Today is my birthday!
That exclamation point is a bit misleading, since 33 doesn’t feel like a big deal, really, or worth getting too excited about. But still, a birthday is a birthday, and always feels a little bit more special than the other 364 days of the year.
Of course, today is Claire’s birthday too. And in 2.5 months it will be our mom’s birthday (or, Michelle, as she signed her birthday card to me. We are on formal terms now apparently). This year is a big one for her! I hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning she’s turning 60 this year. She doesn’t look it, and though she always tries to pull the “I’m old” card when I make her walk too far or up too many stairs, I’m sure she doesn’t really feel 60, either. After all, Claire does the same thing and she’s only 33 today!
But, since 60 is kind of a big deal, we decided to do a trip this year to celebrate. “Michelle” initially suggested an Alaskan cruise, since August is the perfect time for that, but Claire and I don’t have summers off like she does, so we counter-offered the 7-night minimum Alaskan cruise with a 4 day weekend in Iceland over Memorial Day. Not a bad trade! Similar climate, shorter flights, larger accommodations. Everyone was pretty excited about Iceland.
So, we flew overnight across the North Atlantic, arriving in Iceland in the early morning, and headed straight to the Blue Lagoon. Now, I don’t know if you know too much about the Blue Lagoon. Chances are you do, as Iceland has exploded as a travel destination in the last few years and the Blue Lagoon seems to be all over Instagram as most people’s first stop, since it sits about midway between the airport and Reykjavik. But in case you are asking, “what is the Blue Lagoon?” I will tell you.
The Blue Lagoon is the most genius thing to ever be invented. It is a magical place where you can soak in a giant hot tub filled with blue water, swim up to a bar or a to a counter to get a mud mask, and generally just sit and stew in mineral waters until you are pruney and ready for lunch. It is the only thing I want to ever do now after a red eye, and whoever the genius was who decided to turn geothermal plant waste water into a tourist attraction, I salute you!
I would happily have stayed in the Blue Lagoon’s warm water for days, but eventually we did get out and see more of the country. We walked around Reykjavik for a day, and on Sunday took a day trip out to the south coast, for a whirlwind tour of waterfalls, black sand beaches, a glacier lagoon, and Diamond Beach, where giant boulders of ice sit melting after washing up on shore. The view changed every 10 minutes, each landscape more weirdly alien and beautiful than the last, and so refreshingly empty of people and buildings. Even Reykjavik, the capital city and home to 1/3 of the population, seemed more like a bustling village than a city, with hardly any traffic to combat and the only noise pollution coming from drunk tourists taking advantage of the near-constant daylight. Congratulations to the man who recited “Bohemian Rhapsody” at 4am, that is quite a feat, even when sober.
And how was the food? Well, the food alone would be enough to bring me back. We basically gorged ourselves on seafood. I had mountain char, crab, perch, and cod, and that was just the first dinner! I also tried the local meat soup and the local puffin. I had no idea such a cute, fluffy exterior was hiding red meat, which was so bizarre to behold when I was fully prepared for an “it tastes like chicken” experience. Puffin does not taste like chicken! It tastes like lean, red meat unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. I don’t think I’d eat it again, but I’m glad I tried at least one variety of the local fauna. It was either puffin, whale, or horse. I’m good with our choice of puffin.
We also stuffed ourselves with pastries and bread, as every meal came with a bread basket and whipped, salted butter, meant to be spread on as thickly as possible and eaten without fear of carbs and fat. And, of course, Reykjavik is also home to at least two outstanding bakeries, with the lines to go with.
We also had to stop by the famous hot dog stand. It was pretty good for a hot dog, and I’m grateful to BBP for erasing the memory of the truly terrible hot dog I had at Levi’s Stadium a few weeks ago, so that alone was worth the short wait in line and heavy hand with the mayo sauce.
I heard before we went that Reykjavik is obscenely expensive on the ground, given that almost everything is imported. I live in San Francisco so it’s hard to shock me with prices, though I did notice the markup on alcohol. We didn’t get too celebratory with the drinking because of this, but there are ways to offset some of the cost. Buying alcohol at Duty Free when you land is a good move (also stock up on giant bags of Haribo). You can always hope that the universe helps you out too. At dinner our second night, our server brought us a bottle of wine, on the house, for “the most freckles at one table.” Whatever works, I guess!
We only had a whirlwind 4 days in Iceland, but it was an excellent intro to the country, and May seems like a great time to go. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t cold, either, and experiencing Iceland as lushly green was an unexpected delight. I’d love to go back in another season, and for longer.
Good Eats in Reykjavik
Sandholt This bakery was right across from our hotel, and yet we only stopped in on our last morning. The pastry case a was an array of temptation, but I limited myself to a brown sugar roll and a french waffle and polished both off by the time we landed back in Boston. Highly recommend.
Braud & Co. This bakery was also very close to the hotel, and the one Claire insisted we go to, as she had tried their cinnamon rolls on a previous trip. Definitely eat those and any other of their revolving selection of pastries. This place smells like heaven.
Reykjavik Roasters I don’t drink coffee, but I’ll recommend this place based on the constant line out the door, and the fact that it seemed to be the defacto next stop after Braud & Co, based on all the people munching on giant cinnamon buns in the little parklet between the two shops.
Reykjavik Kitchen I can’t promise you free wine if you try this place, but even the food we paid for was excellent. I tried the local, omnipresent meat soup, a hearty bowl of lamb and carrots, and we all tried the puff pastry wrapped cod, which was like Fish Wellington, and more delcious than that might sound.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur or BBP as I heard all the tourists referring to it, is THE hot dog stand in Reykjavik, not to be mixed up with many imitators, so I hear. It’s a pretty standard hot dog, though if you get all the toppings, it comes with two preparations of onion, mustard, and mayo, which all take you beyond the standard hot dog and mustard (never ketchup!) game.
Grillmarkadurinn This place was where we ate our first dinner in Iceland. It can be a little tricky to find, but when you do, it will be hard to pare your order down to something manageable. We feasted on seafood here, and also tried puffin, which luckily comes in a tiny serving and it’s dark enough in the restaurant that I barely noticed it was only seared, not cooked all the way through.
Public House Gastropub We must have walked by this place 10 times during our trip, and Claire had already been here before on her previous trip, but when we got back from our day trip to the south coast, ready for dinner at 11 pm, the kitchen was open, so we went. And it was pretty excellent! The menu is kind of like an Asian fusion variation on Tapas, with excellent dumplings and their own spin on the ubiquitous cod. Also, happy hour from 11 pm to 1 am, so there’s that.
Lava We ate lunch at the Blue Lagoon, and considering how just outside the restaurant, tourists are sitting in a giant hot tub, and half the guests were dining in bath robes, it still felt on the fancy side, with prices to match. But our meal came with a free glass of sparkling wine and then menu was excellent, so it’s a great option after a morning spent soaking in the geothermal waters. I’d make it the last part of your Blue Lagoon experience before heading to the city though, so you don’t have to dine in a damp swim suit and deal with the showers and locker room after relaxing over a meal.
Early in the Morning Reykjavik stays up late on the weekends, since Midnight feels like 9 pm, and so not much opens early. But this little pop up cafe in a wine bar opens early enough that they stop serving breakfast around 10 am, though they didn’t seem to be that strict with the cutoff time when we arrived at 9:45 asking to be fed. They have a charming, small menu of mains that are complemented by the included table plate of fruit, mini pots of overnight oats, and the ubiquitous bread basket. Like the man leaving when we arrived told us, “the food here is excellent.”