Adventures in Iceland

Chapter 2 - Money

Lonely planet writes "However, tempering Iceland's appeal is that its prices are the most expensive in Europe. That doesn't mean it can't be visited on a shoestring, but it does mean that budget travellers will have to spend some time under canvas in order to fully appreciate the country without needing to get on intimate terms with their bank manager".

The major explanation for this situation is that Iceland is both far from Europe's mainland and small in population. This causes high import expanses. Still, I cannot explain why imported goods such as high quality chocolates are cheaper than the local ones. Out of patriotism I try all kinds of local products (mainly sweets), pay more than imported ones and mostly get disappointed. The fact that Iceland doesn't have local sources of oil doesn't help. All fuel is imported, and gasoline prices are sky-high. Public transport is extremely expensive. Most budget travellers choose one of the following possibilities:

  1. Buy a ring road bus pass, which enables you to encircle the island once with no time limit. The main disadvantage is that many buses run only once a day, so when you get of the bus, it will be your stop for the next 24 hours. Like this you prefer to stop in the same major points like other fellow travellers. You mostly stop in organized places where you have to sleep in youth hostels or camping grounds, both not cheap (About 33US$ for a couple in dormitories with your own sleeping bags, or about a half in a camping with your own tent).
  2. Have your own means of transport, i.e. bicycles. You can sleep and go wherever you want, but are limited with your luggage. The main disadvantage is the Icelandic weather, which is awful for cycling (cold, very windy and almost every day rainy).

We choose freedom instead of comfort. We decide to rent a car (after calling all rental companies listed in the golden pages we manage to rent a car for 45 US$ per day with a limited mileage of 120Km/day - a real bargain by Icelandic standards...) and to sleep only in wild camping. The only advantage of organized camping is hot showers, which we overcome by taking showers in the swimming pools. Our evening procedure is simple. First, when there is still light, we find a place to pitch our tent and only then go to a place to drink some coffee. Drinking coffee in Iceland is nice and economic. You pay only for the cup, and then can have as many refills as you wish. I think that in these 6 weeks in Iceland I drank more coffee than in all my life till then ! Drinking coffee is discovered to be a great way to spend an entire evening in a cozy place for a nominal fee, before going to sleep in your cold tent outside in 4C. Imagine it ! it's like sleeping in your refrigerator ! and we do it day after day for weeks... Sometimes, when it is raining too hard we choose to stay and sleep in the car (not before hitting it well...). Still, no organized camping can be compared to the wild one we had in Jokulsarlon. Jokulsarlon is a glacier lake where icebergs float on their way to the sea. If you look well, you'll see seals playing around. Sea birds are heating their feet by standing on the icebergs... It was even colder than usual (slightly below freezing, in the morning the edges of the lake got frozen...) but undoubtedly the most beautiful place we've ever slept at !

An additional means of transport - the Icelandic horses.

Our camping place...

We are eating mostly supermarket food. Good (but expensive ~4$US a loaf) breads and cheap self-cooked pasta make our staple food. The local specialties are fish, mouton, anything related to almonds (e.g. marzipan), mint and lakritz. We try several times to eat out, but are usually disappointed. Ordering fish and chips in an eatery located in a gas station looks as a sure bet - but no. Both aren't fresh but frozen, and even worse - tasteless. Only once we went to eat dinner in a "real" restaurant, to celebrate Tali's birthday. Tali ordered salmon and I - a steak of lamb. My steak was small, and grilled without much imagination. Tali's portion, against our expectations, was awful - a minute piece of fish (why do they give so little ? salmon isn't expensive here !) much too well done (i.e. dry) "a l'hopital" (which means in French - In hospital style) - the fish was served with tasteless boiled vegetables. The soup we ordered was made of instant powder and the portion of cake we ate, we discovered the following day, was bought in a bakery nearby. Needless to say that the price of the whole cake in the bakery was lower than what we paid in the restaurant for one slice...The moral of this story is practiced in the youth hostel in Akuyeri. We buy in the supermarket salmon and lamb in a total weight of 1 Kg, and cook it ourselves. The same we do in Reykjavik's camping. In lake Myvatn we see a 45 years-old French couple asking themselves in distress "Ou on peut trouver un bon restaurant ici?" ("where can we find a fine restaurant here ?"). I guess they are still looking for it...

We buy in the supermarket salmon and lamb in a total weight of 1 Kg, and cook it ourselves.


Apart from drinking coffee for hours, we have one more inexpensive indoor hobby - shopping. Every time we pass by a supermarket, we enter and scan the shelves with eager eyes. Many times there is a "sitting corner" in the supermarket where you can sit, eat what you bought, and drink coffee "on the house". With all the respect we have for the Icelandic supermarkets the climax is certainly the Kringlan modern shopping mall in Reykjavik. It is a very elegant shopping mall (like "Canyon Ramat Aviv" in Israel) where there are so many shops ! Every time we are in Reykjavik we don't skip on a "tour" in this shopping mall ! They have there a fancy supermarket with BBQ chicken ready to eat, imported Swiss and French cheeses and other delicatessen... and when the "Utsala" (sales) is going on, it is for us almost like paradise...

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Last modified: Wed May 30th 17:05:00 IST 2001