What soft drinks are popular in Iceland? Are there Icelandic soft drink brands?

Ask Iceland Review - Soft Drinks

You will be able to find most international soft drinks in Iceland, like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Red Bull, Sprite, Mountain Dew, 7 Up, Dr Pepper, Burn, and Fanta. Pepsi is one of the most popular drinks, and Icelanders especially like Pepsi Max. Up until 2017, Coca Cola was produced and bottled in Iceland with Icelandic […]

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If a lot of people have the same first name, like Jón, all their children must have the same surname when using the patronymic system, how does this work?

Ask Iceland Review

In Iceland, most people use a patronymic or matronymic name instead of a family name. Surnames are based on the given name of one of their parents, plus the suffix –son for sons and –dóttir for daughters. It’s true that many people can share the same surname because of this system. If a person has […]

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What are Icelanders’ favourite Christmas cookies?

Since the 19th century, baking Christmas cookies, jólasmákökur in Icelandic, has played a big part in the Christmas celebrations of Icelandic families. Originally following Danish recipes, these days Icelanders experiment more with recipes from different countries. Traditional Christmas cookies consist mostly of butter, flour, and sugar, ingredients that were available throughout the years. Baking six different cookies […]

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I’m an experienced driver familiar with driving on ice and snow. I want to see the northern lights, but is it safe to drive in winter?

winter tires reykjavík

It’s possible to drive safely in Iceland in winter and your experience with driving on ice and snow will come in handy, but be aware that ice and snow are only part of the risk – wind can also affect driving conditions adversely. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to drive without stress.

Firstly, always check the road conditions and weather forecast before you head out. Depending on these, you might want to adjust your route or the time you start your journey. Icelandic weather is temperamental and can change quickly. If you do get stuck in a snowstorm, slow down and increase your braking distance. Secondly, plan most of your journey so that most of the driving is done in daylight, which can be scarce during wintertime. Another important thing to think about is the kind of car you want to rent. In winter, we recommend a four-wheel drive vehicle, both for safety and comfort. If you’re driving out of the city during winter, don’t get the smallest car available: focus on your safety over the price. You will have a chance to see the northern lights between mid-August and mid-April. We understand that you’re excited to see them, but don’t get distracted while driving. Don’t stop in the middle of the road: find a safe parking spot at a designated area. Finally, get some local advice about your planned route. Some roads in Iceland are known to be difficult to drive in certain conditions or wind directions. If you feel insecure about driving yourself, booking one of the many organised tours with certified tour operators is the safer option.

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

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

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.

What are those heaps of stones that I saw during my travels in Iceland?

Q: During my travels in Iceland last August I sometimes saw heaps of stones in the countryside, for example in a field near Þingvellir or near Dyrhólaey.

What are they?

Stefano Galeazzi, Italy

A: The heaps of stones you refer to are called steinvarða (or simply varðavörður plural), or cairns in English. Cairns are often built as landmarks, for example along hiking paths, and were important for people to find the way before the age of GPS.

The making of cairns goes back centuries; the Icelandic settlers of the 9th and 10th centuries AD used cairns to mark their way on expeditions.

Some place names in Iceland indicate the presence of cairns, such as Fimmvörðuháls (‘five cairn hill’).

Nowadays, people sometimes make cairns just for fun or add stones to cairns on mountaintops to leave something behind.

While they are common, the building of cairns is not encouraged.

Item number four on the Environmental Agency of Iceland’s Traveller’s Code reads: “Never dislodge stones or build cairns.”

As Guðbjörg Gunnarsdóttir, national park ranger at the Environmental Agency of Iceland, told Iceland Review Street Edition (see page 12 of issue 4), a campaign is needed to bring awareness about the impacts of building cairns; the removal of rocks from the terrain to build cairns leaves scars in the land.

ZR

Secret Waterfall

Q: I stumbled upon a picture of Skútufoss. I’d like to visit the waterfall myself but to my surprise, I can’t get any info on its location. Do you know where is it?

Janusz, Poland.

A: It’s true that it was difficult to find information about the waterfall online. We found it in our Atlas, though. It is located about ten kilometers (6.2 miles) northeast of Hvolsvöllur, near Vatnsdalsfjall mountain (see the above image).

ZR

Snakes and Spiders in Iceland

Q: How bad are the midges/mosquitoes/flies in late August? And does Iceland have big snakes and even bigger spiders?

Barbara, United States

A: Iceland is actually one of the only places in the world where mosquitoes are not endemic.

The female black fly, also known as the buffalo gnat, will bite once after laying her eggs. This usually happens in late May to early June, although if conditions allow, some years a second generation of flies will breed later in the summer. Black flies breed in bodies of water, and for the most part remain near there for their entire life cycle, and so aren’t particularly noticeable in urban areas.

Since they don’t routinely rely on blood for sustenance, they aren’t a great bother in that sense, but they are attracted to the smell of carbon dioxide, and so in areas near lakes and streams where they gather in swarms, they can be a nuisance by getting in your face, eyes and ears.

There are no snakes in Iceland, and few spider species, none of which are dangerous to humans.

Yellow jackets have been found in Iceland since 1973, and can get somewhat aggressive around late August to early September. They tend to buzz around trashcans and are attracted to people eating and drinking at outside cafés.