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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How to spend 3 days in Paris

Earlier this month James and I had an amazing few days in France. We travelled on the Saturday, spent the day at Parc Asterix on the Sunday (blog post coming soon) and then three days sightseeing in Paris. Here is our experiences and my suggestions to those looking to do the same. Please keep in mind this is from September mid-week, and the experiences during a busier period may differ very much.

Day One: Buy three day tickets for a Parisian hop-on hop-off bus tour. We had a lot of talk about whether to buy these or use the metro but decided on the tour bus as we would see all the sights, rather than pop up out of a metro station. Plus the tour we chose included recorded commentary and included 4 different lines, and one bus stop was a fifteen minute walk from our hotel.

Head to the Arc de Triomphe and climb to the very top. It is awesome to see the sights from the top of this impressive building. In every direction there is a road heading toward you, and the traffic running around the roundabout beneath you is entertaining itself.

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Then head over to the Palais de Chaillot for an awesome photo op of the Eiffel Tower. From here we took the boat trip included with our Bus Tour tickets all the way to Notre Dame. (Do some extra research here, we were not impressed with the boat tour, it wasn’t open top and the plastic sheeting above you is covered in their adverts so spoilt the view.) Once at Notre Dame we took a bus tour to the catacombs. Next tip, check with each site that it is open on the day you decide to visit! (Catacombs is closed on Mondays, our entire visit was not pre-determined).

We decided to walk back the bus route to visit the Jardin Du Luxembourg where we sat and chilled for a while after all the walking of the day.

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Day Two: We took the bus to the Musee d’Orsay and spent all morning looking at the galleries. We saw Van Gogh exhibition and the impressionist exhibition. We were shocked to see people taking photos, and even selfies with the art. This was Tuesday morning, we got there just after opening time, and the queue was maybe 10-15 minutes. If you’re under 26 you get a reduced rate too, along with many other sights in Paris!

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We found a nice little place to pick up a panini and cake and sat by the Seine and ate our lunch. Unfortunately a gang of wasps joined us too. From here we took the bus to the Eiffel Tower and climbed up the first two tiers. You cannot walk to the top tier, but it is so high it would take so long! We enjoyed the sights of the first two tiers then joined the queue for the lift to the top. This took nearly 2 hours, be prepared to wait. Once we reached the 2nd tier was decided to join the queue straight away and enjoyed the view while we waited. It gets quite cramped when you get to the front, and there seemed to be 2 queues merging into one. The lift took about a minute and a half, then your have plenty of space to observe Paris beneath you. You can even see the actual top of the tower:

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Be prepared to queue to get down again too!

Day Three: We headed straight to the catacombs as I had read there were long queues to get in. By heading straight there, I still mean we got there a good half hour after it opened and the queue was already very long. They only allow a set number of people in, and as you spend roughly 45 minutes exploring it the queue will always take a long time. We queued for 2 hours, and this was from the 2nd entrance to the park. I don’t know why the area smelt so weird too. There is a McDonalds near by if you want to pick up a drink while you wait, plus it has a toilet (but not a very nice one).

Once inside the catacombs I would strongly suggest purchasing the audio guide. You can put two headphones in so you can share. Then head down the very long staircase into the tunnels.

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There was a lot to learn in the tombs and the guide was very informative. On exiting the catacombs turn right and right again to walk back to the entrance (in case you’re confused about where you’ve left!). It is about a 20 minute walk back, which we hadn’t factored into our busy day.

We took the bus back and spent the next hour taking the blue bus line around the contemporary side of Paris.

Finally we headed to the Louvre for the evening. On Wednesdays the museum stays open late, so this fits perfectly into our schedule. At this time of day the queue was almost non-existent. And how I wish we had bought the audio-guide, as to be expected with the world’s biggest museum there was so much to see! We spent a lot of time in the ancient Egyptian exhibition, plus the Greek, the sculpture and the paintings exhibitions. You can also purchase a 3ds guide to the Louvre, I really felt I missed out by not having a guide so do consider it!

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On reflection there isn’t too much I would do differently. Perhaps a little online research to purchase advanced tickets like we did for Rome. But this also kills some of the excitement of exploring a new city for the first time. I wouldn’t be so nervous about restaurants either, we had some amazing meals I didn’t even go into here. The audio guide at the Louvre would be on my list, I do find it odd you cannot get one once you’re inside.

In conclusion, this was an amazing trip, even better than I had expected. It restored my faith in city holidays and cannot wait for our next one.