We spent the last few days of the honeymoon in Reykjavik. Reykjavik is the capitol of Iceland and is the country's largest city. As the only real populated urban area in the entire country we were able to get a sample of everything Iceland has to offer. From the food to the architecture to the people, Reykjavik really is a vibrant place that feels unique. It won't be the largest city you'll visit, its population hovers around 120,000, but it definitely has the feel of a much larger city. The sights of the day are fairly typical of any city. People commuting to work, students heading to university, but at night the city comes alive. I wouldn't recommend coming to Iceland and only staying in Reykjavik for the duration of your trip just because there is so much to see in the country, but I would recommend staying at least a few days. It's also a good base of operations if you do plan to explore the south coast region of the country. Let's see some of what Reykjavik has to offer.
The day we came into the city we arrived around lunchtime and stopped off at this wonderful little diner called The Laundromat Cafe. We then spent the rest of the evening shopping for Christmas gifts and exploring the city. Iceland is a country that really gets into the Christmas spirit, and we were lucky enough to be there when the Reykjavik was in full celebration mode. Decorations can be found on every street and on almost every building. The next full day we were able to spend a lot of time in Hljómskálagarður park. This is kind of like the city's Central Park. It's not as big of course, but it serves as a lovely urban park. The first night of our stay in Reykjavik there was heavy snowfall which transformed Hljómskálagarður into a beautiful winter wonder land. It's also fairly close to other landmarks like the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral and Old Reykjavik, which is full of shops and restaurants. One thing Courtney and I both liked about Reykjavik was the pop of color infused into the architecture and design. Everything seemed to center around a minimal template of grey, black and white with the addition of a pop of warm and vibrant color. Not only was the architecture colorful, but so much of the street art as well.
I also have to talk about some of the food we tried in Reykjavik. The food in Iceland is extremely fresh. There is a noticeable difference in even the most basic dishes when compared to their counterparts here in the states. Apparently, after the 2009 economic crash, Iceland was forced to cease the import of many foods because they simply could not afford to. This forced the country's chefs and culinary businesses to look internally to use the ingredients at hand to create new and innovative ways to eat things they had been eating since the country was founded. For the first time in a long time the country had to rely on what they could only get their hands on. It really is a case of farm to table in every restaurant you eat at. It turned out to be a positive as chefs become more creative in the dished they prepared. It resulted in Iceland distinguishing its culinary style from the rest of Europe. I'm pretty sure I had cod three or four times on this trip, but each meal offered a different take on this standard. I never thought "I'm kind of tired of fish".
The most interesting thing we ate on our trip was fermented shark. The process for making sure the shark is suitable to eat seems like a lot of work for something that didn't taste great. First, the shark is beheaded and then buried underground underneath heavy stones and gravel for eight to twelve weeks. The purpose of this is to let poisonous toxins like uric acid drain from the body of the shark. Once this stage is complete the shark is then dug up, cut into pieces and hung to dry out like jerky. The texture of the fermented shark is much like a mild cheddar cheese. When it came to us it was in a closed jar. The smell when opened was fairly fishy and the initial taste was not so bad...until the after taste set in. It was harsh. It reminded me of ammonia. That's all I can really say about that. Also, it can be dangerous to eat the specific type shark typically "enjoyed" in Iceland. The circulatory systems of these North Atlantic sharks do not allow for toxins to be released from the body like their South Atlantic cousins. You can never be 100% certain that the shark is free of toxins, but from what are waiter told us it's pretty rare for someone to get poisoned from eating shark. I would recommend it simply to say you tried it, but I won't be seeking out or ordering fermented shark any time soon. Luckily that was just an appetizer and our main courses were much more memorable.
Luckily, we also had some enjoyable culinary moments, especially in the beverage department. The coffee in Iceland was amazing. Of course, there are no beans from Iceland, many of the beans come from where you'd expect, but the roasting method can make a huge difference in the taste of the coffee. There are no huge coffee chains (Le Cafe Starbucks) in Iceland, which puts the focus solely on the local roasters. I don't think we had a medium coffee the entire time, everything seemed to be bold. The cups you buy are literally cups. An eight ounce cup of drip coffee will run you about 3-4 USD, which is pricey. Even if you were buying a latte or espresso drink that would still be pricey. We also had the best Irish coffee at Ion, which technically wasn't in Reykjavik, but I had to mention it again because it was that good. We also stopped at a little coffee shop in Old Reykjavik called Konsull Kaffihus that had an amazing cup of peppermint hot chocolate. It also had a great cozy atmosphere.
We had an amazing time on our honeymoon. I don't think we could have hoped for it to turn out any better than it did. Everything from the food to the people, to the sights of the country proved to be a once in a lifetime experience. We hope that we can go back in the spring or summer time and see even more of the beautiful countryside. The great thing about Iceland is that it can serve as a midway point between continents. If you're going to or coming from continental Europe, Iceland is an excellent stop for a few days. I really do hope Courtney and I return some day. Maybe it won't be as special as this trip, but I'm sure seeing more of the country by exploring places we have not been to will make that future experience amazing as well.