Sunday, March 04, 2018

Stranded in Reykjavik

Tue, 13 Feb - Wed 14 Feb, 2018
Reykjavik, Iceland

We planned for a short trip to Iceland for 4 nights to cover Southern Iceland ,the Golden Triangle and catching the ever elusive Aurora Borealis. We took a flight from London Heathrow via British Airways to Rekjavik's Keflavik International airport. The return BA flight costs GBP 315 per person (RM 1715). It was a morning flight from Heathrow at 9.30am and we arrived at around 1pm after the second attempt at landing. That was the first indication of how unpredictable and changing the weather at Iceland is. We could see it was all white down below from our flight. The runway had just been cleared of snow as it had just snowed heavily that morning.

BA LHR-KEF. No IFE, no food (need to purchase), additional payment for check in luggage

all ice down there. It is ICEland after all

For our tour of Iceland, we would be driving. We booked our rental car online via Skyscanner and was booked to Green Motion. They offered a meet and greet service at the airport and free transfer to pick up the car which is located about 4km from the airport. It cost us EUR 92 (RM 445) for the car rental for 4 days. We received a Ford Fiesta automatic transmission, with snow tyres, unlimited mileage and breakdown assistance included.

our Ford Fiesta

After clearing immigration and picking up our backpacks, we proceeded to buy the local SIM card at a convenience store in the airport for ISK 2900 for 10GB data by SIMIN (the other option was 5GB data with calls for the same price). It was then already past our designated pick up time at 2pm, it got me a bit nervous at first as the company has already charged us and I was afraid they might not show up. So I gave them a call, and they arrived a few minutes after that, phew. It was our first time renting a car and driving overseas, in winter conditions and driving on the right side of the road! (We are from Malaysia, driving on the left side of the road with no winter!) The weather was sunny this afternoon, so it was a smooth drive from our car pick up location to our apartment in Rekjavik, a 40 minute journey.

it was sunny on our arrival day
ice along the way

driving in Iceland

However, at the car rental company, we were warned that the weather the next day would be rough, with strong winds and heavy snow which would be hazardous to drive in. We were told to check the Iceland road conditions and weather  (click the link) from time to time. They are updated hourly. We can only drive if the wind is in green colour, and the roads are not in red colour, to put it simply.

image from

image from

At Reykjavik, we stayed at Downtown Reykjavik apartment which has an attached bathroom and kitchen (we brought food supply from our homeland as we were not planning to dine out in Iceland). For a one night stay, it cost us EUR 121 (about RM 600). It also has a shared washing machine and dryer facilities at the basement.  The apartment location is excellent as it is a walking distance to the points of interest in Reykjavik - the Sun Voyager, Hallgrimskirkja church, Harpa concert hall and the City Hall lake. The houses around our apartment are also neat and cute.

Downtown Reykjavik apartments
our room at Downtown Reykjavik apartments

kitchen in our apartment

one of the houses in Reykjavik

shops at Reykjavik

As forecasted, the next day, Wed 14 Feb 2018 was rough. Strong winds up to 20 m/s (or 72 km/h) were blowing all throughout southern Iceland, our destination for today. It was all purple in the vedur website. The roads were inaccessible mostly throughout the day, indicated in red in the website. We were supposed to drive up to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon today (almost 5 hour journey from Reykjavik). However due to strong winds and inaccessible roads, it was not to be. We were stranded in Reykjavik, all the roads going out were closed. We had to call the guesthouse that we had booked in Skalafell and cancel it as there was no way we could drive there. Luckily, the guesthouse accepted our cancellation with no costs. Next, we emailed the company that we had booked for our glacier hike at Skaftafell the next morning at 10am that we couldn't make it in time as we were still stuck in Reykjavik, and if the weather improved the next day, we had to start driving at 5am, which was not advisable to drive in the dark as there is no road lamps. It was winter, so dawn is only at 9am. The glacier company offered to re-schedule us, but we chose to forego this as we planned to cover Jokulsarlon tomorrow instead, then drive back to Hella. We were refunded promptly for this cancellation.

So we spent the day walking around Reykjavik, in the heavy snow and strong winds, quickly taking pictures at the Sun Voyager sculpture, the concert hall Harpa and the church Hallgrimskirja which has a very unique design, nothing like any other churches we've seen. We did enjoy ourselves at the lake near the City Hall which was almost frozen except for a little patch where the ducks and swan could still swim. We did dine out today, as we had already checked out from our apartment and had yet to book a place to stay for tonight. We had mandi lamb rice at a halal cafe, Mandi, a walking distance from Harpa.

Sun Voyager at 7.30am

Sun Voyager at daylight

view across the sea from Sun Voyager

Hallgrimskirja church

Harpa concert hall - it looks more stunning with the colourful lights

our lunch of Mandi rice with lamb

halal cafe Mandi
the little unfrozen patch of the lake near City Hall

ducks and swan swimming

frozen lake

Later, we booked last minute for a place to stay, settling in at City HI Hostel, a simple bunk bed accommodation with attached bathroom and shared kitchen for EUR 79 (about RM400).

City HI hostel - there is also a campsite next to it

simple bunk bed at City HI hostel

Tonight we attempted to catch the Northern lights. Armed with the Aurora forecast app and aurora forecast, we were directed to Hafnafjordur, about a 20 min drive from Rekjavik. It was pitch black alright at the location, sky was quite clear that night. When we arrived there, there was another car waiting. The guy told us he saw a faint light, then the car moved to another location. We waited a bit more, it was already 11pm and freezing cold. Seeing nothing, we decided to move to the next location - Grotta island lighthouse back in Reykjavik. There were more people waiting there. There were people walking there too, in the middle of the night in freezing temperatures!

Grotta lighthouse location

Vedur forecasted the sky to be clear of clouds around 1am, so we waited there, in the car. We waited until the sky was clear, but still there were no lights. So we decided to retire and get ready for our long journey in the morning. It was expected to be clear the next day.


Saturday, February 24, 2018


Windsor, England

Sun, 11 Feb 2018

This was  Partner In Crime's first trip to England, so he wanted to see some castles. I searched for castles nearby London, and Windsor Castle was one of the recommended ones within an hour from London central.

Since we were staying at Hammersmith, we took the Greenline bus no. 702 from Hammersmith Bridge bus stop, which is a 5 minute walk from our Hotel Seraphine Best Western. You could also go to Windsor Legoland via this bus. We took the 8.25am bus to Windsor, which arrived on time. About 10 minutes in the journey, our bus engine overheated so we were stranded by the M4 motorway waiting for assistance. We were then transferred to the next bus at 9.30am, and made our way to Windsor, alighting at Windsor Theatre Royal, arriving at 10.30am. We bought the return bus ticket for GBP15 per person from the bus driver by cash.

stranded on the M4 motorway

Then entrance fee to Windsor castle is GBP 21.20 which includes a headset with descriptions of the halls and exhibitions on display in the castle within the castle ground. Photography is not allowed inside the castle, only outside. The halls are indeed grand and opulent, with chandeliers, paintings, furniture, royal gifts, weaponry (including a keris or dagger from Negeri Sembilan) and so much more. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed to capture all the grandeur.

According to the Windsor castle website, it has been home to the royalty for over 900 years. It includes the State Apartments, Queen Mary's dolls' house, grand reception room, semi state rooms and St George's chapel. As it was a Sunday, the chapel is closed for Sunday service and only opened for worshipers.

Windsor castle outside walls

Windsor castle

St George's chapel

After finishing the self guided tour with the headset, we dropped by at the Windsor castle souvenir shop and bought a tube of double chocolate biscuit with a Queen Elizabeth Longest Reigning Monarch tin decoration.
double chocolate biscuit tin decor

We then strolled along the River Thames, just by the Windsor castle, enjoying the cool weather and watching the ducks and swan happily swimming. You can also take a boat ride on the river for 40 minutes for GBP 8.50 during winter.

ducks and swan

River Thames

Windsor town

We caught the 702 bus back to Hammersmith at 2.36pm, using the return ticket we bought earlier.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

London 2018

London Central 
12 Feb 2018

It was a short trip to London, a 3 night stopover before we proceeded to Iceland in our mission to catch the ever elusive aurora borealis. Since this was Partner In Crime's first time in London, a visit to the places of interest in London is necessary.

We started our 1 day itinerary of London from St Paul's cathedral, taking the tube from Hammersmith to Mansion House via the District line. We paid for our fare using our credit cards with the pay wave logo (a contactless option) by tapping on the Oyster card reader. You will be charged the same as an Oyster card, but overseas charge apply if your credit card is issued outside the UK.

St Paul's cathedral

From St Paul's cathedral, we walked across the street to Millenium Bridg, a pedestrian only bridge and took some pictures there. The River Thames flows here, in the cool February weather. The art museum Tate Modern is located at the other end of the bridge, entry is free of charge. We had limited time today, so we didn't visit the museum. I've visited it before in 2007, but I guess it was catered more to those with an acquired taste, who could appreciate the arts on display better.

Millenium bridge

River Thames view from Millenium Bridge

Next we walked from Millenium Bridge to the Bank of England as I had to exchange some GBP notes from my last visit in 2007 as they are no longer legal tender. We just had to walk in and mention our purpose, then the guard guided us to the counter. We needed to scan our bags first. No photography is allowed. There is also a museum at the Bank of England for the public, but we didn't go here this time.

Bank of England

Done with exchanging notes, we walked towards the Tower of London, not too far from the Bank of England. It is a Unesco Heritage Site, which served as a royal residence and a fort, sometimes as a prison, treasury and office too. Read more here.

Tower of London

We didn't enter the Towers, just taking pictures. Next to the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge which crosses across the River Thames. The Tower Bridge was built between 1886 - 1894 and still serves as a means to connect vehicles across the River Thames in modern times. The often confused London Bridge is not too far away from Tower Bridge. The original stone bridge (of London Bridge ) was built more than 600 years ago by its Roman founders. More on Tower Bridge here and London Bridge here.

Tower bridge

River Thames. That's Tower Bridge behind

Tower of London and Tower Bridge by the Thames river

The next destination was Westminster Abbey, which is also a Unesco Heritage site. We took the tube from Monument to Westminster station. Big Ben was covered by scaffoldings as it is currently undergoing refurbishment works. We took pictures at Westminster Abbey, a church where coronation, wedding or funeral ceremonies for the British monarchs took place. It was first founded circa 960 to 970. More on Westminster Abbey here

Eye of London captured from Westminster station

Big Ben being covered

North facade of Westminster abbey

We then walked further towards Buckingham Palace through the very pleasant St James' park (not to be confused to Newcastle's stadium) where wild animals such as ducks, swans, birds and squirrels roam and swim freely. We especially adored the chubby and bushy squirrels trying to collect nuts and bury them in the ground for safekeeping / later consumption.

St James park

Buckingham Palace

From Buckingham Palace, we walked back towards the park and headed to Trafalgar Square for a quick photo session. On the way, we passed by Winston Churchill's war room. Having just watched the film The Darkest Hour, it would have been great to pay a visit to the war room, but we were short for time. We also passed by Downing Street, where we captured the last few minutes of the changing of the horse guards.

entrance to Winston Churchill's war room

changing of horse guard at Downing Street

Trafalgar square

We then made our way to the London Central mosque by taking the tube from Charing Cross to Baker Street station. It took us about 10 min walking from the station to reach the mosque.

London Central mosque near Baker Street station

inside the mosque

From the mosque, we walked back to Baker Street station, searching for halal food, not before stopping for a photo at the Sherlock Holmes museum. We then found a halal burger joint, Burgista and ordered a beef and beef with cheese burger each. It was okay, I think Fuel Shack burgers back home have a bigger portion and juicer beef.

Sherlock Holmes museum

Burgista halal burger near Baker Street station

Burgista's burger

After refuelling, we bought some souvenirs at a shop next to Baker Street station, then made our way back to Hammersmith, stopping by at Marks & Spencer to buy some yummy sultana cakes and shortbread cookies.

Since we had an early morning flight to catch the next day, we stayed at Premier Inn Heathrow for tonight, which is connected to Terminal 4 of London Heathrow airport via a covered walkway. (RM 252 or GBP 46 per room per night via We took the tube from Hammersmith after collecting our backpacks to Heathrow Terminal 4 station.

Premier Inn hotel Heathrow T4

We had a whirlwind itinerary today, trying to squeeze as much of London as possible on a short daylight winter day (dusk at 5pm). We had to forego Hyde Park which was in our original plan as it was already dark, and after all, we already had an enjoyable stroll along St James park today.