An Invitation To… Reykjavik, Iceland

As we leave the colder months behind – which I am *so* excited for – I wanted to reflect on my visit to the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik (pronounced rake-ya-vick) with my husband in 2015.

I just can’t say enough good things about the Icelandic culture. The people are beautiful, the natural landscapes are beautiful, but that beauty is not limited to skin or surface. Each person and place we encountered was welcoming, friendly, and exuded peace. Let’s dive in.

Something I learned…

Icelanders learn up to three languages in grade school: Icelandic, English, and Danish

When visiting Iceland, we treated it as a true “stopover” for 3 nights on our way to Ireland. We went on a Super Jeep tour of the Golden Circle, which is easy to do since it’s only 2 to 3 hours outside of the city.

We experienced the gamut of nature, seeing rich green vistas with rivers snaking through, bright white glaciers, overcast skies blanketing an active geyser, followed by afternoon sunshine over massive rushing waterfalls. All in one day! One of my favorite things about our tour was our guide, Ingi. He gave us tidbits of Icelandic history in between stops across the country’s majestic landscape.

Some fun facts we learned:

  • Not only do most Icelanders learn the 3 languages above, they typically do so before the age of 12.
  • Icelanders are purposefully peaceful. Iceland has no military force, and police officers don’t carry guns.
  • Most of Iceland is powered by renewable energy sources, primarily geothermal.
  • There’s no McDonald’s on Iceland.
  • Iceland has a universal healthcare system that is both available and affordable to all.
  • If you dare… you can try unusual (and controversial?) local fare including whale, shark, and puffin.

Something I ate…

Reykjavik is known for its coffee… and hot dogs

Right?! The fabulously gorgeous land of Iceland is known for dirt cheap delicacies? It’s true. I particularly adored the coffee at a quirky, hippy joint called The Laundromat Café. Yep. You can eat and do laundry there. My little Type A heart is swooning at the efficiency of this concept. And we had the BEST hot dogs at a little permanent food truck-ish place called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.

We also had divine fish and chips, Viking beer, and more delightful snacks on our short trip. Too little time to try it all!

Something I felt…

The holiness of nature

Call it the slow pace of vacation, the fresh air lacking petrol fumes, or the proximity to the ocean… but I really felt sparks in my faith here. No matter where we went, I kept thinking over and over: God is so masterfully creative. In just one country, He picked so many colors, textures, and shapes for us to feast upon with all our senses. Mindfulness naturally came here; I didn’t have to work for it like I normally do.

How do you capture a raging waterfall in a single frame? How do you box up a miles long glacier into one photo? You don’t. But I hope to impart a bit of Iceland’s magnificence with a few of my measly snippets below.

Wrap Up: Peace be with you, every day

Whether you want to visit Iceland or just want to escape your day-to-day, I hope you feel these same feels when in nature. That you may always be in awe of how it catapults you into its endless depth, full of surprises and full of reverence.

If Iceland is it, then I can’t end this post without mentioning a stop to Hallgrimskirkja Church… for the views. Pay a small fee, then go to the top of the steeple where a 360 degree view of Reykjavik awaits. It is a grand experience seeing the mountains and ocean so close to each other, colorful row houses bunched together, and little dots of humans roaming about the city. Absolutely breathtaking.

There’s so much more to tell, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.

What would give you a full mind, belly, and heart in the next city you explore? Follow more of my “invitations to” adventure at the top right of the page: Home > Travel+Bug.

Three Tips to Help You Face the Fear of Starting Yoga

First things first: I am not a skinny, size 4 (or even size 6) woman trying to get your attention. My BMI has been in the “overweight” category (mid to high 20s) for years now. Thankfully, the 21st century yoga space is becoming more visually diverse with people of all shapes and sizes enjoying it now. This matches what the practice strives to be, ever since it started centuries ago in India: an accepting and welcoming environment to all soul-seeking individuals.

I was first drawn to yoga in college and went to a few classes with my roommates at the time. But after we graduated and parted ways, it took me 10 years to develop a regular practice. The usual culprits gnawed at me: I’m too busy, I’m not good enough, I can’t bend like that, it’s too slow, what if other people look at me weird. Well, guess what? All those things are still true. The difference is that I finally stopped it from stopping me to pick up the practice. And here’s three things I learned along the way that helped me stick with yoga.

  1. Do not compare yourself to others. Easier said than done, I know, like anything in life. But really. Someone will always be more bendy than you. With the lights down low, no one can really see you anyway. And if they came to the space to judge, then they’re in the wrong place and will eventually be found out as the real outsider. You might be the last one to move out of a pose, but it’s not as embarrassing as it sounds–you can enjoy the extra couple seconds you got there (your body may have needed it anyway) and pick right back up with everyone in the next pose. Plus, yoga takes such intense concentration that you won’t have time or energy to look around for longer than a quick glance, just to see what “pigeon pose” means (one of my faves).
  2. You are a yogi simply by showing up on your mat. I know this sounds soo mushy gushy, but I love it. When a yoga teacher calls us all “yogis”, I feel like it silently binds us all together in community in the purest and simplest of moments. Naming what you are helps you become what you are. Calling yourself a yogi gives yourself permission to stick with the practice. Being a “yogi” doesn’t mean bending your body into a pretzel or mastering a Vinyasa Flow 3 class and doing headstands right away. You could be a yogi your whole life and never want to get to that level. Being a yogi lets you do you in a room full of others doing the exact same thing.
  3. Pain means back off. Any yoga instructor will tell you this over and over throughout a class. There should be a “comfortable tension” in each pose, with the overall goal of both stretching and strengthening your beautiful muscles. You should get familiar with what “comfortable tension” means for you, knowing that it will constantly change the more (or less) you practice.

Other pro tips? Find what style works for you. I love Vinyasa because it keeps my mind engaged with a faster pace. I also love Yin, not only because it sneakily loosens up my joints, but it also makes me confront my Type A-ness and (try to) let it go gracefully.

So, if yoga is on your list to try this year, do it. Give yourself permission to be adventurous and messy with it. When you find the right studio, or YouTube channel, that fits you, you’ll know it. Your mind, body, and heart will all feel in sync. Even if it’s fleeting, the feeling will be profound and noticeable. Appreciate how the eloquent, ancient Sanskrit words wash over you, knowing that you’re tapping into a powerful, global practice that transforms lives in the smallest of ways every day.

P.S. My go-to YouTube channel right now for yoga is Erin Wimert – she is down-to-earth, uploads new videos each week, and offers different lengths of classes from 20 minutes to over 1 hour. (I don’t get any kickbacks at all from this, just meeting one of my own goals this year to actively support small businesses!)

An Invitation To… Mittenwald, Germany

It’s December and cold in the U.S. right now. As I attempt to get in the holiday spirit, I’m reminiscing about a quaint, Christmas-y place in southern Germany: Mittenwald. This tiny town sits at the base of the Alps on the border between Austria and Germany. It’s one of those hidden, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it places near the end of the famous Romantic Road.

Something I learned…

Some of the artwork on the unique, hand-painted buildings is about 250 years old

Immediately on arrival to Mittenwald, I was confronted with beautiful, life-sized, caricature paintings on almost every building. To say this added to Mittenwald’s charm is an understatement. Then I quickly realized I’d have just a few hours to wander and get lost in stories the buildings wanted to tell. In my haste, I didn’t take great pictures of individual painted scenes, because my fleeting obsession demanded that I get ALL the buildings in ONE perfect photo (hello, idealism). While this quest didn’t pan out, I distinctly remember being captivated by how creative artists really are. I wanted to go back in time and meet the local painters that said, hmm, these buildings look plain… how about we liven them up with some fairytale scenes?

Something I ate…

Good ol’ homemade sandwiches in a gorgeous park

When we visited Mittenwald a few years back, it was a quick pit stop for me and some friends on the way to Munich for Oktoberfest. Since we were particularly weary from our travels that day, rather than post up in a restaurant, we hit the local grocery store and bought supplies for an impromptu lunch in the park. Six of us split a loaf of bread, cured meats, sharp white cheese, and some chips. We also found the most adorable local park where my (very) amateur photography quest turned from the buildings to the flowers. I would gawk and spin around for a few minutes upon each new find, trying to capture each bud from the perfect angle. Luckily my friends are quite gracious with me in these endeavors and waited patiently in the empty park as we wrapped up our sandwiches. Seriously though, the colorful displays added some liveliness to an otherwise overcast, dreary day.

Something I felt…

Sleepy… a good, relaxing kind of sleepy

Of all the German towns we visited, Mittenwald took me closest to imagining how my ancestors would have enjoyed a quiet, sleepy life. Throughout our trip, a couple of us with our short, stocky frames and round faces were sometimes mistaken for German, not American. Sprechen Sie Deutsch? was asked of us at least once a day, but it didn’t bother us a bit. While none of us spoke German, it felt nice to have the fleeting appearance of belonging in a foreign land. My husband and I both have German ancestors–the “great-great” kind that we never met–which is quite evident from many, er, endearing traits we have. Such as… our stubbornness and orderly mannerisms when it comes to quirky things, like how to load our dishwasher or how to walk our dog.

So maybe the memory of this trip came up for me because it’s 2020, and Christmas will be much quieter this year. We never travel out of state for the holidays since our folks live in town, though I greatly missed traveling on an airplane this year (we’d try to vacation to at least one new place annually, pre-COVID). And yet, I’m not down about having my first sleepy Christmas. We may get to putting up a tree and decorating the house, or we may not. We may get around to sending Christmas cards, or we may not. In the mean time, Mittenwald has me remembering it’s OK to be small, quiet, and slow. A big mountain of activity still beckons to be explored ahead, as soon as our new normal can safely emerge from the clouds.

There’s so much more to tell, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.

What would give you a full mind, belly, and heart in the next city you explore? Follow more of my “invitations to” adventure at the top right of the page: Home > Travel+Bug.

An Invitation To… Kauai, Hawaii

The island of Kauai is one of my absolute favorite places to be in the world. My husband and I first went for our honeymoon, and I’ve been twice more since… once even out of the blue for WORK! We’ve often thought of moving there “someday”, whenever we get tired of the grind and a much slower pace calls. I also have a theory that the first island you visit in the Hawaiian Islands becomes your favorite, because the scenery is breathtaking and the overall feel is calming. And then you remember, I’m still in the United States.

I cannot say enough good things about Kauai. It’s called the “Garden Isle” for a reason, and describing it as “lush” is an understatement. Succulent greenery, glittery blue, surf-ready waves, luscious flowers… join me as I reminisce.

Something I learned…

There are wild roosters ALL over the island due to Hurricane Iniki in 1992

So, Kauai is a colorful island with colorful… roosters? Yep, sure is. The story goes, that when Hurricane Iniki hit, the force of water was so strong that it toppled over chicken coops. This let maybe hundreds of chickens and roosters loose, and now, some reports estimate there are thousands of feral chickens on Kauai. They’re literally everywhere, foraging at beaches, grocery store parking lots, or the side of the road. But like any wild animal, they don’t bother you if you don’t bother them. I love that this unique, quirky story belongs to Kauai.

Something I ate…

Red sea salt, coconut peanut butter, purple potatoes, and lots more

Kauai is very remote, as told from a factoid on a bag of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts: Hawaii is the most isolated inhabited land mass in the world. Kauai is 2,390 miles from California, 3,850 miles from Japan, and 4,900 miles from China. (KauaiFunFacts.com)

So, one may wonder about the food (because, I’m always thinking about food). Is it mostly imported? What’s “local” besides coconuts, fresh fish, and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts? Well, here’s a few delicacies I ADORED and took home when I could:

  1. Hawaiian Red Alaea Sea Salt – an accidental creation when ocean met dirt.
  2. Coconut Peanut Butter by North Shore Goodies.
  3. Purple sweet potatoes – slightly sweeter and tangier than your standard orange ones.
  4. Fresh ahi tuna… not just a little morsel on sushi. Whole slabs of it.
  5. Moonfish (Opah) – common catch of the day: white, flaky, and great on tacos.
  6. Kauai Coffee – I toured the farm and still order the Vanilla Macadamia Nut blend online regularly. No creamer needed!
  7. Lay’s Tangy Carolina BBQ chips – devastated these aren’t sold on the mainland.
  8. Kauai Mud Pie, available only at The Olympic Cafe. It is a one-of-a-kind treat consisting of coffee ice cream, chocolate ice cream, macadamia nuts, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream… need at least 4 peeps to finish it!

Something I felt…

What a more peaceful life looks like: lazy days, tranquil setting, and less “stuff”.

On one particular dreamy day in Kauai, sipping cocktails on a patio, hubs and I imagined what it would be like to move here. Could we break into the real estate market and live off rentals? Would one of us find an engineering job? Could I make it as an entrepreneur (pipe dream) and make a living on creativity? The entrepreneur dream was inspired by these amazing candles at Island Soap & Candle Works, which eliminates at least one potential business line for me. No way I could compete; these candles are life-changing!

We were particularly drawn to this dream because in a weird way, it would force us into simplicity. No doubt, Kauai’s landscape lends to the tranquility it exudes. But more than that, it takes less than 3 hours to drive around the whole island. Anything else is a boat ride or plane ride away. Wherever we went, there was no rush. Even when the main highway, Kuhio, gets jammed at all hours of the day, there’s little honking. There’s no speeding past each other, because you can’t. You’re either taking the two-lane highway to the “wetter” side up north (Hanalei, Princeville) or the “drier” side down south (Koloa, Waimea). So all that’s left to do, is enjoy the ride as you glance over, notice the ocean about 20 feet away, and try not to drive into it as it sneakily lures you in.

Wrap Up: Kauai is everything it’s amped up to be

Quick reality check—the two downsides about Kauai from my view are: 1) the rainy season is VERY RAINY, and 2) how long it takes to get there… from anywhere in the world.

But all things considered, it’s totally worth the trip. The locals are some of the friendliest, sweetest people you’ll meet. It’s easy to get lost in their native ways, like how they preserve the Hawaiian language, protect the nearby island of Niihau, and much more to stay true to their heritage. There’s a new beach to explore along the Kuhio Highway every 5 minutes. The island hasn’t been fully commercialized and won’t be for a long time, considering that per code, no building can be taller than a palm tree.

The beauty here, in this faraway land, is endless.

Thank you for letting me wax poetic about my all-time favorite travel spot. There’s so much more to tell, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.

What would give you a full mind, belly, and heart in the next city you explore? Follow more of my “invitations to” adventure at the top right of the page: Home > Travel+Bug.

An Invitation To… Kinsale, Ireland

A few years ago, my husband and I visited Ireland and fell in love with the town of Kinsale. Surprisingly when we mentioned visiting Ireland to friends who’d also been, this was hands down our favorite stop on our respective trips. “Wait, you’ve been to Kinsale, too?! No way! Isn’t it amazing….”

We stayed for one night but could’ve easily made this “home base” for our whole trip. Our Bed & Breakfast (B&B) host had endless recommendations for us. Join me as I reminisce.

Something I learned…

Charles Fort was the largest engineering feat of its time in the 17th century.

Kinsale is the southernmost port in Ireland. It served as a critical trade hub to the country over the centuries, especially in wartime, as it used to be the only port of entry to Ireland from the south. Charles Fort, built in 1601, was designed in the shape of a star to better resist cannon fire from those trying to threaten or take over Ireland.

While we enjoyed the history bit, we really soaked in the breathtaking 360 degree views, since Charles Fort sits atop the whole city. I was definitely more focused on the swathes of green grass blankets, intricate cobblestone walls, and sailboat-dotted shoreline surrounding us.

Something I ate…

Jim Edwards Restaurant has a scrumptious seafood dinner that won’t break the bank.

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Our lovely B&B host suggested we try Jim Edwards for our first and last dinner in Kinsale. We had an amazing four-course meal for the price of one expensive bottle of whiskey back home. I couldn’t believe the bill and thought they forgot a bottle of wine or something.

We got the works… stuffed mussels, pan fried fish, grilled steak, Irish cabbage, potatoes au gratin AND french fries, then dessert: perfectly rich, I-can-die-happy-now, chocolate fudge cake with vanilla bean ice cream.

Obviously, I insisted on sharing more than usual because “I didn’t get a good taste of those potatoes” (!)

This meal has a solid place on my top 10 all-time best dinners list. (What, you don’t have a similar list…?)

Something I felt…

Nonstop laughter for two hours on the Kinsale Walking Ghost Tour.

Another recommendation from our B&B host, we initially exchanged some looks at the mention of “ghost tour”. But, we soon found out this wasn’t a scary or “lame” tour in the least. We got to hear some of Kinsale’s best legendary stories that gave context to the rustic churches and dark corners we explored. We left with sore cheeks that night from laughing so hard

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We ended the night with night caps at Kitty O’ See’s down the street, where we slapped knees to a live band playing Irish jigs and tried our first taste of other-than-Jameson Irish whiskey: Tullamore Dew.

Wrap Up: Kinsale is a must-see

Kinsale is a very charming, very small town that you can easily get to know in a day. But stay longer if you can; the locals will treat you as one of their own the minute you meet. 

There’s so much more to tell, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.

What would give you a full mind, belly, and heart in the next city you explore? Follow more of my “invitations to” adventure at the top right of the page: Home > Travel+Bug.