Useful to know (we think…)

3G reception…

…is astonishingly good – in the North / North West, at least. Even in the remote Eastern Westerfjords. 

Wifi…

…was available at *every* hotel we stayed at. And at a very functional speed, too. 

Sagas…

…are properly great fun! There’s a map of all Icelandic saga locations here. There’s a free Icelandic saga database / resource here. A fair proportion have decent English language translations, freely available there (I bought the Edmund Head translation of Viga-Glum from the iBooks store, and got the same thing they have for free / out of copyright online – but my paid version had terrible formatting & dire transliteration of Icelandic letters. D’oh!)

Mountains and Volcanoes…

We passed through loads of different types, and we found ourselves reading up on e.g. welded tuffs (hverfjall), pseudocraters (Myvatn), and… flat mountain formations (Varmahlid – still not sure we’ve cracked that one!) as we drove around. I wished I knew more geology. But reading it in situ gave it real oomph.  

Hotel cancellation policies…

…matter. You can book everything in advance and cancel if the road conditions make the place inaccessible that day. We were able to cancel our two remaining nights at no cost (but with 48hrs notice) when East Iceland was shut. We couldn’t’ve done that with our emergency re-booking in Drangsnes where we had to pay online in advance and which, I think, only offers 50% refunds up to three weeks in advance. That’s bonkers, if your itinerary is road-dependent. (Equally, we found only one full hotel – in Stykkisholmur. All the others we visited were far below full capacity whilst recommended by Lonely Planet or users on Tripadvisor, and able to take bookings with 1-2 days notice. Spontaneity in shoulder season looked quite manageable.)

Money changing…

…really DOES make sense at Keflavik airport. I think I got 188ISK to the GBP, whilst those few British places who could order them in were offering c.181. 

Spoken English…

…is of an incredible, humbling level of ubiquity and quality. A check-out girl in a village of <200 instigated a conversation about the sustainability and qualities of varying plastic bags, which provided me with a bit of a “wut?! Wow!” Moment. We only ran out of English in one hotel in the Eastern Westerfjords run by, seemingly, quite a new hotelier (utterly fluent English reappeared further up the fjords…) Icelanders…

Icelanders…

…are truly incredible. We met, perhaps, one slightly narky person, and a couple who were very forthright. The generosity, welcome, and warmth we were met with in utterly out-of-the way corners of the country was incredible, though. 

Bottled water…

…”If the writing on the label is English, then it’s flat. We Icelanders drink flat water from our taps!” (Reykjavik cashier, in response to a query from a quizzical A).

“Double bed…”

…seems to mean two singles shoved together. We only encountered one double bedstead in the course of eight “double” rooms. It had two single mattresses on top (and the other room we rented there – Varmahlid – had the usual two single beds….)

Vegargedin

…also MAINTAIN roads. We were blown away by the work they were doing near Akureyri. Honktrumpet snow blowing lorries (this may not be their technical name) were hammering up and down the snowblown bits to Godafoss and Myvatn during heavy snow storms. The Akureyri-Godafoss road was reopened something like five times in one day thanks to their efforts. 

WOW airlines…

…have a great sense of humour. It’s the only time I’ve seen stewardesses laughing cheerfully through the (rigorous nonetheless) safety presentation. Tannoy announcements had character!

It’s really really not about the cities…

…particularly if you’re teetotal. The countryside is breathtaking. The two exhibits in Akureyri awesome. But we rarely wanted to spend >2 nights in any one city – even Reykjavik – particularly when new mountains, lava plains, boiling mud flats, raw natural hotpots, wind-blasted islands and volcanoes beckoned… 

Museums that “open on request…”

…really do open on request. Call the number, someone will probably come along and open it for you. And be really keen to show you around! If we’d been  more confident about this in Akureyri, more options may have seemed available!

If you’re heading to Akureyri in shoulder season…

…consider when you arrive, and when you get up. Going around Iceland anti-clockwise, beginning on a Sat, may open up more opportunities than traveling clockwise, for example. Not that that should necessarily determine your itinerary! The Akureyri museum is open Thurs to Sat – one of only three attractions that are open without special request. Likewise, if you want whales, start early! The only whale watching in March currently begins at 9am in Dalvik – 31km north. It’s accompanied by 10-15mins of fishing, and a fish cutting display – so if e.g. your wife is a squeamish semi-veggie, and you boak at the smell of fish innards, then the tour itinerary may benefit from some re-negotiation. Skiing, for what it’s worth, is the other open and semi-spontaneous local activity that we could find on visit akureyri’s winter activities site. 

Northern lights…

…like any tourist visiting Iceland in this season, we would’ve loved to see one of those spectacular technicolour photogenic displays, but only got a glimpse of the northern lights on two occasions, when aurora activity was on the lower end of the scale. It is possible to develop a sturdy addiction to the aurora section on the weather forecast website, probably due to the very fact that the forecasts constantly change, sometimes showing an hourly variation of “active” lights to “minimum” activity! All that to say, that probably the best chance to see the lights is 1) to book a stay of over a week in Iceland (the aurora borealis turned out to be rarer than we thought); 2) sleep in rural places with no lights or drive out to dark places; 3) to keep an eye on the forecast website knowing it is unreliable (a bit like fortune-telling!) but also a source of potential excitement. Not sure it’s worth driving out to areas on purpose when they appear on the website because the distances are huge and when you arrive at your projected aurora paradise you’ll more often than not find that clouds have decided to show up. Better to wait for chance! Finally, to see the lights you need clear skies – for that the weather website is a useful tool – and the elusive aurora activity number on the scale (translating a whole load of complex factors that need to combine) higher than 3 out of 8. The activity number’s also on the website. We’d love to go back and have another go at aurora borealing!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s