In February of 2014 we capped off our Scandinavian winter adventure with 4 days in Iceland
Having landed at the airport in Keflavik we immediately got on our shuttle bus taking us to Reykjavik, where we’d be put on another bus to our hotel. Grabbing handfuls of brochures at the airport, we eagerly tried to figure out all the cool things we’d do over the next four days.
I think during that drive the first thing I noticed about Iceland was that there were NO TREES. There also were very few signs of anyone until we got close to the city. This would be a scary place to have your car break down
Here’s what you see as you approach Reykjavik …
We arrived at our hotel, located at the corner of two very unpronounceable streets
The temperature here was around -5C, which coming off our time in the north of Sweden, seemed almost tropical!
Okay, you probably see that picture and wonder what I am so majestically looking out upon … (yea, that’s my best majestic look)
At the bottom of our street was a shallow, frozen lake. This would be great for taking a short cut to the other side!
Looked solid enough. Having spent a few weeks nurturing my inner adventurer, I decided best way to find out was to just walk across it
Brave adventurer has no fear!
This totally looks safe!
Yea, it’s all good. This little island of land is right in the centre of the lake.
In the area behind us, close to shore, there is an area of the lake that has hot water piped in, keeping part of the lake unfrozen for the ducks and swans!
We had come up with a general plan of going horseback riding on the lava fields the next day and visiting the Blue Lagoon hot springs and spa the day after that. Today we would walk around the city a bit, and then find a good place for our Valentine’s Day dinner!
The main shopping street was just a block over, so we headed to that and just walked uphill. Heck, seemed like as good a plan as any!
You want a stuffed animal that looks like a puffin and says Iceland, or perhaps a plastic horned Viking helmet? (must note here, actual Vikings never wore horned helmets!) This was definitely the street to go for that!
Wait, what’s this?
Iceland has a very unique sense of humour and kitsch. Behold, Lebowski Bar. It’s pretty much what you think … a restaurant and bar based on The Big Lebowski. With burgers named after The Dude, Walter, Donny and even The Nihilists (it’s chicken fingers, because they believe in nothing), this is probably the only Cohen brothers inspired restaurant I’ll ever come across … though if I ever see Chez Barton Fink, I may have to check it out!
(Okay, I did go in and have a “Walter” burger … I’m not made of stone!)
This is way better than “NO SHIRT, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE”
For Valentine’s Day, we opted for something a little more down to earth. We ended up at a wonderful little place called Cafe Loki
Located across the street from the spectacular Hallgrímskirkja, this cafe offered us a chance at some authentic Icelandic food … which as it turns out, is a mixed blessing
Claire, never one to shy away from a challenge, had heard many times of the Icelandic delicacy Hákarl
For those who don’t know what this is, here’s the basic rundown.
You take a Greenland shark, which is toxic, and let it ferment for 6-12 weeks. You then let it dry, cut away the brown crust, cut it into cubes and eat it. This gives it a very strong scent of ammonia (oh, and taste of it too!). While no longer toxic, it’s a stretch to say it has made this edible!
Time to order, I wisely go for a lovely lamb stew. Claire, goes for a special traditional plate called a Þorramatur
A collection of traditional dishes, prepared to celebrate during the month of (English spelling here) Thorri, let’s get a run down of the things she’ll be eating …
There’s some Icelandic rye bread, liver sausage, blood sausage, smoked lamb, dry fish. These are all pretty tasty. Then there were a few things we didn’t recognize … and that little square on a toothpick, yea, that’s the hakarl
Note the toothpick with the Icelandic flag … that is attached to a food I will get to in a moment!
At this point I think that maybe if I can just quietly eat my stew …
Unfortunately, marriage is about sharing …
So, Claire tries the hakarl, making sure to save a bit for me, as there is no way she’s going to do this alone. Watching her face, I knew it was bad. Now, as it happens, we’ve got a video of ME trying it!
Imagine fish that has been sitting in blue cheese for a few months and then a cat came over and peed on it … yea, that’s about it
Okay, nothing could be worse than that. Everything’s okay now ….
That innocent looking cube of “food” with the Icelandic flag is known as Súrsaðir hrútspungar. Having just eaten the hakarl, I was feeling pretty confident I had just tasted the worst thing I ever would in my entire life. I was right for 30 seconds.
Súrsaðir hrútspungar is the testicles of a ram, pressed into a cube, boiled and then fermented in lactic acid (the sour part of sour milk!). My best description of taste of that is traumatizing.
Time for dessert. Again, something a bit strange … rye bread ice cream
Now, Icelandic rye bread is not like what you are used to here. Cooked very slowly, traditionally in volcanic steam vents, the starches turn to sugar. Icelandic rye is dense and sweet … and unique. When mixed in with a base vanilla ice cream, the results are fantastic.
Valentine’s Day meal is saved! This almost erased the memory of the Súrsaðir hrútspungar
I think Reykjavik is more beautiful at night
Time for bed. After all, tomorrow we take Icelandic horses out on the lava fields!
Icelandic horses are smaller, more hairy, and hella fast! They have 2 more gaits than horses elsewhere in the world. The unique “tolt” is pretty fast yet totally smooth … for anyone who knows about riding a horse, this means you can sit flat in the saddle while moving faster than a trot!
Oh, riding in the winter is cold …
This was what most of terrain looked like. You really didn’t want to fall off!
Our excursion included lunch. As we got to the dining room, as Claire headed off to wash up, she jokingly said “Well, hope it’s not another Thorri platter!”
Okay, it wasn’t just the platter … and we DID have brennivin to wash away the taste of the ram testicles this time. Yes, we did eat it … we’re Canadian, and we’d rather eat fermented testicles and cat-pee flavoured shark than be rude.
We got back with time to again explore the city
Some advice to anyone visiting, eating at restaurants is very expensive. Groceries on the other hand (other than any vegetables) are quite affordable. Try to stay somewhere with a kitchenette so you can prepare your own breakfasts … this will save you a lot of money!
Last full day, and we’re off to the famous geothermal spa, The Blue Lagoon
Located in the middle of a volcanic wasteland, time to go swimming outside in -5C weather!
Gonna get into that water quickly when you can see ice on all the rocks!
The water was milky and pale blue … and so wonderfully warm!
Okay, after being sufficiently melted, time to head back and have one last meal before heading back to Canada. This time, really gonna try to avoid ram testicles!
After much exploring, we found a wonderful little bar where our choices for food were lamb stew in a bread bowl … or not eating anything
I think we made the right choice!
So, there’s a very brief recap of our introduction to Reykjavik and Iceland. Oh, we’re definitely going to go back!