Imagine being just five hours away from your dream. Then, three hours, then just two. The plane ride from Boston to Reykjavik felt like forever, and before long, it was just 19 minutes. We were landing in Iceland in just 19 minutes.
It’s hard to explain how I felt the first couple of days in Iceland. Excited. Overwhelmed. A bit scared. It felt like my life was starting, which was brilliant, but also, a bit intimidating.
That’s what I was thinking when we touched down in Keflavík, almost 2 AM local time. Even after we got off the plane, I still had it in my head that something could go wrong. What if after all this, they don’t let me in the country? I couldn’t imagine why, but even with Mike there besides me, I felt nervous.
The Ken-like Icelandic man behind the customs counter eyed us. He asked Mike how long we were going to be in Europe. Mike answered- 86 days – just within the 90 day period Iceland and the other Schengen Agreement countries allow. He looked at me.
“If you’re here more than 90 days, you’ll need a…” his voice trailed off, and I waited for him to finish.
He gestured at me.
“Oh!” I said, blushing a little. “A visa!”
“Enjoy your trip.”
Stamp, stamp – we were in.
The airport is actually about a half hour away from downtown Reykjavik, so we needed a ride. I was fortunate enough to have a shuttle booked courtesy of Iceland Excursions. After collecting our one checked bag, we headed out into Iceland, getting our first breath of clean, refreshing Icelandic air.
It was the first thing about Iceland we discovered — the incredible air quality. Imagine a crisp, Fall breeze. Every single day in Iceland is like that. Our next revilation was that our bus, a brand new, top of the line tour bus, had wifi.
After about a 45 minute drive, we arrived at our first accommodation – Kex Hostel. Once an old biscuit factory, Kex was transformed into a hipster’s hostel paradise – mason jar lamps, vintage typewriters, subway tile and all. As soon as we checked in, I regretted that we had arrived so late – little time to enjoy the space.
Even though it was the middle of the night, we ventured out into Reykjavik. The village was lined with charming, yet, upscale boutiques and restaurants. Of course, we were starving, and nothing was open.
We ended up at 1011, an Icelandic 7/11. Mike and I scanned the aisles for “Icelandic looking food”. I settled on some kind of chicken and noodle mixture and Mike went with some dried fish, which got him quite a bit of attention. A local man (clearly intoxicated) informed Mike that their beloved dried fish must be enjoyed with butter. Even after Mike obliged, the man insisted over and over, that Mike put “f–king butter” on it.
The first official day of our trip was spent wandering. For hours, we walked around Reykjavik — I have no idea how far we went, or how long we were gone, but we wanted to see everything.
We got the chef’s special, and although I suspect it was lamb, I still have no proof. Whatever it was, it was good. That, along with some “meat soup” proved to be pretty tasty, aligning with my preference for blander food. Mike, the sauce king of North Carolina, enjoyed it, however, noted on the blandness – his palate is a bit more adventurous than mine.
The next night was spent at Hlemmur Square – another trendy and modern hostel in downtown Reykjavik. This hostel clearly showcased Icelandic minimalism. The lobby had a few sets of upscale sofas, rugs, and coffee tables, but otherwise, was bare — to the point where you wondered if it was even open.
For dinner that night, we decided to go all out and try one of Reykjavik’s best restaurants – Skólabrú. This is the part where Mike wins boyfriend of the century.
After bringing me, girlfriendface, to an incredible Icelandic restaurant, letting me order lobster, and allowing me to get a bottle of an incredible 2008 Bordeaux, we ventured downtown for drinks…. where the evening turned.
We had a great time, don’t get me wrong. I’m actually glad the evening went as it did. My first drinking experience in Iceland, I can say in full certainty, completely knocked me on my ass. I wasn’t prepared.
A friendly girl from Sweden (no idea on her name) brought me shots of a clear, crisp tasting licorice vodka which I loved. She also told me I looked Icelandic – which I also loved. Then, she gave me a shot of a brown, mysterious looking liquid – didn’t love that so much.
“Ack!” I recall telling her. “That’s truly awful.”
She laughed, and discouraged me when I drank it quickly.
“No no, you are not in America — we sip, we enjoy.” She explained.
“I don’t want to enjoy that,” I replied, drinking the rest of it. “That stuff tastes like Bendadryl.”
From there, Mike and I enjoyed a few more drinks with our new friends. The Swedish girl offered to get me another shot, and I instructed her to bring me the clear licorice one again. She returned with the brown tar.
“Nooooooo!” I recall saying.
I drank it anyway. Perhaps I didn’t want to be rude, maybe I just didn’t care. I got another shot of the clear stuff, thinking it was just vodka, which turned out to be a mistake. It didn’t make me sick, but it really got me drunk, and Super Boyfriend Mike brought me back to the hostel.
The next day, I had the worst hangover of my life.
Chances are, that was the day my friend from Iceland Excursions, Steinar, agreed to meet up. He met Mike and I at a local coffee shop (Te and Kaffi), and we talked about the trip, where to get sheeps heart (he swears it’s good), and why no one in Iceland ever wants to visit Denmark.
I immediately liked Steinar – an incredibly friendly guy with the quick Icelandic wit. Mike unfortunately, was working on a freelance project that was due that day, so he was kind of distracted. Steinar playfully asked – “Didn’t you quit your job, Mike?” (Referencing my dramatic post about peacing out to Iceland).
He also gave me a lot of insider tips to Reykjavik – confirmed that it was expensive, recommended local places to eat, and teased me for not renting a car sooner.
“Won’t you need a car?” he asked, laughing, when I told him I wanted to see the whole country.
“I’ll figure it out.” I replied.
He told me about a local man who rented out 15-20 year old vehicles for cheap. A good option, though he warned me that one of the cars broke down six hours away – and the owner had to go retrieve the renters.
“So if it breaks down, you’re on your own. I will not come get you,” he laughed.
We started talking about alcohol for some reason- I told him how in America, we have every imaginable flavor of vodka, including bacon. He seemed really entertained by that, and responded with, “Well, that’s American.”
I told him about the brown yuck drink I had, which he identified as Opal. Then, I asked him for the name of the clear, vodka like liquid. “Brennivín?” he asked. That was it.
“Yes, Brennivín! Is that vodka?” I asked.
He started calling it Black Death, and said it was a liquor they have only once a year for Þorrablót. I recognized the name immediately.
“Wait….. Brennivín…. that’s Black Death?!”
That explained the hangover.