What you can see in Alesund in 1.5 days

Here is a little quiz.

Where can you find a town in Norway that has artistic characteristics?  Not sure?  How about having a look at my photo that I have taken from far:

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Ok, you get me. The title of the article has given the clue away. It’s Alesund, a sea port small town known for Art Nouveau architecture.

Map of Alesund

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Source: http://www.visitalesund.com/

The best way mode of transportation is via Hurtigruten, a passenger vessel. Hop on board to enjoy the scenic view while sipping a hot cup of coffee. If you are in a rush of time, try booking from the beautiful city of Bergen to Alesund. The departure starts at 2230 hours from Bergen and will reach Alesund at 1200 hours noon time, 13 hours voyage. So, you get to sleep at least 8 hours in the cabin. Have a hearty morning breakfast and chill out at the deck with a drink.

I think the fare is pretty reasonable for two especially it’s a ship with a long history. Even better if you travel during the low peak season. Get more details of Hurtigruten here

Weather

Typically, the weather is cool. Remember to put on your jacket (5 to 10 degrees) as you may get chilled from the strong wind. Layer-on if your body temperature needs adjustment.

Preparation details ready, it’s time to find out why I think Alesund is worth a second look.

418 steps

Steps to heaven, some may say. I think it’s a pathway to explore. The thought of finding out…so I take the time to climb the steps slowly. It’s good exercise. Furthermore you get to the top of the view point and yes, it’s simply worth it!

Panoramic view of the coast and fjords

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Alesund at the top view

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The evening sun sets in……

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Being a little adventurous, I explore the peak and snap a photo of the wind vane

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There is a cafe.

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The sights are breathtaking. I can just sit around for a few hours, keep my mind at ease and enjoy the peace and tranquility.

Walk around Alesund

There are charming shops, cafes and bars. Jump in to any of them and take a moment of “me time” without the hustle and bustle of a corporate life. Buy a hotdog and a cuppa, sit by the bench and enjoy the sea breeze. Life needs to be slow moving at times.

At least, I get to see the bird peaking at me, a picture good for a postcard.

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Catch the sunset at Alesund

My recommendation is the cafe at the Radisson Blu Hotel. It’s a stone’s throw from the port of call for Hurtigruten. Grab a seat, get a drink and soak in the evening beauty. If you feel jaded for the night, per room starts from NOK$171 ($156 after discount) – find details here

From the start:

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To the full effect:

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Can’t just miss it, wouldn’t you? I am happy to include Alesund in my itinerary.

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Things you should know before your Northern Lights tour

It’s a dream for many travellers.

The amazing green lights dance in different patterns and shapes. Illuminating under the clear and dark sky on a cold and mystic night, the world most stunning show can’t stop majestically performing.

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For me, I chase the lights across Northern Norway – Lofoten, Alta and Tromso, a total of 4 different nights in mid to late March 2016. Unfortunately, it’s snowing heavily in Lofoten. Alta has glimpses in a couple of minutes. So, I figure Tromso will be my best bet. I manage to catch the lights for two consecutive nights in Tromso. Indeed, it is very favorably located for viewing the Northern Lights.

The experience leads me to think about my friends in Asia who may need more time to adjust to the climate. I have seen folks unprepared in clothes. For instance, their gloves are meant for shopping in South Korea!

Before you get excited about it, there are few things to be aware.

Weather

My advice is to get yourself mentally (and probably physically) prepared. The harsh winds may take a toll on you. Buy quality base layer, comfortable mid layer and lastly, a thick waterproof/windproof jacket (outer shell) that are able to withstand temperature (-10 degrees). Get thick gloves and beanies. Don’t wear cotton-layered socks, go for wollen. Jeans are out of the question – wear a comfortable base layer and outer-shell.

Don’t look out for cheap pricing clothing only. Be selective, buy long-lasting gear. You can find more information here.

Usually, the staff in winter stores are able to help you. Tell them that you are heading to the Arctic Circle. I pick North Face brand due to the reliability and after-service care.

Now that you are ready:

When will Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) appear

No guarantee of course but the aurora is visible after dark, mostly between 6pm and midnight (and sometimes till 4am). In Tromso at Norway, the lights may appear occasionally between 4pm and 2am.  Best dates to see it is between late September and late March. If you ask me to pick a month, I will choose March.

The sky has to be clear, not cloudy and there must not be any rain or snow.

An interesting study done by NASA (see image below) predicts the 11 year cycle. 2011 to 2014 is the uptrend while the curve starts to decelerate in 2015. After 2016, the probability of the lights appearing is lower. This means we will anticipate almost a total shut off in 2018 to 2020 where the cycle hits rock bottom.

Considering 2014 is the peak of the cycle, using 11 years, the next peak-to-peak will be 2025. Therefore, 2025 is the highest chance to witness Northern Lights, provided there is no drastic climate change.

It also seems that each cycle quantum is getting shorter and shorter.

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Using this piece of information, it’s time for you to think of:

Self-Drive vs Land Tour 

Iceland, a vast hinterland that has the beauties of natural wonders. Majority of my friends rent a car to chase Aurora Borealis.  There is Hertz at the airport.  Great GPS signal with location-based capabilities built in and the road signs are easy to understand.

Be warned – no matter how experienced you are, if you lack practice and technical expertise to navigate snow and slippery roads (and I mean real thick wads of snow!), your car may be stuck at roads that are absolutely quiet. Surely, you do not wish to waste any time calling in for help.  Worst of all, if your car skid and you lose complete control, you pose a real danger to passengers in your car too.  Never underestimate the terrain, never be overconfident. I am not saying you should not drive but if you must, please slow down where necessary and take extra caution. Switch to lower gear around bends, step on your brake pedal intermittently but don’t slam it too hard for no apparent reason.

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My opinion is, if you are a first-timer in Iceland, it’s better to pay extra dollar to get land tours.

At least you understand the terrain and have a guide to drive you, spot the lights together. It’s going to be fun as he brings you around. Refreshments are provided

Well, I take the land tour in Tromso, signing up with different companies – one of which is Tromso Safari. Pretty decent and these guys know where to take you. They prepare hot chocolate, help you out with your DSLR camera and take free photos with the lights.

Other tours such as Chasing Lights offer campfire, so that your toes are alive. There is hot soup or Norwegian packed ration meals that taste amazingly delicious – maybe it’s the feeling of having something warm in your tummy.

Equipment

Bring along your DSLR camera and spare batteries. Point and shoot camera will not work, less than 0.1% success. Camera phone is out of the equation. If you are on a land tour, they will lend you a sturdy tripod. Make sure you ask them first before signing up.

Carry 2x portable touches, a small umbrella, a bottle of water, snack bars, bread of light pastries. Put in a small day pack. There will hardly be any nearby washrooms, no 24/7 cafes except petrol kiosks which are miles away. It’s advisable to get your necessities first.

Finally:

Be open, be curious and try to forget the cold

Imagine yourself landing in a mysterious island. The next thing that crosses your mind is to explore, investigate deeper to look for clues. Likewise, you have to search for the phenomenal Northern Lights.

Thus, you need to drive miles away unless you have an experienced “Lights Hunter” on board. Don’t give up too easily, neither you should start complaining. Instead, take this opportunity of a lifetime to  open your mind – keep looking!

Witness the most fascinating natural light show on earth. Even if you have cold feet, the moment you see the lights, you will be in the thick of action clicking away your DSLR camera. Eventually, it’s mind over body……

I have the chance to capture beautiful memories of Aurora Borealis.

I am sure you will have a wonderful time.

Couples can’t resist this place in Norway. Read more and you will know the reason.

Log cabins, cold rooms – you name it, they have it.

Welcome to Kirkenes Snow Hotel, Northeasten part of Norway.  Before I bring you into the realm, let me talk about the origins of Kirkenes.

*This article does not receive any endorsement fees from Kirkenes Snow Hotel.  Below is an extract from GoWhereTravel traveller based on his personal experience.

According to Wikipedia, Kirkenes is a town that is situated 400 kilometres (250 mi) north of the Arctic Circle. It was used to be occupied by the Nazi Germany after series of air raids.  Today, there are evidences of World War Two from the civilian air raid shelter “Andersgrotta Bomb Shelter“. 

Picturesque view of Kirkenes during winter

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Wilderness in Kirkenes

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Upon arrival at Kirkenes airport, you will have to take a bus to town, stopping at Thon Hotel. From there, there will be a complimentary pick up at the lobby.  Remember to check allocated timing with the hotel reception  If not; you can flag down a taxi at the airport to Kirkenes Snow Hotel which costs about NOK300-NOK400. 

If you arrive by Hurtigruten ship, you should be stopping by Thon Hotel.  Check with the friendly crew.

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So, here I am! The moment I step out, I can smell the rustic nature. 

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The reception warmly offer to take me on a tour around the perimeters.  She shows me the elks and reindeers and the arctic dogs. 

Reindeer

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More Reindeers

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Adorable Arctic Dogs

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I thank her kind hospitality and decide to take a quick lunch.  There is a small restaurant around the corner serving delicious arctic-styled hot soup and bread (paid about NOK160 to NOK200).  I like it because of the chilly weather.  

Gabba Restaurant

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My lunch – arctic bread and soup

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After getting my hunger filled,  it’s time to check out my room.  I can’t help but snapped photos of the cabins.  Luckily, it’s not Christmas yet. The snow encompasses the backdrop; at a glance, the outlook is special, resembling several logcakes.

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Up the stairs….

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Far view

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In the night

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Extremely “homely feel”, cottage-styled – facing you is the snowy hills.   Think of how your childhood stories come to life with white flakes raining down and here you are, completely free of city life! There are free tea bags for you to sip, relax to enjoy the view.

Retirement life?

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Comfy beds

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More to come – I make my way to the entrance of the ice hotel….    

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The beds are covered with sheepskin to reindeer skin  Sleeping bags are provided.  What’s special is that every room has a theme. 

There is olaf!

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Swan sculpture

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And where the King sleeps

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Corridors are quiet, I just walk gently and slowly….

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A light casts on the ground, showing glimpses of a christmas tree

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How about a round of drinks?
The ice bar will be open from 9pm. Dinner is served at about 7.00pm (provided by Kirkenes Snow Hotel)

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The washroom is not too far ahead and one is able to deposit your belongings in the room.  

I head back to the recepton to check out their activities. There is hiking, dog sledging, King Crab trip and Northern Lights tour.   I choose the King Crabs as the thought of eating the freshly caught crustaceans appeal to me.   

Off I go with a snowmobile – the guide will take you to a spot and demonstrate how King Crabs are captured alive, right from the bottom of the arctic waters.  

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There is a string attached to the net beneath that contains the bait

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Voila! Big, juicy crabs!

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The guide drives the rest and myself to a hut.  He will boil the crabs with hot water, takes about 30 minutes on average.  Served right out from the pot. 

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It’s a great time to chill at Kirkenes Snow Hotel.  Certainly, it has left a deep impression in me, especially the cosy rooms in the cabins.  In fact, if you are lucky, you may be able to catch hold of the Northern Lights at the right time.  

The marshland that is not known to many and it’s right here in Singapore.

When you think of Singapore, images of skyscrapers, tall buildings, shopping malls, Resort World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands spring to life.  What remains from the metropolis is a hidden area that is able to rejuvenate your senses.

An area of vast greenery away from a bustling city life.  A peaceful and calm environment with shrubs of bushes, leafy grasses and occasional squeaks of birds.

Welcome to Tampines Eco Green!

I have the privilege to stop by the “undiscovered” location with my trusty bicycle. Easily found alongside the PCN (Park Connector Network), my journey starts from Punggol Waterway,  continue towards Pasir Ris Park and Bedok Reservoir Park. Follow the “PCN” words marked at pavements and signs at road junctions.  From Pasir Ris Park, it takes about 20 minutes to reach Tampines Eco Green.

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I step into the marshland trail…

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The trees sways gently, filling me with optimism.

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Moving ahead.  Quiet and rustic.

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Take a break, grab a granola bar and enjoy the beauty of nature

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Path diverts out to easy jog and walk.

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A little pond that adds to life’s diversity.

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A great place for a weekend stroll. Best of all, it’s free!

Bring your mates, families and children.  Just remember to tone down your voice for the guardians of the wild watch over you. So, there you go, one of Singapore’s little marshlands, smack right into the neighborhood.

Let Tampines Eco Green amaze you.

A place that brings back my childhood days

Childhood memories are beautiful. In the old days, I remember the story of “Beauty & the Beast”.  I am mesmerized by the love story. How can I forget the mystical “Aladdin”, the pure “Snow White” and the lovable “Donald Duck”. Bedtime stories, movies, cartoons…..

I am reborn as a kid on Christmas day. Disneyland Paris is one of the few theme parks of the world that gives a special feeling to me.

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Once I am in the park, the animated, well-loved characters are frolicking around.

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My favorite all-time Mickey and Minnie!

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Isn’t Winnie cute?

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Hey Alice!  Are you behind the little door?

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A peek into the streets

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And back to old, wild wild west

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I find a sense of mystery inside the spooky house

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Getting myself soaked into adrenalin-pumping Hollywood action!

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Ending the day with a walk around the enchanted castle

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Disneyland Paris is an experience that’s unforgettable.  I can be immersed into different themes, from the fairy tales to the heart-wrenching rides . Young and old, kid to adult like myself is teleported to my boyhood days. I grow up with Goofy and the bunch of cutesy loonies. (forget the iPhone!)

Oh, did someone just mention about the special guest?  Well, I can’t forget my buddy:

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Disneyland Paris is easily accessible. By central subway in Paris (the train stops at La Vallee station) or one is able to take a bus directly from Charles de Gaulle Airport.

I just love my magical, kiddo days.  Happy Christmas to all!

Before you choose Iceland, read this and you know why

Iceland is a natural beauty of fire and ice. Witness the bare grounds, volcanoes, cascading waterfalls, glaciers and icebergs, cliffs, mountains, hot springs and mud pools, geothermal pools and volcanic caves.

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This is a country you must personally visit. At least once in your lifetime. You just need one good reason with this answer.

I have uploaded some images of Iceland. You can find my itinerary of Iceland here.

The Iceland trip was awesome! It’s hassle-free and I do not need to worry about transport. It’s done in a leisure pace, giving travellers like myself opportunities to admire the amazing scenery of Iceland. Insight Vacations offers a new experience to me. No huff, no puff . I thoroughly enjoyed the premium land tour service with an experienced Tour Director, who is a local Icelandic. His name is Snorri.  I learn the history and culture of Icelandic people.

Let’s get the first thing right – air ticket. The best way to get to Iceland from Singapore is to take international direct flights from Singapore to Copenhagen. The journey is about 13 hours. For comfort, you can sit SQ, Singapore Airlines. There are also other Airlines that fly to Copenhagen such as Lufthansa. From Copenhagen Airport, take the transit flight to Iceland which is another 3 hours.

My preferred transit airline is Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) They have automated ticketing machine that prints out your boarding pass in minutes!

How to travel around Iceland
If you are on a land tour like Insight Vacations, don’t worry – the driver will be here to pick you up at the Airport. If you are on free and easy, there are cars for rental. Once you exit the arrival hall at the Airport, you will see rental car companies like Hertz.

For more details, please refer to this website:
http://www.kefairport.is/English/Transportation/Car-Hire/

Don’t bother about trains, buses and bicycles. Think of obscure urban areas with almost non-existent inter-connected city infrastructure. Get a car with working GPS and a map to navigate around Iceland. You get to see things unimaginable!

The next question is, what should I prepare for my Iceland trip?

6 things you should bring to Iceland
1. Good quality rain (waterproof) jacket. Forget the thinnest type of windbreaker
2. A thick jacket for temperatures ranging from 0% to 15%. It gets chilly in the night
3. Woollen clothes or sweatshirts with hood. It’s windy. You may feel a sudden chill
4. Open mindset. Don’t bring the city-dwellers. You will see things out of the blue!

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5. Good waterproof and shockproof camera that is fits the outdoors
6. An extra pair of sturdy sports/hiking shoes. Never knows when your shoes give way

The rule of thumb is to pack light, pack smart by checking out the temperature. Mix and match your clothes. Two type of jackets are advisable as you don’t want to see walking around with a thick coat when it’s in the summer days. Certainly, you do not wish to look at old Santa lunging your stuff too.

Best time to go Iceland
Summer definitely. In the month of August where I choose to go, there is longer daylight hours, starting from about 7am to 7pm. During winter, daylight is only 3.5 hours and the rest of the time is covered in darkness.

How many days should I spend in Iceland
Plan your itinerary before you depart. As the airplane journey is long from Singapore (about 16 hours in total), it makes more sense to go for longer days. Minus away your travel days on the plane, I would say 9 to 12 days is a good start to cover the main attractions.

What type of currency to use in Iceland
Icelandic Krona (ISK), Euro or American Dollars. My recommendation is to use Icelandic Krona (ISK) . So that, you get better value when you buy food, drinks and small items using their local currency. In several stores and restaurant, the change you get back is in Icelandic Krona (ISK). If you pay in Euro, you will lose out on exchange rate currency. However, please keep a few Euro just in case. For example, if you are visiting Blue Lagoon, the entrance fee is around Euro56.00 per adult.

Where to change Icelandic Krona?
In my knowledge, there are no authorized banks and moneychangers in Singapore to change. Therefore, you have to change at Landsbanki foreign exchange teller upon arriving at Keflavik Airport, Iceland.

You will see it when you exit the arrival hall.  Please do so immediately.

For details, please refer to here:
http://landsbankinn.com/personal/services/keflavik-airport-foreign-exchange/

Can I use credit card in Iceland?
Yes, you can. However, you need to check your issuing bank credit card transaction fees. There may be a small charge for Iceland. Iceland is way ahead in technological advancement. If you head over to the nearest grocery store, you can also pay using your credit card. My best advice is, use cash whenever you can, so as to avoid any transactional fees.   If you need to withdrawal extra cash, there are Landsbanki and other ATMs/teller machines around Reykjavik, the main town and capital of Iceland. No UOB, DBS, OCBC, Standard Chartered banks!

You will also see similar ATMs (e.g. Landsbanki) in Akureyri, another town located north of Iceland. But, don’t bet on these ATMs around at walking distance!

What’s cooking?
Iceland has their unique set of bread that looks like a brown sponge cake.

Icelandic sponge cake

It tastes a little soft and not too hard. Out of 10, I would give it 8. Some local folks will put the bread near to the Geysir (hot spring) and within minutes, it’s fully cooked!

Try their Icelandic soup too. During lunch time, you can see small restaurants selling light meals that consist from bread and vegetable soup.

Icelandic soup

Icelandic people love meat and fishes too. Sadly, some eat horse meat (although I feel sinful). They catch fishes and rear sheep for a living. If you feel wealthy, go for buffet styled food in small restaurants.

Cost of food and drinks?
Buffet is about 14,000 Icelandic Kronas (ISK) = SGD$145 per person. (1 ISK = 0.01032 SGD). A restaurant type of meal like fish and chips will cost you about 12,000 ISK = SGD$124. A vegetable soup and a bread with tea is priced around 8,000 ISK = SGD$83. Beer in Iceland is cheaper and popular. You will see local breweries at towns like Akureyri. It costs around 650 ISK = SGD$7 per person.

How much Icelandic Krona should I change?
It depends on your travel literary, objectives and lifestyle habits. If you are a budget traveller, probably you will just spend on normal food and drinks; which is about Icelandic Kronas (ISK) 6,000 – 8,000. (1 ISK = 0.01032 SGD based on current rate).

However, things in Iceland are not cheap.

Use your Icelandic Kronas and Euros wisely. I would suggest changing your SGD to Euro dollars as you can set aside some for large ticket items (e.g. Blue Lagoon entry fee) and convert the rest to Icelandic Kronas (ISK). Any spare Euro change, you can use them for future Europe tours.

Typically, budget Euro 150 for a day. Give yourself a 10% to 15% mark up, so that you have a buffer. Better to have more than less. Therefore, if you travel for 9 days, it will be Euro 1,350. Rounding up, the total amount is about Euro 1,550 = SGD $2,650 (rate is 1 Euro = SGD$1.71). This includes your lunches and dinners, as well as some spare cash to buy skin and facial care products from Blue Lagoon, souvenirs, Icelandic books and other collectible items. Take this as an estimate since individual needs are different.

Most importantly, don’t run out of Icelandic Krona for small items purchases.

What to buy
There are many books on Iceland that you may not find in normal bookshops but at souvenir stores in Iceland. If you pass by the town of Akureyri, there is a spacious bookstore downtown, right across the church. Get a few of these books with commentaries, especially the well-taken photo images.

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You can also buy Icelandic woollen clothing which is popular. A normal woollen sweat shirt is about SGD$250. Iceland has a history of trolls, starting from the Viking age. You may wish to get little troll figurines for your house decoration.

Don’t forget the volcanic ashes. It’s sold in small bottles.

volcanic ashes on hand

The main draw is Blue Lagoon skin and facial care products. It’s known for geothermal therapies. Key item that is hugely sellable is their Silica mud mask, 200ml tube retailed at about Euro65.00. Yes, you hear me right. It’s not cheap!

But my heart tells me to go ahead. So, I decide to get some of the Blue Mountain products such as Algae mask, Silica mud mask, bath gel and shower foam at the Blue Lagoon shop after enjoying my dip into the Blue Lagoon.

One point to note – patronize the Blue Lagoon shop at the Keflavik Airport. Because it’s tax free, thus the products are cheaper. You just need to pack your skin care products (more than 100ml) in your check-in luggage.

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Language and People
Generally, Icelandic people are friendly and warm in nature. You can have a chat with them to understand their daily lives or ask for directions. They speak and understand English. They know you are a foreigner, so converse with you in English. Icelandic language is their local way of communication. Don’t bother to memorize the Icelandic words. It’s practically impossible.

Safety
Men and women are safe to walk around the attractions without any hassle during daytime. When night falls, you can’t see anything much because there are few street lamps. I am sure you will stay in your accommodation and have your hot tea/coffee or cold beer.

In addition, the same safety rule applies to any countries – use common sense. Avoid dark alleys, dark corners. Don’t flash your “bling bling” in the open. Probably the only thing to note is drunkards in pubs at Reykjavik at the wee hours of the night. In the morning and afternoon, outside the outskirts of the main city, you will be charmed by the natural landscape that you forget where you exactly are. Just be mindful of your surroundings as I think the steep cliffs and waterfalls (you can stand in front of it! No barriers to avoid spoiling the natural beauty) are more dangerous than the folks around you. In fact, you should be more careful of the terrain around you.

I hope my personal advices will serve you well.

Enjoy!

Finally, I get to witness the crater of Mount Etna, one of Europe most active volcanoes

For the very first time, I was about to step into one of Europe most active volcanos, Mount Etna, located in Catania, Sicily. I was standing at the entrance of the crater known as “Crateri Silvestri”.

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According to Wikipedia, Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano on the European Continent, currently, 3,329m (10,922 ft) high, though this varies with summit eruptions. The ground was fertile with small rocks and black ashes. The weather was chilling. I put on my jacket and good walking shoes to explore further. I was lucky that the dark clouds did not appear.

The first sight to greet me was the steep slope.

The contours around it make me curious to discover the unknown. I suspected the round hole beneath was caused by the last eruption in mid Aug 2014, as reported by Daily Mail, a news publication in United Kingdom.

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I decided to venture ahead. Despite the low visibility, I managed to capture a shot, using my point-and-shoot camera. It might not be clear as the air was misty. From the front and far end, there was a blanket of white foam.

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So, I picked up the pieces, realizing that that was snow, covered in black ashes.

The texture was soft and smooth, running through my fingers like fine salt. The snow was not thick. Looked like the volcanic activity had been recent and temperature was cooling.

I think it could be due to the solidification process after hot lava flowed through the surrounding terrain. At least, the eruption was not as bad as Iceland’s Eyjafjallajoekull where the ash clouds halted the air traffic in Europe. Leisure and corporate travellers were grounded at airports. I could not imagine if Catania was hit by such magnitude.

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I paused for a minute and started to examine the volcanic rocks. My geography teacher used to tell me about the formation of the rocks. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not recall the process!

For my readers who would like to know more, you could find short descriptions and images here.

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I made my way around the crater. The wind and mist was blowing in my direction. At some point, I had to turn my head away. Everything was in a blur. Nonetheless, I trotted up and looked around. On my far left, there was a group of people walking. On my far right, it was emptiness.

I had to continue. It’s a new experience for me at Mount Etna.

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The vegetation added some colour.

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Just by witnessing the amazing spectacle around the crater left me speechless. If you had the chance to visit Catania, insert Mount Etna into your travel plans. For you never get an opportunity to stand in Mother’s Nature creation. Your day could start in the morning with lunch at a nearby restaurant. It’s within walking distance. Usually, you could buy pizzas, sandwiches, tea, coffee or beer. Souvenirs are sold in the restaurant too.

I did not went back empty-handed. I bought “Fichero”, the only hot-blooded liquor that’s available right in Sicily. It’s said to mimic the lava in Mount Etna. Being ambitious, I bought two small bottles, thinking what any alpha male did. After all, what’s this as compared to Absolut Vodka.

Oh my! I was wrong because the red liquid was really burning in my throat and I had to down one big bottle of cold mineral water to soothe myself.

Fichero Mt Etna

That was the final challenge for myself.

Don’t forget bottles of “Fichero”. Your friends might just love you. Completely unaware.

What you must know before choosing a good travel agent

A decently-priced travel package from a travel agent disappoints you. While it’s about managing your expectations, it’s also the onus of the travel agent to provide you a memorable experience. Your perception of good and poor travel agents is via word-of-mouth recommendation.

Maybe, you need to find out how to select a suitable agent that compliments you.

Most likely, your decision is based on the tone, vibe and response rate of the travel agent since itinerary can be similar. In the beginning, the counter staff sounds friendly. Whatever queries you have, he will address it readily. Here is what you do. Look at his body language. Does he sound genuine when answering? Does he exude warmth and sincerity or just gunning for your sale?

A person who tries to make small talks can break the ice. A person who just answers your question may be just doing the bare minimum of things. A person who does a mixture of both, plus going the extra effort may cast a stronger first impression. For example, when you suggest December as your choice of period to travel, apart from checking the flight availability, the travel agent is able to inform about the weather conditions. (December and weather comes hand-in-hand)

Follow on, the travel agent asks more casual questions to take a REAL interest in your type of travel -“it’s winter in December, do you like experiencing snow or are you active in winter sports such as skiing?”

Should this happens, you will have an idea about how this travel agent conducts their business in an open, free, caring mode of communication exchange.

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If you are a repeat customer, the agent should have some knowledge about where you go and what you said. Therefore, a conversation can start from here – “I remember you last went to Switzerland. What did you like about it?” A level higher up – “I remember you last went to Interlaken in Switzerland. And you said that you love the snow…..,so are you taking any winter holidays again?”

See the difference?

If you email the agency and this email response takes ages to reply, maybe you can strike this agent off. If there is a quick reply – did the travel agent take his time, put himself in your shoes and give a comprehensive answer or just top-of-the-line commentary?

You ask “looking at the itinerary of 12345, I will like to know an estimated duration that we are able to view this special attraction.”

Travel Agent A response “Due to time schedule, we do not encourage a prolonged stay.”

Now, let’s look at Travel Agent B response “We will love to encourage our valued customers to stay longer at this special attraction. It’s a beautiful sight. Due to time schedule and traffic conditions, we can’t. I know it’s a pity. I will feel the same if I am you. But we ensure you get the best experiences from other recommended sites by our professional Tour Manager.”

How does that feel to you?

Travel Agent B empathizes and assures you the quality. Sometimes, personal sharing and experiences from the travel agent adds value. Not too excessive otherwise it sounds like a sales talk.

This is why a Freelance Travel Consultant like me fills in the gaps. I provide independent advices based on my personal travel journey, collecting details that may support you travel plans. Thus, you know which questions to ask the travel agents for a better screening process.

If you prefer leaving the nuts and bolts with a travel agent, I recommend Insight Vacations, the professional and premium land tour company.

Drop me an email (ktservices@mail2world.com) anytime for further details. I am delighted to host a tea session with you.

This is one country you must visit. It’s not a dream!

Why I bet my last dollar on this country

I stare at the vast area of land in front of me. No tall buildings, no skyscrapers and no sign of Starbucks. Empty.  Bare and inhabited.

Maybe the only sign of life is the smoke far ahead.

The least I expect is a car driving up to me, asking whether this traveller is hopelessly lost.

But I am not.

I am absorbed by the work of Mother Nature. The waterfalls gush down strongly. The force of water dives into the raven below, leaving no stone unturned.

I will never forget Dettifoss…

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And that’s not all.

Seljalandsfoss, another waterfall that amazingly falls from greater heights. I can’t resist taking my camera to shoot point blank

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My favourite is Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods). It has the right size and shape with volcanic rocks surrounding the terrain.

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The next spectacle that blows me off is the glacier lagoon, Jokulsarlon. In my younger days, I watch icebergs on television.

Never did I expect to witness them in real. I am dumbfounded.

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Something struck me hard. I realize that one is able to push life to the limit.

You don’t need to be the 100th guy joining the queue. Be different. I spend the next half hour staring at the picturesque view yearning to be like the next super mutant, creating the impossible. You may think I am crazy.

Trust me. Inspiration comes from the unexpected moment. Yes, I wish to walk the freezing waters, jump on the glaciers and do the unthinkable.

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Gradually, I let Mother Nature enter into me. She repays my faith by allowing me to enter into a volcanic realm. Not your red hot crater. (you will see my experience at Mount Etna)

My destination is the lava pillars. Piles of columns stuck firmly on the ground after years of harsh weather conditions and lava erosion.

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Driving past hard, solidified molten lava. How our planet earth evolves drastically…

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This is Iceland.

A country you never think of as your top 10 list.   I did not look back after visiting Iceland.  My mentality of things around me changed.  How to be a man of greatness, a man that impacts lives of others. Simply because the vast richness of land, untouched by civilisation, pointed to me that life is far ahead, full of wonders and surprises. I  just need to look beyond my vision. My little island called Singapore is filled with daily commercialism and wealth building that sometimes, dollars and cents is the number one priority.

So, I tell myself. My life is holistic. I will like to create my personal milestones that influences others. If you face an obstacle in life, perhaps, a dosage of calmness may spark the “aha” moment.  Iceland can be your game changer.

Iceland is easily connected. Fly to Copenhagen, Denmark.  It’s an international airport. Take a short 2.5 to 3 hours transit flight (Scandinavian Airlines SAS) from Copenhagen to Iceland.  Do make sure you get your land tour sorted out since connectivity is almost negligible. These guys manage the point of attractions, transport, meals and accommodation.

Renting a car to self-drive can be frustrating. The road signs are small.  If you are lost, that’s it mate!  I am not sure of any GPS signals.

Therefore, I suggest get a reputable land tour company that’s not touristy and leisurely-paced. In Singapore, you can book your Iceland tour via Insight Vacations.  Now, I know you may be thinking it’s expensive.  Think again.  Can you use money to quantify a once-in-a-lifetime overseas trip that could completely WOW you, or turn your mentality 360 degrees?

Visit any authorised travel agents of Insight Vacations who may offer some discounts. Use my voucher of SGD$50.00.  No terms and conditions.

Contact me with the form below and I can pass a copy to you. (while stocks last!)

Remember.  You got one opportunity. Let Iceland influences you.