Holidays and Other Excursions

Month: March 2024

East Kent 20-22 March 2024

Dover Castle

Dover Castle

20-22 March 2024

Back in 2020 we had a holiday based in New Romney and during that trip had an excellent tea at the Hythe Imperial hotel (in the garden due to covid) and promised ourselves a return visit as the place looked interesting plus there are a couple of restaurants in the area which deserve sampling.

A midweek special offer finally lands and gets booked for two nights including dinner on one night, which we have tonight (20 March) following our drive along the M3, M25 and M26.

The dinner is excellent and we are a little bit surprised as it is better than we expected.  Additionally the food is served hot which means that even when reaching the end of each course it has not gone cold.  Equally welcome the hot elements of breakfast are warmer in the repositories than normal.  If they can do it why not everywhere else?

With the railway running season not yet having started our choices today are limited and we did the zoo last time so this time we are going to Dover Castle (21 March).

There are numerous elements but we restrict ourselves to the WWII tunnels which largely tell the story of Dunkirk and the vast troop numbers which the small ships managed to bring across the Channel.  I just wonder how the influx of demoralised troops were able to reach their own regiments again.  I suppose each regiment had a nominal base and ways were found.

Henry II Tower Dover Castle

Henry II Tower Dover Castle

I also visit the Henry II tower. Henry ruled much of Western France following his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine.  In his own right he held England, Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Touraine and on marriage added Aquitaine.  He maintained control by regularly visiting those lands – so they were regular visitors to the Castle on journeys to and from the continent.  Consequently having a suitably royal stopping place here was essential.

Hide and Fox Menu

Hide and Fox Menu

Dinner this evening (21 March) is at the Hide and Fox which is holding a wine evening.  The restaurant is a taxi ride out of Hythe to Saltwood – a small place up on the hill above Hythe.  The food is excellent.  Our chosen date was also a special wine evening and it is pleasing to see an obviously good restaurant full with all tables taken and appreciation for the team.

Moving on to Friday 22 March our return home commenced by a gentle journey to Bridge and the Bridge Arms for lunch.  Another excellent meal – the team are also responsible for the Fordwich Arms at Fordwich which we visited back in 2020 and the place steadily fills up whilst we are eating.

The journey home is marred by serious traffic delays.  The exit from the M2 to the A249 is closed with little warning.  It is therefore not a surprise when the junction for the A229 is causing huge traffic delays.  So we then head to the M25 and do well for a while – but once the M26 and M25 merge we are then in solid traffic with overhead displays requiring lower than normal speeds and yet there is nothing to justify the reduction.  Inevitably the A3 junction roadworks cause even more delays, so a nice simply journey takes nearly an hour longer than planned.  Typical of simply trying to get out and about these days.

Iceland – Day 4

Eyjafjallajokull volcano

Eyjafjallajokull volcano

Sunday 10.3.24

An optional tour today to the south of the island to see some different sights, there is a quite a bit of time on the coach as the distances are significant and although the roads are not busy nor are they motorways.  We head off in a similar direction to yesterday initially but turning off and taking a different route through the mountains to see some different scenery.  We eventually descend to closer to sea level and then more or less run along the coast in a south-easterly direction.

Our first sightseeing stop is at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull which, when it erupted in 2010 led to the suppression of flights in much of Europe due to the high ash content being considered potentially capable of shutting down jet engines.  The current eruptions have far lower ash content so they have not impacted on flights.

The volcano is covered by an ice cap and without a decent zoom lens the photos are all very long distance.

We move onto the black sandy beach at Reynisfjara where we are warned that the wind is particularly strong.  It is also apparently famous from a Justin Bieber (who he?) video from 2015 which was shot here and which merely adds to the visiting tourist numbers.  However Westlife, The Saturdays and Take That also filmed here as indeed has Bjork – which is perhaps less surprising!  The wind is particularly strong and whilst I do not feel the need for a partner others do and I wonder if it is a less windy day than some as I do not feel that I will be blown away – but it might easily be that others have.  We are close to the Hálsanefshellir Cave at the eastern end of the beach.

We stop at a shopping centre at Vik which is I believe the southernmost settlement of Iceland.  Like all of the locations outside the capital it is quite small.  This provides an opportunity for some lunch.  There is another small black beach here as well – but the winds mean that we do not really get that far.

Our return journey is via the Skógafoss waterfall – which is one of the main tourist attractions as there is a large parking space.  It is still a bit of a hike to the waterfall and a viewing point – I certainly rack up quite a few steps today as I make it there and back (I am pleased to say).

Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Seljalandsfoss waterfall

We also stop at Seljalandsfoss – another waterfall – which in summer I believe it is possible to walk around behind the falls – but this is not possible today as it is considered too wet and therefore unsafe.  There are several falls here but I only go to the nearest one.

Then it is a direct run back to the capital and as is often the case a bit of a snooze on the journey – it makes the time pass more rapidly!


Iceland – Day 3

Icelandic Landscape

Icelandic Landscape

Saturday 9.3.24

Given our late night yesterday dragging ourselves to catch the coach is a challenge.  Breakfast in the hotel is self service and self delivery of used crockery to a trolley – no frills here.  The breakfast is largely cold – although there was porridge.

Today we are doing the “Golden Circle” – another of the inventions of the Iceland Tourist Board (or equivalent thereof).  This is a trip into the hinterland to the east of the capital mainly through the mountains.  Our first destination is the Thingvellir National Park which was the home of the Icelandic Parliament from 930 to 1798 (all AD as there were no settlements until around 870 AD).  Essentially an annual gathering where first the laws were recited as they were not codified in writing for a long time and the attendees were then able to resolve legal disputes or conclude matters by fighting duels on adjacent islands.

The location is spectacular as it is at the point where the American and European tectonic plates are slowly separating – with a huge fissure running through the site.  It is a very slow movement so unlikely to see changes in a lifetime.

At the end of the walk to the coach we pass the “Drowning Pool”.  Should an unmarried lady become pregnant then she was dropped into the pool and drowned.  Male adulterers and murders were beheaded.  Lesser punishments applied for lesser crimes.

Gulfoss Waterfall

Gulfoss Waterfall

We move onto the Gullfoss waterfall decent but not as large as some which we have seen!  I take the opportunity to walk down the steps maximising my activity today.  Jackie meanwhile acquires an Icelandic woolly!

Two more stops as we retrace our steps towards Reykjavik.  First the geysers spouting from the ground.  We passed the location earlier in the day and I think the best outburst I saw was as we drove past.  Whilst we were there they were not so striking.

Then in the town of Hverageroi we pause at the Sunnumork Shopping Center which has a plate glass floor enabling visitors to stand with one foot on either side of the European / American tectonic plates.  This area has huge numbers of thermal greenhouses permitting many vegetables and fruit to be grown in warm conditions – supplied by use of the geothermal energy which the islanders tap and for which the main plant we pass on our return to the capital a little further along.  This is very scenic as we climb through some of the mountains.

Originally we had anticipated that the hunt for the Northern Lights would be tonight – so we had not booked anywhere for dinner.  On walking through the town we had spotted various possibilities and choose a Thai restaurant.  Whilst a relatively inexpensive place there is nothing to tempt us back.


Iceland – Day 2 – Part 2

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

Friday 8.3.2024 (still)

Having dined and returned to the hotel at 21:00 we depart in search of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.  One of the first questions posed on arrival was which evening this excursion would take place.  Local forecasts are published by the Icelandic met office of when they are likely to be visible and checking these before leaving the UK it looked like not seeing them was the probable outcome.  (We had noted similar forecasts are available in Alaska last year when we were cruising there – but we were then far too late in the year for sight of the Lights).

Our local tour guide has no doubt consulted similar resources and so we head off this evening.  As we progress there is some indication that there are some lights behind us – but it is also certain from the lack of stars that there is very little clear sky with a cloud layer.  However on the positive side it is not anywhere near as cold as we had been anticipating – and I doubt the temperature has actually reached zero.

Finally around 23:00 it is incontrovertible that there are Northern Lights.  Modern digital cameras are better at capturing what is there than either the naked eye or an analogue camera – where simply film would be wasted attempting to capture anything at all.  Hunting the Lights has really only taken off since digital cameras became available.

More Northern Lights

More Northern Lights

The coach companies obviously know that other facilities are needed and we park in a car park with a set of toilets.  The following day we find ourselves back in exactly the same location as it is adjacent to the sights we are seeing.

Jackie is unimpressed and claims that they are merely part of the huge Icelandic campaign to encourage visitors and that they are about as real as the moon landings (qv Houston).

At one point as we had seen nothing definitive (due in main to the cloudy sky) the tour manager and guide were discussing moving elsewhere and indeed we were all asked to return to the coach (Jackie and I were already aboard as in my case I had no wish to get colder than was absolutely necessary and although the coach heating was off it was out of the chill.  The drawback was that in the dark the numbers of participants did not add up and I had quite serious concerns that we might actually leave two people behind.  Such a minor

However I believe I have seen them and whilst it was not an impressive display there was something there.  And we eventually get to bed around 1am.

Iceland – Day 2 – Part 1

Icelandic Presidential Residence

Icelandic Presidential Residence

Friday 8.3.2024

This morning we have a tour of the capital and commence by heading out to the Presidential Residence at Bessastaðir which is important in that it was a Royal property during the period when Iceland was part of Norway.  It later became the location of the Danish official residence, although the current building is far more recent having been extensively reconstructed in the last years of the twentieth century during which a significant archaeological survey found evidence dating back to the earliest settlements in Iceland around 874AD – although Irish monks may have been here even earlier.

Whilst initial settlement may have been from Norway, the states of Norway, Sweden and Denmark were united between 1397 and 1523 following which the island was under Danish control.  In 1941 with Denmark having fallen to Germany the local residents politely requested a British invasion and Churchill responded by sending 25,000 troops to safeguard the island.  We are told that much of the subsequent development of the country can be attributed to our friendly involvement (we are a group of British travellers after all) – with independence being granted from Denmark in 1944 and with Churchill even suggesting tapping the geothermal energy which the country uses – this may be stretching matters a little far!

Sun Voyager sculpture

Sun Voyager sculpture

We return to the capital and drive along the sea front to inspect the Sun Voyager sculpture – which is almost impossible to photograph without people in front of it and a typically moody sky behind as can be seen!  Further along parts of the area have been significantly redeveloped to give Iceland a modern concert hall and other facilities expected of a European Capital City.  At the other end of the town is the old port area which has largely lost ship building but sees an awful lot of fishing as that remains a major enterprise with large boats with very small crews undertaking factory style fishing.

Our onward journey takes us to Perlan – but mainly to take advantage of the views and a brief rest break.  The final tour destination is Hallgrimskirkja – a huge and fairly modern church, completed in 1986, with some distinctive architecture which can be seen from all around the capital.  Outside is a statue of Leif Erikson a 1930 gift from the USA in celebration of 1000 years of democracy.



After lunch our second excursion is to the Sky Lagoon.  It is on the edge of Reykjavik and is completely man made with heated sea water.  I could not find much about it online so have written these notes – just in case anyone else wishes to visit the place to provide details on the practical arrangements as these do not seem to be readily available.  There are currently two levels of access – Pure and Sky – and we were on the Pure level so I cannot comment on the benefits of the enhanced level (Sky).

Prior to entry we were given a pink wristband and a black band, the latter applies to entry to the “Rituals” which form part of the booking.  If booking direct you have the ability to associate a credit card with the pink wristband (although we did not have any means of payment with us).

Shoes need to be removed prior to entering the changing area – reasonable but you may also wish to remove socks as areas can be wet inside – this may be obvious but is worth noting.  There are numerous lockers and those available have a green light.  The lockers appear to be pretty secure but we had removed all jewellery and watches before setting out.  My watches are getting on a bit in age so I was not carrying one – the last time I had a holiday swim one of my watches had a watery intake and ticked its last!  There is a lack of any clocks visible – I could only establish the time later by using the credit card terminal in the café!

It is communal so you may wish to arrive wearing swimming attire under your clothes.  Once changed all items can be secured in the locker, door push closed and the lump on the pink wristband applied to the light which turns the light red and the door is locked.  My belief is the same locker can be opened and closed more than once until the band is returned on departure, although I did not try this, others did.

Some people were certainly carrying mobile phones in a water protector and apparently taking photos.

At the exit from the changing rooms towards the lagoon area there are towels for your return later and little cubicles for the storage of flip flops or similar.

Descent into the lagoon is down some steps with a handrail. The water depth is under 4ft and fairly consistent.  The surface underfoot is not completely flat and therefore not slippery but it is not at all uneven.  Temperature is maintained above body temperature so it always feels warm and most people will largely walk around knees bent to avoid exposing too much skin to the chillier cold air.

The lagoon twists first to the left and then to the right before opening up to a wide area with distances harder to judge.  Facing out to sea at this point away to the far right is a waterfall. Around to the left almost behind you is a pool bar where drinks can be obtained.  Given that we had not brought means of payment I cannot advise on cost.

Sensibly you can charge drinks to your wristband and then settle up with a credit card stored in your locker whilst in the lagoon.  I believe we were over cautious in not taking card or phone.  The latter needs proper protection with a waterproof case but the lockers appear completely secure and so the opportunities for a more relaxed approach is possible.

Obviously we manage to join the return coach – the most difficult problem without a watch or phone was knowing how long we had left!

Dinner this evening is taken in Jorgensen Kitchen and Bar which is a short walk from the Klettur Hotel where we are staying.  A decent meal and the only drawback is that it is uphill back to the hotel!

Iceland – Day 1

Heathrow T5 Pod Parking

Heathrow T5 Pod Parking

Thursday 7.3.24

Today, for my sins, is my seventieth birthday and in celebration we are on a plane for the island of Iceland and a short visit based in Reykjavik with the intention of experiencing as much of the sights as may be possible.

Over the last three to four months the island has been experiencing volcanic activity – mainly on the Rekyanes Peninsula which is the south western corner of the island and unlike earlier activity this is less lava spewing from huge volcanoes but the earth splitting open and lava flowing out and around the area – part destroying one town.  The eruption is also close to the famous Blue Lagoon and several days before we depart the operator (Newmarket) has taken the view that the Lagoon, although open, is the subject of various restrictions and a need for rapid evacuation should there be further eruptions so advise that we will instead be visiting the Sky Lagoon which is closer to the capital.

These recent eruptions are very different to those of a few years ago with no significant amounts of ash or changes to the atmospheric conditions so there are no flight restrictions being imposed at the current time.

The first excitement of the day is at Heathrow.  Jackie has booked the Pod Parking at Terminal 5 so we park up and then a little pod takes us from the parking area into the terminal – all with no fuss and all entirely automated.  A long standing wish to experience this facility has been achieved!

Once in Iceland we are driving across what looks like fairly barren lava fields for nearly an hour before reaching the capital itself.  We later gather than the lava is being covered by moss and that is starting the long process of breaking the rocks down to eventually form soil – but the lave flows are simply new Iceland as it steadily grows in size – it is a very young land mass.

I do not know if it is standard in Iceland but the hotel room in small – about the smallest ever for a twin room.  I think Premier Inn are larger.  We do walk down towards the town and along one of the two main streets as we want to know where we are going for dinner.

My birthday dinner is at Dill – a Michelin starred restaurant in the centre of the town.  We are unlikely to return, given the location but they gave an excellent account of local foods and all were excellently prepared and served.