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I have a love/hate relationship with the city. If I am in one of my favourite secret places in London I love it. Catch me on a bad day and I will moan about how rude the people are, how bad the weather is and how busy it is there. Catch me on a good day and I will happily tell you it is the best place on earth and I have always wanted to work there. The trick for me with London is to realise you need to split your work time and free time. Travelling up there for work is a nightmare, but I still go up to London in my free time, because when I do have the time to wander, there are some incredible places. I wanted to share with you some of my favourite places in the city you might not know about.
The Richmond Theatre
Situated well-away from the traditional “theatre district”, The Richmond Theatre has a simplicity that is very attractive to someone who enjoys the theatre as much as me. Since I started writing for The Live Review, I have been lucky enough to visit quite a few shows there. I don’t know what it is that makes me feel really at home at the theatre, but this particular theatre makes me feel even more so. Maybe it’s just because it’s a little bit cosier than the bigger London theatres in the West End. The fact this place is so peaceful is the main reason it gets designated one of my best secret places in London.
Great for. . . feeling cultured
Mei Leaf is a little slice of heaven in otherwise-heaving Camden. I’ve always been a huge fan of herbal tea and I became an even bigger fan when I gave up alcohol. The thing that makes Mei Leaf so spectacular is that they have a small, sit-in cafe bit at the back where they will serve up a traditional Chinese tea in the pot, on the wooden tray and everything. The staff there know their stuff as well. Most years, some of the staff actually visit China and handpick the tea. Teatulia is another tea bar I really like in London, I found out about them after going to a blogging event at their London tea bar.
Great for. . . forgetting reality
When I first heard about it, the Japanese garden was something that was on my list of places to visit for ages. I think in the UK, we are constantly waiting for the “right” weather to do certain things. So I put the visit to the Japanese garden to the back of my mind because it was winter. Then, I realised how close it is to my office. Holland Park, where it is situated is just a couple of stops away from me on the central line.
If the weather is dry, this is a beautiful place for a little lunch-time walk. You can find all of the details you need to visit the Kyoto Garden here.
Great for. . . getting back to nature
Camden Lock Canal Boat Tours
I know you are probably thinking that a canal boat tour isn’t the first thing you would associate with the busy city, but a boat tour along Regents Canal is one of my favourite things to do in London. the London Waterbus Company do tours that go to London Zoo or Little Venice. They are inexpensive, and I can’t think of anything better to do on a sunny London afternoon than hop on a boat to one of the most beautiful places imaginable (Little Venice).
Great for. . . something different
The Churchill Arms
I’ve already written a review on The Churchill Arms, on my food section, but I thought it was worth mentioning again here. Based in Notting Hill, The Churchill Arms has quite an interesting outdoor and indoor decor. The food is really good as well. Unexpectedly, they do a fantastic Pad Thai.
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As part of my birthday weekend surprise from my Mum, she booked up for dinner at Hudson’s House. For someone who is never in London she did really well with all of the planning. Hudson’s House is situated in St Giles Hotel (where we were staying), which was a short ten minute walk from the theatre.
I went for a little lunch time walk beforehand and found the St Giles Hotel before we went and I was amazed at how central it was. It’s about 2 minutes from Tottenham Court Road station and you can also get a bus from Fenchurch Street that takes you really close. I’ll be honest – the outside isn’t impressive. The outside has kind of a cold war vibe so you can be forgiven for not expecting much when you go in. The hotel itself is amazing inside though. We were on the fifth floor which was great as we had a view of the whole of London, we could even see the Shard from our room. The room was lovely and nice and warm which is really what you want when you are trekking around London for the evening. My favourite part about the room was the bathroom because it had a bath, so I soaked myself and caught up on Celebs Go Dating before we went down to dinner.
Hudson’s House, London
The restaurant is located in the hotel so we didn’t have far to walk for dinner. Hudson’s House had a real trendy vibe. They were playing 80s tunes which is a bit random but I’ll always welcome a bit of 99 Red Balloons while I’m tucking into my salmon. The tables were also quite private which is nice as I’ve eaten in places before that put you so close to the people next you you, you might as well be cutting their food for them. Because the venue is so trendy you’d be forgiven that the menu will be pretentious, but it is actually simple, elegant offering that focuses on good, whole food.
Any time I go out to eat I order something I wouldn’t usually have at home. If no one else in the house likes the same thing as you then really what’s the point of cooking something entirely separate. I had the salmon which came with roast potatoes which had a distinctive crunch and tasted a bit cheesy. I have no idea if they did have cheese on them or not but if they did – that is GENIUS. As I ordered, the waitress apologetically informed me there was no kale. Thank heavens I escaped that one! Green beans are far less dreary than kale.
Since I’ve been blogging I’ve made it my mission to try as many different cheesecakes as possible. Bring them on! Who cares if I’ll be fat for Marbs, YOLO. So of course, I had cheesecake for dessert. This particular little delight was of the New York variety and it was like a little slab of cheerful. I’d eat there again in a heartbeat, it was a wonderful birthday treat.
VQ Cafe, London
When I saw our hotel also had a VQ restaurant I was quite surprised as I know they are quite famous as a restaurant in their own right. To be honest hotel breakfasts are so poor nowadays you are lucky if you get a croissant and decent cup of coffee so after a comfy nights sleep in the St Giles Hotel’s cosy bed I was thrilled to be going downstairs for a full English. We were off to the Chinese New Year parade on the Sunday so I was glad of having a great breakfast before we went. They even did a veggie option which worked out perfect as my Mum doesn’t eat meat. The staff at VQ were so, SO helpful and they were super cheerful for that time of the morning. I need at least three coffees before I put in that level of effort – fair play to them.
The entire experience was fantastic. I’d highly recommend the St Giles if you are spending a weekend in London. It’s so central and really reasonably priced.
To me, there are two versions of London. There is the London I work in. This is the London that centres around my office in Seven Dials, where I go for breakfast meetings at the Shard and pick up the Metro at Covent Garden station on my way home. Then theres the London I PLAY in. The London where I go to last minute art exhibitions, Bounce for some ping pong and a drink or Regents Park during the summer for some tanning. In my head having time to enjoy the city is a completely different thing to rushing down Charing Cross road to the office because you missed your tube by 30 seconds.
So when my Mum told me my 30th birthday surprise was in fact, a weekend in London, I was super excited even though it was in and around my work area. I’ve wanted to see Aladdin for ages, but until MAC or Urban Decay lower their prices I was never going to be affording that one. As someone who hates the tube she managed to plan everything avoiding it with military precision. We were staying at the St Giles Hotel, having dinner at their restaurant then seeing Aladdin at the theatre (something I have wanted to do for ages). So that was that.
I was seeing Aladdin at the theatre!
The Prince Edward theatre is really easy to find. That isn’t even just because I work there and know the area, it’s a short walk from Tottenham Court road station. I’ve been to the theatre quite a lot, but being that it was Aladdin I didn’t really know what to expect. When we got there and had read of the programme both of the best songs (Prince Ali and A Whole New World) were in the second act – so I assumed the first one would go slowly.
From the offset the genie was hilarious. He really is one of the best characters. He kept the jokes fresh and up to date and his banter with Aladdin was brilliant. Obviously it followed the story of Aladdin really closely so the first act was all about him being a thief and then meeting Jasmine. It ended with the part where he goes into the cave to find the lamp. The set for this scene was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it at the theatre. It looked like solid gold which is the effect they were going for but I wasn’t expecting it to be so good.
The second act opened with Prince Ali so if you are going to go and see it expect to have that one in your head for about three weeks after. When my Mum told me what we were doing I was seriously intrigued at how they would make the magic carpet scene work. I remember when I found out magic carpets were not actually real. I was shocked and horrified. The magic carpet at Aladdin in London actually flew. It seriously did. I was in awe. As Aladdin and Jasmine flew around the stage singing A Whole New World all I was doing was trying to figure out how they did it. After an extensive Google search I have come to the realisation that they don’t WANT you to know how they did it. In fact, the staff actually have to sign NDA’s to say they won’t tell anyone. It is ACTUAL magic.
I’ve always found the end of Aladdin a bit drawn out. I don’t know why as the film itself is quite short, but I can never remember what actually happens which means it is too long as I haven’t got a terribly long attention span. Luckily the theatre production doesn’t drag on, and the ending wraps up pretty quickly and neatly.
Depending on how many people are going, tickets can get pricey, but I can honestly say it is worth every penny. Aladdin is the most truly amazing West End show I have ever seen and I can’t wait to go again!
I don’t know if burgers have got more expensive since I worked in London, or working in London has made me realise how expensive burgers are, but either way, what the hell is going on?
After stopping being vegetarian I’ve still tried to maintain quite a healthy diet but let’s face it: fat Fridays happen. Being nestled comfortable in-between Covent Garden and Leicester Square means I have a large selection of burger choices at my finger tips. On my first day I went to Honest Burger with some people from work, and although I was impressed with their veggie burger I can’t say I would have been as suitably impressed with a meat offering costing me £10.
So the other day, after having never been, I thought I’d give Five Guys a crack on my “fat Friday”. One of the main benefits was the fact that it is a shorter walk than McDonalds and I had already walked around for most of my lunch break looking for a dress to wear to a rave the next day in Stoke On Trent. The ordering process is quite simple which I like. I actually actively avoid Subway because I find it intimidating being asked 144 questions when I just want what is basically a ham roll.
“What bread do you want?”
I don’t know love, I have no idea what your 47 types of bread are and usually at home I have Kingsmill 50/50.
“What salad do you want?”
Just the usual stuff mate. I have no idea what half of this shit is and if you try to put an olive in my sandwich I am going to throat punch you.
Yes. Please put ketchup on my ham sandwich. That’s not weird at all.
So yes, ordering is quite painless at Five Guys and thank heavens you do not have to be treated like a weird outsider for not liking mayonnaise. I ordered a burger and some spicy fries with a drink. Standard Friday procedure. What wasn’t standard Friday procedure was it costing me £16.20. £16.20 for a glorified Big Mac Meal. When did this happen? When did life get so expensive? Why do I live in a world where my burger cost me nearly as much as my outfit?
The Ivy Grill, London
A couple of weeks into my new role in Seven Dials, I flirted with the idea of getting off at Leicester Square instead of Covent Garden. You must realise that for a woman of my age throwing that into my daily routine really is quite the source of excitement. Having trained myself to learn every shortcut from Covent Garden station to the office since I started, a new station was like a whole new world to me.
Once I got off and realised where I was I found a charming little street that led me straight to the office. Charming mostly because I passed The Ivy and Dishes. Passing The Ivy was pleasant because I had heard of it and passing Dishroom was pleasant because it always smelled incredible. When a friend recently suggested meeting up at The Ivy after work I was keen not to pass up on the opportunity to see the inside, especially as it is so well hidden from the view of the proletariat like myself.
Although I am. life long fan of surprises, I find it terribly difficult to not look at the menu before I go somewhere. Between being pescatarian and not being able to eat certain foods for health reasons I always like to be prepared so that I do not faff and hold up the other diners. The vegetarian options on the menu at The Ivy were less than overwhelming.
Oh ANOTHER mushroom risotto. How lovely.
I’m surprised I did not see the appearance of the one food item that really is the last refuge of the unimaginative chef – the bean burger. So we changed it to The Ivy Grill which is a bit further in to central Covent Garden, just behind the market.
Outwardly and inwardly The Ivy is a cosy experience. We were shown to a little booth which was just about spacious enough for the four of us and meant I didn’t have to curb my regular foul language in fear of offending fellow diners. Our conversations about awful Tinder dates and our favourite drag queens were perfectly safe.
I opted for the fish and chips because despite the vegetarian menu being more limited but also more appealing here there is something inside of me from various trips to Southend On Sea as a child that just cannot pass up the chance to have a really good fish and chips. Spending half of your life dieting means you spend the other half being seriously invested in finding foods that have your entire daily recommendation of calories in them. The battered cod did not disappoint. The batter was crispy and light and I couldn’t help but think how much less satisfied I would have been with a mushroom risotto. The fish was just about fish enough for me to imagine some poor staff member freezing their tits off at Billinsgate fish market that morning. The chips were the dictionary definition of “man chips”. If you do not know what man chips are I’m talking the thick, long crispy numbers that could fend off a burglar with one swing. It was a perfect hearty meal for a drizzly London evening. My friends had the duck curry and the shepherds pie and I certainly heard no complaints their end.
While the food is pleasant and palatable it isn’t very experimental so if this is what you are looking for from your culinary experience in London then it is maybe not you. If however, you are sick of having your mashed potato spiked persimmon and pomegranate and you just want a simple, elegant meal, this is the place for you.If you don’t go for the food, go for the atmosphere. It’s a welcome little bubble of privacy in a place in central London where personal space is a about as common as a free lunch.
The Ivy Grill is on Henrietta street just behind Covent Garden market. Menu items on the A La Carte menu start from around £15.
It hasn’t escaped me that my posts relating to food are the most read. In 2018 I plan on giving the people what they want and focusing more on food and events around Essex and London. Kicking off 2018, I am going to tell you 5 of the places you simply must eat in Essex, and one of the places you should avoid at all costs. People may think Essex is all TOWIE and bling, but there really are some hidden gems when it comes to fantastic food.
Best places to eat in Essex
Andi Walker Pop Up at the Riverside Inn Chelmsford
A few months back I was invited to Masterchef finalist Andi Walker’s pop up at the Riverside Inn in Chelmsford. The Riverside Inn itself made a wonderful impression on me as despite always hearing good reviews I had never been before. Andi Walker had taken over the top floor with his pop up. I spent a lovely evening eating inventive, original and of course, tasty food. Andi uses locally sourced products that are in season at the time, so everything on your plate is as fresh as possible. One of the things I remember making a lasting impression were the leek haji’s – amazing idea! I’ve recently been invited to another evening hosted by Andi, so I am hoping this means he will be at the Riverside Inn for a lot of 2018.
Best for: catching up with friends over amazing food and wine.
The King William IV in Chigwell
No roundup of places to eat in Essex written by me would be complete without paying homage to The King William IV in Chigwell. Saying I like it is an understatement. I like it so much, I plan on getting a flat in Chigwell as one of my 2018 goals specifically so this is my local. I’ve visited loads of times but one of the main attractions here is the Sunday roast. You’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Essex that does a roast as well as these guys. I’m hoping I’ll be able to start next year’s roundup with a lot more visits to this place. They refurbished last year and the atmosphere is incredible. in the winter you can take advantage of how warm and cosy it is, but in the summer they also have a stunning outdoor area for food and drinks.
Best for: Sunday roasts
The Dukes Head in Billericay
The Dukes Head, which is in the Little Burstead area of Billericay is one of my families favourites. It’s ten minutes up the road from Basildon which is great because let’s be honest there are absolutely no decent places to eat in Basildon. We recently went for a Boxing Day meal and it was perfect. They obviously put a lot of thought and effort into their seasonal menu and also what they can offer outside of the standard Christmas dinner. The produce isn’t just fresh, it’s also really good quality, and you can tell whoever is in charge of the kitchen has a hand in the process from start to finish.
Best for: special occasions
Sheesh in Chigwell
Another restaurant in Chigwell that has made it on the list. It really isn’t fair those guys get all of the good places is it? Can you not chuck a restaurant to Basildon so we have some decent places to eat please? Sheesh gets a lot of press for being a huge favourite of the TOWIE set, and I think that actually is a double edged sword to be honest. Because it is seen as trendy, I think people forget how good quality the food actually is. The Turkish themed menu has a huge amount of choice and unlike other similar restaurants you actually get quite a good portion size. There’s also a bar upstairs so you can certainly make an evening out of it. I recently tried to book while they were closed for some refurbishment, so I’m hoping I get to go back this year. Aside from the food, there is a reason it is a celebrity favourite. The luxurious interior and five star service will make you feel like a famous face from the moment you walk in.
Best for: glitz and glamour
Lifehouse Spa in Frinton
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking “is she REALLY putting a spa as one of her best places to eat in Essex?”. I know it seems highly illogical but among my many visits to Lifehouse one of the times that really stands out is the time I ate there. The restaurant uses locally sourced food, and unlike other spa restaurant that take themselves far too seriously, it offers healthy food but also a choice of ‘treats’. If you can’t get down in time for dinner, I’d highly recommend having the breakfast the next day. If you are only visiting for a day then book the lunch. I had lunch there when I reviewed them for Spabreaks and the lunchtime buffet restaurant looks out on to the grounds which are an English Heritage site. Also, in case you need any further persuasion YOU ARE IN A SPA. I’m booking up to go back here in a few weeks and I’ll definitely be getting my hands on as much food there as possible.
Best for: relaxing
And the worst place to eat in Essex
Reids in Billericay
A few months ago, I visited Reids in Billericay for a friends surprise baby shower meal (yep, they are a thing now). We were to order off of the set menu but the lack of vegetarian options was astounding. Because there were no starters which catered for vegetarians I ended up with two pieces of dry bread which despite assuring me they wouldn’t, they tried to charge me extra for because they were not on the set menu and were a side.
I can’t have cream, so the main that was the ONLY vegetarian option was out of the question (side note guys, you have NO CHANCE of eating here if you are vegan). I ended up having to have fish which is not ideal but is my go to when restaurants are so poorly equipped to cater to vegetarians as Reids were. The lack of actual food was also astonishing. Our party were so hungry afterwards some of us actually went to Mcdonalds. They have the sheer audacity to charge more than most of the places I have listed above which is laughable. To top the evening off the waiter made a huge mistake with our bill and instead of just getting a manager like a normal person he argued and argued for around an hour before a manager did come over and ascertained it was actually their mistake. They had just started a new system so one would assume that common sense would have prevailed and he would have figured out this was the issue.
Common sense, evidently, does not prevail anywhere within Reids bar.
I wrote them a TripAdvisor review and they advised they were to have a new menu coming out which would be a lot more vegetarian friendly. My Mum went to her Christmas meal there and said it was still lacking in choice significantly (she is vegetarian too) and the food is awful.
Spend your money on Nando’s instead.
There’s a lot of horrific food knocking about in Basildon. Not content with having one of the poorest hospitals in the country, a giant mock “Hollywood” sign and the most unhelpful train station in the world, Basildon has a knack for taking crap chain restaurants and bunching them all together for the convenience of the inexperienced palette. If you have never heard of “Bas Vegas” or the Festival Leisure Park as it is actually called, then I am completely jealous of you. Sometime in the 90s, a board of people sat together and thought “let’s make things easy for the people of Basildon and bunch together as many cheap restaurants as possible in a car park with a cinema and a gym”.
Where to eat in Basildon?
So if you have a celebration or a special occasion in Basildon you are pretty much limited to one of the three, yes THREE Nando’s we have here, Frankie and effing Benny’s or Coast to Coast, which has changed names more time than P Diddy. If you are a bit of a foodie, like me, the outlook is pretty grim. Luckily, quite some time ago, I had an interview at a wonderful little pub called The Dukes Head in Little Burstead. A few months later while choosing somewhere to eat I remembered the charm of this place and we booked up.
The Dukes Head, Billericay
I’ve reviewed it a few times before as I love it here, and this has now become the “go to” place for nice meals out and celebrations. For anyone in Basildon, The Dukes Head is ten minutes up the road and well worth the petrol. As my Mum and I volunteer together on Christmas Day, we tend to go out for a nice meal on Boxing Day so we can actually eat together and chat, so this was the obvious choice. The hearty Christmas Menu from The Dukes Head was everything you would expect from the festive season.
When it comes to starters I am the most boring, un-adventurous person in the world. Tomato soup is always a winner for me. People may look down their nose at that but I think there is a lot to be said for a bowl of really fresh, well-made tomato soup. Consistency is key. There is nothing worse than looking forward to a bowl of thick, creamy tomato soup and being delivered a watery monstrosity that mirrors the cup-a-soups you get on a Ryanair flight for about £5. The Dukes Head served up a simple, yet elegant tomato that was thick enough without being sludgy. Sludgy soup is also a no from me. They were also kind enough to serve up some oil and balsamic vinegar to accompany the ciabatta. A welcome surprise for bread enthusiasts like myself.
No Christmas menu would be complete without a Christmas dinner with all of the trimmings. One of the things that keep me coming back to The Dukes Head is the fact that they put so much effort into the smaller details. The clementine stuffing balls for example. A slight twist on a classic that makes all the difference taste-wise. The mouth watering gravy. Lord only knows what they put in it but I need to find their secret. The other secret to their success is the cooking in general. If you are looking to fill yourself up with overcooked or undercooked mass-produced swill then maybe you are better off going to Bas Vegas. If you want to eat something that has been cooked specifically for you by expert hand then come here.
Following on from dinner was the great dessert debate I engage in at every dinner. As someone who has such an intense interest in all things cheese – I’ll usually go for the cheeseboard at the end of a meal. But there was one word on the menu that caught my eye: gingerbread. Yes, ladies and gentleman of the company-owning world if you want to catch a bloggers eye, just add gingerbread. Gingerbread lattes, gingerbread creme brûlée, gingerbread toilet roll, whatever. It works. So in a break from my cheese tradition, I ordered the gingerbread creme brûlée with a nice, strong Americano just so I’d have the energy to walk to the car.
Anyone who indulges in pimple popper videos will probably, also enjoy the sheer, unadulterated pleasure of cracking the top of a creme brûlée and having the creamy underneath mixture pop through like a volcano. Not a proper volcano though, a less angry volcano. Miffed or mildly annoyed if not raging. The brûlée was served with a tiny gingerbread man and in all honesty, despite my constant battle to try and get the UK population to eat like they were raised by humans and not wolves, I did pick him up with my fingers and dip him in. It was what he was there for, and were I to eat him separate from the brûlée I would have felt that I was diminishing his entire life purpose.
Is it nice at The Dukes Head, Billericay?
As well as the delightful food, the nice atmosphere, and the friendly service, there is another thing I absolutely love about The Dukes Head. Rolling to the car absolutely full to the brim.
The Dukes Head Boxing day menu was £25.95 for three courses.
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Is Iceland worth the money?
I’m going to start this article with an admission that is going to make me sound incredibly uncool. I LOVE the Eurovision song contest. I’ve watched it my whole life and it is very rare I will miss it unless I’m working abroad.
So, what has that got to do with Iceland?
Well ever since I started watching it, the little VT’s before each country have evoked the explorer in me. I’ve wanted to go to Iceland ever since I can remember, so this year, when my friend asked me to go for her 30th I thought “why not” and we made it happen. We did everything. People who tell you a long weekend is not enough are lying. If you are actually going to get up off of your bottom and go out and do things and worry about the tiredness after you will be able to fit in absolutely everything exciting that Iceland has to offer.
Day 1 – Reykjavik Cathedral, The Northern Lights, and a Scary Air BnB
I’ve never used Air BnB in my life, but when it turned out our flights were cheaper to go the day before we thought we’d give an Air BnB a go for the first night instead of booking an extra room in the Radisson which was quite expensive. The theory was “how bad could it be?”. Tasked with organising everything so that we didn’t need to rely on busses or taxi’s I found an Air BnB in central Reykjavik. The “how bad could it be?” theory didn’t really serve us very well.
A short, easy walk form the bus station – the location was everything they promised. Unfortunately so was the cleanliness. Although the Air BnB had described itself as “not immaculately clean”, to me, that just meant that they probably didn’t keep up hotel standards and were worried about appearing badly in a review. As it would happen this estimation was wrong. I won’t name and shame someone’s livelihood on an article the whole world can see, but all I will say is make careful choices if you are going to use an Air BnB. It was so bad, my friend named it “the crack den”. Luckily, we were at the Northern Lights all night on the night we stayed, so once we crawled into bed after we didn’t really mind that it was filthy.
We left immediately to walk into Reykjavik and go up to the top of the Cathedral. Don’t worry, there’s a lift, so you don’t have to walk it. It was a beautiful view and it also gave us the advantage of now having seen where everything was in conjunction with each other and knowing where to walk For 900 ISK it really is worth it.
The Northern Lights were amazing. We booked through Isango and I would really recommend them. The coach picked us up from the hotel we were staying in for the next two nights so we walked up and found our way. On the way to the first stop, the tour guide informed us that we had a 0% chance of seeing the lights. She did say that we would see some cool stars and have some snacks so we weren’t really that worried. When we got to the stop, the chance of seeing the lights had increased to 1%. Wow. We found the stars amazing. While we were on the stop, we saw four shooting stars and the normal stars were so low it looked like you could pick them out of the sky.
Luckily for us, we did, in fact, see the lights. They were amazing. You can’t really describe what it’s like to be standing there looking at something that occurs naturally that is so beautiful. We understood how lucky we were, and also we managed to see them on another stop and get a picture with them.
Day 2 – Checking into the Radisson and a Night Out in Reykjavik
My friend woke me up promptly around 9am and said “Wakey wake Kelly, it’s time to leave the crack den now”. We left promptly and tried to leave the room as clean as possible but my friend did admit when we were halfway down the road that she had stolen the picture of Bjork above our room. Sorry guys!
We went for breakfast at Le Bistro which was wonderful as by this point I was craving a decent cup of coffee. Le Bistro is a lovely place for breakfast and I should imagine that the French food they serve for dinner is just as nice. After breakfast we just decided to take our chances and walk up to the Radisson Blu Saga and see if they would look after our cases for the day while we did other stuff. This is one of the best, most helpful hotels I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. Because our room was ready they let us check in, and after the crack den it was VERY welcome. My friend went off to do some horse riding and I enjoyed the big comfy, clean bed with the view of the mountains, followed by a long bath in the lovely bathroom. The hotel even lent me and my friend some plug adaptors because we are both pretty stupid and forgot them.
Now armed with the use of 2 lovely big mirrors, we got ready for a night out in Reykjavik. The other convenient thing about the Radisson is that you can easily walk to Reykjavik town in about 10 minutes. We hadn’t booked or chosen anywhere for dinner so we ended up just going to the first place that looked busy and did food we both liked – Caruso. It turned out to be a pretty good decision. Shown upstairs to the rustic little room we were going to dine in complete with ski’s and exposed wooden beams, we realised we had made a great choice. The food matched the atmosphere and was just great, home cooked, filling winter warmers that were very welcome after a chilly walk into town. The wine was also good, according to my friend, and the guy playing the guitar completed the perfect, cute, Icelandic evening.
We went on to a bar in Reykjavik and it can’t have made a great impression on me because I forget what it was called. I can’t say it was particularly lively and I must admit even though I do not drink I am far from boring, so we moved on looking for somewhere with a bit more of a party atmosphere. This was also the evening we decided to celebrate my friends 30th as it was the next day but we were going to be out all day.
When we came across The American Bar we didn’t really want to go in, not because it didn’t look good just because we are the kinda gals that like exploring and doing different things, rather than going to American/English places while abroad. As soon as we heard the live singers we were draw straight in and it was great! The music was amazing, the drinks were not too expensive and the atmosphere was great – aside from one couple who looked like they were forced to be there at gunpoint. If you are out and about in Reykjavik on a Friday or Saturday night it’s definitely worth a visit.
Day 3 – The Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle
No trip to Iceland is complete without going to the Blue Lagoon. It is every bit as amazing as everyone makes it out to be. We got a basic admission package included with our Isango booking. All anyone else who paid more got was a towel, robe and flip flops but we took our own towels and flip flops so I can’t say we really missed out. The mud masks looked good but you can pay for them there so if we really wanted one we could have had one. When you arrive, you get a wristband and you are able to purchase extra’s including treatments, drinks outside, or drinks inside. If you are going, do what we did and go early. Watching the sun come up over the mountains while actually being in the water was an incredible experience. The main thing we were worried about was freezing to death getting in, but getting in is actually indoors and then you walk outside while in the water. There is also a sauna and a steam room that is included in the admission price, so if you do get a bit chilly it’s fine. The water is every bit as warm as people say, but it is a rather weird experience having your face get that cold.
The changing rooms are really modern with all the amenities you need to get ready to carry on your day and most of all they are warm. If you are going to book the tour that includes the Golden Circle as well then leaving yourself about an hour to get ready will give you a good chance to get dry and warm because trust me, it’s freezing at the Golden Circle.
We went into Reykjavik to pick up the next coach and start our afternoon touring the Golden Circle. Our tour guide was a jolly, knowledgable guy who’s name escapes me because my friend insisted on calling him Boris. The first stop was Þingvellir National Park where excitingly you can walk between two continents. Unfortunately the childishness of both of us came out when we found out we would be hiking down a crevice, but it was really interesting.
The next stop was the Selfoss Gesyir. By this point it was really snowing. It isn’t that I don’t like nature, it’s just that I don’t like it when it is cold and in my face. The geyser goes off a few times every hour, and we were lucky enough to see it. It was something that was definitely worth seeing, but I am glad it was part of a tour and not just the main thing we were doing as it wasn’t exactly overwhelming.
Before the next stop the Gulfoss waterfall, we had kind of agreed we were going to look at whatever it was we needed to look at and get back indoors sharpish. I can’t really remember what I was expecting, but it wasn’t much. The Gulfoss waterfall is amazing. Standing there looking at something that incredible really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Gulfoss waterfall also has the added benefit that the amenities in that particular part of the National Park are really good and include a cafe where you can defrost.
Getting around Iceland
We flew with Norwegian Air on the way there and I was expecting great things after so many recommendations, but they were rubbish! The plane was freezing and the service was terrible. To get out and about while we were there, we booked most of our travel with Reykjavik Excursions and they were perfect! 100% book with them if you are going. On the way back we flew with Iceland Air to Heathrow. On the day we were due to fly there was a strike so we were delayed by a couple of hours. I have to admit, after being up at 2.30am and being told by them to go to the airport anyway when they KNEW the mechanics were going to be on strike we were a bit annoyed and there were a few exchanges on Twitter. They had known about the strike for months and it was really poor form not to be more prepared. Saying that, we were just being moaners. Some poor people got literally stranded there. We also got boarded a bit too soon and ended up being on the aircraft for over an hour, but Iceland Air’s aircraft to Heathrow from Keflavik are lovely. Because it is the first or second leg on some long haul flights, it is like flying long haul. Leather seats, loads of legroom, free tea and coffee and soft drinks and setback screens. Even though the trip is only 3 hours long it was like being on an Emrites flight and I loved the service and the plane itself. I would actually fly with them again despite the inconvenience of the strike, I would just hope that they have learned their lesson from the situation.
Is it as expensive as everyone says?
Short answer: yes. It is expensive, but it is just one of those things you are going to have to deal with if you are going to go. There probably are ways to do it on a budget if you don’t want to see much, but some of the trips and excursions are absolutely once in a lifetime things, so if you are going to go save up and do it properly. One thing I was surprised at was the Blue Lagoon, as the food and drink wasn’t anywhere near as rice as I thought it would be. The other thing I was surprised at was the food in general, as there really are not many cheap options for eating out.
Top travel tips for Iceland
- Book through Iceland Air to and from Heathrow. Because they are connecting flights you will most likely get the benefits of a lovely long haul plane. We booked through CheapOair.com and got a great deal.
- Take flip flops, your own towel and a robe to the Blue Lagoon. Then you can just book the basic package. It’s also worth taking a spare hat you don’t mind getting wet as your face and head get really cold.
- Book up to stay somewhere you can walk into town from. Taxi’s and busses can be hit and miss so the less you have to use them the better.
- Check out the local swimming pools and geothermal spa’s. There are a couple dotted around Reykjavik that are a fraction of the price of the Blue Lagoon if that is too pricey for you.
- Go up to the top of Reykjavik Cathedral on the first day. It’s really practical because you can find your way around, and it is also beautiful.
- Eat seafood. It is REALLY fresh in Iceland as one would expect, and if you are going to try seafood anywhere it may as well be somewhere where the turnaround from catch to plate is about 24 hours.
- Take snow boots, thermals and a proper coat, hat and gloves. When it snows, it really snows. Iceland isn’t messing about, especially when you start mooching around the Golden Circle.
- Pay out that little extra to stay somewhere luxurious like the Radisson. It really does make all the difference when you have been walking around in the freezing cold all day.
- Use a company like OneTravel to get a super cheap deal on a holiday to Iceland, then just convert to pounds. For some reason travel companies based abroad seem to have better deals than your native country.
Considering I class myself as quite the traveller, it’s surprising that I haven’t yet stayed at the Andaz in London. Not only is it easy for me to get to from Essex but it is also absolutely beautiful inside.
So, what is the premise?
In a fabulous location to explore East London, Andaz Hotel have used the festive period to ensure their guests experience true Shoreditch. Displayed in the hotels reception, guests can look at the East London highlights, from suggestions of where to eat to landmarks of the district.
How will it work?
Each day the Andaz will reveal a new window just like a traditional advent calendar. Aswell as sharing the joy with hotel guests they will be doing a daily reveal on their Instagram which means that we can all enjoy the benefits of finding out more about the gems East London has to offer.
The launch event was decidedly Christmassy which was nice, because the temperature in London plunged to Arctic temperatures last week and if that is going to happen you want some mulled wine as a consolation prize for spending a week of lunch breaks running to Pret trying your hardest to let the cold snap hinder your ability to look fabulous while ordering your festive flat white. The hotels reception and bar area is beautiful and the advent calendar makes a great centre piece. It may just be the half a cup of mulled wine talking after not drinking for three months but I had a really pleasant evening, made all the more pleasant by the fact I got to see a former colleague who I actually really miss and we managed to be nice to each other (ish) for the majority of the evening (again, this is probably down to the alcohol).
How can I see it?
If you are not planning on staying at the Andaz any time soon, then head over to their Instagram page and give them a follow so that you won’t miss out on anything interesting behind the doors.