lish (lishd) wrote,

iceland 2017 - part 1: seattle, new york, western iceland

Iceland Glacial Exploration & Auroras
part 1 | part 2 | part 3

Sun, Mar 26 and Mon, Mar 27 - Days -1 and 0
in having to balance a show at the paramount & the PTO calendar at work, i ended up starting my trip two days before my trip started. i took the light rail to seatac sunday night, flew to NYC, then spent 8 hours monday in a paid lounge in JFK where I napped & waited & read & waited & internetted & waited. my friend jon lives in rhode island, & he was taking a bus down to meet up with me. he had a good passport retrieval story that i was pleased i didn't know sooner, & we flew out together to reykjavik on monday night. we both slept for crap, but we get along like gangbusters, so the suffering wasn't so bad. :)

Tue, Mar 28 - Day 1. Welcome to Reykjavik!
Welcome to Iceland! Upon arrival in Reykjavik, pick up your rental car and start your Iceland experience! Proceed to your hotel in Reykjavik, and enjoy the rest of your day at leisure, exploring this vibrant capital city.
Check In - Reykjavik Natura Icelandair Hotel

since we arrived in iceland around 6am, we ate at the airport to avoid being caught out while everything may be closed. i had some kind of icelandic salmon with egg & a sweet mustardy sauce, & it was actually worth airport prices. we picked up our rental car - just a kia sportage, but with super hot heated seats & the craziest studded tires which ended up being fairly common. we passed some cairns (stacked rocks) while driving from the airport, & made it into reykjavik around 8am. nothing was really open, so we drove around; we happened into the beautiful harpa concert hall & the hallgrimskirkja (a big old church), visited the "aurora reykjavik" (a museum about the northern lights that we mostly skipped in favor of reading the guided tour brochures in the gift shop), hit a "thermal beach" & saw some hot spring water moving around though it wasn't actually pooling anywhere (it was the tiniest trickle but was making huge steam in the freezing wind).

by then things were open, so we shopped around, visited the perlan dome that had weird AF statues outside (jon did something crazy with the photography on one pic...), bought some presents & some weird sodas (applesín is super popular - it's tangerine & has about twice the carbonation i was expecting; i didn't buy the yellow one marked "grape" which probably doesn't mean grape), & headed to my tattoo appointment at 130pm. the tattoo, done at sweet hell studio by wojciech jelen, was normal & they were super cool folks - but it was the most expensive Grammy Memorial Tattoo addition yet. no bother; some have been way under expected price, so whatever. it was around this point that the kia started making really weird sounds when we started it or shut it off - not weird engine sounds, but something that sounded 90% like the windows XP boot & shutdown chimes. what the fuck, it wasn't doing that before?!@ couldn't find any way to disable it in the HUD, so we just cursed it & laughed.

we went to our hotel next - great bed (amusingly a queen divided up into "two beds" with the use of two separate comforters) but the outside of the place looks like a mental institution - & napped for a couple hours. for dinner, we met up with jon's friends alex & krystal who live in new york & just happened to be in iceland as well (& boy am i glad because they're wonderful) & ate at "the bike cave" where they were sadly bereft of the reindeer burger & minke whale they offered "seasonally" on the menu, but i was able to have a "traditional icelandic meatsoup" (said meat was lamb, mmm) that i found very delicious & warming.

we all went back to the hallgrimskirkja church as it was suggested to go inside, but it was closed - however, across the street was cafe loki (with a crazy mural on the wall all about norse mythology) where i was able to try iceland's national dish of fermented shark! it tasted very fishy but not powerfully fishy... like the difference between hearing a band live without earplugs & hearing the same song on a stereo with the volume turned down. it didn't taste bad, but it smelled utterly like hair bleach - all ammonia. i didn't want second bites but it was interesting to try. we bought some desserts while there, too - i had a "love-ball", a very chewy bread thing with raisins that i liked, & i swapped bites for alex & krystal's rye bread ice cream. (sounds super weird, tastes super good. i could've had a whole portion easily.)

jon & i totally had what he called "the sleepy ha-has", which made the trip back to the harpa exhibition hall that much more fun. it was open but nothing inside really was, so the four of us just dorked around, used their wifi, snapchatted, & bonded further. after dropping alex & krystal at a bar with plans to meet up when we're all back in reykjavik on monday, jon & i headed back to the hotel where i had an excellent & long-awaited shower (the dial wasn't notated from "hot" to "cold", but actually in temperature measurements, & i loved that) & went gratefully to sleep.

(& special thanks to jon for letting me use his pics, too.)

Wed, Mar 29 - Day 2. Reykjavik - Reykholt
Whale Fjord - Hot Spring - Magical Waterfalls

After breakfast head to scenic Borgarfjordur via the impressive Hvalfjordur (Whale Fjord) and its intriguing undersea tunnel (tunnel toll is extra). If you don't want to take the tunnel, you can take the scenic coastal road instead (which adds an additional 10 miles to the trip).

Drive through Borgarnes town, where you can learn about the first Viking settlers in the area at the popular Settlement Museum. Visit Deildartunguhver, Europe's most powerful hot springs, as well as two beautiful waterfalls, Hraunfossar (the Lava Falls) and Barnafoss (the Children's Falls).

Approximate driving distance: 63 miles
Hamar Icelandair Hotel

breakfast was included & i love a good non-americanized buffet. i had two types of pickled herring, the same salmon i had at the airport, salami, canary melon, marmalade & jam & breads, particularly good roasted potatoes, & vanilla & strawberry skyr. skyr is this fancy icelandic yogurt made from a centuries-old recipe or whatever, & they're batshit about it. it's very good - not too sweet, not sour, & thick; very similar to noosa, one of the few yogurts i like - but i don't really get why they're all like SKYE IS SOLD HERE OMG!@!#!@

we drove off to the horseback riding i'd booked at "IS hestar". the gps was off despite using coordinates, so we kept driving... & literally just as we said "okay let's turn around" at the crest of a hill, we found their sign. they dressed us in super warm jumpsuits & helmets, & we went with at least twenty other people - the largest group i'd ever gone riding with. icelandic horses are special - they're comparatively small, about 13 hands, & can perform two gaits more than most other horses. i got to watch one of the guides tölt. :) they're short & wide & furry as fuck; they're also their own breed, & no horses are allowed to be imported, though they can be exported - but then they can't return because the island is basically free of horse disease. (it's also, oddly, free of ANTS. there are no ants in iceland! wtf!)

the huge group (for this tour) broke up into fast & slow groups, & of course we went fast. about a third of the trail ride through the lava fields - i noticed a ton of lichen like i saw in the galápagos - was done at a trot, which was pleasantly smooth & did not require posting (standing up in the saddle every other step). my horse, myrkui, was much easier to ride than an american horse, partly due to his small size & partly that easy trot. jon had only ridden a couple times & not recently, but he did well on his horse, sólon. at the end, they asked us to untack our horses, & that was fun since i hadn't done it since i was around ten. they didn't wear saddle pads, i'm presuming due to the fluffiness of their double coat. when they were stripped, they immediately started rolling around so adorably. we drank cocoa & tea & watched them play-fight while searching for a restaurant for lunch.

okay. this day's lunch, at Þrír frakkar, was The Most Lish-HappyMaking Thing. jon's vegan, so i try to be a respectful friend by making sure anywhere we go has more than french fries & salad for him. this place happened to have a vegetable consommé & a roasted vegetable & bean loaf entree that he was quite happy with... but oh, i was beyond happy because there were so many animals i'd never tasted. i wanted to order so many things, & the waitress, in her infinite kindness, got the kitchen to put together a sampler platter of appetizers & a half portion of one of the entrees. my meal involved:

  • roasted minke whale with apples, balsamic, & sunflower seeds - served cold, it tasted similar to venison but with a very different yet as tender texture. the yogurty sauce on it was awesome & this was my favorite on the sampler platter;
  • reindeer pâté with cumberland sauce - it tasted gamey in that way i love, & was served with a tasty red currant sauce;
  • smoked puffin breast with mustard sauce - i'm not big on mustard; though i liked it, i ate most of these bites without sauce. it was thoroughly smoked, & tasted like if duck breast were able to be cooked & raw at the same time... it was very tender despite being deep red & looking raw;
  • raw minke whale sashimi - same whale, different preparation. it was as amazing as the roast version, & somehow was able to feel like sashimi despite being a mammal. it was served with salmon topped with caviar;
  • fresh local mussels in white wine sauce - i ran out of new appetizers to try, so i went for icelandic mussels. they were lovely, but no different from what i'm used to.

    & the half entree i ordered...
  • grilled horse tenderloin with mushrooms & bernaise sauce. okay, yeah, so, like... you know i have a strong affinity for horses, i have two tattooed on my body, i've been riding since i was six & have done so in many different countries, i have just-barely-too-much horse stuff around my apartment. but i was in fucking iceland, & horse shows up on a bunch of menus, &... well, the way i figure it, i'm just slightly more pony now. XD i'll admit i felt weird with the first few bites, eating an animal i love so much... but it was also completely & utterly delicious. it was salty, tender, had a similar texture to a hanger steak (one of the only cuts of beef i really enjoy), & i didn't even mind that sean called me a cannibal. :D

    of the available new animals, i passed up only the guillemot breast - a wild local seabird they had listed as an entree - because it was described as a very strong flavor & covered in a blue cheese sauce (i hate cheese). but i figured maybe i could find that elsewhere to try in a different preparation. (i couldn't; oh well - five new animals is still pretty great!)

    we left for borgarnes, where we were staying the night, via a very long scenic route. we stopped for tiny waterfalls (& surprisingly large waterfalls we wouldn't have found if we didn't spot the tiny ones), happened upon ruins that reminded me of ireland, & drove entirely around whale fjord instead of taking the tunnel beneath it (as the internet advised us to not give a fuck about the tunnel). i cracked open one of the sodas i purchased against a guard rail, since neither jon nor i had a bottle opener, & iceland doesn't do screw-off... the yellowy one was dry & not delicious, so i poured it out. but we had a lovely extended ride & tons of fun bullshitting & scampering about & taking pictures. at our hotel, they offered an overnight wake-up call if the northern lights came out to play - it had thus far been too cloudy to see - & we agreed gladly. it wasn't likely to happen, but we figured, hey - if we see them, great! & if we get to sleep through the night, also great. :D

    we went to the settlement house for dinner, as it was recommended by the hotel as a good place for vegetarians, & i was super happy to find langoustine on the menu! i last ate langoustine in australia, & LOVED it - they taste like a sweeter, softer lobster. they're actually known here as "icelandic lobster". the restaurant had an option of langoustine over pasta, but since i still had horse leftovers back at the hotel (i wasn't going to let ONE TINY PIECE of the pony that died for me be wasted), i was pleased they had a salad version that included mixed greens, cucumber, peppers, mango, & bilberries. it was phenomenal. (i picked the last bits out of the langoustine shells with my fingers & the waitress brought me seven wet naps, so i think she was trying to tell me something but FUCK HER BECAUSE I WANTED EVERY SCRAP, YUM.) jon & i also each ordered a "wild berry" juice - blueberry & bilberry - & it was damned amazing. (coincidentally [there are no coincidences!], i'd had dried bilberries recently from an order at, so i was really pleased to have them fresh AND in juice!)

    back at the hotel around nine pm (this time there were two beds, but they were pushed together into a queen? shrug), i started to write the day's travelogue when the phone rang... the aurora borealis was here. we threw on coats & grabbed our cameras & raced out the private back entrance of our room. it was pretty cool - they'd called us JUST as it appeared, so we saw it patiently wend its way until it was across the entire visible sky & shifting slowly. i was able to get a few pictures that sort of showed a small piece, but jon's shots were great. oddly, it only looked shades of gray in person, & in my pics it was gray... but jon's photos (he's got camera skills) turned out with that bright neon green you see in professional northern lights photography. so now i wonder if it's always gray in person? (further amusement on this point is that jon's seriously colorblind, so when i commented with surprise that his photos were green, he was surprised too. X) ) i hoped we'd have more chances to see the auroras so i could confirm or clear this theory.

    best day in iceland ever, & it was only day two. ^_^

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