To Isafjorđur… or Not

Smart car

“Oh, what a cute little car!”

Today we woke up, cleaned the cool-ass little apartment up, and checked out. We agreed we would miss the little pad, with its garish cow duvet and supremely convenient closet-kitchenette. If I could travel the world and secure such an apartment for myself everywhere I went, why, I should be quite content indeed.

We trotted over to GUESTHOUSE BALDURSBRÁ to drop off our luggage for storage: the woman running the place agreed to hold onto the largest bags for us while we carried smaller gear with us. We walked from the guesthouse to the airport—I have to say it like that because the concept tickles me so—arriving at 10:30 a.m. for our 11:45 a.m. flight north to Isafjorđur. We were going to touch down in what amounted to a glorified fishing village, stay at GAMLA GISTHÚSIÐ, and take in some local sights. It’s a very harsh clime, as the popular outdoor clothing chain 66° North likes to advertise: their models are rugged-looking men, women, and children wearing their coats in the rockiest, stormiest, freezingest environments.

Rebecca on the highway

Rebecca hikes to the local airport, because it’s near.

That’s what I like about their marketing campaign, actually. It’s the exact opposite of an SUV campaign. SUV manufacturers try to sell you one of their crap vehicles, suggesting to you that you might actually go off a road with it. You might actually take it into some woods. You could someday haul something as rough as a log in it, or maybe a crate of provisions. Suggestions, hints, allusions, and half-promises are what SUV manufacturers offer you, and no more than that because we all know those stupid things cannot handle dirt roads or slight grades, and they’re so stupidly top-heavy they’re looking for an excuse to roll end-over-end and lodge in a gully. As for 66° North, they’re all, “We are all freezing and wet on a volcanic rock in the middle of an ocean. We make very effective clothes for us.” It is a refreshing change, pragmatism versus hyperbole.

Icelandic goose

“The airport? It’s just past our breeding ground.”

(I read this entry to Rebecca and she interrupted me to point out I have not mentioned how lax the security was at this airport. “It had less security that a bus station!” she said. “It had less security than a Barnes & Noble!” It’s true: you walk into their domestic flights airport, a low, flat building with a front desk and a waiting room lined with video slot machines, and that’s that. No guns, no Customs officials, no metal detectors. This, from the country whose President lists his personal phone number in the phone book. Can you even imagine?)

Anyway, we never made it up to Isafjorđur because all the flights were being delayed. We were immediately told by the friendly, sympathetic service desk that the weather up north was terrible and we would receive an update at 11:00 a.m.

Reykjavik airport

Waiting for the next cancellation takes a lot out of a girl.

At 11:00 a.m. our flight was listed as delayed; update at noon.

At noon our flight was listed as delayed; update at 1:00 p.m.

I canceled our tickets at this point and the airport was very gracious about a full refund. They said this happens all the time and it’s just not safe to try to force a plane up there when it’s like that. While the airline did not formally cancel any flights, the clerk assured me there would be no flights up to Isafjorđur this day.

Town before mountains

At least the scenery is lovely, as we hike around the airport.

Unfortunately, Gamla Gisthúsið was not nearly so gracious. The woman I talked to on the phone asked me whether our flight had been technically canceled. It had not, so she insisted she could not offer any kind of a refund. I relayed to her all the information the airport guy had given me—the airport guy let me use his phone to place this call—but she was adamant: no refund until the airport actually used the word “canceled.” Perhaps she felt we were too lazy to rent a car and make the quick five-hour jaunt up north to enjoy their oppressive weather system; we were just being petty. All I can do is give her a poor review here: lousy customer service at Gamla Gisthúsið.

High spirits

A delightful traveling companion is worth her weight in gold.

Rebecca and I walked back to Baldursbrá and explained our situation to Evelyn, the caretaker (originally from France). She did not have a room for us that night—we thought we would be returning the next day—but she did recommend her friend who runs GALTAFELL GUESTHOUSE, down the street. We were disappointed not to get to stay at Baldursbrá because we would have had access to a nice hot tub and a grill, but we were still grateful she could make such an arrangement for us like this.

Galtafell Guesthouse

Galtafell Guesthouse: real hospitality.

The woman who runs Galtafell greeted us, anticipating us from her friend’s phone call, and told us the arrangements. Rebecca was surprised and quoted the somewhat lower price we were expecting. It was the caretaker’s turn to look dismayed, and she asked us if we had gotten our information from the Lonely Planet guide? We had. She sighed and explained many other travelers had come to her asking for a rate she didn’t offer because it had been published erroneously, and all her attempts to contact the Lonely Planet editors had been unsuccessful. She couldn’t hold it against us and let us stay for the lower price, which I thought was exceedingly generous of her.

Cafe Tivoli's menu

Cafe Tivoli’s menu.

We got set up in our room, a very attractive little bedroom with a gorgeous vintage bathroom (beware the sloped ceiling, though, when getting out of the tub), stored our perishables in the communal kitchen, and went out to walk around some more. Being Sunday, most places appeared closed but we got lunch at CAFE TIVOLI: fish and chips and a strange mushroom burger with shredded ham and cucumbers. Europeans and their ubiquitous cucumbers… what’s with that? Are Americans like that with ketchup? No, because there are some things we don’t put ketchup on; the same cannot be said of the European cuke. Anyway, our waitstaff, a plump, severe young woman, was attentive and diligent, if inaccessibly formal, but when Rebecca praised her at the end of the meal, the woman lit up with a surprisingly bright smile.

And inevitably we ended up at Café Paris because we liked it so much. We had our usual coffee and dessert: I wonder if I ever ordered anything besides their Swiss mocha? Rebecca appreciated their cappuccino. Outside, it was a very windy day and it pained me to see any litter in the town, and at one point I had to step outside and pick up some newspapers and industrial wrapping materials that had plastered themselves to a street light or some other fixture.

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