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Translated Jeff Matthews

I shall now attempt to tell the tale of our journey to the boundaries of the known world, a land where points of reference and certainties quickly go topsy-turvey, where at full mid-summer there is snow at sea level (photo 1), where the sun is high above the horizon when it's night-time back home (photo 2), and where you can take a hot bath outdoors with near freezing temperatures all around you. I speak of Iceland, extraordinary Iceland. These are my personal experiences, but I hope they may serve as useful information for anyone contemplating a similar trip. Right off, I'll tell you that my stay was only eight days, admittedly too short a time to get to know this land, even approximately. The long distances, together with conditions not always the best for traveling, make it difficult to get around; thus, short stays are not enough to really enjoy the extreme variety of the terrain. If you don't count the paved ring road that runs the perimeter of the entire island to connect the larger centers of population—kind of a two-lane province road—and a few shorter, similar stretches in the interior, the back roads are largely dirt; in extreme cases, four-wheel-drive vehicles are mandatory.

The flight was one of those infernal low-cost affairs with the rows of seats so close together that I practically had to stow my knees in my mouth for the whole flight. We were to leave Rome at 9 p.m. The flight was delayed for five hours. We flew over Torino, Paris, London and easily spotted the many smaller centers of population, all connected by an immense and intricate web of light draped over the earth—“light pollution” they call it. We passed over part of the upper Atlantic and the Norwegian Sea, flying above the clouds with a full moon glinting off the motors of our aircraft (photo 4) and then dropped down and landed in the small town of Keflavik (photo 5), site of the international airport of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The airport is about 40 km from Reykjavik; transportation between the two points is provided by the Flybus company and a bus will get you into the center of the capital in about 45 minutes for 2200 króna (Icelandic crowns) (about €16.50).

The first bit of information I should provide you with regards getting from one place to another. Unless you have signed on to one of those hyperorganzied tours that think of everything, rent a car. It's practically impossible to get around Iceland by bus, and there are no trains. A tip—spend a few crowns more and get an off-road vehicle; you'll feel safer as you move from place to place. More than once I had the feeling that the broken road surfaces were damaging my back, not to mention the car, which, I was convinced, was about to plant me smack in the middle of nowhere with no way to communicate my position. To make this as clear as possible: you're in a car in the middle of a vast plain with gigantic lava flows all around you extending as far as the eye can see, for tens of kilometers. You've been driving slowly for about an hour—you can forget trying to go fast—without having seen another vehicle and anything that even resembles a road sign or marker that might tell you where you are. Your back, much like the shock absorbers on your car, are about to give out, and while you shift about in the seat looking for a more comfortable position (you won't find it), the steering wheel keeps pulling to the left. The road has become one of those vibrating mats you find in gyms. You now ask yourself whether it might have been wiser to go ahead and rent even a small off-road vehicle instead of the bargain Hyundai town car that you are now trying get around in. A thought crosses your mind: “If I get stuck here, who is going to rescue me? How can I let them know where I am? (The cell-phone can't find a signal, but even if it could, how could I repeat to the local Vikings the unpronounceable place name on that sign I barely looked at when I got onto this road in the first place?)” This really could happen, and that's in the middle of summer under the best of weather conditions. Imagine if it happens in rain, mud and snow.

Ah, I see I got carried away while I was talking. Here I am. It's one o' clock in the morning (change of time zone and summer/daylight saving time have robbed me of two hours). Here it's already light... well, wait... it's always light. It won't be night again for a few months. My address if Tunguvegur 23, Reykjavik East ( at least that's easy to pronounce. Forget the rest of the names). I am waiting with my luggage for the Viking proprietor to come open up and let me in. I'm dead tired and have to sleep. See you all tomorrow.

End of prologue

To be continued...

Click on images to enlarge


Where our story takes place

 
Snow and ice at sea level


The late-night sun high in the sky


A hot bath on the icy Icelandic tundra


Above the clouds over the Sea of Norway


Above Keflavik

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