Increasingly we are finding that people want to give Experiences rather than specific items as presents. Certainly we have personally found as we age and our house fills up with clutter we would much rather have a shared experience with a loved one, than be given yet more “stuff” to find a home for.
Many of our clients are booking holidays to celebrate a special occasion or milestone such as big birthdays with a zero on the end, significant anniversaries, as well as many proposals and honeymoons. The joy of this is that the giver often benefits from the experience as well! In this case the anticipation of the special occasion break adds to the experience with shared excited plotting and planning.
In other cases the gifter is arranging this trip in secret and we send the travel packs out to a different address so the game is not given away ! Then the surprise weekend break is given as a present on the big day, as people often do not actually travel on their special day so they can be at home with a wider group of family and friends.
The extreme surprise planners like to be away for the big moment and to try to get the recipient to the airport without knowing where they are going! This is always a bit trickier as the packing to some of our destinations such as attending a Venice Carnival Ball or going on a Northern Lights Trip in Swedish Lapland need a bit more thought than the usual weekend away!
Sometimes though it can be tricky if you are unsure of their date availability or their break preference and people prefer to give the idea as a present, and if it is well received then book it. The issue with that though is that availability may have gone in the meantime, and due to exchange rates and flight movement, we can only confirm the exact price for an exact date for 48 hrs and the price may have moved in the meantime. Both lead to an awkward situation!
Therefore the final option of gifting a voucher to a certain value is a good option for a special occasion break gift. This option lets the recipient choose themselves where and when they wish to go to. With over 19 countries on offer across our 4 websites, and with breaks ranging from travelling on the luxury Maharajas Express in India, to going to see the spectacular Verona Opera in the Roman amphitheatre, to Whale Watching in Iceland or an exotic Safari to see the Migration there is bound to be something that appeals!
Gift vouchers are also a popular way for friends to buy a present, or as a retirement gift, as everyone can contribute the amount they wish, and it is surprising how quickly this adds up to give someone a unique and memorable special occasion break.
These vouchers are valid for 3 years and can be topped up by the recipient if they wish to go on a more expensive break than you had intended.
So if you are thinking of gifting a Special Occasion Break do give us a ring on 01722 744695 or take a look at our 4 websites; Aurora Nights, Italian Short Breaks, Weekend a La Carte and Safari Addicts for inspiration.
Reykjavik Centrum Hotel in Reykjavik – What a great hotel only opened in 2005 with part of it situated in a building dating back to 1764. Perfectly situated right in Reykjavik centre overlooking Parliament Square but on the right side of the square to distance yourself from noise. Reykjavik is a party town and at weekends can get very noisy!
Restaurants are close by with a very quirky one just across the square, though the hotel has the Uppsalir Bar & Bistro with special lunch and dinner offers, as well as their claim of being one of the best happy hours in town between 5-7pm!!
The Team are friendly and helpful and there are 2 styles of rooms. Modern and the more traditional feel with panelling. Both have a great feel and space, but for me the more traditional ones had the edge. The Museum next door should have been their car park but as they were digging it out Viking remains were found and so it was converted into a museum with the quirky name Reykjavik 871 +/- 2 which of course relates to the date of the exhibits! As a result Car Parking is Metered Parking on the street – though it is free at night (please check locally in case this changes!).
And if you are looking for a quirky local restaurant just across the square is The Icelandic Bar which offers traditional Icelandic ware in an authentic laid back atmosphere with plenty of old style photos. On offer are Puffin, Reindeer and Minke Whale though less controversial fish stews and lamb are also on offer. The Creamy Seafood soup is excellent and filling. Starters are @ 2,000 isk and main courses range from 3 – 4,000 isk.
To see our Iceland breaks
With Brexit now confirmed we wanted to update you, especially as there is still a possibility we could Brexit without a deal. Travel to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein will change if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.
You may need to renew your British passport earlier than you anticipated if you’re travelling after Brexit. The new rules will apply to passports issued by the UK, Gibraltar, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey.
On the day you travel, you’ll need your passport to both:
If you renewed your current passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to its expiry date. Any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the 6 months needed.
Please see a link below with further details and also a link for you to check your specific passport
Driving Licence Requirements
In the event that there is no EU Exit deal, the government will seek to put in place new arrangements for EU and EEA countries to recognise UK driving licences when people are visiting, for example on holiday or business trips. Until such arrangements are in place, UK driving licence holders may need an IDP in addition to their UK driving licence to drive when visiting EU and EEA countries.
Each EU and EEA country will decide if they require a foreign driver to have an IDP, in addition to a driving licence, to legally drive in their country.
There are three different types of IDP (International Driving Permits) covering different countries so if you already have one please check it is the correct one for the country you are travelling to.
For example –
Italy, Norway, Sweden – 1968
Iceland – 1949
It is very easy to get a IDP from a Post Office (There are 2,500 that issue them in the UK). You would need to take with you a passport photo, your plastic photocard driving licence and we would recommend taking a second Photo ID such as your passport as well. It costs £5.50 and it is issued there and then over the counter. We would strongly recommend if driving in Europe (including Norway and Iceland) you get one as the local suppliers are also not clear if they will need them or not. For example in Iceland one car hire company think they may not need them, another one says they will need them. For the sake of £5.50 it seems an easy decision for peace of mind for your trip, and as we would not be able to help overrule this requirement if on arrival it is required we do recommend you get one.
Please see the link below with further details, as well as the ability to search for you nearest issuing Post Office.
The new Lapland and Iceland season is now upon us and as such we have quite a few excited people who can’t wait to see the Northern Lights. To help plan for your experience, Apple have created an Aurora forecast app . This clever little app lets you see 8 days of Northern Lights viewing for both Iceland and Lapland in the north, (along with the southern hemisphere as well). To access this app all you need is either an iPad, iPhone or iPod with either Wi-Fi and/or 3G signal.
For iPhone and iPod users, go into your App Store and on the search option type in “Aurora Forecast”. Click on the app (looks the same as the photo below) and press the “Install” button.
Both of these devices will then show you a date screen: Click on the date you are interested in and scroll down to the Iceland and Lapland bar. This way you will be fully up to date with the aurora!
Following on from this original Northern Lights Apps blog posted in December 2011 in relation to an app that forecasts the Northern Lights, the designer has now incorporated more updates into this app, one of which is compatibility with iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod.
Other exciting updates include an easier way of viewing the Northern Light forecast for both the Northern and Southern hemisphere at the push of a button, quarterly hour updates, and push notifications informing you when the Lights peak above a set level. For more information on this please click on the two links below. Happy viewing!
We are delighted to share that one of the hotels that we work closely with in Iceland has just received the prestigious 2012 certificate of excellence award from TripAdvisor.
This award is in recognition of Hotel Rangá’s 4.5 rating on the TripAdvisor website. As you can imagine the staff and management at Hotel Rangá is delighted to have received this award as it reflects feedback from their genuine customers who have visited. It certainly confirms both our personal experience staying there, and feedback that we have had from our clients who have stayed there as part of the breaks we offer.
Weekend a la Carte offers both summer and winter breaks based out of Hotel Ranga with the Iceland Northern Lights Winter Break being our most popular.
For more information on our Iceland breaks please click here
Northern Lights – The Age of the Aurora
Solar activities, also known as sunspots, are what regulate the intensity of the solar wind which in turn creates the aurora borealis. The sun has an 11 year cycle – or “pulse” – which regulate the intensity of the sunspots/northern lights and thereby also their consistency. Scientists have been monitoring this for hundreds of years and also know when to expect increases in activity.
As we now head into a period with very high sunspot activity – one could say we are in The Age of Aurora – which should therefore bring about some fantastic displays of aurora.
The next time this high sunspot occurs again will be first around 2022 – so if you want to view this nature’s splendour in the foreseeable future – now is the time to book a trip to the northern latitudes where this is viewable.
To see the Northern Lights Holidays we offer click here
You can book a break to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, Sweden or Norway, where you enjoy not only great views of Aurora Borealis but also an arctic experience.
Predicting the best time to see Northern Lights
The current cycle of sunspot activity – known as Cycle 24 – has brought spectacular activity this year and that promises to continue over the autumn of 2013.
NASA tracks sunspot activity and tries to predict it because of the need for this information in the forward planning of space launches.
In its scientific and detailed article on Northern Lights and sunspot activity, NASA says it uses a few methods to predict cycle peaks.
“Relationships have been found between the size of the next cycle maximum and the length of the previous cycle, the level of activity at sunspot minimum, and the size of the previous cycle,” says the article.
“Among the most reliable techniques are those that use the measurements of changes in the Earth’s magnetic field at, and before, sunspot minimum. These changes in the Earth’s magnetic field are known to be caused by solar storms but the precise connections between them and future solar activity levels is still uncertain.”
So the best time to book a holiday to see the Northern Lights, if you haven’t already seen them, is autumn 2013, if these predictions are correct.
For more information on our Northern Lights breaks please click here
Did you know a Dolphin is actually a Whale? (to be exact a Toothed Whale). No I didn’t know either and this was just one of the fascinating things I learnt at Husavik Whale Museum. Any museum that has exhibits labelled “touch me” has my vote!
The museum is full of whole whale skeletons. Perhaps the most fascinating was the Unicorn Whale or Narwhal as it is properly called. In the museum there are whale feeding plates, made from Keratin (same as our fingernails), and jaw bones all available to touch and feel. Finally I would recommend you settle down to watch some fascinating documentary videos; For me the most interesting was the one explaining how the current oil explorers who use sonars towed from ships is confusing the whales causing a big rise in whale beach strandings and sadly death.
Having spent 2 hrs looking at bones we felt we needed to see the live thing. We liked the idea of being on a traditional sailing fishing boat so we chose that specific company. We were kitted out with full overalls and set off. We were allowed to wander whether we wanted on the boat and so we found a spot parked right at the front – a great spot!
First of all we went right up to an island to see puffins. They are so funny with their little short wings, but incredibly fast as they duck below the surface as the boat approached. Up high on the island cliffs you can see the holes where they have nested. For me the most fascinating fact was learning that when they migrate they just go out to sea and bob around for 5-6 months. I guess their wings are not strong enough to fly them to warmer climates?
Next the sails went up – pulled by us. A lovely gaff rigg so each sail has 2 booms and with no winches on board, it needed to be pulled up by 2 people at the same time.
And then the highlight of the whales. “Over there” someone shouted and everyone rushed to the front of the boat to see it hanging onto any stays they could find. I was very smug sitting on my perch comfortably right at the front!
And so a magical time started as we found 4 – 5 whales, one after another. And they were whales, not dolphins – Humpbacks! I lost count of the number of flukes and dives. One swam right under our bow, and another swam alongside for quite a while.
On our return we were accompanied by leaping dolphins, and all with the backdrop of the snow covered mountains – a truly beautiful sight and a memory to last!
For more information on our Whale Watching breaks please click here
Unlike the UK there is not one big display of fireworks; instead it feels like every household in the capital sets off fireworks. Throughout the night fireworks will be set off with the firework crescendo being at midnight. Popular places in or close to the city centre to assemble for the fireworks are Hallgrímskirkja Church, Perlan (The Pearl) and Landakotskirkja church.
So imagine an evening where you are actually dining at the Perlan on New Year’s Eve. So you have the view of the fireworks but without being in the crowds. At Weekend a la carte we offer a break where you dine at the Perlan, take a trip out to see a bonfire with the local Icelanders and then return to the balcony that surrounds the Perlan to celebrate the midnight fireworks. Dining at the Perlan is a wonderful experience dining on gourmet food as the dome slowly rotates (once every two hours) to allow you to see the full Reykjavik skyline.
Having offered this Perlan experience for a few years, and also offered breaks staying at Hotel Ranga famed for seeing Northern Lights and being in the heart of exciting off road 4WD SuperJeep Tours, last year we combined the two for the first time. And WOW what great feedback we received.
We definitely cracked it as a “Once in a Lifetime experience”, our speciality at Weekend a La Carte. To quote Mike & Lisa who travelled with Weekend a La Carte last year for New Year’s Eve in Iceland; “The holiday was superb and couldn’t be faulted. We had the best time and have taken many photographs which I will be happy to make available to you once I have edited them. Our hat off goes to the 4 x 4 guide we had for the waterfall tour. He was superb and did his best to make it the most pleasurable experience. He took us everywhere he possibly could and into the darkness, extremely polite and knowledgeable. I highly recommend this tour. All of the food and meals were of the highest standard and we had a chance to try many foods we hadn’t tried before. The Blue Lagoon was fantastic”.
The Perlan & Fireworks – The best experience of New Year I’ve had to date and would seriously recommend this for anyone looking for the wow factor and break from the normal annual celebration. The building itself is just a talking point on its own; the revolving restaurant caused quite a bit of amusing confusion. Leaving the restaurant to go view the fireworks or go to the toilet to return and find your table has moved. Quite confusing after a drink or two, okay maybe a bit more. The Ranga Hotel – well I just can’t really say anything about it other than it’s an experience people need to have for themselves, and definitely do not miss the hot tub outside in the snow experience. I had a glass of 30yr old port in there, Lisa had a cocktail and we were in there 2 hours through midnight under a full starlit sky (as you can tell by now no mention of the Northern Lights). So all in all a fantastic trip, worth every penny and memory. Highly recommended. Oh and because of the fact we didn’t catch the Northern Lights, it’ll be more probable that we will be doing your Sweden trip next should funds be available. Many thanks once again”
And for those worried about not seeing the Northern Lights Nasa is forecasting a double solar peak meaning they should be fantastic this winter. New Year’s Eve is also close to a new moon so if the skies are clear the Northern Lights will be even more dramatic. Obviously we cannot guarantee you will see them but the chances are good this 2013 New Year’s Eve.
For more information on our Iceland New Year breaks please click here