Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past year, you’ll know that Iceland is one of the hottest travel destinations…especially when it comes to a food centered adventure! Well, last fall, my husband and I attended and event called Gold Medal Plates which raises money for Canadian Olympians. So, when a trip to Iceland went up on the auction block, we jumped right in (and, although it’s been on our bucket list for a while, the real selling point was when Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies said he was coming as well as Erica Wiebe, the cutest Gold Medal wrestler who sat at our table).
We ate (lots!)
We conquered (like true Vikings)…
So as I recount the journey, I’m going to take you guys along with me…climbing, riding, roughing it, eating, drinking (!?!), wrestling (seriously!), singing….
We landed at 4:45am and headed straight for the Blue Lagoon, which is a geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, in the southwestern part of Iceland. Even though there were lots of people, it felt as though I was in a dream sequence somewhere magical. It was so soothing and relaxing, but that could have been the glass of prosecco I had when I got there (yup, the first thing I learned about Iceland is you can drink alcohol whenever you like…even at 6am). I think my experience really did wonders…I felt 20 year younger (mentally, not physically)
After our soothing “soak”, which included two kinds of mineral masks (again, felt amazing but I still look my age), we headed into the dining room for our first taste of Icelandic food…and our first sip of true Icelandic water (more on that later, but it’s honestly like drinking the cleanest, freshest water on the planet!!)….and, yup, more bubbly…
Paul had local trout with potatoes, lobster sauce, kale, spring onion
My dish was cod with cauliflower, barley, fennel, and a demi-glace sauce. So fresh!
The thing you notice when you get to the lagoon is all the glorious moss…and, you’ll continue to see it everywhere as the moisture is a perfect environment for it!! More on how comfortable it is later!
The first part of our trip was in Reykjavik, so from the blue Lagoon, we headed into the city and to our first stop at Hotel Kvosin. A great place in the heart of the city, the rooms each have their own kitchenette (which is great because, if you don’t know already, Iceland is very expensive so buying a few groceries, even just for afternoon snack, will save you a few bucks!) and the staff are great! There is a European breakfast served each morning and a small coffee bar in the lobby with complimentary coffee and sweets each day (the donuts are ridiculously moist…which I think means they have no calories because, if they did, I would have gained 10 pounds!!). And look at these cute water bottles that were in the room…tells you all you need to know about water in Iceland.
They also had the best cocktails in the lobby bar (the most interesting Gin and Tonic menu I have ever seen!!). It’s in the smallest corners of Iceland (like this great bar) that you will notice their insistence on supporting local…even local gin!!
The next day, we went on a great city tour where we learned so much about the Icelandic people. First, that they are “obedient” like Canadians, but don’t stand for bureaucracy and will “quietly” protest if they believe strongly about something – like this statue below that shows their feeling about the bureaucracy in Iceland!
This one below is the first woman president of Iceland…but I don’t remember her name because I was listening so intently to everything else!! Women are held in pretty high regard, maybe because Iceland was one of the first countries in the world to allow women to vote in 1915!
Iceland has vikings, but their history is way more than just that. Way back, Iceland was part of Denmark. In case you don’t know (because I didn’t!), Greenland is still part of Denmark. Iceland became its own independent republic on June 17, 1944.
When talking about education, all children go to high school up until they are 20 years old (and a small interesting tidbit is that every kids has to learn how to knit…isn’t that awesome!?!), then they go to university for four years. After that many go on to earn their masters degree in one year. Iceland is very well educated.
After our tour, our guides took us to the wharf where we tried a local delicacy…
…fermented shark…chased with a shot of cumin scented Icelandic vodka. Our food guide, James Chatto (who was with us for the first part of our trip and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to food!!) was even hesitant to try…but we all buckled down and gave it a try. As you can imagine, not the most luxurious thing I ate in Iceland!
As we wandered around town, we noticed a large church at the top of a hill with a viking statue placed perfectly in front of the steeple. Ask an Icelander about their connection to the vikings, and you might get a bit of push back. Historically, vikings were associated with destructive piracy and they were known to pillage villagers…not the best thing to be known for!
Inside the church, the organ pipes are a good example of the very clean lined decor (think Ikea!) and most beautifully “unfussy” architecture that I have ever seen!
After a lot of walking, we ended up at Bryggjan Brugghus Bistro and brewery for a fish a chips lunch with Catriona Le May Doan…
We even got to hold her gold medal!!
The one night that we had no planned meals, my hubby and I walked over to GrillMarket for some great local fare! First course…3 mini sliders (a langoustine slider, a minke whale slider, and a puffin slider served with pesto, chorizo and horseradish mayo)…don’t hate me…I had to!
The hubster had grilled salmon with a smooth potato puree, coleslaw and grilled lemon.
I had lightly salted cod with grilled apple purée, black garlic, langoustine salad and shellfish sauce.
Oh ya, did I tell you that the sun never sets at this time of the year? Craaaazzzyyy!!
And, on every menu, especially at breakfast, you will find Skyr (which is Icelandic yogurt…it is naturally fat free and has more protein than regular yogurt). It is generally served with a drizzle of honey and fresh fruit!!
Would you look at this architectural beauty!!! The Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, where we had a wonderful dinner with Iceland’s first lady (who is Canadian!!). A bit of info on this building: it was built to look like the scales of a fish and, when the sun hits the horizon at dusk, the glass “scales” light up like the northern lights!
Our entertainment for the night was a wonderful performance by an extraordinary Canadian singer, Danny Michel and Geoffrey Kelly from Spirit of the West
A rare shot of the sun as it kisses the horizon just before it rises again to begin another day!
Next, a walk across the lava fields (on, I believe, the windiest day I’ve ever experienced!) to get to our next adventure…
…a journey to the centre of the earth!! Descending 120 metres (the height of the Empire State Building) into the bottom of a volcano!
A view from the bottom…
And a bowl of tummy warming lamb stew as we came back to the top!!
An adventurous group we were!!!
And an inukshuk reminder of our Canadian roots…feeling a bit insignificant when you see it in such scale!!
The next day’s activities, on our way to the next hotel, was all about Icelandic horses! They are a breed of horse developed right in Iceland and although the horses are small, they are long-lived and hardy – so much so that, because they are disease resistant, if they leave the country, they are not allowed back in for fear that they will infect other horses with disease from other places!.
Icelandic horses are the only horses that have five gaits; walk, trot, canter, tölt (tolt) and skeið, or flying pace – the last one being similar to a trot but the rider does not bounce (the actual term states that the rider should be able to hold a glass of beer without spilling it!)
Later that night, we had a stand up dinner with an unplugged performance by Ed and an honest conversation about wrestling and grit with Erica!! We had fish and chips (stand up style!)…
And an Icelandic hotdog!! According to Conde Naste traveller, Iceland has the best hot dogs in the world! Although we ate them at the Hotel Ranga, almost 77% of the country’s 300,000 residents have eaten at the harborside hot dog stand, which has been open since 1937 and has fed famous visitors like Bill Clinton and members of Metallica.
Icelandic hot dogs have a different flavor than their American counterparts because they’re made mostly from Icelandic lamb, along with a bit of pork and beef. Sheep outnumber humans in Iceland nearly two to one, so they’re a plentiful food source; turning them into hot dogs was an easy way to preserve the meat before modern food storage was available. Additionally, Iceland doesn’t allow the import of any live animals, so the lamb eaten today—which is free-range, grass-fed, organic and hormone-free—is just like the lamb eaten hundreds of years ago.
The accompaniments are also quite different from those used in the U.S. Icelandic hot dogs, which have a natural casing that gives them a delightful snap when bitten into, are topped with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs.
Our next stop was Vestmannaeyjar island … a place that is chock full of natural beauty. There is exceptional wildlife, and a fascinating history (which includes the famous volcanic eruption on Heimaey which began in January 1973 and lasted until early July covering a third of the town with hot glowing lava and black ash, increasing the island’s size by 2.3 square kilometres, and forming the volcanic cone
of Eldfell – Fire Mountain in Icelandic)!
We took a short ferry ride to Heimaey and experienced the island
through the eyes of two amazing locals, Sigurjon
Adalsteinsson and Chef Einar Bjorn Arnason, whose
families have lived on the island for generations!
A quick stop at the black sand beach…
We enjoyed a fantastic “seaside” lunch,beginning with a sampling of smoked puffin…
Dried fish (that they use, heavily buttered, like bread)…
And more fermented shark! I think I passed..once was enough!!
Then the local fishermen showed us their great skill…
…perfectly filleting a fish leaving not one ounce of flesh!!
Then the remainder is portioned out, ready to be cooked!!
All while enjoying a beautiful seaside view…
It’s a small town, but it is a gem filled with great food and magnificent people!!
Our lunch consisted of grilled lamb with garlic sauce…
Bacon wrapped cod grilled and served with smoked barbecue sauce…
…trout with dill sauce and salmon with mango salsa (not shown)
And a fresh salad to finish things off!
Some yummy grub right there!!!
And our fantastic tour guide…a perfect example of your typical Icelander…fit, tall, kind, stoic, informed, and sweet!!
On the way home we stopped at this magical waterfall (I haven’t even told you about how Icelanders believe in Elves!!)…
And, on our way in, a rainbow appeared….
Taking the token picture from behind the waterfall…
And, then again, another rainbow – those silly elves!!
Later that night, we were treated to a fabulous meal at Hotel Ranga by Chef Karl Johann Unnarsson…starting off with reindeer carpaccio (a popular dish that Icelander often eat on Christmas Eve!)
and some more fantastic fish dishes!!
And, can they ever do dessert!! So yum!!
And on our final day, we took out some ATV’s and explored the land!!
We found the biggest moss field that is more comfortable than any mattress that I have ever slept on!! And, folklore has it that for every minute you sleep on a moss field, you add a year to your life!!
What a great group!!
And then our guide surprised us with a full-out lunch – all from his backpack!!
In a cave, he built a fire, roasted potatoes and the most tender lamb I have ever had along with warmed corn!!
He even set tables and lit candles!!
This is a meal I will always remember!! We even had blueberry skyr with heavy cream (pretty rich!) for dessert!!
What a fun filled day!! And, somehow, Ed had enough energy that night for another unplugged performance (he really is incredible!!) at our final dinner which was a viking dinner with an a cappella performance by a local group!!
So, if you’re still with me (I think this is the longest post I have ever written!!),þakka þér kærlega fyrir (Icelandic for thanks very much) for coming along!! I hope you enjoyed the “tour” and that it’s given you a bit of insight into how Icelanders live.
And one final travel tidbit…you can book a flight to Europe with Iceland Air and stop over in Iceland for as long as 7 days on the same ticket!! So, even though it is expensive, you can save some airfare if you see if on your way to another destination!!