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2 December 2017 / leggypeggy

Enjoying Iceland’s glacier lagoon

Jökulsárlón lagoon

On the shores of Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs in Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs in Jökulsárlón lagoon

This post is for Francesca, with many thanks for her delightful comment on my post about seeing the Northern Lights last month in Iceland. She said she thought my pics of the lights looked similar to hers and realised that we were on the same bus tour. (I have no idea where you’re from Francesca, but your comment made my day).

Our joint jaunt—all 14 hours of it—took us to the picturesque Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in the southeastern part of Iceland and on the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park.

The lagoon (or lake as it is sometimes called) began to be created in the 1930s when the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started to recede from the Atlantic Ocean.

Cruise on Jökulsárlón lagoon

The cruise boat heads out onto the lagoon

We arrived at the lagoon not too long after lunch. There were two options—take a 45-minute boat cruise around the lagoon, or walk along the shore and the shallow channel that connects the lagoon to the ocean.

Complaint (whinge) alert. As we boarded the bus in Reykjavik, passengers were told whether or not they had paid for the boat cruise. If you wanted to take the cruise, it was an extra A$63.50 per person (or A$127 for the two of us).

We booked our tour online and there was nothing on the website that said anything about a cruise being available and at what cost. I’ve rechecked the website and there’s still no mention of a cruise option. I think that’s a sneaky way to deliver a travel offering.

Not surprisingly, we decided that a last-minute charge of $127 was not value for money, so we opted to walk along the shore and admire the icebergs floating in the lagoon.

Channel from Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs heading to sea

There were plenty more bergs in the channel. Some were bobbing along on their way to the Atlantic and other, larger, ones were stranded in the shallow water. Still others had drifted onto the black sand.

I reckon the stranded ones won’t be moving this year. The lagoon freezes over in winter.

The guide on the bus said the bridge over the channel was often washed out. I’ve since read that the bridge’s pillars have been reinforced to protect them from icebergs, so I guess it’s only spring floods that cause damage.

on the shore at Jökulsárlón lagoon

Walking the shores

on the shore at Jökulsárlón lagoon

On the edge of the lagoon

A bit more about the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
At 248 metres (or 814 feet), this is Iceland’s deepest lake. Today the glacier is 1.5 kilometres from the ocean and the lagoon covers 18-square kilometres. Apparently it’s quadrupled in size since the 1970s.

The setting is popular. Jökulsárlón has been featured in two James Bond movies—A View to a Kill and Die Another Day—as well as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Batman Begins. It’s also been a destination for the reality TV series, The Amazing Race.

Icebergs from Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs from Jökulsárlón lagoon

A side comment on the bus trip
We enjoyed the bus trip, but a quick comment about the lunch stop. Several other buses arrived about the same time as ours. We were allowed 40 minutes or so for lunch and many of our passengers waited for ages in a huge line for the hot meal.

Poor John and I stood in that line for quite some time until we inched past the refrigerator cases and realised we could buy sandwiches. So we did.

That option didn’t dawn on everyone and quite a few people were shuffling along the line and then late returning to the bus.

The guide told them it wasn’t their fault that they were late. He said he’d called ahead to say we were arriving and was told everything was okay.

I reckon that if I’d been the guide and noticed three extra buses arriving about the same time as us that I would have suggested that everyone buy sandwiches from the fridge.

As an aside, we were in line with people from other buses (we had some nice chats) and their meal was included in their price, so no way they were getting out of line. Our meal was at our own expense.

Jökulsárlón lagoon

A musician performs at Jökulsárlón lagoon

Shore at Jökulsárlón lagoon

Icebergs on the sand at Jökulsárlón lagoon


16 November 2017 / leggypeggy

Shanghai Museum loaded with style

Wine vessel

From about 500BC

bronze ornament

Between 200BC and 8AD

Visiting the Shanghai Museum was one of the rewarding things we did during our short stay in that southern Chinese city.

Founded in 1952, the museum displays some of the country’s most magnificent ancient art.

We were absolutely gobsmacked by the bronzes. We’ve seen bronze all over the world, but the Chinese craftsmanship takes their pieces to new levels of creativity and detail.

Seriously, as we walked from piece to piece, Poor John and I kept commenting on how fine the work was. All the pics directly above this paragraph are of wine or food vessels. How’s that for style!

But the quality wasn’t limited to the bronzes. The museum has 11 permanent galleries and three set aside for temporary exhibitions. The permanent galleries feature items such as ceramics, furniture, sculptures, textiles, paintings, coins, calligraphy, seals and more.

We were intrigued to learn how the early collections were acquired.

During the civil war, the Communist 3rd Field Army gathered artefacts through accidental finds and confiscation of private property. These items came Shanghai when the Communists took the city. The local customs service confiscated other items. Finally, during political purges and under political pressure, private collectors sold some of their cherished possessions to the government.

Later acquisitions weren’t quite as dramatic. That said, the museum ‘rescued’ a lot of bronzeware that was due to be melted down after being confiscated or donated during a metal-gathering campaign in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Before the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, wealthy Shanghai collectors had a tradition of making annual donations to the museum.

Today the collections continue to be enriched thorough donations, government purchases and important finds from archaeological excavations.

I’ve had a terrible time trying to decide which pictures to share. The works are so numerous and so amazing, that I have overdone it. Hope you enjoy it half as much as we did.

Do you have a favourite piece?

Mongol headdress

Mongol headdress of coral and silver

14 November 2017 / leggypeggy

Mother Nature treats us to two performances

Northern Lights in Iceland

We’ve had only two really clear nights since we arrived in Iceland last week.

When the weather report looked good for the first of those two nights, we booked to go on a three-hour Northern Lights tour. Our first stop was at the Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, east of Reykjavik.

We trudged through the snow and onto a viewing platform, but there was no activity in the sky. In fact, the garden around a farmhouse down to the left was well-lit so we didn’t really have the darkness that would make the Northern Lights stand out.

After 15 minutes or so, the guide suggested we reboard the bus and move on to a more likely spot. It was a wise decision, because the next site delivered a nice show of lights that lasted about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, I was having a brain meltdown and fumbling with my camera settings. I could enjoy watching the lights, but couldn’t get a single pic.

Northern Lights in Iceland

Not long after we reboarded the bus, I figured out what I had been doing wrong, but it was too late.

I decided the only answer was to book another tour on another clear night.

In the meantime, we booked a 14-hour bus tour along the south coast of Iceland to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. It was a super cloudy day but that didn’t keep us from enjoying the scenery along the way as well as the lagoon (more about that trip soon).

Iceland waterfall

A waterfall at night

But the big bonuses came on the way home. We’d passed a large waterfall earlier in the day, and the guide promised that we’d stop briefly on the way back because the cascade was illuminated at night.

I hadn’t brought my tripod this night, so I couldn’t get a great, steady shot of the waterfall, but one pic turned out nice enough.

As we reboarded the bus, the skies started to clear and the guide urged us to keep our eyes focused towards the north. Luckily Poor John and I were on that side of the bus on the way home!

Northern Lights in Iceland

When we were about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik, Mother Nature began her show. 

I think the guide was as excited as all the passengers. He got the driver to pull over at a safe spot and we all piled out to watch the show.

What a joy, what a bonus! A tripod would have helped me to get sharper pics, but I was thrilled to get any and even more thrilled to see the lights—and without having to book yet another tour.

We were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights last year in Alaska and now again in Iceland. Woo-hoo! I’ve heard that people are seeing the Southern Lights in Tasmania, so we may have to try that next year.

Northern Lights in Iceland

13 November 2017 / leggypeggy

Winter comes to Iceland

Snowing in Iceland

On the way to the bakery about 8:30am

Icelandic bakery

A good enough reason to go out in the snow

There’s so much more to share with you about China, Mongolia and Russia, but I feel compelled to jump ahead and show you a sneak peek at Iceland.

We’ve been here for just under a week—staying with Mary Pat and Siggi—and they have ever-so-kindly arranged for us to experience our first proper snowstorm of this wintry trip. (There was a little snow in Russia, but nothing remarkable.)

The flurries began Thursday night in Reykjavik, and by Friday morning there was a thick blanket of snow. It was amazing to view the world from their third-floor window, but even better to join Siggi on a run to the bakery.

snow-covered car

Siggi’s car after 10 minutes out of the garage

His car had been parked in the garage overnight so didn’t have a single snowflake on it when we set out, but 10 minutes later it had its own coating of big, fat flakes.

It has continued to snow off and on since then. In fact, tonight the wind is howling and the snow is falling horizontally. I’m glad our sightseeing is done for the day. 

So what’s the weather like where you are?

Snow in Reykjavik

An hour after going to the bakery

Winter in Iceland

Looking southwest from Mary Pat’s and Siggi’s flat

Winter in Iceland

A view to the west as the sun comes up

6 November 2017 / leggypeggy

Enjoying the views from a Mongolian temple

Mongolian landscape

The sweeping view from Aryapala meditation temple

Aryapala meditation temple

Inside the temple

Many of you have commented on how flat and barren the Mongolian landscape is, so I thought I’d share a different view.

On the way to our homestay, we drove along Turtle Rock Road to visit the beautiful and peaceful Aryapala meditation temple, in the Terelj National Park northeast of Ulaanbaatar. This temple is perched on a mountainside at the end of a picturesque valley, which is probably even more scenic in spring and summer.

The Buddhist temple is open to anyone who wants to mediate while being free from outside distractions. The long path up to the actual temple is bordered by 100s of signs with topics for mediation that give food for thought. You’ll probably agree that many of the sayings seem especially relevant these days. Click to enlarge images.

There are also signs and monuments relating to other aspects of Buddhism, such as ‘The Elder White’ or ‘White Grandpa’. In Mongolia, he is the protector deity of the nature that oversees Mother Earth.

There is also the Great Prayer Wheel of Kangyur. This prayer wheel is filled with a complete Kangyur (printed in Tibetan), the 108 volumes of works spoken by the Buddha himself.

When you reach the temple (after a long uphill trudge and a very rickety bridge), it’s not immediately obvious that the outline of the complex is supposed to resemble an elephant. The main building is the head, the 116 steps of staircase are the trunk and the walkways at the sides represent the ears.

Aryapala meditation temple

Poor John on the rickety bridge to the temple

Path to Aryapala meditation temple

Path to the temple

Great Prayer Wheel of Kangyur

Great Prayer Wheel of Kangyur. The painting to the left is of ‘The Elder White’

There’s also a cave there with a statue and footprints of the Buddha inside. Whenever I see that, I am reminded of my mother’s comment years ago in Burma. She had flat feet and when she saw the Buddha’s footprints she said, No wonder he sat down all the time. He had flat feet.

The inside of the temple is stunningly beautiful and colourfully decorated. I was especially grateful that we were allowed to take pictures—something not always permitted. There’s a mantra—Om Mani Padme Hum—that is supposed to be repeated 108 times at the temple, and our guide, Nasaa, did exactly that.

While we were there Poor John walked all the way around the temple, but the rest of us decided it was too wet and icy. No need to break an arm.

But we wouldn’t have missed the view for anything. Fortunately we were there on a reasonably clear day and could see far into the distance.

We also enjoyed sharing the space with a group of school children. The young boy standing at the very back of the pic was wearing a set of Dracula teeth and having great fun growling as everyone.

I liked the Little Miss we saw by the exit. I think she’d had a great time.

P.S. Do you have a favourite from the topics for meditation?

Aryapala view

5 November 2017 / leggypeggy

Changing of the guard—the Kremlin in Moscow

Changing of the Guard, Kremlin, Russia

I think the guy on the right took our tickets to the Armoury later in the afternoon

One of the first things we did in Moscow was to book a free walking tour of the city. Now let’s get this straight. It doesn’t mean we walk all over the city and it doesn’t mean they are completely free (don’t forget to tip). These tours are designed to give you a feel for what the city has to offer, and to help you get your bearings.

We’ve done walking tours all over the globe—geez, I need to write about more of them—and Moscow’s was one of the best, even if it was freezing cold and raining most of the time.

Our guide, Elena, was first class. Her English was amazing. She also has a great sense of humour and an excellent timing for how the tour should go. (St Petersburg could learn a few things from her, but more about that in another post).

One of the highlights was seeing the changing of the guards at the Kremlin. This happens every hour, on the hour, between 8am and 8pm.

Elena told us that the guards are chosen by very specific criteria. They should be from outside Moscow (a nearby wife and kids can create distractions). Plus they should be of a similar height, weight and appearance.

The guards live at the Kremlin and do other duties, but this is the most important. Elena said the guard cubicles are heated. There’s are heat pads at the back and on the floor. I bet they aren’t very much comfort in the dead of winter when temperatures can drop as low as -30°C (or -22°F).

We watched two sessions of the changing of the guards and I have to agree that they all looked similar. That said, I’m quite sure the young man who took our tickets when we visited the Armoury later that day was the same guy who was on the right at the second changing of the guards. The rosy cheeks gave him away.

We had a short chat and I asked if he was on guard in the morning, but that was too much English for him. Sorry he didn’t understand because I’d like to think I can see beyond the view that They all look the same.

Changing of the Guard, Kremlin, Moscow

4 November 2017 / leggypeggy

Fashion and passion cross all cultures

wedding pic, Shanghai

Step a little closer, honey, I don’t bite

Wedding pic Shanghai

An arty wedding pose

No one asked me for directions in China or Mongolia. It’s no wonder. I don’t look Chinese or Mongolian. But every second street in Russia, someone stops to ask me something. I don’t know what their words are, but it’s obvious they think I’m a babushka (grandmother but minus the headscarf) with local knowledge.

Perhaps it’s the sensible shoes, the woollen trousers or the knitted ear warmer. The grey hair might be an indication, but mostly it’s hidden by the ear warmer and parka hood.

Okay, so I look frumpy. I look like an ancient Russian. Like a babushka, only taller. Most women here don’t look like me.

Frankly, nothing really prepared me for the fashion and passion I have seen on our travels across the vast landscapes that are China, Mongolia and Russia.

These people have nailed fashion—maybe not the Chinese so much, but the Mongolian and Russian women are dolled up in the most incredible outfits. They look like they stepped out of Vogue magazine—I look like I fell out of a duffel bag.

Their coats, hats, dresses, casual wear—it’s all impressive.

men's shoes in Russia

Men’s shoes in the Gum Department Store in Moscow

And the boots! Every woman in these two countries seem to wear knee-high boots of the most extraordinary designs. I haven’t been able to photograph much footwear on the move, but they are mostly leather and have been embellished with fur, sequins, laces, buckles, buttons, glitter, bows, flowers and more.

Some are flat and some have six-inch heels. Some come half way up the thigh. Beefier women with plump calves (like me) have ankle-high boots with just as much flair.

I haven’t paid quite as much attention to the menswear, but the shop windows are full of equally fashionable gear for the guys.

And the passion. I’m guessing relationships have to be kept a little more ‘quiet’ than in the western world, which may explain the passionate kisses and hugs we’ve been seeing. I missed capturing a lot of the passion, like the fellow who swept his woman into a backbend embrace ala Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

The wedding pictures have tickled me too. The pics here are from The Bund in Shanghai. If it’s anything like Vietnam, before the wedding, the couples hire outfits and get photos taken at different fashionable locations. I especially like the pic of the woman who seems to be saying ‘step a little closer, honey, I don’t bite’.

We saw a few weddings in the Baltic States earlier this year and I’ll post about them one of these days. I need more hours in a day and possibility a better wardrobe. 🙂

Couple Beijing

Couple in Beijing park