Halifax Restaurant Review: Agricola Street Brasserie

The main dining room of Agricola Street Brasserie.

We’ve been home from The Maritimes for nearly a month, but it feels like our trip just ended yesterday. Looking back at everything we managed to fit in over nine days, I can definitely say that we made the most of our time. Part of the experience of travelling is the food though, and, to be honest, we didn’t have much of a chance to take in the culinary best that the east coast has to offer during this particular vacation.

However, for our last evening around Halifax, we decided to indulge ourselves with a date night at Agricola Street Brasserie. How did we come to pick this restaurant? I did have a copy of CURATED Food & Drink Magazine‘s 2018 Urban Halifax & Road Trips Edition of the 25 Best Places to Eat issue (here’s a similar list from them) to guide us. It gave a really good overview of where to go. Yet, ultimately, my way of choosing our final destination was to see which ones used OpenTable as their reservation system and then we narrowed it down further based on their menus.

The aptly named Agricola Street Brasserie is situated on its namesake between Charles and Willow Streets in the North End of the city. The brickwork interior has been outfitted with dream-like orb-shaped lights hanging from the exposed ceiling. Overcrowding is avoided with just 44 seats between long banquets and standalone tables. It’s also possible to perch at the bar or by the kitchen to watch their staff work. On weather friendly days, they even have a rooftop patio. Relating to the food, the word “Agricola” is translated from Latin into “Farmer.” Sticking to that theme (read their whole story here), the eatery is extremely focused on sourcing local.

As we familiarized ourselves with the offerings, we sipped on drinks. My fiancé, Kirk, decided to go with one of their nine taps, which are on constant rotation. Pours are either 12 oz. ($7) or 20 oz. ($9). I imbibed in the Placebo Effect cocktail ($13) — tequila, dry vermouth, yellow chartreuse, lime and pineapple — that was just a little bit sweet with a touch of zest. It’s almost a little too smooth as I could have downed that very quickly. For the price though, it’s a beverage you want to make last.

Complimentary bread!

Fresh slices of bread and a jar of butter were presented as a complimentary start to our meal. Still a little bit warm, the butter melted right into the loaf. A sign of things to come? So far, so good.

Seasonal Soup of Asparagus & Sweet Pea

To begin, we ordered the side of the seasonal soup ($7): a cream of asparagus and sweet pea concoction with a drizzle of oil in it. I didn’t quite know how this one would turn out, but it had a pleasant consistency and was so delicious that Kirk was surprised. Granted, he kept saying he couldn’t taste the asparagus, but I found it to be pretty prominent. I think the peas came through on the palate first and then the asparagus landed at the end.

The stages of the Egg Yolk Raviolo from Agricola Street Brasserie.

We also “shared” the Egg Yolk Raviolo ($10). I sampled this one minimally since I was going to have another appetizer all to myself. This is such a rich dish. The giant pasta shell is stuffed with cheese, spinach and a beautifully yellow yolk. Laid on wilted spinach and lemon brown butter, it’s then garnished with bacon and Parmesan. If that’s not decadence, I don’t know what is.

Classic Beef Tartare

As I mentioned, I planned to eat a full dish on my own. This is because I just had to have the Classic Beef Tartare ($15) and I know full well that Kirk typically will not eat raw meat (as much as I try to convince him). The beef was finely diced and tossed with herbs and onions. A gorgeous unbroken yolk wiggled on top. Thin slices of crostini artfully towered over the round of meat on one side of the bowl. The other side was washed with a swipe of mustard. Mixed all together, this was a standout course. Simple, but so flavourful with an excellent texture (not at all slimy like some tartares can be).

Confit Duck Leg

When we were there, the bird on the menu was a Confit Duck Leg ($28). This seems to have been swapped out with their current duck breast. Kirk absolutely loved this and devoured it so quickly. I was lucky to get a couple of bites. Prepared with the skin fried to a crisp, this was actually far from the greasy meat one might expect. The duck was incredibly succulent and kind of tasted more like chicken as it did away with any of the usual gaminess (personally, I kind of like the distinct flavour of duck). Served with roasted greens, nettle cream, and rhubarb cranberry chutney, those components provided a variety of mouthfeels and helped to elevate the plate above the norm.

Fishmonger Cut: Seared Tuna Steak

I went for their Fishmonger Cut. This is essentially their daily sustainable seafood feature, and, that evening, it was a Seared Tuna ($29). First of all, I have to say that the portion for the price was unbelievable. The amount of quality tuna received made it so worth ordering. With at least four slices of inch thick (height and width) perfectly seared tuna, this was unbeatable. For summer, they paired the fish with a balsamic dressing and strawberries. I never would have come up with that combination, but it worked well, and it made for a lighter main.

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Dinner was completed with their Rhubarb Frangipane Tart ($10) for dessert. Basically an almond cream inside a pastry shell, it was then covered with a lattice of rhubarb strips. Rhubarb sorbet and basil cream finished it off. I didn’t really like the pieces of rhubarb as I found them tough to bite apart and they were impossible to cut with a spoon. The sorbet was super refreshing though, and the basil cream balanced out any tartness.

For our one big night out in Halifax, Agricola Street Brasserie did not disappoint. The atmosphere and service were absolutely stellar. We left the restaurant feeling full, satisfied and happy. If you’re ever visiting the area, this is a spot that I’d highly recommend.

Maritimes 2018 Trip Recap: Halifax to Cape Breton

Lakies Head on Cabot Trail

Much has changed over the past twelve months. My boyfriend became my fiancé just after Christmas this year, and we’re now busily planning a wedding that simultaneously feels ages away, but also like it’ll be here before we know it. Marking another milestone was our second trip to the Maritimes to see his family earlier this month.

My first visit to the East Coast of Canada took place last summer. Our goal was to relax in Dalhousie, NB and explore PEI. This time around, we, of course, spent a few days with relatives in New Brunswick. However, the remainder of our week was split between Halifax and Cape Breton Island.

Halifax, NS

Crossing the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge in Halifax

The handful of days we spent in Dalhousie were book-ended by a few evenings in Halifax. Having been a year prior, the sights weren’t the priority. What was important was giving my fiancé a chance to catch up with friends while we experienced the food and nightlife.

I’ll start off by saying that The Lower Deck on the Waterfront, although it may be a Nova Scotia institution, is not my cup of tea. I just felt out of place. It’s true that there are more casual, quiet spots in the pub, but, late at night, when it turns into a club, it’s not for me. I was uncomfortable being around a ton of rowdy people, so we didn’t stay long. If live music out in their courtyard or dancing to top 40 hits in dim lighting on their second floor is your thing, I’d tell you to give it a go because a lot of people have told me this is where it’s at.

The spot my fiancé really wanted to show me was Durty Nelly’s. It’s located right on Argyle Street (across from the new Halifax Convention Centre), making it a part of the lively downtown scene on the weekend. He has reminisced about the Irish pub often, and I didn’t mind it. Sure, it’s a bit noisy, especially when trying to make conversation. Yet, the atmosphere is decent and there is also live music playing later in the evening.

Deciding to continue on after a couple of drinks, we strolled down the hill towards Barrington Street to hang out at Stillwell Bar. Designed with a NYC subway station aesthetic in mind, I found it to be fun. The place was packed when we arrived with just a few seats left at the bar. The guys stuck to beer, available by bottle or on tap. I opted to grab their Peanut Butter & Jelly brownie for dessert. It was incredibly rich and decadent with a sort of salty caramel top, whipped cream and hints of mint. It got a full thumbs up from me.

On our second night we ventured to the Dartmouth side of the Halifax municipality for dinner with one of my fiancé’s old colleagues. We ate at Boondocks Restaurant, which has prime real estate along the boardwalk of Fisherman’s Cove. The seafood focused menu is decent. I wouldn’t say it’s anything to write home about. Nevertheless, the salmon and scallops we had were cooked quite nicely and flavoured well.

Best Places to Eat issue of Curated Food & Drink Magazine

Canada Day ended off with a view of the fireworks from Kings Wharf Place next to the Dartmouth Cove. Should there ever be an opportunity to watch the festivities from that vantage point, I’d highly recommend going there. Parking can be an issue, but we managed to find a spot. Also, once the fireworks started, people literally just parked in the middle of the street and stopped there until the pyrotechnics were over before driving off again. The fireworks look huge from there. Plus, sticking to that side of the water means avoiding the downtown crowds. On another note, my fiancé’s friend generously gave me his issue of Halifax’s Curated Food & Drink Magazine’s 25 Best Local Eateries, so I could plan for future holidays.

When we returned to Halifax from Dalhousie at the end of the week, we had date night in the city. Named as one of the top restaurants in Curated, Agricola Street Brasserie was our eatery of choice and it absolutely did not disappoint (watch for a full review to come). The space is very cool with a converted warehouse style. Brick walls, exposed beams, an open kitchen with bar seating, lots of floating pendant lights, and a striking backdrop to their main bar created an excellent setting. They have several local beers on tap, and their cocktails were stellar. The menu items we sampled were fantastic, too. The chef definitely seems to be adventurous with flavour combos and textures. I actually wish we could have fit in more of the food in one sitting.

Dalhousie, NB

 

This is my fiancé’s hometown. Here, I was reunited with my future mother-in-law’s younger cats, Mika and Mini. We also went on their annual (my second) family canoe trip down the Restigouche River (please read my post from last year for more info on booking something like this). Not one of us walked away without some sort of sun burn — thankfully, mine was minor — after several hours paddling on a very warm and sunny day. We also had a fire in the backyard most nights and set off our own fireworks over the water.

Canoe trip!

The town used to house a successful paper mill and power plant, which employed many of its residents. Today, both of those businesses are no longer. As we drove into and out of Dalhousie and around the neighbourhoods, we noticed an abundance of homes for sale. I’m not sure what’s spurring so many people to pick up and go, but if anyone is looking for an affordable summer home near the water in Canada, this may be a good option.

The main church in Dalhousie is so pretty.

Dalhousie is super quaint and I think this is why it becomes a bustling place during the warmer months. Plenty of visitors come into town to camp in their RVs and just get away from all of their cares. I got to visit the seasonal ice cream shop pretty much every day we were there. They are often so busy that the line snakes through the store. It’s literally the place everyone wants to be. It’s no wonder though. They offer the most options with dozens of flavours of hard ice cream, soft serve, frozen yogurt, and sundaes available.

The town has also beautified the area around their Inch Arran Lighthouse with the addition of a sundial and stone seating encircling it. There are even a couple of pieces of public art near the shops, including a new statue of Mr. Bon Ami.

We lucked out with a ride on a family friend’s boat as well. We took the vessel out on the water, travelling from the marina out into Chaleur Bay. From afar, Dalhousie is the epitome of picturesque.

Cape Breton Island, NS

Along Cabot Trail

Despite growing up in New Brunswick, my fiancé had never been to Cape Breton Island, so we thought it’d be something new to experience together. We spent about a day and a half there, staying each night in Sydney. During our one full day, we drove the entire length of the World Famous Cabot Trail.

As a heads up, the roads on Cabot Trail are narrow, winding, and quite worn out in certain stretches. Much of the trail allows for speed limits of 80 kilometers per hour. Some sharp turns have warning signs. But, there are many spots along the way where there aren’t any indications of those turns or lower speeds posted. If in doubt, just slow it down.

 

Should you want to complete a few of the hiking trails throughout the area, plan ahead. Find out the distance and estimated time it takes to finish them. You will have to bring the proper gear and work with the daylight to ensure you make it back to the starting point before it’s dark. Additionally, pets may or may not be allowed, so check in advance. Also, consider staying overnight at some of the smaller inns rather than heading back to Sydney each night as it’ll give you more flexibility. Well-known hikes like the Skyline Trail Loop are almost 10 kilometers.

In our case, we didn’t have the time to fit in anything like that. All we were able to do was the loop by car. However, we did peruse works by local artisans (Leather Works by Jolene and Glass Artisans Studio & Gallery) and we made several stops for photo ops. Highlights included: Ingonish Beach, Lakies Head Look-out, Neil’s Harbour (cheap, ginormous scoops at The Lighthouse Ice Cream Parlour), Lone Shieling (within Cape Breton Highlands National Park, this is considered a historic example of a traditional shelter used by shepherds in Scotland and those who settled in the Maritimes), and the village of Baddeck.

 

If in search of a meal, many of the small coastal towns have local restaurants. Usually, the hotels, motels and inns have a kitchen. We ate lunch on our second day at the MidTrail Motel. Nothing fancy, but it was alright and it helped to sustain us for the last few hours of the drive. Otherwise, in Mabou, closer to the southwest side of the island (but off of Cabot Trail), you’ll find the wonderful Red Shoe Pub. The proprietors are the Rankin Sisters of the Canadian musical family. The lobster sandwich special was simple yet tasty (the side of lobster bisque could use some improvements though), and the pulled pork poutine with sweet potato fries was delicious and filling.

Both evenings, we drove back into Sydney. We called the Cambridge Suites Hotel home the first night and The Hampton Inn by Hilton our abode on the second. There’s no question, the facilities at the Hampton Inn were far nicer. We splurged just a little bit more (the cost difference wasn’t much) to get their Boardroom Suite, and it was amazing. There was a full boardroom table in the living room, which had a dual-sided fireplace that also faced into the king size bedroom. A bar with a mini fridge, sink, and microwave was built in as well. Lastly, the bathroom was huge! We could have had a dance party in there. The complimentary breakfasts at each location were similar with meat (bacon or sausage), eggs, toast, yogurt, pastries, juices, etc.

In Sydney, I was surprised to find quite a few public mural paintings around the city as well as the World’s Largest Fiddle (I got a photo with something giant again!) at the port. There were also some satisfying restaurants.

The two we tried were Naru Sushi and Govenor’s Pub. The former was such a surprise. The rolls we ordered maybe had a tad too much rice, but the texture was just right and the ingredients tasted fresh. It was a far cry from our terrible sushi lunch in Shediac, NB the year before (it made me think the East Coast didn’t know how to do sushi). If you go, make sure you try their tempura banana dessert, too. It’s so good, and the portion is ridiculous for the price. We thought they accidentally gave us two orders until we saw the bill. As for Govenor’s Pub, the service wasn’t the greatest, but it’s a really nice spot that overlooks the water with two patio spaces. I’ll admit, I didn’t love that they put celery in their lobster sandwich. Nonetheless, they won me over with their Maple-Curry Seafood Linguine. The spicy-sweet sauce was creamy and the mix of mussels, scallops and shrimp were all prepared well.

Literally my favourite store name ever. It’s so punny.

All-in-all, we fit in a ton — family, friends, food, and plenty of sights — over our vacation. We clocked 3,000 kilometers on our rental vehicle by the time we returned it at the airport. The thing is, there’s still so much more to see in the Maritimes. I’m looking forward to our next trip either next year or in 2020. Newfoundland, here we come!

Edmonton Happenings: Streetcar Shows Edmonton

Singer Ken Stead performs for us atop the High Level Bridge.

Streetcar Shows Edmonton has been chugging along since 2013. Founded by Tad Hargrave and Zizi Lievers with Peter Seal hosting and photographing events, it’s probably one of the city’s true gems. These are intimate concert experiences taking place on electric streetcars run by the Edmonton Radial Railway Society. I’ve been registered to their mailing list — currently closed on their site, so check their Twitter page or join their Facebook group for updates — for two or three years now, but I always found it difficult to get my hands on tickets. By the time I’d read the newsletter and linked over to Eventbrite, the 32 spots would already be sold out.

The streetcar being prepped for our trip across the High Level Bridge.

This year, I happened to sign into my webmail account at just the right moment and I snagged two tickets for the inaugural show of the 2018 season. I was ecstatic to finally be going to a Streetcar concert. Taking place last Thursday, May 17, we arrived at the train platform located behind the ATB Financial Arts Barn in Old Strathcona about 15 minutes prior to embarking. Peter checked our names off of his list and we waited until we were told to climb on. NOTE: There are no washrooms on board. If needed, make sure to use the one in the barn beforehand.

Ernie, one of the drivers of the streetcar, gave us a history lesson.

The restored streetcar had two drivers for the night, but Ernie was our guide. He gave us a little bit of a history lesson as the vehicle made it’s way down the tracks towards the middle of the High Level Bridge. Moving along, Edmonton’s downtown skyline eventually game into view. Once we’d come to a full stop, Peter introduced our performer of the evening, Ken Stead. While he sang (and joked), the river and traffic flowed quietly beneath us as we basked in the slowly setting sun.

 

Ken Stead, born and raised in Edmonton, and now residing in Calgary, has a soulful voice. Despite living in Canada, his Irish-Scottish background seems to come out, in the form of a slight lilt, when he speaks. He flipped between his own original songs and covers that ranged from Foy Vance to Bill Withers, fully encompassing the persona of a down-to-earth folk-rock artist.

 

Lasting about 45 minutes, the first half of the show went by quickly. The streetcar then trundled northward towards the other side of the High Level Bridge. We were supposed to take a break at the stop directly across the street from the Legislature Building, but the driver overshot it, and we ended up going all the way to the Grandin Station terminal. There, we were able to get off and stretch our legs while the musical equipment was shifted to the other end of the streetcar. The backrests of all the seats were flipped to face the opposite direction, allowing passengers to be seated again in the direction of travel. It also gave all of the riders an opportunity to be closer to the show as those who previously sat at the front were now at the rear of the train.

Out on the bridge once more, we were treated to another 45 minute set. Being above the water, it started to get chilly as the darkness fell, but the close quarters and the music helped to warm me to my soul. As we returned south, we came to a surprise standstill in a heavily graffitied tunnel for one final (sing-along) song. It sounds like this is something they do at every show, but I won’t give every single detail away. All I can say is that it makes for a special moment.

Inside the tunnel at the end of the night.

Two hours after our departure, we found ourselves back where we started our musical journey. It’s definitely a night that neither my fiancé or I will ever forget. It was so much fun, and I’m already itching to go to second Streetcar Show as soon as possible. Haven’t been yet? I urge everyone to follow their pages. You may luck out and catch a post about tickets in the nick of time.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Harvest Room (Full Breakfast Buffet)

My first run at the Full Buffet.

I’ve been to The Harvest Room at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald several times over the past few years, but the last time I wrote about it was just over four years ago. A recent visit, prompted by the purchase of a Groupon, is giving me the chance to talk about this downtown Edmonton spot once more. This time, instead of coming in during lunch or stopping by for dinner, my family and I opted to meet up for breakfast bright and early on a Sunday morning.

Street parking on Sundays is free, so it’s possible to find spaces nearby without having to pay for the use of a lot or for the Fairmont’s valet services. The rest of the week, it will cost to park until at least 6:00pm. We had made reservations for 9:30am, and we arrived right on time. Before we were led into the dining room, the host hung up our coats in the closet, and he also requested our Groupon voucher. In this instance, the deal was a $100 value for $65 to be used on a Sunday to Thursday towards breakfast or dinner. However, I also managed to get an additional 25 per cent off with a promo code, which dropped the price down to $48.75. The original offer is still currently available.

Our table of four was seated next to one of the big windows, allowing us a great view of the entire restaurant and the patio. The space isn’t all that big and it’s not as regal as I’d assume a Fairmont dining room would be. It is classically styled though, and the servers are all dressed more formally. There’s even a window into the kitchen, so you can watch the staff as they work. It starts to feel like a fancier place when it’s apparent that they will bring brand new cutlery every time you begin eating off of a new plate.

French toast, bread pudding and a pastry.

The breakfast menu ranges from $12 for a Super Green Smoothie to $26 for a House-Cured Hot Smoked Salmon Benedict. It’s certainly not cheap. Especially when any additional drinks, including coffee, tea, and juice, are $5 each. Although, they do offer the value option of a coffee or tea with juice for $8. Taking all of that into account, it just made sense for our group to go with their Full Buffet option ($31.50 each). For about the same price as a single dish with a drink, we’d get unlimited fresh fruit, smoked salmon, domestic cheeses, yogurts, assorted cereals, bagels, toast, pastries, eggs benedict, french toast, bread pudding, crispy bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, omelettes, breakfast potatoes, and the daily smoothie. Plus, coffee or tea, and juice — I questioned whether or not the orange juice was actually fresh as indicated on the menu — comes with it as well.

From the Continental Buffet, the best item you’ll find for the value is the smoked salmon.

Personally, I wasn’t super impressed with the Continental Buffet ($21.50) selection as I found the bagels to be kind of hard like they weren’t made fresh and there wasn’t much in the way of cheeses. The fruits were alright. I particularly enjoyed the pineapple and watermelon. Both were juicy and sweet. I also will commend the pastry chef because the mini danishes that I ate were delicately flaky and soft. Otherwise, it’s only worth the money if you’re a fan of smoked salmon and yogurt-based smoothies. Eat as much of the house-cured fish as you can and drink a couple of glasses of the daily smoothie to completely justify the cost. But, really, for an extra $10, it seems like a no-brainer to just go with the Full Buffet. While I didn’t try the eggs benedict or the scrambled eggs (I’m not a fan of eggs that have been sitting for periods of time), I made an effort to sample everything else.

Prairie Omelette made fresh to order.

First off, I’ll say that I appreciate the fact that, even though it is a buffet, they’ll take omelette orders at the table, so the dish is freshly cooked and comes hot from the kitchen. I chose the Prairie Omelette, which is usually $23 on its own, served with potatoes and tomatoes. Filled with boar bacon lardons, charred peppers, tomatoes, green onion, smoked apple wood, and smoked cheddar cheese, it was okay. I definitely could have used more cheese, and I would have preferred a fluffier egg.

The bread pudding at the 12 o’clock position was so good, as were the mini danish pastries.

Again, items that sit out at the buffet in warmers are never going to be the best unless there’s high turnover. That’s why I wasn’t too keen on the french toast. The slices seemed kind of stale and the berries that were tossed into the pan looked as though they’d been heated a bit too long. On the other hand, the bread pudding was fantastic. When I lined up to get some of that, I was at first disappointed to see that the tray was missing. But, that turned to happiness when I saw that a new bowl of bread pudding was being brought out just as I reached the buffet. The sweet bread was subtly flavoured with cinnamon and a dusting of icing sugar. I paired it with a few strawberries I pulled from the tray. It’s simple, but tasty.

The breakfast potatoes were savoury and tossed with roasted tomatoes. They were the perfect accompaniment to the plump sausages and the copious amounts of crisp bacon strips that I had. Those were all perfectly prepared.

My pot of tea was included in the price of the Full Buffet.

All in, my family paid about $100 after tax and tip out of pocket. At $25 per person, the value was there. However, when it comes down to the regular price, this is more than I would typically spend on breakfast (I’ll take the $8 happy hour special at Earls over this any day). Yet, if it’s not too out of the way, you’ve got a big appetite, and you’re looking to treat yourself to something nice, the Full Buffet at The Harvest Room should be a contender. Go for the drinks, fish and meats, and fill out the rest of your meal with other sides such as the delicious pastries. Just keep in mind that the value lies in certain items and stick with those.

Iceland & Munich: Scenery, History & Breweries

Diamond Beach in Iceland

My boyfriend and I recently returned home from a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland and Munich, Germany. While we were away, we spent three days exploring the various landscapes of the northern country of Iceland as well as another six days or so taking in the history and breweries of the capital of Bavaria. I’m going to try to keep this as short and simple as possible by sharing a quick daily recap as well as some photos. I hope you enjoy. Please also feel free to share your experiences of these two places in the comments below.

Day 1 – Reykjavik

Entering the city centre of Reykjavik.

At about 6:30am in the morning on our first day in Reykjavik, we hopped onto a shuttle bus that took us to the nearby Sixt car rental location. There, we picked up our vehicle, which we had rented for the next three days in Iceland. (TIP: If you already have car insurance built into your credit card, don’t worry about paying for extra coverage. As long as you don’t intend to go off-roading, it’ll be fine when you take the rental back. Just beware that they will put a hold on your card equivalent to about 1,500€ until they see it’s in good condition upon return.)

It’s about a 45 minute drive from Keflavik airport into Reykjavik. Since we couldn’t check into our hotel until the afternoon, we decided to meander around by car. With a stop at the Perlan Museum, a coast along the harbour, a visit into the Hallgrimskirkja Church, a stroll around the city centre (tons of street art and Instagrammable walls; I sadly watched as an amazing piece was painted over), a midday snack at ROK, and an evening walk not too far from our accommodations, CentreHotel Arnarhvoll (not worth the money for what you get and the rooms have no air circulation), we fit in as much as we could in a single day.

Best of all, we drove out of the city to a dark spot to watch for the northern lights. Neither of us had ever seen them with our own eyes, but we lucked out on this occasion because the sky lit up for us. It was magical, to say the least.

The Aurora Borealis

Of note:

  1. We noticed that there is a ton of construction happening in Reykjavik, which is great. There economy is obviously doing well, likely boosted by the upsurge in tourism in recent years.
  2. It’s expensive in Iceland. Small sharing plates at ROK cost about $20 CDN each. Although the food was delicious, our money didn’t go that far there. Drinks are especially marked up. I would recommend picking some liquor up at the duty free shop before leaving the airport. Lastly, gas was our largest expense at over $2 per litre. While the car we were given was pretty economical, we did a lot of driving and every fill-up was a hit to the wallet. Make sure to budget in advance.
  3. Most of the restaurants close relatively early in Reykjavik. Some bars do stay open later, but they may not serve true meals, so plan to eat a bit earlier.

Day 2 – South Iceland

Öxarárfoss in Iceland

On our second day in Iceland, we opted to hit the road and venture south. In the morning we went to Öxarárfoss, one of their famous waterfalls. It’s situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Þingvellir National Park, which we took some time to walk through as well.

Back on the highway, we needed some sustenance, but we didn’t have a lot of time to stop for a sit-down meal. After all, we were chasing daylight. So, where did we go when we reached Selfoss? Domino’s. Now, I’m not going to knock the pizza chain. The food hit the spot. Even though it was super greasy, I could not get over the brilliant option of having fresh garlic added into the cheese for free. Game changer. We need that in Canada.

Before it got dark, we made it to Skógafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in the country. It’s worth a stop, and with good shoes it’s possible to walk right up to the falls.

That evening we stayed in the countryside at the quaint Country Hotel Anna. It’s got a vintage charm to it, but it’s quite well-equipped. They even offer a free breakfast in the mornings (as did the other hotel in Reykjavik). Once it’s dark out, head out a little ways from the building. It’s the perfect spot to stargaze.

Day 3 – South Iceland

Glacier lake in Iceland

We were on the road the longest during our third day in Iceland. It took much longer to make it from Vik to Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lagoon on the southeast side of the country. Just across the highway from there is Diamond Beach. Covered in black sand and small icebergs, it’s absolutely gorgeous on a sunny day. I’m so glad that we pushed ourselves to get there because the visuals were spectacular. This was one of my favourite spots.

On the way back towards Keflavik, we also took in the Laufskálavarða, a lava ridge that is surrounded by a number of stone cairns. The stacks of rocks are a tradition meant to signal good fortune on the journey.

Finally, as we reached the village of Vik once more, we stopped at Reynisfjara, a unique black-sand beach surrounded by huge basalt stacks that form an otherworldly looking cave. I have no doubt that on nicer day, this would have been an amazing site. Unfortunately, it was incredibly windy (I could barely stay standing) and cold, so we got a few photos and then we left.

That evening, we checked into the Bergás Guesthouse in Keflavik. It was run by a friendly husband and wife. In all, I think we spent only about eight hours in the room. Ultimately, it met our needs though. It was very close to the airport for our early morning departure, and it was spacious and clean.

Of note:

Iceland has a very diverse landscape with rocky mountains that reminded me of the Nevada and Arizona desserts, fields of lava that are now covered in bright green, squishy moss, snow covered peaks as if we were in Switzerland or Whistler, and pools filled with the icy remnants of a glacier. Account for the time it actually takes to get to each place, and then tack on an extra hour or two for all the abrupt halts that will be made to snap photos.

Day 4 – Munich, Germany

The view from our apartment in Munich.

I just want to make a quick note about the Reykjavik airport. It’s not a fun place. The check-in area is a complete gong show in the morning with people everywhere you look. There also didn’t seem to be great signage indicating where to head to for security. As it turns out, there’s only one spot and it’s upstairs. Security was quick to get through though (they have a machine that feeds out the bins; I’ve never seen that anywhere else). After that, it’s kind of a nice looking terminal, but past the food vendors and shops, it becomes cramped and it feels like all the passengers are just cattle. There’s no sense of organization and they never seem to make announcements about flights boarding, so we really had to be aware of our gate and watch for movement in the lines.

In any case, we made it to Germany! The S-Bahn train (S1 or S8) took us to the closest station near the apartment we booked through Airbnb. The neighbourhood of München-Neuhausen was wonderful. It seemed to be a wealthier area of town that was very family friendly and safe. From there, we were able to walk to a lot of the popular spots in Munich.

Since we arrived mid-afternoon, we settled into the apartment and then we went for an amble around the nearby blocks. We also took advantage of the suggestions made by our Airbnb hosts, trying out a restaurant called Holy Burger. They specialize in organic ingredients. The burgers were delicious; however, the side of veggie fries — made of carrots, beets, and a vegetable that our server didn’t quite know how to translate into English — was tasty, but lacking in portion size. Plus, it was costly. For two burgers, the shared side, a beer, and a hot chocolate, we paid 45€.

After supper, we wandered further and came across one of the grocery stores, Rewe Dien Markt. My boyfriend picked up three half litres of beer for less than four Euro, a total steal compared to what we pay for drinks in Edmonton, Alberta.

Day 5 & 6 – Munich, Germany

So many beer steins!

I’m not sure what it was about being in Germany, but we really slept in almost every single day. I’ll chalk it up to a lack of sleep during our few days in Iceland. I also think I was a bit under the weather. Regardless, it was a lax couple of days after our arrival.

When we woke on our second day, we went back to the grocery store and stocked up on meats, cheeses, eggs, bread, condiments, and beer. With access to a kitchen, our plan was to make ourselves breakfast each morning. We spent the rest of the day just putting together an itinerary for the remainder of the trip. We did eventually leave the house to grab some dinner. Our intention was to try another recommendation from our hosts, a pizza place called Neuhauser. We arrived to find it absolutely packed full of patrons. There was no order to anything in terms of getting a name down for a table, so we ended up ordering food to go. It turned out to be quite tasty and we got a lot for our money (22€ for both of us).

Our third day was quite uneventful until the evening. A friend who is living in Munich was able to meet up with us for dinner and drinks. We arranged to connect at Marienplatz under the tower of the New Town Hall (don’t confuse it with the Old Town Hall even though it looks like the older one). He took us for a walk and then he whisked us over to Augustiner Klosterwirt for a delightfully “refined” meal of traditional German food. We shared a mixed sausage platter (so much sauerkraut) and the veal schnitzel. I was happily full by the time we left. Not to mention, the beer is fantastic (the radler — lager with Sprite or 7-Up — is my go to). The Augustiner brand is a local favourite because it’s almost exclusively found in the city of Munich.

After our filling meal, we trekked back the way we’d come. Ending up at Augustiner-Keller, another branch of the brand. This location is home to a huge outdoor beer garden during warmer weather. Plus, inside the building is an awesome underground bunker that’s now used as a beer hall.

On our way home, our friend led us to the München Hauptbahnhof (central station) to show us how to buy our train tickets to Salzburg. For just 31€ for the two of us, we could do a round trip past the border into Austria.

Day 7 – Munich, Germany

The immaculate upper church inside the Bürgersaalkirche.

We explored much more of the city on our fourth day. Again, we went on foot towards Karlsplatz (Stachus) and Marienplatz. It was incredibly busy with tourists, which I didn’t love (even though I was a tourist as well). But, it was still a great experience.

We came across the Bürgersaalkirche, a historical building that is split into an upper church and lower church. The one on the second floor is a stunner and was quite a surprise. Eventually, we made it to the Munich Residenz where we went through the Museum. I would also have liked to visit the theatre and treasury, but we didn’t have enough time to fit that in. At the end of the day, we stopped at Odeonsplatz. It’s mired in the history of World War II when Munich became a Nazi stronghold and one of Hitler’s main bases of operation. Seeing these spots where such darkness took place was sobering and also somewhat enlightening. Today, the people of Munich and Germany teach their youngsters about what happened, so that they can learn from the past. They’re not hiding it. It’s too important a lesson to shy away from.

Dinner on this night was had at Bollywood, a cozy Indian restaurant that made an amazing mango lamb dish (using real pureed mangos). It was probably one of the best meals we had on the entire trip.

Day 8 – Salzburg, Austria

Love locks on a bridge in Salzburg, Austria.

In Munich, Tuesday, October 31 was considered a holiday. I believe it was the 500th year of Reformation. Therefore, all shops and stores would be closed. Save for main city attractions, there wouldn’t be much to do except eat at a restaurant or drink at a bar. I checked and Salzburg, Austria was not celebrating the same holiday. I deemed it the ideal day to check entering another country off our list. It took about two hours to get there by train.

I’ve actually been to Salzburg before. I remember it as the birthplace of Mozart. But, beyond that, I can’t say I recall too much of it. It’s not very big, so it’s incredibly walkable. Granted, I couldn’t talk myself into trekking up the steep path to the castle, nor did I want to wait in the long line to get into the building. It seemed that a number of tourists thought this was also a great day to visit this city.

There are a number of gypsies begging for money in Salzburg, which is something we didn’t see much of in Munich. One sat outside the Stiftskirche Sankt Peter Salzburg as we entered the church. Behind that spot is Petersfriedhof Salzburg, a peaceful cemetery — the oldest in the city — where it seems whole families are laid to rest.

Prior to leaving, we also visited the Salzburg Cathedral (the Dom). It’s a much busier church that all the tourists go to. The door is monitored and there does seem to be an expectation of some sort of donation as one leaves.

We were in Salzburg for all of about four hours. It’s plenty of time if you’re not going through any museums or stopping for food or drinks. We made it back to Munich in the early evening. It’d been a pretty long day of travelling, so we opted to stick close to the apartment for dinner. Just around the corner from where we were staying is a pub called Hirschenwirt. The beer was fine, but the food was so-so. What made up for mediocre meal was the hospitality of the owners. The woman who served us was also the cook. As soon as we gave her our order, she opened the door to the kitchen, flicked on the lights and got going. We could tell it was the neighbourhood hangout full of regulars and that made it fun.

Of note:

On holidays, shops and grocery stores will be closed in Munich. The exception to that is at the central station where groceries can still be purchased and a number of food vendors will be open. It can be a lifesaver, if one forgets to stock up beforehand.

Day 9 – Munich, Germany

The interior of Nymphenburg Palace.

This was a wonderful day! We walked the 45 minutes or so from our apartment to the Nymphenburg Palace and Park. I’d love to see it in the summertime with the greenery and everything in full bloom.

When we finished there, we headed back towards our neighbourhood. My boyfriend wanted to check out the McDonald’s. He was so impressed with the separate McCafe side of the shop. I’d already seen that split in Hong Kong, so I wasn’t as enamored with that, but I was excited for the desserts as we don’t have them available at home (chocolate cake, cheesecake, and apple crumble). They were all much better than I expected. Fresh, moist, flavourful, and not overly sweet.

In the evening, we met our friend and his classmate for supper at Paulaner Brauhaus. It’s another Munich Brewery. Food-wise, it was still German cuisine, but it was elevated. The presentation and the preparation was just a lot more highbrow than Augustiner (and that was already supposed to be better than other places). I’d go back there in a heartbeat. I also learned here that schnapps are to be slowly sipped and not downed like a shot. It’s a strong liquor that isn’t sweetened to death like it is in North America.

As this was still a holiday in Munich, it was pretty difficult to find places open late in the evening. However, we found a haunt by the name of Neiderlassung for a nightcap. It was a laid back spot that played toned down versions of recent pop hits; quiet enough to actually have a conversation with friends. They also make a spectacular sloe gin.

Late at night, we were back at Marienplatz. Everything was closed and the square was empty. It’s a bit surreal to see it that way, but I highly recommend going there when it’s quiet.

Day 10 – Munich, Germany

The 1979 BMW Art Car seen at the BMW Museum.

This was our final full day in Munich (we had to leave the next morning for the airport), and we decided to spend it at the BMW Museum and BMW Welt. The Welt is free to enter. It’s basically a showroom for all of their products and there are a few cafes and restaurants inside as well. The BMW Museum cost 10€ per person. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not a car person per say. Nevertheless, I can appreciate the craftsmanship of some vehicles, and I have to say that this was an incredibly well-designed building and the exhibits were put together with care and precision. We really enjoyed ourselves here. My only wish is that I had also gotten to do the tour of the plant. Unfortunately, the plant was closed for holidays until a week into November, so we didn’t get to do that this time.

In the evening, while we were back in Marienplatz, we couldn’t decide on where to go for dinner, so we paused to buy a sausage in a bun from a vendor. It was alright. I would have preferred a bratwurst.

No matter though. We chose to finish off our trip with one last visit to Augustiner Klosterwirt. We imbibed in some more local beer, sausages, pork shoulder and spinach dumplings. It was warm, comforting food, and I couldn’t think of any better send off.