That's why Mums don't go to Iceland.
We weren’t daft. We knew Iceland would be pricey. We’d been before on a long weekend with friends just after the country went through it’s financial crisis. It was cheaper then and by cheaper I mean London prices for eating and drinking out.
This time we were in our campervan and we’d caught the ferry from Denmark to Seydisfjordour. The ferry was, is our most expensive outlay of our year-long trip, without a doubt. That’s fine though. 4 days on a boat is always going to be pricey, right?
Before setting sail we’d done our research (I say ‘we’, Dale was charged with that whilst I was driving us to Denmark). The camping card we’d purchase on board would discount our stays on selected sites around the country. The campsites were everywhere we wanted to go, so that was a no-brainer. And whilst at the pricier end of purchases at £129, divided by the 16 nights we’d be there worked out at just over £8 per night. That’s pretty decent when an average night at a campsite on mainland Europe can cost anywhere between £15-£25 per night. We’d nail this living-frugally-in-Iceland thing at this rate. It’s not going to be THAT expensive for everything else, is it?
With our budget supermarket ‘Bonus’ identified from our (Dale’s) research we were onto another win when the free Iceland Guide book we picked up on the boat had a map of all the stores. It must be a sign.
Off the boat we drove at 9am and straight to the nearest Bonus supermarket… which didn’t open until 11am. Eh? Hang on. Is it a Sunday? Nope, it’s a Tuesday. Well, maybe they just have a very relaxed approach to working hours here in Iceland, we thought. That’s cool. Maybe it takes them a while to add all the discount price labels, we joked. No worries. We busied ourselves round the corner at the tourist information centre looking at brochures of natural thermal hot pools, reading how you should log your movements on a special app whilst hiking in case you die, browsing the Icelandic woollen gloves and picking up leaflets on how you need to be careful when driving on gravel roads as you might die. You know, cheery stuff like that.
Bread has become a staple part of our daily routine. In places like France, Spain and Portugal it’s a trip to the local supermarket to pick up a fresh baguette (some country’s are fresher than others, granted). We were under no illusions that we would be doing that in Iceland. No, this was going to be a sliced loaf situation. Cheap, cheerful and able to keep us in lunchtime sandwiches in the days when we’d be deep in the Icelandic wilderness. We picked up what looked like ‘Mighty White’. Remember that bread your mum used to put in your school lunch box? It was either that or ‘Champion’. They tried to make it look better by putting some grains in it so it’s less anaemic-looking. Of course Bonus don’t do normal sized loaves. They do loaf-and-half size. It’s going to last us longer though, right? So that goes straight in the basket.
Off to ham and cheese, our sandwich filling of choice for the trip. Quick and simple to make. Oh and by the way, dinners for the trip are mostly sorted as we’ve packed tinned foods from the UK in a bid to further keep that budget under control. Cheese; we love a good cheese with crackers but for sandwiches we’re fine at keeping it basic. Especially now. Let’s go for the cheapest big block of what looks like Gouda or Edam. There wasn’t a massive choice but still. Better check the price to see which is better value.
Dale pops the price into his conversion app. There’s a pause as I hover the cheese over our basket and I see him cancel the numbers and input them again. “Are we having this one then? Or the one that looks exactly the same but in the blue packet?” I ask a little impatiently. “Hang on” he says and checks the ticket on the shelf, then puts the numbers into his app again. “It says this cheese is… it says it’s £20.” I think he’s joking so lean over his shoulder to look at the screen myself. He’s not. We check the other cheeses: £20, £15, £12. FOR CHEESE?! And when I say cheese, it’s the cheapest looking cheese you can imagine. None of your Cathedral City fancy packaging. It’s not a wheel of beautifully displayed Camembert, ready to roast with garlic and rosemary. It’s no-frills cheese. I begin shaking. Not from the shock at the price, it’s because I realise we’re stood in a massive freezer room of chilled goods. You need thermals and winter jacket to survive their provisions department. And a bank loan to be able to afford it. The £12 nondescript cheese it is. I couldn’t even tell you what it was until we opened it. In fact, I still can’t.
We exit the chiller room and whilst we regain the dexterity in our fingers we check the price of the bread we so eagerly threw into our basket. £3! For no-frills Mighty White?
In our despair we realise we’ve got to re-enter the Arctic chiller room of Icelandic millionaires because we’ve not picked up ham. We can’t go anywhere near ‘normal’ ham. It’s pricier than the cheese. We end up with what looks like a giant sliced frankfurter… for £5. We’ve given up by this point. We were going to buy ourselves some crisps and maybe some biscuits for a treat but it's not looking good. We wander down the aisle poised for disappointment. Own brand crisps are also ridiculously expensive, stacked next to the Pringles, priced at 70p and the Maryland cookies at 65p. No treats for us then… wait, what?! Go back. Check the price of the Pringles again. 70p. And the Maryland cookies. Yup, under a quid. And they’re in date. “WHAT IS THIS MADNESS” I scream. In my head. We’re still British; we wouldn’t want to cause a scene and look ungrateful to Iceland for kindly having us in their budget food store.
We go wild in the aisles checking all the branded products. And yes, I’m doing this with someone called Dale. The ‘Supermarket Sweep’ irony isn’t lost on me. Still. Dolmio pasta sauce. Well under £1 too. Weetabix cereal, cheaper than at home. How could this be? They’re selling their own-brand products at a higher price than the branded ones? I didn’t get it. And still don’t. So with our expensive ‘budget’ essentials as well as Weetabix, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, a packet of Pringles and some Maryland cookies we left our parallel shopping universe and returned to the carpark to sit in silence pondering what we’d let ourselves in for. Thank goodness we’d packed enough tinned goods to feed a small village into our van before leaving the UK. At this point I can honestly say I almost regretted not buying Spam or corned beef at home. I know, right.
I don’t want this to take away from the incredible scenery, the grandeur of the landscape and the incredible trip we had. It doesn’t. I’m sure we would do it all again. Actually, I think we made a pact we wouldn’t go back unless we were working full-time to be able to afford it but you know what I mean. We wouldn’t change it. And if the worst came to the worst we could’ve just got fat living off Pringles and cookies.
The irony is, on one of our last days we discovered the ‘not-so-no-frills’ Bonus bread turned out to be Cornbread. No wonder it was a nightmare to butter and shredded to pieces all the time. Heaven knows what the standard flour bread would’ve cost.
So, Iceland, why does your cheese cost so much? You can’t just distract us with an ancient fjörd, a magnificent waterfall, a cute little village, your volcanoes, the crystal clear waters and… wait. What was I taking about?