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.



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