This would so never happen in America, I thought. Nope, I just canâ€™t see anywhere in my country where pre-adolescent boys would be allowed to gleefully flail at each other with wooden swords and shields – all while parents smiled and took videos.
Thatâ€™s the Viking FestivalÂ in Iceland for you, though. Every summer, the festival runs just south of Reykjavik in Hafnarfjordur. There, you can eat a freshly roasted sheep. Try your hand at throwing axes. Watch Viking battle re-enactments. Stay at the Viking Hotel (one of the funkiest hotels in Iceland)
Believe it or not, all the kids emerged unscathed from the Viking Festival. They all wore huge grins after their designated mock combat. I had as much fun watching them as they did swinging wooden swords and axes.
Our day started in Vik, several hours southeast (read about the previous day in Vik).
Volcanoes and Viking Kitsch
During the bus ride to Reykjavik, we passed the volcano that put Iceland in the news – and hemmed in air travel to and from Europe. Unfortunately, we could see little of EyjafjallajÃ¶kull. Mostly, we could see the lower slopes of a mountain and dingy air. The bus driver didnâ€™t even stop, though we saw other people snapping photos.
A few hours later, we were in Reykjavik. Our first stop was checking into a room at the Guesthouse Isafold. We liked it so much we made it our base for every night weâ€™d me in Reykjavik.
From there, we navigated the bus system to Hafnarfjordur – and the Viking Festival. It was our first major experience with greater Reykjavikâ€™s bus system. Impressions? Clean and punctual.
Once weâ€™d gotten our fill of Viking kitsch, we wandered the streets a bit. Thatâ€™s how we discovered Kaffihus Suffistin and probably the best chocolate-coconut cake youâ€™ll ever eat. We also spent some time wandering the nearby neighborhoods – one city park was built on a an ancient lava flow, with giant volcanic cinders forming a mazelike system of nooks and crannies.
Icelandâ€™s Fish is For-Real
By the time we finishes walking and headed back downtown, we were hungry. We found Icelandic Fish & Chips in all the guidebooks. And for good reason. The restaurant gets fresh fish daily. You can get it prepared a few different ways, with a number of different sides and toppings. The toppings are made from skyr, the Icelandic dairy product most people think is yogurt. But really, itâ€™s closer to cheese. Itâ€™s nearly fat-free and full of protein
If you go looking for skyr at a grocery store in the U.S., I hate to inform you – it doesnâ€™t taste like the stuff in Iceland, and itâ€™s about triple the price. The Icelandic variety has no trace of sourness. Anyway, this is not only a popular snack, but the base for the sauces that come with the fish.
Hereâ€™s how it works: You come in, select a table and get a menu. When youâ€™re ready, you go to the counter and order. The staff brings your food out a bit later, and you chow down on some wonderfully fresh, non-greasy fish. The batter is made from spelt and barley, and the chips are oven-roasted potatoes.
Watching the World Cup in a Soccer Nation
After a nice feed, we walked more. Though weâ€™d passed Cafe Rot during our first day, we never dropped in. This time we did, seeking refuge from the rain along with a hot drink. I soon discovered a passage to a basement where the World Cup match was about to start. Sarah and I enjoyed the match, along with the company of people from England and various Middle Eastern countries. Germanyâ€™s Mesut Ozil was having his breakout performance. And the other guys were determined to make me a believer in Icelandâ€™s popular malt soda, Maltextrakt. It might not be bad with some hops added to it and a few months of fermentation time!
That was pretty much it, except for a bit of souvenir shopping.
Coming tomorrow: A flight over the Icelandâ€™s interior to Akureyri and Myvatn.
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