Monday, June 16, 2014

Iceland, Day 1 (Or, better said, Night 1)

As crazy and inappropriate as it sounds, I decided to take a long weekend in Iceland.  I'd love to have at least 2 weeks there, but 2 weeks were simply neither in my budget nor in my work schedule this year with 4 weeks in Michigan coming up and hopefully (I hope I hope I hope) a couple weeks on the Canary Islands this winter.  I did this over the Pentecost weekend, from June 6-8, with Monday off as a public holiday to recover.  We absolutely lucked out, and everyone told us so:  the weather forecast when we booked the flights called for temperatures of about 15°C/59°F, but in reality we had sun and about 21°C/approx. 70°F the whole weekend.  Initially I'd just planned to kiss fun in the sun in Germany goodbye for the weekend and have fun visiting my great writer friend Patrick (, but as luck would have it, we even got into some trouble on a beach and got sunburns!

But let's go back to the beginning: midnight sun! 

I hadn't even thought about there being nearly 24 hours of daylight in Iceland in June, but there certainly are!  I was completely excited when, after having left a dark Germany around 9 pm, it just kept getting lighter and lighter as we neared Iceland.  Just as we could see land again, we could also see the sunset at 11:30 pm.  It never got really dark after sunset, there was just a little touch of twilight, and a couple of hours later, the sun came up again.  Despite being completely exhausted, my body just said: "Keep going!  It's light outside!"  We even saw people going about their daily business, such as working in their yards and gardens well past midnight.  And that for 3 days.  No wonder I fell into a sleepy coma upon our return, dozed for a full day and am still a little bit fried.

We got hopelessly lost searching for our tiny hut (in German it was something like a 12m² Gartenlaube).  It was actually only about a ten minute drive from the airport, but it took us about 2 hours and a trip back to the airport to find it.  The directions were less than thrilling.   But before we embarked on the search for our tiny hut in someone's backyard, we got the ride of our lives in the car rental bus.  We'd rented a car from the cheapest car rental in Iceland, I believe, and it was not only cheap, but also highly entertaining.  A chubby, rosy-cheeked young man who appeared not over 20 arrived at the airport at least a half hour after our plane landed, after everyone had fetched their luggage, and after several people had called the office.  He seemed a bit flustered, tried to round everyone up and have them wait in a quiet corner of the exit hall at the airport, but no one was having any part of it.  Particularly the couple travelling with an infant!  This young lady practically jumped on the poor guy and asked if there would be enough space in the van because they were travelling with, and I quote, "an infant, and we have lots of stuff." She repeated her mantra about 50 times, and upon returning to her mate, I was forced to guffaw.  At least half of their "lots of stuff" was a shopping cart full of beer.  A small shopping cart, I admit, but still a full shopping cart.  Apparently they'd also heard that the cheapest beer in Iceland was at the Duty Free shop in the airport.  For the record, we decided to travel light and do without any adult drinks on this trip.  Why waste our time in this wondrous country on liquor?  Silly me, my main concern was getting some milk and cream for our coffee in the morning, but much to my dismay, the Duty Free does not carry these items.  I did, however, witness pilots, flight attendants, and the average Joe stocking up on cartfulls beer for what they seemed to feel was the Apocolypse coming.  Or just a trip to Iceland.

But back to our very, very sad car rental.  The young man driving the pickup van was not fazed by the young mother and her infant, he nonchalantly said, "Well, you could just wait for the next bus."  I wish I could be that cool.  In the end, she sent her mate to get the car, and boy, did he seem upset the whole time.  On our whole entertaining ride to the Quonset hut that housed the car rental, he didn't speak a word, and upon arriving, he was the first to get a car, wordlessly pointing out the countless flaws on that sad, sad car.  Then he sped off to pick up his beer, infant, and maybe even his wife.  I'm getting ahead of myself, though, the ride to the Quonset hut, while only a few minutes long (at normal speeds it may have been 10 minutes) was one of the most entertaining rides of my life.  The young, rosy-cheeked fellow squeezed us all into the rusty, dented van, hurriedly clearing seats of jackets and papers to accommodate everyone, and once we were in, he sped off.  He was driving well over the speed limit, while not looking out the windshield, but out the side window, admiring the pretty fog rising from the fields.  "Do you see that fog?" he asked us.  "It's kind of cool."  As much as I hate drug clichés, I started wondering just what this guy was on.   We were quickly approaching not only a roundabout, but also a much slower car ahead of us.  My husband, renowned fast, crazy driver on the famous, partially speed-limit-free German Autobahn, had white knuckles and nearly started hyperventilating.  I was cracking up the whole time, this was one heck of a start to a ridiculous trip.  Our rosy-cheeked driver tried to make some small talk with the passengers, but for some reason everyone was silent.  He pointed out the town of Keflavik, and while no one was interested, I asked him if it really was known as "Little America", as a friend had told me.  He had never heard of this, but went to tell of the unemployment, crime, and drug problems there.  He'd grown up there, much to my surprise, because I'd actually thought this guy was American.  His English was incredible!  But I suppose due to the long military presence in Keflavik and the plethora of English language entertainment options, it probably shouldn't have been such a surprise that he spoke flawless English; in fact, everyone we met in Icleand did.  During our conversation, I also registered some comments from my husband to the effect of "I hope he doesn't roll the van."  Oh, come on.  The guy must have some idea of what he's doing.  Or maybe I was just hoping not to be the first tourist he killed with his driving skills.

During the ride, he told us some of the rules of their car rental agency.  For example, you get the car with an empty tank and return it with an empty tank.  On the keyring were a couple of chips, these entitled us to a discount at a couple of the gas station chains, one of which he pointed out on the drive, but it was just a shimmer, or maybe a blur describes it better.  Finally, after the ride of our lives, I was thrilled to be milling around outside a Quonset hut, home of the rental agency; we were, after all, on a former US military base.  Of course there were Quonset huts!  After waiting for the Asian tourists to get their car and figure out how to drive it (it did take a moment, I'm not being catty here), it was our turn.  The rental agent came out and proudly escorted us to their newest car, a 2002 (this is 2014!!!) Honda CRV.  It paid off to go for the 4-wheel drive and request an automatic transmission after all!  The bumper was interestingly cracked and crooked, and missing some small components, of course there were dings and scratches, and then the doors didn't open!  "This doesn't make me very happy," said the rental agent, "Maybe it's because I locked it today."  I told him it doesn't make a difference to us, all the doors on our car at home don't open, either!  After some fiddling around, we did somehow manage to get the doors open, throw in our suitcase, and take off.  The engine was making a kind of ticking sound, sort of like our old Ford Scorpio after someone (not me!) never once checked the oil and it turned out that there was no oil left in the motor, and sometimes it didn't really want to shift into gear, but hey, who cares?  It got us through our 3 days.  And left me with a great story!

Oh yeah, and while we were getting our car, the Asians returned, looking puzzled.  The driver hopped out of the car, pointing at the gas gauge.  Yes, the car was nearly empty. But it's supposed to be that way.  Apparently they hadn't been listening (maybe they'd been hanging on for their lives and praying to somebody or other instead) when our rosy-cheeked young driver informed us, "You get it empty and return it empty." 

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