Monday, November 30, 2015

36 Hours in Iceland

You know how sometimes you are about to do something and you have an inkling, a little voice in the back of your head, telling you that maybe this is stupid? Crazy even? And it probably won't work out the way you are thinking? So what do you do? I usually try to run the plans by other people, in order to gauge the level of craziness I am about to embark on. Sometimes you get the bulging eyes, the jerk of the head that let's you know you have gone too far. Or maybe they come right out with it and tell you that you're nuts. But sometimes, even though you run it by them several times, and it affects them directly, these people are not really paying attention to you, giving you the mistaken impression that they agree with you and this is do-able.

On that note, let me break down for you how this "stopover" in Iceland was supposed to work. We leave Phoenix at 9:30 am on Saturday. Due to the time change, we arrive in Iceland at 6:35 am on Sunday, which is the equivalent of 11:35 PM in Phoenix. Catch the PM part? That is important. Now, I knew this, but here's where the Not So Clever thinking comes in. I figured this.....we would get some sleep on the plane, not much and not good sleep, but enough to be Ok for a bit. Then we would catch our tour at 7:45 am and be on a bus where the kids could catch some more sleep as we traveled to the glacier and ice tunnels we were going in, then we would get back to the hotel at 6:30pm, be exhausted and crash, which would totally reset our clocks to European time, win-win and we are good to go!

Best laid plans and all that shit.

It all started going wrong before we even left the house. I checked our itineraries, that I had printed, and saw something weird on our return. Namely, we had a 35 minutes change over in Denver on the way back. A change over from Icelandic Air to American during which we need to disembark, go to baggage claim and get our luggage, take said luggage to American, check it in, then go back up through security and to our gate. IN DENVER. This will take no less than 116 minutes, on the best day ever. I cannot believe I scheduled this! Then I check my paperwork and it turns out I didn't. American moved my flight home up by 2.5 hours after they took over US Airways. They, of course, did not see fit to inform me of this fact. I guess they hoped I would notice eventually. So The Hubs drives to the airport while I am on the phone having a hissy and being Not Very Nice to someone whose only sin was answering my call. I get a new flight, but its at 7:30 THE NEXT MORNING. So now I need a hotel in Denver. 

Awesome. Assholes.

Everything from there to Iceland is rather uneventful, considering The Hubs took 3 Xanax for his motion sickness and they serve the very worst European airplane food know to man, so the last relatively decent thing we ate was at the Denver airport and I say "relatively" because Thing 2 made sure that was Taco Bell. We shoved down the ham and cheese baguettes, but it was a chore.

We get to Iceland, fly through passport control, the hotel is there to pick us up and we make it there before our tour bus does. They give us our room keys early to dump our stuff and we are waiting in the lobby when the tour bus arrives. It's all looking good. 

It's all an illusion.

We get on a bus that has seats smaller than an airline, which is hard to come by. There was a Japanese girl who was maybe 5 foot and 100 pounds and she barely fit. Then we start driving along. We are exhausted and the rocking motion isn't helping much. Also, it's pitch black as the sun won't rise for hours, so there is nothing to see. We all start falling asleep. In these tiny seats, with our heads bobbing up and down. We get into Reykjavik and change busses. We then commence a journey into the middle of nowhere. Because that's where glaciers are. In the dark. And we randomly fall asleep, snore, etc. It's also raining and freezing (literally zero degrees out) and we are wearing layer upon layer of clothing. Like the Michelin man in the dead of winter. The sun finally comes up, but it is hidden behind some clouds, so it really just goes from black to grey and you can't see almost anything out of the bus windows because the rain just makes them wet and smeared. They heat the busses, but not much, so you stay fully dressed too. 

At this point we have not eaten anything, since we barely made the bus. We make "comfort" stops, but those are just to pee, so we grab some gas station snacks. This will become a running theme for us. We have water bottles, soda and chips. We stop at a waterfall, wake up and go out and take photos of it. Then back in the bus as we drive further into nowhere. We finally arrive at a hotel for lunch and to take off on an old military bus for the trip up the glacier. We wake the kids. It's now noon and we have been traveling on the tiny bus for 3.5 hours. It's is becoming apparent that this was a bad idea, but we are managing. We pre-ordered lunch and went in to eat. Now, when I say hotel, you might get the idea that we were in a town or village, but you couldn't be more wrong. It was the ONLY thing there. It was nice looking place, but I have no idea who the hell the customers are. The kids (who are freaking TEENAGERS) ordered hamburgers that they then refused to eat because they tasted "weird" with strange toppings, etc., but came with what I believe were Ore-Ida curly fries, so that is what they ate. We had 25 minutes to scarf down this $120 meal. 

Then the glacier tour company gave us extra suits and overshoes to put on to keep us warm. That makes for 3 or 4 layers, depending on who you are. It is almost impossible to move. The seats on the military transport are not much better, but we all sleep through the ONE HOUR trek through the snow to the top of the glacier, so whatever. 

It is now getting harder and harder to wake up. The kids are totally over this, but not complaining too much, since that would require them to be awake. At one point Thing 2 wakes up and I tell her..."You know those movies where people end up eating each other? This is how they all start out. A bunch of ill prepared people who have no business being out in the wilderness."

We finally reach to the top of the glacier. It is super cool looking and well below freezing, so that wakes us up. We trek through the ice caves for an hour, and then return to the bus. The bus that will take us one hour to get back to the hotel and switch to the other bus that will take us God only know how many hours to get back to Reykjavik, which will switch us to the other bus for the 45 minute drive to our hotel, which I booked way out of town so we could see the northern lights and be really close to the Blue Lagoon for the next day.

Of course, it is as miserable as hell, so there will be no northern lights, just a ridiculously extra long drive.

We remove our suits, get back on the tiny bus and get ready to take off when I realize that in my exhaustion I left my cell phone in my suit. I rush back, they are luckily still there but leaving, and I get it. Then we start the return journey. It is not dark yet, but the sun is going down, so its around 4pm. We should be in Reykjavik by 6:30, after a stop at a geyser, and at our hotel by 7:15. This means we should be no more than 2 hours from Reykjavik. Keep that in mind. The hotel is having Sunday Roast for dinner, which is a large sunday dinner, and we will need a decent meal. But then the bus starts making weird noises. I am concerned and unable to sleep, which is a useful because I have to keep pushing The Hubs to stop his snoring. The spawn's heads are bobbing up and down and randomly hitting the windows, but they don't care. We are trucking along through some remote part of Iceland and the only frame of reference I have from the morning is a long tunnel we went through. It seemed like it took forever to get to the tunnel in the morning and we haven't reached it yet. The bus driver keeps talking about stopping to see the geyser too. In the dark. There are no words to describe how much I do not want to do this, but maybe we are taking a different route so that would explain the tunnel business. Then the noises get worse. He pulls the bus into a gas station for another "comfort stop." This place is so desolate and abandoned that if it were in Appalachia I would be certain we were all doomed. 

The driver is on his phone and even though it isn't in English and I don't know what he is saying, I'm not having good thoughts. He walks into this teeny, tiny gas station store and announces that the bus is broken down and we are stuck. But its "ok, ok, ok" (favorite Icelandic word) because he "knows an old man in a nearby willage that has a bus and will come get us." His exact words and I'm not even kidding. We have no wifi, so I have no idea what time it is, but soon enough we discover that this gas station is supposed to close at 6pm but they are staying open late for us, because apparently freezing a group of tourists to death would look bad. So we wait. This nearby "willage?" No idea where it was, but it took the "old man" an hour to get to us. So at this point, we drove for what, near as I can figure, was an hour and a half, and then waited for an hour. We should be sooooo close to Reykjavik, right? 30 minutes maybe? Nope.

On the upside, the Old Man has a very large, 50+ passenger, very comfortable bus. On the downside, he has clearly already taken his Ambien for the night because he was a terrible driver. Then, as if to add to the fun, these gale force winds start, so he is driving this massive thing down the middle of the highway, across the center line, as it sways back and forth and I wonder just what it takes to tip one of these suckers. Finally, after what seems like forever but was really about an hour and a half, we get to the tunnel. WTF? Where the hell were we? I will never know. 

Eventually, we arrive in the city. I notice that one by one they are dropping all the others off at their hotels. This takes at least 30-40 minutes longer, if not more, because navigating this gigantic bus through the tiny city streets is no mean feat. I cannot tell you how many other cars we nearly crashed into. I assume this it is because we are out of town and Old Man and my bus driver are going to have to take us to our hotel. Then, after wasting all that time, they just dump us at the bus station saying "it is the best we could do" and that someone else will take us to our hotel. The hotel we would have been at already if they had dropped us at the station FIRST rather than LAST.

We make it back to our hotel at 10pm or so. We are exhausted, more than that we are hungry, but too bad, dinner is over and there is no food available except a couple bags of chips from the bar area. Which is pretty much all we have eaten all day with the exception of lunch, which the kids skipped. Remember, we also ran in and out of the hotel in 15 minutes that morning, so while we have a room, we still need to get our luggage, etc., sorted. We get to bed at 11pm.

This is ok, I think, because we have nothing to do in the morning besides eat some breakfast until our appointment at the Blue Lagoon at 11am. 

Who knew all four of us would sleep for 12 hours straight? But we did. I awoke to The Hubs saying "Its 11:11 a.m." 

I, of course, freaked out because our appointment at the Blue Lagoon was at 11 a.m. and we still needed to repack our mess from the night before and get checked out and get a ride to the Lagoon. And, of course, it probably goes without saying, but we missed breakfast and there was no food to be had.

So, in a mad rush of phone calls to the lagoon, the front desk and lots of "hurry!' to the kids, we managed to get there at 11:45 and they let us skip the line because The Hubs had a massage scheduled for 12:00. We got in and the spawn and I headed straight for the cafeteria. The choices were typical Europe choices, which means some pastries, a load of pre-made sandwiches and some chips. *sigh*

We didn't realize until we headed for the locker rooms that The Hubs had taken off in a rush with all of our towels. Never the less, we forged ahead, changed and braved the ZERO degree weather in nothing but our swimsuits.

Shuffling across the frozen deck, trying not to slip, but speeding so we don't turn into popsicles, we landed in the Lagoon. 

It was then that I figured out the one thing I truly love about Iceland. The Blue Lagoon. If only I had spent all 36 of my hours there, it would have been perfect.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

We Are Taking Different Vacations

Ok, ok, before you all start thinking that we have lost our minds, or that our marriage is on the rocks, let me tell you that while we are taking different vacations, we are all going the same place.


It's like a little over week the Hubs, the Spawn and I are going on vacation. Together. The same place but a different trip.

I will have the kids with me.
He will have the kids with him.
He and I will actually be in all the same places, at the same time (except for maybe the Starbucks) and sleeping in the same bed.

So how is it a different trip? I will be taking a well organized, thought out, paid for in advance, itineraries included vacation. The Hubs on the other hand will be taking a magical excursion where things materialize in front of you, kind of like Disneyland, but without the kids, cartoon characters and rides.

How does this happen, you may wonder? Well, let me tell you...

Packing.  I am in charge of making sure that 3 people are fully outfitted for a trip from the desert where it is a balmy 78 degrees everyday to Iceland and London, in the winter. That means coats, shirts, flannels, socks, boots, gloves, pants and hats in addition to all the "regular" stuff like deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, medications, blah, blah, blah. As a rule, we do not own all of this stuff. Each of us owns some, but no one owns all, so this requires an advance inspection of what each person has available and trips to the mall.

The Hubs is bringing whatever he wants and buying whatever he forgets.

Iceland is cold

Travel. I am in charge of producing passports, complete with required pictures and accompanying documents, for all 4 of us. Additionally we will all have ID's for backup because you can't turn teenagers loose in a foreign country with their one and only passport and hope to ever get them home. They lose glasses, socks, shoes and jackets at alarming rate, they cannot be trusted with anything important. I have scheduled all 6 of the flights with enough time for changing airlines in Denver and will be bringing the paper copies of the tickets just in case. I have suitcases for everyone and am up to date on baggage rules.

The Hubs will show up at the airport when I tell him and *poof* be whisked away.

Accommodations.  I am in charge of choosing the Air BnB apartment we are staying at in London, finding the nearest tube stop to get there and figuring out what amenities it has. I have also chosen the hotel in Iceland based on location and ability to see the northern lights if they come out. I have picked and reserved the rental car in Iceland after deciding that is must be automatic since the Hubs gets airsick and might not be able to drive when we land and I don't do stick shift. It is big enough to fit all of us and our luggage. The hotel has a bed for everyone individually and will wake us up for the northern lights so no one has to be disturbed who doesn't want to be (read: Hubs). This involved 3 different websites, a couple hours of research, about 10 emails and 2 confirmations numbers.

The Hubs will sleep when he is tired.

Itineraries.  I am in charge of booking the date and time of the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, London travel card passes so we can use the tube, finding out where to get the red tour buses from out apartment and choosing a tour company, a date and booking a trip to stonehenge, all paid for in advance. I am also in charge of figuring out where we are so we can get on the stonehenge tour bus at the right pick up place, where that pick up place is and how to get there from our apartment and what time we have to be there, or all money is forfeited. 

The Hubs will hop on a bus and enjoy!

Details.  I have obtained a converter to charge the electronics. I have downloaded apps so we can call each other and home. I have had all my credit cards replaced with cards with chips in them. I have notified the bank and credit card companies of our travel plans. I have cash and know where it can be exchanged upon arrival. I have google earthed our apartment and know where the nearest grocery stores and restaurants are because we will be arriving late and everyone will be hungry.

The Hubs is looking forward to eating fish and chips.

You see....same vacation, only different. And in all reality, this is probably my own fault anyway. I insisted we go on this trip because the Hubs really sees no point in traveling too much. I'm also a control freak and the idea of anyone else being in charge of all this would make my skin crawl because they would totally do it wrong!

But here is a fun fact.....the credit card companies only let you order a new card if your name is on it. So guess whose credit cards will work and whose won't?