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Iceland Part 1 

Stage one of our worldwide adventures

Never thought I would do a blog post, but enjoying Claire’s so much I thought I would like my two-penneth and so here we go!

Currently on day 32, so have already forgotten a fair bit, but will try my best. We realised fairly early on that we could have called the blog – Atkinson’s Eat Around the World! Big fans of good food, so even when we are trying to live on a budget we still can’t resist treating ourselves to something a bit special. Even decided after a few of these treat meals that I should be doing a food blog!

21.12.2016

Up early(5am) to get out to Gatwick. Full of nerves and excitement. Not much to say about that day really, flight was fine, didn’t do much when we got there other than to settle ourselves in.


22.12.2016

First full day in Iceland and we went for the “Hop on, Hop off” tour of Reykjavik. Was a great way to see the highlights and work out where we should visit over the following few days. Although the weather was a bit gloomy, it brightened up for us to see the main sites, such as the harbour, the parliament buildings, the incredibly impressive Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, Perlan and lots of lovely scenery and architecture. We rode the whole loop and decided to take it round again to the Hallgrimskirkja for a closer look, and it would also be convenient for lunch. As the visibility was poor we chose to not go to the top of the Cathedral as we hoped for a better view another day. It was probably the most impressive Cathedral I have ever seen, and is strikingly different to any I have seen before. We then popped for lunch – this is where we began to realise that what everyone had been telling us about the cost of everything in Iceland was true! Everything appeared to be approximately double to quadruple the price we are used to in the U.K. We wandered down one of the main high streets and most places were packed, or a bit too posh for us to have lunch in. We eventually went for a cafe called Ostabúðin. It had an incredible menu, with fancy fish and meat platters with many Icelandic delicacies available, however, we didn’t read that it was the evening menu. We only realised there was a significantly reduced lunch menu when we sat down, with either fish, fish soup, soup, salad or bruschetta. Now I don’t like to think of myself as a picky eater, but I have a feeling I may come across as a bit picky!!! I am mildly allergic to some fish, and not mega keen on the ones I am able to eat so that’s 2 dishes instantly out the window. Not much of a salad eater, and not a massive fan of tomatoes so bruschetta can be a bit hit or miss for me. Hoped for a positive result on the soup front, and it was asparagus- damn it, not a fan of that either. However we were now committed and chose the bruschetta (at least I do occasionally enjoy it) and Claire went for the Fish soup. As the waiter came over I suddenly just changed my mind to soup. Boy was I glad I changed my mind – without a shadow of a doubt the best soup I have ever had. It was fairly thick, creamy and garlicky, with thick noodles in it, just beautiful! Claire enjoyed her soup too, not blown away like I was, but enjoyed it. The bread we were given was to die for though, possibly a bit salty for Claire’s palette but we both loved it. A great start to our worldwide foodie adventure!! So much so we vouched to go there again for dinner to have the meat platter before we left.


After that we went for a little wander round to get our bearing of the centre. A lovely little shopping area with quaint shops, and obviously with all capital city’s – many many tourist shops. With money saving on our mind hit the supermarket to pick up some cheap food for our dinners and breakfasts! Claire’s favourite Cheerios, and some sauces and meat to go with the free pasta available in the left overs at the AirBnB – A great idea, which we did contribute to on our way out (shame we left when we did as someone had just put nearly a litre of Smirnoff in there the day we left!!)

Having had a very busy week and a half packing up, and partying since we had left our jobs we were knackered so had an earlyish night attempting to watch a movie (Kingsmen I believe it was) however we were too tired and barely made it half way!

23.12.2016

Decided to take a walk out to Perlan, this took quite a long time, but was nice to see some more of the city. Essentially it is an events centre, which has a posh restaurant with views out over the city, and and a cafeteria for tourists like us to get a comparatively cheap meal, which has a balcony to get a view from. Although the views were beautiful, there wasn’t much to do there, and we weren’t yet hungry enough to get dinner so we walked back into the city.

Claire’s love of Pinterest and doing research gave us a list of places to visit(mainly eateries) along our travels. The first day we had one of our many hot chocolates(which Claire insists is a must when it is snowy) at a place called C is for Cookie. It was nice, but nothing special(to the point I forgot about it when writing that section earlier). When we realised we needed a plan after we didn’t eat at Perlan, we looked at our list. There was a Pizza shop with no name! Which means it isn’t all that useful for finding!! Eventually after hiding outside a building that had faint Wifi(a pain I am sure many have had when travelling) we got enough details to find it. It was styled like an old fashioned speakeasy. It had an awesome selection of craft beers and spirits(waaaaaay out of our budget though – £17.50 for 375ml of cider was enough to restrict ourselves to water) and a very quirky selection of pizzas(downright bizarre in fact – probably not for all tastes). For those reading this and may go to Iceland- it is a great place and here is their website- http://www.hverfisgata12.is where you can find the restaurant and their menu. We shared the BBQ sauce, Christmas Ham, Red Cabbage, cheese, pineapple and rocket pizza, and the Cream Cheese, Pulled duck, apples, cheese and caramelised figs pizza, with some spicy chips and mayo. To us all were beautiful even though the place seems to get mixed reviews on Google. I personally liked the service – the barman seemed well educated in his spirits, cocktails and beers as he chatted away with a couple of Australian men at the bar and the waitress was very pleasant too.


After a lot of walking (21219 steps according to Fitbit) we retired back to our Airbnb to have cheap food and watch a film but got bored and went out for a White Russian at the Lebowski bar – a reference that is still lost on Claire! If only it was on Netflix for me to educate her!!


24.12.2016

Christmas Eve, the clearest mildest day of our trip so far, determined to get up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja we walked up only to find it wasn’t open, turns out that Christmas Eve is actually the day the Icelandic celebrate Christmas, this means that a lot of places weren’t open or they shut early. On our way up to the Hallgrimskirkja we saw a restaurant advertising Icelandic tapas. This was perfect as we want to try as many items of local cuisine while we were away as possible and this meant that we could have lots all in one go so on our way back down we decided that it would be better than our original idea of Claire getting a fish dish down by the harbour and me hoping there was something I could eat!! We decided to have the tapas. This was at a restaurant called Smakkbarinn (https://www.facebook.com/SmakkBarinn-1017035458330411/) We chose the only fish dish I could have – deep fried salted cod which was very nice, effectively just fish from a fish and chip shop, but a good one!! Our second dish was Rutabaga (root vegetable like beetroot) salad with peanuts and quinoa (Claire still insists on pronouncing it as it’s spelt). I really enjoyed this, Claire wasn’t so keen, but I like the fact that salads outside the U.K are often not leaf based. Without being too hipster I feel like I am jumping on the quinoa bandwagon! 3rd dish was something I promised Russ and Cav that I would try while in Iceland – whale- to be precise it was Grilled and Marinated Minke Whale. It was a surprisingly nice, Claire says it had a similar if not meatier texture to tuna and the closest thing I could say it tastes like it venison. I know it’s a controversial thing to eat, however after a guide later in the week explained the reason that whales are hunted in Iceland I felt a touch less guilty, apparently they are allowed to catch only a certain amount per year and this is to make sure the fish population isn’t reduced, so the quota changes each year to ensure that both fish and whale populations can be maintained in the area. 4th was smoked lamb with feta and melon, boy were we not keen on this one, as the lamb was so thin it took on a lot of the smoke flavour which was too much for our tastes and we weren’t too keen on the texture either. 5th was Goose Confit which was new to us both and it was gorgeous. Really meaty and gamey, and packed full of flavour. Hmmmmmm it was good. Finally we had a donut, although it tasted good, it was a bit stale. Overall it was a good experience to try new things and there was plenty more on the menu we would have liked to have tried – we weren’t brave enough on this trip for fermented shark or dried fish!


After all that we went for a walk around the harbour which gave us plenty of opportunities for lovely photographs of the mountains in the background which were visible for the first time as the fog had cleared up enough. On our way back into town we finally got a hotdog! May not sound special, but all the blogs and guides we read about Iceland said it was the only way to eat cheaply, so we felt we needed to have one. In all honesty it was nothing special, but it really was the cheapest meal we had out during our whole stay, and it was nice enough!! With a big couple of days ahead of us we went back to the Airbnb for an early night and a movie – half of Deadpool I believe!!!

Iceland Part 2 Christmas and Boxing Day

25.12.16As it was our first Christmas as a married couple we decided we could treat ourselves. So we went out to the Blue Lagoon(http://www.bluelagoon.com/) and added in an under water massage (yeah we didn’t know what one was either!) It was an earlyish start as we were getting picked up at 8.30am. One of the cool things about the transport system in Reykjavik is that the buses come via all the major hotels (and even a lot of the smaller ones too) and luckily we were a couple of minutes walk away from the Fosse Hotel Baron which was one of the more major pick up points. It was an hour ride out to the Blue Lagoon, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that much. When we arrived there were few queues and as we had the massage in our package we were able to get free dressing gowns and an extra different type of face scrub. The Blue Lagoon is a hot spring built into the lava fields just outside of Reykjavik, it is absolutely beautiful. The temperature in the pools was around 35 degrees which was so nice after having been at -5 outside all week so far. We went and had our first face mask applied and it was pretty funny seeing everyone with theirs on (especially as this isn’t something I have ever done before). We then went for our complimentary drink – at last I got an ice cold cider. Was even more refreshing than usual in the heat of the pool. Then we went for our underwater massage. Having never had a massage before I was really looking forward to it, but the “underwater” part had me nervous. Expecting an Icelandic beauty, I was surprised to find the were all big burly men who looked like lumberjacks (says me with my beard!) Turns out you lay on a yoga type mat floating on the water. They cover you in a towel soaked in the warm water from the pool to keep you from getting too cold (it was snowing at this point) then they hold the mat with one hand and massage you with the other, which explains why they were all giant men! It was incredibly relaxing and could have stayed having a massage there for hours. I would highly recommend if you visit you get one of these massages. We then went for a little paddle round, had lunch (just a sarnie and a bag of crisps so won’t bore you with the details) another paddle to treat ourselves to a second drink and then it was time to leave. I honestly could have stayed in there all day, and would suggest you set aside a whole day for this activity as you may just love it as much as I did. 

As it was Christmas Day we wanted to have proper Christmas dinner, which we wouldn’t be able to have in our Airbnb so we booked a hotel banquet. We went to the Hotel Centrum Reykjavik for a traditional Icelandic Christmas Banquet. It was fairly pricey at around £80 a head, but was well worth it. (http://en.hotelcentrum.is/about-us/news/news-item/nordic-christmas-buffet-at-fjalakotturinn) the selection was excellent, and everything I tried was awesome- except that bloody smoked lamb again! Officially that just isn’t my taste not just the Icelandic tapas place’s fault. Slightly gutted there was no reindeer left, but with how outrageously good the goose confit was I couldn’t care less! I had at least 3 servings of it. Imagine crispy duck, but with goose and in a more Sunday dinner style sauce than Chinese and you’ll have a good idea. Absolutely beautiful! (A month later and I don’t think I have had anything as nice since) The pudding did come close though- Liquorice Mousse – neither Claire or I are massive liquorice fans, but Claire had a tip off from a waiter than it was incredible and boy was it!! We both over filled ourselves on it! 


After that we just took a slow stroll to walk off the massive meal, and then an early night as our big day of activities was ahead.
26.12.16
Well another 8.30am pickup for our triple activity day. On our schedule was caving, the golden circle and northern lights hunting. (https://iceland4less.is/listing/combo-madness/) the cave they take you to is Journey’s End (Leidarendi), a 900 meter long cave situated near the town of Hafnarfjörður. Believed to have existed for around 2000 years, but only discovered in 1992, it is a moderately easy cave for someone who hasn’t caved before, some awkward squeezes and some slightly slippy bits due to the ice. As they are caring for their natural environment the haven’t installed safety features like walkways or lighting or hand rails, which means at one point on the tour everyone is asked to turn off their torches to tell a story in the dark. Won’t ruin the punchline (but if you read the webpage it kinda does that itself!) This was a pretty cool experience learning about how the cave would have been formed in the lava flows and seeing some stalagmites and stalactites – nothing amazing really for me to write about, but is worth experiencing. One interesting note for this (well if you were on my stag do or at the wedding!) We were given torches not head torches and the website explains why – Equipment In the cave tour we use hand torches and not headlights. There are a few reasons for that, but mainly that headlights are weaker and it’s more difficult to point them in the right direction. Sorry Geoff torches are apparently better than head torches!!


Then on the the golden circle tour. We had heard a lot about this, and heard such amazing things about it. Unfortunately due to weather and the fact in winter you only get 4-5 hours of light a day meant I don’t think we got the best of it. The first stop was at the Thingvellir National Park & Öxarárfoss Waterfall which is where the tectonic plates meet and where the Icelandic parliament was formed. It was quite a pretty area, but we didn’t really get how it all worked and the little shop/tour office wasn’t up to much in terms of explaining it. We did get some intriguing stories from our excellent tour driver about how women used to be treated in the early years of Iceland and how they were drowned here in the Drowning pool at the bottom of the falls. In fact our guide told us loads of interesting facts and folklore. Mainly about trolls and elves. We had already heard about the 13 Yules Lads, which come from the lava fields and steal things, but then also leave presents (very confusing!!) also their mother who eats children and their cat who also eats children, but only if they don’t wear an item of new clothing on Christmas Day! All very strange, but funny! Our next stop was the Geysir the most famous of Icelands natural Geysers. We only stopped a short while so we could get to the next stop in the light. It was pretty awesome, and definitely something you need to see in your lifetime. We heard how there had been bigger ones that got ruined by mans interference with them to make them bigger, but this one was impressive enough. We then went onto to Gullfoss, which is a massive waterfall, there are apparently more impressive ones, but this is the best one which is convenient for a tour of all these natural wonders. Although it was a great view, it was slightly ruined by how crazy cold and dark it was getting by the time we got there, and meant very few good photos of it. We are however grateful that we rushed the tours, and even missed a couple of the stops as a massive snow storm hit on the way back. It was pretty frightening to be honest and we saw at least 12 cars ditched. Thank god we had a good careful driver as the road was closed before we got home! Also due to the conditions our evening tour was cancelled so we got to have an early night for our last day in Iceland. 

As our Airbnb didn’t have an oven but we still wanted pizza we decided to just microwave it!! Hmmmmm soggy pizza and garlic bread! Not a highlight , but was nice after such a hellacious journey home!
As much as it was for our safety, and the fact we wouldn’t have got to see the northern lights anyway, we are gutted about it. It was one of the main reasons we started our travels in Iceland! Didn’t ruin our trip, but still gutted. Oh well we will have to visit again. Probably more than once too, as we would like to see it in summer and whenever is best to see the northern lights! 
Next stop – Vancouver (hopefully write this in the next couple of days!)