I stepped hesitantly onto the sidewalk, looking down at the tired black boots on my feet. Although this was my fifth day in Iceland, it had somehow felt like I had been traveling an entire month. My friends and I had been in constant motion; stuffed in a six-person campervan for the past three days traipsing around southern Iceland. We sought out the most splendid waterfalls, glaciers, and softest black sand beaches that I could only wordlessly gape at. I had seen the stunning landscape that Iceland had to offer, yet I hadn’t spent any time witnessing people culture in the land of fire and ice. My thoughts were interrupted by a kind face that called out to us from three floors above. We had arrived in the right place.
Awestruck by coolness
The kind face belonged to Bergþór Pálsson (Bergthor), a celebrated Icelandic opera singer, stage actor, father, author of a book on etiquette, and our Traveling Spoon host. He ushered us upstairs to meet his partner Albert Eiríksson, a traditionally trained chef, hairstylist, evangelist of proper decorum (he also teaches a course on etiquette), and founder of a museum on the history of French fisherman in Iceland.
I don’t believe I’ve ever been in the presence of such impressive human beings, let alone the most impeccably decorated flat I had ever seen in my life.
Their living room felt like stepping into an opulent Baroque-era past, with gilded mirrors, a crystal chandelier, and thick window drapes the color of red wine. The table was set for lunch as if Bergthor and Albert were to entertain for European royalty instead of four hardened-travelers who had primarily subsisted on pizza and hot dogs just days before.
Bergthor and Albert moved effortlessly throughout their flat, taking turns to tell us the origins of each piece of artwork, fixture, or knick-knack. Funny story: Several years ago, a designer came in with an entire team to remodel their bathroom to look as if it came out of a Versace catalog– even the gold plated door handles had faces of handsome greek gods on them. If elegance were a room, it would have been this one. As Bergthor led us from one area to the next, Albert would deftly spring back and forth between the hallway and kitchen to stir a pot of stew in a cherry-red cast iron pot. I remember marveling at how comfortable they both were at entertaining a troupe of foreign travelers in their home.
The moment you realize you’re onto something special
What immediately struck me about this experience wasn’t just the promise of good, home-cooked food in Iceland. It was so much more than that. Bergthor and Albert opened themselves to a complete set of strangers.
They gladly shared about their lives, asked questions about ours, and invited us to be in a moment where a group of people could enjoy the simplest pleasures in life. This was good food and conversation in its purest form.
As we slurped the first course of Albert’s salmon, lobster, carrot, surimi (crab stick) stew, Bergthor let us know that we were cordially invited to his birthday party on October 22 at the Harpa concert hall. This would be a free concert where the audience could expect duets from Bergthor and his talented friends; and yes, he expected it would be a sold-out show.
After we finished the stew, I followed Albert into the kitchen where he assigned me to the
simple arduous task of peeling an apple for our rhubarb pie dessert (I’m a terrible peeler). Behind me, my friend Kaleigh chopped stalks of rhubarb as Albert sniffed a bottle of vanilla-infused vodka and murmured, “perfect”. He did all of this with an impish grin on his face; clearly relishing in my uncontrollable laughter at his expression. Just as we wrapped up dessert preparations, a chime called from the oven, signaling the completion of an exquisite rack of mountain lamb topped with vibrant orange breadcrumbs.
Inspiration plated and served
As we ate around the table, Bergthor mused on life and productivity. He told us that we (humans) all feel like the “busiest person in the world”, but there are pockets of idle time to be found in all corners of our day. He had taken up knitting between stage sessions and taught himself to create traditional Icelandic costumes, sweaters, and even a tapestry (which took two years) that now proudly hangs in the living room. How many times have I lamented over not having enough time to try something I’ve wanted to do? If Bergþór Pálsson could figure out a way to do it, so would I.
Albert’s famous rhubarb pie was a testament to this kind of steady persistence in life. He’s made this exact recipe a hundred times over while running the fisherman museum cafe. Albert could probably make this pie blindfolded with his hands tied behind back while teaching an engaging etiquette class. But, there was also an instance when he didn’t know how to make it. Everyone has to start somewhere, and that’s where these little pockets of time should be used to learn a skill. By the way– the pie was delectable.
I could have never anticipated that my lunch in this Icelandic couple’s home would teach me so much. That is one of the greatest treasures of travel. It has the potential to be more than an excursion or tour of the “must visit” spots. Travel can be a cultural gateway into another person’s life that’ll make you stop and think; even if only for a moment. When I reflect on my time in Iceland, I think of the frosty blue glaciers, lime green moss, and also of my two friends Bergthor and Albert in their Versace bathroom. I can’t help but smile.
**Please note this is a sponsored blog post with honest opinions from yours truly.
A few goodies
- If it weren’t for Traveling Spoon, I would have never gotten the opportunity to meet such a dynamic couple and get a sense of life in Iceland. Travel differently with authentic culinary and cultural experiences around the world.
- Albert Eiríksson’s popular Icelandic food blog which will surely make you salivate.
- Kaleigh Allen’s personal take on chopping rhubarb and sipping sparkling cordial with Bergthor and Albert on her blog.
- Travel and food vlogger Todd Hata’s perspective on Bergthor’s handmade Icelandic sweater surprise (video below).
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