Some of the more bizarre things to do in Reykjavik include the Big Lebowski Bar, a penis museum and street art tours. Plus: Iceland food, from hakarl to hotdogs with lamb meat.
Iceland has never been on our list of places to travel to. We just never really thought about it before. Sure, the Northern Lights sound pretty cool, and who wouldn’t like the chance to randomly run into that delightfully kooky Bjork?
But we’re not fans of cold and were wary of any country with the word “ice” in its name.
So no — we never really considered visiting Iceland. That is, until I chatted with Lindsay and Shaun.
Read the first part of our conversation here, in which they talk about their initial reaction to the surreal landscape and what motivated them to visit, including a spa called the Blue Lagoon and the aforementioned Aurora Borealis. –Wally
Iceland is famous for its natural beauty. But it shouldn't come as a surprise that the country that brought us Bjork also has a quirky side.
What was the most surprising thing about your trip to Iceland?
Shaun: One is that there’s graffiti everywhere in Reykjavik. There’s some really cool graffiti.
Lindsay: I’d say like 20% are beautiful murals.
Shaun: Everything else is bad name tags.
Lindsay: We asked our tour guide about it. I thought he’d say, “Yah, it’s a problem.” But no. He was like, “Some people think it’s just graffiti, but it’s really a mural.” I wanted to tell him, “I’m an art director. I know the difference between graffiti and murals.”
Shaun: The other surprising thing is trash. It’s everywhere. I’d get up early in the morning to go to Dunkin’ Donuts — there was one, and I like Dunkin’ Donuts — and the street sweepers do not do a good job. They don’t pick up anything.
I don’t know if they’re allowed to, but people will walk through the streets drinking openly. Glasses from the pubs litter the streets in the morning. And there are beer bottles everywhere.
Anything you skipped on your visit?
Shaun: The one thing we didn’t do was the museums because there’s so much natural beauty. I was told the one museum you have to go to is the Icelandic Phallological Museum.
Lindsay: They have a penis from every animal, including humans.
That’s one I would have gone in!
What’s the nightlife like?
Lindsay: We didn’t go out out. But we did go to the Lebowski Bar. Twice.
Shaun: The first time we walked in, we didn’t even know what to make of the place. All the tables had “reserved” on them, but I don’t think they were actually reserved. So we went upstairs.
There are themes for different parts of the movie. There’s the Playboy lounge, where there’s a bunch of Playboys on the wall, and the diner. They have a bowling lane on the wall. Sideways, with a bowling ball stuck to it and all the pins.
Lindsay: The bar is covered in the rug.
Shaun: There are awesome Big Lebowski quotes everywhere. Like, “I can get you a toe by 3 o’clock.” I had to explain to Lindsay what that was.
The second time we went, they were playing ’80s movies on the big screen. They were playing Twins. Which we both realized we had never watched, and how ridiculous it is.
And in the front of the bar, they have this giant spinning carnival wheel with various types of white Russians, black Russians, Caucasian Russians…
Lindsay: They have like 15 different white Russians.
Shaun: The wheel would spin and you’d hear everybody screaming.
And this is right down the street from the Chuck Norris bar.
Lindsay: Which we didn’t go in.
What was the weirdest thing you saw to eat?
Lindsay: We went into this thinking the food will be terrible. We’re not going to find anything we can eat. And then we came to find out, the Icelandic people don’t actually eat the traditional foods, like fermented shark and whale [hákarl].
Shaun: Seriously, it’s rotting shark.
Lindsay: But we found food we could eat everywhere. It’s very American bar food.
Did you learn any expressions?
Shaun: By the end of the trip, we figured out how to say our hotel name. Poorly, but still.
We tried to be like, sound it out. And we’d listen on an app Lindsay downloaded — and it wouldn’t be anywhere close.
The Icelandic language has a kind of bounce to it.
Lindsay: They really pride themselves on their language. They want it to last forever. Even though they do use English a lot more.
We tried to say “thank you.” Our driver to and from the airport said it was “tikka tikka” — but it’s spelled with Ps.
Shaun: That’s what we’re saying — you can’t sound out anything in that country.
Any strange customs?
Lindsay: The service is not the same. You don’t pay gratuity. There’s a lot of self-service.
Shaun: If you’re at a restaurant and you order a soda, you go up and get it yourself at the fountain machine — even if it’s sort of in the kitchen.
And no one will bring you a check. You have to go get it.
Did you buy some cool souvenirs?
Shaun: They have these big Icelandic wool sweaters, which apparently are the thing you have to buy when you’re there. And then right next to them would be old American hair metal band shirts.
Anything else you’d say fellow travelers must experience?
Shaun: I do have to say that if you go to Iceland, you will hear about the hotdogs. [Dramatic pause] Have the hotdogs.
Lindsay: The best hotdogs I’ve ever had in my life.
We read about this hotdog stand in downtown Reykjavik, right near the club district.
They’re mostly made of lamb.
Shaun: In the countryside, they get so excited that it’s lamb season.
Lindsay: For three months, lambs roam pretty much the entire country.
Shaun: They’re so adorable — we make sweaters from them, and then we eat them.
Lindsay: They slaughter them in the fall after they’ve spent the whole summer gallivanting around.
Any Bjork sightings?
Shaun: We had a driver who mentioned he once picked up Bjork from the airport.
Lindsay: She was going to a holiday party and she had all the gifts she was giving out on her dress.
Shaun: And he said it took him half an hour to get her and her dress into the cab.