SATURDAY, 26 OCTOBER 2019 – DAY 7 OF TOUR – SOUTH SHORE, REYKJAVIK & BLUE LAGOON and SUNDAY, 26 OCTOBER TO TUESDAY, 29 OCTOBER 2019 – ICELAND TO HOME

Saturday, 26 October 2019 – Day 7 of Tour   – South Shore, Reykjavik & Blue Lagoon AND Sunday 27 October to Tuesday 29 October 2019 – Iceland to Home.

After breakfast, we headed south across the Eldhraun moss and lava fields. Situated along Iceland’s south coast, Eldhraun is the largest lava flow in the world. It is also the place where the Apollo 11 crew trained for their impending moonwalk in 1969 for its similarity to the surface of the moon.

Moss and Lava Mounds

The Eldraun Lava Field was created in one of the most devastating eruptions in recorded history. Over a course of eight months, between 1783 and 1784, the Laki fissure and the adjoining Grímsvötn volcano poured out an estimated 14 cubic kilometers of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous gases that contaminated the soil, killing half of Iceland’s cattle and horses, and more than three-quarter of sheep. That year, nothing grew on the fields and no more fish could be found in the sea. The resulting famine killed approximately 9,000 people by the direct effects of the eruption, like lava and poisonous gases and is now considered the most poisonous eruption to date.

The eruption was felt in Europe as well and other parts of the world. In Great Britain, that summer was known as the Sand-Summer due to the fallout of ash. Many historians have also speculated that the haze created by the eruption blocked sunlight in Europe and may have contributed to the French Revolution.

Moss is a common plant in Iceland. It grows abundantly in the mountainous region and is a special characteristic of Iceland’s lava fields. It is marvellous that some fauna manages to grow between the moss covered rocks

Plants growing between the moss and lava mounds – unbelievable

As time passed, the lava cooled down and eventually became solid rocks. The lava field remained barren and dark for a long time, until the wind brought in some moss spores from elsewhere. Eldhraun lava field and the craters are covered with Woolly Fringe Moss and the landscape looks alien and unearthly.

We left the fascinating Eldhraun lava fields and drove approximately 50+ south to VIK where we had a group photograph taken.

Coach passengers having group photo taken at Vik

After a short stop in Vik we continued onto REIJNISFJARA.

Reynisfjara is a popular black sand beach on the south coast of Iceland near the small town of Vík.  This sand originated from the basalt lava that covers much of the area. The black sand isn’t routinely replenished like most beach sand when storms and tides wash the sand away.

When we arrived at Reijnisfjara, there is this amazing black sand beach with basalt stacks in the ocean. Those stacks are called Reynisdrangar, The mountain – Reynisfjall – has at its foot the popular Hálsanefshellir cave, the sea stacks and the magnificent basalt columns.

Hálsanefshellir Cave

While being famous for beautiful rock formations and basalt columns, the beach is also well known for dangerously large sneaker waves.  A sneaker wave, sleeper wave, or (in Australia) a king wave is a disproportionately large coastal wave that can sometimes appear in a wave train without warning. Because they are much larger than preceding waves, sneaker waves can catch unwary swimmers and even people on the beaches and ocean jetties and wash them into the sea. Sneaker waves are common here in Reynisfjara.

A sneaker wave

Reynisfjara has been picked as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world – but it’s also one of the most dangerous tourist destinations in Iceland. Three people have drowned at the beach after powerful sneaker waves knocked them down, sweeping them out to sea.  The waves at Reynisfjara are especially strong and extremely unpredictable. They can seem very smooth barely touching the surface of the sand one minute but then a sneaker wave can come smashing onto the sand catching many unsuspecting people who don’t seem to take notice of the warnings.   Extreme caution is to be exercised at all times while visiting Reynisfjara . Stay far back from the water’s edge and heed all signs and warnings. Though the beach is stunning, care needs to be taken as sneaker waves are common and the current is very strong. The reason for these monster waves and strong current? The only land south of Vík and Reynisfjara is Antarctica. That’s a lot of unobstructed space for the Atlantic currents to travel before crashing into Iceland!

There are signs up at the beach warning of sneaker waves and guides warn their clients of the danger but the beach may look “safe” to tourists who don’t realise that a seemingly calm ocean could send a sneaker wave high up on the beach without warning and suck people out to sea where they are helpless to fight against the strong undertow. Many people have been fortunate enough to escape death. 

 In May 2007 an American woman was swept into the ocean by a large wave and lost her life. This was her 5th visit to Iceland so you would have thought that she would have been aware of the danger.

A man died in February 2016 in Reynisfjara. He was a Chinese citizen, born in 1976 and was travelling in Iceland with his wife. The man was standing on a free-standing basalt pillar, around 50 cm high when a wave broke and pulled him out to sea, with the result that he drowned.

One had to feel so very sorry for these people as you would have thought they were far enough from the water’s edge. Just goes to show one how unpredictable the sea is.

On 9th of January 2017, when a German woman travelling with her family, was snatched by a sneaker wave and was knocked over by the waves.  Her family got knocked over as well but were able to save themselves in the nick of time from the undertow but sadly the woman was swept out to sea and drowned.

I was surprised that our tour guide and the majority of the group decided to walk along the sand. I decided that I would stay well away – heeding the warning signs.

Our guide, Erik mentioned that Russell Crowe made a film here and ended up with hyperthermia.  This was back in 2014. Crowe reached biblical heights as “Noah” in playing the role of ‘Noah’. Crowe endured nearly 40 days and 40 nights of rain while shooting at various locations in south Iceland, describing the filming conditions as “Chinese water torture” but he still went for a swim. Crowe tweeted that in one scene shot on this beach, he went for a dip in the ocean. “I can’t describe the shock of cold,” he wrote. (The water was just 4.2°C.) The post went on to say he later learned that it was “the most dangerous beach in Iceland.” The rip currents have been called “devious,” and swimming is strongly discouraged. Maybe he was depressed as it was the time he received news that his wife was leaving him.

It seems that there must have been many risks taken by the film crew in this dangerous area.  This is why actors are paid so much. Makes you think that Russell Crowe was very fortunate that he didn’t get swept out to sea by a sneaker wave.

In an interview with the Daily Mail Russell Crowe, says he had to endure some gruelling days while shooting and finally got overwhelmed.

“We were doing a scene in Iceland where I had to fall into the sea. “It was less than 39 degrees [Fahrenheit/4 degrees Celsius]. I’d been in and out of the sea, half-naked, filming all day… physically it was very demanding. There were these rain towers in the sky that could flood eight football fields in 30 seconds, and it was constant rain. We had 36 days of it. 

“It gets to the point where it’s like Chinese water torture. You can’t take it anymore. 

“I went into hypothermia. When we wrapped, I was lying on these stones and I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t stop crying.

“Seven or eight people put blankets on me and sat on me until I stopped. It was crazy – they were hugging me, trying to get me to stop shaking.”  So even “big men” cry!!“Noah” also starrred Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson.

It seems that Iceland is a favourable country for many films are made here. Too many to mention.

After we left Reynisfjara we travelled for about an hour on Route 1 to HVOLSSVOLLUR where we had a stop for lunch. I made a purchase of a book “This is the Golden Circle” that Erik recommended.

We then continued on Route 1 for about 80+ kms east to Reykjavik. We booked into our first hotel – Hotel Klettur and had about 2 hours leisure time. At about 5.45 we boarded the coach heading to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa in southwestern Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field near Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, in a location favourable for geothermal power, and is supplied by water used in the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station.

We had a short walk to the huge complex and then shown to the change rooms as we were required to shower before entering the spa. 

Main building of Blue Lagoon

After we showered and changed into our swimmers we entered the geothermal spa.  The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averaged 37-39 degrees C (99-102 degrees F) and it was just heaven. We were given a complimentary drink and then for about 2 hours we just walked around in this terrific spa .

The beautiful Blue Lagoon

The water’s milky blue shade is due to its high silica content. The silica forms soft white mud on the bottom of the lake which bathers can rub on themselves. We looked like clowns and when you think you have cleaned your face, the white mud seemed to come back. Took ages to get off.  The water is also rich in salts and algae.

The biggest surprise we got – The Northern Lights decided to put on a wonderful show. I don’t think any of us in the spa wanted to get out.  After we again showered and got dressed we took the short walk back to the coach but very slowly as the Lights were still performing. Was just a breathtaking experience. It is so hard to describe – one has to experience seeing the Lights for oneself. To think we had to wait until our last night.

Aurora borealis
Aurora borealis p 2
Aurora borealis p3

When we left the Blue Lagoon, we went to the Salthusid Restaurant a very upmarket restaurant in Grindavik just near the Blue Lagoon for our farewell dinner. I had a delicious lamb meal and a mud pudding. Yummy.

After our meal, we drove back to the Hotel Klettur at about midnight.  What a wonderful day until I had a huge scare. I was given a room that was quite a long walk so I was given a more suitable room.  I collected my baggage that I had left before and after some time I went to get my handbag.  Where was it?  I must admit I went into panic mode as thought I may have left it on the bus.  After checking the baggage room I thought I would have to ring Erik but then I said to the man at reception, “perhaps I left it in the previous room”. What a relief – there it was. The man realised I had got myself quite stressed, so he kindly sat me down and went and got me a camomile tea to calm me down. He was wonderful.

Sunday, 27 October 2019 – ICELAND TO HOME

I didn’t go to bed as by the time I sorted out my luggage and showered, it was time for my Shuttle at 5.00 am to the Terminus where I had to get on the Flybus to Keflavik Airport, Reykjavik. I booked my luggage through and went through Security to board Scandinavian Airline SK596 to Copenhagen that left at 9.30 am. It was a smooth flight and and arrived in Copenhagen at 13.35 pm. Approximate duration time was 3 hours. It was a very long time at the airport for me. Not sure why I had to leave so early as others from the group arrived much later and were on the same flight. I wandered around, ate, drank, read, ate, drank, sat and watched people, bought last minute souvenirs and was entertained by a little girl who liked having her photograph taken on the kids’ equipment.

. Copenhagen Airport

I was finally collected by the Special Assistance and taken through security and onto the Qatar Airways QR164 (seat 22K) that left at 21.40 for Doha. After a 6 hours 10 minutes flight I arrived at 5.50 am on Monday 28th October 2019. I had quite a quick transfer for my next flight – Qatar Airways QR906 (seat 24A) that left at 7.50 am for Sydney. After 14 hours and 20 minutes I landed at Sydney on Tuesday, 29th October 2019.  I collected my luggage and went through Customs and caught the transfer bus from the International terminal to the Domestic terminal to catch my flight on Virgin Airways VR632 (seat 17A) leaving at 8.05 am and after an hour’s flight arrived in Canberra at 9.05 am. 

Robert came to collect me and bring me home after a wonderful and fascinating trip.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed with Iceland. I got to see all that I prefaced in the beginning of my trip with the exception of going into any caves. I want to especially thank Erik for his arm and faithful walking stick when required,

Marion and Darlene for being caring and making sure I had a seat when it came to meal time ordering – a big thankyou ladies.

and to the others in the group

Helpful group

who assisted in different ways and to Guomundur (sorry didn’t get a photo of Mr G) for his excellent and safe driving. My only complaint was where the coach pulled up from the venues during very windy and scary conditions. I guess “when in Iceland, do as the Icelanders do”. I thought I had enough warm clothing on, but I have never felt so cold, but even though the winds hardly settled, I was free of my hayfever. Was a clean wind situation as hardly any pollution.

Reason I enjoyed Iceland as much as I did, was that you never knew what was around the next corner when driving – the landscape was forever changing and so many varied and unusual sights. A super country and very hospitable people.

FRIDAY, 25 OCTOBER 2019 – DAY 6 OF TOUR – SKAFTAFELL NATIONAL PARK & VATNAJOKULL GLACIER

Friday, 25 October 2019 – Day 6 of Tour   – Skaftafell National Part & Vatnajokull Glacier

After breakfast, onto the coach and our first short stop was at the Foss a Sidu waterfall.

Foss a Sidu waterfall.
Foss a Sidu waterfall.

As we travelled along we came across twisted metal girders of all that remain of the Gigjukvisi Bridge.

When the bridge was built in 1974, it was the longest in the country at 880-metre-long (2,890 ft)   In 1996,   the volcano Grimsvotn on Vatnajokul  erupted and destroyed the bridge over the Skeioara river by floating ice boulders the size of houses.

This is an example of the effect that nature can have on seemingly immovable man- made structures.

In the distance are two glaciers: Skeiðarárjökull and Svinafellsjökull.

 We then continued onto the VRNAJOKULSPJPDDGARDUR NATIONAL PARK and heard about the National Park, a protected wilderness area in south Iceland centred around Vatnajökull glacier. Vatnajokull is Europe’s largest glacier, over 8100 km2. The glacier covers more than 8% of the country and the average thickness of the ice is 400 m, with a maximum thickness of 1000 m. Iceland’s highest mountain, Oraefajokull (2110 m) is located in the southern periphery of Vatnajokull.

The park covers over 12.000 square kilometers (4.600 square miles) and covers more area than just the glacier itself, making this the largest Natural Park in Europe. Within the National Park you will find massive glaciers, glacial lagoons, ice bergs, ice caves, volcanoes, snowy mountain peaks, active geothermal areas, hot springs, rivers, green and lush fields, lava fields and black sand deserts.

After hearing about the area, we travelled on to Svínafellsjökull, an outlet glacier tongue of Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Europe. Svínafellsjökull is one of the few accessible glacier tongues of Vatnajökull and has gained fame as an attraction after Game of Thrones was shot there .We just took photos of the glacier and then headed north to Hof.

Near Svínafellsjökull waterfall

Hof, in Öræfi, is a cluster of farms in southeast Iceland, close to Vatnajokull glacier, and twenty two kilometres south of Skaftafell in  Vatnajokull National Park. It is on the Route 1 southwest of Hofn in the narrow strip between the sea coast and the glacier.

A notable building in Hof is the Hofskirkja turf church, Hofskirkja was originally constructed in 1884 though it was thoroughly restored in the 1950s and is the youngest turf church in Iceland. Since 1951, it belongs to the National Museum of Iceland. This fairytalelike building is the last turf church ever built in Iceland. Unlike some of the country’s other turf churches, this one is still a practicing parish.

Hof Turf Church

The church, built by carpenter Pall Palsson, is relatively small and is surrounded by a unique cemetery. Because the ground is volcanic with a thin layer of soil you can’t dig 6 feet down, so the graves sit above ground with a light covering of soil. Never seen anything quite like it.

It was interesting looking at the grave site signs and I saw a grave that belonged to a little person who was born on 8 September 1961 and died on 12 September 1961.

Little person born 8-9-1961 died 12-9-1961

There was an interesting sign about PORSTEINN AATOL GISSURARARSON born on 24 March 1768 in Gerdi, Sudursveit situated in the middle between Skaftafell National Park and the town Hofn in Hornafjordur. He died on 23 February 1844.  In 1840 he was a landowner of a farm.

He was a great writer and poet. At one time when he was ill he wrote a book called Misseraskiftaoffur. He was especially talented with wood, copper and iron and he was the maker of the hardware, lock and hinges of the church. Porsteinn’s tempering stone is a water tub just outside the church where Porsteinn used to cool his hot iron. Porsteinn was a well-known blacksmith from Hof and got his nickname “tool” because of his profession. He and his wife had 4 children and their descendants still live in Hof.

After our time at Hof, we continued on north for a stop at “Diamond Beach”.  The name of the glacier that these icebergs originate from is Breidaemerkurjokull and the beach is actually called Breidamerkursandur in Icelandic. It wasn’t until tourists started coming that the nick name, “The Diamond Beach” caught on.

The “diamonds” on Diamond Beach refer to pieces of 1,000 year old icebergs that calved off from the Breidaemerkurjokull glacier, which is an outlet glacier of the largest icecap in Europe – Vatnajokull.  These newly orphaned icebergs then float into the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon  and wash up on shore, creating a stark contrast with the volcanic black sand before ending up into the open Atlantic Ocean.

It was back on the coach again to Jökulsárlón – a large glacial lake in southern part of  Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland. Situated at the head of the Breidamerkurjokull glacier, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the glaciers. In 2009 it was reported to be the deepest lake in Iceland, at over 284 m (932 ft). The size of the lake has increased fourfold since the 1970s. It is considered as one of the natural wonders of Iceland.

The lake is filled with a procession of magnificent luminous blue icebergs. The blue colour of glacial ice is the result of oxygen compression over many years. 

Beautiful blue icebergs

Jökulsárlón has been a setting for many Hollywood movies: A View to a Kill,  and Batman Begins.  In 2004, Vatnajokull Die Another DayLara Croft: Tomb Raider was one of several Icelandic settings visited on the first leg of the  reality TV series The Amazing Race. In November 2011, the glacier was used as a shooting location for the second season of the TV series Game of Thrones.

Back on the coach once more!  We travelled south approximately 125ks back to our Hotel Klaustur in Kirkjubaejarklauster.

After dinner, Erik gave a film presentation about the Northern Lights and offered help with setting cameras.

I did not have success.  Was another late night in this remote and quiet location – suitable for seeing the Lights, but they did not oblige once more.  We are running out of chances.

Was another very full fantastic day.  The “blue” icebergs were a stunning sight. The raised mounds in Hof were quite different to anything I have seen.

Travelled approximately 255 ks.

 

THURSDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2019 – DAY 5 OF TOUR – NATURAL WONDERS OF SOUTH ICELAND AND VOLCANIC CENTRE

Thursday, 24 October 2019 – Day 5 of Tour   –  Natural Wonders of South Iceland and Volcanic Centre

After a sumptuous breakfast, we boarded our coach and went to the Hotel Eldhester to collect the other group.  With our full complement once more, we headed south on Highway 1 to HVOLSVOLLUR to visit the LAVA VOLCANO AND EARTHQUAKE CENTRE.

Lava and Volcano Exhibition Centre

The Centre is an exciting technology museum, boasting engaging interactive displays and ingenious visualisations of Iceland’s volatile geography as well as scientific information from knowledgeable Iceland volcanologists.  There were quite a few sections where one could go. I was mesmerised by so much to take in as I wandered around and spent time on the interactive computer screens that provided insight into different volcanic and geological processes. 

I spent time in the cinema watching the 12 minute long film (a couple of repeat viewings) about the most recent volcano eruptions in Iceland and before long it was time to leave the Centre.  

­There are approximately 130 volcanoes in Iceland, active and inactive. About 30 active volcanic systems can be found under the island, in all parts of the country other than the Westfjords.

The reason the Westfjords no longer has any activity is because it is the oldest part of Iceland’s landmass, formed around 16 million years ago, and has since been pushed away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Because of this, the Westfjords is the only part of the country that has to heat its water with electricity, rather than using geothermally heated water.

Volcanic eruptions in Iceland are unpredictable but relatively regular occurrence. Since the turn of the 19th Century, not a decade has gone by without one going off, but whether they go off in a quick succession or spaced apart is quite random.

The most recent known eruption in Iceland was at Holuhraun in the Highlands in 2014. Grimsfjall volcano had a short eruption in 2011 and, more famously, Eyjafjallajökull. The reason the word ‘known’ is used is because there have been several suspected subglacial volcanic eruptions at different locations around the country that did not break the ice, such as Katla in 2017 and Hamerinn in 2011.

The threat to human life during volcanic eruptions in Iceland nowadays is minimal. Seismic stations around the country are excellent at predicting eruptions. Though most volcanoes are a long distance from population centres, the unexpected can still occur. When it has, however, Iceland’s emergency measures have been incredibly effective. 

As there are 130 known volcanoes, I am not going to try and go into any long detail as at the Lava Centre it was certainly a “crash course” on volcanology and the only one I can perhaps mention is  Eyjafjallajokull: Iceland’s Most Famous Volcano.  The Eyjafjallajökull is a stratovolcano, the most common type of volcano. A stratovolcano is built by layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice, and volcanic ash. It is the glacier on top that makes the Eyjafjallajökull eruptions so explosive and full of ash. Eyjafjallajökull is part of the chain of volcanoes that lies across Iceland and is believed to be connected to Katla, a larger and more powerful volcano in the chain. When Eyjafjallajökull erupts, eruptions from Katla follow within half a decade. So far, this has not been the case, although as many sources will inform you, Katla has been rumbling for years; scientists put out warnings every few months to notify the public of increased activity, and to remind them that the volcano is well overdue for a mighty eruption.

The name Eyjafjallajökull may sound complicated, but its meaning is very simple and can be broken down into three parts: “Eyja” means island, “fjalla” means mountains, and “jökull” means glacier. So when put together, Eyjafjallajökull means “glacier on island mountains.” – pronounce “Ei-ya-fyat-LA-yer-kittle) .

Why have I mentioned Eyjafjallajökull volcano? It made headlines throughout the world in 2010. Imagine being a broadcaster attempting to get the pronunciation of the volcano’s name.

There have been a few past eruptions of this volcano, but nothing of a similar scale. A rather small, but long eruption, took place between 1821-1823, and there were also eruptions in 1612-1613 and in the year 920, but not much is known about these.

At Christmas 2009 the volcano started to show signs of being active again. On 27 March 2010 it started to erupt. On 14 April 2010 Eyjafjallajökull started to erupt again heavily. Many people had to be evacuated.  Volcanic ash was thrown several kilometres into the atmosphere. The dust blew over northwest Europe on the 15th and 16th April 2010. It became very dangerous for planes to fly and so all commercial flights were stopped in most parts of northern Europe, where 20 countries had closed their airspace to commercial jet traffic, affecting nearly 10 million travellers, the largest air travel disruption since WWII.  The ash continued to be a problem in the airspace for the next month. This caused chaos for many air travellers, but in comparison to Iceland’s biggest eruptions in the past, it was a relatively minor event.

Towards the beginning of June, another crater opening was formed and began spewing small quantities of volcanic ash. Eyjafjallajökull was monitored for the next few months and by August was considered dormant. The 2010 eruption was the largest one in Eyjafjallajökull to date.

After we left the amazing informative Lava Centre, we travelled about 22 Ks to SELJALANDSFOSS  waterfall –  one of the 10,000 waterfalls scattered throughout Iceland and Seljalandsfoss is one of the most photographed. 

 Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

The waterfall has one drop and is around  60 m (197 ft) high. It is part of the Seljalands River that has its origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajokul that towers above the waterfall and the Eyjafjöll mountains feed meltwater to the river Seljalandsá which then runs down the slopes before finally descending off the Seljalandsheiði heath in the form of Seljalandsfoss waterfall of Seljalandsfoss and consists of pure glacial water from Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

After spending some time at the waterfall, we were back on the coach again heading south towards Vik which is about 60ks.

The road was quite flat with mountains on one side and farmlands on the other. There were quite a few farms that had their hay all baled up.

Our next stop was at the Skogafoss Restaurant, Hvolsvollur for lunch. The hotel is located at the foot of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier.

When we alighted from the coach it was blowing extremely hard. Erik was assisting me and it was a nightmare to get into the restaurant. I don’t mind admitting I was absolutely terrified and thought I would be blown away.  We finally entered the restaurant for lunch – a lovely meat soup that warmed me up and an Irish Crème. 

From the restaurant, was a view to the Skogafoss waterfall.

View of Skógafoss Waterfall from our lunch stop.

After our lunch and the wind had settled down, we visited the Skogar Folk Museum.

Skogar Folk Museum

Skogar Museum in Skogar, Southern Iceland, is a cultural heritage collection of 18,000 regional folk craft artifacts exhibited in 3 museums and 6 historical buildings.

Skógar Museum opened December 1st, 1949. Originally housed in Skógar Regional School, the museum was founded on the initiative of Þórður Tómasson, who curated the museum since its inception until his retirement in 2013, at the age of 92.  On the 70th anniversary of Skógar Museum,  Þórður (now 98) gave a speech and was applauded for his prolific work.

In the early years, principals of the Skógar school assisted Þórður in his efforts. During summer vacations, when the schoolhouse was used as a hotel, and the museum’s collection were exhibited in classrooms.

In 1952 the eight-oared fishing-boat Pétursey was donated to the museum by businessman Jón Halldórsson of Suður-Vík. Þórður Tómasson continued to collect more and more objects, and soon the museum’ space filled up.  

Once the museum had acquired its own facilities, work commenced on reconstruction of historic buildings on the site. In 1968 the first building was moved to Skógar and reconstructed; this was a storehouse from Varmahlíð under the Eyjafjöll mountains, built by Þórður’s great-grandfather around 1840. This was soon followed by a baðstofa (communal room where the household slept, ate and worked), kitchen with open hearth, parlour and pantry.

Many more buildings were gradually added to the museum’s collection, most recently a church and schoolhouse. All the buildings on the museum site have been brought to the museum from various places in Rangárvallasýsla and West Skaftafellssýsla and reconstructed on the museum site.

In 1990 an extension to the museum building was constructed. The fishing-boat Pétursey built in 1855, which was in use until 1946 was moved into the new building. For the first time the museum’s collection could be presented in separate sections: Fisheries, Agriculture, Handcrafts, Furnishings and Crafts and Natural history collection.

The Fisheries section contains a large collection of objects relating to fisheries along the south shore of Iceland. Fisheries in this region were unusual in that Iceland’s sandy south coast has no proper harbours; boats had to be launched from beaches that lie open to the North Atlantic waves. The centrepiece of the section is the eight-oared fishing-boat Pétursey,

The Agriculture section contains tools and utensils used on farms in olden times, riding gear, haymaking tools, dairy, woodworking and ironworking equipment, etc. In a subsistence economy, farming households had to be self-sustaining, making and repairing all their own tool and utensils.

The Furnishings and Handcrafts section contains a variety of everyday household items from olden times, including ornamental handcrafts made by both men and women: needlework, weavings, woodcarvings, metalwork, etc.

The Natural History section contains a variety of stuffed birds and animals, skeletons, eggs, plants etc., which was the private collection of Andrés H. Valberg from Skagafjörður.

At the back of Museum are reconstructed buildings of how the people of Iceland lived in past times. These buildings include a school house, a farm house that was inhabited until 1970, a church consecrated in 1998 the first timber house built entirely of driftwood in 1878. The house was lived in until 1974. Situated on the turf farm is a cruciform cowshed from 1880 until 1896 a sitting room. The reconstructed turf farmhouse and other recreated builds are excellent representatives of south Iceland building tradition. The exterior walls are mostly built of rock – hyaloclastite and basalt – and the roofs are covered with stone slabs, then turfed. Most of the wood in these buildings was driftwood. Other timber was always in short supply. The interior all from the 19th century until the oldest section in 1896.

We then drove around to view the SKOGAFOSS WATERFAL from the front.

Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. After the coastline had receded seaward (it is now at a distance of about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from Skogar), the former sea cliffs remained, parallel to the coast over hundreds of kilometres, creating together with some mountains a clear border between the coastal lowlands and the Highlands of Iceland.

Skogass Waterfall and walking the 527 steps to the viewing platform

The majority of the group did not climb the 527 steps to the top of the waterfall on the official path alongside the cliffs surrounding the recess containing the falls to yield precarious top down views of not only the waterfall but also the view towards the Atlantic Ocean.  When the “climbers” returned we drove about 35kms to VIK.  The beautiful town of Vík rests at the southernmost point of Iceland, the fierce North Atlantic crashing into the black sands of the nearby coast.

In Vik

This was a stop to get provisions and have a meal if needed.  I wandered around the huge store and bought quite a few souvenirs.

It was then onto the coach to go to our accommodation in Hotel Klaustur in Kirkjubæjarklaustur.  It is one of the most tongue-twisting words to pronounce of any location in Iceland.   In Iceland. Kirkjubæjarklaustur =  “Klaustur,” as locals say. The town itself has a rich history, dating back to even before the first Norse settlement in Iceland, when Irish monks are thought to have lived there. The town’s original name was ‘Kirkjubær’ which literally means ‘Church town’. In the year 1186 a convent of Benedictine nuns settled in Kirkjubær and remained there until the Reformation in 1550. The word ‘klaustur’ meaning ‘convent’ was therefore added to the town’s name. Many local landmarks have names referring to the convent’s history, such as: Systrastapi (“the Rock of the Sisters”),  Systrafoss (“the Waterfall of the Sisters) and Systravatn (“the Water of the Sisters”)

It has developed into a village, the only centre of population in the district, with about 150 inhabitants

It is a short distance to many beautiful natural wonders of Iceland, like Jökulsarlon glacial lagoon and Skaftafell National Park and moss and lava fields.

We settled into the hotel and had our dinner.   Once again we were told that the conditions to see the Northern Lights were favourable so a few of us ventured out for a walk down to what was supposed to be a good spot.  Well, after going so far, Jenny and I decided it was too cold and the wind was bitter so we came back to the hotel.  It was quite exhausting battling the strong cold wind. As it turned out it was another disappointing night.  Thank goodness Jenny decided we made a better decision by returning to the hotel. Bed late again.                     Travelled approximately 200kms

WEDNESDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2019 – DAY 4 OF TOUR – GOLDEN CIRCLE, GEOTHERMAL TASTE AND ICELANDIC HORSES.

Wednesday, 23 October  2019 – Day 4 of Tour   –  Golden Circle, Geothermal Taste and Icelandic Horses.

Happy Birthday to Me!!!!  After breakfast, we left the Hotel Hamer and it was onto our faithful coach and through the tunnel. Our first stop today was another Icelandic Wool outlet and then we continued on inland to the PINGVELLIR (Icelandic anglicised as Thingvellir) NATIONAL PARK. We went to the viewing platform and had a magnificent view down the valley.

Pingvellir is the site of the first annual parliament of Iceland from 930AD to 1798AD, and then the parliament moved indoors to the Althing in Reykjavik. Þingvellir is now a national park in the municipality of Bláskógabyggð in southwestern Iceland, about 40 km northeast of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates  There is a widening fissure in the ground where the planet is literally opening up. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Þingvellir National Park was founded in 1930, marking the 1000th anniversary of the Althing. The park was later expanded to protect the diverse and natural phenomena in the surrounding area, and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2004.

We then travelled onto Geysir and the geothermal fields and see the steam rising. The original geyser is now dormant and has been replaced by Strokkur – “the Churn” which is a fountain-type geyser located in a geothermal area beside the Hvítá River in Iceland in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavík. It typically erupts every 6–10 minutes. Its usual height is 15–20 metres, although it can sometimes erupt up to 40 metres high.  The chef of the Restaurant Geysir invited us to taste freshly baked hot spring bread served with Icelandic butter, boiled eggs and herring and served with a small glass of Geysir Schnappes. 

We now travelled south towards REYKHOLT to visit the Fridheimar Horses and Tomato Farm Complexes.  Nestled away off the beaten tracks of Selfoss, a family orientated, tomato greenhouse and horse complex thrive.

Horticulture using natural hot water had commenced at Friðheimar in 1946 and in 1995 Knútur and Helena bought Friðheimar, with the aim of combining their horses and horticulture knowledge. From 1995-2001 they successfully built a 1,174 m² greenhouse while also continuing to run the farm as before. From 2002-2006 they started growing tomatoes all year round, installed lighting, and built a new 1,000 m² greenhouse.

Friðheimar isn’t just famous for growing tomatoes. Horse shows and horse breeding are another key venture for the farm, with the aim to breed willing, good-looking horses with good neck and shoulders and a good disposition. Seven horses have been shown at breeding evaluations, and three received first prize. During the summer months, Friðheimar holds its own horse show: ‘A Meeting with the Icelandic Horse’. The show provides an insight into the history of the horse breed, brought to Iceland by the first Scandinavian settlers from around 900 AD.

We visited the Horse stables first and our hostess informed us about the Icelandic Horses. We were allowed to pat and talk to the horses there.

Horses in the stables

The Icelandic horse has been a trusted companion for Icelanders throughout history. Its origins can be traced back to the Vikings, who arrived in Iceland more than a thousand years ago, bringing their small Nordic horses with them. Due to isolation and strict rules, the breed has remained pure and has maintained its unique characteristics. Despite its small size, the Icelandic horse is well known for being strong and hardy, with great stamina and speed. It is surefooted enough to handle the rough Icelandic terrain and is renowned for its five gaits and the unique “tolt” a four beat gait with light flowing movement, which is easy and comfortable to ride. The other gaits are walk, trot, gallop and flying pace. The Icelandic horse has a wide colour palette, varying from black to palomino, to silver dappled and a range of colours in between. It is intelligent, faithful and a friendly companion that is able to carry riders across grassy plains, up and down rocky slopes, through rivers and over fields of rough lava. After being in the stables, our hostess then saddled up on her horse and went through the different gaits of the horse. It was very interesting when she filled up a glass with beer and then raced around, not spilling a drop.

It was farewell to more horses out in the yard and had a short walk to the adjoining Fridheimar Tomato Farm

While the weather outside may be bitter cold, wet, windy or snowing, inside Friðheimar tomatoes grow all year round, under artificial lights replicating Mediterranean conditions. The farm has abundant supplies of geothermal water, which provides heat to the greenhouses. The borehole is 200 m from the greenhouses and the water flows into them at about 95°C / 203°F. The greenhouse makes use of modern technology and green energy, each greenhouse is equipped with a climate-control computer system for temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and lighting. The horticultural facilities total about 5,000m² under glass, of which about 4,200m² are used for cultivation.  Friðheimar has about 10,000 plants in its greenhouses, needing trimming and picking weekly.  Tomato plants are pollinated by the famous Friðheimar bumble bees that live and work within the greenhouse! 

Some of the 10,000 tomato plants

After hearing about the growing of the tomatoes in the fabulous greenhouse, we were invited to go into the restaurant.

With an annual harvest of 370 tons and a daily crop yield of over a ton, Friðheimar defies the odds of the Icelandic winters and invites customers in for a hearty bowl of tomato soup, tomato beer, or if you’re feeling it, tomato ice cream! They certainly have been very innovative in how to use tomatoes.  Before sitting down in the restaurant, Susan and I had some taste samples of tomato salsa and tomato jam. We finally got to the restaurant and I ordered a nice Bloody Mary.

Tomatoes are the key ingredient in every dish and the backbone to the attraction. 

The Fridheimars are to be congratulated on the success of both their businesses.  I enjoyed this visit very much and what I also enjoyed was where the bus parked!!  We did not have to be blown from the bus to the venue and this would have been the most calmest of days – no horrendous winds! After a very relaxing time at the Fridheimars we boarded our coach and headed for our accommodation in Hverageroi about 15 kms away.  For some reason, our group was required to be divided into 2 different hotels – 17 were staying at the Hotel Eldhester and the remaining 14 of us were booked into the very upmarket Hotel Ork – extensions were added on in May 2018 so I was fortunate to be in this luxurious room.

I think Erik worked it out so Susan (birthday yesterday), Bob and Lila  (Bob’s birthday today) and mine were in the same hotel. Was it our birthday present?  In the evening, Susan, Jennifer and Dianne, Jayne and Rodney joined me in the top class Hver Restaurant to help me celebrate my birthday dinner.  I ordered the Salmon Salat – delicious – and a Tia Maria.   

Di, Susan, Jenny, Rod, me and Jenny

I will remember this birthday as it was a very interesting and informative day and topped off by a lovely evening.  Thankyou to the above people who helped me enjoy my birthday. As it had been quite a long day, we all said goodnight and headed to our rooms. It was good to go to bed earlier than our other nights up to now.                Travelled 240 kms approximately

TUESDAY, 22 OCTOBER 2019 – DAY 3 OF TOUR – SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA AND FJORD CRUISE

Tuesday, 22 October  2019 – Day 3 of Tour – Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Fjord Cruise

After breakfast, we all boarded the coach and headed west on highway 54 towards Stykkisholmur.  Along the way, we had a very short visit to a Wool Store.  We were travelling on the Snaefellnes Peninsula “the peninsula of the snowy mountain”.  Today it lived up to its name as was bitterly cold (-11) and had been snowing. Although the road was flat there were very high rugged mountains and lagoons along the way.  Near the village of Vatnaleio, we had a short photo stop.

At Vatnaleio,

Along the way, we got a surprise as out of nowhere a group of little school children crossed over the road. Couldn’t see where they were going. 

We arrived at Stykkisholmur – a pretty fishing town but today as we “blew” to board our boat for our cruise, it was sleeting.  It was warm on the boat so I stayed downstairs with a Dianne and Jennifer and chatted with a few others who were not brave enough to go upstairs even briefly, as cold, windy and sleeting. We were sailing on the Breidafjordur Fjord.  It was a shame that the weather was so inclement for sight-seeing but it was relaxing chatting and drinking warm drinks.  As I didn’t venture upstairs, Erik brought me down a tasty scallop before we were served up a delicious lunch.

Snowing while on cruise

After our cruise, we had a short stop in the café at Stykkisholmur

and then we travelled in the area of Helgafellssveitarvegur

where there were moss and lava mounds with high mountains in view.  We were heading for our next stop at the Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum.

Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum

At Bjarnarhöfn Shark-Museum in Snaefellsnes Peninsula we were to experience a unique Icelandic culture. This family owned museum offers a peak into their history. This family has been involved with sharks for the past four centuries with the only change being they don ‘t fish for sharks anymore, now it’s only by catch.

The farmstead at Bjarnarhöfn is the region’s leading producer of hákarl (fermented shark meat), a traditional Icelandic dish. We wandered around the museum that had exhibits of very personal displays of memorabilia from a family of shark hunters including fishing boats and processing tools.

One of the exhibits at the Shark Museum

We were given an interesting presentation by our very enthusiastic and animated host about the six months processing of the shark meat, the sharks biology and the history behind it all.  A video was in the background, showing the butchering and fermenting procedure.

Greenland shark, which is used to make hákarl, is poisonous if eaten fresh; fermentation neutralises the toxin.  Greenland shark is classified as near threatened and is the longest-living vertebrate on the planet, with some living over 500 years. We were all then given the opportunity for a nibble of the hákarl, accompanied by Brennivín (aka ‘black death’) schnapps and rye bread.  It was not very appetising but Susan and I had a sample.

There was a wooden church on the farm and was consecrated in 1857 and is the home chapel of the farmer.

After being at the Museum, which was off the main highways we were back on highway 54 towards Grundarfjordur. It was a very pretty drive with smooth water of a lagoon on both sides of the road and mountains in the front, but in a few minutes, the water was quite choppy.  A little further on was a farm with woolly sheep – don’t get a chance to photograph the thousands that are in Iceland. There was a beautiful glacier in front.

Jutting out in the bay was Mt Kirkjufellsfoss (463 m) – the most prominent mountain in Grundarfjörður – situated on the fjord of Breidafjorour and a landmark of the fishing town with a population little under 900 people. It is a fishing town and until the tourism boom in the 21st century, the majority of all employment in town was linked to fisheries. 

Mt Kirkjufellsfoss (463 m)

The mountain is free-standing and referred to as the most beautiful mountain on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula – some even say the whole of Iceland. At least it is the most photographed mountain.

The name Kirkjufell means Church Mountain as it is considered to resemble a church. And the mountain next to it, Stöðin, is said to resemble a congregation hall.

When we arrived at Grundarfjordur, the weather was too inclement so we virtually drove up the street and back towards our accommodation at Borgarnes (our second night at Hotel Hamar).

After freshening up/warming up, 8 of us went into dinner. I had a great lamb meal. It  was a fun night as Susan kept us laughing. It was her birthday so she was very happy. As it was going to be my birthday tomorrow, we shared a dessert.

Susan and I sharing a yummy dessert
Dinner for Susan’s birthday

After dinner, it was thought that the Lights could appear. It was another fruitless late night as no luck. A late night to bed.

Was another very interesting day and varied excursions even though I couldn’t get warm when outside.      Travelled approximately 250 kms.

Friday, 18 October 2019 – Home to Sydney prior to Iceland trip

Friday 18 October 2019 – Home to Sydney prior to Iceland trip

Robert drove me to the Canberra Airport and I caught the Virgin Flight VA667 leaving at 6.35pm to Sydney. I arrived at 7.35pm.  Caught a taxi to the Ibis Hotel. Feeling still unwell with bad hayfever so went to bed soon after arrival.

Saturday 19 October 2019  –  I had a late departure from my room so for the rest of the day stayed at the hotel and chatted to some other guests, had nibbles, drinks and read my information on my destination – ICELAND. This was a trip to me for my birthday. I wanted to go to Iceland as I thought it sounded very different to the other trips I have been on – Iceland has The Blue Lagoon, 10,000 waterfalls and 130 volcanoes, lava and moss fields, mountains, glaciers, rivers, caves, black beaches, the Icelandic horses, streams, lagoons, geysers, sheep, hot springs, lakes, turf houses, icebergs and the hope to see the Northern Lights – (Aurora Borealis). The other attraction was that Iceland was just a small island so wouldn’t be jostled about in huge crowds. I hope I won’t be disappointed.

BRIEF HISTORY OF ICELAND

The first people to settle in Iceland were probably Irish monks who came in the 8th century. However, in the 9th century, they were driven out by Vikings. The first Viking to discover Iceland was a man named Naddoddur.  Following him, a Swede named Gardar Svavarsson circumnavigated Iceland about 860. However, the first Viking attempt to settle was by a Norwegian named Floki Vilgeroarson. He landed in the northwest but sailed back to Norway. However, he gave the land its name. He called it Iceland. Then from 874 many settlers came to Iceland from Norway and the Viking colonies in the British Isles. A Norwegian named Ingolfur Arnarson led them. When he sighted Iceland, Ingolfur explored Iceland in the southwest of Iceland and he and his household settled there. He called the place Reykjavik, meaning Smokey Bay. Many other Vikings followed him to Iceland.

The land in Iceland was free to whoever wanted it. There were very good fishing grounds around Iceland and the land was well suited to sheep. Many Vikings brought flocks with them and soon sheep became a major Icelandic industry. The population of Iceland soared. By about 930 there were about 60,000 people living in Iceland.

At first the Icelanders were ruled by chiefs called Godar but there were some local assemblies. About 930 the Icelanders created an assembly for the whole island called the Althing. In 1402-03, the Black Death struck Iceland and the population was devastated.

However prosperity returned in the 15th century. At that time there was a big demand in Europe for Icelandic cod and Iceland grew rich on the fishing industry. Icelanders traded with the English and with the Germans.

In 1397 Norway was united with Denmark. Afterwards, Iceland was ruled by the Danish crown. The people of Iceland gradually accepted Protestantism and in 1584 the Bible was translated into Icelandic. In 1661 the Danish king made himself an absolute monarch. During the 17th century the Icelanders suffered and the Icelandic economy suffered severely. In 1707-09 Iceland suffered an outbreak of smallpox which killed a large part of the population.

 In 1783 the fallout from volcanic eruptions caused devastation in Iceland. By 1786 the population of Iceland was only 38,000.

In the 19th century ties between Iceland and Denmark weakened. Iceland began to prosper once again. The population rose (despite emigration to Canada) and in 1911 Reykjavik University was founded.

In the 20th century ties with Denmark were loosened. In 1904 Iceland was granted home rule. In 1918 Iceland was made a sovereign state sharing a monarchy with Denmark. In 1915 Icelandic women were allowed to vote.  In 1944 Iceland Mount Hekla erupted causing much destruction but Iceland soon recovered and in 1949 Iceland joined NATO. In the late 20th century Iceland had a series of ‘cod wars’ with Britain. Iceland relied on its fishing industry and grew alarmed that the British were overfishing its waters. The ‘cod wars’ were ‘fought’ in 1959-1961, 1972 and in 1975-1976.

In 1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected president of Iceland. She was the first elected woman president in the world.

The people of Iceland benefit from natural hot water, which is used to heat their homes. It is also used to heat greenhouses.

In 2008 Iceland suffered an economic crisis when its 3 main banks failed. In 2009 demonstrations led to the fall of the government. Today Iceland still relies on fishing but there are many sheep, cattle and Icelandic ponies. Iceland suffered badly in the world financial crisis that began in 2008 and unemployment rose to over 9%. However, Iceland soon recovered and unemployment fell.

Today Iceland is a prosperous country with a high standard of living. In 2019 the population of Iceland is 339031 approximately (In 2020 approximately 364134).

Saturday 19 October 2019 At 6.00pm I got a taxi to the Sydney International Airport.  I went through all the normal security checks and boarded Qatar QR909 (seat 53A). We left at 22.15 to Doha. Arrived at Doha at 5.40am on Sunday 20 October 2019.   The duration was 15 hours 25 minutes approximately.

Sunday, 20 October 2019  –  Day 1 of Tour.  Left Doha on flight QR167 (seat 31) leaving at 7.35am to Stockholm.  Duration 6.25 hours.  Arrived at 13.00.  Very short transfer to Icedlandair at 13.50 to Reykjavik – Duration was 3.15 hours.  Arrived at Keflek Airport 15.05 local time.  I collected my luggage and went to the ATM to get Icelandic krona as I didn’t have any with me. It was quite cold and drizzling rain. I caught the Skybus to a terminal where we had to change buses. It was very confusing as quite disorganised – so many different coloured buses –  but a lovely girl stayed with me to make sure I was on the correct bus to the hotel in Reykjavik – about 45 minutes away.

I was dropped off at my accommodation – the Hotel Klettur.  After having a meal, I sorted out my luggage as I was going to leave my big case at the Hotel as on our last night we would be returning to Hotel Klettur.  I was really, really tired, so went to bed quite early.

Monday, 21 October 2019 – Day 2 of Tour – Reykjavik City Tour and Borgarfjorour Saga Valley

Monday, 21 October 2019 – Day 2 of Tour – Reykjavik City Tour and Borgarfjorour Saga Valley

It was very cold and windy. After breakfast met our Tour Guide, Erik and group of 30 others. Our coach driver was Gudmundur.   We boarded the coach and had a city tour, passing Alpingi, Parliament House, Harpa Concert Hall and Catholic Church to mention some.  We headed down to the Marina and then headed to Hofdi House.

Outside Hofdi House

Höfði house is best known for hosting the 1986 Reykjavík Summit meeting of Presidents Ronald Reagan of the United States and Mikhail Gorbachev of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. That was a step to the end of the Cold War. Höfði was the exclusive residence of poet and businessman Einar Benediktsson for four years. The larger-than-life statue of Einar Benediktsson by Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson stands on the grounds of Höfði house in Reykjavik. The sculpture of Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) shows the poet standing near the harp as one of his poems was translated into “Harp of the North” – about the Northern Lights.

Einar Benediktsson, often referred to as Einar Ben, (31 October 1864 – 12 January 1940) was an Icelandic poet and lawyer. 

Our next stop was at the Perlan. (The Pearl)  a museum and a rotating glass dome built on top of 6 hot water tanks each holding 4 million litres of geothermal hot water atop Oskjuhlio hill.  From the observation deck, you had panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains, and Mount Esja.  This was virtually a short comfort stop and photo stop.  

We boarded the coach and headed west to Borgarfjourour, through the Hvalfjorour Tunnel. The tunnel is a road tunnel under the Hvalfjaordour fjord and a part of Route 1. It is 5,770 metres long and reaches a depth of 165 metres below sea level.  It was opened on 11 July 1998 and shortens the distance from Reykjavik to the western and northern parts of the island by 45 kilometers.

Our next stop was at the Grabrok Volcano Crater.  Only the young or fit ones ventured out.

After they returned, our next stop was at the Hraunfossar Waterfalls – a series of spurting from beneath a wide lava field.  It was very, very windy so Erik let me use his prized handmade walking stick – otherwise I would have found it very difficult fighting the strong wind.

Once back on the coach, we went to the Hahitaswaeld Geothermal Fields. Vast clouds of steam float upwards from the geothermal power station. Here we went down to Deildarlunguhver,  – Europe’s most powerful hot spring which produces 180 litres per second of water that is nearly boiling – 97 degrees Celsius. In Iceland energy generation comes from 100% renewable resources. Today all of the country’s electricity comes from renewable resources such as hydro, wind and geothermal.  Around 70% is currently generated by hydro power and the rest by geothermal and wind power. Geothermal energy provides heating and hot water for the majority of buildings in Iceland.  Icelanders have the good fortune of having access to an almost limitless inexpensive supply of both hot and cold water.

The renewable energy has helped in sectors as diverse as genetics, health-related tourism and fish farming. It plays an essential role in growing vegetables all year round in geothermal greenhouses as well as providing enjoyment in the form of geothermal all around Iceland. Iceland has always been a leader in sustainability and remains one of the purest environments in the world.  There is little pollution.

We travelled towards Borgarnes to our accommodation at the Hotel Hamer.  (Room 135) After we settled in, we heard Erik give us information about the Northern Lights. After dinner, – a nice meal of Asian chicken and shrimp  – we mingled about quite late hoping that the Lights would appear but we gave up at 2.30am.  We kept ourselves warm with hot chocolate.

Fell into bed after a very full and interesting day. Travelled approximately 245 km

  •  

Sunday, 4 November 2018 – Sabah – Day 6

Sunday, 4 November 2018 – Sabah – Day 6 

After breakfast a group had the opportunity of driving to the Gomantong Cave but I chose not to go because my leg was causing me problems still. Sounds like I made the right decision as it was quite dangerous in spots – very slippery. There is certainly no occupational and health safety.   We then left Sukau and drove about 120 kms. to Sandakan to our accommodation at the Sabah Hotel. This was a lovely up-market hotel.  We had lunch and later had a very welcome swim.

In lovely Sabah Hotel pool with Chris, Rod and Estelle

It was then time to change and driven for another boat cruise along the mangrove forests. As it got darker, we were able to see hundreds of fireflies lighting up the trees around the forests and village.  After the cruise ended, we then had our evening meal at the local village. We were then transferred back to our accommodation for a leisurely night with some of the other guests before retiring for the night.

Thursday, 9th November 2018 – Melbourne to Canberra (Home)

Friday, 9th November 2018 – Melbourne to Canberra (Home)

It was up and checked out of our hotel and Christine took me to the near by Southern Cross Station for me to catch the Skybus to go to the Airport.  We said our goodbyes after a super trip to Borneo with her. I had some breakfast and a wander before it was time for me to catch Flight QF848 (Seat 9F). to Canberra, leaving at 12.00.  We landed at 1.00 and I was met by my neighbour who brought me home.

It was home after an enjoyable 15 days.  Was lovely catching up with Mary and Janice in Melbourne before Christine and I went on to Borneo.  The 10 day tour that Christine and I had on our Borneo trip was fabulous. We had 25 other people on the tour and we all got on very well.  The countryside was extremely beautiful and so lush and green everywhere and the people were so friendly and helpful.

Of course, the highlight of our trip was visiting the Orangutan Centre and watching their antics.

Both our guides were very helpful and extremely knowledgeable and our coach drivers got us safely to all our destinations.  Thankyou to the people in our group who gave me assistance. Lastly, a huge thankyou for Christine’s patience and assistance though out the time we were together. I was disappointed that I was unable to participate in every activity but my left leg was continually painful and my right wrist was troublesome.  Would have been different had it all been on one side but it was still a super trip. Making use of the wheelchair in places throughout the trip was very much appreciated but I was so pleased with what I did and saw.

Wednesday, 7th and Friday 9th November 2018 – Borneo to Melbourne then home – Days 9 & 10

Wednesday, 7th and Friday 9th  November 2018 – Borneo to Melbourne then home – Days 9 and 10.

After breakfast, we did our last pack before we were taken to the Sandakan Airport.  We had a little time to spare so looked at some information on the Pangalin. Pangolins as a genus are among the most heavily poached and exploited protected animals. Like other pangolin species, the Sunda pangolin is hunted for its skin, scales, and meat, used in clothing manufacture and traditional medicine. Scales are made into rings as charms against rheumatic fever, and meat is eaten by indigenous peoples. Despite enjoying protected status almost everywhere in its range, illegal international trade, largely driven by Chinese buyers, has led to rapidly decreasing population numbers. The Sunda pangolin is currently considered to be critally endangered.  We watched a huge amount of produce on a trolley heading into the plane to be loaded on.

We caught our Flight MH2711 from Sandakan to Kuala Lumpur. (Seat 9A) leaving at 1355.  It was funny, as Christine was designated a window seat, but she couldn’t see out as it was blocked in so I had to give her a commentary of where we were.  She probably would have changed had it been a long flight.

 As our flight didn’t leave Kuala Lumpur until 2150 we spent time in the lovely airport lounge where we could have as much as you required to eat and drink – complimentary.  Nice and relaxing before it was time to then pass through Security once more and onto Flight MH0149 leaving at 2150 (Seat 32A).

The configuration was 2x4x2. Christine and I had window seats – behind each other.  After the seat belt signs went off, the passenger next to me and Christine both moved to other seats so this meant we were both able to stretch out allowing us to get some sleep.  The flight was very smooth and we arrived in Melbourne at approximately 8.45 Thursday 8th November having travelled a distance of 3951 miles.   We caught a taxi to our accommodation at the Mantra on the Park.   After we settled into our room we had lunch at the adjoining restaurant.  We had a “fashion parade” of the people who had been to the Oaks Day at the Melbourne Races.  Christine went and did some more shopping and then it was dinner time so we just ate at the same restaurant as lunch as the food was enjoyable.

So that was the end of several pack filled days of our trip to Borneo.  It was fun watching Christine trying to sort out her luggage as she had made some extra bits of shopping and she had trouble packing and repacking her goodies.  We finally went to bed after talking about our fabulous interesting trip to Borneo.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018 – Sabah – Day 8

Tuesday, 6 November 2018 – Sabah – Day 8

After breakfast we departed to visit the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. It was fun watching these weird looking animals leaping about and then we watched them enjoy their morning feed. They posed one minute and next thing were thumping along where we were walking.   They are the queerest looking animals with their very pronounced noses compared to the rest of their bodies.

Proboscis monkeys are known to make various vocalizations. When communicating the status of group, males will emit honks. They have a special honk emitted towards infants, which is also used for reassurance. Males will also produce alarm calls to signal danger. Both sexes give threat calls, but each are different. In addition, females and immature individuals will emit so-called “female calls” when angry. Honks, roars and snarls are made during low-intensity agonistic encounters. Nonvocal displays include leaping-branch shaking, bare-teeth open mouth threats and erection in males, made in the same situations.  They were quite noisy while leaping around. 

It was then onto the Sandakan War Memorial Park.   I didn’t go up the steps but enjoyed being in the lovely gardens.  The Sandakan War Memorial Park commemorates the suffering endured by and the tragic sacrifice of  approximately 2400 Australian and British prisoners of war held by the Japanese in the Sandakan POW camp between January and August 1945.  Early in 1945, the Japanese decided to move the POWs 260 kilometres west into the mountains to the small settlement of Ranau. On three forced marches between January and June approximately 500 prisoners died. The remainder died at the Ranau and Sandakan camps. Of all those who had been alive in January1945 by the end of August, only six – all Australians – survived. With the help of local people, they were fed and hidden from the Japanese until the end of the war.

Escape was no easy task, as all prisoners were  suffering malnutrition and wer affected by tropical diseases including beri beri, malaria and dysentery. Escapees were also at risk of being turned over to their captors as the Japanese offered large rewards for the recapture of escaped POWS.  This small group of survivors was able to testify against their tormentors to ensure that the world received eyewitness accounts of the crimes and atrocities committed at Sandakan, on the death marches and at Ranua.

It was onto the beautiful English Tea House for lunch. The grounds were immaculate and we had lovely views of the harbour. Was very relaxing.

 

We had a rest before our farewell dinner at the Sandakan Hotel. It was one of our companion’s birthday so we made a toast to Leesa.

It was a very good night – full of laughs and sad that it was our last night with a great friendly group of people.  Onto the coach once more back to our hotel after another enjoyable day.

 

Sunday, 4 November 2018 – Sabah – Day 6

Sunday 4 November 2018 – Sabah – Day 6

Monday, 5 November 2018 – Sabah – Day 7

This morning we departed for an excursion to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

We had a quick trip to the Rainforest Discovery Centre through the Botanical Gardens and the canopy walkway.

We then proceeded to the orangutans feeding platform to witness their morning feeding in their forest environment. The orangutans gave a good show swinging from tree to tree or on the ropes or hammocks. Very entertaining. We spent quite a lot of time viewing the young orangutans in the outdoor nursery.

We then visited the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre where we saw a couple of the world’s smallest bear in their natural forest environment. The vegetation is just beautiful – so green and the trees so dense. Was lovely to see how the different vines were entwined through the tall trees.

Jan and I at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

We returned to the hotel for lunch and then it was more orangutan feeding in the afternoon before we were taken to the Mango Restaurant for our dinner. Our group was in a separate section of the restaurant and in the next section there was a performance being acted out – a musical/opera. A couple of the performers came into our area and posed for photographs with our group.  It was quite hilarious.

In the room next to us, a Borneo group were performing and after they had finished a couple of the cast joined us to pose for some photographs.  We were quite tired when we arrived back to our hotel but it was a very enjoyable first day in Kota Kinabalu.

We were driven back to the hotel and had a couple of drinks with some of the group before going to bed. It was another very enjoyable day.

Saturday, 3 November 2018 – Sabah – Day 5

Saturday, 3 November 2018 – Sabah – Day 5

This morning was an early wakeup for a sunrise cruise in the long boats to search for the proboscis monkeys. Not long into the trip, I lost my unused new tablet overboard in the very muddy water.  After about an hour we headed back to the Lodge for breakfast.

It was then back onto the boats for another cruise and to watch the antics of the monkeys. While some of the group went for a short jungle walk, I stayed on the boat and the boatman gave me a very delicate wild flower – very prolific along the bank. We also checked some of the pots trapping prawns and crabs. It was back to the lodge once more for lunch.

The rest of the day was at leisure – there were some monkeys wandering around the grounds .

While at the Borneo Lodge we did lots of in and out of the long boats.  It was dinner at the lodge and then bed after another very enjoyable day.

 

 

Friday, 2 November 2018 – Sabah – Borneo – Day 4

Friday, 2 November 2018 – Sabah – Borneo – Day 4

After breakfast, we left our lovely cottage and took in the beautiful countryside and a terrific view of Mt. Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Sabah . There were tea pickers in the grounds. It was into the Tea Factory to hear about the different processes and then into the Sabah gift shop – made some purchases and received a free sample of the refreshing Sabah tea.

It was then onto Kampung Luanti where we stopped off to enjoy a fish spa (foot massage). We laughed and laughed as it was a strange feeling having the fish nibbling away.

We travelled for about 4-5 hours through the Labak and Sugut area to Sukau for lunch. Sukau is on the Kinabatangan River, the longest river in Sabah. It is an area that’s home to 10 species of primates, 8 species of hornbills and a wide variety of other animals and birds.

It was then a short boat transfer to our accommodation in Borneo Nature Lodge. After checking in, it was down to the river bank for a river cruise in the long boats in search of proboscis monkeys and other wildlife along the river bank. We spent quite awhile watching the antics of the monkeys bounding from tree to tree.

We came back to the Lodge to relax before it was time to have our dinner.  This was a very long day driving for about 250kms but certainly had varied activities and magnificent scenic views of the villages and the beautiful Mt. Kinabalu.

 

Thursday, 1 November 2018 – Sabah – Borneo – Day 3

Thursday, 1 November 2018 – Sabah – Borneo – Day 3

This morning after breakfast we drove through the Crocker Range with amazing scenic views of Tuaran and Kota Belua. We stopped at Nabalu Village market with local hand crafts, souvenirs and snacks and then to lunch at the Nabalu Restaurant.

It was then onwards to the beautiful Kinabalu National Park. Jan and I stayed behind and rested up. The countryside was just spectacular with villages nestled in the mountainside.

While the group went to the War Memorial Park, I went to a nearby market.

It was then onto Ranau to our accommodation at the Sabah Tea Gardens. We all had different cabins and ours was the Alfred Dent Cottage. The gardens were beautiful and had lovely views of the mountains.

We didn’t have to go far tonight for our meal as it was at the Tea Gardens.  There were some nasty beetles flying around and entertained us for some time. It was then back to our lovely room and an early night to bed as it was a full day again.  

 

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 – Kota Kinabalu – Day 2

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 – Kota Kinabalu – Day 2

After breakfast, we went by our coach to the Marina Jetty to catch a ferry to Manukan Island. After a short walk, we came to our designated huts. It was lovely just relaxing before I decided to put my feet in the water but the current was very strong and ripped my flip flops off. Fortunately, they were retrieved. Knew why we were warned not to go swimming in this area because of the strong rip. It was interesting watching a couple of Japanese girls in their high heels walking into the water to have about 5,000 – ha ha – photos taken. Lucky they did not get swept out because of the current. Some of the group walked further along to go swimming and snorkelling. After a super buffet lunch we headed back to the jetty to get the ferry back to the mainland.

We were then driven to the Mari Mari Cultural Village (MMCV). The village operates as a museum that preserves Borneo’s ethnic cultures, which features five different ethnic tribes in one village – including the rice farmers, longhouse residents, the hunters and fisherman, the cowboy and sea gypsies and the famously feared head-hunting tribe. Because of the difficult terrain, I stayed behind and was entertained by a lovely group of volunteers.

After the MMCV, we were then driven to the Sri Melaka Restaurant for another super meal and then it was back to the hotel for an evening of leisure and then it was off to bed. Another great full day. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 29 October – Tuesday 30 October 2018 – Melbourne – Kota Kinabalu (Borneo) via Kuala Lumpur

Monday, 29 October 2018 – Melbourne to Kota Kinabalu (Borneo) via Kuala Lumpur

After breakfast, Chris and I said goodbye to Mary and Jan and we then made our way to Flinders Street Station to catch the free City Circle No. 35 and then onto another tram to meet up with Chris’ son Dion and his two little girls.

We spent time at Dion’s until 6.00 when Dion drove Chris and I to the International Airport. I took advantage of wheelchair assistance as my left leg was so painful to walk and stand. We booked our luggage through and stayed in the Old Town White Coffee restaurant until it was time to be met by the wheelchair assistant lady who took us through the necessary formalities for flight Malaysia MH0128 departing Melbourne at 00.40 to Kuala Lumpur.

After our meal, it was time to settle down for the long flight. I found it very difficult to get comfortable so was pleased when we arrived at Kuala Lumpur after 8 hours 20 minutes at 6.00 a.m. – 3951 miles.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018 – Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, Borneo – Day 1

We proceeded to Zone C for Malaysia MH2610 – Boeing 737-800 Jet, Seat 16C departing Kuala Lumpur at 9.35 a.m. It was a smooth 2 hrs 40 min flight arriving in Kota Kinabalu at 12.15 p.m. (1018 miles).  We met the rest of our group on the tour, our guide, Brendan and our coach driver. We were driven to our accommodation at the Dreamtel Hotel. 

We settled into the hotel until 2.00p.m. when we were then taken on a scenic tour of Kota Kinabalu city, passing the Sabah Foundation Building, University, Sabah State and City Mosque and the Sabah Museum to mention a few.  It was then onto the night markets and then to the Sri Tanjung Restaurant for a delicious seafood meal with a cultural show.

 

Thursday, 25 October to Monday 29 October – 2018 – Canberra to Melbourne

Thursday, 25 October 2018 – Canberra to Melbourne

Neighbour Peter drove me to the Canberra Airport for Flight VA256 (Seat 18F) departing at 8.45. It was a smooth flight and arrived in Melbourne at 9.55. I caught the Skybus to the gardens opposite our accommodation, the Mantra on the Park, 333 Exhibition Street. The room was not ready until 1.30 so I just stayed in the adjoining restaurant and had lunch until I could go into our room.  Later in the afternoon Janice and Mary (highschool friends) arrived.  We settled in and chatted until Christine arrived.  (another highschool friend). The next few days were to be our little school reunion.  More chatting and catching up before going to bed after we had some dinner.

Friday, 26 October 2018 – Melbourne

I was feeling quick sick with hayfever and pain so I spent the day in the hotel and left the girls to do their own sightseeing which included the Melbourne Zoo.

Saturday 27 October 2018 – Melbourne

I was feeling much better today. After breakfast, we went to a very popular restaurant, Brunetti for morning tea. It was quite convenient to our hotel.

In the afternoon, we went to the Theatre to see the Musical – A Gentleman’s view on Love and Murder. It was a very professional performance and we had many laughs.

Because Christine comes to visit her son in Melbourne quite often, she was a great guide for us as she knew where to take us and which trams, etc. to catch. Melbourne has a free circle tram and that was very handy for us as our hotel was quite convenient to our stops.

Sunday, 28 October 2018 – Melbourne

After breakfast, we caught a tram to Docklands and went on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel at 11.00.  The wheel took off very slowly and we got a fabulous view of the city of Melbourne and its outskirts. After being on the wheel, we had lunch and wandered along the shops – Chris and Jan made some purchases.

It was then back to our hotel before it was out again down to Chinatown for a very expensive meal. Back to our hotel once again for more chatting before it was bedtime. This was to be our last night with Janice and Mary as they were flying to Adelaide and Christine and I were going on our trip to Borneo.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 23,24 and 25 September 2017 – Leaving Florida and Flying Home – Days 28-30

Saturday, 23 September 2017 – Leaving Florida and Flying home (Days 28-30)

I couldn’t sleep so I had my last dip in the pool.  Did go back to bed until 800 – had breakfast and took some photos of this “Home Beautiful.  Al and Anne had a tremendous builder and what really impressed me were two paintings set in the recess of the wall – one was the Great Wall of China and the other of one of the canals in Venice.  Brought back memories as I have climbed some of the wall in China and it was in Venice that the three of us were on the same tour. Actually, there was James, their 17 year old grandson as well. He is a lovely lad. I had a short chat with him while at his grandparent’s home. We laughed thinking of the night of a Cabaret in Paris.  I felt unwell so I let James have my ticket. We think he had his eyes opened a bit wider as I believe there was quite a lot of nudity

The rest of the interior has been very tastefully furnished at the hand of very talented Anne. She is a perfectionist!   After finishing my packing, we left the house at 9.30am for the Saratosa International Airport.

Al with me out front

Anne and I out front

 

I was leaving this part of Florida and have seen so many different varieties of foliage during my travels especially the palm family – there are at least 2,500 species. I will just mention a few  – Of course there is the Coconut Palm which is a universal system of the tropics.  – the Senegal Date, Christmas, Florida Thatch, Pygmy Date (commonly planted as a dooryard specimen) and the Royal (popular on boulevards and around large houses). So many of the Paurotis Palms that are down in Everglades area were damaged. But it is the Bismarck Palm that is beautiful and desirable.

 

Some of the many palms I saw in Florida

We arrived at the Sarasota International Airport and said by last goodbye to Al and Anne.  I was so very fortunate that Al, a returned Vietnam Veteran, was able to drive without too much difficulty but walking and standing causes him problems. I really appreciated that you “suffered” at times, Al when you took me to the attractions during my stay. I want to say a huge thankyou for your wonderful hospitality and welcoming me into your home. I had a very memorable week.

I booked my luggage through to Sydney and at 11.30am boarded my American Eagle Flight AA5139 to Charlotte, USA.  It was a nice smooth flight and on arrival, Kristi, my mobility assistance person met me and stayed with me all the time until it was time to boarded American Eagle Flight AA5139.  She was very helpful as I wanted a couple of postcards.

Boarding time for my next flight – American Airlines AA678 – Charlotte to Los Angeles – was at 3.45pm. It is about a 5h 40m flight.  I had about 5 hours to wait until my next flight but this gave me time to have something to eat and check on the gates.  I was very fortunate as I managed to get seating in the eating area and because I was by myself, a family asked whether they could sit with me. Of course I had no objections and when it was time for me to go to the boarding lounge, the gentleman escorted me there and carried my cabin baggage. When we got to the lounge on my ticket it had changed so we had to walk further along. People have been so kind along the way.  Boarding time was at 10.30pm for my American Airlines Flight AA73 – Los Angeles to Sydney and this is the “killer” leg of the journey – 13½ hours in the air.   When I boarded, I had a window seat and there was a spare seat next to me. A young girl, Saira said I could spread myself out. Settled down and 1-2 hours into the flight we were served a meal.  After that, I thought I would try and get some sleep and I did until we had been flying 7-8 hours we were served with an icecream.  Had some more cat nap until we hit some turbulence which lasted for awhile.  Then it was breakfast at the 12-13 hour. Because of the International Dateline sometime during our flight, it was now Monday, 25th. Lost a day coming home, but had an extra day going over.

Monday, 25 September 2017 – Flying from Los Angeles to Sydney

We landed in Sydney at 7.30am.  Was a nice feeling to get off the plane and stretch.  I then had to collect my case and go through Customs and get my flight to Canberra.  Once more my flights had been changed. Instead of being on the 11.00am flight, I was told that all flights had been cancelled in and out of the airport due to the Controllers’ computing system crashing and that it went out at 5.00am.  Do not know the real reason, as we landed at 7.30am.!! I then needed to book my luggage once more through but would you believe, it sat on the belt as Virgin’s computers went down.  Thankfully, I did not have to wait long before I could then get the transit bus over to the Domestic Terminal.  What a shock when I arrived. I have never seen the terminal so crowded. There were people stretched the full length of the terminal. This was because of the “crash” and to make it worse – it was the start of some school holidays and the weekend of a grand final in the football.  Because I was given a boarding pass for Virgin Airline Flight VA648, I was able to proceed straight through Security and board the 1.35pm flight to Canberra.  I was given mobility assistance from the tarmac through to the baggage carousel and where my son, Robert was to meet me. It was so good to see him and that I had arrived home safely.  The Virgin staff said we could take the wheelchair right to the car which we did. Having this assistance throughout the trip was very comforting and made my travelling so much easier and less painful by having to stand for long periods or walking long distances in the terminals.

Got into my little home at 4.00pm. As soon as I arrived home, my visitors – the kangaroos – were in my yard and hopping up onto the deck. If I leave the door open, one mother and her joey hop in – have on a couple of occasions but I quickly get them out. They give me a lot of pleasure watching their antics.

 

It has been a wonderful 4 weeks.  Saw such diverse country from flat terrain to the skyscraper mountains of the Canadian Rockies. Cool weather in Alaska to hot and humid weather in Florida. The weather on Vancouver Island was very pleasant. Certainly saw different foliage in the  areas I travelled and various wildlife – cranes, bald eagles, whales, dolphins and alligators. All the off shore excursions I went on were well worth it  and most of all met some lovely new friends and caught up with Al and Anne.

Cannot say what was the highlight as there were many and they were all different.  So finally finished this blog and has been rather long winded because of my right hand being very uncooperative. Also sorry about the out of focus when I send to Facebook – seems it is a compatible issue going from what I type to the “view post” part.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 22 September 2017 – Drive to Gasparilla Island, Boca Grand and Palm Island – Day 27

Friday, 22 September 2017 – Drive to Gasparilla Island, Boca Grand and Palm Island (Day 27)

After breakfast Anne and I had a long swim and chatted of course.  Al is a late riser (late to bed) so the mornings are usually just Anne and I.  About 3.30pm we headed south through Port Charlotte and then to Gasparilla Island, southwest Florida  where we saw workmen clearing up more of Hurricane Irma’s damage.  On to Boca Grande, a small residential community on Gasparilla Island.  We drove along the magnificent Banyan Street lined with the banyan trees – these trees are huge.We then drove through the Gasparilla Island State Park where we saw the historic Lighthouse and then the current lighthouse.  Seemed a bit disappointing as it did not look like a “proper” lighthouse.

Banyan Drive – Huge

Workmen clearing up from the hurricane damage

Anne and I under a huge banyan tree

 

Down on the Gulf of Mexico

It was then through Placida – and yes more Hurricane damage on the Boa Grande Causeway.  We then drove down to the Gulf of Mexico Beach – of course I had to put my feet in again.

We passed through Englewood to get on a water taxi to Palm Island about 9 miles south off the coast from Cape Haze. are very few cars on Palm Island and very few roads.  There is no bridge to the island and is only accessible by ferry or water taxi.  The main reason for this water taxi ride was for me to see dolphins!  They obliged and it was fun watching them do their antics at the rear of the boat.  Hard to get the photos though. No matter how many times you see dolphins frolicking you still get excited! Beautiful creatures.

One of the few dolphins showing off

We stopped at the access point to Leverocks Restaurant where once more we had a lovely meal.    We then caught our water taxi back to the car  – said goodbye to Dave and Dale  and made our way back home.  Was a beautiful sunset. As we were near Port Charlotte we saw a wild pig wandering along.  You never know what wildlife you see on your travels.  Another lovely travelling day.

Enjoying our water taxi ride

Thursday, 21 September 2017 – Drive to Venice. Florida – Day 26

Thursday, 21 September 2017 – Drive to Venice, Florida – (Day 26)

Today we left for a drive to Venice, Florida north west of North Port where Anne and Al live.  We picked up Mary a friend of Anne.  Along the way, we saw more hurricane damage.  Our first stop was at a condominium that Anne and Al have and Anne wanted to check it out as tenants were arriving early next month.  The condo property was lucky as Hurricane Irma missed it.  After being inside the condo, we made our way down to the beach.  Started walking without anything on my feet, but it was like walking on fire – so very very hot – so Anne got my flip flops.  We had a quick paddle in the Gulf of Mexico  before we walked along the causeway.

Anne and I paddling

The Soda Fountain restaurant, a favourite of Anne and Mary was our next stop where we ordered a pizza and soda and then it was home.  Adjoining the restaurant is the Smallest Pizza Hut.  Was an early night tonight!

Mary and Anne with me

 

 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017 – Visit to Babcock Ranch and Japanese Restaurant – Day 25

Wednesday, 20 September 2017 – Visit to Babcock Ranch and Japanese Restaurant – (Day 25)

Up and had breakfast of chirozo and toast – new on the menu!!!!  We’ve had eggs, bacon, hash browns, banana and walnut pancakes, french toast !!!!! At 12.00 we headed off to visit Babcock Ranch, 90,000 acres. Was a bit of a drive as we couldn’t find the entrance – with some instructions we double backed some way and entered the Ranch but to our disappointment it was closed – Hurricane Irma caused trouble here.  Just as we were about to leave, a chap (John) came out.  He was the chef at the Gator Shack restaurant at the ranch but apologised that he couldn’t even give us anything to eat as there was no power.  Anne explained why we had visited the Ranch – “My friend is from Australia and we were going to show her alligators”.

John told us to wait as he would go and get a buggy and give us a private tour to where the creatures would be.  We climbed in and off we went through quite thick vegetation and water marshes.  We rode as far as Telegraph Cypress Swamp and in front of us was an alligator!!  It swiftly swam into the swamp and then there about 8 others there.  At last I had got to see alligators.

Alligator there but hard to snap

Alligator watching

Another alligator at the bottom of the right hand side of photo!

 

After watching them swim about for awhile we then moved onto part of the 14,000 acres of the working cattle area in the pine flatlands.  There was quite a mixture of cattle including Andalusia,  Black Angus and the “Fire Crackers” which are descendants of the cattle brought by the early Spanish settlers.

After our fabulous ride in the buggy and especially seeing the alligators, John brought us back to the restaurant and gave us a drink and chatted.  He showed us his extra skills of riding on his unicycle.  As we headed to our vehicle we saw Lulu, a very unusual three horned cow.

It was then time to say goodbye to John and thank him for giving us a very interesting afternoon.

Our next stop was at the Kumo Japanese restaurant.  We were seated in an unusual seating arrangement but you soon learnt the reason for this.  A chef came out with his array of the choices we had made from the menu and then proceeded to cook them in front of us.  He was quite amusing and his food was delicious.  We then left for home and later in the evening went for another swim and once again, late to bed after an great day – thanks Al and Anne again.

Enjoying our Japanese meal

Monday and Tuesday, 18 and 19 September 2017 – Everglades and North Port – Days 23 and 24

Monday, 18 September 2017 – Everglades  (Day 23)

Was a bit weary this morning as only had 3 hours sleep.  At about 10.00am we set off for the Everglades, south west of Florida.  Had to make a slight detour as the road was closed due to Hurricane Irma destruction.  We saw lots of damage on the way.  When we got into Lee County the damage was quite extensive.  Fort Meyers was one of the areas that was affected badly.

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford frequented this area. Much of the business in the Everglades was out of action and were cleaning up the devastation – hence the tour boats were not operating.   You just felt so sorry for the people suffering such loss.

We left that area a bit disappointed. The next attraction to be sought out was the smallest post office in the USA.  As there was so much damage, you didn’t know what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised that the post office had not been affected.    Once more as we travelled along, destruction – lots of swamps and huge trees uprooted.

                 Outside the smallest post office in USA

                                  Plaque about Ochopee Post office

Travelling north, our fingers were crossed that the Cheesecake Factory in Naples had not been affected as Naples was one of the towns that was extremely affected by Hurricane Irma. Luck was on our side. It was open.  The Cheesecake Factory’s interior was magnificent. Anne and Al said it reminded them of when they were in Egypt.  We were seated and there was so much to choose from the menu. I chose lemon shrimp and noodles followed by a dessert of mudcake.  Just delicious.

Fingers crossed again as we were heading for the Shell Factory and Nature Park, north of Fort Meyers – another area badly affected. .

The Shell Factory  has been operating for 79 years.  In 1997, this landmark was suffering significant deterioration. Fortunately, Thomas Cronin, a developer, entrepeneur and philanthropist cast his vision, creativity and financial support toward the failing attraction. Tom and wife Pam oversee the day to day operations of this 18 acre iconic attraction and recently celebrated their 20th anniversary recreating the Shell Factory and now has a Nature Park and Fun Park.  A huge area.

The Shell Factory was closing so we then travelled back home arriving about 6.45pm.  Was a lovely day’s outing and Anne and Al were pleased that the three attractions were able to be visited – disappointed that I didn’t get to go on the Everglades boat tour.  We didn’t feel like eating after our lovely meal at the Cheese Factory.  I had a lovely dip once more in the pool.  Anne and I then tried to set up a texting system between us but after an hour of trying we gave up.  Anne went to bed and Al and I sat up talking until about 1.15am.  Al is a late to bed person. I had a nice chat to Rob who rang me that evening.

Thanks Anne and Al for a wonderful day’s outing.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017 – Around North Port  (Day 24)

Today was at home until about 2.30pm when Al’s vehicle had to be picked up after being in for a service.  Anne had a medical appointment and I went and had my hair cut and then into the huge Walmart store to get a couple of things and was to meet Anne at 4.30pm.  As we met each other Anne asked me had I been waiting long as I was outside with a shopping trolley (cart).  Anne gave me a strange look when I said “trolley”.  Evidently if I had left my trolley for a moment in an aisle and ducked into another aisle and then approached an employee of Walmart saying “I cannot find my trolley” I may have been taken away for an assessment of some kind – maybe I could have been accused of being on drugs?. We laughed about the difference of some words.  After dinner, Anne and I spent quite some time chatting while in the pool.

Lounging about in the beautiful pool

                                         Anne having a dip

 

Sunday, 17 September 2017 – Attendance at Mass – Day 22

Sunday, 17 September 2017 – Attendance at Mass (Day 22)
 Up and had nice breakfast and Anne and I left to go to Anne’s church at St Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church. 

                                       Maximilian Kolbe Church

It is named after Maximilian Maria Kolbe (now Saint Kolbe) who was born on 8 January 1894 in Zdunska Wola, Poland. He was a Polish Franciscan Friar who was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, located in German-occupied Poland for hiding Jews during the Second World War. When the Nazi guards selected 10 people to be starved to death in punishment, Kolbe volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Auschwitz death camp. Kolbe died on 14 August 1941 in Auschwitz. On 10 October 1982 Kolbe was canonised by Pope John Paul II and declared him “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”.  The interior of the church has some high windows and that is how some of the area at Auschwitz were during Kolbe’s interment.  From January 2013, Rev. Father Teófilo Useche was appointed to St. Maximilian Kolbe Venice parish.  The Mass was very interactive with the congregation and there was a lovely choir.  Before the conclusion of Mass, Anne was one of the people who had a recent birthday and was called up for  recognition.

                 Anne on left for birthday wishes

Beautiful stained window of Kolbe and Virgin Mary as seen from interior of church

 

  Before Anne and I left, I was shown some of the memorabilia of the church and there were copies of St. Kolbe’s name on the list of Auschwitz people there.

  Father Teó is a very “people person” and it was nice to meet him after Mass. He has spent some time in Australia’s Perth.

Father Teó and I

                                 Lovely church garden in background

We then went home and had a restful day until it was time to go to bed.  Ended up being a very, very late night for me as I managed to do unpacking and tried to cull down some of my photos.

 

 

 

Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 14-16 September 2017 – Qualicum Beach/Qualicum/Vancouver/Sarasota, Florida – Days 19-21

Thursday, 14 September 2017 – Down to Qualicum Beach  (Day 19)

Another quiet morning. About 2.00pm we drove down to Qualicum Beach for me to have a dip in the Pacific Ocean.  I needed my flip flops (jangles/thongs) on as the beach had lots of stones.  It was quite cool but then got quite surprised as the tide was very deceptive – rough.  It didn’t take long before I was knocked down and off went my flip flops and I had to hang onto my swimmers.  Well, that was my “putting my feet in the Pacific” episode.  A local lady who was very brave, swam out to where my flip flops were and kindly returned them to me.

My dip in the chilly Pacific Ocean

After I dried off, we then went onto the Arrowhead Golf and Country Club for another nice meal. 

As well as liking his fishing, Bob also plays golf.  He knows several around the area and because they were trying to find me deer, that is why we have called into a couple as there are usually deer on the course.After our meal, Bob obtained a golf buggy and away we went around the beautiful grounds of the Golf Course.

A stop off in the grounds of the Golf Course

 

Two deer were there and I was quite excited that at least there were some deer in the country.  Was a lovely drive around the well manicured course with Mt Arrowsmith in the distance.Then it was back home again – yes, another nice outing. Bob had to attend a Shriners meeting.  I had not heard of Shriners – Shriners International is a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth with nearly 200 temples in several countries and thousands of clubs around the world. The fraternity is open to men of integrity from all walks of life.  Shriners International also supports Shriners Hospitals for Children. It is similar to what Lions/Rotary/Starlight Foundation do here in Australia?.  Each time we have been out, the vehicle is parked outside.  I learnt that the garage is full of quite a lot of provisions for Shriners  and with Bob’s kind heart, it seems that his place is a “stow it” place for friends’ equipment and his “on the spot” store. It was a joke – e.g. In conversation, I said –  “I have to get myself another watch as the face is hard to read”.  Next thing, Bob goes out and when he comes back, there he has two lovely big faced watches”.  I love them Bob and thank you for the other little gifts you gave me from the “shop”. Cheryl and I chatted for some time before it was time for bed.

The home of Cheryl and Bob

Friday, 15 September 2017 – Qualicum to Vancouver (Day 20) 

Up and after breakfast did my last minute packing as I was leaving this very hospitable establishment.  At 11.00am we drove through Parksville, Nanoose Bay, Lantzville and the outskirts of Nanaimo and at 12.00 we arrived at the Ferry Terminal of Duke Point. This is the terminal I should have arrived at when I first arrived and not at Swarz Bay (Victoria).  I purchased my ferry ticket for the 12.45pm  ferry departure and sadly said my last goodbye to Cheryl and Bob.  What a wonderful caring couple!!  I cannot thank them enough for the hospitality they offered me at such short notice.  They apologised that due to Cheryl being unwell, they had not taken me out more.  I really appreciated the places they did take me so I was really spoilt.  We certainly checked out several of Cheryl’s and Bob’s favourite eating places.  Once again a huge thankyou to my good Samaritans and I am sure we will not lose touch.

Boarded the “Queen Alberni” built in 1976. Was quite a large vessel that took cars/trucks/caravans as well as walk-on passengers.  The crossing took about 2 hours and was a pleasant cruise into Tsawwassen, ferry causeway at Delta (Vancouver).  As we were approaching the terminal, Mt Barker on the USA side in Washington could be seen.  I then caught a taxi to my accommodation at Cozy South in Burnaby.  Took about an hour to go the 37 kms but we were in peak hour traffic.  The owner, Nola greeted me and took my luggage into my nice room.  She kindly made me a bowl of noodles and then I went to bed at 6.00pm as I had a very early start next day.

 

Last drive on Vancouver Island_

Leaving Vancouver Island

Saturday, 16 September 2017 – Flight to Sarasota, Florida (Day 21)

A very early wake up at 2.50am and Nola’s husband drove me to the Vancouver International Airport.  I went to see what gate I needed to go to and I saw that the flight had been delayed until 9.10am.  Imagine my face.  Headed straight to the Delta Airline checkin and I was informed that I had been transferred to Alaska Airlines Flight AS964 for the hour flight to Seattle Tacoma.  I had Seat 6D and to reach my bag under the seat in front of me, I had to actually get out of my seat to reach it – First Class!  It was a lovely sunrise. After a short while in the air we flew over the Rockies.  Was interesting to see how the landscape changed from mountains, rivers and flat country. Had to get three trains to the terminal for my next flight on Delta Air Flight DL2864 that left at 7.45 – was about 5 hours to Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson.  Then an hour later was on Delta Air Flight DL1297 for Sarasota/Bradenton.

 

 

I arrived at Sarasota at 5.50pm and Anne was at the carousel to meet me.  Al was parked close by so in went my luggage and we travelled several kilometres to a very well patronised restaurant for dinner.  It was Anne’s birthday.  We then went to North Port – half way between Sarasota and Fort Myers – to Al’s and Anne’s home.  It was lovely seeing Al and Anne after two years.  We did some chatting and then I had a choice of two lovely bedrooms – I went in the “Snowman” one – all tastefully decorated out in a snow theme.  I did a very small amount of unpacking as I was very tired – realised I had been 21 hours without sleep.

 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 – Visit to Port Alberni – Day 18

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 – Visit to Port Alberni (Day 18)

After our breakfast we set off for Port Albernia.  We had a short stop at the Riverside Resort as I needed a couple of things. We continued on until it was morning tea time at one of the many Tim Horton cafes throughout Canada.  It was a lovely drive through pine forests in the Regional District of Nanaimo until we were then in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.

We arrived at the lovely city of Port Alberni with a population of almost 18,000.   Port Alberni is a deep port city which lies within the Alberni Valley at the head of the Alberni Inlet, Vancouver Island’s longest inlet.  The city sits beneath Mount Arrowsmith and is nestled amongst the vast temperate coastal rainforests and the numerous lakes and waterways that flow into the Alberni Inlet and Pacific ocean.  The beautiful mountains provide great hiking, walking and mountain bike trails.   The city is also known for its fishing especially the different species of salmon and is often referred to as the “Salmon Capital of the World”.Port Alberni has two quays – Harbour and Victoria Quays.  We spent quite some time at Harbour Quay taking in the lovely scenery.

Nice photo of Rob and Cheryl

We wandered along through to the little arcade of shops along the marina – on the way there was a piano asking to be played – I hit a few notes !!!!

As we were walking through, some men told us that we should go down to Victoria Quay as we may see some black bears on the other side of the quay looking for fish. Of course we didn’t see any.  It was now time for some of our own food so had a nice meal at the Boston Pizza Restaurant and then it was time for us to leave for home.

                                       Enjoying a meal at Boston Pizza Place

After our nice meal, we started our journey home.  We started to climb about 8 kms to what is known to the locals as “The Hump” – the highest point on the highway – Port Alberni Summit – elevation is about 425 metres.  It crosses from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District and then into the Regional District of Nanaimo.  We wound our way through the MacMillan Provincial Park which includes a well-known area of Cathedral Grove –  a rare and endangered remnant of an ancient Douglas fir ecosystem on Vancouver Island.  The biggest trees in the Grove are about 800 years old and measure 75 m (250 ft) in height and 9 m (29 ft) in circumference.  We skirted Cameron Lake for a few kilometres and passed near Little Qualicum Falls in the Little Qualicum National Park and then we were soon back to Qualicum.

Bob, who loves his fishing, thought salmon that he had caught, was on the menu for tonight’s meal.  He likes to catch and cook it but surprisingly he doesn’t eat it. Cheryl and I enjoyed the meal as was light as we had a big meal for lunch.

Was a lovely day’s outing.  I had a nice call from son Robert so was good to hear his voice.  Another promise of an early night but somehow it didn’t happen.