How Wales Cured My New Zealand Withdrawal

I doubt that you will ever meet someone who has left New Zealand without falling in love with the country’s majestic, captivating landscapes. Even though I last visited the country nearly seven years ago, I never hesitate to exclaim that is the country I dream about returning to on a daily basis.

As part of our ‘turning 30’ lists, we had decided to spend more time exploring Britain. Therefore, we booked a short 3-night break to North Wales. We stayed in Holyhead, Angelsey – which gifted us with a beautiful view of Snowdonia National Park. From there, it was a 40 minute drive to Snowdon. Photos from @foreacharoad.

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Pentraeth – Red Wharf Bay

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Holyhead – South Stack

FullSizeRender (7).jpgCaernarfon – Nant Peris

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Hiking Mount Snowdon

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Holyhead – Trearddur

Of course, nothing will ever live up to our beloved NZ, but the beauty of Snowdonia and North Wales, is a taste of Aotearoa, 90 minutes from Manchester.

We are on the hunt for other destinations around the United Kingdom that help to heal the withdrawal symptoms of other faraway beauties…

 

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Eating our way through Budapest

 

When sat at home on cold, winter weekends, I take to pinterest like a madwoman and start researching our next trip. For some reason, when it came to Budapest, I was rather taken by the photos and reviews of food and restaurants. Usually, we’re the ‘grab-a-slice-of-pizza-on-the-go’ type people, but something about the eclectic and highly-regarded food on offer, caught my eye. Being an extremely fussy pescatarian (which is just a fancy word for a vegetarian that eats fish), this was a big deal. So, as well as all the amazing things that this incredible city has to offer, here’s what and where we ate…

Day one:

Those that follow on Instagram (if you don’t, please do) will have seen my gushing review of Zona, a ‘contemporary cuisine inspired by travels’, which is featured in the Budapest wallpaper guide. We were not disappointed. We arrived around 6pm and although pretty much every table had a ‘reserved’ sign on it, we were the only people in the restaurant for the duration of our stay. We went straight to mains, however the food was so amazingly inviting, we tucked in straight away without photographing. I had the gnocchi, while A devoured the rack of lamb – claiming that it was ‘one of the best meals he had ever had’. Not sure whether I should have taken offence to that? We followed main courses with (the most incredible) sticky toffee puddings. Washed down with two glasses of wine each, we were left with change from £50 and me desperately looking in an online thesaurus for more
synonyms for ‘amazing’.
Day two:
We began the day with a flat white and a banana bread to go from the very cool Espresso Embassy before heading off to Parliament. A lovely, relaxed and authentic cafe, where the owners are quite clearly passionate about good coffee.
For lunch, we went to Jack’s Burger – somewhere with great tripadvisor reviews and a Pinterest fav. Smashing, authentic American burgers, served in a cute little paper tray with proper American fries. Bloody loved it. I (of course) went for the fried cheese ‘vega burger’, which was pretty damn amazing – almost halloumi like, with an incredibly little sauce and fried onions. I was in one of those food induced weird states of mind, where every mouthful is greeted with an intense nod of the head and an ‘mmmmmmm’ sound, as if it’s completely different from the last. A had the cheese burger and responded to my nods, as appropriate. As well as burgers, Jack’s sells pizza by the slice and fried chicken and fish. Nice.
We followed Jack’s with a trip to Gelarto Rosa because it was pretty much next door, and I’d been dreaming of this moment since we first booked our flights. Gelarto Rosa, is a beautifully quaint and…unique little ice cream parlour, that sells ice creams (as well as waffles etc) in the shape of roses. There isn’t a huge selection of flavours on offer, but that doesn’t matter, as you can choose up to four different flavours to make your flower. We had chocolate, mango and Oreo, although in hindsight, I should have gone for salted camamel instead of the mango. For three flavours, we paid just under £2. I love this country.
Due to the horrendous weather, we decided to continue our tour of ‘Foodapest’ and visit the renowned New York Cafe – which proclaims to be ‘the most beautiful cafe in the world’. Now, we only called in for a drink – I had a hot chocolate, A had a mint tea…and don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful setting. Stunning building and decor, with a resident pianist tinkling away, but we have enjoyed coffee in nicer settings. This makes me sound like a right snob, but when you have taken afternoon tea at The Ritz or The Dorchester, it is hard to find anything else that compares. It is definitely a tourist hot spot and one for a good Instagram photo, but I would argue that it is over priced and not as life changing as it makes out.
Now, moving on to something that WAS life changing. The outstanding Comme Chez Soi. After reading the gushing tripadvisor reviews, I wondered if this little gem was too good to be true. How wrong was I? This restaurant is an absolute must for anyone visiting Budapest, but I must reiterate what so many reviewers had emphasised – you must book. This beautiful Italian restaurant has only eight tables and the waitors must have turned away at least thirty people while we were there. Some had walked miles to get there and were quite rightly gutted. Now the best thing about this restaurant – the service. We were treated like kings. So many complimentary dishes and drinks between courses, each explained in depth. Even when A had to go to the cash point, a waitress accompanied him to make sure he didn’t get lost, and I was given a magazine to read while I waited.
Each course was delicious and full of Italian spirit. We had bruchetta and rocket salad to start, lasagne and salmon taglietelle for mains and shared a chocolate cake for dessert. With two glasses of wine each, we paid approximately £43. An absolute steal. We were even given a box of chocolates to take home.
Day three:
Day three was dry, so was all about the 9-mile trek from sight to sight. Therefore, I survived on a cheese scone, a peach ice tea and a snickers until 5pm. This is when I finally got to enjoy ‘Hot Dog Cold Beer’. I say enjoy, more like experience. No veggie hot-dog. Now, I know even the thought that I should expect a vegetarian option at a hot-dog restaurant will anger many, but this is the 21st century we are living in. Anyway, A enjoyed a ‘New York’ dog, while I went for the chips on stick. Literally, a whole potato, spiraled into crisp thin slices, skewered and fried. Actually, not too bad. Unfortunately though, the draft beer wasn’t on, so we had to go for a fairly warm tin of Heineken instead. It was cool to stand outside however, and enjoy our hot-dog (crisps on stick) and warm beer, while watching the sky darken over the Basilica.
Dinner at Padthai Wokbar was really cool. Leading away from the Basilica are some really lovely little restaurants and this really took our fancy. You choose your noodles, up to four toppings and a sauce and your food is ready in around 5/10 minutes. It’s all cooked fresh, and the place had a real cool buzz. Lots of people, lots of locals and a really good vibe. The Padthai was delicious too, washed down with a chang beer, and lots of reminiscing about eating street food in Bangkok.
A cheeky little return to Gelarto Rosa, to make amends for the mango slip up. This time: salted caramel panacotta, chocolate and Oreo. Winner.
Finally, a well-deserved glass of wine from DiVino Borbar, a contemporary little wine bar that houses a huge collection of wine. We tasted the wine before we chose, and reading reviews online, the bartenders will happily let you try as many as you want before you find the one for you. It was busy and lively inside, so we opted to enjoy ours outside, with the beautiful backdrop of the Basilica. We did discuss how sitting on high bar stools, on the edge of a platform could prove costly for those that choose to indulge in several glasses.
Day four:
After checking out, we headed to the quaint ‘A la Maison Breakfast and Brunch’, a family run restaurant, with an extensive breakfast menu. Quite frankly, there was almost too much on their cute looking menus, which were not organised particularly well. I thought I had decided, to turn the page and find another list of mouth-watering dishes. After much deliberation, I decided on the eggs Florentine, with a twist. It was served with a Camembert sauce and cashew nuts – an interesting combination. A nice little restaurant, didn’t blow me away and wasn’t particularly cheap in relation to general food costs in Budapest, but it hit the spot.
Budapest really is an incredible city and the food (as I am sure you can tell) was a highlight. I would love to know whether you have eaten at any of these places and what your views are? What did I miss?

My Hidden Treasure Chest…

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 
So, our first expedition of 2016 begins tomorrow, with a 3-night getaway to Budapest. We will be staying in the impressive looking Prestige Hotel, which has been open for less than a year. 

I am interested in hearing what your top tips for this beautiful city are (Note, I am interested in eating a lot while I am there!)
Also, when changing money up yesterday, I was told that it was a popular city for firemen…I’m not quite sure what that means!?

The Northern Lights – Amazing Adventures

So, on to the main event. We sat down a few years ago and wrote our own bucket lists. We have tried over the past few years to cross off as much as we could – or at least plan opportunities to do so. My husband has been very determined, and especially as he is also coming up to the big 30 (see previous post on turning 30 and planning achievable goals) has been hammering his. Mine have ranged from the sublime to the absolute ridiculous, but one goal we both had in common was to see the northern lights.
We knew that catching even a glimpse of the aurora was not going to be a sure thing, and made sure that our expectations were kept to a minimum. However, with the greatest will in the world, that’s easier said than done.
There are hundreds of tour companies offering tours of all shapes and sizes – plus, there is the option of hiring a car and going solo. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this option though, unless you’re a meteorology expert…or a psychic. Tour guides (generally) are the experts, and we were so extremely lucky to see what we did.
Tours were cancelled on the day we arrived due to cloud.
Most tour companies offer the opportunity to book onto the following night’s tour if yours is cancelled, so I strongly recommend booking your tour for the first night you arrive. You can also check the aurora forecast online, which helped us to manage our expectations up to a week before arriving.
We were told on the second night that we had 50/50 chance of seeing something, so tours went ahead. We had decided to book through Amazing Tours Iceland, who picked us up from our apartment in, what can only be described as a monster truck. We travelled in cohort with three other vehicles and our driver was fantastic. We left Reykjavik at 9.00pm and drove for approximately 90 minutes towards Vesturland, where there was a break in cloud and the only possibility of seeing the northern lights. However, hope faded slightly as we ventured further and further into the wilderness.
Shortly before 10.30pm, as luck would have it, the aurora appeared above us, dancing away.

 

Now. I have to say, it was not exactly what we expected. No bright colours, or powerful glow. I hope nobody thinks less of me for saying this, but I did half expect the northern lights scene from ‘The Snowman’. Alas, there was no dance of the snowmen. The aurora did reappear stronger and stronger in all different shapes and sizes and our driver did take photographs of all of us with his incredible camera, which showed the lights in all its glory – even if that wasn’t what we could see with the naked eye. I will warn you, to capture the aurora effectively, you will need some hefty photographic equipment. Maybe, as we had a fairly cloudy evening, it was extra difficult to take effective photographs. The team at Amazing Tours took some incredible footage, which they shared with us all for free via their Facebook page the following day. They are also keen to send high resolution copies to you directly on request – a good touch. Our driver was a professional photographer of the northern lights, therefore has a vested interest in finding them every night. This, we felt, gave us the upper hand in our chase, compared to the bigger operators in larger coaches.
The finale of mother nature’s natural light display was, by far, the best. The brightest, most colourful beam yet, danced and floated on the spot above us, like a mermaid’s tail, before disappearing for good.

 

An incredible experience, one we will never forget, we were lucky to see and has left us wanting more. Amazing Tours gave us the personal experience and expertise that we wanted, ensuring that if there was even the slightest opportunity to see the aurora, they would find it. Speaking to others, who had chosen the bigger tour companies, they had not been so lucky. The tours were cancelled again the following night.
The Magical Northern Lights from Amazing Tours cost 22.000ISK per person for approximately 4 hours. Pick up is from your hotel/apartment and if conditions are not right, tours are rescheduled for another night.

A Festive Adventure in Reykjavik – Part One

Iceland, and all it has to offer, features on many a bucket list. We decided that it was about time to cross it off of ours! With its cinematic landscapes and natural wonders aplenty, planning our trip was not a challenge.

Day one:

On arrival at Keflavik International, we jumped on a transfer to Reykjavic with Reykjavik Excursions. Super easy and free wifi.

Once we’d check in at our apartments, snow boots and thermals on, we were off. Sadly our northern lights trip was cancelled, due to cloud, but we were able to book onto tomorrow night’s trip – free of charge.

Now, I’m a sucker for Christmas lights, so Reykjavik in all it’s magical Scandinavian beauty, did not disappoint! I will be searching for the stars in every window for the next three days.
We stayed at the Rey apartments, in the heart of Reykjavik’s main shopping and eating district. Most of the streets are either pedestrianised, or traffic is slowed to an almost walking pace. As daylight in December is limited, we arrived around 4.00pm in darkness, so we scrapped some of our afternoon plans, in place of my favourite city break pass times – wandering around in any old direction.

Since a tiny age, for some unknown reason, I have been obsessed with puffins. Therefore, I was in heaven, this truly is puffin land. I have never felt the need to purchase a carved, wooden backscratcher – however one with a puffin on the end? Just what I’ve always wanted.

We ate at Sólon Bistro, where a burger and chips will set you back about £11 – fairly reasonable. Luckily, we caught the end of happy hour, so the beer wasn’t too bad either.

Day two:

Today was all about experiencing the blue lagoon. Now a lot has been said about how ‘commercialised’ and busy the blue lagoon is, but it’s one of those places that you need to make your own mind up about.

We wandered to the very cool Reykjavik Roasters to grab a quick bite and flat white, before heading to  the iconic Hallgrimskirkja – The white concrete church, named after the poet Reverent Hallgrimur Pétursson. As sun rise was not until 11.21am, we took the lift to the tower (1600ikr) and looked out over the beautiful lights of the city.

We booked our transport to the Blue Lagoon through Reykjavik Excursions and were at our  in an hour. It was, as expected, extremely busy and the changing rooms were full. I had read about an expectation of ‘showering in your birthday suit’, and I’ve got to say, it kept me awake slightly during the night. Luckily though, there were cubicles with doors, and no scary scandernavian woman watching over you with a cane (as several tripadvisor reviews made out). I did however struggle with the lockers, which locked when you pressed your wristband over a sensor. I managed to pick a locker that didn’t shut properly and had to ask a poor old lady to hold the door shut while I reached over to the sensor.

Once through the shower section, we decided to hang our robes and towels outside. This was a stupid decision. It was snowing. There are a number of hooks inside, where your robe and towel will stay nice and warm – although don’t automatically expect to take the exact same towel when you get out – there seemed to be a slight pass the towel around situation going on.

With the package we bought, we were entitled to a free drink from the lagoon bar, which is redeemable with your electronic wrist band. I’ve got to say, I loved it! I had read scathing reviews of the whole experienced ruined by factories in the background and huge crowds. The website was very honest about the building work taking place, but even that did not spoil it for us. The steam, teamed with the blizzard we found ourself in, meant it was hard to see three metres in front of our faces. Selfie-stick-dicks were few and far between, and the novelty of sipping an ice cold beer, in a hot lagoon, in the middle of a snow storm did not wear off.

The only downside? The changing rooms stressed me out, but that’s more of a weird me thing. They were very clean, spacious and stocked with cotton pads and buds, hair dryers and every other ammenity you could need in that situation. Also, shock horror, the price of the food (gasp). We were pretty starving after a couple of hours bobbing with a beer, but a sandwich each, packet of crisps and drinks for £25? Come on.

Northern lights tour and Golden Circle to follow…

Return flights from London Gatwick on (the very impressive) WOW Air were £170pp.
3 nights stay at Rey Apartments, Reykavik – £298