A Travellerspoint blog

Iceland

The main event for this entire 45 days trip is to visit Iceland and it definitely lived up to the expectations for me.I wasn't able to cover the entire ring road (main road that goes one round around Iceland,known as route 1) and explored mainly the west and south.Let's starts off with Iceland in winter.

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Summer vs Winter in Iceland - When to visit?
Cooling (15-20 degrees) vs Cold (0- negative 15 degrees)
Lots of daylight vs limited daylight
Easy driving vs challenging driving
24 hrs sun vs northern lights
Peak (more expensive) vs low season (less expensive)
green scenery vs snowy landscapes

So all these are just some comparisons between visiting Iceland in the summer (May-July) and winter (nov-feb).If you are planning to visit Iceland,here are some of my suggestions..

1) Be clear of your purpose for the trip.
(Eg; I knew I wanted to see the auroras and orcas (only available in winter),could have done the same if I went to the other scandinavian countries as well.BUT Iceland really offers a lot more than just auroras and orcas and I would still enjoy the trip if I fail to see the aurora or orca in any case.)

2) Do your research,know your stuff.
I've seen people not enjoying Iceland due to insufficient research/knowledge or even recklessness.You will also enjoy so much more if you know what you are seeing and not just hunting for Insta-worthy photos.Good research includes weather and road conditions,tips for winter driving,attractions' information,where and how to best see/capture the northern lights etc... Whatever it is,JUST DO YOUR RESEARCH!

3) Find a suitable and good travel partner.
Self explanatory.

Driving in the Icelandic winter
Driving in Iceland during winter can be your biggest enjoyment or nightmare.Some say,if you can drive fine during the winter in Iceland,you can drive anywhere.The weather in Iceland is crazy.You can get snow,hail,rain,super strong winds and snow/sand storms all in a window of 15 minutes.Like the Icelanders say,"if you don't like the weather,wait for 5 minutes!" I had a couple of "OH %#&@(!" moments along the trip even with a good car (KIA Sportage AWD w studded tyres).It will help to watch some videos on youtube about winter driving,especially those on ice and thick snow.Going too slow can be very taxing especially when one has to catch the limited daylight in winter.Going too fast at the wrong timings however can land you in serious trouble.(I've seen a couple of flipped cars in the snow.)Know your car,know the roads and adjust your speed accordingly.

While you get manned petrol kiosks in the city area,most pump stations in Iceland are self-serviced.You either get a preparid card or have a credit card (with 4 digit pin ONLY) ready.Discount cards will help you save some money along the trip. (I have a couple of discount cards left and I am selling a travel package,read below)

The northern lights
Technically,these are the favorable conditions to see the lights..
- dark and clear skies (away from the cities,check forecasts)
- new or no moon
- high KP index (check forecasts)

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I saw the lights on 5 out of 12 nights in Iceland.Sometimes they just appear as feint green shadows from far.The best show I've gotten,was ironically seen from the balcony of my room in Reykjavik,with a kp level of only 2,full moon and suppository cloudy skies,no camping at all.(we just heard people shouting outside and I thought I take a look,and WOW) People are not lying when they say luck plays a part.There were nights with totally clear skies and a kp level of 5-6 which I stayed up and saw nothing.When they do show up,you have to be quick if you want to take a photo or timelaspe video.They sometimes show up for seconds and disappear for the entire night.Do some research on how to take nice photos of the auroras and also the necessary equipments.

Like I said,don't fly a few thousand miles just to see the aurora.Find a place where there are many other things you can enjoy even if you fail to see the lights.

My Itinerary and tips
To explore Iceland,you either rent a car or follow tours.Tour groups are rather expensive but they provide comfortable journeys and safety.

I got my cars (Kia Sportage & Suzuki Vitara) from Bluecar Rental and Procar Rental respectively.They provide good service and quality cars at reasonable rates. NOTE: read the reviews of the rental companies online before hiring.Tourists get ripped off by various methods every year when renting cars in Iceland.So,again do your research!

Just gonna leave the key attractions and towns I visit along west and south Iceland.Do a google map search to visualize the route.

Reykjavik area - Aurora Guesthouse
- new year countdown fireworks (they put SG50 fireworks to total shame,lasting for a few hours)
- Blue lagoon
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Grundarfjordur area - Hotel Framnes
- good location for whale watching and hunting auroras.Saw the amazing orcas here with Laki Tours and 2nd best aurora show I've had.
- Mt Kirkjufell is 10 mins drive away
- Snæfellsnes peninsula
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Selfoss area / Efsti Dalur - Efsti Dalur ll farmhouse
- Thingvellir National Park
- Gullfoss
- Geysir and Stokkur
- Seljalandsfoss
- Skogafoss
- Eyjafjallajökull
- Kerio
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Vik area - Farmhouse Guesthouse @ Skeiðflöt
- Dyrhólaey
- Reynisdrangar
- Vik black sand beach
- DC-3 plane crash site
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Kirkjubæjarklaustur area - Horgsland Guesthouse & Cottages
- Kirkjugólfið
- Fjaðrárgljúfur
- Jokulsarlon
- Skaftafell National Park
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Useful links
There is this guide that I recommend it to anybody who is intending to visit Iceland and most importantly the northern lights.Written by an amazingly talented photographer name Moyan Brenn.Here it is : http://earthincolors.com/2013/09/19/tips-to-see-the-northern-lights-in-iceland/
Road conditions and weather - www.road.is
Weather and aurora forecasts - http://en.vedur.is/
Travel warnings - www.safetravel.is

Whatever it is,Iceland is worth your time and money.Thank you for reading and I hope the information helps.For more photos,you can view them on my instagram account, weijiesim24.

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Now..I'm selling some stuff away.An entire package of travel information and useful stuff if you are planning to visit Iceland.Includes all sorts of information (eg; restaurants,attractions etc...),map,brand new road guide and 2 different petrol discount cards (Olis and N1).Friends in Sg hit me up at 96514902 for a special price.

Posted by simweijie91 12:59 Comments (0)

Ireland

Because of some screw up by British Airways,I had to rearrange my travel schedule and reduce my visit to Ireland for a mere 3 days.Luckily it was enough for me to still get out of Dublin and take a good look at nature in Ireland.

Accomodation: Ashfield Hostel (Not a good location if you want a quiet rest at night.Club/pub is just beside and people screaming partying till 2-3am.You can definitely find better hostels around)

I took a full day tour with Paddywagon Tours (40 euros) to the Cliffs of Moher.Geography textbooks in secondary schools love to feature it.It is also the location where Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince (cliff and hocrux scene) was filmed.Highly recommend the tour for it comes with free airport transfers to the city center,wifi on the bus,various stops along the day trip and excellent guide.The price for this is more than reasonable in my case.Met some great company of backpackers from all around the world on this trip too.

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Walk around Dublin and visit the Irish pubs and restaurants that serve really good food.The streets are rather easy to navigate around and public buses operate at good frequency.

Posted by simweijie91 07:23 Comments (0)

Munich,Salzburg & Hallstatt

Needless to say,the main aim for this trip was to visit Hallstatt,one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.Guessed many would have seen that mainstream view on Instagram but I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

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Flying into Salzburg (nearest to Hallstatt) or Vienna will be expensive since flights at those airports aren't as regular.The best way if flying into the area might be to fly into Munich (cost me about $110 sgd) and then take a bus (15 euros, meinfernbus) or trains to Salzburg.Check out the Bayern ticket too.

Directions to Hallstatt from Salzburg

1. Get to Salzburg bus station - that is next to Salzburg main train station (Salzburg Hbf - Salzburg Hauptbahnof) - or any bus stop for BUS 150 to Bad Ischl.

2. Take a BUS 150, to take Route from Salzburg train station to Bad Ischl.

Landscape view of Austria from the Bus

  • Bus departures the Salzburg train/bus station at 08:15am
  • Cost is 10.10e/person (one way) - pay to driver
  • Bus arrives in the Bad Ischl bus station at 9:50am
  • Make sure you sit on left side of the bus so you can get great landscape views during the bus trip.
  • Bad Ischl bus station locates next to Bad Ischl train station.

3. Train from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt

Bad Ischl Train and Bus station
Train departures at 10:20am

Cost is 3.70e per person (one way) - buy a ticket from Bad Ischl train station if you have not bought it already - cashier or ticket machine.

NOTE: Buy return ticket from Hallstatt to Bad Ischl at the same time. Hallstatt train station is only "small" house with only one slow ticket machine - if there is a lot tourists without tickets, you might miss the

Make sure you sit on the right side of the train – to get better landscape views during the short train trip.

Train arrives in the Hallstatt train station at 10:47am.

4. Ferry from Hallstatt Train station

  • In the Hallstatt train station, walk down to near lake (15m) and wait for the local ferry boat.
  • Ferry - (actually it's just boat) - cost 2.50e per person (one way) - Pay to boat's cashier.
  • Ferry times are related to train - it should not take long - perhaps 5-10min when ferry arrives.

Return trip from Hallstatt to Salzburg is simply the reverse.

Accommodation in Hallstatt is limited and rather expensive so its really just too bad.Definitely worth staying a night there in my opinion,lots more to do in the summer than in the winter. (eg; salt mines,ice caves,trekking)

Salzburg
I stayed in Yoho International Hostel which comes at a reasonable price and good location.Best christmas market I've visited in my opinion.If you are into music and their history,Salzburg is the place for you.Otherwise,not worth spending too many nights in the city itself.

Munich
Spent just half a day in Munich which I thought was enough.There really isn't much in Munich that I'm interested in.You can take a train to the concentration camps from the central station though.Becareful of weird characters at the main train station,pickpockets lurk around there.Had a mini incident myself but luckily nothing was stolen.

Posted by simweijie91 06:10 Comments (0)

Slovenia

A week in Slovenia was the best I've done so far, definitely a safe and beautiful place to visit alone.

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Spent 2 nights in Ljubjana and 4 in Bled.
Vila Veselova, Ljubjana - nice place, close to the city center. Would give it a 9/10 rating. (~14 euros a night)
Jazz Hostel & Apartments - best hostel I've stayed in. definitely recommend anyone to stay there is visiting Bled. 10/10! (~13 euros a night)

Ljubjana itself, although the capital of Slovenia, is really small and I wouldn't recommend a long stay. Bled however is the most beautiful place I've been to so far (expecting more from Iceland & Austria now). Will upload the photos here once I get back to SG. Meanwhile, they are on my Instagram! Met the most wonderful bunch of roommates/backpackers in my stay at Bled. Went on a couple of long distance and challenging trekking trips as a group, got lost in the woods, chilling in the fog.. Such wonderful experiences only spur me on to explore more.

Must do things in Bled
- Trekking (up to various viewpoints, skip the castle, not worth the entry fee and there are better viewpoints around), both challenging and easier routes available
- Bled Cream Cake @Panorama Restaurant
- A nice chill walk around the Lake Bled. ~2-3hrs
- A return boat ride to Bled Island and entry costs 12 euros.
- Triglav National Park & Lake Bohni
- Vintgar Gorge

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You can get a bus between Bled and Ljubjana from respective bus stations that runs regularly on weekdays (less on Sundays). 6.80 euros per way.
Buses to Ljubjana from the airport and vice versa costs 4.10 euros per way.

Food and expenses in Slovenia is generally cheaper, you can get 1 euro pizza slices that come in generous portions yet they taste better than most of them in SIngapore.

Off to Munich -> Salzburg -> Hallstatt tomorrow!

Posted by simweijie91 03:22 Comments (0)

Amsterdam & Manchester

I can't upload photos onto this with my phone so I will do it when I have time to transfer them onto my laptop first..Meanwhile I'll just leave there on my instagram acct, weijiesim24.

Amsterdam
Stayed at Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark Hostel for 2 nights. Location is quite good but it can get a little dodgy when going back at night/dark. Cost about 20 euros a night, not a super cheap hostel but the security and comfort level is worth it. Wifi in the rooms not so good though. Free city tours available daily by request at the counter. Stayed with a swiss, argentinian, american and austrailian for 2 nights. I really do prefer beds on the lower deck though. Too lazy to climb up and down.

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Like any other major cities/town, I think 2-3 days is definitely enough. Visit the usual attractions of Amsterdam (eg; Dam Square, musueums, Red Light District etc.) Highlight for me was the food. Was telling my family that Im gonna go on a diet due to expensive food when in Europe. Nope, not possible. They are just too good.

Best pork ribs I've eaten : Castell BBQ, http://www.castellamsterdam.nl/en/ (make sure you make a reservation or try your luck, quite expensive ~20euros but worth it)
Free flow pork ribs: Satellite Sports Bar near leidseplein

Manchester
My second trip to Manchester for Old Trafford of course, is fantastic. First time there was made during the David Moyes era, sigh, man u fans will know why. Though the game against West Ham ended in yet another goalless draw, there was still good football and atmosphere. Thanks to the hardcore sg fans, I got some tips and managed to meet the entire match day squad one day before the game itself. Only managed to take photos with Louis Van Gaal, Juan Mata, Daley Blind and Anthony Martial. Bastian Schweinsteiger (my favorite) was so near yet so close.. :(
Interested Man U fans can hit me up for the tips :) photos are on my instagram.

Oh yeah, if you are there for a weekend game and staying for a weekend, get the weekend tram pass (5.80 euros) unlimited tram rides from Friday 6pm - Sunday's last tram. Saves a lot of money for every tram ride is about 2 euros and a day pass costs 5 euros.

My personal take is to spread your money on cheap/affordable yet good food, leaving some for recommended restaurants or shopping :) Visits to these 2 cities can be enjoyable and affordable (walk more!).

Back in Leiden for now, Slovenia tomorrow. Waiting for my next meal, getting so fat.

Ciao.

Posted by simweijie91 03:01 Comments (0)

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