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Archive for the ‘Iceland’ Category

It’s January 2 – a new year and the end to what friends of mine call the “Eating Season”. The past month has been filled with parties and gatherings, chock full of diet-busting treats. It’s a time when food is all around me and my thoughts naturally turn towards the many wonderful things out there to eat.

January is also the start of a long three months of the year: it’s cold and grey and my mood invariably turns sour. Spring seems like an endless time away. The last few years, one of my coping tools has been to plan where I’m going to travel in the upcoming year, to give myself something to look forward to. I’ll also spend time reading over my travel journals and looking at my photos to remind myself of good times with the hope of more to come.

So, of course, what better time of year to try and narrow down my favourites out of everything I’ve eaten on my trips – things I’d seek out to have again if ever and whenever I go back. Many may be disappointed in my choices (you won’t find fermented shark or anything as adventurous on here). In fact, many of these I can find easily here in Toronto – I can find them and but they’re not going to be nearly as good. So, in order of discovery, here we go:

1. Albondigas (Spanish meatballs)

Such a simple thing, the meatball, but oh boy did these rock my socks. After a few days of mostly grilled pork and ham, I ordered these in a tapas place in Olot, Spain, and it was love at first bite. The meat itself was moist and flavourful and swimming in a really tasty sauce. Not being a seafood eater, I wasn’t sold on Spanish food until I tried these.

2. Fresh buffalo mozzarella

I’d never eaten fresh mozzarella before it came as part of a caprese salad I ordered in Trieste, Italy, and my immediate thought was, where have you been all my life? I love cheese like I love my own mother, and this was so indescribably good. In fact, I may have moaned when I first tasted it. The tomatoes weren’t shabby either. This was something I tried finding when I got back to Toronto, but I’ve not found any that tasted as good yet.

3. Pizza margherita

I had a lot of pizza during my time in Italy, but one I had in Florence stands out in particular. I like my pizza simple, and when the ingredients are as good as they are there, you don’t need a ton of toppings. The local ingredients are what make the difference between the pizza I had in Florence and any of the numerous ones I’ve had elsewhere: the tomatoes for the sauce, the cheese, and the fresh basil. I normally view the crust as a cheese-and-sauce delivery platform, but even the crust was a delight. Yum, yum in my tum.

4. Pain au chocolat

My breakfast every morning I was in France consisted of some form of croissant; in fact, I made quite a study of them wherever I went. I find dairy products in general to be superior in Europe compared to home, so naturally any pastry that uses butter so generously in its creation is going to be better there than anything I’ve tasted before. The best I found (so far) was a pain au chocolat from a pastry shop in Reims – so buttery and warm, with a gooey chocolate center. I definitely moaned when I took my first bite (I want to moan thinking about it now).

5. Skyr

Commonly known as Icelandic yogurt, its consistency is more like a cross between yogurt and cream cheese. I only ever ate it sweetened and flavoured with fruit, but it does have that underlying sourness that yogurt has. It is much, much thicker than any yogurt I’ve ever had at home – the kind you can find in tubs in stores is almost spreadable. As rich as this tastes, it’s truly amazing that skyr is low-fat and full of protein, so it’s a pretty guiltless treat compared to everything else on this list.

And on that note, I’m hungry – I wonder if I have any Christmas cookies left?

Happy New Year, happy eats, and especially happy travels!

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* Imagine this sung to the tune of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” for full effect

According to sources in the know (i.e., my tour guide and my guidebooks), Dyrhólaey is one of the best places in Iceland to catch a glimpse of puffins. Located on the southern coast of the island, Dyrhólaey is a black-sand beach surrounded by jagged cliffs in which many seabirds make their nests.

Unfortunately, there were no puffins to be spotted the day we landed at the beach (insert sad face). Apparently, the waters around Dyrhólaey had warmed up the last couple of years, and the fish that puffins like to snack on have moved on to colder spots for now. Since it didn’t feel very warm the day I was there, I must trust this to be true. Were you a vacationer from, say, Australia, who had come from halfway across the world to see a puffin, this situation was devastating (and not an exaggeration, according to one of my tourmates). To compensate, we began “puffin-spotting” every place we stopped from there on. Though we saw many of the stuffed variety, a live puffin sighting was sadly not to be. (There are other spots in Iceland where you can find puffins; we just didn’t stop at any of the others on our tour.)

Even in the absence of these soon-to-be legendary seabirds, Dyrhólaey is a wonderful place to see. Like much of Iceland, it seems a bit forbidding – rocky and hard-looking, but beautiful in its austerity. I picked my way over the rocks,  stood at the edges of the cliffs and just watched the waves rush in and out along the beach and crash against the rocks. There is power and peace in a place like this, if you stop to appreciate it.

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Iceland is a country with a quite varied and unusual landscape, but one thing it has by the truckload is waterfalls. I saw a lot of waterfalls on my trip. In fact, at the beginning, my tour group leader joked (I thought) that each day we would stop at the “waterfall of the day”. The only joke was that most days, we weren’t limited to just one.

Many of my fellow travellers soon grew tired of the parade of waterfalls, but I have to confess that I never did. I love the sound of water rushing over the rocks and feeling the mist on my face. There are some that are basically trickles wearing a path down stone walls to the ground, and others that are powerful run-offs shooting off a cliff face to join a churning whirlpool of energy at the base. No two are alike, and to me, it’s nature at its most mesmerizing.

The base of the waterfall - click on the picture to enlarge and get a better view of the trail that runs behind it

One of the first waterfalls of the day we visited was Seljalandsfoss (“foss” means “waterfall” in Icelandic), located not far from Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that caused mass chaos for European travellers in the spring of 2010. (Don’t ask me to pronounce any of those names – there are sounds in Icelandic that just don’t exist in English, and tried as I might to mimic my guide when he said any of these names, I was hopeless at picking up the pronounciations.)

The surrounding ground is covered in ash from the volcano, which turns into mud due to the mist coming off the waterfall. You can actually walk behind it, but as much as I wanted to, the ground looked slippery and uneven and all I could picture was my klutzy self careening off the rock and into the pool below. Not how I wanted to start my time in Iceland. Some of the others in my group made the trek and looking at their photos after, I wish I had gone – the view from behind a waterfall is not an everyday sight, and it’s too bad I have such a strong sense of self-preservation that I missed out on a rare opportunity.

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Like many people in recent years, my life has been financially topsy-turvy for a while now. One large consequence (at least for me) was my inability to justify the expense of a vacation away from home – I had caught the travel bug, only to be tragically rendered housebound thanks to the busted economy. 2011 is a brand new year and a fresh start, and I am thrilled that my travel plans are back on track.

I have decided on a trip to Iceland, leaving at the end of June. Not only am I expecting the landscape to be incredibly beautiful, but at that time of year I can experience “White Nights” when the sun sets at midnight and rises at 3:00! Should be memorable, which is what I hope for with every trip I take.

Usually once I’ve booked the trip, it becomes an all-consuming part of my days and it’s all I can think about. I spend the time remaining poring through guidebooks and making lists (to do lists, packing list). If only I could harness the energy I put into feverishly working through all those details, I would never have to pay for an electricity bill again!

Instead, I’ll harness it in a healthier way, through this blog. Guide books, travel accessories, what to pack: I will mull these over here and share with all of you who might be interested.

If you have any tips for me, about Iceland or travel in general that you’ve found to be helpful, please leave a comment and let me know. I love hearing other people’s travel tips and recommendations.

Photo from http://www.iceland2go.com/iceland.asp

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