Thursday, February 12, 2009


When Claire had the opportunity to work in Manchester for 3 weeks, she took the new digital camera with her. Unfortunately, she didn't take the charger so not as many photos as there could have been.

Work put her up in a very nice mezzanine studio apartment with canal views straight towards the Manchester United Football stadium. There were some amazing sunrises and sunsets through the double story glass windows. Some blackout curtains would have been useful for sleeping though. The canal lights were very bright.

Like the rest of England, Manchester did get some of the snow but nothing like what fell in London. It did make for an interesting walk to the lab in heeled boots though.

There were no games on that weekend so we decided to see behind the scenes. Claire is still not converted to football!

Nice day, still have heat lamps on the pitch

A bit of strategy in the change room.

Where the players enter the pitch

If you have to watch a game, these are seats you want. Coaches only though.

The camera ran out of battery so the last piccy is just to show the entrance to the shopping centre. Most importantly it had a Boost Juice Bar! It is the little things that we miss the most. Claire is on the way to finishing the first loyalty card, especially as now there is one in London as well.
The Trafford Centre

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

ICELAND...Seriously cold & proper snow (unlike London).
We thought we would do our little bit to help the struggling Icelandic economy, and took a 4 day weekend break to Reykjavik. Geographically, Iceland is one of the worlds youngest nations. It lies on the mid-atlantic ridge between the American and European continental plates, thus it is quite prone to eruptions of molten lava. Fortunately we only saw the many thermal spouts coming out of the ground.

Some might think going to Reykjavik (the northern most capital of the world) in the middle of winter is a little extreme but the tempearatures are relatively mild with average minimums of minus 3 degrees. The wind can make it feel significantly colder. Iceland is a nation of un-touched natural beauty. No pollution, the cleanliness of fresh snow, and a forward thinking solution to energy production. Iceland relies on hydro-thermal energy production to provide electricity & hot water to the whole island. Being a totally renewable resource & very cheap to produce, it also allows them to heat greenhouses & the even the pavement in the main shopping street.

Blue Lagoon.
When the outside temperature is below zero most people don't think of going swimming outdoors, but in Iceland there are a number of thermal pools with the Blue Lagoon being the most famous. It was a very surreal environment to be in, with the steam rising from the 40 degree water and the sun setting through the mist. When we looked at the clock we realised it had been at least 60min since we had entered the warm water and it was time to head out and sample some of the free spa products. A must do for anyone heading over and we recommend the moisturiser as well!

Blue Lagoon from a distance
Glacier Walking.
To experience the natural wonders of the country you need to leave town, so that is what we did. We joined 6 others and headed 3hrs east to the Sólheimajökull Glacier. We were both expecting to see a big blue coloured block of ice on the horizon, but it took us a while to realise that it would be covered in snow just like everything else. Nevertheless it was amazing see just how big it was, expecially as we were only walking on the 'tongue'. The main glacier is 8km long and about 2km wide. Our local guide gave us crampons (ice spikes for your boots) and tied us all together (there was some discussion over which knot was better - figure 8 vs bowline). We spent the next 3hrs walking across the ice and were amazed at the 'waves' and other formations the ice creates while it melts and moves. We did have to negotiate a couple of small and steep rises as well as jump a hole or two. There were some very big holes and we were very thankful for the guides experience.
To break up the trip back to town we stopped at 2 waterfalls, which gave us a taste of what to expect the next day.
Northern Lights.
We spent 5 hours driving round in circles trying to find the elusive Aurora Borealis (a.k.a. The Northern Lights). After hearing that the previous night had been a spectacular display, we were quite excited. A foggy/cloudy night greeted us in Reykjavik, and even when we got away from the fog it didn't help. We had one of the few SLR cameras on the bus, so when Steve got the first decent photo our tour guide proclaimed it to be the Northern Lights, with everyone getting very excited at a tinge of green in the sky. I'll let you be the judge, but personally we think the tour guide was trying to get themselves out of dealing with 50 disgruntled passengers!! Oh well, it gives us an excuse to go back sometime in the future.
Golden Circle Tour.
The first thing to mention here is that both buses the day before had been very hot and there had also been no wind, so we decided that thermals weren't needed. Oh how wrong we were. The wind was definitely blowing and we were in pain with the cold. We think it was about -10 before the windchill. Our previous trips to Russia & Sweden were seeming quite mild at that moment. However, this is the most popular tour on the island.
To begin the day (even though it was still dark) we stopped in at the Geothermal Power Station and saw the turbines and had the technology explained, including how they deal with earthquakes. The sunrise as we left was incredible and the hour drive to the next stop went by in a flash.
Geothermal power stationGreenhouse
The locals built some steps for the salmon to navigate up this waterfall!
The Geysir.
With all the volcanic activity below us, there are quite a few thermal fields containing bubbling pools. This one in particular has 2 geysirs, one of which erupts every 5min or so. We could only manage about 30min outdoors but we were fortunate to capture a few eruptions on film. The trick is the water turns blue just before it blows. We think they get to about 10m in height.

Interesting fact - the word Geysir is Iceland’s only contribution to the world language.
Expectedly given the large amounts of snow, ice & glaciers on the island, there are many beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. The one on this tour visits the largest (we think) of Iceland's. It falls in two stages, 11m then 21m and usually has a rainbow in the afternoon. It was bitterly cold at the clifftop lookout, but surprisly sheltered if you went right down to the wateredge (as Claire did!).
Notice the rainbow...
View from lookout at the top
The final stop on this tour was the rift valley in Þingvellir national park. It is here that the two continental plates are visible. Iceland's first parliament was also located here, before being moved to Reyjkavik

The Rift Valley with one of the plates (American) running alongsideThe Great Lake

We left it to the last day to have a quick look around the town. Firstly we headed down to the harbour wall and watched sunrise (at 10am) before going into the main street. The thermal power is put to good use and the street/footpath is kept free of snow and ice. We discovered a lake that had frozen over and had a game of Soccer being played on ice. A quick look at the national museum and it was off to the airport for a spot of duty free shopping.
The main shopping street.
The frozen Tjörnin lakeWater is pumped into one corner and the birds flock there in huge numbers
Houses on one side of the lake
Icelandic pram...
The trip back to London.
While we were away, London had an unprecedented amount of snow that predictably ground the city and airports to a halt. We were a little concerned about being stranded, but another day in Reyjkavik wouldn't be the end of the world! No problem for us though, we landed ahead of schedule.
Not completely sure what was going on as it just seemed to leave a layer of ice on the wing.
It could have been a more direct approach