Saturday, November 26, 2016


I started a new job in September as the Head of Product Operations for Capital One's Innovation Labs. I had a week off between jobs and at the last minute, I booked a flight to Iceland. It quickly became one of my favorite places on the planet.

Iceland is crazy beautiful: mountains and volcanos pop up in every direction, looming over fields of lava rocks covered in moss. You can't take a photo without capturing a picturesque waterfall or steaming geothermal feature in the distance. At this time of year, the grasses and plants are turning brilliant shades of red, yellow, orange, and bright green. Iceland also has an interesting history that includes vikings and the first parliamentary government in the world. In 3.5 days I toured a small section of Iceland within two hours of Reykjavik. I packed my itinerary full, hoping to see and do as much as possible in that short time.

Day 1 (9/21/16): Golden Circle & Fontana Wellness Spa
The Reykjavik tour operators have made it really simple to get around the country. I hoped on a bus at the airport at 6:00am that dropped me off at my hotel, Hótel Ísland (which, by the way, means "Iceland" not "Island" in Icelandic - I found that out the hard way). The hotel had a place to store my bags and change for the day. By 8:30am, I'd been picked up by another bus and was on my way to visit the Icelandic countryside.

We first stopped at an Icelandic Horse Farm to learn about this special species of pony-like horse, the only kind they have on the island. I met this horse.

The next stop is where things got really, really good. We saw Gullfoss Falls, which is a big, beautiful double waterfall with a path that allows you to get relatively close as well as admire it from afar.

Next, I stopped at a geothermal area and saw several geysers, including the punctual Strokkur geyser, which goes off, on average, every 5-10 minutes.

The geysers are nothing compared to Yellowstone, but I hiked up a nearby mountain and found this picturesque farm and winding stream on the other side.

Iceland is not warm (go figure!) and it was in the 40s and 50s during my trip. It also rained on and off and was cloudy about 95% of the time, but that didn't really affect my trip. In fact, it made eating hot chocolate and soup a real joy. My first meal in Iceland was a steaming bowl of the native lamb meat soup (chicken broth, meat, and veggies). It was delightful (if you ignore the fact that you're eating a baby animal :/)

Our next stop was the Fontana Wellness Spa. Here, we learned about how the locals make rye bread, by burying it in a hot spring and cooking it for 24 hours. We got a demonstration and tasted it too. Delicious!

For the next two hours, we soaked in hot spring bliss. The Fontana Wellness Spa has four pools, kept at different temperatures, a sauna, steam room, and a glacially-fed lake. It was surprisingly fun to jump from pool to pool, relaxing, then adjusting your temperature by moving to a different pool. I even jumped off the end of the pier into the lake. It was so cold that by the time I got back to shore, I couldn't feel my legs. I only had to try that once.

The last stop of the day was an incredible gem. It was Thingvellir National Park, which is significant for two reasons. First, it was the site of the world's first parliament, where different early tribes in Iceland met to discuss governance issues starting in around 930 AD. Second, this is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart. You can see both ridges (and they are beautiful) and walk around in the gap between them. It is also incredibly picturesque and is probably my favorite scenic area in Iceland.

At this point in the day, I was fighting to stay awake, but I was also very hungry. At the hotel restaurant, I let the waitress talk me into getting the Atlantic Char, a local fish dish, and it was amazing.

Day 2 (9/22/16): Snorkeling Silfra, Reykjavik, and the Blue Lagoon
On Day 2, I did something that I admit was a little stupid: I went snorkeling in 37-degree glacial water. Silfra is an area in Thingvellir National Park where water fills the crack between the splitting tectonic plates. The water is crystal clear, filtered over 30-100 years from a nearby glacier through lava rocks. It is pure, cold drinking water with visibility up to 150 meters. The crack itself is a geologists' dream. While there is no wildlife in it (not enough to eat), the formations are amazing, especially the section known as "the cathedral" where the crack plunges down and you can see deep into the earth through clear cerulean waters. It was amazing, except for the temperature. We were in dry suits, but they didn't protect your hands or face from the extreme cold. I was only in the water for 40 minutes, but my lips went numb after 1 minute. The experience is really neat, but uncomfortable. The preparation took 1-2 hours and it was windy and rainy as we suited up. After it was over, I felt much like I did after climbing Kilimanjaro: I was glad to have done it, but I don't feel the need to do it again. We got hot chocolate and digestives afterwards, which was delightful.

I was so excited to get back to the hotel, take a warm shower, and have a big bowl of soup after this! After a couple hours of relaxation, I ventured into downtown Reykjavik. The city is cute and walkable. I didn't get very far past the shops on Laugavegur Road and Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral, but I had a good time exploring.

A delicious local orange soda I discovered.

In the evening, I was supposed to go whale watching, but the wind was so high that it was canceled. Instead, I went on the most iconic of all Icelandic adventures: the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a huge thermal bath, fed with both fresh water and geothermal salt water. There are minerals in the water that make your skin baby soft and you can relax in peace for hours. I've heard it called "The Disney Land of hot springs" because it is huge and located right next to the airport so it can get very busy. There is a swim-up bar and a giant hydraulic massage waterfall. You can get a silica mud mask for your face and explore the giant pool or just sit in one glorious place. It was pretty amazing.

I never took any photos here because it was dark and I was too busy relaxing, so here's a stock photo from Guide to Iceland. Love this place!

Day 3 (9/23/16): Glacier Hiking & Waterfalls
On my final full day in Iceland, I took a bus two hours along the South road. Here, the scenery is out-of-this world amazing. Mountains and volcanoes crop up out of nowhere, each with its own spectacular waterfall. There are picturesque farms dotted with sheep, Icelandic horses, and cows. You have a view of the ocean off in the distance, with jagged islands shrouded in mist. In fact, I got to see the volcano (Eyjafjallajökull) that erupted six years ago, halting all air traffic from Europe. After the drive, we stopped at Sólheimajökull Glacier and grabbed crampons and an ice ax to go out onto the glacier.

The Mountain Guides I went with have an incredible knowledge of the glacier. We first walked through an area dubbed "Mordor", with huge peaks of ice and ash. Crevices and waterfalls of ice water were around every corner and we skirted around features constantly to stay on solid ice.

After Mordor we got a view of the larger Glacier. I've never been near a Glacier this big before and it is spectacular.

There was a place on the Glacier where a river of water has eaten away the glacier and formed the most amazing walls, waterfalls, and sculptures in the ice. We walked down inside this area, where the walls were well-above our heads.

This walk was my favorite activity the whole trip, in a vacation that was jam-packed with incredible experiences. On the way home I visited two waterfalls: Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss. Both spectacular in their own ways. You can walk behind Seljalandsfoss and to get an amazing view from every angle.

That evening, I met up with my friend, Jesse's cousin's girlfriend (Ilyssa) who was starting a three-month epic tour of Europe. We went to a cute little restaurant called Svarta Kaffid that only sells two soups a day in a bread bowl with beer (how perfect). Soup is the ultimate meal in Iceland; so warm and cozy. I'm excited to follow Ilyssa on her own journey long after I arrive home.

Day 4 (9/24/16): Whale Watching & Home
After my whale watching was canceled on Thursday, I was able to reschedule it for the morning before I left on Saturday. It was raining again and the ticket window had a large sign that said "Rough Seas". They offered us all sea sickness pills and I happily took one. The boat headed out past more mountains in the mist of the rain and then we waited. And waited and waited and waited. About two hours later, I had given up and was trying to enjoy the (somewhat cold) sea air on my face. Suddenly we found one: a minke whale, not far from the front of the boat. I saw its small dorsal fin pop out of the water twice. That was it. Three hours of waiting for two seconds of whale viewing. The company thought that was pretty crappy too, so they gave us all tickets to return and try again within the next two years.

I had to rush to the airport after that and through passport checkpoints. I feel like I barely made my flight, but got home on time and was happy to be back.

I loved Iceland so much that I'm planning to take the family back for a week next summer. It will be the kids' first time out of the country. They're going to love it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


On February 29, I had the pleasure of guest lecturing for the Product Management 102 class at Harvard Business School. I spoke about Project Management with a former colleague, Ben Foster, who covered materials on Roadmapping. Because the class was in the evening and I had to spend the night anyway, I decided to extend my trip and see a little bit of Boston the next day. It turned out to be a really good trip.

2-29-16 - Harvard Yard
After I flew in on Monday, I dropped by bag off at the hotel and took a Harvard campus tour. I wasn't originally going to take an official tour, but I got frustrated by not knowing which buildings I was looking at and happened to be in the right place at the right time to join a tour.

Memorial Hall

Widener Library goes five floors into the ground and was built to memorialize a kid killed on the Titanic.
"John Harvard"
After lunch, I spent the afternoon sitting in or teaching classes. I got to listen to a class debate the Opower Case Study, which was really interesting. I also spoke with the Tech MBAs about Agile Software Development before Ben and I taught our class in the evening. I had dinner near Harvard Square at Russell House and had some deliciously unorthodox Clam Pizza.

Harvard Business School is much nicer than the main Harvard campus.
The next day I got up bright and early to walk along the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile long, well-marked trail that takes tourists past 16 historical sites. I LOVED my day on the Freedom Trail. To be honest, my favorite site was the Granary Burial Ground (that's right, a cemetery). But it was the BEST cemetery ever, with its stereotypical old haunted gravestones with ornate designs and the occasional famous person like John Hancock and Paul Revere. It was so cool!!

3-1-16 - Massachusetts State House (as seen from Boston Common)
Robert Gould Shaw Monument
Park Street Church
Boston Common
Granary Burying Ground
John Hancock's Grave
Paul Revere's Tomb

Random Grave - Look how cool these are!

After a couple churches and graveyards, I stopped at the Omni Parker Hotel, the place that invented the Boston Cream Pie, and got one in a little to-go box for later. I really enjoyed the Old Statehouse and learning about the Boston Massacre. For lunch I stopped at Neptune Oyster and ordered a Lobster Roll. It may be the world's most expensive sandwich ($30), but it was maybe the best sandwich I've ever had. After lunch I got a cannoli and then continued on to Paul Revere's house.

King's Chapel & Burial Ground
Ben Franklin Statue
Old Schoolhouse Mosaic
Boston Cream Pie
Old South Meeting House
Site of the Boston Massacre
Faneuil Hall
The Great Hall in Faneuil Hall
Lobster Roll
My first, but certainly not last cannoli!
I entertained a lonely interpreter at Paul Revere's house and helped the woman at the ticket booth get a bird out of her hut. Later in the afternoon, I stopped at the very-nicely-done USS Constituion Museum. The ship looked really sad because it is being refurbished and I couldn't go aboard, but I did get to sign my name on the copper that will be used to line the ship for the next 20 years.

Paul Revere's House
Old North Church
Inside Old North Church
A Really Skinny House
Copp's Hill Burying Ground
USS Constitution
That's going on the ship!
My last stop was the Bunker Hill Memorial. I talked to a lovely English man at the bottom for quite some time (by the way, England wants Bernie Sanders to win) and then I made my way up to the memorial. It's like a short Washington Monument and there are 294 stairs to the top. I had my carry-on bag with me and the Park Rangers wouldn't watch it, but I really wanted to see Boston from the top. So, I tucked it away and hoped no one would steal it while I literally ran to the top of the stairs and snapped a few pictures. Then I ran down. That was OK. My lungs hurt a little due to the cold air, but I was fine. I caught my plane on time and made it home by 9pm.

Bunker Hill
View from the Top


My English Friend
The next day I woke up and found that I couldn't get out of bed. My legs have never been so sore. They were cripplingly sore for 5 days. I guess that's what I get for rushing through a lovely city. I had a lot of fun and I'm sure I'll be back soon.

Boston from the Water Taxi back from the USS Constitution