Iceland: I know they are horses but in my heart they are ponies (and other misadventures)

It’s funny because everywhere I go, there are reminders that Icelandic HORSES are HORSES, they are totally not ponies but HORSES, wonderful loyal majestic sturdy HORSES and that’s cool. Okay. But you seriously can’t expect me to look at this face and not squeal PONY 💕💕 💕~

not a pony but a pony to meeee
Hi. I am not a pony. You will love me anyway.

I finally went horseback riding in Iceland, fulfilling a dream I had held near and dear to my heart for ten years. It was freezing cold, ice crunching under hooves, and fantastic. As we rode through the stark white fields I played the Lord of the Rings soundtrack in my head. This is because I don’t watch Game of Thrones and also, Viggo Mortensen has apparently visited this farm and ridden their horses, according to their wall of photos.

The ponies (excuse me, horses) were shaggy and fuzzy because it’s the middle of winter, and they were definitely quite friendly. Mine started to rub her head against me while I was petting her — although to be fair, I think it was just because she was itchy and not because she was particularly fond of me. (Shh, I’ll just pretend she liked me.) She was also big on tailgating, literally: nose shoved right into the tail of the horse in front of her. But I forgave her for being kind of snotty because she posed for some nice photos.

After the ride, my butt was completely sore but it was worth it. These horses are so much calmer than the horses I’m used to. Slip on ice? No big. Unexpected deep pocket of snow? Whatever. Granted, they’re used to these conditions, but I felt really secure on my horse. She ended up slipping a few times but I never worried that I’d be thrown off or anything.

If I get a chance to come back in the summer, I’d love to book one of the multiple-day riding tours. Five to seven days of riding through Icelandic countryside? Sounds amazing. (Although this may conflict with my other dream, which is to go riding in Mongolia…)

And now, back to swimming. I had visited Laugardaslaug previously and found it very nice, so now armed with my Reykjavík city card I decided to visit two other swimming locations. First, I swung by Nauthólsvík, the supposed geothermal beach. I had no intention of swimming there because despite the name, the sea water is still ridiculously cold and I’m not a fan of arctic swimming. But it was a very pretty little beach.

Then I went to Vesturbæjarlaug, a smaller neighborhood pool. I guess because they are smaller and most of the patrons are locals, they feel the need to police tourists a little bit — I received quite a few warnings from both attendants and random pool-goers  in the locker room that I wash properly before I enter. Maybe they’ve had an issue in the past with visitors not doing this? Eh. I frequent onsen and jimjilbang so trust me, I get it. I am totally a fan of bathing before using a pool. Really.

Anyway, despite the initial wariness, I liked Vesturbæjarlaug more. It just felt calmer and quieter. Photos were, of course, not allowed, so you’ll have to settle for this picture from their website:

My experience was just like this, only it was night time.

After boiling myself for an hour or so, I decided to forgo the bus and walked back to the hotel. It was a fifteen-minute walk — not too bad, since I was nice and warm from the pool. And luckily, I was able to navigate the residential area back to the harbor pretty easily. (I really did not want to get lost since the wind was picking up.)

On my way back, I was stopped by a woman who asked me (in English) for directions to the pool. She probably assumed that I lived nearby and was familiar with the area (this was partly true) and the thought made me happy. I always like being asked for directions when I’m visiting a place because it means I am somehow giving the impression that I know what I’m doing, and usually this is really not the case.

There’s just one more pool in the city I’d like to visit before I leave: Sundhöll Reykjavíkur!

P.S. If you’re having trouble reading all of those Icelandic names, don’t worry, I can’t say them either. I don’t know why I like visiting countries where everything is long and unpronounceable (for me), but at least Icelandic seems a bit more forgiving than Finnish.

P.P.S. This is by no means a hardcore travel blog, but in case you have just read this and are also planning a trip to swim at an Icelandic thermal pool, know that the water actually is good for skin! I have terribly dry and sensitive skin, so I normally don’t react well after visiting saunas and the like, but I haven’t had this issue here. Don’t forgo your normal skincare regimen, but you won’t have to worry about anything else otherwise. Hair is a different story though, and you’ll want to make sure you use plenty of conditioner after swimming.


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