Photos: That Time Reykjavík Was Buried In Record Snowfall

Photos- That Time Reykjavík Was Buried In Snowfall

I’m pretty sure this was my fault. After living in Reykjavík for about a month, I was emailing my Grandma and informing her of the weather, as you do. “Oh it’s not too cold, just rainy and cloudy mostly…just like the UK,” I told her. And then that night, bam! 4 feet of snow dropped seemingly in one go. Thor was clearly not happy with being compared to England. Which is fair enough. So, we woke up to snow so thick we could hardly open the front door. This was, as we would discover, the most snowfall Reykjavík had in a single night for about ninety years.

We felt like children, charging into the street, gazing in awe at the sheer crotch-deep amount of powder that was bringing the city to a standstill. That was until all the tourists woke up and found their tours were cancelled, so wandered the streets in droves, in a mixture of delight and frustration. Not only this, but the main road out of Reykjavík was shut, meaning many tourists missed their flights home.

Aside from the tourists clogging the streets, Reykjavík was stunning. The skies were completely clear, the air completely still and the snow completely and utterly beautiful. Take a look for yourself…

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Natural Wonders of Arizona

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Imagine an old western movie: deserts, cactus, tumbleweed, and then update the saloons with malls and universities, and the Cowboys with Trump fanatics (…some things haven’t updated), this description crudely sums up Arizona. It is hot; dry, stifling, ghost town-inducing hot. It is sparse. And, most importantly, it is beautiful. There is so much natural beauty in Arizona, it has been -to our surprise- one of our favourite states in the west. Here’s a little run down of our exploration of this wild state…

Antelope Canyon

Located on a Navajo reservation in the small town of Page, this is one of the most beautiful sights Arizona has to offer. You will arrive at the entrance to the canyon after an extremely bumpy (seriously, hold on for dear life) jeep ride through the dusty desert (you can only reach the canyon by a Navajo approved tour bus). After tending to your whiplash and bruises, you will wander through its windy red chasms, open-mouthed, in awe of its beauty. Just take a look at some of the photos, they speak for themselves:


Cliff Dwellers

This was a bonus! We stumbled across this site on the way to Antelope Canyon. It’s basically a bunch of rocks eroded in gravity-defying ways. If you drive to Page from Zion, you’ll probably drive right past it. It’s definitely worth pulling over and having a wander!


Grand Canyon National Park

As cliched as it sounds, the Grand Canyon is just one of those things you need to see to believe. Even the photos don’t do it justice. If you don’t enjoy feeling like a tiny speck of human insignificance next to the awesome power of the earth, maybe give this one a miss. It’s big. Like, really big.


Saguaro Natitonal Park

In our opinion, this is one of the most underrated national parks. The landscape is so quintessentially ‘wild west’ it feels like you’re on a movie set. Picture burnt red desert chockablock with saguaro cacti, which by the way, are huge. It’s kind of like a forest except instead of trees, there’s cacti, which offer no shade from the 40+° sun. Bring all the water you can carry and try not to get lost- all the cacti start looking the same after a while.

Honourable mention:

If you fancy getting naked and meditating for a while, head to the town of Sedona. Many believe it is home to vortexes, which are powerful conduits of energy. But whether you go for this sort of thing or not, Sedona is an interesting town, and worth a visit.
The beauty of Arizona has really stuck with us. If you can stand the heat, go. If you can’t stand the heat, go anyway. It’s worth it, we promise.

The Pacific Northwest

Words by Jasper

Mysterious, mossy pine forests punctuated with immense boulders. Waterfalls spewing mist through tree covered cliffs. Clear streams that lead to bleak craggy coastlines, dotted with raggedy islands. Ultra-trendy cities nestled in amongst the wilderness. This describes the Pacific Northwest, probably one of our favourite parts of western USA. Here are a few of the best places we checked out.

Portland OR
There was so much to say about the ‘hipster capital of the world’ that it warranted a whole post to itself. Find it here.

Forks, Washington

Ok, we admit it, we came here entirely because of Twilight. But if you’re like us, and thought the best thing about that film was the location, we hope you’ll understand. Forks sits on the edge of Olympic National Park, a huge expanse of temperate rainforest, classified by its high levels of rainfall, but lower average temperatures.

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Forks is a small town that has been thrust into popularity by the famous film series, but other than a couple of Twilight shops and location tours, life ticks over like any other small unassuming community.

North West of Forks is La Push, a grey beach with imposing cliffs and brutal waves. We wrapped up and took a stroll on the beach but we left the paddling to the flotilla of hardcore surfers (sadly any vampires out there won’t be able to reach La Push as it is past the werewolf treaty line).


North Bend, WA

Tucked just off the interstate from Seattle toward Montana, this mysterious town is most famous for Laura Palmer’s death and “damn good coffee”. For those of you who missed the reference, North Bend houses many of the shooting locations for David Lynch’s supernatural cult-thriller Twin Peaks, several of which are definitely worth seeing regardless of whether you’ve seen the show or not.


The most iconic spot is probably Twede’s Cafe, which is better known by Twin Peaks fans as the Double R Diner. Peaks Geeks will be pleased to know they do, in fact, serve some damn good coffee, and the cherry pie isn’t too bad either. People who have never seen the show will probably also be pleased to know this.


Just down the road is the Salish Lodge and spa that overlooks the Snoqualmie Falls. It’s a high end place that we could only dream of being able to afford a night at, but when your hotel is perched precariously close to a huge and picturesque waterfall, I guess you can charge what you like. The setting obviously caught David Lynch’s eye as the Salish Lodge serves as the exterior shots for the Great Northern Hotel, yet another crucial TP location.

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Vancouver, BC

Just a stone’s throw across the Canadian border is Vancouver, a lively, modern and artsy city. Sadly we only had a day and night to explore it, but what we managed to cram in gave us a good glimpse into life in Vancouver.
The downtown area had a great mix of independent shops, cool eateries and imposing buildings new and old. It also has one of the best libraries we’ve ever been in. Inspired by the colosseum, Vancouver Public Library is almost as impressive, with cosy study areas, modern interior design and dizzyingly high walkways looking down over seven floors of books to explore. Any ancient Roman academic would have been proud to study here. Jo, however, read a book about Finding Nemo.
Tucked underneath the main bridge to downtown is Granville Island, a once industrial area that, like most others in the world, has now been transformed into an arts district, with theatre, music, independent craft retailers and a food market. If this sounds a little too pretentious and grown-up for your taste, have no fear, there’s always the pirate party ship.
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Interstate 90, Washington/Montana

This is literally just a motorway, with nothing of interest other than the odd Native American Casino resort. We don’t recommend it as somewhere to visit. It does, however, get a special mention for some of the most spectacular and iconic tumbleweed we’ve ever seen. It’s amazing that in West Washington state you have lush forest, and yet after a few hours driving east toward Montana, it’s barren and prairie like. The only things that weren’t void of life were, ironically, the perfect spheres of dead bush making a dash for freedom across the road.
For us, the Pacific Northwest is a place we’ve wanted to visit for so long for so many reasons, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Each place we visited was worthy of weeks, possibly months, of exploration. As has been the case with most of our travels so far, we will be leaving with more on our bucket list than when we came.

 

Hawaii in a Fortnight

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Japan was everything we hoped it would be, and more. It was for this reason we were somewhat apprehensive about leaving the Land of the Rising Sun, which had well and truly stolen our hearts, to visit its Pacific neighbour Hawaii. This cluster of islands slap bang in the middle of the ocean is synonymous with paradise; one can’t hear the word ‘Hawaii’ without conjuring images of white beaches, palm trees and turquoise waters. Even with this in mind, we were still concerned that Japan might be a hard act to follow.
So, first things first, the negatives:

– Now, this one really surprised us, but we found the people to be -generally speaking-less courteous than in Japan. The Japanese are generally known for being very considerate and polite, you could probably punch a stranger in the face and they would apologise to you. In Hawaii however, small island mentality seemed to be rife- integration or ‘living like a local’ is potentially impossible here. It almost felt as if the entire service industry couldn’t have been more done with tourists. But we can’t blame them too much, tourists are everywhere here, and we hold our hands up, we are pretty annoying.

– Hawaii. Is. Expensive. Accommodation prices were almost double that of Tokyo, one of the most notoriously pricey cities in the world. Food was expensive, activities were expensive, and let’s not forget the Brexit effect. But, the silver lining of this was that we got to fully immerse ourselves in free pastimes, namely getting very very sunburnt.
And now, for the positive stuff…

Oahu

We flew into Honolulu on the island of Oahu and stayed in a hostel on Waikki beach for two nights. As most international flights fly into Honolulu, this island is bustling with tourists, especially families and young party animals. Two days of sunbathing was exactly what we needed after two hectic months zooming around Japan…although in hindsight more suntan lotion was required.

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Jasper needs some sunglasses…

Big Island

We then took a 50 minute flight to the island of Hawaii a.k.a ‘Big Island’. We stayed in a cute Airbnb just south of Hilo which, it turns out, is one of the rainiest places in the US. The climate was like that of a rainforest, with lush greenery everywhere and rain that pours heavily for hours and hours at a time.

As well as the rainfall, the Big Island is known for its volcanic activity. Volcanoes National Park is home to the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. It is constantly spewing lava which runs slowly (and therefore relatively safely) into the sea, hardening as it goes and creating brand new land. It is the earth giving birth. We hiked the lava fields for a couple of hours, which was an experience like no other and a sight to behold. In the thick of it, all you can see is miles and miles of cooled lava, the rain that was pouring down instantly turned to steam on the hot ground, vents of sulphurous gas billowed upwards, and to top it all off, thunder and lightning battled overhead. It was honestly like a real life Mordor.

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Our next and equally amazing experience on Big Island was our snorkel with manta rays. We’ve been excited by the prospect of seeing mantas ever since Jasper dressed as one for Halloween last year. With wing spans of up to 12 feet but no stingers or teeth, they are the gentle giants of the Pacific. We went on a night time snorkelling session where beams of lights are used to attract plankton, and where there is plankton, there’s mantas. We loved every second watching these amazing animals somersaulting in the water- sometimes mere centimetres from us. It will almost definitely be one of the highlights of our entire trip. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take any pictures of the mantas, so here’s a picture of Jasper dressed as one instead.

So realistic.

Kauai

After spending 6 days on Big Island, we flew to the island of Kauai. This island is often considered one of Hawaii’s most beautiful; it is where Lilo and Stitch is set, and where Jurassic Park is filmed. It did not disappoint. It was far less rainy than Big Island, which allowed for more hours sun worshipping on one of Kauai’s many many beautiful beaches. We spent a day hiking the Na Pali coast, one of the most scenic hiking trails in the world. The windy coastline offered unparalleled views of turquoise oceans, lush rainforests and clear skies- paradise, indeed.

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Na Pali Coastline

Another must-see on Kauai is the Waimea canyon. Mark Twain supposedly referred to it as ‘the Grand Canyon of the Pacific’, and needless to say, it is pretty breathtaking. Unlike the desert, red-rock landscape of the Grand Canyon however, Waimea is speckled with greenery and has waterfalls bursting down its vast chasms. Once at the top of the canyon you are presented with ocean views like no other and a glimpse of the edge of the Na Pali coastline. As cliched as it sounds, it honestly feels like you are looking out onto the edge of the world.

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Waimea Canyon

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View of Na Pali Coast from the top of Waimea

And that was our Hawaii trip! Despite our initial apprehensions, we had an amazing time and fell in love with the Hawaiian landscape; from the rainforests, to the beaches, to the ocean, to the volcanos, Hawaii has so much to see outside of the typical glamorous cocktail resort- and, in that respect, Hawaii well exceeded our expectations.

Hokkaido: The Wild Wild North

Hokkaido, the northernmost Japanese island is a mere 5 hour ferry ride from the Russian island of Sakhalin which -perhaps surprisingly- makes Russia Japan’s closest neighbour. This location means that Hokkaido is effectively an extension of Siberia, with temperatures in the winter reaching as low as -20°c and snow that falls too quickly for ski resorts to accurately measure.

However, summer in Hokkaido is a different story. It seems the whole of Tokyo moves to escape the stifling humidity of the south for the ‘cool’ highs of 28°c in the north. We don’t blame them one bit. Exchanging the southern cities where we couldn’t walk around for five minutes without our eyelids sweating for somewhere which occasionally required an extra layer was nothing short of magical.

This northern Siberian island is Japan’s wild child. Unlike the main island of Honshu where you are never far from a town or city, Hokkaido is made up of masses of untamed forests packed with brown bears and surrounded by sulphurous volcanic craters. We originally only gave ourselves a few days to explore Hokkaido but within an hour of stepping off the train station in Sapporo, we knew this wouldn’t cut it. We made the impromptu decision to cancel our Fuji climb, rent a camper van and travel Hokkaido for an entire week. Best decision ever.

Sapporo

Our first stop was Sapporo, which quickly became our favourite Japanese city…and that had nothing to do with the beer festival that happened to be going on at the time. It had such a youthful vibe and its busyness lacked the corporate rush that seems to fuel other Japanese cities. Highlights included the Willy Wonka-esque Sapporo brewery and witnessing a skateboard practice, A Capella group jam, breakdancing session and a rap battle by the fountains in Odori park.


Lake Toya

Next we visited Lake Toya, and, after 5 weeks of rushing about Japan trying to cram in as much as possible, we spent two relaxed days camping on the shore, swimming in the purest water and getting rather sunburnt.

Noboribetsu 

The onsen town of Noboribetsu had been on our hit list ever since it featured in a BBC series about Japan (this is the second time I’ve mentioned this series, but seriously, it was amazing). It is a small town built in the midst of some serious volcanic activity. Jigoku-Dani, or ‘Hell Valley’ is the most notable area: a vast expanse of steaming craters, bubbling water and sulphur stained rocks. We visited a local onsen (Japanese bathouse) which uses the same volcanic water for people to soak in. Imagine the Prefect’s bathroom in Hogwarts but with more naked Japanese people, more eggy fumes and fewer ghosts.


Furano

We then visited the small town of Furano which, in the summer months hosts fields and fields of flowers planted in colourful strips. It seems here even the most humble farmhouse has at least a small patch of lavender or sunflowers in their front garden. Whilst in Furano we also stumbled across a beautiful mountain onsen, and bathed in this mixed gender (!!) pool. Even though algae got into places algae should never get into, it was one of our favourite onsen we’ve been to; our embarrassed averted gazes were met by pine trees and waterfalls (well, mine were at least, Jasper can see bugger all without his glasses).

Bear Mountain

Next was a trip to ‘Bear Mountain’. As mentioned, Hokkaido is home to a large number of brown bears. They are far more aggressive than their reclusive black cousins residing in Honshū, and Japanese hikers are encouraged to wear bear bells to scare them away. Bears are extraordinary creatures and we really wanted to see one, but in the wild? Maybe not. Bear Mountain is like a cross between Jurassic Park and a safari. 15 hectares of woodland surrounded by the heaviest duty fences you’ve ever seen is the home of 12 brown bears. A large bridges runs through part of the park so you can watch the bears without fear of having your face ripped to shreds. There is also an area where you can watch behind glass as they play in the water. Seeing them so close confirmed our feelings of apprehension of stumbling across one in the wild. I don’t think we fully appreciated just how big they are, and that one bat of their gigantic paw would certainly knock you out cold. It really is a conundrum how something so terrifying can be so adorable!

See where Bear Mountain ranked on our ‘Top 5 Animal Experiences in Japan’!


Lake Akan

One last trip we took before heading excitedly back to Sapporo, was to Lake Akan in the east. Unfortunately is was more of a whistle stop tour as it was pissing it down and really cold (it was probably only like 22°c, but that feels sub-Arctic to us now). We visited ‘Suna yu’ a lakeside area where you can dig your own onsen! If you dig into the sand, hot water rises up and you’ve got your own foot spa.

Ainu Village

We then ‘hot-footed’ it to a nearby Ainu village. The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido who have a rich culture and history, which is totally different from Japanese culture and is slowly being lost. The village showcased traditional arts, music and food of the Ainu people. In our opinion, a trip to Hokkaido isn’t complete without paying a visit to one of the (unfortunately) few Ainu villages still in operation. And try the frozen salmon sashimi- it’s delicious!

And that was our Hokkaido trip! It was one of our favourite weeks in Japan, and we are already dreaming of when we can make it back there. Everything about the island resonated with us: the people, the culture, the landscape, the food! Sayonara Hokkaido- but hopefully not for long!

A Week in Kansai

After our work-away we were itching to explore more of Japan. We headed to an Airbnb in Osaka; our base for the week while we explored Japan’s beautiful Kansai region. We’ve had such a jam-packed week, we’ve not had time (or internet capabilities) to update the blog, so here’s a day-by-day run down of our Kansai exploration…

Sunday Night – Dotonbori


Dotonbori is a street in Osaka famous for delicious street food. And on an unrelated note, it is now one of our most favourite places in Japan. It’s like a Japanese Venice, built around a lantern-lit, jazz boat-infused canal, surrounded by buzzing neon lights. The streets are full of vendors selling Osaka’s regional dish, ‘takoyaki’ (fried octopus dumplings), which are to die for. It is worth going to Dotonbori just for them!

Monday – Kyoto

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One of the things on our Japan ‘to-do’ list was to take part in a Japanese cooking class, and Kyoto -home of the traditional- seemed like the perfect place. We were taught by a man called Taro in his home kitchen. He was hugely knowledgable and informative and as a result, we came away inspired….as well as finding out why our miso soup always tastes so bad. Perhaps the main event of the class however, was learning about and eating Kobe beef. There is a reason a steak will set you back £70, because it is the most delicious meat on the planet. Fact.

Tuesday – Universal Studios Japan

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So, we had no idea Japan even had a Univeral Studios Theme park, let alone that it was just 25mins from our base in Osaka. PLUS, in 2014 the park opened a Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is a big deal. It goes without saying that this was an awesome day, and it was worth queuing for an hour in 35 degree heat just to hear Hagrid dubbed in Japanese.

Wednesday – Nara and Kyoto (again)

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Nara is mainly famous for two things: Its great bronze Diabutsu (Buddha statue), and the copious amounts of wild deer roaming the streets. For centuries, the deer have been considered sacred, which is why their numbers have blossomed, with a little help from friendly food-offering tourists. They are very tame…some would say too tame, as they will not hesitate to try and undo your backpack if they suspect it’s harbouring treats. In fact, they have become so accustomed to being fed by tourists that they have learnt to bow for their food!

(See where Nara’s deer ranked on our ‘Top 5 Animal Experiences in Japan’!)

After this we headed back to Kyoto to see the famous Fushimi-Inari. As the beautiful red toriis (shrine gates) criss-cross up a 4km mountain hike, we chose to do this in the slightly cooler afternoon sun, and we were so glad we did! It was far less busy, and the sunset light scorched off the red gates.

Thursday – Kyoto (one last time)

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There is too much to see in Kyoto! We certainly couldn’t leave without seeing the Arashiyama bamboo grove, which was every bit as stunning as the tour guide photos, although very very busy. After this, we headed to Gion, Kyoto’s geisha district, to take part in a traditional tea ceremony. It was a perfect way to experience the Japanese idea of ‘zen’, whilst enjoying a foamy cup of green tea!

Friday – Umeda

Friday was a bit of a chill day, spent trailing the many many shops in Umeda. We also visited the Umeda Sky Tower: 40 storeys high and considered one of the top 20 buildings in the world, the views were insane!

Saturday- Harie

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On Saturday we explored the small village of Harie which has gained recognition since appearing on a BBC documentary about Japan. Harie is special because of its amazing mountain spring water system. Homes throughout Harie have ‘kabatas’ which are private taps drilled straight into the spring underground. The above picture shows one villager’s kabata, complete with a tank for keeping vegetables cool, and a large pool filled with carp who help clean the dishes!

And that was a breif(ish) run down of our Kansai tour! Next stop: Hiroshima and Shikoku island.