While I’m en route to Israel and Jordan, I have a few flight flashbacks and overseas observations that I’ve been excited to share with you….
First: Europe’s Tourism Revival!
Good news for Europeans. The majority of European destinations saw a significant increase in visitors for the last part of 2015. Top of the pops was Iceland, a personal favorite of mine (check out my Iceland videos here), which saw a 30% increase in visitors. This is something, incidentally, that we noted here at ACIS at our Global Teacher Conference in January. It has sold out already and this is during the peak of the winter months with little sunshine but the possibility of the longshot aurora borealis. Positive gains were noted in Montenegro, Ireland, Croatia, and pretty much the whole of former Yugoslavia. Probably helped by a weak Euro and cheap flights. The continent of Europe is in a robust vacation mode and it looks as though 2016 will see a continuing trend.
With so many of you taking to the skies, I want to hear from you! Comment away and I’ll respond!
Arrival in Reykjavik is a bit of an eye-opener. A major international airport hub, the airport facility is in a constant state of expansion. The old days of a shed, a passport control, and a place for weary travelers to rest their legs before continuing on is long gone. You could practically live in this airport. It’s a short distance to the center of town and if you rent a car, which is recommendable but ridiculously expensive, you’ll find driving around safe and easy. Let’s face it, once you’ve gotten past the per day price tag, anything is going to seem within reach.
There is of course the very touristy but essential Blue Lagoon – it’s 15 minutes from the airport and it seems like half the traffic going there is simply on an airport stopover en route to somewhere else. It wasn’t as tacky as I imagined. It’s highly organized and I slightly hate to say it…but I sort of liked it. Not to mention an inside visit to a dormant volcano – essential that the volcano is dormant! Erupting ones can be problematic (pro-tip). With a geyser (that’s where we get the name from), the most powerful waterfall in all the world, and throw in the only visible above-sea meeting of the tectonic plates between the continents of North America and Europe and you have a fairly spectacular sightseeing tour. All of this while peering out into the distance at ice-capped volcanoes situated in fields of volcanic black rock. And that’s the day trip from Reyjkavik!
Reykjavik is a fun town, a party town: lots of hub and spoke activities, lots of colorful houses all encased in corrugated iron to withstand potential fallout from erupting volcanos – seriously. The great thing about the sun never setting is that you can start your day at 9am and never have to worry about getting back before dark. It never gets dark here in the summer! If winter is your thing it barely gets light, but there’s always the Aurora Borealis to keep you occupied in between visits to the bars. I stayed at the Hotel Borg http://en.hotelborg.is/ – the room was basic and the hotel looked pretty run down. The breakfasts were average and I got the feeling this hotel was resting on a once glorious past that had sadly expired. Location is just about the best you can find, but beyond that it was a highly forgettable experience. If I return to Iceland I would certainly experiment with another hotel – perhaps venturing out to the Ice hotel (http://www.icehotel.com/) to take a look. Though I personally wouldn’t stay there – igloos are not my thing!
Iceland’s northwestern tip sits just on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Its summer days are endless and much of its coastline on the western shore reminded me of Norway. So the story goes that Iceland is called Iceland because Icelanders don’t want too many people to know that it’s not icy at all, but actually quite green and should be called Greenland. And Greenland is called Greenland because Greenlanders are rather desperate for people to visit their very icy land, which should be called Iceland. At least that’s what my Danish friend told me.
First piece of advice, you don’t need an all-wheel drive car. The roads are better than Boston, unless you’re planning on driving into the mouth of a Volcano (not recommended). Secondly, spend three days in Reykjavik and then head out. It’s a big island. You need a plan and the scenery is spectacular. I headed northwest to the fjords and that took up three days. Mouthwatering scenery, wild horses and a sea of wild blue lupines engulfed by snow-capped peaks reminded me of film sets: Interstellar, Star Wars, Batman – basically if they need a place that’s barren and otherworldly – they head here. And there are more wild horses than I have ever seen before, puffins galore and whales visible from the shoreline. And incidentally, if you feel peckish, you have to also be prepared to see those three items on the menu. I passed and stuck with the arctic char!