German-born musher Frederike Strube steers a team of Greenlandic huskies through a golden field just before dusk on a crisp, clear November day. Her eyes are on her dogs, but for a moment, her mind drifts to the massive volcano standing in the distance.
“We could be due for an eruption soon,” she says. Her brow furrows with concern as she explains the potential consequences– among them, Hólmasel, the town her dogs call home, being blanketed in ash, but she can’t disguise the tinge of excitement in her voice.
“This is Iceland,” she says as the furry crew of twelve runs joyfully towards a piercingly orange sunset. “Anything can happen.”
Icelandic people enjoy a closeness to their landscape that few populations do, but hovering over the seaside villages, quiet farms and even the quirky capital city of Reykjavík is the undeniable truth that, although it allows the island’s inhabitants to so intimately coexist with it, nature makes the rules.
Watching the sun rise over a glacial lagoon in Jökulsárlón, the colors are mirrored so perfectly in the ice you’ll think you scored a two-for-one special. Yet your daylight hours are numbered, as the sun rises late and sets early, all year round. And while standing beside a waterfall as it cascades into a deep canyon or feasting your eyes on the contrast of white glaciers strewn across a black, volcanic sand beach will leave you awed, the unpredictability of nature means threats are always looming.
Iceland’s largest volcano, Bárðarbunga, sits sandwiched between a testy tectonic plate boundary and Europe’s largest glacier. It was the site of a two-week-long earthquake in August 2014, followed by lava flow that fortunately did not reach civilization. In the land of the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history (back in 1783), locals live not so much in fear, but in awareness of the potential dangers that surround them.
Home to less than 330,000 people living on almost 40,000 square miles of earth just outside the Arctic Circle, Iceland can’t compete with the sheer size of Greenland to its west or with the cosmopolitan appeal of the Scandinavian cities to its east. But for bedraggled urbanites seeking a fresh perspective, there may be no better place in the world to unwind, because in Iceland you don’t just see the beauty of nature– you feel it.
Iceland Air has begun pushing their home as a stop-over, and it is a relatively convenient one, with reasonable flights connecting JFK and Newark to most major European cities. Travelers can add up to seven days of layover time in Iceland to their itinerary with no extra flight costs. Whether you decide to tack an adventurous leg onto your next trip across the pond or make Iceland a destination of its own, here’s what not to miss.