Iceland - View from the Inside

"The glacier areas that cover 11% of the island, lagoons, black deserts and volcanoes scattered to the east and north are recognised as a photographer’s paradise."

January 2014 • Jules Verne

Iceland - View from the Inside

Arriving by air we looked down on a bleak landscape punctuated by the small Keflavik International Airport. Immigration and custom formalities completed it was a 45-minute transfer in to Reykjavik and to the Radisson Blu Hotel.

A fifteen-minute amble brought us in to down town Reykjavik with its mixture of designer shops, boutiques, arts and crafts galleries, museums, bars and restaurants. We dined in a cosy establishment where a main steak course and glass of wine cost in excess of £40; excellent food and as the cliché goes ‘it can’t be both good and cheap’. Before the Icelandic bank crash of October 2008 it would have cost twice as much!

The Radisson Blu Hotel is located opposite the National Museum so for those interested in a comprehensive introduction to Icelandic history and life from the early settlements to the present, this is the place to go. The hotel is a comfortable functional four-star establishment with all the amenities including spa and gym that one would expect.

A three-hour sightseeing excursion introduced our group of five to the delights of Reykjavik. We visited the president’s residence on the outskirts of the city, the Hofoi House where in 1986 U.S. President Ronald Reagan met with U.S.S.R. General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, the Hallgrimskirkja (Reykjavik Church) dominating the city skyline and the Perlan. One of the six giant hot water storage tanks has been converted into a gallery with a restaurant placed above the six tanks, a great viewing platform and an even better place to dine with the lights of Reykjavik spread out below.

The following day we embarked on the popular ‘Golden Circle Tour’, an 180-odd mile loop taking in Thingvellir, Geysir and Gulfoss. Thingvellir is a World Heritage site of outstanding natural beauty but even more importantly is the site of Iceland’s first judicial and legislative assembly, and indeed the first parliament in the world having been created in 930 A.D. Geysir, a geothermal area that has given its name to the word ‘geyser’ offers bubbling hot pools and the famous Strokkur Geyser that punctually every five to ten minutes throws jets of hot water some 30 metres in to the air. Unlike some geothermal areas one does not have to wait around for indeterminable hours to photograph the eruption! Finally we visited Gulfoss or Golden Falls where the Hvita River plummets 11 metres over an escarpment, turns ninety degrees and plunges a further 21 metres in to a yawning chasm. All sights have information boards in Icelandic and English providing in-depth introductions.

We stopped en route to feed some of the ubiquitous Icelandic horses that feature so much in Norse mythology. Exhibiting every shade of off-white, brown and charcoal, the ancestors of these horses were brought to Iceland from Norway during the early settlement era of the 9th and 10th centuries. Their sea journeys in open boats would have been just as perilous as those of their masters.

The lava flows and their crevices that criss-cross this island of over a 100 volcanoes are the dwelling places of the elves or ‘hidden people’. They certainly remained hidden from our group although we were assured that they do exist and there is even an elf school that educates interested parties on the thirteen different kinds of elf.

We stayed overnight at the Hotel Heckla Selfoss, a world away from the bright lights of Reykjavik and an ideal place to view the Northern Lights in winter, as the air is so clear and there is little ambient light. This and other hotels away from the major centres are basic but comfortable establishments, certainly not luxurious, but then again one should not go to Iceland looking for five-star accommodation. Nature’s magnificent bounty will be compensation enough.

This was only a three night/four day brief introduction to Iceland and it only scratched the surface. The glacier areas that cover 11% of the island, lagoons, black deserts and volcanoes scattered to the east and north are recognised as a photographer’s paradise. For the ornithologists, although the island only hosts 73 species year round, summer brings in a further 250-odd species to breed or pass on migratory routes.

This short trip was nearly over but not quite. En route to the airport we stopped off at the Blue Lagoon, a must for any traveller to Iceland. Fed by the mineral rich waters from the nearby geothermal power plant, the man made lagoon offers an idyllic way to relax and even has a pool bar selling beer, cocktails and soft drinks. From here it was only a short drive to the airport and the flight back to reality and work.”

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