I gradually came around and headed down for breakfast. It was the typical European breakfast of interesting breads, cheeses and meats with some cereals and the possibility of toast. The orange and apple juices were placed beside shot glasses and a bottle that looked a bit like a lemon cleansing product. I gave that a wide berth and had some apple juice.
SWMBO's curiosity was piqued though and after cereal when I headed out for some toast and she asked me to investigate. As I got there a young chap was reading the bottle and I said I was wondering what it was too. He said it was fish oil. We both expressed some skepticism about fish oil at breakfast, but together we felt brave enough to give it a go.
He filled a shot glass with fish oil for himself, and I said I'd have a small glass. He said 'Say when' as he started to pour and I said 'When' almost immediately. This surprised him. Surprised him so much he didn't stop pouring... So I got a bigger glass of fish oil than I was expecting but it still wasn't quite a full shot glass. We clinked glasses as if we were about to down a tequila and had our fish oil.
It'll never catch on.
The taste wasn't as strong as the cod-liver oil we would get back home but nonetheless fish oil is not a pleasant drink, for me at least.
SWMBO later rightly pointed out the sense of fish oil when daylight can be a precious few hours a day, as a way of getting some necessary vitamin D into your system. Nice and practical. But still, it'll never catch on...
After breakfast we got the hotel to book our bus to the airport on Saturday and then took the 'Art Tour' in the hotel.
Hotel Holt holt.is/english/ is a 40-room hotel near the centre of Reykjavik, but the one thing that sets it apart is its art collection. It's hard to miss this selling point - there are paintings throughout the hotel. There are 3 paintings in our room! The corridors are lined with them. The lobby, dining areas and bar all have more paintings and sculptures.
When booking I just thought it was a nice idea, and the price seemed reasonable enough compared to other hotels for the nights we were looking at. But there's a good deal more to it than I expected.
For a start, the hotel shows about 400 pieces of original art, part of a collection of over a thousand (1400, maybe?) The original builder of the hotel in the 1960s was a collector of Icelandic art, and wanted to share his passion for it with others. Since then the collection has grown to include a lot of the 'pioneers' of Icelandic art, and some of the pieces are quite stunning. Yes, even to a philistine like me.
The half-hour Art Tour took just over an hour and showed us some of the highlights. It also brought home just how young Iceland is - the pioneers' pieces were from the early 1900s with only a few I think from the late 1800s. They depicted the old style of the communities from then, living in turf huts. We were told Icelanders only generally moved away from turf huts in the 1920s.
One artist in particular stood out for me. There was a corner of the 'Gallery' restaurant area that I liked. It had 4 paintings, each quite different in colour, tone and style. Turns out they were all by the same artist - Kjarval. He was one of the 'pioneers', and quite a prolific one. Many of his paintings turned up later on the tour, and there's a museum of his works near the Big Church. He also did a lot of charcoal or pencil portraits of people, and the bar in the hotel is festooned with many examples of these. (I'm typing this in the hotel bar now, and there are about 40 of them on the walls.)
It's remarkable that the hotel is so free with its art, and it's lovely to see. Since the hotel opened in the 1960s, not a single piece has been stolen, even though it would probably be quite straightforward to make off with some of the paintings. While some regard several of the pieces as priceless, I've no idea what value insurers place on them. It's possible they're not that valuable in the grand scheme of things, and that's why no-one has stolen them. I think that's probably not the real reason though. Maybe they'd be too easy to trace, maybe there's just not a market for 'hot' Icelandic paintings, maybe the valuable pieces are so big they'd be harder to steal.
I like to think it's because people are responding to the trust placed in them. Maybe people respond well to this instead of always being treated as potential criminals the way other places do.
Nah, probably not. But it's a nice thought.
After all that standing around looking at the paintings, we headed back to the room to rest my feet for a few minutes. Then we headed out for a slow dander to Harpa where the Food Walk was starting from.
On the way to Harpa, I got a hat! SWMBO finally persuaded me that we found a wooly hat that didn't make me look like a complete dork. (Now, when you see me looking like a complete dork at least you'll be able to say 'Well, it's not the hat...')
The Harpa seems a pretty remarkable building. We only saw some of it while we were waiting but I think it might be worth going back to see some more.
The Food Walk was led by Barra, a bubbly young Icelandic woman. First stop was a locals bar where we were served some lamb soup. The place changes the recipe regularly (every week?). The story is that every Icelandic granny has their own recipe for lamb soup, so they get recipes from the grannies of all the staff. That way you'll never know in advance what particular recipe of lamb soup you’ll get, but you know it'll be a granny's recipe that'll feed you and warm you up.
I have no idea why they had a chalk drawing of a man riding a sheep into town.
Today, the recipe was - I kid you not - almost exactly like the Irish Stew my granny would make.
It had the same warming broth, diced carrots and potato. The only difference I could find was my granny would cut the lamb up more. SWMBO said she'd expect more potato from an Irish granny recipe.
Food tours are a relatively new thing. The first one I heard about was the lovely Belfast Food Tour but there’s one in most cities we’ve been to recently. I like having a nice introduction to the city and its food early on in a trip because it often points out places to go to later, even if they’re not part of the tour itself.
Our tour group had quite a mix of people. Some from Singapore, some from Canada, and a lady from the US who disliked the way the US was changing so was going to start claiming she was from Canada. And interesting mix!
The next place we visited was a deli for some cheeses and meats. There were 3 of each. The cheeses were an Icelandic Gouda, an Icelandic Brie and an Icelandic Roquefort. I thought the first two cheeses were creamy but a bit bland. I don't think I'm used to mature cheeses, I think these were just fairly gentle. The third cheese, the roquefort, was a nice creamy blue cheese. Strong enough, if maybe a little salty. Could've eaten stacks of it.
The three meats were mutton, horse and goose. The goose was meant to be the highlight, but I found it tough. The sauce that topped it was nice, I just didn't like the texture of the goose meat itself. Ah well, you can't please everybody.
I may have taken too many pictures of SWMBO by this point.
We took a walk up to near the Big Church to Café Loki. I was expecting something trickster-y on the menu but no - apparently the streets around here are all named after Norse gods and this happened to be on Loki street. Simple as that.
Insert picture of table at Loki
Here we had a dense ice cream with bread and chocolate through it. Lovely. I could've eaten much more of this. The café had a fantastic mural of Norse mythology. I tried to explain a bit about the new nation they're trying to form in space, following a tangent because the mural pictured Asgard. I don't think SWMBO was impressed. Also, it turns out I've been mispronouncing Ragnarok the few times I've actually said it out loud. I still can't pronounce it properly but at least now I know.
We walked down to the water beside the city hall and watched the ducks. There were geese and swans as well, but ducks are ducks. We didn't have anything to feed them when they came over to say 'Hi' and I felt a little bad about that. While here we had some skyr, which isn't yogurt. It looks like yogurt and, to my uneducated palette, tastes like yogurt but yogurt it is not! There are some very strong opinions on this subject apparently.
Then another dander down towards the waterfront where there's a famous hot dog stand. There's been a hot dog stand there since 1937 and it's well know. It's one of the few things I'd heard about before coming here this time. We had hot dogs. Hot dogs made with lamb instead of pork, with sauces sweetened by apples rather than sugar. Very tasty indeed.
Apparently two weeks ago a building collapsed right where we were standing munching our hot dogs. No one was hurt but we lost the urge to hang around the hot dog stand.
Next up was 'The best lobster soup in the world'. Apparently Time magazine sent reporters to Iceland to try out the different foods and they decided this place served not just the best lobster soup in Iceland but the best in the world! So, now I can reliably state I'm not a fan of lobster soup. If I've had the best in the world and still get Meh about it then I'm fairly confident of my decision.
The tour did take us to some interesting streets. Hotel Holt doesn’t have a monopoly on art!
Finally we arrived back at Apotek, where we had a Happy Hour drink yesterday. This time we had a chocolate dessert and coffee. It was a chocolate and coffee mousse with crème anglaise and a pistachio base. Very rich, and too much for some folks who were full from the rest of the food.
And that was it. We said goodbye to ask the folks we'd bonded with over the last four hours and wished everyone well.
Then it was back to the hotel to relax just as the rain started. We weren't hungry after all that food so we headed down to the hotel bar and sat among the sketched portraits for a few hours. We're not normally folks for staying in the hotel but this was a pleasant exception.
Our Northern Lights tour was cancelled again, so we rounded off the evening with a few catastrophically-expensive-but-tasty nibbles from the bar.
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