Winter Vacation in Iceland Part I: Transportation

Monday, April 04, 2016


We traveled to Iceland in February of this year. In the past, we have both been to Mexico and Canada, but these trips were always accomplished by car by virtue of proximity. We want to travel, but to be honest, we both get a little nervous about leaving the country and everything we know. Leaving the continental United States required us to step quite a ways outside of our comfort zones.

Leading up to our trip, almost every person who knew we were going ahead of time asked us, "Why Iceland?" It's a loaded question to be sure. The truth is, Iceland is beautiful during every season, it's still fairly close to the U.S., and it is also considered part of Europe. We had initially planned to go in November of last year, but a coworker encouraged me to take a break and plan a longer trip. After talking it over with Jeff, we agreed that not only would a longer trip really push our personal boundaries, but it would also give us more time to prepare and gather essentials. So, we welcomed the challenged and booked a package deal through Iceland Air for the following year. 

In this first part of my Iceland series, I will try to share as much as I can about the various modes of transportation that we used during our trip.


AIRPLANE

Booking the flight / hotel / excursion package was very easy through the Iceland Air website. You can either build your own package or select one of their themed packages. We chose the former and added elements of earth, air, water, and fire. We didn't necessarily mean to do this at the time, but as I write this now, it's quite fitting considering Iceland's amazing array of landscapes.

We were supremely lucky, in my opinion, to fly to Iceland aboard the Iceland Air's new HEKLA AURORA line of airplanes. These features simulations of the Aurora Borealis above the luggage compartments and are very soothing during the long trip. Although we boarded in the afternoon, we were not going to land in Iceland until the following morning. Neither Jeff nor myself are very good at sleeping on planes, so it was nice to glance around at the pretty, whimsical lights when not glued to the television screen attached to the back of the seat in front of me. The video below reveals the colorful, dancing lights, but also demonstrates the simply stunning graphic design they have added to the external body of the plane. 


The flight itself was long, though shorter in comparison to many other European flights, I'm sure. They provide in-flight entertainment in both English and their native Islenka (Icelandic). I was able to watch several movies, including Socario and Letters to Juliet. On the way back, I watched Black Mass and Delivery Man. Jeff opted for Goonies, Delivery Man, and Interview with a Vampire. I glanced over at one point, and I think he may have also been watching an old Bruce Willis movie staged in the west during the prohibition. The food was tasty enough, but we were starving by the time we landed. I will say that the Economy class is fairly cramped, so if and when you can upgrade to the Economy Comfort, it's probably a good idea.

Because this was our first time traveling out of the country by airplane, and it was also our first introduction to Customs. It was a fairly straightforward process, and a lot simpler than I had imagined. Iceland is now the first stamp in my passport.

The graffiti in this county is phenomenal and often incorporates Norse mythology.

Performing as a coat rack at the Whale Museum.

CAR

We did not rent a car while in Iceland, because of the season and we had heard the prices are quite high in comparison to the States. This wasn't an impediment to us, as we stayed primarily in Reykjavik and used other modes of transport to get to other areas. We did ride in a tourist van, though, when traveling to the Laugarvatn Fontana Thermal Pools, and I must say I was surprised by how few people used snow chains in this county. Instead, they use tires with built-in spikes. Their roads are also noticeably degraded, as a result. A friendly local also provided us with a trip back to our hotel from the Harpa when a small blizzard struck. More about that during another installment in the series, though. Overall, the people drive carefully and vigorously yield to pedestrians (they get angry if you try to do the American thing and wave them on their way). There is also no such thing as rush hour in this country due to the small population size, which was really quite interesting.

Sun Voyager

Inside the Harpa.

BUS

The bus system is...complicated. In my experience, learning bus routes takes practice. You have to be willing to ride a few wrong ones to learn the routes that go the way you want. You also have to get used to asking questions. Jeff is not this type of person. We took the bus he said we needed for downtown. He didn't ask if the bus actually went that way, and neither did I. We ended up in Mosfellsbær. Normally, this is a 10 minute drive by car. By bus, it was 45 minutes...one way. We were parked at a little bus way station for the drivers to relax and use the restroom before anyone noticed us. Because the people here are incredibly polite, he educated us during the ride back and told us which bus to catch in the future for our remaining destinations. The second time around, when a bus rolled up that appeared to go in the direction we wanted, I verified it was driving the route we wanted. After that, Jeff verified every stop against the Rekjavik bus app Strætó. It was a hard lesson for him to learn, and we grumped a little along the way, but I feel pretty confident he learned some life lessons about navigating public city transit.

Strolling through Parliament with other couples. 

Our first stroll along the Harbor.

FOOT 

This was our primary mode of transportation. Although the island was covered in snow while we were there, and we got stuck in our fair share of wind storms, we felt really good about our choice to forgo a car. We were able to see every part of Reykjavik, and we were able to see it at our own pace and without the hassle of parking. While the country itself is not densely populated, most of the 300k people that live here live primarily in Reykjavik or commute there for work. It is a bustling, tightly packed city. Based on our personal experience, it seems half of the people walk where they need to go, even during winter, and the rest commute by car or bus.

Valkyries watch over pedestrians in Old Downtown.
Hallgrímskirkja 

HELICOPTER

Riding in a helicopter has to be one of the highlights of our lives. Neither of us had done it prior to our trips. Growing up in military families, we were exposed to them as children during family events, but riding in one is incomparable to standing inside one or even riding an airplane. Although the vehicle is much smaller, it feels very steady. At no point did we feel unsupported. In fact, our pilot took us down a steep slope without warning. Instead of feeling the pits of our stomachs drop out the way they would on a roller coaster, it felt like a gentle glide down the mountain. It felt much like a trust fall. We are both a little nervous about heights, but we really loved the experience. We highly recommend it, and we plan to fly with Nordurflug Helicopter Tours again.

We landed on the Hengill geothermal plateau.
Until next time!
Look for the next installment of our Iceland Winter Vacation. Next topic: food!

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