Day 1 (Fri Jan. 30)
The direct flight left Washington D.C. at 7:45 p.m. with a flight time of about 5.5 hours. It’s too early to sleep on the plane and arrives too early to check into the hotel room. I was lucky to get a room at 10 a.m., probably because I was traveling alone and Iceland, like other European countries, has rooms with just a twin-sized bed. For a 4 star hotel (Iceland Air Marina), it didn’t have a coffee maker, temperature control, minibar, basic American TV channels (no ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, or ESPN). It didn’t even have a flat sheet. The location is okay, but I would definitely stay closer to city center next time I go there in the winter.
After napping, I took a free walking tour. http://citywalk.is/ (this one is daily, there’s another free walking tour that’s only on Saturdays) I was shown the famous hot dog joint where good ol’ Bill Clinton had a dog. Afterwards, I went to Bjarni Fel, a sports bar that showed a lot of different sports (La Liga, Bundesliga, English Premier League, handball, and the Super Bowl – even though the game started at 11:30 Reykjavik time). Beers at a bar is about 1,000 a pint, or roughly $7.5. Wine is usually even more expensive.
For dinner (after not eating all day), I went to Fish Market, where I ordered 4 starters. First came bread in a sack with warm stones, butter and salt. They always serve bread with butter and salt at the fancy restaurants. Then came an amuse of diced scallops, served on a piece of fried dough on top of a rock. Not only was the food delicious, I’m loving the presentation. My first course was rock shrimp tempura (I let them serve the food in the order they deem fit). I don’t know what made the batter bright red but the shrimp was perfectly cooked. The menu stated “deep fried in light tempura batter with sweet melon,” so maybe it’s the melon? That was followed by robata grilled minke whale (with horseradish and redcurrant) – the whale was barely cooked, and it makes excellent sashimi. Minke is the only whale eaten in Iceland (at least legally) and it is sustainable (to my knowledge). Next on my tried everything once list is grilled smoke puffin – which with its red meat taste most like a tender duck. My last dish was an uninspiring salad (greens sprinkled with deep fried egg noodles, duck leg confit, mandarins and creamy wasabi dressing – I didn’t bother taking a picture.
At 9 p.m., I took the Elding http://elding.is/ northern lights cruise. It basically sails out into the bay away from the city lights and then bob around for two hours. The entire trip is about 3 hours long. I actually saw northern lights at the dock and as we were leaving the dock, but then nothing for the remainder of the trip. I talked to some people who did the northern lights by bus. There they went out for 6 hours, driving all over the place to look for northern lights (returning at 3 a.m. or so). As for the party scene, I was told the locals drink at home until 1 a.m. and then they go out, with the last bar closing at 5 a.m.