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How to Make an Icelandic Helicopter Tour Accessible

Today was going to be a big day. I was (once again) going to be riding in a helicopter. I did this insane thing when I went on an Alaskan cruise with my best friend back in May (my apologies; I haven’t even finished that blog post), and I thought it was the experience of a lifetime. Little did I know at the time I’d have the opportunity in Iceland to repeat it.

I chose to ride with Nordurflug Helicopters out of the Reykjavik Municipal Airport because they said they were accessible and available to anyone. I arrived at the airport pretty early, but I thoroughly enjoyed just relaxing in their plush lounge area with the very friendly staff. People came and went from different tours with different pilots (including one blonde female pilot who looked like she could have been a supermodel), and everyone was super-happy upon their return. And who could have blamed them? Today was the first somewhat sunny day of my entire week-long stay! There were plenty of small clouds, but the sun poking through was unmistakable.

We got a late start because the tour before us was delayed, but thanks to the .25 mg of Ativan I took a couple of hours earlier, I was nice and relaxed, lol. I would be flying with four other people–a quiet couple from Finland and a pair of blonde bubbly ladies from Manchester, England on girls’ weekend away from hubby and kiddos. They were impatient because they had a whale-watching tour to get to at 5pm and we were running an hour late, but they ended up being an absolute riot that afternoon.

Anyway, it was time to get into the chopper. Once again, the Icelandic version of “accessible” is not the US version. In Alaska, the entry/exit from the office to the tarmac was flat, and they had a modified stairlift to get me into the helicopter. Here, we had stairs from the office to the tarmac and nothing to get me into the helicopter itself. But enter a lumberjack Icelander staff member whose name I can’t recall, but carried me down the stairs and later hauled me into the helicopter like I weighed little more than an Icelandic fairy. Mission Adapt-and-Overcome complete!

After getting belted in an putting on our headphones, we lifted off! We got a great view of the city of Reykjavik, with all its colorful houses and rooftops. We also got a neat view of the Hallgrímskirkja (I think I got it right) church that I visited on the day I arrived, The Pearl (a domed gourmet restaurant that sits atop three cylindrical concrete water tanks; yeah, don’t ask), Harpa concert hall, and the harbor. Pretty soon we were over the green-and-black Icelandic countryside, flying over lava fields coated in moss, small streams, and low volcanic mountains. Hills that I thought were just hills turned out to mostly be dormant volcanoes that our pilot kept pointing out, and I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, mountains aren’t formed here the way they are in the US (outside of Hawaii).

Our first major landmark was the tallest waterfall in Iceland, and even threatened with death I can’t recall the name. After seeing the photo on Facebook, my tour guide from earlier this eek mentioned its height had been surpassed by some waterfall in a glacier somewhere, but he still regarded this one as the tallest. Now, in order for all of us to get a good view, our pilot made sure to turn the helicopter 180˚…except he didn’t warn us that would involve a roller coaster-like dip and hard 3G turn that had us all recalling curse words in our native tongues. The pilot’s crazy had come out, and that wouldn’t be the last time he’d have fun at our expense.

Anyway, we started heading toward our first landing site–the Langjökull glacier. Erin and I did a landing on the Taku glacier in Alaska, and I thought that was big. Well, this one is 50 KILOMETERS WIDE. Yeah, I had a hard time wrapping my head around that, especially ater I saw what looked like just a miles-long snow field. Yep, it was all solid (and slowly moving) ice, surrounded by low charcoal-colored mountains. Just like in Alaska, I felt like we had landed on another planet. The Taku glacier there had very defined edges, whereas the Langjökull glacier is more rounded and looks (ironically) like a slow lava flow. Also like in Alaska, you could hear running water everywhere.

After taking off from the glacier, we headed towards a dormant shield volcano. If it has a name, I can’t recall it. Once again, our pilot started going nuts and gave us a bit of a wild turning ride (rolling my eyes). It was both fascinating and terrifying to be flying so closely over a volcanic crater, despite the fact it’s dormant. Shockingly, there were actually hikers INSIDE the crater. I have no idea how they got all the way out there, but they were certainly having the experience of a lifetime, for better or worse.

Soon we were flying over Pingvellir national park, where I visited (on the ground) several days ago. Even though I actually walked in the fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, it was still a surreal experience to fly over it. And it wasn’t just one single crack; it was a series of lines across the earth, kind of like when you’re trying to break apart crusty bread. Looking at something like that definitely makes you feel so small in the grand scheme of things.

Well, this IS the Fire and Ice tour, and since we already did the ice portion, it was time for the fire part–or more accurately, the hot part. Our next landing site was (surprise) another
volcano. But this one was steaming, with hot springs absolutely everywhere. And not far away was a huge geothermal plant that was harnessing as much power from beneath the earth as the volcano could give it. Once again I stayed in the helicopter, and I was glad for it. The wind was picking up and it was pretty cold outside.

Then we were up and off to head back to the airport in Reykjavik. Once again we got beautiful views of the harbor and the city, and made a perfectly smooth landing. My trusty taxi driver Heymir (I’m sure I’m spelling his name wrong) came to pick me up, and after freshening up for a tiny bit at the hotel, I was headed out to the Harpa concert hall again, but this time for a show. On the way, I took the Shore and Sculpture Walk because there was one particular sculpture I wanted to see. The name of it starts with an S
and EVERYONE who visits Reykjavik has to take a picture of it or with it. It’s quite a beautiful piece of art in a neat setting, so I can see why.

As for my show, I had a ticket to see “How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes.” As the show
‘s title hints, it was an absolute riot! I’m glad I waited to see this the last night of my stay because it was a fond reminder of all the things I learned about Iceland and the Icelandic people during my stay here. I ran into some new friends from my hotel, John and his mother Tricia from the UK. Tricia can stand and walk a little bit, but she’s mostly in a wheelchair so the three of us bonded over accessible travel during our run-ins. After the show I had a fabulous meal in the Harpa restaurant on the 4th floor, reminiscing over all the great memories I’ve made here in Iceland. I don’t think I’ll come this way again, but I sure hope all of you do!

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