Reykjavik, Iceland

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Writer Valur Gunnarsson answered your travel questions on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 at noon ET

The center of the Universe will always be where you started exploring the world from, and for me that place will always be Reykjavik, Iceland. I remember adding first, streets and then blocks and finally entire neighborhoods to my world view as I grew up month by month. It seemed huge then. And although we've both grown, it doesn't seem as huge now, as the view from Hallgrímskirkja church will attest to. It can be explored fairly well in the space of a weekend, at least compared to most capitals. But every journey of exploration must have a starting point, so feel free to ask me anything you might want to know about my city. My hometown. My center of the Universe.

Valur answered your questions Tuesday, February 8, at 12pm EST.

Valur Gunnarsson was born in Reykjavik in 1976 and grew up there, in Britain and in Norway. He graduated from Secondary school in 1996, and held a number of jobs, such as shipcleaner in Finland, furniture salesman in Norway, doorman in Scotland, and working in an orphanage in Iceland, before completing a degree in History at the University of Iceland in 2002. From there he went to Queens University Belfast to get an MA degree in writing. Upon completion he returned to Iceland and has since then been working as a journalist, first as an arts correspondent for the daily DV and then editing his own paper, the English language Reykjavik Grapevine.

He has released two albums of music, one a collection of Leonard Cohen songs in Icelandic, the other an album of originals with rock band Ríkið, and a volume of poetry in English entitled "A Fool for Believing"). The Reykjavik Grapevine is available online at


Towson, MD: Hi Valur, Can you give me some details about the Food & Fun Festival? I know it is a relatively new event and it's very hard to get information about it to plan ahead, thus I will not make it as I had hoped this year.

Valur Gunnarsson: Hi.
My name is Valur Gunnarsson and I am the editor of Iceland's English language newspaper The Reykjavik Grapevine, which comes out once a month in the winter and twice a month in the summer. I will attempt to answer all your questions here, for further information please contact
We are actually featuring the Food and Fun Festival in the next issue, which will be online on February 11th at The article is as follows, I hope you'll be able to make it.

Food is the New Rock n' roll

By Ölvir Gíslason and Kjartan Guðmundsson

Music is dead - food is the new rock'nroll. Forget Airwaves and its assortment of pretentious wannabes, drunk freeloading journalists and hangers-on: The fourth annual Food and Fun festival is ahead. From February 16-20, twelve acclaimed chefs, six from Europe and six from the United States, will work their gastronomical magic at twelve of Reykjavík's 'inest restaurants: Apótek, Argentína, Einar Ben, 3 Frakkar, The Gallery Restaurant, The Grill, La Primavera, The Pearl, The Rauðará Steakhouse, The Seafood Cellar, Siggi Hall at Óðinsvéum and Vox. The chefs will primarily cook using Icelandic ingredients, mainly seafood and lamb but also from more unusual ingredients, such as the uniquely Icelandic "skyr". The festival reaches its climax in the chef competition, which takes place on the last day. The competing chefs get an half hour each to shop for Icelandic ingredients and three hours to prepare three meals: One fish course, one meat course and a dessert. "Ev"rybody's got a hungry heart according Bruce Springsteen, at the Food and Fun festival, at least you'll'have a full belly. Watch out for a full report in the next issue.

February 16-20, 2005, February 16


  • 5pm: Press conference for Icelandic media at Nordica Hotel (To be conf.)

  • 6pm: Restaurants open for the first night of Food and Fun'. Chefs stay at restaurant for appr. 3 hours mostly to mingle with guests and explain dishes.

  • 5pm: News conference (for international media) at Reykjavík City Hall, followed by a reception hosted by the Mayor of Reykjavík.

  • 6pm: Restaurants open for the second night of Food and Fun'. Chefs stay at restaurant for appr. 3 hours mostly to mingle with guests and explain dishes.

  • 6-7am: Judges arrive from the U.S.

  • 10:30am: Hagkaup Food Market. Starting at 11:00 am, chefs spend one hour in store to pick ingredients for the competition on Saturday.

  • 12:10pm: An official welcome & kick-off luncheon reception at the Culinary Institute of Iceland in Kópavogur hosted by H.E. Sturla Bodvarsson, Minister for Transportation and Tourism.

  • 3-4pm: Judges arrive from Europe.

  • 6pm: Restaurants open for the third night of Food and Fun'. Chefs stay at restaurant for appr. 3 hours mostly to mingle with guests and explain dishes.

  • 9pm: Special city tour for competing chefs, arranged for by the organizing committee of food and fun, visiting all participating restaurants, sampling a bit of ´´food and fun´´ at each location.

  • 11am: The competition site for 2005 is the Reykjavík Art Gallery - Hafnarhúsið.
    During the competition, several culinary demonstrations will take place in the additional conference rooms of the Art Gallery.

  • 11:30am: Chefs to meet backstage to receive uniforms and dress for competition, followed by a competition briefing.

  • 12:30pm: Competition starts.

  • 4pm: Competition ends.

  • 7pm: Iceland Food & Fun Gala Dinner Event and Awards Ceremony. The title "Iceland Naturally Chef of the Year 2005" will be awarded to the winner of the Competition. The Black Tie (or a dark suit), dinner extravaganza, prepared by Iceland's top chefs, will take place at the main banquet hall at Nordica Hotel.
  • San Francisco, CA: If you had only one week to spend in Iceland in May, how long would you spend in Reykjavik and what would you recommend doing there?

    Valur Gunnarsson: I think that I would only spend 2-3 days in Reykjavik. Most of the stuff to see here is in the centre, which is easily negotiable on foot. I'd probably go to an art gallery or two, the best known are the Art Museum of Reykjavik and the Art Museum of Iceland, but there seems like there's a gallery on every corner downtown.

    But apart from museums, I'd have a look up in Hallgrímskirkja Church to get a look at Reykjavik, and go swimming. All the pools are geothermally heated and are popular meeting places, sort of like pubs to the English.

    Once you've had your fill of Reykjavik, there domestic airport is almost downtown, and you can get a plane to the North, east, west or Westman Islands


    Portland, OR: I have heard that there are geothermal hotsprings in Reykjavik used for treating skin conditions and arthritis. Is this a spa that tourists frequent, or rather a medical facility? Your information is appreciated.

    Valur Gunnarsson: The most famous one is the Blue Lagoon, close to the Keflavik airport. It is mostly used recreationally, but people go there to treat skin diseases with good results. There is a more proper Spa in the town of Hveragerði, about 45 minutes from Reykjavik. Check out


    New York, NY: Would you recommend renting a car and driving around Iceland? Or is it better to rely on public transportation. And if so, do you need any special license or documents to drive?

    Valur Gunnarsson: Public transportation here is expensive and not too frequent. There are busses within Reykjavik, and long distance ones too. But it doesn't cost much more to fly around the country. There are no trains here, and just like Americans, Icelanders love their cars. American drivers licences are valid in Iceland.


    Pontiac, MI: I will be arrving in Reykjavik the last week in March. I will only be in Iceland 3 nights and I will be lodging in the capital. Is it possible to do a day trip to Jokarsulon (sp?)? The glaciers and icebergs are on my must-see list. What unique thing does Iceland have that I would want to bring back to the US? How much diversity in people should I expect to see in Iceland?

    Valur Gunnarsson: It takes roughly four hours to drive their. You can rent a car, take a bus or arrange a trip. Bring a lump of lava back.

    Iceland hasn't had many immigrants since the Vikings, but in the bigger towns like Reykjavik and Akureyri we are fortunately beginning to see more diversity.


    Blue Springs, MO: I was stationed at Keflavik with the USAF back in 1966. I am planning a trip back to Iceland soon with a group of people with the Kansas City Ski Club, possibly in March of 2006. I know that due to the weather in the North Atlantic, the skiing may not be that good. Are tours available in March to places like Gullfoss and to the geysers? Thank you.

    Valur Gunnarsson: There are trips to Gullfoss and Geysir all year round. The weather here changes quickly, so it's hard to plan a ski trip. Have a plan b. Akureyri in the North is the skiing capital, and they sometimes have more snow than us.


    New York, NY: What are some of the local delicacies in Reykjavik?

    Valur Gunnarsson: Icelandic lamb may be the best and the best known. Puffin is also a local speciality, and black bird. Seafood here is very fresh. Until the middle of February, we celebrate the month of Thor with traditional delicacies such as sour shark and ram's testicles, but don't worry, these are not eaten year round.


    Anonymous: I was stationed at Keflavik in 1984 and worked with an Icelandic man. I would like to visit Iceland again in the near future, and I would like to contact him before the trip so we could meet while I'm there. Any suggestions on how I could try locating or contacting him before I travel? I remember his name, but don't recall the exact spelling. Thanks.

    Valur Gunnarsson: Hi.
    Send me a letter to and I'll put up an announcement.


    Huntington Beach, CA: My husband and I want to travel to Iceland. My husband is concerned because he heard from some friends that US citizens are not liked by most citizens of Iceland. He has also heard that there is a constant strong sulfur smell in the air. Please help me change his mind.

    Valur Gunnarsson: There is currently a debate raging over Iceland's Membership in the Coalition of the Willing, but this does certainly not mean Americans are in any way disliked. I have two Americans in the office quite happy here. There is a slight smell of sulfur in the pools and in the tap water. But it is some of the cleanest in the world.


    Columbia, SC: How safe is it for a single 40ish woman to travel alone?

    Valur Gunnarsson: Iceland is about as safe as a country can possibly get. The murder rate is close to zero, and very little violent crime apart from the occasional druken bar brawl. The only concievable danger is getting lost in the highlands, so I wouldn't recommend doing that on your own.


    Denver, CO: Is it better to plan a visit in the winter or summer? Please explain why.

    Valur Gunnarsson: It entirely depends on what you're looking for. New Years Eve is nice, with fireworks all over town. But, if you want to travel the country, a lot of things are closed in the winter. And, although we get all sorts of weather, it is somewhat warmer in summer. And remember, it is dark for most of the day in winter, and light for most of the day in summer, if this affects you.


    Anonymous: We are laying over in Iceland for one day in August. I know that's not enough to do the island justice, but wondered what sights we could see in just 24 hours?

    Valur Gunnarsson: Downtown Reykjavik can be navigated in 24 hours. Walk about the town, and perhaps go up to Perlan, a restaurant situated in water coolers on a hill overlooking the city. They also have a nice wax museum of historical Icelanders.


    Sydney, Nova Scotia: We put our name in to go to Iceland as Missionaries. This will not happen for a couple of years, but right now I am looking for prices to lease or purchase a house - what kind of price am I looking at? We are probably looking at Reykjavík.

    Valur Gunnarsson: Apartment Small:
    From 45-70 sq meters (1 bedroom, living room, bathroom, kitchen)
    Price: from 150.000$+
    Rent per. Month: 1000$+
    From 150-250 sq meters
    Price: from 400.000$ - 1.200.000$ +
    Rent per. Month: 2500$+


    El Toro, CA: : Is there an off season for tourism in Iceland? When are the most art exhibits scheduled? Thanks.

    Valur Gunnarsson: Reykjavik is bopping all year round, and the museums are always open. But many museums in the countryside close in the winter. The tourist season slows down from October to May, but that might be a good reason to come then.


    Seattle, WA: Can you tell me more about the ice hotel in Iceland? Is it open year-round? And what other activities or excursions are nearby?

    Valur Gunnarsson: There is no ice hotel in Iceland, although there was one in the James Bond film. There is one in Kemi in Finland. But we do have an ice bar


    New York, NY: Are there any hostels or budget accomodations in Reykjavik?

    Valur Gunnarsson: Youth hostel:
    from 30$ (less for members of hostelling international)
    Salvation Army:


    Kentucky: Where's the most romantic place to go or stay?

    Valur Gunnarsson: The hot tubs are nice. The seafood restaurant Við Tjörnina.
    There is a beautiful pond in downtown Reykjavik by City Hall, with ducks all year round and a small park by. But the best is probably walking by the shoreline, with the Esja mountain in the background.


    Grand Forks, ND: Where is one of the best places to eat in Iceland?

    Valur Gunnarsson: Þrír Frakkar is good for seafood of all sorts, so is Við Tjörnina, Humarhúsið (The Lobster House) lives up to its name. On the budget end you can get nice subs, some with shrimp or lamb at Nonnabitar right in the centre. And you have to try the hot dog stand, where on a sunny day you can see half of Reykjavik and sometimes visitors like Bill Clinton.


    Houston, TX: I have always wanted to make a special vacation on our anniversary milestone. My husband and I will be married 20 years by the end of the year, so going somewhere different will be excellent. When is a good time to go? This should also include the air travel, hotel or package tours.

    Valur Gunnarsson: Icelandair flies from Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Boston in the winter, and also to San Francisco and Orlando in the summer. Look at The best time depends on what you're looking for, but summer is better in regards to weather and travelling about.


    Anonymous: My familie's Icelandic roots are documented back to the year 20AD. The American side of the family is planning a family reunion in Iceland this summer. We would like to find Iclandic families who might be interested in "exchanging" homes for several weeks in July. Can you suggest a good way to go about contacting interested parties?

    Valur Gunnarsson: You can put in an ad in the papers; email: Or you can talk to us and we'll ask in the Grapevine:; email:


    San Jose, CA: What are your favorite places to eat in Reykjavik?

    Valur Gunnarsson: For non-Icelandic food, Austur-Indíafélagið for Oriental, Hornið for Italian, Shalimar is the world's northernmost Indian (they say), Tapas for Spanish, Tveir fiskar is another good seafood place. All fish and lamb dishes at the above are particularly nice.


    Hackensack, NJ: Hi - I'm going to Iceland in late July to early August. I'm planning to do some biking. What would be a good day trip from Reykjavik?

    Valur Gunnarsson: It would probably be best to take a day trip around Reykjavik, going up to the Öskjuhlíðin hill and forest, down to Nauthólsvíkin Beach (warmed up by pouring warm water into the sea), or the Elliðarárdalur Valley. You can also go to Krísuvík Bay outside the city where they have hot springs and lakes and an old church. Or you can do the whole island in the couple of weeks.


    Valur Gunnarsson: So, thanks a lot for your questions, hope to see you here soon. And check out for further information.
    Takk fyrir


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