I've long wanted to visit Iceland. And when I learned yesterday that it was getting rid of all three of its McDonald's locations, I wanted to visit it even more. Even though I know the closure of McDonald's is more of a reflection of the continued economic decline than of culinary tastes, I still like the idea of a McDonald's—free country. My friends Ivan (whom you might remember from his Brazil videos) and Isabella went to Iceland in late April. There were still McDonald's back then, but since Ivan is a foodie they certainly didn't go to any of them. Here, Ivan shares their experiences with this guest blog post.
Reykjavik had been on my mind for quite some time. It was a lazy curiosity, the kind that only goes into motion by happenstance and not by an owner’s volition. This sleepy little curiosity was roused and given its light of day by sheer chance when my then-fiancée (now wife) and I decided to rent out our corner of Manhattan to family friends visiting from Igauzu Falls, Brazil. We had to find a place to stay while we temporarily explored our landlord status. We entertained local getaways from Lake Placid to the Hudson Valley for our four-day escape, but we both had a yearning for foreign travel. Prompted by the advertisements in the NYC subway system, my fiancée pitched the idea of going to Iceland. Motivated by a tinge of potential voyeurism into the ground zero of the global economic meltdown, we decided to visit Reykjavik, a gentrified cannery row returning to its roots.
There are no shortages of accommodations in Reykjavik, and we opted for an economical setting. There are affordable, clean and well-located "guesthouses", which are a slight step above a general hostel. We stayed at Guesthouse Sunna, and had a comfy, sparse room for approximately $80 a night. What it lacked in creature comforts, it made up in location as it's a short walk to the restaurant and nightlife scene. It's also far enough away from tourist throngs to place you smack dab in the middle of an Icelandic working class neighborhood and give you the sense that you are in with the locals.
So our daily march consisted with coffee at the local coffee shop, Café Loki, which was by far the best Icelandic tapas-style food in the city, in my opinion. Our breakfasts consisted of smoked trout, fish stew and sheephead jelly on homemade rye bread with sides of smoked lamb atop crisp flatbread, stirred around in our waking guts with perfectly brewed espressos. This daily, sun-rising concoction set us on our way to some lovely sightseeing and general exploring of the center cityscapes throughout our three-day jaunt.
Our days generally consisted of walking around Reykjavik, exploring the side streets and taking in the quaint, geometric and colorful Nordic architecture. What stood out the most was the general absence of people, though. In conversations with the caretakers of a city’s health, a wide swath of chit chats with waitstaff, we learned that nearly 30% of construction workers had left the city to go back East, and several percentage points more of professional labor melted away with the crisis. What was a bustling tourist destination two years ago was now home to the occasional visitor.
We had our pick of the best restaurants with our choice of times for dining. There are some recurring names when asking about dining out with Reykjavik, and we managed to eat at all of them: Fish Market, Prir Frakkar and and Laekjarbrekka. Fish Market is a hip restaurant with mediocre food and overworked decor. Prir Frakkar was a wonderful, quaint little restaurant, true to Icelandic cuisine, with great horse and whale meat. Laekjabrekka was an experience in and of itself, with lobster bisque that will not soon leave your memory with the richness in tastes that it delivers.
In addition to surprisingly remarkably prepared food, we found the most relaxing spa. Blue Lagoon (pictured at top and in the video below) is a natural hot springs lagoon that has been developed for spa tourism. It's located in between the capital city and the international airport – it’s so easy to go, that it would be a shame not to. The waters are rich with sulfur and as warm as a hot tub.
Iceland was simply a joy to visit and should be on anyone’s list who is interested in adventure and top-notch cuisine. That breadline image was what I had engraved in my preconceived mind, and upon arriving, I feel it was mostly correct. The streets were sparse, the main drag, their restaurant row, had remnants of busy times past with aggressive signage and eclectic, bull market foodie concepts. That the people refused to let the economic situation impact their daily walk in life was what was so delightful, refreshing and even inspiring. It was as if they all felt that this too shall pass.