Iceland (March 2006)
Four days of activityThe pics below speak for themselves, but if you are interested my experiences and thoughts on Iceland are documented after the last image. On top of a glacier. Big boys toys Wet ... ... and slippery View from a cave - lived in until the recent past. I'm supposed to be holding on to my hat in a high and bitingly cold wind. The original geyser .. .... in action The biggest in Europe I was told I would prefer it to Niagara ... I did - you can get nearer, its more remote etc. Inside the volcano I assumed a pony trek would be a slow plod, wondering whether it was just me I asked the Finnish guy (behind me) if he felt safe, to which he responded "yes - when we're stopped". Blue Lagoon - swim, steam bath, sauna, swim, shower, before flight to NY.
Iceland is one of the highlights of my travels, and my visit was a bit of luck. I was searching for a cheap flight to the USA and Icelandair came up cheapest, but with the disadvantage of a 2 hour stopover at "Rekyavik".
Checking Icelandair's own website showed it was cheaper to break the journey in Iceland than stay on the same plane! I ended up booking a return flight to NY with 4 day stopover in Iceland for £263 including taxes eTwo days later I was on my way.
As a national carrier I assumed it would be the equivalent of BA, but as Icelands population is only 280,000(?) its more on a par with Easyjet (but maybe less professional and I guess smaller) - but with free meals.
I loved the unique and spectacular scenery and felt at home with the people and their attitude. Unluckilly for them they are more British looking, than any other nation I've visited, and with my perfect accent "hallow" the assumption has sometimes been that I'm a native with subsequent appologies for speaking to me in Icelandic.
Most people speak "Icelandic" English, which it seems in rose tinted retrospect to be easier to understand than the American English I am currently hearing.
Iceland is geared up for the independent tourist, many tours are on offer, you are picked up/dropped off by tour/airport coaches (even the Sally Army Guest House where I was staying - a bit embarressing to shout this out when asked where your staying on the coach from the airport).
Tourism has a "winter" and "summer" season and many of the tours don't start until "summer" (end April/May), but as you can see from the photos there is still plenty to do over 4 days, and with the advantage of no crowds.
The downside is that Rekyavik/Iceland is VERY expensive - my guidebook defined budget meals as under £25, and budget accomodation as under £100 night. Loaf of sliced white bread £2.50. However the bar with free wireless internet access gave you a thermos of tasty coffee (4 cups) for £2.20, was better value than the UK; its beer however was about £4.50 a pint. The only other thing that seemed cheap was the pony trekking £32 including hotel collection/drop.
The hostel I was staying in was basic, but cheap, with helpful staff, and as central Rekyavik as the best hotels. Iceland has a labour shortage and many of the residents were foreign workers, including Poles, Swedes and even Chinese. A Swedish guy had just started as a mail man, most of his fellow workers were Poles, and the company would be interested in my services - I've got the email address!
I thouroughly enjoyed all the activities, and for once being a lone traveller worked out cheaper - you normally have to pay an extra £70 (on top of the £125 already shelled out) if you want a snowmobile to yourself on the glacier trip, but there were an odd number on the tour so I got one to myself at no extra charge, and it was fantastic fun, exhillarating just like when you start riding a fast motorcycle.
The following day I hitched a ride with a couple of Danes (Hi Jeanet and Russ)and we did the classic golden circle route of sites in a 250 km out and back to Rekyavik (sites as above + lake across American/European continental plate) ancient Icelandic "Parliament" site. The wind was very strong and very cold - leaving the warmth of the car was not done casually, and the rental company emphasised the need to hold the doors when opening to prevent the being blown off. Its the one day I'd wished I'd invested in long-johns like all the Finns, Danes and Swedes I'd met.
Luckily it was not windy for my Iceland Pony trek, there were only 3 of us (all men) and a male guide. If you could relax your concentration on trying to stay on the things it was a good way to see the scenery. Apparently you bounce up and down on them more than a horse because of their short wheelbase. On of my fellow riders described the experience as "interesting", and I'm glad we all felt we were going to fall off. We crossed rivers and ice sheets and seemed to do a fair bit of galloping (in reality we'd probably gone from plodding to troting!).
The last day was a trip to the Blue Lagoon, with onward coach to the airport. Its not too pleasant rushing from the changing rooms to the open air pool, but once you are in its very relaxing for old arthritic bones like mine. The water varies between warm and hot, and there steam baths and saunas around the lagoon.