The Blue Lagoon - does it live up to the hype?
Few would argue that the Blue Lagoon offers a unique and special experience. Set amidst a field of black basalt lava, the temperature averages 35-40°C and the powder-blue mineral rich waters have many beneficial properties. However, recently there have been a number of changes that you should be made aware of.
The Blue Lagoon now promotes itself very heavily as an upmarket health spa. As the number of tourists visiting Iceland has greatly increased over the past few years, the Blue Lagoon has now found itself in a somewhat enviable position of being selective about the guests it wishes to encourage. For instance, they now advise that whilst school groups will be accepted, they are insisting that they adhere to a strict code of conduct which includes students refraining from making any undue noise or inconveniencing other visitors by splashing around in the water. At the same time they have increased the price of admission to students by over 100% in some cases, in recent years.
Furthermore, due to the growing number of tourists now visiting the Blue Lagoon, during busier periods some have found their Blue Lagoon experience to be overpriced, overcrowded and overrated. The entrance cost for groups is now £22 per person and so we suggest you consider this in relation to many other activities that you could include as an alternative to the Blue Lagoon, especially if you are working to a restricted budget.
For example, we could arrange a visit to several other well-appointed and very modern public swimming pools for just a couple of pounds per person, also heated with geothermal water and, within reason, no one will be adverse to students simply having a good time and letting off steam! Alternatively, you may wish to put the money towards one of our other optional activities which also represent great value for money such as a glacier walk, lava tube caving or extending your trip to include a visit to Skaftafell National Park and Jokulsarlon (the famous iceberg lagoon – a real highlight that many school groups miss). You might also like to consider the Nature Baths in Myvatn, North Iceland. From only £12 per person this offers all the benefits of the Blue Lagoon (including blue warm waters), but without the crowds and at around half the price; just one of many great reasons to get off the beaten track and explore other parts of Iceland!
Ultimately the choice is yours and it falls down to what you and your students want from your Iceland trip. The Blue Lagoon can still offer a very relaxing and worthwhile experience, particularly for first time visitors. Therefore, if your time and budget allows and you are travelling outside of peak periods we recommend it. However, if your reason for travelling to Iceland is to experience many of the natural geological wonders (of which the man-made Blue Lagoon is not), plus your time and budget is limited, we instead recommend a visit to one of the many other countless attractions which Iceland has to offer.
Christmas traditions throughout the world
With Christmas nearly upon us it’s not long left for the traditional rituals of decorating the tree, singing carols, indulging far too much with family and friends and seeing what presents Santa Claus has left under the tree. These traditions are typically how Christmas is celebrated throughout the UK, however Christmas in other countries is celebrated very differently (if at all). Below are some of our favourite Christmas traditions, celebrated in some Discover the World Education’s top travel destinations.
The Icelandic Christmas period is an intriguing mixture of religious practice and traditional folklore. Beginning on the 23rd December and ending on Epiphany, 6th January. As many countries do, Iceland celebrates Christmas with good food, gifts and loved ones, however, unlike most countries that have a single Father Christmas character, Icelandic children are fortunate to be visited by 13 Yule Lads.
From a young age Icelandic children are told the story of Gryla, the ogress living in the Icelandic mountains. Part animal and part troll she is the mother of the 13 Yule Lads. Legend says that every Christmas Gryla and her sons come down from the mountains. Gryla, in search of naughty children to boil in her cauldron, and the boys in search of mischief. Gryla can only capture children who misbehave but those who repent must be released. Icelandic children place a shoe in their bedroom window each evening for 13 days before Christmas. Every night one of the Yuletide lads visits, leaving sweets and small gifts for well behaved children and rotten potatoes for those who have not, depending on how that particular child has behaved on the preceding day.
Old Icelandic folklore states that every Icelander must receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas or they will find themselves in moral danger. This danger comes in that of an enormous black cat that prowls Iceland on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who doesn’t follow this simple rule. This cat is known as the Christmas Cat.
With Roman Catholic being the dominate religion in Costa Rica it’s not surprising that religion plays a prominent role in their festive celebrations. It’s not unusual for families to have a model of Christ’s birthplace in a stable so big that they often occupy the majority of the living room! On Christmas Eve “Noche Buena”, the Christ child is placed in the manger just before the family attends the Midnight Mass. The night before Christmas children will place their shoes out for the Christ child to fill with treats and small gifts. On Christmas morning, those children are asked by their parents “What did the Baby bring you?”
The most anticipated activity of the Christmas seasons is the Toros a laTica bullfights. Dozes of normal “crazy in the mind” young men will hop into the arena and attempt to frighten the bull into charging! The bulls are never harmed, however occasionally a young man will be gored!
The Christmas season lasts 3 weeks, starting eight days before Christmas and lasts till after the Feast of Epiphany. A strict fast is observed 24 hours before Christmas Eve, and is followed by a celebration meal, in which a light Milanese cake called ‘panettone’ features as well as chocolate, small gifts are also given.
Traditionally Children wait until Epiphany, January 6th for their presents. According to tradition, the presents are delivered by a witch called Befana who rides on a broom. The legend is that the three wise men stopped at Befana’s hut to ask directions on their way to Bethlehem and for her to join them, she refused as was too busy. She now flies around every year leaving presents at every house with children in case he is there leaving toys and gift for good children and coal for the naughty ones.
At 4.00pm all work comes to a halt on Christmas Eve. Everyone bathes and puts on new clothes to greet the season. The largest sheaf of grain is hung out for the birds. Christmas dinner begins with rice pudding with a lucky almond hidden in it for someone, and a bowl is set out for the barn elf so that he will continue to watch over the animals and not turn mischievous.
Julebukking is a Christmas tradition and closely resembles the modern day tradition of Halloween’s trick-or-treating. People wear masks and costumes (Julebukkers) and go door to door where neighbours attempt to identify who is under the disguise. Julebukkers will often disguise their voices and body language to further the masquerade. Offering people holiday treats and drink is customary. Once identified and the food eaten the Julebukkers continue to the next home.
Since the vast majority of Chinese people are not Christian, the main winter festival in China is the Chinese New Year, which takes place towards the end of January. Now officially called the ‘Spring Festival’ it is a time when children receive new clothing, eat luxurious meals, receive new toys, and enjoy firecracker displays. An important aspect of the New Year celebration is the worship of ancestors. Portraits and paintings of ancestors are brought out and hung in the main room of the home.
Christians in China celebrate by lighting their houses with beautiful paper lanterns and decorating their Christmas trees, which they call “Trees of light”, with paper chains, paper flowers and paper lanterns. Children hang muslin stockings and await a visit from Santa Claus, whom they call Dun Che Lao Ren (dwyn-chuh-lau-oh-run) which means “Christmas Old Man”.