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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Iceland (part1)

Iceland Iceland

For the full story, see parts one, two, three, and four. For other options, see Planning Iceland.

If you're planning a trip to Iceland, you need to book accommodation four months in advance for locations near popular attractions like whale watching or glacier hikes. You can reduce cost by booking sleeping-bag accommodation, but most places don't provide that option for advance booking, so unless you plan to camp with unbooked accommodation as a backup, I'd suggest paying for linens everywhere so that you don't have to cart around a sleeping bag.

We chose flight routes/times based on what gave a good price and a short duration. I looked extensively into car rentals, and was happy with SS Car Rental, but with four people for two weeks, we could barely fit our gear in the trunk. In retrospect it would be better to get a Subaru wagon so you have the extra space and are allowed on F-roads.

Flights

Booked through expedia on March 17th 2013. Depart Tuesday (after work). Return Monday (late). AirCanada checkin closes 45min prior to departure.

1:30  AirCanada 8834  Ottawa (YOW)  to Halifax (YHZ)   June 25th 6:25pm-8:55pm
1:05  Layover
4:15  Icelandair 606  Halifax (YHZ) to Reykjavik (KEF) June 25th 10:00pm-5:15am
6:50  Total

The luggage is automatically transferred from AirCanada to Icelandair at Halifax. You just walk out one gate, trot down the hall, get boarding passes printed at the next gate and board.

5:35  Icelandair 631  Reykjavik (KEF) to Boston (BOS)  July 8th 5:00pm-6:35pm
1:40  Layover
1:14  AirCanada 8049  Boston (BOS)    to Ottawa (YOW)  July 8th 8:15pm-9:29pm
8:29  Total

The luggage isn't automatically transferred from Icelandair to AirCanada at Boston. You have to go through customs, then pickup your luggage, then take it to the Icelandair transfers desk, then get a shuttle to terminal-B, then get your boarding passes printed at the AirCanada desk, then go through security, then board. If there are bad waits, you could easily miss your flight. We made it with only ten minutes to spare before boarding started.

Per Adult, Round Trip
Flight:     $1,042.00 CAD
Taxes & Fees: $184.19 CAD
Total:      $1,226.19 CAD

Icelandair seats were selected during the Expedia booking, but AirCanada seats were not. When logging into the Expedia itinerary that same day, the [manage booking > choose seats] option let me choose seats for the departing AirCanada flight.

Baggage Policy and Online Check-in
AirCanada Checked: 1st 50lb free, 2nd 50lb $20 CAD/direction.
AirCanada Carry-On: Free standard 22lb bag and small 22lb bag.
Icelandair Checked: Two free 50lb bags.
Icelandair Carry-On: Free standard 22lb bag and one small personal item (no weight given).

Conclusion: 1 checked 50lb bag, 1 carry-on 22lb bag, 1 purse.
AirCanada online check-in is available 24hrs prior to the flight.
I'm not sure if that links to Icelandair.

Car

SS Car Rental
- cars are 2008 model or newer
- renter must be at least 20 years old
- renter must have held a full drivers licence for 1yr prior to rental
- maximum two drivers
- dealer may substitute vehicles when the reserved car type is not available
- car is provided with a full tank of fuel and must be returned full or renter will be charged for fuel
- 24.5% tax is included in the price
- cancel with 15 days notice for 100% refund
- cancel with 0-14 days notice for 90% refund
- insurance has a ~$1000 CDN deductible
- insurance doesn't cover: negligence, intoxicated, tires, headlights, windshield, undercarriage, gravel, water in engine.
- call 112 for emergency assistance
- call 0354-8961766 24hrs for breakdown service
- price includes unlimited mileage, insurance (cdw), tax/vat
- dealer is family owned, founded in 1994, located 5km from KEF airport

The car was in good condition. The guy was standing outside the baggage pickup with a sign with our names on it. They are very similar to north american cars, but don't have a park gear. You put them in neutral and use the parking break. Also there seemed to be automatic down-shifting, because when we went down steep hills, I didn't have to lay on the breaks.

From: 26 June 2013 05:00
To:   08 July 2013 17:00
Sub-total: 183,100 ISK
Extras: 3,500 ISK -- extra driver
Delivery: 4,000 ISK -- pickup/dropoff at KEF airport
Discount: -18,310 ISK -- 10% discount for 7-13 day period
Total incl. VAT: 172,290 ISK = 1,461.02 CAD = $112.39/day

Getting There

There was of course a frantic lead-up to our departure, but on Tuesday shortly after 3:00pm, I had most things satisfactorily wrapped up at work. I drove to Tyner & Cynthia's and took them and their gear to my house where we waited for a booked 4pm taxi. We only had about 10 minutes to wait and spent the time fretting and weighing the bags.

The taxi was stifling hot and I deeply regretted wearing long sleeves. Amanda was waiting for us at the airport having taken a taxi from her gig at Inovapost's Auriga Drive office.

We printed our boarding passes and baggage tags at an Air Canada kiosk and approached a massive line that snaked almost out of the airport doors. Amanda led the way, cutting through the line to an apparently unused baggage-only clerk (she really knows how to work airports).

The baggage clerk confirmed that our bags would be swapped directly to our next plane and that we'd just have to proceed to our gate where they would print boarding passes. This was a big relief because we only had an hour in the Halifax airport and if we missed the Iceland flight, there wasn't another for two days.

After going through security, I changed into a t-shirt and we ate at Darcy McGee's where I had a pint of Guinness and a Guinness burger. Yum.

The flight to Halifax was just over an hour, so I read my Mandela book. In Halifax we just had to walk a few gates down. They printed our boarding passes maybe five minutes before they started boarding.

I started getting excited because the people at this gate weren't your usual airport crowd. There had lots of variation, but most looked really cool. I felt more like I was in line at an Indie concert.

The plane was large and comfortable. The stewardesses looked Swedish and wore little round hats. As we were getting settled in, an older man and wife who were english-as-a-second-language were complaining that someone else was in their seat. It turns out they were flying to Toronto: wrong flight, wrong plane, wrong gate. The stewardesses were amazed they'd gotten that far. If the plane hadn't been full, they would have woke up in Iceland.

I watched an Icelandic movie with English subtitles called "The Brim". It was a dark film about low pay workers on a fishing vessel, each with their own batch of hang-ups and life struggles. It had a good mix of hope, despair, realism and fatalism.

After the movie, everyone was asleep and we were far over the North Atlantic. The moon was near full and illuminated a bank of clouds below. I geared up with ear plugs, eye mask and neck pillow and went to sleep.

Driving Rain

I woke up abruptly about two hours later to a "we're landing soon" announcement and bright light streaming in all the windows. In no time we had disembarked and were in a little room going through standard airport security, which seemed odd, but I guess it's their version of customs. Further on, in a bigger room someone stamped our passports, but there was no standard interrogation: purpose of visit, address, got any fruit, etc.

After gathering our bags, for which there was no wait, we went to the exit of the airport where a guy from SS Car Rental was waiting for us with a paper sign. The time was 5:45am, and it was raining sideways. We changed into our rain gear and trudged to his van.

Surprisingly, our luggage did fit in the trunk of the Toyota Carola. It was an automatic and was like an American car, but didn't have park in the gear shift, just drive, neutral and reverse. For park you used neutral and the parking break. Also you really felt the loss of power as it shifted gears while driving.

The international airport is about an hour outside the capitol, and driving there, the wind was so strong that I had to considerably angle the steering wheel to stay straight. Once in the city we prowled around the core for a while, but everything was still closed. Eventually we parked and walked past some cafes until we found one that opened at 8am. We waited on its doorstep, sheltered from the rain for about 15 minutes until they let us in.

The Laundromat Cafe was big, bright, beautiful, delicious, aromatic, and played great music. I had bacon, eggs, and rye toast. Tax and service is in the menu price, and when you pay your bill by visa, you just enter your pin and press ok.

We walked around the city a bit but it was too cold without proper gear, most of which was packed too far away. We decided to drive to the National Museum, which was difficult to find because the street names took too long to comprehend.

At the museum, they had coat racks, and it was nice to be out of the wet. The museum covered the earliest settlers to modern times. I kept falling asleep on my feet, then a guided tour started, which I followed for a while, but still kept falling asleep. Eventually, Tyner came to fetch me as the girls had gone back to the entrance and fallen asleep.

Next we drove to a grocery store (Bonus) and picked up supplies, then dropped off Tyner & Cynthia at their downtown hotel (Floki, now Hostel Village). We drove out of the city to our Bed & Breakfast just past a fjord. There was a $1000 ISK toll tunnel under the fjord that was deep, steep, long and rough hewn from the rock most of the way, but concrete reinforced in some spots.

We arrived at the farmhouse (Beitista├░ir in Hvalfjar├░arsveit) around 1:30pm, but no one was home. We hung out in the car for a bit and ate chips while I read aloud Artemis Fowl. Then we changed into warmer gear and hiked through their field a bit but not far because it felt like trespassing. We drove down the road to a hotel/restaurant (Laxarbakki) where they phoned the B&B owner for us. She hadn't expected us until around 6pm, but came from work to fetch us and let us in.

We unpacked and Amanda cooked us spaghetti for dinner. I played some Kingdom Rush and read more Mandela before bed. Amanda fell asleep shortly after 6pm. I fell asleep shortly before 7pm. I woke just after 10am (which maps to my normal waking time).

In retrospect we should have booked a hotel in Reykjanesbaer (next to the airport) and caught 4 hours sleep. That sounds expensive, but would definitely have been worth it.

Adventure

We were supposed to have breakfast at 8:30, but they had left it out for us. I had a shower while Amanda woke up. Breakfast was delicious. It was pancakes and boiled eggs and cheese and meat and cucumbers which I made into a sandwich.

We had thought to go climbing, but it was raining again, so Amanda knit and read while I wrote up my journal.

Later we drove north and pulled over just south of Bourgense (Borgarbyggd) and hiked part way up a mountain. Back at the road we could see a light house on the coast and decided to hike out to it. It was actually very rough terrain and took more than two hours there and back. We crossed a stream at a narrows on the way there, but took another route back and had to cross barefoot.

After our hike we drove into and around Bourgense (Borgarbyggd) and stopped at Matstofar Restaurant (a Filipino place) for dinner. Like every other place we've seen so far, it was deserted. After we ordered, a retarded girl came in and chatted with us for a long time. After our meal we chatted with the owner who emigrated from the Philippines during the war. She chose Iceland because at the time it was easy to immigrate and she new an Icelander from the Philippines.

I had Grolsch with dinner, so Amanda drove us home. At home, Amanda made hot chocolate, and I wrote up my journal. I also got their Wi-Fi password and emailed home and checked up on things. Amanda knitted and read Atlas Shrugged while I played Kingdom Rush. Then we went to sleep.

I felt like I had been laying awake all night, so I checked the time and it was 6am, so I must have slept. We had breakfast at 8:30. It was the same style but this time had fresh baked sweet bread and a bowl of winter melon instead of pancakes.

After breakfast, I emailed SS Car Rental about our smashed tail light and they confirmed they knew it was preexisting damage. Then we lounged around the house while I played Kingdom Rush and Amanda knit and read Atlas Shrugged. She had a nap, while I kept playing. Eventually it was reaching noon and I was getting stir crazy. Amanda woke up, we packed our gear in the car and drove to the mountain near Akranes.

I pulled in a road that looked like an industrial complex and asked directions. The guy there said the gravel road off his road would give us access to the mountain. It was pretty rough and ended next to a giant pile of rubbish lumber, but there were Icelandic signs that looked vaguely like they indicated a trail head. In fact we'd made a left when we should have carried on straight and had missed the Akrafjall trailhead.

We started hiking along what looked like a shepherd's service road, but since no summit trail was forthcoming we just started climbing the slope. It soon became loose head-sized boulders amongst scree, and the angle seemed steeper then 45 degrees. At this point I thought we should probably turn back, but Amanda didn't like the idea of going down the way we came, so we pushed onward hoping the split in the rock face above us would give easy access to a plateau. It might have, but by the time we got there, it was clear it was still a long way possibly terminating in impassable terrain, so we went back the way we came which wasn't as bad as it looked.

Back in the sheep field, we stopped for a snack. On the way back to the car, we missed our turn and saw that the other direction probably gave much safer access to the plateau. But of course I preferred our way.

Back at the house, Amanda cooked dinner, the I cleaned up as some other American guests arrived. They were nice. Amanda and I repacked our gear, then I went out alone in the car to look for a hill to climb.

I found a tiny town and a metal complex that I think was a school. I drove on a gravel road for a while then doubled back and tried another. The landscape was incredibly beautiful.

On the second road, I found a pull-off near a large hill, but past the gate was a little cabin. I knocked, but no one was home, and I didn't want to block their driveway in case someone arrived, so I parked on the grass, which seemed like it wouldn't harm the undercarriage of the car.

I climbed straight up the little volcanic face, which upon return seemed impossibly steep. On top of the little plateau, there was an eerie sanctuary feeling probably because sound just floated up and away, like in some winter snowfalls.

I kept advancing to the next height of the plateau of which there seemed infinite steps. Maybe a kilometer in, I came to the peak which was marked with a metal steak in a pile of stones.

The walk down was easy and invigorating, and on the drive home I was stopped by sheep crossing the road. It was 9pm and still bright as day.

I came to bed where Amanda was already asleep and wrote my journal before going to sleep.

On to Part Two.