Olhão, Portugal || A Weekend In The Sun

If you live in the UK then it’s really no shock that after the dull months of winter it’s hard to remember what sunshine actually feels like. When my parents invited me to join them in Olhão, Portugal for a weekend getaway it was an immediate yes from me.

Haydn and I had a flight booked from Leeds/Bradford to Olhão after work on Friday (thanks to flexi-time!) however, nothing could have prepared us for the chaos that unfolded once we got to the airport. The day we flew also happened to be the day the storm trio (aka Dudley, Eunice and Franklin) decided it was time for their big moment. Naturally, this caused a lot of flight delays which unfortunately meant we spent the entirety of Friday afternoon and night (literally 3:30pm to about midnight) at the airport. Eventually, we were sent home and asked to come back the following morning. Although this meant our already short trip had now been reduced to just 2 nights we were still keen to get away and make the most of it.

Travel chaos aside, arriving in Portugal was easy, since H and I are both vaccinated we didn’t need to do any tests before entering. We simply filled out a Portuguese passenger locator form (which we weren’t asked to show) and that was it. Portugal were still heavily enforcing a mandate mask rule in shops and restaurants when we visited so I was glad we had a few spares to keep a fresh one handy at all times.

Day 1 – Saturday 19th February

We arrived at the airport at about 3.30pm which meant we had most of the evening to afternoon sun before dinner. We checked in at Villas Marim and then went to the supermarket to get some snacks. Our first impressions of Olhão were so positive. The host at the villa offered to drive us to and from the local supermarket in order to save time and when we got there and I realised I’d forgotten a mask another local kindly gave me one he hadn’t used yet; it’s the little things right?!

Our first evening in Olhão, Portugal

Back at the villa we ate crisps on the balcony and watched the sunset. My parents and brothers arrived a couple of hours later and we headed into the town centre for dinner. They had chosen a great Italian restaurant where a family friend also joined us. We ate pasta, drank wine and joked around. Haydn and my parents stayed out longer to drink in a bar, but as that isn’t really my thing I went back to the villa with my brothers and read a book in bed. The aircon was on, the bed had one of those thin (but comfortable) classic holiday duvets and it was just bliss.

Day 2 – Sunday 20th February

Being the only full day that we were in the country I was keen to get out and explore. The sun was shining and was warm enough to wear a summer dress which I took full advantage of.

In the morning we stayed around the pool at the villa. My brothers and Haydn threw a water disc across to each other and I read some more. My Dad braved it into the pool for approximately 20 seconds and tried hard to convince us it wasn’t cold at all even though he could barely speak he was freezing so much. Haydn braved it and had a similar reaction. Despite the air temperature being warm, Olhão in February is not the ideal time for outdoor swimming.

H, Brandon and I exploring Olhão, Portugal

My youngest brother, Brandon, wanted to explore with us so we took an uber first into Olhão town. Seeing the historic fishing village in daylight was really cute. The winding streets were so quaint and it was fun to see somewhere new. Brandon is obsessed with a local gelato shop that sells fresh crepes with Nutella so we took him to get one. I tried some macaroons in a variety of flavours and we looked out to the ocean.

The beautiful streets of Olhão, Portugal

After we had finished seeing Olhão we got another Uber to the bigger city of Faro. Being a Sunday most shops were shut but it was still nice to see the area. We were dropped off by the Catherdral. In the setting of sunshine and with fresh oranges growing on the trees it was so pretty.

Arco da Vila

The three of us walked down more winding streets and through Arco da Vila, an arch that leads down into the old town of Faro. This was another beautiful piece of architecture that really solidified the holiday feeling. If that holiday feeling wasn’t enough we then proceeded to try some of the Mcdonald’s menu items that aren’t available here in the UK – a real classic holiday activity for Haydn and I.

Faro Cathedral

My family and I were all tired that evening so we went to a little seafood restaurant where my parents had eaten before. I wasn’t particularly hungry but did enjoy some of my Dads monkfish and brothers’ seafood curry. Even though I’m not the biggest lover of seafood it was nice to try something new and I did like what I tried.

Day 3 – Monday 21st February

Our return flight wasn’t until the evening so on our final day we were able to enjoy every hour of daylight before heading to the airport. My parents and brothers were moving to a different hotel for the remainder of their trip so we moved everything there first before heading out for the day.

Boat trip around the Algarve

Haydn, my Dad and I wanted to take a boat trip to see more of the islands around the Algarve. Since it wasn’t a particularly busy time of year we got a boat trip with just the three of us and a tour guide who was really great. He gave us great insight into the lives of people living in the Algarve and the small islands.

A fishing boat at sea

During the boat trip, we made two stops to get off and explore. The first was a gorgeous beach where there wasn’t a single other people in sight! We walked over the sand dunes to see both sides of the small island. The shells were incredible and I choose a couple to take home with me – frowned upon I know but don’t judge.

From the boat we watched oyster farmers working their land which was fascinating to see!

Culatara Harbour

The second stop was our favourite. We got off at Culatara harbour and explore this tiny fishing village home to just 1000 permanent residents. Seeing this way of life was fascinating. The homes and buildings were quaint and traditional tile (azulejos) created beautiful artwork all over the island.

After the boat trip, we lazed around the pool at the hotel, ate some good food, talked and just in general chilled out. Our final day was the hottest of the three and whilst out on the boat I managed to get a little tan/sunburn (a very real reminder that suncream is needed always when you are pale).

This has been one of the shortest holidays we’ve taken to date, however, I really enjoyed the pace of a weekend abroad and will definitely look to do more trips like this in the future. For small cities around Europe, I think short breaks that don’t require too many days of annual leave are a good way to take in some culture and see any major landmarks without feeling like you should be doing a lot.

Reykjavik, Iceland || Bucket List Moments

This has been one of the most highly anticipated trips I’ve ever been on. Haydn planned the entire holiday as a surprise back in 2020 but when Covid restrictions changed he had to break the news that the trip had to be delayed. In December 2021, after 12 entire months of waiting (and hoping it wouldn’t be cancelled again), it was finally time to fly to Iceland and live out some incredible bucket-list moments.

The restrictions around travel at the moment make getting on a plane a multi-step process that used to be simple. Haydn sorted all the documents we needed so we knew we were good to go but there was still confusion from the cabin crew as to what we actually needed when we went to check-in. If you are travelling at the moment it’s definitely worthwhile doing as much research as you can, there is some great information on the Icelandair website.

Day 1 – Tuesday 14th December

Haydn and I knew from that first night that we were going to like Iceland, there was such a relaxed atmosphere and an illusion of an easy-going lifestyle. The airport and city seemed both full of character and modern.

I wanted to make sure I had caught up on sleep before using more energy to explore; once we had checked into our hotel at around 2pm I took a nap. We stayed at the Skuggi Hotel which was had a lovely modern interior and was in a great location.

Haydn and I enjoying Reykavik town centre

In the early evening, we went for a short walk into Reykjavik to see the town and find something to eat. We found a pasta bar for dinner which was exactly what I was craving. Due to cloud coverage, our tour guide rearranged our Northern Lights tour for the following night, which actually worked out better for us since we were quite tired.

Day 2 – Wednesday 15th December

The strangest thing about Iceland was the daylight hours, since we visited towards the end of December it was darker for much longer than it was lighter. By 10am the sun had only just started to rise and by 3pm it began setting again. We got up relatively early as our second day was our only opportunity to explore Reyjkavik as we had plans for the other days.

There were a few places we had planned to go, but overall there weren’t too many places within Reyjkavik that we wanted to see which meant we could still take it relatively slow.

Harpa Concert Hall

I wanted to start at the National Museum of Iceland to get an insight into the history and culture of the country. It was a great place to start as it had a lot of information that helped us learn about social norms and ways of life in Iceland. It was relatively cheap as we were able to use my student discount. On route to the museum, we made a photo stop at the Sun Voyager and the Harpa Concert Hall.

The Sun Voyager in the morning

The National Museum of Iceland was a great way to learn more about the country as well as see some really cool pieces of history. I’m always so interested in the way people lived their lives and so naturally a museum around the settlement of Iceland was right up my alley. After the museum, the weather turned fairly bad so it took us a while to walk back to the harbour where we were able to see across the bay.

The Harbour

Not only was the harbour a gorgeous place to see the view across the sea was amazing. Seeing the snowy mountains was amazing and got us really excited to go on some of the day tours we had planned for the rest of the trip.

View across the bay to beautiful snow-capped mountains

After we got back to the hotel we just took it easy until it was time to go on our Northern Lights tour. We booked with Siggi from Iceland Everywhere. We really liked that the tours were smaller groups and since we were booking multiple tours there was a small discount available.

The Sun Voyager in daylight

Siggi taught us so much about the Northern Lights and really put in the effort to ensure we got to see the lights. We drove around in the night for about 6 hours and were lucky enough to see them! Don’t let the pictures mislead you, the Aurora doesn’t appear colourful in the sky, they actually appear as white dancing lines in the sky controlled by the magnetic field of the earth.

The Northern Lights

Day 3 – Thursday 16th December

One of the most popular day trips to take whilst visiting Iceland is the Golden Circle tour, which takes around 7 hours to complete and enables you to see some of the most breathtaking sights in the country. At this point in the trip, I had already decided that Iceland was my favourite place ever visited but it was about to get a whole lot better.

As it was just Haydn and I along with one solo tourist taking the tour With Iceland Everywhere that day Siggi picked us up in his 4×4 which enabled us to travel faster and more easily between locations than if we had been on a minibus (or even worse a big tour bus). We did the route in reverse order to the normal way in order to reach each stop before it was dark.

Haydn and I at the Þingvellir

The first stop on our itinerary was Þingvellir, we learned that the ‘Þ’ sound is pronounced like a ‘th’, which translates to Parliament Plains. Its geological significance stems from the fact that it lays between two tectonic plates, the North American and Eurasian plates.

The Þingvellir

Next, we visited Haukadalur which is an area known for active Geysir. One of the most active, Strokkur, goes off around every 5 minutes so you only have to wait a short while to see this phenomenon.

The Haukadalur Geysir

The stops just continued to get better, we next went to the Gullfoss, known as the Golden Falls. Located in the Hvítá river, which comes from the glacier Langjökull, this is a sight we will remember seeing forever. The path down to the waterfall was incredibly icy and I was very glad to have my walking boots on. The struggle down was completely worth it, it was just breathtaking. I had goosebumps, or as we learnt from the German solo traveller ‘Gänsehaut’.

The Gullfoss

Siggi also made a stop for us to see and stroke some Icelandic horses. To stop tourists from ditching their cars at the side of the road in order to see the horses there are designated areas designed for tourists to have interactions with the horses without causing a nuisance.

Icelandic Horses

As we had made good time between the stops we were able to fit in an additional stop at the Kerið Volcanic Crater. As the name suggests this is a volcanic crater located in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland. As we visited in December the bottom of the crater had frozen over with a thick sheet of ice.

Kerið Volcanic Crater

Day 4 – Friday 17th December

Our final tour with Iceland Everywhere was the South Coast Tour. This tour took us on an incredible adventure and enabled us to see unbelievable sights like nothing I’d ever seen before. I adored all the exploration we did in Iceland but this just might have been my favourite.

Seljalandsfoss

The first stop on this tour was the Seljalandsfoss, one of the most well-known waterfalls in Iceland due to the fact that the water falls off a cliff at an angle that allows you to walk behind the waterfall and take in a 360° view of the falls. The waterfall drops 60 m (197 ft) and falls at quite a speed.

Haydn and I at the Seljalandsfoss

Haydn and I quite often visit waterfalls in the UK since we love hiking but this was just something else. We were mesmerised by the sounds and sights in front of our eyes.

Skógafoss shares its drop with the Seljalandsfoss but has a width of 25m. In Iceland there are many myths including the waterfall. It is believed that many years ago, a settler named Þrasi buried his treasure chest full of gold under the waterfall. You can take steps up alongside the cliff in order to view the waterfall from the top down which gives a really cool perspective of the water falling over the edge. Of all the waterfalls we saw on our trip this is one of the ones I think I’ll remember forever.

The Skógafoss

The Black Sand beaches are popular amongst tourists and Reynisfjara is of the favourites with beautiful basalt columns resembling a rocky step pyramid. This was incredible to see and is probably one of the stops that really made the tour my favourite from the trip. The beach had a delicious cafe where Haydn and I enjoyed some lunch, Haydn reckons this was one of the best burgers I ever had and I very much enjoyed the pasta I ordered.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

The village of Vík is the southernmost village in Iceland Despite having only around 300 inhabitants, Vik is the largest settlement for more than 50kms in each direction. I loved seeing the way other people lived. They have a school, health centre and we saw locals walking dogs or taking their kids for a stroll. Since we returned back to the UK we watched the Netflix series Katla which was filmed in the town of Vik. We loved seeing the landmarks we recognised from our travels and the series was also a great watch.

Vik Church

Finally, we made a stop at the Sólheimajökull Glacier, this is the southwestern glacier tongue or outlet glacier of the Mýrdalsjökull ice-cap. It is about 8km long and 2km wide and is the 4th largest glacier in Iceland. Our tour guide shared information about how the glacier is receding and it is suspected that in the next few decades it may have disappeared totally.

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Day 5 – Saturday 18th December

Since the popular Blue Lagoon is located near Keflavik it made sense to visit on our last day since we wouldn’t need to travel back to Reykjavik before heading to the airport. We had a hotel for the night in Keflavik which had a free shuttle service to the airport.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon was amazing. We booked a package that enabled us to trial a few different face masks as well as use robes and slippers around the facilities. The water was amazing and the lagoon was so much bigger than we had imagined. Despite lots of towels being hung up by the entrance to the lagoons, the space was large enough for everyone to spread out. Haydn and I swam the entire way around and found quiet spots to sit together and relax. We had a drink and just spent hours relaxing in the warm water.

Enjoying The Blue Lagoon

Day 6 – Sunday 19th December

We did nothing on our final day other than head to the airport early and fly home. The flight was easy and despite the covid restrictions in place, it was easy to get through security at the airport and back into the UK. At the time that we travelled it was still essential to get a test once you had arrived back in the UK as well as before heading home. Iceland made this really easy as they offer free tests to everyone with a Fit To Fly certificate so we made sure we got that done around 36 hours in advance.

Budapest, Hungary || Sunshine and Formula 1

Budapest has been on my bucket list for a while but since Haydn and I have been to Prague, which shares many similarities, we’d never rushed to go. However, once we realised we could combine a fun European break with a Formula 1 weekend we decided to go for it. We actually bought the F1 tickets in summer 2020 and then just kept our fingers crossed that Covid-19 wouldn’t stop us from going. Booking flights relatively last minute has been our go-to for holidays during the Pandemic and so it wasn’t until about 2 months before we needed to be there that we actually sorted flights, hotels, tests (lots, and lots of tests) and insurance. We do typically get insurance although it felt pretty essential given that we wouldn’t yet be vaccinated and were attending a large sporting event.

Day 1 – Monday 26th July

Hungarian Parliament Building

Since we had a morning flight we were able to explore the very first day that we arrived. We didn’t want to go too far because not only were we tired but it was also extremely hot (that’s going to be a theme throughout this trip). However, we did walk to arguably the best building in Budapest, The Parliament building! Standing proud on the river bank this is one of those beautifully built places you know you’ll never forget. It’s actually hard to get a photo that does this building justice because the architecture is stunning from every angle.

Hungarian Parliament Building

One thing I love to do in everywhere we visit is to find a great view across the city, St. Stephen’s Basilica was the perfect place in the heart of the city to take in the sights. Not only can you admire the external architecture but for a small fee, you can climb up the towers and enjoy panoramic views.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

The lighting was just perfect, the sun tucked itself behind some clouds and in the shade the colours of the buildings and the city surrounding us looked amazing.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

We stayed at the top of the Basilica for a while as it was a nice spot to just enjoy the view and get a feel for the city we were staying in.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

There are plenty of places to eat, around the Basilica but one place that caught my eye (unsurprisingly), was an ice cream shop. Not just an ice cream shop, Gelarto Rosa, a shop that crafted an ice cream rose on every cone. It was a no brainer, I wanted to try it!

Gelarto Rosa

We grabbed a quick dinner whilst out and about as long as some snacks from the local supermarket and headed back to our Airbnb. Finding a supermarket and picking up snacks whilst abroad is one of my favourite things to do, they always have fun flavours or different things to try. On this particular trip, we enjoyed chocolate milkshakes on an almost daily basis!

Day 2 – Tuesday 27th July

This was Haydn’s birthday so we made sure we had a fun day of sightseeing planned to make the most of it. Knowing that the afternoon would be too hot to roam about we decided to make a relatively early start to our second day as we wanted to climb Gellért Hill. Another opportunity to take in some views and see the other side of river Danube.

View from Gellért Hill

At the top of the hill we were hoping to get a view of Liberty Statue, which has great meaning in Budapest as it commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary. Sadly the monument was closed for restoration work so we weren’t able to get very close at all. I’m still glad we ventured up as the views along the way were beautiful.

View from Gellért Hill of Budapest Castle

For the rest of the afternoon we took it easy, we enjoyed wandering the streets and taking in all the scenery before getting ready to head over to Margaret Island. One thing that was common in Budapest was the option to rent bikes from a company called Moi Bubi, they work just like Boris bikes in London. We decided to rent a couple in order to explore more of the island in the time we had.

Biking around Margaret Island

The main reason we decided to head over to Margaret Island in the evening was to watch a fountain light show which happens a couple of times each night in the summer. Named the Musical Fountain for a reason this is an attraction enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

Margaret Island Musical Fountain

On our walk back to the Airbnb we decided to take the scenic route in order to enjoy the Hungarian Parliament Building at night. All lit up this building looks just as spectacular at night as it does during the day.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Day 3 – Wednesday 28th July

Since we were out late the night before we had a slow start to the day. We decided to visit Széchenyi Thermal Bath which is the biggest and most well known thermal bath in Budapest. We used the metro system to get across the city and from our Airbnb it was quick and easy to work out where we needed to go.

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

One thing that we really should have been more aware of was how long we were spending in the thermal water on the hottest day of our entire holiday. We got into the thermal baths around midday when the temperature was well over 30 degrees and the water wasn’t far behind. Ironically there are actually warnings around the pool not to spend more than 30 minutes in the water, all of which we ignored…

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

It wasn’t until we left the thermal baths did it hit me just how hot it was. I was practically crying on route home as I just felt like I was melting. Which turned out to be the case as Haydn was pretty burnt and I had heat stroke which left me feeling rubbish for the rest of the day and through the night. So that was actually all we ended up doing on our third day as I couldn’t eat a meal by the end of the day so we had some fast food and went to sleep.

Day 4 – Thursday 29th July

Even though I’d had a rough night we had no choice but to get up the next morning as we needed to take our next covid test in order to gain entry to Formula 1 over the weekend. It was actually quite difficult to find a proper place to get tested that wasn’t the airport but luckily for me I had Haydn with me who found government-backed testing centres around the city that anyone could pay to use. The lady who conducted the tests was rough and poor Haydn did not have a pleasant time but once it was over I started to feel better afterwards which was a bonus for me. We were in a completely different part of the city from where we had been on previous days and by following a gathering of building down a random side street we found an Alpine F1 car in the street! This was the first time all weekend we’d seen others in F1 merch and excitement for the race weekend was building.

Formula 1 car

Having learned from our mistake we stayed out of the sun for the afternoon and in the early evening caught a boat across the river in order to get to Castle District.

River Danube

Once across the river we made our way up to Buda castle and enjoyed some more gorgeous views along the way. Budapest, in general, is a very photogenic city with lots of beautiful architecture and scenery to admire. The views back across the river and over to the Parliament buildings were definitely some of my favourite from the entire trip.

View across Danube river from Buda Castle

Even though Haydn hates taking photos taking them is really important to me as I think it’s such a memorable way to look back on an experience we’ve shared together. Even though framing a photo without the help of someone else was a little awkward I was happy to capture one of us with the Hungarian Parliament Building in the background.

Haydn and I enjoying the views

A real gem of Budapest is Fisherman’s Bastion, although it is one of the most popular spots for tourists I feel that it has retained some real charm. Its beautiful white architecture and gorgeous views across the river are truly unrivalled.

Fisherman’s Bastion

We decided to grab a drink and enjoy the sunset which was so peaceful. We sat together and just talked, it’s nice to have moments of reflection especially after such a crazy year where travel hasn’t been what we were hoping for. We’ve had plenty of trips cancelled or postponed but in that moment I was just so grateful to be enjoying time with Haydn and exploring a new place.

Golden hour at Fisherman’s Bastion

Day 5 – Friday 30th July

Knowing that we had a busy weekend ahead watching Formula 1 we decided to have a lazy Friday. We had to do another covid test ready to fly home, but this time we found a type of test where you essentially suck cotton and they take a swap from that! It was much less invasive than the throat and nose testing we’d done before and it only cost about £5 more. We also picked up our F1 wristbands which allowed us to prove we hadn’t tested positive for covid and could enter the event.

Formula 1 wristband

To finish off the day we went for a lovely dinner together and then visited a Pinball museum because it had so many recommendations on TripAdvisor. I was more curious as to how pinball could be that popular but it was actually a lot of fun! I loved the retro machines and we ended up spending over 2 hours there.

Dinner for two

I love using public transport in different cities as it feels like a much more authentic way to explore. After an evening in a different area of the city we jumped on a bus to get back to our hotel. It was so easy to work out which bus we needed and how to get a ticket.

Day 6 & 7 – Saturday 31st July & Sunday 1st August

Other than being slightly scared about getting heatstroke again, I woke up so excited to watch qualifying on Saturday. Getting to the track was relatively simple and since there were so many other fans making their way to the track it was easy to follow the trail of wristbands. As well as the typical metro, you also take the suburban railway which, as the name suggests, takes you through more residential areas of Budapest. It was cool to see a different part of the city and appreciate more of the culture. From that train, there are then transport buses to take you to the track. These go super crowded but luckily I got a seat every time we needed.

Formula 1, Hungaroring

Haydn and I had bought tickets with seats in the stands at turn 1 which gave us a great view of the corner as well as the first straight from the starting line. We were able to enjoy a sunny qualifying and thanks to frozen water bottles and mini fans we stayed a good temperature throughout.

Full Lando Norris merch at the track

The best part about watching the race in person was being able to physically see just how fast the cars travel which the perspective on TV just doesn’t do justice. As well as that the sound of the engines were incredible! I loved hearing them roar past and then feeling the breeze they created seconds later.

Formula 1 Raceday

Raceday was even more exciting than qualifying. The drama at the first corner after it had rained at the very start of the race made our seats some of the best at the track. We witnessed all the action and then continued to enjoy an exciting race. I was so sad that Lando was out after the first lap along with some of my other favourite drivers and unfortunately, Max (Haydn’s favourite) didn’t have a great weekend either but we still enjoyed the atmosphere and were happy Esteban took the podium.

Overall I loved Budapest! I thought the city had so much to offer with so many incredible things to do. There is still more that we would do if we were to go again. Watching Formula 1 was of course a highlight and something I’d definitely love to do again (although it is quite pricey). The only downside was that we visited during the hottest point of the year which really limited our days as I struggled to walk around at our usual exploring pace when the sun was at its highest. I would recommend visiting Budapest but maybe not in the height of summer!