Following last year’s great Yukon adventure, we decided that we were going to drive the Dempster Highway this year in order to experience 24 hours of daylight. However, work schedules resulted in the trip having to be taken in June, when there was no predictable ferry service across the two rivers that interrupt the Dempster Highway. A long time fascination that Peter had with Iceland after seeing a 1975 National Geographic article on Vestmanneyar and the volcanic eruption that almost devastated the island, resulted in Iceland being the destination of choice for this summer’s vacation.
The name Iceland, leads everyone to ask why would one go there for a vacation. This naming tactic employed in the 9th century AD was a method of keeping others from following the first settlers that landed on the island in 871AD. Their landing spot near present day Hofn on the south coast of the island was very near Vatnajokul Icecap, the largest in Europe, and likely lead to the naming of Iceland.
For those brave enough to overcome their friend’s incessant questioning about going to such a place, instead of a more commonplace destination (just about anywhere else), Iceland offers a unique experience, that is certainly worth the price of admission.
The Icelandic experience started from the moment we got on Icelandair in Minneapolis. The tall blond flight attendants in their uniforms with the 1950’s style hats made us feel like we were going back to a time of more pleasant air travel with less hassle and more feeling of adventure. The adventure started as soon as we got on the bus to Reykjavik. The large flat plain of sand and rock between the airport and town has been described as a moonscape and sets the expectation that the entire island will look like this.
However, there were signs of green and then trees as we approached the outer suburbs of Reykjavik. This town of 250,000 is the new
IT place in Europe, with its burgeoning music and arts scene, and now famous all-night club-hopping. The $12 beers and $25 hamburgers are no deterrent to those that are determined to party all day long. As in most places, the action doesn’t get going until night fall, but in this case, that means when the light is at its lowest intensity, around 1am, and even then that is still quite bright.
Our two days in Reykjavik were spent exploring the city’s museums, art galleries, and thermal baths with friend Keith who joined us from London for the weekend. Icelanders take pride in their history and have a museum dedicated to their settlement in 871. They also are proud of their contribution to recent history, where the 1986 summit between Reagan and Gorbachev was held, which, Icelanders will tell you, was the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Street art (aka graffiti) is also very popular and is another form of self-expression that is seemingly not discouraged.
We hit a few of the restaurants and bars before they would transform themselves in the small hours of the morning into a raving music scene. The coffee shops and other café’s provided a very European flavor to this transatlantic town. While the buildings were definitely Scandinavian, the surprisingly large numbers of North American SUVs and trucks lead to a confusion about just exactly where we were. Like most North American cities, these SUVs with wide tires were not seen outside of the city, but were used to cruise the main street during the all night party held every weekend.
Iceland sits on top of the mid-Atlantic ridge where the European and North American plates are slowly drifting apart. This fissure results in a constant supply of geothermal energy that is used to soothe the body in the numerous hot baths in Reykjavik and around the country as well as provide energy for industrial uses and home heating. 70% of Iceland’s energy is supplied by geothermal and hydroelectric power, making it the country with the highest percentage of renewable energy being used today. However, this did not lead to cheap energy for the locals, as some people grumbled to us, but allowed Iceland to attract a lot of aluminum smelters to process aluminum oxide into the aluminum metal. This has sullied their impression of themselves as an Eco-population, and has lead the government to find other more environmentally friendly customers, such as IT server farms and data warehouses.