In this latest article, Andy Mossack - a respected travel writer and the creator and presenter of BBC Radio’s “Where in the World is Andy” travelogue series - transports us to Iceland. Be sure to check back in for other insightful reviews from Andy’s travel exploits.
Iceland sits atop the world like an Elvin queen; her stunning beauty is there for all to see. But beware of the deadly temper awaiting underneath that veneer, boiling away below the surface, bursting out fire and brimstone with little warning. Fortunately for me she was in a good mood for my visit, although you might call the occasional biting gale-force wind a foreboding taste of what lies in wait if she gets in a seriously bad mood.
5 Cool Things to See & Do
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir’s scarred volcanic landscape is located just outside the capital of Reykjavik. Revered by Icelanders as the site of the first Icelandic general assembly from 900 AD to the late 1700s, it was here that nature fought a mighty battle - as evidenced by the great rift right at the junction of the north Atlantic and Eurasian plates. The scars of battle are all around: mighty volcanoes, glaciers, craggy lava fields, boiling hot geysers, the huge waves of water that once flooded the land and tossed huge boulders around like pebbles.
The park itself is exceptional; the rift valley still moving apart at a rate of two centimeters a year is a wondrous place where, depending on the time of day and how the light catches it, a different facade is cast each time you visit.
The Great Geysir
On the other hand, the Great Geysir is more regulated. Here the steam coming out of the holes in the earth’s crust give the area a mysterious shroud not unlike a smoky battleground, the murky shapes of people appearing out of the mist an eerie sight. Every few minutes, old Geysir shoots up boiling water some 100 feet or so, the way it’s been doing for millennia. And Iceland is still changing. Each seismic shift or new volcanic eruption breaches new steam holes in the landscape, the hot water in such abundance it’s harnessed to heat the homes of most of the population. They call it geothermal heating, but I call it hot water on tap for your house at rates so cheap it’s almost a giveaway.
The Blue Lagoon
The geothermal water is best experienced firsthand at the Blue Lagoon, a vast lake of the hot stuff in the foothills of the lava fields in between Reykjavik and the international airport at Keflavik. Here you can bathe in six million liters of geothermal seawater and spread white silica mud over your body to smooth your complexion and energize and exfoliate your skin. Part hotel and part spa, the Blue Lagoon is a must see, but I’d advise you to take along your own towel and robe to avoid paying a rental fee.
Short and stocky with gorgeous long manes, these beasts, directly descended from the Viking originals, are beautiful creatures built for working. They are immensely strong and lightning quick. Unlike other horses who walk, trot and gallop, these guys have a fourth gear called a flying pace, which is a perfect description. I took a memorable two-hour Icelandic horseback tour with Ishestar Riding, which caters to both new and experienced riders with a walk and trot around the stunning frozen lava fields.
The Northern Lights
Of course, one of the main attractions of Iceland is the opportunity to experience the mysterious Northern Lights (pictured above), one of the magical natural wonders of the night sky in the polar regions of the world. February is considered one of the best times to see them here, but remember a clear night is a must and even then, you’re never guaranteed to see them. Iceland Excursions run nightly tours, and they will ferry you around the countryside seeking out the best places to try and see those elusive lights. Fortunately, if you don’t manage to get a glimpse, you can always rebook for another night at no extra charge.
The Elvin Queen is a sight to behold any time of the year, but during winter, be prepared for everything she might throw at you if she’s feeling moody!
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Featured Image: Northern Lights at the Blue Lagoon (Shutterstock.com)