Ten Off-Road Driving Incidents Since June

The Environment Agency of Iceland has reported ten incidents of illegal, off-road driving since the beginning of June, RÚV reports. Division Head Ólafur A. Jónsson says there’s a need to better educate the public—and particularly visiting travelers—about areas in the countryside where people are not permitted to drive as many off-roading violations are, he says, inadvertent.

The ten incidents have taken place in the South and the Southern Highlands: two at Dýrhólaey promontory on the south coast, one at the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range in the highlands, and seven in the Fjallabak nature reserve. The damage done to the landscape was significant enough in these incidents to report them to the police.

Although Ólafur says there was not a cumulative increase in these incidents as of the end of last year, his office is, nevertheless, in almost daily contact with the police about similar issues and says that his office is still working on raising public awareness about the fragility of Iceland’s natural landscapes. To this end, the Environment Agency has begun collaborating with Search and Rescue on matters related to land protection and new educational materials distributed to tourists. They are also preparing a database which will chart all of the roads in Iceland that it is permissible for people to drive on. “In most cases, you want to think these were unintentional acts,” he says, “that people didn’t mean to do any damage, had thought it was permitted [to drive off-road] or something like that.”

Intentional or not, Ólafur believes that fines are important in the event of serious damage being done to the landscape. Only a few days ago, French tourists driving two jeeps were fined ISK 200,000 ($1,900/€1,600) each for off-road driving near Kerlingarfjöll mountain range. The travellers called for help when they got their cars stuck in mud near the mountain Loðmundur. The area has been closed to vehicles due to wet conditions. The individuals’ driving damaged vegetation and soil in the area. The two individuals were questioned at the police station in Selfoss, South Iceland, where they paid the fine.

“I think that everyone who comes [into a protected area] needs to pay a fine to the police,” he said. “When you get up to amounts like that, I think it’s really important.”

Electric Buses Exceed Expectations in Reykjavík

Fourteen electric buses in Reykjavík’s public transportation system have exceeded expectations, according to the Strætó’s CEO. He told RÚV the company plans to grow their electric fleet in the near future.

Strætó bought 14 electric buses from China recently, the first of which were put to use in April. “This has really gone incredibly well, and nothing unexpected has come up, so we are just really pleased with our experience of these vehicles,” Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson, Strætó’s CEO, told RÚV. Jóhannes says the buses have been driven between 10-12,000km over the past four months.

The CEO adds that five additional electric buses arrived in the country for the company last Friday. “We are hoping to get them from the importer next week and see them on the street sometime in the beginning of August. Then the rest will hopefully arrive at the end of this year and then that will be a pretty good proportion of the bus fleet,” he remarked.

Two Thirds of Icelanders Have Netflix

Two out of every three Icelandic residents have access to Netflix at home, according to a recent MMR survey. The data represents a big change since two years ago, when only one third had access to the service. RÚV reported first.

Young people seem most enthusiastic about the media provider: 90% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 have access to Netflix in their home. In comparison, just 24% of seniors have access to Netflix.

Netflix access is more common in the Reykjavík capital area than in rural Iceland, and access rates show a positive correlation with income levels. Politically speaking, supporters of the Pirate Party and the Reform Party are the most likely to have access to Netflix in their homes, with about three out of every four answering affirmatively. Progressive Party supporters are the least likely to, with only about half using the service at home.

Icelanders Stock Up on Alcohol for Merchants’ Weekend

Icelandic liquor stores sold 767,000 litres of alcohol last year in the week leading up to Verslunarmannahelgi (Merchants’ Weekend), a long weekend celebrated in early August in Iceland. Around 137,000 customers entered liquor stores during the week, nearly 30,000 more than the weekly average in July. Iceland’s population, for comparison, is 350,000. RÚV reported first.

Merchants’ Weekend is a highlight of the summer for many Icelanders, with many capital-area residents leaving home for the countryside, often heading to one of many outdoor festivals occurring across the country.

Vínbúðin, the State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland, stated that all indications point to this year’s sales being just as high as last. In 2017, the highest volume of customers was seen on Friday, when 230,000 litres of alcohol were sold. Most customers that day shopped between 4-6pm, at a rate of roughly 6,400 customers per hour.

For locals and travellers, it may be helpful to note that Vínbúðin stores will be closed on Monday, August 6 for Merchants’ Day. Liquor store opening hours can be seen on Vínbúðin’s website.

Can Red Roads Save Tern Chicks?

A student at the University Centre of the Westfjords is painting the town red – but not in the traditional meaning of the phrase. “I’m looking at arctic terns and determining if painting the road will actually help keep them off of the road, especially the chicks,” Kelly Umlah, a master’s student studying Coastal and Marine Management at the university told RÚV.

Though arctic tern chicks are nearly full-grown at this time of year, they have yet to perfect the art of flying or learn to steer clear of danger such as vehicles. The chicks often land on paved roads, which collect heat and provide camouflage for the black, white, and grey birds.

That is where Umlah’s research comes in – the student has painted sections of road in Bolungarvík, Westfjords, red in order to discourage chicks from landing on it. The experiment is built on the results of a 2016 study that took place in Snæfellsnes, West Iceland where several bright colours were tested on roads for the same purpose. “I chose to do only red whereas they did a couple of different colours because they determined that red was the most consistent for keeping them off the road,” Umlah says.

The Canadian student checks on the nesting area three times a day to see whether any birds have been killed by impact with wheels or windshields, and notes whether birds are sitting on the road and if so on which part. “I would love to see that the birds stay off the red parts. It’s a relatively cheap way of managing the life of these birds, especially in nesting areas,” Umlah says. “And if they do stay off on the painted part it would be good to implement elsewhere in Iceland and around the world.”

Arctic terns in a nesting area in Bolungarvík

Ripped Off by Car Rentals?

Q: I have rented a car in Iceland a few times, up to now without any complaints whatsoever. Surfing through a few forums I was astonished to read that a lot of tourist seem to have been ripped off by their rental company through claiming minimal dents or scratches as major damage with a huge fine/claim. And I do not mean sandstorm damage. Is there an increase of those instances or is it an example of “once in a while and exaggerated via Internet forums”?

Mechthild, Germany

A: I spoke to a representative at the Icelandic Automobile Association. He said there seems to have been an increase in instances where renters of cars have been charged for dents and scratches once they return the rental car. He explains it as a result of a policy change within the larger car rentals in Europe in general, where an emphasis has been placed on scrutinizing the car upon return in search of any possible dents. He believes that policy has simply made its way to Iceland.

When asked for good advice to give to car renters, he said it was vital to walk around the car with a representative of the car rental when you pick up the car. Make sure every dent and scratch you see is clearly marked in the rental agreement. Also, be aware that there are many gravel roads in Iceland, making small dents likelier to occur than in many other countries. Most importantly, don’t drive a vehicle across rivers if it isn’t well equipped for such driving.

If you run into a dispute with the car rental, the Icelandic Automobile Association advises European travelers to contact the European Consumer Centre (ECC) in your home country. They will then forward the complaint to the ECC in Iceland and work in coordination with them to resolve your issue.

Should a dispute arise between a consumer and a company, which is member of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF) then the dispute can be referred to the complaints board of the Consumers’ Association of Iceland and SAF. This option is not limited to Icelandic citizens alone, but available to consumers of any nationality.

VH

Are the bales of hay in the Icelandic countryside colour coded?

Q: I wanted to ask about the bales of hay in the Icelandic countryside. We noticed that the bale wraps came in a few different colours. Are they colour coded or is this just the colours they come in?   Thanks,   Kim and Gord Tilly, Tyrone, Ontario, Canada

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A: According to an article on the qualities of hay bale wrapping on landbunadur.is, the website of the Icelandic Agricultural Information Service, plastic wrapping in three different colors has usually been used in Iceland: white, black and light green. Producers say that exactly the same materials are used in making these different colors.

Which color is best suited has been up for discussion and experimentation by farmers. The advantage of the white wrapping is that it reflects sunlight more efficiently than the other colors and therefore heat fluctuations have less of an impact on the hay.

In the case of darker colors, sunlight is said to cause the different layers of wrapping to melt together, creating a solid cover which decreases oxygen penetration of the hay bales.

Which color is used is up to each farmer.

The public has sometimes described bales of hay as being visual pollution—I remember a discussion in Norway to that regard—reasoning that the white wrappings, which are most commonly used, stand out in the landscape too much.

The black and especially light green wrappings don’t pose as much of a contrast to green pastures but then again, in the snow-covered winter landscape the white wrappings are hardly visible at all while the other colors stand out.

The campaign ‘Bleikar og bláar heyrúllur’ has sold blue and pink hay bale wrapping in the last couple of years to raise money for charity. Blue hay bale wrapping sales go towards awareness for bladder cancer in males while proceeds from the pink ones raise awareness for female breast cancer.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in Iceland

Q: A recent conversation with a friend stimulated this question. He had just watched the Ben Stiller film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on TV, knows I visited Iceland in 2009 and wanted to talk about it. My wife and I saw the film earlier when it first hit our local movie theater and we like it a lot.

What did you think of the segment of the film that took place in Iceland? Did the film portray things fairly accurately?

Is Iceland’s ban on stripper bars still in place? The reason I’m asking this question is because there is a scene in the film where Ben Stiller gets off a ship in an Icelandic port and races several Portuguese (?) sailors to a bicycle so he can continue his quest. The ship captain tells Stiller that the sailors want to use that bike to pedal into town to a stripper bar.

Ron, MD, U.S.

A: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which premiered in Iceland in January last year, ended up being the fourth most-watched movie in theaters in Iceland in 2014.

Upon leaving Iceland in September 2012, Ben Stiller tweeted: “Last day of the shoot. Iceland is an incredible place. Going to miss it here.” He also raved about Iceland on Jimmy Kimmel Live! earlier in the year.

Judging by how Icelandic landscape was portrayed in the film, Stiller really did love it. Parts of it seemed like an Inspired by Iceland commercial.

Scenes were shot in Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur on Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland, in Höfn and on Vatnajökull glacier in Southeast Iceland, and in Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland. An indoor scene was also shot in Borgarnes, West Iceland.

However, not all of the scenes were supposed to take place in Iceland; Stykkishólmur and Höfn served as locations in Greenland, while the Vatnajökull scenes were supposed to take place in Afghanistan and the Himalayas.

Also in the Iceland scenes, the geography was messed up. Walter Mitty was in Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland when he witnessed Eyjafjallajökull erupt, but according to the map that he carried, he was in Stykkishólmur in West Iceland and the volcano was located in the town’s vicinity. In reality, Eyjafjallajökull isn’t anywhere near either of the two towns, its actual location is in South Iceland.

Stripping is still banned and there’s also no Papa John’s in Iceland so Stiller definitely didn’t portray things accurately, even though he certainly did Icelandic nature justice in his landscape shots, especially where Walter Mitty skateboards down Fjarðarheiði to Seyðisfjörður.

I thought the geographical mix-up was funny but it didn’t bother me much when watching the movie. Writers and filmmakers are granted a certain liberty as a good storyline trumps facts. Stiller isn’t the first filmmaker to play around with Icelandic geography—the locations in Icelandic Oscar-nominated director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s 1995 comedy Cold Fever (Á köldum klaka) didn’t make much sense either.

The film got mixed reviews and not everyone liked it, although the people I spoke with generally agreed that it was entertaining, a ‘feel good’ movie.

ESA

Northern Lights to Decrease in 2019

Northern lights activity will lessen from 2019-2021 due to decreasing solar activity, Vísir reports. There will be fewer of the colourful, bright displays which have recently attracted tourists to Iceland.

Northern lights are caused by solar activity, which goes through 11-year cycles. During these solar cycles the sun experiences changes in levels of solar radiation and magnetic activity, and as this activity decreases, so do northern lights.

“Now and in the next few years [the activity] will begin to decrease, slowly but surely. So that 2019 will probably be very quiet, 2020 as well, 2021, and then the activity should increase again after that and should reach a high point in 2026, around that time, and the following years, three or four years, there should be very nice northern lights as well,” stated Sævar Helgi Bragason, editor of Stjörnufræðivefurinn website and Facebook page which aim to promote interest in astronomy.

Sævar Helgi assured that even in periods of low activity, northern lights never disappear completely. “We will, however, get fewer colourful, splendid displays of the kind we would like to show off to tourists and see ourselves,” he stated.

Great displays of northern lights are still expected this winter, before the activity begins to diminish.

“This winter has gotten off to a good start, and seems to be continuing to be quite good. So I’m very optimistic about this winter and also pretty optimistic about next winter, though we may see graceful and beautiful displays a bit less often then,” adds Sævar Helgi.

Are there any public laundry facilities in Iceland?

Q: Are there any public laundry facilities in Iceland?

We will be bringing our three sons to Iceland for two weeks this summer and at some point in the two weeks I’m sure we will need to wash some of our clothes.

For our first five days we will be based in Reykjavík and then we will be traveling around the island for the rest of the trip, spending two days in Akureyri.

When my wife and I were there last summer we didn’t see any public laundry facilities nor did we see this service provided at any of the hotels we stayed at.

John Kingma, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada

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A: Almost every household has its own washing machine or, in some older apartment complexes, each apartment has access to a shared washing machine in the basement. This means that, unfortunately, there aren’t any self-service laundromats in Iceland.

However, you should be able to have your clothes washed at your hotel or if you’re staying at a hostel, you may well have access to a machine. The website hostel.is provides a listing of services available at each of the hostels in Iceland and a quick overview showed that almost all of these hostels had laundry facilities, at least the ones in Reykjavík and Akureyri.

There are some laundry services listed in the phonebook, although most are drycleaners who also offer laundry services. However, these services are normally outrageously expensive.

For example, there is a company in Reykjavík called Fönn that offers full-service laundering. Unless you come with a very large amount of clothing (we’re talking about several garbage bags of clothes) then you are charged by the garment.

Socks cost ISK 172 (USD 1.34, EUR 0.96) per pair, undies cost ISK 230 (USD 1.79, EUR 1.28) per pair, shirts cost ISK 554 (USD 4.32, EUR 3.08) per garment, and so forth.

So you can see how your bill would add up quite quickly. Clothes dropped off before noon can be picked up the same day. Otherwise, there is a one-day turnaround.

If you want to check your options, here is a listing of drycleaners, including contact information, in Iceland from the online telephone book.

On the website tjalda.is, which lists all campsites in Iceland, you can see that some of have access to washing machine, such as the camp site in Akureyri and the camp site in Laugardalur in Reykjavík.

Otherwise, you might just have to seek out a hot spring to do your laundry as Icelanders used to do back in the days.