Saturday, January 09, 2016

20151020 Iceland with its brutal cold and series of unwelcoming events

I'm not sure how we decided to go to Iceland. Iceland is one of the countries I wanted to visit since young. The reason? I wanted to see if it's all ice there. So you can guess why I was keen to go to Greenland too.

We booked our flight for Singapore-Amsterdam-Singapore because Singapore Airlines was having a promotion. When it came to planning our itinerary, we toyed with including these countries:
  1. Germany
  2. Paris
  3. London
  4. Spain
  5. Greece
  6. Norway
  7. Sweden
  8. Scotland 
  9. Switzerland 
You can tell that our geography is not very good. >_<

We ruled them out, very systematically:
  1. Didn't feel like it.
  2. I went there before.
  3. I went there before. Twice. 
  4. Far from Amsterdam.
  5. Far from Amsterdam.
  6. Mac meal costs SGD17.
  7. The only Swedish things we know are IKEA and meatballs. Not really. It was expensive too.
  8. Not sure what we need to get around.
  9. Expensive.
We figured that since we were going to one of the cities in the northern part of Europe, we might as well visit Iceland. Who would reject the chance to see the aurora or pretend to be Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty?  

So Iceland it was.

We considered, very briefly, to do a self-drive. The gravel protection insurance made us drop the idea. And the fact that I am a driver on paper only. :P

We were fixated with airbnb. We didn't even consider staying in hotels or inns for the trip. I think we thought we would cook a lot. It wasn't that hard to choose our accommodation in Reykjavik because of its description.

Let's go back to Day 4, the day we flew from Amsterdam to Reykjavik.

A few airlines offered flights and we chose Icelandair. Remember to verify the check-in baggage the flight includes to avoid getting rude shocks and exorbitant surcharges when you reach the airport. Icelandair allows 23kg check-in and a handcarry. It costs around SGD600 for the round trip, which is not cheap.

We bade Amsterdam goodbye. As usual, when the two of us travel together, we reach places way too early. We checked in with more than enough time for a meal and a kopi and repeat.
Caffeine fix.

Burger with fab chips.

Chicken sandwich with yummy mayonnaise. 

Actually, our timing was just nice. Do not underestimate the time needed to cross customs. Besides bag scans and body scans, they also pat you down. Give yourself ample time. Ditch the jewellery and boots if you don't want to be holding up the line at the customs.

If you are on Instagram, you would likely have seen many cool things Icelandair posted. It's destination marketing at its finest.

Sadly, the flight is not the best. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing terribly bad about it. It was just underwhelming. The 3-hour flight included free drinks which is not very clearly stated in the menu. We thought we had to pay so we dished out some cash. The stewardess gave us a "huh" look when we passed her the money and a curt "you don't need to pay", Nary a smile in sight. It wasn't very clean. Comfort level was so-so. I guess they tried to make you excited with aurora wannabes emitting from the roof:
Excited much? 


Hello Iceland, I brought rain!

To clarify, Iceland is a pretty rainy place. "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes" is something we see on a lot of their souvenirs.

What's your usual sequence after you have disembarked from the flight? You go to the loo, whip out your passport, head for the customs, pray you still look like the photo in your passport, grab your luggage and clear security, no?

Well, in Iceland, no. You can completely bypass the steps from whipping out passport to clearing customs/security. Coming from clean and proper Singapore, we were bewildered by this and sought out an airport staff.

"Nobody gets stamped here." she said.

Ogaaayyy... So, that's that.

The most convenient to travel into town is via Flybus. We booked prior to the trip and you can find the counter at the airport, located near the exit. Customer service in Iceland is not unlike Singapore, efficient and generally unsmiling. Most Icelanders we encountered spoke perfect English but Icelandic is still very much alive here. No need to fear communication problems at least.

Up next, SIM card.
Síminn provided us with very reliable services

The Starter Package cost around S$20 and included voice and data. A very pleasant surprise we discovered about Iceland is that it's a very well-connected country. This seems to contrast with the fact that the wilderness is the main draw of Iceland. Imagine trekking on lava fields, taking a selfie and uploading it onto Facebook in seconds. I went for walk at MacRitchie Reservoir once and could hardly get 2G. Gah!

The ride into town took 45 minutes and for the first few minutes, we saw nothing but lava fields. It was a very surreal feeling to be inside a bus with free WIFI and travelling along a road that is flanked by miles and miles of lava fields. No houses, no buildings and generally, no cars. The sun was going down and the only lights we saw was from our coach. I think there were street lights but they were not as densely placed as what we city kids are used to.

Then, the series of unwelcoming events started. We booked an apartment, not a hotel and the drop-off point was a hotel. After alighting, we were "welcomed" by the howling wind and it started raining. Not a mist, but real rain drops.

Luckily, our host posted lots of photos of the apartment's surroundings and I am not completely hopeless with navigation.

Sadly, the walk was down a steep slope.

Steep considering that the burger and sandwich from lunch were well-digested and that we were lugging our 20kg luggage. Oh yes, please do get a 4-wheel luggage if you are planning a free and easy trip. No porters or tour guides to help you with them.

Hoods on, heads down, luggage firmly in hand, we braved the rain. Half way down, a loud whistle pierced through the howling wind. Come on, already miserable enough. Don't ga jiao, ga jiao leh.

Opps, it was our very nice host, Bjorn, who had been waiting for us at the drop-off point. Sort of in the rain too. x:

It's apparent that Bjorn is a honest man. The apartment looks exactly like the pictures on his airbnb listing.

The beautiful living room where we spent more time than expected.

The huge telly with an extensive media library that perked up some of our sad nights. (You'll see why in subsequent posts.)

More than enough room for 2.

Nice, cosy bedroom. 

Simple, functional kitchen and dining area with a very important piece of equipment: Nescafe Dolce Gusto (comes with capsules)

Bathroom the size of a bedroom here in Singapore. At least the size of my 2nd bedroom anyway.

Unless you have no nose, you would smell the sulphur every time you run the hot water. And it's completely normal. Not the most pleasant, but normal. Rotten eggs shower. 

By then, the afternoon's burger and sandwich had completed disappeared from our guts and we needed to refuel asap. Knowing not to expect shops in Reykjavik to open as late as the ones back home, we geared ourselves to brave the rain and wind and off we went on our little trip to Kronan. Although we were in a city, this city is a lot darker when it gets dark.
The white building is a church and the supermarket is about the 4th lamp post from there. (Taken from the apartment's balcony.)

By the way, here's a good article that breaks down the supermarkets in Iceland

The wind hit us as soon as we left the safety of the building. It was around 4°C but the wind and rain made it feel much colder. Actually, I wouldn't know since this is the coldest place I've visited. Heh. 

They drive on the left side in Iceland so many of the road directions seemed 'off' to us. To adapt on an empty stomach is hard. To do it in the howling wind and rain with the hood blocking your vision is harder. 

We planned to pretty much eat all our breakfast and dinner at the apartment and here's the total:
That's about S$90 worth of groceries for 2. Oh, and beer is about S$1. 

They charge if you need plastic bag so bring your own if you have them. I always travel with my trusty Environsax and it has never failed me although it is getting old (about 5 years now). I do have other recycling bags but their quality and size cannot make it. I can't find Environsax in Singapore now so please, please let me know if you know where I can find them at around S$15. I know they're available via Qoo10 at S$26 but they used to sell for around S$10 and I am a cheapskate. =_=

Why did I say that we experience a series of unwelcoming events? 
  1. Strong wind and real rain when we alighted = cold
  2. Haven't eaten since 1pm = hungry
  3. Braved the wind and rain to the supermarket = colder and wet
  4. Carried the groceries back to the apartment = tired
  5. Couldn't open the door = &*QBj(&!#@
Yes, the door was jammed. We turned the key this way and that. We used brute strength, we whispered pleas. We inserted the key partially, we jammed it in forcefully. Nothing worked. After calling Bjorn, we were advised to jimmy the lock a.k.a. wiggle the keys a lot. 

Finally!

Although Day 2 was the worst day of the trip, I had something good out of it. 

Instant noodles.

When you're cold, hungry, wet and tired, pipping hot and spicy instant noodles are a godsend. That and

John Wick.

We learnt a few things from Day 4:

  1. Allocate more time to clearing customs at Amsterdam.
  2. Pour over the photos of your accommodation surroundings prior to your trip so you can run towards it in the event you arrive during adverse weather.
  3. Bring along a recycling bag when grocery shopping in Iceland or prepare to fork out some moolah for bags. I recommend Environsax.
  4. Get ready for the sulphurous smell from hot water in Iceland.
  5. Make sure you have wet weather gear, a padded jacket with a hood, non-slip shoes when packing for Iceland.
Before I conclude the day, I would like to share an image of Icelandic Krona. Just because.
We changed our money at Schiphol airport. I doubt you can find many money changers in Singapore that carry Icelandic Krona.

On Day 4, we finally took a break from self-navigating and left it all up to the tour guide. At last, the famous Golden Circle Tour of Iceland!

1 comment:

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This must has been a wonderful holiday with so many countries to visit on the list. The pictures are very interesting which shows you have so much fun during the trip.