Chilling Out, Icelandic Style

The Icelandic people are laidback. Very laidback. It makes for a great atmosphere to hang out in, but it can also be frustrating at times. They are not very forthcoming with information, and trying to get answers can be like trying to get blood out of a stone. Booking excursions was a bit of an effort, all they wanted to know was a rough number of how many people wanted to go about an hour before the bus departed. In most countries, they would have jumped on the sale straight away and had me signed up for one, if not two, different excursions every day of my stay.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe laidback approach of the Icelandic also affects their organisational skills. One of the excursions I really wanted to do, and was eventually able to book, is the Blue Lagoon. The two main bus companies on the island have regular transfers to and from the Lagoon, and the receptionist at my hostel told me to inform the bus driver which transfer I wanted to return on. However, when I asked the driver he said ‘You don’t have to book, just turn up. The buses are 2pm, 4pm and 6pm’. Having worked in the travel industry, this seemed like a crazy way to do business to me. What if everyone decided to return on the same bus? They had no way of knowing how many people were going to turn up. Lo and behold, at 4pm, the owner of the company arrived driving a MINIBUS, and it was clear that we weren’t all going to fit on. As luck would have it, the other bus company had one spare seat, which they gave to me, and our driver paid their driver 1000 kroner cash to take me back to Reykjavik. If the same thing were to happen where I used to work in Greece or Austria, the tour operator would be horrified at the possibility of having to leave someone behind. But hey, this is Iceland, and that’s how things are done here. It’s a bit disorganised, but a solution always seems to present itself.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAfter spending four hours in the Lagoon, I was way too relaxed to argue anyway. The Blue Lagoon is by far the most touristy place I encountered whilst in Iceland. Three or four coaches arrived at the same time, and I had to join a huge queue at the entrance. ‘Oh great’, I thought, ‘it’s going to be packed inside’. It was also the only place that I saw prices quoted in euros. I’m not quite sure why they do that, though, as when I went to pay the lady she charged me in kroner anyway. The Lagoon is the most expensive attraction in this part of the island, but it is definitely worth treating yourself. My worries about it being too busy soon faded, the Lagoon is so big that there is room for everyone.

This may make me sound stupid, but I didn’t realise that the Lagoon is actually blue. You can’t see through the water at all, which didn’t do anything to help my phobia of not being able to see what I’m standing on. I tried to swim as much as I could, but the swimming costume I rented was a bit too big and I couldn’t be bothered to go back to reception to swap it, so I was also trying to hold that up at the same time. To be fair to the lady on reception, it’s probably really hard to guess someones dress size when they’re wearing four layers, a hat, gloves and snood.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAIn contrast to the freezing temperatures outside, the Lagoon is really warm. There is no control over the temperature as the water comes from the geothermal springs and the power plant next door, so jets of almost unbearably hot water will suddenly cross your path and wake you up a bit. It’s also the only time I’ve ever seen a lifeguard wearing padded trousers, a padded high-visibility jacket, work boots, thermal gloves, a scarf and a hat. I did hear one lady question what use he would actually be if someone got into trouble in the water.

Down one side of the Lagoon there is silica that you can put on your skin to use as a face mask, or if you really want to spoil yourself you can book a treatment in the spa pool. Right in the middle of the Lagoon is a bar that sells refreshingly cold drinks, and everything is paid for with electronic armbands to make it super easy. In stark contrast to everywhere else I went in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is actually really well organised. It had the feel of being in a really nice, private health club, with staff on hand to help you at all times and luxurious little touches like mineral spa shower gel and conditioner in the showers and fluffy white towels and dressing gowns.

Juggling

Most of the new activities that I have tried have been ones that I have sought out. I hear about them from friends, I see something on TV or I pick up a flyer from a community noticeboard and I have to give it a try for myself. Sometimes, though, new activities have a habit of finding you. New hobbies can come from the strangest of places, and you never know where they will take you.

There’s a nine year age gap between me and my older brother Mark. When we were growing up, he was always coming home with new gadgets and toys that he would be obsessed with for a few weeks and then move on to the next one when his attention waned. My dad once told me that my brother always got annoyed with me because every time he tried to learn something new, like learn to play a musical instrument for example, I would always pick it up quicker than him. When I was eleven years old, Mark came home from university with a set of juggling balls. He’d been trying to learn to juggle for a while, reading all the books and visiting his local juggling shop for tips and advice. He soon got bored, though, and left the juggling balls on the side in my parents’ house. Although I get distracted easily, when I am able to focus on something I completely absorb myself in the task. I picked up the balls and taught myself to juggle in two days. Although a little miffed, my brother admitted defeat and bought me my own set of smaller juggling balls that were much more suitable for my tiny hands. Over the next few years, I developed my juggling skills and it became one of my regular hobbies. My family bought me other equipment such as juggling clubs and a unicycle to keep me busy.

Once you’ve got over the initial frustration and learnt the basic three-ball juggle, it’s an incredibly relaxing past-time. Whenever I need to clear my mind, I pick up my juggling balls. It became incredibly useful when I was revising for exams and needed to de-stress quickly, and I still use it today when I’m writing and need to think of a word or how to phrase something. Juggling has turned out to be more than just a cool party trick for me, it took me on one of the biggest adventures of my life.

After graduating from university, I applied to go and work on a summer camp in America for the summer with BUNAC. When you apply, you have to put down three subjects that you are able to teach. Two years previously, I’d applied to work through Camp America but unfortunately hadn’t been placed. The first subject I’d offered to teach was art, as I’m qualified. The second was dance, because I’d danced since I was four years old and I had the qualifications to prove it. To this day, I cannot remember what I put down as my third choice on that original application form. So, when I was filling out my application for BUNAC, I had to think of another subject that I could teach. So I told them I could teach juggling. Well, technically I could teach it. Besides, it was my third choice and what were the chances someone was going to ask me to teach juggling? A few weeks later I received a phone call from one of the most expensive girls’ camps in North America telling me that their camp juggler had unexpectedly had to leave and could I fly out there for the summer. A couple of months later, I was in the Adirondacks teaching magic and juggling to 7-15 year old girls. Although the summer camp life isn’t for me, it was a great experience to work with the camp magician and it’s certainly created a talking point on my CV.

If you want to learn to juggle too, I’ve attached my own ‘Learn to Juggle’ leaflet. My teaching style is based on how I learnt myself, and is totally different to usual methods. If you practice, I promise you that anyone can learn in two days. You don’t need to go out and buy an expensive set of juggling balls, anything of equal weight will do to start. Beanbags are always good for beginners because they don’t roll away when you drop them, or even oranges (although be warned, they will get bruised and probably end up inedible). Please feel free to share this leaflet and the joy of juggling with all your friends.

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