Welcome to the edge of the inhabitable earth, located just bellow the arctic circle this island’s nature does some pretty unusual things, like putting ice and volcanoes next to each other and shortening the number of seasons to just two: light and dark. As I discover Iceland I begin to understand why the Vikings wanted to keep this island of ice and fire to themselves. Iceland is more unique and amazing than I envisioned it being. On the early morning we arrived by sailboat, when it was still dark, the aurora borealis welcomed us by displaying the most spectacular solar display I have ever witnessed. It covered half of the sky on our port side from bow to stern in an undulating arch form with hues of greens, blues and white. Conditions have to be just right for an aurora to happen, we have been here for 2 weeks now and have not seen it again, so we were extremely lucky to have seen it the one night we happen to arrive.
The geothermal activity is more vast than I imagined. There are pools all over the country, in every city and town. Here in Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital city, there are as many pools as there are StarBucks in big cities in the US. Each place doesn’t have just one pool, it has many different pools, there is an olympic swimming pool and a handful of jacuzzis each one with different temperatures, 38˙C/110˙F, 40˙C/104˙F, 42˙C/107˙F, and 44˙C/111˙F; some with massage jets and others without. The pool house we go to even has a salt water pool at 40˙C/104˙F and a large play pool for children with a giant water slide and an aquatic obstacle course. All of the pools are outdoors which makes for an interesting and intense experience moving from one pool to the other, walking in a bathing suit in freezing temperatures but while you are inside the pools you feel very warm and relaxed as you smell the natural healing minerals that are in the water. Some Islanders go to the pools daily and don’t shower at home since it is actually much cheaper to pay for a yearly membership to the pools than to shower at home. There are lockers and showers and you actually have to shower before entering the pools. The same underground forces that create its volcanoes also create the geothermal steam for Iceland’s radiators and super-heated water for showers and pools, with out a puff of smoke or smog. All power comes pollution-free from nature, electricity is generated by thundering rivers of melting ice.
The public schools are truly admirable. Our daughters were accepted into 3rd and 4th grade without any questioning, prior school records, tests, nothing. They simply said, “it is our obligation and desire to have them for as long as they want and need to”. The school is free but not only admission and tuition, all materials and school books as well, the only thing we need to pay for are lunches. The facilities are amazing, state of the art, modern and super clean; so much so that children are not allowed to wear their shoes inside the entire school, they run and slide around the slick floors with socks, they are always skating. The classes are mostly hands-on and not so academic heavy. They have cooking, sowing, music, art, chess, swimming, sports, library, religion, nature, socialize, community, social studies, math, English and Islandic as a second language, the later as a special class to international students. For unschooled children who are used to sleeping in and running their own daily schedule and interests, they are delighted and do not mind to wake up and walk to school in freezing weather while still dark. On Sundays they say “tomorrow is a school day, yay!”. If a Viking were to reappear today in Reykjavik he could strike up a conversation with any Icelander, their language has remained virtually unchanged for over a thousand years. They have the world’s highest literacy rate, a perfect 100% .
In Iceland you are looking at the true colors of the sky, sun, moon, clouds, rainbows and northern lights, because you are seeing them in the purest air on earth. And because of the gulf stream Iceland in the dead of winter can be warmer than NYC over 2000 miles to the south. In 930 Iceland established the world’s oldest active legislature while America discovered democracy 846 years later and 200 years before Chaucer, Iceland’s fishermen and farmers were already composing rich folk sagas and manuscripts. What has never happened in Iceland is that it’s people have never fought a war. One can feel the peace, security and friendliness just walking the streets.