Words & Images: Liz Schaffer
April 17 2016
Iceland is a remarkable place. Spread over two tectonic plates, here you can see the world drift apart. Glaciers cover 11,922 square kilometres of the land and locals have learned to not only live with volcanic activity, but to master it.
Indeed, Iceland’s geothermic knowledge seems to be constantly growing as they drill directly into volcanoes to harness their power, with some experimental bores reaching eight kilometres in depth. Determined not to be reliant on the rest of the world following the economic crash of 2008, Iceland grows its own fruit (they’re particularly proud of their bananas) and flowers. Iceland also produces its own power, and is currently 90 percent sustainable. For all these advances, the mythical is never far away – fantasy is real and elves, fairies and sorcerers are not something to be joked about. In fact, one of the national highways had a slight curve to it, added after an engineer had a dream about upsetting resident trolls.
Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, means ‘Smokey Bay’ and was a name first used in the Viking era. It was on the moss-covered lava fields surrounding the city that Armstrong and Aldrin practiced for the lunar landing. During our January visit through these fields were blanketed under snow and looked impossibly smooth. We were warned not to be fooled.
On winter mornings steam rises from the ground, hinting at the activity constantly bubbling away beneath the surface, as small Icelandic horses stroll though fields, looking completely unfazed by the biting cold. And then the sun emerges and the true magic of the landscape was revealed. Rocks glow pink as the snow dazzles, this is like nowhere else on earth.
It was upon the famous Snæfellsjökull glacier that Jules Verne had his hero depart in ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ while Dettifoss is said to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe and Eyjafjallajökull volcano has a knack for disrupting air travel. This really is a powerful, dramatic place. Found just below the Arctic Circle, summer days are as long as the winter nights when the Aurora Borealis comes out to play.
To really discover Iceland it’s best to give the country at least a week and hit the road, being mindful of wind gust that show open car doors no mercy. What you really can’t miss though is the chance to bathe in geothermic hot springs,The Blue Lagoon being the most iconic, climb beneath the surface through volcanic caves (with expert guide of course), feel rather insignificant as you walk between the Eurasian and North American plates, photograph frozen waterfalls, catch a wave, spy glowing blue ice on black sand beaches, overindulge in seafood (fish and chips here put traditional English offerings to shame – largely because the Arctic Char is so excellent) and delight in the Reykjavik music scene. That said, Iceland also happens to be Europe’s least densely populated country, so solitude is always possible.