Monday, July 31, 2017

Isafjordur Diaries Day 2

11:00 sunrise in Isafjordur

I am writing in the same location and at almost the exact same time as yesterday. I did not have the strength to write any more last night, after I got the news that our flight was cancelled. The text came just after we set our bags down at the library. I immediately panicked and sat in a corner and cried. So much for the library experience for me.
I spent the next few hours at the hotel room strategizing and preparing myself mentally to stay here one more night. We left the house again at 4:00pm only to get groceries at the store and pick up Thai takeout. I then slept from 5:00pm until might. Awaking for a brief few hours to watch TV and eat the leftover Thai food.
I have never met a darkness like this. It seduced me to sleep. It is bewitching. I slept with it. Awaking at 10:00am today. When I see the darkness, I don’t want to go outside. I want to hide from it in my dreams. Last night was a terrible loud wind. It frightened me.
I had a dream last night that we were at the airport waiting for our flight. As we waited, a plane landed. I thought it was our Air Iceland flight and I was overjoyed that we would be leaving. But it was a private jet. I wondered what I could do to talk the owner into taking us with him. It turned out that I knew not only the owner but also the pilot, perhaps from previous dreams. The pilot was a rugged Icelander with a beard, and the owner was a clean-shaven dark haired man. We caught up on old time, we hugged, we flirted, I wanted them to take us with them, out of this place.
When I awoke at 5:00am I was happy. My dream had calmed me. But then the wind picked up. I know now that I can sleep to any sound, be it boisterous conversations or train announcements, or snoring, or the television, but I cannot sleep to the sound of raging wind. This wind shredded through buildings and tore holes in the sky.
I could not write. I could not sleep. I could do nothing.
I asked myself:
When is the time to write and when is the time to live?
When is the time to write and when is the time to feel?
When is the time to write and when is the time to experience?
Had a total mental breakdown this morning. Complete with shaking and crying and hyperventilating into a towel. Even now I am not completely calm. I am anxiously awaiting confirmation that our flight will leave. Once I know it will leave, then everything will be alright with me. Then I will be able to write again.
- November 27th, Husid in Isafjordur, 11:58am

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What I ate in Reykjavik – the sequel

Some of my best food memories from traveling take place in Reykjavik. Not of traditional Icelandic food – which is pretty good and interesting – but of the awesome world-class cuisine in this charming city.
I had plenty to write about the first time around, but there were some new winner in this year’s trip, so here I am posting again…

  1. Food I wished I had but didn't:  Indian – we didn’t have a chance since our schedule was cut short due to a trip to Isafjordur
  2. Food I had but wished I didn't:  Thai Chicken noodle soup. My second time at this popular place was so spicy it was almost inedible.
  3. What should have been on the list: Pastries and break.
  4. Biggest surprise: Dunkin Donuts is in Iceland and their local offering are fantastic!
  5. Most delicious meal: Devitos pizza has to be my second favorite pizza in the world after Filoti’s in Greece

When Dunkin Donuts opened only a few years ago its drew lines in the hundreds. I was able to try some hassle-free at the airport. The Caramel Glaze Donut was phenominal – with soft moist caramel that tastes so sugary and fresh.  I also tried the Icelandic flag donut which was beautiful, patriotic and cream filled!

Traditional Icelandic Stew and meal at Café Loki. CafeLoki is one of the best places to get traditional food that is both affordable and casual. We went here last time and on our return visit, I treated myself to the stew and Icelandic Plate.

Devitos pizza is really a treat – and at about $14 USD for an entire pizza, it’s one of the cheapest meals you can have in Iceland. The shop itself does not offer much in the way of seating, so I have only ever enjoyed Devitos from the comfort of an apartment.

Noodle Station is also a new surprise for Reykjavik, and they serve only three dishes: beef noodle soup, chicken noodle soup, and vegetable noodle soup. The first time we went we ordered the beef and I think I said “no spicy” which was still really spicy. The second time we ordered the chicken and I said “a little spicy” and it was almost inedible.

Brau is an amazing pastry shop that was right next door to our apartment. Every morning we ate buttery croissants, chocolate croissants, and other sweet and savory pastries. Who knew pastries in Iceland could be so good!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Isafjordur Diaries Day 1

Isafjordur as seen when we landed

I thought I would have time to write last night or read a book, but I slept 16 hours. What began as a nap at 4:30 ended at 8:30pm, past the closing time of the cafes and bars. We wondered the streets in search of food and settled on doritos chips and a wrap from a convenience store. We ate those chips on the dark walk home, and I couldn’t help but remember how yesterday I had seated a buttery croissant on the dark streets in the morning before we left Reykjavik. It seems like walking and eating in the dark is the theme of this trip. We we got to the hostel I watched about an hour of Mad Max with Jonason while sitting on comfy leather cushions. On our walked I had peeked into the windows of several homes and seen people watching TV in the warmth of their houses. I wanted to be like them. Maybe in that sense we had a very authentic night in  Isafjordur. It wasn’t spent the way I thought it would be: by sipping coffee at Braedraborg and having a cocktail at Edinborg, but it was spent the way locals spent it: indoors and warm in front of the television.
I am blown away by this beauty. I can’t put my camera down. I want to savor this view as much as possible. Especially since I arrived in a blizzard and know how precious it is. The snow can quickly seize these mountains and nothing is visible. I am thankful for the clear twilight we had, and for this clear morning. I didn’t realize how precious these views are - how quickly they can be taken by the weather. That’s why I didn’t linger in the library too long, and that is why I held off on going to the cafe, ultimately missing out on it altogether. I wanted to be outside, gazing at these mountains, taking pictures of them. I didn’t know when the next storm would come. I kept looking in the direction of the wind, uncertain of what it would bring.
- November 26th Husid in Isafjordur, 11:55am

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Isafjordur: the epic journey there and back

Isafjordur on arrival

Getting to Isafjordur in the winter is an adventure in and of itself. What is a popular tourist destination by ship and by car in the summer becomes inaccessible by both modes in the winter. The roads are often to treacherous to pass and the boats stay docked until spring. Therefore, our only way was by plane.

Flying domestically in Iceland is risky business. Not because of accidents, but because of delays and cancellations. Weather is very unpredictable and the strong winds and sudden storms make flying uncomfortable and turbulence frequent and severe. I knew all this before I booked a one-day trip to Isafjodur via plane. But I learned the hard way.

Walking to the airport at 9:00am
We awoke before dawn to board our flight. “Before dawn” meant 9:00am because Reykvakik darkness in the winter extends to practically 11:00am. We were lucky enough to be staying near the city center, so instead of taking a taxi or bus to Reykjavik Airport, we walked 30 minutes. It is a small airport and the walk is easy, with sidewalks all the way and only one terminal with one entrance and one gate.

boarding our propellor plane

We hung out by baggage claim while we waited to board. We really didn’t need to show up until 30 minutes before flying, but our American instincts made us arrive an hour early.

departing Reykjavik

The flight to Isafjordur was pretty smooth until we went in for our descent. That’s when the bumps and shakes started and they only became more extreme as we approached the ground. I looked out the window and saw a menacing snow storm brewing. Suddenly I felt the plane begin  rapid ascent back into the air. When we were back in stable air the pilot announced that a sudden snow storm had overtaken the town, and the strong winds were preventing us from landing safely, so we had to hold in the air and wait for the storm to pass. As the plane dangled in the air like an ornament on a Christmas tree, I felt the storm shake us from below. We were wobbling us and down for what felt like an eternity. Then with warning, the plane rushed down to the ground, and with a few big final shakes, landed smoothly on the runway of Isafjordur airport.

descending into the menacing snowstorm

I had emailed the tourist bureau before our trip and they informed me that the only way to the town was by a red shuttle. The shuttle service was one man who made his living from taking tourists and local to and from the airport on the one flight a day. The bureau also informed me that is was cash-only. This is very unusual for Iceland, because everywhere is Reykjavik takes credit cards, so it is almost completely unnecessary to every handle cash in the country…except when you take the red shuttle from Isafjordur airport. So we came prepared with cash is small bills, which the guy greatly appreciated, and no other tourist seemed to know the protocol. It really doesn’t matter where he drops you off in town, because you can talk across the whole place in 20 minutes.

we made it!

the shuttle bus into town
When it was time to leave I assumed the process would be just as simple. But oh how I was wrong…

First our flight back was delayed two hours for unknown reasons. We passed time by hanging out in a local restaurant and heading to Isafjordur’s amazing library. Then at the library I checked again and found that our flight was canceled and that we would be rebooked on a flight leaving the next day. This was really annoying as we had to spend another night in Isafjordur which was not planned or budgeted. Then on the morning of the second day, our flight was delayed by an hour again. This was a bad sign, as yesterday’s delay was what lead to the cancellation of our flight, so I was worried about yet another delay, but thankfully we took off only an hour an a half later than expected.

At the airport we watched the incoming plane land, and could feel how strong the wind was that afternoon. The pilot warned us of a rocky ascent and a turbulent ride back to Reykjavik, but at that point, I was just glad to be on the plane.

leaving town for Reykjavik

the half-melted mountains below us

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Reykjavik café catalog and observations

When touring the best of Reykjavik’s very eclectic and happenin’ café scene,  I noticed some interesting cultural observations in my three short days. I'm not sure if they tie back to Icelandic culture in general, or if the practices evolved simply for practical reasons. Either way, here is what you are likely to experience in Reykjavik’s cafes:

  • People bring their kids. Whether they are toddlers babies you will see a lot of little kids in Iceland’s cafes.
  • There if often no wifi, so it’s not exactly a laptop culture.
  • Many cafes are open early (around 7:00 or 8:00am and stay open late 10:00 or 11:00pm and serve alcohol.
  • All cafes serve chocolate in its many forms: chocolate bars, hot chocolate, swiss mocha, etc.
  • There are often more people reading newspapers and books than people on their laptops or phones.
  • There are no sizes for coffee (small, medium, large or 8oz, 12 oz, 16oz). Instead there are only two was you can order: single shot or double shot.
  • There are no syrups or flavored sweeteners – just plain sugar you can add yourself.

Now, as for the cafes themselves, let me introduce you to a few of my favorites:

My favorite place for it’s film noir atmosphere. We came in the morning before dawn, when the morning darkness felt like night. The coffee was excellent and the low tables and booths felt like great places for telling secrets.

Stofan Café
Amazing atmosphere with eclectic furniture and style. Both the top level and basement are very well lit and spacious. The coffee was good but not any better than Mokka or the other places I liked. That being said, if I lived in Reykjavik I would be a regular here.

C is for Cookie
With few hours in the Reykjavik winter, we headed to C is for Cookie at still-dark 8:00am for before our flight to Isafjordur. The White Chocolate Mokka was perfect, and I enjoyed the living room ambiance and chill vide of this café.

Reykjavik Roasters
This is probably the most popular coffee join in Reykjavik and arguably the best coffee in town. For some reason, it didn’t  quite fit with me. There were very few places to sit, the coffee was average, and I just didn’t fall in love with it like I do other places.

Laundromat Café
More of a restaurant than a café, this is a place you come to socialize, not play on your laptop. It’s usually crowded and noisy, but the drinks were outstanding.


A quirky café, popular for it’s eccentric atmosphere and the fact that it is open very late. The coffee is nothing to brag about, but working among the barrage of decorations was an interesting experience.

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