Wednesday, December 31, 2014

52 photos/weeks 49-52

49.) It took me a few days to finally get the tree up, but I finally did and it was all pretty and Christmas-y and made me smile.
50.) Sometimes when you are working 11 days in a row and it's cold and dark you just gotta look into that dressing room mirror and take a selfie.
51.) I have a bajillion pictures of the sunset from our balcony, but thanks to my night-owl predisposition, barely any of the sunrise. So when I found myself randomly wide awake at 7am one day, I snapped this picture.
52.) I was a little stressed out about what the final picture of 2014 would be, but when I found myself walking through Madison Square Park on a bright and chilly afternoon, I looked up, saw the beautiful contrast of the leafless trees against the blue sky, and thought, "this is it."

Well, I did it - I successfully created one photo per week in the year 2014 that accurately portrayed my mood/feelings/general sentiment of that week. I loved this project, and it only became slightly difficult these last few weeks when the days were short but the work was long and the light was all sorts of bad wherever I went - but even at that point, it wasn't too terribly hard to come up with just one photo for each of those weeks. Unlike 2013's project in which I decided to post one photo per day, I never ran out of steam (I was over the pic-per-day thing sometime around September), but I think that's because I set myself a much more manageable goal. Taking into account my life and my schedule and the fact that 75% of my time is spent backstage in a darkened cave of a theater, hoping to do a photo per day was an insane idea. But a photo per week? Now that is something I could get behind. And I did - with excitement, gusto, and even a bit of a creative edge. Soon I'll put all 52 photos into a book (because when did we stop printing photos?) and look at it fondly from time to time. I'm really proud of these pictures I took this year - they represent the good, the quiet, the fun, the silly, the long solo walks all over the city (and there were so many!), the travels, the food, the drinks, the plants, the colors, and so much more. Thanks, 2014 - you were a good year.

So what's next? I absolutely will be doing a photo documentation project in 2015, because I believe that it's an exciting and succinct way to encapsulate a year of one's life, and I think I know what I want to do. I got inspired during a recent visit to the Met Museum, but I need to play around with a few things before I actually write a post. Exhilarating stuff, I know. Edge of your seats, right?   ;)

52 photos is my personal challenge to take one awesome picture per week in 2014. All photos were taken by me on either my iPhone 5s or Cannon EOS Rebel T3i (my "big girl" camera). If edited, I use Snapseed, Instagram, or Adobe Lightroom. Follow me - @maspad - to see these and many more pics!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Iceland pt. 3/Driving the South Coast

As I may have mentioned a few million times before, J and I took a much needed vacation to Iceland a couple months ago. We broke the week-long trip into three different parts (read about touring the Golden Circle and hanging out in Reykjavik) and dedicated the penultimate day to driving the South Coast. I think we did a pretty good job of curating a very full yet completely doable one-day drive that included oh so many beautiful sights - find our itinerary below, and feel free to replicate it (or alter to your own needs and schedule) if you find yourself in Iceland any time soon!

Reykjavik to South Coast and Back (plus four waterfalls!) - A One Day Itinerary

*Total time: 10 hours
*Cost level: Budget - the car rental and gas are your biggest expenses. There are no road tolls or waterfall/park entrance fees, and all waterfalls have free parking lots. Pack snacks or a lunch ahead of time.
*What to bring: maps and GPS; water, snacks, sandwiches; hiking boots (or shoes you won't mind getting wet and muddy), water-proof jacket/rain coat; rain gear for your camera and other electronics

9am - Fuel up with a cozy breakfast at the Kex Hostel. $15 gets you a bottomless cup of coffee and as much bread, jam, meat, and cheese as you can eat.

10am - Hit the road in your rental car. We had rented the car the day before and kept it for the remainder of the week, so we were ready to head out once we'd paid for breakfast. If you haven't already, make a quick stop at a grocery store for some road trip provisions - things like bread, cheese, granola bars, and water bottles will be your best bet because convenience stores and restaurants are few and far between once you get out of Reykjavik. The is also the time to make sure you have a full tank of gas.  Head south on Route 1 and watch as the landscape transforms itself before your eyes.

1130am - Follow the signs for Seljalandsfoss. By this point you've been in the car for well over an hour, so it's time to stretch your legs - park the car and head towards the roaring water of the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. While at first it may seem just like every other waterfall you've seen in Iceland, the cool thing about Seljalandsfoss is that there's a path that allows you to walk behind the waterfall (do it). But be warned - you will get pretty wet. We took the path and loved the view, but for the umpteenth time that week, I was glad J had insisted I bring a water-repellant North Face jacket. My jeans were soaked but the top half of my body was warm and dry.

1145am - Walk beyond Seljalandsfoss (away from the road) and discover two secret waterfalls about 500-1000 yards away! Ok, they may not actually be secret, but they are kind of hidden and unmarked, and you will certainly feel like you're an ancient Viking explorer discovering the natural beauties on your very own.

1230pm - Get back in the car and continue south on Route 1. Feeling a little peckish? Grab a granola bar or slice yourself some bread and cheese because you've still got a ways to go.

1pm - Park the car at Skogafoss waterfall and make sure you're wearing your hiking boots. Start this excursion by wandering around the base of the waterfall and making fun of every frat-boy-thrill-seeker with a GoPro who attempt to get as close as possible without getting completely drenched.

115pm - See that reaaallyy tall staircase that looks as if it's coming out of the side of a mountain? Start climbing. Pace yourself though, because there are nearly 400 stairs - but the view from the top is incredible and oh so worth it. Catch your breath at the top and take it the splendor of Skogafoss crashing to the earth below you.

130pm - At the other end of the waterfall viewing deck is a muddy patch beneath a rickety fence and and even ricketier ladder - climb up that ladder and over that fence and find yourself in the lush land that houses the roaring waterfall beneath you. Now start walking up - there's a hint of a path that you can follow. Stop and listen to the rush of water. Delight in finding many more mini waterfalls. Make friends with a passing sheep. Watch the mist and clouds roll over the mountain tops. Find a good rock and have a seat. Contemplate all that is before you. Take some pictures, then put your camera away and see the world through your own eyes, not your camera's lens. Breath in some of the cleanest air you will probably ever breathe (no seriously - the air in Iceland consistently ranks as being some of the cleanest in the world)

230pm - Begin to make your way back down the mountain. Go back over that rickety ladder and down the 400 stairs, take one last look at the waterfall (especially now that you've seen it from the top), and get back into your car.

3pm - Continue driving south on Route 1.

330pm - Take a brief stop at the town of Vik. It's the southernmost city in Iceland and with a population of around 300 people, it's a charming little seaside village - and it has a gas station, so make sure to fill up the car for your trip back to Reykjavik.

345pm - If the weather is good, continue south on Route 1 for 15-20 minutes or so. You'll get some beautiful views of the black sand beaches and some really cool Icelandic terrain.

430pm - Turn around and head back to Reykjavik. It's about a 2 1/2 hour drive back to your hotel or flat, so grab another granola bar, turn on the radio, and enjoy the scenery.

7pm - Celebrate your day on Iceland's South Coast with dinner and a drink - we went for the full Icelandic experience and got whale steaks at Islenski Barrin, and loved every minute (and bite!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

afternoon delights

Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house, Mary was chilling - for finally, her day off!!

You guys, I'm not exactly sure when it turned from fall to winter, and I'm really not sure when Christmas decided to poke it's head around the corner, but the holidays are here and cookies have been baked and lasagna will be made and carols will be hummed and Veronica Mars is marathoning on TV (seriously) and I will not set foot into a theater for the next 52 hours. So here's wishing everyone safe travels (if you're traveling), mugs of hot toddies (whether you're traveling or not), and a very Wonderful Winter, Festive Festivus, Crazy Kwanza, Happy Chanukah, and Merry Christmas ;)

~ An interesting look at the biographical fan fiction genre (of which, I admit, I was swayed into reading and loving)

~ Find a spare hour and watch this Wes Anderson-styled documentary about the team of people who open up Antarctica for the start of the tourist season

Utterly random, yet wonderful 

This beautiful website that celebrates travel stories and photography is back and better than ever.

An encyclopedia of all things art

#ihavethisthingwithfloors (I really do. See: above picture)

~ If Grandpa Joe can dance, Grandpa Joe can work

This entire saga is amazing (and really makes me wish my name was Elizabeth Gallagher)

~ The MTA's newest campaign to stop the manspreading. But will it stop the fare hikes as well?

~ Thanks to the Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, I got my ticket to the NYT Travel Show - will I see you there?!

~ And finally, as I look forward to celebrating my first official Jewish Christmas tomorrow, why we'll be dining on Chinese Food

Thursday, December 18, 2014

TBT: Study Abroad in Florence, Italy

Ten years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the first half of my junior year of college studying at the Lorenzo de'Medici International Institute (or as my father called it, The Leonardo DiCaprio School of Fine Arts). It had been a lifelong dream of mine to study abroad in Italy, and I was beyond excited to embark on my long-awaited adventure.

Before I left the states, I had carefully researched, picked out, and highlighted the two travel guides that would accompany me on my journeys - DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Italy (for the wonderful photography) and Rick Steves' Italy (for the wealth of information and step-by-step tours). I had my list of must-see sights (Leaning Tower, Colosseum, Eiffel Tower, etc.), and because I had the fortune of being in Europe at the same time as a handful of other friends from both high school and college, I had roughed out a tentative schedule of where and when to hit certain countries based on my other friends' travel plans. But I did thankfully tone down the anal-retentive impulses every once in a while to allow for some deviation and creativity. While I did run my friends ragged through the streets of Paris over the course of four days so that I could hit every "to-do" on my list, I also threw a wet pasta noodle at a map of Europe to determine where I'd travel the following weekend. It landed on Slovenia and I bought a ticket to Ljubljana that very evening, setting the stage for one of the more memorable weekends of my life.

When I did my semester abroad, it was the fall of 2004. Facebook had just emerged into the world, but my small midwestern college hadn't been accepted yet (back in the day, you had to have a college email address and your school had to be accepted into Facebook). My digital camera (with 6 whole megapixels, you guys!!) didn't have a magical button that shared my photos with the world, and I had to pair that with both my paper-weight of a Nokia cell phone and Discman CD player ("Mary's Italy Mix 3"). Communication with friends and family was done via a desktop computer at a nearby Internet cafe, and our maps and guide books were folded up and stored in our backpacks.

So what I'm saying is that even though it was only ten years ago, it was a different world. There was no sense of immediacy that is so present in today's world. While I was able to immediately view my pictures on the back of my camera, I couldn't just share them with my friends back home. I had a blog that I infrequently updated (see aforementioned Internet cafe), but it was more to just let everyone know I was still alive; it was only after I got back to Chicago after four months of traveling that I painstakingly printed out all my best pictures and inserted them into a (real! analogue!) scrapbook.

I had always had a touch of the wanderlust growing up, and though my semester abroad was the second time I'd traveled internationally without my parents (I did a two-week trip in high school to London and Scotland to perform in the Edinburgh Fringe Fest), it was the first time I was genuinely on my own in a strange place, international or not. Yes, my friends and I were released "on our own" for a few hours on a high school trip to New York City and yes, I was technically without supervision the entire time I was in college, but it was in Europe where I was truly an adult. We lived in an apartment in the very heart of Florence, not a dorm room, and there was no college campus to speak of that would provide any sense of community or union amongst other students. There weren't any clubs or organizations to join, so once our classes were over for the day, that was it - nothing to do, nowhere to be - an entirely foreign sense of being for the Type-A-Joiner-Doer-Overachiever that I was (still am).

We were also not on a meal plan, so we learned to grocery shop and cook three meals a day for ourselves - not that this was at all a struggle, however. We lived in one of the culinary capitals of the world and took full advantage of this. Fresh tomatoes, every cheese you can name, even the canned tuna was wonderful (and let's not forget the buckets of Nutella we all consumed...). Some of the meals I learned to make while studying abroad still find their way to my current kitchen table; to this day, a good friend of mine cites a plate of homemade eggplant parmesan eaten in our tiny Florentine kitchen as one of his most favorite meals ever.

I say all of this without yet mentioning the obvious, yet most important player in the study abroad game - the travel. With classes scheduled only from Monday evening through Thursday afternoon, we had close to a four-day weekend every week, (and that's not including the 10-day fall break we were given halfway through the semester), the world was our to conquer - and conquer it we did. No country was too far away, too hard to get to, or too confusing to navigate. We had backpacks and rail passes and €1 RyanAir flights and insider trading-level knowledge on which hostels had the best bars and happy hours. We had sights to see and cities to traverse and overlooks to climb and foods to try and museums to wander and drinks to drink and nothing was going to stop us from doing. it. all.

A trip like this was expensive. Though I had diligently saved the pennies I'd made slaving away behind a bar for two years, those cappuccinos and museum entrance fees quickly added up. Luckily though, I was young and unsophisticated and had yet to be introduced to the wonderful world of upper-middle-class-semi-luxury-travel. Overnight trains, shared dorm room-style hostels with 20 bunk beds in one room, €2 kebab dinners, walking seven miles to avoid a cab fare, and €3 jugs of Carlo Rossi were the norm. And while I know that some of my more well-bread classmates saw their semesters as one giant shopping trip for designer jeans and expensive leather boots, I neither knew nor cared about thread counts and brand names. I was roughing it, and I loved every minute.

Granted, it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops. Pickpocketing was rampant (every one of my five roommates and I were pickpocket-ed by the time the semester was over; mine came at the very end of the trip while looking through postcard racks on Las Ramblas in Barcelona.) The constant catcalling from every male on the continent also got old pretty quickly. Then there was the time I was staying with a friend in Salzburg when we got kicked out of the dorm room and had to literally wander the streets in the cold rain until we ran into another friend who graciously gave us a spare bed for the night. And there was the entire Vienna excursion that started on such a high note because we scored crazily cheap train tickets but that soon turned disastrous after we realized they were only one-way tickets and my traveling companion got robbed while we slept on the train by the very guy who'd befriended us.

But those lows made the highs ever higher. Nightly walks through downtown Florence for a second (third) scoop of gelato, being mistaken for an Italian while in Venice, riding the gondola to the top of the Matterhorn, sharing a beer and a giant pretzel at the Hofbrähaus, sipping wine next to the Trevi Fountain, swimming in the Mediterranean off the shores of the Cinque Terra, dancing in front of the famous glass gazebo from The Sound of Music, sharing fresh bread and cheese in a park in Paris...the list goes on and on. All told, I visited 9 countries, checked more than a handful of items off my Things To Do Before I Die List, made a bunch of new friends, grew closer to some older friends, and matured as both a person and a traveler.

This is by no means a guide to any of the destinations I visited. My memories have faded to a very pretty rose color, and besides - it was a decade ago. Any specific information I would have gleaned has all been recorded by much more fastidious people than I, and even if I did happen to remember names of specific restaurants or hostels, they are probably all gone or at least vastly changed by now. But if there is a takeaway to any of this post, it is that travel is not just good for the soul, but necessary for one's personal development. And if that travel can be continuous and during a semester of college, than it's all the more better. Of everyone I've ever talked to about studying abroad, not one person has ever regretted choosing to go - but nearly everyone regrets not going. Once graduation happens, chances for travel are few and far between. Yes, there are plenty of people who figure out how to make a living from professionally traveling or have incorporated extensive travel into their jobs, but by and large the rest of the population only has a few weeks of vacation a year (if you have a "normal" job, that is. I'm 30 and have yet to have one minute of a paid vacation). And after you factor in all necessary domestic trips to see family and the presence of children and the sheer cost of international travel and any other little thing that comes up over the course of a year, you might get one big vacation every few years. If you're lucky.

As a side note (though isn't this entire post one giant side note? I digress), the four months I lived in Europe also happened to be the longest span of time I had ever, and have ever, not been involved with a theatrical production. The older I get and the more I pack my schedule with rehearsals and techs and performances and lather rinse repeat, the more this period of time becomes sacred to me. Weekend jaunts to the beach, or even week-long vacations are wonderful but few and far between, and even when I do manage to get away, I'm still in some sort of pre-production, whether it be mental or actual. My brain can never turn off, and there is never not a show to think about. Before I left for Italy, I closed the show I had been working on all summer and then packed my bags and got on a plane. I did not bring a script with me, I did not frantically check and send emails regarding meetings I was missing, and outside of one night at the Florence Opera House, I didn't even see a live performance. I focused on classes and train timetables and Renaissance art and red wine vs. white wine and clackity cobblestone streets and well-lit piazzas - and it was wonderful. They were halcyon days and I am in constant search of how I can imbue even 10% of that semester into my daily life.

Have you ever studied abroad? Are there things you learned on your travels that you still incorporate into your daily life? If so, let me know in the comments - let's compare stories!

1.)  Overlooking the Cinque Terra 2.) Being oh-so touristy in front of the Colosseum 3.) A lake in Slovenia 4.) Taking a break in Amsterdam 5.) A street in Pisa 6.) High school friends at the Louvre 7.) A beautiful plaza in Barcelona 8.) At the base of the Matterhorn 9.) A colorful beach in the Cinque Terra 10.) How the Swiss say hello 11.) Childhood dreams realized in Salzburg 12.) Gelato cones in Florence 13.) A day in Pompeii

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book report #2

These past few months my commute has consisted of 11 stops on one train (well, when the MTA isn't trying to ruin my life, that is) and I've been able to get through a good number of books on my reading list. I haven't done a book report since this past summer, so I figure now is a good a time as ever to review what's been getting me through the daily slog.

*The Penelopiad (Margaret Atwood)  - I'm a bit of a Greek mythology nerd, so I loved this version of The Odyssey as told from the point of view of Penelope (his wife) and her twelve maids. Very pro-feminist (but would it be a Margaret Atwood novel if it wasn't?), but also beautifully written and so very thought provoking. If I had read this in high school alongside Homer's original text, I assure you my term papers would have been very different.

*The Magicians (Lev Grossman) - I wanted to like this book. I really wanted to like this book. It's supposed to be some sort of real-life-modern-day Harry Potter (as though Harry Potter isn't technically set in modern day) and I was all set to devour this and the subsequent books in this trilogy. And then I hated it. I couldn't stand the characters, the scenarios weren't plausible, and the magical world in which the book is set had so many holes and inconsistencies I wanted to scream. Oh well, we can't all be winners.

*Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) - could. not. put. this. down. Seriously - I got to a point halfway through the book where I just stared talking about the characters to anyone who would listen, regardless if they'd read the book or seen the movie because I just couldn't stop thinking about it. Did he do it? Is she telling the truth? Should I write a best-selling children's book series too or will that completely screw up my future children??? I haven't seen the movie yet, but it's high on the queue and I might just have to call an emergency book club meeting to decompress.

*Mr. Penumbra's Bookstore (Robin Sloan) - This is a really fun book. It's a fantasy story that might even border on YA literature, but so what? It's the story of analogue meeting digital in a magical world, and it takes you on a great ride with likable characters. Easily digestible, it's perfect for a plane ride or a long commute.

*The Expats (Chris Pavone) - Get lost in a wild trip around Europe while you follow an American spy (or is she?) and her husband (or is he?) as they try to rid themselves of the couple that are spying on them (or are they?). A touch confusing towards an end that borders on farcical, but it's a decent story that won't take you too long to power through and may give you some travel inspiration along the way.

*The Secret History (Donna Tartt) - This is Tartt's second novel, and it's fascinating to see how much she grew as a writer between her first two and her prize-winning The Goldfinch, written nearly a decade later (also - I unintentionally read her cannon backwards, starting with Goldfinch, then reading The Secret History, and ending with The Little Friend (see below) - I don't exactly what this means, but I felt it worth noting because it's an interesting way to approach a new writer or artist). Nonetheless, this is a great novel. There are some dark and (literally) cold moments, so maybe don't read this if you're already cooped up in your own personal northern winter wonderland, but the protagonist is so tortured and unassuming you can't help but stay to the end just to see if he ever pulls himself out of the hole he's fallen into.

*The Little Friend (Donna Tartt) - As mentioned, I read all three of Donna Tartt's novels this year, and clocking in at 1,991 total pages, I now realize that's a lot of Donna Tart in my life. But I tore right through The Goldfinch and thought A Secret History was pretty enticing as well (see above), so I assumed I'd love this, her first novel. While I didn't hate it, I also didn't love it - but mainly because it was fairly disturbing. The incredibly well-developed characters were sad, depressing people, the backwoods Southern town where they live made me uncomfortable, and one of the major plot points revolves around the presence of dozens of snakes, which happen to be one of my more feared animals. Read it if you're a Tartt fan, but maybe skim over the gory parts.

*The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life (Twyla Tharp) - one of my goals for 2015 is to read more non-fiction, so I decided to get a jump start with this book on creativity - and I LOVED it. The famed choreographer breaks her process down into small and discernible steps and makes you believe that you too can create anything. I highlighted and noted and doodled in the margins, and will probably read it again. This book might not be for everyone, but if you've ever thought yourself to be the creative type or if you are stuck in any kind of professional rut, then get thee to this book.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

afternoon delights

For your enjoyment, amusement, and procrastination - a collection of some of the more fascinating moments the internet has to offer that will hopefully help usher your December into a month full of snow-filled walks, tree-trimming parties, and cozy nights with a hot beverage in hand (whether it be of the chocolate or toddy variety is up to you).

*The art of writing a recipe

*And some more thoughts on writing a recipe

*Couldn't put down Wild or Gone Girl? Me neither. Now read this interview with both authors.

*How to read a cookbook

*A lengthy and fascinating article about what happened when they put a Whole Foods in downtown Detroit.

*Thanksgiving has come and gone, but these turkey dinners plated in the style of famous painters is here to stay.

*Here is a baby swaddled to look like a tortilla. You're welcome.

*They figured out how to print a sheet of light and I want it now.

*You guys. John Cameron Mitchell is back as Hedwig and I've already bought my ticket. Be still my heart.

*I tried a personal styling service and had a box of clothing delivered to my door. I found a sweater I love and I've already scheduled my next Fix. Wanna get in on the clothing action too? Click this link to use me as a referral!

Affiliate links throughout this post!

Monday, December 1, 2014

52 photos/weeks 45-48

45.) When one of your best friends has a tree-trimming party on November 3, you don't ask questions. You just show up, drink the mulled wine, hang an ornament, and don't think about the fact that it's 68 degrees outside and you're sweating in your Christmas sweater.
46.) Celebrating 2 years with this handsome guy.
47.) I was in the middle of one of the longest work stretches in a while - 9 straight days in a darkened theater, and opportunities to snap any sort of photo were few and far between. However, a quick stop at the farmer's market was a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) and the pumpkins wore their best colors just for me.
48.) The Gate To the Theater Was Down and I Didn't Bring The Key But I Had The Code To the Stairwell So I Luckily Didn't Have to Wait in The Cold. (#working title) (#livingthedream)

52 photos is my personal challenge to take one awesome picture per week in 2014. All photos were taken by me on either my iPhone 5s or Cannon EOS Rebel T3i (my "big girl" camera). If edited, I use Snapseed, Instagram, or Adobe Lightroom. Follow me - @maspad - to see these and many more pics!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Iceland pt. 2/What to do in Reykjavik

We spent our first full day in Iceland simply wandering around Reykjavik. We had arrived late the previous evening (after midnight, actually), and decided that the perfect way to acclimate ourselves to this most northern of cities was to soak it all in on the fly - no agenda, no plans, just wherever the wind would take us. So we walked and ate and walked some more and ate some more and had a perfectly delightful little day that set the pace for the rest of our week. We had five full days in Iceland - two of those days we rented a car and headed out to parts unknown, but for the other three, we kept it more local (if you consider things like a horseback ride excursion and a trip to the Blue Lagoon as local, which in comparison to the rest of Iceland, I do.)

*Downtown Reykjavik
It's no secret - you go to Iceland for the scenic countryside and otherworldly landscapes, and the bulk of Things To Do exist outside of the cites. But downtown Reykjavik is downright adorable, and if you have the time in your schedule, it is absolutely worth it to devote an entire day to staying in the city. A mishmash of old-world European cobblestone streets, Nordic rooftops, and blocky Communist facades, simply walking around with my camera in hand was a true delight. Other highlights included touring the starkly beautiful Hallgrimskirche Church, wandering the dozens of stores and restaurants Laugavegur Street, and though I hate to admit it, grabbing a White Russian at the bizarrely placed LebowskiBar (make sure you hit up their happy hour!). Because when in Rome...

*Reykjavik Art Museum
I love me an art museum, and visiting at least one of the three branches of the Reykjavik Art Museum was high on the to-do list. Since we were near Hafnarhus, we stopped there first - and were told that even though only about half the exhibits were open, each $10 ticket also gains entrance to the other two branches that were a mere bus ride away. So we bit the bullet and bought two tickets. It turned out that "half the exhibits" amounted to three - but I'll admit that they were pretty fantastic. We spent about 20 minutes in one of the rooms in which a microphone was set up in front of a 270 degree screen; any sounds projected into the microphone caused images to pop up on and bounce all over the screens. Immediately after getting our fill of beatboxing into the mic, we headed out to find one of the other museum branches. We'd been assured that it was located off one of the local Reykjavik bus stops, so we bought two bus rides and waited for the appropriate bus. It came within a few minutes, but once we sat down we realized we had no idea where we should get off. I asked the bus driver to point out our stop, but either he didn't understand or didn't care to honor my inquiry. Even though I was following our journey on a map, we never got quite close enough to the museum to warrant hopping off a bus and walking along unfamiliar roads - so we stayed on the bus for the entire route. The whole thing took almost two hours and was ultimately a huge waste of time. To add insult to injury, the weather that afternoon was glorious - sunny and fairly warm, a rarity in rainy September. So we spent the entire golden hour on a bus in a random Reykjavik suburb - not exactly a high point in my traveling history. But that was the worst thing that happened to us the entire week, so I can't complain too much. Lesson learned, though: finding your own way to the outer art museums is complicated - don't waste your time!!

*Drink all the coffee
It was cold and rainy every day after that first full day. We didn't let the weather spoil our plans, but after whatever touristy activity we did during the morning and early afternoon we were ready for a nice hot beverage. Luckily, one can find a cozy cafe approximately every seven feet in Reykjavik. By the end of our week, we had a few favorites - Laundromat Cafe for it's laid back hipster vibes, Bókakaffi because it's attached to a bookstore, and Stofan Kaffihús, which was so comfortable and relaxing that we had to drag ourselves out of there after like four straight hours of reading and drinking cappuccinos.

*Eat all the food
I'm not gonna lie - I really wasn't sure what to expect. The only thing I could glean from other friends and bloggers who had already been to Iceland was that we had to try the hotdogs. Ok, fine. So I'm going to go all the way to Iceland and eat a hotdog. Great. But what about the other 20 meals of the week? Well it turns out that we had nothing to fear, because the food in Iceland is wonderful. (It's also expensive and fried and covered in sinfully buttery sauces, but vacation, right?) Smoked cod at Laundromat Cafe. The breakfast buffet at Kex Hostel. Whale steaks and mushroom burgers at Islenski Barrin (we ate there two nights in a row). Fish and chips at, well, Icelandic Fish & Chips. Everything was delicious and filling and new and familiar all at the same time and I gained a gajillion pounds and didn't even care

*Horseback Riding 
If there was one thing we wanted to do in Iceland, it was to go horseback riding. Specifically, I wanted to experience the tölt, which is a 5th gait indigenous only to Icelandic horses due to centuries of strict breeding laws. I'm not normally a fan of group tours, but I also understood that the only way we were going to go horseback riding was to book a day trip - so I did some research and sent some emails and before long, we found ourselves on the back of a horse in the middle of the Icelandic countryside, surrounded by babbling brooks, rising mountains, and steam billowing from the ground. If you had told me I was no longer on Planet Earth, I'd have believed you in a heartbeat. The ride lasted about 5 hours and included transportation to/from downtown Reykjavik and a coffee break in the middle of the ride, and I don't know if this was just a happy accident, but there was only one other person on our ride, which gave a wonderfully personalized and intimate feel to the entire trip. Our guide was delightful and knowledgeable, the scenery was incredible, and I got to try the tölt.

*Blue Lagoon
Touristy? Yes. Overpriced? Slightly. Worth it? I definitely think so. Are you really going to go all the way to Iceland and then NOT go to the Blue Lagoon just because everybody else does? I didn't think so. A few tips if you go:
   - We bought our tickets ahead of time. We had an 11:00am entrance and sailed right past what looked to be a pretty hefty line at the front desk. Because of our schedule, the only day we could go was Saturday - and while we were worried that a weekend day might be crazily crowded, we instead found the spa occupied but by no means overrun with people.
   - There are a few levels of admission, and we sprung for the Comfort Package, which gave us a drink and a cold stone mud mask in addition to the regular (standard) admission. We both chose nonalcoholic for the drink, which seems like a shame, but the water was so hot that the thought of beer made me want to puke. Luckily, I chose the non-dairy green smoothie, and it was fantastic. The mud mask was great too, and I felt much more comfortable applying that to my face than I did the white masks available to everyone via strange troughs placed throughout the lagoon.
   - We rented a car for the second half of the trip, and intentionally planned to visit the lagoon on a day when we still had the car. This was immensely helpful since the only other options to get there from Reykjavik were either a group tour (no thanks) or to stop at the lagoon on our way to/from the airport on the FlyBus. Neither flight time allowed for this, so using the rented car became our only, and best, option.

Iceland is expensive, and when we realized that the only hotel with which we had redeemable points was booked, we almost had to find another destination. But then we decided to stay in an Airbnb rental - and boy am I glad we did. Our rented flat was nearly perfect - a great location, clean, well lit, fast internet, a cute balcony with a beautiful view, even a giant espresso maker with complementary coffee. Granted, the layout of the apartment was a little wonky with strangely slanted ceilings everywhere, but we're fairly short people, so it didn't even matter all that much. And we saved hundreds of dollars by staying in a flat instead of a hotel, so any and all oddities were immediately forgiven. I will definitely be using Airbnb again in the future - and if you check it out for yourself, use this link and save $25 on your rental!