3 September 2008

Chapter 01: Getting to Reykjavik

Broke in Iceland imageIf you do consider going to Iceland, you have to be prepared for one sure thing: you're going to spend a lot of money. Whatever reasonable daily amount you think you're going to spend, you had better triple it to be on the safe side. While there, we saw some very subdued Americans on vacation who were almost stunned into silence by their poor conversion rates and the cost of everything.

The WikiTravel entry on Reykjavik is a great preparatory read and I cannot emphasise enough to heed the warnings on the costs of going there, but you will have an amazing time and see a very beautiful part of the world.

I guess that one point to consider is that Iceland only has a window of 4-5 months in which to capture the tourist bucks, so they take every opportunity that they can to part tourists with their money. They do it well!

With the exception of petrol (go figure), everything is more expensive in Iceland than in Europe. When we travelled there, the Icelandic Króna (plural is Krónur) was roughly 125 ISK to 1 Euro. It makes for some challenging currency conversion exercises, but we made it a bit easier for ourselves by making the equation simpler: 1,000ISK = 10€ which slightly favoured the ISK, but still gave us ballpark cost figures.

We took J's kids (8 and 11) with us, and while it was a great experience and we had a wonderful time, Iceland would be better travelled without children in tow. We could have spent a lot more time in the car and on buses going further afield, (as well as stayed in cheaper accommodation), but the kids are not the most patient travellers in wheeled vehicles. In the air, they're fine: I guess that they know that they can't get out of a plane when it's 36,000' high!

Finding suitable accommodation for 2 adults + 2 kids is not only logistically nightmarish, but hellishly expensive now that hotels have cottoned onto stipulating that only 1 child may share a room with 2 adults. This meant that if we wanted to stay in hotels, we needed 2 rooms and at approx. 120-150€ per night, per room, in an average hotel, we were into some big bucks for just the accommodation.

Luckily, after a lot of time on the internet searching for accommodation in Reykjavik, we came upon Kalli's Apartments which are owned by the lovely Systa, and where we paid the same as we would have done for just one hotel room. Plus we had a kitchen in the apartment and the use of a washing machine and a dryer in the building's basement, and FREE wireless internet access - the latter being most important, for those who know J!

We flew from Berlin's Schönefeld Airport (soon to become Berlin's major International Airport) with Iceland Air and it took me back to a time when onboard travel was pleasurable. Apart from the increased airport security insanity which is an inevitable travel factor nowadays, the crews on the Iceland Air flights were friendly, smiling and very efficient. They handled their tasks and all requests with grace and were keen to provide professional service. Even the announcements by the flight deck crew were audible and entertaining! Some of the "better" airlines could sit up and take notice of Iceland Air's crew training methods and their evident selection of the right people for the job. The planes are currently being kitted out with personal in-seat entertainment systems which we had on the return flight but not on the way there. The seats were reasonably comfortable and slightly wider than most Economy seats on other airlines.

During the meal service on the flight to Iceland, we were introduced to Skyr (pronounced skeer) which is a low-fat dairy product similar to yoghurt but much smoother. We loved the taste and it quickly became a favourite breakfast and snack item.

Skyr image
All international flights land at Keflavik International Airport which prides itself on being open 24 hours and 365 days per year. Whether this means planes can land in blizzards, I don't know!

After gathering our luggage, we meandered out expecting to pass through Immigration, but there are no Immigration counters (at least not for flights from Europe) which meant no Iceland stamp in my passport - grrrr!

Keflavik Airport is about 50kms from Reykjavik and if you haven't sold your first-born to rent a car at the airport, then travelling by bus is the easiest and cheaper option between the two points. The bus arrives at the main Tourist Bus Depot in Reykjavik, and from there it's either a shuttle bus to the major hotels or taxi to any other accommodation.

We got a taxi. Most Icelanders speak great English which is a blessing. Most foreigners however, (with perhaps the exception of other Nordic nationalities), will NEVER be able to pronounce Icelandic words with the right intonation and emphasis to be accepted by the locals. J is pretty good because of her German abilities, but the taxi drivers still couldn't/wouldn't understand her. If you're not heading to a well-known landmark, it pays to have your destination address written down to show the drivers!

5 minutes later, we were being greeted by Systa and led into the apartment which was to be our home for the next 4 days. Systa gave us some good advice on where to shop for food and which supermarkets were the cheaper options. In Iceland, Bónus is the equivalent of Germany's Aldi chain and certainly is the best choice when it comes to buying the basic necessities. Our nearest one was only 10 minutes away down the main street.

We experienced some issues when withdrawing cash at the ATM machines. J kept getting the "insufficient funds" message when we knew damn well there was more than enough in the accounts. Of course with every attempt to withdraw, the money amounts were getting blocked by the bank, (to be released a few days later), but it was still a stressful time. Luckily between our various cash and credit cards, we managed to withdraw enough for groceries and to pay Systa for the 4 nights' accommodation. After that, we transferred money from our cash accounts onto our credit cards and most purchases were then charged to our credit card accounts.

Next Post: Reykjavik continued, and the Blue Lagoon


LDU said...

Any skyscrapers?

nzm said...

None. The tallest buildings were about 10 storeys high. The island is very geothermal and prone to earthquakes, there is heaps of land to build on and there are only 300,000 people living in Iceland, so no need for towering monoliths.

Brave Cat said...

Ohhhhhhhh Iceland, I am so jealous! I so want to visit!!