Enamored of Iceland
My husband, Compton, and I wanted to get away to gain new perspectives and hoped to find some peace in Iceland. We found that and much, much more. The one week we spent there in September ’03 was most memorable and exciting. We only regret that we did not have more time.
Ours was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Through Iceland Saga Travel, LLC. (3 Freedom Square, Nantucket, MA 02554; phone 866/423-7242 or 508/825-9292, e-mail email@example.com), we found what we wanted: eight days with two tours. The cost was $2,546 for both of us and included air from Boston, guest house with breakfasts, two tours and airport transfers.
We flew Icelandair from Boston to Keflavik. From there we took a bus for the short trip to Reykjavik.
Bob Felch, the owner of Iceland Saga Travel, had recommended we stay at Guesthaus Sunna (Pórsgata 26, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland; phone  511 5570 or mobile  896 5070, fax  551 2832, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). We did, and it turned out we were situated in the older part of town but within walking distance of the center. There were at least two museums within our block, and our room looked out on a sculpture garden at one of these.
The imposing Lutheran church was a stone’s throw away, and its soaring steeple tower was a focal point whenever we ventured out; we always knew where we were.
A major hospital was a few minutes away and, to our delight, we found the oldest indoor swimming pool in Reykjavik, which we visited on our first day of arrival. Sitting outside in a hot tub we met some of the islanders, who were very generous in answering our questions. We were beginning to feel at home and we had just arrived!
Guesthaus Sunna, run by Louisa Steinporsdottir, was just what we wanted. It was very clean, and we had our own small bathroom with shower and, in the hallway, a refrigerator and a kettle for hot water. At breakfast we met people from diverse countries and had many a nice interchange.
Louisa, a serene younger woman, was very efficient and knowledgeable. A special joy for me was talking to her mother on nights when she sat at the reception desk and the house was quiet. We established a personal liking for each other and I only hope that my husband and I will be able to return soon.
On our second day we took the “Golden Circle Tour,” which showed us part of the country with its endless lava fields, geysers, waterfalls, volcanoes and the few isolated houses. The somber, inhospitable landscape with its stark beauty took our breath away.
Another, shorter trip on our last day took us through small fishing villages and ended at the Blue Lagoon. The hot springs, rich with minerals, fed a nearby geothermal power station. It was a cloudy, misty day, but we were energized by these hot springs which, at times, were too hot for us to remain in for a long time.
Lying on our backs, we looked up at the volcanic mountains — almost unreal in their mystifying beauty. This was indeed a small piece of paradise. We felt wonderfully relaxed.
Following are some reasons why this stay was so special.
• The travel arrangements left most of our time to ourselves to explore.
• The guest house was both convenient and hospitable.
• The museums — such as the Culture House, which houses old medieval documents and tells the story of Iceland, beginning with the Vikings — were very well done.
Other notable exhibits included the Nordic House, where we discovered a Norwegian artist making the most unusual, exquisite jewelry out of wood, and the silk screen artist at Baronssfig 59 in Reykjavik who designs only for newlyweds on sheets and pillow cases and refuses to commercialize her art.
The Phallological Museum, the only one in the world, was a curiosity, showing appendages of various animals, mostly whales.
• The geothermal waters, with seven pools in Reykjavik alone, were accessible and healthy. And the Blue Lagoon with its hot springs was a delight and should not be missed.
• The fresh, clean air and pure water were invigorating. Geothermal energy results in little pollution, and we were told that their scientists are working on fuel cell development, with some of the city buses already running on this principle. They seem to be far ahead of us in conserving energy and getting beyond oil dependency.
Coming from a society that is using so much gasoline for SUVs and oil for heating, we were astounded that islanders needed only $40 a month for all of their power needs, summer and winter. Conservation and recycling have become a way of life there.
• We were most impressed that there was no armed military force. During our week we did not see one policeman, though they do exist (but without firearms).
Not once did we see a homeless person or beggar, though of course there are social problems with excessive drinking and rebellious young people. Taxes are very high, but we would gladly pay them if we would not have to be concerned about our health in old age. Yes, we enjoyed this essentially classless society where everyone has the security of free health care and education.
• We found the people friendly but never intrusive. In my observation, they live closely with nature, never knowing when one of the volcanoes will erupt and spread more lava. Life is scaled down to necessities but not without style. Their homes — covered by metal roofs and corrugated aluminum siding to endure the stark winds coming in from the ocean — have a kind of elemental beauty.
Since Iceland has large lava fields and a cold climate, there is not much agriculture except for raising sheep and fishing, and much must be imported. Food prices are high, and many families have to take two jobs to get by. Yet this is a healthy society that survives well within its limits.
The 8-day visit was a welcome change and, from our American point of view, provided a fresh perspective. We certainly will return.
Storrs Mansfield, CT