Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Mum's been to Iceland, or "round Iceland with a cucumber"

Mum's been to Iceland, or "round Iceland with a cucumber"

Aug 11th, 2008, 09:59 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,380
Mum's been to Iceland, or "round Iceland with a cucumber"

Hi everyone,

as threatened I'm making a start on my trip report about our very recent holiday in Iceland, which was, like many trips if we're being honest, a bit of a curate's egg.

First of all - us. there's me, a 52 year old lawyer/mum of 2, DD, aged 20 and studying animal biology at uni, DS, 17, at college hopefully studying something occasionally, and DH, aged 59 and father of the aforesaid offspring.

we live in Cornwall on a small-holding [yes, that is what small farms are called in the UK] with 2 dogs, 2 donkeys, 26 chickens, 2 budgies, and 2 snakes. move over noah.

Why Iceland? - I suspect the answer is in the preceding paragraphs - we like animals and nature. specifically it was jointly the idea of DS and DH, egging each other on, partly i suspect to get their own back on me and DD "dragging" them to Venice at easter. [poor things].

THE BEST BITS:

waking up on our first morning to find oyster-catchers and arctic terns just outside the door to our summerhouse.

floating round icebergs on a glacial lagoon.

the beautiful cathedral and its surroundings at Skalholt

DS getting soaked by a geysir.

the nearby waterfalls at Gullfoss.

the western fjords.

being nose to nose with a puffin [or 6] at the bird-cliffs at the most westerly tip of europe.

watching orcas [killer whales] and dolphins up close.

the hotel glymur.

the national museum of Iceland.

Flying home.

THE NOT SUCH GOOD BITS:

in general the food. whether in guest house or supermarket, it really wasn't very good, even if you liked lamb. if you didn't it was very bad. [the hotel Glymur was an honourable exception.]

the roads - apart from the "ring-road" they can be very dodgy with gravel surfaces at best, and huge pot-holes at worst.

the amount of driving required to get from one "good" bit to another, especially because of the state of the roads. [see above].

the "summerhouse" we booked over the internet for nights 8-10 of the holiday. it was little more than a shed, and we had to share that with campers doing their ablutions. we only lasted one night. [see below]

DS losing his mobile somewhere. it's not at home as he claimed when we realised he'd not got it with him. we're going to ring it and see what happens.

the journey home. 4 hours at Stanstead are not easy to tolerate, especially when you've got up at 4.30am.


OUR ITINERARY.

Day 1 Tues 29th July - fly to Iceland from Newquay to Reykjavik via Stanstead. stay in self-catering "summerhouse" in southern Iceland for 3 nights.

Days 2&3 explore the south

Day 4 Fri 1st August. Leave south for "Golden circle" area. stay at farm guest house for 2 nights near Geysir. explore golden circle area.

Day 6 Sun 3rd Aug. Leave Gulfoss for western fjords 400km.
Stay 2 nights Hotel flokalundur, on Vatnsfjordur.

Day 7 Mon 4th Explore latrabjarg bird cliffs and Dynjandi waterfalls.

Day 8 Tues 5th-Leave Flokalundur. Ferry from Bjanslaeker arrives Stykkisholmur 3pm. Drive south for 35 km, stay 3 nights in summerhouse at Kverna horse farm.

Day 9 & 10 - Explore snaefellnes peninsular including, hopefully, whale watching or other boat trip.

Day 11 Fri 8th - Drive south to Blue Lagoon near airport, staying Northern lights hotel. [approx 200km]. tour Reykjavik en route.

Day 12 fly home. leave hotel at 5.30 am, arriving home at 6pm.

NEXT - WHAT WE ACTUALLY DID.
annhig is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 10:01 AM
  #2  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,380
PS.

we've found the mobile. It's in Copenhagen. don't ask.
annhig is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 10:02 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 27,390
ann,

Sounds like a fascinating trip.

I like that you are going to give us all the facts - good, bad and ugly,

Looking forward to more.

gruezi
gruezi is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 10:49 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,212
I hope this is as funny as "round ireland with a fridge."

adrienne is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 11:00 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 2,478
You're off to a great start! Looking forward to more!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 11:20 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 603
I don't think I'd do any of this but I can hardly wait to hear the rest of the story.
Barbara_in_CT is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 11:45 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 4,248
I can't wait to hear more! (And I'm so tempted to ask about the mobile, but I'm biting my tongue...)
jent103 is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 01:00 PM
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,380
Hi again, folks,

Day 1. We're off.

our wonderful housesitter has volunteered to take us to the airport - she's used to getting up early as her DH is a postman. so she arrives at 6am bright-eyed and bushy tailed whilst we are distinctly grouchy. the mood is not improved when we try to cram our luggage [trimmed to a mimimum due to Ryanair weight restrictions] into her car. it goes, just. hopefully DH won't notice that one of our rucksacks is full of food i have been too mean to leave behind, including 2, [yes, that's right, 2] cucumbers I picked yesterday. the housesitter has assured me she loathes cucumber, and I don't grow so many that I'm willing to give them away to just anyone. so in have gone the cucumbers, plus some apples, tomoatoes, and a bit of salad. well, quite a lot of salad, but it doesn't weigh much, does it?

at the airport, our packing juggling has paid off. we beat the 15kgs limit by at least 0.15kgs on every bag. when every kg excess costs about £12, my investment in a digital luggage scale [£19.95 from Lakeland] has been handsomely rewarded. [don't forget to take it with you, will you, so you can use it on the return journey?]

then we are crammed into the less than luxurious departure lounge [and that's stretching it a bit] at Newquay awaiting the delayed flight to Stanstead. I suppose it's better than it was - the first time we used it, the baggage reclaim was a trestle table - I walked past it first time round.

after a delay of about 45 minutes, we're finally called, and being Ryanair there is a mad dash for the seats. [Un]fortunately we get seats all together. we have had some breakfast and filled up our empty water-bottles in the toilets [the rules say you can't bring water in bottles air-side, but it doesn't say anything about empty bottles!] so we don't need to buy anything on the flight.

at Stanstead, we have about 2 hours to spare. we wander over to the Iceland Express desk, and as there is a line of about 4 people, check-in is indeed express. we learn that by pre-booking our seats for £7 each, we qualify for fast-track security. [if you are flying from Stanstead, it's well-worth seeing if you can qualify for this facility]. so instead of the endless queue to be undressed and examined, we get to whiz through with the crews and VIPS.

but this STILL leaves us with about two hours to fill less 10 minutes or so. so like Hobbits, we decide on a 2nd breakfast, and go for FRankie and Bennies, for the simple reason that it's the closest to the entrance. the breakfasts are pretty standard fare, but improved greatly by freshly squeezed orange-juice.

Still an hour to go, we so wander around the duty-free, [DH persuades me that the cost of booze in Iceland justifies taking our own so we buy a bottle of Armangnac and some Toblerone for the kids] the book shops [can't carry any more], and gaze at the champagne and oyster bar. At Standtead???

After an age, the flight is called and we trundle off on the shuttle to the other part of the airport, where we finally get on board the "Iceland Express". it's reasonably comfortable, and the flight only lasts less than 3 hours. so in very little time, we're there. Iceland. and it's hot. terrific.

you may have heard that Iceland is expensive. it is. one of the highest costs is car hire. for 12 days hire of a Suzuki Grand Vitara, it cost about £110 a day. [if I've got the exchange rates right- we'd booked it in January and they's changed by the time we got there in July - I'll check it later when I get the credit card bill]. this was through Tiger, and we picked up at the Budget desk. I didn't opt for super CDW [we'd already paid for the normal CDW] and I can't not remember what it cost, but I soon wished we had.

Being adventureous types, we'd decided not to stay in Reykjavik the first night, but to drive towards the south where we wanted to see the waterfalls and glaciers, and possibly the westermann islands. to get there you can either drive along the "ring road" [which circles Iceland, more or less] or take a more circuitous route though the national park south of the airport, and along the coast. No prizes for guessing which we chose, thinking that we'd use this opportunity to see some of the country.

well, we certainly did that. the tarmac suddenly disappears, and there we are on gravel, interspersed with potholes of various sizes. the scenery is very dramatic - mountains, lava fields, glacial lakes fringed with black sandy beaches, hot springs gurgling up through the rocks, all within an hour of arriving. Wow.

AFter about 100kms, the land levels out a bit, and becomes much greener and softer - this is the greenhouse of Iceland, where the geothermal energy is used to grow crops, such as tomatoes and veg, even bananas! [allegedly].

this is where we've booked our first 3 nights, in a cottage on a farm near Hvollsvollur. [south of Selfoss]. this was all arranged through www.farmholidays.is, who grade and inspect hotels, guest houses, and self-catering cottages, called summerhouses in Iceland.

ours is at a place called Smaratun [no.650] in a Cat III summerhouse, one of three set well away from the rest of the property where there's a hotel and some other accommodation in sleeping bags or "made-up beds". [both very common in Iceland and reasonably cheap if you don't mind being friendly with strangers!]

for 10,000 kr a night we get two bedrooms, plenty of living space, a fully eqipped kitchen, small bathroom, and our own hot tub. this is roughly half the price of a hotel with two double/twin rooms with bath/shower, so for the 4 of us it's a considerable saving. plus we're hoping to do some self-catering and save on the cost of food as well. some hope!

but that night, we opt for a meal in the restaurant. [I'd picked places where we could get a meal if we want to, not knowing what cooking for ourselves would be like. this turns out to have been a lucky choice]. well, it wasn't brilliant, but for about £15 each, we get a three-course meal of soup, chicken in sauce plus vegetables, and some dessert I've forgotten. a bargain for Iceland, as we later discover, all served by a german girl who complains bitterly that the weather is much too hot for Iceland and NOT what she'd gone there for!

then it's back to the cottage to make up our beds [linen and towels provided for and extra 1000 kr each], jump in the hot tub, and go to bed.

NEXT - lava, icebergs, and dead sheep.
annhig is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 02:38 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,212
I love it that you brought your cucumbers with you! I'm a cucumber fan too.

It's been decades since I've flown Iceland Airlines. Do they really strip search you unless you pay 7 pounds extra? Or was that Cornish humor?
adrienne is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 03:19 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 148
More, please. And I'm really, really curious about the mobile, but I shan't ask.

EL
el344 is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 03:45 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,134
Love it, bookmarking for the next installment.
SeaUrchin is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 07:37 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 2,849
Great beginning - can't wait for more . . .
LCBoniti is offline  
Aug 11th, 2008, 09:07 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 13,460
Great report, looking forward to the rest, but what are budgies please?
Nikki is offline  
Aug 12th, 2008, 12:49 PM
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,380
Hi again,

thanks for the feed-back -

Adrienne - perhaps we should have a special smilie for cucumber fans -or perhaps not!

the reference to the strip search was to the zealousness of the security search at Stanstead. I'm all in favour of not being blown up, but sometimes it strikes me that the rules simply enable any jobsworth to get his jollies by harassing innocent passengers. anyway, the £7 just lets you get through the process quicker, as well as boooking a specific seat on the flight. On the way back we didn't bother, reckoning that there wouldn't be such a scrum at Keflavik at 6am. WRONG!

Nikki- "budgie" is a common UK diminiutive for "budgerigar" which you might recognise as a small parakeet often kept as a pet cage bird here - native to australia i think. [and following DH letting one go accidentally a few months ago, native to Cornwall too, I shouldn't wonder].

el344 - I'll put you out of your misery about the errant mobile- as far as I can. by the simple expedient of phoning its number, we discovered that it was in someone's office in Denmark - presumably DS dropped it on the flight out to Iceland, and that's where the plane eventually ended up having a proper clean. the kind person who licked up said that s/he would pass it to their handling agent, who turn out to be SAS, and another kind person has said that they will post it to us. I'll let you know if/when it turns up.

I'm personally quite attached to this mobile as I've spent a considerable time recovering it from previous escapades - being dropped in bushes at school [guess who had to scrabble about trying to locate it whilst the family phoned it from home?] and being almost drowned on the beach at Portreath being my favourites. I was tempted to suggest that DS go to Copenhagen to get it back but I doubt that SAS would send HIM back free of charge!

anyway, on with the story.
annhig is offline  
Aug 12th, 2008, 01:39 PM
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,380
DAY 2.

the summerhouse at Smaratun, whilst a great deal better than the later one, still was not luxurious. the beds [bunks with a double underneath, a single on top] were not the most comfortable and as it was hot we'd had to keep the windowns open which in tru ncaused the venetian blinds to rattle all night. consequently, not much sleep was had and we were awake and ready to go by 8am. [9am on BST of course, which might explain something].

did I mention we'd done some shopping the night before? the mere act of finding a supermarket was an undertaking - for some reason I'd convinced myself that "opid" was the name of a supermarket. so we drove round Selfoss, a reasonably sized town, looking for a "opid". after total failure on that score, we found another one at a petrol station [very common in Iceland we disclovered] and laid in some basic provisions. I've just found the bill. I'd like to be able to tell you what we bought for our 2,743kr, but my Icelandic isn't up to the translation. but I can tell you that a 500gr box of cornflakes cost about £3 or U$6 - which is twice UK prices.

anyway, this enabled us to get our own simple breakfasts [a great saving on the hotel which wanted 1000kr or about £7 each] and make an early start. But at what???

the night before,we'd discussed out options, and the family had decided upon a glacier walk first, followed by a drive to Vik [the most southerly town in Iceland reputedly with a most interesting and beautiful beach] via the waterfalls at Skogar. well, the first problem was that, having negotiated the perilous 10km track up to the glacier, which was grey and somewhat disappointing, truth be told, the guides for the glacier walk never turned up, but I did get attacked by the bench that someone had left at the meeting point, which was suddenly picked up by the wind and hurled at my legs.

so we beat a retreat back down the self-same perilous track, and headed for the waterfall, which did indeed live up to its billing. I don't think that it's possible to say about waterfalls "if you've seen one you've seen them all", and Skogar is a cracker. About 100ft high, with a lovely deep pool at the bottom. DS, as ever drawn to water, ventured close enough to get the first of many soakings, and then decided he'd climb to the top [via a path i should add] to dry off.

I decided that I'd be safer at the bottom, and promtly twisted my ankle when I missed the bottom step coming out of the ladies. ho hum.

then it was off to Vik [pronounced as in wick, or sick] which proved to be a lovely drive, over rolling countryside, with glimpses of the sea beyond. Vik, however, was a bit of a let-down, and nothing to write home about. Lunch WAS memorable, mainly because we consumed the first of many sheep that were destined to be our staple fare. and the soup that invariably precedes it.

What to do now? I should at this point explain that we have a time-honoured way of planning our holiday activities. [you must understand that I'm trying very hard at this point to give a wholly unbiased account, but the rest of the family might feel that I'm being just a tad unfair]. I read lots of guide books and consult my fellow fodorites, and compile lists of possible excursions and trips, which I explain to the assembled company in advance. then at the time, the family completely ignore my suggestions, grab the nearest leaflet with pretty pictures on it, and decide they want to go there - now.

which explains how we came to be driving 200km each way on beautiful hot afternoon all the way to see icebergs on a lagoon. which we had decided ages ago it wouldn't be practical to get to because of the distance.

trying hard to put a positive spin on the adventure, it did enable us to see a great deal of the south of Iceland - at least what we could see from the ring road - twice. there are indeed beautiful glaciers [at least, they're beautiful from a distance], lakes, black sand beaches, and lava fields. lots of lava fields. some are totally barren, and look more desolate than the moon. some are slightly less so and have moss growing on them which makes them look like a load of dead sheep. some have great boulders of lava, and some are quite flat.

AFter we thought that we couldn't possibly drive any further, we were finally there. the lagoon at Jokulsarlon at the foot of the Vatnajokkull, that being the biggest remaining glacier in Iceland, is full of icebergs that have broken off the glacier and float about until they eventually find their way out to sea. amphibious trucks take you on a sail around the icebergs, during which you learn about them and get to eat a bit of glacier ice, if you like. [DS did like of course, the rset of us passed].

and after cheering mugs of hot chocolate, it was time to go back - past the glaciers, the lakes, all the various lava fields [and the most strangely positoned aluminium "Islandia" hotel right in the middle of the most desolate one] to our summerhouse, tired and hungry. what to eat??? - well, cucumber sandwiches of course, followed by coffee and toblerone, and a soak in the hot tub. yum.

what we should have done of course, was to have planned our trip to take in the lagoon in the first place. it is a long way round iceland, and 11/12 days is a bit tight for getting all the way round it, and we should have missed the western fjords, but the north is also full of birds and fjords.

tomorrow - onwards and upwards.
annhig is offline  
Aug 14th, 2008, 04:18 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 112
Hi annhig we got back on Monday from 2 weeks in Iceland travelling from the South/East and then back to the South/West and upto the North.

We had a great time although some very long days but the warm sunny days helped (I even got a sun tan).

Enjoying your post (and saving me a job). We weren't lucky enough to see Orcas but had a close encounter with a humpback which was amazing.

The food was a little hit in miss in the Guesthouses we stayed but in all we found them pretty good and the lamb we had was good. Although we also took provisions and even had room for a box of cornflakes!

The roads were the worst bit for me added with some long days travelling. How we managed to keep going on some days is a miracle.

TeddG is offline  
Aug 14th, 2008, 09:36 AM
  #17  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,380
Hi Ted,

looking at your route it's surprising we didn't meet!

don't know about you, but we met very few Brits [assuming you are]; mainly Germans but lots of French, Italians, etc. including TWO lots of Italian off-road expeditions with well-equipped Land Rovers. how we envied them!

the roads were terrible weren't they? how the underneath of our car remained intact I'll never know. we did pick up a slow puncture and can now recommend a vey reasonably priced tyre repair place in Reykjavik should you ever neeed one.

we decided that there were 3 sorts of roads -

A roads.

B roads - where the B stands for bloody awful

F roads - where the F stands for... work that out for yourself!

I think that your decision to stay in guesthouses was a sound one. I haven't got to that bit of my T/R yet where we stayed in one, but it was pretty good, and compared to othe options, a reasonable price.

Iceland was not a good place for self-catering as the choice of food in shops was pretty poor. in desperation we ended up eating at petrol stations a couple of times.
for those readers who are Icelandic virgins, that's not as strange as it sounds - lots of them have quite decent cafes attached, and supermarkets, and nice toilets.

which guesthhouses that you stayed in would you particularly recommend?

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Aug 15th, 2008, 04:15 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 112
Hi Ann,

Yes i'm a brit too and enjoyed the fact that 95% of the country seemed to speak english (except the Icelandic Farmer who pulled up in his car at the age of 99 and his sister who helped run the farm age 104). There's hope for us all.

We cheated a bit and went with a small Icelandic Tour Group partly to avoid the driving as I would have done it all and navigated while the other half enjoyed the view or slept!- A good choice in the end as the B and F roads where a nightmare (nice phrasing) and we crossed a few streams/rivers and down tracks I would never have gone if driving. (At one point a 4x4 got stuck in front of us crossing a river - I helped by taking a photo of course (LOL)

We saw a few italians on motorbikes (as my wife kept pointing out!) and met people from the Netherlands.

Although we did come across a few brits and met a Group in Land Rovers who had brought their vehicles from England via the Faroe Islands. We also saw an english caravan - crazy people!

I kept thinking how much damage was being done to all the hire cars we saw and did they have to pay on return?

Yes the petrol stations were almost mini towns. How weird having a supermarket at the back - although lets not get onto the prices.

We stayed in the following Guesthouses (In some cases called hotels but not as we know it); -

Hotel Hlid near Hveragerdi (4 nights) - I would give it 3 out of 5 and would recommend it.

Hotel Dyrholaey obviously near Dyrholaey (3 nights) - 4/5 out of 5. One of the biggest places (55 rooms) but excellent food and english TV!

Hotel Framnes, Grundarfjordur (2 nights) - OK but rooms and food portions too small. Probably 3 out of 5 again but would look for other accommodation first and couldn't cope with more than two nights.

Guesthouse Ongulsstadir (4 nights) about five minutes from Akureyri. Again probably 3 out of 5. A bride arrived for a night of passion on our last night (we got the room next door!)


Looking forward to your next installment.



TeddG is offline  
Aug 15th, 2008, 08:54 AM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,380
Hi again, Ted,

we thought about groups, but DH is allergic to group travel and DS has ADHD [in remission but still a factor] so it's not really an option for us.

and we enjoy the planning phase almost as much as the travelling. [sometimes more!].

I'm interested in the places you stayed - i found the Hotel Framnes on the net and thought about booking it, attracted by the fact that one of te howners is British but we decided to opt for the [disastrous] cottage of Kverna - glad we didn't from what you say.

and i never saw anything about the hotel Dyroholaey when i was planning, though we did drive past it. Sorry we missed it, from your acccout. What did you go and see while you were there?

I remain puzzled about the food. I cannot believe that ordinary Icelanders exist on the sort of fare that we found available, especially further away from Reykjavik. in the supermarket in grunavik, they had no fresh food [meaning meat, poultry, fish] and little fresh fruit or veg available at all.

do you have an answer to this?

so far we haven't heard that they want to charge us for damage to the bottom of the car. although it was very early when we got to the aiport, [6am] there was still someone there to check it over, and she didn't say anything about finding damamge and so far as I know, we didn't so any.

we weren't allowed to go on F roads, [don't know how much worse than the B roads they could have been] under the terms of our insurance, and I think that this applies to nearly all rental cars in Iceland. Therefore no fording rivers, thank goodness.

We both drove, and navigated, with varying degrees of success. some of the roads round the sides of the fjords were really hairy, and there was one moment when I suffered a loss of confidence whilst reversing apparently inexporably towards a cliff-edge, and had to hand over to DH to get us out of the trouble I was getting us into.

I suufered some loss of face, but who cares so long as you're safe? driving there is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

more of the T/R proper tomorrow.

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Aug 15th, 2008, 09:05 AM
  #20  
tod
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 3,654
Hi Ann - Well this is a refreshing trip report if ever I read one!
And just when I was thinking of going there........................!
Looking forward to the rewarding finale`!
tod is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:38 AM.