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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

A Week in Iceland | Budget Travel Itinerary


My boyfriend and I had been eyeing up a trip to Iceland for a while and as his 22nd birthday was fast approaching, I thought I would surprise him by booking the trip. I knew Iceland, as part of Scandinavia, was considerably more expensive than the UK and after a bit of research, I realised it was possible to explore on a budget. 


Flights from Edinburgh for a week long trip, compared to a Friday-Sunday trip to Reykjavik were cheaper, so we compromised luxury accommodation in favour for budget accommodation and a little more time to explore Iceland. I heard organised tours were expensive and although they would have been more informative, we wanted to do the Golden Circle tour at our own pace, so we decided to hire a car and stay at various locations around the golden circle to experience it to its fullest potential.

As we travelled to Iceland in January, we were a bit worried about driving in the Icelandic Winter and many roads towards the north of the country were closed, so after a bit of research, we came up with a week's itinerary, which I would like to share with you today.

DAY 1

Hallgrimskirkja
We arrived at Keflavik International airport on the evening of the 7th of January, where we stayed in an AirBnb for the first two nights of our stay so we could explore the capital, Reykjavik. As we had hired a car, we were able to stay a little outside Reykjavik in order to save on paying for a more expensive room in the city centre.

On the 8th of January, we went to Bónus, a budget supermarket in Iceland which is similar to Lidl/Aldi and we stocked up on food for the week. Instead of eating out for every meal, we decided to make sandwiches for lunch and buy fruit and granola that would suffice for breakfast.

View from the Hallgrimskirkja

Our first stop was a trip to the cathedral, Hallgrimskirkja. The architecture of the building is very distinctive and iconic to Reykjavik as one of the tallest buildings in Iceland. 

We paid 1000ISK (approx £7) to climb to the top of the tower (don't worry - an elevator will take you most of the way up!). The views from the top were really nice, especially with the colourful roofs (as seen above) all over Reykjavik.


Afterwards, we parked the car next to the Culture Centre and walked towards the Harpa Concert Hall. Unfortunately, the pavements were very slippy so we didn't manage to see attractions such as The Sun Voyager, for example, but we managed to have a look in some of the boutique shops around the area.

My boyfriend's 22nd birthday was on this day, so we went back to the Airbnb to freshen up with a dip in the host's outdoor hot tub and went for dinner at Forréttabarinn. We tried two of the four course set menus for approx £45 each, which I thought was a reasonable price for a birthday dinner. The food was delicious and I would definitely recommend checking out their menu online if you are interested.

DAY 2


On the 9th of January, we left Reykjavik and began our 1.5 hour drive to Laugarvatn. Unfortunately, on this day a storm was forecast, so we weren't able to park the car and explore on our journey as apparently snow/sand storms could have been pretty lethal along the country roads!

We headed straight for where we were staying that night, Héradsskólinn Boutique Hostel, and spent a few hours in the lounge area playing board games and watching TV, followed by a dinner in the Hostel's kitchen.

DAY 3


On our third full day in Iceland, we set off early on our longest driving day (a total of 3 hours) to visit the main attractions of the Golden Circle - Geysir, Gulfoss and Fridheimar. 

Mud Pits around the Geysir
Our first stop was the Geysir hot spring area which was home to many mud pits with boiling water inside and exploding Geysirs. Entrance was free to this area and was definitely one of our highlights of the trip overall.

Strokkur

The Geysirs are in a geothermal area, where the water underground connects with the hot bedrock, creating immense pressure leading to an explosion of water. There was an active Geysir, Strokkur, which sprayed water once every few minutes. There are warning signs around the mud pits, which emit a lot of steam from the boiling water - putting into perspective how hot and dangerous the natural water really is!

You can see a video of the Geysir in action in my Iceland highlight on my personal Instagram page.

Gullfoss
Afterwards, we headed to Gullfoss, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. There is a viewing point next to the car park, then a series of steps if you want to view the falls from much higher above (but this is not for the faint hearted!).

The top viewing platform at Gullfoss
After an afternoon of exploring, we decided to stop at Fridheimar for some lunch before heading to our hotel in Hella. 

The restaurant was one of the most popular restaurants and 'attractions' to visit in Iceland, but we were cautious as reviews said it was very, very expensive. The concept of having a restaurant in a tomato greenhouse, where the tomatoes are grown with geothermal energy was quite appealing, but personally the food was not worth the extortionate price.

Fridheimar
We paid 2850ISK (approx £20) for a ravioli with tomato sauce (which my boyfriend had to return because the tomato sauce was so acidic!) and 2290ISK (approx £16) for a tomato soup and unlimited bread. I would never in my life consider paying £16 for a tomato soup, but since we had a free day of excursions, we made an exception with Fridheimar, but unfortunately this was a huge disappointment for us.

Afterwards, we drove to Hella, where we got the keys to our cabin at Arhus Hellu. Although the location was very nice in front of the water and the cabin itself was very cosy and would've made for a different experience, the WiFi wasn't working and the land around the cabin was covered in a sheet of ice and was very unsafe. As a result, the manager offered to let us stay in its partner hotel, Hotel Hella, which included a continental breakfast and was a very pleasant stay. That evening, we ventured to a supermarket nearby and make ourselves noodles with the amenities in the hotel kitchen.

DAY 4


On Thursday, we drove for 50 miles along the south coast of Iceland to a village called Vik, where a University friend recommended a visit to the Black Sands beaches nearby.

Vik
Vik is a remote seaside village with a few restaurants and a supermarket. To be honest, there wasn't a lot to do there and the weather was very bad, so we opted to have lunch in one of its local restaurants.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
After lunch, we drove for 5 minutes to the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. The beach is actually one of Iceland's many lava beaches with remnants of lava that had immediately cooled as it touched the ocean. 

It was incredibly windy on this day and I could barely climb out of the car to walk towards the beach without fearing the car door was going to fly off!

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
I only safely managed to get to the entrance of the beach until I had to turn away as the wind was pulling me everywhere. This beach in particular is known as Iceland's most deadly beaches as its waves are extremely powerful and unfortunately a few people have died there as a result of coming too close to its strength. If I visit Iceland again, I would love to go further along the perimeter of the beach, as the rocks to the left of the water looked particularly interesting. 

In the evening, we drove to our hotel for that night, Hotel Lambafell. This was definitely one of our most isolated locations, but turned out to be our most enjoyable stay. We really enjoyed chilling in the living room area, on the big sofas while playing board games or watching some TV on the iPad. Breakfast was also really enjoyable, where we had chocolate crepes, fruit and granola.

DAY 5


On our fifth day, we began the 2 hour drive back in the direction towards Reykjavik and covered some of the sights on the south of the Golden Circle.

Seljalandsfoss
The first attraction we came across was Seljalandsfoss, another one of Iceland's many waterfalls. Apparently there is a path that goes behind the waterfall, but as it was icy and covered in snow, unfortunately this was closed off.

Yellow, Selfoss
As we arrived at the location of our hotel for that night in Selfoss, we stopped at Yellow for a quick lunch. Yellow is situated inside a supermarket and offers fresh noodles, juices and curries for a reasonable price.



Kerid
After lunch, we took a short 15 minute drive to a volcanic crater called Kerid. We paid 350ISK (approx £1.80) to walk around the crater. The colours of the red volcanic rock were really beautiful combined with the colours of the pool of water at the bottom. For me, I was definitely most blown away by this attraction and unfortunately the photos I took do not do it enough justice!


Afterwards, we bought supplies at the supermarket and made our own dinner in the kitchen accessible to us in the Selfoss Apartments.

DAY 6


On our 6th day in Iceland, we began the trip back to our starting point in Reykjavik. We planned to visit the Hellisheidi Power plant on our way, however, it was closed for the day due to a fire the day before.


Instead, we spent another full day in Reykjavik and visited the National Museum of Iceland. Admission price was 1000ISK (approx £7) each, which included free entry to the Culture House too. The museum was very interesting and the audio guide could be accessed through a website on our mobile phones. We could have spent hours and hours there listening to everything in the audio guide, but spent a good 2 hours there anyway listening to the history we were most interested in.

For lunch, we went to the Noodle Station. A large bowl of noodles, veg and meat cost 1640ISK (approx £11) and was definitely one of the most reasonably priced restaurants we visited in Reykjavik.


We drove to Keflavik in the early evening to check into our room at the Nupan Deluxe. The accommodation was a family run business and had a lot of nice touches such as bath robes, an outdoor hot tub and a tea and coffee area in one of the communal rooms. This, alongside Hotel Lambafell were our favourite places to stay in Iceland because of their little amenities which are not always as common in mainstream hotels. 

DAY 7


On our final day in Iceland, we were hit with a crazy snow storm, which meant we couldn't fulfil our plan of exploring the coast and town of Keflavik. We managed to venture out to the Park Inn by Raddison where we visited its restaurant for Brunch. 

As the weather was not in our favour on our final day, we went to the airport in the afternoon to chill before catching our evening flight back to Edinburgh.


Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Iceland and our itinerary worked out a lot better than we expected. We definitely took a more laid back approach to exploring Iceland over the course of 1 week and I'd really love to visit again in a few years time with a bit more money to spend on more exciting activities such as visiting the Ice Caves and riding some snow mobiles. 

Unfortunately we weren't so successful with the weather, which meant we couldn't catch sight of the northern lights in the foggy conditions. However, for anyone feeling put off by visiting Iceland in January, I would highly recommend it as we managed to save quite a bit of money during the off-peak season and the driving conditions were not as treacherous as we thought!

For a more in-depth review of the restaurants and hotels I visited in Iceland, check out my TripAdvisor profile.

If you would like to see my Instagram story of my trip, check out the highlighted story on my personal Instagram page.
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Monday, 1 January 2018

2017: The Year I Graduated


2017 was a big year for me... I graduated with my first degree! 

On Thursday the 6th of July, I graduated in McEwan Hall where I received my diploma for an LLB honours degree in Law from the University of Edinburgh. After four years of hard work, a lot of ups and a few downs along the way, I finally felt as though those late nights and tiresome days in the library finally paid off. 


The start of 2017 consisted of essay writing as the two full-year modules I had chosen for 4th year consisted of an essay submission in January and the final exam in May. After submitting 12,000 words in January, this was definitely a practise run for what was to come in the final push to write my dissertation, due at the end of March.

I chose to write my undergraduate dissertation on the EU Counter-terrorism Strategy, assessing its impact and the legal issues posed by it. It was a bit of a risk to take as I had previously taken a criminology module in terrorism, international policing and EU law, but nothing specifically relating to EU security policies.

Regardless, I really enjoyed writing my dissertation and I believe it really helped me with my Masters degree applications as my topic was directly relevant to the Masters subject area. If you have a particular field of interest for further studies, I would definitely recommend writing your dissertation on that topic, if its possible to do so!


After a wave of stress wondering if I was even going to graduate (see the following newspaper article), I graduated on the 6th of July 2017. I was incredibly nervous the evening and morning before, although I already received my grades and my dress and robe was all ready to go. Half of me was excited to have reached the end, but it also saddened me that it was the last time I would be together with all of my teachers and classmates that brought my through the previous four years of my life.


We gathered for a group photo at the law school, Old College, before we headed into the McEwan hall for the graduation ceremony. Unfortunately Old College was under major renovation works during the final two years of my degree, so we didn't get to take advantage of walking through its grounds and having classes there, so it was nice to reflect on the first two years of University and be there for a final group photo.


To my year's surprise, McEwan Hall had completed its renovations in time for our graduation ceremony. The 2016 graduations had taken place in the Usher Hall, as the original graduation hall was still under renovation works.

The refurbished McEwan hall was really stunning and it added something special to our graduation ceremony. We had endured a torturous delict exam in the hall during our studies and I remember being distracted by McEwan Hall's stunning architecture and the art displayed on the walls and ceiling during that time.

We were called to collect our diplomas in alphabetic order by surname, depending on our degree titles.


After the graduation ceremony, we were given a couple of hours to take photos and head over to Potterrow to have our professional graduation photos taken. Unfortunately, I spent the majority of that period queueing to get my photo taken, which was a little bit frustrating. I didn't manage to catch up with my classmates as originally planned, but I did manage to get some photos in amidst running around campus!

That afternoon, my Mum and sister treated me to afternoon tea and the whirlwind of a day meant for a weekend of recovery before the graduation ball the following Monday.


We had our law graduation ball at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh's city centre. My friend and I arrived a bit too early, but had fun taking photos with the 2017 balloons the law society had displayed in the reception area (including me posing with the 7 the wrong way around - nice one Alix).


We had a lovely three course dinner followed by a ceilidh and disco. The law society hired out Shanghai nightclub on George Street for the after party, which lacked much of an atmosphere as only a few dozen of us turned up to an empty nightclub! Nevertheless, it was a good night and nice to catch up with some classmates before we headed our separate academic/employment ways.


Over the Summer I applied for various Masters degree programmes in the area of International Security, with offers from the University of Bath, Queens Belfast, Dundee, Buckingham, Nottingham and St. Andrews. I wasn't entirely sure which direction I wanted to go in, whether to steer in the route of political science, a more historical approach or continue my legal studies with an LLM.

During August, I decided the political science route wasn't for me and I believed the knowledge I gained from my law degree would help me perform well in a different degree area, instead of pursuing it further. After studying political theories in EU and social policy courses throughout my undergraduate degree, I decided to reject my offers in International Security from the majority of Universities I applied for.

I found the MLitt programme in Terrorism & Political Violence in St. Andrews to be best suited to my interests. Originally I was looking for a degree in International Security with a heavy focus on terrorism and I found St. Andrews provided that as well as a historical, political and psychological approach to the subject, with an opportunity for me to apply my legal skills in the array of modules offered. 


For now, I am enjoying postgraduate life in the seaside town of St. Andrews. Living here is definitely a shift from the face-paced life I had in Edinburgh, however, I couldn't have asked for a better place of tranquility when I should be focusing on my studies and career the most.

I will go into a lot more detail about postgraduate life and St. Andrews in another blog post, but for now, here's to 2018 and another year of success and happiness!

What are your goals for 2018?
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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Autumn Dress Haul | Tobi Clothing

Tobi.com kindly got in touch with me recently and gave me a sample of their dresses to try. Tobi is an online women's fashion boutique based in Los Angeles, but have extended their shipping to over 150 countries worldwide, including the UK. I selected a range of dresses perfect for the transition from Summer to Autumn fashion.

ALLISON SWEATER DRESS $76 $38 with code DA50


The first item Tobi sent me was a cosy sweater dress. In the autumn/winter months, I live in cropped jumpers and thought a cosy dress alternative would be a great option. The dress is quite over sized. I am a UK size 6/8 and the size small fits me comfortably, whilst letting me move around freely. 


The only downside for me are the sleeves, as they are very long and I had to roll them up more than the stitched material. However, if you are looking for a cosy winter dress and don't mind the over sized look - this is definitely the dress for you! The dress is available in black, rose and terracotta.

Dress - Tobi
Boots - H&M (similar)

ANYTHING BUT ORDINARY FLANNEL SHIFT DRESS $58 $9


After recently moving to a small small Scottish town for University this year, I couldn't refuse being treated to a tartan shift dress. The dress is really lightweight but can be worn in the winter months paired with a thick cardigan, boots and tights. This dress was the cheapest out of the 3 I chose and I'm really surprised by the price tag - a definite bargain!


I was drawn to how unusual this particular shift dress is. Shift dresses aren't usually my preferred dress type as the shapeless structure doesn't really flatter my figure, but the mesh panelling across the front of the dress really adds some dimension to an ordinary shift dress. There is mesh panelling around the sleeves and the hem of the dress too. The dress is available in red, grey and black.

Dress - Tobi
Shoes - H&M (similar)

DESTRUCTED T-SHIRT DRESS $44 $22 with code DA50


Finally, Tobi sent me a distressed t-shirt dress in the colour Taupe. I like the added character the distressed material gives to a normal t-shirt dress, and to add to the edgy vibe more, I decided to pair it with fishnet tights and some biker boots.


The distressed material covers the sleeves, around the neck and around the hem. The material is really lightweight and could also be styled with a black belt at the waist to give it a bit more structure. The dress is available in grey, white or black.

Dress - Tobi
Tights - Asos (similar)
Boots - Clarks

I'm really impressed with the range of dresses Tobi sent me and I would definitely shop there again in the future. I never have any luck with sizing when ordering online, however, everything I ordered in this instance managed to fit me perfectly and was exactly as described on the website.

Let me know your favourite outfits choices for the Autumn/Winter season in the comments!
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Sunday, 5 March 2017

Visiting Leuven & Brussels | POLITICO EU Studies Fair


For those of you who have been following my blog for a while now will know I studied in Leuven, Belgium for my third year of University. I moved back to Edinburgh in September 2016 and whilst deciding where to study my masters degree, I came across the POLITICO EU Studies fair set to commence in Brussels in February 2017. Of course, I couldn't miss out on an opportunity to visit Belgium again, so last month, I combined a trip to catch up with friends in Leuven and attend the EU Studies fair in Brussels.

Martelarenplein, Leuven

On Thursday the 9th of February, I flew to Brussels and as soon as I arrived in Leuven, I checked into my airbnb on Mechelsestraat. The street is one of my favourites in Leuven and I was really excited to stay there as it's located right in the city centre. I met my friend, Pablo, and we had dinner at his place with some other friends, then headed out to the Capital bar and a variety of the clubs/pubs in Oude Markt that evening.

Grote Markt, Leuven

Throughout documenting my year abroad in Leuven, I received a lot of emails from students who had more questions about the city. Sandra, a law student from Vienna, emailed me about the accommodation I was staying in and we kept in touch. As I decided to visit Leuven, she very kindly took me out for lunch. We went to Notre Dame Quasimodo on Naamsestraat, then we took a detour through Mechelsestraat and the Klein Begijnhof before ending up at the Vaartkom area of Leuven (where Waterview - my old residence, and Sandra's new residence is based). Sandra was really lovely and we agreed to stay in touch in the future.

Vaartkom, Leuven

As I parted ways with Sandra, I met Loïc, a close Belgian friend at my old local cafe, Opek, for a drink. Afterwards, I met some friends on the Oude Markt for a drink and we went back to Pablo's place to cook the haggis I brought over from Scotland.. 

As I was a bit restricted on what I could take with me in my hand luggage to Belgium, I could only take tinned haggis, which we opted to fry. Although the texture was completely off... I think it went down as a success, which was a surprise, as it's always a bit awkward explaining the contents of haggis (google if you are unfamiliar!). We went to another friend's place for pre-drinks later that evening then attended the International Party in Fuifzaal Albatros.  Throughout my year in Leuven, I never really liked Albatros as a club venue and only ended up staying for a couple of hours. As expected, the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) society had changed its board members from when I lived in Leuven, and although the city seemed exactly as I left it, the organised international party vibe didn't quite feel the same for me...

photo credit: POLITICO (http://www.politico.eu/event/eu-studies-fair-2017/)

On Saturday morning, I got on a train from Leuven to Brussels North to attend the POLITICO EU studies fair. During the day, they hosted an exhibition with stalls from various European Universities in the Crowne Plaza le Palace. They also had bookable appointments with a careers/CV adviser and although I didn't use this service, it seemed very informative and it was fully booked when I attended.

I spoke to representatives from the University of Kent, Vesalius University Brussels, Sciences Po Paris, IBEI Barcelona and Universiteit Leiden. I received a lot of useful advice about the application process and about the course programmes. I also found out more about courses in British institutions I didn't realise existed. I have managed to rule out quite a few Universities since visiting the fair, but I'm still not 100% sure of my subject direction (purely a personal matter, I found the EU studies fair exceptionally helpful otherwise!).

To find out which exhibitors were present and for more information about the POLITICO EU Studies fair, click HERE.

Grand Place, Brussels

After the studies fair, Pablo and I walked to the Grand Place for a look around and I was reunited with my favourite Belgian dish, vol au vent, in Le Roy D'Espagne.

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, Brussels 

Afterwards, we took a walk through the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, to the Mont Des Arts and headed back to Leuven later that afternoon. Brussels is definitely my happy place in the world and I'll always be taken aback by its beauty no matter how many times I visit. 

Mont des Arts, Brussels

Back in Leuven, we went to a friend's place for pre-drinks and headed onto the Oude Markt for my final night in Leuven. The night consisted of a lot of drinking (despite feeling very fragile after a 3 day binge!) and partying until 7am, where we expected to finish the night in the Seven Oaks, but stumbled into a slightly bizarre techno rave in Rumba instead.

Waterview Residence, Leuven

On my final day in Leuven, I decided to go to my old residence to visit some of my ex-flatmates. When I arrived, my Brazilian flatmate, Plinio, introduced me to some residents who I had been in contact with through my blog. The residence is exactly as I left it and I'm glad my old unit is more sociable and interactive this year, I spotted a few games tables and a sofa which wasn't there when I moved out!

After a lovely catch up at Waterview, I headed to meet Pablo again for a final farewell and burger at Ellis on Muntstraat before heading back to Edinburgh via Zaventem airport.

Grote Markt, Leuven

I arrived back in Edinburgh late Sunday evening absolutely exhausted from a hectic, but enjoyable, weekend in Belgium. I miss living in Belgium and often think about the good times I had, especially in Leuven. I will definitely continue visiting and hopefully I will be able to pursue further studies/employment there one day as the country will always have a special place in my heart.
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