the less travelled greek isles

visiting the small greek islandsThere’s a reason why Santorini and Mykonos are Greece’s most popular tourist hotspots. Both islands are completely beautiful and special places on this earth, filled with natural beauty, hospitality and history.

But having spent much of my life popping around the Cyclades (key-KLAH-dez) — the most famous and most visited Greek island group — and one that people associate with idyllic photos of whitewashed houses, teeming bougainvillea and perfect endless beaches — I am going to argue that you should skip the big islands, in favour of another, lesser travelled side of the Cyclades.

The Small Cyclades offer the beauty and splendour of the big boys, without the tourists, the crowding and the exorbitant high season prices. And for those of us who centre our travels on good food, I’d argue that the eats are so much more delicious, usually cooked by a Yia-Yia in her home kitchen or a small family-run taverna, versus a restaurant. I’d take a small Cycladic island over a big one any day of the week.

schinousa, cyclades, greeceEarlier this year, I was stoked to see that Conde Nast Traveler made my beloved Small Cyclades its April 2015 cover story, in preparation for summer travel season. A stunning multiple-page spread was devoted to a handful of the Cyclades’ smaller beauties: Paros, Antiparos, Naxos and Pano Koufonisi.

In her article, Lindsay Talbot quotes photographer Cecil Beaton, in a line about Paros that I think sums up the Small Cyclades in a swift tug:

“We have lived in a timeless haze of repetition. Life is nothing but sleep, swim, eat, and read. One day merges soothingly into another without incident. Each day is a pattern.”

The Small Cyclades are the places we go to forget this world, to forget the day of the week, to become lost in the quiet rhythm of island life — wake by sunrise to climb the big hill and pet Achileas’ goats; pick suka (figs) and stafilia (grapes) from an abandoned grove; laze down to the sea for a swim and nap in the low-slung sun; shower away the saltwater in the open air; tuck into a feast of village salad and stuffed vegetables and whatever fish was reeled in that day; catch a siesta on the porch before an evening swim; and linger over mezes and ouzo and glyka on the porch of the village taverna, talking and yelling and dancing into the starlight with locals and summer sisters, alike. Everyone together, in the same honey-slow rhythm. Repeat. Over and over. 

Yes, I romanticize. But this is Beaton’s Cyclades, this is my Cyclades, and the Cyclades of so many others I have been grateful to meet through the years.

To that end, here are my top small Cycladic islands, should you want to branch out on your next — or take a less-traveled route on your first — visit to the Greek islands. 

paros, cyclades, greeceParos

I have a big ol’ soft spot for Paros, as it was the first of the Greek islands that I was allowed to visit alone as an “adult”… my sister, cousin and I took a day trip when I was 13 and we famously (in our family) almost missed the final ferry home. My grandpa would have had our heads!

Paros received top billing in the Conde Nast feature for good reason. Just west of Naxos, it’s a decent-sized island (but not too big) with all the charms of a tiny dot. Paros was an island made famous for her white marble, and abandoned quarries still dot the island. You can take the ferry into either the main port of Parikia or Naoussa, a little port on the island’s north side (many of the smaller ship lines dock here). 

Don’t miss: The tiny inland mountain village of Lefkes, located about 10 kilometres from Parikia — completely instagram-worthy with narrow, whitewashed lanes and teeming pink flowers affixed to each house front.

naxos, cyclades, greeceNaxos

Naxos is the big fish in the Small Cycladic sea, a massive island where most of the group’s animal husbandry and fruit and vegetable farming occurs. I will always think of Naxos as the place my grandpa goes to run all the big errands — talking to the telephone guy, buying tools and supplies for the house or making a pre-holiday grocery run. For that reason, it was always less glamourous to me as a kid, but has grown on me as an adult. 

Now I see that Naxos’ bigness is part of her charm. You can just as easily spend a day roaming through her capital, Chora, as you could spend weeks enjoying the far reaches of the little villages that make up this rolling island.

portara, naxos, greeceDon’t miss: while in port, veer left toward the Portara, an ancient structure that stands proud at the island’s edge. This beautiful monument is especially spectacular at sunset when the sun passes right through the arch. 

schinousa, cyclades, greeceSchinousa

Full disclosure — this is my grandma’s island and not one many tourists visit, though that’s slowly changing.

Our family has a house on this tiny rock of 250 year-round inhabitants — and the island likely is not even on your map, because it’s too small. But that’s what makes it so incredible. Made up of two small villages and the descendants of two main families, half-a-dozen sparkling turquoise beaches, a dozen restaurants and more goats than people (even in the high season) it’s an island paradise.

Through my life, our family has become friends with tourist families (French, Italian, Australian) who have up and made Schinousa their forever summer home, because it’s such a special place. 

schinousa, cyclades, greeceDon’t miss: stay at one of the beautiful apartments on Livadi Beach, one of my favourites on the island for its pristine shoreline and near-endless sandbar into the water. Stop in at Loza along the main street for a glass of ouzo and mezedakia as the sun sets over the island. 

amorgos, cyclades, greeceAmorgos

While I haven’t visited Amorgos in some time, I carry a deep fondness for this island clearly in view directly east from my grandparents’ porch. This is a dramatic, cliffy island and much more mountainous than the other smaller Cyclades, which tend to be low lying and hilly. You can reach the island through either the maze-like and picturesque main town and port of Katapola or the smaller Aegiali port. Amorgos isn’t an island for beach-going as much as it is one to wander and take in the epic landscapes and extraordinary views.

Don’t miss: On the southeast coast is the 10th-century Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, built into the steep cliffs of the island. It’s an incredible sight and worth the 350-step steep climb to see in person!naxos, cyclades, greece

Reaching the Small Cyclades

I’d only recommend purchasing your ferry tickets in advance during the high season (July-August). Otherwise, just show up to the port and request a ticket for the next boat to your destination. And for goodness sake, please don’t fly! The Greek Islands are not a place you should be rushing through. Take your time and the leisurely ferry ride, sitting high up on deck, the salty wind whipping your face. 

From Piraeus (Athens): My favourite line is Blue Star Ferries, hands down. They run on time, have decently clean ships and offer regular service to all the Small Cycladic islands. Be sure not to book your tickets too far in advance, as sometimes the schedule changes. The Blue Star will have you from Pireaus to most of the Small Cyclades in 5 to 7 hours. An economy ticket will run you about 30 Euro one way. 

Tip: find a seat on the top deck at the back of the boat, on the aft side. Partially sunny, partially shaded, breezy… it’s the ideal way to make the trip and watch the boat enter each port of call. 

Another option is the high speed boat lines (Flying Cat, Anek), which will shave about 1.5 hours off most trips. With that said, I’d offer caveats. First, they’re more expensive. Second, seating is indoors, because they travel so fast… and what’s the fun of sitting indoors on a boat?! Third, in my experience, they never run on time. On a recent trip from Naxos to Piraeus, our Anek was over two hours late, for no rhyme or reason. 

While you’re here: You can approach visiting the islands in a couple ways. One approach is to find a home base on one island in a pension (a longer-term apartment rental) and take day/overnight trips to the other islands. Alternatively, you could spend a few days on each island — literally, island hopping from one to the next. Either way, there are dozens of small local carriers to transport you the 30 minutes to 2 hours between these islands. My favourite is the Express Scopelitis (Small Cyclades Lines) run out of Naxos, but pop into a local travel agency in port on any of the islands for help booking your ticket. Commissions are low, and English is always spoken. 

Tip: Many of the small travel agencies on these islands don’t accept credit cards. Save yourself the ATM fees and come equipped with Euros to pay for your ticket. 

Whichever combination of islands comprises your visit, take Beaton’s advice and embrace the timeless haze of repetition and island time. No agenda, no itinerary, no days of the week… and all the time in the world to do nothing at all.

livadi, schinousa, greeceOther Resources

Visiting Greece: a few helpful Greek phrases to learn

Step-by-step guide to building a travel itinerary 

How to pack a capsule suitcase

[Photo credits: Paros by M.T. Magnan | Monastery by Amphithoe]

good reads | 33

alana phillips

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

Not going to lie, I’m loving the attention our global neighbours are giving new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. See: paper dollssome really spectacular dance moves and Emma Watson. And on a more serious note, can we collectively be impressed by how qualified, progressive and diverse his newly-sworn-in Cabinet is?

A new study shows that children raised with no God are more generous and tolerant

For my fellow colour system nerds: how Pantone became a global authority on colour. (And on that note: one of my favourite Instagram accounts.)

I’ve visited many incredible cathedrals in my time, but none rivals the Sagrada Familia. 133 years later, she’s finally nearing completion. 

Beyond the honeycrisp apple. 

Long form: I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction kick of late, and picked up Wednesday Martin’s Primates of Park Avenue after reading a glowing recommendation from Amy Chua (of the in-famous Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a book I loved) and in spite of its god-awful cover. I love a tell-all memoir as much as the next person…

I started off enjoying this book but it went downhill a couple chapters in. Martin has a PhD in anthropology from Yale — and it shows in her application of this discipline’s theories to her “field work” observing the Upper East Side moms (which, again, started off as a fun construct, but started to feel force-fit and superficial further into the book).

I just couldn’t get beyond how the book smacked of privilege and a lack of irony — here’s a multi-millionaire outsider poking at the lifestyles of her billionaire neighbours. (The 30+ pages devoted to the author’s quest for a Birkin were particularly grating.) And in follow-up reading (which I always seem to do with non-fiction) I was dismayed to uncover more than one story that called into question the veracity of the entire memoir.

It’s too bad — because this book could have been a studied and self-critical look at the entrenched culture of privilege that permeates segments of many wealthy cities, especially given the author’s own vaulted status.

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)

Food52’s Weekend Reading (updated Sundays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (last updated: 2015/08/08)

[lead image: Alana Phillips’ whip-smart take on our new federal Cabinet]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday (or Saturday) morning.

a venice cicchetti crawl

How Not to Eat Like a Tourist in VeniceVenice is infamous for its terrible tourist food. For good reason. Tourism drives the city, with just 60,000 residents who support over 10 million visitors per year. Visitors are the city’s lifeblood, so feed the people what they want to eat, it goes.

As you read about Venice, you’ll inevitably learn of the menu turistico that has overrun the city. This is a prix fixe three-course menu that costs around 13-20 Euro per person. The menu is made up of staples that Venice has come to learn tourists look for in “Italian food” — lasagne, spaghetti and meatballs, caprese salad, fritto misto, tiramisu… and so on.

Aside: Save your pizza eating for Napoli. Wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza (the black-speckle-bottomed pie of dreams that’s become famous in North American cities) is a no-go in Venice, as wood ovens are strictly outlawed due to fire regulations on her tiny, cramped islands.

Cantina del Mori VeniceWe remained convinced that the menu turistico couldn’t be the only way. In a city as majestic and cultured as Venice, there had to be some stellar restaurants lurking in her corners. This hunch led us to a strange little word: cicchetti (or: cicheti, cichetti). In posts and articles I read about avoiding the menu turistico for something more delicious, people would write of Venice’s answer to Spanish tapas, something that the local sailors and fishermen have been eating for hundreds of years. If we were in search of delicious eats, cicchetti were it.

So, what are cicchetti?

As shorthand, “Venetian tapas” is a pretty good place to start. Think of foods like stuffed olives, creamed baccala (salt cod) on toast, braised octopus, steamed artichoke bottoms — tapas in size and concept, but Italian in ingredients and cooking.

Cicchetti are one or two bite snacks are ordered at a bacaroa small stand-up wine bar, so named for the shaded areas where wine is stored. You might hop bacaro to bacaro for a glass of prosecco and a couple pieces of cicchetti, then move to your next stop, making a dinner of it as you go.

Naranzia Venice

Our Venice Cicchetti Crawl 

Here’s the cicchetti crawl we developed on a recent trip to Venice — based on “must visit spots” we read about, plus cantinas and bacari we stumbled into because their window offerings looked so good. All of these places are within spitting distance of one-another.

Do Mori Venice

A Few Tips

Begin at the Rialto Market

The best cicchetti spots in Venice are located in its back alleyways close to the Rialto Market and away from the bustling tourist sites. You can roam this ‘hood and be sure to find dozens of solid options.

Spot a Bacaro/Cantina

Look in the window for a long bar with a dozen or so plates of pre-made little bites. Some bars are full-service restaurants, too, so don’t be dissuaded if you see a full menu. It’s perfectly reasonable (encouraged) to walk in and peek at the bar to see what morsels are on offer.

Place an Order

Stand at the bar and point to things — the server will assemble you a plate on the spot. (You’re likely not going to know what most of the cicchetti are called… and that’s part of the fun.) Settle your tab on the spot. Order drinks and food, pay, and go stand somewhere else.

Budget 3 Euro per drink and 1-3 Euro per cicchetti, depending on its complexity. An evening stuffing two people silly (think, 20 different cichetti and 4 drinks per) will run you about 50 Euro.

Don’t Sit

Cicchetti are meant to be eaten standing up at the bar, and taking a seat will mean you pay higher prices, as with everything in Venice.

Our Top 5 Spots

Cantina del Mori VeniceCantina do Mori

Do Mori is a Venetian institution for really great cicchetti — in fact, it came up in nearly every article we read and claims to be the oldest bacaro in Venice. You will be fighting the locals for a spot at the bar. Just jostle your way to the front and order, but get the heck out of the way for the next guy, moving down the bar. There’s a stellar and value-priced wine list — I had an unusual Prosecco produced especially for Do Mori made of glera (Prosecco’s standard grape) blended with 20% chardonnay.

Standout cicchetti: braised baby octopus; melt-in-your-mouth artichoke bottoms; pickled cipollini onion speared with fresh anchovy

Naranzia Venice Naranzaria

Visit the osteria Naranzaria for their tasty bread-based cichetti and wash them down with cheap house Prosecco. We were obsessed with all the unusual and delicious toppings Naranzaria put on bread!

Standout cicchetti: braised bitter greens with cured fish roe; cured fish and pesto; smoked whitefish slivers with lime

Al Merca Venice

Al Merca

Al Merca is just a counter with a window where you grab your wine and bites and then stand in the square to eat. We had both a killer Soave and Friulano here that paired fantastically with their flavourful little sandwiches and meatballs.

Standout cicchetti (all sandwiches): truffle cream with proscuitto; sopresatta with fresh mozzarella

Dos Spade VeniceCanti do Spade

Everything at Cantina do Spade was cheap and delicious, and the wine was plentiful. I’m still dreaming of the veal-stuffed green olives. This is the cicchetti bar where you should stick to fried foods. They just did it all so well. As a nice touch, the warm bites come served over a little heap of white polenta.

Standout cicchetti: anything fried! Veal-stuffed green olives; carozza (sandwich) stuffed with fresh mozzarella and red pepper; perfectly fried calamari

Ancora Venice


Ancora, a modern full-service bar, serves up some of the simplest, most flavourful bites. Take advantage of a seasoned bartender and wash everything down with an expertly-made Aperol Spritz.

Standout cicchetti: stratiacella and olive oil on toast; beef tartare with parsley and chopped olives

Ancora Venice

travelogue | montreal (october 2015)

montreal a travelogue on some infinite thingAustin and I like to plan a little getaway for our anniversary (see: last year in Paris). And we hadn’t been on a proper vacation — minus a winery getaway for a friend’s wedding — since our month-long travel to Europe over the summer (ages for us). Keen to conserve vacation days but itching to get away, we booked off a Friday to enjoy an extra-long weekend in Montreal.

The last time I visited Montreal was at the tail-end of university for a conference I helped to organize. Austin visited as a teenager, but hasn’t memorably spent time in the city as an adult. (No, we don’t count our botched layover in Montreal from an early-2015 trip to Morocco… though we did find a really nice hotel as a result). Montreal seemed like the perfect not-too-far-away place to explore.

We took a mid-morning Friday Porter flight (YTZ > YUL) that landed us in Montreal by early afternoon. Since we’d be in town for three days, we took advantage of the $18 three-day transit pass — a total steal that can be purchased at a kiosk right in the airport. We easily got our money’s worth with that pass.

Once in town, we situated ourselves at our Airbnb near the UQAM campus and close to the Old Port. It was the perfect central hub for our weekend activities — close to Berri-UQAM Station, one of the busiest metro stops.IMG_3371 Our first stop of the day was an obvious one — to Schwartz’s Deli for their famous smoked meat sandwiches. We expected that our late-afternoon meal time would mete out a shorter line and less crammed restaurant, and we were right. Seated within 10 minutes, we tucked into smoked meat sandwiches, poutine, pickles and cherry soda. Perfect fuel for an afternoon of exploration.

Processed with VSCOcam with a4 preset

We walked south to the Old Port, stopping off at the Notre Dame Basilica to take in all her pretty lines. I mused innocently at one point that “she’s a beauty, but she is no Notre Dame” — referring to her eponymous sister in Paris — and Austin had a good chuckle.IMG_3378 IMG_3381 IMG_3391IMG_3411IMG_3423IMG_3415 It was a clear, crisp and sunny day, so we took advantage, walking the length of the waterfront along the Old Port, before heading back to our apartment to clean up for early dinner reservations.IMG_3419Austin and I had one coveted dinner reservation for this trip — the celebrated Au Pied de Cochon. Even making reservations some weeks out, only an early 6:30 PM seating was available, so we snagged it. Au Pied was everything we hoped for and more: pickled pig’s tongue, guinea fowl liver mousse, a textbook venison tartare and the celebrated “PDC hot pot” with four preparations of pig — boudin noir, smoked shoulder, sausage and loin draped atop show-stopping aligot and braised onions. We ended the night with tarte au sucre served with vanilla bean ice cream made on the spot.

Austin keeps a running “favourite non-Michelin-starred-more-off-the-beaten-track” list of restaurants (i.e., the kind he enjoys most) and easily decided that this meal was up there with his tip-top favourites — Hugo’s in Portland, ME and Dill in Reykjavik, Iceland. High praise, indeed.

IMG_3425 IMG_3427 Saturday morning began with a walk to the Mile End neighbourhood for a bagel showdown — the doubly-iconic St. Viateur vs. Fairmount. We collected our specimens — sesame and everything with a tub of cream cheese and dug in to compare. No contest. St. Viateur won in a landslide. These were hot, sweet, chewy, salty, perfect bagels.

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 presetIMG_3429 Our plan (or, lack of plan, sometimes those are the best…) was to leisurely stroll some neighbourhoods through the day, stopping for coffee and into the shops to keep cozy. We wandered through Mile End, along Saint Denis (Montreal’s hopping food/shopping street in the Latin Quarter), and through the gorgeous and hilly McGill campus.IMG_3467IMG_3452

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 presetTwo memorable little coffee shops along the route were the offbeat Cagibi Cafe in Mile End and La Petite Cuillère on Saint Denis, which served a mean chocolat chaud. For the Kusmi Tea lovers amongst us, Saint Denis is home to the only North American boutique outside of New York City. Stock up!  IMG_3445IMG_3449IMG_3438That night, we did what any self-respecting Montreal visitors would and hit up two institutions — craft brewer Dieu du Ciel! and Poutine la Banquise for … poutine, of course. Austin and I have done a couple craft brew dinners hosted by Dieu du Ciel! so we knew we loved their brews already. We similarly enjoyed the friendly, drink-happy vibe of their little brewpub. La Banquise was exactly what poutine should be — heaping portions of perfect house-made fries, thin flavourful gravy and squeaky curds. (And the leftovers made for an awesome breakfast, cold from the fridge.) By this point we were sated and spent, but with a little more energy, you would have found us at Barmacie for a nightcap.

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetSince we had an early-evening flight to catch on Sunday and there was a slight chance of rain, we opted to make it our museums day, spending time around the Concordia University campus. We started the morning at the stunning Canadian Centre for Architecture, a small, well-curated museum located in an architecturally marvellous new-meets-old building. We browsed the collection in a bit over an hour — feeling lucky to have the entire place to ourselves.

IMG_3482IMG_3487IMG_3506Bellies rumbling, we walked a couple of blocks to Qing Hua, a hole-in-the-wall dumpling house Austin discovered that’s known for its soup dumplings. This was a platonic lunch on a dreary day — piping hot morsels stuffed with shrimp, scallops, pork, mushroom, cabbage… we slurped our way through two big baskets.IMG_3490Happily full, we readied ourselves for a few hours at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (Museum of Fine Arts). In the realm of large-scale museums/galleries, the Art Institute of Chicago is always my standard-of-quality measurement. It’s less intimidating than, say, the Met’s enormous collection, is thoughtfully curated and presents a good mix of periods and styles in a beautiful physical space. The musée happily met standard. I was especially smitten with the Asian Art collection and large holdings of intricate kogo incense boxes.IMG_3507After a quick stop at Plougastel for croissant and Americanos, we hopped on transit to the airport. A tiny dent made in our long list of things to see and do in Montreal, we already are itching to return.


Auberge du Vieux Port

Our Airbnb near the UQAM campus

Eat & Drink

Au Pied de Cochon

Schwartz’s Deli

St. Viateur vs. Fairmount for bagels

Cagibi Cafe

La Petite Cuillère

Dieu du Ciel!

Poutine la Banquise




Neighbourhoods: Mile End, Latin Quarter (and Rue Saint-Denis), Old Port, McGill Campus

Notre Dame Basilica

Kusmi Tea

Canadian Centre for Architecture

Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal

Other Resources

Step-by-step guide to building a travel itinerary 

How to pack a capsule suitcase

My Montreal board on Pinterest (so many more great spots!)

Side Note!

By popular request, Some Infinite Thing now has a proper Travel Resources page. No more scrolling the archives — head on over to find all our travel resources in one spot. 

good reads | 32

flower house detroitI 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

Mexico’s incredible uncovered underwater temple. 

The Flower House was the loveliest thing to bloom in Detroit in a long while.

Fellow frequent flyers: good news — these days, your checked bag is 21% less likely to become lost. But I still recommend you skip checking bags, entirely.

A riveting piece on Marie Henein, the criminal lawyer set to defend Jian Gomeshi.

The $70,000 minimum wage. 

Yikes. Not sure how this passive aggressive ad campaign got through Airbnb’s PR team.

Long form: I was sucked into Elizabeth Egan’s debut novel, A Window Opens, after reading about it on one of those “GOOP’s 10 Summer Must-Reads” lists, or some similar click-bait.

It was an easy (I suspect, hotly autobiographical) page-turner… but my life is about 10 years behind the protagonist, Alice, with respect to everything, which made it difficult to relate. A frustrating career, myriad family obligations and crumbling social life paint a picture of the “million balls in the air but none juggled particularly well” phenomenon of the late-30s career woman who wants it all. Still, Egan’s writing was smart and fun, and I’ll probably pick up her next effort. (And I loved reading Jenny’s opposing reaction to the book from earlier this week.)

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)

Food52’s Weekend Reading (updated Sundays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (last updated: 2015/08/08)

[lead image: The Flower House]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday (or Saturday) morning.

marriage, two years

austin and maria weddingToday is Thanksgiving and fittingly — Austin and my second wedding anniversary.

Our marriage is my favourite thanksgiving, as I wrote last year reflecting on one year of marriage. Those concepts are still very central to caring for our marriage. And while I again don’t purport to be an expert at being married (give us another couple decades!) we’re pretty great at making our own marriage something awesome, light-filled, supportive and gratifying.

Two years in, I give thanks for my husband and offer a few additional thoughts about what makes our marriage work so darn well.

Always give back rubs — Literally and metaphorically. This has a lot to do with “saying yes” (something I talked about last year) but also about making the offer. Austin and I offer to care for one-another — to make breakfast and give back rubs and steep our nightly tea as we read on the couch. To offer is to show we care.

Don’t buy into the trope that “marriage is hard” — How many times, over and again, do we hear this line? It’s up there with “the first year of marriage is your most difficult” as one of those cliche fallacies that might be true for some, but shouldn’t be the rule. Our marriage isn’t hard. We run into circumstances and events and are sidelined by moments in our marriage that are hard, but we shoulder those blows together. Austin and I put hard work into our marriage to ensure it makes all the other stuff easy, or at least, easier.

Prioritize — Year two of marriage has been packed. We rang in 2015 in Costa Rica, snuck away in the dead of winter to Morocco, celebrated friends’ weddings in Dallas and New York, enjoyed a food filled birthday jaunt to Chicago, spent long weekends in both the Twenty Valley and Prince Edward County, bought a house, took a month to travel through Spain, Italy and Greece… and somewhere in there, I launched three massive projects at work while Austin wrapped up his dissertation proposal, developed a course and taught undergrad and master courses. Just reading this makes my head spin.

I credit our ability to stay sane through our schedules to an unspoken mantra in our marriage: ruthlessly prioritize what matters most. Even with so much on the go, we make the time to cook dinner together, spend time wandering the city, enjoy quiet nights in and use our time intelligently so we have more of it, together. We don’t waste endless hours watching TV, working inefficiently or wasting our time to pursuits that aren’t meaningful to us.

Start the day with love — This one is essential. I set two alarms each morning — one goes off well before I need to get out of bed. We turn toward one-another to say good-morning and snuggle in, a good 15-minutes of connection before we even step from our bed. When the second alarm sounds, I bound to the shower and Austin to make our morning coffee. I can’t imagine our mornings without this tone-setting moment of pause.

Constantly remember — The first year that Austin and I were dating, I made him this perpetual memory calendar from a tutorial on Design.Sponge for his birthday present. At worst, I figured we’d use it for a month and cast it aside. At best, I figured we’d keep it up and have a (literal, physical, complete) history of our relationship. Lo, we’ve kept up the calendar and as a result have a daily chronicle of our relationship, from the minutiae (a good recipe we cooked) to the momentous (we got married). “Doing our cards” has been our way to remember, and remember fondly, the myriad places we’ve been together. I doubt many couples can say they have every single day of their relationship — since first encounter — documented. This makes me happy!

I love our marriage and co-creating a life with the smartest, kindest, most exhilarating man I know. At Austin’s side, I am still the best version of myself: someone who wants to stretch further, do more and be better in all pursuits.

To Austin: the love of my days and light of my heart — today and every day, I’m remembering our vows exchanged in the middle of a vineyard on a perfect fall day:

We make our promises gently.

This extraordinary day we have made.

Listen – the birds in their ordinary heaven.

Tonight the sky will blaze with stars.

Today, my love, rooms bloom with flowers.

Say yes.

The sky is ours.

We have answered

and so have a million before us

and each of their names is a vow.

So now I can tell you, quite simply

you are the house I will live in:

there is no good reason to move.

Good earth, you are home, stone, sun, all my countries.

Vital to me as the light.

You are it.

(Photo credit: Every Little Wonder Photography)

travelogue | costa rica (january 2015)

Costa Rica TravelogueNew to the travelogue series on Some Infinite Thing? See past adventures!

Austin’s family plans an annual New Year’s vacation to bring all of us together, and this year we landed on Costa Rica, a country I’ve long wanted to visit for its one-of-a-kind landscape, wildlife and culture. Austin, his mom, step-dad, brother and I joined up for an amazing 10 days in this ecological paradise.

We caught a New Year’s Eve flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, arriving in town just in time to ring in 2015 with family. We opted to spend a few days in San Jose on the front end of the trip before heading way south to the lush Caribbean Coast. We reasoned that we could drive from San Jose to various sites — in retrospect, we probably would have stayed right in Arenal and closer to the hot springs, but travel is all about learning!

finca rosa blanca coffeeOur first day in town, we picked up our rental car and made our way to the Finca Rosa Blanca for a tour of their biodynamic coffee plantation. Pablo, who runs the front desk, was so gracious and accommodating with my questions as I emailed with him leading up to the trip.16276699056_6fcb7fe777_b finca rosa blanca coffeeThe plantation was something out of a movie set — the property and its buildings thoughtfully designed to interact with nature. We hiked the vast plantation, winding through the coffee trails and learning about their biodynamic growing practices.16301765942_dd1e3f276f_b finca rosa blanca coffeeAfter our hike, we retreated to the incredible facilities for a cupping ceremony and lunch overlooking the rainforest and mountains. I can’t think of a more perfect place to begin our travels in Costa Rica.

Aside: Don’t rent a car in Costa Rica unless you have the world’s best driver in your party. I’m so grateful for my step-dad-in-law, who commanded the wheel expertly the entire trip and kept us safe on narrow cliffs, in crazy traffic situations and over one-lane bridges. This is not driving for just anyone.berriesAfter lunch, we packed up in the care for a scenic (nail biting!) drive through the winding mountains to Poas Volcano. The fruit in Costa Rica is like nowhere else (I’ll get to this in-depth a bit later) but on the way, we stopped in a little mountainside town for the freshest, sweetest little fresas and moras I’ve ever eaten.16301761992_107387d405_b poas volcanoPoas. Where to begin? There are places on earth where you just feel attached to something greater. Poas is such a place — in the middle of the misty clouds 9,000 feet in the sky, staring at the vast crater below, surrounded by lush rainforest — you feel something stir inside. I forever will remember that haunting.poas volcanoWe wound our way back down the mountain, arriving exhausted in San Jose at dusk and tucking in at a local restaurant for dinner.16276618356_b5c7e05ea5_b arenal cloudforest hikeWe awoke early the next day for a stunning drive to Arenal/La Fortuna, each turn through the mountains more breathtaking than the previous. We laughed at the speed bumps expertly placed in front of every soda, forcing you to slow down and smell the intoxicating foods.

Aside: A soda, in Costa Rica, is a little hole-in-the-wall family-run restaurant offering traditional plates of food, drinks and snacks. They dot the Costa Rican countryside at every turn and serve up reliably delicious food.

After navigating the world’s most potholed road, we made our way to Arenal for a cloud walk — literally, a hike through the rainforest treetops along suspended bridges. Photos cannot explain how cool it felt to be standing at the tip-tops of ancient trees looking over the volcano.16116476299_188f59b62f_b 16115069508_43270a6383_b arenal cloudforest hikeOur guide, Mainor, expertly led the way with his toucan walking stick, pointing out waterfalls, flora, fauna and creatures in our path. A third of the way into our hike, the skies broke open into a rain shower, but the sun eventually returned bathing everything in a warm glow.

On Mainor’s recommendation, we ended up at Paradise Hot Springs, which he recommended over dozens of hot springs in La Fortuna (such as the infamous Tabacon) for its intimacy and lack of tourists. We could have spent hours unwinding in the hot pools and I’m pretty sure my mom-in-law wanted to end our vacation plans right there in a hot spring paradise!

On the way home, a massive cluster of cat-sized animals were crossing the narrow road. We later learned that these adorable beasts were coati, a species native to Costa Rica.coatiI’ll admit, this drive home through the inky fog was terrifying. I’m so grateful we had a measured, experienced driver at the wheel, because anyone else would have taken us off a cliff in those conditions.san jose costa ricaThe next morning, we woke early to explore San Jose before heading south. We ventured through the main square and then to the Mercado Central where my brother-and-law and I bought all the strange fruit we could to sample. (“What’s that?” “I don’t know!” “Let’s get it!”)16114983198_ef897a90a6_b san jose costa ricaLate-morning, we hit the road for the three-hour drive to Puerto Viejo de Limon. At the half-way point, we stopped of an an incredible little roadside restaurant called Sol y Luna for our first real taste of Costa Rican Caribbean food — rice & beans slow-braised in coconut milk and jerk spices, sweet plantains, slaw and melting braised chicken. We washed it down with some delicious moras (blackberry) bebidas, a drink of blended fruit, milk and ice that’s popular through the country.

16300735301_95d3da93bb_b 16115143570_92db1b6f10_b 16301732532_652b24144d_b casa colonial playa chicquitacasa colonial playa chicquitaSunset neared and we arrived at our beautiful Colonial house — us group of five sitting in the darkness taking in the intense rainstorm.

As someone who had never before spent the night smack in the middle of a tropical rainforest, waking to the sounds of howler monkeys and the roar of the ocean was pretty incredible.

soursop fruitWe started each morning with a potent cup of Costa Rican coffee and cut into our store of fruits — trying out the starfruit, soursop and an interesting bright yellow variety of passion fruit not imported to Canada.

While the sun was still high, we set out to a cacao plantation down the road to tour the property and make chocolate from scratch — drying the beans, grinding them and cooking them with sugarcane grown on site. My favourite moment was watching my mom-in-law slather herself in the fresh cocoa butter. We smelled amazing!16115208040_264fd682fe_b 16302504565_95afe78f74_b 16116646447_b10b566ecd_b 16115202200_c09739c991_b cacao plantation15682694733_33ff073fa5_b 16114946578_701e95318a_b homemade chocolateIt turns out, a friendly cat came with our rental property — my brother-in-law named her Rasputin — and she would bring us “presents” through our stay. The first was that evening’s dead lizard, presented outside of our bedroom door.rasputin the cat16116711617_3a60ea44b7_b on the beachAfter a meandering morning stroll — we were waking very early with the sun — we opted to explore the nearby town of Puerto Viejo. We found a fabulous little place called Soda Isma where we lapped up icy batidos — watermelon, blackberry and mango — in the pounding heat.15680081484_4d592ab7be_bbatidosThis was a day of constant and incessant rain — you wouldn’t know it from the blue-sky photo above! It would come in droves and then break into sun — a constant game of hide-and-seek for shelter and reminder we were indeed in a rainforest.familyIt was my brother-in-law’s last night in town, so we opted for a big dinner at Que Rico Papito in Cocles. Our charming waiter, Frederick, got on brilliantly with my step-father-in-law and ended up in one of my favourite family photos from the trip. I love how the happiness of this (very blurry) moment is so perfectly captured by our ridiculous laughter.ziplining in costa rica 15682608183_ae5d0958d5_bAustin and I decided on a solo adventure the next day. After bidding my brother-in-law farewell, we caught an all-terrain vehicle into the rainforest, where we would spend the day zip-lining from treetop to treetop — 13 lines in total.

This was my first time zip-lining and I was a ball of nerves before the first run. Adding to my apprehension, right before my run, a girl with us became stuck — she wouldn’t budge — smack in the middle of the 300-foot line, swaying precariously over a 200-foot deep canyon. They had to vigorously swing the line back and forth to get her to move (she was paralyzed with fear, no doubt).16114931138_4ced16d5c8_b 15682597773_1ff0a30f2a_b ziplining in costa ricaWhen my turn came, I closed my eyes, held my breath, and jumped. It went off without a hitch, thankfully, and I had a blast through the course as we progressed to faster and longer runs. Zipping from treetop to treetop in the lush rainforest was something else — surrounded by toucans, sloths, poison frogs and myriad wildlife — I couldn’t open my eyes wide enough after that first run.

The course ended with a literal Tarzan swing back to mainland — another first as I jumped and screamed and swayed back and forth to the ground and a rainstorm poured around me. We climbed the slippery steep terrain back to safety and inhaled sticky wedges of watermelon and pineapple. Fruit never tasted so good.

bread and chocolateBack in town, we met up with my in-laws in Puerto Viejo for a delightful meal of fresh fried snapper at Soda Elizabeth and dessert at Bread and Chocolate, a cult dessert restaurant in town that serves up beautiful sweets made from local cacao.

We spent the next morning at the Jaguar Rescue Center, a short hike from our house. This was an amazing operation — volunteer run and rehabilitating animals back into the rainforest. We got to interact in awe with all these foreign creatures — anteaters, spider and howler monkeys, spectacle and striped owls, alligators, red eye frogs and white face capuchin monkeys, jaguars, pumas…jaguar sanctuary 16114925188_68d87dc1da_b 16302561935_c3ce6d2a46_bAs someone who’s always been suspect of zoos and reluctant to visit them, I was worried the centre would be a glorified zoo, but it wasn’t. The animals’ interests were foremost, and we treaded carefully to observe them at an appropriate distance and listen to their amazing rehabilitation stories.typical lunchFor lunch, we headed in the opposite direction to Manzanillo, a tiny surfing community lauded for its beautiful beach. By pure happenstance, we landed at Cool & Calm Cafe (Andy’s Place), our favourite restaurant of the trip where we would return again. We ate (surprise!) more beautiful fresh fried snapper… it was so abundant and delicious and (surprise!) more icy batidos — this time passionfruit and tamarind.

The tide was a bit rough, but that didn’t stop us from our first beach afternoon, sipping coconuts, tossing a frisbee about and watching my ambitious husband and father-in-law frolic deep in the frothy waves.16300677471_83d65f025c_b on the beachThe next day, we opted to take a guided tour to the Tortuguero Canal. Our guide, Katrina, was born in Alsace and moved to Costa Rica 22 years ago — splitting her time between France and the Caribbean (dream!).tortuguero canal 16114915588_08b535638c_b 16116320129_840fec7802_bWe tucked into a little motorboat and spent hours along the canal, snacking on tiny ladyfinger bananas supplied by Katrina as she pointed out dozens of otherwise invisible to us wildlife — smiling sloths, howler and spider monkeys, blue heron, white egret, kingfishers, Jesus lizards, caymans and crocodiles — inches from our boat.

As someone who does not consider herself to be a naturalist by any stretch, I was surprised by how taken I was with this wildlife paradise. It was incredible to see the life teeming in the trees — and has made me so much more cognizant about looking up and around each day.banana plantation16115077300_4cbfea0027_b From the canal, we departed for Finca Filadelfia, a banana plantation for Del Monte — one of Costa Rica’s largest exports. This was a favourite part of the trip… seeing the immense banana palms, the hyper-efficient processing facilities juxtaposed against the amount of labour that goes into our $0.79 a pound grocery store bananas. Indeed, it took me back to the banana plantations of my beloved Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. I tried not to romanticize.16115076130_128e42dc1a_b banana plantationThe Caribbean coast is dotted with fruit stands along its narrow highways, and it’s impossible not to stop and grab a treat. We pulled the van to the roadside, where fresh coconuts were cracked open from the tree and we bought more super-ripe ladyfinger bananas.fruit stand 16300659211_78d21db76d_bI had been planning the next day from the moment we decided on Costa Rica for our first trip of 2015. The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica is a renowned animal rehabilitation facility and the world’s largest and most famous sloth sanctuary. I didn’t realize this until I casually mentioned it on social media one day, and several friends/acquaintances who are wildlife biologists nearly knocked me over with their enthusiasm.sloth sanctuary16116306109_6c6ca29122_b 16116295059_f6d135d7c2_b sloth sanctuaryThey were right. The sanctuary is a sacred place for these animals. Guided by Marco, we toured the property, visiting sloths in rehabilitation who were brought the the centre from far reaches of Costa Rica. We visited the newborn unit, where we met tiny sloth babies the size of a palm. And we were greeted by Buttercup, the matriarch sloth of the sanctuary, who presides over the grounds from her hanging wicker chair. Watching their slow-lapse movements was mesmerizing, as if watching a video replayed at half-speed.15682552713_9f71880f8b_b traditional platesBack in Puerto Viejo, we lunched at Soda Caribe, where we got a taste of a meal on island time. Nonetheless, the traditional plate of beans and rice, snapper or jerk chicken and plantains was delicious. I picked up a ginger cake from a stand to tuck in my pocket for later.

From there, we headed toward Manzanilla to the beautiful Punta Uva  — named one of the five prettiest beaches in the whole Caribbean. Austin and I set out for a walk along the hazy shoreline.punta uva 16114881728_4b06a6fdee_bAfter spending the morning with sloths — learning about their temperament, their reluctance toward humans and how they rarely leave the treetops (just once a week to defecate) we were shocked to happen upon a fallen sloth on the beach. We looked on from afar, horrified as beachgoers posed for selfies with the frightened animal, poking and prodding it. You could see the fear in the animal’s movements as it moved as quickly as possible to retreat to the trees. My mother-in-law and I watched from a distance as he got himself back into a tree to safety.

That evening back at our house, I lay in the hammock looking out to the sparkling, just rained-on forest —  in wonder as hummingbirds flitted about, two massive vultures dried their wings of rain, howler monkeys swung in the trees, a wild turkey shook his crimson gobble and a tiny squirrel tucked his face deep inside of a fallen cracked coconut, lapping up the sweet flesh. It was a perfect culmination of our time in the rainforest.

casa colonial playa chicquitaThe next morning, we made the four-hour drive back to San Jose for our flights home. Costa Rica was an otherworldly place, but one where I became closer to the earth than before.

pura vida lifePlanning Your Trip


Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation and Resort 

Colonial House in Playa Chiquita


Puerto Viejo: Soda Isma, Soda Elizabeth, Bread and Chocolate, Soda Caribe

Cocles: Que Rico Papito

Manzanillo: Cool & Calm Cafe (Andy’s Place)


Mercado Central San Jose

Poas Volcano

Arenal/La Fortuna: consider spending a day or two here for the hot springs

Gecko Trail Adventures: this was a great little company we used to book zip-lining, a canal tour and banana plantation visit.

Jaguar Rescue Center

Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica

Tortuguero Canal

Punta Uva

Other Resources

Step-by-step guide to building a travel itinerary 

How to pack a capsule suitcase

My Costa Rica board on Pinterest

61 things I learned at the world’s most important sloth sanctuary