Eastern Provence

Exactly three months ago today I was in France (just outside of the village of Monthoiron to be exact) standing by the side of the road waiting to see the Tour de France riders cycle past. Three months. I can’t believe how fast time is passing. Sadly the trip is beginning to feel like a distant memory. With it currently being school holidays, I’ve finally found some time to get back into editing my photos from the trip and it has been wonderful to revisit and savour the memories from our amazing time away. This post picks up where the last post finished as we made our way around the French countryside.

Following our stay in the stunning Bourg d’Oisans, we headed south to the region of Provence, with a short stop in Sisteron to drop Mum and Dad at the train station. Sisteron is a beautiful place but don’t attempt to source a late lunch in the middle of summer! The further south we travelled the hotter it became – we’d finally found summer! From Sisteron we drove east for an hour or so to our base for the next two nights at Moustiers Sainte Marie. Our reason for visiting this region was to explore the beautiful Gorges du Verdon. I first saw the Verdon Gorge in the 2015 Tour de France (stage 17 to be exact) and knew that it was another place to add to the list of places to visit next time we found ourselves in France. The Verdon Gorge is a river canyon that is described as Europe’s most beautiful. When booking the accommodation, I picked Moustiers Sainte Marie due to its proximity to the gorge, not knowing how gorgeous the village itself would be. Wikipedia describes Moustiers Sainte Marie as one of the most beautiful villages in France. We stayed just down the hill from the village in a B&B that had a pottery studio attached to it. Moustiers Sainte Marie is home to many pottery artisans, with the village itself containing many pottery shops. The owner of the B&B (and studio), Franck, kindly gave us a tour of the pottery workshop. He didn’t speak much English but we were able to get the gist of it.

Our time in Moustiers was spent exploring the nearby gorge as well as the village. The Gorges du Verdon certainly is spectacular, with the water an amazing blue/aqua colour…

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This is the actual gorge:

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The village of Moustiers Sainte Marie

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This area of Provence is home to much of the lavender that is grown in the region. We decided to venture out late one evening just before sunset (around 8:30pm) to photograph the lavender fields during golden hour.

Not a lavender field but still a beautiful view…

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Following our stay in Moustiers Sainte Marie, we headed east for the next two nights to stay in a farmhouse just outside of Forcalquier. Forcalquier is still part of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in Forcalquier besides relax (which we did). We did, however, stumble upon a couple of flowering sunflower fields which were spectacular. Seeing fields of sunflowers were something that I always wanted to see and fortunately we were able to do this. Later on in our trip we saw plenty more fields of sunflowers, particularly around the Loire Valley, but it was too early in the season for them to be flowering, so this ended up being our only opportunity.

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Forcalquier was certainly very beautiful and peaceful, however, in hindsight, we probably wouldn’t have missed it and could easily have stayed longer in Moustiers and then in Gordes (our next stop). Despite this, it was good to unwind quite a bit after nearly three weeks on the move.

Stay tuned for part two of our visit to Provence!

 

Bourg d’Oisans and Alpe d’Huez

After a short but sleepless overnight flight from Iceland and several hours on multiple trains, including 2 extra hours thanks to catching the wrong train (oops), we made it to the French Alps and specifically Alpe d’Huez. For those who missed my initial trip blog post (click here), one of the things I was most looking forward to about this trip was having the opportunity to ride Alpe d’Huez. Alpe d’Huez has featured in many a Tour de France and is one of the most iconic climbs in the sport of cycling. Despite having only cycled for 8 months, I was up for the challenge, along with Ian and Dad (who has been cycling for a lot longer but not as much recently).

We spent our first night staying in Alpe d’Huez itself and the view of the surrounding Alps was pretty spectacular.

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Having had very little sleep the previous night due to travelling, I awoke on the day of our epic climb feeling rather tired and somewhat apprehensive about what was to come. Thankfully the weather was perfect, if not a tad warm, and we set off down the mountain to meet Mum and Dad and pick up our hire bikes.

We had all agreed that we weren’t out to set some amazing time to get to the top of Alpe d’Huez – our goal was just to reach the top no matter how long it was going to take. For those who are interested, the fastest ever time up Alpe d’Huez is 37’35” set by Marco Pantani in 1997 (however there are drug suspicions surrounding Pantani so it’s possible that his rapid ascent of Alpe d’Huez was assisted). Before starting out, I was quite concerned that I wasn’t going to make it. I had driven up the mountain – I knew how hard it was going to be.

With our bikes ready to go, there was no turning back. We departed just after midday and had to have the bikes back by 6:30pm (so we sort of did have a bit of a time limit). The following photos are all from my iPhone as there was no way I was lugging my DSLR up Alpe d’Huez!

At the start:

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For those unfamiliar with the Tour de France, the red polka dot jersey I’m wearing is for the King of the Mountains classification. Fitting for our ride up Alpe d’Huez.

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At the actual start: Km 0

Alpe d’Huez is composed of 21 hairpins, each of which are labelled and have the names of past and (some) recent Tour de France stage winners. The first two hairpins (21 and 20) are by far the hardest, with a gradient of 11%. By the time we got to hairpin 20 (the second one from the bottom), I thought I had no hope of reaching the top. It was really hot and I was probably the thirstiest I’d ever been in my life. After a bit of a break in the shade, chatting with some English cyclists and taking on board some fuel and water, we set off again. Thankfully the spectacular views made up for the pain.

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One of the many things I enjoyed about our ride up Alpe d’Huez is the camaraderie among many of the cyclists. For example, for much of our time riding up Alpe d’Huez, we were riding near the group of English cyclists I mentioned above, so we were always encouraging each other to keep going.

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Photo by Griffe Photos

We slowly continued uphill, eventually passing the time trial (chrono) finish of Alpe d’Huez, being cheered on loudly by our English friends who had finished ahead of us and were enjoying a cold beer in a cafe. I had wanted to finish at the proper Tour de France finish which is about 1.5km further uphill from the chrono finish, so Dad and I continued on (sadly Ian couldn’t join us as we were now running out of time and he headed downhill to pick up the car to pick us up). Unfortunately the TdF finish was not all that well signposted and we actually rode too far, eventually finding it on our way back downhill (which was a pleasant way to finish). All up, it took us 2 hours and 12 minutes of riding and about that again with rest breaks.

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Getting to the top was the best feeling ever. I still feel stoked to have been able to achieve this. Yes, it was extremely hard and there were many times I had to tell my legs to shut up, but the views were spectacular and the closer I got to the finish the stronger I felt (it also helped that the gradients were slightly less than the start of the ride). My many months of training had paid off. It was also really special to have been able to ride Alpe d’Huez with Dad who I can blame for my love of cycling. Riding Alpe d’Huez is something that he has wanted to do for a while so it was a privilege to have had the opportunity to cycle it with him.

The day after our ascent was spent fairly quietly as were were all pretty exhausted from our efforts. We took a wander around Bourg d’Oisans which is the village at the base of Alpe d’Huez. It is surrounded by the Alps and is beautiful.

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You might be able to see a line running across the top third of the mountain in the image above. It is a road from the village of Huez and also excellent to ride along…I have plans ūüôā

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This field of poppies was just outside of our B&B

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After our night in Alpe d’Huez, we spent the next two with Mum and Dad at a great B&B called Cycling Ascents (yes, a B&B targeted at cyclists) in Bourg d’Oisans. As you might imagine, there was plenty of cycling talk at the breakfast table as everyone shared where they had ridden the previous day and where they were headed that day. I loved it.

I felt a little heartbroken to leave Bourg d’Oisans. It is one of the few places I’ve visited that I think I could happily spend the rest of my life. I loved the scenery and the strong cycling culture (in winter it becomes a base for skiing). I loved what I was able to achieve by cycling Alpe d’Huez but it has left me hungry for more. The area is home to several other famous climbs such as the Col du Galibier, Col du Glandon and Col de Telegraphe to name a few, so there is plenty more cycling to be done in this area. Being immersed in the cycling culture and having the opportunity to test myself physically by cycling Alpe d’Huez has left me wanting more. We’ve already talked about coming back for a longer stay to tackle some more epic ascents by bike. I’m not sure when, but I’ll definitely be back and I now have some big goals to keep training for!

P.S. Shoutout to the awesome team in L block! Have a great holiday ūüôā

East to West Iceland

We’ve had a couple of big days and before any further time passes, I need to do my final Iceland blog post! We said farewell to Iceland 5 days ago and I still need to blog about what we saw from East Iceland across the top to West Iceland and back to Reykjavik, so here goes!

We left the glaciers behind as we travelled north along the eastern coast of Iceland from Hofn to Seydisfjordur, a stunning little village set at the end of a 17km long fjord. Several scenes from Walter Mitty were filmed around Seydisfjordur, including the skateboard scene. Here are a few photos of Seydisfjordur.

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Not too far from Seydisfjordur was a village home to a colony of puffins. Not wanting to miss the opportunity of seeing puffins in the wild, we took the 2.5 hour round trip to Borgarfjordur Eystri. Thankfully our trip paid off Рthere were heaps of puffins and they were adorable!

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From Borgarfjordur Eystri we headed west to Myvatn. It is amazing how different the landscape is in the north of Iceland compared with the south. As you may have seen in my previous posts, southern Iceland is quite lush and home to many waterfalls and glaciers, whereas much of the north is quite barren and desolate. There are large lava flows that give the landscape quite an alien feel. Myvatn is quite a geologically active area and is quite similar to Rotorua in New Zealand, especially in its sulphurous smell.

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After some long walks and many hours sitting in the car, I was started to feel quite sore so convinced Ian to take a dip with me in one of the geothermal pools that Myvatn has to offer. It was about 11 degrees outside and the smell wasn’t particularly pleasant, however, the pool was 38 degrees and incredibly relaxing. You can’t really come to Iceland without having a swim in a geothermal pool!

Our journey continued west from Myvatn, passing through the the gorgeous little town of Husavik and also visiting Godafoss (another waterfall).

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Lighthouse outside Husavik

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Church in Husavik

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Our final night in Iceland (if you don’t count the one spent at an airport) was at¬†Stykkisholmur, another charming sea-side village.

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Hotel Eglisen – our hotel for the night

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This building was used as the pub in Walter Mitty (just before he jumps into the helicopter). Our hotel is in the background.

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Our final day in Iceland was spent exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It was a spectacular day – sunny and warm. Despite it being only 14 degrees, it was warm enough to not need a jacket. The cold in Iceland (in summer) feels much different to the cold in Sydney. 14 degrees in Sydney would have me wearing multiple layers! I even managed to get a little sunburnt on a similar day earlier in the trip.

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Kirkjufoss 

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Kirkjufoss with Kirkjufell in the background

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Church in Hellnar

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Another cute church, this time in Budir.

That pretty much summarises our trip to Iceland for now. As I wrote previously, there are plenty of photos to be edited and blogged when I have some more time to do them justice so this will not be the end of what I share about Iceland.

I loved our time in Iceland and am so blessed to have been able to see it. I’m not sure how much the country will change over time, particularly as tourism grows, but I fear that as more people visit there will be less access to some of the sights that we were able to enjoy. If a trip to Iceland is something you’ve considered, do it!

My next post will be about the equally stunning Alps in France.

From the south to the east of Iceland

It’s really hard to know what to write about what we’ve seen during the last couple of days because it has been absolutely breathtakingly stunning and my mind has been blown on many occasions. What an awesome Creator we have who made all of this! Rather than writing lots, I’ll let the photos do the talking. What follows is a very small fraction of the images I’ve taken over the last couple of days (there have been several hundred images just in the last 3 days). They are fairly quickly edited as I’ve decided that as opposed to previous trips, I’m going to take my time editing (and blogging) images so that I can do proper justice to the beauty captured within them. I hope you enjoy.

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KerińĎ – a collapsed volcano crater

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Seljalandsfoss

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Just your average roadside scenery 

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Living in the shadow of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano (up in the clouds)

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Skogafoss

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More roadside beauty – fields of lupins with a glacier in the background

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Reynisfjara basalt cliffs

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Iceland wins the award for the country with the cutest churches

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Reynisdrangur – sea stacks off Vik

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Virkurkikja above Vik

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Jökulsárlón (glacial lagoon)

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All of the images above at¬†J√∂kuls√°rl√≥n were taken at around 4pm. As you can see, the sky was rather dark, resulting in quite moody images. We decided to return just before sunset, which around here is midnight. The clouds had cleared and there was a hint of colour in the sky. I should add, with Iceland being so close to the Arctic Circle, it doesn’t get any darker than shown in these photos all night.

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Heinabergsjökull (another glacial lagoon, this time off the beaten track)

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In this part of Iceland, it seems that every valley is home to a glacier.

That’s it for the moment. Plenty more to come soon!

 

The Golden Circle

This morning we awoke to another beautiful sunny day as we prepared to depart Reykjavik and head for The Golden Circle. The Golden Circuit is a popular tourist route as it takes in three big tourist attractions which are all within 100km of Reykjavik (and so can be seen on a day trip). It didn’t take us long to make our way out of Reykjavik as we headed to our first stop,¬†√ěingvellir.¬†√ěingvellir is the site of the ancient Icelandic parliament but, more interestingly for me, it is also where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is slowly splitting Iceland apart. It is here that the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet, the result being deep fissures running throughout the area. Apparently the plates are moving apart at a rate of 1-18mm per year. One of the (many) reasons I wanted to visit Iceland was because of it’s amazing geology. Iceland probably first got my attention (for the wrong reason) in 2010 during the eruption of the Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano which bought European airspace to a standstill. I happened to be in Europe at that time and ended up taking the scenic (and much longer) route from Rome to Amsterdam by train (I blogged about that experience here). Perhaps a little known fact about me is that I studied a number of of geology subjects at University and for a while considered doing some post-grad study in palaeontology. It is still a subject I find fascinating and so visiting such a geologically active country is quite exciting for me (even if I did have several volcano nightmares in the lead-up to this trip). Anyway, here are some photos of¬†√ěingvellir.

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The photograph below is of the¬†√Ėxar√°rfoss (waterfall) that runs over the edge of the main fissure.

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Here’s the view down to Lake¬†√ěingvellir.

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As you can see, it was a beautiful view.

From¬†√ěingvellir, we headed toward Geysir, but stopped along the way to enjoy the amazing scenery.

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As you might guess from the name, Geysir is the site of an active geyser. There were plenty of crowds here but it was worth the visit.

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From Geysir, we headed to our final attraction of the day which was the Gullfoss waterfall. The sunny weather resulted in a rainbow above the falls which was quite beautiful.

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The drive from Gullfoss back to our accommodation for the night at Laugarvatn was particularly scenic, with views like this…

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I’m not sure what that the purple flowers are but we’ve seen them a few times and they looked spectacular next to the river.

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Finally, in case we hadn’t ticked enough Icelandic icons off our must-see list for the day, we photographed some Icelandic horses.

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Tomorrow we head south via Selfoss and then east, making our way to Vik and it’s black sand beaches.

 

 

 

Reykjavik

Halló from Reykjavik, the northernmost capital in the world! After 36 hours of travel, we finally arrived in Iceland late yesterday (Sunday) afternoon. The three flights we took to get here were good but after travelling for such a long time, I was very ready for a shower and bed. After arriving in Keflavik (where the International Airport is), we picked up our hire car and drove the 50 or so kilometres into Reykjavik. Our first evening in Reykjavik consisted of checking into our apartment followed by dinner and sleep. 

Today we have done quite a lot of exploring of Reykjavik by foot. We’ve done over 14km of walking so far and the day isn’t over. With a population of just over 119000, Reykjavik isn’t all that big for a capital city, so seeing most of the sights by foot is quite achievable. After breakfast we headed to Hallgr√≠mskirkja, the large modernist Lutheran Cathedral that dominates the Reykjavik skyline. It’s quite an impressive building…

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Inside the cathedral:

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For the grand total of 900 Icelandic Krona (around AUD$10), you can take a lift to the top of the Cathedral’s bell tower for some impressive views of Reykjavik.

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And here’s a more artistic photo of the Cathedral, minus all the tourists out the front taking exactly the same photo (just like the first photo in this post)…

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One of the first things I noticed about Reykjavik were the houses. They are pretty cute and many are painted in bright colours.

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After our visit to Hallgrímskirkja, we headed down to the foreshore and had a look at the Sun Voyager sculpture.

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The ocean has played a significant part in Icelandic history and today is still an important source of revenue for the country, with 40% of the exports from Iceland coming from fish and seafood. We spent a bit of time wandering around the marina.

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Old versus new:

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The building below is called the Harpa and is Reykjavik’s concert hall. It is a pretty impressive building with all the glass panels.

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More views of Reykjavik:

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This afternoon the sun came out and made everything even more beautiful. It was almost warm enough to be wearing only single layer of clothing! Despite it being summer, the temperature hasn’t risen above 12 degrees during our 24 hours here. Fortunately, the Icelandic do heating well.

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Around Reykjavik, many of the buildings have murals painted on them. In the photo below, I quite liked the bikes that were out on the balcony. Speaking of bikes, there are lots here in Reykjavik. I guess with it being such a small city, cycling is a convenient way to get around.

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This is Al√ĺingi, the rather diminutive parliament building.

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I think the view from the back is much nicer.

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More cute houses, this time in Old Reykjavik.

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I’ve really enjoyed our time exploring Reykjavik. Fortunately everyone we’ve spoken with so far speaks English well because I can’t pronounce 99% of the Icelandic words I’ve seen. There are quite a few tourists around, many of whom are American. We’ve found food to be rather expensive. Last night’s dinner cost us 7270 ISK (which equates to AUD$80) and consisted of soup, salad, a hamburger and drinks between the two of us. It was a tourist hot-spot as we were too tired to find somewhere else so hopefully things will be a bit cheaper outside Reykjavik.

Tomorrow we will be heading to Geysir (about an hour and a half from Reykjavik) to check out the geyser and also Gullfoss, which is one of many well known waterfalls here in Iceland.


Ticking items off the bucket list

Things have been pretty quiet here lately, however, the blogging hiatus has finally come to an end as we are just about to head off on our next big adventure. On Saturday (tomorrow!) we will be departing for four weeks overseas, spending 11 days in Iceland and the remaining time in France. As with our previous trips, I will aim to blog as regularly as possible, so I thought I’d start by writing a bit about our plans.

Our trip will actually start with a 6 hour stop-over in Copenhagen. Depending on how tired we are when we arrive, we are hoping to kill some time by exploring downtown Copenhagen before our flight to Reykjavik, Iceland.
Iceland has been on my bucket list for quite a while now. I can’t remember when it ended up there. Watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty¬†certainly helped (coincidentally, we saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty a couple of days after we returned from our last big overseas trip in 2014). If you haven’t seen the film, please watch it! The majority of it was filmed in Iceland (including the Greenland and Afghanistan scenes). Iceland has recently become a popular destination with photographers due to its amazing natural beauty so I cannot wait to experience and photograph it for myself.
The map below shows all of the places where we will be stopping (overnight) in Iceland. As you can see, we will be circumnavigating the island, travelling in an anti-clockwise direction.

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(Click here for an interactive version of the Iceland map https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zpuXMQF4TnOE.kYRCzss6CAt8&usp=sharing)

I can’t really say that there is anything in particular that I’m most looking forward to in Iceland as the whole trip is going to be fantastic. Our visit will coincide with the summer solstice so we will have 24 hours of daylight for the entirety of our visit. As we will be just below the Arctic Circle, the sun will set (around 12am), rising again around 3am, however, it’s not going to ever get dark. This will be perfect for many hours of photography and Ian will get to enjoy his longest birthday ever (as opposed to the shortest day he usually has in the southern hemisphere)! I’m also hoping to be able to see and photograph some puffins while we are in Iceland.

From Iceland we head to France for the remainder of our trip. After flying into Paris, we will be catching a train to Grenoble where we will meet Mum and Dad, pick up a car and head to Bourg d’Oisans and Alpe d’Huez.

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(An interactive version of the France map is available here https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zpuXMQF4TnOE.kkPZuIAJFahs&usp=sharing)

At this point in the blog post I need to delve into a bit of a backstory. If you’ve been following this blog for a while (or see me regularly in real life) you would know that I quite enjoy my sport and keeping active. For the last couple of years this has mostly taken the form of running. After being a long time fan of watching cycling events, last October we finally got around to buying some decent road bikes and there has been no turning back. I love cycling. I’ve still been running very occasionally but cycling is now my preferred fitness pursuit and I could do it all day, every day (almost). Having watched cycling events such as the Tour de France for some time, I was aware that one of the most iconic mountain climbs to ride is Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps. So, while planning our trip, we decided to add it to our list and attempt to cycle our way to the top. For those who aren’t familiar with Alpe d’Huez, it has 21 hairpins and an average gradient of 8% over the 13 or so kilometers to the top.¬†It’s going to smash me. It will most certainly be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do physically, even more so than the half marathons I’ve run. I’ve been training as much as I can for the last couple of months (albeit mostly on the indoor trainer trying to fit it in after work) and while I could always have done more training, I’m fairly happy with what I have done as I’ve seen some positive improvements out on the road. I guess I’ll find out how much the training has helped on June 24. Honestly, I’m a little scared about this but also excited for the challenge. The penultimate night before our little ride will not contain much sleep as we have a 1am flight out of Iceland followed by several hours on the TGV once we arrive in France to get to Grenoble. Hopefully the lack of sleep won’t have too big an impact.

For those who are interested, below is a video of the Alpe d’Huez climb so that you can see exactly what we’re in for, as well as a view of the profile of Alpe d’Huez.

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Following our climb of Alpe d’Huez, we will have a few days in the Alps before heading south to Provence for a week. We will be spending a couple of days in the Verdon Gorges region (thanks to a previous Tour de France for highlighting the beauty of this region), followed by a couple of days in Forcalquier and then Gordes. We spent a week in Provence during our last trip in December 2013 so I’m really looking forward to experiencing it in summer. Seeing (and, of course, photographing) fields of lavender and sunflowers has been on my bucket list for a long time so I’m quite looking forward to experiencing this while soaking up some sunshine and warmth (even though it will be summer in Iceland, the temperatures will be colder than an average winter’s day in Sydney).

After our week in Provence, we head north for a week in the Loire, where we will be reunited with my parents as well as my sister and brother-in-law. This will be Mum and Dad’s third visit to the particular B&B we will be staying. Enjoying a week in the Loire at Sambin together as a family was the catalyst for this trip in the first place. While in the Loire we will visit several of the numerous chateaus the region has to offer as well as seeing two stages of the Tour de France (also on the bucket list). Our plan is to be at the finish in Angers to see the end of Stage 3 on July 4 and then be somewhere along the route during Stage 4 the following day. In addition to doing the touristy thing and seeing the Tour de France, we are hoping to do some cycling while in the Loire as well as having a bit of down time as we will be on the go for most of the trip.

At the end of our week in the Loire we head north to Mont Saint Michel on the Normandy coast. Growing up, I had a photograph of Mont Saint Michel stuck to the back of my bedroom door and so seeing it in real life is another item on the bucket list that we will be ticking off. We will only have 24 hours there, after which we head back to Paris for one night before beginning the long journey home.

This trip has been almost one year in the planning so it feels quite surreal to be less than 24 hours away from departure. Again, if you’ve been following this blog for a while (or see me regularly), you would know how much I love to travel and so I’m really excited to have the opportunity to experience some new places and revisit some old ones (although in a different season). As with the previous trips, there will be a lot of photography that will be done on this trip (which I hope to blog as much of as I can) and hopefully even some video as Ian is now equipped with a GoPro. In addition to experiencing and photographing more of God’s awesome creation, I’m looking forward to having a break from my every day life. Life has just been getting busier and busier over the last few years to the point where we are both burning out and are exhausted, so we’ve agreed that during this trip we will re-evaluate our priorities and hopefully make some plans that will improve things. At this point I’m up for anything.

I think that pretty much summarises our plan for the next month. Stay tuned for the next blog post from somewhere in Iceland!

Searching for summer

After spending a large proportion of the Australian summer experiencing winter in Europe, I was desperate for some sun and warmth. To make up for missing most of summer, we decided to spend a week of the April holidays in Cairns soaking up the sunshine. Unfortunately the weather had other plans. About two weeks before our trip, Far North Queensland was impacted by a rather late season cyclone. Fortunately this didn’t effect us or our travel plans, however, the damp weather proceeded to hang around for just about all of our week. Suffice to say we didn’t see a whole lot of sun. On the positive side though, temperatures were warm which almost made up for the lack of sun. Due to the rain, I sadly didn’t do much photography at all, but did take a few shots of some of our excursions which I’ve finally gotten around to editing.

After studying the weather forecast, we picked the day which had the least likely chance of rainfall and took a 2 hour drive south to Innisfail.¬†There isn’t much at Innisfail but that wasn’t why we went there. Our reason for the day trip was to visit Paronella Park, located just outside of Innisfail. My sister and brother-in-law visited Paronella Park on their honeymoon and after posting a few pictures on Instagram, I knew that I had to visit should I find myself in Cairns. The history behind Paronella Park is quite amazing. It was founded in 1929 by Jose Paronella, a Spanish migrant, who dreamed of building a castle. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Jose but in the end he did get his castle as well as a magnificent garden. Today, the ‘castle’ is a ruin, yet the effect of the buildings and lush tropical gardens are beautiful and somewhat resembles Jurassic Park! We did a walking tour of the park and I was able to photograph some of the landmarks.

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You can’t really tell from the photos, but most of these were taken in the pouring rain while juggling an umbrella.

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In it’s heyday, Paronella Park would have been quite something! If you ever find yourself in Cairns, make sure you take a trip to Paronella Park as it is well worth it (and hopefully the weather will be better for you than it was for us!).

The drive between Cairns and Innisfail features some lovely scenery. There are plenty of sugar cane crops as well as lookouts over waterfalls and picnic spots. One stop that we did make was at the Babinda Boulders…

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On our last full day of the trip, the sun finally decided to appear from behind the rainclouds and we headed north to Port Douglas. If you haven’t visited, Port Douglas is rather touristy (a bit like Cairns), however there is a nice lookout and some beautiful beaches. Here’s the view looking out over Port Douglas

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One of the local icons of Port Douglas is St Mary’s by the Sea. It is a gorgeous building set in a beautiful location making¬†it a very popular wedding ceremony venue. I’d love to photograph a wedding there someday!

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The photograph below is of an ornamental ginger plant which you see a lot around the tropics in Australia and beyond. I remember first seeing these plants in Vanuatu several years ago and thinking that they were quite unique.

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The main beach in Port Douglas…

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The image below was taken during a little walk we took to kill time before our flight home. As you can see, the weather was spectacular, just in time for our departure. Oh well! Plans for our next sunshine-filled holiday are underway and hopefully the weather at the end of September is a little more cooperative.

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That pretty much sums up our trip to Cairns. The whole week I only shot 106 photos, most of which were at Paronella Park and well below my usual average number of photographs. One positive about all the rain was the forced relaxation that it resulted in. I spent one day of the trip editing all of my Europe photos which reminds me that I still need to do my review post of our big adventure. Watch this space!

European dreaming

It’s hard to believe that we have now been home for five weeks – almost as long as we were away on our European adventure. Between work, lots of exercise (I’ll save that for another post) and our regular commitments, time is flying by at a rapid pace. I’m gobsmacked that it will be March at the end of this week….how did that happen?? Ian has been quick to remind me that we were away for half of January which is contributing to the speed with which this year feels like it is passing by. In my final trip blog post about our time in Rome, I wrote that I was planning on shortly posting a big review of our trip. Sadly, between the busyness of home and exhaustion of travelling for six weeks followed by going straight back to work, I haven’t had time to do that post justice. It is definitely still coming – I want to make sure that I properly reflect on our trip, not only as a way of documenting my own memories, but to also share with you a few things that haven’t yet been shared (including images!). So, I’ll slowly plug away at it bit by bit and the post will eventually grace this blog.

Amidst the busyness, at times I have found my mind wandering back to our trip and all of the wonderful memories that we created. In many respects I’m sad that I haven’t had more time to sit and reflect on our trip as I want to hold on to the memories before they slip away into the distant past. After arriving home from Europe on a Saturday morning, I had three full days at home before heading back to work and since then it doesn’t feel as if things have stopped. Going into the trip, we knew we wouldn’t have much down time after the trip as we wanted to maximise our time away. And while I have been working hard on some of my goals for 2014 that I wrote about here, frustratingly it often my photography that has been pushed aside simply because there is no time left. This is something that I’m going to be working harder on over the next few weeks because I have big dreams in this area and they aren’t going to magically happen without lots of hard work! I’ve found that I thrive on being creative – taking photographs, editing them and even writing these posts. When I don’t have time for these things, I feel like I’m missing part of myself.

One part of the trip that I did not particularly enjoy was the 14 hour flight from Dubai to Sydney. I disliked it on our first Europe trip and despite having a little more room on the A380, I wasn’t feeling great and that flight felt like it lasted forever. I was so happy to be able to walk off that plane in Sydney and enjoy solid ground, fresh air and simply being home. For a while, the thought of getting on another plane did not interest me in the slightest, no matter what the destination was. Five weeks later, however, that feeling has changed. Yesterday morning I was up early and out running when I saw Emirates flight EK412 in the distance, preparing to land in Sydney. That was the same flight we arrived home on. Out of the blue and certainly not because I was cold (I was about 6km into a 12km run), I had goosebumps. The passion to travel and photograph the world is back, just as strong as before. While we do have more travel plans for this year, it may be some time before our next big overseas adventure. In the meantime, I’m going to be saving my pennies, dreaming of the fantastic experience we just had in Europe and contemplating our next grand adventure.

To wrap up this post, here is an image that hasn’t yet seen the light of day on this blog. It was taken on our last morning in Positano, Italy when I awoke to the sight a beautiful sunrise which I jumped out of bed to photograph.

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P.S. While the blog may have suffered a bit of neglect over the past five weeks, I have been busy tweaking my website a bit. Massive thanks to Ian for helping me out with some of the trickier tweaks. While there is still a little more work to be done, I’m really happy with how this site is looking. If you haven’t had a look around for a while, please check it out and let me know what you think!

Rome

Our European adventure wouldn’t be complete without one final post of our brief time in Rome. After leaving Capri, we caught a taxi, ferry and train to get us to Rome, our final destination for the trip. We didn’t have a huge amount of time in Rome – we arrived mid afternoon on the Wednesday and flew out on Thursday evening. As we needed to do a bit of a repack of all our gear, we kept things quiet on the Wednesday afternoon, knowing that we would have a bit of time to explore on the Thursday morning. Fortunately we were able to arrange a late check-out from our hotel, so we could spend the morning exploring without needing to leave our luggage somewhere. Plus it was lovely to be able to enjoy a shower just before heading to the airport and spending the following 25 (or so) hours travelling home.

Our final day in Italy was overcast and threatening rain. On our previous trip, Ian and I had both seen quite a bit of Rome, however I had never visited the Spanish Steps. So, we ventured out, with our first destination being the Spanish Steps. It was fairly quiet and I was able to get a tourist-free shot of the steps…

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Next stop – the Trevi Fountain!

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And yes, we made sure we threw some coins in to the fountain to guarantee a return trip ūüôā

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Unfortunately by this stage our time was running out and it was time to return to the hotel. Our time in Rome was short and sweet, a bit like this blog post! But don’t worry, I’ll be back again soon! I’m planning on posting a ‘recap’ post of our big adventure in the next day or so with a few new photos that have yet to grace the blog. Until then, here is one final shot from Rome. Even despite the gloomy skies, there is still so much colour. I love that about Italy!

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