Posted by: jeanne | June 9, 2016

our 4-day trip to iceland, part 1

i’ve been planning for months – take jim and both the grandboys and fly off to iceland, rent a camper, tour the south, and come back again.  and no matter what i did to put off the day, it finally came, and we started off.


i picked up a rental car not at the airport, and drove down to pick up avery at the bus stop on his second to last day of school (i misread the school calendar when booking the flight), and we drove back to the house, an hour and a half each way.  a walk around the park compared to what came next.

i let jim handle getting the kids fed and putting them to bed – i packed up the car and went to bed.  (it was packed in several stages – 4 backpacks and one piece of checked luggage to go to iceland, clothes and toys and bedding to remain in the car, change of clothes for the stay in dc).  i didn’t actually sleep, but i rested until midnight, then roused the boys long enough to go pee and get into their seatbelts, and then, everybody padded with pillows and blankets, started off.

only to realize i didn’t have my distance glasses, and without them it’s a lot of anxious driving in the dark.  so we circled back.  we had the great good fortune to have a pair of really cool housesitters who were at that moment taking the dogs for their final walk of the night (they happened to be up when my alarm went off, and heard the commotion), so we got to mystify them by driving by twice.

i refuse to take the interstate northward the regular way.  most people take i-85 or even i-95.  but they are always under construction, and go thru the ridiculously populous eastern seaboard, city by city until it’s all megalopolis.  so i go thru the mountains.  i-81, a truckers’ route, with only one large city on my route.  mountains, valleys, stunning scenery, polite and learned traffic.  it’s an hour longer by mileage, but who cares when we’re talking a 10-12 hour drive to begin with?


sunrise in southern virginia coincided with overwhelming tiredness on my part, so i pulled over twice, once behind some trucks on an offramp, once at a rest stop where the kids practiced for icelandic pools using the outdoor water fountains; jim was in charge.  when we got back in the car i put the pillows and blankets away and got out the cookie sheets and the bag of car toys, including transformers and lego avengers.  thousands of tiny pieces in one ziplock bag; tell me.

by noon we were in charlottesville, where i always take the opportunity to visit with my old friend jimmy, from back in college days a hundred years ago.  he’s still full of piss and vinegar, but it’s begun to mellow into a soft wine at this point.  the boys played with their lego things, ignored us while we caught up and jim and jim discussed art.  i went out and lay in the grass, looked up at the trees, listened to the critters in the woods.  then, restored, we made it to my brother mikie’s in the wilds of what used to be farmland, northern virginia.  they have to live west of the airport, and spend way more than anybody ought to pay for cardboard ticky-tacky mcmansions, in order to call dc their home.  but they do, and they love it, and it was virginia green and lush lush lush.  but by then all i wanted to do was sleep.


so the boys played with the cousins, and my brother buddy’s kids, also cousins, and the grownups talked about what to do about mom.  we’re working together to get her situated before she falls and breaks something.  she’s 83.


next morning we let the kids play instead of a long and involved meeting of the family in some restaurant in dc, which plan went by the board as soon as i got there.  and when it was time to go to the airport, mikie drove us in his van and dropped us off right there at the main terminal.  thanks mikie.

from there it was smooth sailing.  grandpa can’t walk that far in airports, so we got him a wheelchair, and were catapulted to the front of every line, for which we’re very thankful.  we sat in the back of the plane, on the left side so we’d be facing northish the whole time, and settled in with the bag of airplane toys.  including transformers and lego avengers (a different batch).


wow airlines – my brother the airline pilot scoffed (“you don’t want wow, you want dull.  dull airlines”), but i love them.  not only did four tickets cost only slightly more than one ticket on delta or icelandair, (yes i know you have to pay for your checked luggage, and yes you have to bring your own food, and yes there’s no inflight entertainment provided), but the captain stopped and talked to connor, and the gate agent when we left was the same gate agent and remembered us when we came back (so did the wheelchair guy – next time we tip), they ran a great flight and there was no unpleasantness at all, aside from the seats – the days of luxury travel for the masses has dried up temporarily…


the sun went down in the northwest, since we were only in baltimore, and when it rose an hour or two later we were over greenland.  it was still in the northwest, not the east or the northeast, but only a little ways on from where it went down.  the kids were asleep so i couldn’t point it out, but i sat and puzzled it thru for some time.  too cool.  i could see greenland turn blue in the dawning light, could barely make out the brushed effect of a glacier making its way down to the ocean.  the black exposed mountains were visible even in the gloom, but the ice was hard to tell from clouds until the sun was further up.  the ice didn’t look fluffy.  and then we were back over clouds and the ocean, and by the time it was fully light and everybody was up, we were coming down into keflavik.  wheelchair time again, and we were thru and out the front doors and on the flybus before anybody else.

the kids went to sleep on the ride into reykjavik, as do many, but jim and i watched the lava fields roll by with amazement, seeing a lump of lava as big as a house, with a tiny sharp point on top, like a chocolate kiss, like a nipple, like a little hat.  and there was house-sized lump after lump as far as the eye could see.  no doubt some of the humanlike rock forms were built by tourists or locals, but mainly they were thrown into that position as molten lava and have deteriorated in the thousands of years since.  iceland is full of human shapes, wherever you look, at whatever scale.

we got dropped off in hafnarfjordur, at the front of a hotel, so we asked them to call a taxi, and got a lift the only a couple of blocks to the camper place, which wasn’t open yet for another hour or so.  so, it being iceland, none of the campers were locked, so i put jim in the passenger seat and the boys and i played.  the boys found a ball.  the elves made me a present of an apple someone had tossed into the bin before closing the night before.  it was dry, with cool clouds you don’t get in temperate climates, and about 50 degrees.  we’d unpacked the down jackets and gloves the moment we landed (everybody had them in their own backpacks, and avery and connor carried all their own clothes themselves).

kuku campers – quick, efficient, mechanically sound, like a well-oiled family.  the french girl who’d just started working there yesterday arrived first, an hour before the place opened.  then someone arrived, grabbed a clipboard, and he and la francaise went off to the airport to pick up arriving passengers (wish i’d known).  so we waited some more, and then the owner came, still early, and opened up.  they’re a great team of people, and their vans are all good to go.

note – in iceland, good to go does not mean new.  nor does it mean pretty.  it might mean beat up and still working, because in an environment like iceland, “still working” is five stars.  pretty doesn’t mean anything.  the landscape is pretty.  still working means you can get the enormous distances from one roadside attraction to the other, in a working vehicle that can be trusted to continue working until you turn it back in at the end of your trip.

it is the same with everything.  the coffee machine in the super secret swimming pool dispenses only coffee and espresso, and never mind the other buttons, because some silly tourist broke them, but it still makes coffee and that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?  iceland is not prepared for the hundreds of millions of visitors it’s beginning to get every year, and it’s greatly affecting a bunch of small places these tourists funnel thru.

the camper folks were kind enough to let me have a wool blanket shipped to them, because i arrived on a sunday morning, wasn’t going in the direction of any wool stores, needed a blanket in the camper (boy did we, as it turned out), and didn’t want to buy one online and ship it to my house in atlanta and pack it into my suitcase and bring it back to iceland.  so the company, who never receives requests to ship their tourist stuff domestically, ruefully agreed and sent a blanket to the camper folks (thanks so much alexia).  i included a knitted shawl too, just for me…  so i stopped at the duty free when we’d cleared customs (yes, iceland has duty free for people coming into the country, as well as leaving) and got a ridiculously cheap bottle of wine as thanks for the big favor.

our camper was the largest of the paved-road vehicles – sleeps 5.  it was a ford transit-type hitop van, with seats for 3 in the truck cab, and in the space behind the seats they built cubbies for a cooler, a sink, water, counter space, and all the trimmings stowed underneath, including a propane burner and fire extinguisher.  we got a power inverter for our chargers, brought two dozen cds (jim’s choice), and loaded everything we’d brought.  the boys inhabited the back exclusively (i swear they didn’t look up once, even tho there were windows on both sides).  there were two bench seats lining both sides of the back end of the camper.  the side door opened on to the kitchen area, and the bench seats were built around the wheel wells and back to the rear doors.  between the benches was a table on a pedestal, which lifted up and stowed inelegantly in the kitchen area when it was time for bed.  the boys got to sleep in a loft which stayed loftlike the whole time.  the seat belts were two, on the bench seat behind the driver’s seat, so the boys belted in when we moved.  we used the table to eat breakfast and dinner, and the boys used it for their avengers and little else the rest of the time.


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