My journey to Iceland, the Land of Ice and Fire began as most of my travels. I was browsing around the Wizz Air app one night and found cheap tickets for direct flights from Budapest to Reykjavik, the capital of the country. And then I booked them. I don’t do well when I don’t have a new journey booked into my future plans. It does not matter when the trip is going to happen, really.
The important thing is that it will happen, sometime in the future, usually in the near future, and that gives me the motivation to move on. I’m obsessed with travel, and whenever I find a cheap ticket to go somewhere new, or to Italy, and I have the money for it, that’s a done deal. Iceland is a special place and one of my bucket-list items. It was right up there with New York and Giza.
Iceland is harsh. It’s massive. Cold, damped at times, icy almost all year round. Iceland is not for everybody. Now that I am back home, Iceland might not even be for me. I love the cold but not the ice. I love the winter time but not the wind that makes your teeth hurt. Iceland is another planet. One that you can visit not with a rocket but with a $100 plane ticket from Budapest.
In this guide:
Getting to Iceland
Now Iceland is quite far from where I live. It’s actually almost half the distance from my place to New York City. That was a LONG flight. Luckily, this time it was a direct, 4-hour journey from Budapest to the capital Reykjavik, which no matter how many times you write its name, you will still get it wrong. Before my flight, I boarded my usual Timisoara to Budapest train for a $35 return.
The flight was decent. A little bumpy. I am not sure why but most of my flights now are bumpy. Is this just me or a general occurrence? Are there issues up there and they don’t tell us? Or is the alien invasion happening behind the scenes and this is just wind coming from the UFOs? Four hours passed decently, to be honest, especially with some downloaded shows for the trip.
And some 50 Cent, obviously. I holla!
The airport shuttle
The prices in Iceland are ridiculous. More about that later. It hits you right when you get to the shuttle that’s going to take you into the city. This is the most expensive bus airport transfer I’ve ever had to pay for, costing me $50 for a return. I believe Stockholm was around $40 but still, $50 for a bus ride of 45 minutes… I know. Wait for the food prices for the full shock.
Staying in a guesthouse
I don’t mind staying in guesthouses. I once slept in a Barcelona 2-bedroom apartment. That was converted into a 7-room stay. With common bathrooms and reception and a common area. Having my own 10 squared meters room in Iceland for $90 was a REALLY good deal this time. Sure, the common bathrooms were included but they were extremely clean and that’s important.
The main reason besides the price why I decided to book the guesthouse stay was the location. This place was meters away from the weird church in the middle of the Icelandic capital. Walking to the port and back took 10 minutes. The supermarket was 5 minutes away, as was the coffee shop and a decently priced restaurant. The noise was okay. Good, above average. I have no photos but if you’re interested you can find it by typing “Aurora Guesthouse Reykjavik” in any search bar.
Getting around Reykjavik
Central Reykjavik is 5 kilometres or 3,3 miles wide. That’s it. And the city looks like a village, without many tall buildings. There are no skyscrapers here but seascrapers, as the houses are very tiny and feel like they’re owned by fishermen. So in order to get around the city, simply use your legs. They work best and you will be saving a lot from not getting bus tickets.
Bus fares in the Icelandic capital are $3.40 per ride. This is almost as expensive as in Stockholm, but in Sweden, there’s also the metro. In Iceland, the underground won’t allow people to build a metro system. Because of the ice. And the fire. And dragons, possibly. Don’t quote me on that one. Busses work for quick trips. Then you walk. Get a jacket. A good one.
…the one with the Golden Circle
The very ideal way of visiting Iceland would be with a rented car. That’s if you have the time and money for it. If you’re in the country for a few days, like I was, then the best way to go about it is by buying tours. There are some operators going from Reykjavik literally across the country on half-day, full-day or multi-day tours. Anywhere you wanna go, they can take you there safely.
And for decent prices! For example in my first full day in the country, I boarded a bus at 9 in the morning and was off to do the famous Golden Circle of Iceland. This is a must and the most popular tour anyone who’s been or is planning to go to Iceland will do. During the tour, we stopped at a crater, a canyon, a waterfall, a geyser and another canyon. All for $67 or so!
My favourite? That crater, not gonna lie! Those colours, not just of the water but also of the landscape around the lake, threw me off. Surely the Gullfoss waterfall was impressive, all that water coming down, sometimes inches from your face but honestly, beauty doesn’t always have to be brutal like that to be incredible. Sometimes, all it takes is a bucket of water in a crater.
What I failed to photograph was my lunch. Which was a mushroom soup that cost me, get this, $21,41 for a carton of soup and some yesterday’s Lidl-style bread roll. The soup was good, that’s not the issue. The issue is Iceland prices things, especially cooked food like it’s about to go bankrupt tomorrow. Is food so scarce up there that they have to charge a soup 100 times its production cost?
… the one with exploring the quirky capital city
After spending 8 hours on the bus the previous day, it was only natural to take it slower the next one. Which I did and, after so many years of travel and just living, I’m glad that I did so. I start to meet and accept my limitations more and more as I grow older. Not growing colder as they say but wiser, indeed, as well as more patient and just honest with myself and what I can do or not.
My second full day in Iceland was dedicated to Reykjavik, the capital of the city. It started with an Icelandic Pokemon, a beautiful white and gold cat with blue eyes the colour of glacier ice, as well as a few hours of writing in a coffee shop. As you’re reading this, besides me blogging and having a full-time marketing job at the largest Romanian translation agency, which I love, I’m also writing a book.
It’s about writing.
That’s all I can say about it right now.
After my little 3-hour session at the cafe, which was crazy productive, I took Reykjavik on foot and experienced one of the weirdest, most intricate, small and yet vast cities I’ve ever been to. This city is pro-gay, pro-penis, pro-quirky architecture, pro-expensive everything, pro-shy locals, pro-dogs, pro-cats, pro-lobsters, pro-everything. This is great if you compare it to other cities.
As well as terrifying, if you think about the situation at home, where people are not that permissive and pro-anything. After enjoying a delicious lobster soup I paid for with a kidney, thank God for two, I visited the harbour and the city centre in the rain. And the waterfront in the wind. And then the pedestrian area in complete sunshine. Weird, that’s the best description.
… the one with the black sand beach and the plane wreck
It was day three then and a new, this time longer tour of the South Coast of Iceland, with a final stop at a plane wreck and a glacier. Our Icelandic guide had us waiting in the rain for 20 minutes in front of the spectacularly weird kirka in the centre of town. He took us to the first waterfall, see the names below the photos, and also told us about a hidden one right near the main one.
Spectacular, to say the least. Incredible how nature is so powerful, so direct, unforgiving, and almost mean. And how in front of it we once again become what we truly are, simpletons, small, unremarkable creatures with big egos that parish when a 100-meter waterfall sprays down its waters upon you. I enjoyed this grounding feeling the entire day had on me, especially by the end.
Next was my favourite waterfall I’ve ever seen not just in Iceland but anywhere. Skogafoss was its name and it was majestic. I’m sure I’m supposed to know what movies or series were filmed here but I’m not into Game of Thrones. I’m more of a Modern Family folk. Skogafoss was divine (check my Stories on Instagram for more photos, I post live from the spot). It was like looking at a piece of art made by God himself. No words could better describe it.
A few hours later we pulled up to the Black Beach, Deadly Beach, Weird-Long-Quirky-Name Beach. The rain was getting ridiculous by now so I’d only spent about 10 minutes there, on a seriously intimidating, scary, potentially lethal piece of black sand with towering walls of granite and giant spikes coming up from the sea. Sneaky waves, ready to pull you into the ocean for good, forever.
It was terrifying, I cannot lie but then, that’s the reason why you go to Iceland. You go there to meet nature in its purest, most unforgiving and unforgettable form. You’ve got everything there, from volcanoes to glaciers and from killer beaches to superb waterfalls. And a plane wreck Justin Bieber made famous, right in the middle of the windy tundra. Great for photos, and still better than Ryanair.
The last stop was at this glacier. I’m not sure if this is the larger or the smaller one of the Icelandic glaciers but it was without a doubt the highlight of my trip. This thing is alive, singing and screaming as it creaks and moves. Dropping some ice from time to time or just buzzing away for you to notice it, and have your heart skip a beat. And it is MASSIVE, impressive, making you feel small and pitiful. A surreal moment to be there, in its presence, at the end of a day I will never forget.
The ridiculous prices in Iceland
Prices in Iceland are ridiculous. It’s by far the most expensive place I’ve ever been to. If I knew I’d have done the Romanian thing and literally pack food for my 5-hour flight to eat while in the country. No joke! To pay $33 for some fish and chips and then eat shawarma for the next 3 days in a row, as that’s the cheapest thing to be eaten and not break the bank? Iceland is tough!
I get it that Iceland is an island in the middle of the ocean. I also get it that food prices are now high everywhere, for some reason. Yet I can’t be okay with ripoff. Nope. I found ways to minimize my food spending like nowhere else. Even in Sweden, where prices were high, I still felt like I got what I was paying for. There was no regret in paying $20 for a meatballs dish.
Yet in Iceland, it felt like they’d just make the prices sky high just because. For example, I paid $22 for a mushroom soup at a tourist stop, which ended up being delicious but simply ridiculously pricey. The same soup was $7 in New York City. In NEW YORK CITY! A lamb soup at the next stop was $24 but at least It had actual bread and was enough to fill me up.
The prices were decent at the supermarket. High as hell but still decent. I paid $5 for a little box of Icelandic strawberries and that became a regular thing for me to eat as dessert after dinner. And thanks God (or Allah) for the Arabian shawarma place, as they saved the day with their $17 shawarma which was delicious. Best falafel I’ve ever had anywhere, highly recommended.
Iceland is spectacularly weird. That’s the best way to describe it in a two-word phrase. The people I found to be a bit quirky. One guy stared at me while I was approaching my stay… and then just busted out laughing. That was weird. But then the whole country is like that. As spectacular and as weird as it gets. A piece of land blasted by the Atlantic Ocean’s crazy waves.
A spectacularly weird concoction of earth, air, fire and water, in the middle of nowhere.