Views from a bus – Iceland (photo-essay)

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Night 3 – chasing the Northern lights (Iceland)

Several people asked me; Where are the Northern lights? Well, it’s a natural phenomena so there isn’t a certain location, it’s about being patient and waiting. Seeing the lights depends on various factors; visibility, clarity, strength of the lights and weather conditions. I was tipped off by a local photographer that there’s a strong possibility of seeing the lights on this night, they were returning to the harbour at 9.00pm.

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Aurora Borealis (Northern lights) is visible from September to April. The locals suggest visiting between Nov-Jan, as the lights are more active and prominent during the winter months. There’s several websites where you can check the forecast and determine the possibility of seeing the lights; http://www.northernlightsiceland.com/northern-lights-forecast/ Most travellers had an app or used websites like the one I’ve provided.

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As a photographer, I had envisioned a lone farm with a rural backdrop and the Northern lights illuminating the scene, but it was not meant to be. It was spring, so the lights aren’t as active as they are in the winter months, they were so faint that me and my flat mates frantically drove around Stykkisholmur trying to find the best vantage point where there was minimal street lights. ISO at its maximum. We’d even tried to take pictures of us together, but the coastal winds kept blowing the tripod over. In photography terms, it was a disaster!

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Even though we didn’t capture the idyllic shot of the Northern lights, we were so buzzed from the fact that we witnessed it. We were out till midnight chasing the Northern lights as they danced, faded, disappeared and re-appeared across the night sky. If you’re visiting Iceland just for the lights, then you need a minimum of 7 days to do so. Tour operators across Iceland offer tours (by boat, bus or jeep) but you can go by yourself for free. Many travellers and tourists are in search of Aurora Borealis, I however happened to encounter the phenomena by chance, demonstrating the serendipitous nature of Iceland.

 

Day 1 – Downtown Reykjavik

The journey from Keflavik to Reykjavik is anything but the picturesque landscape one would imagine, here one gets the sense of hardship as the bus traverses the open road, the endless lava fields. The landscape is bleak, an endless black and beige.

What can I say about Reykjavik, well being a Welsh country girl, cities aren’t usually my scene, but Reykjavik is a ‘small city with a big heart’ (a population of 120,000 people). Situated in Downtown Reykjavik, where by day tourists flood the streets with their cameras at hand, and the coffee shops have an electric energy as people fill up on the dark elixir. As I wander through the maze of streets, I find myself in awe, in every nook and cranny there’s something quirky or endearing to be discovered. Downtown also known by its area code as 101, is an exhibition in itself, the properties, the murals and the street art. Downtown really emphasises the peoples creativity and their sense of fun. The remainder of Reykjavik is also beautiful but slightly more conservative in comparison.

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Reykjavik is the perfect starting point for any traveller, here you’ll get a glimpse of the cosmopolitan culture alongside the history, Reykjavik is a city of contrast. My advice would be to get a city card, I paid £24 GBP for 24 hours, they also have a 48 & 72 hours, this card allows you to travel on the public transport, alongside free entry to various museums and attractions, and discounts, to read the full inclusions visit the following site; http://www.visitreykjavik.is/city/reykjavik-city-card If you pay online, the card becomes active when you pick it up at the city hall, even though the card states 12am-12pm. And now you can tour Reykjavik without constantly reaching for your wallet.

Reykjavik is an expensive place, so if you’re on a budget shopping at the Bonus supermarket is the best option (Bonus also do free cups of coffee), or there’s also the hot dog stand which is open till early hours in the morning and only costs around 350 ISK (£2.50). However the high end restaurant experience is certainly a must when in Iceland, the standard of food is incredible. I however was more than happy with my blueberry Skyr and fruit platter from the supermarket (it was my first day, I didn’t want to blow all my money in the first few days). Skyr is a must in Iceland, a national favourite, the yogurt’s packed full of goodness and protein and it’s really good (it’s on my shopping list back home).

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For the first time I used Airbnb, my first experience was in Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of staying with a graphic designer Siggi, he was so welcoming and pleasant. The apartment had great views, it was clean and ideal for a lone traveller who requires a single bed. In comparison to the b&b and hotel prices, staying with the locals is a much cheaper arrangement and you get to meet locals, who can give you the best advice and knowledge of the area. You can come and go as you please, of course it’s common courtesy to respect others staying there, but I’d highly recommend this service, majority of the travellers are using it. https://www.airbnb.co.uk/s/Reykjav%C3%ADk–Iceland?guests=1&adults=1&children=0&infants=0&place_id=ChIJw-3c7rl01kgRcWDSMKIskew&ss_id=24qqwb4r&source=bb&page=1&s_tag=M7y6lbVu&allow_override%5B%5D=

I’d been travelling since 3.00am, I’d arrived at my accommodation in Reykjavik around 2pm. I should have settled into my accommodation and had a nap, but I was eager to get out exploring, I packed my backpack and headed for hafnarfjörður (20 min bus journey) with my RB67 film camera. In my delirious state, my brain incapable of proper function, I realised that my experience with the camera was somewhat rusty! Unable to direct myself around the town with a bought map, I headed back to Reykjavik. Utterly exhausted I wander around downtown with my digital camera in tow, trying to process the extent of my trip, it was an overwhelming first day. I’d returned to the accommodation by 8.30pm, I just needed to eat and sleep, as I had an early start the next morning. But the nightlife in Reykjavik is meant to be electric, by midnight the coffee shops and restaurants have closed and the clubs have opened their doors, accordingly by 1am the party’s just getting started. Here’s Reykjavik through my tired eyes;

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Good things to know before travelling Iceland – Transportation

To get from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik, there’s the Straeto buses (no 55), there’s also the flybus which costs around £22, there’s always room on the buses. There’s various operators, and the buses run in conjunction with flights, so there’s always a bus on arrival, alongside departure, the journey takes 45 minutes, and hotel drop off is also provided for an extra fee.

I anxiously wait after reading a catalogue of bad reviews, but the public transport never failed me, even in the knee deep snow in Akureyri. Read the timetables on the Straeto website, at the bottom of each timetable there’s additional information, pay attention to this because It’s usually stating the days the buses run, some buses even require booking in advance because they’re very rarely used. So if you plan ahead, and read all the info, you can’t go wrong with the service. Short trips around the city cost 440k (£3), you need the correct change as it’s dropped into the drop box. Longer journey’s, such as my 7 hour bus ride from Reykjavik to Akureyri was 10,000 ISK (£73). The buses have free wi-fi and made several stops throughout the journey, it gives you a chance to sit back and enjoy the views. http://old.straeto.is/english/plan-your-journey/schedules-and-maps

There’s also the option to fly around the country, there’s several smaller airports situated all over Iceland. The airports and flights around Iceland can be found on through the following link; https://www.isavia.is/english/airports It’s advisable to book in advance, you get flights from Reykjavik to the North (Akureyri) for £55. If you book on the day, they average from £102 – £146. The flight from Reykjavik to Akureyri takes 30mins.

Carpooling (car sharing) is a great way to help the environment, and this is a big thing in Iceland. From Akureyri to Reykjavik it was 3000 ISK (£23), compared to the price of a bus (10000). This is the most recommended website to use; http://www.samferda.net several people had tried it with success.

Car hire, if you’re not confident with driving in snow and icy conditions, then maybe avoid winter, the roads are clear in summer. In late June (21st) roads to the Westfjords and the highlands are opened (too treacherous during winter). During the winter it’s common for road closures, so there’ll be plenty of detours and exploration, things change very fast in Iceland so a road closure could be re-opened the same day. Car hire can be costly, but if there’s several people, you split the cost. Driving is the most convenient way to get around Iceland, you have the freedom to explore at your own pace.

Many travellers use the tour operators to explore Iceland, but this can be costly. Of course if you’re willing to pay, then it’s a really informative way of getting around, just bare in mind that you’re on their schedule, and usually a large group unless you book a private tour.

So here’s the options for traveling around, there are no trains or trams in Iceland.