Land of lava fields, steaming earth
Elves with legal land rights
An unusual approach to family names
An alphabet larger than 26 letters
Vikings (Don’t believe the bad press.)
A stunning concert hall
A cuisine of fermented shark, pickled sheep’s head and heavenly yoghurt
What’s not to like?
(Should also mention the national sport - Glima - where two men try to trip each other up whilst grabbing onto his opponent’s undies. Mmmm. ( Not in the Olympics yet, then.)
First up, went ashore at Akureyri, (population 19,000) a significant town in the north where my goal was to see the blue Iclandic poppy. This is the second most northern botanical garden in the world. It's awe-inspiring, beautifully laid out. I cannot imagine what happens when it’s under snow. The poppy was on its last blush but amazing nontheless – a blue not usually assocated with any plant, let alone a flower. The garden is “worth a journey” not just a detour.
I’m nuts about Puffins. I have no trouble resisting the demeaning portrayal of them as key rings, bottle openers or fuzzy toys but I do allow us some packs of paper cocktail napkins and a very tasteful, screen-printed puffin teatowel – black on ecru linen.
This is my second time in Iceland. I've wanted to visit after reading the Icelandic-Noir crime novels of Arnaldur Indriðason. His detective, Erlanður, is introverted and depressed. His life's a mess, his adult children are broke or vagrant and sometimes all of the above. His divorce was messy and bitter. As a child he lost his younger brother in a snow-storm on a glacier, for which he blames himself. He is haunted by loss and his obsession with cold cases of missing people. Overwhelmed by work, he treats himself to an evening of clearing loads of dirty washing and a supper of cold beer and pickled sheep’s head.
I had to find out more. I wanted to see a glacier, learn how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano (good luck with that one) and go to a supermarket to check if pickled sheep's head is really "a thing".
From the sublime to the ridiculous.
Left: Wooden houses in Isafjörður - cute, beyond cute.
Right: Thai Café & Take-away in Isafjörður.
I love supermarkets. They tell us so much. I’m in the town of Isafjörður (population 2,600) on the west coast. The supermarket is part of an arcade. Arcades keep people out of the cold in winter. Naturally it has a Thai take-away restaurant.
Found the Hákarl in neat little tubs in the freezer section – a traditional dish (eaten by Vikings). It's fermented shark. Fermenting, salting, curing was a way of preserving food, and in the 21stcentury, it’s still a national and celebratory dish.
("Hákarl - This is probably the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth,” said Anthony Bourdain and he was pretty open-minded.) I didn’t try it. Pickled sheep's heads were also plentiful, frozen in criovac, ready for your next party.
Keen to try Skyr (pronounced Skeer) which I’m sure will “go viral”. It’s an Icelandic milk product not unlike yoghurt, made from skim milk. It’s not as acidic, it’s rich and creamy and doesn’t drop whey when it sits for a while. It’s now sold in fruit flavours. Delicious.
More Coca-Cola is drunk per head of population that anywhere else in the world!
With long, dark winters, Icelanders love to knit. They all knit. Wool is sold on the supermarket shelves.
We were farewelled by a charming young Viking. This "check-out chappie" was fluent in two languages. (Perhaps look at our education system. For Iclanders, OK, it's a necessity, to be part of the modern world but they manage it somehow.)
Finally, we reach Reykjavik.