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ICELAND - Nov 12-18, 2012

ICELAND - Nov 12-18, 2012

ICELAND

Nov 12 (Mon)

Unlike our usual trip, we had a whole day to prepare & pack our luggage instead of dragging ourselves out of bed at 4:30am and driving up to the airport in pre-dawn darkness. Sue loved it.

We took off at 8:05PM from JFK in the fully packed Iceland Air flight.

Nov 13 (Tue)

A little over 5 hours flight started bumpy with 1.5 hours delay on JFK runway, but went smoothly afterward and arrived at the pretty much scheduled time in Reykjavik airport at 7:30AM today.

I must have been in this airport at least 7 or 8 times due to the connecting flight I used to take to go to Europe in JTB days. The last time when I was here was with Sue about 25 years ago. Reykjavik airport has changed since then. It is modern, big, and totally user-UNfriendly. (It took us forever to reach to luggage area. This was one of a few occasions that our luggage reached carousel before we did.)

We met the Thrifty rental car rep at the arriving area. He drives us to his office and gives us a Ford 4 wheel drive SUV. We debate if we should rent a GPS but eventually decline it because we all agreed (including the rep at the rent-a-car desk) that we don’t need it. We leave the airport to Reykjavik in total darkness at little past 9AM.

About 1 hour later, with miraculous luck, we find our apartment in downtown Reykjavik and since our apartment room was ready, we check in. Sue & I both love it. It’s spacey, clean and very private.

We both decided to sleep awhile. I wake up 2 hours later, un-pack my bag, and go out for a walk.

After 3 hours of walking around, I come back with bagful of basic food.

For dinner, we drive to a restaurant named “3 Frakkar Hja Ulfari” where they specialize traditional Icelandic dishes. We order all the 3 dishes I wanted to try while we were here in Iceland.

They are (appetizer portion of):

1. Puffins, (Icelandic bird)

2. Smoked Shark (called Hakarl),

3. Whale Sashimi (Yes, I know that eating whale meat is unthinkable barbaric deed..

I know that it is like eating your own pet Chiwawa or something worse, but I just don’t have strong feeling about it, and I wanted to eat it. So, I just decided to go into an existential Zen state of mind saying to myself like “I eat therefore I am” and ignored the slight guilt I felt.)

In addition to the above, Sue ordered plate of Reindeer Pate, and we both ordered bowl of creamy fish soup.

We agreed that the soup was excellent, and whale sashimi was decent, Puffins edible. Sue liked the Pate, but I thought it was too gamey. But we both agreed that the smoked shark was one of the most puke inducing, most vile food we have ever had in our worldwide culinary experience equal only to spit beer in Peru and Pissy bull’s balls in Barcelona. It tasted like old fish meat scraped off the floor of a public toilet. The small dish came with shot of local schnapps to soften the shocking impact of ammonia bursting in your mouth. We were both very grateful for the schnapps.

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It is smoked meat of Greenland Shark. This fish does not have urinary tracts, and pisses through its’ skin. Because of it, the meat has concentrated uric acid which means that if you catch it & eat it, you will vomit blood and die. But somehow, they found a way to cook it (Obviously someone was really hungry). They bury it in the ground for a few months, then wash it and hang it to dry another few months. For some reason, it takes poison out of the meat and voila! The Hakarl!

We had a horrible time finding the way back to our apartment, and cursed ourselves for not renting GPS.

After resting a little and researching a return route from the highway to our apartment (so that we will not get lost again), we take off by car at 10:45pm to see Aurora Borealis.

The Tourist office told me about a website that monitors sightings of Aurora Borealis, and it told us that tonight is the night to see it in the southern outskirt of Reykjavik. We drove past the International airport where we landed this morning onto a very dark country road. But the whole 1 hour of driving was totally worth it because we saw exactly what we wanted to see. Constantly changing green curtains in the sky was pretty close to what I have seen in pictures numerous times before. It was mysterious, majestic and utterly beautiful.

We return to our apartment without much trouble, have a night snack, and go to bed at 2:30AM.

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“Vedur.is” (In their website, click “weather”, then click “Cloud cover forecast”)

The map shows cloud condition in the sky. If your area is covered in white, it means the sky is clear and you will likely to see Northern lights.

Nov 14 (Wed)

We wake up refreshed. Sue complains about the sulfuric water here. Icelanders say that it is one of the best water you can drink. I think they are right if you like to drink water someone farted in. But the air does not smell sulfuric like it used to 25 years ago. The first impression of arriving in Reykjavik used to be strong sulferic air. It’s not there anymore except in their water.

We walk to center of town & after having a lunch, walk the main street checking out shops.

In the late afternoon, we drive to the famous Blue Lagoon to dip ourselves in the Icelandic hot spring. We arrive there around 5PM, and relax in the humongous lagoon filled with sky blue hot spring water for about an hour. We were glad to come here in spite of long drive down near the airport again.

After we return to Reykjavik, we have dinner in a bar/restaurant called Icelandic Bar by our hotel.

I had mink whale course menu (Yes, the whale again) while Sue had Lamb/Goose/Puffin dish. It was very good meal with a reasonable price (for Iceland).

Nov 15 (Thu)

Sue couldn’t go to sleep until early this morning, but she seemed up & ready to go at 10AM.

I checked Aurora forecast website last night and saw that we will not be able to see it again until Sunday night. I ask Sue if she can postpone our return flight for 1 day until Monday. She says okay.

I call the owner of the cabin we will be staying for 2 nights up in the north. He tells me that he is in Reykjavik and that he can come meet me at my apartment. So, we do that, and we take off Reykjavik at noon.

In spite of rain and sleet, driving was not problematic until we came very close to the cabin.

We could not find it, and went back & forth a few times on a desolate country road. Eventually, we gave up and called the owner to ask him to walk us through to the cabin from where we were. It turns out that his direction was wrong, and the house not having actual address, it was no wonder we couldn’t find it.

But once we arrive at our 3 bed room log cabin, we were impressed with the view of the place. It sat at the edge of cliff, facing the fjord and the snow-capped mountains on the other side of shore.

On the way to this place from Reykjavik, we had rain, snow, small blizzard, sunny sky and gusty wind switching one to another every 5 – 10 minutes. It reminded us of Highland in Scotland. (The local guide there told us that if we don’t like the weather in Scotland, just wait 10 minutes.)

Since the sky was clear when we arrived, we eat sandwich quickly and go out for food shopping and local sightseeing. We were hoping to find a super-market within a reasonable distance, but ended up driving around an hour and a half.

Upon return, Sue cooks steaks and vegetable, and we have another wonderful meal.

Nov 16 (Fri)

We wake up to a blizzard, but it calms down while we get ready to go out.

We take highway 47 toward opposite direction from Reykjavik to go around the end of bay to the town of Arkanes. We drive on empty snow covered roads along the bay enjoying the barren yet beautiful scenery of Hvalfjordur fjord. When I come out of car for a photo shot, I realize how cold it is outside.

I tell Sue my favorite stories of how stupidly cold it gets in Moorhead Minnesota once more.

We arrive in a small town of Arkanes in about 1.5 hours, do a sightseeing by visiting tourist office / local history museum, lighthouse and circling around the town by car. We have a good seafood lunch and buy some fruit and return home by way of the newly built tunnel under the fjord.

We are back in our cabin by 5pm just when the sky was turning dark. We spend the rest of night by watching DVD movies we brought from home in a warm cozy cabin.

Nov 17 (Sat)

Clear sky but fierce wind outside. We get ready, clean up the place and leave the cabin at noon.

We drive back the same route and arrive back in Reykjavik in 45 minutes.

The hotel we are staying for the last night in this trip is a boutique hotel at the center of town. The front desk clerk up-grades our room to a junior suite. When we walk in, we find modern swanky black & white room with beaded string curtain that separates bed area and the living room area. Sue thinks we should be drinking Courvoisier and listening to a groovy music.

We go out to a freezing street for a light lunch at Icelandic Café. Then, we visit flea market (where we buy vacuum packed whale meats), very uniquely designed concert hall, and museum of modern art. We stop at “Cafes Paris” for a cup of coffee on the way back to our hotel room.

Since Sue did not sleep much last night, she decided to take a nap while I went out for more walking.

After about 2 hours of walking around in freezing wind, I found a rotation Sushi restaurant. I sat in front of a belt conveyer and ordered hot sake. After about 10 minutes of waiting, lukewarm sake came in a miniature shot glass. I drained it, had 2 very small appetizer plates, and looked around to ask for a check. Then I saw the other customers leaving their seats carrying the empty plates to a cashier. I picked mine and followed them. Tipping for service is not expected in Iceland, so we customers shouldn’t expect service either. I thought it was only fair.

I stopped at an English pub before I returned hotel for a pint of lager. When I was half way done with my glass, a pretty drunken young guy sat next to me and started to talk. He tells me that he was leaving the joint, but before he walked out of the door, he just wanted to introduce himself to me and buy me a drink. Decades of drinking in all kinds of bars in the world and talking to all kinds of local drunks made me a bit of cynical drinking companion. It always started with a friendly hello from a stranger, and after about half hour of conversation, I always ended up buying the new friend drinks. This guy seems to sense my suspicion and insisted that he buys me a drink. When I graciously declined his offer, he produces a bill from his pocket, gives it to a bar maid, and tells her to pour me another beer when I am done with the one I am drinking now. Then he shook my hand and left the bar.

A few minutes later a group of young people walked in, so I finished my beer and walked out of the door. The bar maid did not stop me, and I did not want another beer. I suppose she made a pretty good tip tonight. I didn’t see anything wrong with that.

After checking the Aurora weather report, we decided not to postpone our stay, and go out for a dinner at a very popular Icelandic Tapas Bar. The dinner was not bad but was not excellent either. We had 2 different Tapas course menus which we shared. (Sue: Variety of Meat & fish Tapas Me: Tapas using traditional Icelandic ingredients.) Sue thought that sauce on each dish was too much (although not bad tasting) and took away from the natural flavor of main ingredients instead of complimenting it.

After the dinner, Sue returns to the room while I go out to the harbor to see if I can catch a glimpse of Aurora for the last time. After standing under a dark freezing sky for a few minutes, I returned to the hotel.

Nov 18 (Sun)

Last night, we were woken by loud music from the street in the middle of night. I went to bathroom, and put ear plugs in my ear and went back to sleep. Sue tells me that the music and sound were coming from a coffee shop across the street filled with young people. It went on until after 4am.

We packed our luggage, checked out, and drove to the National Gallery. We saw some modern art works by Icelandic artists and continued our last day of sightseeing by visiting the National museum of Iceland. After seeing a very interesting exhibition which explained many of our un-answered questions about Iceland, we had a coffee and muffin at the café and drove to the airport.

After the usual shopping using left-over local currency for post cards and duty free items, we hop on the plane and head back home.

Our flight arrives on time, and we have a Sushi dinner in our neighborhood.

I feel pretty tired all of sudden and hit the sack at 11PM.

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