We drive northeast on 321, leaving Ottawa behind us.
Most big cities in North America look the same. Skyscrapers in the city centers. Streets crossing at 90 degree angles. Traffic lights in every crossing. National monuments. Important buildings. Museums. Office buildings. Lots of taxis. All cities have substitute nature called parks. People come to the parks, bringing coffee in disposable cups from Starbucks across the street, lying in the sunshine in the grass, enjoying what they think is nature. Looking around, they don’t see mountain ridges. They see high rise buildings wherever they look. City life. City nature.
The road is good, single lanes. We pass through forests. We pass through small villages. Lakes. Rivers. Rapids. Sometimes small farms. I get flashbacks to my roots. The landscape is so similar to where I grew up, in northern Sweden. This is real nature. Real Canada.
The landscape is changing forms. Hills. Higher hills. Small mountains. We stop by a lake. Fishing must be good here. The water is very clean. I stick my hand into the water. It is cold. Just like my childhood water in northern Sweden. We come to Mont Tremblant village. Clean, organized, well managed and maintained.
I would feel at home here. Here in the real Canada.
It is early summer in Toronto. It is sunny, clear skies, as we drive towards Hamilton. Roads are good, traffic light. We are surrounded by light green colours, the colours of early summer, colours that will change into darker green as days go by. Many flowers on the road side. Red, white, blue, violet. Nature is in its love phase….
After Hamilton, before the Falls, we pass many Canadian wineries. We did not know that wines are produced in Canada. Now we know.
The power of the water is intense. Again, I cannot take my eyes from the water. Several hundred thousands of cubic meters of water going over the edge every second. Every second. Niagara Falls. Another gift from nature. Another wonder. World, you are beautiful.
We walk until our legs are tired. The mild sound from falling water is gently fondling our ears. The dew from rising mist from the falls is making our jackets wet.
We are back in Toronto before sunset. Our seafood dinners from previous nights is replaced with a tasty chicken meal. We try Canadian red wine. Not bad. Not bad at all…
We fly over Greenland. Incredible beauty. Fairytale landscapes. A few hours later, we arrive in Canada.
There is so much beauty on this planet. Why are we destroying it?
There is so much to enjoy on this Earth. So much to see, so much to share. Why are we fighting over this beauty? Why are we fighting over land? Why are we fighting over borders when in reality there are no borders? The Earth is beautiful, owned by every being living on it. Why do we humans live the lives we do?
We arrive in peak hour traffic in Toronto. With the help of our GPS, we make it to our hotel. New experiences are waiting…
I take a deep breath. I take many deep breaths during our stay in Iceland.
There are few places on Earth where nature takes such a grip over your body and soul as this place. It is undisguised beauty. Raw beauty. Tender beauty. Ugly beauty. Beautiful beauty. Everything is here. In one place. Everything on one island, untouched for thousands or even millions of years.
I wish our stay here had been longer. I feel that we have just touched the surface of the secrets of Earth. This is one place in Universe which tells us what Universe is about. One place which tells us what was here before man occupied this planet.
We see small ponds. Bluish water, coloured by minerals. We see small ponds with boiling water, heat provided by the inner of Earth. We see rivers with crystal clear water, water you can drink. We see volcanoes, lava fields and lava stones that tell us about more violent times on the island.
The mid-Atlantic Ridge goes through the island. This is the junction of the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, the place where America and Europe drifted apart. This drift is still going on, by about 3 mm per year. The scars from this divorce are visible in many places. Small deep rifts, often with crystal clear water, sometimes 20 meters deep or more. We see scuba divers going down into these rifts. Over the past number of years, five scuba divers have died exploring the secrets of the rifts.
Iceland, you still carry many secrets. Secrets of the past. Will we ever get to know them?
It is eight degrees outside. Cloudy. A bitterly cold wind. Slight rain. We decide to go swimming.
After 45 minutes, a ride through a moon landscape, we arrive at our target. The Blue Lagoon. The very blue lagoon. The water is coming up to the surface from the inner depths of the earth. The water gets bluish, milky bluish, from minerals it passes through on its travel up to the surface.
I walk outside in my swim trousers. Eight degrees. An ice cold wind. I almost turn around, back in to the warmth. I am freezing. But I push on towards the lagoon. At the first touch with the water, I almost pull my feet back. The water is hot. Too hot? Slowly I get into the water. My body adjusts to the heat. Around 38-40 degrees. One of Iceland’s hot springs. One of Iceland’s wonders.
We spend more than an hour in the lagoon. In the hot water. We don’t want to get out of the water. The water gives us protection from the cold Icelandic weather. Protection from the real world. Like a saga. But finally we have to get up. Out of the hot water. Into the cold. Into the real world.
The body feels surprisingly relaxed. I fall asleep in the car on the way back to Reykjavik. In the evening, we have dinner in the Old Harbour. 101 Harbor Restaurant. We have had very fresh seafood at every meal, lunch and dinner, so far in Iceland. So also tonight. Sea Perch and Blue Ling. Potatoes and salad. Wine and beer.
Iceland, we are starting to fall in love with you….
Many must have perished in the cold waters of the North Atlantic in their search for a better life. Some of them were lucky. They found this barren island. A flat landscape. Black volcanic soil. Black volcanic stones. More stones. Few trees. Snow covered mountain chains in the background. How could they survive here? I feel for them. They were my ancestors. They were the Vikings.
They found a sea full of fish. They found an infertile land. They found a lot of ice. They called the land “Island”. Iceland.
It is spring now. It is cold. Six degrees in the morning as we head north. We are well dressed but it is still cold. Icy winds. Winds doing their best to penetrate our clothing.
The road is good. We pass through moonlike landscape. We pass through lava fields, covered by greenish yellowish moss. We pass many horse farms. We reach Gullfoss, the most famous water fall on Iceland. The Golden waterfall. Glacial water, bluish, somewhat brownish, carries a lot of sediments that the water has carved out on its way. It is not one of earth’s biggest water falls but its beauty grips me. My eyes cannot stop starring at the falls. I breathe deeply. Harmony fills my soul. Suddenly, I come back to reality. Our driver’s voice is cutting through the air. We shall continue. I could have stayed here forever.
We are reaching the area of geysirs. There are small pools of boiling water. A smell of sulphur in the air. Under our feet, the earth is boiling. We are standing with our cameras ready. Waiting. One minute. More minutes. Then suddenly, a whoshing sound, eruption, water bursting 15 meters up into the air. Strokkur has erupted again. Some people stand too close, running away from the falling water.
There is chocolate in the air… No, not love. Chocolate!
We are in a two story hotel in the green countryside. The stairs to the second floor are narrow and steep. The steps are creaking. A very small room with two very big comfortable beds. A big bathroom, half the size of the bedroom. Sitting on the toilet, you must get up and walk three steps to reach the toilet paper on the wall. Old English charm. Very old. Very English.
In the middle of this green little English village, there is a big ugly building. Very big. Very ugly. Red bricks. A set of buildings actually. I can forgive the ugliness when I know what is inside. Chocolate! The buildings are full of chocolate!
We arrived late last night in Bourneville outside Birmingham in England. Bourneville where chocolate manufacturer Cadbury has its factory. One of the biggest chocolate factories in the world. Out of the factory chimneys comes chocolate! You can actually smell chocolate in the air in Bourneville!
It gets better. Here you have a chocolate factory outlet store. One of the biggest chocolate stores in the world. I am starting to love it!
We have good reasons to buy chocolate. We will see friends on this trip. Chocolates make good gifts. And chocolates make good eating. If I would live permanently in Bourneville, I would put on 10 kilos in the next two years. I especially love Cadbury MisShapes. This is chocolate that has not passed the quality control. Not the right form. Not the right shine. But the same taste. It is sold in big, not expensive packs.
We eat a lot of chocolate today. We have one very good reason. We will soon catch our next flight on this trip. Airlines charge for overweight in your suitcase, not overweight on your body.
Can you give me one more praline, please!
It is a pity to leave this place now. But our feet are itching….
We have taken out the suitcase. We have packed it and we are ready for another trip. Our garden will be left in the hands of God and our automatic watering system. And friendly neighbours.
We are invited by a neighbour for dinner at Bakaliko at The Strip in Skiathos two nights before our next departure. Together with some other friends. The Strip is the road between the town and Skiathos Airport. A road with many restaurants, clubs and bars. Good food. Good wines. Good company. We will miss Skiathos.
The alarm clock is set for 04.30 in the morning. The flight leaves Skiathos at 06.30. The flight is short, 35 minutes to Athens.
We have a full day in Athens, almost. We will leave our luggage at the airport. Then take the bus to Syndagma Square in central Athens. Walk around in Plaka, the old part of Athens, just below Akropolis. A lunch at a taverna. Then back to the airport again. Our next flight leaves late in the afternoon. Our first leg on this tour, between three and four hours in the air.
We are on the move again!
The sun is setting over the hills, casting long shadows on the road. We walk slowly downhill, from our house to the beach, a few minutes’ walk. The heat of the day is slowly subsiding.
It is quiet. The smell from the pine trees fill our nostrils. The silence is broken by a fast motor boat crossing the clear water of Tzaneria Bay. Then the boat is gone. Silence is ruling again.
For minutes or for a week?
Only Peter and Zelda have put their boat into the water. But the small bay will soon be filled with boats, attached to the buoys, swinging and moving with the waves. But still, the waves are the rulers of the bay. The beach is empty. Soon, umbrellas and sunbeds will fill the beach. Tourists will fill the sunbeds. For now, at this moment of time, the beach is ours. A slow walk in the sand. Not a tourist in sight.
For another week…
At Sklithri Taverna, our gem on the beach, Emilio and his men are preparing the taverna for the season. A new kitchen. Emilio tells us that they plan to open in a week. Now it is quiet, no guests, no food, no wine.
For another week…
Our shoes sink into the sand, made soft by the waves. At the end of the beach, a place to sit down. A place to contemplate. To listen to the waves. Birds singing. A dog barking far away. A place a thousand miles from the world.
Velvet for the soul…
For another week…..
The first charter flight of the season has arrived. Thomas Cook from Manchester.
You can spot the tourists from a mile away. A couple of hours after the arrival, they walk in pairs or small groups slowly up and down Papadiamantis, looking totally lost. Papadiamantis is the small main street in Skiathos town, a pedestrian street. They are pale. Very pale after a long winter in England. They wear shorts. They have paid a lot of money to wear shorts for a week, sun or rain. The legs are extremely pale. Some of them wear funny hats, first thing they shop on the holiday. Hats that they would never even dream of wearing on High Street in Doncaster. You see the same groups several times, first walking up Papadiamantis and then down Papadiamantis. A slow walk, looking lost as if they haven’t yet understood that they are on a holiday.
The bar and café owners along Papadiamantis and down in the harbor have waited six months for them. “Welcome!” and then “Where are you from?”. Everyone in the street knows that they are from England but “Where are you from?” is one of the standard introductory phrases. “Sit down!”
Some of them sit down and have the first pint of beer of the day (not counting the ones they had on the plane). The café owner is happy. The first catch of the season.
Skiathos has got two seasons, the winter season and the tourist season. The face of the island is now changing into tourist season mode. Total contrasts. The winter population of the island is 6,000 people. In August, the peak tourist season when the Greeks and the Italians have their holidays, there are more than 60,000 people on the island. In January, there may be one car passing by on the coast road below our house every half hour. In August there is bumper to bumper traffic on the road.