In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Getting to Iceland

One of the clenching factors for traveling to Iceland was the low cost that was associated with getting there and staying there. We knew that we couldn't budget too much for this trip. We did a little searching, and found that Iceland Air has a direct flight from Minneapolis (Humphrey Terminal) to Reykjavik that was $800. The flight was 6 hours, and went overnight. We mainly slept, read, or watched personal screens on the plane (they were installed in the seats). As I mentioned earlier, there were some chatty folks on the plane that didn't seem to know when others wanted to sleep. I still got a little shut-eye.

Before we went, I also a little time researching where we would stay. In the past, I've used sites like Venere to find housing, with some success. I think it worked best on our trip to Italy a few years ago. There wasn't much listed in Iceland, so I had to strike out on my own. I found the web site of the Icelandic Tourist Board, which had some helpful information.

I also looked at Gay Iceland, which turned out to be the most helpful site of any that I looked at. It had nice, short articles about Reykjavik and Iceland. Some stuff was gay-specific, but it also had helpful tips. It listed a small handful of hotels and guest houses. I went through to compare prices and stumbled upon the House of the Spirits Guest House. It was a fairly simple web site (set up through Geocities, so I expect it to change soon). However, I found that their prices were the lowest of any of the other places I looked. I learned later that this is a fairly simple operation. It's a side business for a processor of Icelandic language and literature and a student of architecture. Because of that, they do not have any on-line booking capability.

I emailed the proprietor, Gunnar ├×orsteinn Halld├│rsson, about availability. He emailed back very quickly to tell me that there was a two-bedroom apartment available. He also quoted me a price in Icelandic Krona, Euros, and US Dollars. He then told me that the krona price is set, but the Euros and US Dollars were in flux because of the exchange rate. He said that the dollar quote he gave me could be lower but would never be higher than what he quoted. I googled the exchange rate, and the exchange price was really about $600 less than what he quoted.

We also saved money because Gunnar was also a licenced tour guide who could take us on excursions. He only charged one flat rate for a trip, for anywhere from one to seven people. Since we had four, it was a good deal for us to go with him, as opposed to the bigger tour buses. I also like getting a more personalized tour than what a tour bus can give.

Eventually, we decided to get three tours with Gunnar. The first was a 2-3 hour tour around Reykjavik. The second was an 8-hour trip around the Golden Circle. The third was a 10-hour trip to the south coast. I'll describe these all in more detail in later postings.

Finding these good prices really sealed the deal for us.

To see more of the House of the Spirits Guest House:
The exterior of our guest house:





The back courtyard was nice too:






We had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen (where we ate some of our meals to help bring the cost down), and a "sitting area":



That is our host, Gunnar, standing in the middle of my family.



Why Iceland?

One little fantasy of mine would be to be a travel writer. Basically, I want to go on trips and share my experiences with people. I don't think this dream will ever really come true. My gifts lie elsewhere. I like my job and my life. My writing would have to improve quite a bit. All good reasons that this can remain a hobby and not my most desired future.

However, every time we travel, or I read the travel section in the newspaper, I think how great it would be to be sent around the world to write about my experiences on the road and in the air.

My mother has already started on this. Her blog started because she was sending us these long emails with detailed descriptions about her travels for work. Eventually, she decided that it would be better to create a blog where we could all read her adventures at once. That's how I Wonder as I Wander was born.

So, I'm going to try my hand at this. The next few posts are going to be about our trip. I'll include recommendations. I'll tell you where we went and try to include links, if possible. Richard took some amazing photos, so I'll use those to try to show what Iceland is like, and why I think that you should go there.

The first post that I'll put up there addresses the question that I was asked first when I told people that I was taking a trip to Iceland. "Why Iceland?" I don't think that most people know anything about Iceland. I've heard from folks that only Eskimos live there. I've heard that it is frozen all year long. Both of these are untrue.

Richard and I, and also my family, have been wanting to take a trip for a while. At one time, it was going to be a family trip to Norway and Sweden. The birth of my new niece (NAOMI!!! Did you see her photos earlier? She's fabulous!) put a halt on that trip. We want to go as a whole family, and it didn't seem practical to travel with a newborn. We had also discussed India and Thailand. In fact, we had researched Thailand for a while, until news came out about the riots and civil unrest that is happening with the government. That put a hold on that trip.

Iceland really came up when I was reading an article about the global financial crisis. Iceland got very big into banking and has suffered perhaps the worst collapse in the world (much worse than in the US). Because of the financial crisis, the prices that once made this country prohibitively expensive was a lot more reasonable. Iceland was a lot like the other Scandinavian countries...expensive. But the collapse brought prices down to a level that made the country more attractive for people like me (not loaded with money).

We combined the low prices with the fact that Iceland is a natural wonder. The land is formed because two tectonic plates in the Atlantic ocean, the North American and European plates, are diverging (pulling away from one another). Iceland is being pulled apart from the middle and getting longer by the year.

The country also has an abundance of waterfalls, geysers, and glaciers. At one time, when we were reading about the glaciers and waterfalls, we wondered if this would be similar to Alaska. We went to Alaska as a family in 2007, and liked it. One friend who went there told me that it is not like Alaksa, but it feels more like Mars. The country is covered with volcanic rock that is black and jagged and just litters the landscape. There are hardly any trees to speak of. People tend to make a lot of art out of the rocks.

So, we went because the price was right, and the more we heard about it, the more interested we were getting. However, here is the other part. This is probably the more important part:

We (I) wanted to go to Iceland, precisely because it was a destination that people didn't think about. I'm not interested in a pre-packaged tour that let's me off the bus long enough to snap a photo of the most famous monument and head on to the next place. We wanted to go somewhere that would make people wonder what's in this strange land.

I'm a fan of Rick Steves, and I like his philosophy on travel. He tells you that you need to get away from the beaten path to really discover a country. I feel that the same has to do with your choice of a destination. Of course, you want to see the major cities and countries. London and Paris are beautiful. However, you need to get to those places that are just off your radar. That's why we chose Iceland. It was somewhere that really stretched us.

A few other fun facts about Iceland:
  • Because of the economic crisis, they have elected a new governement, which includes a Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, who is a lesbian. She is the first openly gay head of state in the world.
  • Iceland is the only country in the world that alphabetizes people by first name (like in the phone book). Everyone has a first name, but the last name is the father's name with -son or -dottir on the end. You are names as the son or daughter of your father.
  • The hot springs make great public swimming pools. I'll say more on this later.
  • We went in June, which means that there are 21 hours of day light. I wondered if that would be a problem, but we loved it. This photo was taken out our guest house window at about midnight.

That's all I'll say now. My next post will talk about getting to Iceland.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

In Iceland

We made it!

It was a six-hour flight that went overnight. Before we started, I commented that I wondered if it would be worse to have teenagers or senior citizens on the plane with me. I learned that senior citizens are worse, because teenagers just put in their iPod and SHUT UP! The women behind me talked with their screechy voices for the ENTIRE trip! I even had ear plugs in, and they could cut through all that. At one time, one lady was trying to calculate how fast we were going. After doing a lot of division, she concluded that we were going 45 miles per hour. Hmnph.

We got to our guesthouse. It was pretty early, so the people before us hadn't moved out. We waited on the street for a while, but eventually our host opened the door (someone had to go and wake him up!). He held our luggage while we walked around the center of the city.

I was hoping to make it through today without a nap, but I finally caved in and took one. Everyone else is dozing, but I think we should get our city tour now. I might go and see if our host can take us now.

I'll try to post more later. The internet is slow, so it takes a while to get to this page. Hopefully, we'll have some photos too!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Run-Up

I think that the days leading up to a major trip are so incredibly stressful. I want to make sure that things go OK while I'm gone, so I'm trying to attend to every little detail...and not doing a very good job of it.

My work has a lot going on, so I'm trying to make sure that everyone knows what they need to know.

I still have a couple of things to do to complete the MBA program. I don't think it's going to be done before I leave.

I'm "sort of" packed. We go through this debate about packing/wearing nice clothes or just packing clothes that you can throw away at the end of the trip. I'm not wearing really grubby clothes, but I am wearing some stuff that went out of fashion a while ago (probably before I even bought them).

My family is here, and we are getting ourselves excited for the trip. However, our to-do list is quite long.

What I like is that when I leave for the vacation, my mind goes away from all the stuff that I'm supposed to be worrying about. Then I can truly relax.

I'll try to post some updates and photos here!