tourist trap

My Icelandic Saga
I figured in traveling to Iceland early in July, we'd be seeing nature's bounty on incredible display - and I was right. The rivers were tumbling, the waterfalls roaring, the wildflowers on brilliant display. Along the way, we saw geysers, boiling thermal pools and 24 hours of daylight that kept everything on display as long as we had any energy left to burn. For some reason, I also expected Iceland to be a place where lots of fountains and water displays would be part of the landscape - and that didn't prove to be the case. In several days of rambling, in fact, we saw only three, and just one of them bears much discussion simply because it was so odd. But first came a large reflecting pool out front of Reykjavik's Harpa concert hall and conference center. The green-glass building is a spectacular slice of modern architecture, and its companion pool, split by wide bridges, sets it off just the way it should. Judy complained that the whole composition cut off the harbor view, but I liked it and, of course, admired the inclusion of a watershape in such a grand and significant setting. The second was a large sculptural-fountain piece in a locals-only park we found while hunting for a botanical garden. (I figured it was mainly for Icelanders because it was the only place we encountered where the signage was solely in Icelandic.) Unfortunately, the fountain wasn't operating while we were there, so the watery part of the experience was limited to a large, adjacent pond with a few pleasant details and a small number of birds that seemed a bit lost. It set me thinking that aquatic displays are probably not a high priority in a place surrounded by water where the sun is effectively gone a good part of the year and days are quite chilly through nine months or more. But then we arrived at the odd place, one that brought everything about Iceland together for me, from the island's geothermal character and rugged beauty to its marked capacity to separate people of other nations from large quantities of cash. This was the Blue Lagoon, which offers its visitors the opportunity to bathe in mineral-infused water maintained at around 100 degrees F for as long as they can take it. It gives the impression of being a natural attraction, but it's actually a giant concrete pool fed by water from a nearby geothermal plant that generates power for a large chunk of the island. Once it passes through the turbines, the water goes to a heat exchanger where it also heats tap water bound for the city. That task complete, the still-warm effluent flows into a man-made lagoon that covers about an acre, maybe more. There are those who say the water, rich in sulfur and silicates (from which its pale blue color derives), has curative powers. That may be true (they say research is ongoing), but I get the impression it's more of a tourist trap than a stop on any pilgrim's road. Despite that, it should be a stop on any watershaper's road through Iceland: It's an impressive bit of aquatic craftsmanship, ingenious on many different levels, and would seem to be a portable concept on a number of scales if the right resources happened to be available. And the fact that a wade-up bar seems to be a key part of the package makes it all the more welcoming. For myself, I'm content with the small, slightly salty blue lagoon I maintain in my own backyard, just a few feet from my doorstep. While those who dip into Iceland's Blue Lagoon must be content to share the water with hundreds of other freshly-showered patrons, I prefer my hydrotherapy on a more intimate scale. That's not to say I regret the Blue Lagoon experience: As I mentioned above, I think it's an essential stop for any watershaper who finds his or her way to Iceland. But I think I was happier seeing a good reflecting pool and, even dry, a water-oriented sculpture - just my kind of tourist trap!