Whales have turned from a mass of useful blabber into Hollywood stars within 50 or so years and every tourist outlet with access to the ocean around the world claims to have the ticket to their shows. Well, be aware that this adventure might turn your guts out if you have problems with your balance apparatus (located in your ears). The Reykjavik experience is an example that offers food for thought for the folks who are less sea-worthy than others simply because the performance is of dubious quality. First, you are in a rather large boat which by definition puts you away from the animals through size and menacing presence. Secondly what is in on offer in the "Smoky Bay" are mink whales which are small in size and do not jump out of the water as advertised on the brochure (they have the wrong whale there too). And thirdly weighing up the previous two against the possibility to vomit your precious juices in offering to the sea gods, makes the whole excursion not worthwhile.
On the 4th of June 2010 was the first time that we got a big volcanic ash cloud reaching Reykjavík. There had been some volcanic ash before blowing from Eyjafjallajökull, but on this day it was foggy outside and the airborne particles were way above health-limits reaching as high as ca 1.100 in some areas (50 being the health-limit). So people with asthma had to stay in.
My balcony was black from the ash and there was a thin layer of ash in my kitchen.
If the wind blows from the east (from where Eyjafjallajökull is situated) then we can expect this kind of situation here in Reykjavík this summer. This is annoying but nothing compared to what the farmers near Eyjafjallajökull have had to endure.
In 2012 we still get days in Reykjavík like this, especiallly during a drought.
During wintertime, which lasts from October until end of April, we can get a lot of snow. For the past 10 years though winters in Reykjavík have been milder than before, due to Global warming, or whatever. But the winter of 2011 gave us a LOT of snow, reminding me of my childhood when there was snow for 7-8 months a year.
It doesn´t get very cold here in Reykjavík, ranging for plus numbers and -10 degrees C. So when there has been a lot of snow and then we get thaw we need to beware of icicles and snowbanks falling from the roofs of houses. This is ever so dangerous, and on several occasions I have had snowbanks falling right in front of my face. Icicles are worse, they can kill people. So during thaw never walk close to houses, which is especially difficult down-town and in the west-part of old Reykjavík, where side-walks have not been cleared and it is either walking on the street (not very popular) or constantly looking up and trying to stay on the left side of the side-walk.
First of all the mildest warning: if you have planned to stay even a few days in Iceland and want to see around, it is worth the money to rent a car. (We rented it beforehand via Internet and it was not expensive). Namely the taxi from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik city centre costs 70-80 euros per one direction! (There are bus connections too, much cheaper).
Danger: Bear in mind that if you have any kind of (big or small) usual family car, don't ever enter to any road with road number having the letter "H" in front of the road number. That means a mountain road or otherwise a special road where only 4-wheel-drive Jeeps or preferably bigger cars can make it. In these roads one might see a traffic sign meaning that "river ahead, no bridge". So drive on to the water...
Also, there might be lots of holes, slippery gravel, rugged terrain, soft soil with only the marks of car wheels marking the "road". Sometimes, depending on the season, the glacial water (melting ice) may have swept away whole parts of the road.
You'll be totally safe when driving paved roads and the main gravel roads (in good condition). As a basic rule you can take the fact that all the red roads in the map are safe to drive and no surprises occur.
Remember to have a proper map - in Iceland it is your life insurance too.
About speeding: it is told that if the police catches you from overspeeding, depending on the case it can cost you starting from 1900 euros and up. Often they claim the payment immediately.
Alcohol: absolutely not allowed when driving. Don't take even that one small beer with your lunch - as if the police smells and notices it, it is going to be very expensive -again! And you might face some other concequences too.
We were told by the Duty Free staff INSIDE Keflavik airport that it is OK to purchase fluids/liquid food items and hand-carry them back to N.America; however, take heed that this is NOT TRUE!! If you are transiting via U.S., the U.S. Customs will confiscate your goods when the fluid limit of 100mL has been exceeded.
U.S. Customs mentioned to us that they had encountered numerous cases whereby travellers coming from Iceland have been told it is OK to have Duty Free fluid/liquid purchases as carry-on, but in fact, IT IS NOT OK. Even duty-free wine and beverages will be confiscated. You should check-in this items.
I guess this applies to any country and transiting via U.S., but it was a frustrating experience for us, because it happened whilst at the Iceland Duty Free. If their staff did not give us mis-informed information, we would not have purpchased anything there. We felt that they were saying just ANYTHING to make a sale. We did write a complaint to Duty Free.
Here's an excerpt from an email I sent to some family and friends on April 19, 2007:
"So, I´m walking down the street last night in Reykjavik when I see
this small stream of piping hot water flowing down one of the main
shopping and eating streets. I follow the water and it leads me to a
camera crew and some police who have roped off an intersection that
has the rotten eggs smell of sulfur in the air. Steam is rising in a
more concentrated cloud a few meters up a cross-street and I realize
that it´s some sort of geo-thermal blowhole that´s somehow forced its
way through the cement and is now trickling through the
pedestrian-filled streets. Welcome to Reykjavik where the women are
fine, the people are hearty and the prices are so high, I can´t stay
Driving in Iceland can be a bit of a challenge- especially if you are not used to drive when it is icy or snowing. Already Reykjavik is full of veeeery big 4 WD cars with enormous tyres, and this for a reason. I had a little Toyota Yaris and was envious :). At least it had spike tyres. In the countryside it can happen, that you end up in a snow covered, icy road full of holes or stones. I almost landed in the ditch because I had not seen the bounding of the road in the snow storm. The other thing is, that the weather changes all the time- within an hour you can have sunshine, rain, strong winds, ice rain and a snow storm. So, be careful.
Iceland is unfortunately not a low budget destination. Especially the prices for eating out are relatively high- I would say you have to pay 3 or 4 times as much as in central Europe. So, if you want to enjoy at least a 3-course meal in a better restaurant, you have to calculate about 75- 100 EUR per person. A small beer costs about 6 EUR. In the super markets the price level is ca twice as high than in central Europe. The entrance fees for museums or the Blue Lagoon didn`t shock me though. And the most interesting things in Iceland- the landscape, the waterfalls etc you can see for free anyway.
If this picture doesn't tell you enough about the dangers of hiking in Iceland nothing will. Even in the dead of summer, this 24 year old man was killed because the weather changed so quickly. A storm blew in limiting his visibilty, rendering him unable to see the next trail marker. He was only a 5 minute walk to the next hut, but could not find his way. He died from exposure to the elements... in June. From what the wardens told me, he was unprepared, with no supplies other than a water bottle. He was only going to the first hut and then returning the same day.
With careful planning, experience and equipment this route should give you no problems.
This is really more of a FYI than a warning, but take note that the ATM's in the Keflavík Airport only dispense Euros and US $, not Icelandic Kroners. This is likely because Iceland is a popular stopover for air traffic between the US and Europe. If you need Kroners, you'll have to wait until you get into the city.
Icelanders dont drink often but when they do, they drink alot. Reykjavik's centrum is swarming with drunk Icelanders at friday and saturday nights, most of them are nice but some are just looking for a fight!