New

Seeing as one of my personal goals is to visit at least one new place and try one new activity every year, I thought this week’s photo challenge would be a good opportunity to look back at the new places I’ve visited and the activities I’ve tried since starting this blog.

My trip to Pisa was as amazing cultural experience…

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Pottery is something that I’ve always wanted to try, and I seemed to always just miss out on the opportunity until I enrolled on the one day workshop at the Howardian Centre in Cardiff…

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Sleeping ‘rough’ in St Davids 2 car park in Cardiff as part of the Sleep Easy Challenge helped to raise awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness. We also raised enough money to keep an emergency room open at the YMCA hostel. Click the link to see an updated comment from Mandy Caddy about this year’s event and how you can get involved…

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Taking part in the Cardiff Photo Marathon saw 400 of us running around the city like mad people for 12 hours, desperately trying to find our next shot. I was exhausted by the time I handed in my memory card, but it was a great experience…DSC_0032

I volunteered at an eco-campsite in Anglesey, North Wales for a week. I later found out from my mum that this was possibly not my first time visiting Anglesey, although if I have been before it was when I was a baby and I don’t remember it…DSC_0085

I’ve visited London lots of times, but every time I go there I found another part of the huge city that I haven’t explored before…DSC_0202

I decided to visit Boulogne-sur-mer, France because it is accessible by bus from Cardiff. I love that I live in Wales, yet I can be in a foreign country with a totally different culture within a day…DSC_0108

The high ropes course at Go Ape is not something I would have signed up for before, but I agreed to try it as part of a friend’s hen weekend. Even though I’m petrified of heights, I conquered my fear and completed the whole course…PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Completing my first 5k was a reminder to myself of what I can achieve…IMG_0289

There are some new activities that I’m not very good at, and some that I just plain suck at. Archery is one of those activities…DSC_0325

New places that involve snow I can ski on are always my favourite. In January 2014 I went to Pila, Italy (not to be confused with Pisa, see above) with my parents and their friend…

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My initial reason for visiting Iceland was to see the Northern Lights, but I discovered so much more whilst I was there. I can’t wait to go back some day and explore more of the island…DSC_0236

I love being an aunty, and getting to try new activities with my nephew, nieces and godchildren make them even more special. I hadn’t planned to go mountain carting, my niece and nephew chose the activity and I’m so glad they did…DSC_0680

Learning to scythe was also a skill I never thought I’d acquire, until my volunteer work at the community garden led me to Phil the scythe master…DSC_0925This post is part of the Photo Challenge ‘New’. Click here to see more entries and a photo of a really cute baby.

Travelling Plant-based in Iceland

When travelling anywhere, my tip to sticking to your plant-based diet is BE PREPARED. If I know I’m going to be in transit, I always pack enough snacks to see me through until I’m confident I’ll find another meal.

DSC_0136Although I try not to eat processed food, I do make an exception when making travel meals due to convenience. For my Iceland trip I made some vegan cheese sandwiches (on gluten-free bread) along with some of my recently invented breakfast wraps (spinach and mushroom pudla, vegan soysage, vegan cheese and organic ketchup all bundled up in a gluten-free wrap). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the wraps that I usually buy, so this batch didn’t look so neat and tidy and were actually held together with two layers of clingfilm, but they’re still a great way to keep my calories up while I’m on the move. DSC_0137Chuck in some fresh fruit, cashew nuts, cereal bars and of course my ever present water bottle and I’m good to go.

As a plant-based traveller, I quite often have to make compromises. Eating the same meal five days in a row isn’t uncommon, and some of the plates I’ve been presented with can only loosely be described as a meal. In Reykjavik, I’m happy to say, I didn’t encounter any of these problems. There are three health food shops to choose from, all with a huge DSC_0147array of products, and one was only less than a minute walk from my hostel. Glo and Graenn Kostur are both restaurants that specialise in vegetarian and vegan food, and I didn’t have any problems getting soya milk in coffee shops.

All in all, Reykjavik has a culture where vegetarianism is accepted. Don’t get me wrong, alongside the vegetarian restaurants you’ll also find eateries serving puffin, whale and shark meat. But, for an island where they can only farm sheep, cows and horses, they more than cater for us plant-eaters.

Check out Happy Cow for a list of vegetarian and vegan-friendly stores and restaurants in Reykjavik, as well as lots of other places in the world.

 

Loft Hostel, Reykjavik: Comfort on a budget

There are a few things I look for in travel accommodation. I like to stay in places that are interesting and not too far out of the action. Due to my plant-based diet, self-catering facilities are important to me, especially when there aren’t many vegetarian restaurants in the area. Also, when I’m travelling alone, I like to stay in hostels as it’s cheaper, and I have a chance to talk to people because I’m not on my own all the time.

Loft Hostel in Reykjavik ticked all of these boxes and more. Located on the liveliest street in the old town, it’s a great place to base yourself for your stay. Reception is on the top floor, right next to the trendy Loft Bar with a terrace that has great views over the city. Behind the bar is a very clean, well-equipped guest kitchen.

The rooms at Loft are clean, spacious and well thought-out, with individual lockers under the beds and nice little touches like handwash in the bathrooms. Oh, and they do have private rooms if you’d prefer.

Chilling Out, Icelandic Style

The Icelandic people are laidback. Very laidback. It makes for a great atmosphere to hang out in, but it can also be frustrating at times. They are not very forthcoming with information, and trying to get answers can be like trying to get blood out of a stone. Booking excursions was a bit of an effort, all they wanted to know was a rough number of how many people wanted to go about an hour before the bus departed. In most countries, they would have jumped on the sale straight away and had me signed up for one, if not two, different excursions every day of my stay.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe laidback approach of the Icelandic also affects their organisational skills. One of the excursions I really wanted to do, and was eventually able to book, is the Blue Lagoon. The two main bus companies on the island have regular transfers to and from the Lagoon, and the receptionist at my hostel told me to inform the bus driver which transfer I wanted to return on. However, when I asked the driver he said ‘You don’t have to book, just turn up. The buses are 2pm, 4pm and 6pm’. Having worked in the travel industry, this seemed like a crazy way to do business to me. What if everyone decided to return on the same bus? They had no way of knowing how many people were going to turn up. Lo and behold, at 4pm, the owner of the company arrived driving a MINIBUS, and it was clear that we weren’t all going to fit on. As luck would have it, the other bus company had one spare seat, which they gave to me, and our driver paid their driver 1000 kroner cash to take me back to Reykjavik. If the same thing were to happen where I used to work in Greece or Austria, the tour operator would be horrified at the possibility of having to leave someone behind. But hey, this is Iceland, and that’s how things are done here. It’s a bit disorganised, but a solution always seems to present itself.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAfter spending four hours in the Lagoon, I was way too relaxed to argue anyway. The Blue Lagoon is by far the most touristy place I encountered whilst in Iceland. Three or four coaches arrived at the same time, and I had to join a huge queue at the entrance. ‘Oh great’, I thought, ‘it’s going to be packed inside’. It was also the only place that I saw prices quoted in euros. I’m not quite sure why they do that, though, as when I went to pay the lady she charged me in kroner anyway. The Lagoon is the most expensive attraction in this part of the island, but it is definitely worth treating yourself. My worries about it being too busy soon faded, the Lagoon is so big that there is room for everyone.

This may make me sound stupid, but I didn’t realise that the Lagoon is actually blue. You can’t see through the water at all, which didn’t do anything to help my phobia of not being able to see what I’m standing on. I tried to swim as much as I could, but the swimming costume I rented was a bit too big and I couldn’t be bothered to go back to reception to swap it, so I was also trying to hold that up at the same time. To be fair to the lady on reception, it’s probably really hard to guess someones dress size when they’re wearing four layers, a hat, gloves and snood.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAIn contrast to the freezing temperatures outside, the Lagoon is really warm. There is no control over the temperature as the water comes from the geothermal springs and the power plant next door, so jets of almost unbearably hot water will suddenly cross your path and wake you up a bit. It’s also the only time I’ve ever seen a lifeguard wearing padded trousers, a padded high-visibility jacket, work boots, thermal gloves, a scarf and a hat. I did hear one lady question what use he would actually be if someone got into trouble in the water.

Down one side of the Lagoon there is silica that you can put on your skin to use as a face mask, or if you really want to spoil yourself you can book a treatment in the spa pool. Right in the middle of the Lagoon is a bar that sells refreshingly cold drinks, and everything is paid for with electronic armbands to make it super easy. In stark contrast to everywhere else I went in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is actually really well organised. It had the feel of being in a really nice, private health club, with staff on hand to help you at all times and luxurious little touches like mineral spa shower gel and conditioner in the showers and fluffy white towels and dressing gowns.

Exploring Iceland

My main puropose when visiting Iceland was to see the Northern Lights. Although I missed the best ones during my time there, I did at least get to see the Lights so I came away happy. Unfortunately my photography skills do not stretch far enough to be able to show you shots of the Aurora Borealis, and to be honest you’d be better looking at a postcard.

I did, however, take lots of photos of the other great attractions I saw in Iceland.

Iceland is definitely going back on my travel bucket list so that I can return in the summer and explore the rest of the island. I completely blown away by how radically different all the different parts of the island look.

The transfer from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik is across a barren land of lava rock.

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Further south, the land is a lot greener and it’s easy to see why the first viking settler chose this area to farm in.

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It’s possible to drive over the line between the European and American tectonic plates (Reykjavic is on the American side), and you notice a visible difference in vegetation between the two. The European side is mainly made up of bare rock with a bit of moss growing on it, whereas the American plate is home to a lot more vegetation. There is only one tree native to Iceland, but the Norwegians brought lots of firs and spruces over with them.

Further inland, things get even colder as you get closer to the glaciers, mountains and frozen waterfalls. I apologise if this shot is a bit blurry, but it was so windy on the viewpoint for the waterfall that I was using all my strength just to stand still.

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You could spend days just marvelling at the Icelandic landscape, but I would recommend dragging yourself away to visit some of the tourist attractions (although I use the term tourist loosely here as the Icelanders don’t seem to have caught on to the profit potential of tourism yet). My favourite is the geysir park. Entry is free, and even though the water is between 80-100 degrees celcius, the typical carefree Icelandic attitude is demonstrated with a thin piece of string stopping you from getting too close to the geysirs.

Only one of the geysirs is active at the moment, but when it goes it certainly makes up for the lack of drama in the others. You feel a bit silly standing with your camera in front of your face, in the howling wind, waiting for that perfect shot of the boiling water erupting, but it’s definitely worth it.

Going…

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going…

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…everyone ready for their steam facial?

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Reykjavik

I told you all that I was going to visit a great new place this year, and I wasn’t lying. Last week I spent four amazing, and very cold, days in the beautiful country of Iceland.

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The island, although very big, is only home to about 300,000 people, and most of them live in the capital city Reykjavik. During the summer, tourists triple the population, but it’s quite a bit quieter in the winter.

Before visiting Reykjavik, the only thing I’d really heard about the place is that it has happening nightlife. Thankfully, I’ve since discovered that there is a lot more to the city.

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The old town is the most traditional area, with narrow streets and cute little buildings. Unlike any city here in the UK, as soon as a pedestrian even looks like they are contemplating crossing the road, all the traffic stops for them.

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Fitting snugly in between the old town and the end of the domestic airport’s runway (which is so close to the city that it’s raised a lot of arguments about whether it should be moved), the centrepiece of Reykjavik is the lake. The water was almost completely frozen over whilst I was there, although it did start to defrost slightly during the last couple of days of my stay. If you look closely at the above photo, you can see the ducks swimming in the foreground and people walking across the same body of water in the background.

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And of course I couldn’t resist giving it a go and heading out onto the ice.

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