Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Letters from Iceland: Day 3

After spending much of Sunday traveling to Reykjavik and wandering around the city, we spent most of Monday also wandering around the city. We tried to go to the National Gallery (which apparently has some fantastic hallucinogenic landscapes and portraits of fairy-creatures), but it turns out that I misread the book, and it is actually closed on Mondays (like all museums all over the world). Hopefully I'll have some interesting things to post about that on Thursday night. After that small disappointment, we walked around Tjörnin, a small pond near the museum, and watched some older Icelandic men feed the swans. Although I'd always thought you only had one swan-couple to a lake, there were an awful lot here, so either I was wrong or Icelandic swans get along better than Mahopac swans.

We headed up Laugavegur to do some shopping, stopping in wherever we found something interesting, and generally not buying much. A lot of the shops here remind me of Brooklyn shops. There are a lot of really simple, really expensive boutiques, as well as a lot of vintage shops and places that sell off-beat merchandise. There's even a shop devoted to selling screenprinted American Apparel. My cousin, Jennifer, is really into music, so we stopped into a few music stores on the way, and I overcame the temptation to buy any Sigur Rós, because Roger has most of the albums anyway, I think, and I don't really need any CDs. (Roger made me start listening to them when we booked the trip, and I saw Heima on the plane, and I'm really quite in love with them. This is surprising to me, because until about six weeks ago, I thought they sounded just like Rammstein. Good god, I was wrong.) I bought some lava-stone earrings for myself at a little jewelry store that was having a sale, and we went to the Handknitting Association of Iceland. This was by far my favorite store. They have beautiful handknit items, and also sell yarn individually. The miraculous thing about the yarn? It's absolutely real wool (from Icelandic sheep, so it's double-layered and waterproof) and it costs about half what synthetics at home cost. I bought 6 skeins, and I'm seriously considering getting more. I'm also considering buying a sweater with the traditional pattern on it, but they're about $100, and I'm not sure how often I would actually wear it, given that I'm allergic to wool and pretty much never wear any of the wool sweaters I already have. I also made some requisite purchases at a tourist shop (my mother collects magnets) and checked out the Christmas shop down the street from our hotel. I'll get an ornament from there for myself, and I may also buy a felted nativity set there that I love. It feels weird that I've actually acquired several nativities in my travels, given that Christmas is more about family and giving than any religious meaning for me, but there's something really lovely about them.

After all that shopping, we dropped our bags at the hotel and stopped into Cafe Loki for a late lunch. Although I'm not sure it's the best Icelandic food in Iceland, I do think it's one of the best places to try some of the traditional food without going to a fancy restaurant and spending $45 on it (which seems to really be your only alternative). Although it isn't open for dinner, it's open until 6pm and we ate at 4pm, which is somewhere between lunch and a proper dinner. We tried Icelandic Plate II, which gives you 6 different traditional foods to try. Of all of them, the plokkfiskur is the best (and I actually had a whole meal of this on incredibly good hverabraud). The hákarl isn't nearly as bad as everyone says (neither is Brennivín), and since Þorrablót is going on now, I'm glad to have tried it. I don't think I'd eat any Icelandic foods on a regular basis (except for the kleinur, which are good in a very familiar way, and their lamb soup, which taste's like my grandmother's beef-barley soup), but it's all palatable. We relaxed at the hotel for a while, and then headed out later to get drinks and a hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which is really amazing, and apparently the thing that all Icelanders do after drinking (not unlike New Orleans). We ordered them eina með öllu, with the works, which includes remoulade and crunch onions in addition to ketchup, relish and raw onions. The hot dogs themselves taste a little deeper than an American hot dog, which I'm told is because of the addition of lamb. And, while I can't say that any hot dog that doesn't have chili on it can be the best hot dog in the world, these are really, really good. The crunch onion really improves the whole thing.

Today, we spent all day on the Golden Circle and had a blast. I'll write about it either later tonight or tomorrow, because the entry for Monday was only meant to be one paragraph, and I don't want to exhaust you with all my writing.

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