I’ts all about King Ludwig – the anticipated visit to Neuschwanstein Castle

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Our destination for the day was The Hotel Sommer in the Bavarian town of Fussen. Located on the banks of the river Lech, it was the perfect pitstop for our visit to Neuschwanstein Castle. We had a chance to experience a portion of the famous Romantic Road for the drive here from Munich. We meandered […]

Germany – Munich, the land of the white sausage

Our destination of Munich was a much-anticipated one by Lucas. Only one thought was on his mind – food. Lucas is a lover of food but more so a lover of a good sausage. We all know the Germans are great at making sausage, so on the agenda for the next three days was a search for the best sausage in Munich – Weisswurst. This traditional white sausage of Bavaria is normally eaten for breakfast so we had to forfeit day one as we were already too late for a sample of this delicacy as we pulled up to our hotel just after midday.

Checking-in to our hotel was no easy feat . The large Westin Grand Hotel Munich seemed to have a very large amount of business conference delegates arriving the same time as us. German precision was definitely not evident here, it took us a good hour to receive our room key and head up to our room. After a quick refresh we pulled out our winter woolies (the warm weather had finally left us for good) and headed into the rain. This pestering weather has followed us all the way from Slovenia.

The hotel is located in the district of Bogenhausen, just a short walk to the Old town and the central square Marienplatz. Lucas was the first to eye out a large Bavarian restaurant the “Rathskeller” famous for its sausage. And so it was, we experienced our first Bavarian meal (there were many more), too late for Weisswurst Lucas settled on a local favourite, schnitzel. The atmosphere was spot on, surrounded by gothic architecture, the vaulted ceilings resonated the sounds of the fellow tourists and locals and tourist alike were enjoying pints of beer and copious amounts of sausage, schnitzel and baked potatoes. We happily tucked into our meals as the rain continued to drizzle outside. With our top jean buttons undone we planned our next few days in Munich. Allanah voted for the Glockenspiel, the famous clock that chimes a few times a day (easy just a hop, skip and a jump from where we were right now). Lucas had his sights on the foodie tour, John voted for the BMW museum and Thomas our resident history buff wanted to know more about the crazy King Ludwig.

Hanging out in Marienplatz - Munich

Hanging out in Marienplatz – Munich

Cuddles in the main square -Marienplatz - Munich

Cuddles in the main square -Marienplatz – Munich

Thomas finds his namesake store in the square

Thomas finds his namesake store in the square

After a good night’s sleep,(the beds are really comfy at the Wesitn), we woke to more rain and miserable weather. This was to persist throughout our whole stay. Umbrellas in hand we set off to Marienplatz to watch the Glockenspiel play its tune. We stood with hundreds of others and watched this old cuckoo clock which portrays the city’s history play its tune for 15 minutes. Allanah did tire of it after five minutes and was ready to go!

Close by is the famous Munich Farmers Market Viktualienmarkt in Peterplatz. We spent hours strolling through tasting many Bavarian specialties. An array of exotic fruits, spices, cheese, game, meats and of course German sausages are on display. The market has been in the same place since the 1800’s and is full of locals and tourists enjoying all the delicacies on offer in the various Biergarten’s throughout the market. There is a beautiful Maypole in the centre which carries figurines displaying the different trades and crafts in Munich. Maypoles date from the middle ages when most people were illiterate. The maypole represented the capabilities and trades of the village to travelling salesmen and craftsmen looking for a new master to learn from.

On the foodie trail we couldn’t leave Munich without visiting the famous and luxurious surroundings of the famous store “Dallmayr”. This amazing food store has been around just as long as the market. We couldn’t resist and were foolish enough to buy some delicatessen goodies and cheese at inflated prices to enjoy back at the hotel. We weren’t disappointed! Yum…

Allanah @ Westin Grand Hotel Munich

Enjoying our Dallmayr purchases

Enjoying our Dallmayr purchases

On a more serious and sombre note we had to touch on the subject of WWII and the atrocities that occurred during that time as Munich had an important part to play in this  history. The Bavarian capital was the birth place of the Nazi party. Adolf Hitler started the Nazi movement after WWI and set up headquarters at a famous Beer Hall, the Hofbrauhaus. The boys were very keen to do a tour about the Third Reich but Allanah just couldn’t cope with the discussions we were having about WWII and we decided it was not quite time to expose her to the horrors that occurred during that time. The closest we were able to touch on the subject in her presence was to visit Hofbrauhaus and sit in the spot Hitler would stand to hold National Socialist meetings at the Beer Hall. Lucas was finally able to sample the famous Weisswurst and get his first swig of beer.

Our next adventure took us further afield to the Olympiapark area and the BMW Museum. I personally have no interest in said automobile but begrudgingly admit that it was a worthwhile excursion. Here the German trait of perfect execution and precision is fully exhibited in this amazing museum transporting you through the history of BMW and its technical development. We were all pleasantly surprised as John was the only one who was keen, all of us enjoyed the experience. It’s interactive, visual and the architecture of the building is amazing.

The BMW Museum

The BMW Museum

BMW Museum

BMW Museum

BMW Museum

BMW Museum

On our last day in Munich we had to touch on the history of the Bavarian royals. The kids had been discussing King Ludwig (the mad King) or as he may be better known the king of the fairy tale castle “Schloss Neuschwanstein”.  As we were heading to this famous castle the following day we decided to visit King Ludwig’s birthplace, the Nymphenburg Palace. The palace was the summer residence of the Bavarian monarchs. Baroque architecture reigns supreme, one of the largest royal residences of Europe we spent many hours exploring the palace and its enormous grounds.

One of the highlights of the palace tour was Ludwig I’s Gallery of Beauties, a collection of 36 portraits of the most beautiful women from the nobility and middle classes of Munich in the 1800’s. Did he have a thing for the ladies mmmm….

One of the Beauties -Antoine Wallinger - daughter of the Court Theater Manager

One of the Beauties -Antoine Wallinger – daughter of the Court Theater Manager

Cornelia von Kunsberg - daughter of the Bavarian State Councillor

Cornelia von Kunsberg – daughter of the Bavarian State Councillor

Helene Sedelmayer-daughter of a shoemaker from Munich

Helene Sedelmayer-daughter of a shoemaker from Munich

The interiors of Nymphenburg Palace

The interiors of Nymphenburg Palace

The Queen's bedroom - King Ludwig II's birthplace

The Queen’s bedroom – King Ludwig II’s birthplace

We were all lucky enough to find this Palace fascinating, the kids had a tactile history lesson on Bavarian history. Whether this will be beneficial in years to come who knows, but the wealth of knowledge we have all accumulated on topics we never would have discussed sitting at home are astronomical. The boredom for the Allanah or Lucas does set in every now and again but a run in the park or a promise of a visit to what’s on top of their list tends to curb any tantrums lurking.

After a walk through the elaborate Coach house and a stroll through the grounds we once again pleased Lucas’ appetite when we stumbled upon a little gem of a Bavarian restaurant called Schlosswirtschaft Schwaige. What a pleasant surprise, the food was delicious, nothing out of the ordinary, the basics of a good schnitzel and potatoes, but when close to tourist attractions food expectations are set very low. We fed the brood and headed back to the hotel for a promised swim in the pool before bed time. Tomorrow is a travelling day. Off to King Ludwig’s Castle “Schloss Neuschwanstein” in the village of Hohenschwangau.

Slovenia – A little gem…blink and it’s gone

Slovenia was a sweet little surprise. Words to describe the capital of Ljubljana would be quaint, cute, bohemian and hip. Blink and you would miss this country, only half the size of Switzerland, bordered by four countries; Croatia, Italy, Austria and Hungary.

We arrived late in the afternoon leaving Plitvice National Park as late as we could (we couldn’t tear the kids away). We stayed at the beautiful Antiq Palace Hotel in a serviced apartment which had us in the most vibrant district of this little old city. We’d settled in and were ready to step out into the cobblestone streets when the rain started. This was to be a constant in our travels for the next week.

Heavy rain sets in - Ljubljana, Slovenia

Heavy rain sets in – Ljubljana, Slovenia

Our time in this little country was limited, a mere four days, so with umbrellas in hand we set out to explore the city. The old town is a blend of Baroque, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau buildings, watched over by a medieval castle. A river running alongside creates a serene outlook as you stroll along the stone path bordering the river. The city seemed alive with circus performers, folk bands, singing on street corners and the cafes and restaurants were in abundance.

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The river promenade - Ljubljana

The river promenade – Ljubljana

Street performers in Ljubljana - Slovenia

Street performers in Ljubljana – Slovenia

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The Plečnik Farmers’ market and Triple Bridge were just a few steps away from where we were staying so we spent the couple of days we had here strolling through the streets and ducking in to eat at the market or have a coffee to escape the rain.

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Triple Bridge

Art in the streets

Art in the streets

Butcher's Bridge - Ljubljana's love bridge

Butcher’s Bridge – Ljubljana’s love bridge

Enjoying fresh berries from the market- Ljubljana

Enjoying fresh berries from the market- Ljubljana

Selecting berries at the market - Ljubljana

Selecting berries at the market – Ljubljana

Our next destination in Slovenia was Lake Bled. We set off early from Ljubljana hoping to escape the rain but unfortunately the rain had other ideas. It continued and continued and by the time we reached Lake Bled it was torrential rain. I will not mention where we stayed here as we actually cut our time here short due to the very cold and uninviting host at the small hotel/B&B we had chosen.

We arrived just before midday, parking our car in front of the property and dashing inside from the rain. The first response we get is not a welcome but an abrupt ” You can’t check-in yet, don’t you know check-in is at 3pm” With a raised eyebrow we responded that we were well aware of the time but due to the rain thought it best to park our car and maybe get a recommendation for somewhere to eat. In a gruff voice we were told to walk down the street and we would find something.

We set off in the rain and found a little restaurant just above the lake. We were so taken aback by the attitude of the manager/owner we were a bit hesitant in turning up to check in, we felt like a group of naughty school children terrified to turn up to the school principals office.

Avoiding another meeting with our hotel owner we decided there was no better time than now to set off and explore Lake Bled. Row boats are for hire so we set off on the lake heading toward the island located in the centre of Lake Bled.

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This famous island (Otok) can only be reached by pletna, the flat-bottomed wooden boat hand steered by oarsman for centuries. Thomas was to be our man of the day. Steering with great difficulty, the current was quite strong,he rowed us all the way in misty rain to the island.

We climbed the 98 steps leading up to the church where for years Slovenian grooms carry their brides to assure a long and happy life together.

The 98 Steps leading to the church - Bled

The 98 Steps leading to the church – Bled

Legend has it that if you ring the bell inside the castle’s Church of the Assumption and make a wish, it’ll come true. So of course the kids scrambled and fought to be first to ring the bell.

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The weather was starting to set in and the rain had increased so after some bell ringing we hopped back into our boat and set off back to the shore.

We were lucky enough to stroll back to our accommodation with a slight drizzle and a new person at reception. A warmer friendly tone checked us in and gave us a little tour before we settled into our rooms to change out of our damp clothes and reassess what we were to do for the next 48 hours. We were limited in our walking expeditions in this small resort town and the dark clouds continued to hover the rain progressively got worse as the early evening set in. We couldn’t bear a whole day sitting inside in a small hotel/B&B with three children and an uninviting owner. We felt very uncomfortable shushing the children every few minutes so we wouldn’t get a complaint. Food would help us decide whether to stay put, grin and bear it or forfeit a paid night’s accommodation and move on.

We stumbled upon the restaurant “Okarina” merely by chance and later discovered it was one of the best in the area. A strange mix of Indian, italian and Slovenian game dishes. The kids chose pasta and we were content to try the Wild Boar cutlets and filets of Venison. We walked away full and satisfied and with decision made we trudged through the pouring rain and straight on to the internet to book something for the next day.

We woke the next morning with a determination to get out as fast as we could. The owner refused to give us a refund, not even for one of the rooms, but offered breakfast instead. We accepted, ate our breakfast in eerie silence as no one not even the breakfast staff spoke, heads down, no smile, getting on with their business. We were the only ones in the breakfast room, even the kids felt the vibe whispering whenever they had something to say. Very strange…

We carried our bags downstairs and were out before 09:00am. We’re off to Salzburg, Austria!

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Croatia- A brief respite in Plitvice Lakes National Park

As we left the city of Split behind we were ready for a bit of nature and calm. As we drove the 280km from Split to Plitvice we left behind the motorways and entered a serene world of woodlands and differing shades of green. The picturesque Plitvice Lakes National Park is an area of 300sq km covered in lakes and forest.

We arrived at our accommodation choosing Ethno Houses Plitvica Selo http://www.ethnoplitvice.com as they were located in the heart of the National Park. What a wonderful choice!! The perfect set up for families. The kids were instantly out of the car and running around to explore. The accommodation is a set up of very quaint wooden cabins perfectly suited to a family with a kitchenette and plenty of space to spread out. We were in a family suite and there was more than enough room for our family of five.

Not only were we located only 400 metres from the highest waterfall in the heart of Plitvice Lakes National Park, we had a choice of many activities on hand to try like cycling along marked routes, archery, bowling, badminton, miniature golf, table-tennis, darts and hanging bowling.

Mini golf at Ethno Houses

Mini golf at Ethno Houses

The kids were kept entertained with the outdoor obstacle course, the mini ZOO and even the pet Vietnamese pig. They weren’t even interested in venturing out to the park as they were so enthralled in all the joy of running around and playing with all the animals.

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We finally dragged ourselves away from this wonderful place and headed off to the starting point. Paths, mostly made of wooden planks or gravel have been built and take you through the whole park. We started with an Electric boat that transported us and hordes of tourists (this wasn’t even high season) to the beginning of the trail.

Electric boat at Plitvice

Electric boat at Plitvice

The paths meander through the park allowing you to take in the most awe inspiring beauty, the colours and calmness you feel as you walk through the park cannot be described. It’s like you’ve entered a movie set to some fantasy movie like “Lord of the Rings”.  A walk from one end of the park to the other normally takes around four hours but there are so many wonderful views it took us around 6 hours to meander through the park.

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The only drawback to this extraordinary place is the amount of tourists, but how could one complain when we are exactly that! There are many instances where the path is extremely narrow and there is no way to take over the person in front of you if they have stopped for a moment. This in turn causes a back log of people stopping dead in their tracks wondering what is going on ahead. The feeling of being rushed deters from the serene surroundings and brings you back with a thump knowing your still in this modern day crazy rushed world.

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We only spent one night here thinking it would be enough. Looking back we should of stayed longer. I’m sure that if we’d started our hike at the very beginning of the day we would of been able to avoid the tourist buses coming in for their day trip. Our accommodation was so comfortable we could of relaxed at the end of the day with a sauna or a good book and glass of wine.

Wherever we travelled in Croatia we had the same thought..it wasn’t long enough. This country is full of amazing surprises, from it’s dramatic Adriatic coastline through to it’s emerald green lakes and wooded forests, we merely touched the surface of a truly extraordinary country. It won’t be long before we are back to take a more in depth look at this little corner of the world.

Croatia – Royal Splendours in Split

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Our time in Dubrovnik ended much too soon but we had more to see of this wonderful diverse country. We packed our newly acquired Croatian rent-a-car jamming all the luggage we had accumulated on our trip and headed for Split. The drive from Dubrovnik to Split is one of the best scenic routes of Croatia. […]

Iceland …. On the Ring Road Part 2 (East to South)

We headed East from Akuyreri following Highway 1 as per our plans. When we started this trip we planned to stay on the main highway presuming that it was a road that was like a highway to Australia. In the Eastern part of Iceland we were to discover that Highway One is a gravel road with just one lane at times for a few hundred kilometres. This sent us into a state of confusion for a short period of time as John reversed, turned back, reversed again and turned back again after realising that yes in fact this was the correct road and during winter this part became inaccessible during large dumps of snow.

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A stop on the main Highway
The landscape was beautiful and on every turn was another unexpected photo stop.

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And a spot of soup eating for Thomas in the blistery winds…

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And more beautiful scenery…

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Our destination for the day was a town called Hofn. A small seaside Icelandic village famous for Langoustines. This would be our base for a few days to explore this region of Iceland.

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Our aim here was to visit Vatnajokull Glacier. Vatnajökull meaning Glacier of Rivers, also known as the Vatna Glacier, is the largest glacier in area in Europe. It covers more than 8 percent of the country.

We booked a snowmobile tour with “Glacier Jeep Tours”. We were meant to meet at the crossroad of Highway 1 and the road leading to Joklasel, the base of the tour into the glacier. We were to leave our hire car and be collected by the tour company in a Super Jeep ( a four wheel drive car converted into an Arctic truck) as the road leading up to the camp was basically a dirt track cut into the mountain.

On the misadvice of the young girl behind the counter at the tourist office, John though it would be fine to drive the 16 kilometres up the mountain in our rented Hummer. Oh my! What a mistake. The road was barely a dirt track, very steep at times and when the fog set in half way through I had a panic attack. It was a scary experience and one I do not wish to repeat. Once we started the ascent there was no way to turn around so luckily the fog passed and we reached the base.

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We were fitted out in warm gear and helmets and set out on our tour of the glacier with our snowmobiles. One an only describe this experience as exhilarating. We were most fortunate to have beautiful weather and any fog we had passed on the way up had disappeared.

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Seven volcanoes are situated underneath the Vatnajokull ice-cap and most of them are active volcanoes. Grimsvotn volcano is together with Hekla, Iceland’s most active volcano since the Middle Ages. Grimsvotn last erupted in 1996, in 1998 and yet again in 2004.

The guide was very clear that we had to follow his path and not go off track. It was clear why when we pass large cracks in the ice as we climbed the mountain. As the glacier melts large crevices are being formed all over the glacier and appear at anytime. Is this global warming or just the constant changes of the earth. That is the constant discussion here.

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After experiencing the top of the glacier it was time to experience what happens down below at sea level where the ice is slowly falling away into the Atlantic Ocean. A visit to the Glacier lagoon is a must. Jökulsárlón (literally “glacial river lagoon”) is a large glacial lake in on the borders of Vatnajökull National Park, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since because of melting of the Icelandic glaciers. The size of the lake has increased fourfold since the 1970s. It is considered as one of the natural wonders of Iceland.

We hopped on to a Zodiac boat tour to experience riding through the various icebergs that continually fall off the glacier.

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The edge of the glacier, the black dirt is actually ash from the volcano.

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As we are sitting in the zodiac behind us we hear a great rumbling sound. We turn around just in time to witness a chunk of ice falling into the water as it breaks off the glacier. The sound echoed all around for quite a long time.

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Icebergs heading for the Atlantic Ocean

20130817-235841.jpgAllanah collecting 2000 year old ice washed out on the beach

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We headed back to our Icelandic digs in Hofn for a good night sleep. The kids were exhausted and we had an early start as we had a few hundred kilometres to cover with a few stops on the way to the little town at the base of Mount. Hekla.

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20130823-195445.jpgOn our way again with views of Vatnajokull
Our first stop for the day was at Skaftafell National Park. There is a major camp site at the visitors centre and you can hike various trails to waterfalls or the edge of the glacier. We only had a short time here so after arguing with Thomas who preferred to nap in the car the rest of us set on the slippery path to the Svartifoss waterfall.

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Svartifoss translates to the Black Fall. It is a 2 kilometre round trip hike and the most popular sight in the National Park. It is surrounded by dark lava columns, which gave rise to its name. The little ones did exceptionally well as the walk was uphill all the way.

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We continued on our journey as John was keen to see Fjaðrárgljúfur. This is a canyon in south east Iceland which is up to 100 m deepand about 2 kilometres long, with the Fjaðrá river flowing through it. It is located near the Ring Road, not far from the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur.The canyon was created by constant erosion by flowing water from glaciers through the rocks. Our whole time in Iceland was one big geology lesson.

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As we continue along our journey for the day the scenery is extraordinary. It continually changes from snow capped mountains to moss covered lava fields.

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Then we come across the sight of Laufskálavarða. This is a lava ridge surrounded by piles of stones called stone cairns. All travellers crossing the desert of Mýrdalssandur for the first time were
supposed to pile stones up to make a cairn, which would bring them good luck on the journey.

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20130823-210708.jpgAs we head on getting closer to our destination for the day we make a final stop on the small peninsula, Dyrholeay. The view from up there is interesting, to the north you can see the big glacier Mýrdalsjökull, to the east the black lava columns of the Reynisdrangar come out of the sea. In front of the peninsula, there is a gigantic black arch of lava standing in the sea.

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We arrived at the Hotel Laekur quite late in the evening. Not that that made a difference. The sun was in full view shining bright late into the evening. We settled into what I believe was the best accommodation in Iceland so far. Wonderful people here making us feel very welcome. Hotel Laekur is part of “Icelandic Farm Holidays”. A concept where locals open up their farms to tourists. We had a clear view of Mt Hekla from our room.

The following day we dedicated the whole day to visiting Landmannalauger. Landmannalaugar is a region near the volcano Hekla in southern section of Iceland’s highlands. This was one of the toughest drives we were to have on our trip. Three hours of very rough driving even in a Hummer.
The area displays a number of unusual geological elements, like the multicolored rhyolite mountains and expansive lava fields. The many mountains in the surrounding area display a wide spectrum of colors including pink, brown, green, yellow, blue, purple, black, and white. This area has a very large camping facility that is only accessible from June through to September.

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We only spent a few hours here and didn’t go much further than a kilometre away from the base camp. To fully appreciate this area and because of the effort it takes to get here a few days of camping out is necessary. The weather here is so unpredictable you need to be fully prepared for all seasons. We were not! We were not looking forward to the drive back and the constant jolting and bumping around in our 4WD. It was an exhausting day.
Or last day before finishing our circle around the ring road was to do the typical trip tourists take from Reyjkavik, the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in South Iceland, covering about 300 km looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back.The three primary stops on the route are the national park Þingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss (meaning “golden falls”), and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the famous geysers Strokkur.
We only managed to visit Gulfoss falls and Strokkur as the weather turned quite nasty.

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20130825-131537.jpgWe were very lucky to have had the time to travel around Iceland as everywhere we went there was always just a handful of tourists and no bus tours with crowds. The only time we experienced major crowds was on this day doing the Golden Cirlcle. We couldn’t wait to visit our final stop of Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon. The cold biting wind was blowing so we cut our final day of touring short and drove directly to our hotel.

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Reykjavik is a hip little city. Our accommodation here was very hip and the food choices excellent with so many restaurants offering world class food. The couple of days we were here the wind was relentless so the photo opportunities were few and far between. The wind was blowing so hard at times we couldn’t stand up straight.

We couldn’t leave Iceland without visiting the Blue Lagoon is Keflavik no matter what the weather. The spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland, not far from the airport. Most tourists visit the moment they arrive or as they depart Iceland. We had a 6:00am flight the next day so we took a bus from Reykjavik for the one hour drive.

The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur. The lagoon is a man-made and is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every 2 days.

In 1976 a pool formed at the site from the waste water of the geothermal power plant that had just been built there. In 1981 some workers from the plant started bathing in it and discovered it had healing powers for psoriasis.

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Iceland is a wonderful country, so diverse and unpredictable. We felt like we covered a vast amount of the country yet we feel like we’ve missed out on so much. Even though I’m not the camping type I’d have to agree with John that the best way to see this country is with a motor home. We had to travel great distances everyday from our base to see the sights and travel back again to reach our hotel. With limited accommodation in certain places the best option is a home on wheels. There was definitely many places with magnificent views we could have parked up for the night. So John you were right on this one, yes I would come back in a campervan. Maybe next year……

Norway…… Fjords, fjords and more fjords!

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We arrived late into Oslo from Tallinn and had just enough energy to make our way down to the newly developed wharf area for a bite to eat. Very similar to our Southbank in Melbourne but with slot more pizazz. We began our Norway adventure the following morning by doing the “Norway in a Nutshell” […]