Author Topic: Aurora, Storms, and Snowpants: An Icelandic Saga by Something Fishy, whYME, and ChAiM'l  (Read 55201 times)

Offline whYME

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Thanks everyone for the feedback, it means a lot ;D. These things are mighty hard and time consuming to put together, especially with three people involved...

The meat will be served starting later today iy"h.
It's already out of the oven and being put on platters :)

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Offline Something Fishy

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[Something Fishy] The last couple of hours before leaving passed in a somewhat frantic blur, as most of my clothing had only arrived late on Friday. Last minute food shopping, charging a zillion batteries, packing everything up, and the taxi calling with a time change all added up to some crazy rushing.

My SOP is that the night before a trip, each and every battery coming along gets charged, no matter what. I keep a running list of the batteries, status, and charging outlet locations to preserve my sanity:




I posted this list to the Whatsapp group we were doing all the planning on. Apparently whYME's night was no less harried, as he responded asking what the heck my camera was doing in the microwave and why I had both a milchig and fleishig GoPro ;D.

I think we were secretly happy to be bound for the warm Icelandic weather, as this is what NY was like the morning we left:




A couple of hours later I met up with whYME at JFK and proceeded to check in, where they threw the book at us and weighed our carry-ons. [whYME] You make it sound so simple :). I arrived at the airport before SF, but I had to wait for him before checking in so we could transfer some weight from his bag to mine. It's kind of interesting standing outside the departures area and watching people, you're just standing there twiddling your thumbs and everyone else is running around like a madman. After what felt like an hour and a half (it was only 20 minutes) Something Fishy finally showed up. Now the real fun began, as I'm sure anyone who's ever needed to transfer weight between suitcases in the airport can attest. Eventually we were all done and headed to the checkout counter. Luckily there was no line as we were already running quite a bit later than we had planned. Even though we were each carrying a huge camera backpack, we had packed only the valuables inside for the trip in case this very thing happens. Luckily we were within the weight limit, and even luckier, they didn't double check the size of the bags.

[whYME] Going through TSA with Something Fishy when he's wearing his boats boots can be quite the experience. You should've seen the look on those TSA agents' faces when he put his boots on the belt (no precheck by Icelandair :(). One of them even said "wow, I have never seen such big boots in my life!" and called her friends over to have a look at them.

Our original plan was to hang out in the lounge for a while until the flight, but since we were already so late we headed straight for the gate. It turns out there was no need to have rushed. The boarding was delayed a little and we were just standing at the gate for a 1/2 hour.


[Something Fishy] The flight was - as expected - just about tolerable. We had selected seats towards the rear of the plane, hoping that even if the plane filled up the middle seat would be among the last seats selected and would remained empty. Even though we were quite cramped, it was not exceedingly uncomfortable, as our strategy paid off and the middle seat did indeed remain empty. The flight itself is short - under five hours - and it went by quickly as I gave whYME a Lightroom crash-course.

Icelandair flies a plane they call Hekla Aurora, which is a hand-painted 757 depicting the aurora and with an interior light show to match. They maintain a Twitter feed listing the routes the plane will fly over the next couple of days, and alas it was scheduled to fly SEA-KEF (IIRC) on our dates. No worries; we were hoping to see the real thing instead 8).




We landed in KEF around 6:45 and headed nervously to customs. Our food mainly consisted of cold cuts (for wraps) and keilbasa (which we were planning to sautee). Problem is that officially no raw meat is allowed into the country - and they specifically cite "sausages and deli meat" as examples :-X . The plan was that if found, we'd try to convince them that the meat is actually cooked (my local deli charges $2 to write whatever you want on the label. I had him put "Cooked Kosher Meat" on the cold cuts ;) ). In a worst-case scenario they'd confiscate it, but Chaim'l was bringing a load as well a couple of hours later as backup.

In the end we shouldn't have worried... We walked through the "nothing to declare" line without an officer in sight to give us a second glance. We could've walked a live cow through there and nobody would've stopped us.

My decision to recently switch from Sprint to T-Mobile was reaffirmed - for the umpteenth time - as I stepped out of the customs area. A text message had arrived:


Quote
Free T-Mobile Msg: Welcome to Iceland. Unlimited web included as part of your global coverage. Unlimited text included with your global coverage. Talk $0.20/min.

How cool is that! Instead of being incommunicado for three days, I now had unlimited web and text. True, the web was 3G only (4G was paid-only), but outside of Reykjavik itself 4G is nonexistent anyway. I could even use Whatsapp voice notes as a psudo-phone call (these were the dark days before Whatsapp calling). As it turned out, this free coverage would prove invaluable multiple times throughout the trip.

[whYME] Sprint.   
I believe it was right about this time that I made a decision to get T-Mobile before my next trip.


We then headed past the Flybus ticket counter to find a quiet place to daven shachris. Stupidly, we didn't think of getting the schedule for the buses into town >:( . We found a great spot downstairs, freshened up, and davened. After a bit we went up to the but ticket counter, only to find out that the last bus to Reykjavik for the next three hours left five minutes ago! We were kicking ourselves for our oversight.

After some back and forth, the agent suggested we take the next bus to the Blue Lagoon, which would be leaving in an hour. From there we'd be able to pick up another bus to Reykjavik. Even though the Blue Lagoon stop adds 1/2 hour to the trip, this plan would still get us into town close to an hour earlier than the next best option.

Not wanting to klutz in the airport for a couple of hours, we agreed. The agent gave us "boarding passes" (a fancy receipt really) for both legs of our journey, and (graciously) only charged us only the standard Keflavik-Reykjavik fare instead of the more expensive Keflavik-Blue Lagoon-Reykjavik one.




During the hour-long wait we tried in vain to reach the camper rental place, as we had made up to be picked up at the central bus station at 9:00; we will now be a couple of hours late. A friendly food vendor kept on calling for us, but kept on reaching a full mailbox :(.

[whYME] As we sat around waiting Something Fishy prepared his GoPro for the heavy use it was about to go through .  (My original caption was going to be along the lines of "And here we have it, proof that Something fishy did indeed unpack his GoPro in Iceland ")



[Something Fishy] Eventually we gave up and headed outside to wait for the bus. Even though it was now an hour or two past sunrise, there were still beautiful colors lingering in the sky. This would be out first introduction to the incredibly long Icelandic sunrises and sunsets, which is absolutely incredible for photography. We also got our first taste of Icelandic weather. At this point we weren't dressed up for the weather properly, and the wind cut into our every bone. It was around 25° or so, and the wind was brutal. It was so cold that I couldn't even think of taking my camera out.

It didn't take long for me to regret that :P. An airport worker was walking around the parking lot collecting luggage carts, wearing nothing but shoes, shorts, and a plastic safety vest :o :o :o. Oh, and did I mention that there was snow being blown around at the time as well ;D?

Eventually we got on the bus, followed by a collection of seniors. The landscape on the way is stark and barren; sharp lava rocks softened somewhat by a layer of snow. Here and there low mountains broke up the horizon line


Photo by whYME:



A short 20 minutes later we arrived at the Blue Lagoon:



The Blue Lagoon is the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland, bar none. They market it as a great place to stopover on your way to or from Europe or vice versa, and are apparently quite successful at it. It is also, in my opinion, the biggest tourist trap this side of Times Square. Millions of tourists pay an inordinate amount of money to go bathe in what is - get this - industrial runoff.

One nice day someone at the Svartsengi geothermal power station noticed that the runoff water had pooled in the lava field behind the plant, and that it had a cool blue color (due to the dissolved minerals); the rest is history. Iceland is dotted with hundreds of natural hot springs, all in the same blue shade, but instead of experiencing something natural - and free! - people flock here instead. I'll never understand it.

Looks like fun! Tourists line up to part with their baggage before they part with their money:




We had a short wait in the parking lot while the bus driver, who was planning on bringing his bus into the depot for maintenance at that point, called his dispatcher to find out what to do with us. While he sorted it out we stepped out and took a couple of pictures.

Apparently whYME wasn't kidding when he spoke of his "natural insulation", as here he is channeling the spirit of that airport worker we saw earlier ;D:




After a bit the driver told us that he's taking the two of us into Reykjavik. We were the only people on the bus, so he kept up a running commentary all the way into town, telling us interesting snippets about Iceland's history, pointing out landmarks we passed, and the like. It was quite a pleasant trip.

[whYME] Heading into town:



At one point whYME grabbed my camera and shot a picture of us in the empty bus:



[whYME] I love these Icelandic road signs. After seeing about 6,000 of them I just had to get a picture :).



We arrived at the bus station, to find no one from the rental place waiting for us. Best we could do was Whatsapp Chaim'l and wait. And wait.....

ChAiM'l - Early Monday morning, I made my way to Luton airport. Luton is a relatively small airport which services mostly budget airlines and as such, is quite shabby and very basic. For example, one cannot drive up to the terminal to drop off passengers and it is a 7 minute walk from the drop-off point to the terminal entrance, without a luggage cart in sight.

I had paid in advance for two checked bags (Easyjet is a no-frills airline and everything is charged for), so I didn't have an issue with overweight.

I took advantage of my Priority Pass card to access the lounge. The lounge is small and claustrophobic although they are supposedly expanding soon. The lounge is also used by El Al for their one Luton flight and there is a corner where there is kosher food before the flight for the Elal passengers.

The flight was fairly short and uneventful. On approach to Reykjavík, we were treated to amazing scenery, it almost looked like we were landing on a different planet.



Excuse the quality, was taken from the aisle seat and passed through WhatsApp before being uploaded

I had paid extra for a front row seat extra legroom and was looking forward to disembarking the flight first. That was not meant to be, however. When the FA tried to open the door, she couldn't move the lever. After much trying (I offered my help, but they politely declined), they announced that the door mechanism was frozen stuck and that we would be exiting from the rear door. So much for my front row seat.

After waiting for a full flight to empty out, I finally made it outside. Being that Easyjet is a budget airline, they don't get a jetway, but are given a stand in the middle of the tarmac from which one walks to the terminal. I didn't expect this and wasn't yet equipped for the weather, as I had planned to gear up in the terminal. The wind was bone-chilling and my thin sweater didn't do much for protection.

In the meantime, I had been in contact via WhatsApp with Something Fishy who unexpectedly had internet service. He advised of their delay and as I had regular cell service, asked me to contact the Campervan company. After trying them for close to an hour, I finally got through to them and arranged the pickup.


[Something Fishy] After what seemed like an hours-long wait, we spied a guy walking around as if looking for someone. Lo and behold, it was our guy! His English was terrible, and we weren't able to figure out what exactly happened there. But what mattered was that we were on the way - finally!

The drive to the office was short and sweet, as was the guy behind the counter :D.


[whYME] Once we started speaking to the guy in the office it became clear what had happened. We had booked through "Campervan Iceland" which I (should've, but) didn't realize at the time was not the actual rental company, rather a broker who books for multiple rental companies. The actual company we rented from was, as you can see from the pictures, "CampEasy." Unfortunately the number we kept calling was the Campervan Iceland number. Eventually Chaim'l tried calling CampEasy directly and was able to arrange the pickup

[Something Fishy] We hit a snag when he needed Chaim'l driver's license so he could put him on the contract as an additional driver, but luckily he was happy to accept the picture that Chaim'l hastily sent us.

He walked us to the garage and gave us a tour of the camper. He showed us how to use the stove (it ran on lighter fluid!), and gladly gave us six extra cans when we asked for it.




The front seat supposedly sits three. Yeah... No. Not three of us. The thing on the lower left is the fridge (a powered cooler, really). It wasn't too large, but it did fit everything we needed it to, and kept it nice and cold:



The middle seat folds down to become a bed for 3 (read: 2):



The orientation out of the way, we headed back to the bus station to pick up Chaim'l.

ChAiM'lI bought a bus ticket and as I made my way outside, I saw the bus starting to board. There's plenty of room underneath for luggage. After a pretty smooth journey we arrived at the bus terminal in Reykjavík. The terminal building itself is fairly small, there is some seating in the middle of a hall with shops surrounding it (most of which were closed). As with most places in Iceland, there is free unlimited Wifi, which was surprisingly fast for a public hotspot.



After waiting for what seemed like ages (SF and whYME seemed to think that I also needed to do time in the bus station), they pulled up with the campervan and after loading my stuff, we set up the GPS and got ready to continue on the road...

[Something Fishy] Before we could hit the road proper, we needed to do one more thing - find food. I had been in contact with a guy who makes Pesach sedorim there every year (there's no Chabad in Iceland), who'd given us some pointers. We therefore headed to Bonus, which is a local grocery chain. Pretty much the only things we found with a hechsher were Nature Valley bars, including some flavors I had never seen in the US. However, this being Europe, we knew that there are probably a good many items which are Kosher but not labeled as such. Luckily, we had brought along our very own European! With Chaim'l leading the way, we soon had an overflowing shopping cart. We had drinks, chips, canned foods, ketchup, and mayo. We also bought a pile of fresh veggies and a dozen eggs, as well as paper goods.



We loaded up the car, changed into our cold-weather clothes, and hit the road. For real this time.
Check out all my Trip Reports here!

Offline Yaalili

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Awesome installment again, worth the wait!

Offline Dan

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Fantastic!
Save your time, I don't answer PM. Post it in the forum and a dedicated DDF'er will get back to you as soon as possible.

Offline MosheD

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omg!
Each one just leaves me itching more for the main course.
Great stuff

Offline Yehoshua

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Wow! This is so exciting! I can't wait for the rest.

Offline stbaum

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i think it's time we see your faces. what's the worst we could do, rent a car?  ;D
loving every minute of this. SF, i think you should copy your preparation post and put it in your trip planning thread. it's incredible!
My greatest achievement? I am fluent in FRIENDS quotes

Offline Moshe123

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It's starting...

Offline Moishebatchy

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This is... spectacular.

I salute you.

Offline Ydad

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Epic, man!

Offline JoshNY

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Absolutely amazing!

The amount of detail that went into the planning is phenomenal and very inspiring!

Offline Jm1248

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Awesome!!!

Offline chff

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Sorry for this post...
@flyingradar24 Many transatlantic flights this evening may see the Aurora. http://www.flightradar24.com/52.41,-30.48/5 via @NOAA h/t @FlyingPhotog
654087786815979521[/tweet]][/URL]


Offline Yehoshua

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👆 that's cool!