DSC_0813

Travel Talk: Iceland – Reykjavik & Beyond

Iceland may be one of the most expensive countries I’ve ever visited but it’s also one of the most beautiful. Honestly, if you do get the chance… go. I promise it’s worth it.

From artsy capital Reykjavik to the geysers, glaciers, waterfalls and lagoons of the rural areas, Iceland is as eclectic as it is beautiful.

My friend and I spent just five days in Iceland so, as always, there’s loads more to see but here’s a quick run-down of our highlights:

Reykjavik

Northernmost capital in the world, Reykjavik, is a modern metropolis full of museums, art and cultural sites, as well as great restaurants, quirky cafes and trendy bars.

The city features traditional brightly-coloured wooden houses typical of Scandinavia but is also home to stunning modern buildings including the glass-covered Harpa concert hall and conference centre.

The city’s famous Hallgrímskirkja church is visible throughout much of the city and was our beacon to follow in getting back to our hostel on the outskirts of town.

Reykjavik has two harbours; the Old Harbour and New Harbour. We spent more time in the Old Harbour as instead of huge cruise ships, it’s home to smaller ships, fishing boats and sight-seeing vessels.

Whale watching and puffin tours are two of the main tourist draws at the old harbour.

Puffin tours take you on small boats out to a “puffin island” where you can see thousands of the little fellows (they’re hard to capture without an amazing zoom lense).

The South Coast

Iceland’s South Coast is unmissable with waterfalls, glaciers and black beaches adding to the country’s unique beauty.

If you have your own car, it would be fantastic to see the sights at your own pace. But if you’re on a budget and/or time limit like we were, there are tonnes of bus companies operating tours to the major sites. We booked our day trip through Sterna Travel.

The tours all hit the major sites but each company will stop at a few smaller places of interest if time allows.

DSC_0435
Eyjafjallajökull volcano in the distance.
DSC_0459
Small village made famous when the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud loomed over it in 2010.
DSC_0440
“Small” waterfall on route to the coast.

Skógafoss

Many believe that Skógafoss is Iceland’s most beautiful waterfall. It’s not only breathtaking to look at but stand close to the water and you will feel the mist wash over you. Totally worth getting freshly-straightened hair wet!

Dyrhólaey

The clifftops of Dyrhólaey provide stunning views along the coast, including ashened black shorelines below.

Vik

The basalt columns and black pebbled sand make nearby Reynisfjara beach in Vik a must-see. And yes, you can climb on the columns!

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Iceland is not known as The Land of Ice and Fire without reason. The stunning Sólheimajökull glacier was doused in volcanic ash back in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull erupted. The result of a fiery volcano mixing with an icy glacier makes for a unique, slightly bizarre sight.

Seljalandsfoss

Another of Iceland’s better known waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss is a site that will blow you away. Forget jumping photos with the falls in the background; you can actually walk right behind the waterfall here!

And at the risk of sounding completely corny… Walking behind a waterfall flanked by a full rainbow, feeling the spray on your face and hearing the thundering force as the falls pound the water below is a truly magical experience.

Don’t miss the “secret waterfall” Gljúfurárfoss just a few hundred metres away. Partially hidden by a large canyon, you can only reach this waterfall by balancing over natural stepping stones along the edge of the canyon walls. Be prepared to get a bit wet in there but it’s a site you shouldn’t miss.

DSC_0843b

The Golden Circle

Again, there are loads of companies offering tours of the Golden Circle route. Yes, it’s touristy but sometimes things are touristy for a reason and you really shouldn’t skip this.

We chose a half-day tour through BusTravel, which allowed us to see the whole route but at times did feel a little rushed. If you want more than just a “photo-stop” at some of the smaller places then go for a longer tour or self-drive.

Kerið

The tour started at the volcanic crater Kerið. A steep, rocky path takes you down to the water of this natural masterpiece. If the steep descent is a little much, the views are still spectacular from above.

Gullfoss

One of the most popular sites on the Golden Circle route, and in Iceland overall, is Gullfoss, which translates to “Golden Falls”. The falls stretch the width of the Hvítá river in a staircase-like formation, then plunge into a deep crevice. The sheer noise of these falls is incredible.

Haukadalur Geysers

The geyser geothermal area of Haukadalur is where the famous Strokkur geyser erupts every few minutes. As the water starts to bubble, crowds wait expectantly, cameras poised… then as the eruption goes off, there’s a frenzy of gasps and camera clicks. Reaching heights of up to 30 metres, you definitely want to be standing upwind of the eruptions.Geyser

The geyser is surrounded by hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles so be prepared for that slightly “eggy” sulphur  smell in the air!

DSC_1065

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park is another top attraction in Iceland. The area is protected as a national park due to its geological significance as evidence of continental drift. The park sits on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the huge canyon was formed due to movement in the earth’s crust. It’s a pretty amazing display of nature’s power.

The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage site owing to its historical importance as the site of the first assembly of the world’s oldest parliament.

The Blue Lagoon

A visit to Iceland is not complete without a dip in the Blue Lagoon. Touristy? Yes. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? 100% yes. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers.

As the lagoon is en route to Keflavik, visit on your way to or from the airport. It’s definitely worth pre-booking several days in advance so you can get your preferred time slot as there’s limited numbers of tickets available for each entry time (but once you’re in, you can stay as long as you like).

I don’t recommend leaving the booking to the night before and getting stuck with the 6am departure from your accommodation. However, on the plus side, a hideously early start does mean first entry to the lagoon and thus sharing to water with far fewer bathers…

DSC_0035

Your skin will relish in the the free silica mud mask and the swim-up bar is a welcome novelty.

DSC_0033Plus, I’ve never been so relaxed getting on to a flight…

IMG_4346

Check out my Icelandic Eats for more travel inspo!

DSC_0127

Travel Eats: Reykjavik, Iceland

Like most Nordic countries, Iceland isn’t a place that you immediately associate with vegetarian food. In a country known for dishing up lamb hot dogs, boiled sheep’s heads, smoked puffin, fermented shark and a lot of seafood, my vego friend and I wondered if we would struggle to find veggie-friendly options.

However, Reykjavik is a pretty modern city where not only do most restaurants have something on offer for meat-avoiders but there are even a few solely vegetarian or vegan eateries around!

DSC_0117b

In fact, the main issue we found was not finding food we could eat but getting to the restaurants in time to be served… With almost 24 hours of daylight, the evening sneak up on you faster than expected and it’s easy to miss the 9pm cut-off of most eateries. Thank goodness for Kaffi Vinyl, which serves food until “late”…

Kaffi Vinyl

IMG_4459

Located not far from Reykjavik’s main high street, Kaffi Vinyl is a cafe/bar that doubles as a record store.

With rustic floors, recycled furniture and an exclusively vegan menu, the cafe rocks a slightly hippy vibe and attracts laid back locals and the student crowd.

Vinyl

We arrived quite late when the DJ was just finishing up and the only food option left was the veggie lasagna. Served with bechamel red pesto, fresh bread and salad, that was fine by us! The lasagna was honestly one of the best I’ve had with creamy, cheesy layers and the fresh pesto was super-tasty.

IMG_4461bb

The service was fast and friendly and at 2100 Icelandic Króna (around £11-12 when we were there pre-Brexit) for the main, prices were really decent. Washed down with a cider, we were pretty darn pleased with our late night vegan eats.

This may have been the only exclusively vegan place we tried but I highly recommend a visit if you’re in town because it must be hard to beat!

Kaffi Vinyl
Hverfisgata 76
Reykjavík
Iceland

Coming Soon: The nature and scenery of The Land of Ice & Fire!

Check out Iceland’s stunning scenery in in Reykjavik & Beyond.

Just V Show (3)

Just V Show 2016

London Olympia was recently host to the annual Just V Show, held over the weekend from 8th-10th July. Co-locating with both the Allergy & Free From Show and the Love Natural Love You Show, the pavilion was filled with tonnes of veggie-friendly, dairy free, gluten-free and organic goodies.

Now, the Number One Rule of photographing an event is check that your camera battery is charged. Pass! The Number Two Rule of photographing an event is check that a memory card is in your camera. Fail.

So please forgive my dodgy iPhone photos. I’m an idjit.

Naturally, I headed straight for the Just V show on the pink carpet to start my day. I worked my way through rows of stores, trying samples, collecting goody bags and making the (not so) occasional purchase.

Veggie favourite Linda McCartney Foods were there, though sadly they’d sold out of most of their goods. I grabbed two boxes of sausages for £2 (bargain!) before they too disappeared.

I was super-curious to try vegan eggs but I forgot to go back and grab a carton, which makes me a little sad. Next time!

I did, however, remember to grab something from baked goods goddess Ms Cupcake! Though super-tempted by some of the naughtier treats at the stand but in the end, went for the “healthier” option of the oatmeal raisin cookie. It was still ridicuously delicious.

Many of the stalls in the green-carpeted Allergy & Free From show were also veggie or vegan friendly, such as Good bars, Nakd bars and Rebel Kitchen. All delicious, I grabbed something from each of them!

Just V Show (17)

Rebel Kitchen – makers of tasty flavoured coconut “mylks” – have recently released their own coconut water and coconut yogurt ranges. Sadly, as coconut yogurt it so delicious it was all sold out but I did bag some coconut water and a few mylks.

I normally stick to food or beauty-related items at these shows but there was a huge stand by EcoZone who specialise in eco-friendly cleaning and home-care products. I’m always on the lookout for cruelty-free cleaning brands so I grabbed some washing tablets and washing machine cleaner both boasting a host of “friendly” labels including Vegan Society Approved and Certified Cruelty-Free. What’s more, their range is largely unscented so great for sensitive skin types and allergy sufferers.

Just V Show (26)

There were goodie bags and samples galore, so I came away laden with treats. Here’s my final haul, around half of which was free! Score!

Just V Show (3)

FREE tickets are already available for the Just V Show 2017 here. Woohoo!

Check out reviews from previous years (and under former name V Delicious) here:

Just V Show 2015
V Delicious 2014
V Delicious 2013

 

Glasgow River

Travel Eats: Glasgow, UK

Glasgow was voted the Most Vegan-Friendly City in the UK by PETA in 2013 and The World’s Friendliest City in a Rough Guides poll in 2015. With two pretty awesome titles to its name, Glasgow was a city I’d been wanting to check out for a long time.

After the very beautiful but very touristy Edinburgh, Glasgow made a nice change. With a huge art and music scene, it was my kind of city. Although we didn’t make it to any veggie restaurants here, we had a great time trying out many of the bars and pubs throughout the city. In fact, my Glasgow re-cap consists entirely of watering holes… Oops!

DSC_0679

On our first evening we ventured to vegan restaurant, bar and music venue Stereo with hopes of sampling their tapas-style veggie offerings. Sadly, by the time we arrived (after 9pm) their kitchen had closed. We settled for a couple of G&Ts in the chilled out venue before moving on.

After a frenzied phone search for late-night eateries, we ended up at bar and live music venue The Howlin’ Wolf where -perfect for night owls – food is served until 2am. Their Southern-American influenced menu is heavily meat-based however, they also offer a surprisingly good range of vegetarian options; we loaded up our table with a pile of veggie junk food – garlic bread, chips, spicy onion rings and nachos. Totally worth the calorie count! At three “bites” for just £9.95, it was pretty easy on the purse strings too.

DSC_0657

The following day we fared a little better in finding food. After getting caught in the rain in the beautiful Kelvingrove Park, we needed a hot lunch and a drink or two to warm us up. We came across chic-looking bar Distill and decided to check it out.

Distill Exterior

Again, we were sold by the veggie-friendly signage out the front…

Distill Signs

Although there were several tempting veggie options on the menu, we both ended up going for the flatbread and soup deal. We were pretty pleased with our choice when the server brought out the most epic falafel flatbread I’ve ever seen…Distill Falafel

So big it came with a skewer to hold everything together, the freshly made falafel was served in a giant warm flatbread filled with harissa and Turkish salad for a delicious hit of spice and flavours. My phone photos of the dish are rubbish and honestly do the meal no justice!

At just £7 for the Mug O’ Soup & Sandwich deal, it was a steal! We devoured our meals with craft beers and ciders and practically had to roll out when we were done…

Gin71

I’ve always thought drinking cocktails from tea sets was a little bit “pretentious hipster”. But I’ll admit… I’ve always wanted to do it anyway. So on night two, we headed to bar Gin71 with its boozy teapots and mix-your-own cocktails.

As the name suggests, cocktail bar Gin71 specialises exclusively in the botanical spirit, offering 71 different varieties.

The cocktail menu is extensive and – perfect for indecisive people like me – they also offer “gin flights” which come with three different gins and a mixer, which you mix yourself at the table. I went for the Gin Fizz flight which came with a mini bottle of Prosecco and a pot of berries for fruity and delicious cocktails.

I’m not 100% convinced that Glasgow beats out London for most veggie-friendly city in the UK but head there and you will find a young, vibrant city heaving with great pubs, independent cafes, and probably even a brilliant restaurant or two if you manage to drag yourself away from the awesome bar scene…

Cheers!

DSC_0699

Next stop…. Manchester!

Previous eats: Edinburgh

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Butternut Noodles with Feta

I’ve recently discovered vegetable “noodles”. Not a fan of the pasta kind, this has been somewhat of a revelation for me. As an added bonus, they are a much healthier version too!

Courgette is great spiralized and carrots work well too but my current obsession is butternut squash noodles. Of course, you can make the noodles yourself but I’ll be honest… I’ve been buying mine ready-noodled!

Use the noodles as you would with wheat or rice ones – in pasta-style dishes or stir-fries. Below is one of my favourite concoctions so far as it’s quick and easy for an after-work meal and it’s full of flavour.

Spicy Butternut Noodles with Broccoli and Feta

Serves 2

IMG_3977bb

Ingredients

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic
100g tenderstem broccoli, trimmed
250g butternut squash noodles
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
Pinch salt
Black pepper
100g baby pomodorino tomatoes, halved
150g feta, cubed
Handful fresh basil, chopped
1/2 an avocado, sliced

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes until softened. Add broccoli and fry for 1 minute then add butternut squash noodles. Cook, stirring frequently until butternut noodles start to soften.

Add tomatoes then sprinkle on chilli, salt and pepper and stir well. Add feta and stir until it starts to melt, then add basil and stir through until wilted.

Remove pan from heat and serve noodles in large bowl. Top with a fresh sprig of basil and sliced avocado.

Enjoy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

DSC_0598

Travel Eats: Edinburgh, UK

I am currently in the process of applying for British Citizenship, which means I’ve been without a passport for a couple of months. Which consequently means no trips abroad. Tough when you work in the travel industry (sorry bosses!) but tougher when you have a friend visiting all the way from Australia and can’t hop over to mainland Europe with her!

However, being without a passport has reminded me just how much there is to see within the UK and has given me the perfect excuse to visit a few cities I’ve not yet been to. So armed with regular photo ID, my cameras and my favourite travel buddy, I headed off on a 9-day trip to Scotland and the north of England.

We did plenty of eating and drinking, of course. so I thought I’d share some of our favourite foodie finds in a mini “Travel Eats” series.

Our first stop was Edinburgh, which I actually have been to before but it was years ago and my friend hadn’t been so I was more than happy to return to this beautiful city.

DSC_0598

We were only there for three days so didn’t fit in all the foodie places we looked up but here’s a few of our faves.

The Elephant House

Okay, so we really only went here because it’s the cafe where Queen J.K. Rowling penned most of the first novels in the Harry Potter series. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Elephant House, situated in the Old Town, was much larger than I anticipated. We headed straight for the back room where J.K. used to sit in the windows overlooking Greyfriars Churchyard. Beyond the Churchyard you can see Edinburgh Castle perched on the top of the hill. Inspiration for Hogwarts, perhaps?

Elephant Room

We only stopped in for a coffee, which was decent enough but honestly, I’m sure most of the punters were there trying to emulate the J.K. Rowling of almost two decades ago. (Yes, two decades!)

Elephant Room Coffee 2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Just like J.K…

But in all honesty, if you’re a Potterhead, it’s worth a stop here just for the loos. Seriously.

Harry Potter fans are nothing if not obsessed dedicated and I am still silently sobbing over the fact that I didn’t have a pen (not even an eye liner pen!) on me at the time to add to this bathroom masterpiece…Elephant Room Ladies

If you do visit the cafe, make sure you head over to the graveyard to check out Tom Riddle’s grave. It’s a shame about the ‘typo’, though…

The cafe is certainly one to remember.

Always.

Sugarhouse Sandwiches

After the excitement of the “Harry Potter Cafe”, we wanted somewhere a little quieter for lunch. Wandering down The Royal Mile, we stumbled upon an unassuming little place called Sugarhouse Sandwiches. Anyone who specifically advertises “vegetarian options” on their sign gets my vote.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cafe was very small inside but cosy and friendly. We arrived quite late in the afternoon so they’d sold out of many of their ready-made lunch options but the server was more than happy to recommend to us veggie dishes for the chef to whip up.

The soup of the day was roasted garlic, which sounded divine but as there was only enough for one serving, I took went for the roast veg and falafel toastie. It was hot and delicious, as was the soup, which I sampled from my friend’s bowl! Perfect eats on a drizzly afternoon!

Sugarhouse 2

Prices were really decent so it’s a great little place to pop into for lunch, or just to take a break from the hustle and bustle of The Royal Mile.

David Bann

On our last night in Edinburgh, we decided to treat ourselves. After searching the trusty Happy Cow website for recommendations, we headed to David Bann Vegetarian Restaurant & Bar, located just a few minutes’ walk from The Royal Mile.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

David Bann is a modern vegetarian restaurant with an eclectic range of vegetarian and vegan dishes. With a diverse menu, ranging from staple veggie mains with their own twist (Risotto of roasted red pepper with kale and kohlrabi) to modern British-inspired dishes (Parsnip, Bramley apple and Dunsyre Blue cheese mousse) it was almost too hard to decide on our meals. In the end, we shared two starters and narrowed down our mains to a couple of the more unique dishes.

To start we shared the Smoked and marinated tofu with mango chutney and the Thai fritters of broccoli and smoked tofu with banana chutney and plum dressing.

David Bann Tofu Starters

Both dishes were utterly amazing but the smoked tofu really would be one to win over even the strongest bean curd-doubter. I’ve never eaten tofu so light and fluffy and full of flavour. The simple pairing with courgette and mango chutney was perfect.

For mains, my friend went for the Aduki bean and mushroom bake with Tyrol dumpling and I had the Chilli pancake with grilled sweet potato, courgette and chocolate sauce.

David Bann Mains

The bean and mushroom bake was hearty and homely but the spinach dumpling filled with Applesmoke cheese gave it a unique touch.

My chickpea pancake was light and fluffy and perfect filled with a tasty spicy bean mix. Not usually a massive fan of chocolate-y things (odd, I know), I was surprised that I actually liked mixing a touch of the rich sauce with the spicy filling and sweet salsa. The sweet potato was grilled to perfection and the dish overall felt light but was super-filling and bursting with flavour.

With starters at around £6-£7 and mains around £11-£13, it’s not the cheapest amongst Edinburgh’s veggie restaurants but it’s so worth it.

David Bann Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Baked Potato Shop

On our last day in Edinburgh, we just had to try out The Baked Potato Shop. Located in the Old Town, just off The Royal Mile (and handily, right near our hostel) the all-veggie cafe has made a name for itself since its inception in the early eighties.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The concept is simple – choose your jacket potato size (we got a small and it was MASSIVE), add your filling/s from the large range of hot and cold options (including vegan haggis if you so desire) and match with a drink for a meal deal for extra value. For around £5-£6, you can get a seriously decent lunch or dinner.

We both went for the vegetable curry, which was super-tasty, super-filling and had a decent kick to it. Thankfully, we managed to get one of the few seats inside as the seriously-loaded potato is not one to eat on the go!

IMG_3638
The cafe also serves a range of sweet and savoury veggie snacks and cakes including tiffin, vegan sausage rolls and vegan haggis samosas.

Next time I may brave some of that haggis!

Pubs

Of course we also had to sample the pubs of the city. It would be rude not to, right?

We started off with a lazy afternoon pint in a hidden beer garden in the Old Town. Looking like any other pub from the front, the overflowing bar area led on to a “secret” beer garden out the back. So secret, I don’t remember what the pub was called… sorry.

IMG_3570

Okay, fine… it was The Beehive Inn. Just don’t tell them I told you!

After a rainy end to our exploration of the beautiful Edinburgh Castle, we popped into nearby pub The Castle Arms for a pick-me-up. It may not have been very “Scottish” of us but these Irish coffees went down a treat…

Irish Coffee

And finally, you can’t visit Scotland without sampling some local whisky. In the interest of “research”, we sampled quite a few…

Our favourite pub for whisky had to the The Albanach. Located in prime position right on The Royal Mile, it was friendly and comfortable with drinks at decent prices. With over 250 malt whiskies on the menu, we stuck with the bartenders’ recommendations. I’m certainly no whisky connoisseur but I did leave Edinburgh with a new appreciation for the drink!

Whisky

Edinburgh is a beautiful city full of history and charm. The locals are friendly, the scenery is stunning and there’s plenty for a veggie to eat and drink!

DSC_0559

Next stop… Glasgow!