A Week in Iceland: Friday (Day 2)

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Iceland Gull
Gull, Icelandic for beer.

If you read my Iceland itinerary , Friday was one of the two days we didn’t have already planned out.  We’d decided while out on our Thursday night bar crawl that we’d wake up early \and catch an 8:20 bus to the Reykjavik suburbs in order to hike Mt. Esja.  Our first night in Iceland was not kind to me, not the next morning anyway.

I woke up at 7:45, my head spinning, praying desperately that my sister would sleep through her alarm.  She didn’t, but luckily was in the same boat and agreed that a few hours of sleep would benefit us more than a hike.  We woke up a few hours later, still feeling awful and hobbled across the street to a small café for some breakfast.  Breakfast made me feel better, but her feel worse so it was back to bed until about 1:00.    At that point we woke up,   scolded ourselves for letting the night before get out of hand and made a deal, that despite how terrible we were feeling, we needed to get up and see more of Reykjavik and couldn’t let this happen again.

The night before, we’d purchased tickets to the Grayline “Taste the Sage” Brewery Tour from the Reykjavik Backpacker’s front desk.   The tour was at five, we had about four hours.  Our game plan was to go visit the Laugardalslaug complex.

While Iceland is famous for its hot springs, native Icelanders visit geothermal pools much more frequently.  Reykjavik has several but Laugardalslaug is the largest and most prominent. Geothermal pools are not the same as hot springs.  They’re man made complexes simply heated using the island’s geothermal energy and a very non-touristy, Icelandic thing to do.  Laugardalslaug is about a forty minute walk from our hostel, which we needed to help us get moving and sweat out the booze.

If you’re anything like me, life in the good old USA has made you very wary of public pools and water parks.  No worries.  Laugardalslaug is very well kept.  The complex costs about five dollars to enter and gives you access to two large heated outdoor pools, an Olympic sized indoor pool, and two heated seawater tubs that are supposed to be good for the skin. .  There’s also a sauna, steam bath, and selection of “hot pots.”  “Hot pots” are tiny circular hot tubs hot tubs of varying degrees of heat.  There were about 10 hotpots paralleling one of the outdoor pools.  They got hotter the further you proceeded.  The hottest was 44 degrees Celsius and felt like we were being boiled.  That’s probably because that translates to 112 degrees Fahrenheit.  That’s hot.

I was floored by how many people were just hanging out at the pool and hotpots and sunbathing (it was around 60, which is warm for Iceland) and how this was a normal thing or way to relax and socialize.    The Laugardalslaug was relaxing, everyone was well behaved the water incessantly clean.  This was one Icelandic way of life I could get used to.  I wouldn’t hate if it caught on stateside (granted they keep up with Iceland’s superb sanitation).

Laugardalslaug: say that five times fast.

The “Taste the Saga Tour” was one of many trip highlights.  A small van picked us up a block from our hostel at the Center Hotel.  The driver apologized for not being able to get right to our door as of construction which we just laughed off.  Then, after Katelyn and I and two other passengers were there, the van took us a whole five blocks where we met up with other vans carrying small groups of passengers and boarded a large tour bus.  Iceland really takes care of it’s visitors.  We would have easily walked the six blocks to the Grayline main office, but no one would hear of that.  It was the same for all the other tours we took.

“Taste the Saga” was billed as a brewery tour, but really gave you so much more bang for your buck.  It was unlike any brewery tour I’ve ever been on.  Usually you spend the bulk of your time actually in the brewery learning about the hops, mechanics, and techniques used to create different beer with perhaps a complimentary pint at the end.   After a bus picked us up from downtown Reykjavik we were transported to the Olgerdin Egills Brewery (there are two major beers in Iceland, Viking and Gull, Egills creates the latter) where we were lead directly past the manufacturing floor and into what seemed to be a very sterile conference room.  There ended up being nothing sterile about it as within ten minutes we’d already been given an entire bottle of Gull and Snorri (their new “microbrew, which was delicious).

My favorite part of the tour was how un-American it was.    This tour emphasized drinking and the history of drinking culture in Iceland.  Our guide, a 20-something girl whose name slips my mind, finished two large drinks during our tour and informed us that it was far from her first tour that day which added to the party-like atmosphere.  We learned about Iceland’s complicated and ridiculous relationship with prohibition and learned how to toast in Iceland (Skal!) and even got a small Icelandic linguistic lesson.  Gull is pronounced “Gullchth” as a double “L” makes a “chth” sound.  That explained why the bartenders laughed at my when I was ordering a gull (as in the seafaring bird).

We tasted Gull, which is Egill’s flagship brew, Polar Beer (get it), Snorri, as well as an unfermented beer in the actual brewery, as well as a shot of Brennivan, a  disgusting Icelandic schnapps.  We also got to taste the beer substitute Icelanders drank during prohibition which consisted of non-alcoholic beer mixed with vodka.  It was disgusting (but as another fellow American noted, not half as nasty as a Natty).

The tour was also fun because by the end everyone was nice and lubricated up and chatting with one another.  We shared our conference room table with a couple from New Zealand and a Danish tour guide on a layover on his way to work in Greenland, and it was fun comparing vacation notes with them and learning a little bit about their cultures (there was a young child with his parents on our tour and our Danish tablemate informed me that in Denmark, he would’ve been drinking as well).  There also happened to be three guys from PA on the tour, from outside Philly no less.  We got to chatting with them and after our bus ride back to Reykjavik grabbed dinner with them at a small sports bar.

Taste the Saga Iceland
A selection of Icelandic beers and sodas we had on our “Taste the Saga” tour. My hands down favorite taste-wise is the Snorri. My hands down favorite name wise is the Polar Beer.

The drinking timeline in Reykjavik is crazy.  We got dinner around 8:30 and the pub was dead.  On a gorgeous summer night in the US the same place would’ve been packed, but due to Iceland’s outrageous drink prices, most Icelanders go to house parties or pregame to excess before hitting the town.  Their pregames put ours to shame as most don’t actually leave to barhop until midnight or after, which isn’t a problem since the sun doesn’t set and last call is at 5:00.  Katelyn and I got a wings and beer special while our new friends all took advantage of a wing and burger deal.  When their burgers came out we all were surprised, and got a good laugh, over the fact that a fried egg was placed on top of the bun.  The Icelandic food was pretty normal, but it became a theme throughout our trip to just kind of have why-did-they-do that moments when ordering.  There were the random eggs on burgers, cucumbers as the de fact sandwich veggies (as opposed to our lettuce and tomato) and Doritos in the place of croutons on a salad.

After dinner we departed from the other guys who were going back to do a true Icelandic pregame.  We unfortunately had a big day planned for Saturday with snowmobiling and rafting starting at 8, and didn’t want a repeat of the night before so figured we’d hit a few more bars and be in by midnight.  We putzed around downtown before heading to the bunk bar where we got caught up with some more giant summer ales and were responsible and in back in the room by midnight.

This is the part of the story where the never ending daylight came and bit us in the asses again.  As we got ready to lay down in our empty hostel room, sunlight peeking through the curtains and the sounds of fun floating up from the Laugevegur, we couldn’t do it.  We convinced ourselves that we could go out for one or two more drinks.  We’re only in Reykjavik once we convinced ourselves so schlepped back downstairs for a few more drinks at the Bunk Bar.  We met and chatted with one of our dorm mates and then convinced ourselves to visit the Dillon Whiskey Bar, just two doors down from the hostel, where we ended up running into a couple of people from “Taste the Saga” and ended up having a few beers in the street with them.  We found ourselves in some second story club circa 2Am when we finally looked at each other, said enough is enough, and went to bed for real.

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