21 September 2008

Chapter 09: Leaving Reykjavik for Ísafjörður

Continued from Chapter 08

After 4 days in Reykjavik, it was time to head up to the Vestfirðir - the West Fjörds which are really in Iceland's Northwest. This is the most isolated part of the country and in some areas (particularly the Hornstrandir Peninsular) there are no roads and no vehicles, except for boats which are sometimes the only means to get to the remote places. It's not uncommon to see snowmobiles parked in people's driveways and garages in this part of the country!

We were due to fly to Ísafjörður, spend the night at the home of a friend in Bolungarvik, and the following evening, catch the ferry over to our ultimate destination, Hesteyri.

Reykjavik_to_West_FjordsThe airport for all internal Icelandic flights is actually in Reykjavik. Not to be confused with the International Airport in Keflavik (KEF), Reykjavik Airport (RKV) handles domestic services as well as flights to Greenland and the Faroe Islands. There are 2 terminals at RKV so it's important to know which airline you're flying with, so that you arrive at the correct departure point.

The terminal for Air Iceland is NOTHING LIKE what's described on this website. I guess that they must be talking about the other terminal which we didn't go to - or maybe they've never visited RKV!

The Air Iceland terminal is an old, small building, and the number of people it now handles begs for a new and larger one. Having said that, it's a very relaxed place and reminded me of the Nausori Airport in Fiji back when I was a kid.

We arrived to a crowded terminal where all the pax for the Greenland flight had just been told that their flight had been cancelled. It was bedlam, but the 4 staff on duty handled things very well from what we could see and hear. Save for a irate American couple and an uptight German group, all seemed to take the cancellation really well. Hopefully everyone had travel insurance to cover the extra night of expensive Reykjavik accommodation!

In the building, there are 3 check-in counters; toilets; café; a small, rickety luggage conveyor belt; duty free area which was closed; tiny waiting area with limited seating, and one door for people to exit through to walk to their planes.

Each check-in counter had a small monitor which displayed the flight number, and we couldn't check-in until our flight number showed on one of these screens. We waited, and waited, and waited - quietly starting to worry that our flight had also been cancelled and we hadn't been told. Alternative plans started to be discussed between us - just in case!

Finally, about 20 mins before our plane was due to depart, our flight flashed up on a monitor and we checked in. It was a very casual operation performed by very friendly Air Iceland staff - the same ones who had just dealt with the angry Greenland pax. They certainly didn't transfer any frustration onto us which reflected the professionalism in all the airline representatives that we encountered in Iceland. We received laser printed boarding passes and regardless of how many pieces of luggage was checked-in, only one baggage ticket is issued!

3 minutes before the plane was due to depart, we were allowed to exit the terminal and walk to the plane. The boys got a buzz out of walking across the tarmac and around the aircraft before boarding.

We buckled up, received the safety briefing from the smiling, lone woman flight attendant (well, it was a smallish Fokker F50!), the captain shut the door to the flight deck, and with a roar we were off. No endless taxiing and waiting for departure slots at this airport!

40 minutes later, we landed at Ísafjörður. The landing is an interesting procedure. Ísafjörður Airport is built on the edge of a fjörd between 2 steep and high mountain ridges.

Ísafjörður_Airport01The buildings at Ísafjörður Airport, dwarfed by the mountain ridge

Upon entering the fjörd, the plane descends along the far ridge, before executing a sharp, left diving turn to line up for the runway and drop down onto the deck.

This video will show you what I mean!

Taking off is straight out along the ridge shown in the below image.

Ísafjörður_Airport02The planes take off and ascend parallel to the ridge

Grabbing our bags, we headed out for the taxi bus to take us to the Edinborg Café in town, where keys to a vehicle parked outside the cafe would be given to us. From here, we would drive 15 mins to the next town, called Bolungarvik, to stay the night in a friend's house.

I managed this shot as a plane took off while we were in town. The pilot performs wheels-up very quickly to reduce the drag!

Taking_off_from_Ísafjörður_AirportTaking off from Ísafjörður Airport

Next Chapter: The QE2 in Ísafjörður and Bolungarvik on a public holiday