Lyon: Bocuse d'Or 2011

Bocuse d'or 2011

Every time I go to France, I make it as far as Paris and just stay there, romanticizing about all the wine, baguettes and delicious cheese I can eat without getting fat (well, thats what they say), but making it to Lyon was a special treat, although I have to admit the people do not get nicer. I had the spontaneous opportunity to go to Lyon for the biannual Bocuse d’Or competition last week because of some ties to the Radisson hotel. My flight was booked at 4pm on Sunday for departure at 7 am the next morning, and only with the help and organizational skills of others already going did I actually make it to France. I didn’t book any of my own travel or hotels, have any idea what was going on half the time, but blinldy followed around the others in charge and had such a great time just going with it.

painting the Icelandic flag on everyone's cheek

I didn’t get a chance to sleep til Tuesday, and we spent all day Tuesday cheering for Iceland’s candidate, Thrainn Freyr Vigfusson, and then all day Wednesday patiently waiting for the compeition results. Everything went down at Sirha, a huge exhibition self-proclaimed as the world’s rendez-vous for all restaurant and hoteling needs.

the crowds on day 2

Thrainn’s direct support crew were some of his closest friends, his coach slash former bronze Bocuse medalist Hakon Mar, and his comis chef Bjarni Jakobsson. Behind them they had a couple more kitchen helpers, namely Atli and Tomas, and then about 50 or 60 Icelandic cheerleaders, all friends, family or restaurant industry related people. We were only outnumbered by perhaps the French and Japanese spectators, although 50 Japanese cheering sounded like background noise compared to only 4 or 5 Icelandic men clapping, screaming “Islande!” in bass voices, and blowing off all sorts of noice makers. We had awesome tshirts, face paint, and viking helmets to make sure we didnt go unnoticed.

Mister Sevens, Bjarni & Thrainn

We spent the time outside of Sirha taking in the best wining and dining Lyon had to offer, eating at a bunch of different restaurants since Lyon is the world’s gastronomy capital. We partied at Wallace bar, a joint with over 200 whiskies, overrunning it with the same Icelandic people 4 nights in a row and probably giving them the best mid-week business they’ve ever seen.

We crashed a Norwegian techno dance party the night after the results, celebrating Thrainn’s 7th place finish; he was expecting better, and under a shroud of politics and suspicious dishonesty, he perhaps deserved 3rd or 4th, but 7th is damn good for a country of 300,000, competing with a small fraction of the budget that medal winners Denmark and Norway had (Denmark brought the Prince with him!).

Domaine de Clairefontaine

We had one relaxing day to be tourists, and took the day to drive out to Domaine de Clairefontaine, a beautiful chateau south-west of Vienne, where the famous Philippe Giardon runs a restaurant and catering heaven amidst the surrounding vineyards and countryside. I’ve never really traveled for food tourism before, or in a group of 50 people, but everything turned out so well, and ironically enough, I’ve never felt more like an Icelandic patriot.

Related Links:

Icelandic Newspage for food and wine, and Bocuse d’or reports (in Icelandic):

Bocuse d’or: or

The Icelandic Staycation – why traveling around our own country has become cool

Iceland’s tourism industry has been booming recently, since Icelandic vacations have been on sale ever since 2008 when the kronur exchange rate took a nose dive.

Iceland’s typical tourism appeal include all the clichés of “The Land of Fire and Ice” and our world famous northern lights, but some visitors take Icelandair’s offer for a free stopover in Reykjavik just to see the airport, the Blue Lagoon, the nightlife, and, perhaps the Golden Circle on a guided tour. The more adventurous or spendy come for a week or two, bike or horseback ride crazy places, climb mountains, hike spewing volcanoes, or snowmobile across the largest glacier in Europe, and end up seeing more of Iceland than many natives have ever seen.

Many locals in Reykjavik are born and bred city folk, who actually don’t travel around the country that much, but so many have taken a cheap flight to London or Copenhagen, or a holiday in Spain or New York more frequently than getting up north to Akureyri. However, with the “kreppa” and our crappy kronur, the “Stay-cation” is becoming an attractive alternative. The ecological footprint of Iceland is already pretty big already (renewable energy can’t cover us all), so instead of taking another carbon heavy flight a few hours to Europe, perhaps this article can inspire you to just take the bus/car/ferry a few hours to a magical corner of Iceland.

I’ve been traveling around the world for the last few years, and 63 countries later, I’m still most excited to come back to Iceland and travel at home. Here’s a list of my top five Icelandic destinations, and what to do when there, in hopes of giving passer-by’s and Reykjavik locals an idea of where to go next.


The old homes in Flatey, depicting typical turn of the 20th century architecture in Iceland

one of the many shipwrecks surrounding Flatey's shallow coast

Between the wonderous Snæfellsness Peninsula and the West Fjords is Flatey, a tiny Island in Breiðafjörður – a 2011contendor for UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. In the long winter months, its almost totally deserted, with only a few resident farmers and their sheep, but in the summer its a bustling little tourist town when all the locals inhabit their summerhouses and run a few restaurants, shops and accomodation services out of their 100+ year old homes. Get there with a Baldur ferry from quaint little Stykkishólmur, or Brjánslækur in the north. Sailing through the archipelago in Breiðarfjörður is definitely its own highlight. Best thing to do there? Take a walk around the Flatey Nature Reserve bird watching, or, if you´re feeling polar worthy, go sea swimming in Stykkishólmur when you´re waiting for the ferry.


If you take the old way to Isafjordur, you'll drive this dirt road and arrive into the West Fjords with the most beautiful view

fishing boats docked in Bolungarvik

Most of us know about Ísafjörður, and one way to get there is to fly into the death-defying runway that convinces all the passengers on board you´re about to crash into the side of the mountain. The other way is to drive, since the road has just recently been paved all the way and shortened by a few kilometers. This way you get to see a few more of the tiny fishing villages and farmer towns along the way, my favourite being Bolungarvík at the end of the road. Best things to do when roadtripping in the West Fjords? Stop at all the natural hot pots hidden along the side of the highway and romp around the empty country side naked. Or just go fishing.

3. Grímsey

Puffins perching along the volcanic rock columns forming the steep cliffs around Grimsey's coast

This is the only part of Iceland truly in the arctic, with the northern tip of it crossing the 66th parallel. Like Flatey, you can walk around the whole thing in an hour or so, and the jagged cliffs forming the coastline are home to many nesting birds. There is a huge puffin population, infinitely outnumbering the 100 human inhabitants living in Sandvik. Take the ferry from Dalvík (with connecting bus service to Akureryi), and if you want to do as the locals do, harness yourself in some rope and scale the cliffs to pick seabirds eggs. What to do then? Eat one, raw.

4. Jökulársalón

Glacier Heaven - Jokulsarslon

By far the most picturesque place in Iceland, be dazzled by Vatnajökull glacier breaking off and melting into a ´glacier river lagoon.´ You´ll feel like you’ve reached Antarctica, and the water is so blue it rivals the Blue Lagoon. What to do there? Hike a glacier. Or just take a glacier cruise. And stay in nearby Skaftafell, a beautiful national park comprising part of the glacier and actually boasting real, wooded forest.


Haimey, last May, with the dark and destructive ash cloud of Eyjafjallajokull looming uncofmortably close

Vestmannæyjar are a group of spectacular islands sticking out of the sea, huge and steep, topped with lots of green grass (no trees, of course) and white fluffy speckles (sheep). The new harbor in Landeyahöfn means Herjólfur ferry only takes 20 minutes to cross the often sea-sickening journey, instead of the old 2 hr crossing, so its more accessible than ever. What to do when there? Smoke a puffin. Just don’t get stuck there next time Eyjafjallajökull erupts and covers them in a cloud of ash again.

While most of Iceland’s population is in south west Iceland, there’s so much more to see beyond that, and the amazing thing is it´s still a small enough country that you could actually see it all. Here’s to more  travel around this beautiful country!

The Dohop Team

When one thinks of Dohop, they think of a super-useful tool for searching for cheap flights online. However, behind this triple-dub website is actually 8 guys in an office on Nóatún who play some serious foosball every lunch hour. They´re all Icelandic, they bike to work everyday, most of them have computer science or engineering backgrounds, and each person has 2 or 3 computer screens at their desk where they do all that fancy shmancy high-tech work. I spent some time at the office getting getting to know the guys and came up with some Q & A´s for all you dohop users to get to know the faces behind the scenes.

Mister Kristján

Kristján, Dohop CEO, aka, Very Important Person

 Born: in Reykjavik

Has lived in: Norway

Dream Vacation: Somewhere in the Himalayas    Why? To do some mountaineering

Kristján has been with the company since it started, and explained that when picking the Dohop office location, a bike parking area was one of their top criteria. A typical day managing the guys in the office goes something like this: they start with a meeting every morning, then he reviews yesterdays performance in traffic and income, then spends a couple hours on email, and the rest of the day just helps the guys do what they have to do, walking around only in his socks. He thought longest about where he would go if he could go anywhere tomorrow, but decided on the Himalayas since mountaineering is his second love after Dohop; on the weekends he works with Mountaineers of Iceland to lead extreme adventure tours and epic hikes in the hinterland of Iceland.

Thorir with his dohop mug

Thorir,  Operations Manager

Born: in Reykjavik

Has lived in: Norway, Denmark

Dream Vacation: NYC   Why? Because its one of those really exciting cities

Thorir, like others, really doesn’t know what his exact job title is, but his job description is basically to keep the computers up and running, and the systems working so that the website is always on line. He works closely with the vendors and deals with website problems like incorrect or missing price quotes by the airlines/search engines Dohop works with. In his spare time, he runs lots of marathons in places like Boston and Berlin, and even ULTRAmarathons in Iceland (they must be really hard).

Siggi takes such great portraits because he sometimes models

Siggi, Software Developer

 Born: in Reykjavik

Has lived in: Vienna, Copenhagen

Dream Vacation: Australia or New Zealand   Why? Because he´s always wanted to go and hasn’t gotten around to it yet

Siggi creates and maintains connections with airlines and online travel agencies. He spends his time at work looking up fares and finding new ones, and getting contracts with them to code it into the Dohop search engine. He also fixes errors, changes things (vague, but nevertheless important), and makes links. Most notable mention goes to Siggi for the best photo.


Atli is working so fast that his hand always photographs blurry

Atli, CTO, aka El Jefe of Technology

Born: in Minneapolis, Minnesota  (*see my last blog post for more on the cosy midwest)

Has lived in: Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Brazil, North Carolina

Dream Vacation: Innsbruck or Zurich, somewhere near the Alps   Why? Skier. Say no more.

Atli helped found Dohop back in the first century of the second millennium, and also calls himself the head of development and does some complicated programming stuff. He basically takes care of Garðar and Arni, which could mean many things, but it doesn’t mean he babysits. He´s important… as are all chief technology officers.


Arni, nice and tanned after Africa

Arni, Software Engineer

Born: in Reykjavik

Has lived in: Providence, RI

Dream Vacation: Brazil    Why? He´s heard good things. Wonder who is sources are… haha just kidding, it is a great place!

Arni says his job requires a lot of chaotic screen shots, where he spends his time writing for the server, all the behind the scenes stuff. Something about caches and other computer engineering jargon about software. Let´s just agree he´s very smart. And, he says Atli is the best boss he´s every had, so he´s also nice. And, he just got back from a 3 week holiday in Africa, finishing a Mount Kilimanjaro summit in 6.5 days (4 days up, a day and a half down). Not everyone can say they´ve ticked that off their bucket list.

Sherpa´s very own Garðar

Garðar, the other Software Engineer

Born: in Reykjavik

Has lived in: Boston

Dream Vacation: New Zealand    Why? Because its far, far away and looks like a cool place (It is a cool place!)

Garðar disagreed about Atli, saying he´s a terrible boss, but somehow I sensed sarcasm in the comment and thus, feel its ok to share that he said that. Garðar has been working for a few months on a totally new software program called Sherpa, which will be a completely new system for corporate clients to find, schedule and book travel for their employees. Its in the testing phase now, but he´s single-handedly (with the help of his terrible boss) written all the code for the program, so he must be really, really computer smart.

Davið, the super dad

David, Director of Sales & Marketing, aka Jóhann’s helper

Born: in Reykjavik

Has lived in: Iowa. How central!

Dream Vacation: Seychelles    Why? Because he needs some good fun in the sun, and once in his life wants to go on an extremely luxurious vacation

David is kind of my boss at work, since he´s my go to for all my pestering emails when something’s not right with my blog. His real job is to sell Dohop’s products to airlines and similar companies, and try to increase traffic to the site with clever marketing strategies. He´s a super human too, since he just celebrated Christmas, New Years, a newborn and his wedding while still staying fulltime at Dohop, bikes almost 8km to work every day – the furthest of all the guys – and is the only employee to regularly cook lunch for everyone once a week. 

This is what a giraffe trainer looks like, just in case you didn´t know

Jóhann, Marketing and Giraffe Training

Born: in Keflavik (not the airport, the town. Yes, there´s a town there)

Has lived in: Israel, Croatia

Dream Vacation: Marakesh   Why? Because they like blue, and he likes the food

When I asked for his job title, he first said Marketing & Hairstyling, then Marketing & Muffins, but then decided on Marketing & Giraffe training when Director of Marketing didn’t sound accurate enough. Yes, Jóhann may be the strangest of all the guys, but it might just be because of where he was born. His job is to try and get more visitors to the site, through twitter cleverness, Facebook friendliness and schmoozing journalists. He advertises press releases, keeps up on all Dohops social networking, and maintains the voice of dohop’s other blog,

And there you have it, the Dohop name and website trafficking hundreds of thousands of visitors just boils down to 8 guys in an office somewhere in Reykjavik. Its worth noticing that all the Dohop guys have had their own international experiences, so the computer intelligence behind the website doesn’t just come from their science genius, but also their own appreciation for travel. I vote Dohop number one for online travel booking not just because the website always has the cheapest flights, but because the people behind the company also kick butt at making budget travel possible. Oh, and also because they have a Giraffe trainer as their social media networker.

Follow dohop’s tweets @dohop, and use for all your flight, hotel and car booking needs!

The Midwest Roadtrip

cleaning my shoe after throwing myself into a big snowbank (I did it to make Clio feel better for throwing her into one). They're not as soft as they look.

My best friend Clio was applying for Phd’s starting last fall and when she got accepted in Seattle, I was super excited for her to accept. Then, at the last minute, she changed her mind and instead moved to Minneapolis (!?) Most people reacted as surprised as I did, but only out of ignorance since, as it turns out, Minneapolis is a great place, with lots going on! I just didn’t have any clue about it until I visited her there a couple weeks ago. First of all, Minneapolis has the largest snow banks Ive ever seen, thanks to the snowstorm that hit just before I arrived and luckily stopped in time for my plane to make it in. Minneapolis is really two cities, hence, the TwinCities nickname. Minneapolis has great cheese (from next door Wisconsin). And of course, Minneapolis has the University of Minnesota, which apparently has the one of the best clinical psychology graduate programs in the US. Good job, Clio 🙂

Me and Clio outside the U

We spent time around town, seeing the university campus, sampled the nightlife, but then took a roadtrip to Illinois. We craigslist rideshared our way all the way through Wisconsin, driving 7 hours from Minneapolis to Chicago with exactly the type of guy you don’t want to lay eyes on when first getting in his car. Craiglist is one of those things that you hope only trustworthy people use, since its kind of risky and a little less common in the midwest than the very liberal westcoast. We got an email, text and call from this guy named Glen who Clio thought was an average caucasian guy, and he seemed nice enough to spend 7 hours in his car with. When he picked us up in the morning, an hour and a half late, we discovered he was actually a 6 foot 3, 300lbs African-American. But, we realized you can never judge a book by its cover, and all the invalid stereotypes we pegged him with disappeared when the first thing he asked us was “Oh, you aren’t afraid of hamsters, are you?” There were two, tiny baby hamsters that looked like teddybears sleeping in a cage in his backseat, and as we learned more about his job working with troubled youth and the YWCA, we realized he was just a big harmless teddybear too.

girl and guy, reunited in Chicago

We spent the weekend in Chicago, met up with that guy named Guy, and braved the -26°C to oogle at the Chicago Bean. Its this amazing, massive, reflective sculpture that no matter what angle you look at it or approach it, you´re eyes are being tricked by all sorts of optical illusions. We also saw a friend of mine from Semester at Sea who I hadnt seen since our Fall 2006 voyage – I love reuinions like that.

the Chicago Bean

After a classy night at the Chicago Symphony Hall watching the Brass Orchestra and some touristy days, we craigslist rideshared out way back with a guy named Andrew from Tennessee. He turned out to be a little nerve wracking before we met him;  he wanted us to meet him at 11 am, but called at 9:30 to explain his car had been towed since he parked somewhere he wasnt allowed when 3 inches of snow had fallen. He claimed the sign was unclear, I dunno, but either way there was lots of snow around. Then he took until 2 pm to get it out of the towyard, and $160 later he picked us up at a café where we had been waiting for him. All the delays were history once we learned he was a spunky gay guy from the South, not so common if you know anything about the conservative south. We were greeted by him pumping his tires with a protable car air pump, in his tiny 2 door Honda. It wasn’t the best car for winter driving, but then when another massive snowstorm hit as we were leaving Chicago, the 7 hr drive quickly turned into 10 hours and I still can’t believe we made it home that day! Moral of these craigslist stories: it always works out, maybe not as you expected, but hey, travel is more fun that way.

Christmas in Iceland

Christmas in Iceland is quite possibly the best place in the world to celebrate the holidays. Why? Because Icelandic Christmases last 26 days. Only today has christmas officially ended, since January 6th is the 13th day of christmas. Icelanders get a lot of holiday time and everything just shuts down on the days surrounding Christmas and New years, and everyone has somewhere to be surrounded by people they love and way too much food. Christmas food in Iceland is to die for: the first 3 days I was back home I ate 4 meals of hangikjöt og uppstúf (smoked lamb and potatoes in white sauce), my favourite. It goes well with pickled red cabbage and canned green beans, and laufabrauð (unlevened bread) goes good with anything, anytime. I also ate alot of foods that I can´t get anywhere else, namely flatkökur (flat bread), skyr (a yogurt like thing), cheap and fresh smoked salmon, sheep heads, and of course the best pylsur (hotdogs) in the world. Im salivating just writing about this stuff.

Stakkholt, my family's summerhouse in the countryside

Christmas is celebrated with family on Christmas eve, with a little dressing up, a fancy dinner, and gift exchange. I spent the evening with my dad, and for dessert we smoked hookah while listening to Van Morrison and Santana. After family time, most of town fills up every church for midnight mass; I went to Frikirkjan and watched Iceland’s lead pop singer, gay Pall Oskar, sing hymns in a sparkle suit jacket. Christmas is also fun because all your friends or family that live abroad come home for the holidays, so you get a chance to see people that you can’t always see. I took the chance to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while by going to our summer cottage in the country side for a night – the ideal definition of a cozy night in. We spent some time outside too, trying to walk to a wild hot spring nearby that you can bathe in, but after barely making it accross the muddiest field and destroying all our shoes, only 2 of us actually made it across the tiny stepping stones to claim victory in the 40°C hotpot.

midnight from the top of Hotel Saga, overlooking the main building of the University of Iceland

The most impressive night during Christmas time in Iceland is undesputedly New Year’s Eve. As soon as it gets dark on the last day of the year, fire works start to fire off, slowly building up to the bombs-over-Baghdad chaos that happens when the clock strikes twelve. During the minutes before and after midnight, the city is lit up with the most beautiful array of fireworks, all colours and types, 360° around you. They say there’s a serious recession going on, but even with the recent spike in inflation, Icelanders still manage to blow up their money with something like 600 tonnes of fireworks. Atleast we’re not cheap when it comes to partying like its the New year. People stumble home the next day when the sun comes up, which isnt until 10 or 11 am.

However, with the end of Christmas season comes some sad realities. I was shopping today in the mall and they were taking down all the bright and shiny things since January doesnt get the glitz and glamour like Christmas does. Even though the days have started to get longer since the winter solstice, things just seem darker as all the houses take down their christmas lights and all the missing christmas decorations make things seem not as bright. It also feels colder since all the indoor time spent with family, dinners and parties starts to wind down. Its perhaps a little lonelier, with people no longer on holiday, returning back to school or work, and everything is open again as the hussle and bussle of Reykjavik life starts again. Yet somehow I love January since it makes you appreciate Iceland so much more in June, and the chance to have a comfy night in with a winter storm raging outside is actually one of the most coziest feelings I know. The chance to see some northern lights and wear your heaviest parka also make winter fun, and battling the incredible winds that sometimes blow me right over makes me feel tough and nordic 🙂

Roadtrip Westcoast & Craigslist Rideshare

After I spent a day in Miami, I flew to SFO to start a week long road trip from the Bay to Vancouver, B.C. I wanted to visit friends and family from here and there, since that´s what people like to do during the holidays. Me and Steve used his Subaru as a Craigslist carpooling tool and rideshared parts of our drive there and back. We decided to skip the boring, direct I5 and take all of Northern California along the much longer but prettier highway 101, and also thought it would be a good opportunity to stop along the way in Mendocino county for some wine tasting. We had Phil and Kai, both good-hearted travelers not really from any one place in the states, who drove the whole day with us to Oregon, and thankfully knew how to drive a stickshift so that some of us could taste as much as we wanted without spitting.

maxell Digital Camera

all my favourite people from Portland

We visited two California Organic Certified wineries, Yorkville Cellars and Barra of Mendocino, and while I still can’t admit that I can taste the difference in organic versus non-organic, you still somehow feel better supporting a more sustainable, less environmentally-damaging winery just because some California certification schema says that they are. Weird, but true. We also stopped at a famous microbrewery in Boonville, California. Anderson Valley Brewing company makes almost 20 different varieties of beer at their tastehouse, and their Winter Solstice Seasonal ale, my personal favourite, is super scrumptious. Although, it hardly compared to the limited edition, seasonal, 11%alc. Abyss, by Deschutes brewery in Oregon; Ryan described it as God walking down your throat in velvet slippers.

Sienna Ridge Estate Winery

We dropped Kai off in Eureka, and then Phil drove the rest of the way through a grove of Giant Redwoods, weaving along Grants Pass after we entered Oregon. He needed to be dropped off in Ashland, and the person who he was staying with offered us to stay the night there too since it was getting late. Phil got the couch at his friends place, and we got Cadbury Cottage, a beautiful 2-storey, cozy house to spend the night. It’s rented out for hundreds of dollars per night during the very famous Shakespeare festival that happens in Ashland every summer, but I guess in December when noone uses it they can afford to let random craigslist rideshare friends stay a complimentary night 🙂

winter time in wine country

maxell Digital Camera

We made it to Vancouver to visit my mom and sisters, and gorged for the next few days on Mom´s home cooking and specialty Christmas treats. On the drive back down, we had two craigslist people again, this time from Seattle to Oregon, but they were much younger, a guy and a girl, and had no luggage at all. Sounds suspicious, but I almost felt like we were more dangerous than them. We spent that night in Eugene, Oregon, with a friend of mine, Jesse, who works at June. Its a restaurant/bar and we stopped to have some more delicious micro-brew, local beer and stouty christmas ales. We spent most of the night talking about couchsurfing since he and his girlfriend are going to Venezuela and Colombia soon and want to start using the site; of course I gave it the highest recommendation, helped him get his profile completed, and gave him 2 suggested hosts in Colombia to make sure he doesn’t change his mind.

Jackson Wellsprings near Ashland, Oregon

For the last leg of the drive, we didn’t find any craigslist rideshares, so we took our time stopping in Jackson Wellsprings, a hotspring spa that did good for our stiff backs and sore buts from all that driving. We also stopped at Sienna Ridge Estate, a winery right in the middle of Oregon visible from the I5, in an old, restored farmhouse. Our wine pourer was this lovely old man whose name I can´t remember, but it started with G and he’s only one of two people who work there since somedays, noone even comes to taste business is so slow. If you go there, ask him how his sister is, since he was on his way north to visit her at the Vancouver General Hospital the very next day.

I’ll call him Mr. Sienna Ridge

Even though we had no rideshares, we did pick up a crazy hitchiker, who had the most obnoxious, raspy New Yorker voice, and didn’t once stop talking (with excessive cursing) in the 20 miles we drove him. Anymore than that and I think I would have started to regret picking him up but instead it just makes yet another great story to tell from our roadtrip.