Ice, Ice, Baby!
By Max Milano (Hipster Travel Writer)*
Forget London and Paris, the new hot and trendy hipster destination in Europe is Iceland.
If a total economic collapse has ever had a silver lining, a post devaluation Iceland could be it’s prime example; finally affordable after many decades off the hipster trail (who wants to pay $25 bucks for a beer?), Iceland’s new-found affordability puts it on top of the list of Europe’s new ‘must go’ destinations. No longer exclusively in the realm of the super rich and executives with expense accounts, a wild weekend in Iceland’s trendy capital Reykjavik is now the thing to do for hip young Americans from Williamsburg Brooklyn to Berkeley, California. As a matter of fact, I ran into so many trendy young Americans (and Brits too) partaking in Reykjavik’s world class restaurants and bohemian night scene, that one would have been forgiven to think it was Prague circa 1992 and not Iceland in 2011.
Iceland’s economic collapse of 2008 can be compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall, where once forbidden territories were open to be explored for the first time in decades. I wasn’t around when Hemingway and the other American expats waited out prohibition in the bars and cafes of 1920’s Paris, but Reykjavik in the winter of 2011 is as much a moveable feast as Paris was back then. Reykjavik’s boutique like size and quaint Nordic aesthetic is also reminiscent of Paris in the 1920’s or Prague in the early 1990’s. Cute shops, world class restaurants and perhaps the quirkiest bars and nightclubs in Europe with a reputation for remaining open until seven am on Sunday mornings (don’t worry, the sun doesn’t come out until 10 am in the winter, so the night is always young). Alternatively, the sun never sets during the summer, so there is no reason to go to bed.
And what about the local ladies? Iceland after all has a reputation of having some of the most beautiful women in the world. Does it live up to this reputation? Absolutely. The girls here are classy, well dressed, well spoken, and some are even six feet tall and impossibly blond.
The tall Icelandic blondes get all the attention, but the small brunettes are strikingly beautiful in a uniquely Icelandic way. I ran into several girls that looked like Bjork’s little sister (and told them so). Bjork is a national treasure here and she frequently returns to her native island to perform in their newly inaugurated Harpa concert hall, itself a modern architectural marvel.
The local guys are very friendly too, perhaps because before hitting the clubs they partake in Iceland’s national pastime of the “hot tub”. This is where six burly six foot guys get into a regular size hot tub to relax and talk guy talk and share a six pack of beer. I inadvertently participated in this local tradition when I got into an empty outdoor hot tub at the gym of the Hilton Nordica. After relaxing for a minute by myself, I was soon joined by a tall local who jumped into the hot tub with careless enthusiasm (It was 3 degrees Celsius outside and we were all down to our bathing suits). Soon one of his friends joined in and just as I thought they could not fit any more burly guys inside a hot tub, two more of their friends joined us and cracked open a six pack of beer. I used the opportunity to ask them about the best nightclubs in town and how did they prevent themselves from inadvertently hitting on their cousins (there are only about 100 thousand people in Reykjavik and approx. 300 thousand on the whole island).
“We have an app for that”, one of the guys said, tongue firmly in cheek. But I still don’t know if he was totally joking.
That night’s dinner was at “The Fish Market”, a cool fish restaurant run by a 26 year old local female chef. The concept is “East meets North”, where local Icelandic food is blended with Japanese cuisine. I normally avoid ‘fusion’ restaurants, but the paring of Japanese cuisine with Icelandic is such a perfect match that you are hard pressed to figure where one ends and the other begins. Iceland, like Japan, is an island nation where seafood is king. Its barren lava filled countryside is only fit for sheep and sturdy root vegetables. “The Fish Market” artistically blends these three Icelandic staples (fish, lamb and root vegetables) with Japanese techniques, offering an exquisite exploration of Iceland’s culinary wonders (ask for the nine course tasting menu; at $90 per person is the best value haute cuisine in town. Just be careful when you order drinks, only the local beer and local firewater (Brennivin “Black Death”) are reasonably priced (at around $8 bucks). I saw a pair of local girls order two $25 dollar Mojitos (that’s $25 for each drink) so always ask for the price of drinks before you buy a round (stick to the local stuff and you’ll be fine).
Another helpful tip is to hit the duty free shop when you first arrive at the airport. A large bottle of local vodka is only $25 at the airport duty free and would cost about $60 at the government run liqueur stores in town. We did as the locals do and got our bottles at the duty free upon landing and had nightly pre dinner cocktails in our rooms before hitting the town. This worked wonders for our wallets but not for our heads, which were always quite sore the next day.
I know that utopia doesn’t exist, but Iceland’s combination of first world charm, Nordic isolation and old Viking spirit puts it pretty close indeed to Valhalla, and Reykjavik is a city that is as un-spoilt as Iceland’s wild interior. Come to Iceland, it’s wild, beautiful and now finally affordable.
* Max Milano is the Author of “The Mechanicals of Recoleta”. Available at Amazon.