Still hot!

One of my dreams came true a few months ago. (Or I should say special dream, because living in Iceland is a dream coming true every day. *emotional rant over*)   I had never ever thought that I would fly over an erupting volcano, but it happened. Even though there was a moment when I thought we all were going to die and the airplane will  crash into the hot lava this was one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me.

I took some pictures of Iceland’s Holuhraun lava field which I’d like to share with you guys.

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Bárðarbunga is a large central volcano lying underneath Iceland’s 500-m thick Vatnajökull glacier in the center of the country. It is located at the junction between the eastern and northern volcanic rift zones in the area where the present-day center of the mantle hot spot beneath Iceland is thought to be.

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Holuhraun and the closed safety zone is in an unpopulated area north of Vatnajökull glacier. The area consists mainly of sands and lava fields where there is no vital infrastructure. Bardarbunga has had about 300-400 eruptions during the past 10,000 years which includes only 23 eruptions historic times. Approx 8600 years ago, Bardarbunga produced the largest known lava flow during the past 10,000 years on earth (more than 21 cubic kilometers of volume).

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The eruption has began on 29 August 2014 (still happening!) and has now produced a lava field of more than 85 km2 and 1.4 km3 which is the largest in Iceland since 1783. The largest lava eruption in Iceland before Holuhraun was in Askja in 1875.

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Travel Q&A: (nearly) everything you wanted to know

Happy new year everyone!

The holiday season quickly came and and went and everyone was busy with family, study, work and occasional S.A.D., but we are back with full speed (and full belly from all the Christmas dinners) and enthusiasm to give something helpful and worthwhile to you.

Lately, Iceland is on top of every travel destination articles and bucket lists, so if you also got lured by the promise of dancing Northern Lights, chubby birds and cute horses, and you are planning your vacation of your dreams to the paradise of the northernmost capital and its surrounding, here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions from the people who have already been there, done that.

When should I go?

Anytime. Iceland is beautiful in every season, although there are some factors to consider when planning a holiday, namely: fog, zero visibility and strong wind.

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If we exclude these factors (which are most likely to happen during the winter but the picture above was taken in July, so really, ANYTHING can happen ANYTIME), I would say the best time to visit Iceland is in the summer. You can enjoy the neverending days with spectacular midnight sun, appreciate the nature with its thousand colors (and still, there is snow. There is always snow.), and won’t freeze to death while camping.

The winter paints the sky green and purple with Northern Lights, but the days are very short – by the end of December there is only a few hours of daylight and due to the snow several roads might be closed down, so this might not be the season for exploring the whole country. However if you’re planning a short layover in the capital, you will see the beautifully decorated downtown with its real-life gingerbread houses (not edible!) that put you in the holiday spirit right away.

Spring and fall: the closer to the summer the better chances you have for good weather. Northern lights are visible from October to April, so if you want a little bit of everything, these seasons might be the best for a visit to the Land of Ice.

You can check the weather forecast in English here.

For how long should I go to Iceland?

You can spend months here, expolring all the county if you want and if you have all the financial backup and the will to see everything, however, most people’s itinerary won’t exceed one or two weeks, but you can still make the most of your time in Iceland. If your intention is to go around the Ring Road, you will need a week-ten days to fully enjoy every stop that you take. You can easily drive around in four days as well, but you wouldn’t want to rush when you are surrounded by mountains, horses and waterfalls, would you?

In case you are just stopping for a weekend between two connecting flights, make sure you at least get a glimpse outside of Reykjavík. Most daytours are not more than 8-10 hours and are undoubtedly worth every second.

Actually, it doesn’t matter how long you are going to stay, you will always want to come back. I promise.

What clothes should I take with me?

Naturally, a lot depends on the time you are planning to visit Iceland, but a few things are certainly essential almost any time of the year: your warmest clothes, bathing suit, waterproof jacket, and sunglasses. Although, there are low-budget airlines offering trips to Keflavik, the awful truth is that you are not going to save money on only carrying your cabin bag, as even in the summer, the nights tend to be cold enough to make you gear up on all the sweaters, ponchos, and boots that you can possibly rummage out of your closet. Sure, you want to hike the beautiful mountains, so your hiking boots should also fit in your suitcase. Iceland is the land of hot water pools in the most unexpected places so make sure you will carry your bathing suit anywhere you go (a useful tip kids from someone who has been there done that: taking a plunge in your underwear in Hveragerdi is a story to remember, but not wise. At all.) If you decide to come in the spring-summer, you will definitely be in need of a pair of sunglasses to look cool and protect you from the sun, even at night. Reykjavík is famous for its crazy weekend partyscene and festival life, and if you have any party outfits that you haven’t dared to rock yet, this is your time to shine.

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Should I change money?

Well, of course if you want. Although, you will be able to use your credit or debit card with no limit anywhere (and by anywhere I mean even in public toilets). In most places you can also use, pounds, dollars or euros, so if you forgot to change money before, you will be in no trouble. However, if I were you I would stock up on some coins. They have fish on them.

A friendly warning to everyone: Iceland is expensive. You will probably feel after a night out of “let’s have a shot everyone, I pay”, that it might have been a better lifechoice to invest into a small apartment back at home for the same price. But it is the way it is, and you have to adapt to it.

The good news is that in most of the souvenir and clothes shops you are able to ask for a tax refund, if you leave a lot of money there (which you surely will because they are filled with all kinds of goodies). You should definitely do that, as who would say no to a little extra money at the airport when leaving the country? Noone. You can check more about the tax refunds here.

Is the tapwater drinkable?

I know that this is a big issue in most of the bigger cities around the world, but once you get to Iceland you have to ask yourself the question: is there anything that can be called more than drinkable? If there is, then it is Icelandic water. Anytime you would like to purchase bottled mineral water in a store (for more of a reason than to have a bottle to fill it with more tap water in the nearest bathroom), be prepared to have people laughing at you. The water that you have in the tap, is the purest spring water without any chemicals. THE. PUREST.YOU.CAN.GET. Drink as much as you can while you’re here.

Can I camp?

Of course you can! But only if you don’t care about hypothermia. Camp sites are usually open between May and August, and there is a reason for that. Once I camped outside in 0°C and although my sleeping bag was designed for much colder weather and I was wearing everything I could to protect my head, it wasn’t a nice experience. It’s not very pleasant to wake up in the morning with a frozen nose and a terrible headache. You don’t want that.

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Should I rent a car or take daytours?

Renting a car means freedom. You can go anywhere, anytime. We’ve rented several cars from different rentals and here are the tips we can give you:

  • ALWAYS have insurance. You never know what happens and the gravel roads can be quite tricky.
  • A normal 2WD is enough if you only want to drive the Ring Road, but if you want to go on F-roads you’ll need a 4WD. It’s not a rip-off, those roads are really tough to drive on, you might need to cross rivers or huge piles of snow or drive in the deep mud, so it’s worth paying more than awkwardly calling (if you have reception. Most of the times on F-roads you don’t. Just sayin’.) the rescue team and paying a fine. Trust me.
  • Protect the environment: I understand that you are the King of the Road in your amazing Jeep and offroad driving sounds very cool, but the moss you’ve been drifting on for 10 minutes needs 50 years to regrow. You’ll be a grandparent by then.
  • If the road is marked ‘IMPASSABLE’ it’s impassable. It means that there are obstacles in the way, for example LOADS OF SNOW. Or it can also mean that the road hasn’t been maintained for a while. Any case, you shouldn’t try to impress people and drive on it, or the same situation might occur with the rescue team that I mentioned earlier.
  • Always be aware of where the next gas station is. If the red light blinks, fill the tank. The next opportunity might be 100 km ahead of you.

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If you don’t have the luxury of a driver’s licence, or the money to rent a car for a week, then day tours are always a valuable option. You have to sacrifice your freedom of stopping anywhere you want as you will put your precious sightseeing time to your tourguide’s competent hands, but in return, you will get loads of funny and entertaining pieces of information about Iceland (and some inappropriate jokes), that you otherwise would have to search for yourself.

Road conditions in English available here.

Northern Lights: When? Where? How?

This is a tough question. There are several influencing factors when it comes to this mind-blowing phenomena.
Firstly, it needs to be dark, so the months between October and April are the best. If you go light hunting, make sure to leave the lights of the city behind you as far as possible (hint: it’s not that difficult).
Secondly, you’ll need a clear sky, so start to sacrifice some baby goats (or whatever your preference is) to Fortuna, because through a thick layer of clouds you won’t see anything. And as we mentioned earlier, the winter months are quite unpredictable (no, sorry, it’s unpredictable all year round), so prepare for the worst so you can be triple happy if you catch the lights.
Thirdly, there has to be northern light activity, right? You can check it here.

Some general remarks: we’ve been living and travelling around the island for quite some time now, and there are some things that we’d like to tell or ask you if you come for a visit. The first, and most important one is to remember 112 is the emergency number, call it if you’re in any kind of trouble. Another thing: please, respect the environment. I could rattle hours about how fragile Icelandic flora and fauna are and how long it takes for them to regrow. There are trashcans at every stop, so please use those, or collect your garbage and throw it away at the end. Don’t be an asshole. Thanks.

Have a nice trip everyone!

Survive the darkest days of the year with cats!

S.A.D. – seasonal affective disorder. Something you can’t avoid if you live around the Arctic Circle. Something that messes you up. Something that makes you sad. And weird.

When the days are short – and by short I mean only a few hours daylight if there’s no thick layer of clouds covering the sky – everyone goes a bit crazy.

Some start to party hard

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and even harder

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til they drop

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and tequila doesn’t make sense anymore.

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It’s time to discover FOOD

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and eat everything, however gross it might be.

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And feel bad about weight gain.

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It’s time to hide

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and immerse in such activities as sleeping

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sleeping

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and even more sleeping…

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…coz nothing brings joy in life any longer.

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But hey, I have good news!

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The 21st of December is almost here, and it marks the Winter Solstice. It means that from tomorrow on the days are getting longer, so it’s time to stock up on some more Vitamin D and hit the dancefloor to celebrate that this madness is NEARLY OVER!

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Laufabrauð

One of my favourite Christmas traditions in Iceland is

FOOD.

And not any food. It’s called laufabrauð a.k.a. “leaf bread”, a piece of deep-fried heaven. Before I start rambling about how perfect this dish is, let me tell you shortly about the history of the laufabrauð-tradition.10846774_998927930122718_2141940336_n

It was first mentioned around 1730, and originates from North Iceland. Making laufabrauð is a popular tradition nowadays in the whole country. Families get together to knead, cut and fry all day and the result is this beautifully decorated crunchy leaf-bread.

If someone feels adventurous, you can try to make it at home, it’s not difficult at all (believe me, if I can make it, everyone can).

10863472_998927906789387_493633115_nAll you need is:

1 kg wheat flour 30 g sugar 1 tbsp baking powder 1 tbsp salt 600 ml milk, scalded 1 tbsp butter

Some oil to fry, and a pot for frying.

Mix together the dry ingredients. Heat the milk to boiling point and melt the butter in it. Pour it into the dry ingredients and mix well. Knead into a ball of dense dough. Roll into sausage shapes and store under a slightly damp cloth, otherwise it dries out quickly. Cut or pinch off portions and flatten with a rolling pin. These breads are traditionally very thin – a good way to tell if the dough is thin enough is to check if you can read the headings of a newspaper through it. Cut into circular cakes, using a medium-sized plate as a guide to ensure even size. Decorate by cutting out patterns (it’s called leaf-bread because of the leaf-shaped patterns that are cut into it but feel free to unleash your artistic freedom). Heat the oil in a deep, wide pot. Prick the cakes with a fork to avoid blistering, and drop into the oil, one at a time, taking care that they do not fold (and that you don’t burn yourself). The cakes will sink as you drop them into the oil. When they resurface,  turn them over. They are ready when they are golden in colour, it only takes a few seconds to fry each one. Remove them from the oil and put on a piece of kitchen paper to drain. It’s good to press a plate or something similar on top of the cake to ensure that it will be flat enough. Stack up and allow it to cool. When cool, stack in a cookie tin. Stored in a cool, dry place, leaf bread will keep for a long time, but who wouldn’t want to eat them right away?

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They are usually served at Christmas dinners with hangikjöt (smoked lamb) or some butter. But you can eat them however you like, They make an amazing snack if you’re bored with potato chips and feel like trying something new.

A lovely Christmas tale about food stealing trolls and a man-eating cat

Most people would think that Christmas in Iceland is a white fairytale with Northern lights and fluffy, snow-capped mountains. I am here to prove you wrong: back in the old days, the thirteen days before Christmas was used to scare the hell out of kids with the Icelandic Yule Lads. However, this tradition of totally freaking children out was banned, and the Christmas trolls have become more kid-friendly, they are still coming down from their mountain on the 12th of December, to put either candy in well-behaved or rotten potatoes in naughty children’s shoes, and play mischiefs on you for two weeks. If you are cautious enough, you will have a chance to see them projected somewhere in Reykjavík, committing their petty crimes. The Yule Lads live in a cave in the Dimmuborgir lava fields with their mother Grýla, their father Leppalúði and with the big black Yule Cat. Grýla, the Christmas Ogress has the ability to detect misbehaving children and hunts for them during Christmas time, as her favourite dish is NAUGHTY KID STEW. tumblr_mevbeplikb1qd9ee3o1_1280 12th December You should be careful about your sheep, because Stekkjarstaur would be more than willing to suckle the milk form the yews, if he could use his knees to kneel (which he cannot). 13th December Keep an eye on your cow’s milk, Giljagaur likes his latte with only milk foam. 14th December This should be the day when you hide your pans in the kitchen, as Stúfur loves to steal the crust from the meal you prepared for your late-night binge watching session. 15th December You like licking the spoon when baking? Þvörusleikir likes licking spoons even more. Put those spoons away if you don’t want them touched by sticky troll fingers. 16th December Pottaskefill will gladly make your day easier by stealing and cleaning your messy pots with his filthy troll tongue. Thanks Pottaskefill for sparing me the minutes I would have spent with putting the dishes in the dishwasher. 17th December Wow man, these guys really like licking stuff. If you had an idea of putting your wooden bowls under your bed on the 17th, don’t do it, if you don’t want Askasleikir to take care about cleaning them up. 18th December It’s dark and it’s cold outside and you are curled up in your bed readying yourself to take that long-wanted, well-earned good night’s sleep. This is the moment when Hurðaskellir comes to keep you up all night with slamming doors. Bummer, you should have gone partying after all. maxresdefault 19th December We have already phrased a lovesong about our undying love for Skyr. On the 19th of December, everyone should keep their precious skyrs within reach in case Skyrgámur comes to take it away. No, you won’t Yule Lad, there are things that you can mess with, skyr is not one of them. 20th December Skyr is not enough, on the 20th of December, Bjúgnakrækir arrives to rob you of your sausages. Damn, if you are not careful, you will end up with no food on Christmas day. 21st December Gluggagægir is one creepy little guy, probably the first one to come up with the idea of reality shows, as he is one for familiarizing himself with your intimate private life by peeking through your window. I would draw those curtains, if I were you. 22nd December You will easily recognise Gáttaþefur as his nose arrives before the rest of his body. It is a perfect tool for him to sniff out cakes and bread. He will not be satisfied with the smell only, and would do anything to have a taste. 23rd December If you are one of the meat-lovers, you should keep away your precious treasure from around the fireplace, because on the 23rd, one thing will come down from the chimney and it’s not Santa Clause. It’s Ketkrókur with his meat hook to fish your dinner away. 24th December This is the day of Kertasníkir, who creeps after children to eat their candles. Seriously, what is wrong with this guy? Icelandic Christmas traditions also made me change my mind about one more thing: I always thought that Dobby is the only one who can be genuinely happy with a pair of socks as a Christmas present. Not in Iceland. Here, a pair of socks is a loving symbol of caring about someone not being eaten by a giant cat. Yes, if you do not receive a piece of clothing for the holidays, the Jólakötturinn comes and eats you for dinner. Merry Christmas. Now you know what to be careful about until Christmas day (basically everything, you’d better just reserve Christmas shopping to the last days in case someone comes and steals and licks your kitchen dry) (and make sure you buy a pair of socks for your loved ones), it’s time for us to get you more into festive mood with our Icelandic Christmas countdown. Ready, steady, countdown!

Icelandic delicacies – not another sheep’s head post

When I mention Icelandic cuisine to my non-Icelandic friends, they immediately frown then start to rant about some rotten shark challenge video they’ve seen on YouTube. ‘And is that true they eat <insert any gross fermented dish>?’

This is when I clear my throat and give a profound speech about my experiences with Icelandic food, that don’t only include sheep’s head, rotten shark, or pickled ram’s testicles. In fact, after spending years in the Land of Ice, I have never seen any Icelanders casually walking up to the fridge for some fermented shark bites. Being a moderately adventurous person, I appreciate delish bites and also like to try new things, be it Doritos flavoured ice cream or an exotic fruit that I haven’t heard of before, but there’s a line that shall not be crossed (and that line for me is somewhere around lyfrapylsa).

So please let me tell you about…

A FOODIE’S EXPERIENCES WITH ICELANDIC FOOD – A LIST UNCOVERING THE TASTY BITES:

1. Skyr – I can’t express my undying love for this dairy product that is something between cheese and yogurt and comes in a variety of  flavours – vanilla, banana, baked apples, berries, mango, strawberry, just to mention a few. You can even make your own healthy snack of plain, unflavoured skyr, brown sugar and some berries. Every time I taste skyr, my tastebuds burst into an ode thanking the person who accidentally left milk somewhere for too long. Someone said that cheese was milk’s leap towards immortality, but I think skyr is.

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2. Kleina – doughnut a’la Iceland. This fried pastry exists in all the Scandinavian countries, as well as in northern Germany under the names of: klenät, klena, klejne, kleina, kleyna, and fattigmann. It’s not too difficult to make at home, but you can buy them anywhere. In packs. Big packs. Which means you really need to make an effort not to eat them by yourself as “afternoon snack”. Your heart will be very grateful for that.

3. Flatkaka – Icelandic flat bread. You can eat it with any kind of paté or just some salted butter. Doesn’t look very mouthwatering but the taste makes up for it.

4. Sugar-coated potatoes – yes, it is what it is: small potatoes floating in caramel sauce. First you are suspicious about them. Then you smell them – not bad. Then you taste them. And you feel conflicted, because they’re actually quite tasty, especially when served with ham and some sweet corn. Yummy!

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5. Grjónagautur – when it’s cold and windy and rainy outside and you need something sweet and warm and comforting, there is one thing you can do: cook rice in milk, and serve it with some more milk and cinnamon-sugar. The adventurous ones can have some lyfrapylsa or slátur with it, but for me these are out of the question.

6. Hardfiskur – dried fish usually eaten in small bites with some butter on top. You might not want to kiss anyone after eating it, and your fridge will smell for weeks, but it’s definitely worth trying.

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7. Everything lakkris (or liquorice) – I hated it. I fought against it for so long. But on one occasion, when I bought a bag of nammi for a movie-night I realized too late that everything I had contained lakkris so I had no other choice but eating them. And for my biggest surprise, they weren’t as bad as I thought they would be.

8. Icelandic pancakes – these are just like any European pancakes or crépes. In Iceland, they’re traditionally served with cinnamon-sugar or some jam and an enormous dose of whipped cream. Even just thinking of them makes my mouth water.10814129_985077321507779_143593534_n

9. Kokteilsósa – a.k.a. the “pink sauce”. Mix some ketchup, mayonnaise and sour cream with salt and pepper – voilá. One of the Icelandic culinary claim to fame, so it was exceptionally painful when someone pointed out that the sauce might have already existed before the Icelandic version was made. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is pretty awsome if you eat it with french fires, sandwiches, salads, cakes, dip candy in them or whatever you like.

10. Kjötsúpa – Icelandic meat soup made of sheep, barley, veggies and magic. There is a kjötsúpa wagon in Reykjavik, find it, and buy some soup, you won’t regret it.

+1 Kókómjólk – chocolate milk! Although it’s not technically a food, we decided to put this on the list. Because it’s perfect.

Iceland Airwaves 2014

…and finally it was time for our favorite music festival of the year. We started the countdown back in August when we bought the tickets, and time passed by so quickly, it became November in what it feels like a heartbeat. Those four days went by even faster, so it’s good we have some pictures as proof, otherwise it would seem like a not-so-surreal hallucination.

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The first Iceland Airwaves was held exactly in 1999 and took place in a cool airplane hangar at Reykjavik Airport. Since the first time it has grown out the hangar and spread all over town: cafes, pubs, stores, hostels and even the street have turned into a concert place. With its off-venue schedule the festival has something for those as well who don’t have a ticket. With approximately 9,000 other festival goers and who knows how many off-venue attendees Airwaves turns Reykjavik to one enormous party-town for a few days each year, where the visitors can bump into an interesting performance at every corner.

We had a blast with our friends Topas and Captain Morgan and although we didn’t make it to all the concerts we wanted to (decided to surrender before Caribou when we saw that people were standing in line from the Art Museum to the Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand and went to check some local bands instead) we had an amazing time together.

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