Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Interesting border crossing at 6am. Endless passport checks and a train change. Unfortunately the final painstakingly slow and detailed check was carried out as our connecting train quietly slid out the station. Oh well, apparently only an hour or so to another train. Without any currency and no ATM or money change facilities, we were saved by Anna’s superior sign language and negotiating skills to convince one of the shops to change our Ukrainian money so we could get two coffees, some water and some salty dry crispbread. The expected cafeteria car for the intercity express did not eventuate, so this was breakfast.

Explored the city by foot, bus, boat, train and underground, including Europe’s first underground line, dating from the 1850s. The not-very-blue Danube was sporting a lot of very large river boats like this one here. After the last two weeks, Budapest did feel a bit like returning to the West, even though I presume it is technically the East. Modern infrastructure, diversity, shops with big windows, and English spoken by a significant minority. 80% of the city was damaged during WWII, but many of the traditional buildings have been restored. A pretty, friendly city, full of coffee shops and good restaurants and jazz clubs. Never made it to the jazz clubs – unfortunately will have to join the list of things which have to wait for the next visit.

Near the Victory Square, with its monuments, art gallery and museum, we stumbled on Art on Lake, an installation of a dozen or more sculptures in a large shallow lake. Hired a boat to look more closely. Ranged from the intriguing through the interesting to the bland, but all good fun. Particularly liked the set of four VWs, and the park bench and lampost sitting on the lake.

Finished up our visit with an afternoon at the thermal baths. Still wondering why it took 45 minutes to get a ticket when we were the only ones at the window. No problem, just the computer &/or operator was a little sluggish that day. Another 15 minutes to find a towel and a toilet, but eventually we got wet. Another half hour to find the actual hot pools, as opposed to the cold and warm pools, but we did have a very enjoyable three hours of massage, soaking and cold plunges.

Plenty of history, with more than 11 centuries of forts, churches and territorial wars and domination by a succession of empires and migrations. We did enjoy ourselves, taking it pretty easy and soaking up the ambience in the coffee shops. Mind you we did make a few too many trips to Maccas, for the first time in the trip. Apparently the late night lifestyle means that no one else serves breakfast before 9am. Coffee yes, bakery pastries yes, black forest cake yes, actual breakfast no.

Monday, 25 July 2011


Arrived in Kiev on the overnight train from Moscow and spent most of the day sleeping – venturing out only for meals and a short walk down the main street- the ‘On The Go Tour’ of Russia lived up to its name and kept us on the go for six days!

Central Kiev is dominated by a short main street with a large square which is closed to traffic on the weekends. A beautiful independence monument rises over the square. A network of underground shops and metro tunnels lies underneath. Our first call was to the Chernobyl museum in Kiev. Although tours do run to Chernobyl 100 km north, there are suggestions it is still too radioactive for safety.

The museum is a combination of details about the accident, with experiences and fate of many key personnel involved, several of whom died in the days or months afterwards from the exposure they suffered heroically acting to minimise the damage and during the cleanup. There are many artworks from local and overseas artists responding to the tragedy. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were particularly moved by the accident. The ongoing medical problems of the thousands of people exposed to radiation, particularly children, and the millions of displaced people unable to return to the 35 communities evacuated are covered with films and displays.
Anyone who thinks nuclear power is a feasible option should come here.

Some of the plant operators apparently spent up to 20 years in prison as a result of a Soviet inquiry finding the accident was caused by the operators, despite the later findings of the IAEA that the problems were inherent in the plant design, not operator error. It seems some adjacent nuclear plants continued operating until international pressure caused them to be shut down in 2000. It is not clear how the plant workers continued working at the centre of the 30km exclusion zone for 14 years. A 20m high wall and roof now forms a sarcophagus around the plant to fully enclose it.

Ukraine’s 46m population apparently continue to be pretty dependent on nuclear power. Natural gas is increasingly available for house heating. We saw the characteristic yellow pipework elevated 3m above the ground, and running though the centre of people’s front gardens in some towns and were a bit concerned by the rusty state of some of them. We also saw a place where the ground has been burning with a natural gas vent for the last 7 years. An untapped resource methinks.

We were greeted by thunder as we left the museum and rain soon followed making our afternoon sightseeing very soggy, obscuring the views and discouraging our planned walk down the scenic old town – we enjoyed funicular rides and managed to decode enough Cyrillic to navigate the metro, but we took a taxi out to dinner at the Ukrainian folk restaurant where we found ourselves surrounded by woven willow fences, sunflowers and rural farmyard settings, enjoyed traditional foods and were entertained by a trio of musicians, moving Anna to tears on a couple of occasions. We enjoyed complimentary Ukrainian vodka shots on arrival and on leaving (orange or horseradish flavoured) making us doubly grateful we were not driving on the chaotic rundown roads.

In Kiev, we were surprised to find that some of Anna’s family, the 2 daughters of Max’s sister Mariya, had heard of our visit, and wanted to see us. Daughter Mariya was here on a visit from Spain and was flying out the next day while Ana had come in from Poltava 200km away. Along with a local couple, Ana’s son Vladimir and his wife Oxyana who speaks a small amount of high-school English, we spent a couple of hours swapping family trees and one or two photos, before squeezing into a small van to travel to the Museum of Architecture and Ukrainian Lifestyles to see examples of traditional houses and farms built on a hundred hectares just out of town. The section we visited had an example almost identical to the detailed scale model Max built of the house and yard in which he grew up. It was uncanny to walk through them.

About half an hour after we arrived we were joined by an English speaking guide who’d taken tours for 35 years and had a routine he insisted on sticking to even though we had already seen the first few sites, but it confirmed that we had understood everything our almost non English speaking family had shown us and added some helpful information. We enjoyed a late lunch on the way back and had such a wonderful unexpected day we were very grateful to have met them all and been so warmly welcomed.

Another night train took us to Ivano-Frankivsk, in the west of the country, at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. We had a private cabin, but the beds seemed even narrower. We took a pre-booked two hour walking tour of the beautiful city centre with extensive pedestrian mall, churches, fountains and treed parks.

When we returned, we were met by a half dozen excited relatives, along with an interpreter Oxyana (coincidentally) who is a friend of one of the family, they hired for the 3 days of our visit. We were piled into cousin Vasilyi’s people mover and whisked straight off to the village of Lanchen 60km away, where Max grew up, collecting Vasilyi’s wife Svetlana and grandchildren Andrei (6) and Kristi (4) on the way.

There we saw Anna’s 90 year old Aunt Anna, after whom she was named. She and her daughter Mariya have adjacent houses on the block, with a large garden full of sweet corn, beans and much more which she insists on tending to herself, as well as apple and cherry trees. The favourite is the sweet cherry, a very small but extremely sweet variety. Branches full were pruned from the top of a large tree by Vadim for all of us to feast on.

Also there were another of Anna’s 7 cousins, Yura, who had driven all night from Odessa 600km away, with his son Vasilyi, grandson Dimitri (25)  and son-in-law Vladimir. While Max’s sister Anna was the only one old enough to remember Max from 1941, a couple of her children- Vasilyi and Yura, had been young when he was taken away and there were lots of stories told of him as everyone grew up. Their Baba -Max’s mother had prayed for his return until her death in 1972 and all of them had felt the absence of this much loved son, brother, uncle or nephew they never saw again.

A few old letters and photos that were sent from Australia in the early 1960’s were produced and some that had been lost were recalled as we sat under the trees. Many tears were shed as the story of how Max was taken by the Germans was recalled and how no news was heard for many years during the Soviet times as having relatives outside of the USSR was dangerous.

Tears of joy for the reunion now occurring and for recent photos of Max in his final years gave way to laughter as Anna gave Aunt Anna one of the wooden toys Maxim had made of rabbits playing drums. The great grandchildren – David Caroline Maxim (12,10 and 9, Lena and Vadim’s children) and Andrei and Kristi, gathered round for a turn, and recollections of how Max loved making things were shared. Though Aunt Anna was a little grumpy with Max for not teaching Anna Ukrainian the occasion was celebratory and Oxyana was overworked as everyone tried to share their stories over afternoon tea. We were sorry we couldn’t communicate with everyone at once.

We then all piled into three cars and drove to the property on the other side of the river where Mariya’s youngest son Vasilyi lives with his wife Bernada and sons Vladimir and Lubchek, and works the same land as Max and the next generation grew up on. There is a new house adjacent, but more than half of the original 150 year old house Max made his model of is still there, and used as a summer kitchen. It now has an asbestos roof rather than thatch and boasts a newish antenna pointed just above the horizon to a Russian satellite. Another antenna on the new house points in the other direction towards Europe. Vasilyi has been working the land for several years now after previously serving in the army and then working in the city for a while. We were very grateful to him for having renovated and maintained more than half of the old house while building his own house and building up the farm again.

To say we were surprised and overwhelmed by the hospitality is an understatement. Until a few days ago, the only contact Anna has had with the family were emails with another cousin, Vitalyi who moved to Ohio USA with his mother Helena, Aunt Anna’s  daughter, several years ago. She had written to Max a few years before he died and Anna and Lynda had begun corresponding with her son Vitalyi, who occasionally travels to Ukraine. His older sister Lena and her husband Vadim who speaks some English were our point of contact in Ukraine, through Vitalyi. That there is a wider network that’s been buzzing with the news became very obvious and everyone seems to have a mobile phone except Aunt Anna who is never very far from her land line. They were very excited to have Anna there, tinged with their disappointment that Max had never returned.

A very devout Orthodox family, they were keen to show us the church Max went to and the grave of his sister Mariya who died in 2003. So after dinner served in the garden along with the traditional three vodka toasts enjoyed by all who were not drivers we waved the party from Odessa off as they were again driving home overnight to be back at work the next day (amazing yes) and we headed off to take Aunt Anna and Mariya home via the church. Many photos of our very historic day were taken by Vadim who is a professional photographer, and had the group shots well stage managed.

Unfortunately it was too late in the day to visit the graves of Max’s parents Simon and Paruska, so that was left until our return on Saturday. We headed back to Ivano-Frankivsk talking through Oxyana all the way.

Next day we spent the afternoon in the local museum, housed in the old council building, with Lena and Oxana. Later we were met by Vasilyi, and travelled to the market cum recreation town of Yranchera in the mountains about 20 km from Lanchyn. A beautiful river flows through the gorge, with a hundred stalls on both sides. A very popular spot with locals and tourists alike, and one of the places frequented by Max. It was speculated that this is where he learnt to make the toys and carved boxes he produced for the grandkids.

The no swimming signs above the rapids were ignored as people paddled and rock-hopped at the edges, and a few swam a little further upstream. We had a fine time shopping, which unfortunately will contribute more to the coffers of the postal service, than to the local artisans and stall holders. This was followed by some traditional food for dinner in the restaurant, with borsch and a polenta dish with pork, and a special serve of dill gherkins for Anna. The live music was so infectious that we all ended up dancing.

The drive home was revealing. Even at 11 or 12 o’clock, the roads were full of pedestrians, groups of people chatting, horse-drawn haycarts, and cars driving down the middle of the road to miss the potholes. The combination of all these and oncoming traffic, led to many a tight (read dangerous) situation.

Next day we retuned to Lanchyn, and were hosted by Vasilyi and Bernarda at the farm. A walk into the hills behind the house, and a walk to the local waterhole on the river Prut gave us a great sense of the area. We dived in an swam to the other side to what Vasilyi calls the Jaccuzzi, at the base of a small rapid. By the time we had finished with toasts, dinner, family trees, address swapping and stories it was late. Even so, at 11.30pm we knocked up 90 year-old Anna at her house on the way home. They obviously have no concerns about the state of her heart as they leaned on the doorbell until she woke and let us in for a chats, sweets and hugs.

Stayed the night in Kolomiya, which is a town about 20km away. In the morning, explored the local market, mall and museum, before taking a walk to the park and lake. The rest of the day was 6 hours driving to Uzgurod, so we could get a few hours sleep before catching the 5.40am train to Budapest in Hungary.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Hi from Sandy and Anna!
Moscow is another amazing city. 10-12 million people, so we only see a fraction of it, mainly the older or central parts. We stayed at the old 1980 Olympic Games Site. There is a complex of 5 hotels, which have since been renovated, near to the underground, giving easy access to the city.
Breakfast, shower and a powernap after a very hot and cramped night on the train were a real treat. Then a subway trip to the Kremlin.  

The underground has a variety of artworks and lavish design work, from use of marble, gilding and chandeliers, to mosaics, relief carvings and statues. Over reliance on militaristic and worker solidarity themes and some is a bit too ornate, but there is also diversity, craftsmanship and excellent design.

The Kremlin was a bit of an eye opener. Always thought of it in terms of the Soviet regime, but it is actually a walled fort dating back to the 12th century, and full of churches and administration buildings. When Napoleon came to Russia in the 19th century, the Russians knew they were no match in a straight fight, so they stripped the Kremlin of all valuables, set fire to most of the city and left. When Napoleon arrived there were no food supplies or treasures. The Russians set siege to the Kremlin and Napoleon was forced to withdraw from the city within a month or so. I guess everyone who has read War and Peace knows all this, but for me it is all new! The joys of ignorance!

Inside is the 40 tonne Tsar Canon, the largest calibre cannon ever made, with a bore of 89cm or 35 inches and a length of 5.3 metres, and built in 1586. The carriage is from 1835 and the steel cannonballs are for show – it was designed to fire 800kg of stone shot - but there is no evidence it was ever fired in anger.

The Orthodox churches are interesting. While some are very large, they are often for ceremonial purposes, or glorified burial places for the elite. The regular churches may be very small area to allow intimacy with god. Paintings cover almost every surface. Including the ceiling and the dome. A significant portion of the space is reserved for the priest behind a full height high icon wall carrying rows of religious pictures. No statues are allowed.

Red Square was also a surprise; not as big as I expected (was I thinking of Tiananmen Square?) with the external wall of the Kremlin on one side and the Soviet-built Gym department store along the other. The massive cold war military parades were made possible by demolishing a couple of churches at one end. In characteristic Russian style, these have now been rebuilt.
St Basil’s church at the other end narrowly escaped demolition because it was built by Ivan the Terrible who apparently was a role model for Stalin. It consists of a central church surrounded by eight others dedicated to different saints and with their own tower, but all on a single foundation and exterior wall, with passageways and meeting rooms between. A really intriguing structure. Muscovites love Red Square. Red is associated with beauty, and even Lenin’s mausoleum and cemetery No 1, full of dead presidents plus Yuri Gagarin, placed in the middle of one side, has failed to dampen their enthusiasm..

The Moscow circus was a traditional circus but in a permanent venue, with the high wire, trapeze, juggling, clowns and an array of animals including horses, chimps, big cats and camels. Felt a bit guilty going when they trotted all that lot out.

Went for an explore around the city by foot and metro. The metro has a circle line linking all routes, making it very easy to get around. Except the long walk we did down the pedestrian mall was meant to end with a metro stop. After half an hour searching every entrance way, we finally concluded the stop was closed, so we did the whole walk back again. Great street musicians though - bought some excellent guitarist’s work, though Anna balked at buying the pan flautist’s CD.

One of the highlights was a Moscow by Night minibus - travel on the streets seems only possible after hours because of congestion during the day. So we got to see much more of Moscow above ground in the beautifully long twilight. The seven sisters are a series of massive high-rise Stalinist buildings spaced around the capital, with spires added to ensure they did not look like western skyscrapers. Two are used as hotels, two are government, and one is the Moscow University. This one is the Ukrainian Hotel and scrubs up very nicely in the early evening opposite the (Russian) White House.

A very relaxed last evening while we waited for our 20:25 overnight train to Kiev. Unfortunately it had long gone by the time we arrived at the station thinking it was at 10.25pm. Whoops, another dyslexic moment! Luckily we managed to get tickets for the 23:15 fast train which arrived in Kiev an hour earlier than our scheduled train. As usually, Sandy slept like a baby while insomniac Anna spent the night keeping watch. Oh well!!

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Monday, 18 July 2011

St Petersburg

St Petersberg is quite an amazing place. Set on the delta of the Neva River where it flows into the top of the Gulf of Finland. It was established by Peter the Great in the early 18th century after a war with Sweden to gain sea access to the Baltic Sea. The whole top of the gulf is fresh water which freezes in winter, though apparently not sufficient to stop bigger shipping.

The city was laid out to be like Amsterdam or Venice, with canals forming over 100 islands. Much of the architecture and was by leading Italian designers at the time. The lattitude given the designers led to statues adorning the cathederal, despite not normally being allowed in Orthodox churches. A boat trip for two hours on the canals and out to the port was a treat, showing us quite a variety of landscapes, including parklands, palaces, the Peter and Paul fortress, the cruise ship terminal with 7 ships in port, and a glimpse of the high rise dormitory districts further out.

The main city is remarkably consistent in design, often with yellow or other bright paint colour, a 4-story building height restriction, and stone frontages, meaning long rows of buildings and almost no plate glass windows in the whole city centre. Makes finding shops of any description quite hard for a visitor. We did stumble across a string of cafes offering cafeteria-style self service selections of meals, which saved many grey hairs from trying to decipher a Russian menu written in Cyrillic.

We have had great fun deciphering the alphabet, prompted by the 90 minute queue for immigration at the airport, and some interesting advertising signs, plus a 90 minute car ride from the airport to our hotel. To our great surprise, a good percentage of signs became readable once the code was cracked, with a little help from google. Like other European languages, the words themselves often either have the same root, or have been imported, so our obsessive deciphering of the signage often revealed significant information. It also allowed us to navigate the Underground and the street signs with some degree of reliability.

Palaces are all the go here, with a claim to have around 500 of them in the city. This is the largest, the Hermitage. No wonder the peasants revolted. There were probably as many churches, but many were blown up during the Soviet times. In fact, as with many places in Europe, many public buildings are either replicas of what was there before, or replacements. Particularly so in St Petersburg, which was under siege for 900 days during WWII, damaging or destroying much of the city.

The trams were used to take troops to the front line, which shows just how close the front line was. However, some of the rolling stock does look like it has not been replaced since.

Two decades of painstaking restoration work on the churches, which were closed or used as museums or storerooms for over 60 years, has produced some remarkable results. The Peter and Paul Cathederal domes alone consume 12kg of gold leaf, which apparently needs to be redone every 10 years or so. The love affair with gilding also extends to the interiors, with widespread use on statues, icons and relief work.

The statue of Samson in the fountain at Peterhof garden apparently requires regilding every 3-4 years. I reckon there’s a lot of gold sitting in the bottom of that fountain.

Particularly impressive is the Church of the Spilled Blood, erected at the site of the fatal stabbing of Alexander II in 1881. Although used as a storehouse for theatre props during the Soviet period it has seen intense restoration.

The interior is intricately decorated entirely in glass mosaic above the lower 2 metres. While a bit gaudy on the outside, it is still a beautiful piece of architecture.

There is so much more to say about St Petes, but I do not want to bore you just yet, so we will leave it there for now.

Friday, 15 July 2011


In Stockholm, staying at the (thankfully ex-)Langholmen prison. This was a complete surprise as it said nothing in the accommodation booklet we chose it from at the airport. Sandy’s initial freakout was balanced by Anna’ thinking it was kind of cool! It is an interesting conversion- the room is 2 of the cells with the wall taken out, and the bathroom is half another cell. Unfortunately the windows are too high and small to see out of, except standing on a stool. The walls are two feet thick, and all the doors in the place clang shut very firmly. Interesting they provide a ladder, and instructions on what to do if you get trapped in your room. Mind you the ladder may be just for the bunk bed.

The prison has its own island across the water from the centre of town. One of the bridges to the city actually does a flyover the island. The old staff houses and some other old renovated buildings have beautiful gardens full of fruit and vegetables. It is now a parkland with a swimming beach and many people having picnics with the rabbits and squirrels. The day is warm and Anna has put away her warm Iceland clothes and is wearing her cotton dress and sandals for the first time.

We had a good flight from Iceland with a fantastic view including all of the glaciers which was spectacular and made up for the other day when we failed to see more than the lower fringe of the Snaefell glacier we travelled two days to visit due to heavy cloud cover. It was the one used at the start of the journey to the centre of the earth film.

 We flew right over areas we had been very curious to see, along the southern edges of the three larger and one of the smaller glaciers. It was like having a scenic flight over Iceland included free. Over the sea and  Norway was under thick cloud and then Sweden emerged between puffy white clouds all green and forested and nothing like Iceland which is mostly barren and the most unique place imaginable.

Stockholm has an archipelago of around 30,000 islands, so many parts of the city are on the surrounding islands.  The city is around 60km from the open sea, but with a harbour for large ships, and the big surprise came when we went swimming at the local beach to find that the water is fresh. 
Salander's Top Floor Pad

Many islands have specific uses, such as Langholmen for the prison, the old city on Gamla Stan, the garden island of Djurgarden, and the funky Sodermalm, site of much of the action in the Millennium Trilogy. In fact we did the Millennium walk to see the various locations used in the books, including the Millennium offices, Mikael Blomkvist’s apartment and Lisbeth Salander’s multi-million apartment overlooking the harbour.

Took the ferry service to Vaxholm Island, with its old fortress, and where the locals go for a day out, if they do not have a summerhouse on their own island. The ride was remarkable for the number and diversity of islands, some barely more than a suburban block, and supporting a house, a landing, numerous trees and the Swedish flag, but also ones which were uninhabited.

We chose the ferry ticket including coffee and waffles and after a hot sunny walk found ourselves at an historic café with the largest cake selection imaginable where we enjoyed our waffles with a beer in the garden and then meandered around the town discovering a sculpture park and local gallery with an exhibition opening of painted glass works in progress and ended our circuit back at the harbour. We found the local swimming spot we’d been overlooking from the café and enjoyed a swim finishing a lovely day out with a return visit to the café for some of their cake and coffee.

On our last sightseeing day the clouds came in and the weather turned cold and we had a long outing to find the Modern Museum of art, and were not interested in the exhibitions once we finally arrived so we got on the ferry to Djurgarden island. Having misread the map we did two round trips of the 3 stop journey around the harbour- the funniest thing about the experience being the sign on a ship at the harbour saying “Ship Happens…” We finally got off at our stop and enjoyed walking in the gardens.

Much of the public sculputre was small and uninteresting after the feast of Iceland, but we did find a couple of really enjoyable pieces.

Sunday, 10 July 2011


With the generous hospitality of Margret and Gudjon, we were treated to the highlight of the trip so far. After an afternoon at the Blue Lagoon hot springs, we went on a two day trip though the mountains, glaciers, hot springs, hydro stations, geysers, waterfalls, historic sites and plains of south-west Iceland, with a stay at a beautiful summer house overnight. Absolutely awesome.

Iceland was settled in the ninth century, and received a major boost from people unhappy with the unification efforts of a certain King Olav of Norway in the 10th century. The first few hundred years are very well documented, with a huge cast of historical characters in the many Sagas, which were mainly written down in the thirteenth century.

They had a parliament system established by the 11th century with no head of state, which has continued for over a thousand years. We visited the site of the parliament at Thingvellir. This is also the site of the rift where the Pacific and the North American plates are separating. Remarkably little sign of recent movement, despite a 2cm per year plate divergence.

The parliament met once a year with clans coming from around the county and setting up camp for one or two weeks. The clan leaders formed the parliament which met in the open, and also acted as a court of law.

The country was under the control of Denmark for 300 years until WWII and the Ting continued to meet, with decisions having to be ratified by the King of Denmark. Towards the end of WWII the Icelanders seized the day and declared independence towards the end of the war while Denmark was still under occupation.
We visited the site of the first dioscesan church in the middle of the countryside, far from any towns, which was the base of the Iceland diocese from its conversion in the eleventh century. A plaque lists all the Bishops from around 1050 to the present and their period in office. Such continuity for over 1000 years was quite staggering. Of course they were on their 10th church on the site, with previous ones regularly burning down.

We visited Geyser, which is the site of the thermal vents from which all geysers get their name and there is one which erupts spectacularly every 10 minutes or so.

The waterfall Hvarnfoss, or Lava Falls has underground water cascading from halfway down a rock face to the river, along a distance of around 250 metres. We visited a hotsprings with around a dozen fountains of water boiling out of the rock, before going into a pumping station, piping it 74km to Arkranes for space heating.

We visited the small town where the writer Snorri Sturlurson recorded many of the oral historical sagas of the Icelanders in the thirteenth century, relating mainly to the first 120 years of settlement from 930 to 1050. Gudjon very kindly bought us two books of Sagas which we have been very much enjoying.

The whole journey was in sight of one of the glaciers, and Mount Hekla which is currently threatening to erupt. It has done so every 10 years last century, and is now 1.5 years overdue for an eruption. Being only 110km from Reykjevik, I would be worried, but the Icelanders, like the San Franciscans are philosophical. They have been living with volcanos for 1000 years.

The weekend was topped off by a glorious dinner at the Pearl, a revolving restaurant set on top of a ring of 5 massive tanks on a hilltop in Reykjevik, The tanks hold hot water for the district heating system for the city.

West Iceland we did by ourselves, exploring the Snaefelness Peninsula, with another glacier-topped volcano at its tip. The area has many sites from the sagas, and a monument to the first European woman to give birth in North America, an Icelandic woman who travelled extensively with the Viking ships in the 11th century. Her various journeys to Newfoundland, Greenland and European mainland are shown.

The mountain-top itself was covered all day in cloud, but we did drive up to the snowline and walked on the glacier. The singing cave was another highlight of this mountain. About 5 metres across and about the same high, but with a 1m high entrance, causes the wind to create notes. The wind was very strong when we were there, and the cave was pulsating, much like a doof-doof car sound system. One saga describes an early settler coming here and holding council with a group of dwarfs. He later disappeared on the glacier and became the spirit of the mountain.

Managed to find the café nearby reputed to serve the best fish soup on Iceland. A tiny building perched on the hillside above a rocky bay, and yes, the fish soup was absolutely beautiful. We learned how to make great fish soup at an earlier restaurant. The broth and the fish are cooked separately, each to their own perfection, and the broth is then poured over the fish pieces just before serving. Cannot wait to try it ourselves.

Did I mention the sculptures? Wow, what inspired sculptures everywhere here. I love it.

 And the boundless creativity of the church designs!

Thank you so much to Margret and Gudjon, and all the family for making us feel so welcome, including the use of the exquisite summerhouse.