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 Hveragerði before exploring the capital of Reykjavík. 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.


We spent our first full day on Iceland looking around Reykjavik. For reasons known only to themselves, the company we booked our self-drive trip through booked us into accommodation 40 minutes out of town so it was a bit of a drive back. I was still sick so, while I was glad that it was a bright, sunny day, I was also not feeling my best and my eyes were watering the whole time from the blinding brightness of the near-arctic sun.

First stop, after immediately finding a park right where we wanted for the first time since leaving Australia, was Harpa, the very new and shiny entertainment/conference venue in the middle of town. I’d seen pictures of it in the inflight magazine on the way over and thought to take a look.

Fortunately nothing in Reykjavik is outside of walking distance, so we found it in moments and went inside to take a look. It was like I’d imagine bees would do large scale architecture.

Reykjavik’ll make you… jump, jump!

Then we wandered around town and found a fantastic little skate park full of great graffiti. Later on in the day we walked past again and it was full of families of all ages plus young people in groups hanging out and being a bit rowdy. Everyone around town just seemed to want to be outside in the sun.

We walked over to Roadhouse Burgers, which I’d recommend if you’re not on a budget (heck, I wouldn’t recommend Iceland if you’re on a tight budget) because it was definitely the best meal we’ve eaten so far. Then it was up to Iceland’s most recognisable piece of architecture, their very modern Lutheran church.

The rocket-shaped church with a statue of Leif Erikson in front, a gift from the USA to the ‘original discoverer’ of America. Except for all those pesky native people, of whom Leif himself wrote upon his return to Iceland.

You’ll have to forgive me regarding the paucity of photos at the moment. The internet is slooooow anywhere outside the capital and we haven’t even been able to connect the last few days.

The church looks cool but the inside is as bare as the outside and, after all the gilt and marble of other European churches, it looks sort of unfinished. Maybe needs some paint rather than the bare concrete, I don’t know.

Next we walked down the hill to a bar that had been recommended by a friend of a friend – ‘Lebowski’s’ and of course all the decor was movie themed. It was a bit cheesy but we had a drink anyhow and gave our feet a rest.

The final thing on my to do list for the day was look at some Icelandic wool stuff, even just buy a couple of balls of wool and some needles to keep me occupied. Well. Wool here is nasty, nasty stuff. The locals seem to take great pride in it but I couldn’t feel much difference between the wool jumpers and one of those coir doormats. Blurgh.

We spent the last couple of hours before the show we’d plan to see in the evening, sitting in the foyer of Harpa on a couch is the sun reading our kindles.

The show Luke had found out about was a one hour, one person history of Iceland, performed in the back room of a pub. And we were the only audience, which wasn’t as weird as you’d think, especially after we had a chat with the girl performing it. The show was pretty good, too, although there were a few slow bits. Thanks to my reading a history of Iceland before we came I already knew a fair bit of it but being able to ask questions afterwards was helpful.

I was most interested in hearing about the traditional turf houses and the way in which people lived before modern times. I was told that the last people to move out of turf houses (which mostly had no electricity or plumbing) did so around the 60’s and 70’s. Which meant that there might still be people alive today who transitioned from what was, essentially, a medieval lifestyle to one that involved cars, microwaves and the internet. This boggles my mind in so many ways and I’m not even sure why I find it so enthralling. I think it reminds me of that 80’s movie, Encino Man and how I always wished I could be there to see how someone from the past reacted to all the changes that have occurred over the last X centuries. Either that or I could travel into the future and boggle at what has become of the human race.

I guess travel is a bit like that. You see people living in the technological past and also in elements of the future. You see inventions that amaze you and conditions that appall you. It certainly makes every day interesting.

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.