A Travellerspoint blog

Nothing much of a day


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large_5550_14729411491006.jpgBlack sand beach near Stokkseyri. At Stokkseyri itself, the coastline is solidified lava.
We had a very slow start today. With all the driving and sightseeing, I needed to catch up on some admin.

After a late breakfast (the usual omelette, tomatoes and toast), we set off around 1100. Today, we drove to Stokkseyri about an hour south. The fishing village there was nothing special but we did see an old fisherman’s hut that was built from rock with turf on the roof. Kim thought it would be similar to what his ancestors lived in in Scotland.

The coastline was all jagged lava in Stokkseyri whereas in the area a little before we arrived, it was black sand. That made it unsuitable for a relaxing walk on the beach.

We returned to Reykjavik [Reykjavik-travel-guide-1005102] for a self-catered lunch. The grey weather turned drizzly in the afternoon as we headed out to the Laugardalslaug pool.

There were three large lap pools, a kiddy pool and a couple of hot pots for soaking. We spent our time in the hot pools as that’s where we had started. I can’t go from hot to cold. My intention of doing a few laps as exercise simply vaporised.

We returned for a dinner of supermarket lasagne which proved delicious. It was an uneventful and restful day. We needed that. But it was a bit of a waste (or luxury) having the car for the third day.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Exploring the Golden Circle


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large_5550_14729404261241.jpgStacking of rocks (common in Tibet and other touristed areas) is not permitted.
With our trusty Toyota Corolla, we did the standard tourist circuit called the Golden Circle. We drove about 90 minutes through the gorgeous countryside, once again with good weather to get to Strokkur Geyser.

Despite the relatively short drive, Kim was getting sleepy so we stopped for a cuppa before continuing to Gulfoss [Gulfoss-travel-guide-1315161] water fall. We saw the glaciers of the Icelandic highlands and decided to drive towards it as far as possible. That wasn’t very far as we had to turn back once the road turned to gravel and normal cars were not permitted.

We returned to Gulfoss to check the place out from the upper and lower viewpoints. We were both ready for lunch and grabbed a hot dog each nearby. They were topped with both fresh and crunchy fried onions (like the Asian deep-fried shallots sold in jars). That made the hot dogs awesomely delicious.

Our last stop was the tectonic place at Thingvellir National Park. It is the site of the oldest parliament in the world and also where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet (or in this case diverge).

The outing wasn’t a bad way to spend my 50th birthday. We celebrated (or maybe just “observed”) this milestone with a dinner out at another noodle shop. We returned to our room for a dessert of skyr, pouring yoghurt (or maybe it is kefir) and muesli.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Snæfellsnes Peninsula


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large_5550_14729393979749.jpgIceland is green and Greenland is ice! They need to swap names.
Today was our first of three days with a rental car. We walked 15 mins to collect our very much pre-loved Toyota Corolla from SAD Cars (the name represents the initials of the three owners). After a few hours we thought we had the oldest car in the country.

Our first excursion was north to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, finishing at the village and ferry terminal of Stykkishólmur. It was our first experience of the Icelandic countryside and despite our experience with New Zealand and Scotland, we still found it stunning. The great weather helped a lot though.

The 2h drive took us through a 5.7 km under-sea tunnel. As with a lot of Iceland infrastructure (roads, buildings etc) we wonder how a nation of 300,000+ people fund such high-quality amenities normally associated with larger and well-developed nations.large_5550_14729394019170.jpgDrive into the countryside.

At Stykkishólmur we grabbed lunch at a cafe and walked up to the small headland for a magnificent view of the jagged inlets (which make up a disproportionate part of the Icelandic coastline).

On the way home, we picked up a Dutch hitch-hiker whose name was the Dutch equivalent of Roger. He was flying out in the morning and was planning to sleep at the airport. We offered to take him to the airport after we finish with the Blue Lagoon. That worked for him as he was able to book a slot at the Blue Lagoon at 2100 while we went in at 2000.

We made our way to the Blue Lagoon at 1900. I hadn’t realised that slots would be so limited and the 2000 slot was all we could find. It was priced at EUR45 (but Roger who booked later paid EUR50 due to dynamic pricing).large_5550_14729394071471.jpgDrive into the countryside.

After showering, we walked briskly through the chilly air to enter the milky blue water which seemed perfectly heated. That’s normally an indication (from spa pool experiences) that it wasn’t hot enough because after a while the body adapts. Strangely, the temperature felt good the whole time but it did vary a little through the different zones, giving us the incentive to wander around to explore the large area.

On the way to the airport, we took a few detours to find dark areas where we could view the northern lights. We waited a little and managed to get a decent performance in the heavens above us.

Dropping Roger off at the airport, we witnessed a spectacular sight of the lights despite the light pollution. It just shows that having clear skies is a big factor.

It seemed silly for us to have paid for a tour to go see the lights when we could have simply gone out with our rental car and just about driven anywhere in the countryside. But, it proved to be an OK decision as we had really clear weather the night we did the tour. The remaining three nights in Reykjavik [Reykjavik-travel-guide-1005102] were pretty cloudy. Once again, we returned to our hostel feeling lucky with our aurora sighting.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Northern Lights


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large_5550_14729386884801.jpgHallgrímskirkja Church.
The weather turned better today and we thought the Hallgrímskirkjachurch tower would offer a good view of the area. We walked there and had a look inside the stark interior before taking the lift up. Interestingly the lift allowed 6 people up but 8 down.

Yes, we did get a good view of the area including some of the colourful houses nearby. The nearby airport runway didn’t look very long and I was surprised to learn later that there are jet A319 flights here to the Faroe islands. Also learnt that propeller flights run from here to the west side of Greenland taking nearly 3.5h too! The fares are about NZD600 each way (or more depending on the fare type)!!!

I had read that the National Museum had free guided tours at 1100 on certain days (and today being “it”). We made our way there and paid the entrance before joining the tour.large_5550_14729386803999.jpgReykjavik and its colourful houses as viewed from the Hallgrímskirkja Church tower.It made the visit a lot more meaning ful as the guide explained the broad timeline of Icelandic history. The museum was also excellent with its interactive video screens.

We had lunch at a noodle house, which did very authentic Thai beef kwayteow soup. Strangely the chicken version employed the same dark herby soup which was far from authentic.

I had booked us on the free walking tour led by a history major at 1400, outside the small stone building which was the Icelandic parliament. He was serious about turning away people who had not pre-booked; and here I was thinking that he would appreciate the extra people and extra tips.

The sights around town weren’t significant but it was more the snippets of facts and factoids that added some depth to our visit.

1. Crime is very insignificant in this country of 300,000+ people.large_5550_1472938685976.jpgTraditional style buildings are clad with corrugated sheets over the wood.This is quite an irony considering the people are descended from murderers and rapists (typical perception of Vikings).

2. DNA testing suggests that Icelandic people are more Scottish/Irish than Viking. Perhaps they are descended from the Celtic slaves taken by the Viking.

3. The weather in Reykjavik [Reykjavik-travel-guide-1005102] is relatively mild for the latitude because the Labrador comes down from the north and the Gulfstream from the south. As the guide explained this I imagined a dog from the north and a small jetplane from the south! Funnily I also had similar visions when Kim told me he was going to put a seal in the oven when he gets home (he meant fix the oven door).large_5550_14729386904142.jpgWe were lucky to have a clear night to see the Aurora Borealis. We met people who stayed two weeks and only saw it at the end of their stay.

4. Gender equality is very deeply-rooted in Iceland. Likewise with rights for minorities like LGBT. Funnily I had noticed that the statue of Ingólfur Arnarson (first permanent settler in Iceland) had pink lipstick applied. It happened around the time of Gay Pride.

5. Due to a small population, there is a possibility that one is related to just about anyone you meet. There is a website when you have log your details and trace your genealogy. Linked to this is a smartphone app which warns you when you are near someone that you are closely related to; it is an anti-incest App for dating!

6. Iceland wasn’t in WWII but may have been a beneficiary of the war (in terms of infrastructure).large_5550_14729386722314.jpgWe were lucky to have a clear night to see the Aurora Borealis. We met people who stayed two weeks and only saw it at the end of their stay.We were also told that the country received a bit of incentive to stop them aligning themselves with Russia.

7. While Icelandic traditional cuisine includes minke whale, fermented shark and puffins, these are rarely consumed today by locals. It is more tourists trying them out that has led to the continuing or increasing demand. While these creatures may not exactly be endangered, they’re not far off. However, horse meat is still part of contemporary Icelandic cuisine and some visitors may not appreciate that. BTW, McDonald’s in Iceland shut down some years ago.

After making our own dinner in the hostel, we got picked up around 2030 for our attempt to go see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Our driver/guide, who was a flight captain on small tour planes, took us to a geothermal area for a look-see (in near darkness).large_5550_14729386756190.jpgWe were lucky to have a clear night to see the Aurora Borealis. We met people who stayed two weeks and only saw it at the end of their stay.The plan was to continue to an old historic church further away for the viewing.

As we were preparing to leave the geothermal area, the guide noticed the beginnings of a good aurora display. He decided that we would stay and we ended up having a good sighting which he rated as 9+ out of 10.
At times the lights look like greyish smudges in the sky (perhaps cloud or smoke) but then they change quickly to become green. They are best when they start moving, dancing and varying in intensity. Green is the most common colour and with some imagination, I could see the hint of pink around the edges that the guide was telling me was there.

The guide told us a few interesting things about Iceland:

1. Tourists now outnumber (per year) locals by 7:1. Obviously the amount of tourists are spread through the year. The rise has only come about in recent years fuelled by high-profile events like the volcano blowing and low-cost carriers.

2. There are more rental cars than private cars.

3. Tap water is the same as bottled mineral (spring) water (just like in Christchurch). In the city centre, domestic hot water is hot-spring water while in the burbs, it is heated mineral water. For the former, it causes a rotten-egg smell in the bathroom which I detected on my first night. Both heating and water is cheap due to geothermal and springs respectively.

We returned to our hostel around 0030 feeling happy and lucky with our aurora sighting. We were only a few days into the aurora season. People who had been here for two weeks only just started seeing them yesterday. I had planned our visit to coincide with the early part of the season and the moonless period. But ultimately, cloudless skies are a big factor and we only had that for two nights during our entire stay. Actually, on a night with good activity, one can see it in the city or airport area (despite light pollution).

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

World's northernmost capital


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large_5550_14729380966930.jpgMany traditional buildings are clad in corrugated sheets over wood.
We arrived on-time into Keflavik [Keflavik-travel-guide-1005009] airport at 0200 where it was drizzling. The announcement said it was 18 degC but it felt more like 8 degC. The airport was quiet despite the impression I had got from flights schedules that many flights arrive in the wee hours of the morning.

As the airport is about 50km from Reykjavik [Reykjavik-travel-guide-1005102] (the world’s northernmost capital), we took the bus (45 min) which included a connecting shuttle bus service to our hostel. We showered and woke about 000 but slept again till 0900.

In need of breakfast, we wandered out into the grey weather. The 10-11 supermarket proved to be a bad introduction to prices in Iceland. Bread was about USD6, sandwiches about USD7. We did learn later that a cheaper supermarket was Bonus (but it has shorter opening hours). We ate a hot dog on-site and returned to the hostel with a sandwich for brunch and some milk.

In the afternoon, we explored the town centre and got some food from Bonus supermarket to make dinner. It would be the first of many meals we would make in the kitchen of Reykjavik Hostel Village.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

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