Iceland Part 1: Reykjavik
I guess 2018 was the year for travel for me. I started last New Year’s in Canada, and since I’ve been to Switzerland, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and now Iceland. I’ve never been on a solo trip before and I heard Iceland was the place to go. I wanted to have one of those moments where I felt completely alone (on my terms) and meditate, reflect, maybe have a come to Moses moment. Not sure if I officially had that, but I had an amazing time and felt stronger than ever upon my return home. Overall, I did a lot of hiking (over 26 miles worth) and a lot of dumb decisions, that resulted into a lot of lucky moments.
This is my part 1 of my trip discussing food, alcohol, museums, and what to pack. When originally planning this vacation, I first Googled “most popular tours” and decided to stay far away from them. I knew from my research, Iceland has had a huge influx of tourism, and my goal was to try and have the most authentic experience possible, which is hard to do when everyone from Mississippi is snapping photos next to you. The two main spots I avoided: The Blue Lagoon and The Golden Circle. I mainly explored the South Coast and West Coast (Fun fact: a lot of Game of Thrones is filmed here, especially on the west coast).
My first and last half day I explored Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, also where I was staying. I stayed right in the city center, which if we’re going to compare to Boston, felt like Boston’s Theater District. Ton’s of bars and restaurants, all different themes (I think mainly for the tourists), located right at the base of the two main shopping streets, Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur (Iceland’s Newbury area).
Reykjavik had all these colorful homes and amazing places to eat. On my first night there I went to Apotek, and did the 7 course tasting menu. I have a really big appetite, but this almost destroyed me. It took me almost 2 hours to finish, and I couldn’t move afterwards. For starters, I’m not a huge meat person, and this was all meat. For the record, I would never order any of the stuff I ate back in the States if it was accessible, but my main goal was to try what the locals eat / traditional meals. This 7 course tasting included: Lamb (aka ‘landslag’), Trout, Cod, Plaice, Minke Whale, Puffin and a yogurt dessert. I feel like crap admitting this but I LOVED whale and puffin. Puffin tasted sort of like turkey and the whale tasted like steak tartare sprinkled in sugar; a very sweet meat. Whale is quite controversial amongst Icelanders. Half the population believes whaling should be ok because it’s tradition / they don’t have a lot of resources for meat (pretty much everything is imported which is why food there is so expensive - so natural resources include whale, puffin, reindeer, and horse), and the other half are more modern and believe whaling is a thing of the past and barbaric. Those that live in the Reykjavik area are more against it, and believe it’s mainly done for the tourists, once you get into the more rural areas, that’s when points of view change.
Other options for food, that’s also more affordable, is the famous Icelandic Hotdog. It’s essentially a lamb dog. All the tourists go to this main stand in city center plaza which is super expensive, but if you go down Austurstræti street, there’s a little hole in the wall place that sells them at half price. It’s just a window with a kid serving hot dogs.
For the most part, I knew I’d be hiking every day and where I was going wasn’t going to be a lot of food options, so I bought a whole bunch of RX bars in the States and brought those with me. I only ate out my first night and my last day in Iceland. This helped me save a lot of money - but I know this isn’t for everyone.
Ok….. sorry to say this but…. Icelanders are thirsty. Because the island isn’t that big and around 7 viking families (don’t quote me on that) started the country, everyone is related. Nope, I’m not joking; there’s no “hookup” culture in Iceland due to the misfortune that you could be related. If two Icelanders were to date, they have to enter their ID numbers into a database (which they have an app for) and see how far back their family trees go and if it’s ok to to be together. (I think Boston may need this). Due to this, a lot of Icelanders refuse to date one another, making tourists tasty treats. I’ve never felt so pretty in my life, I had several men immediately notice I wasn’t Icelandic, and there was that brief flirtatious hello always followed up with a direct “single?” At first it was very flattering, but by the end of the trip, it was off-putting. I wanted to believe it was because of my new haircut, but really I felt like that scene from Eurotrip when all the men act like zombies and chant “girl.” The bars all shut down at 1, but if there’s a party going on and things are still lively, the bartenders will just lock the doors, start to clean up, but they won’t start kicking everyone out until around 2 a.m.
Anyways….. the bar scene is fun and all the beer is at “Fenway pricing.” Iceland has great craft beers, but what you need to try is the Hákarl shot: fermented shark with Brennivín (Iceland’s liquor). You’re suppose to chew the shark, preferably quickly or else it gets a weird urine taste, and then wash it down with Brennivin, nicknamed Black Death, which is 80% proof. The shot came into tradition to remember the famine and hard times after the 1783 volcano eruption that wiped out almost half the population. From the locals, everyone had a different origin story of the shot, but roughly this part remained the same: there was nothing to eat but shark and shark is poisonous, but people were desperate. However, they found if you drank a shit ton of alcohol with the shark, you’d be fine. So only on special holidays is this shot taken to remember their ancestors, and now tourists do it all the time. I honestly didn’t mind the shot, however, the shark did not sit well in my stomach. I ended up throwing it all up the next morning - and it tasted like urine coming out of my mouth. It was disgusting. Anthony Bourdain has done it and said “it’s the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten. I’m really glad I tried it, but I will never opt for doing it again.
Reykjavik is a bit like Amsterdam in the fact there’s a Museum for everything! I didn’t even get to them all, but the 3 I went to was The Phallological Museum, The Punk Museum, and the modern Art Museum. I think out of the 3 the Phallological Museum was the most interesting. I went because I’m a 10 year old boy and needed to giggle, but it was surprisingly informative and of course entertaining. It’s basically a bunch of animal penises in jars and a ton of information on how each animal mates and reproduces.
Some random things I wasn’t sure where to put in this post:
HAIR! There’s so much sulfur in the water and air here, my hair was fried. Bring conditioner, hair oil, mayonnaise, whatever keeps it moisturized, bring it.
Sulfur…. your shower will smell like rotten eggs for a minute when you first turn it on
If you’re outdoors and you smell sulfur, you’re close to a geothermal spring
The architecture of the famous church in Reykjavik is based off of how the volcanic rock on the beaches has transformed from the intense waves that hit them, giving them a step like
Winter time you only get 4 hours of sunlight. Summertime you get up to 23 hours of sunlight!
Fashion: Reykjavik is surprisingly trendy from what I saw in boutiques, but I don’t know where people are wearing these outfits, everyone I saw was in a winter coat, leggings, and boots.
What I packed
This is probably the least amount of packing I’ve ever done. Knowing I’d be hiking 3 out of the 5 days, made packing so great. Here’s what I brought: Black and Red leggings, thin thermal tops, a puffer vest, snow pants, snow jacket, a bikini (I hiked a geothermal valley and it was easier to wear under my clothes than a one piece) and Sorel boots (These things I’m pretty sure also saved my life).