"Winter Madness," proclaimed the Internet ad.
"Look at this offer," I said to my husband. "We can fly to Iceland and stay four nights for less than we would pay for a weekend in New York City."
"Book it," Doug said.
So I did.
Three weeks later, we were on our way to a totally unfamiliar country. I knew that the capital city, Reykjavik, had an all-night bar scene, but we rarely stay up through the news at 11. I was more than a little uncomfortable "winging it" in a cold, rocky land where the names of the towns contained strange symbols and at least six syllables.
We got off the plane and entered a wonderland. Mossy black lava rocks stretch for miles. The mountains are stark, rocky blackness, shot white with rivulets of snow. The November sun hugs the southern horizon all day, creating a mood of eternal twilight. The mist and drooping clouds add to the impression that you've reached the top of the globe. Volcanic steam rises from mountainside cracks.
I like to share in native cuisines when I travel, so we set out to find Icelanders' favorite food.
Icelanders love hot dogs so much that Iceland is known as the hot dog capital of the world. And where was the best hot dog in the best hot dog nation? Our research led us to a rutted side street near the harbor. Beajarins Bestu was a tiny shack with a wooden picnic table at its side.
My husband was a bit skeptical. He ordered a
with mustard. The counter lady smirked. She pointed over her shoulder to a photo and a cartoon of President Bill Clinton. The man behind her gave a snort and said, "Clinton eat here. Only mustard."
So of course, I had to order one with "everything," Icelandic style.
The woman gave me an odd glance as she handed me the hot dog. She obviously expected to see me back in a minute ordering one with mustard only, just like Clinton and most other Americans.
Instead, I examined the "everything" dog. From what I could tell, the hot dog had thin lines of chopped and crispy onions, brown mustard, tomato ketchup, and a yellow remoulade. I don't know how Icelanders chose these toppings for their favorites, but they blended wondrously. The hot dog contained lamb but was milder than American hot dogs. I had to have another.
The woman gave me a dubious look.
"Everything?" she asked.
"Everything," I said, spreading my arms wide.
Her grin was just as wide. The hot dog oozed with the five condiments dripping out the ends of the bun. I had earned a real Icelandic
But I could not master the Icelandic practice of eating the hot dog while standing upright in the horizontal rain and wind. I cheated and ate in the car.