The reflection of Mount Rundle in Two Jack Lake, Banff

To say I am not a morning person is a severe understatement, so I was a little grumpy when Daz dragged me from our warm tent at 7am. He was right though; the view was worth it.

“You need to come and see this,” Daz said to me, trying to coax me out of the tent.

We spend the last couple of nights in Banff camping at Two Jack Lakeside Camground, which I definitely recommend because it’s a beautiful little spot that is just a short drive from Banff.

It was cloudy most of the time while we were in Canada and I was a little annoyed at not having seen a good sunrise or sunset, but this view of Mount Rundle’s perfect early morning reflection in Two Jack Lake more than made up for it.

Mount Rundle from Two Jack Lake

I’m so glad Daz was up early to spot this because it was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I feel like I say that on every post about Canada, but seeing this on our last morning and visiting Moraine Lake were the two high-highlights for me.

Two red chairs at Two Jack Lake, by Mount Rundle, Banff

Red chairs, two jack lake

These are my camping “pyjamas”.

Atop a little hill overlooking Two Jack Lake is two of Canada’s famous red chairs, so if you’re on a mission to sit in all the red chairs, you cannot miss this. Parks Canada has a full list of the red chair locations here.

If you’re stopping in, or visiting Banff, it’s worth visiting Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake. There’s a scenic loop road called “Lake Minnewanka Scene Drive”  just off Highway 1, which is probably a good 15 – 20 minute drive through some stunning scenery. Take note that part of the loop is closed between November – April for conservation reasons; but you’re sure to enjoy the part of the road you can get on.

We loved camping at Two Jack Lake so much that we’re spending a few more nights here while we explore Banff and Canmore some more this summer. Hopefully it will be less cloudy and we’ll be able to see a beautiful pink-orange sunrise or sunset at this spot as well.

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Mount Rundle, Two Jack Lakeside, Banff

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Natural History Museum London

Last week, I went down to London with my university for a trip to the Natural History Museum and was quickly reminded why I do not like London; it. is. too. busy.

That’s not to say I’m not a city person at all because I’ve visited and loved some beautiful cities, like Edinburgh, Reykjavik, and Stockholm. What I can’t deal with is cities with people everywhere.

Honestly, we got off the coach and in approximately 10 seconds there were far too many people for my liking. I hate that feeling of being surrounded by people and having to bustle your way through crowds, and get touched by strangers, eww. That’s not my thing at all and makes me feel claustrophobic and a bit panicky.

Cities I do like feel kinda half empty. They might be geographically big or small, but you can walk down the street without walking into people and can easily stop and take in your surroundings, without feeling like you’re in someone’s way.

A good rule of thumb for me is kinda like how teachers used to tell you to space out during PE lessons in primary school; if you hold your arms out and you’re touching someone, you’re too close. If I can (mentally, obviously because actually doing it would look weird…) put my arms out and not hit a stranger, we’re good; there’s enough room here and I’ll like it.

Ideally, I would move to the edge of a lake, at the foot of a mountain, and live in a cabin with my only neighbours being deer, moose, and the odd bear. I know, I might have to forgo Domino’s delivery, but I think I could deal with that.

What about you? Do you like busy cities?

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What to pack for a winter trip to Iceland

There is a saying in Iceland, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and bad attitudes” and it is so true. If you’re headed to Iceland during the winter and want to stay warm and dry, make sure you take these things with you.

How cold is Iceland during the winter?

Since getting back from Iceland, a few people have asked what the weather was like (duh, we’re British we love talking about the weather) and how cold it was. Honestly, it’s not as cold as you think it will be, thanks to the gulf stream.

My Mum and I visited Iceland in December, between Christmas and New Year, stayed in Reykjavik and did a couple of excursions out of the city. The temperature was between about -1C and 6C during the day, so it wasn’t that much colder than what we’re used to on a very cold day in the UK.

“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is another favourite Icelandic saying. The only certainty when it comes to Icelandic weather is that it’s unpredictable. One minute it can be sunny and blue skies, and then the next you can barely see 20m in front of you because it’s snowing sideways, and then it’s sunny again.

According to Iceland Travel, the average temperature in Reykjavik in December is -0.2C, -0.5C in January, and 0.4C in February. So, while it’s not as cold as you might expect it to be make sure you have all of these things with you because you’ll be in for an uncomfortable (and expensive if you have to buy things when you get there) trip otherwise. And on top of that, the last thing you want is to be surrounded by Iceland’s beautiful scenery, hating every second of it because you’re cold.

 

Reykjavik cathedral in the snow

1. Waterproof, grippy boots

In England, there only has to be the threat of a tiny bit of ice and everywhere gets covered in salt grit. In Iceland? Nah mate, they don’t bother with salt grit at all because some of their pavements are geothermally heated by the water pipes that run under them. But, not all the sidewalks are heated so you will need boots that will grip in snow and ice. And even then, when you come across thicker patches of ice you might find yourself almost falling over. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone there.

If you have a pair of walking boots already; they might not be good enough, so find out if they’re any good on snow and ice. I know mine would not have been because I was slip sliding about in them in a bit of British winter frost.

Don’t forget to make sure they’re waterproof too just in case you find yourself walking in snow that’s more than a few cm deep. It’s not like you need to go for boots that are 100% waterproof; ask yourself what you’ll be doing. If you’re spending most of the time in Reykjavik and doing a guided tour where you won’t be outside for huge amounts of time, you will probably be fine with boots that are waterproof for 3-5km. If you’re going to be outside for most of the day in snow, you’re going to need boots that will stay waterproof for longer. In fact, wellies might be a good option.

A pair of comfy, waterproof and grippy boots isn’t going to break the bank either.  I got mine from Decathlon for about £35.

 

2. Thermals

Do not make the mistake I almost made and think that you don’t need thermals. I almost didn’t get any, but my Mum talked sense into me and thanks to her I didn’t ruin her holiday moaning that I was cold the entire time. (Yes, I know I’m an idiot.)

A base layer will trap and keep the warmth close to your body, so that one layer of clothing can make all the difference and means you don’t necessarily have to fork out for skiing trousers or where so many layers you feel like the Michelin man.

I wore thermal trousers under my standard walking trousers, and a thermal top under a jumper and then my coat. That was more than enough to keep me nice and toasty. Again, I got my thermals from Decathlon and they cost me £3.99 a piece.

 

3. Jumpers

You don’t need to go for the bulkiest jumper you can find, because you might end up feeling like you can barely move. I took four fairly thin, but warm jumpers with me. Two of them were from Decathlon (I promise, this is not sponsored by Decathlon, I just love that place) and two were woolen jumpers from Oasis.

 

4. Trousers

Again, this is going to depend on what you’re doing during your trip to Iceland. I took two pairs of standard walking trousers that had served me just fine between 2C – 12C while I was in Canada last summer and wore my thermal trousers underneath. If you’re worried about rain or snow storms, you can always get a pair of waterproof trousers to go over the top of your normal trousers.

Though if you’re going to be off out exploring all day, a pair of thicker, waterproof trousers is probably wise.

Whatever you do, avoid jeans. While you would probably be warm enough in a pair of jeans with thermals underneath, you know how horrible jeans can get if they get wet. We got caught in rain walking to our Air BnB on the first day while wearing jeans, and my legs got cold and sore so fast.

 

Harpa Reykjavik snow storm December

5. Waterproof and windproof coat

Have you got this image in your head of Iceland being windy and wet during the winter? Good, you’re on the right track. Make sure you take a coat that is warm, waterproof and windproof.

I took my Superdry coat, which isn’t actually advertised as being waterproof but it’s always been fine for me. Unfortunately, we got caught in a snowstorms on a trip and the bus was FREEZING so my coat couldn’t dry all day, and it ended up getting really wet. Thankfully it was just my coat that was wet through, not all of me, but learn from my stupidity; take an actual waterproof coat.

 

6. Gloves & glove liners

You know how normally your gloves advertise that they keep you warm to like -4C and they don’t? Yeah. Make sure you pick up a pair of glove liners to go underneath your gloves. You can even get glove liners that you can use your phone with, so you don’t have to choose between making your friends jealous and keeping all of your fingers.

 

Tjornin Reykjavik in the snow, December

7. Hat and scarf

It sure can be windy in Iceland, so do not underestimate the power of a hat and scarf to keep your ears and neck warm, and to stop your hair blowing all in your face. My boyfriend bought me a hat with flaps, which was perfect for making sure my ears were warm, and I would definitely take that again over a hat without flaps.

 

8. Good socks

Everyone loves a good pair of thick socks. What you need is socks that will keep your feet warm and dry even if you do end up getting your feet wet; and they’re not hard to find at all. Just go to any outdoor shop and you’ll be able to find them no problem.

 

Seeing the northern lights in Iceland

Tips for going on northern lights tours

If you’re headed out on a trip to try and spot the lights, I would advise taking an extra jumper or layer. When we went, it was -7C and three layers wasn’t going to cut it. My Mum and I both took a thin fleece jacket to put under our coats and that worked a treat for us. I would also consider taking an extra pair of socks because my feet have never been so cold in my life.

If you haven’t booked a tour yet, make sure to read my post about photographing the northern lights in Iceland because Arctic Shots were amazing; especially if you’re a keen photographer.

I promise, this was not sponsored by Decathlon – I just like it, a lot. However, this post does contain affiliate links.

 

Is there anything I’ve missed?

 

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What to pack for your winter trip to Iceland

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Time for a duvet day

It’s funny, when you’re a kid you can’t wait to be an adult and think everything is so straight forward; you get a job doing what you love straight away, you get a house, you get married, you have kids, you think you have your shit together by 24 – ahahaha. No.

What actually happens is, you reach 24 and you look around and think, “well, at least most other people seem to have no clue what’s going on here too.”

Growing up is strange and it seems weirder yet that very few people ever try to correct your view of the future when you’re a kid. Maybe it’s because you couldn’t possibly comprehend the complexity of the real world when your biggest responsibility is doing your homework, or feeding your pet goldfish – but your Mum will feed it anyway because you’ll forget, despite promising you wouldn’t.

I digress.

I am all for getting things done, moving forward, and reaching goals, but right now I would love a duvet day. It would be nice to wake up and know that today, nothing is expected from me.

With university pressure really cranking up now that my dissertation deadline is looming closer, I really could do with a day to recharge my mental batteries. A day of sitting in bed, or building a duvet fort on the sofa, watching stuff on Netflix and only getting up to go to the bathroom or to get food.

When did life suddenly get so chaotic? I have this mental calendar in my head and there’s work, university, things I need to do, visiting people; and very little time for just doing nothing. That probably sounds very selfish but I’m an introvert and I find constantly being around loads of people exhausting (by loads I think I mean 3+), and I need time to chill.

Hands up who needs a duvet day?

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Baker Beach, San Francisco

Getting close to something as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge was a pretty special moment for me. And it was made just a little bit more special by how blase it all felt when you’re stood on Baker Beach.

It was a beautiful sunny day and the sand was just a little be toasty on my feet. There were dogs running around in the sand, people sun bathing; oh, and there was a huge, red bridge at the end of the beach. It felt quite surreal really, like the bridge almost blended in; as if the beach were saying “Oh yeah, that? Yeah, we’ve got the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Baker Beach San Francisco

Dogs on the beach at Baker Beach, Golden Gate

The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

We visited Land’s End Park first and got to Baker Beach around noon on a weekday, and it was surprisingly quiet. Of course there were fellow tourists taking photos of the beach, but the majority of people appeared to be locals who didn’t seem at all fazed by this monstrous structure dominating their view.

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

If you’re headed to San Francisco, I definitely recommend a trip to Baker Beach. I’ve seen some beautiful photos taken from the beach at sunset, so it’s worth adding to your itinerary if you have time.

While you’re around Baker Beach, you could also take a trip to Land’s End Park (which I will share photos of sometime soon), and of course you could drive over the Golden Gate Bridge itself; I think it is the most expensive of the bridges in the Bay Area.  I believe it cost around $7 when I went. Makes sense; it’s iconic and the upkeep is supposed to be never ending.

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View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

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One of the funny things about choosing a ‘restrictive’ diet, rather than having to due to health reasons, is that everyone is always trying to catch you out.

Anyone who has chosen to be vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, etc, will know exactly what I mean. Because you’ve made a decision to do something due to moral reasons, everyone wants to call you out. And maybe that’s their prerogative.

I am a bad vegan. A very bad vegan. I admit it. In fact, it’s probably a stretch for me to call myself vegan at this point. But I’m trying.

There are some things that were so easy for me to give up;

  • Milk; it grosses me out, a lot. The thought of it makes me want to gag.
  • Cream; see above.
  • Eggs; they also gross me out. Easy.
  • Leather; never liked it, not even a problem.
  • Meat; can’t stand it.
  • Non-cruelty free cosmetics; I don’t want something to suffer for the sake of lipstick.

But there is one thing, that I find a lot harder to give up; cheese. It’s a very poor excuse, but I love the taste of a nice strong cheese. I know. I wish I could find a vegan alternative that melted just like real cheese.

And then there’s the whole trying to eat out. I know that in some cities (like San Francisco) eating vegan is a piece of delicious pie, but I don’t live in a city. I live in an area where an eatery’s idea of vegetarian is…*drumroll please*…can you guess it? TOMATO PASTA! *Groans* So many places like to be adventurous with their dishes, until it comes to vegetarian or vegan or gluten free, and then they panic.

I digress. Eating out is hard, but there are a few chain restaurants now where I can eat vegan, like Nando’s or The Handmade Burger Company.

And then there’s dessert. I bloody love dessert. It’s my favourite part of a meal. And my boyfriend is a pastry chef; which means I get a lot of dessert. Do you think any of that is vegan? No. No it is not.

Sure, I could not eat it, but you try one of his peanut butter chocolate fondants and tell me it’s not amazing.

Yes, I am a bad vegan. But I am trying.

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Northern Lights over an abandoned house in Iceland

Seeing the northern lights is probably on most people’s “list”, and that dream finally came true for me in Iceland a few weeks ago.

A few months before heading to Iceland, I came across Arctic Shots; a tour company based in Reykjavik that do trips around Iceland aimed at people who are interested in photography. There are lots of trips to see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik, but what I really wanted was someone who could show us how to photograph it, and Arctic Shots were the guys to do it.

We arrived in Reykjavik during the middle of a storm which lasted a few days, and for a while it looked like we might not see the lights at all. Luckily, the weather forecast was perfect for Friday night and we headed an hour out of the city with our guide, Siggi.

The aurora borealis over a farmhouse in Iceland

After a few minutes, a faint green glow appeared in the sky that got brighter and brighter. To my surprise, I discovered that the lights aren’t always as bright as you see them in photos. So, all these photos I’ve got on here? The lights weren’t really that bright to my naked eye; it’s all down to long exposure. Still, it is truly wonderful to see a green glow flicker across the sky.

We left Reykjavik just after 7pm, and we didn’t get back to our apartment until after 1am (I can’t remember the exact time), so we had a good few hours photographing the lights, and Siggi was on hand to help us with camera settings and any questions. (If you’re not entirely convinced that Arctic Shots are the people to take you to photograph the lights, just look at his photos on his Facebook page. I bet you’re convinced now.)

The northern lights over an abandoned house in Iceland

The northern lights over a farmhouse in Iceland

Northern lights over an Icelandic farmhouse

It was about -7C, so we didn’t spend the entire time photographing. To Siggi -7C seemed like nothing to fuss about, but I have never been so cold in my life and I had so many layers on I could barely move. We spent some time on the bus, and Siggi handed out shots of Brennivin, and Icelandic liquor, and hot chocolate to warm us up before we headed back outside.

Photographing the northern lights in Iceland with Arctic Shots

The northern lights behind a cloud in Iceland

This is by far one of my favourite photos I took of the northern lights

Getting to see the lights with my own eyes was a dream come true for me, and I am so glad the weather turned in our favour just in time. If you’re heading to Reykjavik and want to get some fantastic photos of the lights, and with the lights, I cannot recommend Arctic Shots enough.

Tips

If you’re planning to see the lights, here are a few tips I picked up / learnt the hard way.

  • DO NOT FORGET YOUR BATTERY CHARGER. I still can’t believe I did that. I went to Iceland with no battery charger and only two fully charged batteries. I’m such an idiot. Do not forget your battery charger because the cold weather really zaps your batteries, so make sure you head out with allllllll your batteries fully charged.
  • You don’t need to worry about taking a remote for your camera; just put the timer on a couple of seconds and you’re good to go.
  • Take the filter off. I use my UV filter so much that I forget it’s there. Luckily, Siggi spotted it and my photos came out much better afterwards.
  • Have two pairs of gloves. Before I went to Iceland, I discovered glove liners in Decathlon and they are amazing.

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Seeing and photographing the northern lights in Iceland with Arctic Shots

This post may contain affiliate links. This is not a sponsored post.

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