How to spend a day in Reykjavik, Iceland

We hired a car for our week in Iceland, but when we arrived in Reykjavik, it was parked out the front of our Airbnb and promptly forgotten about until it was time to head back to the airport. We found Reykjavik to be a pretty easy city to walk around, even in the cold of winter. And despite the shorter daylight hours, you can actually pack quite a bit in to a sunny winter’s day while you’re there.

I’m clearly not a Reykjavik local (and I’m sure a they would have some different ideas on how to spend a day in their city), so this is my visitor’s version of how to spend a day there to take in as much of the city’s mixed bag of offerings as you can.

 

1. Get up early and start walking towards the Harpa Conference & Concert Center. Actually, you don’t have to get up that earlywe were there mid-November and this was about 7:30am. You’re not going to see inside the building or anything, it’s just really beautiful in the morning darkness on your way to your second stop.

 

2. Keep on walking south along the water for about 800 metres to the Sun Voyager. This frequently-photographed sculpture that looks like an old Viking long-ship is next-level spectacular during sunrise. It draws massive crowds during the day, so if you want a chance to have it to yourself, it’s worth the early wake up.

 

3. Double back and follow the main road around to the left at the Concert Center, taking you on a kilometre walk to Lake Tjörnin. If you’ve thought ahead and brought a KeepCup full of tea or coffee with you, this is a nice stop to make. If you’ve brought along some bread, too, even better – the birds here loooove a feed.

 

4. Opposite the west side of the lake at the corner of Suðurgata & Kirkjugarðsstígur, you’ll find the Hólavallagarður Cemetery. I love a cemetery visit when I’m travelling, and I’ve been to a lot of them now, but this will always stand out for me. After you’ve been driving around Iceland for a week, you notice that there actually aren’t a heap of trees there; they seem to be hoarding them all at this cemetery. In winter, when the graves are covered in moss and snow, and the light is a little darker and there’s no one around, it’s a pretty unique experience.

 

5. Start walking north again back towards the Concert Center and make your way to Kolaportið Market. Because no day out is complete without a trip to a local flea market, especially in Iceland where everything is generally incredibly expensive!

 

6. You’ve gotta be getting hungry by now, so take a lunch break at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur for the best hot dog you’ve ever eaten. Literally the BEST hot dog. You’ve ever. Eaten. EVER.

 

7. A kilometer and a half walk south-east along Skólavörðustígur Street will take you through the city centre, where you’ll be able to check out some of the street art scattered around the city.

 

8. If you’re game, head to one of the many tattoo studios in the city for a more permanent souvenir from your time in Iceland. I had this beauty done by Martin at the now closed Sweet Hell Tattoo Studio, which is a shame because it’s one of the better studios I’ve been tattooed in. If you’re intrigued but unsure, I’ve written a guide to getting tattooed on your travels which might help.

 

9. No visit to Reykjavik would be complete without seeing the city’s main landmark, Hallgrímskirkja, the city’s towering Lutheran church. Even if you’re not much into architecture or religion, you can’t not be left a little in awe of this building and the way it pops up at the end of a main street, like it’s just waiting there to welcome you in. And if you’re happy to join to line with the other tourists, I her the view from the observation tower up top is pretty spectacular.

 

10. It’s time for afternoon tea, now. Head about 500 metres along Vitastígur, and you’ll hit Te & Kaffi. Warm up, caffeinate, get some sugary treats (I highly recommend the choc chip cookies) into you, and get ready to head back out into the cold for one last trek before you call it a day.

 

11. Your last stop is just under 2 kilometres away, north-west, back towards and past the Concert Center. You’re ending your day at the Saga Museum. You can dress up as a Viking in the foyer area before grabbing your headphones and following an audio guide through the museum, watching on as life-sized (and sometimes disturbingly life-like) figures play out scenes from Iceland’s history. It’s a little tacky, a little silly, but it’s also a pretty good history lesson.

 

 

Eating the city: Prague, Czech Republic

Let’s take a quick break from all of the doom & gloom, and take a quick trip instead to Prague. I loved Prague, so much more than I expected to, and the food had a lot to do with that. It is by no means health-conscious or particularly good for the body, eaten in large quantities, but it is good for the soul. And when you’re travelling, soul food is never a bad idea.

 

Fried cheese sandwich

Why get it: A brick of cheese, crumbed and deep fried to the perfect shade of golden brown, topped with mayonnaise and thrown into a bread roll. If you know, you know.

We got ours from: 
Wenceslas Square, at a street vendor – there were plenty to choose from.

 

Ham filled potato dumplings

Why get it: I chose this because I didn’t want a slab of meat – it was so good, I went back the next day and ordered it again! It may look very beige-and-brown, but the chunks of smoked ham in the potato dumplings are phenomenal.

We got ours from: U-Medvidku – Na Perštýně 345/5, 100 01 Staré Město (Old Town). Because when Anthony Bourdain recommends a place, we hunt it down like rabbid dogs, and are always richly rewarded!

 

Fancy cakes

Why get it: To break up the meat and potatoes… But also because Prague does surprisingly well in the cake department, if you can find the right place to get them from!

We got ours from: Café Savoy – Vítězná 124/5, Vítězná 5, 150 00 Praha. Yes, this place has become very popular with tourists, but from what we saw, it is also still very popular with locals, and for a good reason.

 

Spaetzle

Why get it: Like gnocchi, but smaller and smothered in butter, cheese and bacon (at least the version we had was).

We got ours from: Christmas markets, accompanied with a neighbouring stall’s mulled wine.

 

Chimney cake

Why get it: A delicious dough cooked to golden brown on a rotisserie, with a whole lot of Nutella smothered on the inside of it and topped with a heavy dusting of sugar. What’s not to love?

We got ours from:
More Christmas markets – they have all the good stuff!

8 Perfect Paris Streets

The only way you’re going to really see Paris is on foot. Because there are dozens of beautiful little walking streets in the city that you’re going to miss completely if you’re in a taxi or on the trains. If you Google “Paris walking streets,” you’ll get hundreds of lists; here are the ones I really liked. They’re all in quite central areas, easy enough to get to if you don’t know the city well, and will give you a really great overview of what you can find if you take the time to wander… once we’re out of this pandemic, of course!

 

1. Rue Montorgueil
Why walk it? Cafés, bakeries and restaurants for the most part, like Au Rocher de Cancale. There are also some beautiful little places where you can get a crepe and some wine while you do some people watching.

 

2. Galerie Vivienne
Why walk it? This little undercover walking street has been made Instagram-famous for is beautifully tiled passageway which is strung with fairy lights overhead. Galerie Vivienne is home to a few old bookstores mixed in with some more modern boutiques.

 

3. Rue Saint-Séverin
Why walk it? It’s one of those story-book cobbled streets up near the Latin Quarter. Start at Boulevard Saint-Michel where you’ll find lots of pretty cafes and restaurants. Turn left on Rue de Petit Pont and you’ll end at Shakespeare & Company for a book fix.

 

4. Rue Cler
Why walk it? With wide walking paths and lots of shops, it’s an easy place to soend a few hours. You’ll find everything from Mariage Frères tea to lots of colourful florists to some delicious smelling bakeries. At the end of street, just past Rue Saint-Dominique, you’ll find the Church of Saint-Pierre du Gros Caillou.

 

5. Rue Mouffetard
Why walk it? This cobbled street on a hill hosts a farmers market of sorts every day except Monday. It’s lined with food stores and stalls – butchers, fromageries, bakeries, patisseries, the works. The croissants from Maison Morange are exceptional.

 

6. Passage Verdeau
Why walk it? For the beautiful old bookstores like Librairie J.N. Santon and other antique shops. It’s a real step back in time.

leading into…

7. Passage Jouffroy
Why walk it? This is another classic walking street, really harking back to the past. It houses a wax museum, a former 19th century brasserie, and Le Valentin, a tea house with the most incredible cakes.

leading into…

8. Passage des Panoramas
This one’s considered to be the first covered walking street in the city. With it’s old tiled floors, a few cafes and some antique collector stores (stamps, coins, postcards), it’s a great way to end your walking day.

The Comprehensive Guide To Surviving A Long Haul Economy Class Flight

This morning marks my 870th blog post here. 870 pieces I’ve put together just for this little online space of mine sine March 2014. That’s quite something, when I stop and think about  it… But this morning is also going to mark a time for me to step away from the blog for a little while. As some of you may know from past posts, I do struggle with my mental health, and over the past few months, that struggle has become more predominant in my life. So, it’s time for me to take a little step back from blogville and focus on my health instead. This isn’t goodbye, its just see ya soon 🙂

But before I go on hiatus, I wanted to leave you guys with this post. It’s a big issue in the life of the budget traveller. I know, I know. Another bloody blogger posting on that age old issue. Yes, there are a lot of articles and blog posts on this topic, but the majority of them are completely unrealistic – how many of us can SERIOUSLY afford a $350 pashmina to keep us cosy and warm, or have enough frequent flyer points to be able to upgrade to business class? Those tips are not helpful; they’re infuriating.

So what makes me qualified to give useful advise? Chances are, I’m just like you. I don’t have any frequent flyer memberships because I pretty much just book the cheapest flights available. I’ve only ever flown business class once, on a family vacation 15 years ago, because the plane was all but empty and the air hostess probably thought the exhausted family of 5 flying back home from Europe deserved a break. I can’t afford expensive travel clothes or hydrating face masks made from unicorn tears – my current carry on backpack came from Kmart, and my travel document wallet cost $15 from Typo about 6 years ago (yup, that red one below).

Now that we’ve established that I’m not ‘just like you but better,’ let’s get down to it. I’ve flown a lot in the last few years. That’s given me plenty of time to work things out by trial and error. Before we start, let me preface these tips by saying that there is no magic formula to making a shitty, squishy economy seat feel luxurious for 14 hours. But there are ways to make it manageable, so that when the plane doors open at your destination, you’re not disembarking like an extra from The Walking Dead.

 

BOOKING PHASE
Pay attention to your seat selection. Whether you book with an agent or do it yourself online, you should be able to select your seat from a seating plan. I always pick a seat towards the back, for a few reasons:
a) First, you’re generally less likely to have a crying baby. Many airlines provide bassinets, and if parents use them, they’ll need to be seated at the front of the plane (or front of a section).
b) While you can view being that close to the toilets as a bad thing, you can also use it to your advantage for space to get up and stretch your legs.
c) And finally, if there’s no row behind you, you can recline all flight without annoying someone else, and no one can kick the back of your seat while trying yo get themselves some space.

– While we’re talking seat selection, go for an aisle seat. Being able to stretch you legs out in the aisle in between trolley runs make a lot of difference on a long flight!

– Something else to consider when you’re booking is your meal selection. Yes, plane food gets a bad wrap and most of us feel like rubbish after eating it. But you can actually do something about that by ordering a special meal. Here’s the deal with plane food: there are the standard meals everyone gets by default. But you can order a special meal if you have certain dietary restrictions – gluten free, non-pork products, lacto-ovo, there’s actually a lot you can pick from! Given that the main culprit in plane food is excess salt, you could order a low sodium or raw vegetarian meal – all you need to do in most cases is add in the request to the online ‘manage your booking’ portal, or just email customer service for the airline you’re flying, ask for their special meal options, and let them know what you’d prefer!

 

PRE-FLIGHT
– Following on from that last tip, try to eat well in the 24 hours before your flight. Aim for lots of veggies, wholegrains and protein, lots of water, and try to minimise your intake of sugar, alcohol and processed foods. Basically, go low FODMAP for at least a day or two before you fly. Trust me, it’ll make a big difference!

– If you do have a sensitive tummy on flights, its also a good idea to BYO food on board, even if it’s just a few snacks. I generally take with me a punnet of strawberries or blueberries, some mixed raw nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc), and a packet of corn thins.

Plan your arrival aiming to decrease your stress levels. If you’re on a plane for 14 hours and spend half that time worrying about what you’ll have to deal with when you arrive in terms of collecting luggage and organising transport out of the airport, you’re not getting much rest! Know what you’re going to be doing when you collect bags – you may want to book a shuttle bus in advance, or decide to get a coffee once you have your bags before you hit the taxi stand.

 

CARRY ON
There are lots of things I like to take with me on board, like books and journals, but these are the things that will really help you.

Noise cancelling headphones. These are new to my arsenal and hands down the most essential thing to take. Trust me, invest in some, it’ll make flying at least 68% less shit. Crying baby? Bickering couple? Snoring neighbour? Doesn’t matter!

Make up remover wipes and mini fragrance. You’ve been airborne for many hours. You’re tired. You feel irritable and blehh. It’s amazing how much more refreshed you are after giving you face a good clean and spritzing a little perfume over yourself.

Moisturiser and lip balm. We all know planes are dehydrating. And landing after 14 hours with cracked lips and a dry, itchy face feels crap. My go to products are Natural Instinct Rejuvenating Rosehip Oil (great for face & hands, and Burt’s Bees original honey lip balm.

A clean top and undies. You may have a flight delay. You may have a while to wait between connecting flights. You may have a bit longer to travel to your final destination after your flight lands. If you can’t carry a shower and full wardrobe with you, a clean tshirt and pair of undies will make the world of difference!

 

ON THE DAY
Choose your flight outfit carefully; this is not a time for fashion. Bottoms with either lose or stretchy waistbands are ideal; I like a long, maxi skirt or gym leggings. On top, layers. I go with a loose fitting black singlet or tshirt (you’d be surprised at the amount of stains you can accumulate on a flight), a light button up hoodie or cardigan, then a heavier layer or a big scarf that can double as a blanket.

Forget about fancy hats and headbands (headaches are not your friends on long haul flights), chunky jewellery, tight belts, anything decorative.

– While I’m at it, forget make up. You’re sitting on a plane for 12 hours, trust me, everyone in economy class is looking the same level of crap by the end. If you prefer to be made up, take a few small items with you to use at the end of the flight.

Pick your shoes wisely. Nothing too tight or uncomfortable, because your feet will swell and the people sitting around you won’t appreciate you taking your shoes off when you get uncomfortable. Also, socks. Planes get cold, and you’re not going to get much rest with cold feet!

Get to airport early. I’m always at the airport 3 hours before my international flight is scheduled to depart. Because I’m only going to be waiting around at home, so I may as well wait at the airport so I don’t have to rush! Drop your bags off, head to a café or bar, and relax until boarding time.

 

ON BOARD
Set your watch to the time at your destination as soon as you’re buckled in to your seat. Then, act like you’re already on that time. So if they’re serving lunch at midday in your departure city but it’s 7pm in your destination city, consider it dinner. Then watch a movie and try to get some shut eye.

Drink. Water. Buy a big bottle before you board and just keep drinking!

– Yes, they’re daggy and look ridiculous, but wear the compression socks. We get ours here, they’re pretty cheap, and it’s as easy as putting them on and forgetting them until you arrive! They’re good for your body. And while you’re at it, make sure you walk around every now and then, or at least wiggle your feet and ankles around regularly!

All set? Great! Now off you go and book a flight and I’ll see you back here soon 🙂

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Vik, Iceland

A beautiful beach, only an hour drive from a volcano, with sand made of pebbled lava. Only in Iceland…

Last year, on the morning of my birthday, I woke up in Iceland. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us to get to the Buubble, where we’d be spending the night. But before that, I wanted to get back to this beach for one last visit. That photo above was taken around 10am, when the sun was finally coming up for the day.

Those huge rock formations in the water are known as the Reynisdrangar Columns. Legend says they’re all that remains of a two-troll battle that involved a ship; nature says they’re parts of the surrounding mountain that became eroded and separated from the main bulk. Either way, they’re an impressive sight.

They’ve got some killer basalt columns, too – having seen Giant’s Causeway before these, I have to say Iceland’s were a hell of a lot more impressive – less tourists, no entry fee, and more than safe enough to climb over. We heard that in summer, it’s not uncommon to see birds nesting up on top of the columns. We were there in winter, though, so we made do climbing the huge steps and hanging out in the cave when the wind got strong enough to almost knock me on my backside. Bonus tip: don’t visit without a wind- and water-proof jacket, and water-proof boots. I felt really sorry for one group of tourists who neglected all of that and spent a fair bit of time huddled in that cave.

The “sand” ranges from fist-sized, smooth black stones, to tiny little grains of lava. Walking from the carpark to the beach, you’ll go through a field of large, volcanic rocks – when they’re blanketed in snow like they were when we visited, it’s an alien landscape that absolutely takes your breath away. Iceland is one of the few places where all of the lame travel clichés like “the quaint little cottage” and “the landscape was an assault on the senses” and “it just took my breath away” are actually valid. There couldn’t have been a  better place to spend the morning of my birthday.