Our second stop on farmer vacation 2017 was Iceland: the land of gorgeous scenery, geothermal energy and the infamous stopover. It was quite the shock traveling from 65-and-sunny Portugal to Iceland- eighteen degrees and shrouded in mist- but as soon as we hopped on the bus that would take us from the airport to downtown Reykjavik, we could feel the magic of Iceland upon us. Covered in snow with mountains off in the distance, this place was beautiful even at nightfall through a dingy bus window.
Our four days in Iceland had less than ideal weather: frigid temps, frozen roads, constant rain and cloudy skies. My Carrot was prepared for all conditions. I, of course, was not. This led to a little less hiking than we’d done in Portugal (and something we’ll surely be back to do), but a lot more food experiences. Each day had at least one dynamite meal, much of it sourced from the farms we were visiting, obviously a concept near and dear to my heart.
Read all about our adventures and our favorite places below. And if you are dying to hear more about Efstidular II, the perfect family farm we stayed at, check out my piece on Edible Madison online.
Lebowski Bar // This place is super silly and the perfect first stop in Reykjavik. We arrived late in Iceland, took a bus to a taxi to our small guesthouse where we were the only guests. We unpacked our bags and headed out to the place with the most humor. After 14 hours of travel, you need some humor. The Lebowski Bar delivered. Complete with a White Russian menu, burgers with hilarious names, a bowling alley on one wall, Persian rugs on the others and the movie playing on screens throughout, this place is seriously fun.
Kronan // The local grocery store is always an early stop when we arrive in a new country. My stomach was feeling a little unsettled so we stocked up on tea, ginger ale, skyr and fruit smoothies at this warehouse-style supermarket.
Guesthouse Butterfly // Our guesthouse in Reykjavik was perfect (and friendly and literally could not have been more hospitable). Our first and our last nights in Iceland were in Reykjavik (with two nights in the countryside in between). Most places in the city had a two-night minimum or were crazy expensive so searching for a space was stressful. When I e-mailed John at Guesthouse Butterfly about our situation, he said we could keep the room for our full four days in Iceland and only pay for the two nights we slept in the bed! How incredibly generous!
This cozy little guesthouse is a work of art, painted green with a gorgeous mural of a pink butterfly on the front facade. It’s only a couple blocks from all the downtown sites of Reykjavik (and super close to the old harbor-which was our favorite to explore) and even has some street parking. The guesthouse feels like your home away from home. You get a bedroom of your own and can share in any of the home amenities- the kitchen, the living room, the bookshelves, the back porch. Highly recommend!
Thingvellir National Park // The drive from Reykjavik to Thingvellir is something magical. The snowy countryside stretches out in front of you and before you know it, there are mountains in the background and views of the stunning Thingvellivatn lake. It’s impossible not to pull off every time you see a viewing point and snap a dozen photos. Thingvellir is possibly even more beautiful. The main trail runs through the continental divide to a Nordic-style visitor center on the hill at one end and frozen waterfalls that shimmer a shade of blue I’ve never seen in nature. Apparently there is also winter scuba diving nearby in the Thingvellivatn lake where you can swim through the continental rift. Yup, we’ll be back.
Lindin Bistro // This was possibly the best meal of our trip- though there was certainly some stiff competition. In the town of Laugarvatn, overlooking the beautiful lake of Laugarvatn, sandwiched between some greenhouses and the infamous Fontana Geothermal Bath sits the lovely little restaurant of Linden. There are two sides: a restaurant and a bistro. The restaurant is formal with white tablecloths and elegant glassware on the table. The bistro is casual with wood accents everywhere. My Carrot ordered the reindeer beer which came highly recommended. I wasn’t as hungry so “settled” for the soup of the day: a lobster bisque accented with rock shrimp, Artic char and a dollop of cream. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Efstidular II // We spent our second and third nights in Iceland at the lovely Efstidular II farm hotel just between Laugarvatn and the tourist meccas of Gullfoss and Geysir. I really couldn’t have more positive things to say about this lovely place. I would happily spend a week on this working dairy farm situated at the base of a small mountain.
The rooms were beautiful and spacious with radiant flooring, a farm dog who came to visit, big windows with stunning views, and an electric tea kettle that made every morning and night a little more special. The old farmhouse was converted into a farm-to-table restaurant (second floor) and cafe (first floor) a few years back with farm-made ice cream, skyr and milk, farm-raised beef, local produce, windows into the cattle barn and a breakfast that was included with our farm stay. The food was incredible, the type where you can tell every product is treated with care and integrity. Every bite we devoured at Efstidular (which were many) was outstanding.
We had sentimental farmer reasons for so loving our stay as well; the farm was transitioning from the older farming generation to their children, a couple about our age. Read more about Efstidular II and how it felt to be a part of farm transition over at Edible Madison.
Gullfoss Falls // Our second full day in Iceland began with a short drive to Gullfoss Falls: a beautiful, two-tiered falls that drops a staggering 4900 cubic feet per second. The frozen edges of the massive falls were mesmerizing, and the story of how one woman moved heaven and earth to preserve her family land that contained these falls brought me to tears.
Geysir // A few miles down the road was Geysir: the world’s first Geysir and the one all the rest were named after. Geysir actually isn’t active any longer, but the nieghboring Strokkur shoots water skyward every 5-10 minutes. It was my Carrot’s first geysir experience and he was absolutely transfixed. Across the road was a massive gift shop and food court that was obviously touristy, but also pretty fun. The gift shop puts silly souvenirs among the stunning Geysir-brand luxury wool products. The food court has overpriced but delectable desserts. The fireplace and huge wooden booths make it a perfect place to warm up after a whole lot of chilly sightseeing.
Fridheimer // Fridheimer Tomato Farm was possibly the highlight of my Carrot’s whole 9-day vacation. I liked it quite a bit myself. As farmers, it’s always interesting to see what methods and techniques other growers are using. Extend that to Icelandic agriculture-which is dramatically different than what we are used t0- and it becomes a lesson in how a culture with geothermal energy, no native bees and odd spans of limited daylight/too much sun handles growing vegetables. Fridheimer grows 18% of the tomatoes for all of Iceland (and quite an abundance of cucumbers and basil as well) by shipping in bees and bagged soil from neighboring countries, growing year-round in gorgeous greenhouses, and harnessing the thermal spring nearby into electricity and heat. The result is glorious. A tomato grower’s heaven. Plus there’s a restaurant connected to one of the greenhouses with only food that highlight’s the farm’s major crop. An unlimited tomato soup and bread buffet is the obvious choice, but my Carrot thought the pizza with house-made tomato sauce was pretty divine. My ginger and green tomato drink was a total delight. Whether you go for the ambiance, the food or just to understand the creative agricultural practices of a Northern climate, you are sure to be delighted.
Secret Lagoon // This lagoon, though certainly a bit pricey, is close to the main tourist, circuit and a lovely way to spend an evening. These natural springs feel almost mystical with the old bath house ruins, soft rocky bottom, and small nearby geysir rising to the sky every five minutes. Steam rises off the winding geothermal channels leading to where you bathe. There are drinks in the ticket office if you want to enjoy some beer or wine with your soak. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and not too crowded. It’s a must stop in our book.
Reynisfjara // This eerie black beach with black basalt columns and some of Iceland’s most dramatic waves along the Southern shore was high on my list from the earliest stages of planning our Icelandic adventure. It did not disappoint. Walking on a black sand beach was a wild experience. We ambled as far as we could in both directions taking it all in despite the downpour. Because of the rain and resulting mist, we couldn’t see further than 1000 feet in front of us which only added mystery to this already enigmatic spot. Massive waves came crashing into the shore (and apparently they were small compared to their usual size). It was a long drive along the Southern short in less than ideal weather, but it was worth the journey.
South Coast Drive // On the long drive from Reykjavik to Reynisfjara, you travel for hours on the Southern coast of Iceland. Though we spent most of our third day in Iceland in our car, the views along the way were well worth it. Mountains and volcanoes off to the north, rocky beaches to our south and golden farmland in between. There were buildings built into massive boulders and mountains. There were rustic farmhouses. There were tiny towns and a million places to turn off just to take it all in. Icelandic horses dotted the countryside. Every mile or so, there seemed to be another waterfall off in the distance. The two biggest and most well-known falls along the drive to Vik are Sejellandfoss and Skogafoss. We made the mandatory stops through the rain, walked the short distance to their base and marveled at the power of this enchanting part of Iceland.
Eyjafjallajokull Erupts Museum // Remember back in 2010 when that Icelandic volcano with a funny name erupted and grounded half of the flights in Europe. On our drive to Vik and the black beach of Reynisfjara, we passed this formerly erupting volcano. We stopped at a little museum about the eruption on the side of the road. It was closed, but I hear it shows an awesome documentary telling the story of a farm family who was left to deal with the aftermath of the volcano on their land. Even when closed, signs in front of the building give you a great opportunity to learn about how the volcano affected the local people.
American Bar // I’m the kind of traveler who would usually try to avoid any place with American in the name when visiting a foreign country, but on our final night in Iceland there was a big Packers playoff game and we knew this bar was going to be our best shot at viewing it. Fun American food (think wings, burgers, ham sandwiches) if you are having a craving for home. Beer flights are a great way to try several of the local brews for a reasonable price.
Old Harbor // Downtown Reykjavik is cool and colorful, but expensive and a bit too touristy and bustling for this farming couple. We much prefer a slower amble on roads off the beaten path. The Old Harbor is perfect for this. We began our last day in Iceland by walking through the Old Harbor at sunrise. Quirky cafes and stunning farm-to-table restaurants bump up against an active shipyard. You can pop in somewhere for a bite, gaze over the water towards the mountains shrouded in mist or spend hours watching laborers fix up and stock their ships.
Cafe Haiti // Coffee shop culture is much like that in America’s big cities- focused on high quality coffee and lingering in cool, quirky spaces. Our favorite was Cafe Haiti. Owned by a Haitian woman, Elda bring raw coffee beans back to Iceland every time she visits home and roasts them in house. The coffee shop is located in the old harbor so it draws inspiration from the shipyard with big wooden beams and nets hanging from the ceiling. Artwork drawn right onto the walls is simple and lovely.
Harpa // This concert hall overlooking the old harbor with views of the mountains in the distance is a must see in downtown Reykjavik. The glass building is not only impressive for its views of the city. The whole building is a work of art. Metal and glass pieces lock together in beautiful patterns, making you feel like you are inside of an ice castle. It’s open to the public and visitors are free to explore. We loved getting lost in this stunning space. I hear the shows hosted here are great too!
Ingolfstorg // In this little square, situated between our guesthouse and the busy Reykjavik thoroughfares of Austurstraeti and Laugavegur, there is a small hot-dog shop where we devoured our first, second and third Icelandic hot-dog. In a country where it’s near impossible to get a meal for less than $15, the $4 hot-dog was a fun alternative. More on this treat (and it’s recipe) below!
Hjlomskalagardur // This little park is perfect for strolling. There’s a huge lake (known by locals as “the pond”) filled with ducks, geese and swans, wide trails through trees that make you forget you’re in a city entirely, and beautiful views of the row houses and beautiful churches. Added bonus: strolling through this park, you’re never more than a half mile from downtown and a million tasty eateries.
My favorite food from Iceland was definitely the lobster bisque, but we really can’t afford that kind of luxury in the center of the country on a farmer’s budget. (And really, who wants a soup with three kinds of seafood in it if you’re no where near a coast anyways?) Favorite meal number two, ridiculous as it may sound, was the super silly, street-purchased Icelandic hot-dog. This baby is no ordinary hot-dog. It’s beefed up with all the fixings. Ketchup, sweet mustard, mayo, raw onion, fried onion and a toasted bun all come together for a sweet, savory, crunchy, tangy flavor explosion.
These bring us right back to the streets of Reykjavik and feel like just the right amount of indulgence and silly on a Friday date night. Hope you enjoy.
ICELANDIC HOT DOGS
1 lager-style beer
8 all-beef hot dogs (fully cooked)
8 soft white hot dog buns
1 batch fried onions (recipe below or use store-bought in a pinch)
1 yellow onion, minced
Sweet mustard (we used Inglehoffer Honey Mustard)
- Pour beer into a wide shallow skillet (I used our cast-iron skillet) on stovetop. Add hot dogs and turn heat to medium. Simmer gently for 5-7 minutes until hot dogs are warmed.
- Toast your hot dog buns with whatever means you have. If you have a panini press or waffle maker with small holes, this works best. Use a toaster or toaster oven if you don’t have one of these tools. You’re going for a really crispy exterior while the interior remains soft and light.
- Add cooked hot dogs with all the fixings.
- Attempt to eat only one.
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whatever milk you have on hand + 1 tablespoon lemon juice stirred to combine and left to sit for 5 minutes)
1 large onion, halved and sliced as thinly as possible
2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Combine buttermilk and onion in a small bowl. Leave them sit for at least an hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to make sure all onions are submerged in the liquid.
- Fill a Dutch oven or other wide, deep skillet with about 2 inches of oil. Heat over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. The oil should be 375 degrees if you have a thermometer. (We always wing it, adjusting the temp as the onions cook depending on how quickly they take on color.)
- In a large wide bowl, combine half the flour with half the spices.
- Remove onions by the forkful and drop them into the flour mixture. Toss them to coat quickly and then drop them into the hot oil. Cook for a couple minutes until golden brown.
- Remove onions from hot oil and place on baking sheet lined with paper towels. Add salt while the onions are still warm.
- Repeat until all onions are fried, replacing the flour mixture when it gets too craggy and wet with the other half of flour and spices.
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