08 September 2015

As we plan for the possibility of touring through parts of Europe after our initial 3-month fixed stay in Germany, I have gathered some ideas and notes that may benefit other families even before they do us.  

Here you will find no- and low-cost activities planned for toddler to teenager and parents besides, with the odd noted ($$$) indulgence, in case the budget stretches that far at the time.

This is a work in progress that will be updated and changed as new information comes to hand.  If you've got local tips on economical places to go please be in touch.

 

Images courtesy of Google

 

Iceland's major draw-card is all the natural beauty and geological features within close proximity to each other.  Glaciers, fumaroles, waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers and geothermally-heated water.  I was tempted to leave out some of geothermal attractions as we have these more accessible in the North Island of New Zealand (the glaciers are in the South Island) but I figure that exploration is as much about comparing and contrasting the similarities as the differences, right?

 

  • Planning to visit in winter. 5 - 6 hours of daylight on average.  You may need to get up when it's dark to drive to be at your next destination when the sun is up, to make the most of your day.
  • Visit intended for self-drive, self-catering and staying in cottages / AirB'n'B apartments (as the cheapest options) or hostels.
  • Plan on 7 days to travel the southern route from west to east and return, including the Golden Circle in the west.
  • Take 'camping'-style food – things that are quick & easy to prepare in a pot as stores can be few and far between on the road.  Bónus and Kronan are the cheapest supermarkets.
  • Credit cards with PINs are widely accepted.
  • If purchasing products of ISK4000 or more, see if the store will give you a tax rebate form.
  • Flybus is best price from the Keflavík International Airport to Reykjavík BSÍ Bus Terminal for families as children under 11 are free, 12 - 15 years are 50%, adults ISK1950 (Straeto don't charge for children 6 and under only; K-Express & Airport Express charge for each person.) Cheaper than hiring a car just to get from the airport to Reykjavík unless you are arriving early and are going to use the rest of the day for sight-seeing.
  • Northern Lights can be seen best every 2-3 days during winter; preferably not during a full moon and with clear skies. – IS Meterological Service.
  • Guide to photography in Iceland.
  • Beautiful photographs on Trover.
  • Better zoomable map of Iceland than Google.
  • Road conditions website.
  • If travelling in winter or inland, hire a 4WD and take out the extra insurance.
  • Iceland Search & Rescue has a Safetravel website; and phone app to proactively record your last 5 locations.
  • Check whether natural parks and features are still free to visit. There were moves post-2013 to allow land-owners to charge admission as a method of funding maintenance.
  • Flights from Oslo to Reykjavík were consistently less than London or elsewhere via Skyscanner.
  • Takk is thank you. Other words & phrases and pronunciations.

 

THINGS TO DO ALONG THE WAY:

  • Build a snowman / snow angels.
  • Get a photo with the Icelandic horses.
  • Eat Icelandic salmon, cod or lobster (here or here).

 

DAY 1 / 2 (depending on arrival on day 1) &/or last day - REYKJAVÍK

  • Walk or get a day bus pass to get around the city. [ISK1000.]
  • Visitor information centre.
  • Red Cross op shop on Laugavegur 14 just in case it's colder than anticipated; a vintage second hand at Laugavegur 28b (Spúútnik - you may find the lopapeysa jumpers here around ISK6500) and the Salvation Army Op Shop at Garðastræti 6 which isn't too far away.  
  • Harpa Opera House (glass & lit up at night) - free to wander through.
  • Town hall has a topographical model of Iceland inside – free.
  • Öskjuhlið hill – Perlan.  On way in from airport. Take lift to 4th floor for 360 degree view of city (free as opposed to the church look-out).
  • Kolaportið Flea Market, Sat + Sun 11am – 5 on Giersgata near harbour.  Good place to buy traditionally hand-made Icelandic sweaters.
  • Sun Voyager sculpture for a photo opportunity.
  • Hallsgrímkirkja.  Free to look inside.  Charge to go up the lift in the tower [ISK800 Adults ISK 100 children;] Winter 9am - 5pm Summer 9am - 9pm.  Hallgrímstorg 101 (uphill).
  • City park Tjörnin Pond – see lots of bird life. Free.
  • Botannical Gardens - 5000 plants. Grasagardurinn. Oct – Apr, 10am - 3pm.  Free.
  • Infamous Icelandic hotdog stand on harbour - Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.  
  • Other possible Icelandic food eateries: Babalú, Grandakaffi, Kafffivagninn
  • NB Winter Lights festival in Reykjavík around 5th - 8th Feb.

 

Day 3 GEOLOGY, GEOTHERMAL & WATERFALLS

  • Thingvellir National Park.
  • Almannagjá – tectonic plates.  Visitor centre.
  • Haukadalur – fumaroles.
  • Bruarfoss in Bruara river, Grímsnes.  Lots of little water tributaries joining together horizontally into a horizontal blue waterfall.
  • Geysir / Stokkur – geysers.  Geysir Center a/v exhibition.  Free. Noon - 4pm, Sep - Apr.
  • Gulfoss - waterfall.

BONUS:

$$$ Floating in the Secret Lagoon in Fludir listening to Sigur Rós looking for the Northern Lights.

Overnight in Fludir.  [Place to buy greenhouse mushrooms.]

 

Day 4 MORE WATERFALLS, A POOL AND A PLANE

  • Drive towards Eyjafjallajökull, the central volcano that made world headlines for erupting in 2010, when ash clouds brought European air traffic to a standstill.
  • Seljalandsfoss  - waterfall, off route 249 - 200m along.  5 minutes further up the road is Gljúfrabúi waterfall.  You walk between 2 rocks to stand directly under it.  Take wet weather gear though.
  • Seljavallalaug - pool.  When driving from Reykjavík (No. 1 road), turn onto No. 242 road with sign that says Raufarfell.  Take a left towards Seljavellir  just before you reach Skógafoss. Drive to the carpark and walk a further 15 minutes to the old pool along the valley (and over a little creek).
  • Skógafoss - waterfall.
  • Just before Vík going east (after the route 221 turn off on your left, this is on the right) - Sólheimasandur.  US Navy DC3 crash.  Preferable to have an off-road vehicle.  GPS 63.459523 -19.364618

Overnight in Vík.

 

 

Day 5 ICEBERGS & A BLACK BEACH

  • Svartifoss black waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park in Vatnajökull National Park. 1.5 km hike from the visitor info centre (2 hours return)  Past Dog Falls then past Magnusarfoss. Or there is a car-park after the first 2 falls.  Snow shoes or microspikes may be needed in winter.
  • Jökulsárlón - glacial lake in Vatnajökull National Park where you can see seals and floating icebergs.  On the black beach opposite icebergs often wash up on it (so you can get close up).  Take lunch to make a day of it.  Taste some glacial ice.

BONUS:

$$$ Vatnajökull skidoo tour on the glacier.

$$$ Vatnajökull ice cave tour (not suitable for under 8 year olds).

Overnight near Jökulsárlón / Hrollaugshollar (Vagnstaðir hostel).

 

Day 6 BACK TO BASE: YET ANOTHER WATERFALL, MORE GEOTHERMAL, A CHURCH & WILDLIFE

  • Take a second look at Jökulsárlón.
  • Selfoss – waterfall.  Tomato farm - opt.  [Kerið crater. Fee IKR350 per adult.  Only Jun - Aug 9am - 9pm.  Not spectacular in winter as aqua-teal coloured water and red crater walls disappear under the snow but it's still a crater!]
  • Hvaergerði hot houses grow much of IS food using geothermal heat (It takes 10 - 12 mins to boil an egg in the geothermal water).  Need some sort of receptacle to do so or buy your egg from the geothermal park (open by arrangement in winter for groups only) and they will give you a stick and net to cook it with ISK100. Park entry ISK200 adults? Children free. [The visitor information centre has a glassed viewing floor showing the crack created by the 2008 earthquake.]
  • National Geothermal Centre, Hellisheiði [charges].
    Depending on timing / inclination one could head straight back to Reykjavík instead of continuing to:
  • Strandarkirkja – Church of Miracles near Angels Bay.  Look up the story about this, and look out for the elf houses on the beach!  Very seldom actually open though.
  • Krysuvikurberg - bird cliffs, and sometimes seals (if neither have been seen already).

 

Day 7 REYKJAVÍK

Whatever didn't get seen or done in the first day(s).

Optional extra trip: east of Reykjavík – Hafnaberg Sea cliffs – birds and the kitsch bridge over the two tectonic plates.

 

SIDE NOTE: Akureyri in the north, post the 2008 economic crash decided to do something to lift the morale of it's residents.  So it changed the red traffic lights to hearts and installed a huge heart on a hill facing the city.  I thought it would be amazing to be there on Valentines Day or a wedding anniversary - if the heart was beating again.

 

TRAVEL CANDY:  

Age of the Vikings Oceania Cruise: London - Iceland - Greenland - Scotland - Ireland - London 

Circumnavigation of Iceland Wild Earth Travel cruise

25 August 2015

 

In researching air fares, bus fares, accommodation and everything else that goes with travel you realise there is nothing standard about being a child, so it may seem futile to be writing about it.  However it is something valuable to know especially if you are in the budgeting phase of your journey.  There will be other 'hidden' costs, or those totally foreign to you, that being exact with what you can, will help rein in any contingency blow-out.

 

So here are a few GUIDELINES:

Airlines generally charge full fare at 12 years of age, discounted between 2 and 12, and free if under 2 and the child can be accommodated on a parent's lap.

In New Zealand 16 years old is the age most companies charge as an adult.  Family tickets are 2 adults and 2 children only.  Under fives (pre-schoolers) are mostly free.

Austria is über cool, allowing child prices under 19 years of age (ie from 0 - 18 inclusive).  

Belgium looks upon children under 6 as free, and children under 18 as portioned.

Iceland generally designates children to be under 6 if making a distinction at all, and doesn't allow family tickets - you pay for each person.

Germany are great for their family tickets, normally without limit on the number of children that are included and often allowing for these to be grand-children as well (German Rail).  Although the age in many commercial institutions is under 14 or 16 years, children can get the same concession up to 18 years and/or if they carry a student ID (even in tertiary).  There are also concessions for the disabled and those over 65 years old.

 

HOW TO STRETCH YOUR BUDGET:

  • Plan meticulously!
  • Do free activities and attend free events.  Often museums will have a free day per week or month.
  • Check online prices, as these may be slightly cheaper than in-person ones.  
  • Winter usually costs less than summer, if attractions and accommodations are still open - you will then need to check the specific dates that dictate the season.
  • Cook your own meals.
  • Book your airfare approximately 60 days prior to travel for the best rates.
  • Think about renting an apartment or staying in hostels to get longer-term discounts.
  • Use public transport and look for day/week or group travel discounts.
  • See whether buying a vehicle is more economical than renting (note though insurances, registration, plates, and ongoing variable costs like fuel etc).
  • If travelling in summer only, consider camping or buying a second-hand caravan or motorhome.  Camping grounds may charge per person or per unit.  Many are closed for winter
04 August 2015

Southern Germany to Denmark via Berlin

Images courtesy of Google

 

Planning exactly where to go is not a science at all.  It is a mixture of heart and mind, and finding a balance between the two.

The countries we want to visit are just the big picture and it is up to me to design our itinerary to satisfy more than the 'stamp in the passport' mentality of visiting a new land (and in Europe where there are no internal borders, stamps are a bit of a thing of the past anyway).  Let me take you through the beautiful but messy process that is planning an overseas experience (O.E.).

 

THE WHERE

First Atlas and I prioritised our country wish lists.  You will notice when doing this exercise for yourself that some decisions you make are based on what you know or do not know about a place; othertimes it's how you feel that wins over.  Comparing fact vs feeling is like comparing apples to oranges but it can be done! Surprisingly the first group of 6 (out of 18 destinations) were the same with only 1 difference.  Germany is of course our number 1, but with the potential to stay another 3 months and travel after that, these other countries are our next focus: Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, Belgium & Greece.  

 

THE WHAT

Next I asked each person what they do or might enjoy doing or seeing in a new place.  I wrote about those in our What we'll see and do in Tuebingen post.

The challenge is to find what opportunities exist in each place, not doing too much, and how it might work to get there.

 

THE HOW

Google maps is a real boon to route planning and moreso when you discover that there is an 'avoid tolls' option that you can select when travelling by road.

 

Another tip is instead of entering a broad start and finish location and dragging the route to the places you really want to travel through on the way, use their '+' feature.  Start with your beginning location, add the next one, then press the '+' to add another etc. [Note: it only allows for 10 points.]

 

 

To a certain extent you may also need to consider the time of year you will be visiting.  For us, this applied especially to Iceland, as Atlas wants to see the Northern Lights and they are only visible in the (northern) Autumn and Winter months.  Sadly not being there in Summer means not seeing the Puffins and Reindeer though.  That is something I figured early on:

We are not going to be able to see & do everything; we are not going to ever have the perfect itinerary; we will miss some things BUT we will have experienced something, and experienced it together! 

 

THE WHY

Yes, for us it's primarily experiencing something together.  Parts of our journey are because I want to share something of the past with the family, or conversely try something altogether new; others are because a tourist attraction is in a specific town; one country is for family heritage, others as our foreign 'son' or 'daughter' lives there.  There is no wrong or right reason to go somewhere or do something.

 

In all this complex inexactness of designing our trip I found that it is neither what, where, how or why that consistently trumps the others.  Each takes a turn as the raison d'etre, and that's okay.

You are not going to be scored out of 100 for your personal planning prowess.

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