Monday, June 6, 2016

EUROPE 2014 - Part 1 (Reykjavik, Iceland)

Reykjavik was chosen because through online reading I found out that not many Malaysian visited the city compared to London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Maybe I am wrong. Even though knowing the weather in winter is -9˚C (as opposed to summer which is 9˚C), the prospect of witnessing Aurora Borealis make me decided to visit Reykjavik in winter. 

Preparation and planning for my Europe Trip 2014 to Reykjavik (Iceland), London, Geneva & Paris was made 1 year in advance. Flights, accommodations, and tours were made online well in advance. I also found out that there are 2 halal restaurants in Reykjavik, namely Ali Baba and Shalimar. Finally, in December 2014 my trip started. I purposely chose December just to experience winter and Christmas in Europe (Paris). For this entry, I would just concentrate on Iceland as most of us are very familiar with London, Geneva, and Paris.

Day 1
Departed KUL-CDG at 2340hrs onboard MH20 (A380) and arrived at CDG at 0640hrs (local time). This was my first experience on board Airbus A380. Managed to book the upper deck seat.  

Transited in CDG and waited several hours before taking the flight to Reykjavik.

Waiting to check-in flight FI543 at CDG

Day 2
Departed CDG-KEF (Keflavik International Airport) at 1320hrs onboard Icelandair FI543. Arrived Reykjavik at about 1600hrs but it was already dark (due to winter solstice) and cold (-9°C).

View of Reykjavik before landing. Ice everywhere!!!

After clearing immigration,  straight away boarded the Fly Bus to my accommodation - the Welcome Apartments. It's a self-service apartment that doesn't have a reception. The booking was made online after reading reviews about this apartment. After booking, guests will receive an email from the property with check-in information and a door code. Make sure you print the email and bring it along to avoid unnecessary predicament. I would definitely recommend this apartment for those who are visiting Reykjavik as it is centrally located, clean, and comfortable. Not forgetting the WiFi, which was great; very fast mind you. Honestly, I have some doubts about self-service apartments before but would like to try something new for a change. Luckily for me its smooth sailing and no hiccups.

Airport Shuttle - Flybus
Welcome Apartments

Welcome Apartments from a distance

The signage

Need door code to enter the building

The first itinerary on my list was the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis Tour. It's a 3-5 hours tour and the operator reserve the right to cancel this tour if weather conditions are not favorable for watching the Northern Lights. Because this tour is weather dependent, sightings are not guaranteed. However, if we don‘t see any Northern Lights during this tour, we are welcome to join the tour again the next day, free of charge. Was picked up at 2100hrs  by the tour van and transported to their station before boarding a bus to the destination. We reached the destination which was somewhere along a coastline. The weather that night was damn cold made worse by the chilling winds. We were very unfortunate as the Northern Lights did not appear that night. All of us were offered to join the tour again the next night, but I had to decline due to the weather conditions and no guarantee sightings. Sadly, my main reason to visit Iceland to witness the Northern Lights did not materialize. Maybe I will travel to Alaska or Norway next to witness this phenomenon.

Tour bus for Northern Lights

This was what I missed...
Day 3
The next day I joined the tour to the Blue Lagoon. Was picked up by a van and transferred to the tour bus at their depot.  The Blue Lagoon is a unique geothermal spa situated in a vast lava field on Reyjanes Peninsula, just 20 minutes from Keflavik International airport. Simmering around 37 to 39°C the Blue Lagoon's waters contain minerals and salts, essential for well being as well as algae that stimulate the skin’s natural collagen production. This tour too was booked online.

Some photos on the way to the Blue Lagoon.

9.00 am and its still dark
Beautiful scenery along the way
Gas station
Started to drizzle
Snow covered vehicle 
Convenience store
Path to Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon!!!! I was here

Bathing in Blue Lagoon

After visiting the Blue Lagoon went back to Reykjavik city center and had lunch at Ali Baba Restaurant. There's also another halal restaurant which is Shalimar.

Day 4
The following day took the Golden Circle Tour (duration 8 hours). From Reykjavik, the Golden Circle tour takes us via Nesjavellir geothermal field up to Pingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America meet, and one of the world's oldest parliament was founded in 930 AD.

The tour also included a visit to the idyllic Fridheimer Greenhouse Cultivation Center where we learned about the magic behind growing delicious pesticide-free tomatoes and cucumbers with the aid of the geothermal heat that Iceland has in abundance.

Owner's welcome speech and explanation about his green house

Tour buses at Fridheimar

After visiting Fridheimar Greenhouse, we then continued to visit the Geyser geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. Witnessed the beautiful scenery of sunrise along the way as shown below.

Geyser area

There's also accommodation here

Geyser and Gullfoss area
We were then treated up close and personal to one of Iceland's largest personalities: Gullfoss (Golden Falls). Majestic and thunderous, the force and beauty of this two-tiered waterfall will be something our camera wants to linger on.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Sunset on the way back from Golden Circle Tour
Day 5
For my last day in Reykjavik, I toured the city center. It's just a short walking distance from the apartment. Some photos of the town.

Had my fish&chips lunch here

Some pics of the harbor.

The Harbor

Some buildings in town.

The Reykjavik Centrum Hotel

The Post Office
 More pics of Reykjavik.

Way back to Welcome Apartments

Since it was my last night in Reykjavik, I took a stroll to witness the nightlife there.


Definitely Christmas mood in the air.

Day 6
The next morning checked-out of the apartment at 0600hrs to KEF for flight FI540 to LHR. Departed KEF 0830hrs and landed at LHR 1130hrs.

Some points to ponder:

Booked MAS flight directly at the MAS office and instantly able to select upper deck seat FOC. If you book online, the selected upper deck seat will cost you RM150 each journey (total RM300).

During my stay in Reykjavik, the sun rises at 1100hrs and sets at1600hrs. It's only 5-6 hours of daylight.

Credit cards are widely accepted in Reykjavik. I had forgotten to change to Iceland Krona at Keflavik International Airport as the currency was not available in Malaysia. A visit to the tourist information center in Reykjavik revealed that there are no money changers in Reykjavik only banks. As it was on a Saturday all banks were closed, so all my purchases were made using a credit card.

During the Golden Circle tour, we made a stop at a rest area, and to my surprise credit cards can even be used to enter the toilets. Lucky me as I don't have any change to use the facility.

I do hope my entry shed some light to others who wish to visit Iceland. Many would visit Iceland in summer but those of you Northern Lights enthusiasts like me would prefer winter. I would recommend visiting Iceland. It's something different.

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