Thursday, July 24, 2014

3,652 miles, not enough sleep, and too many penises

Day 1

At last! I can't believe we're finally flying to Sweden for our 30th anniversary trip! Our plane didn't leave until 4:30 pm, so we had all morning to get breakfast and finish packing. It was really too long. I was ready to go by 10, but I just didn't feel like cleaning barns or house any more! Rob was briefed on care of all the animals. I could tell he couldn't wait for us to leave so he could have the house to himself! At 12:30, we headed for the airport, Rob driving in the pouring rain - worry, worry, worry, hope he can drive home safely in this...

We checked in at IcelandAir - the last airline terminal at the airport. From then on, things were looking up. We were flying business class - "Saga Class" a lucky break since we bought the tickets nearly a year ago when the exchange rate was nearly twice what it is today and business class only about 30% more than econocrunch. Since sitting in the front of the plane is usually more like 200-600% more, we've never done it. We think we could get used to this really fast though... They send us to the First Class lounge. Somewhere behind Gate 6 is a mystical magical place I never dreamed of: quiet, comfortable, uncluttered with the sweating, querulous crush of humanity. A world of padded chairs, open bars, drinks, snacks, and hot soup, where attendants wipe away the feel of the airport with their warm towels and deferential manner. I may never bother to get on the plane! I think, as I sip my tomato basil soup and dip a cracker in my hummus. Never has a wait to board a plane been so enjoyable.

We delay actually getting aboard for as long as possible in our blissful bower, slipping into our wide bourgeois leather seats just as the aircraft is closing its doors. The flight to Iceland is seven hours long - but seems far shorter than many a 3-5 hour flight I've taken scrunched nearly into my seatmate's lap. Dinner is a 3 course affair that whiles away the time, as does a rewatch of Part II of 'The Hobbit" and a movie that I think is one of the best unknown films of all time: "Secondhand Lions." Even though we flew through our night, from the airplane's point of view, the sun never set. We landed in Iceland at 7:30 AM (local time), fetched our bags, practically waltzed through customs, and found ourselves minutes later in the arrival area with a handful of persons standing around with signs for people - but none say Smith, or Craig, or Cindy or anything else hopeful. Even after looking in various places and waiting a half an hour, searching the tiny airport, we see no one. Our American iPhones are on Airplane mode, brought along purely for their camera capabilities. We don't think they would work if turned on here, and don't dare to risk the roaming charges to find out. We try the payphone in the basement- it only does international calls- not local ones. We buy a $30 SIM card only after the shopkeeper assures us it will work in any phone, it doesn't. Our emails to the B and B are still unanswered. Since we scratched the pin code off the back of the SIM card, we can't return it but, the shop boy does allow us to use his phone to call the B and B. Oh, very sorry they said. They sent us an email last week saying the car we were to borrow had broken down. Didn't we receive it? No? Oh sorry, must have sent it to the wrong address. There are 5 car rental places at the airport; 4 are sold out, the last, Hertz, has 2 small cars available - a blue one and a red one. ( I am irresistibly reminded of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.") Sensing fear and desperation, they charge us 39,600 kronor (about $350) for the only game in town. If the B and B had actually emailed us, I could have gotten it for less than half that on Expedia, so I am annoyed, but try gamely to retain my vacation mood. This free stopover to Iceland is getting pricier by the moment.

The blue car is a stick shift. It's been 20 years since we've owned one and Craig forgets to push in the clutch every time he starts it. It becomes an ongoing joke. Reading the Iceland map is confusing too and we get lost a lot. Craig is so desperate he even asks me to help. Not only am I useless with a map, but I'm completely falling asleep. It's past 2:00 am at home and I normally turn into a pumpkin after ten. Here in Iceland though, it's only 9:00 am. The books say the best way to get over jet lag is to stay up until it's time for bed in your new location. I am NEVER going to make it! After many a false turn and two near deaths on the Icelandic two-lane roundabouts (They should warn unsuspecting Yanks how to drive these crazy things!) we make it to the B and B. They are not home. I want to cry, but instead I curl up in the back seat and close my eyes. The sheer bliss of being horizontal is indescribable. At last, the owners arrive and I stumble, zombielike, to collapse on the bed, where I am unconscious in seconds.

An hour and a half later I am still yawning, but able to convince my neurons to produce just enough electrical impulses for speech and minimal ambulation. Our hosts, Ian and Frances, are a retired Scottish couple. The house is very pretty with lovely wood floors and lots of glass - not that I'm betting it helps a lot when it's dark for 6 months. I already get suicidal every February in the Northwest. If I lived here, I'd take the wrong way on one of those roundabouts on purpose! Now it is summer in Iceland though, so it's daylight all the time. "Daylight" does not equate to sunshine, however. It's grey and raining buckets - looks just like home. Why did we come here again? I'm going right back to sleep if I don't keep moving, so we go off to explore the town of Reykjavik. They stuffed us with food on the plane - breakfast just before we landed, so neither of us is hungry. We walk in and out of shops, souvenir hunting and trying to keep moving. We find that, hidden quietly between the T shirt and sweater shops of Reykjavik, there is a museum. And not just any museum. No, this is the world's only Phallic Museum. A museum devoted entirely to penises from every mammal the world around. Given what I do for a living- heck, even the shoes I'm currently wearing have a sperm logo- of course we have to go in. It costs about $20 for both of us. Pricey but, what the hey? The museum is mostly filled with penile specimens from various animal species: elephant, sperm whale, kangaroo, hamster, you name it. One jar is labelled "elf." It is empty. Clearly, the collection was arranged with no little humor and hubris. There is a rather striking collection of some 28 or so silver penises ( I forgot to count) cast from the members of the 2008 Iceland silver medalists (in Team Handball) from the Beijing games. The picture of the team is mounted above the collection. Fortunately, no names are attached to the sculptures, which honor the silver medal with their color. (As one is considerably smaller than the others , this was perhaps a relief to the diminutive.....member.) There are lots of interesting T-shirts, but none I can really see myself wearing ( "The Iceland Phallic museum- It's all about Dicks" and similar versions) so I settle on a discrete black mug with the museum's logo to immortalize our visit.

Craig says he's tired too, but he looks a lot more chipper than I feel. I'm pretty sure the pickled sheep's head the traditional Icelandic cafe is offering on toast has more grey cells than I could muster at the moment. Our hostess strongly recommended we try the local cuisine, but strangely, neither the sheep's head nor the "rotten shark" (I kid you not) is tempting. We finally settle for a bowl of tomato basil soup at an Italian place about 4:00 PM local time, before heading back to finally rest. Our host fills their hot tub with lovely hot water from the earth's core. (Iceland buildings are heated with geothermal energy- virtually free to the populace, and what a blessing that must be in their frigid land.) I soak in the sulfur perfumed water until my whole body is limp as an exhibit in the Phallic museum before finally collapsing into bed after our 27 hour day.









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