Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Tiny Country Between Pittsburgh And Paris: Wow!

Last year I wrote about an amazing layover between Paris and Pittsburgh. Iceland, with its lava and glaciers, called us back with the beauty of its unspoiled countryside and nearly alien landscape. Would we be able to afford it?

We did, partly thanks to Iceland’s new budget airline, Wow! (The exclamation point is part of the name.) We put the $1,800 we saved on our usual round trip toward five days in the country.
Like all budget airlines, Wow! can kill you with fees. We saved gobs of money because we opted out of carry-on bags, assigned seats, and food. We flew on the cheapest dates. We did spring for one checked bag—with a strict 44-pound weight limit—per person.

Warning: No free pretzels or drinks, or in-flight entertainment. It was actually a blessing! Our nearly full flights were eerily quiet. No flight attendants constantly walking the aisles. A good many people like me dozing instead of binging on movies in a zombie-like state.

The real wow factor is the country of Iceland itself! (This time, a real exclamation point.) This year we decided to book two tours to the furthest possible points doable in one day.

The first was a four-hour hike in the highlands of Landmannalaugar (see photo above), where we saw one of the world’s few “rainbow mountains.” The night before, we purchased gloves and leggings in Reykavik as there was a chill in the air. Hearing the weather report on the bus to the mountains, we added wool hats to our wardrobe on a pit stop. While we enjoyed nearly 90 degree F. weather in Paris, it was 32 degrees on the mountain with the wind chill. But it could have been much worse. Hikes like ours are regularly shortened by body-drenching Arctic rain and gale-force winds (waterproof jackets and boots are a must). Instead, we had sun and clear views from the mountaintop. We were lucky, as more than one Icelander told us.

Craggy cliffs in Snaefellsnes
The second tour was to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, scattered with fishing villages, rugged cliffs, glaciers, and lava fields. It was like the west coast of Ireland, though with sparse vegetation. My favorite stop was to Djúpalónssandur beach, featuring the untouched remains of a 1948 shipwreck—a memorial to the people who lost their lives there.

This is just one small example of what is amazing about Iceland: the people’s respect for nature, history, and of course, the weather. Streams in the outback that still boast drinkable water. Stretches of highway, beach, and countryside with no litter. Nature unruined by the erosion of animals or human activity.


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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

By the way, Iceland's heated outdoor public pools, featuring hot tubs, are a great inexpensive way to soak the feet tired from hiking or site-seeing. Before or after a cinnamon bun from Bread & Co. at the new Hlemmur food hall.

Part of a mural at Keflavik airport

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