Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Icelanders Protest Government's Plans to Stop EU Talks

In Iceland, thousands of people have taken to the streets against the government’s move to end its bid to join the European Union without holding a referendum.

Despite an election campaign promise to put the question to the people, the two leading coalition partners decided not to take people’s views into account, leading some to ask for a rethink.


Around 4,000 people turned up to Austurvöllur square in front of parliament yesterday to protest the decision by the ruling Progressive and Independence Parties to put forward a resolution this week to withdraw from European Union talks.

Gudrun Rognvaldsdottir explained her reasons for coming out to protest:

“Because I want the accession talks to continue so we can vote on a finalised membership agreement. I think we should try to get as good an agreement as possible for the nation. And I believe we can reach such an agreement even though we are not represented by the most ideal people”.


A parliamentary debate on the contentious issue, originally proposed by the previous government, was postponed on Monday, but lawmakers will probably debate the bill on Tuesday February 25.


EU talks were put on hold indefinitely after the current government took power last year. The parliamentary debate on the resolution to withdraw from talks, scheduled for today, was moved to tomorrow, ruv.is reports. 

Source: Euronews
Iceland24, February 2014

Monday, 24 February 2014

Trip Report 4 days/3 nights in Iceland (February 2014)

I learned so much from this blog that I hope to pay it back a little. Hopefully this will be useful to those planning your first trip to Iceland.

Traveling in winter

We were very fortunate with the weather. It stayed dry and the winds weren't bad, so I can only speak to our experience. As long as you know how to layer properly, there are advantages to going to Iceland in the winter.


There are fewer tourists and winter has its own beauty, particularly in Iceland. I could see where the amount of daylight might be a problem closer to the solstice, but in the middle of February it wasn't an issue.

Car rental and driving

We rented from Reykjavík Cars because it was about $40 cheaper for a two-day. We were upgraded from a manual Jimny to an automatic Hyundai Tuscon. All of their vehicles include GPS, which I would highly recommend. Almost a must.

The people were great, pickup and dropoff were convenient, but you do get what you pay for. Thanks to the perfect weather, driving was easy. However, living in Colorado I recognized some places where driving could get really slippery with just a little bit of snow and typical Iceland winds.


I read it a lot here, but pay attention to the road conditions and don't push it -- especially if you're not used to winter driving. Also, be aware that gas is really expensive, especially compared to the States - almost $9/gallon. Keep that in mind when calculating the cost of renting a car and deciding which type of vehicle to rent.

Hotel

We had a package with Iceland Air and stayed all 3 nights at Center Hotel Skjalbreid. Great staff, clean, basic room, great location and solid value. Breakfast is included, which saved us a lot of money. There was some noise from late night folks enjoying multiple adult beverages, but nothing we couldn't tolerate.


I couldn't alter our accommodations because it was a package, but I wanted to spend one night in the Vik area. We could have seen Jökulsárlón and waking up one morning outside of the city would have been great, but the trip was still fantastic.

Food

We were so happy to be out exploring that food wasn't a high priority. Our one big "meal" was a dinner at Sakebarinn, which was OK. The salmon is fantastic, but the rest was mediocre. Just my opinion and it could have been an off night.

The Noodle Station was top notch. Great asian noodle soup - chicken or beef. We went to the world-famous hot dog stand twice. Not because it was cheap, but it was that good and interesting. So much different than american hot dogs.


The rest of the time we mostly went to grocery stores -- which are great places to see how people really eat in Iceland and probably everywhere -- and grabbed what looked interesting.

South Coast

Could I do this again, please? Like, once a week? Impossible beauty.

So many times I thought to myself, "This isn't real." It looked like somebody pulled down a fake backdrop screen around every turn. It's a must-do. We drove from Reykjavik to Vik and back, stopping at Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, the black beach in Vik and other places and small towns that looked interesting.


We saw the Black Beach from Vik, but missed the turn to the western side that's close to the basalt columns. The entrance isn't as obvious from the road, so make sure you find it on a map before you go. Or go on a tour. I saw busses at the stops and it didn't look like people were being rushed and herded like livestock. If that's more your style, go for it. The people all looked very happy.

Golden Circle

Again, how could that be real. So beautiful. If you're renting a car and doing a self-tour, my best advice is to research Þingvellir pretty thoroughly beforehand. I thought there would be visitor centers (there are) with detailed maps (there aren't). Maybe it's different in the summer, but I found the map provided at Þingvellir almost worthless. So do your homework about the park before you go or hook up with a tour. We still loved the park and got to walk the path between the two tectonic plates. You could spend many hours there, especially in the summer.


Geysir is not of this earth. Be very careful in the winter. There's lots of ice and I saw somebody slip and cut her head pretty badly. Or bring crampons. There's also a really nice store. It's not a long stop, but a really cool one. Gullfoss is the single most spectacular scene I've been lucky enough to see in my life. Seriously.

Reykjavik

It amazes me that a city of only 200,000 (including the suburbs) can have that dynamic of a downtown. It's not massive, but it's vibrant, clean and very safe while not feeling like you're in a fake Disney city. I was surprised at the amount of graffiti downtown - not street art, but tagging. It didn't bother me in the least, but it was unexpected. We took the last evening to drive all around the city and out in the suburbs.


We went to Kringlan to get the suburban feel of things, and I'm glad we did. After spending all trip focusing on how different things were, it was really interesting to see something so similar that was so far away from home. The names of almost all of the shops and restaurants are different, the language is different, but the scene was so familiar.

Friday night we went to Laugardalslaug and that was a great experience. It was open late as part of the Winter Lights Festival and they had a DJ. The taxi was about $18USD each way. On the way there I was working on my pronunciation of Laugardalslaug with the driver and he was laughing at me. We were all laughing.


I'm usually pretty good with picking up sounds from other languages, but Icelandic is brutal. There were lots of locals at the pool and it was great to see this part of their culture. The hotpots were really crowded and it was interesting to see such a different comfort level with little personal space.

I can't speak to the bar scene because it was a family trip. We did go into The Lebowski Bar because I love the film. That place had a great feel. There's no shortage of what look like excellent watering holes in Reykjavik.


It seems like much more of a cocktail/liquor scene as opposed to beer. There are a few pubs that are supposed to have a good selection of beer, but the places I saw mostly had two beers on tap. Also, I could see where partying in Reykjavik could raise the cost of your trip exponentially.

Northern Lights

We were lucky enough to see them on 2 of the 3 nights. The first night they were so strong that we could see them from downtown Reykjavik, which is very rare. The second night we went on a boat tour as part of the package. The lights were out early but didn't last long. By the way, if you're going to do a lights tour, I would suggest land rather than boat. I love being on the water, but a bus or jeep could take you much farther out and be more flexible with the destination.


I also want to reiterate what so many others say on this forum: Don't obsess about the Aurora. Yes, it's very cool and I'm so thankful that I had a chance to witness it, but you can't control the weather. It's out of your hands. If they don't come out for you, you'll still see so many spectacular things in Iceland that it won't really matter. I can honestly say that there were two or three other things that I saw on my trip that blew me away more than the Northern Lights.

Blue Lagoon

We went as part of the package and on the way to the airport. This is absolutely a matter of personal taste. If you like spas, you'll think you're in heaven. If that's not a big deal to you, feel free to leave Iceland without going to the Blue Lagoon. If it wasn't part of the package, I wouldn't have gone and would not have regretted it. Yes, the water and lava rocks are cool and soaking in the water before getting on the plane was nice, but it's a spa. Your opinion of it will depend upon how much you dig going to spas. That should cover it.


If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Since I got so much out of this blog, I'll try to put some back in.

Iceland24, February 2014

Friday, 14 February 2014

Blue Lagoon (geothermal spa)

The Blue Lagoon (in Icelandic: Bláa lónið) geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland.


Bláa lónið is situated approximately 13 km (8 miles) from the Keflavík International Airport and 39 km (24 miles) from the capital city of Reykjavík. That is roughly a 20 minute drive from the airport and a 40 minute drive from Reykjavík.


The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (98–102 °F). The Blue Lagoon also operates a research and development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water.


The lagoon is a man-made lagoon which is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every two days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in.


We would recommend that you visit in the winter (no we are not crazy) for three reasons:

1. The first being that you wont enjoy a geothermal spa as much in hot weather
2. The second is that you cant see one of the most popular things to do in Iceland in the summer which are the Nothern Lights, and the last reason is that you will avoid the heard of tourists that arrive in the summer.  Who would want to sit in 100 degree water at the Blue Lagoon Iceland in the summer anyway?  It will get cold so make sure to bring a jacket along with your towel.


3. Once you step into the lagoon you will feel a slight slushy feeling on your feet which is the silica mud that many have found medical refuge in.  Its known to be an effective treatment for psoraisis and other skin ailments.


You can enter the water from outside the facilities or from inside so you dont have to step out into the cold weather in the winter. After entering the kids pool as I like to call it, the Blue Lagoon Iceland surprises you with a waterfall that you can sit by and enjoy (no time limits!).


We must have stood there for at least 15 minutes because it really felt like a water massage.  As you start to find your way around the lagoon there are certain canisters where you can scoop the silica mud and place it on your face.


In-water treatments

1. Relaxing Massage

Deep relaxing massage using a massage oil that contains Blue Lagoon active ingredients and essential oils. A unique experience for body and soul. 30 (60€) or 60 (90€) minute massage available, 15 min relaxation before and after is recommended.


2. Silica Massage for back

A deep cleansing and renewing massage that reduces stress and muscle tension in shoulders and back. The treatment is especially suitable for oily skin, prone to outbreaks. This massage leaves the skin with a healthy and glowing appearance (30 minutes, 70€).


3. Silica Massage for legs

A deep cleansing and renewing massage for legs. The treatment begins with a scrub for legs using Blue Lagoon silica mud, which cleanses and exfoliates. The treatment ends with a nourishing and relaxing massage using Blue Lagoon massage oil which encourages balance and wellness (30 minutes, 70€).


4. Beauty Treatments

All treatments are based on Blue Lagoon skin care products that contain the active Blue Lagoon elements: geothermal seawater, minerals, silica and algae. Select between facial treatments, manicure, pedicure and more (15 minutes, 12€).


5. Blue Lagoon Pregnancy massage

Relaxing and nourishing massage for expecting mothers. The massage is designed to relieve some of the normal discomforts during pregnancy, such as fatigue, backaches, and swollen feet (60 minutes, 95€).


6. Nourishing & Glowing algae treatment

A treatment that cleanses and nurtures the skin. It starts with a salt glow, where the skin is polished with a unique combination of Blue Lagoon minerals and oils, followed by a nourishing algae wrap, while face and scalp are gently massaged.

The treatment ends with a 50 minute full body massage in the lagoon. This extraordinary treatment leaves you energized and nourished (2 hours, 190€).


7. Energizing & firming silica treatment

A treatment that strengthens the skin. The skin is polished with minerals and oils, followed by a firming silica wrap, while face and scalp are gently massaged. Ends with a full body massage (2 hours, 190€).


Berglind, Iceland24
February 2014

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Geysir Entrance Fee to be ISK 600

An entrance fee to Geysir erupting hot spring in South Iceland will be charged by private landowners of the area as of March 10, ruv.is reports. The fee will be used for development and protection of the area, according to a statement from the landowners.


The entrance fee of ISK 600 (USD 5.20, EUR 3.80) for visitors over 17 years of age. Up to 6,000 people visit the area every day.

The entrance fee has caused heated debate in Iceland with some arguing that the establishment of a nature pass would better serve the protection of areas.


Tourism Minister against Admission Fee at Geysir

In an interview with RÚV, Ragnheiður reasoned that it will serve nature protection and development of destinations much better to introduce a nature pass, as has been discussed, than to charge admission to selected destinations.


Two thirds of the Geysir area is in private ownership while the Icelandic state owns one third, including the area’s main tourist attractions: erupting hot springs Geysir and Strokkur.

Source: IcelandReview
Iceland24, February 2014

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Iceland May Soon See a 2% Unemployment Rate

For a frigid country that’s preoccupied with elves and whose economy relies on the export of fish fillets, frozen fish, fish flours, fish meal, preserved fish and crustaceans, Iceland has done pretty well for itself.


While it was hit hard by both 2008’s global recession and its very own banking crisis, the Nordic state now boasts an unemployment rate that’s under 5% and likely to continue falling. In fact, according to Iceland’s 38-year-old prime minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who recently spoke to Bloomberg News, the country's unemployment rate is on track to dip below 2%. Gunnlaugsson acknowledges that the number, “may sound strange to most other Western countries” but explains that, “Icelanders aren’t accustomed to unemployment.”


How did Iceland attain this feat — one that’s been praised by the International Monetary Fund and economist Paul Krugman alike? By letting its banks fail and prosecuting banking executives who broke the law.


The bubble that burst: The outlook for Iceland hasn't always been so rosy.

In the 1990s, former Icelandic Prime Minister David Oddsson prioritized the liberalization and diversification of Iceland’s fish-focused economy, leading up to the deregulation and privatization of the country’s banks just after the turn of the century. A banking boom ensued from 2002 onward, as Iceland’s institutions began to open themselves to the global market, and issue bonds and offer savings accounts abroad. By 2007, the banks’ assets were valued at almost 750% of the country’s GDP and Icelandic unemployment was, indeed, below 2%.


And then, in fall 2008, the country’s three largest banks — Kaupthing, Glitnir and Landsbanki — went bust. Credit markets dried up as foreign institutions faced their own liquidity crises, and the Icelandic banks proved unable to cover their debts. Given the banks’ astronomical growth, Iceland’s government simply couldn’t afford a bailout — by then, the banks were in hock for about nine times as much as the country’s economy was worth. All three banks went into receivership and were restructured as far smaller, domestic-only outfits.

And then? As outspoken Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimmson famously put it:


In short, in order to get back on its feet, Iceland took IMF loans, but did so without the deep and divisive austerity measures — such as slashing welfare programs and government wages — that were required in countries like Greece. It also banned foreign currency loans, implemented capital controls, and allowed the Krona to lose value.

More importantly, rather than bailing out banks, it reformed and placed restrictions on the banking sector, such as limiting bonuses, and began prosecuting over 100 financial crimes. The CEOs of Glitnir and Kaupthing were convicted of breach of trust and market manipulation, respectively. The former was handed a nine-month sentence, while the latter has just begun his five-and-a-half years in jail.

Source: PolicyMic
January 2014

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Seventy Percent of Icelanders Support Entrance Fee

Nearly 70 percent of Icelanders support the charging of a fee to visit popular natural sites in the country, according to a new survey by daily Fréttablaðið and Stöð 2 television station.


The survey found that more men than women support the fee as do those over 50, visir.is reports.

Supporters of the Pirate Party are most opposed to the plan with around 50 percent against the introduction of fees.


In an interview with RÚV last week, Tourism Minister Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir said that she would like to see the introduction of a nature pass rather than charge admission at selected destinations, as this, she reasoned, will better serve nature protection and development of destinations.

Preparations for a payment system are underway and are expected to be ready before next summer.

Outdoor Organizations Protest Nature Pass Idea

SAMÚT, the network of outdoor activity organizations in Iceland, has voiced its opposition to the establishment of a nature pass system in Iceland. SAMÚT argues that the pass system, which aims to collect funds for nature protection, would not be in line with people’s right to travel freely. Another method of raising funds must be found, SAMÚT states in a resolution passed at their meeting on January 15, visir.is reports.

Among the reasons given are that the system would be too difficult and expensive to implement and would increase the burden on the police and park rangers, whom they argue should rather focus their efforts on preventing off-road driving and other damage caused to nature. The pass would also discourage Icelanders from traveling in their own country.


Instead, SAMÚT suggests that funds be collected through an entry or departure free, which is easier to implement. SAMÚT also states that a strategy and plan for projects needs to be drawn up in collaboration with relevant organizations.


Tourism Minister Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir has said that she would like to see the introduction of a nature pass rather than charge admission at selected destinations, as this, she reasoned, will better serve nature protection and development of destinations.

Source: Icelandreview
February 2014