A Long Weekend In Iceland

Iceland seems to be top of everyone’s wish list at the moment. Personally I love nothing more than lying on a beach for two weeks and getting up periodically to grab a piña colada, but I have a husband who wanted to see the northern lights, so it was time to go and see what all the fuss was about.

In truth, we actually wanted to go somewhere “winter wonderland”-esque – wooden cabins, fires, snow you can fall into and instantly disappear, husky rides etc, but not wanting to blow a million pounds in three days, Iceland was the next best thing.

And we discovered we only needed one of those things to transform our concrete city break into a Christmassy bombshell – snow. And it didn’t just snow, it SNOWED. The heaviest Reykjavik has seen in 50+ years. Luckily, 55cm or so of snow didn’t stop us, and because a car would have been nearing on suicide, we whizzed round all of Reykavik’s must-sees in three days by coach. That’s efficiency!

 

Here’s my top five must-dos for getting the most out of a short stop in this icy Nordic gem.

1. If you’re going to the USA or Canada, do Iceland as a stopover!

We only had a small amount of holiday, but if you’re thinking of heading over states side, and Iceland is on your wish list, this routing is perfect for you, and Icelandair and Wow Air are currently serving up some of the cheapest fares over there, starting with the likes of Bristol to Toronto from £99 via Reykjavik. And leading on from that, I’m not being paid to say this or anything, I’m just being an airline geek, but Wow Air weren’t actually half bad. In fact, they were better than half bad, they were better than British Airways by a long stretch. But then who isn’t. Ignore the bad reviews online, these are purely from people who don’t understand the concept of a low cost airline, and the fact that an additional bag will cost you £44 extra, whether you choose to ignore that fact or not. The legroom = BA premium economy. No-brainer.

 

2. Visit the Blue Lagoon – either to or from the airport

The Blue Lagoon was hands down the highlight of our trip. One of the 25 natural wonders of the world, it’s algae-blue waters were a ridiculously beautiful backdrop to the constant blizzard we experienced. It is a 100% natural geothermal spa, heated to an average of 38 degrees by a volcanic lava field. On arrival we were handed futuristic wristbands with in built locker keys which you scan against a flashing blue wall implement. Then through to the lagoon itself, we stumbled half naked through sub zero temperatures, madly rushing to find somewhere to hang up our towels, before collapsing into the lagoon before our faces fell off with the cold. We had the whole she-bang – clear blue skies, grey fog, heavy snow. A Gull beer in hand was the perfect addition from the swim up bar, followed by a D.I.Y clay face mask from the surrounding buckets of mud (sounds grosse, but trust me).

One tip, shower thoroughly afterwards to remove the sulphur smells, or smell like an egg sandwich for the rest of the holiday.

 

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

 

3. Three inexpensive (for Iceland) local restaurants to take advantage of

Eating out in Iceland is not cheap, so when you find a decent meal that won’t break the bank you know you’re onto a winner. Here are three not-cheap-but-not-painfully-pricey delectable dining experiences not to be missed.

Laekjarbrekka – Bankastraeti 2, Reykjavik 101 Traditional Icelandic comfort food – think stews, pies, soups – definitely the most expensive out of the three but totally worth it. £54 for two mains, wine and beer and tip. I know, £27 each just for that, but it’s Reykavik, and I can’t tell you how much of a bargain that was, the pictures do not do it justice! I had the coq au vin which was every wine and meat lover’s delight but the lamb also looked divine, and there was even room on the menu for Icelandic classics such as fermented shark…

Primo Ristorante – Thingholtsstraeti 1, Reykjavik 101

What it says on the tin – Italian food, done well. Thin, crispy pizzas, creamy rich pastas, and of course more wine – although I avoided this as the cheapest bottle was about £60. Wine tends not to be the cheapest over here so I became a beer lover on most days. £41 for two pizzas and two beers inc tip.

Tapas Barinn – Vesturgotu 3b, Reykjavik 101 

Another brilliant choice to save a few pennies and to sample some amazing Icelandic/tapas fusion cuisine. The trick is to order the chef’s choice selection for one (just the right amount of food for two people). This includes an aperitif (two if you choose to share between 2), 7 meat, fish and vegetable dishes selected by the chef, and a dessert to share. The duck was probably the most amazing I have ever tasted. About £48 including the above plus beer and wine.

4. The Golden Circle tour

Perfect if you don’t want to hire a car and still want to see all the natural beauties that Iceland has to offer. The three highlights on the 300km route are of course the Gulfoss waterfall, with a 32 metre drop, the Geysir hot spring area and the Thingvellir National Park Rift Valley. Even if you encounter the amount of snow we did, the tour runs several times a day, with the tour guide happily churning out Icelandic myth after Icelandic myth to get you through the longest of the drives. We went with Gray Line but Reykjavik Excursions also do a very similar one.

 

5. See the Northern Lights (but don’t be disappointed if you miss them)

Like many others before us, we failed to see the northern lights. Best advice is to book a trip to see them through Gray Line or Reykjavik Excursions for the first night you arrive, and then if you don’t see them you get to go again each night for free! So give yourself the most amount of time you can. If it happens, then awesome! If not, then you can also come back and try again within two years for free (generous aren’t they?). We went solely for the northern lights and came back no more disappointed than had we not.

Iceland certainly lives up to the hype! Remember, if you don’t see the amazing aurora borealis, please don’t be disheartened. It’s just another excuse to revisit Iceland’s rich tapestry.

P.S. Fun fact for you – I actually caught chicken pox while I was there! Yes, at the age of 26 I finally caught a kid’s disease. Brilliant. I typed this from the comfort of my bed, all itchy and feverish. Good trip though!

What were your Iceland best bits? Is three days long enough, or do you think you need longer? Tell me your thoughts below, and share if you found this guide useful!

RH


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Review: 3 Fils in Jumeirah Fishing Village, Dubai

This is definitely a sign of a good restaurant: venues either side halfheartedly vying for customers’ attention with row upon row of empty seats inside and out, while the modest 3 Fils sits unassuming, tables packed and a queue to get in. Speaks volumes.

Late last year, this Asian-inspired seafood eatery popped up out of nowhere in Jumeirah Fishing Village with the aim of, in their own words, ‘making complex simple’. You could be forgiven for knowing nothing about its existence if it weren’t for food critics, influencers and and emirates now joining the queue to sample its mix of Singaporean flavours – small and simple-yet-delicious dishes to order over and over.

The name is an incorporation of all three owners (two Emiratis and a Singaporean) each giving bringing their own style to the table, or their ‘three cents’, serving high-end food at affordable prices. One of my favourite things about this place is its lack of Dubai flashiness which I think the owners were trying to avoid. Stripping that facade back, 3 Fils becomes totally about the food and the flavours – no gimmicks, no glitter, no glam. Just modest, local deliciousness. I say local – some ingredients are flown in from Japan, as you do.

Menu

Let’s cut to the chase – you can end up spending a lot here not because it’s expensive, but because you WILL want to order everything on the menu – so don’t turn up with hungry eyes and order two portions of everything because you may as well have gone to Nobu. Or you know, do order everything because it’s all well, spot on.

The chicken wings [AED 37] arrived first, sticky, garlicky and full of flavour. Next were my two personal faves, the Volcano rolls [AED 41] and Dragon rolls [AED 42] – the former being beautiful salmon coated in teriyaki and topped with flying fish roe. The latter, shrimp tempura rolls in a gochujang sauce with spring onion and picked red onion. I love the confidence here and how they don’t offer any soy sauce as a rule – they’re that self-assured that their food needs no extra flavour, so how dare you suggest otherwise? The spicy tuna rolls [AED 45] were also a hit, drizzled in wasabi mayo. The Sakura Ebi was up next [AED 68] – thin Capellini pasta cooked with lobster oil and garlic – it doesn’t sound like much but the savoury flavours were comforting and set off completely by the lobster oil. The Fremantle Octopus, the black cod and the Wagyu overload also looked particuarly tempting. A little here goes a long way, and at AED 233 for two people (not including drinks) we left satisfied and not ripped off, which tends to be so often the case with good quality restaurants in Dubai.

Perfect for a date night or a gathering with family and friends, 3 Fils sets the bar when it comes to affordable eating out – something which other new openings should be looking to for inspiration and which overpriced tourist hot-spots could learn a few things from.

You won’t have a problem finding this place – just look for the bustling restaurant straddled either side by ghost-town eateries – and of course the giant fishing harbour infront of it, dazzling with pretty street lamps which glimmer against the water. Perfection.

Visit 3 Fils’ website to find out more, or just rock up – cause you can’t book a table in advance. Expect a short wait – it’s worth it.

If you loved 3 Fils as much as me, or have some other hotspots you would recommend, comment below and tell me!

RH

 


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A week in Barbados: Local vibes and fish frys

I used to see the Caribbean as the fat man’s holiday – dominated by all-inclusive packages and doing little else other than being horizontal. Although I did my fair share of sun-worshiping, I discovered there was so much more to these paradise islands than I had previously imagined.
 
As a Flight Centre consultant, I spent most days creating itineraries for other people. With the launch of their Escapes range, enough was enough – it was time for a holiday – and the turquoise waters of Barbados were proving irresistible.
 
Flights into Barbados start from about £410 per person, with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offering direct services throughout the week to here and many other Caribbean islands.
 

Touch down

Our taxi driver cruised out of Grantley Adams International round to St Lawrence Gap where we were based for the next seven nights. He was laughing on the phone whilst half engaged in conversation with us, gushing about his grandchildren and the legendary Oistins fish fry which we had to go to on Friday. We pulled up to a modest 3-star called Time Out, right on Dover Beach, unpacked and headed down to the Gap.
 
The atmosphere was humid and heavy, and with a sudden crack the pressure was lifted and the heavens opened for about 5 minutes, enough to soak the entire restaurant who had been enjoying their fish suppers out on the pavement.
 
Barbados’ beaches were perfection – and we split our time between Dover Beach and Paynes Bay where my parents were staying just near Holetown on the west coast. Holetown is your more upmarket hang out, and the west coast plays host to the homes of Simon Cowell, Cliff Richard and Rihanna but we soon discovered the south coast is where the fun was at. Barbados of course is known for many a luxurious beach destination but stay in the south and you’ll swap swank for local charm. Young people frequent Harbour Lights beach party in Bridgetown after Oistins on Friday, shacks line the roads serving up flying fish sandwiches – the Bajan answer to a fish finger sandwich – and buses run frequently between every part of the island.
 

Five Things You Must Do In Barbados

1. Swim with turtles

Most catamaran trips will take you out for a spot of snorkelling, maybe visit a few ship wrecks, some deserted beaches, have some (more) fish and Bajan mac pie onboard – but nothing comes close to meeting these beautiful creatures. They please themselves – lazily cruising up towards the surface of the water to check out the humans and floating on back down again when they’ve had enough. It’s one of those experiences that you think will be ok because books and TV say it will be amazing – like swimming with dolphins – but then when you’re finally doing it, it is for a long time afterwards the best thing you have ever done. I am gutted I have no photos of these lovely creatures, but they deserve without a doubt to be top of my Bajan musts. This is also a good opportunity to take in the colourful Bridgetown before sailing out and getting a few photos of some ridiculous yachts at the harbour.

Bridgetown Harbour, Barbados

 

2. See Harrison’s Cave

The spectacular formations and caverns of Harrison’s Cave, located in the central uplands of the island, is a fantastic eco-adventure, mainly navigated by tram. We weave through narrow passages past thousands of enormous stalactites and stalagmites resembling many a human body part. Visitors have the chance to join a four hour trek through the cave’s narrowest passages – or you can just stick with the tram if you’re already a sweaty mess.
 

Harrison’s Cave, Barbados

3. Get down to Oistins Fish Fry

A tourist pilgrimage frequented by locals every Friday and Saturday of the week, this mass fish fry is an absolute must for seafood lovers and offers huge portions of shrimp, lobster, Marlin, swordfish, flying fish and more with the standard mac pie and rice and peas accompaniment. We loved it so much we went on Saturday as well, but it is definitely livelier on Friday, with plenty of vendors to choose from, live music and stalls. Uncle George Fish Net Grill is particularly famous (we ended up there both times) and were really attentive despite having to wait on many other hungry fish enthusiasts. You can easily get a mountain of fish, with two sides and a beer for less than $15 – bargain.

 

A rather crowded Oistin’s Fish Fry

4. Eat local

We had lunch at the same place every day – and it wasn’t at a hotel, or a fancy restaurant. It was a roadside shack called Daddy’s just opposite our hotel in the Gap. Modest, delicious, cheap and local. I still miss these flying fish sandwiches with hot Bajan sauce…
 

Local lunching

5. Visit the Nature Reserve (at feeding time)

A small but unique little haven located in the north of the island where visitors stroll around freely amongst deer, tortoises and green monkeys. Feeding time had just started when we arrived and as we walked through the trees we noticed more and more tortoises moving in the same direction. As the trees opened up to a clearing, their reasoning became clear. Deer and literally piles of tortoises were scrambling (the deer somewhat more successfully) over pieces of fruit and sweet potato. I had never before seen these two species sharing a mountain of vegetables before, but it was worth the trip just for this. Only the photos can do it justice. And of course, everyone loves monkeys.
 

Deer at the nature reserve

6. Get the bus, everywhere

From day one, we went from place to place, one sweaty packed bus to another. The wind through the windows detracted from the heat and the rocket-speed down the narrow winding roads kept our hands tight to the railings. Reggae blasted out from the speakers and the bus conductor collected two dollars from the passengers when they felt like it. My map flapped in the wind as we tricked death one more time on a tight bend, while the locals looked on thinking about their day, probably rolling their eyes at us. But it was something so simple as riding a bus which made us feel so instantly accepted on this little island. We weren’t stared at or treated differently or singled out – it was that immediate feeling of acceptance which put us so at ease and made it equally so hard to leave.
 
Have you been to Barbados? Tell me about your experience on the island! 

RH


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