New Years in Iceland; Moulin Rouge Paris; Ski-ing in the Alps and Amsterdam..again :)

We spend the last day of 2018 back in Reykjavik  taking it easy, using the spa facilities (there’s something sublime about dashing from a sauna through icy air, into a warm pool and sitting there while snowflakes twirl above you) and exploring the city.  The whole of Iceland is dramatic landscapes, stark, colours pared down to white, grey and blue.  Here is no exception though of course more shops and houses, many of them, specifically in the Main Street very quaint. The town sweeps down to the harbour with the towering snow covered mountains behind that. 

Reykjavik city centre
Reykjavik city centre
Reykjavik city centre

Continue reading “New Years in Iceland; Moulin Rouge Paris; Ski-ing in the Alps and Amsterdam..again :)”

Iceland Day 2 & 3 – Glacier Hiking & Ice Caves

Ooops guys, I almost forgot to include the final stop we had before spending the night at UMI hotel – it was at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall which has it’s origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. It roars and splutters, icy cold spray stinging the face as we shuffle carefully closer to it over icy and wet stones.   The light was fading fast and I was beginning to really feel the cold so we didn’t linger long – nor was it easy to get a decent pic however this probably accurately reflects how I was feeling at the time.

Seljalandsfoss
Seljalandsfoss
Seljalandsfoss
Seljalandsfoss

The following morning we set off at a reasonable 8:30 am to further explore the South Coast – Skógafoss, a waterfall 15 metres (49 feet) across situated on the river of Skógá which runs through the Skógárgil canyon until descending dramatically from the edge of the moor for a 60 m (200 ft) drop as the Skógafoss waterfall.  The waterfall and the river above were declared a protected natural monument in 1987.  Now ensconced in my Mitchelin man outershell pants and thicker socks it was easier to appreciate the beauty without feeling the cold.

Continue reading “Iceland Day 2 & 3 – Glacier Hiking & Ice Caves”

Iceland – Glacial and untamed

Arriving at Keflavik airport after a 3 hour flight from Amsterdam we immediately boarded a bus for a 40 minute ride to Blue Lagoon spa, a spa built around geothermic waters.   We highly recommend the Private Retreat Spa option.  Although more expensive it allowed us to jump the long queue and gave us a private room where we could store our luggage.  It also allowed access to a self treatment room, the restaurant, private pool and relaxing rooms.  All in all worth the extra bucks if you can afford it.  Unfortunately you cannot take pictures there so you will just have to imagine us in this space https://www.bluelagoon.com/

We shed our clothes ate a light lunch and then dived right into the warm pool.  The  warming water and ice cold air causing steamy tendrils to rise above us.  When our fingers were pruney enough we climbed out and went to a room where attendants guided us through a process of scrubs of salt, volcanic ash, applications of silica and algae followed by a lovely soothing oil which we applied to our faces.  Feeling renewed we went to lie in one of the relaxing rooms where chairs and loungers surrounded a little fire.  Soon we were both dozing. We reluctantly roused ourselves and got ready to head to the hotel.  An amazing experience I can highly recommend, of course, try not to miss your bus back to Reykjavik as we did. Instead we caught a taxi and, since nothing is cheap in Iceland that cost us a cool 18000 Kroner, around R1800.  Arriving at The Central Hotel Midgardur on a blast of frosty air we checked in and enjoyed a lovely dinner in their restaurant before hitting the sack in preparation for an early start.

Reykjavik - church in the distance
Reykjavik – church in the distance

Continue reading “Iceland – Glacial and untamed”

Amsterdam old friend ….

Stepping out of Amsterdam Centraal the neon lights and Christmas decor blinked against a palette of greys.  A chilly wind pushed back our hoods and teasing out hair (for those of us that have hair).  Suddenly aware of how inadequate our jackets were we prioritised going shopping for jackets made for European winters.

I’d wondered how I’d feel about my old friend Amsterdam visiting her in the Winter instead of Spring or Summer when fields of brightly coloured tulips abound and pots of pretty flowers overflow. I need not have feared – the welcome was as warm as ever even if the streets were the quietest I’d ever seen.  It was the 26th of December and clearly people were recovering still from their Christmas festivities.

Continue reading “Amsterdam old friend ….”

Bustling, Historic Boston

On arriving in Boston I was surprised at the heat and humidity, we checked into the Seaport Hotel – which is perfect for those who are in Boston for conferences and business. It is, as it’s name suggests right on the harbours edge and a quick ride from the airport / station. Pierre and I strolled damply along the pavilion checking out the scene until hunger drew us into a Mexican restaurant where a really spicy guacamole added yet more sweat to our brows.

The next morning we took a train to Harvard. Now I can say I’ve been to Harvard, I feel smarter already. We wandered through the beautiful grounds then sat and people watched. When the midday bell rang the students vanished into the different buildings yet, there were still so many people, tourists like ourselves and…no doubt many proud parents, grandparents and uncles and aunts. 

Harvard University’s Grounds 

We wandered out of the grounds and found ourselves passing by Harvard Art Museum – so we happily popped in to spend a pleasant hour visiting old friends; Monet; Renoir; Rembrandt and then I saw a very unique piece, it looked part fresco, part sketch. Men, leaning under a bridge sharing a smoke.  Painted against a slate coloured stone the dulled colours underscoring the sense of grim weariness.  The title was Manhattan Bridge The artist,  Reginald Marsh https://art.famsf.org/reginald-marsh?page=1 . An American born in Paris to two artists his family moved back to the States when he was 2.  After studying art he worked as a cartoonist, he focused on images of the homeless hobo’s, unemployed workers during the depression and burlesque dancers and dance halls.  A visit to Paris and Florence as an adult fostered a fascination with the principles of the Renaissance artists, his work can best be described as social realism. 

I find that I take in art best in bite size pieces so we left to go and find MIT’s museum. I was expecting it to be, from my perspective, nothing but dull engines and cogs…and engines and cogs there were in abundance but it was far from boring.   My first gasp was when we entered the section dedicated to neurology, to the beauty of the brain. I am totally fascinated by the brain, it’s incredible complexity, it’s ability to regenerate (neuro-plasticity) and here there were lovely pictures of the brain in action taken from FMRI’s and CAT scans, sketches of the neurons with their lovely grasping dendrites – proving that nature / god whichever concept you subscribe to is THE original artist!

We moved onto Arthur Ganson, a real cogs and chains guy, who creates something he calls Gestural Engineering. He envisions and designs the most beautiful, interactive art from cogs, wheels and chains – function as I could never have imagined it. It was very interactive with pedals you could press to animate the pieces.  One piece, a trolley with some tubing and hose laid on top of a piece of felt or boa which when you pushed the trolley moved like the sweetest little slugs.

Arthur Ganson Exhibition at MIT

In another piece he explains how one day when looking at his sons little yellow wooden chair he imagined it disintegrating into pieces flung into different corners of the room – he replicates that with a miniature copy of that wooden chair, which, when you press the pedal is torn apart and with something that reminded me of a bicycle chain pulled out to the extremes ends of a star shape and then pulled back together.

Arthur Ganson’s Yellow Chair at MIT expo

So, yes there was a great deal to see and engage with.  The very first and very last exhibits also made a big impression with me.  From the moment I saw the Moral Machine I knew I wanted to try that – essentially it’s a scenario set up to test and gather perceptions on self driving cars. It offers scenario’s where the brakes on a self driving car fail and you get to pick one of 2 scenarios…essentially who dies or lives when the poop hits the fan or, in this case the car hits the …you choose? You can try it yourself herehttp://moralmachine.mit.edu/ 

The final exhibit had me close to tears; it was a photographic exhibition by an artist called Mila Teshaieva. Using photo’s of certain individuals recreating a moment family members remember from stories told to them by their parents or grandparents who lived throgh times of war and conflict in places such as Russia, Turmenistan, Yugoslavia among others.  She also juxtaposes national places of interest in those same places to illustrate how political constructs are often in conflict with private and public memory. That our history is determined as much by what we choose  to forget, as much as we choose what to remember. The air of fundamental incongruity is there in the series title: “Unfamiliar Memory.” What could be more be familiar than memory? Except that’s not so with memories one wants to keep at a distance.”

The day had given me much to mull over and I had to admit I’d never imagined that MIT would interest me so deeply. There was no time to dilly dally and I mulled as we power walked back. We’d got so caught up and time ticking by while  Pierre’s conference kicked off that evening so we needed to get back to the hotel in time for him to register and get to the first keynote speaker.  And even as we walked back we were treated to unusual art, this time in some interesting architecture. 

Random unusual building in Boston

Seaport Hotel has an awesome really well stocked gym, a pool to swim lengths and offers classes so the next morning I got up early to go work out while Pierre went for a quick run. Running and yoga appear super popular in this part of Boston.  I guess in terms of running it helps that it’s pretty flat with wide sidewalks. We’re in what looks like a pretty affluent area and here you’d never say that the US also has an obesity problem. People are fit and slim and healthy looking and even when we wandered out to the various other suburbs by and large, even if not athletic the average person wouldn’t be described as grossly overweight.  

Outdoor Yoga class Boston Harborwalk
Entrance of Boston Public Library 1848

While Pierre set off to the conference I took a couple of trains to go find the Boston Library. A beautiful Renaissance building, it was declared a “palace to the people” at it’s opening in 1895.  There is a beautiful courtyard a restaurant and well stocked canteen on the lower level.  In true Renaissance style there are large rooms with beautiful murals, sculptures and dramatic light fixes.

One of the beautifully decorated halls in Boston Public Library

It has a wide arrange off books and I spent ages looking through the children’s sections (those for children and those about children) as well as the research area losing track of time. Finally I bought some lunch and sat in their beautiful courtyard which wraps around a pretty selection of shrubs with the peaceful sound of a fountain in the centre of which stands a sculpture by Frederick William Macmonnies’ “Dancing Bacchante and Infant Faun”.

Courtyard at Boston Public Library
Dancing Bacchante and Infant Faun Fountain Boston Pubic Library

Eventually I had to make my way back and set about finding the correct line back…well that took a little while, largely cause once I left the library I didn’t have internet. Initially I tried the one across the road on which I’d arrived but …no, that put me on the wrong platform for the train I needed – I asked a lady, who was really polite, took our her earbuds, looked intently at the map with me before telling me “sorry, I don’t think I can help you with that, I’m not from around here..I only know this line cause it goes to my home” oh. So thereafter the next 3 people I asked I prefaced with “Excuse me, are you from around here?” People are friendly and helpful by default and it only took asking so many people because they’d say “sure, you want the T across the road on the other corner” but since I was at a crossroad, this took at least 2 more false tries…however I did get some great pics of beautiful churches while getting to know those couple of blocks really well.

Old South Church

Back in the main part of Boston I popped in to the Children’s Museum…which turned out to be a museum for children…rather than about children. It was great, if you’ve got a kid in Boston take them there for sure. Its great for the inner kid too, there was a room just for bubbles, different containers with different things to blow bubbles including one which was like a huge loom which you used a pulley to raise and it made the BIGGEST bubbles. I got some cool ideas, and two dinosaur hand puppets but didn’t take any photos because as a lone adult I didn’t want to freak out any parents.

The Boston Tea Party museum was right nearby so I decided to join their interactive 75 minute tour – I guess everyone knows a little about the Boston Tea Party I anticipated getting a little bored here and there but have to say that I was not at all not even for a second. It was highly entertaining and cleverly done and I would thoroughly recommend it even if you’re only slightly interested in history. 

Boston Tea Party tour

The following day we got up early enough to catch a yoga power class which soon had the two of us sweating hard. The yoga instructor lamented how tricky it was to teach an hours yoga when she was used to 90 minute classes while the two of us silently said a prayer of thanks it was only an hour. Then we hit the showers, grabbed a bite and Pierre headed off to the conference,  It had fascinated me when we flew in over Boston to see beautiful islands of green dotted everywhere with fingers of green reaching out to touch the yachts that were generously sprinkled over the water. Some, from the air, seemed to have nothing but trees and shrubs while on others stood beautiful old homes. Now, with time on my hands I intended to visit some of the islands. 

 Waiting to head out to Georges Island

There are several islands, 13 I believe, which form part of Boston Harbour National Recreation Areas. Some are wildlife reserves, some you can go berry picking and some have popular hiking trails. One, Peddocks Island was used for filming scenes in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Most popular seem to be Spectacle Island and Georges Island. Because we were now heading into Fall, there were no ferries to the other islands and the one to Spectacle only ran on weekends, which was unfortunate since I believe you can swim on Spectacle Island and it was a truly hot day.

I went to Georges Island, used for agriculture until 1825 when it when the US government claimed it for coastal defence. It is now known as the home to historic Fort Warren, a civil war era fort built between 1833 and 1861. It’s clearly popular for school trips but although there were a couple of those on the ferry the island is about 40 / 50 acres large enough to find a quiet spot of ones own. I spend some time wandering around the old fort, sometimes tagging along with the school groups so I could hear more about the fort with it’s beautiful granite archways and gun turrets. There’s a huge grassy parade ground with old Horsechestnut, Elm and Maple trees on the edges to sit beneath while enjoying a snack. I lazed on one of the chairs out there for awhile staring up into the leaves of a tree that has seen close on a hundred years pass it by.

Fort Warren and the parade ground 
The old trees edging the parade grounds

After awhile I wandered in and around the old building. At one point, in the now abandoned and empty rooms that served as a hospital, I looked around and as I turned to go the old wooden doors slowly and rather deliberately began to swing closed. I told myself it was the breeze, and yet, my heart sped up and so did my feet as I put my hand out to stop the doors closing entirely.  I walked away laughing at myself for watching too many horror movies – good thing I didn’t know then about The Lady in Black the reputed ghost of Mrs. Andrew Lanier, the wife of a Confederate soldier that was imprisoned there in 1861.

Back out in the sunlight I climbed up to the tops of the fort from where there are astounding views of the surrounding islands and lighthouses. It was a pleasant day wandering around in the sun and as I sat in the Ferry returning to the mainland I felt relaxed, lazy and could quite easily have dozed off in the chair sitting there on the deck with the quite swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the water.

Boston is a busy, business kind of city and while it’s not necessarily full of tourist activities there are various things to do and see, most relating to American history, the Freedom Walk, Boston Tea Party and of course  there are a lot of boat trips one can take and while there’s no hiking it’s a lovely, easy city to walk. Having ticked most of what was available I decided to spend the last day doing ‘admin’ a load of laundry and buying items that folk back home had asked for. I ended up at Quincy Market near the Faneuil Hall (meeting place of the Patriots and where they discussed issues such as the tea tax) in downtown Boston. Constructed in 1824 – 26, it’s named in honor of Mayor Josiah Quincy, who organised it’s worth noting without raising any tax or debt…which is probably why it got named after him.

Quincy market is like an open air market of sorts with individual shops that you’d usually find in a mall, with a strip of different food vendors in the centre island – it’s worth a look but it’s crazy busy, a bit too busy for me though I enjoyed people watching and listening to the various buskers playing in the drizzle that was spattering down. I even managed to catch part of the Freedom Trail as one of the stops is at Faneuil Hall. I got my shopping done and headed back to pack for our next stop, our old friend New York.  We took a last walk along the Boston Seafront as I reflected that while it hadn’t been on my list of places to see Boston had turned out to be quite a pleasant place to spend some time.

 

Friendly Easygoing Seattle

Seattle is poised between the salt waters of Puget Sound and the fresh waters of Lake Washington. Beyond the waters lie two rugged mountain ranges, the Olympics to the west and the Cascades to the east.  Built on hills and around water, in a mild marine climate it is abundant in vegetation and also known as the Emerald City due to the greenery within and around the city.  The streets are pretty easy to navigate and we found The Fairmont Hotel easily. Continue reading “Friendly Easygoing Seattle”

Strolling the terraces Levou; Cycling in Sion; Snow comparing Chamonix

Day two in Geneva brought us yet another beautiful spring day and Pierre and I set out for the station, caught a train to Montreaux where we walked around the market while waiting for the ferry, and what a ferry it was – I must say I thought it rather grand compared to the old ferry to Ellis Island in the USA .

Montreaux
Montreaux

Continue reading “Strolling the terraces Levou; Cycling in Sion; Snow comparing Chamonix”

Geneva

The best part about travelling are the experiences and the people you meet along the way. We are now travelling to Geneva, somewhere we haven’t been before, so plenty of new experiences await, and we’ll be staying with a couple we met in Morocco, Sara and Randall .

We land in a very chilly Amsterdam and make our connecting flight easily, it may help that the flight itself has been delayed.  A further delay when upon landing in Geneva Dot recalls she has left her passport on the plane…!  They find it easily though it takes awhile and then we are finally on our way.

Continue reading “Geneva”

Magnificent Mountains of Springdale Utah and # Vegas Strong in Nevada

What to say about about Springdale, Utah? A small town in the shadow of the giant mountain ranges of Zion National Park it was originally settled in 1862 by Mormon farming communities fleeing flooding in nearby Northrop. It was they who named the canyon Zion.  At last count (2016) it had a population of 570.  Continue reading “Magnificent Mountains of Springdale Utah and # Vegas Strong in Nevada”

Colorado: Alpine Perfection and Dining in Denver

This part of the world couldn’t be more different to New York! The people are chatty and friendly, joshing one another and new arrivals equally. It all started with the train ride from the plane to luggage collection…yes, this airport is so huge you have to take a bus to get to luggage collection, and then, if you are hiring a car you get another bus that takes you put to the car hire section. In terms of size it’s the largest in the States 33,531 acres to be exact. It also has some cool conspiracy theories attached to it https://www.buzzfeed.com/rickysans/the-mysterious-conspiracy-theories-surrounding-the-denver-ai?utm_term=.bc0KA1pRw#.ahzZal2Bq  but sadly I didn’t get to see any of the creepy murals.

Continue reading “Colorado: Alpine Perfection and Dining in Denver”