Iceland – Katla

Viking Power

I’ve always been fascinated by the World’s Strongest Man competitions. Iceland, is home to two of the sport’s greatest icons, Jón Páll Sigmarsson and Magnús Ver Magnússon, who combined won the event eight times (four each), ranking Iceland at the top of the powerlifting game. Let’s take a look at these two hulking men and their contributions to strongman lore:

Jón Páll Sigmarsson

Born in Hafnarfjörður (just don’t ask the Sip Advisor to try and pronounce the word), Sigmarsson was the first to win the World’s Strongest Man event four times, doing so in a seven year span. His lowest finish in the tournament was third place in 1989. From humble beginnings, Sigmarsson’s legend grew as he participated in events around the world, including Scotland’s Highland Games.

Sigmarsson was a showman and loved to put on a performance. His charisma came through the TV screen with roars, shouting, and celebrations. During one event of the 1985 World’s Strongest Man, an audience member made the mistake of calling Sigmarrson an Eskimo, to which the powerlifter replied, “I am not an Eskimo, I am a Viking!” before snatching and seemingly with ease, lifting a 495kg cart.

Sigmarsson

Sadly, Sigmarsson passed away at the young age of 32, from a heart attack. He died doing what he loved, lifting, in his own gym, Jakaból (which means Giant’s Nest). While steroid use played a role in his death, there was also a heart defect that others in his family had suffered from. Sigmarsson was survived by a son, Sigmar, and I wonder if he ever followed in the footsteps of his dear ol’ dad?

A fascinating documentary was made on the life of Sigmarsson, titled Larger than Life. The Sip Advisor actually watched it en route to Iceland and it gave me a different perspective going into the country. Sigmarsson was enshrined in the World’s Strongest Man Hall of Fame in 2012, one of only three competitors to be selected thus far into the hallowed halls.

PIPES_grande

Magnús Ver Magnússon

Hailing from Egilsstaðir (again, I don’t even know where to begin with the pronunciation of this place name) and already owning one of the greatest villainous names in entertainment history, Ver Magnússon seemed like the perfect fit to take the torch from Sigmarsson and become the next great Icelandic strongman. Like Sigmarsson, Ver Magnússon travelled the world in his early years of lifting, winning competitions across the globe.

Equaling Sigmarsson’s achievement of four World Strongest Man titles (between 1991 and 1996), it should be noted that Ver Magnússon also ranked as the event’s runner-up in 1992 and 1993. That’s domination if I’ve ever seen it. The two Icelandic warriors are only surpassed by Mariusz Pudzianowski of Poland, who has five wins to his name.

magnusson

Ver Magnússon reached mass American audiences, not only with his World’s Strongest Man accolades, but with an appearance in a Coors Light commercial, as well as an appearance on The Daily Show, in 2008, where he showed off his still formidable strongman skills. There are rumours that Ver Magnússon has been trying to raise funds to film a movie about his life, titled ‘My Way.’

In the meantime, Ver Magnússon has gone on to own the Jakaból gym, replacing Sigmarsson, and training the next generation of Icelandic Vikings. One of his protégés is Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, nicknamed ‘Thor.’ Bjornsson recently appeared on Game of Thrones as the fearful Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain. Ver Magnússon also judges strongman and powerlifting competitions internationally and remains a face of the sport.

Iceland: Katla

Katla Cocktail

  • 1 oz Brennivin
  • 0.5 oz Kahlua
  • Top with Club Soda
  • Splash of Lemon Juice
  • Garnish with a Lemon Slice

I can’t even imagine lifting some of the items these two behemoths tossed over their shoulder or hurled through the air. Simarsson even set a Guinness World Records by lifting the largest whiskey bottle… that’s a feat the Sip Advisor can truly appreciate!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
Brennivin is also known as Black Death, which I don’t fully understand, given the spirit is clear and doesn’t taste bad at all. Icelanders might disagree with me on the taste experience, but I think I know my liquors. This cocktail is named after an active volcano in Iceland, but it will certainly not cause you to erupt and is actually quite nice.

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Iceland – Northern Lights

Around the Loop

Iceland is a fascinating place, full of so many interesting facts, sites, and experiences. If you visit the country, the best way to get around may be to travel the famous Ring Road. Here are some items of note about highway and a listing of some of the things you can see and do along the trek to get the full Icelandic experience:

Known as Route 1, this road circles the entire island of Iceland. Stretching 828 miles long, it was only completed in 1974, coincidentally while celebrations for the 1100th anniversary of the country’s settlement were ongoing. Most of the road is paved, but much like other parts of the country, there are stretches that are not. A number of bridges and tunnels link the route and the max speeds are 90 km/h on the paved sections and 80 km/h on the gravel portions.

icelanders_driving

If you’re expecting tons of ice (to live your fantasy of being an Ice Road Trucker), you will likely be disappointed. As the old joke goes, Iceland is green, while Greenland is ice. When Erik the Red set up shop in Greenland and colonized the island, he chose to call it something more appealing, hoping it would cause others to be more likely to settle there, as well.

With a couple drivers, you could take advantage of the near 24-hours a day of sunlight available during the summer months. That said, if travelling during the winter, you might get to enjoy the Northern Lights (not just the name of today’s cocktail and a wrestling suplex), more scientifically known as the Aurora Borealis. In winter, there is only four to five hours of sunlight and one portion of the Ring Road is closed, forcing drivers to take a detour along the coast.

Some parts of the road may wind in odd ways due to construction being done so as to not upset the elves of Icelandic folklore. Huldufólk, as they’re called, have been blamed for bulldozers malfunctioning when working in rock-filled areas, said to be inhabited by elves. The whole concept has created jobs for those claiming to have special powers in negotiating with elves. Sticking with the Huldufólk, you may often see doors painted on rocks or tiny churches, all meant for elves to live comfortably.

Elf in Iceland

Parts of the popular HBO series Game of Thrones have been filmed in Iceland, namely the scenes set at or past the ice wall, guarded by the Night’s Watch, that keeps the wildlings and white walkers from entering the Seven Kingdoms. There is a five day tour that specializes in bringing fans of the show to these areas and allows them to live out their fantasies of snuggling up with Jon Snow.

On your journey, you may not come across many people. Two-thirds of the approximately 320,000 population living in Iceland, call the capital city Reykjavik home. If you travel to Iceland, you will enter in and out of Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital. You will more likely see vehicles, as the country has one of the highest per capita rates of car ownership across the globe. There is one car for every 1.5 people, necessary because there are no rail lines for transport.

When in search of eats along the Ring Road, you may not find traditional comforts. There are no, I repeat NO McDonalds in Iceland, with the last of three restaurants getting out of Dodge in 2009. Hopefully you’re not a picky eater, as your options may include whale, puffin, harkarl (fermented shark), and skyr (yogurt-like substance). Also, be reminded that things are incredibly expensive in Iceland: Mrs. Sip and I spent $50 on two beers and a small pizza.

mcdonalds-one job

Iceland is home to the youngest place on earth. Surtsey Island only appeared from the ocean in 1963, following volcanic eruptions. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Speaking of volcanos, Iceland is one of the most geologically active spots in the world, thanks to 130 volcanoes (although only 40 have erupted in the last 1,000 years), continental plate action, and almost daily mini-earthquakes.

As you travel along, you may want to blast some Björk tunes and if you happen to get pulled over by the fuzz, just remember that they are not allowed to carry guns and will only have a club and pepper spray with them. When stopping for a meal, make sure to enjoy an expensive beer and toast the fact the ban on brews was only lifted in 1989 (March 1 is Beer Day, celebrated across Iceland). You should note that strip clubs have been banned since 2010, so don’t expect to see any Icelandic skin!

Other attractions you may come across in your travels: glaciers, three of Iceland’s five are the largest in Europe; Icelandic horses, 80,000 of which roam the land and are so unique that other horses are banned from Iceland and once a horse leaves, it is not allowed to return; and geysers; Iceland invented the word when their Great Geysir was discovered in 1294.

Iceland: Northern Lights

Northern Lights Cocktail

  • 1 oz Brennivin
  • 0.5 oz Amaretto
  • Top with Grapefruit Soda
  • Garnish with an Orange Slice

In closing, I must point out that D2: The Mighty Ducks featured everyone’s favourite hockey squad, as Team USA, battling an evil and favoured Iceland unit. All this, despite not one single hockey star having ever come from the nation and the country playing their first international game ever five years after the movie’s release. What do you expect from a film that also included Trinidad and Tobago as a top hockey power!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
Brennivin is described as an unsweetened schnapps and is quite similar to Akvavit. This drink was pretty good, with the strong tastes of the Brennivin and Grapefruit Soda subdued by the always pleasant Amaretto.

Norway – Kitten Cuddler

Raid and Pillage

The Vikings have a badass reputation and frankly, it’s well deserved. Many of these figures, hailing from Scandinavia and particularly Norway, have rap sheets that would make a writer for Game of Thrones light up, as it opens new doors to wrath and associated violence. Let’s take a look at the exploits of some of the greatest Vikings:

Erik the Red

Erik the Red’s early life was built around repeatedly being exiled after committing murder. Therefore, he created his own Viking colony on what is now Greenland, which he also discovered. There, Erik the Red was free to do whatever he wanted. Although bloodshed is largely associated with Erik, his nickname ‘The Red’ more likely referred to his hair and beard. He was father to other Viking notables, explorer Leif Eriksson and warrior princess (not Xena) Freydis Eriksdottir.

Vikings-Give Up

Ragnar Lodbrok

In order to prove he was a badass to a princess, Lodbrok demolished a horde of invading poisonous snakes. Karma caught up to him eventually, though, as he was executed by being thrown into a pit of serpents. Although Lodbrok’s actual existence has been questioned, he was said to be father to other legendary Vikings, including Björn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and Ivar Ragnarsson.

Ivar Ragnarsson

Speaking of the devil, Ivar was a ruthless warrior who used captured kings as playthings, expending them for target practice and other horrific executions. Ivar’s nickname, ‘The Boneless,’ was thought to refer to anything from an ailment causing his bones to break easily, to being impotent, to being incredibly flexible. Regardless, Ivar ruled parts of what is now Denmark and Sweden, as well as Dublin.

Leif Eriksson

Eriksson is most notable for discovering North America (500 years before Christopher Columbus), although the finding was likely accidental. He had meant to return to Norway, but his ship was blown off course towards modern day Canada. Eriksson was more of an explorer and not a Viking in the classic raid and pillage sense. He was said to be quite intelligent, while also possessing the strong frame of a typical Viking. The U.S. even celebrates Leif Eriksson Day every October 9th!

Vikings Pillaged

Eric Haraldsson

Eric had a thirst for blood and power, even killing his own brothers to become King of Norway. This earned him the moniker, Eric Bloodaxe. His reign over the Norwegian kingdom was short-lived, however, as one remaining broski returned and overthrew Eric, who had angered many of the nobility with his ruling tactics. Eric turned his attention to Northumbria and became king there, before dying in battle.

Sweyn Forkbeard

Forkbeard first came to prominence by going to war with his own father and emerging as the King of Denmark, upon being victorious. Following that, it seemed he held a major grudge against England, attacking them repeatedly over the rest of his life and even ruling the realm for a time. His anger towards England was thought to be based on his sister dying during the kingdom’s massacre of Danish citizens. Forkbeard also invaded Norway and divided up the country with his allies.

Vikings Fight

Harald Hardrada

While exiled from Norway, Hardrada became leader of the Byzantine emperor’s Varangian Guard. When he returned to Norway, he fought to become king. Hardrada means “Hard Ruler,” a name he received for his constant wars and harsh reign. Hardrada believed he had a claim to the throne of England, upon the death of that king, and died in battle, after being shot in the throat with an arrow, trying to make good on his perceived right.

Egil Skallagrimsson

Skallagrimsson was both a warrior and a poet, covering every aspect that makes a lady swoon (not to mention the namesake of an Icelandic brewery!). He is said to have written his first works at the young age of three, but also killed for the first time at seven years old. When the Norwegian king grew tired of Skallagrimsson’s exploits, he was exiled and began his years of terror, amassing a fortune and high kill count. He even murdered the slave who helped him bury his treasure.

Norway: Kitten Cuddler

Kitten Cuddler Cocktail

  • 1 oz Vodka
  • 1 oz Crème de Bananes
  • 0.5 oz Cloudberry Liqueur
  • Top with Lemon-Lime Soda
  • Splash of Apple Juice
  • Splash of Lemon Juice
  • Dash of Grenadine
  • Garnish with a Lemon Wedge

I wonder what my Viking nickname would have been. I’m thinking Word Whisperer sounds alright, but I’d hope my contemporaries would incorporate my legendary boozing into the moniker and call me something like Liquor Leviathan!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (5 Sips out of 5):
Cloudberry Liqueur is made from berries found in Norway. This is quite the complex recipe, but it is totally worth the intricate construction. I think the cocktail name is quite funny in contrast to the article it’s combined with… kitten cuddlers and raiding and pillaging Vikings don’t really go hand-in-hand. I topped this cocktail with my Bols Banana Liqueur foam and it was a perfect touch to the drink.

January 4 – Lemon Drop

Around the Bend

Today marks a new beginning for the Super Saturday Shot Day page. After much pestering, I promised Mrs. Sip that each Shot Day post would include rankings rather than just lists. She thinks this will engage the reader more and we have a little bet running on that. Let’s see if I’ll end up owing her a Coke (her least favourite beverage!). Anyway, here are the top five things to look forward to in 2014, according to the Sip Advisor!

#5: Box Office Smash

2014 will see the release of a myriad of highly-anticipated films. Among the ones I’m looking forward to seeing are: X-Men: Days of Future Past; Dumb and Dumber To; How to Train Your Dragon 2; and The LEGO Movie. Sure, there are others that may eventually catch my attention, but there are also others I have no intention of checking out, such as Robo Cop (I was never a fan of the franchise) and Godzilla (I never got the appeal of all these monsters).

dumb-and-dumber

#4: Small Screen Gems

The TV schedule gets a boost of rejuvenation with the return of some great series early in the New Year. Archer, Community (premiered two days ago), and Sherlock all return within the first couple weeks of 2014, proving that shows with a one-word title are most appreciated. Add in all the other programming coming off their Christmas hiatus and your DVR player better have a ton of free space available.

#3: Blog-O-Sphere

I’m really looking forward to the new Sip Advisor project I’m starting on Jan. 6, as we traverse the globe and learn about a different nation’s top imports and celebrated alcohol each week. It will give me a great opportunity to delve into the collection of spirits I’ve built from around the world and share with all you little sippers a more international flavour than ever before.

Drinking Around the World

#2: Travel Tips

It looks like Mrs. Sip and I already have some crazy travel plans on the horizon, including tentative vacations to New York, the Dominican Republic, Iceland, Germany, and the U.K. already in the pipeline. On top of that, we’re sure to end up in Disneyland and Las Vegas at some point, as we do every year. With each journey, I’ll be checking out unique libations and visiting fine establishments all in the name a liquor education… can I claim a tax refund on that!?

#1: Milestones

Speaking of Mrs. Sip, the gorgeous goddess will celebrate her 30th birthday this year and you better believe we’ll be partying in style. 2014 will also see us enjoy our 12th dating anniversary and 2nd wedding anniversary. As for this natural wonder of a website, we’re rapidly approaching our 50,000th view. Sadly, I won’t be able to know exactly who that person is and award them a lifetime supply of free blog articles!

Super Saturday Shot Day: Lemon Drop

Lemon Drop Shooter

  • 0.75 oz Vodka (I used Smirnoff Blueberry)
  • Splash of Lemon Juice
  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • Garnish with a Lemon Wedge

What are you looking forward to in 2014? Perhaps you’ll give me other ideas of what I should be keeping an eye on in the next calendar year!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
I can’t believe it took so long to get around to doing this shot, but it’s a great way to ring in 2014. The shooter is simple and delicious. You could probably achieve different tastes depending on which Vodka you choose to use. I thought the Smirnoff Blueberry and Lemon Juice blended together quite well. I left the Sugar Cube to dissolve on it’s own, rather than stir it into the recipe.

December 18 – Holiday Hopper

Christmas Vacation

I prefer to spend Christmas at home with family and friends, but that’s not for everyone. Some like to get out and see the world, leaving the comforts of familiarity far behind. If that sounds like you, here are some of the best places to travel to for Christmas joy!

Leavenworth, Washington

This quaint little Bavarian-themed town is great to visit at all times of the year, but it particularly comes alive at Christmas, beginning with its annual lighting festival. The Family Sip spent a few Christmases in Leavenworth when the Sip Advisor was a wee little sipper. We enjoyed many hours playing in the snow, going cross country skiing, and causing a general ruckus in the hotel halls. It’s hard to not be in the full Christmas spirit when you’re so surrounded by it.

leavenworth-lighting

New York, New York

One would probably start by visiting Rockefeller Center for outdoor ice skating and ogling the giant Christmas tree placed in the center of the plaza, but I for one would try to relive Kevin McCallister’s adventures from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York… especially if I can convince a couple cons to provide me with willing Wet Bandits impersonators! For Pa Sip, there’s also the Holiday Train Show, featuring numerous model trains rumbling through an intricate New York landscape.

Lapland, Finland

Home to Santa Claus Village and Santa Park and located near the Arctic Circle, this area has long been considered Santa Claus’ base of operations, where reindeer and polar bears (of the Coca-Cola swilling variety) can be found inhabiting the region. It’s here that you can get a photo with one of the most legit looking Santa’s I’ve ever seen… perhaps he is the real thing. Whoa, mind blown, I’m off to Lapland!

Disney Theme Parks

You never need a specific reason to go to a Disney park, but seeing the resorts at Christmas is a must at some point in every person’s life. I love how rides like the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World are updated for the holiday season and the park’s Christmas Parade and Christmas Fireworks Extravaganza are spectacles that should be witnessed. Add to that all the Christmas treats, merchandise, lights, costumes, and everything else and it’s a holiday overload… in a good way!

Christmas-at-Disney

Bethlehem, Israel

Birthplace of Jesus Christ and home to the nativity scene, thousands make pilgrimages to Bethlehem each year to celebrate the holiday where its roots stem from. The Church of the Nativity sits upon the spot where Jesus is said to have been born (a silver star within the church marks the exact location of Jesus’ birth) and empties out into Manger Square. Numerous religious events take place around the Christmas holiday and regardless of your denomination, you can celebrate at some point in the area.

Reykjavik, Iceland

With its proximity to the North Pole, this may be the closest you ever come to Santa’s workshop. In fact, just outside the Icelandic capital is The Christmas Village, which offers everything from live musical performances to shopping opportunities to the Yuletide Lads (not one or two, but 13 Santa’s). Apparently their ‘mother’ can also be found nearby, but can you imagine the hardships she’s gone through raising 13 boys who are all unemployed and want to hand around children all day?

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Dubbed ‘The Christmas City‘ this place has taken celebrating the holiday season to new heights. They even have a live advent calendar, where each day, a different shopkeeper comes out the Goundie House door with treats for those attending. Christkindlmarkt is molded after the traditional European winter market and offers visitors the chance to buy arts and crafts and food. It doesn’t say anything about booze, but you hope that’s there too. I mean, you really, really, really hope they have that, as well!

Drink #352: Holiday Hopper

Holiday Hopper Drink Recipe

  • 1 oz Melon Liqueur
  • 0.5 oz Crème de Menthe
  • 0.5 oz Crème de Cacao
  • Top with Milk
  • Garnish with Mint Leaf and Chocolate

After researching for this list, it’s clear that there aren’t many places that would be bad to spend Christmas. Perhaps war-torn areas and such should be avoided, but so many cities have something to offer for those looking to get away for the holidays.

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4.5 Sips out of 5):
This is one of those drinks that really surprises you. Given my aversion to Crème de Menthe, I can never really trust it, especially when it’s expected to play nice with other more normal ingredients like Melon Liqueur. Here, they all come together for a wonderful and enjoyable taste, perfect for a dessert beverage.