Eat for less in Stockholm

Radish light at the Fotografiska Bar and Cafe in Stockholm

Stockholm, like the rest of Scandinavia, is really expensive, isn’t it? Well, no, it doesn’t have to be!

Fresh from a long weekend in Stockholm, I’ve researched (eaten) some of the best food on offer in Stockholm right now, and none of it breaks the bank.

Read on for my top 5 places in Stockholm for great food at pocket money prices.

A double cheese falafel pita from Falafelbaren

Fabulous falafel

Prepare to stuff yourself silly with the best falafel in Stockholm.

Falafelbaren offer plenty of ways to enjoy falafel, but the ultimate choice has to be the gut-busting falafel-zilla that is the ‘Double Cheese’ pita, crammed with freshly-made falafel, goat’s cheese, a thick wedge of halloumi and a moreish mix of pickles and red cabbage, hummus and saucy salad.

They also make their own delicious baklava, sold in great big squares, perfect for sharing with no-one…

How much? Double Cheese pita 85kr (£7.70), baklava 25kr (£2.50), organic juice 35kr (£3.15).

Where? Falafelbaren, Hornsgaten 39, 118 49.

A table of tacos, tostadas and chips at La Neta Mexican restaurant
© La Neta

The hottest tacos in town

Stockholm isn’t famed for its Mexican food and, believe me, I’ve eaten my worse ever burrito there (you can keep your gross slaw, Zócalo).

But taqueria La Neta atones for the sins of others with its cool vibe and a menu of tacos and quesadillas worth guzzling in full.

There are plenty of carnivorous fillings – try the Choriqueso quesadilla – but also lots of veggie choices from frijole beans to pumpkin flowers. The freshly-made green sauce is addictive, or test your mettle with tree chilli.

How much? Five tacos for 95kr (£8.60) or mix and match from 22-52kr (£2-£4.60) per item.

Where? La Neta Barnhusgatan 2, 111 23 or Östgötagatan 12B, 116 25.

Cinnamon bun and mocha at Fabrique in Stockholm
Semla bun in Vete-Katten in Stockholm

The art of Fika

A Swedish favourite pastime, particularly in the afternoon. It’s simply the act of having coffee and cake but it’s more than that in reality – it’s something Swedes make time for.

Head to Fabrique and have that kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) you know you want, or give a kardemummabullar (cardamom bun) a go.

Or, if you’re lucky enough to be in Stockholm before Easter, gorge on semla buns in Vete-Katten, a café that’s been open since the 1920s. Go for vanilla for a gorgeous bun packed with vanilla bean-flecked custard and cream.

How much? A cinnamon bun and coffee at Fabrique, 31kr (£2.80) and 44kr (£3.95) / large Semla bun at Vete-Katten, 46kr (£4.15).

Where? Fabrique has locations all over the city / Vete-Katten, Kungsgatan 55, 111 22.

An Alpine hot dog at Östermalms Korvarspecialist

Get your hotdogs!

Scandinavians love their hot dogs and, at hotdog stand Östermalms Korvarspecialist, they don’t come much better, or more varied.

There are 28 different types to try, from Polish, Alpine and vegetarian to Italian and Turkish, large, small and double.

Try the Alpenwurst – a meaty sausage with sauerkraut, salad and special sauce in a soft, toasty ‘baguette’ or a normal bun.

How much? A simple hot dog is 25kr (£2.20) or the Alpenwurst is 60kr (£5.40).

Where? Östermalms Korvarspecialist, Nybrogatan 55, 114 44

A fried herring burger with onions

Fried fish for under a fiver

Visit Nystekt Strömming and order the fried herring burger (strömming hambugare), dressed with pickled onion, slaw, special sauce and lettuce. I’m not the world’s biggest advocate of herring but the Scandinavians swear by it, and there’s no better, cheaper place to try it for yourself, tiny bones and all.

How much? The herring hambugare, 55kr (£4.93).

Where? Nystekt Strömming, Södermalmstorg 1, 116 46.


Know somewhere else in Stockholm with great food at great prices? Let me know and I’ll try it out next time!

You can also read my post about beautiful things to do in Stockholm.

New in London – Aman Mojadidi: Remembering a Future

Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi inside his performance space
© Imperial War Museums

‘We call these fenced migrant camps “jungles”, as if they are all savages, when what they are doing is trying to escape savagery’.

I wobbled, eyes stinging in an attempt to hold back tears. Though physcially I was sat down in a performance space at Imperial War Museum London, my mind was inside what I could see projected on the wall. I was standing on a jetty, looking out to Britain from Calais, joining the thousands of refugees thinking the same thing: what do I call home and what does it mean to me now?

Remembering a Future is an intimate, collaborative performance from Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi taking place this weekend at the museum.

Carefully challenging his audience to express what home means to them in a ‘post-9/11’ world, Aman leads them down the path of his own experiences – racism as a kid in Florida, visiting his uncle leading the battle for Jalalabad in 1990, moving to Kabul in 2003.

Blurring fact with fiction, he presents postcards of real sites of American drone strikes – some of them beautiful landscapes that he urges us we may wish to one day see – alongside objects he has created to serve a purpose. Prayer beads from a fictitious ‘Tigers of Allah’ group, mud brick, a series of child-like drawings depicting war gradually tearing a family apart.

The performance culminates in a literal ripping apart of what we identify ‘home’ to be, in order that a new home might be built, one that we can all identify with and share.

As Aman says: ‘either voluntarily or involuntarily, because they don’t have a choice, people are trying to find their place in the world…no-one’s first choice is to leave their country, leave their home…the whole notion of “home” has changed for a lot of people’.


Aman Mojadidi: Remembering a Future takes place 10-11 February at Imperial War Museum London at 11am, 2pm and 4pm. The performances are part of the event programme for major show Age of Terror: Art since 9/11.

Tickets £6 adults or £5 concessions and exhibition ticket holders. After the performances have ended, the end result is free to view from 16 February – 27 May.


A blackboard featuring a timeline of events, part of Aman Mojadidi: Remembering a Future

© Imperial War Museums

A table featuring postcards created by the artist of areas hit in drone strikes, part of Aman Mojadidi: Remembering a Future
© Imperial War Museums
Aman Mojadidi builds a structure using mortar with audience thoughts on paper included in the mix
In a culmination of the performance, Aman uses mortar mixed with ripped up paper written on by audience members to create a new sense of ‘home’.

——-

Full disclosure, I work for Imperial War Museums in the Marketing team on campaigns including our current major show Age of Terror: Art since 9/11, on until 28 May.

I’d love to hear from you if you managed to make it along to meet Aman Mojadidi over the weekend, or would like to share where or what you identify ‘home’ to be.

My pick of the pistes: ski resorts in Europe

The scene before us as we skied on the Smuggler's Run between Ischgl and Samnaun

Ski Sunday is on, there’s a new champion at Kitzbühel and the Winter Olympics are around the corner. The ski season is well under way and if you want some serious snow, now’s the time to plan your winter holiday.

Not sure where to go? Whether it’s a short break or a week long adventure you’re after, the best ski resort in Europe or you want to ski under the radar, read on for my piste picks.

And coming soon, look out for my review of Stockholm’s city slope Hammarbybacken, where I’ll be on Saturday.

Ischgl, Austria

Skiers heading out on the Smuggler's Run from Ischgl to Samnaun in Switzerland
A mountain in Ischgl

Catch this Austrian resort on a blue sky day and nothing beats it. Ischgl is pretty damn big, with 238km of pistes, 45 cable cars and, right now, up to 170cm of snow. It’s perfect for all levels with an excellent Ski School.

Smuggler’s Run down to Samnaun in Switzerland is loads of fun with glorious scenery all the way as you cross between the countries. It was called the Duty Free Run back when I skied it as you can bring a rucksack and stock up on cheaper alcohol and gifts in the Swiss shops six days a week.

Tempted? A week’s lift pass will cost you €278.50 and BA, easyJet and Thomas Cook fly from London to Innsbruck, from £90 return.

Hlíðarfjall Akureyri, Iceland

Dusky hues in the distance on a piste at Hlíðarfjall Akureyri ski resort
Dusk on the chair lift at Hlíðarfjall ski resort

Ski with 360° Icelandic snow views, marked only by Akureyri, the country’s second city. There are 24 ski trails, all easily toured on a day trip and the resort is at its best in the evening as snow and sky alike turn all shades of blue.

Easily the best snack wherever you are in Iceland, refuel with hot dogs to keep you going at this neat little resort.

Tempted? A day pass is 4,900 ISK (about £34) and the resort is easily reachable by car or bus from Akureyri city centre, and the drive from Reykjavik is long but stunning. Short of time? Return flights from Reykjavik start at £158.

Méribel, French Alps

On a chair lift at the Méribel ski resort in the Tarentaise Valley of the French Alps
© Annabelle Dawson

Prices are high but it’s worth it for those wooden chalets as far as the eye can see at this French Alps resort. 3 Vallées is the biggest ski resort in the world, with over 600km of pistes and 166 lifts. Méribel turns 80 this year, so expect events and activities throughout 2018.

In true Alpine style one of the activities you can try out is a ride in a TéléFondue©, a gondola fully equipped to serve fondue. Only in France!

Tempted? A Méribel-only lift pass is €282 for seven days, so you’d be mad not to go for the 3 Vallées six day €300 pass. You can reach Méribel via Lyon or Geneva, by plane or Eurostar. Flights from £40 return and Eurostar from £45 one way.

Piani di Bobbio, Italy

Piani di Bobbio at the end of the 2017 ski season
Piani di Bobbio piste at the end of the 2017 ski season

Who says you can’t combine a busy city break with some skiing on the side? Piani di Bobbio is an hour outside of Milan and looks out to the jagged belt of rock that is the Lake Como mountains.

Small but perfectly formed, the resort has 17 slopes covering 35km. The resort attracts a healthy number of snowboarders and you can also try your feet at Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.

Tempted? A day pass costs €27 (or €35 during holidays) and the best way to reach the resort is by car from Milan. Flights to Milan from London are frequent, from £40.

Look out: Lumiere London

LAMPOUNETTE web ready

Newsflash: Lumiere London is back. And whether you know much about it or not, if you so much as stray into King’s Cross, Piccadilly, Southbank or Mayfair, you’re bound to trip into some lights fantastic.

2018’s Lumiere London is bigger, brighter and brasher (light up candy floss, anyone?) than previous years, and it remains one of the best free activities you can enjoy all year.

It’s also only on until Sunday 21st January so you’ll need to be snappy if you want in. All those electricity bills I expect.

Tempted? Download the Visit London app to plan your route and don’t forget to wrap up warm, it’s cold work enjoying good art.

Scroll for my pick of some of the loveliest Lumiere has to offer:

Frogs, part of NIGHTLIFE by Lantern Company with Jo Pocock
A hare, part of NIGHTLIFE by Lantern Company with Jo Pocock
Nightlife by Lantern with Jo Pocock. A menagerie of lit up animals in Leicester Square was always going to be incredibly popular, so bang goes the aim of this ‘secret garden’ to be a space for ‘quiet reflection’. It’s lovely though, and who doesn’t love lovely?
AETHER by the Architecture Social Club
AETHER by the Architecture Social Club. The forecourt of the huge Waitrose in King’s Cross has never seen so much action. A beautiful soundscape accompanies the installation. Elbow your way into the centre for the best view.
The Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2) detail by Patrice Warrener
The Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2) by Patrice Warrener
The Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2) by Patrice Warrener. Back at Westminster Abbey after two years and bigger and brighter than ever, the colourful imagination of digital artist Warrener has been let loose on the Great West Gate. A must see.
LAMPOUNETTE by TILT
LAMPOUNETTE by TILT. If, like me, you once bought a Tiny Tim Booklight so you could feel like a giant next to it, well now you get to feel like a Borrower in King’s Cross! Head to King’s Boulevard for your time to shine.
Harmonic Portal by Chris Plant at St James's Church
Harmonic Portal by Chris Plant. St James’s Church is usually viewed from just one angle, Piccadilly street. Plant’s work takes you to the walls of the churchyard on Jermyn Street.
DOT by Philippe Morvan in King's Cross
DOT by Philippe Morvan. Warm. Pulsing. Dotty. Streams of light set to a surprisingly spine-tingly soundtrack composed especially for Lumiere by composers Solomon Grey.
Love Motion by Rhys Coren at the Royal Academy
Love Motion by Rhys Coren. As if you needed an excuse to have a gander round the Royal Academy courtyard. A delightful animated film played on on the façade of Burlington House.
Child Hood (lion close) by Collectif Coin in Trafalgar Square
Child Hood by Collectif Coin. The best way to end your Lumiere tour. The sight of Trafalgar Square packed with luminous balloons, lit up at intervals to a throb of sounds.
Child Hood by Collectif Coin in Trafalgar Square
Child Hood by Collectif Coin, re-imagined as an abstract landscape by me.

New in London: the Bloomberg SPACE

Another View from Nowhen by Isabel Nolan at the Bloomberg SPACE

It opened back in November so if you’re eagle eyed you’ll have beaten me to it but I visited London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE last weekend and I left seriously impressed. When even the loos are remarkable, you know you’re onto something.

Part contemporary art space and part reconstructed Roman temple, there’s a lot more to this place than appears on entering, starting with the beautifully displayed excavated Roman artefacts that you can explore via tablets (of the Samsung, not ancient, variety).

Walking literally down through history, you’ll hear the soothing sounds of Joanna Lumley introducing experts as you wait for the transfixing experience of the temple’s big reveal – the details of which I won’t spoil!

The 2,000 year old Roman temple was dedicated to the god Mithras who had a mysterious cult following and archaeologists uncovered it in the 1950s.

It was moved off site, but with the building and recent reopening of Bloomberg’s European headquarters on Walbrook street (the world’s most sustainable office), the temple has been returned to almost exactly the same space it occupied in the 3rd century AD.

It’s absolutely wonderful. And, guess what, it’s free! Make sure you book your tickets before everyone gets the memo.

Excavation finds from the Temple of Mithras
The ruins of the Temple of Mithras on display at the Bloomberg SPACE

Happy travels!

The globes on display in Stanfords, the world's biggest travel bookshop

The midnight fever of fireworks out of the way for another year, it’s time to focus on forgetting those rubbish resolutions and plan for the important stuff instead – where you’ll be travelling.

What do I have planned?

I’ll be hoping for snow, glorious snow in early February as I visit my brother Stephen in Stockholm, checking out what the local pistes have to offer.

For the rest of the year I’ll be ticking off some big names; I’ll be taking a bite out of the Big Apple when I head to New York in late April early May for nine days, visiting friends.

I’ll spend a June weekend in Vienna, enjoying living locally in a friend’s family apartment.

Later in the year I head out to Hong Kong to meet my brother (fresh from his travels around the Himalayas and China) and together we’ll explore Japan.

Have you experienced New York, Hong Kong or Japan off the beaten track or shared experiences with locals? I’d love to hear from you!

The best way to keep up to date with my travels is to follow this blog and join me on Instagram and Twitter.

My 2017 travel highlights

Getting ready to head up on a goldola at Piani di Bobbio

Day 365 is nearly over, but before thoughts turn to far flung travel in 2018 I thought I’d look back over some 2017 highlights.

Read on for some of my favourite photos from my travels and top tips if you’re planning your own city break in 2018.

Paris

Inside the Dior show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Having last walked the streets of Paris eight years ago, I found myself in the city of chic twice this year and I wrote about living like a local in May.

I only made it halfway round the Christian Dior show at Musée des Arts Décoratifs and it remains one of the best shows I’ve seen all year anywhere. Catch it before it closes on 7th January.

Milan

A quiet Piani di Bobbio in April 2017

I have friends who live in Milan which means we do the things the Milanese love to do – like getting out of the city!

In the same Alpine valley that produces Bresaola air-dried beef, haul yourself and your skis up to the Piani di Bobbio, a small resort an hour outside Milan by car and perfect for a day trip.

You’ll find more tips in my blog post from April.

Porto

Looking up at the houses in the narrow back streets of Porto

Porto is a city best viewed on foot so get lost in its back streets, and don’t forget to look up!

I walked my socks off round the compact city back in May, read my recommendations for 72 hours in Porto.

Venice

Sunset over Venice from the island of San Michele

Venice was a big highlight of the year for me. We dodged tourists, jumped on water buses whenever we could and explored the canals in the midnight mist; we glided out to islands in the lagoon at sunset, found food worthy of both carnivores and herbivores and, naturally, sampled the odd cocktail or two (forget negronis, ask for ‘uno spritz’).

For the absolute best breakfast ritual (and the best crockery in town), head to Pasticceria Tonolo. Long and narrow, you might have to scuffle to find space, but it’ll have been worth it when you sink your teeth into any of their pastries.

Copenhagen

Inside the Louisiana Museum

Getting cosy with culture was easy in Copenhagen and I recently wrote about my top five art experiences in the Danish capital. A must-see if you have the time, travel 29 miles north of Copenhagen for the modern art gallery on a cliff edge, the Louisiana.

Once you’ve got a fill of great art, head back into the city centre to Hallernes in Nørreport for fully loaded Smørrebrød.

Stockholm

Cycling on Svartsö in the archipelago

I’ll be heading out to my favourite Scandinavian capital in February for some ski action and I was there last in spring, a lovely season for getting out to the archipelago islands.

Enjoy a leisurely cycle across the lengths of Utö and Ålö or challenge yourself and your bike on the rugged tracks of Svartsö.

Read more about getting out and about in Stockholm in my blog post from April.

Dublin

Inside the Guinness Storehouse cinema

It may not be so sunny in Dublin at this time of year but that doesn’t matter, Guinness doesn’t need it!

From the Bompas & Parr-designed tasting rooms and rooftop bar to the surround sound cinema and colourful brand gallery, the Guinness Storehouse doesn’t put a pint-sized foot wrong. Oh, and the stout isn’t bad either.

Sláinte and happy new year!

An art lover’s guide to Copenhagen

A sculpture by François Rude in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket

Copenhagen, the achingly cool capital of Denmark. Home of cycling, great design, hygge and, as I recently found out, full of wonderful art.

Whether you like yours ancient or modern, Copenhagen knows how to house it, leaving even the least interested spectator impressed. If art is all about experiences, these are my pick of the top five you should have.

A sculpture of Jason and his golden fleece inside the Thorvaldsens Museum

Thorvaldsen’s Museum

A must-do for fans of classical sculpture that also happens to be non-stop Instagrammable. You may not have heard of him but Thorvaldsen’s sculptures adorn many major cities across Europe.

Look out for Jason (above), the Alexander frieze, Ganymede with Zeus’s eagle and endless colourful corridors of rooms – making for a marvellous treat of a museum. (2 Bertel Thorvaldsens Plads. Adult 70 DKK, about £8, or free on Wednesdays. Closed Mondays).

Photoraphy on the walls of the glass-lined corridors of the Louisiana Museum north of Copenhagen, Denmark

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

This international art gallery makes for a great day trip by train along a scenic route that also takes you to Kronborg castle, of Hamlet fame. The gallery is set in lush sculpture-speckled gardens looking out to sea and a series of wood and glass corridors bring the outdoors in, the indoors out.

Big names including Ernst, Hockney and Giacometti form their rotating permanent collection on display alongside enviable blockbusters, most recently 100 works by Marina Abramović. (Follow signs from Humlebæk station. Adult 125 DKK, about £15. Closed Mondays)

The stairs inside The David Collection museum in Copenhagen, Denmark

The David Collection

A labyrinth of beautiful interiors full of art amassed by one man, lawyer C. L. David. It’s no surprise that the gallery is free entry; as well as leaving one of the world’s most important collections of Islamic art behind, David also left a huge fortune on his death in 1960.

Over 12 centuries of Islamic art means you would need to devote most of a day to examining it all, so look out for special exhibitions and temporary photographic displays to pick out highlights. (30-32 Kronprinsessegade. Free admission. Closed Mondays).

Inside the botanical gardens of the atrium in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket, Copenhagen, Denmark

Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket

A museum owned by Carlsberg is probably going to be the best in the world, right? Well, not quite, but its grand botanical garden of an atrium and collection of 19th Century French art, housed in a modern wing, make it worthwhile for any art fan. Save and go when it’s free entry on Tuesdays.

On now, head to the Café for Danish artist HuskMitNavn’s cartoon take on people just like you. (Dantes Plads 7. Adult 95 DKK, about £11 or free on Tuesdays. Closed Mondays).

A painting in the SMK permanent collection in Copenhagen, Denmark

National Gallery of Denmark (SMK)

Growing up as I did with London’s National Gallery on my doorstep, other European cities have a hard act to follow. But I fell in love with SMK’s sensational French art gallery and their temporary exhibition programme is a refreshing mix of blockbuster shows and homegrown talent.

On until 7 January, Family Stories from Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing. (Sølvgade 48-50. Adult 110 DKK, about £13 or save on entry to five museums with a Parkmuseerne card. Closed Mondays).

Adventure in Iceland: following the lights

Map of Iceland showing the route taken from Reykjavik to a farmhouse near Akureyri in northern Iceland

‘How long do your hands have to be this cold, before you get frostbite and they fall off?’

Night had fallen on a glacial February day, 493km into our journey north from Reykjavik by car. 1km to go and we were tantalisingly close to our X on the map, our remote Airbnb farmhouse in Öxnadalur, northern Iceland. But our tiny Suzuki Jimny 4×4 (world’s smallest 4×4, surely?) could take us no further.

Alone against a backdrop of darkness. Going uphill. In a snow drift. On foot. Hands so cold I thought I might need to ‘do a Ranulph Fiennes‘. But we’d found our adventure in Iceland and it was time to follow the lights.

1. A journey begunThe tiny town of Varmahlíð, western IcelandWe said goodbye to Reykjavik that morning, disappointed that we’d not seen any sign of Aurora Borealis four nights in to our week long trip. We were confident that we’d have better luck staying outside Iceland’s second largest city, Akureyri.

On a clear day it should have taken us 3.5 hours to travel the 294km to Varmahlíð, above. It took us closer to 5 hours, with no toilet breaks and few snacks. In a 4×4 the size of a large wheelbarrow, we began to experience cabin fever. This little petrol station saved lives that day.

The road past Varmahlíð, western IcelandIt really was what I imagined snow blindness to be like, hours of endless scenes like this.

2. Some luckOn our way up through north western IcelandImagine our elation when we entered into some good luck, and sunshine! Everything looked brighter and more wonderful. Our adventure up north was back on track.

DSCN5555We’d already decided (well, some of us had) that after Varmahlíð we would take the long way round to our farmhouse, via the Siglufjörður peninsula. Drunk on sunshine and photo opportunities, we decided to take a further detour, to see Hólar Cathedral. Hólar was, for 700 years, the capital of the north. Worth the extra mileage but it did cost us precious daylight driving…

3. High up near the ArcticPast Hofsós on a peninsula in northern Iceland, near the Arctic Circle‘Like driving on glass’ was the assessment of road conditions throughout the whole trip, especially true of this completely deserted peninsula route. We followed it past Hofsós (one of the oldest ports in northern Iceland) and Fell, towards our pitstop of Siglufjörður.

Sunset on a peninsula in northern Iceland, near the Arctic CircleMe making the most of the light on a peninsula in northern Iceland, near the Arctic CircleStephen making the most of the light on a peninsula in northern Iceland, near the Arctic CircleA beautifully rosy sunset heralded us as we looked out towards the Arctic Circle, so close we could almost pinch it and the furthest north we’ve ever been. For now.

4. A pitstopTower in the town of SiglufjörðurLeaving the town of SiglufjörðurWe could escape the night no longer. Finally reaching Siglufjörður, we stocked up on the essentials every adventurer and northern lights seeker needs: meatballs, sauce, chips, birthday cake.

We were still 93km away from our X on the map, and by this point running on empty. A routine loo stop on the side of a road became a rescue mission to push our 4×4 out of a snow drift ditch.

5. The last kmThe moon behind our farmhouse near Akureyri in northern Iceland.Our traumatised Suzuki Jimny parked up and luggage weighing heavily on our backs, we began the farmhouse ascent. A pair of inner gloves between me and certain chilblains.

But the moon! Everything was so ethereal and I could just make out faint shapes in the sky behind me, dancing every so often.

At the same time I didn’t have a clue where I was going and got separated from everyone else, clawing my way through a wooded area that we later discovered was way off the main track, so deep was the snow drift.

Our arrival through the snow drift to our farmhouse in northern IcelandAfter lots of clumsy phone torch holding and stabbing in the dark to find the hidden keys for the main door, we’d finally arrived at our farmhouse. Adventure complete.

But, hang on, those dancing shapes…

6. Aurora BorealisNorthern lights show as viewed from the door of our farmhouseNorthern lights from our farmhouse near Akureyri in northern Iceland.The sight of northern lights from our farmhouse near Akureyri in northern Iceland.The magic spectacle of the northern lights as they pranced and shimmered in the sky above us, rippling and darting about in every which way.

It had such a hold over us as we stood shivering in the snow. It was 3am before we could tear ourselves away.

Northern lights behind the mountain range near Akureyri in northern Iceland.Sometimes the lights would swirl over our heads and other times the luminescent colour appeared like huge spotlights from behind the distinctive mountain range ahead.

Common as the sight is in northern Iceland, seeing them in winter is never guaranteed. As some scientific opinion suggests, we may be headed for a ‘Solar Minimum’ in 2019 and the chance of seeing Aurora Borealis could reduce.

7. Was it a dream?DSCN5653 2At dawn, a completely different scene before us and, as we wiped the sleep from our eyes, we worried we may never see a show like that again. Had we actually seen them for real the night before?!

We had, and we would enjoy more shows before we left Iceland.

Catch them while you can!

Lucky to be last: hiking in the Andes

The view from Rumiñahui volcano with one of our walking guides

Acute mountain sickness isn’t fun. Dominating the peaks of South America was going to be harder than I foresaw. As I stumbled steeply upwards at the back of the pack, our local walking guide Henry an ever-smaller speck in the distance, I asked myself: could I cut it?

We had arrived at the Secret Garden hostel in the Ecuadorian Andes less than 24 hours earlier from the country’s capital Quito, recommended by the friends we were visiting in Ecuador. Unrivalled views of Cotopaxi volcano by day and a tapestry of billions of stars by night. We had found our gateway to adventure within this most sweeping of mountain ranges.

The 4,721ft Rumiñahui volcano was the first of three hikes we would take on in this corner of the Andes. Even with the luxury of time to acclimatise to altitude, it isn’t an easy climb.

Henry’s girlfriend – second in command – did her best to chivvy me along, but my body could go no faster setting than ‘glacial’. As I inched along, frustrated that I wasn’t going to make the peak like everyone else, I turned around and it dawned on me. The view! Everyone else focused on toppling Rumiñahui but my end goal had shifted.

The Andean panorama that surrounded me deserved to be ogled at and ruminated over, its great plains and rocky crags defiant against blue skies and clumps of cloud.

Yes, I was cut out for this.

Pausing for a breather on Rumiñahui volcano
How it felt not to have to climb any higher at altitude. Until Cotopaxi the next day!
Preparing for the descent on Rumiñahui volcano
That view.
Relaxing after the ascent Rumiñahui volcano, before the steep descent
Other backpackers, most had been in South America for months, far more acclimatised than me!
Sliding down Rumiñahui volcano
What comes up must come down. Our reward for climbing so high was to then hurl ourselves wacky races style down near vertical sandy paths.