Getting plenty of exercise



After a good sleep on a comfy couch, I was up at the crack of dark (9am) to a breakfast of Icelandic yoghurt. I sat and chatted to Ricardo for a while before he had to leave for a job interview.

My only aim for the day was to have a KFC for lunch. Apart from that I decided to start off randomly and see where I ended up. So off I walked, heading to the coastline and following it for an hour or so. It was misty and cold. There was rain. But the air was fresh and as the cloud gradually moved, the views were fantastic and very atmospheric.

I found a little enclave of houses on the coast, one of which had some bizarre sculptures in the back garden. Later on, Ricardo told me it’s owned by an artist or a film-maker or something. It’s nice that you can just walk around the sculptures without anyone complaining.

Strange statues

Strange statues

A little further up, a rock and granite walkway leads partway across a causeway in the direction of the small island of Viðey, which apparently is “historic”. I could see what looked like a house and a church on it, but little else. There is a ferry which runs there, but I wasn’t up for the trip out assuming the ferry even runs in winter.

I headed back inland and passed the hostel on my way to the park. There I found an old washing area where women took the laundry over a hundred years ago. It’s now covered by a steel grate, but the hot water beneath releases clouds of steam and it’s very warm around it. There’s a display nearby with information on the old “laundry”, mainly in Icelandic but with a little summary in English at the bottom of each panel.

Icelandic coastline

Icelandic coastline

From there I headed towards the botanical gardens. This fairly small, but very nicely laid out… and somewhat barren at this time of year, understandably. A lot of birds still wander around and swim in the artificial ponds. They’re fairly tame, too, allowing you to get quite close to them before they turn and amble off.

Within fifteen minutes of annoying the birds, I was eating one as I located the KFC on the edge of a retail park. It’s right by McDonalds. And Subway. And Domino Pizzas. Not the best Zinger burger ever, but I had to have it to keep up the tradition. I wonder if they have KFC in Copenhagen?

There is a mall nearby (by my standards – 15 minutes’ walk) so I took a stroll over there, intending to visit the Pearl and one of the graveyards on my way back into the centre of the city. However, while I was browsing in a book store I got a text from Elfa asking if I was free for a walk around at 15:00. I checked my watch – I had twenty minutes to make it back to town. I did it in 25.

Bizarre Icelandic building

Bizarre Icelandic building

She and a friend walked me down the main street and around a few of the parliament and government buildings. Icelanders seem to like their government as much as I like mine. Mind you, with a collapsed economy you can kind of see why. Of course, all politicians are pretty much cut from the same cloth so it’s no surprise that everyone dislikes them.

Inevitably, we ended up on a coffee shop. I have the Vietnamese Jasmine tea – very nice. Unfortunately, Elfa works evenings so we had to part ways at 17:00. I think I’ll catch her tomorrow, though, and there was talk of a car possibly being involved. I was very much informed she would not be driving me to the volcanic craters in the middle of the island though!

Ricardo and Tamara were back off the the gym, so I hiked up to the pool again and enjoyed an hour soaking and swimming around. I checked out two of the hot tubs this time – 42 and 44 degrees C. Pretty burny, but nice. The steam room was good as well. The facilities were far less busy than the previous night. I think this could have something to do with it being the 13th night after Christmas, when the festivities officially end and Iceland uses it as an excuse for parades, bonfires and fireworks.

Map of Iceland

Map of Iceland

Sadly, these all take place in the provinces and little areas outside of the city centre so I didn’t get to see anything other than a fair smattering of sparklies in the sky. Ipicked up a pizza on the way home (1100 ISK for a 9″ and a Coke) which wasn’t too bad – and aparently very cheap according to my hosts. Ouch.

Well, we’ll see what tomorrow brings. Hopefully I can get hold of Elfa. I am meeting Tumi to watch the football in the evening, possibly with Gunnar as well, and I’m likely moving “home” to Gulla’s!

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And so, this is Iceland

Leif Ericson and I

Leif Ericson and I

The country that forgot to pay the bill for the daylight they use. Hence why it’s dark pretty much all the time at the moment. Brightness peaks around midday, and even then it’s equivalent to roughly 15:30 in the UK at present.

I got to bed at the hostel around 4am. I woke up a few times in the night as I often do in a strange bed and the sky hadn’t changed. By 10:00 it was still as dark as it had been when I first hit the sack.  The very first hint of daylight didn’t strike my retinas till almost 10:30. It’s the opposite of Finland back in June where it just didn’t get dark. Obviously, Iceland is similar in the summer.

Surprisingly, it’s also warm. According to the woman at reception in the hostel Iceland is currently the warmest place in Europe. It’s certainly warmer than back in the UK at present!

I’d made the mistake of leaving my Lonely Planet at home, so I spent a little time online trying to locate my hosts for the evening, Ricardo and Tamara. I managed to get hold of them and also received an email from a Finnish chap called Thomas. While I couldn’t hook up with my hosts until later in the day, Thomas was free to walk around the city right away and it was his last day in Reykjavik. I arranged to meet him at midday on the main street (Laugavegur), gathered my belongings and walked into the city centre.

It’s about a 30 minute walk (my speed) from the hostel and the large swimming pool into the heart of Reykjavik. I got to the BONUS store dot on midday and Thomas followed along shortly. We then basically just wandered aimlessly taking the odd photo.

Hotel Pron

Hotel Pron

For brunch, I chowed down on a hotdog, the common snack food over here. There’s a little shack near the waterfront that sells “the best hotdogs in Reykjavik” and from which Bill Clinton picked up a “one with everything” when he was in town many years ago. It wasn’t bad.

We walked past the lake, a couple of museums (many are closed on Monday during winter), some interesting buildings and up to the large Hallgrimskirkja (Hallgrim’s Church) on the hill. The statue of Leif Ericson was thankfully visible as the church wasn’t! Like a few of the monuments I’ve wanted to see on my travels, it was cocooned in scaffolding while work was being carried out on it. It was also shut, which surprised Thomas as it’s still being used during the refurbishment. I’ll try again later in the week.

After plodding around with a rucksack and a laptop bag for 3 hours, I started eyeing up the bars and coffee shops. Thomas agreed that we should get out of the rain, and we found a little one just of the main street. There I enjoyed a huge pastry and a nice cup of peppermint tea. It wasn’t vastly expensive – 555 ISK – around what I’d expect to pay in a similar place back home.

Soon enough, 4pm rolled around and I waved goodbye to Thomas (thanks for your company!) and walked around the corner to meet Ricardo and Tamara. They’re a lovely young couple, Ricardo from Mexico and Tamara from Ecuador. They moved to Iceland a few months ago and actually got settled while Couchsurfing with someone who is to be my host later in the week.

I dropped all my stuff in their flat and we walked around to Bonus where I picked up a few supplies. Some “lakkrís” sweets (guess what that translates to in English), some rice cake things with chocolate on, malt “beer” (non-alcoholic- imagine cold Horlics in a can. Sort of) and Skyr – a type of yoghurt for breakfast. All Icelandic produce and specialities. Back at the flat, Ricardo insisted I smell some of the fermented shark meat he had in the fridge in a tiny little pot.

Best. URL. Ever.

Best. URL. Ever.

The first whiff is like tuna. Then you get your nose right in and it smells like a slipper that a cat has peed in – very strong ammonia. Ew! If you’re going to have a food you’re famous for, Iceland, pick something that smells better!

It turns out my hosts are members of a gym right next door to the hostel, so we headed up there after we’d sat talking for ages. I walked and R & T got the bus as they were going to the gym before the pool where I’d meet them, and I needed to pop back into the hostel anyway. I’d left my towel (again), but thankfully retrieved it.

Pools are a big thing in Iceland. They’re generally all naturally heated from geothermal sources underground and the water’s not treated in any way. Hence they’re really strict about hygiene, with huge signs telling you to wash before going in and so forth. All good. This pool is the largest in Iceland and used for sporting events, as well as leisure. As luck would have it, R&T had a free pass so I gratefully received that and arranged to meet them in the water after their gym session.

Random statue

Random statue

It’s a great place to unwind after work and it was fairly busy. There are several outdoor pools as well as the 25m one, along with 4 “hot pots” of varying temperatures and a steam bath. I think the entry fee’s only around $3 anyway, which is a bargain. I had a nice relaxing swim, lazed in one of the hot pools and chatted to Ricardo in a hot-pot for a while before we decided to call it a night.

Again, I walked back while they caught the bus. A chance to take a few pictures and stretch my legs. I ate a lot over the holidays and I need to work off some poundage!

Back at the flat we had hotdogs again, and I cracked open one of the bottles of whisky I’d picked up at the airport. Well, two bottles of Famous Grouse for £20? Bargain!

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Iceland – Country 38

Coat of arms of Iceland.

Coat of arms of Iceland

Or 39 if you’re including the UK. At least I think so. I hope I’m not losing count. I should make it to 42 by summer!

The short flight from Glasgow to Keflavik was uneventful and smooth, and when I landed I thought we’d gone round in a circle. It was dark and raining – although Iceland‘s currently warmer than Scotland!

It’s currently 3am and I’ve spent a good three hours catching up on my email so I’ll be quite brief. Keflavik Airport seems nice and is all polished and smart. I’ll try to get some pics of the outside when I return on Friday as it’s a nice building. The tourist info was open even though I got through customs at around 11pm. I do feel sorry for the people who lugged bottles of vodka all the way from Glasgow only to drop one on the floor of the luggage collection area. Oops.

I got the Flybus direct to the HI Hostel, but was overcharged. The airport website states that the Flybus will take you direct to various hotels (including the youth hostel) for free. This is not the case. After arriving at the hostel, I checked the prices on the posters here against what I’ve been charged and also had a look at  Reykjavik Excursions’ website (the company that run the bus).

Prices are:

One way airport to Reykjavik central bus station (or other way): 1500 ISK

Return ticket purchased in advance: 2700 ISK

One way to/from one of the hotels/hostel : 2000 ISK

Return to hotels/hostel: 3700 ISK

Now, I wanted to go to the hostel but till be returning from the main bus station. I explained this to the girl selling the tickets, asking if there was a return ticket that was cheaper. Because I was going to the hostel she sold me a 3700 ISK return… which is more expensive than buying two singles for the two separate stops (2000 + 1500 = 2500).

In addition, had I known there was an extra charge – which I was never told and the airport website says it’s free – I’d not have paid it. Instead I’d have hopped off at the BSI station and walked it. It’s only about 20 minutes on foot. Overall, I’ve been overcharges 700 ISK which is roughly £4 at current exchange rates. OK, not a fortune, but it’s the principle. I may try to find their office and complain tomorrow.

Enough whinging. The hostel here is lovely and the staff very warm and welcoming – full review on the Accommodation Guide. I’ve only seen my room in the dark so far, as I ditched my stuff before taking a quick walk to get some (expensive) munchies and then setting up to get online.

And here I’ve been sat for three hours. Oops.

Time for bed and hopefully I’ll know where I’m meeting my hosts for the next two nights in the morning.

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Mosh’s going to Iceland

Oops. I just booked a one-way flight to Reykjavik, Iceland on January 4th. As you do.

Well, with their economy going up the fritz (the Icelandic Krona dropped to about half it’s value against the pound last week) and almost everyone I know who’s been there declaring it a wonderful place it made sense to take advantage. Especially with it formerly being one of the most expensive places to visit.

The flight was a bargain £77 from Glasgow (direct), the hostel I’m looking at is a fiver a night and I can get a cheap flight to Copenhagen from there for the weekend before returning to Chamonix at company expense to do another couple of weeks’ paid graft before I zip off to Bangkok for another eye operation.

I think the best plan will be to book as much as I can in advance. The Krona will do nothing but (I hope, for Iceland’s sake) recover between now and January, so paying now will save me money in the long run.

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