On Iceland

Iceland. The name conjures up some wildly divergent images. You’ll hear that it’s actually green and gorgeous, and that Greenland is the ice-covered land. You’ll envision volcanoes spewing ash into the sky, disrupting air traffic the world over. And you’ll hear about it being a modern, vibrant financial center (prior to the recent worldwide implosion, that is) with a flair akin to Paris.

In reality, Iceland is all of that and more.

We made landfall in Akureyri on the northern part of the island. In that part of the country, Iceland features a greener-than-Ireland palette, with flat-topped mountains creating fjords that cut in from the sea. Farms dot the landscape up to a certain point on the hillsides, above which the terrain goes alpine pretty quickly.

And the landscape over on the southwest coast, over where the population is centered, recalls nothing more than southern Idaho with its vast lava fields dotted with power lines and cell towers, where nothing grows but small grasses and mosses (you Sun Valley friends will know what I’m talking about). Unlike Idaho, however, there’s a deep blue ocean abutting the black-lava desert and snow-covered volcanoes on the horizon.

In between the two coasts, Iceland is uniquely fascinating and a place I hope to explore more, perhaps come September. Flying over the island’s center revealed a terrain reminiscent of the moon, or maybe the American Southwest. Four-by-four roads crisscrosed the scenery and made it clear why there are so many jacked-up Jeeps and pickup trucks on the roadways. Scattered clear-flowing rivers could be seen flowing from the high country of snow-covered volcanoes and glaciers, and the thought of chasing salmon there is very enticing. And the doubtlessly bizarre notion of walking across Iceland occurred to me as I winged my way to the capital…any takers?

And Reykjavik itself is a wildly intriguing city. If I were in my 20s, I’d take up residence there — at least for the summer — in a heartbeat. It’s a hip, young, chic (three adjectives you’d NEVER apply to me) city and they live la vida loca, for sure. The bars and clubs hop nonstop and the beautiful people outnumber my clique by a wide margin. It’s a joyous, gleeful party scene until the wee hours.

In the morning, however, it’s a different story. The city center then is deserted apart from a couple of women in high heels doing the walk of shame, and a legion of street sweepers and cleaning trucks removing the detritus of the night before: broken glass and takeaway food wrappers everywhere. It’s a shame that such joyful, beautiful people can’t exert a bit more foresight toward what they’re wreaking.

The morning after kinda cast a pall over the image Reykjavik seems to try hard to cultivate: one of fashion, of chic style and urbane attitudes. For instance, there are several top-notch, good-looking outdoor-clothing companies in Iceland — this is a people that plays hard in harsh environments and still looks good doing it. It would be nice if the hangover wasn’t so ugly.

Of course, a lot of that hangover might be due to the myriad foreigner visitors in Iceland: in less than 24 hours I heard English, American, French, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Norwegian, Swedish and German in addition to Icelandic being spoken (and frankly, all the Brits and Yanks in Reykjavik was a rude awakening that I was, in fact, off the boat and back in the mainstream). All of the Icelanders I met were friendly and helpful — and like Norway, the female of the species tended toward the very lovely — with a refreshing combination of urban and outdoor lifestyle.

As I mentioned above, Iceland is definitely a place I’d like to explore further. And given the changes to Polar Bear’s schedule, that exploration might just take place in early September. Stay tuned.

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