The Irony of Iceland
By Jered Barclay
"Iceland?! Why? It's too cold, it's too far and there's nothing to do there." Having visited all seven continents, I decided to investigate those three presumptions to see if they were true. And I came up with the following answers: wrong, wronger and wrongest!
"It's too cold." The notion that Iceland is all ice is as fallacious as the notion that Greenland is all green and Ireland is all ire. An early October visit revealed more than I hoped for. Taking a car we did the "Ring Road" - that circles the periphery of this majestic country.
The weather for us, luckily, was pretty supreme. The Icelanders say, "If you are unhappy with the weather - wait ten minutes." I say, "Wait five." Circling the island, the raw and primordial physical beauties are pretty whelming.
If you go in the summer - there are lots of people, in autumn and spring - less. Winter - cold but not killing. Not anymore daunting than southern Michigan and the winter sports opportunities are endless. There is virtually no language problem as most of the population speak better English than we do. Iceland has the clearest water and the clearest air in the world. Two to ten day tours are available of the island.
Our road trip took eight days. Almost every turn in the road revealed a breathtaking waterfall, eddy, glacier, mountain, steaming geothermal springs, or a cliff shooting dramatically down into a bay with crystal clear blue water. And it's not just "scenery". The brochures will brief you about this land that has been settled by the Vikings for only a thousand years, and the sagas therein are fascinating. The never ending geologic changes were apparent when, off the south coast in 1963, an island suddenly emerged from the sea, now called Surtsey Island. It didn't happen in Triassic or Jurassic times, but almost yesterday.
"It's too far." If you go to Europe and don't like the drag of jet lag, stop in Iceland on the way over or coming back for a few days to warm up in the geothermal pools and/or hit the city life in Reykjavik. Hip east coast types fly to Reykjavik for a week-end to enjoy its surprisingly diverse night life, shopping, and city energy.
Like almost every country on the planet, the people are flocking to the cities. In this case, the two major industries of the country have severely diminished - fishing and wool production - and technology reigns in the magnet city -Reykjavik.
If you have limited time in Iceland - do this. Use Reykjavik, the capital and heartbeat as your base and branch out. Take a few days to experience a few places. The Blue Lagoon, the world famous geothermal gigantic lagoon with soothing aqua warm waters 45 minutes from Reykjavik. When we were there in October, I expected a crowd scene that Cecil B. DeMille couldn't equal. Not so. Maybe 50 people and a steam in which you can disappear and Do Things. No promises - just possibilities.
Travel northeast for a few days for visual delights and for a sensual, relaxing exper). A geothermal swimming pool, a hot tub which overlooks a clear river and a bank on the other side exuding geothermal steam. Another days drive on the same East Coast drive brings you to Vatnajokull - the largest glacier in the world and an overnight in Hofn. As the food is not thrilling outside of the capital, try the really special cuisine at Kaffe Hornid (reindeer steak is an excellent choice) in Hofn before returning to Reykjavik.
Or take a two day interior northeast sojourn from Reykjavik to the huge lake and beautiful mountains at Thingvellir and take in the hot geyser eruptions at Geysir.
One of the PAC (Party Animal Cities) of the world is Reykjavik. The city is animated and alive - and on the week-ends - hoohoo! The Reykjavik area holds 60% of the country's population, mostly employed in the techie industries. They hold at least two jobs, and on the week-end they explode.
It - like Rio and Buenos Aires - is a late night city. Don't even think about going out for drinks before 10. Dinner, is taken with LOTS of Brennivin (the national liquor) but not before midnight. Ask for the restaurant The Virgin, owned by two guys (almost everything is within walking distance) or for an elegant and traditional dining experience try The Lobster House. If you'd like some Spanish tapas, drop in at Kaffe List. All prices in Iceland are just a little under New York prices. Then the action starts. The streets rage with revelers and dawn doesn't stop much.
Spotlight - a mixed disco from Thursday through Saturday is at Hverfisgata 10. Cafe 22 - at Laugavegur 22, is a bar and disco every night, but on week-ends you can dance until 6 am - as with most places. A bar and on the weekends, a disco. The new crown jewel is the beautifully designed Mann's Bar - at Laugevegi 18 - cutting edge design, lighting and presentation. Great music and a slick clientele. The Icelandic hotties are here.
The most convenient and spacious guesthouse is on the main shopping street Laugavegaur. Room With A View is hosted by Arni, whose fingers are on the pulse. The e-mail is email@example.com.
During the days, walk the city and take in its cosmopolitan architecture and people. For a twenty minute unstoppable giggle, don't miss The Iceland Phallological Museum at Laugavegur 24. That's riiiiiight, it's a museum of phalluses.
For raw, physical natural splendor and scalding hot nightlife, get your buns and the rest of you to Iceland.