Snow Shoes, Gripons and Crampons

Iceland is proud of their fables and folklore including the tale of how Iceland and Greenland were inaptly named.  But to be clear, Iceland in winter has plenty of ice and snow covering its wonderland.

   

Thankfully I toured the country without the abundance of tourists that visit during the summer.  And I was even more excited that my small group had so much of this unbelievable winterscape to ourselves.  The various activities were most memorable and breathtaking,  from the beauty, the cold and our exertion.  We hiked with our gripons firmly in place along the Kalda River and the next day through a geothermal valley with views of the largest lake, Thingvallavatn.

   

We even spent some time at the beach…watching the waves crash and eyeing the islands close by that host a special festival in June. I’m told that this is almost mandatory for Icelanders.  Their music and art scene are very much alive along with incredible love of their horses.

I was thrilled to finally put on snowshoes a couple of days later when we explored the Gifjokull Glacier and the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano (pronounced with a fake Iceland accent “hey I forgot my yogurt”).

   

Next came the crampons when we scaled the frozen landscapes of Solheimajokul Glacier, with a most experienced guide who knew where the deep holes were and how to avoid them.  And one could not leave this country without a visit to the Blue Lagoon.

      

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cuisine, especially the butter and yogurt! Oh, and the lava salt!!!  Thanks Backroads for another wonderful adventure!

   

 

 

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Tasmanian Devils and Delights

Those poor little devils are dying of cancer. Apparently it is transmitted to others probably through biting (they are ferocious) and it can kill them in about a year’s time. Authorities are trying to breed them in captivity to save the species.
I went to visit one of these sites and was quite impressed with their efforts. Fortunately, I was also able to see kangaroos, wallabies and various native birds.

   

The history of Tasmania includes many stories of prisoners sent from the UK who proceeded to modernize the country with bridges, buildings and towns.  Of particular interest was Port Arthur, a World Heritage site. It supposedly was inescapable, much like Alcatraz, and was called a model prison with convicts as young as 9 years old.  However, in spite of the school and work opportunities it was known to be extremely harsh. Remains of many of the buildings remain as well as the graveyard on a separate island.

   

   

The landscapes of Tasmania are beautiful with many hiking treks and touristy spots including chocolate and cheese stores, wineries and many handicrafts.

   

   

 

 

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2 out of 5 countries this year didn’t have McDonalds!

An update on my five new countries visited in 2017: only 2 of them did not have a McDonald’s ! (Maldives and Haiti) I was surprised to discover that Cuba has one on the Guantanamo Base which is open only to their staff. To round out the five, Kuwait has 75 of them and Malta has 10….four countries that I have visited in the past have closed theirs: Bermuda, Jamaica, Montenegro and Macedonia.  And it looks like at least 4 out of the 5 I hope to visit in 2018 also have none….Iceland, Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC.

   

While McDonald’s has never been my first choice for dining in a new country, I have to say on a couple of occasions they saved me.  Once in Japan on a limited budget they were one of the few places I could afford and another time almost 20 years ago in Australia when I wasn’t yet weaned on drip coffee and needed a large cup.

Why McDonald’s and not Starbucks? While both are ubiquitous Starbucks is on track to be bigger but not yet!

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Debby Does Danger

This last trip took me to Barcelona during a contentious time due to the Catalonia region considering ceding from Spain. While I saw crowds and heard the banging of the drums I managed to stay away from those hot spots. The most difficult disruption was the inability to get a taxi.

I went from there to Malta just a few days after the car bombing of the investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

   

New friends in Barcelona were having fun naming my blog entries with a “Debby does…”  hence the title of this blog.  My brother-in-law told me of an article he read about the 20 most dangerous countries for tourists and wondered how many I have visited.  Unfortunately I have missed six of them!

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The Map Filled In With Malta

Malta was the last country in all of Europe left for me to visit. Surprisingly there were a number of tourists on the main island….they came by ship, by plane and with multiple tour companies.  More Americans are exploring there now that Carnival Cruise Lines have added this shore excursion.

  

My hotel was filled with a large group from Finland who had a plan that included both breakfast and dinner.  Consequently the food served was buffet style and pretty much tasteless.  Their wines were decent however!

   

This small country is known to have more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any nation and a great deal of religious and military architecture still intact from ancient periods. I did a bus tour of the southern part of the island that included Valletta, the capital.  Unfortunately the audio system with historical details  about the various sites was not coordinated with the route.  I saw many interesting places but had trouble understanding which was which and who did what etc.  Plus it was pretty windy and cold on the upper deck!

    

Returning  from the tour I took a city bus from Valletta to St. Paul’s Bay and unintentionally got off about 5 miles away from my hotel. As I don’t have phone service outside the USA I was in a bit of trouble.  Luckily English is the second language everyone speaks (Arabic is the first) and I was able to interact with many different locals in my attempt to find my hotel and had a great workout to boot!

   

 

 

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Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Malta’s Co-cathedral of St. John’s hosts two of this artist’s original paintings. While I find art interesting I certainly am not well-versed in the subject in spite of the art appreciation course I took in college about 50 years ago.

A while back one of my friends  suggested I read a book called “The Last Painting, the Caravaggio Trail ” by Jonathan Harr  and I loved it.  When I found out this cathedral in Valletta, the capital city, housed some of his work in its museum I realized it was a must see. The church itself was also worth a visit.  In fact there were lines of tourists doing just that.

   

 

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The “non-touristy” Maldives

As a non-surfer I was surprised to see the number of boards being loaded off the plane. I didn’t realize that one or two of the atolls were ranked in the top 30 best surfing spots in the world.  My prior knowledge was mainly about the over water bungalows, expensive resorts, and the fact that the country is sinking!   This is the closest I got to one of those luxurious accommodations:

   

I stayed with the locals on the most populous island of Male, also the capital city.

  

While it took forever to get there from here….San Diego to Seattle to Tokyo to Singapore to Colombo to Male and many many hours in airports between flights….it was an enjoyable visit albeit much shorter than the journey.

The streets were more like alley ways and bikes were the preferred method of travel along with boats.  Because it is part of a traditional trading route, the food embodies the spices and tastes of Indian food combined with lots of fish. Since it is a Muslim country one is not allowed to bring in any alcohol or pork products.  And one is forbidden to take out any sand or seashells!  Tourism and fishing are their major sources of income.

  

Villingili is an island just a short ferry ride away where one can leave the heavy foot traffic of the city and enjoy some peace, quiet and cooling feet in the warm Indian Ocean. Western style swimsuits for women are restricted to the private resort atolls.

     

I was lucky to discover an alternative to exploring the underwater caves and reefs. There is a submarine that has been outfitted with a large porthole at each seat that descends over 130 feet stopping to see colorful reefs, fish and even what looked like a two-headed eel!

 

Truly a paradise….hard to tell the sky from the sea!

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