The global slowdown threatens to disrupt the travel plans of many, with wildly fluctuating currencies that make it hard to predict the price of an overseas beer, let alone a holiday. Take, for example, residents of the United Kingdom bound for mainland Europe – they’re particularly aggrieved that the rate of the euro almost reached parity with the British pound.
Other destinations, however, have grown in appeal for travellers looking to beat the ‘credit crunch’. The most prominent of these is the mysterious mid-Atlantic island of Iceland , whose economy suffered a massive crash in the autumn of 2008, literally halving the value of the Icelandic currency, the Krone.
It’s not like travelers needed an extra excuse to visit this enticing land of fire, ice and natural wonders. But the added prospect of a pint of Viking beer for £3 (as opposed to £6!) made this destination irresistible for my friends and I this winter.
Iceland: The perfect weekend getaway
Iceland is the perfect long-weekend break from either Western Europe or the USA’s east coast. In less than 3 hours from London, Paris or Berlin, or around 5 hours from New York or Boston, you can inhale the fresh Icelandic air and feel a world away from the stress of the city.
Arriving late on a Friday evening, the temptation was there to hit Reykjavik’s legendary bar scene straight away following the hour’s transfer from Keflavik airport. But bearing in mind we had an action-packed day on Iceland’s flagship tour, the Golden Circle Super Jeep Tour starting early the next morning, we opted to hit the sack.
Though sleep proved difficult (we would gain revenge the following night!) in our swish apartment on the main bar street of Laugavegur – the economic crisis did not seem to have dampened the capacity of the Icelanders to party!
One notable feature of a winter weekend in Iceland is that you won’t see much sun. So despite a 9am departure from Reykjavik on our Super Jeep it was two hours before darkness lifted, over the stunningly beautiful Thingvellir National Park.
Iceland: Cold, harsh, beautiful
A UNESCO World Heritage site, it was here that Iceland’s first Parliament was formed in AD930. Geologists as well as historians are in their element here: Thingvellir is at the centre of an enormous geologic rift between the Eurasian and North American plates resulting in intense tectonic activity. This has created spectacular scenery, including Iceland’s biggest lake and dramatic cliffs, and was a great spot for sunrise – and a spot of Icelandic breakfast!
Next on the agenda was a gradual climb up to the LangjÃ¶kull glacier, which if you are planning on visiting in winter – pack your thermals! With wind-chill factored in, the thermometer would have plunged to -25C (-13F). Luckily for us, we had an adrenalin-pumping snowmobile ride to raise our body heat a notch, and these cool boys’ (and girls!) toys didn’t disappoint, with impressive acceleration and speeds over 50mph.
Snowmobiling on the glacier with the fresh wind in your face (albeit with visors on your helmet if it gets too cold!) was an amazing experience and, despite the bleak terrain and conditions, made you glow inside. Being in touch with the elements far away on an Icelandic glacier is a great way of escaping the stresses and strains of the city – and the dreaded recession!
After thawing in the Super Jeep (now I know why the guide wore a sheepskin-lined coat!) on the descent down the glacier, we reached what for many is the icon of Iceland – the spectacular geyser of Geysir.
Undoubtedly famous, given the fact its name is lent to describe the phenomenon it creates, the geyser throws up boiling hot water every few minutes, treating spectators to quite a show. Half of the fun is from predicting when the eruption will happen and humming a drum roll to prepare us for the inevitable. Only skilled lens operators can capture the explosion – a test for any keen camera artist!
Reykjavik itself is a very quirky city and a great place to party after a day in touch with nature. Dine on meter-long crab claws that might have formed part of the Deadliest Catch in the exquisite Fishmarket restaurant (washed down by Viking, naturally), then check out Kaffibarinn, a cool bar part-owned by Blur’s Damon Alborn.
If, like us, you crave junk food after a night on the tiles, then make your way to BÃ¦jarins Beztu Pylsur (see Kelly’s blog post about eating in Iceland). Its hot dogs (well, there is literally nothing else on the menu) are treasured by islanders. Even former US President Bill Clinton has sampled one!
Iceland is also famous for its swimming pools – there are over 120 on the island in total that take advantage of the country’s endless supply of geothermal water. Several of our party complained that the water smelled of rotten eggs – but there was no doubting its warmth after a day in the bitter cold. And what nicer way to relax after an active day than a soak in one of Reykjavik’s seven pools?
Or, better still, head for the Blue Lagoon. Built on the site of a geothermal power plant, the lagoon is filled with wonderfully warm turquoise colored water and is the perfect place to relax. Or you can plaster yourself with white silica mud and act the goat, like we did!
The Blue Lagoon is an ideal place to end your Icelandic adventure. Just 20 minutes’ transfer from Keflavik airport, you can go from hot-tub to take-off in less than two hours and arrive home relaxed, revitalized and ready for the next challenge this recession throws us. Or your next holiday!