Bewitching Iceland On A Beautiful Budget

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Iceland….the land of ice and snow, a place so bewitching you’ll quite forget where you are in the universe. People, what people? Never mind them… You’re too busy looking at a mountain, yes another mountain but look at it, it’s so beautiful. You just look, drinking it all in, you’ve never felt so small, never felt so lucky to be alive and never felt so lucky to witness nature at its finest. That’s Iceland. It’s bloody brilliant! But it’s also really bloody expensive, I mean literally the most pricey place I have ever visited.

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But…. we’ll forgive you Iceland, labour rates are high, VAT is high and importing is an expensive business.However, fulfilling as your scenery is, we are human beings and we kinda gotta eat and drink.

So, here’s how to DO Iceland on a BUDGET.

Travel Around. Iceland is not your typical holiday destination, it’s not set up for weekend getaways, staying in the city and day tripping around. You can’t just whip by and see the delights then bugger off. The public transport is, well, it just isn’t. It isn’t there! So, hire a car that way you’ll be free to stay in cheap digs, access all the supermarkets you want and really experience Iceland. Road tripping is the BEST and cheapest  way to see this gorgeous country in all its glory.

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The Black Beaches at Vik

Forget the Tours. Horse riding, glacier hikes, there’re all wonderful BUT Iceland is a WOW country so tours  are not an essential part of a holiday. You can totally come to Iceland and pay to see nothing, just as nature intended!

Don’t bother with Reykjavik. I sound a bit mean saying that and you are a very cute little ‘city’ (cough cough town) and yes it’s the capital but really, who visits Iceland for the bright lights and night clubs?! Not that Reykjavik is very well endowed in that department anyway. I’m not sure, maybe I just missed the show,  but all I saw was an amazing church (that really was worth seeing), some cute cafes and a lot of overpriced shops and restaurants. Not Iceland at it’s best, good for a stopover but don’t bother hanging around.

Bring Booze. You’re on holiday, everywhere is the middle of nowhere in Iceland. And you can no longer buy alcohol in the supermarkets, you’ve got to visit special liquor stores called Vinbudin.  I learnt my lesson the hard way… The bday girl who arrived in Iceland on a Sunday to find ALL the liquor stores shut!!!! Boohoo. Luckily the lovely owners of our apartment felt our pain and gave us a vintage bottle of rioja, WOW, happy birthday to me! Icelandic people are really kind btw. Anyway, back to drinks, most alcohol is double the price of the UK, so it’s a no brainer really, just don’t go crazy, there’s obviously a limit to how much you can bring !

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Icelandic miniatures, Bjork liquor!

Goodbye Bacon. A sad truth, bacon for some mad reason is extortionate in Iceland, like £15 for a pack of regular streaky bacon. Forget it, you can eat all the bacon you want when you get home! This was the the same for a few of my favs: blueberries £9 a punnet! Good coffee £8 a pack! Fancy jam £5!

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Log Cabin, the best place to be in a snow storm!

Forget the Souvenirs. Little pebbles of volcanic rock, Icelandic woolly jumpers, anyone would think they were selling gold dust! Just don’t do it. Iceland is about the memories not the random bits you bring home. Shopping in Iceland really is the best way to blow your budget.

Bring Coffee. Also tea, chocolate that kind of packaged stuff, it’s so easy to fit in your suitcase and most of the flights give you a 25KG allowance, which is plenty for everything! It was nice having my organic home comforts and we also we saved over £50 on coffee, as a decent cup outside was about £3.50.

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Skogafoss Waterfall

Picnic in the Hotel. For the most part we stayed in log cabins and self catering apartments but if you do find yourself in a hotel don’t think ‘oh right that’s our budget blown!’  We found that most of the hotels give you a really good free breakfast (with BACON, yippppppeeee) a pretty good start to the day. So in the evening we’d just have a picnic, in our room. Snacks, fruit, cheeses, wine, desserts, it was lovely and cost very little.

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Gullfoss Waterfall

 

Have you visited Iceland or other pricey destinations, what are you’re frugal traveller tips?

 

Croatia: The Place To Reboot

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I love travelling. I know a lot of people say that but I really mean it.  I NEED travel, I was made for it and I’m exceptionally lucky to have explored a great deal of the world.

And what a world it is! Full of wondrous cities and special sites to see, but sometimes, and this is quite rare, but sometimes you go to a place and are so astounded by it’s unspoilt wonder and true loveliness that you know you’ve found a new love, a place that will never be matched. And Šolta, a tiny Croatian Island is one such love.

But, shhhhh! For this is a secret post that I’m only sharing with my loveliest readers, because I really do feel like I’ve stumbled upon a hidden gem.

Šolta, an island fit to mend even the weariest of traveler and how did I find such a place,  well I’d heard Croatia was lovely, but given it was mid August, squashing onto a Croatian island didn’t sound like the best idea. But then I found an article talking about a ‘slavic secret’ pronounced shh-ol-ta, even the name sounded calming! The article spoke of a isolated island just 12miles long and a 40 minute ferry ride from Split (Croatia’s 2nd largest city). By this point my husband and I were so desperate to find solitude we booked, packed and off we trotted, to mend our frazzled minds.

August at Split Ferry Port is a bit like fighting your way through a bee hive, maybe more painful. In fact it’s so NOT fun that you just want to jump back on the plane! Especially when you realise the ferry to paradise isn’t due for another 4 hours! Ferries can be few and far between even in peak season, so we passed the time sipping (cheap cheap) Croatian beer at a plastic chairs, umbrellas bar and basked in the Croatian sunshine.

solta-island-croatia-petite-wordsWelcome to Šolta:  arriving you’ll be astounded by how untouched and rich it all is. I was expecting a dry land of heat and olives but instead we were greeted by great clusters of fir trees, pomegranates voluptuously bursting off their branches, mountainscapes of astounding beauty and secret coves tucked neatly away at every turn.

And pretty soon you realise just how magic it all is, because it has the best of everything. It’s luxurious but not in a Caribbean-cocktails- in- pineapples way, it’s luxurious in a simple, humble way, that’s quite quite beautiful, you’ll see what I mean.. Needless to say it is the definition of loveliness and here’s why…6 things I love about Croatia/Šolta:

The FOOD. Quite a feast isn’t it! And it cost about £12 (including wine)! The seafood is divine, but that’s no surprise given it’s a country primary made of islands! But seafood really is so reasonable that you return to England feeling cheated that you can’t continue you new diet of fried calamari and and squid, mussel pasta. Gutted.  But it’s not all fish and seafood, the salads are a true delight, and the island has loads of sweet treats like the local lavender honey and the most divine fig jam to ever cross your lips.

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The APERITIFS.  “Isn’t that like something you have before dinner?” Yes it is, or in this case before during and after dinner! And the Croatian’s make a pretty a serious sport of it and of course they know how to make a wide variety of magical liquor, like some kind of aperitif wizards. My favourite was ORAHOVICA (walnut brandy) but the lovely list is endless; honey mead, plum brandy, herbal liquor, carob brandy, to name but a few. Only trick is getting a few bottles home when you can only take 100ml bottles in your transparent liquids bag! Goodbye makeup…. hello nectar.

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The PEBBLED BEACHES. Yes you heard correct, Šolta and Croatian in general have almost zero sandy beaches, which you may be put off by, don’t be. There is something quite divine about transparent waters, pebbles in the sparkling sunshine that just makes it incomparable to other beaches. And it’s a snorkelers dream! What a world awaits you under that perfectly transparent waters, gorgeous sites to see. And armed with your reef shoes you soon become accustomed to the rocky underfoot and almost forget about sandy beaches and their dusty annoyance. By the way, swimming/ reef shoes are totally essential, don’t even think about not wearing them, biggest mistake ever. And Saltwater make the most chic pair you’ll ever own.
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The UNSPOILT TOWNS. Šolta is an island built by the hands of man, and everywhere you look it’s apparent just how untouched the island is. The dry stone walls, the rustic slanting doorways and narrow pebbled streets. Thinking about it I’d struggle to list many places (particularly in Europe) that are yet to be molded or butchered by developers hands. Šolta has 6 little towns each with their own unique architecture and quirks… I bet you’ll fall in love with all 6 of them!

The NATURE. I found these husk cherries on our first day and was so delighted at finding something so exotic growing wild (didn’t care that they tasted like bitter as bitter can be). But really you on’t believe how fertile and rich the soil is, so there’s all manner of lovely things growing. And it’s not just plants, one of my favouite days was spent visiting  Tvrdic bee farm, what kind and wonderful people they were and wow do they know about honey. I so so recommend it!solta-croatia-nature-holiday-petite-words
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The PEOPLE. Cold, rude, unwelcoming. These are just a few words used to describe Croatians in the reviews  I read prior to our visit. Couldn’t. Be. Further. From. The. Truth. Lovely, helpful, frank, sincere, are some of the words I’d use. Croatian’s won’t flatter you with fake courtesy, maybe why so many American’s don’t like them, instead they speak (mostly great English) and aim to be honest and helpful, often going out of their way to help you. And we found when we were warm towards they they radiated the same feelings back.

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So what do you think? Please don’t all rush there at once…It goes without saying that Šolta is an island of peace, aside from the odd little bar (with a spattering of people) there is no nightlife. Don’t go there looking for parties and big  island atmosphere, it just ain’t that kind town. To me it will always feel like you’re in a secret place that the tourists missed, a place hidden, far from the maddening crowds and I really do hope it stays that way.

Šolta: our little piece of pebbled paradise.

Dublin: Guinness & The Key To Life

Last weekend I went to Dublin. It was my husband’s birthday so we booked a £60 flight and off we went with my wonderfully childish brother, my divorced, no longer feuding parents, for a weekend of merriment!

We had never been to Ireland before, as I sit here and shamefully blush.  It’s sad but true, us English folk are just so lucky to have all manner of wonderful counties a short flight away.  Too many countries, so little time. Dublin never made it onto the list. Until now.

Dublin has many wonders, The Trinity College Long Room for one with it’s stunning arch of books, floor to ceiling, enchanting with that intoxicating scent of ancient paper. It’s also home to the oldest Irish harp! Then of course there’s the wondrous ‘Book of Kells’ Ireland’s national treasure. Truly astounding finery, bound in colour and enchantment. And I should also mention Dublin Castle, a treat for the eyes and Kilmainham Gaol Prison an architectural dream.

My personal highlight though was the day we hired a horse and cart, we thought it was a terribly Irish thing to do. So we clip clopped all around Dublin, with our plastic cups of red wine, most of which landed on my apple green trenchcoat, (great combo right!?) because yes, horse and cart IS as bumpy as it looks. And we finished up at the Guinness Storehouse: where we had a highly informative tour around the old Guinness factory and of course a visit to their sky bar which has a pretty sensational view of Dublin. And then, in true Irish fashion there were dancers,  bouncing about the place and something involving broomsticks and fiddlers, of course there were fiddlers. They were vigorously fiddling away while we supped our Black velvets (Guinness, stout and prosecco).

Suffice to say by the end of the tour we all adored Guinness, the storehouse was our new home and we has decided speaking in an Irish accent was essential for the rest of the evening, as well as drinking more Guinness based beverages, of course! Although by that point the Black Velvets weren’t really ‘hitting the spot’ so we switched to Black Velvet Royales, that same thing, but with a kick of blackcurrant liquor.

The rest of the evening is a bit of a fuzz, thought I do remember more horse and cart rides and being led to somewhere my brother, which he called ‘The Raisin’s head’ though we later discovered was actually called ‘The Brazen Head’ and is the oldest pub in Ireland. A luck find!

There we gobbled up our final Dublin hours, filled with folk music and the warming atmosphere you could only find in a 800 year old pub.

I remember a moment, we were tapping along  to the merriment, swaying with the room, and we looked at each other and laughed. We laughed like fools, for no reason. Maybe it was because we knew. We knew that this was it, in that fleeting moment we held the key to life’s happiness. We understood something despite exchanging no words, we had spoken chapters, about love, life and death. And so we laughed to the future, whatever it would be, and we laughed back to the past, whatever it was because we didn’t care, we had each other, our souls were at peace and then we raised our glassed, said ‘cheers!’.

That moment, and being with my family, in Ireland,  made me think about that Guinness advent, you know, the one from the 1990’s with the surfers and horses. The pounding beat, the adrenalined waves, swells of white horses emerge, the voiceover says:

He waits, that’s what he does. And I’ll tell you what; tick followed tock followed tick followed tock followed tick.

Ahab says “I don’t care who you are, here’s to your dream”. The old sailors return to the bar.’ “Here’s to you, Ahab” and the phat drummer hit the beat with all his heart’ “Here’s to waiting…”

Because we do wait don’t we? We wait to feel respected, we wait to feel loved, we even wait for life to just be ‘right’. Me, I’ve never been much for waiting, patience is just not my virtue. And while some things ARE with waiting for,  I have just too much love to give, too many things to write and too many places I want to go……

So I say, here’s to DOING! Here’s to going and seeing and making more moments with the people you love, because ‘tick followed tock’ this life is short.

So, Dublin by Irish pal with your silky charm, we’ll be back soon, to be sure to be sure, we will!

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