Fire and Ice
30 Oct 2012
|Monday October 29th
Iceland photos https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152231811760707.921360.746395706&type=3
We at the bus stop outside the hotel just on 9am, the airport bus is due two stops up the road at 9.06, but we are still waiting 40 minutes later so Tony rings the bus company. They say all is running to time, and they will ring back. We are annoyed because it is a premium phone number, so it costs us a lot extra to call them.
Twenty minutes later we call back and they say there have been two buses go past our stop since 9am, and no one was waiting at the stop. What are we? Chopped liver? Tony tells them bullshit! He questions the bus time tables posted up the road, and is told the Greater Manchester transport authority puts them there, and that they are not always correct. Tony is told the next bus is due in forty minutes, Tony says that the timetable states there will be one in ten minutes, and he is told TMGA print those. Surely the company has some check to see that they are accurate? Tony voices his opinion on the matter, and hangs up on them. It was obvious that the guy on the phone had no idea of where we were waiting, and the bus route we were taking.
We go back to our hotel, and they are amazed we are still there. We explain the situation, and they say they have a taxi service from the hotel, at £8 it is not much dearer than the bus, and will take us right to the terminal we will leave from. As we load our bags into the car, the bloody bus goes by, early again.
We get to the airport and find a HUGE queue at check in, it goes right back into the main terminal. A school trip is on our flight, happy, happy, joy, joy – not!!
Check in is going very, very slowly thanks to the bloody school kids – not one has anything ready, and no one is organising them. We jump the queue by rocking up to business class check in, and they accept us without any hassle. The bags weight in at 22.2kg for Tony, and 17kg for Cynthea. Cynthea realises she has lost her phone, could be in the taxi? There is no cell phone reception at check in, so we head back out and call her phone, but we cannot hear it ring. We call the hotel, they check and yes it is in the bloody car, so they kindly bring it back. Once again we are pleased to have allowed extra time at the airport.
We don’t have a lot more waiting time, boarding is at 11.55, for a 12.25 lift off. There is a controlled boarding, filling from the back, so we are near last before boarding, besides there are all those bloody kids. One of the four teachers has lost the other three and asks the kids if they have seen them, Tony says he saw them in the bar, haha. While we are waiting for take off there is a power failure, and we are stuck there for nearly half an hour. Not a good start to the flight… the staff have to do the in flight safety message the “old fashioned” way.
It is a smooth flight, the Boeing 757-200 takes just over two and a half hours, and there are no more power failures. We arrive at Keflavik airport around 1530, and we don’t have to worry about changing our clocks as Iceland is on the same time zone as the UK. Immigration is quick, and we are soon looking for transport to Reykjavik, about fortyfive minutes drive away.
There are a couple of choices, and it is cheaper to get a return ticket. There is also an option to go to the Blue Lagoon on the way to or from the airport. Tony considers that option but decides against it, we want to be able to leave the pools when we want to, not because we have a flight to catch. It is now well after 4pm, and we just want to get to the hostel and check in. Iceland currency is the Krona (ISK), their economy is screwed, but they are clawing their way back. The government bailed out the people when the banks went under, and jailed the bankers. There are a few governments that should have followed their example. ISK100 is just under NZ$100, so it is easy to work out the value once you get over the shock of being charged in hundreds and thousands.
A return bus fare for the two of us is ISK8,000, seems a bit expensive, but then we have been told that everything here is. Mind you it is 45 minutes travel, so that only works out at $20 per person each way, so it is on a par with Dunedin. We head out to the coach park and wait on board for departure. There doesn’t seem to be a specific time to leave, another flight arrived just after ours, and once people from that flight arrived we headed off.
The landscape was totally unexpected, not that we really had an idea of what to expect. “Recent” volcanic activity is very obvious as we pass through the barren lava fields, hardly anything was growing. No grass, no trees, just a bit of what we guess is a type of moss taking hold. In the distance it is evident that this area is very much geothermally active, we can see the steam that is rising from hot pools. The road into Reykjavik is a modern, multilane highway, such a contrast to the stark landscape.
We arrive in Reykjavik and change from a large coach to a minibus. It is soon obvious why the minibus is necessary, we are taken around a series of narrow streets. Our hostel is in the main street, but it is not too busy with traffic. It is one way, and anyone parking, or stopping, like a minibus, for example, blocks the street completely.
We had been quoted £59 (ISK11,960, about NZ$118) for two nights. We get a slightly better price because of the exchange rate changes, saving another $NZ10. When we check in we are given a voucher for a beer from the bar, but we can only use it between 8pm and 10pm.
We are finding it difficult to work back in NZ currency, having been used to thinking in pounds and converting them for more than a year. At least Iceland is relatively easy, just move the decimal comma a couple of places and you will be close enough to the NZ dollar value. Comma? Yes, because here, as in the rest of Europe, they use of comma as a decimal mark, and a stop to separate the thousands. It gets a bit confusing when you see numbers written in that format, i.e. 1,000.00 is written 1.000,00 in Europe.
The hard bit is shopping for food, because we are used to what it costs in the UK, and we find ourselves going demented comparing the local cost with the UK, and then looking at the price in NZ$ to keep a check on what we spend.
The hostel also has a decent tourist desk, and we are given a map of the town and shown where the cheapest supermarket is, and where the hot pools are. We look at a few tours, but they are very expensive. We had looked at an all day tour, taking in glaciers, waterfalls, and the site of the continental rift. The glaciers and waterfalls are all very nice, but for us it was a case of “been there, done that”, albeit somewhere else. The place where the continental plates are parting would have been really interesting, but for around NZ$360 each it was not affordable. Besides it meant we would miss the Blue Lagoon hot sea water pools.
We are on the third floor (no lift) in a six bed dorm, with just one other person is in our room for now. We need a coffee and head up to the kitchen where we find our room mate with a couple of others. The kitchen is quite small, not a lot of room to cook, and only one table with four chairs. We are invited to have a meal with them as they are leaving the next day and cannot take all the food with them. We ask what they want us to contribute, and they say they have too much already, and they don’t need any help either. We had planned to go to the local hot baths, and they tell us tea will not be ready for over an hour, so we have time for a quick splash if we want.
The baths are just a few minutes walk from the hostel, but it takes longer if someone is window shopping. Prices for clothing are expensive, souvenir Tshirts are ISK2500 ($25) each. Woollen gear seems to be more reasonably priced, around the ISK20,000 to ISK 50,000 range, on a par with what you would expect at home. Somewhere on this volcanic island they must find enough grass to feed the sheep, wool is a big industry here.
It is quite cold out, but there is no wind, so it is not uncomfortable. It is a very reasonable ISK500 each to get in to the baths, there is a heated lap and dive pool, a steam room and two large outdoor spa pools (39 and 42 degrees C). Like all heating here, the energy is geothermal. There are no added chemicals in the water so everyone is required to shower, without their swim wear, before going into the pools.
We arrive at the hostel around 8.30 to find tea is ready. We have Icelandic lamb, which was quite salty, rice and some salad. It is not too late a night, but we are too late our free beer at the bar, we will get that tomorrow. Our room is full tonight as there are a lot of people in town for the annual Airwaves music festival that kicks off on Wednesday. It is a huge event, with pretty much every bar hosting performances, many of them free. Our hostel is no exception, with a different act every hour from 3pm until late.
We have to use our own sleeping bags here, but the room is too hot for that despite Tony turning the radiator down, so we just use our inner liners and have the sleeping bags open as a duvet when needed.
Tuesday October 30th
After breakfast we book the 10am bus to the Blue Lagoon Tour, ISK8000 each, includes the bus and entry to the pools. It is quite expensive, but this was one of the reasons we came here. A minibus takes us to the bus depot and we head out to the Blue Lagoon, it takes about another 45 minutes to get there.
The place is very luxuriant, with prices to match. For some reason they price their entry in Euros, but everything else (bar, café, souvenir shop) is in Krona. If you have forgotten to bring your towel you can hire one for EUR5 (about $9)!!
We are given an electronic wrist band that activates a locker, and can also be used to purchase food and drinks. As at the other pools, everyone must shower without swimsuits before getting in the pools as no chemicals are used here. We have a cracker day, blue sky and sunshine, and no wind, for now. Air temp is 1 degree C, but unless you are dripping wet and moving about outside you don’t notice the cold too much.
The pools look so beautiful, the water is not that deep, about waist level, and there are bins of silica mud for face packs. We saw in the shop that they sell the stuff for around $15 a small jar, if we had known they had it freely available we might have brought an empty jar or two along… We have the use of steam rooms and saunas and there is also a hot waterfall, when you stand underneath you get a massage as the pressure is that good.
If you have had enough of the pools and saunas you can relax on a lounger in the sun room. Around 2pm it starts to cloud over, the wind gets up, it is now freezing cold out of the water and the short dash to get your towel is not comfortable. We would have stayed longer, but although we are warm in the water, our faces are near frozen. As we walk to the bus we notice little pellets blowing around and think that someone has spread polystyrene everywhere, but it is snow. There is not a lot of cloud around, snow is falling from a clear blue sky. We figure that the steam rising from the hot pools is falling back as snow.
We are back in Reykjavik around 4.30, and wander around the shops and visit the supermarket. As expected, supermarket prices are quite high, and we decide to make do with what food we brought over. The strong wind is bitterly cold, and we head down to the harbour to have a look, but didn’t stay long. We walk down the main street and check out a couple of outdoor clothes shops, but the prices are very high.
The cold wind is getting a bit much, so Cynthea heads back to the hostel to start on tea, although if we don’t want to cook we can have a couple of local dishes. Whale and Puffin are on the menu at a few places, at one we saw a three course meal will set you back ISK5,900. Fermented shark is another local delicacy, we avoided that as well. There is a full moon tonight, it looks stunning, but it will wash out any chance of seeing the northern lights. Tony heads up to take some photos around town, in particular the Hallgrimskirkja church nearby is an amazing building. After tea we go to the bar for a beer, it is around $7 a pint for the local brew. We get talking to a few others who are here for the music festival, for some this is their seventh visit. We get to bed around 11pm, the others in the room are not too far behind us.