A Travellerspoint blog

Back on the road - first stop, land of the norsemen

0 °C

Quick as Larry, six months had passed. Nothing had changed except our waistlines (ain't desk jobs grand). Just below the muffin tops jingled a handful of new coins. It was time to finish our travels.

After 23 hours on QF001, we landed our red eyes in London and set about buying mittens and woolly underwear. Shopping with AUD in the UK is enjoyable right now, simply because it doesn't bankrupt one any more then shopping in Sydney.

After studying the intricacies of the UK VAT (sales tax) refund system I picked up a digital SLR camera, a Nikko D90 / 12-800 VRII. With this I planned to mete out visual justice to our trip.

After a short flight, we found ourselves on a large cold rock covered in moss and ice. The extremes of beauty and cold inhospitality are savagely pronounced in Iceland. It leaves you wondering what sort of people would choose to paddle across icy seas to settle on such a cold hard lump of igneous rock.

Genetic studies suggest the first settlers consisted mostly of Nordic men and Celtic women. One can only assume they were lost - the Viking men stubornly refusing to ask Thor for directions, and their freshly kidnapped Irish concubines having long since thrown away the map.

Under the cold surface, Iceland is (literally) a hot bed of geothermic activity. Geothermal and hyrdo power stations generate all of Iceland's electricty and heating.

Most importantly from Lim's perspective, one of these power stations provides a hot swimmable pool called the Blue Lagoon. We stopped here for a splash on the way into Reykjakic.

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We wandered around in the biting cold long enough to take in the breathtaking landscape.

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Eventually we worked up the courage to strip off. I was expecting a warm body and freezing face. Fortunately the water warms the air above, and it is perfectly comfortable. It was easy to pass an hour lounging around in the spa.

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Apparently the natural silica ooze is an excellent face treatment.. Perhaps i'll look 10 years younger for the rest of the trip :) Hopefully the same doesn't hold true for Lim or I'll be arrested.
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We booked a tour - the Golden Circle. At around 5000 Krona each ($50 AUD) this wasn't viciously expensive. Only 3 years ago the currency was valued three times higher. The living costs seem comparable to Sydney at the moment.

The tour consisted of a day in a warm bus, with brief outings to check out some pretty amazing scenery.. (whilst freezing our backsides off).. After each walk (photo shoot) we ran back to the bus and tried to warm up our freezing noses :/

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Lim with a cold red nose.

People in Iceland are struggling with environmental conservation versus clean energy. A recent Hydroelectric facility destroyed 5 waterfalls such as these.

Its pretty weird seeing hot steam and boiling water in such a cold place. These geysers periodically explode into the air. A famous Iceland geyser is called.. "Geysir". The name from this site eventually became the english noun geyser.

You can stand really close and the hot stream and water shoots up right next to you. I was left with the urge to watch behind my back for ROUS (rodents of unusual size).

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Lim is crouching here just to try keep her legs warm.. (it really is that cold)..

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The next stop was where the American and European continental plates meet. It is the only place on Earth where you can see two plates colliding above water. The European plate being is being driven under the American.

Now that i've got you all geologically excited.. the photos below show something different, the nearby lake..

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Thats it for iceland, next stop Toronto in Canada. Thank god we're going somewhere warm! .. Canada is warm right?!?

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Posted by hughmadden 07:12 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

and on to... Sydney

(for now)

Lim and I were offered some cool work opportunities in Sydney, which seems to be recovering economically faster then most of the world.

Given our longings for a familiar, soft bed, we decided to head home to earn some money and live like normal people for a while.

We're now in Sydney working like the rest of you (suckers), we still have our tickets - stay tuned for South America.

xo Hugh & Lim

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Posted by hughmadden 05:53 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

the old dam on the amstel river

(amsterdam)

On our must do list was, of course, Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is well known as a nirvana for those who enjoy the seedier side of life; coffee shops for smoking pot, window prostitution, live sex shows, and some of the nicest beer you are ever likely to taste.

This reputation overshadows the other aspects of Amsterdam. It is a breathtakingly beautiful city. It is the non-smelly* Venice of the world. The people are friendly, liberal, cultured, and awesomely trendy. It has awesome food, and transport is as easy as a short walk, a cruise in the canal, or a ride on the ever present trams.

  • Venice has no plumbing; the city's bowel movements swirl around the canals, making the city smell awful. Amsterdam on the other hand plumbing and a system of locks which allows the canals to be flushed every couple of weeks.

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The people of Amsterdam are fully aware their city is as trendy as Paris and as beautiful as Venice, all the while being one of europe's key chic-spots. (the oh thats so cool type of chic).

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The government is rapidly shutting down the window prostitution and coffee shops. In their place you can find these fake boutique shops; displaying the iamsterdam and redlightfashion brand.

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You can't actually buy the goods; its a display of the vision for Amsterdam; a fashion centre of the world. The place is so cool - it might end up true.

Prostitution in Amsterdam started early - the city was one of the world's trade centres for hundreds of years. The resulting influx of horny sailors and merchants was quite a problem for the conservative country. Ever practical, the
Dutch established a central protistution district, and invited girls to trade in an open and legal fashion. This ensured the sailors were not off chasing everyone's daughters, wives, mothers, and grandmothers.

Even more practical, the window prostitution is located in a circle around a church. As it was originally Catholic, this allowed customers to easily stop in and purchase an absolution for their freshly committed sins. Talk about a one stop shop!

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(this church is 10m from 1 girl window brothels on all sides)

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(this street has Europe's highest crime rate, it leads up to the church)

Dutch practicality is illustrated through the city. In a beer loving city, finding a bladder stop can be quite a pressing issue. For a guy, a quiet corner can be a very attractive place.. But who wants their house to smell like pee? In may corners you can find these splash-back devices. Any drunken gent trying to pee on this will have a severe splash-back.. no spash-flow problem.. wet shoes anyone?

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For a time these were also electrified, but apparently a gent was severely injured, and not in a good viagra-like way. Now they are switched off.

It's not all about practicality, the Dutch also have a sense of humour. In 1811 during the French occupation of Holland, Napoleon's cousin decreed all Dutch were required to have a surname. Given that the French couldn't speak their language, the Dutch saw this as opportunity to make fun of the French. They registered names such as Piest which means to piss, and Naaktgeboren meaning born naked.

Most of the time we weren't completely naked, but we still found ourselves easily entertained. We went on talking tours and just wandered the streets, intrigued by all the cool facets of the city. Here are just a few:

A free Rembrandts museum that running between two streets;
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There is old convent with the grave of one of the most famous nuns fixed into the cobblestones.
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There are buildings full of legal squatters (quirks in Dutch real-estate law allow someone that squats undetected for 12 months to have a kind of free permanent squatting right).
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(the building in the middle is one of many full of legal squatters)

Buildings in Amsterdam tend to be multi-story, and deep, but very narrow. This is because land tax was based on the width of buildings. The resulting tax avoiding architecture resulted in this building, this home only wide enough to fit the door (see the red one in the middle?)
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A tiny car for tiny streets? (Until recently the Dutch were the tallest men on earth - average height something like 6'4")

Public toilets - there are (open) male urinals, and these ladies enclosed toilets situated along the canals. Originally there was no female toilets, and the council was against building any. The ladies of the area organise mass pee strikes - all of the women would go and wee in public on one of the bridges. It didn't take too many of these sessions until the relieved women of amsterdam were rewarded with equality.
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Unfortunately too many women were mugged by heavy drug users in these toilets - they are now all locked. Perhaps this is yet more ammunition for the iamsterdam movement.

Even without the free toilets, Lim and I are big fans of Amsterdam - we'll be back.
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Posted by hughmadden 20:30 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

good bye to london, for now

London was the base of our Europe travels. Aside from Yeekie's we spent a few nights boozing with Dave and Khia. P4160198.jpg
(Dave)

We also spent a few nights with old mates and work colleagues of mine.
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I went out with the boys from HBOS Treasury. Nigel (the boss and a natural host) always makes the time the look after guests. In this particular night he took time out to give me some English pool lessons - 4:2 his way damn it! (next time Nigel, next time..)

We'll be back later in '09, until then, be cool :)
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Posted by hughmadden 11:14 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

egypt

For our final stop in the Northern hemisphere, we shot off for a week in Egypt. We were joined by Lim's friend Frieska. We:
1. Fought with taxi touts in Cairo, checking out the Sphynx and Pyramids of Gizza.
2. Relaxed in a (cheap) 5 star all you can eat and drink sea side resort
3. Scuba dived in the red sea
4. Filled out the tricky paperwork which allowed us to travel from Hurghada to the Luxor (town of the fort) to see the Valley of the Kings
5. Relaxed some more
6. Fought off numerous Egyption men offering to buy Lim and Frieska
7. Bargained for cheap goods and generally poor food

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Lazy camel at Hurghada

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An Arabian princess frolicing in the red sea

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An Arabian prince..... (if you look carefully you may see him right behind me)

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A happy couple... hehehe JK its me and Lim

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The drive through numerous checkpoints/ machine gun bunkers on the way inland to Luxor

And many many tourist snaps.. :)
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Thats it, for now :)

Posted by hughmadden 11:07 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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