Tourist… Thursday? Ok, I know I’m late posting, again. And yes, I’ve had content for both recipe posts and Tourist Tuesdays and haven’t posted, but the truth is I’ve been having too much fun out in the world that I haven’t wanted to come in and write. But, I’m here now and today we have a big post with lots of pictures all about my recent trip to Reykjavik, Iceland. Get your coffee or tea and settle in. It’s a long one today in part because I’m so excited about this place and in part because I don’t like to edit down.
I went to Reykjavik for about 4 days with my friend Anna. She and I used to work together at Ford’s Theatre, and although I don’t remember how we transitioned from coworkers to friends I’m so glad we did. With most people you can’t be super gushy but with Anna it’s easy to say what you think, what you feel, and hug and be smushy and not feel weird when you tell her she’s the greatest. Anyway, she is the greatest because she planned practically our whole fantastic trip.
We stayed at the Leifur Eiriksson Hotel which is the white building just right of center in the foreground of the photo above. The hotel is named for Leif Eiriksson who discovered American well before Christopher Columbus. The place was cozy, included breakfast, is centrally located so it was easy to walk everywhere, and is sat right outside the massive Hallgrimskirkja – a church which has a Leif Eiriksson sculpture outside it.
The church is very modern. Construction started in 1954 and was finished in 1986. The church stands massively over the skyline of Reykjavik, even though the observatory underneath the bell tower is just on the 8th floor. The inside is fairly minimalist with plain glass windows letting in the daylight and simple modern paintings decorating the altar and walls. Anyone can wander inside the church and for a small fee you and can take the lift up to the top of the church and look out over the city. It’s immensely beautiful and lovely to see just how colorful Reykjavik actually is. However, be careful if you go up when the bells chime. Anna and I were up there at quarter past the hour and the sounds of the bells was near deafening.
We did spend a lot of time wandering around Reykjavik just to get a feel for the city. We spent a bit of time exploring Harpa, the concert hall (above). The building is right along the water and its walls are made of 3D glass geometric shapes that look like crystals and at night they light up with purple lights.
We went inside to see the glass up close. Inside was gorgeous, especially as the setting sun shone through. I felt like if you were inside a beehive made of prisms. I’m not sure if that sounds nice, but it’s what I thought of. I also loved the statue outside of Erling Blöndal Bengtsson with the mountains and pink sky in the background.
While in Iceland, I also learned a bit about Icelandic Folklore. We learned that people believed (and believe) in trolls, elves, and at Christmastime the Yule Lads. Anna and I saw these trolls outside of a souvenir shop, but we also think we saw some trolls frozen into rocks when we went hiking. I was especially taken with the Yule Lads and bought a Christmas tea towel with a picture of them on it. In Iceland, instead of Santa the thirteen Yule Lads leave presents in the shoes of Icelandic children in the nights leading up to Christmas. But seriously, I encourage you to consider reading more about them because their mom is supposed to be kind of evil and they have a feral cat and it’s all very interesting.
During our first full day, Anna and I visited the National Museum of Iceland. On the walk there we passed a beautiful lake and saw ducks swimming and other people trying to feed swans while getting dangerously close.
In the museum we learned a bit about Icelandic heritage. We learned the first settlers in Iceland were Norwegian. We learned that Iceland became Christian a little over a thousand years ago – but in the transition there was a mix of pagan and Christian iconography. The sculpture in the top right above is a depiction of Thor, but also with some Christian symbols.
Other objects I was taken with were those having to do with vikings, drinking horns, and also the loom. Iceland sweaters are popular with tourists and locals alike and I enjoyed the loom with big thick threads and heavy volcanic rocks weighing down the yarn. Of course, I also made Anna play in the “hands-on” children’s gallery, which is where I got the fun opportunity to dress like a viking.
After the museum we found a park with a playground and went climbing on this red rope structure. The two of us decided to try to hang by our knees like children. We could do it, but it didn’t fill us with the same sense of freedom it did when we were kids. Instead if made us a little nervous. But the climbing part was really fun. I really enjoy the photo of Anna below. It looks like it should be in a catalog. What it’s selling I don’t know, but I think it could be used to sell something.
In addition to touring the city, Anna and I also made time to get out and see some natural beauty. We booked the Golden Circle & Fontana Wellness Center Tour with Reykjavik Excursions. With this tour we got to see some beautiful outdoor sights and we got to relax in geothermal baths. Awesome right?! First though let me tell you, it rained horribly throughout this whole day and my camera got wet. Therefore the photos are spotty. I prefer that you choose to see these photos with a “romantic glow” instead of categorizing them with the more low-brow term of “blurry.” Ok, are you in the right mindset? Good. Now you can keep scrolling.
I do want to tell you that Anna and I were the dumb tourists who initially missed our bus to the tour and were a little bit late and held everyone up. We felt bad about it and we were only 7 minutes late – but since both of us work in tourist industries we thought we’d use this experience to help better empathize and be kind to visitors to our respective workplaces. The first thing we saw on the tour was geysers! Above is Geysir. The name comes from the Icelandic word meaning “to gush” and it’s how we name all other geysers. This geyser is actually the first geyser to have been recorded in writing. It doesn’t erupt very frequently anymore, but is still impressive in size.
However, nearby is Strokkur (below) which is smaller but erupts every few minutes. The first time we saw it go off Anna and I were quietly chatting nearby. It went off and I yelped and Anna took a few steps back. The water didn’t come anywhere near us, but it’s worth it to be cautious. There are signs everywhere saying the water is between 80-100°C (176-212°F) and the water can go up to 15-20 meters (50-65 feet) high!After the geysers, we were taken to see Gullfoss – a waterfall located in a canyon of the river Hvítá. The waterfall is huge and plunges downward in what looks two steps of a staircase.
The sound of the rushing water is intense and the mist sprays everywhere. It is an incredible place and so vast. Look at how tiny the people are in the photo above. Iceland in general, and places like this specifically, made continuously remember how incredible nature is and that it’s nice and daunting to be such a tiny part of it. Also, did you noticed that all of my winter clothes are the brightest colors?! Anna was never going to lose me in a crowd with all those colors.
After Gullfoss we went to relax at the Fontana Wellness Center. Anna and I made what some might consider a controversial decision – we chose not to visit the Blue Lagoon. It’s expensive, crowded, and far away. We thought between Fontana and another tour (which I’ll tell you about in next week’s Tourist Tuesday) that we’d get the experience of natural beauty plus relaxation. We totally did get everything we wanted and I have no regrets at all.
I couldn’t take any pictures while actually in the water, but I’ll tell you about it. Fontana has a number of different baths of varying temperature. Let me just say upfront, even though some of the baths felt like being in a pool, all the water comes from natural hot springs. One pool just felt like a shallow but very warm public pool – although the fanciest pool I’d ever been to. Another was slightly warmer and deeper, good for swimming, and Anna and I played some games trying to see who could push themselves off the wall and travel furthest across the pool. One was designed to look outdoorsy, it was unfiltered, and had large rocks to sit on. There was also a hot tub that was at 38°C/100°F. That felt glorious. At first it was like pins and needles but then it felt decadent. It was even better because once we left the hot tub the cold 4°C/40°F Icelandic air didn’t feel bad at all. We also were brave and ran in to the freezing lake (Anna to her knees and me to my calves). It was frigid mainly, but it was amazing that in some spots you could put one foot in warm water and one foot in freezing water.
We lounged in the water a lot. It was ridiculously relaxing. Also at Fontana, we got to eat some traditional Icelandic Rye bread. Nowadays baked usually in an oven, this bread is traditionally made using the heat of the ground! It’s buried in the ground, which is at about 100°C/212°F and it’s left there for 24 hours to bake the bread. While we were there we watched Linda bury new bread, unearth yesterday’s bread, and then she cut it for all of us to try. It was hearty yet sweet. Naturally I got the recipe and will be trying it out for myself soon.
The last stop on this tour was to Thingvellir, which is where you can see the crest of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. This is the only part of the mountain range where it’s above water. It’s space that separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. It’s amazing. Honestly, it’s one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen in my whole life. All those things I learned in school about the earth moving and changing can be seen here. I can literally stand in a place where the earth is splitting. It was incredible.
Also, in case you’re interested, sometimes Game of Thrones films here. But, this place was amazing not only because of what it is, but also because of the way it looks. The autumn colors were like a post card. I know it’s hard to see in my dark and rainy photos, but believe me it was patchwork of warm colors. The tour guide said he thought it would all be gone in a week and then it would be truly winter.
I loved this place also for the mixture of hard and soft together. The rocks are hard and craggy and almost scary and angry looking. But then the flowers and trees creep in and over them and it becomes somehow gentler. Living in a city I get so separated from the outdoors and nature. I liked seeing nature at work. For example, the photo directly above is of a lava rock. I really love the grooves. It looks like a fingerprint.
Finally, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t tell you about all the food that we ate. Coffee houses are popular in Reykjavik so we were sure to partake. We started with one called Mokka where we had cappuccinos and crispy waffles with jam and whipped cream. The whipped cream was hardly sweet but so fluffy and airy that I had to have a few spoonful straight even after I’d finished the waffle. We also loved the quirky atmosphere of Babalu where I had hot chocolate with sprinkles and the sugariest lemon crepe ever.
Iceland is also known for its hot dog stands and I love hot dogs. Anna and I did a two-stop hot dog tour. The hot dogs are a mix of meats but always include lamb. We stopped at the first stand and got one hot dog with the works – which includes a sweet mustard, onions, and fried onions. It was delicious and on a toasted bun. As we ate it we walked over to the better known Bæjarins Beztu, which has been in continuous operation since the 1950’s. Apparently even Bill Clinton has eaten here. It was delicious there too, but I was a little pouty since I spilled mustard down the front of my coat. Anna and I then went into a long conversation analyzing the hot dogs and we decided the first stand was our favorite because of the bun. For the life of me I cannot find the name of that place, and so I apologize if you’re ever in Reykjavik. But for the record, you can’t go wrong with either.
I do wish we had just half a day more so we could have gone on a whale and puffin boat tour. Unfortunately, we weren’t organized enough so instead on the last day we wandered the docks to look at the water. While we were there we decided to have lunch at Kaffivagninn. We had a creamy soup, artic char, and this lovely view of the water and the top of Hallgrimskirkja. I definitely recommend this restaurant if you’re by the water.
On our last day, we were also determined to do two things. First, we went to Laugardalslaug Swimming Pool. After we went to Fontana, we couldn’t get enough of lounging in warm water. I highly recommend doing this as it might be one of the cheapest options available. For 650 ISK, which is £3.38 or $5.24 you get access to a big heated pool plus a few “hot pots” and a geothermal pool. The highlights were the large twisty water slide (which we rode twice) and the 44°C/111°F hot pot. We were practically boiling but it was great.
And the second thing we did was have a big fancy meal with lots of seafood. After browsing some menus we went to Apotek. Anna and I had cocktails and a six course meal which left us nearly comatose and definitely food-drunk. I had a strawberry sriracha margarita – which while not spicy had a little heat and was less sickly sweet than an regular margarita. Anna had a cocktail with dill and gin, which was so refreshing. And then both of us had a shot of Brennivín, an Icelandic snaps (schnapps). The name translates to English as “burning wine,” but it wasn’t really that bad.
For dinner we had a bite of puffin, which we were nervous about but tried. It was dark in color and had the texture of a really meaty fish. It was generally nice, salty, and unexpected – but we felt one small bite was enough. After that we had perch, seared tuna (which was served on a brick of pink salt!), trout, plaice, and then a rack of lamb. For dessert an incredibly silky chocolate rose. Our expectation was that with a six course meal every course would be fairly small. We were wrong. Every dish was about 75% of the size of a regular entree. We had so much food and by the time we had the lamb (which was tender, perfectly cooked, and in a great sauce) we were stuffed. It was an indulgent end to a perfectly indulgent few days. We waddled back to the hotel to pack and chat into the wee hours.
Iceland is truly lovely. A place so beautiful, interesting, and connected to nature. I felt inspired, adventurous, and relaxed. We did a lot and it was everything a vacation should be. However, I’ve saved the best thing for next week. Next week’s Tourist Tuesday is all about a tour Anna and I took with Iceland Activities. Here’s a teaser: there was a hike, a geothermal bath, and the Norther Lights. Come back again next week, it’s worth it.