I’m on the top of the world

Today we said farewell to Finland and as pretty she was, she didn’t offer much in the way of the Northern Lights….. so we jumped into a mini bus with absolutely no suspension and bounced our way across the border to Norway.

It was about a 3 hour drive from Inari and at about the 2 hour mark we stopped in the middle of nowhere where there was not one, but two large supermarkets/petrol stations – side by side.  The reason there are shops here is that the Norwegians who live over the border and some Russians, who live over their border come here to Finland because it’s so much cheaper….. this doesn’t bode well for the next 10 days in Norway!!!

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Once we were over the border, the landscape just changed.  The height and type of trees were different; there were more shrubs and the hills were bare…. then we followed a fjord all the way to the end – which was our destination – Kirkenes.

The clouds opened up a little bit to welcome us and gave us this lovely view.

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We’re only here one night, which is ok, because we saw the town in about 10 minutes including a stop in at the Norwegian branch of the Salvos called “Fretex” where I picked up a coat that should see me through to the end of the trip whereby I can donate it back…. in fact it has led me to thinking that is a good business/community idea/opportunity whereby people who are travelling from one destination to another could hire clothes or reusable travel accessories that they will need for a small price and leave it at the other end where travellers at that end can hire them and bring them back.  I’m not sure whether it would work on the WA coast…. but something to think about.

Tomorrow we board the Hurtigruten ship.  This is one of her fleet sailing out of the fjord today.

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This shipping line has been running since 1893! Here’s a bit more history about the Hurtigruten Line for those of you who are interested.

…and if you were interested in booking the Hurtigruten – I can absolutely recommend Lyn Tyson – Travel Manager Extraordinaire who makes travelling oh so easy.

Cloudy with a 14% chance of Aurora

I’ve been keeping an eye on the aurora activity since before we left home…. I downloaded the app and put a few met websites in the favourites for easy access…. and up until now the activity has been pretty low, coupled with the thick cloud blanketing the sky – it’s made seeing the northern lights impossible – until tonight!!!!

Don’t get too excited though.

We were picked up by our tour guide and the only other guest on the tour – Cowry from Japan.  As I mentioned we were meant to go out on a river cruise tonight to hopefully spot the lights, but because of rough waters (?) he switched the tour over to the car – which we were happy with because by the time he picked us up it was raining!  Not a good start.

Optimal conditions to see the lights need a clear dark sky and a good – high KP (I know ALL the lingo now)  As we’re well above the Arctic Circle, we only need a 2 KP or more to have a chance of seeing anything…. Tonight’s KP is 4.6 – so chances are good if we can find a bit of clear sky.

So, drove north – almost to Norway to find a bit of clear sky.  Our guide had a colleague with another group who called to say that he had found a clear patch and was seeing some amazing auroras, so we screeched to a halt and raced back to near where his partner was… by the time we got there (10kms away) the hole in the clouds had closed over, but we waited it out for a bit and this is what we saw…..

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…. except I want you to imagine more clouds, also the clouds were light grey rather than this dark colour and instead of blue light, picture it white and instead of it being that clear, think about something not so bright…..  and that’s sort of what we saw.

We definitely saw something, but it wasn’t what we were expecting or hoping for.

The clouds parted every now and then but when they did and we could see stars, the aurora weren’t there, and then they’d appear and the clouds would close over – it was like the clouds were playing defence!

Our guide tried his darndest, driving and stopping, getting out to check, then back in again and driving further down the road.  Then it started to rain again and were happy to head home.

Still a few more opporchancities to go.
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Above and Beyond

After a LENGTHY bus ride yesterday from Rovaniemi to Inari where the driver spoke only a little bit more English than I do Finnish… luckily one of the words I needed to say to him was the number 3 and I have that down pat after our last trip here when I learned Michael Jackson’s ABC/123 song in Finnish…. why? I hear you ask.  I thought it would come in handy one day.  Anyway, I digress…. after the lengthy bus ride we were deposited right outside our hotel which is a great service…

We’re staying at a traditional hotel – Kultahovi which is owned and run by a traditional Sami family.  Our room has with a fantastic outlook over the river’s.  There is even a special small side window that you can leave open through out the night letting in fresh air and so you can hear the water.  We also have a sauna in the bathroom and a drying cupboard…. we may not leave this room – very cosy!

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Today we decided to wander around the village of Inari – the person at the hotel reception said that their ‘skyline’ consisted of one hotel, one shop, one supermarket, one ATM, one petrol station…. you get the picture.” A journey around the town wasn’t going to take too long, so we decided to take the scenic route… which Me Jenny is clearly happy about this decision!

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It was a little uneven to start with and there was concern about rolled ankles and the like…

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… but hands were held and we made it to the smooth path unscathed.

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It was pleasantly picturesque and we thought that the birds who lived in this house would be both happy to have such a view and annoyed that they were perched right on the walking track….. although they could choose to live literally anywhere else if they mad their own nest, so perhaps they shouldn’t be so whingey?

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The walking trail is called Juutua – and here’s a little poem about it for you all to enjoy.  Is anyone able to tell what style of poem it is?  Perhaps a style that needed the author to include the word ‘poem’ as many times as possible?

Joik:  A joik is a traditional form of song of the Sami people of the Nordic countries and Kola peninsula of Russia. Originally, joik referred to only one of several Sami singing styles, but in English the word is often used to refer to all types of traditional Sami singing. As an art form, each joik is meant to reflect or evoke a person, animal, or place.

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Our first stop was to visit the Siida Museum which tells the story and the history of the Sami people who are indigenous to the northern nordic countries – they were living here way before the countries put up boarders and separated themselves from each other.

So this is where we are in Inari – Finland, to me, has always looked like a lady in a long dress waving one arm…. she used to have two arms, but the Russians took that one back after the Winter War in 1939.

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Here is a bit of conundrum….  We were looking at this family tree and whilst I’m of the opinion that you can be or identify with any gender you please, we were a little confused at how back in the 1800s, when gender fluidity was yet to become a known thing, were these couples reproducing because Inga here…. looks like a man.

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I’ve also got my suspicions about Anne and Sara…

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and Joavnna has got a moustache!

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My friend Sarah commented yesterday that she was enjoying my reindeer facts, so just for you Sarah, here are a few more….

Each reindeer is tagged to mark ownership by cutting into these marking into their ears!  It looks quite barbaric, although the reindeer didn’t seem to mind too much in the video I saw – maybe they don’t have any feeling in their ears?

Just like the Iceland sheep herders do, they let the reindeer roam free during the summer where they eat berries and then at the beginning of winter the reindeer are all rounded up, put into a big pen and then sorted out so each herder gets their own reindeer to look after for the winter.

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I would like to know who designed this traditional dress and why…. although I did learn that each family/group/community has its own weave, like the Scots have their own family tartan.

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This is what it looks like to be excluded…. look at what happens above the Arctic Circle…. daylight stops….. and then for the other 6 months – it won’t stop!

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Now, I’m going to admit to you here that I didn’t know that wolverines were a real animal.  I thought it was just Hugh Jackman… but apparently, they do exist and we are sitting right in wolverine country right now!  They don’t look to savage at all, but I’m told they have the claws of Hugh – they don’t retract or anything, but they’re there, so we don’t want to get too close.

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In one section of the museum there was a photo exhibition of local Finlanders who had pursued different career avenues in the area…. there was someone in media, tourism, language, etc…. and then there was Jimi who is a professional breakdancer and studies handicrafts.  Good on him.  Follow your dreams Jimi.

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There is an outside exhibition as well showing traditional houses…

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Me Jenny thought she might like this one for her holiday home…..

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And I thought I could have this one for myself… since the are right next to each other and we all know that I don’t like to be too far away from me mother for any long periods of time.

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On the way out there was the obligatory visit to the shop.  They had lots of lovely things, but they were either way too pricey, too warm for us to use at home or made of wood which is too much of a hassle taking back to Australia.

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We headed into the village to check out the ‘skyline’ and the lady at reception was correct, there is only one of everything…. I mean, how many of everything do you really need?

First stop was the supermarket to check out the different wares…

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The we hit the restaurant for lunch…

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We tried the local beer…

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and sampled a reindeer salami pizza!

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A little walk to work off lunch took us down by the river and the marina.  I’m loving the Autumn colours up here.  Our guide back in Rovaniemi told us that in Autumn the leaves fall off the trees and then they are naked….. these yellow ones are almost fluorescent.

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The lake is crystal clear and we were quite glad there wasn’t a breath of wind because it was absolutely freezing!

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We were supposed to be going out on a lake cruise this evening to hunt for auroras, and we were hoping that it wasn’t it a boat like this, although it does have a fancy motor… but we’ve just been informed that because of the choppy waters, the tour will now be done by car.  Um….. choppy waters?  Well, I’d rather be in a car than one of these boats in 2° temps any day!

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There’s still 100% cloud coverage tonight, so it’s still not looking good for seeing the lights, but they’re giving us a 7% chance – and that’s still a chance.  Fingers crossed.

Aurora Hunters

Tonight was our first of many goes to try to see the Northern Lights – our mission for this trip!

Our tour guide was Martin, from Bulgaria who came to Finland with a plan to stay 3 months to study and ended up staying 8 years.  He loves the quiet and peaceful nature of the Finnish people.  He said “I think when there are too many people, they are not that nice to each other, but when you life in an isolated place, you’re happy to see people.”  True dat.

Martin wasn’t sure that we’d see the Northern Lights tonight as the clouds were pretty thick, but it would be a good experience anyway…..

There were 8 people in our group – us, our Aussie friends, Stacey and Chuck who were lovely and two other couples – one from Indonesia and one from Hong Kong.  The couple from Hong Kong were on their second of three tours to try to catch the lights and it wasn’t looking good for them.  Martin drove us out to a far away cabin in the woods about 30 minutes away and then lead us in the dark to a viewing platform over a lake.  In the day it would have been breathtaking, but as it was pitch black, we just had to imagine….. but, pitch black is ideal for spotting the lights…. when there are no clouds.

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We went into the cabin where Martin talked about Finnish culture, the local animals and his love for photography and berry picking…. he then presented us with this hot juice that he made from the berries he’s picked himself that day.  It was lovely, if a little sweet.

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The cabin is owned by the tour company and as staff they are allowed to go there on the weekends.  They can fish, fang around on the snow mobiles, go ice skating and take sauna and jump in the lake…. even when it’s frozen over, they clear away a section at the end of the jetty so you can still jump in – if you’re bonkers.

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So Martin stoked up a fire and cooked up some toasted cheese and reindeer prosciutto toasted sandwiches and some pork sausages for our picnic dinner whilst we stared out into the darkness waiting to be dazzled by the lights.

All but given up, the group except for Stacey, Chuckie and myself retreated to the fire, and the three of us swear that we all saw the same green flash of light…. and after that there were spot flashes of white light – but whether that was the real deal or just our eyes desperately wanting to see something….. I don’t know – anyway, that’s not what we came to see, so the hunt goes on…..

We felt very irresponsible walking away from the fire pit with the fire still lit… we asked if we needed to do anything to the fire before we left and he said, “No, it will die out.” “You’re not worried about bushfires?” we asked… “There are 200,00 lakes in Finland, there is no chance of fire.”   I hope his cabin is still standing for the next tour.

Santa Claus is coming to town

This morning we were off on a little tour which because of the time of year was going to be a non intentional private tour…. but we were joined by two lovely people from Australia!

Jenny likes to be super early for everything so, we took a walk down to the river before the tour started.  There is another bridge to the left and in Winter the section between the two bridges doesn’t freeze because the water is moving too fast – I’m not sure what happens when it moves quickly into the frozen part though….. ?

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Just near our hotel is the Pohjanhovi Resort…..  Does anybody else see a play on Jon Bonjovi in this name?

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Our tour guide today was Michael, a lovely young man from Russia who is studying tourism in Rovaniemi and speaks perfect English, Russian and enough Finnish to get by.  He took us to a reindeer farm, the husky park and Santa’s Village….. that’s right – we met Santa!

There are 220,000 reindeer in Finnish Lapland, the reindeer herding region and they know this because each reindeer is owned by somebody and each year they count them and any numbers over 220,000 are culled for meat.  If they have more than the magic 220 there is not enough food in the forest for them and they perish and if they have less, then there isn’t enough meat…. highly regulated.  Apparently it’s a very rude question to ask a Laplandish reindeer farmer how many reindeer they have because it would be like asking somebody how much money they have in the bank.

We got down to the reindeer and Marie, whose family has been herding reindeer in this same spot for about 7 generations (that she knows of) told us not to touch their antlers because they were very raw and tender after rubbing the outer skin off them on the fences (something they do each year)….. so Jenny maintained this stance.  Our last encounter with reindeer in Alaska clearly left Jen a little scarred when she was feeding them carrots, one ate her rain poncho – she was taking no chances this time.

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We didn’t realise, but reindeer lose their antlers every year and they grow another set in 12 months – growing about 2cms each day!

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We were thinking that this poor bugger above had drawn the short straw on antler shape because it was completely over his eye, but they grow like that to protect their eyes when they’re fighting.  Another amazing fact – each year when they grow new antlers, they always grow in the same shape…. so it’s not like having a bad hair cut and waiting for it to grow out.

They feed them lichen in the summer and salmon in the winter and they forage in the forest for berries and whatnot.  There was one fussy little reindeer there who didn’t like the lichen – Marie said that he preferred the salmon…. fair enough.

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This poor bugger had an itch that he just couldn’t quite scratch.

They were used to people, but didn’t really like being touched, because they know that when you rub their back, they’re about to have a harness strapped on and they were still on their summer holidays, thank you very much, but we did get a little palm stroke in as this chap passed by and their coat is very soft and thick – obviously necessary in these temps.

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They were lovely and placid – almost making you want to become a reindeer herder…..

On Marie’s property, there are lots of little wooden houses/buildings that are used to store food and tools.

After all the patting, we were taken up to the main building for some delicious, home made forest berry tea which was made from freshly picked forest berries, as the name would predict – but she wouldn’t tell us the ingredients.  Having visitors here is obviously another way to earn income… there was a roaring fire and she chatted and answered all our questions.  Here are her toilet doors…..

Next stop was the husky park.  I don’t like the idea of animals being locked up at all, so this was a little sad, especially when they all started making a noise, that to me sounded like a cry, but guide said that they knew that the handlers were preparing to assemble the running team to pull the summer, wheeled sled, and they all wanted to be picked.  They were crying “pick me! pick me!”  There were some dogs who had run the day before who weren’t that fussed about all the commotion, so they just sat in or on their houses.  They were all very friendly and loved a pat and a sniff.

We didn’t partake, but some visitors went on a 500 metre ride around the park – the dogs can run 60kms in a day, so this was nothing to them.

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There were two people who were clearly trying to visit the park undetected……  the one in the back actually worked there, so that’s sort of fair enough.

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Our new Aussie friends, Stacey and Chuck were kind enough to take our photo….. we maybe needed a bit more direction …?

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Next stop = Santa’s Village!!!

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Rovaniemi is situated right on the Arctic Circle – 66.5039° N, 25.7294° E and there is a line right through Santa’s Village marking where it is, however….. The position of the Arctic Circle is not fixed; as of 26 September 2017, it runs 66°33′46.9″ north of the Equator.[1] Its latitude depends on the Earth’s axial tilt, which fluctuates within a margin of 2° over a 40,000-year period, due to tidal forces resulting from the orbit of the Moon.[2] Consequently, the Arctic Circle is currently drifting northwards at a speed of about 15 metres (49 feet) per year.  Thank you Wikipedia!

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And here we are with the big man himself.  He was really sweet.  An elf meets you at the door and asks where you are from and then repeats it loudly so Santa can hear…. then when you sit down he says, “You’re from Australia!” (like you don’t know) and then narrows it down….. “What part of Australia?”  “The west”, “Yes, which place?” “Perth”  “Ah, yes, I know Perth.  It’s a lovely place.” “Have you been there?” “Yes, every year”

We asked if he could possibly work some magic and clear away the clouds so we could see the elusive northern lights and he said that if it was a Christmas wish then we’d have to wait until the 24th December….. a little selfish – or is that “elfish”?  See what I did there?  Anyway, we were definitely swept back to our childhoods being in the presence of himself.  They also take a video of your interaction with Santa and show it to you afterwards…. we looked like giggly girls totally in awe.

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After seeing Santa you walk through a corridor lined with photos of Santa in leisure pursuits – obviously taken in the off season….. and then the corridor leads to the obligatory souvenir shop.

You can sit in this cosy area to write your letters and postcards from Santa’s official post office and check out the sorting station and then mail your letters right there and then.

last year Santa received about 500,000 letters and he and the elves try hard to reply to each and every one of them.

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There were a number of reviews on Trip Advisor saying that Santa’s Village was commercial and tacky and in the summer, without the snow, lacked any magic…. I disagree with the magic bit.  Yes, it is commercialised – there is a whole row of souvenir shops, and besides the post office and Santa’s main office – not much else, and being out of season, there were only a handful of people there, but I see the as a plus – there were no lines to see Santa.  So, there was definitely magic…. and yes, I purchased a souvenir to remind me of this moment.

Having said that – it be awesome with snow.

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Santa was ‘ere and so was I!

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This is inside the lift at our hotel….. is somebody following us, do you think?

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Hello Finland

See ya later Iceland and hello Finland.  We were passing through Helsinki on our way up to Rovaniemi and stayed one night at the airport.  We booked the Glo Hotel and it’s right in the airport – I mean, It’s closer to the exit than the taxi line.  So we got there, checked in and got our jammies on in about 15 minutes.

We were blessed with a lovely lady at the desk and she proudly let us know that our room had two beds….

Jenny did a rough count of beds when we got into the room….

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And luckily there was room for the second suitcase as well.  I did have to do a bit of balancing, but it held overnight

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Then the next morning, we had a bit of brekky, chilled in our room and then just waltzed down to our departure gate… simples!

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We’re staying at the Arctic Light Hotel which is really cool!  Me Jenny makes friends everywhere she goes.

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Inside the foyer/lounge area has a number of different lounge seating areas.  It’s really cosy and inviting.

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Upstairs in our room, there’s a polar bear in the shower… who doesn’t love that?

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And again with the bed, but this time they’ve jazzed it up with a fur (not real) rug …

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and a plush polar bear soft toy, so win/win.

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and extra Finland novelty furniture.

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Rovaniemi is a university town , so people come here for school, but the town itself is fairly understated and in most Trip Advisor reviews was described as “probably a lot better in the winter when it’s covered in snow”.  We had a  wander around the centre and found a fantastic cafe that serves savoury waffles…. Let’s just say we’re going back there tomorrow.

We also found another little cafe, that was attached to the Santa Hotel – Santa’s Village is about 7kms out of town and is really the centre of the tourism.

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These little guys were for sale in the cafe – Finland folklore perhaps?

All the tables and chairs had been spray painted silver and I think that whoever did the job must have been wearing these bobby dazzlers!

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We walked down this street when we first arrived and I didn’t notice these decorations on the signs – just goes to show that you’ve got to open your eyes and look up.

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Rudolf went a little far with the make up….

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There has been lots of menu talk about crayfish and tonight we thought we’d give it a go.  We had crayfish soup and then I had a salad with cray tails…. that’s right, plural tails….  I thought, goodness, how many do I think I can eat?

But when they’re this size – you can go crazy with a whole bowl!

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Just analysing one of the many tails with my magnifying glass necklace

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Our favourite Icelandic things

On our last day in Iceland, here is our list of our favourite things…..

1. waterfalls
2. Snaefellsnes Peninsula
3. Scenery
4. amazing volcanic landscapes
5. Reykjavik museums
6. the Icelandic horses and big fat sheep
7. the mountains and lakes
8. the lovely Brady design churches
9. the Hallgrimskirkja church
10. the coffee
11. the cold

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We didn’t like:

1. the rain
2. the cloud coverage stopping us from seeing any northern lights
3. the resting bitch face of a lot of Icelandic people
4. the wind
5. the hop on hop off bus saga
6. that every time you went inside you had to strip down to your underwear because the heating was so high.

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So, would we come back to Iceland?  Jenny says: “No, I don’t think so, unless you could predict the perfect weather…. I wonder what it would be like in Summer?”  Me?  I’ve loved it.  I would definitely come back – I agree that some drier weather would have been preferable, but the scenery is simply breathtaking and from here I’d like to take a leaf from Sherman and Eva’s travel journal and head to Greenland and the Faroe Islands….

Until next time Iceland, we say ‘bless bless’

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