Monthly Archives: December 2016

Ice, ice baby!

For our first few days it’s been nothing but wind and snow.  On the day we set off for our ice cave adventure it was all about the rain — OMG so much rain (and wind).  It seems the only constant in Iceland weather is the brutal wind (it’s whipping against our window as I type — kudos to the carpenters, the shit holds).

As uncomfortable as walking on ice in the rain is, we lucked out because our guide said he believes the rain will make the cave unsafe.  The poor souls who booked hikes for today will not get to see the wonders we did.

According to Wikipedia Iceland has 13 large glaciers, we went with the biggest one, Jokulsarlon Glacier, but don’t worry our tubby selves didn’t hike much of it.  Thanks to the family that owns Hali County farm, which also includes lodging, food, a museum and glacier guides, we didn’t have to work hard.  They did it all for us.  Every winter they hike the glacier in search of the right ice caves to bring their clients to.

Ice caves are formed by the glacier rivers that flow in the summer.  The caves are basically tunnels created by melting water.  They are monitored daily (hourly, I believe, on rainy days) to ensure they are safe enough for we tourists to eww and ahhh and click selfies like there’s no tomorrow.  So far this season it’s only been used a few times thanks to unstable conditions.  Again, Joe and I are grateful for our luck.

The rules are you keep your crampons (if you want to walk without falling) and helmet on, and you don’t leave the cave without a guide.  We were also advised not to venture into the dark portion of the cave because it’d be too narrow for us (just wait until you see how rounded Joe and I truly are when layered up and wearing a helmet that emphasises our chunky chins).

As for global warming, we learned that shrinking and growing is a normal part of a glacier’s life cycle, however, the rate of its melting the past few years is unprecedented.  It’s changing the landscape of Iceland, and Icelanders are seeing things they’ve not seen before.  Each year its retreat is significantly different.

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This picture doesn’t show it properly, but you see our snow vehicles right? (and while I know fossil fuel is part of the problem, it was awesome being in a snow jeep)  Okay look way beyond them and you see a black band of sand where three vehicles are parked.  That’s where the entrance to the ice cave was last year.  Basically, its melt has brought it that much farther in.

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After visiting the cave we stopped at Glacier beach and lagoon, and oh wow.  I just wish it wasn’t raining so hard, so I could whip out my DSLR and get better pics, but my hardy little Sony bridge camera (love that thing) held out in the rain and still captured some of it.   Anyway here’s proof that Iceland isn’t just blue.  It’s black and crystal clear too!

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Don’t those ice fragments look like crystal seals/walruses/pick your blubber critter.

Some shots of glacier beach and lagoon…

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I’ve got to hurry and finish this up since we’re checking out and facing another windy/wet drive (to Vik).  This is blow your house down weather.

Anyway, here’s some more shots of Iceland ice…

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and a taste of how the weather and landscape change in just 24 hours

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snowy landscape one day

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fog, dormant grass and rain the next!

Of course there’s plenty more to share, but we’re off again!  When I have more time I’ll whip up a post about all the rest.

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until then we’re off exploring this great island (and it’s totally worth coming here in winter if you’re okay with bad weather).

Our Christmas Story

We’re in our little cottage, although it’s listed as a studio apartment, made of rock and driftwood, nestled up against a mountain listening to the wind batter our Christmas home.  Way up the mountain is a waterfall that I’m sure is blowing horizontal at this point.  We’re on a farm that has been run by the same family for 200 years.  It’s ice cold water comes from the water behind us, as does the electricity.

The information flyer tells us to keep an eye out for elves because they exist here, and I’m sure they do because something is banging the dwelling we’re in, and right now we’re the only guests.  Oh those wild tiny people are whooping it up,  and who am I to break up their party.  The flyer also states that this is one of the windiest places in Iceland and assures us our place is built to withstand it all, so Joe and I are quite safe and snug in our comfy bed.

We didn’t stay in bed all day though.  We drove to one to the two famous waterfalls near us (Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss).  One of them is lit up at night, and we drove there for Christmas Eve, but forgot to bring our flashlight, so we admired it from our car.  Today’s waterfall was bigger, but the winds kept whipping our faces with snow, so we didn’t last long.

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We’re in an area called “under the mountains,” which is near the Eyjafjallajokul (a glacier) and I believe near where the 2010 volcano eruption happened.  I cannot imagine a more perfect place for us to celebrate our holy day —- God is certainly with us (plus  the elves).  I’m in love with where we’re staying, The Garage in Holt (by all means book here if you’re looking for a cozy escape near Vik and all kinds of things to explore).  The family who owns the place has been nothing but welcoming and accommodating, even sprucing up our place with holiday touches including gifts and a crispy candle wafer, which went well with the soup I made last night.

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There is so much more to tell you about our trip:  The Blue Lagoon, a ribbon of the Northern Lights (we tried to catch them again last night but no luck), a harrowing drive to a remote resort, our drive to here, the people, the land.  But, those stories will wait for another day because today is all about our Christmas and how very blessed we are.  Of course I wish my children were here experiencing this with us, but being here just gives me more stories to one day share with their children —- oh what a lucky life we lead.

Day after Christmas

Oh my goodness the family invited us over for Christmas dinner, and we had a fabulous time.  We feasted on smoked lamb, potatoes in white sauce, red cabbage and grapes, and a certain brand of peas for Christmas, plus more of that crispy thing, which I learned is traditional bread.  A lot of wine, Viking beer, laughs and good stories were shared.  We hope to one day do this again with them.

Joe was even treated to a hidden cave on another family’s land (I chose to remain warm).  I’ll post pics of that in another post.

There’s so much to share, but we just finished a long drive.  Tonight we sleep near another glacier and tomorrow we hike it and crawl into an ice cave.  I promise I’ll eventually post more about all of the other cool stuff we’ve gotten to do, but for now I’m off to get some more Icelandic food in my belly.

Merry Late Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you —- may you all be safe, loved and warm wherever in the world you are.

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The view from our front door.

Getting Lost in old Talinn

My day trip to Estonia was the absolute best way for a girl to spend the day alone, especially  one like me who imagines life and magic into everything.  Not hard to do when you’re walking cobblestone streets lined with window displays of faeries and gnomes, vikings and Santas —- oh and so much more.  Best part was it’s off tourist season, so many times I had entire streets to myself, and I half expected some withered old soul to pop out of an arched doorway to invite me in for some schnapps and chess.

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And then there was this local’s creative window display — perhaps warning us to quit looking in his damned window, or else!

I spent hours walking in the fog and rain, and didn’t care about the cold and wet one bit.  Every turn took me somewhere new in the very old.  I was a child and time traveler and, lol, remaker of history because my version of the stories that went with what I saw are so different from the real ones, but hey it was my day to get lost, so I’m sticking with my versions — and who knows maybe one day they’ll pop up into my fiction writing (if I ever get back to that — with so much good real in my life, fiction is kind of chilling on a lounger with some tea right now, and that’s way okay!).

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One alley way led up a hill, which led to an overlook of all that red!  Haha and then I met this fella

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who decided this was a very good place to shit..

My favourite discovery, however was an awesome cup of chai because of the work I had to do to get to it.  I had to climb dark, narrow steps up a stone wall with a chain railing to finally get to a cafe, where I relaxed in an old tower that smelled of centuries old smoke.

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Climbing back down was a bit scary, but I was grateful I didn’t imbibe in any of the boozey choices.  Besides, I had plenty more to see.

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English isn’t as widely spoken here as in many of the other places I visit, but that was half the fun — learning something that sounded a little bit Russian, a little bit Finnish and Germanic?  There are two versions of thank you:  one sort of sounds like Talin, but not really (sorry guys I suck at Estonian).  I also discovered that bartering — for me anyway — doesn’t really exist here, but a big ole guy (me thinks he might be part gnome) gave me two free Matryoshka magnets.  “Gift for you,” he said, and laughed and said something I didn’t understand, but I’m sure it was something like “my American goddess.  You are most welcome here!”  Or it could’ve just been a consolation gift for my failed attempt at saving euros.

Speaking of which there is a seedy, or maybe just thrifty, side to taking a day trip here.  It’s much cheaper than Finland, so guess what folk stock up on when they make the two hour trip over?  Booze baby.  Some, who are are more than a little rough around the edges, imbibe more than I ever could while ‘shopping’ here.  One obvious alcoholic with a heavy slavic accent sat in the ferry terminal cussing out Russians in English.  I won’t type all that he said here, but according to him their mothers are quite gifted with um, shall we say the ancient art.  I’ve not heard that many choice English words in a very long time.  Perhaps he thought no one would understand, but going by the snickers and facial expressions (my mouth was dropped wide WTF? open) he was.

Also at the terminal was my version of an old babushka with a baby carriage loaded with cases of booze and an odd looking lady with a pebbles pony tail on a scooter, and yep she was tinkling with the bottles.  I bought one ornamental bottle of Russian vodka and a bottle of Vana Talinn, a local liquor Joe and I will warm ourselves with.  So I was looking pretty anorexic compared to the folks (most of whom, by the way, looked very normal) who loaded up suitcases of booze and christmas food.

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Some folk had dollies full of beer, booze and food.  But, I can’t blame them.  Prices in Finland and Iceland (can’t comment on Sweeden or Norway since haven’t been there — yet) are truly high.

But the ferry part of it is very, very cool!

The other great bit about this trip is the two-hour ferry ride (if you use Talink).  Omg for around $50 I had round trip tickets and a buffet breakfast.  First off the ship is huge!  My buffet breakfast was lovely with great coffee.  I pretty much sat in the dining room the whole morning trip to Talin — free wifi didn’t hurt.  On the way back I was lucky to be one of the first ones at the gate.  What surprised me was when the gates opened how fast people were practically running to get back on the ship.  I kept up with the crowd, almost running over the babushka and her boozer, but worried I wouldn’t make what felt like the mile-long run (these people are not only gorgeous; they’re in shape!).  I followed them right on up the stairs to the top floor where there’s an amazing lounge — cruise ship worthy!  I swear I almost shed tears of joy.  I’m pretty sure Hallelujah was playing.

Don’t let those empty seats fool you; this place filled up quickly.  I kept telling the lady next to me how amazing this was.  Those windows were part of the boat’s windshield — hello?!  But she just nodded and smiled at me and pretty much thought I was one of the seedy visitors (because I was panting like an over-heated dog and I also had a glass of Vana Talinn and a mini bottle of wine).  But whatevs  I was so flipping happy!  Best way ever to rest up after a day’s exploration.  And, yeah, I also spent my lounge time WhatsApping  pics of bevies and exclamations of “is this heaven?”  This part of the world knows how to ferry right!

And that’s probably more than you want to know — um unless you actually wanted historical data, then whoops my bad — about my little adventure.  I highly recommend it if you’re ever in this part of the world.

I went straight to Hel … sinki!

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My first view of Finland.  Baby it’s cold out there (although according to the locals not so much for this time of year).

I’ve rediscovered what I hate about the cold.  It’s not the cold; it’s walking into a heated building all bundled up and sweating your ass off.  You’ve gotta strip a few layers off and then lug them around while you sweat and shop.  I’m building arm muscles…

It’s 3:30 p.m. on my third day in Helsinki, and the sun has set again.  She doesn’t stay out very long — probably because there’s awesome mulled wine and lit candles waiting for her indoors.

Hello?  who can blame her the mulled wine is tasty with a bit of a kick to it!  I’ll make this for Christmas at my daughter’s house next year — first 2017 goal set.  Sin of all sins I dare say I like it better than my German ancestor’s Gluhwein, but shhh.

I’ve not been fair to this city because I haven’t toured it as much as I had planned.  I was so tired my first day (thanks to no sleep the night before — oh the fun of flying) that I pretty much just visited shops and sipped coffee and ate an amazing cinnamon roll (rock sugar crystals on top are way, way better than icing!) while waiting for my room to get ready.  I also ate dinner at an Italian place and met two lovely Finnish ladies who suggested a few things to do and taught me three words:  Hey for hello, hey hey for good bye, and Keytoss for thank you!

And oh my god I took the longest, hottest bath when I did get into my room!

My apartment doesn’t have a tub, so I specifically booked this room for it’s deep soaking tub.  LOL and apparently Hotel Glo Kluuvi puts a plush kitty on your bed, so Lil Miss Plush attempted to hog my wine while I bathed.  I won that battle.

Day Two I got up early and spent the day in Talinn, Estonia — what an awesome day too — will write up another blog on that to post next.  And you bet I soaked my sore tootsies in that tub again (threw a pillow on the plush and told her to time out).

Today, my alleged big touring day, I woke up late, sipped Gingerbread latte at Fraziers, a famous coffee house, walked around the harbour, presidential palace (where I saw two stiff guards freezing their kivekset off), and cathedral area, shopped on Aleksanterinkatu (famous shopping street — am totally acquainted with Stockmans now) and warmed my belly with a beef and mushroom stew, and then took a nice long nap.  It’s gray out, and apparently I’m tired, so woo hoo for the time to nap at my leisure. But boo hoo that I didn’t visit a single museum — woe the art I did not get to see!   I’d also like to visit Lapland, so perhaps one day I’ll get to freeze and sweat here again.

My big goal for later today is to visit the big Christmas Market, drink some more Glogi and soak one last time in that tub.

So you see I don’t have a whole lot to tell you about Helsinki or Finland, other than I like it, and despite the short winter days it’s beautiful.  It’s a great place to visit around Christmas time because of all the good comfort food, coffee, adult warm up bevies, and overall ambience.  Plus it’s an easy to navigate place and English is widely spoken, so you’ll have no problems discovering all there is to do. And, oh my goodness there are some awesome looking restaurants and bars, which I did not feel like blowing the dirhams in (solo travel is a lot of fun, but not so much in higher end hangouts, although I bet I’d make new friends pretty quickly here — so far everyone has been friendly). But, I also gotta save my money for Iceland, which is tomorrow!

Just of few snaps of Christmas cheer.  Shop windows are adorned with magical holiday displays, and the smell of roasting nuts, gingerbread and spices keeps you warm!

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This is my favourite Helsinki window shot.  Grandma and the kids are mesmerised while parents sneak in some adult huddle time.  Kids are very, very happy here this time of year!

Some Helsinki shots (sorry I was lazy with my camera)

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A few hours later:  I made it to the Christmas Market in Senate Square.  Bought some goodies, feasted on some fruity, nutty cake with vanilla sauce, had my glogi and the bath is pouring as I type.  Here’s some more Christmas cheer from Finland for you!

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The land of Gods … and grapes!

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I should be a good teacher and give you the historical background of Cyprus, the lovely Mediterranean Island near Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Greece, etc. — it’s just a short flight or decent boat ride to a lot of places.  It has also had more than its fair share of conquerers over the centuries — seems like at one point or another everyone wanted a piece of Cyprus, but most of the island gained its independence in 1960.  Part of its northern lands are run by (or occupied by, depending on who you ask) Turkey — it’s a bitter story I’ll leave for the locals to tell.

What drew me to Cyprus was its connection to Greek literature (what up Odysseus?!) and mythology — if you believe tourist sites (and local legend) Aphrodite was born there, Adonis drowned in his reflection there,  and for the low, low price of X you could even visit Athena’s bath — and thanks to it being off tourist season,  the low airfare and resort price (holy moly we got off cheap!).  With a long weekend for National Day (Happy 45th Birthday UAE!) and a zero-balance credit card — who could resist?  It was such a good deal/idea I talked my friend Brandy into joining me.

And this is where good teacher ends because while I certainly saw a lot of Greek and Roman ruins, and I certainly learned a whole lot, I mostly fraternized and sampled their thousands of years of wine making expertise.  Cypriots seem to love drinking, eating and laughing as much as I do — God Bless their ancient souls!

Day One:  Transport from Larnaca airport to Pafos (or like we Westerners seem to prefer Paphos)

Luckily, our driver a British expat, figured out what we’d be most interested in seeing.  Since we landed during an unexpected stormy weekend (yay for we desert dwellers!) we had to cut back on some of the outdoor sites, but we didn’t miss out on Kuorian, an ancient city destroyed by an earthquake in 365 AD.  Awesomeness, yes — just check out the pics.

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We hiked up a hill to get to Achilles house … it led to a cliff.  Perhaps it’s made of air.

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The red blocks kept their baths warm

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Not pictured are the protected mosaics.  Cyprus is known for its well-preserved mosaics.  I was too taken aback by the clouds and sea to photograph those (although I did snap some shots of the mosaics in Pafos).  What can I say?  I’m a bigger fan of the Gods art than ours.

We also drove by the Rock of Aphrodite, which was basically one of three rocks in the sea (google will provide better pics than me — um, I was not impressed and it shows).  My favourite part about this was learning that legend has it if a woman swims around it three times she’d be eternally beautiful, but our driver assured us he’s seen plenty of old Russian women do it to no avail.  So, we didn’t jump in the cold, wild waters.

When we got to Almyra, our resort in Pafos, it was close to sunset time and oh my goodness.  The Gods certainly blessed us with their art!

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okay, see how rocky and rough that looks?  And trust me it’s also cold.  Both mornings we saw old Cypriots defrock and jump into those waters.  I kid you not these people swam in that shit.  A local driver told us he doesn’t know how they survive it because he as a 30 something isn’t risking heart attack or death by wave.

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I could post so much more, but don’t want to bore you with my gazillion photos.  It was amazing!  We dined at a restaurant on the harbour shores and savoured our grilled meat and local wine.  That night we slept with our windows open just so we could smell the rain, sea and citrus trees while listening to Zeus (okay Jupiter) pound the earth with lighting. Ahhhhmazing.

Day Two:  Pubologists in Pafos!

In a nutshell the modern city of Pafos is built on top of the old one, and you cannot walk around the city and not run into ruins.  Long story short we walked to the harbour, toured its castle (with the help of one of the city’s many friendly cats), walked its coastal walk and escaped rain showers in quite a few pubs.  I won’t say how many, but we met a lot of folk, sampled some bevies and stumbled upon amazing ruins.  My favourite is our accidental climb into an archaeological site — I swear we were just exploring a cave, which had a ladder, which led to yesterday. A man working it waved hi to us, so whew!  we didn’t damage anything.

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Day three:  Wineologists!  And one brewery (even I will drink Aphrodite beer)

I loved our drive into the mountains and through the small villages.  Everything we did was a trip through time, but this one was my favourite.  What made this even better was the lack of tourists (hahaha except us of course).  We really got to mingle with the winery families and some British expats.  We also walked through a monastery that was so quaint I had to light a candle for my dad.  While he was Roman Catholic and not Greek Orthodox, I know he would’ve loved it there.  Me thinks he may have even been at the table when Brandy and I were treated to a round of Zivania, local moonshine that tastes like Grappa (basically nose-hair burning awfulness, but I did mine like a champ).  Sadly, as good as the wine is and as long as they’ve been making it, it’s not a big export.  Basically, Cyprus wine is pretty much made for Cypriots — and those of us visiting.

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There is so much more I could share, and we were there for only three nights.  There is still so much more to explore.  Thank you Cyprus for taking us in and showing us a good time!

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