I am on the train from Madrid to Málaga. There isn’t a quiet car and I’m hearing ding dong, a steam engine blowing, a harp, da da da da dunt, birds chirping. It’s an orchestra. Oh wait! It’s a life filled with the beat of cell phones. Train travel is the same in every country. A car filled with passengers is like a theater stage lined with musicians and actors clinging to their big moment.
Art work along the promenade in Málaga, Spain
Alas, I arrive in Málaga, a region in Spain known as Andalusia or the Costa del Sol. Andalusia bridges the gap between Spanish culture and its North African Islamic neighbors to the south. The Christians conquered the Islamic Moors (of Arab and Berber descent) in the late 15th Century and built a church in every plaza to prove it.
Málaga has a population of about 600,000 people and relies heavily on tourism, commerce and technology. It’s an active port town situated on the Mediterranean Sea. Tourists from all over Europe flock to Málaga for sunshine and beaches and “la cultura” of Spain especially those from Germany and the United Kingdom who beg the sun gods to take pity on them.
View of the Port of Málaga, Spain on the Mediterranean Sea
The Málaga beaches are not Spain’s most beautiful as they are rocky and the water isn’t the clear aqua blue of Italy and Croatia but they are clean and worthy of a splash or swim. There are plenty of restaurants and accommodations to cater to tourists or you can take a morning or late afternoon stroll along the promenade. When you tire of the saltwater, hop on the City Sightseeing bus or explore the Picasso Museum. If you are feeling adventurous, hike up to the Gibralfaro fortress of Málaga for 360-degree views of the city. It’s the best way to get a sense of the city’s modern and historic architecture and vibrant coastline. Eat some Iberian ham, sip on vino blanco or tinto, feast on fried calamari and take your siesta on the beach until it’s time to get up and eat again.
The Cathedral of Málaga
Málaga is filled with fun shopping, splashy new buildings and narrow alleyways. The historic district provides an opportunity to get lost and find a restaurant or store off the beaten path. Outdoor cafes and ice cream vendors crowd every street. Skip the siesta for an afternoon and explore.
When I packed my Lululemon yoga pants for the trip, I anticipated wearing them on the hiking excursions I would be taking but since I am solo and have been partaking in private and group tours, they are currently being utilized for the expandable ahem elastic waistband needed after a absolutely delicious meal in Reykjavik.
No one told me I would encounter such beauty, such color, and such lingering impressions of the FOOD in Iceland. There wasn’t one guidebook or blog that suggested I would need to apply to Weight Watchers or Atkins upon my re-entry into the United States. Enough about my problems, let me share with you how I have been eating and seeing my way through Iceland.
Editor’s Advice: Don’t shy away from local food such as whale, puffin and lamb soup. To experience a foreign land is one thing; to get to know it through its food is quite another.
Enjoy Fredrik 5, Laugavegi for a surprise tasting menu with wine pairings. My three-course overindulgence included an Icelandic favorite of dried codfish, skyr (similar to thick yogurt) accompanied by fresh warm kale and sun-dried tomato bread, a fish serving with cod and lobster and finally lamb and a side of shepherd’s pie. My dessert consisted of edible flowers with a chocolate sensation to cure any sugar craving.
For a quickie informal lunch don’t miss Sea Barron at the old harbor, Geirsgata 8. Taste any of the skewers of whale, salmon, shrimp and scallops but definitely don’t miss their famous lobster soup a salty, wonder of warmth to fill your cravings.
Yearning for a hipster scene? Look no further than Snaps, Þórsgata 1. My friends spotted Björk here in November. I was not so lucky but on July 4 I did meet a fellow American avoiding life for a while, which is always fun. Savor the mussels and find a soup spoon to enjoy the sauce. Slurp away because you cannot waste one bite. Try the lemon tart and select a local beer like Einstok Pale Ale to quench your thirst. The food is delicious and the atmosphere makes you feel like you tried a “cool” place.
Trying the Mussels
Dinner with a view you ask? Then my answer is Kopar, Geirsgötu 3. Order the tasting menu or do it yourself with fancy seafood, salads and oooohhh the bread and butter. I recommend the cod and cheese-laden potatoes and don’t stick your nose up at the horse sampling. It’s worth a taste–a few bites at least. In texture, it’s like rare tuna and the flavor is fine but I did possibly imagine an after taste and washed it down with a sauvignon blanc just in case. f you have room for dessert, I suggest the caramel heaven sampler, my server’s favorite and mine too.
For a quickie, go once, twice, maybe even three times to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, Austurströnd 3. My dislike of onions prevented me from the sampling the works but I ordered up the rest of the fixings, which includes mustard and a special sauce. Who needs pork or beef when you can have a lamb dog? It’s the only way to go in Iceland.
Lamb Hot Dogs
For real fish and chips, I ventured into Fish Restaurant Reykjavik, Ingolfsstraeti 8, & Skolavoroustig 23. It’s a bit more of a do it yourself but the fish was fresh and after a few hours pounding the streets of Reykjavik, it’s worth a quick stop.
Visit Old Iceland Restaurant, Laugavegur 72 for a quaint surprise. I happened upon this place as it looked inviting and an escape from the rain. In need of some veggies, I ordered the salad with mixed greens and Camembert cheese and the special “ling” fish of the day. Wow! The fish was cooked to perfection and the sun dried tomato and pesto dashes of flavor made this one of my favorite meals in Reykjavik. It was so good I shared the bottle of wine I ordered with my neighbors from the UK and then ordered “mom’s rhubarb cake,” which is nothing like my mother has ever baked out of a box or by scratch. It was more like a fresh bar of savory flavor and granola oats with real whipped cream. Back to the Spandex.
Mouthwatering I could have had a second
Go hungry! For my last night in Reykjavik, I followed my friend’s recommendation to try Grill Market. You can follow the tasting menu or order off the menu. As a solo diner, I opted for two appetizers the Minke Whale Steak, Puffin (local bird) and Lobster mini burgers, followed by lamb skewers and a main course of cod. Lastly, I convinced myself since it was my last night and I must go out with a bang (or sick to my stomach) and order dessert. My server persuaded me to try the chocolate lovers ecstasy made with mascarpone sabayone, hot caramel sauce, coffee ice cream, rice crispies, and whip cream. Indeed, it’s now on my top five list of sweet treats, a very coveted and most caloric specific list.
It’s possible the Red Cross is based in Iceland not for the natural disasters like the earthquakes and volcanoes but to rescue me from eating. I noticed a freighter coming into port today.
Need some 80s music and a lively environment, try English pub on a Friday or Saturday and for a special treat. Check out what’s happening at the Harpa daily.
Top 10 to see in Reykjavik
Learn a thing or two at a museum: The National Gallery of Iceland for art, the Maritime Museum for a history lesson on fishing and the sea or the Sagas Museum to hear “stories” of Iceland’s settlers and the National Museum of Iceland for an in depth look at the past
Take the On the Bus Off the Bus for a quick lay of the land
Walk the old and new port. See the Sun Voyager and Reykjavik’s modern buildings mixed with its old. Wander the downtown streets checking out the Parliament Building, City Hall and the Culture House
Visit Perlan for the panoramic views
Shop Laugavegur Street and take home a Nordic sweater, hat or blanket. Do I really need a blue and white gorgeous Nordic blanket for $165—Maybe? Yes, I think I do
Main Shopping Street
Eat Ice Cream – Icelanders venture out in the cold dark of night for their favorite. Go for the soft serve it’s not like Mr. Softee at all. It has flavor and substance
Visit Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran Church and check out its tower for the view
Buy a treasure at the Flea Market (only on weekends)
Meet the locals and have a conversation – they are kind and generous and will giggle at your attempts to go unnoticed
Go whale watching if that is your thing and then write a letter and ask them to stop killing the whales when you return to your country then definitely try Minke Whale in the restaurants