After our fifth trip to Iceland...the fourth during the winter I thought I would share some thoughts...
This year, for both our summer and winter trips, we have seen a very noticeable difference in the exchange rate.
So how do you enjoy Iceland but on a budget?
Firstly I have to be clear that 'on a budget' to us doesn't mean backpacking, guesthouses with shared bathrooms, camping or hostels.
This year I looked at Easyjet. Briefly. By the time you factor in the additional cost of hold luggage and the lack of complimentary hot drinks on the flight...it made sense to just book with our favourite, Icelandair. Be careful what film you choose to watch. If you're flying from Manchester: with all the announcements and interruptions it is probably not possible to watch anything much longer than a two hour film. And you will need to start watching it as the plane taxis to the runway!
As one hold bag each is included in the cost of Icelandair flights - pack food.
We managed to pack a meal for 7 nights out of our 8. And that was only because the final night we had already planned to eat out.
We spend approximately £40 when we were there - on bread, milk, eggs etc.
Where to stay:
As already mentioned - our 'budget' is quite restricted...to not very cheap options.
But we have discovered over time that the best option is self-catering (hence the food!).
Super markets aren't cheap out there - but even if you do stock up when you get there you will still save. Eating out is expensive...and to be honest...it gets dull.
Our last-night hotel was very good value. And it did have a fridge and microwave in the room. Check out the Bergas in Keflavik.
A lot of cabins (take a look at Airbnb) have washing machines. Very useful when you've had to use one suitcase for food reducing the amount of clothing you can pack.
This year we used Thrifty car rental. We usually book with Hertz or Avis.
So Thrifty were quite a bit cheaper. The cars tend to be a little older, have done more miles and not as clean. But if you're on a budget...none of those things matter.
I did notice though on this last trip that's the tyres on our 4x4 looked quite worn and the studs were a little worse for wear. And we had little grip on ice. I didn't feel as confident driving as I have previously.
So I guess you have to weigh it all up.
Seeing the sights:
The very best thing about Iceland is that the whole place is just beautiful...and once you are there...you don't have to pay extra to take in the views! Unless of course you're staying in Reykjavik and booking day trips. We've always hired a car and stayed outside of the city. So I haven't done a comparison on city hotels and tourist trips against self-catering / self-drive.
Blue Lagoon is expensive. And in my opinion, over-rated.
Into the glacier: we did this last November. I'd really like to be able to say it was amazing. But we just weren't bowled over at all.
Horse riding: my favourite Iceland pastime. But one we won't be doing again until the financial situation improves.
Dog-sledding: We really enjoyed this. But similar to the horse riding...not essential on a budget:)
Hope this has been useful!
No lights last night. Even though I had checked the cloud / weather map and drove down to the nearest spot (on the coast) that was showing to be clear. We sat for a couple of hours. Watching a sky full of thick cloud.
Bugger it. To be teased with a level 5 - that wasn't bloody visible.
Anyway. I didn't sleep too well last night. Stu must have had wind or something as he fidgeted all night (sorry Stu). So because I kept getting out of bed he didn't sleep too well either.
Today we left the cabin at Lak Thingy and drove south and west - taking in the coastal and long route to Keflavik.
Lots of lava field and hot steamy muddy stuff. And rain. And black ice.
We've checked in to a hotel for our last night - Bergas.
And we're off out for the usual Fernando's pizza in a bit. Stu has been dreaming about it all week.
The sky looks gloomy again - so I doubt the camera will be making a show again this holiday.
We've already planned where we want to go in Feb / March. If we can afford it again so soon. But I can see me booking the flights before the weekend is over :)
That's it from Iceland November 2016 (unless we get some lights tonight).
I slept like a log last night. On a very comfy bed. Until 10.20am.
By the time I'd had breakfast, showered and dressed it was almost lunchtime. So not a great deal of daylight left. And it's been a cloudy one - with a dusting of snow.
Given that we're staying in a cabin on Lake Thingy today seemed a good day to drive round to Thingvellir and then do the full Lake circle. Past some favourite spots.
I don't get the diving and snorkelling thing that people were queueing to do at Silfra (at Thingvellir). Not when today was a balmy -4. I watched some of the snorkellers as they got out of the water after their tour. Strangely they were remarking how they couldn't feel their face or body. Weird that.
Anyway - if you're a diver...it really does look stunning. Check out this site for info (I've threatened to buy Stu a Silfra snorkelling tour for his birthday in March - he told me to save my money!) - https://www.dive.is/dive-sites/silfra/.
Another strange thing at Thingvellir is that people throw money into the crystal clear water. I contemplated lowering Stu into the water to collect some - he'd have been fine...they had a life buoy.
Must mention here - I said we're being thrifty...
If we don't include the cost of the car, the fuel or the cabins...we have spent the grand total of £40 since we arrived last Wednesday.
We'd have spent an extra £3.50 today for parking at Thingvellir (the ONLY place we have come across in Iceland that charges for parking) - but some nice chap passed his ticket to us as he was leaving. Probably not allowed. But hey ho.
The waterfall in today's pictures is Öxarárfoss. Easy to access from Thingvellir. So we went from the other side instead and slipped our way down to it on an icy rocky path.
Today I had on six layers. Two hats. A scarf. Two pairs of wool socks. Gloves. It was a bit like being in a quilted straight jacket (for some reason I had to Google how to spell straight jacket...and was disturbed to find they're for sale on Amazon. Let me know if you want the link.)
Look at all those coins!
One of many cairns (waymarkers) we've seen around Iceland. Don't remove rocks or add to them...they've been around for a long, long time.
One of the first photos I took on our first trip five years ago was of this little church. Had to stop today to get another photo.
What a day - after a good night's sleep in Palli and Helga's cabin we decided to do the mammoth drive to Jökulsárlón.
Up and out by 8am we arrived around 12:30 - after a short pit stop half way. I'd forgotten how dull some of the drive is but it is well worth it once you get there.
We didn't have time to stop on the journey, there or back, at any of the other sights en-route. We wanted to get back for dinner at the cabin!
We finally arrived back at around 7:30pm - with the northern lights guiding our way for the final hour.
The glacier lake was stunning - but once again our favourite was the ice-covered beach. If it wasn't so cold I could have stayed much longer.
Talking of cold - today's temperatures ranged from -9 to 16 degrees. The 16 degrees was obviously some weird blip on the car's thermometer. There is no way it was that warm anywhere outside the car today.
The lights are still on - but not quite bright enough at the moment for photos. We'll be keeping a look out for them as long as we can keep our eyes open!
Stu's bum actually got stuck to that ice.
After a lovely chat with the Cube hosts (should have got a photo of them!) we set off on the drive to Cabin #2 at Thingvellir.
Host Anna gave us some good driving advice before we set off: "Drive safe and watch out for the Chinese" (she quickly explained that the Chinese tend to drive the biggest cars...on the wrong side of the road...and are notoriously bad drivers in snow)
We drove for about ten minutes, arrived at Kolgrafafjörður and stopped.
The sunrise was beautiful. The photos don't do it justice.
And just before we set off...I heard that distinctive noise of the Orcas. And sure enough there were four of them heading towards us and the fjord. So that's where we stayed for two hours. With three rather nice Germans for company. Like us, they were staying to the bitter end - until the orcas swam back out under the bridge.
They didn't give us a show this time - but we knew when they were heading back out as all the ducks absolutely poo'd their pants as the orcas swam under them - back towards us.
The rest of the day was a blur of stunning scenery with flashbacks of orcas. You have to experience it to understand. The Germans were really grateful firstly that we told them it was orcas and not dolphin that they spotted in the fjord, and secondly that we explained their behaviour and that we recommend they wait until they swam back out. (I also need to tell you that they were supposed to fly home yesterday (Saturday) but they are having such a good time they cancelled their flight and have no idea when they will eventually go home - but they're planning a second visit to the fjord tomorrow.)
Anyway: Cabin #2. It's massive compared to the Cube. And as we arrived the sun was just setting over the lake. Right now the skies are clear with hundreds of stars visible. Stu has spotted The Shopping Trolley (The Plough) and Uranus's Ring (Orion's Belt).
That's it for today - unless the lights come out. Then there might be a part two!
That noise the trucks make on the ice...that's the noise the Mazda's studded tyres make on ice covered gravel road.
We drove miles today, on sheet ice...not very fast. But why would you want to drive fast and whizz past the scenery? (Rhetorical question Stu...don't need to answer me.)
Hawk-eyes Heald spotted a boat wreck some way off. Then I decided that, as we weren't near enough to the sea for Stu to get a good photo, I would try 'this little road here'.
One of those 'oh crap' moments...but you put a brave face on and your best foot forward (just not the brake foot....gotta keep those wheels moving in the deep muddy tracks).
We survived. The under carriage of the Mazda survived (😳). Stu didn't have a full on heart attack. And I was able to breathe again once I'd found a less muddy / icy somewhere to do a ten-point turn.
It's our last night on Snaefellsnes and in the Cube tonight. It's as beautiful as ever. But we've been let down by the orcas and seals. Not seen a single one. Just plenty of ducks, sea birds and cormorants.
We've also had no northern lights. Though they're forecasting level 4 tonight (another 'they' is predicting a level 2 - we're ignoring them). Camera and tripod will be prepped and ready - for me to wake Stu so he can carry them outside before he makes me a cup of tea - should the need arise 😜
Tea and jam on toast in bed. In the Cube. With a view of Kirkjufell. That's how our first anniversary began. Well...that's how it began for me. Stu made the breakfast. And presented me with the fake orchid that is on top of a Cube kitchen cupboard. Good effort.
The rest of the day was about memory lane. The southern coast of Snaefellsnes...beginning at the little black church.
This time in full-on arctic clobber. Thermals, base layers, mid layers, whatever the next layer is called then the wind-proof jackets. Gloves. Hats. Those weird neck warmer things you can pull over your ears. Thick sock. Big boots.
No flimsy airy fairy white dress. Or kitten heels.
And this time we had flasks of coffee, more egg sarnies and Stu-sized slabs of Bara Brith.
We were a bit pissed off that there were 'tourists' at the church. How very dare they.
Anyway. The plan was to recreate some of the wedding photos. We didn't do very well. Took me a while to sort out the timer on the camera and then I think I fluffed up the focus. And then we were too cold (and lazy) to take more. Not such a good effort.
If you fly into Manchester often you will have experienced the pain of waiting in the baggage hall. Listening out for the tell-tale noises of the suitcase elves through the special doorway..for days.
And then you fly into Keflavik...where you'd have to run like Bolt to beat your baggage.
We did walk very fast from the plane. But more to get away from 'annoying-voice' lady from the seat next to Stu.
We then made the brave decision to walk the five minutes to collect our hire car. Rather than wait for the special yellow bus. Not such a great idea to walk on sheet ice in freezing wind. All for a Mazda. With last year's studded tyres.
It took a bloody long time getting away from Reykjavik this time. Partly down to traffic and mainly down to my poor sense of direction (after an hour of driving I noticed we were heading back towards the airport).
After four hours of snow, wind, ice in the dark with bollocksed windscreen wipers...we finally arrived at the Cube. In Grundarfjörður.
Safe to say it's cute, homely, warm and welcoming. With the promise of stunning views.
We met our host Anna this morning. And her three collies. She asked if we would like to join them for dinner this evening. But as my head is firmly in the 'saving pennies' cloud I politely declined. Only to kick myself for the rest of the day when I realised that I should have accepted. Now I feel like we snubbed their hospitality.
I'd buy her flowers or chocolates...if it wasn't for the cost. I wonder if she'd like a snowman...
We didn't get up to much today. The electricty was out on the whole peninsula this morning. And we were told to not stray too far because of gale-force winds.
The aurora forecast is low...as in not a flamin' flicker predicted tonight. Shame as it's a lovely clear night.