An island country in a remote corner of Europe with 100 per cent green energy and 0 per cent crime. Sounds like a fairytale? Well, it is, and even more than that. Iceland offers travellers everything beyond imagination, starting from spectacular landscapes and incredible adventures up to utmost luxury.
By: Zane Altenburga, Travel & Lifestyle Consultant, Elan
Posted on: May 30, 2012
“I’ll take you for the swim of your life”, the local beauty hides behind her enigmatic smile, when picking us up at the airport. In less than half an hour the contrast of black lava rocks against the amazing deep blue coloured water suggests we have reached our destination. Carved in lava, the winding path leads us through a nearly mysterious landscape of scenic beauty to the Blue Lagoon where the warm geothermal seawater, loaded with minerals, splashes away our tiredness. The minerals leave a strange white coating on the rough lava rocks. The steam of water in the crystal clear air adds to these cryptic mineral paintings and the whole setting reminds of some science fiction movie. We apply the silica mud on our faces to look creepy enough to fit into this scene and welcome our cocktail with an uncanny smile.
Refreshed and rejuvenated, we try our hand in the fragile art of ice sculptures, following the secret techniques of our expert artist. Then, leaving our elusive beauties behind, we continue to Reykjavik that keeps up the surreal feeling, awaiting us with highly unusual architecture. Resting on six huge storage tanks, each able to hold 4 million liters of geothermal hot water, the top floor of our restaurant slowly rotates, affording a magnificent panorama of the city and surroundings while we enjoy the exquisite modern Nordic cuisine with a Mediterranean twist, before finding out if the legends of the debauch Reykjavik nightlife are really true.
Next day, full of thrilling expectations, we keep in mind the local saying that there’s nothing like good or bad weather, it’s all about clothing and state of mind. To explore the spectacular scenery of lava fields, mountains and glaciers, we board a super jeep for some off-road adventure flavoured by supreme natural phenomena. We are heading towards inland to see Europe’s most powerful waterfall, called Gullfoss. It is a glacier shaped waterfall which was formed in five days by an iceberg that travelled trapped under the glacier for many years. It now majestically thunders thousands of tons of icy water down into a deep gorge. The mist clouds surrounding this natural wonder are filled with dozens of rainbows and the brownish glacial water truly looks golden, leaving us stunned by the monumental beauty of nature. Quite soon, the infamous joke about the Icelandic forests makes total sense: the little clusters of undersized trees on the way confirm why the locals laugh that in case you ever get lost all you need to do is stand up.
Further a mountain road takes us to the second biggest glacier in Europe to experience the world of ice and snow. After ice climbing, a real outdoor ice buffet with Icelandic delicates and hot drinks is waiting for us, and now it is not so hard to imagine this 900 year old glacier hosting fully serviced private events! For sure the winter wonderland also has its wild side and occasionally doesn’t mind a jolly party crowd with spinning DJs and splashing cocktails.
Our tour continues to the Geyser area where we discover the famous Geysir which has given name to hot springs all over the world. The once great Geysir has been somewhat shy for a few decades. Apparently it just got tired and needed a rest. Now the crowd gets entertained by Geysir’s neighbour Strokkur, which though far less majestic, is still one of the most active geysers in the area. Every few minutes it spouts its steaming hot water up to 30 meters in the air.
Meandering among steaming vents, colourful mud formations and funny miniature geysers sprinkling boiling drops, we find our way out of the Geyser area by twilight. And as every evening, our looks turn skywards with hope to see these strange faintly coloured beams of northern lights that would create a perfect setting for any fishing and hunting adventures, or even better, for a game of cricket or football, enhancing the backdrop with lava mountains, waterfalls and volcanic lava ash.
A tête-à-tête with an active volcano is a must when visiting Iceland though it is a bizarre feeling when the chopper approaches this fire spouting power play of nature. Despite the awe, we feel slightly relieved when the distance between us increases. The contrast of fire and ice, earth’s constant rumbling, barren lava fields and ash covered hills may have become an integral part of life for the locals, but we are rather as perplexed as the Vikings and other early settlers, who believed that only those who died of old age, sickness, or as a coward were sent to the underworld of “Heljar”, a place covered in snow and ice.
However, by now the entire world is acquainted with Icelandic ash. We all remember the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010, the volcano whose name barely any non-Icelandic person can pronounce correctly, which brought the air traffic in Europe to complete standstill by discharging incredible amounts of ash into the sky. To immortalize the fact of an Icelandic volcano ruling Europe, JS Watch co, the first and only watch manufacturer in Iceland, integrated the miniscule, light volcanic ash into their newest model. So, if it is not enough for you to have the same watch as Quentin Tarantino, King of Greece or His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, you can try this one – made with genuine ash from the volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Maybe it really brings the energy and power of the innermost workings of our Earth, as promised by the manufacturers.
And if you are curious enough to actually see the innermost workings yourself, then take a step towards exploring the dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano. Using the necessary gear and equipment, arm yourself with willingness to finish an easy 40 minute hike (to get to the crater) and the guts to descend 120 meters to the bottom of the crater in an open cable lift.
Later, putting on our ice skates and admiring the frozen lake in the crater in front of us, we remember that any volcano is a temperamental creature with magma unceasingly boiling underneath our feet... To calm our adrenaline levels, locals entertain us with stories about their country, which is being run by some hundred thousand people, because the other two thirds of inhabitants are either too young or too old to work. Another interesting fact? The world’s very first parliament was formed in Iceland!
We are already on the way to our next adventure when our guide tells us that actually a local Viking found Americas at least 500 years before Columbus and legend has it that Columbus stopped in Iceland for directions before his journey. We are about to discover a remote corner of Iceland, offering a unique opportunity to watch polar bears up close and in person. Weighing up to one ton, the polar bears run faster than the world record holder for sprinting and can be dangerous. So, in the back of our head, it is good to know we can rely on our speedy snowmobiles.
When engines stop and the deafening silence enwraps us, a sudden realization surfaces. The time to leave this wonderland is approaching, though the few days packed with adventures and the warm welcome made it feel we’re been here for ages. There are still so many things we need to see and do…we definitely have to come back, to stay at the ice hotel, custom made just for us and have a candle light dinner 60 meters underground in a fully serviced volcanic lava cave. However, one thing we know for sure, this country is dangerously addictive, and if God has a residence, it certainly must be here, in Iceland.
To recreate a similar experience for yourself, visit www.worldofelan.com
As a freelance guide and tour leader, Zane has been in the travel business since eight years, mainly specializing in the Baltic countries. In February 2011, she became a part of the World of Elan, a luxury lifestyle consultancy based out of Mumbai, and since then is busy with organizing customized pirate attacks to small countries and flights to space instead of touring her native Latvia with a number of whimsical globetrotters.