Welcome to Iceland!
A year ago today (July 22, 2014), we landed in Iceland.
Early Morning Arrival in Reykjavik
No matter how you cut it – Eastern Daylight Time in Canada or Local Time in Iceland – it was an early morning arrival.
We arrived at 6:30am local time, which was 2:30am back at home. We collected our luggage and headed for the FlyBus shuttle, after a short stop at their duty-free shop. We had pre-booked the shuttle, over the internet, almost as soon as we booked our flight – so well, well in advance. For arrivals, the schedule is actually pretty flexible because they take into account that delays are a part of life. Our return shuttle ticket, however, was for a very specific time.
The shuttle takes almost an hour to get into Reykjavik and, of course, they waited until the shuttle was full, so it was around 8:00am by the time we began our trip into Reykjavik.
Being used to living in Northern Ontario, the landscape of Iceland seem rather barren. Very few trees or bushes, lots of rocks and moss, but still beautiful in its own way. The landscape changed little on the one-hour ride into Reykjavik. For most of the trip, we were much too bleary-eyed to appreciate it, or take much in. However, we looked forward to exploring this country at our first opportunity.
Apartment in Reykjavik
We rented a small apartment, through Vacation Rentals By Owner, for the duration of our stay. This is a much better option than a hotel room, as far as we’re concerned. Even more so in this case because we discovered, both by checking online and talking to people who had been here, that eating out in Reykjavik is very, very expensive. This way, we could do our own cooking rather than spend a small fortune in restaurants. On top of that, an apartment gives us a lot more space than any standard hotel room.
As it turned out, our apartment was not far from the bus station where the shuttle dropped us off – about a 10 minute taxi ride. We had to give the taxi driver a print out of the address because there was simply no way we could pronounce the name of the street – or even recognize some of the letters. Really! Here’s the name of the street – Hlyngerði. No matter how many times someone told me how to pronounce it, I just couldn’t wrap my tongue around it and gave up. That held true for a large number of street names and other Icelandic words as well.
The owners of the apartment (it was the lower portion of their house) had left the door unlocked for us because they knew we would be arriving early.
We were pleasantly surprised with the apartment. There’s always that worry in the back of your mind when booking something like this over the internet, but we were glad to find it was exactly as advertised. The apartment had a fully equipped kitchen, a combined living room and dining room and the living room had a leather sofa, chair and love seat, so that gives you some idea of the size. Also, there was a decent size bathroom with a large shower. The bedroom, though small, was comfortable and sufficient for a 3-day stay with a queen-size bed.
Take a Nap or Stay Up and Power Through the Jet Lag?
As we sorted out our luggage and checked out our accommodations, we needed to make the decision to either take a nap or stay up in an attempt to reset our internal clocks to the local time.
We had napped a little on the plane, but that was certainly not a restful sleep. We were amazed that we were not dog-tired when we finally got to our apartment. There was also the need to get some groceries so we could start making our own meals.
So, the decision was made, we’d stay up and, perhaps, make it an early night. At this point we had already been up for 24 hours.
After taking showers, we both felt completely refreshed and ready to enjoy the rest of our day.
As part of our (possibly obsessive) planning, we had printed out a Google map on how to get from our apartment to a local grocery store. It predicted it would be about a 20-minute walk and that was about right.
Once again, even trying to pronounce any of the street names was just an exercise in futility but, with map in hand, we could at least compare the street names on the map with the actual street signs, which is exactly what we did.
We followed the map’s instructions exactly and did not see the store we were looking for. The name of the store was Bonus – Yay! a name we could actually pronounce.
As we approached the end of the street we stopped a local couple and asked – fortunately most Icelandic people also speak English – and they simply pointed over our shoulders. The store we were looking for was just around the last corner. If we had walked just a few more steps we would have seen it!
Help! Grocery Labels All in Icelandic!
Okay, most grocery items you can tell what they are just by looking at them, but that doesn’t hold for everything.
We were okay picking out our veggies – not a big problem there. But when it came to the frozen fish, all of the labels were in Icelandic. Sure, we could tell what was salmon – or maybe that was Arctic char? Hmmmmm.
We picked up some lovely looking fillets that we thought were haddock, but we couldn’t be sure. We asked one of the employees, but he was unable to translate for us. He went to get someone who could, but it seemed that there was no one available that would be able to give us a proper translation.
We bought the fish anyway and then Geoff entered the Icelandic words into Google Translate and what came out was – Haddock Fillets, Frozen at Sea. We had made the correct choice. Good thing because, given the size of the package, we would be having fish for dinner for the three nights we were in Reykjavik.
Off To Explore Reykjavik
In our travel package, I had a map with directions from our apartment to the old harbor in downtown Reykjavik. (For every extended trip we take, I make up an accordion file that contains just about everything – copies of tickets, any reservations, maps, schedules, things to do, you name it. I’m actually a bit obsessive about it and, for this trip, the file got quite large.)
Along the way, we deviated from the map somewhat but were still able to find our way to the old harbor after almost two hours of walking.
Actually, we had almost given up finding the downtown. We stopped by a small bakery and had a wonderful cup of coffee and a traditional Icelandic donut – not very sweet, but lovely nonetheless. The proprietor of the bakery gave us directions to the old harbor – we were almost there!
Heading out towards the harbor we took some time to visit the HARPA building – a architecturally unique structure. We took a few pictures there and then we pointed in the direction of downtown.
At this point we were really starting to fade. We enjoyed some of the sights along the main street, including taking each other’s pictures with some very impressive trolls, then headed down to the bus station determined to come back to give proper time to exploring the downtown area.
At the bus station we showed the lady behind the counter the address of our accommodations. Trying to actually pronounce the name of our street was totally out of the question.
The lady at the bus station sold us some tickets and told us to take either of two buses. We picked one, only to see the other one leave before our’s arrived. Oh well! Also, it started to rain a bit and we had to seek shelter under an overhang while we waited for our bus.
We spoke to a few people about what a nice day it had been for most of that day and they assured us that it was the best day they had had that year! Yikes! it was already well into July! So, we decided to take credit for the beautiful day saying we had brought the sunshine and warm weather with us.
When our bus finally arrived we hopped on with some trepidation about recognizing the stop where we would need to get off.
Finding Our Way Home
Thankfully, Geoff recognized the stop and we got off. However, we did manage to get a bit turned around and accidentally headed off in the wrong direction. We stopped one gentleman, and showed him the address we were looking for. Unfortunately, he was unable to help and apologized profusely.
We wandered around a bit more, trying to get our bearings, but to no avail. We then asked another gentleman if he knew which way we should be going and he not only said he did, but that he was going that way as well.
He walked with us, past his own apartment (which he pointed out to us) and walked us almost all the way to our door. What a lovely thing for him to do. We thanked him and he headed back towards his home as we headed to our apartment to settle in for the night.
That night consisted of a lovely fish dinner, using some of the haddock we had purchased earlier, and then early to bed.
The Icelandic Language (and thank goodness everyone speaks English!)
The most recognized Icelandic word is probably the one in the title of this post – Eyjafjallajökull. Yes, that’s the name of the volcano that erupted in April and May 2010 that caused so many problems for air travel.
Try as we might, we simply couldn’t wrap our mouths around the correct pronunciation, or any other Icelandic words for that matter – like the name of the street our apartment is on.
Many very helpful people tried, during the course of our stay, to help us with such pronunciations. They were extremely patient but each time we tried they’d say, “No, it’s …” and they’d make the sound again, waiting for us to give it another try. And, each try, we would mangle the word beyond recognition.
We simply had to accept that speaking Icelandic was not one of the skills we were ever going to master and just learn to be grateful that everyone (that’s right – everyone) in Iceland also speaks English.
We did, however, look up the translation for Eyjafjallajökull. It’s actually three words, if you separate it right – eyja fjalla jökull – which translates to island mountain glacier. However, knowing that in no way improved any of our attempts to pronounce the Icelandic word.
No Cash Required
While doing research for our trip, we had learned that cash isn’t really required in Iceland. Almost everything is done electronically. And, we found that was true.
Our first experience was at the duty-free store at the airport. They actually do things a bit differently in Iceland. You can buy duty-free items when ENTERING the country. Okay, it’s not surprising that such a store would accept debit or credit cards.
However, when it came to the taxi, we were a bit concerned that we didn’t have any cash. We explained that to the cab driver and he assured us that was not a problem. And, sure enough, he had a wireless device in his taxi that would accept credit card or debit card payments.
When we paid the taxi driver, we also found out that tipping was not something that was done. You simply paid the bill you were presented with – nothing else. We found, in our experience in Iceland, that that was the norm.
We never did bother to get any Icelandic cash at all for the three days we were there. We just didn’t need it.
Looking Forward To Tomorrow
We needed to get a good night’s sleep, and get up somewhat early the next day when we were taking the Golden Circle Tour. We had to meet the bus at 8:30am at a bed and breakfast establishment just a short walk from where we were staying. We had printed out another Google map to make sure we could find our way there. But we’ll pick that up tomorrow after a much-needed sleep.
Short Video of Our First Day in Iceland