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South Iceland – Impressions from the Land of Elves and Volcanoes

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Until recently, I only knew “Iceland” from hearsay and the picture I in had in mind was of sheep, lots of wind and weather and occasional eruptions of volcanoes with tongue twisting names.

I let my mind be changed…

Upon invitation by jack-of-all-trades Arthúr Bollason I boarded Icelandair’s direct Zurich – Reykjavik flight to discover more about the Island of Ice.

Tour guide Arthúr has what it takes – literally – he is a walking story book and besides knowing a zillion facts also knows how to bring the old legends to life in a way that almost lets you feel the clash of swords and clanging halberds in your bone marrow.

Getting there and getting around in Iceland

Of course, the most comfortable way to get there is by direct flight from Zurich to Reykjavik on Icelandair. In its Saga Business Class, you’ll fly in legendary comfort that is right up there with intercontinental standards.

Captain Orri Eiriksson and his co-pilot

Captain Orri Eiriksson and his co-pilot

You’ll land at Keflavik Airport, Iceland’s main international air hub, in the town of the same name located in one of the island’s most forbidding lava landscapes. Why here? Because they let the Americans establish a military airfield on their island after the Second World War, but naturally not on the best land… Today it is only used by civilian air traffic. The shuttle into town is relatively dear, so it generally pays to reserve your rental car for pickup at the airport.

We rode on the fabulous buses of Reykjavik Excursions. WiFi included! It’s a blogger paradise…

Reykjavik Excursions bus with Marie-Astrid and Icelandic horses

Reykjavik Excursions bus with Marie-Astrid and “her” Icelandic horses

And if you’re lucky, bus driver Sturla will serenade you while you are rolling down the highway ;-)

Along the road to Reykjavik, you are greeted by stone sculptures created by a former government minister, who then became a jailbird – guess he had lots of time on his hands – and now is a minister again . Other countries, other customs…

Many tour operators offer guided tours of the island, but in recent years tourists traveling on their own have increased greatly, so that last year the tourism industry contributed even more than the everpresent fisheries for the first time.

You can explore the island by rental car, camper or you can rough it in the Icelandic outback in a Superjeep. SuperJeep.is offers among other vehicles these “hyper Jeeps.” Just seeing one of them will likely give you a notion of what sort of road conditions to expect in remote areas…

Even with one, in case of bad weather be sure to check if the intended route is even open. Snow and rain can develop awesome forces! We, too, had to reroute slightly around a heavy rainfall…

Volcanoes and Geysers

Not to mention the volcanoes; the eruption in 2010 of Eyjafjallajökull or E15 for short – for the 15 letters in its name ;-) – probably is still a concept for many an airline passenger from that time…

Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull or E15 for short

Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull or E15 for short

I might note that, no matter how many times I tried, I came up with 16 letters. Did the TV announcer simply miscount when he invented the E15 numeronym because no one could remember or pronounce the volcano’s name? And so far no one has double-checked it?
(Answer: “E” +15 = 16)

How to pronouncing the Eyjafjallajökull volcano’s name

Guide to pronouncing the Eyjafjallajökull volcano’s name

Be that as it may, the website of an interesting visitor center with a small cinema that shows the E15 volcano eruption can be seen at icelanderupts.is

Geologically speaking, Iceland is a very young place. It may have been around for 16 million years, but if you think of the earth’s entire history as a 24 hour clock, then Iceland is a mere five minutes old… So, Iceland, welcome to the planet!

And since the earth’s crust is still thinner under Iceland than elsewhere and it sits exactly over where the continental plates are drifting apart, the bubbling and hissing is prodigious here all the time. The Strokkur geyser and its fellows on the one hand proved to be a tourist attraction, but on the other hand, they also furnish cheap endless hot water for all sorts of uses (such as generating the cheap electric power that makes Iceland an important aluminium producer.)

Arthúr would prefer to power computer centers with the cheap electricity. It is environmentally friendlier and data is easier to ship than bauxite from Australia…

Is there any subject that this fellow does not dabble in? As yet at least, his Wikipedia page has not been updated for this latest interest.

Walter and Tour Guide Arthur Bollason

My first-ever tour guide with his own Wikipedia page

That the geysers can also act up, i.e., spray outside the safety zones, is a discovery made by this young adventurer…

Lodgings – The Icelandair Hotels

Elegant design hotels are scarce in Iceland. We overnighted in the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica and in the Icelandair Hotels in Fludir and in Keflavik. These four star hotels satisfy high standards, and the food is also very good!!

Sunset seen from the Icelandair Hotel in Fludir

Sunset seen from the Icelandair Hotel in Fludir

Should you need a still leaner design for overnight stays, do have a look at the 101 Hotel, CenterHotel Thingholt or the CenterHotel Arnarhvoll in Reykjavik and the Hotel Rangá in Hvolsvollur in South Iceland.

Update June 19, 2013: Or check out the elegant design of the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel an hour east of Reykjavik in Southwest Iceland.

Exterior view ION Luxury Adventures Hotel

Exterior view with lava landscape; Foto © ION Hotel

ION Luxury Adventure Hotel pool

Pool at the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel; Foto © ION Hotel

Here is a short promotional video about South Iceland:

Because brevity is the soul of wit, my impressions from Reykjavik continue in this next article.

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About Author

Walter Schaerer’s extensive background in the travel industry, passionate enthusiasm for photography and a firm belief that luxury destinations can also be affordable; were some of the main factors that motivated him to create the travel blog travelmemo.com. In his day job Walter is an online marketing manager based out of Zurich, Switzerland.

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