A Travellerspoint blog


sunny 38 °C
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24th September
We said farewell to the Royal Princess this morning and made our way to the Rome airport for our next flight to Dubai. After enjoying some time in the business lounge we made our way onto our plane which was an A380. We were upstairs in Business Class. We had our glass of champagne while the plane was getting ready for takeoff.
Once the flight took off we headed back to the bar.
Nicola had some cocktails.
We arrived in Dubai at 23:30 and upon leaving the airport it was still 33 degrees. It took us a while to get to the hotel as the chauffeur could not find our hotel. We finally got his phone and the GPS app and we made it to the hotel. By then it was 1am. I had booked a studio room but we were told that they had upgraded us to an apartment. We had a big kitchen, lounge and bedroom with 2 bathrooms. large_P1020259.jpg
This was how the bed was laid out when we arrived.
We even had a view of the Burg Khalifa which was meant to cost more. This was the view from our room when we awoke. The windows are a bit dusty but we still get a good view.

25th September
Dubai is the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf and is one of the seven emirates that make up the country. It has one of the world’s fastest growing economies. After having a sleep in we got ready to head out for the afternoon.
We headed to the Dubai Mall which is the largest mall in the world. It is equivalent in size to 200 soccer pitches. A centre piece to the mall is the aquarium. It is one of the largest in the world, holding 10 million litres of water. It houses thousands of aquatic animals including sharks and rays.
Even one of the shops had fish in their front window.
We walked for quite a while in the mall enjoying all the architecture. Some was modern and other parts were arabic.
There are also 2 amazing waterfalls in the mall.
We then went up the Burj Khalifa which is an 828 metres high skyscraper in Dubai, and the tallest man-made building in the world. The tower was inspired by the structure of the desert flower named Hymenocallis. It was constructed by more than 30 contracting companies around the world with 100 nationalities of workers. It was a bit hazy but the views were amazing. Only a few years ago this was all desert. You can still see the desert in the background.
This view is of the fountain area.
We then headed outside to watch the Dubai Fountain which is a captivating water, music and light spectacular in downtown Dubai. It is the world’s tallest performing fountain at over 900 ft in length. It comprises of five circles of varying sizes and two arcs, and features powerful water nozzles that shoot water up to impressive heights. The fountain performs to a range of different songs. When operational, the fountain has over 22,000 gallons of water in the air at any given moment.

26th September
This morning we had an early start as we were heading to Oman for the day. We had someone pick us up and we were on our way. They took photos of our passports on their phone and sent them ahead to get the appropriate paperwork for us to cross the border into Oman. We drove a couple of hours enjoying the contrast in scenery. After heading out of Dubai there was a lot of sand.
Then we left the sand and came upon the Hajar Mountains.
We were heading for mountainous Musandam, a pocket-sized chunk of Oman northeast of Dubai on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. We crossed the Omani border.
We then continued to the Dibba region lapped by the waters of the Gulf of Oman. We arrived in the town of Dibba, and boarded a double-decker wooden Omani dhow for our sailing trip.
Shane made himself at home on the big cushions at the front of the dhow.
Setting sail, there was gorgeous scenery as even though it was a bit hazy.
We stopped for a swim. The water was warm. Once again Shane decided to jump off the top of the dhow.
We had a relaxing few hours jumping in and out of the dhow cooling off, and admiring the scenery in between.
We had a traditional Arabic lunch which was really nice. After lunch we had another swim before it was time to start heading back to land and then our long drive back to Dubai. The day had been well worth it as it was really relaxing and the scenery was so different.
When we got back to our apartment there was another lovely piece of towel art on the bed.

27th September
Today we went to the Dubai Marina. We walked to the metro and took the train to the marina. We could not believe how clean the trains were. We walked around to the Yellow Boats and went out on their rigid inflatable boats.
We first had a cruise around the marina.
From the Dubai Marina you get a spectacular view of the skyline.
We could not believe the creative architectural buildings. They were spectacular.
We then headed out to see Palm Jumeirah. This is an artificial archipelago created using land reclamation in the shape of a palm. Construction began in 2001 and the first residents occupied it in 2006. We cruised around the island where there were luxurious villas and hotels including the Atlantis which is a 5-star hotel.
The rib boat went really fast and we both enjoyed the ride.
We also went to see the Burj Al Arab which is a luxury hotel.
While out on the water we could see downtown Dubai in the distance, but it was really hazy. You can just see the Burj Khalifa standing out.
There is still so much construction going on in Dubai and the marina area was no different. Infact they are building the Dubai eye. At present London has the biggest eye, but the Dubai eye is going to be twice as big as the London eye. It should be ready next year. They only have the support structure up at present.
We decided to have lunch at the Marriott. We went up to the 52nd floor and had a fantastic view of the palm.
We then decided to take the tram and head to the monorail and go across to the Palm Jumeirah. Even the monorail had the Palm Jumeirah logo in it.
There were rows of lovely houses on the sandy palm frons.
We couldn't get into the Atlantis Hotel as it is really exclusive, however we got off the monorail to view the Atlantis Water Park.
It had been another hot day 37 degrees but we hadn’t let it stop us.
While walking back to the hotel we had another good view of the Burj Khalifa.
Once back at the hotel we cooled down with a swim.

28th September
The staff at our hotel have been amazing. This morning they offered us a late checkout for 20:00 instead of 11:00 for free. From our experience this is very unusual. Our flight does not leave until 2am on the 29th so this has given us more time to relax and enjoy the pool before heading to the airport tonight. I could not fault the service here and Dubai has been a pleasant surprise for us. Despite the heat we have really enjoyed our stay here and can't wait to come back some time. No doubt it will look very different with all the construction going on for the 2020 expo. We will be leaving for the airport shortly so this is Nicola and Shane signing off from another adventure.

Posted by shaneandnicola 01:25 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

The Mediterranean

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6th September
Well I don’t know where to start, but here goes. We had a relaxing morning in Reykjavik, we had a bit of a sleep in, visited Nordic Visitor to say hello and hand back the mobile phone they gave us for the trip and then went and did some last minute shopping. We had to laugh at Nordic Visitor as we told them that we had done 4300 km in the car and they couldn’t believe it. The ring road around Iceland is about 1300 km so that goes to show how much we fitted in. We then made our way to the airport. Things were still going well at that stage. We booked in with WOW, they are an Icelandic service. Here is the plane. Even the staff wear this colour.
Our flight to Rome was 4 and a half hours, arriving at 10pm. We got off the plane only to find that our bags were not there. Not one but both were missing. We always pack our suitcases with half our stuff in each one, so at least if one case goes missing we both have clothes, but you are stuffed if both go missing. We also usually have a spare pair of everything in our day packs but as it was only Iceland to Rome we got a bit slack so ended up with only the clothes on our back. We waited hoping they would turn up but they didn’t. So we went to the lost luggage counter only to find about 20 people from our flight all there with no bags. There was one disinterested man helping us. In the end he told us his scanner was not working, handed us a claim form and told us to ring the airport tomorrow to see if the bags had turned up. By then it was midnight. We had arranged a transfer to our hotel and we really thought that they would have left, but no there they were still waiting for us. So we got into a Mercedes Benz with just our daypacks. Then the fun began. He was in such a hurry that we were doing 160km down the freeway dodging slow cars. It was pretty scary and I must add that I thought about the Dodi and Diana incident for a second. We were glad to make it to the hotel. The staff were there waiting for us and showed us to our room. We tried to get a couple of hours sleep before working out what to do.

7th September
We got a little bit of sleep and went down to breakfast. We were due to do a walking tour around Rome for the day but we had to cancel this because of following up our luggage. I have been to Rome but Shane has missed out as the next 2 days we have trips booked out into the countryside. Having cancelled our tour, we tried to ring the number that they had given us to make enquiries but it didn’t work, so after speaking to the fellow at our hotel, he talked us into going back to the airport to lodge our claim and see what we could find out. So we had an unexpected trip on the airport train. We got sent here and there before finally seeing a lady who told us that our bags were on a flight from Geneva at 3.25pm, so she suggested we stay at the airport until then. This seemed a bit strange, and it was. Once again, we waited for our bags and nothing arrived. So we waited over an hour in a queue to lodge our claim formally. There were some pretty angry people including us but we tried to hold it together. At this stage we had come to the conclusion that we would not see our bags again. All the nice things we bought in Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland were gone. So around 5pm we got back on the train and headed back into Rome and made our way to the supermarket to buy all our toiletries and then went up the road to try and get some clothes to tie us over. Deep down we are hoping the bags will turn up at the hotel, but they only have 2 days to do this. I found it hard to find some shorts to fit but found some bright orange ones and an Italia t-shirt. The only thongs we could find were expensive Haveanas so that was my new wardrobe. Shane was a bit luckier.

8th September
Today we spent a day out of Rome to visit Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d”Este. Our first stop was Hadrian’s Villa. It is a large Roman archaeological complex at Tivoli. The villa was constructed as a retreat from Rome for the Roman Emperor Hadrian during the second and third decades of the 2nd century AD. During the later years of his reign he governed the empire from the villa. It was incredible to walk around and realise how old the ruins were.
We had lunch in Tivoli before heading to Villa d’Este.
It is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. It is one of the great 17th century villas with lots of water features, in fact there are about five hundred jets in fountains, pools and water troughs. What is so incredible is that there are no pumps, it all works by water gravity pressure from the top of the garden. The villa itself is surrounded on 3 sides by a sixteenth century courtyard. Some of the water features are:
The Hundred Fountains
The Musical fountain – the water pressure makes the organ play classical music.
Poseidon’s fountain
Plus lots more
We got back to Rome around 4.30 and were not far from the Colosseum so I talked Shane into walking there so he could see it. Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years. The Colosseum also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city Rome. Built of concrete and sand, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Construction began in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80. The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. It was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions and re-enactments of famous battles. Although partially ruined because of damage caused by earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is still an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome.
As we had made it that far we decided to get tickets on the hop on hop off bus for the evening so we could sit on the bus and at least see some of Rome. We also visited:
The Arch of Constantine which is a triumphal arch, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. The arch is 21 m high, 25.9 m wide and 7.4 m deep. It has three archways, the central one being 11.5 m high and 6.5 m wide and the lateral archways 7.4 m by 3.4 m each.
The Palatine Hill is the centermost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. It stands 40 metres above the Roman Forum, looking down upon it on one side, and upon the Circus Maximus on the other.
One of the most spectacular things we saw was the Monument to Victor Emanuel II, also known as 'Il Vittoriano' and sometimes also referred to as the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Nation), is a bombastic monument built with sparkling white marble from Botticino in the province of Brescia. It is decorated with numerous allegorical statues, reliefs and murals, created by artists from all corners of the country. The monument, about 80 meters high and 120 meters wide (260 x 390ft), consists of a large flight of stairs leading up to a massive colonnade. To the right and left of the main entrance - which is closed off by a gate at night - are two fountains, allegorical representations of the two seas that border Italy. The left one depicts the Adriatic Sea and the right one is the Tyrrhenian Sea.
At the center of the monument is the colossal equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel, the 'Father of the Nation'. The statue, the work of sculptor Enrico Chiaradia, weighs fifty tons and measures twelve meters long (39ft). It rests on a pedestal decorated with allegorical reliefs representing Italian cities. At the foot of the statue is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, inaugurated in 1921. Guards of honor, alternatingly selected from the marine, infantry and air divisions, stand on guard here day and night. The upper section of the monument consists of a massive curved colonnade with fifteen meter (50ft) tall columns, framed on either side by small temple-like wings with a classical front. Inside, the colonnade is decorated with murals and the frieze on top is adorned with statues that symbolize the regions of Italy. Two bronze quadrigae crown the monument, each with a statue of a winged Victory. The quadriga on the right represents freedom, while the one on the left represents unity. They were added in 1927, sixteen years after the monument was inaugurated.
Here are some other sights that we thought worth a photo.

9th September
Once again I had already arranged a trip to Tuscany before we came away, so with still no idea where our suitcases were we had an early start and made our way to the meeting point for the trip. Tuscany is a region of Italy. It is known for its landscape. We decided we could not miss Tuscany so did a day trip from Rome to see as much as we could. We visited the region called Val d’Orcia, or Valdorcia, which extends from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiata.
We visited:
Montepulciano which is a medieval and Renaissance hill town. It sits high on a 605-metre limestone ridge. The main street of Montepulciano stretches for 1.5 kilometres from the Porta al Prato to the Piazza Grande at the top of the hill. The city is renowned for its walkable, car free nature.
Montalcino is a hill town and is famous for its Brunello di Montalcino wine. The town takes its name from a variety of oak tree that once covered the terrain. It is first mentioned in historical documents in 814AD. It is also famous for the Abbey of Sant’Antimo which was formerly a Benedictine Monastery.
A farm to have a traditional Tuscan lunch in their wine sellar. We tried lots of wines with lunch.
The scenery was lovely
We then went to Peinza which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996 before the entire valley was listed. The layout of the town was created by Pope Pius II, who wanted to change the look of his birth town.
It was a long drive back to Rome and we got back around 20:30. We then walked back to the hotel. There were still no suitcases in our room so we checked our claim online and it stated that they had located our suitcases and they were to be delivered by courier. That is all we knew. So went to bed hoping they would turn up overnight.

10th September
Upon waking Shane went downstairs to check if the bags had been delivered during the night. They hadn’t. So we had some breakfast. At 9am I was getting a bit worried as we were due to have a shuttle to Civitavecchia port at 11:30 to get on the Royal Princess. I managed to get through to the lost baggage department who told me that the bags were with a courier and should be delivered by 14:00. So we made the decision to change our shuttle service to 14:30. This cost us a considerable amount more money but what could we do. We checked out of the hotel and waited, and waited, and waited some more. Just before 14:00 our bags arrived. I gave the courier a big hug, I don’t think he knew what to do. So with bags in hand we headed off for our next adventure. We arrived at the port and got onto the ship, had something to eat, familiarised our self with this massive ship and then went to bed. (a lot less stressed than we had been for the last few days)

11th September
This morning when we awoke we had arrived in Naples. It is the capital of the Campania region and means new city. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It was also the most bombed Italian city in World War II. We decided to visit the Amalfi coast for the day. The Amalfi Coast, or Costiera Amalfitana in Italian, is a stretch of coastline on the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula of Italy, extending from Positano in the west to Vietri sul Mare in the east. The scenery as we drove along the coast was lovely. It was an overcast day with some drizzle but we still enjoyed it. Our first stop was Positano, which is a village in the hills leading down to the coast. It was a port in medieval times and prospered during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It has been featured in several films over the years. The main sight is the church of Santa Maria Assunta which features a dome made of tiles as well as a thirteenth-century Byzantine icon of a black Madonna. According to local legend, the icon had been stolen from Byzantium and was being transported by pirates across the Mediterranean. A terrible storm had blown up in the waters opposite Positano and the frightened sailors heard a voice on board saying "Posa, posa!" ("Put down! Put down!"). The precious icon was unloaded and carried to the fishing village and the storm abated.
The scenery along the coastline was stunning.
Next was the town of Amalfi which lies at the mouth of a deep ravine at the foot of Monte Cerreto (1,315 metres) surrounded by dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery. First mentioned in the 6th century, Amalfi acquired importance as a maritime power. In the 1920s and 1930s, Amalfi was a popular holiday destination for the British upper class and aristocracy. Today it is an important tourist destination and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Amalfi Cathedral is a 9th century Roman Catholic cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo. It is dedicated to the Apostle Saint Andrew whose relics are kept there. It is predominantly of Arab-Norman Romanesque architectural style.
Our final stop was Ravello which has approx 2,500 inhabitants. Its scenic beauty makes it a popular tourist destination, and earned it a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Ravello was founded in the 5th century.
We then headed back to the ship. As we farewell Naples we had a view of Mt Vesuvius and you realised how big it was and how much trouble Naples will be in if it erupts again.

12th September
Today we had a day at sea, so this gave us an opportunity to really relax and come to terms with how stressed we had been for the last few days. We had a lovely sleep in, had some breakfast and then sat out on our balcony.
We went to a lecture on the ports of Kotor and Corfu and then went to an interesting information session about the ship. They talked about the workings of the bridge and the technical engineering of the ship.
We met up with a couple of people from the States that we had met on our Tuscany trip and had dinner with them, but it was nice to have a relaxing day.

13th September
We were up early this morning as we were due to arrive in Kotor in Montenegro. This port was not on our original itinerary but due to the trouble in Turkey the itinerary was changed. It was a lovely spot so we were glad we went there. First settled by the Ancient Romans, Kotor was founded as early as the 5th century BC and was later fortified by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 535. Kotor is a triangle fortress-port nestled between the Montenegrin mountains and a beautiful inlet of the Adriatic. We just went on a ship tour but it was ok. Our first stop was at Njegusi. To get there we had to make our way up 1000 metres around 28 hairpins. The view was amazing though and our ship looked tiny.
We stopped in Njegusi as they are famous for their prosciutto. We had a sandwich with homemade cheese and prosciutto in it. Yum. We then had a walk around the little village. It was the birthplace of Peter Petrovic-Njegos, considered the most important leader in Montenegrin history.
Our next stop was Cetinje. Ivan Crnojevic, Lord of Montenegro from 1465 – 1490 moved his capital to Cetinje. It is thus the Old Royal Capital of Montenegro. It is also the historic and the secondary capital of Montenegro, where the official residence of the President of Montenegro is located. It is located at the base of the Lovcen mountains. It found itself under siege during the Ottoman Empire. Here is Ivan Crnojevic.
We then had a wander around town. We visited the church.
Had a walk up to the old monastery.

There was a lovely square and look out towers.
We then headed back to Kotor which is a fortified town on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, in a bay near the limestone cliffs of Mt. Lovćen. Characterized by winding streets and squares, its medieval old town has several Romanesque churches, including Kotor Cathedral. There are walls surrounding the old town.
It was quite hot so we did not do the walk up to the church but here are some photos of the church and the wall.
Back on the ship we were able to get some lovely shots of the area.
We then set sail for our next destination. We have to laugh. The ship horn is the music to the love boat theme. Shane is going to try and get it on video. We passed some lovely little villages as we sailed back down the fjord.

14th September
Today we awoke docked at Corfu which is the second largest of the Ionian Islands. It is bound up with history from the beginnings of Greek mythology. In 2007 the city’s old quarter was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. We only had half a day here today and we come back later in the trip so we had a relaxing morning on the ship. For those who have never been on a cruise ship here are a couple of photos.
The main pool area where you can relax, swim and watch movies under the stars.
The pool area for adults only.
Some views of the Piazza.
Shane reading out on our balcony.
Here are some facts about the ship. The Royal Princess holds 3,600 passengers; its tonnage is 141,000. It has 1,346 crew on board. It is 1,083 feet in length and its beam is 126 feet. It is 217 feet high. It looks top heavy as there are 17 decks. We were particularly surprised when we heard it only has a draft of 28 feet. While docked I even splurged and had my hair cut. Around 14:00 the ship set sail for our next destination of Crete.
In the evening we went and watched the movie “The Martian”. They have movies under the stars and it was such a lovely night so we really enjoyed seeing the movie again. After the movie had finished the ships fountain went off to the music from James Bond movies.

15th September
This morning we continued sailing until we reached Crete around midday. Crete is the birthplace of Zeus himself and is the largest and most populated of the Greek Islands. The capital and largest city is Heraklion. Heraklion was officially founded by the Saracens in 824, but nearby Knossos was the centre of the Minoan empire at least 5000 years ago. Its Europe’s oldest civilisation. This was part of Haraklion as we came towards shore.
I had prepaid for the hop on hop off bus so off we went to see as much as we could. Our first stop was “Koules” The Fortress at the Sea. This admirable work of human ingenuity was built by the Venetians in the 3rd decade of the 16th century. It has been named “Rocca a Mare” or “Castello a Mare” but the name “Koules” prevailed, which was given by the Turks during the period of Turkish domination. It guarded the city from invaders. Built of huge boulders it is comprised of 2 levels and is divided into 26 compartments by thick walls.
We then went on to Knossos Palace or the Palace of Minos. It is one of the world’s most significant historic sites. It’s the oldest palace in Europe, where the legendary Minotaur with its bull head and giant human body lurked in the ancient Labyrinth. Knossos was the cultural and political heart of the Minoan and, quite possibly Atlantis empires. Construction on the grounds started nearly 10,000 years ago. There are ancient murals and frescoes which are stunning.
Here are some of the old arches around town.
We then headed for Liontaria Square. The “Morosini” fountain for Liontaria and the relevant aqueduct were a significant technical and aesthetic achievement.
It was a pretty hot day so we headed back to the ship.

16th September
Today we had a whole day in Mykonos. This is another Greek Island. The island spans an area of 85.5 square kilometres. In Greek mythology, the Mykonos was named after its first ruler, Mykons, the son or grandson of the god Apollo. The island is also said to have been the location of a great battle between Zeus and Titans and where Hercules killed the invincible giants having lured them from the protection of Mount Olympus. It is even said that the large rocks all over the island are the petrified testicles of the giants. We headed to Mykonos town.
We wandered around the charming whitewashed homes and blue domed churches on narrow and winding streets.
There is also a part called Little Venice which is right on the waterfront near the windmills. We stopped for a coffee. Our ship is towering in the background.
Not only did we have a coffee but we met the famous relation to “Petros the Pelican”. Years ago a fisherman saved Petros and he became famous with tourists, he is no longer around but some of his relations are. These pelicans are much different from the ones in Australia. He was pink. He was just wandering around Little Venice.
The famous Mykonos windmills are a defining feature of the landscape. There are many dotted around the island, but most are concentrated in the main town of Chora. The famous "Kato Mili" in Chora (Greek for lower mills), stand in a row on a hill overlooking the sea to harness the strong northern winds. Capped with wood and straw, the windmills were built by the Venetians in the 16th century to mill flour and remained in use until the early 20th century. Many have been refurbished and restored to serve as homes to locals and vaults to numerous heritage documents.
Here is Panagia Paraportiani (the church of our lady) is one of the most famous architectural structures in Greece. It took over 200 years to build the church. Construction began in the 15th century and was completed in the 17th century.
There were lots of tavernas around so we stopped right on the waterfront and Shane had a beer.
There was plenty of fresh seafood for lunch.
After quite a while wandering around we headed back to the ship.

17th September
This morning we awoke and we were in Athens. A lot of people are leaving the ship today but we still have another week. Athens is the capital of Greece. It dominates the Attica region and is one of the world’s oldest cities, spanning around 3,400 years. We arrived at the port of Piraeus. This morning we left Athens and went to visit the Corinth Canal. This canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level, no locks are employed. It is 6.4 km in length and only 21.4 metres wide at its base. This makes is impassable to most modern ships. The canal was completed in 1893. We not only got to see if from above but we also go to go by boat through the canal.
From above
From the canal
We then returned to Athens and in the afternoon we met our guide for a tour around Athens. Athens is the home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Acropolis and the Daphni Monastery.
We saw many sights.
The Acropolis – it is an ancient citadel located on an extremely rocky outcrop above Athens. It contains the remains of several ancient buildings the most famous is the Parthenon. There is evidence that the hill was inhabited as far back at the fourth millennium BC.
The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Construction began in 447 BC.
The Propylaia serves as the entrance to the Acropolis.
The Erechtheion is an ancient temple on the north side of the Acropolis. This was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. It was built entirely of marble.
The temple of Athena is a temple on the Acropolis. It was built around 420 BC.
This was one of the views of Athens from the Acropolis.
Filopappou Hill is a green area to the south west of the Acropolis. It provides you with a great view of Athens and the Aegean Sea. It was pretty hazy.
The Temple of Zeus is a colossal ruined temple dedicated to Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC. The temples glory was short lived as it fell into disuse after an invasion in the 3rd century AD.
Hadrian’s Arch is a monumental gateway. It spanned an ancient road from the centre of Athens.
The Panathenaic Stadium is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. It hosted the Zappas Olympics in 1870 and 1875. It was once again used as an Olympic venue in 2004. It is the last venue in Greece from where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.
The tomb of the unknown soldier is guarded by the Presidential Guard. The unit is known for its uniform. They guard the tomb around the clock. They switch positions every fifteen minutes and remain completely motionless at attention in the meantime. Every hour on the hour the changing of the guard occurs, with a Grand change at 11am on Sunday mornings.
We made it back to the ship with a bit of time to spare. We were exhausted and hot. It had been a busy day.

18th September
Today was our wedding anniversary. This was the entrance to our room.
They put this up on the door.
We were in Santorini today. Santorini is one of the most popular Greek Islands. It was formed around 3600 years ago by a massive volcanic eruption. The island was reshaped forming 6 islands. Santorini is the largest but it is only 10 miles long by 3 miles wide. Our ship anchored at sea and we tendered to the island. We decided to head by boat to Oia and start our adventures there. Oia is a small town. It was one of the two harbours of ancient Thera.
The town extends for almost 2 km along the northern edge of the caldera and is built on the steep slope. There are narrow passageways and a central square. There are white washed blue domed churches and traditional Cycladic houses and cave houses that are carved into the rock face.
They use donkeys to transport people around.
From there we hopped on a bus and headed to Fira which was 11 km away. Fira is the capital of Santorini. It can be found on the west coast of the island, on the caldera cliffs opposite the volcanco.
To get back down to the ship we went by cable car. The cable car serves 1200 people per hour.
We had a lovely evening on the ship, we ate out on the back deck looking at Fira.
For our anniversary the waiters sang “happy anniversary” and bought us a lovely chocolate mousse cake.

19th September
Today we had a day at sea travelling back to Kotor, Montenegro. We relaxed on our balcony and read books most of the day. In the evening we went and saw a musical show which was all soul music.

20th September
We were back in Kotor today, the ship anchored further away from the town today.
For something different we decided to go on a RIB to visit the blue grotto.
We then relaxed at a beach resort. We had our first swim in the Adriatic.
The scenery along the way was once again beautiful and we saw it from a different perspective being close to the ocean instead of up in the cruise ship.
Leaving the fjord on the ship we had a lovely rainbow.

21st September
After sailing overnight, we were back in Corfu. Unfortunately, due to the trouble in Turkey our ports there were cancelled so we have done some double up towns. Not much you can do when this happens. From 300 BC, Corfu was attacked and conquered successively by Spartans, Illyrians and the by the Romans. About a thousand years later, in the 6th century AD, the island was part of the Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople. With the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the 13th century, Corfu changed hands a few times, ending up under the control of the Venetians in the 14th century. Corfu is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We decided to just enjoy time on the ship. Here are some pictures of the old part of Corfu we took from the ship. The fortress is from the 15th century.

22nd September
Our next stop was Messina on the island of Sicily. It is the third largest city in Sicily and Messina rests at the tip of the boot of Italy, separated three miles by the Strait of Messina from the mainland. Although we did not wander around Messina the ship was docked right in front of the city.
This is the Madonna who looks over the Sicilian people but we sailed right past it.
We only had 7 hours here so we decided to head to Taormina for the morning. This has been a coastal resort town since Roman times. There were remnants of Greek and Roman history, a medieval quarter and castle ruins. It was a lovely town to wander around.
There is a symbol for Sicily and it is everywhere.
There is only one fountain in town.
We wandered down Corso Umberto which is Taormina’s main thoroughfare.
We had a refreshing granita (this is ice and you can have fresh lemon on it or coffee and almond like Shane). It was really yummy. We were also told that the local Cannoli was a must. It certainly was. It was not like the ones in Oz, it was stuffed with sweetened ricotta cheese with sprinkled with pistachio nuts and they were really big.
We found the narrowest street in town.
We also had a pretty good view of Mt Etna. This is Europe’s tallest and most active volcano and has erupted over 130 times in recorded history. The last big eruption was in 2002 but it still rumbles regularly and this last occurred in May.
We visited the Greek Theatre which was built in the 3rd century BC. It is still used today for performances.
You can even see Mt Etna from the theatre.
Taormina from the theatre
We would have liked longer but we had to head back to the ship to sail for our final destination of the cruise.
Around 16:30 we had sight of the famous Stromboli. We sailed right past it and could see it smoking.
Stromboli is a small island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the north coast of Sicily, containing one of the three active volcanoes in Italy. It is one of the eight Aeolian islands. The volcano has erupted many times and is constantly active with minor eruptions, often visible from many points on the island and from the surrounding sea, giving rise to the island's nickname "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean". The most recent major eruption was on 13 April 2009. Stromboli stands 926 m above sea level, and over 2,700 m on average above the sea floor.

23rd September
Today was our last day sailing the Med. Around lunch time we arrived in Portoferraio on the island of Elba, which is part of Italy.

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Iceland Part 2

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27th August

Today we headed for Mývatn. It was a dismal day with low cloud and rain so unfortunately we did not get to see much of the scenery along the way. We went off road in the morning hoping to get some views but they did not eventuate. So we made our way back onto the ring road and continued our journey.
We did however get to see our first Icelandic reindeer.
Once again there were quite a few waterfalls along the roadside as we drove by. You could stop every 5 minutes if you had the time. Here is one of the ones that we thought was quite pretty.
The temperature dropped significantly as we continued on our way. It was only 6 degrees.
Our first stop today was at Dettifoss. It is the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, and we heard it rumble long before we saw it. This prevailing chute stands 45 metres high and is 100 metres across, allowing an epic 193 m3 of water to cascade into Dettifoss’ gorge every second. The falls got its big blockbuster moment in the science-fiction film Prometheus in 2012. It’s rushing white waters and surrounding harsh, rocky terrain provided for a convincing alien landscape.
We then made a short walk to Selfoss. This unique, horseshoe shaped waterfall shares the same basalt walls as Dettifoss. This intricate 11m waterfall is simply stunning.
We made our way back to the ring road but I couldn’t help but notice the colours of the tundra.
Our next stop was a geothermal area. We drove past the Leirbotn power station. Infact I had to take a photo of Shane driving down the road as the steam pipes go over the road.
This is some of the steam plants from the view point.
We drove through Krafla caldera. It is 10 km in diameter. It erupted a staggering nine times between 1974 and 1984, with 29 total eruptions in recorded history. Krafla stands an impressive 818 metres tall and its caldera is 2 km deep. The western side of Krafla is an active geothermal area, rich with fumaroles and solfataras (bubbling mud springs). This is also where you’ll find the colourful peak Leirhnjúkur. It is a 525 metre tall active volcano surrounded by mud pots and fumaroles, hence its name, which translates to “mud peak.” The surrounding Leirhnjúkur lava field is an impressive sight to behold. The black, craggy and ominous-looking terrain is a testament to the Earth’s raw volcanic energy.
On the northwest side of the Krafla caldera is Víti an explosion crater, 300 metres in diameter with green lake inside of it. The name Víti, meaning Hell, comes from the old belief that hell was located under volcanoes. Up on the rim there are rocks rocks that are still warm to the touch from the “Krafla Fires,” a long lasting fissure eruption from 1977 to 1984.
From there we moved onto Námaskarð. This geothermal area located by the pass over Mount Námafjall is also called Námafjall, Hverir or Hverarönd, interchangeably. The area draws many visitors to its Martian-like terrain; the mountainside is stained neon green, orange and stark white thanks to the various gases escaping from subterranean vents. But before you even reach the steaming vents, boiling mud pools and multi-coloured sands, we smelt its characteristic “rotten egg” Sulphur stench from the car… and we smelt it long after our walk around the marked paths. Iceland truly is an experience for all the senses!
We then arrived in Mývatn which is a shallow eutrophic lake situated in an area of active volcanism in the north of Iceland. Myvatn means “lake of midges” – literally. You need to keep your mouth shut unless you want added protein in your diet. The lake and its surrounding wetlands have an exceptionally rich population of water birds, especially a variety of ducks. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago, and the surrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and rootless vents. We found our accommodation that we will have for 2 nights. We are staying at Vogar Farm. We can even go and watch the cows being milked if we like. After getting the key to our room we once again got into the car and headed off to see what else we could see. It continued to rain lightly, but we didn’t let that stop us. We decided to head around the lake for a drive. You couldn’t see much of the lake due to the weather but we did make a few stops.
The natural stone labyrinth of Dimmuborgir is located to the east of Lake Mývatn. It is composed of several rock formations and caves, the best known of which is probably Kirkjan, the ‘Church’.
Dimmuborgir a magnificent lava landscape with extraordinary formations, columns, caves, and arches created by the flow of a lava lake over a marshy area some 2300 years ago. As the hot lava flowed over the marsh, the water in the ground began to boil, and the rising vapours created the areas’s distinct lava pillars. Dimmuborgir, which means “dark cities,” is considered in Icelandic folklore to be an area connecting earth with hell, and is also thought to be the location where Satan landed when cast from the Heavens.
The Skútustaðagígar pseudo-craters were next on our list. The craters themselves are not magma-producing volcanic vents but were formed by gas explosions when boiling lava flowed over the cool, wet surfaces about 2,300 years ago.
It started pouring with rain so we gave our touring away and headed back to our nice warm room.

28th August

We had another big day planned today so we set off straight after breakfast. It was cold and cloudy and was only 4 degrees, so the heater went on and we even put the heated seats on. That made us nice and cosy. For a completely different experience, there’s Grjótagjá, a small lava cave with a hot spring inside. It was a popular bathing site until Krafla erupted from 1975 through 1984, causing the water temperature to raise above 50 °C. The cave received international fame when it was visited by Jon Snow and Ygritte in an episode of the Game of Thrones television show. We thought it was worth a visit seeing we are Game of Thrones fans.
From there we headed on an off road adventure. We decided to take a dirt road to a remote part of the north to visit a couple of stops on our way to Husavik. The first stop was Hljóðaklettar which are a collection of basalt columns lying in every which direction to create unique formations and arched caves that are known to create eerie echoes and reverberations. It is located at the entrance to Vesturdalur, in the Vatnajökull National Park.
There were a couple of interesting formations. The first was quite amazing due to the honeycomb weathering effect.
The next one was once again called The Church.
We then continued further to Ásbyrgi canyon which is more than one kilometre wide and over three kilometres long, shaped like a massive horseshoe. Legend has it that the canyon acquired its distinct horseshoe shape thanks to Sleipnir, the 8-legged flying horse of Norse god Odin. While Odin was out on a joy ride with Sleipnir one fine day, the horse accidentally touched one of its giant hooves onto the earth, creating the mighty canyon. Though this explanation for the canyon’s unique shape is completely reasonable and believable, geologists assert that two massive floods from Vatnajökull glacier are responsible for its formation, the first 10,000 years ago and the second 3,000 years ago. The large rock “island” in the centre of the canyon, and its high surrounding walls have sheltered the area enough to allow for lush greenery to grow throughout.
We were then back onto a tarmac road and headed for the coast. The sun had come out and it even went up to 8 degrees. We followed the coast until we arrived in Husavik. Húsavík is a fishing village of 2,300 inhabitants and has impressive views of the Kinnarfjöll mountains across the bay.
More recently, the town has become well known as the whale watching capital of Europe.
The church in Húsavík was built in 1907, it is said to be the most beautiful wooden church in Iceland.
There were more sheep again today of course and I couldn’t resist these 3.
Our next stop was in Þingeyjarsveit, where there is an old turf house settlement Grenjaðarstaður. The 775 square metre turf farmhouse dates back to Iceland’s settlement over 1000 years ago and was one of Iceland’s largest turf houses. The oldest portion of the existing building dates to the mid-1800s. Though you may find this surprising, the turf farmhouse was inhabited until 1949 and became a museum in 1958.
We then headed for another famous waterfall. Goðafoss, ("Waterfall of the Gods“) is among the most beautiful falls in the country. Though it is not very tall, the cascade is divided into two horseshoe-shaped falls, making it unique among Icelandic waterfalls. Not far above the falls the river Skjálfandafljót divides in two, forming the island Hrútey. According to the Sagas, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði threw his statues of pagan gods into the falls upon deciding that Iceland would officially convert to Christianity in the year 1000. We first visited the falls on the west side.
Then the east side.
Then we walked down to be at river level. We got 3 different perspectives on the falls.
After spending quite a bit of time there, we headed back to Myvatn as we still had a couple of things to do there. We visited the lake to see some of the bird life.
We couldn’t stop laughing at the swans bums in the air.
Here are some views of the lake.
We then headed for the enormous tephra crater Hverfjall which was formed in an explosive eruption some 2,500 years ago. At one kilometre in diameter, Hverfjall is probably the biggest tephra crater in Europe. It didn’t take too long to climb up to the rim.
We got some lovely views of the lake from the top of the crater.
As we continued driving around the lake we thought it was funny seeing cows grazing in lava fields and not lush green paddocks.
We ate dinner in the restaurant at the farm and after dinner we visited the cows in the milking shed.
Another full on day had gone past so quickly, but we certainly did a lot of walking today.

29th August

We were up again early today to get our plan for the day underway. It was only 4 degrees when we set off but the sun was shining and throughout the day the temperature increased to 15 degrees. We headed back past Godafoss so I took a photo to show you what it looked like as we approached.
As we visited it yesterday we went straight past to begin our new adventures. The scenery driving to Akureyri was really pretty.
Just before Akureyri we stopped to take a look at this town. Akureyri is the largest town outside of the greater Reykjavik area and is situated in innermost Eyjafjörður fjord. It is an old trading station and also an important fishing town.
Just outside of Akureyri we had a laugh at what the local kids had been up to. They had painted the hay bales.
As we drove through Akureyri we had an unplanned stop. Can you believe it?
Today was certainly a great day for scenery as we passed through some little villages.
As we headed towards Siglufjörður we had to go through 4 tunnels. The longest was 7km.
We arrived in Siglufjörður which was one of the world’s leading herring ports from the turn of the 19th century until the late 1960’s. Today, it still boasts all the charms of a small fishing village with its colourful old buildings, lively harbour and mountainous fjord setting.
We continued on towards Hofsós with more stunning scenery.
The water and sand made amazing patterns.
We arrived in Hofsós which is a small village on the eastern shore of Skagafjörður fjord. Trading began here in the 1600s making it one of the oldest trading posts in Iceland. The town has some of the oldest buildings in Iceland.
From Hofsós we continued our drive along Skagafjörður which is one of the most historically famous districts in Iceland. Sometimes called the Mecca of horsemanship thanks to its abundance of Icelandic horses. We saw plenty of horses and more scenery along the way.
Our next stop was Glaumbaer. A farmhouse has been situated on this site for nine hundred years, but individual buildings have changed in size and shape. There are some examples of turf houses.
The two timber houses date from the 19th century and are built in the Danish-Icelandic style which succeeded the old turf buildings.
We then decided to head for some hot springs and have a relax for the rest of the afternoon. To get there it was about 40 km from the main road along a dirt road. It was called Grettislaug. The hot spring is located at the sea level in Glerhallavík at Reykjaströnd in Skagafjörður.
We headed to our accommodation for the night. It is in the middle of nowhere and is lovely and quiet. This is the view we have from our window.

30th August

We set our alarm for 1am as it had been a beautiful day and we were hoping that we might see the Northern Lights. It was still early in the season but we felt it was worth a wakeup call. We did see it but it was not very bright and I couldn’t get a good picture. But here is one anyway.
Yesterday I talked about all the horses in this area. Well to our surprise we had horse steak for breakfast. It tasted great. It was sliced nice and thin and was very tender.
After breakfast we headed off and our first stop was at Blönduós which is a small town on the banks of the Blandá River, it has been a trading post in North Iceland since 1875. As a growing commercial fishing base, the Blönduós area is known for the excellent salmon fishing in local rivers and streams. Blönduós is also home to a particularly striking modern church, built in 1993. The clean design is said to have been inspired by the surrounding landscapes.
We have also had a bit of a laugh about their speed signs. I snapped this one as we came through town. It was happy as Shane was driving under the speed limit.
The Vatnsdalur valley is a lush, green area. Dotted around the mouth of the valley are innumerable hills, created by an enormous landslide at the end of the last Ice Age.
Also in Vatnsdalur you will find Þrístapar, the site of the last execution in Iceland in 1830, when a couple were beheaded for arson and murder. We stopped there but there wasn’t much to see after all this time.
We then drove on the Vatnsnes Peninsula. Our first stop was Borgarvirki which is a natural fortress dating from the early years of Icelandic history 870-1030 AD. It is formed by an ancient volcanic plug of columnar basalt and rises 177 metres above sea level.
This is it from a distance, its at the top of the hill.
At Borgarvirki
We continued up the peninsula to an impressive basalt rock stack off the shore. The impressive 15 meter rock formation is said to be a troll who got caught in sunlight on its way to tear down the bells at a nearby convent. It resembles a dragon crouching down to drink from the ocean.
The stack is home to many nesting sea birds, whose guano have stained the rock white giving it its name. Hvítserkur translates to “white shirt.”
Our last stop on the peninsula was at Illugstadir to see the Harbour Seals.
It was also strange to see the sheep on the beach wandering through the seaweed.
We found these rock men, they seem to be everywhere in this part of Iceland.
We then made it to the West Fjords and Hólmavík which is a small village on the Steingrímsfjörður fjord and has been a commercial centre for more than a century. We didn’t stop there but just drove through as we were on a mission to get to Drangsnes which is a small town of just 67 inhabitants. I had read about some hot tubs on the beachfront that are fed from hot springs and we couldn’t miss the chance for another dip. We found them and there weren’t too many people around. This is part of Iceland that a lot of people leave off their list. I can't imagine why.

After feeling rested and extremely relaxed we made our way to our home for the night.

31st August

This morning we made a decision to spend some more time in this area and visit a remote area on an all dirt road. The drive was spectacular as we drove along the ocean and then into mountainous area.
This is some of the scenery along the way.
Our first little settlement was first settled in 1917 when a herring salting factory was opened in the area, Djúpavík is a small town that consists of 7 houses, a hotel and the ruins of the factory that spurred its creation, along with the wreck of a ship. The settlement has waxed and waned in accordance with the herring stock in the area, and was effectively abandoned in 1954.
We finally made it to Norðurfjörður. This cove with its hamlet of the same name, is situated in Árneshreppur, Iceland’s least populous municipality. Largely unoccupied, the big draw of Norðurfjörður is Krossneslaug, a great outdoor swimming pool on the pebble beach at Krossnes. Natural springs provide a continuous source of hot water feeding the pool. See what you think.
We then headed back the same way. This is what the car looked like after with quite a proud Shane.
We then headed further into the West Fjords. Photo’s just don’t do this place justice. We wound our way around the fjords, we had lovely weather to enjoy it. Every now and then we had a sun shower with many rainbows.
We came across some more Harbour Seals, we sat and watched them for quite a while.
There was also a lot of bird life.
We visited the Arctic Fox Centre in Súðavík which is a non-profit research and exhibition centre dedicated to educating the public about the incredible arctic fox and to conservation and research efforts relating to the species. The Westfjords region is home to the largest population of arctic fox in Iceland and a portion of this region is also designated a nature reserve where the hunting of arctic foxes is banned, helping the population to flourish. There were two young foxes there who cannot be released into the wild.
We finally made it into Ísafjörður which is the largest settlement in the West Fjords This is our home for the next two nights.

1st September
We decided to have a little sleep in this morning. Not much only an extra hour. After breakfast we headed off to have a look around Ísafjörður. It is not a big town but it was interesting to have a look around. In the oldest part of town, Neðstikaupstaður, there are four of the oldest houses in all of Iceland. Most of the houses in this area are now protected and date from 1757-1784.
We then went to Jonsgardur park where there was an arch made out of the jaw-bones of a beached blue whale.
We found this lovely sculpture to honour the fishermen.
Shane got caught in their net.
We then headed out of town to visit Bolungarvik. It has a population of almost 900. It is the second largest town in the area. Before arriving on the outskirts of town we drove through a 5km tunnel.
We visited the avalanche walls which are a huge construction that protects the village during winter. We got a lovely view of town.
We then headed up to Bolafjall. It is a majestic mountain standing 638 metres tall and has a beautiful view point. It was a pretty hair raising drive up the mountain.
Even at the top they were warning people as the wind could be quite strong.
We could see all the way over to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, the stunning fjord and the adjacent Traðarhorn mountain, towering above Bolungarvík.
Shane wanted to play in some ice.
This is Bolungarvik on the way back.
We passed back through Bolungarvik and visited the Osholaviti lighthouse.
We then went to the Osvor Museum. In the old Icelandic society there were no towns or villages; the people lived on farms in the countryside. Fishing was, however, important and it was most often done during autumn and winter, while there was a low season in the countryside. Then, farmers and their labourers would migrate from their farms to the fishing stations by the sea, where they spent several weeks living in small huts, fishing every day from their small and open rowing boats. This fishing station has been lovingly restored, its highlight is a replica of a six-man rowing boat, among the oldest of its kind in the country. The museum features a salt house, fish sheds and a fish drying area.
Another view across the fjord.
We had some time so we also went and visited the towns of Sudavik and Flateyri. To get to these towns we had to go through some more long tunnels. Infact the turn off to Sudavik was actually in the tunnel. It was quite strange.
As you came out of the tunnel on the way to Sudavik this is some of the views that you had.
Heading back to the tunnel.
Just out of Flateyri there were fish drying racks.
Flateyri also had avalanche walls as they had an avalanche some years ago that killed people so the Icelandic government ensured that towns in avalanche areas had walls built.
We headed back through the tunnels, another day of spectacular scenery was over.

2nd September
We headed out today and the weather was overcast but otherwise good, however as soon as we exited the 6km tunnel the other side of the mountain was low cloud and drizzle. This was going to be a setback as we had hoped to have good weather to see the Dýrafjörður fjord. The large fjord is a whopping 32 km long and is dotted with many picturesque areas including the Alps of the Westfjords, so-named because the mountains in the area stand out as some of the only in the area that aren’t flat-topped. Oh well, you can’t have good weather always. Just before our first stop the cloud cleared and we had sight of a pretty mountain.
Our first major attraction for the day was Dynjandi (also known as Fjallfoss). It is a series of waterfalls that have a cumulative height of 100 metres cascading into the fjord below. At the top, the waterfall is roughly 30 meters wide and stretches to 60 meters at the bottom, where it divides into a series of smaller falls. This is one of the first views we had of it.
When we arrived the sun came out and we had a rainbow.
Each waterfall had a name and the main fall is Dynjandi.
We then headed up over the mountains again and got a pretty good view of the fjord before the cloud came down again.
After a beautiful drive we arrived at Arnarfjordur. This was the first sign we saw on the roadside.
This area is well known for sea monsters. In fact they even have a museum.
We went into the museum to see if we could find the answer as to if there is a giant, serpent-like creature swimming in the sea. In the museum they relay eye-witness accounts by generations of local fishermen. It was quite interesting hearing their stories. We even saw a couple of the monsters in the museum.
As nature and art go hand-in-hand in the West Fjords region we decided to take another dirt road with a scenic drive along the secluded Arnarfjörður fjord to Selárdalur. It certainly was scenic.
Our mission was to find the Samúel Jónsson Art Farm. This is where farmer Samúel Jónsson lived out his retirement years cultivating a life-long interest in art. Having had no formal training, the genre of Samúel’s work can be described as naive, with a childlike and almost cartoonish quality.
Among the notable works here are a statue of Leif the Lucky
The “Court of Lions”
Other animals
The museum he built for his art
There’s also a small chapel that—according to a local lore—was built to house an altar piece Samúel had made for the local church, after the church rejected it.
Of course there were lots of sheep on the road again today. Shane couldn’t resist this sheep, he had two black eyes.
Our next stop was a favourite spot for bird-lovers, Látrabjarg cliff, they lie at the westernmost point of Europe. It is the biggest sea-cliff in Iceland, at 14 km long and up to 441 meters high, and one of the most crowded bird cliffs in the world. In the summertime, Látrabjarg comes alive with around one million birds. It was the wrong time of year to see all the birds, but it was still pretty.
Our final stop for the day was Rauðisandur, or “Red Sands,” it is named for the unique golden-red colour of the sand beach in the Látrabjarg area of the southern West Fjords.
Our home for the night was a town called Patreksfjordur, on the way back we saw a boat on the shore. It is the oldest steel ship in Iceland. It was built in Norway in 1912 and was beached there in 1981.

3rd September

This morning we set the alarm for 2am as we thought we might have another go at seeing the northern lights. The alarm went off and we almost stayed in bed but forced ourselves up and this proved to be a good decision as we had clear skies and could see the lights even better than the first time. We also got better at the photos.
A few days ago we decided that we would cancel our ferry trip across Breidafjordur. This was going to be a 3 hour trip on the ferry and we had enjoyed the scenery so much that we decided we would drive around instead.
Shortly after leaving our hotel we came across this statue. We could not read Icelandic so could not tell but thought his worth a photo.
There were lots more sheep on the road today.
Breiðafjörður is one of Iceland’s largest bays. It is a shallow body of water separating southern Iceland and the rugged Westfjords. It is bordered in the north by the Westfjords peninsula and by the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the south. In addition to being surrounded by stunning mountain ranges, the 50km wide bay is dotted by roughly 3,000 islands, islets and skerries. Breiðafjörður bay is fascinating from a geological perspective, with its northern edge dating back at least 15 million years and its southern shore being half that age.
Well the decision to drive ended up being a great decision too. The sun was shining and the scenery was once again spectacular. It was also different from what we had already seen.
We could even see Snæfellsjökull volcano across the bay.
We finally arrived on the Snæfellsnes peninsula and could see many of the little islands.
The scenery continued to surprise us.
Our first stop was Stykkishólmur which is often called the capital of Snaefellsnes and is a fishing and trading centre with an excellent natural harbour. Stykkishólmur is famous for its historic houses. We had a drive around town but I didn’t take any more photos of old coloured houses.
Just outside of Stykkishólmur stands Helgafell or the ‘Holy Mountain.’ Though the mountain is just 73 metres tall, it appears significant due to its surroundings being almost entirely flat.
A hike to the top of the mountain provides sweeping views over Breiðafjörður Bay.
We then headed for Kirkjufell ‘Church Mountain’ which is just outside Grundarfjordur. It is one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland. It is about 400m in height. There is a waterfall nearby which is nearly always photographed with the mountain.
We continued further and the scenery changed again. The mountains became stark.
We visited the little village of Arnarstapi which is a small fishing village at the foot of Mt Stapafell. Here we found a representation of the guardian spirit Bardur.
On the last part of our Greenland blog we showed you the mountain that we would finally get to during our trip around Iceland. Well we finally made it there. Infact this is the view from our hotel window.
It is called the Snæfellsjökull volcano, regarded as one of the symbols of Iceland. With its height of 1446 m, it is the highest mountain on the peninsula and has a glacier at its peak. The volcano can be seen on clear days from Reykjavik, a distance of about 120 km. The mountain is also known as the setting of the novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. (that got Shane excited).
Our next two nights are spent in Hellnar, which is a little village. We walked down to the beach and located a spectacular rock formation called Valasnös, which reaches across the ocean front and into the sea.

4th September
Today we had the day to explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and Snæfellsjökull National Park which encompasses a large area of Snæfellsnes Peninsula’s western tip. The weather wasn't very good today, it was overcast with showers throughout the day. But we did not let this stop us. Snæfellsjökull National Park is Iceland’s oldest national park, named for the area’s most prominent attraction the volcano I mentioned yesterday.
The National Park includes many stunning landforms surrounding the volcano, such as:
The Djúpalónssandur pebble beach, this is on the southern edge of Snæfellsjökull glacier. It is a black sandy beach that was once home to one of the peninsula’s largest fishing villages, but is now uninhabited.
The beach is scattered with the rusted wreckage of the fishing trawler Epine, which met its fate in 1948.
To walk down to the beach, you walk through parts of a twisted lava field.
This is why they call it a pebble beach.
One kilometre west of Djúpalónssandur is Dritvík cove, an enclosed bay where two cliffs jut out from the shore to create a natural landing spot for the many fishing vessels that once frequented the area. Just up from the shore in this area are the ruins of huts where some 400 men and women would stay when working for the fisheries.
The Saxhóll volcanic crater, this crater erupted 3-4000 years ago.
The crater rises 109m above sea level. We walked to the top to see inside it.
There were also other craters nearby.
The two massive lava formations at Lóndrangar, these protrude from the coast on the southern edge of the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Even in the other direction the cliffs went on for miles.
There were still quite a few birds at the cliff
Here is Shane playing David Attenborough.
Right nearby is the lighthouse at Malarrif
Rauðfeldargjá, the “hidden waterfall”. One you get to the side of the mountain you enter a narrow entrance.
This was the view of the ocean from the entrance.
At the westernmost tip of Snæfellsnes, we went along a tiny gravel track which took us across an ancient lava flow to the Öndverðarnes peninsula. As the road wound through charcoal lava cliffs we stopped at Skarðsvík, a golden beach with basalt cubes alongside. A Viking grave was discovered here in the 1960s and it’s easy to understand why this stunning spot would have been a favoured final resting place.
We continued on to the dramatic Svörtuloft bird cliffs and a tall, orange lighthouse. Usually behind the lighthouse you would see the volcano, but not today.
On the way back to the hotel we also stopped in at Budir. This is a small hamlet in the Budahraun lava fields. There is a black church near the beach.
We also stopped at this lookout to see the expanse of the lava field.
Our final stop was back at Arnarstapi to walk along the cliffs to see the rock formations.
We stopped for fish and chips before heading back to the hotel.

5th September
We decided to set the alarm for 6am and get up to see if you could see the volcano seeing it was so cloudy yesterday. To our surprise it was not covered in any cloud at all. It had a pink tinge on the snow from the sunrise.
Seeing it looked so good we decided to take a drive back to the lighthouse to see if we could get the shot with the volcano in the background, and we did.
It was good timing as within 5 minutes of taking the photo it was covered in cloud. On the way back to the main road I spotted this bird.
We headed back to the hotel for breakfast before our last day on the road.
Our first stop was Gerduberg which was a belt of basalt columns. Gerduberg's lava flowed in the Tertier era. The columns are 14 metres at their highest and around 1-1,5 metres wide. Gerduberg is listed as a natural heritage. It was pretty impressive.
We then spotted the Eldborg crater which rises 60 m above the surrounding lava field. Eldborg (The Fire Castle) is located along a short fissure that is thought to have been active 5000-8000 years.
We were then headed for our last waterfalls for this trip. Before we arrived we had a great view of Langjokull glacier which is the second-largest glacier in Iceland, at 935 km2.
We also visited the largest hot spring in Europe and probably the most voluminous natural hot spring in the world called Deildartunguhver. The heat coming off the water was incredible, not to mention the amount of water bubbling in high spouts. Photo’s don’t do it justice.
We then arrived at Hraunfossar waterfall (meaning “lava falls”). The 900m long strand of trickling cascades was lovely and the overall colour of the landscape was stunning. Surrounding the cascade is Hallmundarhraun lava fields, a desolate stretch of black lava overrun by a vivid green moss. The water comes out from the lava. I thought it was up there for waterfalls this trip.
Just up from these falls was Barnafoss. It is a series of rapids urgently escaping the craggy clutches of the Hvita River.
We then started our way back to Reykjavik. The scenery changed again.
We made one last stop at Fossatún which is a settlement located on the banks of the river Grímsá in Borgarfjörður. We found a troll garden where marked paths are highlighted by pictures and stories of trolls in the area.
We made it back to Reykjavik mid-afternoon. It was a bit of a culture shock with all the traffic around as we had not seen too much over the last couple of weeks. We dropped the car off and made our way to the hotel. We did our last bit of souvenir shopping and repacked our bags ready for our flight tomorrow.

Posted by shaneandnicola 11:44 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Iceland here we come - get ready for the Beams's Part 1

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20th August
This morning we awoke to the ship moving into the port at Keflavik. The pilot was on board guiding us in. We were now in Iceland. Iceland is a Nordic island country. It has a population of approx 350,000 and an area of 103,000 km2, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country are home to over two-thirds of the population. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains and glaciers, while glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude just outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence still keeps summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.
After breakfast we said a sad farewell to the Polar Pioneer, but were also excited about starting our next adventure. It took quite a while to get into Reykjavik as it was the Reykjavik Marathon and Cultural Night festival and so a lot of the roads were closed. We got dropped off fairly close to our hotel with a bit of a hill to climb but managed to get the Fron Hotel which is our home for the next couple of nights. Our room was ready so we put our bags in our room and headed straight out to see some of the sights of the city.
Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland. It has a latitude of 64°08' N, making it the world’s northernmost capital of a sovereign state. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of the Faxafloi Bay. Reykjavík is believed to be the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland. Until the 18th century, there was no urban development in the city location. The city was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national centre of commerce, population, and governmental activities. It is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world.
Our first stop was the Hallgrimskirkja Church. Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutheran parish church. It is 73 metres high and is the largest church in Iceland. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrimur Petursson. It is thought to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland's landscape. It took 41 years to build, construction work began in 1945 and ended in 1986.
We went inside to look at the church. It was quite different to anything we had seen before.
The size of the organ pipes was amazing and they were currently holding organ concerts so we got to hear part of it.
We then bought tickets to go up to the top of the church tower and we had heard there were good views of town from there and plus it was such a lovely day. They were right, the views were amazing.
We took a wander down near the waterfront and the marathon was in progress. The atmosphere was fantastic.
We spent a lot of time wandering around this lovely city and found our way down to this amazing sculpture. It is called the Sun Voyager. It is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. It is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun.
The festivities continued into the night and ended with a big fireworks display. It was a lovely surprise to have been here to help the Icelandic people celebrate.

21st August
Today we set off to explore the Reykjanes Peninsula which is situated at the southwestern end of Iceland not far from Reykjavik. The peninsula is marked by active volcanism under its surface, and large lava fields, allowing little vegetation. There are numerous hot springs and sulphur springs in the southern half of the peninsula. We drove through Eyrarbakki which is a fishing village with a population of about 570. For centuries the harbour here was the main port in the south. Around 1925 it lost its importance as a trading centre. The oldest building in the village is a Norwegian kit home dating from 1765.
We then stopped at Strandarkirkja is a Lutheran parish church. The church, rising from the coast and pointing its tower towards the heavens, has been a beacon for those travelling at sea. The Church was originally built sometime in the 12th century. The story relates that there is one night when a group of sailors tried to navigate back to Iceland in a storm. The southern coast of Iceland is notorious for its hidden reefs and rough coast. The distressed sailors prayed to God for a safe return and vowed to build a church wherever they landed. When they ended their prayer an angel, seemingly made of light, appeared before their bow. The angel guided them through the rough surfs and led the crew into a bay for safe landing. The sailors, making good on the promise, built a wooden church at the site and named it Strandarkirkja. The bay nearby is named Angel's Bay to commemorate the incident. Many miracles have been attributed to Strandarkirkja and there was a time when it was one of the richest churches in Iceland from the donations of Icelanders coming from all over the country in hopes of having their prayers and wishes realised.
We have heard a lot about the elves and trolls of Iceland. We found one of their homes.
We could not believe the scenery along the way. We travelled through quite a few lava fields.
Our next stop was Krýsuvík, which has dramatic red, green, and yellow coloured hills framing an expanse of steaming volcanic vents and boiling hot springs. A boardwalk winds through the bubbling and hissing landscape. There are also colourful crater lakes. These are explosion craters formed by volcanic eruptions. Pity we don't have smellarama because the smell was pretty strong of rotten eggs.
On our way to Grindavik we stopped to see a couple of ship wrecks. What was so amazing was that they were inland, so it just goes to show how back the storms can be here.
We stopped at Grindavik for lunch. This is another fishing village famous for Lobster Soup. So that’s what we had. It was terrific.
After lunch we visited the mud pools and steam vents facing Kísilhóll hill to the northeast which are collectively named Gunnuhver. They form where steam generated by boiling in a geothermal reservoir emanates and condenses and mixes with surface water. Accompanying gases such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide make the water acid, which causes alteration of the fresh lava rock to clay. Steaming of the ground at Reykjanes increased markedly as a consequence of pressure drawdown in the geothermal reservoir after exploitation began in 2006. Iceland´s largest mud pool at present is prominent among the hot springs, and located highest up in the Gunnuhver group. It is 20 m across with a rim of mud, boiling vigorously.
In the background we could see one of the thermal power stations.
On to Valahnukar which is called the toe of the peninsula. We climbed up to the top to get some views around us. We could see the Reykjanesviti lighthouse. This is an iconic structure. It was Iceland’s first lighthouse. The original was built in 1878 but got severely damaged in a large earthquake that struck in 1887. The current version was built on safer ground in 1907 at Bæjarfell hill. Large steam clouds from geothermal fields at the bottom of the hill bring added drama to the surroundings.
We continued on to the Bridge Between the Continents. The lava-scarred Reykjanes peninsula lies on one of the world's major plate boundaries, the Mid Atlantic Ridge. According to the continental drift theory the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are continuously drifting apart with great forces under the gaping rifts. As the plates diverge, linear fractures, known as fissures form due to stresses created by the tension that builds up as the plates move away from each other. The Bridge between two continents at Sandvík is a small footbridge over a major fissure which provides clear evidence of the presence of a diverging plate margin. The bridge was built as a symbol for the connection between Europe and North America. One can cross the continental divide on Leif the Lucky's Bridge. It probably seems impossible to walk from Europe to North America within a matter of seconds, but here in Iceland this is a unique place where seemingly unimaginable feats are completely real. The footbridge is 15 metres long.
Our last stop for the day was the Blue Lagoon which was formed in 1976 during operation at the nearby geothermal power plant.
In the years that followed, people began to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. It is now one of the most visited places in Iceland. It is not a cheap place to visit but everything I had read said it was well worth a visit and we enjoyed every moment of it.
We then applied the silica mud.
Shane then got a water massage.
After a long day and a relaxing few hours at the Blue Lagoon we went back to our temporary home to relax for the night before our adventures begin tomorrow when we pick up our car.

22nd August
This morning we went and picked up our 4x4 that we will have for the next 2 weeks. A Ford Kuga. Once we had done all the paperwork, we set off for our trip around Iceland. Our first day was going to spent around what they call the Golden Circle.
Our first stop was Pingvellir National Park. This is a world class geological site, a place where it is possible to view the conflict between two continental plates. The main area for observation is based around Thingvallavatn Lake (Iceland’s largest).
It is impossible to notice but this shelf is constantly pulling away from its Eurasian counterpart at 1.5cm per year. Pingvellir means ‘Assembly Plains’ and it was at this site that general assemblies were first conducted in Iceland. Regional chieftains were ordered to gather every summer for an assembly which accepted Christianity into Iceland in 1000AD, conducted court cases and discussed everything from politics to trading. It became a protected area under the name Thingvellir National Park in 1930.
Our next stop was at the Geysir and Strokkur geothermal area. It is an amazing area of gurgling multi coloured pools all thanks to the hot water that is constantly bubbling right beneath the surface. It’s a nice walk through the park past thrashing boiling water and turquoise blue steaming pools.
But there really is only one main reason to come here. Strokkur now takes centre stage. Erupting 20m into the air every few minutes, it was quite a spectacle.
This was it while we waited.
Then it started.

Shane made a quick movie of it.

Yesterday we talked about elves, well Shane met a troll today.
Our third stop was Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall), it is an iconic waterfall of Iceland. It is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height. Gullfoss was designated as nature reserve in 1979 to permanently protect the waterfall and allow the public to enjoy this unique area.
We then visited Kerið, this is a volcanic crater lake located in the Grimsnes area in south Iceland. It is one of several crater lakes in the area, known as Iceland's Western Volcanic Zone. It has the most visually recognizable caldera still intact. The caldera is composed of a red (rather than black) volcanic rock. The caldera itself is approximately 55 m deep, 170 m wide, and 270 m across. At approximately 3,000 years old, it is only half the age of most of the surrounding volcanic features. While most of the crater is steep-walled with little vegetation, one wall is sloped more gently and blanketed with a deep moss, and can be descended fairly easily.
We then made our way to our accommodation for the night. We are staying out on a farm. They have lots of lovely Icelandic horses. They were really friendly. Once Icelandic horses leave Iceland they can never return. This is because they want to keep the Icelandic horse pure breds.

23rd August
We set off early today as we had a big day ahead, as you will see we jammed quite a bit into our day.
On the way out of the farm we said good-bye to the sheep.
We passed many beautiful green fields with their marshmallows.
Our first stop today was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Flowing from the Seljalandsá River, the 40-metre high waterfall is one of a kind. Unlike other waterfalls in Iceland, here it is possible to walk behind the cascade via a footpath at the base of the cliff.
Just five minutes up the road is Gljúfrabúi, often called the “hidden waterfall”. It is a chute along the Gljúfurá river and is 40 metres tall. It is obscured by the walls of the enclosed canyon into which it falls.
Our next stop was the Eyjafjallajökull visitors centre. There we saw a 20 minute film about this famous attraction. In March 2010, the volcano underneath the ice cap reawakened
after a 200 year slumber. This is the one that stopped the world. Over 100,000 flights were cancelled. Besides the incredible footage of the recent eruption, this volcano is perhaps best known internationally for its difficult-to-pronounce name! Try it eh-ya-fyat-la-yo-kut-l.
We had heard about this hidden pool which was about a 20 minute hike to get to, so we thought we would go and relax in the hot spring for a while. The hike in was beautiful.
Built in 1923, the 25-metre Seljavallalaug is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland. But what’s more remarkable than its age is its unique location: tucked away in a narrow valley in the Eyjafjöll Mountains. On one side is a steep, rocky hillside from where hot water trickles into the pool from a hot spring.
There is a peculiar rock below the beautiful Eyjafjöll mountains called Drangurinn in Drangshlíð. There are some old homes there and there are elf stories linked to them.
Skógar is the word for “forests” in Icelandic, but this tiny settlement isn’t known for its trees. Instead, its claim to fame is the gorgeous Skógafoss waterfall. Located at the foot of the impressive Eyjafjöll mountain range is Skógafoss, a magnificent 60 metre high waterfall where, according to legend, the first Viking settler in the area hid a treasure in the cave behind the cascade.
Sólheimajökull is an 8 km-long outlet of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The glacier falls from a height of about 1360m down to 100m.
Dyrholaey is a small promontory. It was extremely windy there and we had trouble walking around. We did get some photos of the black beach and its lava columns. There is a lighthouse situated there and you can also see the ‘hole in the rock’. Dyrholaey means “the hill-side with the door-hole”.
Reynisfjara is without a doubt the most famous beach in all of Iceland, and you’ll see it featured on postcards and brochures throughout the country. What sets Reynisfjara apart from all the rest are its black volcanic sands, smooth pebbles and unique rock formations. The Reynisdrangar sea stacks are said to be petrified trolls that were caught outdoors during sunrise, but some strongly believe that they’re actually basalt columns that were once part of the extensive shoreline cliffs that have remained standing while other segments were worn down by the battering of the sea. Whichever story you choose to believe, they’re a sight to behold.
We then went onto Vik (pronounced “veek”). The village of Vík is the southernmost village in Iceland. Despite its small size it is the largest settlement for some 70 km. Vik is famous for its stunning black sand beach.
The Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon has been hollowed out over millions of years by the Fjaðrá River. The views were stunning.
Dverghamrar, or “Dwarf Cliffs”, is a small yet impressive canyon full of unusual, hexagonal basalt
columns. The rock formations are thought to have been shaped toward the end of the last ice age, when the sea level was higher around Iceland and strong waves were battering the rock. According to legend, dwarves live in the cliffs of this protected natural monument, so we trod carefully!
We finally made our way to our hotel for the night. It was in the middle of nowhere but after almost 12 hours we were glad to find our home for the night. As you can see we packed in as many places as we could.

24th August
We looked out the window this morning and there was beautiful blue sky which would help us view quite a few glaciers today. We were headed to the Vatnajökull National Park. Vatnajökull is the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland, and one of the largest in area in Europe. It is the second largest glacier in area after Austfonna on Svalbard in Norway. It covers more than 8 percent of the country and is over 8000 square kilometres. The glacier reaches 2000 metres at its highest point and covers many active volcanoes, including Grímsvötn, Iceland’s busiest volcano with several eruptions recorded in recent years (1996, 1998, 2004 and 2011).
We set off just after 7am this morning as our first stop was going to be a hike to a lovely waterfall and we wanted to get there before too many other people arrived. Svartifoss is a waterfall that cascades over a dark basalt cliff. Meaning “Black Falls” in Icelandic, the 20-metre-high Svartifoss is so-named for its cliffs of dark hexagonal basalt columns—similar to those seen at yesterday at Reynisfjara. It was a pretty hard slog as there was quite a lot of uphill but well worth it when we first saw it in the distance.
When we arrived at the waterfall we were the only ones there, so it had been worth the early start.
After the more leisurely hike down to the car we set off to view Mt Hvannadalshnukur. Oraefajokull Glacier is a volcanic crater about 5km in diameter, full of ice. Along its edges several peaks thrust out of the glacier, of which the northernmost is Hvannadalshnukur, the highest mountain in Iceland (2110m above sea level). There have been 2 volcanic eruptions in 1362 and 1727. It is still an active volcano.
We then got a closer look at this area by visiting Svinafellsjokull, this is a glacier tongue of Vatnajokull.
There were several opportunities to view glacier tongues, as we continued on further the clouds appeared our sunshine was gone.
We visited the Fjallsárlón glacier lake. You can get a panoramic view of a calving tongue of Vatnajökull glacier sweeping down from the looming Öræfajökull.
We then headed for the more famous Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is an icy blue lake created by Breidamerkurjokull glacier. Film buffs will recognise Jökulsárlón from such blockbusters as Tomb Raider, Batman Begins, and 2 James Bond films: A View to a Kill and Die Another Day. It’s not surprising why famous directors would choose this amazing location as a backdrop! This extremely picturesque glacial lagoon at the southern edge of the Vatnajökull glacier is regarded as one of Iceland’s greatest natural wonders. Huge chunks of ice regularly calve off the glacier and make their way to the sea via the glacier lagoon.
Breidamerkursandur is a beach directly across the highway from the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. The two sights are connected by the short but swift 1km Jokulsar River (Iceland’s shortest would you believe) and that is what makes this beach so special. Icebergs leaving the blue lagoon reach the ocean to battle with the waves, although several make their way out to sea most wash up on the black pebble shore. A spectacular sight as you can see.
After another full on day of exploring we made our way to our home for the next 2 nights.

25th August
As we have 2 nights at this location we took the opportunity to have a relaxing morning. It was nice to not have to rush off. It was a drizzly overcast morning but we had decided to set off for a part of the country called Vestrahorn. There is usually a 454-metre-high mountain and the scenery would be spectacular, but of course that is on a clear day. So no scenery photos today. While we were there, we did take the opportunity to visit a Viking Village which was created to use in a movie.
We also took a drive out to the headland of Stokksnes, but couldn’t see much. There was a lighthouse and an old NATO radar station there.
We then headed to a lovely little town called Hofn and had a drive around. It is a fishing village. There was a memorial to the fishermen.
We then had a nice drive back to the hotel and had a relaxing afternoon before the hectic pace begins again.

26th August
We had another early start this morning to try and pack in another big day. As we headed off for the day, the cloud was quite low and we drove around the coast not being able to see much at all. There was no wind and there was plenty of bird life around. We saw lots of Whooper Swans.
As we drove along we saw this chair on a rock in the middle of nowhere. We have no idea why but Shane thought it was a good idea to stop and go and sit on it. It had a good view.
Our first stop was in Djúpivogur which is a small town situated at the mouth of the Berufjörður fjord, it dates back to the 16th century when the Danes established a trading post there. In fact, a store from the olden days, Langabúð, can still be found in the town and many of the oldest houses (1788-1818) have been restored to their original glory.
Djúpivogur is also home to one of Iceland’s more offbeat attractions: the Eggs of Merry Bay, 34 granite eggs representing various local bird species. Each oversized egg, created by local artist Sigurður Guðmundsson, is atop its own pedestal along in the town’s harbour. They are even shaped like each bird’s egg.
The largest egg belongs to the red-throated diver, the official bird of Djúpivogur. (that’s the one Shane is sitting on).
We had then hoped to view Búlandstindur in all its glory. It is apparently without a doubt one of the most beautifully shaped mountains in Iceland. Its pyramid is formed from basaltic strata and is thought by some to be one of the energy centres of Iceland. This beauty can be found standing 1069 metres tall between Berufjörður and Hamarsfjörður. We got to see some of it. We sat and had a coffee waiting to see if it would clear any further, but it didn’t.
We continued following the coast but due to the low cloud we made a decision to go inland instead. The road was mainly dirt but the scenery was lovely.
We wound our way through the valley and up to this view point.
I haven’t told you yet about Icelands number one road hazard. It is sheep. They are everywhere. We are constantly having to slow down or stop for them and today we saw heaps.
We then drove down one side of Lagarfljót which is a lake. The lake is long and narrow, measuring 25 km in length but just 2.5 km at its widest point, and is a beautiful area to circumnavigate by car.
Legend has it that a mysterious serpentine creature lurks in the deep waters of the Lagarfljót, terrorising locals and evading capture for centuries The famed Lagarfljótsormur (the Lagarfljót Worm) was first mentioned in writings dating to 1345, and is said to have grown from a small serpent into the massive, mysterious creature that it is today. A 2012 “truth commission” conducted to get to the bottom of all the rumour and lore surrounding the creature determined that there was nothing to disprove its existence. So as we found ourselves on the banks of the lake we kept our eyes peeled. We didn’t see him, but it was so calm the reflection of the sky was beautiful.
We ended up at another waterfall that we had heard was not to be missed. The Hengifossá river feeds two dramatic waterfalls, one of which, Hengifoss, is the third highest in the country at 118 metres. This spectacular waterfall cascades into a dramatic gorge. The red strata really stood out. It is inerbasaltic strata of reddish sandy clay, formed from volcanic ash and surface scoria. In time they form soil and in the warm damp climate of the Tertiary Period, clay and iron compounds were formed in the soil.
Below Hengifoss is a smaller waterfall, Litlanesfoss, which is remarkable for its columnar basalt setting.
It was quite a hike up there but well worth the views. It was sunny when we left the car but we were pretty wet by the time we got back as it began to rain as we decended.
We then headed back up the other side of the lake to Egilsstaðir which is located in the heart of east Iceland in the valley of Fljótsdalshérað. It is home to around 3500 inhabitants. The first house in Egilsstaðir was built in 1944, and since then the town has grown steadily. In years gone by, Egilsstaðir was the site of an ancient assembly and a place where Iceland’s criminals were executed. We were staying here for the night but decided to continue on through and visit Seyðisfjörður. This is a view of the town and the lake.
With its beautifully preserved wooden buildings, the town of Seyðisfjörður is one of Iceland’s most
picturesque spots.
The closest Icelandic port to the Faroe Islands and Europe, the town’s heyday was at the turn of the 20th century when it was the centre of the Norwegian fishing and herring processing industry. In fact, the oldest part of the town is even built using the Norwegian-style of architecture.
Even the church fitted in with the style of houses.
There are a lot of artists based in the town and it was evident in this street.
We then went and booked into the hotel but once we had our keys we thought we would try our luck by visiting Borgarfjörður which is a 10 kilometre long, grassy, fertile valley and a popular spot for hikers. Just outside of this little town is Hafnarhólmi, the harbour, there is an excellent bird-watching platform where puffins, gulls and kittiwakes can be seen. We were hoping there may still be some puffins around but unfortunately they had all left. However the drive had been beautiful so was not wasted.

Posted by shaneandnicola 12:54 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Our Greenland Adventure

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7th August (continued)
When we left you last we had just posted the blog. We then had some lunch in Longyearbyen and stopped off at the Svalbard Coop for a look around. It was such a surprise to see the variety of items available for sale. On a Sunday it is only open from 15:00 to 18:00 so even the locals were standing around waiting for the store to open. We then took a leisurely walk back to the ship. A lot of you know that we love our big things. Well I found a big mailbox. Apparently all the local children leave their letters there for Santa.
The other amazing experience we had today was a sighting of beluga whales. A massive pod of them came up the fjord, they were everywhere as far as you could see. Some of them came over near the ship. Our naturalist said a conservative figure was 150 beluga whales. Our whale expert said that he had never seen so many at once and was pretty excited.
Adventurers started to arrive for the new expedition. There are 8 of us hardy adventurers who are signed on for the back to back adventure. Now all aboard we total 54 adventurers with nationalities representing Australia (36), China (1), Israel (2), Italy (1), Korea (2), New Zealand (3), UK (4) and USA (5). We also have 11 Aurora Expedition staff and 22 Russian and one Ukraine crew. Once again we were called together to go through the safety briefing and the compulsory lifeboat drill. The blast of seven-short and one-long from the ship’s signal system was our cue to don warm clothes, bulky orange lifejackets and gather at the muster stations to sample the ambience of a Polar Class life vessel. We cast off lines and steamed away from this northerly outpost for the last time, steered a course westward out of Isfjorden, and north towards new adventures. After dinner the new adventurers were kitted out with their gumboots while we had time to relax.

8th August
The sun shone through the clouds as we steamed north up the coast of Spitsbergen. As the Polar Pioneer passed a few of the 1600 glaciers of Svalbard we stood out on deck soaking up the Arctic. Virgohamna was the first sight we laid eyes upon. While it didn’t look like much, many exciting events and stories have happened here over the years. A balloon expedition by the Swedish Saloman Andree in 1897 brought notoriety to this piece of Danskoya. Having tried and failed to fly a hot air balloon to the North Pole two times prior, Andree, along with two other men, finally attempted a third and final time on this kamikaze mission, only to meet a fateful end as their balloon crashed in the ice and the Svalbard winter took its toll. Moving forward in time to the present we made our way to a sheltered bay where Harbor Seals could be found lolling about or sitting still as statues on the rocks. This is the most northern colony of Harbor Seals in the world.
We continued in our zodiacs to Smeerenburg, where we landed and walked around what was left of the old blubber ovens. This was one of the largest whaling stations in all of Spitsbergen in the 17th century.

9th August
Early in the morning the announcement came over the PA that we were approaching Moffen Island. This low lying nature reserve, with its sandy beach, was host to a group of walrus. These tooth walkers, as they are called, were hauled out on the beach, kicking back between foraging journeys. Walrus were hunted to near extinction in Svalbard. During the industrial era they were hunted not only for their ivory tusks but for their blubber, used for numerous commercial and household uses, and their tough hide used, amongst other things, for industrial machine belts. The good news is that due to protection of the species in the 1950’s, the Svalbard population is again flourishing.
After breakfast we made our way to Woodfjorden in north Svalbard. We were on the lookout for wildlife but just as impressive were the stark mountains and the waters of the fjord. We clambered into the zodiacs and zoomed ashore at Erikbreen located in an arm of the Leifdefjorden. The weather was unusual. We stood in the sun whilst on the other side of the fjord it was raining.
We had a chance to wander on the tundra and climb to the top of the glacier’s terminal moraine.
We had lovely views of the glacier and its surroundings.
There were still some last of the season wild flowers around and the patterns in the rock were extremely unusual.
And a couple of puffins.
After lunch we were back out in the zodiacs to relish close up views of Monacobreen. The glaciers vital statistics: 5km wide, 50-60m high, 38km in extent. The 2 neighbouring glaciers were joined until 2009 when the glacier receded to expose the dividing mountain. While Monacobreen is retreating, it currently moves 2-3 metres per day with a high rate of calving.
There were kittiwakes everywhere around the front of the glacier awaiting their share of any nutrients and fish they could find from a fresh calving.
We had dinner and then commenced our 2-day adventure across the Greenland Sea to Greenland. What would be in store? Calm seas or stormy seas?

10th August
Our first day at sea saw us relax with a leisurely breakfast and then enjoy the vast Greenland Sea. The day was filled with whale watching and lectures on the History of Svalbard and Birds of the Arctic. So who did discover Spitsbergen. Was it the Vikings who back in the 12th century made mention of a route to Svalbard in the Sagas? Or could the word Svalbard translating to cold rim or cold coast, have really referred to the edge of the pack ice rather than new land? Was it the Russian Pomors who came in their sturdy vessels to hunt and trap? To this day evidence of wooden crosses and settlements can be found throughout Spitsbergen. Could the real discoverer be Dutch navigator Willem Barrents who in the 1590’s sailed north to Svalbard to find a trading route through the North East passage? Whoever it was, Barrents named the archipelago Spitsbergen, translating to pointed peaks. It was not until the Svalbard Treaty of 1925, when Norway gained sovereignty, that the entire archipelago was renamed Svalbard, while Spitsbergen was recycled to name its largest island.
Our day at sea rolled on with flat seas and by the afternoon the sun glistened on the ocean. Northern Fulmars wheeled about, and all felt tranquil in our quiet world in the middle of nowhere.
Out on the bow or up on the bridge we spent beautiful hours gliding alongside the edge of remnant pack ice.
Alongside the ship was a small iceberg and there was a seal resting on it in the middle of nowhere. We came so close the wake of the ship washed him off the berg but he clambered back on.
Throughout the afternoon we had several whale sightings, the day was so clear you could see them coming up for air blowing water up into the air.
We saw around 15 Fin whales. They are the second largest whale and their fin is towards the back of their body.
The evening was topped off by being on the bridge for our first Blue whale sighting. It was off in the distance but not hard to miss. An estimated 27 metres in length.
Then whilst around half way across the Greenland Sea here is the midnight sun.

11th August
It was if we awoke in a dream as the sun shone through the low-lying fog. There was even a fogbow. (I have never heard of a fogbow)
Surrounded by a bright hazy white the Polar Pioneer made her way over a smooth sea towards Greenland. We even gained an extra hour due to a clock change. Our first 25 hours of daylight. During the morning there was a lecture on Greenland. It is written that in the saga of Eirik the Raude, he named Greenland because he felt it would attract people if the country had a beautiful name. Shortly after lunch the fog rose and the first mountains of East Greenland appeared. Land ahoy!
The bright sun shone across the pack ice and binoculars were glued to our eyes scanning the horizon for our first Greenland polar bear. Sharp eyes prevailed. We saw a single bear in the distance and eased our way towards him.
It was a healthy looking male. He put on a bit of a show for us, posing on the ice and jumping into the water and having a swim. From time to time he hauled himself out of the water and gave himself a good shake.
Later that afternoon it was decided that seeing it was a nice day we would do a zodiac cruise and go and land on some Greenland pack ice. Well why not? Zodiacs were launched and a tranquil cruise through the pack ice commenced.
Well we were in for a treat, as over the radio it was reported that a mother polar bear and 2 of this year’s cubs were in the distance. They were startled by the motors so we could not get too close and we were looking into the sun, but it was nice to see them so healthy.
Greenland total of polar bears – 4.
It had been such a lovely afternoon, but we had to finally go back to the ship.

12th August
So now that we are in Greenland. Here is a bit of information. Greenland is an autonomous country within the Danish Realm, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physio graphically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe (specifically Norway and Denmark, the colonial powers, as well as the nearby island of Iceland) for more than a millennium. Greenland is the world’s largest island; (Australia doesn’t count as it a continent-so they say, there were several comments coming from the 36 aussies on board). Over three-quarters of the island is covered by the only permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica. With a population of about 56,000 in 2013, it is the least densely populated country in the world.
Bands of pack ice and a blanket of fog made for cautious manoeuvring as the ship weaved a course to Clavering Island. We then suddenly emerged out of pea-soup fog into a brilliant clear, sunny day. You can see the bank of fog.
We cruised along the fjord for some time, the scenery was beautiful and the rock formations were amazing.
Into zodiacs we piled, first to look at a most beautiful glacial iceberg, hopefully the first of many. It wasn’t until we saw the size relationship between the berg and a zodiac that we could fully process how big it was.
Then before us was Eskimoness which is on the southern coast of Clavering Island. It was time for our first steps on Greenland. The zodiacs went ashore at the site of a well-maintained SIRIUS hut.
Sirius Patrol, formerly The Sledge Patrol, originated as a result of meteorological stations that operated in NE Greenland prior to and during WWII. In 1941 the defence of NE Greenland became the responsibility of the patrol. They used dog sleds and had support from American ships and planes. In 1953 it became Sledge Patrol Sirius and to this day its role is to maintain Danish sovereignty, act as the police authority in the National Park, and conduct military surveillance. Sirius Patrol numbers 10-15 men and they patrol during winter still by dog sled.
The view from here was once again beautiful.
Eskimoness was the centre of high drama and conflict between Norwegian trappers and German soldiers at the start of WWII. The Germans burnt down their hut and the remains are still there today.
Onshore we enjoyed a walk on the tundra and headlands. It was getting so warm everyone was taking off layers of clothes. We had to remind ourselves that we were really in Greenland.
During the hike there were still some of the summer’s flowers around. We got to see Greenland’s national flower. The Broad-Leaved Willow Herb.

13th August
Upon opening our curtains, a sunny and shining Greenland awaited us. We had made our way down Kong Oscar Fjord. The scenery was amazing especially with the sun shining on the walls of rock. We got up early to make sure we could see the Devils Castle in its glory.
As the sun rose higher the colours of the rocks changed again.
After breakfast we made a short zodiac trip to shore. Blomsterbugta was the area that we found this morning’s entertainment. We made our way up the hill to Noa Lake. The lake water was quite brown due to the Devonian sandstone run off.
While the group were using their binoculars to look for musk ox over in the valley, we were alerted to an animal running up directly behind us. This big Greenlandic animal got a surprise in the form of a group of unsuspecting yet eager paparazzi.
We were also pleased to find a few Arctic Hare bouncing around on the tundra. They are white all year around with black tips on their ears, these hare can be found in groups of up to 100 during the winter time.
The afternoon’s cruise down Kejser Franz Joseph Fjord brought us out on deck. Sunnies and sunscreen were needed! The impressive steep and high red walls of rock jutted out of the fjord, with an occasional glacier, snowfield or waterfall interrupting the remarkable vista. The bands of colour were striking.
A lovely afternoon was spent at Paradisdalen. We landed ashore where it was so balmy we were wandering around in t-shirts. Who would have thought.
We had a wander up the hilly terrain and were lucky enough to see some more musk ox, there was even a calf.
You can see how high the rocks are and how big the glacial bergs are from the size of our ship in this photo.
On our way back to the ship we were greeted by a bearded seal.
Once on board we again sailed back down the fjord and got to enjoy the spectacular scenery one last time. Shane and I sat out the back of the ship in awe of this country. We didn’t really know what to expect and it has certainly exceeded our expectations.

14th August
This morning it was cloudy with a little drizzle, as we cruised along Alpefjorden.
We had arrived at Safstrombreen glacier. The morning felt otherworldly as we approached the glacier. We shut off engines to take in the full suite of crackling and popping issuing from the brash ice. Air bubbles sealed within the ice are ancient. Imagine the stories they hold. They could have come from the days of Erik the Red, or even Paleoeskimoes. Safstrombreen Glacier, rather than flowing from the Greenland Ice Cap, originates from two adjacent mountain valleys, evident by the volume of moraine being carried on the back of the glacier down to the fjord.
We made our way in zodiacs behind the fjord and landed on gravelly beached to climb upon the moraine and take in the glacier and its surroundings.
Around the ice we were treated to a visit from a bearded seal.
In the afternoon we cruised back down the fjord.
We made a landing at Skipperdalen to experience some of the most striking sedimentary sandstone formations imaginable. Unofficially named Gateau Point, the alternating colours and patterns in the rock defined belief.
It was then back to the ship for our longer steam south to the world’s largest fjord system, Scoresby Sund.

15th August
Apparently the tail winds were so strong in the night we arrived at Ittoqqortoormiit almost 5 hours earlier than expected. This allowed us a surprise extra outing, our first in Scoresby Sund. Sailing further into the fjord, we anchored at the mouth of Hurry Inlet. Learning the true meaning of “expedition” – where plans are always subject to change – the waves and beach were a bit too unfavourable for a zodiac landing so instead we zoomed across the way to two impressive icebergs.
Circumnavigating these massive bergs, we were able to begin to read the “Life of an Iceberg” We could see brilliant blue stripes cutting through the middle created from former crevasses or cracks that were filled with water and then froze.
The tidal marks smoothly undercutting the bottom show the slow but steady power of constantly lapping waves. Differing textures across the undulating surface tell of a time when the berg was orientated differently, or perhaps had more mass attached to it.
Light on these big bergs was out of this world. You can see how big they are by the zodiac next to this one.
Once back on board we had an informative briefing about the Greenlandic village we would visit after lunch. Established in 1925 by settlers from Ammassalik further south, the Greenlanders named their village Ittoqqortoormiit, or ‘the land of the big houses’ for the colourful Danish-style houses that were built there. Ittoqqortoormiit’s structure is based on the Danish social model, with free health care and schooling. The government owns the main supermarket and other facilities. Back in 1925 nearly all the village men were hunters but now, while the hunting culture still exists, there are fewer hunters and dogs. All food caught is sold or shared locally. The town now looks toward tourism as a source of income, and is also commercialising in natural resources, such as sealskin, polar bear pelts and musk ox wool to export overseas. Hunting restrictions are rigid and this year’s quota of 35 polar bears has already been filled. There are only 2 communities on the eastern coast of Greenland so it was a real treat to visit one. Ittoqqortoormiit – Roughly Pronounced (ee-took-core-too-mit).
As we came closer to the community you could see the vibrant colours of the houses.
Once we set anchor we could see the community really well.
We arrived on land and had the afternoon to wander around the village.
We met one of the hunters who was proud to show off his skins and he was keen to let us taste musk ox. To me it tasted like beef. It was really nice. He was even happy to have his photo taken.
We wandered up to the soccer pitch on the hill as they had told us that they recently had some fake turf laid. The kids were making good use of it and it looked quite out of place amongst the rocks and ice.
We then went to visit the dogs at one of the working dog camps. There were various size puppies around. They were all tuckered out and were sleeping when we arrived.
Stella was the little girl proud to show off the puppies.
We spent all afternoon wandering around the little streets amazed at the palate of colour.
After we had gotten a taste for this remote village of 475 people, it was time to head back to the ship. Our wallets were a bit lighter, tummies a bit fuller (we decided to buy an ice-cream) and our minds were abuzz with even more questions about life in such a remote location.

16th August
During the night we steamed westward through the great Scoresbysund Fjord system and into Rode Fjord. After breakfast we donned the layers and lifejackets for a cruise around glorious Rode Island and the rich red Devonian sandstone.
The ultimate magic of the morning was the maze of grounded icebergs – art pieces each with a unique sculptural form. We spent leisurely time meandering through ‘iceberg alley’ – a cluster that seemed to stretch forever. We stopped by brilliant blue bergs, bergs laden with moraine, bergs the size of buildings with caves and arches that looked set to collapse.
We made a landing at Rode Islands sandy beach and climbed to the ridge to view the bergs.
Our trusty ship spent the next four hours weaving around bergs to navigate a course to Hare Fjord. The scenery and reflections were so lovely.
In perfectly still conditions we zoomed ashore at Hare Fjord for a walk across the tundra.
The view of the fjord was once again beautiful.
During the hike we got to see another four musk ox in the distance.
While this was all going on, the ship was preparing for a BBQ on the back deck. With wild crazy hats and lovely food, we danced the night away.
While partying the ship continued to glide down the fjord and we continued to enjoy the views.

17th August
Greenland, you beauty! While the days seem to roll on into the next, the incredible variety of sights, sounds and experiences is ever changing. Upon looking out our portholes this morning, we were greeted by a vast rocky mountain face, basking in the bright sun with swirls of yellow gneiss and sandy granite.
The impressive peak we were looking at was called Ingmikortilaq in Greenlandic.
We made our way by zodiac through the many icebergs of Nordvest Fjord. Despite being in awe yesterday this didn’t fail to impress. Daugard-Jensen, the glacier at the end of this fjord, is the third most productive glacier in Greenland, ejecting 11 square kilometres of iceberg a year. It is hard to believe that this is part of the broken off glacier as it could be mistaken for the face of the glacier.
Reflections were clear as the mirror images wound their way into creating lovely visions.
With the sun shining and some heat the bergs melted slowly making pretty patterns in bergs.
As the sun was shining it became apparent that it was the perfect day for a Polar Plunge. Shane decided to do it again, but this time from Deck 4.
This was the beautiful setting for the plunge.
We sailed back down the fjord and found ourselves in front of a Paleo-eskimo site known at Eskimobugt. Old remnants of at least dix Paleo-eskimo houses could be seen, as low tunnel like entrances give way to a type of sleeping porch higher up. We were able to see old artefacts such as tools used for hunting and working.
There was even an old grave
Up and over the hill a few musk oxen and arctic hare were spotted.
A wonderful last afternoon in Scoresbysund.

18th August
Well our last day in Greenland has come so quickly, but boy we have so many memorable moments.
When we awoke this morning we were in a big fog bank once again and you couldn’t see a thing. So it wasn’t a very promising start to our last day.
When we arrived at our final destination in the Romer Fjord we were lucky enough to have the fog lift. We were left with a mystical layer of sea mist that seemed to have a life of its own.
Best laid plans for a morning landing were put to rest when a polar bear was spotted swimming across the fjord. Our fifth bear in Greenland! Into the zodiacs we piled to go see if we could find him.
From the ship we had seen the polar bear emerge onshore but try as we might to find him or her, all we spotted were enticing white shapes through drifts of mist. It is surprising how many rocks look like polar bears. In this petite fjord on the Blosseville Coast is the site of some of Greenland’s thermal springs. They come right down to the water.
We were even lucky enough to see one last spectacular berg.
We stayed anchored in Romer Fjord and after lunch we made our final landing in Greenland. We went onshore to visit the Thermal Springs and the colourful plant life.
These thermal springs are impressive in themselves, with 60 degree celsius water bubbling out of cauldron pedestals formed from minerals brought to the surface.
Then Shane took one last gaze at Greenland.
Once back on the ship we set sail for Iceland. With Keflavik 350 nautical miles east, Captain Sasha navigated out of the fjord and into the waters of the Denmark Strait.

19th August
This morning we wound up all our admin on the ship and within no time we could see the north west coast of Iceland. Our trip took us 2,537 nautical miles which is about 4,600 km. Once again our luck held and we had a smooth passage across the strait.
We sailed past the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and could see the mountain where we will be in a couple of weeks from now while travelling around Iceland.
We enjoyed an Icelandic sunset as we cruised closer to Reykjavik.

We then went to bed and in the morning we would be docked in Iceland.

Posted by shaneandnicola 10:07 Archived in Greenland Comments (0)

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