First stop this morning was Sandholt. It was a bakery cafe that had a lineup out its door every time I had passed earlier. (It also had very dramatic food photography and rustic yet regal branding, which my fellow graphic designers out there may appreciate)
I took a number at the door, but they didn’t seem to use them when it wasn’t busy. I asked the staff what was the bakery specialty and she pointed out a vanilla cream pastry. After last night’s vanilla cream experience, I didn’t want to go anywhere near that flavour. Her next recommendation was a cinnamon bun, which seemed too American for me, so I went for ye old faithful: pain-au-chocolate and a latte.
The latte was excellent – and quite large too. For 860 ISK this felt like a real steal for Reykjavík! The pain-au-chocolate was perfect as well – soft, warm, and flaky with just the right amount of chocolate. I found a bench outside on the street and sat in the morning sun – bliss!
I went back to my AirBnB to pack up. I fluffed the duvets and set everything back just so, with a thank you card on the windowsill. I then hoisted up my backpack and headed to the nearest hotel where I ordered a airport shuttle and checked my bags.
Concert Quest & Picnic
Free of luggage, I wandered up to Hallgrímskirkja with plans to get a ticket for the noon choral concert. Unfortunately, it turned out that the choral concert was a weekday event only. The Saturday noon day concert was organ music. While I don’t mind the organ, I didn’t feel like paying 2000 ISK for a concert of it only during my few remaining hours in Reykjavík.
I sat on the park bench by a small fountain and had a little elevenths picnic of gravlax, cheese, egg, and bread. What was left of the egg and cheese I tossed out, but figured I could smuggle the bread back to Canada easily enough. The gravlax was easy to polish off – by far the best cured fish I have ever had (although it does make my hands smell for hours after, even if I don’t touch it directly with my fingers).
I was quite content sitting on the park bench with my simple yet delicious meal of all things marvelous. I liked watching the people go by, listening to the bubbling fountain and cars go by. It was very pleasant.
If I wasn’t going to hear a choral concert, I figured I might as well spend my last two hours doing my favourite activity – eating and drinking! Unlike most airlines, Icelandair doesn’t supply complimentary snacks, or alcoholic drinks to Economy passengers, so what better excuse than to fuel up in the city?
I had been eying Cafe Loki’s menu since I first set eyes on this little corner cafe that looked onto Hallgrímskirkja. They had a variety of Icelandic themed plates between 1500 and 2930 ISK. As I had already had a lovely picnic, I ordered dessert: rye bread ice cream with rhubarb syrup and tea. The tea was made with Icelandic birch, arctic thyme, and Icelandic moss.
The whipped cream on top of the ice cream was overkill, but the syrup and rye bread ice cream was quite nice. It reminded me a bit of carrot cake ice cream – similar texture, density, and sweetness. The serving looked small, but turned out to be just the right amount once you took these qualities into account.
I’m not much of a herbal tea drinker, so it is hard for me to describe the tea. I let the tea brew while I made my way through the ice cream. The waitress said it should brew for 5 minutes, but I let it sit for more than that. The taste was too subtle to place, but the aroma was similar to thyme. It reminded me of the rosemary tea my boss, Constance, used to make whenever I’d visit. It was just not as flavourful as her tea. However, this tea was a gorgeous yellow colour that matched the flower and menu on my table perfectly.
I wandered back down the hill via Skólavörðustígur, a street with interesting boutiques and restaurants. I planned to stop by Fish, a small bistro that had peaked my interest earlier. Unfortunately, it didn’t have much in the way of snacks or appetizers, so I continued down the hill.
I popped into boutiques here and there. Skólavörðustígur had a nice collection of shops and retail galleries that were a refreshing change from the tourist traps on Laugavegur. One such gem was Photography, a quirky shop with black and white prints of Iceland’s past and present for 1000 ISK+.
My favourite boutique by far was Spark Design Space on Klapparstígur at Laugavegur. It had a gallery feel with two floors of prints, books, scarves, leather accessories and even lampshades! Everything spoke of craftsmanship, style, and exclusiveness. I couldn’t necessarily afford anything there, but I enjoyed looking.
I thought I better grab some food before I left for the airport, so stopped by the Lobster Hut food truck again. I wanted to try something new, which was easy as they only had 3 menu items: soup, salad, or sandwich.
This time around, I got the lobster soup. I’m generally not a fan of fish soups, but this was amazing! The broth was electric orange in colour, with a dollop of cream and chunks of lobster in the bottom of the bowl. It had a familiar spice taste to it that I couldn’t quite place – something with curry. It was incredible!
Bus to the Airport
The hotel had booked me for a Reykjavík Excursions Flybus. I got a seat at the front, but then the bus driver took my bag and put it on the floor, directing that I sit there. Apparently they’d overbooked, so instead of kicking me off, I got to sit on the floor.
The bus driver was very soft spoken and didn’t speak much English. I was surprised when we got to the central bus station and he started ushering me off the bus by taking my bag away from me. I was so confused! It turned out that this bus was going to the Blue Lagoon, and there was a bigger bus behind the station going to the airport.
I transferred to the next bus and got an a real seat this time. Before we left, a woman came down the aisle collecting tickets. I was a bit worried that I was suppose to have bought a proper ticket in the station, but when I handed her 2500 ISK in cash, she made no notion this was a problem.
The bus ride took us to a suburb of Reykjavík then through the lava fields. They seemed a little more green this time around and contrasted beautifully against the dramatic clouded sky horizon of jagged mountains. The bus had friendly announcements in Icelandic and English, which made for a nice touch.
Food Heaven, Food Horror
I made my way through baggage check and security both quickly and painlessly. Free from the weight of my backpack, I soon filled up my tote bag with duty-free items so much that it nearly cut off my circulation!
Duty-free at the Keflavik Airport was amazing. There were all the chocolates, syrups, elixirs, and gourmet salts that had been in the shops in Reykjavík, just cheaper. There was also a plethora of interesting alcohol made from birch, moss, or filtered through lava. I could not resist!
I was tested again when I went down to the level where my flight was boarding. Here was an incredible gourmet boutique called Pure Food Hall. There was gravlax, bread, candies, spreads and all sorts of inciting Icelandic food items. Then there were fine European products, including a whole shelf of truffle products! There was truffle butter, truffle olive oil, truffle salt, truffles in jars… However, I managed to talk myself out of temptation. I was moving at the end of the month, and I probably could find some, if not all of these things at home. But truffle butter? Oh my god…
I steered myself away from temptation and lined up for my Icelandair flight. Once boarded, we were handed blankets and bottles of Icelandic water. We hadn’t gotten those on the flight from Oslo! The stewardesses were also friendlier on this flight, although rather slow. I am not a fan of Icelandair – I think its got to be my least favourite budget airline I’ve flown with in the last 5 years. Porter remains my favourite.
The Flight Home
To continue my day of culinary gluttony, I ordered red wine and chocolate. Both were dreadful. The chocolate was one of those souvenir bars (Traditional Icelandic Chocolate bar) with a picture of Iceland on it, and absolutely tasteless – like eating sugar and hard wax mixed together. The wine was no better. It was like dirty grape juice: a cabernet-syrah blend by J.P. Chenet, France. Avoid both at all costs!
I spent much of the flight with my eyes closed listening to Philip Glass‘ biography on audiobook. It was the perfect book for light snoozing. It painted such beautiful pictures in the mind, fascinating and entertaining. I tried to keep track of the composers and performers that would influential to him, and even some words of advice for improving one’s craft.
One anecdote from his days at Juilliard was about copying out one another’s work in order to fully understand it. I thought I could give that a go too – replicate some of the pamphlets I’d picked up in Germany! It would be good for user interface development too. I want to improve and grow my own skill, and that may prove a good way to keep motivated at too. Now only if I could figure out how to do that with lectures and public speaking… Oh that would be brilliant!
As we descend to Toronto I was struck by the beauty of the golden light in the lake and the clouds. I was glad to be returning to Toronto after Reykjavík. Toronto is not such a bad city after all. We may not be as walkable or as grand as Berlin or Leipzig (with cheap cheese) but it is still a good place to live and work.
Once the turbulence began, the mother and daughter sitting next to me held each others hands. Although the mother was obviously distressed through the way she gripped the arm rest, I thought it was a beautiful moment to witness. Two women supporting one another.
As the city started to take shape, I thought how big Toronto and its surrounding areas are. It was like a never ending circuit board, the windows glinting in the sun. We also seem to have a ton of bright blue backyard pools and golf courses too.
My dad was standing in arrivals when I cleared Canadian customs (Customs in North American are so nasty compared Europe). I was so happy to see him! He took my bags and we made out way back to the car park as I excitedly jabbered on about my trip, how Toronto wasn’t such a bad city after all we compared to Reykjavík, but I’d totally move to Germany!
The traffic was horrible. We presumed it had to be some sort of Pan Am concert. Dad took me to Gate 403, a jazz bar on Roncesvalles Avenue where I ordered a hamburger with salad and we each had a beer.
Once home, I dealt with my mail, unpacked a little, and crawled into bed. Funnily enough, I woke up twice in the night totally confused where I was, thinking I was still in Iceland. Ha! But no, I’m home now, and going back to the office on Monday!