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Iceland Notes and Memories of Underdevelopment
We just got back, and I want to celebrate both Nordic social-democracy and the most magical landscape I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. Endless, fabulous mountains, waterfalls (from the ice melting off the mountains at the end of winter), glittering rivers, streams, and pools. Lava fields. Steam coming out of vents in the hills (the country is full of volcanos, some still active, and makes heavy use of geothermal energy.
The food was out of this world. Not one bad meal, anywhere. Expensive, yes. The gas stations have coffee shops that easily rival anything you can find in hipster neighborhoods. The coffee is always made fresh, and tastes like it.
Travel wisdom to follow.
We tended to overdress. The beginning of April is the end of their winter. Temperatures in the 40s. It rained a couple of times but I was mostly grateful that nothing was freezing. You couldn’t pay me to go there in the winter. (See driving, below.)
On the overdressing part, besides stocking up on wool socks, rain gear, long johns, gloves, and hiking shoes, none of which we really needed, I do have to recommend “Frog Togs” rain gear. I had a jacket that was super light, a great windbreaker, and totally waterproof.
The main roads are well-maintained but the country is not big on shoulders or guard rails. Rare was the stretch of road where going over the side wouldn’t get you rolling for 30 or 40 feet, if not much worse. I tend to be a white-knuckle driver on those things. On the plus side, there is not much traffic, and the speed limit maxes out at about 55 mph.
Some roads have beware falling rocks signs. You can see fallen rocks everywhere. Some of them were thrown off by volcanic eruptions, perhaps hundreds of years ago. Some of them are the size of refrigerators. We had just one falling chunk of ice, about the size of a bowling ball. It stopped short of the road. It would have put a nice dent into a car.
I get the aversion to tour groups, and renting a car lets you come and go as you please, but you can spend a fortune on gasoline. If you’re driving, it’s not as easy to enjoy the scenery. One little road mishap and you’re marooned somewhere, if not worse.
There are lots of accommodations for visitors, including cottages with fantastic views. You would need to rent a car to use one that is at all remote. If I return I would try to limit driving and exploit group tours. There is quite a bit to see. We mostly stayed in the southwest section of the island, also the warmest thanks to the gulfstream.
This was one of our rentals. Best view of any we’ve ever had.
Then we came home at Dulles Airport and got an instant reminder of our underdeveloped country. 300 passengers converge on just two customs officials. Maybe if the U.S. Customs and Border Protection wasn’t so preoccupied with chasing Mexicans around in the desert they could provide elementary services to bona fide U.S. citizens.
More as I think of stuff.