A Weekend in Krakow

A Weekend in Krakow

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Krakow is really a hidden treasure only just being discovered by tourists. Despite being only 90mins from Auschwitz, it  has only recently become a must on the European travellers path.

We came to Krakov in May which can be a beautiful month to visit. Everything is green, there are lovely flowers out everywhere, but it can rain a little. The old town is very small and easy to walk around, with plenty of cheap eats, and well as good quality restaurant meals.

Food in Krakow

We ate two very different meals in Krakow. Our first night I had heard about an amazing restaurant that had been open in Krakow since 1364! As we walked in the waiter was slicing the neck of a champagne bottle with a sword! Restaurant Wierzynek is set not far from the main square. It features centuries old wooden beams, painted in old Slavic decorations. The menu is seasonal, with a quality that would match the poshest in London or Paris. I think we paid around £80 for 3 course and a bottle of wine. Really worth it for the experience! (Pics to the left)

Our second evening we found Pod Wawelem is a typical Polish restaurant come pub. If you don’t book you have to wait in a line, and the line is very long. Given the size of the dining area and the length of the line gives you and indication of how popular, but really great it is! The beer is plentiful and the plates full of food are more than generous. AND it is super super cheap!

Krakow Old Town

Krakow has some very distinctive architecture. Similar to many of the Baltic countries, the buildings are plane and ‘blockie’, but the churches, castle and walls of the city are unique. We really loved the Cathedral at the top of the hill. As you can see above it looks like a mish-mash of buildings added onto each other. There is quite a catholic influence in the churches, with some renaissance facades. The main church in the town centre of Krakow is very iconic, with its tall thin towers. There is a trumpeter that still plays some weekend to mark the time. Getting around the old town is relatively easy. There are lots of carriages to take if you get tired, but the beautiful cobble streets and the parks surrounding are so delightful to walk through.

Activities in Krakow

There are two main activities on offer in Krakow; They are the Wieliczka Salt Mines, and Auschwitz. We chose to pre-book our tickets to both of these through Viator ahead of time, allowing us to be picked up from our hotel and taken in small minibuses to the locations both about an hour away.

The Wieliczka Salt Mines are an amazing look into the older history of Krakow, and more currently workers still using the mines for concerts and art sculptures. The most amazing aspect is the chapel of St Kinga, in the heart of the mine. It is over 100m under the ground and the workers had to remove all the salt rock that filled the space. It was consecrated by Pope John Paul II, and a statue of him made from salt rock also stands in the chapel.

Auschwitz is not everyone’s cup of tea, but like us, many just want to see it and experience what the hell went on in this dreadful place. It gave us a little perspective; reminding us of how a peaceful field can hold such a dreadful past. There is not much left of Auschwitz 2, with only mangled concrete where the two furnaces were. But i think that is enough to chill your bones and gain an insight into the suffering of the Polish Prisoners and the horror the European Jews during WWII.

I’m sorry to end on a slightly depressing note, but not all travelling is beaches and city breaks. History is not all royalty and castles. Sometimes it is about learning about what we never want to happen agian.

 

 

 

 

Sintra and the Sea

Sintra | Castles and Palaces

Sintra is a maze of Moorish, Ibirical and Gothic architecture.

We stayed with friends while we were in Lisbon, and knowing nothing much of Lisbon and the surrounding area we would have missed this amazing town completely!

However, it is easy to get from – a train ride north of Lisbon.

The town of Sintra it’s self is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors are beyond this world. No other place has hilltop castles to match these!

We visited the Quinta da Regaleira estate, on the outskirts of the town. The estate was built by an eccentric nobleman in the late 1800’s. The gardens surrounding the Gothic house are the main attraction, with secret tunnels behind waterfalls and the famous well, pictured below.

 

The Sea | Cascais, Cabo da Roca, Praia da Torre.

 

Another advantage to driving in Lisbon is the ability to get to such places on the coast.

Cascais is a beautiful area at the mouth of the Tagus River, and features some amazing beaches. Here, at Praia da Torre, you can see the old navy fort used for protecting the port of Estril.

Cabo da Roca is the most westerly point of mainland europe. It was amazing to see how the weather changes with location. We drove down the mountain out of Sintra and as we reached this part of the coast there was a strong wind and mist over the sea. The landscape was rough and the water was wild. Driving back around the coast to Cascais, the weather turned back to sun and a mild breeze!

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Lisbon

Lisbon

01132e90203a643fc3f1e8636289d2ca9f0a3a4059 The unique charm that Lisbon holds is not to be underestimated. Colour and vitality infused with a rich history  cover the city’s old town, be it the beautifully decorated wall tiles, or the terracotta roofs giving the vista a higgledy piggledy look.

 

Lisbon is built on many hills on the side of the Tagus river. Crossing from one side to the other is something very confusing. Arriving at the impressive bridge you suddenly start to question your location as the Golden Gate Bridge rises before you. And to make it worse as you look across the river to your destination you find Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer holding His hands out in welcome!

 

Lisbon Praca do Comercio

 

Down at the river’s edge is Plaça do Comercio – the trading hub of Old Lisboa. This is the place where the grand voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, to the new world took place. The once great Portuguese Explorers are now memorialised by two large pillars in the water. I think they actually discovered the whole world!!

FOOD!

Is sensational and so so cheap in Lisbon. The fish markets are easily accessible to the public. Cafes and restaurants are full of fresh produce and speciality dishes. We took a photo (above) of the Sunday meat feast, full of pork done three ways, potato, rice, sausage and chops, just to prove how much there was served to us! We had to take it home and I forced myself to eat the rest later, even though i was ready to burst! All of that was €8! This was at Principe do Calhariz – a long, narrow historic grill restaurant with veal & cod as well as a traditional Portuguese menu.

Now – are you a cheese lover? Look out for the cheese pictured above – it is a sheep’s cheese from the north of Portugal. It stinks the house out but oh so worth it! At room temperature it is liquid, surrounded by the rind. It costs around €7 for the size above.

Also above is the famous Bacalhau – salted and dried cod. When it is cooked it resembles rice, with a fluffy texture. It is often mixed like you would mix various ingredients into rice. And We couldn’t leave Lisbon without trying Polvo in any form! My favourite was the Octpus Salad! The Lisboa Gran Reserva was and still is without a doubt a winner. Drink lots of it – it makes Portugal even better (if that’s possible)!

The Streets | São Jorge Castle

When I moved to the UK imagined castles to be long walls with curtain walls. They do – but just aren’t comparable to the Moorish castles of Iberia. São Jorge Castle stands proudly at the top of the tallest hill in Lisbon. There isn’t much inside, but it is still mainly intact, and the views over the city are beautiful. You can get a idea of what the early times were like, with the Moorish occupation, as well as a history lesson on the first King of Portugal, who defeated the Moors.

Walking back down the hill into the city we passed the old cathedral, with cracks from the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Most of the buildings in Lisbon are from post this year, as it was devastating to the local infrastructure. Despite this there are little pockets of pre-earthquake shopfronts, some covered in tiles to hide repairs.

The number 28 Tram is an institution – although it is usually packed with tourists. There are plenty of other trams to get on, and given some of the hills to climb – it’s probably preferable to a vertical hike!!!

Lisbon is really just beautiful!

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Athens in a Weekend

Athens | Acropolis NOW!

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I love a bit of history, and due to my Australian education I was well versed in the structure and layout of ancient cities. However, after a few hours in Athens, I suddenly realise why the English and American curriculum focus mainly on the classics. Society and buildings does not prepare you for the commentary and stories so closely link with Athens.
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This is another city where we tried out the Segway Tour. This tour us from The Acropolis Museum to the streets of Plaka.

From Mars Hill we could see far stretching views of the Acropolis.

Our guide was invaluable for his knowledge of the ancient Greet mythology and history. This olive tree, on the top of the acropolis was the god Athena’s gift to Athens in Zeus’s challenge for possession of Athens. Behind is the Temple of Poseidon, where hole in the portico marks where Poseidon struck the ground with his three pronged trident to create a spring well. The people chose the olive tree for it’s oil and fruit, thus Athens’ name was founded.

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The gravity of the buildings built during both the Greek and Roman times it truly breathtaking. In a way it surpasses the towering sky scrapers of modern day. Knowing that hands built such structures, with simple tools and mathematics.

There is a strange feeling that you get when you know you are standing on ground that has felt the weight of 1000’s of feet over 1000’s of years. The first athletes to create the ancient Olympics, the shoes of the runners paving the way for the modern Olympics.

There are dips in the steps in the stands, wear on the seats. How long does it take to wear a stone seat?

Food in Athens

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At night there are a myriad of Taverna’s to try the nectar of the gods. If you fancy, you can even attend a Greek cooking class in a traditional Taverna. Our host taught us to make traditional pasty pies, with meat and cheese; Dolmades with rice and spices; Greek salad washed down with our new favourite digestive Rakimelon. We slow roasted a shoulder of lamb in herbs, garlic and white wine until it fell of the bone.

All with lashings of Greek wine, which, coincidently I am sipping, now, as I write.

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We stayed at the Plaka Hotel, with gorgeous views of the acropolis and surrounds. Close by we found a famous bar called Brettos. They barrel their own brandy, port, wine and Raki, as well as holding a vast supply of Greek and international wines. We were hosted by the owner who brought us a glass of wine each from out own individual preferences. Each wine was exactly as we described we liked. He followed us up with some of our favourite Rakimelon, warmed this time, tasting like Christmas and the orient; a mark of the multiple Turkish invasions.

Athens is a place where you can eat cheaply. It is cheap in general. A ticket to the Acropolis will also get you into the Agora including the Temple of Hephaestus, the cemetery (Kerameikos), the temple of Zeus and the theatre of Dionysus surrounding the Acropolis.

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The Acropolis Museum is spectacular and very modern. Built around the friezes that once circled the Pantheon. Such a good display of antiquities, I can understand the Greek plee for the Elgin Marbles.

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Port Isaac, Cornwall

Cornwall

Port Isaac aka ‘Port Wenn’

 

RnSCornwallSean and I love the TV show ‘Doc Martin‘. The ideal of the quaint Cornish fishing village has always left us wanting to visit such a romantic place.

We visited Port Isaac at New Years 14/15. Sean and I took turns driving from London on the long journey through the Cotswolds and the western moors.

The beautiful Cornish country side is littered with old tin mines, Georgian buildings and narrow hedged lanes. The drive down to the village of Port Isaac is a tight and windy one. The buildings in the town almost touch each side mirror on the car, and the right angles of the house corners are a challenge to navigate!01ce45a6b6b2d846c0fa32ecc8cc4fedba32876dae

We stayed in the Slipway Hotel, with wonderful views over the harbour. The New Year’s
meal was served in their restaurant in the
second level of the Georgian building. There is a great bar at the front of the hotel, serving local beers.

The coastal walks along the cliff edges are breathtaking. We saw dolphins and seals, prolific bird life, with colonies of shags on the rocky cliffs. The geological striations of slate, with quartz arteries is amazing to see. Entire rock faces are built up upon layers and layers of thin roof tiles!P1000813

Arthurian is the religion of Cornwall, and a visit to Tintagel Castle is the pilgrimage. The skeleton of old walls lines the edge of the island, jutting out of the coast. A single suspension bridge links the castle to the main land. You can imagine what it was like returning home from a long journey to the giant gates, embrace of the walls and freshness of the sea.

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Merlin‘s Cave is a sheds a mystical light from one end to the other. The sea beats into the shore and echoes through the wide space of the cavern. As your eyes adjust to the darkness you can notice small ledges and outcrops where you can imagine an elderly wizard reading books and talking to creatures of the night.

Seduced by the rugged romance of the northern Cornish coast, I let my mind go free. The sea air filled my lungs and the cold wind whistled in my ears. Poldark was shirtless in the fields, while Louisa gazed lovingly from the School, over the bay at Doc Martin.

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Vienna Chriskindlmakt

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Vienna Christmas Markets

Coming for Australia, where Christmas involves long summer days, beer and BBQ’s, Christmas in Europe is something magical!

Having spoken to many of my English colleagues, not many of them have experienced a Germanic Christmas holiday. Why? When they smell and look like Christmas should be!!!

0184e9ceb1e22b56ac4b0cfa2920ac486e198044e0As you walk through the grounds of the Rathaus of Vienna you are first overwhelmed by the many lights decorating the huge trees. Candy canes, cupcakes and Father Christmas’s hand brightly from the branches.

Then the smell hits you! Cinnamon, nutmeg, orange and bratwurst spike each nose nerve all at once, leaving your mouth watering and your eyes bulging!

‘Where is the food?’

Suddenly your feet are seeking out all the delicacies your nose is lapping up!

01bca5b3139f8d690d1efa7828bed7db3f1dfe600cThe best thing (in my opinion) is the endless selection of mulled drinks.

Warm fruit wines, mulled cider, Christmas Punch, mulled Bailey’s, mulled Aperol. I can keep going but am considering pouring another glass of wine as I write and maybe that wouldn’t be good?!

And the best thing about the mulled drinks? CUPS, yes, every different market you go to you get a different cup!!! I have lots! I had lots of drinks! 014f4e825257cd595921f303df1d02f5557c1eef37

Here is exhibit a – Me, outside the Vienna Dom, with a different cup. This was mulled wine. It’s in the shape of a boot!

So, your thinking that all we did was eat and drink. Yes, this is possibly mainly true, but we did see some of the sites.

When I was a child I was into horses. When the Spanish Riding School of Vienna visited Hobart I was there with bells on. So, we went to see it for real. It was all I could remember from my childhood and more. Very worth a visit to get into the history of the great AustroHungarian Empire.

We also stumbled on the Schmetterlinghaus. We went here mainly because the name is awesome, don’t you think! I learnt German at school and one of the only words that has stayed with me is Schmetterling. What is a Schmetterling? Look it up and find out!

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If you are a fan of last minute shopping – This is the place for you. Ever wondered what you should get people for Christmas when you have no idea what to get them? Get them a beautiful Christmas gift from the markets. There are gifts from €5 to €5K.

I got a few presents for people, however due to my love of mulled drinks they might have been left in the hotel room.

We stayed in a Benedictine Monastery. WHAT? Should I have lead with that?

Benediktushaus was comfortable, with modern rooms and a standard continental breakfast. We didn’t realise it was an active monastery until we saw the nun cleaning and the friar manning reception when we left. Honestly – really good accommodation and very central.

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Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Wanna get a creepy feeling like you are stuck in a time warp? Berlin is a bit trippy! It’s a place where you can stand in the footsteps of recent history; See the scars of war pot-marked in the marble. If only the buildings could talk! But, as the Siege of Berlin was’t a terribly long time ago, and the Berlin Wall torn down just 30 years past, it is scary to think that this is all still within a lifetime.

01661ea43755f4a736e8265f2053cc1d76208f1481Sean and I started our time in Berlin with  a Segway tour. We had never been on one before, only seen tourists whiz by.

This was an amazing way to see the sights of Berlin! I highly recommend it!

Tye tour took us from Alexanderplatz to the Brandenburg Gate via the university (burning of the books), concert halls, Checkpoint Charlie, SS Headquaters, Hitler’s Bunker and The Reichstag.

We enjoyed it so much that we did another segway tour on one of our next holidays!

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There is such an eclectic mix of history in Berlin. You can see the Berlin Dom with kings and queens in the crypts. Museum Island, housing the great discoveries of the 1800’s, including Nefertiti’s Bust. The various buildings of the Third Reich, including ‘Hitler’s Playground’ and the SS Headquaters. East Berlin and the Berlin Wall including Checkpoint Charlie. Our tour guide told us some amazing stories of dates gone wrong ending up being stuck in East Germany for 3 years!

934870_10153230216695130_7002682685944482756_nBerlin afforded me some really great photographic opportunities. There is a certain light that captures the buildings particularly well. There are textures and colours that allow interesting subject matter, as well as thought provocation.

This picture I took of my husband, Sean, was a large crack in the Berlin Wall near the SS Headquarters. If you knew my husband he hates having his photo taken, and cannot abide posing and positioning. A photo, according to Sean, is where you point and shoot. Yes, true..but… his photos are mostly average (don’t tell him I said that!).

01362837563d4f72a9eec9d90552af81089ebcb3a8So, if it’s history, art, museums, culture, food or shopping all can be easily satisfied in Berlin.

This city really has an educational charm to it, as well as a youthful presents in it’s now recovering status.

Norwegian Fjordlands

Norwegian Fjordlands

Norwegian Fjordlands

To say we weren’t knocking off the usual suspects in our first holidays from London also befuddled us. However, if there’s a travel deal we will take it!

We found ourselves standing on deck of our very first cruise. and not just any cruise! A real pensioner’s cruise. Sean and I could have had 17 children and we still wouldn’t budge the average cruiser’s age below 70. But – we were sailing to the beautiful Norwegian Fjordlands on a 2-4-1 deal. Sweet.

Sean and I discovered something very important on our first day in the lovely Eidfjord.
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We both love kayaking,  and as you can see from the photo – we are quite good at it.

We are looking forward to our next kayaking adventure in 3 weeks.

Due to the remote locations of the Fjords we were unwilling to risk organising our independent activities suggested as a cost saving activity by savvy cruisers.

Instead we opted to participate in the organised cruise excursions.

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Cruising through this majestic scenery is just awe inspiring. There are huts, waterfalls, bridges and the occasional dolphin to watch from the deck whilst we drank our copious amounts of cocktail of the day. We received many sideways glances from the ‘tea drinkers’ as our colourful and umbrella endowed highballers passed by.

Of all the slightly annoying behaviours the pensioners got up to on the cruise the tea drinking was the worst. It took up far too much time and space. Tea drinking added another hour onto dinner, leaving minimal tables available for people who did not eat at 6pm on the dot every day.

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Europe’s largest glacier, Briksdalsbreen, is an amazing site, both from near and far.

Although, sadly, on the walk up towards the glacier you can see the evidence of global warming. Signposted at various intervals are the measures of where the glacier ended over the various years. It has receded by over 100m in the last 100 years.

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The gorgeous village of Flåm was another of our stops. There was evidence of dislike for the larger cruise ships spotted around the town ‘Na Grand Navi’.

Sean and I took a leisurely stroll to the old church, dated from the 1600’s. Made of wood, it had intricate carvings and paintings to decarate both the inside and the out. Looking at the graves, we decided that Ingaborg was definitely the most popular name in the village.

The Flåm Railway is famous as one of the steepest railways in the world. It links the village and the edge of the fjord with the main fjordland railway from Oslo to Bergen. The train stops halfway up the mountain at a large waterfall. In true kitsch tourist style there is a beautiful maiden who portrays the Norwegian folk law siren who lures the young viking men into her cave behind the waterfall with promise of love and marriage. Legend has it that as soon as the marriage is consummated the beautiful siren turns into half hag, half cow, and forces her new husband to do all the housework. I guess the moral of the story is that even though the women of the village may be plain looking, at least she won’t make you do the washing up? Mind you, I am still to meet an unattractive Scandinavian woman!

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Finally, our last stop was in Bergen. Beautiful Bergen, I like to call it. The waterfront reminded me of my home town of Hobart, Tasmania. Even as we sailed away, with the mountain in the background I felt a little homesick.

Bergen, as I have been told, has the most rainfall of all the European cities. The record is 90 days of non-stop rain. Luckily we did not experience such weather. The climb in the funicular rail to the top of the mountain rewarded us with spectacular views over the city, and a lush pine forest to weave our way through back down the hill. The fish market at the bottom, by the water, was particularly good. The fresh seafood was divine, and cooked in front of you.

Marrakesh

Marrakesh

Marrakesh

I work with a bunch of really lovely guys, and it is such a pleasure! A couple of them are from Marrakesh. Combine with playing dress-ups with my dad’s genuine caftan circa 1979 from Tangiers and meeting such lovely Moroccan expats I decided that we were going to this mystical far off land!

I had not idea what to expect. I am a washed footpaths, street cleaner and pedestrian crossing kinda gal. But when i got onto the Easyjet website and found that actually, it’s really cheap to fly outside of Europe (this is the Australian in me where it costs a fortune to fly inside of Oz, let alone out) we were booked.

I trawled all the booking sites and finally found our accommodation and on the recommendation of my Moroccan friends we were staying in the Medina of Marrakesh.

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Riad Al Mamoune

 

Riad Al Mamoune is set in the winding alleyways of the old town. They had organised a private driver to pick us up from the airport and drive us into Jamaa el Fna. Our friendly host them met us, and we suddenly understood why!

The crowded and noisy markets was full of dancing, singing, snake wielding, henna painting happy people. There was beating drums and kids with fluro toys hurling them into the air. The atmosphere was truly amazing! You just have to be there to understand!

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Jardin Majorelle – Yves Saint Laurent

 

Our first day in Marrakesh was a self guided walk to the Jardin Majorelle. Originally part of Yves Saint Laurent’s garden, it is like walking though the orient. There are bamboo forests, lilly pad pools and that beautiful blue colour that you can never replicate!

The Berber Museum is situated inside the gardens and has a great display of costume and stories of the Berber culture.

TIMG_2244hroughout our stay in Marrakesh we were mesmerized with the walls surrounding the old city. There were holes where wooden structures once were; Doors into hidden alleyways; Cranes roosting on the tops of the walls.

El Badi Palace was an amazing open space were the Moorish kings grew oranges and developed the building skills that we can now see in places such as the Alhambra.

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Jamaa el Fna Souks

A trip to Marrakesh is never complete without a tour of the souks. There is everything from spices to replica bags. I seized the opportunity to visit the local Argan Oil factory. I was generously shown the education room, as well sampling all the different products they make using the argan seeds. I walked away with 3 bottles of jasmine scented oil, and I am still only half way through the first! A life times supply of Argan Oil!

I also participated in the handbag trade. It is a given. I am a girl. I like bags….and shoes…and jewellery….and more bags. I got lots of nice things.

Iceland and the Northern Lights

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Viking Memorial

 

Iceland is one of our favourite destinations so far. Here is our Iceland story:

After nearly a year of living in London we felt like we were failing at our new adventure. My husband, Sean, took longer than expected to get work. I was busy getting used to a new hospital and trying to cover all the costs of payed out during the move. We had only made it for a weekend to Brussels, which doesn’t deserve a mention.

Sean came home one evening from work and mentioned a deal that he saw at the tube station. Iceland Air were offering awesome deals to see the northern lights. I was sold!!!

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As we came into land in Iceland we were mesmerised by the Aurora Borialis as it danced over the wings of the aeroplane.

It was a barmy -7 degrees C as we came out of the airport to catch the bus to Reykjavik.

The following day we exited our hotel at 10am, only to find the sun just rising over the mountains surrounding the city. It was -4 degrees. I was wearing my stockings under my thermals under my trousers. And two pairs of gloves.

Northern Lights

That evening we were booked onto the bus to see the northern lights. They came out at about 11pm, with the temperature already at -11 degrees.

As you can see it is quite difficult to take pictures of the lights. You really do need to be one of those annoying all to serious photographers with all the kit. Tripod is essential as you need a wide aperture, long exposure and gloves.

The lights were beautiful. I also got some awesome photos of the moon on the icescapes.

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The architecture in Iceland is also something that fascinated me. This church is an example of the crazy things they do there!

You can see from just driving around that they are hot on renewable energy and passive houses.

There is an eclectic mix of the older traditional wooden framed houses and the ultra modern black and glass sculptures.

Iceland Tours

On the Second full day of our time in Iceland we went on the Golden Circle Tour. The tour organisation is awesome, some of the best. They pick you up from your hotel and take you to a central bus station, where you can pay for the tour and hop on the respective bus.

The Golden Circle consisted of the Þingvellir National Park (massive geological area where you can witness the American and European tectonic plates, also where the viking councils met), Gullfoss (the golden waterfall, pictured below), and the world famous Geyser (where all the others get their name).

Iceland is definitely a place to see when in Europe. It is expensive, but really not that far away. A plane journey from London is only 2.5 hours. And the package deals are worth it.

Also check out the Blue Lagoon. It is a day trip kinda place, which gives you a good opportunity to swim and get a mud treatment.

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Icelandic Ponies
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Gullfoss