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

 

Sunshine am Main 🌞

The weather the past few of days here has been glorious; blue skies, sunshine and daylight until gone half 9pm.  Yesterday there was a wild, mildly tropical thunderstorm (but yesterday was a duvet day for me- so I’m not going to count that!)

On Thursday, I enjoyed a really wonderful evening in Frankfurt- spent strolling over the Eisener Steg towards Sachsenhausen, stopping for a relax on the Riverside grass along the Schaumainkai with a couple of beers.  Afterwards we headed towards Sachsenhausen in search of grub.

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I just wanted to take a picture of the bridge and Felix said I should be in it too!
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Worse light this side, but the other side of the same stretch of skyline. The contrast is so cool.
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I told Felix to smile into the skyline… But his grin wasn’t cutting the mustard so I coersed with a little tickle…
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The view as you walk over Eisener Steg… Look at that sky! 
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Totally epic dinner eaten at Struwwelpeter in Sachsenhausen. I went for the Grüne Soße (as I thought it was about time) and F had mushroom sauce
The Grüne Soße was not bad at all but also not what I had been expecting! Give it a go.

 

Settling in…

For a long time, I thought this time would never actually arrive.

For months it has remained a distant ink blot on my calendar and a red underlined date in my diary. But it did arrive.

And now i’m here- officially back in Germany… not far away from starting my new job. And living with my boyfriend. This is, in fact, my first proper grown-up venture into cohabitation- in the couples sense atleast.

It’s only day 3, but i’m very much enjoying things so far.

Of course, it’s wonderful to be reunited (after our longest ever long-distance stint of just over 6 weeks last time) but it’s also so exciting to be living somewhere new. Sure, I lived in Frankfurt last summer, but that felt like, at times, one big long wild working holiday. This time… I even brought some crockery with me. Shit’s got serious.

I was thrown a wonderful going away party by my family on Saturday, before my departure on Sunday- it was part surprise/ part poorly kept secret (i am impossibly nosy and really hard to keep surprises from!) and it was lush.Family and family friends came round for a big barbecue with plenty of meat, delicious salads, drinks and desserts and the luckiest ever helping of English sunshine. I was showered with thoughtful, quirky and useful gifts- and I had not been expecting the send off I received.

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On Sunday night, my parents travelled up to Victoria with me- for several reasons really. First and foremost, it was a real challenge for me to walk anywhere with the amount of luggage I had… let alone ascend the currently stairs-only Victoria tube station up towards the coaches. Secondly, for emotional reasons… my mum wanted to ‘wave me off’- which was lovely of course. And also because I was a little frenzied myself at the stress of the long journey ahead and the gravity of moving away, not just out. 

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The coach ride was long and boring, but actually not too uncomfortable or sleepless, luckily.

I awoke with excitement, periodically, as we stopped in Ghent, Brussels, Liege and neared the German border in the small hours. We reached Aachen early in the morning and drove onto Cologne, before finally beginning the last leg of the trip down to Frankfurt.

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I was so happy to be back when I finally arrived… When I saw the skyline emerge over the Autobahn bridges as the city drew near, I welled up with relief that i’d almost made it (and was within stretching distance of a cuddle and a proper toilet once again!

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Erster Frankfurter Schwimmklub von 1891

After the initial drive home and unloading of my luggage, we enjoyed a nice long evening of food and drinks together. We ate at the terrace restaurant of the ‘Erster Frankfurter Schwimmklub’ (The first Frankfurt Swimming club, a private swimming lake). 

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Prost!

We also went to the Irish Pub in Bornheim and enjoyed a nice evening walk.

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Since then, I’ve had a few funny ventures into the beginnings of everyday German life. Today I had to undertake the immense responsibility of letting an electrician in… showing him to the meter… deflecting/ignoring his sexist jokes… etc. in German.

I’ve been shopping, running… unpacking!

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Last night I enjoyed my first Fletcher’s burger (the chips were actually really tasty, well seasoned!) and the burger wasn’t bad at all. It was a cheeseburger with bacon on…!

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This morning I got up pretty early and went for a run… along the Main!

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I’ll say ciao for now, and write another post soon…

I don’t want this blog to become a boring diary but I thought a little update was necessary just this time!

Bye-

Han xoxo

 

 

 

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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Happy

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

Top 10 things you should taste in Germany

I love food. And drinks.

I’m not picky at all and love sampling the local cuisine wherever I travel to. Here are just a few of my favourite German specialities I think you should try next time you’re in Deutschland! For the fully immersive German tourist experience, I’d suggest going all out on the food and drink. Try everything you can. If it’s your first time in Germany, ease yourself in…. ‘But, when in Rome, do as the Romans do!’

Brezeln

Start gently, with a hard-not-to-love Laugenbrezel-  a traditionally german savoury bread pretzel. Tasty with butter or on their own, my favourites are the fairly plain sated ones, although you can also get them super cheesy, or covered in pumpkin seeds (Kurbis). The great thing about these is, they are cheap, tasty, filling and available pretty much everywhere. They are cheapest to eat if bought from the bakery section of a supermarket, like REWE, where you can get a fresh one for around 30 cents (definitely under 50), in comparison to the 2,50 or 3,50 you can easily end up paying if bought from a street vendor. That being said, they are wonderful warm, so sometimes its worth paying the extra bit for that.

Apfelwein

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(Photo Credit: http://www.wanted.de)

Why not drink some Apfelwein… or Ebbelwoi as it is affectionately known in the local Hessisch dialect. It’s a delicious, often quite tart but also fairly fruity apple based alcoholic drink- (I would just call it a cider but i’m not sure my boyfriend would ever look me in the eye again if I did..!) It’s crisp and refreshing on a hot day, especially lovely drunk from a traditional glass. Fun Fact… there’s a building in Frankfurt called the Westhafen tower, which is built to resemble an Apple wine glass! If you’re in a hurry or on a budget, you can buy around a litre of decent tasting applewine for about… 1,39 euros… here is a photo of me lovingly clutching some on my very first night in Frankfurt last summer, at the gay pride parade…

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Auflauf

Auflauf is one of those things that is just so very German it’s quite hard to explain… it’s essentially a word to describe any combination of carbs (pasta/potatoes/rice/ pastry – though not all at once) with eggy, cheesy, goodness, baked in the oven. My favourite so far has been a Spinach, Salmon, King Prawn and Pastry Auflauf (home baked in cooperation with boyfriend’s mum!) But i’ve also tried a pasta one and a potato one with different ingredient variations. It’s heavy but delicious and there’s a filling for everyones tastes…! 7IMG_20170418_185706980

Käsespätzle

Literally translates to something like ‘cheesy egg noodles’, this fresh egg pasta dish made with ample cheese and the special pasta variety spätzle is a must-try for carb lovers. It’s most often cooked with bacon cubes, onion, garlic, and often also spinach or other veg for variation. But it’s the definition of cheesy goodness. Just eat it. Please. do it. Unfortunately don’t have my own pic of this, as I always eat it too fast to take one.

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(GuteKueche.at)

I feel as though i’m doing German cuisine the greatest injustice by reducing it to this rundown- it is pretty varied (not so carb heavy as i’m making out) and tasty… Although I love all of these things- so my recommendations are made in good faith!

Weißbier

If I had a pound (£) for every-time i’ve heard the words ‘gerne eine Halbliter Hefeweizen, bitte’ fly out of my mouth, i’d be half way to clearing my student debts. But seriously. I love this stuff. It’s so good and refreshing. It’s naturally cloudy, but you can also have it filtered, when it becomes ‘kristallweizen.’ A must-try for your time in Germany.

Flammkuchen

Pretty much carbonara topped thin crust pizza… yet an other gross oversimplification of the delights of german cuisine… but it’s great.

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My (veggie) sis had a 4 cheese flammkuchen, and I opted for the classic in this pic. Ignore my derpy face I was like ‘mum please don’t take a picture i’m busy eating my foooood’.

Wurst

Now I couldn’t write a post with some tips on German Cuisine without including what the nation is undoubtedly most famous for; Wurst. Sausages… they come in all shapes and sizes, and are pretty much everywhere in Germany. It’s really not uncommon to see people eating snacking sausages just walking about the city… there are lots of different types… so, why not try something different?

  • Frankfurter Würstchen (classic, boiled, porky, great with mustard/ketchup in little a bread roll)
  • Weißwurst (literally- ‘white sausage’- Veal and Pork)
  • Rindswurst (Beef sausage- really nice with mustard
  • Currywurst- In my opinion… the king of sausages… usually pork/beef sausage (frankfurter/rindswurst) covered in delightful curry ketchup goodness. I cant get enough of it
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Currywurst mit Pommes (curry sausage and chips!) at Conrad’s. Hauptwache

 

Eis

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Eis near the Romer, July 2016

Whether you want to opt for the delightfully retro spaghettieis or a more traditional scoop or two of gelato… german ice cream is generally pretty awesome- and the reason for that is, its mostly italian. There is a pretty large 3rd generation Italian expatriate community in germany, with many Italians moving to Germany to rebuild after the end of the war to offer temporary (mostly manual) labour… and a few sticking around! Totally a bonus when it comes to food.

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Spaghetti Eis (with Nutella topping!)

Apfelkuchen

Apple Cake, more like Apple pie… with lashings of whipped cream and plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg inside! You have to grab a slice.

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I ate this slice last Sunday at Cafe Metropol am Dom. Bliss.

Hamburgers

Although modern thought implies that the ‘Hamburger’ as it is consumed in its base, patty form my millions every day is an American invention, that is certainly not the kind of Burger the Germans would like to take credit for. I have eaten some seriously EPIC burgers in Germany- Fletcher’s Better Burger, Jamy’s Burger, Die Kuh die Lacht (The laughing cow) are a few common and popular chains (especially in and around Frankfurt) BUT my personal favourite Burger joint is without a doubt Der Fette Buelle. I celebrated my birthday there, took my family there during their visit to Frankfurt in August… it is simply amazing food, and not too expensive either which is a huge win.

I hope you enjoy sampling a few of my top German delights during your next trip. Let me know if you think there’s anything I haven’t mentioned that I need to try!! (Naturally these are just my personal highlights, If I wrote everything German I’d eaten or drunk lately this post would be 30,000 words long.)

Tschüssi!

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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