This post is part of a series of stories from my 2018 trip to Iceland.
Click here for all posts.

Sixteen years ago, I spent a semester in Europe with my friend Jenni. We attended classes outside Venice, Italy and traveled as far as our Euro Rail passes and college-student-sized bank accounts would take us every possible weekend. Looking back, that semester was truly the beginning of a life of curiosity and wanderlust for me. Jenni probably deserves credit for planting some of the first seeds of “Why not?” attitude in a rule-following military brat like me.

Jenni and Sarah in Venice, Italy // Fall 2002

All these years later, we still talk about that semester and our travels. We’ve talked for YEARS about getting back to Europe together, so a few months ago when Jenni said, “meet me in Iceland this summer!” — there was only one answer.

Why not?!

We made plans to rendezvous in Reykjavik and see what adventure we could find from there.

We’d rented a car so getting into the city from the airport was simple, and upon arriving in Reykjavik — Iceland’s capital city — we were most interested in finding our hotel and some food. We were exhausted after a day of travel, but far too excited to rest. It was Jenni’s birthday, too! — not the reason for our trip but a happy travel coincidence — so we wanted to eat somewhere delicious.

Y’all. I generally don’t take photos of my food, but the food on this trip was something I wanted to remember — and we truly had some food that looked as good as it tasted, so I’m glad I did. We followed our noses and our hotel desk’s recommendation to Sæta Svínið Gastropub — or The Pretty Pig — a few blocks away. And I had THE MOST perfectly grilled fish I’d ever eaten in my life.

Grilled ling at Sæta Svínið Gastropub (The Pretty Pig)

We’d dropped our bags at the hotel before heading out so after dinner we set off on foot, exploring the quirky little city of Reykjavik. Our hotel was on the marina so we weren’t far from the water — a perfect place to see some of the city’s iconic locations: Harpa and The Sun Voyager. Harpa is a concert hall and venue that is absolutely stunning with honeycomb glass and vast open spaces to be filled with music, art, and social events. The Sun Voyager is a sculpture right on the water, “an ode to the sun” commissioned to commemorate Reykjavik’s 200th anniversary in 1990.

Perhaps this is a good time to mention the daylight situation in the Land of the Midnight Sun. These photos by the water were taken after 9:30pm. This one, from the balcony of our hotel room, was taken at 11:30.

In the summer months, the sun never really sets — and since natural wonders like waterfalls and sweeping green landscapes don’t have business hours… this had all the makings of a trip filled with very long days – packed to the gills with adventure. The travel day eventually got to us and we headed back to the hotel to draw the blackout curtains, take advantage of the complimentary sleep masks — and get some rest.

Honestly, we weren’t looking to spend considerable time in the city. We had a specific quest for visiting Iceland — that I’ll get into in a separate story — and it required hitting the road pretty early the next morning and waving goodbye to adorable, quirky Reykjavik in the rear-view mirror. We’d received a breakfast recommendation from a friend, and it turned out to be so good we made time to go again when we came back to town to fly out. Sandholt Bakery, you inspired more food photos.

Reykjavik, Part 2:

When we got back to the city the night before our flights home, we did a bit more wandering and stumbled across some fantastic street art — my favorite. (Above, I included some photos of the funky, wooden sculptures in the lobby of our hotel.)

And, another Reykjavik landmark, Hallgrímskirkja Church. The tallest church — and nearly the tallest building — in all of Iceland. The beautiful church is punctuated by a statue of explorer Leif Erikson. Again, we were out past closing hours — but not past “dark” — so we couldn’t see the inside of the church. There’s a viewing platform from the top that offers a 360 view of the city I’m sure is amazing.

Ok ok. Last but certainly not least, we did it. IT. We tried the traditional (notorious?) Icelandic food Anthony Bourdain called “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing”. Hákarl — or fermented shark.

And as if tiny cubes of fermented Greenland shark are not appetizing enough — it gets better! Traditionally, hákarl is to be washed down with a shot of Brennivin — or what the locals call “black death schnapps”.

The toothpicks are necessary because we were advised not to touch it with our bare hands.

So, toothpicks and Brennivin at the ready — we opened the tiny jar of cubed meat (that arrived at our table sealed tightly) and listened to our waitress’ instructions to chew three times then swallow. Jenni kept chewing — thinking it would go down easier — and I think she still regrets it… Our waitress saw this and tried to interject, “no no! Don’t keep chewing!” By this time we were laughing and choking down the Brennivin and assuring our waitress we wouldn’t be needing the other four cubes of hákarl that come in a “serving”. #LiveLikeBourdain

If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.
– Anthony Bourdain

We only scratched the surface of the city, and I know there’s always more to see. But there will be a next time! I feel like a tease by starting with the bookends of our trip spent in the city — but I promise there are waterfalls and wild ponies and thermal pools AND PUFFINS — coming soon. Until then!

This post is part of a series of stories from my 2018 trip to Iceland.
Click here for all posts.

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One thought on “Introduction to Iceland and a Taste of Reykjavik

  1. As always a great story and great pictures.

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