Category Archives: Travel

Weekend in Luxembourg

This week has been one of good omens, or coincidences, which ever you prefer. At the weekend me and the husband were discussing some of our favourite trips, and Luxembourg came back into the conversation – we travelled there for a gig just under 2 years ago to see DJ Shadow. We’ve made city breaks for gigs a bit of thing now, but especially since moving to Oxford where a lot of bigger bands don’t play, particularly non-UK based bands: they’ll often play London and Manchester and sometimes Glasgow. Travelling to London started becoming an unwelcome expense – not just the travel, which sometimes included a horribly basic hotel or having to get a late night coach home that takes 2hrs, but also drinks being incredibly overpriced (£5 for a very bland lager sir, single vodka and redbull that’ll be £9 madam etc..). So we made a concious decision to start travelling, to gigs especially to cities we’ve not visited before and bonus if the venue is just that side of smaller and more intimate.

DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist at den Atelier

DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist at den Atelier

So that is how Luxembourg came about initially, it also helped that at the time I had a fair amount of nectar points that can be exchanged for easyjet flights making the weekend even cheaper. We saw DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist in den Atelier, a really cool intimate venue where you could pretty much see the stage from anywhere, it felt like the crowd was probably only 500 people, but according to their website they can accommodate up to 1200, but it felt like seeing them in a small club.

So the day after we’d been talking about how nice Luxembourg was, another favourite band Interpol* announced a European tour, with UK dates in Manchester and London. So we checked out where else they were playing and narrowed it down to Copenhagen and Luxembourg (both weekend dates). After a quick search it was clear that Luxembourg was going to be the cheapest option by far, so to cut this rambling short: exactly 2 years to the day we saw Interpol play in Amsterdam, we booked tickets to see them in Luxembourg. Also the same day a blog post about Luxembourg came up on my feed, so it felt like all the signs were there.

So two years later, I’m going to tell you about my favourite things in Luxembourg, as it seems I never bothered to blog at the time!

The first thing we did was pick up at Luxembourg Card similar to city cards, its actually valid for the whole country, getting you into many attractions and exhibits for free and to be honest is actually a lot cheaper than most other city cards. We picked up a 2 day card and definitely got some good use out of it just with Luxembourg city. It also includes public transport in the price making it super easy to get around and we actually managed to make it to at least 5 attractions over the 48 hours as I recall (would’ve been 6 but the Bock du Casemates is closed in winter).

mirrors with the worrds Rectum Newt Racoon in a large gallery space with a woman in front taking a self portait with wooden crates in the background

Rectum Newt Racoon – Self portrait in front of sculptures by David Altmejd

These included the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM) a contemporary art museum where the building itself is as impressive as the art it holds (€7) and the next door fortress Museum Dräi Eechelen (€5), Casino Luxembourg (which is now free, but was I think the standard €5) which was full of typography and graphic design. Not to mention the historical Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg (€5), Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art (€7) and Villa Vauban – Luxembourg City Art Museum (€5) ~ it’s worth noting that some of these venues we probably wouldn’t have bothered going to without the card, and I’m glad we did because they were in stunning buildings with loads of history. It was good to see art and artefacts that were outside of our usual tastes, and of course all these venues meant seeing parts of the city that we might otherwise have ignored due to the comfort of staying within a certain walking radius. If you have the means and will to go further afield there are breweries and swimming pools and other stuff included in your Luxembourg card that is valid up to 3 days, worth noting the days don’t have to be consecutive either – so if you want to spend a day doing museums, a day travelling or doing nothing, then another day doing something then that’s ok – you just fill out the days you actually use the card.

Luxembourg is also home to a what I was going to simply say, a delightful park to walk along that follows the flow of the river, particularly from where we were based close to the Rue Dr Charles Marx, it was a nice walk into the centre via the infamous Adolphe bridge  but as the Luxembourg website says so much more eloquently “Laid out along more romantic lines, the Pétrusse Parks combine steep slopes, strange rock formations and the ruins of fortifications and bastions to form a harmonious unit”

the blue painted metal Adolphe Bridge, viewed from a distance surrounded by green vegetation and trees

Adolphe Bridge, Luxembourg City

Other things to do include the Notre Dame cathedral, maybe not as impressive as it’s Paris counterpart but still a beautiful church, very close to the gold lady war memorial. In the same area is the Place Guillaume II which has a few statues and the surrounding streets are very picturesque.

So after all this we’re very excited to return, particularly as it will be high summer, rather than winter, so we’d  love to hear any more tips of what to do in the comments!

*not just a favourite band, but a band touring their first album, of which several songs were ‘our songs’ early on in our relationship so actually hold a really special place in our hearts

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Airwaves 16 – Days 1-2

Because I really haven’t had the time or energy to blog daily  🙂

Day 1 – Wednesday

A first for us this year was arriving the first day of the festival rather than a day or two before. So it was fairly late Wednesday when we got our wristbands and as a result we didn’t see very many bands, in fact we sort of saw one off venue band – VAR and despite how much I love them, the venue (bar 11) was awful, unless you were 6 foot plus you weren’t going to see anything, and for me there’s nothing more annoying that someone (or 3) shoving past you to get closer, who then puts ear plugs in – seriously go home.

Snorri Helgason & Mr Silla

So we chilled out for a bit then headed to see Snorri Helgason at NASA, or as the other half calls him (and his band) the Snorri Helgason Good Time Band. Really upbeat and with Mr Silla on co-vocals for several songs we loved it. So it turns out that half the band are also in Tilbury (I did not know this until now) who were on just afterwards – strange band, half look like they belong in a 70s metal band and the lead singer with his snap back like he should be in a rap group – but neither of these apply – really amazing uplifting vocals and streaming guitars. But we were totally knackered so left part way through.

Day 2 – Thursday

We started the day really lazily, taking a walk around the harbour and grabbing brunch at Fredrikson Ale House – we highly recommend this place, the portions were huge (think 8 pieces of bacon!) and kept us going until evening. We then headed to Harpa as we’d won tickets to an exclusive session with Mugison, courtesy of Nordic Playlist. With only 30 audience members and a backdrop of Reykjavik through Harpa’s amazing windows it was so cool – we heard a few well known tracks and some new ones from the album released this week, we must remember to get a copy before we leave.

We then headed to Bryggan Brugghus to see Mr Silla perform off venue as a solo artist, although she was accompanied by her husband on stage. Again, mind blowing vocals, different arrangements of song I know and love. She also tipped us off to another band she was performing with today – Throws, a UK band with one guy from Sheffield and the other who lives in Reykjavik.

So for our evening entertainment we started at the Reykjavik art museum for JFDR, aka Jofridur from Pascal Pinon, Samaris and Gangly. This was her solo stuff and it was a haunting and melodic as Samaris. We then quickly headed off to Hurra for The IllIs, a Slovakian band. I would like to peg them as metal, but they had moments of dreamy pop melodies that were then interrupted with the crashing guitars – they were so energetic and fun. And on their final song one of the guitarists handed his guitar to the guy next to me in the audience so he could rock out, this was hilarious as the guy like me clearly did not know what to do with it! If you ever get the chance to see these guys then do – they really know how to rock a party!

The Ills @ Hurra

We then arrived at Gamla Bio whilst Hannah Lou Clark from the UK was playing, highly popular it would seem, as afterwards the venue practically empty. So we waited for Throws – worth noting Gamla Bio has the BEST free wifi I’ve ever experienced that doesn’t require signing up for something/tedious registration process.

Throws absolutely killed it. They started with a male voice choir of at least 15 members who were all very impressive, then slimmed down to the two of them plus two drummers, who were so energetic I felt sweaty just looking at them, then Mr Silla popped in for a track or two in the middle before finishing back with the choir who some of which were drinking beer at this point! Fab evening, danced loads, smiled even more, went back to our apartment exhausted.

 

Five Fab Coffee Shops in Oxford

When I first had this idea for a blog post, I only had three coffee shops to recommend. Thankfully since then I’ve A. explored a bit more and B. a new coffee shop opened adding to the list. I’m in no way a coffee aficionado, in fact my favourite tipple is a latte – but it’s also one of the coffee types that is more often made incorrectly. How many people are thinking eurgh a latte is just a milky coffee? If you are, you’d be wrong, or perhaps a customer of several high street chains, who just throw in extra milk to make a drink medium or large: a good latte is all about having the right ratio of coffee to milk and so few places seem to get this even close to right.

Like all lists, this is by no means comprehensive or finite. It’s my list of places to go first and foremost for quality of the coffee, service, and atmosphere – and I’d love to hear your suggestions to expand the list!

1. Joe Perks – 76 St Clement’s St, Oxford OX4 1AH

28587369230_772ba17e18_oProbably known more for their cocktails and dogs (although as I finished this post, I got wind that the dogs were gone, in place of a much fancier menu), their attention to detail is on point with everything. After my first coffee here, I was heard sighing “why are they not closer to where I live/work/the centre of Oxford”.

2. The Missing Bean Roastery Cafe – 1 Newtec Place, Magdalen Road, OX4 1RE

The place where beans are roasted for the Missing Bean Cafe on Turl Street, where you can pick up your weekly supply of freshly roasted coffee, try a new blend or pick up a wee treat from A Rosie Life Pop Up Shop. They are also proponents of reusable takeaway coffee cups which gets a big thumbs up from me.

3. Barefoot Cafe – 74a, Walton Street, OX2 6EA

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What not to love? apart from the great coffee, the absolutely beautiful cafe, there’s also the super amazing cake! Their loyalty card (collect 9 stamps to get a freebie) gives you a stamp for each coffee or cake. During the recent heatwave, they served me with a coffee with cold milk, I found it way more refreshing than an iced latte, I may be converted. Oh, did I mention that the cake is great? I recently tried the courgette cake and it lasted 3 sittings – immense! Don’t even get me started on the bread….

4. Brew – 75B Banbury Rd, Oxford OX2 6PE

Ok so technically listed as Banbury Road, the entrance is on North Parade – not to be confused with the further north, South Parade. North Parade is a small shopping street, ull of independant delights and regularly closes to traffic to hold their street market. They have this amazingly fancy copper.. coffee machine? (maybe it just heats the water, I really don’t know), and also a record player so you can pick your own tunes if you’re lucky enough to grab one of the handful of seats.

5. Delicatessen Cafe – 42B Abingdon Rd, OX1 4PE

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I don’t even know what this cafe is actually called – it’s not listed on google or any where else that I can find on the internet and the address I’ve given is for the hairdressers next door. I stumbled upon this place during Artweeks 2015 and it stuck in my mind. There’s also a good selection of weekend papers to browse whilst you’re there.

So these are my top 5 coffee places in Oxford, all a short walk from the city centre, and coincidentally, all independent businesses – what are you recommendations? I appreciate that not everyone wants to walk outside the city centre just for a brew, so another alternative from high street chains could be Oxford’s own mini-chain Taylors. They have two cafes on the high street (one at either end), and two on the opposite corners of Little Clarendon Street/Woodstock Road. My preference is the high street ones, top tip – a large coffee on the high street is the same size/price as a medium at the Clarendon Street outlets.

Bout of books day 1-2

So today’s reading has been interesting to say the least. My usual peaceful commute via bus into Oxford was disturbed by someone’s phone screeching out bagpipes music for the most of it.

Currently I’m trying to finish ‘The Art of Travel’ which I started during the Dewey’s readathon, however the current chapter on the Lake District and Wordsworth is boring me slightly meaning I’m finding it hard to push through…

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Updating a day later, and it’s finished – here’s my brief ‘review’ from Goodreads

“One of those books where I’m kicking myself I didn’t read it earlier, it was everything I expected and more. Split into sections prefixed with ‘On’ such as On Anticipation or On the Sublime, each one with a little grid that displays the place(s) and the guide (s) that will be your travelling companions in that chapter. Looking at reasons why people started travelling, and why, and why people go where… there was only one chapter that I didn’t like (I absolutely hated in fact) which was the one with the Lake District (place) with Wordsworth (guide), as I don’t really like either. Kind of funny that my reasons for not liking the lakes were echoed in this book, around pre-conceptions.
Absolute must read for anyone interested seeing whilst travelling. “

This book has given me so much more to think about /research in relation to my art/photography work based on travel. The section on the Sublime had some interesting quotes from Edward Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, that excited me so much I’ve already ordered it from Amazon, in a month I promised myself I wouldn’t buy any excessive books (but I had a voucher so that makes it ok right?).

So after finishing on that high note today, it was straight onto We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a perfect readathon book, given that it was so quick to read (probably under 40 minutes). Based on a TED talk she gave a few years ago, she talks about her personal experiences in Nigeria, of women not being equal, about male friends who’ve not realised that equality is not yet ‘there’ until it’s slapped them in the face. I’d recommend this to everyone.

Day 4 – Driving South Iceland back to Reykjavik

The last day of our South Island trip, we were heading from Vik back to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves festival. Our plan was to see the infamous black beach, Dyrholaey and be at our apartment for 3pm, as we had to return our car by 3:30.

So off to the black beach – it was less than 10 minutes drive from our hotel, and when we got there, it was raining and blowing a gale, all whilst the sun is shining!

Black Beach at Vik (Reynisfjara)

Then it was time to visit Dyrholaey. it was a landmark already programmed into the SatNav, however we were expecting to be taken onto the beach aside it. Not onto the cliff overlooking it. It was the scariest drive of my life, so steep with what looked like a sheer drop to the side of the single car pathway. Once we reached the top and I stepped out of the car I seriously felt ill, the thought of driving back down was terrifying. However it was more than worth it for the view – also worth mentioning that there is a WC up there, should you need it!

Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey

The drive down, oddly enough was less scary, even though we had to deal with passing a car, which was a bit hairy! Then it was time for the drive back to Reykjavik, which again was full of natural wonders, such as snow capped mountains, more waterfalls, at one point we got stuck in some very slow moving traffic, behind a hearse!

We arrived at our apartment just before 3pm. Went to check in, and uh-oh, no keys left for us. This was despite having email confirmation and making payment 10 days before arriving, our booking had been lost… we were then given a room that was technically an upgrade. Yay, we thought, but it is a weird room, we gain a sofa to watch tv on, but lose a wardrobe – there’s a chest of drawers but this was stuffed full of spare bedding! We’ve actually stayed in this same apartment block for the previous 2 years, so weird to find that the luxury room doesn’t have a kettle, or tea, coffee & oil for cooking – which were previously provided in our basic room. Unessassary shopping trip ahoy.

Anyway, we didn’t get up to much else, after sorting our room situation we mnaged to get the car back to BSI with seconds to spare. No extra payments were made, at times we did wonder whether all the pot holes and gravel roads would end up with some additional fees for damage, but thankfully not.

We then headed directly to Harpa to collect our wristbands for Airwaves, followed by Lebowski for a burger – its a personal tradition. And at this point we’d realised we hadn’t eaten since breakfast!  We then headed back to our apartment, too tired to head out for some early starting Off-venue events, and this played in our favour, as around 7:30pm the Northern Lights came out in full force! Although many, many guides seem to insist that you need clear, dark (ie no light pollution) skies, here is proof of what you can see & photograph, when your back yard is awash with street and security lights!

Aurora over Reykjavik

a tarmac road dissapearing into the distance

Day 3 – Driving around South Iceland

Today’s mission was quite simple – to visit Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, approx 2.5 hours drive east from Vik. It did take slightly longer, to once again being exposed to amazing scenery along the way. Waterfall after waterfall, rainbows, endless expances of lava fields, black volcanic matter, green mossy hills, some parts reminded me of the teletubbies landscape.

waterfall falling from a mossy hillside

One of many waterfalls

We were starting to get distracted, then realised we needed to get a move on and made it to Jökulsárlón around 2:30 in the afternoon, thankfully. After being there about half an hour it started to rain, hard, however by this point we were warming up with coffee in the cafe, which also sells soup and sandwiches, and souvenirs. Oh and free wifif – just ask at the desk for a code!

Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon blue icebergs against backdrop of mountains

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon

Back on the road towards Vik, we tried to stop off at the places we’d seen but not had time to stop at, most of the area is known as Katla geopark, and if you stop at the rest stops marked with signs indicating a picnic area, there are boards with information about the area.

a tarmac road dissapearing into the distance

The 1, ring road

Once we arrived back in Vik, we ended up going back to Hallsdorkaffi for dinner again, as we’d managed to yet again missed lunch (after a trip to Vínbúðin to stock up our room). Then exhausted, we headed back to our hotel, where we had a power cut, more rain, more rain, and upon reading about a high magnitude of aurora activty, set my alarm for 6am. unfortunately there was too much cloud (rain cloud), so back to bed we went.

Driving around South Iceland – Day 2

On our 2nd day, we awoke to the sound of rain pounding on the roof of our B&B, we’d been able to choose what time to have breakfast, so a long lie in was relished. For breakfast we were spoilt by our host – we got the opportunity to try foods that we wouldn’t normally – such as Icelandic lava bread (rye bread baked using the geothermal head underground), with boiled egg and pickled herring – this was so good (I can’t believe i’ve not tried it before), along with traditional icelandic smoked lamb, we tried two types – one was very smoky smelling, the other was marbled throughout the meat – this was my favourite. Along with all this was more meat and cheese, soft boiled eggs and homemade bread – all so delicious and washed down with a pot of coffee. We were sad to leave, I can tell you – but out into the rain we headed

Breakfast feast at Húsið við Hafið

Breakfast feast at Húsið við Hafið

Rather than use the SatNav, we decided to use the scenic map we’d picked up, so we drove on a more local road than the ring road, and stopped off at Knarraros Lighthouse, where some wild horses came to inspect us – I was slightly worried, as I’d always thought of the Icelandic ponies and medium hight, these were huge!

Knarraros concrete square Lighthouse

Knarraros Lighthouse

We continued on road 305, which runs along þjórsá – Iceland’s longest river. At times the road was nothing but a gravel, farmland type road (our car was covered in mud). We managed to miss ‘the greatest panorama in Iceland’ which oddly enough was right next to fljotsholar – apparently a great place to buy carrots, but neither were well signed posted so we carried straight on until we reached Villingaholtskirkja a small, traditional looking church and home of the great Saga writerJjon Erlendsson.

Villingaholtskirkja church made of currugated iron

Villingaholtskirkja

Next stop on our tour was Urriðafoss waterfall, after taking the turn off, then thinking it was the wrong one as it went past a little guesthouse, we eventually arrived down a potholed road. It was worth it, there was another car of 4 people there, so very peaceful, the roar of the water is amazing.

Urriðafoss waterfall in southern iceland

Urriðafoss waterfall

After Urriðafoss we joined the 1 (the Icelandic ring road), and headed towards Vik. We did make a few more stop offs, as the ring road is littered with picnic areas or small areas you can pull off the road, to photograph stuff. There’s a ton of waterfalls, and lava fields, and just all round amazing, stunning, scenery and nature. Btw, the birds here are very flighty when it comes to personal safety, flying across the path of your car, my heart was in my mouth a few times!

So we arrived at our hotel in Vik, Hotel Katla around 3pm. We unloaded, then headed into the centre of Vik to get food, as all we’d not eaten since breakfast! Seriously in need of caffeine!

We ate at Halldorskaffi then bought supplies from the shop a few doors down, and headed back to the hotel, where we jumped in the hottub again, we were hoping to see the Northern Lights, but no such luck – another night listening to the rain battering the roof and windows!