Wednesday, August 12, 2020

24 Hours in Reykjavik

Trip date July 2019

Our Scandinavian adventure was coming to an end, but we still had one last stop. We left the Faroe Islands on a quick 45 minute flight to Iceland on Atlantic Airways. It was early morning, and although there are multiple FlyBus that will take you from the airport to the Blue Lagoon or your hotel, there wasn't one that we wouldn't have had to wait an hour for, so we just took a taxi for about $70.

I had made us reservations in advance as the last time I was in Reykjavik the thermal baths were booked solid so I missed out. We arrived at about 9:30am, stored our luggage with their bag check, and hit the locker rooms. 

This was Aaron's first time, in both Iceland and the Blue Lagoon, and I was very excited about my return trip to both places. We didn't book anything special, just the "Comfort" package which includes entrance, silica mud mask, use of a towel, and 1 free drink for $44. We soaked and explored the pool for a while, the water is different temperatures in different sections. There were quite a few people there but it didn't feel crowded. 

We spent a couple of hours soaking, having our mud mask, and enjoying a few mimosas before we made our way to Lava, the onsite restaurant, for our lunch reservation.
The restaurant looks out onto the pools and is casual (most people ate in their robes). There is a 3-course set menu for $50, or you can order a la carte. I think Aaron had the set menu but I wasn't in the mood for dessert so I chose 3 savory courses, which they charged me the same for.

I started with a bowl of langoustine soup which was just about perfect. Then a dish of cured arctic char, with horseradish cream and cucumber. Another winner. We both had lamb as our main course; it was cooked and plated perfectly.

To be honest neither of us expected much from a restaurant meal eaten in a bathrobe, but all of our dishes were excellent! I'd actually really recommend taking some time for a nice meal here!

We took one more quick soak/lap around the pool before getting cleaned up and catching the FlyBus that I had booked us on into Reykjavik. The bus dropped me off near Center Hotel Arnarhvoll where I was staying, after dropping Aaron at his hotel. 

The hotel is right across from the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall and my room had gorgeous views of the awesome architecture as well as the ocean. Besides the view, my room was good sized with a big comfy bed and roomy bathroom. I'd stay here again.

It had been a very early morning leaving the Faroe Islands so I was in desperate need of a nap. After that I went upstairs to the rooftop Skybar for a drink. My cocktail was fine, nothing to go out of your way for except to take in the awesome view. 

Aaron and I met up across the street at Harpa and did a little walk through. Unfortunately there was a private event so we couldn't tour the entire center. It's pretty amazing inside, I'd love to see a concert here! Maybe next time...

Time for a proper cocktail! We made our way down to the old harbor and one of Reykjavik's most well known bars, Slippbarinn. I had a great time drinking here when I stayed at the adjoining hotel last time, and the drinks and service were still great on this visit!

Walking back to the center of town, we were a little early for our dinner reservation but stumbled upon the bar Systir in the same building at Hverfisgata 12. The bar had been known before as the "no name pizza place" but was now a "sister" restaurant to ground floor Dill

The old historic building is full of both charm and artifacts, but downstairs in Dill it is clean and modern, no trace of the old stables that use to be. New Chef de Cuisine (at the time) Carl K Frederiksen had just recently arrived from Copenhagen, and he and Aaron are friends, so we had a great time sitting at the Chef's Counter and chatting with him throughout the meal. 

Dill was the first restaurant in Iceland to receive a Michelin star, but lost that a few years ago. Aaron and I could both tell that Chef Carl was gonna be a part of that star coming back and sure enough it has happened. 

Dinner was wonderful! We had about 10 little one-bite appetizers to start. Lovely little bites like salsify with strawberry, reindeer moss, chicken skin and parsley. We were also presented with a fried bread and skyr-butter. yum.

Seven courses followed these bites, which we chose to have the restaurant's wine pairings with. The restaurant uses locally grown and raised ingredients and also plays with traditional flavors, like this pork belly with rhubarb, lovage, and whey.

The entire meal was delicious, interesting, and fun! My meal, with a glass of champagne to start, wine pairings, and a cognac after came to about $220.

Chef Carl invited us upstairs for a post-shift beer at the Mikkeller pub. It had been a long day though so I said my goodbyes to both of them and headed home in the still-light 1am night. Aaron was off on an excursion to see more of Iceland the next day, while I would be flying home, so our big team Scandinavian adventure was over. Dinner at Dill was a great way to end it!
(Dill is now located on the second floor of Laugavegur 59. )

I had a lovely buffet breakfast the next morning, served at the rooftop Skybar with all those pretty views. I had arranged a late check out, packed my bags, and was wandering thru the streets of Reykjavik by 10am. I had 3 ½ hours before the FlyBus would pick me up for the airport.
There's a ton of construction going on around the city. Lots of new buildings, lots of new tourist shops. I didn't recall seeing this little craft market in the past; seems to be open most days.

Although this was my 3rd visit to the city, I had yet to fully explore the Settlement Museum. The exhibit is free and there is a 20 minute guided tour that I joined that was incredibly interesting. The museum explores the first people to inhabit Reykjavik, how they came to Iceland, and what life might have been like.

The exhibits surround an actual excavated longhouse, dating from 930. The guide was able to point out different areas of the dwelling and show items that were found on the grounds. This museum is well worth an hour stop!

I had just enough time do do a little grocery shopping before having lunch. Black salt licorice, bitafiskur (dried fish snacks), funny flavored chips, etc. Then I got a table at Laekjarbrekka and a bowl of their delicious lobster soup.

The restaurant is very cute, decked out in sheep skins and historic old photos. It was also very quiet on that Thursday afternoon.

And that was about it! One glass of wine back at the hotel while waiting for the FlyBus and then a quick walk across the street to board and be taken to the airport for my 5pm flight home. I paid a little extra for the roomier exit row, enjoyed a pink gin and tonic, and settled in. 

I still love Iceland but honestly it looks a little basic after being in the Faroe Islands! And the construction in the city dulled the charm for me a bit. But I'd still like to go back to explore the country's northern coast. It's on the list!

*due to COVID-19 Syster has closed permanently.*

All Iceland photos here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Eat, Drink, Sleep on the Faroe Islands

Trip date: July 2019

Aaron and I were staying in the capital city of Tórshavn on Streymoy during our visit to the Faroe Islands. It's a cute harbor town that dates from the late 1500s with a population of about 20,000.

We each booked a single room at the Hotel Tórshavn (they have 43 rooms of various sizes) which is a moderate hotel right in the middle of town.

The rooms are basic but roomy, breakfast was included, and there was free parking in the connected lot. Large windows filled the small room with light and artwork from local artist Rannvah Mortensen decorates the walls of most the guestrooms. The hotel was a great choice for us and the staff was absolutely fantastic!

The bar was the perfect place for Aaron and I to meet up before going out at night and I could count on the bartenders to make me an icy cold martini, with just the right amount of vermouth, each time I was there.

On our very first night on the islands we had reservations at the 2-starred Michelin restaurant KOKS. From the very start we knew we were in for a pretty unique dinner. Aaron had arranged for a taxi which took us out to the shore of Lake Leynavatn about 20 minutes outside of Tórshavn.

I was really confused when he dropped us off as there was nothing but a small shed on the muddy lake bank. A vintage Land Rover was parked along the beach. We were invited inside the hjallur (an old fish drying shed) and offered beer and snacks. There were 4 other diners and we were all ushered into the back of the Rover after our "happy hour".
We arrived at our destination, with the team of KOKS greeting us as we entered the turf-roofed farmhouse, in the middle of nowhere. A fire was going in the yard and sheep could be heard bleating from the hills.
There are 9 chefs at the restaurant, each from a different country in order to lend a worldwide approach to the local seafood and vegetables that are foraged from the islands. Traditionally the Faroese eat only fish, sheep, and whale so by bringing in chefs from around the world, they are able to introduce preparations for local delicacies like mussels, langoustine, and sea urchin.

The farmhouse is incredibly cozy inside, with blond wood paneled walls, sheepskin throws on chairs and benches, and windows looking out onto the green hills. We were seated at our table, which was then adorned with a huge plate of fresh shellfish; a peek at the raw ingredients that would soon be dinner.

The multi-course meal started with a progression of mainly shellfish, which unfortunately Aaron doesn't eat. I loved my dishes of scallops, clam, sea urchin, mussels, and langoustines; each presented in the shells they naturally live in. But Aaron was served some basic, although pretty, mostly vegetable substitutions. It didn't seem to be of the same calibre. It was the only disappointment of the evening.

Mid menu highlights finfish, the halibut with caviar being a natural favorite for us two caviar lovers, followed by ræst. Ræst is another traditional Faroese style of preserving food. Lamb or fish is hung to dry in small sheds that are built with slatted walls, allowing the salt air to flow through and dry/ferment the meat.
Our server presented us the dried leg of lamb, similar to a leg of prosciutto, before we were served it two ways. The first, called Skerpikøt,  literally means sharp meat. A thin piece was carved off and served with a creamy sauce containing lingonberry.
We were also served the fermented lamb roasted with sweet onions in a delicious broth. And to round out our lamb courses was a small dish of garnatálg, or lamb tallow, served with crispy little biscuits to be spread on. And by the way, all of this was very tasty!!
As I mentioned, pilot whale has been and continues to be a staple of Faroese cuisine. Whaling is also a communal event, with all participants sharing in the meat. You can read more about legal, sustainable whaling in the Faroe Islands here while you look at the whale heart dish we had.

We took a little break after dinner and had a tour of the tiny kitchen as well as the outside grill area. A separate small building acts as the pantry and there is a communal table outside for family meal. The setting could not be prettier.
Back inside we finished our dessert of sweet wafers with jam and whipped cream in the super hygge "lounge". Our server let us know that the Land Rover was ready to take us back to the drop off where our taxi would be waiting. We'd spent about 5-hours at the restaurant and it was just about 11:30pm.

KOKS offers a 17-course tasting menu for about $260, wine pairings are another $200 so this isn't your run of the mill Wednesday night dinner. But it is a wonderful destination experience, really unlike any other I've experienced, and one I'd highly recommend!

The other completely unique dining experience I had was to attend a heimablídni, which means home hospitality. Our hosts Anna and Óli have a beautiful house and sheep farm near Tórshavn; we were 2 of 14 who attended their dinner party.

Our evening started with our taxi dropping us off at their modern turf-roofed home with sweeping views of the ocean and the nearby islands of Koltur and Hestur. Óli met us in the driveway, bearing a tray of house-made lamb sausage and a lemonade sort of drink.

After our snack we piled into cars (Aaron and I got a ride from some others) and followed Óli to the family's sheep farm. He introduced us to his young Faroese sheepdog and explained that he was still training her and he had others who were more senior.

His land stretches as far as you can see into the hills. When he sent the dog out to bring the sheep in we couldn't even see her some of the time, she had to run so far! It was a really fun demonstration in a stunning location.

We headed back to the house where Anna was hard at work on our meal. The table looked absolutely lovely! Other guests had arrived and we all had a drink outside before sitting down to dinner.
Over five courses we got to hear about the other guests (for example, three had flown in from the Shetland Islands for the dinner and another was a reporter) and learn about Anna and Óli's life on the islands and the farm.
And of course we had some excellent food! Anna is a fantastic chef and they use ingredients mainly from their farm or from local fisherman. Local beer was also served.
The dinner costs about $165 and you must sign up in advance. I thought it was a great value as you really get a chance to learn about local customs, traditions, and their history.
Plus cute animals, delish food, fun people, and amazing views! When we were leaving I said to Óli, "You know what I really liked about tonight?" and he replied "You liked everything!" And he was exactly right. I LOVED this experience!
Without a doubt we had the two top meal experiences on the Faroe Islands. But we did also eat at some regular restaurants in Tórshavn. Etika Sushi sounded promising and we were both looking forward to having some regional fish that we might not get at home.
Unfortunately it was the same fish you would get anywhere, and the sushi was put together very sloppily. The menu was also overly confusing to the point where we both accidently ordered too much. It was fine but I wouldn't go out of my way.

We also had dinner one evening at Barbara Fishhouse which is tucked in the Reyn area of the city. This is the oldest neighborhood with homes dating from the 14th century. It's adorable!

The food at Barbara is served tapas style, lots of delicious shareable dishes. The menu is heavy on shellfish though, which was fine for me but not so great for Aaron.

Wandering the cute city on multiple occasions, it was easy to stop for a glass of wine and sit outside to enjoy the view of the harbor.

And besides the neighborhood of Reyn, it is very easy to walk through Tinganes. This area from the Viking Ages was the parliament or government meeting space for the islands. The first meeting was held here in 825 and is believed to be one of the oldest in the world.
Most of the buildings have been rebuilt due to fire, but there are still some carvings and parts of buildings that are original.

We never found a proper cocktail bar in town, but I had Marlin & Joel behind the bar at the Hotel Tórshavn mixing me great martinis so I was happy! And on our last night at the hotel there was live music on in the bar, and most of the town's residents seemed to be in attendance!
Local musician Signar í Homrum opened for Laurens Joensen (Faroese living in Amsterdam) and famous local musician Martin Joensen (no relation). It was very fun and I stayed longer than I had planned to.

Aaron and I had a crazy early flight the next morning so I checked us out the night before. The front desk person was so nice and offered to have coffee and croissants put out for our 5:45am departure. Really, the service at the hotel was always awesome!

It was beautiful as we left Tórshavn but the fog was incredibly thick on the way to the airport which meant we were at just about a crawl for the first 20 minutes of our 45 minute drive. And then, being that it was the crack of dawn, the gas station was closed!

At the airport the rental office wasn't open! It's not like they don't know the only 2 flights a day. So I dropped the keys off with the airport Information Desk guy and hoped for the best.
The Faroe Islands are truly and amazing place to visit! And delicious!

**Thank you to the Hotel Tórshavn who provided me with complimentary night stays! However all opinions are my own**

All photos from the Faroe Islands here.

Other posts from this trip:

24 Hours in Reykjavik

Trip date July 2019 Our Scandinavian adventure was coming to an end, but we still had one last stop. We left the Faroe Islands on a quick 45...

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