Thursday, August 30, 2007

On behalf of the Icelandic tourist board

Just spent the first half of my holiday in Iceland and now in New York for the second half. I've never been to Iceland before - despite being so close to the UK, it's rarely mentioned in the press and not really seen by many as a tourist destination - the Brits traditionally prefer their holidays to involve getting skin cancer while drinking beer by a tiny swimming pool. Several people who I told I was going to Iceland looked at me blankly and asked "why?"

Anyway, I'm pleased to report that Iceland is fab! Granted, even in summer the temperature rarely goes higher than 20 (and is often much lower), and everything is expensive - and their idea of fun is something called a "Herring Adventure Museum" (I'm not joking), but apart from that I had a great time. The food is amazing, the countryside is beautiful and varied (bits of it look like the moon, while other bits are like Mars), and almost all the tourist attractions are free. We bathed in a geothermically heated river, which was really weird. I also walked on a glacier (my mobile phone went off on it, oddly), drove up a volcano, saw a geyser erupt and went whale watching only a few miles from the Arctic circle - now that was cold. I was wearing five layers and still felt so cold that all I could do was close my eyes and hunker down on the side of the boat, hoping it would soon end.

Reykjavik, the capital city is on the bijou side as cities go - with a total population of only 300,000 in the whole country, with 2/3 living in or around Reykjavik, it has the feel of a small university town, rather than a metropolis - there is one main street of shops, where you can buy a lot of striped knitware. We went out on Saturday morning and it was like a ghost town - presumably everyone was recovering from a heavy night's drinking, the night before. The lucky Icelanders produce more energy than they need, it seems - the fact that they have access to so much naturally heated water is lucky. However, the tap water in the hotel had sulphur in it - drinking it was like having someone break wind in your face after eating lots of eggs. Not nice.

As for Viking stereotypes - we saw a lot of blondes - though I'm sure a lot of them came from a bottle. The women are very attractive - the men, um, not so. While everyone spoke English, I got the impression that some of the men just weren't very comfortable interacting with people. And Iceland is the country that fashion forgot. I guess there's only so much you can achieve with knitwear - and Icelanders are a very sensible people - when you're trying to stay warm, looking good has to come second place.

Anyway, as Iceland doesn't seem to be the sort of country that does well at singing its own praises - on behalf of it, I'd like to say, next time you're thinking of spending a week in Ibiza or somewhere equally vulgar - think on and go to Iceland instead.


Old Cheeser said...

Well, on the basis of what you've written, perhaps it will be my next holiday destination after Brazil...

Andy said...

Great review, I'm considering a visit after reading this and that saying something because I really hate the cold!

Whats that you say? Expensive booze? Ummm, ok I'll have to think about this some more :-)