Edit Blog Post
Published: August 19th 2012
A bus day. Starting with a very quick tour of the city (the city isn’t huge and big buses aren’t allowed in the tight inner-city streets). A stop at the imposing and austere Hallgrimmskirkja. It is the tallest building in Iceland and dominates the city landscape. Lutherans aren’t exactly renowned for having fun and this shows both on the inside and the outside. We pass myriad monuments to Icelanders – it doesn’t take much for them to drop a statue or devote a building in memorial to citizens who in other countries would be otherwise forgotten.
After the city tour, we head out to the Reykjanes pensinsula, back towards the international airport at Keflavík. For the record the consonant combination 'fl' is pronounced 'pl' in Icelandic. So it is pronounced Keplavik. You are starting to sound like a native.
Our destination this time is the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s number one tourist destination. Iceland is very geothermally active – there is lots of hot water coming out of the earth and the crust is hot not far under ground (dig a hole and you are likely to burn yourself). So this provides them with unlimited cheap power – by pumping
water into bore holes, which converts to steam, which drives turbines. The outflow has to go somewhere – so initially they just dumped it onto the lava thinking it would seep away. But it contains silica and minerals which have a strange effect on the lava and coat it in this shiny white “sealant” such that the water doesn’t flow away; it forms pools. Locals started secretly swimming in these warm pools and soon they realized the potential for a tourist destination. The pools are a stunning blue, naturally occurring, shimmering in the mist and steamy fog. They vary from pleasantly warm to unbearably hot and everything in between. The bottom is crushed lava (good for exfoliating the body), and there are vats of silica ooze to apply over skin as a treatment (very drying though; I am not sure what this is meant to achieve). And NOT good in your hair unless you want a major “there’s something about Mary” moment.
We continue wandering around this area to Grindavík, where we tour a salted fish factory (again, they will make a monument to anything). For the record, dried salted fish is a mainstay of Icelandic cuisine and also
Portugese and Spanish (baccalao is their term). Icelanders are more likely to buy a pack of dried fish then a pack of potato chips. It tastes and feels a little bit like chewing on a rubber tyre. Hmmmm…. I'll have the chips thanks.
Anyway, after 30 minutes of salted cod historical facts (which is about as interesting as you might imagine - see previous comment about museums and memorials to ANYTHING), we wandered through old lava fields (which are ubiquitous in Iceland). Every so often there would be a column of steam escaping a vent in the earth. We stopped at a mud pools – think Rotorua. Lots of boiling bubbling mud, water full of mineral salts flowing away from the edges of the holes. Smelly doesn’t begin to describe it. And these are commonplace.
Heading back to Reykjavík we pass Kleifervatn, the draining lake. A beautiful freshwater lake that ten years ago started to empty after 2 large earthquakes. Like someone pulled the plug. It was made famous in Arnaldur Indriðason’s book “The Draining Lake”. After a couple of years it stopped draining and is now in the process of refilling. Iceland is full of these sort of geologically active things. It's like the country is still being built.
Back to Reykjavik for a bit of free time which, as always, involves walking. It is such a little town centre, full of typical tourist stuff – t-shirt shops, souvenirs, jewellers, cafés and bars. But it is all so different and cute. It doesn’t look like anywhere else, it just looks Icelandic. My attempts at the language are inevitably met with a pitiful smile and a reply in perfect English with a delightful accent and an apology.
Outside our hotel – RIGHT outside - is the famous Bæjarins beztu pylsur; this translates as world’s best hotdogs. In this country with no Mc Donalds, hot dogs are the take away of choice. They are different from a footy frank. Made of lamb, served with crispy fried onions, fresh chopped onion, mayonnaise, remoulade and mustard. They are delicious and at 320kr (=$2.80) they are the cheapest meal in Europe by a mile. The van has been there for 75 years, is open 20 hours a day, and always has a queue. Not the ideal thing to have under your hotel room window!
Dinner that night was at a themed Viking restaurant in the seaside town (more of a suburb really) of Hafnafjorður. ('fn' is pronounced "pn", so it sounds like Hapnafjorthur) It was a bit kitsch, with the mandatory singing Viking and ubiquitous fair maiden. First course was dried fish (which tastes like fishy rubbery chicken), and hakárl.
There is a story to hakárl: Greenlandic sharks are full of urea to prevent them from freezing (as the water they live in is below zero). It makes them inedible to humans. But in a country where food was traditionally scarce, particularly towards the end of a cold dark winter, the obvious solution was to bury them in sand on the beach for six months, allowing the flesh to rot and putrefy, then dig them up and dry them like a ham. The urea converts to ammonia which gives it a smell between the ripest cheese and toilet cleaner. It looks like cubes of white lard, and it is still eaten as a bar snack.
It honestly wasn’t horrible, but it certainly wasn’t nice; the waitress did tell us it was toned down for tourists. Traditionally it is washed down with brennivin (known also as black death), a potato schnapps/vodka that is not a particularly pleasant drink.
The rest of the food was unremarkable as you would expect in a themed restaurant, followed by a bit of ribald singing from the smooth voiced Viking. A bit of fun!
Tot: 1.276s; Tpl: 0.065s; cc: 10; qc: 50; dbt: 0.0415s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb