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April in Reykjavik

February 7th, 2012 · 2 Comments · Books, Children, City Library, Friends of the West Manchester Community Library, Government Documents, Main Branch, NH Room, Teens, Trustees, West Branch

It was Easter Sunday and instead of the customary egg cracking contest among relatives I was getting pelted by horizontal swaths of hail. This was a typical, late spring day in Reykjavik, Iceland. Despite the rigors of changeable Arctic weather, Iceland proved to be a fascinating vacation destination. And there were practical reasons for visiting as well.  For one thing, it’s close—Just 4 ½ hours from Boston on Icelandair. And it is small—roughly the size of Kentucky—so with limited time you can see a good portion of the country.

To see the country’s major highlights we booked a “Golden Circle Tour” with the first stop, Thingvellir National Park. Although it was a blinding snowstorm that April day, our trilingual guide (he spoke French, English and Icelandic) pointed out the valley rift where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart from each other, adding 2 centimeters to the landmass every year. Because of its precarious geologic position on a major fault line, Iceland is literally seething with constant volcanic activity. That’s not all bad news since the resulting geothermal activity provides 96 % of the country’s energy needs. From the National Park we visited Gullfoss, a spectacular, 2-tiered waterfall. Next up was a warm drenching from Geysir hot spring, as we hadn’t timed its eruption to our casual stroll around the area.

The following day we headed off to the Blue Lagoon—a geothermal spa set in a bleak, lava-strewn landscape. We whiled away the grey afternoon happily floating in the powder blue, 99 degree saltwater. We also popped in and out of saunas, and got our backs massaged by the force of the spa’s waterfall. For good measure we slathered on the white mud lining the pool— It’s a concoction of minerals that are great for your skin, although you look a little odd while it dries to a bright pastiness.

Even though Icelanders speak perfect English you may want to try your hand at Icelandic—a language that resembles the Old Norse spoken by the Viking immigrants over 1100 years ago. Try Teach Yourself Icelandic.

Curious as to why that modest looking lunch costs so much? You might be interested in Michael Lewis’s latest book Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. The first chapter describes what led up to Iceland’s banking collapse in 2008.

Where should you stay? Start with the Icelandair website for special package deals. Or get a few ideas from  Frommer’s Iceland 2011. We stayed at the Hilton Nordica, a 4 star hotel of sleek design with a complimentary full breakfast buffet that included all manner of smoked fish and meats that you wash down with shots of fish oil for good health.

Iceland is intriguing on so many levels—for one thing, its people are all related. Descended from Vikings and their Celtic slaves, this isolated and homogenous population is lately the subject of several genetic studies. Then there is their unflappable belief in “Hidden People”—elves, dwarves, gnomes who inhabit deserted regions—which means that they are pretty much everywhere.

And according to author Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss it is one of the happiest places on earth. “There’s no one on the island telling them they’re not good enough, so they just go ahead and sing and paint and write.”  If only we all had their confident yet playful perspective on life. Spend a few days on this unusual island and that quality may rub off on you.

Mary O.

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