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Alternative Athens: The Tastiest Way to Get to Know Greece’s Capital!

June 6, 2017

Jade and her husband, Mark have decided that there’s practically no better way than to get comfortable with a city than to do so on a food tour – we couldn’t agree more!  Read on for their review of Alternative Athens and to gain a little insider’s foodie knowledge about this incredible city.

Walking to meet our guide outside the perfectly distinguishable Public store in Syntagma Square, I couldn’t help but marvel at how fond I had become of Athens and its quirks in just a matter of days. I found a new juxtapose on every corner. There is an undeniable scent of fresh Mediterranean air in an obviously overpopulated city, deposited from trees growing through narrow brick footpaths. Footpaths that were backed by the exterior of new and ancient buildings, none excluded from the marvellous jumble of spray-paint tagging and street art.

Remembering the countless times I had read comments similar to ‘you only need one day in Athens’ online made me contemplate the reason for this. I wondered if the Acropolis overshadowed mainstream tourists from looking past the city’s centrepiece. Or was it time-limited cruise ship itineraries favouring the islands, that tried to justify such an intense focus solely on their ancient structures? Perhaps something else?

Either way, by the time we reached our meeting point, my belly rumbling for it’s morning portions, my expectation grew. We’d been on a food tour before so with an idea of what awaited us and a hungry tummy it’s fair to say I couldn’t wait for our gastronomic exploration to begin!

Love food tours?  Check out our review of Wake Up Reykjavik in Iceland and Eating Italy in Rome too.

When I had found the Delicious Athens Food Tour online my attraction to the tour description was instant; specialty foods, all time Greek classics yet unknown to me and a chance to explore the ‘belly of the city’ with a local? Sign me up! Backed up by Trip Advisor Certificates of Excellence, glowing reviews and mentions in top media and publishing companies I knew this was how I wanted to see Athens.

What better way to explore a city than by its best cuisine?

Returning a smile from a new arrival nearby who fumbled in her bag for a laminated sign, I knew we had found our guide. Tania was quick to introduce herself with a warm and heartfelt ‘welcome to Athens and the morning tour’.

To our surprise and delight Mark and I had Tania to ourselves for the morning. We set off immediately, quickly chatting like old school friends catching up after travels.

Tasting Athens – Why Food Tours are the Best Way to See a City!

Not holding back, I endeavoured to sample everything offered.

Up first: Greek Coffee.

Sitting in a local’s favourite restaurant run since the 1960’s (and for the second time in my life) I had a mug of coffee. Surprisingly, I liked it! Brewed in a traditional Biriki made of Copper, I opted for the sweetest version (I hate to think how much sugar…) while hubby indulged in the full bitter flavour of a traditional coffee.

Tania explained how the drink was more often referred to as being Turkish; due to the 400-year Ottoman ruling in Greece many culinary traditions were now shared between the countries, their true origins lost in time. Guiding us on taking the last sip, Tania explained the ancient art of coffee fortune telling and helped us give it a try.

Our next stop saw us wander through an indoor gallery of upmarket restaurants before turning and stopping roadside at one of the many bread carts found around the city. We sampled a mid-morning Koulouri, mirroring local habits.

Reminding me of something between a pretzel and a bagel, the sweet, firm bread, looped in a large circle was tasty and easy to eat on the run. No wonder this was the Athenians mid morning go-to.

While discussing local Athenian lifestyles and sharing our own eating traits and favourite foods our adventure continued.

Stopping at a well loved whole foods and organic store we were taken to a table waiting with all sorts of treats ready for our inquisitive mouths. We sampled tasty cold pressed olive oils, a delicious vinegar made from sour cherries, feta served with olive oil and again with thyme honey (oh so rare and flavoursome) along with a beautiful smooth wine made from an ancient Greek grape, thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the 1970’s.

Before leaving we had a chance to look around the store. Check out these fantastic seasoning postcards I found. If only I could send them home to New Zealand!

Loukoum, the Greek version of a Turkish delight was up for trial for us.

We made our way to a store dedicated to products made from mastic; a resin gathered from a mastic tree produced on the Greek island of Chios. I loved the buttery texture of this Greek sweet (nothing like the chocolate covered Turkish delight produced by mainstream confectionary companies) but I am still unsure if I liked the flavour of mastic. It was unlike anything I had tasted before; one of those flavours where you need to go back to it another time (or more) before making your final decision.

Have you ever indulged in traditional handmade baklava?

Our next stop displayed trays full of different kinds of baklava sprawling through cabinet windows in an unsuspecting bakery. Layers of paper thin pastry and finely chopped nuts soaked in just the right amount of sweet honey to give a gooey bottom and crisp crunch on top. I wanted to pocket a handful of each tray! there were so many options to choose from – check out that chocolate baklava.

Incredible!

Having had our morning coffee boost, carbs, cheese and pastry it was time to get serious.

Our next stop was hyped by Tania as we walked; no matter what time of the day there could be a queue because the food was so good, an Athenian favourite. Souvlaki.

The best in town came from a relatively inconspicuous store, mid-block, fronting a pedestrian walkway with simple seating out front.  Able to purchase the meat sticks from the window on the street it oddly reminded me of a school canteen.

That souvalaki though! Beautiful tender bites of pork perfectly seasoned and the squeeze of lemon just topped it off. Had there not been more of the tour to go I would have gone back for seconds… and probably thirds.

To help burn off some of the food we had consumed before our next stop we diverted down a back alley to check out the meat, fish and veg market in Omonia.

Tania warned us before entering that it would penetrate the senses and boy was she right. It was loud, wet (so be careful underfoot) and it had all the expected odours. She also gave us a heads up that the traders might catcall young ladies who walked through, explained that is was harmless but checked we were comfortable to continue (of course we were). Now I can’t understand Greek but I could tell the difference between prices and products being yelled and the catcalling, I could only guess what they were saying, but we had a laugh about it and carried on our merry way looking at everything on offer.

Up next, my absolute favourite from the morning, we had a serving of bougatsa. Freshly made in the café we visited, we were lucky enough to see the chef’s effortless skill building the next batch for the oven. A custard, cream and semolina mix (flavoured perfectly with orange zest) was parcelled in crunchy, icing dusted pastry, I couldn’t get enough of it!

As full as I was, I ate it all and wanted more. Impressed with the dish, Mark and I grabbed a piece of bougatsa several times later in our trip, but none rivalled our first taste of this delicious pastry from that beautifully decorated café in the back streets of Athens.

Our final stop was at a local taverna where we sampled a beautiful honey soaked baked cheese dish sprinkled with sesame seeds and a platter of traditional dips. The baked cheese was gone in seconds (it was so tasty) and sampling the dips, I really enjoyed the tzatziki (yoghurt dip), but found the fava (puree of fava beans and olive oil) and melitzanosalata (eggplant salad) were full of flavour but not so much to my taste.

Walking Athens

Over and above tasting all the amazing food, we got an insider’s understanding of the underbelly of modern Athens. We discussed recent history and local practices as Tania confidently navigated us to each stop. Walks between stops were short and easy, occasionally dodging a cat, bike or car along the way.

As we walked we heard how internal migration patterns in Greece were changing and tired areas were becoming reinvigorated as new trends came and went through the city. Tania shared her love for all things Greek and what she liked about guiding – she had such a passion for sharing her culture with others that it was hard not to be moved.

During our journey there were other gems we saw along with way, like the tiny shop from where all of the bread carts selling koulouri were stocked. We walked through Euriopdies street and ogled all the dried meats, spices and herbs displayed in the shops, ducking in to take a closer look and smell. We meandered through Psirri and the Square of the Heroes, hearing about its Mafia-like history and recent gentrification. I desperately wanted to return for dinner at one of the quaint restaurants under the trees. We stopped for photos with a decorated Greek music cart, commonly featured in older Greek movies.

Tania enlightened us on just how much more there was to Athens than the ruins it was famous for and I was left wishing we had more time.

Ending in Monastiraki, a great place to explore, people watch and browse the bustling shops it was time to say goodbye. At our last stop Tania gave us a helpful map of Athens and promised to email us recipes so we could try our hand at making some of what we had sampled. As promised we received a easy to follow PDF by email and bougatsa is on there. I can’t wait to give it a go!

Needless to say our morning with Tania lived up to the hype and I have been recommending this tour to others wholeheartedly ever since.

Best done at the start of your trip so you can orientate yourself easily through the best parts of the inner city, I implore you to join Alternative Athens on their Delicious Athens Food Tour.

Mark on a map all of the restaurants and areas your fantastic guide will point out so you can continue your gastronomic adventure on your own.

I only wish we had more time to do so – there was just not enough room in my tummy to sample all of the food we wanted to pocket on the way!

Honestly, if you miss this tour you are missing out on some of the best secrets, tastes and gems Athens has to offer… and nobody wants that, do they?


Do you have a taste for seeing what really makes a city tick?  Pin this post!

Check out the best food tours in Athens, Greece. Find the best restaurants, cafes and foodie secrets. Food, travel, architecture, great company, this sight-seeing trip has it all! Are you hungry for adventure?Check out the best food tours in Athens, Greece. Hidden hotspots, food, travel, architecture, great company, this sight-seeing trip has it all! Are you hungry for adventure?

Thank you to Alternative Athens for hosting Mark and Jade to review their Delicious Athens Food Tour.  As always, all thoughts are their own – as you can see though, they had a ball!

Europe Norway Oslo

48 Hours in Oslo: An Insider’s Guide to the City’s Quirkiest Spots

May 17, 2017

It was a rainy and cold day in London when the plane took off – Oslo bound.

I belong to a small group of travel enthusiasts who think “if I’m already cold, why not brave colder.” This little mantra rarely disappoints.

Armed with a wooly hat, pink gloves and a return Ryanair ticket (which cost less than a Hackney Cab from Heathrow to central London, priority boarding and all!) I landed in Oslo to a pretty sprinkling of snow and the cleanest airport train I have ever boarded.

First let me clear up a widespread misconception.

It’s really easy to have a great time in Oslo and nowhere near as expensive as people often say. It’s important to know that before being put off.

What follows is a fun way to spend 48 hours exploring not all, but certainly a good enough flavor of an incredibly pretty and frankly cool (weather pun intended) city – in an affordable and accessible way. The great news is, as summer approaches, Oslo becomes even more enjoyable and simply being outside in the gorgeous public spaces will prove it is a perfect city weekend break.

Must Do’s in Oslo

Buy an Oslo Pass

I can’t stress this enough. You can get 24 hour and 48 hour versions (the 48 hour one proves the best value for money) and best of all, you can download the app to your phone, which makes everything super easy.

The pass not only gives you FREE travel on all public transport (including island hoping through the fjords on the public ferries!) but it also gives you free entry into more than 30 museums and galleries, free walking tours, decent discounts on so many attractions (including ski rental, climbing and concert tickets!) invaluable special offers in restaurants, bars and shops and in the summer, free entry into the outdoor swimming pools.

Discovering this pass made Oslo more affordable than staying at home in London for the weekend!

Get up early and go to bed late

As soon as the summer months come around this is made even easier with up to 18 hours of daylight in a given day. If you don’t dilly dally you can see an awful lot of Oslo in a small but concentrated period of time.

Relax

Even if you do take the above advice and decide to get busy, make sure you also enjoy soaking up the moment. There are many places in Oslo where just sitting on a bench or in a café/bar can be the best hour you will spend in your day.

Get a bit silly

If you have an opportunity to don a Viking helmet, just do it. It’s fun.

If you’re off to Oslo and looking for some inspiration, check out what we got up to in this magical Norwegian city…

48 Hours in Oslo, Norway – The best quirkly little finds around!

Friday Evening

Ice, Ice, Baby

I arrived and made my way quickly into town thanks to Norway’s efficient train system.  After ditching my bag, I went straight out for a proper cold drink at the Magic Ice Bar, where glasses are made of ice and they lend you giant overcoat to keep you warm.

I don’t think it is possible for a vodka based drink to taste better than when it is drunk directly from ice!

The ice bar’s theme this year is in celebration of Edvard Munch so all of the sculptures were based on his paintings and I couldn’t resist creating my own version of the Scream taking a selfie through the ice wall!

Sweet Surprises

We decided to take a stroll through this incredibly walkable, safe city which led to the discovery of a great little bar, Bar Lardo.  This bar specialises in natural wines served with delicious meats and cheeses (the meat is sliced in front of you upon order) which proves the perfect compliment to the wine you will inevitably have one too many of.

I tried a Sicilian orange wine and a natural red which was just a little fizzy, a curious but excellent discovery. The atmosphere here was buzzy, friendly and utterly local – exactly what we were looking for!  It was impossible to feel like a tourist sat at this bar.

There is no-nonsense, no-pretence, no-airs-and-graces feel about the place – just good honest knowledge of what will surprise and delight you mixed with a perfect Friday night atmosphere.

I highly recommend it.

Warning:  It is very easy to while away hours here, luckily walking home a little tipsy isn’t a bad thing and can lead you to discover that in Oslo, even the pavements have existential thoughts.  There is art scattered all over this city. It is a joy to behold!

Saturday

Soaking up Oslo’s Culture

I was up early to make the most of the glorious sun streaming in through my window.

Off I went, straight to the harbour and the brilliant Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art. Split across two buildings at the very end of the increasingly hip and trendy harbour area, you not only get a great dose of art but also a pretty spectacular view. In the summer there is even a tiny but glorious beach where you can sit or bathe depending on your inclination.

You can take your pick from the multitude of bars and restaurants on the harbour-side, many of which will welcome your Oslo Pass. I stopped into Døgnvill where I had one of the best vegan burgers I have ever had – order the Vegan Viking – you won’t be disappointed.

See Oslo Like a Local (only better!)

Once fuelled, my next stop was to the wonderfully named Viking Biking where I embarked upon a 3 hour bicycle tour of Oslo. This is a really fantastic way of getting your bearings on the city, and with Oslo aiming to be car free by 2020 this bike tour feels like you are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Our guide provided an unbelievable array of brilliant information whilst we enjoyed pedalling and taking in the vast array of sights.  Patrick, our Oslo-born touring mastermind was a fountain of knowledge and even pointed out (what was to become one of my favourite things from the entire trip,) the City Hall bells.

These ring on the hour but they were not playing boring old scales – they play real songs! At 3pm, when I was there, the played the ‘80’s classic, Twist in my Sobriety by Tinita Tikaram – a somewhat random, but delightful sound!

Best of all, the tour gives you plenty of time to stop and explore once you get to many of the destinations and if like me, you arrive on what seemed to be international ice cream day (in spite of the cold, everyone seemed to be eating one) you’ll even have time to enjoy a Cornetto whilst admiring the art scattered amongst the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

Whilst on your tour, it is also possible to wear a safety helmet with Viking horns on it. Do it. It casts a magnificent shadow on the pavement and where else can you pedal around a gorgeous city looking like a modern-day viking?

Post cycle I felt a little righteous, so where better to go than to a cocktail bar ranked one of the best in the world – Himkok.

Moonshine Magic

The enjoyment of this bar with its own distillery begins before you even get there – seeking it out is part of the fun. I will say no more other than look for a sign that gives away one of the building’s former incarnations and push the unmarked door.

If you need a little more guidance, keep a look out for an old fur shop which reads ‘Pels Pels’ in Norwegian.

Once inside you’ll see where they make their own gin, vodka and aquavit and if you explore further (which we’d certainly recommend doing) you will discover it is like the Tardis; there are outside drinking areas, a cider only bar, a taptail bar (they put their best house cocktails on tap so that everyone can enjoy a cocktail without the wait!) and a barbers no less.

For pure indulgence, sit at the bar in the cocktail lab; explore the beautiful menu (a piece of art in itself), watch the cocktail makers create their seasonal cocktails with grace in front of you and then sit back and taste.

Each one I tried was frankly sensational.  I took advice from one of their knowledgeable bar staff (Tomas) who recommended each of my cocktails and didn’t let me down once.

If you’re lucky you will be shown their special collection of unusual and interesting spirits from around the world – it is behind lock and key, but even just pressing your nose against the glass case is good enough!

They have live music on weeknights and a blanket ban on electronica (so as to not put off the older clientele).

The lack of pretension in this bar was an absolute delight – everyone was genuinely there for a great time.

Somehow, with all of its fancy drinks and hipsteresque qualities Himkok ultimately is a bar to welcome one and all. Pretty much how I am feeling about all of Oslo at this point.

Sunday

Diminutive Delights

When you have spent an evening sampling cocktails you wouldn’t necessarily think that surrounding yourself with tens of thousands of miniature bottles of spirits would be ones first port of call the next morning, however the Minibottle Gallery proved to be the most wonderfully surreal hair of the dog!

The museum has a total of 53,000 bottles, most are guarded in a safety vault (?) but 12,500 are exhibited in over 50 unique installations. This museum is so fantastically curious that I don’t really want to give much of it away, suffice to say there is a slide to get to the basement installations and a fascinating erotic parlour where you have to tweak a nipple to enter!

I don’t think my eyes have ever witnessed so many ‘things’ in one viewing, unless you count grains of sand on a beach. And I don’t.

This place should be on everyone’s visit list. What began as a 7 year old boy’s collection has become a man’s enthralling obsession, and I’m glad it has!

Ice in Oslo – Year Round

Next, following a short boat trip I arrived at one of my nerdy pilgrimages. The Fram Museum. The whole building is built around Roald Amundsen’s polar expedition boat and for someone that always dreamt of visiting the biggest white wonderland, it was always going to be a hit with me.

Having recently returned from Antarctica I felt an overwhelming desire to stand atop another boat that had been there too.

It is a deeply fascinating and well thought out museum, whether you have an interest in Polar expeditions or not  There is an Antarctic simulator where you can experience what it must have been like to be trapped in the ice (basically, if it’s a hot day you can really cool down in there), an area where you can test out your strength and artifacts galore – that’s not even mentioning the two gigantic ocean-going ships housed inside.

Setting Sail for Warmer Climates

A hop, skip and a jump away and you are in the Kon-Tiki museum – another building housing a vessel which has survived the Planet’s seas, only this time it’s a raft!

This hand built raft was used by Thor Heyerdahl to demonstrate the way in which ancient people could have made long sea voyages and contacted different cultures.  With his crew, they used it to sail 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Successfully!

Norwegian mariners are clearly a curious bunch and I felt terribly ordinary simply boarding the public ferry back to the city centre.

Golf (with a Twist of Lemon)

With a few hours before the flight home there was one more pit stop on my list. The Oslo Camping Bar.  I had no intention of pitching a tent, but every intention of playing a round of mini golf whilst sipping another brilliant Norwegian local bevvy. This time, beer.

This bar is awesome!  The mini golf course threads its way under, over, behind and between tables, upstairs, downstairs and finally up and over the bar. There are 18 holes, a maximum 7 par policy to keep things moving smoothly and enough variation to keep you on tenterhooks throughout.

If I could have teleported a bunch of my friends here to help me while away a lazy Sunday afternoon I am pretty certain I would have missed my plane. As it was, I found myself leaving Oslo with an absolute certainty that this was a city I would visit again and with each season so distinctly different.  I know I will experience it differently each time and that’s a great thing.

If you crave the endless summer sun or the glittering majesty of a city blanketed in snow, Oslo will not disappoint you. It encourages you to be outdoors no matter the weather and there are more statues and sculptures per square metre than I have seen anywhere else on my travels.

It’s grown up and eco conscious, sophisticated yet decadent.  It has just the right amount of Scandinavian oddness and is a fantastic way to spend 48 hours.

I highly recommend that you go! Go, go, go to Oslo!


Oslo's quirkiest, most memorable attractions all in one easy-to-read guide. 48 hours in Oslo have never been more interesting with mini-golf bars, secret entry pubs, viking cycling and more! Find out what makes Norway's capital the place to be...

Thank you to VisitOSLO and each of the spots that Zena visited for making her feel so welcome.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Europe Malta Tours

Captain Morgan’s Defender Gozo Jeep Safari Tour – A Flop in Malta

May 14, 2017

Finding and booking with the right tour company for your next destination can be a hard, even for an experienced traveler.

Why? Because the company you book with has absolute power to inspire or discourage your impression of a destination or activity during your time with them.

I thought I had found a great tour in the Captain Morgan Defender Gozo Jeep Safari. I was looking for was a small group tour with a great mix of sightseeing, action and the opportunity to learn about Gozo as a destination.

Unfortunately we thought wrong.

Though we generally look on the positive side of things and understand that travelling can bring with it its own set of challenges, this tour did unfortunately miss the mark for us.

Find out why and see what we’d recommend you do instead to make the most of gorgeous Gozo…

Choosing our Gozo Tour in Malta – What we were Promised

The Captain Morgan page for the tour offered limited information, mentioning that travel would be ‘in comfort, luxury and style in Land Rover Jeeps and followed the same route as the Gozo Jeep Safari’ (a link to this tour was provided to check out the description). There was mention in the inclusions the tour was in a chauffeur driven jeep and separately in the same line a Safari Tour Leader was indicated.

Further information available on the linked ‘Gozo Jeep Safari’ tour included mention that the tour is ‘probably the best way to see the island of Gozo, where we take you to all the places of interest that our sister island has to offer and drive through beautiful countryside and valleys, taking different routes from your ‘normal’ excursions’.

The following paragraph described the day’s itinerary:

‘You will be collected from your accommodation from 7:00am onwards and taken to the Jeep Safari Terminal (departure point) from where the Safari departs for the Gozo Ferry. Upon arrival in Gozo, we will start our Safari to discover the magical island of Calypso. We drive to the village of Qala and then on to Nadur, down to the red sandy beach of Ramla l-Ħamra (Ramla Bay) and then on to the very quaint village of Xagħra. From here we go onto Victoria, Gozo’s Capital City where we will stop for some free time and lunch. After lunch we head off for Marsalforn which is a very popular tourist town and then on to Dwejra the ‘Inland Sea’. From here we head to the Fishing Village of Xlendi and then back to the ferry.’

Aside from the limited information, the tour sounded like it would give a unique perspective to Gozo and online reviews mentioning the Defender Gozo tour generally had positive narratives.  Sure there were less-than-positive reviews but always ones to look on the bright-side, we passed over them.

I hoped the higher cost (in comparison to other tours on the market) was a true reflection of a superior quality tour – it would make sense, after all, wouldn’t it?

Booking the Defender Gozo Jeep Safari

Booking the tour was easy. I called the company direct and the lady I spoke with was helpful taking our booking. Email confirmations came through quickly and we were also offered a chance to amend our morning pickup spot to a more convenient location. This was a great first impression!

Advertised Stops on the Tour

Qala and Nadur

I don’t remember the Qala or Nadur villages specifically… Apparently, our tour should have driven through them but nothing of interest was pointed out on the tour – the GPS on our phones didn’t actually show us reaching Qala so we’re not even sure we did.

We did get taken to a high point where our driver got us out of the Jeep and with no explanation pointed us through a set of gates to a lovely lookout over the coast and sea. Since the tour I found out Nadur in Malti actually means ‘lookout’ and our stop was at the Ta’ Kenuna Tower (Kenuna Look Out Tower) – a beautiful spot for a photo and quiet contemplation.

Ramla Bay (Ramla l-Ħamra)

We did not go down to the sandy red bay at Ramla as mentioned in the original description.

Instead became a stop at what is sited as Calypso’s Cave, which provided views out over over Ramla Bay (and beautiful ones at that).

If you are interested in mythology you might recognise the name Calypso from Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’. In short, Calypso, a beautiful nymph, kept the great Odysseus as a ‘prisoner of love’ in her cave for seven years during Odysseus’ quest. Calypso promised immortality to entice him to stay but instead he escaped to return to his wife Penelope.

I love mythology, so this sparked my interest, but stopping here with our ‘guide’ for the day meant we were left to our own devices. We read about the significance of the site from a run down plaque before following a trail up to a lookout.

The cave sits alongside a viewpoint of Ramla Bay. Blocked from access with steal bars to mark the spot, I couldn’t even bring myself to take a photo of the ‘cave’, a small crevice-like opening leading down into the rocky cliff – it really wasn’t what I’d imagined.

It wasn’t all bad though as we were treated to a spectacular view – check it out!

Xagħra and Marsalforn

Similar to previous stops, there was nothing of interest pointed out as we went through Xagħra or Marsalforn.

Are you starting to see a pattern now?

Beyond journeying through these seemingly uninteresting villages, we stopped roadside in the middle of nowhere across from what will one day be an impressive frontage to a beautiful church. We were let out of the jeep for 20 minutes at what I now know to be Ta’ Pinu in Gharb. The landscaping out the front of the church was under construction, but with the stunning blue sky behind it, the church’s solitary form on the landscape was beautiful. Inside marble and wood sculptural details added additional textures to the carved stone and stained glass decoration and to the back of the Church we found a small hall full of family history and photos which was interesting to look through.

Just down the road from here we stopped at what I aptly named the Tourist Trap Store. I could only guess the store was filled with locally sourced items. Hosting a range of sweets, drinks, jewelry, trinkets and even woollen products it could have been an interesting stop, had we had someone taking an interest in interacting with us as other larger groups in the store did. I might have even purchased a few foodie items to try, had I been able to find out what it was I was purchasing.

Victoria

The Cittadella was the main attraction for our stop at Victoria and we were given around an hour to explore the site before lunch. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, we enjoyed a short video introduction of the extensive history and cultural influences of Gozo before entering to explore. We wandered through tiny streets forged in medieval times, explored the beautifully restored fortress walls with far-reaching outlooks and ran our hands along worn stone ruins of the medieval castle that once stood proud on top of the hill.

This was one of two highlight stops on the tour and we’d certainly recommend a visit to the site!

We had lunch a short walk from the entrance of the Cittadella – more on that soon.

Dwejra

One of Gozo’s world famous attractions located at Dwejra (the Azure Window), was a stunning location to take a few snaps and scramble about on the rocks in the afternoon sun.

This natural limestone rock formation was one of the most recognisable locations in Europe, featured more recently as a Game of Thrones location and in the Clash of Titans movie.

We count ourselves lucky to have seen it as sadly, on the 8th of March 2017 the arch collapsed into the ocean, leaving nothing to show of the once natural window.

Xlendi

Stopping at this fishing village we were given twenty minutes and were pointed to a cliff with a few stairs cut into them.

Though we weren’t told of the significance of the area, upon reaching the top we were rewarded with a stunning view over the beautiful bay.

Tour Review – What we Really Got in Gozo

Unfortunately, the tour really failed to inspire us. Described as ‘action-packed’ and ‘the best way to explore Gozo’, we were left wanting – they’re certainly not phases I would use as part of the narrative to our experience.

Key points of interest which we thought were included, like the Neolithic Temples (a site with construction older than the pyramids of Egypt) were left off the itinerary. I was gutted to have missed it.

Questioning the guide while waiting for the ferry we were first told the attraction was closed (I promptly called them to find last admission for the day was 4.30pm) and then another guide was called over to explain it wasn’t on the scheduled stops, even though both Mark and I, along with the other two tour participants understood it was. Our misunderstanding was forgivable, I may have read its inclusion on a review somewhere online instead of directly on the company website, however the other tour participants were told that the tour visited the temples by their booking agent.

Regrettably I seem to have learnt more about Gozo and where we visited by writing this blog post than actually taking the tour!

Upon return from the tour I emailed Captain Morgan to highlight my disappointment from the day, mentioning the following points of contention:

  1. Timing. Our tour was described as 8am – 5pm. After waiting in the cold and a phone call to the company, greeted with a short-tempered answer to wait and they would be there soon we were picked up after 8.30am. At the end of the day we were back at the ferry terminal heading for Malta before 3pm and dropped off before 4.30pm. This was at least an hour less than the expected tour time.
  2. The Tour Leader. The jovial older man who collected us from the roadside with “Captain Morgan?” and a beckon towards the jeep opened the door to the smell of someone who had stumbled out of a pub. I had the sneaking suspicion he had just finished a cigarette in the vehicle. Sitting behind the driver, I had to notch the window open and deal with the cold chill on my face to allow me to breathe; the stench of smoke was so bad. Also, the driver was not concerned about speaking loudly on his mobile throughout the day while hurtling down motorways and through the narrow roads on Gozo.
  3. Communication. Our ‘Tour Leader’ aka our driver had not introduced himself when we were collected, nor did he extend any further information to us after two others joined us. During the drive to the ferry I asked his name, to which I got an inaudible response. Mark and I hoped he was a pick-up driver and we would meet our Tour Leader for the day at the Jeep Terminal. We had no such luck.  Our ‘Chauffeur’ and ‘Tour Leader’ for the day was merely a driver who’s English consisting of the words ‘lady’, ‘[attraction name] over there’ and ’20 minutes stop’. His lack of interest in his tour group became more evident during the day; he was more engrossed in speaking loudly on his mobile and disappearing to chat with his buddies at each stop than accommodate us at all.
  4. ‘Action packed’ stops. The tour description let itself down by stating ‘action-packed’ stops (this now seems to be removed from the website description). Our day consisted of getting in the jeep, getting out of a jeep, being pointed towards a view and being given a time to be back at the jeep, usually 10 – 20 minutes. With no guidance or background to the significance of the stops or areas passing out the window we were left to read signs and look at the view. Thrilling.
  5. A local’s lunch. Lunch was an incredibly processed affair absent of any form of local feel. Sat at a table without a welcome or any interaction with restaurant staff, the courses silently placed in front of us consisted of a simple tomato and penne pasta starter, chicken leg and potatoes mains and what looked like a child’s sundae (two small scoops of processed ice-cream). There was nothing on the plate that inspired me to think it was anything other than mass produced for tourists.
  6. Price disparities. The lunch stop had instigated chatter with the two other tour participants and this continued into the afternoon. While the driver was off chatting with his buddies waiting for the 3pm ferry Mark and I shared our concerns and displeasure about the tour with the two other guests (yes, we gossiped). Our comments were met with agreement and similar insights from the day. The cost of the tour arose. Their €60 per person price and a free harbour cruise certainly trumped our €80 each leaving us feeling cheated.

In effect, we paid a lot for what was little more than transport from one location to another – we’ll leave you to decide if that offers fair value or not.

The response from my email was a ‘We will look into it and come back to you’.

I am yet to get a further response which leaves us hesitant to suggest that Captain Morgan are working hard to improve their tours.  One can hope but based on the other less-than-glowing reviews, it doesn’t look positive.

Gozo Done Right

Overall, from what we saw from the back window of a Defender Jeep and a few 20-minute stops, Gozo looked like an enchanting place to explore, but based on our experience I could not recommend doing it on a Captain Morgan tour.

Instead, hire a car and take it across on the ferry (prices are very reasonable to do this) or use one of the hop-on hop-off bus services to give you a bit of freedom during the day.

Mix your stops by choosing to wandering through villages, stop at coastal sightseeing spots and sunning on beautiful beaches and definitely get into the historical sites.

I would say a well-planned day would easily see you cover everything you wanted to get to in a much more efficient and enjoyable manner.


Headed to Gozo?  Pin this post for future reference…

Gozo, Malta is a stunning part of the world but plan your itinerary carefully and be even more careful when choosing your tour company - or better still, organise your own trip. You'll see a string of highlights whilst having the time to soak in the gorgeous views.Gozo, Malta is a stunning part of the world but plan your itinerary carefully and be even more careful when choosing your tour company - or better still, organise your own trip. You'll see a string of highlights whilst having the time to soak in the gorgeous views.

Jade and Mark were paying customers on this tour.  Of course, all thoughts are their own and not necessarily indicative of experiences others will have with Captain Morgan but there does seem to be an unfortunate pattern occurring.

Thank you to Sidetracked for their gorgeous cover photo.

Europe Itineraries planning South America Travel

These Kiwis are Off Exploring – Nathan and Sarah’s Next Six Months of Adventures

May 6, 2017

Incase you missed the memo, we’re moving on from Abu Dhabi in June.

The last almost-two years have been amazing, eye-opening and of course, at times, challenging.  We wouldn’t change it for the world though.  We’ve loved emersing ourselves in a new culture, connecting with like-minded people, having the opportunity to travel more and jumping into this crazy-fun world of blogging.  I’ve grown, both personally and professionally (I’ve been teaching here in Abu Dhabi) and making the move has been an awesome reminder that at any age, you can set off on a new adventure.

Since our arrival in the UAE in August of 2015, I’ve been to 32 new countries (and Nathan’s not far behind) which far surpasses anything I’d hoped for.

It’s funny though how, at least for me, opening your eyes to the world doesn’t quench your hunger for adventure, instead it fuels it.

The more I see, the more I want to see.

The more I explore, the more I appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to do so.

As we start on our journey home, it’s probably not surprising that it’s with real mixed emotions.

When we first arrived in Abu Dhabi it was with the understanding that we would probably only be here for two years – Nathan’s job is back in New Zealand and there was never any doubt that he’d rejoin the family business.

When presented with the possibily of adding a third year into the mix we faced the difficult decision of staying put in the UAE or heading off again.  Though Abu Dhabi has become our home the call of the unknown and the possibility of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure was too great to ignore – so, off we go on our way in June.

We’re pumped to see our family, friends and cats and to chow down on some New Zealand treats – I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed steak & cheese pies and lamingtons!  I can’t wait to get back to the style of teaching that I love, to spend some time revisiting some of our favourite spots in and around Aotearoa and to walk outside in the summer-time without melting!

I’ll miss the hussle and bustle of living in the UAE though – the sea of kandoras and abayas in the massive malls here, the call to prayer singing out throughout the day, the attitude towards travelling and so much more.  I’ll miss having friends that have started to feel like family, my awesome workmates, dinner dates to PF Chang’s and Chili’s and picking up fresh caramel popcorn at the movies.

As much as we know we’ll miss it though, there are new adventures to be had.

My confession is I fall in love with so many places. I’m always half broken-hearted by goodbyes, and I don’t believe in non-attachment. There’s no passion inside of that. I believe in burning, and long, and I believe we leave tiny pieces of ourselves in every place we’ve loved.

Victoria Erickson

It’s time to fall in love with new places all over again…

So, what’s next for us?

Europe

We’ll be making multiple stops in Europe over a fairly short timeframe.  Although we would have loved more time there as so much of our travel recently has been up that way, we thought we’d stop into a few of the major cities that we’ve not seen yet to farewell to a continent that we’ve come to love.

  • Paris, France
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edinburgh, Scotland (where with any luck we’ll make it up to the Isle of Skye!)
  • Barcelona and Ibiza, Spain
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Zurich through to Geneva, Switzerland
  • Kiev, Ukraine

South America

Having never stepped foot in South America we’re a little clueless as to the details of what we want to see and do but we’ve found plenty of inspiration through our friends and our ever-trusty Pinterest account.

We’ll be flying into Buenos Aires in Argentina before making our way over to Santiago, Chile but from there, who knows?

With approximately six months, we’ll be travelling slowly and working as we go.  We can’t wait to have a little more time up our sleeves to to be more responsive with our plans.

Due to the tight timeframe we normally travel on, things have to be super planned-out to ensure we see and do everything we want – this trip will be significantly more relaxed.  Bring it on!

The following places are featuring high on our agenda (but are anything but a conclusive list):

  • Patagonia
  • Machu Pichu and Rainbow Mountain, Peru
  • Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
  • Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (salt flats)
  • The Amazon Rainforest
  • The Iguazu Falls
  • Christ the Redeemer, Rio, Brazil
  • A cruise to Antarctia or visit to the Falkland Islands – both of these as much less likely but never say never!

Which of these spots have you visited?  Where would you recommend?  What were your favourite things to do?

We’d love to hear your thoughts as we start digging into planning these trips!

The way I figure, the best way to get over moving on from a place you love is to plan the next adventure…

Thanks to Time Wheel, SCMP, Askideas, Keyword Suggests, Traveler Corner, The Bohemian Blog and World for Travel for providing snaps before we have our own.

day trip Europe Iceland

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.

blogging Budapest Destinations Hungary

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!


Help a 30+ out by pinning this post…

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!


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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.

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