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Greetings from The Moodie Blog’s Eyjafjallajökull bureau.
The name sound familiar? For anyone in travel retail it should. That’s because it’s highly likely that you, or someone you know, was stranded somewhere in the world as a result of its volcanic eruption back in 2010, an event that caused enormous air traffic disruption over several weeks. My partner Dermot Davitt and I, for example, temporarily became Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, as we battled to get home from New York and Hong Kong, respectively.
Six years later and I am sitting in a remote farmhouse, looking out over vast expanses of lush green fields to a snow-capped, beautiful and, thankfully somnolent version of that very same volcano. With some nice Icelandic Indie in the background (I was tempted to play Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to leave your Lava or something by Wishbone Ash) and in the peace and still of a cool Spring morning, it’s hard to imagine the sheer violence with which Eyjafjallajökull (as the locals will tell you, it’s so easy to pronounce – ‘Ay-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuutl-uh’. Got it?) erupted so recently, spewing its ash cloud all over Iceland and far beyond. The closest I’ve come to any ash here, in fact, was with the fine Davidoff cigar I smoked on the farmhouse balcony last night. Bliss.
I arrived here last Saturday, via London Gatwick to Keflavik International Airport onboard the surprisingly excellent low cost carrier Wow.
Wow was also the expression I used when I first saw Keflavik’s Arrivals store. If every duty free shop in the world had similar penetration rates to this one, then all the industry’s troubles would surely be over.
Iceland is Europe’s most sparsely populated country (just over 330,000 people spread across an area of 103,000 km) and surely one of its most beautiful. Despite the airport store and restaurant site visit (pictured below), I’m here on holiday not business. Together with my four bairns and two of their partners I’m driving around this land of ice and fire, taking in its astounding scenery.
Of those 330,000 people I mentioned, I reckon many of them have shopped on arrival at the airport. That’s because Iceland has some of the most punitive tax and duty rates in the world. Your restaurant wine bill for a week’s holiday will cost you the price of your airfare so it’s wise to stock up at the duty free, where the prices are ultra-keen, the allowances generous and the range excellent. Certainly I reckon the extended Moodie family did its best to raise the already high average transaction value here.
Since then it’s been an exhilarating few days: driving for miles on end without seeing another car, whale watching, jaw dropping vistas, volcanoes, rivers, rapids, waterfalls, geysers. What a country. Raw. Beautiful. Untamed. From Keflavik to Reyjkavik to Eyjafjallajökull, I’ve loved every minute. Free of duty, of course.