I see Iceland

This item appears on page 19 of the November 2020 issue.

Either lots of ITN subscribers have been to Iceland or they’ve got plenty of spare time isolating at home, because we got the most submissions ever for an essay, this time on the topic “I See Iceland.” We thank Tom Wilson of Citrus Heights, California, for contributing the topic.

ITN staff judged the submissions, and the winning work was that of RAY NIEDOWSKI of Marshfield Hills, Massachusetts. Coming in second was the essay by KAREN and GERALD WAGNER of Monarch Beach, California. Each essay earns an ITN mug.

We are currently accepting essays on the topic “Hungry for Hungary.” If you are an ITN subscriber and have been to Hungary, get creative! Express the mood of the place, what it felt like to be there, or get across what the local people were like; share any insights you gained into the culture or describe a meaningful encounter you had. Paint verbal pictures of things you saw.

Email your essay to editor@intltravelnews.com or send it to Essay Contest, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your mailing or billing address. The deadline is Dec. 31, 2020. A prize will be given for the winning essay, which will appear in ITN.

‘Green or white?’ ’tis the question…. Iceland in the summer or Iceland in the winter: which do we prefer?

Following a tradition of finding the best “first week in December getaway,” we chose Iceland as our 2013 destination. Most friends and family thought we were crazy. What gorgeous winter wonderland awaited us with pristine white snow, half-frozen waterfalls, gorgeous sunsets by 4 p.m., stunning sunrises after 9 a.m. and glorious northern lights.

The aurora borealis, a shimmering curtain of colors, would be visible well after midnight, so our guide decided to pass some time by visiting an ice cream shop. With outside bitter cold, the midnight crowd selecting huge ice cream cones warmly welcomed us, and we visited with locals of all ages. They all spoke English.

We found the small Christmas market delightful. It featured local crafts proudly displayed by Icelanders from Reykjavik and the countryside. With tiny snowflakes clinging to our eyelashes, we feasted on delicious homemade berry jams on warm biscuits.

During the afternoon, before our evening flight home, we floated in warm, steamy water at the Blue Lagoon surrounded by a snowy landscape. It was all magical!

In the summer of 2018, we sailed with Holland America from Copenhagen to New York City, with five ports in Iceland and an overnight in Reykjavik. We repeated the ‘Golden Circle’ and ‘South Coast’ tours we’d taken. What we remembered as a whiteness filled with peace-inducing stillness was now boisterous, bursting with energy — green and flowery, with thundering waterfalls and rushing rivers, pristine beaches, volcanoes, geysers, children laughing, whales breaching and gentle Icelandic horses clipping along the roads.

Summer provided us an unforgettable and profound closeness to raw, unspoiled and uncluttered nature seen throughout the country.

We still ponder…. Green or white?

Karen & Gerald Wagner
Monarch Beach, CA



I smiled a lot in Iceland.

How could I not, in a land of sprites, trolls and “hidden people”? The latter, it is claimed, may invite humans for a chat and pancakes. Road builders, fearing repercussions, divert around elf stones. “We try to accommodate,” said one.

Nature is Iceland’s architect, the creator of its temples and cathedrals. There are antidotes for everything: elbowroom for the claustrophobic; majestic waterfalls, geysers and glaciers for the jaded; mud pots and steam vents for cold feet; inspiration (experimental roots of democracy, stunning ancient-saga manuscripts) for the depressed; 24/7 summer daylight for insomniacs, and, for the hungry, there’s the pylsa — nature’s perfect food. Iceland, in short, is good for what ails you.

Active types can do geothermal swims, run midnight marathons, duck boat on icebound lagoons, join Farmer Siggy on a watery tractor ride across an inches-deep “sandur” to puffin-filled Ingólfshöfði, or tour the countryside on pint-size horses. My nag’s name is something like Brobdingbangagurgle (Brobby for short). First time on a horse, and Brobby knows he’s got a loser aboard. A fun time… for him.

All good, yet best of all are two moments of quiet contemplation, one within a closet-size, turf-roof church, another in a shallow cave, soothingly quiet, eerily dim. Erik, our guide, begins a haunting hymn, in Icelandic. No one moves. My eyes are closed, like Erik’s. A spiritual experience, a moment of perfection to bottle for posterity.

If you go, be gentle. For all its geologic and tectonic violence, it’s a fragile nation, teetering on the edge of environmental construction and destruction. It has lost its trees. It is losing its soil. Conserve.

If you’re lucky, you might run into a troll, even a couple of hidden people, with whom you can share pancakes.

Guaranteed to raise a smile.

Ray Niedowski
Marshfield Hills, MA