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Iceland has been on my bucket list for awhile and so two weeks ago, I went with a girlfriend to see what the fuss was all about. First off, Icelanders are such incredibly nice people, our host not only picked us up from the bus station, carried our bags up three flights of stairs and had breakfast ready for us (smoked salmon with egg on toast and yogurt with fruit). Talk about hospitality! I was surprised at how well everyone could speak English so we had no trouble getting around. But I was also surprised at how expensive Iceland is! It was quite cheap to fly and stay in Reykjavik but the cost of living there was insane. Main courses in nicer restaurants run from $50+, I had a soup that was $18 and by the end of the trip, I thought a $13 grilled cheese sandwich was quite reasonable! I’ll share some cost saving tips in this post and the next one on food in Reykjavik. Here are a couple of things I did on the trip that I recommend. blue lagoonYes, it is as magical as it looks. We spent the day here at the Blue Lagoon and got the package which included a robe and a towel. If you can bring your own robe and towel you’ll be able to save about $30. Since we came during winter, the water felt wonderfully warm and we didn’t want to leave the pool. There are buckets of mud masks that you can put on your face along with a bar in the pool. We also got an in water massage where they have you floating on a piece of foam and a blanket over you to keep you warm. I would probably recommend this only during the warmer months because the blanket could only do so much to keep you warm.
Tip: Try and bring a sandwich and snacks with you to the Blue Lagoon, they have food to buy, but again very expensive ($15 for a sandwich). We bought sandwiches from local convenience stores for $6.

northern lightsPardon the crappy photo, this was actually an iphone photo off a dslr camera from a friend we made on this tour. Fingers crossed he sends me the photos! This was the best thing I did in Iceland. The Northern Lights tour companies don’t guarantee that you’ll see the lights but you are welcome to go on the tour again until you do. Luckily for us, we saw it on our first tour! They picked us up from our apartment and drove for about 40 mins where we stood outside for an hour waiting for the lights to happen. It was a very long hour and it was blisteringly cold (I just opted not to get back onto the bus). I saw many shooting stars while waiting and then finally a soft green glow started appearing in the sky and the lights danced for us! I didn’t actually see any red lights but in the photos on the dslr with a long exposure, the red lights appeared. This is a must do in Iceland but dress warmly and bringing heat packs are a good idea! Northern Lights can only be seen from September to April.

open air museumThe Abraejarsafn museum or it’s also known as the Open Air museum are a collection of old houses, antiques and relics they’ve restored to show how people use to live. In the summer, they have people dressed up playing the roles of farmers, etc, they bring livestocks in, have hay barreling contests and grow crops. In the winter time, they close down and only have a daily tour at 1pm. The museum isn’t in downtown Reykjavik but I wouldn’t suggest taking a taxi since again, it’s a very expensive city! Instead, we caught bus 19 from Hlemmur for $3.50 which took 20 mins to get to the museum. We caught an earlier bus since we didn’t trust ourselves to get there in time so we were there a whole hour early. The tour guide was very nice and let us into the children’s toy exhibit room so we would be out of the cold. We saw the room and our eyes lit up. They had tons of costumes, masks and sets to play with so I quickly made a makeshift tripod and did an impromptu photo shoot! Thank goodness the tour guide never checked in on us once, we looked ridiculous. Afterwards, he led us around the grounds where we went into a church and two houses. I would love to come back in the summer when everything is open and people are dressed up and playing roles.
Tip: Bring a sandwich with you for lunch since there’s nothing to eat near there.

tigerIf you’re getting the shopping itch, you’ll have to get yourself to Tiger. It’s probably the only store you can afford anyways. Everything in there is usually either $3, $6 or $9. They had very random stock ranging from tissue paper to home decor to toys to makeup to stationary. I as usual went nuts over anything that was packaged well and is paper related.
Tip: They seem to get new stock every week, so if you have the shopping itch, go back often to see if new inventory has come in.

phallological museumYes, that’s me, next to a whale penis. Before the trip, Final Member was playing at the Bloor Cinema and we knew we had to see it. It’s about how the founder of The Icelandic Phallological Museum wanted to find a human penis to complete his collection. It felt like coming to a full circle after seeing the film and then being able to appreciate the museum for what it is. Don’t be a prude, it’s the only phallological museum in the world. Do yourself a favour, watch the movie and then go, it’ll make the experience that much better.

hallgrimskirkjaThe Hallgrimskirkja church is another must do in Iceland. If you’re lucky, there will be an old man inside playing the organ. Take the elevator up to the top and you’ll be treated with a wonderful view of Reykjavik.
geysersGeysers are these natural hot pools of water in the ground where it erupts into the sky. They’re quite a spectacle to see and I don’t think any picture can do it justice. These geysers are part of any of the Golden Coast tour. Also, as part of the Golden Coast tour we saw the Gulfoss which is a waterfall and Þingvellir which is where Iceland took their first step to independence. There were a lot more other tours I was interested in, but I think next time I would do my research on all the different natural sights I wanted to see, and rent a car so I could do it on my own time. A lot of times they gave you too much time at one place and it’s extremely windy in Iceland!
Tip: Again, bring your own sandwich and snacks on these tours. I ended up getting a $18 soup where the Gulfoss is.

cafe rosenburgWe spent three nights at Cafe Rosenberg where they feature live music every night except Mondays. There’s a cover to get in though, usually $20 but on Saturday we paid $25. The atmosphere was lovely and it was great hearing local bands play in both Icelandic and English.

Stay tune for my next post on food in Iceland (I tried puffin!)

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It’s that time again to look back at last year’s resolutions and see if I’ve stuck to them!

new-years-resolution1. A family trip. Check. We had a fantastic week in Hawaii in August.
2. Stick to my budget. Pass. I was impressed I even had a budget throughout the whole year. I tried my hardest to stick to it…
3. Be a gym rat. Check. I loved my old gym and went 4 times a week. I ran, did pilates, yoga, rock climbed, swam and trained for my spartan race there. I was so sad when I had to quit when I moved to Toronto but I have since joined a rock climbing gym that I go every week.
4. To find patience. Check. Throughout the year, I was consciously trying to be more patient with my interns when teaching them the ins and outs of the job. It’s not easy having to constantly do this when interns leave every three months.  I have seen that as the year progressed, my interns increasingly had more responsibilities. I’ve also realized that there are many things beyond my control and I can only patiently wait until it all works itself out.

Now onto 2014’s resolutions!

resolutions 20141. Travel some more: this is a cheat… I have some trips lined up already!

2. Build a relationship: there’s someone in my family that I’ve grown up with that I would like to build a better relationship with. We’re going to start monthly dinners together!

3. Keep on budget: I’m going to try very very hard to do this so I can make my down payment goal by 2016!

4. Start complimenting: I love my family, friends and colleagues dearly and want them to do their very best but it also translates to me having the highest expectations for them. This year, I’m going to learn to appreciate what they have done and achieved and dough out compliments more generously.

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feast lele luauA Hawaiian luau was probably the one thing I was looking forward to the most and it truly didn’t disappoint. We went to Feast at Lele in Lahaina, Maui because it featured different Polynesian food and dance. We were greeted at the front with a fresh lei and a Mai Tai and led to our seats where we overlooked the ocean just as the sun was setting. The luau’s theme was based on four Polynesian cultures, Hawaiian, Maorian, Tahitian and Samoan. There were four courses, corresponding with the four cultures. Dances from each culture would be followed after every course. At the end, after the dessert was a fire dancer. This was the best thing I did in Hawaii and did I mention it was all you can drink? I lost count on how many Pina Coladas I had!
505 Front Street, Lahaina
surfingSurfing in Haleiwa, Oahu Uncle Bryan’s Sunset Suratt Surf Academy made me want to move to a surf town, open up a little dessert store and turn into a surfer. I knew I wanted to surf while in Hawaii but was nervous because I would rate my swimming skills at “I can swim to save my life, maybe.” But once I was out in the water on the surf board with the instructors, all my fears were gone. Being able to stand up on the surf board and ride the wave was pretty exhilarating. I chose to surf in Haleiwa because it was known for having gentler waves but on the day of the lesson, hurricane Flossie was just coming into Hawaii and made the water quite choppy. At least I can say I surfed during a hurricane! Don’t forget to put a ton of sunscreen on your bum and the back of your legs, I just did a light coat and I burned all down my back side. I could barely sit for three days!

Afterward, go and explore Halawei, a very cute surf town and have an acai bowl which are blueberries, strawberries, and bananas with a deliciously creamy acai smoothie.

snorkelingSnorkeling in Kapalua Bay, Maui was beautiful, I think I could have spent all day under the water swimming with the fishies.

wailuku first fridayWe were lucky to be in Maui on the first Friday of August because every month, Wailuku has a Friday Town Party. There was live music, food stalls and people selling knickknacks. My favourite was the custard Malassadas.

black sand beachblack-sand-beach The road to Hana is a 68 mile long highway with 600 turns in between Paia and Hana. If you love driving, this is the drive for you. Along the way there are forests, waterfalls, coconut stalls and beaches until you get to Hana. My favourite was seeing the black sand beach, the sand was actually black from lava flowing into the ocean. This road to Hana has also been called the road to divorce because it will really test the patience of the passengers because they would have spent the whole day car sick! If you do go, be sure to stop by the Nihiku Market Place just before you reach Hana for some delicious home made coconut chips.

youve-got-mailSan Francisco was a blast, we literally ate breakfast, walked to lunch, ate lunch, walked to dinner, ate dinner along with snack pit stops peppered along the way. Look for my upcoming recommendations for food in San Francisco. For now, I’ll tease you with my instagrams of the city by the bay.

I was obsessed with the envelope bag from Kate Spade awhile ago, and lo and behold I found it at the Paragon Outlet! I couldn’t help myself and got the matching wallet.

top: jcrew / skirt: french connections / shoes: marc by marc jacobs / clutch: kate spade / necklace: target / watch: michael kors / rings: marc by marc jacobs, primark, house of harlow

SAN FRANCISCO

Happy New Year!

No point in making new year’s resolutions if you don’t follow up. So let’s take a look at last year’s.
1. Paint again. Kinda, I didn’t physically paint, but I did do these Mou paintings in Photoshop…
2. Return to Istanbul. Nope, probably won’t happen till 2015 with the bestie.
3. Quit the gym and go back to dancing. Check! I did quit and went to hip hop, ballet and modern dance classes.
4. Go to maui with the family. Nope. We decided to take separate trips this year.
5. To live in the moment. I sure hope so!

And now onto 2013’s…
new years resolution1. A family trip somewhere, anywhere.
2. To STICK to my budget. I finished Gail’s It’s Your Money book and I started the the budget in November and December but fell off the wagon a tad bit.
3. Be a gym rat. It’s ironic that I quit the gym in 2012 only to join the most ridiculously expensive and over the top gym with the bestie for 2013. I plan on living there from now on.
4. To find patience when I mentor and teach and to remember that others can’t read my mind.

Picnics during the summer with my friends is one of my all time favourites and you can make it as elaborate or as simple as you want. I love going to the market to pick up different cheeses (the stinkier, the better!), cured meats and a baguette. To make it more interesting, throw in some jams and pâtés to mix it up. A tub of pre cut fruits would make an excellent dessert after. Just remember to bring some extra utensils and a plate or two to cut and separate the food. Bon apetit!