Chittenden, Vermont

My final trip abroad for 2019 was for a beautiful family Winter wedding in Vermont.  After arriving at Boston Logan International Airport, we drove three and a half hours through three states.  The journey was notable only for how magical the forests in New Hampshire look with even just a little snow.

Naturally, the majority of the time was spent at the wedding functions.  However, there was enough time in between for us to take on a couple of short hikes too.  For our first trek, we ventured North from our accommodation, the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, along some of the snow covered trails in the forest.  The following day, we headed West, this time navigating an icy path down to the frozen Chittenden Reservoir lake.  Although we the ski season should have been well underway, there hadn’t been anywhere near enough snow, and all the pistes were closed.  As you might expect, ‘climate change,’ got the blame.  Nevertheless, a few flurries here and there, and the festive vibe ensured the atmosphere and wedding photos were as the bride and groom had hoped for.

Our return flight was scheduled late in the evening, which gave us about five spare hours on our final day.  As avid collectors of Hard Rock Cafe Guitar Pins, my brother-in-law and I decided that this time would be best spent by taking the opportunity to add to our collections with a pin from Boston.  In order to do so, we paid an extortionate fee for parking, and so restricted ourselves to walking around the Faneuil Hall area and North End after completing our purchase, in which the most striking features for me were the number of Irish pubs, and Italian restaurants, respectively.  I am aware of Boston’s history, and perhaps other parts of the city may be more interesting, but as the Cold Front finally rolled in, after a quick meal at Antico Forno, our thoughts quickly turned to the warmth of the airport departure lounge.  We may well have reason to pass through Boston again in the future, and if we do, will be sure to explore the other areas.

As with many of our holidays in the past few years, one of our main considerations was whether this trip would have enough benefit for our children.  In the end, the precious time spent with family, experiencing the magic of the natural outdoors, getting in more physical activity, and seeing first hand, some the effects of global warming, was justification for pulling them out of school for a few days.  We look forward to more travels ahead.

Disney World, Florida

This one was for the kids!  A couple of years ago, we had discussed organising a two week fly-drive vacation to Disney World, Florida, amongst our wider friend circle, and identified this Summer as the one to go in.  In the end, we made the trip with one other family. Knowing this holiday was inevitably going to be expensive, we waited for a flight sale to book our flights and car hire in a package, and opted to fly in to Tampa, as this worked out considerably cheaper.  We also waited for Disney’s Two Weeks For The Price of One promotion on their Multi-Park Entries, before purchasing our passes.  We rented a 9 bed / 7 bath Luxury Villa at Solara Resort, Kissimmee, co-hosted by Margarita and Maireddy.  Despite being much bigger than what we needed, due to the affordable price, it fell comfortably within our budget, and the space itself was the perfect environment to relax in for both the adults and children as we took time out from the amusement parks.

The tickets we purchased gave us 14 days unlimited entry to six Disney parks: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot Centre, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach Water Park, and Typhoon Lagoon Water Park.  Making the most of all that was on offer (and indeed all that we had paid for), required some logistics and planning.  Our package included Magic Bands, which although not essential, were a nice feature, that simplified daily entrance to the parks, allowed us to check in at the Fast Pass+ queues for the rides, connect the Memory Maker Digital Photo Pass, and left us with a nice wristband  souvenir each.  Magic Bands can be purchased as extras by day-trippers if desired, but otherwise the plastic credit card style Admission Cards you get on  your first arrival do the same job.  In our case, to collect, activate and link our magic bands, we had to visit the Guest Relations in Disney Springs, which was a bit inconvenient and time consuming, as it would have been so much easier if we were simply able to do this in one of the theme parks.  Once our wristbands were linked to the My Disney Experience App on our smart phones, we were finally, fully operational.  With this, the Fast Pass+ feature allowed us to reserve queue jumps on three rides at one park per day, but there were limitations.  We only seemed to be able to book the Fast Passes up to ten days (the website says 30 days) in advance, and not all the rides were available all the time, but nevertheless, it made a huge difference to the quality of our experience.

We picked a peak time of year to visit, there were large crowds, especially in The Magic Kingdom, it was very hot and humid, and there was some rain most days.  Thankfully, as we had so many days available to us, we didn’t feel a pressure to cram everything in.  Guided by the availability of the fast passes, we deliberately never spent much more than half a day at a particular theme park in one go, and minimised the number of meals we ate there, as we were keen to avoid the largely poor quality expensive fast food.  I believe that having this luxury meant we weren’t all exhausted all the time, and could enjoy the attractions.  At $25 per day, parking was steep, but an unavoidable extra cost.   To compensate for this, we were a little thrifty when it came to souvenirs, checking the Disney Outlet Stores, unofficial souvenir stores outside the parks, and online retailers, before buying the gifts we wanted.

Aside from the Parks, we spent some quality time with our Floridian family, had fun in the pool and other facilities at the villa / resort complex, and went shopping for bargains in the Orlando Vineland and Orlando International premium outlet malls.  We made the decision to not go to the Waterparks, although they were included in our ticket price, giving us some ‘days off’ from Disney, that really proved to be reenergising highlights of their own.

My memory of going to Disney World as a child is of fast rides, meeting my favourite Disney characters, and the spectacular fireworks shows.  As an adult, the experience is quite different.  The rides definitely seemed slower than 30yrs ago, I was much more aware of the crowds, and have lost the patience for queuing that I used to have.  So, to ensure the main objective of the holiday was being met, we asked the children for their thoughts: ‘We loved everything!’, ‘The Everest Ride was my favourite,’ said our eldest, ‘I liked the Toy Story Rollercoaster best,’ said the youngest, ‘We didn’t mind queuing in the heat,’ were the happy responses we got.  This was a fabulous holiday, in which the kids had a great time, and will hopefully remember for a long time.

Ibiza

An opportunity for a last minute, impromptu long weekend came up, so I took it.  Leaving my husband and children at home, I went out to this gorgeous party island with a couple of other hard working mums.  We stayed three nights at the Sol Beach House Hotel in Santa Eulalia, where we spent a lot of time relaxing by the pool.

We did, of course, party a little, too.  Having been warned by all, not to go to the notorious San Antonio strip, we couldn’t help ourselves.  Indulging our morbid curiosity, we spent one of our evenings bar hopping, and despite the obvious griminess, we actually had a good night.  We started our other night out in the famous, beautiful outdoor club, Ushuaïa.   The line up on the night included a celebrity DJ set by Groove Armada.  As you would expect it was very lively, but therefore busy, and also expensive, and as we were still feeling a little ‘delicate’ from the previous night, we decided to cross to the island and take in the sunset and chill out at Cafe del Mar.

There is also another side to Ibiza, and in our short time we tried to get a glimpse of it.  Of note, we had a very good meal at Relish, on the West of the island, took a short drive along the East coast, visited the quaint Ibiza Old Town, and took a final dip in the Mediterranean, before catching our flight home, refreshed and reenergised.

Iceland

When we told people we were going to Iceland for eight nights, the common response I got was, ‘Wow, that’s a long time.’  The hope was, that with twenty hours of daylight per day at this time of year, it would be ample, but in reality, we could easily have spent more than double that amount of time, and still not had time to see some of the amazing wonders we only learnt about once we got there.
We actually travelled in May, but I have struggle to find the words to do this experience justice, and now on the eve of my second foreign trip since returning to the UK, I now cannot allow myself to be overwhelmed any longer.

I planned a route for us to drive anti-clockwise round the island, so that we could see as many of the main attractions as we possibly could.  For this holiday, I had carried out some fairly extensive research prior to our departure, and also learnt a great deal from the experience itself.  I will be sharing all of this practical information in another area of the Nisaroundtheworld site in the near future, but for now, my aim is to describe my highlights, and try and give a sense what the overall journey felt like for us. 

As we drove from one difficult to pronounce town to the next, our journey took us through incredible landscapes, and was punctuated by magnificent waterfalls and geological marvels.  I have called it a journey, because although it is only a short three hour flight from London, and less than half the size of the UK, we covered over 2,200km by car, and hiked several more.

Tip: Driving in Iceland can be challenging, especially on narrow gravel roads, and adverse weather conditions. We found watching the video on the enjoyiceland.is site helpful. There are others available.

Our first stop was the fault-line of Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian Continental Plates come apart at a rate of 2-3cm per year.  Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is one of the only places in the world where you can see the edge of two tectonic plates meeting above the ground.  We only realised this fact, after we’d left, and somehow, this has added a new dimension to my memory of the place.  From here we drove to Iceland’s most famous hot spring, Geysir (from which all geysers around the world derive their name).  Geysir itself is rarely active now, but Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes, shooting vast jets of boiling hot water up to 40m in the air.  The first of many spectacular waterfalls along our route, Gullfoss, completes the world renowned Golden Circle sightseeing route.

The other beautiful waterfalls we visited over the eight days were: Seljalandsfoss, (the hidden) GljúfrabúiSkogáfoss, Svartifoss, Dettifoss, Selfoss, Goðafoss, and Kirkjufellsfoss.  There are a number of others we simply didn’t have time to go to, but if we had, I certainly would have.  My husband is most drawn by mountain ranges, but for me, waterfalls have always held a powerful appeal, that I cannot explain.  I have been to many great cascades around the world, but each of the ones I have listed here was uniquely special, and I have been captivated by every one of them.

As we continued our drive round the island, the further we moved away from Reykjavik, the population became more and more sparse, and the places we stopped at started to feel increasingly remote.  The sealed roads too, occasionally gave way to gravel, requiring us to utilise the four wheel drive mode on our rental car, adding to the sensation that we were on an adventure.  Many of you will know that numerous scenes and backdrops from the hit tv series Game of Thrones were filmed in Iceland, and knowing that the title of the original books is called, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ it’s easy to understand why.  However, you don’t have to be a fan of this epic fantasy, to be awestruck by all that has been put here purely by the forces of nature. 

In my photo gallery, I have tried to encapsulate the sheer variety of what we saw in Iceland: there were the Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar rock formations, Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Jökursálón Glacial Lagoon and Breiðamerkursandur Diamond Beach in the South; Fjords in the East;  Hverir Geothermal Mud Pools and Fumaroles and the hot water Grjótagjá Cave in the North; and in the West, the ‘dragon’ at Hvitserkur and the Snæfellsjökull National Park (Skarðsvík Beach, Saxhóll Crater, Djúpalónssandur Beach, Lóndrangar, Arnarstapi)

Along the way, we stayed in some pretty interesting accommodation.  I will be sharing a detailed list in the Country Information section of this site once I have developed it. However, one place that stood out, was the Fossar Cabin, in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, roughly half way between the major attractions in the South of the Island. Our superhost David Andri, was very easy to communicate with, and made sure we had everything we needed in the cabin we stayed in on his family’s farm.

An unexpected bonus for me was the food.  Not knowing much about Icelandic cuisine, I was expecting the meals to be no more than functional.  However, my family and I were very pleasantly surprised.  From the trendy Reykjavik Kitchen, to Mia’s Country Fish & Chips Van near Skogáfoss, the quality of the food we enjoyed, was exceptional.

Our self made tour ended with two nights in the capital city,  Reykjavik.  Having come all this way, we felt obliged to visit with Blue Lagoon.  Personally, I found it very commercialised, expensive, not the relaxing spa experience it is meant to be, but my husband, brother in law, and children, all really loved it, so I guess we all have our preferences.  The following day, we discovered a hidden gem, that we only found out about, a few days after arriving in Iceland.  This was much more up my street.  About 45km out from Reykjavik, is the geothermal town of Hveragerði, from there, a 4km hike up into the hills will bring you to the Reykjadalur Hot Spring.  At this point, the river running through becomes hot from the Earth’s heat, and you have to pick your spot to bathe in it’s soothing waters without getting scalded.

I had been wanting to go to Iceland for several years, and there is always a danger that when you combine expectation with desire, the outcome inevitably is disappointment.  Yet, thanks to the lovely people, delicious food, and the unrivalled power of Mother Nature, this vacation delivered far more than I could have hoped for.  That my children could see what I saw, and thrived in the magnificence of it, made it all the more special.