Sunday, September 20, 2009

So as mentioned in the last post I wanted to write more about my experience in Iceland during the summer of 2008. Iceland certainly made an impression on me because here I am, over a year later, reflecting back on what I did see and still wishing I had even more time to experience the country all over again. Most likely this will take several posts so I hope you keep coming back as I blog about the adventure.

If you are even remotely intrigued by the idea of visiting the country, consider travelling athere nd you won't be disappointed. It is paradise for adventure tourism (hiking on glaciers or underneath waterfalls are but two examples) and a mecca for those who want to experience firsthand the general awesomness of geothermal activity that Iceland is famous for.

But just in case you are having trouble situating the country in terms of where it is, here goes.

Iceland is located in the north Atlantic, roughly halfway between North America and Europe. [If you have ever crossed the Atlantic by airplane, you may very well have flown over Iceland en route.] Picture Canada's northern region, go east and there is Greenland, and further east is Iceland. Flying time, from Minneapolis where the adventure began, was 6 hours non-stop via Icelandair. [FYI you can pick up a flight with Icelandair from Toronto as well. No airlines based in North America serve the country.]

Any country with ice as part of its name might leave you wondering as to why you should travel there when we have plenty of it right here in Winnipeg much of the year. Let me set your mind at ease. Yes, a part of Iceland is situated above the Arctic Circle, so it can get cold. As well, a portion of the interior of the country is uninhabitable because of a glacier. But pretty much everywhere is temperate and very comfortable. Take my word on it...during my visit in August it reached 15C which might not sound like much but it is perfectly comfortable and what you might expect for its location in the north Atlantic Ocean. Just be sensible...don't go expecting to work on your tan!

You land in Keflavik, about an hour from the capital city of Reykjavik, which gives you time to absorb the landscape. Very volcanic, almost no vegetation. Its also very bleak at times, leaving you to wonder about the so called beauty that Iceland is famous for. Don't worry, just enjoy it because before you know it Reykjavik will be visible.

Fun fact... Reykjavik's winters are comparable to that of New York City...mild(er) and without too much snow. Which is to say they are nothing like winter in Winnipeg.

I'm quite lucky because I have seen some of the major European capitals. For instance, I saw Paris in 1994 and while I enjoyed the trip, I wouldn't call it charming by any stretch; yes it has incredible history and things to see, but it is also super busy, super expensive, and is jammed full of hordes of people.

My point is that Reykjavik is nothing like what you might think a major European capital should be. For starters, it has 'only' ~ 200,000 people...which is two thirds of the entire population of Iceland. You can walk the city with ease. And it still has the feel of an older Iceland, a quirky mix of high fashion on one side of the street with bakeries that look as though they haven't changed in 30 years on the other.

The country is expensive, so be forewarned. But I didn't find it unreasonable...let's face it, travelling is not cheap no matter what you do or where you go. For a country that has to import much of what it consumes, I'm sure you can appreciate that there is a cost associated with that.

I would suggest you start with the Icelandair website. Not only can you get flights and hotels, but packages are available that let you experience the country. You book everything all at once, and its easy as can be. Go see the thundering waterfalls, the geothermal activity, or the black sand beaches that are washed by the crisp blue (and extremely cold) Atlantic Ocean. (I can also say I set foot on one of the top ten beaches in the world on the south coast near Vik...who would have thought that Iceland and beach would go together?)

[I stayed at the Hilton Nordica...a superb hotel overlooking the waterfront]

Another great thing about is a great stop over on the way to mainland Europe without incurring extra charges for your ticket. Going to London but you want an mini-adventure? You can do that with Icelandair. Take three days to see the glaciers and waterfalls, wander the streets of Reykjavik and eat some (freshly caught) delectable fish and chips at a pub in the heart of the city, go out to the clubs at night, and stop at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa on the way back to the airport for your 4 hour flight to London.

I could go on, but here are some links to get you started for the time being.

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