When in Reykjavik – Tips for travellers

So after living in the heart of Reykjavik, Iceland for the past few months I have accumulated a bunch of tips for those newbies here:

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland! So it took me a few weeks to convince myself that I wanted to stand in line for half an hour for a hot dog, but it had to be done. The hot dog I must admit was pretty great; complete with fried onions, regular onions, ketchup, mustard and remoulade. One hotdog is 420ISK (~$5) and a small cup of soda is 220ISK (~$2.50), so it’s one of the cheaper places to buy lunch around town.

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland. At 73 metres, it is the largest church in Iceland. It was 9000 ISK (~$10) to get an elevator to the top. It was such an amazing view, even on a cloudy day. I think it’s worth it, There are no other buildings in the area that high so you can see the ocean and the mountains and the entire city, even the airport.

 

Perlan (the pearl) – a short walk from the city. Free entry to the observation deck and I would recommend going at night. There’s also a revolving restaurant on the top level.

Blue Lagoon – locals often say this is a tourist trap, but honestly I loved it. The cheapest entry price is 40 Euros (if you can find your way there). It was very clean and well organised and unlike anything else I’ve seen before. I’ve been there twice now and loved it more each time.

Puffin watch – I went on a puffin boat tour. It was about $50 with Special Tours. We saw a couple of the birds but it wasn’t mesmerising or anything. I will admit I went on the last day before the stop the tours due to the birds migrating, so maybe it wasn’t so great because they had all gone off to sea. It was interesting and nice to see the city from a different perspective, not something worth doing if you only have a few days here, but it was a nice tour all the same if you’re looking for cheap things to do.

Sea Angling – I went sea angling in the last weekend it was available before the close for winter. I had a lot of fun, even though it was freezing. So I would recommend taking gloves, scarves and beanies definitely. They give you raincoats so your clothes don’t get wet or smell of fish and the crew handle all the fish so you don’t actually have to get your hands dirty. I’ve never been fishing in the ocean and it was heaps of fun. The the crew cooked up all the fish everyone caught and some potatoes on the BBQ on board and we got to eat a small feast as we made our way back to shore. A tour was I think about $50, but I’m sure if you want to get more hands on there are other options.

The Golden Circle – I was lucky enough that my parents came to visit me about half way through my stay! We went on a tour of the Golden Circle on probably the worst day of the year. It hadn’t rained so much in Iceland in a long time so we were soaking wet all day, bit I still had a great time and it’s a beautiful drive if you don’t have enough time in Iceland to drive the ring road.

 

Why study abroad?

Going abroad for a semester has taught me so much about the world and about myself, and I really would recommend it to anyone that has the opportunity. Some of it has been really hard, I will admit. But it has all been worth it.

The biggest problem I had was with my units when I got here. This really stressed me out because I was worried I would lose my scholarships since I would only be enrolled part time at QUT. Another big challenge I had was home sickness; it took about 50 days before I realised I was home sick. Iceland is pretty much exactly on the opposite side of the world from Brisbane, so the time difference was really difficult to deal with, not being able to talk to my friends or family during the day because everyone is asleep. I dealt with it by talking more to my family and friends back home whenever possible. Something else that was really well timed were some road trips I went on with some new friends I’d made here. They really helped remind me why I was here, on the other side of the world; to see this beautiful country.

Lanmannalaugar is in the highlands. I took a Greylines tour (~$300AU) and it was pretty great. The bus drive was about 3 or 4 hours, a lot of this was off road so it was a bit exciting. We stopped every hour or so for food or toilet breaks or to take photos of some beautiful landscapes. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life and I highly recommend going here if you get the chance (they close down the place in winter I believe). When we arrived we took a 2 hour hike through the dried magma fields, then we had a bit of time to go swimming in the geothermal hot springs. It was so beautiful and the land was so diverse and different around every corner. This was one of my favourite places, and my first time outside the city.

Ljotipollur Lake; a lake inside a crater in the highlands

Gljúfrabúi


I also drove the south coast along the ring road with some other exchange students. It only took us a few hours to drive there, not including

all the stops along the way. We saw a lot of breathtaking waterfalls, including Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi, Skógafoss and Svartifoss (Black Waterfall). We also visited the black sand beach and the glacier lagoons. One of the more memorable places we went to on this trip was the first swimming pool in Iceland. We had to hike about 10 minutes to get to a small concrete pool, natural heated by the geothermal hot water, and pitch black with moss. Getting changed into our togs felt like a race against the cold, but you were more concerned about accidental dropping your clothes on the mud covered floor.

The black sand beach, Reynisfjara

 

Svartifoss (Black Waterfall).

Another wonderful road trip was to the north of Iceland, Akureyri. This trip was more about the landscape, and involved a lot more driving but was just as amazing. While in the north I went whale watching, but this was a huge mistake since I didn’t realise how sea sick I would be until we left the harbour. So I spent the next 3 hours with my head between my knees. We also saw more waterfalls and canyons and swam in the “Blue lagoon of the North”.

We ventured a bit out of our way to find the cave where a scene from Game of Thrones was shot

So it’s safe to say I had a few “wow” moments. I just couldn’t believe I was all the way over here in this beautiful country; a year ago I would never have guessed this is where I’d be.

It’s also pretty convenient for other travelling around Europe or America. I went to Copenhagen for a week and the flights were only $200AU. I’ve heard flights to New York are about the same price.

Living in Iceland

Accommodation

When I was accepted into Reykjavik University I was told that accommodation is pretty hard to find, because Iceland has such a high tourist population in recent years. There is no housing at the university unfortunately but they did help out a bit. They booked some rooms at a  hostel for some students to claim, and told us about some websites like bland.is (similar to Gumtree). I ended up joining a bunch of Facebook groups and asking around. This led me to chatting with a few locals who helped me find a share apartment.

I was honestly so happy that I found somewhere to live, within walking distance of the university and with my own room; I didn’t realise how great it was until I got here. It’s close to the famous church Hallgrímskirkja, and about a ten minute walk from the city centre and the harbour. I think I have completely lucked out on my apartment! It’s adorable and really close to town and to the water. I can see the ocean, the mountains and even some snow on the top from my kitchen. Not to mention that it is cheaper than where I lived in Brisbane next to the city.

University

Reykjavik University held 2 days of orientation sessions for all the exchange students. This year there is a record number of about 100, which is double last year. These orientation days were very helpful.

The university is very different to QUT. For instance, the whole university is only one building! I mean it’s a good thing because no one will want to go outside to change classrooms once it starts snowing, but it still seems so small. The classes are also much smaller, with only about 30 students in each course. Now, coming from engineering, my first year had about 1000 students and now were down to about 140 in Electrical Engineering. So it’s a bit of a dramatic change, but it feels more personal.

In the second week of university they held an international day. About 2 – 5 students from each country cooked traditional food from their home country to share with the local students. I baked a giant batch of ANZAC biscuits but they were all gone by the end of the day, and we also served fairy bread (the essence of our childhood) and Vegemite on bread for those brave enough to try! Some of my favourite reactions to Vegemite were “It tastes like I’m eating broth”,”It tastes like seawater” and “It tastes like something I never want to try again”.

 

Getting Around

I’ve been quite lucky with my location so I have been just walking around downtown and through the city. Most tours often pick up from somewhere in the city too.

The bus is also available and is what I’m planning on taking it when it starts getting too cold to walk. There is a student card you can get but it’s only available for a year, so I am just going to get the 3 month card, which turns out cheaper than just getting a ticket every time. Having a card allows you to take any bus in the Reykjavik area whenever you like. I also like the bus’ here better; they have little screens saying the next stop at the front, which is very helpful.

Taxis are also available but I think are a bit expensive. I caught one from the airport and it was super expensive but I was desperate to be clean after flying for so long. So I am planning on catching the bus to the airport when I go home.

 

 

 

 

Iceland – The land of fire and ice

For some crazy reason I decided to apply to study abroad in Iceland. It’s about as far away from Brisbane as you can get both in distance and differences. Brisbane is sunny, warm and relaxed for most of the year; Reykjavik is cold, overcast and windy. Honestly though, this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

 

First Impressions

I arrived in Reykjavik about a week ago. It took almost two days (and four long flights) to get to the other side of the world, surprisingly. During the cab ride from the airport I could see the famous church, Hallgrímskirkja, in the distance and I knew I was close to my apartment and, more importantly, close to showering for the first time in 40 hours!
My initial impression of the city: I love it. The buildings are the classic European style with the pointy roofs, there are a few churches breaking up the skyline before hitting the city. The weather for the most part has been overcast, grey, cloudy and sometimes windy; personally I love this kind of weather so I know I’ve come to the right place.

The people here are very polite, especially the drivers. Basically everyone speaks English, definitely any shopkeepers or cab drivers, which is a huge relief. I was concerned about the language barrier since I do not speak Icelandic and while I would love to learn it I don’t think I’d even have a chance to make much progress in the short time I’m here. It looks unlike anything I’ve ever seen, not to mention the actual letters I have never seen such as ð, þ and æ.

 

Adjusting to living away from home

I moved out of my parents house over a year ago so I’m used to not seeing my family and friends everyday, but to be in a completely new town, country and hemisphere was something I was worried about. Another concern I had was that obviously I’m going to have to talk to a lot of people, I’m a bit introverted and this is something I’ve freaked out over in the past. Honestly, I’ve been expecting a breakdown. Instead I’ve just been incredibly happy. I feel like this is definitely the the next stage of my life, I know the next few months are going to be a lot of fun.