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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Our First Center Parcs Adventure

I was going to call this ‘Our Center Parcs Adventure’ but as we already envision a sequel to this Winter Wonderland trip I’d better make this post title less generic to distinguish against next year’s.

This post is also be an ambitious one as I try to capture our entire trip in one hit. I started this post on the Friday evening of our return so that all the memories were fresh. However I decided as I wrote to go into more detail on some activities in separate follow up posts, but still ambitious in my eyes!

And so I start the tale with our arrival. We are a mere 1 and a half hours from Elveden so arrived around 11am on Monday morning. The postcode Center Parcs gave for Satnav users sent us straight past the gates. “Look, it says Center Parcs there,” a welcoming sign with the well known logo covered in fake snow. James flies past listening to sally Satnav, “It says it is a little further up, it should be just….here…ah.” We circle around and second time lucky make it into the gates.

We were ready with our written up registration form, I was sure I’d done this online but didn’t want to be caught out. Along the motorway as I filled this in I realised I had no idea of James’ car’s registration number and neither did James. So as we queued in our car at the arrival lodge I jumper out to take note. With the form in hand we pulled up to the happiest employee on Earth to find we had done it all online. Being in the hotel we were advised to park up close to the bottom on the car park and it would only be a short walk.

Our first morning consisted of table tennis, our home made cheese sandwiches, a debate over paintball and the eventual booking of it, and a wander around the village. I came across this yellow tree which mesmerised me, it stood out amongst all the green and brown, James thought I was crazy but I needed a picture of it.

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At 2.40pm we thought we’d chance by the hotel to see if our room was ready. Lucky for us it was and after only a morning walking around in the fresh, forest air we were knackered!

We had an early dinner at Huck’s, an all American burger bar. Early dinner means surrounded by children, and being school term time the majority of kids were toddlers. We still managed to enjoy our meal though, most of it, I loved the Portobello Mushroom Sandwich but James was disappointed with the Classic Burger. I also tried a great Jam based cocktail. Being referred to as a Jam Jar cocktail I was disappointed to see it come up in a regular tumbler but could taste the strawberry jam all the same.

By night you get to experience the beautiful Christmas lights. These twinkle lights were scattered around the park with many small displays in hotspot location like this one outside Starbucks;

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“Which Starbucks?” You wouldn’t sound stupid to ask. There is one in the sports plaza, one by the swimming pool but this one is by the lake. If we missed any Starbucks please let us know!

Day two began our pre planned activities. We had Field Archery booked for 2.30pm so started the day at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. This amazing indoor water park consists of a wave pool, three varied water slides, hot whirlpools, a cold plunge pool, water rapids and a full theme park style water ride with vertical drop and high speed. The water ride is the same as what you would get in Florida but my favourite was the rapids. You had to brave the outdoors to get to them and if a bunch of people were all at it at the same time it could get ugly but aside from that this super fast super bumpy experience was so much fun.

With damp hair and cold skin we had a wander around the site after swimming and took on my biggest challenge of the week – a hot drink! I am not a hot drink drinker. “Even hot chocolate?” I hear my colleagues ask each time a new person becomes aware of this shocking revelation. Well, this Tuesday I attempted a hot chocolate. James was more excited than I was. It took close to an hour for me to drink it. It was too hot at first but the cream on top did help lure me into it.

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For lunch we headed back to the hotel room and devoured our sandwiches before heading out again for Field Archery. This version of Archery uses 3d targets that are shaped like animals which vary in size and distance. I think I’ll go into the activities in more detail in individual posts but I’ll say here that Field Archery was fantastic even for complete beginners like myself. In our group of 7 I scored the lowest but it didn’t matter I just wanted to shoot the arrows. I got one target in the kill zone too so I was happy with that one!

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For dinner we had the Indian Restaurant Ranjinda Pradesh. This was probably the least welcoming of the restaurants and was aimed more at the adults. I felt out of place in my hoodie with my hair in a scruffy ponytail but being at Center Parcs how could you look any different? (Except by using the Aqua Sana which I’m sure you can guess isn’t a place you’ll be finding me!) We had our standard Indian order, Korma for me and Tikka for James with rice and naan, after poppadums and a platter of starters. This happened to be a set menu for £20.95 per person including a drink- a great deal – but as we hadn’t specified that we had ordered these same items under the offer we were charged £10 extra. This was corrected but we were made to feel we had mislead them when all we had done was order the food on the offer that other people would receive at the cheaper rate. Anyway…

Day Three we had a lazy morning getting to the Segways for 11am. I was slightly nervous of this as I had a bad experience with Quad Bikes as a child. Not that I was hurt or anything, I was just so rubbish that the instructor had to help me around and I was so embarrassed. James reminded me I now drive a car. So off to the Segways we go! These were very easy to master and very strange to ride. It is almost natural in a way that it just took the slightest lean forward and backward to control them. We were kitted out in very fetching helmets, elbow pads, knee pads and orange high visibility jackets before parading around the forest to the confusion of many toddlers. The max speed was 8mph so we couldn’t really race but I felt adequate that I could keep up with the instructor. Going up and down slopes was the biggest challenge on these monsters and this was mastered by the end of the session.

We had badminton in the afternoon. One thing we learnt, which we felt we already knew but didn’t want to risk, was that you do not need to book badminton or table tennis in advance. Just turn up. The bookings people were fine with us adjusting the time of our session and we had a sweaty 45 minutes playing badminton. By playing badminton I mean myself whopping James’ backside at badminton. I used to play a lot with my friends so this is probably one of my best sports. It was only fair I beat James as he is a pro when it comes to table tennis. Notice I avoided table tennis altogether on this blog so far?

Before dinner we headed down to the firework display by the lake. It was a great show using some lovely Christmassy music. I’ll admit fireworks aren’t really my thing but I’ve seen a lot in the last few years and this was a good show.

We couldn’t get a seat in Bella Italia after that so we headed next door to Café Rouge. This is a restaurant I wouldn’t usually go for but was pleasantly surprised with my garlic and thyme chicken (when I wasn’t throwing all my chips over the table, of course). Over dinner we discussed our plans for the next day and got into the Center Parcs spirit – we had put together an itinerary.

10:30am – Paintball. This was a lot more fun than I expected. Though my aim was rubbish I wasn’t afraid by the end to go charging into the middle of the battlefield, full post coming soon.

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1:00pm Table Tennis. This hour session really showed James’ skills. We had a few games, all won by my pro boyfriend, but we were just having a laugh with it by the end.

2:30pm Bauble Painting. This was something we had read about before arriving but was unsure how it would work and if it would be a room full of babies. The pottery painting studio is located within the hotel so we passed by on several occasions and found a range of people taking part. While there were plenty of children colouring in animal models there was also mothers and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends and parties of  8 plus adults all working away on designing and painting so we decided that this would be a great way to add to our bauble collection. You pay a standard fee of £5 for use of paints and then choose what you want to paint for additional cost. My bauble was based on the forest and I turned the yellow tree from earlier this week into a Christmas Tree. James went for designs of holly, a cracker and a tree with a very cute (I mean manly) Father Christmas and reindeer flying in the distance.

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4:00pm Swimming and Water Slides. Another dose of indoor watery fun.

6:00pm Time for a drink at the bar.

7:00pm Bella Italia. After being turned away the night before we got our table booked and had the best meal of the week. Antipasti to start, a Calzone each and a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream on top to finish. Yummy Yum.

Which leads onto Friday, and the finale of our Winter Wonderland adventure. We started the day with another dip into the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. We took several turns on the ride in the hope of a good photo (and ending the ride with James facing forwards) but at a cost of £8 we were against buying the souvenir.

For lunch we had Starbucks, a cold drink for me and we both had a Panini and cake. This was followed by collecting our finished Baubles and a final wander around the village. We took the opportunity to go camera happy and here are a few of the sights we saw.

The reindeer, while a beautiful animal we weren’t too impressed with the girl who was due to give a talk about the creature. “We normally do a talk at 2pm but… well…its just you two…so… but if you have any specific questions I can answer them…” Not exactly as advertised.

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There were ducks. Our neighbours would feed them their leftover bread every morning so we would watch as an army of ducks would waddle past. At the duck pond the ducks are very happy to see humans despite us not having any bread ourselves. I was a bit freaked at them charging at us, but to prove I was there here is a duck:

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We also saw lots of squirrels. On the last day we tried to get lots of photos but this required being quiet and moving slowly. We caught a couple of nice close ups. Next year we will have a competition to see who can take the most squirrel photos!

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There was also a lot of beautiful winter decorations. My favourite photo, amongst the pretty lights and festive greenery, was the Nativity with the Water Ride in the background. The true meaning of Christmas.

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And it wouldn’t be a British holiday with a trip to a cold, miserable beach. While it was deserted by the humans it was nice to see the ducks enjoying the sand between their webbed feet.

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We left the village at 2:30pm and while we were sad to leave we felt content with our adventure. Especially as we spent the journey home planning our return visit. Paintball and Archery are a must, more table tennis and badminton sessions, and a full week planned itinerary!

The Grand Reef – Discovery Cove – Orlando, Florida

There are lots of experinces in Discovery Cove that I cannot put them all together in one post. It wouldn’t do them justice. I wanted to write about the grand reef first because I just came across the pictures of our underwater adventure.

I have never been snorkeling before. I thought it would be simple but the strange feeling of breathing with your head underwater stunts your experince to begin with. James had done it before so he was off. I was still getting used to putting my face under. He was trying to help me, but at the same time you have giant rays gliding beneath you. Once you lift your legs up and you see a giant ray under you it becomes hard to keep yourself afloat.

It is also difficult because of the volume of people around you, doing the same thing. We probably did the same as most and came here once our breakfast went down so the area was very busy. So there are people and fish to avoid. While I was getting used to the basics James was off with his flash new underwater camera filming his experince. I managed to get underwater to wave for him though;

Unfortunartly the girl waving in his first film was not me. It was a very strange sensation when I saw the film because I saw this moment from the sidelines as well. I was standing up (water at my waist) watching James filming as he swam across the large coral reef. I saw him with his face underwater as he bumped into a girl. A girl who was about my age with brunette hair, and of course a snorkeling mask, so she did look like me. I remember she had pigtails though. And I saw this moment where they bumped together. James waved. She waved back. Then he swam forward and stood up and showed me the footage. I then told him that girl wasn’t me. Very funny though.

He did get me in one film though. I know this footage is me because of my awful doggy paddle as I realise I have swum over to the deep end and need to get out.

I wish I was the pigtail girl.

Anyway, I’m sure you can see from the images how breathtaking of an experince this is. Those rays really are huge monsters, and the colours are much more vibrant in person. I wish I could upload the films but they seem to be the wrong format.

This is an expensive day out though. It is an all-inclusive day (bar dinner) including the rental of wetsuits and snorkel masks and a free snorkel. Towels are on-demand and the amount of people who enter each day is restrickted so you know it won’t be crammed with people. (Just don’t go to the grand reef first thing).

I’ll write about the other Discover Cove experinces soon. There dolphins and lazy rivers to come.

Shanklin Chine – Isle of Wight

For me this was a nostalgia trip, for James curiousity.

When we first arrived on the Isle we were too early to check into our chalet so we drove to Sandown. We overshot Sandown and parked up in Shanklin. We walked the length of the promenade and then arrived at the entrance of Shanklin Chine. It was closed for the season, but luckily it was opening 1st April which was the Sunday of our weekend!

Sunday morning we parked up in the same place in Shanklin and walked down to the chine. As we walked in we were given a service sheet. Looking confused we walked on and were greeted by a woman elaboratly dressed – possibly the Mayor, and asked if we were part of the committee! Me in a hoodie and James with his jeans and trainers. No, we weren’t part of the committee. There was a memeorial service taking place in the chine and we were asked to watch from the hill behind us where we saw a crowd of people lined up. Awkward! We were just there to see the chine.

We found a cafe round the corner to have breakfast and decide what to do next. The cafe owner thought the service would be a couple hours so we decided to try back tomorrow.

On the Monday we made our way to the chine and actually got in! I’d forgotten how large it was. There was a jubilee exhibition showing artists interpretation of the Chine over the years, including work by Turner. The chine is a really inspirational place, and that’s coming from a couple who usually spend our time on rollarcoasters.

We walked through the chine to the top where the tall waterfall starts.

It is a lovely walk but we were a little rushed because of the time we put on the car. We wanted to stop off for a cream tea in their cafe as well. It’s great for kids too. They would love looking at the stocks and the birdwatch hut has lots of information about wildlife creatures. I wish we had put more time on the car so we could’ve experinced it longer.