This month’s London Living theme is about best brunch places. I remember brunch fondly. I too used to laze in a restaurant with friends on a Sunday Morning over coffee and pancakes. But that was PK (pre-kids). Now, those days are a distant memory.
We have not given up on our Sunday morning breakfast treats though. It’s just slightly shorter and involves no lazing. Our favourite place for Sunday treats are Gail’s Artisan Bakeries. We usually grab delicious baked goods, great coffee and head to a park. Sadly, I’m pretty sure my children go to church on Sunday without a fuss because they know that there are Gail’s treats waiting for them afterwards. I’m sure God understands.
Gail’s started off as a Hampstead bakery but seem to have expanded a lot recently. I remember being excited when they showed up in Belsize Park. I would no longer have to walk 10 minutes to the Hampstead bakery! Some of the newer bakeries have more seating. The original Hampstead one has had a recent refurbish but the seating space is still tight. It’s also across the pedestrianised street from another one of my favourite stores, Italian chocolates at Venchi.
As per the usual bakery, Gail’s does breads and baked goods. They also do great salads, sandwiches and soups.
So many people have heard of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland that it’s become something of a cliche. Why am I writing about it? Because I am a sheep. baaaa.
No, seriously, it seemed to be the only place that everyone wanted to talk about in my geothermal spas around Iceland post. Of the approximately half a million visitors that go to Iceland every year, approximately 80% visit The Blue Lagoon. So, if you are going to go, and it seems like most of you are, I’m happy to contribute my two cents.
Tips for Visiting The Blue Lagoon
If you have the time, it’s great way to unwind either after you land or before you leave for the airport. We scheduled a few hours in the afternoon at The Blue Lagoon before boarding our evening flight. It was a 15 minute drive to the airport.
The water has minerals in it that are supposed to make your skin feel great. On the other hand, it will leave your hair feeling like straw. Put in lots and lots of conditioner afterwards and it’ll be fine. Eventually.
The lockers are the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. You wave your locker key over the lock mechanism which isn’t on the locker itself and the mechanism recognises which locker number it is.
The line can be long for entry at standard tickets. Cough up the extra $30 and get the Premium which is a fast entry. You also get a bathrobe, slippers and a couple of drinks complimentary. We didn’t pay for Luxury ticket which seems outrageously expensive considering you only get a lounge as an upgrade from the Premium ticket.
Children are free. Teenagers are about half the price of an adult ticket. On the downside with having children go free is that they don’t get a towel of their own.
You can get a Premium ticket drink at the Lagoon-side bar. I choose a smoothie and my husband had a beer.
If you choose not to eat at the Lava Restaurant, there is a cafe with casual seating.
If you book early you can get a reservation to have a massage in the Lagoon itself. We unfortunately got given times which didn’t fit in with our schedule.
The Lava Restaurant
We thought the food and service at Lava Restaurant was excellent.
There are children’s menus available.
The restaurant is cool and contemporary with double-height ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Lagoon.
Fun Facts about The Blue Lagoon
There is 6 million litres of geothermal seawater in the pool.
The geothermal seawater comes from 6,500 feet/1981 metres below the surface.
Underground the water starts off as at 464°F (240°C).
The lava field surrounding the Blue Lagoon is 800 years old.
The average temperature of the pool water is 100°F (38°C).
The seawater contains algae, silica and minerals.
The water you are soaking in at The Blue Lagoon is technically waste water from the geothermal power plant that you can see from the Lagoon itself. Yes, the water is natural but there wasn’t a pool here before some marketing geniuses decided to create one.
All you will see are tourists. People from Iceland tend to use the other geothermal pools that are (ahem!) actually naturally-occurring pools.
General Visitor Information for the Blue Lagoon
Iceland’s biggest tourist attraction is getting even bigger. In the next year, they are rolling out a hotel so that you can stay nearby. The airport is so close that it’s effectively an airport hotel.
The deepest The Blue Lagoon gets is 1.6 metres so for adults its standing height. The floor is natural rock but not slimy like parts of the floor at Myvatn Nature Baths.
Children under the age of 2 are not allowed in the pool. Children from the ages of 2-8 are required to wear armbands to aid in their flotation. We saw plenty of kids who did not.
The Blue Lagoon is open daily and requires a reservation. It is a short drive from Keflavik International Airport and about 40 minutes from Reykjavik.
Lower Manhattan is an excellent place to explore the melting pot history of New York City. Neighbourhoods such as the Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown and Nolita are all an easy walking distance from each other. And, the best part? This historical exploration involves lots of food!
On our April trip to New York City, I signed my family up for the Enthusiastic Gourmet food tours of lower Manhattan. Lead by Susan Rosenbaum, my kids immediately decided they liked her when our first stop of the day was Economy Candy, an Aladdin’s Cave of candy, gum and other sweets.
We took her Melting Pot Tour from the Lower East Side through Chinatown and ending up in Little Italy. Along the way, we sampled lots of different food and learned about the culture. She did such a good job of keeping the kids’ attention, they didn’t even realise they were learning all about the history of the area.
The Jewish Immigrants
The German and Eastern European Jews settled on the Lower East Side. What did we sample?
Everyone knows about the bagel but there is also the bialys which are a relative of the bagel. Bialys originated in Bialystok in Poland. Although both bagels and bialys are made from unbleached white flour with yeast, bialys have roasted onions in the middle where there would be a hole for the bagel.
Susan was such a thorough tour guide she made us try a bialy as well as a bagel so that we could taste the difference. The bialys are delicious especially if you are a fan of roasted onions like I am.
Another stop on the Jewish food tour was The Pickle Guys on Essex Street. They are an entire store devoted to pickled food. My son was in heaven because he loves pickles. The items are pickled the old-fashioned way by setting them in large barrels in salt for months. It’s not only pickles that are pickled but also garlic, celery, mushrooms, turnips, olives etc.
The Chinese Immigrants
In 1859, there were barely a couple of dozen men in New York City’s Chinatown. At its height though there were 150,000 Chinese people living over an area of 50 city blocks. Now, the Chinese population is about a 100,000 people.
Chinatown in Manhattan is an assault on the senses – the smell of food, the crowded streets, the chatter of people – all make this neighbourhood seem intensely alive. There are more than 300 Chinese restaurants in the area! Everywhere you look there are street stalls selling fruit and vegetables, restaurants with ducks hanging in the window and signs for bubble tea.
The Italian Immigrants
The Italians that showed up in New York City actually self- segregated themselves by their destination of origin. For example, the immigrants from Sicily lived on Elizabeth Street and those from Naples lived on Mulberry Street. You have to remember these immigrants arrived in the days before Italy was a unified country. As far as someone from Sicily was concerned, a person from Naples was from a different country.
Although the Italians from different regions originally didn’t talk or do business with each other, These prejudices eventually broke down. Frankly, they had to. By 1900 there were 100,000 Italians living in the 18-20 blocks that comprised of Little Italy. Not talking to your neighbour was not an option in such crowded conditions.
Nowadays there are only a couple of hundred Italians who live in the neighbourhood even though there are still many Italian businesses. Of course, we stopped by Di Palo, the Italian specialty food delicatessen and Ferrara Bakery and Cafe for their delicious cannolis.
The Podcast Episode with Dish Our Town
On a recent Just Go Places Podcast episode, Andrew Tolentino from the food and travel blog, Dish Our Town, mentioned many of the places that he would rate highly in these neighbourhoods. In case you missed the podcast, here’s an overview of some of the highlights in video form.
You can find the full podcast episode on iTunes at Just Go Places Podcast or on the blog post which contains its show notes.
Welcome to the show notes for the sixth episode of the Just Go Places Podcast. Episode Six looks at visiting Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates with your family.
The guest for Episode 6 is Keri Hedrick who lives in Abu Dhabi with her husband and three children (aged 5, 3 and 1). Keri and her family are Australians who are old pros at the expat lifestyle having previously lived for a few years in London. Keri describes herself as a travel blogger, expat mum, reformed accountant, freelance writer and the founder of Baby Globetrotters.net.
I went to Abu Dhabi two years ago with my children for October half-term break and loved it. It was such an easy place to travel with children. My husband was working and I had no problems travelling alone with just the twins who were 7 years old at the time. I wrote a two part post on our Abu Dhabi trip – here and here.
Many people have heard of Dubai as it has exploded on the international scene with its island construction, big hotels and even bigger towers. As Keri explains, Dubai is a great Emirate to visit if you are single and looking to mingle. On the other hand, it’s less flashy neighbour, Abu Dhabi, is perfect for a relaxing yet fun holiday as a family.
There was so much construction going on in Abu Dhabi when I went in 2013 that I’m sure things have really changed in the last couple of years. I’m sure Keri can give us the latest scoop on what to expect in Abu Dhabi if you are travelling there on holiday with children.
Listen to Episode 6 Below:
As Mentioned in the Podcast:
Visit Abu Dhabi is the official tourism website for the Emirate where you will find many of the things referenced in the podcast. Specific items of interest include:
Yas Island with its F1 racetrack, Ferrari World and Water World
Al Ain which is a UNESCO world heritage site and an oasis located outside of Abu Dhabi
I’d really appreciate if you could leave reviews for the Just Go Places podcast on iTunes. You can find the episodes by clicking this link which takes you to iTunes. These reviews are extremely helpful feedback to me so that I can fine-tune the show to what people would like. In addition, they help increase the rankings of this podcast which will help me publicise the show. I really appreciate and read each review!
Oh yeah, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates.
Where do great white sharks spend their summers? In Chatham on Cape Cod, of course. The town of Chatham at the ‘elbow’ end of the Cape calls itself the summer home of the great white shark.
After 40+ years of being protected as a species, grey seals are abundant of the Cape now. Sharks also have returned for some light summer seal snacking. More of the sharks have been spotted every year off the coast of Chatham since 2009 as the word gets out on the shark grapevine of easy seal pickings. According to the Chatham Shark Center, approximately 70 great white sharks were in the area in 2014.
Just last week, a 7 year old great white shark got beached on South Beach in Chatham. Beachgoers splashed him with water to keep him going and named him Jameson. Rescuers from the Chatham Shark Center eventually were able to put him back in the ocean. The researchers were unclear whether he would survive but if he does, he’s one of the youngest great whites to ever have been tagged. We could learn a lot about great white sharks from Jameson’s misadventure.
We didn’t see any (real) sharks in Chatham but we loved the Sharks in the Park display in front of the public library. Local artists were sponsored by local businesses to create 45 sharks that will be auctioned off for charity.
The artists were really creative with their sharks using different techniques such as driftwood, sea glas or metals. They also referenced a number of different ideas such as the local baseball team, the foodie scene, the music scene and life at the beach.
My kids love thermal pools having been introduced to the joys of warm water pools in Austria. So it was only natural that we would do a thermal pool tour along the ring road. There are more than 175 swimming pools in Iceland so it was pretty easy to find one pretty much everywhere we stayed.
Frankly with all the driving, hiking, and other activities we did on our road trip, soaking in a warm pool was the perfect way to relax for my husband and myself. The kids did their usual diving, sliding and swimming, of course. It’s good to be young and NEVER tired.
Geothermal Pools in Iceland
Swimming in geothermal pools is a big part of Icelandic culture and so we felt we were partaking in the local culture. On an island with so much water (on the island and surrounding it), swimming lessons are a compulsory part of the school curriculum. All of the pools we went to had inflatable armbands freely available for young non-swimmers.
Swimming in the open air is kind of cool no matter what the weather. We were out in those thermal pools in sunshine, cold, rain and fierce wind. It’s surprising how you don’t really register the outside weather when all but your head is immersed in really warm water.
In a couple of the smaller thermal pools on the North and East coast of Iceland, we were the only foreigners there. I had little toddlers staring at me in open curiosity because I’m pretty sure they had not seen too many dark-skinned persons in real life before.
The pools all had lockers to store your stuff. In some cases you could keep your valuables behind the front desk. You must bathe without bathing suits before getting into the pools though. It’s a non-negotiable part of local culture. We saw some tourists keep their bathing suits on at the Blue Lagoon but I don’t think that would fly in the local towns.
You can rent towels from the front desks as well. They are not the most luxurious of towels but they did the job. Who wants to carry wet towels around Iceland?!
The Two Big Thermal Pools
Everyone has heard of the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik but Mývatn Nature Baths in Lake Mývatn is less touristed. At the Blue Lagoon we overheard someone complain about the sulphur smell but we didn’t think it was bad. The Blue Lagoon is a well-run operation beautifully landscaped in an 800 year old lava field.
We were not sure what to expect at Mývatn because the name in Icelandic translates to ‘fly water’ in honour of the swarms of flies in the region. The Lake Mývatn region was indeed a flyfest as our car’s windshield quickly got splattered dark by the dumbest of the flies. The baths area itself though was fine. The geothermal water comes up from 2500 meters (8200 feet) below the surface and smells strongly of sulphur. The view of the surrounding area is fabulous.
Our Favourite Thermal Pools
My son’s favourite pool was at the Bogarnes Sports centre. It’s got indoor and outdoor pools (with 3 water slides). The pool is heated with water piped in from the Deildartunga hot spring nearby which is the largest hot spring in Europe. It pumps out 180 litres of boiling water every second!
My daughter loved the pool facilities at Blönduós which is fairly new. There was a kiddie pool, and an outdoor pool with hot tubs, water slides and lanes set aside for serious swimmers. It was very family-friendly with a lot of pool toys available for the kids to borrow.
My husband chose the Hofsós pool as his favourite because it has an infinity edge over Skagafjörður bay. It was designed by the same architect responsible for creating the Blue Lagoon. I couldn’t last more than a half-hour there though because the wind whipping off the fjord created a painful ringing in my ears. All of me was warm from the water except my head which unless I was going to develop gills had to necessarily stay above water.
As for me, I never met a thermal pool I didn’t like!
Thermal Pools in Reykjavik and the Golden Circle
Reykjavik itself has about 20 pools so you are spoiled for choice:
Laugardalslaug, Iceland’s largest pool complex, is very family-friendly with water slides and a kiddie pool.
Another good one with kids is Salalaug which has indoor/outdoor pools, hot tubs and a waterside.
Arbaejarlaug is another indoor/outdoor pool with kiddie pool and water play facilities for children.
The oldest public bath in Iceland is Sundhöllin designed by a famous architect. It has diving boards but no watersides.
Near the Golden Circle, you will find Laugarvatn Fontana which has geothermal baths and a thermal bakery. It’s located right on the black beach at Laugarvatn lake. The Secret Lagoon in Fludir in the Golden Circle area was built in 1891. Surrounded by natural beauty, it’s got its own little geyser that erupts every few minutes. That little water feature should make up for the lack of water slides.
The website, Swimming in Iceland, is a great resource to find pools near where you are going to be. Just type in your location and it lists the pools nearby as well as pertinent details like opening times and costs. Trust me, this is one cultural institution all the members of the family will enjoy thoroughly.
Welcome to the show notes for the fifth episode of the Just Go Places Podcast. Episode Five is about a our experience with Icelandic horses on our family trip to Iceland.
On our road trip through Iceland, we saw beautiful Icelandic horses everywhere. Not surprising when you consider there are 90,000 horses in a country with a human population of 350,000. We understand the Icelandic love of their horses though because riding the Icelandic horse was one of the best things we did on our trip. (And, we did a lot of cool things!).
We stayed at Stadarhús Icelandic horse farm where he had a cabin to ourselves. It was set in a gorgeous location surrounded by a stream and fields of horses. The cabin could sleep 6 people. It was fairly basic but clean and comfortable. The WiFi was excellent.
We enjoyed our visit to Skeidvellir (also known as Icelandic Horseworld) which is an Icelandic horse farm near the town of Hella on the south coast of Iceland. We did a tour of the stables, met one of the foals and the kids got to ride as well.
I think checking out the Icelandic horses and even taking one out for a ride is a great family activity in Iceland. Younger kids will probably just be lead by the reins but older children will really enjoy going out on a trail ride. It’s great way to see the country’s amazing scenery.
Listen to Episode 3 Below:
Reviews and Subscriptions:
(And, a final thanks!)
I’d really appreciate if you could leave reviews for the Just Go Places podcast on iTunes. You can find the episodes by clicking this link to which takes you to iTunes.
These reviews are extremely helpful feedback to me so that I an fine-tune the show to what people would like. In addition, they help increase the rankings of this podcast which after all is just a newbie show. I really appreciate and read each review!
Oh yeah, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates. Thanks so much!
Iceland is called the land of fire and ice. We didn’t actually see any fire. My kids were devastated that they couldn’t do the Inside the Volcano tour where you descend into a volcano that erupted thousands of years ago. You need to be 12 years old to do the tour though.
We made up for the lack of fire by seeing plenty of ice. One of the best ice experiences was Jokulsarlon, a glacier lagoon filled with icebergs. Technically the kids were supposed to be 130 cm to take the tour with the zodiac rigid inflatable boats onto the lagoon. The alternative was these massive amphibious boats. The amphibious boats couldn’t get as close to the icebergs though.
So for the purposes of the day we decided both our children were 130 cm. Frankly, I have no idea about the metric system and only knew their heights in feet. The zodiac operator looked dubious especially at my daughter. Although she is 9 years old, she is a petite little thing. But we stuck to our guns and put on our inflatable wet suits which were ginormous, especially on her.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Wow! The glacier and the icebergs at Jokulsarlon were beautiful. The icebergs are ice chunks falling off the Breidamerkurjokull Glacier which is just a projection of the even bigger Vatnajokull Glacier. Making up 8% of Iceland’s land mass, Vatnajokull is Europe’s largest glacier. You can see the dark stripes on the snow where volcanoes have erupted on the island putting down a layer of ash.
We saw a fat little seal sunning himself on an iceberg. He is part of a colony of 60+ seals who hang out in the Jokulsarlon feeding of the herring and krill in the lagoon.
7 Fun Facts About Jukulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
The Zodiac tour guide was supposed to tell us about the icebergs but mostly he was the strong silent type. We dug up info on icebergs to talk to our kids about. Did you know:
The Jokulsarlon icebergs are about 1000 years old.
Jokulsarlon is the deepest lake in Iceland at a depth of 250 metres.
About 100 metres of ice break off from the glacier every year.
Jokulsarlon has appeared in the movies, most notably Die Another Day and Tomb Raider.
The Lagoon only started forming in 1934 when the glacier started retreating but is rapidly gaining in size.
The Lagoon opens out into the ocean and so is a mix of fresh and salt water. That’s the reason it is a blue-green colour.
Most of the Great Skua birds in the region nest in this area in the summer. And, they are very aggressive. My poor husband accidentally walked too close to one who turned and pecked him on the head until he fled.
Visiting Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
You can’t pre-book glacier lagoon visits at Jokulsarlon. We arrived in the late afternoon when we went in July and had a one hour wait. The tours by both the amphibious boats and the zodiacs run from April to October. There are about a total of 40 tours a day in July and August because they are a very popular attraction. The trips run about 40 minutes. The zodiac has extra time added to it because you have to get into the snazzy overalls. The amphibious boat visitors are given life jackets only.
Don’t be put off by its name. We still can’t pronounce Seyðisfjörður in Eastern Iceland but it is the cutest little town you ever did see. Nestled between snow-capped mountains in a perfect fjord setting, the houses are a painter’s palette of colour.
Yes, it also has a river running through it and the obligatory waterfalls. Anywhere else, the waterfalls would be spectacular but in Iceland, they are just run-of-the-mill waterfalls.
Seydisfjordur is tiny (pop. 665) but it does have everything a tourist would need to spend a pleasant interlude. In-town pleasures include a wonderful interiors store (Gullabuid), bars, art galleries and coffee shops. Of course, there are also the Icelandic essentials such as a thermal swimming pool with water slides for the children.
Traditionally, the town was a fishing village with its riches coming from herring. Nowadays, tourism is big business. There is a Danish cruise line that runs a regular direct service to the town in the summer.
Assuming you don’t get the cruise line into town, the drive into town is down a winding mountain pass past numerous waterfalls. As beautiful as the drive is, it is only a prelude to the charm of the town. It is definitely worth the detour of the Ring Road that most tourists take around Iceland.
Many of the wooden houses (and the pretty blue church) were imported from Norway as kit houses when the herring trade was booming at the turn of the 20th century. These well-preserved homes are still in use as private residences and public buildings.
Although the town has a reputation for being artsy, unlike other artsy towns you don’t get a steady stream of art galleries. It’s much more low-key in its bohemian flair like the little lady who owns the house next door to the supermarket. She crochets covers for rocks in her front garden.
The photos will go a small way towards showing you why this town is just beyond picturesque. I should mention also that the charm of this area extends beyond the town with easily accessible hiking trails nearby.
Welcome to the show notes for the fourth episode of the Just Go Places Podcast. Episode Four looks at great places to take your kids in lower Manhattan.
Today’s guest is Andrew Tolentino who is one member of the blogging team behind Dish Our Town, a family food and travel blog. The Tolentinos are leaving their beloved NoLiTa (the Manhattan neighbourhood that stands for North of Little Italy) to travel the world for a year or more.
Andrew grew up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan as well as having lived in NoLiTa as an adult. He’s seen a lot of changes in lower Manhattan, all for the better as far as families and visitors with children are concerned.
Lower Manhattan is a microcosm of the immigrant dream which shaped both New York City and the nation as a whole. Andrew gives us the inside scoop on his favourite places to visit and to eat in this area that he loves so much.
There are lots of big-name sightseeing attractions in New York City that its easy to overlook a large chunk of lower Manhattan. But I agree with Andrew that embracing a bit of slow travel – browsing the stores and munching at eateries as you make your way through this neighbourhood – really gives you a sense of what makes New York City such a cosmopolitan and exciting place to live and to visit.
Listen to Episode 4 Below:
As Mentioned in the Podcast:
Andrew’s suggestions include (click through for links):
I’d really appreciate if you could leave reviews for the Just Go Places podcast on iTunes. You can find the episodes by clicking this link which takes you to iTunes. These reviews are extremely helpful feedback to me so that I an fine-tune the show to what people would like. In addition, they help increase the rankings of this podcast which is extremely helpful for a newbie show. I really appreciate and read each review!
Oh yeah, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates.