Iceland: Day 1

While I’m quite sure we left half a day on the plane, our first real day in Iceland is a beautiful sunny one. Blue skies and lovely warm weather.

We landed on time at 6:30 and sped through customs and passport control in ten minutes or so. It took longer to walk to passport control than we spent waiting in line — not surprising considering the time of day. There were a couple other flights landing at the same time, but everything went very smoothly.


The nice thing about such a small airport? The shops and restaurants keep hours to match the arrivals and departures, so even though we have shown up so early, things are open. Enough of them, anyway, for us to amuse ourselves for a few hours. Once the current flight’s worth of people get on their various transports and leave the airport, it is very quiet.

Unsurprisingly, arrivals routed through the duty-free shop. I would normally be annoyed by this, but everything I have read says that this is the place to stock up on any alcohol you may want for your trip (it’s cheaper here than in the state-owned vinbuðin stores) and who can pass up the chance to pre-load your goodie bags with Icelandic chocolate? We had plenty of time to kill before our pickup by Kuku Campers,  so we wandered around with a shopping basket for half and hour or so, checking out the various wines and munchies for sale.  There are strict limits on how much alcohol and cigarettes you can buy at duty-free upon arrival: the various combinations of things are on display on posters in the shop.  The wine selection is quite good, actually, and the prices are also very reasonable . You can see a selection here. If you think you’re going to want anything during your trip, here is the place to get it.

We had hoped to pick up large-sized bags of munchie-style stuff to make gorp/travel mix, but the picking were slim. We had to be content with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, which we planned to share someplace beautiful.

Luggage carts are free and available by the luggage carousels, and I”m happy to report that despite the giant duffle-bag-of-camp-gear, we did not have the most luggage. We did have more than the horde of backpackers clustered around the customs entrance. Most of them had a large frame pack and that’s it. I might try to be a non-overpacker, but I can’t quite imagine living out of a backback for more than a few days. I have no idea if they were actually camping or just hiking and using the huts and hostels along the way.

Packing seems to prompt some serious extreme ideologies.  Minimalist or needs sherpas and everything in between. My sister- and brother-in-law once spent a few weeks in southeast Asia packed in fanny packs and insist everyone can do it, and my own family has a tendency to travel with the modern equivalent of steamer trunks and fourteen carryons that require a separate taxi, so I’m always pleased when we can manage a long trip in small suitcases and a backpack for the camera gear. I have to admit I always watch what people are pulling off the luggage carousel with interest — and smugly congratulate myself that I’ve packed less than that person and feeling embarrassed that I needed a suitcase twice as big as that one.

Breakfast was a leisurely affair from the 10-11 (the Icelandic equivalent of 7-11, I think) with Skyr and orange juice and a handy area with comfortable chairs and tables. We left all our luggage (and the obvious duty-free bag of booze) piled on the luggage cart outside, No one spared it a second glance.

We eventually meandered back to the arrivals hall to meet the representative of Kuku Campers. She briskly greeted us and just as briskly headed out into the parking lot to the waiting van. It was at this point that I noticed Mark had balanced the camera backpack on top of the luggage cart and was rolling it along behind. I thought this was a bad idea, and said something to that effect, but he assured me it was fine. I should have stayed with him and the cart, but he had to walk around the stairs  to get the cart down and motioned for me to go on to the van.

You can see what’s going to happen next, right?   As he pushed the cart out into the parking lot, the backpack flipped over and crashed to the ground. It’s well-padded, and neither of us thought much of it. We didn’t discover until later that the fall had broken the brand-new Nikon d500 that we had bought for this trip. It had never even been used.


We rented a Dodge Durango 4×4 camper from Kuku, outfitted with a cooler, small stove, and mattress in the back. A quick review of paperwork, walkthrough of the vehicle (including photos of the exterior and interior), and we were on our way. The staff at Kuku are fabulous — friendly and enthusiastic and helpful. I was only a little disappointed that our Durango didn’t sport a nifty paint job like the smaller campers –they have everything from Billy Idol to Chuck Norris graffitti’d on the sides. This was going to be our home for the next fourteen days. You’ll notice that in the enumeration of the amenities in the camper, toilet was not one of them. This is a new twist for us.


The first night of any trip is best spent in a hotel, I think. Time to rummage through your luggage, re-arrange things, get a good night’s sleep in a real bed to combat the jet-lag, and a shower and breakfast in the morning to get you going. Even though we’re planning on camping for most of this trip, the lure of a real bed was enough to stick with our normal pattern. We decided to check in as early as possible, nap for a few hours instead of lurching through town like the walking dead, and then do our shopping for supplies. I confirmed a 24-hour grocery store nearby in the few conscious moments I had before we fell into bed fully clothed and slept like rocks for a few hours.

A quick stop to purchase a SIM card for our phone at the nearest N-1, loaded with minutes and data for Google maps, and we made our way to the Haugkaup store, a high-end grocery cum household store (rather like Target back home) to stock up on sandwich supplies, coffee, fruit, yogurt, and nuts/chocolate for gorp.  Peanut butter is not a staple in Iceland, although we were able to find small jars of Jif crunchy, so Mark was happy. I swear, he can live on PBJ for days on end. We also picked up paper towels, toilet paper, and a few big bottles of water. Enough to get us started and keep us fed until we figured out how easy it was to find shops and cafes. We’re not planning on preparing that many meals in the camper, to be honest. We like good food and good wine and given an opportunity to try out local cuisine, we’ll take it. If we can make coffee  in the morning and sandwiches to fill in the gaps between cafe lunches and restaurant dinners, we’ll be fine.

I love grocery shopping in foreign countries, the juxtaposition of common familiar things with surprising oddities is always fun for me. What kind of strange lunch meat do they have? What flavors of jam? Snack foods?  Candy? It’s always a surprise, especially when you really don’t speak the language.  The bakery section of the store was a veritable cornucopia of pastries and cakes, with dozens of options from gingerbread and marzipan to fluffy angel-food cake and fried fruit pastries. The meat department sold frozen lamb hearts, four to a package, and far more organ meat than I’m used to seeing in one place. One of the popular snacks is dried and salted fish, eaten almost like potato chips, and available in bags with different flavorings. Lots of stuff we couldn’t quite decipher, and more options for soured-dairy products than I thought possible. The array of fresh fruits and vegetables was amazing, considering that nearly all of it must be imported. I kept trying to buy things that looked interesting, even if I didn’t know what they were, and Mark kept putting them back. We don’t need herring of any sort, he argued. Despite the interesting package, I have to agree.

We were half-way through ordering dinner (decent burgers at American Style) when Mark realized he didn’t have his credit card. We had a moment of panic until we realized that we had just used it (at Haugkaup) and must have left it in the chip reader there. Well, crap. This could be bad. It had to be there, right?

It was.  As soon as Mark walked in, the cashier held out the credit card for him with a laugh. He’d kept it at the register, figuring we’d be back eventually for it.

Crisis averted. Whew! We were having a seriously bad-karma stupid-tourist sort of start to the trip, though. Dropped camera bag, forgotten credit card…time to get back to the hotel and go to bed before we had some other catastrophe.

We had lunch at a little bakery by the hotel,  dinner at American Style, and our hotel for the night was Hotel Vellir. We did our shopping at Haugkaup.



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