Mission To Berlin

My girlfriend and I love the Lord Of The Rings movies, as you probably noticed by our visit to Hobbiton and the Lord Of The Rings Tour that we did when we were in new Zealand.

We’ve also been enjoying the Hobbit movies, and have been to see them all at the cinema whenever they came out. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to go see the last one when I was over at Christmas, and now that I’m back again Leipzig (where my girlfriend moved to a few months ago) no longer has it showing anywhere in English (you often get original language movies showing in German cinemas). So, what to do, what to do? Why, go to Berlin and see it of course!

That was how we found ourselves on a coach at 10am heading for the capital. The movie wasn’t til 5pm, but we planned on checking out a few sights as well while we were there. The only other time I’ve been to Berlin before was during a DB train strike, when I had to get a coach there and three buses across the city to catch my flight home. I missed out on all (indeed, any) of the sights then, so I felt like I had some catching up to do!

We got there around noon, went to grab the tickets, and then set off in search of something interesting. In fact we’d just got back onto Potsdamer Platz when we came across The Berlin Wall!

the wall at potsdamer platz

Obviously not the original wall, but parts of it set out along the old route of the wall as a sort of exhibition.

where the wall once was

If you look you can see a line on the ground going from the wall section up towards the top left corner behind the orange bin, which denotes where the wall used to go.

There’s even a map showing you where it used to be.

east and west

Strange to think how the Berlin Wall came down because of a bit of a misunderstanding, eh?

We were going to head to Checkpoint Charlie next but found that the Brandenburg Gate was nearer, so we headed there instead.

the brandenburg gate

As ‘gates’ go it’s pretty impressive. It was also the perfect opportunity for me to revive my Landmark Inversions headstand series, which has been a bit lacking of late.

Thankfully I had my trusted camerawoman along with me. Always ready to help out (and freeze her fingers off in the cold weather!). We just did a quick test shot to get the framing right,

headstand test shot

and then up I went for number 74.

74. brandenburg gate headstand

Round the corner from the Brandenburg Gate is the German parliament, the Reichstag.

the reichstag building

It’s quite a building as well, though Lena was far more excited to find some ‘west German’ and ‘east German’ traffic lights right next to each other, so that she could finally show me the difference between the two (east in front, west in back).

stop and go

By now it was getting really cold, so we hit the Underground rather than walk all the way back to go see Checkpoint Charlie.

lost?

There’s actually not lot there when you arrive. Lots of ‘museums’ and ‘experiences’, lots of places called things like ‘Checkpoint Charlie Curry’, as well as places selling Russian and American army hats. But the actual checkpoint itself is just a little nondescript hut in the middle of the road.

checkpoint charlie, looking into 'east' berlin

There’s also a sign warning you you’re “Leaving The American Sector” (as if you wouldn’t notice the armed guards!).

leaving america

Strangely, the other side doesn’t say you are ‘Leaving The Russian Sector’ but ‘Entering The American Sector’. Have a think on that for a moment if you will.

entering america

For me it was time for another headstand photo, and this is the only one where I have explicitly paid to be allowed to take it (I’ve paid to get in places but any photos I’ve taken within have always been free).

75. checkpoint charlie headstand

It’s also the only one where I’ve gotten a small round of applause from the twenty or so people who suddenly gathered there while I was standing on my head, so all in all I don’t begrudge the two euros it cost me.

By now we were getting hungry, so off we went on our burger mission!

I’d found a place on Happy Cow called Sun Day Burgers, which promised a tofu burger with lots of healthy stuff to go with it.

sun day burger

They only sell the tofu burger, smoothies, and raw cakes, so there wasn’t much choice. We both went for the burger with chilli sauce (as I personally didn’t like the sound of the peanut or mango sauces). When it came it looked very tasty.

sun day tofu burger

Sadly the chilli sauce was so hot that after a few bites that’s all you could taste. I tried washing it down with my smoothie, but it had so much ginger in, it was overpowering as well! Perhaps we are both too sensitive to strong flavours these days, since we eat so healthily all the time, but we both found it a bit much.

We had some cake afterwards (which wasn’t cheap!); a raw pineapple cheesecake and a lime and avocado concotion,

raw pineapple and lime cake

but they too were a but heavy on the flavouring as well. All told it was quite an experience!

We like fries with our burgers, and since they didn’t have any at Sun Day Burgers we came away a bit hungry still. Thankfully, just round the corner was salvation!

chips!

Boy did they taste good. :)

happy belly

Our bellies finally full it’s off to the movies we go.

cine star, sony centre, berlin

The Cine Star in the Sony Centre to be precise. One of the last places to be showing…

der hobbit, in english

(“Der Hobbit”, in English)

It’s been out long enough you’ve probably seen it by now, but for the next paragraph I’m saying:

*SPOILER ALERT*

We enjoyed the movie, but it was a little long, and definitely not enough dragon. The whole Smaug bit at the start should have come at the end of the second film. They obviously only tacked it on here to make us go watch this one. Without it it’s just a lot of dwarves, elves and orcs (and humans) going at each other hammer and tongs. I mean, don’t get me wrong, enjoyable enough, but still no justification for stretching one small book into three long movies.

*ALERT OVER*

All in all it was a very successful trip. We saw a lot, did a lot of new things, and got the photos to prove it. Last LOTR movie seen, a new burger tried, and two new headstand pictures created. Fell asleep on the train on the way home, which is always the sign of a good day I reckon.

All told I think it’s safe to say,

Mission To Berlin : Accomplished

Bargain Alert!

This is one for all you yogis based here in the south of England (though to be honest it’s kind of a London thing also).

Saw the other day that the store Tiger is stocking exercise equipment (among other things) for the month of January, including a bunch of yoga equipment.

There’s mats for £15, blocks and straps for £2 each, as well as a bunch of other stuff you might find useful as part of your daily sadhana (fitness ball for £6 anyone?).

I make no guarantee on prices (even their own website has discrepancies), and I’ve no idea if your local store is carrying any or all of the equipment mentioned, I just thought I’d bring it to your attention so that, if you’re interested, you can take advantage of the bargains on offer.

Also, just FYI, I’m not being compensated in any way for this ‘advertisement’. This is just me helping you guys out.

Om Om Everyone. :)

New Thinking For A New Year

The new year is generally a time for resolutions. For people to make promises to themselves to do something different in the year to come. But do they really work?

for yoga

Personally I’m not a fan of the whole new year resolution thing. I think that if you want to change something in your life the time to do it is now, not just January 1st. However, if it helps get some people kick started on the change they need then who am I to argue.

I recently did a four week Positive Thinking course at the London Sivananda Centre, and the Swami there had some interesting things to say about how our minds work and what we can do to change our ways of thinking.

Because that is what is required for most of us to be able give up smoking, stop chewing our nails, eat healthier or do more sadhana (spiritual practice), is a fundamental change in the way we think about things. And that ain’t easy to come by.

Here’s a few of the notes I took on the course, presented in the order in which I took them. Perhaps some of the ideas will strike a chord, and maybe help cement your own resolutions for the coming year.

Thought is an energy you project. Thoughts have a form; thought have weight.

We tend to view thoughts as formless, being electrical impulses in the brain. But sad, angry, depressing thoughts can weight us down and make us feel heavy and lethargic, whereas happy, joyful, uplifting thoughts make us want to skip and dance.

We alone, among all beings, are able to choose our thoughts.

Changing circumstances means nothing if you cannot change the mind.

You can throw out all the chocolate in the house, but until you change how you think about chocolate, you’ll never stop craving it as much.

Changing our minds changes out lives.

Thoughts lead to actions. Repeated actions become habits. We can change our character by changing our habits. Your habits shape your life into the future (your destiny).

Thought → Action → Habit → Character → Destiny

Change your thoughts to change your destiny.

Thought is energy. Thought is alive. All that lives wishes to keep living [longer].

That includes not only all those negative samskaras (mental habits) that we have, but also all the positive ones too. The more we concentrate on the positive, and starve the negative of attention, the sooner the one will replace the other.

Negativity does not build up overnight.

Just as it took time, and repetition, for us to build up these negative mental habits that affect our lives, so it will take time for us to build up the positive ones to replace them.

Prevention means studying the law of cause and effect. Illnesses have a cause. So does being well.

You must recognise when you are unwell, recognise when you need rest, and do something about it. The body and mind deserve to be treated well.

Prevention in yoga means daily practice. It does not have to be much, but do something.

Removing a negative habit requires our choosing not to do something day by day. Adding a positive one involves choosing to do something day by day.

Anything we do to take our life back is considered positive. It inspires us. It allows energy to flow again. In the beginning it is connected to the physical movement of prana.

The mind and body effect each other greatly. When people want to change their lives they don’t always know where to start; so they come to a yoga class, do the exercises, and afterwards feel great both inside and out. Physically moving the prana (energy) helps move it mentally too.

As a man thinks, so he becomes.

Everything we think and do has a result. Therefore we must have discrimination in our actions. Positivity is a decision: So is negativity.

I can’t expect something beautiful from a half-hearted effort. Well-being does not drop from the sky.

You get out of your practice what you put into it. If you don’t try, you don’t get; simple as that.

∗∗∗∗∗

Good luck with those new year’s resolutions everybody. I’m sure you’ll do great! :)

Om Namah Shivaya!

International Yoga Day Announced

Apparently, the United Nations has just adopted a new resolution to declare June 21st ‘International Yoga Day’. The move was put forward by the Indian Prime Minister Modi in a speech he made to the UN in September, describing yoga as “India’s gift to the world.”

(silence)

This is just the latest in a series of moves the Indian Government has taken to safeguard and promote yoga in it’s traditional form. In 2001 they created the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, as a means of protecting ancient knowledge shared by all from being patented by the few (as was happening at the time). This was eventually expanded in 2008/9 to ‘copyright’ 1500 yoga poses so that no one person could claim them as their own.

Finally, in November 20014, they appointed a Minister for Yoga and Traditional Medicine, to oversee all of their good work so far, giving him a remit to ensure that yoga practice returns to it’s more spiritual roots. It seems they are concerned that a lot of what makes yoga so special is being lost in some people’s concentration on becoming bendy, and really you can see why.

om bags

The BBC report on the adoption of International Yoga Day posits the ridiculous question “Can Yoga Solve Climate Change?”, to which the simple answer appears to be “Don’t be silly.” But that’s only if you consider yoga to mean just the exercises people do (the asanas), often without the spiritual aspect as well.

To study the complete yoga system is to practice the mental as well as physical components – meditation, mindfulness, and proper relaxation – and in doing so to gain a better understanding of ourselves, our actions, and the effect we have on the world around us. We also come to understand that the idea we are separate from our environment is an illusion, and anything we do to it we do to ourselves. So maybe, from that perspective, yoga can change help solve climate change (in part, at any rate).

a lakeside contemplation

In my opinion anything that promotes yoga is a good thing, as it can only benefit everyone in the long run. And while I don’t think the creation of an International Yoga Day will change your average beer-drinking, meat-eating, TV-watching person into a full on yogi, a forum for introducing the asana-only yogi to the more spiritual aspects of their practice will certainly be of benefit to a great many people in the years to come.

Shopping The Global Village

The other day I went on Amazon to order some incense cones for the burner on my altar, and found for sale 100 cones for just £6, which I thought was a bargain.

When they arrived I was surprised to find that the package had been sent all the way from Thailand!

incense from the global village

I’d assumed that the seller, Thailandshop, would have imported them and then sent them from the UK. But no, they had been packaged and delivered directly from source!

We really do live in a Global Village when you’re able to take an order from overseas and send things from one country to another for so little and still make profit. :)

‘To Shrine, Or Not To Shrine…

…that is the question.’

Or rather, do you need an altar to be a good Yogi, or not?

shrine

I’ve seen many an altar in my day, some of them all gold and sparkly, like the ones at the Samye Ling Buddhist Monestary in Scotland.

shrine

Whilst others were more modest, down to earth and homely, like in the meditation cabins at Vajrapani Institute in California.

sunlight on the shrine

But I’ve never had an altar of my own, partly because I’ve never had anywhere to put one, but mostly because I couldn’t see the point?

My path to yoga came via Buddhism, most of which was self taught, and though I visited the London Buddhist Vihara in Chiswick a few times, I never took part in any of their ceremonies or pujas. I’m not a big believer in ritual for ritual’s sake, preferring to concentrate on my own personal experience and inner growth.

It was only once I started studying with the Sivananda Organisation in London that I gained some experience in such things, and from that started to see some value in them.

both of us in front of the altar

Having an altar, or shrine, can be useful in that it gives you a focal point, somewhere physical you can concentrate your mental efforts. You place there items of significance, and pictures of your gurus, and they can help remind you of what you are trying to achieve and how best to go about it.

You shouldn’t blindly prostrate yourself before the altar because that’s what you’ve been told to do, Buddha was dead set against that sort of thing, but if it can help you further along your spiritual path then why not?

And that’s the thing you see, only you can say if having a shrine or altar will make you a better Yogi or not, because only you know if it will be an aid to you in your studies, or a hindrance?

And the same goes for having a guru:

“If, though, by the conjunction of conditions, someone understands what the Buddha meant, that person doesn’t need a teacher. Such a person has a natural awareness superior to anything taught. But unless you’re so blessed, study hard, and by means of instruction you’ll understand.”
– Bodhidharma

 
Or in other words, if you think you need a Guru, get a Guru. And if you think you need a shrine, have a shrine.

When I moved into the last place I was staying I decided I’d like to have a wee altar to help concentrate my spiritual efforts. There was an old fireplace that seemed to be the perfect place for something like that, so I just picked up some bits and pieces from the local shops (vase, candle holders, etc.), bought an incense burner and some postcards of the swamis, wrapped a cardboard box in wrapping paper, et voila! One altar.

fireplace shrine

Y’see, these things don’t have to be all fancy. As long as you like them, and they have meaning for you, that’s all that matters.

And you can’t be too precious about these things either. I had to move house a few weeks ago, and so when my circumstances changed, so did my altar.

shelf shrine

Not as nice as the one I had before maybe, but so what if it’s just a wee bit of space on a shelf? It’s a bit of space set aside in my life for spiritual pursuits; a reminder for me to do my sadhana, to keep in mind the values of my teachers, and to remember what I am trying to achieve and how best to go about it.

And if it can do all that, then it’s done it’s job admirably, and no mistake; which at the end of the day is all that matters really, isn’t it?

A Taste Of Things To Come

Since I got back from my big trip I’ve been up to all kinds of stuff, but you wouldn’t know that because I’ve also been a bit lax in my blogging.

I’ve also been a bit lax in doing my headstands too, having missed a number of prime opportunities for no other reason that either, A) I forgot, or B) I was just having too much fun.

But anyway, no more! I’m on a mission to reach 100, but to do that I need to catch up on the last few that I have done. And since some of them are for blog posts I haven’t written yet, they are also a wee taste of things to come.

So, let’s see if any of these tickle your fancy? ;)

From the Black Forest in Germany last year.

69. black forest headstand

From my recent birthday trip to Iceland.

70. geyser headstand

71. gulfoss headstand

From my visit to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour.

72. harry potter headstand

And from my visit to Stonehenge!

73. stonehenge headstand

How about that little lot eh? :D

Now that they’re ‘on the line’ maybe it’ll motivate me to write about my adventures. Then again, maybe not. ..hehehe…

Either way, at least you got to enjoy them the once. ;)

Start As You Mean To Go On : The Aurora Borealis, part 2

Sunday morning, and time to rescue the trip after the let down of the night before. Life is a choice between what you will and won’t accept, and I was not going to start my fourth decade by accepting a vaguely disappointing tour as ‘good enough’.

sunrise over reykjavik

We wanted to see a bit of the Icelandic landscape, so we book ourselves on a Golden Circle Tour. This promised us waterfalls, geysirs, and national parks (with tectonic plates!). Truth be told I’m not a big fan of coach trips, but needs must, and it’s what we could afford, so off we went.

touring the golden circle

Iceland is fairly empty, so it wasn’t long before we were out of Reykjavik and into the wilds.

seeing the sights

iceland landscape 3

iceland landscape 2

iceland landscape 1

Iceland is run on geothermal power pretty much. Well you would if you had such an abundance of energy at your disposal. We went past the local power plant, with it’s geothermal vents,

geothermal vent 2

geothermal vent 3

geothermal vent 1

and zig-zag pipeline on wheels, that expands and contracts throughout the day, and so has to be that shape (and mobile) to stop it from breaking.

bendy pipeline

Oddly enough, the further in we went, the less snowy it got.

cabin by the lake

And we even got to see some of the legendary icepos! (albeit, from a distance).

icepos in the distance

First stop on the tour was the original Geysir (the one after which all other geysers are named).

thermal pools

Unfortunately it’s no longer active, after the land shifted and changed the underground plumbing.

the original geyser

But there’s another geyser next to it that goes off every 5-10 minutes, so you don’t miss out.

geyser

geyser eruption

Plus there’s plenty of other pools and streams around about that are interesting in their own right. They’re either full of colour,

colourful flows

(the photo doesn’t do it justice), or amazingly clear,

clear waters

or just strange and other-worldy!

steaming streams

I tried to get a headstand with the geyser, but it was tough getting the timing right, as you can see.

geyser headstand fail 1

geyser headstand fail 2

geyser headstand fail 3

geyser headstand fail 4

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun,

an old geyser, and his girlfriend

and that was just the first part of the tour.

Next we hit up the Gullfoss waterfall, a whopper of a falls if ever there was one!

gulfoss

over the edge

lieblings by the water

This time I did manage to get a headstand shot which I was pleased with.

70. gulfoss headstand

And we got to see some more of the amazing local landscape.

distant mountains 1

distant mountains 2

distant mountains 3

distant mountains 4

Iceland really is another world.

And that wasn’t the end of it! Our final stop was to be the Pingvellir National Park.

Pingvellir is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, or rather bid each other a fond farwell, as they are constantly separating, making Iceland one of the few countries that is growing by inches year in and year out.

This is the North American plate,

the north american plate

plate face

and you can walk the divide, which is interesting, but not that impressive to look at,

walking the divide

until you get to the end, where you can watch the sun set over the lake, a truly rewarding sight.

sunset in the wilds 4

sunset in the wilds 1

sunset in the wilds 2

sunset in the wilds 5

sunset in the wilds 3

And the sun going down marked the end of the tour. We hopped back on the bus to take the one hour drive back to Reykjavik.

On the way back we looked up at the clear skies and lamented. What a shame we hadn’t booked the Northern Lights Tour for that night. We were bound to see something. Such a pity to go home without getting a proper display. Of course, the answer was obvious! Do another tour!

The minute we got back to the hotel we booked a coach tour with the same company we’d just been out with, Reykjavik Excursions. Yes it meant more money, but at a third of the price of the 4×4 tour it was worth the risk. We went out for a quick curry, then soon we were back at the hotel preparing ourselves for another night out in the cold staring up at the sky.

I wasn’t going to be caught out this time. I wore my new wooly jumper, and yoga pants beneath my jeans for that extra layer of insulation. I also had my pockets full of what I consider to be essential aurora watching kit; camera, gorilla tripod, spare memory card, iPod containing Sigur Ros tunes, and cranberry chocolate.

aurora watching kit

We were picked up by the coach at our hotel, and after a stop off at the bus station to collect a few more people, we headed out of town.

Our first stop was not the most salubrious; basically a lay-by off the main road. We stood around for about half an hour waiting for something to happen,

aurora tour no. 2

but unfortunately no joy (and the nearly full moon didn’t help either).

by the light of the moon

Pretty soon we were back on the coach and off to the same car park where we’d ended our Golden Circle tour. Expectations were low, and people were slow, until someone exclaimed “It’s happening, right now, behind us!”, then the mad dash for the door began.

And not without just cause either. For the next hour we were treated to a full display right across the sky, which is much easier to show you than tell you about, so here it is.

aurora 2.1

aurora 2.2

aurora 2.3

aurora 2.4

aurora 2.5

aurora 2.6

aurora 2.7

aurora 2.8

aurora 2.9

aurora 2.10

aurora 2.11

aurora 2.12

aurora 2.13

aurora 2.14

aurora 2.15

aurora 2.16

aurora 2.17

aurora 2.18

aurora 2.19

And if you can make it out, here’s us getting our aurora on. ;)

lena and the aurora 1

lena and the aurora 2

me and the aurora

lena and me, under the aurora skies

I was very satisfied with that display. At least I now felt justified in saying I’ve seen the Northern Lights. Definitely got our money’s worth, and the coach experience wasn’t as diabolical as I thought it would be. We also got back in plenty of time to get a good night’s kip, which is always nice.

Our last day in Reykjavik we took it easy. Just wandered about a bit, seeing what we could see. We went up the cathedral tower and a got a good look at the city,

capturing the city

reykjavik bay

reykjavik

colourful construction

reykjavik boulevard

fosshotel baron

as well as some close ups of the cathedral clock.

getting the shot

inside the cathderal clock

light fingered

We also did a good bit of shopping and eating,

heart garden lentil burger

ending up back at the Laundromat Cafe,

the laundromat cafe

the laundromat, reykjavik

the laundromat lives up to it's name

to try their veggie burger (of course, lol),

laundromat veggie burger

and a local treat called Sorer

sorer

which I couldn’t pronounce properly (apparently) and which tasted somewhere between a chocolate mousse and a coconut macaroon; ie: delicious!

We ended our final day in Iceland with a stroll along the water-front to our hotel,

reykjavik port by night

reykjavik concert hall

before hitting the hay early. We had an early flight out, so much so in fact we thought we might see some more aurora before we left. But, alas, no luck. Instead this was out parting view of Reykjavik.

early morning reykjavik

We had a great time in Iceland. Saw pretty much everything we wanted to see. I had hoped to get closer to some icepos along the way, but instead we had to settle for this picture of a poster at the airport, lol.

icepos!

We both definitely want to go back in the summer, not only to experience the midnight sun, but to see the landscape at it’s best (ie: more green, less barren). That being said, Iceland any time of year is worth the trip. Just 3 hours from the UK, and not that expensive to get to, give it a go if you get the chance. You won’t regret it.

Fun At 40 : The Aurora Borealis, part 1

Well my friends. I am officially forty! I have begun a new decade. I tick a different box on the census form. I can justifiably start referring to people younger than me as ‘Kid’ (not that I have any intention of doing that, lol).

I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. When I turned thirty I hired out a screening room in Soho and had a surprise showing of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for all my friends, before going on to a pub to play pool all night (still officially the coolest thing I have ever done).

This time I wanted to do something off my bucket list, and since it only contains two items, and I’ve already ridden an elephant, it’s off to see the Northern Lights I go!

There are a number of ways you can do this. You can fly to Norway and take a dog sled ride from your log cabin out to the middle of nowhere where you will enjoy a majestic display against a backdrop of icy tundra, for which you will pay through the nose; or you can fly to Iceland where you will be picked up from your hotel in Reykjakvik in a 4×4 with seat warmers and driven out to the countryside to hopefully see something magical. I chose the latter.

aurora forecast

Checking the forecast a couple of days before everything looked good. There was a strong chance of there being some lights, and the cloud cover was low where we would be (Reykjavik is in the south west corner of Iceland, in case you were wondering). I was fairly confident of getting to see something, all I had to do was get there. That, though, would prove to be a close run thing!

Lena flew in the night before so that we could head out the next day from Gatwick. We stayed at a Travelodge nearby, which was quite comfy and even spacious enough for us both to do yoga at the same time.

travelodge yoga

It should have been a simple matter of jumping on the transfer shuttle, going to the airport, and going through security. But it seems the Gods had other plans.

I’d left some things I needed in the car – my book, trunks for the thermal pools, headphones for listening to Sigur Ros whilst viewing the lights – so I had to head back to the long term car park to get them before we left. Ok, perfectly do-able. But then the shuttle bus driver spent twenty minutes getting chatted up by some bloke at one of the hotels. I had to wait ages for the parking bus to come to take me to the car park. Going through security took a while as they decided they wanted to go through Lena’s entire bag. All in all we probably lost about an hour of free time just with faffing about.

But we still had time (I thought) for a bit of breakfast. After searching for somewhere that still did some kind of veggie fry up (it was past 11am and most places were on their lunch menu by now) we eventually found Armadillo, who could do something we both could enjoy.

NB: Our flight was at 12:30pm.

armadillos, gatwick airport

We told them we were in a hurry, and I’m sure they did their best, but it was getting close to noon by the time our food arrived.

gatwick brekkie

We got it down us, paid, and started sauntering towards the gate, confident of having a good half an hour or so before departure. Then I saw the departure board.

“Iceland Air to Reykjavik – Gate Closed”

Then I heard the announcement.

“Would Keith Dickinson and Lena Muh.. Mehr… Mary? Please make their way to Gate 57 as the flight is now ready to depart.”

Cue the two of us pelting through Gatwick Airport, luggage bouncing around behind us, weaving through the Duty Free section at full speed trying not to kill anyone along the way. Thank God our gate was right near the terminal and not one of those ones that’s miles away! We turned a corner and there it was. That was a relief, let me tell you.

As we apologetically gave them our boarding cards I saw one of them call down to another member of staff who was obviously on her way to close the doors. It was closer than I had thought. Still twenty minutes to our departure time mind you, but anyway. You can’t argue with them. Airlines have their own sense of time.

We got on the plane and, to save time, they gave us a mini upgrade to two standard seats right by the door with more legroom. Well, I say mini upgarde, it was more like, “These two are free. Sit here!” ..lol.. Either way, we weren’t complaining. We were just happy to be on the flight.

destination iceland

It’s three hours from Gatwick to Keflavik, a nifty little flight that starts off by taking you most the way up England before cutting through between Scotland and Ireland.

on our way

you are now passing...

scotland

We had fun monkeying around on the flight, discussing how nice it would be if you could jump out the window and bounce around on the clouds,

up in the clouds

and trying to take a selfie that wasn’t terrible.

my name is earl moment

It wasn’t long before we got our first look at Iceland.

first sight of iceland

And then we were coming in to land.

coming in to keflavik

The coach from the airport to Reykjavik took 45 minutes, and from the bus station to our hotel even longer. But finally we made it to the FossHotel Baron, which was right by the water, and which had a view ‘remarkably’ similar to the one we had in Queenstown, NZ.

checking the lists

sea views

the less remarkables

Check out the crazy geothermal hot water.

geothermal waters

They pump it up straight out of the ground straight to your home. No messing with it, nothing. Which is awesome, but does mean your shower will smell a bit eggy! Something which we never stopped finding amusing. If there was laughter coming from the bathroom that was usually why. :)

Daylight hours are short in Iceland in February, so once we were settled in we just had enough time for a bit of a walk before going to get some food.

Lena had printed out the listings from Happy Cow so we had plenty of places to choose from. We ate at Piccolo Italia, a lovely little place that did us some garlic bread, two pizzas, a tiramisu, and some delicious almond tea for just under 8000Kr.

almond tea

garlic bread

peasant pizza

vegetable pizza

tiramisu

The food was excellent, and a great way to start our stay. We took a few shots of Reykjavik at night on our circuitous way back to the hotel (I think we got a little lost, lol),

giant boat

reykjavik cathedral by night

and by the end I was happy to retire having had a very successful, if slightly frantic, last day as a thirty nine year old.

***

I started my forties as I mean to go on, with a long lie in!

yin yoga, bed style

Actually, that’s me doing some yin yoga on the bed because my back was acting up a bit.Talk about feeling your age, lol. Really did the trick though. I felt loads better after that.

While I was doing that Lena did some proper yoga.

hotel room yoga

Of course all that yoga meant we were too late for the hotel breakfast, but we consoled ourselves with a brunch type thing at the Laundromat Cafe.

I had pina colada tea,

I spy with my little eye...

Lena had a veggie burger,

laundromat veggie burger

and I had their ‘clean’ veggie brunch (the ‘dirty’ being full of meat).

laundromat big brekkie

It was pretty nice, and really set us up for the day.

chomp!

Because we would be out late that night we’d earmarked most of the day for wandering and shopping. Not that I bought much that day. I was more into looking around the city, checking out the cool architecture and the excellent views.

my house, reykjavik

the slightly more  remarkables

shades of new zealand

shades of queenstown

sunset mountain

The bit I was most looking forward to was my birthday cake at Cafe Babalu! :D

cafe babalu

We’d seen there was a vegan carrot cake on the menu, and I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

Lena had brought a candle to stick on top, so I had to document the occasion,

capturing the cake

birthday carrot cake

before blowing it out and making a wish.

make a wish

The cake was excellent! As was the soy hot chocolate. And we really liked the cafe too. From it’s crazy decor,

fluffy moose

babalu art

to it’s Star Wars themed bathroom, we enjoyed being there so much we decided to come right back after walking off the cake to have have something to eat before the evening’s main attraction – the Northern Lights.

babalu veggie chilli

babalu veggie lasagna

I’d booked a Northern Lights 4×4 tour because I didn’t want to be stuck on a big coach with loads of other people. I thought it would be more personal, and that we’d go to more out of the way places, and hence have a better chance of a good show. I was partly right.

fun

We were picked up from our hotel and driven out to a kind of lay-by, where we waited for the other two vehicles in our group to arrive.

4x4xfun

the gathering

off to see the lights

Our first attempt at seeing anything involved a bumpy off road drive up this icy valley.

off road

It became apparent quite early on that it was too cloudy up that way and we probably wouldn’t have much luck. So instead our guides decided to hit the road and do a sprint north to try and find clearer skies.

This involved a 6km drive under the sea.

6km of tunnel

Emerging on the other side of the bay, we had a quick pit-stop,

quiznos pit-stop

then we were off again into the middle of nowhere.

We ended up parked up this dirt road in what was basically some farmland. There’d been some activity along the way, so we were hoping for some light. Unfortunately, the cloud, which had been moving off, came in again. And though we saw a bit through the gaps, it wasn’t what we were hoping for.

Here’s the pics I took. Let me tell you, it looks more impressive on camera than it did in real life.

aurora 1, long exposure

aurora 1.2

aurora 1.3

aurora 1.4

aurora 1.5

As you can see, there’s something, but nothing amazing. I had hoped that the tour company’s guarantee meant they would take us out again the next night, but that was it apparently (one of the reasons I’m not advertising them here). I mean it was an ok tour, and we did see some light, but I was hoping for so much more, and I certainly didn’t feel like I’d got my money’s worth.

It was 1am by the time we got back, and we were so tired after standing out in the cold for hours that we just passed out in the warmth of our room and got ourselves some well earned rest.