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.

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