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Canada, Photography, Travel

7 days in Banff & Jasper, Alberta

April 25, 2017

7 days in Banff and Jasper, an intinerary
7 days is no where near enough time to discover all that Banff and Jasper have to offer but we found that we got a surprising amount done in a week.

When we arrived at Canadian border control, the chap behind the desk did seem a bit befuzzled about us visiting Canada for just seven days but hey, you do what you can with your holidays.

In reflection, the way we planned our time in Banff and Jasper could have been a little better as we spent a couple of nights in Canmore, before driving up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper for a few days and then coming back down to spend some time in Banff. I'm not suggesting this is the perfect itinerary but I think it gives you a good idea of what things to try and see on the same days.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Day one: Emerald Lake & Takakkaw Falls

Emerald Lake is about an hour and a half drive from Canmore (and a bit less if you're staying in Banff) and boy is it worth the drive. You will no doubt have seen photos like this (to the right) on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest because it is just so beautiful and shareworthy.

Take a couple of hours to stroll around the lake, gawking in absolutely awe of the crazy blue colour of the water which makes it look like photoshop in real life. You can also hire kayaks to go out on the lake as well; we didn't do this but it would certainly be worth it. The price for kayak hire is pretty much the same at all the lakes we went to. We didn't really consider it to be cheap but it is worth it for the memories and experience of getting to kayak on a lake that looks like someone dropped some huge blue bath bombs into.

Pick up a snack from the little hut next to Emerald Lake Lodge and then head down the road to visit Takkakkaw Falls. The road up to the falls is well paved but can be quite windy and tight at times but do not let that deter you because it is stunning. The falls are about a 10-15 minute walk from the car.

If you want to find out more about Emerald Lake, I did a whole blog post about it.

We stayed at: Windtower Lodge & Suites in Canmore

Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park

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The Icefields Parkway

Day two: explore the Icefields Parkway

We were camping for the rest of our trip so we picked up our camping equipment from Rent-a-Tent in Canmore. If you are thinking about camping go for it because these guys were amazing and we're hiring from them again this summer.

The Icefields Parkway is a 232 mile (144 km) road connecting Banff and Jasper that features in a lot of "best roads to drive" lists, and for good reasons too. The views from the road are absolutely stunning and there are no shortages of places to stop off; whether it's a lake that is just at the edge of the road or the start of a hiking trail.

We made a few stop offs on the way up, including Peyto Lake and the Athabasca Glacier. It is possible to drive the entire length of the Icefields Parkway but as we stopped off a few times it took us about six hours.

In the evening, take a stroll around Jasper and find somewhere to eat. We found that some of the restaurants stopped serving food about 20:00 - 20:30, I'm not sure if that's normal in Canada but do keep it in mind.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground, a few minutes drive outside Jasper. You can find out more about it and reserve a pitch through Parks Canada.

Maligne Lake boat house and kayak rental

Medicine Lake, just outside Jasper

Day three: Medicine Lake & Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake can be very busy during the high season, so it's worth getting up early if you want to avoid the crowds. Also, if you get up early you are more likely to see wildlife; we saw a huge elk stood on the bank at the side of the road, looking out across his kingdom. We also saw a bear just outside Jasper early in the morning too.

On the way to Maligne Lake, it's worth stopping off at Medicine Lake and to see some of the eerie looking prescribed burn sites. Interestingly, Medicine Lake isn't really a lake and is actually a part of the Maligne River and it fills up to become a lake when the melt water can't drain away fast enough.

Once you're at Maligne Lake, there are a few trails you can follow, or you can take a boat tour around the lake, or go kayaking. We followed the shortest trail around the edge of the lake and into the forest before deciding to hire a kayak. Let me tell you that I do not recommend you do that if it's a windy day because it was pretty tough and was not entirely relaxing. You can read more about our windy kayaking experience on Maligne Lake here.

On the way back to Jasper, we stopped off at Maligne Canyon and had a walk around for about 45 minutes. Heights don't usually bother me, but looking down into the canyon was a little mind-bending.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground again.

Athabasca Falls, just outside Jasper on the Icefields Parkway

A canyon at Athabasca Falls, Jasper

Day four: Around Jasper & Icefields Parkway

In the morning, we explored some of the stops on the Icefields Parkway closest to Jasper. The first one we went to was Athabasca Falls, which is about half an hour out of Jasper, as we decided we'd drive to the furthest point and then start coming back on ourselves. It was basically like a grander and fancier version of the canyon we visited the day before. It had longer trails, a roaring waterfall and the drops seemed even deeper.

The next stop was just a few minutes up the road; Horseshoe Lake and it was a real hidden gem. To get to the other side of the lake you have to follow this trail, which feels quite overgrown in comparison to pretty much all the other trails we saw. It was the only time in Canada where I felt like I might get snook up on by bears. The water looked so inviting and I had to stop myself from jumping in.

After that, we headed back through Jasper and stopped off a Pyramid Lake. When you see Pyramid Mountain from Jasper and the sun hits it at the right angle, it seems to glow a little and reminded us of a dragon's egg, so we took to calling it Dragon Mountain.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Edith and Annette Lake. The two lakes are really close together and you can easily walk between the two in a couple of minutes. In between the lakes are loads of picnic areas and you can just imagine how packed it must be come a nice summer day.

 

Snow on the icefields parkway

Lake Minnewanka, Banff

Vermillion Lakes, Banff

Day five: around Banff

We left Jasper just before 11am and only stopped off a couple of times on the way back down the Icefields Parkway to make the most of our time in Banff. It took us about three hours to drive from Jasper to Banff and we headed straight to Two Jack Lakeside campsite to set up our tent.

After being in the car for so long we took a walk around Banff, explored Vermillion Lakes, and Lake Minnewanka. Vermillion Lakes is on the edge of Banff and is a nice little route that takes you past the lakes, that have a distinctive sulphur smell.

There is a loop road around Lake Minnewanka called Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, and there are a couple of trails which start off the loop as well.

Where we stayed: Two Jack Lakeside campsite. Again, this can be reserved through the Parks Canada website.

 

Kayaking on Lake Louise

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Day six: Lake Louise & Moraine Lake

Our sixth day was a seriously jam-packed one. We drove up to Lake Louise to see what all the hype was about; yes, it's very touristy but it is for a good reason because it is beautiful. We followed the Lake Agnes teahouse trail up the mountain to the teahouse, where we enjoyed a spot of well-deserved lunch. It probably took us about 40 - 50 minutes to reach the teahouse and it is possible to go onto do another tea house, called the Big Beehive, but we were not feeling fit enough at all.

When we returned to Lake Louise we decided to hire a kayak for an hour (read more about that here), which was more than enough time because it doesn't take that long to explore the lake.

Afterwards, we drove to Moraine Lake as we'd seen it on the cover of our Lonely Planet guidebook and wanted to see it for ourselves. It was early afternoon by the time we got there and there were buses, camper vans, and cars parked everywhere. Despite that, it wasn't that crowded and it certainly wasn't anywhere near as crowded as Lake Louise.

I think we both wished we had kayaked on Moraine Lake instead, hindsight is a wonderful thing. For both of us, Moraine Lake was an absolute highlight of the trip so if there is one thing I recommend you do, out of everything listed here or anything you see in guidebooks, it's Moraine Lake. Photos do not do it justice at all.

Kayaks at Moraine Lake, Alberta

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Morning reflection in Two Jack Lake

Day seven: Banff

If you are staying at Two Jack Lakeside, or even in the Banff area, I recommend getting up early and visiting Two Jack Lake as the sun rises. I am not a morning person at all but Daz managed to drag me out of the tent at 7am and I was rewarded with this stunning view. If you're hunting for all the red chairs, there are two on the banks of the lake.

After packing up our tent we went into Banff to get a couple of souvenirs, headed back to Canmore to return the camping equipment, and then went to the airport.

If your flight is later on in the day there are loads more things you could do around Banff, like visit the Cave & Basin museum, take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, visit Banff Hot Springs, go to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary on the way to the airport, and so much more.

Travel

Why I fall in love with places; what about you?

April 4, 2017

Walking through Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Photo taken in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Sure, some places are awe-inspiring but I fall for the feeling, the possibilities and all the little things about a place.

My Mum would tell any one of you right now that I fall hard for places. Everywhere I go, I seem to fall for it and I’m plotting ways to get back there before I’ve even got on the flight home. It’s what I do.

I have lived in the same town all my life so when I visit somewhere new I can’t help but wonder what it might be like to live there. How it might feel to have mundane stuff to do, like visiting the post office or going food shopping, in places like Reykjavik, San Francisco, Banff, Stockholm. How it might feel to be going out for pizza and looking a little to your left and seeing mountains tower over you (that happened in Banff and it felt goooood). What it might be like to immerse yourself in a new language. How awesome it would feel to wake up and see a few feet of snow outside and know you’re probably stuck at home today. What it would be like to take the dog for a walk and see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance (I did that too, it was seriously cool).

I suspect this is one of the reasons that I’m beginning to shy away from hotels and prefer things like camping or Air BnB because I think it gives you a slightly less touristy outlook on your trip. If you’re staying in an Air BnB you can stay in a residential area and find out what it’s like to get into the city, and maybe pretend for a minute that you’re a local. Or if you’re camping you need to find a grocery store to stock up. It’s not that I think there is anything bad about being a tourist at all but I definitely like to try and get a feel for what a place is like if you are a local.

When I went to San Francisco last year I stayed with a friend and it was easily the best experience I have ever had in terms of seeing somewhere as a local. We went into Oakland on a Friday night when they had an art festival on and went to this amazing little cinema with sofas and food delivered to your seat, and it was incredible. We stopped by one of her favourite Mexican food places and coffee spots, and I walked to hers from the BART station feeling the warm evening air. Yes, we did the touristy things too but those little things allowed me to pretend to be a local for a few days. 

While I do like to go sightseeing and exploring, the things I remember first are always the feelings:

  • The feeling of calm or that nothing else matters in Canada; it was long a really nice exhale that instantly relaxes you.
  • The chilled out, welcoming “everyone is equal” feel of Reykjavik.
  • The diversity and acceptance in California.
  • The friendliness of the locals in Ireland.
  • The unsurprising go-go-go atmosphere in New York.

Why do you fall in love with places?

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Travel

Renting a car abroad for the first time: 11 things to do

March 28, 2017

11 things to do when you're hiring a car abroad for the first time

Renting a car for the first time while traveling (or even at home) can be a little daunting. We’ve all heard horror stories of people get stung by rental companies, but if you know what to look for you can make sure you’re covered.

This blog post began life almost a year ago, when I was planning my first trip to Canada. I knew I wanted to get to a lot of different places and while Banff and Jasper have good public transport, it wasn’t quite going to be able to cut what I wanted to do.

Back then I had never hired a car before or driven on the ‘other side’ of the road. Both of those things were really scary to me, and in addition to that I was worried I would get ripped off somewhere. It all turned out perfectly fine though, so I wanted to share a few tips that helped me when I was looking to hire a car for the first time.

 

1. Read the terms and conditions

How many times have you wondered, “When does anyone ever actually read the full terms and conditions?” This is one of those times that you need to read the Ts & Cs. I only discovered in some companies Ts & Cs that under 25s wouldn’t actually be covered by their CDW, despite their website saying I would be covered with it when I asked for a quote and even included my age. I think that’s pretty bad practice and very sneaky, but you will be the one who gets stung if you have an accident.

Luckily, the Ts & Cs are not actually that long anyway and most of them were pretty well broken up, so it’s not a huge chore.

 

2. Will you be charged for crossing state or international borders?

Something I also discovered in the Ts & Cs was that some companies will charge you extra to take a car out of state, province, or crossing an international border. I know, it seems ridiculous, but the last thing you want is either an unexpected charge when you return the car or being pulled over by the Police and arrested because technically you’re driving the car somewhere without the rental companies permission.

If you plan on driving into another country, state, or province, check with the hire company first to make sure they will allow it and find out about any charges.

Both Hertz and Avis told me they wouldn’t charge me extra to drive from Alberta into British Columbia if I was returning the car to the same location.

 

3. Are you going on a ferry?

I actually discovered this a few weeks back when we booked our hire car for this summer. If you are going on a ferry you may need to let your rental company know. We’ve rented with Hertz who told us we need to tell them when we pick the car up and that there’s no extra charge for it. It’s probably worth contacting your hire company before you book to find out how you need to let them know in case you need to tell them before you pick it up.

 

11 things you should do before hiring a car when you travel. Icefields Parkway, Canada.

4. Young driver surcharges

If you are under 25 years old, you will probably find yourself having to pay extra for being so darn youthful. Most quotes I saw were about $25-30CAD per day for under 25s.

Be careful when you’re looking at prices because it seemed that most companies would give you a price to reserve / pay for the car in advance, but the young driver surcharge is an additional cost (like adding an extra driver, or hiring a GPS) which won’t be included in that price and you can’t pay for it until you pick your car up. 

There isn’t a way around this charge (apart from getting older). If you’re traveling with other people and want to save money, speak to the other people you’re traveling with and see how they feel about you not driving. It will be more cost effective if an under 25 doesn’t drive, but if you’re covering long distances it might be worth the additional cost.

 

5. Does the Loss Damage Waiver actually cover you?

As I mentioned earlier on, at least one rental company’s website quotes will allow you to say that you are 24 or younger and will say LDW has been included in the price of your quote, and yet when you read the fine print, you aren’t covered. I emailed Budget to try and clarify this and they got back to me saying that I wouldn’t actually be covered and would be responsible for the first $5,000CAD in damage.

Read the fine print, email or call the company and get clarification if you are unsure because you don’t need a horrible surprise like that.

 

6. Fuel options

There are usually two fuel options; full to full or pre-paid. Full to full simply means that when you return the car you need to make sure the petrol tank is full. To compensate for that you should find that the car has a full \ almost full tank of fuel when you pick the car up.

The pre-paid option means that you pay for whatever fuel is in the tank when you pick it up, and it’s best if you drop it off with as little fuel in as possible. However, you will probably find your rental company will charge more per litre than a petrol station will.

Rental Cars has a useful guide to help you figure out what is best for you because there are advantages and disadvantages to both depending on what you’re doing.

Handy tip: Do your research beforehand to find out where the closest fuel station is to the airport. Some airports have petrol stations, some do not. We discovered this the hard way because I’ve been away with friends before who have hired cars and the airports had petrol stations at them. Since Calgary International is a huge airport, I thought there would be a petrol station there. There is not. We had to hurriedly drive around trying to find one.

 

11 important and simple things to do when renting a car abroad. Icefields Parkway, Canada.

7. The cheapest isn’t always best

When I started doing my research I found some prices seemed way too cheap to be true and that’s because they were. The initial price looked great but they’d not included the costs of other things (like CDW and LDW) that other hire companies include in their quote price. So, by the time these things were added on it wasn’t cheaper at all.

You also don’t need me to tell you that the cheapest company isn’t always the best. Make sure you do some research or use a comparison website which has ratings and reviews from customers.

 

8. Have you got a credit card?

Oh, this one really annoyed me. I don’t think this is standard the world over (because I’m sure a friend hired with a debit card before) but in Canada you cannot hire a car without a credit card. Some companies will let you book or pre-pay with a debit card but you must have a credit card when you pick the car up so they can hold money on it.

I had never had a credit card and didn’t ever want one, but I had to take one out so that I could hire a car. I went into the bank, explained exactly what I wanted one for, and got the most basic one I could.

While it is annoying to have to get a credit card specifically for hiring a car, it was useful in a way. The rental company will put a certain amount of money on hold in your account, which means you can’t get at it and it can sometimes take a couple of weeks for you to be able to access that money. Therefore, it’s useful for you to have a different card for them to hold money on, allowing you to actually use your debit card.

 

9. Don’t pay extra for GPS

One of the biggest fears when you’re driving somewhere new can be “how are we going to get from A to B without GPS?” Of course, you’ve got good old maps but if that’s not your thing there are some other ways to navigate without paying a hefty extra cost.

If you already have a SatNav find out if it has maps for your destination. In the UK it’s quite common for SatNavs to come with maps for the UK and Europe, and some may also include faraway destinations such as the US or Canada as standard. If they don’t cover your destination, find out if you can download maps for your SatNav. We have a Mio and you can rent Canadian maps for 30 days for €20, much cheaper than hiring a SatNav off a rental company.

If that isn’t an option, download Google Maps offline before you go. Google Maps is free and as long as you do it before you go, or while connected to wifi, you won’t get hit by roaming data costs. PC Advisor has an article explaining how to do this.

You may also find that the place you’re going is so well sign-posted that you don’t need maps. We found that Banff and Jasper was so well sign-posted we only used the SatNav two or three times, and I think one of those was from the airport and the other was too the airport. Though, we didn’t really need it then either.

 

10. Local road rules & weather

Is there anything about the place you’re visiting which requires you to be extra careful, take out extra cover, or have specific things in your car?

  • In Iceland, it’s wise to cover your car against gravel, sand, and ash because of the road and weather conditions.
  • If you’re going somewhere very snowy, make sure you know where you can find information on roads that might be closed due to avalanche risks.
  • In general, know where you can find local traffic and weather information.
  • Find out about any driving laws that might differ from your home country, for example some European countries require you to carry a first aid kit or a fire extinguisher. The AA has road rule guides for over 40 EU countries, but you will easily be able to find road rules for whichever country you’re going with a Google anyway.
  • Find out about any events that might result in road closures.
  • Try to find out if you will drive on any toll roads and how you can pay for those so you have change or your card handy.

 

11. When you pick the car up

The person on the desk will more than likely try to sell you something else, some other kind of cover like “OMG IT’S WEDNESDAY COVER! This cover protects you against Wednesdays.” (They have cover for everything.) Before you pick the car up, make sure you understand exactly what you’re covered against and what you’re not. If you’re worried that you’re not completely covered you can take out zero excess insurance in your own country before you go that will cover you completely, and will probably be cheaper.

Make sure you give the vehicle a good checking over before you go and ensure all damage to the vehicle is noted on the contract and take photos of all sides of the car before you go. Similarly, do the same thing when you drop the car back so you can provide you haven’t caused any damage.

 

Have you ever taken a road trip?

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Canada, Photography, Travel

Athabasca Glacier & climate change

March 21, 2017

The edge of the Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park

Today I’m not just going to show you pretty pictures of the Athabasca Glacier and talk about how wonderful it is; I need to get something off my chest and have a little rant about climate change.

About two-thirds of the way up the Icefields Parkway, you reach the Athabasca Glacier. Neither of us had seen a glacier before (apart from on TV) so this was one of our “must see” stops on the road.

Before we went we were kind of confused about access to the glacier. Everything we read made it sound like you had to pay for a trip out onto the glacier on some kind of evil looking off-roading vehicle, but you can actually walk almost up to the edge of it for absolutely nothing.

Pool near the Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier Jasper National Park

It was quite warm by the time we parked up near the glacier, and it’s kind of weird seeing a huge chunk of ice when it feels so warm. It’s a novelty I didn’t quite get used to while we were in Canada.

What hit me hard was little markers on the path up to the glacier, which showed how far the glacier had retreated in recent years. What you noticed quite quickly was how the speed it had retreated at changed. At the first few markers, the glacier didn’t seem to have been retreating that fast, but then you really noticed how much things had stepped up when you crept towards the present day. In 2014, a conservation manager for Jasper’s National Park said the glacier was retreating five metres per year

The path up to the Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park

I’m currently taking the University of Alberta’s online Mountains 101 course (highly recommend it by the way), and one of the topics covered is glaciers. It’s astonishing how fast they’re retreating, and some icefields are already considered to be beyond saving. It really saddens me to hear things like that; that we’ve done so much damage to our environment that things are beyond help. Another added “bonus” of human pollution is that as glaciers and icefields begin to melt, they are re-releasing harmful chemicals into the environment that we used historically and were then trapped in the ice, as well as contributing to global warming.

All of this leads me to right now. Right now one of, if not the, most powerful country in the world has a president who doesn’t believe in climate change and doesn’t give a rats ass about protecting it. Just five days into 2017, London had already broken it’s annual air pollution target for the year. The most recent UK budget didn’t even mention climate change. In general, it feels like protecting the environment isn’t being taken seriously in a lot of countries.

Things like that make me angry, but also inspire me. Things might be about to get a lil’ cheesy now, but we can force change. We can make changes in our own lives, we can put pressure on our favourite companies who are still using packaging which is not recyclable (Quorn, I’m looking at you; make your nugget packaging recyclable!), we can annoy our MPs by writing to them, and websites like 36 Degrees and Change have shown that we can force change by bombarding the people who can actually make decisions with our views. And on a more personal note, it’s this that makes me want to go into environmental research; I want to play my part in protecting our home and every thing that lives on it.

Feel free to chip in and ramble.

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Iceland, Travel

11 fun, free things to do in Reykjavik

March 14, 2017

11 fun and free things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

It’s true; Reykjavik is an expensive city (especially if you’re British because the exchange rate is so bad for us). Luckily, there are plenty of free things you can do while exploring Iceland’s capital city.

 

Reykjavik street art magic rainbow unicorn

Admire some weird and wonderful street art [Read: 10 pieces of Reykjavik street art you need to see & where to find it]

Reykjavik has a reputation for it’s street art. It’s plentiful and it is all kinds of weird and beautiful.

You really don’t have to look far to find it either because you’ll find some of it adorning shop fronts down Laugavegur, you’ll catch glimpses of it down side streets, and if you go wandering you’ll find it decorating neighbourhoods.

Reykjavik street art I miss you, I miss the smell of your hair

My personal favourite was this really simple but powerful piece. I saw it and these whole waves of the feels hit me.

 

 

Reykjavik Harpa

See the city from Harpa

Impossible to miss, Harpa is Reykjavik’s concert and exhibition hall. While the events are ticketed, anyone can wander into the building, and up the stairs to see the city from a height.

The building itself is really pretty, with oddly shaped windows, some of which are tinted, which make for a nice pattern against the city.

 

Reykjavik sea wall at sunrise

Walk along the sea wall

Once you’ve visited Harpa, take a left out of the building and walk along the seawall where you can let the crisp air hit your face and take in views of Mount Esja.

 

 

Sun voyager, Reykjavik

Photograph sun voyager

This sculpture on the seawall is one of the most touristy spots in the city. I mean, it’s easy to see why; it’s a beautiful sculpture depicting a ship with the sea and Mt Esja in the background. And if you go down at sunrise or sunset, your bound to get a brilliant photo. Though you might have to wait your turn because everyone wants a photo in front of it.

 

Reykjavik walking tour Tjornin

Take a free walking tour [Read: Discover Reykjavik on a free walking tour from CityWalks]

CityWalks offer a very popular two-hour walking tour around Reykjavik, covering the history of the city and the Icelandic culture. From personal experience I can tell you that this tour is absolutely worth it and is a brilliant way to see and learn about the city.

This tour is listed as free, as it doesn’t have any kind of ticket price, and you basically pay what you think the tour is worth. Technically, it’s free as you don’t have to pay your guide anything. But if you do pay your guide, it’s probably one of the cheapest activities you can do in Reykjavik and is certainly worth it.

 

Reykjavik snowy Tjornin

Stroll around Tjornin

Tjornin is the park next to city hall, where you can take a nice leisurely stroll around a lake and enjoy looking at the nice neighbourhoods around it.

 

Map of Iceland in Reykjavik city hall

Get up close with Iceland…and a vagina?

Ok, so I’m going to start on the one that caught your attention here; the vagina. So, Iceland’s mayor decided that the best way to celebrate 100 years of women being allowed to vote in Iceland was to unveil some artwork depicting a vagina. It’s not immensely obscene and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have realised what it was had I not been told.

I mean, I kinda see the major’s idea; people don’t say the word ‘vagina’ all that often and look you’ve read it four times in the last minute! On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like the most progressive way to stop sexism but Reykajvik does also have a penis museum, so I guess it balances out. Plus, it is a very liberal city.

Once you’ve gotten over that, take a look at the huge 3D map of Iceland.

 

Get a panoramic view at the Perlan

The viewing deck of the Perlan offers 360 degree views of the surrounding area, making it a perfect place to get a really good view of the city. (The best place is probably Hallgrimskirkja right in the city, but that’s not free.) It’s completely free to get to the viewing deck, but there is a restaurant and a cafe if you fancy a bite to eat.

 

Reykjavik Hallgrimskirkja

Admire Hallgrimskirkja

While it will cost you to get up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja, walking around it and admiring the church is completely free. You can also go inside the church for free. If you do want to get up to the top, get there early or prepare to queue.

 

Seeing the northern lights in Reykjavik

See the northern lights

If the conditions are right, it’s possible to see lady aurora from the city. We headed down to the sea wall on a clear night, when good solar activity was forecast (you’ll find the aurora forecast website handy), and we were rewarded with a patch of green in the sky.

It was hard to spot at first, and to begin with I wasn’t sure if it was a cloud and my brain was playing tricks on me and turning it green. But no. The green got stronger and we saw it for about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, I had broken my tri-pod the day before so my photos were not great (as you can see).

When it comes to the lights, it really is about having the perfect weather conditions, especially if you’re in a city where light pollution can make them even harder to see.

If you’re a keen photographer and want to head out of the city on a trip to see the lights, I cannot recommend Arctic Shots enough & you can read about my experience on their northern lights tour here.

 

Spot the Yule Lads

If you’re visiting Reykjavik during the festive period, make sure to keep your eye out for the Yule Lads being projected onto buildings.

The Yule Lads are part of Icelandic folklore. There are 13 of them and 13 days before Christmas, one comes into town each night.

Over Christmas, the Yule Lads can be seen projected onto buildings, which makes a pretty fun kinda treasure hunt; especially if you’ve got kids.

 

Would you add anything else to the list?

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Canada, Photography, Travel

Mount Rundle, Two Jack Lake | The best 7am wakeup call ever

February 28, 2017

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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Life, Travel

I cannot deal with big cities

February 23, 2017

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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Iceland, Travel

What to take on a winter trip to Iceland

February 21, 2017

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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