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Iceland: It’s a cool place

By Joe Gschwendtner; photos courtesy of Planetware

The enticing Blue Lagoon geothermal pool: It beckons all

Having only touched down twice on the Reykjavik Airport tarmac does not qualify me to write on this most unusual destination, but I have had those close to me sing its praises. After reading my first Ragnar Jonasson novel, Winterkill the author has cemented my fascination with this fire and ice island. It seems to define what I thrive on – adventure, impossibly stunning vistas, and a vibe with no equal. Here is what we should all know.

As travel goes these days, an early-pay roundtrip from Denver costs $605 per person. It is a nonstop flight with seven to eight hours in the air. As cutting-edge trends go, Iceland is hot.

Reykjavik’s Arbaer Open Air Museum, 20-building replication/restoration of early Viking settlement.

It is a safe, desirable, “green” destination. Except for the fishing business, the country relies heavily on the tourist dollar for its first-class quality of life.

Hachette’s Avalon Travel Group puts out a nice publication on Iceland and I found it useful. My travel-seasoned daughter-in-law, Jamie, notes the landscape as “otherworldly and uniquely beautiful; untouched, wild and natural. Almost everyone encountered spoke English.”

For temperature and daylight, summer is quite naturally best, offering up to 21 hours of daylight. This is good, since Iceland vistas, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, hot springs, volcanoes and waterfalls are best appreciated in sunlight. The Northern Lights, should you be fortunate enough to catch them, are seen from September to January.

The best way to sample Iceland’s charms is to rent a car and travel the length of Route 1, a circumferential road 1,322 kilometers long. Provided one has time, the opportunity should not be missed, as doing so allows a full appreciation of both the basaltic heights of Iceland’s inland mountains and magnificent bays and fjords on which the bulk of Icelanders live.

Larger than you think with 350,000 citizens, Iceland is many things. It’s a country that has no mosquitoes – ever! Some say, and serious surveys back it up, that it may be the world’s happiest nation. Its standard of living seems to confirm this. The downside, of course, is the weather which is utterly unpredictable. Note, too, that nothing is cheap and one’s wallet may be on life support by trip’s end.

An Icelandic trip takes a Texas mentality. One must prepare to be astonished by outlandishly raw beauty, being an outdoors-person at heart. Temperatures in high summer approach 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If you like Eddie Bauer or Patagonia garb, you’ll already have the right gear. Some of the bigger attractions are Gooafoss and Dettifoss waterfalls, the Blue Lagoon, crystalline ice or mineral caves, active volcanoes, thermal pools galore and wildlife (seals, puffins, whales and reindeer) both in and outside of Iceland’s national parks.

The Northern Lights, if you are lucky enough to catch them!

Reykjavik is urbane and trendy. Coffeehouses are chic and ubiquitous. Architecture, museums, galleries and the overwhelmingly maritime atmosphere make for an unusual “Whitman’s Sampler” of attractions.

Iceland’s second city, Akureyri, sits uniquely at a fjord’s end and, at 18,000 residents, has its own laid-back personality with a rich cultural experience.

Meanwhile, get a copy of one of Jonasson’s extraordinarily descriptive detective novels; it just could pull you over the line.



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