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The Land of Ice and Fire

         

 

 

Look at the map of Europe above this writing. See it? OK. To the top right corner of the map you will see Russia, the largest country in the world, a massive stretch of land ranging from St Petersburg to Siberia. Down south, on the bottom right corner, lies Turkey, a gateway to Asia and a Muslim country hoping to join the EU. On the south-west, Portugal, a sunny Mediterranean country which had an empire spanning four continents until a few decades ago. But look to the top left corner of the map, and you will glimpse Iceland, a volcanic island in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, a country where lava and volcanic ash go hand in hand with ice and a place where humans have lived against all the odds for centuries.  

Iceland is not just the tip of a massive underwater mountain range: it is also an alternative location for travellers looking to broaden their mind, gain new experiences and try some of the famous fish. Here are a few of the things to do, see, go and feel in Iceland.

 

 

 Iceland

 

Reykjavík

Reykjavík is the capital city of Iceland, and is also the greenest city in Europe, using much less fossil fuel than most cities in the northern hemisphere. Although more than 60% of the Icelandic population live there, it is still only the size of Walsall, England. Despite this, Reykjavík has proved a popular place for young people from across the world to come to in search of something different. The nightlife is vibrant, and the pink pound also looms large, with the Reykjavk gay pride parade 2009 taken place on August 9th. For shopping fans, the main street of Laugavegur offers a range of items, from Christmas gifts (even in the Summer) to pots and pans, and Kringlan shopping mall is not far away from the centre of the city. There are many museums, ranging from natural and cultural history to telecommunications and sculpture. Gastronomy fans can try the various Icelandic fish dishes and the deliciously famous lamb. There is something for everyone with an eye for the alternative.

 

Perlan

Take a short bus ride from the centre of Reykjavík, wonder through a little forest, and you will find Perlan (the Pearl), a beautiful water-storage unit-turned- gallery, viewpoint and restaurant. It is built on six water tanks containing hot water ready to be cooled and pumped into houses across Reykjavík.  One of the tanks is no longer used for this, but is instead a museum of Icelandic sagas and history in general. The ground floor, known as the Winter Garden, is used for art exhibitions, concerts and even markets! 

The viewing platform is located on the fourth floor, where you can see for miles and miles. Also on the fourth floor are three shops, a gourmet shop, a souvenir shop and a Christmas shop, as well was a cafeteria. Up on the fifth floor is a revolving restaurant, so if you need to get up from your table, be careful - it won't be where you left it!      In the centre of the building is an artificial geyser which every five minutes spouts water, which rises incredibly high, and there is another artificial geyser outside. At night, the glass dome at the top of the building lights up beautifully.

Perlan is an incredible multi-purpose building, beautiful at all times of the day, all year round, and should not be missed.

 

 

 

 

Thermal Pools

Reykjavík's location, by most standards, is not ideal. Next to volcanoes, and the freezing Atlantic Ocean, is a bit of a setback to say the least. However, with these comes one big plus which the Icelandic citizens have taken advantage of for all its worth.                                                                                                                         Iceland is a volcanic island, meaning that much of the ground below the surface is hot. Therefore, any water in a pool is heated by the ground underneath the bottom of the pool. Reykjavík has capitalised on this by creating 7 thermal swimming pools across the city, so wherever you are staying, you are unlikely to be far from one.                    A visit to one of these thermal pools is fun, relaxing, and mostly very child-friendly, and Laugardalslaug pool, in the Reykjavík botanical gardens, has a 'hot-pot', the Icelandic version of a jacuzzi, next to the pool, where the water is particularly warm.  However, if you are missing the sand and the sea, the clever folks in the icelandic government have thought of that too! Near Perlan (above) there is an artificial beach, which has only been created because the ocean has been heated up by the icelandic rock underground at this particular spot. For this reason also it is the only beach in Iceland, and although it is rather small, it is rarely swarming with people, and the warm sea water is very pleasant.

Outside Reykjavík

 

Geysir and Strokkur

Two hours away from Reykjavík is the dormant geyser Geysir, and its little brother Strokkur. Two of the five biggest geysers in the world, Geysir used to erupt constantly but recently has become quite infrequent. One of the theories for this is that when it was active, tourists used to throw coins and other objects into the hole, and this has blocked up the passage. However, Strokkur still works and erupts every five minutes. The build-up to the eruption is quite peculiar - after the previous one, the water sucks back into the hole before pushing out, repeating this a few times, as if it was breathing. After a while, it settles down and is dormant for about a minute. Then, the water rises a few times, threatening to go off, before falling again. But then, the water forms a big turquoise blister before exploding and shooting up above you! This lasts a few seconds before it shrinks back down and. All then goes quiet as the tourists walk away, thinking that it is over. But suddenly a second eruption happens, and you are once again treated to a showering aqua display, Iceland-style.

 

 

 

Walking on Glaciers

 

Look again to the top of the page, just after the writing, and you will see the satellite map of Iceland. Notice that there is a white blanket of ice covering much of the island. These are in fact glaciers, huge sheets of ice covering vast amounts of land, and believe it or not, you can walk on one of these magnificent things. Icelandic Mountain Guides offers trips to Sólheimajökull, part of Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland's fourth biggest glacier. On the journey there, looking out of the window you can see bits of the vast glacier poking through the volcanoes and mountains, adding to the excitement. When you arrive, the guide will give you crampons and ice-picks (which you don't really need, but do make you feel like a real mountaineer) and show you how to put the crampons on (which believe me, is not easy). Once up on the glacier, you will walk pass big holes, stopping to peer in, and  crevasses (cracks in the glacier) large and small. I never thought that ice could actually be blue, but deep down, it is - a rich, light blue.                                                                                                                                   What you will also notice is the tiny streams going down the glacier slope, and down the big holes, the sound of running water. This is the water from the melting glacier, and Mýrdalsjökull actually melts at a rate of 70m a year, meaning that unless global warming is dealt with, Mýrdalsjökull and other glaciers across the world will be a thing of the past in the not-so-distant future.

There are two options: a 3-hour tour and a 1 and a half hour tour. But you can only go up so far, as the ice becomes unstable after that, so for value for money choose the latter. Nevertheless, a glacier walk is a memorable experience and should be a must for any visitor to the country.

 

Whale-watching

 

Whales are the biggest animals on earth, and have beauty and mystique enough to amaze anyone who sees them. So, unsuprisingly, whale-watching tours in the northern town of Husavík have become quite popular among tourists to Iceland. At Husavík, get aboard Haukur, Iceland's last schooner, and you will experience a unique boat trip. The first stop is Lundey, where you can watch hundreds of puffins, before heading further into the Atlantic, and it is there that you will see the whales - gentle giants and the rulers of the North Atlantic.

 

 Between animal-spotting, you can keep hunger and thirst at bay with hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls and set sails and help the skipper as a lee helmsman, just as hundreds of Icelandic sailors have done before you, since the first settlers on the island. The Haukur whale-watching tours boast a 98% success rate of spotting whales. Three and a half hours that will live long in the memory.

 

 

Credit-crunch survivors

This autumn, Iceland was brought to the world's attention with the financial crisis - its banks failure to repay its large debts or refinance loans has ground the whole country to an economic standstill. That is certainly noticeable in the capital, where cranes previously busy constructing new buildings are abandoned, and a glass building is absolutely bare - as you look through it, there is nothing blocking your vision between you and Mount Esja, it is all empty. This is a blessing for tourists, who having previously been scared off by Iceland's hefty prices (£6 for a pint) now find a holiday there financially feasible, and food, drink and gifts affordable. But for the Icelanders themselves, another plus has emerged from the recession. With many of them not being able to afford trips abroad, they have opened their eyes, looked at their surroundings, and realised that the island in which they inhabit is actually not that bad. Citizens are now travelling to other parts of Iceland which they have not visited before, and a fish festival in one town attracted 40,000 people, one eighth of the Icelandic population. So now, tours and quaint villages are attracting just as many domestic travellers as foreigners, and although the country might be in the red for quite some time, the Icelanders need not worry about where to spend the summers to come - all they need is on their doorstep.

 

 

 

Iceland by the Icelander

So what does the comment on this website say about Iceland?

 

I'm from Iceland. Iceland has very popular places like Geysir, Gulfoss and the blue lagoon. Our only capital is Reykjavík and there is Kringlan and Smáralind, the biggest shopping centre in iceland.
The Icelandic handball team won silver at the Olympics 2008 - many pepole wouldn't find that very interesting but a land wining silver with only a 300,000 pepole population is a big achievement.

By Thordur