Summer school is neatly wrapped up in a bow, parent-teacher interviews have been successfully conquered and now I am at the start of a much-anticipated jaunt through the Nordic countries. Having taught in Finland years ago, this trip is made all the more sweet because of a 2-week homecoming in a little town off the West coast of the same. First though, let’s talk Iceland.
Before I begin, I am going to share a few general traveling tips:
First, something every experienced traveller has discovered: packing light. I packed a backpack complete with carry-on luggage restrictions and a small handbag. This has proven to be more than sufficient for my needs. It decreased travel time (no baggage claim) and moving around is so much easier!
Next, bring along an empty reusable water bottle. Unless you know that the country you are traveling to has unsafe water conditions, you can refill your bottle with tap water and at drinking fountains. If you have access to a kettle or a pot and stove, boil your water, cool it and refill. This saves money and means you don’t have to worry about where your next drink of water will come from.
Budget airlines are your best bet and baby airline (5 years new), Wow Air is a great no-frills option. You can get a reasonably-priced ticket (pricing varies according to season) with one carry-on item included in the price.
NATURE AND LANDSCAPE:
Iceland is stunning. This is one of those countries that puts into perspective your place in the world relative to the natural beauty of the earth. The succulent green of the hillside, the demure streams, the powerful waterfalls, the stunning craters with pools of blue-green water, the lava fields grown mossy and inviting over several years, the fresh pure air; Iceland has that forceful power that drags you in and makes you feel at ease. It forces you to look at the bigger picture, to breathe in deeper, to linger longer and walk further, to just be. This country, even if you stay for a short while, will leave you breathless.
GEOGRAPHY AND WEATHER:
Sitting right above Ireland and the United Kingdom, Iceland is 4 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone in North America. It is also (and I discovered this on a stroll through a souvenir store), the north most capital in the world (latitude-wise). Pretty cool tidbit, eh?
They have a running joke here in Iceland, “Waiting for Summer since 1926.” The temperature when we arrived at 6 a.m. in the middle of the week was 8 degrees Celsius, and did not change much throughout the day. So, pack warm; hoodies, sweat pants, a windbreaker/waterproof jacket and umbrella will be your friends. If you don’t like getting cold, I would suggest a toque and mittens as well, but if you’re Canadian, you’ll probably bust out the t-shirt and sandals and try your luck! 🙂
One of the things I love about Iceland is the fact that they have free Wi-Fi almost everywhere (hotels, airbnbs, tour buses). There is no need to purchase a data plan because as long as you have a messaging app that requires Wi-Fi (like Whatsapp), you can connect for free.
With a population of 330, 000, 240, 000 of whom live in the greater Reykjavik area, Icelanders rely heavily on toursim to support their economy. So, it comes as no surprise that everything in Iceland is pricey. They have no major industries (most of their land comprises lava fields and therefore is infertile, and as for natural resources, with the exception of Carbon Dioxide, they have none) that support them and almost everything is imported, so they aren’t trying to rip you off on purpose! They have no choice. Living in North America and griping about the rising cost of living, I forget that there are countries like Iceland where the mere thought of opening up one’s wallet can cause massive anxiety. No need to panic though! The following are a range of prices at different places in Iceland compiled to give you a sense of what things cost and how you can stay on budget. Iceland deals in Icelandic Kronas (ISK), and being a Canadian, my price comparisons will all be in Canadian Dollars (CAD). At the time of this blog post 1 CAD = 83 ISK (approx.).
Fly bus admission for one adult one way: 2, 500 ISK (30 CAD), return: 4, 500 ISK (54 CAD). The Fly bus as well as Grayline, offer rides to the main bus station in Reykjavik (BSI) from Keflavik International Airport.
Taxi for 5 people for a 10-minute ride: 5, 010 ISK (60. 40 CAD)
Car rental for 5 people for 1 day with basic insurance: 15, 000 ISK – 20, 000 ISK (180 CAD – 240 CAD)
Straeto bus services offer bus routes that connect most of the outskirts of Reykjavik. You can also download their app for bus schedules and a journey planner at your fingertips. As well, the app allows you to buy tickets if you can’t find them in town or you don’t have Icelandic Krona on hand. You can just show these to your driver and be on your merry way! One bus ticket for an adult is 440 ISK (5.30 CAD). Simply purchase the required quantity of tickets and when you are ready to travel, hit “Activate”on the app. Once activated, you have 60 minutes to complete your journey. It would be worthwhile to download the app at the Keflavik airport as you can then see if there are Straeto bus routes from the airport to your destination. This would definitely save you money if it is an option.
For this I will only say, shop around for AirBnB options. These are well-equipped with bathroom and kitchen essentials, helping with your food budget since you can cook your own meals. While you do run the slight risk of having the host cancel on you closer to your stay, you will definitely save big. With a lot of better-priced AirBnB options in the suburbs, you might have to commute to the city centre and other amenities; do your research on this to determine how far is too far for you. There are also guesthouses that are similar in concept to Airbnbs. I haven’t looked into these myself, but check online for these as well when doing your research for your accommodations.
Bottled water at Keflavik International Airport: 199 ISK (2.40 CAD)
Small coffee at Keflavik International Airport: 299 ISK (3.60 CAD)
Yogurt cup at main bus station, BSI: 349 ISK (4.20 CAD)
Pre-made single sandwich pack at main bus station, BSI: 949 ISK (11 CAD)
Granola and yogurt cup at N1 gas station: 239 ISK (2.90 CAD)
Small coffee at N1 gas station with upto 5 refills: 295 ISK (3.55 CAD)
Bag of Lays chips (175 g): 495 ISK (5.95 CAD)
If you can wait to buy packaged and convenient food items and other necessities, Bonus and Kronan grocery stores both offer great alternatives to procuring your essentials on a budget. These stores have a great variety of products including International foods. Below is a quick list of items to get you through a couple of days, including an entire 3-course dinner.
Bonus grocery store pickings:
Small thin crust frozen Ristorante pizza: 395 ISK (4.75 CAD)
Pack of frozen fish cakes, 0.858 kg (enough to feed 5 people for one meal): 698 ISK (8.40 CAD)
Big cucumber: 169 ISK (2.0 CAD)
Bunch of Romaine lettuce: 285 ISK (3.40 CAD)
Bottled water (12pk): 828 ISK (10 CAD)
White bread (500g): 159 ISK (1.90 CAD)
We paired the pizza with the fish cakes and preceded it with a salad of cucumber and lettuce. This was enough to satiate a family of 5, so purchase according to your party’s needs.
Another grocery store worth trying, which offers a bigger selection and better pricing than Bonus, is Kronan supermarket.
Kronan grocery store pickings:
Beef-flavoured instant noodles: 39 ISK (0.47 CAD)
Spring mix salad, 100g: 258 ISK (3.10 CAD)
Milk, 1 L: 135 ISK (1.60 CAD)
Instant cup porridge with fruit: 89 ISK (1.10 CAD)
Frozen Snitzel, 10 pk: 1, 399 ISK (16.85 CAD)
Frozen sweet potato fries, 450g: 359 ISK (4.30 CAD)
Here are some super cool convenience food items I spied at the Kronan in the area:
Breakfast for 5 people (bread, cheese, prosciutto, soft-boiled egg and hot beverage): 7, 180 ISK (86 CAD)
This breakfast was had at Bergsson Mathus (about a 15-minute walk from the main bus station, BSI), where the staff were very hospitable and helpful.
Stores and Services:
Kronan: grocery store with a wide variety of reasonably-priced products
Bonus: also a grocery store but slightly more pricey than Kronan
Landsbankkin: Iceland’s major financial institution
Straeto: bus service in Iceland
N1: popular gas station, usually comprising a Subway, Pizzeria and Nesti convenience store
Posturinn: the postal service of Iceland with red boxes at most major bus stations and the airport, for quick drop-off of stamped mail
**Sidenote: Iceland recently opened its first Costco Wholesale and there is an IKEA off the highway!
Postcards: 95 to 120 ISK (1.15 – 1.45 CAD)
International stamps (to Canada and the U.S.A.): 285 ISK (3.40 CAD)
Souvenirs: 300 ISK + (3.60 CAD +)
Things to do:
Everyone talks about the Blue Lagoon, and if this is on your list, do it. However, the biggest bang for your buck would be the Golden Circle with Secret Lagoon package offered by Arctic Adventures. If you have more time in Iceland, Arctic Adventures offers a variety of tours.
Blue Lagoon with pickup and drop-off from/to main bus station (BSI): 10, 600 ISK/adult (127 CAD)
Golden Circle + Secret Lagoon Pkg with pick-up and drop-off from/to several major sites: 11, 990 ISK/adult (144 CAD)
With the Golden Circle package you choose a location that you want to be picked up from, and the time you prefer for the pick-up from the drop-down list online. A word about these bookings (including Blue Lagoon), they need to be done online and ahead of time. Once you pay for the package, you just appear at the pick-up location for your chosen time and a guide in a bus will come get you. We had Scott as our driver and tour guide, and as a former geologist, he had a wealth of knowledge about Iceland’s geology. Trust me when I say that all the things I learned were incredible. In no way did this tour drag on. With visits to the Pingvellir National Park, the Geysir, Gullfoss (Iceland’s most famous waterfall and an impressively stunning one at that), the crater Kerid, Faxafoss (another beautiful waterfall with a clever salmon slide to help salmon swim upstream) and a final resting stop at the Secret Lagoon, this is a tour that is well worth your money. It takes 9 hours, so plan to spend an entire day on this one. Also, pack a towel and bathing suit for the Secret Lagoon as renting a single towel will cost you 500 ISK ( 6.02 CAD).
Did you know that Icelandic farmers allow their sheep to wander freely everywhere all summer, and then in early September farmers, friends and locals get together to round the sheep up into the barn for the winter? Talk about respect for animal life and community! Or maybe that a lot of Icelanders believe in elves and since elves are said to reside in rocks, disturbing rocks (even for construction purposes) is a no-no? Or that 99% of Iceland’s power is renewable energy? Yes, all this and more was learned on the tour. As a teacher, this left me on a high (Yes, I took notes!)!
Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall), largest waterfall in Iceland
Geysir in Iceland with water temperatures between 80 and 100 degree Celsius
If you have an entire day, definitely do the package tour mentioned above. If you can spend more time in this beautful country, whale watching, walking in the Reykjavik city centre, relaxing in parks (their parks are beautiful, clean and so well laid out), biking through Reykjavik, hiking through Iceland’s natural landscape and visiting the Old Harbour are other things you can do. Iceland’s major mountain (really a hill) can be hiked in about 80 minutes if nature gives you a buzz!
So yes, Iceland is expensive, but there are different ways to stay on budget and Iceland is not just worth the visit, it is a must-experience. I say this emphatically. ICELAND IS A MUST-EXPERIENCE. I arrived worried about spending too much money, but left with an awe for this Nordic country’s natural beauty, inspiration from its innovative design, self-reliance and energy initiatives, but mostly a deeper respect for nature as learned from the wondeful Icelanders. If Iceland is not on your bucket list, you best put it on now!
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