Exploding Gull Glass

Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
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Trip End Jan 26, 2009


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Flag of Iceland  ,
Friday, January 23, 2009

Icelandair certainly is quite nice.  The plane is broken into 3 sections.  Saga class is considered their first class.  Then there is Economy Comfort which comes with the luxuries that most Americans enjoyed just a year ago (free food, blankets, pillows, and headphones). And lastly is economy class for the rest of us going through a recession.  Although everything came with a price tag, the seats were very comfortable and there was free in-flight entertainment.  Normally this is a great thing, especially for a 5 hour flight to Europe, but I knew this entertainment was going to be bad when the blockbuster movie Icelandair was advertising was Spiderman (yes, the original).  What was even better is that the entertainment was touch screen, so throughout the flight the person behind you would poke the screen which then pushed your chair.  Besides Spiderman, there was Minority Report, Serendipity, and Something's Gotta Give to name a few.  There were also a few tv shows, music, games (with the purchase of a 2000 ISK game controller), and a gps map of plane statistics.  I watched a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother, but mostly listened to my Ipod and tried to catch some sleep with my new eye mask.

The meal options, which included different types of snacks and sandwiches, were fairly priced.  Icelandair certainly should be commended on their combo options.  Yes, there were your typical combination's of sandwich and chips; but you could also get a sandwich and headphones; or sandwich, game controller, and post card (which they mailed for you).  I got the trail mix while Amy got the sandwich, beer, and post card combo.  She gave me her beer, conveniently named Viking.  Ken enjoyed a sandwich as well while Jon slept pretty much from wheels up to landing.  

We landed 45 minutes early in KEF, which got us in at 6:00 am (8pm departure + 5 hour flight + 5 hour time change for the mathematically challenged).  After picking up our bags and clearing customs, we hopped on the Flybus to take us to Reykjavik.  It was still pitch black outside as we were driving in (now about 7:00 am).  It certainly felt like 2 in the morning, not only because we were not used to the time change, but also because there was no hint of light and no one was on the road.  We got to the Flybus main terminal around 7:30, transferred to a smaller bus where 12 of us were dropped off at 4 hotels.  Our hotel was the last of the 4, and you would think based on the route that they took that Reykjavik is a huge city.  Instead there were lots of one way streets, and we had to double back a few times.  Turns out the distance of the first hotel, to ours, the last, was a block apart.  

We stayed at the Hotel Reykjavik Centrum.  The location was great, right in the center of town, and was decorated in a modern ikea look.  The rooms were your typical European sized hotel, which was plenty for us.  Luckily we were able to check in at 8:00 am so we could shower and relax for a bit.  At 9:00 we decided to go down to have breakfast and get our day started.  Despite being extremely tired already from virtually no sleep on the plane, we pushed through so that the time change didn't affect us for all 4 days.  The breakfast buffet was good (again for European standards).  There were lots of hot and cold items including many breakfast meats, fish, eggs, cheeses, cereals, and breads.  Although I am not a coffee drinker, today I would make an exception.  The coffee (or kaffi in Icelandic) is quite good, which it needs to be since, per capita, they consume quite a bit (this is mostly because it is always dark there and they party till the wee hours of the morning).  

After breakfast we decided to go on a walking tour of Reykjavik.  It was now 10am and the sun was just peaking out.  We walked to the harbor where there was a Danish Battleship and a statue of some sailors.  Probably not an important statue, but I was eager to test out my camera.  Since it was quite windy around the water, we worked our way inland to stop at the tourist information center to figure out a game plan.  We continued up the street to Hallgrímskirkja, the main church in Reykjavik.  This church has fantastic architecture, but unfortunately was covered in scaffolding.  Despite the construction, we were able to go to the top to get great 360 degree views of the city (to see pictures of the view, go to the top and click on 'show all thumbnails', throughout the blog you will find extra goodies up there).  Also inside was one of the nicest organs I have ever scene.  

After Hallgrimur, we went across the street to get some more coffee and warm up.  Although Iceland in January is not ideal, it wasn't that cold either.  It was around 40 degrees for our entire trip, which was certainly warmer than back home in NYC and Philly.  The kaffi was supposed to wake us up, but instead was actually putting me to sleep at that point.  Just sitting at a table was not a good idea after 30 hours of almost no sleep.  So after looking through the map, Jon decided that we were close to a swimming pool.  The Icelandic people love their swimming, no matter what the temperature is.  There are pools everywhere, and they are all heated with the geothermal water.  We walked down the street, tried to enter the first building we thought was a pool, but it was closed.  Continued to walk further and came across another building.  Amy thought it was a school since there were a lot of little kids outside, but it turned out to be the pool.  Only Jon went in, as the rest of us didn't want to look like pedophiles.  Jon came out shaking his head as the pool reminded him of the YMCA (not that there is anything wrong with that).  

By now it was around 11:30 and the sun was finally at full strength.  We started to walk back because we had lunch reservations at 1:00, and weren't sure how to kill an hour and a half without falling asleep.  Then, we stumbled upon Laugavegur which is the main shopping street.  At this point, knowing Amy, I was actually worried we would miss lunch.  I think we only went into four or five stores, but that was enough to get gifts for everyone Amy has ever met.  

For lunch we went to the Fish Market.  East meets West as typical Icelandic food is fused with Asian influences, which actually makes sense since Iceland is known for their fish.  We decided to go to this restaurant for lunch since it was significantly cheaper than dinner (surprisingly no one else has caught on to this as we were the only 4 people in the entire restaurant).  We ordered the tasting menu as a table (which came out to 3900 ISK vs 8900 ISK for dinner, at the time of our travels you got 127 ISK to the dollar).  The tasting menu came with 7 courses, and we asked if they could do a wine pairing with it.  So the waiter brought us about 3 bottles of wine throughout lunch.  We started off with tempura squid.  I typically am not the biggest fan of squid, but tempura anything is good.  The next course was pork ribs barbarian (certainly delicious).  That was followed up with an Asian salad topped with goose.  I think this was payback for the geese that brought down the USAirways flight that landed in the Hudson a week earlier.  Then we had a sushi plate.  This was perhaps the best course as the fish were extremely fresh.  There was a maki roll with salmon and tuna, a cube of tuna with some roe on top, a piece of squid (must have been on sale) sashimi, and some other sashimi which obviously wasn't too memorable.  Accompanying the sushi were wasabi peas (a favorite of mine) and pickled eggplant (which was a hit with the others).  Ken told a great story at this point about how he once enjoyed eggplant stuffed with eggplant (and you couldn't see any scars from the surgery).  After the sushi we got our 2 main courses, arctic char and black cod.  Both were fantastic.  Now I could see why they eat so much fish here.  Amy read that this restaurant is known for their "chocolate 6 ways" dessert, so we were really hoping for that, but instead we got white chocolate cheesecake with green tea wafers and a side of cinnamon coconut ice cream.  As for the wine, we ended up getting 3 bottles of white, fairly sweet wines, but went well with the spiciness of the fish dishes.

Before falling asleep, we needed to make plans for the next day, so we walked over to the tourist info center to book an excursion.  Four people trying to agree on something certainly isn't easy.  I think there were 5 couples that booked trips in the same amount of time we were deciding whether to go on a snowmobiling, dog sledding, or sightseeing tour.  We ended up selecting a Super Jeep tour of the south coast.  I felt bad for the poor lady who was helping us, but that feeling went away after she balked at my idea of a goodbye group hug after the whole ordeal.  

It was about 3:00 at this time and I was getting my second wind.  So I suggested going to a bar for one drink before taking an afternoon nap.  Amy wasn't up for a drink, so she went back to the hotel, but Ken and Jon complied.  We searched around for an ATM to get some Krona as up until now we have been using credit cards.  I remembered passing a bar down the street called the English Pub (I noticed it as we passed club oder, an erotic club, which had a lot of people outside considering it was 12:30pm at the time).  Like the name describes, the bar had the feel of a typical English Pub.  On special were Gull (an Icelandic beer) for 655 ISK. While drinking we noticed that there was a big wheel behind the bar (you can see a picture if you click on the link above, which takes you to a myspace page, I don't know of many bars whose official websites are myspace pages).  For 1500 ISK you (well the bartender really) would spin the wheel and win whatever prize was on it.  The prizes ranged from 'sorry' to 8 beers.  Turns out you average 1.92 beers per spin.  Not really worth it considering you pay for 2.3 beers per spin (this is where Jon commented on writing a program to figure out the odds instead of any manual calculations).

Meanwhile, as we were talking, Jon's glass of beer, that just happend to be sitting on the counter, explodes.  Glass everywhere.  The 3 of us are in complete shock, but the bartender is unfazed as he explains this happens once a week, and pours Jon another.  I was watching his glass at the time and I am still in amazement.  At this point, that 1 beer we went in for has turned into 2, and we collectively decide that if we go back now, we are not waking up later tonight.  So instead we order another round and decide to wash it down with a shot of Brennivin (also known as "Black Death").  Brennivin is an Icelandic liquor made out of caraway.  It tastes like you are taking a shot of rosemary (not to be confused with pine needles).  Brennivin actually isn't that bad, and not sure why it got such a bad nickname.  I asked the bartender if locals drink it or if it was a tourist thing, he lies to me and says that he enjoys it as well.  While we are finishing up our 4th beer and getting ready to head out, we noticed that the big wheel is spinning.  Not only that, but they hit the jackpot and land on 8 beers.  Turns out there were some wealthy Norwegian businessmen sitting next to us at the bar.  AND since the bar was empty, AND they didn't want to drink 8 beers, AND money was no object, we were now sticking around for a little longer.  They decide to spin the wheel again and land on 8 beers a second time in a row.  At this point, I had been drinking since Mustang Sally's the night before, and everything is starting to get fuzzy.  I remember offering the bartender 1 USD to spin the wheel (apparently that didn't work), and trying a few times to get behind the bar to spin myself (that didn't work either).  The rest of the evening from what I can piece together consisted of a few more spins of the wheel, a trip to the pizza restaurant, and a conversation with Amy asking where we have been for the last 7 hours (it was now 9:30).  Luckily for me, she was very forgiving and very tired.
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