Finally back from all my summer travels (returned from our island cottage in Canada yesterday morning after driving through the night), I thought I may actually post a little more on Iceland. The following are some musings from time spent in my three favorite cafes in Reykjavik, with some accompanying pictures. Enjoy!
I’m wishing now that I was any good at drawing or painting, people and figures in particular. I try to write, but words just fail as I think “if only I could draw what I see right now”. . .the cute, pixie-like blond at the counter with an asymetrical haircut and Asian eyes and a dimple in her chin; the perfectly run-down homey decor of the coffee shop, with benches along the wall all made from bare wood turned smooth and oily from use–same as the floor and tables. I play a game with myself–who, of all the people who come in and out, are locals, regulars here, living in nearby flats and speaking Icelandic, and who are tourists? (I feel justified in playing this game simply because we’re staying in an apartment, not a hotel or hostel, we don’t carry giant back-packs around town with us or wear fanny packs, plus Eric can speak serviceable Icelandic himself). Until someone speaks and gives it all away, it’s a rather fun game–in a coffee shop like this, it’s mostly locals apparently, not a lot of tourists stick around to surf the internet or read for hours at a time–there’s far too much to see and do and buy! Certain haircuts, I’m learning, are easily identified as icelandic (asymmetry and/or dramatically straight long bangs).
All young people seem to wear nothing but skinny jeans and leggings, a favorite combo for girls being leggings (of all colors and patterns) with short denim skirts. Further, not unlike America, obvious thrift-store finds are a favorite (like the pixie at the counter who wears what is probably a child-sized faded sweatshirt). It’s generally quiet, another girl in all black sits at the counter chatting with the pixie and knitting, others have out their computers, occasionally the bathroom door swings open and closed, open and closed, and the street noise is barely audible. Once in awhile a group will come in and search for where they’d like to seat, the look in their eyes growing more and more desperate as it becomes apparent that there aren’t many places available that won’t involved crunching in next to a stranger. We’ve ordered simply coffee, nothing fancy as nothing much else is offered. Then Eric breaks his studious pose, taps the pages of the article he’s been reading on the table to get them straight, and says quietly that he’s ready to go when I am.
Grai Kotturinn (The Grey Cat)
I so love finding corner boothes in coffee shops, bars, even bookstores with cafe’s. This one, at Grai Kotturinn in Rykjavik, might just be my favorite ever. The place itself is tucked just below street level, and feels like a cozy cave. It’s tiny, for one thing, with the counter tucked into one corner and barely enough space to squeeze in and order. All the tables are bolted to the ground, arranged as economically as possible but still only making room for less than 20 patrons at one time (and that only if every possible seat is filled–when I walked in all but the tiny bar-height table by the door were occupied but there were only 13 people at most). The walls are yellow and green, doors and torn vinyl benches are red,, black and brass pendant lamps, good ar on the walls. They have several bookshelves I have yet to peruse. I found the corner booth (well, one of them) with the short table, recently vacated by a group of three, crammed in only by having the one girl sit on one boy’s lap. It feels like a local hang-out, even though the girls in the other corner are from New York City.
On my second visit, I sat in a different corner booth with a normal height table. I spent a good portion of my time planning out a visit to several museums and galleries around town. I spoke with the waitress, a lovely rosy-cheeked girl with reddish hair, about the art on the walls. She told me it’s all by the artist Jon Oskar who also owns the cafe, and his wife. She then was kind enough to bring over to me a brand new enormous book about contemporary Icelandic art (and darn it if I can’t remember exactly what it’s called or find it anywhere online, but it was JUST published!) which included a profile of Jon Oskar–very cool. I later ran into the same waitress at a gas station way far north of Reykjavik on our road trip, also kind of cool, except I was never smart enough to ask her name.
(I regret that I did not have my camera with me either time I visited this spot, so I have ripped 2 from elsewhere. Sorry!)
After a very satisfying visit to the Listasafn Hafnarhus (Art Museum: Harbor House), I went to a cafe I’ve been meaning to try–Tiu Dropar. Another blow-street level joint but charmingly old fashioned–decorated with old beaded chandeliers and enamel coffee pots on little display shelves and the street level windowsill.
After much deliberation over their simple menu (I was very hungry but didn’t want to spend too much) I ordered one of the sandwiches in the case, and orange cupcake, and Earl Grey. The snadwich consisted of one short piece of multi-grain baguette loaded with lettuce, cucumber, peppers, and big slabs of brie. We haven’t eaten many veggies lately and while I don’t often crave them, it was as if I could feel my body crying out for it–“GIVE ME NUTRITION!” So I spread the mustart anywhere I saw space and ripped into the sandwhich like there was no tomorrow!
Now the cupcake was mediocre itself, but two aspects of its presentation were extraordinary. First, the paper it was baked in was ingenious, with a little rim around the top that one could eaily pinch and pull away from the cake without damaging it or getting icing on one’s fingers–much better than our traditional ones that reqiure so much picking and pinching–I MUST find some! (nb: I never got a chance to look) Second, it was served with a tiny dish of cream–sort of like Devonshire cream, except lighter, so perhaps whipped cream with little to no sugar? Anyway, the thing did have some rather good cream cheese icing on it already but, having the love for all things rich, creamy and sweet that (I swear) is genetic and in my veins, I figured, “when in Reykjavik. . .” and dipped every bit of the cupcake (which I ate with a fork) into the extra cream. Not bad. This meal, along with a small pot of tea, left me quite satisfied though feeling a bit round, so I was grateful for the longish walk home!