Iceland: Beautiful, breathtaking and (ahem) a bit unusual

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Let me just begin my travelogue about a recent brief but exhilarating trip to Iceland by saying that I can add a new unfortunate activity to the list of things I have seen people do on airplanes.


Things improved after that. Iceland is beautiful and stark and breathtaking. Reykjavik is hip and friendly and fascinating. My hotel room was the size of a walk-in closet, but it was clean and cozy and centrally located, convenient to scenery, many restaurants and the penis museum.

So, about the restaurants.

You can get outstanding food in Reykjavik, whether you want to go authentic and local or exotic. I didn't try the Nepalese restaurant, which was frankly the last thing I expected to see (after airborne flossing, of course).

But the first day I was there, in my jet-lagged stupor, I tried a pizza place. The last time I had pizza in a Scandinavian-type environment, it was awful. It was as if they took frozen supermarket pizza -- and not even supermarket pizza with ambition, more like the cheapest, most recycled-cardboard and ketchup supermarket pizza -- picked off any stray seasoning that accidentally got on and slapped ham all over it before warming it under a desk lamp.

Naturally, I sought to repeat that experience.

Instead, the seafood and artichoke pizza I ordered was wood-fired, garlicky, gloriously flavorful and completely devoid of ham. It was, to be honest, better than most of the pizza I have had in Pittsburgh. I'm sorry. I have to award this one to the Vikings.

I also ate one night in a place called Café Paris. I know, I know ... I had a coupon. It was a pleasant meal, except for the guy at the next table, a New Yorker trying to impress his Icelandic girlfriend with descriptions of the splendor of the holidays in Gotham. I don't know how she felt about going there with him; she wasn't invited to the conversation.

He called the waiter over and wanted to order a snack. Rather than look at a menu, he made the waiter guess. Peanuts? French fries?

"Terrible. Terrible," said the guy.

"Got any chicken nuggets? Chicken fingers?" No. "Chicken wings? Buffalo wings?"

Hey, pal. You're in Reykjavik. In an eatery called Café Paris. And you want buffalo wings? Really?

He finally got nachos. Nachos. That's when I stopped feeling bad for getting pizza earlier. Americans abroad. Just point us to the nearest KFC.

I, for one, did try some local chow. I dined one night on smoked minke whale. I sampled the skyr, a thick yogurt. I swilled some local beer, and I brought home a bottle of the native schnapps, fondly known as "the black death." I'm saving that for a special occasion.

I admit I passed on the ubiquitous packaged snack food, dried fish shards.

The Icelandic language is beautiful and sounds like purring. Unfortunately, the spelling bears little resemblance to the pronunciation, a good joke on tourists gamely trying to blend in. I attempted to go native by riding public transit, and I had to show the bus driver a piece of paper with my stop written on it. I couldn't say the name properly; it was the sound you make trying to spit a strand of hair out of your mouth.

(Icelanders: I admire the ancient beauty of your language. Please don't write me nasty messages in runes.)

Waterfalls, geysers, lava fields, snow-covered mountains and even a geothermal spa. I saw so many astonishing sights and met friendly people. I could go on for pages and pages, and I can't wait to go back.

But, oh dear, I've run out of space to tell you about the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Ah, well. It's hard to describe in a family newspaper. And weirdly spooky.

Kinda gives you the willies.


Samantha Bennett, freelance writer:


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