Iceland & Greenland 3/7/2020 - 3/21/2020

Monday 3/9/2020 - Exploring Grandi (The Old Harbour): Þ├║fa, Reykjavik Maritime Museum

We woke up after 8 a.m. after a wonderful night's sleep. We could have slept longer, but we knew that breakfast closes at 9:30, so we dragged ourselves out of bed. Free breakfast as opposed to an $80 breakfast, LOL!

This was our first breakfast at this hotel, and it turned out to be very simple but functional. There was a buffet including toast, cheese, ham, cereal, granola, yogurt, hummus, sliced bell peppers, herring, and sliced fruit. There was also a beverage station with a fancy coffee machine and decanters of water and a juice that resembled orange Tang. The dining room was sunken, but almost all of the tables were full. We opted to sit at one of the tables in the bar where it wasn't so crowded.

We left the hotel at around 10:15 a.m. to walk to Grandi, the Old Harbour. This was Reykjavik's main harbour for fish processing and shipyards in the first half of the 20th century. In the late 1960's, much of the industry moved to Sundahofn. Today, many former warehouses and industrial buildings have been repurposed for tourism. The area is now known for galleries, museums, and restaurants, and as the jumping-off point for whale watches and puffin cruises.

We didn't go here last year, so we made a point to check it out today. As we left our neighborhood, we saw a redwing in a bush right next to the sidewalk. He was not afraid of us at all; I was able to photograph him from a close distance.

As we walked through the neighborhood where we stayed last time, we noticed that the Smoking Puffin bar has been turned into a different bar, and Icelandic Fish and Chips also seems to be out of business. We had patronized both establishments twice last year. Well, it's a good excuse to try some new places, I guess.

It took us about half an hour to walk to Grandi. The wind, gusting upwards of 30 miles per hour, almost blew us over at times.

Grandi might be a buzzing hive of tourists in the summertime, but it was practically deserted on this blustery winter's day. Many of the shops and restaurants weren't even open. Yet there is something that I really like about the raw untamed weather; its part of what gives this country its charm.

There are two indoor food halls in Reykjavik, where food trucks and stalls offer a variety of cuisine. We entered the Grandi Mathöll (Food Hall) where the vendors were preparing for lunch. At the back of the building is a working fish warehouse. You can watch the action through windows, and there is a cute diagram of the fish processing life cycle on the wall. (This called to mind the curtains in Steve and Lori's kitchen: block printed with a tableaux of fish processing in Gloucester, MA).

We walked past some museums and restaurants down to the waterfront. We continued to Þúfa, a landscape art installation by Ólöf Nordal. This small man-made hill with a fish-drying shack perched on top of it is visible from other parts of the city's coastline. Around the perimeter of the hill winds a stone path, and a sign says to climb at your own risk. There are no handrails.

There was a nice view from Þúfa back at downtown...we were now near the North Mole lighthouse and could see Harpa and the South Mole lighthouse in the distance.

We started to climb up the path, and then Craig thought better of it. The combination of gusty wind, some ice on the path, and his cane made for what could have been disaster. I was proud of him for acknowledging this and heading back down. I continued to the top, sometimes grasping at the hill with both hands as the wind blew. From the top there was a nice view, but I didn't stay long. I had to brace myself from being blown right off the edge by the wind!

A windy day at Grandi, from atop Þúfa

As we walked back toward civilization, we noticed a small restaurant which was quite busy. This was Kaffivagninn (Coffee Wagon), the oldest operating restaurant in Iceland (established 1935). Neither of us were hungry yet, but we decided it was a good time to warm up with a cup of coffee. The fact that they offered shots of Bailey's in the coffee and topped the whole thing with whipped cream was a bonus! The sun had started to come out, and we sat at a sunny table with a view of the water and enjoyed our drinks.

At around 1:30 p.m., we went to the Reykjavik Maritime Museum. This museum is comprised of a permanent exhibit, a temporary exhibit, and a Coast Guard vessel. The Coast Guard vessel Óðinn, built in 1959, took part in the 3 Cod Wars. They normally run guided tours of the Óðinn, but it was closed today due to the weather. The wind was really strong, which made it dangerous. This was disappointing, as we enjoy touring ships, but there was still plenty to see inside the museum itself.

We started with the temporary exhibit: Melckmeyt 1659 - Underwater Archaeological Survey. The Melckmeyt (Milkmaid) was a Dutch merchant ship which had come to Iceland to trade. It was loaded up with fish and other Icelandic products and preparing to sail back to Amsterdam in October of 1659 when a terrible storm hit. The captain decided to wait out the storm at anchor off the coast of Breiðafjöður, near Flatey Island.

The storm battered the ship, and the captain and 14 crew struggled for two days to try to save the Melckmeyt from wrecking, but to no avail. Luckily, everyone survived, but among the reported losses were unsold cargo as well as the products they had just procured in Iceland: 70,000 pieces of saltfish, 28 barrels of salted meat, 1000 pounds of dried fish, 100 sheep skins, 1 ox-head of whale oil, and 1.5 barrels of tallow.

The shipwreck was discovered in 1992, and a marine archaeology underwater survey was begun in 1993 and continued in 2016. Many artifacts were recovered from the site, including shards of porcelain which could well be "unsold cargo": Chinese carrack porcelain from the late 16th / early 17th century, Dutch majolica dating from 1650-1675, mid-17th century Dutch faience ceramics, and red earthenware cookware and tableware. Examples of these pottery shards were on display.

They also recovered ballast, including a previously-exploded iron cannon.

Although everything they found lined up with descriptions of the boat, cargo, and conditions under which she sank, they wanted to prove that this was the Melckmeyt. They used dendro-chronology to identify the age and provenance of the ship's timbers. This science analyzes the growth rings of the tree, and requires a minimum of 100 rings to be present in the sample in order to yield results.

The dendro-chronology revealed that the oak trees were felled in the early 17th century in the North German lowlands, which is consistent with the Melckmeyt. This is interpreted as definitive proof of the identity of the shipwreck. They also used photogrammetry to produce a 3-D digital model of the wreck. A 3-D printed model of the wreck was on display.

We really enjoyed this exhibit. It was fascinating to learn about how marine archaeological techniques were applied to identify and document this wreck.

We headed upstairs through an atrium wallpapered with labeled images of Iceland's fish. There are a lot of them! The permanent exhibition is called "Fish & Folk: 150 Years of Fisheries", which celebrates the history of Iceland's fishing traditions.

The design of the museum is quite clever and atmospheric (the building, like many others in Grandi, was once a fish factory). To enter the exhibit, you walk through vertically hung strips of vinyl, as if you are walking into a refrigerated warehouse. Many of the exhibits are displayed in totes full of glass cubes made to look like ice.

There were examples of navigation equipment, fish finding technology, sounding technology, knives, gaffs, hooks, sinkers, jigs, nets, long lines, floats, anchors, propellors, ships' wheels, crab traps, harpoons, sailmaking supplies,diving equipment, cooper's tools, ice saws, ice pincers, and an ice sledge.

We saw an Icelandic invention called the trawl line cutter. Iceland severed political ties with Denmark in 1944 and founded its modern republic. British trawlers would illegally fish in Icelandic waters following World War II, and Icelanders invented a weapon to combat this: trawl wire cutters. The design was a carefully guarded secret during the "Cod Wars", and consisted of a metal rod with four arms on it. There was a blade in the crotch of each of the arms, and when dragged behind Icelandic Coast Guard vessels (like the Óðinn), they would catch on trawling lines and cause them to part off, releasing the illegal catch back into the sea and damaging the trawling nets.

Artifacts relating to life on board included tinned coffee and milk as well as bottles of Brennivin. Protective clothing evolved from leather to oilskins to rubber/plastic rain suits. Boat building and repair tools were on display.

There was an interesting exhibit exploring how fisheries are represented in popular culture, from toy ships, postage stamps, fishing/nautical music, books, ceramic figurines, and jewelry to the Útvegsspilið board game.

We learned about different techniques for preserving fish. Stockfish are dried in the air on drying racks without the use of salt (the fish drying shack at Þúfa represents this). Saltfish is dried and preserved using salt, a technique that was adopted in Iceland in the 1700's.

The industrialization of the fishery is represented in the museum via some heavy equipment. The Baader 412 De-header can cut the heads off of 20-40 fish per minute. The Baader 99 Filleter cuts 18-24 fish per minute. The Baader 51 Skinner removes the skin from 150 fillets per minute. One filleting machine is attached to one de-header and two skinners.

A timeline traced the history of the international fish trade. Between 1915 and 1935, alcohol was illegal in Iceland. But Spain insisted on an exemption to sell wine to Iceland, otherwise they threatened to raise duties on Icelandic saltfish. So imports of Spanish wine were allowed.

Polish Price Polo chocolate wafer candy bars were traded in exchange for Icelandic fish. At the time, the bar was classified as a biscuit instead of candy to avoid import restrictions. In 1970, each Icelander ate on average a kilo of Prince Polo annually, which is quite a bit given that each bar is 35 grams (that's 28.5 bars per capita)!

We then went downstairs, where we learned about all of the different ways in which parts of the fish are used to prevent waste. These include cod liver oil, fish leather, dietary supplements, beauty creams, bandages, and even toys and puzzles made from fish bones. Icelanders are very proud of the increasing zero-waste policy of the fishing industry over the years.

You exit the museum through a seafood restaurant. The name was familiar: Messinn. We had eaten at Messinn's downtown location last year, and it was fantastic. This location had a different concept, focusing on a seafood buffet, as a quick meal after exploring the museum.

When we stepped outside onto the sidewalk, the wind was so intense that it immediately ripped Craig's museum entrance sticker off of his parka. We tried in vain to catch it (at one point it circled back and he was nearly able to pin it down with his cane), but then a huge gust sent it sailing down the street out of sight. We felt guilty because we hate to litter.

Next door to the museum was the Bryggjan Brewery, and we decided to head inside to enjoy a drink. Craig was immediately aware that this building was once involved in the fish industry. He could smell the faint odor of fish oil, which probably has soaked into the very timbers of the building. I didn't smell it at first, but eventually I did. It was not unpleasant, and added to the ambiance.

The atmosphere of the brewery was quite cozy while still maintaining a modern industrial vibe. They offered brewery tours, but we opted to sit in comfy chairs and enjoy happy hour. Craig loved his "Paint It" imperial stout, and I had an amazing hard blackberry cider. The place wasn't busy and it was the perfect place to relax for a while. Craig got a second stout.

Shortly after 5:00 p.m., we were finally starting to feel hungry. Craig had been eyeing the fish and chips at Kaffivagninn, but hadn't had the appetite. So we walked the couple blocks back there, hoping that it was still open. It is much more a breakfast/lunch type of place, and would shut down before the typical late Icelandic dinner hour begins. The sign said that it closed at 6, so we happily entered. We told our server from last time that we were back to try the fish and chips. He regretfully informed us that the kitchen had closed mere minutes ago at 5:00. He said he could serve us pastry and/or beverages, but we thanked him and left. We finally needed a real meal.

We started the long walk back to the hotel, keeping our eye out for a place to eat. We recognized the distinctive architecture of Tommi's Burger Joint. The small restaurant is housed in a building which used to be a weighing station and harbour cafe for fishermen working in Grandi, complete with a little clock tower.

I had read that this is one of the best burger places in Reykjavik, so we decided this was a good place for dinner. It is a small place with lots of random pop culture decorations (Craig was seated in front of a poster of E.T. and a poster of Michael Jackson with Freddie Mercury). It had a very cool vibe and the staff were super friendly. When we first arrived, the only other customer was a young man shooting video footage of the place.

Craig and I each got the "Deal of the Century" - a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a Fanta. They had a tasty seasoning for the fries, and we got hot pepper mayo for dipping. It was so delicious! We were very happy that we stopped here. We also picked up a Prince Polo candy bar, after learning how popular they have been in Iceland for over 50 years.

Several other customers arrived, with some others stopping in for take out.

We continued back to the hotel, noticing that the street leading up to Hallgrimskirkja is still painted in rainbow colors, leftover from Reykjavik Pride! We had walked up this street yesterday, but the sun had been in our eyes and we could barely see, so we hadn't noticed.

We stopped for a photo op in front of the Tulipop store next door to our hotel. Its characters are Iceland's answer to Hello Kitty. They had a statue of Gloomy the Mushroom Girl, and I posed with her for a photo.

We arrived back at the hotel at around 7 p.m. Not bad for a day when we had no concrete plans!

Craig at the Old Harbour, Grandi

Craig at the Old Harbour, Grandi

Craig at the Old Harbour, Grandi

Craig at the Old Harbour, Grandi




View from the top of Þúfa

Kaffivagninn, the oldest restaurant in Reykjavik

Kaffivagninn, the oldest restaurant in Reykjavik

Reykjavik Maritime Museum: Fish & Folk

Reykjavik Maritime Museum: Fish & Folk

Bryggjan Brewery

Bryggjan Brewery

Delicious burgers at Tommi's Burger Joint

Delicious burgers at Tommi's Burger Joint

See all photos from March 9

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