A Short Visit to Reykjavik, Iceland, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in October 2004

Iceland has functioned as a republic since receiving independence from Denmark in 1944.  The country was first inhabited by Irish monks who later fled as waves of Norse settlers began to arrive in Iceland in the ninth century. 

Iceland's ancient parliament, the Althing, was established in 930 some 50 km (31 miles) east of where Reykjavik ("Rayk'-yah-vik"), Iceland's capital, is now situated.  In the late eighteenth century, the Althing was moved to Reykjavik itself.

It is thought that Reykjavik was settled in 974.  Reykjavik means "hazy inlet" in Icelandic, referring to the geothermal steam produced by nearby hot springs.  By 1786 the population of Reykjavik, then Iceland's main trading center, was 170.  Today the city has 112,000 inhabitants; and, with its suburbs, the total is 180,000.  This represents nearly two-thirds of Iceland's total population of 280,000.

In the last half century Iceland has progressed from a peasant culture to a modern society based on high technology.  This economic activity has sparked the development of art and culture in the streets of Reykjavik.  There is a national theatre and a symphony orchestra.  In addition, today one finds trendy restaurants, cafes, coffee bars and even pubs.  Only since 1989 has the serving of beer been allowed in Reykjavik after 74 years as a dry city!

Interesting knitwear, ceramics and handicrafts can be found in Reykjavik's downtown shops.  A recently-built shopping center contains both a Hard Rock Cafe and Eldhusid, a restaurant with a menu featuring over 100 items.  There anyone who can finish his entire 500-gram whale steak can have it for free.

The local bus network around Reykjavik is good; and there are sights to see, including the national art gallery and the national museum.  Iceland's best collection of bound sagas is displayed in the Arni Magnusson Institute.  The stunning Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral was completed in 1796, the year Lutheranism was introduced to Iceland.  In 1986 Reagan and Gorbachev met to discuss nuclear weapons at the well-preserved Hofdi House, locally dubbed the "White House." 

The starkly beautiful Blue Lagoon, 50 km (31 miles) west of Reykjavik, is famous for its naturally-heated mineral-rich waters.  The pool receives excess water flow from a nearby power plant which taps wells 1,980 meters (6,500 feet) deep.  Towels and swimsuits can be hired on the spot.

Few visitors find time to drive the 1,341-kilometer (833-mile) circular road around Iceland which was opened in 1974.  But, fortunately, there are interesting sights in the vicinity of Reykjavik.  For instance, breathtaking Gullfoss ("Golden Falls") is Iceland's biggest tourist draw.  While the original Geysir used to be the major tourist attraction, it ceased erupting after visitors filled its hole with stones.  But boiling mud holes, steam vents and lava fields still abound near Reykjavik and all over Iceland.

Cruise ships call at Reykjavik during the summer when days are long.  But Reykjavik is easily accessible year-round by air from Europe and from the U. S.  While days are short during the winter, those considering a visit then will be interested to know that, due to the effects of the warm Gulf Stream current, Reykjavik's average winter temperature is greater than that of New York! 

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com

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