Just after Thanksgiving and just before most of the test-taking madness began, my very good friend (and former co-worker) Georgia and her husband Lance came to visit us in Iceland. Georgia and Lance had just been to Paris to visit another friend (very cosmopolitan, they are) and were able to tack on a few days in Iceland, courtesy of Icelandair’s very clever free-stopover-in-Iceland
business strategy opportunity. As our first visitors since we arrived in August, we definitely wanted to show G&L a good time, and show off Iceland to its best advantage, but we had some time constraints: they arrived on Thursday afternoon/early evening, I had my first test on Friday at 12:30, and their flight home was at 5:00 PM on Saturday. All things considered, though, I think we produced a pretty great Iceland Experience, and it was just super nice to have old friends around, if even for a short time.
I remember when I received my first visitors in New York, just a few months after I had settled in there for college. I felt an immense sense of pressure–I wanted to not only show off the best, most interesting, most unique and un-touristy New York, I also wanted to be able to do that like born-and-bred local–no guide books! Instead, I got lost taking my aunt to a famous hot dog joint which was a less than 10 minute walk from my dorm (I walked us in the exact opposite direction…for about 20 minutes) and also managed to lead her and my mother on an unexpected tour of the sketchier side of Times Square and the freeway after leaving a Broadway show. (“Let’s just pick a direction and walk,” I said. “There’s got to be about 50 restaurants we can choose from in any direction!” This was not at all true of the direction I picked.)
Lesson learned, Mark and I decided that still being pretty new to Reykjavík ourselves, we’d certainly try and share some of our favorite spots, but would also take advantage of the excuse to get out and try new things while G&L were visiting. Another little Staycation, if you will.
So, here’s Part One of the 48-Hour Iceland Experience–one, very particular version of it; there could be so many, of course.
On Thursday, after our gleeful reunion, Mark and I took G&L to one of our favorite bars, Ölstofa, to enjoy the myriad needlepoint samplers hanging on the walls and a few happy hour drinks (a rarity in Reykjavík), before proceeding back to our house for an Icelandic-themed dinner that I had been thrilled to have the excuse to concoct. (I have enough to say about that dinner that I think I will save it for another post, along with lots of other delightful Icelandic-food related historical fun facts. So if that is your thing, stay tuned.) We called it an evening before the buses stopped running so that G&L could rest up after their trip, and I could get a good night’s sleep before my first exam (which went well, I think).
A fortunate result of my unfortunately-timed test was that G&L had the morning to themselves to wander around town and then we all reunited for a mini-introduction to everyday luxuries in Reykjavík: the “fancy pool,” or Laugardalslaug. We had some time waiting for the bus at Hlemmur, however, which gave us a chance to check out the amazing Vintage Kilo Market thrift shop across the street. (Can’t find a website at the moment, but I’ll keep looking.)
Time for a sartorial digression, everyone (Amber!), because this place is simply, totally amazing. There is a pay-per-kilo option, but certain items are priced individually. It’s a fairly large space one level down from the street, and it’s a total fabric-pattern explosion when you walk in. There are, for example, multiple racks of all-sequin dresses, and there is another rack dedicated entirely to spiffy animal prints. (Georgia made an excellent search of both of these and came away with some dee-lightful, and actually wearable, finds.) There is a backroom with gentleman’s clothing–lots of great ties–but the a main room features crazily-cut print dresses, sweaters upon sweaters, and oh, yeah–a whole rack of capes. I have been on the look-out for a perfect cape–combining warm fabric, mobility, buttons, and a stylish cut–and thus far, just hadn’t found anything ideal. But lo and behold: I now have a very, very stylish dark green, ankle-length army-style cape with spiffy silver buttons and a multi-colored lining that I want to wear everywhere, and possibly when I sleep. And it was a steal of a deal, too. This is where I will do all of my shopping, no matter the occasion, from now on. [Okay: Sartorial digression over.]
Myself newly be-caped, we all hopped on the bus to Laugardalslaug. Mark and I had never been to this pool (actually a whole sports’ complex with two pools–one indoor and one outdoor), but had been told by enthusiastic regular goers–and water slide aficionados–that it is quite the experience. Since G&L had elected not to go to the Blue Lagoon on this trip (the better to spend more time with us, the sweethearts), I wanted to make sure that their hot pot experience was top notch. And although any hot pot in Reykjavík is pretty great–you’re comfortably sitting in a geothermally-heated jacuzzi outdoors, in Iceland, after all–some of them are, after the initial thrill, pretty standard. Laugardalslaug, however, boasts four or five hot pots of varying temps–many with massage jets–including a special salt water hot pot which is supposed to be very nutrient rich and good for dry skin. There’s also a rather tall and swoopty (yes: swoopty) water slide, a medium-size relaxation pool with decorative rocks to make it look like a little lagoon (if this sounds chintzy to you, it’s not), and a gigantic Olympic size lap pool, the better to do a few (very, very long) laps, should you not be the type who likes to just loll about in hot pots. (I won’t name names.)
The fancy pool experience was, as far as I am concerned, a resounding success. The slide was actually a lot of fun–it is not super fast, but the lights go out at one point, which is shriek-inducing, and then little disco lights come on after another curve, which is also shriek-inducing, and then when you are just holding your breath for another surprise, you are unceremoniously dumped into the pool at the bottom, shrieking with limbs all akimbo. (We discussed this: there’s no way to come flying out of a water slide looking elegant.) We didn’t find the salt water pot that time around (too cold out to really go exploring, so we stuck to the pots nearest the locker room door), but were very relaxed by the time we rotated through a few different ones at varying temperatures. (And I came back a few days later to track down the ocean one, which is delightful.)
Afterwards, it was late enough for drinks, but early enough for fancy-cocktail happy hour at Harpa, so we bussed back to the center of town so that our guests could sample some Icelandic-style mojitos (rhubarb! pine! bilberry!) and also enjoy the splendid interior of the building, which really is breath-taking every time.
That night, we had dinner at perennial favorite The Laundromat–the washing machines downstairs and photos of urban laundromats give New Yorkers a particular kick, I think–and then ventured out (joined by another, locally-living friend) into the fray of the Rúntur–otherwise notoriously known as Friday (late) night in Reykjavík, when everyone (the youngs, that is) and their cats get(s) soused at home until roughly midnight and then proceeds to sardine themselves into the hotttttest bars in town (all the bars) to continue with the merry-making until dawn, which you will remember, happens much, much later here in the winter. We made a tactical error in sacrificing our table seats at a relatively quiet bar to switch locations for the last drink of the night, and by the time we had entered and immediately exited about four way-too-crowded bars, Georgia was ready to sleep. But the rest of us were stubborn and wanted to prove that it was, in fact, possible to find a bar in which one could sit and have a drink after midnight on a Friday in Reykjavík.
And we did! Thanks to Mark’s determination and good memory for locations, we ended our night at hamburger grill/neighborhood watering hole Vitabar, which is, I think, the only bar/restaurant we’ve run across in Reykjavík which is located in a residential neighborhood. The bar was mostly empty–a group of guys at one table on the other side, but that was it–and we enjoyed our beers in peace before making our way home (our first Icelandic cab ride) in the wee hours of the morning. The better to sleep a few hours before our excursion to the Reykjanes peninsula on Saturday!
That one has pictures, and is coming up next. So stay tuned!