Monday, January 11, 2016

Reykjavik: Christmas and New Year's Eve in Iceland

Reykjavik is capital city of Iceland - the most northern capital city in the world as the locals will tell you. It's a small city of 200,000 people (out of a total country population of 330,000) but for its size, it punches above it's weight in many areas (I kept being told about the 3 "Miss World" winners in particular...) And one thing it does very well is Christmas and New Years parties.

Considering there is only a few hours of daylight (most of which is twilight with the sunrise at 11:00 and setting at 16:00) - you need to party, if only to keep warm :). The lack of daylight also makes for incredible sunsets/rises.

Sunrise over the bay
Sunset over a sculpture at Harpa
Sunrise at Skeifan
Sunset over Reykjavik

The Icelandic Christmas traditions are very different to those in Australia. For a start instead of Santa Claus they have 13 trolls or Yule Lads who leave gifts for children (or rotten potatoes if they've misbehaved) over the 13 days of Christmas (up to 6 Jan). They have awesome names like "door slammer" and "Pot licker". Their mother Grýla, is a mean troll who eats "Naughty child stew" at Christmas and owns an evil Yule cat who catches children who don't have new clothes over Christmas.

All of these characters were projected on various buildings around Reykjavik and it was fun wandering around finding them all.

On the 23rd December, Reykjavik begins the party with seemingly the whole town out in downtown (many buying clothes to avoid the Yule Cat). There is also a free opera concert from one of the rooftops in downtown.

After the 23rd the town shuts. The 24th is the day that people celebrate with their families by doing what everyone does for Christmas: eat and drink.

Mashed fish, smoked lamb, dried fish and butter, hárkarl
Smoked lamb, pickled herring, smoked salmon
The local spirit

The food in Iceland consists mainly of fish and lamb - both of which are delicious. Some of the more unusual foods are:

Smoked lamb: this is so delicious, we must start making this in Australia!

Dried fish and butter: my new favourite beer snack. Chewy, salty, mildly fishy but delicious.

Hárkarl: rotted shark. A strong ammonia flavour that burns the nostrils. It has been described as the "most disgusting food ever" but I don't see what the fuss is about. I actually quite liked it.

Brennivín: the local spirit flavoured with caraway. Very tasty, too tasty. The black label was actually an attempt at plain packaging after prohibition was lifted. It was a failure as it's now iconic to the brand.

There is another less sophisticated Icelandic food that I ate far too much of: Icelandic hotdogs.

This deeply wrong but deliciously addictive lamb based hotdog is the ultimate in Icelandic fast food.

A lamb based hotdog, raw onion, deep fried crispy onion, ketchup, roulade and sweet mustard. Don't eat these, its hard to stop.

They certainly were a great fast snack when out in downtown - especially during the enormous party that is New Years Eve.

New Year's Eve Bonfire

New years eve begins with bonfires. There are nine around the city. This is then followed by all (and I mean all) of Iceland letting off about 600 tonnes of fireworks. It has to be seen to be believed. The main Church in Reykjavik is one of the best places to see this spectacle.

Hallgrímskirkja in the day
Hallgrímskirkja at midnight 2016

All the fireworks are set off by locals as there is no official display and every single Icelander sets them off - it's truly incredible

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