For me, there are not many things I despise on this beautiful and bewildering planet of ours, however, mosquitoes certainly fall into this category for me. In fact, they are the only thing I’ll kill. Killing a mosquito that’s trapped in mosquito netting or in the car with me and finding no blood inside is always a celebratory moment that deserves a little dance.
I live in Nigeria, so the fear of mosquito born illnesses such as Malaria, Dengue, Zika Virus and West Nile Virus are a daily worry for myself, and millions of people across the globe. Not only this, but whenever I get bitten the bites swell up so I look like I’ve been pelted with golf balls!!
Today, I am going to share a few facts and maybe bust a few myths about mosquitoes and the risks of Malaria as well as adding a few bite prevention tips.
**Did You Know?**
Whilst Mosquitoes don’t live long, they are considered the world’s deadliest animal. They infect around 250 million people each year worldwide with Malaria and other diseases which kill roughly 1 million people; mostly children in Africa.
Only female mosquitoes bite as they need a blood meal before laying eggs. Male Mosquitoes survive on plant nectar.
There are over 3000 different species of Mosquito throughout the world.
Mosquitoes are very old! As old as the Dinosaurs infact, with evidence of these biting insects dating back to the Triassic Period!
Why Are Mosquitoes Attracted To Me?
I don’t know about you, but if I’m out with friends, most of them can relax easy knowing I’m around as Mosquitoes generally flock in my direction. I believe I am in the 20% of people that are particularity irresistible to Mosquitoes. Below are a few attractive attributes that attract the nasty hunters to you.
Mosquitoes are highly visual and use their eyes to track down humans.
They can see a human from between 5 and 15 metres away!
Research shows that wearing darker colours such as black, green & red makes you easier to spot. So either run for the hills or change your clothing!
What blood type are you? If like me you have Type O blood, research studies have found that you are twice as likely to be bitten than those with Type A blood.
Type B are in the middle.
Mosquitoes can sense Carbon Dioxide from a significant distance, so when you exhale, they can track you down.
Larger people exhale more often making them more prone to bites.
Ever heard the awful buzz of a Mosquito around your head at night? Well, as we exhale through our noses and mouths, Mosquitoes are attracted to our heads.
As well as CO2, it seems those pesky Mosquitoes can also hunt us down through lactic acid, ammonia, and other compounds emitted in sweat.
If you’re not much into exercise, take a sigh of relief. Mosquitoes are attracted to hot, sweaty humans as strenuous exercise increases the buildup of lactic acid and heat in your body. Ewwwww.
Research has shown that different type of bacteria on our skin can make you more attractive to these vile creatures.
The microscopic life which lives on our skin, mixed with our sweat, gives us all a distinct scent, some of which of more attractive to Mosquitoes.
Much like us humans, it also appears like Mosquitoes love a good brew. So if you enjoy a beer, be sure to take extra preventatives as the Mozzies will be coming for you.
Studies have shown that mosquitoes landed on study participants after drinking a 12-ounce beer, more than before, however, the reasons as to why are not fully known.
Ladies in late pregnancy exhale around 21% greater volumes of breath rather than non pregnant women.
The abdomen of pregnant women is approximately 0.7°C hotter than other women.
The added heat and Co2 makes pregnant women prime candidates for a Mosquito snack.
When it comes to Mosquitoes, taking preventative measures is always better than taking the risk and seeking medical attention later. The below are a few tips on how you can try to deter the pesky little blood suckers.
Remove any standing water from around your home as Mosquitoes come to lay their eggs in shallow water or damp soil.
The best time to avoid mosquitoes is in the afternoon, when temperatures are hottest and the insects rest in cooler spots.
If you are a travelling to a Malaria infected area it is advised to take antimalarial drugs because if you are bitten, these will help prevent the infection of Malaria. Always speak with your Doctor first to find the one best suited to you.
If natural home solutions is more you thing, then the following list of plants are said to deter Mosquitoes, I definitely have a few scattered about the place! Lavender, Marigolds, Citronella Grass, Catnip, Rosemary, Basil, Scented Geraniums, Bee Balm, Mint, Floss Flower, Sage and Allium, will not only deter pesky Mosquitoes but other insects as well such as ants. They are also pretty easy to grow.
The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionlists only 4 chemicals as being effective for repelling mosquitoes: DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (or its synthetic version, called PMD) and IR3535. Go for higher DEET content, it’ll give you better protection.
If you find Mosquitoes in your home you can also buy DEET plugins to deter them as well as Mosquito Zappers. Please always read directions and effects prior to purchasing.
Although not everyone’s favourite deterrent, Insecticide Treated Nets (ITN’s) last for a few years and reduce the risk of malaria in pregnant women and children by around 50%!
Mosquitoes love to bite around the ankles, so instead of wearing these bands on my wrist, I normally just wear it like a tag around my ankle!
Special clothing can be purchased that has been especially woven to stop the Mosquito’s nozzle penetrate through to your skin! I particularity recommend this is trekking in the jungle. The few items below are not an extensive list, you can anything and everything from short sleeves to long sleeves, dresses, beach wear, hats, scarves. You name it, they have it.
Of course, if you do get bitten and react badly as I do you can of course take antihistamines and apply antihistamine bite cream
I hope the above shed some light into Mosquitoes and how they select their victims and how to take preventative measures. As we speak I am sat on a lovely beach front getting absolutely savaged by them! I hope you are more lucky than I.
No matter where I travel there are a few things I always pack….my camera, phone, tripod for both, spare lens, spare battery and my trusty little lensballs.
I love taking photos and I’m always on the hunt for the “perfect” shot but sometimes it’s cool just to have a little fun with it too. Which for me, is where the lensball comes in.
Using a lensball is an example of refraction photography. Refraction is somewhat of a magical phenomenon which occurs when a wave such as sound, water or in this case light, is deflected through a denser mass such as water or glass.
As the light hits the lensball, light is bent which causes a distortion and due to the lensball being a transparent spherical object, this causes the image in the ball to appear inverted. It feels like somewhat of a magic trick and on more than one occasion I have had people watching me use this gadget and asking about it.
Therefore, I thought I would share a few tips on using the lensball.
Before you begin make sure the lensball is clean, they are prone to picking up finger prints and specks of dust so give it a good wipe each time before you start.
Make sure the lensball is inline with your subject. This will help to minimise distortion. There are a few exceptions to this such as placing the ball in a puddle or like the image below to capture the dessert sand.
Make sure your subject fills the ball. This will sometimes mean having to get closer to whatever it is you’re taking a photo of.
Take a few different photos of the same image, some getting close to the ball and some where you capture more of the background. Stepping back a little to get more of the background creates a greater depth of field and can add a little extra to the photo.
Play around with angles, sometimes having the lensball off centre will yield better results.
Play around with the aperture of your camera to get the image that best suits you. Do you want to image on the lensball to be focused or a focused background with a blurry lensball image?
Pick a camera lens that will work for you. Using a macro lens will work well as it will allow you to get very close to the lensball. Mobile phones are excellent for this, infact, all the images on this article were taken with a mobile phone. You can also use a wider angled lens should the scene (such as landscape) allow.
Get to grips with editing. Your image will always appear inverted in the lensball and sometimes you’re going to want to flip it just like in the images below. A quick and easy phone app to do this in is Snapseed.
Sometimes, if you keep the background image in shot you might just want to keep the lensball image inverted. Always have a play around to see what works best for you and your image.
Many lensballs will come with a mount to stand it on, however, sometimes you might want to try embedding the lensball more into the natural environment to make the image flow with its surroundings.
When finding your ideal location to place the lensball, please do keep an eye on it especially if you’re at a height. The balls are solid glass and therefore quite heavy. You don’t want to risk it rolling off and landing on someone’s head!
When storing your lensball, do not leave it in direct sunlight. They act as a magnifier and will cause fires.🔥
The above also goes for when taking photos, if someone holds the lensball for you in direct sunlight, it can cause them to burn. As can placing your ball on an object to take a photo. Dry leaves and magnified sunlight = fire 🔥 so please PLEASE always choose your location wisely and keep an eye on the sunlight and your lensball. See the image above of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, you can see the sun shining straight through.
Pack your lensball carefully, speaking from experience, just chucking the lensball into your bag can result in chips and scratches with can ruin the photo.
What to Buy
Lensball come in a variety of sizes and can all vary greatly in price. Remember that although the bigger the ball the bigger the image, the bigger the ball the greater the weight. Here are a few that I would recommend.
This is the one I currently have, it’s 80mm, so a decent size and it comes in a gift box with a cleaning cloth and pouch.
The below three options are slightly pricier but well worth it as they come with a storage bag. They come in 60mm, 90mm and 110mm (and probably a few more sizes in between) and have a microfiber cloth. This will be something I look for on my next purchase as the bag alone will stop me having to buy new lensballs when I damage mine!
Now this is one I have never seen before but looks very cool and I have just added it on my list to buy! It’s used to create a rainbow effect amongst many others and also comes with a cleaning cloth.
So there you have it, the photographic lensball in a nutshell. Remember although we all strive for that perfect photo, have fun with it and get sharing those images!
As always, any questions please do leave a comment on here or message me directly.
When I found out that I’d be moving to Nigeria, I thought I would be saying goodbye to the beautiful greenery, rolling hills and wildlife of Yorkshire and hello to the smoggy heat and grey bustling city life of Lagos.
How wrong could I be?
I never expected to find conservation centres home to Gorillas, Elephants, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Antelope and least of all Pangolins.
I didn’t even know Pangolins were native to Nigeria and I certainly wasn’t expecting to see any in the flesh in my life.
Pangolins are ant eating mammals covered in protective keratin scales and the only mammal known to have this feature. They are nocturnal creatures who spend most of their days curled up in tiny little balls sleeping; something they also do when feeling threatened, curling into a ball to expose their scales whilst using the sharp scales on their tails to lash out.
There are 8 different types of Pangolin, 4 listed as critically endangered and 4 listed as vulnerable and unfortunately, Pangolins are one of the most smuggled mammals in the world due to their meat being seen as a delicacy in China as well as their scales being used for medicinal purposes there.
For all the bad that happens to Pangolins, this is a story of 2 very lucky Pangolins, whom I like to call Mr & Mrs Pangolin.
Two friends and I were exploring a local market here in Nigeria. We had just come out of a Chinese market and my friend spotted what he thought was an Armadillo and some Turtles. After closer inspection I realised that we weren’t dealing with an Armadillo, the animal was a Pangolin.
As they were outside a Chinese market and given what we knew, the fate of the Pangolin was not going to be a good one.
My friend stealthily took a quick photo of the animals and we got out of there.
As soon as we got into the car, I got on the phone to start calling around organisations who could possibly go and rescue Mr Pangolin and the Turtles. My friend was on Google lining up the numbers whilst I kept hitting dead ends.
I remembered reading a BBC article before I came to Nigeria about a man who rescued animals. I knew he was the guy to call but for the life of me I couldn’t remember his name (this bit becomes relevant further on in the story.)
Eventually the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) enquiries team picked up the phone. I explained the situation and they were ready to help. Shortly afterwards, I was able to speak with Joseph Onoja, the Director of Technical Programmes of the NCF who assembled a rescue team straight away.
An hour and a half later a full rescue had been completed. And even better than we thought, there was a Mrs Pangolin as well as a Mr and a total of 8 Turtles. 😍
The rate this team were able to assist was incredible to say the least. I wanted to know more about the team and what their capabilities were so I requested to meet up with them and watch the Pangolins and Turtles be set free- a moment I will never forget.
After a weekend of recuperation with the vet, Dr Mark Ofua, it was time for the animals to be released.
Dr Mark Ofua Pangolin (as he is now known) arrived at the conservation centre with the animals and what a happy sight it was to see them.
I swear I recognised Dr Ofua but just couldn’t place him (again, this will become relevant later.)
As soon as Mr Pangolin woke up and saw the forest around him, I think he knew what was going on. He seemed to get so excited like he knew he was going to be released.
Mrs Pangolin having a quick bath and drink before her release.
After introductions, it was time for the release; we headed for a quiet spot in the bush and first up was Mr Pangolin.
What an incredible moment, seeing this little guy climb his way to freedom. It took all I had not to cry! But that wasn’t the end of it, next up was Mrs Pangolin.
Mrs Pangolin was a little more shy than her other half so we decided to give her some space, release the Turtles and come back to check on her. So next up… the Turtles!
It was decided that 4 would be released at Lekki Conservation Centre and the other 4 at a nearby lake. This way the Turtle population could grow in 2 separate locations.
On the way back over to check on Mrs Pangolin, I had the chance to speak properly with Dr Mark Ofua. It turned out this wasn’t his first Pangolin rescue. He had returned around 20 back into the wild not to mention numerous snakes and other animals local to Nigeria.
Fairly recently he had even rescued a little black cat which was going to be used for ritual purposes. This is one of his few rescues that I think will end up permanently living with him.
I asked Dr Mark Ofua if he checked up on the animals he had released and whether he could track them. After a release, Dr Ofua goes back to site to check on the animals however, unfortunately the funding isn’t there in order for him to attach trackers to the animals.
Tracking is not only important for research into these animals but it also aids their protection. This is where you and I can help. I have set up a justgiving page to raise money for this crucial equipment.
If you can help, no matter how big or small please do so to help Dr Ofua in the amazing work that he does and to help the protection of these animals.
Not only is Dr Ofua a vetenarian who helps to save animals in his spare time, he also tries to educate local kids about animal rights 👌🏻👌🏻. What a guy. You can check him out on Instagram by clicking on this link.
Right… back to Mrs Pangolin. We headed back over to the bush to make sure she was ok and to our delight, we got back to where she was released just in time to see her clambering up a tree 😍.
Shortly after the seeing Mrs Pangolin make her break for freedom, Dr Ofua had a call about another animal in need of his assistance. This time it was a Python.
We swiftly made our way to the entrance of the Conservation Centre where the snake was waiting for him. The poor little guy was tangled up in a fishing line.
Dr Ofua quickly set to work, he made a secure bag to place the snake in (just out of what he could find) and slowly cut the snake free.
After the snake was securely in the bag I jokingly said, “you’ve done that before” to which Dr Ofua replied, ” I’m the snake man of Lagos, you can Google me!”
The penny suddenly dropped! This was the guy I had previously read about and been searching for on the internet when I was scrambling around to find someone to save the Pangolins! You can check out the BBC article about the Lagos Snake Man, here.
This truly was a humbling day. Seeing the work Dr Ofua and the NCF do is incredible and being witness to these endangered, beautiful animals being released back into the wild into a safe place was out of this world.
If you too enjoy seeing wildlife in it’s natural habitat and have a genuine interest in conservation then you should check out Lekki Conservation Centre, either for a visit or as a volunteer.
Please also check out their website. Here you can enquire on how to become a volunteer or even donate to aid the good work they do.
The NCF who run Lekki Conservation Centre, was founded in 1980 by the late Chief S. L. Edu and it 1982 it was registered as a charitable trust.
The foundation has a vision of “a Nigeria where people prosper while living in harmony with nature.” After speaking with Adedamola Ogunsesan, a conservationist at the centre, it became apparent that this vision is as alive now as it was back in 1980.
For more photographs of the centre and some its inhabitants, please see the bottom of the article.
**Top Tips for visiting Lekki Conservation Centre**
Please be respectful. This is a conservation centre so please put all your litter in the bins provided.
Use reusable plastic bottle and straws. Not only will this help reduce rubbish at the centre but it will help reduce plastic in the Lagos area and on a wider scale.
Keep noise to a minimum. This area is home to many animals, it is not your home. Besides, the quieter you are, the better chance you have of spotting something in the wild.
I would advise going earlier in the day to beat the crowds…. and the traffic.
Please do all you can to help this precious planet and its inhabitants. We only get one shot! For those of you that have donated or given up your time to volunteer with the NCF, from the bottom of my heart, thank you ❤.
See you there.
P.S. Please leave your comments at the bottom of the post or contact me directly for more details. Please help to share this article using the buttons at the bottom of this post, this will help to raise awareness and much needed cash for the trackers! Xx
Nestled inbetween counties torn apart by war and political unrest, Jordan truly is a jewel within a crown of thorns with its rich history, culture, dramatic yet beautiful landscapes and some of the friendliest and welcoming people you’ll ever meet.
If you enjoy a fast paced holiday, want to see ancient ruins whilst learning the history of the land, eat amazing food until you’re fit to burst, then hike wonders of the world and stunning landscapes, then Jordan is the place for you.
Now, before I go on, I want to share my number 1 tip for Jordan… get the Jordan pass before you go. It costs 70JD which is around £77 and gives you access to most of Jordan’s top attractions including entry into Petra which alone is 50JD. The pass also covers your visa fee when entering the country. You can pay a little extra for the pass which gives you a 2 day pass to Petra. Petra is such a huge site so if you have the time I would advise doing this. I’m a keen hiker so can get around pretty quick but 1 day for me wasn’t enough. There are also options to add on entry to Bethany which I would advise doing if you’re planning a trip there. You can find the Jordan pass on the link below.
Aqaba in the south of Jordan is perfect for those of you that want to relax and catch a few sun rays. The beautiful beaches overlook the Red Sea with views of Egypt and Israel. As well as relaxing on the beach, many of the resorts offer water sports including scuba diving around the coral reef. I didn’t have time to dive but managed to take a glass bottom boat tour, where I really enjoyed seeing the coral but it made me feel sad at the amount of litter thrown in there.
**Top Tip** if you want to sunbathe, I would advise doing so in one of the resorts. Although Jordan is pretty westernised, you should still be respectful of the local community if you want to lay around in swimwear.
For the shopaholics out there, you’ll be pleased to know there will be ample opportunities to shop with quirky bustling markets and boutiques dotted around the place. I explored a market in Aqaba and particularly enjoyed the spice stalls where I picked up some lemon salt and Jordanian tea (a must try). There are plenty of places to pick up souvenirs from your trip but animal lovers be warned.., you will see animals waiting to be slaughtered as well as slaughtered animals. I know not everyone wants to read that but I personally found that quite hard to see so thought it only right to share my full experience.
**Top Tip** Try the spices in the market before you buy, they are so delicious! Also go in there prepared to haggle and you’ll grab yourself a bargain.
For the wannabe historian/archaeologists or for those interested in seeing/learning about ancient history you have the Greek and Roman remains of Pella, Umm Qais and Jerash. Not to mention the Nabataean Kingdom of Petra, one of the wonders of the world and an absolute must see whilst in Jordan.
Whether you are religious or not, it’s very interesting learning about Biblical times and seeing some of the places referred to in the bible as well as seeing views over the Holy Land. You can also visit Bethany which is the claimed baptism site of Jesus.
**Top Tips** take appropriate clothing. Walking boots or at a minimum trainers are required as there will be a lot of walking in gravely and sandy areas. I’d also recommend taking a backpack and layers. I visited in February and had beautiful sunshine, rain and even snow so its good to be prepared.
Visiting Wadi Rum (Valley of the Moon) for me, was the best part of my tour around Jordan. If you want to follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia, enjoy being outdoors and taking a jeep safari through the sand dunes, or simply just be, and watch the beautiful sunset behind the dramatic landscapes or taking a camel trek to watch the sunrise, then Wadi Rum is the place for you.
For the more adventurous or people wanting to connect with the nature around them, you can even stay overnight in a Bedouin Camp at Wadi Rum. Enjoy a traditional evening meal and dancing followed by camp fire stories and gazing at the infinite, beautiful stars. Just unreal 😍
**Top Tip** the desert gets cold at night so take layers. I shared my hand warmers when sat around the camp fire to other members of the group, it really does get cold! See the link at the bottom of this page for my preferred choice.
I would also have your sunglasses to hand regardless of the sun. When the wind picks up it blows the sand around and you want to avoid getting it in your eyes.
After a few days of exploring, why not take yourself off to the Dead Sea for a mud treatment and let the tranquility take over you by floating weightlessly on the water. This is a truly unique experience and another must do when in Jordan.
**Top Tip** Take some beach shoes that you can wear in the sea. The sea bed is made of very hard and scratchy salt so if you don’t want to cut your feet up, wear the shoes!
Another way to relax after walking all day is to visit one of the Turkish spas. There is one on the same road as the entrance to Petra so after walking for miles I took myself off here with a couple of gal pals.
**Top Tip** The massages can be pretty handsy so if you don’t like bein nude in front of other people and being massaged pretty much all over then this is probably not for you.
Now for the foodies out there, trust me, you’ll be in heaven in Jordan as the food is just amazing. You can find the usual takeaways, even a KFC here and there but dining out in Jordan is very much a social event and sampling a local Jordanian restaurant is a must. There is food to cater for meat eaters and vegetarians and no matter what you order, you’ll always seem to get a traditional starter of pitta breads, hummus, multiple salads and dips. The fresh fruit drinks are also to die for. I found the food here very reasonably priced considering you always get a Mezze starter (which always filled me up.) The most I paid was 13JD which equates to about £13. For lunch I had falafel wraps with a drink and fruit and that was around 5JD.
Alcohol is also served in Jordan. It isn’t served in every restaurant BUT there are liquor stores wherever you go.
**Top Tip** seriously get stuck into some traditional food, it’s some of the best I’ve ever eaten. With things like Mansaf, Maqluba, fresh fish of the day and a sharing Mezze to name just a few, trust me, there’s bound to be something on the menu that you’ll love.
I’ll be honest, I’m not really one for a package holiday, however, as much as I wanted to explore Jordan, I did have my reservations given its geographical location but how wrong could I be?! I always felt safe here, even when alone or getting taxis. The below is the itinerary I covered, I will cover each thing in more details in future posts.
Day 1: Fly to Aqaba followed by a traditional evening meal.
Day 2: Exploring the coastline of the Red Sea before driving up the Wadi Arabia road to Amman.
Day 3: A day of ruins with a morning visit to Pella, one of the most ancient towns in the world followed by an afternoon visit to Umm Qais, a member of the Decapolis and the centre of Greek culture in the region.
Day 4: A morning visit to Jerash, The Jewel of the North and one of the most preserved sites of Roman architecture in the world outside if Italy. In the afternoon we headed over to Bethany followed by the Dead Sea.
Day 5: A beautiful drive along the 2000 year old Kings Highway took us firstly to Madaba,’The City of Mosaics’ before proceeding to Mount Nebu known as the burial place of the Prophet Moses. We then stopped at Kerak to explore the spectacular Crusader Castle built in the 12th century AD and situated 1000 meters above sea level.
Day 6: The one we were all waiting for, a full day in The Rose Red City of Petra. The ancient Nabatean city is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and an absolute must see whilst in Jordan.
Day 7: Enroute to Wadi Rum we took a stop at Little Petra, which was the entry and exit point for the trade routes followed by a stop at the Seven Pillars of Arabia which is where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. Last stop was Wadi Rum which is home to several Bedouin tribes and was a perfect last night under the stars in Jordan.
Day 8: A sunrise camel trek in the desert before heading back to Aqaba to take a glass bottom boat tour to see the Coral Reef followed by some last minute shopping in the markets.
I felt very lucky actually as my tour guide for the week, Eddie, had an in depth knowledge about the history of Jordan as well as where to go for food/shopping. He gave us all some very useful tips. Here are just a couple:
Don’t talk about religion or politics
Do talk about the water shortage, the deficit and Azuz (a small child that is the butt of many jokes.)
I took the below picture of Eddie in Wadi Rum. He loved it so much I traded my lens ball with him for a beer!
Things To Pack
Clothing for every type of weather. It’s better to pack layers so you can add or remove as necessary.
Sensible walking boots as you’ll probably cover every terrain imaginable.
Camera and equipment. I always carry mine on me as you just never know when the perfect picture opportunity will arise.
Hand/foot warmers. TRUST ME, these are a godsend as the desert gets freezing at night. These particular ones are tried and tested by myself and literally last all night.
Beach wear with suitable shoes for the Dead Sea. I would recommend wet shoes with a rubber sole and NOT flip flops.
A sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. As well as the cold, it will also get very hot. The sunglasses will also help keep the sand out of your eyes in the desert.
A power bank to charge your phone. If you have a similar itinerary to mine and use your phone to take photos, then you’ll probably need a recharge at some point. I use the one below which gives me about 5 charges.
A sturdy rucksack to put your water bottle/flask in plus all over the above! I use the one below as it comes with a detachable day bag. I always take my stainless steel cutlery set as shown below, you never know when you’ll need them. The set does come with a set of straws but again it cant hurt to take some extra with you in case you can’t wash them. These ones are stainless steel so reusable and more environmentally friendly. When you’re off the beaten track and buy a drink, it’s more hygienic to drink from one of your own straws rather than the can/bottle.
I truly loved this country and the time I spent there. I really hope to go back to explore further but until then, Jordan, keep shining.
P.S. Sign up to my blog for more in depth details about all the excursions I went on and please drop me a message for any questions about this amazing place!
One of the reasons I love living in my home town of Sheffield, UK, is because it has a bustling city centre full of trendy bars, pubs and restaurants as well as some beautiful architecture. If you take a 10 minute drive out of the city you are out in the Peak District where you can hike, climb and cave to your hearts content.
I think this is one of the reasons I feel so at home in Iceland. Staying in its capital, Reykjavik, you have all the shops, bars and restaurants you could possibly need and with only a small population in the city of 123,000, it is a very peaceful place.
To take in the stunning views of Reykjavik, all you have to do is take a step out of your front door.
Iceland, to me, is a home away from home. I feel so at peace there. There always seems to be a mysterious magic in the air which I find enchanting and this is before you start to read and listen to the local Icelandic folktales, such as the story of the terrifying Christmas Cat or Yule Cat.
At Christmas time in Iceland, families give warm clothing to each member of their household.
According to legend, there is a frightening Christmas Cat who stalks the snowy countryside and gobbles up anyone not equipped for the cold and wintery weather.
Families in Iceland work together to ensure nobody will “go to the Christmas Cat”.
Anyway, then you have the absolute beauty of the country, the stunning scenery carved out by the volcanic activity (something I’ve always been obsessed with) and moving tectonic plates. Not to mention waterfalls in abundance and the breathtaking glaciers and glacier lagoons.
Now, you can hire a car in Iceland. The roads are pretty quiet, especially after you’ve left the city and there is one main road that circuits the whole island. Many of the roads have underground geothermal heating which helps the ice and snow melt so driving conditions aren’t too bad. Myself, I took tour buses so that I could relax and meet people along the way.
So far, I’ve only managed to scratch the surface of the Southwest coast but these are some of my favourite things to do and recommendations.
Take a walk around the city, it is small enough to see everything by foot. The Cathedral, Hallgrímskirkja costs 1000ISK to go up the tower but it offers panoramic views over the city.
I particularly enjoy walking along the marina to take in the panoramic views over the mountains. At the end of the marina is Harpa, a relatively new concert hall which has some beautiful architecture, just make sure you look up when you go inside.
After a bit of walking you might want to check out one of the many coffee shops dotted about the city, where there isn’t a Starbucks or Costa in sight! Te og Kaffi is Iceland’s biggest coffee shop chain but it’s always good to check out the independent stores as well. Most stores have free samples of teas or coffees!
**Top tips** try out the local cuisine. I had it on good authority from a local Icelander to try Icelandic lamb as apparently it’s like no lamb you’ve ever tasted before. I’m not a big meat eater but when I’m away I do try and sample local delicacies.
Having done so, I can confirm the lamb is truly delicious and as promised, like no other lamb I had tried before. Whilst over there you must also try the local hot dogs (also made of lamb.)
My most favourite meal I ate whilst in Reykjavik, was the home made soup. There is normally a meat or a veggie option, all made freshly and served inside a giant bread bowl. It’s honestly the best soup I’ve ever eaten and the cute little cafe, Svarta Kaffid serving it did say it was the best soup in Reykjavik! I can’t say how welcome the cosy little cafe was whilst the wind howled and snow fell outside with the beautiful soup warming our souls.
The final thing to try whilst you’re out and about is the local ice cream. Come rain, shine or blizzard, Icelanders love their Ice cream. I’ll be honest, I thought people were bonkers eating ice cream in the winter even if you do eat it indoors (advised) but on my last day I thought, when in Rome…. I tried the smoked lava salted chocolate ice cream… heaven!
Another fantastic thing to go to in Reykjavik is Perlan. Perlan is a bunch of large hot water tanks and sitting on top of them on the forth floor is a large observation deck which offers panoramic views over the city.
Admission to the observation deck is 490ISK however, one of the hot water tanks has been converted into a museum called Wonders of Iceland. The museum has exhibitions about volcanoes, glaciers and geothermal marvels not to mention the museum’s very own ice cave and Planetarium! The cost for the museum is 3,900ISk which also includes admission to the observation deck.
One of my favourite things to do on holiday, is find a good observation deck and go up the tower just before sunset. That way, I get the view in the day time, during a (hopefully) stunning sunset and of the city all lit up at night.
**Top tip** there is a free shuttle bus to and from Perlan which leaves from Harpa. The shuttle bus runs every half an hour.
3. The Golden Circle Tour
A good way to see a lot of the more popular tourist attractions is to go on the Golden Circle Tour. The tour guides offer a history and geology of each spectacular site. On the tour you will get to walk in the footsteps of Jon Snow and the Wildlings by walking between the tectonic rift at Thingvellir National Park. Here, the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet or rather move away from each other and you can walk in between them. For the very brave, you can throw on a wet suit and swim between the plates!
The tour also offers a trip to the awe inspiring Gullfoss waterfall. If you go in the winter, the waterfall will be perfectly frozen and glistening in the sun.
**Please take heed!!!** It can be incredibly windy here! I’ve seen many people blow over so be sure to wrap up warm and hold on for your life!!! This is a video of my best friend and I trying to stay on our feet…
I think my favourite part of the tour (also very windy and cold) is the Stokkur hot springs and Geysers. Stokkur is the most reliable geyser on site launching scolding hot water up to 40 metres into the air every 6 to 10 minutes!
**top tips** (literally) try not to stand down wind. The water is very hot and you will get soaked!!!
I would advise you to take snacks and water (or a nice flask of hot tea) with you on the trip. There is a cafe at Stokkur where the bus will stop for lunch.
I promised waterfalls in abundance and here are 2 more! Whilst making our way to Black Sand Beach we stopped at 2 waterfall sites, the first one being Seljalandsfoss.
This is the waterfall that you are able to walk behind to see the waterfall’s force up close and personal. Unfortunately, due to freezing conditions, this was closed off when we visited. Still though, how beautiful is this?!
Just to the left of this waterfall is a viewing tower which gives you a beautiful side view of the falls. This can also be closed in winter as the spray from the falls often freezes making it too dangerous to go up.. not that that stopped some people.
This is generally a nice area to hike so we took a stroll just to the left of the falls to stretch our legs and take in some of that fresh Icelandic air.
About a 15 minute drive from Seljalandsfoss you are greeted by the almighty Skógafoss.
Cascading from a height of 60 metres and at 25 metres wide, Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls.
Trying to take these pictures on a cold, wintry day was pretty difficult. The spray from the falls had frozen on the ground so I was like Bambi on ice trying to get up close. Everyone was waddling round like penguins trying not to slip.
Icelandic folktale says there is a chest of treasure at the bottom of these falls, put there by Þrasi Þórólfsson, the first settler of Skógar. He was said to be a great warrior, well informed and with supernatural skills.
Þrasi was a wealthy man and in his later years, he decided that upon death, he did not want to share his wealth so locked away gold and treasures into a chest and dropped it into the darkest depths of the Skógafoss plunge pool.
Over many years, people have tried to find the chest with only one group of men coming close. They managed to get their rope through a ring on the chest however, after they started to raise the chest, the ring broke off allowing the chest to fall back into the depths. The men were left with only the ring.
Skógar used to have a church where the ring was fitted to the church door. In 1890 the church was demolished so the ring found its way to Eyvindarhólar and was fitted to the church door there.
In 1960 the church was demolished and the ring can now be seen in the Skógar Folk Museum.
**top tip** tread carefully, the spray from the waterfalls freezes on the ground and it really is treacherous to walk on. Also dress appropriately, it can be freezing and the falls kick out a lot of spray.
5. Black Sand Beach
Although one of the most exotic and famous beaches in the world, this is also one of the most dangerous. It has crazy undercurrents and HUGE waves as there is no land mass between Antarctica and here so the waves have thousands of kilometres to build. Even on a calm day sneaker waves can appear when least expected and if any of the waves knocks you off your feet you’ve had it.
Beautiful scenery though with the huge rocky sea stacks just off the coast. According to local Icelandic folklore, these large basalt columns (in the above picture) were once trolls trying to pull ships from the ocean to shore. However, these trolls were dim and went out too late in the night; dawn broke on the horizon, turning the trolls into solid stone. – everyone knows trolls turn to stone in daylight!
**top tip** and one definitely not to be ignored. These waves truly are ferocious and absolutely massive. If you think you are far enough back from the waves…. you are not, take a few more steps back. Also… NEVER turn your back on the waves. It takes just a second for the waves to hurtle onto the shore and knock you off your feet. If this happens… you’re a goner. I heard a local say the only way people escape this situation is by digging their hands into the sand. A lady on the beach at the same time as us didn’t listen to the warnings and went into a cave… A huge wave then filled the cave and swept her and her friend out. They really are lucky to be alive.
6. Diamond Beach
Diamond Beach is a strip of black sand belonging to the greater Breiðamerkursandur glacial plain. As the beach is located next to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, the icebergs which fill the lagoon wash up on the shore which against the dark contrast of the black sand, look like huge sparkling diamonds.
**top tip** calling all you nature and wildlife lovers!! Not only is this beach stunning, it is also called home by many seals. It is also the best place on the Island to see the orcas from the shore!
7. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
This is the first place in Iceland that blew my mind! The still water in the lagoon is situated within the Vatnajökull National Park and is truly stunning. The perfectly blue icebergs bob around in the water, some flowing down a short waterway into the Atlantic Ocean, hence the chunks of ice on Diamond Beach.
Chunks of ice also flowed up the waterway into glacier lagoon at such a speed it sounded like thunder as the icebergs collided.
During the winter, the lagoon is full of fish so hundreds of seals live here.
Honestly, I could have spent hours here, listening to the glacier collide as well as the ice crackling and popping in the icy water.
This brings me on to my next **top tip**. Take your time here. Take a seat on the rocks, enjoy the peacefulness and completely stunning scenery. It’s not often you get to witness mother nature at its best so take a deep breath and just let it all in.
8. Skaftafell National Park Glacier Hike
I honestly, don’t have the words to describe the beauty of the Icelandic glaciers. 11% of Iceland is covered in the stunning glaciers and whilst visiting, I cannot recommend enough that you take a hike on a glacier (with an expert glacier guide of course.)
This by far, was my favourite excursion (the glacier lagoon a close second.) Not only do you get to hike on the blue ice, you get to explore inside the glacier in one of its many ice caves.
After getting off the bus, we got all our safety gear on and then took about a 30 minute walk over what I can only describe as moonscape. You’re carefully walking and all of a sudden there it is, Skaftafellsjökull Glacier, looking like a giant frozen river over the moonscape.
You know when you’ve played a repetitive computer game like Tetris or Candy Crush and everytime you blink all you can see are the little screen shots of colour in your head? Well, after seeing the scenery in the below picture, that’s all I could see for days whenever I blinked or shut my eyes. I’ve never had that happen before but it clearly had an impact on me.
I was actually stopped in my tracks by the sheer beauty, I very nearly cried. No time for tears though, it was time to put my nerves and excitement to one side and get to the glacier.
Once arriving at the glacier, the group took 10 minutes to get acquainted with our crampons and take a few more pictures.
It was time to hit the ice and go in search of an ice cave. It was almost difficult to keep an eye on my footing because with every step the scenery changed and I just wanted to take it all in!
After hiking over the meandering, jolty ice for a while (successfully without falling down a crevasse) we came across the entrance to our ice cave.
Carved out by the underground glacial rivers, I can only describe the cave as the most perfect, bluest, frozen wave you’ve ever seen.
The tour group that followed us into the cave had a young gentleman that proposed to his now fiance! Who could say no in such a romantic setting?!
After heading out of the cave, the tour guide had another surprise for us, a crevasse which the tour company had made safe for us to enter.
I actually didn’t think the day could get any better but then…
It’s hard to see from the pictures but this is probably the most perfectly carved blue ice tunnel anyone could see. Although slightly scary as it led to an abyss, it was even more beautiful.
Sadly, it was time to hike back to the bus but the views back were equally as stunning.
**top tips** always listen to your glacier guide and trust in your crampons! They will stop you from slipping and be your best friend on the ice if you listen to the advice of the guide. Also… Once again, take in every second of this once in a lifetime excursion.
Everything from Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Black Sand Beach, Diamond Beach, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, ice hiking and caving on Skaftafellsjökull, was a 2 day excursion out of Reyjavik with a company called Troll Expeditions. This included an overnight stay with breakfast. The tour guide also keeps you up to date as to your chances of seeing the Northern Lights and where best to stand.
9. Northern Light Tour
No trip to Iceland would be complete without an expedition out into the dark night on a quest to find the illusive Northern Lights.
On my first trip to Iceland, we could see every star in the sky but alas, the sky was just not dancing for us. This time, however….
The sky danced the night away! This was truly the perfect ending to one of the best days of my life. Glacier hiking topped off with Northen Lights. 😍😍
I was supposed to go hunting for the Northern Lights with my best friend, Lauren. Unfortunately, she was taken ill that evening so couldn’t make it.
In the queue for the bus, I met another solo female traveller and we got chatting. It turned out her friend was also supposed to come on the trip with her and coincidentally, her friend was also called Lauren! I took this as a sign that we were going to see the lights.
**top tips** If you take a tour bus to see the lights, try and go at the start of your holiday. If you don’t see the lights, the tour company will take you out each night until you (hopefully) see them, therefore you’ll maximise your chance of seeing them. This is the same with other tours such as Whale watching. When taking photos of the lights, remember to turn off your flash, have your ISO setting high and shutter speed on slow to take the best pictures (the tour guide can help with this) sometimes you can only see the lights through your photos and this gives you the best shot of doing so.
10. Blue Lagoon
To me, there was no better way of finishing off this holiday than to visit the Blue Lagoon on our last day.
Here you get to bask in the geothermal water whilst indulging in a complimentary face mask and drink at the poolside bar. You are given a handy wristband that calculates your bar tab meaning you don’t have to get out of the steaming hot water every time you want a drink! What’s not to love?!
It was a very odd sensation being in 40°C water whilst having ours heads sticking out in a blizzard!
Blizzard or no blizzard, this was the most chilled out I’d been all holiday and soaked my aching legs from the days of hiking.
**tip tips** you can hire a bathrobe for a little extra however, there really isn’t any point as you can enter the lagoon from inside the centre. Once you leave the lagoon there are plenty of towels to grab. Also.. for all you photographers out there, you can take a waterproof case for your phone/camera or even buy one for your phone at the bar there.👍🏻
One last tip, it can be pricey here. My friends and I hired a very reasonable and beautiful apartment in the heart of the city and our host had all the charms of Iceland. This way, we were able to do our shopping at a supermarket to save on cash. If you chose to do this, use the Bonus Supermarkets as they are by far the cheapest. Just bear in mind they close quite early so check the timings online before you leave. The water here is also some of the freshest in the world so do not waste your money on buying bottled water. You can drink the tap water and water from most lakes, rivers and springs as long as it runs clear!
Sadly, this was the end of the trip. I wish I could have stayed forever and I cannot wait to return to explore more of this beautiful country.
Iceland, I love you!
P.s. Take a look below for a list of recommended items to take with you!
Essential Items to Pack
A sturdy rucksack. You’ll want to take snacks, water, cameras, first aid kit etc with you so this is a must have.
Photography gear. You cannot visit this beautiful country without taking any pictures.
Thermal underlayers. I’d advise getting some merino layers to help keep the wind out!
Waterproof outer layers. You don’t want your trips ruined by being wet and cold especially as some of the trips last all day.
Waterproof, thermal coat. Don’t spend your holiday shivering!
Thermal hat and gloves. My gloves were waterproof and I was very grateful for them!
Sensible hiking boots. I’d recommend boots that at least cover your ankle to help keep the snow and cold out!
Insulated hiking socks to go with the above .
A water bottle. It’s expensive to buy bottled water in Iceland even though all they do is fill it from a regular tap as all the water is fresh glacier water. Same some money by filling up your own bottle!
Flask. I enjoyed making myself a brew every morning to take out with me for the cold day ahead.
Hand and foot warmers. For those of you that are especially nesh like me, these were a godsend
First aid kit. I always take this with me- you just never know when you might need it.
Hi there 👋🏻 Brief introductions first. I am Dave, co-founder of Wanderlust, Worrying and the World, also 32, also a frustrated office worker, also a music fan and travel enthusiast. Where Cat provides the musical talent and business nous, I provide the passion for writing, craft beer and a debilitating case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
There’s a few reasons I’ve chosen Paris as the focus for my first blog for W,W & the World.
Firstly, as well as two thoroughly enjoyable weekends away with my long suffering wife Laura, I had the pleasure of working there for 6 weeks in 2015. Long nights and weekends on my own in a foreign country coupled with my tendency to wander on foot for miles, a lack of regard for my own safety and a deep curiosity ensured I came away with at least a rudimentary knowledge of most ‘arrondissements’ (administrative districts) of the French capital.
The second reason relates directly to the origins of this website. I consider myself a confident traveller, I don’t think I’ve ever said no to a potential trip whether work based or for pleasure and I like to think I’d happily go anywhere for the experience without worrying too much about it. However, this is not to say I don’t get anxious on my travels. The first anxiety that I encountered and that lives with me to this day is that of the language barrier. In my mind, I have the potential to end up as a seemingly willing volunteer on a merchant navy ship when all I set out to do was get some croissants and a coffee from the local corner shop. In no other city does this fear manifest itself as starkly as in Paris. Ah yes, Paris, with its romance, beauty, fashion and cuisine. However, it also seems to inspire a certain amount of anxiety in first time travellers – the stereotype of expensive restaurants, snooty waiters and rude locals combine to leave potential visitor fearing the worst. Finally, Paris is usually one of the first foreign cities to be explored by young brits due to its proximity to our rainy isle.
So let me set out my stall here; I declare that the French capital is actually one of the most diverse, friendly and accessible cities in the world. You just have to know how to negotiate it.
And now please roll up for my top 5 pointers to make your Parisian excursion a relaxing, affordable, fun and authentic one:
1) Do Not Fear the Language
Ahhh the language. No matter how good your GCSE French appears to be, Parisians seem to have their very own, judgemental form of French that comes into a league of its own when faced with a Brit babbling and pointing desperately at a baffling array of pastries . However, this is a misconception. Parisians just demand a certain amount of effort in their own tongue before they are willing to blossom into their natural friendly selves. It’s a secret code. So learn 3 or 4 introductory phrases and boom them out confidently. The very act of trying, in French, no matter how bad, will endear you to the Parisians and you will see their amiable side emerge, beautiful like a butterfly. Even the most cold hearted Parisian will bend over backwards for you if you are willing to humiliate yourself with some terrible French first. My go to phrases were: ‘je suis desole, je ne par parlez vous francais’ (I’m sorry I don’t speak very good French) which ironically made several people think I spoke very good French and ‘bonjour, un croissant jambon a emporter s’il vois plait’ (hi, a ham croissant to take away please). Memorise these two, give it a bash and you won’t go far wrong. Well, at least you won’t starve.
2) Use the Metro
Nothing complicated about this tip. The Paris metro is one of the quickest and easiest to navigate in the world. Paris is exceedingly pretty to walk around but also exceedingly large. Give your converse a rest and let the underground train take the strain as a ‘Carnet’ of 10 single tickets will set you back only €14. Every metro station has an electronic ticket machine with an English option to select a ‘Carnet’ of 10 single metro journeys and even if this fails all you need to do is approach a manned ticket desk, look mildly confused and say ‘Oone Car-nayyyyy’? and all Parisian metro employees will know what you mean. It’s quick, it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s fairly clean – use it.
It will enable you to explore the far more interesting outer arrondissements of Paris and still make it back to the Eiffel Tower for the hourly light show at night (incidentally this is best viewed from the Trocadero metro stop). Make the most of your time in Paris, use the metro to explore.
3) Spend an Evening at the Bassin de la Vilette
So, you find yourself in Paris, looking for a few evening drinks and some local atmosphere, but don’t want to be charged €14 for a medium glass of Beaujolais near the Louvre? Look no further than the Bassin de la Vilette.
Yes, it’s a 15 minute metro ride from the centre (Metro stop Laumiere) but the rewards are plentiful.
The haunt of young Parisian locals, this aesthetically pleasing canal basin offers several alternative night time options all within 500 yards and with a beautifully lit up backdrop from the local media centre. It is also a rather brilliant option for a sunny afternoon with ample opportunity for sitting on the edge of the canal and dipping your toes in the water whilst sharing a picnic. In terms of places to drink, Bar Ourcq is a student hang out that offers cheap (but good) wine and the option to play Boule/Petanque on the gravel outside the bar. If you don’t play, at least observe the locals and enjoy the intensity of the games. Further along is the Paname Brewery Company with its canal views, craft beers and funky food. A slightly busier crowd awaits you here but the atmosphere and location is not to be missed. Beer lovers will find plenty to sample here but the food is also good and the view back down the length of the canal is stunning. Finally another 500 yards up the canal is L’Atalante bar. A perfect fusion of British and European craft beer and Parisian chic in a laid back and functional setting.
For a more real, picturesque and cheap night out, make that trip out to the Bassin de la Villete and experience the more laid back and authentic Paris.
4) Stock Up at the Supermarche
As previously established, Paris has some of the finest food the world can offer. Also some of the most expensive. Coupled with the aforementioned language barrier and snootiness, dining out can be a risky minefield. However, this high quality translates down the food chain into the local supermarkets as well. I can’t tell you how many hours I have wiled away in a local Franprix or Carrefour feeling the baguettes , smelling the cheeses and caressing the charcuterie (honestly, observe any French boulangerie for 2 minutes and the locals will feel and squeeze several baguettes before settling on the perfect match).
Especially if the weather is good, you can dine like a king in Paris at a fraction of the price by making use of the astounding cheeses, meats, salads, pastries and booze on offer at any boulangerie, supermarket or patisserie that you care to lay your eyes on. No matter what time of day or what area I was in, all I had to do was walk into the nearest shop with 10 euros and I could be feasting upon mysterious oozing soft cheeses, dark, salty slices of cured meat, the freshest, crunchiest yet softest baguettes and all washed down with an astounding red wine and eaten on a bench in front of Notre Dame cathedral, sat on the banks of the seine or in one of Paris’ many leafy parks (see tip 3 above for another recommended picnic spot). A sub tip that fits in this area is that most decent Parisian bars will do a ‘plat’ or ‘grande planche’ this is essentially a wooden board with a spread of local cheeses and cold meats on accompanies by fresh baguette and will set you back around 5 euros depending on the area. This was one of my absolute favourite pastimes in Paris. To sum up, grabbing a discounted pasty and a mars bar from 24 hour petrol station this is not. Make full use of the rather brilliant array of affordable picnic food on offer and your wallet and stomach will thank you.
5) Lively Lessons in the Latin Quarter
Finally, another area to be explored if you want a range of food and drink options, a more affordable afternoon or evening out and a more authentic experience. Paris is famous for its grand boulevards and rightly so. A wander down the Champs-Elysees or Boulevard Hausmann is a must. However, in the 5th Arrondissement, the Latin quarter, there is an unfamiliar look to the streets. All narrow back alleys, rustic stone and student hangouts, the Latin quarter is a refreshing change to the sheer Frenchness of the rest of Paris. There are numerous universities and colleges in the area that lend it a slightly younger, exciting outlook, with most streets fanning out from the very impressive and imposing Pantheon building. If in a hurry I would focus your attention on the Rue Pot De Fer. A long, snaking street full of wine bars, restaurants and hole in the wall establishments serving French or Turkish street food, if you can’t find something here to satisfy you I would question your suitability for foreign travel.
Particular highlights in my eyes are Brewberry for drinks, with some of the finest craft beers on the continent and some rather wonderful chips and mayo and Bar de Fer for affordable yet exquisite wine with excellent live music. If you’re a fan of Britney Spears played on acoustic guitar and sung in a dubious French accent this is the place for you. This area, coupled with the Basin De Valette, will ensure you leave Paris with memories of friendly locals, affordable wine and food and memorable nights.
So there you have it, my top 5 tips for making your trip to Paris a little easier on the anxious mind and the wallet. This barely scratches the surface so if anybody has any specific questions I would be more than happy to answer them. I will also be doing more specific blogs, not only on Paris, in the near future. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities on earth for a reason, so go, and enjoy!