Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hot Pot, Icelandic Style


For my foodie friends, this post is not about eating delicious Chinese hot pot, apologies if you are now hungry. This post is about Iceland's famed hot springs commonly referred to as hot pots. In Iceland, swimming and bathing are very much a socializing activity. Think of it as us meeting for coffee or the Irish meeting for a beer. There are 3 styles of hot pots around the country.

The first are the naturally occurring springs, pools and streams which dot the landscape. These don't have fancy hotels built around them like the ones we visited in Costa Rica. Generally spotted by steam randomly emitting from the earth, some are literally ponds of boiling water while others are gently heated and perfect for a dip. You can enjoy streams and larger pools with a group of friends while others are tiny, with just enough room for your feet to soak in. We didn't get a chance to experience this "in the wilderness" style, maybe next time!

The second are the man made pools. These are similar to the public pools in your town only the pool itself is heated year around using geothermal power. The largest facility in Reyjkavik is the Laugardalslaug complex. It boasts an Olympic size outdoor swimming pool with 10 lanes heated to 82F, another warm outdoor pool with a waterslide for the kiddies, an indoor 8 lane pool heated to about 90F and hot pots of varying temperatures around the outdoor pools.

At Laugardalslaug pool, which was just a 10 minute walk from our hotel, we paid about $5 entrance fee. We spent about the same to rent a towel (next time I'd just take one from the hotel!). You can also rent a bathing suit, restaurant sports coat loans have nothing on this! From here you make your way to the locker rooms. Before entering everyone removes their shoes and leaves them on shelves. Once inside you pick a locker, undress and shower without your suit on.

The gentleman who we purchased entrance from made sure we understood this- damn dirty tourists! Luckily we have a bit of hot spring etiquette under our belts. So you wash up thoroughly in the communal showers, (I heard that some places even have a shower attendant to make sure everyone soaps up!) and then put your suit on and head outside. The shower and locker room facilities here were incredibly clean. Someone was working non stop mopping and hosing down the floors so that I didn't feel so freaked out by not wearing flip flops. 
Photo courtesy of http://villareykjavik.com

Dayne did a few laps in the 50 meter pool and then joined me in one of the hot pots. The locals were chilling out after their day at work (we went at about 8pm) catching up with their friends while kids zoomed down the slide into the other pool. Sun wasn't setting until about 10pm and with the clear blue sky you forgot how chilly the air was until you got out of the hot water. Brrr!

The third is the luxury or spa style of hot pot, as in The Blue Lagoon.  The lagoon was accidentally created in 1973 after water from the nearby power station had no place to go and formed a lake on top of the area lava flows.  Back then Icelanders came and soaked for free, noticing the healing properties of the water. In 1999 a proper lagoon was built complete with facilities including a restaurant, clinic, lounge area, etc.


We added our Blue Lagoon trip as a stop on the way to the airport on our day of departure. We boarded the bus at our hotel in the morning, were driven to the lagoon (which is seriously in the middle of no where), had our luggage stored and spent about 3 hours soaking in the famed warm spring waters.

On top of our bus/entrance fee we rented towels and robes. They outfit you with a bracelet which they scan whenever you make a purchase and you just pay at the end. The locker rooms here were similar to the public pool but it looked more like a spa with dark wood and frosted glass. There are both common showers and some private, both outfitted with Blue Lagoon products and even dressing tables complete with hairdryers.

It's a lovely way to spend the morning before a long flight home. We explored the lagoon, with its range of depths and water temperatures. Used the complimentary silica mud on our faces. Drank chilled white wine from the floating bar and chatted with new friends. And even had a little sushi lunch. The time went by very quickly and we didn't get to many of the things that are offered.

We boarded the bus 2 1/2 hours before our flight and were dropped off at the front door to the airport. Best airport shuttle ever :)

I highly recommend experiencing the hot pot culture while in Iceland!

Iceland photos

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