Iceland is trendy these days. My staff has been nagging me to incorporate it into our program with a guidebook and tours. One of our top researchers and guides, Ian Watson, is raising his family there. And until now I’d never been there.
This year I thought, finally, I’ll extend my trip a few days and stop in Iceland on the way home. I was flying Icelandair, which has famously liberal stopover privileges in Reykjavik — where I had to change planes anyway. I told the Icelandic Tourist Board I had a couple of days for Iceland and challenged them to show me the best of their country. They generously showed me a very good time. While I won’t write a guidebook to Iceland (the Lonely Planet guide is just out and is excellent) and we won’t be incorporating Iceland into our tour program, I had a great visit. I’ll be reporting on my experience in the next few entries.
Tourism is booming in Iceland — up 30 percent this year over its best-ever year for tourism in 2012. They enjoyed well over two tourist visits per resident for the past two years. About half of their tourist economy comes in July and August when the days are long, the weather is pleasant, and people tend to visit. But even on a sunny day during my visit, I layered on everything I had and envied the locals with their woolly ski caps.
While tourism is limited to summer (and always will be, regardless of how enthusiastically the tourist board promotes off-season festivals), other industries roll on. Two big businesses are fishing (obviously) and aluminum production (not so obvious). Using Iceland’s cheap electricity, factories produce aluminum from bauxite, which requires lots of electrical energy, or heat. They can actually ship in the raw material, use their affordable energy to heat it up, and then export the aluminum — and make good money.
Right off the plane, I took a taxi to the hotel and hopped on a whale-watching boat for a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour. We saw plenty of birds and little fish, but no whales. Still, I enjoyed the bracing and fresh North Atlantic wind, grand views, and a good chance to chat with the pilot and get my cultural bearings:
If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.
I am about to embark on an exciting TV production/tour-guiding adventure. My crew and I are preparing to fly to Israel in a couple of weeks to make new episodes for our TV series — one on Israel and one on the West Bank, or what’s also known as the Palestinian Territories or Palestine (to air in October 2014). We will also produce one hour-long show that will be a combination of the Israel and Palestine shows. That program will deal a little more directly with the tough issues of the day (to air in spring 2014). In the spirit of our recent Iran documentary (if you haven’t seen it, you can watch it on Hulu), we plan to provide historical and cultural context. Our aim will be to humanize the Holy Land rather than just focus on the hard issues facing Israelis and Palestinians as they try to find a way to share the land they each consider sacred and their rightful homeland. I have three requests for you:
First: I’m struggling with what to call the shows. Our Israel show is pretty easy: “The Best of Israel.” For the West Bank show (I won’t be dealing with Gaza), just choosing the term to describe the area is more challenging. Depending on your outlook, the region is called Judea and Samaria, The West Bank, Occupied Territories, Palestinian Territories, or Palestine. My working title is simply “Palestine.” Since this will be a half-hour episode in my travel series that treats the West Bank as a fascinating place to explore, what do you think is the best name for the land where Palestinians live west of the Jordan River, and why?
Second: The working title of the hour-long special is “The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today.” I want to use a form of the word Palestine in some way, but in reference to the people rather than the political unit — it makes it less contentious. Any advice on this one?
And third: I’ve been reading and watching documentaries and learning a lot about the region in preparation for our shoot. I’d love some recommendations on short videos or books that provide good cultural context for my work here. I don’t need material that tries to make you anti anybody.
I’ll be blogging during the trip and I’m excited to take you along on what promises to be a challenging and fascinating journey. Thanks and stay tuned.
One of our Best of St. Petersburg, Tallinn & Helsinki tours was in town, so we decided to join them for the day. With a wonderful local guide, we rode the bus 15 miles to the town of Pushkin and a cluster of over-the-top-opulent Romanov palaces called the Czar’s Village (Tsarskoye Selo). This gorgeous ensemble of residences, pavilions, and gardens was born shortly after St. Petersburg, when Peter the Great’s wife Catherine founded a church and began erecting palaces here. Photos by Trish Feaster, The Travelphile.com.
Eating in St. Petersburg is easy when you stick with the cafeteria lines. The food is good, the price is right, and you order by pointing — so you’re more likely to get what you want. Photos by Trish Feaster, The Travelphile.com.