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Sjáumst Síðar, Iceland

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The daylight hours were growing shorter, but we took our leave of Iceland before the true onset of winter, when the country would be plunged into a period of almost unbroken darkness. For us, Iceland was all about the light. A light which powered long summer days. Which illuminated vistas of mountains, fjords and waterfalls. Which fought through clouds to reflect off a glacier and momentarily blind us. This light, shining on a country that didn’t need anywhere near 91 days to work its way into our hearts.

Goodbye Iceland

Only 300,000 people live in Iceland. This shocked me at first. An entire country for a population smaller than that of Honolulu? But by the end of our stay, 300,000 felt like a lot. Iceland might be a country in name, but in spirit it’s a big, widely-scattered family. We’d meet people in Akureyri with cousins we’d photographed in Ísafjörður. “Húsavík? Sure! My sister works at the town bar. Stop by and say hi.” Or we’d see a friend from Kópavogur during a visit to the Westman Islands. And he would just wave, like it’s no big deal. Like it’s right around the block!

Considering the small and tightly-knit population, the sheer number of tourists who come to Iceland should be overwhelming. Walking down Laugavegur, the main street of Reykjavík where foreigners far outnumber locals, I always felt a little guilty. After all, I was one of these invaders. But although it would be understandable for Icelanders to turn insular, shunning strangers under the guise of protecting their culture, they are among the most welcoming, friendly people we’ve ever encountered. Whether striking up a conversation at the bar, offering advice, pulling over when we stuck out our thumbs, listening to our stories or sharing theirs, locals were always happy to engage with us. Icelanders are proud of their country, eager to know what we’d seen and what we thought.

And they have reason to be proud. Iceland is home to the most bizarre and beautiful nature we’ve ever seen, bar none. The glaciers, the geothermal areas, the desolate interior, the raging arctic oceans, the black sand beaches. The hiking! During our walk along the Fimmvorðuháls Trail, the moment we crossed between two glaciers and saw the valley of Þórsmörk beneath us, glowing in the evening sun, was one of those transcendent experiences I’ll never forget. How many times in your life does something happen that you immediately know will be etched into your memory forever? It’s rare. But perhaps less so in Iceland.

The nature is unforgettable, but that’s only half of what makes Iceland so special. We were just as amazed by its people. This tenacious little community who brave life on an island which (let’s be honest) is set to explode any day now. Who, despite their small number, have their own language, compelling history and incredibly rich culture. Who have created one of the most liberal, tolerant, environmentally-friendly, pragmatic and down-to-earth countries on the planet. These people who love camping! Who party like maniacs! Who bathe in rivers and climb glaciers for sport! Who knit!

Iceland, you’re fascinating. We left a little sad, but with amazing memories and friendships that I’m sure will stand the test of time. And I have no doubt that we’ll return. It’s your fault. You welcomed us with open arms and now, we’re kind of family.

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Goodbye Iceland
Goodbye Iceland
Goodbye Iceland
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November 3, 2013 at 11:09 pm Comment (1)

And Finally, We Climb a Glacier

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Almost inconceivably, we had lived in Iceland for three months without having been on a glacier. These massive chunks of ice account for over ten percent of the country’s surface area, and exert an enormous influence over life on the island. Had we neglected them, our exploration of Iceland would have been incomplete. And so, on our final excursion, we struck off across the ice.

Skaftafell Glacier Walk

We arrived at Skaftafell bright and early on a Saturday morning. Yes, I said “bright”. In stark contrast to the previous couple weeks, the weather today was outstanding. Iceland had apparently decided to send us out on a high note.

Our trip was organized by Glacier Guides, an operation based in Skaftafell which specializes in glacier tours. After meeting the other members of the group and our guide, Helen, we hopped into an old American school bus. Soon enough we were at the foot of Falljökull, which is a southern outlet glacier of the enormous Vatnajökull. In Iceland, even the glaciers have glaciers.

We affixed crampons to our boots, tightened harnesses around our waists, strapped helmets to our skulls, grabbed ice axes and began our ascent. Right away, I realized how much fun this was going to be. In the abstract, “walking on a big chunk of ice” doesn’t sound like anything special, but the reality is exhilarating. The ice crackled satisfyingly underneath every step of my metal-bladed shoes and the sun made even a light jacket strictly optional. Though a glacial landscape looks smooth and monotone from a distance, it’s amazingly diverse close up. We tramped into ice caves, peered down into glacial crevasses (one of which was 30 meters deep) and drank from streams of ice cold water running down the glacier’s surface.

Throughout our ascent, Helen kept us entertained with glacier facts, figures and stories, and faster than I could believe, we had reached an impenetrable wall of jagged blue and white ice. It looked just like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, and marked the end of our trail. Which was fine. We had marched eight kilometers across the ice, and I would suffer for it the next day. But the fact that I hardly noticed the distance is a testament to the beauty of the landscape.

Volcano: ✓ Hot Springs: ✓ And finally… Glacier: ✓. We had an incredible time on Falljökull, and were only upset that we hadn’t gone on a similar hike earlier during our time in Iceland. It was something I’d have been happy to experience more than once.

Glacier Guides – Website

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Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
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Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
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Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
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Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
Skaftafell Glacier Walk
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Skaftafell Glacier Walk
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November 2, 2013 at 8:16 pm Comment (1)

Our Favorite Bars and Restaurants in Reykjavík

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We spent a sizable chunk of our 91 Icelandic days inside the drinking and eating establishments of Reykjavík. After another long day of museum-visiting or waterfall-ogling, a big beer and dinner cooked by someone else always sounded like a good idea. Here’s a quick list of our favorite places in the city.

Puffin Breast Smoked
Puffin Breast at Þrir Frakkar
Bars

Throughout our first month in Iceland, we were shocked by the sky-high alcohol prices, and drastically scaled back consumption. Of course, our alcoholic natures eventually reasserted themselves, but not until we had discovered the trick to drinking in Iceland: happy hour, happy hour, happy hour. Almost every bar in Reykjavík has a generous happy hour special, and a fun evening can be had by bouncing from one to the other. The Reykjavík Grapevine even offers an app for it. Here are our three favorite bars, in no particular order.

Den Danske Kro literally means The Danish Inn, but this is a place for Icelanders. We often visited the small bar on Ingólfsstræti and always had a blast. A raucous crowd gathers here to talk, play darts and listen to music. There’s also a large patio out front, but good luck finding a seat during one of Reykjavík’s rare sunny days. [Location]

The Loft is found on the fourth floor of a building on Bankastræti. The terrace offers a great view of the city, and is another popular spot when the sun is shining. Inside, there are comfortable couches and tables which are perfect for working. I spent more than one afternoon here, happily hacking away at my computer and sipping on a giant Gull lager. [Location]

MicroBar is an apt name for this tiny bar tucked into the back of the City Hotel. Beer Heaven would also work. Despite its small size, MicroBar has the best selection of beer in the city, with craft Icelandic brews joining bottles from across Europe. There’s always a different local beer discounted during happy hour and the crowd seems to be an even mix between Icelanders and tourists. [Location]

Honorable mention goes to a few other places we often patronized. Kaldi Bar on Laugavegur is a cozy and intimate little joint, with excruciatingly slow taps and an indie vibe. The Íslenski Barinn (Icelandic Bar) is a cool spot across from the Austurvöllur Park with a lot of outdoor seating and great food. And Lebowski Bar has fully dedicated itself to The Big Lebowski with film paraphernalia and even a full size bowling lane adorning the walls. You read that right: the bowling lane is affixed to the wall.

Restaurants

Eating out in Reykjavík always presented a challenge, as much to our palates as to our pocketbooks. All too often, we ended up at ho-hum places memorable only for their outrageous prices. A bill over $100 at a mediocre pasta joint? Anything is possible in Reykjavík! So it was a treat to find restaurants that offered either great food or reasonable prices… and occasionally even both.

Icelandic Fish & Chips might not have one of the city’s most creative names, but it serves up some of the best food we had in town, at an affordable price. This is a mix-and-match kind of place, where you can choose your type of fish, potatoes and a sauce. The menu includes suggestions for those who don’t feel like winging it, but I have a feeling any combination is equally delicious. [Location]

The Noodle Station serves up probably the best-value meal in Reykjavík. Big steaming bowls of oriental noodle soups, served with chicken, lamb or veggies. Predictably popular with students, this place is about as simple and quick as it gets, but the noodles are incredible. The nearby Núðluskálin, which serves similar dishes, is also worth checking out. [Location]

Þrir Frakkar isn’t exactly cheap, but if you’re going to splash out, you might as well do it right. The name of this Reykjavík institution translates to either “Three Overcoats” or “Three Frenchmen”, and both meanings are played upon in the decor. The restaurant concentrates on Icelandic fare, such as puffin breast, horse filet and whale steak. Incidentally, we tried all of these. The whale was surprisingly flavorful and the horse was amazing. At the end of our meal, we felt good enough for shots of Brennivín. A very fun and popular place, where reservations are mandatory. [Location]

Those were our favorites, but we enjoyed other great meals in town. You can’t talk about Icelandic cuisine without tipping your hat to the Icelandic Hot Dog, best enjoyed at the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur stand near the harbor. Nearby is the excellent and affordable Krua Thai. We also loved more upscale meals at Rub23 Sushi and especially Vegamot.

Travel Health Insurance For Your Trip To Iceland

Whale Steak Iceland
Lamb Iceland
Horse Steak Iceland
Den Danke Kro Reykjavik
Den Danke Kro Iceland
Drinking In Iceland
Big Lebowski Reykjavik
Drinking Party Reykjavik
Icelandic Hot Dogs
Famouse Hot Dog Stand Reykjavik
Going Out In Reykjavik

Also, if you have access to a kitchen during your time in Reykjavík, you can save a ton of money by shopping at the weekly Kolaportið Flea Market. The focus here is on clothes and toys, but there is also a food section toward the back, where filets of horse meat and even whale are surprisingly cheap.

Horse Meat Market Iceland
Whale Meat Market

At this market, these pale blue eggs caught our eye. These are guillemot eggs, and they’re considered a delicacy in Iceland. We bought a couple and boiled them up… the consistency was a bit strange, but we enjoyed them.

Guillemot eggs
Guillemot eggs
Guillemot egg art
Cooking Guillemot eggs
Egg Art
Egg Breakfast
Cooked Guillemot eggs
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November 2, 2013 at 7:27 pm Comments (2)

Reykjavík Street Art

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Street Art Reykjavik

One of our favorite parts of moving to a new place is checking out the street art scene. We’ve come to learn that aspects of a city’s personality will often be reflected in its graffiti and public art, so the work we saw in Reykjavík wasn’t a total surprise. Extremely artistic, modern, intelligent and well-coordinated, Reykjavík’s street art is clearly done with the property owner’s permission. Perhaps a bit too nice for such an anarchic art form, but very Icelandic.

Framed Iceland Photos

Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
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Street Art Reykjavik
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Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
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November 1, 2013 at 8:46 pm Comments (2)
Sjumst Sar, Iceland The daylight hours were growing shorter, but we took our leave of Iceland before the true onset of winter, when the country would be plunged into a period of almost unbroken darkness. For us, Iceland was all about the light. A light which powered long summer days. Which illuminated vistas of mountains, fjords and waterfalls. Which fought through clouds to reflect off a glacier and momentarily blind us. This light, shining on a country that didn't need anywhere near 91 days to work its way into our hearts.
For 91 Days