Iceland 2017: Travelogue #1
We arrived 6:20am local time (GMT) on 11/23 (Thanksgiving back home) into Keflavik airport. Upon exiting the plane we followed the path through customs, an act that seemed only a formality to actual immigration control. There was no line; we handed our passports to the agents who summarily pressed them against a scanner and a light turned green, then we were let through. Baggage arrived at the carousel about 5 minutes later. After picking up our luggage we followed a hallway path labeled “Nothing to Declare” and—without seeing another agent—we simply walked to the exit vestibule of the airport.
Here we waited a bit for a courier to ferry us to our rental car. Instead of going with Hertz or other available on-airport car rental outfits, we saved about a third of the fee by booking a car through SADcars.com . This local outfit was just a few miles off the airport and they specialize in renting sad cars. You read that correctly. They have cars that are considerably older then most rental outfits, cars that may contain a few scratches and dings and such. They work out of a quonset hut that is barely kept above freezing and in which nothing is kept from the renters: You enter through the main garage where other cars are being worked on and wait in a tiny office behind others in line, in this case only two other parties. The first in line was a guy and his buddy who were renting a camper truck to travel around Iceland for what must be a great, cold winter camping expedition. However, the guy didn’t have a driver’s license because—his excuse—he never travels with it when he has a passport. Needless to say, this held up the line. The agent eventually rented him the camper and off they went. The next pair, a young couple who didn’t seem to understand how any of this works, took forever figuring out whether they needed insurance or not and did not understand the concept of handing over a credit card for incidentals. It wasn’t a language barrier. It was a complete lack of experience on their part..
Finally, we got up to rent our car and all went smoothly. Sonya had booked everything online, including the extra insurance and all. In minutes we were just about to be taken to our car when First Guy comes back to complain that the camper is a manual and he has no clue how to drive a manual and can they have an automatic instead. SADcars does not have automatics, by the way, knowledge that anyone who has used their website would have known. Our agent apologizes to us and goes to help Mr. Clueless. After a few minutes, another agent finishes with us and goes to get our car and pulls it into the garage. She starts to walk around with us to view any existing damage and she notices a crack in the windshield. “It gets too cold here.” she says, “This crack will get bigger. So we’ll get you another car.” Off she goes, to return a few minutes later with our final car, a 2016 Dacia Duster 4×4, something like a Toyota Rav 4, with automatic 4-wheel drive when needed. It is their baby car in that it only has 40,000 km on it, just under 25,000 miles. It is in perfect shape. It’s a manual transmission diesel-burning car that purrs wonderfully as we take off. Within minutes we were on the road into Reykjavik to our rental home. It was 8:30am and only a faint purple light was just beginning to appear in the sky. Sunrise would be another 90 minutes away.
HomeWe rented a beautiful house through AirBnB in the Old West area of Reykjavik. We really lucked out this time. The house is a two-story detached dwelling on a street of older multi-flats. It is a single bedroom house with a single parking space (in a neighborhood of crammed on-steet-only parking spots). The interior is contemporary European with what looks to be new floors, cabinets, appliances and such. The entrance leads into a mud room that opens to a large living room and into the kitchen/dining room. There is a tight spiral staircase leading down to a media room, bedroom and bathroom. The bathroom is outfitted with a hot steam shower that is to die for—press a button, wait 5 minutes, and then shower like normal but surrounded by pour-cleansing hot steam. I want this in our own home.
The house was set to a perfect temperature the moment we walked in. It has now been a few days and we haven’t even touched the thermostat. We have also not heard so much as the noise of a boiler or furnace. The heating is provided by a central district geothermal center. Hot water pumped out of the ground heats all of the water running through the radiators in the house.
This will definitely do for the next 9 days.
We checked into the house using the code-key given to us by the host. After unloading the car, we shed clothes, brushed teeth, and cashed on the bed for a few hours. Around 3 or 4pm we finally woke up to the setting sun. The house host has a terrific information sheet which listed nearby grocery stores among other useful tidbits. We hopped in the car and headed down the road to the biggest grocery store of the three. First, we stopped at a sporting goods store for a thicker pair of gloves for Sonya and a lighter pair for myself—trying to drive in my super thick, deep arctic-grade gloves was proving too much of a hassle.
We also needed to find a SIM card for Sonya’s iPhone. A stop into a pharmacy didn’t find anything (unlike in the States, pharmacy’s here seem to be focused mostly on health-related merchandise). A clerk in the store was at least able to tell us where to find a SIM, at a nearby shopping mall.
We hopped down the block to the Bonus grocery store and stocked up on essentials for the week. Then we drove the 10 km do the Kringlan shopping mall. This was a mall just like any other in the States, nothing to really write about. I was surprised by the number of Black Friday ads, though. In the mall were three different mobile phone stores. We stopped at the first (and most popular European brand) store, Vodaphone. In a few minutes Sonya had the SIM and calling/data plan she needed and we headed out.
We had passed a place called Icelandic Fish & Chips and decided to head their for dinner. It was on the edge of an older section of town that looked to be heavily trafficked with shops and markets, a good place to walk around afterwards. The fish & chips were quite good, with mostly local fish on the menu. Very fresh. Afterwards we walked into the market areas until we passed by the entrance to a bar called, simply enough, Micro Bar. This was on our must-visit spots since it was a craft beer joint with 10 Icelandic beers on tap. We had the full flight, 10 4-oz pours of everything on tap. We must have been tired still since it took us most of two hours to get through them. We also had a great time watching the place fill up, a mix of locals and many tourists.
Finally, we headed back to the house. After putting the groceries away we headed downstairs to watch TV for a bit. We discovered that our Netflix account worked perfectly over here without the need for a VPN service but didn’t watch much until we were tired. Time for bed.