South Coast of Iceland – day 2

After a night in a quaint guest house, we hit the ground running in the Southern side of Iceland.  The grand plan was a glacial hike, but first we returned to the glacial lagoon (some of the group booked a boat tour); then we went to another glacial lagoon where you can also see the glacial ice clearer.  Then we headed to the glacier to hike – I was nervous as heck I wouldn’t be fit enough but it was A OK.  Not too much of a climb (or at least gentle enough!).  Then we raced the wind storm back, and won (I think!?) to Reykjavik.  Of course, it was something like 8.30pm when I checked into my new hostel, but it’s bright so it’s hard to notice the time! I need food.  A shower.  A load of washing.  And… Instead I’m charging devices and uploading photos.

So you have an idea of where we were (ha! So I have an idea too!)
Black sand beach (again – third time did charm) and ice bergs melting
Sunshine for our beachtime
The blue tones are for where oxygen has been squeezed out of the ice
Just amazing right?
Same glacial lagoon from yesterday’s photos, but morning light
A temporary jetty around where one of us found seals and dragged me to see (thankfully!)
Copulating seals and voyeuristic ducks
Seems obvious not to walk onto icebergs, but 25 people did in one tour group and a full scale rescue was needed, as these drift out to sea and move around the lagoon
A cairn at another glacier lagoon, two lagoons south of the main one. It’s better as you can see the glacier better and where ice bergs cleave off
Pre Glacial hike selfie – pure coincidence to have a matching beanie and scarf
Blue in

So water/rain ‘drills’ down into the glacier, and runs under the glacier
I was sort of disappointed there was so much black – I’d not accounted for the ash which is inherent in volcanic areas.
Supposedly a heap of movies have been filmed on these glaciers (third largest in the world, after South Pole and Greenland)

I wasn’t actually cold at all – between wind proof pants with leggings underneath, and a 11 year old Land’s End jacket rated to 35C, I was toasty warm, so much so, I unzipped on my way down when there was no wind or rain 🙂  It was a long drive back to the capital, but we have wifi on all the minibuses (and I have a charging block – looks like a stone… the ones I’ve seen all over Iceland!).  The bus trip home was filled with spotify music, uploading to Facebook and chatting online.  It was quite lovely – given it was blustery and rainy a large portion of the drive home.

South Coast of Iceland – day 1

Despite spending the better part of the day sitting in lovely coaches and mini buses, it takes it outta of you! Say nothing for eating service (gas) station food mostly!  So another photo heavy post.  Some day, I may come back and spell the heck out of Icelandic to help y’all!

This is a water fall you can walk behind… and get drenched!
Pretty day postcard
Coming up alongside it
Through on the other side
Over one shoulder is water the other is the walking path behind the waterfall. It used to be a sea cliff, back in the stone ages or some time a VERY long time ago. Our guide was a geologist, so we learnt a heap!
So remember this – when all the Europe flights were disrupted
Here’s the now dormant volcano, it’s to the top left of the last red roof
Transition of the ass all down the mountain
Another ‘foss’ or water fall… (Skogafoss Waterfall)
Before taking the waterfall photo, I noticed these sheep. Only in the past week have sheep (and cows) come out of stables. And with it, all the lambs. Watching them cross was so cute!
Black sand beach with basalt cliffs – fricking FREEZING as I ate lunch on a rock… Reynisdrangar sea stacks
The rocks are fokeloric – when trolls are hit by sun light, they become stone, so they are trolls – from the town of Vik
Vik church. Vik is the most South most town in Iceland, then it’s lava fields. I spoke to a cashier – sounded SO British, but he was French – so curious
Carins are built as a way to ensure safe travels eastward…
Lava fields – the moss takes 80 years to grow. It has to wait until the lava cools of course. It dies from footfall, and goes brown
I was curious as to how thick the moss was – WAY deeper than common moss in Australia!
Weather is so changeable in Iceland – this is our first glimpse of a glacier. We learnt what a glacier was – it’s compacted ice, losing all the air. 6m of snow ends up compacted to 50cm!
What a glacier – we’ll hike on tomorrow.
Gob smackingly gorgeous glacier lagoon (save for blustering rainy cold weather!) Jokulsarlon
There were both ducks and seals in the water. I took a video as some of these ice pieces were moving int he current.
The guide was so kind to wait til the other people were out of frame… Whilst I bemusingly smirked

We are staying in a guest house, and it was WONDERFUL to get a hot meal.  I’d just subsisted the past nights, with a cold noodle salad.  The price was eye watering, but thankfully a huge serve (even the Americans thought so!).

Dinner at Country Hotel Gerði

West coast of Iceland

Today was the first day of a suite of tours I’m taking in Iceland.  And I’m exhausted – I was picked up at 9am, and returned around 7.30pm I think?  I took a bucket load of photos, which I’ll upload here…

Weird moss that grows on the rocky volcanic rock
Somewhere, out there, we saw seals – they are super hard to photograph
Irrigation channels are dug everywhere, and then streams meader too
Yep – a mini bus had wifif the whole time!
A keyhole. In wild weather where I took this photos gets waves. There’s seagulls resting on the rocks
Sheeps leather, and calf skin for the backside. The skin nor wool of animals that had suffered accidents were not allowed – bad luck. Boots were cow hide, open at heel and toe to let water pass through
Black sand (pebble) beach and a rock pool in the foreground – Djúpalónssandur
Beautiful & lucky for sunshine (we changed our plans and it paid off – the rain was in the morning when we drove, and we got sunshine for the beach!)
Folklore is STRONG in Iceland… And calling someone a troll now has more meaning for me 🙂
OK, if I have to pose (seriously, peer pressure is a thing!)
A fishing village
Sculpture (random dude to left, I was sure he was out of the shot!)
Water is everywhere in Iceland
Our guides village – small (1000 people) and he was a fisherman for many years.

The guide told us anything and everything we might want to know.  He grew up here for 34 years.  He said the ocean is a blessing and a curse – they live so much off the ocean, in terms of food as much as trade.  But it’s a vicious beast as the weather can turn very quickly in Iceland.  He spoke of once, two boats going missing.  Eleven people is a lot to lose from a village of 1000!

Modern church – they are all modern! And everywhere.

The population is 330,000 in all of Iceland and 210,000 in Reykvjaik. The weather is a reason why churches are plentiful – who wants a long travel in the dead of winter?

Sheer rock just seems to come from no where, and plateau too!

The tour was called ‘Centre of the Earth’ due to the chance to enter some lava caves or tubes.  Yes, this was the inspiration of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which I’ve not read, and now feel I probably should!  The metal enclosure is the entry via a spiral stairway.  Other than some stairways and boardwalks, there’s no lighting – it’s all a handheld torch.  At one stage, we turned them all off, and listened to the silence.  It wasn’t actually silent – there’s a constant sounds of dripping.  There’s no wildlife inside the cave – I didn’t notice, but someone thought to ask.

The depiction of the caves – super helpful cause I can’t say I’d have got my bearings in there with only torches (Lava Cave Vatnshellir)
Lava cave or tube – with stalicmites. I like the bottom left where you can see smooth lava, and imagine it flowing
This is called Church Mountain (Kirkjufell), as it looks like their main church in the city, which I’ve not photographed. Note my tricky reflection in a puddle 😮
Quite small waterfall, near the Church Mountain.
Basalt rock cliffs
Yep, me and the cliffs… Brrr
The famed sleeping pods! Pretty good, though upgrade would be sound proof
Caramel yoghurt you can pour!? Had to try it!  It was a $14 b’fast… so I fed up!

I wish I had steam left to post more, but I am exhausted (again) and despite a nap for the 2 hours drive after the seals.

If anyone found this and is thinking of travelling to Iceland, I highly recommend Extreme Iceland, and this the link to the tour details (including maps).

Blue Lagoon

WOW!

Firstly, the budget airline that flies to Iceland is called Wow, but I meant the Blue Lagoon was just amazing.  I came to the lagoon straight from the airport, as the lagoon is closer to the airport than Reykjavik, so it’s worth doing it at the beginning or the end of the journey.  I’d planned this component of my holiday carefully, setting up a coach transfer from the airport, booking in the Blue Lagoon, as it seems it can get very busy.  Overall, it was rather seamless, save for the ‘where’s my coach’ moments…

As a matter of fact, I am!

Arriving in Reykjavik (which is taking a lot of brain power to spell without using autocorrect) it was rainy and super windy.  Thankfully we had the aerobridge, unlike boarding in Amsterdam, where I got a bit rained on lining up to board.  Wow is a super low cost carrier which means they checked and checked again one’s luggage.  I paid for a checked bag, even though my suitcase would fit in overhead bins.  I carry my swiss army knife, so it has to be this way.  Otherwise, I had a backpack, and sick of carry my winter coat, I also had a light bag with the coat and some snacks in it.  Of course, that did not pass the watchful eye at the gate, so I held the snacks and draped the coat over my arm, and suddenly all was right in the world!?

Like personalised plates of plane

The in flight magazine and the branding on the planes clearly show that the airline has a sense of humour! I wonder if all of Iceland will be like this!

Now that’s suck humour

On arrival at about 14:00hrs  I was an hour and a half early for the bus shuttle I’d booked.  There is a competing company, which was heavily advertised in the in flight magazine, and it seems they to depart at the same time.  I suspect the coaches are aligned better with departures than arrivals, but who knows.  In any case, I found a quiet location to eat some snacks and reorder my possessions, and get those gloves and second coat ready – it was blustery and rainy outside.

Rain, rocky landscape and water

At around 15:00hrs I went looking for the bus I was meant to take – braving the cold.  My oh my did the wind cut through me!  I saw the brand of buses I needed, but not to the right location, so I asked and was advised to proceed to the carpark.  I waited out there, getting increasingly cold (and struggling to turn the pages of my novel in polar fleece gloves) and decided it was 15.15hrs and I didn’t want to miss the bus, I would return to the terminal to confirm the pickup location, as the bus was due to leave at 15.30.  They reconfirmed the location (in the carpark) and advised I could wait til the last minute to head back out there again.  When I did return, I went over to the bus (which had been there for all the time I’d been in the carpark, but without a driver).  I went to the driver, and he loaded my bag.  And then we left.  Yep… I was the SOLE passenger!  Lucky I wasn’t waiting for ‘my people’ or the crowd to congregate with!!

Me and my coach #rockstarstyle

The bus trip showed just how different the landscape is – there’s definitely as sense of lunar.  It is very rocky and then a light moss.  I was interested to see a sign at the Blue Lagoon that advised not to smoke near the moss as it’s flammable!  It was rainy, but I attempted to get some initial photos.

Volcanic rock on the road leading to the Blue Lagoon

Arriving at the Blue Lagoon, I placed my suitcase in the little luggage area out house, and took a ticket which was to reconcile my bill later.  When I entered the change rooms i discovered the lockers were certainly large enough for my suitcase, and I felt cheated!  I quickly peeled off the layers, down to a bikini – which felt so strange given the cold ‘feeling like’ 1C!  I put on my flip flops and took my BYO towel (both items can be packaged for a further sum, but it didn’t seem worth it to me).  Of course, there’s little use for either item for long… as the main aim is GETTING IN THE WATER!  There’s hooks everywhere to hang the robes they provide or your towels.

Baggage drop off and walkway to the Blue Lagoon

Before entering the lagoon, you have to shower, without your swim suit.  There’s a great graphic, as languages vary!  There’s provided conditioner, which you’re advised to put in your hair to protect it from the damaging silica.  There’s also body wash.

This is the pavilion you enter the water from

I wasn’t game enough to take my phone into the lagoon – many were, and undoubtedly got some great photos.  The great advantage of me waiting was that the weather cleared, resulting in blue skies which were just delightful!

In addition to the little coves in the lagoon, there’s some steam rooms, a water fall, and a ‘bar’ where you go to get a silica mask (or if you paid extra, a second algar mask… all this is policed through a coloured wrist band system, which can be used to buy drinks in water too).  Early on, I went to the steam cave, and overhead Australian accents.  I said hello, ad befriended 22 year old Paris and her mother Tanya who are in Iceland for a wedding!  From then on, we circulated to the extremities of the lagoon, they showed me where to get a mask.  The mask is white and feels so soft and smooth going on.  You leave it for 10-15 minutes and then wash it off.

Blue skies at the blue lagoon

After about an hour in the water, our finger and toes were like prune, and Tanya was ready to leave the water, and so was I!  Then you back track – returning to the showers. I felt a bit… over warm water by this stage, so just rinsed briefly. Then I found my towel I’d left rolled in the interior racks, and proceeded to dry off.  This is the Turkish towel I bought last year and have pretty much never used!  I kept eyeing off the provided towels, as the fluffiness seems to equal drying in my mind.  I also used some of the provided moisturiser.

Amenities for hair drying and preening

Returning to the locker area, there’s bays of hair drying facilities, and a sink, and cotton buds and cotton rounds.  It’s all very chic and stylish.  Once I was dressed I wanted to head back to the outdoor cafe/bar area I’d come through to get into the water… however this isn’t allowed.  There some clear segregation of clothed/unclothed! Thankfully there’s another area where you can get photos.

Look at that sky

I foolishly didn’t prepare to coordinate all this ‘dressing’ with the bus timetable, and when I did look, it was 7 minutes past the hour, and the bus was due to leave on the hour, every hour.  Thankfully, like almost everywhere I’ve been this trip, the cafe in the Blue Lagoon has free wifi.  So I drafted this post!  My face feels super smooth, but my hair feels dry – and perhaps the edge of my face and hair are still not 100% clean of the mask…  But I feel much warmer after the windblown airport carpark and bus hunting missions.  And it’s been so nice to see the clouds clear and see blue skies!

Tulip gardens – bucket list achieved

I can almost recall the conversation I had in the car with a boyfriend in 2005, about how I didn’t just want to ‘see’ places, but that I wanted to make sure I did that ‘thing’ that the place was known for.  Many would say The Netherlands is known for legalisation of marijuana.  Or prostitution.  Neither are of any interest to me!  What does spring to mind for me, with respects to Holland, is tulips.

Tulips – photo 1 of 200!

Tulip’s didn’t originate in Netherlands, but they have a long and strong history since the first bulb was gifted from a Turkish man to a traveller who gave it to a famous Dutch man.  I’m aware that they had a stock market event named ‘Tulip Mania’ which google informs me was 1636 – 1637.

The origins of the tulip’s name

Today, visiting Keukenhof, I learnt why the Dutch have become so famed for tulips.  The sandy soil mixed with clay, combined with the mild winters are ideal.  And it’s not just tulips – any bulbs really.  The tulip gardens were filled with many daffodils and jonquils, and the pavilions also features lilies heavily too.  I’m ashamed to say, I’d not ever realised lilies were also bulbous. It’s interesting what my years learning and working in floristry have taught me, but also what I’ve totally missed!

Flower factoid

Based on advice I’d read, I aimed to get to the tulip gardens at opening, 8am.  Given my AirBnB is only a 5 minutes walk, it seemed ideal.  Though, eight am did come around rather quickly, and I was still on the internet and updating life – having fallen asleep at my usual 9.30pm Europe Time, which was 4am Sydney time, so I was certainly due for a good lay down!  In the end, I arrived closer to 8.30am and I wondered why all the fuss about buying tickets online (which frustratingly wouldn’t work for me without my phone on roaming to get the confirmation code for using a credit card online). I left the park around noon, and took some photos to demonstrate why the advice is applicable!

12pm: People EVERYWHERE
8:30am: My arrival – not another person in site

My first hour, the place was largely devoid of people.  There was still a cool crisp air, and dew on the grass and birdsong the most overwhelming sound.  The light made it challenging to take photos as much was still in shade, or overexposed with sunlight.  By the time I came to leave, the sounds were various languages and accents!

Early sunshine

The gardens are beautifully laid out, and despite Holland being a flat country, significant work has likely been done to have hills and knolls and variety in the landscape.  There are many little canals as well as bubbling little water falls and mini lakes.  For children, there’s a play park, a hedge maze and a permanent petting zoo with RABBITS! (I’m not sure if my blog has ever expressed how much I like bunny rabbits and flirted with having one as a pet!).

Rabbits and tulips

There are a collection of pavilions at different extremities of the park, which include a museum with some background on tulips and their history in The Netherlands.  There is also a pavilion with avant garde arrangements, and from time to time, floristry presentations.  When I wandered by, she was making a simple arrangement, decorated with small potatoes threaded on wire! Funnily, potatoes are something I associate with the Dutch after a friend I studied with in 206 said her Dutch parents ate potatoes every night with dinner.  This pavilion seemed to focus strongly on chrysanthemums, which were otherwise not in the gardens or anywhere else.  Another pavilion was far larger and rather than being as focused on arrangements and artistry, was more coloured islands interspersed with home wares, or baskets or similar.  It was quite interesting.

Potatoes with celosia

I took a novel with me, and from time to time, sat amongst the beauty and read a few chapters. I had no where to be in any hurry, and figured a short rest wouldn’t hurt.

Travelling makes me relise how inherently lucky I am – by where I was born, to the parents that could afford the education they had as much as mine. Sure, there are countless nations where their population is growing in wealth, and you’re seeing more diverse ranges of ethnicities travelling – it’s no longer a handful of wealthy nations, but people from all over the sub-continent (old fashioned way of trying to capture India and it’s neighbours); Asia; Europe…

I love the ruffles

Of course, it’s luck as much as the career I studied for and work in. I realise I earn a significant sum of money, enough to manage a family on. I am one person, with this salary. And until I am supporting a family, I am saving some, paying off a mortgage, and doing the things on my bucket list whilst I have the time, money and mobility to allow me to.

Blue and white

It’s an absolute pleasure to return to cities and places I’ve been to once before – to recognise Amsterdam Schiponl airport! To arrive at Den Hague (The Hague)’s Central station and think… I know where I am. The familiarity, it’s reassuring and head spinning too! And with that comfort has me going to a Starbucks, where I know what to expect! I expect an overpriced coffee, comfy chairs, the ability to linger and hopefully some wifi. Add the Dutch spin of some Stroopwafels and I’m doing it with a cultural tilt 😉

Water in the tulip forest

The tulip gardens were just amazing – beautiful. So well maintained. A pleasure to visit and walk amongst God’s creations, so expertly arranged and planted. To realise this hope, this long ago item jotted onto a list, to see the ‘tulip farms’. I did! Meanwhile, the gardens are more than than a farm, but my short 5 minute walk to the ‘entrance’ there is quite literally a farm of tulips, still in bloom. They have largely passed the seasonal ‘heights’, so it’s not verdant colour everywhere, but enough to realise what was. The gardens are manipulated so that there are late blooming varieties, so whilst some gardens lay green, having been deadheaded, largely, it felt full and colourful.

The view from the windmill to the tulip field
Dutch flag and windmill – 1892 Windmill brought to Keukenhof in 1957

I have almost 200 photos, and they are stunning (in my humble opinion!).

First day jitters – Amsterdam arrival

How’d they know?

The first hours in a new country can be pretty anxiety inducing and stressful for me. I distinctly recall the stress of finding a hotel in Dubai and a German man telling me it was a bad neighbourhood. I was a little calmer arriving in St Petersburg, but I think this was because I just gave myself a free pass – ie I caught a cab to a hotel. Simple. For Amsterdam, on my last working day (yesterday feels like forever ago, but that’s when it was), I at least had the foresight to print the GoogleMaps directions for a bus and walking to my AirBnB.

Entertainment system for my second leg

So I seemed semi planned. My Australian phone carrier doesn’t do global roaming, and mostly I don’t mind this. However, staying at AirBnBs and coordinating with European friends, when I saw it was under 30 Euro to buy a dutch SIM, i bought one. The cost – not a problem – I just transferred my worries onto ‘how long will that much data last’ and ‘should I use the data for checking an email when I might *really need* it for a map later?’. Because even with my google maps written directions (I opted out of maps), I got off the bus and headed the wrong direction. Once I hit the next bus stop, I found a man who was… hooking up a trailer which I noticed is for recycling of batteries and light globes, and he advised me to head the direction I’d came in. When I found the final street, Google assured me the destination was on the left. It was on the right. One thing Europeans maintain is odd and even sides of the road! Also, quaintly, they are still far more inclined to put their name to their door bell or property. So when I found a home with the right number and “Merel and Mike” it seemed a good enough match to my AirBnB paperwork which said Maria and Mike. I was so concerned that the roofer would be puzzled or annoyed by my rolling suitcase, I carried in the last 50m. Yep – next level considerate (or next level “trying to fit in”).

My sunshine reading perch

So… I’ve knocked on the door. There’s been no answer. It’s about 4pm in the afternoon, and quite unlike my last visit to The Netherlands, it’s sunny and warm and mild! I was last here between Christmas and New Year and it was snowy! So I’ve bunkered down behind a short hedge for the shade, and set my new SIM up in my phone. That’s when I checked the email account I use for AirBnB (which, stupidly isn’t linked to my ‘normal’ accounts I check v regularly) I see my hosts had politely asked what time I was due to arrive. To be honest, I cleared customs far faster than I anticipated.

It seems I’ve landed where I expected

My anxiety is from all the ‘what ifs’. What if I’m sitting here til it’s dark and cold? What if they don’t come. I mean… I’m in a country of very well educated English speakers – there’s not been a person yet whose thrown their hands up and had no idea what I’m saying. Yep – that includes two bus drivers, the man with the trailer – even a dog walker apologised when her dog sniffed me as I was sitting here! I can’t imagine I’m going to end up frozen, starving and camping out for the night in this quiet street, not far from THE famed tulip farm (and therefore, there’s likely hotels). I just seem to be able to do ‘next level worry’ when things aren’t seamless. Like… what’s the bother I walked a kilometer the wrong direction on a sunny day in comfy shoes with a small wheelie suitcase and a backpack? Anyone who noticed my mistake… I’ll NEVER meet. And even if I did, it’s a laughable mistake right? It feels like in the age of smart phones, not knowing things is even more distressing for me. And I have no shame in Australia asking where things are (ie somewhere to donate foreign change in Sydney Airport – there is no exaggeration 15 places you can exchange money, but the two I asked didn’t know where I could ‘donate’ coins. In the end, I was heading to the Qantas Business Class lounge as I know they run a program on board, when I noticed on the general concourse there was a Rotary bin for coins).

The tulips I came here for

I think my discomfort goes to something deeper though. I like to appear, to others, including strangers, as capable and confident. I don’t like feeling out of my depth, and I seldom do feel that way. Connected to that, I don’t like to inconvenience people – by asking for help. Yet I’m someone who is acutely aware of someone reading a map in Sydney streets and OFFER to help (supposing they may have the same ‘which stranger do I ask’ anxiety). I also feel very aware that as an English speaker, we come to assume every speaks English, and how gosh darn lucky I am, by nature of my birth, that it’s my native language. Everywhere I travel, I wish I spoke the language. And in some countries, it’s much much harder to travel there due to language and the penetration of English (I’m looking at you Russia!) I can only imagine my stress levels if english was my second language, and I was travelling communicating with others whom it’s their second language, and then second guessing if my English was right.. or theirs, or we’d ended up speaking nonsense and making things worse… It’s times like these, mime seems a viable alternative!! And iconography!

I love Europe – wind turbines are a common thing to come across

In the end, i think I sat in the sunshine reading for about 3 hours.  The neighbours across the street had been in and out, walking their dog, and their kitchen faced the AirBnB.  Their 22 year old son came out and asked if I’d like to come inside and join them for dinner.  I politely agreed!  What a wonderful offer (cause I had been thinking that once my hosts arrived, and I’d showered, then I’d need to work out where and what to have for dinner in my state of tiredness).  I sat at their dinner table in their light and airy home, ad of course, being Dutch, Mum, Dad and both sons spoke English!  Once I’d eaten, and they’d poured me a cup of tea, the hosts arrived.  They have an eight week old baby, and today the mother had gone to her mother’s house to get some help caring for the baby whilst she did some work tasks.  Combine that with a traffic jam and the father not having keys and I think that explains the ‘we could be there in 15 mins’ turning into a very pleasant three hour wait.

8pm – still so light, I read on the balcony as I let my freshly washed hair dry and read a book

Everything turned out better than fine – and it usually does.  I can logically think that in those moments, and I tend to reach out to others to talk to and distract me, and remind me, things are FINE.  A wonderful friend from church was on line to talk, as was my little brother in England. By the time I’d checked into my AirBnB, Australia was almost waking up…

Flying Qatar Airways for the first time

My flight to Europe was on Qatar Airways. I recall watching a documentary on a hotel TV a few years ago, about how Qatar Airways is one of the newest fleet of planes and is angling to compete with Ethiad and Emirates. Thankfully, they match them in style and service, without the popularity out of Australia that results in full planes.  Google tells me it’s 23 years old, where as Emirates is 32… just like me

Cheeky shot of staff in Doha airport

Firstly, I really like their colours – the predominant colour of check in staff uniforms is a deep burgundy. Once on board, there’s a little more variety – there’s a neutral light toned blouse with a motif of a horned dessert animal. I notice most, if not all, female flight attendants wear pants, which seems very forward thinking for a airline based in a more traditional society. The trousers are either navy or burgundy. Then, almost all of their staff work a navy jacket for the meal services, with a deep pleat in the back, making it quite stylish but also more movable. Overall, I feel like their uniforms run rings around Emirates, which I see as quite daggy in their odd tone of beige pin strip and a red that’s a little too gaudy. I saw one set of uniforms in Sydney airport that I’ve never seen – which appeared to be a dark brown with purple details – I’m not sure the airline, but wow – not a colour range I’d want to have to pitch.
There were Qatar branded check in staff – this seems to be less common lately, there seems to be contracting companies. I know Qatar used one or two contractors but they were outnumbered by Qatar staff. The gate check was therefore quick and smooth with minimal lines as it was well serviced for the A380.

There’s a lady curling her eye lashes… in the quiet lounge. Where I thought I’d do it too – I mean, only 7 more hours of flying to look my best for :p

Once on board and the door closed, there’s a steady stream of ‘freebies’ – a synthetic fabric pouch handed out to Economy passengers with socks (which always seems like a weird inclusion to me), an eye mask, a small toothbrush and toothpaste. I feel like there was one more item – I repackaged it and handed it back to the staff – there’s NO way I need any further freebies of this nature! I had bought my own items – and my Emirate eye mask (which may be 4 years old and from Business Class as it’s super soft). Then there’s single serve sachet’s of moist towelette – I feel weird about this being packaged, but then I’m probably deluded in thinking that a fabric hand towel or face washer being reused!! There’s also a menu handed out – as there’s two meals on such a long service.

A new drama I found thanks to in flight entertainment system

I pre-selected my seat, an aisle seat in the centre set of 4 – and the result was that I was the second person in the row – the other person at the other aisle. He was an older gentleman, whose first language wasn’t easy. So after the evening meal, I used mime to suggest my feet might creep into a third seat (near his seat) but no need for him to move his overflow of gear. Interestly, many hours later, he tried to lay down in two seats (neigh on impossible!) so I mimed he could extend to three seats as I sat upright and started watching a new TV drama (and by accident watched the episodes out of order). The TV show is called Queen Sugar – it’s produced by Oprah, so it speaks strongly to racial disadvantage, as well as some gendered barbs. As you can imagine, there’s a collection of STRONG female leads and there are male characters, but it really does feel like they play support. So I’m high fiving to that! Overall, there were more than a handful of recent films I was keen to see, in addition to TV shows I’d not heard of but interested in. With respects to music, I didn’t find anything I wanted to listen to. I suppose liking ‘Triple J’ is hard to articulate and translate elsewhere… I often struggle to find artists I like in the common categories or genres of music!

That’s a 3.30am sunrise as we land in Doha in the distance

The in flight entertainment systems appear to be the most modern I’ve seen. It’s a large flat screen with all these backlit icons which aren’t full buttons. Under the screen there’s the earphone port – tricky when eating and watching something. There’s also a USB, so I got a phone charged. There’s also another input, I’m not nerdy enough to know what it is! In addition to the main screen, there’s a smaller smart phone sized screen – which pops out, which may help with gaming.
My seat was row 54, which is still relatively close to the front of the plane as the rows ‘start’ on the top floor. I was one row away from where BOTH food services started! Some airlines are good at reversing the service the second time, so you aren’t ‘last’ both times. And I’d almost forgotten I’d requested Gluten Free meals. I’ll admit some of it was hoping to get an early service of a special meal. Nope, still lucky last! To be honest, I know it’s better for me (not eating gluten), but I’m also a little envious having seen the menu and the choices, they sounds delicious and not that gluten ridden. OK maybe the breakfast pancakes may be! In my breakfast meal, I got cling wrapped rice crackers?! I skipped them!
I’ve already learnt things, 15 hours into my trip. The inflight magazine mentioned that flights to the US it provides laptops to it’s business class travellers. Reading between the lines, it appears that flights originating from Doha/Qatar must have a US immigrations restriction, requiring all electronics to be checked. Surely a terrorism measure? Anyhow, you can ‘pick up’ a laptop and use a USB to transfer your work. I can imagine as a business person that’d be little compensation – you want certain programs potentially. And you get used to the layout of your icons and keyboard etc etc. Still – interesting and innovative response to something outside their control! The airline is also offering double sized ‘beds’ in business class, and also a configuration for up to 4 people to be able to ‘face’ on another. What a punish to travel with 3 colleagues AND need to work on the flight, in my opinion!

The statement and much photographed art piece in Doha airport

Overall, I’m pleased to try a new airline, and see what features it offers. I’m incredibly pleased that the flight is probably half full as this really helps me sleep! The plane and facilities are modern. The meals seem great, so I might adjust my order preferences and be ‘normal’ once again!! And… I also chose Qatar Airways on price. It was $1300 for a Europe return trip – into one port out of another. It is the shoulder season, being May, but it’s possibly the cheapest Europe fare I’ve ever paid (and I’ve… been to Europe a little too often for a 32 year old who doesn’t travel for work!)

Oh, and yes, I packed the laptop, and less than 24hrs in, I’m thankful I did.  It’s not been too heavy.  Still has battery life after drafting this post on the plane, and posting in airport wifi.

Planning and packing for 2.5 weeks in Europe

I’m always interested in being organised and prepared, and this holiday (like when I went to Vietnam), I’ve upped the ante on planning what I’ll pack and take with me.  Given it’s my sort of nerdy, and I’ve enjoyed posts by Cassie at The Minute Glass and Sherry at Save Spend Splurge, I figured I’d share my lists, photos and plans for packing!

Quick recap: Four countries (The Netherlands, France, Germany and Iceland) and a range of activities from city wandering, a tulip farm, hiking and other outdoorsy activities in Iceland.  And a 24 hour flight to get there!

Top layers

So I laid everything out on TWO Sunday evenings, that I thought I might want to wear.  I then considered what the combinations would be, and where I might wear them.  I quickly realised a few limitations.  I’d selected 3 or 4 long sleeved tees, all of which were two colours (grey and blue stripe, navy with a white asymetrical stripe and a deep blue with a white stripe).  I quickly realised they wouldn’t match well with warmer layers I had on hand which were also patterned, so I put them back in my wardrobe.  Then I took photos of the tank + long sleeved layer + warmth layer to work out combinations that would work.

Tops – layers; Lagoon items in bottom left corner (swimmer, towel, thongs). Shirts (3) on the far right are for ‘city’ wear predominantly.  The middle row of tops (2) are ‘functional’ and will work well for hiking. Far left are under layers (4). 

I quickly noticed that I could really benefit from a long sleeves black tee.  I did ‘fabric recycle’ two black tee shirts at H&M when I swapped my wardrobes, as they’d lost some of their elasticity.  With such a clear whole, I experimented with online shopping, and picked 3 black long sleeved tops from Lululemon, as I was looking for a ‘functional’ fabric (ie possible synthetic, to suit the hiking, and in future I could use it for yoga etc). I planned to keep only one. The delivery was prompt, I tried on all three, and immediately eliminated one based on style.  The remaining two – one I wanted a smaller size and the other, a larger size.  So I went in store.  I found a smaller top which looked better in it’s floaty style, but being predominantly cotton, I was worried it might not suit my hiking needs.  The second top didn’t come larger than L, so I tried other styles and found on in a meshy feeling fabric.  I was pleasantly surprised to find this second top was on sale! $69 is a LOT, but all Lululemon clothing I own has really stood up to my abuse! My oldest leggings from them are still going strong at probably 8 years of age.  So I’m OK to pay their prices.

Wedding outfit (left two) and jackets; two scarves. Oh and the specific under garmets for the wedding outfit too!

As for bottoms, I’m planning to take only three outwear (and a pair from lounging in)

  • lounge wear/PJ pants
  • black skinny jeans
  • hiking pants (recently purchased)
  • lululemon black full length leggings
Casual home pants, and three pairs of pants for out and about

I really wanted to buy Patagonia branded hiking pants, as I support their business model.  However, nothing in store was in my size and colour that I needed.  I then went to Paddy Palin which sells a number of brands (including Patagonia), however in the end another brand seemed the most suited to my preferences.  I settled for a pair of black pants which have a light fleece inner layer, in additional to a outer shell like most other pairs I tried.  They also have an elasticised back but otherwise are like normal pants at the front – sold!  They were almost $200 which was hard to swallow, so I gave them a test run at the movies with my brother.  He’s a fashionable guy, he gave me some… feedback! But cost per wear, people, cost per wear!

My February 2016 US trip I forgot these items – the grey beanie and navy gloves were ad hoc purchases and hard to find!

Then I got onto the ‘little’ things, and here’s where I have gone next level OCD.  I’ve used Google Keep to set up different notes with contents, then I set about taking photographs, and then I came to notice things I’ve overlooked when I reviewed my ‘travel box’ of loose items.

First the toiletries

Lush features heavily for my reduced waste choices for shampoo, conditioner and that tube contains deodorant. The white tube is facewash.

Next was the basic items I use to ‘look pretty’ thanks to the wedding.  Since this photo, I’ve added my ornate bobby pins too.  (Lucinda, notice two items you sent me in this?)

The wedding necessitates cosmetics

This is the most important pack – the plane pack.  Some items will features on my bed side on arrival – namely the ear plugs and lip balm, and the eye mask if needed.  Otherwise, there’s eye drops, two mini moisturisers, some panty liners and tissues.  Since the photo, I’ve added a pen.

This is largely sourced from business class amenities packs and my experience!

Not pictured is a bag which will hold all my cables.  I can’t work out whether i should take the laptop or not…  And another bag with my bamboo cutlery, straw, napkin and fold up bag.

So… I keep a shoebox of items for travel.  Things like.. extra toothbrushes (lots.. like, 4?!).  Sunscreen and aloe vera gel, at other times the insect sprays are in this box (but in summer, they end up on my bedside for the mosquito that wakes you).  By taking this photo, I went and mended that eye mask.  And threw out the pink retainer case (and it’s contents) cause… I’m not rewearing it now, year’s later!  The exfoliating gloves were kept after a spa treatment.  I’m not even sure how or why sunglasses are there!  INterestingly, there was a mini Paris metro map – I promptly tucked that into my suitcase! Bottom right is a Japanese glue stick – I bought to do a journal on that trip!

What was ‘left’ from the travel box

All the preparation has also helped me borrow or buy second hand things I’ll need but didn’t own, like

  • Suitable wedding shoes – Mum’s offer $6 sandals she’s ok with me not bringing home OR the heels I wear to work daily but are black and the dress is Navy
  • A backpack for hiking – purchased for $5 at a thrift store
  • Thongs (flip flops) for the Blue Lagoon and hostel showering
  • Uniqlo puffer jacket – Mum’s and tiny enough to pack as an additional layer

I feel pretty calm now I’ve laid it all out, photographed it, and put it in the suitcase.  The only things I’m debating, and I’d welcome you comment ASAP:

  • Take the black heels I comfortably wear daily to wear to the wedding, or take some ‘sandal’s mum loaned me.  Pros of usual shoes: can wear stockings (closed toe); Cons: black with a navy dress.  Mum’s shoes: pros: discard and not return, cons: not my style, can’t wear stockings
  • Laptop or not? Don’t usually take one, but I could blog, it’s light enough… and then I wouldn’t bring the ‘work’ iPad which I couldn’t blog on last year.
  • Can you see anything I may have forgotten?

April Summary

Culture:

Quite unexpectedly, I attended a concert in April.  A fantastic young artist, Vera Blue, was sold out, but the night of her concert, I got an email for last minute tickets for $35! I did not hesitate and bought two tickets and invited a friend from work (who’d coincidently been at the last concert I went to – Urthboy).

OK so not the best photo… But the sound was AMAZING

I caught up with great friends for a MeatFest on GoodFriday for lunch, as well as an after work meal of dumplings – where we debated the quantity of dumplings we could consume in a sitting!  I also had a few wine filled meals with some close friends who we’d spent the past three years out of contact.  It’s great to be back in contact, and things just gel so easily.  I also ate out in a new area and despite it being known for Italian, we had French.

I also took twin six year olds to the Lego Movie, but promptly had a nap between some great one liners…  I also had an evening babysitting, where they wouldn’t go to sleep :s

Cheeky movie buddy

Romance:

The dating has continued! I could even say it’s been a good month – kept me very busy too!  I had a first date on weekend night, at a bar that you’d walk by and miss in an alley in Darlinghurst.  I actually recall going there many years ago – inside it’s all themes like an American Saloon, complete with snacks of peanuts to crack and eat – a great activity for first date nerves (which… I don’t really get, but he might have!).  The other first date was a weeknight at a small bar I’d been to before (also) for a 40th celebration.  They were comedically ill equipped for my cocktail order – having run out of key ingredients with the long weekend!  Sometimes, wine’s just easier.

Not romantically, I met a good friend prior to Easter Sunday church.  We usually catch up like this quite regularly – he drinks a coffee and stay lithe and I eat and drink, and in this case, the mean was equally ‘wow’ worthy.

Yummy! And looks that way as well

Work:

The new management has been in for two weeks – though one week’s been between Easter and Anzac Day (the day Australian’s have off to remember fallen soldiers).  It’s also school holidays – so it means so much is on hold awaiting people to return from leave.  In the short 4 day week, my new boss was in my office one day, and half of that was spent on site meeting and inspecting the safety of teams, including mine.  My former boss is still ‘on the books’ but has taken leave.  What will become of him is still uncertain.  My mentor is also still on the books.  All a little… perplexing.

Hipster cafe or what? I know Lucinda – out for BREAKFAST!

Health:

I continued to aim for two classes per week of Barre Tone, in addition to a one off yoga class at Humming Puppy.  Other than that, I tend to walk to and from church Sunday, as well as for additional services and my monthly Parish Council meetings.  I also walk to Barre Tone which is a comparable distance as to church.  It’s better than nothing, but all month I’ve been considering if it’s enough in comparison to my rather lazy and somewhat unhealthy eating.  One possible date and I have been chatting, and considering joining F45.  They are INTENSE 45 minutes sessions, and they really tone people, but I am anxious about what week I want to write off as being in utter pain for the muscle pain!

Easter sunday flowers (I did them)

Bought:

I spent a small fortune on AirBnBs and hostel deposits, as well as a week of day trips in Iceland!  As far as material possessions, I tried on four pairs of hiking pants.  I really wanted to buy Patagonia gear, but they didn’t have the size/colours I wanted and I’m not a huge fan of mail order when i’m not sure on size.  I went to another store that sells multiple brands and tried on two pairs, and settled for the comfier pair – elasticised back waist and inner light fleece lining!  They were $200 (!!) so I paid the $10 to join the ‘club’ and get 10% off!  At the same time, I got another ‘goo tube’ – I thought I needed one, but since getting home, I’m not entirely sure I do.

Read:

I have had three books on the go for a while, but none are capturing me.  Those are

  • Hot Milk – this was recommended on another blog, but it’s just not that interesting. I did finish it, but… not sure why
  • Queen of the South – translated from Spanish, there’s still a LOT of Spanish and it makes it disjointed for me.  I can see how it’s a TV show, but it’s not a story that is compelling me to keep reading. I returned it having read about 150 pages.
  • Working with Difficult People
  • Presence by Amy Cuddy – recommended by Save Spend Splurge
  • Last night in Montreal by Emily St John Mandel

I really need some good easy readers I think… I’m really not enjoying or reading much at the moment.

Planning Euro tour 2017

In less than a month, I take off for another (just short of) three week trip to Europe.  And yes, I was in July/August in 2016 (going to Russia, Turkey, Bosnia and Romania).  The reason for my trip is the wedding of a VERY dear friend, whom I’ve known since 1999 or 2000?  The lovely Julia was a supervisor in the boarding house whilst I was at school – she was studying at university.  Even in my school years, she spent time in Germany (Cologne I think), and since then, has lived in Heidelberg, off and on.  She’s also spent time living in Brisbane and Melbourne, and so we’ve seen each other in different places as the years have passed.  I visited her in the European summer of 2008, before continuing on to Berlin.  Then I ‘last minute’ went to Heidelberg from Christmas 2010.

Snowy Christmas

The invitation was enough to jump start me to add side trips I’ve long wished to do, and re-blog about earlier this year.  The key things being

  • visiting Oradour-sur-Glane in France
  • seeing the tulip fields in the Netherlands
  • see Iceland

Seeing Tulip fields is seasonal, and so it’s a lucky coincidence for a spring wedding to almost coincide.  I did go to Amsterdam and The Hague in 2010, between Christmas and New Year, but it will be quite nice to see it in another season.  I will visit a friend I studied in France with in 2006 in The Hague, who will be expecting her first child!

Talk about futuristic! A Hostel in Iceland

Going to Iceland is a more recent passion.  I continued to see other bloggers visit, namely 71 Toes with their brood of children, and the (not by choice) childless Blog About Love couple. Seeing as the latter was published in 2014, it’s been a slow simmer to get me to visit.  I did look at flights last year when I was in Turkey, but it was logistically challenging and accommodation both pricey and hard to secure.  Earlier this year, I caught up with a dear school friend who’d recently been to Iceland, so I took that as a final ‘push’!  She’s recommended a great tour company, so I’ve booked a WEEK worth of day trips! As I’m travelling alone, I’m not keen to hire a car.  I did hope I could twist my brother’s arm to come travelling with me again, but he has work commitments (and… coincidently, can now go to Iceland to accompany a school trip.  Beats me bank rolling his travel ;))

Pretty tulip fields

So I plan to fly to Amsterdam and spend two nights in The Netherlands, before about a week in Iceland.  From Iceland I will fly to Frankfurt and catch a train to Heidelberg (which I now feel like is almost normal to me, after a few times!) for a long weekend – arriving before the wedding and staying until the Monday.  I’ve lucked out with finding a friend of the bride who wants to share accomodation with me in an AirBnB – actually aside from Iceland, I’m staying in AirBnBs.  In Iceland, I went for quirky hostels.  And the book end to the trip will be France  – a few days to head to Oradour and then fly out of Paris back to Sydney.  It’s only these last few days in France I’ve not booked, but basically, I plan to train or fly in from Germany, hire a car, and head south.  It’ll be my first foray hiring and driving a car on that side of the road – eek!

Of course, this will take me to the wire of annual leave days I have.  But beats a week or a day on the couch in Sydney, so it’s worth it!