Posted by: neilh10 | May 5, 2012

PROGRESS

I was really happy to read that the authorities are planning to increase the number of bus services in the capital area.

Putting on services with a 15 minute frequency (rather than 30 minutes or hourly) makes the bus a viable option for more people. 

I hope that one day more people will start using the bus services in the Westfjords. Many people drive to work from the villages to the Isafjordur and back again, the bus is a cheaper and environmentally favourable option. Getting decent bus services up and running could also  boost tourism – whilst tourism is a relatively small part of the local economy, it would help if people could reliably get to the village without needing to hire a car and navigate the mountain roads.

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Posted by: neilh10 | May 5, 2012

Seabear

Back in October last year, I predicted good things for Of Monsters and Men, a young Icelandic band who had just signed to Universal Records.

Seven months on, they have already sold 100,000 albums in the US. I went to go and watch them on Tuesday night at the Hoxton Bar and Grill, it was a solid performance, but the hype was immense – every other person seemed to be filming the show with a camera phone, certain that they were in the midst of a historic moment and that next time round they would be playing the Royal Albert Hall. Such is the power of hype in the entertainment industry, particularly here in London.

Anyway, there are many many bands in Iceland who are as good, if not better, than of monsters and men. One such band is Seabear, who have been making atmospheric indie rock in the backrooms of Reykjavik for nearly a decade. KEXP (the same US radio station that ‘discovered’ of monsters and men) filmed them last year, this is the result.

Posted by: neilh10 | May 3, 2012

20,000 hits (21,003 to be precise)

I just noticed that the blog has now had over 20,000 hits. yes!

At the same time, my attitude towards the blog has perhaps changed. When I started out, back in November 2010, I started from a point of absolutely nothing. Zero. I had bought an apartment in the north west of Iceland, I’d spent a lot of money doing it up, and needed an income. The blog was actually only a small part of many initiatives to try and rent the place out, including a brief (and unsuccessful, fortunately) attempt to market the apartment on ebay. 

I was very enthusiastic and told everyone, everywhere, that they should go to Iceland because it is an amazing place. I managed to persuade a few people. I tried to use the blog to challenge peoples misconceptions about Iceland (that the weather is terrible, that it is prohibitively expensive) etc.  But actually, a couple of years along the line, I’ve realised this is a useless, pointless strategy. If people want to go to Iceland then they will go there of their own volition, they don’t need to be persuaded. There are enough tourists in Iceland already and the numbers are increasing every year. This is not a bad thing – but it is debatable as to whether the place is really ready for large amounts of tourists. 

For a while I believed that the economic future of places like Flateyri lay in the development of tourism. But, on reflection, I think that tourism will only ever play a very minor role in the towns economy. As of now it only really contributes to a handful of jobs at the most, and these are concentrated in a three month period over the summer. The newly resurgent fishing industry provides most of the jobs, these are mostly minimum wage manual labour jobs, but it keeps the community going, and the school, swimming pool, bank and post office open. On my last visit, people were expressing optimism that more jobs would bring more people to the village, and that there would be more parties going on this summer. 

The fact that getting to Flateyri involves a 14 kilometre detour from the only road of any significance is, I think, a good thing. It means that many people just don’t make the turn. For now, at least, Flateyri is somewhere where you can go to get away from the tourists. Meanwhile, the tourist industry is expanding rapidly in places like Reykjavik and Akureryi, which is also good – after all, Iceland needs this income.  

And as for the apartment, people seem to find it the website, and I have been able to rent it out enough without needing to publicise it any more than I am. I am looking at what I am doing much more professionally than when I started – the feedback that I have had so far is overwhelmingly positive, but I am always looking for ways to improve. And thinking a bit more about how to attract the type of guest who will truly appreciate the village and surrounding area.

Posted by: neilh10 | April 1, 2012

as featured in the sunday times

Posted by: neilh10 | February 23, 2012

Domestic flights in Iceland. What you need to know

Many people travel to Iceland and get around the country using Air Iceland, the main domestic airline. Air Iceland fly from Reykjavik to the main towns of Isafjordur in the Westfjords, Akureyri in the north and Egillstadir in the east. They can also fly you via Akureyri to the island of Grimsey and the remote villages of Vopnafjordur and Thorshafn. 
Flying on Air Iceland is a great way to get around and not at all like flying anywhere else in the world. It feels a little bit like being on old luxury bus service. The views are magnificent and the service is excellent as well. Basically, I love travelling by plane in Iceland and, unless you are a particularly nervous flyer, I suggest you will as well.
 
Anyway, the reason I am writing this post is to forewarn you that, unless you plan things out carefully and in advance of your vacation, your decision to fly domestically in Iceland could have very expensive consequences.
 
The reason is that, in wintertime, the weather can often delay domestic flights. In the most extreme circumstances, these delays can run to days at a time. This is a frequent occurance on the flights in and out of Isafjordur in wintertime (and often reflected in popular culture, see for instance this film, December). The delays can become so bad that many locals will simply give up on the plane, and drive to Reykjavik – hiring a car if necessary. And, given the circumstances and high risk of delay, I suggest that guests to my apartmentin wintertime consider renting a 4×4 and do the same.
 

Irrespective of what season you are travelling, as a customer, I think you need to be aware of two important points about flying domestically in Iceland. Firstly, in the event that your flight is delayed or cancelled because of the weather, Air Iceland are under no obligation to provide you with any assistance, and this is reflected in their policies. As a traveller, this could have expensive implications: you could lose the accommodation you had planned (and paid) to stay in the following night (s), and you might need to find accommodation in the place you are stranded, and pay for that yourself. 

 
In the most extreme circumstances, it could well be the case that a delay on your domestic flight leads to you missing your onward, connecting international flight out of Iceland. Were this to be the case, Air Iceland are not under any obligation to provide you with any assistance – unless your international flights are on Icelandair, in which case you will be able to take a later flight at no extra charge. 
 
Book with Iceland Express, wow air, or easyJet however, and it will be considered a ‘lost ticket’. Your cheap flight to Iceland might turn out not to be so cheap!
 
The way around this situation is to check your travel insurance policy very carefully. The part of your insurance you need to check is the sections that deal with travel delay and missed departure. You need to check whether the relevant policies apply to domestic flights undertaken as part of your travel itinerary. In my experience, some insurers do cover this but many do not. You need to be very clear about this with your insurer, before you leave. 
 
I sent a draft of this article to Air Iceland, but they have not commented on the situation. My suggestion to the airline is that they include an option for travellers to purchase ‘delay and flight cancellation’ insurance, along with their domestic flight ticket. This would cover you beyond doubt in the event of flight delay or cancellation. 
 
I think this is an important issue, because it is in everyone’s interest that travellers have the best possible experience while on holiday in Iceland. If you do get stuck in Vopnafjordur or wherever else because of the weather, the last thing you want to add to your woes is a huge bill to enable you return home. 
Posted by: neilh10 | February 15, 2012

WOWAIR ANNOUNCE SEAT SALE – ICELAND £133 RETURN

Icelands newest airline, WOW AIR, have a seat sale on right now, which means you could fly from London Stansted to Reykjavik through June to August (when wow air currently fly, they look to be a bit of a part time operation), for 133 pounds return. 

Be quick.

In other news on the airline front, easyJet have announced that they will fly to Iceland x3 times per week, from London, year round. According to a press release on their website, Tickets for the winter (post october) season go on sale in mid march.

UPDATE 16/02

Iceland express are getting in on the action as well. They have just added a load of fares on their ICEBREAKER page over the summer, offering trips from copenhagen and london to Reykjavik for £82 each way. It will be interesting to observe how Icelandair react, at present the cheapest Icelandair flight from London to Reykjavik in July is £280.

As a customer, these kind of fare wars are great news. However, as the bookings roll in, it is likely that the fares will rise dramatically. The airlines have to make money somehow! So in my view, now is clearly a good time to book your summer flight to Iceland.

Posted by: neilh10 | January 30, 2012

Finding your dream home in Iceland: Check out Raufarhofn

One question people often ask me is whether or not my project in Iceland is repeatable. People have contacted me from all over the world asking about how they might go about buying their own house in Iceland. I have had requests from journalists, wanting to write features on me and my apartment in Iceland.

I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable answering these questions. The truth is that my outlook on property ownership is different to other peoples, particularly when it comes to Iceland.

But if you are looking for a bargain bolt-hole in Iceland, I would urge you to look no further than Raufarhofn, where the Reykjavik Grapevine, via RUV are reporting that the government sold one house recently for as little as nothing:

Bergur Elías Ágústsson, the county councilperson of North Iceland, told reporters that even in selling the house for nothing, the municipality gains by having it renovated and restored, adding to a sprucing up of the village in general.

Other houses are also available in Raufarhöfn. A group of artists recently bought an old herring facility with the same intention of renovating it, and giving it a new life with a different purpose.

When asked if the county intends to sell every house on the block for as good a price as the Old Cooperative, Bergur declined to say definitively. He said that every deal will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Given the media attention recieved, it looks like this deal won’t last for long. So if you are looking to pick up a PROPERTY BARGAIN IN ICELAND, get to Raufarhofn as quickly as you can, and tell Bergur of your good intentions.

The church by the harbour

Raufarhofn, where you might possibly find your dream home (from Flickr)

Iceland express are running another special offer on flights to Iceland, from London Gatwick (and possibly their other destinations as well). It is precisely £0 on the way out, and £7 on the way back which, when you add up the taxes and other charges, comes to £138 return.

The prices are good for January and February.

I really need to think about something else to write about, other than AIRLINES FLYING TO ICELAND.

Happy new year, etc.

Gatwick Airport (Inspiring image of of Gatwick Airport, from Flickr)

UPDATE 06/01

The fares are now gone, and prices gone back up to regular levels, eg £250 return.

As a side note, further to my earlier post on Iceland express, it seems that the airline have survived, which is good news. Following the collapse of Asrtraeus airlines, they are now using a Czech charter airline to run their flights, and it seems to be working out ok so far.

Posted by: neilh10 | November 28, 2011

Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

Over the past few weeks I have been recieving a large number of enquiries from people hoping to travel to Iceland this winter, to see the northern lights.

Flateyri, the town in the Westfjords where I rent out my apartment, is as good as anywhere in Iceland to spot the lights. There is close to zero light pollution, and it is much further north than Reykjavik. The location is convenient for a northern lights hunt as it lies within 30 minutes driving distance of five different fjords with different weather systems, so if one fjord is covered in cloud, you could just drive to the next one. I can only speak from my own experience, but I’ve seen the northern lights on every trip I’ve made in wintertime, as have all my winter guests so far. I’m hoping my luck continues in to 2012!

(some guests of mine, just outside Flateyri in October 2010. Not about to win any national geographic awards)

Talking to my guests I have compiled a list of top tips for seeing the northern lights. This applies to my apartment in Flateyri, but the advice is also relevant for anyone going on holiday to Iceland in wintertime and hoping to catch a display of the northern lights.

1) The first tip is quite unusual but I think it is important that it is made. Lots of people go to Iceland with the sole intention of seeing the northern lights, but then end up disappointed if it doesn’t happen for them. The thing to remember is that Iceland is an awesome country with a lot of other things to do than just seeing the northern lights. For instance the Westfjords has great skiing and kayaking. Isafjordur (20 mins from Flateyri) has a range of restaurants, bars and cultural activities. And all of this is totally unspoiled by mass tourism, and would be well worth visiting even if the northern lights didn’t exist. So, my tip is to plan lots of other activities on your trip, other than hunting for the northern lights.

2) My second tip is to get a car if you can. To see the northern lights you need to move away from artificial light, if you are on foot you will be restricted to just one area. Having a car means that you can drive around and cover more ground. It also means that you can stay warm and stay out for longer.

3) My third tip is be persistent. Many Icelanders see the Northern lights so often that they are only really attracted to very dramatic displays. They also tend to go to work and sleep for much of the night. But this isn’t true for you as you have more time on your hands on holiday. Personally the times I have seen the lights are between 10pm and 2am – I don’t know if this is scientifically proven but for me at least that has always been the time the lights are the most active.

4) Know what you are looking for. The northern lights in reality are often rather different to what people were expecting. The first point is that they are not as green as you think, but mysteriously they tend to end up green whenever you take a picture of them. Feint displays of the northern lights are often indistinguishable from cloud. At the other end of the scale, the lights can be frightening – like the multicoloured beams of an alien spaceship. Given this, it is a good idea to read up on the lights before you go, so you know what it is you are actually looking for. You could start by looking at the web pages of the University of Alaska, that deal with this subject.

Posted by: neilh10 | November 21, 2011

Iceland express on the verge of collapse?

Looks like Iceland express might be in a bit of difficulty.

Earlier on today, the Icelandic media (h/t Iceland Weather report) reported that it has pulled its Keflavik – New York route, with immediate effect. This is a rather unusual and drastic step, even for an airline with a reputation for extreme unpredictability, like Iceland express.

And within the last few hours, the UK media have reported that the airlines sister company, Astraeus Airlines has filed for bankruptcy. As far as I understand it, all the operations of Iceland express were outsourced to Astraeus. They are owned by the same Reykjavik based parent company, Eignarhaldsfélagið Fengur HF.

I am hopeful that there will be some kind of rescue for Iceland express, who have been highly instrumental in making Iceland accessible for tourists. Many of their detractors forget this. They also employ about 60 people on the Island- far more than I suspect easy jet ever will. The airline plays an important part in Icelandic cultural life – like their rivals Icelandair, they sponsor sport tournaments and music events.

Músík Express (from flickr)

However, given the circumstances, I think it would be rather unwise to book flights on Iceland express, until a clearer picture emerges of the situation.

Update (6.57pm)

It seems that Iceland express have released a press release, indicating that they will continue flying and have signed a deal with CSA Czech Airlines to lease a 180 seat Airbus A320 with immediate effect. There is no sign of the press release on the Iceland express website (nor is there any coverage of their decision to pull the new york flights, which is rather unhelpful). Indeed, the most recent press release on the Iceland express website dates back to 2008. I read about this development on RUV.

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