We got back from our Europe vacation about a week ago, but I’ve been so exhausted and busy getting back into the swing of things that I haven’t had the time or energy to really recap… UNTIL NOW. (And just when things seem like they’re winding back down to normal, we’re headed to Seattle for Kimmy’s wedding this Thursday! Just can’t get enough of the Austin airport these days.)
So, anyway, let’s talk about ICELAND. I think it might have usurped Turkey’s title as “favorite place I’ve ever traveled.” That’s high praise. Why, you ask? I could write all day, but to pare it down:
- Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous landscape. The natural wonders of Iceland are just astounding. I don’t even know how to describe it without using overwrought phrases like “gorgeous” and “astounding” so whatever.
- Reykjavik is super hip (and kinda hipster), walkable, clean, colorful, beautiful, artsy, design-y (just let that be a word), and FUN. It’s a city that does a great job of combining its history and unique heritage with modern attitudes and innovations. I really love its culture and overall feel.
- The people are so proud of their country. It’s really inspiring and heartwarming. They also take conservation very seriously and work to preserve all their beautiful nature. Also, they generally have really dry, quirky senses of humor, which I appreciated.
- 24/7 daylight! At least in the summer. It’s great because you don’t get tired while you’re out at the bars, even if it’s 4am. The sun is still shining, after all! I just hate the dark and love sunshine in general, if you’re a person who loves feeling cozy and, well, sleeping naturally, this might not be your bag. I wish we could’ve seen the aurora borealis but it’s very rare to experience in summer – your best bet is fall through early spring, I’ve read.
Okay, I think those are the main reasons. Let’s move on to one of my favorite topics and probably my very favorite thing about traveling… that’s right… food and drink, obviously.
Iceland is known for having some unique delicacies – shark, whale, puffin, lamb, horse, skyr, lots of super-fresh seafood. I tried most (but not all) of these. I’d also like to point out that Icelanders aren’t sitting around chowing down on these specialties 24/7 – let’s be real. Sandwiches, soup, burgers, fries, salads… those are the day-to-day meals, just like many Europeans (and most Americans). I thought I’d do a rundown of most things we ate so y’all could see what I mean. I will say this: everything we ate was really fresh.
The first meal we had was brunch on Sunday. We had gotten in around midnight Saturday, took an outrageously expensive cab to KEX, our hostel, checked in, then hit the town. Reykjavik is known to have a crazy club scene on Fridays and Saturdays (most places are open until 5 or 6 in the morning) and we wanted to be a part of it! So, flying for hours upon hours with no real food, then immediately drinking for five hours once we hit the ground – including a couple shots of Brennivín, yikes – yeah, we were real ready for some food when we finally dragged ourselves out of KEX around 1pm. We headed to Snaps Bistro after reading some good reviews in the Grapevine, not really sure what to expect… but to our surprise it wasn’t anything mysterious, mostly sandwiches and egg dishes. My club sandwich had hard-boiled egg in it – one thing I noticed about Iceland is that they love to add hard-boiled eggs to things. I was into it. Rob’s croque madame was really good, too. Thanks, Snaps!
That night we went to Tapas Barrin, an Icelandic… you guessed it… tapas bar. Yep, tapas in Iceland. Who knew. Anyway, it’s a super popular spot and they have an Icelandic tasting menu for 5,990 krónur (about $50) where you can try seven traditional Icelandic courses (plus a shot to start out the meal right!). We of course had to do this, and the tasting menu fed both of us so it was a screamin’ deal. In case you didn’t know, eating out in Iceland is hella expensive, especially booze. We loved all the food and the service was awesome, the only downside of Tapas Barrin was its lighting; it’s very dim and romantic in there. This isn’t even really a downside, we had a fantastic night, but I wanted to get some pictures of the most interesting dishes and there was no way to snap a good photo on my iPhone (as evidenced by my photo of whale above). Oh well, I wouldn’t have changed anything about our experience there.
By the way, what does whale taste like? GUILT. Sweet, meaty guilt. It’s kind of like a rich, rare steak. I have to say I really liked it. In defense of Iceland, I only saw minke whale, an un-endangered breed of whale, served in restaurants. I still felt kind of strange essentially giving money to the controversial whaling industry, but hey, when in Iceland. Puffin, on the other hand, was more gamey, like the dark meat of a goose or something. Smoky and a little chewy. I didn’t hate it, but as far as Icelandic specialties go, it was no whale, I’ll just say that much.
Monday was our big road trip around the Golden Circle, so we knew we needed to fuel up. Luckily KEX has a great, big, organic breakfast for its residents (for a small fee, that is). Can we take a second to talk about how much I love European breakfasts? Meats, cheeses, breads, jellies, BUTTER, even paté… yes please. Any place that encourages me to eat paté on freshly baked bread is a-ok in my book. That last picture is skyr, which is basically Icelandic yogurt. Really good, especially with a little bit of honey and granola sprinkled on top. Since KEX is pretty hipster-y, of course their skyr is served in a mason jar. Oh, did you think Iceland was immune to the mason jar trend? Nope. (It was really cute though! I still love you, mason jars!)
Once we ate a ridiculous amount of delicious Icelandic breakfast food and gave a ton of money to a car rental place, we were off to experience the three wonders of the Golden Circle: Þingvellir (historic national park), Geysir (a park full of geysers, what else), and Gullfoss (giant waterfalls). The journey took most of the day and we were hungry again by the time we were finished at our last stop, Gullfoss, so we ducked into their café above the falls for some traditional lamb soup, which they’re apparently known for. At least if I believe my Lonely Planet guide book. Anyway, the soup might not look like much, but it totally hit the spot! Highly recommended.
Oh yeah, we also stopped for some ice cream after Geysir. I don’t know what’s up with the soft serve they sell at every little café and street corner in Iceland, but it is legit.
What better place to stop for now than at dessert? Before this post gets too massive, I’ll end here… but stay tuned for Part 2!