Spontaneous Alsatian mini-break!

Just like most spontaneous trips, this one started out (about 10 days ago) with the simple desire for a little escapism…

We had already decided on the Thursday evening before last weekend that we wanted to drive somewhere nice for the weekend… On the Friday after work we picked a gorgeous house on Airbnb, the whole thing for a better price than most hotels in the region… and hatched a plan to wake up early and drive to Alsace.

To a little town called Hattmatt, actually- to be precise.

Population: 641.

Location: North East France.

Arrondissement: Saverne

The journey was smooth and rather enjoyable… sunshine present, radio blaring and of course, plenty of excitement in tow!

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We very quickly settled into our gorgeous ‘home’ for the weekend- a detached, idyllic traditional Alsatian beamed house… complete with everything one could possibly need; 2 pet kitties, Barbecue, huge garden, terrace… We really felt as though we’d hit the jackpot with this last minute Airbnb pick!

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Our lovely Airbnb ‘Das Rosehuss’ in Hattmatt

We went to a nice big supermarket in nearby Saverne to pick up supplies for a barbecued feast for the evening. Then, we set off on a 3.5 hour hike in the hot afternoon sun… we headed from Hattmatt over to St. Jean Saverne into the Réserve Nationale de Chasse de la Petite-Pierre,  and the beautiful, almost untouched northern French forest.

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Lots of lovely wine and cheese and meat was enjoyed as a much-needed reward after our lovely long hike.

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The kitties seemed to enjoy the feast too! (Especially Wolli, pictured above, who we renamed fatty! She flicked a steak off the table whilst we were up the garden exploring!)

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Hattmatt was the perfect base for our Saturday night stay & springboard for another little Alsatian adventure. We drove back to Frankfurt Via Haguenau, where we enjoyed a nice iced coffee!

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Catching some rays in Haguenau

More importantly though… we went lake swimming in the Bassin des Mouettes in Lauterbourg (near the German border) and soaked up some sun!

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On the whole, it was a really fantastic weekend. I would do it again in a heartbeat. If you get the chance… jump in the car with a map and a plan… (you don’t even need much of a plan!)

Ciao for now

Han

 

Wiesbaden/ Neroberg & Hessentag in Rüsselsheim

Hello, world!

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks!

I wrote most of this post almost a fortnight ago now, but have been up to my eyeballs with life… so here it is, at last!

Thursday (15th) was a German national bank holiday (Corpus Christi)- though a Christian holiday, it’s not one we have at home, so that came as a nice surprise to me, as it meant a free day for exploring!

After a lazy start, Felix and I drove to Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hessen- somewhere near Frankfurt I had never been before! We had a really lovely afternoon in the scorching heat (it reached 31 degrees centigrade by around 3pm… too hot, if you ask me!) Our ice lollies and cold drinks were very welcome!

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I thoroughly enjoyed admiring some of the beautiful old buildings and houses which the city boasts. We took the Nerobergbahn (a funicular railway) up from the level of the main town to hilltop Neroberg. We visited the stunning Russian Orthodox church, looked down over vineyards, churches and houses, and green that seemed to stretch for miles and miles the other side of the city.

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We had a really nice mini-visit, and after Neroberg we drove and walked around and saw a few of the sights of Wiesbaden in a whistle-stop manner.

Then… on Friday I went to the annual state festival here in Hessen, the ‘Hessentag’, which is hosted by a different city in the state every year.  The host city is transformed for 10 days, with roads closed, stands, rides and stalls erected and entertainment set up. This year it was in Rüsselsheim.

I went with friend (and former school exchange partner) Lara, and her parents, and enjoyed some really different German delights…. Bowle, Flammkuchen… the lot!

 

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Lara and I enjoying some Erdbeerbowle

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We took a ride on the Riesenrad (big/ ferris wheel) and enjoyed a gorgeous view over Rüsselsheim to one side (pictured below) and up along the Main/Rhine valley to the other side.

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The day ended up being a real scorcher and despite plenty of factor 50 I got thoroughly sunburnt!

The Hessentag was nothing like I’ve ever seen before- the main streets of the town were all closed and lined with food stalls, entertainment stages and advertising/ sponsored areas. It was well worth a visit on a lovely sunny day!

On the whole, it was a really lovely couple of days of local exploration!

Ciao for now- more news soon!

Han

Strasbourg: Alsace Romance

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Back in August of 2016, my (then, brand spanking new) boyfriend took me to Alsace to Celebrate my 20th Birthday. We drove over from Frankfurt and the trip was remarkably quick- just a few hours in the car. I enjoyed my first foray into the infamous German number plate game during the journey (you guess where the car is registered by the first section of its number plate… F is Frankfurt, HH is Hamburg, B is Berlin… but the best ones are the trickier ones! HD, Heidelberg, MKK, Main-Kinzig-Kreis etc.) I think I impressed him a bit with my random knowledge of some obscure German geography…!

We stayed in a really gorgeous apartment in Strasbourg, a really lovely airbnb, perfect for a short romantic break in the city. The host was lovely and told us enthusiastically of the restaurant where he (40 odd years ago) had celebrated his own 20th birthday in the city.  The photos from this weekend still make me smile so much. It was really the weekend that made me certain I had fallen so in love with Felix, and in just a few weeks. As it drew to an end we had to decide what to do. I was going to Berlin in a weeks time, and then back home to London, before heading back to Surrey for my final year in October. We decided to make a go of it long-distance… and here we are; 9 months on from when we first met, and 32 days away from moving in together. Since then we have spent many wonderful weekends exploring some European cities together, including our own. (Posts on Bruges, Leipzig, London to follow!)

Cheesy as it sounds- the trip in and of itself was really lovely, as well as the company. The city is beautiful and fairly quiet (atleast it was when we visited in late August.) The architecture is stunning, the food and wine were even better than i’d anticipated, and in our case atleast, the weather held out.

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Felix and I looking very fresh faced and excited!

 

 

We enjoyed some epic food and drink, even though we were only in Strasbourg for around 36 hours- we made sure to fit plenty in!

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view from our airbnb bedroom!
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Amazing unexpected cathedral light show
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Petit France
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That was just a very brief post about beautiful Strasbourg, with some very grainy pictures (sorry for the low quality, old phone camera!)

I would definitely recommend you take a trip to Alsace, and I look forward to going back soon.

TTFN

Han xoxox

Overpr-iceland- something you should know before you go to Reykjavik…! £$€

I had a wonderful, unforgettable trip to Iceland with my family at the beginning of April. We saw a good deal of Reykjavik itself, but spent a large portion of our trip hunting down the northern lights at all hours (to no avail) and visiting some of the most famous natural wonders of Iceland (The Golden Circle, The Blue Lagoon, to name a couple!)

I think something none of us had quite bargained for before we embarked upon our holiday, was just how exceptionally pricey Iceland would be. This is something you should know if you don’t already, though you’ll probably have a rough idea from a little research.

It’s really, really expensive. I’m not exaggerating.

If you’re from anywhere with a currency that isn’t a roughly comparable Kroner (like NOK, SEK or DKK), prepare to feel financially pillaged. The exchange rates are unfavourable from pretty much any major western currency at present, especially the weak-ass Great British Pound £, but you’ll probably feel the sting of the ISK (Icelandic Krona) regardless… Everything is really expensive. Not just because of exchange rates, in fact, they aren’t even half of the story.

The average salary in Iceland is far higher than in most other developed countries… The average Icelander earns almost 3000 euros a month before tax… compared to the average UK earner, coming in at a little under 2000 a month (still talking in euros here, just for ease of comparison.)  According to some sources, Reykjavik is actually THE most expensive capital city in the world. So don’t go without being prepared for the squeeze on your wallet. I went on a family trip, and my parents by no means scrimped, but we still felt consistently conscious of the seemingly ludicrous prices…

On our first afternoon we went to nice little cafe in Reykjavik, Stofan, (which I had previously spotted on tripadvisor)… It was cosy, warm and made a forgiving escape from the relentless freezing rain and icy wind… all was well until my mother figured out that the toastie my sister wanted to order (a veggie one, with mozzarella, tomato and pesto), which you would never pay more than £7 for in even the swishest London cafe (of equivocal centrality and vibes)… was going to set us back around £25. Roughly 27 euros. $32 USD. For a vegetarian toastie… To say it was a shock to the system would be an understatement.

You really wouldn’t believe the cost of alcohol in Iceland, either. A lot of the priciness comes down to the fact it is a tiny island nation in the arctic circle… But perhaps the shock was so distinct as Reykjavik certainly didn’t feel rural at all to me, quite comparable to many other European coastal cities I’ve visited. They don’t import that much by way of finished products… so it’s expensive to buy Icelandic, but even more expensive to buy imports.

There are *some* things you can do and see in Reykjavik on a budget. We made the decision to buy a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket… as taxis are pretty extortionate and we wanted to see all the city highlights in a day.

The Hallgrímskirkja is a stunning feat of modern architechture, probably the most recognisable landmark in Reykjavik and is free to visit. For a small fee you can ascend the tower for panoramic views over the city (although by this point in our trip we had decided to conserve our Krona for food wherever possible to avoid accidental starvation.)

 

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Leifur Eiríksson stands majestically mounted in front of the Hallgrimskirkja

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Icelanders seem to have a good sense of humour, atleast!

We also ventured to the Harpa, a stunning glass building by the Old Harbour, complete with visitor centre, theatre, gift shops and great photo opportunities.

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The geometric facade of the Harpa is mesmerising, even on a grey day.

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The Harpa comes complete with obligatory funky modern sculptures, inside and out.

DSC_0500.JPG There’s a stunning view of the Esja Mountain from the coast of Reykjavik- a unique backdrop for a busy city.

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Though largely frowned upon by Icelandic authorities, colourful graffiti provides a free attraction in central Reykjavik for thrifty travellers, and brightens up a grey city on a grey day no end.

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The breathtaking views of the sea and mountains from the city centre are certainly a free bonus worth enjoying if you visit overpriceland!

You’ll pay a lot  for excursions too, but I would say they are definitely worth it once you’re there. The only thing i’d say was a waste of money for us was our ‘northern lights tour’ (we never saw any, and stood in the cold, deserted and perfectly dark lava fields of rural iceland two nights in a row at 2am). But naturally, that’s something i’m sure those who have gotten lucky would say is worth taking a chance on.

If you want to go on trips to places like the Golden Circle (which I would recommend entirely) or the Blue Lagoon (which was also pretty cool), book in advance to save money. The two main coach trip providers are Reykjavik Excursions and Grayline. We used the former for our trips and were not disappointed.

Finally, something that may give you a little giggle- I mentioned briefly in my post on The Golden Circle that i paid the world’s most expensive toilet a visit. On the topic of overprIceland…. here’s the view from the sink..!

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If you do decide to take a trip to Iceland, make sure you’re prepared for the prices… once you’ve got your head around that as an investment, you’ll most likely be pretty impressed with the place. I certainly was!

Tata for now,

Han xoxo

The Golden Circle.

I’ve been meaning to write about my recent family trip to Iceland (02.04- 06.04.17) since the moment we returned. As usual, life has gotten in the way for a couple of weeks, but i’m finally getting round to writing the first instalment, now! 

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Gulfoss

Although we only went to Reykjavik for a short trip, it was absolutely crammed full. My family holidays always have always had pretty jam-packed itineraries and this trip was no exception.

I have plenty to say about the country itself, which was not at all what I expected, but for now, I just want to write a little something on my personal highlight… seeing The Golden Circle. 

Without a doubt, our full-day tour of  The Golden Circle (courtesy of Reykjavik Excursions) was the most memorable and picturesque part of the holiday. It was our busiest day- we spent a lot of time in the coach but also had plenty of chances to hop-out and take-in the breathtaking scenery. Our guide was fantastic, a real fountain of knowledge. And the snow we had the night before our tour made all of the scenery- lava fields, canyons, geysers… all the more stunning.

The Golden Circle  is a 300km road route which passes through some of the most popular and stunning areas of natural beauty in Iceland.

Ours commenced in Reykjavik, and we drove first to  Friðheimar… a geothermal tomato farm. I know what you’re thinking… that doesn’t sound very breathtakingly scenic, now, does it? Although it isn’t a part of every tour of The Golden Circle, a short stop at the  Friðheimar cultivation centre is definitely worth it en route. 

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Tomato at Friðheimar
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Dutch bees, imported for pollination in Friðheimar’s greenhouses
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Friðheimar’s flowers extend beyond just tomato plants!
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Friðheimar Soup kitchen & Bar

Back in 2012, the owners of  Friðheimar decided they needed to resolve their tomato waste Issue… Their produce fulfills demand in the domestic (Icelandic) market, so is on the shelves within a few hours of harvest…but only aesthetically pleasing tomatoes are bought and sold by supermarkets and shops. This is why they then began producing special recipe Tomato soup, chutneys, sauces, Jams and cocktails (Blood Mary no less!).

The farm Friðheimar is situated at Reykolt, east of Reykjavik… and is quite near to the Geysir Hot spring area, which was our first natural beauty spot of the tour…

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Caution…. Hot water!
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Little-Geysir
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Stinky sulphur geyser field
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They ‘blow’ every 5-8 minutes… which makes for a spectacular show!

There truly are no words I can drum up to even begin to describe how amazing  a-sight Gulfoss Falls was. Truly one of the most humbling, epic things I have ever seen.

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Canyon view of Gulfoss Falls
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Misty and wet
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My Sis and I by the Falls!
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Refreshing glacial spray!

On our drive back towards Reykjavik, we travelled to the ÞINGVELLIR National Park.

‘Thingvellir’ is the Old Norse field of parliament. Its lava fields, tectonic shift valleys and volcanic mountains were truly a sight to behold.

It’s also home to the world’s most expensive toilet… (300 ISK… about £2.20). But it does have pretty amazing views from the washbasin I have to say.

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Breathtaking views reveal themselves as you climb up the winding paths to the field at Thingvellir
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Icelanders are a rare (330,000) and proud people.
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Towering Lava walls create a cavernous walkway, where tectonic plates have drifted open over thousands of years.

The Golden Circle is 100% worth a visit if you’re headed to Reykjavik. Even if you aren’t there for long… if you only splash out on one excursion, make it this one. Don’t take a chance on the Northern Lights instead (we didn’t get lucky, twice!)… this offers guaranteed epic views and loads of interesting history.

I hope you enjoyed the first instalment of my trip to Iceland… The Golden Circle should definitely be on your ‘see before you die’ list of destinations!

Ta ta for now,

Han xoxo

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Frankfurt; an unexpected love affair ❤

 

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Atop the Main Tower with Layne, my blog muse…!

It all began when I first set foot in Frankfurt am Main last summer, on the 15th of July.

Technically speaking, I probably tell small a lie- I’d visited Hanau and Erlensee, Aschaffenburg and Seligenstadt, outlying sort-of suburbs back in 2014 on a Sixth form Orchestra exchange trip (nerd alert). But my first proper, deliberate foray was on this day in July 2016.

I recall vividly that it was a hot day, both on arrival at Frankfurt International Airport (FRA) and at London Heathrow (LHR) , from where I was lovingly waved-off by my teary mother.

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Obligatory *lo0k at me i’m going travelling alone* picture from the airport

This emotional parting was for (what I had anticipated would be) a 7 week adventure of SummerCamp TEFL teaching and uninhibited solo exploration of a German city i’d always wanted to visit. Almost a year down the line… It is safe to say that my relationship with the city (and more than one of its inhabitants) has surpassed all expectations.

I’m headed back to Frankfurt in the morning tomorrow for the (…September, December, March, April…) fourth or fifth time since I moved back home in the last week of August 2016.

Probably the same flight-path. Same airline even, I think… though I can’t be sure as I flit between British Airways and Lufthansa like a fly in a Jam Jar. (What can I say; i’m a sucker for a good deal!) I shan’t bother recounting the utter TRAUMA of the time I was entirely broke and decided a 16 hour coach journey would be worth it to visit my boyfriend… (i’m still entirely broke but know better than to endure that again on purpose in the near future.)

Now, back on topic. Frankfurt…

Not only was I seduced its the metropolitan charm, cultural heritage and breathtaking Skyline … but the miracle of pfandflasche... the exceptionally cheap (virtually taxless) alcoholic beverages and expansive variety of delicious delicious food. I had a truly fantastic and very memorable summer. And there was also the, small, minor, tiny detail that during August I also accidentally fell crushingly hard for a local… whoops. *cue sigh/awh track* (delete as appropriate.)

In about 6 weeks time I’m moving back to Germany… but tomorrow i’m lugging the first load of my stuff (rammed super neatly, I mean folded… (hi mum, definitely folded, incase you’re reading)) back over my s/o’s apartment… I can’t wait for a week of Easter holiday chilling, catching up with local friends, essay writing and making-up-for-lost-time/date nights.

This might sound a bit odd to many Brits, but I’ve really liked all kinds of German stuff  (Em Prisk, that hyperlink is just for you) since I was about 12. I started learning German at secondary school when I was 11 and initially I was largely just entertained by the humorously tongue-twisting contents of my little a5 bottle green Vokabelheft. But then I got kind of decent at it… and I took it for AS level. I came super close to giving it up (after the ludicrously frustrating grammar almost got the better of me)… I even made my class a huge chocolate cake that had DANKE  lovingly piped in white icing-  and then… along came results day and it turned out I less grammatically challenged than I had anticipated (and far more musically challenged!)

I’ve had a German penpal since I was 11 (Kitsch, I know!), A German exchange partner since I was 14 (who came to stay with me in London last week, too!)… and now a German boyfriend for about 8 months… I think I may have a bit of a problem…?!

I’m moving back primarily to start a new job, teaching English again, but this time as a freelancer with Berlitz language school. I’m quite excited and it’ll be a welcome break from studying (which I adore, but will need a little breather from after the trauma of dissertation). Ultimately I want to do an MA in Germany… It’s almost free and full of beautiful old Universities. But for now, I’m pretty excited for another adventure.

I should really get some quality shut eye… my first (of three) alarms will be yelling at me to get up and go to the airport in less than 6 hours time… but I’ll give you a little update on things soon; perhaps after the weekend as I’m off to party with some friends near Marburg on Friday (which is a wonderful city!!)

Bye for now,

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Alte Oper, Frankfurt
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Gude… am Main
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Beer is a very important part of German culture… which I have endeavoured to fully soak up during my visits.
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Currywurst and Erdinger Weissbier at the go-to post-work haunt of my colleagues and I last summer, Conrad’s at Hauptwache.
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nr. Hauptbahnhof

Han xoxo