Monthly Archives: April 2018

Reykjavik

8 Things To Do In Reykjavik

When thinking of city trips Reykjavík might not spring to mind as there’s so many geysers, waterfalls and stunning landscapes to go see elsewhere on the island. That’s a shame as the city has a lot to offer. The capital is cute, compact and there is A LOT TO DO. I preciously shared my favourite food and drink spots and today I’m sharing some highlights of things to see and do in the most northern capital in the world.

 360 ° view from the Hallgrímskirkja
Not just an impressive architectural sight, Reykjavik’s iconic Hallgrímskirkja is the place to go for the best bird’s eye view of the city. They say the layered curves and ridges were inspired by glaciers and theIceland’s landscape, but it looked more ribbed for pleasure to me (sorry!)

Walk Around the centre 
The center of Reykjavik is not very big but it’s perfect for a little stroll, checking out the cute houses and engaging in some (window) shopping. This is also the place to hunt for the iconic Iceland sweater…until you realise how much they actually cost and just leave with a key chain.

Relax at the pool
Blue Lagoon sounds great, but also expensive and crowded. A cheaper alternative is to go to one of the many geothermal swimming pools around the city. In Iceland, hot water comes straight out of the ground so the locals make most just of it, when life gives you lemons!

Visit Harpa
What is this marvellous looking structure by the old harbor? Well, from the outside it could be an art museum, a fancy hotel, media hub, but it’s actually a conference/concert hall. With many reflections, slick angled staircases and lego-like windows, your camera will overload (it was also in a recent Black Mirror episode!).

Check out the street art
For such a small centre, there’s a surprising amount of murals and street art to discover in its (side) streets, so open your eyes and keep your head up for some visual treats.

Take the ferry to Viðey (Videy) island
If you’ve had enough of ‘busy’ central Reykjavik you can escape to this island for the day. There is dramatic, sweeping landscape, cute cottages and moody beaches. But the swing with a view was my highlight …

Free Walking Tour
City Walks offers various tours, including a free walking tour where you’ll learn all about the history of Iceland, the evolution of Reykjavík as a town and Icelandic culture.

Check Out the Museums
The National Museum will take you on a journey through Iceland’s history with surprisingly charming interactive videos. The only downside for me was that there wasn’t enough details as I wanted to know more. There is also the Reykjavik Art Museum, which hold some things that make Bjork seem tame. If you want it less traditional why not check out the Icelandic Phallological Museum (it’s much bigger in real life I swear) or the The Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll?

Go to a concert 
There’s much more to the Icelandic music scene than Bjork, Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men. For a small city it definitely has a big music scene, especially Airwaves, where sometimes don’t know what you are going to get, you might end up seeing a 14-18 all female hip hop formation. You won’t understand a word they say, but feel it’s #GIRLPOWER

Zagreb

Answering Your FAQs about Zagreb’s Franjo Tuđman Airport

The old airport in Zagreb holds a special place in my heart. It was the very first destination I flew to and the first time I returned to my home country Bosnia after having fled 6 years earlier. I know that sometimes old can be charming, but the terminal was in need of a make-over. Thankfully my prayers were answered and a brand new terminal had appeared in 2017 and last week I got to dip my toes in for the first time.

My flight was delayed so I was lucky enough to spend my Saturday at the Gate 16 – 26 area from about 12.45 til 15.00 and while admiring the shiny steel and concrete architecture I thought I’d answer some Frequently Asked Questions about Zagreb’s Franjo Tuđman Airport – not that you asked.

What’s the most important thing to know? The airport is still relatively new, with lots of stores ‘coming soon’, so you won’t be able to kill much time window shopping.

Now for an easy one … How much for a bottle of water? At Caffe Nero a bottle of water costs 21 kuna (that’s around £2.40 / €2.80 / $3.50) which is nothing unusual for an airport. Are you trying to save the environment by carrying a refill bottle? Well, bad luck for you as there are no fountains to be found. You technically can do it in the rest rooms, but the water is lukewarm.

And can I get my Big Mac or a grande triple chocolate soya mocha at the airport? Caffe Nero is the only chain to be seen at both arrival and departure. The best thing about this Caffe Nero? They serve pita/burek for only 12 kuna (that’s around £1.40 / €1.60 / $2) ! So if you haven’t stuffed your face with enough already in Croatie (or the Balkans) this is your last chance. There’s also a pub and a buffet-style restaurant with the usual soups, pastas and burgers as well as cevape (but without the bread sadly!). Prices start at 60 kuna (that’s around £7 / €8 / $10).

Whatever. What about the real essentials? Is there Wi-Fi? Yes! And since there isn’t much to do to kill time you and Wi-Fi will be besties. Like at most airports all you do is sign in and you are online! There wasn’t a time limit and it was really quick – so you can blame them for all the posts I’m spewing at you at the moment.

I know enough. Can I charge my phone, tablet and laptop while waiting? Throughout the departure hall there are several poles with a number of USB and charging plugs, the downside is that you have to stand around the poles while waiting. Who knew poles could be so exciting … and for free.

Are the chairs comfortable at all? Could I nap comfortably when I have long stopover? There are no armrests between the seats, but don’t get too excited as you can see they are not the most comfortable to lie on, so you’ll obviously need someone to lie on top of …

What about the toilets? There were enough around the gates, they were super clean and I can’t complain much, except that the coat/bag hangers in the toilet stalls I went to seemed to be broken. Why or how do you break a toilet coat hanger????

Anything cool you saw? I still can’t get over the fact that well known Italian coffee chain sells pita/burek. #nospon. In case you are wondering … Pita/burek is the Balkans’ very own comfort food – a filo dough filled with meat, potatoes, vegetables or cheese.

Anything else I need to know? Not something I can guarantee, but literally every staff member I encountered was superfriendly and smiled, which I was extra surprised about as us Balkan people are masters of the resting bitch face and most of our names rhyme with bitch for a reason. Everyone either seemed to be having a good day or they were keeping their laughs in when I spoke to them in my backwards farmer way.

Have you visited the airport? What was your experience and what did I miss out on at gates 1 – 15?

Kotor - Montenegro

Hiking the Ladder of Kotor

When you are planning a trip to Kotor there are a few things you’ll definitely end up doing – walking the Old Town, going on a scenic drive around the Bay of Kotor and huffing and puffing as you trek up the City Walls. For those with a bit more time, wanting to avoid the crowds and looking for a little more adventure might consider hiking the Ladder of Kotor.

It’s a curvy and scenic hiking trail with 70+ u-turns leading you into the mountains above the Kotor for the best postcard views of the area. The trail is also known as the Ladder of Cattaro and used to be part of a historical route that connected the bay of Kotor with the smaller surrounding villages, my heart goes out to all those horses and donkeys that had to take the carts and people through the mountains.


The trail starts outside of the Old Town. To get there, walk down of Old Town’s North Gate. The road is lined with old buildings, take the path along the river and you should be able to make out the u-turns clearly.

Every step has a spectacular view that only gets better the higher you go, with colourful pomegranate trees lining the paths. Since it’s literally zig-zagging up the hill the trail is very easy to follow – but just in case there are red and white markings painted on the rocks to guide your trail. The trail is rocky and uneven – so unless you have feet of steel, ditch your flip-flops/sandals for proper shoes/trainers.
About 1/3 up you will find another trail going to the right to a small church and the Kotor Fortress – you’ll have to climb through a window-shaped arch in the wall to get there. So you can end your hike here and go down via the castle walls on the tourist route. Those who sweat all of the way to the top (940 meters) will be rewarded by phenomenal views of the Bay of Kotor and beyond and get to brag about it.
Halfway up you will hear a barking dog and then see a little stone house, don’t worry the dog won’t bite, his paws won’t let him use a mobile so he is one of the few that just gets excited to see people come by. His owners, the old couple that live there sell homemade cheese, pomegranate juice and other refreshments. On your way back you can sit on the terrace and enjoy the view and listen to the guy’s stories on how it’s to live in one of the most idyllic places in the world. The cows and mules you might run into are also theirs.
To return to Kotor you can take the trail towards the Fortress so you can hike down via the walls of Kotor, which will lead you directly in the Old Town. Alternatively, to avoid the swarms of tourists, prepare for sore glutes and follow the path back the way you came.

London

Exploring Hampton Court Palace

If you are not a local you probably know of Windsor or Buckingham Palace, but there is a little place called Hampton Court Palace. While the queen doesn’t keep her toothbrush there this doesn’t mean you should skip it.

Though the level of freedom to explore wasn’t as good as at Dover Castle, there is a lot to see and do. I’ll spare you the history (there’s lots to read and a audio tour), but let’s just say a lot of stuff happened in the last 500 years, even more that you saw in Wolf Hall, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Tudors.

Follow me today and explore the best spots to explore at Hampton Court Palace.
Henry VIII’s Palace
Loved seeing where Henry VIII and his wives hung out. The Great Hall was a spectacle and I enjoyed the table setting with the history of the dishes, but it didn’t beat the one in Oxford (Potter for life). The Chapel Royal was a peaceful hideaway … but for me it was the ‘entertainment’ room with lounge pillows all over the place, board games and a stained glass window that hit the spot.
Willem III Apartments
My Dutch homeboy and his wife Mary hung out here for a bit in the 1690s and asked the guy who designed St. Paul’s to pimp up the place and dazzle them with new ceiling paintings. The group of French school kids I saw were definitely impressed, but I really loved the fact that one of them was geeking out on history but trying to play it cool.
Kitchens
I had heard so many stories about the kitchens but they were sadly closed for refurbishment. The kitchen gift shop it still open though. The wine cellar was #goals and would the centrepiece on my vision board if I had one.
The Gardens and Grounds
The Privy Garden was where I imagine Henry would impress his visitors, courtiers and mistresses and now obviously commoners like us. I loved seeing the adults walking around in awe while the younger kids were having much more fun playing with pebbles. The most entertaining bit was spotting a swan trying to follow his friend through a fence in the canal and not quite managing it. It seemed really embarrassed about this … it seems even the most elegant of us all can fail at something sometimes.
 
Public Park and Maze (!!!)
For somewhere that you can enter for free the public park section (the Wilderness and surroundings) is very pretty and well kept. But most importantly let’s talk MAAAZE!
The amount of times I’ve rushed to a garden ‘maze’ to be confronted by child- friendly bushes only a metre tall is sadly far too many than I’d like to admit. But Hampton Court Palace’s maze stands a mighty 3 meters, so not cheating for you! I got lost and loved it, plus it’s a great secret photo spot too.

You can get to Hampton Court Palace on the train from Waterloo station. The journey takes around 35 minutes and the train station is a short walk to the palace. If you want to take it to the next level, arrive at the palace by riverboat to channel your inner Henry or Anne. Just remember the boat takes around 3 hours from Westminster pier.

 

Paris

Bonjour From Paris: Paris In Polaroids

I recently stopped off in Paris, where I really put the ‘mini’ in ‘mini-break’ – giving myself just 30 hours to savour the city of lights and love.

Despite having visited 8 times, it’s never quite lived up to the ‘Passport to Paris’ adventure that my young teen self yearned for…no fancy apartment from Grandpa to stay in, no French models giving me a personal tour, or worst of all, no moped rides! But this time I had more realistic goal – visit as many museums and sights as I could.

I wanted to stay walking distance from the museums on my checklist and found a relatively afforable room at Hotel Therese – it had a bit of an identity crisis, but if you strip everything down: the location was central, the bed was perfect, the water pressure couldn’t be better and the Wi-Fi passed the test too. After dropping off my bag I headed on foot to the the first museum, passing the Royal Palais Garden and the Louvre on my way.

As I left the museum, the Eiffel Tower seemed so close so I decided why not go for a walk! Some 45 minutes and three wrong turns later I made it. I did spend 15 minutes people watching on Pont Alexander III, the best bit was the 4 wedding/engagement/love photo shoots all happening at once – I can still picture them all fighting for the perfect spot!

Can you imagine that in 1889 this was the tallest building in the world? And it was supposed to be scrapped right after the Universal Exposition was over? The view from Trocadero is the spot to get that postcard shot that will secure you the most likes. But as the sun had already set and the fountains were off, it did look a tad dark and depressing. My cue to exit was a street artist who was choking out a really bad cover song.
I don’t mind eating alone, but it sure is more fun to have someone to talk to and it was great to catch-up with this Brazilian girl I met in a hostel in Dublin years and years ago. She recommended a small bistro, where we chowed down on a Steak Tartare followed by a creme brulee and talked successful adulting (and the long road we still have to go).
The next day The Musée d’Orsay was my first stop. It focuses on Impressionist Western art (your Monet, Renoir and van Gogh) from the 1800s-1900s. The museum is located in a former train station (and after years of vacancy, it was decided in 1986 that it should become a museum) so you can imagine how grand it is so you don’t just want to see the art, but also several corners of the museum, such as its stunning clocktower.

I also don’t mind looking at art by myself, but there is no one to talk to while queueing, get annoyed about people cutting queues, or give random theories about masterpieces. Thank God for Europe Roaming. Plus side was that I could stop anywhere I wanted for a quick snap without feeling too guilty.

Centre Pompidou was so much love, it starts off with the building itself: built inside to create an optimal exhibition space and the exposed glass and steel designed to reveal the beauty of the building techniques. If that wasn’t enough, it has a library, restaurant, rooftop viewing point and a modern art museum with the biggest collection of modern art in Europe.

I love modern art and as I can’t even draw a stick man I am easily impressed by anything, but if it isn’t for you get the €5 Paris view tickets where you get to see both Sacre Ceueur and Eiffel Tower.

My 30 hours in Paris ended too soon, and though it’ll never be Olsen level, departing with my baguette and snoozing on a smooth-as-hell train journey I felt I could easily be a straight-to-video star (or maybe save my story for the sequel)…