The Marvellous Metropole, Llandrindod Wells

I recently stayed at The Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells on business and felt it worth writing something about. I’d definitely like to return!

The hotel itself is family-run and has been in the same family ever since its conception in 1896, which these days is something very special! This old Victorian building in the lovely little spa town of Llandrindod Wells has a truly rustic charm with creaking stairs, great grand mirrors and ornately decorated wallpaper and is 4* rated, deservedly so. The rooms were a good size (from my experience), the service was very friendly and accommodating and the food was very good. There’s a spa where we took a lovely dip in the hot tub – could use a lick of paint here or there but the facilities were of a good standard and it fit the bill well for a relaxing swim & soak before dinner. Everything else such as the sauna and showers appear to have been renovated in the last few years; there was also a small gym room, mostly cardio machines but there seemed enough weights for a decent mini session.

Primarily, let’s get back to the food.

As part of our stay we had a 3 course dinner in the award-winning Radnor Miles Restaurant which is dedicated to using only the freshest organic, local produce – music to my very ears! I’ve spoken before on the importance of using local, fresh ingredients and I love that in Wales we’re in the prime environment to do so.
Of the options (click here for the menu we had) my choices were as follows:

Chef’s Homemade Soup of The Day
– which was Sweet Potato. Smooth, refreshing and light yet good, full-bodied flavour (as sometimes I find potato soups can be a little bland); this was the perfect starter to whet the appetite and leave me looking forward to the courses to come. It also went superbly with the accompanying buttered brown roll (or two), but what soup would be complete without a bread roll anyway.

Fresh Pasta with Prawns – again very fresh and well seasoned, plus it’s always a bonus for me when the prawns are already shelled as I’m not great at the whole taking its face and legs off thing… However, as lovely as this main was, I slightly regretting choosing something as heavy/large. Pasta is easily one of my all time favourite foods and I regularly choose it when eating out, yet it runs the risk of being a little too filling and leaving you struggling to find room for dessert which, if you’ve a sweet tooth like me, is not what you want. Nevertheless, it was a very tasty pasta and had it not been part of a 3-course deal I’d certainly choose it again.

Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce (and ice cream) – honestly, it’s rare that I ever choose a dessert that doesn’t involve ice cream. Or, more often than not, I’ll ask for ice cream to be added on as well as I did in this case. Both the dessert and the starter were lovely and warm without being too hot, yet not the kind of warm when you’re worried it may have just been reheated. This was all fresh and fantastic. As a result, the butterscotch sauce ran off the top and around the sides with a delicious viscosity and the ice cream began to soften quickly, just as it all should. It tasted lovely, although could have been a little more moist; myself and two of my colleagues agreed that sadly, it just didn’t quite top the sticky toffee pudding we had at The Hilton bottomless brunch a few months ago.

All in all, however, it was a very tasty, good quality, fresh meal produced to a high standard. The service throughout our dinner – and throughout our entire stay – was impeccable and attentive to our every need. The restaurant itself was also an appropriate temperature, something I’ve not mentioned in previous posts but recently came to my attention as a definite influential factor in the enjoyment of a meal and/or experience, especially if you feel the cold like me it can be distracting or even off-putting. Following the meal, we marched back to Spencer’s Bar and Brasserie where I continued to make good use of the gin collection on offer, comprising the Warner Edwards rhubarb gin I’ve become rather fond of, which I was very pleasantly surprised with – a big selling point for my wanting to return next time I’m in Mid-Wales.

I’d definitely recommend The Metropole if you’re in the area, it was a very enjoyable stay from start to finish and personally it ticked all the boxes. Great food, nice spa & gym, comfortable room, bath, well-stocked bar (although this is likely because there’s not much else in Llandrindod Wells) and very helpful, highly professional staff. The only criticism I did have was there seemed a distinct lack of power sockets in my room, but you can’t have everything and sometimes it’s nice to unplug!

Have you stayed here before? What did you think? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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Glorious Glastonbury: 2017 Festival Highlights

Yet again, time seems to have gotten away from me and I haven’t forced myself to sit down and write something. Glastonbury, however, was something I knew I had to write about… it was an absolutely magical, life-changing experience. I realise that ‘life-changing’ may sound a tad over-dramatic, but what I mean is that once you’ve experienced the cream of the crop, you can’t go back down. It just won’t feel the same. And Glastonbury really is the cream of the festival crop, the shining beacon of beauty that all other festivals can only dream of coming anywhere close to.

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Unsurprisingly, the food selection was vast; over 300 different vendors were there over the weekend! Despite all this, however, our first meal was a McDonald’s breakfast en-route (classy, I know)… but what else can you do when you’re up at 4am?! We had that giddy excitement mixed with slightly funny stomach feeling you have when catching a really early flight, yet it was definitely worth getting there as early as we did; we were through and pitched up by 11.30am which is pretty good going by Glasto standards! Not to mention by this point the midday 30+ degree heat(wave) was kicking in… no joke for those who had high-piled trolleys and apparently didn’t get the memo about packing light this year. The anticipation though was fantastic, we were buzzing to get stuck in!

Our first venture was to the Silver Hayes area close to where we’d pitched in Pylon Fields, featuring a few smaller tents, a funky little DJ set up, several very well-equipped shops (convenience and camping stores) and of course food. After an initial celebratory glass of prosecco I hunted down my first meal which, if you’ve been to Glasto yourselfFile_001 (22).jpeg you’ll know, had to be halloumi. I’m a big fan, jokingly referring to it as ‘bae’ on many occasions; it’s something I will always order when on a restaurant menu! So the sesame halloumi flatbread with mixed salad and a minted yoghurt dressing from Kebabylon hit the nail right on the head. I’d have visited these guys again but I wanted to try as much of the plethora of options available as possible.

Not everything I tried was amazing; sadly there was a disappointing pasta dinner that did not satisfy my hunger pangs and a garlic bread that was a bit too big to handle as well as a slice of pizza, but overall the quality and diversity of food available was spot on. Other meals included the following:

  • Crispy duck rolls from the Thai house were a dream, perfectly crisped and really succulent duck with a sweet hoisin sauce.
  • I couldn’t have survived the weekend without an ice cream (it’s genuinely one of my top 3 favourite foods) so somewhere along the way I found a homemade honeycomb ice cream that sorted me right out.
  • Cheese was also a lifesaver at Glasto to be honest, obviously in halloumi form as I basically lived on varying takes on a halloumi wrap/flatbread for the majority of my meals, but two other things that really hit the spot were a creamy and well-balanced mac ‘n’ cheese and a banging late-night tuna & cheese toastie. 
  • Pot noodles and porridge pots were Trangia staples back at our tent, we even joked that I should’ve done a detailed comparison of each supermarket’s own brand although this would’ve meant I’d had to try them all and we were very hungry – next time!

Unfortunately, I was so keen to get involved and soak up the atmosphere (and usually so ravenous by the time we got food) that I slacked on my food photos as the weekend went on and so can’t thank the vendors personally, much as I’d love to! Just trust me, you will never be short of options at Glasto no matter what your interests, especially as it’s widely regarded as the most vegan & vegetarian-friendly festival!

One thing that struck me right away was the bright, colourful flags that guide the way File_000 (65).jpegthrough the main footpaths, glorious in the first day sunshine and gently reassuring us that there was a refreshing breeze somewhere, whether we felt it or not. Glastonbury was a feast for the eyes as well as the belly in so many ways, all part of the theme and the vibe of the overall festival as it was made to celebrate the arts, creativity, environmental awareness and all things hippy. I loved it and this vibrancy and positivity is what I believe makes it so special. I’ve never been to a festival that cares so much for the environment it’s in and this was music to my very ears (no pun intended) as someone who cares deeply about protecting and preserving our beautiful planet – but let’s not get into that because I will go on forever… Despite there still being litter about the place, it was only on the last day that I saw anybody (and even then very few) squat down and disobey the ‘don’t pee on the land!’ posters, absolutely unheard of anywhere else! It was very refreshing and something I was more than happy to be a part of and support.

At the other end of the campsite the colour and craziness continued with The Park area and the Glastonbury sign, as well as a great, tall rainbow viewing tower that looked out over the whole site which was pretty cool. The mysterious hidden/secret ‘rabbit hole’ bar based on Alice in Wonderland, however, unfortunately remained a secret from us this time. Down the road a little was the Tipi Village leading into the Healing Fields and this was one of my favourite areas, all kinds of amazing-looking vegetarian & vegan food about the place (including a halloumi curry that I’m still dreaming about, wishing I’d tried), an actual explosion of colour and wavy patterns and some really comfy looking chill-out tents – this is where to go if you’re looking for yoga, massages or holistic therapies. We were even lucky enough to witness a Hand-Fasting ceremony, the celtic marriage tradition involving promises (like vows), sweeping away your old lives with a broom and bringing in the new one with cake & ale. It was super cute!

 

One of the best parts about Glastonbury was that things kept popping up all over the place, a random acoustic open mic here, a spontaneous circus show there, a popular band doing a surprise set somewhere else (I’m gutted we missed Elbow). There literally was something for everyone, so much to see and do and occupy your time with you’dFile_004 (16) never get chance to experience everything in one go – and I suppose that’s what keeps people coming back year-on-year. Even the kids section of the campsite looked like a whale of a time for young ones, but after all this excitement it was time for some more food, this time a chocolate and banana crepe – deeeelish. I also had a cheeky Grazing Shed over the weekend, would’ve been rude not to! It was great having this little home away from home and if you’ve not tried them in Cardiff yet I definitely recommend – currently renowned as the best burger joint in the city.

 

By the final day, I was dying for some mash & gravy but was gutted to discover that the well renowned Square Pie who’d I’d been eyeing up all week keep potato skins in their mash potato, something I have the weirdest and sometimes super inconvenient allergy to. Fortunately, there was a sausage & mash place nearby that provided me with the vegetarian sausages, mash and gravy I so needed. They were okay, mash holds a particularly special place in my heart as the first food I ever started experimenting with ingredient-wise and being honest, I’ll always prefer my own homemade version. But like I said, it was the end of the weekend and I really needed this hearty meal! It did the job well enough, still would’ve preferred a pie though.

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Foo Fighters on Pyramid Stage (photo credit: Niamh Flynn)

Musical highlight for me was easily Foo Fighters, closely followed by Biffy Clyro (in the sunset, amazing) and Royal Blood. The teenage emo kid in me was loving life. Haim and Sundara Karma were also really good as they were on at a time of day that means you know the people who turn up are genuine fans and there’s a very nice feeling about that, makes for a great atmosphere. I’d go as far as to say though that Foos was one of the best experiences of my life so far; they’re a band that have been around and in my life a long time with so many memories, so many songs that speak to you and just generally have a great time, I enjoyed every second! And Dave Grohl surely has to be one of the most bad-ass daddies in rock ‘n’ roll… Foos, Queens of the Stone Age, Tenacious D AND Nirvana?!

We couldn’t have gone without seeing ‘the big spider thing’, Arcadia, which breathed out fire everywhere and was pretty cool. After a while though the spider bits got a bit samey and we didn’t fancy waiting long enough for them to pick someone out of the crowd at long last, so we grabbed a pizza slice on the way and head home. Block9, the Unfair Ground and Shangri-La were also good fun, prime people-watching material let me tell you. Jazzy decorations and bright flashing lights with house DJs, even a built in waterfall that was pretty sweet – there was never a dull moment to be had anywhere in Glastonbury! Although the utterly bizarre design of the Unfair Ground was something I would only recommend experiencing in a sober to merry state…

File_000 (62)The point is, Glastonbury was brilliant. A truly unique experience (I’m still finding glitter dotted about the place), one that I’ll never forget and would love to go back to some day. Great music, great food, so many opportunities and experiences to be had I would highly recommend to anyone to register for tickets – or failing that, volunteer with one of the many charities that help out there! Oxfam and WaterAid had several volunteers all across the site, it’s a great way to enjoy the festival for free by working a few hours a day/a few shifts.
Top 3 highlights: Foo Fighters, glitter, halloumi. My Glasto in a nutshell.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Edinburgh Adventures pt.1 – Castle, Kismot & Countryside

I’ve been back over a month now and I still can’t stop thinking about this beautiful, magical place. And by magical I mean literally because Edinburgh is the birthplace of Harry Potter himself, something my other half was ridiculously excited about… But let’s start at the beginning.

Whilst our early morning flight might have at first seemed like a bit of an inconvenience, it did, however, mean that we were leaving Bristol airport as the sun began to rise. It was absolutely beautiful – talk about early morning views!

This also meant that we arrived in Edinburgh and got to the hotel around 8am, way earlier than the standard 3pm check-in, although once we arrived to drop off our bags the man working on reception was kind enough to check us into our room straight away hassle-free – if we hadn’t have been so tired, dazed and confused we’d have acted as delighted as we were! We chose to stay in The Village which was a convenient 15 minute drive into town, also hosting a spa and very well-equipped gym which suited us perfectly. After a last-minute room upgrade, we also had Sky TV and a king-size bed – perfect! A quick recovery-nap later, we set out to explore the city and headed straight for the top of our list: the castle.

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We were v big fans of the cute theme

Edinburgh Castle is situated right at the top of the Royal Mile, the buzzing main hub of Edinburgh city centre. The architecture of the whole city especially in this area is astounding; everything has original character and you can walk around and perfectlyFile_003 (3) imagine how it all was back in Victorian times, Edinburgh has managed the miracle of modernising and keeping up with the times whilst retaining and glorifying its originality, history and authenticity. On our approach to the castle we stopped by the Luxury Scottish Ice Cream van, this was a real treat.

As we got chatting the vendor proudly told us of how this was a family business for generations, 100% of the ingredients used are sourced locally within Scotland, many of them coming from Edinburgh itself and surrounding areas, even the flavouring used was naturally and locally produced and how this and the process itself was a best-kept family secret which created the rich, creamy texture that made this ice cream so special. And it was rich, creamy and special – we loved it! I’m a big fan of responsibly sourcing local ingredients (and ice cream, of course) and it makes me so happy to see it proudly advertised like this. It really does make a difference in terms of taste, in my opinion.

The castle itself was great fun to explore and has amazing views out over the city. Standing proudly is a huge cannon named ‘Mons Meg’ who has an incredible history having been capable in her hay-day of blasting a whopping 150kg gunstone two whole miles! There’s also all sorts of passages and look-outs as well as live demonstrations of historical practices, yet our visit wouldn’t have been complete without a quick tea & scone stop and a browse through the gins and whiskeys in the castle shop. I came away with small bottles of two types of Edinburgh Gin and a Stag’s Breath honeycomb whiskey, all of which were delicious, as well as a fridge magnet for my mother’s ever-growing collection.

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Next was our dinner stop which I’d chosen based on a recommendation from a friend and which I could not wait for: Kismot.

Despite being a little away from the main city centre, this family-run independent business is an absolute gem and deservingly highly rated on TripAdvisor. It hosts a wide variety of unique dishes such as the protein passanda, the deshi khani, the Kismot killer and the chocolate massallam as well as the exclusive haggis, marshmallow or chocolate naans. There are still plenty of regular Indian and Bangladeshi dishes to choose from but it’s always great to try something different and this was certainly a treat; I choseFile_004 (3) the marshmallow naan and a king prawn chocolate massallam (featured right) aka grated milk chocolate in a tandoori yoghurt and cream sauce. Although this sounds strange, like a bowl of chocolate sauce, it was actually deliciously creamy and rich and the chocolate added texture rather than overpowering with its sweetness. Genuinely an incredible dish, I would 100% recommend.

Also, the marshmallow naan I have been preaching to everyone about since my return as it was absolutely amazing! Again, sounds strange but I loved it, without a doubt File_005 (4)my favourite naan I’ve ever tasted despite its sugary stickyness. The other half chose the exclusive homemade deshi khani (featured left) which comes with its meat on the bone for extra added flavour. All in all, we both had brilliant plates of food and would definitely go back again – although maybe don’t order too much if you go because we struggled to finish and I was very upset that we couldn’t take it home and save for later (due to the obvious lack of microwaves in hotel rooms).

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Next day, full of fuel for the adventure, we decided to take on Arthur’s Seat in the (temporary) glorious sunshine. There are two different routes you can take and being the seasoned, bold adventurers we are we went for the more challenging route up, saving the leisurely stroll for the way back down. The views were incredible, looking out over the city with the castle standing proudly over it, this was a city we had instantly fallen in love with. A bit of a scramble and what felt like several thousand steep steps later, we made it to the top and almost fell back down again – the winds were whipping up a right old frenzy and I clung to the summit for dear life. But, views were totally worth it. 4 kilometers, 6036 steps and just over an hour very well spent and would certainly recommend to anyone visiting Edinburgh.

To be continued in part 2…

 

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Wonderful Welsh Heritage at The Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenavon

Cultural heritage is something to be proud of wherever you come from. This weekend, we decided to tick one of my many Welsh adventures off the list and go explore The Big Pit National Coal Museum up in Blaenavon – and we had the best time!

The weather kept changing its mind between momentary glorious sunshine and overcast with outbursts of rain but nontheless, the scenery was beautiful – The Big Pit is actually located in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My proud little Welshman stood gazing lovingly over his homeland and I can’t deny that I felt proud to be an honorary Welshie. My own family has mining history too back up in County Durham, so it filled me with questions to ask my mother and grandad when I next see them; it was so interesting learning about stuff that’s so relevant to your own life and background yet still so fresh in historical terms. Anyway, back to the museum & tour itself.


Rob and the other tour guys we can’t speak highly enough of; so friendly and chatty and so so knowledgeable about their subject being ex-miners themselves. They carefully strapped our harnesses & headlights on and locked away our valuables before we squished like sardines into the lift, ready to go below-ground (very authentic). Rob went on to tell us how fast this lift was descending and how much faster it would’ve been back in the day – and still is in other much deeper mines – as well as how many would fit into one of these lifts in a typical day, which alone was enough to make me glad not to have to do it everyday!

At the bottom lay one of the trucks the horses used to pull through the mines, 72 of which resided at The Big Pit, each truck carrying 1 tonne of coal which was sent up to the surface and away to peoples’ homes. These horses were allowed out ‘on holiday’ for 2 weeks of the year and the rest of their lives were spent underground working the mines. I’m not a big fan of horses but the extremity of the constantly damp conditions and fellow resident rodents down there gave me a huge respect for these animals, lugging tonnes and tonnes of coal miles through the mines day after day.
On top of that, children as young as 5 were sent down to work in the mines opening and closing the ventilation doors, until at about 9 years old they were old enough to work the mine face itself. Young girls weren’t exempt it turns out; their job was to crawl on hands and knees up and down the steep mine faces tugging along a trolley which men could dispatch their coal into, so I can only imagine how heavy it must’ve gotten and how realistically quite terrifying that must’ve been, crawling on your own through sweaty older men all day. (This is in fact why young girls were banned from working the mines some years later – it was deemed inappropriate for them to be around men who were often half or almost fully naked due to the heat of working at the deep coal faces at such a young age and I can’t say I disagree).

Rob said to us “hold your hand out in front of your faces and when I count to three, turn your headlamps off. 1, 2, 3.” Darkness. And I mean seriously: Pitch. Black.
When you think about it, when was the last time you truly couldn’t see anything? Not even the tiniest fleck of light or at least the outline of your hand in front of you? If it hadn’t have been attached to me I can honestly say I’d have had no idea where my hand was, and I can imagine after hours on end of this darkness which the children on the doors went through I definitely think I’d have been going mad and starting to lose it. We were told that the shift patterns were 12 hours long both for the men and the children, meaning that in the winter these miners never saw daylight; so much of their lives were spent underground that these horses became their children and these fellow men became their family. The camaraderie that stems from such close-knit communities in such extreme conditions is something that always remains truly admirable to me and something totally key to survival, I imagine. A problem shared is a problem halved an’ all that.

Further along the line came a small railway track which the carts were transported through the mines on once the demand became higher than the horses could physically take. This was incredible in itself because of the way it was operated: one child would be placed at the top of the track and the other would go along the track with the cart to the coal face – which could have been miles and miles away. Once full, the child with the cart would simply squeeze together two electrical wires running along the wall adjacent to the track, generating a bell ringing at the other end so the other child knew when to withdraw the cart. These electrical wires themselves were live, including those Rob showed us on the day, which if they sparked when methane gas was present (a by-product of coal extraction) led to potentially huge explosions within the mine itself. This was sadly the case with the Senghenydd colliery disaster of 1913 which killed 439 miners, men and children alike. As cliché as it sounds, this really brought it home for us as we stood in a mine… surrounded by people… underground… almost pitch black… nearest exit literally miles away…

File_000 (49)As I said, heritage is so important. When something really relates to your own now privileged life it not only makes it so so interesting but also so so real. Back at the surface there were several other reality checks such as the showers and lockers with personal stories and contents within them that really made everything so touching and inspiring. My boyfriend was beaming with excitement the entire time and even came out of there wanting to be a miner for crying out loud… but the sense of pride in their work was what was really touching; these men went to work day after day after day knowing that their suffering and intense hard work was fuelling a growing nation, heating homes and powering trains, driving the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom which we have relied upon to develop our lifestyle today. This pride shone through from Rob and the other ex-miner tour guides and really made the day for us, we had the utmost respect for these guys; they were there, they lived this.

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Sadly, I couldn’t buy these due to card machine problems but look how cute they are!

I’d really recommend a trip to The Big Pit National Coal Museum if you’re ever in South Wales, or perhaps you live here and you’ve just not had chance to go yet. It’s free entry just like the other National Museums in Wales, though there are donation boxes around the place and a lovely cute shop at the end filled with Welsh-ness; local beers, Welsh silver jewellery, cheese and chopping boards (above), that sort of thing. You also don’t need good weather for the underground bit, just make sure you’ve got a few layers on cos it can get pretty chilly down there. There’s just so much to see and learn about we were absolutely fascinated; I think it’s so important to understand and appreciate these things, history is a part of us after all.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*featured image courtesy of Visit Wales

Weekend workouts & waterfalls in the beautiful Brecon Beacons

This week I focus on fitness once again, purely because I wanted to make the point that getting in a weekend workout does not have to mean dragging yourself out of bed to the gym before 11 o’clock in the morning. I mean, great if you can do that but who’d rather have a lie in? Me, that’s for sure.

There are so many simple easy things you can do to make your weekend workouts fun, especially if you feel cooped up in work during the week and struggle to reach your 10,000 steps per day Monday to Friday. You don’t even have to think of it as a workout, just think of it of getting outside and getting some fresh air – the great outdoors!

If you’re a runner, fab. You’re already pretty much there, just do your thing. If you’re a cycler, that’s fab too. Just pack up your car and head off somewhere stunning for a ride, why not! But if you’re a gym bunny like me these may not be the right options for you. My weekend workout of choice was a humble hike through the hills of South Wales; I can’t imagine a better one. I’m a born adventurer and (as we know from my Iceland post) a very keen geographer, so I’ll happily take any chance to go exploring in nature. There’s a long list of things to tick off my Welsh adventures bucket list but this weekend I picked waterfall hunting in the Brecon Beacons National Park – the Four Waterfalls Walk to be exact.

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Looking down the path of Four Waterfalls Walk

One of the absolute beauties of living in Cardiff is that Brecon isn’t even an hour drive away, it’s quite literally on your doorstep. It’s also the place that gets all the cute snow and ice when we don’t see it down here in the city, which makes winter walks all the more enjoyable (I especially enjoy the crunching sound of thick ice, why wouldn’t ​

​you?!). The only issue with this walk was that we found it very easy to get a little bit lost on the trail, only finding our way to 1 of 4 waterfalls before the cold and dark started setting in. However, this added to the sense of adventure and was all part of the fun if you ask me! Nothing wrong with getting lost in nature just so long as we find our way home in the end.

Crunch, crunch, slop, slop. The other thing of significance to note was that appropriate footwear was absolutely necessary. My company thought otherwise until, much to his surprise, we found ourselves on a mucky, sludgy path for which my walking boots were perfect and his trainers were not so much… Let us at this point remember the Scouts motto: Be Prepared.

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Sgwd Yr Eira looking lush

Anyway, we clambered through the mud and found the first (and in this case, only) waterfall: Sgwd Yr Eira. It was stunning as the sun shone through the trees beginning toimg_3309 set. This is also the one you can walk behind (see photo, left), reminding me of Seljandsfoss in Iceland although on a much smaller scale – still seriously cool though! The steps to and from the waterfall were a challenge in themselves, however, (I might have slipped over… but gracefully recovered injury free, of course) and this is where the real workout came in; I deliberately took long strides up in order to make it more of a challenge for my legs, even a throwing in a few squat jumps, but I’d recommend doing this without DOMS next time – did not ease my soreness! (DOMS = delayed onset muscle soreness, the pain you sometimes feel after a cracking workout) Still, a good way to get your glutes, hams and quads working away. I’d also recommend power-walking part of it if you want to feel a bit more benefit and get your heart rate up a little, or even bounding (safely) downhill every so often if you like to be a giddy little kid like me.

All in all, this 3 hour winter walk adventure racked up 14,488 steps alone – making my total for the day over 16k – and burned a whopping 825 calories, according to my Fitbit blaze. I don’t know about you but I’d class that as a great workout, whether you feel sore afterwards or not! Even better if you don’t feel it and just enjoy the ride, which is one of the best things about going walking in my opinion.

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Views from the path

As I said, there are many other Welsh adventures on my list, Pen-y-Fan currently at the top, but this was a great one to tick off and I’ll certainly be back to find the remaining 3 waterfalls. It seems silly to me not to explore all this beautiful countryside when it is right on our doorstep/such a short drive away, just get outside and go wild! If you don’t live near a National Park then there are plenty of other beautiful parks to walk around of a weekend, Roath Park and Bute Park being just two beautiful examples in Cardiff city centre. Most importantly, the weekends are about relaxing and a workout doesn’t always have to be hard work, life is about balance after all…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Iceland Adventures

Snow! The first time some of us had seen it in years! I mean the proper, good, solid kind of snow that makes that amazing crunching sound when you walk on it.  It was awesome, I had way too much fun finding all the fresh patches that hadn’t yet been trodden – perfect for crunching. We fumbled our way into town following the tourist maps to the best of our ability and so the adventure began. (I apologise here for the length of this one, I had a whole four days to squeeze in!)

First stop, food. Obviously. It’s important to note, however, that when eating out in Iceland, shopping around for the best deal is vital unless you’re an absolute baller. In fact, finding the best deals for anything in Iceland is highly recommended because whilst it’s undoubtedly a stunning and amazing place, it’s definitely not cheap in the slightest – just accept this before you go. You will spend a lot of money. No way around it. (Especially with the currently decreasing value of the GBP…)

I’d heard from others who’ve visited Iceland before that eating out for a big lunch was cheaper than dinners if at all possible, so on this first day of finding our way around Reykjavik and getting our bearings we found a nice warming curry for late lunchscreen-shot-2017-01-10-at-20-54-00 courtesy of a cute place called Hradlestin. What really drew me in was the Thali on offer that I’ve seen tweets about from the new Chai Street in Cardiff (yet to visit but it’s on my list). It’s a type of Indian street food made from a selection of small dishes which looked absolutely delish (see opposite photo, courtesy of their Instagram).

Upon entering the restaurant, however, it turned out there was a special offer on tikka masala that day and asimg_2344 previously mentioned, tourists have to take up all the offers they get! These came with an individual rice and a couple of small naans each; mine was chickpea and the others were chicken. Personally, I very much enjoyed my curry although some of the others made the good point that there wasn’t enough veg to pad out the sauce. The way the food came in small metal pots all stacked together was cool though, overall it a good 7/10 on the food for me. Despite the inevitable expense, I also obviously couldn’t have gone on holiday and not tried the local beers… this time, the classic Icelandic Boli. As usual, absolutely no complaints from me; it was smooth, bubbly, no jazzy after-taste just proper good, honest beer – loved it!

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After a wander round the harbour and some more of the town, we then did what many tourists do as the next best way to keep things as cheap as you can: find the nearest budget supermarket and stock up on supplies. This is especially useful if you’ve lots of day trips planned like we did which involve hopping on and off buses; taking your own packed lunch and snacks can really help to keep your overall spending down by trying to only buy 1 meal of the day. Plus, it can help keep you energised for all the walking (which I loved as sad as that sounds!) and keep you awake – four hours of daylight per day in November-time really makes you sleepy when you’re not used to it we discovered! Although I’m a very keen sleeper anyway so I, of course, took full advantage of every possible napping opportunity. (Who doesn’t?! Y’know, when in Rome…)

Day 2 and it was adventure time: the Golden Circle tour.

GoPro and headstrap on, lunch supplies in our rucksacks, we were good to go. Whilst the first stop of Thingvellir National Park was some lovely scenery, the incredibly cloudy weather and low pressure that lingered during our stay unfortunately obscured what I’m sure was a lot of the natural beauty in the distance. But I did get a cheeky selfie with some Icelandic sheep (see left) so y’know, swings & roundabouts. img_9477-2

The next stop was Gullfoss Waterfall which was absolutely stunning! Even in the foggy weather. It’s glacier fed and you can see it rolling down from the outlets into a smaller waterfall which in turn feeds the larger one – it was incredible! See selfie below, I was absolutely loving life. But, let’s be honest, the big guns here were the geysers

The main attraction is Strokkur, the most regular geothermal hot spring in the world, erupting on average every 5-8mins. Everyone crowded around nervously waiting for the big event… after a while you begin to wonder if the expression ‘a watched kettle never boils’ applies here… but then POW up it goes! Outstanding natural beauty at its finest – I was in geography nerd heaven (and managed to get some good footage too! Follow this link for a cheeky slow-mo). More than this, the snow on the ground everywhere fills you with the instinctive giddy excitement that kids get on their first white Christmas – you can’t help but beam with delight and giggle with excitement that you’re in such a (naturally) magical, beautiful place.

To round off the tour we went to see some Icelandic horses which are apparently a big thing. They were very pretty to be fair but personally I was much more interested in the farm cat that was hanging around as horses really aren’t for me, but I did face my fears and stroke one or two. Anyway, it was then time for dinner again.

img_2166Barber Bistro Bar was our host tonight and had a nice, slightly more elegant feel to it (a lot more elegant that we were dressed in our walking boots and thermals!). A good menu left most of us all spoilt for choice: I went for a vegetarian club sandwich consisting of Goats cheese & caramelised onion (one of my favourite food combinations ever), a grilled pepper and salad, with a side of sweet potato fries. Despite the bread bun itself being a little too floury for my liking this meal did hit the spot, but I found myself wishing I’d gone for the teriyaki salmon my friend had which looked and apparently tasted incredible. Also around the table was Icelandic fish & chips and a chicken risotto which also received good feedback. All round a good, hearty meal, a good bottle of prosecco between us and great customer service – 8/10.

Day 3: The Blue Lagoon.

This was the day we’d been waiting for. Rest, relaxation, natural face masks – what a girls holiday is usually all about! Plus it’s the thing you always see looking amazing on Instagram… only problem was the thick fog and mist still hadn’t shifted so unfortunately our views didn’t look quite as good as this one!

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Nevertheless, the comfort of such naturally hot and healthy bathing waters was pure luxury after being wrapped in so many layers for the past few days! We also quickly realised that the blue lagoon could act as a natural floatation pool; great entertainment as we star-fished to our hearts content, feeling our troubles drift away for a moment. Bliss. The face-masks were also great fun mostly because people-watching was hilarious – some made as much of the free one as physically possible, with one lady who must’ve gone back at least 7 times, whilst some seemed to think that if they covered as much skin as possible that it would benefit them more than just applying to the face… we weren’t convinced but a glass of bubbly, some blurry photos and several hours later we were thoroughly pampered and getting peckish. But with the whole rest of the afternoon to ourselves what were we to do?

The Phallological Museum. Obviously…

In other words: it was literally a museum of penises. As huge and as hideous as you can imagine. Personally, I found it hilarious entertainment – and it wouldn’t be a true girls holiday without something rude, right? I won’t go into too much detail but here’s some photos of me having fun!

Still full from our burgers and seafood pasta prior to the phallic entertainment (which was a lovely and very filling meal by the way, no complaints) we decided to grab a few drinks at a cool-looking local whiskey bar before heading off on the half-hour walk home. Dillons had a rustic, cute and cosy feel to it, dimly lit with fairy lights draped across great wooden beams and bar that was lit up spectacularly with funky coloured back-lighting. By this point we were looking to spend a bit of money as it was nearing the end of the holiday, so I didn’t mind forking out for a couple of whiskey sours and a single on the rocks. Most of the others opted for glasses of wine, cider, or G&Ts, most of it all reasonably priced as well – by Icelandic standards!

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The bar at Dillons shining like a beacon of hope and joy

To finish we played card games and ‘Heads Up’ – which, although I know sounds wild for a group of girls in our early twenties, was and always will be a great way to spend an evening with old friends. There’s a great kind of nostalgia about playing games on holidays that will never get old.

Day 4: The Big Adventure. South Island Tour.

This was the day we got to walk behind a waterfall and see the black sand beach – we could not wait! It got off to a great start with our insanely cool tour guide Iris (who we all had a bit of a woman-crush on by the end of the day); she was just so cool and chill and told us stories of her growing up in the area with her family and how she likes to go hiking and camping with her friends around here… all we could think was “please take us with you!”. Driving through the land of Thor really brought home how incredible Icelandic scenery really is, the whole landscape is fascinating varying from great open green plains to mighty mountains and glaciers… and waterfalls.

Skogafoss and Seljandsfoss to be specific; the first of which has a very impressive 60m drop and the latter of which you can walk all the way behind, pretty awesome! Both get you slightly soaked but that’s all part of the fun! Next was Reynisfjara, the black sand beach. Watching the North Atlantic come crashing down onto the shore with such immense natural power and beauty was very humbling – but also slightly terrifying. Not just because I’m still working through my fear of deep and open water, but because the rip tides at Reynisfjara are well known for being deadly powerful and must be treated with the utmost respect. The sculpted basalt coastline was equally as awe-inspiring, featuring impressive columns similar to those seen at Fingal’s Cave in Scotland which were also great fun to jump off! Coming up next, however, was the true star of the show for me…

Solheimajokull, a sublet of Myrdalsjokull glacier. I freaking love glaciers. This stop was essentially just getting off the bus, walking up the valley and looking at/taking photos of the glacier but it’s impossible not to take another few minutes to once again stare around in awe of such insane natural beauty and phenomena. I had such envy for the lucky buggers who can afford to go hiking on this glacier, I would’ve absolutely loved to as I couldn’t when in New Zealand due to instability; but alas, that’ll have to remain an adventure for the future.

That evening our last supper was not what you’d expect, but we came across an Icelandic tapas place and couldn’t resist. SmakkBarinn was joined onto BarAnanas and just up the road from Reykjavik chips, all of which we visited and enjoyed. There were two options: 4 pots of tapas or 6 pots of tapas. Both came in individual little jam jars and all slotted into the appropriately sized board, it was super cool! (And very convenient for someone like me who isn’t really down with the whole sharing food thing). I dived in head-first and went straight for the 6 option; 4 mains and 2 desserts. I regret nothing.

My choices were along the lines of: some breaded cod goujon-type things, petite langoustines fried in a vodka batter (both very good); a mini lobster soup which wasn’t very nice, the balance of flavours had gone wrong somewhere; some deep-fried cheddar with red onion jam (amazing); and for dessert I chose a chocolate caramel pudding with coconut and blueberry ice cream with praline. The pudding had a very mousse-like texture and was nice but the ice cream was the real star of the show, smooth and creamy and the blueberry flavour was just right, not too tart. All in all everyone was very well satisfied and it was such a lovely final supper in Reykjavik; a perfect end to a brilliant holiday with my best friends!

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Yummy Icelandic tapas: our final meal

Here’s to many more! I hope this helps any of you who may have Iceland on your bucket list, I can’t recommend it enough as an amazing place to go! Plus, there’s different things to do in each season so you can kind of go whenever depending on what you’re after. Yes, it’s very expensive, but worth the experience in my opinion. Go on, treat yourself…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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Squad goals? I think so.