I’m back! I’m sorry to have left everyone waiting for so long. Iceland and Kleine Fabriek (and a Madonna concert sandwiched in between!) left me far more exhausted than I expected. I took the week to unplug and rest, and it was good for me… it was what my body needed. But now I’m back with lots of Iceland stories and lots of good things to share. Your patience will be rewarded!
Before I left for Iceland, the weather forecast for Reykjavik seriously freaked me out.: 8℃ to 16℃ (colder than already-chilly Amsterdam) and raining all week. I was so not in the mood for cold and rain that I dragged Marlon into a long discussion of the pros and cons of canceling our trip and booking a last-minute escape to sunny Croatia.
In the end, we decided to go anyway, and I decided to calm myself by (over)packing for crappy weather. Among the contents of my suitcase: an umbrella, Timberland combat boots (my only “sensible”, quasi-outdoor shoes), Uniqlo Heattech tops, two wool sweaters, several pairs of wool socks, two wool scarves, a knit headband, fleece leggings, a raincoat and a wool peacoat. So, which of these many garments did I actually end up using within hours of my arrival in Reykjavik?
None of the above. The answer is… my bathing suit!
With an evening arrival in Reykjavik, Marlon and I had just about enough time and energy to check into our apartment, have dinner, and do one other thing. When we found out that Laugardalslaug, the largest geothermal swimming pool in Iceland, was just a 10-minute walk from our apartment, it became clear what that “one other thing” had to be.
In volcanic Iceland, it seems that sitting around in hot water is a national pastime. (Interesting factoid: in 2000, each Reykjavik resident went swimming at least 15 times!) And it seems there’s no bigger place to do it than Laugardalslaug, which boasts an Olympic-size indoor pool, 50m outdoor pool, whirlpool, steam bath, 86m water slide, and four “hot pots.”
Now, in the part of the world I come from, a hot pot refers to this:
But in Iceland, it refers to the little pool of churning hot water that’s sunk into the ground, like this:
The heitir pottar, or hot pot, is a cornerstone of Icelandic social life; it’s where Icelanders go to socialize, chat, gossip and relax. At Laugardalslaug, anyone who’s feeling chatty (or beat up from a flight, as we were) can choose among pools heated from 29℃ (mellow and gentle) to 44℃ (almost painful at first, but fantastic after some initial discomfort), as well as a pool with water from the nearby Atlantic Ocean, heated to a relaxing 40℃. The pools at Laugardalslaug, like 90% of swimming pools in Iceland, are heated with the country’s own abundant natural, geothermal energy.
And they. Are. Heavenly. I hereby renounce the Asian hot pot and now deem the Icelandic hot pot as my favorite use of the term. I also officially declare the Icelandic hot pot my official favorite way to relax after a flight, a title previously held by the cheap Bangkok foot massage.
Before you get to these bubbling cauldrons of bliss, there are a few odd hurdles to surmount, such as Icelandic pool dressing rooms. They are obsessively clean and have their own strict etiquette, enforced by “shower police” (not kidding). No shoes (or even flip-flops) are allowed inside. Everyone is required to wash thoroughly in the communal shower, with shampoo and soap, without a bathing suit, before being allowed access to the pools.
Then, you have to dash, barefoot and in your suit, in the frigid 9℃ air, to the nearest warm pool. Brrr! (Oh, and the Icelanders, these descendants of Vikings, don’t dash. They saunter.)
My advice: just do it. It’s worth it! Five minutes in a steaming, swirling hot pot (with jets of hot water pounding at your tired limbs) and you’ll forget about your injured modesty, your bumpy flight, the miserable Dutch summer you left behind, your husband’s name. I know I did!