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How to See Iceland’s Golden Circle Without the Crowds

April 23, 2017

The Golden Circle is Iceland’s most popular day trip and for good reason – it’s close to Reykjavik, is suitable for those looking to drive themselves and offers an excellent variety of unique scenery.

We elected to leave our rental car parked up for the day and joined Moonwalker.

Why?

Because even though you can drive the Golden Circle, we discovered there’s a better way to see Iceland’s most famous route.  Not only did we get to sit back and relax but joining a private tour meant we were treated to benefits that would have been out of reach in our rental.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerSee Everything at the Right Time

When you’re travelling with an expert, you will of course benefit from their expertise – it only makes sense!

Bessi understood how to best work around the limited daylight hours we faced, fitting all of the standard Golden Circle stops in alongside one extra-special-you-can’t-do-it-by-yourself one (more on that soon).

Thanks to his local knowledge (like the best place to get chicken wings – just ask him), we were also generally able to avoid the crowds and maximise our time at each location.

We’re not kidding either – check out our photos.  Each of those locations is normally jam-packed with tourists but Bessi knew exactly how to work things, often leaving us incredible tourist hotspots practically to ourselves.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerHead Off Road – Lose Yourself in Iceland’s Back Country

As we already mentioned, it is absolutely possible to drive Iceland’s Golden Circle yourself but the one absolute highlight of our day cannot be achieved without expert help.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerBeing greeted by a sign like this puts a halt to your average driver but not these guys!

Trekking up through Kjölur, the Moonwalker truck battled knee-deep powder with ease.  Out in what felt like the middle of nowhere, we plowed our way to Skálpanes where we were rewarded with plenty of opportunities for snow-angels and views out over the most incredible, all-encompassing white landscape.

On days with less snowfall, Moonwalker leads the charge up to Langjökull where he actually takes his customised Land Rover onto the glacier.  Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for us but the deep snow made for an exciting ride and we came down off the ‘track’ well and truely happy.

Worried about getting stuck up there?

Don’t be!

With an extensive history in search and rescue, Bessi’s the man they call when others find themselves in a bind.  He’s got the gear required to get out of a difficult situation and the experience to seldom need it.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerRelax and Enjoy the Ride!

One of the things we love most about travelling are the challenges we face.  Getting from A to B, figuring out how each new country works – navigating these differences is all part of the fun.

Sometimes though, travelling can be hard work.

When you can occasionally hand the reins over to someone that will do an amazing job, why wouldn’t you?

Bessi’s truck comes hooked up with complimentary WiFi (because, let’s face it, you won’t be short of Instagrammable material), he’ll stop anywhere you like and does all the hard work for you.

On a number of occasions, Bessi dropped us at one location and arranged to meet us at another – this saved doubling back, giving us more time to squeeze additional photo-stops in.  Now that’s something we couldn’t have made work in our rental!

Arrive as Strangers, Leave as Friends

Before we arrived in Iceland, we’d exchanged a few emails with Bessi to organise our tours but after spending only two days with him, both Nathan and I were genuinely sad to say goodbye.

I’m not sure what it is about Bessi but he instantly made us feel at ease.  With a great sense of humour and warm and welcoming demeanour, we laughed our way around the Golden Circle, more like long-lost-friends than clients.

A quick look at Moonwalker’s TripAdvisor page makes it clear that we’re not the only ones to feel this way.

And yes, you should check out his page – we’ve never seen so many positive reviews in one place!

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review MoonwalkerIceland is beyond gorgeous – it’s absolutely everything I had hoped it would be and more.

What better way than to see it than by avoiding the crowds and heading up into the deserted highlands with one of the best tour guides we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting?

Practical Information

As Moonwalker customises each of their tours to suit the needs of their guests and the weather, your tour may not look exactly like ours but chances are it will include a visit to the following sights:

  • Faxi Waterfall – A relatively small waterfall by Iceland standards but a lovely first photo-stop.
  • Haukadalur – A geothermal wonderland and home to Strokkur, Iceland’s active geyser.
  • Gullfoss Waterfall – One of Iceland’s most powerful and certainly its most visited waterfall.
  • Kjölur – The best 4WDing experience to be had in Iceland.
  • Þingvellir National Park – The birthplace of Icelandic government and a stunning example of continental drift (plus a beautiful place for a hike).

Bessi requires a minimum of two guests for a tour to go ahead or if you’d prefer, you can book him out for the day yourselves and make the most of a truely customised trip – either way, we guarantee your days with Moonwalker will hands-down be amongst the best of your time in Iceland.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Review Moonwalker

Have more time up your sleeve?  Check out Snæfellsnes Peninsula or the South-East Coast of Iceland.


 Iceland is known for its natural, rugged beauty but as time goes on, almost for its crowds of tourists. Find out how to organise your itinerary to make the most of your holiday to the Golden Circle, whether you join the best tour in Iceland or self-drive. Iceland is known for its natural, rugged beauty but as time goes on, almost for its crowds of tourists. Find out how to organise your itinerary to make the most of your holiday to the Golden Circle, whether you join the best tour in Iceland or self-drive. Iceland is known for its natural, rugged beauty but as time goes on, almost for its crowds of tourists. Find out how to organise your itinerary to make the most of your holiday to the Golden Circle, whether you join the best tour in Iceland or self-drive.

Thank you to Bessi of Moonwalker for having us along as his guests.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  Even if we paid twice the price of his tour, we’d be singing his praises!

Remember that although driving the Golden Circle yourself is possible, venturing up Kjölur is not – do yourself a favour and get in touch with Bessi.

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Sziget Festival: A Survival Guide for 30-Somethings

April 15, 2017
Sziget Festival Survival Guide http://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/gitpics/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/16001446/Colour-party-at-Sziget.-Photo-by-Rockstar-Photography.jpg

We all know that the height of uber-cool things to do during the summer months is go to a music festival (according to my 18 year-old students). In my 20s I made it to a couple of festivals in Europe and V-Fest in the UK but have sadly never made it to the daddy of all UK festivals – Glastonbury.  At least I’ve not made it yet.

However, last summer my friend and frequent travel buddy Liz suggested we hit up Sziget Festival in Budapest – a SEVEN day extravaganza of music and artistry. She had ended up there during her travels the year before on a day ticket to see Florence & The Machine and realised this was something that needed doing properly.

The inner teenager in me enthusiastically said, “Yeah, cool, let’s do it!”  Then of course my inner monologue was hijacked by middle-aged Joanne, the woman who likes to sleep in comfy beds surrounded by silence, take daily showers, use clean loos and wash her hands afterwards. Seven days is a whole lotta festival!

I’m no travel snob, not by any means, but I couldn’t help recall my last festival camping experience where we were pitched next to some absolute (*insert choice words here*) who thought inhaling laughing gas from balloons at 4am and falling onto our tent was standard, accepted festival behaviour. We ended up leaving a night early and driving to my friend’s house in London, desperate for a hot shower, a mattress, a duvet and some peace.

So this time around, at the ages of 33 and 36, we decided to do our research and find a fuddy-duddy friendly festival plan that allowed us to remain cool and down-with-the-kids, whilst also satisfying our need for a bit of R&R.

If I do say so myself, we did an ace job, so here are my top tips for surviving Sziget in your 30s…

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Invasion Mag

1. Do not Camp at the Festival

Sziget is held on Óbudai-sziget (‘Old Buda Island’), an island in the middle of the Danube aptly dubbed ‘The Island of Freedom’ by the organisers for the week of the festival.

There are a number of reasons I could give for not camping, one of them being that you end up being kind of stuck out there away from the other amazing sights Budapest has to offer. Of course there are transport links on and off the island (which I will come to) but with everything that is going on all day and night at the festival, you’d probably end up deciding to stick around rather than exploring the city.

Had we gone straight to camp on the island, we probably would never have experienced the “beer bike”, undoubtedly one of the most unusual and fun ways I’ve ever been sight-seeing. Basically, you and up to seven others pedal power what is essentially a bar on wheels. While your driver/guide steers up at the front, you cycle away and pull your own pints at the back. We threw in some sing-along entertainment too for good measure, gaining many a round of applause from admiring pedestrians.

Another reason not to camp is very simply because it’s uncomfortable, noisy and eventually, very smelly!

As with many festivals nowadays, there are a number of accommodation options on the island that are a significant step up from camping. We considered booking the ‘Flexotel’ option for a while – little shed-like cabins containing 2 beds, linen and towels, a power supply, storage space and access to separate bathroom facilities. It all sounded perfect for a couple of 30-something revellers until we realised we could get our own apartment in the city for a fraction of the cost.

The Flexotel rooms cost 895 euros for the week and that doesn’t include your actual festival ticket. It just didn’t make sense, and the cheaper option (tents) didn’t appeal at all.  

Staying in the city apartment meant we could come and go as we pleased while also having easy access to other attractions around Budapest. By the end of the week, as we walked around the island watching the haunted, dusty, exhausted youngsters dragging their zombified selves around, catching a whiff of them or their abodes every now and again, we knew we’d made the right choice.

Like I said, seven days is a long slog to be living in a small canvas triangle.

At this point I have to give a little shout out to Georgia, our host at Red Pearl apartment who, after getting over her initial annoyance at our arriving a bit later than expected, made us very welcome and even had a bottle of wine waiting for us on arrival. She has a couple of fully furnished, self-catering apartments in the same building, situated right in the heart of the city on a street with convenience stores, bars and restaurants. They can all be found on booking.com or AirB&B.

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Love Music Travel

2. Know the Public Transport Times and Routes

If you do decide to stay in the city, it is well worth checking to see how close your accommodation is to a main metro line. Using public transport is really cheap which helped make our decision to stay in town an easy one.

We stayed a very short walk away from Kalvin-Ter metro station on the blue M3 metro line and getting to Sziget was pretty easy. We took the M3 a couple of stops, transferred onto the red M2 line going to the other side of the river to Batthyany-Ter station and then jumped onto the overland train up to the festival getting off at the Filatorigat stop with the rest of the cool kids. The whole journey took about 30 minutes.

The earlier you go, the less packed the trains are and the easier it is to get over the bridge and into the festival. Queues tend to get busier the later in the afternoon it got but we never had any major problems; it’s pretty well organised with portaloo stops along the way just in case.

Trains coming back off the island were pretty regular and ran until late at night to make sure everyone who stayed for the headline act could get back.

It is worth noting however that the metros do not follow suit and the last metro tends to finish before midnight, whereas the last train back from Sziget arrives back in the city after the clock ticks over into the next day.  Make sure you plan carefully or you may end up on a bus with no idea of which way it is going (guilty) or in a taxi costing more than your whole book of public transport tickets (guilty again)!

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Global Publicity

3. Get the App

Isn’t technology brilliant?

Remember the days when we had to wait for information about events to come through the post ON PAPER, or make phone calls to find out what in the world was going on then draw up an itinerary ON PAPER?!?

Well no more my globetrotting friends!

This has probably been happening for all sorts of festivals and events for years, but for me, being able to download a tailor-made app that could tell me pretty much anything I needed to know about acts, stages, shows, artists, times and locations was a whole new 21st century experience.

The Sziget Festival app is free to download and is a great way to plan your days and nights on the island. You can save the acts you want to see in your own personal planner so you know exactly where you need to go at the touch of a button.

Mind blown.

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Gap 360

4. Locate the Good Toilets (and Bring Supplies)

Anyone who is a regular to festivals knows this one is pretty important.

You want to find the kind that actually flush, as opposed to the ones that have that pump lever that you try to avoid touching with your hands by using your foot (no? Just me?). Those are the loos that are going to be pretty horrendous after seven days of use by people who have been living on a staple diet of fast food and beer.

Luckily, at Sziget, there were a number of more “luxury” options scattered around which also had proper sinks and taps outside of them too (no soap however – take your sanitiser).

The most convenient of these were located right at the back of the main stage audience area which meant we didn’t have to journey far from the big acts when nature called.

It’s also worth having a supply of tissues with you (standard festival kit) as the loo roll provided runs out pretty quickly.

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Festi Leaks

5. Get your Passport Stamped

A very cool aspect of the whole Sziget experience is the passport you are issued on arrival. Not only does it serve as your guide to the festival and the venue, it has two pages just waiting to be stamped at the many different tents, stations and areas around the island, just like a real passport.

What a novel way to get people exploring the whole venue during their stay!

We obviously made it our mission to collect every one of the 23 stamps, some of which you can only get at certain times of day, which in turn led to us trying out lots of the quirky activities: Travelling Funfair, Sportzone, Cirque Du Sziget, Ability Park, I Ching Labyrinth, Museum Quarter, and 17 more funtivity filled spots.

Once festival “Szitizens” have filled their passports with stamps (which also include a photo and a few funny personal details), they can claim their prize – free merchandise!

I got myself a snazzy bandana which I rocked on the last day. Which brings me to my next snippet of advice…

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: One Backpack Blog

6. Look the Part – Wear the Merch and Learn How to Braid

Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt?

Good, because you’re not part of the gang unless you’re wearing something Sziget branded.

To be honest, I bought my hoodie because it got a bit chilly at night but I was happy that my nanna-like need for warmth and comfort also allowed me to join the ranks of the other young, cool Szitizens.

As for hairstyles, it seems braids are back. I’m more of a bun and bandana girl myself, but I made sure Liz was a member of the braidy-bunch (you can thank me later, Liz).

Needless to say, we looked awesome! No, really.

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Joanne – Exploring Kiwis

7. Laybags are the New Black

Laybags/Laysacks – these things go by a number of names these days but the concept is the same and they are the new essential item to have at open field events.

As regular concert and outdoor event goers, Liz and I had ordered a laybag each months before the festival but they had failed to turn up on time so we were rendered green with envy when half the population of Sziget had these very comfy looking, inflatable couch/beds.

I’m over the days of sweaty mosh-pits at festivals; I much prefer sitting back and chilling with a beer while watching my favourite artists rock out on stage, so having a big bouncy bag of air to recline on would have been lovely (*sigh). 

Having said that, now mine has arrived I can say with confidence that inflating them is not as simple as they make it seem on the adverts. Expect many a comedy moment as you run around trying to ‘catch’ air in the bloody thing!

Sziget Festival Survival Guide

Photo: Absolute Tours

Have the Best Time – You’re Only as Old as you Feel!

Other than these few tried and tested tips, I would recommend trying as many of the food-trucks as possible (the Hungarian sausage being a personal favourite), wear comfy but ‘throw-away-able’ shoes, and don’t feel bad about missing things. There is so much going on that it would be impossible to do it all.

My bottom line?

Have fun.

Safe, warm, comfortable, clean fun!


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The biggest and best of music festival in all of Europe! Don't miss Sziget Festival - Budapest's amazing multi-day music fest. Need a little help surviving Sziget Festival? Budapest's music fest (one of the biggest in Europe) is amazing but a little advice will help ensure your experience is one to remember for all the right reasons.

Accommodation Budget Europe Iceland Reviews

Kex: A Funky, Affordable Hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland

March 19, 2017
Kex Hostel review Reykjavik Iceland

Iceland is has a well-deserved reputation for being drop-dead-gorgeous.  It is.

It also has a reputation for being fairly expensive.  For the most part, that’s true too.

Though we tend to stay in more private, comfortable accommodation options these days, our desired locations and activities always drive our decisions.  If there’s only basic accommodation in the area we’re headed, we go regardless.  If we want to travel long term, we tend to favour hostels and Airbnbs apartments to help cut down on our spending (with the added bonus of meeting other travellers and locals).  If we’re headed to an expensive area, you can be sure we’ll reduce the amount we spend on accommodation, putting our savings towards amazing activities, as opposed to missing out on those.

So when we found ourselves looking at accommodation in Iceland, we knew we’d have to look at alternatives.  We were there to see the country, not blow our budget on hotels – after all, nobody goes to Iceland just to sit inside their fancy room (though if you are looking for one, we know just the place where you can treat yourself!)

Recommended by a blogger friend (thanks Diana – check her out at MVMT!), we knew off the bat that Kex was anything but a fall-back option.

Located in an old biscuit factory and decorated with salvaged materials, this hostel has a distinctively eclectic, industrial feel – one that’s impossible to miss.  It’s also known locally for hosting the best musicians in town – one of our tour guides even recommended it as the place to be come evening.

Funky, quirky and certainly memorable, Kex provided us with everything we needed in a comfortable base.

What We Loved About Kex:

  • Kex is well located, a comfortable walk from the centre of the city.  As far as position goes, the hostel is spot on.
  • Breakfast is hearty, filling and plentiful.  It’s reasonably rustic – don’t come expecting pancakes and eggs cooked to order – but for a hostel, it’s easily the best we’ve ever seen.
  • Earplugs are on offer at the front desk free of charge – take some!  Though our roommates (we were in a four person co-ed room) were incredibly respectful, there was a fair bit of noise coming from outside on the first night of our stay.  I made the mistake of passing on the earplug and regretted my decision for a number of hours as I lay there, wishing the noise away.  Learn from my mistake a grab a few packets!  We used them the next few nights and slept really well – no complaints from us.
  • The quirky vibe of the place was awesome.  Kex has a unique feel to it – it makes you take yourself a little less seriously (which is never a bad thing).
  • There’s a room configuration (and quality) to suit a range of travellers.  Sure, it’s not a high-end, boutique offering, but with a range of rooms from industrial mixed dorms right through to private hotel-style rooms (which come with private bathrooms – yes!), there are plenty of options on offer.
  • If you’re travelling by yourself or would just like someone else to take care of your activities, they offer a selection of day trips from Reykjavik – too easy.
  • There’s free WiFi and a fully equipped kitchen (another great way to save money in Iceland – we found eating in to be significantly cheaper than eating out).

Things to Note:

  • In true European fashion, showering is a communal affair at Kex.  I remember the feeling that washed over me when I first walked into the woman’s bathroom to find all of the shower heads grouped in the one big cubical – I must admit, my first thought certainly wasn’t “oh yea!”.  With that said, there are a few unisex single showers so as long as you’ve got time on your side, you are able to have a private shower if you prefer.  One morning we had to race out the door and the single showers weren’t available so I braved the communal one – it turns out I shouldn’t have been worried at all – not a single soul walked in whilst I was in there (but I still get kudos for being brave so it’s win-win).
  • Being right by the city, Kex doesn’t have any private parking.  This means that, if you’re driving, you’ll either need to figure out the pay and display machines out front, use the carpark building a few hundred meters down the road or do as we did – check out the spots around town and then come back once the free parking begins (which, from memory was at 6pm – just don’t overstay your welcome the next morning as we did see a car get ticketed).

Though Kex houses 215 guests, we never once felt crowded or like we saw even a portion of those guests.  Granted it wasn’t absolute peak season whilst we were there but the private rooms were fully booked, leading us to believe they were running at a fairly high level of occupancy.

If you’re looking for a polished, luxury hotel, there’s no doubt this isn’t the place for you.  However, if you’re looking for a bit of fun and a hostel you won’t soon forget, Kex could be the place for you!


Do you know someone headed to Iceland?  Pin this post to help them with their planning!

Iceland's funkiest hostel!  Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank.  It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need? Iceland's funkiest hostel!  Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank.  It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need? Iceland's funkiest hostel!  Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank.  It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need?

Thank you to Kex Hostel for so kindly hosting us for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Tours

Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Better Than Iceland’s Golden Circle!

March 9, 2017

Some things just feel like they were meant to be.

Places, rugged and wild, that are so gorgeous, they just have to be seen.  Iceland was that for us.

Likewise, some people seem like they were born into their jobs, a perfect fit for what they’re doing.  Bessi of Moonwalker tours is the epitome of someone who’s found their calling – it’s practically impossible to imagine him doing anything else.

So you can imagine our excitement at getting to spend two whole days with him exploring the Land of Fire and Ice, my dream destination, Iceland!

Upon Bessi’s recommendation, we booked in to spend our first day at Snæfellsnes Peninsula and decided to rejoin him for the Golden Circle, Iceland’s most iconic day trip.

We didn’t initially know much about the Snæfellsnes Peninsula but, putting our faith in an Icelandic expert, we set off on what was to be one of our very best days on the island.  The following is our review of the day…

Meeting Bessi and Hitting the Road with Moonwalker

Incase you hadn’t already figured it out, the second we met Bessi we clicked.  I’d been speaking with him over email for a number of months where it was clear that his passion for Iceland and personable nature was to be a real highlight of our tour but somehow he exceeded our already high expectations.

The writing was on the wall when a few days before our tour Bessi flicked us an email – the northern lights were out over Reykjavik and knowing that we were in town and desperate to spot them, he took the time to let us know.  At that stage we’d not even met him in person but when he went out of his way to help us live out our northern-light-spotting dreams, we knew that Bessi was far more than your average tour guide.

With Moonwalker, nothing is ever a problem.  Bessi’s got an amazing sense of humour, is kind, patient and incredibly knowledgable about practically everything (music, history, folklore – I challenge you to ask him something about Iceland that he doesn’t know!).  There’s a reason he consistently pulls perfect Trip Advisor ratings out of the hat and trust me, he deserves every one of those stars.  Every single one.

Our Snæfellsnes Itinerary

As promised, Bessi arrived on time ready to show us the best of the west coast of Iceland and with the sun still well below the horizon, we set off on the Ring Road.  We stopped briefly on what Bessi assured us was normally a road – mountains of snow covered the tarseal and we bounded around in it, enjoying the slowly forming sunrise.  Before long it was onto the first of our many gorgeous stops for the day!

Búðir Church

One of the few remaining black churches in Iceland, the Búðir church was built in 1703 and after a checkered past, was finally reconstructed for the last time in 1987.  Covered in tar to protect its wooden cladding, this black church provides striking photos against the snow and cotton candy skies that Iceland is so well known for in winter.

Arnarstapi:  Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss

Not far from the Búðir church, we found ourselves standing in front of an intentionally placed pile of rocks.  A little unsure at just what we were looking at, Bessi shared with us the first of many Icelandic tales.  Legend says that Bárðar Snæfellsáss (deity of Mt. Snæfell), the guardian spirit of the area, was born half-man, half-giant.  As he grew, so did his giant-nature until he disappeared into the Snæfell Glacier, his spirit forever guarding the local people and surrounding area.

The sculpture was commissioned and later created by Ragnar Kjartansson, representing Bárðar’s spirit, an important part of local folklore.

From Bárðar’s sculpture we headed over to the coast, at times knee deep in snow, to admire the rugged beach below.  Centuries of waves crashing on the lava fields have left a collection of swirling basalt columns, unique to Iceland – I could have stayed there all day, watching the waves crash against the cliffside.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland Nathan, Sarah and Bessi

Snaefellsjoekull National Park

Svalpufa-Pufubjarg: Londrangar

Our favourite basalt columns made another appearance further around the peninsular, only this time they were even more impressive.  Rising up from the ocean, their resilience against the harsh ocean was a sight to behold.

Londrangar and the adjoining hill, Svalthufa, form the remains of a volcanic crater, much of which has been eroded away over the years.  With the addition of younger lava fields, the topography of the area is amazing and if you take a second look, you’ll be able to spot what looks like an old ship in the silhouette of the pillars.

Dritvik Djúpalónssandur

Continuing our journey, we stopped at Dritvik Djúpalónssandur, a beautiful, secluded black pebble beach.

After climbing down to the shoreline, weaving our way between basalt boulders and pillars in a setting that absolutely belongs to the Icelandic elves we came across a series of ‘lifting stones’.  These perfectly formed little boulders were used for testing the strength of local fishermen in years gone by – starting with the monster Fullsterkur (full strength) weighing 154kg, to Hálfsterkur (half strength) at 100kg, Hálfdrættingur (weakling) at 54kg and working down to Amlóði (useless) at 23kg, would pit their strength against mother nature.

To qualify for work aboard the ships, potential fishermen had to lift at least the ‘weakling’ stone to hip height – how on earth they did it is anyone’s guess though!  Bessi warned us that we wouldn’t be able to lift even the lightest of the stones and though we tried, unsurprisingly he was spot on!

Once we realised we couldn’t manage much more than rolling the stones around (trust me, they weren’t normal 23kg stones!) we ambled through knee deep snow, marvelling at the valley we found ourselves in.

Upon reaching the shoreline we spotted countless pieces of debris from the Grimsby fishing trawler, a local boat that wrecked on Dritvik Djúpalónssandur back in March of 1948.  It was hard to believe how far inland the wreck had travelled, making it clear just how strong the waves could be at times.

Enjoy Iceland’s beaches but be mindful of their incredible power at the same time.  A safe visit is a good one.

A Black-Sand Beach Detour

It was the small touches on our tour with Bessi that we loved most.  If there was ever an opportunity for an extra photo stop or touch of fun, you could be sure that Bessi was already onto it.

Not quite sure of what to expect, he pulled over to the side of the road, urged me to turn on the GoPro and raced off onto one of Iceland’s many black-sand beaches.  Without another soul in sight – that’s what Iceland’s all about!

Stopping to Visit our Furry Friends – The Icelandic Horses

Fluffy, hardy, iconic.  Iceland is synonymous with its gorgeous horses!  To the rest of the world, they generally only get to pony height but in Iceland they’re definitely considered horses and boy are they cute.

I knew I wanted to get up close and personal with some Icelandic horses at some point in our trip and luckily for us, Bessi knows just the place!  A few times a week he pops along to a farm owned by a lovely elderly couple and, with a loaf of fresh bread in hand, helps ensure they maintain their ‘winter coat’.  With a few honks of the horn, these three characters come charging over – there’s no doubt they know what’s coming and that it’s the absolute highlight of their day!

 

With the  sun starting to sneak closer to the horizon, it was time to move on from our furry friends.  Our next stop was one that we could see clearly from the paddocks – the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland – Kirkjufell.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland 4wd vehicle Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

With its distinctive peak and cascading waterfalls in the foreground, Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) is a firm favourite with photographers and for good reason.  It’s absolutely breath-taking.

Towering over the landscape at 463m high, there’s a perfect photography spot tucked in just behind Kirkjufellsfoss (Church Mountain Falls) where, with a wide angle lens, you can snap the picture-perfect image that has become infamous.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

With the sun setting on a gorgeous, fun-filled day of Icelandic sight-seeing, we begrudgingly began the trek back to Reykjavik over a mountain pass.  Bessi’s truck made short work of the deep snow but without his truck and driving experience, we wouldn’t have stood a chance on the road (if you could even call it that without any real sign of it!)

We had the most amazing day exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and though we loved the Golden Circle, if we could only have done one of the trips with Moonwalker, I’m going to make a controversial call and say that it’s the Snæfellsnes Peninsula that we’d recommend.  The scenery was beyond beautiful, the landscape diverse (it is after all known locally as offering everything you could want to see in a day trip) and the drive comfortable.  With the added benefit of being comparatively off the tourist trail, we often had stops entirely to ourselves which is exactly what you dream of when you think of Iceland’s great outdoors.

What are you waiting for?  The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is waiting for you!


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Leave Iceland's Golden Circle behind and head out to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Everything you could want in an Icelandic itinerary all in the one place!  We recommend touring with Bessi of Moonwalker - he was absolute magic! Snaefellsnes Peninsula - One of our favourite day trips from Reykjavik (it beats the Golden Circle, hands down!) Leave Iceland's Golden Circle behind and head out to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Everything you could want in an Icelandic itinerary all in the one place!  We recommend touring with Bessi of Moonwalker - he was absolute magic!

Thank you to Bessi at Moonwalker for so generously showing us the sites of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  After two days on the road he felt more like a friend than a tour guide and we could not recommend him enough!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Europe Malta

Chasing Sunshine: Malta in the Wintertime

March 3, 2017
Malta in the Wintertime - A sunny winter getaway option in Europe

Christmas holidays for a Kiwi means warm weather, beaches, BBQ’s and lots of time with family and friends outdoors in the sun. So when I experienced my first cold Christmas in London, overindulging on an array of cheeses, cold cuts and carbs with the usual bad Christmas movies on TV it brought mixed feelings…  Feelings made entirely positive thanks to a quick trip to Malta. 

We had made the most of our first year in London with trips into Europe, around the UK and lots of London exploration. More recently Mark and I had spent a few nights in a grey Iceland and a weekend in the snow in Norway and Sweden. It seemed like forever since we had stopped to enjoy seaside and sunshine. I did a bit of research and found we were unlikely to get bikini weather staying within budget and reasonable flight time, however Malta looked promising. The internet  predicted mild temperatures and, most importantly, promised sunshine, so on a whim I booked.

No itinerary and opportunities abound, Mark and I boarded the plane ready to be rid of giant jackets in just 2 hours, 45 minutes.

On our first evening, we weren’t disappointed. Following a quick taxi ride in the setting sun we were down the street for dinner in a lovely restaurant called Paparazzi on Manoel Island. No jackets required. Fantastic!

Admittedly we were the only ones sitting outside… And staff did check twice if we were ok so we definitely stuck out as tourists. With our taste buds satisfied and bellies happily full, we wandered home excited for daylight.

Unfortunately the next morning the temperature had dropped and a cold wind was blowing. We layered up, jackets back on and I silently wished I had stashed my beanie into my bag as we set out to explore.

Day One: Getting to Know Malta’s Capital Cities

Following the recommendation of our Airbnb host, our days mission was to explore the two capital cities: Valetta, the current capital, situated across the harbour from our apartment and Mdina, the old capital, easily accessible by bus from Valetta.

Valetta

The ferry across the harbour provided beautiful views of the fascinating walled city and set the expectation for the days exploration. Upon reaching the rocky outcrop on which Valetta stood, we ambled up the narrow steep streets towards the centre of the city. Our wandering took us to the main street, peaceful for the time being with stores just beginning to open their doors for the days trading. We later came back and the street was unrecognisable, bustling full of people going about their day.

We crossed Valetta on foot stopping often to marvel at the buildings, statues and sculptures dotting the streets. We quickly came in view of the Grand Harbour and became conspicuous tourists. Cameras snapping whilst we enjoyed the beautifully designed Upper Barrakka Gardens with its large framing arches capturing a different sunny scene at each turn. We were also perfectly on time to watch the Malta Heritage Society fire their midday salute from the Canons below the gardens. An impressive BANG! And the crowd quickly dispersed. Moving off we stopped for lunch in a quiet open courtyard and watched the community come to life before making our way towards the buses for Mdina.

Mdina

After a quick 30-minute trip we were walking through the stone gates into Mdina. We marvelled at our surrounds and spent most of the afternoon sauntering through the charming narrow alleyways of this ancient and historic landmark. Quiet and peaceful, this tiny fortified city on the edge of Rabat was well kept, unlike the out-of-place pristine buildings sharing a wall with the run-down and boarded up neighbouring spaces visible elsewhere in Malta. Cars were not allowed through the all too narrow streets and signs kindly requested visitors to respect residents by keeping noise down. We drifted through the streets, walled so high that only a midday summer sun would keep the alleys from shadow. Walls were broken by the odd majestic door and window here and there.

We stopped at the Bastion Square viewing point looking North over land and sea and enjoyed a tasty gelato. Following the wall around the North-Eastern side of the city, we strolled past a wine bar & bistro, followed by a cute tea garden which captured my attention with it’s décor of foliage and risen dining space making the most of the extended view. Since we had just spoilt ourselves with our cold treat, sadly we did not stop in. I momentarily regretted the gelato. But only for a second.

 Day Two: Last Minute Car Hire + The Blue Grotto

On our second day in Malta we took a last minute hire car for a lazy ‘Sunday’ drive around the island. Let me tell you two things:

1. A kiwi bloke in a car after not driving for a year is one happy man and

2. Don’t rely on Google Maps to get you to your destination through Malta’s overpopulated old cities. Road works and one-way streets were all too much for Google to handle; it sent us in circles through the back streets of Sliema. We ditched the device and resorted to Mark’s amazing navigational 6th sense to get us onto the motorway (it has gotten us to the right place more times than I can count on our travels).

The Blue Grotto

Our first stop was a half hour drive (disregarding our initial delay) down to the Southern coast to check out the mesmerising Blue Grotto. We arrived around 10am to a near empty car park with a warm greeting and news that the boats were running. Rugged up and ready with our €8 tickets in hand and feeling grateful for the off-season calm we were soon bobbing in the ocean in glorious orange life jackets. The sun was out, it was a beautiful day and the clear waters coloured in stunning aquamarine and turquoise had me in awe as we coasted in and out of the shoreline caves.

Once back on land we went inland and wound back around to the coast for a new dramatic view. Stopping roadside at an unsuspecting bus stop, with no obvious signage or dedicated parking, we walked the short 10 minutes along a scarred path to view the Dingli Cliffs. With the rugged terrain and the edge not far from my feet, I was grateful I chose my sturdy hiking boots for the day.

Acrophobia sufferers and selfie lovers beware! This cliff top is not an ideal spot for gallivanting about on the edge, especially if you are inept on uneven ground like me. My nerves endured a 10-minute assault while I clambered over crevasses to reach the uneven rock outcrop Mark had just happily jumped across to. But my dis-ease was worth it for the fantastic photo opportunity.

Moving off, we drove further North and discovered unkept roads and a multitude of seemingly unfinished stone walls surrounding tiny crops dotting the countryside.

By 1pm we had reached Golden Bay, situated in a sheltered little cove on the North West coast of the island. Aptly named, the beautiful golden colour of the sand was enticing; I could not wait to sink my feet in and sit quietly by the seaside.

We stopped in at the cute little café on the shoreline called Spiaggia D’Oro. Choosing a table on the sand facing the afternoon sun and sparkling sea we topped up on vitamin D while enjoying a luscious Italian hot chocolate. If you have not yet had the pleasure, I implore you to try one if you get the chance. More custard in texture than that of a milky drink, an Italian hot chocolate is a silky smooth extravagance – no one will blame you digging the last of it out with your spoon.

Day Three: Tour to Gozo Island

For day three we booked a tour across to Gozo Island situated off the north east coast of Malta’s mainland. Check out the review of the tour coming soon! 

So, Is Malta Worth an Off Season Visit?

Our off season trip to Malta, although colder than expected, was a great way to get away from dreary London and soak up beautiful blue skies and refreshing sea air.

The scenery is stunning with the bright green countryside in stark contrast to the rocky seaside outcrops and stone buildings dotted across the country. The architecture style changes with the landscape; preservation of ancient stonework sits alongside buildings in varying degrees of repair and style throughout the cities.

Maltese people are warm and welcoming and you can get by in most places with English. The mixed cultural influences resulting from Malta’s varying ruling nations through history are captivating, providing both history enthusiasts and food lovers an endearing journey though this multicultural melting pot.

Malta in the Wintertime

During warmer months, sun lovers would enjoy the choice of beaches, bays and beautiful resorts to baste their bodies on. For those who like more adventure we were told there is fantastic scuba diving available in several spots around the island.

For me traveling sans-schedule was an unusual experience for me (as my travel is usually very well researched and planned). By instinct the experience left me wondering what other great sites, sounds and smells we had missed by not shuffling our toes in a slightly different direction.

A Hidden Gem

To my surprise, by exploring without agenda we haphazardly found my favourite place on Malta, Tigné Point Beach in Sliema. The term ‘beach’ is used loosely; it is not somewhere to relax for fear of getting knocked off by one of the intermittent monstrous waves pounding the rocky outcrop. The beach is where sea meets stone at the mouth of the Marsamxett Harbour. Sitting on the large stone stairway, you are presented with a view of the walled capital city Valetta in all it’s glory. A clear evening, lovely company and nothing else to do but ponder life while watching the lights of the city illuminate as the sun goes down was my favourite part of this adventure.

Though I enjoyed our visit I don’t expect I would return – there are too many other places I am yet to tick off my list. While our trip suited its purpose I was not left completely inspired to head back.

I would love to know if others who have visited feel the same way. Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know about your Malta experience!

Thanks for reading. Until next time…

XO Jade


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Malta -The perfect sunny European mid-winter getaway or a disappointment? Find out! Malta - A guide to spending a long weekend on this European island.

Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Tours

Iceland’s South Coast – Exploring with Arctic Tours

February 13, 2017

Iceland, widely known as the land of fire and ice, is a country of extremes.  Gorgeous, breathtaking, incredible extremes.

During our time on this stunning island, we joined Hörður on a winter tour of Iceland’s South Coast – an experience we enjoyed every moment of.

Whether you plan on joining a tour with Arctic Tours Iceland (previously known as VIP Tours) or intend to drive yourself, the following guide will help you plan out your itinerary.  It is worth noting though that although some of these locations are easily accessible from the Ring Road in your own transport, others require a serious 4WD and the experience that only comes with years of driving in harsh Icelandic conditions – because of this, we certainly recommend joining Hörður to make the most of your day on the South Coast.

Setting Off

Arriving bright and early as planned, Hörður collected us from the Radisson Blu with open arms and a warm smile.  It’s always such a pleasure to put a face to the name when we’ve been talking with someone online and after discussing our exciting Iceland plans with him through the internet, it was a treat to finally be in Iceland and about to set off on our tour!

With short daylight hours in the depths of winter, the first part of our journey was cloaked in darkness.  The upside to a low-hanging sun, as we were to find out though, are the seemingly endless sunrise skies – a major benefit to be had.

To get around outside of Reykjavík can take a fair bit of time, with many sights being spread out.  Fortunately the roads are smooth and comfortable and the scenery breath-taking (when the sun rises makes an appearance, anyway)!

Riding in Style

Comfort is key when you’re covering a decent number of kilometers and Arctic Tours Iceland have you covered in this regard.  The seats are roomy and comfortable, the suspension on the Land Cruiser is top-knotch and there’s an ever present supply of heating should you want it.

As an Instagram addict, I was delighted to find that Hörður also supplies his guests with complimentary wifi so you can be as connected as you want to whilst on the road.

Pro tip:  Cellphone batteries aren’t made for the cold!  My phone (that normally lasts almost a whole day on one charge) was dead after our first pitstop.  Be sure to take your charging cable with you and Hörður will sort you out with a power source.

Key Sights Around Iceland’s South-East Coast

Gljúfrabúi Waterfall

Next to Seljalandsfoss, you’ll find Gljúfrabúi, the lesser known of the two waterfalls.  Though we didn’t venture inside (it was the start of our day and wet boots didn’t seem like the best of choices), you can climb over the small rocks into the cavern and up close with the waterfall.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous spot and somewhat an undiscovered gem compared to its more famous neighbour.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls (though there are many!), water tumbles down Seljalandsfoss at a great rate of knots!  Paths lead up both to the left and right of the waterfall allowing for plenty of prime viewing opportunities and, when the weather allows, you can actually head in behind the waterfall itself and take stunning photos looking out.

Reynisfjara – Black Sand Beach

Sometimes a destination really surprises you and Reynisfjara was exactly that for us.

We have black sand beaches in New Zealand, not too far from where we’re normally based in Auckland so I must admit, though we went with open minds, I didn’t expect to be blown away by the beach.  After all, we’d seen it before.

We were so wrong!

The sand itself is inky-dark and on the day we visited, snow and hail sat in stark contrast to the sand to be swept away by the outgoing tide.  Bordering the beach, incredible basalt columns puncture the sky, beckoning visitors to take a closer look.

If you sneak around the corner of the bay, you’ll find a cave amongst the rocks, but be careful.  Whilst we were there, we saw a tourist get caught in a wave – she was incredibly close to being swept out to sea and I must admit, it really scared me to see someone come so close to what could have been a very tragic end.  As with all waves, they come in sets which means there will be the occasional one that’s a bit bigger – because the beach here is so flat, a little difference in a wave results in a large difference in the height it reaches.

Enjoy yourselves, just don’t turn your back to the water.

Dyrhólaey

From the gorgeous coast, we worked our way up to Dyrhólaey, the rocky outcrop we could see from our original beach vantage-point.  The drive to the summit was steep and the road snowy so I wouldn’t consider making this trip by yourself in the winter – without doubt, it’s a job for Hörður’s Toyota!

From the summit, we braved the strongest hailstorm we’ve ever experienced, headed for the most spectacular views.  Nathan succumbed to the weather (not that I blame him!) whilst I managed to snap a few photos before racing back the the 4WD.  Even on a day with such dicey weather, the views from Dyrhólaey were spectacular!

Skógafoss Waterfall

After a quick bite for late-lunch at the neighbouring restaurant (which is well worth a stop – surprisingly they made some of the best food we ate in Iceland!) we raced up the stairs to the top of Skógafoss, a gigantic waterfall found on the way back to Reykjavik.

The views from the top were well worth the hike up, though we saw a number of visitors a little scared to step out on the platform.  Strike up the courage to it is and you’ll be rewarded with a brand new perspective of Skógafoss and the valley below.

Seriously gorgeous, right?!

After racing around the South Coast for the day, we made our way back to Reykjavik in the last of the fading sunlight, more than happy with our decision to join Arctic Tours Iceland.  We had a fantastic day chasing waterfalls and checking out the rugged, natural beauty of this island paradise with Hörður.

Sure, it’s not a traditionally beautiful island destination but I can whole-heartedly say it’s my new favourite place in the world.

Iceland is spectacular – whatever you do, don’t miss out!


 Exploring the South Coast of Iceland with Arctic Tours - why this needs to be a stop on your Icelandic itinerary! Iceland's South Coast - Diverse and exciting, it's the better option than the Golden Circle! Iceland: South Coast Highlights, Road Trip Itinerary and Tour Review

Thank you to Hörður of Arctic Tours Iceland for so graciously showing us the highlights of Iceland’s Southern Coast.  We had a fantastic day out and completely recommend both Arctic Tours and the Southern Coast in general.  As always, all thoughts are 100% our own.

Activities Adventure Eco Tourism Europe Finland

Barks and Recreation – A Husky Snow Adventure

February 4, 2017
Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, Bearhill Husky, dog sledding review

This week I had one of those moments. You know, when you are in the midst of doing something so amazing that you think to yourself, “girl, you gotta remember this moment forever because this is so awesome” and you try to soak everything up like a sponge so you can replay it again and again in your head.

I’ve not had many of those moments, but driving a husky sled through a silent, snowy Scandinavian landscape with the stars twinkling above me was definitely an experience I’ll never forget.

I arrived in Rovaniemi (that’s Finnish Lapland – and the home of Santa Claus FYI) and immediately booked myself in for a husky sled ride with Bearhill Husky. I did a lot of research before choosing Bearhill as I wanted to support a company who treated their dogs well – and it didn’t hurt that they were ranked number one on TripAdvisor.

I was picked up promptly after lunch and off we went in a minivan into the arctic wilderness. I was childishly excited to find that our guide, Brendan, was also a kiwi – there’s not many of us this far North!

We were taken into a yurt (I love that word!) and were given arctic snow suits, shoes, socks and gloves – everything we’d need to stay nice and warm in the Arctic. After a quick run down of what we were going to be doing, we went outside for a quick lesson….and this is where I am embarrassed to admit that I thought driving a husky sleigh would be like a horse and cart – sitting up the front, shaking the reins and saying giddy up in a genteel voice. It was actually way more exciting than that – driving a husky sled means that you balance on the back of it with one foot on each runner and support yourself using the handle bar. There’s a long metal pedal which is there to press your foot down on to brake – the rest is all up to the dogs!

After just this two minute lesson, we were off! I was partnered with Alistair, a newbie like myself from Australia – he took the reins for the first drive whilst I sat in the sled, bundled up and cosy with a woollen blanket around me. This was perfect as it allowed me to take photos as the sun was setting (the polar twilight starts at around 3pm and lasts for an hour) and my goodness, was it spectacular. We sped silently through snowy forests and over frozen lakes, over icy banks and fields – I felt just like the white witch of Narnia, but unfortunately without the fancy fur robe.

When it was my turn to drive I found it to be easier than I expected, but holy moly was it cold. Temperatures in Rovaniemi often dip below -30 degrees Celsius, so I was very thankful for the arctic snowsuit I had on. Driving was a blast (literally – a blast of cold air) and though there wasn’t as much opportunity to gaze at the landscape I absolutely loved every second of it.  We stopped regularly so that Brendan could check that we were ok and safe, and that the dogs were doing well too – we were well looked after throughout the afternoon.

Unfortunately for us, it was over far too soon – though ideally, I’d have preferred if the sledding never came to an end!

Back at the base we parked our dog sleds and were allowed to play with our newfound fluffy friends (who were gorgeous, friendly and very well looked after) and we also got to spend some time with an energetic bunch of young husky puppies.

Our last stop was for hot juice and cookies in the warm yurt, where Brendan answered all of the questions we had about the dogs.

So, would I recommend Bearhill Husky?

Yes, yes and yes!

I went home absolutely buzzing from the experience and couldn’t wait to tell everybody I knew about how great it was. It was expensive but worth every penny – if you get the chance, go!

It is definitely a once in a lifetime op-paw-tunity (I had to slip one dog pun in, sorry) and it is not to be missed. Fabulous!


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Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, Bearhill Husky, dog sledding review

Europe Iceland Luxury Reviews

Reviewing The Radisson Blu Saga – A Landmark in Reykjavík, Iceland

February 1, 2017
Radisson Blu Saga hotel review

During our recent visit to Iceland, we spent two glorious nights at the Radisson Blu Saga.  Warm and comfortable with fantastic service, we felt instantly at home (if our room was freshly renovated and we had people to look after our every need!)  We certainly recommend the Radisson Blu Saga – read on to find out why.

The Radisson Blu – An Icelandic Landmark

In a country where myths and stories take pride of place, it seems fitting that our favourite Icelandic hotel,  the Radisson Blu Saga comes with its own unique backstory.

Though Reykjavik is a bustling little city now, it wasn’t always that way.  When the capital made the decision to ban horses from the main city streets to make room for cars, the local farmers were understandably unimpressed – so much so, that the Icelandic Farmers Association decided to purchase land slightly outside of the city centre on which to build their new base.  After all, there’s not much more important to an Icelandic farmer than their prized horses!

By the time the new farmers’ headquarters was built, cars had well and truely infiltrated Iceland’s way of life, to the point that local farmers had been swept up by the automobile themselves.  Though their horses were as valued as always, the need for their new HQ to be based outside of the city centre wasn’t as great with cars becoming their preferred means of transport and their offices were eventually renovated and turned into the Radisson Blu.

If you use your imagination, you’ll be able to visualise where the horses would have been housed – breakfast is served in what were originally the stables!

Now however, you’ll only see the well-known Icelandic horses well outside of the city, keeping each other company (whilst often accompanied by a heard of tourists keen to snap a special picture) but the Radisson Blu remains in town as a nod to life gone-by in Iceland.

Pro Tip:  Your best chance of spotting the northern lights over Reykjavik are just down the road and when you’re finished up in the cold, you’ll look forward to returning to the comfort of this fantastic hotel.

Around the Hotel

With 236 rooms available, there’s something to suit most budgets and needs.  All rooms enjoy views of the city or seashore and include the standard amenities that you would expect from a five-star hotel, along with a level of personal service often reserved for a boutique hotel.

Though the building is getting on in age, the rooms themselves have been very tastefully renovated and there’s no doubt, the hotel has good bones.  The stairwells hint at the age of the building but last I checked, that’s not where people spend the majority of their vacation time.

Onsite you’ll find three restaurants and a lounge bar along with a small boutique selling gorgeous locally-made scarves, beanies and souvenirs.

For those that want to be more active, there’s a gym available for your use and a salon should you want to fancy yourself up before a night out on the town.

There is also plenty of complimentary parking on the grounds of the Radisson and all tour operators will happily come out to collect you should you prefer not to drive.

Our Room at the Radisson Blu Saga

From the second we walked into our room (until the moment when we begrudgingly left for the last time) we knew we were onto a winner.

With a massive, beautifully plush bed (literally one of the best we’ve ever slept on), a powerful rain shower and a great selection of supplies (robes, slippers, shower ammenities, tea and coffee making facilities and a chocolate each), we were well catered for in our room.

Though it was dark and cold outside, we’d have never known thanks to powerful heating and adjustable lighting within our room.  Whilst snuggled up in our room we enjoyed the TV which included a solid range of international channels and the complimentary Wi-Fi was, as always, well put to use.

At the end of a day of exploration around Reykjavik we really enjoyed coming back to the warmth and comfort of our room – a haven from the weather and darkness outside.

Good Eats in Reykjavik

There are some obvious perks that come with the Radisson Blu’s association to the Icelandic Farmers Association – namely, fantastic food!

Breakfast at Sunnusalur

Often when we reflect back on the quality of a hotel stay, it’s the cooked breakfast that seals the deal for us.  Breakfast at home is always a quick affair, focused more on convenience than culinary flair so we always look forward to our first meal of the day when we’re treated to a stand-out one whilst travelling.

The buffet at Sunnusalur (one of the Radisson’s three onsite restaurants) did not disappoint – in fact, it went down as one of the best breakfast buffets we’ve ever enjoyed!

They had a fantastic range of both hot and cold options, with something to please everyone – omelettes, bacon, sausage, skyr (a local favourite), fresh fruit, cereal, cold cuts, cheese, waffles with cream, fresh fruit juice (try the ‘hulk’ with spinach, mango, lemon, ginger and avocado or our favourite, banana and blueberry), there really wasn’t much they didn’t have.

With such a fantastic spread, you’ll be well set up for a busy day exploring Iceland.

Dinner at Grillið

Tucked away on the top floor of the Radisson Blu, you’ll find Grillið, a fine-dining restaurant with an incredible eye for detail.  Frequently rated as one of Reykjavik’s best restaurants, they serve only the freshest of local produce and sustainably-sourced ingredients.  Grillið take their food incredibly seriously and it shows.

With panoramic views of the city and service as friendly as it is slick, Grillið serves up local specialities, memorable and unique to the area.

A little unsure of what to expect, we tried the four course set menu which sounds relatively simple but in reality, is anything but.

  • Herring, eggs and onions
  • Liver, goose and bramble berries
  • Lamb, celeriac and crowberries
  • Chocolate and mandarins

Each dish was beautifully cooked and delicately seasoned, served with wine to compliment the different flavours found within each course.

I’m a chronically fussy eater and must admit that when I first sat down, I had my reservations about just how many of the presented meals I would be able to eat but to say I was pleasantly surprised would be a huge understatement.  Not only did I eat every dish but I genuinely enjoyed them all and came away having tried dishes that were as memorable as they were unique to Iceland.

Consider yourself a foodie?  Don’t miss Wake Up Reykjavik’s awesome food tour!

Why You Should Consider Staying at the Radisson Blu Saga

We had a fantastic stay at the Radisson Blu Saga and would unreservedly recommend a stay here to visitors to Iceland.

It’s close enough to the city to be convenient (especially if you have a car) but removed from the sometimes confusing one-way streets of the centre of town, plus you’ll save money by being on the outskirts of town.  The staff at the Radisson are second-to-none and somehow strike the perfect balance between treating you like family whilst catering to your needs as if you’re royalty – you can’t ask for more than that!


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Radisson Blu Saga Iceland review

Thank you to Radisson Blu Saga for hosting us.  All thoughts are honest and, as always, our own.

Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland

Hunting out the Northern Lights by Boat – Reviewing Special Tours

January 29, 2017

When we made the decision to visit Iceland in the depths of their winter, we had one thing (and one thing only) in the forefront of our minds – the northern lights.  Of course we were excited to see this beautiful island blanketed in snow and for the gorgeous candy-coloured sky that seem to float around throughout the day, but it was the northern lights that drove our booking initially.  We knew that they’d be at their strongest this winter which meant that we weren’t going to hang around until our next holiday in March/April – we were off to Iceland late December!

The following post reviews our experience joining Special Tours on their Northern Lights by Boat trip.

Our tour started boarding thirty minutes before our 9pm departure time after an easy check-in process down in Reykjavik’s Old Harbour.  When you arrive, it’s clear you’re in the right place as you’ll spot a series of structures ready to greet guests.  As one of the larger operations, we had two boats to choose from and promptly boarded in a bid to escape the cold.

Inside the boat, we we pleased to find a snuggly-warm cabin and comfortable seats (so comfy that I even managed to fall asleep on the way back to shore which is very unlike me!) and plenty of warm drinks and snacks on offer to help take the chill off when we returned from outside.

After climbing into our warm onesies, we relaxed for the relatively short trip out into the harbour, all the whilst listening to our awesome guide who patiently filled us in, sharing everything we’d ever want to know about the northern lights.

The following infographic explains the phenomenon (in short) where solar wind travels towards earth and hits our atmosphere – the different colours seen in the northern lights are formed depending on the type of gas and height at which the ions and gases collide.  Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that but it’s a good starting point for your understanding.  If you’re anything like us though, you’re interested to learn more about how and why the northern lights form but are most interested in seeing them for yourself!

Special Tours Northern Lights Boat Tour review, Iceland, Reykjavik, How the Northern Lights work

Unfortunately, Mother Nature isn’t always clued into our plans!

Though we had a strong forecast (you can check the forecast for yourself ahead of your trip here) and relatively clear skies, the beautiful photos that we’ve seen so many times before didn’t quite eventuate for us.

Out on the upper deck of the boat, we waited patiently for the vibrant green hues to wash across the sky but found in reality, the northern lights are seldom as bright as they appear in photographs and that night, luck wasn’t on our side.

We were fortunate to spot glimpses of the northern lights on the horizon and though we urged them to brighten up, they stayed relatively static throughout the evening.

The following photos show what a beautiful display the lights can put on when they’re on form…

Spectacular, right?!

Even though we didn’t see the northern lights in all their glory, was it worth heading out on the water?  It sure was!

We had a fantastic time out on the boat, ticked a bucket-list experience off and enjoyed seeing the city from a different perspective.  Rugging up felt like a real adventure and even without much in the way of northern lights, it was great fun keeping our eyes peeled in the hopes of spotting them.

We would definitely recommend heading out with Special Tours whilst you’re in Reykjavik, Iceland, to track down the northern lights.  Away from the lights of the city, you’ll have the best chance of seeing them and even if you don’t, you’ll learn lots and have a great time in the process… and hey, if you don’t see them, they’ll happily take you out again and again until you do!


Do I need to get out of Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights?

Not necessarily but it really will help!

Though our luck ran a little short whilst out on our boat tour of the northern lights, our patience was rewarded a few nights later when Bessi from Moonwalker Tours fired us an email telling us to drop everything and head outside… when someone says the northern lights are visible above the city, you do exactly as is suggested and head outside right away!

It’s seldom that the northern lights show themselves above Reykjavik so we consider ourselves incredibly lucky that they showed up on one of the evenings we were there.  We watched them dance about before our naked eyes for a good 45 minutes or so before heading back to our hotel.

Northern Lights over Reykjavik, Moonwalker ToursNorthern Lights over Reykjavik, Moonwalker Tours

The reaction between the ions and gases in the atmosphere occurs year-round but it’s only in the winter that the night sky is dark enough to see them.  It makes sense then that the lights above the city are generally too bright to allow the northern lights though which is why most people head out of town to see them.

Can I drive myself out of Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights?

We had a rental car and could have driven ourselves out of the city but in our travels we noted a distinct lack of parking spots on the ring-road near Reykjavik.  This means that although it’s possible to drive yourself out of town, it’s not particularly practical to do so.  If you do want to give it a go, we’d suggest heading out towards the airport where the roads are quieter and it might be easier to find a quiet spot to stop – whatever you do though, don’t just pull aside on the Ring Road incase you cause an accident.

To improve your chances of being in the right place at the right time, we’d definitely recommend booking yourself on a boat tour with Special Tours.


If you’re heading to Iceland, be sure to pin this post for future reference!

Special Tours Northern Lights Boat Tour review, Iceland, Reykjavik

Thank you to Special Tours for so kindly welcoming us for the purpose of this review and for supplying the photos of the northern lights.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Europe Norway

Norway by RV: Day Three and Four – Røros, Oppdal & Trondheim

January 26, 2017
Norway RV Oppdal Trondheim Røros Touring Cars

We recently returned from the most amazing week touring Norway in an RV and whilst on the road, I documented our travels, diary style.  We highly recommend travelling Norway by RV – not only was it a fantastic way to see the country but it provided us with tremendous flexibility and would easily be the most cost effective way of travelling the country independently.

If you’ve not read our first two posts, be sure to read about picking up our RV and our day spent in Lillehammer (where we had the best fun tobogganing!) before starting on this one…

Getting a Few Kilometres Under our Belts

These past two days have been fairly uneventful – lots of driving and plenty of time to admire the spectacular scenery.

We’ve covered a fair few miles as we decided to take the long way around to Røros rather than risk another road closure up in the mountains. There’s no doubt that getting around in Norway would be faster in the summer time but the beauty of the snow all around us, the glow of Christmas lights and the low numbers of cars on the road just can’t be beaten, even if it does mean we have to avoid the smaller roads due to snow.

Heading to Røros

Most of yesterday was spent driving the roundabout way to Røros with on beautiful stop at Oppdal, a little skiing town not far out of Trondheim. It reminded me very much of Queenstown back home in New Zealand but has two ski-fields sitting right there on the mountain beside the village. It was a beautiful spot and one that in retrospect we’d love to have spent more time at.

Instead we continued though to Røros, a traditional little mining town. By the time we arrived at 8pm, everything but a few restaurants were closed for the day. The town itself was beautifully lit and decorated for Christmas and with snow spilling over awnings and icicles dropping from rooftops, it was the epitome of what I’ve always imagined when I think of a ‘white Christmas’.

It may have just been the time of year but we did find the town to be incredibly sleepy; I imagine in summer when the days are longer and the national parks at their glorious best, it would be quite a different story.

Regardless we enjoyed a wander through town before heading off and parking in a quiet spot in the forest, just out of town – our fingers firmly crossed for a moose sighting. We had no such luck but the road signs keep telling us that they’re around so we live in hope!

Snuggled up nice and warm in our RV we drifted off to sleep and awoke to the gorgeous sunrises to which we’re becoming accustomed.

A New Day and the Hope of Dog Sledding

We contacted a number of dog sledding operations a few months back and never got a reply. Though we knew it was a long shot, we fired off one last email to each company and unfortunately for us, they were either fully booked or no longer running day trips.

If you’re keen to go dog sledding in this part of Norway, we’d definitely recommend locking your tour in before you arrive in Røros. If you’re not intending on sledding in winter, we’d probably recommend saving yourself the driving time and foregoing Røros, opting instead to stay in Oppdal.

Instead of sledding, we packed up the RV and backtracked through Trondheim to Oppdal (on the E6), before turning off on highway 70 headed for Stryn.

The scenery though this part of the country is absolutely spectacular – massive fjords and mountains, punctuated by rapids and river are all covered to varying degrees in snow. Today it’s been raining when has made driving a bit easier, melting the ice and snow off of the road, though our RV seems to be able to handle whatever conditions are thrown at it with ease.

Onto Stryn tomorrow – the adventure capital of Norway we’ve been told – bring it on!


What Would we Have Done Differently?

Knowing what we know now, we would have changed one of two things.

  1. Realising how much we actually wanted to go dog sledding (sometimes you just don’t know how badly you want something until it’s ruled out!) we would have pushed to lock in a booking, ensuring a spot with one of the few providers.
  2. Had we not been able to make the booking, we would have left Røros and Trondheim out altogether, instead opting to stay in Oppdal where we would have enjoyed the ski-resort vibe, gone swimming in the hot pools and headed up the mountain for some snowboarding.  It was such a gorgeous little town and as it directly services the ski-fields, would stay awake much longer into the evening.

As it turned out, we spent the best part of each day getting to and from Røros without gaining much from the experience.  With that said though, half the fun of Norway for us was the journey itself and every step of the way was absolutely gorgeous!


An RV-ing Tip

Though we saw others driving RVs there weren’t many of us on the road – because of the relative lack of RVs (and obvious lack of people camping in tents) there were very few campsites open.  Though this wasn’t a worry (free camping, yes!) it did mean that filling up with fresh water and dumping our grey and black water became quite the event.

The excitement we experienced the first time we found a dump station was far beyond anything I’d anticipated.  Driving around with full grey & black water tanks and empty white water tanks was starting to become a little bit of a worry but just outside of Oppdal we struck gold!  Oppdalsporten Rasteplass ended up having the best dump station that we found anywhere in Norway – having fresh water and a place to rid the RV of our waste water (all for free) meant we could continue on our journey, absolutely stress free.  It’s hard to believe now, but if you’d seen the look on our faces as we drove away, you’d have thought we’d won the lottery!


Feeling inspired?  Grab an RV and head to Norway this winter for an adventure!  Oh and don’t forget to pin this post…

Røros, Oppdal & Trondheim, Norway in an RV

Thank you to Touring Cars Norway for providing us with a fantastic RV for the purpose of a review.  All thoughts are always our own.

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