In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Just in case you missed it, Iceland has a lot of water. First of all, it's an island. There is water all around it. Secondly, there are hot springs under the surface all over the country. Third, there are glaciers covering 11% of the land. Fourth, they still have rivers running all over the place (probably either from the hot springs or the glaciers).

The hot springs are a great natural resource. The hot springs provide heat and electricity for the whole country. People pay next to nothing for heat. In fact, our host, Gunnar, told us that we should sleep with the windows open and turn up the heat, so we can get fresh air. Electric companies drill down into the underwater springs, where the water is at about 300 degrees. It comes out as steam, so they put turbines on it, and that creates electricity.

They run the steam all over the country with these pipes. The pipes are angled so that the steam doesn't get too fast.

The country's water comes from the hot springs or from the glaciers. That means that the hot water is scalding and the cold water is freezing. You will always need to mix the two!

The hot springs also create the incredibly warm public pools. No matter how small a town is, it probably has a public pool. These pools usually consist of a lap pool, a play pool, and a number of "hot pots", which are little hot tubs that can range from 104-115 degrees. The locals go every day (often at the same time each day) to swim laps and sit in the hot pots. Even on the coldest days, they will sit in the hot pots.

Our family decided that we should do some activities at the pool. We ended up going to various pools about five times during our time in Iceland.

The largest pool in Reykjavik is called Laugardalslaug, and it's the pool that we went to the most often. The first day, we just spent about 5 hours at the pool. It was not a hot day, so we sort of ran into the water. This place was huge, with both indoor and outdoor pools, walkways all over the place, and different temperatures of water, divided into little mini-pools.

All in all, I tried to experience everything that the pool had to offer. I tried to swim a lap or two, but I'm not very in shape. There were several different types of hot pots, each one getting hotter than the last one. I only spent a couple of minutes in the hottest of them all. There was also a steam room. It was dark, but you could sit and sweat to the hiss of the steam coming out. We also learned that there was massage available. An hour massage was about $40 (it will be cheaper now with a weaker exchange rate). We couldn't get in that day, but we signed up for the next day. In all, we came back to Laugardalslaug three times. Two times involved massage (and more swimming!).

On Saturday, the place was packed with everyone, young and old, pregnant women, senior citizens, young "pretty people", and foreigners (us!). There was one really nice hot pot that was bigger and decorated with rocks (although you can't see the rocks in the photo). That's where my family spent the most time:

Richard had some fun playing with his water-proof camera bag and the water line while I sat in what I though was the "kiddie" pool, but was hotter than the others. Apparently, people use it for sunbathing when it's cold out:

One evening, we also went to a pool much closer to our guest house, Vesturbæjarlaug. It was quite a bit smaller, with the lap pool only being half as long. It also had three hot pots and a steam room. We only spent a few hours there in the evening (most of the other days, we were there at mid-day).

The final place we went was not a public pool, but more of a resort. The Blue Lagoon started as a place to put hot water after it was done being used by a nearby power plant. Eventually, someone noticed that the water reacted with the volcanic rocks, creating a silica mud.

The silica makes the water this glowing blue color that is very cloudy. You can see how cloudy the water is from this photo, taken soon after we got there.

Eventually, someone realized that silica is good for your skin, and can help to heal skin problems like cirrhosis or eczema. Since then, they have built a clinic, a spa, and a hotel around the same area.

We went here on our last day in Iceland, just before getting on the plane. We did most of the recommended activities that were listed on the web site (except for eat and drink a lot):
  • A refreshing shower and use of Blue Lagoon shower gel and conditioner.
  • We opted to get an in-water massage, which lasted an hour. An in water massage is so different from a table massage. You lay on a floating mattress, partially submerged. When we were there, we had full sun, so my face got a little sun on it. This is my mom getting her treatment.
  • Applying Blue Lagoon silica mud mask provided in boxes around the lagoon.This is supposed to keep your face soft and supple.
Of course, Richard and I think that if a little is good, then a lot must be better:
  • An energizing massage under the Blue Lagoon waterfall.The water really pounds down. Notice how much my family "enjoys" the waterfall.
  • A geothermal steam bath and sauna followed by a refreshing cold water sprinkle.
Richard and I also found a little cave that was out of the sun.

Of course, the Blue Lagoon also sells all sorts of health and beauty products that incorporate the silica and alge that makes the Blue Lagoon so famous.

All of this is to say that when you visit Iceland, don't underestimate the role that water plays in Iceland's daily life. Next, we'll talk about water in a wilder form: the waterfalls and the geysers.


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