We went out of our comfort zone for our last trip, and I thought I'd share some of our experience here. You know Heidi and I are all about sunny and warm. Living in Buffalo, we wait a long time to experience them. Summers here are wonderful, but we definitely need our breaks from the colder weather. Going to Maui in February has been our mainstay for the past several years. So much so, that we were worried we might be missing out on some other experiences. Enter Iceland. This was a recent development for us, as we've been hearing all the glowing reviews of people who've visited there in recent years. We've had Europe, Australia and Fiji on our bucket list forever.
We've had a rather lousy winter this year (outside of the month we spent in Maui, of course), which extended well into spring. We didn't realize this was going to happen when we booked our Iceland trip back in December. We figured a nice warm spring would be well under way by the time we dipped back into the cold, in mid-May. Nope, it was pretty miserable here right up until the week before we were to leave. In fact, the day we were leaving was the first 80 degree day of the year. So, the thought of going into back into the cold was a little less than appetizing. But, hey, Iceland is a great place full of adventure and beauty. So, don't complain too much.
The cold hit us in the face as soon as we stepped outside the airport to wait for the car rental shuttle, and I found myself digging my winter coat out of my suitcase much sooner than I had imagined. 45 degrees didn't sound that cold. The 50 minute drive from the Keflavik Airport to downtown Reyjavik was mostly desolate until we got closer to the city. The wind and rain at 6am made it seem more so. I had booked our first hotel for the day before, so it would be available to us to crash after flying all night. The room was sparse. Minimalist to the max. I've never stayed outside the U.S., except for U.S. North (Canada), and I guess I'm not accustomed to less than our usual amenities. We definitely knew we were someplace different.
We had the luxury of knowing someone living in Iceland. So, after a couple hours of sleep, and a bite at Sandholt, we headed out with her for our first excursion. It was then that we started to experience the rugged beauty of the country. We were treated to the lava rock, mountainous, geo-thermal sights of the Golden Circle. Followed by a delicious dinner back in Reykjavik, at a place appearing to be one only locals know about. I would consider day one a success.
Day two, we were slated to drive 2 1/2 hours southward to the tiny village of Vik. Prior to that, we had breakfast at Sandholt (yes, we liked it that much). The drive to Vik was accompanied with a steady, pouring rain, and we started wondering if we had made the right choice. It rained hard enough that you couldn't see anything besides the road directly in front of the car. Sidenote:
There is A LOT of driving involved in Iceland sightseeing. 2 1/2 hours seems like an eternity here. We can usually get anywhere in Maui in 30-40 minutes. The lack of traffic in Iceland is nice. But, it's strange how having the road to yourself, driving toward a mountain you can see (when it's not raining or snowing) an hour before you reach it, makes it seem like forever.
Vik is tiny. Outside the 40 or 50 homes, a gas station, grocery and a couple hotels is all there is. There are a couple black sand beaches and a cliffside nearby, which we couldn't access the first day because the wind and rain made viewing impossible.
The hotel there was a pleasant surprise. I would recommend the Puffin Hotel, if you're ever in Vik. Nice fixtures, comfortable and warm. Free breakfast to boot. Oh, yeah. Food. We haven't even talked about food prices yet. I don't ever want to hear about food prices in Hawaii again. Hawaii is a BARGAIN, comparatively. There is one supermarket chain in Iceland you can leave without draining your retirement fund. Go there as often as practical (It's called Bonus). The rest, no matter whether it's a bar, restaurant or any other grocery are outrageously expensive. Plan ahead, save your pennies, and don't think about it. I'm just warning you. One good thing about restaurant eating there, is the fact that the price you see is what you'll actually pay. Tax and tip are included. Don't try to tip your server any extra. They consider it rude. Icelandic Krona is easy enough to convert to US. If the price is 1.500 ISK, just move the decimal one spot to the right, and you have your price in USD (or close enough to it).
On day three, we drove further along the southern coast toward Jokulsarlon. We were blessed with the nicest weather of the entire trip for this day. Sunny and 53 degrees. It felt like 60. Lot's of stunning nature. Probably our favorite day. It took all day to drive the 2 1/2 hours each way. Does that make sense? Okay, 2 1/2 if we drove straight through. It was all day because of the many stops for picture taking, horse petting and jaw dropping. It really was a great day, and we returned to the Puffin Hotel for the night.
The time difference hit us very strangely. We're used to going in the opposite direction to Maui, and the -5 hour difference. Going +4 hours ahead really messed with us. I don't think either one us ever got accustomed to the difference (maybe it was the length of stay also).
We drove back to Reykjavik the next day and stayed in a decent AirBNB for our last 3 nights. It was a great location, right off the main street in the
business district. Plenty of bars, restaurants, shops and sights to take in. Quite frankly, we were ready to spend some time not driving. Before we got there, we made a stop at the Iceland Costco. We've been able to find great food prices at Costco in Canada, New York and even in Maui. Surprise, not Iceland. We thought since we now had a full kitchen to utilize, we could save money on a couple meals with the usual help of this bulk store chain. Unfortunately, the oven ready meals we've bought elsewhere for $15-$20, were $35-$40 here. We're only talking Mac 'n Cheese and Lasagna here. We ended up with a rotisserie chicken for $12.99 and a frozen cheese pizza for $20.
Going out was even more expensive. You couldn't get a full sized dinner
entree for less than $30. We saw many burgers for $25. Beer prices were $9-$11 a pint, unless it was happy hour when they were US prices. If you tried to buy beer in a store, the alcohol content was between 2-3%. Mixed drink prices at the bars were $15-20, no matter what time of day it was.
So, what's the bottom line. Would I go again? I guess the better question is, should you go? If you want to go, you definitely should. Just save your money, and plan on overpaying for everything. The sights are beautiful. Me? I have other places to see now. Scratch that one off the list.
If you're debating Iceland vs. Maui, you can stop that right here. Go to Maui twice as long, twice as nice for about the same cost. Airfare from Toronto: Iceland-$450 (including fees). Maui-$600. Rental Car: Iceland-$550 for 7 days. Maui-$400 for 14 days. Accommodations: Iceland Condo-$150/night, Hotel $220+/night (and you will need hotels for travel outside Reykjavik). Maui Condo -$125/night (you can stay in one place). Food: Maui- Half of whatever you'll spend in Iceland.
As I've explained here before, once you go to Maui, you'll be back many times. If you want to go somewhere once, go to Iceland.
He was very nice!
Foss á Síðu
Diamond Beach, Jökulsárlón
Pancakes at Sandholt Bakari
Outstanding coffee everywhere!
More at Sandholt
Strolling on Laugavegur
The national drink (Black Death)
Hot Springs at Geysir