Travel: Such glories in transit mode

It is better to travel than to arrive - that's the appeal of a stopover. And you feel you've gained an extra holiday. Harriet O'Brien spends 24 hours taking in the surreal sights of Iceland, while Simon Calder assesses other top transit points around the world

High on the Langjokoll glacier in Iceland, the wind whipped up a gentle, late-summer chill. The scrunch of ice underfoot was the only sound to break the silence of the frozen landscape. You get a feeling of being out of time and out of place in such ethereal surroundings.

Which seems all the more appropriate if you're there for only a few hours, knowing that the next day you will be basking in the sunshine of Florida, strolling around Boston harbour or contending with an early September drizzle in London. It would be difficult to improve on the elemental appeal of Iceland as a transit point.

Logically, though, this tiny country should not be a popular place for travellers at the moment, particularly if you're British. During this rare period of sterling strength you will feel rich practically anywhere in the world (with delusions of tycoonery in Asia, Russia and Canada). Not so in the land of ice-caps and lava fields and just 170,000 people. Life is seriously expensive in Iceland: a handicap that doesn't manage to diminish its draw for increasing numbers of visitors.

That much was apparent as I watched wodges of people boarding a daytripping bus in Reykjavik to see the Iceland classics: the great waterfall of Gulfoss and the Geysir from which all other geysers take their name. Spectacular though these sights undoubtedly are, you might well find yourself barely glimpsing them over an anoraked shoulder. Yet the place offers plenty more - with just 24 hours in the country, I headed for other less crowded but almost equally stunning sights: glacial rivers of deep turquoise; bold volcanic hillscapes; powerfully bubbling hot springs.

Quite beyond the obvious geological appeal of Iceland (and curiosity about a proud island people who still speak a sort of 10th-century Norwegian) is the sheer convenience factor of a stop-off here. Icelandair and the Iceland tourist board have developed a clever range of products: low air fares from Europe to Canada and the States, with a change of planes in Iceland's capital and the option, meanwhile, of spending a day or a few days selecting from a host of organised trips that run like clockwork to tourist attractions within relatively easy distance of Reykjavik.

In fact it's such smooth going that Iceland becomes a costly addiction. On my first trip I became well and truly hooked. Arriving from London at about midnight in the glowing smudge of late-summer daylight, I took a sulphur-smelling trip into town, found a B&B, slept and woke up with just six hours before my onward flight to Canada. What to do in the short time before catching my next plane? "A Blue Lagoon tour, of course," said the obliging people at the B&B. "And the bus will also drop you at the airport." So off I went.

This trip is based around the Reykjanes Peninsula, a large swathe of moss-covered lava-land looking like a bleak moonscape. The coach came complete with a guide and his nine-year-old son, who evidently took as much delight in learning about the landscape as the dozen or so tourists on the bus.

Guideson had sticky-up hair that his father lovingly tried to smooth down every time we left the vehicle to look at the old fishing town of Harfnarfjordur, a colony of arctic terns or the sea pounding the edge of the peninsula at Rekjanesviti. (The child would have been Guidedottir or thereabouts had he been a girl - Icelanders do not have surnames and adhere fiercely to a patronymic system: they concoct their last name by adding "son" or "dottir" to their father's Christian name.

Information was proudly forthcoming. We passed a large harbour with enormous fishing vessels and processing plants - 70 per cent of Iceland's exports are fish, we were told (with a quick resume about the current cod contentions). And fishing employs just 5 per cent of the population. So what does everyone else do?

One answer became clear as we proceeded past power plants dotted along the eerie, blasted landscape of the peninsula. It seems that when the Icelanders want electricity or hot water they simply plug into the geothermal forces here and hey presto - power. They have even devised ways of getting electricity cables to run their power under the ocean to the rest of Europe - but for the moment the project is too expensive.

And then we reached the highlight of the tour: the truly weird Blue Lagoon. This is a steaming lake that emerged when a power plant was placed here. So you put on your swim suit, step into the cloudy, tepid water and loll around, along with crowds of other happy daytrippers, under the belching steam of the power plant's shiny chimneys. You bob about for a while, pondering the curative claims made for this warm, soupy water.

Then you take a long shower to stop yourself smelling like a very old egg, board the bus again and, an hour later, you are on a plane bound for the New World. Blinking with bemusement at your surreal experience, you swear that you will come back again for another quick fix of one of the world's youngest and most intriguing islands.

Harriet O'Brien paid pounds 340 for a return trip (including taxes) on Icelandair from London to Halifax in Canada and back from Boston, USA - with stop- overs in Iceland on both legs of the journey. In Iceland she spent about pounds 40 per night at a basic B&B and roughly pounds 30 for a trip to the Blue Lagoon and about pounds 50 for a nine-hour tour into the glacial interior. For further details contact Reykjavik Excursions on 00 354 564 4777.

For dedicated trips to Iceland during September, Icelandair holidays (0171-388 5599) start at pounds 299 for a two-night inclusive package (minus lunches and dinners but including all taxes) from Heathrow to Reykjavik. For longer holidays also try Arctic Experience (01737 218800) or Regent Holidays (01983 864212).

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game