Effervescent storyteller.

Welcome to My Modern Diary, an electronic journal filled with tales of nostalgic cuisine, wistful wanderings & personal recollections by Sarah Orman.

Iceland - Reykjavik

Iceland - Reykjavik


Following a whole week in England and several heart-wrenching goodbyes, we were en-route to our third and final country; Iceland.

When we began planning our trip in the fall, many people were curious as to why we chose such a remote location. Having dreamed of going to the land of fire and ice for many years, I was honestly shocked to be asked such a question. "Why not?" was always my answer, which left folks pondering the third and final stop on our epic vacation even more.

After being quizzed several times, a small shadow of doubt began to form at the back of my mind and while finalizing our plans for the third and final leg of our trip over Christmas, I honestly started to panic that perhaps we were doing the wrong thing. With only 4-5 hours of daylight in Iceland during winter, I began imagining long, dark days with nothing to do, snow and frigid temperatures and disappointing dining. I mean, it's hardly the culinary capital of the world, right?

In addition, the weather was forecast to be cold and wet for the entire duration of our stay, which in most vacation circumstances is bearable provided there are plenty of indoor activities, however my list of things to see and do largely involved braving the elements and the great outdoors, including of course the famed Aurora Borealis.

And so it was with a slight air of pessimism we flew to Iceland from Edinburgh.

We landed in Keflavik at 8 PM on December 28th. I had read online that the best method of transport to Reykjavik was by bus, and so I pre-booked our tickets after reading somewhere that during off-peak seasons the bus runs from 9 AM to 6 PM. As we made our way through the deathly silent airport I felt somewhat uneasy; it all seemed too quiet. For a split second I had a vision of us being stranded at the airport until daylight, thankfully however, the manned "Flybus" desk came into view as we approached the terminal exit. A short, dark, blustery, sub-zero walk across the tarmac and we were on-board a bus bound for Iceland's capital city.

One hour and two bus journeys through the pitch-black later, we arrived at our hotel to collect the keys to our apartment.

Our home for the next four nights was clean, spacious, warm and comfortable. We fueled-up on some snacks from the grocery store directly opposite our apartment, showered and hit the bed, exhausted from goodbyes and travel.

We woke to skies still as black as night at 9 AM. It was a strange, disorientating feeling to be preparing for the day ahead in what felt like the middle of the night, but we were determined to make the best of this once in a lifetime trip and see as much as we could in the few short hours of daylight we were rewarded.

After some fresh coffee, bread, Icelandic cheese and yoghurt, we bundled-up in our warm, waterproof clothing and headed out to explore.

Our apartment was located at one end of Reykjavik's main high street. With no real purpose other than to see Iceland's capital by daylight, we wandered slowly, taking in the colorful buildings that we soon realized to be one of the city's trademark characteristics.

In stark contract to Vienna and Salzburg, Reykjavik could be considered somewhat dull and boring to the architectural junkie. There are no intricately embellished stone buildings, lavishly decorated churches or beautiful baroque masterpieces, but for what it lacks at first glance in architectural splendor, Reykjavik makes up for in vibrant color, individual character and quirkiness.

As a result of few raw materials, much of the city is constructed from concrete and corrugated steel, which in most cases is {for want of a kinder expression} just plain ugly. But somehow, Icelanders have taken these man-made components and transformed them into something synonymous to their unique country. There was no shortage of vibrantly painted buildings reminiscent of garages and the city's take on street art was on a whole other level.

We ambled up and down Reykjavik's main thoroughfares, pausing to gaze into brightly-lit shop windows and cozy cafes. At every turn there was yet another vividly-painted facade or an eye-catching mural.

Iceland24 copy

With Christmas only a few days behind us, there was still a festive glow in the city; my favorite of which was in the form of several projections onto the high-street buildings.

There is no such thing as Santa Claus in Iceland. Instead, there are the yule lads; 13 fellows originating from Icelandic folklore. Don't be fooled now, 13 yule lads does not mean 13 times more gifts, oh no. Traditionally the youngsters were sent from the mountain trolls to scare mischievous Icelandic children during the festive period. They would steal and harass folk, each one appropriately named for his wrong-doing; Window-Peeper and Sausage-Swiper to name just two.

Today, the lads have taken a more benevolent role in society and we spotted our first cheery prankster high above our heads as as roamed the city sidewalks. Unfortunately we didn't catch any images of the boys in action, but you can see a amateurish video of them here. What fun! : )

Reykjavik is by no means a large city, in fact, one could easily do all its "must-see" attractions in 24-hours. And so with rain in the forecast for much of our first day, we opted to stay put, take it slow and explore the city's fine food establishments.

Surprisingly, the dining scene in Reykjavik is pretty happening. There were an abundance of cafes, bars and restaurants that caught our attention, all of which were hugely charismatic in appearance.

Between heavy, cold downpours we hopped from one cafe to another to thaw out and enjoy each others company : ) A bowl of hot homemade lentil and bacon soup for lunch with fresh bread and Icelandic butter definitely hit the spot as we watched folks come and go from our cozy table in the corner of Bakarí Sandholt. I emphasize "Icelandic" butter because truthfully until you've had it, you have no idea what you're missing out on...

Several additional pit-stops for hot coffee, delectable cake and mulled wine later, the cloud of pessimism had well and truly lifted and despite its dusky and dingy appearance, Reykjavik was beginning to claim a small place in my heart; I was starting to fall in love : )

After some relaxation in our apartment soon after we lost the daylight {around 4:00 PM}, we wrapped-up warm once more and headed out to dinner. There were so many great restaurants to choose from and it wasn't an easy decision, but we opted for a fun and funky-looking Italian with awesome reviews on TripAdvisor. And it didn't disappoint : )

At a kitsch wooden table dimly lit by candlelight and surrounded by Iceland's cozy chat society, we whiled the night away over some first-class Italian food and several glasses of wine. The homemade linguine served with fresh Icelandic lobster and king prawns in a rich and vibrant tomato sauce was totally divine and hubby's vegetable rigatoni was superb.

It was the almost-perfect end to a pleasantly surprising first day in Reykjavik. I say almost perfect because what happened as we exited the restaurant that night was nothing short of a freaking miracle.

To give this moment some context, let me revisit the pessimist in me that was on the verge of regretting our third and final destination as we boarded the plane in Scotland.

I have a terrible habit of obsessing over the weather when I really need Mother Nature to cooperate… take our wedding day for example. I think I started checking the forecast about a month before the big day. Stupid, right? I know. But I seriously can't help it.

Our trip to Iceland was no exception and when the forecast looked to be miserably wet just days before our departure, I started to lose all hope of seeing the one thing I'd dreamed of experiencing since I'd first clapped eyes on a picture of her.

"Aurora" or the Northern Lights as she is most often referred to as, requires not only the cooperation of the weather but of the solar system too. I was aware when we booked our vacation that there was every chance we wouldn't see her, but despite knowing just how elusive she can be, I was still hopeful she would make an appearance.

With rain in the forecast every single day until we were to head home, the realization that it was becoming more and more unlikely was heartbreaking. It's impossible to spot her without clear skies.

On the bus from the airport I continuously glanced upward to the pitch black night sky, hoping that the clouds would suddenly break, the rain would cease and Aurora would smile down at us… but my hopes were in vain.

As darkness descended and the rain showed no sign of letting-up on our first full day, my hopes were becoming increasingly dashed. I was starting to believe that the weather forecast was 100% accurate and we would just have to make the best of it with or without Aurora.

Cue the freaking miracle.

As we waved goodbye to the hostess and thanked her for a wonderful evening, we stepped out into the street, huddled together and braced for the cold wind and rain. I immediately realized that the rain had ceased and without pausing to speak my observation aloud, we both looked to the sky in unison. And there she was. Dancing in the clear night sky above us, Aurora had come out to play!

I squealed and jumped while hubby frantically rummaged in his coat pocket for his iPhone. Snap. He caught her! We danced and clapped, craning our necks to the night sky for more. Another couple wandered past, "you're lucky," he said, "we've been waiting to see that for four nights."

We hurriedly made our way towards the church, which sits on slightly higher ground in the city, pausing briefly every so often to catch another glimpse of her flirting with the night. At the church, folks were poised with their tripods, snapping in unison when she spontaneously danced across the sky.

Before long the cloud rolled in and the cold became noticeable after the excitement of seeing the Northern Lights was over. The whole experience had been no longer than fifteen minutes and while it was by no means the light show I'd seen in National Geographic magazines, it was enough : )

In fact, it was more than enough. Was it the best Aurora display ever? Hell no. But was it the only Aurora display during our four nights in Iceland? It sure was! The simple fact that we just happened to be in the right place at the right time was incredible, coupled with the high of an awesome first day in Reykjavik; I was on cloud nine! As we made our way back to the apartment for some much needed rest, we jumped, clapped, laughed and squealed together. And at that moment it was official, Iceland had stolen my heart : )

Iceland - South Coast

Iceland - South Coast

England - home!

England - home!