Iceland, Naturally! (the foodie version)

I don’t follow Anthony Bourdain much but i get the gist of what he does. Armed with this little knowledge, i can say if he hasn’t been to Iceland, he’s really missing out.

Let me preface, i am no Anthony. What I am, is a picky eater. I am polite in public situations but when left to my own devices, i would eat a very limited number of foods that are probably not healthy. It’s a texture thing. Either you understand what i’m talking about or you don’t.Texture aside, Iceland was going to push me to the limits as far as my eating habits go.

Obviously, the country has an abundance of seafood. The absolute best place to go is Sagreifinn (Sea Baron). It is a tiny, tiny place on the water and the owner speaks very little English. Bring your patience and flexibility as you will need them both when trying to communicate. Rest assured, it’s worth it. We had the most amazing lobster stew. I grew up in New England so that tells you something. The menu also includes a range of sushi, cooked fish and other soups and stews. It’s all delicious and worth the walk (roughly 20 minutes from Hotel Centrum).

If you get hungry along the way, stop at the hot dog push cart. There you can sink your teeth into a hot dog. But not just any hot dog – a hot dog that combines sheep and lamb meat. Was a bit tough for me to enjoy especially loaded with onions on top. I’m hot dog purist (ketchup and a bun, thank you very much).

You won’t find the cart in many guides so here’s a shot of what you are looking for.

Baejarins hot dog cart in Reykjavik. Home of the sheep & lamb hot dog.
Baejarins hot dog cart in Reykjavik. Home of the sheep & lamb hot dog.

Puffin is really popular in Iceland. You can try it in a lot of restaurants around Reykjavik, but i recommend Tapas. The menu consists of over 50 types of tapas, which can be overwhelming if you’ve got jet lag or are hung over. In addition to some exotic eats, you can also find “safer” tapas like chicken, lamb, etc. The restaurant is quite popular so it’s worth having your hotel make a reservation for you. In case you were wondering, Puffin tastes like chicken.

Another popular dish in Iceland is lamb stew. If you venture outside of Reykjavik, i recommend grabbing this for lunch. The stew looks deceptively light but is warming and quite filling. It’s great meal after walking around pingvellir national park or the Geysir area.

Delicious Lamb Stew. It looks light but is actually very filling.
Delicious Lamb Stew. It looks light but is actually very filling.

I am told petrified shark is a big deal to Icelanders. We asked a few and they were non-committal. I was warned not to try this “delicacy” and heeded that advice.

I did this because i was daring and tried the “traditional” Icelandic dinner that consists of: whale, fish salad, potatoes with parsley and feta, monk fish and lamb pate.

Traditional Icelandic Dinner
Traditional Icelandic Dinner (the before picture)

Believe it or not, i tried everything on the plate. Here’s my “after” shot to prove it.

Traditional Icelandic Dinner (the after picture)
Traditional Icelandic Dinner (the after picture)

Never eat whale. That’s all i can say. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong. Beyond the texture, i found whale has an accompanying smell. It must be an acquired thing but, man, i had to use my best big girl attitude and a whole lot of water to swallow the food and not spit it out across the table. After feeling that way about whale, there was no way in hell i was going to try petrified shark.

It’s clear Anthony Bourdain would scoff at having to travel and eat with me. While i did not love everything i ate in Iceland, it opened my eyes up to a lot of food adventures i was ignoring. Since then, i’ve been a much slightly more adventurous eater. For that reason alone, Iceland holds a special place in my heart.

Iceland, Naturally!

After a lot of debate (in my head mind you, because isn’t that the best kind), i finally settled on my next series of blog posts: Iceland, Naturally!

If you asked me 10 years ago if my travel plans included Iceland, the answer would have been no. But, a few years ago co-workers talked me into visiting this country after sharing their own adventures.

When they say “something for everyone” they mean it in Iceland. Outdoor activities, both leisure and adventure, are plentiful. The Blue Lagoon is perfect for people looking for a spa experience. The nightlife in Reykjavik is as crazy as you want it to be while the food is delicious, and again, as crazy as you want it to be.

Iceland's Blue Lagoon
Iceland’s famous geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon

If you are considering a trip to Iceland, here are some helpful details.

Airfare. From the East Coast, Iceland is ridiculously easy to get to. Visit Icelandair to plan your flights. I’m sure there are other airlines that fly in and out of Iceland but truth be told, i didn’t bother to find out. Iceland Air had a good site, the prices were reasonable and they also offered combination packages as far as lodging and transportation from the airport into Reykjavik.

Lodging. There are numerous hotels in Reykjavik. The Hotel Reykjavik Centrum was recommended to me and i went with it. The location was better than i could have imagined. Located in downtown Reykjavik you can easily walk to the main attractions in the city. Our hotel package included a continental breakfast, with delicious coffee and a substantial breakfast offering. The rooms were clean, while perhaps a little small for most U.S. expectations. The staff was terrific offering suggestions of things to do that are both popular with tourists and their own personal favorite things. There is also a tourist office one block away that was incredibly helpful providing maps, arranging excursions, etc.

One of Iceland’s many waterfalls, Skogafoss.

Rental cars. I say skip it. If you stay at the Hotel Centrum, you can walk everywhere in Reykjavik. All of our excursions included bus transportation which was a great way to meet other tourists.

Spending money. This was our first country on a two country vacation. We spent roughly $800 on excursions (three of them), meals (lunch, dinner and drinks), tips, the spa and gifts for people. You can absolutely spend less than we did. However, when we go on vacation, we like to be not be worried about money. We’ll be frugal at home so we can enjoy our travel as much as possible. Do keep in mind, the exchange rate does not (unfortunately) favor the dollar. If possible, try to bring some extra cash or invest more time on the upfront looking for travel deals.

Views around Iceland
Views around Iceland

One caveat to this, my trip to Iceland happened before the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull. At this point, i would imagine the country and is back on track. I do still encourage you to reach out and confirm details, especially when it comes to suggested itineraries that i will share in future posts. Better safe than sorry! I do hope this won’t dissuade you from a visit.

And, full disclosure: these are my own opinions. I am not affiliated with any of the organizations or company’s listed. I love to travel and want to share my adventures with everyone.

More to follow on Iceland, Naturally!

Roadtripping.

The distance between Washington DC and Southern Maine can be anywhere from eight hours to 12 hours in a car. After seven years of driving from point a to b, i can say there is no way to predict how long the drive will take you. The variables are too great. Whatever the house deals, you take.

These are my canine companions. Yes, they are Mutt and Jeff, big and small. Even friendly and vicious. Luckily, they are pretty good travelers and are not prone to car sickness.

With this motley crew, how do we manage the trek or any road trips? I have picked up a few driving survival techniques that are critical. Especially when you travel with four-legged friends.

Keep in mind, my techniques may or may not be applied to traveling with children. They also assume you’ve had your car tuned up (aka checked the tire pressure, fluids, etc.) recently.

Pre-road trip, a big success factor is a log walk. It does mean getting up super early, or getting right with it and leaving later than you want. But, it’s good for the dogs, especially older ones like mine. It’s also good for the humans. You get some light exercise and fresh air. Psychologically this could be the difference between keeping or loosing your sanity on the Mass Pike six hours later. My other road tripping success factors include:

1. Stay off I-95. It’s always a cluster. My preferred route: 50-295-895-95-NJ Turnpike-Lincoln Tunnel-West Side Highway-Henry Hudson-Merritt Parkway-91-84-Mass Pike-290-495-95 and to your destination. You can debate the logic of traveling through NYC all you want. If you have never driven from the District to New England, you don’t get it. Anyone who has, knows this route is golden. There are (relatively) fewer cars, better rest stops for dogs (and humans), nice scenery and fewer cars.

2. Pack a bag. Of snacks, of course! Inevitably, you won’t be hungry when you are at an actual “rest stop.” If you are hungry, the other inevitable is that you won’t want the fast food du jour. A snack bag is important if you have a special diet (dairy free, gluten-free) or if you are calorie conscious. My snack bag always includes a few treats -in moderation- so i have something to look forward too. My favorites include:

  • A pre-made sandwich
  • Green apples
  • Combos (my guilty pleasure) or a vegan cookie
  • Turkey slices or chunks for the little ones

3. Water bottles. One for the humans and one for the dogs. Sometimes, they just want a drink. A strategically placed water bottle can help address this so you don’t have to pull over. Instead, have your passenger pour a little into a tiny water bowl. If your dogs can and will drink out of the bottle, let them. It may sound gross but it’s their water bottle. And it’s less messy.

4. EZPass. Who wants to be scrapping around for quarters and dollar bills while in those ridiculously long lines? Even your pets want to zip through the toll lines. Stopping and starting disrupts their sleep and gets them fired up. Mine have even been known to bark at toll collectors. Enough said.

5. Music, books. Sometimes (i’m talking about you, Northern Connecticut), the radio stations are few and far between. It helps to have some good music or an audio book loaded up and ready to go. My current favorite is the podcast the Bugle. It’s very entertaining.

I’m also a firm believer in a quick stop at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store. When you are almost at your destination, it’s motivating to know a bottle of wine is waiting to help you celebrate your arrival.

Cheers to your next road trip!

Travel Contests. Or, when your worlds collide.

Travel Contests. Or, When Your Worlds Collide.

 

At work earlier this week, i was catching up on reading when i stumbled across an article about Travelocity’s $65,000 Round-the-World contest. 

At first blush, this sounds amazing. There are, of course, some caveats. For example, you have to be adventurous. You also have to have a companion who is equally adventurous. Right away, i am out. I have no friends who would willingly go away with me without having a clue what the travel itinerary is. But, i still think the concept behind the contest is a good one.

Until i got to this part: “to enter you need to create a video, no more than 60 seconds in length, basically describing why you deserve to be nabbed and whisked away on this $65K trip.”

And, just like that –BOOM– my day job and my passion have collided. Allow me to explain. 

I work in marketing and communications. Over the years, many clients have done consumer contests. Contests are expensive, people. It’s not just the prize. You have to draft rules, you have to promote the contest, you to review the entries, you almost always have to justify the winning entry… the of what goes into a contest is pretty long.

When you work in this industry, contests end up being frustrating for two reasons. Clients pay a TON of money to put a contest together, Inevitably, they are almost always disappointed with either the low participation rate or low media coverage promoting the contest. 

Recently, i have seen a more than one really good travel contest. And i’m stunned that bloggers are surprised by the low participation but they still make the bar pretty high for entry. 

Even if you can get a lot of media attention, it is still incredibly difficult to get people to enter. 

At work earlier this week, i was catching up on reading when i stumbled across an article about Travelocity’s $65,000 Round-the-World contest.

At first blush, this sounds amazing. There are, of course, some caveats. For example, you have to be adventurous. You also have to have a companion who is equally adventurous. Right away, i am out. I have no friends who would willingly go away with me without having a clue what the travel itinerary is. But, i still think the concept behind the contest is a good one.

Until i got to this part: “to enter you need to create a video, no more than 60 seconds in length, basically describing why you deserve to be nabbed and whisked away on this $65K trip.”

And, just like that –BOOM– my day job and my passion have collided. Allow me to explain.

I work in marketing and communications. Over the years, many clients have done consumer contests. Contests are expensive, people. It’s not just the prize. You have to draft rules, you have to promote the contest, you to review the entries, you almost always have to justify the winning entry… the list of what goes into a contest is pretty long.

When you work in this industry, contests end up being frustrating for two reasons. Clients pay a TON of money to put a contest together, Inevitably, they are disappointed with either the low participation rate or low media coverage promoting the contest. I know this frustration stems beyond clients at associations or organizations. A few of the bloggers i follow have recently commented on low participation rates for contests they’ve held.

Here’s the deal. Contests have to be constructed to be outrageously simple if you want people to participate. I understand why Travelocity wants videos. They are getting tons of free digital content. But the thing is, you are asking too much from me. I work 60+ hours. When i am not working, I take care of a household, try to exercise and try desperately to stay engaged with four nieces and nephew when i’m not working. (oh, yeah, and i TRY to sneak in some blogging about my love of traveling.) I’m sorry, as much as i am DYING to enter this contest, the bar is just too high. I’m not giving up more in life than i already have.

If you are ever in a position to create a contest, please take this advice seriously. It’s not meant to be mean-spirited. It comes from 15+ years of marketing experience. If you want participation, keep it simple!

I’m confident that some would argue, i’m just not interested enough. That’s a fair point of view, certainly. Maybe i am not. But i do know that i have mistakenly thought i could conquer the world. The result is a disaster and i wind up feeling like a failure. I just can’t do that to myself. over a contest.

So, if you are more creative, inspired and motivated than i am good luck! In fact, i would love to see your video submissions. Feel free to send them my way!

FYI: http://gnomenabbed.travelocity.com/ For more contest details. Good luck!

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with Travelocity or this contest. These thoughts are my own. (Since i mentioned a career in marketing, i figured i better through this in)

The problem with bucket lists.

Bucket lists. Life lists. Wish lists. To-do lists. No matter what you call it, we all have a list of things we want to accomplish in life. Some people are more direct and say “things i will do before i die” and others are more general, “things i aspire to do.”

I have a list. It doesn’t have a name. It’s just a running list of places i want to visit and things i want to do. Every year it changes based on finances and my threshold for adventure. What’s on my list right now?

  • Swim with sharks.
  • Climb Kilimanjaro.
  • Visit the lost city of Petra.
  • Go to Argentina. (there is a sub-list of 5-10 things here)

Last year’s list was hike the Inca Trial (mission=accomplished). Somewhere in the top 25 items on my list has always been to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I have no idea how this one popped up on my list. But, it’s there. And with it is also a romantic vision of my walk. It includes no other tourists or pedestrians, sunny, warm weather, beautiful views capped off with solitude and maybe even some time for personal reflection. Oh, and since i’ve done all this walking, it also includes pizza in Brooklyn. (Yum!!) I pictured something a bit like this (picture courtesy of Observer.com):

And this is where i have a problem with life lists. Because i have wanted to take this walk for such a long time, my mind has created this alternate reality of what it will be like. I am old enough to know this alternate reality can’t happen but i still cling to it.

So when a friend gamely agreed to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on sunny day i was thrilled. Pizza, sunny, warm weather, photos. Not necessarily solitude but time with my best friend. All of this would be great! A dream realized! In case you hadn’t already guessed, it was NOTHING like this romanticized vision I created. It’s overly dramatic to call it a nightmare. The bridge was just completely packed. People were everyone. Cyclists were literally yelling at the walkers. They were also doing construction. Instead of seeing the views, we saw lots of aluminum scaffolding. Not even 1/4 of the way across, my friend was tired and cranky. We were so not getting any further.

In case you are curious, this was “my Brooklyn Bridge” experience:

Brooklyn Bridge. 2012.

Here’s to having an original idea in New York City. Snarky comments aside, my issue with lists is that we spend so much time hyping up a dream or wish list that we completely forget to stop and enjoy the moment. That’s the point of having an adventure. You have to stop worrying about what went wrong, what’s not exactly the way you planned so you can just relish the present.  This trip was a reminder of that. I was too busy being annoyed about all that went wrong to enjoy the time i had with my friend. Total bummer.