Disbatch from Iceland Day 4

Blue Lagoon and Reykjanes Peninsula Tour Meet the exotic moonlike landscape of the Reykjanes Peninsula on this popular tour. First visit Bessastadir, official estate of Iceland’s president. Then bathe in a natural and man-made wonder – a blue pool of mineral rich geothermally heated water in a lava field. Passengers leaving on afternoon flights will find this a convenient end-of-trip excursion. Others return to Reykjavik.

6:11 pm: I’m thoroughly convinced I want to come back to this wonderful country. I don’t know how much B would agree, but I LOVED the lava fields, the fish culture and all the fish to eat, the incessant sky,and I could get used to the nice and almost sarcastic self effacement of the Icelanders.

My biggest surprise was The Blue Lagoon, I wasn’t expecting it to be so wonderful. B said it was the first time forever he felt relaxed. It was the best experience for anyone not wanting to be seen in a bathing costume,thanks to all the steam rising up and bluish opaque water. The day was super sunny and we both are sporting sunburns. The actual place is out in a remote lava field. You can see the steam rising as you approach it from the distance.

Being a retard and a full fledge American prude, the locker room with its electronic lockers (that synched with a bracelet they give you to wear)was a little daunting, but I finally figured it out. My biggest surprise was I thought that after seeing its brochure, the Blue Lagoon would be a slick operation with a bunch of la-di-da people hanging around. Instead, it was the most relaxing, low key experience. And strangely one of those places that lives up to its insanely photogenic character, especially for a man made location. I was impressed how it beautifully belong to the area it is situated in.

They let us stay and soak there for a good hour and ½, which was long enough because I thought I was going to melt into the water after a half hour. It was really basically heaven.

We next spent a lot of time driving deeper though lava fields, spying more geographic marvels. We saw bubbling mud,steaming holes and more Teutonic fissures.

Stopping for lunch in a small fishing village named Grindevik, we ate at a small, local family owned restaurant. I had a simple fish sandwich which consisted of smoked salmon, asparagus, sour creme on bread.

The smell of fish in the air outside was omnipresent, much to the disliking of some of our fellow travelers. It made me nostalgic for the West Coast though.

After eating we went to the coast and saw lava spilling into the ocean.

The whole day seemed like an on site make-up seminar for a missed geology class (I mean this in a fantastic way though). The final leg of our excursion found us in a very tiny village where someone was keeping up a relatively extravagant aquarium,which included black crabs, turtles,large tanks of fish and assorted marine related information. A spot obviously popular with the Icelandic school children who had left behind drawings of the sea animals.

The most pleasant thing of all was the tour ended by dropping us off right at the airport. Our tour guide Kristina, who I made out to be about 70 (and alarming was smoking cigarettes on one of our photo stops!) was a dedicated birder, really knew the lay of the land and made those silly pun kind of jokes that made B crazy but that I love.


3/14/01 I am harboring anti-American thoughts and take the day off work to decompress. I don’t feel so bad physically,not like I did on the way over. I will have to remember the first two days overseas will almost unbearable if I do not find a solution to these jet leg problems. I will admit red wine, not sleeping on the plane and taking naps in the middle of your first day are all no-nos, but basically I thought it was such a short flight I would not be affected by jet lag. Duh. I feel relatively functional today, poor B, he had to go to work. My final take on Iceland:it continues to haunt my thinking. I truly felt inclined for a return visit after I saw the landscape and sat in the Blue Lagoon. I wish I could go back and stay up north, I would love to see what that is like in the spring time.



Disbatch from Iceland Day 2

3:30 pm: Cafe Paris coffee,crepes B had a smoked lamb on bread smothered in mayo. The sun came out. Not much else open ! At least their tv programming? Is good- a video channel we both are feeling pretty crummy,

I don’t think I am the perfect person for Icelandair’s “Take-A-Break” holidays. They make it seem so refreshing, but here it is day two and I am still feeling completely run down from jet lag. Here we lie in the hotel watching TV. I couldn’t sleep on the plane and even though we are only 5 hours away from NYC, I am wiped.

My secondary frustration is there is not really any concise information around here about what to do. I know it is winter, but with everything shut down (especially today- Sunday!), with the exception of the KolaPortid flea market,which we exhausted in the first hour of our day, you would think they would have some in-town activities going on.It is chilly out and we’ve walked around trying to find a warm open cafe or a museum to visit.

We don’t find a place to eat lunch until 2 (Cafe Paris),and spend time at the bookstore next door to our hotel because it was the only other place open (besides the few tourist tchotchke shops). There is sun today, which I think is very lucky considering it is not even mid March yet. A bit too cold /chillier than we had anticipated, I guess I really was hedging my bets against the Gulf Stream’s magic.A guidebook said:”dress for a fall day in NYC”? Well, more like a shitty winter day in NYC.

Both the guidebooks I have brought along have been extremely unhelpful! Outdated, misinformation found in both. It must be expensive to publish a current guidebook for this area. I thought there would be a renegade guide like we found in Amsterdam to at least the night life, or some sort of definitive guide to all the pubs/cafes/museums that I have seen a mention of here, a write-up of there. I did not get my stuff together before the trip to cross reference everything. Well, I have read, people’s expectations of places are often misplaced when they are traveling.

The city absolutely shuts down on Sunday, which is a shame for us as it is our main day here. I would still like to find some things to love about this place. I have to give it a chance. Horrible fears well up that I have turned into an unenlightened city person.

You would think for a girl originally from Seattle,that the atmosphere would be heaven,and really for the most part it is. The air smells of the salt of water and fishing, which I love. The mountains that surround the city are beautiful. In fact, this place has a total mountain town resonance to it. I dare say though, much to a disappointment in myself, I find it a bit dull. There seems to be something missing, and I can not quite put my finger on it yet. The town feels very small, as the population count indicates… And what does one expect from a nation that boasts 100 percent literacy rates, the love of chess and handknit products? What did you think they would be doing? Maybe I will figure out why I don’t feel the excitement I was expecting. I am tired and fuzzy headed.

Our wallets are losing speed fast. Another downside,which I think is really sinking in is the expense. And I know all the guidebooks warned about it, but until you are drinking a $7.00 dollar beer with a 24.5% VAT tax added on top of that, you don’t realize really how thin your wallet quickly gets. It has kept us from our usual souvenir/junk collecting. Even the weekend flea market (KolaPortid) had no real thrills or deals mostly because they have a lot of the same cast off American products).

Luckily it was good advice (one of the first things mentioned in everything I read) to bring your own spirits and B brought two bottles of wine from home. The food we have eaten has been marginal because we have been trying to keep it affordable, and as B discovered (to his continuing disappointment),the beer is awful. So they are not a beer drinking country. The Brennevin,their national alcoholic drink, AKA “Black Death” is appropriately named as well, a caraway seed nightmare, as we found out last night. But I am not a fan of the hard liquor anyway, so who am I to say.

But on to more pleasant thoughts… because,it’s okay. The people here are extraordinarily pleasant and down to earth. Not snobby at all. And yes, so far my inability to memorize any Icelandic phrases has not led to insufferable shame. Everyone speaks English, and even look at you strangely if you attempt to say “thank you” in Icelandic.

Reykjavikites, in general,dress in hip fashion, which almost seems odd in the context of the landscape,but really it is just very European. I can say now though that I have seen a city that wears more black than New York City! I kept thinking,if the joke of the matter finds that Eskimos have over a 100 different terms for the color white,then people who live in Reykjavik have over a 100 different ways of wearing the color black. It was very funny last night to witness the unwritten dress code when we went to some of their bars.

The people here are attractive, but not in way like you feel like you are surrounded by a bunch of supermodel snobs. All the guys have short hair and dress up for going out around the town. There is something to be said for the posse of blonde people that were manning the club door last night, but there are allegedly more dark-haired people here than in the rest of Scandinavia.

The two coffee shops I have been in so far I really liked for their mellow temperament. I love being served a French Press of extremely good tasting coffee, to share with B. In the coffee department, Icelanders have it down to genius.

Hotel Skjaldbreid, our hotel is very nice, and lucky for us located right in the center of Reykjavik. In the morning we get a good meal in a very sunny breakfast room surrounded with windows. We accidentally showed up late today (our sleep schedules are such a mess) and they were putting the food away but insisted on bringing it back out so we could eat (“It is very good!”). Their breakfasts remind me somewhat of Dutch breakfasts with the eggs, slices of cheese, bread, although this time with the addition of fish.Icelanders like salty licorice as the Dutch do too.


Our room is pleasant and very Scandinavian in decor (blond wood, sparse in details). We have a few more amenities than in the places we can normally afford- like a refrigerator in the room, a hairdryer! The TV as I have already stated has excellent programming, a lot of American movies but I am finding it depressing that we have come all this way to watch it. We still have yet to have a good traditional meal, or get rid of our jet legged stomachs. I guess the two of us do not travel well.

That situation is soon resolved- finding us eating a chunk of Free Willy:

We were craving a more traditional meal, and the trip just rejuvenated itself when B took us out for dinner at: Prur Frakkar Hja Ulfari. They specializes in Seafood and Whale Meat. We found ourselves sitting in a very quaint and homelike restaurant, lovely lace curtains gave us a glimpse of the setting sun outside. We started with an appetizer of whale, Japanese style, which meant it was served raw with wasabi, soy sauce and chopsticks. It was delicious, as B said, better than tuna sushi (really sashimi). For a main course I had plokkfisk which is “hashed fish with black rye bread” and B had “Halibut and Lobster in lobster sauce”. They were both excellent. My hashed fish tasted as if there were mashed potatoes and cheese were mixed in, and the rye bread was sweet, and insanely good. B’s meal was also nice. We each had a glass of Merlot, although we found a bit later neither one of us had much desire to drink.

Our fellow diners appeared to be mostly American which I gathered from the conversational goings on. Two college girls behind us,(which I quickly surmised were from Boston) animatedly discussed in detail the plot of last nights television show Temptation Island.

A man to the other side of the restaurant kept asking the waitress really inane questions regarding the food, “Do you also serve dolphin here? Can I get shark”? We were fearful he was going to ask if they served human as well, from the strange tone in his voice.

My favorite moment, especially in light of the current foot/mouth meat scare going on in Europe right now, was when we complimented the waitress on how delicious the whale appetizer was, she said in a very matter of fact tone, “raw meat is good for your health!” Luckily we were in Iceland, where they have strict regulations regarding the import of meat considering this paranoid climate.

She was so proud,I felt if you did not like the food they were serving you would be personally offending her. Luckily we did love everything.



Disbatch from Iceland Day 3

“Iceland is not a place to spend time if you don’t like the great outdoors and are expecting a bustling nightlife- outside Reykjavik are few entertainments laid on. But the spectacular unspoiled landscape and relaxed lifestyle are reasons alone for taking a trip”

– More Woman Travel- A Rough Guide Special

“Golden Circle Tour-“Visit Thingvellir, a Viking landmark, See Gullfoss falls, Great Geyser, and a geothermal greenhouse.8 hours,daily at 9AM,tour will pick up at hotel approx 30 minutes prior.”


The Golden Circle Tour redeems my attitude. It was truly enjoyable, and it would be horrible if you came here and did not get to see the natural beauty that lays outside of the city.

I was concerned that being a Tour Bus activity that it would be lame (Disneyish) and that the fellow travelers would be unbearable. Luckily not a single obnoxious person was with us, a quiet group, and I was really wowed by the tour. I was skeptical because I had read this tour is the most common tourist activity in the country, but if you do not have a car, or a knowledge of the land,how would you even find out about any of the countryside? “Pingthar” their National Park, is stunning. Just to see the mountains, and moss covered lava beds was enough.

There was a fair enough travel time too as we were driven out of the city, that I fell asleep in the bus for awhile (not sleeping so well the night before and then sleeping through the alarm- B got us up at 8am, much to my panic). I am so glad I had some foresight to figure we would be tired for at least two days, because I think the bus travel would have been grueling even yesterday. I finally felt fine after getting some food and coffee into me. B is still a little shaky.

So the Golden Circle Tour consists of first stopping off at a Greenhouse which was pretty touristy, but it was warm! We have been really lucky with the weather- only the wind has been trying, although it was blowing so hard it gave B a headache. Today was clear and we had sun for a bit. The Greenhouse was basically a pit stop to sell souvenirs and a place to use the bathroom.

This was followed by a stop at a large crater blown out by volcanic action which you witnessed from above a ravine.

Next we drove one hour (this is where we both dozed) until we got to the Gullfoss Falls, which I found beautiful. We were told at one point in time they were thinking of doing away with the falls and turning it into a harness for electrical power, but a farm girl protested so effectively (even threatening to throw herself over the falls), that they saved the falls in its natural state. The weather was extremely windy, and of course we were all there for one reason with our cameras and video tapes. I found it too cold to spend the allotted half hour looking at it and headed back into the bus.

The scenery on the ride to the Falls is sparse and almost barren, but I find it stunning. You have the mountains bookending the landscape of lava fields and small occasional horse farms everywhere you look. We went through an area where the Icelandic summer cottages are. They looked like mini scaled down colorful versions of their regular houses in the city, very toy like. The tour guide is informative and interesting, filling us in on bits and pieces of knowledge about where we are.

Our next stop was the to see the geysers or as our guide also said “geezers”. There was one that basically performs on command every 5 minutes and then other little scattered hot pots.

You could see this was basically a tourist destination, (albeit a very beautiful one!)which became more apparent as we crossed the road to have our lunch. We dined at the Geyser Hotel, which was a buffet of pickled herring, salmon, smoked salmon, salmon cakes, meat and vegetables (I am pretty much in heaven here with all this fish, water and nature- I never knew how much I missed it). B said between the buffet lunch and Tom Jones soundtrack they had rolling the whole time we were there, that he felt like he was in Las Vegas. The girls next to us laughed and imagined they could easily see Siegfried and Roy joining us.

Outside I requested B to take a picture of me next to the man-made geyser some handy person had constructed on the back side of the hotel attached to the restaurant. Said handy person had rigged up a lawn sprinkler placed in a pile of snow to resemble the action going on across the street. I thought it was very funny in the sense of “man versus nature”.

Post lunch, we rode on to a church, which is more of that beautiful stark Scandinavian architecture, really out in the middle of nowhere with stained glass mosaic windows. I was glad to have stopped there, it was a strange sight to see. B was wondering who the heck drives there to go to services. I imagine that their sense to getting around is a little less defined than ours.

On to Thingvellir. (or Pingvellir, the P being an Icelandic letter that doesn’t exist in English or on my keyboard)- I am embarrassed to say my eyes almost glazed over when I heard we were going to the grounds of the worlds oldest surviving parliament. I was fearing a repeat of a droning lecture like the one that occurs in Philadelphia at the Liberty Bell.

Suddenly though our guide announced we were in their National Park and we drove by more moss covered lava beds and then by actual Tectonic Plates that were separating at our eye level. I was blown away by the landscape. They let us out and we took a walk by this huge wall of Grey Basalt and moss, and climbed to a look-over that surveyed all the mountains and the lava beds. After a good amount of surveying time they drove us back.

As I said, I can’t imagine going to Iceland and not experiencing the landscape. We drove by the now deceased author Haldor Laxness’s house on the way back Reykjavik. It was way out in some remote lava fields, outside of Thingvellir. I feel rejuvenated and completely pleased that I have some knowledge of this country.

We are now back at the hotel room, drinking a little wine, watching the end of “In The Company of Men”. Tonight we have dinner and then tomorrow another tour and then bam! its over. I couldn’t help thinking I have got to look into ways how to prevent jet lag, which basically ruined half of our trip. I can’t help think it colored both our ideas of this city the first couple of days so it took until today to get that real vacation feeling…. I suppose if you feel shitty enough you can dislike any place.


 Another side note, I was thanking our good luck in not being able to get here before now. I originally thought it would be “interesting” to come here in January (B doesn’t know about that!). Oh for god’s sake, you wouldn’t be able to see anything(official statistics state average hours of sunlight per day in December: 0.3, in January:04, in February :1.7)except the Aurora Borealis, which would also be great to see, but would it be worth it to brave the cold? I don’t think I am such a trooper.

We are going to try to eat MORE FISH TONIGHT! I wish I could easily adapt the Icelandic diet, fish, lots of coffee (always either a French Press full or a full thermos! with milk and sugar) and black rye bread that tastes like cake.

Of course,Reykjavik totally redeems itself! This is a totally different and more lovable town on Monday night. B took us out for a very gourmet (albeit expensive )meal at Tveur fiskar, a very upscale and not apparently visited by Americans restaurant. They make the kind of fancy food sculptures that B hates. But the food was good, although perhaps a bit too expensive (7,670Kr = $88.16 + 24.50% VAT).I had the two-fish special (Tveir Fiskar), B had the lamb (Lambafillet Poivre). It was all delicious, but outside of our full and satisfied stomachs we both agreed we kind of liked the simplicity of last night’s dinner better.

Of course,Reykjavik totally redeems itself! This is a totally different and more lovable town on Monday night. B took us out for a very gourmet (albeit expensive )meal at Tveur fiskar, a very upscale and not apparently visited by Americans restaurant. They make the kind of fancy food sculptures that B hates. But the food was good, although perhaps a bit too expensive (7,670Kr = $88.16 + 24.50% VAT).I had the two-fish special (Tveir Fiskar), B had the lamb (Lambafillet Poivre). It was all delicious, but outside of our full and satisfied stomachs we both agreed we kind of liked the simplicity of last night’s dinner better.

Disbatch from Iceland Day 1


4:29 pm: Prikid -french press. Antonio Carlos Jobim soundtrack. The girl beyond B looks xactly like Bjork probably did ten years ago. I spilled my coffee all over the table, strong coffee jitters. 2 coffees are 400Kr=4.59.

The stores are closing up for the weekend, being Saturday at 5PM so I go buy the two Icelandic CD’s I want, which I haven’t seen back home.(2 CDs =4098 Kr=47.00US).

We realize we forgot to bring a bottle opener for our wine and all the stores now are closed. After much searching, a wine opener is located as an amenity for our room via the front desk man. For dinner we went to eat at Kaffi Brennslan, the bar that boasts 101 beers and B proclaims 101 crappy beers, after he witnesses the price list: (Bjorlist: Chimay Reserve- 1,690 Kr = $19.42, Blanche De Bruge- 590 Kr=6.78, Viking Sterkur-590 Kr=6.78,Thule-590 Kr=6.78…and so on, and this is before the 24.5% VAT-Value Added Tax) Our food was fine,if not bland which was good considering we both were not feeling up to par.

On that note we knew it was our only chance to see what all this weekend nightlife was about, but after visiting two more bars our jet lag won out. We go to the Dubliner, which becomes extremely packed at 11PM, and I was very grateful they were still serving coffee after I drink one beer. There was, what I thought to be an American, (his accent became hard to place after awhile) playing folk songs very loudly into a microphone. Two other American girls we had seen earlier in the day at the coffee shop were now our bartenders,(two Guinness cost 1,300 Kr.= $14.94)and there is the standard Guinness, Jameson and Newcastle paraphernalia hanging on the walls,candles burning in empty beer bottles.It is a warm,cozy Irish bar.

We cross the street to Gaukur a Stong, where we are hoping to catch the Icelandic bands that were to play that night.We had to get past the eight young security guards at the door to get in.

Eager to try out the Icelandic traditions, we both order a shot of Brennevin or as they nicknamed it, The Black Death. B almost throws up immediately, being it tasted of caraway schnapps and rubbing alcohol. We watch a slurpee machine go round and round on the bar as a boxing movie plays behind it.B comments on how he has noticed they really seemed to be into boxing.Next to us is a vending machine containing toys, salty fish licorice candy and assorted things like condoms,cameras and a ladies “extendo cock” for sale.

I take a photo for my friend Susan back in the good old USA because she had always said this would be a brilliant money making idea- put a vending machine of impulse items in a bar! We are far too early for any bands to be playing,and after I eat an entire bag of “Katjes” salty fish licorice and B bemoans another horrible Viking beer we call it a night.

We find through halted sleep the bars really do stay open all night on the weekends. Outside of our hotel room on the street people are frolicking into the late,late hours of the night,even setting off fireworks.

When I told people I wanted to go to Iceland this winter, their first question was usually “why?”.

A Dispatch from Iceland:

I imagine that response was provoked by one fact. I am not one who generally enjoys even the mildest of East Coast winters and in reality I probably complain far too much about them. It does seem though that most people harbor the belief that Iceland really is after all- just land and ice.I felt certain this was just not true.


I knew in my heart that Iceland’s geographical designation was closer to the Arctic Circle than I wanted to acknowledge, but I developed a romantic compulsion that convinced me I absolutely had to see so for myself.


My fantasy vacation was directing me to a land that boasts literacy rates of 100%, chess playing as a national pastime and sitting in hot mineral baths as another. I felt a desire to go someplace that held in its cultural belief system the notion trolls and fairies are real entities. I wanted hear a language spoken that was almost unaltered from the days of the Vikings. I had also read that the capital city boasted quite a nightlife if you tired of all that nature. Really most of all though, I just wanted to get away from the daily chaos of living in New York City, breathe some real fresh air and for just a few days not worry about a thing.


Icelandair in the winter season runs extraordinarily low airfare/hotel destination packages that offer “Take A Break” holidays, that let you stop over in Iceland for a few days. I convinced my partner B that this would be fun and an inexpensive break for us, and the next thing he knew we were on our way. Soon I found myself facing the reality of my own expectations though. A four day holiday jaunt to Europe takes a little more out of you than I expected.

ice_iconOn to Day One—>