Brian’s Travel Spot: Amsterdam to London by Thalys/Eurostar

The front power car, No 4538, of a Thalys TGV-R waiting at Amsterdam Centraal before the start of its journey to Lille-Europe in June 2018. Last week I wrote about my first (and, so far, only) trip to Amsterdam by Eurostar, which I took in June 2018 to attend that year’s World of Coffee event. Sadly, it was only a short trip, with just enough time for a day at World of Coffee, 2½ days exploring Amsterdam’s speciality coffee scene and the annual off-season gathering of the Surrey Scorchers’ TV Commentators’ club. Then, the following Tuesday afternoon, having spent the morning visiting more coffee shops, I was back at Amsterdam Centraal Station to catch my train home.

At the time of writing, Eurostar runs two direct services a day (afternoon and evening) from Amsterdam to St Pancras International, but three years ago, with the service only having just started, you had to take a Thalys high-speed train from Amsterdam to Brussels-Midi, where you changed onto a London-bound Eurostar service. This is because on Eurostar, you clear passport control and customs for both countries when you board the train. At the time, Amsterdam Centraal didn’t have the necessary facilities, so Eurostar allowed you to book a through ticket, combining the Thalys and Eurostar services, an option which is (slightly disappointingly) no longer available.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: London to Amsterdam by Eurostar

Eurostar e320 No. 4025 sitting at the sunny end of the platform of St Pancras International in June 2018, waiting to take me to Amsterdam.Today’s Travel Spot takes us back three years to the summer of 2018, when I caught the Eurostar to Amsterdam to attend the World of Coffee. In all, I spent 3½ days in Amsterdam, mostly exploring its speciality coffee scene, before catching the Thalys/ Eurostar back to the UK. This Travel Spot covers my journey there, when I took advantage of the (then) newly introduced direct London to Amsterdam service (which started running in April that year), although my journey had actually started that morning in Newcastle, with the leg of the journey to Amsterdam only an hour longer than it took me to get down from Newcastle.

Although my journey out was direct, my return was a two-stage affair, taking the Thalys service from Amsterdam to Brussels-Midi before transferring to the Eurostar back to London St Pancras. The good news is that as of this time last year, Eurostar runs direct services from Amsterdam as well. At the time of writing, Eurostar is offering two direct outbound services a day, with another two services involving a change of trains at Brussels-Midi, while there are just two direct return services (afternoon and evening), with no indirect services, which is slightly disappointing.

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Travels with my Coffee: Iceland 2021

Our Espro Travel Presses (mine, in red, on the left, Amanda's, in blue on the right) overlook the Gullfoss waterfalls in Iceland, with my HuskeeCup sandwiched between them.After an 18 month hiatus, Travels with my Coffee, the series where I take my coffee to all the best places, is back, visiting its most northerly location yet. As you probably know, Amanda and I went to Iceland last month, spending much of our time wandering around the capital, Reykjavik, where there are plenty of speciality coffee shops (and some excellent museums and restaurants which we also visited). The weather was a bit grim for the early part of the trip, but when it lifted, we managed to get out of the city on a couple of day trips, plus we took the ferry to Viðey, a small island in the bay.

Naturally, our coffee came with us, Amanda and I each owning a Travel Press (Amanda’s is fancier than mine, so now I have Travel Press envy). We’d also each brought our travelling coffee kit, which we didn’t use that much on account of the aforementioned speciality coffee shops providing most of our coffee needs. However, we did have breakfast in our hotel room a couple of times, as well as afternoon coffee and pastries. The unquestionable highlight though, was having coffee overlooking a live volcanic eruption!

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Reykjavik Roasters, Ásmundarsalur

Detail from the information card that came with our coffee, the I.P., a honey-processed Brazilian single-origin served at Reykjavik Roasters.Monday’s Coffee Spot is Reykjavik Roasters, Ásmundarsalur, the third of (for now) three Reykjavik Roasters in Reykjavik (there’s a newly-opened fourth location just outside the city). In a rare display of doing things in the right order, it’s also the third one that Amanda and I visited after the original (Kárastígur) and the second (Brautarholt). Ásmundarsalur, which opened in 2018, is in the art space of the same name, occupying the ground floor, with some more seating in the garden at the front.

Although we only visited once, near closing time on Sunday afternoon, it was by far the most relaxed of the three. If you’ve been to Reykjavik Roasters before, everything will be familiar, with a concise espresso-based menu, daily batch brew and a choice of single-origins on pour-over, with either an AeroPress for one or Kalita Wave for two. There’s tea, hot chocolate, a small range of cakes and pastries, plus equally concise breakfast and lunch options. Unlike the other two, Ásmundarsalur has a choice of white or red wine (one of each) by the glass or bottle, plus beer, champagne and a handful of coffee cocktails. And, of course, the usual retail selection of coffee.

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Reykjavik Roasters, Kárastígur

A pot of coffee for two (La Cascada from Colombia, made through the Kalita Wave), roasted and served at Reykjavik Roasters, KárastígurJust north of the famous Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, the junction between Frakkastígur and Kárastígur forms a small, open square, roughly triangular in shape. A three-storey white building stands at its broad, southern end, home (since 2008) to the original Reykjavik Roasters, which occupies the ground floor. For almost 10 years, this neat little café was also the roastery, but in January 2018, roasting moved to a dedicated roastery in Auðbrekka in Kópavogur, freeing up much-needed space for seating.

These days, the original Reykjavik Roasters is a bustling café, by far the busiest of the three we visited in Reykjavik. There’s the usual Reykjavik Roasters offering, with a concise espresso-based menu, daily batch brew and a choice of single-origins on pour-over, with either an AeroPress for one or Kalita Wave for one/two. There’s tea, hot chocolate, a small range of cakes and pastries, plus equally concise breakfast and lunch menus. And plenty of coffee and coffee kit for sale!

Seating is at a premium, with as many takeaway orders as there are customers sitting in. Since Amanda and I were staying just a few minutes’ walk away, we became semi-regular visitors, popping in twice for breakfast and once for lunch.

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Kaffi Ó-le

A single-origin washed Ethiopian espresso in a classic white cup, served at Kaffi Ó-le in Reykjavik.Welcome to the latest addition to Reykjavik’s speciality coffee scene, Kaffi Ó-le, which officially opened today, although Amanda and I were lucky enough to visit during its soft opening when we were in Iceland last week. Located on Hafnastraeti in the heart of the city, it’s in the same building as the Radisson Blu 1919 hotel, with direct access from the lobby, although it is a completely separate business with its own entrance from the street. Kaffi Ó-le is the brainchild of Tom, a former manager at Reykjavik Roasters. Despite not having opened, it was recommended by everyone we asked in other coffee shops (including an ex-colleague who described him as “the best boss ever”).

In a city dominated by roaster-owned coffee shops, Kaffi Ó-le uses Kaffibrugghúsið, a speciality roaster located on the other side of the harbour. There’s a single-origin on espresso, with shots pulled on a gorgeous-looking Dalla Corte XT, plus another single-origin on batch brew, with a selection on pour-over, made using the Kalita Wave or Chemex on the Tone Touch 02 automated system. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of grab-and-go sandwiches, plus cakes to back up the coffee, although these weren’t available during our visit.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying from Iceland

My British Airways A320 on the stand at Heathrow T5 having brought me back from Iceland.Welcome to the second instalment of this Travel Spot covering my trip to Iceland in July 2021, my first outside the UK since March 2020. I’d flown to Iceland with British Airways on Thursday, July 22nd, arriving early in the morning and returned on the corresponding flight on Saturday morning, nine days later. This Travel Spot is all about that return flight, along with all the added complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more details about what Amanda and I got up to in Iceland, and the Coffee Spots we visited, check out the dedicated Travel Spot page for the trip (which will be along in due course!).

Flying to/from Iceland takes just under three hours, one of British Airways’ longer short haul flights. Being short haul, the plane flies out from Heathrow, lands, restocks, then turns around for the flight back to Heathrow. When I flew out, I arrived in Iceland at 09:45, the corresponding flight leaving an hour later at 10:45. Sadly, the Saturday flight is 40 minutes earlier, the outbound flight landing at 09:10, with the return flight leaving at 10:10, which meant an even earlier start! However, before I could even get to the airport, I had various pre-flight activities to complete. Continue reading

Mikki Refur

Detail from the window of Mikki Refur: Kaffi & Vin.Compared to Reykjavik Roasters, the subject of Monday’s Coffee Spot, who have been around since 2008, today’s Coffee Spot, Mikki Refur, is a comparative newcomer, having only opened in November 2020. It’s also quite different from the rest of Reykjavik’s speciality coffee scene, in that it combines wine and coffee (which, to be fair, is pretty common outside of speciality, with Reykjavik offering multiple wine/coffee bars). However, just as it offers some pretty special coffee, Mikki Refur has similar taste in wine, stocking the produce of a select group of small, organic vineyards.

Talking of coffee, the other difference is that Mikki Refur doesn’t roast its own coffee, instead serving a small range of seasonal single-origins from local roaster, Kvörn, one of which is available as espresso, with another on batch brew using the ever-reliable Moccamaster. If you’re hungry, there are compact breakfast (to 11:30) and lunch (11:30 to 15:00) menus, with bar snacks and small plates the rest of the way, along with a small selection of croissants and pain au chocolat.

In terms of atmosphere, Mikki Refur is very much a coffee shop until mid-afternoon, after which is slowly transforms into a wine bar until closing.

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Reykjavik Roasters, Brautarholt

Our coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, Brautarholt: an Eitt Sett (one-and-one with the house espresso, served as a single-shot espresso and single-shot cappuccino) in front and a Kalita Wave filter for two at the back.As Bex put it in her Reykjavik Coffee Guide (from 2016) “Reykjavik Roasters will probably be the first port of call for any speciality coffee connoisseur”. So it was for Amanda and I, the intervening five years not having changed that particular pearl of wisdom. These days there are four Reykjavik Roasters, with three in Reykjavik proper, and for once I visited them in order of seniority, although the first one I’m writing up, on Brautarholt, is the second location, which opened in 2015.

Located slightly east of the compact heart of the city, in what feels like a fairly modern part of Reykjavik, Brautarholt is only a 20-minute walk from the centre. It’s on the ground floor of an apartment building, occupying a large, L-shaped spot with plenty of seating, being easily the largest of the three Reykjavik Roasters that we visited. Like all the Reykjavik Roasters, there’s a concise espresso-based menu, daily batch brew and a choice of single-origins on pour-over, with either an AeroPress for one or Kalita Wave for two. There’s tea, hot chocolate, a small range of cakes and pastries, plus equally concise breakfast and lunch options. And bags and bags of coffee for sale!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Iceland

My British Airways Airbus A321neo on the stand at Reykjavik's Keflavik airport on a grey, rainy day in July.Welcome to the first Travel Spot since March 2020 where I’m writing about a trip I’ve just taken rather than something from my (extensive) backlog. I’m currently in Reykjavik in Iceland, having flown from Heathrow with British Airways. If you’re wondering why Iceland, the explanation is fairly simple: Amanda lives in America, while I live in the UK.

With the odd exception, Americans can’t come to the UK and British people can’t fly to America. However, we can both go to Iceland, and, having not seen each other since I left Atlanta during that March 2020 trip, it was too good of an opportunity to miss! Plus, we have both always wanted to visit Iceland, which really made it a no-brainer.

Although I flew in Euro Traveller (economy to you and me), I am aware that I am in a very privileged position when it comes to flying. I still have all my status with British Airways, carefully built up over the three years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, when I flew around the world for work. In my case, this means that I have access to the First Class lounge at Heathrow, which makes the whole airport experience immeasurably better. Continue reading