Iceland Day Tour – Golden Circle and Fontana Wellness Spa

What a day. We sure did not want to get up in the middle of the night (7 AM) after having a bit too much wine the night before at our six-course dinner extravaganza at Sushisamba. But we forced ourselves and after a quick breakfast at home, we set out to our pick up spot at Reykjavik Centrum Hotel where we got into our Reykjavik Excursions bus. On the schedule for today was a day trip to the Golden Circle, a popular route that includes three of Iceland’s most popular sights: Geysir geothermal field, where, according to our brochure “hot springs are in abundance, geysirs explode, and pools of mud bubble”, Gullfoss, the most impressive waterfall in Iceland, and Thingvellir National Park, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Just driving out of the city feels like an adventure. It was raining, with some snow flakes mixed in for good measure, and there was ice everywhere when we left Reykjavík. In Iceland, the saying goes that if you don’t like the weather you just have to wait five minutes, and sure enough, after a few minutes, the rain stopped and the sky cleared somewhat. It was still fairly dark but the landscape of snow-covered lava fields was mesmerizing.

We soon made it to Thingvellir National Park where we got to see where two teutonic plates meet and new land is created. The landscape was truly breath-taking.

We then proceeded to Geysir geothermal field, where we got to walk by pools of boiling hot water bubbling away. Up the hill there was a particular geyser that erupts every few minutes. Alan and I stood there, camera at the ready waiting for it to erupt. Despite expecting it, when it erupted I was barely able to take a picture since I jumped back at the sudden violence of the eruption. It was my first experience seeing a geyser! We then walked down to the restaurant attached to the local souvenir shop. I had a traditional Icelandic lamb soup that was incredibly tasty and meaty for a touristy restaurant. It definitely seemed like it was cooked on premises with fresh ingredients.

From there we went on to see Gullfoss, the Icelandic Niagara Falls, which in fact was way more impressive than Niagara Falls. Perhaps because a great deal of care was put into keeping manmade structures to a minimum around the falls. It was impressive, especially covered in ice and snow. After watching with incredulity tourists take unnecessary risks by following an icy path that was closed off because of the weather to get closer to the falls, we made our way to the bus. As soon as we got to the parking lot, a wicked wind storm began, with winds that must had been in excess of 80Km/hour. Since the parking lot was covered in ice, most people could not brace themselves against the wind and ended up sliding across the parking lot. One couple from our bus were blown past the bus and had to go around the back. We watched one guy across the parking lot unable to reach his car end up on his hand and knees and crawl across.

After everyone made it back to the bus, we continued to the last spot of the day trip: a visit to the thermal baths at a local spa. We arrived right when the local baker was ready to dig up some rugbrød, rye bread baked in the boiling mud by the hot springs. The bread was dense, with the consistency of cake. It was sweet from the long, slow baking, and simply delicious with some butter. The moistness reminded me of Brazilian couscous – a steamed cornmeal loaf popular in the north and notheastern region of Brazil. After we ate some of the bread we made our way to the hot pools – series of naturally hot pools that varied from 32 C to 40 C. We also sat for a bit in the steam rooms – wooden shacks built on top of the boiling hot springs. It wasa perfect day.

We were so tired by the time we got home that we finished the day by grabbing a quick dinner at the local middle eastern shack at the corner of our street. I chose a fish plate and what a surprise! The fish was very fresh and melted in the mouth and was served with a very tasty Syrian rice and a simple salad. I’ll definitely be back to Mandi.

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Knitting lace

I’ve been knitting for about three years now. To my great surprise, it turns out that  I have a thing for knitting shawls, especially lace shawls. I am constantly surprised by this since I never wore shawls before  and never, in a million years, thought I’d enjoy knitting lace. I credit three people for fostering my love for lace knitting: Nicoletta, with whom I took my first lace shawl class, in which I totally failed. I chose a yarn that was way too thin and I never got into the pattern. But she encouraged me to keep going. My friend Kat, whose enthusiasm for all things fiber related is very contagious and who is a master lace knitter herself. But also Bev from Boo Knits​ who designs the loveliest lace that is easy to knit and comes with very clear charts and whose forum on Ravelry is one the friendliest I’ve ever been. This morning I came across a podcast in which she gives a lengthy interview on how she got into knitting, her creative process, and what it all means to her that is just a lovely thing to listen to even if you don’t knit.

I have to agree with Bev in the main advice she gives in her interview: life is too short to knit with yarn you don’t love. When I first started knitting, at my very first lesson, I was encouraged to just get some cheap yarn just to learn the stitches. That was fine but I just could not bring myself to knit a whole scarf out of that yarn that I didn’t particularly love. I fell in love with this nice, soft, variegated yarn by Malabrigo and bought that for my first scarf. That made the whole thing so much better and despite being my very first project and making many mistakes, the scarf still turned out lovely precisely because the yarn was so nice.

And here are some of my favourite Boo shawls I have knit:


This was the project I took to Spain last summer. Very proud of it because at the very end, my hand slipped and several stitches fell off the needle and unravelled a few rows. I was able to fix it without having to re-knit!


This was a present for my mother for her 65th birthday. I loved knitting it so much that I need to make one for myself.

Be with you

This shawl is called Be with you and it allowed me to do some yarn stash busting. It was also my first MKAL (Mystery Knit Along) in which you don’t know what the final product will look like and you are given parts of the pattern at a time.

New Beginnings

This pattern is called New Beginnings and I knit it with the loveliest yarn from Shilasdair made of a blend of camel, cashmere, wool, and angora. Very warm and very cheerful for those bleak winter days. It was also my first attempt at beading.

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A breath of fresh air in Ottawa

Today was a historical day in Canada. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was sworn in as the 23rd prime minister of Canada after his party won a majority of seats at our last federal elections. What made the day momentous and historical was the announcement of his new cabinet. He stripped the cabinet to thirty positions and kept his word to promote gender equality by appointing fifteen men and fifteen women.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press

Predictably, as soon as he announced he was going to promote parity, suddenly many wondered about the role of merit on cabinet appointments. The Beaverton, Canada’s satire news outlet, made much of that, of course.  Cabinet appointments are seldom about merit and much more about political considerations. Stephen Harper was known for choosing people to cabinet based on how willing they were to promote his agenda unquestionably. So making appointments based on promoting gender equality seems as good a reason as any. I have to confess I was looking forward to find out if Justin Trudeau was going to keep that promise and which women would be appointed.

Trudeau did not disappoint. The new cabinet is not only marked by gender parity but also feature a number of indigenous, Southeast Asian, and Muslim MPs. Former Crown prosecutor and First Nations chief Jody Wilson-Raybould was appointed minister of justice and combat veteran Harjit Singh Sajjan became minister of defense. Hunter Tootoo, an Inuit MP, became minister of fisheries, Carla Qualtrough, legally blind from birth and an Paralympic medallist is the new minister of sports, the list goes on. I’m particularly happy to see Stéphane Dion, a former Liberal leader, as foreign affairs minister.

The ceremony itself set a new tone. He invited Canadians to Rideau Hall. Screens were set up outside so the public could watch what is normally a private ceremony. The new government also signalled a new recognition of indigenous people: cabinet was led into Rideau Hall by 12 year-old  Cree drummer Theland Kicknosway and the ceremony was closed by three métis jiggers. After Trudeau was sworn in,  two young Inuit throatsingers stole the show.

Afterward, the new PM walked among the crowd, gave an interview in which he answered a question about why gender parity was important to him with “because it is 2015” (BAM!), and in the early afternoon he met high school students via Google hangout.

Needless to say, after years of a government that shunned public participation and adopted a generally more negative and less inclusive tone, it is certainly a breath of fresh air to see such cabinet. I noticed a feeling of giddiness among friends, even among those who did not vote Liberal, akin to the excitement that followed Obama’s first election in 2008. Of course, Trudeau will not be able to keep all his promises and we are all bound to get disappointed sooner or later. For now, however, I intend to ride that wave of hopefulness. Even if Trudeau does nothing else other than change the tone of politics in this country, that in itself is enough.

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What type of knitting do you enjoy?

When I first started knitting, I just looked at all types of knitting as just knitting. I assumed I would do all of it. Socks, hats, scarves (probably lots of scarves since they seemed easy), sweaters. I didn’t really think about shawls since I never wore shawls before. Hanging out at yarn shops, I started admiring the shawls worn by other knitters. I started asking questions about it. I tried a lace shawl class. I failed miserably. I was still new at knitting, couldn’t really undo my knitting yet or spot mistakes and tried to knit a shawl using lace weight yarn. It was terrible! I couldn’t really see the stitches possible. My gauge was too tight. I put it aside for a while and knit a couple fingerless gloves, a baby hat, and a baby dress. The baby dress had a bit of lace in it.

Sproutlette Baby DressI decided to try a shawl again. I chose a basic pattern that was considered a good beginner practice. My friend Kat insisted I used a pattern that required me to read a chart. I was surprised how much I enjoyed following a chart and knitting a lace pattern. I am still very proud of that first lace shawl. The pattern was for just one colour but I had two skeins of a linen yarn that I really wanted to use so I had to work out how to transition from one colour to another and adapt the pattern. I am very pleased with the results Linen Holden Shawl


I also learned that I got easily bored with too much straight knitting. I find scarves soooooo difficult to knit. You know when you hear that knitting is very calming? Well, knitting straight for too long makes me want to poke my eyes with the needles!

Before I knew, the lace knitting took over.

new shawl made of merino wool, angora, camel, and cashmere #knitting #shawl #lace #shilasdair#knitting #shawl #beads #booknits #ravelry

Mustardseed pattern by Boo Knits #knittingso happy with the new shawl #knitting #shawl #lace

There are still many lace shawls I want to knit but I have been forcing myself to branch out a bit and overcome my reservations about straight knitting. I do want to have some nice cardigans and socks. I started knitting my first cardigan this month. Wish me luck!

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Every once in a while a friend on Facebook shares with me a link to some new study that describes the benefits of knitting for mental health, warding off dementia, and even arthritis. As a knitter, I am happy to see my hobby justified by scientific research but I can’t say any of of those arguments occurred to me when I started knitting. I have noticed that knitting keeps me less anxious and happier. A happy side effect, no doubt :)

I get even happier when I see the results:
the beads dont show in the picture; need to take a better picture #knitting #lace #booknits #temptress

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Knitting challenges for 2015/16

This winter, in addition to a few more shawls and a couple of cowls, I want to try my hand at knitting cardigans/sweaters. I’ve searched high and low on Ravelry for the pattern I want to try. I love the work of Nora Gaughan but I think I want something slightly simpler for my first cardigan. I keep coming back, time and again, to the Levenwick cardigan by Gudrun Johnston. I think it will be perfect in Rowan Felted Tweed. Now to choose between avocado or red. Decisions, decisions.





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Animal Coffee Bar

I learned about Animal Coffee Bar from François at Slow Mov. Having been opened for only six weeks (since June 27), Sergio managed to give the place a nice atmosphere. I visited on a Monday afternoon, around 2:30 pm. Having not been able to grab lunch before, I settled for a sandwich and a local craft beer at the cafe.

very tasty beer #bcnbeer #beer #craftbeer #barcelonaso far, my favourite new café in Barcelona @animalcoffeebar #coffee #thirdwave #cafe #barcelona #nomadcoffee
Sergio told me of his plans of offering salads at lunch time to draw the lunch crowd and we chatted for a while about the complexities of running a successful café. The beer was by Barcelona Beer Company and it was a nice refreshing IPA-style beer.

After lunch, the ultimate test: I ordered a cortado. The espresso that day was a Brazilian coffee from Fazenda Londrina from the Cerrado Mineiro. I was not disappointed. At first sip it was strong but well balanced, with no bitter finish. Just the way I like it.
a perfect cortado made by Sergio @animalcoffeebar #coffee #cafe #thirdwave #barcelona #tallat #cortado

The atmosphere at the cafe was also inviting – nicely air conditioned, with good background music and wifi. A perfect place to spend an afternoon working.  

look at that crema! #coffee #cafe #cortado #espresso @animalcoffeebarBrazilian coffee roasted in Barcelona by #nomadcoffee #coffee #cafe #barcelona @animalcoffeebar

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Leeds – first impressions

We have been in Leeds for a little over five hours and so far it has not disappointed. We arrived around 3:30 pm after an early rise in
Barcelona, flying to Manchester, and taking the train to Leeds. We were tired and all we could think of is having a nice cup of coffee. I had researched third-wave coffee shops in Leeds and one of them was not too far from the hotel but was closing soon. On our way there we were surprised by a sudden change in weather – the wind became cold and rain started pouring down. We rushed and finally found the spot I was looked for: The Opposite Cafe. Or rather a little kiosk location inside the Arcades. Despite being nearly closing time, the barista did not flinch when I ordered my cortado (called piccolo in the UK) “for here”. He took his time making it and it was definitely worth the wait – it was the best cortado I have had in a very long time. After savouring it, we rushed across the street to Marks & Spencer so I could get a cardigan, umbrella, and socks since the weather was much colder than I had packed for… The evening ended wit a perfect sunday roast at the Black Swan in The Calls area. The beer there was amazing and the service impeccable. Mark took excellent care of us and we are looking forward to being back. Tomorrow, will be a busy conference day, so back to the hotel for a good night of sleep is in order.

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Disclosure: our visit to Zaragoza was a day trip from Lleida, where I was attending a conference. While we did not have time to see much beyond the Palace of the Aljafería, the Basilica, Cathedral, a couple mudejar towers, and visit a tapas bar for lunch and discover a brand new café, our impression of Zaragoza could not have been better. It is definitely a city I would go back to!

#aljaferia #zaragoza #spain #aljamiado #nofilter

Click on the image to see the album

Among the highlights from our trip were:

  1. The Palace of the Aljafería – the oldest Muslim palace in Spain, a full 300 years older than the Alhambra in Granada. Many sections had to be restored and some parts were built after Zaragoza came under Christian rule in the 13th century but it is still very impressive.
  2. La Seo de Zaragoza – a truly impressive cathedral that is well worth a visit.
  3. La Clandestina Café – a very cute café that opened only a week prior. It had a lot of character and the folks who own it were extremely nice. It was the perfect place to chill out for a while before going back to Lleida. I would love to have a place like that in Girona to hang out at….
  4. Al Alba – a small tapas bar in the old city, it was a great place to try some of the local specialties, such as migas aragonesas.
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My impressions of Lleida is marked by the eery sound the storks made, nested high on the towers of the Seu Nova (the new see, i.e. the new cathedral). The clacking sound reverberated above the chirping of the thousands of swallows and pigeons competing for space. Lleida itself has clearly seen better days. The signs of economic depression are still clear. Boarded up shops and residential buildings dot the old city, where it is hard to go anywhere without be approached by a beggar or a street pedlar.

The medievalist in me was sad to see that so little of its medieval past has survived, especially in comparison with Girona. It isn’t difficult to understand why. The city held an important strategic position for any army invading Catalonia from the west and had suffered numerous attacks over the centuries. The armies of Pompey and Caesar met at Lleida in 49 BCE and many other armies would go through since then. Its impressive Gothic cathedral, built on top of a hill overlooking the region was commandeered as barracks in the early 18th century, during the war of Spanish Succession. It was a military building until the 20th century and my medievalist heart weeps when I think of the damage the building has suffered over the years of military use.

the largest cloister in gothic Europe #lleida #seuvella #gothic
Seu Vella in Lleida #lleida #seuvella #cathedral #gothic #cloister #landscape

The cathedral itself has been restored in recent years but the bullet marks and the lack of stained glass windows stand as witnesses to its troubled past. Luckily, the cloister, the largest in Gothic Europe, survives and the views from it are simply breathtaking.

Coming from a few weeks in Girona, a foodie paradise, food in Lleida was underwhelming until we discovered Xalet Suis, a family-run restaurant of the highest quality. At times, during the fifteen-minute walk under blazing sun from the Seu Vella to the restaurant, we wondered if it was indeed a good idea to go there for lunch. It was well worth the walk. Not only did Jordi Balasch receive us extremely well but his service was impeccable. We ordered a couple of salads and a plate of grilled vegetables (escalivada) to start. The idea was to share it among the four of us. He brought each dish separately, taking it away when we were done and bringing the next dish after so that we could savour each one on its own. It was obvious that Balasch and his children (his son and daughter are responsible for the kitchen) pay a lot of attention to the quality of the produce they chose. Each salad easily ranked as some of the best I ever had. As a main course, we chose arròs negre (rice cooked with calamari and its ink), made in house. That was served with the best alioli I ever had. Our visit to Xalet Suis was definitely the highlight of our visit to Lleida.

Xalet Suis, LleidaXalet Suis, Lleida

Xalet Suis, LleidaXalet Suis, Lleida

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