Get away: Reykjavik, Iceland

I live in Pittsburgh, and the thing that was all the talk over the summer was how our airport was going to be bringing WOW Airlines to Pittsburgh. The budget airline is known for cheap flights to major domestic and international cities, the most exciting one in my opinion being Reykjavik.

The bustling yet cozy capital of Iceland has experienced a boom in tourism in the past few years. The country has dedicated much of its resources to attracting tourists, and how they do so is with cheap airline tickets and free long stay overs.

So what’s the attraction? Reykjavik offers a Scandinavian feel, with colorful houses, cobblestone streets, and well-designed storefronts that draw in any passer-by. The rest of the country is sparsely populated but hosts some of the world’s most incredible waterfalls, hot springs, and glaciers.  Ever seen Journey to the Center of the Earth? That was shot in Iceland. Oh, and Icelanders speak Icelandic, but they all speak English, too. As my tour guide said, only a handful of people in the world speak Icelandic, so naturally, everyone learns English.

Essentially, the small island (where the country gets its name–it was just us dumb Americans who poorly translated “Ísland” to “Iceland”) has a unique combination of sights for every type of adventurer.

Here are 10 things to do in Iceland:

1. Visit Hallgrímskirkja, Iceland’s most famous church. Pay $10 to take the elevator to the top (so easy!) to get a great 360 view of Reykjavik and its colorful houses.



2. Get coffee and a pastry from Brauð & Co. It’s a hard spot to miss–colorful graffiti covers the exterior and the smell of fresh bread reels in every pedestrian.



3. Skip the Blue Lagoon and visit the “Secret hot spring” instead. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to some mystical elfin land.



4. Take a tour of Reykjavik. I highly recommend the tours offered by I Heart Reykjavik. The four Icelanders who run the blog also offer tours. Or, do a self-guided tour. Try and find ten murals on the side of buildings you can! It won’t take long.


5. Venture out into the countryside to the Þingvellir National Park. This is the spot where the world’s first parliament was held.



6. Not too far from the national park is the Geyser hot spring. This tourist attraction is famous for the “most reliable” geyser in the country. Watch the bubbling spring for five minutes and you’ll see it erupt.

Water Hot Spring Iceland Blue Geyser


7. If you’re really looking for an adventure, do a glacier tour. It’ll require some gear and a hefty amount of cash, but if you’re a thrill-seeker who loves the cold and exploring ice caves, it’ll be right up your alley.

vatnajökull glacier


8. Ice caves sound too much? Take a quick walk down to the shore in Reykjavik and see the Sun Voyager sculpture. It’s hard to miss. You can get a great view of the mountains, and at sunset, it’s an especially great photo op.



9. Iceland can be expensive, but reasonably-priced souvenirs are easy to come by at Flying Tiger. This target-dollar-section-meets-party-supply-store shop is Danish but has many European locations, and one is right in Reykjavik. It’s hard to resist the bright colors and Scandinavian modern packaging. Check out the candy section for an array of Icelandic treats, and black licorice in every shape you could imagine.



10. Ok, for those who have looked into visiting Iceland before, you’re probably surprised I haven’t mentioned the hot dogs yet. So yeah, get yourself an overpriced hot dog. Unless you’re a vegetarian. Cause these dogs are lamb dogs, topped with mayonnaise, dark mustard, and some sort of other kind of gravy thing. I’m still not entirely sure. They’re not to everyone’s liking, but they’re just about as Icelandic as you can get.


Check out these websites for more on Iceland and what do do there:

Visit Reykjavik 

I Heart Reykjavik Blog

Golden Circle Tour

Glacier Guides









If I’ve learned one thing from visiting Reykjavik, Iceland, it’s that they have nailed the packaging/visual appeal.

Two stores in particular, neither a fashion house, I found to have an incredible eye for visual marketing.

First, Flying Tiger, a brand originally from Copenhagen.


The store capitalizes on color. The display shelves, walls, and checkout areas are completely white, so the products they sell stand out for being so colorful. The whimsical sketches on packets of seeds, candles organized by color, and display of rainbow kitchenware really catch the consumer’s eye. Even if you know you don’t need it, suddenly, you do.

The other store that nails visual merchandising is Hrim, an Icelandic homewares store.


The storefront is eclectic and Scandi, and inside is even more whimsical. The natural wood, stripes, bright colors, and geometric shapes combine to create a building that no passer-by will forget. The Smeg kitchenware, the rustic wooden cutting boards, the fun patterned salad bowls, and the macrame wall hangings are all sold in the same corner, though they all clearly give off different vibes. Together, the mix is visually appealing and balanced, and the consumer realizes that once again, they want one of everything.

The unexpected difficulties of living abroad

Before I left for Costa Rica in August of 2016, I spent a lot of time gearing up for the “study abroad experience.” I bought three bottles each of bug spray and sunscreen. I scrolled through other students’ Instagrams, featuring their zip-lining extravaganzas and their newest tie-dyed headband purchases. I Googled the best places to see sloths with the possibility of holding one. Despite the whole mistreatment-of-animals thing that might entail.


So, in short, I came to Costa Rica ready to see it all. But what I was not prepared for was the fact that these three months weren’t going to be one big tropical vacation. They were going to be life. I wasn’t just studying abroad–I was living. And, as we all know, living in general comes with its rough patches.

Being plopped into a different country, surrounded by people speaking a different language and going about their days with a different sense of time, is challenging. Something as simple as grabbing lunch on your way to school can be a huge ordeal. Perhaps the Pupusa place at the food court ran out of vegetarian options, but the man says “no tiene vegetarianas” too fast that you have to ask him to repeat himself three times, to which he gives you a look that seems to say “what a dumb gringa.” And then once you finally leave with your Subway sandwich from across the street, construction workers holler at you, calling you a macha (blonde white girl).

Perhaps this series of events seems trivial in the span of a three-month experience. Yet no one wants to feel uncomfortable or be talked down to or cat-called, no matter the country you’re in. I definitely let these things, which happened repeatedly, put a damper on the day. And it was sometimes hard to shake it. What really helped, though, was discussing with other women on my program the uncomfortable situations they had encountered, and how they dealt with it. Ignoring the idiots seems to be the easiest thing to do. Effective, too!

Another hard thing about living abroad is routine. I, for one, love routine. It’s what makes me feel most comfortable. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at adjusting to a change in routine, but any change still tends to throw me off, no matter how small.

For example, in Costa Rica, things are done like twenty minutes after the fact. My host mom says breakfast is ready at 6:30, and at 6:45 she’s scrambling my eggs. She says we’re leaving to visit a volcanic national park at 10, and we don’t start piling into the car until 10:30 and don’t leave till 10:45 because she needs to brush her hair and put on mascara. Even my professor says we’re visiting a local tech school ten minutes away to learn about different curriculum, and the trip takes close to half and hour.


And Costa Rica isn’t the only country that does not prioritize punctuality. Nowadays, I think the U.S. puts too much emphasis on being on time. That being said, the hurry-up-and-wait thing got really tiring and sometimes frustrating, especially when car trips were twice as long as expected and my anti-motion sickness pill was starting to wear off.

When it comes to adjusting to a new routine or a new frame of mind concerning timeliness, I suggest a lot of self-talk. I’d ask myself, what’s so bad about leaving being twenty minutes later than expected? I guess I could have slept in another twenty minutes. But the early morning sun had already kind of waken me up. Plus twenty minutes is another twenty minutes to play with Luna the Schnauzer, or straighten up my desk. I don’t have anything else going on today, anyways. It’s not like I’m letting anyone down.

The kind of cute puppers you can meet when your bus driver decides to stop for half an hour for apparently no reason! The reason is now apparent: it was so I could meet this adorable pupper.

I’d also tell myself that being late in these instances is out of my control. My host family is hosting me, so they’re in charge. Acknowledging my lack of control in a situation, though frustrating at times, gave me some peace of mind.

So, all in all, living abroad is something I’d recommend to anyone. The discomforts and adjustments that everyone experiences are normal, and now, to be expected. They’re learning experiences, too. To anyone about to embark on living in a different state, country, or continent, remember: with living comes some difficulty. But getting through those difficulties is a personal achievement.


4 places to visit in and around the Boston area

Because there’s more than just beans in Beantown.

Gigi Gelateria

Stopping into one of the North End’s most popular gelato shops feels like you’ve taken a trip to Italy. The giant red case that peeks out onto Hanover Street and the dozens of flavors it holds lures you in even before you’ve entered the store. Their tiramisu flavored gelato never fails, and their lemon strikes a delicious balance between tart and creamy. The family who owns Gigi Gelateria also runs a number of restaurants in the North End, each with a different ambiance and price range.

Peabody Essex Museum

If you head to Salem, Massachusetts, it’s hard to pass up the kitschy Witch Museum or the tourist trap shops with an overwhelming amount of crystals, stones, and tarot cards for sale. If you’re wanting to see something not related to the strange history of this Massachusetts town, visit the Peabody Essex Museum. Their permanent and rotating exhibits display a variety of art from around the world–Chinese sculpture, American Indian dance, and European watercolor, to name a few. Years ago, the museum exhibited fashion-icon Iris Apfel’s collection; this year, it has Rodin’s “the Thinker” on display.

Rockport, MA

Drive an hour or so North of Boston and you’ll reach Rockport, a quaint fishing town with, reportedly, the most painted scene in the country. Motif #1, a small red shack speckled with multi-colored buoys, has drawn artists’ attention for hundreds of years. Walk down Bearskin Neck and check out local art galleries or more touristy shops. Perhaps you’ll recognize The Fudgery as a faux-Alaskan background from the movie The Proposal. Be sure to buy a treat from Helmut’s Strudel, a small bakery with melt-in-your-mouth pastries. And don’t miss the spectacular view at the end of the neck.

Good Harbor Beach


Travel a few minutes down Cape Ann to the centuries-old fishing port of Gloucester. Here you’ll find the ever-popular, if chilly, Good Harbor Beach. Enjoy some boogie-boarding and a game of pickleball, or, wait till the tide goes out and walk across the sandbar to Salt Island. Bike down the street half a mile and indulge in one of the hundreds of flavors of ice cream at Long Beach Dairy Maid. Or, stay in Gloucester for the evening and explore the quaint downtown area or one of the country’s oldest art colonies: Rocky Neck.

Cacio e Pepe: Italian comfort food

When I studied abroad in Siena during the summer of 2015, this dish was my go-to dinner when eating out. It translates to “cheese and pepper,” and it’s the Italian version of mac ‘n cheese. AKA the best comfort food you’ll come across.

In Siena, Cacio e Pepe was made with Pici pasta–a special kind of thick spaghetti that’s really only made in the region. It’s also typically made with Pecorino Romano, a strong sheep’s milk cheese. If you want a bit of a more mild taste, substitute 2/3 of the amount you need with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and it’ll still taste great.

It’s important to have finely grated cheese for a smooth sauce. Large shreds will clump together. Also, don’t drain that pasta water! You’ll need some of it for the sauce.

Maybe summer is the time for light, fresh, citrusy recipes, which this dish is absolutely not. But it’s also the time for trying out new things, so get to it!

recipe from

Cacio e Pepe

What you’ll need:

  • 4 tablespoons (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound (225g) spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons (15g) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1 cup; 55g), very finely grated on a Microplane or the smallest holes of a box grater, plus more for serving

    Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and about a teaspoon of black pepper in a medium skillet over medium-low heat until ingredients are fragrant and pepper is barely starting to sizzle, about 1 minute. Set aside

    Place spaghetti in a large skillet and cover with water. Season with a small pinch of salt, then bring to a boil over high heat, prodding spaghetti occasionally with a fork or wooden spoon to prevent it from clumping. Cook until spaghetti is al dente (typically about 1 minute less than the package recommends). Transfer 2 to 3 tablespoons of pasta cooking water to the skillet with the olive oil/pepper mixture. Stir in butter. Using tongs, lift spaghetti and transfer it to the oil/butter mixture.

    Add cheese and remaining tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and stir with a fork until cheese is completely melted. Add a few more tablespoons of pasta water to the skillet to adjust consistency, reheating as necessary until the sauce is creamy and coats each strand of spaghetti. Season to taste with salt and more black pepper. Serve immediately, passing extra grated cheese and black pepper at the table.

5 YouTube channels to watch this summer

I watch a lot of YouTube. A lot. Of YouTube.

I remember being introduced to the world of beauty gurus in 2010. For hours, I’d watch teenage girls demonstrate how to cake on makeup to achieve a “natural look.”

Six years later, the world of beauty gurus, and YouTube in general, is much different. Talented makeup artists, comedians, and gamers make a living (and a good one at that) posting videos every couple days to their channels. Some rank upwards of ten million subscribers.

People like PewDiePie, Tyler Oakley, and Lily Singh have made names for themselves through YouTube and have really become celebrities because of their videos.

Being entertained by the YouTube world for several years now, I have more than a couple of suggestions for any gal (or guy) who wants to spend five to ten minutes of their life watching people do things. Let’s get to it.

Good Mythical Morning

Self-proclaimed “internetainers” Rhett McGlaughlin and Link Neal started their daily morning show on YouTube in 2010. But their friendship began in 1984 when they were first-graders in Boise Creek, North Carolina. The duo posts a video every morning that is a variety show, of sorts. Whether they’re telling us about the creepiest nursery rhymes, or testing out some extreme cookies, Rhett and Link never fail to make us laugh. Their kooky sense of humor and friendship shows through in each episode, which makes their videos that much more fun to watch.


The Fashion Citizen

Any lover of fashion and design will enjoy these Arizona twins’ videos. Stephanie and Melissa Valenzuela post videos about twice a week, each focusing on some aspect of fashion and personal style. The two have a unique sense of style, inspired by classic brands like Zara and more vintage vibes, as well. Their go-to store? Goodwill. Each Sunday, they upload a week of vlog (video blog) footage, and take us through what their daily routine looks like. Steph and Mel have a knack for editing, too, and they create cool visuals for their audience to enjoy.



The name may turn you off, but his videos won’t. Each week, Evan Puschak uploads a video-essay. That is, he narrates his exploration of a topic very thoughtfully and analytically, while presenting us with the visuals. The subjects tend to be parts of pop culture, such as an analysis of Rihanna’s “Work.” They can be pretty serious and informative too, as seen with his video on wasted tax dollars. Evan responds to accusations of sounding”pretentious” in a Q&A video, and doesn’t deny it in the least. But whatever pretentiousness there may be in his voice doesn’t trump the truly fascinating insight he has. Speaking of Trump, my favorite video of his explains Trump’s influence on democracy.

Brad & Hailey Devine

Ok, hate to sound like a millennial, but Brad and Hailey are #goals. If you’re looking for a virtual escape to an exotic location, or a way to ease some of your wanderlust, take a look at their travel vlogs. The couple, along with their little daughter (and another one on the way!) visit interesting places across the globe while looking effortlessly stunning and being adorably in love. From Tokyo to Cinque Terre, the Devines go everywhere, and they travel in style. And they make it look so easy. I can’t decide whether my envy or love of them is stronger, but one thing’s for sure: I can’t stop watching them.



Hannah Hart started her YouTube show My Drunk Kitchen as a way to cheer up a friend. She never expected her one-time getting-drunk-and-cooking experience to turn into a series that draws in 2.5 million subscribers. Now, she regularly uploads episodes, using puns to connect food with life lessons. Sound a little contrived? Hannah’s sense of humor and kindness always shines through, keeping things genuine. She has branched out, too–her second book is on its way to stores, and her “Have a Hart Day” initiative has brought fans together to raise money for multiple charities across the country. Hannah’s slogan, “practice reckless optimism” is the focal point of her channel and it always keeps me watching.







Who am I really?: Why poutine and life are astonishingly similar

It wasn’t until March of this past year that I experienced the heavenly, confusing, Canadian classic that is poutine.

My friends and I hit up Smoke’s Poutinterie on Dundas Street East in Toronto one rainy afternoon post-exploring the downtown area. We were exhausted, wanted quick food, and were planning on getting poutine at some point during our four-day trip.

The shop was small with only counter seating, so we got some to go. I ordered your standard poutine with some bacon, and let me tell you, it was something.

When I opened my black and red flannel-print to-go box, the aroma of, well, salt, filled the air. On top of a heaping handful of thickly-cut french fries laid a heavy gravy, tons of cheese curds, and a more than generous amount of bacon.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset


I dove in, and let’s just say there wasn’t much texture. Other than the firm, squeaky cheese, the whole thing was soggy, brown, and almost too salty. But I loved it.

The larger dent I made, the more I thought about how this poutine embodied life. At a first glance, it kind of looked like a large pile of beige, which I can relate to. But delving deeper, I realized poutine had so much more to offer. The familiarity of french fries, the indulgence of bacon, the refreshing change of scenery of the cheese curds, and the homey taste of the gravy came together to make something new, interesting, and comforting.

Like me at many points during the day, you may think your life is defined by your saltiness, apparent dullness, or unhealthy habits. But we’re all so much more than that. We have gravy running through us to keep us warm and happy. We have bits of cheese curds inside us to keep things interesting. And sharing our lives, or our poutine, with others is what gives us the real drive to live.

As Harry Styles once said:

“There’s more than three things we love about Canada. One: poutine! Two: poutine! Three…no, poutine was one and two. This is number three. Number three is…poutine!”


Visit Smoke’s Poutinerie’s website here: