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Water and Fire in Iceland
Reporter Paul Glader scuba dives in Iceland's glacial water and advises other travelers on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the island country.
What to do:
Iceland is a treat for the eye, from its springy green turf to its brilliant blue sky and black volcanic rock. There are a few reminders around of the eruption of the Eyjafjallaj÷kull volcano earlier this year - T-shirts bearing the slogan "We may not have cash, but we've got ash!" And hotel stays by foreigners in Iceland were down 12% in October this year from 2009 levels, likely the result of the eruption and the financial crisis that began in 2008.
To get oriented in the capital city, Reykjavik (population: 118,000), take the free, two-hour guided walking tour that includes stops at key government buildings and historic churches. The tour starts every day at 1:00 p.m. at a local information office downtown (AusturstrŠti 6; 354-333-007; myreykjavik.is).
Because Iceland sits atop the boundary of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, geothermal activity is everywhere on the island. This makes bathing in naturally heated water a popular activity. Visit one of the dozen outdoor city pools (swimminginiceland.com) in Reykjavik that are widely frequented by locals. One of the most exotic water adventures in Iceland is a dive ($250; dive.is) in the Silfra rift, a 45-minute drive east of Reykjavik.
The rift is a natural trench, the place where the continental plates are pulling apart from one another. You don a drysuit and scuba gear and descend through frigid, crystal-clear fresh water, runoff from a glacier 30 miles away. History and politics buffs should visit the Thingvellir Unesco world heritage site. The name is a combination of thing ("meeting") and vellir ("fields"). It is the spot where the early Norse and Celtic settlers gathered to establish their laws and discuss society's concernsŚessentially the world's first parliament.
The inaugural assembly there took place in 930. Visit the dramatic Gullfoss waterfall and the valley of Haukadalur with its Strokkur geyser, which erupts every five to 10 minutes. Reykjavik's night life is renowned for its large clubs like NASA (Thorvaldsenstraeti 2; nasa.is) and cafÚs that turn into bars at night like Kaffibarinn (Bergstadastraeti 1; 354-551-1588) and Thorvaldsen (Austurstraeti 8-10; thorvaldsen.is).
Where to Eat:
Iceland has some of the most inventive food among the Nordic countries and boasts some of the freshest fish anywhere. The newest and most acclaimed restaurant in Reykjavik is Dill, located in the Nordic House (Sturlug÷tu 5; 354-552-1522; dillrestaurant.is), a short walk from the city center. Chef Gunnar Karl Gislason and his team get their fish, herbs and vegetables entirely from Icelandic sources. For $167, you can work your way through a seven-course menu that is paired with top wines for a meal that stretches over three hours.
For a more-traditional bill of fare that includes baked cod or lamb fillet, visit Vid Tj÷rnina (Templarasundi 3; 354-551-8666; vidtjornina.is), a restaurant set in an Icelandic home full of antique furniture.
Where to stay:
Hotel Borg (Posthusstraeti 11; 354-551-1440; hotelborg.is) is the grande dame of Reykjavik hotels with its art-deco touches and 56 rooms that go for $238 to $612 a night.
Hotel Fron (Laugarvegur 22A; 354-511-4666; hotelfron.is) is a modern boutique hotel with somewhat cheaper rates at $93 to $270 a night.
Write to Paul Glader at firstname.lastname@example.org
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