A Travellerspoint blog

Orkney

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Heritage

Heritage


I’m back!

10 years ago I visited Orkney for the first time. I drove, taking the ferry from John O’Groats. It took close to 7 hours, excluding comfort stops.

Kirkjuvarg Gin Distillery

Kirkjuvarg Gin Distillery

This time I flew, with Loganair from Aberdeen (they fly from Edinburgh too, but the Aberdeen flight times suited me better).

Loganair Saab 2000

Loganair Saab 2000

On my last visit I stayed for close to a week, but this time I am just here over the weekend.

St Magnus Cathedral

St Magnus Cathedral

So far, so good. The Loganair Experience was excellent, as usual. Kirkwall Airport is small and perfectly formed, like other island airports. Stagecoach operates a bus service into town every 30 minutes during the day. It takes less than 15 minutes. Ideal.

Kirkwall Airport

Kirkwall Airport

I am staying at the Storehouse in Kirkwall town centre. It is expensive, but lovely. I ate there on my first night and it was the best food I have eaten for a long time. Crabcake as a starter, followed by monkfish with scallops. Again it was not cheap, but it was worth it.

The Storehouse

The Storehouse

Island life seems to appeal to me.

Posted by IainT 08:06 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland restaurants transport flights airlines orkney kirkwall islandlife Comments (0)

Iceland - Travel Tips

all seasons in one day
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Keflavík Airport

Keflavík Airport

I arrived in Iceland on Atlantic Airways from Vágar in the Faroe Islands. The flight cost £219, including a checked in bag (23kg) and seat selection. I left on easyJet for Edinburgh, at a cost of £149 - also including a checked in bag (15kg) and seat selection.

Iceland’s international airports is at Keflavík, 49km (30 miles) west of Reykjavík. Do not confuse it with Reykjavík Airport, which is in the city. It is mostly for internal flights, plus some Greenland services.

Keflavík was excellent on arrival and departure.

Three coach companies transport passengers between the city and Keflavík. I used Flybus. It has its city terminus at BSÍ, close to the city centre. The other bus services use different city termini. The bus cost me £20 for a single ticket. The journey takes about 50 minutes.

I had an Airbnb apartment for 5 nights, in a suburb close to the city centre - I like to be somewhere quiet. It cost £101 per night. With two bedrooms, it was large for my needs and gave me plenty space. It came with a selection of bikes to use, and so I had little need for public transport in the city.

On my last night I stayed in an airport hotel - B&B Hotel - because I had a 9am departure. It was ideal. The cost was £144 for - bed and breakfast. They start breakfast at 4am which is great if you have an early departure.

06:00

06:00

It is a few kilometres from the terminal, on the former US Air Force base. The hotel operates a shuttle but I had my rented car to get me to the airport.

B&B Hotel

B&B Hotel

I rented a car for 3 days from Sadcars. I did that in spite of quite a few negative reviews on social media. I like their concept of using older cars and offering lower prices as a result. My Hyundai i20 was fine for what I needed. It had 169,000 km on the clock, and occasionally its age showed, but 99% of the time I was very happy.

Sadcars has an airport depot and one in the city. They only charged 5,000 ISK (£31/€35) extra to drop the car at a different location. Only…

Sadcars' Sadcar

Sadcars' Sadcar



You have to be careful with car insurance for Iceland. First, a normal saloon car should never be driven on an F road. It is illegal. The insurance will be invalid.

Next, even “normal” roads may have a gravel surface in places. Make sure you take the option for cover against paintwork damage caused by gravel. You can be as slow and careful as you like on gravel, but when (not if) some *ickhead in a 4X4 flashes past you at full speed, the damage will be done.

The total cost was 35,000 ISK, including the airport drop off and full, gold plated insurance. That is £221/€246.

Whilst that is a big outlay, full day excursions by coach to the places I visited were priced at upwards of €53, so even on my own the rented car was good value given the flexibility it provided. For a couple or 2/3/4 people sharing, the savings could be significant.

South Coast

South Coast

Fuel - petrol in my case - cost 238.5 ISK per litre (£1.51/€1.68).

I took the city bus once and it cost 470 ISK (€3.30/£2.97). You can pay the driver in cash but you must have the correct money. You can buy a ticket in advance from selected outlets, or like most transport systems, download an app and buy your ticket on it.

The cost of living is high in Iceland. I drink very little alcohol (these days) which saved me a lot of cash. I had one beer in my time there - that is not unusual for me, even on holiday. It cost 900 ISK (£5.70 or €6.35) in the hotel bar.

Refreshing

Refreshing

As always, I have converted prices at the exchange rates listed at the time of writing.

Posted by IainT 23:43 Archived in Iceland Tagged planes island transport flights iceland airlines reykjavik vágar Comments (0)

Iceland - Part 2

all seasons in one day 12 °C
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Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Exploring Iceland beyond Reykjavík presented me with several options.

I thought of taking an internal flight, perhaps to Akureyri in the north or Ísafjörður in the Westfjords, but when I looked into it the area close to the capital seemed to offer plenty of opportunities for the time I had available.

Then it was a question of how best to grasp them.

Excursions by coach or minibus were on offer from every website I looked at, but I am not very good at fitting into the regimented nature of those. They also seemed to be expensive.

Car hire has a reputation for being very expensive in Iceland, but someone who visited recently recommended it as being cost effective as compared with excursions, as well as much more flexible.

A rented car is what I opted for - not for the whole of my 6 night/5 day visit, but for 3 days.

My first outing took me east from Reykjavík along the south coast, just past Vík í Mýrdal to the Mýrdalssandur glacial outwash plain.

Vík lies directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which itself is on top of the Katla volcano. Katla has not erupted since 1918, and this long dormant period taken with the volcano’s past history has led to expectation that an eruption is overdue.

Reynisdrangur at Vík

Reynisdrangur at Vík


Mýrdalssandur is like a desert of black sand, and remarkable to see. So is the black sand beach at Vík í Mýrdal, with the sea stacks of Reynisdrangar in the background.

Mýrdalssandur

Mýrdalssandur

Vík í Mýrdal is 187 km (116 miles) from Reykjavík. Much of that distance is on a 2 lane road, with a speed limit which never goes above 90 kph, so you have to be ready to take your time.

The glacier at Sólheimajökull was the highlight of that day. It is really impressive, and being able to get very close quite easily was great.

Sólheimajökull

Sólheimajökull

The other notable sight I took in as part of that day out is the Skógafoss waterfall. It is very impressive, although by the time I reached it the weather had turned wet which made the visit a little damp.

Skógafoss

Skógafoss

My other day trip took me inland, again to the east of the city, as far as Gullfoss. It is 125km away (78 miles), again on 2 lane roads most of the way.

The waterfall there was the main attraction - just amazing.

Nearby is Geysir, which gives its name to geysers. Geysir itself is dormant, but Strokkur a few metres away erupts joyfully every 5-10 minutes. The whole site is bubbling with hot water at 80-100⁰c.

Strokkur at Geysir

Strokkur at Geysir

That day was also cut short by wet weather.

Strokkur Erupts

Strokkur Erupts

What little I saw of Iceland on those days trips really gave me a flavour of how unique it is, and a desire to return to see more. The weather is a downside of course, as are the eye watering prices. Going there in the last week in June was an inspired decision, with 24 hour daylight to enjoy and midnight sun (if it was visible).

Posted by IainT 13:15 Archived in Iceland Tagged waterfalls beaches island iceland islandlife Comments (0)

Iceland - Part 1

all seasons in one day 12 °C
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Sólfar

Sólfar

I suppose my visit to Iceland divides into two parts. First, exploring Reykjavík, where I stayed for all of my 5 nights. Secondly, my excursions out of the city.

Well first things first. Reykjavik.

I stayed in an apartment (Airbnb) on Laugalækur, at the start of the suburbs to the east of the city centre. It was very close to Laugardalur, or "Hot Springs Valley" which used to produce all the city's hot water. Now it is a laid back park, with botanic gardens and lots of sports facilities.

A choice of three bicycles came with the flat, and a nearby cycle path took me downtown in 10-15 minutes.

Laugardalur

Laugardalur

Ideal, weather permitting. As an alternative, the city bus passed by just 100m away. I used it once

As far as sightseeing is concerned, I had a good wander around and found a relaxed and pleasant place. It was easy tp spend time doing nothing. I visited the national museum and its two sister exhibitions - the Culture House and Ásgrímur Jónsson Collection.

National Museum

National Museum

I often use a national or city museum to get my bearings about a new place.

Culture House

Culture House

Hallgrímskirkja is an attraction to visit, partly because it dominates the skyline from its hilltop location.

Ásgrímur Jónsson Collection

Ásgrímur Jónsson Collection

In terms of eating, like everything else Iceland is expensive. Super expensive. I estimate it is about double British prices. As I was on my own, and bearing in mind the cost, I skipped the restaurant scene.

The city has lots to offer in terms of fast food and street food. My highlight was fish soup in Icelandic Street Food. Delicious. Afterwards, I discovered my guidebook (Lonely Planet) agrees.

Thermal Vents, Ingólfstorg

Thermal Vents, Ingólfstorg

Close behind came Fish and Chips Vagninn. I was tempted by Icelandic fish and chips. It was fantastic. Part of the attraction was a beautiful sunny evening, so I was able to eat outside on their picnic benches. By coincidence, my guidebook also agreed on that one.

I always enjoy it when I find a super place for myself and then find it is highly rated in the guidebooks!

Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat

Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat

For a flavour - groan - of prices, at the cafe in the museum I had a slice of quiche, a piece of cake and a cappuccino. It cost me 2,990 ISK. That’s £19.90 (€22.20). I reckon that is about double what it would have been back home.

Top Prices

Top Prices

My fish & chips rang the till at 1,790 ISK (£11.90/€12.60).

Reykjavik is not a city I would travel to visit for its own sake, but as part of a visit to Iceland it is well worth setting aside a day or two for.

Posted by IainT 23:31 Archived in Iceland Tagged island reykjavik Comments (0)

Faroe Islands - Travel Tips

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Tórshavn Harbour

Tórshavn Harbour

The Faroe Islands were a step into the unknown in a lot of ways. I have visited the Nordic countries quite a lot in recent years, so I wondered what the similarities and differences would be. I expected high prices to be one similarity, and assumed they would be up to double the equivalent in the UK.

As background, the Faroes are still part of Denmark, but very much a self governing part. They set their own immigration rules, for example.

They are not part of the EU. From that I assumed they are not part of Schengen. Maybe I am wrong. Iceland is part of Schengen (but not in the EU) and when I flew to Reykjavík from the Faroes I did not go through passport control at either end.

Confused?

I flew in and out with Atlantic Airways, the national carrier. It has a fleet of 3 Airbuses and 2 helicopters. Both flights were excellent, as were my experiences of Vágar Airport. It is small but modern and user friendly. You will have to walk across the tarmac to get between plane and terminal, so be ready for whatever the weather might throw at you.

Vágar Airport

Vágar Airport

My flight cost £122 from Edinburgh to Vágar and £237 to Reykjavík. Both took just over an hour. They give you complimentary tea, coffee and soft drinks. Beer and sandwiches have to be paid for. Mine cost 70DKK (£8 or €9).

To get from Vágar to Tórshavn you have the choice between a public bus, a shuttle or a taxi. It is a 40-45 minute journey by car, and no doubt a bit more by bus. I got the shuttle, as booked by my hotel. It was 200DKK each way (£24/€26).

Apparently Tórshavn is prone to fog, so building an airport there would have been counter productive.

I stayed at the 62⁰N Hotel, which was the Havn until fairly recently. It was very good, but lacked any public space - as in a bar, coffee shop or lounge area. The breakfast room becomes a restaurant at night, and is closed off in between time.

62⁰N

62⁰N

The cost was 1,395 DKK per night, breakfast included. That’s about £167/€186 as at today’s exchange rates. Breakfast was excellent quality, but the choice was not huge and hot food costs extra. Remember, almost all food has to be imported. My guess is only the smoked salmon would have been sourced locally.

The hotel cost was high, but I assumed I might spend more time in it than might usually be the case if the weather was poor. Accordingly, I wanted a certain degree of comfort. I saw two big new hotels under construction, so the high prices in small places like 62⁰N Hotel may come under pressure.

I did not eat in any restaurants - I was happy to get takeaways and eat picnic dinners given how good the weather turned out to be.

I went to a pub once, and it was lovely. On the other hand, it was 70DKK for a small beer. Like the Nordic countries, alcohol is highly taxed and not readily available - the state monopoly shop is where you have to go to buy for home consumption.

Awaiting Empties

Awaiting Empties

I had two great hiking excursions and as a result I did not buy any of the packaged excursions which are available. I prefer hiking up a hill on my own to sitting in a sweaty minibus listening to a guide narrate every tedious little fact.

Sunday Hike

Sunday Hike

My big home grown excursion was a flight on Atlantic Airways scheduled helicopter service to Klaksvík. The 12 minute flight cost 200 DKK and the bus back added 90 DKK (£11 or €12) to the day out. The weather over in Klaksvík meant the hike I was planning there had to be abandoned before it started.

Following the Trail

Following the Trail

Many visitors rent a car to get around the islands, and I certainly thought about it even for part of my stay. As well as giving the flexibility which a group excursion removes, a car will get you to places which the public buses do not serve. It will also protect you from the weather.

I was fortunate with the weather, but I had chosen the end of June as the time to visit in the hope it would give me the best chance of striking lucky. It also meant 24 hour daylight, and so your “day out” is as long as you want it to be.

Koltur

Koltur

I am delighted I chose to visit the islands. The scenery is just amazing. It was an expensive choice, but I knew roughly what to expect and it is not likely to be a place I visit frequently.

Posted by IainT 10:10 Archived in Faroe Islands Tagged planes island transport flights airlines faroes torshavn islandlife klaksvík nólsoy Comments (0)

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