OFFICIAL NAME: REPUBLIC OF ICELAND
Iceland suffers from a bad press, a public relations ploy pulled centuries ago when a Viking chieftain who was intent on selling what is now Greenland as a place to settle called the ice-ridden island Greenland. Iceland, which around the edges has a moderate climate, he called Iceland. The Gulf Stream sees to it that Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and only city, has a temperature in January, its coolest month, that is higher than that of New York City or Vienna. A midsummer afternoon is between fifty to fifty-four degrees. Being so far north there is sunlight almost around the clock during June. At that time in Reykjavik sunset separates sunrise by only two hours. In Northern Iceland the sun hardly sets at all during June.
Most Americans never heard of Iceland until World War II, when the island was used as a military base by the Allies. That lack of recognition would probably have continued had it not been for the establishment of Icelandic Airlines and the fact that its management decided to operate outside the International Air Transport Association, IATA. By doing so Icelandic Air could and did offer for many years the only reduced fares from New York to Europe on a scheduled basis. With propeller driven planes it was necessary to stop for refueling at Reykjavik. Passengers might stop over in Iceland before proceeding to Luxembourg, the only European country that allowed Icelandic Air landing rights.
Visitors who choose to stop in Reykjavik find several surprises. Glaciers are among Iceland’s scenic attractions. They cover an area nearly as large as all of the glaciers in the rest of Scandinavia and the Alps put together. Hothouses produce tropical fruits. Summer temperatures almost never go above seventy degrees. The word geyser is derived from the Great Geyser in the south of Iceland. Put a piece of soap in some of the geysers and up they leap.
Reykjavik is one of the cleanest, most unpolluted cities in the world. It is possible to see a huge smog cloud approaching the island from Europe but Reykjavik itself has none because heating comes from hot water tapped from thermal wells. Sitting as it does on the ocean with brightly painted buildings and eighty-five thousand inhabitants, Reykjavik has been called a mini-Copenhagen. In fact, it was part of Denmark for centuries.
Icelanders are among the most literate, highly read, and democratic groups anywhere. The economy is based almost completely on fishing and sheep farming.
To experience this very unusual island take the ring-route, Highway I, an eleven-hundred-mile roadway around the entire island. Travel is by Mercedes Benz and Scania buses. Passengers can get off and on at any stop with the full-circle passport. Modestly priced hotels and guesthouses are available. A few campgrounds are also set up. Fishing and viewing Europe’s largest waterfalls are reasons for taking the trip. Birdwatchers take note! Some 250 species of birds visit the island regularly. There is an Icelandic pony, a beautiful little animal. Riders usually ride one and bring another along for relief of the other. Sad to say the ponies also appear on the Icelandic table as food. Akureyri, with a population of thirteen thousand, Iceland’s second largest town, is on the ring road and has several hotels, guesthouses and restaurants.
Geologically, Iceland is young, its oldest rocks hardly more than sixteen million years of age. Parts of the island are still growing. Heimaey, the only inhabited place on the West-man Island south of Iceland, was enlarged as recently as 1963-1966 and again in 1973 by lava flows, when more than four hundred homes were burned or buried by lava and ashes.
ICELAND Photo Gallery
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