Across the globe in Kolkata, the amazing Kartagrapher Anuradha Sengupta has been busily documenting everything from a Beatles themed hotel in Darjeeling to the best graffiti art in Bombay to a high school with so many pieces of taxidermy, it’s verging on competitive to the Natural History Museum in New York City.
Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you for Alternative Bombay? We were also specifically curious to learn more about the taxidermy in St. Xaviers High School you wrote about.
I think my love for exploration comes from my father who used to take me for walks to neighbourhood bazaars, pointing out things that would ordinarily escape you. That love for finding out about places grew and stayed with me and later, my work in media reflected these interests. While working as a senior editor at a newspaper in DNA, I had conceptualised and edited a special Sunday page called Urban Tales which had stories about the city, its hidden sub-cultures. The idea for Alternative Bombay came from there. When people think of the city, they have certain preconceived images in their minds, especially visitors from outside. Bombay – like any other city – has so many hidden quirks that I dug out during my walks and explorations. I wanted to highlight the different quirks. I mean, the Gateway and Victoria Terminus are great, but look beyond and you can uncover so many amazing histories!
The taxidermy in St Xavier’s I discovered while walking the area for a story for CNNGo (CNN Travel). The story was on an 18th century opera house favoured by the army, now seeing life as a run-down cinema hall screening B-grade films. The structure is fascinating; like a multilayered wedding cake and also has an amazing past life. I was walking around the area with a friend and he took me into the St Xaviers High School—an institution I found that can easily double up as a natural history museum. I met a priest and teacher of the school who served us tea and talked about the collection of stuffed animals. St Xavier’s houses a 3,000-odd collection of preserved animals, birds and reptiles—even Bengal Tiger in a glass case guarding a row of classrooms. The collection is scattered across 3 floors, and belonged to Father Antonio Navarro, a former Jesuit priest and ornithologist. The tiger was gifted to him by a maharaja who was a student at the school. Some of the exhibits have a touch of the macabre—particularly a section of cut-off birds heads. Not quite what you would want to chance upon without warning. I have a hunch that quite a few unsuspecting students (freshers probably) have been at the receiving end of exhibit-centred jokes.
Tell us a little about where you live, what you do and how you got turned on to Karta?
I have always been a bit of a nomad. At the moment, I live in Kolkata, India (earlier known as Calcutta.) Before this I was in Afghanistan for half a year. Earlier, I was in Bombay for a while. I have also lived in the lovely coastal state of Goa… And in the Indian capital Delhi. I have been in media most of my professional life. I love to explore cities and hidden urban subcultures; design in urban spaces – unlike other cities like Bombay and Delhi where the real estate boom has led to destruction of old houses, Calcutta still retains much of its old architecture. It has a slew of interesting design elements in these old houses—louvre windows, decorative wooden balconies, art deco elements… I have done a series on grill designs on windows and houses in the city. Another city design thread I like to follow is old handpainted signage, old Irani restaurants in Bombay which are vanishing due to rising real estate prices.
I am also the Founder/Editor of Jalebi Ink, an award-winning indie media collective for children and youth. Jalebi Ink’s My Mohalla Project creates portraits of neighbourhoods by encouraging young people to document and explore their neighbourhoods and the people and places that give them their unique flavour. My Mohalla tracks the past, present and future of neighbourhoods and communities and also captures vignettes of a life that is disappearing due to rapid urbanisation. We had a mapping session in Mumbai involving Keymakers—these people have beautiful signage and brilliantly coloured giant keys hanging from nearby trees to attract potential customers. Another group of children mapped a street in their neighbourhood in Bombay which had 24-odd giant crosses. Through the project, they found out that these crosses were installed by families during the infamous plague epidemic that struck Bombay in the late nineteenth century. The plague killed thousands, and many fled the city leading to a drastic fall in the population of the city. The crosses were erected to ward off death. So here you have a narrow street tucked away in a neighbourhood in west Bombay that showcases a certain period in the city’s life. And yet people who stay in the neighbourhood do not know about it. I would love to bring these out.
Can you give us a sneak to some of the other Kartas you are making?
I am working on a selection of interesting festivals in India beyond Diwali and Holi.
An Alternative series on Goa, Calcutta, Delhi, Pondicherry. Since I am big on food, I plan to do a city-based series on that, maybe with different themes.
I also love contemporary handmade products, so I plan to do a Handmade In… series – like a guide to picking up interesting stuff here. This could be differently themed too – like a textile lover’s guide.
A booklover’s guide to Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi – which will highlight places featured in certain books like Shantaram.
The ability to share and collaborate amongst people you know is important, but what if you could expand that beyond your inner circle? With the relaunch of Karta we’re introducing a new breed of maps that we’re calling Community Maps.
We’ve been amazed by the unique topics our users have been building maps around—from the obscure to the useful, these interest-based Kartas have opened a window to the idea that there could be significant benefit from engaging Kartagraphers outside your inner circle with similar passions.
The breadth these maps will cover is wide—from niche hobbies to field research and education. Imagine a map of the best surf spots around the world, or being able to document turtle nests along the coast of Mexico, or tracking the best places along the western coast to view migrating grey whales. While our users are already building maps similar to these concepts, the power of community contribution takes the potential to an entirely new level. We couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities.
When is this happening?
We’re relaunching Karta to a public beta late January. We’ll be writing a further post on new features to look out for, so stay tuned—this is only one of many!
Hailing from the trenches deep down off the L train in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood known as Bushwick that some people like to refer to as East Williamsburg, Kyle compiles a Karta that will help you get your feet wet.
1. You’ve made a user guide on what you think is interesting in Bushwick. How long have you lived there and can you tell us a bit about how the neighborhood has changed during that time?
I’ve lived in Bushwick for a bit over seven years now….and while change is a constant everywhere—especially in New York—I think it would be fair to say that the speed of that change has quickened, especially within the last two-three years, to the point where flux has become the norm. All that means is that I don’t even notice what’s going up or down any more. Renovation here…new cafe there…it’s become so constant as to become almost invisible. TO ME. My downstairs neighbors, Rosa and Jose, have lived in this building for thirty-five years, so it would be disingenuous of me to paint myself as having some ‘deeper’ or ‘more authentic’ vantage point than I do. But that said…I kind of, well, do. At least in the sense that I engage with and speak to and know my (mostly older, Hispanic) neighbors. And I’m very careful to ask THEIR opinions of the change and let theirs inform mine. I think that’s healthy. And actually, mostly they don’t complain. Safety and amenities are welcome. But they DO wish more newcomers would speak to them, look them in the eye, greet them etc. As a Spanish speaker (I’m Carlito, not Kyle, on my block!), I can tell you that any and all attempts at real interaction (in any language!) are most welcome. In short: I like the new bar around the corner; I miss the chicken shack that it was.
2. You have all kinds of places on your map from bars, cafes to churches — do you have a few spots that you frequent as a regular?
Though I generally shy away from anything remotely ‘rockabilly’ or ‘vintage’ or any such contrived scenes, and this place does suffer from said affliction a BIT….I must say that the Cobra Club on Wyckoff is quite lovely. Consistently good, down-to-earth service from pretty much everyone there; no nonsense or pretentiousness; a lot of solid, interesting regulars; a little smoking porch; a little pool table; and an eclectic backroom (bands, burlesque, dance-offs, karaoke etc). Frankly, though, as I live here….I frequent most of the places on the Karta I made. That’s why I put them there!
3. Can you tell us about some other Kartas you have in the making and what inspired them?
Aside from the Bushwick Karta, I made both a Memphis and New Orleans map….because those are (along with Texas and New York) my home-away-from-homes. Been there so many times and will always return…..draw a triangle between Austin, TX, Memphis and New Orleans and just try and wrap your mind around all the music, food and culture that’s contained in there. Hmm hmm. I’m currently brainstorming a Morocco Karta, as I spent four weeks there this past summer and am just starting to get my head all sorted out about it.
The choice to visit Cuba came largely from the looming sense that the “real” Cuba was fleeting. Or that when the gates opened to Americans, the history, charm and authenticity of what it once was would quickly evaporate.
Cuba is nothing like you could imagine—the photos, while accurate, do not do the energy, passion and aliveness the country and the people vibrate justice. It’s well worth every travel blunder, hard-to-organize plane ticket and fallen accommodation.
The majority of our time spent was in Havana and Trinidad and like I hinted before, while traveling anywhere in Cuba, expect your plans to shift with the wind. Rather than staying at hotels, we opted to stay at casas the entirety of the trip which are basically rented rooms in someone’s house or apartment. This was truly one of the best parts of the trip, allowing for a unique perspective into what life in Cuba is really like. We stayed at four in total, only one of which we had actually known about before departing (like I said plans fall through, but your cab driver’s cousin’s neighbor will have a suitable room, so don’t worry.) While the restaurant food in Cuba leaves something to be desired, the meals that we ate at our casas were incredible. Full fish fillets, homemade soups and stews, fresh juice and burn-a-hole-through-your-stomach strong coffee.
Havana is one of the most vibrant, energetic cities I’ve had the opportunity to visit. The people couldn’t be friendlier, the streets safer (albeit the significant lack of streetlights in the evening would make even the most confident traveler slightly unhinged.) The architecture, cars and ultra-transparent history are dizzying with grit, mystic and beauty. I say this with slight timidness as it doesn’t even touch on the whys or hows of the countries history and the reality of actually living in Cuba, but it’s beautiful none the less.
The best way to see Havana is on foot. Each street, alley and staircase offers up an incredibly unique view of the city. There are tons of hidden gems behind what you could only assume is someone’s house, and probably is, showcasing the best food, curious shops and one-off games. If you tire of walking, flag down a passing by car to hitch a ride. This seemed really unnerving at first, but it’s completely commonplace and couldn’t be safer (you’ll certainly be squeezed 6+ into a classic cadillac that reeks of exhaust.)
The city of Trinidad, an 8 hour bus ride from Havana on the southern side of the island carries much of the same charm in regards to the people and energy, but architecturally couldn’t be more different. The houses are lower to the ground, the facades are bright shades of pastel and there is an unmistakable beach-like charm and attitude. The best part of this leg of trip was staying at Casa El Galeon, a stones throw from the ocean owned by two of the loveliest people I may have ever met.
Getting In / Getting Out
This is of course written from the perspective of someone coming from the United States, where as elsewhere it’s significantly less complicated. Even so, judging from the rise of American visitors, it seems to be far easier than it once was. While you can’t fly directly to Cuba from the US unless you’re Cuban American (I think you can fly through Miami for a trip of “purpose”) you can easily connect through Mexico or Canada. We opted for Cancún. We found someone online to help us purchase the Cancún > Havana leg of the trip, slightly in good faith as we were just supposed to “find this guy at the airport” before our departing flight in Mexico. It turned out to be perfectly fine, and this was honestly how the rest of our travel experience in Cuba unfolded anyway.
When visiting Cuba, rather than stamping your passport they issue you a paper visa to stamp. The only concern with returning to the United States is that you’ll find yourself with two entry stamps to Mexico. We had no issues returning, except the border patrol found it quite curious by the small amount of luggage we had (we travel light!)
If you’re American traveling to Cuba, the rumors are true—you really do just have to bring a ton of cash as you won’t be able to get a penny out of an ATM, no less use a credit card anywhere. Cuba has two types of currency, the Cuban peso and the national peso, something I was completely clueless to before visiting and had it not been for our ultra-open casa hosts I may never have actually seen a national peso in real life. The Cuban peso is worth the equivalent of the US dollar and is mostly used for tourism while the national peso is what most Cubans are paid with, worth a small fraction of its sibling. While the two-currency system will be phased out in the near future, good luck trying to buy a loaf of bread with even a single Cuban peso (the national peso is worth so much less, that they actually won’t be able to give you change.)
Cuba may be one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken, and if done again, it will be for longer and most certainly will extend to the eastern side of the country. While I couldn’t recommend visiting more, relish in some Ibrahim Ferrer in the meantime.
This guy makes maps on Karta, some of the most interesting ones we have seen. Ranging from places to stand to hear unusual sounds in this city to where all the Manhattans of the world live.
Karta: Who are you and what do you do?
Nelson Harst: I’m a book dealer and an artist. In 2008 I cofounded Paper Cavalier, a database driven book selling startup. My two cofounders live in London, so I travel there often. On the art side, my main activity has been within the Bidoun Library. We attempt to collect and psychically catalog an accidental library of books and print artifacts by/about/around the “Middle East.” The library maps a concept rather than an actual place.
K: What sparked your curiosity for unusual sounds where Ambient Soundscapes, NYC is themed after?
NH: When I first moved to NY back in 2006, it took me a while to get used to the noise. It wasn’t really the periodic outbursts, sirens, some guy shouting or whatever. The sound that bugged me was the urban hum that hangs over the entire city like a ambient fog. Of course after a week or two one learns to tune it out. But then some places reassert themselves. For example at Brooklyn Bridge Park, especially on a cold day, one can become aware that there across the river a vast machine is humming away.
Just as one can see Manhattan better from Brooklyn, one can also more acutely hear the city. It’s a sonic perspective. The god’s eye view of an overhead map is a good tool for positioning these alternative perspectives. In July I started a Karta called Ambient Soundscapes, NYC as a catalog of these sonic vantage points.
The place that inspired this Karta came about when I was wandering around the obscure far north-east corner of Greenpoint under the BQE. On weekdays it is a bustling industrial zone but on weekends desolate. Early one Sunday morning I was walking around taking photos and was standing under the Kosciuszko Bridge. I’d been around there before on weekdays when there’s a lot of traffic and general activity. It’s a noisy place and our ears filter it all out as distraction.
But on this weekend morning it was just me and the light traffic overhead on the bridge. The sound had this very isolated presence. The sound was so strange, so erie. Bridges and overpasses each have a unique tonal palette.
While exploring this area — which by the way I would not necessarily recommend doing at night or even solo during the day, it’s a genuinely creepy place — I also came across a strange little spot called Outfall 002. I’ve not yet thoroughly researched it, but I believe it is a place where water runoff from the surrounding industry is expected to drain into the Newtown Creek. It’s also a sample station where Exxon reports back to a city agency on the toxicity of those waters.
I’ve also tried to find some quieter, more intimate places. Early mornings at the Hua Mei Bird Garden are peaceful and lovely. But no place on this Karta is more sonically intimate than the whispering arches at the entrance to the Grand Central Oyster Bar.
K: What are some other Kartas you are making?
NH: One Karta inspires another. I’m interested in industrial zoned but publicly accessible water access points. I obviously need to find the Newtown Creek Outfall 001 and find out if there is also a 003. There are other interesting points, such as one on Staten Island I mapped on my Post Industrial Sightseeing Karta. These places are interesting to visit both as unusually open water front access control points and as anti-monuments to New York’s toxic industrial legacy.
Not all my urban Kartas are so urban post apocalyptic. I’ve also done a Karta of my favorite NYC Bookstores. However the map is rather Manhattan-centric and could use some more Brooklyn input, anyone want to share?. I also want to start another Karta of Manhattan’s many sidewalk book and record vendors. They are a nomadic tribe, so an unreliable map by definition, but I hope an interesting one.
Bidoun Library at the New Museum, New York
Whispering arches at the entrance to the Grand Central Oyster Bar (image via Gotham Insider)
Under the Kosciuszko Bridge (image via flickr)
When you need a place to get out of the city for a night and breathe and see some trees and stars or have a fire, this just might be the place.
The Graham & Co. is located in Phoenicia, a small town (population less than 500) located on the western side of the Catskill Mountains off route 28. I heard about this town from some friends that live in the neighboring towns of Woodstock and Kingston, both of which are a 15 minute drive from Phoenicia (to give you some reference).
This mountain town offers a beautiful, tree-filled landscape that to any New Yorker, is a rarity unless you’re lucky enough to live near one of the few parks scattered across the city. I personally love trees and have been very fond of a few in particular like the weeping willow, cypress and magnolias from my southern upbringing. Phoenicia offers a different variety: birch, hemlock, maple, cedar, oak, fir and pine, all complimenting each other with their smells, leaves and heights.
We started our trip with a hike through Kaaterskill Falls, where we got to experience the perfect fall Saturday. Every leaf on every tree that could change color, was. It was an easy hike and a nice warm-up to the new season, just 30 minutes from our destination. At the top of the falls was a beautiful view, with trees and mountains all around us.
This may be the initial reason I wanted to come to this town. I came across this modern hotel through my Instagram feed. When I saw the pictures I thought that this must be somewhere in Los Angeles, CA or Marfa,TX…but it was in the Catskills! Better for me because I could totally make this a weekend trip multiple times throughout the year. When we arrived at The Graham & Co. it was very calm. It felt as if we had walked into a design oasis in the middle of the mountains, and nothing was overdone. Everything was simple and wooden- it was perfect.
The lobby was playing Arcade Fire when we arrived and we were given the option of water or Budweiser as a welcome. The receptionist mentioned the hotel would be having a bonfire at night, which sounded like the perfect way to end the day (we inevitably attended that evening, and met a lot of New Yorkers in search of their own weekend escapes). We all chose Budweiser and happily walked to our rooms.
I had booked a double for the four of us. The rooms at Graham & Co. are designed in an open loft layout with a kitchen at one end, a dining table complete with bench seating next to a bear skin rug in the middle of the room, and two beds near the entrance. Beautiful lamp fixtures were scattered throughout the room, and jars were offered in lieu of cups. They keep it simple.
We dropped our stuff and took a walk into town, about a 10 minute stroll to Main Street (the main strip of shops, restaurants, grocery stores and liquor shops). Want to know more about our weekend getaway in the Catskills? Check out the map below of the things to do in Phoenicia, NY based off this weekend escape.
Various assortment of trees from the view of the Kaaterskill Falls
Graham & Co. Hotel lobby
Graham & Co. various artifacts (photo courtesy of strictlypaper)
Open area for bonfire and breathing
With hours spent in a most-likely fluorescent lighted room, pushing your brain to stay active for 8-10 hours a day while feeling jetlagged and slightly perturbed that you’re not instead wandering the endless streets of a city you just happened upon for a few days, traveling for work can be daunting.
I only had a handful of days in Tokyo and refused to let the fact that I would be in an office the majority of the time hinder my exploration of the mega-city. I had never been to Asia and couldn’t have been more curious to find the cat cafes, ramen shop vending machines and department store robots (these had to exist, right? They did.)
What you have to realize when deciding that you’re going to make a work trip also a fun trip, is that sleep is of no consideration. There are roughly three hours to utilize before the work day begins and four to six at the end if you’re lucky. This is how each day in Tokyo was spent, and I’m quite positive that my coworker who I was traveling with still hasn’t forgiven me for placing 5 am wake up calls to his room so we could wander to the edge of the city for breakfast sushi.
Leave hotel by 6 am and travel to the Meiji Shrine. My coworker and I were staying in Shinjuku, which it turned out was rather walkable to many parts of the city. The Meiji Shrine was roughly a 45 minute walk, which we didn’t seem to mind because Tokyo is absolutely incredible in the early morning hours. The normally crowded city was virtually empty, leaving little distraction to the generally lost gridline. The Meiji Shrine is tucked inside a bamboo forest, and when you happen upon it so early in the morning it’s nearly silent and eerily foggy. It’s an experience that leaves you slightly breathless because you can’t believe you’re seeing something so beautiful all alone.
After Meiji, pop into the nearest ramen shop for breakfast. In all honesty, unless you’re Japanese is pristine, I’d ask someone to describe what’s in the photos of the vending machine. I only say this after being adventurous, to wind up with raw egg and chicken gizzards above a bowl of rice. It left much to be desired.
After the workday is over, head to the Shibuya train station for a birds eye view of the famous crossing. You’ll only need about 3 minutes to take this in, but it’s honestly bigger than a photo could ever convey. After head to 汁べゑ 渋谷店 or We All Juice, a second story restaurant that feels reminiscent of a Miyazaki film. You’ll approach a tiny door, about 4 feet high, crowch through to enter a small but lively restaurant broken into booths and tables behind curtains. Try the vinegar seared mackerel.
Again, no rest for the weary. Head to the imperial palace in the wee hours of the morning to get a distant view beyond the gates. After, walk to the famous Tokyo fish market for what I will quite literally say was the best sushi I’ve had in my life. The market is bustling at this early hour already, and while I’d recommend eating at Sushi Dai, any one of the more crowded restaurants will leave you never wanting to eat fish elsewhere again.
After work, head back to Shibuya for dinner at Sushizanmai. An amazing carousel sushi spot (are you sick of sushi yet?) and then to Stand S for a mojito beer (remember, it’s ok to smoke inside restaurants and bars but not on the street.) If you have time, pop into Tokyo Hands, the mega department store filled with more Japanese candy, stationery and toy robots than you can imagine.
Head back to Shinjuki and wander the small streets of Golden Gai, a 6 block area filled with over 100 bars all the size of a walk-in closet or small New York bedroom. They’re themed, so take a peek into each one and see what suits you for the moment. This might be one of my favorite places in all of Tokyo, that while it’s held on strongly to its customs, it’s challenging to find architecture that hasn’t been toppled to be replaced by something new and shiny.
All in all, Tokyo may be one of my favorite cities to explore, work trip of not. Check out my map for even more recommendations!
Golden Gai side street
Ramen from Afuri
How-to menu drawings at Jasmine Shokudo
People are already making super awesome Kartas all over the world. And it’s not particular to restaurants and bars—they’re unique perspectives on the places they find most interesting.
Lots of our users have been asking the question “How do I make a good map?” Here are a few pointers to get you going!
A good name can start to tell a good story. Think of a map as a story you want to share. The spots on your Karta don’t always have to be bars or restaurants, they can be custom to your experience (like that park bench you sit at to eat your favorite sandwich or that specific spot on the bridge to watch the sunset.) Some examples of a few great Kartas names are Darjeeling – Tea Tourism and More, Ceilings of New York and Murals of Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Having a specific theme around what you’d like to capture can go a long way in terms of archiving and helping others discover maps on Karta. Focusing on a general location (like a neighborhood or city) can also make it easier to find things based on your theme or topic. The theme helps keeps your maps focused and easier to share or add to down the line.
Notes & Photos
When you add spots to a Karta you have the option to add a note and picture along with it. This allows you to add your own unique voice to that spot. The note is a 140 character description of why you think that spot is special. Any Kartagrapher on the map can add their own note, and in the next release users will be able to comment and like notes. This facilitates conversation around that place, and personalizes your experience.
Remembering things on your own is great, but what if you have a friend or a few collaborating with you? That’s when the fun really starts. Adding your friends as admins on Karta allows everyone to exchange notes around a place and discuss personal experiences (whether it’s the Karta as a whole or a specific spot). Check out Places to Try: San Francisco that we created for our trip to San Francisco this summer. We invited our friends to collaborate and tell us about any new places in the city worth checking out. As someone who has never lived in San Francisco I cannot begin to tell you how helpful this was for my trip!
Have a kick$#s map to share?
We’re on the lookout for amazing Kartas & Kartagraphers to highlight on our blog. Email hi(at)iheartkarta(dot)com to tell us about it and the next map featured here could be yours!
It’s been described as the Portland of the East, and for a good reason–the food, the people and the culture are curiously reminiscent of its western counterpart, but with less punk rock kids, little to no design scene and not a Voodoo Doughnut in sight.
Located amidst the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina, Asheville is a true gem that has yet to be fully recognized as the bustling town that it is (maybe that’s a good thing?)
I’ve come to accept and even praise it as a mini food metropolis, and frankly, even I’m still slightly shocked by this claim. It’s rare and perhaps has not occurred for me since living in San Francisco, to actually enjoy every meal I eat (especially in a city where I’m trying everything new for the first time.) I’ve made a concerted effort over the last year, amongst five trips, to not repeat any dish or restaurant in hopes of gathering a comprehensive understanding of the food landscape for each place. It turned out I had to cheat a few times: I found myself craving certain plates that if left unsatiated, I’d no doubt have to spend hours in my kitchen trying to recreate upon returning home.
Here’s my running list of top places to check out on your next (or first) trip to one of my favorite cities east of the Mississippi.
*Keep in mind that I find no satisfaction in spending over $10 for a meal (not including a locally-brewed beer, which there are plenty of.)
Imagine moving quickly from a mars-like surface covered in rocky lava and sulfur holes, to green rolling pastures scattered with tiny Icelandic ponies, to striking mountains covered in snow that are likely to be a volcano. This is Iceland.
Reykjavik itself is a quaint little city that is reminiscent of it’s Nordic counterparts, but perhaps with slightly weirder architecture. After two trips to this mini-metropolis, the first purely as a tourist and the second as a tag-along with locals, I’ve gathered a relatively good idea of what to prioritize on a short stay.
Wander around the downtown area, out to the water, up to the church and around the pond. It will take you about 2-3 hours and give you a relatively good lay of the land. For lunch, (and possibly every lunch you eat while in Reykjavik), grab a hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Icelandic hot dogs are one for the books—covered in mustard and a brown sauce, with crunchy onions hidden underneath the dog. Ask for it with everything, and pair it with a coke.
If you’re still hungry, walk along the water to Sægreifinn (The Sea Baron) for a bowl of lobster soup. Personally, I think this place is slightly overrated for all the hype, but it’s a fun experience none the less (the wax sculpture of the owner in the back room is nothing if not slightly creepy.)
If it’s the weekend, check out the Kolaportid Flea Market, a semi-hidden (meaning in a nondescript building) flea market combining kitschy new with Iceland old. Find the stamp guy.
There are a handful of really great bars scattered around downtown. Exploring with people who actually live in Iceland is definitely a preferable experience to tourist-guessing (but isn’t that always the case?) As they’re all relatively close together start a little bar hop with the first being Prikid, a two story, slightly divey bar that is strongly reminiscent of Williamsburg and/or the Mission. It’s been rumored that this place has epic dance parties on the weekends. Next, pop over to Dolly Bar and finish up at Harlem. A funny, and slightly odd fact about Reykjavik—they tend to name their bars/restaurants after existing cities for some reason (Harlem, Paris, Boston, etc.). Take note.
If the weather is fair, I strongly recommend hiking to the top of Mt Esja. Even clad in fog, it’s a beautifully scenic hike up, and likely, you’ll be lifted above the clouds to what feels like the brightest sun you’ve ever seen. After, find one of the many local public pool and go for a dip in a hot pot.
Outside of Reykjavic
There are quite a few directions you can head outside of Reykjavik proper, offering up anything from smelly sulfur holes to black sand beaches to a slew of waterfalls and volcanoes. If at all possible, I 100% endorse getting a summer home for a couple days. This past trip, we found a cabin toward the bottom of Hekla. We were the only people for miles around, and I can’t even begin to describe how peaceful it was sitting in a hot tub 2 days with no internet.
If the summer home is not possible, opt instead for a drive to the coastal town of Vik. Beautiful black sand beaches with crater-like peaks protruding from the water. I have yet to visit myself, but have heard nothing but incredible things. Also in this direction is Seljavallalaug, one of the oldest natural swimming pools in all of Iceland. Apparently this used to be much more off the beaten path, but it’s still worth the trip. If this is the adventure you choose to embark on, you’ll also be close to Seljalandfoss, a waterfall that you can walk behind (if you’re ok with getting soaked.) The landscape around here is beautiful—keep an eye out for the houses built into the ground.
Iceland is most definitely worth a visit. While you can tackle Reykjavik in just a few short hours, the landscape outside the city is really what’s worth the effort. The offerings of this country change with the season, so keep in mind if you want to see Northern Lights, go in January/February when it’s cold and dark.
Gunnuhver steam vents
Atop Mt. Esja
Yessi atop Mt. Esja
Mt. Hekla in the distance
Names are a funny thing. Especially when it comes to starting a company. It’s hard to know what a new company’s future will hold, how it will evolve and even how people will use your product.
Our name, up until now, has always been more of a function. It was that project that had to do with maps. We explored alternatives every now and again, but at the end of the day, we always ended up calling it what it was—The Map Project.
With our launch approaching more quickly than we can design marketing campaigns, fix last minute bugs and send invitations, we’re spending more time than ever thinking about the bigger picture of where we want the product to go and how we want people to use it—how this tool can become a part of people’s everyday lives.
With that, we’ve decided that it’s time The Map Project had a new name. A chosen name that extends past it’s function—something that can grow with us through the many stages of what will hopefully be an impactful product and business. A name that carries the same essence that we built The Map Project on—a simple tool to share the places you love.
Isn’t it nice? It’s short and easy, kind of cute and still has to do with maps (Karta means map in Swedish!) We heart Karta, and we hope you do too.
Since the beginning of Karta, it always just seemed to make more sense to have it on desktop first with mobile following as an ‘on foot’ version. Here’s why.
Most of us use our smartphones differently than we use our computers. We have different tools on both and use them accordingly—at work you’re sitting at a desk and are able to get longer tasks done versus when you’re taking a lunch break with your phone for a quick catch up with the news or friends.
With Karta, a huge part of the experience is about quality. Well executed, thoughtful collections of places that you really couldn’t get anywhere else. We want people to take the time to curate them, because that‘s what’s most useful to the community. It’s not about putting every single restaurant you’ve been to on a map, it’s about putting your favorites—ones you would recommend to your close friends. While a lot of this can and does happen on mobile, we believe that the bulk of the work flows more easily on a desktop, when you have more time to edit, think and explore. The mobile experience is super important, don’t get us wrong! Karta works responsively on mobile and tablet devices so you can use it anywhere you have access to internet.
While the product is desktop first doesn’t mean it will be desktop only. There is definitely a crossover of these worlds that we’re keying into, keeping in mind which tool is best suited for which actions especially when it comes to real-time, location based experiences (adding a place you’re currently at should be no more than a couple quick clicks, right?)
I recently came across some photos of Beyonce visiting Marfa was not at all surprised to see her and her pals enjoying some Judd art and riding bikes around El Cosmico.
It oddly furthered my sentiment of how special Marfa, rather than the knee jerk reaction of a small, quirky place being spoiled by the likely tourists to follow in Beyonce’s footsteps (I have little to no fear of this happening.) Marfa is special. It’s history, the art, it’s location, the people who actually live there for stretches at a time, the food, the mysterious Marfa lights—the list goes on.
I made the trip last summer when I was living in Dallas for a short stint. The drive out is long but beautiful and if you can arrive just moments before the sun is setting, you’ll have some amazing views of the untamed West along the 67. We stayed for 2 days which was perhaps the perfect amount of time to look around, yet to keep you longing for more (I habitually listen to Marfa radio now just to get a little bit of swoon each day.)
Breakfast at Squeeze followed by a private tour of the Judd Foundation. There are a quite a few Judd tours, but I recommend spending a little extra cash and doing the private one. You get an intense glimpse into his personal and work life viewing the untouched-since-death studios, libraries, residences and in-progress art.
Grab lunch during the break at Food Shark (under the pavillion between the railroad tracks and Marfa Book Co) and take note of the change you recieve (when is the last time you got a 2 dollar bill?) After the tour grab a cocktail at Padre’s, Hotel Paisano or Planet Marfa (and if you have a size 8.5 shoe, visit the thrift store attached and you’ll be in heaven.)
For dinner treat yourself to Cochineal (the menu seems to change frequently, but there wasn’t a thing we ordered that didn’t have us licking the plate.) If you’re craving something a bit more lowkey, try the Museum of Electronic Wonders and late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour (only open late nights on Friday and Saturday.)
If you’re in Marfa on the first Sunday of the month, try the Austin Street Cafe for breakfast. It’s literally a one day a month thing and if you’re lucky enough to be there, you surely won’t regret it. Following breakfast check out the Chinatti Foundation— another hot bed of Judd and modern art (you’re likely to see a handful of Flavin.) The tour is a bit more free form than the Judd Foundation, taking as many or as few hours as you desire. After the tour stop by Freda’s, a charming little shop full of small housewares, bags and paper stuff.
For dinner try Maiya’s on the main drag or Hotel Paisano (and if you want to upgrade your digs, go for the Elizabeth Taylor room.)
Beyonce at El Cosmico (via her blog)
Judd art at Chinati
Food Shark car
From the very beginning when Karta was just forming as an idea, there were a few key concepts that would lay the groundwork for the entire future of the product.
We knew that we wanted it to be a tool—not just in it’s utility, but in the sense of its form and function. We have always been inspired by product design that pushed the boundaries of function (and in return are beautiful and classic in their own right.) Dieter Rams’ stereo turntables from the 60′s, AIAIAI track headphones and the designs of architect Johannes Norlander Arkitektur to name just a few.
We knew that the user experience was by far the most important element in what we’d be building, and everything from design to development would support that.
We went through numorous design explorations in the early days of the project, but it wasn’t until we really stepped back and revisited our initial goals that we landed on something that felt right. These were the original moodboards we had put together along with a brief explaination of each:
Combined with the look and feel, I’ve put together a moodboard that illustrates the direction for the form of the product. Minimal, but including everything necessary. It’s not about being minimal just for the sake of minimal, but to strip down the product to the essentials. I think there is always room for surprises, like a whale sighting on the horizon, but in general I think a glacier is a good analogy for the project in that the real mass is hidden beneath the surface. What makes it powerful is the way it’s developed and constructed, not just visual candy.
This is pretty much dead on in terms of the vibe I’d like it to take on. Like an adventure through the arctic tundra, where things are somewhat damp, neutral and cold, a landscape of which the explorer finds beautiful and forces them to recognize details and light reflections that would normally go unnoticed. Minimal yet cute. Steril, but in a somewhat charming way (like you can breath, almost relaxing.)
To this day we still refer back to these as the overall direction for the product, and constantly remind ourselves how useful of a tool they’ve become themselves.
Look & Feel Moodboard