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Iceland - The Rest


Language:  Icelandic.  Thank goodness no one here expects you to speak it.  Everything is available in English from menus to signs and your tour guide here is just as likely to be Spanish as Icelandic.


Visa: No visa required.


Vaccinations: Nothing special, although if you're a horse you will not be allowed into the country even with vaccinations (even if you were born in Iceland) to protect the unique Arctic Horse population.


Currency: The Icelandic krona - about 188 to the pound.  The Icelandic people often joke that there's not much left of it.  Because it's worth so little most people now use credit cards for every transaction, in fact if there's a transaction too small to use your credit card then it’s really not worth worrying about.  Credit cards are used for coffees, bus tickets, £1 pizzas, and you might even confuse people if you try to pay in cash!


Time zone: GMT


Safety: Food and drink are very safe here, and you can even drink Icelandic water that's been frozen since the Ice Age when you visit the local glaciers.  Generally Reykjavik feels very friendly and safe, there's even a lack of a local sex industry as everyone knows everyone, having said that there's also a lot of drinking especially in central Reykjavik which can sometimes make things feels less safe.


Most danger comes from the elements, getting too cold, being blown over, wandering off and of course some of the more physical activities.  It's also important to be careful with the hot water coming out of the taps – most of this is piped directly from the ground and so can be scalding hot (and can also tarnish silver jewellery).  If you're walking across lava or visiting volcanoes also be careful to follow paths, as this can be dangerous as it can be very sharp and also still hot, and of course keep a respectful distance from geysers.


Credit cards: Used all over the place, but always worth having a back up in case you have a problem with one.


Adaptor: Make sure you take your adaptor - outlets are European.


Flight time: 3 hours


Drinking water: The cold tap water comes direct from underground springs in most places so is perfectly safe to drink and would probably cost you $5 a glass in New York.


Packing for Iceland in the winter:  Flip flops or slippers with waterproof soles, socks (lots – not cotton), conditioner (lots), hair oil or serum (lots), energy bars, swimwear, waterproof shoes, waterproof trousers, waterproof coat with hood or good quality waterproof hat, neck gaiter, gloves (a thin pair you can operate your camera with and a thick pair of ski gloves to go over them), lots of layers (not cotton), sunglasses.  Depending on your activities it's good to get specific advice on what to wear, there's also a very helpful section on the Northern Light Inn website.  The reason for not wearing cotton is that when it gets wet, either from the outside or from sweating, cotton clothing can freeze, whereas man made fibres do a better job in this climate.  I found that two pairs of socks were just not enough when sitting in a minibus and not moving around, so maybe some more hi-tech socks would have been in order!


Getting around: Reykjavik airport is actually in Keflavik, which is nearer to Grindavik.  It's 20 minutes by bus or taxi to the Blue Lagoon, another 5-10 minutes to the Northern Light Inn and another 10 minutes drive to Grindavik town on the south coast of Iceland.  To get to Reykjavik is about 1 hour direct from the airport, but most buses will take a slight detour via the Blue Lagoon adding 5-10 minutes to the journey.  Buses to and from the Blue Lagoon run pretty much hourly throughout the day and take 45 minutes.


Once you arrive in Reykjavik you'll be pleased to know that even the public buses will drop you at your hotel door (a custom that probably comes from so much of the time being below zero), and the same goes for organised tours.


If you choose or need to walk from the bus station it doesn't take long to get around the main area (and in fact is probably a lot quicker than waiting for everyone else to be dropped at their hotels!)  The main street Laugavegur runs east to west and you just need to walk a few minutes south to get to the bus station or the famous church.


If you want to head out of Reykjavik you can use public buses, but most people hire cars or jeeps to get around.  If you are driving yourself make sure you check out all the safety aspects, and take day to day advice on any changes in the weather from either your hotel or car rental service.


The Guide: I actually got most of the information from different online sources.  If you are very keen on seeing the Northern Lights I would recommend the Bradt guide, otherwise the information page of the Northern Light Inn, and emailing hotels and tour operators directly is often the most informative way to go.  If you want help planning a trip Discover The World are the specialists but I lost patience with them when they told me certain hotels were not available but then I found I could book directly (and much more cheaply) the nights I wanted.



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