1. I should go to Iceland? Seriously? I already live in Iceland.
You should. It’s a six-hour plane ride that takes you to the moon. If it’s summer, the fields are purple with innumerable lupines, and the sun never sets. Somewhere around 11 p.m., when you’re looking at your shadow and it’s 12 feet long, you start to believe in trolls like everyone else on the island. That might be jet lag. It’s probably jet lag. That’s what the troll told me, anyway.
Icelandair has been pushing the “stopover” — a layover that stretches up to seven nights, instead of 90 minutes in the airport waiting for your connecting flight to Amsterdam or Paris. They make a good argument: Why not hang around for a while, so you can say things like “Oh, you haven’t done Iceland? You simply must!” or casually drop phrases like “Well, that’s not as good as the coffee I had in Reykjavik, but it’s certainly close.”
The airline, by the way, is one of the world’s most charming. From the bottle of melted glacier you get when you board to the nice thick blankets to the top-notch in-flight media center, the experience seems designed to make you feel as though you’ve stepped into the embassy of a bright, rational civilization.
Granted, they sound like they’re speaking Klingon with a “Fargo” accent, but that’s part of the charm. (Or, as they say, chrmjyglrchenbron.)
2. Is it cold?
True fact: No one who visits Iceland has ever uttered the words “I’m glad I packed a spare tank top.” When I arrived on July 3, it was 47 degrees. It warmed up to 55, but when the clouds drew over the sun you got that mid-October shiver. This is not a tropical vacation. You want sun, go someplace where they hand you a pamphlet about Zika when you get off the plane.
3. What should I do?
If you want to explore on your own, you can rent a car and head out into the great beyond, which is not only a great way to see the island, but a great way to get your relatives to come a few months later when your car is found at the bottom of gorge. Or you can take a professional tour.
The Grey Line runs many, ranging from trips around town to the fabled Golden Circle. The latter — best taken at the height of summer, with its midnight sun — carries you around the thin highway in a small bus, visiting the tectonic plate crack, the lake that boils, the astonishing waterfall unspoiled by man or liability attorneys (no handrails, just a sign advising you not to fall to your death), the geysers that pop off with a startling gush every few minutes, the landscapes that remind you of “Game of Thrones” — perhaps because they were actual locations for the show — and the farms where sheep and horses gambol. Six hours. It’s worth the trip by itself.
You can also go downtown — a tidy place with a restrained Nordic style. There are clubs and bars that keep the locals from going daft with cabin fever. There are shops selling sweaters, books, sweaters and books about sweaters. The enormous Hallgrímskirkja cathedral is a must-see, if only to doff your cap to the statue of Leif Eriksson. The steeple has an observation platform. It’s the Foshay Tower of Reykjavik. The waterfront has cafes and shops as well, and it’s more modern — glass-clad offices and apartments built before the financial crisis that brought their economy low in ’08.
Iceland, by the way, is the only place where people went to jail after the crash. I asked our Golden Circle driver about the charges, and he said, “Misusing the people’s money.” He paused. “Basically they made that one up.”
If you want to stay longer, there are other cities to visit, or resorts that let you sit outside in boiling water and look up at the northern lights. There are tours that take you inside a volcano — presumably inert, but who knows — or inside a glacier. Helicopters for hire. Whale sightings. What do I look like, a travel agent? Google something and figure out what you want.
You will be happy you did. It is a strange place, part of the Western world but apart from the Continent’s crowd. You get the sense that it’s connected to the rest of humanity by gossamer strings, content to be alone up there, but glad the modern world has softened the sense of isolation. Imagine if Minneapolis was on the moon. Add trolls and whales, and you’ll start to get the idea.