Iceland: Trolling about

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Trolling About Iceland

Be sure to pay your respects to little invisible Icelanders or your journey may end abruptly. Roderick Eime treads carefully.

“If you go walking, be careful not to kick around rocks and things. You could disturb a troll or an elf,” my guide tells me and I turn to share in the joke. But he’s not laughing.

Trolls, elves and fairies are serious business in Iceland and whoa betide any clumsy hiker who messes up the abode of one of these mysterious, unseen beings. In 2004, a golf course was being built just outside the capital, Reykjavik, when a bulldozer dislodged a massive boulder. Heavy machinery began failing and workers met with strange accidents until a very public apology ceremony was conducted. Only then could the golf course be completed.

But fantasy creatures aside, Icelanders have an enviable lifestyle. There is almost no crime or unemployment and the population enjoy the highest birth rate and lowest infant mortality in the entire EU. The president’s mansion is completely unguarded and the locals joke that you can go and invite yourself in for coffee and pancakes, the local hospitable offering to guests.

The heavily glaciated and volcanic landscape is a whole other world. Geysers, waterfalls, glaciers and steaming volcanic vents abound, making the countryside perfect for a science fiction setting.

“We have forests too, it’s true,” my guide assures me, “and do you know what to do if you get lost in the forest?” We look at each other quizzically then shake our heads.

“Stand up!” Chuckles ensue, and with that we gain an insight into the arid Icelandic humour that enabled them to cope with their recent total financial collapse.

For a county twice the size of Switzerland, Iceland has 50,000 semi-wild horses, 250 earthquakes every week, a world famous penis museum, a very healthy nightlife and a fascinating history that can be traced back beyond the first Viking settlers some 1200 years ago.

I’m travelling aboard Le Boreal, the first of La Compagnie du Ponant’s trio of super-sophisticated luxury expedition vessels now plying the world’s oceans from Antarctica to Spitsbergen.

Sample Original Images: (Iceland Tourism has excellent library)

[story includes description of Ponant Cruises' vessel Le Boreal]

Ponant has been around since 1986 specialising in small ship, niche market cruise products. Their first vessel, Le Ponant, is a gorgeous 64-pax, three-masted sailing ship in the mould of Windstar or Sea Cloud – yes, the one in the 2008 Somali pirate drama. The company added an expedition ship in 2004 with the 1974-built Le Diamant, now sold (along with Le Levant) to make way for a trio of state-of-the-art vessels. Le Boreal was launched in May 2010, L’Austral just last June and Le SolĂ©al midyear.

Scoff as the purists might, these ships represent the cat’s whickers in maritime design. They are the first to be “green ship” certified and, at 10,000 tons with 132 suites and staterooms, are huge by expedition cruise standards. Each can transport up to 264 guests in stabilised, Sofitel-level comfort to all corners of the globe, although numbers are limited to 200 for Antarctic operations. The 142m hull is ice rated 1C (1A is the toughest) and the impressive satellite navigation will keep the vessel fixed without the need to drop anchor.

Dining is single seating in one of two restaurants with house wine included. Deck 6 has butler service and two of three cabins have private balconies. There’s a big gym, Sothy spa, kids club, wheelchair access throughout, beaut observation lounge bar/ library, pool and Wi-Fi internet access.

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