us to fly out at 7am to either Munich or Zurich, then fly from there to Paris, after which we’d get in at like 6pm. So basically, goodbye Paris afternoon, hello Zurich airport. Out of options, we told her okay, and she said we’d receive our confirmation shortly.
Well, thirty or so minutes had passed, we hadn’t received our confirmation information, and we were both very clearly unsatisfied with this option. So, we decided to call back. In the meantime, we also DMed them on Twitter, an option for communication listed on their website. It took forever to hear back from them, but we hoped it would at least be sooner than the phone call would take. Well, after taking about three hours to finally deal with these people, Sven (or whoever the Twitter robot was on the other end of the Icelandair account) booked us in first class for the 8:40 overbooked flight to Paris. Too tired to question it, despite the fact that our confirmation emails were lacking what we felt was important information, we flopped into bed around 1am to prepare for our 5am wakeup call to get back to the Reykjavik airport.