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On Cold

03 January 201810:13AMviking-raidtravel

Cold is a funny thing. It surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the Icelandic people together. Or at least, the constant quest to escape it does.


Last night found us staying in Höfn, a tiny fishing town on a peninsula on the southeast corner of Iceland. It was about a five hour drive from Reykjavik, through some of the most stunning scenery you've ever seen.


We picked up Icelandy, our noble steed, in the dead of night - also known as eight in the morning. We left Reykjavik in darkness and drove through the day, stopping only to visit an icelandic supermarket and also the most spectacular waterfall any of us had ever seen.


We arrived in Höfn in the dead of night as well, letting ourselves into a guesthouse spitting distance from the sea. The proprietor, through a series of clues*, had let us know that we were welcome to use their pool membership.

The guide we'd had in Reykjavik told us that the real Icelanders just go to their local pool. There were hot tubs as well, but they seemed a bit touristy. So, gritting our teeth somehwat and preparing for some kind of "authentic" experience, we decided to give the pool a shot.

Before I continue, let me reiterate. This is a fishing town, population of about 2000. It is not a buzzing civic centre. And it had the nicest pool I have ever seen, bar none [citation needed].

It wasn't big. It was a 25m lap pool, a couple of hot tubs, a steam room. And some water slides, of course. All outside, all heated geothermally to degree-level precision, and all completely spotless. And also, the busiest place we'd seen in town so far, despite it being outside and about minus three and about eight o'clock.

But once we'd been in, it all made sense. I felt clean for the first time in days - so clean that putting the same t-shirt back on afterwards felt positively grotty. And I felt warm for the first time in days too. Warm all the way to my core. I don't know if it was the couple of laps I swum or the steam room or what, but I went in shivering and came out radiating heat and feeling like I could saunter back to the guesthouse in my shorts.

Somewhere to be outside but unlayered and unlayered but still warm and warm but still clean, in a land where it's cold and dark for most of the day, half of the year and outside isn't just unpleasant, it's trying to kill you. And to be able to do that with other people, not just in your house. For us a wonderful naturally-occurring beach serves that purpose. Here they have to build it themselves, but it's just as important. If not more so.

Places like this aren't a luxury. They must be an absolute necessity for people to function.

The heat inside faded eventually. It took a couple of hours though, and they were some of the most comfortable hours I've had on this trip so far. Not just passsive "nothing's wrong" type comfortable, but active "this is lovely" type comfortable. I'm already trying to figure out how to chase that feeling again.

* A polite email and a laminated note stuck to the wall. Look, I didn't say they were particularly cryptic clues.

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