So, I’m alone again, which is a SURE FIRE way for me to write more (as I don’t get to speak as much!!)
Today, was a travel day. I got a 7am train from Heidelberg to Mannheim, then awaited a Mannheim > Strasbourg train (which was terminating in Paris-Est). I have only gushy good things to say about the latter train, a German high speed ICE train, it travelled up to 250kmh and the best bit for me was the free wifi (as mornings here are when Australia is awake). That journey was only an hour.
It was like breathing sweeter air arriving in France. Ok, I’m delusional – I did suddenly understand most of the announcements, but I was slow to prepare my bags and had ever so polite French people barging on board making it hard for me to disembark. Of course, it was two charmany French gentlemen who eventually stemmed the flow.
Once on the platform – the obligatory French police office with a semi automatic weapon. This has always been a visible thing in Paris, but I have no doubt they’ve redoubled security efforts in recent times, and I saw two army kitted, semi automatic wielding men in Lyon station too.
Oh, not to jump ahead, but the train from Strasbourg terminates in Marseilles, but I took it to Lyon which seems like a local hub to hire a car and drive east toward Oradour-Sur-Glane. And as may have been foreshadowed previously – there was NO wifi on board. And two very loudly speaking germans were seat mates – and I still napped (and gave them side eyes when I didn’t. True to stereotype, they were in socks and sandals too!).
Now, momentous milestone time I hired a car! Ok, so I’ve been in hire cars, but I’ve never driven one, certainly not as the sole responsible party. I don’t think I even drove hire cars we got in the US last year, or in QLD the year prior. And if it’s not enough I hired a car, I hired a manual (usually drive automatic) in a country that drives on the other side of the world.
I do wish, for comedic purposes, I’d filmed some of my early moments in the car. At one stage Kate the GPS lady misguided me, and then says “Make a U turn when safe” and I chuckle and say out loud “I’m not French you know?”. Yes, Kate is speaking English, cause there’s only so much of a challenge I need at any one time!! The car was at the train station – so full on down town, one way streets. Thank you Kate, you were an extra 16E per day, and it’s not a euro wasted there, let me assure you!
All in all, there’s a ton of things I’m thankful for
- thanks Mum for buying the little bro a cheap manual to learn on (and… for me refreshing my 15 year old learners lessons in manual last year)
- thank you France for the fine weather – can’t imagine adding pelting rain to the adventure
- thank you GPS Kate, for your faultless directions… well except for roadwork
- thank you Renault Twingo for both having a cute name, but also a little icon to say ‘hey silly, up a gear’ or ‘down a gear’
- thank you for my stress/anxiety for somehow allowing me NOT PLANNING THIS PART, and driving til an arbitrary time (6pm) and finding a cheap hotel with a handful of nearby restaurants. Charming – not so much, what I need – definitely! Who knew I could do ‘unplanned’?
- thank you random Aussie friends who are awake late, and chat to me when I need it – it’s nice to share the ‘I’m doing this now’ with someone… even if only virtually!
I should also say – I actually have no idea where I am. I mean… I just turn when she said turn, and I set her to Limoges my destination. I did a few times think ‘are you sure honey’? As I was inclined to go via Clermont Ferrard. I did go via Vichy and two Louis Vuitton offices or factories in the lovely countryside. I any case, it’s ‘only’ a 2 hour drive to my planned destination tomorrow, and another night out and about before I need to return the car, so tomorrow can be less travel and more site seeing.
The seed that started my 2017 tour of Europe was an invitation to a wedding in Heidelberg. J is a friend I’ve had since 1999, when she was a boarding house supervisor and I was a student. During the intervening years, we’ve both lived in Europe, and in different parts of Australia, but early on we formed a strong friendship via email when she was completing a part of her PhD in Bonn in Germany. When I lived in France in 2006, she was back in Brisbane, Australia, but in 2008 when I returned to France for a three week Women in Engineering conference/summer school, I spent a few days with her in Heidelberg. In late 2010, J visited me in Sydney for a weekend, and quite on a whim, I decided to go to Germany for a white Christmas. It was a fabulously snowy winter, and I got to meet a number of J’s colleagues and friends.
J met her partner T, at work, however returned to work for CSIRO in Melbourne Australia not long after they’d started dating (at least… that’s my recollection!). For a number of years they did a long distance relationship, but J found a job back in Heidelberg and they were reunited. In December last year (2016), T formally proposed, and they set a date of 20 May 2017.
I’ve never attended a German wedding, and J is also quite naturalised as an Australian, so there was some variations on German wedding. For example, at the reception, games and skit/performances are quite common in German weddings, and this wasn’t largely done. That only happened to the smallest extent – there was a tub of sand they had to dig through for treasure…. And a projected address from a whole heap of famous Germans (Angela Merkel, a football star, Darth Vader etc) I assume wishing them all the best.
The wedding ceremony was held in a lovely old church in a monastery. I was so perplexed being told that the pew decorations were being double sided taped – I’m used to pews having a ‘head’ or something similar, with which one can loop around. Nope – not these modern, minimalistic pews! And sure enough, at least two arrangements in their glass test tubes did become detached… 🙁 The test tubes were a gentle nod to J’s chemistry background, and I don’t know about T’s studies and work, but perhaps his too. So much so, at the reception, the lolly table held things in beakers and test tubes in racks.
It felt like every detail was attended to – in the sense that, it feels like all the lovely things were there, nothing was forgotten or struck off. Here’s some of the lovely details
- every pew had a floral decoration (not every second etc)
- plants and little vases to decorate the low stone wall
- floral napkins to put out with cakes, croissants and quiches for after church
- a coffee cart, which also poured and distributed champagne (or similar)
- bikes to cycle between the ceremony and the reception, complete with helmets!
- lace bows for attaching to car antennas (which I made with my room mate); but the florist who’d decorated the bridal tandem bike, had left wired bows to decorate the bikes
- sushi snacks for cocktail hour at the reception
- tablescapes that included
- placeholders were little glass jars with a chalk label and bowled lollies inside with T heart J and similar
- coasters with ‘Advice for the bride and groom’
- love hearts out of novel pages & wooden cursive ‘love’
- a table set up for children – with colouring books and mini lego
- bathrooms with make up wipes and sanitary items (and pew flowers (roses) which I’d rescued and mimed to the florist we could reuse)
- a lolly station (despite there being about 6 dessert options in a pick and choose layout)
It was such a wonderful night (and day!). The bike ride between the locations was a lovely part of J & T’s story, and it was SUCH a lovely day to do it. Everyone waved and clapped and honked their horns. And I didn’t fall off. I may have been a little immodest riding in a dress, but it’s not that uncommon either. The reception was lovely and leisurely, and we were seated with really interesting people, who spoke English and German, so were wonderful at summarising speeches and helping decipher the menu/blackboard, though some things just aren’t translatable: mashinis was mashed potato in a martini glass, and was to be served as a midnight snack 🙂 That being said, I think we left after 1am, and fresh from having desert, so the midnight snack was shelved.
The overall experience was wonderful. My usual waitress was Lithuanian (second I’d met in Iceland) and happy to help and generally pretty bubbly. I was initially worried when the menu said only for tables of two or more, but it wasn’t a problem. Interesting the first few dishes were quite rapid in coming, but then there became long lapses between the mains (the fish and the lamb particularly). I had nowhere else to be, but I’d forgotten to bring a novel, due to a small handbag, and in the end, resorted to writing on my map!! Of course, like absolutely EVERYWHERE in Iceland, there was wifi, so I could also occasionally chat with people in Australia. Seems a bit vulgar, but I didn’t have company with me.
My final full day in Iceland was doing ‘the’ tour – the Golden circle. I think the golden comes from one of the waterfalls appearing golden in certain sun conditions – sunshine I didn’t witness! I have to say, I was at my limit to tours for this last one. Three full days and one half day had been fantastic, but I was a little over the piling in and out of a minibus! Say nothing for the weather being particularly unpleasant – a lot of wind, and intermittent rain (or water fall spray). I also didn’t ‘warm’ to my guide or bus mates as much as other days. Though… I saw my Day 1 guide in the power plant hahaha! Extreme Iceland tour buses were everywhere all the time, so I’m not at all surprised!
I took a TON of notes (on my iPhone) on this short stop – I’m clearly pretty interested in renewables, which figures with my work.
The place is pretty interesting, so I found a wiki link for you. I cannot fathom how in days gone by, they knew what days to gather… I mean, long nights and days of all sunlight must have made calendar usage a little more challenging, right?
This is the area where the two tectonic plates meet, and you can snorkel between them – in dry suits. There are people from previous tours who’d done it, and others who were signed up to do it. I think it sounds like MADNESS to get in that freezing water, but it looks utterly gorgeous, so I can see why! Interesting, this is something I didn’t read about prior to my trip, but the work counsellor mentioned it. He’s a smart fellow!
The trip has been fantastic. I’ll admit, last year’s Euro trip, whilst a bucket load warmer, wasn’t quite as enjoyable. I think the reasons this has been more successful is in part due to my home life being different, but also, I was much better planned. I booked things in, I felt like I used my time well. I have many clear memories in Russia and Romania of long lazy hours in the hotel rooms. I know I’m not a 4 full days in a row tour girl for Iceland, but I know a few here and there really contextualise the things I’m seeing. Of course the quality of the guide makes a HUGE difference, as does those you’re with – and those two factors are luck of the drawer! Hostels are great as a solo traveller as they are largely social – unless you a German Next Top Model… yeah, two rather anti social pretty girls for two nights in Iceland! Speaking of, I changed hostels after my overnight tour, as it was more cost effective, but thankfully (and unexpectedly) closer to town:
I was up at 2.15am to get a bus to the airport for a 5.55am flight to Frankfurt. At least it was light by about 3.30am, so that made it seem less strange…
If you wanted to do this tour, here’s the link, I highly recommend Extreme Iceland (even though they don’t pay me!)
I spent the morning doing (another!) volcanic caving tour (the other was here). I was immensely pleased it wasn’t the whole day, which gave me time to walk around ‘downtown’ Reykjavik. I headed for the famed church, and then just meandered around. I then started being strategic – next meal strategic! So I looked at a few menus and I think I have decided where I’ll have a degustation meal. I had a museli bar for dinner last night – I’m about contrasts!
It’s pretty tough to get good cave photos, but it was quite unlike the cave I went in with the Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and I’m thankful I did both.
I hope you’re not over photos yet – now I have countless cute houses and buildings!
To follow the Icelandic humour of the above caption, here’s a common ad:
So, after three solid days of tours, I finally have a less solidly booked day, and hopefully I can recall all the cool info I wish to impart of fearless readers!
Our two day tour had a geologist, which means we got the factually correct answer to many questions that had otherwise been poorly answered for others, on other tours. For example:
Why are the mountains flat? In most cases, because they were formed from lava flows, and like water, lava is a liquid, and forms a flat surface
Was Iceland always treeless? There’s varying answers, but it tends to be that there was trees when Vikings landed, and they called it Iceland to discourage others from visiting (and misdirecting them to the not so green Greenland. In any case, there’s a now lame jokes about forests… A small copse of trees: a forest! Also, if you’re lost in a forest in Iceland, what do you do? Stand up.
Breakfasts: boiled eggs are always cold. Pickled herring is common. Cheese and sliced meats are too. Liquid/pourable yogurt and Skyr is also popular
Our Scottish guide Holly Spice (what a name right?) was awesome. Great sense of humour, calling everything ‘the best in Iceland’ or the ‘best in the world’ with her tongue seriously in cheek! Her excitement was infectious – we drove through lava fields and she was just so bubbly and using the microphone to explain the changes in different fields!
Hot water: in Reykjavik, they pipe geothermally heated water to homes, so you have hot, then add cold (backward imo). Sadly, this doesn’t extend to the 120k people who live more remotely, so their electricity is subsidised to cover the costs of electric heating water. Nevertheless, 98% of electricity is renewable, so… it’s still good.
Geothermal water is OK to drink, but doesn’t taste great. It also has a smell, and I have noticed it in some showers. River water is fresh as you’ll get (ie I asked at one water fall’s food truck to refill my bottle – they only had boiling water, and not running cold water, so advised me to refill in the waterfall’s stream!). The glacial water is NOT for drinking, which you notice when you see it stagnate, and it’s a milky colour.
Glaciers: So glaciers are the formation of solid ice after the weight of compacted snow. They get so heavy, they push out the oxygen, which results in the blue tinge you see. The glaciers move – not the ice bergs, but the larger mass. They move over the earth, and so they crack and heave and move over obstacles. The glacier guide says week on week you see the differences in where ice forms have moved. In some cases you end up with moraines (French word, they were some of the initial glacial experts) which I think are mountains or ridges formed by the soil and debris being pushed aside. They often are at the ‘front’ of the glacier’s advance.
The wind got so intense on our drive back from the South Coast that we saw (but I didn’t photograph) water falls that were blowing UP! As in, wind was stronger than gravity pulling them down. It was mind blowing.
Farm animals: Iceland is known for their horses, which are small in stature, but mustn’t be called ponies! They graze outside year round. Cows and Sheep are brought into stables for the winter, and released for the short summer. We saw SO many lambs… so maybe that can be a sign it’s Spring, as the weather has been pretty brisk for a spring!
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.
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.
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!
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!).
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…
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!
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?
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.
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).