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Iceland

Everyone looked surprised as our plane flew over Iceland and we saw the snow-covered ground below. Although it was the beginning of November, no-one's thoughts had turned to snow yet and most of the clothes that Nina and I had with us were more apt for a Florida winter than an Icelandic one. It was exciting to walk out of the airport into the snow, as we caught the coach into Reykjavik.

We were only in Iceland for 3 days as a stop-over with Icelandair on our way to Orlando to go to the boat. The coach dropped us off at the modern youth hostel where we'd booked a double room. Interestingly, the window had a stop built in so that it couldn't be completely closed, and we later found out that Icelanders like to keep their windows open all year round! We hadn't eaten and so we caught a bus into town and asked the driver to tell us when we got there. Strangely, everyone else got off and the bus carried on into the countryside until finally it came to a stop at a bus station in the middle of nowhere. The bus driver got up, looked at us as if to ask what we were still doing on the bus, and then realised that he'd forgotten to tell us where to get off. And so it was that we spent Friday night in Reykjavik sitting on a bus waiting for it to make it's next trip into town.

The following day, we walked to the supermarket to get some breakfast and were shocked by the fact that it was still -5c. The sun was just rising even though it was 10:00, but the ground was covered in ice as we slid our way down the road. That afternoon we braced ourselves, took our swimming things, and paid a trip to the Blue Lagoon which is about 40 mins from Reykjavik. It's a pool of mineral-rich, geothermal water with an eerie blue colour and clouds of steam that pour off its surface. From the changing rooms, you climb down into a pool of water that leads outside into the lagoon which is surrounded by snow and ice. It's a really incredible experience as you swim through the hot water and steam then climb out and walk through the snow to the sauna. Some parts of the lagoon are hotter than others, and occasionally you hear screams of pain as someone wanders into a particularly hot patch.

Iceland is an expensive destination compared to just about anywhere so we were glad to only be staying a few days. Trips out of Reykjavik are one of the big expenses and even travelling by bus is not a cheap way to travel. The following day we rented a car which came with full Icelandic insurance that covered everything apart from damage to the car itself or any other car, and so we set off into the snow covered interior very, very carefully. After about 10 mins of driving, the major roads ended and we found ourselves in the only Nissan Micra heading out of town on a snowy country road as huge four-wheel drive beasts flew past us. The snow was getting deeper and we wondered if this was a sensible trip to be making. We stopped to look at some Icelandic ponies standing in a field in the snow, and tried to take in the incredible snow scene that we were in. Our plan was to drive to Thingvellir, a valley where part of the Atlantic fault breaks through the surface, and then onto Geysir, where all geysirs in the world take the name from. After that we would carry on to Gulfoss to see the spectacular waterfalls there, and then return to Reykjavik. And we planned to do all of this in lots of snow without damaging the rental car!

It was a busy day, and an interesting refresher course on winter driving for me, but the Icelandic landscape was just incredible. The weather was clear and sunny, and we marvelled at the snow and ice formations, the volcanic geography, and the power of the geysirs. Although it took us all day to make the trip, when we got back to our room, we looked at a map and saw that we'd hardly covered any of the country at all. In fact most of the interior of Iceland is uninhabitable and can only be reached by four-wheel drive vehicles in the summer months. It got me thinking that the way to really see Iceland would be to go there in a 4x4 packed with supplies for a summer...

The following evening we flew out of Reykjavik, but en route we flew over Greenland, the skies were clear, and we had an amazing view. We looked down on icebergs floating near the coast, glaciers, and snow clad mountains and decided that we had to go there one day too.

We'd had a very enjoyable flight but came down to earth with a jolt as we arrived at US Immigration. Nina and I both have multi-entry US visas, which we had to sit through interviews to get, so you would think that getting into the States would not be a problem. Not so. We'd been up all night, and now they insisted on grilling us about what we were doing in the US, why we had been there four times in the last three years, etc, etc. I told them that I had a boat there, but they weren't even listening to my answers and told me that it was "suspicious" that I was spending "so much time" in the States. In the end they stamped my passport for six months, told me verbally that I had to leave in three months, and virtually told me not to come back to the US. I looked over to see an elderly woman from our flight, who was obviously on holiday, getting similar treatment and I wondered how the US expects to get ANY tourists if that's how they treat people. In all the travelling that I've done, I've never been treated like that by any country's immigration, and I have no desire to spend any more time in the US than I have to. America is not the golden land that everyone wants to live in... but I'd better stop before the men in the black van pay me a visit!

After customs, we had to go through another security check, which seemed somewhat pointless as we'd just got off a plane and anyone could have walked into the airport through the front door without going through security. We then rented a car and drove the 40 mins or so to where the boat is in Titusville. I'm always nervous coming back to the boat after I've been away from her for a while, and this time was no exception. A hurricane and numerous tropical storms had passed over her while I'd been away and I was anxious to see if everything on board was still ok. We drove into the marina, and I parked behind Zamindar - she looked fine. We then spent almost an hour looking around the boatyard for a ladder as she was out of the water and stands about three metres above ground. Finally, I climbed on board, opened the hatch, and breathed a sigh of relief to see that everything was ok.

Since we arrived, we've been cleaning and getting the boat ready to go back into the water. Taking care of a boat is a never ending job, and we've been held up for the last couple of days by a storm that's been crossing us. Right now there's a force 8 (30-40 knots) blowing outside and we've had tropical downpours all day - not perfect weather for painting. The boatyard is flooded and the boats anchored outside the marina are really getting thrown around in the waves. We're actually sitting here with the central heating up full inside the boat so it's not what you think of as sunny Florida right now!

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