Here Comes The Planet 40 – Iceland 05

In our final Iceland video, we take a Superjeep tour, go hiking over a mountain, sledding down a volcano and touch a glacier. I think we can all agree, Iceland is pretty damn rad.

Also, learn how to say Eyjafallaj枚kull! 馃榾

Here Comes The Planet 39 – Iceland 04

We go back to J枚kuls谩rl贸n to see the nearby black sand beach, and then continue our travels across Iceland’s stunning landscape.

Also, here are the promised 80’s-hair-metal-band Iceland horses; none, unfortunately, which are fighting. 馃檪

Music: Rafstraumur by Sigur R贸s

Here Comes The Planet 37 – Iceland 02

We continue our Iceland adventure with a trip around the Golden Circle, the route upon which many of Iceland’s natural wonders can be found. We hope you agree that the scenery is, at times, quite Tolkien-esque. 馃槈

Also, Luke takes the hobbits to Isengard.

Apologies for the amount of wind noise during the video – turns out Iceland is a windy place!

Music:
The Stone Roses – Waterfall ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uQMqsWsGtA )
Erwin Beekveld – They’re Taking The Hobbits To Isengard ( http://www.youtube.com/watchv=uE1RPDqJAY )

Here Comes The Planet 36 – Iceland 01

Our Iceland adventures get off to a slow start as we check out some fresh hot springs around the town of Hverager冒i before exploring the capital of Reykjav铆k. We view some modern architecture, catch a cultural comedy show, see a church straight out of Middle Earth and eat one of Iceland’s famous hot dogs.

Also, Amanda hopes that her cold will clear up so she too can be assaulted with a terrible smell.

Super Jeep Tour, Iceland.

We only had one pre-organised activity of our Iceland trip – a day out with a driver in a large jeep, hopefully exploring glaciers, volcanos and with a two hour hike in the middle.

We met our driver, Magnus, and the other two passengers, Joan and Carl (about my parents’ age, from Germany) at a campsite not far from our hotel. We piled into the jeep and set off, Magnus warning us that cloud over the volcano could mean limited visibility but there were potential back up plans if we couldn’t do that.

The road we took very quickly went from dirt to boulders and the size of the jeep all of a sudden didn’t seem so excessive. We ploughed uphill and towards the ice sheet but as we tried to climb it became obvious that the rain falling on the snow had made the whole thing slushy and slippery and traction was almost impossible. Then the power steering gave out. Magnus got us out of the jeep while he turned it around and gave Luke and I little plastic paddle-things to play with – you sit on them and slide on your butt down the slope. I was a bit hesitant to give it a go but it was quite fun once you got moving.

Back in the jeep we headed downhill and back to the campsite to meet a mechanic. Magnus really had a hard time with the steering. No power steering on a large car is a pain, none on an enormous jeep over huge rocks seemed almost impossible.

We made it down ok though and Joan and I talked about their travels, our travels and what different countries were like.

While the mechanic worked on the car we walked to one of the waterfalls near the campsite. It fell down into a narrow chasm that was all green with moss and very beautiful. It’s funny how many times we’ve been waiting for something here and people have suggested ‘While you’re not doing anything why not go look at the waterfall just over there,’. It seems like there’s a waterfall behind every rock, almost all of which are more impressive that any I’ve seen in Australia.

So it was plan B. We drove to another campsite via a rocky valley cut across with lots of rivers. No bridges though, we ploughed across each river in proper Icelandic style, spraying water everywhere. Luke loved it.

From the campsite Joan and Carl were directed to the easy walking trail and Luke and I directed to go up the hill and see the view, we’d all meet Magnus at another campsite on the far side.

That tiny dot of red is where we’d walked up from. This photo in no way captures how amazing the view was, or the fact that the panorama extended nearly 360 degrees.

The walk up was steep but mostly ok. We stopped a fair few times and then again for a while at the top to admire the view, which cameras simply don’t do justice to. Just picture a ring of craggy, glacier-capped mountains, deep valleys, amazing rock formations… that’s pretty much it. The landscape in Iceland looks so raw – like it only just stopped moving yesterday. Which, we were about to find out at our next stop, was pretty much true.

Getting down from the mountain was not entirely enjoyable. I don’t like heights or slippery surfaces and the path was narrow, there was pretty much nothing in the way of railings and only a short set of stairs on one particularly steep bit. I think walking in Australia really spoils you because safety is always considered and there’s signs, proper steps and hand rails everywhere there’s an edge. Here there was just edge. At one point we thought the path ended in a cliff but no, if you get right down to the edge there’s some tiny stairs cut into the face of the hill… I actually fell once, sliding on some loose rocks. Fortunately I was already pretty much crouching to keep my centre of balance low. By the time we got to the bottom I was sweating with the adrenalin of it but hey, we got there and Luke only had to hold my hand nearly the whole way.

At the bottom there was a neat little man-made pool full of geothermally heated water. Magnus met us at the end of the path and we had several bowls of soup and bread while we told him to warn people next time that the path might not be for people who don’t like heights. I’m pretty sure he was thinking we were wimps, although he kindly didn’t say it. Still, it was a pretty epic view and I did feel somewhat amazed that I’d made it through such a challenge. A feeling only slightly deflated by the four-year-old who’d skipped down the path as we’d been going up. I swear, every time I’ve done some kind of testing physical challenge there’s been a small child somewhere along the route making me feel pathetic.

Next stop was a glacier that descended steeply into what looked like a huge coal mining pit. We drove down into a huge bowl-shaped crater that had been a lake until only a few years ago, when a mountain had blown a chunk of lava and rock into the air, which had landed in the lake, emptied it, and filled it with gravel and enormous chunks of ice. When the ice melted it left huge craters everywhere so the place was really moon-like.

Until three weeks ago there’d been a small lake to one side of the glacier, but since then something had destroyed one side of the lake and now there’s a river running through the canyon. As Magnus said, he loves his job because every time he visits places he never knows what he might find.

Luke and Magnus jumped across the river rocks and got right up to the glacier but Joan, Carl and I took photos from a distance and examined all the different kinds of rocks at our feet.

On the drive back to the first camp we quizzed Magnus on all things Icelandic – what do they do for fun, how did he get the job, how much money do people make, how do kids from remote places get to school. He was great with answering our questions and asked us some too. In our discussions it turned out that I was the only one onboard who didn’t realise that in Walmart in the US they give people motorised scooters to drive around the store. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but ..seriously? I couldn’t believe it. Luke reckons we can do a whole video on Walmart when we get to the US. We’ll see.

We thanked Magnus profusely when we said goodbye and farewelled Joan and Carl, who’d caught the ferry over and had three weeks to drive their own car around Iceland, lucky buggers. We returned to the hotel, debating whether to eat chips or biscuits for dinner.

Iceland: flowers.

Iceland is a country on a big scale, for such a small island. The largest glacier in Europe is here, the mountains seem huge, the valleys and plains you drive across seem endless and the view goes on forever because there are no trees or houses in the way (Mum, you’d love it). But you have to look down and close to see some of the magic too, because the plants are tiny but so very beautiful. Well, lots of them are tiny but this one is my favourite, and it’s about 30cms high and in some places there’s so much of it that it turns whole mountainsides purple.

Some are dark purple, some are light and a few are white. If you’re thinking of coming to Iceland and you like flowers, make it the middle of Summer. They’re everywhere!

Some are almost microscopic, others are a lot like the flowers at home. It’s hard to believe you get fields of flowers next to lakes full of icebergs… but that’s Iceland!

Budgeting, Iceland

It’s hard to know where to begin when writing about Iceland. I think I’ll leave the scenery for my next post and write about what’s been uppermost in my mind and our conversations when we’ve not been staring, goggle-eyed, at what’s around us.

It’s the thing you can’t help but notice here and it’s something that comes up in most conversations and definitely at meal times – the cost of being here. Food is the most noticeable thing because you’re shelling out for it several times a day. We had the buffet at the restaurant over the road from our hotel two nights ago and it was $52 AUD each (it’s handy that Krona converts to AUD of you drop two zeros). That was $52 for a bowl of soup, a choice of 4 kinds of fish, 2 lamb dishes, salad and some potato bake. No dessert, no drinks. We did pilfer a few chocolates from beside the coffee and tea stand. Tonight’s hotel is $55 for a buffet also. We’ll be having jam sandwiches in our room.

On our first full day here we had lunch at ‘The Roadhouse’, an American style diner in Reykjavik. The food was fantastic but my pulled-pork burger and chips was $18. The most expensive burger on the menu was $35. We were both a bit shell shocked.

Luke’s burger had macaroni cheese in it along with all the regular stuff. Win!

Petrol here is about $2.50 AUD a litre. Fortunately we’re driving a Micra so it’s not as bad as it could be, but everything here except seeing the amazing natural wonders costs a bomb.

I thought it might be handy for people who are thinking of coming here to know what we’ve spent and a few ideas on cost cutting.

Firstly, we booked a self drive tour. Since we needed an automatic that put up the price by a couple of hundred dollars, but for all our hotels (pretty basic, half are shared bathrooms but all have private rooms) ad the car hire it was about $1400 each.

I’d say we’ve spent, on average, about $50 per day on food. We’ve had a few expensive meals, but we’ve also had breakfast included each day (and a sneaky person can make themselves up a take away sandwich), which can fill you up til mid afternoon if you go heavy on the cold meats and eggs. Then we share a plate of something or buy pre-made rolls for lunch (they’re about $7 each and some are nice and others are awful but there’s rarely much choice, particularly at the cafes that are at tourist attractions – go for petrol stations if you can) and last night we ate corn chips and salsa dip for dinner with a movie in our room. Except for mixers with our spirits we’ve been mostly drinking water from bottles we’re refilling at our hotels.

If you’re traveling to Iceland I’d highly recommend filling your suitcase with long lasting food (like fruit and nuts, tinned tuna, etc) so that you’ve got snacks until you find somewhere you want to eat. Not having snacks the first few days meant that we were pretty desperate by the time we found somewhere and felt that we had to pay whatever they asked. If you can spin out your bought meals with some groceries you’ll save heaps. For example, today I got a fishburger and chips and Luke made chip sandwiches using bread from the supermarket. That burger, btw, was $14.

I think my main recommendation, if you like a few drinks, would be to use your duty free allowance before you leave wherever it is you’re traveling to Iceland from. Use it good. Iceland Air don’t seem to care about you having a bag of duty-free as extra carry-on and you could probably get away with bringing in several bottles if you so chose. We bought two one litre bottles and were enormously glad we did when it turned out that one small bottle of cider was $10 – same for beer or a small glass of wine. And the wine was awful.

Alcohol is also quite hard to get. There’s only 12 government-owned stores in the capital and I’ve not seen any anywhere else. Our hotel today sells small bottles of beer, wine and cider from a fridge by the reception desk but that is the only time I’ve seen it for sale outside a restaurant in the last 4 days. I wanted to have a drink somewhere scenic on midsummer’s night and was very, very glad I’d prepared everything much earlier.

As to buying stuff other than food, booze and accommodation, forget about it. I had a vague idea about buying a nice wooly jumper or hat or something as a momento but the choice is between the ubiquitous so-scratchy-I-think-the-sheep-grow-steel-wool jumpers and lovely angora clothing, both of which are INSANELY expensive. I found a nice sweater dress, simple and black – $328. The average wooly hat is around $60 but with fur you’re looking at around $400. That’s right FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS. Just buy a postcard and be done.

I’d say our trip has probably cost us around $2500 each for the 9 days. You could possibly do cheaper accommodation by camping every second night (but you’d want to pray for good weather) as camping seems to be free here (don’t quote me on that) and buying all your food from supermarkets but even if you do it fairly budget like we have it’s never going to be a cheap place to visit.

After all this whinging though, it’s still been TOTALLY worth it.

Iceland! (Luke)

Figured I may as well give my first impressions of Iceland as well. Amanda’s may have been the toilets at the airport, but mine was the plane! We flew Iceland Air. They had comfortable seats and a good amount of leg room, plus a decent selection of entertainment. I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox (passable) and The Campaign (which, while being an average movie on the whole, had one scene which was so funny that I was crying with laughter, and rewound it just to show Amanda). The seat also had a USB port, presumably for charging devices. The in-flight magazine also said they were getting the planes equipped with wireless internet this year. Soft drink, coffee and tea were complimentary, anything alcoholic you had to pay for. Which is perfectly fine on a flight of less than three hours. So; Iceland Air – two thumbs up!

I do have to mention the airport toilets as well though. Everything was so white and minimalistic, I felt like I was in a Stanley Kubrick film. Clean and streamlined, though, I’ll give them that. The other thing I found strange was that there was no separate arrivals and departures area, so on the way to baggage claim I was walking past gates that had people boarding as well as arriving.

We picked up our rental car and hit the road, traveling to our destination of Hveragerdi, which is an hour from the airport and about 40 minutes from Reykjavik.

Driving here is a bit of a mixed bag. I don’t really enjoy driving all that much, but when I do enjoy it I’m usually on a highway, going fast, not needing to change directions or make navigational decisions, and either happily overtaking people or going a little under the limit and watching everyone else jostle for position. The limit on most UK motorways is 70mph, or 112km/h. Van Failen isn’t the best at high speeds – when he slowly but surely reaches 70mph the steering wheel vibrates so violently that it’s indecent – but he does the job and gets us there, so far without issue.

Here they’ve given us a brilliantly sporty little Nissan Micra which wants to blast off the line at the slightest touch of the pedal – pretty much the opposite of what I’m used to with Van Failen. Not only that but in Iceland they have huge stretches of open road that are fairly empty. They’re begging to be driven on at speed. But the speed limit here is 90km/h on sealed roads. When the weather is good, this feels woefully slow, especially after the UK. However their driving conditions can change drastically, and after driving a short stretch in the pelting rain, I was happy for an excuse to do no more than 80km/h. I imagine in the winter time it can get even worse.

Driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time definitely made me nervous, but nowhere near the level that narrow and single-lane roads have done in the UK. I have at least played computer games where I have needed to drive in a lawful manner on the other side of the road, so my brain has been put to the task of reversing everything before. Additionally, I’m a very new driver (just shy of two years), so left-side driving isn’t as ingrained in me as it is with Amanda – this makes it easier for me to switch.

Anyhow we got to the hotel without incident, and after checking in I went for a wander to scope out the small town, grab a bite to eat and withdraw some cash. I’m always eager to see new currency, and the Iceland Krona (ISK) is fairly spiffy.

Iceland Krona

Icelandic Kr贸na (ISK)

The coins all feature different aquatic animals. Currently, it’s 111 ISK to 1 AUD. I purchased a plain hot dog and a bottle of coke from one of the stores here and it set me back 590 ISK ($5.30 AUD). That’s not too bad, but generally speaking the prices of things here are fairly high. We’re going to have to keep an eye on our wallets! Luckily the main thing we want to do is sight seeing, and that’ll only cost us petrol鈥 which costs on average 248.55 ISK ($2.23 AUD) per litre. Lucky it’s a small island!