Happy [fertility celebration], my flight got canceled

UPDATE: I went ahead and called United to make sure 1) this wasn’t a mistake, given how far away my trip is (last week of July) and 2) if it was true, to see about a refund. It was not a mistake. Canceled due to market restrictions. I am happy to report that I had zero wait time, a very courteous, knowledgeable and efficient rep and he suggested a refund before I even asked. I did buy travel insurance for this trip (first time ever) on the chance this would happen, so that may have helped things along. I booked through Travelocity, so they will ultimately be the ones issuing my refund since they hang onto the money until travel starts. I learned a lot today on that call with United. Estimated refund time is 2-4 weeks from United, possibly longer because I went through Travelocity and that adds an extra step. Just in case anyone else is in the same boat – this is what to expect. I will cancel the rest of my reservations today or early this week. That interaction was painless aside from the disappointment – I am glad I was wrong in the post below, and I take back what I said about United sucking in this respect. Oh, and they did not leave my Newark flight on the books; the cancellation email details were badly-worded/misleading.

*****

Last night around midnight I received an email from Travelocity stating that United Airlines has canceled my flight to Iceland and I have “airline credits” available. They left me the domestic roundtrip to Newark, though, because everyone wants to vacation in Newark, NJ for two weeks.

My safety and peace of mind are important to them as they cancel my dream trip I’ve been looking forward to since last year

“No need to call us.”

I have not taken any action yet. I’m still thinking on what to do. I have been reading up on how to get actual refunds back instead of credit, and it seems United in particular is making it exceedingly difficult to get your money back “because they need it.” Well so do I and it’s my money. Reason #5 why I hate United Airlines. I’ll talk about the other 4 in another post sometime.

The DOT had to issue an enforcement letter stating the law about refunds when a flight is canceled or significantly changed because so many people are filing complaints against airlines for refusing to do so in the middle of a pandemic.

So far I’ve only gotten the email from Travelocity. United has not contacted me directly. I fear this will entail spending half a day on hold trying to get a human customer service rep to then argue with and get transferred around until hopefully someone will press the right button to issue a refund.

This is so disappointing. It means so many cancellations now – my stays, my flights within Iceland, my tour to Grimsey Island. My rental cars. Everything. Fuck.

I have a backup plan like I mentioned, but it doesn’t involve going to Iceland this year – it involves going somewhere closer with a drastically different climate. I am not decided on this plan, still entertaining other options, but it looks like a likely alternative.

I had a great Iceland trip planned, I really did. It was going to be amazing. Staying on an Icelandic pony ranch outside Akureyri, kayaking at the mouth of the North Atlantic to look for whales, flights to Greenland, Highlands hiking, camping in the Westfjords, roaming the craters, lakes, hot springs and waterfalls scattered across the north. Getting to see the Circle Air pilots again and hang out with them at 10,000 feet. Visiting my favorite bookstore in Akureyri. I was excited about finally seeing some puffins and arctic foxes, and crossing the Arctic circle. Getting to see all of the places & things I missed last time because I only had two days in the north. I was so looking forward to this. It was my light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the main thing keeping me calm and hopeful (“this is difficult but at least I have Iceland in July “) COVID 19 has snuffed it.

This is a major bummer.

Will post another update when I know something re: United. In the meantime, I’m researching alternate trips and postponing my other Iceland cancellations because then it will be real.

first the roaches, then the termites…

There’s a mosquito buzzing around my office as I sit here typing at 9AM.

It is almost summer here in the southern US, and the annual plagues have begun.

A wasp set up shop in my laundry room. I’m allergic to wasp venom. Can’t find the wasp nest.

Last night about a dozen huge cockroaches rained down into my backyard from an oak tree onto my head. One flew into my face. I smashed it on the steps before running inside.

Anyway. Iceland.

I’m coming.

I can’t wait to get away from July’s thick humidity and bugs and punishing heat. To be in the mountains with cool temps and low humidity and nary a mosquito in sight.

The air smells different in northern Iceland. It smells like blue steel and detachment. It doesn’t smother you on late spring evenings or stagnate in swamps in August like the air here. Iceland air comforts no one and keeps moving.

If I concentrate, I can conjure the smell.

And if I cannot go, if I have to cancel my trip, if this pandemic is still swinging through July, then I have a back-up plan.

More on that later.

Everyone stay safe. I’m done being anxious and scared. What happens will happen.

Westfjords and Little Foxes

This is Hornstrandir National Reserve in the Westfjord region of Iceland.

Hornstrandir

It’s only accessible by boat. Most people take the boat from Ísafjörður. You can take a plane to Ísafjörður from various places in Iceland including Reykjavik and Akureyri. My home bases in July are right outside Akureyri. Here’s a better idea of where it is situated in relation to the rest of the country.

Left arrow is Hornstrandir, middle-top arrow is Akureyri. All the little green spots are places of interest I’ve saved. The hearts are a few places I’ve been.

Next time I go to Iceland I’ll have to explore the eastern region. Not this time, though.

It’s about a 5 1/2 hour drive to Ísafjörður from Akureyri, or else a 40 minute flight on Air Iceland Connect for about … oh damn 500 dollars!? Yikes. Maybe I’ll drive. Would be cool to take my time and make a day of it driving there. It’s not like I have to race sunset. The sun won’t set.

that way lies Greenland

You can camp there. It’s called the most remote and wild part of Iceland.

There are no bad photos of this place.

I think I want to camp there. For a night or two.

i mean

Now I’m trying to figure out how to make that happen.

Arctic foxes live there. They’re the largest mammals on Iceland but still they are pretty small.

Arctic fox eyeballin you
O shit

They’re not scared of people and they are curious and like to play. They also like to steal your food so you have to keep it out of reach/packed away any time you leave your site.

Their fur changes with the season for camouflage, if you’re wondering why they are both black/brown and white in the photos.

I rented an SUV yesterday for the last week I’ll be in Iceland, so I can take rented camping gear with me if I drive (and if the weather turns bad, car camp). Assuming I can find rentable camping gear in or near Akureyri or somewhere along the way. I have my own gear here but getting that on a plane from the states and back is ehhhh… I don’t know about that. Maybe, though. All I really need is a tent, a sleeping bag and stuff to make a fire. I can bring water in, and food. If there’s a place in Ísafjörður to rent camping gear, may just do that.

UPDATE: there is.

Here is some great info on how to get to the preserve and what to expect. This is my go-to guide for Westfjord research right now. Thank you, Ju Ker! 🙂

Here’s the Arctic Fox Center site where I got those photos. I like how it doesn’t even list an address, just GPS points.

Imagine waking up in a place like this.

Waterfalls EVERYWHERE

Source.

There are a handful of things keeping me going through this pandemic right now. This trip, the epic parties and shows that are going to happen once we can see each other again, my new job (signed my offer letter Monday!), all my new seeds that are sprouting, and a few others too personal to mention. Sometimes when I start feeling hopeless and angry, I look at my photos from last year’s trip and remember. I just found out my work from home arrangement has been extended til the beginning of May. Kinda going stir crazy in my house right now. It may sound silly but Iceland is helping me get through it.

ICELAND IS A GO!

Image result for happy dance
A unicorn happy-dancing in a field of sunflowers best represents how I feel right now

Good news:

  • A new job within my current company is 99% a done deal
  • My soon-to-be hiring manager has already approved my Iceland time off this summer because she rules

Still good news but is stressing me out:

  • This means I am currently working two full time demanding jobs for the next two weeks

I’ll take it!

I will update when it’s offer-letter-signed official. That should be very soon, I think.

I was fully prepared to cancel everything (again) and be sad. Now I just hope COVID-19 isn’t still killing international travel in July.

Iceland update

Cabins, flights (domestic and international) and two hotel rooms are booked as of this morning. All the crucial stuff is squared away.

Exit to Iceland. Sign at the Keflavik airport.

Now I just have to hope that whatever job I get between now and this summer has a hiring manager who will be OK with my trip. And that the pandemic isn’t still shutting down travel. My trip is 4 months away. If we’re still on lock-down in 4 months then I think there will be way bigger problems to deal with than my vacation.

I mean honestly there are already much larger issues to deal with in my life than my summer vacation, but I’m focusing on this because it gives me something to look forward to and I have a bit of control over it, to an extent. This is my light at the end of the tunnel that has been 2020 so far.

Instead of trying to make same-day connections at the two airports, I have booked a hotel in Reykjavik for the night I land and then one near Keflavik for the night I am leaving. The international airport in Iceland is 45-50 mins away from Reykjavik in Keflavik, and the domestic airport servicing Iceland and also I think Greenland is located in Reykjavik. I’m landing early – 8:30AM – in Iceland from the US. Assuming (!!!) everything goes on schedule. (Spoiler: it won’t.) The point is I gave myself enough time between the two flights (one full day) in case/when something goes wrong and I get delayed. Altogether I have 12 nights in Iceland: 2 nights in hotels in the south and 10 nights in cabins in the north. Two weeks’ total travel. That is a reasonable vacation request.

I get to see Godafoss again. Maybe this time from the ground.

Godafoss, waterfall of the gods

I’m cautiously excited. A lot can go wrong in 4 months. A lot has already gone wrong, which caused me to drop my extensive Norway and Sweden plans. Trying not to dwell on that. I’m really disappointed not to see northern Norway and Sweden this summer. But to be back in Iceland! Feels like a homecoming. I rebooked two of the same places I stayed in last time, and one of the hosts messaged me to say he remembered me and was glad I was returning.

The view from one of the cabins outside Akureyri that I stayed in last year. I have it again for this summer. That’s Akureyri across Eyjafjordur. I took this photo around midnight. No filter. Blue hour.

The pilot from Circle Air remembered me from last year, too. We might go to Greenland on a day trip in his Cessna.

These are my people! I found them. I’m going to see them again.

I was just thinking yesterday I don’t have to buy any gear like I did last year – now I have everything I need. However, I might pick up a satnav. That’s the only thing I am missing, and especially if I go hiking up into the highlands I will need a satnav. And I know where everything is, too. It’s not as much of an adventure as going to a brand new place, but that’s ok. I will see parts of Iceland I’ve never seen yet. I will have a rental car the whole time in the north and so will be able to drive all around.

This time I hope to see puffins, do some mountain hiking and cross the Arctic circle. One of the cabins is located on a horse ranch so I will be taking riding lessons on Icelandic ponies.

Icelandic ponies. I took this last year in southern Iceland.

Sending a plea to whatever gods favor me that nothing else goes wrong. No more hindrances between me and the land of fire and ice. I can already smell the sulfur.

a COVID-19 pickle

It’s looking worse than ever for a Scandinavian summer.

a pickle indeed

I have not yet canceled my living space reservations or my flight to Grimsey Island in Iceland with Circle Air, but it’s not looking great for travel this summer due to the pandemic now. I am hesitant to purchase plane tickets, as no one knows when this pandemic will be over or what new travel restrictions may be put into place in the meantime or how long they will last. I could buy tickets now for super cheap, I bet, but I may not even be able to use them this summer if Norway or the US or a connecting flight country has travel bans in place. Also, I am concerned about a massive tourist influx in the summer/fall happening due to all of the trips that have been canceled for spring. This would drive up costs on an already-expensive trip and make travel total hell with the swarms of catch-up travelers, packed planes and airports, etc.

This is some shit!

I am lucky in that I am able to work from home for the foreseeable future while this pandemic runs its course. I have 2500 or so books, a robust Roku menu, my cat and my art projects to keep me entertained. I am also in possession of an Israeli civilian gas mask – long story, was for a costume, never ended up using it.

The news is worse every day. Hard to get accurate information as we’re still learning about this new virus, and I’ve been mostly staying off social media because the misinformation and stupidity is running rampant there and it’s pissing me off. I read the CDC dedicated website, bbc, the New York Times daily paper and my local news. I never watch the news because I don’t enjoy sensationalist, cherry-picked emotionally-charged garbage or feeling manipulated by creepy talking heads.

There are a lot of very stupid people in this world. I feel sorry for the doctors and scientists struggling against a tidal wave of panic and misinformation, doing their best to shout above the mayhem and relay accurate information to a hysterical public.

Please do your part to stay calm, get your info from reliable sources such as those linked above, take care of the elderly and infirm around you such as friends, family and neighbors… and for fuck’s sake, stop hoarding supplies.

Update on Norway trip likelihood

I am still waiting on a few things to come through before I’ll be able to 100% firm up Norway trip plans. The longer I have to wait, though, the more expensive plane tickets will be. I don’t think there will be a large difference between prices now and prices in April, though. I hope not :/ My current estimate for 6 plane tickets during peak travel season to and from Scandinavia is hovering around 3G.

If I can’t go as planned, it will be a severe bummer but I can always go another time?
I feel like people say that and then they never get around to actually going.

I mentioned in the FAQs that my company offers what is called “permissive leave” – unlimited paid vacation, within reason, as long as it’s approved by your manager. Now that I am being forced to find another job, I am trying as hard as I can to stay within the company for this benefit and for several other reasons. But there is a small chance I will have to take on a new role outside of my current company, as much as I would rather not. If that happens, then Norway almost definitely is NOT happening this year.

I will know more in a couple of weeks. One way or another, this situation will be resolved by the end of March.

Lofoten Islands Beach Tour!

Lofoten Beaches courtesy of 68North photography website

I found this awesome map of some of the best beaches in Lofoten. I’ll be there two days, so I can probably hit a handful of these, maybe more. Check out 68 North’s website for killer photographs, tour info, videos and incredibly detailed hiking guides.

Here are Lofoten photos from Summer 2018. When I go, it will look very similar to this 🙂