You had one job…
So, while we were celebrating Festivus last year, we both came to the realization that its probably time to start thinking about that bucket list. We’ve got our Medicare cards. Retirement is no longer something way out in the future. Heck, we live in a retirement community. So the question was, what’s first on the travel bucket list. It took about 30 seconds for both of us to scream Iceland!
But first, Diane had to schedule some oral surgery she’d been putting off for years. We went through the logistics and decided that we would wait until after our trip to schedule it. In retrospect, it was a great decision…
Everyone we talked to warned us that the weather in summertime Iceland was going to be horrible; rainy and cold. Not to mention tourist overload. Sounded perfect to us. So, after gathering our cold-weather and rain gear, off we went on a 10-day excursion to explore the “ring road” that circles the island. By ourselves, of course!
We arrived bright and early in the morning at Keflavik airport and immediately found ourselves waiting a half hour in 30 degree, blustery weather to grab a shuttle bus to the rental car office. Of course, after we got on the bus, we found out that the rental cars were a 5 minute walk from the arrival terminal. Naturally.
Did you know that there is special car insurance for things like volcanic ash, rock slides and earthquakes? Neither did we until the rental office tried to sell us $500 worth of it. Yeesh. Anyway, after an hour of waiting, saying no, and then trying to find our car, we were on the road to the number-one tourist destination for new arrivals: the Blue Lagoon hot springs spa. After 15 hours in airports and cramped planes, we were looking forward to it. Now, how to find it…
One thing we learned quickly was the challenge of entering destinations in a car GPS. If we had to enter the names of things, we would have spent hours trying to translate 30-character place names that look a lot like each other. The solution? Latitude and Longitude coordinates! Remember those? Fortunately, the Icelanders understand this and were kind enough to place this info in all of the guides we used. Entering them, however, can be a bit challenging. To wit, we did not get to the Blue Lagoon on the first (or second) try. This is what they call a “teachable moment”.Anyway, we made it, it was wonderful, and we did not want to leave. The perfect post-flight activity! But leave we must, and after entering our hotel coordinates (properly this time) we arrived in Reykjavik for our first night. Made it!
When we woke up the next day, we were a bit surprised to find out that the weather was sunny and clear with relatively warm temperatures. Hmmm. Unexpected. In any event we hit the road for the first part of the trip, which was what is known as the “Golden Circle” . Lots of natural sights to see. Waterfalls, geysers, and fumaroles to name a few.
But we also had a white whale to find: the grave of Bobby Fischer. Remember him? Cold War chess ring a bell? Yep, that guy. Turns out he became a major crank in his later years, and no one wanted him, including the US. Icelanders, being the nice folks they are, took him in. Naturally, being the jerk he was, he promptly got sick, refused western medical treatment and promptly died. All we knew was he was buried “near Reykjavik”.
Turns out everyone’s favorite travel guide, Rick Steves, actually includes the grave site in one of his guidebooks. We tried for the better part of a day looking for the site, but ran out of steam and had to eat. After some local seafood, we headed out for one last try and after several close calls we drove through someone’s farm to a tiny hidden church with a small graveyard in front. After avoiding the various tractors and other farm implements and spending a fair amount of time wandering in the graveyard, pay dirt! Honestly, his name kind of stood out from the other names that were typically 20 letter names ending in “-sson” or “-dottir”. But still, we achieved victory!
Onward to coastal Iceland. Found a black beach with “diamonds”, which were chunks of ice from the icebergs in a small cove. While we were there, we also ran across a wedding party with the bride in full regalia. We naturally photo-bombed them. Boy are they in for a surprise.
But wait. That wasn’t the last time we saw the bride. For the next three days, every time we stopped at a major site, there was the bridal party. Have to say, that gown was getting pretty darn ratty the last time we saw her! Volcanic ash will do that, I guess.
As we made our way around the island, it became more and more sparsely populated. While the roads were mostly paved (ask Diane about the dirt-road mountain pass in the fog if you want to test her blood pressure!) there were a lot of single-lane bridges. We got used to those pretty quickly, but you haven’t lived until you’ve gone through a 2-way, single lane tunnel! Yes, there were several. Basically, you go like hell until you see headlights in front of you and then you start looking for a small turnout cut into the rock. The game, of course, was to guess who would chicken out into a turnout first. Awesome!
Oh, and did I mention the sheep? Turns out that for most of the year, Icelandic sheep just wander wherever they want, which is totally fine unless they decide to dart out onto a road your cruising on at 60mph. Diane issued forth more than one “OMG!” as we came close to murdering multiple sheep. And if you kill one of them, you’re on the hook to reimburse the shepherd. In Texas, you get free BBQ!
The trip became one overwhelming sight after another. Waterfalls out the kazoo. Mountains, glaciers, puffins, whales, people jumping off raised ferry ramps into the water for fun (in survival suits, of course), and all sorts of small villages. And it never rained on us or got really cold. Go figure.
As we neared the end, we realized we were booked into a hotel a good hour from the airport and decided to find something closer so we wouldn’t miss our flight. We found a hostel that was a converted Icelandic Air Force barracks. Cheapest beer on the whole trip!
After the usual awful flight home (delayed 2 hours because someone didn’t have their passport validated, missed our connection & got home about 12 hours later than planned), we finally made it home for the second most exciting event of the summer, Diane’s oral surgery.
About that Oral Surgery…
Now, I’ve had a lot of that type of work done over the years, and its always just been novacain followed by post-op opioids. In Diane’s case, the doctor decided she needed to be totally blitzed instead. I have no idea what they gave her, but when I took her home, she was “awake” but little else. The nurse said “Just let her sleep and make sure she doesn’t try to get up and walk without you being there.”
“OK, no problem.”
It was a team effort to get her into the car. Step 1 complete! I then managed to get her from the car to the bed so she could sleep it off by carefully maneuvering her into a wheeled office chair.
After that, I went to check on her about every half hour and she was generally still unconscious. And then it happened. A loud “thump”. I went to check, and there she was, sitting on the side of the bed holding her right arm. “It’s OK” she said. After noticing the 6 inch gash in said right arm, I tried to tell her “nope, not OK”. “No, Its OK.” was her repeated response.
I had one job, and I failed.
Back into the chair, back into the car, and off to the ER we went. When the nurse saw the wound, let me just say that her first response was not to tell me what a great job I had done getting her there. It was more of a “you disgusting wife-beater” vibe. 14 stitches later, she was back in the chair wheeling to bed again.
When she finally woke up, she looked at her arm and said “Gray, what is this?” To this day, she has no recollection of any of it. Just a scar and a hospital bill. I had one job…
Anyway, besides that little event, we’re all just dandy here in Texas. Aleia, Matt, Charlie and Maeve are doing great in Wisconsin. Ashleigh has moved back to Massachusetts for a great job working for NOAA. (No, she does not edit maps with Sharpies).
Have a great Holiday season and a wonderful 2020!
Gray & Diane