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A day alone in Reykjavik

We’d been in Iceland for several days, heading out each day to a different part of the country from our home base in Reykjavik, and I got to the point where I didn’t want to be around any people. This is not unusual for me. It’s unusual that I lasted as long as I did. So, on a day when there were no excursions for which I’d pre-paid, I stayed behind as the rest of the group bundled up and headed out at dawn. I slept until 10 a.m. I took a leisurely shower and tried again to rinse the Blue Lagoon out of my swimsuit. And then I headed out for my own adventure.

And by adventure, I mean I walked down the street from the hotel to the bookstore, where I poked around the stacks for a couple of hours. Iceland has great bookstores.

And after the bookstore, I went to, by many accounts, the best restaurant in Reykjavik, the Old Iceland Restaurant. I think that Fiskfelagid/Fish Company gives it a run for its money for that top ranking, but that’s another story and a radically different experience, so I’m just going to call it a tie. Please note, if you really, really want to eat at Old Iceland for dinner, you can make reservations for 5:30 or 6 p.m. After that, it’s walk-ins only, and there’s probably going to be a wait. It’s worth it. Wait.

I, however, went for lunch, for which they offer a three-course menu for a pretty decent price, and including wine pairings (with nice, healthy pours). I was sat immediately in the cozy, homey space, and honestly, it’s over a year later since I ate this meal, but I still think of it often. I’m ranking those sweet, peaceful, delicious minutes as some of my most favorite of my week in Iceland, and I had some pretty spectacular moments.

I stopped at a great bookstore down the street from our hotel, the Hotel Alda, then back-tracked to the Old Iceland Restaurant for a three-course lunch.
Delicious little nuggets of warm bread at the Old Iceland Restaurant.
All of the butter in Iceland is delicious. This one was sprinkled with lavender sea salt.
Cured salmon with pickled cucumber, dill mayo, rye bread crumbles and smoked trout roe. Served with Pinot Grigio. If this is on the menu when you go, absolutely get it. Get two. Lick the plates.
These ladies are me. I am these ladies, only I’m blissfully alone after many days of traveling with eight other people.
Cod with herb and garlic mashed potatoes, carrots & parsnips, and a champagne sauce. Served with a nice Chablis. I can still taste this luscious, delicate sauce.
A brownie atop a creamy toffee concoction, sprinkled with toasted oats and berries, and finished with vanilla ice cream. It was somehow not too sweet, but it might just have seemed that way because it was paired with port. Delicious regardless.
Cozy, intimate space, which is why getting a table here at dinnertime involves a wait and sometimes pure luck.
The clean and spare interior soothes the senses, which is welcome in the midst of a country full of overwhelming beauty.

If you find yourself in Reykjavik, make it a priority to have a meal at Old Iceland. I’d wanted to go back that night for dinner with my travel companions, but they didn’t make it back in time for a reservation, and there being nine of us, waiting for a table would have been a challenge (which is why we ended up going to Fiskfelagid that night, so perhaps this was a bit of good fortune, as I got to eat two spectacular meals in one day).

And if you need a bit of peace and quiet after days of hiking glaciers and slogging through black sand and avoiding killer waves and getting a little lost here and there, and being around a lot of people a lot of time, then wave goodbye to your companions for the day and take yourself to lunch. Skál!

By Viki Gonia, December 4, 2019
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