Sunday, December 30, 2012

Iceland's Golden Circle and the Day We Ate Rotten Shark

December 26 was our last day full of tour group travels. It was a good thing our week was planned out this way, because December 26 is the second day of Christmas in Iceland. Iceland's opening hours seem to be pretty short in general, but during the holidays nothing was open. It was often a real search just to find a place to eat dinner. Christmas in Iceland was fun to witness though, because they have their very own cast of characters. There's no Santa in Iceland. In his place are 13 awesome Yule Lads, who seem more about tearing society apart than giving out presents. The Lads have names that explain the pranks they play, sort of like the seven dwarves, such as Spoon Licker and Doorway Sniffer. 

Sausage Swiper was featured in the Christmas edition of the Reykjavik Grapevine.

One really cool thing going on in the city were these animated projections of the Christmas characters  doing their thing. This monster is linked with the Yule Lads. This is the Yule Cat, who is as big as a house and will eat any children that haven't received new clothing before Christmas. And Christmas justice is served. 

Anyway, back to the tourin'. Our first stop was a geothermal power plant called Hellisheiðarvirkjun. We passed this place a few times on our way to other locations. We could always tell when it was nearby due to the heavy sulfur smell in the air. I read some very conflicting reports on the tap water quality in Iceland before I arrived. Some said it was fantastic, and others said it smelled terrible. Well it turns out both are true. If I turn the faucet on cold, the water comes out fresh as a mountain stream. If I turn it to hot, the water flows out smelling fresh as a mountain goat fart. The reason apparently is that the two waters come from different sources, with the hot water being heated in the earth.

 The museum was full of cool interactive displays about earth quakes and other below-ground occurrences.

A model of the Pearl building we were able to visit on our first day in Reykjavik.

This is Leppalúði and Grýla, the troll parents of the Yule Lads. Grýla eats children who are naughty. Again, this sounds like a totally reasonable punishment. There really aren't that many uneaten children in Iceland.

 The partially frozen waterfall Gullfoss puts all previously waterfalls seen by me to shame.

I've souped probably 6 times in Iceland and every one of them has been delicious. This one was lamb and vegetable.

Iceland is the home of Geysir, from which geysers get their name. Geysir's groove has apparently been interrupted by earthquakes, but nearby Strokkur still blasts off every few minutes.

Apologies on this one but I didn't have time to edit. Go to 2:56 if you get tired of us yapping.

The third and final spot that comprises Iceland's tourist awing Golden Circle is Þingvellir, the site of the world's first parliament.

We had a quick hot dog snack at Bæjarins Beztu. They had a picture of Bill Clinton eating here posted. Ordering one with everything gets you mustard, ketchup, rémoulade, and crunchy onions. Freezing my temporarily ungloved hands to eat this was very worth it.

Lebowski Bar was just a few steps from the hotel, and Big Lebowski is a masterpiece, so we went and checked that out.

All of the few bars I've entered in Iceland have had a wheel of fortune set up. You pay a few bucks and then spin the wheel to win drinks. It effectively combines gambling and drinking into one completely harmless omni-vice. The wheel at Lebowski was appropriately labeled, with a losing space marked simply "mark it zero" and one winning space paying out white Russians. It was awesome.

As we all have learned, Lydia is always wanting to eat foods that are in the US prohibited by law and/or common decency. And for her it's just bonus points if that food happens to taste like death. Well, we found a restaurant named Laekjarbrekka that crossed several species off of our dinner checklist all in one meal.

From left to right, according to the menu we have "wind dried fish and crunchy Icelandic seaweed", "hákarl: fermented shark-if you dare", "hot smoked puffin with crowberries and seaweed crisp", and "birch glazed minke whale".  This all together was 1450 krona, or about $11.25.

"Don't let the smell bother you"- the waitress.

I had my doubts whether Lydia would want to share her feast, so I ordered something for myself: "cognac cured horse, glazed red beets, and roasted parsnip puré". I thought it would be really funny if the menu read: "horse, radish, horseradish". Pun on a plate.

Well the hákarl was awful as could be predicted. The chemical taste that I'm enjoying is ammonia.

The rest of the zoo animals weren't too bad. The whale and the puffin were pretty well covered with sweetness. The horse was the only thing that we didn't finish. It was super raw and chewy. Not good.

What do you call the horse the people sitting next to you are eating? Your Neeeigh-bor.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Iceland's Southern Coast

Today started like everyday here is going to start: pitch black. It's kind of cool though, I realized that with the 4 hour days I am going to see every sunrise and sunset for a whole week. We were on another epic bus tour which took us to some sights on the Southern coast of the country.

We got as far as Vik, a little town with good soup and fish sticks.

The buses all have wifi, which is really cool. One girl was able to use FaceTime to watch a loved one open their Christmas presents. I also really enjoyed using Google maps to check our progress on the road.

I enjoyed the part where our two buses of tourists descended like locusts on unsuspecting businesses.

We've been having skyr about twice a day since we arrived. It's a thicker, more sour sort of yogurt. It's not bad, plus they have cool flavors.

I don't have the time right now to get into what all of these places are, but we saw several waterfalls, lots of mountains, a black sand beach, a museum of sorts, and several volcanoes including  Eyjafjallajökull, the one that shut down Atlantic air travel in 2010 which I hereby declare unpronounceable. On that note, the place names are so dense here that it's hard to remember them, so it takes a lot more work to keep track of what is named what.

I got pretty excited about this waterfall.

The ground was noteworthy most of the places we went. Lydia likes chocolate a whole lot, so we worked on classifying the ground with that in mind. This was frozen chocolate doughnut glaze.

Next stop was a glacier. It was big, blue, and cold.

We had found a pretty cool place to take pictures until we were scolded by the tour guide for straying from the group. He had a couple of phrases that he repeated incessantly. One was that we had to stay with the group because we didn't have the equipment to withstand the glacial dangers. Pretty much anywhere Lydia went after that I screamed "No! You don't have the equipment!"

The ice withstood the scientific punch test.

This part was really cool. Our guide said that whenever a volcano erupts it shoots black ash everywhere, which is then trapped in the glacier's ice. This creates a tree ring effect where they can take core samples and find answers to questions and so forth.

The ground here was more of a chocolate cake mix.

They took us to this questionable museum of various Icelandic artifacts. I thought the most interesting part was the eccentric owner, seen here setting the mood before a rendition of "Silent Night" in Icelandic.

There aren't a whole lot of trees in Iceland, which I assume is why they rocked the old sod hut looking houses.

We are on a tour hot streak. Not two hours after the end of this one did we embark on our Northern Lights excursion. Long story short we drove around for 3 hours but not a light was seen. Luckily they will let us keep going on that particular tour until we see some lights. Whether we will want to is to be determined.

It was so bitterly cold and windy today, especially at night, that we spent most of this time sitting in the bus, watching other people see nothing. The trip was still a lot of fun despite the circumstances. Our tour guide was really funny and had lots of stories to keep us entertained. He told us his difficult Icelandic name but said that while we were on this sky watching tour we could call him "Stardust".

Iceland loves hot dogs, and so does this guy. They have fried crunchies and chili ketchup toppings for crying out loud!