Our snowblond Icelandic flight attendant welcomes us to her country with a Reykjavik Excursions brochure.
The front features an acid-green sky punctuated by jagged volcanic boulders and obscurred by fog. A forboding coat advertisement reads, “This is Dyrafjordur. The sea temperature is 5°C. On a good day.” The Land Before Time, the story of dinosaur extinction, set a more hospitable scene.
How did we manage to vacation somewhere with worse weather than Britain?
Later that day…“How long is the walk to center city?” Dave and I smile eagerly at the Hilton receptionist, Inka.
“10 minutes by taxi,” Inka replies. “Walking… Not usually attempted.”
The city looks close so Dave and I stroll out the door and wave off the taxis. We step blithely onto the sidewalk and skid 5 meters on black ice. We recover and cantelever ourselves off one another, rolling across passing surfaces such as parked cars, bushes and a friendly fire hydrant.
By the time we make it 5 more meters, the sky opens an ambush of ice darts. Chunks of sleet blow parallel to the ground, forcing their way up our noses. A grey-white fog blends sky and ground. The Icelandic gods have captured us in a snowglobe.
While Dave pioneers the sidewalk, I home-base slide back through the revolving hotel door.
“Where can we find a taxi?” I query. Inka, ready for this, lifts the phone and a taxi appears in 60 seconds.
At the other end of the cab ride Dave and I slide into center city Reykjavik, where row upon row of identical brown houses rises to meet us. This is surely Walmart’s house warehouse. We visit the local market, an actual warehouse of fish and fur products. The thick odor of dead animal permeates the air. In search of donuts, we set back into the cold.
What dazzled me is the local winterwear – or lack thereof. Icelanders strut casually through hail wearing rolled-up sleeves and shorts with stockings. They demonstrate the same imperviousness to snow that the British show towards rain. (It blows my mind to watch suited Londoners mill about oblivious to rainfall, dripping like porpoises and reading molting copies of The Financial Times. As if the umbrella were never invented.)
Through the mist we spot a neon sign that reads “English Pub” and dash to it. The beverages on tap include Tuborg, Gull and Vodkashot. Not English, but delicious.
Luck runs short in the evening when Reykjavik Excursions cancels our Northern Lights tour due to blizzard conditions.
Tomorrow, Day 2: Things look up as we probe geysers and reckon with furry native species of the north.