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Europe, Iceland, Travel

A Long Weekend in Iceland

January 13, 2018

December 2017 saw me and Stu finally tick a destination off our bucket list which has been on there for years… ICELAND! We were there from Thursday to Sunday and it was absolutely brilliant. Everything we wanted and more.

Here’s what we managed to do on our 3 day/4 night trip.

Day 1

We arrived about midday after flying from Bristol with Easyjet. After collecting our luggage (and saying hello to the puffin hanging from the ceiling) we headed outside to get our transfer coach to the hotel. We both had our warm coats on and a couple of other layers but no hats, scarves or gloves at this point. Our initial thoughts were, “This isn’t that bad” and then suddenly the cold hits you. My hands felt like they were going to drop off and I huddled into Stu to try and keep warm. Luckily there wasn’t much of a queue and we were on the coach within minutes. All the coaches we went on during the trip were nice and warm so there was never any problems staying warm when travelling.

It was about a 45 minute journey from the airport to central Reykjavik and the views on the journey are amazing. It’s totally different landscape to anywhere I’ve been before and I was completely awestruck and couldn’t wait to explore.

We couldn’t check in to our hotel until 3pm so had a few hours to walk around Reykjavik. The first thing on our mind was food so we walked down the main road keeping an eye out for places to eat. We kept getting distracted though because Reykjavik is full of quirky colourful buildings and it’s right next to more amazing scenery. Being winter, the sun was low and this made the surrounding mountains look almost purple. Pictures just can’t do it justice. In fact, it’s hard to get a picture because you risk frost bite when you take your gloves off to get a picture.

For lunch we went to SÆTA SVÍNIÐ, a small pub by Ingólfur Square. We both went for a lamb sandwich which came with waffle chips. It was absolutely gorgeous! We found out afterwards that lamb is a favourite for Iceland and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The portion sizes were huge as well!  This was our first experience of Icelandic prices and two meals, a beer and a coffee came to £65. So, not cheap. Stu’s pint was about £10 and this did turn out to be his most expensive one of the trip. When I had wine, it tended to be about £8-£10 for a glass. So yes, Iceland is expensive but you can find cheaper food if you don’t want a sit down meal every time and there’s plenty of happy hours to take advantage of for drinks.

Night 1 – Northern Lights tour with Grayline.

Having the chance to see the Northern Lights are probably one of the main attractions to Iceland. We’ve all seen those fantastic images of the green lights shooting across the skies. I booked all of our tours with Grayline before we left because I found a discount code online (See5 if it still works!).

We were picked up about 8pm and then headed out of the city to chase the lights. We had a brilliant tour guide who told us loads of interesting facts and kept the excitement high in the group. Now, most people me and Stu know who had been to Iceland before, hadn’t seen the Northern Lights so we had low expectations. In fact, our expectations were at an all time low because the nightly forecast put our chances at a 2 on a scale of 1 to 9.

However…

About half an hour in to the trip, the coach driver turned off all the interior lights and we were asked to look to our left. Above the mountains, the tour guide pointed out something that looked like a strange cloud formation. This was what the Northern Lights looked like as they were developing. We couldn’t believe it, we were going to see them!

We pulled over shortly after this in the middle of the National Park and our tour guide showed us how to set our cameras to get the best possible pictures. This is the thing that no one really tells you about the lights. All the vibrant colours are invisible to the human eye and only your camera can capture them. What you see is very pale green colours in the sky. We were extra lucky and the lights decided to dance on this night so we got to see all the different movements as well as the static formation. I was probably the coldest I’ve ever been, and ever will be, despite lots of layers but it was so worth it! I can’t describe how special the experience was. Our photos seriously don’t do it justice. We probably spent about an hour and a half watching them and then it was time to head back to the hotel.

Most of the tour operators offer you the chance to return and try again the next night if you don’t see the lights so don’t worry if you miss out the first time.

Day 2

As we knew the previous night was going to be a late one, we decided to book the blue lagoon for our second day. There’s no better way to relax than in a lagoon right? We weren’t due at the lagoon until 1pm so had a little stroll into the centre in the morning for breakfast. As it doesn’t get light until 11am it felt strange trying to find somewhere to eat in the pitch black. The streets were really quiet as well so we felt like we’d got out of bed at the wrong time. We decided to try out The Laundromat Cafe which had nice interiors and was decorated for Christmas. The prices in here were a lot more reasonable as well. We could have probably picked anything from the breakfast menu but eventually decided on the banana and blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs and bacon on rye bread. We even shared because we both wanted to try more than one dish!

It was getting light when we left so we got to appreciate all the cute coloured houses and street art on our walk back to the hotel. It’s weird visiting a country and not getting many chances to see it in daylight!

So, the blue lagoon. We went for the Premium package which gave you a few extras on top of the standard ticket. These included a drink at the swim up bar, a dressing gown and an extra face mask. You can upgrade on the day so don’t worry if you’re not sure what to go for just yet. Once we’d changed in to our swim stuff, we decided to take a few photos before getting in the lagoon. Unfortunately our GoPro ran out of battery and we didn’t bring the charger so had to make do with our phones. Once we were happy with our shots, we had our first dip! The outside temperature was about -7 and the water 37 degrees so it was absolute bliss. It’s really, really steamy so you can’t see that far in front of you but that just adds to the experience. You feel like you’re exploring the whole lagoon and keep coming across new areas.

We decided to have our free drinks first so headed over to the bar area. It was amazing to have a glass of wine and just people watch for a bit. Everyone looked so happy! Well, everyone apart from the lifeguards who looked bloody freezing. I would not want their jobs!

After a little swim and explore we went to try out the face masks. Stu was a bit tentative at first but soon immersed himself in the experience when he realised that everyone was using the masks. I completely caked it on so probably looked more scary than relaxed.

There’s absolutely loads to see at the blue lagoon. There’s a little cave with a voiceover telling you the history of the lagoon, there’s a steam room and a sauna and there’s a waterfall! We spent about 3 and a half hours there and could have stayed longer really. All the tickets let you stay until close so you can truly relax and enjoy yourself.

For our second night we decided to go to the Hard Rock Café which only opened in 2016. Yes we are those people that visit chain restaurants when on holiday. I’m sorry but the nachos are just too good. We also had a walk around the town as it was lit up for Christmas and had an ice rink in the square. Another reason we were so glad to see the Northern Lights on our first night was because it meant we had some evenings to ourselves and not on a tour. I would have felt that we hadn’t spent enough time in Reykjavik if we’d spent every night on a coach trying to see the lights again.

Day 3

Our third day was spent on an all day trip with Grayline on the Golden Circle classic tour. The Golden Circle is basically the name of the trip which shows you all the main natural landmarks in the area. Along with the blue lagoon and the northern lights, it’s probably one of the most popular attractions for those visiting Iceland. We were really excited for this trip so we could see all the amazing scenery up close and feel like an extra on Game of Thrones.

Again, our Grayline tour guide and driver were fantastic in keeping the group entertained with stories about Iceland. I was especially impressed that our guide quizzed us on what he’d told us with Mars bars for prizes! Miss Competitive over here obviously won one!

So the Golden Circle tour takes you to Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area and the Gullfoss Waterfall. We also stopped off at another waterfall and to see some Icelandic horses!

The first stop at the National Park was very pretty as the sun was just coming up. Now when you’re at this National Park, you actually get to visit two continents… sort of. This is the point where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet. Little geography lesson for you there. Þingvellir is also where the old Icelandic leaders used to meet to make important decisions so it’s quite a cool landmark to visit. You’ll also get some amazing photos here.

We headed to the Gullfoss waterfall next which is a huge double waterfall. When my Dad and Stepmum visited, it was completely frozen but it was still flowing for us. It was bitterly cold here with the wind and spray but it’s an impressive sight. I know I keep going on about how amazing the landscape is in Iceland but it really is. I felt like I was on another planet, not just a 3 hour flight away from Bristol.

The last main stop was the Geysir area. This was cool. Every 5 minutes or so, one of the hot springs blasts out a huge column of water into the air and Stu took a great picture of it. Everyone gathers around the spring and watches it bubble away and then suddenly a huge bubble grows and then the water shoots out! Just writing about it is making me want to go again!

On the way back, we made one last little stop to a cute church. The sun was setting as we were there and it made for a great end to the day. This was a fantastic trip and one I would highly recommend. I can’t even pick a favourite stop of the day it was all that good.

Our final night arrived far too quickly. How could our bucketlist trip be almost over? We couldn’t decide where to go to eat on this night. In fact, we even bought a hot dog from a stall to eat whilst walking up and down the streets trying to decide on a restaurant. In fairness, it was a nice hot dog. Eventually, we decided on a cosy Italian restaurant which I can’t remember the name of. If I can find it on google maps, I’ll add the link as it was lovely food and a great atmosphere in there. As it was our last night, we decided to ignore Iceland prices and just eat and drink as much as we wanted. The way it should be on holiday! After having some bruschetta each to start, Stu decided to try some Icelandic cuisine and went for a salted cod pizza for his main and I had a pasta dish. Delicious!

Day 4

Our last day was basically travelling home because our flight was at midday. We had breakfast at the airport and then had one last look at this beautiful country from the window of the plane. It’s just phenomenal. It’s only a 3 hour flight to Bristol so we were soon back home and actually got greeted by even more snow. My car was covered by a few inches at the airport and it was nice to have a pretty landscape at home as well.

As you can see it was a lot to fit in to one trip. If we hadn’t seen the Northern Lights on our first night, we would have spent potentially the next two nights on that trip again. That would have left us with very little time to explore Reykjavik. We barely saw it in daylight as it was so had to get all our daytime pictures on the first day. 3 days/4 nights is enough time for your first trip to Iceland but only just. It will leave you wanting more, especially if you miss out on seeing the lights.

If I was to go again (which I’d love to!), I’d definitely go in the Summer to experience the 24 hours of sunshine and see the icy landscape transformed. There’s also so much more of the island to explore, like the glaciers and ice caves. We’re both big Game of Thrones fans so that tour was tempting but we didn’t have long enough this time.

Iceland, you were great.

Europe, France, Travel

Three Nights in Paris

January 21, 2015

Stu and I went to Paris earlier this month and we were there when the Charlie Hebdo attacks happened. It was obviously quite a scary time to be exploring the city but in all honestly our trip was not affected by the attacks at all. The public transport systems ran smoothly and all the main attractions remained open with extra security. On the actual day of the incident, we didn’t even know anything had happened until we got back to the hotel and checked BBC News on our phones. Anyway, here’s how our trip went.

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Staying at – Mercure Eiffel Tower.

Duration – 3 nights.

To celebrate our 5 year anniversary in true cliché style, Stu and I headed to Paris. We decided to stay in the Mercure hotel right next to the Eiffel Tower because of the amazing views it offered and for its accessibility. It is so easy to get to. From the Charles De Gaulle airport you can get a train to the Eiffel tower for under 10 euros each. I’d had a little search on Trip Advisor and this seemed the best way to get to anywhere in Paris as Taxis can be expensive.

We arrived late in the evening so checked in and went straight to bed but we’d already seen the Eiffel Tower all lit up as the hotel is ridiculously close to it. I always feel a bit surreal seeing famous monuments for the first time because it isn’t really the first time. My generation will never see anything for the first time, everything is over-shared on Facebook, Instagram etc. I think that’s the main reason anyone goes anywhere, just to take the same photo you’ve seen someone else take. Anyway, enough of me being cynical (I’ll save that for another blog post), let’s get back to Paris!

As this was our first time in Paris we wanted to be the typical tourist and go see all the main sites. As we were under 26 and EU citizens we also got into all museums and art galleries for free and to climb the Eiffel Tower for a reduced price. Just show your passport or driving licence and in you go! We headed straight to the Eiffel Tower on our first morning with the aim of climbing to the top. We were greeted with this.

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Um, don’t think we’ll be seeing much if we climb it today! It actually looked a bit spooky in all the fog. We weren’t disappointed by the weather though as we still had a couple of days to climb the tower so we headed off in search of a croissant and a coffee.

We walked what seemed like miles for the rest of day and saw lots of the city. You can use the Metro system to get around but you get to see so much more if you take the time to walk. Paris is full of cute restaurants and boutiques that are tucked away down alleyways that are begging to be explored. We walked from the Arc de Triomphe to the Lourve and back to our hotel and saw lots of Paris this way. The Arc de Triomphe was really interesting with the tomb of the unnamed soldier. You can pay to go to the top of the Arc but we decided against it because of the fog. On the way to the Lourve we walked past the ‘Place de la Concorde’ where Mary Antoinette was famously executed. Best of all, once in the Lourve, I got a selfie with Mona Lisa!

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There are hundreds of restaurants in Paris so you really are spoilt for choice when choosing somewhere to eat in the evening. Stu and I went for our standard technique of walking around, reading the menu and choosing somewhere which looked reasonably busy and the food sounded nice. My GCSE French came in handy here as some of the menus didn’t have English translations. We found that waiters were happy to explain anything we couldn’t decipher so don’t worry if you can’t understand a word of French. We wanted to stick to the local cuisine so ended up eating a lot rich food with every course having some sort of cheese or bread. I’m pretty sure my blood was 3 parts brie and 1 part red wine by the time I came home. Stu ordered snails for one starter so we got to try some stereotypical French food. They weren’t too bad, a bit chewy and tasted mainly of the garlic sauce they were cooked in.

The second full day of our trip was the day after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. We were planning on visiting the Notre Dame today and we ended up there at midday when the bells of the cathedral rang out to start the minutes silence in respect to the victims. This was an extremely poignant moment with ‘Je Suis Charlie’ signs being held up along with pens to symbolise freedom of expression.

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We walked around the Notre Dame afterwards and the cathedral is home to the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen. I don’t seem to have the photos we took of them but I’ll upload them once Stu has sent them to me. I’m a massive Disney fan so I spent the whole time looking out for Quasimodo. Unfortunately he was nowhere to be seen but I did spot a few gargoyles!

We also climbed to the top of the Eiffel tower on this day. We waited until it was dark and got to see Paris all lit up which looked spectacular. There’s a little flat at the top of the tower where Mr Eiffel entertained guests – who knew?!

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On our last day I got to be a true history nerd and visit the Palace of Versailles which I have learnt about in so many lessons. The palace is so beautiful and extravagant, it’s crazy how much money each King and Queen spent on the place and the gardens are just as spectacular as the rooms. You can spend hours here, there is so much to see, from the King and Queen’s bedrooms to the ballrooms to the Hall of Mirrors where the Treaty of Versaille was signed to end WWI.

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I loved Paris and I’m really happy I finally got to visit, it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time. Stu and I have no trips planned now so we’ll be job hunting and hopefully planning a few city breaks. I’ll still be writing though, there are places we visited in Australia that I never dedicated a full post to so expect to see some of that and some of me moaning about the job hunt, enjoy!