Saturday, 17 September 2011

Day 68.3

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The Dark Cloud of Doom.

We had dinner in the car around 6pm, parked at the west bank of Jökulsárlón. With a splendid view of the iceberg-filled lagoon, even baked beans tasted like abalones. Such is the power of hypnotizing effect the bewitching lagoon had on us. After the recce earlier in the afternoon for a good spot to camp along the east bank of the lagoon for the night, it was time to explore the west side. Lighting condition should be superb in a few hours time, I was already rubbing my hands with glee..  

Jökulsárlón, a shot of me by DD with her S95 camera.
There were a lot more ducks and birds swimming in the west side of the lagoon compared to the east. I reckoned it had to be the disturbance caused by the boat tours and the tourists on the east that drove them to the more tranquil west bank. It was such a joy to watch them all swimming around the crystal clear ice pieces.

The duckies' affair with the ice crystal, shot with the S95.
We must have wandered about 3.5km along the west bank of the lagoon over an hour or so when we first noticed a 'storm cloud' appearing in the distant from the northwest direction shortly after 8pm. "Just a storm cloud, no problem even if that comes our way." We had seen plenty of these back in Hebrides, Scotland. Decked out in our storm jackets and pants, everything will be fine as usual...or so we thought.

The approach of the bizarre 'storm cloud' from the north of Jökulsárlón.
It's been an hour or so since that 'storm cloud' was first sighted and by now it had advanced much closer for us to have a better observation. This one wasn't bringing any rain, the air was dead still, not a wisp of wind. This was no ordinary storm cloud, heck it might not even be one. It appeared to be more like an evil dark mist consuming everything in it's way. The glacier and mountains were falling victim, the lagoon with it's icebergs next in line.

We came face to face with the evil dark cloud as it prepared to consume all in it's path.
The light was slowly changing to an unbelievable purplish blue ambiance never before seen, my eyes must be playing tricks. The duckies and birds by now had all disappeared, the whole place had became eerily dead silent. As the sinister looking cloud began to descend on the lagoon, we witnessed the incredible 'bubbles' in the cloud only seen in some science fiction or horror movies.

The ominous 'bubbles' in the cloud can be clearly seen right in the middle as well as reflected in the lagoon.
By then, it was clear that this was neither an approaching rainstorm nor a sandstorm. I thought the chance of this being a volcanic ash cloud was extremely slim as well. We did not hear any rumbling eruptions or felt any ground movement all day. There were no reports of eruption when we last checked at Skaftafell yesterday. I had even remotely considered the far-fetched possibility of supernatural or extraterrestrial phenomenon. Being a fan of science frictions, I would have love the later, to prove mankind is not alone in the universe. But no way we were going to stay put and find out. There was only one logical option left, RUN.

Hopes of reaching the safety of our car dwindled as the apocalyptic scene played out right before our eyes. Notwithstanding our fears, it was truly a sight to behold...  

Day 54.1

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Captivating Lofoten.

We started the day really early, checked out from City Hotell Bodø at 3:30am and walked the 2km+ to the airport with our full packs. The streets were so quiet you could hear a pin drop but all we could hear was our tempo breathing and quick footsteps. While I did not know the taxi rates in Norway, I was adamant the figure would come up to be astronomical even for a 5min ride. Nevertheless, 2km+ is within our 'walkable radius' of 3km.

The 5:06am Widerøe flight in a small propeller plane from Bodø Airport to Leknes Airport provided a low aerial view of the mountains and fjords of Lofoten so immensely captivating that the hour long flight felt like eternity. The rental car wasn't due for collection until 11am, so that gave us a chance to catch some sleep at the airport.

9 days were planned for Lofoten with 5 of those days in a '94 Mazda 626. I was a little apprehensive about driving on the right side of the road. After all, my only driving experience since getting my license 6 years ago consists of just 2 days in Scotland and that was driving on the familiar left hand side. Having said that, a 5min practice in the carpark provided me with the confidence to get on with it. It wasn't that hard afterall I guess.

The plan was to drive westward along the E10 from Leknes to Lofoten's western most village of Å but not before going up north to Eggum in the top right of the map. Lastly, a ferry departing from Moskenes to Bodø awaits us at the end of the 9 days here.

Stocked up some groceries from a supermarket in Leknes before we embarked on the northward drive to Eggum.   

Day 64.2

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Touchdown Iceland.

Having spent the morning indulging in the celebratory mood in Oslo for Norway's National Day, we arrived in Iceland's Keflavik International Airport at 3:25pm following a short flight from Oslo-Gardenmoen Airport. Cleared the customs and bought some Icelandic currency, the krona (ISK), which can be difficult to obtain outside of Iceland. The Icelandic currency had fallen drastically in value since the Nordic country's bankruptcy, making the once most expensive place to visit in Europe much more affordable now.

Picked up the pre-booked rental car, a 2WD Hyundai Getz, from the car rental company located 500m from the airport. Delivery of car to the airport cost additional €20! No thanks, I rather walk over. We were to stay 14 days in Iceland, of which we had the rental car for 12 days and spending the last 2 days in Reykjavík, the country's capital city. Car rental for the 12 days came up to S$1078 inclusive of gravel protection and super CDW etc. This is probably the cheapest rate you can find before the exorbitant peak-season rate kicks in from June onwards. The plan was to complete the 1339km Route 1, also know as the Ring Route in an anti-clockwise direction. See below map:

We first made a stop at the nearest supermarket to stock up on food and water for the next few days. BONUS is the most prominent supermarket chain here with the most competitive priced groceries, nevermind their sheepish looking piggy bank logo which we would slowly grow to love as the journey unfolded. With the car finally loaded with food, we proceeded to drive towards our next destination, Þingvellir, as the afternoon began drawing to a close.

Dinner break at 8:40pm, in Þingvellir National Park with a view of Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.

The Route

Looking back at the travel map, it would appeared the route for the trip was not too well planned. Plenty of overlapping, repeated stopovers in same places, route wasn't particularly 'linear' (Point A > B > C > D) which most people would do. Instead we did this non-conventional (Point A > D > B> A > C) manner, resulting in 'inefficiencies' in travel route and inevitably increased transportation costs. Who would travel almost the length of Scandinavia 4 times on the same trip?

The rational for this seemingly irrational travel route is simply "Getting to right place at right time". Things would be much simpler if we were to just leisurely visit the major cities in Europe but not. The following objectives must be achieved in the macro planning stage.

Aurora Borealis aka The Northern Lights
The latest dates to see the elusive phenomenon above the Arctic Circle would be early April although a large part still depend on weather conditions and luck. And since we'll be already so north up, might as well go all the way to the north pole to visit the polar bears in their natural habitat: Svalbard.

Had a match ticket to catch Manchester United home game against Fulham on 9th April. Checked.

Scottish Highlands / Western Isles
More of a photography segment for this, good lighting in late winter/early spring, less tourists.

Bollenstreek flower fields in Netherlands
The flower fields were estimated to be in full bloom close to late April. Penned that in.

Disneyland Paris
Found a good deal '3 day entry for price of 2' available in early May for my wife. No escape from this. =.="

Lofoten Islands, Norway
From mid May, the nights in May never get truly dark, instead remain at twilight throughout until sunrise. Perfect for landscape photography! Can do hiking and wild camping in near-summer weather minus the hordes of hikers.

Targeted mid/late May. As in Lofoten, the nights here stay twilight as well. Weather would be less harsh, snow-free roads, much less tourists and most importantly, off-season car rental rates to keep our travel budget in green.

Prague, Czech Republic
Earmarked 5th June for the Roxette concert held in O2 Arena, Prague.

Swiss/Bavarian Alps
Temperature in mid/late June should be more manageable for camping around alt.2000m+.

Finally filling the remaining dates in between the above core objectives with R&R city visits, day trips and there you have it.. the hell of a messy routes you see in the travel map now. Good job, our transportation cost had doubled and probably even tripled if I had not micro-planned all the traveling dates based on the cheapest flight and train tickets available.

Itinerary of main stops as follows:
Singapore > Tromso > Storeng > Lyngen > Longyearbyen (Svalbard expedition) > Jokkmokk > Kiruna > Abisko > Stockholm > London > Manchester > Edinburgh > Lewis > Barra > Oban > Eigg > Amesbury > Rotterdam > Kinderdjik > Amsterdam > Texel > Haarlem > Brussels > Bouillon > Paris > Bodo > Lofoten > Oslo > Iceland (ring route) > Copenhagen > Landskrona > Ven > Berlin > Prague > Munich > Berchtesgarden > Fussen > Fiesch > Sion > Zermatt > Montreux > Interlaken > Luzern > Zurich > Singapore

Day 08.2

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Pushing the limits: Svalbard.

Most people hadn't a clue as to where Svalbard is whenever I mentioned the place. Situated roughly 800km from the North Pole, Svalbard is the northernmost inhabited land accessible by visitors as well as the natural habitat to thousands of polar bears. The archipelago is part of Norway and the name translates to 'Cold Edge', which really lived up to it's reputation.

The only way to get here is to take a 1.5hr flight from Tromsø. I figured if we did not fly to this northern frontier of human settlement while we were here above the Arctic Circle, we would never had that chance to do it anymore. And since we had decided on it, we might as well do something extreme there to test our physical and mental limits. Should we survived this, any further difficulties encountered along the trip would be just be negligible to us after this ordeal.

While waiting for the airport bus outside Longyearbyen Airport.
While waiting to collect our bagpacks from the conveyor belts, I had a good look at the passengers from our flight; Production crews with their big boxes of equipment (hmm.. probably from National Geographic, Discovery Channel or something), teams of big tough looking guys with their huge gears ready for expeditions (all of them looked like some US special forces who can take me out with one punch), burly locals with their goods and supplies. Obviously, we ended up looking like some noobs in the midst of these people..

I took my first step out of the airport and was almost choked by the freezing air outside. The bitterness of the cold was simply out of this world! Never had I experienced such 'painful' and difficulty in breathing that I went back into the warm comfort of the airport arrival hall within a minute. The level of bitter coldness is totally on a whole new level, unimaginable until one had a taste of it. Deep down, I was really excited. This IS the real deal, bring it on!  

Svalbard is notoriously an expensive place to visit, there is little choice of accommodation for us budget backpackers except the Spitsbergen Guesthouse, which still came up to S$230+ per night in a hostel style double room with shared bath. To make it worse, the guesthouse is situated 2.4km from the town centre. It was around 3:30pm by the time we checked into the guesthouse. Couple of hours more to acclimatize ourselves, both body and mind, before tomorrow morning first challenge..

Spitsbergen Guesthouse double room, shared bath, breakfast & Wi-Fi at separate building.

Day 94.1

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A Night in the Clouds.

Woke up at 7am, the tent was damp from the morning condensation. Clumsily unzipped the door to take a peep outside, still snugged in my cozy sleeping bag. What I saw with my half-opened sleepy eyes propelled me into a frantic fumbling for my gears. As I exited the tent with DD still sound asleep inside, a celestial picture greeted me good morning. We were in the clouds on the Alps.

The sun seemed a little late for June, must have took a while longer for it to rise above 3000m+ Alps range to come into view.
The view of the clouds shrouded Alps from an altitude of 2300m+ was no less breathtaking than from Eggishorn's 2926m summit seen yesterday. The air tasted dry but refreshing to my lungs. The below photo probably epitomized the essence of that morning, which a fellow photography friend whom I met in Lofoten, Patrick Un, gave the following entertaining and imaginative take that deeply humbled me. Quote: "imho, what most interesting is the sense of layers and views: there it is the top cloud-coverage, then suddenly it opens a view so deep! into the infinity, inviting u to look into, inviting u to ponder, to marvel, to consume it! then suddenly, there is this serpentous mountain roads conveying the sense of reachability, like telling us: "hey u might think that u'r in heaven already, but hey hey nope, jolly boy, we r still on earth, u can actually come here by car :)", the this rock massively dominating the foreground, juxtaposing to the view of depth just up the serpent road, the rocks really fulfills the scene by lending it the feel of nearness..." He is always so well articulated in his narratives, I wished I could write like him. Thanks Patrick, if you are reading this.

The essence of that morning stunning glimpse into celestial world.
Breakfast was cookies, biscuits and energy bars. By the time we had finished breakfast at 8am , the tent had already dried and ready to be pack. We could not risk hanging around for too long lest the mountain rangers discovered us. 10 minutes later, we were ready to embark on the 4hr hike down the mountain to the town of Fiesch.

Airing the damp tent was not the bit difficult. Given the slight wind and dry air condition, it was dried within minutes while we had our breakfast.


The First Post

It has never crossed my mind that I would ever write a blog one day. Always had this impression that blogging is one of those hip things most post-90'ers do in their free time. Maybe I'm too old for this, all my peers are busy making big money, making babies, making end's meet and here I am making records of memories... Most of them if not all would probably think reading/writing blogs a waste of time and I admit I used to have similar thoughts, EXCEPT for financial/investment blogs. Yup, it all still comes back to $$, everything does I guess..

Hardly a very articulated person like many bloggers, my proficiency in the English language is at best average, incapable of chunking out flowery paragraphs at ease. This post is probably going to take me an hour or more to put into words. Setting up a blog is as easy as reading one but to make it look impressive is a job hundred times more difficult and for this, I spent more than a month in my free time working on it to make it at least decent enough. Picked up a new skill even before I start posting. Nice start...

Why do it then? There was one day I stumbled upon my secondary school diary and reading the entries brought back plenty of memories good or bad, that I would never remember if I had never wrote them down. 20, 30 years later in my retirement, I want to read about all my past  travel adventure with my wife, DD, and these certainly would bring a priceless smile to my face. It is also an opportunity for me to brush up my rusty English writing skills. I knew I had to start somewhere. This 105 days adventure trip had served as the catalyst.

As in the blog title, I will write about the daily stories of this 105 days adventure as well as future ones. These postings will all be backdated to the trip for tidy archiving once newer postings are published on the front page. For days with more 'happenings', they will be broken up into multiple entries; Day 65.1, Day 65.2 etc, and may be not necessary be posted in a chronological order. Obviously not everyday of the trip is going to have heart pumping moments to write about, so stay awake for boring days to link up the major 'dots'. 

With regards to the landscape portion in the title, I will be writing about my thoughts in landscape photography occasionally, probably using examples from my galleries. My posts about landscape photography will usually pivot around the composition, lighting and subject aspects since there are already plenty of blogs/websites writing articles on camera gears, technical know-hows, post processing methods.

Hopefully the photos in this blog can make up for my inept writing skills and if by some miracles you actually enjoyed them, please do feel free to share it. While I wasn't expecting many to follow this blog, I'll still like to extend my apology to the few readers in advance if the posts are coming in too slow and infrequent as workload can get heavy at times. Welcome aboard.

Starting this blog is akin to our first drive in Iceland. The road ahead is long, uncertain and full of obstacles, the sky will not always be clear. Will I be able to stay the road till the end?