February is Birthday Month

Today is my 26th birthday, and I know I’m getting older because I actually lost count of years and tried to convince my mother the other day that I was still 24. I started semi-celebrating my birthday 10 days ago with a brownie and cake baking night with my gay best friend and Bavarian roommate. We invited 8 people and 2 showed up, so needless to say we ate alot of cake and brownies. My first birthday gift came 5 days early, an electrical piano I bought from me to me. Its the most expensive thing I own, and also the most beautiful, so I just needed a good excuse to buy it for myself.

The next birthday celebration was a day tour to Njala Country, a saga trail in southern Iceland tracing the life and times of Gunnar and Njall. We visited the hypothetical site of Njall’s burning, an excavated farm house found with traces of fire and whey milk that supposedly was used to try and put out the fire. After getting soggy shoes on a wet, windy day in the countryside, I had a series of birthday cocktails at the new student bar Studentakjallarinn with another February birthday friend.

Three days before my birthday, me and my cousin arrived to my best friend Ursula’s house in Boston to celebrate another night in Harvard Square. Random friends from Germany, New York, Berkeley, and Boston joined, as well as some strangers, and I ended up with only one person I knew at a frat house with people smoking cigars in a fireside room the size of a gymnasium. Two days before my birthday, we cuddled up inside Ursula’s living room watching all the red carpet pre-Oscars action and finally the Academy awards. After 10 hours of watching tv and $50 worth of take out chinese, it had become all white outside with snow.

On my birthday eve, I met up with a friend from Boston at the Boston Brew Works restaurant, accross from Fenway Park. We ate poutine and wings with blueberry beer, and then watched Imagine Dragons at the House of Blues. I thought we were going to see blues, but after Atlas Genius opened, I realized we were not at a blues concert.

imagine dragons at HoB Boston

The day of my birthday started with a work session in the Harvard Business school, where me and Sara pretended to be studious alongside a bunch of real business graduates. I was asked to collect my own birthday gift package from Ursula from Fedex, and did so a bit rushed, getting a little lost, but finally did so, only to realize it was a St. Patricks day leprechaun hat meant for Ursula. But Sara got me roses, which made up for missing fedex packages, and Ursula’s mom gave me a 3D map of Iceland, which was an unexpected cherry on the top.

We had sushi and wine for lunch, and then the most amazing dinner at Legal Sea food. It had been organized through a friend of a friend of a friend, and included cocktails, champagne, wine, all the seafood and shellfish you could dream of, surf and turf mains, and finally a happy birthday song to present the icecream dessert.

Sara and Ursula at Legal Sea Food

By the time my birthday was over, I barely had any time to take it all in before boarding a 7 am plane to LA. Now the birthday fun will continue with 3 other friends I have in California also celebrating their February birthdays…

Happy Valentine´s Day

A Copy of my Guide to Iceland Valentine´s Day post:

Today is a day for love and lovers, to share St. Valentine’s joy and all the cheesy romance one can possibly handle.

St. Valentines day is not really a big deal in Reykjavik, but at least a few lucky souls will be getting red roses or boxes of chocolates today. It’s a beautiful sunny day so maybe you’ll meet someone cute at the pool or walking their dog in the park. No one who wants to celebrate Valentines day should stay at home alone tonight, so just ask that person you’ve had your eye on for a while out on a date!

And for all you lucky people in lovely relationships – try not to rub it in to all the sensitive singles. Today’s a day when facebook, twitter, and instagram overflow with pretty pictures of flower bouquets every woman wishes she had, and all the  wall posts of how much you love your ‘baby boo’ could really be sent as a private sms instead. But for all the sensitive singles out there, don’t use social media to advertise just how single and alone you feel – it makes the happy couples feel bad to know youre at home watching the Notebook alone while cuddling your cat(s). Its also not nice to hate on Valentines day or publicly complain how stupid a holiday it is, because if youre angry and bitter on the one day a year when we’re supposed to celebrate love, then you must be a pretty grumpy person anyway and no one needs grumpy people in their lives.

Just remember that Valentines day is not just for romantic love, but to celebrate the love of friends and family too. I had my first Valentines date today with the one and only man in my life – my dad. Im going on a hot date tonight with my girlfriend (clarification: a friend who is a girl, we’re not dating), and we’ll be salsa dancing at Thorvaldsen if anyone else is dateless tonight and wants to learn Salsa!

If you are wondering what to be happy about today if you don’t have a Valentines date, then you should remember: todays a day when all those handsome bachelors and independent woman can celebrate how great it is to meet new people, flirt freely, date whoever (and however many) people they like, and never have to deal with the drama of relationships. Think about how much time and money you save without a partner, and how endless the opportunities are for meeting someone beautiful here in Reykjavik (Iceland has some of the most beautiful people in the world according to various sources, with the most Miss Universes per capita than any other nation!). With the liberal nightlife scene in Iceland, you can always fill your life with romance and a healthy sex life without a boyfriend or girlfriend in Iceland, so, cheers to that!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!


French Gastronomy and Bocuse in Lyon

Lyon is an amazing city for gastronomy, with more than 20 Michelin stars given to its local restaurants. Food experts and lovers alike have even come up with a special term to refer to a traditional Lyonnais restaurant, a ´bouchon.´ I ate at Leon de Lyon, but not being a fan of pork, mustard or foie gras, it was hard to choose a traditional plate. My favourite restaurant was Au 14 Fevrier, a Valentine´s day themed restaurant where even the bread and butter are heart shaped.

the French are really good at making cute little coffees

Lyon native Paul Bocuse first became a legend in France with his innovatie nouvelle cuisine, changing traditional French cuisine into something fresher and healthier. He is one of the most awarded and famous chefs in the world, and the Culinary Institute of America named him the Chef of the century. His namesake restaurant, Paul Bocuse, has fully booked reservations each night months in advance. There you can try his famous truffle soup, probably the tastiest but most expensive soup you could ever try. He also established the Paul Bocuse Institute, a prestigious culinary school where 10 other cooperative universities around the world send their most promising chefs to study.

Siggi, 2013 Icelandic candidate, and Þráinn, his coach and 2011 candidate

The Bocuse d’Or is a culinary competition, kind of like the Chef Olympics, held every other year in Lyon since 1987. It gets more and more popular each year, and the competition itself has grown to include chefs from every continent. There is a regional Bocuse comptetition held every opposite year to decide who the qualifying chefs will be (from Europe, Asia, and the Americas)  to compete for the Bocuse d’Or, and specially invited countries participate too (like Australia and Morocco).

sporting a chef hat at Sirha

The competition happens concurrently with the Sirha exhibition, a rendez-vous of all things restaurant related. Local chocolatiers and champagne makers offered free samples at their booths, and patisseries and cheese makers from all over Europe come too. We sampled our way through all the most delicious booths while 24 countries competed for the Bocuse d´or, until finally 2 days later, France was declared the winner.

For the first time ever, Japan won a medal with 3rd place. Iceland placed 8th, which is an incredible feat if you consider the fact that from a country with a population of only 320,000, we have the 8th best chef in the world. In 2011, my friend Þráinn from Iceland placed 7th, so we´re pretty consistent.

Guide to Iceland

Tourism in Iceland has been growing every year, and the last 3 years have really been booming now that the Icelandic kronur has fallen to an affordable exchange rate. Visitors from Europe and North America saw their dollars and pounds double in value, while Icelanders started cutting back on travel abroad and enjoying the ´stay-cation´ instead. The only thing missing as our tourism industry explodes is an informative site where tourists can go and figure out what to do, where to go, and who to talk to. Now, that problem has a solution: www.guidetoiceland.is

Contact a Local at Guide to Iceland

Guide to Iceland is only 5 weeks old, still under phase 2 of development, but now that its gone public, people are talking. Its the first website to have a comprehensive site with everything you need to know before coming to Iceland, written and run by Icelanders themselves. The website doesn´t sell anything itself, not even advertisements, but creates a forum where all the different tours and tour operators can be listed, compared, and reviewed by tourists themselves. The home page is divided into 9 tour types, where tourists can filter between city, nature, spa treatment or fishing tours, to list a few examples. Each of the general tour types is then subcategorized down to every option imaginable: horse back riding, hiking, surfing, kayaking, whale watching, snorkelling, diving, or taking it easy on an organized bus tour. The tours will take you anywhere you´ve dreamed of going, from glaciers to volcanoes, underwater to waterfalls, from fjords to mountains, or even to some kick ass ice caves. There are short tours, day long tours, multi day tours, and they´re even specially working on Greenland tours. You can choose your mode of transport: ATV, snowmobile, super jeep, rental car, raft, canoe or mountain bike.  Then you can pick where to go: the West Fjords, Westman Islands, Akureyri, Skaftafell, the highlands, or Thingvallavatn. Finally, you can pick what to do: photograph northern lights, bathe in natural hotsprings, climb an ice wall, or swim through the continental rift. Then, after its all said and done, you can go back and share your experience with other soon-to-be Iceland-lovers by reviewing each tour you took.

We have an About Iceland section, with short, informative, picture-filled articles to give you the background info you need to know on everything Icelandic – the nightlife, the people, the music, the weather, food, history, and a forum where travellers can write their own article about Iceland, like what they recommend and how they liked Icelanders.

Let there be Northern Lights

Finally, the most interesting part of the site, and what sets it apart from all other travel guide sites, is the bloggers. On the page ´Contact a Local´, you have more than 20 local Icelandic people you can talk to directly. They all have their own speciality and marketing edge in some way, with travel or tourism experiences of their own in Iceland and abroad, and offer their help, services, or just a friendly email to anyone who needs advice with planning their trip to Iceland. There are people already working in the tourism industry as guides, there are bilingual writers helping speakers of Spanish or Chinese, professional athletes and musicians, and even a supermodel named Elli.

So, if you´re planning a trip to Iceland, want to know more about travel in Iceland, or just have an Iceland fetish and want to know more about this sub-arctic Volcanic island straddling the North American and European tectonic plates, check out www.guidetoiceland.is. Help spread the word, share your comments and reviews, and get to know some Icelandic people if you haven´t already!

Photo Credit (c) Iurie Belegurschi