Today was pretty low key. We had a lazy start to the day with another fantastic breakfast at our guesthouse (the owner makes amazing carrot marmalade, I didn’t even know that was a thing but apparently it is. So good). Our plan was to wander the weekend flea market and see what we could find for souvenirs that don’t require selling a kidney to afford, and maybe try some of the weirder Icelandic foods. I’d read that you can purchase smaller amounts of the fermented shark at the market so I was hoping for that.
Side note on said fermented shark (Hakarl)…..apparently, back in the day, the shark was doused in urine and buried and left to rot until it was ready for consumption. Nowadays, the shark is fermented and no urine is involved. It supposedly smells to high heaven and tastes like ammonia. Yep, gotta get me some of that. No idea why it made it onto my list of things to do in iceland. At least it was the only really weird thing I decided to try and not the sour sheep’s balls which sound even grosser.
The market building was nice and close to our guesthouse and was not nearly as busy as I’d expected. It’s quite small and only really took about 20 minutes to wander around. Most of the flea market stalls are similar…. woolen goods or novelty items from china or lava stone jewelry or books/china/housewears…… The prices were definitely better than in stores but there wasn’t much we really wanted. We did end up getting a couple of lava stone keychains to make into christmas ornaments for our memento of the trip.
The food area is even smaller but we did get to sample a few things…. more lava bread, a sweet and delicious tastes-like-christmas gingery layer cake, kleina (icelandic doughnuts), the popular dried fish snack, more chocolate covered liquorice treats, and…… yes, I did get a tiny container of Hakarl for only 200 krona (about $2.33) – what a bargain!! We didn’t try it at the market though, we took it with us to eat later.
After the market we did the rest of our souvenir shopping. It was a pretty paltry amount of stuff even by our standards, we just couldn’t justify the prices. Felt wrapped soap for $40, for one bar of soap….. cheap plastic to-go coffee cup for $25….. but we did manage to find a few things.
We walked to the oft photographed Sun Voyager sculpture so we too could have a picture of it. It is very picturesque I suppose. Just down from there, sitting on a rock overlooking the water, is where we finally broke out the shark. As soon as the lid was popped off the tiny container the smell was readily apparent. Not a delicious smell by any means. We each took a toothpick and speared a morsel, looked askance at each other, and took a bite. As not delicious as it smells…. but not as awful as I’d expected either…. at least until the ammonia hits the back of your throat. I’m glad to be able to say I gave it a try and I certainly never need to again.
We went back to the guesthouse to pack before going to the Harpa to see How To Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes. Amazingly, packing wasn’t too hard. I guess it helped that we bought next to no souvenirs so stuffing everything back into our backpacks was not so bad. The walk to Harpa is only about 10 minutes which was nice given that it was once again raining. There are no assigned seats so it was a good thing we were a little early and managed to get seats together. There’d been some kind of glitch and the show was oversold so the start was a bit delayed while they tried to find ways to accommodate all the extra people.
The show itself was cute, not fantastic but cute, and now we can say we’ve been to a show in Iceland. The actor gave lessons in how to be come and Icelander…… Be rude, The correct way to walk, Wash (referring to cleaning oneself prior to getting into one of the hot pools), Love Balls (sour sheep’s testicles), The correct way to speak, Be right all the time and argue about everything…. and a few more. It was a bit of a history lesson and comedy show. Again, not terrific, but not bad.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Icelandic Fish and Chips for a late dinner. We ordered Wolfish with crispy potatoes and tartar sauce, what we ended up with was wolfish (I hope), rosemary potatoes, and tzatziki…. still delicious though. While we waited for our to-go order to be prepared, we toured through the volcano rock/gem exhibit in the attached shop. It was really interesting actually. Definitely made us wish we could find some cool rocks to bring home. Our order was called, we brought our (incorrect) food to the hotel and wolfed down our wolfish (sorry, had to), finished packing and put ourselves to bed!
Next morning we were up bright and early to catch our lava tube caving tour! Luckily another couple was up early so breakfast was ready and we were able to have one last bowlful of skyr and some fresh from the oven banana bread before heading out. We were met by a nice young lady who thanked us for changing the pickup location as our guesthouse is tough to get to. There were two other couples to pick up and we were on our way for the 25 minute drive out of reykjavik to the cave we would be exploring. She stopped at one point to show us the traditional fish drying racks they use to make their favourite snack. Currently there were only cod heads drying and she told us that they used to throw away the heads but they had found a market selling them to Uganda. Crazy. We arrived at the cave site and were given hard hats with headlamps (I would learn to be very grateful for the hard hat on the tour), and we made our way through the very lunar landscape to the tunnel opening. We carefully picked our way over rocks to enter the tunnel, turned on our headlamps and started in. It’s not a very long tour, this is kind of an entry level cave/tunnel experience who’s big draw is that it’s close to reykjavik and easy to get to. That’s not to diminish how cool the tunnel is, it’s really interesting to wander through a lava tunnel and check out the various formations and rocks and colours left behind. At one point our guide had us all turn off our headlamps so we could understand just how deep the darkness is down there. You really can’t see your hand in front of your face, there’s just nothing. It’s an eerie feeling knowing that you would be completely lost if your batteries died and you were alone. The have to rescue a few people a year from exactly that fate. I like the tunnelling and caving, I think it’s super cool to see what’s down there but I have learned that I’m not an underground person. I bump my head all the time, I’m awkward as all heck and was definitely the caboose of the group. Mom however is in her element, scrambling over rocks like a subterranean mountain goat. We were able to explore a few different tunnel offshoots before it was time to leave. It seemed like we must have beaten all the other tours to the tunnel as there were a few groups just starting down as we were leaving. It was nice to have had the place all to ourselves.
After the short drive back to Reykjavik we were dropped off at the bus terminal to catch the airport shuttle to Keflavik Airport. We arrived a tiny bit earlier than we’d anticipated (5 hours before flight time) but somehow managed to kill time fairly well. The airport is really nice, at least in the shopping/dining concourse. It’s organized and calm and they have the cutest little baggage carts to wheel around. When we finally decided we should head to our gate (and a good thing we did too, we had to go through yet another passport control area we weren’t expecting), we found just chaos. There were four gates of flights going out within 15 minutes of each other in an area most airports would have for one to two gates at most. No seating at all and people just milling about packed in together like cattle. No announcements really, you’d just see people at one area or another start to surge forward for no discernible reason. We were finally let into the next waiting area but not let up to the plane and heard them making announcements that our flight was in the stages of final boarding but no-one had yet been let on the aircraft. It was very claustrophobic and people were getting very cranky. Finally we were let on board. It was strange that it was a free for all boarding when the flight to Keflavik had started with pre boarding, then business class, then zones…. not on the way out, it’s every man for himself. But we finally got settled into our seats and, lucky for us, we had a row to ourselves. Yay! The flight home was again uneventful and mediocre (I’m still sad there’s not even a tiny free snack on the flight, just beverages)… we watched a couple of movies, tried to sleep a bit, and poof – we were in Edmonton with three hours until our flight to Calgary. The time went by fairly quickly though, a bite of dinner, a much anticipated pumpkin spice latte, and it was almost time to board. Woo hoo.
And thus ended our journey to Iceland. All in all it’s a place I would definitely recommend visiting. It was too bad that the after affects of the tropical storm had caused all the rain and cloudiness so there was never a chance to see the northern lights. We loved all our tours and our guides were amazing. Guesthouses are the way to go for accommodations…. and grocery store food is helpful to bulk up your food budget. I would certainly like to go back in the summer and do some hiking, it would be a fantastic place to explore further.
Hard to believe it went so quickly and we’re home again. Probably even harder to believe is that we leave for Japan in about 3 weeks! Yikes! I’d best get on booking some accommodations and things to do!!! Iceland is definitely well worth a visit.