Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Iceland? More like Waterfall Land!

If Alaska and Ireland had a love-child and then sent him off to boarding school, Iceland would be him.
A mix between icebergs and glaciers of Alaska and the green fields and cliffs of Ireland, Iceland has it all. And if you live on the East Coast, it's actually a shorter flight than to California. It also can be inexpensive. However, with that being said there are some things that you need to do to keep from becoming a penurious old tourist.

Here are some tips: 

Fly Wow. Wow Airlines flies from Boston to Iceland direct for less money than to get to California. Don't expect any frills but it is better than what some people described as a flying bus. However, bring snacks and a water bottle because otherwise you'll be paying for it. 
This airline is made for mom's

Don't take the car insurance. Man! I have had the hard sell before from car insurance companies but nothing like Iceland. They try to get you to get windshield insurance, ash insurance, roadside assistance insurance, excess insurance etc. I feel like if I'd asked for it they'd have sold me life insurance. If you are planning on going into the Highlands you may want to reconsider this but if you are just driving the ring road, you definitely do not need all this. Saves you about $40/day.

Camp.  On Wow Airlines(where they nickel and dime you for everything), it costs $48 for each bag you check. Stuff one full with a tent and sleeping bags and it will buy itself back immediately. There are campgrounds in almost every town and almost all of them are near the local pool which is heated by a hot spring. Also, you can pull off anywhere along the road and pitch a tent which was amazing. I cannot tell you how awesome(probably one of the few times awesome is actually describing the awe inspiring moment) it is to wake up to a view of a glacier.  Be aware though: there are many places along the road that are so narrow that it makes pulling off to park nearly impossible. Be patient and you will find a gem. 

Bonus is a Bonus! Bonus is the local grocery store(think Aldi) that has low prices and a fairly good selection. This is probably the best way to cut costs as restaurant prices are astronomical(think $20 bagels). I had read many blogs talking about getting the roadside hotdogs, and I tried one and can tell you that it is definitely worth going to the grocery store. 

Don't buy the beer from grocery stores. While you may think it wise to buy the beer from the grocery store, it is not a good idea because it is only 2.25 abv. Go to a state run liquor store for the real deal. 

Buy the beer from grocery stores. With a legal driving limit of 0.05, and with severe penalties for exceeding that limit(plus sheep everywhere on the road), it doesn't make sense to risk it. Stick with the low alcohol content beer if there is even a chance you will have to drive after. 

Go to Happy Hour. With beer and food prices around double that of the US, it is crucial to make it to happy hour where the prices come down to about normal. The nice thing is that in Reykjavik the hours are staggered so you can make it to several bars in one evening. 
That's a $10 beer and the thing to the left is dried fish and butter to dip it in. Smelled like Fish food. No joke.
Don't skimp on the mineral baths. Whether it's Myvatan or Blue Lagoon, you need to spend the $45 to go to one. You will not be disappointed. BUT also go to the Hot Spring pools in the towns because they are also amazing. The one in Reykjavik is $5 and has seven hot tubs of various temperatures, a water-slide and an Olympic sized pool. 

We found this hot spring off a dirt road. Only even knew it was there from the steam rising from it.
Get off the beaten path. The ring road is pretty amazing in itself but there are so many things that you will miss if you don't take some detours. While F roads are off-limits to 2WD vehicles, there are still plenty of dirt roads that you can drive on. That's how we found a hidden gem of a hot spring.
Skip the Golden Circle. Depending on your schedule and how much time you have, you can drive as much or as little as you want. The Golden Circle, while nice, is so crowded with tourists and the sights are somewhat underwhelming when compared to some of the other places we saw along the way. Skip it and either head North to Snaefellsjokull peninsula or south to Skogar. They are both only a few hours away and offer so much better waterfalls, glacier views and picturesque towns.  And they offer some really cool hikes runs. We did a trail run along the coast in Snaefellsjokull that linked up the towns of Hellna and Arastapi which afforded us some awesome ocean views as well as a cave to explore. Meanwhile down in Skogar there is a 15 mile hike to Thormork(if you look on the map the TH looks like a weird D but it's pronounced with a th sound). We weren't able to do the whole thing(that'd have been a 30 mile hike), but what we did do was amazing as we passed 22 waterfalls! 

Oh yeah the waterfalls. I get that with 8% of Iceland covered by an icecap, it is fairly appropriate to call it Iceland, but I have never seen so many waterfalls in my life. It was spectacular. 

A few last things to consider: 
Bring CDs. Out of the city there is minimal radio coverage so it is definitely worth packing a few of your favorites. Especially if you do what we did, and covered over 1,400 miles. 

Gas is very expensive(about $8/gallon). I'd get the smallest car you can comfortably have to save on gas. The Chevy Spark worked perfectly for us. If your credit card doesn't have a PIN, you will also need to buy a gas card at an N1 station. This is crucial, especially late at night, because you otherwise won't be able to use an automated gas station. 
As I arrived home, Amber is in her final preparations for her own trip to Iceland. She will be racing in a 55 kilometer trail race in a couple weeks. I hope she has as wonderful a time as we did. 

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