Las Vegas’ Neon Boneyard: A Beginners Guide

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Anything can go out of fashion, including casino signs. And in Vegas, when something goes out of style, it’s tossed. Fortunately though, many of Vegas’ most famous casinos kept hold of their ‘out of date’ signs and they are now on display at ‘The Neon Boneyard’.

This two-acre outdoor museum is home to almost 200 signs which lean up against each other as a tribute to the glitz and glam of Las Vegas days gone by. At $19 per adult and a short taxi drive from The Strip, it is –in my opinion- a must-see addition to any Vegas holiday.

When should you go?

Self-guided tours are not permitted due to the possibility of broken glass and other potentially dangerous things about the place; you must book a slot with a tour guide. Tours run all day from 10:30-2100, so when is the best time to go? After reading reviews online, we decided against the more expensive ($25) night-time tours. The vast majority of the signs don’t work anymore and are lit up with spotlights on the ground instead. This doesn’t really replicate the original working lights plus you can’t see the characteristic flaking paint and blown bulbs, which is part of the charm of the place- you can see working signs on the strip, after all.

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neonboneyard-lostness-co-ukPersonally, I think the signs look best at around sunset. The golden light simply dazzles off the signs and reminds you that you are stood in the middle of the desert. That sepia tone the sun casts and the characteristic ‘run down’ nature of the place is reminiscent of Wild West movies.

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History is not something that people usually associate with Las Vegas, but it’s there if you look for it. So if you’re missing a bit of culture, step away from the slot machines and head over to The Neon Boneyard, and make sure you have plenty of memory on your camera, you won’t stop taking pictures.

You can book a tour through the Neon Boneyard’s website here. Or call them on (702) 387-6366.

 

 

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Hocus Pocus and Halloween in Salem, MA

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Celebrating Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts has been on my bucket list for a long time. Most people know Salem as the location of the 1692 Witch Trials and, as a result of this dark past, Salem’s residents take All Hallows Eve very seriously. Salem actually runs a month-long celebration of Halloween called ‘Haunted Happenings’, with plenty of shows, exhibits and museum tours to be had throughout October.

Jasper and I were so excited to celebrate one of the best holidays in Salem, we felt we simply couldn’t do it alone, so my sister Molly came to join us, just for the occasion. And we tore it up: boss-witch style. Here is a list of what we got up to in this old town, full of darkness and intrigue…

“It’s just a bunch of Hocus Pocus!”

Molly and I (and our two other sisters) first encountered Salem as children watching the family film and cult classic Hocus Pocus, starring Bette Midler (Jasper *reluctantly* watched this film a little more recently). If you have not seen this hoot-a-second movie then you might want to skip this section (and make a mental note to watch Hocus Pocus ASAP). If you have seen it, then you may be surprised to find out that most of the film was actually shot in Salem itself! Which means that there are plenty of film locations dotted around town, including…

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The Town Hall. Remember this? Where Max and Dani’s parents get drunk and Bette Midler sings ‘I Put A Spell On You’? #classic

You can find Salem Town Hall at 93 Washington Street.

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‘Alison’s House’, home to the most boring looking Halloween party ever. AKA ‘Ropes Mansion’. And look who we bumped into….

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It’s the Sanderson Sisters!

You can find Ropes Mansion at 318 Essex Street.

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‘Max’s House’. That super cool window at the top remains intact- not blown up by witches and/or teenage angst. Note: this is a residential house, so no trespassing, loud noises, or sprinkling salt barriers around the premises.

‘Max’s House’ is a little drive out of Salem city centre at, 4 Ocean Avenue.

Halloween Night

If you want to feel famous for a night, get an amazing costume and come to Salem on Halloween. We spent hours wandering through the streets just taking photos of people and telling them how amazing they looked. It wasn’t just us though, we were part of many ‘fangirling’ hoards, scrambling for photos of the best-dressed. We figured that there are approximately 3 different types of costumes…

  1. Genuinely terrifying:

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2. Amazing, but nothing to do with halloween:

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3. Cult characters/people in terrible 90’s clothes (it can be difficult to tell the difference)

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Yes, this is us.

There is a feeling of friendship as people walk the streets. You see strangers dressed as related characters converse without breaking character; Little Red Riding Hood commenting on how big Grandma Wolf’s teeth are, the Mad Hatter inviting Alice to tea, the Pope catching up with Satan (not even joking). In any case, for a guaranteed great time, get yourself a costume and don’t forget your camera.

Honourable Mentions:

 Stickwork

This sculpture in the centre of town is pretty hard to miss. Created by artist Patrick Dougherty, this installation is created by woven sticks and branches to create a wholly natural, almost Pagan looking piece, which juxtaposes against the manmade surroundings. If you want to see it, you’ll need to be quick: the exhibit is only on view until 31st March 2017.

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Bewitched Statue

In the centre of town is a statue of Samantha from the 60’s sitcom ‘Bewitched’. It draws in a large crowd, which is perhaps why a fundamentalist Christian picked this spot to yell continuously for eight hours. This is the only picture I managed to get without him in…

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Beautiful Houses 

We probably spent a good two or three hours just wandering around the residential areas of Salem, gazing at their beautiful, quintessentially New England houses. If you love architecture, we suggest you do the same.

 

 

Halloween in Salem has now been ticked off my list, and it was everything I hoped it would be. If you love Halloween, Hocus Pocus, or just beautiful New England towns, get on your broomstick and fly over here!

 

What about all the witches though!? Don’t get your cauldron in a bubble; we’ve got a whole extra post just about Salem’s most famous residents. Find it here.

Witching Hour: Top Magical Spots in Salem, MA

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Salem, Massachusetts is the location of perhaps the most famous witch-hunt in human history and it does not shy away from its dark past. As a result, Salem has become a place of remembrance for those persecuted in the late seventeenth century with many memorials and museums dedicated to the victims of what is often considered one of America’s darkest moments.

A trip to Salem would be incomplete without visiting at least one of the following sites…

Salem Witch Museum

The Witch Trials of 1692 are Salem’s –and possibly one of America’s- most famous historical events. In the space of a few months, mass hysteria gripped this small Puritan town resulting in the executions of 20 residents. Salem’s Witch Museum is a hugely popular museum, which has an interactive display detailing the trials themselves. It is really interesting and informative (though a little corny!). If it’s your first trip to Salem, or you know little of the trials, we suggest you start here.

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Another must-see spot is the Witch Trial memorial site which shows the names of all those persecuted in 1692 etched into large blocks of stone. Many still lay flowers in remembrance. Next to the memorial is a large graveyard, home to graves of many Judges who presided over The Witch Trials. It’s pretty spooky walking through here after dark, that’s for sure.

 

The House of the Seven Gables

If Salem’s history interests you, visit The House Of The Seven Gables. Originally owned by Judge Hathorne, this beautiful -if bleak- house was also home to his great-great-grandson, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was famously haunted by his grandfather’s involvement in The Witch Trials.

The Witch House

One of the oldest houses in Salem and home of another judge, Jonathathewitchhouse1-lostness-co-ukn Corwin, this house, known as ‘The Witch House’, has been kept by the City of Salem as an example of everyday life in a late seventeenth century Puritan town. Take a self-guided tour through the building and learn about the, let’s face it, bleak lives of the inhabitants of Salem in 1692. Although a simple little museum, this was probably one of the most enjoyable and informative ones we visited. 100% go here.
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Witch Shops

Because of its ties with witchcraft (even though imaginary), Salem has become a Mecca for Pagans, herbalists and spiritualists who now call themselves ‘witches’. There are plenty of witch supply shops around the town that provide herbs, crystals and even cauldrons for those who want to practice ‘witchcraft’. Our favourite was a little shop called ‘Hauswitch’. We have to admit that we are a little obsessed with this shop. Not only do they sell beautiful home wear, art, and spell kits, but they run meditation classes and tarot card readings in the evening. It is a feminist heaven and I really want to join their coven.

 

Salem did not disappoint. Regardless of its busy tourist industry, it hasn’t lost any of its New England charm. If you love architecture, history, or just a good ghost story, it is well worth the trip. There really are few towns out there whose identities are so wrapped up with their own history, but when this happens it creates a place full of intrigue, energy, and…magic!

Japan’s Must-Try Foods and Restaurants

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Visiting Japan without sampling their cuisine would be like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. And, speaking of France, Japan has actually overtaken them in number of Michelin-Starred establishments- so that just proves how amazing their cuisine is! We have compiled a list of the best food we tried and the most interesting restaurants we visited. So, in no particular order…

 

Sushi at Tsukiji Market

In the west, when we think of Japanese food, we think sushi. Perhaps this is because it seems to encompass Japanese life and culture in itself; simple yet artful, masterful and full of ritual. Probably one of the best places to eat sushi is at Tsukiji market in Tokyo. The market draws in tourists who watch at 3am as monster tunas, fresh from the ocean, are auctioned to different restaurants. Needless to say, the sushi restaurants next to the market provided the most delicious sushi we ate in Japan. A testament to the freshness of their fish, and also the popularity of the sushi in Tsukiji, is that past 3pm most restaurants have completely run out- so make sure you make it for lunchtime, or even breakfast!

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Moomin Café

If you weren’t aware, The Moomins are fictional characters from children’s books by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson. They are cute, whimsical and quirky, so it is hardly surprising that Japan goes mad for them. If you too go mad for the adorable trolls, prepare to be impressed. The Moomin Café and Bakery, situated in the Bunkyo area next to the Tokyo Dome, has a variety of Moomin themed food and gifts. BUT the best thing is, that you actually get to sit with a Moomin character while you eat! The characters ‘rotate’ tables, choosing who they want to sit with- so who knows which one you’ll meet!

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Shave Ice in Kyoto 

So, throughout our time in Japan, people kept telling us to try shave ice, and we were really confused what all the fuss was about. It’s just a load of ice with syrup on it, how good can it be?! Turns out, very good. Like, so good. Like, our new favourite desert good. Although most places in Japan serve shave ice, Kyoto is renowned for it. We stumbled into a small restaurant near the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove -mainly to escape the stifling humidity- and ordered our first shave ice. It was exactly what we needed. The ice shavings are so fine that they melt as soon as they touch your tongue, the brown sugar syrup is deliciously sweet and the bean paste adds natural earthy flavours. All in all, it is one of the most refreshing and tasty desserts we have ever eaten. 10/10 would eat again.

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Animal Cafés in Tokyo

Japan is known for its cute and quirky take on everything, including the humble café. And what could be more cute than slurping a mug of matcha tea with a snoozing kitty on your lap? The correct answer is: nothing. So if you fancy cuddling an animal whilst getting your caffeine fix, Tokyo is the place. They have everything from bunny cafés, cat cafés and even hedgehog cafés!

Read more about our trip to some of Tokyo’s animal cafés here.

 Takoyaki in Osaka

 If you make it to Osaka make sure you try takoyaki- my favourite Japanese dish! Although you can find it throughout Japan, Osaka is credited as the birthplace of these little balls of heaven. Takoyaki consists of creamy octopus surrounded by fried batter, served with sweet sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise. Go to Dotonbori for the best takoyaki in Osaka and gaze at the vendors’ lightning fast frying skills; gigantic octopus adorn the buildings, and there are queues of people waiting to get their hands on this, the mother of all street food.

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Crêpes in Harajuku

Don’t you hate it when you’re craving a crêpe, but you also fancy vanilla cheesecake? Well Japan -the masters of ingenuity and efficiency- have solved your problem: wrap a slice of cheesecake in a crêpe and drizzle it with chocolate sauce. Needless to say, if you’re craving sugar, head to Harajuku. Stall after stall of sweet, syrupy, chocolaty, sugary goodness will keep you buzzing for hours.

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Find out more about our trip to Harajuku here.

Kobe Beef

A regular steak can cost upwards of £70, but if your budget can stretch to it, try Kobe beef. Failing that, try ‘wagyu’ beef, which can be cheaper. Wagyu is the generic term for Japanese cows which produce high quality, marbled, tender cuts of meat. In other words, Kobe beef is an example of wagyu meat specifically raised in Kobe. It has gained renown worldwide, and this demand has raised the price of Kobe beef substantially. Wagyu meat from other areas of Japan are therefore more likely to be cheaper, but still very good. We actually tried Kobe beef whilst on a cooking class in Kyoto, which was a much more affordable way of trying it. It was potentially the most delicious meat we’ve ever tasted- it literally melted in the mouth. *drooling*

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If this list doesn’t whet your appetite, nothing will. So if you love food, head to Japan and eat and eat and eat- it will be the best decision you ever make!

 

San Francisco in 36 Hours

 

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From the emergence of the flower power generation in the 60s, to the 21st century’s electronic revolution in Silicon Valley; from the home of Mrs Doubtfire, to Alcatraz, America’s most infamous prison. San Francisco is one of those places that is inexplicably part of social consciousness; everyone has heard of it, and everyone wants to go. It is also, arguably, the coolest city in California (sorry LA).

We spent only a brief time here whilst blasting through Cali up to Yosemite National Park. Of course, you could spend weeks in this vibrant city and not run out of things to do, but unfortunately time was not on our side. So, here is everything we managed to cram into our 36 hours:

Pier 39

Fancy seeing a bunch of wild sea lions sunbathing? Of course you do. Go to Pier 39, full of tourists, expensive food, tacky souvenirs, but totally worth it to see a load of blubbery sea lions clambering over each other to get the best sun spot.


The Painted Ladies

There are few cities in the world in which something as simple as resident housing so encompasses its identity. San Francisco is one of them; you simply can’t visualise San Fran without its beautiful houses on mind-blowing steep streets. ‘The Painted Ladies’ is an affectionate name for a row of houses on Steiner Street. They have that quintessentially San Franciscan ice-cream colour and ornate style. We’re not entirely sure why these houses in particular are such a big deal as almost every house in the area is equally beautiful. But whether or not you want to go out of your way to see the Painted Ladies themselves, you really must take a stroll around the residential areas- they are truly iconic.

The Painted Ladies

More beautiful San Franciscan houses

Lombard Street

Another icon. Lombard street is a perilously windy, and really rather beautiful, road in residential San Francisco. With a gaggle of tourists at the top and bottom, craning over each other to take pictures, and people inching their way down in their cars, it really is a sight to behold. We did brave the drive, and came out unscathed- but others are not so lucky, so drive carefully or your paintwork may suffer!


Castro District

The Castro District is known for its links with the LGBT community and Gay Pride events. For us, this was a must-see spot. It’s a really vibrant part of the city, with huge murals of Harvey Milk -California’s first openly gay elected official and LGBT martyr- painted on the side of buildings, and rainbow coloured crosswalks directing your way to sex shops, book shops and bars.


Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is home to the largest Chinese community outside of Asia and is the largest of its kind in North America. It has a regrettable history due to California’s anti-Chinese laws, forcing the city’s Chinese population into what was essentially a ghetto. These days though, it is a vibrant place with amazing shops, restaurants and bars and, of course, beautiful Chinese architecture. Chinatown is a core part of San Francisco and an important part of Californian history. It is, in our opinion, a must-see!


Oh, and Golden Gate Bridge

Of course. There’s nothing like seeing an iconic piece of infrastructure. It’s as exciting as seeing a celebrity in the flesh, except instead of getting an autograph and a selfie, you get to pay $7.50 to drive over it. But in all seriousness, you simply can’t visit San Francisco without seeing Golden Gate. After driving over it, we went to the bottom of Fort Point and got a great view:

View from Fort Point

Honourable mentions and pointers:

Before we left San Fran, we stopped by ‘The Mill’ for breakfast. On the surface it seems crazy to be paying $6 for toast, but trust us, it is so much more than toast. It is delicious bready perfection. And their coffee’s not too bad either.

One last thing- Why why why is San Francisco so cold?! Mark Twain apparently once said ‘the coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco’. Mark, we totally get you. Everywhere in California was about 10°c warmer than San Francisco. We went from wearing shorts and flip flops then crossed the San Francisco border and out came the wooly jumpers. So, word to the wise- if you plan on visiting, bring a jumper or two!

San Francisco, it was truly a pleasure. We will be coming back, and we will be spending more than 36 hours next time!

A Weekend In Portland: The Essential Itinerary 

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Portland, Oregon, a city which boarders Washington state on the northwest coast of America is affectionately known as ‘hipster capital of the world’. We were really intrigued to see how fitting this term actually is, as…to put it in the least snobbish way…the American ideals of ‘cool’ can often differ from the European. But to our pleasant surprise, Portland was awesome. And we think any beard-trimming, vinyl-collecting, succulent-planting European hipster would be proud to call Portland home.

One of the main things that struck us about Portland is that the residents are really friendly. The Portlanders we met had such an obvious love for their city that they were constantly giving us recommendations for coffee shops, bookstores and bars in the hope that we love it just as much them. And it worked.

Unfortunately, as we only have a month to tour the entire west, we were only able to spend two days in this awesome city. We managed to cram in quite a bit though, so here’s a little list of what -in our opinion- a short trip to Portland should include:

Brunch

Brunch is to Portlanders as afternoon tea is to the English: something to be taken very seriously. The most popular spots can have queues snaking out the door and the options throughout the city seem endless. We chose a place called ‘Mothers Bistro’ in downtown, a Parisian style restaurant which served traditional egg-based dishes and, of course, delicious coffee.

Powell’s Bookstore

A large chunk of our first day was spent in Powell’s Bookstore, the largest independent bookstore in the world. The building pretty much takes up an entire block, with five stories of new and used books. As we found out, is easy to get lost in there and, before you know it, 3 hours has past. Powell’s really is a Portland institution, and a city break here isn’t complete without perusing its many shelves.


Multnomah Falls

One thing that is so special about Portland is that it is surrounded by wilderness; it almost feels like a city built in the middle of a national park. So, a short drive out of town brought us to Multnomah Falls, a beautiful waterfall surrounded by moss-covered evergreens. You can view it from the bottom, or a short hike leads you to the midway bridge. It’s a popular tourist spot, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try to go on a weekday….and not on Labor Day weekend, like we did.


Shopping

Portland has an awesome shopping scene. Seriously, bring all your money, you will want to buy everything. Southwest 10th Avenue between Stark street and Washington, was a favourite of ours. There was so much to buy on this street: outdoorsy hard wear, über cool home decor, arty jewellery; there was even a shop dedicated solely to feminist fashion brands. Here’s a list of links to our favourite shops:

http://www.animaltrafficpdx.com/ 

http://www.woonwinkelhome.com/

http://www.backtalkpdx.com/

http://www.wildfang.com/

Doughnuts

A lesser known fact about Portland is that Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, was born here. This perhaps explains the city’s obsession with doughnuts. We went to two different establishments and both had lines out the door. ‘Blue Star’ is the place to go for the more ‘gourmet’ style, with flavours ranging from maple bacon to cayenne spiced PB&J- get here early though, as they can run out by the afternoon. If you want a doughnut fit for Mr Groening however, go to ‘Voodoo’ and ask for ‘The Homer’. Voodoo is to doughnuts as Powell’s is to books: a Portland institution and a must-see.

‘Mmmm doughnut’ *dribbles*

 

Honourable Mentions and Sidenotes:

  • Outside of downtown, Hawthorne street has loads of cool vintage stores and another (smaller) Powell’s! Portland just can’t get enough of books.
  • Nike Bikes. These are Portland’s much cooler version of London’s ‘Boris Bike’. They are neon orange and named after the infamous sports brand (which originated in Portland), rather than after a floppy-haired fool. But I digress.
  • Unlike most American cities, you won’t require a car to get around. The public transport here is pretty good, with reliable buses to and from town, and a tram service called ‘The Max’, operating city-wide.
  • If you are so inclined, the state of Oregon has legalised the use of recreational marijuana. You can buy pretty much any product you can think of from one of Portland’s many dispensaries. And because it’s Portland, much of the products sold are locally sourced, fair trade and organic. Think salted cacao infused with organic marijuana oils, that sort of thing. But, please note: unlike Amsterdam, public use is prohibited and you have to be 21 to even enter a dispensary.

In conclusion, Portland has stolen our hearts, well and truly. There is so much to see, do, eat, drink and buy; so many kind people to chat to; so much to explore! We definitely plan on coming back….unless it gets too mainstream.

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.

3 Must-Do Icelandic Day Trips: The Essential Tours for the First-Time Icelandic Tourist

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There are certain people who regard ‘tours’ as ‘not real travelling’. Please do not listen to this snobbish garbage. Tours are awesome. Sure, there is something more adventurous about hiring a car and discovering everything by yourself, but sometimes tours are the most cost-efficient and time-efficient way of seeing what a country has to offer. Plus there’s no need to worry about flat tyres and arguing about directions. Win/win.

Our trip to Iceland was short and limited to a relatively tight budget (no £300pp helicopter lava tours for us!), so we went to the local tourist information centre and, after looking through the vast array of tours, decided on just 3: The Golden Circle, The Blue Lagoon and The South Coast Tour. Here’s a rundown of what each tour had to offer…

  1. The Golden Circle Tour 8360 ISK (£46 pp)

Surprise surprise! Of course we were going to pick The Golden Circle Tour! You can’t speak to any Icelandic tourist without hearing them say ‘Oooh have you done The Golden Circle yet?’ So, we had to see what all the fuss is about. The trip included:

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Þingvellir National Park

  • Þingvellir National Park. UNESCO world Heritage site.

Iceland is smack bang in between two tectonic plates. At this amazing place, you can see the gaping crater where these two plates are tearing apart from one another. It’s also where the old Viking Parliament used to gather. Cooler than the Houses of Commons, that’s for sure.

  • The Geysir Area

You know all those people who go on holiday to Iceland and come back with super cool snaps of an erupting geyser? They almost definitely took them here. Strokkur is the name of the geyser which erupts every 8-10 minutes. So get that camera at the ready!

  • Gullfoss

Gullfoss (meaning ‘Golden Falls’ in English) is often considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. It certainly is beautiful, but if you go in the winter, pack your coat; the water spray in the arctic wind is brisk!

Overall: It’s not difficult to see why The Golden Circle Tour is the most popular day tour in Iceland. We booked our tour through Sterna Travel, and we were so happy we did. Our tour guide was truly a fountain of knowledge, with a real passion and energy for Icelandic history.

*A bonus with this trip*: it departs from The Harpa, so arrive an hour early and take a look around Reykjavík’s beautiful concert hall!

  1. The Blue Lagoon 9700 ISK (£53 pp)

Another classic. But…a pricey one. Like The Golden Circle Tour, The Blue Lagoon is synonymous with Icelandic tourism. It’s world famous and on every must-see Iceland guide going. It was for this reason, that we knew we’d visit the Blue Lagoon before we even departed the UK. But is it worth the price? 9700 ISK got us:

  • Bus transfers to and from Reykjavík
  • Admission to The Blue Lagoon

And that’s it. Compared with The Golden Circle, this can seem pretty steep. But you have to remember that The Blue Lagoon is a spa, and spas are expensive. In fact, in relation to other spas around the world, this price actually isn’t that bad, especially as it includes transport. To make the most of your money, incorporate your visit in your airport transfer– you will zoom right past it on your journey from Keflavík Airport to Reykjavík anyway!

*Tip*: Visit The Blue Lagoon at dusk (season permitting!). It is a less busy time and you will get to see the Lagoon’s beauty both in the daylight and darkness.

  1. The South Coast Tour 12,255 ISK (£67 pp)

This tour was the best value for money by a long shot. It was a 10-hour trip, which stopped off at five locations, each of them better than the next. Here’s the rundown of what to expect:

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Jo behind Seljalandsfoss

  • Seljalandsfoss

This is a beautiful little waterfall that you can actually walk behind. Bring a waterproof jacket though, there is no avoiding the spray behind the falls; this is the first stop and you do not want to begin your 10-hour journey cold and wet!

  • Skógafoss

Another waterfall! Skógafoss is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland. It’s English translation is ‘forest falls’ (“because of all the trees” our tour guide claimed sarcastically). This is a really impressive waterfall that has an almost constant rainbow effect from the masses of gushing water. If you don’t mind heights, you can even climb up the side of fall- watch your footing on the wet rocks though!

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Jasper sat on the rock formations at Reynisfjara

  • Reynisfjara

This south coast beach is known for it’s charcoal-black sand and beautiful basalt rock formations. It is also known for its aggressive waves, which only this year fatally swept up a tourist. This is a beautiful beach, but keep a safe distance from the unpredictable water.

  • Cape Dyrhólaey

This is the southernmost point of Iceland and offers beautiful views of the ocean, more volcanic back sand and amazing arched rock formations. Depending on the season, this is also a popular puffin hangout.

  • Sólheimajökull

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    Sólheimajökull Glacier

This was the last stop on our tour. Sólheimajökull is a large melting glacier, and although our tour did not include the glacier walk (maybe next time!), simply viewing it was amazing in itself.

Overall: This tour was jam-packed with awesome sights, and well worth the money. Again, we booked this through Sterna travel and were really pleased with our guide, who taught us loads about Icelandic culture. We went away inspired!

To sum-up: tours are great, Iceland is great, we love Icelandic tours.

.:. Jo & Jasper .:.