Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Planet Iceland- Day 1

29.5 hours

The day finally arrived when we reached Bangalore Airport at about 11:00 PM in late night for the flight at 1:30 AM on the 8th of September. This was a special night considering that we were kicking off our 5th year anniversary in a very memorable way.

A quick celebratory selfie at 00:00 and the boarding started soon enough.

The flight was a Malaysian Airlines to Amsterdam and in the quintessential anniversary celebration, we downed the fine wine that came along with the dinner and relaxed into the long flight after practicing the phonetic names of the places we were about to visit. Rey-kya-vik, not Rek-ya-vik we blabbered.

Just before the flight landed in Amsterdam, we were appreciating the view from above - the city was really well designed - the careful juxtaposition of the waterways and the roadways was a sight to behold. Lots of green and blue with a good sprinkling of colourful houses and spotless white wind turbines was very poetry like.


Amsterdam airport was huge - and lots of walking - and this was the entry point to Europe - the continent we were setting foot on for the first time. We had a couple of hours to kill and we had this major goal in mind - to exchange some of our Euro currency into Icelandic currency - and we found one of the Banks which advertised the currency exchange. After a brief wait in the queue, we exchanged some of our Euros into Icelandic currency - only to realise later that the exchange was at a terrible rate - it dawned on us later that when currency A is exchanged for B, you get the best value when A is not the common currency - essentially do not give Euro for any currency in a place where there is already lot of Euro - we should have exchanged Euro in Iceland and not in Amsterdam. 

This was also the time to ensure the new credit card that we signed up for actually worked outside India - so a quick testing of the contactless feature to buy some sandwich and coffee gave us a lot of relief apart from filling our tummies. Found out that Holland and Netherlands are pretty much the same after studying some memorabilia in the airport. While walking around the airport aimlessly, we visited an open garden - and that is where we got the first sense of the chill in the wind ! Soon it was time to catch the next flight - Anniversary was still on !

The next flight was Iceland Air and KEF was just 2 hours away now. We were hoping to see amazing landscapes before landing at KEF, but realised later that KEF was right at the shore - so, ocean ocean all along and suddenly the flight lands in KEF. It was 3:10 PM.

We held our hands and congratulated each other on successfully landing in the land of our dreams - Iceland was finally here, well, Iceland was where it was always, we were here now ! and that too on our Anniversary. It was super windy and raining and cold and ultra gloomy, but hey, it was Iceland !


We quickly used the Airport free WiFi to call back home to let them know we were still alive and kicking. Then back to planning - two SIMs, finish the formalities and pick up the rental car, settle down in the car and get set. We'd pre-booked the rental car (Hertz) - and on the advice of several blogs also picked up the GPS and WiFi in the car. The two SIMs for each of our phones was very interesting - the prepaid pack was (a) shit costly and (b) had only like 2 GB limit ! I couldn't help but think of how dirt cheap internet is so important to a country - in India we hardly have such limits and it costs next to nothing. Anyway we went to the parking section of the Airport and loaded the KIA - this was two things different - (a) Left-hand-drive and (b) Automatic - so we quickly took multiple rounds within the Airport to comfort ourselves. The one thing that was really troublesome for us was the rear-view window - somehow the muscular memory could ever look on the right side to view the rear-view ! But you get adjusted to the situation much faster than you expect when there's an adrenaline rush.

Our AirBnB at Reykjanesbaer was a quick 10 minute drive from the Airport, in Keflavik - we had chosen this place in order not to drive around a lot on the very first day considering the jet-lag and adjusting to the opposite driving direction.

Gulli (Guðlaugur) was the name of our host and going by the zesty name, we were expecting a fun loving cheerful young lady who turned out to be a really warm 6.5 foot gentleman in his late 70s. Our room / cabin was the basement and it was arranged so well - and was so warm. In most hotels in India, on the towel, there's a small Hamam or Mysore Sandal Soap placed on it - but here in Iceland, the very similar looking bar on top of the fresh towel was not a soap but yummy white Chocolate ! :)


Upon noticing the washing machine in the corner, we immediately proceeded to wash our travel wear - but there was only one problem ! The machine had all modes and measurements in German !

Google Translate quickly helped us understand the various modes and the clothes were getting washed. We wanted to quickly pack and plan for the next day and decided to go to the super market to get some staples. We drove around the small town which was by now practically empty - we visited Netto and bought some eggs, vegetables and a slice of brown bread.


By now, we had decided that our longest Anniversary was to be celebrated outside - so we searched around for places to dine - while most places were closed by 6:00 PM, there was this one quaint little cafe which was open. We ordered a hot-chocolate and a vegetarian dish called Hekla !


Hekla was this wonderful combination of sweet-potatoes, mushrooms, tofu and veggies in a brown sauce - it was the perfect way to end our longest anniversary of 24 + 5.5 hours.

We headed back to the BnB after the sumptuous dinner and again used Translate to open the german washing machine. Quickly repacked clothes and planned to leave early next day at 7:30 AM. The jet-lag exhaustion, the warm meal and the warm BnB helped calm the adrenaline and we were in deep sleep within minutes. 

The 29.5 hour anniversary finally came to an end.

Planet Iceland - The beginning

This travelogue has been on my mind from the time I was back from a magical and strange land but it took me almost a year to get my mind back on track into writing about this epic trip before it remains ONLY in my memory. For the initial few months after the trip I kept admiring the pictures but later, my mind itched to write and words just wouldn't flow. I wasn't sure, what to write and how to explain about a trip which definitely was a dream which we had ( my husband and I) had worked on, so that it comes true. Iceland, as a travel destination was NEVER on my list. In fact I hardly knew about this place unless I was forced to see various pictures and videos of the Northern lights, which can also be seen in Iceland. just like other countries close to the Arctic belt. 

So, what is it that made me come out of the phase of procrastination?????

Well...... it was a little bit , a lot of push from my partner, an old blog post surfacing up and a promise that I had made to a little someone. 

It was one of own my older blog posts( Living our dreams together on Valentine's Day), where I had to imagine a situation where I had been granted a wish of my choice for Valentine's Day 2015 and how I would utilise that wish to make it special for my partner. Back in 2014 and 2015, it was only and only Iceland that was on my husband's mind whose photographic and explorative eye exclusively wanted to go to places which are unique and are filled with natural wonders. I was quite a novice in travel planning 4-5 years back so, for me it was easier to imagine and write about Iceland, than to attempt planning for the trip or even thinking about executing it. I did a lot of research and compiled a beautiful post for Valentine's Day, won accolades for it and even forgot about the content after a while. The irony here is that, in reality, I never showed it to the Valentine for whom I had written the above travelogue conjured completely out of my imagination. 

2-3 years post that we both sat down to reconsider if we could plan a trip to Iceland in November. We discussed extensively with our travel planners( Pick Your Trail) and were about to book tickets when we suddenly dropped the plan and changed our destination. Going to Iceland in November( one of the core winter months) had its own challenges. The only advantage of going during that was longer and darker nights which increased the chances of sighting the Northern Lights. After a careful risk and benefit analysis,  my husband dropped this plan with a heavy heart. That's how New Zealand happened and that place washed all the gloomy feelings away. We stopped discussing about Iceland and decided to leave it to time. After a gap of 2 and half years, (late 2018) again my husband brought up this crazy idea of going to Iceland during winter. After being with him for almost 5 years now, I had gotten used to contradicting his statements which did not seem to be serious. I told him to not waste time thinking about a plan which was not going to work out. He took a week's time but meanwhile he had already done his background work. He was not just planning but serious about executing the trip this time. He started considering September as a good time to go to Iceland instead. Now, this seemed reasonable to me and if we planned well we could also make our 5th anniversary special. And, that's how it all began.

Thanks to Pick Your Trail for helping us create a trip itinerary keeping in mind our interests and giving us the flexibility of choosing our hotels and suggesting what could be done when we are in Iceland. They also created a WhatsApp group chat with constant day-to-day reminders so that we could not miss out on anything important. Oncet the flight tickets were sorted we went ahead and got the VISA done. We chose a mixture of Airbnb and hotel/ motel like set-up for the trip which could match with the other activities in our itinerary. We had to do this part by ourselves , which was a good learning experience , especially when we were applying for a Schengen visa. Our challenge was to pack smart, as the airlines had told us that only one baggage per person would only be allowed for check-in and we could just carry a minimal weight in our cabin luggage. We made a list of the items and even the number of clothes that we exactly needed for trip and kept everything accordingly. Decathlon was our go to place for shopping regular travel wear and also the winter+water-resistant wear. We had some thin fleece jackets and woollens which we could use as layers below the thick jackets. Layering was the key, as we had read in many websites and blogs. The weather could be a mixture of rain+ wind+sun as September was a mid-way time between the summer and rainy months and the beginning of winter in Iceland. Seeing many blogs mention more about the rain being persistent during this month, made us feel a little irritated as we had to even carry rain jackets. We did not have any specific water-proof shoots etc, but a pair of good sturdy shoes from Decathlon each and open sandals were what we had kept along with multiple pairs of socks. I wanted to flaunt a lot of beautiful t-shirts that I had but after going to Iceland, I ended up mostly in one jacket which was the go-to outer wear clothing for the maximum part of the trip. This probably was a good decision because packing minimal helped us manage our clothes better, we could carry stuff while coming back without increasing our luggage weight and we managed to wash our clothes in most of the places where we stayed. Gloves, jackets, sunscreen, medicines, shoes, socks, t-shirts, water-resistant/comfortable pants, grocery items like rice, poha, Maggie, instant soup/noodles, spices, etc with a very useful and multipurpose lightweight, microwave safe plastic cooker and light weight re-usable cutlery and tiffin boxes. The microwave-safe cooker was the best investment we had made for the trip as cooking a on-pot meal was quick and easy for us. Being lacto-ovo-vegetarians we we able to adjust to eggs, dairy and bread but it would not help us sustain for a one week in Iceland as we both love our food and cannot manage by having just soups and salads apart from eggs. So, these hacks saved us the trouble of hunting for vegan/vegetarian food in Iceland. We did our bit of research about what we could purchase after going there from Supermarkets and also utilise what we had got with us. Packaging of food items that we got from Nilgiris was good enough to even withstand the in-transit air pressure. These were some of the go-to places for grocery shopping that we banked on during our trip : Nettó, Krónan and Bónus. This website : Guide to Iceland, gave us most of the relevant info related to trip. Keeping Google Translate handy in our mobile which could convert Icelandic to English and vice-versa helped us to prepare well for the trip by learning to pronounce some basic names of places in Icelandic. Having heard that the language is tough, we practiced spelling and understanding few Icelandic words while we were sitting at the airport waiting to board the flight. Overall, these small key points made us feel a lot better during the trip. The rest what we did was based on everyday's exploration which will unfold in the upcoming blog posts.