New York! New York!

Our return trip to Oz coincided perfectly with an art fair in New York which I have participated in many times – time to see if the economic climate is good for me to hold another exhibition there sometime and great excuse to catch up with many friends.

Our timing was perfect as we got to New York the night before most airports on the east coast were closed for a whole day due to a massive snow storm. Luckily, we had our “moon boots” which we had used in Iceland. Just pity our ski bag with Anthony’s skis and most of our winter clothing did not make our flight for some reason, then it could not be sent the next day as the US airports were closed, then there was a strike at French airports! Anyway, Anthony would have enjoyed skiing down the streets of Brooklyn – the ski goggles came in handy though.

Time for ski googles, Brooklyn

Snow is always so magical:



Being retirees, with more time but less $$, we decided to stay in an Airbnb in Brooklyn as hotel accommodation in Manhattan has become prohibitive for us. It was a different New York experience for us. The subway is so easy and handy.

Brooklyn braiding stores

Subway Brooklyn to Manhattan


It was worthwhile visiting the art fair every day over the duration of the exhibition, seeing our friends and meeting other gallerists, and checking out the galleries in Chelsea to get a full picture of the New York art scene. Based on what we saw, I won’t be exhibiting there again, not for the forseable future anyway – never say never!

Artwork at the Affordable Art Fair, New York

Close up of the above

After a lovely lunch with our dear friend Suzun, she and I visited a few exhbitions in Chelsea and walked along the fabulous High Line walk, and checked Zaha Hadid’s first building in New York. I’ve always loved Zaha Hadid’s work but I don’t understand why you would choose to spend millions on an apartment that High Line visitors can peer into…

At a Robert Ryman exhibition, Chelsea, New York

Zaha Hadid building, New York

Foyer of Zaha Hadid building, New York

A highlight of this New York trip was a tour of the Rockefeller Centre, the first time in my 11 visits to this city. As an art deco fan, what an absolute feast, made all the more enjoyable by having a very knowlegeable and passionate guide.

You will recognise this iconic, albeit staged, photo of real iron workmen taken in September 1932 to promote its new skyscraper – “Lunch atop a skyscraper”.

Lunch atop a skyscraper, photo taken for the Rockefeller Centre

A bit of background on the Rockefeller Centre for those interested:

Although John D. Rockefeller Jr. spent most of his life engaged in philanthropy, his defining business venture was the creation of the “city within a city”. The largest US project during the Great Depression’s worst years, built on 22 acres, the Rockefeller Centre construction started in 1931, employed over 40,000 people and opened in May 1933. Originally envisioned as the site for a new Metropolitan Opera building, the current Rockefeller Center came about after the Met could not afford to move to the proposed new building. The Rockefeller Center has two main parts: the original center (Radio City, for RCA’s radio-related enterprises such as the Music Hall and 30 Rockefeller Plaza) and the later International-style buildings (for foreign tenants).

Rockefeller believed that art should be an act of good citizenship: despite his priviledge and wealth, he never represented his class in any of the art, but wanted people who saw the building to relate to the people and scenes depicted – such as the long mosaic depicting farmers in simple singlets which was deliberately built at a level that could be seen by workers travelling past in the Elevated train line.

The Rockfeller Centre, New York

The art deco throughout the complex is exquisite:

Handrail, Rockfeller Centre

Floor, the Rockfeller Centre, New York

Mosaic by Barry Faulkner, the Rockfeller Centre, New York

The Rockfeller Centre, New York

The British Empire building, where Ian Flemming wrote James Bond – and, we are told is still the first building to be secured whenever a security threat is apparent – is a mirror image of La Maison Française with the “Channel” running between them.

British Empire works by Carl Paul Jennewien, The Rockfeller Centre, New York

Maison Francaise relief by Alfred Jannoit, The Rockfeller Centre, New York

The Chanel between the British and French buildings, the Rockfeller Centre

British Empire works by Carl Paul Jennewien, The Rockfeller Centre, New York
Maison Francaise relief by Alfred Jannoit, The Rockfeller Centre, New York

The Rockfeller Centre, New York

The Rockfeller Centre, New York

I left a trip up to the Top of the Rock as something to do with Anthony – that will now have to wait for another trip to NYC.

Our visit also coincided with March for Our Lives, a student-led demonstration in support of tighter gun control following the deadly school shooting in Parkland Florida, which took place in major cities across the US and many places around the world March 25th, 2018. Gun control is such a sensitive issue in the US to say the least… It is inspiring to see that school students managed to finally start a serious dialogue on this sensitive issue and fascinating to chat with people at the rally, students, people who had flown to New York for the rally and local residents.

17 year old students from Pensylvania at March for Our Lifes, New York

New Yorker Nicole

March for Our Lives, New York

March for our Lives, New York

March for our Lives, New York

Our last exhibition was such a treat for me. The local Brooklyn museum deserves to be on the list of places to visit by any visitor to New York – it has some exquisite Syrian murals, Egyptian mummies and a copy of the Book of the Dead.

Assyrian alabaster reliefs (circa 883-859BC), Brooklyn Museum

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago – symbolic history of famous women

Rodin, Brooklyn Museum

And then, we saw “David Bowie Is” – an incredible exhibiton for any David Bowie fan, on its final leg of a 5 year tour (it ends on July 15, 2018). All tickets include bluetooth Sennheiser headphones for a immersive audiovisual experience – the music, dialogue automatically changes as you move around the exhibition – or repeats if you feel like hearing something again. Together with Pink Floyd and Yes, David Bowie has remained a favourite of mine since my teens. What a feast it was.

David Bowie is with Anne

Bye bye Brooklyn.

The next day, we made our long tedious journey home. What an amazing 7 weeks we have had – family, friends, exhibitions, experiences, and discovered (and fell in love) with a new country, Iceland. Now, it’s time to stay home for a while, get that redecorating done, continue the decluttering, catch up with friends, get fit again and welcome several overseas visitors. Ok, yes, and time to plan the next trip, which won’t happen until next year now…

– Anne

Paris – revisiting my birthplace

Where have we been for the past few weeks? UK, France, the US then home for the past 3 weeks, desperately trying to get over nasty bugs we caught. We are on our 3rd batch of drugs and stilll coughing… That’s why we have been so unsociable and have hardly spoken to anyone. Anyway, rewind back to early March.

Anthony’s last ski week, in the French Alps this time, suddenly got cancelled when a friend with whom we were going to ski changed his plans. So we started looking at other places including Chamonix which was on his ski pass. Last minute accommodation was horrendously expensive. But then I had a brilliant idea. While we have returned to the UK and France, where our families live, on average once a year since we emigrated to Australia 30 years ago, time there has pretty much been limited to seeing family for 2-3 days. How about spending a whole week in Paris, revisiting places I hadn’t seen since my last holiday in Paris in 1975 and showing Anthony places he had never seen? He liked the idea too.

First, we spent some precious time with my mum in Kent (it was great to spend a few days away with her, especially after her nasty fall, and be able to cook for my mum for a change), saw Anthony’s sister, our nieces and friends in the UK before seeing my dad, more family and friends in Paris. I am blessed with still having my parents in their late 80s and early 90s, time with them becomes more special every time… Paris is where Anthony first went down with his bug so I ended up wandering the streets of Paris on my own most of the time after a brief outing together in the mornings.

I picked a hotel in the Sorbone, literally across the road from the Sorbone university, perfectly located in the heart of the Latin Quarter to go to most places I wanted to revisit on foot. This area is where I used to sneek to between my 2 trains back home from my Paris boarding school on a Friday afternoon, zipping in and out of so many tiny art galleries, meeting and chatting to artists. Little did I know then I would end up working in the art world!

View from our hotel room window of the Sorbonne

It snowed!

WARNING: this is a long blog and designed for future or past visitors to Paris. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list – just my personal preferences. I hope it is helpful.

So that anyone planning to visit Paris sometime may find some tips here, I’ll list where I chose to go this week, followed by a list of not to be missed places for first time visitors.

My week in Paris:

1. La Tour Eiffel – I cannot visit Paris without spending time admiring La Dame de Fer de Paris, the Eiffel Tower, either during the day or at night. Built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, it was going to be brought down at the end of the exhibition – can you imagine Paris without it?! A great spot to relax and admire this structure is the Champs de Mars, with a picnic or a bottle of wine (or as I did, chatting with Nicole for an hour, a fascinating street lady I came across on a bench with all her wordly possesions). For another fantastic view, walk up to the Esplanade du Trocadero. The Musée de l’Homme (Museum of Mankind) nearby has a cafe/restaurant with another perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. Your plastic (credit card) will melt with just drinks, but the location is worth it if you feel like a drink in the evening. Alternatively, for something very French, which I always do when in the area, have a glass of champagne at the Cafe du Trocadero across the place du Trocadero.

La Tour Eiffel

Another bad but mandatory selfie!

2. Berges de Seine – 7kms of roads have been converted into pedestrian and exercise areas on both the right and left bank – we walked along the latest stretch from Pont Notre-Dame up to the Tuileries. Talk about the Berges de Seine to Parisians, be warned most won’t be as enthusiastic about this scheme as it has worsened the traffic jams, pollution and noise levels for locals. The views the ancient buildings and numerous magnificient bridges across the Seine are breathtaking – a perfect place for a gentle stroll. The best way to see Paris!

Berges de Seine, Paris – notice all the bridges

Outdoor exercise activities along the Berges de Seine

3. Les Tuileries – before entering the Tuileries gardens from the Berges de Seine, look back and admire the Louvre courtyard with the glass pyramid. We enjoyed a stop by one of the ponds in the Tuileries gardens, sitting on some of the chairs and recliners set up all around the ponds, enjoying the winter sun, watching ducks, seaguls and even a moorhen. It is amazing to think that my father used to come to this very pond, a few hundred metres from his home, when he was a little boy to play with his toy sailing boat. If you go there, you won’t want to miss the Musée de l’Orangerie – a museum that houses some major impressionist and post-impressionists including Cézanne, Matisse, Renoir and Monet’s “Water Lillies” masterpiece.

The Louvre courtyard from the Tuileries, Paris

Enjoying the sun by a pond in the Tuileries garden, Paris

Question: why are our seaguls in Manly Qld silent. Everytime we hear seaguls, it reminds us of the seaside, but it also reminds us that it is a sound we never hear at home despite being by the sea and all the seaguls there.

4. Musée du Quai Branly – opened in 2006 and dedicated to featuring the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. There are always interesting exhibitions – I saw two this time, one on art from the pre-Inca period and one titled “Peintures des Lointains” on paintings depicting newly discovered lands and cultures. A few years back I saw a fantastic exhibition on tatoos! Different but fantastic works of art. The museum is surrounded by gardens. Don’t miss the green wall on the Quai Branly street itself: a wall of greenery covers 800 m2 of the facades of the museum, and 150 m2 of the interior walls. It includes 15,000 plants of 150 different varieties, coming from Japan, China, the Americas and Central Europe. Do not miss this Jean-Nouvel creation.

The new Russian cathedral is nearby. Beautiful architecture and also has a museum of icons.

1702 icon of the Metropolites of Moscow

New Paris skyline with the Russian cathedral

5. Pont Bir Hakeim – Being an art deco fan, I wanted to walk across this one of kind, double storey, bridge. You can take the metro and have fabulous views of the Eiffel Tower, but I preferred walking under the elegant art deco arches. This bridge has appeared in a few movies including Inception, Our Kind of Traitor and Le Pont du Nord. Half across the bridge, you can access the Allée des Cygnes, an artificial island leading to a Statue de la Liberté whose cast was used to create the model of New York one.

Pont de Bir Hakeim

6. Les Invalides – I have always admired the fabulous dome of the Invalides, especially at night, but had never spent much time there. The majestic building was built as a shelter for returning injured servicemen. It is situated just down from the pont Alexandre III. The Invalides now consists of the Musée de l’Armée whish has a fabulous multi-media exhibition on the Général Charles de Gaule, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine as well as the Dome des Invalides and the Panthéon Militaire, a large church containing the tombs of French war heroes such as Napoleon Bonaparte. I hadn’t expected to spend as many hours as I did, and I missed so much.

Pont Alexandre III looking towards the Grand Palais, Paris

Les Invalides

Napoleon’s grave, Les Invalides

7. La Saint-Chapelle – a stunning little gothic chapel which was originally built to house valuable Christian relics such as Christ’s crown of Thorns. The upstairs chapel will take your breath away with its exquisite 15 stained glass windows, each 15 metres high, the stained glass panes depicting 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris.

Sainte-Chapelle entrance level

Sainte-Chapelle stained glass windows

A short walk from the Sainte Chapelle, the Conciergerie was a medieval royal palace that became a revolutionary tribunal and prison where Marie-Antoinette was held is worth a visit.

La conciergerie from the Berges de Seine

La Conciergerie, Paris

8. Le Panthéon – completed in 1790, the Pantheon was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve. It now functions as a mausoleum for the internment of great Frenchmen (72 men and 4 women) such as Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Voltaire, Emile Zola and Pierre & Marie Curie. It was somehow moving to be in the ‘presence’ of so many great people! The Panthéon is also where physicist Léon Foucault installed a 67 metre long pendulum beneath the dome in 1851 to demonstrate the rotation of the earth.

Le Panthéon, Paris

Graves of Vistor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola

Foucault’s pendulum, Panthéon

9. Notre-Dame – the most famous church in France, Notre Dame was completed in 1365 and is a stunning example of French Gothic architecture, beautiful inside and out – take the time to walk down the south side along the Seine which has fewer people than outside the front of the cathedral. I gather the Sunday evensong sound is simply beautiful.

Notre-Dame, east side

10. Le Marais – a historic district in Paris, it is a fabulous place to stroll through on a Sunday when it is bustling with activity: cobbled streets such as Rue des Barres, rue des Rosiers, many outstanding buildings of historic and architectural importance and museums such as the Picasso museum and the house Victor Hugo lived in, and of course lots of shops, cafes and restaurants. A favourite square of mine is the Place des Vosges.

Rue des Barres, Paris

Places des Vosges, Paris

Place des Vosges, Paris

One painting, two views depending on the angle it is viewed from – art gallery Place des Vosges

11. Passages: there are many covered passages in Paris, built mostly in the 19th century, usually covered with glass roofs. Most have many small shops and tea rooms and each one has a distinctive character. We visited the oldest one first, the Passages des Panaromas, built in 1799. This passage leads to Passage Jouffroy and Passage Verdeau.

Passage des Panoramas, Paris

12. L’Institut du Monde Arabe – another favourite museums of mine, dedicated to the Arab world and another Jean-Nouvel masterpiece especially the façade. Inspired by the Arabic architecute, the mashrabiya, a lattice work designed to protect the occupants from the sun and provide privacy, the façade is made of a system incorporating several hundred light sensitive diaphragms that regulate the amount of light that is allowed to enter the building. Interior spaces are dramatically modified, along with the exterior appearance.

Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris

Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris

13. Le Quartier Latin – this where we were based and I walked to all those places from or took a bus to the Invalides. One of the oldest parts of Paris, the Sorbonne University in the Middle-Ages attracted scholars who learned Latin from the world over, hence its name. It is vibrant, artsy, eclectic, has the most number of bookshops imaginable. Its narrow streets, pedestrian lanes, ancient churches, quirky restaurants and vibrant feel makes it the best place in Paris to stay in my opinion. Unfortunately the musée de Cluny, musée national du Moyen-age, at the bottom of our street, was temporarily closed. Worth visit if you can if only to see the Dame à la Licorne tappisery – a middle ages masterpiece. However, amazingly, and only the third time The lady and the unicorn tapestry series has left France in 500 years, it is currently displayed at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney until 24 June 2018!

Quartier Latin, Paris

Musée de Cluny, Quartier Latin, Paris

14. Rue Mouffetard. One of the oldest streets in Paris in the Latin Quarter is beautiful, cobbled and brimming with little restaurants, bars and shops! The best time to visit is at night when the street is buzzing with activity.

Rue Mouffetard, Paris

Here are some must see places for Paris first time visitors, but which I didn’t see this time:

1. Le Louvre – The Louvre is the world’s largest and most visited art museum, and home to the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Be prepared to be overwhelmed – you will not see everything in a single visit. If you don’t go in, enjoy the stunning architecture outside including the striking glass pyramid in the main courtyard of the Louvre Palace.

2. River cruise – a beautiful way of seeing Paris. There are many options but I particular like the night ones as the bridges and buildings are so beautifully lit.

3. Montmatre (Sacré Cœur and Moulin Rouge) – a area of cobbled streets, tiny cafes, steep hill with many many steps and stunning view. The Place du Tertre buzzes with life and colour in the evening, packed with artists offering to draw a sketch of you. If you head to the Moulin Rouge you’ll also come across the café from the movie Amélie, the Café des Deux Moulins.

4. Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees. The top of the Arc de Triomphe in the middle of the Étoile (star) roundabout offers fabulous views over Paris and towards the Eiffel Tower. From there, enjoy a walk down the famed Champs Elysées but beware of the prices charged in cafés and restaurants. You will pay a fraction of those and have a fabulous meal if you just walk down a few back streets.

5. Musée D’Orsay – This museum is housed in the old Gare d’Orsay train station, another fabulous piece of architecture, this one dating back to 1898, with a magnificent large glass atrium. Do not miss the large clocks which you can climb up to and get fabulous views of Paris (and some cool arty photos). The museum houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces, which used to be housed in the Jeu de Paume, by painters including Cezanne, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh.

6. Petit Palais – Built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition (like the Eiffel Tower) it now houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts. Get off at Les Invalides to admire the majestic Pont Alexandre III and the architecture of both the Grand & Petit Palais. Don’t miss the Jardin du Petit Palais cafe and enjoy the oasis of its garden.

7. Galeries La Fayette (Blvd Hausmann) – the inner atrium of this department store is breathtakingly beautiful. And the terrace on the rooftop offers fabulous views across Paris rooftops. Worth a visit even if you’re not shopping.

8. Jardin de Luxembourg – beautiful treed public garden created in 1612, with a big pond where kids pay with their toy boats. Look out for the view of the Pantheon dome.

9. Bastille – check out another little gem of a cobbled street, the Passage Lhomme, tucked away off 26. rue Charrone or accessible from the Passage Josset. South of the Bastille is the rue Cremieux, the most colourful street in Paris, lined with different coloured houses.

10. Opéra de Paris – Palais Garnier – one of my favourite buildings in Paris! Try and catch either a ballet or opera while you are in Paris, but if you can’t, at least take a tour of this absolute treasure. The Palais Garnier is a truly magnificient building, and the gorgeous ceiling painted by Chagal will take your breath away, once more.

11. Buttes Chaumont – Last but not least, if you have time, and enjoy nature, you won’t be disappointed! This 61 acre park situared in North eastern Paris has a different feel to the usual perfectly manicured and geometrically layed out parks: this one is hilly, rocky, and you can sit on the grassy banks there unlike other Paris city parks.

There is also the Tour Montparnasse for another great view, the Pompidou Centre (museum), the Canal Saint-Martin & Canal de l’Ourcq, the Halles de la Villette and its Géode IMAX, the musée Bourdelle, musée Jacquemart-André, musée Marmottan Monet and of course Versailles!

My top tips when visiting Paris:
– Check out museum opening times – it used to be easy when all museums in France closed on Tuesdays, now it is either Mondays or Tuesdays
– Wander off the main streets, down twisted narrow alleys and you will discover the best cafes and restaurants and little treed squares and old churches.
– Use buses (get bus and metro map from any metro station) if you can’t walk to your destination and look up – the architecture throughout Paris is gorgeous
– Go out at night for the lighting and different atmosphere
– Allow yourself to meander, get lost, stop often and simply enjoy beautiful Paris!

Bitterly cold in Paris but wonderful seeing an old school friend again

Oh there are so many gems in Paris… Give yourself at least a week to discover this beautiful city, two if you can. I am so happy to have spent that week in Paris, where I was born those short 6 decades + ago. With thanks to my parents. Merci Paris!

– Anne

Iceland, the last chapter, for now…

I thought I just needed just one hand to count the number of places I have visited in the world, until I got to 8, that have touched me to the core like Iceland has. People, family and new friends have often called me back to a place, but the country and culture of Iceland has had an impact that has taken me by surprise. I just hope I can do it justice here.

Kristjan had another 2 full days planned for us, leaving us enough time to ourselves too – having travelled together in the past, we understand each other’s needs which is great. Many thanks to Kristjan for all the great photos of us here – it is great to have some decent ones of us for a change rather my terrible selfies.

We start our third day with a fresh snow cover, higher clouds and a promise of clearer skies later. The mountains are so pretty. On our private Golden Circle tour today, our first stop is Kerid crater, a volcanic crater lake located in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland. It is so bitterly cold we just make a dash from the car park to have a quick look, photo and return to the warm car. We are pathetic.

Kerid crater, Iceland

Our next stop is most unexpected: a tomato farm. A family farm turned into a successful tourist destination with the best tomato soup and fresh bread you’ve ever tasted. I love how they have their polinating bumble bees on display – reminds us how vital bees are to the world food bowl: despite all our technology, we are still hugely dependant on these beautiful creatures. The “display” bees are rotated so no bee is permanently locked away. After our warming soup, we carry on our mystery tour.

Fridheimar tomato farm, Iceland

And we thought it was cold at Kerid crater?, The Gullfoss falls, on the Golden Circle route, were something to behold. Beautiful, awe inspiring but the whipping wind went through every layer and left us feeling as if we had nothing on. My eyeballs felt like they were freezing.

Gullfloss, Iceland

Blaskogabyggo, Iceland

This is when we first noticed how many tourists were already flocking to Iceland that early in the year. What must summer be like? Kristjan had told us that 2 million tourists visit Iceland a year now – it might be much higher this year. Not sure how the roads will cope…

We visit geysers, which most considerately of them, erupt every few minutes to enable us get a few photos. It is incredible to see how the force of Strokkur geyser lifts the water into a massive rounded bubble before erupting several metres into the air.

Blaskogabyggo Geyser about to erupt

Blaskogabyggo Geyser, Iceland

Driving around Lake Pingvallavatn, in Pingvellir National Park, I suddenly ask Kristjan to stop. It is not easy to pull over here, but he does. I need to get close to the stunning moss, walk a little, stop and listen. It is truly magical.

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

Pingvellir Natinal Park is the site of Iceland’s first parliament, back in 930. It is still the Prime Minister’s week end lodge. It is refreshing to see how, once again, there is no apparent security around this property.

Walking up to view Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

See the Prime Minister’ week end home and local church below to our right.

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland

Pingvellir National Park, Iceland – church next to the Prime Minister’s week end lodge

After another full fascinating day of discovery, we get to Asdis and Kristjan’s lake lodge. A ‘lodge’?! The lodge is stunning in its simplicity (and comfort) and the way it sinks into the landscape, and the view from it is breathtaking. I take endless photos, contantly amazed by the gently changing hues of the sky as the full moon rises and the winter sun sets in the distance. Asdis was already there when we arrived, having brought all the food for dinner and breakfast, not forgetting the fresh flowers, in the wheelbarrow that waits at the car park as there are no roads to the handful of lake lodges. We didn’t know about the lack of road and feel a bit silly having brought our little wheelie bags!

Kristjan carrying our wheelie bags

That evening with Asdis and Kristjan was so special. The most serene place, warm hospitality, delicious heart warming food, simply spending time there is a priviledge. And travellers are never short of stories to share!

Sunset on lake Pingvatlavrn, Iceland

Asdis and Kristjan on lake Pingvatlavrn

Before we arrived in Iceland, I had downloaded an app on my phone that gives the predicted Aurora Borealis KP index, which can go from 0 to 9. Our time in Iceland was predicted to go from 1 to a maximum of 2 = very low chance of seeing it. So on my street art meandering walk, I stopped at the museum so that I could at least learn more about it and see some stunning videos. Tonight, by the lake, with a full moon, the prediction is a 2, so better than 1 and I can’t help but brave the freezing cold several times to scan the sky all around us. I can say we officially saw it as we saw dancing formations but there was no colour. While I would still love to see a full blown colourful Aurora Borealis, it was nevertheless exciting to see.

The next day, we meet up with more of Kristjan’s friends and talk about our trip with him before we drop him off at home and drive ourselves to the Blue Lagoon. Thank you Kristjan for trusting us with your car! Hope you didn’t get any speeding fines…

The man made Blue Lagoon (geothermal spa) is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every two days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in. The Blue Lagoon also operates a research and development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the sulfur and silica rich water. (Thank you Wikipedia

I have to admit I had to force myself to go into the spa as the last thing I felt like was to take my clothes off it was so cold outside. But I am glad I did. It was very eerie to be moving around in hot water, outside, where all you can see is a few metres around you because of the thick steam just above the surface. The photo taken from the restaurant above the pools doesn’t capture the amount of steam at water level. Also strange is to glide up to the bar for our free drink where the staff are standing in full winter gear while we are cooking in water! Definitely worth a stop and my psoriasis on my legs calmed down for a good 2 weeks after that visit.

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Back to our appartment to change before driving to Asdis and Kristjan’s home for a farewell dinner they organised for us with a few of their friends. It was wonderful to meet them and get to know some of our followers. Asdis, I cannot thank you enough for the sumptuous dinner and for making a special lobster soup without cream just for me. I cannot imagine I will ever have another lobster soup anywhere near as good as yours.

And so our trip in Iceland has come to an end. What a full trip, so many new memories and experiences. Of course, having Kristjan taking us on these private tours, providing lots of history and Asdis and his hospitality and generosity knowing no bounds, made our time in Iceland all the more special, incredibly enjoyable and interesting. Kristjan and Asdis, our evening on the lake with you will remain a highlight of our time in Iceland. Thank you both – hopefully you’ll make it to Brisbane one day so we can try and return the favour.

The Sun Voyager sculpture, Reykjavik

Despite the absolute bitter cold, for us that is, I feel a strong urge return to Iceland to walk the land, to hike and camp (not in winter though). To take our time, listen to and watch the stunning landscape. Maybe the elves and pixies talked to me too?

– Anne

Reykjavik – the people’s voice

Today, day 2 in Iceland, we have a glacier cave tour planned. We have been told we don’t need to put our ski trousers which we brought with us as overclothes will be provided so we only add an extra, thin thermal layer. We arrive in plenty of time to meet our bus at the pick-up point and chat with a young couple waiting for a different tour. The sun is just barely up at 8:20am and it is freezing. Buses come and go calling out various names, some passengers are here, others not. Eventually, we start wondering if we are at the right meeting place. The young couple go off one way and we go another while new passengers arrive where we’d been standing. We find another meeting spot at the opposite end of the long curved hotel, about 400 metres away. People there are as confused as us, one elderly couple showing me their booking form and asking me if I had seen a bus with their tour logo – we hadn’t. I eventually return to Anthony who is at the first meeting spot and here comes that elderly couple’s bus. I run back to get them. After waiting 80 minutes and feeling frozen to the bone, we decide to return to the apartment and let Kristjan know. Apparently a bus came twice looking for us! We are obviously not cut out for organised tours. Kristjan is very disappointed for us but we had spotted some fantastic wall art on the way and I am now looking forward to discovering Reykjavik’s street art. It is all new to us so all’s good, we are more sorry for Kristjan.

A bit of research before I set off on my own, leaving Anthony behind to thaw out for a few hours.

I read about Council worker Jóhann “Jói” Jónmundsson, a warden of a tunnel’s toilets in the early 1990s, who used to dutifully clean and clear the passages of graffiti. Every time the walls were cleaned off, new graffiti would appear. One day, Joi noticed that some of the works were quality art and came up with a deal. He would allow artists to paint the walls so long as they followed certain rules: no violence and no porn. Since then, Reykjavik has had a few festivals that have delivered fabulous artworks such as the 2016 joint Berlin festival and Wall Poetry.

I love walking around cities, stumbling across unexpected gems, finding amazing artwork down little lanes or behind gates. I always learn so much about a place that way.

What became quickly apparent, from the artworks, whether wall art of sculptures, and from what I have read on various street signs, is how powerful the voice of the people is here. Icelanders not only speak up but have revolted on numerous occasions over recent generations. Of course, this free spirit and determination is not a recent attitude, descending from a people who fled Norway in the 800s and more recently decided to leave Denmark to form their own nation in 1944, it is in their DNA. Having read informative street signs on historic sites across the city and talking to Kristjan over the next few days – his knowledge of history, his own involvement in various issues, adding his account of the Pots and Pans Revolution (during the 2008-9 financial crisis when the people of Iceland rallied against bailing the banks out) to what I had read – is fascinating. I keep marvelling at how strong this tiny nation of just 330,000 inhabitants is and love how this tiny but mighty nation has fought for what it believes is right. Food for thought…

Here’s some of Reykjavik’s street art.

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St (Close up)

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St (Close up)

Corner Laugavegur/ Klapparstigur streets, Reykjavik

Street art, Reykjavik

Street art, Reykjavik

Hafnarstræti, Reykjavik

Hafnarstræti, Reykjavik

Wall poetry 2016, Reykjavik

I didn’t expect to find a bit of Brisbane here, but here it is. Photorealistic murals by Brisbane artist Guideo van Helten based on photographic portraits of Icelandic actors:

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten’s work, Reykjavik

Later that afternoon, Anthony and I meet up for a hot drink. Having walked the streets for the past 3 hours, there is just one shop I want to go into: a small pottery studio. It is good thing we don’t buy “things” anymore. I fell in love with Kogga Björgólfsdóttir’s works. It is also lucky we didn’t visit this studio later in our trip as I fear I might not have been able to resist bringing a little bit of Iceland back with me…

Kogga ceramics

Instead I left a little of my heart behind as you’ll understand in part 3 of 3 on our trip to Iceland.

– Anne

Iceland – Day 1

It has taken so long to write this blog entry and I cannot explain why, perhaps we were so busy in Iceland and afterwards that we have had not time, poor excuse. I did not enjoy Iceland? The experience was fantastic as were the people, so not that. I caught a cold, yes but no excuse. The only reasonable explanation (excuse) I can come up with is that I suddenly realised I am 64 not 63 this year, I have lost a year hence the delay, but gained a memorable Beatles song… Anyway whatever the reason for the long delay, back to present day Iceland…….

……….Touchdown, a firm, but not heavy landing at Keflavik airport in Iceland. We had been warned that strong winds could make landing tricky and earlier flights had problems and long delays. Low cloud had us just glimpsing the perimeter lights before landing. We are here in Iceland, the 98th country we have visiting in our travels. Keflavik Airport was the former Naval Air Station Keflavik, which played a prominent role in monitoring Soviet naval activity during the cold war, covering the seas between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom, which was known by the acronym ‘GIUK gap’. The base which closed in 2006 has been proposed in 2017 by the US military for funding to build new hanger facilities for Navy surveillance aircraft in light of the deteriorating US-Russian relations.

We have arrived in our 98th country since we started traveling back in the 1970s. I think that a hundred is quite feasible, but since we have so many places to revisit, probably not much beyond that. We will leave those to other adventurers to discover.

The terminal has a strong nordic feel, clean lines, wood and stone and arriving and departing passengers mixed up, similar to Munich. We are surprised to find shopping trollies where I expected luggage carts. Locals are stocking up on beer, of which six litres can be imported duty free. Then reason behind this becomes apparent when one has to pay in excess of US$10 /€9 a beer in a cafe/resturant. A little research reveals that alcohol tax in Iceland is volume based, not the traditional alcohol percentage model, hence the stock up on the beer at the airport on the way home. They do have luggage trollies as well I hasten to add.

Our friend Kristjan, whose path we crossed from time to time on both our and his first RTW journey in 2014/5 is waiting for us. We are so pleased to see him. In 2015 my illness precluded us from visiting Iceland as planned, but some two and a half years later, we have made it. Kristjan is outside customs and we have a joyous reunion. It is great to catch up with a fellow traveller, and friend, again.

While Europe is being covered in snow and ice from Siberia, we are treated to rain and low cloud on our first full day: well low cloud anyway, the rain sound is caused by the snow tyres passing our apartment in the centre of Reykjavik that Kristjan and his wife Asdis, whom we have still yet to meet, have kindly lent us for our stay. Showering we smell the unmistakable sulphur smell associated with hot water delivered from volcanic origins. Luckily cold water comes from a different source.

We finally get to meet Asdis at their house over a sumptuous breakfast. It is great to finally meet Asdis who is very hospitable and friendly. Kristjan had sent us a detailed schedule of our activities, with him as the guide. We are very spoiled. Heading east through the fog we start to notice the barren nature of the landscape. It is treeless and the roads which wind their way through the chunky lava strewn landscape have no hard shoulders. We see cars off the road that are not coming back without the assistance of a tow truck.

Hellisheiði Power Station is our first port of call, like the prow of a boat, the visitors centre emerges mysteriously out of the mist, the largest geothermal power station in Iceland generating 303MW of electricity and 133MW of hot water. The water is piped some 27 kms to Reykjavik providing heating and hot water for the city. The insulated pipe only keeps the temperature loss to only 2 degrees celsius from the 80 degrees that it leaves the plant at. No wonder our morning shower was so hot!

Visitors Centre at Hellisheiði Power Station

Here in the visitors’ centre we learn about the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates which are drifting apart at 1-2cm per annum. Iceland is the only place on land where we can see the effects of this. The fault line runs across Iceland and the Hellisheiði Power Station is situated on it. We are assured that the buckled floorboards are due to water ingress from a leaky ceiling, not seismic activity. I am not as reassured when I spy a wall panel indicating the previous major eruptions, 2010 then 2014 and I wonder if 2018 is next in this numbered sequence. Now what year is it again?

We head further east then south towards the coast. Kristjan keeps up a stream of facts, population only 330,000, the smallest nation to ever make the world cup finals. Two million tourists a year now visiting and not just in summer, our flight was pretty full. All the sulphur in the water is a corrosion issue for computer motherboards. I wonder if one day, after we have ‘solved’ the carbon and methane issues, sulphur will move up the leaderboard. I am surprised to learn that Iceland is slightly smaller than the US state of Kentucky, I would have thought much larger, perhaps the sparse population makes it seem so.

Taking to dirt tracks we visit the southern coastline where the the jagged lava has met the sea, almost devoid of plant life this landscape seems almost alien, Neil Armstrong practiced for the lunar excursion here in Iceland in 1967 as the lava surface was seen as a good approximation of the moons surface. One can see why.

Hafnarfjördur, Iceland

With Kristjan at Hafnarfjördur, Iceland

Trying to wash our muddy boots at Hafnarfjördur, Iceland

All the primeval elements seem to be in play at the same time in Iceland: fire, water, earth and air as one imagines molten lava (fire) flowing into the sea (water) forming earth and steam in the air. What must the first inhabitants of Iceland thought, although their first settlement at Reykjavik was close to low temperature steam which was used for heating, quite enterprising.

Lunch is taken at Bryggjan, a small cafe in the heart of the port of Grindavik. Here I am introduced to Icelandic Lobster Bisque, a popular local dish and very tasty too. As many refills as you want. A smattering of tourists occupy tables amongst the local workers who use this place every lunchtime. The impact of the massive growth in tourism reaching further into the countryside.

At the quaint Bryggjan restaurant

“Do you believe in pixies?” Kristjan asks us. “Of course” we both reply. While Icelanders may not necessarily believe in pixies or elves, they do not want to deny they exist, just in case. And so you find rocks around Iceland, that construction workers will not disturb but work around, just in case elves live within them.

Do not disturn, Elves might live here, in Grindavik, Iceland

More wild coast of Iceland:

Reykjanesbær, Iceland

Love what Anne has done with her hair.

No 1st day in Iceland would be complete without a motorcycle travel presentation by the 2slowspeeds to the AGM of the Icelandic BMW Motorcycle Club. How did that happen, they moved the date of the AGM to coincide with our visit. ‘No pressure’ as Anne says until we learn two guys drove 480km to hear our presentation and are heading back tonight! We had a very friendly welcome and hopefully our ‘Iran and the Stans’ presentation may encourage someone to venture in that direction. Having said that, Iceland has some pretty amazing scenery and roads of its own.

BMW Motorrad Reikjavik AGM

With one of our faithful followers, Gudmundur

Based on our first day, I think we will be back and exploring here in the future.

– Anthony