RE: [TrackChasers] #702--Hafnarfjörður, Icel and
Very interesting report, as always. You're comment on both the economic and political situation was totally accurate. Just one thing to add: the economic situation in Iceland is now so dire the new government has posted its candidature to join the European Union. One more reason for me to get this country on my list as well some day.
From: TrackChasers@yahoogroups.com [mailto:TrackChasers@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Will White
Sent: 29 April 2009 04:01
Subject: [TrackChasers] #702--Hafnarfjörður, Iceland
Iceland is one of those rather unusual trackchasing countries that I've
wanted to visit for a number of years. However, since the last Icelandic
Rallycross Championship was held in 2003, the rallycross racers had
encountered political issues with the owner of the Kapelluhraun circuit
in Hafnarfjörður and were forced to cancel all championship events
through 2008. Last November, Roland noticed that the track was again
available and an unofficial race meeting had been held, with a full
schedule again put in place for 2009. Although aware of the risk they
may cancel again this year, I checked into airfares and noted that the
opening date of April 25th would be the least expensive time to go.
After considering a couple other new country options I decided to take a
chance on Iceland. Randy had also mentioned it as a possibility,
although his schedule often changes by the minute, but I figured if they
did run there should at least be one TrackChaser on hand to claim to be
the first. Well, not only did the rallycross go on as planned, but both
of us were in attendance.
Although recently considered the country with the highest overall living
standard, Iceland was hit extremely hard by the economic crisis last
year when their 3 biggest banks had to be taken over by the government.
Unemployment, which was nearly non-existent, shot up to about 10% and
the country was bailed out by the International Monetary Fund. I know
this is Roland's area of expertise and he can correct and elaborate if
he chooses. Anyway, bottom line for me was that Iceland, which is
usually one of the most expensive places in the world to visit, had its
currency lose nearly half its value compared to the dollar and is now a
much more affordable destination for the average traveler. That fact,
combined with the return of countable racing made it the perfect time
for me to add Iceland to my list.
--FRIDAY, APRIL 24TH, 2009--
It had taken a bit of persistence to book my seat on an Icelandair
flight from JFK to Keflavik International Airport. The first few times I
was shown a couple seats still available, then repeatedly received a
"sold out" notification when I would try to make the booking. Finally I
did manage to get through and procured a reservation for the 8:35 pm
flight. This would be my first experience with an international flight
not serving complimentary meals or snacks, but the experience with
Icelandair was otherwise very good. I packed a couple of sandwiches and
enjoyed one on the flight and the other at the hotel the next morning.
The airline were very punctual (although air traffic delayed our
takeoff) and economy class legroom was exemplary.
--SATURDAY, APRIL 25TH, 2009--
With about a 6 hour flight and Iceland being 4 hours ahead of Eastern
Daylight Time, the arrival was at about 7:00 am. The single terminal
Keflavik Airport was built by the US during WWII. It's too bad they
didn't build it a little closer to the greater Reykjavik area, since
there is still very little in the 25 miles of space between the two.
Although the vast majority of inhabitants own a personal vehicle, a $100
taxi ride to and from the airport to the city just won't cut it for most
visitors. Luckily there is Flybus. This regular service has a bus
waiting at the airport terminal exit door after each arriving
international flight and everyone is guaranteed a seat, for a price. The
normal roundtrip to Reykjavik's bus terminal is about $23, but for a
little more you can be dropped off and picked up at any of a number of
area hotels and guesthouses. I used my bank debit card in the automated
ticket machine next to the exit and was good to go.
Over half the country's population live in the Reykjavik metro area and
Hafnarfjörður is the third largest town. A half hour bus ride had me
outside the ugly, red, square, Hotel Hafnarfjörður, located on the north
side of this town of 25,000 and 5 miles south of the capital city. Like
this modern building (the hotel was built in 2005), most of the newer
architecture in the town is very boxy and drab looking. Many of the
individual dwellings do have a much more inviting appearance however.
The climate year round is quite mild for an island of such latitude (the
northern end of the island is just below the Arctic Circle) and the
weather this day was not unlike many early spring days back home
(although a lot cooler than our current heat wave).
I chose the Hotel Hafnarfjörður mainly for its price (an April special
offered the smallest single room at about $39.) and the fact that the
Flybus would drop me off there on its way to Reykjavik. Apparently the
hotel was at low occupancy and thus I was surprised to find my room
already available for use when I arrived at 8:00 am. I figured the races
would begin sometime later in the morning. I was between 4 and 5 miles
from the track and had found a local bus that would take me all but the
last mile and a quarter or so. However I soon found that you really had
to be on top of things with these buses because they sure don't fool
around. I exited the hotel about 3 minutes before the next bus was due
to arrive at the nearby stop. As I was about to cross the street near
the stop, the bus came zooming right by without even slowing down to see
if I wanted to get on. I'd have thought since he was running early he
should have at least given me a chance. I guess that's why he was
running early. Oh well, if they want to play games with me I'll show
them. I just decided I'd walk all the way to the track, which I did.
It was about 40 degrees, mostly cloudy and with only slight wind, very
nice for a morning walk as far as I was concerned. My route took me
first downhill into the center of town, past the harbor and shopping
district, then uphill again to the new building developments at the
south end of town. The streets were surprisingly empty. The natural
landscape consists of lava rock and snow covered mountains which, along
with the many geothermal hot springs, make Iceland appear, as Randy
stated, a cross between the Big Island of Hawaii and Wyoming.
Hafnarfjörður is built on lava rock and is, as Icelandic legend would
have it, home to a large population of elves which are said to inhabit
the lava. I kept an eye out for any possible elf sightings as I walked
Once I cleared the succession of ugly new apartment complexes and
commercial buildings going up at the end of town, I trudged the final
mile or so on a lonely two-lane highway that headed uphill into the
nearest range of snowy mountains. To this lovely solitude was added a
generous dose of relief when a rallycross car passed on the back of an
open trailer. Soon after that another racer sped up the highway and
turned in at the track's entrance without benefit of a hauler.
I arrived at the track a few minutes past 10 and headed to the spectator
side of the track. The part paved/ part gravel course was about 1/2 mile
long. There were no amenities on site, although there was a small,
abandoned, 2-story building in the spectator area that probably
originally housed officials and perhaps concessions in the past. There
were about 15 racers in the pits along with several track officials, but
not much of anything seemed to be happening for quite a while. I was the
only person on the spectator side for about an hour or so. Eventually a
few other spectators arrived and then single car time trials took place.
The cars were divided into 3 classes. One car ran all alone in the
smallest engine class. The standard class had I believe 8 cars. The open
class had 6 competitors, although 2 of those were actually buggies,
which I was not really expecting to see in Iceland.
Around the end of the time trial session I heard a feeble excuse for a
car horn blowing from very nearby. I turned to my left and just a few
yards away sat a very small car with a somewhat familiar looking
occupant. It was none other than the big international trackchaser
himself, Randy Lewis. During a break in the action, Randy bribed me into
the car with a can of roasted almonds. We also crossed the track and
checked out the small pit area, where Randy introduced me to his racing
contact, who was one of the buggy drivers.
Once the racing got underway we enjoyed 3 rounds of heats and in between
each race we discussed a number of international and domestic topics. At
one point, the conversation became "interesting" enough that it caused a
few of the otherwise very stoic and reserved Icelanders to turn their
heads. I've overcome some of my stubborn ways but a few areas obviously
require more work. All in all it was quite a good day. Around 2:30 the
third round of races finished up and they went into a break. Randy
offered me a ride back to the hotel, but I was up for another 5 mile
walk, so I declined and wished him luck as he set out on the second half
of his intercontinental double.
After returning to my room and resting for a while, I headed out for yet
another walk, this time to see what inexpensive eating choices were to
be found in the area. By now my feet were hurting a bit so I just tried
a few blocks in each direction. In the end I decided I didn't want to
eat at an American chain, of which there were Subway, KFC and Taco Bell,
so I chose a local fast food joint, called Jolli. Nothing special, but
they did have decent fries.
Today was Iceland's national election day. After the economic collapse,
the voters had enough of the center-right Independence Party and booted
them out. A coalition of 2 center-left groups, the Social Democratic
Alliance and the Left Green Movement, now hold the upper hand.
Television options at the hotel were limited to a few Icelandic language
ones, a few BBC ones, a couple movie channels and CNN.
--SUNDAY, APRIL 26TH, 2009--
The room was nice enough, but certainly not built with the average obese
American in mind. The bed was very high off the floor and quite narrow,
but luckily my fears of turning in my sleep and crashing to the floor
were unfounded. The shower stall was so small I could barely turn around
in it and touching my toes without opening the door first was completely
out of the question. Making the low price an even better value was the
decent breakfast buffet included. I expected the typical Nordic style
breakfast of cold meats and cheeses, so that was no surprise. I'm not a
big fan of luncheon style meat for breakfast, but toasting a couple
slices of bread and making it into a sandwich with a cheese and bacon
spread improved the situation adequately. Cereal, fruit, juice and
coffee rounded out the lineup.
With my departing flight not until late afternoon, I booked the latest
Flybus of the day, which was 1:30 pm. Even this would get me to the
airport too early but that was OK. I walked (more slowly today) a few
more miles, checked out some other neighborhoods and watched some school
football (soccer). I returned to the bus stop extra early and was
prepared to hail the bus this time, but 1:30 came and went. I waited
until 1:43 and started walking over toward the hotel. When I got about
halfway there, the hotel receptionist came out and was walking towards
me. When I was within earshot she told me the bus actually left
Reykjavik at 1:30 and would be here within the next couple minutes, so I
better rush back over and be ready to wave the bus down when it comes. I
quickly did as she instructed.
Back at Keflavik there was plenty of time to grab a few small souvenirs
and have a nice, filling buffet dinner for less than 2000 ISK. There are
now about 130 Icelandic kronor to the US dollar, so $15 for a variety of
food at an airport cafeteria wasn't too bad. I sure didn't have to worry
about eating during the flight back to New York. The touchdown just
after 7:00 pm was met with a hearty round of applause from the
passengers, the occasion being the final landing for the plane's
captain, who was retiring after 39 years of service.
As the month of April began, I didn't really expect to be visiting a new
country quite this early in the year, but I'm glad I did. Will this be
the end of my overseas travel for 2009? I honestly have no idea at this
point, but it's good to know that if worst comes to worst I at least
kept my annual streak going for another year.
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I'm sure it won't be long before you return to Iceland and this time not
just for a layover.
Vanden Eynde Roland wrote:
> Very interesting report, as always. You're comment on both the economic and political situation was totally accurate. Just one thing to add: the economic situation in Iceland is now so dire the new government has posted its candidature to join the European Union. One more reason for me to get this country on my list as well some day.