DISCOVER ICELAND Posted on 10 Oct 19:42
Travel’s best-kept-secret has lately become the world's next must-see destination. A mere 4 1/2 hour flight from America’s east coast and even closer from Europe, Iceland is now the seventh most requested destination of travel agents for good reason. Iceland is friendlier, wealthier, happier and far more advanced than almost any other country on earth.
To understand why, first, dispense with with assumptions drawn from its eponymous name and position on the Arctic Circle. On average, Iceland is in fact two degrees warmer than New York City and wasn’t named for its temperature but rather after its most distinct natural features- 24 mountain-top glaciers and rugged northern fjords packed with drift ice from neighboring Greenland. Setting those spectacles aside, the rest of Iceland is warmer than you could ever imagine.
The story began 1100 years ago when fiercely proud Norwegian chieftains set sail to avoid paying respect- and taxes- to newly rising feudal lords in mainland Scandinavia. In Iceland they found an unclaimed land, lush and green, to call their own. Building eco-architecture turf houses, Iceland’s original settlers not only survived but even prospered in a landscape at times hostile, yet breathtaking to behold, and then documented their experience in some of the greatest literature the world has ever known- the Sagas of Icelanders. By 930 AD they had already established the world’s most enduring legislative assembly, a parliament, the Althing, to insure their freedom, convening twice a year inside a series of dramatic tectonic rift canyons to recite the law and for drawn-out gathering of merriment, trade, trials and occasional executions. A few Icelanders even went on to discover Greenland and North America- all the way to present-day New York City- 500 years before Christopher Columbus.
A volcanic island emerging from beneath the sea, its landscapes have been continually erupting ever since they first formed 15 million years ago. As many as 55 of 900 volcanoes remain active, erupting on average every four years, leaving the terrain covered in vivid, telltale lava flows and bejeweled with countless natural hot springs which feature greatly in Icelandic cultural tradition. Iceland also boasts Europe’s greatest wilderness expanse and some of earth’s most impressive glaciers. True to its name, a tenth is frozen under glacial ice. But surrounding coasts are green and balmy in summer, while winters are mild, creating access to the exotic like nowhere else.
What Iceland presents in its landscapes is equaled by its arts and scientific advances which continue to challenge and inspire the outside world. With just over 300,000 inhabiting an area of approximately 100,000 square kilometers (40,000 square miles) – more than half of them live in the capital city, Reykjavik- leaving the rest of Iceland the seventh most sparsely populated country in the world. Today literacy, longevity, and social cohesion in Iceland are first-rate, creating one of the safest, most worry-free places to explore.
Visitors may expect to find a party in Reykjavik’s historic 101 harbor district of lively cafes, restaurants, bars, boutiques, galleries and museums- but will most likely end up appreciating Iceland’s vast, tranquil landscapes which conjure a notion of time before- or after- mankind’s impact. In just a 20 minute drive from the capital, one can witness a raw world as it was originally formed and experience the sensation of being utterly alone in perfect silence.