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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Drive to Akureyri


Today I woke early to get an early start to drive from Reykjavik to Akureyri, the northern capital of Iceland. It is cold.


The drive out of Reykjavik for me from Baldurbra, left, second left, right at round about, left at light and go straight and stay on Rt 1 to Akureyri for 385.5 KM.   It should be a little less than 5 hours, but it isn't if you tour. After the tunnel, I detoured. I stopped to shop at a BONUS, a grocery store, for stores for the room when I get to Akureyri: crackers, smoked salmon, lamb pate, bananas, Holland apples. I stop to take pictures and to eat, twice, the lunch I had made at guesthouse for the ride. I stop at a bank to convert more money and to buy gas which is mad expensive here. I take another detour on a loop near Akureyri.


The drive was challenging. In the morning the road was iced. I noticed this when I tried to stop to take pictures. It was a good thing the road was very clear of traffic. I didn't see the sun until noon as it finally cleared a mountain. Then the orb was fixed in my rear view mirrors which I had to adjust and were useless until I changed my direction and the sun set. I realized my trip back to Reykjavik will be a challenge. The presence of snow grew as I drove further north. Also I have to climb over more mountains and then descend them on icy roads. Iceland doesn't believe in guard rails as we traverse steep drops into gorges and rivers.


 This is a desolate road. Gas pumps pop up every so often that are unmanned. The views include horses everywhere, digging into the snow to find grass. Not as many sheep as I had expected from my last visits. They are all long haired and when I stop to capture them on film, they immediately run away. The white of the snow with the black ribbon of the road as it bends and weaves is mesmerizing and beautiful. At one point, I drive into a fog bank that lasts for about 10 KM on icy roads. I'm driving 70 KM on  90 KM road, aggravating those who come up on me. And then later in the ride I hit clear black roads and find myself going 120 KM for 40 KM.


This has been one of the most challenging drives I have ever had. This is one of the things I love about Iceland is that the conditions always change and require 100% concentration. And the result is that I can totally enjoy the beauty around me. Since I have been to Akureyri before I know where I'm going so I arrive at Hotel Akureyri, 6 hours 20 minutes after leaving Reykjavik.


I settle in, unpack, shower, do my laundry. I set up my computer, recharge camera batteries and head out to explore and find a quick dinner. The hotel is located at one end of town so the walk in allows me to see on side of town and the other on the way back. I find a good fish and chips shop for dinner. I have stopped and viewed menus of some restaurants for future dinners. I observe where the bars are. Some shops are still open. Akureyri is a compact city with lots to offer. After dinner, I stopped at Cafe Amour to find only the bartender and the DJ. People won't arrive until 10 or 11 and dance till 4 AM. My next bar is Gotu bar which is also empty except the bartender. The only beer is Viking and I get a Classic and then spend time speaking to Birki, the bartender. He informs me of the culture here. Folks go out to dinner go home to change or eat at home and then go out to the bars at 10 or later and stay until 4 AM. He has been to Ocean City in MD and spend a couple of weeks with his girlfriend last summer starting in NYC and drove to Key West stopping at beach spots all the way down. He loved Assateague, because of the horses, and Key West. He offers me some Icelandic schnapps and vodka. He tells me about a local brewery across the street from Rub 23, a sushi bar rated top restaurant and one I plan to eat at while here. I bid adieu and walk over to the brewery, Kaldi. I discover Goya Tapas Bar next to Kaldi. Upon entering Kaldi, I'm alone and the bartender, Anna, I discover is setting up a back room. She, too, informs me that the place won't start hopping until 10 and keep on till 4 AM. I get a glass of the unfiltered Christmas Ale which is quite tasty. She is originally from Reykjavik and we speak about Reykjavik and then of Ajureyri. The main topic with all three bartenders already tonight is about the absence of light in the winter and the abundance of light in the summer. Slowly I'm learning about the culture of Akureyri which isn't that much different than Reykjavik, except the concentration of it in the northern capital.


All evening I've been looking to the skies for the Northern Lights, but the clouds so far obscure their sightings. Birki informs me after looking at a Northern Lights forecast site that tonight's cloud cover may clear at midnight. All I see in the sky are spotlights flashing across the sky which I learn is for the high school dance happening at the high school.


I buy three bottles of beer, an Octoberfest, a dark ale, and a special one form Baldi before heading home and bed. I'm exhausted. I have been told which sports bar I will go to this week to watch the English football matches.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Lazy Rainy Day

I woke today to the sound of rain this morning. It rained all day. Today's walk was intended to investigate different restaurants and get a lens cover for my camera. I lost it yesterday. I had a list of restaurants I wanted to find and investigate.

The list:
The Fish Company or Fiskifelagio
SNAPS
The Grillmarket
Hofnin
Eidar Ben
The Sea Baron or Saegreifinn


After an early breakfast, I retired to my room to read some and just lay and listen to the rain and studded tires as the hustle and bustle of the day commenced. I may have snoozed some. Eventually I dragged myself up and got dressed for the adventure. The rain had let up to an annoying drizzle and heavy mist. It was warmer than yesterday, so no ice as there was my first day here. My first destination was SNAPS which was closest to my guesthouse. It was a delightful place and because of its proximity, it won high marks. the food looked good, but today's fish of the day was ocean perch, not a favorite of mine. It was a hip place and had a great ambiance, but somehow it didn't feel like a foody place.


I continued on to the camera store to get the lens and then proceeded down to the waterfront to the Viking ship. On my way to the waterfront, I passed a cute scene: one black and white outside a basement window meowing to another black and white cat inside behind a window. From the ship I turned left and headed toward the Old Harbor to find my other restaurants. Right in front of me was Harpa. Last time I was here, it was under construction and I knew it was going to block the lovely view of the harbor and mountain across from Reykjavik. I found this to be the case on my first day when I strolled along Tjornin Lake in town. I navigated around this monstrosity to the Old Harbor.


Once in the Old Harbor, I found Hofnin and the Sea Baron as well as a couple of restaurants I had seen in reviews. I had planned to stop at the Sea Baron for their famous lobster soup. This was a funky seaside joint that reminded me of my favorite dives on Nantucket and the New England coast. I discovered they also served fish skewers along with the soup. I had a great lunch of lobster soup and a whale skewer. I will return here again.


After putting on my damp clothes, I continued my quest through the 101 section of town, the tourist designation and trap. Quaint, but not for dining, I discovered by the outrageous prices of The Fish Company, Einar Ben, and Grillmarket. The Volcano Museum and City Art Museum are destinations to return to another day. Escaping the clutches reaching out for my Kronas, I found myself in a friendlier environment of the English Pub. I had brought some bread with me to feed to the swans so I turned right at the Paris Cafe and passed by the Hotel Borg and wove my around the Reykjavik Cathedral to Tjornin Lake. On my way I passed an interesting lunch place in a basement, but saw a more intriguing doorway with a lovely menu that included Puffin and Arctic char. I entered and walked upstairs to be greeted by a man wearing a NY Yankee cap and a Manchester United football jersey. We spoke about last night's games and our delight with the outcome, Beckham's fate, and other stuff. He was very engaging as he showed me around the most cozy and lovely restaurant. I had decided that was my dinner destination that evening.


I feed the swans, ducks, and geese before heading home along the lakeside to dry off and to read some and even nap before dinner.


I arrived at Vid Tjornina at 1830 and was the first diner and got a lovely table by the window facing the square and cathedral. I ordered a half carafe of Pinot Grigio and decided on the fish soup, followed by puffin, and Arctic char. The gentleman who served the food was the fellow I had met earlier. Before the char came out, he brought me a delicious plate of horse strips, which were tender and very tasty. Upon leaving, I spoke to my server to discover he was the owner. I had told him of my plans to return when I returned next week for the Christmas dinner that included goose and other delights. This restaurant has given strong competition to 3 Frakkars as my favorite restaurant in Reykjavik. The place was full, especially with locals ( a good sign) when I left.


I wandered down to the waterfront to see if the Imagine Peace Light was visible. Barely visible, I pause a few moments, reflected and I was at peace as I found another way home passing art galleries and beautifully decorated houses.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Imagine this

No sun until end of January. Yikes. I've been to this desolate place in August where the Puffins nest.


During breakfast the sound of people moving about, the studded tires, the hustle of the tourists off for an Icelandic adventure of pony riding, the Golden Circle, or points elsewhere. And it's still dark outside at 0930.


After breakfast and the sun has risen, I'm on my way to town at 1130. Workers are chopping the ice along Tjornin Lake to prevent it from destroying the walk way around it. School kids are playing among blocks at their lunch break. I spend some time at The National Gallery. I mail some postcards at the Post Office, convert some money, and stroll the colorful and active streets of Reykjavik. The store windows are eye catching. It is cold here as I am glad for my Mad Bomber hat and insulated pants.


While walking I stop in different stores as I plan my Christmas shopping for my return next week. I stop at Svarta Kaffi for their famous soup in a bread bowl and a glass of Christmas beer. This place always offers a great place for people watching as today's soup warms me up. I save the cut out bread and left over bread of bowl that I haven't eaten for feeding to the swans at the lake. After more walking and a visit to the Hallgrimskirkja Cathderal on my way home, I took a nap as it is dark at 1630 when I got home.


I woke at 1830 and eventually started out by 1900 for dinner and a night of football at the English Pub. I had decided on sushi tonight. It was raining lightly as I strolled down to town. I stepped into Osushi and found a seat along the train that serves the sushi to the customers.  The counter was double sided and a conveyor belt (the train) moved the plates of sushi. I ordered a saki and studied the guide provided that explained the prices of the plates that were colored and designed in a way to designate the price. I recognized the traditional plates. I asked about whale, char, and puffin. No whale tonight, out of char and they never served puffin. There were some things I didn't recognize. I discovered they were horse, chicken skewers for the kids, and chocolate cake. I tried the horse. Slowly the restaurant filled up. When I was done, I took my plates up to be counted, like dim sum in Chinatown in NYC, and got a card which was punched. When I fill in the other eight circles, I will get a free Take Away. The sushi was very good. I wondered how long it will take me to fill the card.


When I left Osushi, I merely walked across the street to the Pub. When I walked in, I was greeted with a goal by Gareth Bale, the second one for the Spurs after 21 minutes who were hosting The Reds, who are my least favorite team because they are owned by the Boston Red Sox. The Spurs happen to be my favorite team. I found a spot at the bar and ordered a stout. On the screen to my left was the ManU game hosting West Ham. ManU was up 1-0 after 7 minutes. Lots of West Ham supporters here. I discovered that was because an Icelander wuho made his money during the financial surge. As the fan explained to me the fate of the club followed the financial fate of Iceland.  Down at the other end of the bar was the Everton Gunners game with the Gunners up 1-0. The bar was full and very loud and rowdy as reactions to each of the games drew attention. The evening games ended in my favor: The Spurs and the Red Devils won while the Toffees came back to tie as The Blues had a scoreless tie with The Cottagers. It was a good night for the Lilywhites as they climbed to fifth place.

I strolled down to the water to pay my respects to John Lennon. The light was peeking out at about 200 feet for about 100 feet. It was just a dash tonight. I noticed a hot dog stand across the street. It was busy as cars kept pulling up emptying the passengers and people swarmed from the adjoining streets. I ventured over to get in line and ordered a dog with fried onions and mustard, no sauerkraut for 320 kronos which is $2.54, more than I would pay anywhere else, but this is Iceland. It turns out the hot dog stand is very popular.

The rain stopped, the evening was mild, and the wind had died. A full moon lit my way as I made my way home past the lake. The birds were gathered waiting for food. I decided to get the bread I had saved from the soup in a bread bowl restaurant to feed to them.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Arrived in Iceland

The trip from Berlin, MD to Reykjavik, Iceland was an all day affair. It was the easiest and smoothest trip I've had. Not using NYC makes all the difference. I flew from Salisbury, MD to Philadelphia to Boston to Iceland. All planes left on time, loaded quickly, and were what flying should be.



I arrived in Iceland at 7AM Nov 27. Had the rest of my food at the cafe where I had a tea. Got my car and drove to the Blue Lagoon to spend most of the day relaxing in the magic geothermal saltwater. The sun rose at 10AM while I was playing in the Lagoon. As I was driving into Reykjavik to my guesthouse, Baldursbrahttp://www.randburg.is/is/baldursbra/, I watched the sunset in the rear view mirror at 4:30 PM. I settled in quickly and headed into town to the English Pub to check on game times and had a pint, did some shopping, walked by 3 Frakkar to find out when dinner will be served. After dinner I'll head back to the Pub to watch tonight's English Football games and walk down to the water at halftime to see the Imagine Peace Tower light.


Oh it is so good to be back in Iceland. I'll be in Reykjavik for 3 days, drive up to Akureyri for 7 days to see the Northern Lights, and then return to Reykjavik for 4 days before returning home.



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