Iceland Stopovers That Make Cents

Izon is a Canadian travel journalist covering youth budget routes.

Iceland is terribly expensive, but it is still possible for young travelers to plan interesting and economical stopovers.

The best way to start is to take the airport bus service for the 30-mile trip into Reykjavik and head for one of the two youth hostels.

The central hostel, Laufasvergur 41, has 60 beds, a members' kitchen and a travel service. There is a midnight curfew. The fee for members of the International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF) is 370 krona (about $13 U.S.). That rate applies at all of Iceland's 19 hostels.

Second Hostel Opens

A second youth hostel has been opened recently at Sundlaugavegur 34. It's a 15-minute walk from the airport bus drop-off at Hotel Esja.

Although not as close to city center as the central hostel, it is located beside the city's largest outdoor swimming pool.

The hostels have kitchens. That's a big help because any restaurant food has a hidden 25% service tax.

In Reykjavik, I found that a takeout hamburger would cost 160 krona (about $5.80 U.S.), a takeout slice of pizza 195 krona ($6.70 U.S.). Bacon, eggs and toast in a modest coffee shop was 320 krona ($11 U.S.) and a children's size ice cream cone cost 75 krona ($2.50 U.S.). The rule is don't order anything until you convert the price.

Supermarket prices are high but not prohibitive. A loaf of bread is 60 krona ($2.06 U.S.), a dozen eggs is 90 krona ($3.10 U.S.).

At the youth hostel's travel service, you can make arrangements for an economical journey to one of the most interesting areas of Iceland, the Westman Islands.

International Attention

The Westman Islands received international attention in 1963 when an underwater eruption a short distance away continued for five years and created a completely new island called Surtsey.

You can reach the Westman Islands by taking a one-hour bus trip and three-hour ferry. Total fare round trip is 1,650 krona (about $57 U.S.).

You will land on the only inhabited island, Heimaey. Sometimes called the modern-day Pompeii, it experienced a volcanic eruption in 1973. The island's 5,000 inhabitants were evacuated for one year. No lives were lost. Today you can walk on the lava flow that covered 300 homes.

Heimay's 2-year-old youth hostel is open June 1 to Sept. 15. It's at Faxastigur 38. Non-members of the IYHF are welcome for 470 kronas (about $16 U.S.) per night.

There is an 11 p.m. curfew but the manager sometimes relaxes it during June and July, when there is 24 hours of daylight.

A local resident, Pall Helgason, conducts tours of the island for 650 krona (about $22 U.S.). They are good value if you want to learn more of the island's fascinating history.

Flying Lumps of Lava

For example, during the first two hours of the five-month eruption, flying lumps of lava started fires in 40 homes. Every window facing the volcanic area had to be covered. One hundred tons of iron plates were brought from the mainland and 40,000 windows were covered in 48 hours.

A television camera was placed on top of a mountain and each night, when regular programming on Icelandic TV was finished, the switch was flipped and mainlanders and displaced members of the Heimaey community could watch mother nature's show.

The eruption actually increased the size of the island and created a better harbor. Even now hot lava is being used to heat the water that heats the homes.

The first weekend in August is a local holiday. Several thousand people camp in a local field and hold traditional sports competitions such as rock-climbing.

One of the most charming events during the year occurs between mid-August and early September. Several million puffins nest in the area. During the three hours of darkness, the baby puffins are drawn by the lights into the streets of the village.

It has become the custom for children 8 to 13 to stay up and go out with boxes to collect the baby puffins and return them to the nesting areas.

If you do visit Heimaey, don't gamble on being able to make a tight connection to get back to Reykjavik. Rough seas can delay ferries.

For more information on Iceland, contact the Iceland Tourist Board, 655 3rd Ave., 18th floor, New York 10017, phone (212) 949-2333.

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