Friday, November 29, 2013

The South Shore of Iceland

As I only had three full days in Iceland (this time!) I wanted to see as much as possible which meant taking day tours into the country side.  My last day in Iceland I took the South Shore Adventure tour.  Unfortunately the weather failed to cooperate but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

So come along while I relive that day...

But first...I have to share these pictures from the Marina Hotel where I picked up the tours in the morning as it was just a three minute walk from Michael's house.

 I can't imagine anything like this in prudish North America. 

This morning we had a large van and there were about 20 of us.  Our first stop was to walk up to a glacier...sorry I forget the name...well don't even know if I knew what the name was!  Three of our party were walking on the glacier and then meeting us later on in the day.  I guess I am getting old as I did not envy them one little bit.  A fellow from Thailand was on the tour and he was thrilled to bits to see snow and could not get over seeing a glacier.  I have seen a few in my time so was a bit jaded but it was fun to experience it through his eyes.

Putting on their glacier walking gear - better them than me!

We then carried on past the waterfalls we would see later...sadly as we flew by this was the best view we would have of them before it started raining.  The driver/guide said ignore them you will see them later...I never ignore scenery like this....and the clouds were rolling in...

Our next stop was the town of Vik on the coast - Vik has a black basalt sanded beach and  was once voted one of the top ten beaches on earth.  Alrighty then..maybe on a really really sunny day.  All I can say is the wind was blowing something fierce and it was COLD.    There are stacks into the ocean which according to local folklore were created as a result of night trolls dragging their boats out to sea only to be caught by the rising dawn.

These basalt stacks were amazing...very similar to the ones at Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland - on the bucket list!

View of the beach - not the kind of beach to put your towel down and lay on at any time of year!

The trolls!! 

These just totally blew my mind

Inside the "cave" where we stood to shelter from the relentless wind.

After lunch (not worth mentioning..) we visited the Skogar folk museum which was interesting but over run with a huge bus of American tourists. 

Then finally we headed back to visit the waterfalls...firstly the Skogafoss the rain...

Yes you can walk right up to this waterfall and I got pretty close to get my photo taken - thank goodness I have a waterproof camera  - although it still doesn't improve the quality when it's pouring!!

Okay we had our photo op - let's get the hell out of here.

By the time we drove over to the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall I was soaked despite my goretex jacket (I don't think it works when you are walking in a downpour and silly me did not bring my poncho) , shivering and very very cold - this is as close as I got.

You could walk behind this one - as if I wasn't wet enough!!! 

An enjoyable day.  Would I do it again?  Probably not.  There are so many other places to see in Iceland I would probably pick a day trip to another location next time.  

After this we headed back to Reykjavik where I got into dry clothes and then headed out to celebrate at a restaurant in the harbour area.  I went to the Hofnin restaurant and enjoyed a creamy fish stew.  It did not look pleasing - had the consistency of baby food or cream of wheat...but it sure tasted good!  Paired with a glass of wine it was a nice way to spend my last night in Iceland.  After I walked out of the restaurant I watched the light from the Peace tower which is erected in memory of John Lennon and lights up the sky over the ocean.  Next time I will make going to the island where it is located  a priority.  I just did not have the time nor the energy to do it this time. Seeing it lit was very special as it is lit on John's birthday which is October 9th and stays on until December 8th...that fateful day when we lost him.

I'd definitely recommend a trip to Iceland - Icelandair has reasonable fares to Europe and all of their flights switch planes there.  A stop over in Iceland is permitted for up to a week without any additional charge and there are more and more flights being added within Canada.  Do it!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Discovering Urquhart Castle

You can't go far in Scotland without seeing one of its spectacular castles.  Urquhart is probably one of the most well known ones sitting as it does on the banks of Loch Ness and within spitting distance of old Nessie.   I had seen Urquhart back in 1981 while on a day trip from Inverness but we did not stop to visit - just a view from the parking lot ( as we did on our trip to Skye this year) 

Our intrepid leader June figured out that we could get there if we got to Invermoriston in time to get the 1:15 bus from there to Urquhart.  We were "only" walking 8 miles that day (by that time 8 miles was a breeze!) so we made sure we got to the town in time and were able to stash our luggage and get the bus as scheduled. It was about a twenty minute trip along twisty roads along the loch.

Urquhart Castle has been around in one form or another since approximately 580 AD.  In the beginning it was a residence but became a military stronghold in the 1300's and to quote the official website "was passed back and forth between the Lords of the Isles and the Crown (England) like a bone between two dogs" until 1692 when it was blown up by the English. (if we can't have it nobody will)  It slowly fell into decay until the government took it over in 1913.  As you will see from the following pictures it is an amazing ruin in an even more magnificent setting.

Upon arrival you go into a theatre to see a short film that tells you the history of the castle, then the curtains open dramatically and this is more or less what you see - very gaspworthy!

Trebuchet  - used in the middle ages to fling projectiles up to 350 pounds at enemies

Cruises on the loch are available as well

Middle ages toilet - only for the head honcho though.

Nessie is hiding!

Just a few tourists!!!

Surrounding countryside

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the castle - it was overwhelming to think of the history of the building and all the battles, the lives lived and lives lost within those walls.

We also saw a wedding taking place while we were there - a very romantic place to get married.  I think all us gals wanted to have a handsome groom in a kilt beside us as it was so romantic  - after the ceremony I'd have chucked mine into the loch!!!

The cafe was very nice - I inhaled some lovely Scottish ice cream and helped finish off a piece of cake.  The gift shop was great as well. 

The price at 7.90 is a bit pricy especially if you were visiting a lot of attractions.  However for us it was no bother as when you are walking all day you don't spend too much.  For me it was well worth the price and if you love castles and history I would highly recommend it. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Huffing and puffing up to Broadway Tower

The Cotswolds are like heaven for walkers...I have done some walking in the Cotswolds in the past but nothing like we did for two of the days we were in the Broadway area. I can't even describe how amazing it was and how much fun we had.

And I must say my family is from the Cotswolds - further south near Stroud - but I do love the fact that both my grandparents were born and raised in the Cotswolds.  I feel such a connection with that area. 

June and I walked to the village of Snowshill and back - stopping at the Broadway Tower enroute.  I will take you along on the walk to Broadway Tower today and my next post will be the rest of the way to Snowshill and back.

We stayed in the lovely town of Broadway which is breathtaking with most of the buildings in the lovely gold Cotswold stone.  Here is the bed and breakfast we stayed at for the three nights - our room was on the main floor on the left.

After our first English (as opposed to Scottish) breakfast of the trip we headed off to find our way up to Broadway Tower.  We went up and up and up....but we knew good things awaited us...
We followed the Cotswold Way to Broadway Tower

I'm following the leader - June was a great map reader.  I can't find my way out of a paper bag!

Stopping to turn around and admire the view is a great idea - especially the stopping part!

Typical Cotswold scene

Here are some of the characters we met along the way...

I think this one is probably the life of the party - looks like it could tell a good joke.
These volunteers were rebuilding stone fences that had crumbled.  Very interesting to see how they did it. Just stacking the stones they said - "Just"!!

Showing the new and the old.  We had noticed the crumbling walls fences earlier on and commented on how bad they were and lo and behold there they were building new ones.

And finally we made it to the top... What a view!!! I remember making it this far in 1992 when I was in the area and then thinking "sod it" (well something a little less lady like actually), collapsing onto the bench for a long while, catching my breath and staggering  back down to Broadway.  That was the year of the famous abscess tooth though so I was pretty drugged up at that point I do believe.  And not in the killer shape (cough) I am now.

What a view!!! You can see Broadway in the distance

Yes I did sit my bum down on here again this time too. Only I didn't stay as long!

And here we are....Broadway tower!

Broadway Tower was built as a folly (a building constructed mainly for decoration) and completed in 1798.  It has had a number of uses including a printing press and as a holiday retreat for the Arts and Crafts movement.  It was used as a look out point for enemy planes during both world wars.  We climbed up to the look out area and here were our views:

Then it was on to the cafe and the BEST ICE CREAM I HAVE EVER TASTED...

 Monty thought it looked good too and I had to arm wrestle him for it.  I won!!!

We had a pleasant conversation with a couple of English walkers while enjoying our ice cream and then it was time to set off again...a bit misplaced at first...but that's another story and another post. 

Bopping around Budapest - The Old Town of Buda

F riends had raved about Budapest and having read quite a bit about it I knew it was on my "to visit" list. And I knew it was goi...