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Time for Christmas Ads 2014

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So here it is – my top 5 Christmas adverts 2014.

1. Let’s start with Harrods that has never done Christmas Advert before, but stuck to the January Sales advert. The ad will only air in London cinemas (and of course on urbanlife, hahaha) The Land of Make Believe – A Little Christmas Tail

2. Debenhams – Found It! Music by Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus – “We All Stand Together” This year, no glamour but a bunch of tots running around a Debenhams store.

3. Waitrose and its video The Gingerbread Stall with a nice idea of using Dolly Parton’s cover of “Try” by the choir made of members of the public – Donate Your Voice Choir. All of Waitrose’s profits from the sale of the track will go to charity.There is also behind the scenes video here.

4. And last but not least, two absolute winners. First, John Lewis – launched as a first and reached 4 million YouTube views in just 24 hours. Beautiful soundtrack: John Lennon’s “Real Love” by Tom Odell. 

5. My personal winner: Marks & Spencer’s “Follow The Fairies” with the music Fly Me to the Moon, sung by Julie London.

I must say I’m missing Whiskas type of heart-warming adverts… And IKEA Christmas advert is missed this year. However £20 coupon when you buy an IKEA real Christmas tree for £25 (coming up on 28 November) does compensate for the loss a little bit.

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Day 14 – on the way to Landmannalugar

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Landmannalugar was a must-see on our Iceland bucket list. We knew though that with our 2DW car it will be rather difficult to reach it. After 30 km of bumpy road we got stuck at river crossing. We didn’t even try to pass it, disappointed we just turned and bumped back to the main road. This is our packed lunch for today – prepared by the hotel staff (all Polish) in Kirkjubæjarklaustur:

Picture taken by Simone DovigoThere was an idea to leave the car by the river and then hitch-hike or rent a 4×4 for one day and try to get there from Reykjavik side but in the end we dropped it hoping we’ll have a chance to see it in the future.

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

Thanks to sudden change of plans we had a chance to see a bit more of southern part of Ring Road, which was great! And we met lovely locals who accommodated us in their wonderful house, just outside of Selfoss. We spent half night talking with them and it was exactly what we needed.

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

Seljalandsfoss waterfall and us walking behind it! The rainbow effect is real. We tried to find gold on both sides of it, but with no luck. Although I thought I saw something glittering there…

Pictures taken by Simone Dovigo

Seljalandsfoss – walking down the path around the back of waterfall.

Pictures taken by Simone Dovigo

Pictures taken by Simone Dovigo

On the way for dinner – Eyrarbakki

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Horse farm between Selfoss and Eyrarbakki

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Day 9 – The Highlands

Even though we entered the northern Iceland today, we just passed by it to get to the Highlands where we were booked for sleeping tonight. Simo was super excited especially about hot pots, the road though was rather little inviting… This is what it looked like for 1,5 h of driving:

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

Endless grey sand dessert and lava formations appear otherworldly. On the picture one of emergency huts. You can find them in places where travelers can be caught in severe weather.

There are practically no services here, accommodation, bridges or any guarantees in case something goes wrong. It feels like being on the moon and it’s pretty scary. Just to picture the landscape: in 1960s Apollo astronauts trained here before lunar landing 🙂 I actually think they might have filmed the landing here rather than on the moon.

Of course this road was marked as F-road which means it is strictly for high-clearence 4WD car that we don’t have. Our Hyundai i30 is doing pretty well though, even when we jump over potholes bigger than the car itself.

On arrival we were greeted by very strong wind and 2 degrees. That didn’t stop Simo from undressing and jumping in here:

Picture taken by Simone DovigoMeanwhile I was freezing to death, wearing seven layers of all possible clothes we had with us.

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo _MG_5314mod 

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Day 8 – Meeting the locals

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We had only a 100km road to ride ahead of us today, so it was going to be rather a quiet day with slow driving and watching fjords, sheep and horses. Today also we were about to give a second chance to Airbnb, hoping we could finally spend some time with locals. Especially that the weather is against us today and there is not many more options available.

Piccture taken by Simone DovigoOn the way we met a herd of Icelandic horses which are quite particular. They are quite small, but never mention word pony when taking to Icelander. They are long-lived and hardy though and they display two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop. Besides they are super friendly.

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo Then we came across a Viking house of Erik the Red who as we were told by the very enthusiastic guide dressed (like Shrek) in clothes from the period, is said to be the first one to found the first European settlement in Greenland. Originally we were supposed to just take some pictures of a house covered in turf, but on the way we were invited to listen to the story of the house and Vikings in Iceland and it turned out to be what made our day. We’ve learnt that Icelanders are super fantastic in most disciplines and they were the ones who discovered America. But the best part was yet to come. We were not only taken to see the crude turf house but also invited in and to our surprise it was remade in old style using only the tools and materials available at the time. With beds covered with animal fuir, brandish weapons (which Simo happily tried on) and a real fire! It is an absolute must-see. The guide is a chatty chap with very sarcastic sense of humour and ability to keep the listeners interested for hours.

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I couldn’t find it on our Lonely Planet guide, so for those interested, the admission is 1250 ISK and it’s definitely worth every penny. Especially that is just by the route 560 (between Buoldaldalur – Stadarskali) It’s called Eriksstadir.

At 1pm we arrived in our accommodation for tonight… It’s a farm house situated by the off road (marked with 4×4 cars board only) in the middle of nothing. There is no telephone line, no internet and we are the only guests tonight. In addition it keeps on raining, so no chance for trekking.

It’s going to be a long day full of live-conversations, knife making ideas and a bottle of Birkir (grain spirit, flavored with Icelandic birch handpicked in the spring).

I’m starting from taking a nap.

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Day 5 – driving through West Iceland

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West Iceland is said to be underestimated by tourist who prefer to concentrate on Ring Road in search for miracles. We instead concentrate on moon-like landscape of the long arm of the Snæfellsnes and its magical national park.

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

We slept in Akranes, trying to be more local also in choosing the accommodation. They say that town’s main attraction is the Museum Centre, but since we got there too late and left far too early (opening hours of public places are mostly 1-5pm), we had to concentrate on main square and a bunch of kids bathing in a local fountain, the only open restaurant specialised in european meals and same cars passing one way and another trying to give us impression of being a busy Icelandic town. Instead there was not much to see. Ah, we had a sunset walk to the light house. Cold winds started after leaving Reykjanes Peninsula, but it looks like sun will stay with us for at least couple of more days.

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

In the morning, we found out that Arkanes is the fitth largest (!) city in Iceland with 3000 habitants.

Picture taken by Simone DovigoPicture taken by Simone Dovigo

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Day 4 – Blue Lagoon

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We will be moving by car from now on, which gives us a bit more independence and less kilometeres in legs by the end of the day.

Many times I came across saying that the Blue Lagoon is a kind of lame and not worth to see it at all. Mostly because it’s expensive and not even a naturally occurring phenomenon since it is fed by water from the nearby geothermal plant. But how can one not want to see it? The milky-blue spa is set in black lava field in the middle of nowhere and if you add a possibility of daubing yourself in white silica mud and a chance of disappearing in a huge cloud of superheated steaming sea water, it takes you directly to another world.

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The water is rich in blue (green?) algae, fine silica mud and mineral salts which exfoliate the skin. You really end up with skin as soft as baby’s bum.

The water temperature is hotter near the vents where is comes from and slightly warmer by the surface.

PS. No, this article is not sponsored by the Blue Lagoon. Unfortunately.

Picture taken by Simone Dovigo

We both liked it, probably for different reasons 🙂

Picture taken by Simone DovigoPicture taken by Simone Dovigo

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Day 3 – whale watching (where the birds are)

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Full of hope we arrived at the harbor to join the whale watching boat. The sea was rough and so was meant to be our cruise. We were even offered seasick pills and special overalls which made us warm and waterproof._MG_4924mod

Overalls happened to remain the biggest attraction of the day. We saw no whales. It turned out to be very frustrating as this was the one activity Simo looked forward to the most.

Obviously, you can’t be guaranteed a whale sighting on the cruise, but we did see dolphins and being so close to them and almost in personal contact is something everyone should have firmly entrenched on their bucket list. Especially if you like us, are unwilling to see them in captivity. Sadly, Iceland is one of those countries where commercial whaling is still legal.

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We had to make up somehow the no-whale experience. That’s why we ended up dinning at Grillmaradurinn – a great favorite amongst Icelanders. The food was exquisite! I would even say it was my best eating out experience of all times. Everything works great there: invisible management, team work, attention to details, wonderful presentation, seductive smells… it is an edible piece of art, really.

We recommend ordering tasting menu which consists of a selection of dishes from restaurant’s menu, and is served family style for the whole table to enjoy. The dessert part and the Grillmarket chocolate (served with mascarpone sabayone, warm caramel and coffee ice cream)… Oh, this one itself was enough good reason to visit Iceland. Go and try!

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Day 2 – Golden Circle

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Pingvellir – where the continent shift and the ancient Icelandic parliament

It’s our first time out of Reykjavik today. As we are off for our road trip on Monday, we decided to take advantage on one of the one-day-tours well organised by Gray Line. A coach trip was definitely something we both have done in the childhood, but not really recently, so we didn’t really know what to expect. Equipped in flask with tea, homemade sandwiches and a chocolate bar, we took off to see the country’s most important historical area, a hot spring and an impressive waterfall (Pingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss)

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Gullfoss – a pounding waterfall carving its way through a canyon

We had a great day out. Even if it was just an easy trip out from Reykjavik with a collection of must-see attractions. But if they say that far more fantastic things lay further beyond… we simply can’t wait to go on the road.

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Geysir – an erupting (every 6-8 minutes) geyser

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Day 1 – Reykjavik

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So here we are, safe and sound in capital of Iceland. There was a lot of rush and stress going on before this trip, so I had no chance to actually get ready. Simo took bookings and road trip planning on his shoulders and I just appeared on time for the airport.

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Kogga – Ceramic Studio and Gallery

I was expecting Dar es Salaam effect – “God, what are we doing here”, but surprisingly I felt very safe and comfortable here. In addition our hotel room was kindly upgraded to suite, so I’m even more happy that we are staying here for 4 days.

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Icelandic taste: fermented shark, puffin with crowberries, mink whale tataki, wind dried fish and icelandic seaweed

I never been to a northern country before, so I absorb surroundings like a sponge. We spend our day wandering around, popping into shops for adventurous people (and a christmas one) and enjoying very first Icelandic meal.

Eating a puffin and rotten shark – checked!

Lækjarbrekka Restaurant is definitely a place we recommend! It serves not only delicious meals, but it’s also situated in beautifully restored house, which has an eventful 150 years history behind it. In addition we were lucky to get a bubbly waiter who told us stories about food we ate. This is how we found out that Greenland shark – hákarl – is poisonous when fresh, that’s why it is served rotten after 6-12 weeks of curing period and then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months. You have to eat it without being sick and according to Icelanders, it’s a true definition of a proper man.

Simo’s made it! He is alive and actually enjoyed the taste. Not to mention men’s pride.