Maastricht – day 3

We caught a train to Valkenburg which is a beautiful city and a fascinating place to explore. Before the train journey, we popped into a bakery for coffee and croissants. The shops and eateries in this area are so stylish and a joy to visit.

Wandering around the streets of Valkenberg was glorious with quirky architecture, castle overlooking the town and the ‘caves’. Apparently, the castle belonged to the illegitimate son of Duke Philip, known as the bastard of Burgundy. Much of the buildings are known to be similar to Burgundy, for this reason. The Burgundian lifestyle still means enjoyment, delicious food and extravagance. There are areas full restaurants where you can stop have a drink and a meal and watch the world go by. We did this for lunch and it was so relaxing and felt quite decadent and wonderful.

The castle is unique in the Netherlands because it is the only one built on a hill. We did a tour of the caves which was weirdly creepy but interesting nevertheless. The whole tour was in Dutch and we were given a paper with the main information. This was OK, but as it was so dark, we had to use the torches on our phones. I felt quite disorientated because I’ve always disliked caves but it was interesting. We learnt about the block cutter’s workstation, the Valkenburg Castle, the American army during WW2, the Royal House, and the sad tale of two boys getting lost in the caves and found perished in 1993. The tour guide turned his lamp off to demonstrate the darkness. At this moment, it became clear how you’d be lost without a lamp.

Overall, a great day out. Particularly enjoyed wandering around the old town and the lovely lunch whilst watching the world walk by.

Musings about December…

After my rant about the festivities, I had a wonderful holiday and feel quite refreshed. However, now realise some motivation is required to move forward any projects, etc., planned for this year. Funny how you tell yourself ‘after December, I’ll do this, that and the other’ and now it’s here, finally, one needs to make some decisions about life! Trying not to panic haha.

After the family gathering on the 25th Dec, which was a hoot, we went to Sheffield Park Gardens on Boxing Day and had a saunter around the lakes, decorated Christmas gardens and woodland. We took a picnic lunch, because, and I must plan this better, we had so much food left over. Next year, I must remember to prepare less food. I really didn’t need to bake those lemon cakes, and quite so many mince pies. Do you do this?

When in the car for a coffee break, the heavens opened and it poured with rain, so as it was 1 o’clock, we had our lunch. It was delicious and I’ve decided to start taking picnics more often because it’s so much less hassle than queuing up with the crowds and over paying for something quite ordinary.

We ventured back around the gardens and I concentrated on taking some photos with my new camera, the Nikon D3300 which was great fun. The place is beautiful even in the winter. The trees expose their structural form and reflect over the lakes. Having recently done a photography course, I was rather chuffed with the results and hopefully will improve during 2018.

We explored the 250 acres of parkland which dates back to the 18th century and you find yourself pausing and admiring the view of copses of trees around the hills. It is a wonderful place to explore, reflect and admire the parkland, streams, meadows and woodland. If you haven’t been, I can highly recommend a visit. A relaxing and serene environment where you feel you can get away from it all.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

The next day, I took the borrowed dog, Oscar, for a long walk. It was quite windy and the sky was incredible with an amazing sunset. Really enjoy our walks and I’ve got to know many woodland and field walks in the area.

On Thursday, 28 December, we visited family and enjoyed a trip  to the pub for a couple of beers. I drank a very hoppy Dark Star, Hop Head. The Land of Liberty in Hertfordshire, is a CAMRA pub and always has an exceedingly splendid selection of beers.

On Friday, 29 December we went with my son and girlfriend to see the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. I cooked a beef casserole which was delicious and made a change from turkey. The film was brilliant and wonderfully produced. To be honest, I found it a little long, but I did enjoy it.

“The greatest teacher, failure is.” – Yoda

Mistakes are inevitable. They hurt. They’re hard. But we learn from them. Lift someone up after a misstep with this quote from Yoda.

On Saturday, we met my husband’s brothers for a few beers and a meal in London, Bakers Street. We met up in The Volunteer a pub near Regent’s Park. It seemed funny, because I used to drink there when I worked in the area many years ago. Someone then told me that people don’t drink during the lunchtime anymore. This I find hard to believe. Although, judging by the amount of suits in the pubs during the evening, I assume evening drinking is the new trend? Anyway, the food was good and I tried to have something healthy so opted for a Verdure and then Seabass for my main course. Very pleasant.

On Sunday, we were rather relieved to have ‘a day off’ which is a little ironic as it was New Year’s Eve. We stayed in and enjoyed some beer and watched the BBC drama ‘The Miniaturist’. It is about a new, young wife who is given a doll’s house for a wedding present. The exquisitely made contents, which she mysteriously receives, appear to reflect the Brandt family’s hidden secrets. The drama is majestic and creepy, but quite enticing. The photography of the Amsterdam canal house is extraordinarily clever. In fact, you feel like you are watching a Dutch masterpiece.

We were so pleased not to have to go out, we couldn’t even be bothered to go to our local. Rock and Roll. Strange how we go out all year round, but stay in the one night most people go out!

After all that, although I am against dry January, because it does harm to the pub industry, I do feel I need a break from alcohol and rich food so will focus on feeling better with some exercise and fresh air, etc. More on that in the next blog posts!

So another year over and onwards and upwards. Happy New Year everyone!

Andy xxx

 

Musings about #Cruising

We had a few days cruising and this was enjoyable because you relax, socialise and stay up late. The days passed with breakfast, lectures, reading, gym, dinner and larking about in the bar. You can play games and other occupations too (walking football, cards, table tennis, racing dolphins, dance classes) but we found enough to keep busy.

My review of the cruise is positive because we had a wonderful time and thought cruising around Iceland, quite spectacular. However, I still feel a little young to participate in the cruise culture and if I go on another one, may research other options. It isn’t so much the age of the people, for me, it is the fact they act old! It is irritating the dancing is ballroom. Most people just want to boogie. There were a couple of exceptions though, and I did visit some pubs in various places. Also, we made friends with our dinner companions and will soon be visiting for their local beer festival, which I am looking forward to.

One evening we sat in the, what was known as the pub, and our dinner companion joined us. We enjoyed a chat and a few drinks and then decided to go up to the Lido lounge. Because it was so late they were playing pop music and not the ghastly ballroom dancing stuff. So I, grabbed the chaps and we all had a dance. Great fun. Then the professional dancers had a dance together. It was hilarious. 😂😜😍Anyway, suffice to say, we were jaded the next day, but it was worth it.

Another occasion arose when some people in the pub asked the piano player to do a set in the Lido Lounge. It wasn’t me, promise! Presumably, this was to liven things up a bit. It needed it, I can tell you. Anyway, he did and it was amazing. I wasn’t sure what to expect with a pianist on his own. But with the help of some electronic, sounds, he pulled off a fab rock ‘n roll set. Although slightly embarrassing when the ballroom musicians turned up and saw a roomful of people having a great time on the dance floor. Oops.

It made my holiday because was such a great evening and enormous fun. It really is great to let your hair down, once in a while, isn’t it? I’ve never been first up on a dance floor so often either. But nobody knows me on this cruise, do they?

Recently, received an email from Fred Olsen about some forthcoming cruises that look good value and are tempting so you never know, one may be off again. Anyway, have some plans for a little more travelling, but by air this time, and staying one place. Can’t wait.

Thanks for reading, commenting and following. It is very much appreciated.

Have you been away, lately?

Chaps dancing and having fun!

#Isafjordur, #Iceland – I’m still traumatised!

Isafjordur

 

I didn’t publish this earlier because I think I may have wanted to forget about my experience here, but here you are…

Now I booked this after deciding that some adventure was needed during the cruise. I would enjoy the sunny landscape of a beautiful fjord  and admire some Icelandic scenery up close. Well, this is how I sold it to myself.

When I sat down for breakfast, little did I realise that I was going to entertain half the dining room by informing them that the delights of that day was going to include fjord kayaking. “Have you been before?” a shocked lady asked. When I told them I hadn’t, and was somewhat concerned about my safety and staying dry, they all screeched with laughter and one kind gentleman said that I could always do the ‘kayak roll’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLxxI4GDE80), if I fell in. This was not helping although they were friendly and fun, but I was beginning to panic. What was I thinking?

I waved to Pete, our dinner and pub pal, and he helpfully did a mime of sailing along and then falling in. Ha, flipping, ha. Everyone laughed some more. I smiled, through gritted teeth, panic mounting. Nothing is insurmountable, I told myself. It will be fine. No, I didn’t believe me either.

After breakfast, we decided to have a look around Isafjordur because the great event, was later during the afternoon.  To be honest, there was not a lot in the town, but we wandered around, took some photos of the dramatic fjord and accompanying landscapes including the old town wooden houses with corrugated tin roofs built by fishermen in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the maritime historical pieces and fishing boats.

On the way back, we even visited a large DIY store and joked with other people, from our ship, about the huge barbecues. “It’s hard enough having a BBQ in England so I can’t imagine the weather ever being glorious enough in Iceland.”

Anyway, we met out Kayaking leader and strolled along to the fjord for the great event. My goodness me, what we didn’t have to put on. Trousers (dry suit), coat, life jacket and then the skirt which attaches to the kayak! Oh, and then we all had to sign a disclaimer. Eventually we climbed in the kayaks, had a safety talk, then were pushed into the water. Oh my goodness, it was even more stressful than I imagined. I was terrified. In fact, I wanted to get straight out again, but “that would interrupt the class” so I said I would carry on.  After that panic, it did improve and my husband was quite proficient at steering (from the back). We all kept together and paddled around the surrounding area. Others got behind, but we, probably because of my husband’s efficient paddling and steering, were the front runners, so to speak.

The actual kayaking  was about two hours long and we did have quite a good view of the majestic fjord of Isafjordur in West Iceland and admired the natural surroundings and savoured the serenity of the area. Yes, it was an unforgettable experience and the best part was being dragged ashore and removing oneself from the kayak knowing one did not get very wet and stayed safe.

So, who can guess what we did next? “I need a drink!” Yes, we went to a local bar a paid a fortune for a pint. It was worth it, I can tell you. Never again.

Oh, and for the remainder of the cruise, I had people coming up to me asking about how I got on with the kayaking. Famous at last or should that be infamous?

 

 

 

Last stop – Dublin, Ireland

Bet you can guess where we visited in Dublin. Yes, of course, The Guinness Storehouse located in the heart of St. James’ Brewery and Ireland’s most popular attraction. I’ve been before, but there are some improvements such as the tasting section and the Marketing floor is magnificent. Really loved the Guinness ads. ‘Tock followed Tick.’ However, let’s be honest here, it is a bit Disney with all of the interactive experiences and all. Still, it was a fun way to end the holiday.

We walked around the city and looked at many sites such as the cathedrals, shops, parks, but ultimately it was the end of the cruise and we felt the end of the holiday was fast approaching and quite looking forward to getting back to good old England.

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Reykjavik, Iceland

Thingvellir is a historic site and national park in Iceland, east of Reykjavík. The park is in a valley caused by the separation of two tectonic plates, with rocky cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault.

As you can see above, this was a road which collapsed due to the separation of two tectonic plates!

It is known to be the site of Iceland’s parliament during the tenth to the eighteenth centuries and is of tremendous geological and historical interest and deemed to be the most important place in Iceland.

From the ‘Law Rock’, the speaker recited the laws and if the laws were broken the execution sites were located close by.

The site is important in geological terms too, and highly significant. It is the continuation of the Mid-Atlantic ridge, where the Eurasian and North American plates are still drifting apart.

After we thoroughly explored the area, we left and took a coach ride to Geyser area, where we admired the hissing springs and geothermal activity. This was astonishing and exciting because the large Strokkur geyser erupts every few minutes.

Strokker Geyser

 

Strokkur is a fountain geyser located in a geothermal area beside the Hvítá River in Iceland in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavík.

Here are some photos of other geothermal activity…

After exploring this superb site we went to see the mighty Gullfoss known as the ‘Golden Waterfall’. This is the most stunning and largest waterfall I have ever seen and it was very exciting. The waterfall is located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets 32 meters down in two stages into a 70 metre canyon. We managed to see the shimmering rainbow over the fall because of the sunny weather.

Gullfoss – The ‘Golden Waterfall’

 

Well, we finally reached the end of our trip to Iceland which was absolutely fabulous and I cannot recommend Iceland enough. Truly magnificent.

Ayureyri, Iceland

Ayureyri, Iceland

 

After sailing for a day, we arrived in Akureyri, reputed to be the nation’s loveliest town. It was about 10pm and we asked the ship’s receptionists if we could leave the ship. They did not know. However, when we went to our cabin we noticed people were leaving/returning to the ship. So we decided to have a quick look at the town and pubs. The time was 11.15pm but broad daylight.

We left the ship and walked over the fjord towards the town. I took many photos because I couldn’t believe how light it was. The first pub was packed full of Icelandic hipsters sipping their beer. So we did likewise. The barman told us about the local beers, we flashed our credit card, and sat down. After enjoying a fine IPA we walked on and visited another packed bar and was cheerfully asked “Would you sit on our seats while we go for a smoke?” We did so, but they didn’t want their seats when they returned and we started chatting about Iceland. They told us Iceland gets dark for about 15 minutes in July, but, in the winter they have three hours of daylight and take vitamin D tablets!

After this little chat, we returned to the boat as we had a trip around the local area. Must say, having sat drinking Cava in the ship pub and then going on this adventure, we were a little jaded the next day.

We visited Namaskard which was an amazing experience.  We saw many steaming fumeroles belching out sulphur from the springs below. Mudpots were bubbling away, can reach 100c/212f, and the lighter coloured parts of the surface crust can cave in easily.  Sulphur was used here for hundreds of years for the manufacturers of gunpowder. The whole place is a geothermal field and was the highlight of the tour. Quite incredible watching the mud pots, steam vents, sulphur deposits, boiling springs and fumaroles.

 

 

Namaskard

 

After this incredible spectacle, we proceeded to Lake Myvatn, which is a breeding area for ducks and tremendous geological interest and saw the craters at Skutustadir. The craters were formed when, during volcanic eruptions, the bogs were heated to extreme temperatures, causing the water in the bogs to turn into steam, and expand, thus causing explosions that pushed volcanic ash aside to leave the pseudo craters.

Continuing on we visited a strange place called Dimmuborgir,

Dimmuborgir

 

or Dark Fortress, Nature Reserve. This is so we could view of magnificent lava landscape and its strange formations including pillars, arches and whatever you wish to see from the shapes of the lava which encouraged Icelandic folklore (trolls).

Then finally, we saw the Godafoss Waterfall – the waterfall of the Gods, which is a beautiful crescent of cascading water.

Godafoss – Waterfall of the Gods

 

A fantastic day viewing natural geological phenomenon that will never be forgotten and I am mighty glad I was able to experience the jewels of the North of Iceland.  Highly recommended.