Iceland: The Golden Circle

Thingvellir, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

It’s typically not our style to do touristy guided tours. I want to feel like I’m more or less free to explore when and how I like. So it was odd that Chad and I found ourselves hanging out at the Icelandic Travel Market several times throughout the week. We definitely weren’t bored and looking for things to do; it was just that the employees there were so lovely, helpful, and fun that I wanted to befriend them. I will be forever grateful to one woman in particular, who I had really interesting conversations with about street style and anthropology and who also booked us with the most amazing tour guide ever to get the scoop on the Golden Circle.

Thingvellir, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

The Golden Circle is a pretty touristy (except in Iceland, even touristy things aren’t overcrowded and overcommercialized — I could’ve walked into any field or waterfall I wanted to, and there were no crowds at all) roundup of a few natural highlights of the country, located in a ring. It consists of Thingvellir, Gullfoss, and Geysir. We took a few bonus stops, because our group consisted of Chad, me, one other solo traveler about our age, and our guide.

Our guide’s name was Cyprian, but we called him Cyppie. He’s a Kenyan filmmaker and artist who met his Icelandic ladyfriend while they were studying in Asia. They flipped a coin between living in Kenya and Iceland, and Iceland won. It works out well for him though, because Iceland has one of the longest “golden hours” — the time of day when the light is best for photography or film. He said it helps him get more “money shots.”

Thingvellir, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

Thingvellir is the home of the first parliamentary session. It’s now a rift valley, with the fault between North America and Europe continuing to expand ever so slightly as time goes on. Thousands of people from all over the country would flock to Thingvellir each summer for the proceedings.  The spot where the Norse and Celtics met to organize in 930 has now opened up into a canyon, and you can actually see the gap between the tectonic plates. Interestingly, there’s a spot nearby where many women accused of various crimes, including witchcraft, were drowned. There’s a plaque by the water with the names of those who were drowned there; Cyppie told us that most everyone in the country was probably related to at least one of the names on the plaque. 

Gullfoss, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal


Gullfoss, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

Gullfoss, or the Golden Falls, was one of the highlights of the afternoon. Because of the light and the mist from the water crashing below, there were consistent double rainbows over the falls.

geysir2 Geysir, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

Geysir, as one might imagine, is where we got the English word “geyser.” There are all sorts of other, smaller geysers and hot pots around the area, and we saw them all go off several times. Apparently you can boil eggs or make bread by burying it in the ground near one of the hot pots, and there are hotels and restaurants nearby that serve them.  Cyppie kept reminding us that the warning signs were serious — 100 degrees Celsius is a lot hotter than Farenheit.

You can read about the rest of our adventures in Iceland in the archives


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A Mini Tour of Reykjavik

Harpa, Reykjavik IcelandThe Reykjavik city center is super small and easily explorable in a weekend or a day, if you hustle. It’s reassuring, actually, especially when you think you may have gotten punked via AirBnB. I wrote a food-based preview & recap of the city for the Town Dish, but this is a more general mini tour of Reykjavik. It’s interesting: Since our trip in 2012, there have been so many more “Hipster’s Guides to Reykjavik” and “Best Vintage Shops of Reykjavik”-type blog posts. It’s been great to reflect on what I enjoyed most (which, truth be told, was probably the Blue Lagoon), but I wish I had done this sooner. Without further ado:

Harpa Conference Center — Honeycomb glass walls and ceilings makes this brand new building cozy and warm like a greenhouse. It’s a nice break from the windy waterfront, and we were able to connect to the wifi inside to upload photos to Instagram & check Twitter. Because that’s how I do vacation. There are regular music shows, films, theater, and comedic acts featured here.


Hallgrimskirkja — Having studied abroad in Spain, I’m pretty over walking around in fancy cathedrals. I could tell that Hallgrimskirkja would be different, if only by the distinct architecture. The whole building turns into a steeple, which feels like it’s anchoring the whole city. It’s worth the few bucks to take an elevator to the top & check out the amazing views of the city, the water, and the mountains in the distance.

Icelandic hotdogs

Baejarins Beztu Pyslur — The oldest and most popular restaurant in Reykjavik is a legit hot dog stand. People pull over or get dropped off at the curb, and flock to this city staple. Icelandic hotdogs are mixed with lamb. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t stop here more than once an afternoon some days. In general, hot dogs are like drunk food of Iceland and you can get them on any old corner but Baejarins Beztu has the best.


Kolaportid Flea Market — Right near Harpa and Baejarins Beztu, the Kolaportid Flea takes place every weekend. It’s pretty overwhelming. I had a recent flashback while walking around the Punk Rock Flea in Philly last weekend, but the Kolaportid is even bigger and more crowded. Rows after rows of vendors sell everything from vintage clothing, costume jewelry, books, and antiques. We sourced Chad’s handmade Icelandic wool sweater from a sweet elderly woman who had learned Danish instead of English as her second language.


Fríða Frænka — If you’re into more upscale, pre-curated vintage or antiques, you really can’t miss Fríða Frænka. There’s barely room to turn around, but everything is eye catching so it’s difficult to not get sucked in for hours at a time. If only I had a little Icelandic cottage to furnish and fill with the impressive selection of midcentury modern pieces and unique tchotchkes & textiles. Maybe someday.

Red Cross — I got some treasures I still wear at this second-hand charity shop. I may or may not have purchased a handmade baby sweater for, you know, someday. I also scored my most-treasured Icelandic find here — an Icelandic wool blanket that I’ve relied on over and over again during the Philadelphia winters. It’s seriously one of my favorite things we own.

You can read about the rest of our adventures in Iceland in the archives

…also, there were cats. Lots of them.


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Iceland: The Horses

Icelandic HorsesIcelandic horses are sweet, strong, and special. They were probably brought to Iceland by the Vikings. They’ve got no natural predators there, but the volcanic terrain is difficult and there’s not an abundance of food, so the ones who survived are strong and resourceful. They look more like ponies, but don’t tell them that! If you take an Icelandic horse out of Iceland, it can never go back. No other horses are allowed into the country, because they could potentially carry diseases that Icelandic horses aren’t immune to. They’ve been effectively isolated for more than 1,000 years.

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic horses are all born with a natural extra gait or two, depending who you ask, that other horses don’t have. Though we didn’t get a chance to experience that extra gait while we were in country, we did get to visit some horses. Next time, I will make sure to ride them. Their coats are so fluffy and delightfully wild.

If you want to see some beautiful photos of Icelandic horses, follow Seriouspony. She posts stunning photos of her horses nightly on Twitter. You’ll want to start your own herd. Or become an exclusive Icelandic horse photographer.

You can read about the rest of our adventures in Iceland in the archives

Icelandic Icelandic Horses


Decision-Making 101: That time we almost moved to Iceland

That time we almost moved to IcelandEver since 2012, when Chad and I decided to go to Iceland (kind of on a whim, but also because of Sigur Ros music videos) because it was cheaper than going to Spain, we’ve been more than a little preoccupied with the thought of going back and staying there. For awhile. Like a year.

I don’t know if it was the clean air, lack of bugs, or this article about how some crazy high number of Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime, but we are still hooked a couple years later.

So when our dream apartment (800 square foot balcony. In the city. Yes, that is totally unheard of.) fell through, Chad started talking about how we could just move to Iceland instead of trying to find a place that would only be second best to the apartment we’d been dreaming of. I wasn’t totally convinced, but we decided to look into it, just to see. How many adventures start with “Let’s just see,” or “What would it look like if we…”?

And thus began a four-day frenzy of researching what it would take to become legal expats in Iceland while weighing the option of taking a second best apartment in our neighborhood. We needed to talk to close friends and family, just to get thoughts from people who love us, research how to get our cats over there, think through job implications, and work through visa options.

Turns out, it’s really difficult to move to Iceland. We’d have to quarantine the cats in an Icelandic facility for four weeks and pay about $1200 per cat. (Leaving them here is out of the question; I don’t think I could be without them for a whole year.) As far as we could tell, there’s no middle-ground visa that lets you work for an American company but stay abroad for more than three months. Chad even wrote a very nice email to the Icelandic government politely assuring them that we wouldn’t take any Icelandic jobs.

Would we have actually up and moved to Iceland just like that? I don’t know. Maybe we’ll revisit the idea someday when we’re in a different season. But I feel better knowing that we had an idea, researched all possibilities, followed it through to the end, and arrived at a solid conclusion. We can safely cross it off our list of possibilities for now without wondering “What if…?”

Thanks to some encouragement from Melanie awhile back, I’ll be sharing more thoughts and experiences from our time in Iceland over the next week or so. The Iceland Series is finally happening at long last! Here’s some Sigur Ros to get us in the mood. Enjoy!


Alt Summit: Lessons from Garance Doré

Garance Doré Alt Summit, 2014

Credit: Justin Hackworth

I had never seen her speak and I’ll admit I hadn’t read her blog, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. But Garance Doré is one of the warmest and most relatable speakers I’ve ever seen. Even in an auditorium of 700 people, she oozed charm and warmth. I’m pretty sure each one of us felt like maybe she was our potential new best friend, speaking directly to us about her own mistakes and foibles like an older sister or glamorous, more experienced, European study abroad friend. I could’ve listened to her talk all day long.

I won’t try to dress it up more than necessary. Everything she said was perfectly quotable. Garance has got the effortless soundbyte down. So, without further ado…

Garance Doré Alt Summit, 2014

Credit: Justin Hackworth

Lessons from Garance Dore, Alt Summit 2014:

1. “Numbers aren’t important. The masses are scary. What’s important is to talk to individuals.”

This is so important for writers of any kind. Garance emphasized that she thinks of just one reader, her imaginary very best friend, who listens to her and loves her a lot. How many of us would be better writers if we didn’t try to please the whole world? I know I would be.

2. “Don’t worry about giving people what they want. You’ll be bored. And boring.”

No explanation needed.

Garance Dore, Alt Summit 20143. “‘Niche’ is actually ‘dog house’ in French. So it’s never been very appealing to me.”

I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who has struggled with feeling like I don’t have a niche. So this was super encouraging. I’ll write about whatever I damn well please, thankyouverymuch. I’ve wasted a lot of time hesitating and not producing because I didn’t know how to figure out my niche. There was definitely a phase when no one would shut up about finding your niche blah blah blah. But each of us are so much more than a niche. That complexity is what makes the world interesting. If I were to pick just one thing to write about, I’m afraid I would feel like I would be denying large parts of myself. That is not conducive to telling an interesting story, and honestly I don’t think I’m quite capable of it, which is why I tend to avoid writing. At all. (But that’s another blog post…)

4. “I will never have the same experience as you. That’s called having a point of view.”

I think Garance gave the example of two women describing an identical pair of shoes. Each woman has different memories and feelings attached to those shoes. Bringing that personal connection to the story is what makes the difference between interesting and mediocre.

Garance Doré Alt Summit, 2014

Credit: Brooke Dennis

 5. “Don’t just describe things. Just experience them and talk about it.”

I recently read a quote floating around the internet that went something like, “If you’re not writing, at least be doing something worth writing about.” Perhaps Ben Franklin said that? I’m paraphrasing. Anyway. I’d love to really live by that.

6. On fashion and whether it’s a worthy subject: “Picking a small subject can be a way to talk about a big thing.”

Back when I was doing Street Stories, I struggled with this question a lot. Was street style photography and blogging encouraging superficiality and consumerism? I consider myself a fairly well-informed and intelligent person, and I was afraid I’d be seen as vapid and frivolous. When Street Stories was just an idea, I talked to a lot of creative people I trust about that question. I decided to embrace this concept, though I hadn’t articulated it yet. I wanted to tell a person’s story based on what they chose to wear. I wanted to use a small thing, like an outfit, to talk about a big thing, like a life or a story or way of moving in the world.

7. “People won’t always follow Twitter or Instagram. What they will always follow is their emotions.”

I think everyone in the audience tweeted this line. It was the perfect way to end her keynote, and really cemented that I will forever think Garance Doré is the sweetest, most intuitive genius in the world. Yes. Yes, of course, Garance. They will always follow their emotions. Remember that the next time you’re needlessly freaking out over analytics.

Garance Dore Alt Summit, 2014