Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sights to See: The Northeast, Eskifjordur, Iceland

Laid out along the fjord, this long, narrow, and charming fishing village and commercial center is one of the oldest towns in Iceland’s East.  Movie director Baltasar Kormákur, the son of well-known Icelandic painter Baltasar, filmed “2 Guns,” starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, here.  He also filmed “Contraband” and “The Deep” here.

Eskifjordur’s Church and Cultural Centre  Built in the late 1990s, this hexagonal church doubles as a concert hall.  When I visited, musician Jon Karason asked us to wear a blindfold and then led us in a musical experience designed to make us “think only about now, not yesterday, not tomorrow, not the volcano, only right now.”  We participated with no expectations, listening to guitar music punctuated with an American Indian story about two wolves named Good and Evil, in which the one that wins is the one you feed.  Music festivals are held here in summer.  The Bleiksá waterfall is just behind the church.

East Iceland Maritime Museum  Strandgata 39b.  Daily 1-5pm, Jun-Aug.  Situated inside the oldest house in town, which dates from 1816, this small two-story museum is slathered on the outside with black creosote.  It displays a reconstructed general store along with assorted nautical items--ship models, fishing equipment--and other more unexpected items such as a hand-crank candy maker and dental equipment.

Mjoeyri Guesthouse  Strandgotu 120.  Kitchens.  Open all year.  Small red cabin-huts and larger natural-wood cabins line the fjord’s shore.

This spot fits into my ongoing interest in experiencing places that have an end-of-the-road, edge-of-the-world feeling.  In addition to a regular bed, our A-frame red cabin had a loft with mattress on the floor that was reached by a ladder and which children would particularly adore.  It was amazingly quiet in our fjord-front cabin, so quiet that we could hear the water lapping at the shore.  The pleasant interiors are finished in baby knotty-pine wood.  Facilities include a boat-shaped hot tub (called a “hot pot” here) and a sauna,

and towel swans greet you atop the European-style, pushed-together twin beds with individual duvets.

And no key cards here—a hand-knit key fob bell helps you find the key when it is in your pocket.  At check out, you just leave the key in the lock as though it were 100 years back in time.  Arrangements can be made for touring, including reindeer guiding, cave tours, and ski and winter tours. 

Randulff’s sea-house/Randulfssjohus  Strandgata 96.  L-D daily, June-Aug.  Resembling a Norwegian herring house, this seafarers’ lodge has an informal museum upstairs where you can see rooms as they were left in 1890.  We tasted Iceland’s infamous fermented shark—which is milder here than in Iceland’s west—as well as dried haddock.  Both are still produced in town.  We  washed it down with a shot of Brennivin--Icelandic schnapps, which in the old days was called “black death.”  I put the shark meat in my mouth and chewed it, but in the interest of not causing a volcanic eruption in my tummy I did not swallow it.  The dried haddock was ok, and the Brennivin was good enough for me to buy some at the airport to take home.

The cozy, woodsy restaurant is one large open space.  It serves a menu of local specialties that includes Icelandic shrimp, brown bread and really-good rolls, reindeer meatballs with a sweet red currant-chili sauce, and white chocolate Skyr yogurt with blueberries.  Butter is served atmospherically atop a rock.  This restaurant is under the same ownership as the Mjoeyri Guesthouse, and it is just a short, scenic walk between the two.

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sights to See: The Northeast, Neskaupstadur, Iceland

Located on the fjord Nordfjordur, this avalanche-vulnerable town has constructed a variety of defenses, including a long stone wall to catch runaway snow.  As in most towns in Iceland, an outdoor geo-thermal public swimming pool is in the center of town, and because the town is also the center for volleyball in Iceland it has two sand courts.  Many excursions can be arranged from here, including gourmet foodie tours, kayaking, golfing, trout-fishing, hiking, snowcat tours, and skiing.

Museum House/Nordfjordur Museum/Museum of Natural History  Eglisbraut 2.  Daily 1-9pm.  This two-story building is home to local art, various collections of tools, and a large display upstairs of stuffed local wildlife. 

Hotel Hildibrand  Hafnarbraut 2.  15 units.  This boutique apartment hotel features simple, clean-lined contemporary style.  Units have stellar views and private balconies.  The inn was reopened in 2014 by the great grandson of the original owner. 
●Kaupfelagsbarinn restaurant  Iceland’s slow-food movement is centered in this simple hotel restaurant.  The menu focuses on seafood, including sushi, and foodies are welcome.  My delicious lunch included: 

bread with two spreads at Kaupfelagsbarinn restaurant in Neskaupstadur, Iceland
bread with two spreads: tomato, and arugula-pine nuts with an Italian Pino Grigio

wild mushroom soup at Kaupfelagsbarinn restaurant in Neskaupstadur, Iceland
creamy Icelandic Wild Mushroom Soup and Cured Wild Goose with Sour Crowberry Vinaigrette (from the blueberry family)

Arctic char at Kaupfelagsbarinn restaurant in Neskaupstadur, Iceland
delicate peach-colored Panfried Arctic Char with Caramel-Butter, sautéed greens, garlic potatoes, and barley with a tasty Italian red Campofiorin

reindeer steak at Kaupfelagsbarinn restaurant in Neskaupstadur, Iceland
Port-Glazed Wild Reindeer Steak (it tasted ungamey with a hint of liver) with creamy walnuts, freshly picked vegetables, and sweet potato mash

Skyr mousse dessert at Kaupfelagsbarinn restaurant in Neskaupstadur, Iceland
Skyr Mousse with White Chocolate and Fresh Blueberries

Skorrastaour farm  In the valley of Nordfjordur, close to town..  You can ride the celebrated Icelandic horse on this lovely farm.  You can do a simple ride and experience the horse’s famous tolt gait, stay for a night, or book in for a longer stay that can include riding lessons, herding sheep, a walk in the valley to pick blueberries and crow berries, and more.  Guest rooms are available in a renovated barv with a sleeping loft.  The owners speak excellent English, and you become a member of their family during your stay.

On my visit, we had afternoon tea with the owners in their home.  On the menu were “sunshine pancakes”—crepes served with blueberry preserves and whipped cream—and round donut-hole-like “love balls.”  The pancakes are served to celebrate the return of the sun after the sunless few months that occur here every winter. 

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images and videos ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sights to See: The Northeast, Reydarfjordur, Iceland

The longest and widest of Iceland’s eastern fjords, this town is a regional trade center.  The main employer is the Alcoa aluminum smelter. 

Icelandic Wartime Museum/Icelandic World War II Museum  During World War II almost 4,000 British, Canadian, Norwegian, and American soldiers were stationed in this town of only 300 inhabitants.  This museum operates inside an abandoned freezing plant, and is reconstructed to resemble a hospital camp built by Americans as an Allied base here in response to Norway’s occupation by Germany.  Visitors enter a replica barrack and cinema hall to see displayed artifacts.  Some original barracks remain outside the museum. 

mural in Icelandic Wartime Museum in Reydarfjordur, Iceland

cafe displayl in Icelandic Wartime Museum in Reydarfjordur, Iceland

World War II barracks at Icelandic Wartime Museum in Reydarfjordur, Iceland

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sights to See: The Northeast, Egilsstadir, Iceland

In this remote area that is the oldest part of Iceland, the terrain is reminiscent of that in Scotland.  The barren-looking ground is covered with low-growing green plants punctuated by plentiful waterfalls and snow-capped mountains .  It is a paradise for sheep, horses, and cows.  For humans, it offers respite, with winding two-lane highways and long, narrow mountain tunnels traveled by few cars.  The deep East Fjords are particularly beautiful.  Winters here are long and dark, with only 4 to 5 hours of light in some places.  

Bardarbunga  This is the volcano that erupted in 2014.  I was fortunate enough to see the eruption as I flew over it during my visit then.  It is now “vomiting” (as the local put it) a few times a day. 

Bardarbunga volcano erupting in 2014 in Iceland

The airport here is a 1-hour flight from Reykjavík. 

Hotel Herad  Midvangur 5-7.  60 rooms.  Buffet breakfast.  This efficient contemporary hotel is all clean lines but with some art thrown in to cheer things up.  Ask for a room with a view of the lake. 

room at Hotel Herad in Egilsstadir, Iceland

reindeer art at Hotel Herad in Egilsstadir, Iceland

Hus Handanna Art & Design  Midvangi 1-3, a few steps from hotel.  This spacious shop purveys an array of top-notch Iclandic art and handcrafts that make wonderful souvenirs.  Items include everything from colorful felted fingerless gloves to fragile ceramic tea-light containers.  My favorite was the carved-wood reindeer mother and child that fit into each other

interior of Hus Handanna Art & Design in Egilsstadir, Iceland

reindeer art atf Hus Handanna Art & Design in Egilsstadir, Iceland

Monster Lake  This point in the Lagarfljot river becomes so deep and wide that it is defined as a lake.  It is home to the legendary beast Lagarfljotsormurinn--Iceland’s version of Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster--which was first reported in 1345.  “The Story of the Legendary Worm” dates to the 14th century and is about a young girl who lived on a farm by the lake.  She was given a gold ring as a gift.  Her mother told her that if she put the ring in a box with the worm, the gold would grow.  Of course, she put it in the box and the gold grew, but the worm grew, too.  The girl panicked and threw them both into the lake, where the worm became a huge monster and terrorized the villagers.  Eventually two farmers decided to kill the monster and get the gold.  They bound it, but the monster still was able to put its back up out in the water and now bad luck comes when people see it.  In reality, my tour guide has a  friend who saw it in 1968.  Some elementary school kids saw it in the 1990s, and this viral video on YouTube shows it in 2012.  While some people think the video proves the monster’s existence, others think it proves that the monster is just some netting twisting in icy water.  An Iceland panel decided by a narrow majority vote that this grainy 2012 footage is legitimate.  I think it looks like a cross between a viper and a tape worm.  What do you think?

Hallormsstada Skogur   The small new forest provides nice walking trails near the lake.

leafy trail at Hallormsstada Skogur park in Iceland


exterior of Gunnar Gunnarsson Museum at Skriduklaustur in Iceland
Gunnar Gunnarsson Museum  This cultural museum honoring celebrated Icelandic author Gunnar Gunnarsson operates within his former home.  It also tells about the circa 1493 Augustinian monastery ruins being uncovered right now in a field across from the house.  It is the only cloister in Iceland that is completely excavated, and the most northerly one in Europe . 

Klausturkaffi restaurant at Gunnar Gunnarsson Museum at Skriduklaustur in Iceland
Klausturkaffi  The museum’s small restaurant is also an attraction, and a prime place to stop for a spectacular buffet lunch spread.  An a la carte menu is also available.  My favorite items were the crowberry spritzer and wild mushroom soup, though the entire array was delicious. 

Vallanes Farm  This greenhouse farm is renowned for bringing organic Modir Jord products—most especially barley--to Icelandic cuisine.  It is the largest organic farm in Iceland.  As you travel in this area, you’ll also come across their vegetarian burgers and fresh herbs, such as angelica and caraway.  Everything at the farm is 100% organic, including local wild berry and rhubarb jams.  A recipe for Gabriel’s Breakfast made with barley cereal is on the website.

Vallanes Farm greenhouse in Iceland
When pioneer organic-farm owner Eygló Björk Ólafsdóttir (pictured) welcomed us to his complex, which has been worked since the 1100s, he said, “Good morning and welcome to my kingdom.”  When he took over here in 1979, it was a dairy farm.  In this country with  few trees, he planted one million saplings in shelterbelts and forests, and officially began his organic farm in 1989.  A B&B and hostel are also available. 

Vatnajokulspjodgardur National Park  Located mostly in the highlands, this park covers almost 14 percent of Iceland.  The country’s largest glacier, and Europe’s biggest, is here. 
Vatnajokull Ice Caves  These caves are located inside an Icelandic glacier.  It's pretty hard to get cooler than that.
visitor center at Vatnajokulspjodgardur National Park in Iceland

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images and video ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sights to See: Golden Circle; Reykjavik, Iceland

Golden Circle  This day trip is short in distance from Reykjavik but long on sights—it takes in a trio of the most iconic wonders in Iceland.  And in between, you’ll see moss-covered lava fields as well as tiny birch trees that are the only indigenous trees on this island (early Viking settlers brought all their wood for house and boat building as do residents import it today).   

where North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet in Iceland in Thingvellir National Park
North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet

Silfra crack in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland
Silfra crack
Thingvellir National Park  This UNESCO World Heritage Site is where representatives of all Iceland tribes met in 930 at Lake Thingvillaten, establishing the world’s first parliament.  In 1000, the group officially adopted Christianity, and they continued meeting here annually until 1798.  In 1944, when Iceland became independent from Denmark, the nation assembled here to celebrate.  Also, the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet here, and visitors can walk through the separation caused by them slowly drifting apart (it was seen in Season 4 of "Game of Thrones").  Since  most tectonic plate boundaries are underwater, this is an unusual and scenic opportunity.  Snorkeling is permitted in the clear water of the Silfra (the crack between the plates), where they can also touch both plates at the same time.

This park is also home to a loo with an amazing view. More loos with a view.

 ●Gullfoss/Golden Falls  Nearby, one of the most impressive waterfalls in Europe roars at an L-shaped bend in the Hvitá River.  It falls into the river in two wide stages, and rainbows form in the mist on sunny days.  A path leads along the falls to a spectacular viewing area.

Geysir Hot Springs  In Haukadalur.  This geothermal area is sprinkled with steaming water and bubbling mud pools.  Geysir is the original geyser and the first one described in print and is the one after which all others are named.  At about 10,000 years old, it no longer erupts.

But every 10 to 15 minutes the Strokkur geyser sends up a spectacular plume of hot water and steam about 100 feet into the air.  A bubbling up is seen just before it explodes.  Be careful with your camera, because the steam can cause problems.

More non-erupting, colorful sulphur pools are in the immediate area, and the Litli Geysir gurgles and hisses beside the path from the visitor center.  An unusual activity that is sometimes arranged here is making Geysir bread, or “hot spring bread.”  Participants assist a chef in digging up rye bread that has been ‘baking’ underground for 24 hours and also boil eggs in a hot spring.

Fridheimar Greenhouses  On some tours, a stop here is included, allowing you to see how delicious organic tomatoes are grown indoors year-round with help from bright lights to mimic the sun, bees to fertilize, and technology and computers to monitor things.

Fridheimar Greenhouse in Iceland

cafe at Fridheimar Greenhouse in Iceland
This site’s owner says, “We make every day perfect for the tomato, and they turn into a perfect tomato for us.”  You’ll want to sample some of the tasty tomatoes and also the small cafe’s specialty tomato soup.

blonde Iceland horse at Fridheimar Greenhouse in Iceland
An adjacent stables is home to Icelandic horses, and horse shows are scheduled. 

Lindin Bistro  In Laugarten.  If you’re on your own, plan to stop at this Michelin-starred restaurant for lunch.  You’ll get to sample the premium local produce made into seasonal specialties.  The bread is baked in the ground by hot springs (as described above), and I hear the  lobster bisque is divine.

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images and videos ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers


Friday, January 9, 2015

Things to Do: Blue Lagoon; Reykjavik, Iceland

Blue Lagoon  Located between Reykjavik and airport in Keflavik, 45 min. from town, 20 min. from airport.  Admission US$35+.  Locals prefer their city pool, or “hot pot,” to coming here, which they think is too commercial and expensive.  But I think you won’t want to miss it.  Formed by accident in 1976, this gigantic pond in the middle of a lava field opened as a geothermal spa in 1992.  A foggy mist hangs above the opaque, milky-baby-blue water, which ranges from 98 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit.  After it is first used to make heat and electricity, the mineral-rich recycled hot seawater is piped in from a power plant next door. 

entrance to Blue Lagoon in Iceland

bar at Blue Lagoon in Iceland

hanging at Blue Lagoon in Iceland

     Bring along a bathing suit, flip-flops, a towel, and a rubber band for your hair, or you can optionally rent almost anything you need.  Changing rooms are similar to what you would find in a nice spa—small shared locker rooms, open shower cubicles, and private restroom cubicles that you can turn into a changing room if you are modest . . . and fast.  An electronic security bracelet secures your locker and keeps track of your purchases, so you can get a drink at the lagoon bar, a snack at the indoor cafe, or rent an extra towel or fluffy bathrobe with a flick of your wrist.  If you make an appointment ahead, you can even have a massage.  When you leave, your bracelet is scanned and you settle up. 

scenic of Blue Lagoon in Iceland

applying silica mud mask at Blue Lagoon in Iceland

entering cave sauna at Blue Lagoon in Iceland

    Everyone must shower in the changing area before getting into the lagoon and after as well, but you can probably get away with doing it in your bathing suit if it is crowded and you are quick.  Minerals in the water include silica and sulphur, which are good for skin but bad for hair.  I brought a shower cap, which isn’t very cute, but you can also purchase a swim cap at reception.  If you don’t plan to go under water, you can get by with slathering on the complimentary conditioner provided in the shower area and leaving it in while you soak.  I slathered and put my hair up in rubber bands, too, and it had no lasting issues.  Do also look for the grey silica mask goo found on the side of the lagoon in wood boxes with ladles, and apply it liberally to your face for a deep cleaning and exfoliation.  Water temperature varies around the pond, from mostly perfect to very hot or even lukewarm.  The pool bottom is uneven, and sometimes I found myself up to my chin in hot water, especially in the center.  Should you get tired of bathing, you can explore an area with a cave, a sauna, a steam room, and a massage waterfall.  After, to avoid dry, brittle hair, wash your hair thoroughly with the provided silica purifying shampoo and use more conditioner.
     You can arrange to get here by bus tour and airport shuttle.  Many people stop on their way to or from the airport.  Large luggage can stay on the bus or be stored in a building with lockers that is adjacent to the parking lot.  Try to pack ahead in a small bag what you need at the spa.  To avoid crowds, go early--before noon if possible, or late in the afternoon. 

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Good Eats: Restaurant Reykjavik; Reykjavik, Iceland

Restaurant Reykjavik  Vesturgötu 2, 552-3030.  D daily; $$$.  Situated in the heart of the city inside a four-story historical house known as the Old Dock, this is one of Iceland’s largest restaurants.  It is the city’s third-oldest house (1863) and before landfill was located on the waterfront.

waiter serving monkfish with Hollandaise and potatoecake at Restaurant Reykjavik in Iceland
waiter serving monkfish with Hollandaise and potatoecake
The chefs know what they are doing, and the servers are delightful.  

Arctic char at Restaurant Reykjavik in Iceland
Arctic char appetizer

white chocolate cake with caramel paste at Restaurant Reykjavik in Iceland
white chocolate cake with caramel paste

My dinner here consisted of an Arctic char appetizer and a main of monkfish with Hollandaise and potatoecake, washed down with a lovely Italian Pinot Grigio.  White chocolate cake with caramel paste was the satisfying conclusion.

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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sights to See + Good Eats: The Pearl; Reykjavik, Iceland

The Pearl  This dome–shaped glass building is supported by six huge hot-water tanks, each with a capacity of 1 million gallons.  The Saga Museum here displays lifelike silica figures which depict famous Saga scenes.

selfie taken under the Dome of The Pearl in Reykjavik, Iceland

cod dinner under the Dome of The Pearl in Reykjavik, Iceland

The dome houses a revolving restaurant that serves delicious food (think lobster soup with lobster tails, cod with barley, Skyr mousse with blueberries), a small café, and an observation platform—all providing panoramic views of the city and surrounds.  An impressive water feature erupts from the basement into the atrium where events are held, though I somehow managed to miss seeing it.  Outside the building to the left of the car park, the man-made geyser imitates the natural spouting action of the famous Strokkur geysir in southwest Iceland

view from The Pearl in Reykjavik, Iceland

sculptures at The Pearl in Reykjavik, Iceland

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Things to Do + Good Eats: shopping + Zinc Café (CLOSED), Solana Beach, California

Cedros Design District  100-300 blocks of Cedros Ave., 14 miles from La Jolla, Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit off I-5, (858) 755-0444.

Cedros Design District in Solana Beach, California
Home to many architects, builders, designers, and interior decorators, these three strollable blocks more than 85 unique boutiques and galleries.

jewelery at Antique Warehouse in Cedros Design District in Solana Beach, California
Antique Warehouse
Antiques on Cedros  118 S. Cedros Ave., (858)704-4900.  This collective has more than 50 dealers.  A specialty is fine estate jewelry.

Antique Warehouse  212 S. Cedros Ave., (858) 755-5156.  W-M 10-5.  There is space for 101 dealers to display their finds in this uncluttered, multi-dealer antique warehouse.  The cleanly curated selection of antiques, collectibles, and memorabilia includes an excellent selection of gemstone rings, record albums, china, and more. 

Chic Weed  240 S. Cedros Ave., (858) 205-8083.  This mostly outdoor garden shop is a pleasant browse.

Cut Loose  142 S. Cedros Ave. #K, (858) 509-0386.  14 M-Sat 10-5:30, Sun 11-5.  Made in San Francisco, this brand is designed for larger women.  It uses fabulous colors and fabrics, especially linen. 

Leaping Lotus in Cedros Design District in Solana Beach, California
Leaping Lotus  240 S. Cedros Ave., (858) 720-8283.  M-Sat 10-6, Sun 11-6.  More than 100 vendors display a stunning variety of goods in a gigantic two-floor warehouse space.  Items include clothing, house and garden goods, and unusual gifts. 

SoLo shop in Cedros Design District in Solana Beach, California
SoLo  309 S. Cedros Ave., (858) 794-9016.  This upscale collective displays  creative and stylish collections of gifts and home accessories from eight different vendors in a dramatic restored warehouse.

egg salad sandwich and chili at Zinc Cafe in Cedros Design District in Solana Beach, California

sparrows at Zinc Cafe in Cedros Design District in Solana Beach, California
CLOSED ●Zinc Café  132 S. Cedros Ave., (858) 793-5436.  My favorite lunch here is a half egg-salad sandwich with a bowl of chili and a lemon-frosted pecan cookie.  More description.

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Things to do in nearby La Jolla.

Things to do in nearby San Diego.

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images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers