Staycations; International friends and the beauty of holidays at home.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet a heap of wonderful people in my relatively short life so far. Many of whom, hail from places half a world the way from me.

I’ve found its amazing to make international friends, and it’s always so exciting meeting up after a long while apart…

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This weekend, my friend Layne (check out his travel blog, right here), who was my colleague last summer in Frankfurt (we taught the same classes together, every day for 7 weeks) is staying with me in Guildford! Layne is from Missouri in the USA, but has been living and working in Granada, Spain, for the past few years since finishing Uni (or College, as he calls it!) Having not seen one another since parting ways at the end of last August, I was super thrilled to be reunited yesterday at Gatwick airport, and give him his first taste of green and merry England this weekend.

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Postbox by the Old Electric works in Guildford, a really SUNNY Friday in May!

This isn’t my first Staycation rodeo, though… Around a month ago, during the Easter break, my school music exchange partner, Lara, came to stay with me for a few days along with her boyfriend Elias. Lara and Elias are from Smallish towns in Hessen, fairly near to Hanau, a short train ride out of Frankfurt, Germany.  I’ve known Lara since I was 14 and seen her every year (bar one) since we first met. It’s been especially nice being close during my time in Germany and we’ve seen way more of each other than either of us could’ve anticipated a couple of years ago.

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This was the three of us enjoying some happy hour cocktails at Fifty-Five Bar in Camden.

Moreover, I’ve spent some time with my German boyfriend Felix staying and I’ve also sort of played host then too- doing some touristy things and enjoying the sights together. Cooking obligatory full English breakfasts and tracking down the tastiest fish and chips in London.

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Touristing it up with Felix, last October
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Lara’s red telephone box picture… artistically back-dropped by St.Paul’s cathedral!

Showing your friends around your home town or city has plenty of benefits you won’t even realise until you do it.

Both of my recent staycations (one currently in-progress) have made me more appreciative and aware of the beautiful things in the place where i’m from (and the place where I live now!) It’s so easy to ignore things nearby that you enjoyed doing once or have entirely ignored, despite the fact they’re right on your doorstep.

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Guildford Castle Grounds

One major plus side of a Staycation is, by throwing yourself into a busy schedule, going out and doing stuff, you feel like you’re on holiday, but you have the benefit of being close enough to home to go back and crash out at any point. It’s really flexible. What’s more, you cut travel costs… no flights means just trains and buses to factor in.  It can actually get kind of expensive, especially in London, where almost everything is pricier than it needs to be- but there’s plenty of stuff to see and do for free, if you know where to look.

It has been really good fun for me reeling off loads of random cultural and historical trivia I have to my friends as they look on in (what I hope genuinely has been) fascination! Local knowledge is always something I really appreciate on trips abroad.

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Layne and I at Guildford Castle

Food wise- you can cook whatever you want and eat whenever you want. You aren’t bound by restaurant meal times (and prices) and it’s totally acceptable to grab a drink… a pint, a glass of wine, a tray of tequila shots… (just kidding) at any time of day. YOU’RE BASICALLY ON HOLIDAY, FOR GOODNESS SAKE! But you know where all the best places to eat are, how to navigate a supermarket perfectly, and have all your own utensils and crockery… perfect!

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Why not make a picnic full of traditional favourites? That’s what I did for Lara and Elias, and it went down a treat!

This isn’t always an issue, but it’s really useful to have a local around for navigation and communication can be super handy. Knowing the quickest and prettiest way from A to B, as well as… the cheapest train ticket option, the fastest bus route etc. is a real bonus. Especially if you’re on a short trip somewhere- you don’t want to waste time bumbling around in circles (although there’s no concrete guarantee that won’t happen a little to a native in some unfamiliar areas of London- it happen’s to the best of us!)

Getting an outsider’s perspective on somewhere you take for granted can be really refreshing. 

Living in the UK, one thing you can’t count on is the weather- So far this year, all of the sunniest days have landed when I’ve had guests to stay… which has been damned excellent luck- that or they’ve just been bringing the sun with them, which is a definite possibility.

 

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Westminster after dark, from Southbank

Those were just a few of my thoughts on holidays from home/ Staycations! Definitely a great thing to do, especially when you have friends from elsewhere to stay.

Cheerio-

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