Iceland So Far…

I arrived in Iceland yesterday at about 3pm local time. Ours was the only flight arriving at that time so they whisked us through passport control. 40 minutes later I had my bags and was on my way to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.
I had the Blue Lagoon recommended to me by a friend who knows from hot springs. And they make it so easy! Take the bus from the airport to the spa, put your luggage in a locker, rent a towel, and off you go. There are showers and all that stuff, with special hair conditioning shampoo and conditioner to take the minerals out of your hair at the end. If you want, you can book a massage and that sort of thing, but I think most folks just go there to soak.
It’s called the Blue Lagoon because the shallow pools literally look like they are filled with bluish milk. Imagine Blueberry Quik instead of Strawberry. This is seawater mixed with geothermal hot springs water, very minerally. Alongside the pools are boxes of white mud for giving yourself a facial with and most of the people you see bobbing around in the hot pools are wearing self-applied masks of it. This makes for a bit of a comedic look, as everyone looks like a mime or off-duty clown.

From Iceland Photos #1

The system is very smart. They give you a bracelet to wear that has a chip in it. When you lock a locker, you press the chip to it so you don’t have to carry a key or remember a PIN. And when you “buy” things within the spa (since you’ve already locked your wallet into the locker), you just beep your chip which keeps a running tally.
This means its very easy to float up to the bar out in the hot pools and order a beer, or in my case, a “green is good” smoothie: mango, orange, pineapple, spinach and ginger. Very thick and very good. Plus healthy. My only concern about the smoothie is (since I’ve become something of a local-eating movement type) that all of it had to be flown in from afar. Then again, this is an island where nearly everything has to be flown in, isn’t it? Now that Viking raiders don’t go off plundering and pillaging? I enjoyed the smoothie anyway, and I stayed floating around in the pools, looking for hotter and hotter spots (they move around a bit) for about two hours. I could hardly believe that two hours had gone by. The mineral-rich water makes floating very easy if you have a body type like mine and I probably could have even had a nap floating there on my back.
There was a persistent cold rain falling, and a whipping wind, but when one it mostly submerged in hot water that hardly seems to matter. It did mean that upon exiting the pools one wanted to hightail it into the shower though.
Ahhhh luxurious shower! After the tiny trickle of water that came out of the water-heating box in the shower at the Kipps Hostel in Canterbury, the vagaries of the dormitory shower in Kent, and the sometimes completely non-existent water flow at the King’s Cross hotel in London, this was All The Water I’d been missing in the preceding week. With the hot water created by Mother Nature, it’s one thing they have in abundance here in Iceland. Giant sunflower style showerheads douse you liberally. I conditioned my hair well and then got dried off and dressed again.
Out in the parking lot the same bus driver who had brought me from the airport was now on the run to Reykjavik. “No one goes back to the airport at this time of day,” he told me. I suppose they know the Icelandair schedules. The bus filled up and he drove us to the main bus depot, where we were dispersed to smaller vans that took us directly to our hotels.
If I’d wanted, I could have eaten dinner at the restaurant at the Blue Lagoon, but I decided I wanted to go into town and see what there was instead. I had seen a documentary on the airplane about a locavore movement among Icelandic chefs. “No more foie gras,” one of them had said, “and much more seafood.”
I arrived at my hotel, the 4th Floor Hotel, although it’s actually on the 1st, 2nd, and 4th floors of the building it is in, and was delighted to find my room is a small, modern paradise. Not as small as my room in Hong Kong, where it was literally a challenge to open or close the door with my suitcase in the room, but very lavishly appointed with nice furniture and a decked out private bathroom with another huge showerhead. I’ll upload photos later. And both wired and wireless Internet!
I went out to hunt for dinner after checking out the restaurant listings online. Within easy walking distance of my hotel there was Thai, pizza, Indian, Italian, Nepalese, sushi, and Argentinian steakhouse, Mediterranean… But what about icelandic? My walk brought me to the place with the unlikely name Hereford Steakhouse.

From Iceland Food & Drink

Inside I discovered an upscale steakhouse much in the American mold, except if one wanted, instead of having beef steak fro the menu, one could have “locally sourced” whale. Or puffin. Well, I was looking for something that wasn’t like the smoothie I’d had earlier, and I found it. I opted for the whale set menu, which opened with a truly amazing lobster soup. The chef refused to divulge the recipe, but it was incredibly rich, without being either creamy or tomatoey. No idea what was in it besides lobster. It was as if he had made lobster demiglace. Incredible. Served with a nice homemade herb bread and olive tapenade.

From Iceland Food & Drink

Then came the whale steak, served on a heated iron slab with a baked potato and vegetables. Honestly the thing that blew me away was the baked potato, which had intensely potatoey flavor, served with just butter which highlighted the intensity of the flavor. Since the only potatoes I’ve eaten in the past 2-3 years have been from our farm share, and those are quite incredible, I was muchly impressed by this spud. The whale itself was good, too, like a very very lean beef but devoid of any gristle, served with a pepper sauce (like a peppercorn demiglace).
Then came dessert, which was a berry sorbet with some small, sweet strawberries, served on a bed of rich, creamy Icelandic skyr (yogurt). Perfect.

From Iceland Food & Drink

There were more people walking around after dinner than before, so I wandered a bit more, coming to a book shop that was open and browsing there for a while, and passing by a few more pubs and bars. It was still raining and cold or I might have walked around more. At 10pm it’s still quite bright here. I returned to the hotel feeling tired.
As I was falling asleep I began to cough with some post nasal drip. Apparently my body doesn’t like all this rainy drizzle, even if I’m in hot springs or warm clothes, and I woke up this morning with a sore throat. The weather is the same, cold, rain, and windy, so I decided not to do a whale watch trip. The visibility is not very good, and I won’t enjoy myself if I’m sick and trying to keep warm.
Instead I slept in, then had a leisurely breakfast at my hotel, where a very nice breakfast buffet is included in the price of the room. I had a nice little egg frittatta, a potato pancake fried in bacon fat, bacon, miniature crepe filled with jam, a small cinnamon roll, and I don’t remember what else. Best breakfast of the trip so far.

From Iceland Photos #1

Then I bundled up again (yes, I brought clothes in case of this kind of weather here, I was warned) and went out walking. I found the big church without too much trouble since at 12 noon its bells go off with a miniature bell concert. I walked until I came to it and discovered an organ concert starting. I thought about going to the concert, but I could hear it quite well while walking around the church, and then paid the 500 kronur (about $5) to go up in the bell tower. Didn’t stay up there long, as the rain and wind were just as bad or worse up there, but you do get a nice view of the city. (A bunch of shots are in the Picasa album linked below.)

From Iceland Photos #1

From there I walked down the hill toward the city center, and came to this cafe, and here I sit. I’m having a green tea with black currant, from the London Herb & Fruit Company, very tasty and soothing to the throat. When it’s done, I’ll probably try another variety. And then in a bit I’ll walk around some more until I find another cafe. (I saw a few closed ones last night.) Tomorrow morning I leave early for the airport back to Boston!

2 Comments

  1. Hope you got home safe, Cecilia – Iceland’s something else, no? Me and Tom spent a week there in July a few years back, drawn by both the Blue Lagoon (awesome or what?) and the promise of 22 hours of daylight – bloody pissed down for 5 solid days, the midnight sun was more of a midnight gloom.
    Very atmospheric though, eh? And so quiet.
    I take my hat off to you for trying the whale. As a self-confessed woolly liberal, I couldn’t quite bring myself. I’m ashamed to say we survived mainly on fish and chips and pizza.
    Should you go back, I can recommend getting out of Rekyavic and exploring the rest of the country. It’s like another world, with those lava fields and geysers.

    1. Yup, I’m back safe and sound and I’m even over my cold, finally. if I go back I pinpointed a sushi bar that looked good as well where the chef says he specializes in north Atlantic fishes: should be interesting. I hope to get back to the UK sometime and if I do, chances are I’ll fly through Iceland again!
      This reminds me I still have photos and a last post I never got up before I left…

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