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 The original geyser is now dormant and has been replaced by Strokkur – “the Churn” which is a fountain-type geyser located in a geothermal area beside the Hvítá River in Iceland in the southwest part of the country,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

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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.