Mystic MK

Mystic MK

After a week struggling with sleep patterns, the body clock is finally getting readjusted to UK time. Probably not the ideal occasion, one might think, to get up at 2am after 3 hours sleep and drive to Milton Keynes. “Milton Keynes?”, I hear you cry, “Why would you go there anytime, let alone at 2am?”.

Well today, of course, is the Summer Solstice and – as the cognoscenti know – Milton Keynes is a temple to the sun.

A new town born of the 60’s and 70’s, the chief architect for Milton Keynes clearly had a hippy streak as wide as Midsummer Boulevard. Given the option to create a street grid system oriented north-south east-west, the creators opted to shift the axis slightly such that the sun on the summer solstice would shine down Midsummer Boulevard. Kudos.

And so it is that we find ourselves stressing our way down the M1, through everpresent road works, wondering just how annoying it would be to get up at 2am and not arrive in time for sunrise. No need to worry, we make it to the light pyramid in time and are treated to a glorious sunrise, along with our fellow revellers…

As the sun rose in the distance, we were expecting a cheer or clapping, but the atmosphere was subdued. In the distance, a lone percussionists had taken it upon themselves to drum in the solstice. Fair play.

Anyway, hands numb from the early morning chill, we went in search of coffee and a view along Midsummer Boulevard and yes, it does pretty much line up – although I am not privy to the exact calculations around timings and alignment. Pretty impressive though.

So, mission accomplished? No there is more. Putting aside the fact that every building is a little weird

Pyramid Bingo

What shape shall we make the new bingo hall? As if you need to ask

There is a stone circle and a tree cathedral to visit. Well, we thought that the tree cathedral was likely to be less than impressive from the ground and so opted for the stone circle. Not an original neolithic you understand, just another recent addition. The “energy” line through various gates in the circle lines up with the Tree Cathedral and Midsummer Boulevard. Obviously.

And then just through the trees this … because, why not?

pagoda

Milton Keynes may have a reputation for being dull, but that clearly doesn’t apply to the city planners. I suspect that beyond any hippy inclinations, it may be a stroke of marketing genius to get the conspiracy theorists all riled up. What3Words has the location of the Light Pyramid as

lifetimes.dangerously.imported

Probably a hidden message there I expect.

Clearly a town for the Age of Aquarius.

Day 10 – From the Top of the World to the Bottom of the Barrel

Day 10 – From the Top of the World to the Bottom of the Barrel

Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg / Smoky Mountains

A day of contrasts today. We are perched in the hills high above Pigeon Forge, living in the lap of luxury…

Down in Pigeon Forge, life does not seem to run at the same slow pace. Imagine Skegness and Blackpool combined, throw in a little Vegas showmanship and overdo it in the way that only Americans can, and you will have some idea of what Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are like. As far as I can make out, Pigeon Forge is where the larger attractions are and the all-you-can-eat sing-along-ho-down-diner-barns (Americans love their barns!) and Gatlinburg is more arcades, souvenir shops and catering for the hard-core drinkers with the moonshine tasting experiences. My cold had reached the level where I couldn’t smell anything, but the moonshine bars managed to break through that – although I sensed it first with my eyes!

The joys of Pigeon Forge

Sunday breakfast in Pigeon Forge was quite an experience. I suspect that on top of the tourists, it may be an occasion for folk to come down from the hills. Nuff said.

From Pigeon Forge we drifted into the Smokies proper and up to Clingmans Dome – the highest point in the east Smokies I am reliably informed. The majestic views were somewhat veiled. I can’t help but think that sometimes things can be a little too smoky!

Ethan, of course, is still looking forward to meeting the creators of these that we keep seeing everywhere…

Be afraid, be very afraid…

The trees are full of them and we can’t figure out whether each is the work of one spider or a colony. Not sure which is worse.

And just when I was feeling bad about once again stereotyping folk, this turned up at the cabin below us…

 

I’m melting…

I’m melting…

Another week in glorious Swindon. The mid 30s and humid, and this is what passes for air conditioning in the Travelodge…

That should do it then!

Still, at least Swindon has its compensations. There is, of course, the magic roundabout, a marvel of modern traffic management…

Be afraid, be very afraid…

… and an integral part of what makes Swindon such a joy to drive around…

Believe it!

 

Looks like the moon, no?

Looks like the moon, no?

Looks like the moon, no?

…opined the receptionist as we arrived at our hotel in Reykjavik. From the little that we had seen on our way from the airport, it was hard to argue. Spectacular in its bleakness, I had a good feeling about Iceland.

Looks like the moon

According to What3words, our hotel can also be known as younger.aquatic.scout and I couldn’t help but think that this was a good omen for Ethan’s aspiration to explore the Blue Lagoon.

From the moment we arrived, everyone was remarkably friendly and helpful.

troll

Even the motorists seem to defer to pedestrians. Where is the road rage? (I was later to find that it is, in fact, possible to induce this if one tries hard enough by sticking annoyingly to speed limits). Could it be that all of the national umbrage was used up during long past Viking raids and now Iceland is emotionally becalmed? Whatever the cause, the culture seems to be based on politeness and mutual respect, and that is hard not to like.

Of course, the politeness could just be a mechanism for diffusing any potential flashpoints over restaurant bills. Oh yes, Iceland: breathtakingly beautiful, eye-wateringly brutal and changeable weather and prices which combine the physiological effects of both and the aesthetic impact of neither. Retreating from the bars (£8 per beer if you would be so kind sir), we drifted into a supermarket to provision ourselves for the day of driving to follow. Several sandwiches, some crisps and chocolate? That’ll be £60 please. Damn, they had better be good. I had thought that the Blue Lagoon prices were a little steep until I realized that equated to the cost of a packet of crisps. To be fair, this was all amateur stuff, Ethan (whilst menu surfing) discovered an Indian restaurant offering poppadoms for £52. No that is proper gouging.

So a few hours wandering around Reykjavik to the sound of pounding Icelandic rap spilling from one of the bars finally took its toll and we retreated back to the hotel. Something of a slog in the cold (walking had seemed like such a good idea earlier), but we were rewarded by the clouds parting to reveal a green curtain of aurora. My first sighting! Shame it was largely drowned out by the street lights, but you have to take what you can get. I was hungry for more, but Ethan had ticked the box in his mind and was ready to move on out of the cold. Maybe tomorrow…

Day 2 and time for some serious exploring, starting with a quick hop between two continents. Looks like someone has dropped in between – not often you get the chance for intracontinental travel.

Between Continents

Back onto the European continental plate and on to see a series of geothermal wonders. I swear I am beginning to like the sulphury smell – although showering in fart water still takes some getting used to.

So, geysirs (or should I say THE Geysir – it being the original),

bubbling mud, steaming landscapes,

waterfalls

and savage, windswept vistas.

At Geysir (or more accurately Strokkur, which is the more active and hence tourist friendly), I was continually baffled and amused that people stood downwind of an erupting geysir – only to scatter in panic as they are engulfed in steam. Who could have predicted it?

Strokur

According to What3words, Geysir’s nomenclature is scatters.inclement.beliefs and,  as I watched the tourists run for cover, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was true. Takes all sorts.

Day 3 and an opportunity to explore Reykjavik during daylight – communing and empathizing with the unknown bureaucrat

Unknown Bureaucrat

and then just time for a quick, heavy duty pastry breakfast from what appeared to be the most popular bakery in town.

Just the thing before heading off to the Blue Lagoon en route back to the airport

via a quick stop at a somewhat understated, and completely unannounced lava cave.

And just when I thought that Iceland couldn’t hold any more surprises…

Outstanding!

Winter Sun

There is something glorious about Winter Sun, but even more so when What3Words come up with the naming goods.

Welcome to

always.snores.magically

and the mysterious and misty

muddy.trees.select

End of the World?

Well not quite. Pretty much the end of the UK in one direction though.

Finally made it to Spurn Point(ish) – or

as I like to think of it – at the 3rd time of trying.

Had to speed walk to the end and back to avoid being stranded on the part which is temporarily an island twice a day since the great tidal surge of ’13 washed part of it away into the Humber (cooincidentally shortly before the last time we tried to visit).

Anyway, that’s another one ticked off!

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