The Land of Ice & Fire

The Land of Ice & Fire

Iceland is known for its extreme contrasts and being the obvious destination for people looking for the unexpected. Here rustic beauty lies along epic landscapes. However, like all the ice in Iceland, its glaciers are rapidly sinking.

Can you pronounce Eyjafjallajokull” asked our guide John with a mischievous look in his eyes. We tried our best. He laughed and started to teach us the correct pronunciation. The volcano in question is Eyjafjallajokull, whose ashy eruptions last year famously shut down European air traffic for days, creating the worst aviation stoppage since World War II (and also a pronunciation stoppage among American newscasters; most resorted to “that vol- CANE-oh in ICE-land”)!

It all started in July 2013 when I and Dr. Jayamohan got an opportunity to visit Copenhagen to attend the European Ophthalmic Conference. I planned for a detour to Iceland for a short trip. After some amount of persuasion Dr. Jayamohan agreed reluctantly. As a serious photo enthusiast, Iceland had always been my dream destination. Copenhagen to Reykjavik is a 3 hour flight. We took the Iceland Airways and the services were impeccable. I was looking through the window, most of the time, admiring the beauty of floating clouds and Atlantic Ocean, except when the beautiful Icelandic Air Hostess walked past the aisle! Keflavic airport was covered with fog. According to legend , the first viking settler of Iceland,a Norwegian chieftain named Ingólfur Arnarson, was searching for land in the thick fog due to the geothermal steam rising from the earth. He threw two carved pillars overboard as he neared land, vowing to settle wherever they landed. He then sailed along the coast until the pillars were found in the southwestern peninsula, now known as Reykjanesskagi. There he settled with his family around 874, in a place he named Reykjavik (Cove of Smoke). Keflavic International Airport is 80 km from Reykjavik. Even though the 2008 financial crisis has made the value of Icelandic kroner tumble down, prices for tourists in this country is still high like any other Scandinavian countries and taking a private taxi would be very expensive. The best way to travel to Reykjavik and back is by a Flybus booking. You can do it on line in advance and your bus will be waiting for you 24×7.

I had booked our room in Hotel Cabin. Externally the hotel looked proportional to the money we paid but once inside the room I found out that the hotel had utilized most of the space for corridors and dining halls leaving minuscule space for the rooms. The rooms were so small that I thought the name CABIN was put with great insight!

About 315,000 people live here among eerie rock formations and shining glaciers, but the landscape is so austere and weird, you might think that you had woken in an outpost in an alien world. In “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” Jules Verne wrote that the entrance to a subterranean passage was on Iceland’s Snaefellsnes peninsula. It’s easy to see why he would have imagined this. To visit is to be enveloped in a physical landscape so extreme that visions of it invade even your sleep. Iceland is a stunningly beautiful place if you enjoy strange and desolate landscapes. Because it is so close to the Arctic Circle, the amount of daylight varies dramatically by season. The sun sets briefly each night in June, but it doesn’t get fully dark before it comes back up again. In the March and September equinoxes, days and nights are of about equal length, as elsewhere in the world. If you go in December, it’s almost 20 hours of darkness. Summer is definitely the best time to go, and even then the tourist traffic is still mild. The midnight sun is a beautiful sight and one definitely not to be missed.

Iceland tour can be done in multiple ways. The most economical is by making your base in Reykjavik, and taking day tours with the multitude of tour buses available. The disadvantage is that they go according to their plan and you are traveling with a group of people.

The second option is to hire a private vehicle with driver cum guide. Though expensive this is the best way to enjoy Icelandic landscape. For those who are adventurous, can choose the third option of hiring a vehicle and drive around. With freedom to stop and shoot pictures anywere I decided to choose the second option.