Iceland: Sophisticated, Easygoing Adventure

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At last, at long last, I was on my way to Iceland, Europe's "land of fire and ice."

After years of thinking about going there, we were arriving by sea, for an all too short one-day stopover as part of a Crystal Cruise. As we approached the capital city of Reykjavik, its skyline looked surprisingly clear and free from pollution. Yet, Reykjavik translates as "Bay of Smoke," which describes the geothermal steam vents that provide hot water and central heating for the whole city and much of the country.

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Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is a walkable city.

Reykjavik is a relatively small city -- easy to maneuver -- with a good map and comfortable shoes, you can easily "do the town" on foot, announced our ship's captain. Coming from the harbor, we headed down Grofin Street into the heart of town.

We reached a lake and immense city park, where we paused for a friendly chat with the local residents who were out enjoying the warm sun, which sets only three hours a day during summer's light period.

Nearby, on one shore of the lake is the National Museum of Iceland, and on the other, The National Gallery of Iceland. Down the road a bit is our favorite, the Arbaer Museum, a wonderful open-air folk museum depicting the early customs of the local people.

We headed outside of town to the Geothermal Water Storage Tanks, known as the Perlan or "The Pearl." This is an architectural marvel that also houses a very nice restaurant, where we sampled the local lunch menu. Delicious.

The locals we met there seriously tried to encourage us to stay in town late into the evening. We couldn't. Our ship was leaving at 6 p.m.

One of Iceland's most important historic sites is less than 7 miles from Reykjavik. Thingvellir is an extraordinary natural amphitheater and the location of the world's oldest Parliament that was convened in 930 A.D. by Viking colonists.

For me, one of the great lures of Iceland is the mind-boggling series of contrasts of terrain, light, weather and wildlife. To fully experience the geysers, glaciers, volcanoes, scalding-hot, bubbling mud pools dotting the landscape, blue fjords, the spectacular waterfalls and rainbow-painted houses in the countryside will take much longer.

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