Reykjavik, February 2018

Ever since I heard about the Icelandair free layover, I knew I had to incorporate it into one of my trips. Because seeing the northern lights was on my bucket list, when I had a chance to go to Amsterdam in February, it all appeared to fall into place. After spending my first scheduled layover day in Amsterdam airport, however, I had a bad feeling that the rest of the trip was doomed to fail. Nonetheless, I stayed optimistic for all my plans and knew that at the very least, I would acquire an Iceland tattoo. Because I did not want to leave any large areas of skin on my body untouched by a needle, I had to fill in the rest of my butt, and the colors of the northern sky seemed like an appropriate background for the moon that was already there.

I was stuck in Amsterdam airport due to a bad snowstorm in Reykjavik, and when we finally landed at 1:30 a.m., the sky was not black, but white with snow. The snow caused baggage delays, which meant another hour wait there, and the delays and canceled flights caused huge lines for the bus, which was yet another hour wait. With the bad roads and all the stops on the bus route, I did not get into my hotel until 5 a.m. and I had an all-day excursion that morning at 8 a.m. It was almost pointless to have paid for a hotel that night.

After a two hour nap, I woke up, and headed out for the Golden Circle Tour. I had checked with multiple people that the tour would get me back to Reykjavik by 6, because I had a 9 p.m. flight out that evening for Nuuk. After being reassured yet again by the tour guide that he would make sure I would make my flight, I settled comfortably onto the bus. The comfort would not last, however, because I was alone and single people are seldom catered to. There was a couple that made it late to the bus and there were no empty seats left. They were separated and were whining about not sitting together, so I was moved from my seat. For the whole tour, I was stuck in the middle of a family that kept talking and passing their cameras over me because both the father and the daughter insisted on the window seats for photo opportunities, rather than all sitting together with me on the outside of them. By the end of the tour, however, I had made nice with the father and we at least had some decent conversation.

Our first stop was more of a bathroom break, but the visitor center had a fault line exhibit with a plexiglass floor showing the crack between the North American and European faults. I never knew such things could be visible, so I was truly fascinated. We then stopped at a volcanic crater, which we could walk around, but we were warned it was really slippery because the rocks were covered with snow and ice. We only had a few minutes there, so instead of rushing a potentially precarious situation, I chose to walk around only a little bit and then went back to the bus. I have seen images of this crater in the warmer months, with its blue watery bottom, rather than a frozen lake, and I think it would be more interesting then.

The third stop was Gullfoss, the spectacular two-tiered waterfall, and we were able to spend quite a bit of time there. I walked to every point along its rushing waters and took one gorgeous snapshot after another. Waterfalls are beautiful any time of year, but seeing these waters so alive and powerful among a frozen, snow-covered landscape was quite a magical sight.

We then visited a geyser, which was unlike any geyser I had ever seen. Other geysers tend to erupt infrequently, but spout for a while, while this one erupted every five minutes and only did one quick, tall blast of steaming water and then nothing. Capturing it on film took a couple of tries as I had to snap it at the right moment. At least it was not a very long wait until the next eruption. The rest of the site was typical of a geyser field, with steaming pools and sulfuric rocks, but surrounded by snow and ice.

The last stop was a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasion tectonic plates. It was otherworldly to be walking between the snow-covered plates. I almost expected alien creatures to start springing out of the ground and attacking us as we walked the continental drift. On the way back to Reykjavik, the tour guide played us some of his band’s music, which was cool. The bus then dropped me off near the airport, so that I could easily make my flight to Greenland.

When I arrived back in Iceland, again delayed by winter storms, it was evening. All three of my flights into Iceland had been delayed or canceled, almost like the country did not want me there. I had missed my day tour along the southern coast and was extremely upset about it. I considered canceling my tattoo appointment to go on the tour the next day, but crossing countries off my world map was more of a priority. I figured I could always do another layover in warmer weather and see the other half of the sights in a completely different way. I had also arrived too late to go on a northern lights tour, so I hoped I would be able to see them the next day, as that would be my last night in Iceland.

That night I went to an Irish pub to drown my sorrows and experience some of the night life. Icelanders speak English really well and the city was full of tourists, so I thought I could even make some friends. I was sitting alone, enjoying a Guinness and some beer nuts when a toothless man approached me. He asked me some questions, which I first politely answered, but when he started berating me for being on my phone, I became annoyed that he was not getting the hint. Although I asked him repeatedly to stop talking to me and told him that I was not interested, he continued to ask me inane questions and hover over me. The bartenders even had to start yelling at him to leave me alone. Finally, at the end, he whispered, “you will remember me,” and walked away. It was super creepy and I was nervous walking back to my hotel, looking over my shoulder every couple of minutes to make sure he was not following me. But, he was right, I will remember him and am even memorializing him in this blog.

I had my tattoo appointment the next day at Irezumi Ink. I chose the shop for its reviews, location, and portfolios. I did not choose an artist, as I honestly could not tell from their Facebook page who exactly was working there, but I trusted the shop manager to match me up with someone who could take on my idea. When I arrived at the shop, I was surprised by how small it was. There was barely room for two artists, let alone the three that were there. When I was arranging the appointment, the shop warned me there was no privacy and my butt would be out in the open for all to see. I told them it would not bother me; it is just a butt. The artist I was matched up with was very young and looked nervous. I think his name was Bjorn and he was twenty-one years old and Icelandic. I was surprised to discover that he was married and already a father. Another Icelander walked in later for a tattoo who also looked like a child and he was married too.

I had on a G-string so that my front was covered, but allowed the artist full access to both cheeks. I requested that all the negative space be filled in with a northern light scene. I intended for the color be touching or almost touching all the surrounding pieces. I also wanted the sky to be the background for the other work already on my cheeks. He drew some squiggles on my cheeks where the green would be and told me he would fill the space in between with some blues. I could not see very well what his drawing would look like, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. He was extremely slow, doing one color at a time and blending in the other colors. It was clear he was new at this because I believe a more seasoned artist would have knocked out the tattoo in much less time. He asked me if I wanted to fill a blank spot with the Viking Compass, Vegvisir, which was meant as protection for travelers. Surprised that there were going to be any blank spots to fill, I agreed. He showed me the symbol, but I did not know anything about it so I just nodded wearily and let him do whatever he wanted.

After he finished, I looked in the mirror and was very disappointed. This was another reminder to always choose the artist. If the shop did not allow it, I would need to choose a different shop. To me, I did not see northern lights. It looked too cluttered and there was not enough contrast between the blue and the green. I was hoping for a deeper blue to depict the night sky. When I saw how much of the light blue he was using, I should have asked him to go darker, but he was from Iceland and I had never even seen the northern lights the way I wanted them depicted on my butt, so I trusted that he knew what he was doing. Seeing photos now, I know that the sky can be that light of a blue, but as a tattoo, I still think it would have looked better among a darker sky. Also, I wanted my whole butt filled in, rather than swaths of color surrounding the other existing pieces. If the sky was going to be so light, the “expensive art” lettering and Kokopelli would have easily stood out. Considering how long it took him to do so little, however, if he would have done my entire butt, I would have been there all night. Plus, when I looked up the Viking symbol later I realized that as placed, it is turned 90 degrees to the right. It was his idea, he knew what the symbol looked like, and he did not even place it correctly.

That night I was scheduled for a northern lights tour, but it was canceled due to poor visibility. I was heartbroken, but considering my awful luck with my trip thus far, no bad news surprised me anymore. To appease myself, I opted for a seven course dinner to try some elevated Icelandic food. Unfortunately, the anti-single sentiment struck again, and it was only meant for two or more people. I begged the waiter to ask the kitchen to make an exception and thankfully for my rumbling belly, they did. I tried minke whale, which tasted like meat, and puffin, which tasted like fish. I also had a number of other fish courses and lamb. There was a lot of smoked fish, which after Greenland, I was beginning not to like. There was also a delicious skyr dessert, which I enjoyed. I was extremely full afterwards and only had the energy to go to bed.

I was flying out the evening of the next day, so I only had time to walk around the city, which was nice. I walked over to the shore, which was extremely windy. I walked through the touristy shopping areas and did a little souvenir shopping. I walked up to the cathedral, which was beautiful, but I did not venture inside. I do not know why I did not think to go inside because now I think I would have liked to. Maybe next time. In fact, that was the theme of the trip: there is always next time. The weather robbed me of two days in Iceland, which for a short trip, is a lot. I missed out on so much and still did not see the northern lights, not even in the Iceland tattoo on my butt. The Vegvisir being placed on its side almost made sense considering how wayward my travels ended up being.

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