Yes indeed - I’ve just returned from a two week break home to Iceland, and it turned out to be even more action-packed than usual. To save me much repetition over the next few days, and in part to offer a decent reference point for my many friends and acquaintances who have indicated a desire to visit Iceland (soon Lucas!), I thought it might come in handy to commit the trip overview to a single blog post.
As anyone who knows our extended family (La Familia) is aware, we like to take extensive walks, eat out frequently, get some spa days / treatment days in, as well as regular cultural pursuit. Here follows the overview (PS - above pic is a stock photo of Northern Lights at Hotel Rangá):
Nauthólsvík - coastal path with great views - runs alongside Reykjavík airport and the West-side of town - starts with geo-thermally heated inlet and man-made beach
Öskjuhlíð - wooded hill surrounding Pearl / Perlan restaurant - contains remains of old WWII fort and several rabbits if you keep your eyes peeled
Garðabær - home town has a number of excellent walking routes - down and around the lava fields and down to the coast in particular
Heiðmörk - nearby National park was re-forrested in the 50’s and 60’s - offers excellent scenic walks
Around Rangá - quick walk around the Hotel’s grounds - which are very close to the 2 recent Icelandic volcanic erruptions - returned to hotel covered in ash!
Days Out / Trips:
Trip to Icelandic Auntie’s summerhouse (near Hvalfjörður) - classic Icelandic afternoon tea / coffee - open sandwiches, waffles and cakes
Trip to and overnight stay at extended family’s summerhouse (near þingvellir) - evening grill and jacuzzi (most summerhouses in Iceland have a large outdoor jacuzzi), followed by extensive brunch the next day
Hotel Rangá - delightful Icelandic country hotel - sort of in the middle of nowhere, between Hella and Hvolsvöllur on Route 1. Jacuzzis are spaced outside every 3’rd room or so on the South-side - quite a superb experience sipping champagne in a jacuzzi under the big sky - with glaciers and volcanoes on the near horizon, and usually the best place to see Northern Lights - excellent restaurant too, great for dinner and breakfast - pricy, but good all-round
Fljótshlíð - ancient floodplain makes for Iceland’s best farming land - expansive, totally flat vista - surrounded by glacier-carved mountains with sporadic outbreaks of woodland and plenty of waterfalls; our family used to picnic in a beauty-spot here in the 80’s - lovely small wood surrounding picturesque waterfall
Note: We witnessed the most amazing lavender-coloured sky with super-sized full moon at Hotel Rangá, Northern Lights were relatively weak later on in the evening, but was lucky to have witnessed rare sighting of really bright Northern Lights over Reykjavík on the first Saturday night
Okkar Bakarí - Our local bakery with coffee shop - where we meet up on Saturday and Sunday mornings before the weekend walks - superb breads and cakes - try a muesli ’rúnstikki’ the staple multi-grain Icelandic bread roll - packed with exotic seeds and raisins - and topped with ham / cheese / jam or whatever you desire
Note: Icelandic bakeries are typically superb and offer an incredible range of artisan breads, pastries and cakes, some are Danish-inspired ’Konditori’ meaning they make chocolates and confectionery too - and many also provide light dishes like soups and salads - watch your waistline in any case
Café Paris - Upscale student staple for ’Soup and Salad’ and light dishes - warm French chocolate cake signature dish is amazing
Kringlukráin - American ’Cheers’ style bar with excellent food - fish of the day is usually great
Portið - Great Bistro at Kringlan shopping centre - great fish, soups and salads
IKEA - Cheap but quality - like their furniture - very quick too - typically meatballs with gravy, cranberry sauce and fries, followed by icecream - can’t complain - the family’s go-to place (very nearby) for when we’re in a hurry
Pearl / Perlan Cafeteria - great for soup and salad and icecream - after a walk around Öskjuhlíð (Note - not to be confused with luxurious revolving restaurant on floor above - see later)
Kolabrautin - main restaurant at amazing new Reykjavík Harpa concert hall - has fantastic harbour views, but food is not quite up to scratch yet
Blue Lagoon Restaurant - don’t really rate the restaurant for lunch - nice view, fixtures and fittings though - recommend having a snack at the cafeteria instead
Note: we usually do Tilveran in Hafnafjörður too at least once a week - great for fish
Súfistinn - Laugarvegur and Hafnafjörður - all about the amazing cakes really, good coffe and light dishes too
Eymundsson Austurstræti 18 - great warm apple muffins with whipped cream
Note: I don’t personally drink coffee, I usually settle on Icelandic soft drink staple - Appelsín - which sits somewhere between Orangina and Sprite - being a sweetly sharp tasting Oranges and Lemons fizzy confection - quite delicious, but dangerously sugary - goes great with hotdogs too!
Nítjánda - Superb, high quality carvery and gourmet buffet - excellent views from Iceland’s highest restaurant - consistently good
Home - Mum’s Legendary (Italian Secret) Roast Chicken dinner with all the trimmings - beloved by every member of our extensive family - young and old alike - followed by Mum’s legendary Lemon Meringue Pie
Portið - Had the most amazing fish here - Plaice with red wine glaze / reduction and red peppercorns, accompanied by gratinated penne pasta - quite Christmassy tasting - one of the best fish dishes ever tasted
OSUSHI - Iceland’s first kaiten-style sushi restaurant - always popular
Laugar Spa Café - Legendary chicken salad - which you eat in your spa gown - inbetween sauna, jacuzzi and various treatment rooms - also does great light dishes and soups
Hotel Rangá Restaurant - Great 3-course dinner - Lobster Bisque, then Lamb, then Icelandic Chocolate Skyr Cake concoction - great service too
Pearl / Perlan Restaurant - my favourite dinner spot in Iceland (bit pricy), rotating restaurant on hill overlooking Reykjavík - with amazing 360° views - had the best meal out here for this trip (4 / 5 course tasting menu) - goose carpaccio, then seared scallop and tempura prawn, then smoked trout with wasabe icecream, main of amazingly tender and flavoursome lamb and a passionfruit torte confection for dessert - all superb, and all swiftly delivered from the kitchen by attentive waiting staff
Note: You are spoilt for choice for Dinner in Reykjavík - there are a couple of excellent modern Tapas restaurants (incl. The Tapas Bar), as well as numerous Gourmet Icelandic-style restaurants (Modern European really with native / local ingredients to the fore), including Vox, Saga Grill and The Seafood Cellar - all these are highly pricey of course! I have a preference for The Pearl, Nítjánda, and Saga Grill for their overall ambience (all have great views) as well as great food. There are several other great restaurants around Iceland which combine excellence in cuisine with ambience and great views, but these are the best Reykjavík has to offer.
AktuTaktu - one of Iceland’s many fabulous drive-by snack shacks - great for icecreams, hotdogs, toasted sandwiches, light snacks and confectionery
Ísbúð Vesturbæjar - best soft icecream in Iceland - now in 3 places, almost permanent queues out the door
Ísbúð Garðabæjar - our amazing local icecream shop has the most fabulous range of icecream-based concoctions - whips, shakes, smoothies, soft and gelato icecreams with toppings - all in an enormous variety
Note: I always have a hitlist of must-visit venues and must-eat / drink Icelandic cuisine for when I go home to Ideland; I failed to make Bæjarins Beztu - world’s best hotdog stand - first time I’ve ever missed this treat, a favourite with all Icelanders and visting dignitaries, including Bill Clinton!
Laugar Spa - various sauna and steam rooms at different temperatures, salt-water jacuzzi with water jets, dinner in a gown and a quick nap on a chaise longue in front of an open fire
Blue Lagoon - one of Iceland’s best-known tourist destinations - equally fabulous under a clear blue or northern-lights haloed snow-flecked night sky - make sure you stand under the waterfall for the ultimate in shoulder massage
Austur Steakhouse / Bar - the current in-place for dancing - will probably last a couple of months before the action moves someplace else! We Icelander’s are very fickle when it comes to bars and clubs
Note: there are currently strangely realtively few dance-hot-spots in Reykjavík (certainly nothing like Ministry or Fabric) - really only a choice of 3 current hotspots (dance-bars really) - most of the action is now at Austur, then B5, then Café Olíver
Harpa - attended Icelandic Symphony Orchestra in new Reykjavík Harpa concert hall - in main ’Eldborg’ auditorium - amazing accoustics and fixtures, just about OK seating, slightly odd programme choices on the night we attended - not without interesting counter-points though; building architecture is amazing - some facilities still being completed!
Music - discovered latest greatest Icelandic breakthrough act - ’Of Monsters And Men’ kind of like an Icelandic Arcade Fire - soon to be huge everywhere - new album ’My Head Is An Animal’ has just been released
Science - attended scientific presentation on birthing monitoring technology (elder brother’s partner is a midwife) at Súfistinn
Cinema - Made it to the cinema once (Columbiana at Háskóla Bíó) - Icelandic cinemas are all blessed with great seating, amazing video and sound-systems and popcorn made on the premises - you can’t do better than that; also way cheaper than London, and most cinemas use Icelandic ticketing site Midi.is - which means no queueing - you can print out your tickets at home!
Reading - Read a couple of David Dalglish’s ’Half-Orc’ works - when I had the tiniest amount of time spare
Viewing - Watched great first series of Justified on DVD
That about covers it; amazingly I also bumped into ’Fittest Woman on Earth’ - Annie Mist, whilst at Súfistinn in Hafnafjörður - she was out on a Hen do - on next table to us, very civilised affair, looked like Annie was best friend of bride-to-be, Annie is amazingly down-to-earth, and drives a newish, yet wholly regular black Volkswagen Polo - thereby continuing the Icelandic strongman tradition - Jón Páll Sigmarsson (World’s Strongest Man) drove a Fiat Uno for most of his life - big muscly people in small cars!
Internet-wise, apart from booking tickets, news / gossip sites and some message boards and blogs; Iceland is not really that big on Social Commerce - everything is reachable by car really in terms of retail / commerce - there are some successful online catalogue services; and for Social Networking, most Icelanders use Facebook! Icelandic equivalent of Craig’s List used to be called Barnaland.is, this has now been supposedly upgraded / morphed to a more hi-tech eBay-like environment called Bland.is. The most popular Icelandic websites can be viewed by way of the Modernus Ranking - Iceland’s official ABC equivalent (Audit Bureau of Circulation).