Friday 28 April 2017

Iceland - Postcards from Reykjavik

So this is my last Iceland post, I promise - but I still had a few bits and pieces to share that didn't fit in anywhere else!

The ride into Reykjavik from the airport is the first taste of the country for most visitors, so it's handy that it's quite pretty! 

My favourite thing about Iceland is the colours - I could have spent hours admiring the silver blue of the sea at dusk.

(And in fact I may have, as it was getting decidedly dark by the time we moved on!)

You can find sculptures dotted all around Reykjavik, but few as well known as The Sun Voyager - Jon Gunnar Arnason's striking steel dreamboat is a well loved landmark on the coastal road. 

Tjornin lake is a lovely peaceful little spot in the city, and is frequented by up to 50 different species of bird. 

Snow was sparse in the city but I was glad to have found some on our night time Northern Lights hunt - the sound of fresh snow crunching underfoot is one of the best sounds! No lights for us though!

The Icelandic explorer Leifur Eiriksson, proudly displayed just in front of the rather striking Hallgrimskirkja church (and just over the road from our hotel. 


I love these two fishermen buddies, looking out to sea.

Reykjavik is home to some amazing street art and it'd be easy to dedicate a whole post to the paintings and murals round on the walls around the city...

...even if some of it was a little creepy.

We popped into the Icelandic Phallological museum,.. a unique museum dedicated to, and displaying specimens of, the phallus. They proudly display a specimens from every kind of mammal found in Iceland. Yes, including human. It's every bit as sexy as you might imagine (ie not at all) 

I'd love to pretend I didn't just steal all Jess Glitterbat's suggestions on where to eat in Reykjavik,... but I did. Reykjavik chips was a belter though, fresh hot chips served with a variety of sauces. I don't think I'd have ordered the peanut satay if it wasn't recommended to be but it was wonderful! 

I already mentioned the colours in Iceland, those winter blue-greys are soothing to my soul, but I love the pink morning skies! 

Friday 21 April 2017

Iceland - Whales of Iceland Exhibit

The trip we booked to Iceland came with tickets to a 'Whales of Iceland' exhibit.

It wasn't initially something I was desperate to go out of my way to do, but since we were going on a whale watching boat trip in the afternoon from just around the corner, it made sense to pop along here beforehand to learn about some of the creatures we hoped to see!

The exhibit is basically a massive hall filled with lifesize models of the 23 different kind of whales and dolphins that can be found in the waters around Iceland. There is a free audio guide you can download, but KC's rejection of modern phones meant that it'd have been one between us so we decided to forgo the actual information and just run round looking at models!

And, to be fair, this was plenty fun! The models were amazing! As I' not particularly likely to come across, say, a blue whale in the wild, its can be quite hard to really imagine the scale of the magnificent creatures! The whales of Iceland exhibition really did help put these into perspective!


Even without the audio guide, there was plenty of information available about the different whales, so there was plenty to learn and discover - but it was just a really interesting place to visit and look around.

As an extra bonus, entry came with free tea and coffee. As I'm never one to turn down a cup of tea, I obviously made sure we had time to squeeze in a cup (served in the main exhibition hall so you can sip your brew while surrounded by massive whales). And since I wasn't paying for the tea, I thought it only fair that I buy a sweet treat to go with it - the salted caramel tart was delicious!

Like many of Iceland's attractions, it's not the cheapest - single tickets come in a little over £20 each, but if you can get it as part of a package like we did then it's definitely worth a visit!

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Iceland - Hotel Leifur Eiriksson

Even if I'm visiting a city I've been to before, I'd usually aim for a new hotel at least - but this is my second time staying at the Hotel Leifur Eiriksson in Reykjavik - and I wouldn't look too hard for somewhere new on any future visits either!

I'll admit - a lot of this decision is based on cost. When I've booked packages through Icelandair, this hotel is offered up as one of, if not the, cheapest. In an already expensive city I was looking to keep costs as low as possible - and especially in a place like Iceland, where room-time is generally kept to a minimum, it didn't make sense to spend any more than necessary on a hotel.

That's not to imply this is a 'it's cheap so it'll do I suppose' sort of place, there's a lot I really like about this hotel too - the main thing for me is it's fantastic location.

The Leifur Eieirksson hotel is directly opposite the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church (and of course the statue of the Icelandic explorer from whom the hotel took their name!) This meant not only do you get great views if you are lucky enough to get a room at the front of the building, but it's also really easy to find from pretty much anywhere in the city! Just head in the direction of the church and you cant get lost!

The hotel pops up on a lot of people's holiday pictures too, as I've seen many a shot from the top of the church tower featuring the hotel - it even cropped up in an episode of The Simpsons!

The staff were great too - not just friendly and welcoming but really went above and beyond in helping us re-book trips after one of ours was cancelled. The reception staff are more than happy to offer suggestions for restaurants and attractions, as well as directions and even advice on the weather and the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights (sadly not good news for us on this occasion but you can't win them all!)

Another good thing about the hotel is that guests could help themselves to hot drinks throughout the day. Obviously it was nice to try a few of the Reykjavik's cool cafes, but it was handy to just be able to grab yourself a nice warming hot chocolate while you waited for a bus to pick you up, or relax with a nice cup of tea when you get in for the night.

Breakfast was provided in the hotel too, a decent but fairly basic spread of breads, jams, meats and cheeses, cereals and yoghurts - but with one real star - a waffle maker!

It took a little while and sometimes there was a bit of a queue but it was totally worth it for fresh hot waffley goodness, mmmm!

I won't lie, the room was small. The bathroom was smaller. There's no lift. It's not luxurious. I don't mean to sell this place like its a palace so if your expectations are high you might be disappointed. But if you want a friendly, clean and cosy place to stay, where you can walk to anywhere in the city and eat waffles for breakfast - this is the one!

Friday 14 April 2017

Iceland - Kumiko (for tea and cake)

Iceland is a beautiful, wonderful magical country - but it isn't a cheap one. So, I'm happy to admit that most of Icelandic culinary adventures consisted of the free breakfast in the hotel and snacks bought from the local supermarket - freeing up my cash for more exciting things like horse riding and whale watching.

But while fancy three course dinners were out of my reach, tea and cake are necessities!

Top of my tea-and-cake list in Reykjavik was the adorable Japanese-inspired tea room Kumiko. Jess Glitterbat visited Reykjavik not so long before I did and I spotted this brightly coloured home of cake on her Instagram, so I made a firm note to track it down when I was in the city!

I didn't think I was going to find it either. I was filled with confidence from the pretty simple looking map on the webpage but found myself wandering round what felt a bit like an industrial estate by the old harbour, thinking 'this can't be right' when I spotted a flash of colour and a big octopus at the end of a long row of empty units! (Incidentally, the 'industrial estate' is actually apparently one of Reykjavik's coolest upcoming hotspots, shows what I know about cool things!)

I'm so glad we found it too, the place was perfect - a riot of colour and kitsch cuteness, and filled the brightest and cheeriest cakes. Even the toilets were a brightly coloured delight, replete with Murakami quotes and tweeting bird sounds (though I was informed by the Mr that the gentlemen's version wasn't quite so pretty and pleasant!)

Out of a pleasingly extensive tea list, I chose the Berner Rose - a spiced apple tea in a charming pink shade. If I remember correctly KC just had a pot of the black tea blend, but there was something to suit all manner of tea lovers!

And the cakes were just magical. As a sophisticated adult woman, I of course opted for the bright pink flowery one. I think it may have even had a whimsical name involving fairies, but at this stage I might be misremembering. It was definitely a fruits of the forest sorta vibe, and delicious.

Despite their eye-catching appearance, the flavours of the caked goods are a lot more subtle than you might imagine. Swiss owner and pasty queen Sara Hochuli is inspired not only by cute Japanese aesthetics, but by their flavours - matcha, black sesame and sweet red bean paste are all key ingredients that sit alongside more common chocolate and fruit flavours for a surprisingly complex and sophisticated result.

See, I told you my bright pink cake was a grown up choice!

Kumiko do have a an afternoon tea, which sounds amazing - not for us on this occasion (we were sadly short of both time and cash!) but I imagine it'd be a real treat!


Tuesday 11 April 2017

Iceland - Whale Watching Tour

Not only have I been lucky enough to visit the extraordinary country of Iceland, but this most recent trip was my third visit. The first time I went I was alone, and I fell absolutely in love the place. So when I returned a few years later with KC, I wanted to show him all the wonderful sights I loved so much on my first trip. Since we’d already ticked off a couple of the main ‘must-do’s’ in Iceland, like the Golden Circle Tour and visiting the Blue Lagoon, we wanted to make sure that this time round we had a go at some of the other special experiences Iceland has to offer. 

The previous day’s horse riding experience was very high on the list, and so was another chance to get close to some of Iceland’s native wildlife with a whale watching tour.  

I say ‘whale watching’ but we were all warned fairly early on that early February is not exactly prime whale-spotting season, but you never know! My boat-loving other half was just eager to go out for a ride, so the possibility of seeing some awesome sealife was just a bonus really! 

And it really was a beautiful ride. Sat on boat waiting for it to set off, the rain was coming down and we did suspect that it might not go so well,... but as soon as we got going the sun came out and the trip was bright and beautiful! 

Still incredibly cold, like, but bright and beautiful and cold.

The company we went with were Elding Whale Watching, but there’s a number of companies running similar tours. This was booked as part of the holiday package so I didn’t really look into the differences between them, but the Elding tour was grand. The boat was cosy with seats both inside and outside (for the super brave). There was a little cafe inside selling drinks and chocolate bars, and you could borrow blankets and waterproof overalls for warmth too. 

The boat trips all come with a knowledgeable guide. Our on-board marine biologist had plenty to tell us about the kinds of creatures living in the seas around Iceland, as well as where and when to look if we hoped to see anything! 

But did we see anything?

Yes! No whales, though we'd been told that wasn't overly likely anyway - but just as it was about time to start heading back to Reykjavik we spotted a little group of white-beaked dolphins! 

Now, I'm afraid I didn't get any pictures - I'm sure the quick flashes of fin I saw wouldn't have made amazing photos, and I didn't want to miss anything myself by fiddling with a camera.

(And will shamefacedly admit that by this time the boat was starting to get the better of me and I was regretting my decision to reject the earlier offer of sea sickness tablets to all passengers!) 

It might not have been the biggest of most impressive sighting of dolphins in these waters, but I was so utterly thrilled to catch a glimpse of these wonderful creatures, and it made all the feeling-like-I-might-die completely worth it! 

Though with tours like this, there's no guarantee of seeing anything - nature can be fickle! - but I think it's absolutely worth the risk! Just wrap up warm, and say yes to the sea-sickness pills!

Sunday 9 April 2017

Iceland - Horse Riding with Eldhestar

It's been over two months since I got back from my last visit to Iceland and I've still barely posted a darned thing about it. It's true that time constraints, work issues and lack of internet connections have held me up a great deal, but it's also been quite difficult to know where to start!

Though I guess in the end it just made sense to start with one of my favourite bits! We didn't go to The Blue Lagoon on this trip, nor did we do the Golden Circle tour (were we even IN Iceland?!) so one of the things we really wanted to do was meet some of the beautiful Icelandic Horses.

I've never ridden a horse before. I probably rode a donkey on the beach when I was little, and once about twenty years ago I sat on a friends horse for about half a minute before panicking and insisting on getting straight off. So I wasn't entirely sure how well this was going to go....

...but this was top of KCs Iceland list so I had to be brave! Plus I'd heard that Icelandic horses are super sweet and small, perfect for beginners!

We booked through Eldhestar, who organised a hotel pick-up in the morning before we were driven about 30 minutes out of Reykjavik to their farm, where we were provided with all the equipment needed and paired with our horse for the day. The horses were just indescribably lovely (though mine was obviously these best one!)

You know when you watch films and folk just hop up onto a massive horse like it's nothing? Yeah, my attempt at mounting my lil horse buddy did not go so gracefully.... I don't think I'm a natural horsewoman, but still, we got there in the end! 

We had about an hour and a half to two hours of riding time through the meadows around the farm. It's a beatiful area and our early start meant we got to see the sky transfrom through an array of colours, from pink to grey to blue, throughout the ride, offering a very colorful backgrop to the surrounding mountains and fields. It was just stunning, and I'd have taken more pictures but my hands were staying firmly on the reigns as instructed while we were moving!

Despite my cowardly inclinations, I did love it... mainly the nice calm, slow bits of the ride. When the horses were encouraged to speed up a wee bit (so we could experience the 'tölt', the special gait unique to Icelandic horses), thats when I started to fear for my life. That's just me being a massive wimp though, as KC had the time of his life! It was his first time too, though you wouldn't have known it, as he spend most of the ride out in front (of I guess around 25 riders?) while I was happy to trail along at the back.  When we did catch up (at a mid-way break and when we got back to the farm) he was as giddy as a kid at Christmas, and has been looking up local horse riding options since!

Eldhestar have a number of packages available (from the beginner half-day sessions like ours, to week-long riding extravaganzas for those who know what they are doing!), and we'd booked the 'heritage tour', not only becasue it sounded like a great place to start, but becasue it came with tea and cake! So after our ride, when we'd shed the riding clothes and said goodbye to our lovely horses, it was time to head to the Eldhestar hotel for refreshments.

We didn't get a good look around the hotel, as we were totally distracted by cake and tea (horse riding was lovely but 'twas cold!) but I'd love to spend a night or two here when we go back to Iceland! By then, KC will probably be an expert horse handler and I'll.... well, I'll be happy to go for a nice little ride then have some tea and cake!
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