Iceland Adventure Day 2

Today, the real adventure begins.

Our flight to Iceland was not until 1.20pm in the afternoon. We got up early and had a fulfilling American style breakfast at Mad Restaurant. We needed to have a heavy breakfast because we decided to skip lunch and have a nice dinner instead upon arrival in Reykjavik, Iceland. As we ate, we planned on what we had to do upon arrival in the capital, before actually starting our road trip. Since we won’t be collecting our car till the following morning, we would have time to explore the city of Reykjavik and do some grocery shopping, stocking up on food for our road trip.
We headed back to our hostel, packed our luggage and prepared to check out of our hostel just before noon. My only regret was not being able to spend more time there, especially using that time to mingle with the other visitors and backpackers in the hostel, chilling in the lounge area, and finding out what other people were cooking up in the kitchens. The hostel fondly reminded me of the old days during my backpacking trip. Gosh I am getting old. Who knew, we could make a friend or two there if we stayed there for a couple more days.
As we arrived at the airport, we immediately checked in. Checked luggage weight restriction imposed by Iceland Air is 23kg per checked luggage. This is less generous than Singapore Airlines’s 30kg. But it wasn’t a problem for us. All of our huge luggage barely eked out 20kg each. Check-in was swift, as we did it ourselves using the self check-in terminal. All we simply had to do was loop our luggage tags around our luggage handles and hand over the luggage to the staff manning the conveyor belts. Once we were relieved of the burden, we calmly went through security and took our time to explore the transit area of Copenhagen Airport.
The transit area of Copenhagen Airport is quite nice. It’s not that big, but big enough to ensure that you are well occupied in terms of shopping and dining instead of being bored with nothing to do. They have a great selection of dining options, and had some interesting boutique shops selling interesting things from local brand names. Dark parquet furnishings covered the entire floorspace of the airport that softens the harsh concrete and steel facade. After exploring the airport to our heart’s content, we headed to our gate, where our plane awaited. This is the first time that all of us would board the plane of Iceland’s flagship carrier, Iceland Air.

Copenhagen Airport
It was a fairly short hop. Three hours from Copenhagen to Reykjavik. We knew that meals were not served onboard and comes at a premium, so we didn’t order any. I did not expect that there would be personal in-flight entertainment onboard the plane. Iceland Air exceeded all expectations. The screens behind each seat were large and in high resolution. Interacting with the entertainment system was done by touch. The screen itself is a touchscreen interface. The plane is fairly new, very clean. The seats, flushed leather, was wide. However, the legroom leaves something to be desired. It was not a big deal, as it was just a three hour journey. The cabin crews were polite and professional, which I appreciated very much. I realised much later that each and every Iceland Air plane had a name. The plane that we boarded was Hengill, named after a volcano on the southwest of Iceland. Neat.

3 hour flight to Iceland.

Didn’t take long before we see land.
Once we landed, we collected our luggage and headed out. We were informed earlier that someone would be there to pick us up. Someone with my name on a placard. I scanned the throng of people waiting just outside the doors, past the immigration checkpoint and managed to spot a man with my name on it. I approached him and he welcomed us to Iceland. As we exited the airport, and to his car (a Mercedes taxi to be precise, very posh), the first thing I realised was the immediate landscape. It was white! Everything was white! Snow everywhere. Packed snow grounded noisily beneath my shoes as I walked. It was truly the first time travelling to a country that has snow everywhere. I initially had a hard time walking, but I trudge my way forward nonetheless and soon found solid footing. I realised that I made the right decision in switching my pair of leather shoes to a pair of waterproof hiking boots. It made walking on slick ice and snow much easier.
The drive to our hotel took 45 minutes. We soon realized that it is conveniently located close to Laugavegur, a popular shopping street with lots of souvenir shops, fancy restaurants, clothing boutique stores, grocery stores, bars and pubs. Nordic Visitor certainly has chosen a very good location for our first night’s stay. Upon arrival, the taxi driver gave us a welcome package from Nordic Visitor, containing a folio. The folio is printed with the company logo, and in it contained a personal welcome letter, signed by our tour agent who arranged everything for us, our reservation vouchers for all our accommodation and outdoor activities, customized itinerary, a huge foldable travel map, meticulously annotated by hand by the man himself, a road trip guide book, and an emergency phone with credit and emergency numbers on speed dial. Colour me impressed. They not only value you as a tourist and a customer, but also value your safety while you are out there driving. That is how you treat your customers, with care and respect.

Our welcome package complete with personal letter signed by the travel agent himself. That’s him with his business card on the bottom left.

Our map, handwritten annotations by the man himself. Such effort!
We got ourselves settled, admiring the cosy rooms that the hotel allocated to us. We headed out to the main street of Laugavegur, did a little bit of grocery shopping, and finally, finding a fancy little restaurant where can splurge for dinner, celebrating the momentous occasion of arriving in Iceland safely.

Our first accommodation.
To view more photos, click here.
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Iceland Adventure Day 0

Planning for this Grand Adventure began more than 6 months ago.

Back then, we were throwing around ideas on our next big holiday. The Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Greenland) often came up during our almost weekly discussions over dinner meet ups. At that point of time, we weren’t very keen due to the costs involved, but after exploring other viable options and seeing them as neither attractive nor interesting, it started to become clear that we might eventually end up there for our next adventure. One of the main reasons why we chose that region of the world was the chance to see the Northern Lights. We all agreed that seeing the Northern Lights has always been in our bucket list. Sweden, Norway, and Finland were prime candidates to see such a magical event. We also decided to do a road trip in one of those countries, renting a car and just driving from town to town, soaking in the beautiful sights and natural wonders that these nordic countries had to offer. But to drive during winter can be a little bit of a challenge in those countries. Short daylight hours in the northernmost part of those countries weren’t ideal for a road trip. Plummeting freezing temperatures were another issue. And simply chasing Northern Lights alone at the expense of everything else would not make our trip enjoyable in the long run. Furthermore, these countries are huge. It is simply too vast of a distance to cover thoroughly by car, especially when travelling a circuitous route to end up where you began.

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Signalling all those concerns, Iceland quickly fell into our sight. And so, in the subsequent weeks, we began researching more about Iceland and what it had to offer. The more we researched, the more we were satisfied that Iceland might meet our holiday “objectives”. And those objectives were to see the Northern Lights, go on a road trip during winter, and experience the Nordic climate during our stay without much logistical challenges. The primary goal however, was to experience something out of this world. To come back with memories worth sharing, and cherishing it for years to come.

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Going on a road trip means renting a car, planning our route and staying at guesthouses, hotels, or farmstays at different parts of country. We decided to make our lives a little simpler. We approached Nordic Visitor, a very reputable tour agency to help us plan our adventure based on what we want to do and where we want to go. We chose a simple 10-day self-drive tour package with some customisations on our own. In the package, they would provide the rented car, help us book all the accommodations, issue a printed itinerary, a comprehensive travel map, an emergency phone, a 24-hour hotline and even include personal pickup and drop-off at the airport and our first accommodation. Everything would be arranged for us in the most professional way. What really drew us to Nordic Visitor was the ability to truly customise the itinerary to fit us. We planned to travel around Iceland for 13 days and do a couple of outdoor activities. Nordic visitor was generous enough to modify the original itinerary to suit us and they did it all without fuss, adding a couple of days stay here and there during our stay, helping us book our glacier and ice-cave tours with the outdoor tour companies well in advance. Everything was sorted through email and they were professional and prompt in their responses to any queries we had prior to committing to the tour.

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And soon we realise it was just a month before our grand adventure would begin. Four weeks became three. Three became two. Packing lists were created, insurances bought, flights finalised, camera gear checked and ready to shoot. Passports ready. All of a sudden, in a blink of an eye, in the midst of all the preparation and the anticipation, it was time for us to go.