Freemasonry is
Iceland is (n)ice

To think of Iceland immediately conjures up images of a land full of ice, cold conditions and plenty of warm clothes.

But a visitor can also find that Iceland is a country of fire, magical nights and fascinating tourists sites.

ReykjavikReykjavík is a modern city and it is heated almost exclusively by geothermal water from the hot springs which surround it.Summer months are the best time to tour particularly June, July and August when the average maximum temperature reaches almost 15 degrees Celsius in the capital of Reykjavík.

There are two methods of reaching Iceland by air and by sea. I chose the delightful Cunard liner Queen Victoria departing from Southampton for this interesting sightseeing adventure.

The Greater Reykjavík area has a population of 200,000 while the entire country has a population of nearly 315,000, similar to the people in the ACT. And in size, Iceland is 50 percent larger than Tasmania.

Reykjavík is a modern city and it is heated almost exclusively by geothermal water from the hot springs which surround it.

Before we start touring, some pertinent historical facts include that the first permanent settlement was recorded in 874AD, Iceland united with Norway in 1262, Britain and Allies occupied neutral Iceland in 1940 while in 1944 Iceland became an independent republic.

With that knowledge behind us, as the locals say ‘let’s go touring’ – but where do you start? There are glaciers, waterfalls, hiking, caves, thermal pools, whale watching and national parks. In addition there is the non-stop sunlight where it is as bright outside at midnight as it is at midday and if you’re lucky, the display of the Northern Lights.

Harpa Music Hall Reykjavik Harpa Music Hall and Conference Centre, Reykjavík
Photo courtesy of Ivan Sabljak
Most visitors are attracted by the Golden Circle tour which is a 300km loop of Southern Iceland and includes the areas which have made Iceland a popular attraction.

Reykjavík is a good starting point and a walking tour takes in the city shops as well as historical sites like the Harpa which is Iceland’s version of the Sydney Opera House, Höfði House where Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev met and the current presidential palace of Bessastaðir. The Maritime Museum and the Museum of Photography are other interesting stops. A fascinating day ended with a visit to The Pearl at Öskjuhlíð which boasts an observation platform with a glass dome built over hot water storage tanks and a great view of the capital.

Coach travel is a good choice for sightseeing with experienced Englishspeaking guides to point out interesting details especially in reference to geysers, thermal pools and waterfalls.

Santas House AkureyriSanta’s House, Akureyri.However, what does come as a surprise is the number of horses and sheep that can be seen. For more than a thousand years, the small but strong Icelandic horse has played a major role in the country ’s history and development and literally with the survival of the Iceland people. They were brought over from Norway by the first settlers and a visit to Laxnes Farm, ten minutes from the city, allows time for an enjoyable ride for beginners or experts, young and old.

Sheep farming is as old as the settlement and lambs actually outnumber the population. They are sheltered during the harsh winter but for the rest of the year roam free in the countryside or run wild in the highlands.

The tour continues to the fascinating geothermal area of Geysir where there is an abundance of hot springs, fumaroles and mud pools. The main attraction is Strokkur geyser which entertains camera fans every few minutes with a column of steam and boiling water, at times rising to a height of 75 metres.

An opportunity to do something different arises as you travel 45 minutes through the volcanic landscape to spend two and a half hours at the natural geothermal spa called the Blue Lagoon. This is a huge pool of hot water rich in minerals and sulphur where you can relax, let your worries disappear and dip into boxes along the pool sides to gather handfuls of mud to apply to your body in a deep cleansing exercise. After that, the obvious next move is a long cool drink at the Spa bar.

Heading out of town, set your next visit to Akureyri which is Northern Iceland’s largest fishing port and its cultural, industrial and trade capital. The town is nestled at the bottom of Eyjafjörður, Iceland’s longest fjord and surrounded by steep mountains. Close to the town, you can explore the world’s most northerly Botanical Gardens or shop at Santa’s House where you can take a brief return to your childhood with a fascinating display of Christmas goodies.

There are many waterfalls in Iceland with Goðafoss a popular choice. It carries a huge volume of water from the river Skjálfandafljót with a 10 metre drop providing great photos. It’s only a short walk up the western bank to a viewing point close enough to feel the mist of glacial water on your skin. The roaring crescent of cascading water gained its name at the time when Icelanders voted to convert to Christianity in 1,000AD. After the vote, the area became known as the ‘Falls of the Gods’ when the chieftain Thorgeir threw his wooden idols of old pagan gods representing Norse mythology into the water in a symbolic gesture which swept away the old religion.

EyjafjorourEyjafjörður, Iceland’s longest fjord.It’s easier to stand outside and look but if you take the opportunity to go inside Langjökull Glacier you will be stepping into an icy, man-made wonderland and one of the world’s largest manmade ice caves. The cavern consists of an extensive system of tunnels and chambers stretching 300 metres into the solid ice cap. An eight wheel glacier truck conveys passengers to the ice cap where a specialist guide will walk you over a huge ice crevasse on a specially constructed bridge. The further you walk the more the colours of the walls turn from white to deep blue, a sure indication you are in the middle of an ice chamber.

After all of these incredible sights of ice, geysers, lava, thermal pools, if you wanted a quiet moment to pause, there is hardly a better experience than getting up close to whales. These gentle giants can be seen from different venues but we chose Husavik. known as the ‘whale capital of Iceland.’ Board one of the renovated wooden fishing boats with daily trips available where the organisers guarantee a 99 per cent chance of seeing whales because of the broad variety that visit the area over the season.

In Iceland, the weather is warm and the days are long in the summer months of June, July and August when there could be up to 21 hours of daylight, while you will need much warmer clothing for November to March. Whichever you choose, the visit will leave an indelible memory of a fascinating country and its people.

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, June 2019, pages 26 to 29.

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