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Youmay think of Iceland as that exotic far off island on the outer fringe of the Arctic Circle near the top of the world and its largest city, Reykjavik, as the most frigid and northernmost capital of them all. For 325,000+ Icelanders, this breathtaking country is not-so-distant a destination as it appears on a physical (if not a psycholog- ical) map: four-and-a-half easy going hours aboard a comfortable Icelandair 757 flying direct from JFK.

For Icelanders,the“Ice”part is somewhat a misnomer, too. Sure, there is snow and ice - though their home is actually tem- perate throughout most months of the year, thanks to Iceland’s Northern Atlantic situation as the final destination for the warm blessings of the Gulf Stream’s waters. Summers here are sublime with almost twenty-four hours of daylight. Each of the shoulder seasons offers a New England-esquemixed-bag ofmeteorology. My February visit showed me a winter no harsher than in my own hometown of Philadelphia - except Philly’s sun doesn’t fully and finally rise at 10am,and then dis- appear again by 4:45pm.

Iceland is much closer in proximity to the U.S. than you’d think. In fact, the island is situated on the physical bridge between North America and Europe.

That’s right: Both of these continents’ respective tectonic plate meets precisely along Iceland’s longitudinal line,making it a unique and special land where you can literally be on two continents at once.

Ranged with mystical, lunar-like rock- croppings and sky-cutting glaciers; gently- active volcanos that occasionally rumble the island’s young belly; burbling winter- blue geothermal pools (like submerging in a warm ghost) and, overhead - the shimmering, phantasmal dance of the Northern Lights (if you’re lucky!) – These are sturdy lands with a gentle soul, and vice-versa.

I have a personal travel checklist, a“What Makes a Destination Great” internal sur- vey, and Iceland gets its highest marks across my board: First, Iceland is one of if not the safest country in the world. Crime is minimal; its people have integrity.

72 March  April 2015

It’s also relatively easy to get here – just four- to six-hours from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. Too, Icelandair’s planes are comfy and well-equipped; its staff is most attentive and respectful. Heck, even the country’s customs officials are nice.

High grades are earned as well for assimi- lation: Everyone speaks English as a sec- ond language here. Taxis are plentiful; drivers are friendly. As long as you’re careful, the streets are safe and easy to navigate. Oh, I also like that drivers typi- cally slow down for pedestrians. In most other countries, it’s the crazy mobile commuters who claim the right-of-way.

Credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere. Another plus: With a five- hours (forward) time difference from the East Coast, you’re not so much jet lagging as being one good nap away from catch- ing-up.

Oh, did I mention

the fantastic Nordic cuisine? No worries, I will!

I am attending the twenty-third annual Mid-Atlantic Trade Show - almost 800 trav- el buyers and sellers hailing from nearly thirty countries - from Edmonton and St. Petersburg (FLA) to Munich and Birming- ham (England). We’re all gathered to share in the best the tourism industry has to offer amid this primeval land as our frosty backdrop.

My home base for the next four days is the Grand Hotel Reykjavik. This stylishly- modern property resides on the elevated outskirts of the city’s historic center – together with the nearby Hilton Nordica and the Reykjavik Lights Hotel.The three properties form a hotel hub of sorts, and are triple-jewels offering the best views of the city skyline – like the ones that are glacially mine from my 11th floor perch.

I like the Grand’s contemporary-ness,how clean my room is being kept, the onsite

spa offering relaxing convenience,and its plethora of meeting and ball rooms.

I quickly learn Iceland’s wintery truth – One minute it can be snowing and the next it’s time to don those Ray Bans and peel off a layer or two. I quickly steal an hour and trek into the heart of Reykjavik. I follow the main thoroughfare; a tony, designer-filled street called Laugavegur, passing the requisite museums, churches, shops, cafes and tourist stores. Reykjavik is a squat city, with just a few buildings over ten stories. The architecture here is a conglomeration of low-slung two-story red, green, yellow or blue-roofed Scandinavian box houses, Swiss chalet- style buildings,and a profusion ofmodern urban apartments and office buildings. They range from simplistic, sleek and IKEA-y in design to the poured concrete, utilitarian look of the early 1960s.

Hallgrimskirkja Church is the city’s famed masonry focal point, its graduated “winged”facade spikes upward some 244- feet. This statuary can be seen from most vantage points in and around the city.

Reykjavik’s hub offers a series of town squares and cozy alleys where shops, gal- leries and myriad restaurants and bars reside. I stop into the Visit Reykjavik Tourism Bureau’s main office to meet its head of marketing and PR, David Samuelsson. David encourages me to obtain a City Pass and take advantage of its wide selection of museum and attrac- tion discounts. Then this North Atlantic native schools me on the fine art of relax- ing in any one of the island’s geothermal pools and spas. “Where in most places being in a thermal pool is a singular activ- ity for relaxation, here it is a big part of where we meet and socialize. It’s very common to see the local swimming pool full of people, even at 6am on any given morning.” Reykjavikers like to loll around in very warm water for hours on end.

I promise David that I’ll take a dip before my trip is over. “You’ll learn a lot from being in the water.” And then he chides, “As we say here:‘You know that salesman from Reykjavik has landed the deal when he and his client are then socializing together afterward in the spa!’”

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