Reykjavik: The Iceland Experience

Word, Pictures, & Videos by Shaun Troke

FRIDAY 11TH NOVEMBER, 2016:

4:30pm.

The sun was beginning to set as the airport transfer coach pulled up into the Reykjavik bus station…

The rain had been constant since leaving the airport…however, it wasn’t that cold…

In fact, it’d been colder back in Liverpool when walking to the train station this morning! I guess the general belief is that we expect Iceland to be super cold, but it was surprisingly – and pleasantly – warmer than the UK on this day!

By the time I’d gotten to the hotel, unpacked a little, and grabbed something to eat, it was getting on to 6pm, so I decided to risk getting drenched by the heavy downpour of rain, and take the 30min walk to Downtown Reykjavik…

But, when you add heavy winds to the mix, the cold temperature that wasn’t there before suddenly reared its ugly head.

With (apparently) 23mph winds thrashing cold air & rain against my torso, I began feeling the cold of Iceland. My poor umbrella was taking a beating too, as one of its metal ribs became fractured…

And, the biggest casualty of all was my hair: what was once styled & perfected, had now become a scalp-visible, wet-look style from the 1980’s!

When reaching the city centre area, it was like the wind & rain had just disappeared, with the harsh weather conditions replaced by a little serenity.

My first impressions of Reykjavik was that it was cute: fairy lights scattered on almost every tree, restaurants & cafes accommodating ultra-romantic lighting, the streets were peaceful…

Oh, except for what seemed to be a loud football supporter, who revelled in yelling something in Icelandic at the top of his voice while clapping, followed by pointing his fingers into the air…

Or, maybe he was just aggressively wondering where the Northern Lights were, too.

Reykjavik seemed to be a very clean city. There are more cafes & restauants than bars (I could be very wrong), and, with the lack of global fast-food chains around, it gave the vibe of a healthy city, too.

As well as being a very chilled town.

Once I’d gotten my bearings, ready for more venturing tomorrow, it was soon time to start the walk back to the hotel; heading back into the 23mph winds, the cold rain, and more hair damage to dent my vanity.

Aiming not to walk the same route twice, I ended up wandering up darkened footpaths into the woodlands towards The Pearl, where the only threat came in the form of a HUGE white bunny rabbit!

Reykjavik felt safe.

As I lay in bed on that Friday night – with damp clothes drying on hangers & chairs, and, the umbrella resting its broken ribs in the corner of the room – I listened to the wind outside, as it howled “stay inside!” through the window…

Tomorrow, I hoped, the weather would be a little calmer.

SATURDAY 12TH NOVEMBER, 2016:

If you’re looking for a decent lie-in without being woken up by sun rays piercing through your hotel room curtains, GO TO REYKJAVIK IN NOVEMBER!

Sunrise is at 9:45am, and, on this dark morning – armed with a To See/Do list – I set off to explore Iceland’s capital…

One thing I’ve learned from travelling- and in life – is that it’s sometimes good to go against the grain, especially in popular tourist destinations. Remember, if you’re wanting to do/see something at a new location, the chances are that hundreds (if not thousands) of others will be wanting to do/see that something, too…which ultimately leads to joining long queues, not being able to get a seat in cafes/restaurants, etc etc…

So, if you’re an impatient f**ker like myself, and, if you’re up for doing things arse-about-face, there are ways that you can avoid wasting hours of waiting & queuing during your limited vacation time…

One major tip I will give any traveller(s) is to possibly do things out of the norm, and here are some places that were on my own To See/Do list, and, why I saw them when I did:

Hallgrímskirkja Church: For the panoramic views. I walked past the church at around 10:30am. This wasn’t the time I wanted to visit the church, but I thought I’d take a peek inside nonetheless…and, sure enough, as predicted, there was a MASSIVE queue for the elevator to go up to the top of the church tower. But, after going back at around 3pm, there were only 9 people in front of me in the queue (but I bailed on seeing this sight anyways because I was hungry again and chose to eat instead!).

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur: A famous hot-dog vendor in Reykjavik. Almost every review I’d read had said “expect to wait in line for a while as it’s always popular”, and sure, I walked by this Hot Dog stand last night, and there WAS a huge queue for it…and, I even walked past it again today at around 1pm, and there was queue! BUT, there wasn’t a queue there at 11am. In fact, only 3 American ladies were ahead of me in the line…and, I’ve the photographic evidence to prove that there was NO QUEUE!

Babalu Cafe: I strolled by their front window at around 1pm, and peering inside, it was busy! I couldn’t see any available seating! But, my plan was to go back after 2pm, and, as predicted, it had quietened down, and, there was plenty of seating by this point…so much so, I occupied a 4-seater table all to myself. This place is worth checking out for their Star Wars toilet facilities!

Both Reykjavik Roasters Coffee & Bakari Sandholt are popular places too, so should these end up on your own To See/Do list, be prepared to queue throughout the day.

By 6pm, when the To See/Do list had been conquered, there was time for one final stop at a newly discovered cafe called Loki, where Smoked Lamb on flatbread was served & tried…

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Today, plenty of kilometres were covered, vast amounts of coffee & tea had been consumed, as were a few snacks…

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And, despite the minimal daylight hours, it had been a long day.

Although, tomorrow may be even longer…

SUNDAY 13TH NOVEMBER, 2016:

A few days previously, I’d been torn between hiring a car or paying for an excursion.

To be honest, it would’ve only worked out to be around £25 more expensive had I hired a car, BUT, driving with manual gears on the other side of Reykjavik’s wet & slippery roads kinda put me off. AND, £25 can be a severe dent to your Iceland budget when you’re paying around £3 for a tea or coffee, and, over a tenner for Subway lunch!

So, for $68USD, I chose for someone else to drive me to the sights instead.

With the pick-up time of 8am, this meant a 6am alarm call…and, upon reaching our first location a little after 10am, the sun had only just come up!

BusTravel Iceland  – which is a very organised organisation – offer a Grand Golden Circle Tour. They use smaller minibuses for hotel pick-ups, and then transfer the minibus occupants onto the larger tour coaches at a rendezvous location. Before you even arrive at the first sightseeing location, they even make a scheduled Toilet Stop for 15mins, where you can grab a coffee & bakery goods as well!

I will admit, though, the weather was truly against us on this day – today’s rain & wind was worse than Fridays rain & wind, which meant only spending short bursts time outside of the coach to see the sights, before quickly hurrying back on to the bus (or building) to warm up & dry off.

The first stop was the Kerið volcanic crater:

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Such a beautiful crater. I’d have loved to walked the perimeter of the crater, but the weather forced me back onto the bus within minutes.

Second stop was the Faxi Waterfall:

Just took a snapshot, and was back inside the coach within a minute.

Third stop was the Gullfoss Waterfall:

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What was eerie about the Gullfoss Falls is how much they look like the bow of the shipwrecked Titanic!

Fourth stop was the Geysir geothermal area:

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I think this was the biggest let down. By now, the wind & rain were worse than they’d been all day, and, walking to the only boiling Geysir – Strokkur – just to see a small spout was all I could manage. Ideally, I’d have loved to have waited around longer for an impressive high spout to awe me.

Fifth stop was Þingvellir National Park:

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By this point, my clothes were soaked through, which can really put a dampener on the day (pun intended). When the option came up to either get off the coach and go on a walking tour across the intersection of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, two German girls & myself opted for staying on the bus with the driver, and, he drove us around to the North American side to wait for the other passengers. There was still a chance to grab some photos though (and pay 200K to go to the toilet!).

The Tour Host (Halla) & the Driver were to nicest of people, and, Halla’s positivity through these weather conditions worked wonders on the coach load of damp, cold passengers, as she kept their spirits high. Had the weather been better, I’d have come away from that tour having seen more beautiful, natural landscapes, as some attractions were unseen because of the cloud & fog.

I still came away from the tour with a lot of knowledgeable facts about Iceland, and, some nice pictures, too…

I even made an HD video!

MONDAY 14TH NOVEMBER, 2016:

Is 3:30am even a time???

Apparently it is, as that’s the time the alarm went off this morning! The price paid for booking a flight at 8am.

There’s actually a dumb-ass story behind this one, though…

One of the reasons I’d book to stay at The Capital Inn was because it was only a 30min walk from the airport. In the days leading up to this, I was thinking, ‘OK, that would save some budget on a taxi – surely, if it’s cold in Iceland like it’s rumoured to be, that would be brilliant warm-up walk to the hotel from the airport…this would be great!’…

Yeah, wrong airport.

It turns out the airport near my hotel is the domestic one – Midborg Airport.

Go on, you can call me a dumb-ass.

It was a little before 6am when the coach finally arrived at Keflavík INTERNATIONAL Airport…

And, I was checked-in and in the waiting area only a couple of minutes after 6am – it was that quick!

Keflavík Airport felt so organised, with their electronic checking-in machines everywhere, followed by the impressive organisation through the X-Ray machines, this meant no queuing or waiting at all, much unlike Manchester Airport!

The food & shopping areas are very clean, and the seating area had little tables perched on them.

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What I particularly liked about this airport is that they instantly provide the Gate Numbers on their information screens. Like, usually in most airports, the Gate Number will only come up 5-10mins before boarding begins, which ultimately causes of flocks of people to be stood or sat where they can keep an eye on the information screen, not allowing people to relax. If you know the Gate Number a couple of hours before your flight is due, it makes you feel more relaxed, because you’re not having check the screens, and then rush to Gate once the number comes up…

Even the airport in Reykjavik was chilled!

Just after 8am, after spending time in a spot in the airport that provided power sockets for all types of plugs (UK, Europe, USA, USB!), I was back in the sky…

If you’re a plane fanatic, and, enjoy watching take-off & landing videos, here’s one especially for you:

CONCLUSION:

Like most peoples intentions, the visit to Iceland had been to witness the Northern Lights from the ground – I’d already seen them from a plane, but never from the ground. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to guarantee seeing them on your trip. I guess the best time to visit would be summer, when the skies are clearer, and, the weather is less aggressive, but I suppose the flip side of this is that it’d probably be more expensive during that time of year…

The general consensus from visitors to Iceland is that it’s expensive all year round. And it can be. Fortunately, I’d researched cheaper eating venues before arriving, so I knew where to find places within my budget. If you’re heading to Iceland with the goal to eat & drink well, I’d budget at least £100 a day spending money. If you’re looking just to eat well, you could probably do this on a £50 a day budget (especially if the hotel throws in a complimentary breakfast).

Overall, I like you, Iceland. You were a lovely country, and, in amongst your cold Winter climate, you have the warmest of people. You have an attractive landscape that I’ve yet to see in full, and, the city of Reykjavik is so inviting, that I’d come back again to spend more time in haunts that I couldn’t do this time…

I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Read more from Shaun Troke, available on our Merchandise page.

 


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