Thursday, February 13, 2014

Iceland in winter – why not? Travel guide for those who travel on a budget. PART 2

This is the second part of our trip review to Iceland. You can find the first part here (a link to my personal blog). 


"Golden Circle" and trip to the south of Iceland
We’ve done this route twice!
Attempt nr. 1. First time we tried to do it was our first day when we got our car. And taking into account the result that was probably a mistake. Firstly it took some time till we got to Reykjavik and found the car rental (we had to take the bus from Hafnarfjordur; we should have started earlier in the morning), then we had to sign the agreement in the car rental. And that’s it – half of the day was already gone. :) But still, the weather was so good (a lot of sunshine, although a snowstorm was forecasted for the evening) that after getting into the car we decided to go for the “Golden Circle” – a route in the southwestern part of Iceland which includes several sightseeings – Kerid volcano crater, Geysir, Gulfoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir).

Seljalandsfoss

Some time ago (before the trip to Iceland), we read that the Geysir and Gulfoss are close to each other. It is why we agreed to concentrate on those two on our first day of car driving. But the problem was that at that point we didn’t have a map of Iceland, we didn’t have the local SIM card and we knew only approx. direction towards Geysir and Gulfoss. I had an app in my tablet, there was a map of Iceland, but…I just couldn’t find those two objects there. I only remembered that at the beginning you need to get to Selfoss. And we did that. Then we found the turn to Geysir just before Selfoss. And the fun began. Before the trip to Iceland, we read that Geysir and Gulfoss are “only a short drive away” from Selfoss. It turned out that this “short drive” was 70 km long slippery road covered with ice. As the result, we were driving quite slow and it took a a long time to get there. :) When we reached Geysir, we understood that we don’t have any time to visit the Gulfoss, although it was only about 10km away. The weather was rapidly changing and it was already getting dark. It was the first lesson about Iceland in winter for us – if you want to drive around Iceland and explore the landscapes, you have to (i) start before sunrise; (ii) know where precisely you are going; (iii) and be aware of rapidly changing weather and road conditions. Anna will tell a bit more about the driving and roads in the section about driving.
After this day we understood that in case of Iceland in winter it’s better to stick to a good planning of our actions as we usually do; improvisation is just simply useless and also dangerous. Especially if you’re driving in a Chevrolet Aveo without studded winter tires (although I must say the tires were really good – absolutely new, an advantage of a well-known rental company – Sixt in our case).
View in the south of Iceland, near Vik
Attempt nr. 2. We were smarter when driving the Golden Cycle for the second time – we planned a trip to Geysir and Gulfoss together with a trip to the south of Iceland with an overnight stay in Selfoss. We left on December 26 when the weather was finally fine (it was very windy during the Christmas). We wanted to see some of the glaciers, mountains, the black sand beaches in the south coast and to drive the Golden Circle.
I must say – those were the most concentrated days of the entire trip – we saw so many beautiful sights. Most of our memories about Iceland will be related to those two days. At first we saw all the famous eruption sites – Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull which had erupted in 2010 (yes, we can pronounce this now :)) etc. The views by Eyjafjallajökull are very impressive – you can see the lava flows which have buried houses, you can see also large rocks which were flying all around during eruption. It was a weird feeling to be so close to this eruption site. We also saw the Vestmannaeyjar islands, though we didn't visit them (if you have more time than we had – you should try to visit the islands – there is a ferry). Jonina, the host of ours in Hafnarfjordur was living there in the childhood when the famous eruption of Vestmannaeyjar islands took place. So she told us some stories about how the eruption went on, how the people were rescued – it was an unforgettable experience to hear these stories from a woman who has really witnessed it all. In one of the evenings we watched a movie about the eruption of  Vestmannaeyjar islands. Actually, in the centre of Reykjavik, there is a volcanology museum where movies on the latest eruptions in Iceland are shown. The cost was a bit high for us (if I remember correctly - about 15 Eur per person) – so instead of it we decided to spend the evening (it was very windy that day, so we spent the evening at home) in bed with snacks which we bought for the money we saved and watch some movies about the volcanology in Iceland. This is another way of enjoying Iceland if you're on a budget :)
Stokkur eruption
In our trip to the south of Iceland, we also saw both waterfalls -  Skogarfoss and Seljalandsfoss. These waterfalls definitely look very good when the ice and snow melts in spring, but actually they looked incredibly nice also in winter – in addition to the water flow, there are different beautiful snow and ice formations that you don't usually see in other seasons of the year. We also did see the black sand beach and the rocks by the ocean near Vik. The beach reminded us of our trip to Azores in the middle of 2013 – the structure and colour of the sand was very similar. I would certainly recommend to everyone the trip to the south – there are no particular sightseeing that I would like to highlight - the nature itself is absolutely astonishing there. Don't forget to get out of the car, feel the wind, the silence of the mountains and the scent of the ocean. This is the place where you can feel real Iceland. We drove the Ring Road (nr.1) all the way till Vik and back to Selfoss where we stayed for the night. If you stop for the sighstseeings and just enjoy Iceland not in a hurry mode, the one day is just enough for this route (and we left Hafnarfjordur early in the morning).
Kerid
In Selfoss, we stayed in Guesthouse Selfoss (you can find it also on booking.com) – a really nice and cheap accommodation. There are a lot of bungalow type wooden houses. It was really warm there despite it was quite cold those days. The bungalow was very clean and cozy + it has a small kitchenette and almost everything you need. The staff was also very friendly – they gave us a local region map and recommended us some spots for northern light watching (see the section – northern lights). It is also possible to use a hot tub. After the long trip in the south, we were really starving that day. It was December 26 so many places on the road were still closed... But in the evening the local pizza chain "Domino" was open in Selfoss. We ordered one large pizza...it was tasty, but the price we paid for it was unbelievable – around 24 Eur... That's around 10% of a minimum net monthly (!) salary in Latvia... :)     
On the second day of our mini-trip we saw the Geysir. It erupts only some 5-6 times a day, but its small brother Stokkur (some 50 meters apart) erupts almost every 5-10 minutes. That is a magnificent and nowhere else seen sight. Standing close to the eruption you can feel the power of earth. We were really impressed by these sights. Then we went to the Gulfoss waterfall – also a very impressive sight. It was very windy and cold at the waterfall, but the sight was so beautiful that we remembered about the cold only when we got back to the car. :)


Gulfoss waterfall
Another place you should stop at is Kerid crater (on the road 35 some 10 minutes drive from Selfoss and the Ring Road 1). It is a small crater with a lake inside it. Although it's best to visit it in the summertime, when the multiple colours and layers of the crater are seen, the sight in winter is also beautiful. The crater looked small to us comparing to the craters we were walking on in the Azores – but this one had red lava layer on top of it. It feels like you're on Mars.  :)  



Reykjavik
The capital of Iceland is small, compact town. You can walk around the town centre and the old-town in a couple of hours (at a really slow pace). The beautiful thing is – Reykjavik is located on a peninsula with beautiful sights over the fjord. You can see beautiful mountains on the other side of the gulf and that really reminds you where you actually are. The sight is really magnificent, so don't be lazy – take a walk in the port of Reykjavik. On a clear day the colour of water is fantastic – it reflects a bit of the blue sky, a bit of the rose colour coming from the sun and a bit of the white mountain. That is really a fascinating view.
Hallgrímskirkja
Buildings are quite small in Reykjavik – mostly 2-3 floors, making the town very cosy and welcoming. The interesting thing about the architecture are the colours. The houses are painted in all rainbow' colours – you don't get to see these colourful houses in the east or central Europe. The places we visited while we were in Reykjavik:
Hallgrímskirkja – quite an odd looking church. But for us it will remain in our memories for two reasons. Firstly, it was clearly the warmest church we have ever been to. It was really warm there, not like in the majority of churches across Europe in winter. Secondly, it has a nice viewing deck in the top part of it. It provides really beautiful sights over the town. You can see the colorful houses, the architecture, the mountains and the volcanoes (on a clear day). We've spent there some 20-30 minutes, and it was totally worth it. I don't remember anymore the price of the lift, but it was reasonable even to us – Latvians. :)
The Perlan museum/restaurantanother beautiful spot to look around. We didn't try the food there (a bit too expensive for us + we had already our lunch on that day). I would recommend the visit to Perlan close to sunset – it's really beautiful there at that moment - I think I had some of my best ever sunset photos taken there.
Sunset from the "Perlan"
We also visited the Reykjavik Art Museum. It is located in three different venues, which are about 20-30 minutes by foot away from each other. I must say this was the largest disappointment for us in our trip to Iceland. We were expecting something more, something unique and Icelandic. We kind of liked the exposition of Erro and Kjarval (who are Icelandic artists), but the other stuff looked quite airy to us (probably the expositions will change, but at that moment we didn't like it at all). If you're limited in time and/or it's a good whether outside, we wouldn't recommend trip to the museum. On the other hand – the taste of art is individual. Maybe the exposition of Lithuanian and Russian artists wasn't the thing we wanted to see in Reykjavik.:)
And the last thing on Reykjavik. Geese are all around the town. Yes, I'm quite sure I wrote that correctly – geese. :) They are feeling themselves very free in the center of the town, they don't respect the drivers, they are walking on the carriageway all the time, they are not afraid of people. You can also find a lot of ducks and swans. But the birds are mostly friendly; they are fed by locals and tourists, but can get a bit pushy when the fight for food goes on. :)
View from harbor of Reykjavik
Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon – it's the main tourist attraction for those who like comfort, SPAs, warm water, beautiful sights, and unordinary experiences. I must say I'm not a big fan of SPAs, but visit of the Blue Lagoon definitely impressed me. Blue Lagoon is actually a SPA complex, where you can enjoy the warm water (like in a large hot tub), but the only difference is – you're surrounded by the beautiful landscape of Iceland (wonderful mountains are all around) and you have a clear sky over your head. We visited Blue Lagoon even twice – I liked it there, but Anna liked it even more. :) The most interesting for me of course was the whole pack together – you're sitting in a hot water, it's -4°C outside, mountains are all around you and there is a beautiful sunset behind the mountains. Unforgettable experience I will remember till end of my life. The SPA complex has several bath houses (saunas or Turkish bath), also algae masks and scrubs are widely available.
Blue Lagoon in the evening
It is quite easy to get to he Blue Lagoon, you need to drive the Reykjavik – Keflavik road in the direction of Keflavik. Then you have to turn towards Grindavik and you'll find the lagoon in a 10 minutes drive from the Reykjavik – Keflavik road. The whole trip to the Blue Lagoon from Reykjavik takes about 30-40 minutes. Actually many people are attending Blue Lagoon already on their way from/to airport.
The 1st tip – if you don't want to queue then you should buy your tickets online. In that case you've got a fast track and all the procedures are easy and fast. In the first visit we booked a "comfort visit" (58 Eur) – that included a welcome drink, a towel, a bathrobe and a scrub/algae mask. Towel and bathrobe are useful...till they get wet in the rain while you're in the swimming pool (so don't leave your bathrobe and towel outside if there is a chance of rain). :) My bathrobe was completely wet and very cold (remember – it's -4°C outside :)). But still – could be worse. The bathrobe of Anna was simply stolen. :D (ok, maybe someone did that accidentally). In short: buy renting a bathrobe; you can never be sure that someone won't take it. Next time we were cleverer – we did take only the "standard experience" (33 Eur) – without the towels and bathrobes. We had already bought ourselves towels for the other swimming pools + it was simply cheaper (you can spend the 25 Eur difference on your dinner later). The other tip – if you’re visiting Blue Lagoon in the winter you should consider buying a bathing cap (especially if you have sensitive skin). Otherwise it is quite cold to swim around the swimming pool with a wet hair in -4°C and especially if a strong wind is blowing.
View not far from Blue Lagoon
I honestly think that you can only enjoy all Blue Lagoon can offer in wintertime. And by the way – the water of Blue Lagoon in summer is... green. :) It's only blue in the wintertime. 


Gastronomy
·         Oddly enough one of the gastronomic highlights in Iceland were the hot-dogs. They are sold all around, almost everywhere; and the Icelanders think that their hot-dogs are best in the world. And you know what? I’m not a large fan of hot-dogs, but… those were single handedly the best I have ever tried. They are soooo delicious. :) We don’t eat a lot of hot-dogs back at home, but we ate some 7-8 each in our trip to Iceland. + Hot-dog is a great alternative if you’re on a tight budget in Iceland. After this trip I really doubt that I will eat any hot-dogs here in Latvia. :) So, if you’re in Iceland, don’t hesitate – just look for a queue – really delicious hot-dogs are sold there. And if asked about the topping – just say “with everything”. What is the secret of these hot-dogs? I think it’s the combination of dried and fresh onion and the special remoulade sauce.
·         Malt Egilsa drink, which is particularly popular around Christmas. It is a non-alcoholic malt beverage. There is also a “Fanta” version of this – “Appelsin”.
·         Minke Whale meat – this is the thing I will definitely remember from Iceland in terms of gastronomic pleasures. I don’t have to tell you how contradictory meat of a whale is. It is prohibited in many countries, but very popular in some (Iceland, Japan, some parts of Russia, Norway and some more). I’m myself sorry for the whales that are hunted, by I just couldn’t resist. I promised to myself, that this was the only time in my life, when I eat meat of a whale. And I was really positively surprised. I was thinking that whale meat is quite fatty, but it isn’t. You can compare it to a very good beef. It is much closer to a beef than to any of the fishes. The meet is bloody, very rich and nutritious – you get warm really fast after eating a piece of this kind of meat. I don’t think I will ever eat Minke Whale meat again (because of the ethical reasons), but I admit – it tasted so, so good. After this experience I kind of understand why traditionally people of northern countries have been hunting whales for centuries – this meet is very nutritious – all you need when you live in the north and have limited food resources.
In the harbor or Reykjavik
·         The Icelandic must-do for all the gourmands is the lobster soup. We tried it twice. In the restaurants you can find delicate, refined style of lobster soup, a bit creamy. In pubs and bars you can get more home-made style lobster soup – warming and without any chic. I actually preferred the home-made version. I think the best place to eat Minke Whale meat, seafood and the lobster soup is the Saegreifinn in the port. This place is a simple pub by the appearance, but possibly this is the best place to eat seafood if you’re on a budget – the prices there are much more democratic than elsewhere in Reykjavik. The 27 Eur you have to pay for two lobster soups and a portion of Minke Whale (two pieces) feels like the best deal in the world.  Especially after a pizza, which day before took away 24 Eur from your budget… The “original” Sea Baron (you can find some links and short movies in the link) was sitting next to us. :) The only drawback – the space is really limited there, it is quite tough to find a place to sit down during the lunchtime. But definitely – we recommend this place, this is a true Icelandic gourmand experience. One more tip: be prepared that your clothes will absorb the specific odor of the lobster soup. I suppose that half of the plane on our trip back to Latvia knew what we were eating a day before. :)
·         We also went to the Fish&Chips. The fish was good, but I wouldn’t say that it was excellent. Certainly the reviews or TripAdvisor where better than the actual result. :) Personally I would say that Fish&Chips we ate some years ago in Folekstone (that costs around 5 pounds) were way better. :)
·         Anise and cardamom – those are the two ingredients that I don’t use in my kitchen. Unfortunately for me in the Scandinavian kitchen and especially in Iceland, these ingredients are very popular. Many dishes are accompanied by anise and cardamom. But this problem was solved easily – as we were on a budget, we were mostly preparing dinner ourselves. For example, in Iceland in a restaurant you can easely find something like this :) (This combination is really weird for a Latvian). Accordingly, sweets and desserts are dominated by a licorice… usually people either like it or hate it. In my case – I’m really not a fan of that. Maybe a bit of anise in some dishes is ok for me, but not when he taste of anise overwhelms the overall taste of the dish. 
·         Café Haiti – it is located next to Saegreifinn in the area of the port. Here you can taste a really good coffee. I’m not sure about the coffee – on the day we went there I wanted something more warming. But the coffee aroma (Anna did drink a coffee) was good – the coffee beans are imported directly from Haiti, but roasted on-site. The hot chocolate drink I took was wonderful. They say that the kitchen is good also there, but we didn’t stay till lunch there.
·         One of Iceland’s national dishes is different variations of a lamb. Lamb is really popular there and they really know how to prepare it well. I ate lamb twice. First I tried a Carpaccio in a restaurant in Hafnarfjordur (by the way – a very good restaurant if you’re in Hafnarfjordur – you can get a very good lobster soup, Carpaccio, horse meat and a lot of other dishes here, very good service also). The Carpaccio was excellent – very exquisite taste of lamb, with the appropriate spices. We ate lamb also once more, but we’ll tell about that more in the section “Christmas”.
·         Horse. In addition to unethical enjoyment of Minke whale meat, I also risked to try a horse meat (in the same restaurant in Hafnarfjordur). I wasn’t really sure if I really want to try a horse, but the waiter convinced me. To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed. It was not bad, but still I would not order it again. To lean for me, but rich with iron.
·         Skyr – Iceland’s cultured dairy product. This was a really good stuff, especially the yogurt style drinks (blueberry was my favorite).
Northern Lights
As I already wrote before, one of the main objectives for our trip to Iceland were the northern lights. I will say this clear – we didn’t see any northern lights. The weather was most of the time inadequate – it was cloudy 90% of time we spent in Iceland. We had some days with a clear sky, but no magnetic activity was observed then. We even moved out of the city once trying to escape from the city lights (near Selfoss), but this move wasn’t successful. During our stay in Iceland we were monitoring the northern light conditions all the time. You can use various websites for that, but the best we found was the website of Icelandic Meteorological Research (http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/). You can find a lot of useful information on weather conditions and Aurora Borealis activity forecasts as well as a lot of other interesting information on climate of Iceland. 
Because of the northern lights, we went away from Iceland with a little feeling of disappointment. But the story doesn’t end here.
The only photo with captured northern lights (a weak green spot in the right part of the photo)
We read in the travel forums that on December 22 the northern lights were visible in some parts of Iceland. We didn't see them then – we didn't even try to see them that day – it was simply to cloudy at that moment. But we experienced a small surprise already back in Riga. Working on processing of the photographs I noticed something interesting on a photograph that was taken on the evening of December 22 in the middle of Hafnarfjordur. I was taking an artistic photo of the street with quite a long exposure. And only in Riga I've notice that green colored spot on the photo. Indeed, those are northern lights that were visible on that day. It is quite common that human eye can't see the northern lights, but modern cameras can do that. So although we didn't see the northern lights by ourselves – we still managed to capture some by our camera with some great assistance from luck. I only regret that I didn’t notice the northern lights at the moment we captured them by out camera – we were at that moment in a 5 minutes run from a darker place where we would probably be able to enjoy the northern lights more. However – maybe because of that we’ll have to return to Iceland! :)
Christmas
When we were in Iceland we got the feeling that Christmas plays an important role in the life of modern Icelanders. You can understand that by their attitude towards this holiday. Icelanders are really crazy regarding the decoration of their houses. While we were in Iceland, we didn't find a single house that wouldn't have at least a small decoration related to Christmas. We also saw real decoration masterpieces. Icelanders also have strong Christamas traditions – they start to wait for Christmas already starting from December 12, when the Yule Lads are starting to come. At the beginning I didn't believe the Yule Lads, but I started to do so when my belongings started to disappear. :) On December 23 everyone is going to the shopping malls – there is a legend, that everyone needs to get a new piece of clothing at Christmas. Otherwise a Christmas cat :) will come and eat you! So we too went to the mall, because the Christmas cat that we saw in the town was quite scary. :)
Beautiful decorated house just before Christmas
Christmas is mainly celebrated in a family circle in the evening of December 24. Meanwhile December 25 and 26 are more quite days – people go visiting each other. You should take into account that most places are closed during Christmas. Everything is open till noon on December 24, absolutely everything is closed on December 25 (only some hotel restaurants work, nothing more), and some places start to re-open during December 26 (more towards the second part of the day).
On December 24 we had a Christmas dinner together with the Canadians who were living in the next room. They said that that Latvian pork stew is delicious. :) Jonina, the host of us in Hafnarfjordur, gave us to try home-made Christmas dish. We had a smoked-lamb and some kind of cabbage salad, marinated pumpkins and boiled potatoes. The lamb was very, very delicious - would like to have this kind of a dish back here in Latvia.




How we went to see the Norther lights or winter driving hints for dummies... by dummies :) (written by Anna)


Winter driving in Iceland is a rather widely discussed topic in travellers’ forums. We decided to do it, we did it, and... if simply put, we are still alive. Horey!

Two months before our trip to Iceland we understood that it would be hard to visit all Iceland’s stunning sights it is famous for without a car. We really don't like going on tours with tourist groups. We like to be on our own and enjoy the moments only by ourselve. So it was clear that we had to rent a car.

Before Iceland, I didn’t have ANY winter driving experience! And, yes, I was worried if I could do it after I had watched some scary videos on youtube. And... Google says that foreign tourists wreck a lot of cars in Iceland, btw. 
It is not that roads are very difficult or terribly dangerous or in bad condition. Not at all! I think that roads are maybe too good so the people loose their attention, speed and then are suddenly caught unprepared by wind or changing road conditions.

So if you are  a dummy and brave enough to drive in Iceland, here are some hints from me:

·         Don’t speed, keep distance (also check the car behind you :)) and don’t do anything sharply (don’t break sharply, it will not help you, moreover it will only worsen the situation; the same refers to acceleration).

·         Rent a bigger car which is bigger than a bike :D We took a Volkswagen Polo alike car (and got Chevrolet Aveo), and we were happy that we didn’t pick the smallest possible car. I cannot imagine what would we do outside the city and during the snow storm if we had Nissan micra :D The wind can be quite severe and  just blow you off the road.  Sometimes I felt like driving a small airplane even in our Chevrolet, but  at least I could cope with it by simply driving slower.

·         Automatic gear box. It really saves a lot of nerves if you are a winter driving dummy :) It was worth to pay some 60 EUR extra for eight days to get an automatic gear box. Don’t underestimate its benefits, you have to focus on the road.

·         Car in good condition and winter tires.  Good tires are a must as weather and road conditions are changing – you need to  drive on ice, in snow storm and the roads can be very slippery indeed. Be prepaired for it.

·         The weather (and road conditions) changes faster than you think. First day (when we got a car) was the most challenging and difficult experience during our stay in Iceland. Murphy law, you know. We got everything from excellent sunny  weather  to rain,  ice, very slippery road as well as snow storm.

·         Severe wind. Every day and everywhere. Be aware when opening the door. Also be prepared to experience a „turbulence” going to open areas and passing bridges.

·         Tourist busses are very fast, always in a hurry and almost always crazy. So if the bus is trying to pass you just before the 90 degrees turn – it’s ok, try to stay alive, think of plan B ...


·         Wake up and start moving early if you want to see something. The day is short while you have  a lot of sights to see in Iceland during the daylight.

·         The roads are cleaned often. But if you have a light car, sometimes it is better to stop at the road side or at least to slow down when passing THE BEAST (a big truck which cleans the road and/or covers ice with lava).
The roads can be a bit icy :)



Horses - lovely, furry, friendly. (written by Anna)

I cannot imagine Iceland without its horses. They are so distinct and special for Iceland. And they are everywhere outside the cities.
Tourists wonder how horses survive during the winter in Iceland - severe wind, snow and animals are out day and night. However, they have adapted to the weather conditions in Iceland (their hair is so thick and warm!) unlike Icelandic people who get a cold often :D
Icelandic horse looks like a pony and is a special horse breed. While it looks lovely and furry it is as strong as other horses. Also the variety of colours is amazing, it is said, that there are about 100 words in Icelandic to describe the colour of the horse – for sure, we don’t have so many words for this purpose! 
Icelandic horses showing their tongues


Icelandic horse is very beautiful and also is amazing because of its naturalness – it is just as cute and friendly as it looks. Of course, some sugar or a carrot can melt the horse’s heart even more, your new friends will appreciate if you not only go over to stroke them or to take a photo, but also pick up something delicious fot them. We bought carrots and stole some sugar cubes from cafes :)
On your way to Geysir or southern Iceland stop to stroke the horses - positive and true emotions are guaranteed ! Absolute "a must" in Iceland :)
 


Tips for the travelers:
·         You should change some money when you arrive at the Keflavik airport (for the use in public transport), but on overall you can simply use your debit/credit cards almost everywhere (AmEx is not always accepted) in Iceland.
·         If you travel in winter you should think carefully on the clothing you take with you. Don’t forget thermal underwear and preferably windproof outdoor clothing.
·         If you’re going to visit the outdoor pools in winter, it’s probably a good idea to take a bathing cap.
·         If you rent a car – demand winter tires. The driving conditions on the main roads nevertheless are mostly quite good. We did really well with our Chevrolet Aveo in out trips to the Gulfoss, Blue Lagoon, Keflavik and the south of Iceland. Still common sense needs to be used when driving in Iceland – conservative distance and speed should be used and weather should be monitored. We tried to reach Akranes one day, but we turned around only 15km away from Akranes, because the weather was rapidly changing. And the decision was definitely a correct one – we heard of accidents on the road that evening. Throw some food and water reserves into the car - that will be useful if you get trapped in a snow storm or you have other problems with your car.
·         Icelandic people are really friendly and helpful, especially if you know some words in Icelandic language (or at least try to pronounce them :)). It’s really a myth that Icelanders are cold and not welcoming. Just be polite and respect them and everything is going to be fine.
·         If you have the possibility – try to visit also Keflavik – a small and cozy town. We found the best decorated (it was Christmas time) house there.
·         In fact, all Icelanders speak English. Yes, with a small Finnish/Estonian accent, but on overall very well understandable. Many people also know the basic of German language. Of course many know Norwegian and Danish languages as well. Initially Icelandic language seems to be extremely difficult, but in fact, it is quite easy to understand, especially for those who know German language – Icelandic language has descended from German language group. Thus quite a lot of words are similar to German words.
·         Nowhere else in the world we have seen so many SUVs. Those where not simply SUVs, some cars are absolutely huge. If anybody is a TopGear fan here, then you probably remember the car which was used by Jeremy and James when they tried to reach North Pole (and the car then was actually built by an Icelander). The only difference is that almost every fifth car outside Reykjavik is like the car used to reach the North Pole. :) The only thing we wondered – those cars have enormous fuel consumption – is that always a real necessity or is it sometimes just a show-off by the car owners?
·         Before Christmas we wanted to send some postcards from Reykjavik. At the beginning we could not, because… all the mailboxes were closed… We really didn’t understand – wtf, why do you have to shut the mailboxes? It turns out that the locals like fireworks. I guess you know where this is going. :) Sometimes people drop fireworks into the mailboxes… and the content is blown up. We truly laughed on the explanation – every nation in the world needs its own peculiarity. Who would have thought – Icelanders are a proud nation, they are wealthy, with a high standard of living and one of the longest life expectancies, with extremely low crime rates… but they love to blow up their mailboxes… :)
Just enjoy Iceland! If any questions arise, don’t hesitate to contact me: igors.kasjanovs@gmail.com

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Icelandic horses