Saturday, 15 September 2018

Dear Diary.....Reykjavik and Northern Lights (Iceland)


Dear Diary,

All the various photos of the stunning Northern Lights appearing in the various social media has brought back fond memories of our trip to Iceland! It was yet another impromptu week-long trip to Iceland in the hope of fulfilling our dreams of dancing alongside the Northern Lights! Having long heard of many friends raved about the extraordinary beauty and uniqueness of the landscape in Iceland, my husband and I were full of anticipation for the trip. However, we soon realized that one week was probably too short a duration to cover all that we want to see in Iceland! Furthermore, as it was during the winter season, with the unpredictability of the Icelandic weather and unfamiliarity of driving in snow and ice, we decided to join a local tour group! The only downside of this decision was that we were only left with 2 days to explore Reykjavik and to go for the Northern Lights hunt! :(

Beautiful street art in Reykjavik

We touched down in Iceland in the afternoon but as daytime is short during the winter, it was dark by the time we reached Reykjavik and we were quite disappointed that we did not get to see much on this first day. Our disappointment was made worse when we got news that the Northern Lights hunt for the night had to be cancelled due to poor weather conditions.

Hallgrimskirkja church looking rather mysterious at night!

In a bid to shake off all that negativity, we headed back to our apartment after a brief walk in the city center to cook our dinner. Looking at the prices of the restaurant food and even that of the fresh food in the supermarket, we were glad that we had the option of cooking our own meals by picking an accommodation with a kitchen as well as packing several staples and ingredients in our luggage! After dinner, we then headed to bed, vowing to wake up earlier the next day so that we can have more time to accomplish the things that we had set out to do and see!

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Waking up earlier than usual the next day proved to be quite a challenge, especially on a cold winter day! With the sky still dark, the inertia to get out of the warm and comfortable bed into the cold and windy streets was one of the strongest to date! However, as we do not have the luxury of time, we eventually dragged our lethargic bodies out of the apartment.........and headed straight to a nice and cosy cafe for breakfast!

Breakfast time!

Cute pancakes :)

After a nice and hearty breakfast and with the sun slowly rising up from the horizon, my husband and I proceeded to explore the city. Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, had a rather modern and sophisticated outlook. As we walked around, we were constantly amazed by the uniqueness of its architectures. The exterior of the Hallgrimskirkja church looks impressive with its towering height and resemblance to the basalt rock columns and the huge pipe organ located in its interior was certainly mesmerizing!

Hallgrimskirkja church looking very different during the day..

The huge pipe organ inside the church

Along the harbor, the Harpa Concert Hall, whose geometric shaped glass panels bore some resemblance to the basalt columns, was one eye-catching architectural structure! Located a short distance away lies the Sun Voyager sculpture, a boat-like structure which was set against the beautiful backdrop of Mount Esjan. It would have been nice to stand there and admire the view if not for the sudden downpour of rain that left us quite drenched!

The artistic Harpa Concert Hall

Sun Voyager Sculpture

Time seemed to have sped by as we walked along the picturesque streets of the city, admiring its awe-inspiring buildings and just soaking in the crisp and cooling winter air. Before we know it, it was time for lunch and we went straight for this particular restaurant that caught our eyes (and stomach) with its signature fish soup and fish of the day dish. The fish soup was creamy and filled with seafood flavor with a tinge of sourness from the tomatoes and vinegar - a very refreshing and unique taste. It also contained a generous amount of sliced fish. We also ordered the grilled fish of the day and it was delicious. The outer layer of the fish was grilled to perfection with the inner portion still retaining its moist, fresh and tender mouth feel! My husband and I could literally feel the ocean surrounding us as we indulged in this “fishy” Icelandic cuisine!

Yummy fish soup

Grilled fish!

We were glad to have filled up our tummies and obtained adequate rest time for our legs during this lunch break before we went for our city tour. Our guide was a local, handsome and young chap who had a great sense of humour, making it a joy to follow him as he shared with us the unique history and folktales of Reykjavik. The most interesting thing that he mentioned was that majority of the locals believed in the existence of elves. They also believed that the various huge rocks or stones lying around were the home of the elves - moving them could only be done after seeking the approval of the elves, otherwise bad things will happen to those who touched their homes! Not only did he also gave a good history of the various significant landmarks in Reykjavik, he also tried to teach us some common Icelandic phrase (which I found it extremely difficult to pronounce!). It was an afternoon well spent which left us with a deeper understanding of the history and culture of Reykjavik! :)

On our city tour...

These timber houses in Iceland were built with imported timber and corrugated iron from Denmark

The stone which was believed to be the home of the elves

Iceland's main church which has been in existence since 1847

Parliament House

The Unknown Bureaucrat statue

City hall

With no news from the tour group that we signed up for and this day being the only day left available for us to go for the Northern Lights hunt, we were about to lose all hopes of ever seeing the lights when we received an email stating that the Northern Lights activity was at its peak and that the hunt will proceed later tonight! Hurriedly, we rushed back to our apartment for a quick dinner and started to prepare for the exciting hunt later on!

At the designated time of 9pm, we were already waiting in front of our apartment for our ride to catch the Northern Lights. It was quite easy to tell when was a good day to try and catch the lights as we could literally see many others (just like us), standing in front of their accommodation, waiting patiently for their ride for the night! Several vans came and went before ours arrived and we boarded the van excitedly and were welcomed with the excited chattering of those who were already in the van.

Our driver-cum-guide was an experienced photographer who had been organizing tours like the Northern Lights hunt and tours around Iceland for many years. Equipped with a walkie talkie, our guide was constantly communicating with the other guides to locate the best spot to watch the Northern Lights. After leaving the city, we drove for quite a while in the darkness before we managed to locate a particular spot. There, we saw a faint streak of green lights floating in the sky and everyone got off the van to admire it. Our guide started setting up his camera and proceeded to help each and every one of us to take photo with the lights!

The faint Northern Lights at our first stop..

As the lights started to fade away, our guide decided to try and find another spot. It was another long drive in the dark (which I had absolutely no idea how our guide was able to navigate in the dark so confidently) before we came to our next location. It was completely dark when we got off the van and looked up in the sky when suddenly bang! - a bright wave of green lights started dancing above our heads. The view was phenomenal, nothing like I had ever seen before! The initial dark sky was suddenly lighted and filled with energy and life! It was as if the lights were doing a joyous dance to welcome all of us to Iceland! All of us cheered and clapped when we saw this awesome display of lights and we just stood in silence with eyes fixated on the lights for the whole duration that it was there. It was only when the lights vanished as suddenly as it had appeared that we slowly proceeded to board the van. Northern Lights - another item ticked off our bucket list! It was certainly a night to remember for all of us and I was glad that I was able to witness this phenomenal view alongside my husband!

The only photo that I managed to capture of the dancing lights at our second destination of the night!

Physically tired but mentally very much alert and heart pumping hard from all the adrenaline rush earlier on, we finally reached our apartment and it was time to call it a day. We were really fortunate to be able to see the Northern Lights with our very own eyes and we really could not wait to embark on the Golden Circle tour around Iceland scheduled for the next few days. Stay tuned~

Yours Truly,
Claire

Friday, 7 September 2018

The Art of Travels - Part III (Arts of the World)

Street Art, London

Looking back at my travel photos, I realized that I had compiled quite a collection of street art photos from the various countries that I had visited. Some might wonder why the obsession with street art? Well, I am not so sure myself. Ever since my husband and I moved to Europe and started travelling more, our travel goals seemed to have evolved into one that allows us to see the unique parts of our travel destinations and street art seems to fit that bill! We would still make it a point to visit the main tourist attraction sites whenever we travel to a new place but we would be constantly on the lookout for unique street art along the way.


Street Art, Paris

As mentioned in my earlier post, I do feel that art and travel goes hand in hand and I personally feel that it is even so for street art. Most of us travel to venture out of our comfort zone, to explore and discover new things that cannot be found in our homeland. However, now with globalization, we can easily see the outside world from the photos and videos posted on social media without even the need to step out of our house. To me, it would be quite meaningless to travel all the way to another country just to see things that appeared exactly the same as the photos seen on the various social media. Street art, on the other hand, adds color and vibrancy to a place. Furthermore, a new piece of street art can be easily painted over an existing one, which thus allows for the injection of a whole new outlook and new elements of surprises to the same region! It is this form of fluidity that motivates me and my husband to travel more!


Street Art, Singapore

We had noted the transition of the haphazard graffiti into beautiful art murals in the many places that we had visited. Today, street art is still a rather controversial issue with some countries becoming more open to it and letting these form of art create a more lively and colorful outlook to the region while others still frowns upon it and view them as a form of vandalism. Regardless of how the world see street art, my husband and I just purely treat them as art pieces and as a way to better understand what the locals are trying to express in a rather creative format. As an amateur painter, I also find inspirations from these various street art and I always find myself having the burning desire to pick up my painting brush after coming across some interesting art on the streets!

There are certainly many more gorgeous art pieces waiting to be discovered and it is my greatest wish to be able to find them while travelling to the different corners of the World! With that, I would like to end off this “Art of Travels” series with some of my most valued street art photos that I had taken so far. Hope that you have enjoyed this series thus far and feel free to share with us your thoughts on this topic! Cheers :)


Brussels





Dublin




Iceland






Istanbul






Lisbon





London





Morocco





Paris








Singapore





Friday, 24 August 2018

The Art of Travels - Part II (Chartres Light Festival)


It will be September soon and whenever this month approaches, I will be reminded of how much fun I had at the Chartres Light Festival 2017, a night where the creative use of lights decorated the city of Chartres and turned it into one giant art masterpiece! Chartres Light Festival is into its 15th year this year, with the first light show being showcased in 2003. Since then, every year, the city will provide more than 200 consecutive evenings of light shows from April to October, with the main light festival event being held on a particular Saturday in September.

A lovely and scenic view in Chartres!

Of all the light festivals that I had attended, I was particularly impressed by the grand scale of the light festival in Chartres! With more than 20 monuments and major attractions in the city being illuminated with artistic lights and music, it literally felt like the whole city had come alive and partying alongside the tons of visitors from all over the world who had specially made a trip down for the event!


My husband and I had planned a weekend trip to catch the light festival at Chartres and we even managed to coax some friends to join us for the event. We arrived at Chartres train station in the late morning and proceeded to head out to do some exploration of the city after dumping our bags in the hotel. It felt like a normal small city in France, with little or no hints of the exciting events to come once night falls. Our first stop was to Chartres Cathedral, the famous landmark in Chartres. The cathedral, built in the Gothic and Romanesque styles, has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and I could see the reason for it as we got closer to it. With its towering height, well preserved exterior, and impressive stained glass window, its majestic facade has undoubtedly drawn many visitors towards it!

Chartres Cathedral

The interior of Chartres Cathedral
Beautiful stained glass window



The other side of Chartres Cathedral

After exploring Chartres cathedral, we continued on our relaxing stroll through the city. Chartres is really a beautiful place to be in, with a good mix of the old and new building facades, the small alleys lined with cute cafes, the lively market place and the numerous well preserved monuments for visitors to explore! While walking, we chanced upon Saint Pierre church, whose massive and impressive outlook caught my attention immediately! The church was huge and we had a great time admiring the stained glass windows and the fine details carved out all over this beautiful architecture!

Cute cafe lining the small alley

Lively market place

Saint Pierre church


We decided to head back to the hotel for a short rest after lunch so as to conserve our energy for the light festival later at night! While walking back to the hotel, we noticed that the locals were starting to set up the props for the night event later on and it just make us all the more excited about it!!



After what seems like a particularly short rest (we could hardly rest as we were too hyped up for the event!), it was time for the city to come to live and the light festival started off with a bang! The first show of the night was held right smack in the city center where two men stood on a platform and showcased a duel dance routine involving electric currents, catching everyone’s attention with its catchy music and mesmerizing illumination produced by the currents! The dance was both horrifying and exciting at the same time due to the danger and excitement of incorporating electric currents into the show! Although there was a huge crowd gathered all around the platform, I was totally caught up in the captivating show, with no recollection of what was going on around me! It was a brilliant start to the night’s event!

The electric current dance routine...

Once the show ended, it was free for all to wander around the city and explore the many monuments that had been illuminated with laser lights. I have never been this excited as I keep switching from staring at the light displays in awe to frantically clicking away on my camera! To me, I could hardly fathom how it was possible to inject so much details onto the seemingly ordinary architectures with just the use of laser lights alone. The buildings all looked absolutely different from how it was during the day and I was certainly very impressed with this effect! It was also definitely a night to remember for a photo enthusiast like me! It is time to let the photos do the talking...













Hope that you have enjoyed the photos and be dazzled by the impressive light displays that I had captured of Chartres Light Festival 2017. If you are interested to head down to Chartres for the light festival, it will be on 15 September 2018. Have fun, take lots of photos and do share with us! Cheers!