Iceland Observations | Newt Gingrich

Callista and I had a wonderful opportunity to spend Memorial Day weekend in Iceland. It was an interesting, exciting, and fun trip.iceland-10

We spent four days in Iceland and enjoyed many beautiful sites, including a drive around the Golden Circle (featuring waterfalls and geysers) and a drive along the South Coast. Iceland could easily absorb more than a week just to see the high points.

Of course having made Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny as a documentary film we were delighted to visit the Hofdi House. This was the site of the Reykjavík Summit between Reagan and Gorbachev in October 1986. Callista immediately recognized the house. It’s the exact spot where Reagan stood angrily telling Gorbachev that it was his fault the summit had failed. Six months later Reagan got everything he wanted and the Cold War was nearing the end.

We also visited the extraordinarily modern and beautiful Harpa concert hall which has won awards for its architectural beauty. We had a chance to listen to a concert pianist practice and the sound was perfect throughout the hall.

The most amazing moment was a film we watched at the farm just below the volcano Eyjafjallajokull. You will remember this volcano because its eruptions in the spring of 2010 caused a disruption of iceland-1European airline travel.

The dairy farm just below the volcano had been occupied by the same family since 1906. They used geothermal heat to generate electricity and a hot water site for heat. Their farm was virtually self-sufficient. When the volcano erupted they had to cope with 400 tons of volcanic ash falling on their farm. The sheep and horses had to be evacuated. The cows had to survive inside the barn. The family worked every day for months to recover.

They now have a terrific small museum and theater which plays a 20-minute documentary about the volcano and their survival. You can see the shop at

Callista commented after visiting with the owner about her family’s survival that it was a triumph of the human spirit. “We had no choice,” the woman said. “It was work every day or lose the farm.” She also noted that she was 60 years old and there had been 25 volcanic eruptions in Iceland in her lifetime.

Of course the very geologic conditions which make Iceland a hot spot also make it a center for renewable resources. Iceland is the leading user of geothermal resources in the world. We visited Hellisheidi, a major geothermal power plant. On one side it produces electricity. On the other side it produces hot water for heating Reykjavik. Virtually all of Iceland (about 90%) gets its heat from centrally piped geothermal sources. Between geothermal power and hydropower, Iceland is self-sufficient in electricity. In fact they are considering exporting electricity to Great Britain. However, European Union rules would iceland-3require them to raise Icelandic electricity rates to European levels to be compliant. Since they currently have a prosperous aluminum processing industry they are happy to ignore the European rules and keep their electricity inexpensive (it may be the cheapest in the world).

Iceland’s expertise with geothermal power has led its energy industry to do work in El Salvador, Hungary, and Kenya.

Because geothermal heat is so abundant, Iceland is beginning to develop a greenhouse industry for food production and flowers. In fact Iceland may presently become an exporter to Europe of exotic fruits. We saw several greenhouses commercially growing tomatoes with the iceland-6geothermal heat making them usable all year long in the city of Hveragerdi.

Politically, Iceland is interesting because it is the site of the oldest continuous parliament in the world. The “Althing” (in effect “the everything” meaning the gathering of the people in parliament) is now a national park. You can see both where the people gathered beginning in 930 AD and where the Lawspeaker stood on the hill reciting the law for a pre-printing world in which virtually no one read.

We stayed in the Borg hotel across the square from the current Althing or Parliament which is a relatively small building but which represents more than 1000 years of self-government. Iceland retained its own parliament even under the Danish king.

Not far from the national park which has the Althing is Geysir, which as you might guess is the source of the English word “geyser”. Geysir rarely erupts anymore. A few feet away, however, is Strokkur, which erupts every four to eight minutes. There is a nice restaurant nearby with a giant troll (much bigger than our favorite troll at Drugan’s in Holmen, Wisconsin).

One of the more surprising sites was a World War II DC-3 laying on the beach. It was the Navy version called R4D and in 1973 ran out of fuel and crash landed on the beach. Everyone survived and after they stripped the iceland-4engines and avionics they just left the body of the plane and its wings there. I had always enjoyed Michael Douglas getting into a crashed DC-3 in the movie “Romancing the Stone” so it was fun to have Callista take my picture standing in the door of the abandoned plane.

We also went out on a small boat to see puffins. As a sign of the modern world we had a bachelorette party on the boat. They had come from Chicago, Cleveland, Toronto, and Dubai to celebrate the wedding of one of the women.

Another sign of the modern world was the range of restaurants in Reykjavik. You can find Nepalese, Chinese, Thai, Italian, French, and other international cuisines throughout the city. You can also visit a famous iceland-5hot dog stand, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, and get a lamb hot dog. We did and it was quite good!

We hope to go back to Iceland and recommend it to anyone who wants to see a beautiful island and a fascinating people.

Your Friend,


via Iceland Observations.iceland-8iceland-7iceland-9


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