Iceland: The Cool New ‘Hot’ Spot


I RAN INTO A FRIEND the other night as I was returning from Iceland. He’d just been to China and we were both taking BART to the Rockridge station. “What a small world,” I thought as we wheeled our luggage onto the train. But it occurred to me that here in the hills, we’re constantly coming and going. A neighbor just returned from India, another from Africa, and a third couple uprooted completely and moved to Mexico. We can’t seem to stay put these days.
But Iceland? Why would one fly to this cold, forbidding place near the Arctic Circle?
Because we can, in less than nine hours with a nonstop flight out of San Francisco.
It’s a myth, of course, that Iceland is covered in ice. The climate is more temperate than my home state of Minnesota. Summers are normally mild, with almost round-the-clock daylight in June and July. Folks play golf at midnight in Iceland. Kids ride their bikes at midnight and jump on trampolines. And the capital, Reykjavik, is renowned for its nightlife, which carries on until 4 or 5 a.m. It doesn’t get dark, it gets blue, with a strange filtered light that drapes the island.
The energy fills you. In fact, that’s Iceland’s mantra — pure energy. Volcanoes erupt here, every few years. Geysers shoot water in powerful plumes. And massive glaciers dominate the landscape. Almost 95 percent of the homes run on geothermal power, making Iceland one of the cleanest places on earth. And the people tap into it, powering their homes and filling their pools with the warm, healing water. It’s a main source of recreation — swimming in Iceland’s thermal pools.
Or you could scale a waterfall covered with ice. Or take a snowmobile across miles of snow-covered lava fields, or ski down a mountain of pristine powder. The daylight is short in an Icelandic winter, but nature still calls. And on cold, clear nights you’re likely to see the sky’s most spectacular show, the Northern Lights. It’s a phenomenon so powerful that it’s as if an electrical charge traveled right through you.
But it’s not only nature that draws folks here. It’s the people. They’re savvy and educated, yet tied to their past with a language (Icelandic) that dates to the Vikings. How many countries have records dating to their earliest settlers, and have kept both their language and customs intact? Even the horses are a pure breed dating to the Vikings. And Icelanders are so self-sufficient; they grow much of their produce in geothermal greenhouses and raise cattle and sheep for meat. Their fish is fresh and abundant and prepared with an international flair that pleasantly surprises most visitors. In other words, it’s not just boiled cod and potatoes. In the week I was there, I had everything from steamed lobster to scallops so fresh they were pulled from the icy waters in nets and cleaned right in front of me.
Then there’s the other cuisine. They eat puffin in Iceland, those clown-faced birds that look like penguins and taste like liver. Reindeer often ends up in Icelandic buffets. And aged shark meat is considered a delicacy, if you can get it down. With the odor of rotting flesh, it’s cut into squares and served in shots of Brennivin. The liquor numbs your taste buds and raises your body temperature. It’s said to put hair on your chest.
Iceland is raw and spectacular. Like a moonscape in some spots, it’s lush green in others.
Waterfalls abound from the melting highlands, springs bubble from the ground, and the Atlantic Ocean kisses the coastline. It’s Mother Nature’s finest work, a masterpiece in progress as volcanoes erupt and the earth bubbles and churns deep underground. Why visit Iceland? Because we can, and because it’s the antidote to life as we know it today.


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