Our adventures in Reykjavik

One month ago I was in Reykjavik. A four day trip with mixed feelings of highs and lows, it has taken me a while to tell the tale. Unfortunately that means my memories of such events has started to diminish, and unlike Paris I don’t have a fully detailed travel journal to refer back to. So here is four days in Iceland from memory.

Day one. Getting through the blue lagoon.

Our early morning flight got us up and awake at 2.30am. Arriving at Keflavik airport we spotted the name of the tour company we were using and got our tickets to the blue lagoon. By mid morning we were at the world famous spa. So here is a story in itself as a spa is something I’ve never done before in my life! James and I split into our single sex changing rooms and I now had to fend for myself and figure out the dos and don’ts of spa life. I managed to get myself changed, four days worth of luggage in tow, then had to figure out the locker system. We had wrist bands to open them but I hadn’t realised I was looking for an open locker, I was just wandering around pressing my band to the scanners expecting it to find one for me! Once I had found a convenient corner locker a nice American lady helped me shut it and I headed onto the showers. After a quick wash and lots of conditioner I left the changing area to find James waiting for me. Apparently I’d taken ages and James was worried I’d melted down in anxiety in the middle of the lockers!

The blue lagoon was lovely. So nice and warm and calm. We tried on the face masks, floated around the whole area looking for warm spots, enjoyed a blueberry skyr smootie, and James went for the sauna. After a couple hours we left, changed back and went exploring the outside area and enjoyed the views. This was a little off the beaten track so was also very quiet. We returned to the bus and got ourselves dropped of in Reykjavik.

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When we got dropped off though we managed to get ourselves to the wrong hotel! There are lots of Foss Hotels in Reykjavik and luckily our one was only round the corner to the one I mistakenly thought was ours. After checking in and dumping our bags we explored the city and had an awesome dinner in this little pub themed restaurant. We headed back to the hotel for a nap before our bus was due to pick us up for the Northern Lights tour at 10pm.

We were downstairs at the hotel by 9.20pm, as it states pick up starts half hour before. But the bus never picked us up. To cut a horrible story short, somewhere between the travel agent in the UK, the holiday company they book through and the tour operator in Reykjavik someone printed us tickets for our chosen time of 10pm, but we were actually booked on the earlier 7.30pm. The 10pm didn’t event run that night, and we would’ve been happy to go at 7.30pm had we known. It was very frustrating, left me feeling very worried for the rest of our excursions and disappointed not to see the lights. We were able to go on the tour the following two evenings, spent 1 hour 45 mins standing in the freezing cold watching the sky both nights and saw nothing, and we were aware that people had seen the lights the night we were booked for. That explains the whole story, so I won’t be mentioning it again.

Day Two; Reykjavik city life

The next morning after our lovely breakfast at the hotel we wrapped up warm and headed to the small city to explore. First we went to the coast and watched the waves crash onto the rocks that stood before us. We walked along to the new Harpa building. A place to get out of the cold but we were surprised by the inside. We explored the shops, all at this time of year with beautiful Christmas decorations. Wandered the building and its interesting architecture.

Next we headed into town and found many Christmas themed shops. James took to one in particular and discovered the story of the 13 Yule Lads of Christmas. We now have this cute little Christmas story in our living room, and it shares the secrets of this family who visit in the run up to Christmas day. After the shops we had a drink in a coffee shop and read the new book. Next we walked up to Hallgrímskirkja, the church at the centre of Reykjavik and the tallest point in the city. We paid to go to the top and looked out at the views. The wind was so strong that day we had to hold onto the bars across the windows to hold ourselves up!

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Leaving the church we explored further to find a strange little bridge to another venue holding events, explored some more and found ourselves in a cosy little coffee shop again for a rest. (Somehow James led us in the staff entrance, James insists he is correct but we definitely left through the public entrance!) As we sat I read through our guide book and found the few sites I wanted to make sure we visited during our short stay. One was the art museum,Hafnarhús, showing the works of Icelandic cartoon artist Erro.

Leaving the coffee shop (through the correct door!) we found ourselves opposite the art museum from my book! Being close to 5pm we walked in to look around the shop, but we then realised the gallery stayed open late on Thursdays and decided to visit there and then. The works of Erro were very thought provoking and showed a lot of dark feelings, giving the time period he was creating this work. We visited the rest of the gallery too, I also enjoyed the work of Örn Alexander Ámundason and their blunt explanation of the art you were looking at, James was not quite as impressed. We both enjoyed Yoko Ono’s ‘One More Story’ exhibition, which promoted working together, peace and activism. This exhibit included a lot of opportunity to take part, but I especially liked the chess set all white and the implications of keeping track of the game if everyone is the same.

For dinner we headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe. We had a nice meal, picked up some shot glasses for our collection and James was of the impression it was fairly new. I don’t know why. But it did turn out it had only opened 3 weeks earlier.

Day Three; the Golden Circle

We headed out on the obligatory Golden Circle tour on our third day. This took us the see how tomatoes are grown in the giant green houses outside Reykjavik, watching the geysers exploding, take in the views of the Golden waterfall, and then head to the Þingvellir National park for a walk along the canyon formed by two tectonic plates. The photos do all the talking on this day, and the video of the snow storm the amazing coach driver drove us through. Still need to get the photos off the camera so that is still to come!

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Oh yeah, I wore my Girlguiding jacket the whole time!

Day Four; shopping and visiting the Vikings

On our final day we made our way around the shops to pick up the souvenirs we had wanted to bring home (but were too concerned about our money to pay at the time!). We also headed to the Saga Museum, a small exhibition following the early history of Iceland and the first settlers. This museum was a collection of lifelike models accompanied by an audio guide to explain the stories of these famous figures. It was very informative and even though it was a fair walk to the other side of the city it was well worth it.

Our final meal was a fancy fish and chips at this nice restaurant alongside the volcano house (which, if we had more time we would’ve taken in the film here). After lunch we took our final walk through the city before collecting our bags, and getting the taxi back to the airport.

Random Tips for Iceland!

  1. It really is expensive!
  2. The water smells of sulphur, you won’t be looking forward to your morning shower.
  3. You won’t find many bugs.
  4. Go before Christmas to enjoy the festivities!
  5. You only need a backpack, just pack lots of layers. No need to lug suitcases around.
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Brownie Christmas Sleepover and a Very Scary Cave!

When we stayed at Belchamps Scout centre in the summer we came across a leaflet for their Christmas sleepover. As a leader it was fantastic! Imagine giving your Brownies an amazing residential experience without all the planning. I feel I could easily stop running the usual Brownie Holidays and adopt regular visits to these fully catered adventures but it does come with downsides which I’ll discuss later.

We arrived Friday night in the dark, lugging all our overnight bags and pillows through the forest to our holiday house. The Brownies arrived one at a time and we got them settled into their room. As we hadn’t done anything like this before, all the planning out of our hands, we only took 6 Brownies and 2 Leaders (all signed off by our residential advisor). We shared a holiday home with another Brownie unit so we got all the girls together to introduce each other, then we headed to the large indoor hall for relay games. Our six Brownies against the other 12 Brownies, and two teams of Cubs. The Brownies were very gracious at hearing they came second overall, when they knew they were the real winners due to an error by another group which went unnoticed, meaning they won the final game. No moaning from our girls at all 🙂 The relay games were a bit of fun, and this was followed by campfire songs outside. Though I was just as gutted as my Brownies at forgetting to bring our blankets with us! We learned some new songs and helped the instructors with the ones we already knew like the banana song and the pirate song. We then got to meet Father Christmas! (Not had to deal with “Why is Brownie S saying there is no Father Christmas?” before…) Then we headed for a hotdog before bedtime!

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Saturday was a full on day of activities! We were up and at breakfast by 7.30am, then the girls had 10 on site activities led by instructor Chris and work experience instructor Liam. Each activity was 30 minutes which was loads of time for our group of six. We started with mini crossbows which some of us were accustomed to following Brownie Holiday last year. Swallow and I joined in, but I felt a bit rotten when I knocked down the can castle!

This was followed by the traversing wall, the girls were fab at this and played a game called sharks where they had to avoid being the last off the floor.

We then headed for the demolition derby. Basically an inflatable with four stands and a large boulder to knock each other down! It was a little lacklustre but that may have been the girls were a bit too small to push it hard enough to knock each other off, but they still enjoyed it!

After getting loads of new badges in the shop we tried slacklining. Having never heard of this before I wasn’t expecting much but this turned out the be a fantastic activity. The idea is to walk along a fabric, elastic tape which was tied between two trees. The girl walking had the assistance of the rest putting their hands up to lean against. It showed great teamwork! They then attempted a more difficult task. Two girls on the tape facing each other, with two escorts steadying them across. They had to figure out how to pass each other without stepping off the tape. Well, they figured it out first time! It was great! They each then had a go at some tricks on the tape assisted by Instructor Chris.

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Next was the assault course. A couple who came to Brownie Holiday last year knew what to expect… a lot of mud! But they all had a go, got muddy, and cleared the course. Girls can!

They faced each other in the bungee run. Raced each other on the pedal karts and had a short go at archery. We also made smores, including a new ingredient – dough??

I was nervous about the Brownies going into the caving experience. From the outside it was a large box. Nothing more that we could see. The Brownies were given their helmets, Instructor Chris said he would lead them in and then leave at the exit before entering the main cave. I asked if they would get stuck and he said some have been stuck before but he can guide them out. I was worried, so it didn’t help when we got to the entrance and one Brownie was already freaking out and asking me to join her! I looked at Swallow and decided I had to go in! I was given a helmet and had the girls led me into the mineshaft. It was completely dark, no light at all. The girl who asked me to join them was already crying out and there wasn’t much we could do until we got to the exit following the mineshaft. She was encouraged to go through the cave with a light on her head, how lucky for her! I somehow ended up wriggling around on the floor, pitch black, unsure where to go with only feeling the fake rocks to guide myself. Four girls, including the one with a torch, vanished quickly. I was behind with tiny Brownie, and another who was further ahead that I didn’t know she was scared too. Instructor Chris ended up helping her through the maze while I went ahead just trying to figure out how to get out! All six Brownies, and myself, somehow made it through the cave and I couldn’t have been more proud of them!

During the Saturday we had a lovely Christmas dinner, and a finale singsong. It was a fantastic sleepover, Brownie R described the motto of the weekend ‘Learning to Work Together’ and I completely agreed with her.

Some downsides include conflict of Brownie Holiday rules with the other group and the impact on our Brownies (some even refused a drink!), the Brownies had no input in activities, helping with housework or cooking, and it really wouldn’t count towards the Brownie Holiday badge so we will continue our regular residentials but we are definitely planning to return next year too!

I think all the Brownies gained confidence through trying new activities, re-enforced friendships with Brownies they might not necessarily have worked with before and built a little bit if independence being away from home. My favourite moment of the whole sleepover though was a natural moment on Friday evening. The Brownies were given Christmas pencils from Santa, I was holding two with Christmas Trees on the top for a couple of girls. One Brownie then started dancing her Snowman around the Trees and starting singing” Rocking Around the Christmas Trees…”, and we all joined in the whole song, it was such a lovely moment I won’t forget!

A little Christmas post

Just a quick post to remember the funny things. We had a great Christmas with the family, lots of food, lots of gifts exchanged and Doctor Who on TV. In the evening we played Articulate and I was teamed with my boyfriend James and my brother. Articulate is a game that shows how much you are on a wave length with someone, and James and I really are on the same wave length.

James: It’s a big dry part of America.

Me: The Sahara Desert. (My family scoff and chuckle).

James: Yes.

James: A baby frog.

Me: Newt.

James: Correct.

Me: Is it?

James knew a newt wasn’t a baby frog but that must be what comes into both our heads, which helps in a game like this! But the Sahara Desert one, that is just our poor Geography skills. I knew it wasn’t in America, but please don’t ask me anymore! That was our worst category last year, except last year we were on a team with my Uncle (who has appeared on old game show 15 to 1 several times and won it). He was not impressed with our complete lack of knowledge!

Me: (Describing Shanghai) It’s a big city in India.

When James and I get our own home we will need to put a massive atlas on the wall and study hard. I did only get a C in GCSE Geography.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Orlando, Florida

What is the difference between Disney, Orlando and Universal, Orlando? Disney ALWAYS has people. During a 2 week holiday where James and I had avoided the crowds Disney was a step back into the world of queuing. We didn’t help ourselves by going to Disney for the first time on Veterans’ Day. But despite the people the euphoria of Disney was in the air.

Even James could feel it. He admitted he wasn’t that excitied about Disney before we arrived. But ten minutes through the Disney doors and we were planning on going to Epcot on Tuesday, as well as Magic Kingdom we’d already planned for Monday.

The Disney streets had a similar feel to Univseral, all the shops lining the streets and the elaborate building designs and colours. Being close to Christmas we had the extra treat of seeing the decoartions and the lights. I especially liked the dancing Minnie baubals in one shop window. Again we let our feet lead the way and initially came across a teen pop music show based on one of the Disney TV music shows. The stage literally danced off down the street when they were finished.

There were plenty of shows to see. We started off at Indiana Jones. (After James stopped to ask an assistant what the Jedi school was and his face fell when he found out it was for under 12s.) We were advised to get in early as the seats fill up, and they did indeed. We had good seats too. At first it seemed to be a reenactment of the scene where Indi gets the golden goblet thing by replacing it with a bag of coins. Then offstage a loud “CUT” bellowed and Indi became an actor working on stunts. He went through the different action shots with us and even called upon audience members to take part as ‘extras’ in scenes.

We made time to see the ‘Lights, Motors, Action’ car stunt show. Again this was on the premise that we were watching a director film stunts to be used in a film. There were car tricks, stunts on jet skis (JET SKI JET SKI JET SKI) and even a guy on fire. For the action car fan this is a must, for me it was a little long.

Rides! All sorts of rides! Star Wars simulator ride! I wish we’d had time to ride it twice. I’m not a huge Star Wars fan but I still enjoyed seeing the robots while queuing, and seeing them interact with the riders and each other. Click, click, click, camera going off everywhere. The set up for the simulator is rather funny too. It’s based on C3PO and R2D2 flying the spaceship to avoid Darth Vader. Wasn’t the best simulator but a lot of fun none the less. We spent a fair amount of time in the shop too. I saw a camera and a green screen where riders could have their faces superimposed onto the characters. I tried my hardest to get out before James saw it but I was not successful. James was Han Solo, I was Leia. *Cringe* If there is one thing I don’t like it’s being in front of people. And it is not a private room. Everyone is watching and you can’t escape as your face is plastered up on a massive screen above the counter. I didn’t know what to do with my face but James was a natural. He got into character a pouted like a pro. I would upload the photo but I’ve had enough humiliation for one galaxy.

For big rides there was Rock n Roller Coaster and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Don’t get your hopes up, Tower of Terror has nothing to do with ‘Twilight’ and its teams. It is a drop ride based on a spooky hotel. It is good for setting the atmosphere. You queue through a deserted hotel decorated with its own cobwebs. You know the ride is a drop ride in a broken lift, so when the queue leads you to pack into a lift surrounded by people and no harnesses in sight it is a little unnerving. But then you go through the story of the hotel told through the old TV and then enter your cart. I had a bag of popcorn with me (not for the movie but some we had during the day) and was waiting for somewhere to safely leave it. No such place. You either hold it in your hands (and not hold on?!?) or, as I did, grasp it between your ankles to stop it flying up in the air! It has it’s own suprises too. And hopefully a great actor to lead you into the car.

And Disney’s big rollarcoaster is based on Areosmith :-/ is nothing safe from sponsoring these days? I like some good rock music but areosmith… meh. But the ride is great (the problem with our car starting added to the fear factor) but for an indoor rollarcoaster this is a goodun if you can get past the cheesy Areosmith story.

First Disney parade of the holiday. We stumbled upon it by accident too. All our favourite pixar characters – headlined by Toy Story of course – came through to kick start our mid day party.

The other top ride was the Toy Story Mania shooting ride. As your cart moves through the ride you compete against your partner in various shooting games. Buzz, Woody and the rest of the gang will you along. But to be honest, the queue area was more interesting. Its a giant toy box. There was a giant scene veiwer card with scenes from Peter Pan hanging at one point – brought back memories of my own little red machine. There were Andy’s drawings around the wall of Buzz and Woody on their missions together. And the highlight was the giant talking Mr. Potato Head. (Especially when the robot took out his own ear, failed to put it back, the ear dropping to the floor and then the girl walking out from round the back to slot it for him!)

Fantasia. This was epic, but possibly made better because I didn’t know what to expect. All I will say is that it brought back those childhood memories of some epic stories. (Get there early for a central seat!)

Finally the best way to end a day at Christmas Disney. We had seen the lights were up during the day but when we went back in the evening to see them it was a shock. It is the most incredible light show I have ever seen. The houses are covered in lights. Light Angels decoarte the sky. A giant tree covered in lights. One street even had lights above our heads. Then the music started, the lights danced and the ‘snow’ fell. No one does Christmas like Disney. (Except Jesus but that’s understandable.)

How to beat your brothers at Monopoly

As a child Monopoly is a scary, long game. There was no strategy. Just going round and round the board and hoping someone landed on Pall Mall. I don’t really remember anyone winning, possibly because I’d got so bored I’d left.

James asked about Monopoly a few years ago. He’d never really played it so I showed him how with a few games – just the two of us. No doubt I kept winning. So I explained the strategy. Collect the stations, trade for the cheapest propeties so you can build houses quicker. James won every game after that.

So Christmas 2011 rolled around. James wanted to try his newfound skills against a larger crowd. Luckily my brothers, Nick and Stuart, were always up for a game. I joined in and Nick’s girlfriend, Hollie, too. Nick and Stuart watched on as James and Hollie took over the board and mad eus bankrupt. Hollie upped her money with stations, James had collected cheap properties. (Something Nick and Stuart had also tried to achieve.) Ultimately James won. A new Monopoly era was born.

Between Christmas and New Year around 10 games were played. I had work but the boys invitied James over during the day to cram in more games. James won some and Stuart got a fair share, Nick was left trying to grasp one game. I even won in a game with James and Stuart. I was one up.

By January 3rd work was in full swing and the era of Monopoly had gone. But April brought Stuart’s birthday and suddenly an opporunity for the game arrived. The boys asked if I would invite James for a game (though at this point I had no invite myself…) and the game was booked for the evening of Stuart’s birthday. The game brought one new player in Stuart’s girlfriend Ellie. 6 players. We’d never done it before.

Of course the game was long. It didn’t help that everyone collected random properties and no full sets were on the table. Hollie took an early lead with her collection of three stations. Only James stood between her full set and he said he would never give it up. Stuart had some properties I needed, and so did Nick. It was stalemate. No one wanted to give up their properties as it meant someone else gaining a full set.

At this time I looked like a non player. Just the old boot going around the board.

Stuart made offers, this for that, but the situation confused me so much. I didn’t want to trade with him if it meant he had his full set. But I needed to trade so I could trade with Nick for a full set. The stalemate played out for many rounds before Stuart gave up and offered me everything I’d asked. He had one full set, but I had a large range of properties. Suddenly the game began. I got myself a couple sets with trades from Nick and James.

Quietly the money drew in. Houses were built. Stuart realised the error of his trade as he was soon made bankrupt by the empires rising by Nick, James and I. Stuart then gave his expertise to Ellie, and she unfortunatly lost out also.

Still, at this point, I didn’t think I had the properties to win. Hollie had a constant flow of money, made worse when James traded the last station for a property and station immunity. Shortly after Nick’s empire fell. Then Hollie’s money fell short as her £200 stations could not compete with the £600 – £800 – £1000 properties owned by James and I.

Then James made his error. Too many houses. He couldn’t afford the payment when landing on mine and his empire crumbled under the costs of selling the houses back cheaply. We didn’t let the game finish completely but it was clear I had pwned the lot.

So the lesson in Monopoly is be shrewd with your properties and only trade once your competitor is desperate. And don’t buy too many houses at once, be sure you can pay up for your stays. I won’t pretend to be the grandmaster – but being the winner of the biggest game we’ve played so far I am a competitor!