Tag Archives: Iceland

Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 1

My trip to East Iceland started out a little too early in the morning and I’m thankful for 2 things:

  1. the fact that it never gets dark here in the summer makes it easier to drag oneself out of bed at 5:30am
  2. I’m staying very close to Reykjavik domestic airport and didn’t have to get up even earlier

Daniel, the Icelandic Mountain Guides representative, met myself, Eric and Melinda (from the US) at the airport to ensure we had everything and there were no issues, and I promptly fell back to sleep for the 50 minute Air Iceland Connect flight to Egilsstaðir as soon as I was clipped into seat 1C.  I’ve never sat in the first row in a plane before!

We arrived on time and were met off the plane by Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir.   I’m terrible with names in the first place, and Icelandic place and people names are really challenging me!  But thankfully she explained “just think of Thor and then the famous Icelandic singer, Björk, and put them together”.   Ah!  That made it very easy 🙂   And I learned that the Icelandic letter “Þ” is pronounced essentially like “th” in English!

The airport was actually the meeting place for the whole group, and we soon met Wolfgang and Sabine (a couple from Germany), Martin and Wolf (father and son from Germany), and Maria (from France).  Introductions done, we did a pitstop at the local Nettó supermarket for fresh supplies for the next 4 days, made our lunch on the picnic table near the carpark, dropped off some luggage that would be transferred to the end of the hike for us, and then were on our way to the start point of our trek.

We had all signed up for the 4-day lightweight-backpacking trek: “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” in East Iceland.  The name aptly describes the trek, which travels down the remote eastern edge of  Europe’s largest glacier – Vatnajökull.  The “lightweight backpacking” part meant that although we would be staying in huts where sleeping bags and mats were provided and where Icelandic Mountain Guides had food caches, we would need to carry our clothing, sleeping bag liner, anything else we deemed essential, and a portion of the fresh food for the 4 day trek.   

It was a pretty grey old day with low clouds, so there were not many views as we traveled firstly along the edge of a fjord and then up to a higher plateau in the direction of Mt Snæfell (“The Snow Mountain”), the highest mountain in Iceland outside of a glacier region. 

Driving to the trailhead - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Driving to the trailhead in our minivan. No. That is not Mt Snæfell. It is still in the distance, its peak covered in snow. Note the the lack of fences – Icelandic sheep roam free in the East.

After about an hour, our driver pulled off to the side of the road and stopped.  Once we’d all piled out with our gear, he promptly took off back the way we’d come, leaving us standing in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.  Þorbjörg quickly assured us that it was all good, and pulled out the map to show us the plan for today and the next 3 days.

Getting dropped at the trailhead of - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

We then set off across rocky, unmarked land (there was no trail to follow) as we hiked along the edge of one of Iceland’s many water storage dams.  

Hikers walking past wildflowers in front of a water storage dam - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

One of the most impressive features we came across in this rather flat terrain was a rocky outcrop that allowed us a slightly elevated view of the landscape.  We managed to find a spot that was more-or-less protected from the wind to have lunch, and Þorbjörg surprised us with a snack of Kleiner – yummy Icelandic donuts.

Lunch spot and Kleinur - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

I’m not a huge fan of doughnuts, but these were delicious! Even cold!

Despite our relatively sheltered position, it was quite cold.  So after I hurriedly ate my sandwich, I kept myself moving by taking photos of the surroundings

View from lunch spot - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The view from our slightly elevated lunch spot

and all the nearby wildflowers.  There were quite a few!

Wildflowers - East Iceland

We were slowly making our way towards one of the glacier tongues of Vatnajökull, at the base of which sat our home for the evening – Geldingafell Hut.

Hikers walking towards Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Can you spot the little yellow hut?

But before we arrived, we started to come across swathes of bright green moss growing in the wetter areas of the lava field.  Its vividness amidst the almost monochrome volcanic rock was startling and I loved how it held the water droplets so carefully in its embrace.

Bright green moss holding drops of water - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Unfortunately, not all was well with parts of this green carpet, and Þorbjörg also pointed out some “witches circles” caused by a fungus that attacks the moss in a circular pattern.

Our guide explaining how "witches circles" are formed

Those who have been following my hiking adventures in Patagonia, Iceland and Greenland know how much I “love” cold river crossings.  Day 1 placed two of these in our path.  But now I have my neoprene socks – I have no fear!  🙂

Crossing a river - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Thank goodness for neoprene socks!

There were a few small snow drifts to navigate (nothing compared to what we had on the Icefjords and Remote Villages trek in East Greenland) on the final uphill to the hut, and Þorbjörg welcomed us to our home for the night by tasking us with opening all the shutters that protect the windows from wild weather.

Approaching, and arriving at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Approaching (top) and arriving at (bottom) the Geldingafell Hut. You can see the glacier tongue above the hut in the top image.

Geldingafell Hut is very small and cosy inside – especially for 9 people.  There is nowhere really to sit except for on the bunks, which is why we were all very happy that the skies finally cleared and the Sun started shining brightly just after we arrived!

View of hut and river valley from behind - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The Geldingafell Hut has an amazing view over a beautiful river valley. The pyramid-shaped building at bottom left is the outhouse

I decided to go for a short hike up the hill behind the hut before dinner to get a clearer view of the glacier and epic views back down over the hut and the valley below it.

View behind the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The hills behind the Geldingafell Hut. I hiked up to where that little plateau juts out at the top left

And arrived back just in time for our al fresco dining for the evening – minestrone soup and spaghetti bolognaise 🙂  We all enjoyed sitting outside in the warm sunshine, but eventually had to retreat inside as the Sun approached the horizon and the temperature dropped.

Hiking companions sitting on the ground outside the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

For dessert, Þorbjörg “went shopping” for us in the Icelandic Mountain Guides “store” out the back of the hut.  Because of the remoteness of this hut, the company estimates how many trekkers they will have during the summer and caches enough dry/tinned food during the winter (when they can access the hut by snowmobile) to cover their estimate.  The logistics for some of their treks are really impressive!

Icelandic Mountain Guides store at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The “store”. A food cache set up by Icelandic Mountain Guides during the winter when they can access the hut by snow mobile

Sitting on our beds, we downed chocolate cake, Jägermeister (thanks to Wolfgang and Sabine – no Wolfgang – half a glass does not constitute “the smallest amount possible just for a taste”), and hot chocolate before most people turned in for the night.  I stayed up a little longer to catch a beautiful sunset at around 11:30pm, and then followed suit.

Sunset at hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Worth waiting up for!

Trekking Information

Distance = 11.39km

Time taken = 5 hours 07 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day 1 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 1 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

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reykjavik-foodie-tour-skyr-dessert.jpg

Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour – Icelandic Traditional Food

After 2 years of this blog, my friends joke that if I’m not posting about hikes or treks I’ve done, I’m posting about food.  So they won’t be surprised that one of the very first things I did when planning my trip to Iceland was look up foodie tours 🙂  Specifically, I was looking for an opportunity to try some of the more unusual Icelandic foods, which is how I chose the Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour – Icelandic Traditional Food by Your Friend in Reykjavik.

We were met at Ingolfstorg Square by our guide, Fanney, and walked less than a block to our first foodie stop.  No, I’m not going to tell you where – you need to actually do the tour to find out 😉  Suffice to say that the restaurant is one of the older houses in Iceland and was originally used for falconry!

Heading out to the first stop on the foodie tour

Heading out to our first stop on the foodie tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik

Foodie tour stop 1: Puffin

Here we tried one of the things I was most excited about – hot smoked Icelandic puffin.  Yes, those cute little birds with the bright orange beaks. 

Hot smoked Icelandic puffin - traditional food

Hot smoked Icelandic puffin

I was surprised at the very “smooth” texture of the meat, and both the presentation of the dish and the interior of the restaurant were amazing!  This was one of my favourite dishes on the tour, eaten under very different conditions to almost every other foodie tour I’ve done where I’m usually just standing around in the middle of a market or out on the street 🙂

Eating hot smoked Icelandic Puffin in restaurant in Reykjavik

Tasting hot smoked Icelandic Puffin in Reykjavik

While we were eating, Fanney explained that although puffins spend most of their lives at sea, during the spring and summer months an estimated 10 million of them come to Iceland to nest.  She also explained how the hunting of puffins is regulated in Iceland and just how difficult it is to actually catch them!  Watch Gordan Ramsay try 🙂

Foodie Tour stop 2: Icelandic Lamb Soup

Our next stop was again only a block or so away at one of the oldest restaurants in Reykjavik (founded in 1932).  Here we tucked into a too-large-for-a-foodie-tour bowl of Icelandic lamb soup with its melt-in-the-mouth lamb, tender carrots, celery, potatoes, onions and loads of rich lamb flavour.  Although I’m a seasoned foodie tour goer and I knew I should be pacing myself – I couldn’t help but finish the whole bowl … and the bread.

Icelandic Lamb Soup - Reykjavik foodie tour - Your Friend in Reykjavik

Icelandic Lamb Soup

To make this soup there are special cuts of lamb that should be used as well as a very particular herb mix, but as far as veggies go – well anything that doesn’t go bad too quickly is fair game.

Two tastings in and so many more to go…  Oh oh – already starting to feel full!  Fortunately our next couple of stops involved much smaller samples!

Foodie Tour stop 3: Icelandic Hot Dogs

Icelandic hotdogs are basically an unofficial national dish.  Made predominantly out of lamb (theoretically) you should ask for “one with the lot” to enjoy the full experience of fried and raw onion, ketchup, remoulade, and sweet brown mustard (pylsusinnep) along with the dog and steamed bun.

Icelandic hot dog on Traditional food tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik

Icelandic hot dog from Reykjavik’s best (and oldest) hotdog stand. Yes – they even have hot dog holders on the tables!

The hotdog stand we visited on the foodie tour has been around since 1937 and shot to fame in 2004 when Bill Clinton ate there.  I’m nowhere near famous, and I don’t usually eat hotdogs, but I have to admit this these ones make for a very tasty snack!

Foodie Tour stop 4: Dried Fish

You don’t have to be in Iceland long to realise that dried fish (Harðfiskur) is also a staple in the Icelandic diet and a favourite snack for locals.  I had eaten a lot of Icelandic dried fish on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland last year and love pairing it with remoulade (mayonnaise is one of the very few things I really don’t like the taste of, but for some reason, I love remoulade!).  Every Icelander I’ve suggested this to, including Fanney, has looked at me in bewilderment and admitted they’d never thought to try that.  They usually just eat it plain or team it up with butter!  Seriously guys – try it.  It is amazing!

Eating dried fish (haddock) at Reykjavik harbour on the Food lovers tour by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Trying dried haddock at Reykjavik harbour

After enjoying the brisk evening air down by the harbour, it was time to head back inside for two more of the new tastes I’d been looking forward to.  As an added bonus, one of the wonderful things about the restaurants chosen for this tour is that each of them seems to have an historical story or anecdote that makes them special.  Fanney related yet another of these stories to us as we headed towards our next dining experience – but you’ll have to do the tour in order to find out why this guy is special and occupies a very important position in the restaurant we entered next 🙂

Previous owner

Foodie Tour stop 5: Fermented Shark, Lobster Soup and Minke Whale

If you mention traditional Icelandic food, those who know something about it will come back with “don’t they eat fermented shark?”  Why, yes they do!  Or rather, they did (current Icelanders are far more likely to opt for a hot dog) and this is what we were going to try next.

Given that Hákarl is an “acquired taste” we were presented with small cubes to sample.  I’d actually tried some previously with the Icelandic family with who I was staying, but this time around the ammonia was much stronger (to me it had elements of a REALLY strong brie).  I don’t find the taste horrible, in fact I was surprised at how mild it was, but I also wouldn’t rush to order it I have to admit.

Cubes of fermented shark on the Traditional Icelandic Foods tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik

Cubes of fermented shark

We actually had 3 plates in this restaurant (!) and next up was lobster (langostine) soup – one of the most popular dishes on the menu.  This was really creamy with a slight thai-red-curry flavour and very tasty.  

Lobster soup as part of the Traditional Icelandic Food Tour by Your Friend in Reykjavik

However, by far my favourite dish of the whole tour was the third dish we tried – Minke whale with honey mustard dressing.  I’d tried whale previously in Greenland and liked it – but this was beyond awesome!  Tender, juicy, and with a perfect balance of spices.  Oh. My. Goodness.  

Minke Whale steak on the Traditional Food lovers tour by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Minke Whale with honey mustard dressing

I know some people won’t even entertain the thought of eating whale based on what we hear about whale hunting in the media (actually I’d be surprised if such people were still reading given I opened with eating puffin…), but Minke whales have never been endangered and there is a yearly quota (of less than 0.03% of the stocks around Iceland) that is strictly adhered to.  In other words, it is sustainably hunted (as it is in Greenland) and is more “green” than importing beef or chicken from other countries.

Foodie Tour stop 6: Special Fish and Chips

As you can imagine, by this time we were all quite stuffed with food (though I could have squeezed in a couple more serves of whale).  But we weren’t done yet as we waddled a few more blocks into a restaurant famous for its fish bites served with 9 different sauces.  Somehow I was going to have to make room…

Fish and chips with 9 different sauces

3 different types of fish. Awesome chips. 9 different flavours of sauce. What combination to choose?!

The fish on offer depends on what has been caught fresh that day – in our case: Ling, Cod and Tusk – and is cooked in a special batter that is very light and more like a Japanese tempura.  The sauces are all based on Skyr (a high protein yoghurt-like dairy product that is very traditional to Iceland) and the sauces we were presented with were: mango, honey mustard, coriander, tzatiki, chilli, lemon & dill, basil, tartare, and truffle & tarragon.  Unfortunately I couldn’t keep straight which one was which (they weren’t labelled) but my tastebuds surprised me by indicating that mango was my favourite (I wouldn’t have thought to pair it with fish and chips) followed by honey mustard, then coriander.  It turns out almost everybody’s favourite is the mango 🙂

Foodie Tour stop 7: Skyr Dessert

Beyond stuffed, we still had one last dish to sample on this incredible foodie tour.  Fortunately it was dessert, and everybody knows there is a whole separate stomach for dessert … right?

We actually ended up back at the very first restaurant we started at for our Skyr dessert and an Icelandic beer.

Skyr Dessert to top off the incredible Food Lovers Tour by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Skyr, cream cheese, biscotti, pistachio and berry jam “Skyr Dessert”. Heaven on a plate!

Tasting similar to a cheesecake, this was another of my favourites for the tour.  And having eaten mine quicker than the others, I was looking longingly over for scraps … none of which were forthcoming.  It was too good!  And a perfect way to finish off our trip through modern and more traditional Icelandic fare.

Fanney left us each with a chocolate bar that incorporated Icelandic liquorice (oh how I love Icelandic liquorice!) and I eventually managed to bid my fellow foodies adieu and stagger back home with my over-extended but very happy stomach.

Recommendation

I absolutely recommend the Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik.  The food is amazing (and very plentiful!), the stories about the establishments are really interesting, and Fanney had loads of information about Icelandic food preparation and food culture in general.

There is not a lot of walking involved – everything is contained within a few blocks of the centre of Reykjavik.  If anything – a little more walking between courses would have been beneficial 🙂

Top Tip:  perhaps don’t eat breakfast or lunch beforehand!

CostISK 14,990  (USD$125)

Time: about 3 hours

 

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Icelandic Mythical Walk – Reykjavik Folklore tour

I’ve always loved stories and am an avid reader of fantasy novels.  So of course the Icelandic Mythical Walk with its focus on Icelandic folk tales, piqued my interest – particularly after hearing about Icelandic trolls during the In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek, and the Hidden Folk (aka Elves) on the Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides.

I met the rest of the group at the basalt pillars in Ingolfstorg square in the centre of Reykjavik where Stefan, our guide from Your Friend in Reykjavik, kicked off our adventure into storyland by explaining just how and why folk tales are so important in Icelandic culture.  You have to do something to keep yourself entertained during the long, cold winter nights right?!

Stefan introducing the Icelandic Mythical Walk at the basalt pillars in Ingolfstorg Square - Reykjavik

Stefan introducing the Icelandic Mythical Walk at the basalt pillars in Ingolfstorg Square

From the site of the first church and oldest tree (150 years) in Iceland

Stefan telling stories at the site of the first church in Iceland on the Icelandic Mythical walk by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Learning about how to raise the dead on the site of the first church in Iceland

to the beautiful park surrounding Landakotskirkja (the Catholic cathedral in Reykjavik)

Stefan telling stories in the park near Landakotskirkja on the Icelandic Mythical walk by Your Friend in Reykjavik

to the statue of Úr Álögum (The Breaking of the Spell) by Einar Jónsson on the shore of Tjörnin Lake

Stefan telling stories near the Úr Álögum statue on the Icelandic Mythical walk by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Stefan kept us enthralled and laughing our heads off with tales of how to raise the dead (it is apparently a long process involving a rolling pin!), to how to acquire a pair of necro-pants (because this is something we all should know), to the 13 Santa Clauses of Iceland (no, they are not as jolly as the one most of us have in our own countries), to how the “hidden people”, or Elves, became invisible to humans.

An animated Stefan in mid-story

Stefan was such a great storyteller!

For example, our tour led us past this rock in one of the oldest suburbs of Reykjavik near the centre of downtown.  It is actually an Elf home!

An Elf rock near the centre of downtown Reykjavik

An Elf rock near the centre of downtown Reykjavik

Stefan explained that as Reykjavik expanded, the city tried everything to move this rock but nothing worked (the marks are scars from the different techniques they tried to move it).  So they brought in an expert – an Elf negotiator – who had a chat with the Elves asking whether their rock could be relocated.  The Elves agreed but asked for a week to prepare.  When the construction workers returned a week later – the rock was easily moved to its current location! 

Stefan explaining about Elf rocks on the Icelandic Mythical Folklore Tour by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Stefan explaining about Elf rocks like the one we’d just seen the public park behind us

Apparently most Icelanders don’t deny the existence of Elves and it is quite a common occurrence that if someone wants to move a large rock like this, people will get sick, machinery will break down, etc., to the point where Icelanders just know not to mess with it!  If you don’t believe me – do a quick Google search and see how many articles you find about road construction (in particular) being thwarted by these “hidden people”.

Of course, no folklore tour would be complete without a stop in a cemetery, and this was no exception.  We spent quite a bit of time walking the narrow paths guarded by massive trees in the beautiful Hólavallagarður cemetery just outside of downtown Reykjavik listening to Stefan’s spooky stories!

Stefan scaring us with more Icelandic stories in Hólavallagarður cemetery in Reykjavik on the Icelandic Mythical Folklore Walk by Your Friend in Reykjavik

Stefan scaring us with more Icelandic stories in Hólavallagarður cemetery in Reykjavik

Obviously you need to do the tour to hear the stories and dip your toe into the rich folklore of Iceland that has inspired storytelling around the world (most notably, Tolkien).  I’m certainly not going to spoil all the fun here! 

Million thanks to Stefan my fellow folklore aficionados for a really great evening!

Our Icelandic Mythical Walk group having fun with the group photo

Great fun bunch of people

Recommendation

The Icelandic Mythical Walk with Your Friend in Reykjavik is a really fun way to spend an evening in Reykjavik and immerse yourself in one of the key aspects of Icelandic culture.  Stefan is a great storyteller and we had loads of laughs!

Cost: 3,900ISK (~USD$33)

Time: ~3 hours

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