Browsing Tag


Culture, Europe

I’ve Become Icelandic

July 19, 2015 • By

When traveling, it’s entirely appropriate to want to blend into local life, and nothing says “Icelandic” more than the comedy production How To Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes, performed nightly at the Harpa in Reykjavik.

It touches on some very interesting points:
To act like the 330,000-some locals, one must show no emotion (“almost like a dead person”), learn to be rude, give general directions with hands waving in the air and walk with a Texas swagger. For true assimilation, you must provide tourists with magnificent whale watching excursions, only to have boats simultaneously set sail to kill the same wild whales. You must learn the language; the importance of this focused on a clip of international broadcasters butchering the pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull (Ay-ya-fyat-la-yo-kuddle), the volcano that erupted in 2010, wreaking havoc on European airports.  The audience practiced a few lines, and I am happy to report even the Norwegians and Danish, from which Icelandic is derived, suffer linguistic misfortunes like the rest of us non-Icelanders.

Fantasy Aisle

Live one person show

Now that I completed the Icelandic course and needed to ingratiate myself into local culture, I immediately shunned my layers and marched right to an ice cream store on the main thoroughfare. Icelanders love their ice cream at all hours of the day and in varying temperatures of the year. This isn’t Tasti D-light or Mr. Softee–this is real soft-serve, silky as an Indian scarf and as flavorful as freshly churned cream. I added the obligatory caramel toppings and continued on my journey to camouflage myself as a local.

Fantasy Aisle

We all scream for REAL ice cream

I visited the Sagas Museum and learned about the Vikings version of storytelling. With seemingly everlasting flare for the dramatic, the sagas depict Viking history. Based on oral traditions that were eventually written in the Old Norse language, the ancient texts compile more than 27,000 pages of killing, revenge, marriage and religion. There is some back and forth regarding the authenticity of the sagas but Icelanders uniformly agree they illustrate “dressed-up facts.”  The stories most certainly prove Icelandic families are related, even if it’s necessary to go back 10 generations. With my Germanic heritage, I could definitely be an Icelandic cousin.

Fantasy Aisle

The local trolls hanging on the main street

This blog is called Fantasy Aisle, and I’m always on the look out for a great fairytale. Icelandic folklore certainly fills that narrative.

Becoming Icelandic also includes accepting the existence of the hidden people or elves (Huldufólk). This was a topic I brought up to any local who might entertain the conversation. While polls indicate the majority of Icelanders do believe in elves, there are many who are plain afraid to admit it either way, for fear of ridicule or an unwillingness to upset the elves. The hidden people live in the lava rock formations or maybe gardens, and they do talk to people. My guide told me that the tale he often hears stems from a visit God made to Adam and Eve. Eve, embarrassed by her dirty children, hid them from God, who was very upset.

Alda Sigmundsdottir, Icelandic author of The Little Book of the Hidden People, vehemently denies the existence of elves but instead focuses on the stories and traditions from which they originate. I think she is trying to convince the world that Icelanders are not crazy.  In her book, she discusses how the stories of the hidden people actually stem from the settlers living in destitution, dreaming of better lives and creating fantasies of elves to imagine what life could be.

I’ll buy that explanation for now, but allow me an opportunity to change my opinion after I complete my course at the Elf School in Reykjavik, where I can learn about the 13 different types of elves in as little as a day! I’m on the hunt for trolls as well.

Fantasy Aisle

Icelandic Folklore

Lastly, to become Icelandic, you need to work hard and value hard work, starting at age 14, drink alcohol only on Friday and Saturday (alcoholics drink at lunch–oops) and take an Icelandic name from an approved list. There are no Christines or Jennifers here. Icelanders use the patronymic system, where a surname is a combination of the father’s Christian name (possessive) and then “son” or “daughter” (dóttir) is added. I could be the next Björk Guðmundsdóttir (“Guðmund’s daughter” or, if Björk were a boy, “Guðmundsson”). Additionally, I contend you need to enjoy darkness as much as sunlight, learn to cook lamb soup, salmon and cod, hike to appreciate the country’s gorgeous landscape, fish for entertainment and for survival, and buy and wear at least 12 Nordic wool sweaters.

Fantasy Aisle

Icelandic Last Name

Oh, and get used to the earth quaking–daily.

…and maybe have an evacuation route if you live near an active volcano.

Destinations, Europe

Seeing and Eating my way through Reykjavik (more eating)

July 6, 2015 • By

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.

Fantasy Aisle

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.

Fantasy aisle

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.

Fantasy Aisle

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.

For those needing a cafe kick, I highly recommend Reykjavik Roasters Kárastígur 1 to stay or to go and Cafe Paris, Austurstræti 14 for the leisurely coffee or tea drinker.

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

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  • 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

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
  • Just one more….swim in a geothermal pool