Windy Wine tasting – By Brynja Bjarnadóttir

Have you ever dreamed of opening up a bottle of wine by the ocean?

A friend of mine inspired me by writing down one hundred things she wanted to do or accomplish in her life. I followed her example and did the same. I started of with the most obvious things (like meeting Beyonce and climbing Mount Everest) but after writing around thirty things, my idea bank started running dry. Then came the fun part, I had to be creative and come up with a lot of less significant things, I remember writing things like cooking a three course meal, sleeping under the bare sky and knitting a scarf. My favorite one was definitely opening up a bottle of wine by the sea. It had that romantic feel to it and I was very excited about doing it.

Windy Wine – Photo courtesy of Brynja

A friend of mine from the Check Republic told me he was coming for a short visit to Iceland and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to check this thing of my list, we could open a bottle of wine up together by the sea. He had one night in Reykjavík before he would go driving around the country, so the day was set and I bought the bottle of wine. The day arrived but unfortunately it was an extremely windy one, definitely not an ideal time to go and sit by the ocean.

Windy Wine – courtesy of Brynja

 

I had a decision to make, to be defeated by the weather or to be stubborn and go anyway. I chose the ladder, it was an absolutely crazy idea. We went to Ægissíða together with some friends, where there is a small hot tub for our feet and we all huddled up there together, fighting off the wind and opened up the bottle. The bottle went from one person to the other and we were laughing so hard at what we were doing. It didn’t have that romantic feel that I was hoping for but it was perfect anyway, even better then what I had imagined.

 

Later my friend told me this was the best thing he did in Iceland.

For more information on extraordinary places to experience hidden gems contact Iceland Unwrapped 

Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina is a travel planning company focusing in connecting to the Icelanders, culture and nature in Iceland. Please contact us for more information
Brynja Bjarnadottir – Musician – Dancer- Filmmaker – Freelance writer for Iceland Unwrapped 

In Iceland we eat shark – but that´s just part of the story

The funniest thing many of us Icelanders know how to do is to make foreigners taste our food.

I have made countless “enemies” through the years while encouraging people to have a bite of shark with me, with a schnapps of course, to survive the experience. Fortunately for me they all survived and some are still thinking of how to get back at me for being so persuasive.

I don´t know what it is. Probably the Viking in us wanting to show the world our super powers in being able to eat things such as rotten shark, sheep testicles, dried fish, sheep heads or Skata (something I guess you just have to come to Iceland to try, …to give you a clue, it smells worse than it tastes).

Smoked lamb, fish oil, butter, shark and other important delicacies in the Icelandic Viking food tradition.

 

I could continue for a long time to tell you about which parts of the animal were eaten in Iceland before the days of refrigerators,but as I would like you to continue reading, I’ll stop for now.

Because in Iceland we also have wonderful traditional things we enjoy such as smoked lamb. Lamb is sometimes referred to as mountain lambs or road lambs, as they run free in the Icelandic midnight sun during summer, mostly in the mountains but sometimes needing to cross a road (don´t we all).

Mountain/Road sheep minding their own business.

 

We are able to use our fantastic geothermal energy to grow tomatoes, lettuce, mushrooms and even strawberries in greenhouses. We have wonderful fresh herbs in the Icelandic nature and vegetables in autumn, such as potatoes, cauliflower and other root vegetables.

What is for sure though is the amazing experience of having a good meal together, laughing, connecting and tasting something new, made with passion and traditions. This is valued all around the world.

That´s why I started offering the Dining with the Icelanders experience three years ago. I met a lot of people that had had an amazing trip to Iceland but had never met any locals, and certainly not had dinner with them.

I have already planned many dinner parties in cooperation with my network in Iceland and the travelers have been thrilled with the experience and the uniqueness of meeting the Icelanders in their homes and connecting with them on a personal level. People have formed friendships and have even met again in other places around the globe.

Mandy and her group from Tennessee enjoying a wonderful dinner, opera singing and cultural experience in the company of Bergþór and Albert – Photo courtesy of www.alberteldar.com

 

Many places in the world offer this experience to get to know the locals and in my opinion that is an important way to get the most out of your travel. It´s also an important way to make the world a bit smaller, to look your prejudice in the eye and to experience how human we all are.

I am very fortunate. I have amazing hosts all around Iceland. They are as different as they are many, making it possible for me to offer a personalized service, connection and inspiration, all depending on the interests of the visitors.  The group size depends on  the needs of the travelers and everyone can enjoy the experience, big groups, small groups, families and individuals.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner in nature makes everything taste even better.

 

My hosts have a big passion for what they are doing , details are in place and some of them even go out in nature picking fresh mountain herbs for their guests or they go fishing or hunting before the meal to provide fresh Icelandic ingredients.

No dinner party is the same as we are all have different approaches and the seasons change.

I encourage you not to miss the opportunity to meet the Icelanders, connect, enjoy a meal and hopefully have a good laugh together.

Geothermal energy is essential to the Icelanders daily life.

No worries. Nobody will be forced to eat shark or other viking things as the dining experience offers you a home cooked meal, something the Icelanders would have themselves for dinner and nowadays most of us only enjoy viking food in the old month of Þorri, after the New Year.

More info on Dining with the Icelanders, music in the homes of  the Icelanders and personalized travel planning for all humans,  on our website Icelandunwrapped

 

Photos Iceland Unwrapped – Frida Hjaltested . Road sheep picture courtesy of Gudmunda Magnusdottir

Let’s go for dinner in Iceland

 

I guess some of you have seen videos and pictures online of visitors to Iceland tasting something terrifying as rotten shark, or fish that smells like ammonia.

It might seem that Icelanders walk around in wool sweaters all day, while eating challenging parts of animals and slaying each other with axes.

But don´t worry. In fact, Iceland is a very developed place to visit if you like to explore great trends in food.

Of course, you can choose to swallow a bit of rotten shark along with a good cold schnapps, followed by a bit of dried fish covered in wonderful Icelandic butter, or even a tongue from a sheep that once jumped around the beautiful nature of Iceland. This is possible in many restaurants around the country. In February the Icelanders celebrate “Þorri (pronounced thori)”, an old Viking traditional feast where the main theme is to eat whatever possible from any given local beast.

But despite being a nation of only 333,000 people with a fairly primitive and limited culinary history, Iceland has managed to develop a very appealing restaurant scene that proudly can be presented to those visiting our little rock in the North Atlantic.

The reason for this is that the Icelanders are not afraid of seeking knowledge elsewhere, whether in gastronomy or in other fields. Many Icelanders have gone abroad for inspiration and then returned with knowledge and appetites that have fused with local traditions and unleashed the potential of local ingredients. The possibilities are endless both with fresh ingredients and often with using nature to make a terrific meal.

That leaves the Icelandic restaurants scene very diverse, noted by fresh ingredients, humor and professionalism all over Iceland, sometimes with unbelievable views included in the experience.

Even visiting a gas/petrol station in Iceland for picking up ingredients for a picnic or to taste the “pylsa med ollu” (Icelandic Hot dog with everything), is an experience that I recommend at least once or even twice on your trip.

If you would like to connect to the locals in terms of tasting their own food inspirations, you have the amazing possibility of visiting the locals and have a wonderful home cooked meal. Sometimes included with musical experiences and of course beautiful views and nature.  My aim with offering Dining with the Icelanders is to present to the visitor to how Icelanders choose to have their dinner at home with fresh ingredients and in wonderful and inspiring company.

Furthermore, being adventurous in trying out what Iceland has to offer around the country in all kinds of locations, is something I would recommend. The food scene is very interesting no matter if you are a vegetarian, meat fan, vegan or have any intolerance’s, Icelandic restaurants are known for accommodating you and your wishes, and as the ingredients are fresh and simple I know you will find what you need and maybe have a little adventure while you are at it.

 

For more info on all kinds of food experiences in Iceland contact Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina

Photos by Frida Hjaltested and Helga Stina

Hiking, collecting the sheep, berry picking and the wonderful Kjotsupa.

A few reasons why September is a good month to travel to Iceland.

So let´s imagine a day.

You are hiking in the mountains with the farmers in a little fjord helping with collecting the sheep.

On your path you taste fresh blue berries straight from the bush.

You get a drink of water from a creek after a long day of hiking in your Icelandic wool sweater.

At the end of the work day you have a wonderful “Kjotsupa” – meat soup, with the locals followed by the dairy product Skyr and blueberries for dessert.

After dinner you lay down in a beautiful warm geothermal pool, with a view of a lifetime hoping to see the Northern lights dancing in the sky.

Sounds like a dream to me.

The fact of the matter is, that this is possible. All of it or parts of it.

This is possible in Iceland at the end of august and in the beginning of September.

Autumn in Iceland is beautiful in so many ways and it´s very precious to be a part of nature when summer is almost over.

The sunsets are unbelievable and one of the biggest events of the year takes place, when the sheep get collected from the mountains before winter starts.

In the old days and to a certain extend in modern times, the autumn is the time of collecting as much food as possible for the hard winter months in Iceland.

Berries are used for all kinds of delicacies, mushrooms are collected and dried, fish is caught from the rivers, potatoes, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables, that manage to grow in Iceland, are picked from the ground and we make something called Kjotsupa.

It´s a celebration of food.

Kjötsúpa is a wonderful dish. Lamb soup with vegetables of the autumn, warm and delicious on wet autumn nights. Some people even have Kjotsupa for every meal in the autumn they say.

Fresh – authentic and delicious Iceland.

Interested in getting an authentic experience?

Contact Helga Stina for more information

Beer – An important part of the Iceland experience

There has never been a better time to be a beer drinker in Iceland, with an unprecedented mix of clean-tasting lagers and craft-brewed ales, stouts, porters and Belgian-style options available to locals and travelers alike.

While Icelanders are fond of their beer, the good times have only rolled in the Land of Fire and Ice since 1989, when the country lifted its national ban on normal-strength beers.

The ban was intended to keep the hooch-loving locals on the straight and narrow, but its widespread subversion by bar owners and party hosts who mixed the watered-down 2% alcohol “Pilsener” with prime Icelandic vodka, led to a release of the small country’s untapped potential as a truly micro microbrewing superpower.

For those who indulge, Iceland offers a potent mix of microbrews.  Indeed, given the size of the market, even its standard lagers would be microbrews anywhere else.  I am a big fan of two: Gull and Brio, which are both brewed at Reykjavik’s Olgerdin brewery and benefit from the pristine Icelandic glacier water with which they are brewed. Olgerdin also has a small visitor’s center and a range of craft micro beers, the Borg range, anchored by Borg’s Garun Nr.19 Icelandic Stout and with more than 60 mainly British, Irish, and Belgian-inspired brews.

My preferences aren’t universally shared: rival lager Viking Beer, from the city of Akureyri in the country’s north, beats out Reykjavik’s Gull as the country’s market leader.  Perhaps its slogan gives some insight: “You deserve to feel like a Viking at heart. You deserve to drink like one too. You deserve Viking Beer.”

Akureyri’s also represented in the world of craft and micro beers, with Einstok, a local brewery. Einstok produces ales, bocks and porters highlighting the city’s proximity to the Arctic Circle, and enjoys good national distribution.

Sampling these brews is easy in Iceland’s often-excellent collection of pubs and beer bars, with Olstofan and Kaldi being personal favorites.  Olstofan is kind of like a laid-back journalists’ bar with enthusiastic bartenders, and Kaldi more like a US fraternity house from the late 1980s.

Outside of the bars and licensed restaurants, finding a decent beer requires some local knowledge.  Unless you go to the state-run Vinbudin, which has a healthy selection of more than 300 beer options, it will be as if 1989 had never happened.

But a cold lightweight “pilsener” with one of Iceland’s distinctive lamb-based hot dogs, or with a hamburger at a gas station lunch counter has its place. It is a traditional part of the Iceland experience.

If you are coming to Iceland, will beer be on your agenda? Helgastina can arrange brewery visits, recommend watering holes and make sure your favorite microbrew type is waiting for you when you Dine with the Icelanders.

Mike Klein is an American writer and Belgian beer enthusiast based in The Netherlands.

Why not dine with the Icelanders?

Did you know that the Icelanders bake bred and steam fish in the geothermal springs?

If you are interested in getting to know the Icelanders, have wonderful meal in beautiful environment have a look at the website and register for an experience of a lifetime. Dining with the Icelanders 

It is an exciting way to get to know Iceland and Icelanders.

Here is why the idea of Dining with the Icelanders came up three years ago.

I am addicted to travel. I love seeing new places, meeting new people and dining different and exotic food.

When I was younger I was fortunate to live in a couple of places while studying. The most amazing people I met on these stays were the locals who invited me and sometimes my friends to stay with them for some days, or for an evening, having dinner. I am forever thankful to these people for giving me the precious experience of dining with the locals.

Therefore in the memory I remember being at peoples houses, helping with preparing dinner, tasting new things and hearing the history of the food, the recipes, sometimes coming from the grandmother or great grandmother of the family. Both in Austria and in Brazil i even received a cooking book from the area so I could try the recipes at home.

Sometimes interesting stories came along.

In Iceland I heard the story of the woman who always cut the leg of lamb in two before putting it in the oven on a Sunday afternoon.

She never thought about it that much, but when her daughter asked her why she was doing that all these years, she replied ” my mum always did and so did my grandma”. The story unfolded when the grand mother reviled the secret.

When she was young, in the beginning of the 20th century,  making dinner in the kitchen with her mum, they used to not have a big enough pot for the lamb, for it to fit in entirely, so her mum had to cut the leg of lamb in two.

Many years later when she moved with her children and husband to a new house, with big enough pots, she continued cutting the leg of lamb in two and that is where this tradition in the family began.

I am sure that for this family the lamb would taste entirely different if not cut in two so I guess they continued the tradition, until this day.

In Iceland organic spices from the Icelandic flora have been used in cooking for centuries. It is not a secret that growing spices in Iceland can be hard because of the weather and conditions, even though people have been growing vegetables and other delicious food products using the geothermal  heating, the cheap energy, to warm up green houses for growing things.

The Icelandic flora is amazing and the smell, colors and possibilities of it endless. In recent years companies and individuals have been exploring and investigating the strengths and the possibilities of the Icelandic flora in medicine, cosmetics and food.

For some of my friends over there, collecting eatable mushrooms is one of the tradition of the family when summer is almost over.

I visited my friend this summer who lives on the country side close to Reykjavik, surrounded by a forest, her partner has been growing for years, and a salmon river in her back yard. In this area organic production has started on the nearest farms where entrepreneurs have seen and tested on their own skin how organic products both taste better and make you feel better.

I had a lamb for dinner at my friends house, as one does a lot when visiting Iceland, with freshly picked herbs from the mountain next to her (she took a little walk to get them for the dinner). This was enjoyed with products from her own green house and from the organic farm next door.

After that day I was feeling totally relaxed, physically tired after our walks that day. Breathing deep because of all of the fresh air and feeling warm inside because of an amazing company.

This is what I love about Iceland. It´s personal and the people are warm and inspiring. The air is fresh,  the nature is right there and the weather changes constantly. Gives a lot of spice in life in a short time.

When I was working with young people in Iceland many years ago, I used to use the kitchen as  a way of getting to know people. It it actually my experience that when working together preparing a meal or cleaning up, your boundaries are less in the way of the communication and that allows people to interact in a better and more precious way

More info on Dining with the Icelanders on www.icelandunwrapped.com

 

Why Dining With The Icelanders?

“The dinner we had in the Meeting the Icelanders experience was one of the best meals we had on the trip. The food was spectacular – so fresh and prepared perfectly! The ingredients were all locally sourced. The fish was just caught by her father and the lettuce fresh from the greenhouse … It was all so, so good. And it was also just wonderful to enjoy a well prepared meal with nice and interesting people.” 
Sara – USA.

I am addicted to travel. I love seeing new places, meeting new people and dining different and exotic food.

When I was younger I was fortunate to live in a couple of places while studying. The most amazing people I met on these stays were the locals who invited me and sometimes my friends to stay with them for some days, or for an evening, having dinner. I am forever thankful to these people for giving me the precious experience of dining with the locals.

Therefore in the memory I remember being at peoples houses, helping with preparing dinner, tasting new things and hearing the history of the food, the recipes, sometimes coming from the grandmother or great grandmother of the family. Both in Austria and in Brazil i even received a cooking book from the area so I could try the recipes at home.

Sometimes interesting stories came along.

In Iceland I heard the story of the woman who always cut the leg of lamb in two before putting it in the oven on a Sunday afternoon.

She never thought about it that much, but when her daughter asked her why she was doing that all these years, she replied ” my mum always did and so did my grandma”. The story unfolded when the grand mother reviled the secret.

When she was young, in the beginning of the 20th century,  making dinner in the kitchen with her mum, they used to not have a big enough pot for the lamb, for it to fit in entirely, so her mum had to cut the leg of lamb in two.

Many years later when she moved with her children and husband to a new house, with big enough pots, she continued cutting the leg of lamb in two and that is where this tradition in the family began.

I am sure that for this family the lamb would taste entirely different if not cut in two so I guess they continued the tradition, until this day.

In Iceland organic spices from the Icelandic flora have been used in cooking for centuries. It is not a secret that growing spices in Iceland can be hard because of the weather and conditions, even though people have been growing vegetables and other delicious food products using the geothermal  heating, the cheap energy, to warm up green houses for growing things.

The Icelandic flora is amazing and the smell, colors and possibilities of it endless. In recent years companies and individuals have been exploring and investigating the strengths and the possibilities of the Icelandic flora in medicine, cosmetics and food.

For some of my friends over there, collecting eatable mushrooms is one of the tradition of the family when summer is almost over.

I visited my friend this summer who lives on the country side close to Reykjavik, surrounded by a forest, her partner has been growing for years, and a salmon river in her back yard. In this area organic production has started on the nearest farms where entrepreneurs have seen and tested on their own skin how organic products both taste better and make you feel better.

I had a lamb for dinner at my friends house, as one does a lot when visiting Iceland, with freshly picked herbs from the mountain next to her (she took a little walk to get them for the dinner). This was enjoyed with products from her own green house and from the organic farm next door.

After that day I was feeling totally relaxed, physically tired after our walks that day. Breathing deep because of all of the fresh air and feeling warm inside because of an amazing company.

This is what I love about Iceland. It´s personal and the people are warm and inspiring. The air is fresh,  the nature is right there and the weather changes constantly. Gives a lot of spice in life in a short time.

The local partners of Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina are people with different backgrounds and interests but all are enthusiastic to receive you and give you an experience of a lifetime.

It is an exciting way to get to know Iceland and Icelanders.

More information  – www.helgastina.com

DINING WITH THE ICELANDERS

What do you know about Scandinavian gastronomy and dining in Iceland?

If you are like most of the people I organize tours for, the answer will be ‘not a lot’. Well, get ready for some truly exciting discoveries. Iceland isn’t only famous for its spectacular nature and healing spas, its food is also an adventure in itself.

The best producers

Not only can your trip to Iceland include visits to local fishermen, ale producers and the best restaurants the country has to offer. I also provide clients with the unique opportunity to ‘Dine with the Icelanders‘. This is something visitors to Iceland rarely get to do without help from an Icelandic planner!

Sharing customs and traditions

Over the years I’ve got to know some really inspiring locals who love to share their knowledge. They also enjoy sharing their home with visitors wanting to connect with the Icelanders. That’s what it’s all about, connecting people from all over the world with those that make Iceland so wonderful.

To truly appreciate a country it helps to fully immerse yourself in their customs and traditions. When you ‘Dine with the Icelanders’ you’re welcomed around their table. You sample delicious home cooked dishes and learn all about their history and the food you are eating.

Picnic place, Mývatn, Iceland

So who will you meet?

All around Iceland there are hosts excited to meet you. Families, individuals and couples from all kinds of backgrounds and all over the country offer a warm and nice meal and atmosphere sometimes combined with a walk in the area, checking out the horses in the backyard or meeting other locals in the area.

A great meal in good company

Sharing stories, laughter in great company, having a great meal made with fresh ingredients is an unforgettable experience.

We offer this experience for minimum 2 people. If you have a big group of people it is easy to enjoy the hospitality of different hosts for an authentic experience.

Dining with the Icelanders, Thingvellir

Recommendations

Dining with the Icelanders is a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. Everyone I’ve arranged this for has loved it! Here’s what they had to say…

“The dinner we had in the Meeting the Icelanders experience was one of the best meals we had on the trip. The food was spectacular – so fresh and prepared perfectly! The ingredients were all locally sourced. The fish was just caught by her father and the lettuce fresh from the greenhouse … It was all so, so good. And it was also just wonderful to enjoy a well prepared meal with nice and interesting people.”

Sara – USA

“A true highlight of our visit was meeting our guide and ending the day with a meal with her family at home. Helgastina knows many people and is a true connector. She connected us with people in Iceland that share our interests, are able to give us the sorts of insights into life in Iceland. It was wonderful to simply relax in the company of good people.“

Lin McDevitt-Pugh – The Netherlands

The pricing for a guided tour and dinner depends on the size of the group and length of the guided tour or experience.

Get in touch for a free consultation.

Beer – An important part of the Iceland experience

There has never been a better time to be a beer drinker in Iceland, with an unprecedented mix of clean-tasting lagers and craft-brewed ales, stouts, porters and Belgian-style options available to locals and travelers alike.

While Icelanders are fond of their beer, the good times have only rolled in the Land of Fire and Ice since 1989, when the country lifted its national ban on normal-strength beers.

The ban was intended to keep the hooch-loving locals on the straight and narrow, but its widespread subversion by bar owners and party hosts who mixed the watered-down 2% alcohol “Pilsener” with prime Icelandic vodka, led to a release of the small country’s untapped potential as a truly micro microbrewing superpower.

For those who indulge, Iceland offers a potent mix of microbrews.  Indeed, given the size of the market, even its standard lagers would be microbrews anywhere else.  I am a big fan of two: Gull and Brio, which are both brewed at Reykjavik’s Olgerdin brewery and benefit from the pristine Icelandic glacier water with which they are brewed. Olgerdin also has a small visitor’s center and a range of craft micro beers, the Borg range, anchored by Borg’s Garun Nr.19 Icelandic Stout and with more than 60 mainly British, Irish, and Belgian-inspired brews.

My preferences aren’t universally shared: rival lager Viking Beer, from the city of Akureyri in the country’s north, beats out Reykjavik’s Gull as the country’s market leader.  Perhaps its slogan gives some insight: “You deserve to feel like a Viking at heart. You deserve to drink like one too. You deserve Viking Beer.”

Akureyri’s also represented in the world of craft and micro beers, with Einstok, a local brewery. Einstok produces ales, bocks and porters highlighting the city’s proximity to the Arctic Circle, and enjoys good national distribution.

Sampling these brews is easy in Iceland’s often-excellent collection of pubs and beer bars, with Olstofan and Kaldi being personal favorites.  Olstofan is kind of like a laid-back journalists’ bar with enthusiastic bartenders, and Kaldi more like a US fraternity house from the late 1980s.

Outside of the bars and licensed restaurants, finding a decent beer requires some local knowledge.  Unless you go to the state-run Vinbudin, which has a healthy selection of more than 300 beer options, it will be as if 1989 had never happened.

But a cold lightweight “pilsener” with one of Iceland’s distinctive lamb-based hot dogs, or with a hamburger at a gas station lunch counter has its place. It is a traditional part of the Iceland experience.

If you are coming to Iceland, will beer be on your agenda? Helgastina can arrange brewery visits, recommend watering holes and make sure your favorite microbrew type is waiting for you when you Dine with the Icelanders.

Mike Klein is an American writer and Belgian beer enthusiast based in The Netherlands.