Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

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I’ve unfortunately been a bit too busy to take part in the weekly photo challenge the past few weeks, but I’ve managed to find a few spare minutes this weekend. I took this photo inย Reykjavik – I thought it was an interesting twist on speed dating!

Click here to see what everyone else has come up with for this week’s challenge.

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Street Art in Reykjavik

Just as when I travel anywhere, I took lots of photos of the street art I saw in Reykjavik. I was really surprised at how much there is there, and the range in quality. From professional pieces on the sides of restaurants and bars that have obviously been commissioned, to the scrawlings of a teenager with a spray can, I’ve never seen so much graffiti in such a condensed area. Here are some of my favourites:

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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.

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,ย 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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