Early arrival to Iceland’s KEF (Reykjavik) airport should be followed by a trip to the pool

Flights from the USA to Iceland typically arrive at KEF very early in the morning.

Though KEF is often referred to as “Reykjavik” airport for marketing purposes, it is actually 45 minutes outside the capital in the city of Keflavik. There is a smaller city airport that handles short flights from Reykjavik proper, but that is irrelevant to most international visitors except, perhaps, those from Greenland.

“Very early” on my two flights to Iceland meant before 6 am. At least in June unlike March, this was after sunrise.

Food & transport from the airport

KEF is a fairly nice airport. It is modern and well designed. Though it could use more water bottle filler fountains. Iceland, however, is a tiny island nation with a population of just a few hundred thousand people.

Keflavik isn’t New York City. This isn’t a 24 hour kind of town. Even Reykjavik itself, where the majority of the nation’s citizens live, doesn’t offer too much for the tourist before 8 or 9 am.

Sporty types who don’t suffer jet lag so badly could take a lovely walk or hike. Nature, in June, is open 20+ hours per day.

The wrong way to arrive: witless & unprepared

On our first visit, the kids and I rode the FlyBus from the airport to our hotel. Naturally, our room wasn’t ready yet just past 8:00. After all, typical check in times are in the early afternoon.

We sat in the lobby staring dumbly at the poor receptionist, and she did get us into our room by about 9:30 am. It was a miserable first couple of hours in a new place, however.

Icelandic pastry

A typical Icelandic pastry, according to our favorite tour guide, Steinthor

The kids were too tired to even go in search of pastries when the receptionist suggested a bakery nearby!

Better alternative: ready to meet bodily needs

Having a much better idea of what to expect upon arrival, I planned more wisely for our second trip to Iceland. Of course, it helped that it was just me and my now teenaged son. He’s reached a stage of offering more help than he requires, especially when it comes to schlepping heavy luggage about.

I was going to rely upon public transit options again, but decided on a rental car at the last minute.

We could have reached a public pool via mass transit and reasonable walks, but it would have been one nearer our lodging and after taking the FlyBus away from the airport.

Rental car freedom

The forecast called for chilly days (in the low 40’s F) and plenty of clouds and rain… in mid June.

There was also a museum I’d wished to visit on the first go ’round that remained just as difficult to access without a car. It was so tantalizingly close to the airport… but the city bus only ran from there back to Hafnarfjördur and Reykjavik every two hours. Missing it would mean a very expensive taxi ride, in the ballpark of the auto rental cost, or an unacceptably long wait.

If I found myself so exhausted from the flight that I couldn’t drive safely, I determined we would nap in the car for an hour or so before leaving the grounds of the airport. I felt better having a backup plan in place, even one in which I felt like a bit of a vagabond.

Even if you dislike driving a strange car in a foreign country, it is pretty manageable in Iceland. Traffic is light, eliminating the thing I hate most about driving near my suburban home in the USA.

Icelandic drivers rank, en masse, somewhere in the middle of the pack I’ve experienced worldwide for road manners; they aren’t as courteous as Oregonians, but behave less aggressively than New Yorkers. There’s none of the insanity of Rome or Israel.

While road signs are in Icelandic and can throw you for a loop, most turns on major roads are roundabouts, so you can just keep circling while your child navigator figures out the way, or rely upon the GPS who will mangle the Icelandic language for all s/he/it is worth so you can enjoy a good laugh while you are circling the rotary for the fourth time.

Between Iceland’s major airport and capital, road conditions are good. Consider that “possible weather events excepted,” of course, but, even in Iceland, those are somewhat less risky in June.

Breakfast at KEF: not many options

I’d already determined from my online research that buying an espresso and sandwich or pastry on site before heading out would be our likeliest spot for a very early breakfast. There is a Dunkin’ Donuts branded cafe after customs at KEF arrivals, co-located with a convenience store.

Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t open until 8:00. The people of New England will be outraged when they learn of this. Dunkin’ Donuts is bizarrely popular where I live.

Joe & the Juice was doing a brisk business, though, and it was also quite near the car rental kiosks. A turkey and pesto sandwich (hold the mozzarella for DS’s lactose intolerance) helped kick start our groggy metabolisms. Yeah, the espresso helped a bit, too! A packaged caramel muffin proved a necessary adjunct for the voracious teen.

The museum was only 15 minutes or so from KEF, but it didn’t open until 8 am. Even taking our tiiiiiiiiime at the airport, we would be at least an hour earlier than the door opened. Plus, I knew I’d feel grungy and sore after sleeping in a cramped Icelandair Economy seat.

Note: the seats have really gone downhill on Icelandair between Boston and Keflavik. I think this was the worst seat I’ve ever had for legroom. I was disappointed, remembering this otherwise nice airline as much, much better a few years ago!

Does jet lag wash off?

The solution was the local pool, Reykjanes Swimming Center/Waterworld. It was only about ten minutes from the airport, and that includes time spent driving around a construction project that barred the GPS’s suggested route. Note: this is easy driving, too, with very light traffic. I hate using rental cars, but hardly minded it, even jet lagged, stiff and sore, and in a city I’d never visited before.

Americans, take note: this is more like your local YMCA pool than the “Waterworld” name might imply. Yes, there is one waterslide and a children’s activity room indoors, but both of those were closed during our 7 am visit. The facilities were quite nice and up to date, but nothing like a theme park.

There are a few major benefits to hitting the pool first thing. For me, having a chance to wash my hair before sightseeing was a big one. My morning shower is an integral part of my waking up ritual. It helps me to feel like myself.

Next in importance to me is having somewhere to go before I can check in to my hotel anyway. I’m not a skulker or “see what I can get away with” kind of a person. I’m careful and rule abiding. I don’t want to nap by the side of the road or in an airport, but I’m also not up to much more than a good nap after a night flight.

Visiting an Icelandic city pool offers a great insight into what regular, everyday life is like for people here. It isn’t just hardcore lap swimmers and toddlers taking lessons like I’d see on a weekday morning at my local YMCA. Icelanders are socializing and meeting up in the water.

There were more retirees represented than any other age group at this hour and in this neighborhood, though.

The abundance of cheap geothermal energy from the volcanic activity underfoot means outdoor pools are heated to comfortable temperatures no matter how cold the air temperature is that day. In addition to a moderately warm heated pool (cooler on the lap swimming side), there have been multiple hot tubs (locally translated as “hot pots”) at each facility I’ve visited as well.

Waterworld had three: 36-39 C in both shallow and deep varieties and 41-43 C with the deeper sitting depth.

I believe there was also a cold plunge pool, but the object I guessed to be such wasn’t labeled with a sign and there was no temperature posted to help me confirm my guess. One guy climbed into whatever that was, however.

Having traveled with so much discomfort up front that I failed to raise my arms high enough for the TSA cancer inducer body scanner to clear me as a terrorist threat, I was less than limber upon arrival. I spent every minute past the safety briefing of my too-short-for-a-night’s-sleep five hour flight in fitful sleep, but it wasn’t restorative. I struggled to reach my feet for the required soapy shower before going into an Icelandic pool.

At that point, the hot pots offered unmitigated bliss.

While our two night stopover in Hafnarfjördur, Iceland, was designed primarily to ease my travel related pain and jet lag (i.e., it wasn’t intense or highly scheduled), I do believe that hitting the pools provided a soothing balm to both of these maladies.

Warm water is obviously going to ease joint pain. So does reducing one’s experience of gravity due to buoyancy, of course. But the effect upon jet lag was just as profound and somewhat less expected. I suppose the combination of light exercise and being outdoors under the sun in the morning explains most of it.

Read more about what foreigners should expect at an Icelandic public swimming pool, especially for those of us with mild mobility impairments who wonder about handicapped or otherwise accessible accommodations in the facilities.

Accessibility notes by a visitor to Iceland’s awesome public pools with hints for proper locker room & swim protocol

Icelanders expect you to follow the letter of their law when going for a swim: wash, naked, with soap before entering a public pool or hot tub.

I’m shocked by how many Americans post comments about washing first not being required at home. Actually, at my local YMCA in New England, a sign clearly states that “soap showers are required” before entering the pool.

It’s just that, at American pools, nobody enforces the law.

We have laws against jaywalking, too, but you’d never know it in most cities based upon enforcement.

Also, our instructional posters are plain English language ones without the helpful “red zone” graphics employed in Iceland.

Cell phone or camera use isn’t allowed in locker rooms thank God! so I’ll point you to others’ mysteriously captured photos for illustrations. Follow the links to pool etiquette articles, below.

Picture the typical men’s room sign “guy” infographic, then add big red circles glowing around head, armpits, groin, hands, and feet. Those are the parts it is mandatory to wash with soap before entering an Icelandic public swimming pool or hot tub.

I’m reinventing the wheel here, but it bears repeating again! since every Icelander seems to know that Americans (and Brits) arrive unprepared for proper Icelandic pool protocol. I read about a dozen “how to use a public pool in Iceland” posts myself, and yet, here I am reiterating much of the same advice.

IHeartReykjavik.net posted my favorite for average travelers (make sure to read some of the 133+ comments); IcelandWithKids.com is also very thorough, especially with information for families and parents traveling with children.

Those posts helped me, so I hope to offer the same to another reader. Good travelers respect the places that they visit by following the rules.

Access for visitors with mild physical impairments to Icelandic pools

Another, perhaps less common, thing I want to address is accessibility in Icelandic public pool locker rooms.

I did find one blogger who writes about access from the perspective of a wheelchair user, but he only seemed to visit the swanky Blue Lagoon spa. For over $40 per person, it darn well better be fully accessible!

I was looking for an affordable, family-oriented experience more akin to what average Icelanders might enjoy with their own kids.

Also, my needs are far less intensive than those of a pool user who requires a lift (hoist) to access the water. I have arthritis and chronic pain due to an autoimmune condition. My accessibility needs are variable, but often minimal, and most relate to twisting and pushing with the hands.

Sometimes, however, hip or knee joint stiffness makes it hard for me to reach my own feet. Heck, I couldn’t get my arms high enough overhead (shoulder stiffness) for the requisite TSA scan when I departed from Boston the night before I visited my first Icelandic pool.

Some days, aside from morning stiffness in my fingers, I bend like a healthy person; other days, not so much. This is a big part of what drew me to the famous geothermal hot pots of Iceland during even a brief stopover.

When my joints are stiff, I’m also more prone to balance issues and potentially falling. My limbs don’t always respond the way I’m expecting to the commands sent from my brain.

I had questions before my first visit to a public pool in Iceland to which I couldn’t find answers online. I’ll try to enlighten those of you with similar concerns according to my own experience as an English speaking tourist with about two weeks’ experience in that country.

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Sleep on silk for healthier hair

I’ve started to wear a silk night cap when I sleep in pursuit of healthier hair. It’s comfortable and doesn’t disturb my rest, though it does look a little goofy. It seems to work to prevent tangling and perhaps also pulling and damage to my fragile locks.

Silk sleep bonnet - 3I have had more good hair days since I started sleeping in a coif.

Systemic illness affected my coiffure

One of the side effects of autoimmune disease is a little trivial, but a lot disheartening to sufferers. Autoimmune disorders can affect your hair. Breakage, hair loss, even premature graying can result from this type of systemic illness.

Hair loss can be a terrible blow to self esteem at the same time that physical pain is eating away at one’s psyche.

In my case, I felt compelled to cut off my long hair to an above-chin-length bob about 18 months into my tentative diagnosis with an autoimmune disease.

Aside from losing far more hair than usual (overall thinning of my already very fine hair), what remained became positively bedraggled and ragged at the ends. It was breaking off as well as falling out.

Comb with hair - 1While I was waiting with my son in a barbershop, the stylist asked me if something had “happened” to my hair, and would I like her to try to fix it? This was a traditional barber shop that only deals with short (men’s) hairstyles.

I cut it most of it off shortly *ahem* thereafter. It looked so bad that a professional tried to do me an act of kindness out of pity as I went about my daily life. Talk about your bad hair days!

My health overall has improved since that initial period. Perhaps the precipitating event just ended. Maybe my medications are working. The dietary changes I implemented could have eased some of it.

There’s very little medical certainty about my health status.

My hair, on the other hand, has grown back to shoulder length. I’m taking more care with it. If it looks sickly again, I will cut it again. Having a sick head of hair made me feel more like an invalid.

If it gets bad enough, I will shave my head bald and consider wearing a wig before I walk around crowned with scraggly frizzles. I sincerely hope it doesn’t get to that point!

Most of us are aware of the fact that there are myriad fancy shampoos and other products to apply to hair and scalp, but today I’ll introduce one of my less mainstream solutions to the Sick Hair Problem.

Silk is one solution to prevent damaged hair

This Highdeer Silk Sleep Cap for Women ($12-16, depending upon style and color selected) is a silk bonnet designed to be worn to bed. It is meant to protect delicate hair from friction and pulling that can cause damage.

Silk sleep bonnet - 1

I bought my bonnet on Amazon.com and paid $11 in April of 2018. Though sold as “Rubber Red” in color, my interpretation would be “warm-toned pink.” It is, in fact, somewhat similar to the pink color of a classic hot water bottle or a pencil eraser, so perhaps that is the natural color of rubber. Continue reading

Lose the leaky liquids: Lush vs. J.R. Liggett’s shampoo bars head-to-head

Cramming all of your toiletries into a small plastic bag is annoying. Being forced to pull said sack from your crowded carry on at an inspection point with your third hand while simultaneously keeping track of your passport, tickets, valuables, and maybe a few kids for good measure is infuriating.

I’m not a big fan of the current TSA checkpoint process, and add my voice to those who describe the entire scene as “security theatre.” I won’t elaborate further today, but thought I’d put any grumpiness that shows up in my review of innocuous shampoo bars into perspective.

Many have complained about this trial by toiletries. An oft offered solution is to replace liquid products with solids where possible. Carry a bar of soap instead of a bottle of body wash, tooth powder or baking soda in place of toothpaste, etc.

Travel toiletries shampoo bar Lush in square tin - 1On such lists, you’ll usually read, “Try a solid shampoo bar!” And that’s the end of the advice.

Solid shampoo bar: what is it?

But how many shampoo bars do you see in an average salon or in the hair care aisle of your supermarket or pharmacy?

I believe shampoo bars are most readily available at places like Whole Foods or other health food markets. Every solid shampoo bar I’ve seen anywhere uses less packaging than all liquid shampoos, so some of the rationale for that is fairly obvious.

A shampoo bar is essentially just a bar of soap. Ideally, it is a soap or detergent formulation designed to gently yet effectively cleanse hair as opposed to skin.

Keep in mind for this comparison that I don’t require hair conditioner under normal conditions. My very fine hair is easily weighed down and my scalp is slightly oily. I do use a little conditioner at home to keep my ends healthy now that I have some coarser grey hairs, but I don’t bother to bring it when I travel unless it is a long trip in a very dry climate.

I’m using the following bar shampoos without conditioner when I give my evaluation.

J.R. Liggett’s Old Fashioned Bar Shampoo: a natural and affordable option

  • 3.5 oz bar
  • dimensions: 2.5” x 1.25” x 2”
  • retail $7.49
  • 6 varieties, including unscented
  • Made in the USA
  • Packaging is 100% paper and fully recyclable

These stats are for the full size bar.

Trial/travel size bars are the size of a traditional hotel soap: 2″ x .375″ x 1.25″ and ² ⁄ 3 oz or mere 18g. Though its a little sliver of a thing, I find each small bar lasts for many weeks of use.

It’s gentle enough for use on the body, and the manufacturer even suggests it as a laundry/stain treatment when traveling.

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