Tag Archives: travel tips

Essential Tips For Making the Best of the Iceland Airwaves Off-Venue Gigs

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past two decades, you’ve probably heard or read some rave reviews about Reykjavik’s Iceland Airwaves Festival, which took place from 1-5 November 2017. It’s a music lover’s indoor festival dream come true plus it takes place in one of Europe’s tourism hotspots (literally, given all the geothermal activity there!), so it’s the perfect combo for travellers with a love for live music. What you might not have heard of is that the festival has a large number of fringe events, half hour sessions taking place in venues around town, which don’t require a festival pass and are completely free. Amazing, right? In order to make the best of them though, you need to come prepared. I’ve done all the legwork for you this year and compiled this list of tips for getting the best out of the Airwaves off-venue gigs. Here we go:

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Pick a Strategic Place to Stay

As most of the off-venues are right in Reykjavik city centre, it makes a lot of sense for your temporary digs to be as central as possible, so you can get everywhere on foot, especially if the weather is terrible (I had four rainy days out of six with one proper storm). There are no options like Uber and taxis are dear, unless you can share with friends. After speaking to a couple of long-time festival goers, I opted for KEX Hostel, which is also one of the off-venues (see pic below, Högni) and has a self-catering kitchen. I had been a bit worried it would be more of a party hostel, but a lot of other folks where there for the festival, too, so everyone was friendly and laid-back plus the dorms had good heating and comfy beds. Loft Hostel (even more central) and Oddsson Hostel are other good alternatives and also off-venues. There are also plenty of airbnbs, hotels and apartments you can rent, but they get booked up really fast during this time and most of them are not exactly very budget-friendly.

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Come Prepared – Apps, Deals & Special Events

Download the excellent festival app, which lets you sort the schedule by all events or off-venues only, has maps and notifications for special deals and venue changes. The second app you need is Appy Hour, alerting you about the cheapest drink (and some food) deals around town as a pint is normally around 7-9 pounds and simple meals start at around 15 pounds. The Reykjavik Grapevine (English-speaking news about the city) also publish a great festival special, a free magazine, which you can pick up at venues around town with schedules and additional offers. This is also how I found out about a special venue on Laugavegur street run by Reykjavik Grapevine (keep an eye on the #GrapeWaves hashtag), which was like a pop-up art gallery, where they displayed festival magazine covers and organised special performances by cool musicians like Soley (pic below) plus a fridge with free beer (while stocks lasted) and goodie bag giveaways. Again, make sure you get there before it opens, which on the day I went was 5pm.

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Get recommendations From Those in the Know

As I knew zero of the off-venue bands, my strategy was to discover as many different venues as I could fit in and hopefully find some great bands along the way. I started (very conveniently!) by walking down the stairs to the KEX hostel bar where the fab Seattle radio station KEXP was live streaming gigs every day. All their sessions were excellent and I was glad I’d made the place my base. In between the half-hour shows, it was easy to get talking to music fans from around the world and asking them to help you figure out which bands to see next. So much fun!

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Awesome Music from All Sorts of Genres

In no particular order, these are some of the bands I discovered at Airwaves and really enjoyed listening to this year. Quite a few of the bands sang (at least some songs) in Icelandic, which sounded beautiful and I was also pleased to see that there were lots of great up-and-coming female musicians in the off-venue line-up.

Between Mountains (young female Icelandic duo, beautiful harmonies), Groa (three female Icelandic musicians rocking out),  Emiliana Torrini & The Colorist Orchestra (probably my fav performance all week, beautiful sound), HAM (if you’re a metal fan, one of the singers moonlights as Iceland’s health minister), Bangoura Band (world music, the first gig I caught, groovy and fun), Fox Train Safari (Icelandic Soul Music, so great), Hatari (crazy show, worth it just for that), I Am Soyuz (Swedish singer-songwriter), JFDR (experimental Icelandic pop), Myrra Ros (Icelandic singer-songwriter), Kiasmos (Icelandic electronic group), Mammut (great live show), Snorri Helgason (very humorous songwriter and storyteller), Soley (beautiful Icelandic alt-pop), Graveyard Club (American melodic synth-pop band), Högni (Icelandic singer-songwriter, also in electronic group GusGus).

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Great Quirky Venues from Book Shops to Cinemas

These are some of my favourite off-venues around Reykjavik:

KEX Hostel – beautiful bar setting and great sound
12 Tonar – tiny but great record shop (see pic above)
Boat Andrea – on an actual whalewatching boat in the harbour, seating and good sound, one of my fave venues, see pic below, stunning, right?
Solon Bar – stylish bar on first floor (restaurant downstairs)
Kaffibarinn – quite small bar, so arrive early
IDA Zimsen Bookshop Café – cosy bookshop café with seating
Aurora Reykjavik – by the harbour, gigs in room with Northern Lights video on giant screen behind musicians, quite magical, quieter music
Bruggjan Brugghus  – this place is quite big (by the harbour) and it was packed when I got there for a pretty popular band, a good place to have food while seeing a gig if you can grab a table early in the day
Loft Hostel – take the lift to the 4th floor and enjoy music and a nice Swiss mokka in one of the cosiest places in town (spent half a day there when the storm was raging outside)
Kaffi Vinyl – great vegan food, records and nice seating, arrive early
Bio Paradis – the lobby of a local cinema, always space to join for a gig a bit later, some seating, coffee/bar
Dillon – great attic space in a whiskey bar
Reykjavik City Library – I love libraries, so I made an effort to make it to this one, music on downstairs, some seating

The off-venue gigs usually ran from around lunchtime each day until about 8pm and most of the spaces had free wifi, hurrah. There are lots of additional venues I didn’t have time for, which even included kindergartens, fashion stores, gyms, barber shops, museums, churches, hotels etc., so it’s great fun to do a venue crawl!

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Hunt for Cool Souvenirs

In most countries, you can pick up a handful of small souvenirs for family and friends pretty cheaply. Not so in Iceland. While on Reykjavik’s high street Laugavegur every second shop seems to be selling overpriced puffin stuffed toys, magnets and Icelandic scarves, you’re much better off bringing home CDs or vinyl by a brilliant Icelandic band you just discovered, a 12 Tonar tote bag or some official Airwaves merch. That way you’re supporting independent musicians and help keeping the lively Icelandic music scene alive, which in turn helps them putting on great events like the one you’re attending. Win, win!

Extra Tips

If you want to see some of the official bands playing at an off-venue, get there super early! Seriously, most of the off-venues are tiny bars or cafes and they fill up extremely quickly. You don’t actually have to consume any drinks or food in the venues, but of course it makes sense to buy something here and there to support them. This year the festival also included two days in Aykureri, which is a nice excuse to explore the North of Iceland, too (about an hour’s flight away).

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What is the Festival Like for Solo Travellers?

My Airwaves visit was one of the easiest trips for getting to know other travellers. Everyone is a music lover and it’s like the United Nations, I met lots of people from the UK, the US and Canada (some very cheap stopover flights from there) but also festival goers from as far as Jordan, Ukraine and Israel. All the people I met were happy to share festival tips and pass on music recommendations and I kept messaging with people I’d met at shows or at the hostel about what bands to catch next.

Was it worth it and would I do it again?

Absolutely! Apart from finding lots of awesome new music, it was also a revelation for me to get exposed to live bands from genres I normally never listen to. It did feel a bit strange being at a festival and not actually attending any official gigs. Having said that, buying a full festival pass would have not been worth it this time around as I did sightseeing tours (Golden Circle, South Coast, Northern Lights) on all the good weather days. So you can have a great time at the official festival, just the off-venues or both. I’m definitely considering getting a full pass next time around, as they also had a conference with films, discussions on the Icelandic music industry and networking events.

Don’t forget to check out my other Iceland post for additional tips on outdoor activities, cold weather clothing, walking tours, eating out and how to save money during your first trip to Iceland.

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Gothenburg Travel Guide – Using the City Card, Festivals & Island Hopping

The first time I went to Sweden I visited its capital Stockholm and absolutely loved it. But I’d also heard lots of good things about Sweden’s second city Gothenburg (or Göteborg in Swedish), so I decided to head there this time around. It has a lot of great museums and other attractions, many of which are included in the City Card, and lots of cultural and arts events all year round, such as the Göteborg Film Festival (January), popular music festival Way Out West (August), the Göteborg Book Fair (October) and also a large culture and arts festival, Kulturkalas, which happend to be on from 16-20 August 2017 when I was visiting.

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The Kulturkalas Festival

Göteborg’s culture festival Kulturkalas has hundreds of free events for all ages happening around town every August and attracts huge numbers of visitors. As I was pretty lucky with the weather, it was a pleasure walking through the city’s parks, which were decorated for the festival and offered lots of things to try and lots of yummy pop-up food stalls. If you’re travelling with children, there are many craft workshops to try, even metalwork and I saw many small kids proudly pulling along little wooden carts, sometimes with a teddy bear in it, which they had made themselves. But there are also walking tours, a bus tour of all the churches of different religions around the city and non-stop live music on many stages and on some street corners. The main information tent is near Kungstorgsplatsen and the volunteers are happy to help you with finding events. Alas, most of the programme is in Swedish, with a smaller section in English, but they also have a great website, where you can search for individual types of events or by date. My favourite event was a contemporary dance performance at the Göteborg Opera, for which you just had to pick up a free ticket beforehand. I checked earlier that day and of course it was sold out, but decided to return just before it started and got a ticket without any problems as there are usually some returns. So never give up when someone tells you something is sold out (this applies to most events I go to in any city or country btw.).

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Is it Worth Getting the City Card?

I was lucky to have been given a 48 hour City Card to try, but would definitely buy one anyway, as it included many cool attractions as well as (unlike in Stockholm for instance) public transport (buses, trams AND ferries). The City Card starts at SEK 395 for 24 hours, SEK 545 for 48 hours and SEK 695 for 72 hours. This does sound like quite a lot if you’re on a budget, but a public transport ticket already sets you back SEK 90 for one day (a single trip is SEK 29) or SEK 180 for three days and you can easily do enough sightseeing in 1-3 days to get the best out of your card. All attractions mentioned below are included in the card, but don’t worry, you can also have a great time exploring the city on foot and for free if you like.

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What Should I See? 

This is, of course, entirely up to your own travel preferences. As the weather was so good while I was visiting, I decided to spend two of my four days just exploring the islands (more below), but there are plenty of high-quality museums to keep you busy all day, such as the renowned Gothenburg Museum of Art, Maritiman (a collection of historic ships to explore in the harbour), Universeum (a science centre with a rainforest and ocean zone, open until 8pm on weekdays) and the Volvo Museum, if you’re a car lover. Sadly, the one I really wanted to see, the design museum Röhsska, is closed until June 2018. Next time. You can also get an amazing bird’s eye view of Gothenburg from Utkiken (86 meters high, stop Lilla Bommen near the Opera). Make sure you time your visits well, i.e. leave the attractions that are open longer until the evening, e.g. Liseberg Amusement Park (often free concerts, but be aware that rides are not included in the city card).

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Bus and Boat Tours

Seeing any harbour city from the water is always the best way to get great photos and Gothenburg was no different. I had time for a Paddan Canal Tour (normally SEK 175), a flat open-air boat with live commentary in Swedish and English by a tour guide. This was awesome as it had picture opportunities galore (e.g. of the Feskekorka, the city’s fish market) in just 50 minutes and even went into the harbour (don’t sit in the front and on the side if you’re afraid of the odd splash of sea water!). I also did a 2.5 hour Archipelago Tour with live commentary in Swedish and English (normally SEK 280) on a historic ship from 1881, which is perfect if you’re in need for a break from all the sightseeing (coffee, cake and lunch can be bought on board, card only, no outside food allowed), but can take a good chunk out of your visiting time, if you’re on a tight schedule. Instead I recommend a visit to Brännö island (20 minutes by tram to Saltholmen, 15 minutes on the ferry), where you can have lunch by the sea or go for a swim or a walk in the same time. I also did one of the short 50-minute Bus Tours (normally SEK 189, from Stora Teatern near Kungsportsplatsen) in the morning as it gives you a quick overview of the city’s history via a recorded commentary in a number of languages. There are also plenty of walking tours for a leisurely guided stroll through the city.

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Island Hopping on the Archipelago

The main reason I’d come to the West Coast was to be by the sea and to explore the archipelago just off the coast. The Southern Archipelago islands are car-free and can be reached by ferry in 15-30 minutes. Simply take a tram to Salholmen and any of the ferries from there (pick up a free booklet plus a map of the islands on board plus a timetable as some are more regular than others). The ferries are very comfy and generally have clean toilets, which can be useful when you’re out and about all day. My favourites were Brännö and Vrangö and I’ll post separately about how to plan a trip there. Make sure you bring a credit card, as many places in Sweden do not accept cash.

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Fika Breaks, Shopping for Local Products & Dog-friendly Travel 

My only regret during my four-day visit to Gothenburg was how little time I had to check out the city’s many great music venues, street art, cafes and shops. I did have an evening stroll through the Haga district and made an effort to spend a morning walking around the city centre plus enjoying a ‘fika’ (Swedish for coffee break) in the lovely secluded courtyard of Da Matteo cafe on Vallgatan. There is a cluster of cool shops in the same block (Swedish design, clothes, second hand books, flowers) plus some food trucks for a great lunch option, so it’s fantastic if you’re short of time. I also happened to find lots of cute dog sculptures all around town and the Gothenburg tourist office website even has a dog-friendly guide to the city.

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Meet the Locals

Swedish people are generally relaxed and friendly folks, but most of them tend to be on the reserved side. So in order to experience life like a Swede, West Sweden started a great initiative called Meet The Locals. You can browse a list of people and activities online (visiting a farm, meeting for coffee, going on a boat trip) and get put in touch with your chosen local. I tried this but due to a lack of time on my part as well as my local’s part, we didn’t actually manage to meet up. However, I still had lots of nice conversations with people on trams, in cafes mostly while visiting the islands and due to my dog project Cuddle a Dog a Day (so many cute Swedish dogs!). I also randomly met another translator at a bus stop who invited me to his home, what a lovely gesture, which also gave me an insight in Swedish everyday life.

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Of course, all of the above only scratches the surface of what there is to see and do in the West Swedish city of Gothenburg. I’m most definitely going to return for another visit as soon as I can! Feel free to leave a comment if you have additional tips or questions. You can also find more pictures and videos of my trip on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a 48 hour City Card by the lovely people at Goteborg.com. Prices are as of August 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

Urban Travel Adventure On a Budget: Cardiff

I absolutely love travelling and what I enjoy most is exploring cities I’ve never been to before. So many new people to meet, interesting cultural places to check out, coffees to sip in beautiful locations while scribbling in my notebook. Bliss!
This May I booked a flight to Cardiff for a week. I know, not the most obvious place to spend seven days. You’re thinking rugby, pints and rain, right? Well, what I found was cocktails and a movie night in a Mongolian tent, talks by bestselling authors and a very interesting multicultural singing experiment. The dark horses of the travel world sometimes do turn out to be the best hidden gems.
Getting to Cardiff was surprisingly stress-free as I steered clear of a certain low-fares airline and instead opted for AerArann (no baggage and check-in fees, woohoo). I booked into the Nos Da Hostel ( = ‘good night’ in Welsh) right opposite the Millenium Stadium and at around €20 a night including brekkie a good, safe and friendly option.
You’ve probably already heard of Couchsurfing. I joined the CS community earlier this year and haven’t looked back since (I’m going to post separately on the best way to ‘score’ a couch in popular cities, what to put on your profile and, more importantly, what NOT to do etc.). Couchsurfing in Cardiff was a total eye-opener for me. The Cardiff CSers are a small, tightknit, but extremely welcoming group of people who really care about their city and enjoy sharing it with newcomers and residents alike. During my week in Cardiff I stayed with two lovely female couchsurfers one of whom organised two pub nights while I was there (see A Shot in the Dark and Royal Oak Pub). It was a great way of meeting the locals as well as exchange stories with other visiting couchsurfers.
Movie Night in the Milgi Yurt

Movie Night in the Milgi Yurt

Cardiff may only have about 300 000 inhabitants, but it has its fair share of quirky cafes and pubs. Milgi Lounge (in Cardiff’s student area around City Road) was one of those places that I wanted to take with me to Dublin when I left. A hangout that reminded me of San Fran or Amsterdam, Milgi offers an enticing food menu, great cocktails and coffee and: a real Mongolian yurt in the back garden with a collection of preloved sofas and armchairs where punters can enjoy free movies. Chapter was my other favourite place in the city. It’s an arts centre and cinema (think IFI, but with a more creative food menu and art exhibitions). It serves creative, great value comfort food, excellent coffee and homemade cakes to die for and attracts all kinds of people from young families to artsy types. Another favourite that my CS host recommended to me was the Waterloo Gardens Teahouse in the leafy suburb of Roath. With its modern wooden interior and many tempting speciality teas and coffees on offer, it is an oasis of calm only a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
Afternoon break at the Waterloo Gardens Teahouse

Afternoon break at the Waterloo Gardens Teahouse

As this is a blog dedicated to all things festival, of course there was plenty of that as well. Hay was absolutely amazing (see my article here) and I also was at a very interesting event which might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but which impressed me a lot. The National Youth Eisteddfod is an annual Welsh peforming arts festival for young people (there also various other ones, for adults, just for music etc.  see here). This year it took place in Cardiff Bay and it attracts participants from all over Wales (only those who win their local and then county competitions get to take part). There are a variety of disciplines represented, from choir singing to theatre to dance, orchestra performances to poetry recitals. The whole week gets huge television coverage and it is a great honour to be crowned one of the overall winners. You can buy a day ticket for about €13 and just stroll in and out of various competitions. But beware, everything is in Welsh (which to me is one of the most beautiful and powerful languages on earth), earphones with translations available as far as I know.
Welsh choir competition at the National Youth Eisteddfod

Welsh choir competition at the National Youth Eisteddfod

After a week in Cardiff I basically felt like I WAS already living there and was very sad to leave. But on my last day there was another highlight. Before I had left home I had emailed a woman who works for the local women’s arts association and she had told me about a new, cross-cultural women’s singing group, which I joined for one of their rehearsals. They were going to perform at the upcoming Refugee Week, an amazing nationwide ‘festival’ for locals and refugees to meet and learn from each other celebrating the contribution of refugees to the UK. Even though I could only attend this single choir session, they welcomed me with open arms. The group consisted of a friendly bunch of women from various countries and age groups and it was great to chat about how each of them experiences life in Wales.
So if you want to see a bit more of the place you’re visiting and not just scratch the touristy surface, make sure to get out of your comfort zone once in a while. It might be a bit scary at first. But it’s really worth it. Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Do your homework: do some internet research before you go. If you like writing, look for places where readings are being held. If art or sport is your thing, check out the websites of local arts or sporting organisations and see what’s on while you’re in town. If good quality food is what you’re looking or, find recommendations from food blogs and local websites.
2. Check out the local couchsurfing forum pages: take a look at the community pages of local couchsurfing groups (you don’t need to be logged in to read the messages, just go to http://www.couchsurfing.org, click on community, then search groups). They are full of tips from knowledgeable locals about anything from local transport to where to have the cheapest pint in the place you’re visiting.
3. Make friends before you go: join Couchsurfing or ask your own friends if they know anyone in the place you’re going. Email them and ask would they like to go for a coffee or show you around. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
4. Get insider tips from locals: while the staff at the tourist office were friendly and quite knowledgeable, I got the best insider tips through asking locals I had met in music stores and cafes and who recommended their favourite places to me. And from my couchsurfing hosts of course.
So get out there and get planning, you know you want to :-)!