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An Introduction to Iceland
As history goes, that island was named Iceland to drive people away from settling there and send them to Greenland instead, which was named incorrectly in the hope of attracting people to settle there. Iceland is one of Europe’s most sparsely populated nations and the last inhabited country. Most of the land is barren, rural and uninhabitable. The culture, language and people are mostly influenced by the Scandinavian countries with a combination of Celtic aspects. I was prepared for a relatively urban feel during our stay in Reykjavík and mostly rural tourism and hiking, but was very surprised to find how isolated, barren, unique, exotic and how extremely beautiful this place actually is!
From black sand beaches to white glaciers, glaciers to volcanoes, hot spring baths to exploding sulfur geysers, from cliffs to double folding waterfalls, from dog sledding to whale watching, white water rafting to mountain hiking, the possibilities are not only endless, but fascinating!!! Nowhere in the world can I imagine seeing the ocean on one side while standing on an ice-covered glacier, with volcanic activity causing ridges and ravines in the mountainside!
For miles and miles we drove, (in the little rental car I like to call “Herbie”), constantly cursing Avis for not getting us the 4 wheelers. There are only one or two main highways in Iceland that go several hundred kilometers in a direction. Depending on how adventurous you want your trip to be and what destination you’re going to, your deviation from the main road will lead you to a dirt road between a national park or a glacier hike. These roads can get rough for a small rental car, and rather than risking a flat tire or being trapped on the side of a mountain with not a soul in sight, no cell service, no one to come rescue you, and a car stuck in a pothole, I strongly suggest renting sport utility vehicle There are also no lights on the highways, so for safety’s sake, plan your time accordingly so you can get back to a major city before sunset.
As we drove out of Reykjavík, I found myself deeper and deeper into what felt like a dreamlike visit to the moon. We came across a crater on the side of a road, beautifully holding a calm mini lake reflecting green and blue colors amidst the mist that had settled in the hollow in the ground. After getting closer, the effort of trekking proved to be worth the trek! As we were driving on the highway looking for our first stop on the Golden Circle tour, we suddenly found a parking lot opening up on the side of the road and what looked like a small hill in a very flat desert landscape.
After suggesting a quick stop, we peaked over the hill to find the remains of a volcanic crater! Lying low at the bottom of the “small hill” which turned out to be a BIG crater, we noticed a very stepped sloping cone-shaped bottom with a reflection of clear blue-green water. We decided to walk down to the water from one of the slopes that had a hiking trail built into it. It was definitely a lunch earning hike but the peaceful and clear water with the blue sky above was worth it! Then we followed the path to the Golden Circle tour, which includes Strokkur geyser, Gullfoss waterfall and Thingviller viking village.
The tour itself takes a good part of a whole day, and the horizon reflects the barren dark ground kissing the blue skies, with a little layer of ice caps at times – The most impressive sight! Driving along Route 1 which seemed to just continue on dry desert land, with the occasional horse grazing or sheep running across the road, I was convinced we were lost until we hit a ridge with a ravine and out of absolutely nowhere, the highway. brings you to the most fabulous gorge with a double folding waterfall! The double collapsible waterfall was basically a waterfall with not one, but two steep layers of collapsible water, coming down a cliff with such force that the two layers of water falling from different angles met in the middle causing a spurt of very fast water causing. rising mist before falling down a steep cliff again into a small ravine a few feet below.
Traveling to Iceland is much cheaper and much closer than most people imagine it to be. Icelandair (the only airline serving Reykjavik to most major cities in the US and Europe) offers one flight per day from New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, London and all major Western European cities. Flight time from NY and London is approximately 4-5 hours, Reykjavik has become a popular destination for young people for a long weekend and to live the “Reykjavik style party scene”. Several years ago, Icelandair launched a series of provocative advertising campaigns that initially started to raise awareness and travel to this faraway country to younger people who want to have a good time. The marketing for Iceland boasted statements such as “A one-night romance in Iceland” as inviting Americans and Europeans to stop over for the night on trans-Atlantic flights.
Last year American TV show The Sopranos featured prostitutes dressed, barely, in “Icelandic Airline” uniforms, partying in a New York hotel room. The show was called “Money for nothing and Icelandic Chicks for free.” These campaigns landed Icelandair in a series of court cases and lawsuits, and angry staff supported by the Feminist Association of Iceland, but it worked to bring immediate attention to one of the most popular summer destinations for bachelorette parties, glacier adventures, diving and hiking.
The peak tourist months are from May to October, and although to most people’s surprise, the winter temperatures are not as dramatic as North America (due to the warm Gulf stream), the 4 hours of daylight are not conducive to sightseeing, hiking or driving. on those very rough dirt roads. The month of June offers the midnight sun and the attraction of early October is the northern lights, which is why these are the two most expensive times to travel to Iceland. Very reasonable fares can often be found on icelandair.com and summer specials closer to August/September time frame.
So you ask, once in Iceland, what to do?? What are the people like? What do they eat? How do they live? Well, it took me all of 5 days to find out what they do for a living, how they spend their time in the dark winter days and what they really eat. The sightseeing, exploration and adventure opportunities are many! I highly recommend renting a car (4WD is a MUST!) and exploring according to your own fancy and schedules. Warning, the maps are not to scale and not that comprehensive, so be sure to do your navigation before leaving the hotel or you might find yourself on a volcanic crater instead of a waterfall! There are many tour buses from Reykjavík, but they are very expensive per person, and take almost the whole day.
For you vegetarians, you may have to frequent the pizza stands a lot, but the few small and quaint traditional restaurants in Reykjavík offer an amazing variety of seafood and lamb, very well prepared with eclectic flavors and served at extraordinary prices. If you’re feeling adventurous, your menu options range from reindeer carpaccio to whale blubber to horse meat or penguin meat. If you are not looking for haute cuisine, the local grocery store will serve to pack the car with a picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit, salad, juice, chips, etc.
An average meal in a relatively famous/traditional restaurant ranges from $50 to $80. That seems like a lot for a glass of wine and a piece of fish, which will explain why the local Icelandic youth just step outside to enjoy their cocktails. dinner around 11pm. Nightlife in Reykjavík is mostly limited to the bars/clubs and restaurants on the main town street, Laugavegur. For a country that had a 40-year ban on alcohol, they sure are making up for lost time! The “scene” peaks at around 2am when all the bars/clubs come alive at night and the street feels like a parade – a very different vision from the weekday and morning time when finding a local eatery or pharmacy seems like a struggle. . A number of wool shops, with fine pure wool clothing and accessories are the extent of shopping you could enjoy in the city centre. I personally preferred watching the sheep grazing in the highlands where the wool was created!
From the Golden Circle tour, to the Blue Lagoon to the Langjokull glacier, the sights are many. After leaving the city and driving through the countryside, you can enjoy fresh air, horseback riding, whale watching, bird watching, or spend an afternoon soaking in minerals in the hot natural spring waters of the Blue Lagoon. If you find yourself intrigued by geography, the Reykjanes area (close to Keflavik at the airport) has many small places to visit. There is a bridge that is said to separate the North American and European continental plates as a result of tectonic activity, a birdwatcher’s paradise where migratory birds from Greenland find refuge and migration route into the hot spring region. So pony up some wealth and I guarantee you the trip will be worth the experience!
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