Thursday, June 26, 2008

Icelandic Cuisine

After a week back in the US, I think Lisa and I are just beginning to settle back to eating "American food" - we've had a great meals in Boston, Vermont, Montreal, and now in Bar Harbor but nothing compares to Iceland.  The food we ate in Iceland was FANTASTIC! 

Start with amazing fish (haddock and cod), grass fed lamb and if you feel like it, order beef, because that's great too. (And from what I gather, all the livestock is organic - enough to make me buy organic meats).  Beyond the great ingredients, the food was amazingly well prepared.  In small, unassuming little places, we had amazing food. In Reykjavik, here is our favorite, if you make it to Akureyri, try this one.  I don't think it is exaggerating too much to say that going to Iceland for the food is NOT a crazy plan.

A few things on most menus that we passed up were whale and puffin.  I love to try a new meat and perhaps gain insight into another culture (water buffalo in Laos) but these two just couldn't excite me.  Sorry if it disappoints , but it wasn't because I was opposed to eating smart whales or cute puffins - I tried to work up moral outrage and failed.  It came back to the descriptions of the flavor - one description of whale meat as "like a steak" and another as "like liver" - what? Steak and liver taste nothing alike and I wasn't going to risk having a huge piece of internationally controversial liver in front of me. Puffin was described as "kinda gamey" and "really gamey" - not enough to convince me to give up "butter fried haddock" which I presume is what they eat in Valhalla (how's that for Norse flavor).

If we had made this trip 100, or even 60, years ago, we'd have eaten far more of the traditional Icelandic cuisine.  For much of its history, Iceland was a poor nation, where nothing edible was wasted. Now, with a healthy economy, some traditional cuisine is still ubiquitous - Skyr and geysir bread (its name comes because it is cooked by steam in under ground ovens), but some less desirable options have been left behind except on a few holidays in the winter.

The photo i've attached is from a billboard advertising a cafeteria that serves traditional Icelandic plates (allegedly).  The sheep head is not a reference to eating lamb, it is a reference to eating sviðpreserved sheeps heads. Preserved in a gelatin of their own making, they can be "enjoyed" hot or cold.  I never saw these tasty treats - and I went inside, read the dish of the day and spotted everything else offered - apparently these little treats are so unappetizing they can't put them out on display. 

I also didn't see a whole lot of Hakarl - actually, I didn't see it anywhere - and I looked.  This is the food mentioned in every guide book as a sort of open "double dog dare" to tourists.  If you haven't clicked the link, it is usually described as "putrified shark".  A shark too poisonous to eat fresh is buried in the ground for months until it is edible.  The final product is said to have a strong ammonia smell and makes first timers dry heave.  I survived durian, I think I would have tried it (easy to say now).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Long Delay...

Sorry for the long absence, but who'd have thought that my first week back in the USA would find me further from a computer.... coming soon, at long last is the final Iceland post.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

National Security

The President of Iceland juast rode by- no motorcade, no fuss, just a nice Lexus with a presidential flag


The Icelanders' philosophy of "work hard, play hard" is most famously manifested in their hard drinking on weekend nights. This comes in spite of some very strict laws regulating the purchase of alcohol. Anything stiffer than 2.25% beer (half strength for those of you who were wondering) has to be purchased from Vin Bud - the government liquor store.

Today is Iceland's national holiday, celebrating indepndence from the Danes in 1944. In preparation to celebrate, Lisa and I felt we should stock up on patriotic items like Viking beer and Brennavin (when in Reykjavik..). Vin Bud keeps sparse hours (11:00- 6:00) so we snuck in at 5:50 and picked up some beer. The store was packed and the line was deep but fast moving. On our way out Lisa saw a store employee bar the turnstile for some poor schmuck who will be celebrating independence with lattol.

The difficulty and expense (nearly $20 for our 6 pack of tall boys), not to mention the significant pre-planning, the Icelanders put up with in order to party like the rock stars they are makes their dedication to their craft an inspiration to partiers everywhere.

Monday, June 16, 2008

'Car Days' in Akureyri

After our sojourn to the small towns of Husavik (population 2500) and Reykjahlið (pop 210), we returned to 'the capital of Iceland's North' - Akureyri on Saturday afternoon.

We got into town and began a trek to the great guesthouse we'd stayed at before. There was a much livelier vibe in the street than Wednesday had held. Soon a pickup outfitted with speakers blaring radio ad babble moved slowly through the streets, moving by us on cross streets. When they passed on our street, we could see that they were promoting N3 - a local DJ act playing as part of the Festival and giving out bottles of a soft drink called "Ri Mix" - punny name. Free is rare in Iceland, so we both took a bottle and the truck moved on in the same direction we were headed.

In the main road adjacent to the river there were the loud noises of revving engines and crowds of young revelers. Through the fencing we saw pairs of cars drag racing. We later found that this was Akureyri´s 'Car Days´. The racers were a variety of 'tricked out' street cars of all makes and models - some were more obvious money pits than others. As we passed the road and stood on the bridge that overlooked the line of pending dragsters, we saw a rag tag collection of amateurs - including a number of the style of mid size
luxury SUVs popular in the US! Alright, I can envision a few of my students borrowing Mom's car and drag racing down the Palma Sola Causeway, but standing outside one of these cars was a middle aged man in too tight jeans and a leather racing jacket, strapping on a helmet.

A quick glance through the line of a dozen pending dragsters, I could see that everyone had a helmet on - glad to know that safety comes first.


There are a lot of SUVs here in Iceland - with good reason and real 'utility' (most have caked-on mud). These two fall into the broad category called "Super Jeep" - built for off road trips that may require fording a river

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saturday night in Akureyri

We were excited to see part of the 4 day Akureyri International Music Festival (sorry to say, no Sigur Ros or Björk on the bill) and enjoy a peak at the weekend runtur (Iceland´s world famous pub crawl), even the calmer Saturday version (Friday night brings out the Vikings).

We checked out Australia´s own Hoodangers - told you it was an international festival - a rockabilly jazz group that had a poster up in every town we´ve visited. They were fun and it was an interesting scene - not our usual and it struck us that the band was used to a lively crowd.

On our way home from the show, just before midnight, we passed plenty of high schoolers hanging out, one pair of middle schoolers (hey, its still light out...), about 4 roaring house parties, one group of women headed out (things start late), and 2 people so drunk they may not
have known where they were (Iceland!)

While waiting for the bus at 8:30 the next morning, we saw one walker of shame in only a few minutes - and this was only the Saturday runtur!

Sheep Crossing

Our bus had to stop for a herd of sheep to clear the road. I may be bias towards the far cuter and less threatening sheep, but this was somehow more charming than the water buffalos in the road in Laos.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I just posted 2 photos (low quality) to the Flickr link you see on the rightside of the page. Hopefully more to come -depends on the rules of the local Internet access - the guesthouses don't seem to like grubby hippies usingup bandwidth with photo blogging.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The big hike

The wonderfully nice woman at the Husavik Info Center explained how we could take the van to Kross, walk to Godafoss, then take another van to Reykjavlid. She said that there would be 10-15 minutes - which we understood to mean a 15 minute walk and 55 minutes to see Godafoss, maybe get a coffee, etc. When the van driver dropped us at Kross, he pointed us in the direction of the distant mist (Godafoss is the waterfall of the gods) and said (with a grin) that it was 5 km to Godafoss - we had our full packs and hadn't had our coffee!

We were passed by 6-8 large tour busses - folks who fly in from Reykjavik for various day tours and plenty of locals - I suppose we could have hitched a ride (the woman at the tourist office had suggested that as a totally reasonable option) but we trekked on our own. With time winding down and the van pickup in view, we ditched our heavy packs at the side of the road (theft is not much of a concern here), turned down the path to Godafoss to see the falls (totally worth the jog) and sprinted back to our bags in time to make our ride.

The extended exercise on a cool, overcast day produced the unfamiliar oddity (for us anyhow) of being hot and cold at the same time. Some of the tourist stuff calls Iceland the"land of fire and ice" but I don't think that is what they mean...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Whale Watching

So whale watching is a big thing here. Whales are big, people like whales, Iceland has a lot of boats....the whole thing just sort of fits. We went out of Husavik... stopover tourists go from Reykjavik, but I think the success rate is better further north.+

Husavik has a whale museum, which we visited as a primer. All you wanted to know about whales, whaling in Iceland (more interesting than the biology stuff, in my opinion) and a ´whale walk´with a half dozen skeletons of whales. The folks at the museum are clearly ´save the whales´ types, which I feel safe in presuming the restaurants offering whale meat are not.

We got on the boat and drove out for 45 minutes (i suppose ´sail´ is the proper verb). We took a Dramamine before the trip and it was a good thing - when I saw the older French lady spewing over the side of the gunnals, I almost lost it myself - she hurled again right when we saw the whales (chumming the water...?). I focused on the horizon and thought about ice a lot - kept my composure.

After awhile, we spotted another boat and 2 humpbacks. We watched them for what seemed like a long time - pretty active creatures - and then rode home. I have what I think will be good video footage of a whale surfacing...

We then headed home, enjoying a bit of hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls. I suppose it may have been the late timing (around 6:45-7:30 for the ride home) or the pðst-whale adrenaline let-down, but this is when the cold air the other post for details.... I just want to emphasize: Arctic Ocean

Almost Arctic

We took a bus ride to the far northern town of Husavik - this is the furthest north we will get on this trip. Right away we could feel a stark temperature difference from more southern portions of Iceland. We added a layer of clothing and the sun came out and it was a beautiful day.

At 17:00, we boarded our whalewatching tour with Northern Sailing, having chosen them over seemingly in descernible competition - same price, same time departure, same snack of hot chocolate and cinnamon roll. We saw whales (see another posting) but at this moment I'd like to talk temperature.

It was cold. Very cold. The wind was coming off the Arctic Ocean! Not in the figurative way that the weatherman talks about "Arctic winds" - we could actually SEE the Arctic Ocean!! While pondering that for a moment, I realized that there was no land between us and the North Pole - struck me as an odd thought - I briefly thought of asking whether the company had an "iceberg tour" aside from the whale tours and puffin tours...did not inquire.

I was wearing the warmest set of clothing this Florida boy owns - a short sleeved undershirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, a lined light jacket - topped with a ski hat and gloves, long but light pants, shoes and socks. (don't laugh you Northerners - jealousy is unbecoming) I have no concerns that these clothes will get me comfortably through the rest of the week in Iceland where it stays in the 50s most of the time, but it was a bit light for the Arctic. Lisa borrowed a suit from the company but was still cold.

Off to a well earned and geothermally heated shower...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Iceland - first impressions

No Surprises - stark landscapes on the Rejkjanes peninsula - no trees, lichen covered rocks with distant area vents and even a volcano (i recognized it from the 6th grade class project)

Here in Akureyri, we can see snow capped mountains, glacial river, and bright green grass.

Weather is great. It was overcast when we arrived but the sun is out now and the temperature is making me wonder if I overpacked....


What would it be like if everyone liked the clean modern lines of
Scandinavian furniture? It might look like the Lieffur Eriksson
terminal at Keflavik International Airport.

A lot of folks visit Iceland as part of a stopover in Atlantic
crossing. Brilliant marketing by Icelandair doesn't charge a fee for
stopover and emphasizes the short flights - 2 flights around 4 hours
instead of one 7 hour flight.

The Customs official's first question to everyone was "where are you
going?". He showed no glint of cheer when we said we'd be staying in
Iceland. He did ask if it was our first trip and was definitely happy
about our response. When he was looking for a place to stamp he noted
our Cambodia visas and pointed out "This is not Cambodia" with a laugh
and "enjoy your stay"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On the way (almost)

We made to Logan in no time - thanks to the Kelleys. The check-in and security took no time. Now we are waiting to board and playing a new game: "Icelandic or not Icelandic". It is self explanatory to those who have played "Dressed or Not Dressed" at Halloween, but borders a bit closer to politically uncomforttable racial profiling.

Pre boarding just started
Gott kvold

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

At Long Last

Since we are headed out on our summer trip and thought that we might need to show some pictures of our wedding to Icelanders - and because I finally fixed my PC - I finally posted some wedding pictures to the web.

Point here:


Travel blog next week......