Iceland Travel Journal - Day 2

Reykjavík - Akureyri

Reykjavík

We started the day in Reykjavík. Rather than stretch our time, we walked a few blocks to Reykjavík Roasters, a hip coffee shop.

Curse Jodie for making me like this addictive colonial product. That being said, this place made a damn good cup of oppression.

I feel awkward walking into these places in the States, so imagine my embarrassment trying to navigate this space in a foreign country. Eventually, with the help of Jodie, I ordered and Ethiopian roast: pour over. It was safe bet since I love the Ethiopian roast at my favorite local place, Kaldi’s.

We ordered our pour-overs and croissants, my favorite indulgent, yet simple breakfast. We had to wait for our coffee—so long that we had devoured our pastries long before the coffee arrived. But the taste was worth it. It was almost like drinking tea rather than coffee, the tasting notes unencumbered by the bitterness found in a lot of drip coffee.

I loved the atmosphere, too. Black subway tiles. Books. Succulents. The whole deal.

Freshly fed, we headed to a cheap tourist trap store to ogle goods we were never going to buy. I’m being cynical, but even I wanted an Ísland futbol jersey (which I eventually got). We headed back toward our hotel, but Jodie is not one to pass a thrift store.

We walked in and proceeded to the lower level of the store. I started searching for a jacket in the farthest reaches of this second-hand shop. An olive flight jacket with an orange lining somehow drew me to it. I was hesitant. Should I really buy this?

It had a patch on the right shoulder that read, “Scandinavian Flight Academy.” It had an Alpha Industries tag—a needle in a haystack. I bought it as a souvenir but also as a practical matter. I’ll be warm, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m not stylish.

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Akureyri

We checked out of the hotel and started our journey to Akureyri, the second biggest settlement in the country. Let me say this, I’m a fan of roundabouts (or traffic circles if you’re an animal). They’re efficient traffic calming measures, but there were so many outside of Reykjavík, Siri sounded like she was stuttering.

Ideally, if you’re going to take a five-hour trip, you want to do it in Iceland. The whole time I felt compelled to have my phone or camera at the ready. I’m not sure if that’s a good instinct. How do you really convey the beauty of a singularly stunning place with a haphazard photo you took on the side of the road?

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Anyway, our little Hot Wheels SUV barely made it into the mountains. With no power steering and the acceleration of a confused donkey, it’s amazing we made it through the highlands. As we trekked our way through them, I wondered if the engine would finally give.

We rolled into Akureyri at 5-ish to an adorable garage-turned-studio-apartment. After a brief respite, we walked to Noa Seafood. We headed through several neighborhoods and passed a botanical garden. It was nice after a long car ride. Plus, there’s no way to know a city like walking it.

We headed downhill, unreasonably happy to be walking miles and miles. But the crisp air, the harbor, the snow-capped mountains in the distance and the sense of doing something so utterly normal that it seemed out of the ordinary...I loved it.

To be honest, eating at Noa Seafood was a little like having dinner at a Nordic modern art museum. Even in that environment our meal was remarkable.

We started with a fish and langoustine soup—something that sounds worse than it is. “Yeah, fish and cream. Give me that!” For our main courses we had wolf fish, a species endemic to the local waters. The hearty white fish was pan seared perfectly, resembling tender, roasted chicken more than fish.

Despite a few ungrateful tourists, we enjoyed our meal. From the restaurant, we took a stroll to Akureyri’s famous church, Akureyrarkirkja. It was nice to walk with a chill in the air after months of unbearable heat and humidity in St. Louis.

There was something that reminded me of home as a kid. Walking tree-lined streets at dusk. A chill. My breath hanging visible in the air. More than that, it reminded me how much I enjoy walking in a new city.

You get a feel for it. You pass by people who live there. You start to recognize landmarks and street names. You can navigate it in a way that travel by Uber and Lyft robs you of. Though, I know it’s easier for someone like me to walk in a strange place.

We got to the church after sunset, but it’s illuminated in the evening. You would do the same if your city played home to it. Like Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík, it has a simple elegance you can only find in Scandinavia. It has a beautiful plainess that parishioners and clergy would never stand for in America or Italy.

Akureyrarkirkja just after dusk.

Akureyrarkirkja just after dusk.

From the church, we walked down the hill to a bar in downtown, which I almost walked right past. Götubarinn was dead when we walked in. Jodie sheepishly asked if the bar was open, and our soon to be friend/bartender assured us that they were open.

The bar had a main level, a lower level with a piano in the corner and candles and a separate bar upstairs. At the time of our arrival, we were the only two people in the place. Not that I minded. We ordered two pints of one of Iceland’s finest beers—Einstöck White Ale—and settled in.

Our bartender Eyir was interested in the two Americans who walked into his bar. By the time I got back from the bathroom, he and Jodie were fast friends. He was interested in—or at least pretended to be, like all great bartenders—everything from our trip to our thoughts on gun control and liquor laws to our assessment of Icelanders’ grasp of English.

We were heartened by the fact that he kept coming back to talk to us as locals steadily trickled into the bar. I’d like to think it was due to my wit, but come on. We know it was Jodie’s charm. Speaking of locals, It was the one place in Iceland we managed to avoid any other tourists.

It was a minor miracle.

After three of Iceland’s finest pints, we had to try Brennevin—an indigenous classic. It’s colorfully referred to as “black death.” That makes it sound much worse than it really is. It’s just a licorice flavored schnapps, which I’ll take any day over Malört. That’s a Chicago novelty shot, which tastes like your family forgetting your birthday.

Despite my optimism and enthusiasm to go through this ritual, Jodie was not pleased. She didn’t die as the nickname would suggest, but she definitely didn’t enjoy the experience.

We left shortly thereafter, Icelandic beer and liquor protecting us from the chill. We tried to write and watch BoJack Horseman, but the additional cocktails we tied on stopped us from effectively doing either.