Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Girls' Weekend in Iceland; or, The Hangover, Lady Edition

Thinking peaceful thoughts at a goat farm in the Icelandic countryside
Full of Scotch and taking chaotic selfies on the streets of Reykjavik, 4 am or thereabouts
An Icelander, a Canadian, and an American walk into a bar ...

No, that's not right. Let's start again. How about:

This is the tale of three very smart, somewhat silly, food-loving women and their exhausting, unlikely, and unforgettable weekend in Iceland. Like the ancient Viking sagas, this tale contains feats of strength (drinking large quantities of alcohol),  endurance (staying up all night), and bravery (riding Viking horses over black lava fields). And, like any good epic story, there's a lesson to be learned here: Every now and then, throw your good sense out of the window and do something completely spontaneous and quite possibly ill-advised, whether you can afford to do it or not.

That's how I ended up in those photos above, anyway - by booking a last-minute weekend trip to Reykjavik to meet up with two friends, Barbara, the Canadian (bottom left), and Eirny, the Icelander (top left). I met Barbara on my press trip to Charlevoix, Quebec last year, and we hit it off immediately. I met Eirny - who owns Burid, a fantastic cheese shop in Reykjavik -  last November when I was in Iceland  researching an article for Culture, the Word on Cheese. [Self promotion alert: That issue, by the way, is out now - you can pick up a copy at your local Whole Foods. So please do!]
When I learned that Barbara would be visiting Iceland for a few days around her birthday naturally I made sure to virtually introduce her to Eirny, as I knew they would get along famously ... and then I watched as they bonded on Facebook and planned all the fun they would have that weekend.  Without me.

Or maybe not.

It all happened rather quickly, but here is what I know: After a few Monday evening cocktails, some frenzied checking of fares on Hotwire, and a whole lot of Facebook posts ("I'm going to do it!" "Do it!" "I'm doing it!" "I did it!!"), I was booked to fly to Reykjavik the Thursday evening of that same week for a 3-day weekend.

Could I afford this? No. Was it irresponsible? A bit. Do I regret it? Not for one second. See why for yourself as I take you through the impromptu weekend ...

After the ladies picked me up at the airport Friday morning, Eirny took us for some traditional chocolate milk and love balls (the Icelandic name, astarpungar,  means ... well ... look at the shape of that pastry and see if you can guess)
 And much-needed coffee, as I didn't sleep a wink on the plane overnight:
We then went to Fjorubordida, a restaurant in the countryside where Eirny used to go as a girl and had langoustine soup and incredibly garlicky and buttery langoustines in their shells:

Bellies full, we returned to Reykjavik to nap and prepare for what would turn out to be a very long night.

Eirny chose a new local Reykjavik spot, Kopar, for dinner and drinks. This is the drink that started it all:
That lovely (and large) dry martini was followed by a bottle of bubbly (it was Barbara's birthday after all), a bottle of red wine, and one ... or two ... glasses of dessert wine. Fortunately, this was accompanied by wonderful food. You will note that the focus in the photos gets less sharp as the evening goes on:
Rock crab sampler 
Fish & chips
Catfish with a pistachio crust
Luscious lamb
We were well and truly lubricated at this point, but the night was young - and given that the sun never sets in Iceland at this time of year, the night felt young all night long.
Dessert & a candle for the birthday girl

Our fun servers
After dinner, we went back to Eirny's place  ... to drink. Scotch. Lots and lots of Scotch. And that is how this happened:
And this ...
I don't actually know what is happening here.
 It's about 4 am here ... it took us hours to walk just a few blocks to Barbara's place to drop her off so she could catch an early flight. That glass of Scotch made it the whole way there and back, only to break just inside Eirny's door. There are always casualties.

There are many, many many more photos like those above, each one more absurd than the last, and I can't honestly say I remember precisely what was happening at each moment. I do know that I spent most of the next day in bed with a throbbing head, only rousing myself, at Eirny's insistence, to go for a walk and heal a bit with the help of a delicious lamb hot dog:
The hangover cure of champions. Or Vikings. 
The fresh air helped as well, and we took in the view from the top of the Perlan building and even felt well enough to clown around in front of the nearby sculptures.

Barbara was on her way to her next destination by this time so Eirny and I were on our own. A former chef, she whipped up some sandwiches of homemade duck confit with an apricot and onion chutney for dinner. What was left of my hangover disappeared in the face of this mighty meal:

Look at that crispy duck skin!!
Our Sunday, we decided, would be spent in the countryside, which I had not had the opportunity to explore much on my first trip.

The Icelandic landscape is like nothing else I have ever seen - it is, for lack of a better description, a bit like another planet. I have fallen madly in love with it, and as much as I want to somehow manage to visit every place in the world, I also want to return to Iceland as often as I possibly can.

We stopped at Haafell in Borgarfjordur, at a goat farm run by Johanna, a friend of Eirny's, and were given delicious crepes for breakfast.
And then.

The baby goats.

Yes. Baby goats. 

He fell fast asleep in my arms! 

And if that hasn't given you cute overload yet, may I present ... a kitten.
I barely made it out of there alive.

But it's a good thing I did, because if I hadn't I never would have had the incredible opportunity to ride a Viking horse, one of my all time favorite experiences in my life to date. These horses are smaller than your average horse, and they're exactly the same as the ones brought by the Vikings in the settlement of Iceland. They have a special gait - it's fast, but smooth, and looks as if they're floating across the ground. That means that an inexperienced horsewoman like me can actually ride at a full gallop without knowing how to post. Heaven.
My horse's name was Vaengur, the Icelandic word for Wing. 
It was a drizzly day with a gray blanket of sky that pressed down close on the horizon. I live for moody, atmospheric days like this, and don't get nearly enough where I live. We rode through green fields, rocky terrain, and black lava fields, like the one above, with imposing glaciers for a background. It was beautiful and meditative and quiet except for the clop of the horses' hooves. If I lived there I would do this every day.

But riding is hungry work, and after our nearly two hour ride  we were invited into the farm kitchen for tea and cake. Of course we said yes!

Still a bit peckish on the way back, we pulled over to the side of the road and Eirny - more prepared than a Girl Scout - made us some canapes.
It was the last night of my crazy weekend, and my hangover was long gone, so Eirny made us some lovely Pimm's Cups once we were back at her apartment, which we sipped under a midnight sun:
My Iceland adventure had come to an end, and despite the fact that I ended up a wee bit behind in my work, spent more money than I should have, and was well and truly exhausted, I wouldn't change a thing. It's the sort of thing you'll never regret on your death bed. And I am sure there will be more adventures in my future, as long as I stay open to it ...


  1. What a wonderful weekend. Packed, I say, packed. I love that you just decided to go, no weeping, wailing, chest beating, pro & con lists, research and price comparing on plane flights and accomodations and everything else that precedes anything I ever do, or don't do; all the research and planning can be a realy turn off. However, I digress.

    That was one very large cocktail. Is that the norm in the northern climes, or just a peculiarity of that particular establishment?

    It certainly looks like you ate well, and the landscape really is otherworldly.

    Those horses are remarkable. Are they perhaps the same animals that were typically ridden by the common folk during Medieval times? Smallish animals, nowhere near, say the size of a war horse, they were the 'daily transportation" for people. Their fifth gait, neither walk, trot, canter nor gallop allowed them to amble for literally, hours on end and was quite comfortable for the rider. They were the compact cars of their day.

    Oh, and the baby goats are truly precious. I keep seeing them everywhere lately, and I am enraptured. I understand they are very playful and sweet.

    Thanks for sharing this weekend. As an armchair traveler, these are the kind of articles I love.

    And thank you for the tip about the cheese mag. I must get a copy. I'd love to read your article. Are you a regular contributor??

  2. Good for you Trixie for taking the trip. It looks like you had a blast and made some great new friends and memories. The sleepy goat is adorable, the kitten funny, and you girls looked like you're having a blast. Can't wait to hear about your next adventure.

  3. congrats on the article fun post, love Iceland you girls would be fun to party with

  4. That is the type of trip that all people should experience at least once or twice in a lifetime. Amazing.

    P.S. I think that the only time selfies are acceptable is when they are chaotic and taken at 4 AM on the streets of Reykjavik - at which point, they seem almost mandatory...

  5. Wow, great last minute decisions, sounds like a blast for food, nature animals, booze and party animals lol

  6. What a great post and pics! The next visit, must spend more time drinking and eating ... am seeing a cheese tour biz in Eirny's future if she wants it!

  7. I think sometimes it is the last minute, unplanned trips that yield the greatest times. I love that you drank all night yet it was light out. This gets you Pimm's at night and why shouldn't it really?