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Iceland: 8-Days on the Ring Road

Finally void of my post-vacation depression, I’m eager to share all the details of our second trip to Iceland. This trip was so different than the first. We saw the northern lights (twice!), got to know people from all over the world, lounged in a hot spring stream and eat some of the best seafood that I think only the seas of Iceland can produce.

Despite our four day trip in May 2014, Nicole and I had a hard time deciding exactly how many days we needed to drive the full Ring Road. But with a little help from the internet (these two posts specifically: Alex Cornwell and Pretty Prudent) and past experience, what we ended up with was perfectly timed with long drives and heavy adventure days in equal rotation.

Below you’ll find a breakdown of each day of our 8-day trip. We went about our trip clockwise from north to south. I don’t think you can do Iceland in a wrong direction, but nonetheless, here is our itinerary around Hringvegur (also known as the Ring Road or Route 1).

Day 1 — Blue Lagoon + Reykjavik

Do: Blue Lagoon
After your red eye lands, drive straight from the rental car office and/or airport to the Blue Lagoon. It opens at 8 a.m. and we were the first two in the door. Unlike last time, we weren’t rushed, had plenty of space in the changing rooms and took photos before anyone else was in the water. We kicked off our vacation with Prosecco from the swim-up bar and applied the customary silica face masks. You have to prebook your visit online. Get the ticket with towels and drinks included — worth it!

Eat: Bergsson Mathus
We loved this place so much the first time we visited, we drove straight here again for lunch. With more locals than tourists in this is quaint little spot, you get a taste of Icelandic culture right away. We had red pepper soup that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying (and failing) to recreate, an egg and lox bagel and a fresh chicken salad, and we could not have been any happier.

See + Eat: 
Our first time visiting the Harpa, Reykjavik's glass opera house, lived up to its architectural expectation. We followed it up with dinner at MAR (overpriced and kind of low key on a Saturday but really delicious).

Stay: Storm Hotel
For a quick one night stay in Reykjavik, this place worked. We had a great little room with a brand new modern design, great bathroom and lovely beds. Otherwise, the hotel itself is not worth mentioning. It’ll do the trick if you’re looking for a cheap, trendy room but nothing else in terms of atmosphere.

On our first trip, we stayed at the Kex Hostel which is totally trendy-hipster-on-the-verge-of-way-too-cool-for-school, if you're in to that! More tips for Reykjavik found under Day 8, too.

Find It All Here: Day 1 Google Map

Day 2 — Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Do: Lighthouses, Moss Fields and Ocean Views
This famous area of West Iceland is just a two hour drive north of Reykjavik. We drove straight to the fishing town of Stykkishólmur, where we had the best lunch ever at Sjavarpakkhusid (see "Eat" below) with backdrops made of scenes from the Secret Life of Walter Mitty right outside the window. Then we made our way around the peninsula counter clockwise ending at Hótel Búðir. There were a ton of tourists on buses in this area that we were not expecting, but we still enjoyed the orange lighthouse in Stykkishólmur, Kirkjufell (Iceland’s most photographed mountain) and the Svörtuloft lighthouse in Snaefellsjoekull National Park, which is crazy desolate — lava fields, big whimsical cliffs and very few other people.

Eat: Sjavarpakkhusid
Show me a photo of this place today and I get it minorly emotional. I think this was the best lunch of my life! Entering the small log cabin restaurant felt like walking into the heart of the Icelandic experience, like I was a fisherman coming off a long trip at sea. Sitting right on the Stykkishólmur harbor, we watched boats come in and out while eating fish stew and the biggest, most beautiful fresh blue mussels out of a copper pot. At one point, I laughed so hard and felt so happy that I also kind of cried.

Stay: Hótel Búðir
Hótel Búðir feels like a mini version of the hotel in The Shining without any of the terror. It was the most expensive place we stayed and for good reason. It’s completely removed from all civilization on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. With the famous black Búðir church a few hundred feet away, we saw some of the most breathtaking views of the week from right outside our room — mountains, sea, sky, waterfalls and beautiful plains. For breakfast we devoured fresh fruits, funky cheeses and flakey croissants. The lobby is what makes this place out of a fairytale; it’s old-world decor overlooking the ocean makes you want to stay, snuggle up with a Bailey's and coffee (which we did) and never leave. 

Find It All Here: Day 2 Google Map

Day 3 — 5 Hour Drive + Akureyri

Do: Long Drive + Photo Ops
The drive from Hótel Búðir to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city, takes about 5-6 hours depending on how often you stop. This drive was one of the most picturesque of our trip. One minute it felt like we were on another planet with visibility for what seemed like miles until the next, when we’d find ourselves driving up and around mountains and through valleys at golden hour. Not stopping the car to get out and photograph everything every five minutes was a challenge for me (just ask Nicole).

Eat + Stay: Icelandair Hotel Akureyri
Icelandair Hotels have yet to disappoint. Too tired to venture out for dinner, we had fresh cod, arctic charr and bonkers sweet potato fries in the newly remodeled restaurant where we met a couple in their 90s who had traveled to 60+ countries and still refused to quit. Our conversation with Tex and Joyce was a good reminder for both Nicole and I that we’re not alone in our desire to see as much as this planet as possible and that not everyone's lives look or end up the way society expects.

See: The Northern Lights
It’s a funny and wonderful experience standing in your PJs in the middle of the freezing cold night in a parking lot with strangers watching the northern lights. If you’ll be in Iceland during the winter aurora season, use this predictor to know what your chances are and ask the front desk staff at each hotel to put you on a wakeup call list if they’re spotted. We saw the lights when the predictor was at a rating of both 3 and 4 out of 9. Sighting seem more common in North Iceland because of less cloud cover, but who knows, they’re unpredictable!

Find It All Here: Day 3 Google Map

Day 4 — Epic Day in the Mývatn Geothermal Region

See: Krafla Power Station, Víti Crater, Námaskarð, + Grjótagjá Lava Cave
First, check out Goðafoss waterfall between Akureyri and Mývatn. Then the Krafla Power Station and Víti (meaning “hell”) Crater will be a quick detour off the main road. On the way up you feel like you’re trespassing on a private power plant — you're not! Take spacey photos in front of the power domes and the random stand alone shower. Grjótagjá is an underground cave worth taking a little climb into to see the crystal blue water and, for you Game of Thrones fans, where Jon Snow apparently “breaks his vows.”

Námaskarð is literally what Mars must be like. The earth is so alive and molten here with sulfuric bubbling mud and steam springs. Imagine leaving an egg salad sandwich out in the sun for a week and then taking what’s left of it and putting it in a Ziplock bag and steaming it in the microwave for an hour. That’s what this place smells like. But aside from that, it’s amazingly beautiful and literally breathtaking.

Do: Mývatn Nature Baths
Most everyone in the Mývatn Nature Baths were younger travelers like us — drinking beer and wine in the water, hanging out at the edge of the infinite pool at sunset. We met new friends from Germany just hanging out and hopping between different pools. This is the perfect way to relax and end a long day with lots to see. The vibe here is similar to but much less touristy and stuffy than the Blue Lagoon. If you choose one over the other, pick Mývatn.

Eat + Stay: Hotel Laxá
Located in the middle of nowhere just near Lake Mývatn, this place was desolate, brand new and still figuring out it's vibe. We had a great stay, most notably because of the northern lights sighting we had here. With no lights from a surrounding city to brighten the sky, we were able to see and photograph the aurora from the parking lot. We really needed this second opportunity to try to photograph the lights, which is harder than it seems even if you’ve researched camera settings and have a tripod.

The room at Hotel Laxá left some to be desired since it kind of felt like a dorm, but for one night it was fine. The bar upstairs has an clean cut IKEA vibe and was great for grabbing a low-key drink with new friends from North Carolina, one of two couples who we ran into numerous times. You cross paths with the same people a lot, which I totally love.

Find It All Here: Day 4 Google Map

Day 5 — 5 Hour Drive + Seyðisfjörðurm

Do: Visit Seyðisfjörðurm
The drive from Mývatn to Höfn is about 5 hours and totally doable in one day, despite how overwhelming it looks on the map. One of the original reasons I wanted to go to Iceland in 2014 was to witness the windy road that Walter Mitty skateboards down with José González singing Stepping Out as his soundtrack. It felt like a very long time coming when we drove up the mountain toward this epic view, surprise waterfall and serpentine road. It’s gorgeous, remote and absolutely lived up to the hype. The road winds down to the base of the fjord to the sleepy and adorable town Seyðisfjörðurm. 

Eat: Lunch at Hotel Aldan
Sitting at the end of a rainbow brick road (no, seriously), it was the only place that looked both open and packed. The lunch was insane. Nicole and I barely spoke except for ooh’s and ahh’s over the marcona almond salad, the cheesy, creamy veggie lasagna, the roasted red pepper chicken, the salad greens that were clearly hand-picked from someone’s farm that morning and the most insane warm bread with salmon and beet spreads. Eating next to a local fisherman and his wife on their lunch break made the experience even more authentic.

See:
Between Seyðisfjörðurm and our next hotel was Teigarhorn, an old house right on the coast that is known for it’s abundance of zeolites. The Hvalnes lighthouse and the tiny village of Höfn are also quick stops to make along this drive around the eerie and majestic east fjords.

Eat + Stay: Fosshotel Vatnajökull
For being a small hotel in the middle of nowhere, our langoustine (baby lobster!) pasta, carrot soup and salad turned out to be one of our best dinners. Our room was so cozy and made us feel like we were in an adult fort. When we woke up to rain the next day, we had a hard time leaving. If you head out this way on your trip, absolutely stay here!

Find It All Here: Day 5 Google Map

Day 6 — The Glacier Party

On our original itinerary, I labeled Day 6 as the GLACIER PARTY. Looking back, I think the universe was taunting me for that. A rainstorm came through the night before and literally just sat atop the entire south coast that day. 

See: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Our favorite and most mind-blowing destination from trip one was practically unrecognizable to us. The visibility was so bad that we could only see a few pieces of ice in the lagoon and could not tell there was a humungous glacier practically right in front of us. We were bummed but still got some pretty epic shots and had seafood soup and coffee for lunch. Jökulsárlón is still what I consider the most iconic and beautiful thing in Iceland. If you’ve never been, chances are you’ll have the same magical experience we had the first time around. 

Do: Glacer Guides Iceland - Glacier Walk
After a 15 minute bus ride with just eight others from Skaftatell National Park, we had our crampons and ice picks (lolz, really) ready, crossed a few small glacier rivers and footbridges, learned how glaciers are formed, and how global warming is melting them at a record rate. But just as we were approaching the glacier, the rained picked up and our tour was cancelled. The team at Glacier Guides Iceland was insanely friendly and accommodating (s/o to Scott & Pete!), refunding us completely. Needless to say, the glacier party was not exactly what we envisioned, but we'd do it again in heartbeat. 

Eat + Stay: Fosshotel Núpar

After staying at Fosshotel Vatnajökull the night before, our expectations for this place were so high, but we were disappointed. This was our least favorite hotel. I wouldn’t recommend anyone stay here but it was the perfect location to break up the last two days of the trip. It seems like Fosshotel just bought this hotel to flip it, so maybe check it out post-2017 and see what's up!

Find It All Here: Day 6 Google Map

Day 7 — South Coast

See:
Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is where fairies live, I am sure of it. It’s the perfect short hike to start the day and is like experiencing real-life fern gully.

At the Reynisfjara shore (famous black sand beach near Vik), the sky was gray, the tide was in, and the tourists were hanging in masses. We looked around, realized our 2014 experience could not be matched and left. At Dyrhólaey, the wind unapologetically snapped a piece of the driver’s side car door off while I was opening it to get out. After thirty seconds of total panic and a small meltdown thinking we were about to lose a car door in the ocean (we did not), we realized these two places are must-sees for first timers, but having seen them before in better conditions, we knew it was time to seek out new adventures. Check out images from trip one, here.

Just past Dyrhólaey, you can see the Sólheimajökull glacier tongue peeking out between hill tops. We turned off the Ring Road to find we could walk right up to it. The beauty of this blue glacier in the sunlight really helped the mood. 

Do: Hveragerði Hot Springs
We ended our last day with a 45-minute (each way) hike through Hveragerði, following a small stream up and around a hillside. We had seen pictures of people bathing in this stream before but never really felt compelled to check it out. That being said, this ended up being the emotional highlight of my trip. I usually get my biggest emotional highs from doing the things you can only experience right where you are traveling. So stripping down to our bikinis in the freezing cold wind and jumping in the hot steaming water with a few dozen strangers felt like the only thing to do.

It's at this point it hit me hard that I was doing it — getting out and experiencing something wholly different than my own life. This is what makes Iceland a dramatically unique experience and was a wonderful way to close out our second trip. Not gonna lie, I may have had some overwhelmed-with-gratefulness tears on the trek back to the car.

Yes, that is indeed a butt. :)

Eat + Stay: Alda Hotel Reykjavik
This hotel was kind of a splurge but had a gorgeous room and bathroom with Icelandic birch soap that I was thrilled be able to purchase in large quantities at the airport. The lobby was packed with Europeans hanging around fireplaces in sitting nooks. At the attached Barber Bistro, we had chicken risotto, lamb and $20 gin gimlets to celebrate the end of our trip. Despite being on an crowded street and having no parking lot, we loved this place and considered it a lovely retreat after seven days on the road.

Find It All Here: Day 7 Google Map

Day 8 — Morning in Reykjavik + Flight Home

Eat: Your Way Around Reykjavik
On our last morning, we gravitated to the colorful bakery Brauð & Co. for pastries (chocolate croissant = out of this world) and turmeric juice before we settled in at Reykjavik Roasters for coffee, where we could have sat all day with locals who were reading papers and chatting with friends. The final stop was Pylsuhusid Hot Dog House because well, hot dogs. It's debatable whether this hot dog or the one at the famous Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is Iceland's best, but IMHO, this place wins 1) because I can't remember the hot dog at Baejarins and 2) because it's so cute!

And that as it. We headed to the airport and all that was left were take-off tears and tissues.

Find It All Here: Day 8 Google Map

Here's a bit about some of the crucial yet less exciting stuff to keep in mind:

Plane: WOW Air
Everyone asks me about WOW because it's considered a "discount airline" but honestly, it's one of the nicest I've flown. It’s half as much as Icelandair and the planes are brand new, clean and quiet. They get you with the baggage allowances but we weighed ahead and had no quarrels with airline employees... this time. 

Instead of driving from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, we flew — thank God! You can't connect another airline's flight to WOW, but picking up our bags after the first Southwest flight and going back through security was no issue. At BWI, the WOW Air check-in desk doesn’t open until an hour before the flight, so if you have a long layover, like we did go hang out in the SkyBar between flights. It has good wine, decent food and doesn’t feel like you’re stuck in an airport.

Car: Lotus Car Rental
Landing in Keflavik International can be a little overwhelming. It’s 5 a.m. Iceland time, you’ve had barely any sleep and have no idea what you’re doing. Lucas from Lotus drove us the five minutes to their office and was a warm welcome, joking about an impending volcanic eruption that was going to keep us in Iceland for months (apparently this volcano rumor was actually semi true). Lotus is lesser known but is the only company I could find that offers 4-door SUVs with unlimited mileage, which you need to drive the whole Ring Road, and good insurance coverage for almost half the price of all their competitors.

Our Suzuki Grand Vitara was in good shape and we were incredibly happy with it until 40 minutes into the trip when we realized, despite asking for one when we booked, there was no AUX input in the car. Our first trip’s soundtrack was such an important part of our experience, so I went into crisis mode and considered returning the car. Apparently none of the cars Lotus owns have AUX inputs, so long story short, we ended up spending $80 (I can barely even admit this) on an FM converter (yes, like from 2002) that we bought at Elko (the Best Buy of Iceland, which is an experience in an of itself). All in all, I strongly recommend Lotus, especially more than Sixt who we used last time, just BYO FM converter. I'll happily loan you mine. ;)

WIFI: Trawire 4G
Guys, this is a game changer. You pre-order an unlimited wifi hotspot and set a pickup location that works for you. We picked ours up at the N1 gas station in Hafnarfjord, which is the only town between the Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik. We used this in the car, in hotels, and in place of renting a GPS, which is so, so overpriced but necessary. Our first trip, we used a different wifi provider and got totally ripped off, not knowing we were only allocated 3GB of data. With Trawire, we used 16GB between the two of us and could connect all of our phones, iPods and iPads for only $95. At the end of the trip, you seal the device in the provided envelope, drop it in the mailbox at the airport and you’re done. No human interaction required.

Misc. Tips:

  • Don’t tip! It’s included which will make you feel better when you see the cost of meals is relatively high.

  • Even hotels with huge restaurants in the middle of nowhere want you to have reservations. With a little heckling, you can get seated no problem. We never made reservations but almost always got asked if we had them. 

  • Don’t get a lot of cash. We exchanged $40 at the airport, knowing we barely used any cash last year, and this year we ended up spending almost all of it on gas just to get rid of it. It’s only necessary for tolls near the Snaefellnes tunnel (surprised by that thing!) and for admission to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik, so $20 is plenty.

  • Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. I used my Discover It card everywhere it was accepted (about 75% of the time) and had a Mastercard for backup.

  • I booked most of our hotels through Booking.com. I'd never used the site before, but I'll definitely use it again because of the ability to cancel or change a reservation up to 48 hours in advance in most cases.

  • Everything in Iceland is expensive. We spent between $140-$300 on each hotel, about $100 on dinner, and a lot on gas. Overall, we each ended up spending about $2,500 for the week. If you like to eat and sleep in cushy places like us, it racks up fast, but you can definitely do it cheaper.
  • Tourism is up in Iceland 30% in the last year! The country is obviously marketing to both the US and China to keep people coming in. It's great for Iceland's economy, but if you're expecting a completely desolate experience everywhere you go, it's not. We recommend going in the weeks or months just before and after the high season (April/May and October/November) to avoid the worst of this.

If you’re planning to go for a shorter amount of time, our original 4-day trip itinerary is still something I fully recommend.

All that said, I hope this post helps and inspires you to plan your trip the way that Iceland inspires us. Feel free to leave questions below if I left anything out. Peace!

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Playlist: RISE

Guys. I just don't know anymore. All this violence is far beyond too much. We all know it. We all feel it. We all feel generally helpless in the grand scheme of it all. It feels out of control. I don't care who you are, who you love, what color your skin is, whether you're a democrat or a republican or agree with the 2nd amendment or not. We all deserve the same amount of love, respect, and kindness. I still haven't figured out exactly how to be a bigger part of fixing this mess in our country and our world, but I know we have to hold hands and rise above it together. We're all better than this. So right now in this immediate moment, this is all I've got — a playlist and a voice. I hope these songs inspire you to rise above the mess, find your voice, speak up, do something and believe in the innate good in everyone. It's at least a step in the right direction. We will find some light in this darkness, I just know it.

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My Response to Roger Cohen's NYT Gluten-Free Op Ed

I posted the below comment on the New York Times website tonight after reading this appalling, uninformed op-ed. Had I been given a longer character count, it would have been much longer. Cohen's assumptions about those of us who don't eat gluten and about our society as a whole is truly sickening.

Mr. Cohen,

I am a 28 year old female. I teach power yoga, I'm a manager at a Fortune 500 company, and I've traveled the world. Like you, I am successful, adventurous and educated. However, unlike you, I have rheumatoid arthritis. Like Celiac, it is an autoimmune disease. My once perfectly healthy joints in my hands and feet can become so inflamed I can't walk without crying or open my toothpaste without a deep breathe. 

After my own research and on the advice of my naturopath and rheumatologist, I no longer eat gluten despite testing negative for a traditional food allergy. Now, 3 years later, I take less than a fourth of the medicine I was originally prescribed and I have no symptoms. My feet and hands no longer hurt. They don't turn big or blue or cause so much pain that I cannot function as I should... unless I eat gluten. And then what do you know? All the symptoms come back.

I made the choice to be gluten-free for my health and sanity, not for my vanity or beauty or because I am narcissistic. 

I do not understand what credentials you have to warrant your opinion on this topic. Do some research on GMOs, pesticides, gluten's impact on autoimmune disorders. Get some facts from somewhere other than la Mamma (who can serve all the gluten she wants) before insulting and belittling others' life choices.

Because if you were given the choice to change your diet or watch your body crumble 60 years before it's meant to, which would you choose?

Sincerely,
Catherine Gignac

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Currently Obsessed With Turmeric

turmeric.jpg

I am not the only one who is currently obsessed with turmeric. You can tell it's kind of hot right now and it's popping up in a lot of health food stores as supplements and in juice and smoothies in cafes. I personally have been interested in trying turmeric out for it's wildly touted anti-inflammatory properties. The less I'm taking my medicine (which right now is much less, if at all) the more I'm interested in finding homeopathic ways to accomplish the same effects in the case that I do feel some symptoms. My naturopath recommended a supplement called Inflammatone and the number one ingredient? Turmeric. I've just started taking that daily and have noticed less morning stiffness for sure.

I went to the co-op and bought a big container of dry turmeric in the bulk aisle (they also had the real turmeric root if you're into that). I made quite a handful of failures trying to incorporate this insanely orange powder into my smoothies at first. I used too much and my green smoothies became brown and didn't taste good anymore.

I finally found a recipe though that works great to boost the turmeric on mornings when I feel extra tight or achy in my hands (mostly weekends after I've had a few drinks). Unfortunately this doesn't fill me up, so it's not a complete breakfast. I ate mine with an avocado after reading that turmeric's effects are triggered by eating good fats at the same time. 

In the Vitamix, measure two cups of cold water, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 inch hunk of ginger, 1 carrot, the juice of an orange, black pepper and about a tablespoon of turmeric. You could do less the first time to see how you like the taste. Blend on high, pour, and add some ice.

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Recipe: Sunflower Hummus Collard Green Wraps

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I have never bought collard greens at the grocery store. I was totally intimated by them! So big! So stiff. I don't know... they just never seemed friendly. But I took my friend Karen's CSA for the week and in it? Collard greens. 

Thing is, I LOVE to eat collard green wraps at any vegan cafe that as them. I am only scared of them at home. So I knew this was the time to do it myself. No loss. I found this recipe online and personalized it. I had these for lunch every day last week and they were SO filling. One lunch sized serving is two large collard leafs wrapped up tight with goodness.

I made home sunflower seed hummus first. Buy roasted unsalted sunflower seeds, throw some in a Vitamix with plenty of olive oil, a couple spoonfuls of tahini, a little garlic, tons of lemon juice (this is the trick), and salt and pepper. Likely, you'll need some water in there too to make the blender go. Keep tasting and tweaking til its lemony and salty and smooth. The end result of mine was pretty thick, almost like peanut butter consistency. Next, wash your collard wraps and cut off just the tiny little hard stem at the bottom. Generously spread some of that sunflower hummus right down the spine of the leaves. Top it with very thinly sliced red pepper, carrots and avocado. If you have pea shoots, definitely add those too!

So these are pretty good just like this, but I had leftover marinated mushrooms from a taco recipe I'm currently obsessed with (I'll post that one soon too) so I add some of those in there too. They are simply baby bella mushrooms sliced, put in a skillet with tamari, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and paprika until they're soft. Done.

Wrap the collard leaf up tight. Place the seam side down on a plate, and cut in the middle at a diagonal. So good.

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Iceland: The Secret Life of NB & CG

I don't know when I decided I wanted to go to Iceland. After an emotional year and a second viewing of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I remember feeling the urge to go. To feel free, to push my own limits, to have an adventure that was no one's but my own. I don't (or didn't before this trip, rather) think of myself as an adventurer. I begrudgingly bought my first pair of hiking boots for a trip to Maine last year and didn't expect to get much use out of them. But Iceland called to me and luckily my best friend Nicole was trusting and adventurous enough to join me and my boots for our very own version of Wild. We both needed this trip and all that it entailed. We've been home for a week and are already talking about going back and completing the entire ring road drive. We both know we must return and return together to complete the magical journey we started. Here are some of the highlights from our trip:

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur / Famous Hot Dogs

Nicole and I love the book What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding and in it there's a phrase stating, "Do the thing you're supposed to do in the place you're supposed to do it." So in Iceland, eat all the hot dogs. They are other wordly. The hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur are famous and basically insane. We ordered them "with everything" to get crispy onions, white onions, and three amazing sauces that are sweet and tangy and so good I don't know how I'll ever eat an American hot dog again. We didn't even realize the hot dogs were made of lamb (duh! so many sheep in Iceland) until we got home. This article is awesome and sums up the hot dog culture... I had no idea Iceland doesn't allow livestock to be imported so all meat is grass-fed. So cool!

Vik

We stayed two nights in Vik, against the advice of our friends, but we loved it! Vik is the most adorable village on the sea, known for it's jagged cliffs that look like three sinking ships. The Icelandair Hotel is modern and brand new with wonderful staff and breakfast and super cozy rooms. Two nights in a row we had fresh-caught arctic char for dinner at the hotel restaurant and when it was time to checkout we were hesitant to leave.

Dyrhólaey / Black Sand Beach

The black sand beach around Vik is famous and has so many vantage points. The most breathtaking view though is from Dyrhólaey. We pulled up to the cliffside on the greyest, rainiest day and saw the waves crashing onto the black beach with not a soul on it and we both started to tear up. Nicole said, "You can't look down at waves from above like this anywhere else," and she was right. 

Jökulsárlón / Glacier Lagoon 

The drive from Vik to Jökulsárlón was the most liberating experience of our trip. The road is desolate, with another car passing by only every five minutes or so, we felt like we were really heading out into the great unknown. The landscape changes every few minutes — from lava rocks covered in moss, to streams, the ocean, mountains in the distance and then suddenly right next to you, waterfalls, sheep, horses and mini villages — it was so hard not to stop and photograph every little thing. This stretch of Iceland is where Matthew McConaughey and team filmed Interstallar, and now we get why. Everywhere we looked, we just kept saying, "Is this real life? I feel like I'm on another planet." We had rare Icelandic blue skies all day and by the time we pulled up to Jökulsárlón we could, once again, not hold back the happy tears. One sight of the lagoon and we were overcome with "Oh my god, there it is. We've come so far to see this and it's so beautiful" emotion. I can't describe Jökulsárlón in any way to make it comprehendible. I was continuously blown away by the blueness of the ice and the distance from the ice at my feet to the ice on the mountaintops so far away and then all the layers of blue ice in between. A lot of tourists don't venture out far enough to see Jökulsárlón, but had we not, our trip wouldn't have been anywhere close to what it was: worth every minute.

Seljavallalaug / Hidden Hot Spring Pool

I wanted to find Seljavallalaug, a hidden hot spring pool, since I started doing research on Iceland. The blogs I read stated it was kind of hard to find, so I was nervous we wouldn't make it. It was a ten minute walk into the mountains with the small challenge of figuring out to cross a pretty wide stream without getting our shoes wet (I took my shoes off). This pool is publically owned and the locals in the area take turns caring for it. Aside from a couple we met from Austria, we were the only two in the mossy-bottom, murky water. Finding this pool without anyone's help made me feel like I accomplished what I came to Iceland to do: find adventure is ways I hadn't before, see hidden parts of the world that seem almost like fantasy in photos and let go of my inhibitions a little. On the walk back, a group of six American travelers stopped and asked us if it was worth it, and all I could say was, "Yes!!!!" 

Fontana / Hot Spring Pools

Fontana is like a classier, cleaner, and cooler version of American public pools mixed with a spa vibe. It has an adorably cute cafe and four different pools all heated by the nearby hot spring. All the pools sit right on the edge of a lake with mountains nearby. Although the air was probably in the high 40's / low 50's, we sat in the pool for hours without getting cold. Fontana has steam rooms and a sauna as well and because of the sulfur in the ground from the hot spring, the steam room has an overwhelming smell of egg-farts. Yes, you read that correctly. Egg. Farts. Nicole and I could barely stay in there for more than ten seconds, it seems that bad. WHen we commented on the smell, one of the locals said, "Smells like home." The sulfur smell is present is a lot of the areas where there are hot springs, so Icelanders are used to it. There were a mix of tourists and natives at Fontana on the Sunday we were there but it almost felt like a private party there were so few bathers. One of the coolest parts about Fontana is that they bake homemade rye bread daily in the ground from the heat of the hot spring. When we arrived, they were about to shovel a finished loaf out of the ground and allowed us to come with. The bread bakes for 24 hours in a metal pan and comes out looking literally perfect. We ate it within minutes of it coming out and it was so moist and amazing, sweeter than American rye bread. 

Fridheimar / Greenhouse-Cafe

This place. Nicole and I had read that there was great tomato soup served in a greenhouse. It seemed beforehand like a non-touristy thing that was right up our alley so we put it high on our priority list. I didn't expect it to be so put together and iconic. I also don't think I've ever seen Nicole so happy, as she cut small snips of basil into her soup off our own little basil plant. Fridheimar is owned by an adorable Icelandic family, who we decided are like the Vantrapps of Iceland. They are beautiful people inside and out, you can tell, making sure every single customer feels like their biggest priority, and everyone — dad, mom, and kids work equally hard. We were blown away. The self-serve, unlimited quantities of tomato soup, freshly baked bread and cucumber salsa made for the best meal we had in Iceland. 

The Kex + Reykjavik

It seems like everyone stays at the Kex hostel in Reykjavik. It's the nordic version of the Ace Hotel with perfect decor in every square inch. We opted for a private double room and giggled as we showered side-by-side in the communal bathroom, realizing how far we'd come in four short days abroad together. We started the night with some wine at the bar and get the carrot soup and beet salad (greens are few and far between in Iceland so we were dying for salad) and then we walked down the street to the Kex-owned "pizza place that has no name," but simply an address, Hverfisgata 12. Before returning home for the night, we stopped by the Laundromat Cafe for surprisingly strong white russians. 

 

Blue Lagoon / Hot Spring Pool

The Blue Lagoon is one of the 25 Wonders of the World and, surprising to some, is manmade. The water is turquoise blue from the run off from a very-nearby power plant and actually contains silica, the substance found in those little white packets that come in leather goods that say "Do Not Eat." Although it's one of the main attractions of Iceland and is really for tourists, it's a must-do! it's ten miles from the airport, so we saved this for the very end and we were so happy we did because we were relaxed, knowing we'd seen all there was to see in the time we had and could relax in the water until our flight. The water ranges from super-super scalding hot to just warm enough that it's hotter than the air. Being there on a super cloudy day was wonderful, as it made the water appear moody and steam rose off the surface. We did two mud masks, had champagne as we soaked, and marveled at how smooth it made our skin feel. We were in the water about two and a half hours and were able to fully shower, change and dress for the airport in their awesome locker rooms. It was a perfect way to end the trip!

Wow Air

If you go to Iceland and can fly out of either Baltimore (like we did) or Boston, fly Wow Air. The price difference was $550 compared to $1288 had we flown Icelandair. Wow Air is a discount airline, so all bags including carry-ons are weighed and paid for accordingly, but otherwise you'd never know how they cut costs. The plane was a month old, the flight attendants are so kind and dressed in adorable, old-school, purple uniforms with matching magenta lipstick. Wow has seriously great customer service. A day before the flight I tweeted asked for upgraded seats and within minutes we had free seats for both outbound and inbound flights.

Little Tips

We had such a great trip with hardly any mishaps, but there are a few things we wish we'd known before going:

1. It is not customary or expected to tip in Iceland. We realized this after tipping 20% on expensive dinners three nights in a row. Although in hindsight, the Icelandic wait staff were so kind we were glad we did.

2. You don't have to take your shoes off at the airport. We got some weird looks when we put our sneakers through the scanner.

3. We only got about $60 exchanged into Krona and it was plenty. Most places accepted credit cards. 

4. Don't stay at the Ion Luxury Hotel near the Golden Circle. Although it looks as advertised, the place was so pretentious and snobby. This was something we were so excited for and totally disappointed by. Not worth it!

5. All the flights into Iceland from the US are red eyes and when you land at 5 am Iceland time (1 am Eastern time) you are fucking exhausted. Like hungover-but-not exhausted.

6. The wifi option that comes with the rental car only allows you 3GB of service but no one tells you that. We thought ours broke after two days and when I asked for a refund I was laughed at in Icelandic. Numerous other travelers mentioned they had the exact same frustration and felt dupped. Lesson learned: Get the wifi but don't stream John Mayer "Free Falling" from the cloud or Instragram from the road.

7. The sun rarely comes out for an entire day. We got a bit discouraged because our forecast looked dreary, but a popular Icelandic saying is, "If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes..." So true! We saw sun, rain, hail and snow all within the first 24-hours of our trip.

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If you want to peep the rest of our adventure in 120 photos, have at it!

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Playlist: Truth Rising

I'm so excited to share this playlist with you guys. It's one that has been the source for a lot of my Friday yoga classes recently and it's perfectly upbeat and chill at the same time. I've pretty much only been listening to tranquil songs (with some shameless T. Swift thrown in on sunny days) recently, but these, strung together, have such positive energy. These songs inspire hopefulness in me... to rise above the daily ups-and-downs of our lives and to live our own honest truths loudly and without fear. Once we've done that, we can feel a settling within that is sure and steadfast and ours to own. Because after all, dust settles, clouds part, and truth rises. 

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I Finally Went To A Naturopath : Part 2

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Hi everyone! Sorry for the winter hiatus. I've been cooking up a storm every week and have even started to venture into vegan/GF baking. Because of my busy schedule at work right now I just haven't had a chance to post any recipes. Hoping to get to that soon. In the meantime, I am excited to give you an update on my work with the naturopath I first visited and told you guys about here in December. 

I got my US Biotek test results back in February. This is the test that gives me a chart with any foods that irritate my immune system antibodies (not a normal allergy test). I ended up paying extra to have an extra vegetarian panel done on foods I eat a lot of, like brown rice, quinoa, cashews, and flax, that weren't included in the standard test. 

These are the foods, in order of which I react to them (worst to least) that my doctor suggested I stop eating completely for 3-4 weeks to reset my body:

Egg, cashews (I eat these daily), lima beans, almonds (also daily), pineapple (daily), tuna, pinto beans, navy beans, pistachios, string beans, dairy (whey specifically), wheat gluten (ah ha! I knew it!), spelt (often used in gluten free recipes), chili pepper (I cook with this a lot), crab.

When I got the results back, I did a lot of research about the test and how it's perceived in the medical community. A lot of my favorite and most healthy-seeming foods were causing major red flags in my body. I couldn't imagine that cashews, pineapple and beans were fucking with my system. I could believe the wheat, dairy and egg were though. 

I found some articles completely negating the test's validity and I immediately got mad at myself for spending $200+ on it. I had to see for myself though and immediately stopped eating all the foods. Have you ever tried being gluten free and vegan? It's tough. Almost all store-bought gluten free breads have egg in them. Hence the new adventure in baking!

A few weeks went by and I'd have a few bites of something, cheating here or there. But it wasn't until I went to a party one Saturday night and ate like twenty gooey bacon-wrapped dates (to. die. for.) and Syrah-soaked cheese that I started to notice the difference. Forty-eight hours after the party, I had four zits on different parts of my face. Zits I hadn't seen since I stopped eating dairy. Like literally, I had not had one zit in two months. And then suddenly, four at the same time. I knew immediately it was the dairy.

I went a few more weeks, this time not cheating at all. My naturopath recommended I "test" each food from the Biotek test back into my system one at a time, three days apart. I had the hardest time living without cashews (they make many non-dairy recipes creamy) so I tested those first with my favorite portobello and cream cheese recipe from This Rawsome Vegan Life. After dinner, I felt totally fine, but when I woke up in the morning, my hands felt more arthritic and "crunchy" than they have in months. Normally morning stillness dissipates by the time I'm out of the shower, but that day it continued on all afternoon. I couldn't believe it! I was sad that I was reacting to my beloved cashews, but I was happy that it was so obviously impacting me and that the test was actually relevant and not a waste of money.

I was a little gung-ho over the cashews so I didn't wait three days to try kidney beans. Technically they weren't on my "no" list, but they were close to being a red flag along with many similar beans. I had the same pain after eating them, but maybe it was left-over reaction from the cashews. I need to try them again because I have a insanely good recipe for quinoa, red pepper and white bean burgers that I just can't give up!

I do want to make one thing clear though. I am not 100% vegan and don't have plans to be. This month it became really long-winded to explain to people what I eat. "Oh, you're a vegan?"..."Well, no. Not completely"..."But you eat meat?"..."Yeah, sometimes, but not dairy, egg or gluten." You get it. I've found the best way to label myself is to not label myself. I just say, "I'm typically vegan at home and in my packed my lunches. When I go out, I eat what makes me feel good/healthy and what I'm craving." Because the test didn't raise any issue with actual meat but with bi-product, I am eating meat when I crave it (it's rare, but I'm definitely not going to deprive my body of something it wants. Point being - you may see me in the line at Chipotle ordering a steak salad someday, but I'll probably skip the sour cream.

So that's where I am with that. I've continued the supplements she recommended for me, including the herbal antibiotic to kill any yeast or bad bacterial overgrown in my system and a month of glutamine, which I had self-prescribed before after reading about leaky gut syndrome. The herbal antibiotic also made a huge impact on my digestion. I used to complain of bloating and pain in my abdomen, but that's totally gone now. 

To top it all off, I saw my rheumatologist a couple weeks ago. I showed him the test and he didn't nay-say it or my work with the naturopath. He believed there's merit to what came back in my blood results and to keep at it if makes me feel good. We had our shortest visit ever and when he got up to leave, I said, "Wait, that's it?!" and he said, "That's it. You used to be a challenge but now you're so easy."  I couldn't have been happier.

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Playlist: Quiet Heart

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This January-inspired playlist is all about peace and quiet. This year I resolved to take care of myself and with that I'm attempting to rest more — physically and also emotionally. I've never been good at being still. Even when I am sitting still, I'm usually reading, crafting, making something, but I've gotten better and have come to crave the quiet. The days surrounding the new year were all about curling up in bed and letting myself recharge for whatever is ahead. Give your heart the space and stillness to breathe. The energy will come, if you let it.  

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Recipe: Holy Blueberry Lavender Walnut Scones!

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Holy. Scones. I literally just ran to my computer to type this up I am so ecstatic. These scones have been out of the oven for 3 minutes and I have already housed 1.5 of them. I don't even like scones! These are amazing!

New cookbook inspiration: Thug Kitchen. If you like swearing vegan men, you will love this cookbook. I got it for Christmas and this is the first recipe I tried, which is odd because I really am not drawn to baked goods. However, something about blueberry lavender was calling to me and now here we are.

The recipe says the lavender is optional. It is not. It is what makes these scones fucking amazing. Go to your hippy-est grocery store (I went to Pittsburgh's East End Co-Op) and find dried lavender in the bulk section. It's about $50/lb but the stuff is light as air, so I got about 3 tablespoons for a few dollars. 

Here is the recipe, verbatim, from Thug Kitchen. It was not gluten free, so I gluten-freed-ized it, easily below. Eat these as they come out of the oven with some Smart Balance "butter." Baller.

For 8-12 scones (I only got 8), you'll need:

  • 2 3/4 cups gluten free (or regular if you want) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons xanthum gum (only use if making with GF flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup refined coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender*
  • 1 1/4 cups plain almond milk, plus more for brushing
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Crank your oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, sugars, and salt. Cut the oil into the flour using your hands until it all looks kind of grainy and there are no large chunks left. Stir in the motherfucking lavender.

  3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the almond milk and vanilla. Mix it together until it is almost all the way combined but stop short. Fold in the berries and walnuts but be careful not to overmix.
  4. Scoop out the dough in 1/2-cup measurements and plop onto the baking sheet. Brush with almond milk and sprinkle with white sugar. Bake until they look a little golden around on the bottom, 12 to 15 minutes.

    *Can't find dried lavender? Don't trek all over town. Just leave it out and add an extra 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. We just wanted to give you a chance to be extra fancy.

 

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