In Iceland at this time of the year you can touch sunset with one hand and sunrise with the other. On the longest day the sun sets around midnight, and is up again at 3 a.m.
Iceland also has some wild swings in temperature, from +2,000 degrees to - 40. To be fair the 2,000 degrees is what you might experience if you stick your finger in molten lava, (not recommended), and the lowest temp in Reykjavik, the nation's capitol, normally doesn't dip much below 27, even in the dead of winter. But this time of year the average temp is in the 50s. So if you're tired of the summer heat, hÃ¶fuÃ° strax til Ãslands!
When Rebecca, youngest son James, and I landed in chilly Reykjavik our first stop was the Blue Lagoon, a unique place that provides a quick and relaxing jet lag fix. It was recommended to us by Bertram Van Munster, creator and producer of The Amazing Race, who used the location in Amazing Race 6 as a pit stop--it's a good one, race or no race.
The Blue Lagoon is an unusual spa located in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, about 12 miles from KeflavÃk International Airport. Because our flight was an overnighter from New York, we arrived right when it opened at 9 a.m., which is also the least crowded time. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and slid into the 100-degree silica and sulfur-imbued liquid. The man-made lagoon is fed by the water of a nearby geothermal plant. Nice. Very nice. We even slapped some mud on our faces, readily available in small wooden vats that are scattered around the edge of the water. I couldn't resist trying it after reading their ad that stated, “The silica mud gives a vital energy boost and smooth complexion. Brings out the skin's inner glow. Silica mud is the Blue Lagoon's principal element. The special white geothermal mud deep-cleanses and exfoliates. Easy to rinse off.” Not sure it worked on me, but as advertised it was easy to rinse off . . . We then tried a water massage, that according to them provides, “A relaxing massage with oil that contains Blue Lagoon active ingredients. A unique experience for body and soul.” What it didn't mention was that the massage was given by a big guy named Thor, and took place on a rubber mat floating around a “special place” in the lagoon. It's hard to relax when you're worried about drowning. After languishing in the Blue Lagoon, we had a terrific lunch at the LAVA Restaurant, (I had the torched salmon, smoked onion with apple, watercress, and horseradish. It was terrific). That experience fortunately was on dry land, and in a setting that looked into the lagoon. I ultimately preferred the view to the water portion of the exercise.
Afterwards James and I visited the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant, the headwaters of the lagoon, to take pictures. It was a really remarkable sight, with a brilliant turquoise colored river flowing out of the facility, and a large stream of steam emerging from its pipes. Clean energy yes, but with a strong scent of sulfur!
The next day we tooled around Reykjavik, the world's northernmost capital. The population in the greater Reykjavik area is around 200,000, about the size of Fayetteville, North Carolina. The whole country only has 325,000, which means they could all fit nicely, (if unwillingly), into Santa Ana, California. We dropped by the city hall on the shores of Lake TjÃ¶rnin to see what is, no doubt, the world's biggest relief map of Iceland. That was a short stop.
We headed up the hill to the National Museum where they had what appears to be the only collection of flying spoons on the planet. Made for a nice pic, kind of like a scene from Harry Potter. I also liked their stained glass window, and I was able to get a multi-colored pic of a house across the street. And for you Viking fans, there were plenty of artifacts from that era!
There are excellent examples of contemporary Icelandic art all around the city. I particularly liked the 1936 piece, “FÃ³tboltamaÃ°ur,” (footballer), by Sigurjon Olafsson in front of the National Gallery of Art. A nearby street had a colorful mural on the wall against the backdrop of a Russian Orthodox-style building providing contrast.
Iceland is also known for having the highest per capita income. That's a good thing because it's also one of the most expensive places on the planet to visit. In another per capita bit of trivia, they consume more Coca-Cola than anywhere else. The price? Three bucks for a small bottle of the carmel colored stuff.
A highlight for me was visiting HÃ¶fÃ°i House, the site of U.S. President Ronald Reagan's 1986 summit meeting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. That occasion produced a TIME Magazine cover for me, and also led to a photo of 1985 Miss World HÃ³lmfrÃÃ°ur KarlsdÃ³ttir, a native Icelander, jogging around Reykjavik wearing a Reagan/Gorbachev sweatshirt. (She was the first Major Mizz W from Iceland, but two others have since held that title, Linda PÃ©tursdÃ³ttir in 1988, and Unnur Birna VilhjÃ¡lmsdÃ³ttir in 2005. Not bad for one of the world's smallest countries with some of the biggest named people.
My next blog coming up will talk about, and show photos of our six days Backroads trip through Iceland!