Bocuse d´or Europe 2018

I´ve been following team Iceland in the Bocuse d´or competitions since 2011 and every other year, they place top ten in the European pre-qualifying competition. 2018 was no different, and chef Bjarni Siguróli, who was the assistant chef in 2011, placed ninth to qualify for the Bocuse d´or worldwide competition taking place in Lyon 2019.

candidate Bjarni Siguroli, Sturla Birgisson, Ísak Darri the commis, and Viktor Orn coach and bronze Bocuse winner 2017

The support behind each and everyone of Iceland´s chefs since Iceland started taking part, in 1999 with Sturla Birgisson, has been nothing short of amazing. As the smallest country taking part from Europe, we have edged out 13 other European countries in every pre-competition to qualify for the Mondial competition in Lyon every other year. In the finals, we are also nothing shy of top 10, and have placed on the podium twice with a bronze Bocuse to take home.

in the heat of the competition Bocuse Europe 2018

This year, the European Bocuse took place in Torino, Italy. Placed in the heart of Piemonte, the region itself was inspiring for any foodie or wine lover. Watching Europe´s best chefs and the cutting edge of haute cuisine on display for two days was motivating for anyone that took the time to watch – and thousands of people did just that.

beach day in Geneva

[Surrounding the competition is also a food, wine and kitchen expo – I went wine tasting from Hungary to Russia and tried all the newest technology to make the best ice cream or freshest espresso. I also made a small weekend trip out of the journey – there aren´t direct flights from Keflavik to Torino so I flew in through Geneva and out through London.

perfect timing to hit on the street food festival in Geneva

Both were worth it for different reasons – it was my first time in Geneva and I met three amazing couchsurfers and, by chance, two Icelanders that happened to be there the same day. I went to the beach, which I didn´t believe was actually a thing until I sat suntanning beside Lac Léman, looking across the lake to France. I drove through Mount Blanc to get to Italy, and flew home through London to pick up a new passport… I think its my tenth, and I´m never quite sure how many years until it fills up too, since I´ve only had two out of nine make it to their expiration date.

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Bike Training in Provence

Provence is a place where the name alone triggers the smell of lavender and dreams of endless vineyards. I’d never been there before, but thats exactly what it was, plus some. There were meadows of red poppies as far as the eye could see, olive trees and strawberry fields, and picturesque villages on hill tops seemingly unchanged for hundreds of years.

Vines, poppies and an olive tree

I stayed between Carpentras and Pernes-les-Fontaines, visiting nearby Avignon, Monteux and Blauvac to name a few. Dinners included red wines from nearby Chateuneuf-du-Pape and freshly picked, local asparagus and artichokes. I stayed with 23 amazing individuals in our own Chateau, with a courtyard fit for a regal wedding, and we were all given performance street bikes that weighed less than my right arm to use as transport.

Practicing my French Duck face

During the days, we had a combination of hard and “soft” skills training, everything from bike mechanics to public speaking. We were on our way to become tour Leaders, not guides, since “leaders” implies we also have co-leaders and teamwork skills. We had to learn to be interested, not only interesting, and speak about our regions and activities with passion that couldn’t be staged. We learned how to use an intraweb interface that takes me back to the days of the internet in 1999 – its extremely mind boggling to filter through html links, url sites that cant be reached, tens of thousands of pages of information, and other trip resources without google.

My training group, aka Missy Elliot

Our group was mainly European, plus a few dual citizen North Americans, and about two-thirds female. Everyone spoke two or more languages, and the collective travel experience and skills in that group made all of us feel individually inadequate. I made some lasting friendships, and others I’ll never see again, and two of us didn’t even make it thru training and returned home with an abrupt end to their Backroads career.

Just another picture perfect Provence town

It’s funny how France keeps calling me back; first, a spontaneous backpacking trip in Bretagne over New Years, and now, the opportunity to get paid to learn about bikes and cycling in Provence. I thank Backroads for the opportunity, and can’t believe I’ve started making money while traveling to new places in my favourite countries.

The Maldives

Maldives, country #212, doesn’t have much land to call home. Little spits of coral reefs and raised atolls make up an island nation in the middle of the Indian ocean, and luckily one island is wide and high enough to land airplanes. When you walk out of Malé International airport, instead of a curbside pick up, theres a wharf with many boats parked and ready to shuttle you to your island paradise of choice.

the view of the Maldives from the plane

Many islands are completely private, with only one hotel or resort, and still the bedrooms are built on stilts, in various sized bungalows. Many have outdoor showers, private pools, and your own entrance to the sea, and others have jacuzzis and butlers to make your stay even more luxurious.

sundowners and tapas

The Maldives are popular for honeymooners and destination weddings, so make sure you’ve got a good excuse to be there if you’re just there for fun. Going alone seems like a great idea, but be wary of all the lonely looks you’ll get from the staff whose job it is to ensure you’re showered in hospitality nonstop.

home at the blungalow, comlete with a hammock and an infinity pool

Coco Bodu Hithi was home for five nights, for a price tag that could have housed me for 5 months in East Africa. But the dining options and wine list on this tiny island spit could have kept me happy for weeks if I was a rich girl.

the hotel lobby

The view from the bungalow was a turquoise blue sea, with coral reefs and colourful fish right below the step ladder. You didn’t even need to snorkel to see the sea life – I saw a sting ray, a coral shark, and a Mantaray just from the patio. Once I finally got in the water, I followed a green turtle grazing at the edge of the reef for as long as I could before he disappeared into the deep blue.

Coco Bodu Hithi island

It’s hard to have an impression of the Maldives as a place – I only met a couple of Maldivians, and set foot only on one square kilometre of land outside of the airport, but I can definitely recommend the Maldivian fish curry and Coco Bodu’s spa as things not to miss. I doubt I’ll ever see the latter again…

NorCal, take 2

I once called Oakland home, for a short time while studying abroad at UC Berkeley back in 2009. Places and people change over the years, but it still feels a bit like home when you know where to go and who to see. I visited Maya again, and this time her shrunken belly had turned into a breast-feeding, squinty-eyed baby named Chloe. Her dog Duke was the same old, happy to snuggle away any attention he still got in Chloe’s presence. Their orange and lemon trees were creaking under the weight of fresh citrus, so missing out on freshly juiced lemonade was’t an option.

the best way to wine taste Sonoma – by pedal bike

The weather was slightly warmer, and the surroundings more green, but northern California seems to be constantly in a state of transition from spring to summer. When the fog rolls in, you have no idea what season it is, but you’re still sure of where you are. Driving 20 minutes east into the hills slaps dry, desert heat straight into your face, and you wonder how the state is ever going to recover from a water shortage with all those millions of people living in a tiny bay.

the vineyard of bubbles, Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma Valley

This time around, the focus was food and wine. Chef Thrainn from Iceland was in, and we had our fill of Moroccan inspired cuisine at Mourad in San Francisco. We carried on to Sonoma, where our dinner at the Girl & Fig kept our bellies fed and finally filled with something other than wine. We spent a day wine tasting in Napa as well, where we lunched at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (The French Laundry was too daunting). We rounded off our wining and dining with some craft beers at Faction Brewing and some hard spirits at Hangar 1 vodka, both located on Alameda island in converted WW2 hangars.

Hangar 1 distillery bar, Runway Spirits

Our last meal was at Bird Dog in Palo Alto, a modern, Asian fusion bistro style restaurant, with another couchsurfer and one my oldest friends from UBC days. We boarded our Wow air flight back to Reykjavik 2kgs heavier, and the sight of Keflavik in a dismal, rainy grey made me want to turn right back around to sunny California.

Vancouver, take 2

I’ve been on my way to get my motorcycle license since I was 17 years old, and I finally renewed my learner’s permit last month. Now I had to do two more riding tests, but didn’t realize they’d be fully booked months in advance. Spring time seems like an obvious time to get it, so I’m an idiot for thinking I was the only genius – needless to say, I didn’t finish my tests within the one week window I gave myself. I did, however, get an overdue pedicure to fix my Fiji-feet to finally looking like summer ready toes.

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picking a colour was the hardest part

Instead, I had sister time, visited my grandma, and did lots of beer and wine tasting with friends and family. Spring had officially turned into summer, literally the day I landed, and getting upgraded to a convertible jeep wrangler instead of the Toyota Yaris compact car I thought I rented felt like winning the lottery.

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I purposely parked under cherry blossoms so they’d flutter into the car and sprinkle my seat with pink pedals

My older sister was set up in a hotel in New Westminster overlooking the Fraser river for some work training, but we spent our evenings either at the hotel in the Jacuzzi, wine tasting, or gorging on sushi and Spaghetti Factory.

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one of the oldest wineries in the Fraser Valley, Mt. Lehman Winery in Abbotsford

My younger sister and her husband live in a brand new townhouse in Langley. My oldest childhood friend also lives there and let me bum around her stable to get my horse-cuddling fix (and some allergies, yay me). We went fruit-wine tasting in Abbotsford and visited the southern-most vineyard in canada – Glasshouse Winery sits at the 49th parallel on 0 Ave, where you look across the street to Washington state.

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Big Rock Brewery tasting paddle

I didn’t make it to Chilliwack or Whistler, my other two go to’s when in BC, but instead spent some time in and around Olympic village where my few remining UBC alumni friends now live. We spent a Sunday together touring the breweries, starting at the Big Rock Urban Brewery, winding up Ontario Road past Faculty, R&B and 33 Acres brewing companies, before ending at Brassneck and Main Street Breweries where I was politely cut-off by a power-tripping bartender. Instead we carried on to a concert in a second-hand clothing shop, and paid our way into a closed restaurant by buying cocktails from the bartender, and before I knew it, I was back on a plane to the bay area for some wine tasting.

San Francisco and the East Bay

I took a sketchy craigslist rideshare from Hollywood to San Francisco, and only realized half way that the couple driving me were on their way to the Iceland vs. Mexico soccer game in San Jose. I nearly blew my plans to join them, but had a special invite to a ´play´ party that I couldn´t miss.

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a morning run by the water to the ferry building

I based myself in San Francisco for the weekend, the city itself, which is rare for my bay visits. I studied at Berkeley, once lived in Oakland, and usually stayed with friends in Walnut Creek or Danville. Now a handful of UBC friends live in San Fran, Alameda and San Leandro, so that’s where I decided to bounce around for a week and play a good tourist.

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Chez Mike and Maya and their four-legged friends

It´s getting rare to sleep on couches anymore, because my friends are all grown up, figuring life out with their families and homes with guest bedrooms. Our conversations revolved around pregnancies, children, remodelling, gardening and the bowel movements of pets. I became a live-in au pair for Maya, whose 34 week belly made her less inclined to do house chores or walk the dog. We did manage to do some expectant-mother yoga, bake and cook a ton and I squeezed a whole lot of lemons and oranges into delicious, fresh, vitamin-C rich juice.

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every respectable home garden in California has a citrus tree

My friends Stefan and Mane bought a house in Alameda, where they´re waiting for their second miracle to enter the world. Their first daughter Isabelle is the cutest little bilingual toddler I know – I totally understand the desire to make another one. We spent day on the beach flying the biggest, highest kite I´ve ever flown, and when everyone was busy working, I took a brewery tour on a pedal pike around San Leandro and Alameda, finally figuring out that I may be allergic to hops, not anything flour or gluten related.

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Stefan flying his kite on Alameda beach

I reconnected with a couchsurfer I met traveling in Albania in 2016, first for coffee and an overpriced kimchi croissant (only in Frisco), and a night out in the city. Our friend Billy was throwing a party to celebrate his self-proclaimed entry into a degenerate lifestyle, after quitting his cush job at Google and buying twenty people food and drinks at a speak easy bar called Bourbon & something. We had the ´Russel Room,´ hidden behind a rotating wall disguised as a bookshelf on one side, and a cigar cupboard on the other, which made way to an art-deco room that looked like a movie set, but was authentically original, complete with its pre-Vegas Chahuli chandelier.

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Mike, Duke and Maya

My main goals in California were to eat plenty of In n Out, animal style, and shop at all or any Trader Joes that I saw. We hiked thru some red woods and poison ivy, discovered that the Oakland Zoo is not pet-friendly (strange, no?), and I assisted in a photo shoot with two Jess´s for maternity wear being modelled by Maya. Ironically enough the photographer Jess was also pregnant, and I started to wonder how much exposure I could have to pregnant women before being bit by the mommy gene. Fortunately for me, I´m now even more positive I’ll never be pregnant, since everyone else seems to do it so well – I’ve got no chance handle it as gracefully.

Philadelphia and the new capital

Did you know that Philadelphia was the capital of the U.S.A. before Washington D.C. even existed? Building of the current capital city wasn’t completed until 24 years after the United States became a country, and 13 years after the constitution was written in Independence Hall, formerly the Pennsylvania state house, and the current building printed on the back of the $100 bill.

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Grant, Ursula and me in front of Independence Hall

Philadelphia, as a city, is a living piece of American history, the entire city scattered with historic buildings and iconic landmarks. Some of the oldest churches and neighbourhoods in America are right around the city center, including Eflreth’s alley, the nation’s oldest residential street dating from 1702. Christ Church, built in 1695, is one of the oldest churches in America, and was the tallest building in North America until 1810.

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Christ Church

Our host was Grant, the jolliest pianoman I’ve ever met. He plays and sings at Tavern nightclub every Wednesday on a grand piano which doubles as a bar, but on the Sunday we went to drink champagne, the pianoman had been a noshow and Grant stepped in. He was paid for an hours performance, which turned his party night into a net-profit evening. He officially wins the badge of Philly’s best private tour guide – I knew it the moment we had our first cheese steak, but within another 12 hours, he had shown us all the city’s highlights.

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the piano at Tavern

I was visiting Ursula, my one and only college room mate from Semester at Sea in 2006. Twelve years later, she is one of my oldest, bestest friends, and though we see each other barely once a year, its always a shitshow. We were in Washington DC for three nights, which involved a plethora of friends, dinners, bottles, bars and clubs. Chicken and Whiskey was the most memorable – the front house is a fast food, fried chicken joint, and if you walk through it to the back, a door opens up into a specialty whiskey bar.

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Ursula and I celebrating her becoming a homeowner from her new balcony

We ate dinner at Compass Rose, one of the most international menu’s I’ve seen yet, with wines and foods from all over the world – Morocco and Georgia were well represented. Medium Rare was a restaurant which only has one menu – salad, steak and fries – you pay $20, and get unlimited amounts of any or all of the above. ‘Murica!