If you want to really get a feel for a place, eat off the street. Actually, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, I should probably rephrase that. Eat the street food.
As I drove around the country of Bulgaria, feeling the sun on my skin and overlooking fields of sunflowers, I couldn’t help but notice that corn (boiled or roasted) seemed to be omnipresent. This was especially true when we reached Sunny Beach, Bulgaria. It seemed as though there were corn vendors every few feet. But, in a sea of cobs, stood one gem…one golden kernel if you will. He is the stuff of legends…The Corn Man of Sunny Beach Bulgaria.
Sure, there are plenty of other, mostly male vendors selling their golden treats for cheap. Sure, they offer butter and salt. And, yeah, maybe even a smile to go with it – a rarity in Eastern Europe.
But, BUT…do they offer entertainment? Do they blast their music and dance with the corn? No. Only the corn man of Sunny Beach Bulgaria does.
He sings, he uses the corn as a microphone, he hypes you up as he prepares your meal – shouting things like “WOO” or “YEAH, LET’S GO!” Tomorrowland and Electric Daisy ain’t got shit on the corn man of Sunny Beach Bulgaria.
Just when you think the performance is over, he uses the salt shaker like a maraca, dropping salt and beats on your corn. If you ask nicely, he’ll even let you get in on the act.
Ladies and non straight men…let’s not forget. He does the entire act topless. He’s enviously tan and he knows how to sway, baby. Move over Chip n Dales. Swoon.
Best of all? He’s SO FREAKING NICE. He loves what he does and he brings joy to everyone’s faces. The price? A little over one US dollar. He should do birthday parties and weddings. He’s outstanding. I hope he’s happy wherever he is, and I hope that I get to see him again one day.
By far, the corn man of Sunny Beach, Bulgaria has the most popular corn stand in the area. Why? He wasn’t afraid to march to the beat of his own drum and let his unique ideas shine. If you keep up with my blog, you know how passionate I am about taking pride in being different and standing out. Therefore, I felt so very glad to have met him! He’s one of the fondest memories of our honeymoon!
If you ever run into him, PLEASE e-mail me a photo at firstname.lastname@example.org or hashtag your photo #whatilearnedistraveler.
Want another kooky experience from Bulgaria? Click here.
Iceland is eccentric. No doubt about that. It is eclectic, artsy, open minded, and fiercely independent. Its capital city is the only one I know of that has silly walk day where everyone walks around the city apparently doing a silly style of walk. I’ve been told that Reykjavik also unveiled one, if not more, “silly walk crosswalks.” I’m sure my Russian family in law would hate this. They do not do silly things. But, I think it’s great!
What I describe as oddities are actually things that make Iceland unique. For starters, its language is not related to or “like” any other language in the world. Its closest to Old Norse which is what the Vikings spoke. For that reason alone, I want to learn it.
Icelanders also try to preserve their unique culture through names. No child born in Iceland may have a non Icelandic name. Check out this article for more specific information on the law and tradition!
Iceland Phallological Museum
This place holds more dicks than even the most promiscuous of sorority girls. This museum is devoted entirely to – you guessed it- penises! There are 282 natural specimens and 350 art installments related to penises. The museum is more specifically devoted to scientific realm of phallology. This academic area studies penises through different lenses including artistic, psychological, social, and biological. These different areas are apparent throughout the museum.
In terms of biology, you can see vast amounts of preserved pee pees from all sorts of creatures including whales, seals, and even a polar bear. There are artistic expressions of dicks including exhibits such as a penis lamp and utensils carved to look phallic. Iceland’s culture is big on believing in mythical creatures.
Naturally, you can see troll and elf penises as well. While my husband got nauseous half way through and left, I had a damn good time. All I can say is, I’m so happy that I won’t ever have to sleep with a mink whale. Ow.
One of the quirkiest places to eat in Reykjavik is undoubtedly the Laundromat Cafe. It is an “all types” welcome eatery in which they boast their acceptance of the LGBTQ community as well as breastfeeding moms! The space is bright in both its lighting and pop art decor. In many ways it feels as if you’ve stepped into a hip and woke comic book. The name, as you guessed, is because you can complete your laundry in the basement of the restaurant – and then come upstairs for a great meal.
The restaurant also offers books and games to peruse during your time at the cafe. I came for brunch and there was a fair offering of choices ranging from pancakes to acai bowls. You can also choose between a “clean laundry” platter or a “dirty laundry” platter for brunch. Of course I chose the dirty – who the hell eats healthy on vacation? I highly recommend this place if you are looking for “zanier” things to experience in Iceland.
It’s impossible not to talk about Icelandic oddities without mentioning the Lebowski Bar! The bar is inspired by and is named after the cult class movie, The Big Lebowski. The film surfaced in 1998 and features legends such as Jeff Bridges, John Goodman (LOVE), Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore. The bar is open for food and drink throughout the day and night, and becomes a night club meets bar on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The bar is decked out in eccentric style and pays a ton of homage to the film with movie posters and still photographs galore. Jeff Bridges, who is the lead in the movie, displays a serious affinity for white Russians throughout the film. Naturally, the Big Lebowski Bar has an entire menu dedicated to “white Russians.” The most famous is perhaps the “cocoa Puffcasian.” It has vodka, kahlua, and cream with a generous layer of cocoa puffs on top. It’s a boozier version of the end of a cereal bowl. This place offers a ton of great dancing on the weekends and fun to be had – as well as a great bite to eat.
More than half of Iceland’s population believes in elves, or as they are also called – hidden people. To be fair – Iceland’s landscape definitely lends itself to that belief. We took a free walking tour of Reykjavik and learned all about a particular elf stone. By the way, an elf stone is a typical stone, boulder, or rock that an elf has decided to make its home.
As the story goes, during an expansion project this particular stone was in the way of city planners. There were several attempts using various types of equipment to remove the stone to no avail. The city hired an elf whisperer to step in. After listening to the demands of the hidden folk living inside the rock the whisperer was able to convince the elves to “ease up.” Apparently – the rock was moved with ease after this encounter.
Bleeding Vagina Wall
Iceland is proud of their feminist culture. As such, it is only appropriate that a giant painting of a menstruating vagina hang in Reykjavik’s City Hall building. I’ll always remember the look of pride our tour guide had as she beamed at the painting. More so, I’ll remember the elderly people in our group who couldn’t believe the word vagina had been uttered aloud – let alone painting shown on the tour.
Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat Statue
Our next Icelandic oddity, is this man with a giant rock over his head. Iceland has erected this status in honor of its many civil servants who give service to the country every single day. There are so many, that in this piece they are depicted as a single person and that is why the man, with his briefcase on the way to work does not have an identity.
This Giant Fucking Goose
More than half of all Icelanders have Viking DNA coursing through their blood. Apparently, this fucking goose we found also has Viking blood running through his soulless body. He made it very clear who ran things down the the water, and I was never more terrified in my life. I’ll never forget the terror in my heart when I heard his big feet stomping against the ground. He turned a corner to find me and said, “this is my turf sucka. Don’t forget it.” It was a weird way to start our trip, I’ll be honest.
We took a bar crawl on our first night in Reykjavik. I highly recommend doing it through the company “Wake Up Reykjavik.” We met a lot of great friends and it was a really cool way to see the city. The price was a bit steep, but it covered all drinks and entrance into a nightclub. Typically drinks are ridiculously expensive in Iceland, so I found this reasonable.
At one stop in particular, we tried two of Iceland’s famous items. The first is the “black death” shot – also called Brennvin. It has a lethal reputation, and is popularly consumed within the country. It’s made from fermented potato or grain and fermented with carraway seeds. tastes…well…a lot like death.
Apparently, people used to get hammered off this shit and the government felt less than happy about that. They made all makers of Brennvin put a black label and skull on the bottle to make it less appealing. It had the opposite effect and is still drank far and wide today. The skull is gone, but the black label remains.
A note about drinking in Iceland. Reykjavik-ers lover to do bar crawls on the weekends. Make sure to get a good buzz going in your hotel or rental before hitting the bars, or else you’ll be paying off your credit card from now until next year!
Fermented shark came with the black death shots, and I was less than enthused about this option. Fermented shark used to be eaten by Vikings way back in the day, and that is about its only appeal. It tastes like raw and rotten fish mixed with ammonia. If you were looking for a dish that mixes those two flavors – this is your snack!
Hot Dog Hero
If you don’t try an Icelandic hot dog when you visit, you suck. Compared to all other dining options they are pretty cheap and SO fucking delicious. It is hands down my favorite “street snack” to date. Particularly you want to go to the stand where Bill Clinton – in a shocking twist of an old classic – put a weiner in his mouth. This weiner being a hot dog, though. I feel like I need to end that joke by saying if you think Monica Lewinsky is a whore, you are actual human trash.
You need to know that this hotdog has exceptional snap. I mean really, we’re talking a legit 10 out of 10 for snap. The hot dog also consists of a mix of pork, beef, and lamb meat which certainly makes it an oddity to anyone coming from America. The meat is top notch, organic, and free range. You should order your hotdog with everything for the best experience. This includes raw onions, crispy onions, ketchup, remoulade sauce and a sweet brown mustard sauce. You will know true love after finishing your dog.
I lay on my back in my swimsuit laying next to my (now husband) fiancee. The stars were copious and the air around us was freezing. Every breath I exhaled floated as white matter in the direction of the plentiful stars. We had visited a local “swimming pool” as the Icelanders call them. As an American, I’m more inclined to call them “thermal baths” because they are scolding hot.
“Us locals like to come take a swim with our children. Then we wash them, change them into pajamas – it’s a natural way to induce sleep. Visiting the baths before bedtime will be the best sleep you ever get. Trust me.” We did trust our tour guide, and that’s how we found ourselves at Vesturbaejarlaug swimming pool. It’s the favorite one among locals. Many Reykjavik citizens have memories of splashing about as children and return now as adults to discuss the matters of the week with their peers.
Most of Reykjavik believes that the baths, being full of geothermal water, have healing properties. People will come in order to soothe all sorts of ailments. Many, I assume, visit just to lay back in the warm water and look up at the stars as we were doing. Bathing in the water had a strange way of making me feel like I was doing something “natural.” That would be the first of many of the “swimming pools” we visited, and of course the Blue Lagoon would be our final one.
Iceland has a way of throwing travelers steadfast into its way of living. You cannot find “whatever you want and need” in Iceland, and that’s why I like it. Icelanders are decidedly proud of their culture and fierce about protecting it. Citizens cannot even give their children non-Icelandic names! With that, nature is pervasive within the culture. It is the basis for much of the literature and sagas of the country.
Where I live, New York City, I’m hardly ever aware of circumstances such as the trees blowing in the wind or the sky changing from light to dark. There is a business in the people, the energy, and the aesthetics. Iceland is quiet and spacious.
One cannot help but be conscious of nature’s subtleties. The sudden dimness of the light in the sky was always something I enjoyed watching. I more enjoyed the opposite too. Since we visited in winter, the morning hours were frequently pitch black and ethereal. When we arrived in the city at 4AM it was DARK and there was not a ton of man made light around. However, people continue on their day as normal.
In our AirBnB there was a window inside of the shower. I always enjoyed feeling the hot water hit my back and hair as the cool velvet air from the evening sky rushed in through the window at the same time. It felt therapeutic and was a daily ritual. The cold wind in my face during walks caressed me so tenderly, that it was easy to imagine that it had hands and lips. If you’re afraid you won’t pick up on these subtleties of nature – don’t fret. You will not be able to help but notice that in one moment there is a blizzard while in the next there is absolute sunshine. Reykjavik has a saying. “If you don’t like the weather – wait five minutes – it will change.”
Iceland has a proud Viking history, and when taking a meditative walk by the water at the edge of Reykjavik as the fog rolls in, it is not too hard to imagine a Viking longboat rowing in from a faraway raid.
I have an obsession with the Vikings, possibly since the show on the history channel aired. Walking through Thingvellir National Park to see where Vikings from near and far gathered to discuss important matters at the parliament was a bucket list item for me. I couldn’t believe that people so long ago would travel to such a remote area. I imagined what must have went through their mind as they took in the immense natural splendour around them and the seemingly endless and vast swaths of land.
At no time was this more apparent than watching the Northern Lights at the park. Our guide warned us that there was a minimal chance of seeing nature’s best performance. Dozens of travelers stood in Thingvellir Park, seemingly all being told the same news. I’m a weirdo, so I pretended we were Vikings and all gathered around for a mid winter ceremony. It was a weird ass ceremony because nobody out of the entire crowd spoke at all.
One guide announced, “you know – ancient people believe if you clap and cheer it brings the lights out.” HELL YEAH if ancient people did it, then I want to as well. Again, I have a really idiosyncratic obsession with early people. The crowd clapped and cheered with all of its might and a faint green light appeared. The crowd went wild, and screamed louder as the light became stronger and spread across the sky. With one final gusto of enthusiasm the lights became their strongest. I don’t think there was a single dry eye in the crowd.
The Northern Lights were a little different than I expected. For one, they do not dance and sweep across the sky as I imagined. You know when you stare at an image for a long time? Then you stare at a blank wall and see that image? It felt a lot like that. However, it was incredibly magical and made me feel connected to the nature around me and the people before me.
There’s no shortage of waterfalls in Iceland. Standing above them, in front of them, and even behind them will surely stun anyone into silence.
Standing in front of Skogafoss falls was a reminder of how frail we are as humans when compared to natural elements.
I could not believe how close we were able to get. I can totally see how early settlers must have believed that the gods inhabited Iceland. Skogafoss certainly looks and feels as though one is in another dimension entirely.
Gullfoss falls is especially powerful and is a good reminder how frail humanity in comparison to the powers of nature.
Iceland’s nature isn’t just limited to its landscapes. It has a host of wildlife – none more famous than the Icelandic horse.
Despite its small stature, they are considered horses and not ponies. They are only found in Iceland and not shipped anywhere else. They date all the way back to the Viking age.
During a lesson, the guide said that in the summer some locals will get drunk and ride their horses around, laughing as they get thrown off. The horses sometimes run away, but always return safely home. Many Icelanders also ride bareback as well. Icelanders are fucking fearless!
Have you read my post about the douchiest horse ever? You should! It’s my top rated story and will make your sides hurt with laughter.
Nature even inspires many of the locally sourced meal options at restaurants. Menus are full of langoustines and seafood. The fish chowder is not at all what I expected. It’s so thick that it comes served on a plate. It comes with their famous brown bread and butter.
Iceland is synonymous with the sea. Walking around the old harbor area we came across some old boats and rustic seaside cottages. It’s not at all unusual that the best lobster bisque ever would be served in such surroundings.
Saegreifinn definitely gets my vote, and many others, for best lobster soup. It has HUGE chunks of lobster in a velvety, creamy broth served with fresh bread and butter. It might have been one of the best things I ate in Iceland.
A great opportunity for anyone able to do so is glacier hiking and ice climbing. It’s a unique chance to really connect with some of the greatest natural wonders of Iceland. Check out my post on hiking Solheimajokull glacier!
Nature has long been a source of inspiration for much of Iceland’s creative masterpieces. Sometimes, when if you get really lucky, it might inspire the person you love to ask you to spend the rest of their life “adventuring” side by side together.