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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Iceland Trip - March 2017

Last month, my husband and I went to Iceland 5 days. It's always been on my bucket list and we both wanted to see the Northern Lights. Iceland is beautiful... you can literally point your camera in any direction and take a great picture.

We booked a 3 day tour through Guide to Iceland. The package included transportation, 2 hotel stays, free breakfast, and all the equipment needed for any hikes and excursions. You can also rent hiking boots from them for an extra fee. It was a great deal. We had a designated shuttle bus with the best driver, Kristjan! He drove us through a snow storm on the 2nd day with no problems, while we saw a bunch of stranded cars on the side of the road. And our tour guide, Helgi, was the best. He was funny, knowledgeable, and easy going. We saw lots of other tour guides who basically just gave history lessons to their groups, how drab. We were even ahead of schedule some days, so he took us on detours like his family farm where we got to see Icelandic horses, and go to a milking farm where we saw live cows and got the freshest ice cream ever. I highly recommend booking a tour with them.

But since this is a FOOD blog, I'm going to focus more on the food we had in Iceland. The food in Iceland was overall really good, but you have to prepare yourself when you go there. Everything is insanely expensive! You can certainly try to go to the grocery stores and prep your own food, but after a certain point, we gave up trying to save money and just enjoyed ourselves. Cuz when will we be in Iceland again, you know? They import almost everything there, plus most of the economy is based on tourism, so I think that factors into the cost a lot. The good thing though... pretty much everywhere in Iceland takes credit cards (with the chip), so you don't need to exchange any cash at all! That was super convenient.

For our nights staying in the city, Reykjavik, we stayed at Fosshotel Lind. It was still pricey for the type of hotel, but it was definitely one of the more "affordable" options that isn't a hostel. But the hotel was clean and the staff was nice so we enjoyed it. Plus the breakfasts were complimentary.

We had a day in the city before our tour so we went around exploring. The downtown area of Reykjavik is really cute, lots of restaurants, shops, and cafes. We stopped by a cafe called C is for Cookie for a late lunch and tea time. We got one Cheese Toast with Egg, a cookie, a cup of tea, and a cappuccino for a little over $30~.

For dinner we hit up Noodle Station, one of the more "affordable" eateries in town. I did a bunch of Google searches for cheap eats in Iceland and this place keeps popping up. It was packed, as expected since it's slightly cheaper, but it's still $15 for a bowl of noodles. They only have 3 options on the menu... beef, chicken, or vegetarian. We got one of the beef and one of the chicken. Walking in, it brought back so many memories of my childhood because it smells just like Taiwanese beef noodle soup. But it certainly didn't taste like it... Sigh. It was decently good but the broth was quite sweet which caught me off guard. The beef was definitely better than the chicken. The portion was enough to satiate hunger, but not enough to make you full. Good thing we had such a late lunch, so the portion size was enough.

Day 1 of Tour:
We got picked up from the hotel at 8:30AM and we were on our way! The bus ride was long since we had a lot of distance to cover. If you are prone to car sickness, these guided tours may not be a good idea... During the day we just stopped at rest stops and got pre-made sandwiches and snacks to get us through. We saw several waterfalls and did the glacier hike. The glacier hike was 3 hours and awesome. One of my favorite excursions on the whole trip. After a packed day, we got to our hotel really late but our guide had sent our dinner orders in early so we didn't have to wait long to eat. How nice of him! :) We stayed at Hotel Hofn, known for their lobster. We were told these were small lobsters, not the typical ones you get at a restaurant in Dallas. It was 9PM by the time we got in... so tired! The food was pretty awesome. But it was definitely really heavy for eating so late at night. I got the Lobster Pizza. And my husband got the Lobster Ravioli. The ravioli was divine! The 2 dishes together was about $65~.

Day 2 of Tour:
We went to the Glacier Lagoon on the 2nd day. It is breathtaking. One of my favorite sights of the tour... but damn it was coldddddd that day. High winds and snow, real feel was about 20 degrees. Brrrr! After about 20 minutes in the cold, I couldn't take it anymore, so I went to the little shop by the parking lot and we got some snacks... which was basically lunch. A bottle of water, a yogurt, and a sloppily made (but surprisingly tasty) sandwich. $16. Yikes.
And bottled Icelandic water is so good, y'all! Super refreshing and crisp. Then it was off to explore an ice cave! 

We had a really late lunch at another rest stop. They served hot foods cafeteria style. We totally splurged cuz my husband saw Lamb Shanks. So he got the Lamb Shank platter, with potato au gratin and salad for $26~. I just got a plain Cheeseburger sans fries... and it was still $9. My husband loved the lamb though, so it was worth it.... I guess. :P

Dinner was also really late since there's just so much driving from location to location. Our guide recommended a great restaurant by the hotel for dinner so the entire tour group went! Eldsto Art Cafe. Since it was such a big group, the food took forever to come out. Finally we were too hungry, so I went to the front display case and got a slice of cake. haha. Chocolate Caramel Cake $9~.
I ordered the Veggie Panini but added Bacon. It was yummy and a lot of food. $18~
My husband got the Countryside Sandwich (dark baguette, BBQ pork, marinated red onion, pepper cheese, BBQ sauce, side salad) $25~ His sandwich was delicious!!!! But quite heavy, especially at 9:30 at night. XP
My friend, who happened to be in Iceland at the same time, joined the tour too... she got the Fish and Chips (fresh cod, deep fried in homemade orly batter; Served with fresh salad, french fries, and sweet and sour sauce) $30~ What an amazing looking dish! It was so yummy! Can't go wrong when you order cod in Iceland. It's one of the only things they source themselves. It's always so flaky and fresh!

Day 3 of Tour:
It's Golden Circle day! We started with the Golden Waterfall (Gullfoss), which was another one of my favorite sights of the tour. What a grand waterfall! Then we hit up the Geysir hot spring area. Did you know that the word Geysir actually means "erupting hot springs"? We learned that Icelandic names are all very literal, and they combine descriptive words together, that's why the names are all so long! Strokkur is the main geyser that still erupts every 5 minutes or so and it's pretty cool. 

They had a large rest area with lots of shops and restaurants by the geysers, so we had a pretty good lunch there. I got the Pork Belly plate.. cuz I mean.. just look at that crispy skin!!! Wowzers! I HAD to get it. $28~ That skin did not disappoint!
My husband got a Chicken and Bacon Sandwich. And a slice of Apple Pie. I don't remember how much those cost, but I think we spent close to $50-55 for lunch. Geez.

Our guide told us after lunch that we've been so good on time that we have time for a detour to get some ice cream! He took us to this milk farm, Efstidalur II, where you can see the cows, and inside the store, there's an ice cream shop. I mean... can't get any fresher than that, right? I got a scoop of Rhubarb Coconut and my husband got the Oreo Biscuits. Yum! $4.60 each scoop with waffle cone (which is made in house). We made such good time! We were back in the city and checked into the hotel by dinner time.

We (including my friend) decided to go check out a restaurant in Reykjavik that our guide had recommended where we can get some Icelandic delicacies... Puffin, Whale, and the infamous Fermented Shark. So we walked in the snow flurries into downtown to Icelandic Bar (Islenski Barinn). I'm glad we had 3 of us there so we can share these dishes cuz they were pretty expensive. We decided to get all 3 delicacies... cuz why not? (Even though I was really against the fermented shark from the beginning... it just sounds horrible.)
Fin Whale (in a jar, citrus dressing, pickled chili, herbs) $15~
Grilled Puffin (in a jar, blueberries, skyr, pickled red onion, herbs) $15~ I liked both the whale and puffin. Surprisingly they were both red meat. Whale was basically like beef and not that blubbery like some people have mentioned.

Fermented Shark (6 pieces in a jar; dried haddock with butter) $14~ Plus a glass of Brennivin $8~ The Bennivin is a vodka chaser, and I really think you need this to tolerate the shark. Single most disgusting bite I've had in my life! No joke. (I hope you are not eating when reading this...) But it tastes like puke. Literally. XP I also made the mistake of smelling it first before eating it. It smells about 10x worse than it tastes, and it tastes gross! I managed to swallow half a piece. My friend had to spit it out. My husband, however, tolerated it. But after he ran out of the vodka, he said the flavor definitely got more pungent. I would advise you to save your money and taste buds to just skip this one when you're in Iceland. Don't say I didn't warn you! I can smell/taste it when I think of it.... UGH.

So we had to order some regular food to get this taste out of our mouths!
My husband got the Reindeer Burger (camembert, lettuce, sweet pepper, wild berry jam, garlic mayo, sweet potato fries) $34~ Slightly gamey but not bad. But definitely not worth $34 in my opinion. Ha!

Sigga's Burger (beef, cheese, pepper cheese sauce, lettuce, sweet pepper, Icelandic pancake filled with bacon and cheese on top; waffle fries) $23~ My friend got this. It's interesting because the top "bun" is actually a pancake. I thought this was better than the reindeer burger. And those waffle fries were yum.

Fish of the Day (served over pasta, topped with arugula) $26~ I don't remember what fish this was... either Salmon or Arctic Char, both of which I love. It was a great dish. I loved the creamy pasta, and also the pile of veggies on top.

Our last day in Iceland, we had the morning free so we went for a walk into the city. My husband wanted to go find the famous hotdog stand. Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. It also comes up as affordable eating in Reykjavik. I found out that the hotdogs were made of lamb so my interest immediately disappeared. So we went to go find it for him. We finally found it and there was no line! Woot. I noticed the price had gone up a dollar since the article I found online. It is now $4 a hotdog. And... it doesn't look all that appetizing. Not sure what that sauce is on top, and my husband couldn't quite figure it out either. But he liked it. That's all that matters.

For lunch we went to The Laundromat Cafe. I had seen it online and it looked so cute! And it really does have a laundromat downstairs.
Baileys Latte $18~ So $$$ but deeeelicious! It's our last day so whatevs. 

Icelandic Cod (Icelandic cod in breadcrumbs with roasted potatoes, lemon pepper and sea salt; served with chili mayonnaise, beet-slaw, rucola, and a lemon) $27~ Expensive lunch but OMG Icelandic cod is fantastic. Just perfectly tender and fluffy and the breading was perfect. It was a fantastic dish. The beet slaw was quite interesting too, paired with the fish well.

That afternoon we were picked up from our hotel for our Blue Lagoon visit! We booked a tour through and it included roundtrip transportation from our hotel to the Blue Lagoon, plus the Standard entry (entry and silica mask) into the Lagoon. Once we got there, we upgraded to the Comfort package which includes a towel, a drink at the bar, and the algae mask in addition to the silica mask. I'd say the upgrade was worth it. The free drink pretty much pays for the upgrade anyways. 

I got the Blueberry Skyr Smoothie $9~ and my husband got the Green is Good smoothie (banana, mango, spinach, ginger, orange juice) $9~

After getting back to the city from the Blue Lagoon, we were starving! So we went to a Thai place that was just around the corner from our hotel. Banthai. They had a pretty big menu so it was hard to decide what to get, but I also tried to pick something that wasn't ridiculously priced. This restaurant was actually the one bad experience we had in Iceland. Everyone in Iceland is so nice and even though the food is expensive, it's always been really good. The service at Banthai was terrible!! Our waitress looked like she didn't want to be there. The service was really slow and it took forever to get our food. But get this... when you order the curry, it doesn't come with rice. It's an additional $3. WTF! How do you eat curry WITHOUT rice? And the curry dish was already like $20. Geez. So none of us ordered it. I saw the table next to us had ordered it and it was a very small portion. Then our food came and they were all pretty small too.

Kao Pad Panang (fried rice with choice of meat, stir-fried in panang curry sauce with string beans, bell pepper, and egg) $18~

Pad Mee Luang (pan fried egg noodles with choice of meat, carrots, mixed vegetables) $18~

The Keflavik airport is great... when you are flying domestic (meaning anywhere in Europe). There's a great area with cafes, food vendors, and shops. It's like hanging out at a mall. Our flight was super early in the morning but good thing all the stores were open. So we hung out at Joe & The Juice until it was time to go to our gate.
Sex Me Up (passion fruit, apple, ginger) $8~ That ginger was spicyyyyy!
Avo Shake (avocado, banana, vanilla milk) $8~ Yum. Loved this.

We also got some sandwiches for the flight since they don't provide food. 

Peace out Iceland, it's been great! Now onward to Amsterdam!!! Stay tuned for my Amsterdam post. :)


Here are some of our scenic pictures for your viewing pleasure. :)

Seljalandsfoss - one of the many waterfalls we saw
Skógafoss - look! a rainbow!
You can climb 320+ stairs to the top and see the waterfall from top down.
Our view during our hike to the glacier.
Glacier! We're heading up there!
Top of the glacier view. 3 hour hike total. Loved it!
Diamond Beach. These are chunks of glacier ice that wash ashore.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. One of my favorite sights.
Inside the Ice Cave.
The ice is so blue!
Gullfoss - Golden Waterfall. One of my favorite sights.

It's so grand!
Strokkur - it erupts every 4-5 minutes or so.
Thingvellir National Park. Where 2 continents meet! Parts of Game of Thones is also filmed here.