Oxford Birthday

I had the pleasure of spending my birthday weekend in Oxford with my best friend/life wife/flatmate. She did her Master’s degree at Oxford and I’ve wanted to visit with her ever since we met. It was everything I imagined and more and I can certainly see why it is her favourite place in the world. I was really impressed with how friendly everyone was and not to mention the obvious: the gorgeous architecture!

Highlights:

  • Staying in Exeter College – our accommodation was a room where Fellows stay, absolutely STUNNING and massive! It was honestly the size of an apartment and we had 4 different rooms! The light was incredible and the room was so quiet.
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Entrance to Exeter College’s Dining Hall

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  • Fellows’ Garden at Exeter College – favourite spot in Oxford, you cannot beat the views! Not to mention the privacy and the beauty. There’s not a better spot when the sun is shining.
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The view from the Fellows’ Garden at Exeter

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  • Cream tea at Vaults and Garden (located in the garden of St. Mary’s) – we didn’t waste any time when I arrived, we pretty much went straight to V&G for tea and scones!! Their house blend is easily the best black tea I’ve ever tasted. I already miss clotted cream…

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Vaults and Garden

  • Climbed St. Mary’s – the views are incredible! Well worth the £4 and the 25 minute wait.
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View from the top of St. Mary’s

  • Iced dirty chai at the Missing Bean – my first dirty chai (chai latte with a shot of espresso) and I’m addicted! Not to mention I completely fell in love with the Missing Bean – it is definitely in my top 3 coffee shops I’ve ever visited!

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  • Pimm’s at The Bear – such a great pub! We didn’t eat there but I was very impressed with their menu. A big step up from normal pub food!
  • Blue cheese burger at Turf Tavern – some of the loveliest outdoor seating areas I’ve ever seen
  • Bagel (with a gorgeous amount of cream cheese) and iced latte to start my second day at the Missing Bean – this place knows how to do coffee. Easily the best iced latte I’ve ever had! So smooth.
  • Touring some of the other colleges: Christ Church (the dining hall is unbelievably impressive), Merton, Magdalen (the gardens!!! most impressive grounds)
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Christ Church Dining Hall

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Magdalen

 

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  • Exploring the Covered Market and buying 3 different cheeses (Oxford Blue!) and fruit for our light picnic-in-bed dinner that evening (the weather wasn’t great and our room was so comfortable!)
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Perk of being an adult:  being able to eat just this (+ a baguette and a nectarine) for dinner!

  • Champagne High Tea at the Old Parsonage Hotel – K surprised me with this for my birthday. This place is absolutely STUNNING and this was my first ever proper high tea!! I was so impressed with everything about this place: the interior, the exterior, the staff, the lovely royal blue ‘princess’ sofa I got to sit on, the champagne, the tea, the clotted cream and jam, all of the sweet and savoury foods (except for the macarons). We were sickeningly STUFFED afterwards, mostly from all of the liquid… we each had 2 pots of tea!! I physically couldn’t sit up towards the end of the experience but it was SO WORTH IT.
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The Old Parsonage Hotel

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  • Drinks at The Morse Bar (in the Randolph Hotel) – we originally went just for a glass of white wine (we are poor students + we were still full from high tea) but while we were drinking our wine, we were watching Jose the bartender/artiste make cocktails for other customers. I’ve never been SO impressed by a bartender’s care and passion for making cocktails. We were intrigued by a certain cocktail he made multiple times – he carefully peeled a lemon and daintily wrapped it around the outside of the glass and propped it inside the drink and for the grand finale, PERFUMED THE COCKTAIL!!!! We later found out he was perfuming it with vanilla, but oh my goodness did this blow our minds. We decided right then and there that we had to have whatever that drink was. Best £13 I’ve ever spent! It was the Morse Bar Champagne Cocktail and was invented by Jose and I’m convinced it’s my favourite and the most unique cocktail I’ve ever had. It was visually stunning as well – very fitting for a birthday girl! “An outstanding pre-dinner fizz – combines Calvados Apple Brandy with Champagne and a hint of lemon and vanilla”

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  • Breakfast at Turl Street Kitchen – my first time having ‘bubble and squeak’! I had never even heard of it before and absolutely adored it. Great inventive way to use the leftover veg and potatoes from the previous night’s roast dinner!

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  • Tour of the Bodleian Library– I did the 1 hour standard tour of the 15th-century Divinity School, Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court and Duke Humfrey’s medieval library. Absolutely stunning and well worth the £8 – our tour guide was fantastic. It seems like they limit the groups to 15 people. Be warned: these tours DO sell out, so get your tickets in advance!
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Divinity School

  • Exhibition at the Weston Library – we went to see one of their special collections and it was stunning! My favourite was Charlemagne’s purple and gold manuscript (mid-9th century)… so unique!

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  • Exploring various shops (Blackwell’s bookstore and Blackwell’s art & poster shop; Pod; leather shops)
  • Lunch at Vaults and Garden – veggie lasagne (exquisite!) with a salad
  • Cake (elderflower and poppyseed // avocado and lime) and iced dirty chai at the Handle Bar café (formerly known as Zappi’s) – absolutely loved this place!! It is located above a bike shop.

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It was really relaxing to not worry about anything other than my next meal and to explore a beautiful city with my best friend (except for the fact that I almost missed my flight back to Dublin – details in my next post). I cannot think of a better way to start my 28th year! On that note…

Is it just me or does the jump from 27 to 28 seem massive?! I feel like I just jumped from my mid-twenties to proper adulthood. This is probably because it coincides with finishing my Master’s degree but still. As sad as I am that today is the last day of August (WHAT!? Is it just me or did this summer fly by faster than usual?!), I have a fire in my belly and am so excited to begin my career and see what this next year holds for me. The next few months will very much be a transition period for me. I was hoping to submit my dissertation today but am (hopefully just) about a week and a half behind…nearly there!

I am going to enjoy my last few days/weeks of being a student and my very last month of student discounts. The next time I post, I won’t be a student anymore!

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Iceland Road Trip: Days 8 (Reykjavik) & 9 (Inside the Volcano)

I am FINALLY publishing my final “Iceland Road Trip” post, exactly 1 year after booking my flight to Iceland. I sincerely apologise for taking so long to complete this series of blog posts!

Day 8: Reykjavik

C left very early in the morning. J and I checked out of our Airbnb and made our separate ways as we were staying in separate places that night. I chose Konrad’s Guesthouse and was very happy with it. I was delighted to have a private room and the location was fantastic; the only downside was no private bathroom (typical in Iceland), which was only unfortunate because my stomach was upset from overdosing on hotdogs and unhealthy foods for a solid week. As much as I really wanted to enjoy another hot dog from Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (the best hot dogs), I physically could not bring myself to do it.

I enjoyed a leisurely day in Reykjavik mostly alone (though I did run into J in town!) and what a beautiful day it was. I went to the top of Hallgrímskirkja (church) for 800kr (approximately $6USD) and I would recommend doing this on a nice day for a picture-perfect view of beautiful Reykjavik if you have spare time.

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Hallgrimskirkja

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View from top of Hallgrimskirkja

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I had Icelandic salmon for lunch (major yum) and Skyr afterward (my absolute favourite Icelandic snack – I ate it every single day!). I then went to Stofan café – an adorable, cozy place that is very popular with locals and tourists alike. I sat by the open door and happily listened to locals speaking Icelandic for a couple hours. Afterward, I went for my second ice cream cone (this time just vanilla, my first one was dipped in chocolate – I recommend trying both!).

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Skyr – my FAVOURITE! I got so excited looking at all of the flavours every day

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Stofan cafe

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If I had to describe Reykjavik in one word, it would be “trendy”. It’s also beautiful and so relaxed.

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Day 9: Inside the Volcano

After agonising over whether or not to do this half-day tour (due to the high cost – 42,000kr/ approximately $335USD), I decided to do it because 1) hey, I’m in Iceland and 2) what else would I do? The main activity I wanted to do whilst in Iceland other than whale watching was a glacier hike and I wasn’t there during the right season for it. I had seen all of Reykjavik so I needed something epic to do on my last day. Plus, I got the last spot on the tour so it was meant to be! I was collected at 12noon, we hiked for one hour to base camp with our guide Sveinn. We saw part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on our hike, which was fascinating. When we were relaxing at base camp, we got to play with a 9-week old orphaned Arctic fox.

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Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the distance

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Arctic fox

5 people went down into the volcano at a time. We descended in an open cable lift, which was so exciting and pretty surreal. It takes 6-7 minutes to get to the bottom, and we had 40 minutes inside (including the time it gets to get in and out, unfortunately!). The Thrihnukagigur volcano erupted 4,000 years ago and is now dormant, of course. I could not believe how beautiful it was inside. The COLOURS!!!! Absolutely unreal. The promo photos and videos do not lie.

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View from the top of the volcano

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Open cable lift – how we got inside

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Going down!

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Looking up – goodbye light!

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Looking down

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Looking up

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Inside the volcano!

Time flew by much faster than I thought it would. I really enjoyed being in the volcano and for what we pay, I do think we should get an hour. I was nowhere near ready to leave. Afterwards, we were fed lamb and rutabaga soup (delicious!) and hiked back to the vehicle. We were gone for 5 ½ hours in total. I am happy to say I was very glad I did this activity.

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Made me feel so small

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Open cable lift coming down to bring us back up

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It wasn’t this bright – that’s from the flash

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It was shocking to see daylight again!

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I had noodles from Núðluskálin for dinner again, and then decided to stay in a guesthouse (GG Guesthouse) in Keflavik near the airport since my flight departed at 06:20 a.m. The host, Erikur, told me I have smiling Irish eyes, which made my day! I had to wake up at 03:45 the next morning to head to the airport. Erikur pre-booked a taxi for me the night before, and the drive to the airport was only 5 minutes with no traffic. THE TAXI COST ME $19USD. NINETEEN DOLLARS FOR A FIVE MINUTE JOURNEY! I couldn’t believe it, but what could I do? My final expense in Iceland. I flew Wow Air and actually really enjoyed them, with the exception of the LARGEST queue for check-in I’ve ever seen in my life and the fact that they are beyond strict with luggage. As long as you get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, have patience and play by the rules when it comes to packing, you’ll be grand.

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Pylsusinnep – Icelandic brown mustard – I bought a bottle and took it home!

My last random tip for Iceland: there is no need for any cash. With the exception of some B&Bs (and tipping tour guides), every place takes credit cards, even for tiny purchases.

Wherever you go in Iceland and whatever activities you partake in, you’ll have a brilliant time. Definitely do a road trip though – some of my best memories were in the car!

In case you missed my previous posts:

Days 1 (Reykjavík to Vík) & 2 (Vík to Höfn)

Days 3 (Höfn to Egilsstaðir) & 4 (Egilsstaðir to Akureyri)

Days 5 (Akureyri & Mývatn), 6 (Akureyri to Staður/Borgir) & 7 (Staður to Reykjavik)

Iceland Road Trip: Days 5 (Akureyri & Mývatn), 6 (Akureyri to Staður/Borgir) & 7 (Staður to Reykjavik)

In case you missed them, here are links to my posts about days 1 (Reykjavík to Vík) & 2 (Vík to Höfn) and days 3 (Höfn to Egilsstaðir) & 4 (Egilsstaðir to Akureyri).

My apologies for taking a ridiculously long time to publish this post. I’ve been working on it for awhile and the past few months have been hectic for me. Without further ado…

Day 5 (Akureyri & Mývatn)

Akureyri, the capital of Northern Iceland, is the only place we stayed for more than one night. We planned it this way due to the activities we wanted to do, plus we figured we’d need a bit of a break by then (and we were right).

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Akureyri

On our first morning in Akureyri, we woke up early to make it to Húsavík for whale watching with North Sailing at 11:00. I read that North Sailing is the best company to go with and even though you can whale watch from Akureyri, I read great things about Húsavík and wanted to give it a try since it was only an hour and a half drive from where we were staying. Well, we got stuck behind a few extremely slow trucks and since it was an excessively foggy day, we really were stuck behind them for some time. We ended up having to run to the boat and jumped on it at exactly 11:00 – they nearly left without us.

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Let me start by saying that before going whale watching, I read many reviews that explicitly said “IF YOU GET SEA SICK, DO NOT GO WHALE WATCHING IN ICELAND”. If you don’t want to listen to those reviews, please listen to me. If you’ve ever gotten sea sick, it’s a guarantee you’ll get sea sick on the seas surrounding Iceland. I have a funny history with sea sickness. I suffer from vertigo and have gotten sea sick multiple times, but I’ve also survived very rough seas (the Great Barrier Reef on an extremely stormy day, even the boat staff were sea sick!) without feeling sea sick at all. Whale watching in Iceland has always been on my list and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. If I was going to feel sea sick, then I wouldn’t complain about it because it would have been my fault for getting on that traditional Icelandic wooden fishing boat in the first place.

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North Sailing is a fantastic company and I would recommend them if only for their wonderful customer service. They were very helpful to me in the days leading up to our time to whale watch. I contacted them online to ask about their cancellation policy in case the weather was very bad, and they said we could cancel or reschedule without any problem. They also recommended calling them the day before and the morning of sailing to check on more precise weather conditions out on the sea. Please be mindful that the word “calm” when referring to the Icelandic seas is not calm. We were told our time slot shouldn’t be particularly rough, but would not be calm by any means. We decided to take a chance and in the end, I am glad we did.

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Whale tail

The only very unfortunate thing about our timing was the extreme fog. It was so foggy that it was impossible to see the horizon, which is not good for someone who gets sea sick. I was grand for most of the 3 hour trip; however, there were moments that I didn’t feel so great but am luckily very good at distracting myself so I was okay. We purposely did not choose the 4 hour trip (which includes a visit to puffin island) because, as much as I would have loved to see puffins, I didn’t want to risk being on the boat for an extra hour.

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Humpback Whale

We ended up seeing white beaked dolphins and a humpback whale (and a couple puffins!), so it wasn’t a super successful whale watching trip (my only disappointment was not getting to see a blue whale) but I was delighted because we did get to see a whale (multiple times!), so no complaints from me. And I can say I went whale watching in Iceland, which will forever be a very cool memory.

Afterwards, we stopped to buy some Icelandic craft beer to enjoy that evening and we drove back to Mývatn (45 minute drive) to go to the Mývatn Public Baths! Best. Decision. Ever. The baths in Mývatn are very similar to the Blue Lagoon and look the same but are much less crowded (and much cheaper – 3,700kr/€26 [adults] / 2,400kr/€17 [students] vs. €50 for the Blue Lagoon). We had the best time here, what an experience! It was much needed after we froze our hands and faces off while whale watching … not to mention spending long hours in the car! If you’ve never been to a public bath in Iceland, keep in mind it is a requirement to shower with soap and hot water whilst completely naked before getting into the water (indoors, don’t worry!). They have lockers and everything so the experience is enjoyable all around… except when it’s time to get out of the warm water!! We stayed in for over an hour and a half and only got out because we were hungry and completely pruned. The only downside to these baths is there is a very strong smell of sulfur but as long as you breathe through your mouth, you get used to it.

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Myvatn Public Baths – photo from here

We drove back to Akureyri (1 hour and 15 minutes) and indulged in burritos at a burrito bar in town called Serrano. We were beyond starving and the burrito was exactly what we all needed. We relaxed that night with a movie.

Accommodation

We stayed here for 2 nights and adored this place (and the owners)!

This Airbnb

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View from the apartment

Day 6 (Akureyri to Staður/Borgir)

We left Akureyri in the late morning and drove through the stunning (obviously) scenery onwards to Staður (in the North West of Iceland) – approximately a 3 ½ hour drive nonstop. We arrived at our Airbnb home around 5pm and were stunned when we “checked in”. Our nearest neighbours were seals and we had a private beach. The house was gorgeous and even had a steam room that we took advantage of. We went for a (very cold) walk on “our” beach and I discovered an entire sheep’s skeleton – creepy! We had a relaxing night cooking pasta together, drinking and enjoying each other’s company since it was our last night all together.

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Iceland has the coolest churches

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Pretending to be the Little Mermaid on our private beach

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Creepy full sheep skeleton

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Our last night together

Accommodation

This Airbnb

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Thickest mattress I’ve ever seen!

Day 7 (Staður to Reykjavík)

The drive from Staður to Keflavík International Airport is 2 and a half hours, but we gave ourselves plenty of time because we had to drop off one of our crew for his flight home. Plus, we made a few photo stops along the way. After dropping K off, it was time to return the car. I did not expect to be so emotional. I really became attached to Opel on our trip and I still loved her even though she was filthy! It took an absurdly long time to return the car due to long queues, but all was well in the end. The guy inspecting our car was very impressed with how much we drove in 7 days and said that’s very difficult to do. Other than being (understandably) filthy, Opel was in good condition and it was now time for us to navigate without a car. The 3 of us took the Flybus to Reykjavík, took a taxi to our Airbnb, arrived around 5pm and went out to explore Reykjavík properly for the first time.

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I made them take a car selfie

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We loved the marshmallow-looking bags of grass

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Not wanting to say goodbye to Opel

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Yet another hot dog from N1

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Beloved N1 petrol station aka our second home on the trip

We did a bit of tourist shopping and got a hot dog at the best hotdog place in Iceland. Trust me when I say the queues are worth it. Their menu is literally hotdogs and sodas. I couldn’t pinpoint what was so special about these hot dogs, but they were unreal. I was sad I wasn’t able to have another as, after this one, my stomach wasn’t able to handle anymore hot dogs.

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Best hot dog in Iceland – there is always a queue!

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It was divine

We then visited Harpa, a stunning concert hall. The architecture and decor is incredible. We ate incredible Asian-Mexican noodle soup for dinner, and went to Lebowski bar for a beer (1100 krona – keep in mind, only 500 kr during happy hour which we just missed!). An American at the bar thought I was Icelandic which was hilarious, even though I am tall and blonde, because I was very much dressed like a tourist. He asked me how to say “cheers” in my language and luckily I knew – Skál! On our walk home, we found a pinball arcade and witnessed an amazing sun”set” (it never fully set, of course). We definitely made the most of our evening in Reykjavík and quickly fell in love with this trendy city.

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Beautiful Reykjavik

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Harpa

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Inside Harpa

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Delicious Fideos de Mexico noodle soup from Nudluskalin – highly recommended

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I’m not going to link to our accommodation in Reykjavík because I wouldn’t particularly recommend it. There was nothing wrong with it other than the fact that it was presented to be much newer than it was, but it was my least favourite place we stayed on our trip. Here’s some photos of the gorgeous view from our place, though!

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Still to come: Days 8 (Reykjavík) & 9 (Into the Volcano adventure)

Iceland Road Trip: Days 3 (Höfn to Egilsstaðir) & 4 (Egilsstaðir to Akureyri)

Here’s the link to my post about Days 1 & 2 in case you missed it!

Day 3 (Höfn to Egilsstaðir):

This day was our most uneventful day, which was good timing because day 2 was our longest, busiest day so we were quite tired. We were also happy there weren’t many sights along the way because this was the worst weather we had our whole trip. It was very rainy and terrifyingly foggy which made driving quite an experience! There were long gravel roads on this journey which certainly were an adventure in the rain.

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Photo courtesy of Courtney Allen of courtingadventure.com

Photo courtesy of Courtney Allen of courtingadventure.com

This drive takes approximately 3 hours (in good weather) and when we were about half way there, I REALLY needed to pee. It was raining quite hard so I kept holding it, but it got to a point where I simply could not wait anymore. Of course, the moment I got out of the car was when it rained the hardest. It was certainly a memorable experience to relieve myself behind a mound of dirt on the side of the road in the lashing rain and heavy fog in the middle of nowhere in Iceland.

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Our sweet Opel getting dirty!

Our sweet Opel getting dirty!

Egilsstaðir is a lovely town and there is a Bonus grocery store, FYI. This is where I first found Goldfish, which I was extremely excited about since they don’t have them in Ireland. Iceland has more American foods than Ireland does, which I certainly wasn’t expecting! We really wanted to buy some alcohol since we arrived early and had no plans for the evening, but we forgot it was Sunday and the liquor store closed at 4. I was craving vegetables, so I went to Subway and got the most amazing salad of my life. I love pickles more than anything and she literally gave me about 75 pickles. I made sure to tell her Subway is better in Iceland than in any other country.

Accommodation: (in Egilsstaðir)

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This was probably my favourite place we stayed, which says a lot because I loved our accommodation every night. The decor was beautiful and very modern. I would highly recommend this place.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4599984

Day 4 (Egilsstaðir to Akureyri):

This was a very eventful day. This is approximately a 3 1/2 hour drive non-stop but there are many sights to see along the way, so prepare for a long day if you’re doing this drive!

Our first stop was Dettifoss – aka the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Wow. Its vastness and power is awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, the weather was bad when we were here. The small “trek” there is difficult when it’s raining hard because to get to the waterfall, you have to walk for awhile on lots of big stones, which are very slippery when wet. When we got to the waterfall, we didn’t want to stay long because the weather was so bad, but regardless, it is a must see. Before we left, I used the public toilet and laughed at the irony of the sign above the sink that said “There is a shortage of water in this area”.

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Dettifoss

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All of us soaked at Dettifoss

All of us soaked at Dettifoss

Our next stop was Námafjall, a high temperature geothermal area with mud pots in the Mývatn region. The temperature inside the mud pots reaches 200 degrees Celcius. The steam produces fumarole gas (hydrogen sulfide), which is where the horrific smell comes from. You (sort of) get used to smelling sulfur everywhere in Iceland, but I promise you could never get used to the extreme smell of this area. Revolting. No other word for it. At first, I thought it was bad, but then it got to the point where I was physically gagging and had to get out of there immediately. Having said that, I highly recommend visiting this area, just don’t expect to stay long. It’s a very interesting experience and I really did enjoy it despite what it may sound like! The surrounding area is also very colourful and beautiful.

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Next stop: Viti Crater, near Krafla volcano. We stumbled upon this stunningly vibrant turquoise-coloured crater on accident while searching for Krafla (we never found it, mostly because we didn’t have the patience due to hunger!).

Viti Crater - photo not edited at all!

Viti Crater – photo not edited at all!

Viti Crater - it was freezing!!

Viti Crater – it was freezing!!

Next stop: Godafoss, personally my favourite waterfall that we saw in Iceland. It’s extra impressive because it’s multiple waterfalls in one. There was only one disappointment for me: there was no sun. I’ve seen many photos of this waterfall with the most spectacular rainbows and was really hoping to see that, but we weren’t lucky in that department. Oh well! The 4 of us had the song “Waterfalls” by TLC (“Don’t go chasing waterfalls“) stuck in our heads for a lot of the trip, but we didn’t take that advice, especially not at Godafoss. In fact, we decided to go for a bit of a swim. We crossed a good bit of Godafoss to get closer to the edge and what an experience that was! We had quite an audience and a lot of laughs. We felt very victorious at the end and I still smile when I think of this memory. My hiking shoes took 4 days to dry and I was SO thankful I brought an extra pair of shoes!

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Godafoss

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Crossing Godafoss

Crossing Godafoss

I don’t have any photos, but when you are coming from Egilsstaðir and are nearing Akureyri, be prepared for the landscape to be absolutely stunning. Akureyri is set in a stunning setting with unbelievable landscape surrounding it. I wasn’t expecting to love the Northern capital city so much, but we all did!

Gravel road

Gravel road

Random sulfur spring we passed

Random sulfur spring we passed

Note: We also visited Lake Mývatn, which was, not surprisingly, a beautiful area.

We stayed in Akureyri for 2 nights, so in my next post, I will detail our accommodation (another Airbnb).

Still to come: Days 5-7 of our road trip plus 2 bonus days of adventure!