The land of ice and snow

Oh, Reykjavik. You’re unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. A year ago this week, a group of us flew into Keflavik, Iceland’s largest airport in the midst of a mid-February Arctic storm. Rugged up against the elements, we battled the 500m from the terminal to the Geysir rental car office, leaning heavily into the wind to avoid being flung onto the highway as we walked. The stinging sleet burned my cheeks and my backpack attempted to soar off my shoulders, taking me with it, as a particularly strong gust knocked us for six. But we got there in the end.


A dramatic entrance to a dramatic country. Then more drama when we discovered not only was our rental car gigantic, we had to drive it on the right-hand-side-of-the-road for the first time ever. During a hellish storm in an unknown land famous for wreaking havoc on travellers. Fortunately we made our way safely to the Hotel Grand Reykjavik (oh-so-lovely) and the rest of our team stayed at the Hotel Cabin, only a ten minute walk away. I have to mention right now that our friends had bought this very package deal through Iceland Air and the Hotel Cabin was chosen for them. We purchased our flights & accom separately and while it was a bit more expensive, I think it was the wiser choice…

DAY ONE: This was never going to be a relaxing group holiday, so we got up at crack-o-dawn and drove our rental cars in the direction of the Golden Circle, one of Iceland’s most famous national parks. It was an incredible day out. We walked the rim of the Kerið volcano crater, got a steamy facial beside Strokkur geyser, and stared in awe at the chillingly beautiful semi-frozen Gullfoss waterfall. We walked along the fault line in Thingvellir National Park rift valley.

Our first dinner in Reykavik was at Cafe Paris, a venue chosen mostly due to the pressing need to feed 8 hangry people. For a place chosen on a whim, we were all happy with our orders. My traditional beef stew was melt-in-your-mouth goooooooood. We followed it off by cocktails at B5, just up the road and highly recommendable.


DAY TWO: More exploring in the cars. This time we just drove and drove, following our noses. We found an amazing beach to frolic on. Got lost in some mountainous bypass in the middle of a snowstorm. Found a strange icy tundra with big blobs of porous moss, that you could bounce on like trampolines (yes, I did). Went offroading in some farmland during a hailstorm (I mean, we never did that, Mr Rental Car dude). Chatted to some cute chilly horses, just hanging out by a barn. And ate a buttload of pylsas, Iceland’s finest street food. Mmm hotdogs. Then we relaxed in the nearby Laugardalslaug hot pool: rather than meet at the pub after work like the English do, Icelandic folk meet and relax in a local hot pool for the equivalent of about £5 per person.

DAY THREE: Another early start but this time for the sole purpose of relaxing. We was going to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spas, baby. I can honestly say this was of the best days of my life so far. The azure-blue outdoor pools are unbelievably beautiful and there was just something magical about spending an entire day drifting lazily through the steamy pools with your favourite people by your side. The spa is cashless so to order snacks or drinks from the poolside bar, you tap your wristband on a special reader and pay your tab at the end. Dangerous. My favourite part of the experience was swimming from the cosy, warm indoor pool to the outdoor area via a giant ‘catflap’ thing, just so you didn’t have to walk around in the cold. Brilliant.

To top off an already incredible day four of us went for an amazing dinner at Grillmarkadurin. We were feeling a bit adventurous and shared the whale, puffin and lobster mini-burgers to start (oh yes we di-id). I never thought I’d say this but whale is freaking delicious. For a main I nommed enthusiastically on the grilled redfish (holy shit it was good) while my boyfriend braved the horse burger. It was delicious, god knows what that Tesco scandal was about 😉

THE NORTHERN LIGHTS TOUR: In the words of Swedish House Mafia, this was what we were waiting for. Rather than attempt this ourselves we put our faith in the Reykjavik Excursions bus tour and it was worth it: if you miss the lights they will take you back several nights in a row (it took us 2 attempts). I love words but I can’t really think of how to describe the Northern Lights. What I can say is that if you have the extreme privilege of this ever being an option in your life, do it. It’s an eery, humbling experience. And it really goes without saying, but remember to dress warm for the love of God if you go out on the tour. Reykjavik during February was a balmy 0-5 degrees but when you’re out on the tundra at night, waiting for the light show, we’re talking a wind chill of -20 degrees Celsius. Brr.

RELATED READING: For tips and inspiration, check out this blog post we read before setting out on our self-driven tour. I also read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent after visiting Iceland and really wished I’d read it before we went… She captures the bleak beauty of the place perfectly and I got chills down my spine knowing some of the book’s true events occurred in the very places we stood taking stupid selfies…

*All photos are my own originals, don’t go using them without permission*

Peanut Slab’s big day out

Since the dawn of time (well, not really, but for quite a while) New Zealanders have found a way to recognise Waitangi Day in London. Someone, somewhere, decided a few years back that a London-based pub crawl around the Circle Line would be the most respectful method for expats to express their love for a wee island nation. Every year since, enthusiastic Kiwis have dressed up in costumes representing some aspect of the homeland before getting mightily pissed.

And somehow the London police not only tolerate this occasion – they look forward to it! As long as crawl-goers follow the unwritten rule of ‘don’t be a dick’ then the London police force allows us one day a year to drink cans of beer in public and wander merrily, dressed like lunatics. It’s worth noting at this point that Waitangi Day celebrations from within New Zealand are very different. I have never, ever gone on a Waitangi Day pub crawl in New Zealand and nor do I ever expect to. This is a London-only oddity.

This was my fourth year on the crawl and like other years, I dressed up and had a lot of fun. In my first year I was a member of the ‘Crazy Horses’ gang. Year two I wore a newspaper-covered boiler suit adorned with pictures of ‘Fush & Chups’. For the last two crawls my boyfriend and I have pooled our brainpower and creativity towards a hardcore-handmade-matching-costumes-approach: we were L&P cans for 2013 and Whittaker’s Peanut Slabs for 2014.

While the novelty of drinking a beer in public has has worn off over the years, the best part of the crawl is chatting to other insane Kiwis. A good costume is guaranteed to get ‘mad props’. We were the only Peanut Slabs I saw on the crawl so were pretty popular for photo-ops. The only downside was that we were also magnets for obnoxious drunk people. I don’t know what it is about wearing a giant cardboard box but I may as well have worn a sign saying ‘punch me really hard’ because that’s exactly what kept happening…Needless to say I started to get pretty annoyed and started telling people in a patronising fashion: “If you punch me I will not be nice to you OR pose for a photo with you, because you were rude. Yes I am serious. Go away.”

Rant over. For the most part people were fun and friendly.

So, I reckon we single-handedly boosted online orders of Whittaker’s chocolate this weekend…wonder what that’s worth to a hungry homesick Kiwi? 😉

36 hours in Prague

Imagine a Gothic Disney-style castle with dark towering spires. Overlooking a cobbled square with copper statues, horse carts, hog roasts and crepe vendors. Add craft beer and strip bars to the mix and you’ve got Prague, a city of sleaze-and-beauty, rather than Sleeping Beauty. It was my first trip to the Czech Republic and my fellow travellers were Prague-virgins too.

  • The digs Our crew rented a six-bed apartment in the Downtown Apartments complex, a five-minute walk from the Old Town central square. The apartment was spacious and warm, with a wee kitchenette for much-needed morning fry-ups. It worked out to £37.50 per person – bargain much?
  • The airline  We flew Easyjet from Gatwick. It was shithouse actually – our flight was delayed by five hours. But on the plus side it turns out Easyjet pay each passenger €250 compensation when this happens. Who knew? Effectively our flights were free with spare change on top 🙂

Prague in a day-and-a-half
So here’s the deal: you’ve made it to Prague, finally, but you’re dishevelled and harassed from the previously-mentioned flight dramas. Here’s what you should do to perk right up again.

1. Eat at Bakeshop Because you’ll want an awesome feed for the day ahead. You’ll have to fight for a window table but it’ll be worth it. I sampled the pumpkin and feta tart, side salad and some of the ham & cheese quiche. The lattes are decent enough, bit on the giant side. This ain’t a cheap place, I spent 500 koruna (roughly £15) to feed two of us. But the rest of the city is so cheap you won’t care. Bakeshop: Kozí 918/1.

2. Explore the square. The buildings in the Old Town Square are amazing and there are crazy gargoyles everywhere. See the famous clock if you must (it puts on a little show every hour on the hour) but it was pretty underwhelming. Hell, I’d even say it’s shit and don’t bother – but you probably will, coz someone said the same thing to me and I went anyway. The food stalls in the square are delish, especially the hog roast.

3. Beer stop! It’s tough work being on holiday. You’re lucky there’s an amazing hidden bar underneath the square. Opposite the clock is an unassuming alleyway that takes you past a Starbucks. Go just past the Starbucks and you’ll see the signs for U Zlate Konvice, an underground haven of delicious beer and taxidermied animals. Very Gothic. As far as Prague goes the beers are pricey at 98 koruna each (roughly £3), compared to 30-ish at other places (£1). U Zlate Konvice: Melantrichova 477/20.

4. Shop at the junk markets behind the square. Buy shit you don’t need. Someone in our crew bought a Russian doll toy that was painted to look like members of the All Blacks rugby team, complete with a teeny tiny Piri Weepu in the middle of it. As you do, Prague. As you do.

5. Another beer stop! Since the first one didn’t quite hit the spot, you need another beer, obvs. Our second stop was for an outdoor beer at Lavka Club, overlooking the famous Old Town Bridge. The beers were cold, the blankets were snuggly and the sun was starting to set. Nice. Lavka Club: Novotného lávka 201/1.

6. Photos on the famous ‘statue bridge’ as the sun sets. The Old Town Bridge is one of the prime landmarks and is also an ace spot for photobombing other people’s pictures…

7.  Yet another beer stop! With chips! It was getting cold, so we needed even more beer. A friend had recommended we try The Pub, where you can order casks for your table, but it turns out you need a reservation to get a seat on a Saturday so we couldn’t get in. Just around the corner from The Pub we stumbled across Kozlovna and I am Glad That We Did. The beers were cheap and plentiful and the staff were hilarious. My memory gets a bit hazy here but I am pretty sure two rounds of large beers, plus chips and some shots of the local nut liquer, set us back about £20 equivalent. Tops. Kozlovna: Křížovnická 4

8. It’s probably time you eat something. Yes, that’s a good idea. I can’t quite recall how we chose our dinner location. Or what it was called. Or where it was. What I do know is that I ate goulash with potato dumplings. At a really nice place that was stumbling distance from Kozlovna. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

Day Two

1. Get your hungover ass out of bed and eat something. You won’t want to but you’ll thank me later. Grab a coffee and a snack from one of the plentiful bakeries (but don’t get one of the star-shaped fruit pastries you’ll see everywhere, because gross).

2. Get thee to the Strahov Monastery. The views are great. The monks brew good beer. They make damn tasty goulash-in-a-bun. And it’s pretty. Strahov Monastery Strahovské nádvoří 1/132

3. Check out the castle. Take some photos, the view is great. We didn’t go inside. It was too much. Prague Castle: Pražský hrad, 119 08 Praha 1

4. Have another beer, on a boat. A floating restaurant is still a boat. We sat here as the sun set and it was a beautiful way to end a rowdy, lovely weekend. The swans floated by as we sipped our ice teas and eventually felt brave enough for a beer. Marina Grosetto Ristorante: Alšovo nábřeží, 110 00 Praha 1


Listening to: Spacing by Shihad (yes, old school)