AFTER THE FACT
I don’t usually blog about a place after I have returned, but people keep asking me about Iceland.
It seems to be a county that has captured many people’s imaginations. People want to know if there is more there than penises in jars and waterfalls. “What is the food like?” “Is there much to do?” “What is the shopping like?” These questions have all been lobbed at me in the last three weeks.
First off, yes, there is more to Iceland than petrified wieners and waterfalls. The natural beauty is the most exciting and exotic part. While Reykjavik itself is not what I would call a dynamic city there is plenty to do and see.
It’s calm. It’s clean. It’s orderly. It looks like it was put together by Ikea. Even in the fanciest of restaurants everyone is very casual. There is a Portland, Seattle vibe without the American angst.
There are no five star hotels. There are two four star ones and then a Radisson which says it’s four star but they never are. I know who will never be getting comped at Radisson now.
Anyway, there is The Borg which is the older, more European hotel down near the lake. It looks like a lot of hotels I have seen in various cities.
I tried to book a room there but it was full because of the film festival that was taking place. But the city is so chill there was no evidence that an International Film Festival was going on. No Bradley Cooper or Chloe Sevigny sightings. No paparazzi and no fanfare in front of the place where the festival was being held. Even with something splashy going on, Reykjavik does not do splash.
We stayed at the 101 Hotel, which is newer, more boutiquey and smack dab in the center of town. Which really just means it’s on one of the three main commercial streets.
There is not a ton of shopping. The shopping that is there is simple and functional. You don’t go there to load up on discounted Prada and Burberry. The main thing they sell is the Icelandic sweater. They are everywhere. I was tempted to get one but they itch. They are made of the itchiest wool my skin has ever encountered. I was chatting with a Canadian woman seated next to us at dinner one night and she was complaining too. And she was Canadian. So you know it’s itchy. She said the Geysir brand was the softest. They sell the Geysir brand all over and they are a tad softer.
I found wonderful shop called Gjóska, which used to be called Volcap which means volcano. So when you try and find it online it is under both names. The young designer who owns it uses the elements and natural occurrences of Iceland as her inspiration. She has sweaters with the Northern Lights knitted in, the volcano is another theme she repeats in sweaters, ponchos, hats and scarves. Though the items are not remotely cheesy, they are more abstract and very appealing. But, they too itch. I bought two scarves. I wanted a sweater but knew I would get it home and never wear it.
The food is wonderful. We did not have a bad meal. In fact, we had two truly memorable ones. One meal at a place called the Fish Company that was as good as anything we have had anywhere in recent memory. The fish is fresher than most you will find anywhere. It is the home of Arctic Char. The vegetables are grown in geo-thermal hothouses so they have no pesticides. When they say farm to table they are not messing around. The whole country has a farm vibe and they kill it or pick it and bring it right to the table. It is also such a tiny place nothing has very far to go, so everything is fresh, fresh, fresh.
And the butter. OMG, the best butter I have ever eaten anywhere in the world. It was so good one night I just ate it with a spoon. And the amazing thing was nobody paid any attention. Reykjavik is the kind of place where you can eat butter with a spoon and nobody thinks you are odd, in fact they just bring you more butter. What’s not to like?
OTHER SPOTS YOU MIGHT WANT TO CHECK OUT
Dill Restaurant – Very popular. Book 6 weeks in advance. Across from 101. Serious foodies only apply.
Fish Market – We didn’t eat there but heard good things.
Fish Company – Wonderful place. Don’t miss it.
Grill Market – We ate there and loved it.
Mokka Cafe – Oldest coffee house there. We went in and had a coffee and a donut. They seem to specialize in waffles. Local hangout.
Gjóska – Hand knit items.
Geysir – sweaters, clothing. Nice. Least itchy on the island.
The Pearl Building – great view and home of Perlan one of the world’s top five revolving restaurants. But you can go and just take photos from the observation deck. Or have a snack at the cafe. Perlan is a big deal, so only go if you are in the mood for that.
Hallgrimskirkja – walk up the center of town and you can’t miss it.
Reykjavik Loves – a comprehensive shopping guide to the city.
Iceland has a vibrant music scene. We didn’t do that. But check it out. The also are very into vinyl her this link takes you to the best record shops.