Hotel Frón

Frón is Icelandic for Biscuits, apparently. Surprisingly because someone from there told me it was something to do with rock or stone. Odd. Cute.

As mentioned in previous post, I, initially, wanted to stay at an airbnb apartment, which was located near a lighthouse. The host unfortunately declined due to unavailability on my requested dates. Which was just as well, as I found out during my trip.

I chose this hotel because it was the cheapest option for my 5-day trip. Of course, there were hostels and guesthouses, but I wanted to pick one that served breakfast everyday and located in the center of Reykjavik. And I thought a hotel would be safer for me as a first time solo traveler to Iceland. It also had great reviews (as per Booking.com), though I didn’t realize it was only a 3-star hotel.

My flight from Heathrow arrived in the late afternoon and the sun was just setting. The Flybus bus was ready to depart to its main station in Reykjavik, where we were moved to different vans, categorized by zones, by our hotels. There were two other Asian girls and I, navigating through Laugavegur street, as our driver dropped us about 50m away from the hotel. His accent was super thick when he told us where the hotel was, although he was speaking in English. The two Asian girls and I looked right and left on the main high street when our driver drove past in his van, looking at us while pointing his finger towards our hotel.

The streets were not too busy, and there were ribbons of sunlight across the sky. Dragging my luggage through the cobblestones, I looked at the surrounding buildings, which reminded me of the high street in Canterbury, but the Icelandic walls were covered with interesting top-to-bottom art. I recognized the street immediately as I’ve google-street it before. Opposite the building with black & white art wall was the distinct green teal exteriors, with signboards that said Hotel Frón.

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The distinct art wall opposite the hotel
The entrance was a glass door with a wooden frame. Greeted by more wall art and stone tiles, the lobby seemed welcoming and it definitely was warmer than outside. The two girls went to check-in first as I looked for my reservation copy. The lift opposite the reception closed its door, taking the two girls to their room, as the lady behind the counter processed my check-in. She asked me if I was alone to which I said I was, and then she told me, “Okay, good. Your room is 301 on the third floor.”

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The Viking-themed lobby
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I pondered on her “okay, good” comment as I exit the lift. I stood outside my room for a moment as it was, directly, next to the stairs. And whoa, was I in for a treat!  I entered my room to find that it was NOT a single that I booked for. It was a STUDIO room. Two large singles made into a double, a kitchenette and…no view. Lol. The view was a hallway to another studio room, which was a bummer, but no matter, I had a STUDIO for the next five days!

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Of course, being me, I was worried that maybe the hotel mis-booked me and I’d have to pay for the “upgraded” room when I check-out. I thought about this for a few seconds, and brushed it off. Told myself to just go with it and enjoy the huge room for me, myself and I!

Over the next few days, I used the hob twice, once to cook my pre-packed spaghetti carbonara, and once to re-heat the cooked pre-packed spaghetti. Haha. I was thankful for this kitchenette because it saved me two restaurant meals, which would have cost a lot! The kitchenette was complete with a coffeemaker, utensils, pans and pots. I did have dinner at the restaurant that’s attached to the hotel and had their special dinner dish. I can’t remember the name of the dish (silly me) but it was baked fish and it had this delicious sauce and fresh potatoes as sides. Also, had a nice glass of house white wine to go with it. Restaurant ambiance was friendly, warm, and not intimidating – important for a solo diner!

Some mornings I went to have breakfast at 6:30 or 7 because I had a tour bus to catch at 7:30 or 8. It was the same everyday, being continental breakfast – cold meats, bread, cereal, bananas, etc. Yes, I’d have liked some warm cooked food, but I’m thankful for the cold meats to fuel my energy for a day of adventure. Just enough and I didn’t have an upset tummy. Lol.

The surroundings of the hotel were adequate for your needs of shopping, bars, restaurants, and just hanging out. I spent time walking up and down Laugavegur – actually passed a vigil for the Icelandic girl that got killed weeks before my trip. It was a beautiful gesture by the Icelanders; candles lit on the steps of a building where she was last seen on CCTV.

It took me about 10 minutes to walk to Hallgrimskirkja Church from my hotel; up the main street and turned right where I saw the magnificent building. I could imagine it being more beautiful in warmer times.

I think Iceland has put a lot of thought in their tourism industry to be able to arrange all the logistics this way. Your tour company also would arrange pick-ups from your hotel in vans, then transfer you to a bus at their station. They have a long list of hotels, guesthouses and hostels that tour companies can arrange pick-ups for. Very convenient for those who don’t plan to rent a car in Reykjavik.

There’s a grocery store near the hotel, 10-11, but if you walk a little further, Bonus is a cheaper option, apparently. Actually, I didn’t go to any of these, because I had my spaghetti and snacks from a gas stop when I was on tour in Vik.

That Saturday night, I couldn’t sleep well. Maybe it was because of my jet lag, or maybe it was because of the music being played out loud either at the bar next to the hotel or a club somewhere nearby. Icelanders party till 5 in the morning, apparently! I returned from my NL hunt that night at about 10pm and dozed off at 11pm. Got woken up at about 4 in the morning to the bass music. I remember, waking up, smiling about the time I read on this piece of information about weekends in Reykjavik.

Besides that weekend music, the steps of guests walking up and down the stairs, which was next to my room, could be heard almost every night. I could’ve grunted and become bitter about it, but I just accepted it; it wasn’t unbearable.

I had the Parliament live on tv few afternoons when I was in my room, and it was interesting to watch, even though I know nought about Icelandic language. It also took me awhile to get used to the rotten egg smell whenever I showered. The smell doesn’t stay, of course, else that’d be a waste of soaping and shampooing. Lol (oh, I should explain that the smell is of sulphur – Iceland’s hot water is natural, from the ground and direct to the pipes).

I informed the receptionist the night before that I had a 6am flight to London, so had to leave by 4. They booked my Flybus and told me that they served light breakfast by 3am if I needed to have a bite or two. I went to the breakfast room at 3 and found myself alone, besides the male receptionist in the other room. I made myself some tea and a cold sandwich, and admired the array of photos on the wall beside me.

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It was almost 4am so I looked outside the hotel and saw no sign of my Flybus van. There were a couple of tour vans that passed, to which the receptionist said, “no, those aren’t yours. It’s okay, just sit down…they will come. Don’t worry” Lol. When my van actually arrived 5 minutes after 4, the man said, “Wow, they’re here, already! They’re early!” He was nice.

Oh, when I checked out, I was praying so hard, quietly, of course. “Ah, yes, 301. Okay, here’s your bill,” said the receptionist. I was SO glad that I was only paying what I initially booked for. What a bargain! A blessing! I never asked why it happened that way; probably because I checked in late in the afternoon so my booked single room was given away or simple unavailable. Or maybe they noticed that my birthday was just the day before. Who knows. I just know that I paid one-third of the actual price. Hehe <3

Oh, there’s actually a cafe that has live music almost every night. It’s literally about 100m or 200m away from the hotel. Unfortunately, I decided to check it out on my last night there, which was also when it decided to be closed. Lol. Ah well. The harbour, where you need to go to for whale-watching, is about 15-20 minutes walk from the hotel.

I would recommend Hotel Frón if you’re looking for a mid-range budget hotel. Their staff is helpful and straightforward; they won’t beat around the bush like being too polite like the English can be, lol. Everything is within distance and Reykjavik is quite easy to walk around in. The hotel is more upper Reykjavik, I would say, as places like the famous fish & chips restaurant, the American Bar or the English Pub (they’re very obvious names, aren’t they? Lol) are down the street, about 10 minutes walk.

If Frón really means biscuits, there was nothing biscuit-y about the hotel. :D

 

What I did for my birthday 2017…Iceland!

When I bought my flight ticket to London, I had no idea what I was going to do while I was there. I’ve practically been solo-flying to London every year since 2015, and I just thought that this would be my yearly solo vacation spot.

I love traveling solo. It’s liberating…something I’m comfortable doing, yet always something new to experience.

So, this “something new to experience” brought me to choose Iceland as my main destination for this trip. I had always been caught up with its name since I was a little girl – a land made out of ice? Ha. Furthermore, I could experience the Northern Lights. Two things to strike off the bucket list at the same time.

Also, it was time to go to a place where English isn’t the national language. But I’m so glad Icelanders speak good English!

Here’s a summary of my trip expenses (excluding food and miscellaneous items):

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The green colour indicates “paid”, while the red one indicates “to be paid when there”.

  • 26th Jan – depart BWN, Brunei
  • 27th Jan – arrive LDN, UK
  • 28th Jan – depart LDN; arrive KEF, Iceland, Northern Lights hunt
  • 29th Jan – South Shore Adventure (Vik)
  • 30th Jan – Golden Circle Classic
  • 31st Jan – Leisure in Reykavik
  • 1st Feb – depart KEF; arrive LDN
  • 3rd Feb – depart LDN
  • 4th Feb – arrive BWN

Initially, I wanted to stay in an airbnb in Reykjavik (the world’s northernmost capital city!), and there was this beautiful apartment next to a lighthouse(!!) but the host said that he wouldn’t be accepting guests on my requested dates so…bummer. I’m actually glad for this because the hotel that I booked for (Hotel Fron) was one of the best decisions I made for this trip. Will tell more in another post!

I’m usually not for big tours, but upon researching into hiring a car, I thought better of it. Hiring a car to drive in winter would be a first for me…what more driving solo. (Many advised about solo driving in Icelandic winter – not recommended!) As much as I would have loved to drive, surrounded by beautiful landscapes, I had to scrap the idea and opted for guided tours. I splurged on one of the tours, which was for the Northern Lights hunt. Reading the reviews for the hunt with a big tour seemed like an almost impersonal experience, so I chose the jeep tour, which had me and four other people, plus the driver. It was a little pricey, but definitely worth it! The experience was magical, and for another post! ;)

Oh, right. I researched on flying into Keflavik International Airport, and found two competitive budget airlines, flying from London i.e. Icelandair and WowAir (baggage allowance included in fare). Of course, reviews are important, and tbh, there weren’t much difference between the two, in terms of their pros and cons. What made me decide to go with Icelandair was that it had a reasonable flight time and a convenient point of departure that I wanted to fly from i.e. Heathrow. It was overall a good flight experience for me. Also for another post. Maybe. Haha.

Be prepared to pay more for food. I think I only had three proper restaurant meals on my 5-day trip. Had breakfast every morning in the hotel, and hot dogs when I was out and about. Their hot dogs are famously affordable and they fill your tummy just right.

I didn’t get to try the beers (did try wine! Nyum!) except for one…which I can’t remember the name of, but the bartender said it’s similar to Viking’s. Not a fan of beers, but that one was just nice. Had loads of free, drinkable Icelandic water.

All in all, I’m glad I chose to go to Iceland for my birthday trip. It was something that I’ve always wanted to do, and, the fact that Iceland earned the numero uno position in Global Peace Index (last checked in 2016), it was perfect for my thirst of solo travelling.

Iceland was magical.

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Photo taken by Superjeep.is, my jeep tour guide, 28.01.2017. Beautiful!

My First Solo Trip (Part 1)

When I got my first bonus from the company, I already knew what I had to do with it. I paid the first two months’ of the rent of the apartment I was moving in to. I didn’t plan on it, but it sort of just happened. I knew I wanted to move out of my sister’s house and get a place of my own in the capital, but I didn’t know that I would actually do it. 2014 was a lot of “didn’t know I’d actually do it”.

Moving in with my good friend was also one of those things. We became fast friends, and realize that we could make great housemates. And we are. One night in April, we were having one of our conversations about the future and the present.

 “I need a holiday. Work is crazy.”

“Me, too! I’m going away for two weeks for my birthday with him, you know!”

“Really? And you’re not going to tell me where, right?”

“Nope! You should do that, by the way.”

“Travelling on my birthday? Yea, that’s a good idea. I wanted to do that for the longest time, honestly. And on my own! I’ve just never had the money and the time to do it. I have to do something for my 27th, though. My birthday’s on the 27th!”

“Well, do it then! And you’ll have plenty of time to plan and save up! Okay, let’s do this! You have to go somewhere for your birthday!”

“Especially with that raise I had late last year…I could definitely save up! Oh, but where would I go?”

“Never mind that for now. You have to decide by July, though, ‘because that’s MY birthday month. It’ll be like your present to me.”

“Haha! Okay, set. I’m going on my own, right?”

“Yep! Your first solo trip somewhere for your 27th birthday on the 27th. Great number.”

And so, the seed was planted in my head. For the next following months, I planned to go somewhere nearby because it would probably be safer to do so on my own and within my budget. So, I decided on Kota Kinabalu, Sabah; close, sort of familiar, and it’s got wonderful beaches. I started to look at TripAdvisor for places of interest, hotels to stay in, and restaurants/cafes/pubs to go to. Over time, I felt as if I was only planning for the sake of it. My heart wasn’t into it. I was excited, but not too much. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

July came, and my housemate asked if I’ve bought the flight ticket. I told her my worries, and that I’ll let her know my answer when she gets back from her holiday, which was early August. I knew I had to decide soon, as it was only few months to January.

 “Well, if you don’t want to go to KK, then maybe you could go somewhere else. Maybe Malaysia is not where you want to go.”

“No, not really. My friend told me that there’s going to be a travel fair this September. I think I will look into that.”

The answer came sooner than anticipated. I received another raise few days after.

Since I left England for good in 2011, I felt empty. And when I visited in summer 2012 for my graduation, I knew that I have to return at least once in a while. After resigning from my previous job, I was unemployed for 6 months. I was down, but never really discouraged; always trusting God to lead me. But I was missing England, terribly. I vowed to myself that I have to visit it as soon as I get myself together.

With the raises I was getting, I saw that my savings was building up, and I could afford an expensive birthday trip. It was only logical to choose England as my travel destination. When I told my housemate of the decision, she agreed that that was definitely a good choice especially when I’ve been talking to her about how much I’ve missed England.

So, that was that. People have asked me why I have chosen England as the first place to travel to solo.

 “Why the UK? You’ve been there. So, what else is there to see?”

“England’s too expensive for shopping!”

“There must be a defining moment when a light bulb switched on.”

I lived in the UK for four years. In those four years, I’ve only been to London, Nottingham, and most of the towns in Kent. I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland, but I didn’t. Sheffield, Bristol, Bath, Southampton, Somerset, Lake District, etc. And, to be honest, I’m not a very big shopper. I’m also going for the experience – sights to see, good food to eat. I can’t say if there was a defining moment. I just *knew* I had to go back to the UK, even just for a holiday.

Heck, I had to go back because I owed it to myself. I’ve spent so much on other people that I forgot to spend on myself. I came to the realization that the person I was most neglecting was me. As I was travelling solo for the first time and for my 27th birthday on the 27th of January, England seemed like a good choice. It would be familiar, awesome, and worth the trip.

And it was. Didn’t know I’d actually do it! :)

Chase your dreams!

/E

Living in the Moment

I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in the first week of January 2014 with one of my closest friends. Both of us have a lot in common with each other and it was no wonder that throughout that movie, we could relate to the message portrayed. Moreover, it definitely pushed us to be more courageous in everything we do. After the movie, we had some review-sharing session over some CBTL’s coffee at a nearby cafe. We were very excited and enthusiastic about the music the movie had, about the board scene, the little message in the lift (“Mind over Matter”)…we decided, then, that we would go travelling together; backpacking. It’s still all in the planning, but we’ve been talking about travelling together since last year so I hope that we will be able to realize that soon.

It’d be great to go backpacking – experiencing situations that I’ve never been through and then learn from them to open my mind. That’s what I love about traveling to new places – they put me in situations I never thought I’d be in and I’d have to be humble and go through them with courage. So when I’m back in reality/home, I’d have a wider perspective and deeper appreciation for things and people I have in my life.

I find escapism in travel, drinking and laughing with friends, music, reading a novel…we all have our own little ways to escape reality, even for a little while. It is in these escapades that we find out more about ourselves…and know what our purpose is as an individual. And it sometimes feel that the purpose has many variations.

I have a good feeling for 2014… Life is what we make of it – full or empty :)

Cheers to 2014!