Morgunmatur, Hádegismatur, & Kvöldmatur

Linda Lou Burton posting about Reykjavik, Iceland from Little Rock, Arkansas – Food is one of the “most telling” measures of a country and its people. Nowadays food is shipped from continent to continent in a day; but food traditions handed down over time remain favored – steak and potatoes, or fava beans, or strictly fresh-caught fish. So today, what can we learn about Iceland from simply EATING? That means not only the food and its preparation, but the people we rub elbows with; the locals. I wanted us to have three entirely different food experiences today, while being comfortable within our own “food finickies” at the same time. What is the OLDEST restaurant in Reykjavik was my first question. If it has been around before “tourism” took hold, the locals must like it. The answer turned out to be a pretty good start for the day, with breakfast.

Morgunmatur, aka Breakfast

Kaffivagninn is the oldest operating restaurant in Iceland, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week. This restaurant started as a food truck in 1935; by the 50s it was a small building on wheels, big enough for 10 to 15 people and located right by the harbor. It was very popular with fishermen, opening early and closing late. In the early 60s the restaurant expanded in size; it soon became popular with students and truck drivers as well as fishermen. Since 1975 Kaffivagninn has looked about the same. Right there by the water, plain and simple, and enduring. A great (historic) way to start our day and a menu that will please the three of us. https://kaffivagninn.is/en/

BREAKFAST SERVED FROM 7:30 AM TO 11:00 AM

  • BACON AND EGGS with toast and vegetables
  • DELUXE OATMEAL PORRIDGE with chia, apples, dates and berries
  • GRILLED SANDWICH with ham and cheese, add a fried egg
  • OMELETTE with toast and 2 toppings, ham, cheese, mushrooms, peppers, onions or tomatoes
  • SMOKED ICELANDIC SALMON with scrambled eggs, toast and vegetables
  • TUNA MELT on toasted sunflower seed bread with grilled cheese, with Dijon, apples, salad and jalapeño

Energy enough after breakfast to tackle at least three small museums in the Old Harbor area; time to watch the boats moving in and out of the harbor; time to watch for puffins, and listen to the sounds of the three languages taught in Iceland’s schools – Icelandic, English, and Danish, before getting hungry again, and ready for lunch. A FOOD COURT is one of the best ways I know to make sure each of the three of us are happy with the foods, and to mingle with the locals on their lunchtime break from work. Reykjavik has several food courts; I chose Hlemmur, with 10 vendors and this promo ALL KINDS OF FOOD, FOR ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE.

Hádegismatur, aka Lunch

Hlemmur Food Hall is the first of its kind in Reykjavik and is inspired by the great European food halls. It attracts a fun crowd especially during lunchtime, when it is booming with customers. On sunny days, people enjoy their food and beverages outside. With Neapolitan pizza, LA-style tacos, Danish sandwiches, fresh soups, Vietnamese cuisine, gourmet burgers, and specialties from the “2019 Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded Skál,” there’s something for everybody! Open from 8 AM to 9 PM daily. http://www.hlemmurmatholl.is/english

  • BÁNH MÍ Vietnamese coffee and bánh mí sandwiches; crisp pickles, savoury meats, sriracha, and fresh aromatics; Davíð Viet Quoc’s secret family recipes passed down through generations.
  • Brauð & Co (Bread & Co); organic sourdough bread and buttery danishes; observe the bakers at work; ask about ingredients, methods, or the weather, every Icelander’s favorite subject!
  • FLATEY PIZZA Short delivery time, simple quality ingredients and delicate craftsmanship is the trademark; the outcome is naturally tasty and health conscious pizzas.
  • FUEGO L.A. style Tacos in Hlemmur Foodhall. Legendary fish tacos!
  • Kröst specializes in fine French wines, cured meats, and various grilled delicacies.
  • Micro Roast Te & Kaffi; all things coffee-related; a range desserts and snacks. Their fair trade coffee is shipped daily from their roaster at Aðalstræti only a few blocks away.
  • OSTERIA EMILIANA; an Italian restaurant inspired by Emelianan-Romagna region; specializes in real Lasagna and Focaccia bread.
  • SKÁL!; an experimental bar & restaurant with a focus on foraged Icelandic ingredients and local traditions.
  • TIL SJÁVAR & TIL SVEITA Traditional Icelandic food from the land and sea. Something delicious for the whole family.

Okay, that was fun. Are we in the mood for more museums? A nap? Probably both. Since we can sleep as late as we like tomorrow, a late, and luxurious dinner (true to Icelandic heritage) this evening; something really fancy for our “last night in Iceland.” And no looking at the right side of the menu. EVERYTHING in Iceland is expensive!

Kvöldmatur, aka Dinner

Velkomin á Grillmarkaðinn, or in English, Welcome to the Grillmarket. “Local” was the key word for me. Their promo: A close working collaboration with dedicated local farmers. The very best in local seasonal produce. Local products include lamb, beef, trout, quail, skyr, and honey. We highlight the origin of each product while using fire, smoke, fire logs, and coal. Our grill is custom made; the coals heat up to 1200 degrees Celsius; the food cooks crispy on the outside and remains juicy and succulent on the inside. The outcome is a culinary treat where Icelandic heritage and the modern age meet. Our menu is a magical fusion of tradition and modern cuisine. My comment: everything from beef to whale!  https://www.grillmarkadurinn.is/en/

In the Beginning

  • BEEF CARPACCIO Chili jam, sweet almonds, herb pesto and ruccola
  • BURRATA Icelandic artisan cheese from Skagafjörður region, rainbow tomatoes and almond pesto
  • CHICKEN WINGS Sweet soy dressing, smoked birch salt and lime
  • GRILLED PORK RIBS Grillmarket dressing, rice cakes, watercress and drizzled with honey
  • GRILLED PUFFIN Lightly smoked puffin, pickled bilberries and mushrooms
  • GRILLED WHALE STEAK Tender steak of whale, lime and soy vinaigrette
  • HORSE “WAGYU” TATAKI Apple, Cilantro, Crispy Jerusalem artichokes and miso vinaigrette
  • LOBSTER TEMPURA Chili mayonnaise, oats and roasted garlic
  • SHELLFISH SOUP Icelandic shrimps, mini scallops and langoustine
  • VEGETABLES, DEEP-FRIED IN CRISPY BATTER Mixed vegetables with organic Greek yogurt

Course

  • GRILLED LAMB CHOPS Crispy potatoes, glazed carrots and spiced nut crumble
  • GRILLED MOUNTAIN CHAR Almond pesto, potato purée and caramelized onions from Vallanes
  • LIGHTLY SALTED COD Grilled apple purée, black garlic, langoustine salad and shellfish sauce
  • VEGAN PEANUT STEAK Our vegetarian choice is made from nuts, beans and seasonal vegetables

Big Steaks

  • BEEF TENDERLOIN The best part of the beef, the steak has been prepared to perfection and is very flavourful
  • HORSE TENDERLOIN The most tender part of the horse
  • PORTERHOUSE cut from the short loin and includes the tenderloin; the bone separating these muscles gives the steak its divine flavour
  • RIB EYE OF BEEF is a steak from the rib section with perfect marbling
  • STEAKS FROM ICELANDIC FARMERS served with mushrooms glaze, Grillmarket fries and pan fried vegetables
  • STEAKS FROM THE FARM MIÐEY We handpick our steaks from Miðey farm and the meat is aged for at least 35 days
  • TOMAHAWK STEAK, garlic potatoes, aspargus, broccolini and bearnaise sauce

On the Side

  • FRIED MUSHROOMS Chestnut mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and garlic
  • GARLIC POTATOES Deep fried and seasoned with garlic sauce
  • GREEN SALAD
  • GRILLED ASPARAGUS & BROCCOLINI
  • GRILLED CORN COB With Icelandic heart butter
  • GRILLMARKET FRIES Deep fried and seasoned with garlic and dill
  • PAN FRIED VEGETABLES Kale, carrots, mushrooms and parsnip root

Sweet Endings

  • BERRY CRUMBLE Mixed berries, crunchy oats and dulche de leche caramel
  • CHOCOLATE TART Toffee filled chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream
  • DESSERT PLATTER Selection of desserts, exotic fruits, ice cream and sorbets
  • GRILLMARKET CHOCOLATE Mascarpone mousse, warm caramel and coffee ice cream
  • HOMEMADE ICE CREAM BLISS Exquisite ice cream and sorbets with four different flavors

Forgive any misspelled Icelandic words. And forgive the printing of entire menus. Consider them as an encyclopedia of food choices in Iceland!

 

This Is The One I Want!

Linda Lou Burton posting about Reykjavik, Iceland from Little Rock, Arkansas – Yesterday we saw a lot of Reykjavik. We ate the famous hot dogs, we visited the Whales of Iceland museum, and we strolled the streets getting pictures of the street art (it really is everywhere) and the really pointy church; different styles of architecture for sure. We even had time to visit the US Embassy and register our names. But the hardest thing – we had to pick our next-day tour.

I’ve been on a submarine tour in Hawaii with Kayla (Yellow on the Submarine) https://capitalcitiesusa.org/?p=2424, and a circle-the-island tour and even an inside-the crater tour; and hula dancing of course. Sam and I spent a day with sled dogs and mushers in Alaska (Dog Day Afternoon) https://capitalcitiesusa.org/?p=4895, we also went whale watching (and saw whales!), and glacier spotting, driving every paved road in Juneau. Oh, a salmon fishery too. But we had ten days to play on those trips; here we’ve only got ONE FULL DAY to tour Iceland. And Iceland offers a literal buffet of touring opportunities. This tiny county with a population of 364,134 people and an area of 40,000 square miles is nothing short of unbelievable in “things to do.” There are Snorkeling Tours and Secret Lagoon Tours; Ice Cave Tours and Glacier Hikes; Kayaking, Snowmobiling, Horseback Riding and even just plain Sightseeing Tours. We quickly ruled out the Golden Circle Tour – it covers a lot of territory, circling the island, but it meant we’d spend a lot of time riding the bus.

Sam was interested in snorkeling; “Listen to this – Join one of our snorkeling tours to Silfra Fissure, the only place in the world where you can snorkel between two continental plates. Amazingly, there are places within Silfra where it is possible to touch the rock on either side.”

Snorkel between two continental plates!

Kayla spotted a hiking tour; “Listen to this – Hike to the colorful Highlands, a unique bubbling geothermal wonderland with caramel color peaks, soothing hot springs, rambling lava flows and clear blue lakes; located in Fjallabak Reserve in the remote highlands of Iceland.”

Hot Springs and Lava Flows!

They both shook their heads. Too hard to gather the underwater gear needed; too much time in one spot; hiking is slow; great tours, but too limited.

I really want to see the ice caves,” Kayla said then, scanning the list. “Listen to this — Katla Ice Cave (Under The Volcano) Tour. Jump in a Super Jeep, strap on your crampons and step into the mighty glaciers and ice caves of South Iceland. Hike across the Myrdalsjokull glacier, then visit the amazing blue and black ice cave of Kötlujökull glacier on Mt. Katla. Enchanting glaciers and mountains surround us along the way. We stop near the roots of Kötlujökull glacier and the view is otherworldly. Crampons and helmets on, a short walk to the opening of the ice cave. Beautiful layers of different colored ice and volcanic ash paint impressive stripes in the glacier. Your guide tells the history of the glacier, the ice cave and the area around it. Back out from the glacier we look for smaller accessible ice caves before returning to our super truck. Then we’ll swing by some majestic waterfalls — the Eerie waterfall of Skógafoss which is the inspiration to dozens of folklore tales. Hike up the right side of the waterfall to see the troll’s face that stares at the waterfall for all eternity after forgetting time and turning into stone. Stop at the stunning Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the one you can walk behind; it is located on the Seljalands River which flows from the famous volcano, Eyjafjallajökull! Back in Reykjavik around 8:00 p.m. Make sure to bring your camera! “

This is the one I want! said Kayla.

“Too much hiking,” Sam said. “Listen to this one — Combine Snowmobiling on Langjökul Glacier with an Ice Cave Exploration. Pickup up in Reykjavik or Gullfoss Café, head to Langjökull Glacier in the Icelandic Highlands in our super truck. From here you can see Eiríksjökull Glacier (the highest mountain in west Iceland), Hofsjökull Glacier and the Kerlingafjöll Mountains. Your certified glacier guide provides overalls, helmet and all the gear you need, gives you a safety briefing and snowmobile driving instructions. You are then ready to ride – your stunning 1-hour snowmobile ride takes you across Langjökull Glacier, the second largest glacier in Iceland; it feels like a magic carpet chase across the roof of majestic white land. Langjökull Ice Cave is a totally spellbinding stunner; this is ‘The White Glacier’ and the Ice Cave is  the most amazing bright jewel blue ice imaginable. The ice-ceiling above you resembles a brilliant blue river, the ice is so exceptionally translucent, it seems as though you are surrounded by pure blue-hued quartz crystal jewels. The ice around this ‘blue river´ is white, with unusual gray ‘zebra striping’ from the ash layers of various volcanic eruptions. Explore and photograph the cave and enjoy the rare and precious crystalline blue beauty of this amazing natural ice cavern. Outside, your trusty snowmobile is waiting, ready to skim you across Langjökull to our Snowmobile Base Camp and then Gullfoss Café, beside the famous waterfall.

This is the one I want! said Sam.

Meanwhile, I was doing my own plotting. Our ages are transposed – 18 and 81. I am way too claustrophobic to go into a cave of any kind, no matter how beautiful. My footing in too unstable to walk on ice, and even on an IMAGINARY RTW I can’t imagine wanting to drive a snowmobile. I wanted to see the countryside, especially the geothermals. But I didn’t want to sit on a bus with a lot of other tourists. “Listen to this,” I said. “Geothermal Iceland – Helicopter Tour. Geothermal pools, power plants, lava fields, craters & Reykjavik. Discover Iceland’s geothermal energy from the quiet and comfortable seat of a helicopter. Soar above the volcanic landscape, over geothermal pools and power plants, lava fields and craters. A brief landing to witness the raw, primeval energy rising up from the earth. Fly over the Hengill volcano, which is still active, as evidenced by numerous hot springs and fumaroles in the area. Stop here to see the hot springs, calcium-rich solfatara and boiling water running several feet under the earth’s surface, producing a multitude of steaming fumaroles all around. This volcano is an important source of energy for the country, which is utilized at the Nesjavellir and the Hellisheidi power stations, where groundwater is heated and distributed to the district. Our tour concludes after ascending over Reykjavik, with a great aerial overview of the colorful houses of the city.”

This is the one I Want! said Linda.

When we get back to our room tonight, what great stories we’ll have to share.

Iceland Day Tours  https://adventures.is/iceland/day-tours/

 

Picky Picky

Linda Lou Burton posting about Reykjavik, Iceland from Little Rock, Arkansas – Limited days and limited energy coupled with almost unlimited daylight, how do you divide that? Sam and Kayla only have three nights in Reykjavik – meaning two full days, plus the time they are awake today, and most of Thursday, as our flight to Washington DC doesn’t leave till 6. A list of possibilities, three people. Strategy: each person picks three things they REALLY want to do. The other items remain in the pot, to be picked at random as time allows. Eating and sleeping are givens.

The airport. About 1.5 million people a year come through, five times the population of the entire country (Iceland 364,134, Reykjavik 122,853). Keflavik International holds the “Best Airport In Europe” award; it’s modern and easy to get around. It’s also easy to get where you’re going next – every time a flight arrives, a shuttle bus is waiting to take passengers directly to their hotel downtown! By the time we finished our 45-minute ride to our rooms at the Hilton Nordica, I knew I was in for a busy day. They weren’t tired, and they both had already picked their three! The hotel. A family executive suite with access to the lounge-with-a-city-view for complimentary breakfast, and access to the spa any time; plus, windows that OPEN. Fresh air! Within walking distance of everything downtown; they can get out and go with ease.

My own agenda is simple: I want to explore the town, because it is a capital city, and I want to explore the countryside, because of the geysers. I want to see Parliament Building, and I want to take Kayla and Sam into the US Embassy, because just by stepping inside the door, you are technically “back on US soil” and I want them to experience the concept of political boundaries. When we get to Washington DC I intend to do the same with the Iceland Embassy there. Back in Iceland again!

Another must do for me, Hallgrimskirkja Church. This Lutheran church is one of the most recognizable buildings in Iceland; something you might see in Lord of the Rings. Modern art inside, an elevator to the top, awe-inspiring panoramic views of the city. Every night, lights illuminate the church and the statue of Leif Erikson (he’s credited for discovering America almost 500 years before Columbus, you know).

I also want to get a hot dog at the place every famous person who goes to Iceland eats — Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (translated best hot dogs in town); its signature hot dog called “ein með öllu” hot dog (the one with everything) is a lamb-based hot dog covered in ketchup, mustard, fried and raw onion and remoulade, a sweet mayonnaise dressing. And I want to order Hákarl somewhere; that is fermented shark – shark meat cured with a particular fermenting process, then hung outside to dry for four to five months. At least I want to poke at it with my fork.

What choices did Sam and Kayla make? These cousins are both 18; he likes sports and swimming and she is a poetry-loving mountain hiker; she is interested in astronomy and he is interested in the way things are built; he’s a meat eater and she’s a vegetarian. I think they both like music. This should be fun! Here’s the list, minus my picks; great variations in time and planning needed.

  • Adventure Tours from Reykjavik, a varied selection of adventure and sightseeing tours. Hiking, caving, diving, snorkeling, glacier hiking, whale watching, super jeep tours, volcano tours, snowmobiling.
  • Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa located in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, supplied by water used in the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station. The water is rich in salts and algae, water temperature 99-102. One of the most visited attractions in Iceland.
  • Geothermal Swimming Pools, Reykjavík is built on the top of several geothermal springs. There are 14 swimming pools in Greater Reykjavík.
  • Harpa Concert Hall, award-winning architecture; over 10 million guests since opening in 2011; chosen one of the best concert halls of the new millennium by the prestigious music magazine Gramophone magazine. Tours include a musical performance in an exclusive area with breath-taking views; the musical performance provides an overview of Icelandic musical history, from medieval to modern pop.
  • Iceland’s Famous Ice Caves, stunning man-made ice caves inside Langjökull Glacier – Europe’s 2nd largest glacier, Hraunfossar Waterfall and Deildartunguhver – Europe’s most powerful hot spring. Lunch included and travel to the cave includes a trip inside an 8-wheel monster truck.
  • Old Harbor, a stunning selection of fish and steak restaurants, cafés, and an atmosphere which resembles the city’s close relationship with the sea; all of the whale watching, fishing, puffin watching, and Northern Lights boat tours depart from here.
  • Perlan, a glass dome resting on five water tanks on a hill houses a museum and restaurant; Wonders of Iceland & Áróra – Northern Lights Planetarium Show includes the Wonders of Iceland, a real indoors ice cave, a 360° Observation deck, Water in Icelandic nature, and Áróra – Northern Lights Planetarium Show.
  • Punk Museum, Icelandic punk-rock history glued to the white tiles of a former underground public latrine; the exhibition is tiny, disorganized and overwhelming. Spend time by the record players – where the infamous Rokk í Reykjavík album is featured – or play the instruments.
  • Reykjavík Street Art, Reykjavík is famous for its vibrant street art scene. Urban graffiti and sophisticated wall poems appear on every third building downtown, hundreds of pieces scattered over the city.
  • Sun Voyager, a metal statue resembling a Viking longboat; sits on the seashore in Reykjavík, a great photo location with its view of Mount Esja on the other side of the bay; one of the most visited sights in Reykjavík.
  • Whales of Iceland Museum, 23 man-made life size models of the various whale species in Icelandic waters; an 82 ft long blue whale, a full-size sperm whale, the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and many more, all actual size.

You pick, I pick, we all pick.

 

Time Travel

Linda Lou Burton posting about Reykjavik, Iceland from Little Rock, Arkansas – I made it to Reykjavik before dark last night. Way before dark, in fact, as the sun doesn’t set here until 10 PM and I arrived at 7. And I only changed two time zones, so sleep patterns weren’t affected that much. Everything else was affected though; as anticipated – temperature was the first thing I noticed. Highs of 95 in Cairo, and throat-parching dry; it’s 57 here, and rainy this morning. But I like cool better than hot, and “cool with rain” is fairly normal for the kids, coming from Seattle. But their sleep-brain will surely take a hit! Iceland Air flies non-stop from Seattle to Reykjavik in 8 hours. And, Reykjavik time is 7 hours ahead of Seattle time. So do the math: if they got on their plane at 7 PM Sunday, it was 2 AM Monday in Reykjavik, and I was fast asleep. When I meet their plane at 10 this morning, their brain will likely be saying, “Leave me alone! It’s only 3 AM!”

Or maybe they’ll be excited. Kayla was taken to the Philippines when she was a baby, but has no memories of that. And for Sam, it’s his first trip beyond US soil. They were both enthusiastic about my graduation-gift invite; pleased as punch, and (until COVID-19 shut us down and turned our trip into Now Defunct Imaginary) raring to go. Maybe it was the hype I sent them. After all, most people don’t know much about Iceland. Do you?

Reykjavik: Quick & Quirky Facts

  • Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world.
  • Reykjavik is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world.
  • Reykjavik was the first permanent settlement in Iceland in 874 AD.
  • Reykjavik means “smoky bay,” referring to the steam rising from the hot springs and geothermal vents.
  • Reykjavik is the only Western European capital without a Starbucks or a McDonald’s.
  • Reykjavik is the only capital city in the world that is home to a puffin colony.
  • Reykjavik is mostly a cat city, as dogs were banned from 1924 to 1984.
  • Reykjavik has a penis museum called the Icelandic Phallological Museum.

Quirky indeed! And after just leaving one of the most dangerous capital cities in the world, I must say I feel relaxed about bringing my grandkids to one of the safest. Iceland has been near the top of the list of safest countries in the world for decades and Reykjavik has topped the list of safest cities. The crime rate here is unbelievably low; scams, racism, homophobia, violence, and sexual harassment are almost nonexistent. Still, when most folks hear the word “Iceland” they imagine a cold, unfriendly place. Nothing could be further from the truth! It may lie almost within the Arctic Circle, but the North Atlantic Current warmed by Gulf Stream waters makes the climate of Iceland more temperate than most places with similar latitudes. And the easy-to-access scenery is stunning — waterfalls, glaciers, ice caves, volcanic peaks, geysers, geothermal pools, and the sea, so close.

Things That May Surprise You On An August Visit

  • Does the sun set in Iceland in August? From mid-May to mid-August the sun only sets for only a few hours per day, and it is effectively light for the whole 24-hour period.
  • What does Iceland feel like in August? August is one of the warmest months of the year in Iceland. The average daily temperature hovers around 50-59°F, but it can leap up to 77°F.
  • Is it worth going to Iceland in August? Absolutely! August is the perfect time to be visiting Iceland, especially if you like adventures, local events and outdoor activities.
  • Can you see the northern lights in Reykjavik in August? The northern lights are visible in August, but since it never gets properly dark it’s the wrong time for good viewing.
  • Do you need insect repellent in Iceland? Iceland is completely free of mosquitoes, and ants, though small midges thrive in the summertime, especially by lakes and streams.
  • Are there any dangerous animals in Iceland? No, and there are no snakes in Iceland. Don’t bother the eggs in bird nests though, you may get pecked.
  • What is a typical breakfast in Iceland? Yogurt, berries, fruit, eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, pancakes, sourdough bread, and Icelandic butter. Juice, coffee, tea.
  • Do you need cash in Iceland? The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic króna (ISK). Many places take US dollars, but Icelanders usually pay for everything by credit or debit card.
  • Is tipping in Iceland an insult? Tipping is not customary in Iceland. The server’s wages are sufficient and they don’t expect it. If you want to give someone a tip, by all means do.

Tipping an insult! The server’s wages are sufficient! What a country! Well, it’s time to go to the airport to meet Kayla and Sam and see if they’re awake enough to have some fun. I’ve already sent them a list of 15 things to choose from. I expect food may be their first concern though. Since FISH takes up the most space on restaurant menus (and neither of them care for fish), they will be surprised to learn that the humble HOT DOG is so popular in Iceland it is the unofficial national food. Bill Clinton tried one when he was here!

 

Way Cool

Linda Lou Burton posting about Cairo, Egypt and Reykjavik, Iceland from Little Rock, Arkansas – Fortunately I woke up from my Charlton Heston dream, it’s time to pack, and go. I must be thinking FAMILY today, getting excited about the grandkids that join me tomorrow in Reykjavik.

But I haven’t yet written anything really positive about Cairo. Like its designation as “city of a thousand minarets,” and the Old City, which includes the site of a Roman-era fortress and Islamic-era settlements pre-dating the founding of Cairo. Pretty awesome stuff, that you can only see right here; I should have planned longer to explore. There are cultural tours, historical tours, art tours, and even ghost tours. I’ve done the top rated suggestions – the Pyramids and the Nile cruise. But I haven’t mentioned the many parks in the city, or delved into the food scene at all. Most of the posh hotels offer five-star dining; and it’s cheaper here than in many countries. Lots of international choices – Spanish, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and traditional Egyptian of course; lots of rooftop and riverside dining if you don’t want to brave the bustling local spots. Looking for seafood, sushi, steak, or ful medames? Ful medames is a stew of fava beans, with garlic, onion, chili pepper and other vegetables; a staple in Egypt. Egyptian cuisine makes heavy use of legumes, vegetables, and fruit from the rich Nile Valley and Delta, similar to Eastern Mediterranean cooking. Rice-stuffed vegetables, grape leaves, kebabs; common meats are chicken and lamb. Tea is the national drink.

Cairo International (CAI); Egyptian Air this time, flying 2,000 miles north over Greece, Croatia, Austria, and Germany before a stop in Copenhagen, Denmark (CPH) for a few hours. Then 1,330 miles in a northwesterly direction over the the tip of Norway and the North Sea to Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF) and the biggest change on the entire trip.

First of all, two of my grandkids arrive in the morning from Seattle; so the rest of the trip is “family time” instead of a singular experience. Then there is climate change, geography change, food change, and even “daylight” change – that far north we’ll have 17 hours of summer daylight to play. From the heat and humidity of Thailand and UAE and Egypt; from palm trees and monkeys and sand and camels; from Aboriginal and Buddhist and Islamic religions; from a generally hectic pace to the no-frills Lutheran way of life, where fish top every menu, swimming in geothermal pools is a year-round habit, and there’s not a poisonous snake to be found.

Just a wee bit south of the Arctic Circle – Reykjavik, Iceland, the northernmost capital city in the world. Way cool.

 

Sly, and the Family Stone

Linda Lou Burton posting about Cairo, Egypt from Little Rock, Arkansas – Remember the 2010 TV show Idiot Abroad, where Ricky Gervais sent the bumbling Karl Pilkington around the world to see the Seven Wonders? The premise was that Karl knew nothing about “the Wonders” and much preferred staying home within his comfort zone. So how does such a person perceive what s/he sees when traveling? It was meant to be funny. And it was, it hit the charts. One episode was “Karl at the Pyramids.” Ricky pulled the strings; first Karl was made to ride round and round on a camel looking for the pyramids; then he visited a couple who believed aliens built the pyramids, so evening chanting with a sneak inside a pyramid. At the end Karl sits staring at the pyramids; they are crawling with tourists, and the wind is blowing dust and chunks of trash in swirls, right into his face. His comment: “Why is this a Wonder? All I see is dirty nappies flying round.”

Ah, tourists. That story makes me think of what goes on at Uluru, with the “white ants climbing the rock.” And yes, the mad crush inside the giant cathedrals, and mosques, on my Portugal-Spain-Morocco guided tour last year. It was a mob-like push and shove, with photo ops. All timed, to fit the agenda before hopping back onto the bus.

The Pyramids at Giza, and the Great Sphinx have endured not only “the tourist crowd” for centuries, but destruction, pilfering, and theft, whether for research to explain them, or for profit, or simply because of a difference of opinion as to how things are in the world, or ought to be. Everyone has their version.

Last night I had a vivid dream, I guess it came out of my NDI RTW “touristy” visit to the Pyramids, especially that garish evening light show. The dream was my own fictional version of these desert edifices. It’s pretty simple. The Pyramids are tombs, and the Sphinx is a grave stone. I have visited many cemeteries in my years of genealogy research. The size and design of grave stones varies according to the wealth of a family, and their beliefs. Angels? Tiny lambs for babies? I’ve seen stones with baseball bats and fishing rods engraved; or memorable quotes, like “Precious Mother,” or that funny one “I told you I was sick.”

Think Charlton Heston now. Playing a powerful wealthy ruler, way back before Egypt was even Egypt. Long before he dies, he orders a mighty structure built in which to store everything he’ll need in the afterlife; plus the treasures he doesn’t want anyone else to have. As the worker bees in his reign cut the sandstone into blocks to build his magnificent FRP, and the quarry hole deepens, an ambitious young fellow seeking a promotion presents Charlton with an idea –“Let’s go ahead and sculpt your marker as we remove the stones for your tomb, what design would you like?” Charlton answers, “A big lion to guard my tomb, but a lion with my face on it, so everyone is fooled into thinking I still watch them.” “Ah, master, you are indeed a sly one,” the young fellow said, nodding. And so you have the Sphinx; on duty, sand and wind and tourists be hanged.

 

Time Will Tell

Linda Lou Burton posting about Cairo, Egypt from Little Rock, Arkansas – Giza is an Egyptian city on the west bank of the Nile, near Cairo. The Giza Plateau is home to iconic Egyptian monuments, including three tall pyramids built as royal mausoleums around the 26th century BC. The largest, the Great Pyramid, is King Khufu’s tomb. The Great Sphinx is a vast sculpture of a lion’s body with a human head. The site is at the edges of the Western Desert, approximately five miles west of the Nile River in the city of Giza, and about eight miles southwest of the city center of Cairo.

The Great Pyramid (Khufu) and the Pyramid of Khafre are the largest pyramids built in ancient Egypt, and they have historically been common as emblems of ancient Egypt in the Western imagination. The Great Sphinx of Giza is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx, a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. Facing directly from West to East, it is generally believed to represent the pharaoh Khafre.

Freeze Frame

Hold on, hold on. There are encyclopedias, yea, libraries and museums, filled with theories and suppositions about what it all is, and what it means. Why were these structures built? Exactly when? And more to the question, exactly how? Their size, and endurance, defy explanation, based on what we know today about construction techniques, which we (foolishly?) believe have evolved over time. Today I’m not out to prove anything, or solve a mystery. I just want to SEE these awesome creations, especially the mysterious Sphinx, for myself. Writers and scholars over time have recorded their impressions and reactions upon seeing the Sphinx. A general description, often a mixture of science and mystique, is typical of what I have found; I particularly like this rather flowery one by John Lawson Stoddard, a writer who began traveling the world in 1874 and publishing books about his experiences:

It is the antiquity of the Sphinx which thrills us as we look upon it, for in itself it has no charms. The desert’s waves have risen to its breast, as if to wrap the monster in a winding-sheet of gold. The face and head have been mutilated by Moslem fanatics. The mouth, the beauty of whose lips was once admired, is now expressionless. Yet grand in its loneliness, – veiled in the mystery of unnamed ages, – the relic of Egyptian antiquity stands solemn and silent in the presence of the awful desert – symbol of eternity. Here it disputes with Time the empire of the past; forever gazing on and on into a future which will still be distant when we, like all who have preceded us and looked upon its face, have lived our little lives and disappeared.

Forced to Be A Tourist

Even though the Sphinx is sitting there waiting for me, just eight miles from my hotel room, I am not renting a car and driving myself for the kind of leisurely visit I’d like to make. So I’ll play like a tourist, and wangle two back to back tours that maybe will allow me to feel as moved, on reflection, as Stoddard was.

First the “half-day private tour with 30-minute camel ride” for the afternoon: Gain from the expertise and personalized attention of an Egyptologist as your guide to the Giza Plateau. Enjoy photo ops of the Great Sphinx and the Great Pyramid at Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Lunch and hotel transport by minivan are included. Entrance fees included.

And then, for the evening, a “multimedia sound and light show”: See the world’s only surviving ancient wonder light up at night during this multimedia show. Sit in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza and listen to the history of ancient Egypt with image projections on the monument. Take photos of the projections during this 1-hour sound and light show and learn about ancient Egypt’s history spanning more than 5,000 years as you sit back and enjoy complimentary snacks. Round-trip transportation from your Cairo hotel.

Will I remember the Cheetos, or the grandeur? Time will tell.

 

But Who’s Counting?

Linda Lou Burton posting about Cairo, Egypt from Little Rock, Arkansas – There are 81 cities in the world with a population over 5 million. Only 9 of those are in the US. I’ve been to them, and I’ve been to 6 of the ones outside the US. But I’ve never been to a city as large as Cairo. About 20,790,000 people live in the metro area, give or take a few. And over 9 million of those live downtown. Am I daunted by that? A little.

The negatives were considered when I plotted out my time here. Air pollution is serious. There are 4.5 million cars on Cairo streets, most of them old. And there are many unregistered lead and copper smelters in Cairo, major polluters. Because of the lack of rain, plus the city’s layout of tall buildings and narrow streets, which create a bowl effect, the dispersion factor is poor. A permanent haze over the city with particulate matter three times normal causes serious respiratory diseases and eye irritations; it is estimated that between 10 to 25 thousand deaths related to air pollution occur in a year; tourists need to take extra care. Another caution: Cairo is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world for women; 99% of women living here report they have been sexually harassed, though new national laws define and criminalize those behaviors.

Still, I am here, and I always focus on the positives. On the plus side of things, this city is bubbling over with history. Founded in 969, it’s pretty young when you consider that just 9 miles to the west sits the Sphinx, which some Egyptologists believe is at least 4,500 years old. And then there’s all that King Tut stuff here in Cairo museums, remnants of ancient civilizations. But I didn’t come for that. I came for two specific reasons: to see the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the constructed Wonders of the World. And I came because of the River Nile. Of course, Cairo does happen to be a capital city as well! And I am counting.

Cairo sits mostly on the east bank of the Nile, and almost at the end of the river’s 4,160-mile journey from south of the equator to the Mediterranean Sea. Yes, it flows northward, and its basin includes parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the cultivated part of Egypt. I’ll go with what most geographers say about its beginnings; the Blue Nile comes from Lake Tana in Ethiopia and the White Nile from Lake Victoria in Tanzania; they converge at Khartoum in the Sudan where the waterway becomes the “Nile,” which in ancient Egyptian means “great river.” It winds and twists its way into Egypt where it meets the Aswan Dam, built in the 1960s; an embankment dam that has produced both positive and negative benefits, as any effort to control nature generally does. Massive amounts of electricity, increasing water resources, and flood control – good; decrease in the fertility of agricultural lands in the delta – bad. Those floods deposited millions of tons of silt each year, nature’s way of fertilizing without chemicals. The building of the dam also impacted the ancient cities and temples along the river; controversy there.

So how could I get myself on this river? There are many cruises available; most are south of Cairo, on luxury boats with stops allowing “visits to ancient civilizations” while carefully avoiding the Nile crocodile. A 12-day Viking cruise beginning and ending in Cairo sounded enticing. Let your imagination soar as your ship meanders through panoramic desertscapes, fertile farmlands, colorful villages and UNESCO World Heritage Sites that preserve the ancient glory of Egypt’s greatest temples, palaces and tombs. Included excursions in every port reveal highlights like these:

  • Luxor’s Karnak Temple complex
  • The Necropolis of Thebes, Egypt’s largest repository of pharaonic tombs
  • Luxor Temple, with its sphinx-lined avenue
  • Privileged Access to the tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens
  • The graceful temple of Hatshepsut, Egypt’s only female pharaoh
  • The temple of Hathor at Dendera
  • The romantic, waterbound Temple of Isis at Philae
  • Horse-drawn calèche tour to Edfu’s Temple of Horus

I didn’t have time for all of that! I just wanted to cruise the Nile.

So I settled for an evening dinner cruise in Cairo with pickup from my hotel. Itinerary, their translation: Sun Pyramids Tours will pick you up from your hotel and transfer to Nile Pharaoh Dinner Cruise dock. Embark the famous Cairiane cruises which resembles a pharaonich barge with tribute to ancient Egyptian god Hathor. From the deck you can take panoramic views of Cairo skyline at the evening. Enjoy a sumptuous international buffet dinner with variety of Egyptian and international cuisine and desserts. Live performances of belly dance, and tanura the sufi meditation whirling dervish shows will take place while you are having dinner. After dinner you can again rise to the deck to enjoy the air breeze of the Nile and take in the marvelous glittering sights of Cairo as the boat returns back to the dock. Upon arrival you will be transferred back to your hotel.

I expect my head will be whirling like that dervish by the time I get to bed. But my room does overlook the Nile; and my view stretches far across this busy whirling city that has 4.5 million horn-honking cars. There may be too much pollution and too much commotion, but tomorrow I have an entire day to hang out with the Sphinx and touch the Pyramid of Giza. And I will have cruised the Nile, just think how much of Africa its waters have touched!

Pluses, and minuses, but who’s counting?

 

Come Fly With Me

Linda Lou Burton posting about Cairo, Egypt from Little Rock, Arkansas – Hurry, hurry, zip the suitcase, check out. Today’s flight isn’t too bad, just a few hours. I’m flying Ethiad again, I didn’t realize when I booked my flight that they are headquartered in Abu Dhabi, right by the International Airport. It’s 1,480 miles from there to Cairo International (CAI) and then another 13 miles to my hotel, the Ramses Hilton. I’ll be flying over Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and maybe Jordan and the Suez Canal.

I’m not leaving Abu Dhabi till 2:30 this afternoon, so I have time to do just a little more looking around this blindingly bright city that sits beside this incredibly blue water. As usual, I hate to leave where I am. I wish I had another week, at least.

But guess what. I’m booked for an evening dinner cruise on the Nile tonight. That’s the longest river in Africa, remember?

 

Just Wanna Have Fun

Linda Lou Burton posting about Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates from Little Rock, Arkansas – What do you do for fun in Abu Dhabi? That was my question. I’ve seen the Grand Mosque where people worship, the Presidential Palace where government happens, and the skyscrapers where people work, and live. Now what? There are bus, boat, and seaplane tours that show you around; specific trips such as “island getaways,” or “desert dune rides.” Abu Dhabi is big on shopping, so lots of fancy malls. But first, I checked out the food scene.

Food

I didn’t know what foods to expect in the United Arab Emirates; here is what I found: restaurants seem to cover all the bases – Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, Peruvian, and even traditional Emirati! Meat, fish, and rice are staples of the Emirati cuisine; lamb and mutton are more favored than goat, beef and camel. Dates are generally part of a meal; coffee and tea are supplemented with cardamom, saffron, or mint to give it a distinct flavor. I’m familiar with hummus and kebabs, but some menu items are new to me, such as machboos. That is a rice dish, with onions, spices, meat, and dried lemon peel; simmered till tender, a must do. Harees is one of the most popular traditional foods in the Emirati kitchen, especially during important family gatherings and special holidays. Put meat and wheat together in a “mash pan” with water and salt and cook for a long time (at least four hours), stirring with a wooden spoon called a “masad masr.” Sprinkle chopped fried onions on top. Eat! For breakfast, it’s balaleet, vermicelli sweetened with cardamom, saffron, and rose water, then topped with a thin egg omelet; or have a chebab, a pancake; or khameer, date-sweetened bread.

A restaurant on the mainland and one on the beach caught my eye: Meylas – “childhood recipes crafted by Emirati mothers and grandmothers, locally sourced ingredients; décor offers a nostalgic look at the time of the Bedouins; gift items by Emirati artists for sale, and delicacies to take home, dates to mango pickles.” Mezlai – “local dishes, traditional recipes featuring staples from Emirati cuisine such as camel, dates, rosewater; furnished with Bedouin emblems, dallah tapestries, reminiscent of a Bedouin tent; a luxury setting in the Emirates Palace Hotel on the Corniche.

The Corniche

The Corniche is a curving street along the edge of the beach, and what a street it is. Walking paths, cycle paths, fountains, parks, and of course, beach! Hotels and restaurants all along the way, my hotel is one of them; world famous skyscrapers like Etihad Towers and Landmark Tower; the Emirates Palace Hotel past the far end, near the Presidential Palace. Marina Mall can be accessed from here via a breakwater road; Lulu Island is a tiny reclaimed island.

Yas Island

Yas Island is 6,000 acres of “leisure island” stuff, with everything designed to exhaust you by the end of the day. For just “playing” there is Ferrari World, Warner Brothers World and Waterworld; for sports there is the Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Links, and Yas Beach, as well as charter boats for hire. Get to Yas Mall via Yas Express, service right to the shopping door. If you like Disney, go to Abu Dhabi soon. Three spots you’ll probably choose:

  • Ferrari World, a mostly indoors amusement park in the largest frame structure ever built. Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster is here; in all there are five roller coasters, and yes, you can drive a Ferrari here. Find That Ferrari Feeling https://www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com/
  • Warner Brothers World is another indoor amusement park, fully air conditioned, remember, it’s hot in Abu Dhabi. Six themed areas: Gotham City, Metropolis, Cartoon Junction, Bedrock, Dynamite Gulch and Warner Brothers Plaza. https://www.wbworldabudhabi.com/
  • Yas Waterworld is NOT indoors, it is spread over 37 acres, has 40 rides, and calls itself “the ultimate water adventure.” Slithering slides promised. https://www.yaswaterworld.com/en

The Louvre

I pass on all of the above, because I’m a slow-moving gal. But I’m intrigued by the serenity at Abu Dhabi’s Louvre. Yes, the “other” Louvre is in Paris, but the planners in Adu Dhabi paid $525 million for the use of the Louvre brand name, and many millions more will be paid over the years for the loan of artworks, plus management advice. The Abu Dhabi Louvre is a collection of galleries, pavilions, lagoons, and plazas covered by a gigantic mashrabiya-inspired dome, which appears to float above it all, an “oasis,” where people can gather, mingle, and be enthused by art. The most expensive painting in the world goes on display September 18; Salvator Mundi, a masterpiece by da Vinci. It was acquired by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism for $450.3 million. https://www.louvreabudhabi.ae/en

The Falcon Hospital

The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the world’s first and largest hospital dedicated to the Falcon, the UAE’s national bird. Falconry was traditionally a means to hunt meat; life was difficult in the desert and falcons were essential to the survival of Bedouin families. But falconry is also a sport that goes back 3,000 years, and guided tours of the facility provide insight into the history of the sport, and the physiology of this significant bird.On tour you can see the birds swoop through a free-flight aviary, witness a falcon pedicure, and even make friends with a bird perched on your arm. The Falcon Hospital has 200 treatment rooms where about 6,000 birds are treated year each year, coming from UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain. https://www.falconhospital.com/

The Falcon Hospital is a “déjà vu” for me. I visited Birds of Prey near Boise, Idaho in May 2012. Sheik Zayed’s son funded the building and everything in it, asking only that it be named in honor of his father. And now I’m here in Abu Dhabi on my NDI RTW! Read about Boise’s falcons, and Sheik Zayed’s impact on Idaho: https://capitalcitiesusa.org/?p=1799#more-1799