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  • AngieC
  • August 19, 2017 05:32:43 AM
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A Little About Us

Travel blog aimed at mature, independent travellers who like to plan their own holidays. The blog is based on our own travels and walking holidays in beautiful places such as Iceland, The Azores and Peru, and contains accounts of our experiences, advice, links to resources and lots of photography.

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    Some Great Free Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

    Ideas and tips for some great things to do for free in Reykjavik, Iceland The post Some Great Free Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.

    Modern Buildings along the Waterfront in Reykjavik, Iceland

    Modern Buildings along the Waterfront in Reykjavik, Iceland

    (This post contains some affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  This helps to fund the site, and your support will be very much appreciated!)

    If you are visiting Iceland, chances are that you will spend a day or two in Reykjavik.

    Iceland is notoriously expensive, so here are a few things to do that are completely free.

    Check out the Architecture in the Harpa Concert Hall

    Glass Ceiling in the Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik

    Glass Ceiling in the Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik

    The new Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is a photographer’s dream. And you don’t have to be attending a concert – anyone can go in to have a look around.

    Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik, Iceland

    Harpa Concert Hall

    There are various shops, displays and restaurants within the hall, but the main interest is the structure itself. The huge windows and ceiling are composed of glass geometric shapes, and the reflections change with every step.

    It is hugely impressive, incredibly photogenic, has great views, and is definitely worth a look.

    Harpa Concert Hall Ceiling, Reykjavik, Iceland

    Looking up at the glass ceiling

    Glass Windows in the Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik, Iceland

    Huge glass windows

    For more information see Harpa.is.

    Wander Around the Old Harbour

    Boats in the Old Harbour at Reykjavik, Iceland

    Boats in the Old Harbour

    The Old Harbour is being transformed into a trendy area for tourists and locals alike.  There is lots going on here.  New hotels are being built close to the Harpa Concert Hall, and old warehouses are being transformed into a whole host of shops, bars and restaurants.

    Quirky sign in Reykjavik, Iceland

    Quirky sign

    There are numerous specialist museums and art galleries in this area. The diverse range of museums includes photography, maritime history, Icelandic sagas, volcanoes, whales and more.  You can see film shows of erupting volcanoes and northern lights.  And whale watching trips depart from here.

    Of course, these activities are not free.  But it is a great place just to wander around for a couple of hours, taking in the atmosphere.  And for the price of a cup of coffee you can sit on the balcony of one of the bars and watch boats coming and going.

    Ship waiting to be repainted in the Old Harbour at Reykjavik, Iceland

    Ship waiting to be repainted

    There is also a series of information boards telling the history of the harbour and fishing in Reykjavik which is both interesting and informative.

    Walk to Grotta Lighthouse

    Grotta Lighthouse, Seltjarnarnes, Reykjavik, Iceland

    Grotta Lighthouse

    On a nice day a very pleasant walk is to Grotta Lighthouse, situated at the end of a peninsula to the north west of Reykjavik.

    To find the route, walk past the old harbour region and then just keep following the road west along the coast. As you get further from the city the route gets more interesting.

    You pass a small beach, and then the shore gets rockier with more wildlife. We saw lots of eider ducks with ducklings as well as gulls, terns, oystercatchers and plovers.

    Beach on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula near Reykjavik, Iceland

    Beach passed on the walk

    The lighthouse soon comes into view. The area immediately around the lighthouse is closed in summer months to protect breeding birds, but just past the lighthouse is a nice beach area and also a small lake.

    Grotta Lighthouse, Reykjavik, Iceland

    View of Grotta Lighthouse

    There are various benches where you can enjoy a picnic, or you can find rocks to sit on on the beach . If you are lucky with the weather as we were you will have lovely yiews of the sea, the lighthouse and surrounding hills, including the ice capped volcano on Snaefellsnes.  We were also lucky enough to see a seal basking on a nearby rock.

    Peaceful coast on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula near Reykjavik, Iceland

    Peaceful coastal scenery

    We decided to return by the same route to enjoy the same coastal path, but you can also return on the other side of the peninsula to make a circular route. And if you have had enough of walking there are bus stops along the way.

    Visit the Botanic Garden

    Flower beds in Reykjavik Botanic Garden, Iceland

    Flower beds in the Botanic Garden

    Reykjavik has a very pleasant Botanic Garden situated in a park, which is free to visit.

    The garden is well laid out, and contains around 3000 different plant species and varieties, arranged into various collections.  There are lovely paths through the garden, benches, and a couple of ponds with ducks and geese.

    The attractive Flora Cafe and Bistro is also situated within the garden.  We only had time for a quick walk through, but would have loved to spend longer – next time!

    Tulips in Reykjavik Botanic Garden, Iceland

    Tulips in the garden

    In summer the garden is open from 10.00 am to 10.00 pm. For more information about the location, collections, guided tours and events see Grasagardur.is.

    Photograph the Sun Voyager

    Sun Voyager Sculpture, Reykjavik, Iceland

    Sun Voyager Sculpture on a sunny day

    This iconic sculpture is situated on the coast just to the east of the Harpa Concert Hall.

    It is a really atmospheric site, and just has to be photographed by anyone visiting Reykjavik.

    Sun Voyager Sculpture, Reykjavik

    Symmetry

    Sun Voyager Sculpture, Reykjavik, Iceland, on a cloudy day

    On a cloudy day

    Visit Hallgrímskirkja Church.

    It is free to go inside the famous church, which is visible throughout the city and beyond.  It is, in fact, one of the tallest buildings in Iceland, and is hugely impressive.  The elegant design is based on basalt columns, produced by volcanic eruptions, which are found in many places in Iceland.

    There is a fee to go up the tower,  but it is worth it for the view over the city.

    Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik, Iceland

    Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik, Iceland

    View from Hallgrímskirkja tower, Reykjavik, Iceland

    View from Hallgrímskirkja tower (photo from an earlier trip several years ago)

    See Where Gorbachev Met Reagan

    Höfði House, Reykjavik, Iceland

    Höfði House – where East met West

    Höfði House is where the historic meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan took place in 1986.  The meeting had huge significance and is considered to be the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

    You can’t go inside the house, but you can explore the outside and there are information boards about its history.  And it is in a beautiful setting by the waterfront.

    **********

    TIP

    Look out for booklets of discount vouchers.  These are usually available in hotel lobbies, tourist information offices and anywhere where there are tourist leaflets.  They contain vouchers for discounts on many attractions, shops and restaurants.

    Examples are 2for1 offers on entrance fees and 20% or more off restaurant bills – mostly in Reykjavik but also throughout Iceland.  They are definitely worthwhile – we paid full price for entrance to the excellent Whales of Iceland museum on our first day, and then realised there was a 2for1 voucher in the booklet which would have saved us almost 3000 ISK.

    Where to Stay

    We stayed in the Center Hotel Plaza (booking.com) which was efficient, comfortable, and conveniently located for the main shopping streets and the Old Harbour.  It was in a busy area, but was well soundproofed.  The hotel does not have a restaurant, but there are lots of places to eat nearby.  And you can get a 10% discount if you eat in the restaurant of any other Center Hotel in town.

    To search many more accommodation options, follow this link to booking.com.

    **********

    For a whole range of tours you can take within and from Reykjavik try Viator.




    For a useful guidebook to Reykjavik we recommend the Pocket Rough Guide, available from Amazon.

    Lonely Planet have a city map, which is also very useful (also from Amazon).


    Tourradar

     

     

    Sell Art Online

    Prints, stationery, gifts and more available from my shop at Fine Art America

    The post Some Great Free Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


    Two Weeks in Iceland – An Overdue Return

    A two week itinerary to visit Akureyri and then tour the Westfjords of Iceland The post Two Weeks in Iceland – An Overdue Return appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.

    (This post contains some afffiliate links, which help us to fund the site – for more information please see the Disclosure)

    Landscape near Djupavik in the Westfjords, Iceland

    Landscape near Djupavik in the Westfjords

    One of the first posts I wrote for Self Arranged Journeys was about a wonderful long trip around Iceland (see A Magical Journey Around the Ring Road).   It really was a magical journey – so unlike anywhere we had visited before. Every day there were new amazing experiences, and I still vividly remember the excitement and wonder of that holiday.

    That trip was over ten years ago, and when we took it I had no idea that I would later start this website. I only had a very basic camera at the time (and little knowledge of how to use it), and the post now looks very dated. But the places we visited have changed little, and the information and enthusiasm it contains are still useful and valid.

    (The biggest change is that many more roads are now fully paved, making travelling easier, quicker – but perhaps less exciting!  And prices are even higher……)

    Beautiful evening at Drangsnes in the Westfjords of Iceland

    Evening light at Drangsnes in the Westfjords

    After that wonderful trip we promised ourselves we would return to Iceland, and this year we finally got round to it. Despite being older (and stiffer) than on our previous trip, we wanted to visit some of the more off the beaten track places this time. Here is our itinerary (feel free to copy it- it worked really well!):

    • Days 1-3 – Reykjavik
    • Day 4 – Bus to Akureyri via the F35 Highland route
    • Day 5 – Day trip to Grimsey Island
    • Day 6 – Pick up hire car and drive to Drangsnes in the Westfjords
    • Day 7 – Drangsnes
    • Day 8 – Drive to Isafjodur
    • Days 9-10 – Isafjodur
    • Day 11 – Drive to Flokalundur
    • Day 12 – Visit the bird cliffs at Latrabjarg
    • Day 13 – Take the car ferry across to Stykkisholmur
    • Day 14 – Drive to Keflavik
    • Day 15 – Fly home
    Glorious evening in Stykkisholmur, Iceland

    Glorious evening in Stykkisholmur

    Our previous trip was focused on exploring the amazing volcanic and geological features that make Iceland so unique.  This time we concentrated on the sheer beauty of the landscapes, particularly of the remote Westfjords, and the abundant wildlife.

    Westfjords Landscape, Iceland

    Westfjords Landscape

    Many people rightly visit the Westfjords to hike and camp and get close to nature.  But if camping is not for you (and it isn’t for us), don’t be put off visiting the Westfjords.  You won’t find luxury hotels, but there are comfortable simple hotels and guesthouses which make ideal bases.  And while some of the roads are unpaved and a little challenging, we had no trouble coping with a small ordinary two-wheel-drive car (though we were lucky with the weather!)

    I am now busy writing about many of the places we visited on our latest trip, so please keep a lookout for new posts coming very soon.

    Our love of the wonderful scenery, nature and people of Iceland is as strong as ever, and we hope it will not be ten years before we visit again.

    (By then we really might be too old and stiff…….!)

    Puffin at Latrabjarg in the Westfjords, Iceland

    Amazingly tame puffin at Latrabjarg in the Westfjords

    A Few Practicalities

    If you are looking for accommodation in the Westfjords, try searching this page at booking.com.

    For a general guidebook for Iceland we recommend the Rough Guide to Iceland (available from Amazon)

    To find the best car hire deal, we used Holiday Autos.  They have a great choice of vehicles and the best prices we could find.  Dropping the car off at a different location to the pickup point was no problem, though of course there is an extra charge to do this.



     

     

    Art Prints

    Print available from my shop at Fine Art America

     

    The post Two Weeks in Iceland – An Overdue Return appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


    The Stockholm Archipelago – Easy Islands to Visit

    Easy islands to visit in the beautiful and relaxed Stockholm Archipelago The post The Stockholm Archipelago – Easy Islands to Visit appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.

    (This post contains some affiliate links, which help us to fund the site.  For more information please see the Disclosure).

    Stockholm is a great city to visit.  But sometimes it is nice to get out of a busy city for a few hours and experience some peace, quiet and beautiful scenery.  And this is so easy to do in Stockholm, because just offshore is a magical archipelago of literally thousands of islands.

    Early morning light in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Early morning light in the Stockholm Archipelago

    The islands vary enormously.  Some have well developed resorts, some have just a few summer cabins, and some are no more than isolated lumps of rock covered in pine trees.  You could spend months exploring, but most tourists only have a few days available at most.

    Island in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Tranquil Archipelago landscape

    Island in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Tiny island with a lot of cabins

    Coastal properties in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Beautiful coastal properties

    Two islands that are very close to Stockholm, and particularly easy to reach, are Fjäderholmarna and Vaxholm (see more about these later).  But if you have a few hours or more to spare, we suggest visiting islands further out.  This way you get to see not only the island you are visiting, but also the multitude of other islands, islets and rocks you will pass on the way.

    Add to this the lovely properties on the islands, boats from tiny craft to huge ferries, and the numerous swans and cormorants that live amongst the islands, and the journey could well be the best part of your trip.  It allows you to appreciate the full scale and beauty of the Archipelago.

    Boat house in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Boat house passed on one of our trips

    Ferry in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Large ferry heading towards Aland and Turku in Finland




    On a recent short stay we visited two very different islands, both of which we highly recommend for a visit.  We also saw hundreds more on boat trips and ferry journeys through the Archipelago (see Exploring the Baltic Sea by Ferry).  Here are our observations and suggestions based on the islands we visited and saw on our journeys.

    Grinda

    We absolutely loved Grinda.  This quiet little island is a world apart from busy Stockholm, and a perfect place to relax for a couple of hours in beautiful countryside.

    Landing stage on Grinda Island in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Landing stage on Grinda Island

    The boat drops you off at a tiny landing stage, and when the boat departs you feel as though you have been abandoned in the middle of nowhere.  There is an information board about the island, which is a nature reserve, and a single track leading inland.

    Road on Grinda Island in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    ‘Road’ on Grinda island

    There is no need to worry, though.  You soon come to the excellent hotel Grinda  Wärdshus, which has a lovely terrace where you can enjoy a very good lunch.  The view from the terrace over the guest harbour to the Baltic is beautiful.

    There is another restaurant at the pier, as well as a shop and cafe.

    Grinda Wardshus, Grinda island in the Stockholm Archipelago

    Grinda Wardshus on Grinda Island

    View from the Grinda Wardshus, Grinda Island in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    View from the hotel terrace

    There are easy trails through lovely woodland and meadows to enjoy, with information about the fauna and flora on the island.  There is also a farm with various animals, and the rocky coast has secluded bays and places to bathe.

    Bay on Grinda Island in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Secluded bay

    Rocky coast on Grinda Island in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Grinda’s rocky coast

    If you fancy staying a night or two, and enjoying even more solitude when the day-trippers have left, Grinda Wärdhuss has simple double and twin rooms as well as great food – see this page at booking.com.

    There are regular daily trips to Grinda in the summer.  Our boat departed from Strandvägen in Stockholm (see Cinderella Boats for timetables and further details).  The journey time was 1 hour and 50 minutes, and we had over three hours on the island.

    Sandhamn

    Harbour at Sandhamn in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Harbour at Sandhamn

    Sandhamn is actually the name of the attractive small town on Sandon Island.  About 90 people live here permanently, and the island is a popular sailing centre.  It therefore has a choice of restaurants and shops, making it an ideal destination for a day trip (or perhaps longer).

    As well as exploring the town and having a relaxing lunch, you can stroll along the rocky coastline.  There are lovely views over the Baltic Sea to neighbouring islands.

    Sandhamn in the Stockholm Archipelago

    View from the edge of Sandhamn

    Jetty at Sandhamn in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    A peaceful spot

    Behind the town there is some attractive woodland with scattered cabins and gardens, where we had a pleasant walk.

    Woods on Sandhamn Island in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Shady woods at Sandhamn

    The highly scenic boat trip to Sandhamn takes around 2.25 hours.  There are daily trips in the summer from Strandvägen in Stockholm (see Cinderella Boats for timetables and further details).  Our trip allowed us over 3 hours on the island, so there was plenty of time for lunch and a bit of exploring.

    Tour boat at Sandhamn harbour in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Our tour boat

    Other Islands to Visit

    Vaxholm

    Vaxholm is only 50 minutes from Stockholm, and is easily be reached by boat or bus (it is linked by bridges).  We didn’t actually visit Vaxholm, but sailed past it several times during our stay.

    Vaxholm in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Hotel and waterfront at Vaxholm

    The proximity and ease of access mean that it is less secluded than Grinda and Sandhamn, and has less of an ‘island’ feel.  But the harbour and waterside properties look very attractive.

    We think it would be great to stay a few nights in the Waxholms Hotell shown in the photo above, and use this as a base to visit other islands.  You could then enjoy Vaxholm in the evenings when the crowds have left.

    Vaxholm also has a fortress on a separate little island, visited by a tiny ferry.

    Vaxholm Fortress in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Vaxholm Fortress and the little yellow ferry

    Fjäderholmarna

    Fjäderholmarna is a true island that is very close to Stockholm.  It is often considered the first island of the Archipelago, and the boat trip takes about 30 minutes.  Because of its proximity to the city it tends to get busy, and of course you don’t get to see much more of the Archipelago on your journey.  But if time is limited the island has a lovely coastline, good restaurants, and would be well worth a visit.

    There are regular boats run by Stromma.com – just follow this link to see the timetable.

    Small island in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    Typical small island in the Archipelago

    Other islands that can easily be visited on day trips include Finnhamn, Möja, Svartsö and Gällnö, as well as many more.  Follow this link to Stromma.com to see timetables for independent trips and also their range of organised excursions.

    Waxholmsbolaget run many ferry services to and within the Archipelago – follow the link to see their timetables, which can be downloaded as PDFs.

    For many more organised tours in and from Stockholm (including some in the Archipelago) try Viator.  With Viator you can choose from a wide variety of tours and excursions and book online in advance.  If you change your plans most excursions can be cancelled with a full refund up to 24 hours before the start of the tour.

    Sailing boat in the Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

    A nice way to explore

    Accommodation in Stockholm

    For a wide choice of accommodation in Stockholm, and options in the Archipelago, see this page at booking.com.

    A Few Final Tips

    Not all ferries and excursions run all year (the Archipelago may freeze in winter).  Check carefully with the companies who run the services before making any firm plans.

    Study the timetables carefully – they can be a little confusing (some journeys involve links with bus services and more than one boat).

    Some islands that have regular boat services cannot really be visited in a day trip – the journey takes so long that you would have to return immediately (if it is even possible to return the same day).  Of course you can always arrange to stay a night or two….

    The boats we went on were very comfortable with indoor and outdoor seating areas.  Refreshments and toilets were available.  Again check with the companies running the trips to see exactly what is included.

    Make sure you take a camera and, if possible, binoculars.  There is a lot to see!

    If you have a Kindle (or free Kindle App), a useful guide is Stockholm & the Swedish Archipelago.

    A great way to explore Stockholm city is with a hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing Bus Tour – follow the link for more details, timetables and online tickets.


    (Please remember that this site is based purely on our own holiday experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.)

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    Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens

    Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal in North Yorkshire are beautiful to visit at any time of year The post Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


    Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

    Fountains Abbey

    Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens near Ripon in North Yorkshire make a great day out at any time of year.  The properties are cared for by the National Trust and have UNESCO World Heritage status.

    The Abbey

    The ruins of Fountains Abbey are hugely impressive and atmospheric.  They are the largest monastic ruins in the country, situated in the beautiful, sheltered valley of the River Skell, with limestone outcrops and beautiful trees.

    The photos here are from a couple of winter visits, one of which was on a particularly snowy day.

    Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, in winter

    Fountains Abbey in winter

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    Bridge over the River Skell at Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

    Bridge over the River Skell

    You can easily spend an hour or two exploring the ruins, and wondering what life would have been like for the Cistercian monks who lived here.

    The cloisters and undercroft are particularly atmospheric, especially when bathed in golden afternoon light.

    The Undercroft at Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

    The Undercroft

    Undercroft at Fountain Abbey, North Yorkshire

    Cloisters at Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

    Cloisters

    The Valley

    The river valley surrounding the abbey is very beautiful, with limestone outcrops and lots of beautiful old trees.

    River Skell at Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

    River Skell

    Trees on a limestone outcrop at Foundains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

    Trees growing on a limestone outcrop near the abbey

    'Surprise View' of Fountains Abbey in Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England
    ‘Surprise View’

    Studley Royal Water Gardens

    Studley Royal Water Gardens and Park, in which the abbey is situated, are great for stretching the legs.  Well constructed paths allow you to wander around the beautiful Georgian water gardens.  There are lovely views of the abbey and surrounding hills and woods.

    Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens, North Yorkshire, England

    View of the abbey from a path in Studley Royal Water Gardens

    Studley Royal Water Gardens, Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

    Studley Royal Water Gardens

    Bridge in Studley Royal Water Gardens, North Yorkshire, England

    Bridge in the Water Gardens

    The excellent paths around the gardens and parkland make this a great place to visit at any time of year.

    Temple of Piety, Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England

    Temple of Piety and statues in the Water Gardens on a wintry day

    Swans at Studley Royal Water Gardens, North Yorkshire, England

    Swans love the Water Gardens too

    Woodland

    Being lovers of nature and trees, we particularly like to explore the paths through the ancient woodland.  There are some magnificent old trees.

    Ancient Yew Tree at Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England

    Ancient yew tree

    Woodland at Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England

    Woodland

    Some of the trees look decidedly precarious, as the slope they are growing on has been gradually eroded.

    Precarious yew trees on an eroded bank, Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England

    Precarious trees on an eroded bank

    Yew tree roots growing over bare rock, Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England

    Yew tree roots growing over bare rock

    Yew tree growing from a rocky bank, Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England

    Yew tree growing from a rocky bank

    Follies

    There are also some interesting follies to discover within the gardens and woods.

    Octagon Tower, Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England

    Octagon Tower

    Folly in Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England

    If you are in the North of England it is definitely worth spending a day exploring Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal.  And if you have only visited during the summer, remember that the abbey and gardens are equally beautiful on a frosty or snowy winter’s day.



    PRACTICALITIES

    The visitor centre at Fountains Abbey has a large restaurant and excellent gift shop.

    For an interesting display showing the history of the abbey and the Cistercian monks who lived and worked there, it is worth visiting the Porter’s Lodge situated near the ruins.  This also contains a lovely model showing how the abbey would have looked before it became ruined.

    In addition to the main restaurant, there is also a charming tea room situated by a lake in the Studley Royal Water Gardens, and another smaller tea room which is open in the summer.

    Lakeside tearoom in winter, Studley Royal, North Yorkshire, England

    Lakeside tearoom – there are also tables inside!

    If you like to visit National Trust properties regularly, membership makes a lot of sense.

    As a member you get free access to over 500 National Trust properties (including National Trust for Scotland), and free parking in many NT car parks.  Just a few visits will recover the membership fee and you will then be saving money.  You can visit as often as you like, and you will be contributing towards the care and maintenance of these very special places.

    For information on how to get to Fountains Abbey, opening times, access and prices for non-members see this page.

    If you would like to stay in North Yorkshire, you can search for accommodation using this page at booking.com.

    For more ideas for places to visit we recommend the Rough Guide to Yorkshire.

    Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.

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    Snapshots from a Winter Trip to Utrecht

    A short winter break exploring the lovely canals and parks in Utrecht, The Netherlands The post Snapshots from a Winter Trip to Utrecht appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.

    (This post contains some affiliate links – for more information please see the Disclosure)

    Matt and I spent Christmas in Utrecht in The Netherlands.  Utrecht is so easy to reach.  Regular direct trains from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport only take just over 20 minutes – see the Practicalities section at the end of this post for more information.  And the City Centre is compact and really easy to explore on foot.

    Canal and bridge in Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Canal and bridge in the centre of Utrecht

    Because it was Christmas when we visited, many shops, restaurants and museums were of course closed.  But we were incredibly lucky with the weather, and Utrecht has interesting canals and lovely parks to explore.  Sometimes it is great just to stroll around a city you haven’t visited before, with no set agenda or itinerary.

    Canals 

    Utrecht is known for the split-level canals in the city centre.  In the summer the lower levels are apparently filled with restaurants and bars, but in the winter they provided a convenient escape from the traffic (predominantly cycles) in the narrow streets above.

    Split level canal in the centre of Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Typical split level canal in the city centre

    Canal and Dom Tower in Utrecht, The Netherlands

    City centre canal with the Dom Tower visible behind the tree

    The incredibly calm weather and blue skies made for some amazing reflections in the canal waters.

    Reflections in a canal in Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Perfectly clear reflection seen from Wittevrouwensingel

    Taking a boat trip of the canals must be a lovely way to see the city, but most of these were not operating during the Christmas period.  We only saw this one almost empty boat during our trip – perhaps another time…..

    Tour boat approaching a bridge in Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Tour boat approaching a bridge

    Parks

    Utrecht has several lovely parks, and these were lovely to stroll around on a bright winter’s day.  The parks we visited were wonderfully quiet – probably because it was Christmas.  Just the way we like it!

    Voorveldse Polder City Park

    Our hotel was located in Voorveldse Polder City Park (see the end of this post for more details about our hotel).   We had a great view over the lake from the hotel window, and there are plenty of paths for strolling, jogging, cycling or even horseriding.

    Voorveldse Polder City Park, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Early morning view of Voorveldse Polder City Park from our hotel balcony

    Path in Voorveldse Polder City Park, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Path in Voorveldse Polder City Park

    Winter colours in Voorveldse Polder City Park, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Lovely winter colours

    Park Bloeyendael

    There are marked trails through Voorveldse Polder City Park to the adjacent Park Bloeyendael.  This is again a lovely park to stroll around, with lots of wooden bridges over waterways and an interesting area of allotments.  We saw many birds in the park, including grebes, ducks, geese, coots, treecreepers, wild parakeets and an incredibly tame heron.

    Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) in Park Bloeyendael, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Grey heron in Park Bloeyendael

    Park Bloeyendael, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Path and lake in Park Bloeyendael

    Trail marker posts in Park Bloeyendael, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Trail marker posts

    Wooden bridge in Park Bloeyendael, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Wooden bridge in Park Bloeyendael

    Wooden bridge in Park Bloeyendael, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    And another…..

    Wilhelminapark

    Another lovely small park to stroll through is Wilhelminapark, closer to the centre of Utrecht.  The colours here on a bright winter’s day were absolutely splendid.  Again we saw wild parakeets in the park (alerted to their presence by their shrill calls), as well as geese, ducks, coots and many others.

    Wilhelminapark in winter, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Fantastic colours in Wilhelminapark

    In the park there is also the fantastic Wilhelminapark Restaurant.  We had a wonderful seven course dinner here on Christmas Day night, and can highly recommend it.  Both the food and service were absolutely excellent, and if you visit is summer you will also have lovely views over the lake.

    Wilhelminapark Restaurant, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Wilhelminapark Restaurant

    Where We Stayed

    We stayed in the Hotel Mitland, which is beautifully located beside a lake in Voorveldse Polder City Park, (see Parks, above).  This is quite a distance from the centre of Utrecht, but once you get your bearings it is an easy and pleasant stroll of a couple of km or so (the easiest route is along Biltstraat).

    Hotel Mitland, Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Entrance to Hotel Mitland

    Because we arrived late in the evening, we got a taxi to the hotel from Utrecht Central Station.  But there are also regular buses along Biltstraat, and Bus 28 stops at Fort de Biltstraat which is close to the hotel.  On our return journey we found it easy to walk back to the station, even with our cases.

    There are hotels which are more convenient for the station and city centre (see booking.com for a huge range of accommodation in Utrecht).  But we really enjoyed the location of Hotel Mitland.  We had a lovely view over the lake from our balcony, with lots of trees and water birds to watch.  The hotel’s restaurant and bistro were convenient and good, and in summer they have tables outside directly beside the lake, which must be lovely.  We would happily stay there again.

    Hotel Mitland, Utrecht, The Netherlands, on Christmas Day

    View from our balcony on Christmas Day morning

    Utrecht is a lovely city for a short break and is so easy to reach from Schiphol Airport.  We thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas visit!

    Practicalities

    Utrecht is incredibly easy to reach.  Just get any flight to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, and then get a direct train straight from the airport to Utrecht.  Trains are regular (at least two per hour), and the journey only takes just over 20 minutes.

    To look for convenient flights to Schiphol try using Skyscanner.


     

    To check train timetables, prices, and (if you wish) purchase your tickets online, try RailEurope.

    For a useful map of the city we recommend the Travel Like a Local map (available from Amazon).

    Canal in Utrecht, The Netherlands

    Peaceful canal

    Please note that this post is based purely on our own experiences, therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.

    The post Snapshots from a Winter Trip to Utrecht appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


    Outdoor Spaces in Tallinn

    The lovely city of Tallinn is surrounded by green parks, gardens and coastal paths. The post Outdoor Spaces in Tallinn appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.

    Tallinn’s Old Town

    Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, is a wonderful city to visit.  The Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is immensely attractive.  It feels like being in a fairytale with its cobbled streets, old city walls, and turrets and towers at every turn.

    (This post contains some affiliate links – for more information please see the Disclosure.)

    Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn, Estonia

    Beautiful domes of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn

    Bell tower in Tallinn Old Town, Estonia

    Typical architecture in the Old Town

    View over the rooftops of Tallinn, Estonia

    View over the city rooftops

    There are plenty of varied shops and good museums to keep you busy.  And there are restaurants everywhere you turn, from medieval-themed eateries to slick and modern establishments.  It’s all very touristy, but still absolutely magical.  If you get a chance to visit, don’t miss it!

    Architecture in Tallin, Estonia

    View from one of the Old Town walls

    Cobbled street in the Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia

    Typical cobbled street in the Old Town

    Medieval wall at the City Museum, Tallinn, Estonia

    Medieval walls at the City Museum

    Cannon at the City Museum, Tallinn, Estonia

    Cannon at the City Museum

    The Old Town is small and easy to stroll around and explore.  For a useful guidebook we recommend the DK Eyewitness Top 10 Tallinn (available from Amazon).

    But there is much more to Tallinn.  Outside the Old Town is an attractive bustling city with all the usual facilities.   And if, like, us you enjoy being outdoors, there are some fantastic parks and walks to enjoy.   Here are our suggestions, based on a recent short visit.

    Kadriorg Park

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    Kadriorg Park, situated east of the Old Town, is a wonderful place to spend a few hours.  The park covers around 70 hectares, and contains the beautiful baroque Kadriorg Palace shown above, surrounded by formal gardens.  The palace houses the Kadriorg Art Museum, and there are a number of other museums and monuments to discover within the park.

    There are excellent criss-crossing paths for strolling around and exploring this lovely place.  The park contains some fantastic old trees, ponds, sculptures and an evolving Japanese garden with water features.  There are also several cafes to choose from, or plenty of seats for a picnic.

    We found it an easy walk from the Old Town (less than half an hour to the entrance to the park).  If you prefer to use public transport there is a tram station near the entrance, and several bus stops around the park area.  For timetables and information about tickets see the useful Public Transport page at Visit Tallinn.

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    For more information about the park see the website.

    Walk to Pirita and Viimsi

    If you want to do a longer walk you can follow easy paths east and then north to Pirita.  If you wish you can then continue towards Viimsi.  To see the route on a map just search ‘Walk Tallinn to Viimsi’ on Google).

    The great thing about this walk is that a regular bus route runs parallel to your paths.  So you can go as far as you feel comfortable with, and then go slightly inland to the major road to find the nearest bus stop.  The buses are very regular (see Public Transport – Route 1A).

    A great place to start is at the impressive Russalka Monument, built as a memorial to those who lost their lives due to the sinking of a Russian warship.  The Monument is just north of Kadriorg Park, and can easily be reached on foot (search on Google maps to see its location).

    Russalka Memorial, Tallinn, Estonia

    Russalka Monument

    The path is at first an excellent promenade beside the sea wall.  You can watch the big ferries coming and going, and there are some interesting sculptures to see.

    Sculpture on the seafront promenade at Tallinn, Estonia

    Sculputre on the promenade and view of the ferry port

    Ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki

    Ferry heading for Helsinki on a slightly stormy day

    On reaching Pirita there is a marina and convenient places to stop for lunch.  You can also head inland here to see the ruins of the Pirita convent.

    Ruins of the Pirita Convent, Tallinn, Estonia

    Ruins of the Pirita Convent

    If you decide to walk further towards Viimsi you can choose from paths beside the sea or through some lovely shady pine forest.

    Dense pine forest in Tallinn, Estonia

    Dense pine forest at Pirita

    Pirita beach, Tallinn, Estonia

    Pirita beach

    Just walk as far as you wish, and then find a convenient bus stop to take you back to the city (for timetables see Public Transport – Route 1A).  We really enjoyed the contrasts between the busy city centre, the seaside promenade and the shady pine forests.

    Tallinn Botanic Garden

    Another great way to spend a few hours is to explore the lovey Botanic Garden.  This is situated a few miles north east of the city, and can easily be reached by bus (Route 34A – get off at Kloostrimetsa Tee – for timetables see Public Transport).

    The gardens are extensive and a great place to stroll.  A large part of the site consists of an arboretum, and there is a network of paths through the lovely collection of trees.

    Botanic Garden, Tallinn, Estonia

    View over the Botanic Garden in Tallinn

    Fungi growing on a tree trunk in the Botanic Garden, Tallinn, Estonia

    Impressive fungi on a tree trunk in the Arboretum

    Trees in the Botanic Garden, Tallinn, Estonia

    Trees in the Arboretum

    There is a large and interesting glasshouse to visit,  which contains a small cafe.  Then there is a large rose garden with many varieties, some of which have been bred in Estonia,  Other areas include a Garden of the Senses, areas showcasing grassland plants and mountain plants, various ponds and a really interesting display on fungi.

    Glasshouse in the Botanic Garden, Tallinn, Estonia

    The glasshouse

    Rose garden and glasshouse at Tallinn Botanic Garden, Tallinn, Estonia

    View over the rose garden to the glasshouse

    Rhapsody in Blue roses in the Botanic Garden, Tallinn

    Beautiful ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ roses in the rose garden

    Botanic Garden, Tallinn, Estonia

    Flower beds

    Mycology display in the Botanic Garden, Tallinn

    Fungus display

    For more information about the gardens including opening times and entrance fees see http://botaanikaaed.ee/.  It’s definitely worth a visit.

    Adjacent to the Botanic Garden is the Tallinn TV tower, which can easily be combined with a visit to the garden.

    Tallinn TV Tower seen from the Botanic Gardens

    Tallinn TV Tower seen from the Botanic Gardens

    The tower has a viewing platform and a good restaurant with fantastic views over the gardens, forest, Baltic Sea and Tallinn city.  There is also an interactive display about the tower’s history.  For more information see Tallinna Teletorn.

    Other Parks and Gardens

    These are just a few suggestions based on our own (way too short) visit to this lovely city.  There are many other parks and gardens within easy reach of the Old Town.  Here are some suggestions, together with links for more information.

    Practicalities

    Flights

    There are flights to Tallinn from many airports.  To search for the best option near you try Skyscanner.


    There are regular buses and trams from the airport to the city centre.

    Ferries

    We incorporated our visit to Tallinn into a tour of the Baltic by ferry (see Exploring the Baltic Sea by Ferry.  The ferries are really good value, so if you can get a flight to Stockholm or Helsinki this is a great alternative way to arrive.  And by booking an overnight ferry from Stockholm you can reduce the cost of staying in a Stockholm hotel for a night.   To check timetables and compare prices, try Aferry.



     

    Accommodation

    For accommodation, there is a very large choice available.  We stayed in the Taanilinna Hotel,  a characterful and quiet old hotel just off a street in the Old Town.  The hotel has individually designed rooms and a good breakfast.  It doesn’t have a restaurant, but it is right in the Old Town and there are loads of restaurants all around.  We would happily stay there again.

    To search the vast choice of accommodation options in Tallinn see this page at booking.com.

    Excursions

    If your time is limited, a great way of seeing the city and its surroundings is by a City Sightseeing bus tour.  The hop-on hop-off service has three routes and over 20 stops in Tallinn, and you can choose between them as you wish.  Three-day tickets are also available.  Follow the link for more information.


    For a wide range of guided tours in Tallinn, and excursions further afield, see Viator.



    We really enjoyed our stay in Tallinn, and would love to visit again one day to explore more of the city’s lovely green spaces.  And hopefully next time we will see more of Estonia.
    City Wall and St Nicholas Church, Tallinn, Estonia

    City Wall and St Nicholas Church

    The post Outdoor Spaces in Tallinn appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


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