Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Travel: Iceland Day Two

So on the second day I woke up way too early, being over cautious about being picked up “half an hour before the time of your excursion in the lobby of your hotel” (this turned into an hour in my head, lol) didn’t mind though, just gave me plenty of time for breakfast, which was all right I guess, but not the nicest hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had. The coffee wasn’t that good, and the hot food just WASN’T hot. It’s like they had put the hot food items into the warmer things, and just forgotten to turn it on or something! But there was a nice selection of cold cut meats and cheese, bread, this REALLY nice camberzola thing, served with a honey and chopped nut mixture to drizzle over it. Also fruit, yoghurt things, and pancakes, with various fruit sauces/ maple syrups to pour over it. Pleasant, but I suppose it could have been much nicer. However, amongst the normal breakfast selection there were pickled herrings and gherkins (and also on one of the days gravadlax too)!!! Bleghhh! To be fair I love gherkins, I had a dozen of them one morning, but imagine having pickled herring for breakfast?? Gross!

I then got picked up for my excursion, and my god the weather! It was soooo foggy! At the beginning of the tour, our guide Helga was saying “and NORMALLY you look on the right here and you’ll see the Blue Mountains, where Iceland’s Ski Resorts are located” and yeah literally there was nothing, just a bleak dark blue and white wasteland. Throughout the tour though she said so many interesting things about Icelandic culture, geography, history etc. It’s such a fascinating country, really. At one point when we were driving through the fog, and we suddenly saw like a golden glowing city to the right of us. She explained to us that this is what they call the “greenhouse city” (I can’t remember the Icelandic name sorry!). Because Iceland is such a cold place so it’s hard to grow things out there, so a lot of time they either have to import, or grow stuff in greenhouses. Basically they built a few greenhouses in this area, because they found they could harness a lot of the volcanic heat from below that area to heat up the green houses. That’s what amazing about Iceland- they are so good with harnessing their natural resources, and using it to their advantage. All the volcanoes and waterfalls and earthquakes and hot springs, they use the energy from these to power their cities, to heat the roads/ main streets to avoid problems with ice, to heat their houses/ green houses. It’s just so clever. Wish I could have got a good picture of this shining greenhouse city, was absolutely bizarre. Anyway, by the time we got to Skalholt, the fog had cleared up a bit and it had started to get a little lighter.

Skalholt basically used to be the capital of Iceland, before there was a big earthquake and then the bishop and everyone there decided to move to Reykjavik, and it was after that when Reykjavik kinda started to become the centre of culture in Iceland. It has been the site of a church for hundreds of years, but the one currently there was built in 1950 (because every hundred years or so there’s another earthquake, the church gets destroyed, and then they rebuild it again). A lot of the history they tell you about in Iceland, often ends in “Then there was an earthquake, and so they moved” or “then there was an earthquake, and they rebuilt it”- Lol! So it was a very little church, but underneath it was this really small cool exhibit on the history of Skalholt, plus a load of artefacts from the 12th century, including a big stone coffin, and cool inscriptions on doors and things. But, now this made my FRICKIN holiday, absolutely brilliant- basically when we got into the church, our coach driver went straight in and started playing the organ- sorta normal, organ music sort of things at first (was really loud as well!). Whilst I was downstairs (and I could still hear the organ music v clearly), he suddenly started playing “Bach’s Toccata and Fugue” (I had to google the name). Dunno how to explain it, it’s that really cool vampire sounding song they have in horror films! It was just so funny, and so well played, it just really put a smile on my face.

Second destination was the big waterfall “Gullfoss”. Gullfoss means golden in Icelandic, and there are a couple of theories of why they decided to name the waterfall this. First one was that in the summer when the sun shines on it, it does look really golden, or the other which is an old myth that a covetous man, who used to live in a house next to the top of the waterfall, became mad, put all his gold into a coffin, and threw it into the falls. It’s hard to show in photos the sheer size of these falls, but they were breath taking, honestly. Got some really nice photos of the falls, and also a super nice photo of me that an American teenager took for me. I love it, despite the silly hat.

Next stop was Geysir, which confusingly, is the name of THE MASSIVE geyser that isn’t erupting at the moment (usually a volcanic eruption or earthquake sets it off every 40 years or so apparently) and also the name of the area where all the hot springs and little geysers are located. As our guide pointed out, geyser is the only Icelandic word used in general worldwide terminology (I’m not surprised to be honest, the rest of the language is utterly unpronounceable, haha lol). She also said “remember, do not try to touch the water, it is incredibly hot”. It’s so weird being in the cold and snow but at the same time seeing all this steam about and seeing the water melting channels through the snow. I knew it was hot, because it looked hot, but this sign reminded me of how hot the water was- 80-100C- don’t touch it!! Lol. Some of these streams/ hot springs were bubbling furiously, it was just absolutely astonishing. I’m so glad that I went to see this, because it is just a geographical phenomenon that I have never encountered before. Didn’t get a photo of the little geyser erupting, but I got a video of it, it erupted a fair few times (guide says on average every 8 minutes). A big stream of hot water leapt about 20 feet into air- very cool looking.

After seeing it erupt a few times I ran to the little café thing they had there, because it was cold and I was absolutely covered in snow. I got exactly what I wanted for lunch- something to warm myself up. I got myself a bowl of “Kjotsupa”, which is a traditional Icelandic lamb broth (basically exactly like welsh or scotch broth) and for dessert a pot of blueberry “Skyr”. Skyr is kind of a cross between yoghurt and fromage fraise, it’s really thick and creamy, and it’s usually flavoured with cherries, blueberries or bilberries. Very tasty and I found out very low fat as well- I mean it was thicker than Greek yoghurt but really low fat! We really ought to ship some of this into this country; people on diets would love it over here! I couldn’t believe other people on the tour were choosing hamburgers and crap looking pizzas/ chicken nuggets when this lovely Icelandic food was on offer.

Next to the café was a big gift shop and a little exhibition on the geography of Iceland as well. I started having a little look round the exhibition, which was all about the hot springs, volcanoes, and the history of Geysir. However, suddenly all the lights turned off! And the person sat in front of where you went in sighed (making me think this happens quite regularly) told me and other people that were in there to get out whilst they tried fixing it. I swear I heard her kick something whilst swearing (but in Icelandic I guess) Lol! So instead I just messed about in the gift shop for a bit, which was quite fun to be fair. They had the weirdest stuff in there, I loved the Christmas tree full of seal soft toys?? There was the funniest collection of Iceland joke T shirts in there also, below is my favourite one (its the name of the volcano that erupted a couple of years back)- hilarious!!

Last stop was Thingvalla, which is the site of the original Icelandic parliament. A warning from the guide was like “don’t expect to see anything here, don’t expect to see any buildings” which was true, it is basically a sign, and a big blank field. Some cool rock formations behind it though. Basically years ago once the settlers decided they ought to form a parliament, so they chose a spot, and 12 elected members would all meet here, with a big fire, outside, and have a big discussion on what they would do regarding their countries’ policies. Of course, they no longer meet here anymore, but they still have the same system of 12 elected officials- infact I read on facebook the other day that over half of these members are woman at the moment- go girl power!! There was some good information there about Iceland’s political history here though on a couple of signs. And it was a picturesque place though; I think you can feel the vibes about the place, feel in the land and the rocks that it used to be a very important place, that big decisions were made here. I’m a bit of a hippie though you know, haha!

The coach started to head back, but we ended up delayed by like an hour and a half, because it had been snowing heavily. Eventually when I got back, I was starved and a little tired, so I decided to have a coffee and a bite to eat at a café somewhere. There was this café almost opposite my hotel, called Café Stofan, which was sooo nice! It just felt like a comfy living room, it was just perfect. I had a double espresso and something the nice blond girl on the bar described as a “Berlinarbolla”- she didn’t know what the English for it. I would have said it was pretty much a jam doughnut, but dusted with vanilla flavoured icing sugar, instead of cinnamon caster sugar like we get over here. Anyway, it was scrumptious.

Anyway, I started to get hungry again (haha! I am terrible!) and I decided to go out for dinner. I found this place called Tapas Barinn, which Tripadvisor had recommended, and my god I had one of the most unique meals I’ve ever had in my life! It was very busy- I wasn’t surprised by this, because I had actually been in the previous night, but they had been fully booked at that point. I got a Viking beer when I got seated, and they brought me a big basket of complimentary bread with homemade tapenade and sundried tomato hummus. This was such a delicious start to the meal, I had to stop myself from completely filling myself up bread and accompaniments- just simply delicious! I thought I would be adventurous, so I ordered 3 tapas dishes: puffin with a wild blueberry sauce, roasted foal with a red wine reduction, and marinated grilled aubergine and courgettes. The puffin arrived first (I have some pics of the food, but it was so dark in there, I had to use flash, and as we all know, flash makes food looks rubbish) and it arrived cold, which I wasn’t expecting. People keep asking me “what did puffin taste like??” and I thought it was going to taste like fishy chicken (because it’s an aquatic bird and all that) but it just tastes…..weird. I couldn’t really describe it- it just tastes of puffin. I don’t think it was really to my taste, but that wasn’t the restaurants’ fault, it’s just puffin is not for me I guess! Although theoretically, I thought the sweet blueberry sauce complimented the puffin very well. Next the courgette dish arrived, as did the foal. These were some of the nicest things I have EVER tasted in my life! The vegetables were stunning, I really wondered how they managed to get so much flavour into these vegetables, they were just so delicious. And the foal- MY GOD, I mean, I did feel guilty, because I knew I was going horse riding in a few days, but it was so tender and served to the perfect rarity that I like (medium rare). With gorgeous very creamy mashed potato and a very well executed gamey jus. I will say that we should get over ourselves in Britain, and start serving horse in restaurants. I have tried horse before in Britain and I love it- just like beef, but leaner, and often very tender.

After this meal, I was sooo stuffed, and the meal wasn’t even that expensive, so I was so happy with what I had tried. So after a big day out, I went to bed and looked forward to the activities the next day.

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