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Iceland celebrates a year of culture

Where in the world is Matt Lauer? On day 5 of his global journey, NBC’s Matt Lauer visits Iceland, land of the midnight sun.

Sun-starved and in need of quality pool time this summer? Consider a visit to Iceland. Yes, the same European country that boasts five glaciers is also home to the midnight sun and geothermal pools. In June, the sun rises at 3 a.m. and sets at 11:53 p.m. in Reykjavik. In northern Iceland in June, the sun never fully sets. During those long days, you can soak in countless hot springs, the product of a country rich in volcanic and geothermal activity.

ICELAND WILL BE a hotbed of activity this year in more ways than one. The European Union has designated nine European cities as “cities of culture” for 2000. Reykjavík, Iceland, is one of them, and it will host special cultural events throughout the year.


Here are some of the events planned for the year 2000:

Landsmót, a celebration of the Icelandic horse, is scheduled for July 4-9. Shows will continue from early morning to late at night. Shows of stallions, mares and their offspring give an insight to the best breeding stock. The tour operator Íshestar, specializing in riding tours in Iceland, will offer a variety of tours, before, during and after Landsmót.

The Society of Icelandic Composers will mark Reykjavik’s role as one of the nine European Cities of Culture in 2000 by organizing three series of concerts, presenting Icelandic compositions from the 20th century as well as premiering recent works. Concerts will be presented May 20 through June 5. Click for a full schedule of concerts. Tickets are 1.800 Icelandic kronurs, or about $23 U.S. dollars.

The exhibition “Living on the North Atlantic” examines the impact fisheries, sailing and life on the ocean has had on the lives of the inhabits of Reykjavik, Bergen, Santiago de Compostela and the island Tatihou off Normandy. The exhibit starts in the newly opened Harbour House and will be open until the end of June.


Going to the pool is a way of life in Iceland. Swimming lessons are mandatory for schoolchildren and the habit carries on into adulthood. Reykjavik boasts at least seven public swimming pools; all of them use thermal water from natural hot springs.

Pools are operated year-round; most facilities open at 7 a.m. and close as late as 10 p.m. Facilities are equipped with extras such as saunas, steam baths, solariums, water massage, slides and play areas for children.

If you’re seeking a more natural experience, head to the Blue Lagoon, a place to bask in warm, relaxing geothermal seawater in the middle of a lava field. The Blue Lagoon is only a 15-minute drive from the Keflavik International Airport, and a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik.

The steaming 100-degree water derives its color from blue-green algae and white silica. Four-meter-high lava cliffs surround the lagoon, and the bottom consists of smooth sand. The water is never deeper than 4 feet. For more information, visit the Blue Lagoon Web site.


Grand Hotel Reykjavik has 100 rooms with minibar, hair dryers and satellite TV. The hotel has an in-house restaurant, the Brasserie Grand, which offers everything from a quick bite to a full four-course dinner menu.

Hotel Esja is located near midtown Reykjavik. It contains two restaurants, a bank, gift shop, film developing services and a full-service health and fitness spa, Planet Pulse.

Hotel Loftleidir is Iceland’s largest hotel. It contains a restaurant, health and fitness spa, hair salon, gift shop, banking and tour packages.


Season: Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Iceland enjoys a cool temperate ocean climate that’s cool in summer and fairly mild in winter. The weather, however, is changeable and visitors should be prepared for the unexpected. The average temperature in Reykjavik in July is 56 degrees Fahrenheit. For summer you may wish to bring lightweight woolens, a windbreaker, walking shoes and a swimsuit.

Flights: Iceland is the closest European country to the United States and Canada. It is less than five hours flying time from New York. There are daily nonstop flights to Reykjavik from Baltimore/Washington, Boston, Minneapolis and New York, and frequent flights from Orlando and Halifax, Canada.

Getting around: A Fly-Bus service is operated between Keflavik airport and the air terminal at Icelandair Hotel Loftleidir in Reykjavik with connections to all major hotels in the city. Cost is $10 per person; U.S. currency is accepted. Airport taxis are also available, but will cost about $80 from the airport into Reykjavik. There is an extensive bus service to most parts of the country and to the highlands. Rental cars can also be booked at the airport or at various car rental agencies.


For more information, contact the Icelandic Tourist Board, (212) 885-9700, or visit the Icelandic Tourist Board Web site.