One of the more memorable evenings of my visit to Northern Norway was spent in the home of a local fisherman who specialised in King Crab.I will admit right from the start that I on the whole don't eat seafood, but still found this whole evening a wonderful local experience.
King Crabs are rather famous on the north coast of Norway, namely in Kirkenes and the North Cape of the country.
Despite their immense popularity as a local delicacy, we learnt that King Crabs are not native to this region and were in fact introduced artificially by Soviet Scientists in the 1960s to provide a new valuable catch for Russian fishermen. Their native home is the Barents Sea surrounding Alaska where the population is declining, despite strict fishing controls, yet here on the coast of Norway they are thriving.
I defy anybody about to embark on their first ever dog sledding adventure not to feel the slightest hint of trepidation, I know I certainly did. It's the cacophony of sound emanating from the feverishly excited dogs that really sets the butterflies a-flapping in the stomach, there's something almost primeval about that wolf-like howling.
The first time I went dog sledding and on the numerous subsequent occasions, I found myself imagining how early trappers must have felt when they heard that long, deep, lupine "haa....rooooo!" echoing across an untamed wilderness. It's enough to send shivers down the spine.
The final part of the week was a combination of the idyllic south shore and the island's northernmost city of Akureyri. First though, we went to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, on the west of the island, the self-proclaimed 'Iceland in miniature' which has a little bit of everything else you will see across the island - waterfalls, beaches, lagoons and glaciers.
We stayed in Stykkishólmur, which is one of those ridiculously quaint fishing villages which speak of an easy way of traditional laid-back life.
On the south shore we drive past glaciers and more waterfalls and the site of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Here you can visit the tiny and informative museum which shows you the eruption in 2010 that not only impacted millions of air passengers across the globe but also completely covered the tiny community and farms here in vast quantities of ash.
When we arrived in Iceland, the first thing we did was drive to the Blue Lagoon. To get here you drive across unending black lava fields which many would find desolate, but to me had a sort of bleak beauty and it is really no exaggeration that I basically fell in love with the landscape at first sight - as overly dramatic as that sounds!
At the Blue Lagoon we changed into our swimwear and headed out to the water. I must admit the weather was pretty bad (I learned quickly that the best way to describe the weather in Iceland is 'wildly unpredictable...').
However, the milky blue water was toasty warm and as we floated around I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place, with its pitch black lava backdrop against the blue of the water. It is well known as a tourist hotspot and I've heard some people say it's too busy and too commercial so I was a bit dubious but, it was quite simply wonderful. Yes, there are a lot of people there, but the lagoon is large enough that it never feels overcrowded and, as my very first taste of Iceland, it was pretty great. Speaking to fellow travellers the best times to go are early in the morning or late in the evening as it is much quieter then – late evenings in particular during the Midnight Sun are said to be rather special.
My very first memory of Iceland is seeing it on a travel programme as a child and being completely captivated. I couldn't quite tell you why – I think it planted itself in my 6 year old mind as this big frozen country – a mystical, otherworldly place in the middle of the sea that seemed so far from and so unlike anything else.
As strange as it sounds to most of my friends and family, I have never been a fan of hot places and whilst I appreciate a bit of sunshine every now and then it's the cold that I enjoy the most (I'm one of those people that enjoys when the English two week summer is done and I can get out my woolly jumpers again...) so Iceland, even by just its name, was a place that called out to me.
Since then I always wanted to visit and it was forever in the back of my mind as a sort of bucket list place that I knew I wanted to visit when I was a grown up (as far off as that seemed at the time).
On a trip to the north of Norway in February 2014, I had the rather exciting opportunity to stay overnight in a snow hotel and I must admit that it was an evening I'm unlikely to forget!
The location was Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, just outside the Norwegian town of Alta. The hotel here has been constructed annually for the last 15 years, utilising talented artists and architects to create a more impressive design each season.
After a delicious dinner in the restaurant we were shown through into the igloo hotel which is just outside the main building. Stepping inside, the first thing I noticed was just how incredibly quiet it was. Effectively, you are inside a huge dome built of snow which muffles all exterior noise and so it is a rather peaceful experience.
The Treehotel: a name that instantly makes your imagination run riot. Surely they can't be in the trees? How big are they?
What do they look like and just how did they make them? These were all questions that popped into my head and I soon began counting down the days until I would get to see this special place and get some answers.
My colleague Amy and I travelled to Sweden in mid-May on a tour of new and existing locations that we work with. Although we had seen many pictures of the Treehotel and spoken to the owners, Kent and Britta several times, we had both built up a picture of the Treehotel in our minds and we were keen to see whether it lived up to our expectations. After seeing it and staying there, it's safe to say that it really is an incredibly special place that is certainly worth a visit.