The Blue Marble

Iceland: On a plane to the Gateway of Hell, but at least there’s Taco Bell

Iceland has Taco Bell. I just can’t get over that. Anyway, the journey to Iceland began with an afternoon departure and a lovely, sunny drive to Heathrow. Once at Heathrow and checked in, Hugh was of course seen as a terrorist threat (I’ve never heard of a terrorist dressed in tweed, but okay) and so it took us a while to be cleared by security. Once past security we took a seat near the departure board. As we both grumbled about security something caught my eye: free samples.

These free samples were heaven-sent. Every brand of whisky imaginable and then some other things which involved ginger ale that was available to sample. These beverages and the kind sales representatives from the Duty Free shops certainly cheered us up a bit. This brief moment of cheerfulness would be ruined by the flight attendants on my flight to Reykjavik, who fought with me about my bag being ‘too big’ to be taken on as carry-on. Well, it fit in the baggage thing as well as the overhead compartments in every direction they insisted it needed to be stored. Quite frankly, I think they were just bitter that I proved them to be wrong. What did cheer me up on the flight was the selection of entertainment IcelandAir provided. I just wish the weather had been one of the options.

Once in Iceland and out the door to our airport-city transfer, Hugh and I nearly fell over. It was absolutely windy. To put this in perspective, imagine yourself out at sea and at the front of the ship and trying to walk. I can now understand why there were times when we were at sea and we couldn’t go out on deck. Anyway, suitcases were blowing all over, I nearly lost my hat, and Hugh and I looked like we had just stepped out of 1987 with our hair. This didn’t bother us as we were finally in Iceland, my 34th country.

Finding our guesthouse was fairly simple- look for ‘the church’. This ‘church’ everyone refers to is actually called ‘Hallgrímskirja,’ and I’ll go into it more later. You see, just as we were about to board the plane (which was named after the volcano ‘Hekla’, which is believed to be the ‘gateway to Hell’) we got a call from the owner of our guesthouse, ‘Guesthouse Baldursbrá.’ She was very sweet and informed us that there was a problem with our room and so we were booked into another guesthouse across the street from Hallgrímskirja. Once situated in our room at the other guesthouse, Hugh and I decided to look for a place to eat where we could try some local cuisine.

I don’t exactly remember how Hugh found it, but his keen sense of finding good restaurants came in handy. For dinner we went to ‘Hereford Steikhús' where we both sampled puffin. The restaurant was efficient, friendly, and reasonably priced for what is being served. We paid roughly 5,000kr (about £25) for our three-course meal, consisting of smoked puffin and salad as a starter, puffin breasts as the main course, and skyr as our dessert. All of it was good, especially skyr, which is something which I've been craving since I last had some the other day. Puffin, unlike every other bird I have ever had, is a dark meat. It's even darker than beef. The puffin we had was the colour of red wine, and had the texture of duck, but less greasy and a bit salty. Overall, we enjoyed our meal very much and admired just how fresh everything was, especially the fruit with our skyr. After dinner we went to our unsuccessful Northern Lights tour. 

The Northern Lights tour was an absolute failure. The company, Reykjavik Excursions, however, were very prompt, courteous, and knowledgeable. Because we didn’t see anything (I saw a flicker and that was it), they have promised us that we may join any other future Northern Lights tour at no additional charge, which I thought was quite nice of them. Our tour guide as absolutely brilliant. He went by ‘Siggy’ as his first name, because his actual name is hard to pronounce for non-native Icelandic speakers, and also went by the nickname of ‘Siggy Stardust.’ He made a lot of Bowie references, which was appreciated. Siggy told us the stories of what different cultures believe with the Northern Lights. My favourite is what he said about what they say in Greenland. Apparently, if you want the Northern Lights to come closer to you (so you can find food) you whistle, but if they come too close -and I kid you not- you throw dog excrement at them. Other cultures believed they were the steps to the afterlife and others argue that they are the elves dancing. I enjoyed hearing what Siggy had to say about the Northern Lights. It’s just a shame that we didn’t really see anything.