Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ísland hluti tvö

15 March 2010

So, our final day in Iceland – time for a quick post or part two of the last post as the title suggests…I know you all speak Icelandic by now!

As you will all know, the volcanic ash cloud brought the mighty European airspace to a close, however this didn’t affect our travel plans, although we have had to put some of our travel on hold for various other reasons.

Anyway, back to the past. We headed off up to the Perlan and snapped some pictures of the magnificent vista at the top.

On the way up

Reykjavik Vista

As you can see, that church is more or less the biggest building in Reykjavik.

Outside the Perlan

The Perlan

A sculpture called ‘Dance’

Dance Sculpture

Once inside, we had a poke around and picked up a few postcards. We saw a few items from the museum on display outside in an effort to entice us into the museum.

Warrior on horseback

Warrior Horseback

Swarthy looking Viking

Swarthy Viking

We also had a little lunch and I left Sha to fill in postcards to her nieces while I took a few more photos. I did mention magnificent vistas didn’t I?

Reykjavik Vista 1

Reykjavik Vista 2

Reykjavik Vista 3

We noticed that while a lot of the buildings were plainly painted, the rooves of many were quite colourful.

A very friendly cat

Icelandic Cat

As we headed back down, we met a very friendly cat who wanted a scratch.

And that was it…oh, except from this lovely photo of Sha from the day before. Very cheeky! We are building up quite a collection of pictures of fire hydrants from around the world!

Iceland Fire Hydrant

Next up – our trip to Scotland where we stay in Dunoon for five nights, followed by Glasgow for a few. More on that leg of our journey to come.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Iceland, Bjork is from here you know!

12 –15 March 2010

So, following on from my last post, we arrived at Heathrow airport and at the wrong terminal. It took us about 10 minutes for the penny to drop and we realised we needed to go to Terminal 1. A short tube trip sorted that out, but nothing like a little extra stress to make life fun.

As we headed onto the plane, I was immediately hit by the easy listening music that was playing over the speakers. It was our first taste of Iceland and quite relaxing in an odd way. Sha and I were sat next to a slightly inebriated young woman who told us that Iceland was expecting a volcanic eruption and it could happen while we were there. As it was, it occurred a week after we left and lead to an evacuation of 500 people.

We arrived just after midnight, so it was too dark to see much of the landscape while landing or on the subsequent bus ride from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik. We got to our hotel and went out like lights, which incidentally we had noticed a lot of, including many Christmas lights…a little odd. It turns out that Icelanders simply like to light everything up as much as possible. We were later told that as a small country they like to make themselves look a bit bigger with all the lights.

In the morning, looking out the window, we were greeted by this site:


The above is known as ‘The Pearl’ (or Perlan in Icelandic) and is a rotating restaurant/cafe/museum and power station all at once. The round things at the base store hot water which is then pumped throughout the city.

Iceland has an abundance of geothermal energy and therefore is one of the most pollution free countries in the world. They also have the luxury of using hot water as central heating. The entire country is just under half the size of New Zealand, has a population of 320,000 with about a third of them living in the capital of Reykjavik. In many ways, Iceland's landscape reminds me of Rotorua and the central plateau of New Zealand but with a lot less trees (yes, I know the picture above has many trees, but that was a rarity).

We headed into the central area of Reykjavik on the Saturday morning, browsed various local crafty stores and took a bunch of photos. We also ate at Cafe Loki where we sampled some traditional Icelandic fare. I noticed a large number of pieces of street art and we took a walk along the fishing focussed water front.

Icelandic ChurchIceland Church

The above church is actually one of the tallest (if not the tallest) building in Reykjavik.

Baldur's Gate (one for the gamers)Baldurs Gate

Icelandic Cuisine 1Icelandic Cuisine 1

Icelandic Cuisine 2Icelandic Cuisine 2

In the first photo of food above, we have smoked lamb, dried fish with butter, putrefied shark, fish stew (plokkfiskur), and smoked trout. Most of the food is served on some very yummy rye bread.

In the second photo is meat soup (more of a consommé really) and on the left is lamb pate.

I quite enjoyed the different new tastes, whereas Sha wasn’t too keen. In particular, the fish stew which consisted primarily of fish and potato was particularly yummy. The putrefied shark was very salty and left a stinging sensation in the back of the throat – definitely an acquired taste and the reason you only get three small cubes.

After lunch, we continued to wander…

Spied some artArt

And a little more


Visited the waterfrontIceland waterfront

Icelandic Boat

Found a lot of pramsIceland Prams

Do not be mistaken – those prams are full of babies who are left outside cafes and shops while their parents are inside. Iceland really is the sort of place, where it seems to be safe enough to leave your little one outside while you get sloshed!

We popped in on an Icelandic chocolate store and picked up some different chocolately treats. The plain style chocolate bars weren’t that great, however some of the smaller chocolate bars were quite nice. We foisted some onto Dan and Sarah in Scotland when we visited them later.

Counted our moneyIcelandic Money

5000 ISK (Icelandic Krona) is not a lot of money…it’s about $55 NZ.

We then headed back to hotel and got ready for the Northern Lights tour in the evening.

We were picked up and on a bus with about 80 people from all over the world were taken on a long journey out to the best places to see the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not the best and we didn’t see much, if anything. There was a streak of bright light behind a load of cloud cover, but it wasn’t visible to the naked eye. We were a bit disappointed, however the chap doing the voice over on the coach was fantastic and had a very dry humour that kept most people happy. Afterwards it was back to the hotel and time for a snooze.

Sunday morning, we were picked up for the Golden Circle tour. This was another guided coach trip where we were taken to see the Nesjavellir geo-thermal power station, Gullfoss waterfall, Strokkur geyser and finally to Þingvellir National Park.

First up – the geo-thermal power stationGeo thermal Iceland

A couple of trolls that were found insideTrolls Iceland

Icelanders love their trolls, fairies and elves…

Gullfoss WaterfallGullfoss Waterfall


Strokkur Geyser100_9520

Þingvellir National Park




The third photo shows the effects of the national park being situated on top of two tectonic plates that are slowly drifting apart.

And that was about it for the day. The following day we headed up to the Pearl for a walk about and to enjoy the amazing views. I’ll do a quick post about that tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Adventure Begins...Kidlington

10 - 12 March, 2010

So, we are about to head off on our big European adventure, but before we depart British shores, we were staying in Kidlington (just beyond Oxford) for a couple of days. Sha has been working here since early Jan, and I have come up for the last couple of days before we start our travel by heading off to Iceland.

Sha has been staying at Lavender Cottage - a lovely bed and breakfast (who do an absolutely fantastic cooked brekkie) - combined with a beautiful room and tranquil atmosphere. It's the sort of place that you might see in an issue of Home and Garden. Sha would like it known that she resisted the temptation of a cooked breakfast the whole six weeks she stayed here, but she did indulge on her final day. If anyone ever happens to be in Kidlington and is looking for a place to stay, I thoroughly recommend it.

We were a 20 minute bus ride from Oxford, and were a five minute walk from the local St. Mary the Virgin church and its accompanying graveyard. I'm not generally a morbid person, but I love wondering through a graveyard, soaking up the history and seeing what sort of innings people get. Am often surprised at how old people can make, despite not having the modern advances in technology.

While I was in Oxford, I had a gawk at Christ Church College (Lewis Carroll studied here):

and popped in on a rather unique cafe. The cafe had writing all over the walls, with one bit urging "Check out or don't" - so, I just had to have a look. Weird. Especially when you click on the 'stories' tab. In the cafe there was also this:

and some of the other writing included "Organic lines - reminiscent of 90's car designs" with an arrow pointing to the windows and "Secret Nescafe Pipe" next to a random pipe in the cafe. Something about the quirkiness of the cafe really appealed to me. Hmmm, after further research, I think it was Puccino's which is a chain franchise. I think. Actually, there are a number of British food franchises which are pretty good, especially when compared to the American monoliths of Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC and Burger King. I have been very impressed with Pizza Express which puts Pizza Hut to shame. But I digress.

While visiting Christ Church College and a cafe may not sound like much (it wan't), I also visited a few bookstores trying to find something substantial I could sink my teeth into. No luck, but I still had the Dexter omnibus to keep me sated (the bestest Christmas pressie - thanks Sha!)

I also paid a visit to the St. Mary the Virgin church and graveyard, which was just up the road from Lavender Cottage. Below are a few of the more interesting shots.

St. Mary the Virgin church

Some older graves

Statue of girl with flowers

Many, many more tombstones

I went for a wander further down past the graveyard to find somewhere to sit and have some lunch, when the heavens opened up and I got hailed from upon high. This British winter really does seem to be hanging around!

After a few days in Kidlington, it was time to catch the bus from Oxford to Heathrow, disembark at the wrong terminal and then try and get to Iceland. Easy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Euro Travel

Okay, so I lied about the next post being about dinosaur bones. I will play catch up with the more interesting events of last year some time. Honest!

Anyway, I thought I would give a little outline of what we are doing at the moment. We are currently in Luton (amazing place that it is) and very shortly leave for Prague. We have been in Dunoon (Scotland) and then Glasgow and prior to that Iceland.

After Prague, we spend time in Belgium, then Dubrovnik, Greece, Spain, France and finally Italy before heading back to London for a week. We then make the journey back to NZ via the US, where we are thinking about spending a few days. Very much a whirlwind trip, but we will be able to see a fair bit of Europe which has so far eluded us.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dirty brie

17 Feb 2010

After two posts about food, I thought I would add a further one to complete the hat trick (thanks for the idea Peter).

Mmmm, a dirty Cornwallian St Endellion brie I purchased a few weeks ago. Delicious!
So runny and gooey, it was the sort of brie that threatened to slide off the kitchen bench onto the floor. Said fromage had to be devoured pretty quickly to ensure that it didn't!

Next up: Some dinosaur bones

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Visit to Harrods

21st March 2009

Went to Harrods for a look around and were duly impressed. Can't really describe it - just go with a well loaded credit card. Or gold. Actually, they do have a gold exchange there as well.

You can find some good food deals in the food halls at reduced prices. We purchased some cheap poultry - a couple of poussin. Yes, we are evil carnivores, but doesn't it look delicious? It looks like a normal chicken, only smaller...and therefore tastier. Or something like that.

Oh, and below is a photo we took of the memorial to Diana and Dodi. I don't think photos of this memorial were allowed, but that didn't stop us (or the other hundred odd tourists doing the same thing).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Steak and Guinness Pie

19 March 2009

Now, I'm not much of a cook, but I do enjoy cooking, especially making up things from scratch which inevitably end up a little bit, uh, crispy. But sometimes I surprise myself.

Here is a Steak and Guinness Pie I made, using a recipe I found somewhere (perhaps the local free tube paper) and influenced from St Patrick's Day which had been a few days earlier. We had tried to find somewhere to get a free Guinness with one of the vouchers that were being handed out everywhere, but it was only certain pubs, and they were absolutely packed. Not a bad idea though - vouchers for free beer! :-) St Patrick's Day really is a godsend of free publicity for Guinness!


A slightly more attractive angle

Notice that I have cunningly written my name on the top, to allow for ease of identification if stolen. Who ate all the pies they cried?

It tasted okay, but I've had better (and worse!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Slices of You

Sunday 15 March 2009

As mentioned in my last blog post, after returning from Oxford, we had an engagement with seeing a load of sliced up bodies preserved in plastic. No, this wasn't an appointment with a serial killer, rather, it was a visit with a crazy German with a hat.

We visited the Body Worlds exhibition at the O2.

Body Worlds is an exhibition of real bodies which have been preserved, dissected and covered in plastic. A German chap called Gunther von Hagens has a calling for doing this and we found it to be a very unique experience. Great to be passionate about something! :-)

The first thing we saw when we went in was a whole bunch of embryos at different stages of development. The exhibition then moved on to bodies of people in different poses, with layers of skin peeled back and plasticised. It was a little unsettling for at least the first 5-10 minutes, but then you quickly get used to it. Just remember - these are real bodies, not models or constructs and it has had its fair share of controversy.

There were cross sections of many parts of the body, so you could see exactly how we are made and all the layers that lie beneath the skin. Beauty is only skin deep, and we all look the same underneath! There were also cross sections of parts of nearly all human organs, as well as tumours. Interesting to see the comparison of a smokers lungs with those of a non-smoker.

It wasn't just the human body - there were animals as well, including a horse, camel and giraffe. Truly odd standing next to the giraffe – they really are incredibly tall magnificent beasts.

As for a lot of exhibitions, we weren't allowed to take photos, but I have managed to find a few online which I have included below to give an idea of what we saw. This particular exhibition had the the them 'The Mirror of Time' and focused on the ageing process and how a lot of older people keep themselves young (80 and 90 year olds who are still very active).

Deep in thought

I wonder if the hat was Gunther's idea?
this guys muscles were pulled off of him to the side... he was weird... he spun around in circle
Give me some skin man!
this guy was holding his skin.... i think thats the creepiest one
Giddy Up!
this was a horse with two people on it... the people are holding the horses brain and a human br
Body in front, skeleton behind
This guys skeleton was behind him and his muscles were off in front of him
Pregnant woman
Some pregnant woman cut open to show the fetus
And here are a couple of videos from youttube.

Body World Exposition: Part 1

Body World Exposition: Part 2

History Channel from Brazilian TV

Here's a couple of quick and funny videos with Jonathan Ross interviewing Gunther von Hagens and having a staring contest.

A fascinating and eye opening experience that left me feeling a little bit icky for a short while, but at the same time I was very glad that there are people who leave their bodies to be plasticised in this way for educational purposes. Personally, I'm not sure if I would want to be plasticised (there were forms available if you were keen!), but organ donation...that's something else altogether.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oxford for Electric Six

Saturday 14 March 2009

We took the train to Oxford, famous for being one of the two most well known university towns in the UK. Owing to a momentarily lapse of stupidity, I left our camera on the train and it was swiftly whisked away, despite numerous calls to lost property in Wales (as that was where the train was heading) it was never seen again, but at least there were no photos on it. Despite the loss of camera (we had a second one at home) I was able to snap a few photos with my mobile and all was not lost.

The reason for coming to Oxford was to see the American band Electric Six, who are simply brilliant with their witty and humorous music which is a mix of rock, disco and a dash of synthesiser thrown in for good measure. It was also a great opportunity to marvel at the architectural style of Oxford and generally just soak up the culture and history of the town.

Prior to seeing the band, we took a look around Oxford and took a bus tour with commentary, followed by a walking tour - the tour guide, Stuart, had a wonderful name...I mean, was a fantastic guide and allowed us access into a number of the university colleges, both inside and out, as well as one college's chapel.

Architecture spotting from the bus

One of the colleges

Inside the college

Nice ceiling...

Pretty as a picture

The chairs look a little hard though!

More pictures

He looks like John Lithgow...

One for the fans of the latest series of Dexter

Inside the chapel

In this particular chapel, only men were allowed (as it was a male college) and the wife of the dean was only allowed to attend a service in a walled off section of the chapel. Oh, how times have changed!

A flagstone in the chapel

I can't read Latin, but it appears to be something about glorious resurrection

We also were able to wander through some of the gardens along with the obligatory 'keep off the grass' signs.

Keep off that grass Sha!

In fact, we were asked at one particular college what the Queen and the college gardener there had in common. One plucky walker said "Uh, they both have corgis?" to which the tour guide burst out laughing. Apparently, it is because they are the only two people who were allowed on the grass in the courtyard. We learnt that the Queen owns all the swans in England and is the only one allowed to eat them! Visions of the Queen with a bloody swan hanging from her mouth, jumping up and down on the grass filled our heads.

Strike a pose

Archways are always interesting

An intriguing alleyway

Some good looking towers


It was mid term break while we were here which meant that the majority of students were being picked up by their parents and were loading their cars up with everything they needed to keep themselves entertained over the couple of weeks they had off.

Student stealing a speaker

Looks like his Dad is in on the action as well!

Student stealing a bike

After our walking tour we caught up with a FileMaker guy, Ben and his partner Monica for a tasty fish and chips lunch at a local pub, the White Horse.

Since being over here, I have really started to gain an appreciation for cask ale - all the stories about British beer being flat and warm is simply not true. Sure, there are some cheap and nasty beers but there are a number of yummy cask ales too and they are far preferable to drinking lager, well at least in my humble opinion.

After lunch, we proceeded to have a wee wander around by ourselves to see what else we could spy.

More cool buildings

And another

A crest from one of the houses within a college

And another crest

Oxford Library

This library has a copy of EVERY book ever published in the UK

A tall steeple

After popping in on a little studenty pub down a couple of tight alleyways, we headed for our accommodation, checked in, ate a small dinner of nibbley bits from the supermarket as we were still feeling full from lunch and then headed back out to the gig. Oxford is (obviously) a very student focused town and there was no shortage of drinking in the street en-route to more exciting venues. I think there was a bit of fancy dress going on as well, due to it being mid term break.

After arriving at the gig, we were confronted by the support band, which were doing metal covers of disco songs. I can't recall the band's name, but they were very unique and a couple of them were wearing classic white disco suits. Strange to hear a hard metal version of Stayin' Alive! I love seeing a band that doesn't take itself too seriously and also enjoys what they do, and this was clearly in evidence.

Following on from the support act, the main event - Electric Six - lived up to their name and were as good as when we had seen them in Wellington a few years ago. I was a little taken aback at their first couple of songs as the lead singer seemed to be having trouble getting into the swing of things. Not to worry, as after a song or two, he picked up the pace and the crowd were spellbound. On another note, this was the first gig I had ever been to where they had cigarette girls...girls dressed glamour style holding trays with packets of cigarettes - I thought this was the noughties, not the 1930's!

The following day we headed back to London as we had a date to see a whole lot of sliced up bodies preserved in plastic…but that’s a story for another day.