Why not go to Iceland
This begins two years ago when I wrote, “Go to Iceland”, on a list of things to do.
It seemed a whimsical thing to look forward to. My husband and I were going to retire after thirty odd years of teaching and as the date for our final “end of term” arrived, we booked tickets on Icelandair. That conversation around the supper table went like this:
-So are we doing this or what?
-Sure, why not?
-Ok, for how long?
-Ten days, that’s our max comfort zone for being away.
-Ah well, let’s go for three weeks.
-Why not? Things aren’t going to be the same after this. Let’s break a few rules.
So we did. First rule we broke – go for more than 10 days. Second rule- go camping. We are in our fifties and don’t even camp here in Canada! We live in a National Park, so we hike hard all day, climb mountains, visit water falls and glaciers then come home to real coffee. But rules are rules, so we booked a car for the first week in Iceland then a camper van for the rest of it. We were advised that winter camping might be difficult – as in brutal weather changes and available sites that were indeed equipped with services- but we thought, why not? This wasn’t going to be a holiday or a vacation; this was a celebration of thirty years done and thirty more to come. Why not indeed?
We shuffled about the hall at Keflavik for a half an hour or so, waiting for our car rental person to arrive. They pick you up, and drive you to the lot where you fill in the paper work, inspect the car and off you go. GPS at the ready. Siri at the ready.
Read more: How to drive in Iceland
We drove into Reykjavik through a hurricane. No lie, the tail end of hurricane Matthew and the left fist of hurricane Nancy were pummeling most of Iceland – and would continue to do so, off and on for the next three weeks.
We were to experience serious veður (weather) and precocious loftslag (climate, as explained on the back of the air sickness bag on the plane). This afforded us the luxury of experiencing all four seasons in a day. Splendid!
After acquainting ourselves with the beautiful city on foot, we met up with a mutual friend for lunch. He gave us two pieces of excellent advice:
1 – Always check the weather
2 – Go where the sun is.
Needless to say, after checking the weather and drying our clothes on the towel warmer bars, we went North to Akureyri, stopping for requisite photos of sheep, rivers, foss (waterfall), plateaus ringing with gold/brass grasses, solitary churches, and homesteads so clean and well ordered they made our Atlantic coast villages look sloppy. (Which, they aren’t.)
The Ring Road, has no shoulders. Don’t forget this.
There are rest stops and pullouts where you can snap photos you your heart’s content.
In, at and around Goðafoss.
We drove the speed limit 90km, of course, and stopped when invited to by the handy road signs “something of interest”, or “rest stop” – namely a table (sometimes) in a pull out area. There are no refuse containers or toilets at these stops. Icelandic people believe that you should carry out what you carry in.
Reykjavik & The Golden circle
Because of a welcomed chain of circumstances, we found ourselves back on the road to Reykjavik a few days later (after we had taken pictures of the Aurora Borealis). We were to pick up and my cousin and her husband, as they were in town for a two day layover. That gave us time to do the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon and eat at excellent restaurants. All touristy, all something we wanted to experience, just didn’t know it then. And yes, the prices are sometimes jaw dropping, but on the plus side, the food quality is exceptional.
Reyjavik street art and storefronts are as interesting as the museums
The circumference of the Golden Circle (several out-worldly pretty and mostly free sites) was not prohibitive to drive in a day. It is windy and winding and every corner, every cloud lift every cloudburst absolutely enthralled us. It was living in that kaleidoscope of humours that allowed us the time to catch up with about twenty-five years of family histories. Together in a car for two days, in a place none of us had any “claim” to, was both, surreal and freeing. We left them after two days, at the airport. Their time in Iceland was over and our trip was just beginning.
The great meeting place, Thingvellir National Park.
Seemed appropriate to meet family there.
Camper van rental pickup
We retrieved our luggage from a storage company on the airport grounds (at departures and across the parking lot). The rental car company said our vehicle could fit four suitcases and four people but because we were staying longer than a lay over, we had bigger than carry-on luggage) and jumped a shuttle (outside the arrivals area, every 15 minutes or so) to rent.is to pick up our camper van, which we promptly named Zen, because of the license plate ZE N53. I am 53 years old, so all omens seemed accounted for. More gas from Olis, (use the key fob as a discount card and a Visa card inside the gas station to pay) a new set of eyes and a healthy appreciation for veður, we were off.
We were babes on the land, veritable skraelings… a Nordic term for the first inhabitants Nordic adventurers encountered in North America, literally their word for Inuit, “small men”. As our day became less and less about finding the right route round well marked areas, and more and more about where to eat, sleep and find water, we were reduced to elemental beings and this was perfect.
We checked the Lonely Planet for each section of Iceland and although they suggest to travel clockwise, we went counter clockwise – because of the veður and because we had already “seen” some of the west and north. The oft quoted theme of the beauty of having a camper van is that you literally choose your own journey – is all within intelligent limits. As with the ponies in Iceland, our Zen would give us as much as we gave her: if we gave her diesel, air in the tires and caution on the roads, she would deliver us safely each night to a place where we could sleep and eat and “water”.
The winter camp sites map was a good starting point, however, we found that many of sites were closed. There are two types of closed and these are my system names – closed 1 means there is no water. Seriously closed, move on. Then there is closed 2- there is no one cleaning up after you but you are welcomed to use the facilities that have running water, cooking shelters and flush toilets. There are honor boxes and a suggested price per person using the facilities is between 12 – 1600, ISK, depending on the site. Finding these sites feel like good karma, and after a day of driving and checking off site after site, heaven.
In towns, the campsites are usually found beside a golf course (usually those are closed 1), 1-5 km on the outskirts of town (these are also closed 1), in town next to the school, the pool and the biggest church. Seriously, if you can’t find the camping site sign, look for the pool. A handy location because of the inevitable “where will we shower and void ourselves” question while travelling. Some towns go so far as to put the supermarkets (in the west, s/w, n/w– Bónus, and Netto. Samkaup in the north, n/w and n/e) right there in the same area, and if the gods are truly pleased with the work you did that day, the alcohol outlet (Vínbúðin) is also close by.
Read more: What to pack for winter camping in Iceland
Spoiler alert: Alcohol can be expensive. Expect to pay 7800kr for a bottle of any hard liquor. The wine is about the same as home, and the champagne was actually cheaper.
The sheep are by turn regal and cute, regardless the weather or the price of alcohol.
Sun breaks through at Vik.
Black sand beaches! Vik pictured, but there are many, many, many drop-dead gorgeous spots like this.
We were spell bound by the faces that appeared to us as we watched icebergs float
or looked down at our feet. Everyday, the orenda (spirit) of Iceland was apparent.
Viking bird skull. (ha-ha!)
The road. It’s not what you’re sure of; it’s what you don’t know.
Akranes was delightful, from the brave sea bathers, to the colorful houses
and eclectic street art, there is much to recommend about this place.
One of the many Zen moments along the journey- perfect reflection, and a real life Zen pony!
So after 22 days – 10 Oct.- 2 Nov., we kissed our Zen goodbye, reminded Rent.is that her back right tire had been replaced in Vik (they assumed the cost) and walked back to the airport. It was a trip worth the two year wait.
Will we wait another thirty years before we return? Hardly, there are already two sets of friends eager to see Iceland. Although they won’t see it as we did, and we will not see it the same way a second time, there is the taste of Iceland’s extraordinary water in my mouth, the feel of her wind on my face and the purr of Zen’s heating battery lulling me to sleep every night.
Thanks for everything! Thanks for answering my “why/why not?” question.
Góða ferð, indeed.
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20 Road home
Read more: Travel in a camper van
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