2017 Bucket List

2017 (Diary from Asda) - Emma's Picture Postcards

I wrote a wordy review last week of my general experiences of 2016 and intentions for 2017, but here’s more of a precise look back at what I fancied doing last year and forward to my plans for this year.  I’ve never really been a New Year’s Resolutions kind of girl, but I couldn’t function without my daily to-do list and I enjoy expanding that to a longer term, no pressure list of fun things I’d like to do.

The 2016 Bucket List (full post here)

What I did that was on the list:

– Went to Skye and Eilean Donan Castle.  These were everything I’d dreamed, and a lovely long-weekend trip.

– Trained for and ran Race for Life in June.  Not only that, but I actually kept it up and then ran the Dandara 5k in September, too.  A bit more on this below, but I really enjoyed running more frequently.  I must admit, I’m a fair weather runner, but I did get out there as soon as spring started to show its face in 2016 and am keen to get back to it soon.

– Did some decorating.  I did take pictures as promised, but I think I was having camera troubles at the time and they’re all fuzzy except for this one, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that we did a good job 🙂  We each have our own little home office in this house and each one is suited to our own tastes now so we’re contented little bees!

Emma's Picture Postcards

Extra things I did:

– became self-employed and started two new jobs.  After a few fiascos and with the offshore industry looking less and less of a wise place to be, I was keen, verging on desperate, to get a job with either the NHS or one of the local universities or councils.  Meanwhile, I decided to see if I could turn my hand to transcription and started freelancing for a company based in London.  As it turns out, I absolutely love it!  I then did find a part-time job at one of the unis, so I’m now splitting my time between the two.  At risk of jinxing it, I’m finding it an absolutely perfect balance.  Both jobs are interesting but in different ways and have their own challenges and rewards.  I find three days in the office the perfect amount of social interaction, while the remaining four days I can set my own schedule of when I want to work, sleep or do other things.  The harder I work at the freelance work, the more I earn, and on the other hand, while of course I’m conscientious in my office job, I can rest easy knowing that I have that secure income each month.

– got into some decent routines.  I got myself a Fitbit in the Black Friday sales in 2015, and realised that the end of the year is a good time for me to establish myself in a routine and feel a little bit rebellious for not doing it in January 😉  It’s helped motivate me to walk a lot more and I upped that into running in the warmer months, plus I’ve kept up my habit of going to at least one or two gym classes a week.  It also helped me work out what sleep routine works best for me, and I’ve realised I’m a real early bird.  I feel best when I’m in bed by 10 and up at 6 – this doesn’t always happen, but it’s the aim, and the difference in how I feel is enough to make sure I keep vaguely to that schedule, even if it does end up being an hour or two later that my sleep starts and finishes.  I’ve learned that I absolutely have to stick to 6-8 hours of sleep though, because if I get more than that, I feel awful and sluggish all day, and if I consistently get less, it’s a one-way ticket to a migraine.  I’ve also been tracking (and upping) my water intake and feel so much better for that too.

– as well as those health-related routines, I’ve gotten into a good routine for keeping myself organised.  I’ve always been a big fan of lists, and for a while now I’ve been writing a daily to-do list with absolutely everything I have to remember on it.  Often this includes everything right down to showering and eating lunch, because it’s not unheard of for 3pm to come and I suddenly realise the reason I’m so light-headed is that I haven’t eaten!  It felt a little bit daft at first, but it really works for me.  It also helped me when I was job-hunting to be able to quickly and easily look back to see what jobs I’d applied for, and to be able to tell James what I’d been up to when he came home from work.  It’s so easy for a well-meant “What did you do today?” to be taken the wrong way when you’re feeling sensitive and dependent!

The 2017 Bucket List

Things I didn’t get to in 2016 but am carrying forward to 2017:

– a trip up Cairngorm mountain on the funicular railway.  A vague plan is already in the works for this, so watch this space!

– Blair Drummond Safari Park

– Edinburgh Zoo

– the Kelpies

New items:

– Footdee – it’s absolutely ridiculous that I’ve lived in Aberdeen for eleven years and never been to one of its most picturesque locations.  Thankfully I righted this wrong the other day and you will soon see the photo evidence!

Footdee, Aberdeen - Emma's Picture Postcards

– introduce James to my Kiwi friends.  One of my favourite people in the world is a young lady named Erin.  Long story short, she’s from New Zealand, we met in Germany, and she currently lives in the UK.  I’ve seen quite a bit of her and her husband over the last few years, but it’s never worked out for them to meet James – either he’s been away for work, or I’ve visited them while on father-daughter trips to London, etc.  It’s reached the point that there’s a running joke that James doesn’t exist, so I’m hoping to get them up for another visit this year and make the myth a reality.  I may even take them to Loch Ness to look for Nessie too 😉

– explore a new European city (Prague / Venice) or rediscover one I visited in my youth (Paris / Amsterdam / Budapest).  These are the current suggestions but we’ll see.  Europe is our oyster 🙂

– send (and make???) Christmas cards!  This one is non-negotiable, even if I have to start preparing in January 😀

– Last but most random: go to Clatt.  When my gran was a young mum (I’m not sure, but I believe when my dad’s eldest sister was a toddler, so before my dad was even a twinkle in her eye) she lived in a tiny village in Aberdeenshire called Clatt.   She’s always asking me if I’ve been yet, and I haven’t because honestly I think it probably is the definition of a one-horse town, but I actually looked it up the other day and it’s not as far away as I thought, so I’m going to take a little road trip some time soon and take some photos, just because it would tickle her.

What are your dreams for this year?

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Italy, August 2016 – Florence

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Hello! I mentioned in this post that I had found myself some freelance work, and I’ve now found a part-time office job to go alongside it. I’m finding it the perfect balance, and it’s such a weight off my shoulders to know I have a regular income again! And now that I have job-hunting off my plate, my brain is free to get some blog posts written! So bear with me through the next few posts as they’ll be somewhat unseasonal – but I reckon a break from Christmas gift guides can’t be a bad thing, right? 😉

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

This is the third and final post from our Italy trip – part 2 covers our accommodation in a small town in the Tuscan countryside, and part 1 was some tips (aka a rant) on using the local buses!

Our favourite thing to do in a new city is to just have a good wander and see what there is to see. We decided to skip going inside the Duomo, but it was the first landmark we headed for since it’s near the bus station and really stands out as the most visible and unique building.

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

The Duomo is really stunning, but tricky to photograph as it’s just so huge!

We wandered on through Piazza della Signoria, which contains lots of grand old statues, the grand old Palazzo Vecchio… and a giant gold turtle, which Google tells me is a Jan Fabre exhibit. It was a little odd but kind of worked.

Pallazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

By this point we had started to follow signs for Ponte Vecchio, and shops were getting more and more upmarket! The bridge itself is stacked full of expensive jewellers.

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

I love Ponte Vecchio’s unique hodgepodge of structures and shutters and colours, and again it really stands out from afar. The shops on the inside are flawlessly well-kept and clean, whereas the outside is a lot scruffier – I edited the photo above a fair bit to make the paint colours a bit brighter and the whole thing less dirty-looking.  But I guess if they were constantly cleaning or painting it, it would always be covered in scaffolding and safety nets, so I’ll take a bit of scruffy charm 🙂

City Walls, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

City Walls, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

From Ponte Vecchio we made our way through the city walls and up the (oh-my-gosh-so-very-relentless) hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. These are the only close-up photos I managed to get of the walls as this was the only time we were near them on foot, but they surround the whole city centre. It was quite fun zooming along the side of them on the bus and they add another layer of character to the city.

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

This quiet little public rose garden is halfway up the steps, and provides a welcome break from the climb and also from the crowds at the main sights.

Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazzale Michelangelo is a big open square, containing a replica of the Statue of David (the original is in an art gallery to protect it from damage) and providing beautiful views of the city.

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

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Happy Things, October 2016

Autumn Leaves - Emma's Picture Postcards

I always enjoy reading people’s collections of little positive things but it’s been ages since I last wrote one! Here are a few things making me smile:

  1. My new job, self-employment and my first big tax refund! Since quitting my last job I’ve been (and still am) looking for a new, traditional, 9-to-5 office job. Aberdeen is full of unemployed, overqualified people at the moment though and it’s a bit of a struggle. In the meantime, I’ve started working as a freelance audio typist, and I absolutely love it. The pay isn’t great (you get paid for each minute of audio you transcribe, rather than how long it takes you, so with practice I’ll start earning more per hour) but it’s enjoyable, gives me at least a little income, means I won’t have a big gap in my CV, and gives me another skill and experience which will hopefully be useful for future jobs. I also received a great big tax refund since my tax had been calculated on the assumption I’d continue in my old job for the rest of the financial year – I knew it would be coming, but it still felt like an amazing bonus when it did!
    Apple and Bramble Pie - Emma's Picture Postcards
  2. Baking and cooking! James is the one with the skills (enthusiasm, patience, imagination) in our kitchen, and normally does most (all) of the cooking. Recently I’ve been trying to give him a break and take a week off his plate (I can’t think of a less punny way to say that, haha) every 3-4 weeks. Usually I rustle up a few of his or my mum’s regulars and try one new thing that I’ve half dreamed up myself and then looked up on BBC Good Food for rough guidance on quantities and measurements. Last week I made what I’d imagined as a stew/casserole, but decided to turn into a really delicious pasta sauce, with tomatoes, sausage, chorizo and peppers, and my mouth is watering just at the thought of it. While it was simmering away, I made an apple and bramble pie as my October effort for Bumpkin Betty’s Baking Club. I used this Hairy Bikers’ recipe, but because we only have a teeny little flan tin, I halved the ingredients. This didn’t leave me enough pastry for the lid and I’d pretty much run out of flour, but with the help of the internet again (what on earth did we do before Google?) I found this open-top apple pie recipe, and covered mine with a half-lattice, half-crumble concoction. I popped it in the oven and proceeded to hover around, peeking through the door to see how it was getting on, because by this stage I had no idea how long I needed to bake it! And the result? *Drum roll*… it turned out perfect. Yay! To date, I am 3 for 3 and the world’s luckiest baker.
    Dornstetten, Germany - Emma's Picture Postcards
  3. A quick trip to the Black Forest, for the wedding of my favourite German! We started out as exchange students when we were 15, and were lucky enough to actually like each other and stay in regular contact afterwards! We’ve visited each other every couple of years since then, and really feel like family now. It was wonderful to be there for her wedding, to be back in her home village, to spend some quality time with her family and friends, and to introduce James to a place that’s been a big part of my life.
    Stranger Things Halloween Party - Emma's Picture Postcards
  4. A wonderful week in London. I’ll write a full post soon, but the original premise was for Dad and I to go to another NFL game. The friends I’d planned to stay with then invited me to a Stranger Things themed Halloween party the following weekend, so I decided to stay a week! I really enjoyed both events, the chance to catch up with London- and Nottingham-based friends, and the opportunity to spend a whole week with my Kiwi friends. There’s nothing like knowing your friends will eventually return to the literal opposite end of the Earth to make you appreciate their current, relatively convenient home!

Happy Halloween! Let me know your October highlights 🙂

Italy, August 2016: San Casciano, Tuscany

San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Italy is one of my favourite destinations. Before this trip to Tuscany, I had been to Rome and Turin, and there are so many places still on my list. This time around, we went to the Florence region and stayed in a villa recommended to us by James’s boss, in a village called – deep breath – San Casciano in Val di Pesa. San Casciano is (in theory) conveniently located a half hour’s drive out of Florence, and felt to me like the epitome of Tuscany. Rolling hills, olive groves, vineyards, little churches with tall, thin bell towers, and an abundance of gelaterias, cafes and pizzerias with relaxed outdoor seating areas.

San Casciano, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

We stayed at Il Visciolo, a farmhouse-style villa that manages to feel rustic and traditional, while still having all the mod-cons we needed (so, wifi, lights and a fridge then, haha, but also automatic sun awnings and solar outdoor lighting, which were really nice to have).

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture PostcardsIl Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

The whole building pictured above is the rental property, and it would comfortably sleep four. As well as the master bedroom, there’s another double bed on a mezzanine level in the study, which sounds like it might be warm, but I think it would be ok. The window is covered over by a brickwork lattice (you can see it in the external photo above) which keeps the room cool and allows you to see out without letting anyone see in – the bathroom is the same. The thick walls and tiled floors also keep the house nice and cool. In any case, the amount of space was a luxury for just the two of us, and we spent a lot of time relaxing and reading, and enjoying the peace and quiet and beautiful views:

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

The owners are extremely helpful for anything you might need, and welcomed us with some fruit, bruscetta served with their own home-grown olive oil, and a bottle of Chianti. We had some additional friendly visitors in the form of their cats, and a praying mantis who came to hang out one evening!

Il Visciolo, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Praying Mantis, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Unfortunately, Mr Mantis wasn’t the only insect to visit us, and I took a severe reaction to mosquito bites – scroll quickly past if you’re squeamish! Even more unfortunately, since James didn’t seem to have been bitten at all, we assumed that I was allergic to the washing powder used on the bedsheets, and didn’t use the mosquito net provided. Rookie mistake. This was the most dramatic allergic reaction I’ve ever had though, so I definitely learned my lesson and will be well-armed with anti-histamine tablets in future!

Mosquito Bites, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Mosquito Bites, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

San Casciano, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Piazza della Repubblica, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Our first night in San Casciano coincided with the village’s Saint Day celebrations, with a market on Piazza della Repubblica, fireworks launched in the valley below and visible from the piazza’s terrace, and live music in Piazza Cavour. As an almost-Bonfire-Night baby (I was born 4th Nov), I’ve always adored fireworks, so it was a lovely way to start the trip, especially if we pretended they were celebrating our arrival 😉

Pizzeria La Carbonaia, San Casciano, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

Otherwise, our time in the village was spent sampling the local cuisine – tough job, but someone’s got to do it 😉 We started off at Pizzeria La Carbonaia, where I had the Carbonaia pizza (above), topped with sausage meat and, at a guess, about ten cloves’ worth of garlic. It was so delicious that we bookended our trip with dinner there on the first and last nights of our trip, and I had the same pizza the second time too! We also sampled, at Nello, the local speciality of a 1kg T-bone steak – so, half a cow, basically – at a casual €45/kg, which is the minimum portion size. We expected to have major meat sweats and aching jaws and stomachs after sharing one, but actually it was beautifully tender and melt-in-the-mouth, and we managed it fine between two with some fried potatoes on the side. If you’re travelling in a larger group though, I’d definitely recommend one between three or four of you! We also went for lunch at Cinque di Vino (fancier and a little theatrical!) and dinner at the more down-to-earth Trattoria Cantinetta del Nonno, where we had simple but tasty pasta starters and meaty mains. All washed down with local Chianti wine, served in adorable little glass jugs.

Emma's Picture Postcards

Back soon with photos of Florence 🙂

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Italy, August 2016: Tuscany Travel Tips

Last month James whisked us off to Tuscany for a week of sunshine and relaxation. I started writing a post about our stay, and before I knew it I’d written half a novel just about the local buses! I consider myself an experienced independent traveller, and I found the buses really difficult. So I decided I’d devote a post to our experience with them, in the hopes that it might help someone out!

Before I dive in to the buses though, I have to briefly mention our air travel. We flew via Amsterdam, which is always my favourite airport to transit through anyway, but was on particularly good form thanks to police on Segways…

Amsterdam Airport - Emma's Picture Postcards

…and a variety of fun art displays, including this fascinating clock, which a “workman” repainted each minute:

Once we reached Florence Airport, we had the “simple” (ha) task of taking a bus to the centre of town, and another to the village of San Casciano, where we were staying. This was much easier said than done, but by the end of our stay, I feel like we’d gotten our heads around it. Here’s what we learned:

– The main bus company in the Florence area, or at least the one that covered the routes we needed, is called SITA. It was formerly known as Busitalia, and some of the buses still have the old name on them, but are otherwise identical.

– Tickets cost €1.20 if purchased from a ticket vendor before boarding the bus, or €2.30 if purchased on board from the driver. For the airport bus, I’ve seen the price quoted online as anywhere between €3 and €6 each way, but we got there fine with standard €1.20 tickets, and actually had them checked by a bus conductor who happened to get on board.

– Tickets aren’t always available to buy on board, so ask the driver when you get on. If he says no, just hop back off and wait for the next bus, and/or make use of that time to see if you can locate a ticket vendor (more on that below!) The one time we did make use of this option, the driver said yes and waved us on, and we sat down behind him, James hovering on the edge of his seat waiting to be summoned forward to make the purchase. 20 minutes later, we figured he’d forgotten and we’d landed ourselves a free ride, but he sold them to us as we disembarked 😉

– Tickets must be validated on board the bus – stick your ticket into the slot in the red box and hold it there until it clunks.

San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Tuscany, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

– TOP TIP! Tickets aren’t valid for a specific date/time/route until validated. So if you’re lucky enough to find a ticket vendor early in your stay, buy as many tickets as you’ll need for the duration. One ticket covers one person for one journey, and a journey starts and ends at Florence, so for the two of us to go from the airport, to Florence city centre, and on to San Casciano, was two journeys each, therefore four tickets. Including another four to get back to the airport for our departure, and another four for a day trip into (and out of) Florence, meant we needed twelve tickets in total.

– We found the bus drivers generally quite helpful, and bus stops clearly marked and easy-ish to find, with the help of Google maps. Trying to buy tickets… not so much.

– So where are these magical bus ticket vendors where you can buy cheap tickets? Well, good question. Generally, there will be a shop of some description (a newsagent, tobacconist, bar, cafe, etc), vaguely near each bus stop, ish, which sells tickets. However. Italy is overrun with little shops, and a single street could have three tobacconists, and two of them might (apparently) have no idea that the third sells bus tickets. The one that does might also close for four hours (and then some) in the middle of the day, or if you’re really unlucky, might be closed for the entire month of August because the owner is on his holidays. Yay.

Duomo, Florence, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

We managed to buy tickets in advance at three different places, as follows.

– the SITA bus station in Florence. Google Maps knows this as “Busitalia Nord Autostazione” and it’s on Via Santa Caterina da Siena. Because we had just missed the shuttle bus and couldn’t work out where to buy tickets at the airport (I’ve read since that you can buy them at the bar inside), we ended up taking a taxi from the airport to this bus station. Compared with our later sagas, this was by far the simplest and most familiar bus-related location, and I wish we’d bought our full trip’s worth of tickets at this point!

– there are four bus stops together on Largo Fratelli Alinari, just around the corner from the train station, and there is a shop selling tickets that’s actually directly at these bus stops (hallelujah!) – I believe it’s called Cap Tours, I tried to double-check using Google Street View, but ironically there’s a bus in the way, ha!

Piazza della Repubblica, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Italy - Emma's Picture Postcards

– and thirdly, the Latteria (dairy shop (yes really)) in San Casciano. This is located on Piazza della Repubblica, and is closed from 12:00 to 16:00, and when I say 16:00… At 15:45, having finally located the right place thanks to a helpful waitress from the bar a few doors along and being told it was closed until 16:00, I finished the ice cream I’d bought at the bar and did a few laps around the village while I waited. The bells rang for 4pm and I slowly wandered back the the Latteria and took a seat outside with a crowd of old men, one of whom turned around in his chair to slowly look me up and down. Pleasant.

At 16:10, an old fella in a bright orange t-shirt wandered at about 1mph out of the shop’s side door, went to the bar along the street, drank an espresso, wandered back to the shop, sat down outside to smoke a cigarette… smoked another cigarette… and then went back in the side door. At this point, an old lady marched up, quizzed the gathering of men, marched around the corner, marched back, and slammed her face against the shop door to peer through the glass. I dread to think what she saw, because a moment later, the shop owner, having changed from his orange t-shirt into a white shirt, opened the door and let her in, followed by me, a small boy who had darted up, and the crowd of old men, bringing the total queue to about 15 people. By now it was 16:25. The old lady proceeded to order whatever it was she was after, and pour a purseful of 1- and 2-cent coins onto the counter to pay for them. Thankfully by this point I’d had plenty of time to prepare “due biglietti a Firenze” and the correct change, and was out of there in about 5 seconds. What an adventure.

I’ll be back soon with a couple more Italy posts… and only one other drama 😛 Have a great week, and please comment below if you have any more tips!

USA, October 2015: Part 2 – Atlanta, GA

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

My aunt, uncle and cousin moved to Atlanta when I was around 10, and although I’d been to visit a few times before, the last time was when I was 16 (12 years ago!) My cousin got married in October though so it was time to take another trip across the Atlantic. We started our holiday with a week by the beach in Florida, and finished up with a long weekend in Atlanta.

The bridal couple had block booked rooms at the Loews and Four Seasons hotels in Midtown, which were a little pricier than James and I had in mind, so after a little look at alternatives we found an amazing apartment on AirBnB, which was right across the street and was a fraction of the cost. I couldn’t believe my luck and told practically everyone I knew about it, so of course karma bit me in the behind – I received a message from our host about six weeks before our stay, saying that there had been a shooting in the building (!) and that the building managers were tightening up on security and had told him he wasn’t allowed to take AirBnB guests any more. He was really apologetic and we were fully refunded, but by that stage, our options were pretty limited on accommodation nearby – we discovered once we got there that along with our family wedding (the most important event of course), a Taylor Swift concert, a college football game, and the Red Bull Soapbox Race were also being held in town that weekend!

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

On the Friday, after returning our hire car to the airport, we stayed at the Hilton Doubletree Atlanta Airport. It was pretty dated and not really up to the high standard I’d expect from the brand, but was clean and comfortable and fine for one night, and I’ve seen on Tripadvisor that they’re carrying out a refurbishment this Spring so hopefully it’ll be up to scratch again soon. My biggest grievance was that the curtains only covered half the window, and there was an enormous, brightly lit billboard outside, which kept me awake until 3am, when we finally found the secret full-length curtain, cunningly concealed behind both the stupid half-curtain and a net curtain. Gah. “At least check out isn’t until 12,” I thought, “so I can sleep in…” – until 9am, when housekeeping rapped loudly several times on every door in the corridor, yelling “HOUSEKEEPING” at the top of her lungs each time.

Thankfully though, it was all worth it in the end, as we had booked the beautiful Georgian Terrace for the remainder of our stay. It’s used as home base for actors starring in stage shows at the Fox Theatre across the street, and it’s easy to see why. The architecture is stunning, with two traditional brick buildings connected by a glass and steel foyer, the rooms are stylish, comfortable and spacious, and the staff are friendly and helpful. Admittedly, this hotel also has the stupid curtain set-up, but thankfully we’d already learned that lesson!

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Friday evening was spent at a family get together at my new cousin-in-law’s apartment, with great food and even better company. I had met the bride before but it was good to meet her extended family, and it’s always lovely to spend time with my own extended family too. The wedding was held at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, which was gorgeous especially with all the autumn leaves. The ceremony was held outside and then we went indoors for a buffet (yum) and a night of traditional Scottish and Romanian dancing! Oh and a little trivia for you – Coldplay’s current single Adventure of a Lifetime was recorded here.

Callanwolde Center, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Emma's Picture Postcards

Emma's Picture Postcards

with my “little” cousins and sister!

On Sunday James and I went to see the Georgia Aquarium. Admission is around $40 per person, which seemed a little pricy at first glance, but it’s definitely worth it, especially as there’s a fantastic dolphin show included in the general admission. The main aquarium is split into several sections, each one centred around a different ecosystem – freshwater, Arctic, etc. It was a nice way to break up the huge volume of exhibits, and each one felt individual while still containing a range of different creatures.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

The tanks are spotlessly clean and very large, which allows plenty of viewing windows but also hidden areas where the animals can be without a human audience. As well as a huge variety of fish and other smaller sea creatures, they have river and sea otters (my favourites), whale sharks, rays, beluga whales, dolphins and penguins. The penguin enclosure has a little tunnel underneath where you can crawl in and poke your head up amongst the penguins… it was quite surreal to see human heads, in perspex tubes, amongst a little flock of penguins! Hard to explain, but hopefully this photo illustrates it a bit better:

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

As well as being visually stunning, Georgia Aquarium is really informative and interactive. The above picture is of a Q&A that one of the staff members was holding with a volunteer diver in the tank, there are info panels throughout the exhibits, and as I mentioned briefly above, there are a few teams of dolphins who you can see performing and training, which I really enjoyed and also learned plenty from. The one thing that was a bit jarring was how very corporate the exhibits were. I’m all for corporate / charity partnerships where companies gain advertising in exchange for funding research, conservation, etc. The dolphin show, for example, is called the AT&T Splash 101 (and they must have said the name about 101 times), and the actual plot of land the aquarium sits on was donated by Coca Cola, so there’s a lot of Coke branding around. All that’s fair enough in my book, but I felt some of the “info” panels around the exhibits were a step too far – they were literally as bad as “beluga whales don’t use plates, but if they did, they’d choose these blue ones from Target”.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

This fella is in every photo I have of this tank – he wanted to be the star(fish) (groan)

We spent a couple of hours exploring the aquarium late morning, and decided to stick around for the next dolphin show, which was at 2pm. While we waited we popped out to Centennial Park and picked up a delicious hot dog from a street vendor for lunch. Afterwards, we strolled back to our hotel along Peachtree Street, which had been closed for the day for Atlanta Streets Alive – there were loads of people out on bikes, plus a fabulous stilt walker in gold-sequined trousers 😀

Centennial Park, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Centennial Park, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fox Theatre, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Fox Theatre and Emory University Hospital, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

Mary Mac's, Atlanta - Emma's Picture Postcards

We finished up with dinner at Mary Mac’s, a traditional Southern dining room. I loved the unique ordering system of filling out a little slip, the casual, relaxed, community feel of the place, the home made lemonade, and the food – oh my God, the food was heaven. No frills, just a good, hearty, home cooked feed.

And then it was back to normal life! I hope you enjoyed my huge, photo-heavy post, and make sure to check out part 1 if you haven’t already.

USA, October 2015: Part 1 – Destin, FL

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Hello! I’m back, after an unexpected month off from blogging. I was planning to schedule a post or two for while I was away on holiday, which… didn’t happen… and then when I got home it took me a while to get back into the swing of things.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times on here that I had a holiday to the US planned. My cousin, who lives in Atlanta, was getting married, and we (my boyfriend, parents, sister and I) decided to make the most of the opportunity for some beach time as well. To minimise driving time (or, heaven forbid, the cost of flying into and out of different airports) we decided to head for the Florida Panhandle, and after a little bit of searching online we found this beautiful rental apartment in Destin.

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The apartment was one of the best and most spacious rental accommodations I’ve ever stayed in. The kitchen was fully equipped with everything you could need, and there was a lot of storage space, so it would be ideal for a longer stay. It has three bedrooms, two with king size beds and one with two doubles, and all have en suite bathrooms. There are two balconies, the main one looking out over the marina and accessible from the living room and master bedroom, and the second looking down on to the pool and accessible from the second (our) bedroom.

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The sea was mostly hidden by a neighbouring apartment complex, but we did have a sea view on either side of it, and were treated to some spectacular sunsets. It was also fun to watch the wildlife in the marina – there were often enormous shoals of fish circling around in there, and casual fishermen would swing by to haul up a net full of them, plus there was a regular heron, some extremely tame sparrows, and we even saw a great big ray swimming around one day.

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The apartment complex had a beautiful swimming pool, which was mostly deserted, since it was “cold”, to quote the locals – the temperature was in the upper 20’s every day, and perfect for sunbathing as far as we were concerned! We also had an access code allowing us onto the beach – as far as we could tell from exploring, the beach seemed to be entirely private access, so that’s something to bear in mind if you’re visiting Destin. There are some public access beaches in the national parks, but from what I read on Tripadvisor the quality isn’t as high, and you often have to pay for access and/or walk a considerable distance from your car to reach the actual sea side. Anyway, our particular stretch of white sand was pretty perfect, and also quiet, so we were more than content to stay close!

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

Since we were visiting out of season, we knew that the majority of Destin’s local attractions would be closed. To be honest though, I’m not sure there was a huge amount we were missing out on, other than Big Kahuna’s, a water park which looked fun, and a weekly fireworks display on the beach front. We were also told that the traffic in summer is CRAZY, and it was still busy by our standards in October! In any case, our number one priority was just to relax, and we took that seriously 🙂 We did venture out to the local outlet mall – a few items of clothing were found by all, and my sister and I also got a great deal on a beautiful Calvin Klein handbag each, but it was mostly an exercise in sighing over all the beautiful things – and to try out the tasty cuisine and Southern hospitality. With a member of the party who is both gluten intolerant and a vegetarian, plus another two who don’t like fish or seafood, this turned out to be much more difficult than I would have imagined. Most places have a gluten-free menu, but almost all the dishes on there are meat-based. I can recommend the following though:

La Paz, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

The Local Market – We ate here at least three times, and loved it. The decor is lovely, really open, with big wooden tables and benches, with chalk board menus and shelves full of produce. The majority of the lunch menu is sandwiches, which are on the pricier side (around $12-13) but 100% worth it – they are big, stuffed full of high quality, fresh ingredients, and come with generous sides plus a packet of Lays chips (Walkers crisps to us Brits). They also do amazing specials – I had a half rotisserie chicken, which was safely the biggest portion of chicken I’ve ever had in my life, with fries and coleslaw, for $6. $6, folks. The staff are friendly and relaxed, patiently waited for us to slowwwly decide what we wanted to order, and welcomed us back when we returned.

La Paz – La Paz is next door to, and shares a car park with, The Local Market; I noticed some of the staff in both; The Local Market is open for breakfast and lunch and La Paz is open for dinner; they have a similar vibe… I’m going to go ahead and say they’re sister restaurants, although they’re not advertised as such. Anyway, La Paz is a Mexican restaurant with a friendly, family feel. The decor is quirky, with walls covered (and then some) in fun / crazy art and pictures. Most importantly though, the food is fresh and tasty – the photo above (sorry for the poor quality!) is of the South of the Border salad. 100% of the dishes on the menu are available gluten free (with the carbs coming in the form of corn chips, corn tortillas or rice) and there are plenty of veggie options.

Mimmo’s – A more upmarket option, Mimmo’s is an Italian restaurant open for both lunch and dinner on weekdays, dinner only on weekends. The front windows are almost entirely covered by enormous curtains, which made me doubt it was open despite one of those neon “open” signs, but it’s nice inside and the food and service were great. Gluten free pasta is available, although only one type, but that was a happy compromise.

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards Harbor Landing, Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

A few others we tried:

– Waffle House – The waffles, bacon and maple syrup get my vote; the coffee, not so much. The wait staff were the friendliest of the trip, which is saying something, but this is one to avoid if you’re coeliac – the one “gluten free” option, an omelette, was served with toast…

– TGI Friday’s – TGI’s is TGI’s – reliable quality, if a little overpriced. Bonus points for an extra lovely waiter, and a complete GF menu including dessert, beer and cider.

– Pizza Hut – mentioned here only because the GF pizza was enjoyed; the rest of us suffered from huge amounts of grease! The restaurant was large but always empty, which is never a good sign.

Cheeseburger in Paradise – good fries, and a GF vegetarian burger!

Island Wing Company – really good, baked chicken wings. Choose how many you want (from 5 to 100!) and which of the many sauces takes your fancy. We visited on a Sunday lunch time so there were several different NFL games showing on the multiple TV screens, which was… overwhelming. When we left I noticed that they have an outdoor seating area with only one screen, so if I were to go back I’d definitely sit there!

Destin, Florida - Emma's Picture Postcards

I hope y’all 😉 have a lovely weekend. I’m off to a ceilidh tonight and a wedding reception tomorrow, and inspired by this post by Sunny Sweet Pea, I think I might have a relaxing movie day on Sunday to recover!

Iceland, July 2014 – Part 3

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik - Emma's Picture Postcards

I felt like I’d gotten through most of my photos in part 1 and part 2, but there are still so many… Iceland is a very photogenic country 🙂 Today I’m sharing the places we visited in Reykjavik. First up, Hallgrímskirkja, which is beautiful inside and out, and has great views of the city from the top (access is via a lift and then around 20 steps).

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

I was also ridiculously impressed by these ingenious pews, which can be easily flipped so that the congregation can face either the organ or the pulpit end.

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Next up is Harpa, aka the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen. It’s a conference centre and concert hall, jutting out into the harbour and shining different colours when the sun hits it.

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

A very unique visit was the Penis Museum… yes, you read that correctly! “A collection of more than two hundred and fifteen penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland” – including humans! A relatively small museum, but fairly cheap (1,250 ISK, which is around £6), entertaining, interesting and certainly unique. As well as specimens in tanks, they have all sorts of household decorations and functional items made either out of or in the shape of penises, a cast of all the members (ha, pun intended) of the Icelandic handball team who won silver in the Beijing Olympics, and a letter from the man with the longest penis ever measured, which they seem to have proudly taken as confirmation that he will be donating when he dies, but which I’m pretty sure is a polite no 😉

Icelandic Phallological Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

We also visited Volcano House, which is a little cinema showing regular screenings of documentaries on Iceland’s volcano eruptions. The documentaries are exclusively made for Volcano House, and are really well-made, informative and insightful. There is also a small geology exhibit to look at while you wait for the next screening.

Reykjavik has some really nice art galleries – unfortunately I don’t remember exactly which ones we visited but there is a little of everything, from abstract to photography to advertising cartoons to Spanish civil war paintings, and we had fun interacting with these exhibits:

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Last but not least, we went on a whale watching tour with Elding. For some back story here, my family and I often go to Gairloch in the Scottish Highlands for a break, and every time they go out on a boat without me, they see whales and dolphins and seals and all sorts of lovely things. Every time I go with them, we see absolutely nothing, except one time we saw a dead minke whale washed up on a small rocky island 😦 So imagine my delight when I went out with Elding and we actually saw whales! Plural! Alive! Up close, and jumping, and waving their tails and blowing out of their blow holes. I was so excited. Our tour guide was fantastic, I absolutely loved the Icelandic sense of humour – “If it gets a bit choppy, hold on to something, but make sure it’s something that’s attached to the boat. If you hold on to someone else, you’ll probably both fall over, and at least one of you will be annoyed.” 😀 A boat ride gave another beautiful perspective of Reykjavik and the Icelandic landscape. We had a beautiful sunny day and could see for miles, but it was still very cold and at times it was difficult to see the whales especially if they were out ahead of the boat, as everyone would rush to the best viewpoint, but the captain would always swing the boat around whenever he could so that the whales were to one side and we could all see. As well as the captain and guide, there were several Elding spotters and some marine biologists on board, so we had plenty of expert pairs of eyes. Below decks they have a little cafe where you can warm up, and they also keep a record there of their sightings, including a guidebook of the regular whales, complete with names and identifying features. On the way back to shore the rain came down so we took shelter below, and I listened in as a group of Germans quizzed one of the members of staff and she gave very thorough answers. They really know their stuff and are very passionate. (I didn’t get any photos of the whales by the way, partly because I was too busy giddily staring at them, and also because the sightings were out in the open water so we were rocking quite a lot on the waves.)

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

 

Iceland, July 2014 – Part 2

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

This will be the second of three posts I’m going to write on my visit to Iceland last year. Part 1 covered the tours we went on with Reykjavik Excursions to the Golden Circle, South Shore and Blue Lagoon; Part 2 is our accommodation, food and drink, and some of the sights to see around Reykjavik including some of the amazing graffiti; in Part 3 I’ll show you some of the other places we visited including Halgrimskirkja, Harpa and a whale-watching tour with Elding.

Hverfisgata Apartments, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Accommodation

We stayed at A Part of Reykjavik: Hverfisgata Apartments. I forgot to take photos but if you click on the link you can see theirs which are 100% accurate, they haven’t edited them to make the rooms look bigger or anything like you sometimes get. We actually stayed in two different apartments as there was a leak so we had to move a couple of times while they fixed it, but they were so sweet about it and gave us the presents in the photo above to compensate. The apartments are beautiful and well equipped, with washing machine, cooker, dishwasher, coffee maker etc – a real home from home. They are also fitted with great black-out blinds – important in summer when the sun never really sets! Check-in etc is all easy and efficient, and although there’s no reception area and we didn’t actually meet anyone in person, they kept in touch via emails and a sweet note (addressed “Dear Miss,”) left on our door to keep us updated on the progress of the repairs.

Reykjavik Fish Restaurant, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Food and Drink

I was a little surprised by the range of different cuisines to choose from in Reykjavik: Japanese, Thai, American, Mexican, Indian, British… and of course, some traditional Icelandic! My highlights were:

– Reykjavik Fish Restaurant (photo above) – we ate here two or three times, and my friend tried different dishes but I got stuck on the fish stew. It was delicious and the perfect warming meal after a windy or rainy day. The staff were friendly and helpful and the restaurant itself has a very welcoming and relaxed feel. They also have big glass bottles of water you can help yourself to, which we appreciated.

– Tiu Dropar – a little basement coffee shop / wine bar. They serve very tasty waffles and pancakes. Another very relaxed place and cosy too, perfect for catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

American Style, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

– American Style (photo above) – the Tripadvisor reviews of this place are a bit hit or miss, but it was definitely a hit for me. The place is styled like an American diner, with booths, bar stools and rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia. I had a steak with pepper sauce, onion rings, green beans and a jacket potato, and it was fantastic.

– Café Haiti – a very friendly little place by the harbour, with tasty coffee and small lunches e.g. panini. Also has a nice outdoor seating area if you’re feeling brave!

– Lobster Hut – this is a little take-away street food van located near Harpa, serving lobster sandwiches and soup. The soup was very buttery and rich so I couldn’t finish it, but it was delicious and full of tender chunks of lobster. A must-try.

– Near the Lobster Hut is Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, a hot dog stand famous because Bill Clinton had a hot dog there – I must say I actually had a better hot dog from a service station we stopped at on one of our excursions, but I can vouch that the Icelandic people really know how to make a cracking hot dog. Thin buns, good sausage, crunchy fried and raw onions, ketchup and mustard, and the one I had from the service station was even wrapped in bacon! My mouth’s watering just thinking about it.

The English Pub, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

The English Pub, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

– The English Pub – we had such a fun night here. They have a “spin the wheel” game – you buy a spin and the barmaid/man spins the wheel, and depending on where it lands you can win a drink. Everyone at the bar gets very into it, especially as whenever someone wins they ring the bell. I don’t like beer, so made up for it with a lot of cocktails… I’m fairly sure there was also live music but, well, I had a lot of cocktails so I can’t be 100% certain!

Other Sights to See

We took a ride on the City Sightseeing bus to get our bearings, and after an early dinner on our last evening we decided to take a stroll to see some of the sights up close. We ended up wandering until around 1am! Reykjavik has some beautiful architecture – Harpa, which I’ll include in my next post, is my favourite building I’ve ever visited, I loved it even more than Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia – and really intricate graffiti. So without further ado, here are some pictures:

Helpful Graffiti, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Perlan, Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Reykjavik, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Iceland, July 2014 – Part 1: Reykjavik Excursions

Þhingvellir, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Last year I went to Iceland for a week. It’s somewhere that’s always been on my wishlist, and when my friend noticed that Icelandair were holding a sale, she suggested we go. She was in the process of buying a flat which was going to absorb all her extra cash for the foreseeable future, and although I usually enjoy revisiting places I’ve been before, I couldn’t think of any likely reason I’d be back in Iceland a second time, so we decided to approach it with a “once in a lifetime” mindset, and not worry too much about sticking to a budget! Although it did make a decent dent in our bank accounts, I’m glad we did it that way, because it was such a fun, interesting and memorable trip.

Þingvellir, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

One of the biggest beneficiaries of our cash was Reykjavik Excursions, who we used for our airport transfers, a visit to the Blue Lagoon, and two full-day sightseeing tours. At first glance their tours can seem quite expensive, but they are absolutely worth it, especially when you consider that all entry fees are included – e.g. the Blue Lagoon trip costs around £40, including entry which is £30 on its own. The transfers and tours are provided in very high quality coaches, with free wifi (proper free wifi as well, not the usual “15 minutes, if you’re lucky, but only when you tell us everything about yourself and click on the link we sent you in the first of many spam emails”), friendly and helpful drivers, and really informative tour guides. The tours are conducted in English, and a second language (German, French or a Scandinavian language) if there is enough demand for it. I can vouch that both the English and German were spot-on and they didn’t miss anything in one language that they said in the other! I learned a lot about Icelandic history and modern culture, but at the same time they don’t talk your ear off – there’s plenty of time between destinations to relax and take in the spectacular scenery.

Skógar, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Our first outing was the South Shore Adventure, which took us to the village of Vík and its nearby beach with basalt rock formations, the Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, a glacier (Mýrdalsjökull I think) and the Skógar Folk Museum. Unfortunately we had awful weather that day and were soaked to the skin whenever we got off the bus, so we opted out of the 30-minute walk to the glacier, but we still had a great time.

Skógafoss, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Skógafoss

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Seljalandsfoss – we walked behind this one!

The next day we took the Golden Circle tour. The first stop was at Friðheimar, a geothermal-powered greenhouse tomato farm. It was fascinating to learn all about the farm and how they’ve developed such a precise system to cultivate fresh produce in the Icelandic climate. As well as an amazing computerised system that allows them to remotely monitor and adjust the temperature, light etc, they have bees sent to them from the Netherlands, which stay with them for a week pollinating the tomato plants, then are sent back home to their hives to make honey! They also have fresh and bottled produce to buy – as I eat and drink really slowly I had to opt for either the tomato soup or the Bloody Mary, and that delicious-looking fresh bread swung it for me. Mmmmmmm!

Fridheimar, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Next stop was the Geysir hot springs… exciting enough the first few times, but swarming with people. I think I mostly lost my enthusiasm because my geyser photography skills are apparently awful, and the one time I actually got a good shot, a bunch of teenagers walked right in front of me. A gorgeous location though, and I had some tasty chicken and chips in the café 😉

well, this one's ok ;)

well, this one’s ok 😉

Next up was That Waterfall, Gullfoss, which was one of the reasons I’d been enchanted with Iceland in the first place. It was busy too so we had to queue to get down to the walkway alongside the waterfall, but the queue moved quickly and wow it was spectacular. I took about 100 photos and just chose a random few to post here, because they all feel just as special.

Gullfoss, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Gullfoss, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Gullfoss, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

The final stop on the Golden Circle tour was another favourite, Þingvellir. It was the site of Iceland’s first parliament after it was settled and is now a beautiful National Park. Iceland is a relatively young piece of land, formed by volcanic activity on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, and this valley is still growing a couple of centimetres wider each year as the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates move apart. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking – definitely an epic setting for your parliament!

Þhingvellir, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Þhingvellir, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Þhingvellir, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Our last adventure with Reykjavik Excusions was to the Blue Lagoon. We had a lovely sunny day for our visit, and although it was still cold out, the geothermal lagoon was so beautifully warm. This was honestly one of the most relaxing experiences of my life. Floating about in the water, scooping up algae face masks (nicer than it sounds!), sitting briefly under the thundering waterfall-style shower for a massage, people-watching a crowd of hysterical Asian tourists… 😀 The facilities are really nice: good clean showers and changing rooms; tasty, healthy food and drink in the cafés; a gift shop full of lovely beauty products. I didn’t try any of the following but you can also get massages, have dinner and cocktails in the restaurant, or even stay over in their accommodation. Excuse my squinting face below, it was bright! Oh, and a major tip for visiting the Blue Lagoon – it may be f-f-freezing air temperature, but remember you’re still spending most of a day outside in a swimsuit – put some sunscreen on! I got one of the worst sunburns I’ve ever had!

Blue Lagoon, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards

Blue Lagoon, Iceland - Emma's Picture Postcards