Our last meal in Reykjavik was at the Reykjavik branch of Rub 23 (the original is in Akureyri). Rub 23 is basically an Asian Fusion place that pairs Icelandic ingredients with Asian ingredients (the name comes from several specialty rubs, their schtick is that you can pick your own combination of meat and rub). It’s a fairly trendy place, and one of the harder places to get into on a weekend in Reykjavik, but we managed to score a table, and opted for the tasting menu.
Our last full day in Iceland was mostly spent tooling around Reykjavik. In the morning, we spent most of our time in Reykjavik’s heated pool, Laugardalslaug, which was nice (but wasn’t conducive to cameras…) Afterward, we wandered around downtown again. One place we really wanted to check out was Noodle Station. Noodle Station is one of those places I didn’t find from reviews, or from people waiting in long lines, or from signage. Noodle Station is one of those places that we found purely from the smell. Located on Skolavordustigur just down from Hallgrimskirkja, we couldn’t miss Noodle Station on our first day in Reykjavik; they were prepping for the day, and the entire place smelled of star anise and wonderful soup broth. But that first day, we were never in that part of town when they were open. But now that we were back in Reykjavik, and it was lunchtime, we decided that this time we’d check out Noodle Station.
Well, our “Great Circle” tour of Iceland had finished, but we weren’t quite done with Iceland, having another two days in Reykjavik to explore. With our various diversions on our last day of driving (including a return trip to Hveragerði to take a long hike to check out the Varma (“Warm River”), fed by hot springs), we got back into Reykjavik rather late and several places were booked solid for dinner (it was a Friday night), but we didn’t have too much trouble getting Sjávargrillið (“Seafood Grill”) for dinner. Sjávargrillið is one of the up-and-coming trendy restaurants in Reykjavik (the head chef was Iceland’s 2010 chef of the year), but it’s menu is still pretty approachable: the primary theme of Sjávargrillið is “Icelandic Seafood”, with a nice variety of fresh and smoked seafood dishes, but they also offer several “Feasts”, including their “Grill Party” (basically a chef’s choice multi-course special), a lobster feast, and a “Taste of Iceland” feast (puffin, shag, and minke whale). While all of these were very tempting, we ended up settling on the daily special, the perch.
N1 is probably Iceland’s largest retailer, running a rather large (by Icelandic standards) chain of over 100 gas stations, ranging from self-service kiosks (which proved to be relatively good at defending themselves from any attempt of mine to exchange a US-based credit card for diesel, even my Chip-and-PIN card) to full service stations. But one thing is almost a given if you are doing like I and travel around Iceland, you will eventually find yourself hungry and in need of food, and through location, time, or other factors, N1 is going to be your best option. Indeed, I’d say that in a substantial fraction of Iceland, the nearest prepared food of any sort is actually an N1 station…
One of our first stops heading west from Klaustur was Skógafoss. Skógafoss is one of South Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls, about 75 feet wide and 200 feet tall, with a large enough water volume that it generates a fair amount of wind and mist. Like most of the major waterfalls, it also has it’s own legend. No, not trolls this time, but Vikings, apparently one early Viking settler, Prasi Þórólfsson, hid a chest of gold under the falls that was never found except for a large ring from the side of the chest. If it’s not those troublesome trolls, it’s the Vikings, I guess. Oh, and Skógafoss also sports a hot dog truck. The Skógafoss Country Wagon can generally be found in the main parking lot of Skógafoss, near the campsites and the laundry area for hikers.
Our eighth day exploring the Ring Road of Iceland was a rather impressive day, including stops at the famous Jökulsárlón(the “Glacier Lagoon”) and Svartifoss (the “Black Waterfall”, an impressive waterfall in front of a backdrop of basalt columns), along with plentiful hiking and a stop for Jöklaís (“Glacier Ice”) ice cream. It was yet another busy day of sightseeing, hiking, and driving, and we ended up pulling into our destination, Kirkjubæjarklaustur (whose name is ponderous even by local standards, we noticed that most folks call it simply “Klaustur”), at a fairly late hour looking for dinner. Well, Kirkjubæjarklaustur doesn’t have a heck of a lot to offer. While having some nice features in itself, like a waterfall, and some really interesting basalt columns), Klaustur’s main attraction is location: it’s pretty much the only settlement on the southern coast between Vík and Höfn which offers services, including the ever-present N1 station, a few modest hotels, and the like. Heck, there’s basically three places to eat (the hotel, the gas station, and the cafe). After perusing the menus of each, we ended up choosing the cafe: Systrakaffi (if you were hoping for the N1 gas station, don’t worry, I’ll get to them in a few reviews).
After leaving Fjalladýrð, we spent the bulk of the next two days exploring the Eastern Fjords, working our way down to Höfn in the Southeast. Höfn is famous in Iceland for it’s Langoustines (Norway Lobsters), so when we were looking for dinner, we found that most every place in town had fresh langoustines, grilled with butter, parsley and garlic. After looking around and sizing up some of the options, we decided to go to one of the best-regarded places, Humarhöfnin. Humarhöfnin has a nice location in downtown Höfn, a block off of the harbor in an older building that apparently used to be a consumer cooperative/department store. It’s a nice restaurant space with a pleasant vintage interior (including a rather cool Art-Deco inspired staircase that’s obviously been there since the 1920s or so), with large upstairs and downstairs dining rooms. Despite not having reservations and the place being busy, they were able to seat us right away downstairs (thankfully, as we watched an entire busload of tourists—the same tourbus we encountered back in Myvatn, actually—go upstairs), and relax with a beer (Borg Bjartur Blond Bjór Nr. 4, a Dortmunder-style Blond beer from Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson) as we looked over the menu.
After two days spent around Husavik and the Myvatn area, we decided to check out the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park, Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. This is a stunning beautiful area, and we ended up seeing some excellent basalt formations, some raging rivers, and several waterfalls before hitting the real showpiece, Dettifoss falls. It was a full day of driving, exploring, and hiking. After Dettifoss, however, we need to get to Egilsstaðir by dinner. But having spent most of the day hiking, we were more than a little hungry, so shortly after getting back to Iceland’s Ring Road, we decided to take a ~15 mile detour to Möðrudalur for a snack…
After our most succesful trip to Husavik for whale watching, we headed back down to the Myvatn area. It started to rain pretty heavily, but we still had a nice hike through Dimmuborgir. After seeing many cool lava formations, and be regaled with the stories of the Yule Lads. After some reading up on it from the various signs at Dimmuborgir, I learned that the Yule Lads are the result of a head-on collision between old Norse and Christian traditions: the Yule Lads are the sons of the mountain trolls (Grýla). Unlike the Grýla themselves (who search out and scare naughty children), the Yule Lads only come at Christmastime, and are more mischievous than anything else: they have names like door-slammer (Hurðaskellir), bowl-licker (Askasleikir), sausage-swiper (Bjúgnakrækir), and meat-hook (Ketkrókur, he looks down chimneys and steals roasting meat with a long hook). The supposed way to get the Yule Lads to leave you alone is for your parents to give you lots of clothing at Christmas. I swear I’m not making this up, this is from the signs at Dimmuborgir! But after all that hiking, we were again a bit wet, a bit tired, and really wanted some dinner. While Vogafjós almost lured us in again, we decided to mix it up and try another of the area’s (very few) restaurants, Gamli Bærinn, a pub located next to the Hótel Reynihlíð.
First of all, sorry about the delays, but after a brief stay back in the US, work had me traveling off to Germany, where for most of the trip I was without my laptop. So I’m still playing the catch-up game. But the next stop on our trip through Iceland was a morning of whale watching up in Husavik, a small fishing town in Northern Iceland that since the 1990s has had a pretty significant whale-watching. Sure, I thought I’d been on some good whale watches before (in Southern California, and in New England), but Husavik blew both of them out of the water, since it’s one of the best places in the Atlantic to go whale watching (the bay outside Húsavík is a major feeding area in the northern Gulf Stream). The result was three hours of fairly active whale watching, with humpbacks coming right up to the boat, some white-nosed dolphins, and even a few bottled-nosed whales. See my picture here, it was even cooler than their tourism brochures. But after all that whale watching (which include some cinnamon buns and hot cocoa as snacks), we were rather hungry. Luckily, Gamli Baukur is right on the dock…