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Friday, September 21, 2012

Following the Tour de France though the Pyrenees

Panoramique view towards Spain, from Col de Péguère
It was 12th August 2012. The alarm clock went off early in the morning. The sun was not even rising and I knew a long long journey would start if the door bell rings and Tobsen is showing up. First stop: Marburg, to pick up the second Tobi. After having a another breakfast we hit the road again, leaving Germany behind and going across France until approaching Perpignan at 2am the next morning. We checked in and took a long beauty sleep... The next day started late and relaxed. After breakfast we rolled down the beach, but couldn't make it that far. Some broken spokes forced us to stop and see the next bike shop. Tobsen bought a new rear wheel - perfect start - and we had a second try to take a smooth bath in the Mediterranean Sea.

Me at the top of Col de Pailhères, at a hight of 2001 m
Next stop was a tiny village called "Belvianes-et-Cavirac". We checked in at "La Maison Templiere Hotel" and were suprised of the friendly staff. The served 3-course menue was delicious, duck served with fries and crêpe gourmand were my favourites. Bike riding was scheduled as well, Col de Jau, Col du Pradel and Col de Pailhères, just to name a few.

Col d'Agnes, another beast of the Tour de France
Three days later, we were heading west again, approaching Saint-Lizier just after approx. 100km. This time, our apartment was even better, located on the hilltop "Le Domaine du Palais". We found a little restaurant just around the corner and we made it our favourite pub (nobody needs to know that it was the only one in town). We climbed the surrounding mountains the next two day, including the Col de la Core, Col del Portel and Col d'Agnes, before heading more west to Bagnères-de-Bigorre. The hotel we found was not as excellent as the previous one, but ok, for staying over night and sleeping only - moderate. The mountains can't be any better. We climbed the Col du Tourmalet from the west side and had a fantastic race downwards with some tourists in their cars and vans. The following day was presenting three first class mountains, the Hourquette d'Ancizan, the Col d'Azet and the Col d'Aspin. Our last stage was leading us to a small village named Louvie-Juzon. The last ride was about to begin, but a tremendeous one - the Col d'Aubisque was awaiting us. Sun and good weather conditions would be too easy - it was more than foogy, with a visibility less than 10 metres, I would say. Not a good finish, but an experience. So, that was it, that was all. The last day was spent taking the car and passing by the Atlantic Ocean, finishing everything off with a little swim.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Going round the frozen Iceland

Jökulsárlón in the island's south-eastern part
It hasn't been easy - flights don't wait for specific persons. I left Erlangen too late aleady, due to a delay of trains caused by track maintenance. Bla bla! My scheduled reserve time of 1 hour was gone before I entered any train. In Erfurt, I left the train behind, took the car to rush to Berlin. Unexpectedly, without traffic jams or delays. After having the car parked on a P&R just to tram stops from the airport, the journey could begin, with one of the last flights at that day, at 11 pm.

Sunset near the Seljalandsfossen
Antje and me had approached the airport at approx. 1 am. We just slept a bit, not pretty comfortably seated in one of those plastic chairs in front the airport restaurant which was also used to get the first Iceland meal - they served fresh & hot paninis. The funny thing was that the car rental company were already awaiting us right after arrival. We preferred to wait and made them come again to pick us up the next morning, as agreed. A bit inconvenient for both sides, but ok ;) We headed to Reykjavik pretty early, even before something was going on in the city. Shops closed, restaurants and cafes closed, streets empty - all in all: not much to do or to see. Sleepy city, at least on a Friday morning. We went shopping as a next step, buying stuff the the whole upcoming week. Further we go, reaching the Pingvellir Nationalpark within less than one hour. Impressing landscape already, just a stone's throw away from the capital. Long-time erosions formed gorges and canyons. We followed the street on the "Golden Circle" and had a little stop at Strokkur Geysir (which erupts every 5-8 minutes to a hight of some 30 metres) and Gullfoss. Impressive, but it should come better: We found our first night camp right next to Seljalandsfoss - a waterfall which you can walk round completely.

The next morning, we had breakfast somewhere on the field, surrounded by plateau mountains. Three sheep (apparently, Iceland sheep are always gathered together in groups of three) joined us. Strengthened, we had a little hiking tour on and around the Dyrholaey cliffs where a few hundred puffins were surpisingly still nesting. I could have spent hours there, but time was ticking and we needed to go on towards Skaftafell Nationalpark and, the next day, to Jökulsarlon. I don't know what to rank highest, but this spot is definitely somewhere pretty much on top. The glacier was reaching the ocean some 50 years ago. Nowadays, it has been decreasing and leaving a lagoon behind. From time to time, ice blocks are breaking off the glacier itself, cracking in the warmer water and drifting by slowly.

Yawning puffin sitting on cliff edge
Following the ring street, we were led through the stoney desert. No flowers, no trees, no animals, just wind, mountains, sand and stones. Harsh weather conditions made us look for a camp site soon, but it was hard to find one. When the sun was already setting, we bumped into one near some kind of horse range. From there, the Dettifoss (another of those waterfall monsters) could be reached easily. Every now and then, a bus drops a few Chinese tourists which are gone again as quick as they appeared. And in between, we had some good chances to get close to the fenceless edges of the waterfall. Sometimes a bit too close... Next stop was Husavik, a fishermen's village which is now famous for the humpback whale watching tours. 50 Euros each, and you're in. And it was worth it, we saw a few, coming up several times before diving deep again. Absolutely great.
Having dinner on the camping site
Myvatn and the geothermal activities around were stunning. Antje and me took a bath in one of the warm bubbling lakes although the sulphuric smell was disgusting. And volcanos everywhere. Some we climbed, non-active ones of course, I hope. After a short stop by the highest waterfall, Glymur, we closed our round trip in Reykjavik and were heading back home. Perfect week for getting a first impression, but we'll coming back for sure to have a closer look on the inner part of the country.
Creek photographed at around midnight