Don’t go food shopping in Reykjavik on December 23rd unless you like crowds, or turning your back and having your trolley pushed away from you by an eager stranger trying to grab the last few tomatoes. Having donned our yaktrax and walked down the icy hill to the nearest Bonus supermarket, Rich tells me that as soon as we walked through the door my face took on that “oh f***!” look. So he did what all sensible men do and made himself scarce whilst I pushed, elbowed and forced myself through the masses, and grabbed whatever didn’t look like hakarl (wrotten shark). Luckily I remembered some of the foods and brands we’d really liked last time we visited. Who cares if we’d be living on pickled herrings for the next five days – they’re good for you ok. Surprisingly Bonus also now stock quite an extensive gluten free range, so I pretty much bought one of everything.
By the time we’d escaped, the car park was so full that wannabe shoppers were parking on the pavements or just abandoning their cars in the middle of the road. The local vinbudin (off licence) lies across the road so after stocking up on wine and blackberry cider imported all the way from Herefordshire, we made our way home for a lunch of, yes you’ve guessed it, pickled herrings and local cheese. They went very well with the gluten free crostini.
Wanting to enjoy the falling snow, we walked into town to visit the tourist information centre. It’s about an hour’s walk from the apartment to Laugavegur, at least it is in the snow and ice. Goodness knows how long it would have taken us without our spikes. Even the locals seem to slip and slide so it’s not just that we’re not used to walking on icy surfaces.
Having armed ourselves with all of the leaflets we could fit in our bags, we bought a bus ticket at the TIC and caught the number 14 back to the largest thermal pool and baths in Reykjavik – Laugardalslaug. With a 50m outdoor pool, outdoor children’s pool, paddling pool, and 6 hot pots, it’s well worth a visit, not least because entry only costs £3 per person and you can stay as long as you like. It was very quiet, presumably because of the weather and time of year – most families would have been busy preparing for the 24th, which is when Icelanders celebrate Christmas rather than on the 25th. But oh what bliss! Once you’ve gotten over having to get naked and wash your bits thoroughly or earn a reprimand from the warden and locals, it’s a sheer delight being able to sit out in the open, basking in the warm water. With an air temperature of minus 1 degree C, and a bath temperature of around 38 degrees, is it any wonder that most people just sit there looking content? Thermal baths are the equivalent of pubs in the UK, or even youth clubs. It’s where people go to socialise as well as get clean and keep fit. And I could do it every day. It’s always one of the things that I miss most about Iceland as a hot bath in England with the window wide open just doesn’t pack the same punch.
December 23rd is also known as ‘putrid skate’ day in Iceland, and many people eat fermented skate to celebrate. As the person who gags even when she visits the dentist though I’m well aware of my limits, so we had roast chicken instead, served with new potatoes, and a spinach, onion, olive and cucumber salad. After dinner and reading the carefully procured TIC leaflets, Rich decided that he’d call me Sadsack from now on, after the Yule Lads little sister. Despite her name, she’s actually quite a happy bunny and goes around collecting and disposing of unhappy thoughts. I think I’d be more likely just to put the people causing the misery in the sack.