Friday, November 27, 2015
It snowed in earnest as I slept Thursday night and Friday morning. I woke up to a Winter Wonderland. It was beautiful. It wasn’t all brown and muddy as it gets in NYC or even in the suburbs of Connecticut. It appeared they didn’t even plow the streets around me, people just go over the snow with their bad ass snow tires.
There is apparently a beach that has sand from the Atlantic right in Reykjavik. I decided to try to find it. It was an hour and a quarter walk, but again, walking does the body good. So I layered up with my wicking layers and was on my way.
Now mind you, I probably would not be able to see this Atlantic sand due to the snow that had fallen, but I thought it deserved a look at anyway. Well, after trudging through the snow (Thank goodness for my boots!), I successfully came to….
a condo complex.
For the first time in a long as I can remember my Google Maps app for Android had failed me. I wasn’t upset however. I saw parts of Reykjavik that I would have never seen otherwise. So what did I do? I turned around and headed back home this time taking a longer route that would take me by the harbor as the entire sky was clear blue above me and I thought it would be a beautiful walk. And it was.
I came home and rested for a bit. I was going to head back out in a little while and got myself re-layered up but when I stepped outside the sky had clouded over and the snow was once again falling. I was bummed thinking my Northern Lights tour was probably going to be cancelled again.
I went to the kitchen to make a bite to eat and met an American, a New Yorker. We hit it off right away. A couple of the people he met came around and we all chatted and had a couple beers. This is one of the big plus points to staying in hostels (especially for solo travelers). You get to meet so many more people than you would if you stayed at a hotel. We all agreed to head out that night to check out a weekend night in Reykjavik.
I popped by to see if my Northern Lights tour was happening or not, and to my surprise is was. I told the guys I’d meet them out after and got myself ready to head out to finally try seeing those elusive Northern Lights.
We drove 45 minutes east and all piled out of the bus. The sky was overcast and clouded. We stayed there for about 45 minutes before they had us all get back onto the bus and we drove an additional 45 minutes east. We all got out once again, but all I saw was one of the geysirs that was nearby (I’m honestly not sure which one we were near.).
I was disappointed, but when I saw the weather that night I wasn’t expecting it to go in my favor. The worst part however was now having to drive about an hour and a half west back to Reykjavik and it had already started snowing again, so it was a slow go back. But on a plus note Gray Line allows you to re-sign up at no charge to take the tour again and again if you had an unsuccessful time out. You’re reservation is good for up to 2 years and you can go as many times over that two year period until either you’ve seen them or your two years is up. It’s a smart business model. It brings repeat tourism to the country as the Northern Lights are on a lot of people’s bucketlist and are tricky to see.
By the time I got back to my room it was about a quarter to 2 in the morning. On Fridays and Saturdays last call however is at 4:30 in the morning. I got in touch with the girl I met at Boston Bar that other night as she had gone on a different Northern Lights tour that evening. We agreed to meet at 2:30 in the morning at The English Pub. I tried reaching out to the New Yorker but hadn’t heard back.
Upon arrival I saw how packed it was. I knew I’d never find her if I got too deep in so I stayed near the doorway. A few minutes later I ran into the New Yorker and one of the other guys. They were going next door to American Bar and asked me to join. I dropped a quick note (Thanks WhatsApp?) to the girl I was to meet and went with the guys. (Side note: One of my favorite things about traveling alone is that you aren’t bound to other people’s wishes. If she had really wanted to go to The English Pub than she could have we there would be no hard feelings on either side as we were both solo travelers and have no commitment to one another as far as making compromises goes.) She came over not too long after and we ended up getting a few other people from the hostel myself and the boys were staying at joining our group. And this is when the bar hopping began.
American Bar was packed to the gills. You could not move. People were very pushy there and in every other bar afterwards. There was no saying excuse me it was just someone putting their hands on me and literally physically moving me out of their way like they were pushing a curtain aside to step out of a shower. It was rather annoying. At American Bar it was mainly all American Top 40 music. There seemed to be a lot of tourists and then locals who wanted a chance to pick up tourists.
Some amazing bartenders from Kaffibarinn had made me a list of where to go and when. So I consulted the list and we made our way to Húrra. Húrra was packed as well, had EDM music, and everyone looked like they were rolling face. The stage had mostly men dancing on it and the DJ booth was also on one side of the stage. In America if you aren’t a chick (and a good looking one at that) you probably aren’t going to be allowed up on the stage. This was not America. Myself, and the rest of my group (total 2 girls, 4 guys) jumped right up on there. I don’t necessarily like EDM but I felt like letting loose and moving. And I was on holiday, I won’t see these people again, and if I do run into them before I leave for home, they were all on something so they probably wouldn’t even remember. So I danced. I danced it all out. But remember what I said about people pushing? Well the people rolling face did this as well, only being on a stage it seems like it could be a bit more dangerous. Moral of the story kids? Please, if you ever go, and you’re drunk (or rolling face), don’t stand near the edge. Safety first people!
The rest of the group bailed but my girl (it was her last night in town) and I continued on. We stopped by Paloma. It was not our scene. It wasn’t too crowded and the music was not appealing (my mind is blanking as to what it was) for dancing. So we quickly moved on.
We ended up back at American Bar, then The English Pub, and finally Hressó Hressingarskálinn in time for closing. When bars stay open until 4:45 AM people tend to not be in the best of shape after 2 AM. Ted Mosby said it, nothing good happens after 2 AM. Through the night the two best things to prove this point were when we saw a guy try to fight a security guard, a security guard from the bar next door came over to help with restraining the guy, when that wasn’t enough one of the guys from one of the bars from across the street also came over. The police were then called while the guy laid face down on the sidewalk being re-strained by the security guys. The second was when we saw a girl get carried out of a bar she tried to bite the security guy. Once she got put outside the bar she went to run a way but tripped and face planted into the snowy street. She got up rather quickly and ran across the street into the 24/7 market. Her entire face was probably bruised and purple in the morning.
I myself was sober and I walked myself the 4 minutes back home, set an alarm for noon as I had to meet a friend at 13:00, and crawled into bed just before 6 AM. I successfully made it through 1 night in downtown Reykjavik!
Saturday, November 28, 2015
My alarm was set for noon as a friend was coming by to get me to walk with me to get hot dogs and go to the flea market. Let’s just say the food equivalent to Ron Burgundy in Iceland would be the hot dogs. The place to go is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur which according to Condé Nast Traveler (CNT) translates to “best hot dogs in town”. I’ve talked with a couple friends of mine who have gotten the hot dogs on previous trips, and some of those hard edged New Yorkers find them to be “too sweet”. But also according to CNT Icelandic hot dogs are made from “Icelandic lamb, along with a bit of pork and beef…which is free-range, grass-fed, organic and hormone-free” This might be part of the reason why they taste “too sweet” to some of those dirty water dog lovers in America that aren’t used to the fresh organic way of life (I feel sorry for you guys, it’s a good way to be). Rumor has it (or at least my friend who accompanied me said) there’s a little beer mixed in with the pure clean Icelandic water that the dogs are boiled in as well. Now, I do love me a hot dog or two over the summer, especially at a ball game but I’m more of a grilled girl than a boiled one. So when I heard that these lil pups were boiled my heart sank. But I was there, and everyone says it is a “must eat” and so I braved my fear and ordered a “eina með öllu”, which for my fellow English speaking folks out there translates to “one with everything”. If you want two+ (which at only 400K a pop, about 3 and change American, you are going to want more than 1. If not now, at 4 AM. But more on that later.), well the “eina” I believe is the word one, so if you can’t say 2 maybe pop up the two fingers and follow it with just the “með öllu”. But trust me, Reykjavik is a very English speaking friendly town. But, it’s nice to know a couple of words so you don’t look like “such a tourist” that you don’t want to even try to embrace some of the local language. Time for me to get off my soap box and back to the dogs. You may be asking, “What is everything?” Well CNT puts it best. Everything is “raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs.” This is the way to eat it as an Icelandier. Oh and genius(!) toppings go in between the bun and the dog and sauces only on top of the dog. This helps save a lot of mess of toppings dropping all over you as they are held in place by the dog on top. Let me tell you, after taking one bite, I was hooked. Boiled? Who cares! Maybe the problem all my life has been the “dirty water” compared to the Icelandic water. All I know now is that if the dog has got to be boiled it better been in some Icelandic water, otherwise I’m not going near it with a 10 foot pole. Still on the fence on if grilled or Icelandic boiled is better. Without having an Icelandic dog, the water, and the toppings to test it out here on a grill, it’s hard to tell. I’d call breakfast (it was my first meal of the day) a raging success!
The flea market, Kolaportið, was next on our list of “things to do”. I’ve never been one to go to flea markets, but I thought I’d check it out. Kolaportið is open on Saturdays and Sundays and is an indoor market right by the harbor. Kolaportið has many second hand items ranging from clothing to toys, to books, to VHS tapes, DVDs, and records. There are also new clothing items, and hand crafted items. I wasn’t looking to do any shopping (as I really don’t while I’m away.) The part I was most curious about was the food. (Are you seeing a pattern to my Saturday?) They have a section of fresh foods and baked goods and my little heart was set on trying a Kleinur. Kleinur mission accomplished. Kleinur have a consistency closer to a bread than a doughnut, though the outer texture is closer to doughnut status. The taste is what I’ve always expected “sweet bread” to taste like. Maybe I’ve only had terrible sweet bread that’s not actually sweet, but more dry and bland. But Kleinur have a sweetness to them that’s baked right in, unlike an american doughnut with all its cream fillings, chocolate frosting, and sprinkles, and drizzles, and everything else. Kleinur are simple, they’re clean to eat, and just sweet enough to hit my sweet tooth just right.
My friend’s father offered to pick us up and drive us outside of Reykjavik so I could see some of Iceland’s natural wonders that are hard to see if you are staying within the city unless you do a tour or you rent/have a car. (I’m an awful driver and hate tours). We drove out to see the natural wonders of the geothermal area in Krýsuvík. With all of the undisturbed snow from the previous couple of nights snowfalls it looked otherworldly. I could see why Iceland had been used as backdrops for many films taking place on other worlds and/or in other times. CGI could never master this natural beauty. If I become a better driver I would like to take an opportunity to go back one night with a full tank a gas (to keep warm) and just sit there in the middle of the night in the still darkness and be one with nature (with frequent trips to the car get warm). I felt a connection to the Earth there, one that is hard for me to find in my normal hectic life. It was as if time was standing still for those moments I was there looking out at the vast expanse of nothingness around me. This will definitely be a place on my list to go check out in the summer time as well. As beautiful as it was with all the snow, I am curious what it looks like without the snow.
That evening I tried Icelandic pizza. I grew up 15 minutes outside of New Haven, Connecticut, I lived in NYC for many years, and my father’s family has it’s roots in Napoli and I’ve been there on more than one occasion. So trust me I know pizza. I’ll tell you I liked it better than Chicago style pizza. I’ve also tried Chicago’s thin crust and I like it better than that too. I also like it better than California’s (except for the LA extension of Joe’s NY, which somehow (because California water is not New York water, and we all know NY’s pizza and bagels (and maybe their hot dogs?) is all about the water) gives me a taste of home while I’m away on the west coast). It has a crust somewhere between New York and New Haven style. The toppings were in a good cheese, sauce, toppings ratio. My only complaint is, I like my dough to be crispy (it’s all those New Haven brick ovens that spoiled me!) and it wasn’t quite there for me. It certainly wasn’t under cooked as I feel Chicago’s and even some of Napoli’s can be, but it wasn’t up there with New York and New Haven (And Brandi in Napoli.). All in all I will say I was however pleasantly surprised at the pizza offerings.
A note about how nice Icelandic people are (when not drunk after 2 AM in a bar):
When my friend’s father was driving me back to my place he saw two older women struggling to shovel their sidewalk and so he pulled over and the three of us (myself, my friend, and his father) all got out of the car and finished the shoveling for these two women. They were were grateful. My opinion of Icelandic people continued to go up.
After getting back to my place I met with some of the guys from the night before for a couple of drinks at the hostel before heading downtown. We stayed at the American Bar and The English Pub all night. Which when you’re with tourists only, I suppose that will happen. I didn’t want to venture off on my own, and they guys were having fun and I was having fun with them so it was okay. Until the pushing began again. It started becoming so unbearable that I started shouting after people “‘Excuse you!” and one of the guys from my group started actually going over to the guys and making them come back and apologize to me. It made me feel better to stick up for myself and to have someone stick up for me. And maybe just maybe these guys learned a little bit about manners. (BTW this was not strictly men, the women pushed through as well.)
Come closing time we all piled out into the snow and immediately headed for Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur . Because after a night out of drinking and dancing, and not eating for 8 hours, you need a hot dog, or two. No, definitely two. Another night out until last call, another 6 AM bedtime….
Sunday, November 29, 2015
… another alarm set for 12 noon. My friend that I had gotten together with on Saturday invited me to brunch with his family. Along with Broadway shows, NYC brunches top my favorite things to do on a NYC weekend. So, there was no way I was missing out on seeing what an Icelandic brunch was like. I got myself up and showered (this isn’t a NYC LES spot with my squad after all.) and waited for my friend and his family to get me.
We ended up going to a spot that’s not on the list that’s linked here. We had brunch at Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina Slipp Bar. Might I say ahead of time I unfortunately have no personal photos from brunch (as I didn’t want to stick out like an American (or Asian) tourist.) but you can see many beautiful photos from Reykjavik.com’s piece on the brunch spot. I am happy I didn’t throw on my usual jeans, flip flops, tank, and over sized sunglasses with a messy bun. This place had some class and elegance. I personally love to dress up, so it wouldn’t be out of place to wear a cute and classy little dress and a low heel. In America the big brunch movement is a plate of food and unlimited mimosas, Bellinis, screwdrivers, and/or Blood Mary’s. This is all well and good, but sometimes I miss those days of my younger years on family vacations down to the likes of DC where the brunch was buffet style. Unlimited drinks is good, but unlimited food can sometimes be better, and on a day like that (after the night before), and in a country where there are some dishes I may not have ever actually ordered outright this was perfect. I was able to sample of various fish dishes, the soups, the meat offerings, the desserts, without having to order an entire entree size portion to possibly not like it. Everything I tried however, I loved! For being an island in the middle of the north Atlantic, they aren’t hurting for flavor, presentation, or options.
Post brunch I went back to my room for awhile to relax and try to nap. Afterwards I stopped by the lighting of the Oslo Christmas tree. It was special to see as this is the last year Oslo would be giving the gift of the tree to Reykjavik. (It’s sad the tree had been destroyed so early into the holiday season.) It was a cute ceremony and it reminded me of all the times I sang as a child at my own town’s Tree lighting ceremony.
From there I made my way up to the opposite side of the downtown area from where I was staying and shared a bottle of wine with a local Icelandic, or is it Icelander (Icelandites, Icelandins, Icelandons, Icelandaons?) fellow. I also like to have a chance to talk with locals and hear about there perspectives on really anything. As everyone in this world has very different personalities, families, experiences, and school systems that have all helped to shape them into the person they are today. But one of the big ones, school, I feel does a lot to really help shape a person during their formative years. Being an American, I often feel many other parts of the world had much better primary schooling than I, and I love to learn, so I love to listen to people chat away about anything. It was a really lovely time.
I had plans for drinks with my friend’s friend that I met met on Thursday. He was unable to come downtown on Saturday night so we had re-scheduled for Sunday night with a bite to eat ahead of time. He mentioned wanting burgers.
Now earlier in this post I made a big deal about my pizza knowledge. Well, I’m not sure how many people know this, but supposedly the hamburger was invited in New Haven CT by Louis Lassen. Originally being from New Haven County I of course believe this to be true. Even the Library of Congress agrees with me. But my experience of burgers out and about has not always been a good one. A lot of places worry about people getting sick so they will only cook their burgers med-well done and I’m usually a rare-medium (a little more rare than a medium-rare) kind of girl. So I often feel burgers are dry and chewy. But, I’m not one to turn down an opportunity to try new things, and so I agreed to burgers and beers. We met up at Prikið. They had a lot of different options, but I usually try the “simple, regular, non modified” version of something when it’s my first time and I want to compare it to something I love. So I got a cheeseburger. I don’t remember them asking me how I wanted it cooked.
I do remember having it ordered with fries and cocktail sauce for dipping. Now before you freak out, this cocktail sauce is not like the American cocktail sauce I dip my cocktail shrimp into. It was a creamier base without that kick of horseradish. Apparently upon further investigation I’ve since learned in Icelandic it is called Kokteilsósa and is part of the “fry sauce” family of condiments. (Which sounds a lot like Fancy sauce to me. There’s a lot of Will Ferrell in this blog post. #sorrynotsorry) This would not be allowed at Louie’s Lunch, as condiments do not exist at Louie’s Lunch. But after dashing the fry spice that’s on the table over my fries and dipping my first fry into the cocktail sauce my heart weeps a little knowing I cannot get this sauce at Louie’s Lunch.
My burger was beautiful. It was cooked to perfection, it was moist (how many of you hate that word?), juicy, and oh so satisfying to this American Girl. I sadly don’t have photos of the burger as I couldn’t stop my hands and my mouth from working against my brain. My brain was saying, “Wait I need a photo for my blog!” but my mouth and my hands were saying “I need to taste you right now!” (That’s what she said! OH!) Well it was worth it, trust me. I would have never expected it. But if you are an American in Reykjavik and missing a taste of home add this to your list of eats. By the way, if you didn’t already know, it all washes down quite nicely with an Icelandic beer.
The rest of the evening was spent with drinks back at BarAnanas where we had previously gone that past Thursday. At BarAnanas my friend switched to Gin and Tonic and I went to switch to my usual Ketel (One) and Tonic (if I’m going mixed). Well I had three surprises come– two real quick. The first being they didn’t carry Ketel. I was going to start to panic as I am very picky about my vodkas. I think Greygoose is too heavy, and I’m not really a fan of the absolutes and Stolis or anyone that spends too much time on trying to mask their drinks with flavors rather than higher quality products and distillation (I’m looking at you Pinnacle! and Three Olives! Both of which I find gross). The bartender said he had a Icelandic vodka. It was called Reyka and so I thought I’d give it a shot. When in Rome, I mean Reykajavik. (I could have gotten all Will Ferrell there again, and I stopped myself, be proud of me, I am.) The second surprise was that the bartender asked me if I wanted it in the same glass. I stared at him confused. And then he asked me if I wanted to vodka and the tonic in the same glass. I said yes. I learned that gin and tonic is a thing there, but vodka tonic is not. I almost fell over. But it’s obviously an easy enough drink to learn how to make so the bartender had it in front of me quicker than I got over my shock that he didn’t know it was a thing. Well I must say Iceland you keep surprising me. The third surprise was when I touched the straw to my lips and drew a sip in, “It’s so good when it hits your lips!”(That’s what she said! Again? Yes.. And more Will Ferrell, I just can’t help myself today.) But Iceland, your vodka is good. I want to be on– okay, I’ll stop.
Weekend over. So that’s all for this week. To be continued next week with my 2nd attempt at the Northern Lights. Did I see them? Did I not see them? Come back next Sunday to find out.