Iceland; evokes bone chilling cold as you even read the words. And Iceland in January? Well it must take someone with a lower level of intelligence to make a trip to this remote North Atlantic island. And Iceland conjures up thoughts of cold, freezing cold, bone chilling cold in an ambience of breathtaking scenic views, virgin lands, Vikings and incredibly long words. And that I presume would be the general perception right? If you were into a little bit of geography, you would know its not colder than some parts of the continental United States; New York, Boston and even Washington DC on most days. Having germinated the idea of travelling to that exotic place by my definition, I set out to travel.
Destination- Reykjavik, southern Iceland
A population of just over 300,000 in this vast area and the lack of any real crowds as you touch down hits you. It’s a tranquil place where you wouldn’t have to venture out too far to take in some spectacular views. The whitened surface and the ominous volcanic rocks jutting out just adds to the exotics and mystique. Waterfalls, volcanoes, Lava beds, geysers you name they have it all. So just picture this, the chaotic atmosphere all happens underground and its fairly active geothermal seismic zone. Then when you see what they’ve done to use this chaos to their advantage is nothing short of living off the land. You hear things of nukes, coal, oil and other fossil fuels but is the land not bountiful enough that provides heat from other sources? Heat sources that do not leave their dirty mark on the face of the earth or the upper zones. And I certainly do not claim to be a die hard tree hugger, but the sheer efforts in utilizing of renewable heat sources to generate over 99% of their power needs leave you nothing short of impressed.
Geothermal and Wind power- Use of heat extracted from geysers and underground wells to produce steam to spin the turbines is the geothermal part while the high velocity winds are further utilized to generate power as well. No coal, no SO2, no NOx to deal with! And then they create a lagoon with the spring water loaded with minerals so you could get into your swimsuit and be submerged in 75 degree hot water while there are those amazing snow capped rocks watching over you. To borrow a famous phrase, “Its real and its spectacular!”
English was very prevalent and I did not have to learn the 30 letter words in Icelandic to find my way around. And every Icelandic name means something and it could be a tool, it could be a Viking warrior or a weapon made of stone. Iceland started off as a Pagan culture when Vikings came over to settle there in 870. The pagans worshipped Viking Gods such as Thor, Odinn and then around the 1100’s, Christianity happened followed by a reformation to Lutherans in the 15th century. However, they did manage to found the first parliament in the 10th century. Iceland has had a turbulent past including the dreaded Black death,; the Plague in Europe, take over by the Danes and continuing to be ruled by them until 1944. 1944 is when Iceland became independent.
And to add, during a significant volcanic eruption in the 17th century, the island was covered in fog for upto 6 months. Dread, misery and depression took over and it was indeed so bad that the islanders went through a complete generation without any kind of musical arts and dance. The fog caused by volcanic ash was reportedly so bad that people could not venture out even to sea to catch their daily fish. When I saw that beach, a beach of black sand caused by the lava, it looks sinister and the waves that crash against the black rocks give it a highly eerie feel. The beach could be from a sci-fi thriller and you feel like you are about to be just swallowed by the angry waves that will appear out of nowhere sounding like a crack of doom. It takes a special stepping back to actually admire the sheer breathtaking surroundings, the like of it not seen before by me.
The highlights was obviously being in the Arctic zone in the winter and the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to view the Aurora Borealis, a streak of white and blue buzzing through the night sky.
Iceland is expense, very expensive. A light meal for two could cost upto $40 and a pair of woollen socks could set you back by $40 as well.
- Travel light and dress in layers if you want to be there in the winter. The sun doesn’t rise until around 10.30 am. Its not the cold that gets you, its that dreaded wind and makes it feel you want to fly to the South seas!
- Carry proper footwear with some good wooly socks and mittens. Do not ever attempt to get out in your Sperrys
- Several cheap flights from the east coast and Europe flying into Keflavik, a 45 min drive from Reykjavik. Not bad at all with the flight not lasting over 5 and half hours.
- Buy your own booze at the duty free. Do not attempt to buy yours at the bars in Reykjavik if you can help it.
- Reykjavik has a very active night life and what better to do in winter after 4.30 pm than to hang out at the city center downing a few!
- Food- You get it all although if you a tad faint hearted you may not want to eat bull’s testicles or a rotten shark.
- Try to get into group tours but do not book them online from your country. You will get lot better deals if you book it all when you arrive in Iceland.g