I am hesitant to disclose the fabulosity of this place to the public as I would hate for it to become overrun with tourists. That being said, I’m pretty sure my little blog won’t reach, let alone send, hordes of people to the magical moors of Iceland.
“What made you think to go to Iceland?” has been the number one question I’ve heard from friends and family. It’s pretty simple really. We flew to Paris on Icelandair. They offered a special rate to Paris if we were willing to have a one day stop over in Iceland. Um…yeah! I had no desire to ever go there but it would be fun to have another stamp in the passport. We decided to tag it to the end of our trip as I could not imagine being able to enjoy it if I was anxious to get to France.
As we landed there on our way to Paris I was immediately enchanted by the moonscape below. The earth in Iceland is the youngest on the planet. It is still forming with active volcanoes and geysers. In juxtaposition to the infancy of the land is a tie to ancient mysticism. This is the land of Vikings, elves and trolls. We read that 50% of Iceland believes in elves. It would be the perfect setting to film a movie such as The Hobbit. I could imagine caravans of explorers on horses, carrying their lords banner ahead of them.
Paris was great, blah, blah, blah and then we were on to Iceland. When we exited the plane we were greeted with the choice of a shot of something strong or a beer. We were already feeling welcomed! Caren and I waited at the luggage carousel while Robby went to find a snyrtingar (restroom). While we watched the bags go round and round we were awakened from out trance when a gentleman joyously shouted across the carousel, “GENO!”
“Marco!” was the response.
The next thing we knew there was a group hug of about 8-10 men. They appeared to all be over the age of 45, rugged, weathered and strong. They all came from different countries as we heard greetings and good natured ribbing in at least 3 different languages. They were dressed ready to explore. I could imagine them all clinging to the side of Everest. These men had a bond that only a great adventure can create. I was again swept up in the romance of it all.
I. Love. Iceland.
We each took turns using the snyrtingert and then headed to our shuttle. We stepped outside to grey skies and slanted sleet. It was miserable weather but we were kind of thrilled because this is exactly what one would expect in Iceland. Our bus though, was warm and brand spanking new. Tourism is a new business to this country and so everything is sparkly clean and new. Wee!
The bus ride to Reykjavik would be a 45 minute trek across moss covered lava fields.
It’s brown and flat, cracked and void but for some reason I found it absolutely enchanting. Maybe it was the explorers in the airport but I could see that this could be a place of great quests!
We were pretty much the only vehicle on the road and then out of no where was the purr of a hot rod. A dark brown corvette pulled up next to the bus and floated past her. Zip! It was gone. Probably had one of those rugged adventure guys from the airport in it. It was probably Geno’s ride. A few miles up the road we spied the corvette again. There are little roundabouts that go off of the road and then sends you right back to it. The corvette was parked in the roundabout, maybe for a picture op? It looked like a car commercial. Super sexy car with a come-hither landscape.
We rode along a dark and jagged coastline until signs of civilization began to pop up. First there were quaint farm houses and then more commercial type buildings began to rise up. Reykjavik had bright colored buildings that popped against the gray skies.
There were tons of churches and they all had the most interesting architecture. One looked like the pinnacle of a castle tower.
We finally arrived at our hotel, Marina, named such I suppose because it is in a marina. Across from our hotel were docked fishing ships, bright as the buildings. The lobby of Marina welcomes it’s guests with a fireplace surrounded by bright colored couches. Couch…not really that either. It was an amoeba shaped structure, billowing from chaise lounges to the more bench like structure of a couch. The fabrics were colorful and varied in print. All of the furniture were functional pieces of art. A wood sculpture of a man was a permanent guest at the fireplace.
A small bar was in the lobby as well, across from the front desk which was attended by a Nordic beauty. Her features pristine and crisp like everything else in this country. We were checked in and the hotel restaurant was recommended. We certainly had no plans on walking the streets of Reykjavik in the sleet so we agreed that the Marina restaurant would do after settling into our room and freshening up.
Our room was another fun treat! Quirky and crisp. The décor there mimics the landscapes minimalism. The walls were cement with some parts covered in a whimsical wall paper of bright colored ropes tied in various nautical knots. We had bunk beds. Queen sized. Super tall, metal bunk beds that were covered with big white fluffy down comforters. The wood floor had a fire red, tall pile, throw rug. There was a small couch in funky fabrics. The snartingyrter was pristine. Small sink. Small toilet. Small shower. Bland but clean and functional.
The sign above our door way read: “Spending time with your favorite people” is the reason we created this fun space. Talk about the old days, new loves or just shoot the breeze. Then, when you desperately need new company or fresh perspectives, we are waiting for you in the bar.
Another sign in the bathroom explains that the décor is minimal because they don’t want you to get to comfortable. They want you to get out and get to know Iceland.
I got the impression that marketers sat around saying, “I don’t know why no one ever visits Iceland. We’re such cool people! I think if we can just get them here then they will get to know us and love us.”
Before leaving our room we discussed who would take the top bunk. We finally decided it would have to be Robby. Since she had once been a trapeze artist, we felt she could handle the ladder the safest even after the consumption of beers and Not A Beers. After breaking in the snartengyr we headed to dinner.
To get to the dining facilities you first pass through the main bar. There are little niches of seating areas. Some with large tables, some are more of a living room setting with a circle of comfortable seating around a funky coffee table. All funky, fun and inviting.
“Can I help you ladies?” asked a happy voice behind us. We turned to find a dark woman, a little taller than me, with a beautiful smile.
“We were just headed to the restaurant for dinner or…could we just eat here?” Caren asked.
“Of course, of course! What do you ladies have in mind for the evening?”
“Food wise? I don’t know. What would you recommend?”
“Are you ladies adventurous?” she asked as she lead us to a table near the window. “Could you trust me and leave the ordering to me?”
And we did.
This was Alba’s bar, as it turns out her name was, and she took us under her wing. The bar had won many awards in it’s brief time of being open. Alba, herself is an award winning Master Sommelier. She had the most fascinating accent that we had difficulty placing.
“Ah…the mark of an English major,” she confessed to us. “Originally I’m from Singapore. We moved here when I was young.”
Alba’s bar, named Slippbarinn, is known for it’s creative cocktails. They are gourmet! Alba gave me a Tom Selleck: Calvados, lime, Vermouth, and agave. The Femme Fatale was appropriately awarded to Caren. This consisted of Jasmine, Navy strength Gin, lemon, and kardamon. For Robby, our beer drinker, Black Dog: Vodka, sherry, grape, agave, and lava salt. Why did I not take a picture of these concoctions? The cocktails carried the spirit of adventure, exploration and fresh ideas in Iceland.
“I see empty glasses!” Alba gasped. “It makes me heart go…oo!” she said with her fingers thrumming her chest. “Another round? You girls still trusting me?”
After Robby’s Not A Beer she switched back to Is A Beer and Caren and I continued to let Alba make the calls for us. Our favorite that we tried was the Basil Gimlet! Gin, lime, basil leaves, and cracked black pepper.
The food was great too! Flat bread covered in pesto, goat cheese, mixed greens, bell peppers, tomatoes….is that all? All kinds of yummy things were paraded across our table and into our bellies.
The bar has a chic lab feel as there are jars of fermenting fruits lined up on the shelving. They are their own mixes and recipes. The mad scientist behind it all was a little red faced guy named Asgeir who, according to Alba, has poor social skills but is a whiz with the drink!
We learned from Daniel, one of the bartenders, that the hotel was once a factory and then it was a pharmacy/lab that his father once worked at. They specialized in treatments for…
“You know…oh…how do you say? Like, when you get old and you hands…” at this Daniel shaped his hand like a claw.
“Arthritis,” I say blandly.
Caren and Robby cracked up laughing as I suffer from this Old Lady malady. Just keep bringing the drinks, kid.
Daniel went on to tell us that Marina then had a brief stint as a concert hall at which he performed at and now the hotel/bar that she is today.
“I remember when it was vacant. I was a little kid and would play in here with my friends, you know, doing what boys do,” Daniel laughed.
I loved the long history of the place and was fascinated by Daniel’s relationship to it as well. So cool! Also let it be noted that the snartingartyrs at the Slippbarinn are very nice.
They are apparently unisex. I would go into a stall that appeared to have a woman on the door and later see a man exit it and vise versa, but they were clean and modern.
Then there was Alba, another fascinating person! Alba is soft butch with a beautiful complexion, sculpted eyebrows like the gal at the front desk, and her ears are decorated with piercings. She moved from Singapore to Iceland as a young girl and worked as a grave digger as a child.
“A kid’s gotta have a job,” she said with a flippant smile.
Now she is a Master Sommelier at the most happening bar in Iceland. The title of Most Happening Bar in Iceland may not sound like much to you but the bar life is a huge part of the Icelandic culture. The bars shut down at 4:30 a.m. They have something for everyone from old English style pubs to the funky chic bars like Slippbarinn.
“Hang out until about a quarter til 11,” advised Alba. “That’s when things start really getting fun. It gets wild!”
“You will want to just go out and walk the streets around 2:30,” suggested Daniel. “It’s crazy. Totally crazy!”
Caren told us that this would NOT be what we do in Iceland. Apparently she has a friend who is no stranger to “crazy” and “wild” who visited Iceland and was freaked out by the Icelandic bar scene.
I have to say the culture there is as warm and welcoming as the weather is not! They want you there and want to share their country and themselves with you. Where in Paris it took awhile to create friends, Iceland is your instant best friend!
At the end of the night I thanked Alba and she gave me a bear hug, thanking me for coming and inviting me back.
In the morning I woke up to the sound of seagulls cackling outside of our window. Such a contrast to the wake up call of the bells of Notre Dame.
“We’re not in Paris anymore,” I mumbled into my pillow.
Robby’s legs swung over the ladder. We were up.
“Sup Hobbs,” I greeted Robby.
We all laughed! I meant to call her Robbs but it came out wrong.
“That’s your Hobbit name!”
“Oh great,” Robby/Wapi/Fifi/Hobbs sighed.
“Well, in Iceland you just have to add ‘vec’ to the end,” said Caren.
“Ah yes! Hobbs-a-fifi-wapi-vec!” I re-christened Robby.
“Oh my gosh! One night in Iceland and Michal is fluent!” Robby laughed.
We spent the rest of our time there trying (and I stress TRYING) to shop for Icelandic souvenirs. Everything was closed though. I guess it takes a while for a town that stays awake until 4:30 to wake up.
Where as the whole time we were in Paris we pretty much thought of ourselves and bought things for our husbands that WE would like for them to have; in Iceland they were all we could think about. Our Men would LOVE it! If Iceland were a person he would be a friendly, laid back, rugged, boozehound. Who doesn’t like that guy? It’s Viking land! I could see My Man hiking lava fields or riding a snow mobile out to a geyser.
The shuttle to the airport was quiet and full of hung over 20-something-year-olds. There were a few stories of their visits re-told but mostly there was a lot of head holding.
“It’s like the Vegas of the world,” Caren giggled.
Indeed, I could see it going that way. For Iceland’s sake, I do wish it prosperity but I fear that it won’t be long before the secret is out and it turns into a major tourist destination. Friends, I encourage you to visit but we must try to keep it under wraps. Remember that it’s a cold, barren land with sideways sleet and gray skies. Boo. No fun to be had there…. It is not a land of beautiful Swedish Nanny types or chiseled handsome men with laser blue eyes. Nope. Nothing like that going on there.
Now we are home. We were greeted at the airport by Robby’s Man who had flowers for us all. When I got home Buddy and Bug ran into my arms shouting “MOMMY!!!” The house was immaculate. There were flowers on the kitchen table and Bug had made me cupcakes.
“I was just going to make yellow cake like you like but I thought this would be more festive,” he explained handing me a confetti laden cupcake.
Buddy grew. He’s taller and he seems to be even more contemplative, if that’s possible. He’ll be 11 tomorrow. Yikes.
No more basking in the sun outside of a Parisian café. I’m watching the snow fall as I “speak.” No more Viking strength booze. A mug of hot water for me! Out of the Hobbit Hole and into the Mountain Hovel as they say. Gotta go. I need to use the snyrtingerten.