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Finland/Lapland/Iceland (November 2017)

28 Jan

I’ve never done a cold holiday before. Well, not intentionally. I went to Chicago in winter a few years ago and FROZE but stupidly didn’t realise just how cold it would be.

Last November I was in India. This October, I was doing jury service – so I had time booked off work but nothing *actually* booked. By the time I got out of jury service the Northern Lights were in my head and I couldn’t get them out… so I decided to spend 12 days exploring Finland (and Finnish Lapland) and Iceland. Yes, it was super cold. It snowed. I had to purchase thermals, thermal socks, thermal gloves and a ski jacket. But it was totally worth it and a trip I couldn’t recommend enough!

Over the course of 12 days, I crammed so much into my holiday. If I didn’t have a big ‘thing’ to do on a particular day (flying, hiking, snorkelling, husky sleighing) then I walked 10 miles per day around whichever place I happened to be in. So, I have a fair bit I want to remember, and this blog post should cover all of my adventures.

FINLAND (Helsinki)
EAT: Before heading to Lapland, I stayed one night in Helsinki, in a North Western part of town called Toolo. I stayed in Toolo Towers (uni accommodation that they rent out) and I kinda assumed that I’d be a little bit in the middle of nowhere. True, the area directly around me wasn’t bursting with trendy eateries, but there were a few gems. One of which is Linko Pizzabar.

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It’s a cosily-lit bar/restaurant which is pretty informal and also does live music. They have all the pizza written up by the bar on a chalkboard and you pay at the bar. They have a pretty damn delicious sounding menu. I like to try local delicacies and ‘new things’ (wanker traveller alert) when I’m abroad, so I decided that a combination of lingonberry and reindeer pizza was exactly what I need.

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Lingonberries are found in the Arctic and Northern cold climates, and they’re quite tart – the sharp, sweet taste was awesome on the pizza. All reindeers in Finland is ‘free-range’. They have so much space that they roam about and the reindeer on my pizza was sautéed… kinda tasted like venison! The pizza came with Finnish Koskenlaskija cheese, parsley and black pepper, and was a punchy 17E. However, I soon learned that everything in Finland and Iceland is CRAZY EXPENSIVE, so this was actually a decent price for such a huuuuge delicious pizza. Go get.

EAT: Turns out Toolo was an awesome place to spend my first night in Helsinki, as I was only a 15 minute walk from one of the quirkiest (and true, tourist-y) cafes in the whole city. Café Regatta is home to what are often called the most delicious cinnamon rolls in Finland, which is no mean feat! Sometimes in the winter they set a fire up outside and let you toast sausages for hotdogs and marshmallows for your hot chocolate there too (which would have rocked but they weren’t doing it when I went to visit).

It’s a little (honestly, TINY) café on the water’s edge in Toolo and in the summer it was a lovely outside area. However, in winter, you’re confined to the small café which can fit about 12 people inside, everyone basically going in there for hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls. The interior is super cosy and the whole place is… well… quirky. That’s basically the perfect word for it.

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The cinnamon roll was damn good. Perfectly fluffy when you hear it open, crispy on the outside and cinnamon goodness throughout. BIG FAN. So wander through the fairy lights and Christmas decorations into the café filled with vintage artwork and photographs and grab a seat.

EAT: There’s a café in Helsinki that apparently does EPIC blinit: but only in January. However it sounded like such an interesting dish that I made it my mission to find a place that did decent blinit in November when I was there, and I found a pretty good place called Cella in the North East of Helsinki, in the trendy area of Kallio (it’s basically Helsinki’s version of Shoreditch) – see the ‘LOVE’ section of this blog for more info on Kallio!

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So: blinit. Basically, it’s a Russian traditional disk and Finland has got their own take on it. Blinit are thick savoury pancakes which are served with pickles, honey and sour cream. The Russian version are thinner but in Finland, they’re fat and packed with herbs too. The pickles, sour cream and honey is a really odd combination and even though it’s a bit of an acquired taste, I did enjoy it. But it definitely won’t be to everyone’s liking!
Cella as a restaurant? It was ok. It seemed popular with the locals and it’s one of the few places to get blinit outside of January, but it’s not an absolute must-visit unless you fancy the sound of the blinit!

EAT: Mizu is a great little place to stop off – a Japanese café which does basically everything macha you could ever think of, including a particularly lovely Macha latte. Didn’t try to sushi, but if the latte and macha roll are anything to go by, I bet it’s awesome.

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Macha (if you don’t know) is the ground powder of green tea leaves. It’s stronger than green tea and the way the leaves are ground means you get a lovely intense colour when mixed with milk too. Mizu is just around the corner from the Rock Church, so pop in after you’ve marvelled at that!

SEE: Helsinki isn’t like London. Or Paris. Or Rome. There aren’t endless numbers of historical buildings and museums to keep a traveller entertained and informed – you can do all the ‘key’ sites in a day. But as I had three days to make the most of the city, I started to branch out on day two and seek out things that particularly interest me, and one of them was the Kiasma Modern Art Museum.

As I work in digital/social media, one of the exhibitions on particularly interested me: ARS17. ARS17 is a major exhibition of international contemporary art on the theme of digital revolution. The exhibition will showcase artists of the new millennium and offer a fresh approach to contemporary art by also expanding the viewing experience into the online realm.

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Some highlights of the exhibition for me where an immersive video installation which has you sit in a calm, serene forest which you watch crumble away as dark image from the world of gaming force themselves into the frame. This is surrounded by beautifully haunting sculptures by Jon Rafeman of animals eating themselves (vorarephilia, the erotic desire to eat another person or creature) as a way of showing our desire to constantly feed on digital stimuli.

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Another fave piece of work for me was by Charles Richardson: a floral sofa facing a video playing the Afro-American spiritual song Dem Bones, as the video shows how we now construct our identities via tech devices and possessions.

There was also an ‘Artist of 2017’ exhibition showing while I was there on the top floor, which also featured some really interesting artwork (above). The museum is a little hard to get your head around to start with (took me a few minutes to work out how I should be moving around the exhibitions), but the café and shop downstairs are wonderful and if you’re into contemporary artwork and have a few hours spare, definitely hit up Kiasma!

SEE: Helsinki has a stoooorming bar scene. If you like your cocktails unique and your bars speak-easy style (and lighting dimmed) then Helsinki has plenty to offer. I went to two bars which I particularly loved and one is called Trillby and Chadwick Detective Agency.

If you’re a Londoner, you’ll have heard of the Evans and Peel Detective Agency. Trillby and Chadwick is the same thing, basically. A hidden door on a quiet street and a secret entrance leads you into a beautifully decorate speakeasy style bar with gorgeous cocktails. I had a PROPER NIGHTMARE finding the bar, so imma help you out: there’s a little archway that leads you to a shop called Lumoan: if you’re facing the archway, it’s the door on the left hand side of the archway 😊

You can’t take photos in the bar because they naturally want to keep its secrets, err, secret. But the cocktail menu is brilliant and written out like a detective story and the drinks are delicious. They even have an ‘experimental’ cocktail menu on which you can find cocktails featuring cheese, meats and more… give it a try if you’re feeling adventurous!

The second bar was at the end of the main high street, and it’s called Liberty or Death. This is owned by the same group that owns Trillby and Chadwick Detective Agency, and pretty much all of the other trendy bars in Helsinki (like Liberty or Death, 100 dogs or Antiques and Books).

The bar is really small and it plays laid-back hip hop music while super-cool bartenders avoid making eye contact (true hipsters, hah). The cocktail list was short but has a little something for everyone. It’s well worth a stop if you’re in this part of town, or if you’re staying in the same (brilliant!) hostel I did: Hostel Diana Park.

LISTEN: I’m putting the Rock Church under ‘listen’ because when I arrived there happened to be a piano/opera recital happening in there: which was EPIC.

The church is carved into rock from the Ice Age and it creates not only a beautiful sight, but beautiful acoustics too. The rock lines the walls with a semi-glass ceiling and plenty of candles to add to the atmosphere. It’s only open at certain times for the public (and on certain days) so make sure you check before you arrive. True, I’m not making it sound like much, but it’s a proper architectural feat and one of the main ‘attractions’ in Helsinki: plus, it’s in a lovely area with a few nice cafes and second-hand/vintage shops close by.

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If there hadn’t have been music on, it’s a lovely quiet haven in the middle of a busy city and well worth spending half an hour in. I actually ended up staying for an hour listening to the music – it was so relaxing. I’ve no idea if they advertise when the recitals are happening (it seems quite impromptu) but if they do advertise it, make sure you pop in!

One of the things I particularly liked were the bits of paper decorated with sayings in languages from around the world: true,. They were about Jesus and God etc, but I picked up a couple in Lappish and Swahili (as well as other more obscure languages which looked pretty)!

LISTEN: When I’ve had a day of travelling, I usually want to relax… but obviously, I don’t want to relax in a hotel or a hostel room because that’s not what I’ve flown however many miles to see! So, I usually try to seek out a church or a quiet space… fortunately, there are some great options in Helsinki if you want to grab some quiet time.

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First up: The Chapel of Silence. It’s a small chapel which look curiously out-of-place in the middle of the busy shopping distract. Walk in and you’ll find total silence (well, aside from tourists who don’t bother turning their phones on silent. *glares*). The Chapel was built with curved walls and it’s completely serene inside, with a minimalist design and a few candles here and there. It’s designed to be as quiet as possible and cancels out all the noise from the main street and people outside.

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The next lovely quiet place I found was the National Library. It’s located right next to the Cathedral (another key place to visit in Helsinki) and the inside is STUNNING. You have to leave your coat and bag at the door before you enter, and when you do you’ll find gorgeous pillars and an entrance hall filled with old, colourful books. There also happened to be festive decorations scattered around as I was there at the end of November, which made it all the more magical!

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Wander into the second room and you’ll see spiral staircases leading to more books and if you head right, out of the entrance room you’ll find more walls lined with multicoloured books and the photo and video archives with the projectors you need to use to view old newspaper articles! Super silent and slightly dimmed lighting all made for a lovely place to take a breather.

The guy on reception (who looks after your bags and coats) got chatting to me and as soon as he heard my accent, he asked about Brexit (fml). Long story short: the Fins for the most part can’t comprehend why we’re leaving, they think we’re doomed and it’s a huge mistake… and I agreed with him, of course. Was really interesting hearing from him the popular opinion of the Fins when it comes to Brexit and how their government and media have been presenting the UK as, essentially, in a whole heap of trouble.

Yaaaaay.

LOVE: I’m putting the public Sauna and the area of Kallio in ‘love’ because it’s the kind of area I’d want to live (and go on dates) if I were to move to Helsinki, and the saunas are an AMAZING way of embracing your body.

Let me explain. You’ll have heard of the Finnish Sauna – saunas are a huge part of Finnish culture and most hotels and homes will have one. These days, they’re electric saunas (so they’re warmed up by flicking a switch) and some add hot coals (again, warmed by electricity to start with) which you can pour water on to up the amount of steam and heat in the sauna.

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Most saunas and private (hotels, homes) but there are still a few public saunas which you pay a small fee to go and use, and are open to everyone, in Finland. And of the public saunas, most of them are actually part of a fancy spa or hotel. However, in Kallio there is one independent public sauna and, to make it even better and more authentic, it’s a wood burning sauna. All that means is that it’s heated by burning wood in the same room as the sauna which is the traditional way of doing it and it creates a LOVELY smell in the sauna too – you don’t come out smelling of smoke at all, it’s just… woody. Don’t know how to describe it.

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Saunas in Finland are a naked affair. Sure, you can wear bikinis, but seriously: what’s the point. Brits are notoriously ashamed of their bodies and shy away from nudist beaches and the thought of getting naked in public scares a lot of people. However, the saunas are split into male and female saunas and all the women in there are totally chill. It’s a great way of breaking free of being a prudish Brit and just accepting that everyone has a body, so chill out and get it out 😉

When you enter the public sauna there’s a locker room where you put your things and wrap yourself in a towel. Then, you head into the shower room (you have to shower before you go in the sauna so that you don’t have all the grossness of the day and your clothes on your skin when you enter.  This is where you drop your towel and get naaaaaked. The nice thing about places like saunas in foreign countries is that no one judges. Women were in there with cellulite, stretch marks and absolutely perfect tanned skin, scars, botched tattoos… give a shit.

Then, you walk into the sauna. The heat hits you immediately and you climb up onto the wood steps and take a seat. Or lie down. Y’know, whatever. I stayed in for about 20 minutes and after about 10 minutes, the sweat was pooouring off me Super sexy. But honestly, it felt great. It’s oddly satisfying to see literally all of your body sweating and you leave the sauna feeling so cleaned and refreshed, it’s crazy.

Make sure you don’t eat a big meal before you enter the sauna and also make sure you drink a good pint of water, because that’s honestly how much you’ll sweat out in about 15 minutes… if you don’t drink water you’ll get dehydrated, dizzy and it’ll suck. Don’t ever stay in for longer than 30 minutes at a time (minimum 10 minutes to start really feeling the sweat drip off you!) and ENJOY YOUR BEAUTIFUL NAKED SELF.

Can’t finish this section on Helsinki without chattin’ a bit more about Kallio. Kallio is well worth a wander – it’s filled with vintage and second-hand shops and it’s pretty much the small-city version of Shoreditch in Helsinki. Lots of trendy cafes and bars are knocking about and good food options too. But seriously, the vintage and second-hand shopping here is the best in the whole of Helsinki, so make sure you dedicate a good few hours to exploring this part of town! You can walk back into the middle of Helsinki from Kallio in about 45 minutes and the walk over the water is lovely, plus it’s a great way to get to know the city better.

Basically, thumbs up for Helsinki. It’s small but packs a punch and it’s really making a mark for itself against the likes of Stockholm and Copenhagen, the more frequented Nordic capitals. Definitely worth a stop here for a few days as there’s more to see and do than you may think.

FINALND (Lapland)

Lapland is exactly like the photos. Everything in November is covered in snow and it’s magical as fuck. Reindeer wander about. The roads are so thick with snow you wonder how the hell anyone knows where the road ends and the grass begins. Cold in the day and REALLY cold at night. Trees on trees on trees and all of them covered in snow. Crystal clear sky. And did I mention how bloody magical all the snow is?

I spent 3 days in Lapland and I really wish I’d spent more. The whole place is so serene, quiet and magical (need to find another word…) I could have easily meandered through Finnish Lapland for a couple of weeks! But the snapshot I saw is enough to make me want to see more of Lapland sometime soon. Below are my highlights from my time in Finnish Lapland.

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EAT: You’ve probably seen that photo above. It’s of Kakslauttanen and it’s in the middle of nowhere, a resort in Finnish Lapland. As life is short I decided to spend a night there in one of their glass igloos, with the hope of seeing the Northern Lights as I lay in bed. And delicious, gorgeous food. Nom.

Ivalo (ee-va-low) is the gateway to Northern Lapland and I flew into Ivalo airport from Helsinki with Norwegian Air (a quick and cheap flights, would recommend them for this one). As the plane dips beneath the clouds you’ll just be awestruck at how WHITE everything is… and how despite being covered in snow, the airport still functions (unlike in the UK when 1cm of snow causes Heathrow to go into meltdown…) From Ivalo to Ivalo village it’s a short 1 minute taxi ride, but to the Kakslauttanen resort I got a shuttle bus, which took about an hour.

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This is my igloo! It was super cute. When you arrive at the resort, you pick your keys up from a super toasty warm and wooden reception area and you can either have someone take you to your igloo, or you can get a sleigh from outside reception, dump your luggage, and sleigh your way to your igloo. OBVIOUSLY, I chose this option and I can confirm moving all luggage by sleigh is the most fun way of moving luggage EVER.

The igloo I had was a small igloo: it has a toilet and sink and two single beds. It’s cosy, but plenty of space for two people. As soon as you step inside out of the -14 degree cold, the warmth hits you. At one point when I was getting out of my fleece gear, a reindeer walked past my igloo. I tried to take a photo (above) but failed miserably. (Don’t worry, I found more reindeer later)!

Onto the ‘EAT’ portion of my experience. At the resort, a three-course meal and breakfast is included in your stay and the three course meal was incredible. The dining area is beautiful (I’m not used to staying in fancy places so I was super impressed) and the service was amazing. You don’t get an a-la-carte menu, you just have a veggie or meat option. For my starter I had soup and for my main course I had local fish in a mushroom sauce. The fish was divine, as was all the fish I had on this trip, and I’m really glad I chose it over the chicken option! For dessert I had apple and cinnamon puree with berry cake. YUM.

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Attached to the restaurant is the igloo bar (above): if the Northern Lights are out, make sure you grab a cocktail and admire them from in here. I decided I wanted to explore the resort more than have a cocktail, so I wrapped up and sought out Santa. Basically, you’re given a map of the resort and I was able to wander around and see the ‘winter bridge’, ‘Santa’s home’ (if you want to pay extra, you can book to go in and see Santa which for families must be EPIC) and lots other things to see along the way. There’s a winter marketplace with lovely carved pillars and surrounded by random candles and lighting. There’s also a reindeer paddock (is paddock the right word? I’m going with it) and I there were some reindeer who came and said hello to me when I wandered over. I felt TERRIBLE because I’d had my reindeer pizza the day before :-\ On the way back to my igloo (LOVE THAT I CAN SAY THAT!) I passed lots of other festive houses and beautiful lights to make sure people can see in the darkness without ruining the magic. T’was lovely.

Back in my igloo, I waited for the Northern Lights to appear, but they didn’t. It was a perfectly clear sky though, so I was lucky enough to fall asleep under the brilliant stars and even saw a couple of shooting stars too! I also had the pleasure of watching a car try to drive through 4ft deep snow and get stuck, and have to call a tow truck…I preferred having the reindeer for entertainment, but ho hum.

The morning after I had one of the most delicious breakfasts ever: there is NOTHING that they didn’t provide here, I swear to god. Fruit, cereals, full English, fish, meats and cheese, toast and alllll the spreads and traditional Finnish breakfast pastries too. Took about three bloody cinnamon rolls for the road (so tasty) and also tried a Karelian pastry too: rye crust with a filling of rice or potato, then coated in butter. I didn’t like it that much because I just found it to be a bit tasteless, but they’re super popular and really filling, so I can get why people devour them in winter!

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As a single traveller, it was pretty steep at Kakslauttanen Resort (£350 for one night in my small igloo, fml) for a small igloo, but if you’re travelling as a couple, it’s SO worth £175 a night. And if I’d seen the Northern Lights I could have justified the £350… but without them, it’s an experience I’m glad I’ve had, but wouldn’t pay for as a solo traveller again. That’s not to discourage anyone from going: it was a great experience and if you can afford it then give it a go!

SEE: Public transport ain’t so hot in Lapland, for obvious reasons. So one E100 taxi later (I know, fml) and I got to Ivalo village. I had a bit of an explore and picked up some food in the local supermarket (by food I mean ‘more cinnamon rolls’) and then headed towards my next destination: Guesthouse Husky!

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Guesthouse Husky is about a 10 minute drive from Ivalo village and feels SO remote. It’s fantastic. The fact it’s so remote makes it the ideal place for seeking out the Northern Lights and, as you can guess, it’s FULL OF HUSKIES. That cute lil pup above was with its siblings outside my bedroom window and there’s hundreds of huskies at the Guesthouse. I learned so much about them while I was there!

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Main thing I learned: huskies are wild dogs. Properly wild: like wolves. The owners of the guesthouse were chatting with me about how they believe it’s crueller to try and domesticate a husky (compared to having them so sleigh rides) because a husky is designed to consume about 10,000 calories per day and run up to about 80k per day. So taking them for a stroll around Hyde Park ain’t their dream: running like maniacs around Lapland 100% is. I did lots of research into whether riding with huskies was cruel or not and the overwhelming consensus is that the huskies, genuinely, love it. Which they totally seemed to do when I went for a ride with them!

I signed up for a 90 minute ride with the huskies and thought that I was just going to be chilling out in the sleigh. Turns out, for half of the time, I was driving the bloody things which is actually easier than you’d think. The instructor was really good at letting me know when to throw my weight on the brake (the ‘brake’ is a pad that grips onto the snow to slow the dogs down… because they will NOT slow down if they’re not forced to!) and how to guide the sleigh too. I’d really recommend doing the husky ride at Guesthouse husky, for a few reasons:

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  1. The view. LOOK AT THAT VIEW. You basically spend 90 minutes in the middle of nowhere, whizzing past wild reindeer into the middle of the wild forest that’s next to Guesthouse Husky. Seriously: that view though.

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  2. The guide. My guide was wicked: as everyone else was in a couple (whatevs) it meant I got to share a sleigh with the guide which meant I chatted to him about huskies, Lapland and learned a lot from him. They also kit you out with allll the cold gear (see super sexy photo above) because, guaranteed, even if you think you’re dressed warmly, you won’t be!IMG_2028
  3. It’s honestly a once in a lifetime experience. You see ‘husky sledding in Lapland’ in all the Bucket List travel books and there’s a good reason for that. Seeing the huskies do what they’ve evolved to do – run like maniac – and doing so through the gorgeous landscape is an absolutely amazing experience.
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LISTEN: How can you NOT listen to Christmas songs when in Lapland in November? It’s impossible and madness to try to avoid them. The song below is a fave of mine and I happened to be listening to this just before I headed outside to try and spot the Northern Lights at Guesthouse Husky.

(I did actually manage to see the Aurora, for a few minutes, in Lapland. I saw it far stronger in Iceland, but being in the perfectly still, snow-covered forest ad having that be my first time seeing them was everything I could have asked for. I didn’t get a photo as I hadn’t set my DSLR up properly, but Guesthouse Husky is a brilliant place for trying to spot them.)

Anyway, onto one of my favourite Christmas songs which will always remind me of this trip.


LOVE
: In the UK, snow causes havoc. People like looking at it until they have to get somewhere and then realise the airport is shut, the train is cancelled or it’s not possible to drive anywhere. But in Lapland, everything functions perfectly when it snows and it was such a lovely experience to just roam around and walk through snow that’s about 2-4 foot deep!

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Snow is super romantic. Obviously. And the snow in Lapland was so perfectly white. So powdery that when I tried to build a Snow-Lion I wasn’t able to because the snow wouldn’t stick together! It’s really odd that walking for miles through a landscape covered in snow (which is pretty damn repetitive) can be so enchanting. Whether you’re on your own, with your family or friends or with a partner, you can guarantee that you’ll fall in love with Lapland very quickly.

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I take a photo of my cat, Totty, on all my travels and take a photo of her at amazing places to send back home to Mum. Above it Totty in the middle of a snow-covered forest. STUFF OF DREAMS.

Basically, as you can tell, I loved Finnish Lapland. I just wish I’d had more time to explore and go even more remote! Cannot recommend enough.

ICELAND (Reykjavik)

Onto Iceland! I flew from Finland to Iceland with Iceland Air and it took about 4 hours from Helsinki. Weirdly, my passport wasn’t checked once… not when I got on the plane and nor when I got off. Iceland Air seem to have no idea why this happened (dodgy…) but apparently, I’m now able to travel between Nordic countries with free reign, which is pretty cool.

As soon as I landed in Iceland, I was struck by the landscape and if you’ve never been, it’s a place to take your DSLR. There is something wild, stunning and natural around ever corner, I swear to God. I learned a fair bit about Iceland when I was there by speaking to the locals – about Icelandic folklore, its politics and more. I also learned that when people said it’s expensive, they were NOT joking… about £14 for a bowl of soup with a salad and if you want a pint of beer it’s going to be about £10. Much as I loved Iceland, I honestly couldn’t afford to go for more than a week or two at a time, despite the fact that my one week there felt like nowhere near long enough.

First stop in Iceland: Reykjavik!

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EAT: Just around the corner from Hallgrímskirkja (the church in the centre of the city) there’s a little building with rainbow colours and fairy lights. Obvs I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Turns out, it was Braud & Co, a DELICIOUS bakery.

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I got the above which was an almond and cinnamon pile of deliciousness in perfect pastry, with nuts and seeds on top (which makes it healthy, ok?). They do all kinds of sweet pastries (from cinnamon rolls to toffee buns), as well as breads and cakes.

I don’t need to say anything further. Just scroll through their Instagram feed and I dare you not to start salivating.

EAT: Before I visit a city, I always check the city’s hashtags to see if I can find any food or activity inspiration. Fortunately, I checked #Reykjavikfood and Sandholt has posted a photo of an epic burger. So, off I went!

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It took me a little while to work out where the restaurant is: true, it’s on the main street, but Google will try to take you to the Sandholt bakery. The restaurant is actually the building to the right of the bakery and is situated inside the SandHotel and the restaurant is confusingly called Brennda Brauðið and finding a menu on the hotel website is impossible, so I’ve hyperlinked you to their Instagram account!

At the restaurant I went for the burger, obvs, which came with smoked cheese, pickled cabbage and fried potatoes. As you can see from the above photo, there’s a lot of it and it really was brilliant. You could taste every part of it, whereas sometimes with burgers a condiment or extra gets lost: not here. As a nice little extra, before my main course arrived I was given free Sandholt bakery bread and butter too (which was also fab).

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I wasn’t going to have dessert but I spotted this on the restaurant’s Instagram feed too and once I got told the Brennda apríkósan had won the Reykjavik dessert of the year, I decided ‘fuck it’ and ordered it. WHICH WAS A GOOD DECISION BECAUSE IT WAS DELICIOUS. It’s basically a small apricot tart, and the apricot is gooey a little sweet (but not too much), some kind of hazelnut crunchy mound and apricot ice cream. Yesssss.

EAT: Basically, you can’t go to Iceland without trying lamb or fish. I wanted to go somewhere that was a little off the beaten path and where I’d be likely to find some locals. Turns out Kaffivagninn was the perfect place – it’s right by the harbour (about a 20 minute walk from downtown) and is known for its fish. It’s also a really cosy little place and most of the people in there when I went were locals. Which is how you know it’s a good’un.

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They have a happy hour too, which makes the beer a normal price rather than Iceland’s crazy expensive pricing. But the main thing you’ll want is the fish and chips. The above was probably the best fish I’ve ever had. SO light and the batter wasn’t too oily – nice and light too. It came with fries (which were nice but nowt mind blowing) and three sauces (cocktail sauce, thousand island and tartare).

The staff were also lovely and the fairy lights make it a great place to have meal. Highly recommend!

SEE: Hallgrímskirkja is the cathedral in the middle of the city and it’s definitely the biggest tourist attraction in Reykjavik. Its design was inspired by the cooling basalt rocks of the volcanos in Iceland and as you get closer to it, it becomes all the more striking! Especially with the statue outside: at dusk, it looks all kinds of impressive.

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It’s one of the tallest buildings in Reykjavik and when I arrived there was a constant stream of people in and out of the cathedral, and a queue for the viewing gallery. But I persevered and went up there anyway!

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But first, the cathedral. It’s a sleek design punctuated with gorgeous stained-glass windows and an epic organ. Seriously, it’s huge.

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For a small fee, you can take a lift to the top of the tower and it gives you fantastic views of the entire city. It actually makes you realise just how small Reykjavik is… and how colourful! I went up there at about 3.30pm as the sun was starting to set, so it was still daylight, and it was also a bit quieter at this time too, so I’d recommend leaving the crazy tourists to do it at midday. Well worth a trip up there – and if you can find out when the organ gets played, I bet it sounds just as epic as it looks!

SEE: As soon as you land in Iceland, the landscape hits you. A mix of choppy seas, snow-topped mountains, volcanos and fields of lava rock all welcome your flight in, and once you’re in Reykjavik the mountains are a stunning backdrop to the city.

The best places to see them isn’t from the harbour (way too many ships in the way), but actually from the Harpa Concert Hall. The building itself is worth a look around as it’s really striking and the colourful lights that run through the glass are awesome. But, step outside and turn to face the mountains and you’ll get some brilliant photos.

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See?

SEE: So, the Northern Lights are top of plenty of bucket lists. And they’ve always been something I’ve been interested in seeing (of course), but it’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve been determined to see ‘em! Fortunately, I was lucky enough to see them three times on my travels: once in Lapland (quite faint though, only last 5 minutes), once when I was camped out next to a thermal energy plant outside Reykjavik (don’t ask – again, quite faint) and a third time, when I chased them.

By ‘chased them’ I mean I took a gamble and went out of my way to find them in Iceland. No, I didn’t join a Northern Lights tour. Mainly because all they do is drive lazy tourists into the middle of nowhere and hope for them best – and I ain’t a lazy tourist.

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First thing I did was find where on the outskirts of Reykjavik was dark and where I could get to using local buses. I opted for the lighthouse which is away from people’s homes, right by the ocean and you can get there using the local buses. Ooh, and it has a mini thermal pool next to it which can help to keep you a bit warm! Top tip: download the Straeto app: it’s the local bus service in Iceland and all you need to do is type in where you want to go and it’ll tell you how to get there. It also offers the ability to pay for tickets via the app and it shows you where the buses are in real-time (so you don’t have to wait in the cold)! Honestly, it’s great and because I did a bit of research a local bus took me straight to the Aurora 😊

My experience watching the Northern Lights was mixed. On the one hand YESSSSS NORTHERN LIGHTS! It’s so odd to see the sky slowly and suddenly fill with green, and to watch the green move across the night sky. It falls in and out of nowhere and is pretty damn magical. However, on the other hand I was fucking freezing, as it was about 11pm and I was right next to the sea, so the wind was mental. Hence why my photo has come out so blurry… I was shaking too much to take a decent shot!

It really is an amazing experience and just hammers home how incredible travel can be. I mean – sure. You can see the Aurora from time to time ion Scotland and Ireland. But seeking it out and being successful in somewhere as beautiful as Iceland is an experience I’ll never forget. We live in a bloody magical universe. Big love for solar particles.

(To get to the lighthouse in Reykjavik, get the Number 11 bus from the main street to bus stop Lindarbraut / Hofgarðar. It takes about 20 mins from the main street (stop Bio Paradis) to get here. Once you do, walk to the end of the road and turn left… then just follow the ocean wall! Be warned that the very last bus back into the centre of the city leaves the Lindarbraut / Hofgarðar bus stop at about 11.20pm. The Northern Lights are brightest from about 10pm onwards, so you still have lots of time… all good!)

LISTEN: I happened to be in Reykjavik at the same time as a lady I used to work with – Ceinwen – and I met her and her husband for a drink at a bar they recommended. Turns out it was a brilliant recommendation, so I’m passing it on!

The bar is part of Kex Hostel. Yes, yes, I know – you hear the word ‘hostel’ and you think it must be a dive bar. I promise you, it isn’t. It’s a brilliant, stylish bar, decorated with books and cartography and lots of shabby chic furniture, moody dim lighting and fantastic music too. They do ‘slightly upmarket’ pub grub there too, as well as having an epic range of drinks, including lots of beer on tap. Fun fact: beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989 (no one is completely sure why), and the Icelandic beers are all brewed using filtered volcanic water: so you can be sure that any beer you have will taste extra special.

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Kex is the Icelandic word for ‘biscuit’ and the hostel is situated in an old biscuit factory. The first time I went there it has laid-back hip hop playing and Ceinwen and her hubby were drinking a red wine they both seemed to completely fall in love with. The bar staff actually gave them the rest of the bottle for free, which is awesome! But the second time I went on my own, I happened to arrive when a jazz and blues band were playing, and it was ACE. The atmosphere was perfection, he surrounding were beautiful and it’s the kind of bar where it really doesn’t matter if you’re there as a big group, a romantic couple of a solo traveller: everyone is comfortable and can relax.

I’d VERY strongly recommend going there if you’re in Reykjavik. Seriously. Good. Bar.

LOVE: For a couple of hours one afternoon, I decided to spend my time with the largest collection of mammal penises in the world. The Icelandic Phallological Museum is an interesting way to spend a little time out of the cold. And, true, if you don’t go you’re not missing a huge amount, but if you do have the time to stop by it’s an interesting little (but well hung) place! For example, did you know that some mammalian penises have bones in them? WELL NOW YOU DO!

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Dicks. Everywhere. As well as penises belonging to deer, whales, dolphins, polar bears… if you can find it in or around Iceland, its penis will be in this building. The exhibition takes about 90 minutes to properly go around, as there are lots of descriptions to read. You’ll also learn interesting facts about phallic culture around the world and there’s lots of laughs too: various men have left their penis in their will to the museum, and these declarations line the walls! So, someday, homosapien phallus’ will also join the crowd.

In one little room of the museum there are phallic fairy tales and folklore –  there’s even the penis of a merman on display. Yup, seriously. It’s green and everything…

The museum is hilarious and well worth a visit. C’mon. You know you want to. If only for the fact the toilet doors have giant penis handles and it has a fully stocked shop too.

ICELAND (South Iceland)
EAT: So Icelandic lamb is kinda a big deal. You’ll see official lamb plaques all over the country, so restaurants can show off if they serve the properly amazing authentic Iceland lamb.

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I don’t usually eat lamb, but it’s such a big deal I wanted to give it a try. (Should point out that according to everyone else I was with it WAS really good.) I had the above at a hotel in the middle of nowhere (seriously) when I was roaming the south of the island, but all of the lamb in Iceland tastes equally brilliant, I was assured by all the locals! Basically, the lambs are totally free range and they live off of grass that grows thanks to water filtered through volcanic rocks. Basically, the lambs are powered by amazing nature and fresh air… which makes them taste delish.

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: As well as fire and ice, there’s also some water that moves in Iceland. I visited two of the main waterfalls and y’know what? Both were ok. If you’ve not seen a waterfall before then you’ll love ‘em. But… I just wasn’t crazy for them. However, this may be because it was winter and they were a little treacherous to explore.

Seljalandsfoss is very pretty in winter and as you walk up to it you walk over a crystal clear stream. When it’s less icy you can walk around the back of the waterfall which is pretty cool – but when I was there it was so icy that you weren’t allowed to do it!

The second waterfall I visited I liked more because I was able to climb up to the top of it. It’s called Skógafoss and it’s only about a ten-minute drive from Seljalandsfoss. There’s a stairway to the side of it and if you climb to the top (the climb isn’t too hard) and up top you can lean right over to the pool at the top of the waterfall. It’s pretty cool.

SEE: The glacier lagoon is the stuff of dreams. And, of films. Apparently, this is the place Hollywood comes to film any scene that needs a lil bit of ice (including James Bond and various action movies).

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The glacier lagoon is in the South East of the island and it’s a stunner. When I was there SEALS WERE FROLICKING IN THE WATER. It was too much, honestly.

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Fun fact: a glacier is a piece of ice that moves under its own weight. An iceberg moves because of the water. A glacier moves because the weight of the ice building on the glacier which then forces the rest of the ice to move.

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You can wander around the shore of the glacier or walk up the small hill to look over the whole place. It’s magical AF. Make sure you go if you’re taking a circle

SEE: Mountains? Whatever. These days, I hike across glaciers. Specifically, glaciers where people have gone missing and never been found (which I was told on the way to Svínafellsjökull [the glacier] which was super reassuring).

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Svínafellsjökull has been used as a filming location for the likes of Game of Thrones and Batman begins which basically means I’m a hero for hiking it. You’re set up with crampons (metal spikes that go over your hiking boots), a helmet and a pick axe. Once you’re on the glacier you have about 20 minutes to careeeeefully hike over the muddy part onto the lovely ice. The reason it’s muddy because as the glacier moves, the mud gets pushed to the top of the ice (so the mud is on the outside), leaving just the plain ol’ ice in the middle.

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I was on the ice for about 90 minutes and the sun setting over the glacier is beautiful. So are the cracks in the ice and seeing bits of the glacier that don’t have crampon marks on them (I went all adventurous and made it my mission to explore bits of ice that no one had trodden on). There are little icy steps dotted about for hiking up and down too.

The hike was included in my tour of Southern Iceland so I’m not sure how much it would have cost to do it – but my mini tour included everything in this ‘Southern Iceland’ section and was run by Xtreme Iceland. My tour guide was called Adolf (yes, he hates his name) and he was brilliant! Really down to earth and incredibly knowledgeable. He taught me all about the Icelandic love of swimming pools (seriously, it’s mental), told me lots of Icelandic folk tales and also talked a lot about Icelandic politics!

LISTEN: On the way to the glacier, I stopped off at the black sand beach which was quite an experience. The fact the wind was howling sounds like a total mood killer, but actually it made the whole place seem really spooky: especially when the snow was blown over the black sand! It was really striking and I felt all magical (and cold. It was fucking cold.).

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The beach has a few other interesting features, black sand aside. The basalt pillars on the beach are really striking, and either side of them are caves. There are also two famous rock formations in the sea to the left hand side of the beach which make a great photo!

However, the best thing about Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is the Icelandic folktale that’s set here. According to legend, the rock stacks in the ocean are actually trolls who tried to drag a boat to the beach but weren’t able to do so before the sun came up (which is when they turn to stone). The folk tales of Iceland are brilliant. There’s another one about a group of seals who took off their skin and turned human for one night only, then fell asleep after the danced the whole night. A fisherman tool the skin of one of the seals, and in the morning all the other seals had gone but this one human naked lady was left in the cave… as the only way she can get back to the ocean is if she has her seal skin.

The fisherman comforted her and took her back to his house. Long story short, he married her and she had seven children with him. He was a dick, basically, and he hid her seal skin for years and years. Until, one day, she went into the locked room and found the seal skin. When he returned, he found her gone and a note saying she had children in the ocean and children on land, but she decided to go and stay in the ocean.

…I told that really badly. I promise Icelandic folk talks are awesome when someone competent tells them!

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Anyway, back to the beach. Wind howling. Atlantic waves crashing. Cave echoing. Get a-listenin’!

LOVE: The reason I’ve put Diamond beach in the love category is just because it was such a beautiful place. How can you help falling in love with this place?!

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Diamond beach is named so because when the ice leaves the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon (the one I wrote about above) it travels not very far (approximately 100m) out to the ocean… but some of it gets caught up on Diamond Beach. Because it’s so cold, the ice takes ages to melt and in the sunshine, the ice really does shine and sparkles like diamonds on the beach!

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Because I was there at the start of winter, the sun was really low on the horizon, so it looked like it was setting/rising the entire day, which made the beach so magical. The ice isn’t heavy so picking up the crystal clear bits of ice is a must-do (obvs), as is walking along the shore and watching the waves crash around the chunks of glistening ice.

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Omg seriously. So beautiful. ❤

ICELAND (Other fun stuff I did)
EAT: I always ready the in-flight magazines on planes. It kills time and I nearly always pick up an interesting tip or place to visit! The magazine on the Icelandair flights to Iceland was no different: it had a little article on Malt og Applesin.

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THIS DRINK IS DELICIOUS. It’s a Christmas drink in Iceland (their version of mulled wine or eggnog I guess) and it’s crazy good. Basically it’s a malt drink (so it tastes a bit like beer, but it’s non-alcoholic) and it’s mixed with organic. ALCOHOL FREE ORANGE BEER. It’s so bloody festive and yummy. I had it on the plane, in the bar… everywhere, basically. Give it a go if you visit Iceland!

SEE: I have a book by Rough Guides and I use it to inspire me whenever I’ve booked a holiday, or when I’m not sure where to go. One of the recommendations in the book is to head to Silfra. It’s a damn good recommendations because in Silfa you can snorkel or dive in lava filtered water between two tectonic plates.

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HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!

I went with Dive.Is because you can only go between the tectonic plates if you’re with a guide. You also can’t dive unless you have lots of experience, so I opted for snorkelling. Silfra is in a National Park about a hour’s drive from Reykjavik and it’s a fissure between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate. Apparently there are lots of teeny tiny earthquakes there everyday, but you don’t feel them. Instead, you get to look down into some of the clearest water on earth about 45m into the earth, which is about as amazing as you’d expect!

The water is so fresh and clear because it’s filtered for dozens of years through lava rock before it gets to this point. So if you get a load of water in your mouth, you can just swallow it and feel refreshed. Silfra is also the only place where one can dive or snorkel directly in the crack between two continental plates, which makes it pretty damn special.

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The experience was bloody freezing, just to warn you. I went when it was about -7 degrees out of the water and when you get in you’re only in a wet suit, so you’re not kept warm… just dry. And even then, not THAT dry because water gets into your gloves. Sigh.


The water was about 1 degree when I was there and the 45 minutes in the water was more than enough. I’d LOVE to go again in the summer when I could get out and not feel like I’m going to freeze to bloody death… but I’m still so so so glad I did it. And I’d 100% recommend DIVE.IS – as you can see, the photos they took of my snorkelling were amazing and the guide was fantastic too!

SEE: As I didn’t hire a care, I used public transport to get me to a place called Hveragerði, which is the starting point of my mental day trying to get to the Reykjadalur Hot Springs. I took a little local bus to the bus depot on the outskirts of Reykjavik and then hopped onto a coach which departs every couple of hours and takes you to Hveragerði.

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Warning: it’s a 3k walk up a hill to get to the starting point for the hike up to the thermal river and the café at the start point WAS NOT OPEN. So I hiked 3k to get to the point where I start to hike another 4k up a hill to get to the river. But s’all good. The hike to the start point is on a road and there are lots of geothermal pools you pass along the way – the billowing steam coming from them is like glorious Icelandic thermal foreplay.

It’s as beautiful as it is FREEZING. #HotSpring #ColdFace

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When you get o the start point you see a bit of greenery and immediately steam coming from the water: even at the start point the stream is warm! You’ll also pass some mud pools bubbling away and letting off stream too, which is pretty cool. By cool, I mean scorching hot, so watch your step. Then comes the snow and the ice…

…which would have been fine if I’d been properly prepared, but my snow boots have no grip on them whatsoever. So, I managed to get up about 1k of the hill before I slipped backwards, scraped my knee and gave up. Trust me, I had a few falls before I packed in my attempt (as it took me so long to get there!) but it’s up a big old hill and the entire path was just COVERED in packed snow and ice – there was no way I was going to make it.

So, I got a plastic bag out of my backpack, sat on it and whizzed down the hill for 1k: SO Much FUN! True, not as much fun as getting to the top and bathing in a natural warm river would have been, but ho hum. I enjoyed myself and had an adventure, so that’s the main thing 😊 If you have a car and you’re properly dressed, give this place a visit. Not getting up to the top just means I HAVE to come back in the summer and give it another go when it’s grassy. Whoop!

LISTEN: Keflavik airport is ok. Nicely laid out, but small. There’s a Joe and the Juice in the middle of it and while I was waiting to leave Iceland, it was playing some killer tines. Some of them were Icelandic hip hop! I really liked the song below – it’s by Joey Christ and it’s called Turisti.

LOVE: Last year, the Blue Lagoon in Iceland has nearly as many people visit it as there were tourists entering the country. The reason? Because the Blue Lagoon is super famous and only about 15 minutes from Keflavik airport, so alllll tourists head there as they enter or leave the country.

I went on my way outta Iceland which personally I think was the better way to do it. Airport days are usually a bit meah because you know you can’t do anything BIG because you need to get to the airport in good time, so heading to the Blue lagoon about five hours before your flight means you get a solid three hours bathing in its warm, bright blue waters.

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The Blue Lagoon, on paper, sounds gross. It’s supplied by water from the geothermal power plant and it in the middle of a load of lava rock. However: when you learn that the water is beautifully warm and is incredible for your skin (YAY TO GEOTHERMAL POWER!) then you’ll start to see the appeal.

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The day I went, it was really cold so after taking a shower before getting in (which everyone has to do), I headed out to the lagoon. It’s actually quite nice walking out into the freezing cold and slowly submerging yourself in the warm water… but if you ain’t that brave, there’s a little bit of the lagoon inside which you can get in, and you can swim to a door that lets you outside. But if you bear it, go cold then warm. So good.

It was very steamy when I was there, and the water was perfectly blue. Everyone just looked so bloody relaxed it was ridiculous. I got a basic ticket to the lagoon, which included a mud mask. The mud mask you apply while in the lagoon, you wait about 15 minutes and then you just wash it off in the lagoon – it doesn’t make a mess in the water at all! There’s also a couple of bars in the lagoon so you can stay warm whilst ordering your beer/wine/cider/etc. When you arrive, you’re given a wristband which you use to pay for everything and they scan the band before you leave. Well smart.

I loved it. Yes, there are LOTS if other geothermal lagoons which are less expensive and less crowded. But this place is popular for a reason: the facilities are great and the blue water against the lava rock covered in snow was pretty special!

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In short: Iceland is stunning. It’s a natural wonder with fantastic food, lovely people, some of the most spectacular sights and experiences on earth and it’s CRAZY EXPENSIVE. But don’t let that put you off – just make sure you save enough to really enjoy yourself 😊

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Quick note about the places I stayed, as they were great. In the Lapland part of the blog I went into a lot of detail about where I stayed in Lapland, but the hostels/places I stayed in in Helsinki and Reykjavik.

  • First place I stayed in Helsinki was the Toolo Tower apartments: basically, university accommodation that they rent out. I didn’t take any photos, but it was in a good location and was basically a mini apartment. Really great value and I’d recommend.
  • The other place I stayed in Helsinki was Hostel Diana Park. It’s small but really well-kept and in a FANTASTIC location. The rooms were airy and comfortable, the bathrooms were clean and the kitchen area was really nice. Wifi was fast and I really recommend it. Seriously: the location ROCKED.
  • First place I stayed in Reykjavik was the HI Hostel. It was about a half an hour walk out of the city and to be honest it wasn’t great. The bed was ok but the showers were dirty which sucked. To get to the showers I also had to go down a freezing cold stairway which wasn’t great. Also, the wifi wasn’t amazing either.
  • For the rest of the time I was in Reykjavik I stayed at the Galaxy Pod Hostel. It was GREAT. Amazing location and every bed is its own little self-contained pod. The pod  has charging points, air conditioning and lots of hooks and places to store things. REALLY good wifi too, as well as a locker which auto-locks and is big enough to fit a small suitcase in there.

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The hostel also has a brilliant atmosphere: there’s a huge TV in the common area which is hooked up to Netflix and the lounge area is super cool – good lighting, really comfy trendy sofas, etc. The kitchen is well stocked and big too. Showers and toilets are clean (and warm!) and the walls are all chalkboards so you can write messages on them 🙂

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2017 / / 2018

31 Dec

2017 was a pretty good year. Not the best (my best is hard to beat) and nowhere near the worst. Definitely more positives than negatives, which is all you can really ask for, right?

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2017 highlights

  • My friends have had an amazing year which has made me gloriously happy. Olly and Katie, Emma, Lauren and Tom have all got engaged and they all rock. So that’s been awesome. I had a reunion with my Uni mates as we’ve known each other for 10 years and seeing Nat (who now lives in Dubai), my friend Cate is in good health, Nick and Tim have both had epic promotions and my bezzer Jude and I have been to some really cool bars and events in London this year.
  • My travels have been amazing. I’ve visited Jordan, Kenya, Tanzania, Spain and Denmark with my Nana and Finland and Iceland. I went to Kenya and Tanzania with friends I made on my travels around Africa a couple of years ago, and made some great friends while out there too!

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    I re-visited Barcelona and Copenhagen with my Nana and Dad, which also rocked. My Nana is 97 years old and she, without complaining or getting too tired, walked about 15 miles each trip. I got her to try new foods, learn a little more about the world and make the most of her free passport ❤ I just wanted to give her some wonderful memories and to show her she’s NEVER TOO OLD TO TRAVEL… and I think I succeeded 🙂

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    Jordan has been on my bucket list for years. I actually looked back on this blog to a bucket list I wrote about 5 years ago and visiting Jordan (specifically Petra) was on there. I not only visited one of the wonders of the world, but I floated on the Dead Sea, ate some truly delicious food in Amman and camped in Wadi Rum.

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    A more recent addition to my bucket list was to see the Northern Lights. I put off booking a November holiday because I had Jury Service (which I managed to get out of via a letter to the judge from my CEO!) so last minute I decided to see Helsinki, Lapland and Iceland. On my way I ate reindeer, I rode with huskies, saw the Northern Lights, hiked a glacier, shivered on black sand beaches and slept in an igloo.

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  • My work. I started the year with a team of three people and I ended the year with a team of eight. And they all rock. I’m very lucky to work with not only people who I genuinely like and respect, but who are also brilliant at what they do. True, the year has had its ups and downs when it comes to client dramas, pitch wins and losses, but all in all I feel happy looking forward to what’s going to come in 2018!

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  • My love life has been… interesting in 2017. And confusing. I’m seeing someone who I’m not seeing and not going on dates with someone I’m dating. Whatever the hell is happening with him, we’ve now been seeing each other for nearly 18 months and he’s been a big part of 2017.

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    Other 2017 highlights include:

  • Finding people to go to Ru Paul’s Drag Race with. YAAAS QUEENS!
  • Visited way too many brilliant bars with Jude, including one where you have to break secret codes and one where we (I…) drunkenly stole a giant toy lion. (Don’t ask.) Ooh, and went to Evans and Peel at loooong last!
  • Went to Sketch with the Digi Team of Dreams and Bob Bob Ricard with the mini Digi Team of Dreams.
  • Discovering Gin and burrata. Yes, I sound so middle class. WHATEVS. They’re delicious.
  • Seeing the Barber Shop Chronicles with Ryan. SUCH a good play, total theatrical highlight for me.
  • Touring Highgate Cemetery. I’d wanted to go for ages and the gravestones and architecture generally was beautiful.
  • My birthday. I had all my best friends come out in Brixton with me and then was treated to a brilliant birthday Escape Room and night out too. Very blessed.
  • Meeting up with my Mum’s father and partner (my biological grandfather) and then seeing Merry and Noelle again in August!
  • Meeting Jessy and Zoe – Jessy is a total babe and she actually has dating stories to rival mine!
  • Chris (my brother) going travelling. So happy he went for it and ended up spending 5 months exploring Asia!
  • The Lavender fields in Surrey! They smelled as beautiful as they looked.

And the low lights…

  • Getting my purse stolen in Berlin at the airport and having to spend 2 days trying to find an open Western Union and realising (as I scoured the grass for spare change) that a tramp was doing the same thing. Fml.
  • I got flu for the first time. I have since had my flu jab because I never, ever want to go through that crap again. Ugh. Double ugh.
  • Getting soaking wet on a Welsh hillside making a totally pointless video for a client. The blogger I was with was nice though… but yeah, so cold. Not the greatest.
  • Thinking I might have to move outta my flat. But I didn’t. So alllll good 🙂

2018 resolutions…

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  • I’m going veggie. It’s something I should have done a while ago and it’s been playing on my mind for a while now. After reading Sapiens (fantastic book) and generally learning more about the farming industry, I just can’t face eating meat anymore. I was going to go vegan, but thought that’s probably unrealistic to maintain, so for now I’ve just swapped cow’s milk with almond milk and imma see how I go… but yeah. No more meat.

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  • I’m 30 in 2018. Which is fine as I don’t have ol’ biological clock-tick that freaks a lot of other women out. But, it’s still a significant milestone and I want to get back on track when it comes to my fitness. I’m taking up weights, cutting out booze and getting myself into the shape I want to be for the rest of my life. Basically: that means getting stronger, losing about a stone and a half (of fat, not muscle) and taking better care of myself. I’m going to moisturise, use body scrub and walk even more than I do now… and do so in proper walking shoes!
  • A few years ago I made a resolution to leave my comfort zone when travelling. What I meant, at the time, was to travel to more places outside the Western World on my own… so I went to Cuba!

    I’m making the same resolution this year too, but I mean it in a different way. I want to challenge myself to have more difficult travel experiences: ones which teach me more about human history and ones which will stick with me. I have so far booked a holiday to Poland to visit Auschwitz and I’m also heading to Cambodia where I’ll go to the Killing Fields. It won’t be fun, but it’s far too important to keep the memory of these terrible events alive so we can learn more these horrific events and make sure the people who suffered are not forgotten.

    …I’ll also go to some nice places too, I’m sure.

  • I want to do something worthwhile about a cause I care about in 2018. I currently give to a few charities, but I really want to take a more active role and give my time rather than just money to causes I believe in.

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    So, I’m going to see what I can do in the world of animal and environmental conservation, and safe sex education. I’d like to think I can make a tiny difference to both, but realistically I’ll need to do one or the other. On a day to day basis I do small things for the environment and wildlife, but signing petitions and shouting at idiots in my office who don’t recycle paper won’t always cut it. I might actually start social media advertising towards young people trying to teach them about the importance of wearing condoms. We’ll see. But it’s definitely something I want to work on!

 

 

 

 

Bubbledogs, Highgate Cemetery, Innovation Voices and ‘the spark’.

28 Mar

EAT: My friend Emma, one of the loveliest people EVER, recently got engaged. So, what better way to celebrate than with champagne and hotdogs? NONE. THERE IS NO BETTER WAY TO CELEBRATE ANYTHING.

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Bubbledogs is a place I’ve been meaning to go for about 4 years, purely because of the novelty factor. However, when you turn up to Bubbledogs not only is the vibe non-pretentious (like most champagne places) or too hipster (like hotdog places these days)/ It’s a great place to go with a mate, or a date, and just have good food and very good wine.

Sorry, champagne. Forgot I was being fancy.

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The photo above is the New Yorker Dog (sauerkraut and caramalised onions) and the BLT (crispy bacon, caramalised lettuce and truffle mayo). We went for pork hotdogs, but you can get veggie or beef with all the menu options. They were gooood dogs too – generous portion, really tasty meat (so much so that all the toppings added to the flavour rather than masked it) and the menu is really customisable, which is always good.

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We also went for the sweet potato fries and ‘horny devils’ (tater tots with sauce, basically) both of which were just as good as you’d find in a good restaurant, but they didn’t break the mold. Which is not bad thing, of course!

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Of course, we had dessert. It was a celebration, so it’s fine, ok? Chocolate Hot Dogs (above) with  chocolate ganache in sweet cinnamon brioche, cherry & banana sauce. They were good, but not as good as they look. If you have a sweet tooth then they’re nice, get them – but they’re not worth taking a £5 punt on.

Finally, the bubbles. We opted for a glass (or three) of the Gaston Chiquet (£6.50 a glass) and it was… well, champagne. I’m not fancy at all, so it all tastes pretty much the same to me, so the £6 glass was worth just as much as the £11 in my opinion! You can, of course, also buy by the bottle.

SEE: I have a thing for graveyards. Cemeteries. Whatever you call them, I find it endlessly fascinating how people choose to represent themselves (or their loved ones) for the rest of eternity. Whenever I visit a new city, I always make sure I tick off the cemetery and park; they’re the places in every town and city where you can escape the hustle and get some peace and time to reflect.

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So, a few weeks ago I made a long overdue visit to Highgate Cemetery. And I cannot recommend it enough; it’s a beautiful piece of London with photo opportunities and interesting information a-plenty.

Highgate Cemetery is split into two, the East and the West. You can only enter the East Cemetery via a guided tour. This costs £12, but also includes access to the West Cemetery on top of the 75 minutes tour. The West Cemetery is only £3 to enter and you can do so alone. I would highly recommend the tour – both sides of Highgate Cemetery are well worth a visit and the tour guide I had was not only brilliant but I learned so many interesting things from him!


Did you know that the reason grave robbers were so prolific in Victorian times is because, by law, only the bodies of people convicted of murder could be used in scientific studies. But, as you’ll be aware, medicine flourished in Victorian times and with only about 50 bodies available per year to play with, the medical profession were willing to pay good money for bodies which had been ‘acquired’. Therefore, there was a lot of money in graverobbing, which understandably, worried middle and upper class people. Hence Victorian graveyards like Highgate Cemetery – it came with high walls and guards, making it far harder for your loved one to get dug and cut up. The cemetery could therefore charge more money to people who wanted to be buried there and therefore had more money to make the buildings and gardens of the graveyards beautiful!

In the West Cemetery tour you learn about a poet who buried his lover with his poems clasped in her hands… and then decided he wanted them back a few years later, so paid people to dig her up and get the poems. Lovely. You’ll also learn about the work the ‘Friends of Highgate’ do to maintain the stunning architecture of some of the crypts in the cemetery, as well as visiting the graves of some interesting characters. These include Alexander Litvinenko, a man who took wild animals to events and who has a lion on his grave and in the East Cemetery, Karl Marx.

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Did you know that in Highgate Cemetery there’s a rare spider which can only survive in TOTAL darkness? There are some crypts which are sealed tiiiiight and this spider was discovered when one of the doors was unlocked to add a new family into the crypt. You can learn more gems like that on the tours… again, cannot recommend it enough!

LISTEN: Croydon – somewhere which is becoming increasingly gentrified (buy a house while you can) but, in some parts of the area, you can still find plenty of independent gems. I went to an artist showcase, put on by Innovation Voices (a company who discover and nurture urban talent)  the other week and really enjoyed seeing artists who are not only not signed, but are in the very early stages of their career in some cases and are just doing what they love… and happening to be very talented!

The artists that performed were varied – hip hop, grime, R&B, soul, all bringing their own sound to the stage and really putting their all into the performance. The venue was Hoodoos Café (but this has since closed down).

Anyway. Check out the video below for a taste of the kind of artists who get up on stage.

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LOVE: I’ve decided that the ‘spark’ doesn’t really exist.

It’s ‘getting on’.

It’s ‘wanting to fuck’.

It’s ‘confidence’.

It’s having similar goals.

But it’s not a ‘spark’.

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For every guy I’ve been on a date with (including the guy from last week) who were perfectly lovely, had interesting stories to tell and I had something in common with and wasn’t unattractive – I’m sorry I’ve had to use the term ‘no spark’ to describe why I don’ want to go on another date with you. It’s only because I don’t really know. All I know is that whatever *it* is, it wasn’t there.

But please. Let’s not call it a spark anymore.

Dominic Ansell Bakery, Stour Space Gllery, Ice Cube and the definition of pedantic.

9 Feb

EAT: At long last I made my way down to the Dominic Ansell bakery near Victoria Bus Station in London. For those of you not in the know when it comes to all things baked good, Dominic Ansell is a chef from New York who came up with the ‘cronut’ (croissant combined with donut). As a result of this joyous invention, his bakery in New York has now found its way to the UK.

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The seating area in the café if small (and it is a café, not a restaurant) but service is reasonably fast, depending on what you order. I went for a green tea, cronut and cookie shot cup. So worth all of the calories – totally could have gone for their banoffee paella (all sweet, no meat, don’t worry) if I felt I could have justified it!

The cronut was delicious. Flaky and sugar-crusted on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside. The lemon icing complimented the vanilla frosting on the inside perfectly and it’s basically as good as it looks/you imagine.

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And then there’s the cookie cup: a dark chocolate chip cookie turned into a gooey vessel, filled with vanilla milk. The cookie stays strong enough to hold the milk for a good while, but once the milk is gone it’s all nice and gooey. Yes yes, it’s essentially milk and cookie, but the novelty factor paired with the fact it tastes great make it well worth a shout.

I only have one negative about the experience (it’s absolutely not the desserts) – the service wasn’t great. Once you order, you’re given a number and your desserts are brought to you. I got my cronut right away and had to ask twice over the course of 20 minutes for my cookie cup. It rocked up, eventually, but only when I accidentally caught the manager and told her ow long I’d waited. That aside, I pretty much want to eat EVERYTHING there and I have no doubt that I’ll head back at some point to try one of their main dishes (macaroons, flowering hot chocolate) or one of their specials (the banoffee paella looks insane).

SEE: If you actually bother reading my blog on a regular basis (unlikely) you may remember that in my last post I mentioned Hackney Wick – I headed out there to visit the Olympic Park. Well, last week I went back out East again to go to an exhibition that caught my eye at the Stour Space – part creative space, gallery and café in Hackney Wick.

The exhibition was all about the song by Ice Cube, ‘It Was A Good Day’. Basically the song is about an amazing day that Ice Cube had, and someone actually worked out the only possible day Cube could have been talking about was January 20th, 1992. The blog post below is printed out for you to take, and also framed to start the exhibition.

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Essentially, a series of artworks which directly relate to the song have been curated and displayed. The song mentioned basketball, so there’s a fantastic screen print with gel of a basketball on display. I also really liked this ‘Saw the police and they rolled right past me’ print – there was also a collage about this particular line too. The blimp was represented too (in the song, Ice Cube sees a the Good Year blimp which says ‘Ice Cubes’s a Pimp’ (cue huge print of this blazoned on a blimp).


Most of the artwork was literal and it was quite an amateur exhibition, and I really enjoyed it. I admit, it could have been improved by having the song played in the area the artwork was presented in, or having the lyrics somewhere so it’s easier to understand the links between the artwork and the song. But, that aside, it was a different kind of exhibition and the Stour Space is a little hidden gem.

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In fact, I loved the café there so much I’m bunging my lunch into the ‘See’ section of this blog post. I had butternut squash and coconut soup with sourdough bread which was absolutely beautiful and SO filling. Amazing quality (and quantity!) for a fiver. I also indulged in a hot chocolate rather than going for one of the many delicious cakes they had on offer. The café space is a fantastic place to free-range too – people were in there working, reading the newspaper, stopping off on their dog walk… it’s well worth a visit. Especially when the sun is out, as they have a terrace right on the canal with a view of the Olympic stadium. GO!

LISTEN: Had to be this. Enjoy.

LOVE: I’ve reaslised I really like having my relationships defined. Not in a ‘so what are we, where is this going, wah wah wah’ way. It’s an internal definition which allows me know where to draw the line with guys and how to prioritise.

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Guys I date usually fall into the following categories:

‘Someone I’m casually sleeping with’ – regularly not leaving the house – to the point where we don’t ‘go out’ on dates. Super casual.

‘Someone I’m casually seeing’ – early on, may not have slept with them, but have been on more then five dates and we actually go out (restaurants, exhibitions etc) – making memories and having experiences together outside the bedroom.

‘Seeing someone’ – the above, with sex, but has been going on for months rather than weeks. Could turn into something, but not in a relationship (so can see other people but might not have the desire to do so’.

‘Boyfriend’ – the above, but monogamous (stop dating other people unless we’ve agreed to be in an open relationship) and don’t have to think twice about messaging them first and all that kinda dating crap you go through on dates 1-5.

Anyone else compartmentalise dating in the same way? I find I have to otherwise it gets too complicated. Especially if I’m ‘casually seeing’ two people, for example. I’ve only really had these descriptions set in my mind for the last year, but they seem to work. Plus, so long as I know where we’re at, I just don’t feel the need to ask the guy who the hell he thinks is going on until we’re verging on ‘boyfriend’ stage. Which NEVER, EVER happens. Pretty much gonna be in perpetual ‘seeing someone’ mode I reckon, haha.

Movin’ on up (2016 review / 2017 goals)

1 Jan

Well, you don’t need to hear from me that 2016 has been a helluva year. Personally, my 2016 has been great – but for the world, society and common sense it’s been a complete fucking ‘MARE.

As I love a bit of perspective, I’m always looking at my first blog post from 2016 where I laid out my resolutions and seeing how well I did. Then I’m going to look at my 2016 highlights and then I’m going to set my goals for 2017. Basically: if you follow my blog for travel tips and things to do in London, this post won’t interest you at all. But if you’re secretly in love with me and would like an insight into my life, then proceed (and make your 2017 resolution to tell me you love me. People love hearing that, lol.)

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MY AIMS FOR 2016 were…

Travel truly solo

  • This was about going somewhere long-haul, out of my comfort zone, without a tour company.
  • …and I totally did this in Cuba – organised everything myself, made my way around Cuba alone via public transport, all without speaking Spanish in a country that really does not have much exposure to English at all. I’m proud of myself for not going to just Havana, but packing in three different places so I could move around the island. I’m also SO glad that I went to Cuba before Fidel died – Cuba was already changing, but I think that the changes will come thick and fast now Fidel has gone. It was a joy to see Cuba *as it was* (well, as close as I could get to as it was I guess).

Get healthier

  • This was about reaching my goal weight, eating better and drinking less.
  • I total reached my goal weight (see the next section) and I’ve started to mix things up more when I’m cooking – making sure I’m trying different veg, only having egg whites and not yolks, swapping olive oil for coconut oil, making my own energy balls…
  • I walk SO much more than I did last year – it’s made a huge difference.
  • I did a terrible job at having a few ‘dry’ months in 2016 (November aside), so this can deffo be improved in 2017!

Don’t be lazy: learn

  • This was about actively educating myself while at home and swapping Netflix for books.
  • So, I did cancel my Netflix account and for a while I read more… but that fell away towards the end of the year. But I still devour my Delayed Gratification journal every three months and I have a pile of books on my to-do list; in 2017 I’m actually going to read them!
  • I didn’t do any Future Learn courses, but I did make bigger efforts to understand more about the current world political situation – about how bombing the middle-east in the 20s and 30s did sod all, about why people actually voted for Trump and the issues going on in the UK that led to Brexit, about the history of religious extremism… I feel like I can approach the world events, still angry, but at least more informed.

Do more for the animals

  • I’ve increased the amount of money I donate to wildlife charities this year, but that’s only really a starting point I guess. In order to feel like I’ve truly fulfilled this one I need to do more volunteer work.
  • I did get more up close and personal with cats this year via Catsitting – basically saving owners from sending a cat away from home and looking after them (feeding, cleaning, petting) which the owners are away. There are worse ways to earn a few extra quid!


WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN 2016…

HEALTH & FITNESS
This year, I hit my goal weight. The healthy weight I’ve been aiming to get to for the last FOREVER. I’m now 4 stone lighter than I was at University, I wear a size 10/12 (something I never thought possible) and I’ve managed to fit into a size 10 dress I purchased YEARS ago, with the hope that one day it would fit.

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As a result, my diabetes is better controlled and I’m SO much fitter. I usually exercise at the gym on the cross trainer because I fractured my foot when I was younger and it got a bit messed up. But yesterday, I ran 5k, on the road, in the cold, without stopping. True, I got super sweaty and my legs hate me today… but, again, that’s not something I ever thought I’d be fit enough to do. And my foot didn’t hurt, which is a HUGE bonus!

TRAVEL
This year, I’ve visited even countries: Cuba, Costa Rica, India, Italy, Czech Republic, Spain and Germany. Some highlights below (I mean, there’s just WAY too many to talk about all of them).

  • Zip-lining in Costa Rica. SO MUCH FUN. I loved it so much I also went zip-lining in India too – but nothing will beat zipping through the Monteverde Cloud Forest, screaming. Oh, and then zip-lining a full kilometer, like superman (horizontally) and being terrified as I see my tiny little shadow zooming across the tops of the trees faaaar below.
  • Oh and SEEING A JAGUAR IN THE WILD. GAAAAAH!
  • Everything about Cuba, basically. Cuba was a big one for me as it was one of my New Year’s Resolutions to do a solo trip that’s ‘out of my comfort zone’, and as I don’t speak Spanish, Cuba totally ticked that box.
    – Old Havana is a beautiful, jumbled maze of dilapidated, colourful buildings.
    – The section of town on the very outskirts of Havana where a local artist has made the entire place look like Guardi’s Barcelona.
    – The music and the cocktails are incredible all over the island – particularly at a bar in Vinales where I watched the sunset over the tobacco fields drinking the most incredible Pina Colada.
    – Trekking through the cobblestone streets of Trinidad, through the local (non-touristy) sections of town to hike up a huge hill with a café on the top. Oh, and the underground cave nightclub too.

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  • The colours of India – women in stunning saris, marigolds lining the doorways at temples and weddings… the Hindi temples themselves are a riot of colour too. So pretty and so happy.india
  • Turning every corner in Rome and finding another piece of history. Whether it be the place Caesar was killed (which is now home to a cat sanctuary!), more ornate archways and pillars or an unassuming church which happens to hold the skull of St. Valentine. As ya do.italy
  • The beer gardens of Prague were an absolute delight and I was very lucky to visit when the weather was so good. Prague, generally, is lovely (I was surprised just how easy it is to walk around). Another highlight was the house of an eccentric artist in the middle of a park which he’s opened to the public and is filled with mystical, colourful artwork and slightly creepy music.prague
  • Seeing Radiohead at a music festival in Berlin. RADIOHEAD FOR THE WIN. The moment they played Identikit was especially lovely. I saw Major Lazer there too, which was wicked… but nothing can beat Radiohead <3https://www.instagram.com/p/BKOokIeA_G1/?taken-by=hannahlujah123
  • Going to Barcelona for the first time on my own (the other 6 or 7 times I’ve always been with other people) – it meant that I got to see bits of the city which I’d compromised on previously. I walked 14 miles in one day heading to the outskirts of town to the GORGEOUS Montjuic Cemetary and funeral carriage museum. I also saw the most incredible stained glass in Palau de le Musica Catalana – another place I hadn’t visited before.barcelona

PEEPS

It’s been a huge year for my friends and family when it comes to life events – I’m in the same job, living in the same place and still going on ridiculous dates. But s’all good, so that’s not a complaint!

My friends and family have encountered deaths, graduations, becoming home owners, planning weddings, new jobs, redundancies, retirements… but they all seem to be reasonably happy now we’re at the end of 2016, which is all I can hope for! Jude and I still bemoan the politics of the UK (our poor, bleeding liberal hearts have been through a lot this year…), Nick and Tim are still the best couple I know (and and looking like absolute BABES), Jack and Sam are well loved up and will be moving in with their other halves in 2017 (most probs), Cate quit her job and has another lined up (and a puppy, massive win), Emma is still the loveiest, cheeriest lady EVS (NYE karaoke come at me), Ryan is loved up and being his usual creative self and all of my other friends who I don’t necessarily see as often are all in relationships, owning flats and being well grown up (not the be all and end all of course, but totally right for them).

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However, I do want to draw attention to all the friends I’ve made travelling. When you head off on your own it’s so much easier to make friends with people. And the kind of people who have any inclination whatsoever to visit places like India and Costa Rica are normally happy to pal up with a loner like me J A lady called Laura I met in Costa Rica is an absolute babe of a women (will always remember her trying to chat up men for me and us drinking wine in a car park), as are Jacqui and Lucy who I met on the Costa Rica tour too. In India Mark and Mike were a total pleasure to be around (and a nightmare as I can NEVER tell when they’re taking the piss or not) – in fact, I actually met up with them a few weeks ago. Not only do these people make the travel so enjoyable at the time, but it means I have places to stay around the world and they have a bed/tour guide in London if they ever need one.

MY AIMS FOR 2017

Right, aside from enduring the bullshit of Brexit and Trump (basically, politicians having no fucking clue what they’re doing and the right wing now thinking it’s ok to gloat about the terrible state we’re in), I do have other things that I want to do in 2017.

Help make the world less terrible

Ok, so ‘making the world a better place’ is going to be a tough call in 2017. Brexit will be a nightmare, Trump is past help… so I just want to improve things, in small ways, where I can.

In 2016 I’ve already started doing this; I’ve given more money to animal charities and to Unicef to support their aid workers in Syria. I’ve also started buying rough sleepers in Soho food and drink, just to brighten their day a little. At the end of the day a sandwich and a bottle of water costs so little and it can make a huge difference.

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But I want to actually volunteer this year. I tried last year to volunteer for Age UK but their London office messed up my appointment three times and then they just stopped emailing me (hmm). So this year, I’m going to volunteer at homeless shelters and animal shelters as often as I can. January will be about finding the places I can get to and who need support and then I’ll do what I can throughout the year. After all, people take so many things for granted (clean water, a roof over their heads) so I think it’s about time I substitute the time I spend lazing about for doing something worthwhile. I’d encourage you to do the same and join me if you can!
 

Take longer holidays to closer places

Ok, so last year was all about going REALLY FAR AWAY for two weeks, or going somewhere in Europe for 2 days. This year, I’m going to try and do a couple of holidays (say, 5 days to a week) and to really get under the skin of a smaller place. I’m considering spending 5 days heading up to Scotland to visit the Isle of Skye. I’d also really like to visit La Gomera – it’s next to Tenerife but so few people go there – the entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and looks like a place well worth exploring Perhaps my final trip could be a week somewhere like Sicily, Cape Verde or getting to the top of Norway and seeing the Northern lights.

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La Gomera

After all, I already have a trip to Kenya and Tanzania booked… so my desire to get as far away from Brexit Britain will be fulfilled once.

Get even healthier and fitter

Right, so at the moment I’m at my goal wright: that is, the top end of what is a healthy BMI. However, if I lose another stone then I will be sitting right in the middle of a healthy BMI and I no shits will be given whatsoever if I put on half a stone on holiday/at Christmas.

I’m going to lose the weight via the following ways – all of which are about making my body healthier and losing the weight just being an added bonus. After all, it’s easy to get thin; it requires patience and determination to get fit!

  • Cut out booze for three months (January, November and another one). Not only is booze a HUGE contributor to keeping weight on, but, honestly, I just don’t need it. The more regularly I cut it out, the better for my body it will be!
  • Always have five portions or fruit and veg a day. Sometimes I’m bad at this, but I got a blender for Christmas so I can have dates in the form of energy balls, a banana every morning and lots of fresh veg in the evening.
  • Do a park run. Now, I don’t mean THE park run because they involves me getting up at 8am at the weekend which is INSANE. But now I know that I can run on the road, I want to do it a little more. Might even set myself a goal (is 5k in 20 minutes realistic? Need to do some research) – but basically, just start mixing up my exercise routine a little bit. My bro got my weight for Christmas so they can get involved too!

Rein in the rage

So I tend to get easily exasperated with the state of the world and when people make terrible life decisions. But I shouldn’t – after all, it’s their life and a lot of people I know don’t actually care about the fact the world is going to shit. So, I’m going to attend to rein in my ranting and just be a bit more chill. That way, people might actually get a night out with me which doesn’t involve putting the world to rights (I’ll just do that in my head and not vocalise it… maybe when I’m out I’ll just go and shout at myself about injustice in the bathroom mirror.)

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This will also involve getting back into mindfulness and embrace Pura Vida. I did it for a while when I returned from Costa Rica and I felt SO much better for it. So, mindfulness is going to be something I pick up again. I’m also going to try meditation and this is one of the wankiest things I’ve ever said, but I really want a gong bath. You basically sit in a room and let the sound of gongs wash over you as you chiiiiilll. I know, what a twat. But I’ll be a RELAXED twat, so whatevs.

(This is my most ambitious resolution I reckon, but it’s something I definitely want to work on!)

Wish me luck folks. And here’s to hoping all the terrible things the minority voted to take place in 2017 aren’t actually as fucking awful as we all expect them to be. Sigh.

Flat Iron burger, walking ftw, George Michael and knowing your life plans.

28 Dec

Ok, so STILL writing my blog post on India. Apparently doing loads of stuff and visiting loads of places means it takes forever to write about it…

Anyway, just leaving a blog post here so I don’t forget what I’ve been up to in the lead up to Christmas!

EAT: At long last I went to Flat Iron when they had a burger special on. I know, they have them on a lot, but for some reason whenever I go the special is a fancy bit of steak. But, at last, I’ve had a Flat Iron burger and my GOD it was incredible.

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Look at it.  The ‘Cornish Burger’ special is a beef patty in lightly toasted sesame seed bun with a helluva lot of béarnaise sauce. Yup, that’s not cheese, that’s SAUCE. It was thick enough to hold the burger together but not so thick that it took away from the incredible taste of the meat.

I always have my burgers well done – it tasted amazing. The flavour was stronger than the burgers at the likes of Byron, Honest and others, stronger in a good way of course! I actually love the taste of the beef so much (it wasn’t even seasoned, it was just da bomb) I got rid of half of the burger bun so I could focus on béarnaise and burger.


Of course, a trip to Flat Iron isn’t complete without ALL THE SIDES. Triple cooked chips (so crispy), salad (for some reason so much fresher and tastier than salad elsewhere… I think it’s because they use so much lamb’s lettuce which is the best of all the leaves FACT), cheesey aubergine, creamed spinach and a lovely craft cider. For the love of god, if you haven’t been, sort your life out and go visit Flat Iron.

SEE: So, this isn’t going to be about a particular event I’ve been to or thing I’ve done. I just want to put down in writing how much I bloody love seeing London by walking. London is an easy city to walk – plenty of paths, hidden areas to explore, it’s pretty flat and you don’t really have much excuse for getting in a car (at the end of the day, if the bus is held up, your car will be too. USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT GUYS, especially when it’s as good as it is in London).

Basically, if it’s not tipping it down I’ll walk. In the final week before we broke up for the Christmas holidays, I walked to and from the tube station (around 35 minutes each way) and despite the air being a little chilly, it is such a nice, easy walk to do! In the summer I actually walked from home (Battersea) to work (Soho) just because it’s so lovely to be outside for that 75 minutes rather than crammed on the Tube for 20!

Plus, these days it’s SO easy to be lazy. I’d far rather get an extra 60 minutes exercise than not; then again, it’s only this last year since doing way more walking that I’ve acknowledged it’s actually an amazing form of exercise (I used to believe that if you ain’t sweating then you ain’t exercising), but that’s changed now.

Plus: great way to work out if the heels I’ve just purchased are keepers: if you can’t walk a mile in a pair of shoes, return them immediately  😉

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LISTEN: On Christmas day the news broke that George Michael had passed away, aged 53. Now, with a lot of celebs who have died this year, I’ve been fans of them but I because a fan after they were really at their peak (Bowie, for example). However, I remember as a kid George Michael’s Older and Patience being released and, along with my mum (uber fan) loving the records.

Yes, Wham were great for the Pop hits. But George Michael was, like Bowie and Prince, someone who did a lot to change the way male sexuality was discussed and viewed. He was slammed by the tabloids (who are fawning over him now he’s dead, fuck the S*n) for not only being gay, but for also having casual sex.

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In the video for ‘I Want Your Sex’ he wrote ‘explore monogamy’ – this is before he came out, even in the early 90s he was challenging the idea that in order to be in a relationship, or to be allowed to enjoy sex, you have to be monogamous (personally, I believe that non-monogamous relationships can absolutely work if both people are open to them and, honestly, they’re a lot more realistic in terms of basic biology. After all, monogamy, marriage and the like are simply social constructs).

Anyway; following I Want Your Sex we had the likes of Freedom, a BRILLIANT tune and anthem. Fast Love, Faith, Flawless, Amazing… all fantastic tunes. And that video for Outside? SO STRONG. Notice how the people arrested in the video are gay men and men; the women all escape and the straight couples manage to get away with public displays of affection.

Anyway. I sincerely doubt that I’m telling you anything you don’t already know. That George Michael, despite the drugs and mini scandals, was a brilliant man and musicians. What he did for the LGBT community, and his numerous *fuck yous* to the establishment and social norms, shouldn’t be overlooked. I’m going to leave you with one of my many favourites of his: Freedom.

LOVE: Christmas is a time when a lot of people tend to get depressed if they’re single. Which I can understand, if all they want from life is a wedding and a family. Which, many people do.

I met up with my old friends from home when I was back over the Christmas period and one is engaged, the other has just bought a flat with her boyfriend and the other has a flat, engagement ring and a wedding in August. Which is bloody wonderful, as they all have what they want with the people they want too 🙂

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But I was very aware that while talking to them they assumed that there was no point asking about my love life (which is actually pretty damn good, but maybe it was because it’s not heading towards a flat or a ring). Regarding the flat – it’s only possible to purchase a flat these days if you have rich family or you buy with a partner. Even if I had either of those options available to me I know what would happen (it’s what currently happens at the moment): I’d see some savings and think ‘fuck the flat, I want to go on an adventure’.

The point I’m making is; if you were feeling lonely or upset this Christmas, take a bit of time to work out what you actually want. WHY do you want the flat? WHY do you want a marriage… is it actually just a wedding you want, or to catch up with your friends and where they are in their lives? My wants and needs in life are seeing as much of the world as I’m able to – if someone is with me at the time then fantastic. But if not, it beats sitting on a sofa (whether I own the sofa or not).

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Everyone is different. In terms of what they need and what they want to get out of life. The only question you should be asking yourself this Christmas or at midnight on December 31st is “what do I want to get out of life”? It’s only then that you’ll work out whether hunting down a mate to make a baby and buy a house should top your priorities list. For me? It’s making sure my career stays rockin’, I can afford to go and see as much of the world as I possibly can, that I have a few bits put away for emergencies and I keep the people I love in my life: all of that achieved and I’m a happy gal.

Granger and Co, Spiritland, Troy Bar and same old.

18 Oct

EAT: I‘m going to keep this one short and nearly as sweet as the glorious Ricotta Hotcakes from Granger and Company. I’m not joking – take a look at the bad boys below.

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So, these hotcakes are on the breakfast/brunch menu and it’s taken me ages to try them because I rarely wake up early enough at the weekend to get them (pre-12pm). However, get there before noon and you can get Ricotta Hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter.

The hotcakes are SO light – totally beautiful. They’re basically cheesecakey-style pancakes… but they don’t taste of cheese. They’re just light, and when you cut through them you’re faced with more light, fluffy and tasty goodness.

The banana balances out the maple syrup and the honeycomb butter sweetness well and the whole thing isn’t *too much* at all. It’s just delicious and absolutely worth getting up early and £12 for.

SEE: I went to Kings Cross a few weeks ago and headed towards Granary Square – the bit next to Regent’s Canal and has seen a whole load of new restaurants and bars spring up.

Two things are here that you should see: firstly, the lovely light installation (see below). There are tables next to the light fountains and it’s really relaxing (even in the cold!) to just sit and get sucked in to the show.

Future garden water feature. #fountain #London

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The second place you should see is Spiritland. It’s a place for food and drink, but above all, music. It’s now got a long-term home in Kings Cross  (it was a pop up not long back) and it’s known for the increeeeedible speaker system that lines the main wall in the bar. Well, the bar/restaurant… but the lighting is sexy and the table are chilled out enough for you to not get a formal restaurant vibe.

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Honestly, the sound system is world-class and if you’re even remotely an audiophile, GO. They have trendy indie beers available, lots of wine and spirits and the DJ that was there on the night I went was SO good. A fantastic mix of funk, soul and almost tribal music… it’s the sort of stuff that creates a wonderful atmosphere and makes you stop mid-way through conversation to just chat about how great the song playing is. Really good date location, head there and see for yourself!

LISTEN: So, there’s a very unassuming place in Shoreditch. From the outside it sort of looks like a school cafeteria. Or a town hall… a small one, with those plastic chairs and mis-matched tables. However, Troy Bar is a hidden gem – seriously, I know there aren’t many hidden gems in London now, but this place really is.

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I went on a Friday when they hold an ‘open mic’ Jazz jam session. The jazz played was great! Honestly, really talented people who not only played well together but also were given the opportunity to play solo, and the trombonist and drummer were amazing. For the first hour or two (doors open at 9pm, music starts at 10pm) the music was just free flowing. After a 30-minute break, the cover versions started – Michael Jackson, James Brown and more. Again, great covers and by this time it was 1am and everyone was up and dancing… but there was still plenty of space in Troy Bar. Why? Because it’s honestly still a hidden gem. I’ll be going back soon, for sure.

LOVE: Need to stop meeting guys off of online dating apps (well… Ok Cupid and Tinder) and believing they have any interest in anything vaguely resembling a long term relationship (e.g. more than 3 dates).

charlo