travelogue | reykjavik, iceland (october 2014)

travelogue-reykjavik

Oh, Reykjavik. It’s hard to write about the 24 hours we spent in this charming city without becoming wistful, nostalgic even. It’s said there are certain spots on the planet that draw you in, capture you, and are far more majestic and thrilling than expected. This was Reykjavik.

Austin and I opted to tack a day in Reykjavik onto our first anniversary trip to Paris. IcelandAir has a travel incentive program through which you can enjoy an up-to-seven day layover in Iceland before or after a continental European destination, with no added charge. While a day in any city is hardly enough, it’s a start — to establish a superficial sense of place and determine whether we’ll one day return.

We landed at Keflavik International Airport (KEF) early-afternoon following a short hop (about three hours) from Charles de Gaulle (CDG). Stepping onto the tarmac, I was gulping breaths of the bracing and clean air.

Keflavik is a great airport. (Though, I’m writing this soon after returning from the supreme chaos that is Costa Rica’s San Jose International Airport (SJC), so perhaps its abject miserableness is inflating KEF’s good…) The airport has a minimalist and airy glass-and-wood aesthetic as you might expect of a Nordic country. Modern and efficient, it offered surprising clothing, beauty and food shops that were reflective of place versus your large international airport standards.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingWe opted to make the Blue Lagoon a stop on our way into Reykjavik to save precious commuting time, and I would strongly recommend this on a short stay, as the Lagoon is directly en route to or from the airport. We caught a pre-arranged FlyBus shuttle (they run every hour or so) and enjoyed a 30-minute ride to the storied Lagoon with plenty of time for a sunset dip.

Upon arrival, we stowed our luggage — I had packed our bathing suits and other necessities separately before leaving Paris — and quickly changed to maximize soak time.

You can choose from a range of packages, and be forewarned — the Lagoon will try to up-sell you a bells-and-whistles massage package. We opted to skip the frills and stick to essentials — admission and a towel — for a fraction of the cost, and were perfectly happy with our decision.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingWe were thrilled to be visiting the Lagoon off peak season. While fellow visitors were still aplenty, whole swathes of the massive baths were empty, offering a private experience for Austin and me to enjoy. The thermal pools are naturally heated by the geothermal pockets, making the temperature variable through the water — something for the tepid bath lover and heat seeker alike to enjoy. The contrast between the bracing, icy air mid-October and hot water was intoxicating.

Stations with silica mud are set up at a few spots in the Lagoon for guests to scoop up with a ladle and rub on. It’s worth it for the skin-healing properties, if not the photo op. I had read to coat my hair in plenty of the Lagoon-provided conditioner before getting into the waters, as the silica, while great for skin, can do a serious number on hair. Even with a heavy layer of conditioner and clarifying shampoo, I was feeling residue days later.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingThe Lagoon is definitely a built environment, but was so worth a visit. Watching the sunset over the mountains in the milky teal waters was a highlight of our trip.

Early-evening, we showered and caught a shuttle into town, where it dropped us off at our accommodations, the Reykjavik Residence Suites. Along the way, we were tickled to see the Imagine Peace Tower lit up — a bright green baton in the ink sky. Yoko Ono had this installation commissioned to commemorate John Lennon’s life, and it’s lit each year from his birthday (October 9, the day we arrived!) to the day he was killed (December 8).

The Residence Suites were a great accommodation pick by Austin. Quirky and modern textiles and finishes, well stocked rooms and a beautiful bathroom with a giant soaker tub (we chuckled that at 5’4″ and 5’9″ respectively, we were surely shorter than the average Icelander!). The front desk attendant was lovely, mapping out key parts of the city, and showing us the way to our dinner reservations at Dill, just up the street.

Dill, Dill, Dill.

I’ve been a follower of Gunnar Karl Gíslason’s career since 2009, when he opened the high-concept Dill at the peak of Iceland’s financial collapse — and was viewed as either mad or a genius. Thankfully, the latter narrative prevailed. When I learned we would be in Reykjavik, I immediately got to work securing reservations at his restaurant.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingThis meal stood out over many in my life — if Michelin did Iceland, three stars would be in Gíslason’s lap. From the completely native-sourced menu (only the wines are imported), to the glowing, cozy dining room and open kitchen, to the personable and refined service, to the beautiful custom service-ware, and most importantly, the happy-groan-inducing food — Dill was special. We opted for the seven course tasting with wine pairings, and each course blew away the previous.

We shivered through our walk back to the hotel, taking in the gorgeously illuminated Harpa Concert Hall on the waterfront. We were all but falling asleep at this point (it was past 3 AM, Paris time).

Aside: Mid-October in Reykjavik offered surprisingly beautiful weather, with bright blue skies and bracing but tolerable air. Not wanting to over-pack with multiple legs to our trip, we both wore insulated raincoats over sweaters (plus gloves and a hat for me) and were plenty warm during our stay.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingAfter a sound sleep, we woke early to get a start on the day. Apart from being a well-appointed hotel, we loved the Residence Suites for its proximity to everything in town.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingWe set out by foot to fill our bellies with much-needed sustenance for the day ahead. We’d do so at Reykjavik Roasters, a coffee shop gaining acclaim for its on-site roasting and variety of brew methods. As two semi-coffee nerds, we were eager to try their blends and pack some beans to ship to Austin’s brother, who also is keen about great coffee. After enjoying a simple breakfast of sourdough bread with barberry jam and butter alongside a pour-over, we were ready to explore.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingThe most iconic image of Reykjavik, no doubt, is the towering Hallgrímskirkja. My inner lover of both symmetry and expressionist architecture was smitten by the church, whose design is inspired by the local basalt formations left as lava cooled into thick upright columns. It fit the landscape in an iconic, lively way, standing out against the skyline.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingWhen you visit Hallgrímskirkja, spend the few hundred Krona (1 USD = ~130 ISK) to take the elevator to the top for sweeping 365-degree views of a city dotted with colourful low-lying buildings extending to the ocean.

Aside: We converted some currency to Icelandic Krona (ISK) to have as pocket money, but just as easily were able to pay in USD around town.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingThe Hallgrímskirkja is a quick study (we were there less than an hour), so we continued on. We had just eaten breakfast, else we would have stopped across the church at Cafe Loki, which came up often in our reading for its tasty Icelandic menu.

We made our way up through town toward the harbour, peeking in the shops along the way. A few favourites were the clothing store Geysir — I could have browsed for hours; Kirsuberjatréð – an artisan collective in the downtown; and Aurum for its spectacular nature-inspired jewelry.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingReykjavik also has a thriving artisan foodstuffs scene, with a few items we made a point to try. Highlights included:

Omnom chocolate: this iconic chocolate is all over Iceland — at the airport duty free, in the shops and used by restaurants. It’s pricey, but worth it. (And, what beautiful package design!)

Birch liqueur: we learned of this specialty, called Björk, during dessert at Dill, where they soaked a simple cake to serve with milk and prunes. While neither of us are hard liquor drinkers, we appreciated its velvety, earthy quality. (Tip: try this over Iceland’s other famous liquor, Brennivin. We were warned by our server that no one really drinks this abrasive hard liquor, it makes for mean hangovers, and to avoid it at all costs.)

Dried fish snack: called harðfiskur in Icelandic, this fish jerky of sorts is a salty local specialty. Pick it up in the grocery store where it’s cheapest, versus the gift shops or duty free.

Einstok Beer Company: we were served a delicious toasted porter during our dinner at Dill by the Icelandic Einstok Beer Company. These beers were expensive but expressive — worth scooping up a couple at the Duty Free.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingEventually, we made our way to the Old Harbour, where we stopped for lunch at Sægreifinn, a hole-in-the-wall seafood shop specializing in local varieties of fresh (fresh!) fish and a traditional broth-based lobster soup.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingWe chose from a fridge case of about 15 varieties of fresh fish skewers, which were grilled to order. We opted for Arctic Char and Catfish (totally different from our stinky swamp variety), a big bowl of lobster soup and a small whale steak. This meal was extraordinary. Perfectly fresh ocean fish is hard to beat. The lobster soup was the best we’ve had, with sweet chunks of lobster swimming in a thin broth that tasted of sea.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingWe roamed the waterfront, marvelling at the cool blue stillness of the ocean and mountains in the distance. I should note that Reykjavik is a small city. We were easily able to cover its core in a half-day without feeling like we were sacrificing key sites. Had we a bit more time (next time, as Austin says!) we’d make a point to stop off at The Perlan — an iconic building situated a bit outside the core — and take a short ferry across to Videy Island for a picnic lunch.

Eventually, we landed at our final stop, Harpa Concert Hall.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingSeeing this Olafur Eliasson-designed building was high on my list for our visit to Reykjavik, but I didn’t expect to be so totally overcome by the space. I mean, it’s stunning. I spent at least an hour ascending to the top of the structure, taking dozens of photos and marvelling at the sweeping glasswork framing the ocean. Design that interacts with nature in such an extraordinary way is so emotive, and I loved how each windowpane uniquely framed the harbour and cityscape.

reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thingWe wove along the harbourfront back to our hotel to retrieve our bags, a whirlwind 24 hours in Reykjavik complete. We left the city completely fulfilled yet wanting so much more of Iceland. The good news is, we’ll find our way back in the coming years for a deeper experience of this otherworldly place.reykjavik-iceland-travelogue-some-infinite-thing

Places to Visit

Shop & Stay

Reykjavik Residence Suites

FlyBus Shuttle

Geysir

Kirsuberjatréð

Aurum

Eat

Dill Restaurant

Saegriffin

Reykjavik Roasters

Cafe Loki

See

Blue Lagoon

Imagine Peace Tower (October through December)

Harpa Concert Hall

The Perlan

Hallgrímskirkja

Videy Island

Other Resources

My step-by-step guide to building a travel itinerary. 

36 Hours in Reykjavik on the New York Times Travel

48 Hours in Reykjavik on Euro Trip Tips

Reykjavik Travel Guide (free with account) on Buggl

10 Places to Eat and Drink Incredibly Well in Reykjavik on Food Republic

[Our complete Reykjavik, Iceland photoset on Flickr]

good reads | 14

mary-oliver-her-dog-2015v

I love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. Here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

A momentous day for my country: in a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada strikes down the ban on doctor-assisted suicide.

Daniel Frank ranks the best and most underrated restaurants in Toronto.

On public shaming. But mostly, a reminder to be thoughtful with our words and to treat others with kindness — online and off.

The newcomer’s guide to eating in Portland, Maine. (And here’s ours.)

On Being interviews Mary Oliver, and it’s just about the most beautiful thing, ever.

Museums are banning selfie sticks. Rejoice.

Think twice before always baking the office cupcakes.

Other Roundups to Love

Molly Yeh’s Friday Links (updated Fridays)

Fathom’s Links We Love (updated Saturdays)

A Practical Wedding’s Happy Hour (updated Fridays)

Elise Blaha Cripe’s Weekend Links (updated Saturdays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (updated infrequently, but excellent)

[lead image: Mary Oliver and her dog, from On Being]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday morning.

february 9, 2012

dating_poolsI met my husband online.

Specifically: I met my husband on a dating website.

Full disclosure: I am an OKCupid success story.

While the data nerd in me grins about this, the woman who cares about the court of public opinion (despite knowing better) inwardly cringes. For years, I was cagey about our beginning. I skirted the “how did you meet?” question. I developed a generic response about a mutual friend and fate and would quickly change the topic. I dreaded telling people that I met the love of my days on the internet.

I also hated that I felt shame about my relationship’s origins. Despite myself, I wanted a more organic love story. My dear friend H met her husband on a train, when they sat down next to each other and fell in love! So spontaneous, so romantic… Even a simple “We met at a bar!” would have sufficed, and I’m not a bar-goer.

I met my husband online.

Specifically, in the fall of 2011, I created an OKCupid profile, after hearing a colleague of mine obsess over its matching algorithm. “Hrmph,” I thought, in full math nerd form, “how good could this algorithm be?” I was equal parts compelled and skeptical — a machine was going to find me a match based on a series of close-ended questions? But I was compelled enough that I created an account and answered (a few hundred! a statistically significant sample size!) questions: the quantitative keys to my heart.

It turns out, I was a pretty crappy match for most men, returning an 86% match here, a 72% there, a high-score 91% in one case.  I like perfect test scores.

That was that. OKCupid was an interesting personal experiment, but one I ultimately ignored. Over those four months, I replied to a handful of messages. I bailed on more dates than I am willing to enumerate. I mostly trolled for my own psychological fascination. The profile languished.

One fated January night, I received a message from a Texan going to school in Ithaca, New York. He professed his sheepishness for contacting a Canadian who lived hundreds of miles away, probably in an igloo. He was playing with the search function, you see, and expanded his geographical boundaries. There I was, his perfect match, way up here in America’s Hat.

If you’ve used OKCupid, you know it matches along potential for friendship, love and enemy — we were matched 100%, 100% and 0%, respectively. My data nerd was piqued. Who was this very handsome fellow INTJ with excellent grammar, who was apparently (scratch that, scientifically) my perfect match?

As it turns out, he was my husband.

I joke that I fell in love with Austin before we ever met, that I fell in love with his brain and his heart before I ever held his hand. But the joke is true. Austin and I met for the first time on February 9, 2012, a month after we first made contact. By that point, we had written to one-another the equivalent of four NaNoWriMo efforts (in the wrong month) and rung up some embarrassingly large phone bills.

It’s taken time — years — to just celebrate our scientific love story, one that is at least in part a product of a well honed formula built by engineers who knew my brain better than I did.

And there’s the rub. We’ve long known that dating is flawed. I hated dating. I cancelled so many dates in my time as a single woman that it’s a wonder I’m no longer single. But I never had to date my husband.

We privilege the spontaneous, the unexpected, the most purple prose-ful of love stories. A tidy online match doesn’t make for a compelling dinner party how-we-met anecdote.

Then I remember that this small-town Greek-Canadian girl met her husband, a Dallas-raised third-generation American, who on a lark moved across the country for a new start. The same husband who years later, on another lark, said hello to a foreign stranger. Who then hopped onto a bus one February weekend “to see about a girl in Toronto.” Our relationship did not begin at a bar, or a party, or on a train — but it wouldn’t have happened with one tiny missed step.

That’s a pretty improbable love story.

More good reads about (online) dating

Data, a love story. (brain pickings)

On operant conditioning and finding a life partner. (Psychology Today)

Dear Internet, thank you for introducing us. (The New York Times)

Meeting online leads to happier, more enduring marriages. (University of Chicago)

Or maybe it doesn’t. (Washington Post)

[Lead image: Dating Pools on xkcd]

Bloglovin

good reads | 13

the kinspiracy

I love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. Here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

So on point: The Kinspiracy.

And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

The environmental absurdity of K-cups. 

This about sums up how I feel about the current measles-outbreak fueled vaccination debate. 

Decanter Magazine just named Ontario’s own Tawse 2011 Estate Chardonnay the second best outside of Burgundy (it’s on the cover!). Stock up while you can!

I had a breast reduction when I was 24-years-old and it radically transformed my emotional and physical well-being. So much of this article resonates, and makes me wonder how my teenage years and early-20s would have differed if I made the choice sooner.

Some (actually-useful-not-clickbait) advice about how to spend money on clothes, from InStyle’s Cindy Weber Cleary.

For your inner chemist: where wine flavors come from. 

Other Roundups to Love

Molly Yeh’s Friday Links (updated Fridays)

A Practical Wedding’s Happy Hour (updated Fridays)

Elise Blaha Cripe’s Weekend Links (updated Saturdays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (updated infrequently, but excellent)

[lead image: framboisejam instagram compilation from The Kinspiracy]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday morning.

retrospective | january 2015

Because I enjoy a good retrospective — a look-back at some of the cooking, writing, events, dining, people and travel that comprised the month that was. Here’s the January 2015 edition.

beet barley salad

Cooking

January brought a fantastic month of cooking to begin 2015! Though we were only in Toronto for half the month, we cranked out so many tasty dishes. (The power of meal planning at work in our kitchen.)

On an Ottolenghi kick — and in celebration of winter vegetables — we pulled his classics from the shelf and made:

These were served for dinners alongside Middle Eastern spiced flank steak, sweet-and-savoury overnight roast pork, and the leftovers packed for easy work lunches.

*We’ve since been keeping a jug of that buttermilk sauce in the fridge, infused with whatever herbs we have on hand — right now, dill, mint and parsley. It’s versatile — we served it over roasted red beets and chickpea croutons and it made for a quick and satiating weeknight dinner.

Other highlights included Lan/More Stomach’s lentil tacos (perfect for packed lunches) and an intensely-flavoured Hungarian mushroom soup, which I told Austin takes my spot for best soup of 2015, though it’s only January. We also experimented with barley, making a French onion and mushroom barley soup and pink pearl barley salad with beets and herbs (if you have kids who like to eat, this salad would make a sweet Valentine’s Day lunch… plus my beet pancakes for breakfast!).

travel_itinerary

Writing

In January 2015, I wrote two posts — my first travelogue (beautiful Maine!) and a detailed how-to about building a travel itinerary. I’ve long loved consuming travel writing and with the success of last year’s post about minimalist packing I realized that it was also a practical topic I liked writing about.

16232807437_2ee57d6c99_h

Events, Dining & People

I started a new semester of sommelier classes and have been challenged to take tastings and theory deeper. It’s gratifying to be in a class with 10 other people who know so much about wine and are still so eager to learn. I gave my first oral review during our Burgundy class (on a ringer from Napa Valley!) and was proud of how it went, though I’m always apprehensive about perfection.

Austin and I had lunch at America, mostly to see what on earth was going on there after reading this review. Happily/sadly, the service was wonderful, but the food decidedly ho-hum.

On a far less ho-hum note, Niki and I spent an evening at the 2015 Canadian Art and Fashion Awards, or, the most incredible people watching experience ever, with over-the-top fashion and makeup to admire at every corner.  I love my stunning sister, I love all things sartorial and I love well-executed events, so this was one memorable evening.

poas volcanoTravel

We rang in 2015 exploring Costa Rica, an adventure-packed 10 days of zip-lining, cloud-walking, hammock-swingingvolcano sighting and plantation exploring (coffee, banana, cacao). We ate delicious Tico food and hung out with the sloths and friends. It was a soul-enriching and totally out of the ordinary trip for us urbanites, especially sweetened because we experienced a new place with Austin’s family, including his awesome brother whom we see only a couple times each year. Expect a brimming travelogue!

Read past months’ retrospectives on Some Infinite thing. 

good reads | 12

karie-reinertson-quoteI love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. Here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

No big deal. Just a flipped-over iceberg. 

Chemistry is amazing: UC Irvine chemists figure out how to un-boil an egg.

Loved Stacy London’s Top Shelf on Into the Gloss.

Your e-reader is watching you. (Aside: did you finish The GoldfinchI did, but only with a Herculean final push!)

Why 2013’s Burgundy is better than expected. 

“Pay attention to what you pay attention to.” Great advice for business and life from Karie Reinertson, from the Design*Sponge Biz Ladies series.

Getting grief right. 

As someone who loved flipping through the SkyMall catalogue as a kid, this ode to the fallen publication gave me a laugh. 

A majestic time lapse of Alaska’s northern lights. 

And because it’s the end of January and I’m exhausted of hearing about cleanses and detoxes and diets — a few comforting, rib-sticking recipes:

Other Roundups to Love

Molly Yeh’s Friday Links (updated Fridays)

A Practical Wedding’s Happy Hour (updated Fridays)

Elise Blaha Cripe’s Weekend Links (updated Saturdays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (updated infrequently, but excellent)

[lead image: an Outstanding in the Field sunset, my own]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday morning.

good reads | 11

havana cuba
I love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. Here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

Menstruation: the last great sporting taboo.

From Lucky Peach: a guide to the regional ramen of Japan.

On that note: thanks for all you do, umami. 

Manterrupting. Bropropriating. Goofy words, but we’ve experienced it. Some advice to help make it stop.

It’s not yet a pressing matter for our family, but stories like this one make me really grateful to have a year of maternity leave if/when the day comes.

Mixing a classic cocktail with AutoCAD.

I used to be embarrassed to have Ivanka Trump as a professional role model — she grew up with a silver spoon in mouth, after all — is her success really of her own making? Interviews like this one remind me why I’m over it. 

Looks like my husband can (almost) join me on that trip to Cuba.

Insights from my day job: things media companies could learn from the roll-out of the State of the Union.

Other Roundups to Love

Molly Yeh’s Friday Links (updated Fridays)

A Practical Wedding’s Happy Hour (updated Fridays)

Elise Blaha Cripe’s Weekend Links (updated Saturdays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (updated infrequently, but excellent)

[lead image: Old Havana, Cuba]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday morning.