Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

When I recently wrote to a colleague and told him that I was going to Iceland for a short winter vacation, he immediately responded, "Iceland?! In winter?!! You got your calendar upside down." Actually, this is not the first year that I pondered taking a trip Iceland. I came pretty close to booking a plane ticket last year. Multiple visits to left me unconvinced that it would be too cold to enjoy. After all, due to the warm gulf stream Iceland is reputed to be milder than other regions of the same latitude. Temperatures in the 20s or 30s didn't phase me as New York can easily get colder than that in the winter. What really turned me away was the sun not rising until (yikes!) 11:00AM and setting shortly after 4:00PM. This year however, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it, convincing myself that visiting Reykjavik in the off-season would result in lower prices and less crowds.

My flight from JFK took off last night just before Mother Nature dumped another 20 inches of snow on the tri-state area. I got out just in time. Despite fear that winter winds near Iceland would make for a bumpy landing it was a relatively smooth flight. Iceland Air 614 actually arrived 45 minutes ahead, leaving me 3+ hours in the airport waiting for my bus to the Blue Lagoon. I know it was early, but for an  international airport it was nearly deserted. I could practically count the number of people in the terminal.

At 9:30AM sharp when it was still dark, a burly man shouted out to a number of us waiting in the terminal that the bus to the Blue Lagoon would soon depart. Despite the fact that it looked like the middle of night (and felt like the middle of the night due to my jet lag!) the towns we drove through showed signs of mid-morning daily life; children playing in playgrounds, bakeries serving customers, etc. We arrived shortly after 10:00AM, and after dropping off the other passengers, the bus driver took me to my accommodation for my first night in Iceland: The Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel.

At this point my body felt like it was 5:00AM without a wink of sleep. Mercifully, reception allowed me to check-in early. Overwhelmed with joy that the sun was beginning to rise, I took some photos before dozing off for a nap. The rooms at the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel are spartan but comfortable, and the accessible patios look out on a moss-covered lava field.

My room at the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel
I awoke quite grumpy shortly after 1:00PM but pulled myself out of bed to make my way to the Blue Lagoon. Getting to the Blue Lagoon from the clinic hotel requires a 600 meter (10 minute) walk down a path forged through the lava fields. It really is quite surreal, as if you were suddenly transported to another planet.
Path to the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a spa of natural geo-thermal seawater that really must be seen to be believed. Since there are so many geo-thermal pools in Iceland that are free and open to the public, some people may argue that the Blue Lagoon is a tourist trap. They charge a whopping 28 Euros ($37) for admission alone, and this doesn't include essentials such as a towel or bathrobe. Still, they have turned this area into an oasis of relaxation and wonder, and it is a must-see for any visiter to Iceland. It is a strange feeling to be basking in 98-102 degree waters while icicles form on your hair. Hint: If you stay at the Blue Lagoon hotel clinic, admission is included in your accommodation fee, and you have access to private facilities for guests of the hotel from 8-10AM/PM daily.
The Blue Lagoon
One of the most fun things to do at the Blue Lagoon is to hang around the silica mud buckets and apply the silica to your face like a mask. The pure white geothermal mud cleans and exfoliates remarkably well.

In the evening I treated myself to dinner at the LAVA Restaurant on premises. Be prepared for astronomical prices. Here it's more about atmosphere than anything else, as the restaurant is built into a cliff and and overlooks the milky blue waters of the lagoon.

Window view from the LAVA restaurant
I must admit however, that the lobster soup with dill cream, roasted langoustine, cayenne, coconut, and cognac was to die for.
Lobster soup

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