Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Iceland Chronicles - Afternotes

So what did we experience the last two weeks"

  • 1 Geyser (which was not the actual geysir but a fake one a little on the side)1-2 Minke whales
  • 2 white tailed eagles (do you see those little white dots on the rock? no! well those are eagles)
  • 4 boat round trips (one on an amphibian vehicle)
  • few glaciers
  • ~2860 km of roads (thats a bit more than 200 km per day)
  • ~64.8 hrs of driving according to the car's computer (and thats a bit more than 4.5 hrs of driving per day)
  • hundreds of waterfalls
  • 6033 Camera clicks (about 430 per day, or one every 3.3 min on average)
  • Millions of sheep, horses, puffins, and seabirds, and also some cows.
  • Very few people (outside of Reykjavik)

Some lessons about Iceland


The roads in Iceland are usually two lane roads. Most of the drive they were paved, with a center separator line. If they were in real good condition they also had margin lines. We did drive quite a few gravel roads, which usually were in reasonable shape. Although, we did experience few really annoying ones. These rattled every part of the RV and sometimes it felt that our teeth are getting loose.

The roads are almost always elevated. This is probably due to the large amount of water in the winter. This, however, means that there are no margins to pull over to. There are parking spots every once in a while, but it took us a while to get used to the fact that we can just stop on the road if something really interesting was happening (as long as we were visible for afar.

Unlike the popular myth, there are many roads aside from the #1 ring road. However, the ring road was a dominant feature in our trip.

Some of the gravel roads were single lane. This means that you have to make sure to see if a car is coming the opposite direction. In such a situation one of the cars pulls off to side, either on the road if it is slightly wider than a single lane, or if it is narrow, there are special bays (marked by a big M) alternating on the side of the road.

Similarly, most bridges (and there are many) are single lane. Again, the right of way is not pre-defined, but rather first come first go. Most of the time it was not an issue as we came to the bridge with clear view of empty road on the other side.

Outside the Reykjavik area, we didn't see real traffic. We never felt totally alone on the roads, but cars were far apart.


We found navigation pretty easy. The signs on the road were clear and helpful. All points of interest were marked by signs on the road, so we never were in a situation where we missed an place. The maps in the books were usually sufficient to navigate on our trip (I guess going on the rougher inland roads requires better maps).

People at Tourist Information desks were very useful and nice. Many places had "Information" signs that provided the main information one might need (map of the area, location of services (hotels/restaurants/camps/gas stations) and attractions.

We had two guides. The roughtraveler and the globetrotter. We never used either series before. The rough traveler was more informative and provided site by site story on every possible stopping point on the way. This was nice, and often useful. However, it was also hard to distinguish worthwhile stops from all the rest. The Globetrotter was the opposite. It was conciser and had star ranking for every place. I don't necessarily agree with the ranking, but it gave a sense of where the points of interest that we should consider are.

Camping grounds:

The camps we stayed in fall into two main categories. The ones in the obvious places in national parks or major cities. The others were from a printout of a list of campgrounds that we found in the car (it was not clear if the rental company left it, or some previous travelers). This list ranked campgrounds by a star system and also had detailed list of facilities in each. These were often off the main road or somewhere between cities.

In general, we never had problem finding a place to camp (except one situation I described in an earlier entry). Most of the camps were reasonably good. Few issues. First, the showers were not always as good as one might expect. Some campgrounds had coin operated showers, which were surprisingly good. Others had "free" showers. The differences were usually due to the state of the facility, the amount of hot water, and also the number of showers. For example, in Hofn, there were three showers in a camp with several hundred visitors.

Most camp grounds did not have "private" areas. But some had lines of young trees separating different plots, and so there was some sense of isolation. We usually did not have our own table+benches. However, many camps had central kitchens where you could cook and also sit and eat. In the cities this area was often too busy to use. Since we had an RV we usually ended eating inside.

Costs & Stores:

Everything in Iceland is expensive. Very quickly we stopped converting to avoid being shocked at the prices. A stay in a camp can cost around 1000 ISK /person and 500-800 ISK for electricity.

In some places teens were half prices, and in many they were free (the fact that Lior was 15 got her free tickets in many museums and attractions and in few places Roy who was under 18 also counted as youth).

The selection in stores in Iceland was limited compared to what we know. For example, we never found parmesan cheese, a common stable in many places. However, we never felt that we didn't have anything to eat. The vegetables (as well as most of the other food items) were all imported and pricy. There were few supermarket chains that we found almost in every large town. In every gas station there was a small market with essentials. Basically, we didn't feel that we would be out of food, although we did stock up initially.

There were several icelandic cloth brands (the most heavily advertised is 66 North) which seem to be well made, but very expensive. As you might expect, the production of few items I checked was actually in the far east...

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