Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico: Doorway to the Universe

One of my must-see places when I visited Puerto Rico was the jaw-dropping Arecibo Observatory, the largest single-dish radio telescope in the World.

IMG_2398 A staggering 1000 feet in diameter, the enormous dish of the telescope is quite literally built into the mouth of a sink hole in Puerto Rico’s central mountains.

IMG_2409The dish focuses the electromagnetic waves it collects towards a series of antennas positioned above it.

IMG_2390The antennas are suspended high above the dish by a cat’s cradle of cables, which are in turn supported by three massive pillars.

IMG_2391The telescope is used to study all sorts of clever technical fields, including radio astronomy, planetary radar and atmospheric science. As such, the Arecibo Observatory provides a doorway to our better understanding of the Earth, the Solar system and the Universe in general.

IMG_2412The public observation area provides a great bird’s eye view of the dish.

IMG_2402In fact, if you squint and stand on one leg, the dish kind of looks like a giant bird’s eye.

IMG_2393This post was inspired by the photo themes Door from Cheri (Daily Post) and Bird’s Eye (View) from Paula (Lost in Translation).

If technical marvels like the Arecibo Observatory fascinate you too, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

Posted in Caribbean, Environment, History, Jaspa's Journey, Photography, The World, Travel | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

Despite what some might think, the title of this post was not created by me randomly wandering around my keyboard. It’s actually a real place in Britain.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a large village on the island of Anglesey in Northwest Wales. At 58 letters long, it boasts the longest single-word place name in Europe and the second longest in the World.

People have lived in the area since Neolithic times (4000 to 2000 BC). Yet the village’s mammoth moniker didn’t actually until the mid 19th Century. Until then it was simply (!) called Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, which was already enough of a mouthful for most non-Welsh speakers.

Following the arrival of the railway in the 1850s, a committee was formed to try and get more people to stop and visit the village on the way past; like an early Tourism Bureau. One bright spark came up with the idea of changing the village’s name to make it stand out more. And Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch was born.

One from the Vault: Me and Sue on the platform of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch station back in in 2002

One from the Vault: Me and Sue on the platform of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch station back in in 2002

Over 150 years later, the plan continues to draw tourists, although the name has proven a bit cumbersome for daily use. Unsurprisingly, a number of short forms have developed over the years, including Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Llanfairpwll and even Llanfair P.G.

Believe it or not, Rich can actually pronounce the full version, more-or-less. Although he does have the advantage of being born in Wales, even if he only knows a handful of Welsh words. I have to admit, it’s all Greek to me!

But if you want to know how to say it, try visiting the village’s website.

Oh! And in case you’re wondering, the translation of full name goes something like this: Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave. Phew!

This post was inspired by Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is Numbers and Letters, and Traces of the Past from Paula (Lost in Translation).

If you enjoyed this post, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Posted in Europe, History, Jaspa's Journey, Travel, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Irresistible Lure of Venice

There’s something about Venice I just can’t get enough of. It keeps pulling me back. Sometimes literally, sometimes through my blog posts.

The classic view of The Doge's Palace and St Mark's Campanile from San Giorgio Maggiore

The classic view of The Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Campanile from San Giorgio Maggiore

San Giorgio Maggiore from the Doge's Palace (2003)

San Giorgio Maggiore from the Doge’s Palace (2003)

With some friends in St. Mark's Square (2010)

With some friends in St. Mark’s Square (2010)

Some people describe Venice as smelly and overcrowded, but I frankly don’t get it. Surely, the same can be said of all city destinations. Occasionally there are unpleasant odours, of course. And as for the crowds… well it always strikes me as slightly ironic when tourists/travellers (we’re all the same to the locals) complain about there being too many tourists. The bottom line is, if UNESCO have listed Venice and its Lagoon as a World Heritage site, who am I to argue!

A peaceful early morning on the Riva degli Schiavoni, near St Mark’s Square

A peaceful early morning on the Riva degli Schiavoni, near St Mark’s Square

Looking along Rio Priuli o de Santa Sofia, one of the quieter parts of Cannaregio

Looking along Rio Priuli o de Santa Sofia, one of the quieter parts of Cannaregio

I’m lucky enough to have been to the Jewel of the Adriatic three times, most recently August of last year. And I’d move there tomorrow, given half a chance.

Bridge across Rio del Ognissanti

Bridge across Rio del Ognissanti

Squero San Trovaso gondola builders

Squero San Trovaso gondola builders

Dwarfed by the beautifully ornate Scala Contarini del Bovolo (Staircase of the Snail)

Dwarfed by the beautifully ornate Scala Contarini del Bovolo (Staircase of the Snail)

Tiny as I am, and even though its canals are its most famous and charming feature, for me there’s nothing better than pounding the pavements of Venice, exploring its every alley, bridge and courtyard on foot.

Feeling small beside the famous Rialto Bridge

Feeling small beside the famous Rialto Bridge

The central Courtyard of the Doge's Palace, with St. Mark's Basilica beyond

The central Courtyard of the Doge’s Palace, with St. Mark’s Basilica beyond

Anyone would feel tiny down here

Anyone would feel tiny down here

A creepy, attic passage on the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge's Palace (look out for a dedicated post at some point in the future)

A creepy, attic passage on the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge’s Palace
(look out for a dedicated post at some point in the future)

A friend of mine once implied that if you’ve written a post or two about Venice, any more are just rehashing. But I respectfully disagree. The are so many unique aspects to this matchless city that people dedicate whole blogs to it. And I’m sure I could too, if I lived there. Hint, hint! (Did I mention I’d like to move to Venice, by the way? Oh, I did? Good!)

The Fish Market from the Traghetto Pier (a gondola ferry) across the Grand Canal

The Fish Market from the Traghetto Pier (a gondola ferry) across the Grand Canal

Crossing the Grand Canal by Traghetto

Crossing the Grand Canal by Traghetto

Don't be mean, just because I'm small!

Don’t be mean, just because I’m small!

Resting my feet for a bit by taking a Vaporetto down the Grand Canal

Resting my feet for a bit by taking a Vaporetto down the Grand Canal

On a 'proper' Gondola, somewhere between the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto (2003)

On a ‘proper’ Gondola, somewhere between the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto (2003)

To put my money where my mouth is, the fifth instalment of the Jaspa’s Journey series is going to be set in Venice. Its working title is The Ses Collector.

Me and Ernest doing some research for The Ses Collector in the New Prisons of the Doge's Palace

Me and Ernest doing some research for The Ses Collector in the New Prisons of the Doge’s Palace

Note: all the photos in this post were taken during my 2014 visit, unless otherwise stated.

Of all the photos Rich has taken of Venice, this is my favourite (2010)

Of all the photos Rich has taken of Venice, this is my favourite (2010)

This post was inspired by the photo themes Muse from Brie Anne (Daily Post), Tiny from Ailsa (Where’s My Backpack?), Traces of the Past from Paula (Lost in Translation) and, of course, Jo’s Monday Walk.

If you share my love affair with Venice, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Posted in Europe, History, Jaspa's Journey, Photography, Travel, UNESCO World Heritage Site | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

The Pyramids of Giza

“There they are!”

We’d been making our way through rush hour traffic on the outskirts of Cairo, when Rich spotted a colossal shape looming over the buildings and trees (yes, trees) to our right. Almost five years later, I still clearly remember the excitement of seeing the Giza Pyramids for the first time, their outlines slightly blurred by the early morning smog.

Our first view of the Pyramids

Our first view of the Pyramids

The viewpoint to the west provides a wonderful vista of the Pyramids on the horizon, silhouetted against the sky.

Me and the Pyramids of Giza

Me and the Pyramids of Giza

The Pyramids of Khufu (left) and Khafre

The Pyramids of Khufu (left) and Khafre

The Pyramid of Menkaura, with three of the Queen's Pyramids (on the right, in a line heading away from us) and a guy on a camel!

The Pyramid of Menkaura, with three of the Queen’s Pyramids (on the right, in a line heading away from us) and a guy on a camel!

There are three main Pyramids at Giza, of which the Pyramid of Khufu (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops, or simply the Great Pyramid) is the oldest and largest. Historical evidence suggests that construction began around 2589 BC, although scientists and historians continue to argue about the accuracy of this date.

The Pyramid of Khufu, with the modern building housing the Khufu Solar Boat in the foreground

The Pyramid of Khufu, with the modern building housing the Khufu Solar Boat in the foreground

One word immediately comes to mind upon seeing the Great Pyramid of Khufu… Massive. You can almost feel its weight pressing down on the desert.

Southeast corner of the Pyramid of Khufu

Southeast corner of the Pyramid of Khufu

Eastern face of the Great Pyramid of Khufu

Eastern face of the Great Pyramid of Khufu

The Great Pyramid of Khufu, from the northeast

The Great Pyramid of Khufu, from the northeast

The Pyramid of Khufu was named after the pharaoh who had it constructed and whose remains it once housed. Most archaeologists now dismiss the idea it was built by slaves, favouring the theory it was constructed by around 100,000 seasonal workers during the months when they couldn’t tend their fields because the Nile was in flood.

This photo of Sue beside the Pyramid of Khufu really gives you a feel for how steep its sides are

This photo of Sue beside the Pyramid of Khufu really gives you a feel for how steep its sides are

Detail of the eastern face of the Pyramid of Khufu

Detail of the eastern face of the Pyramid of Khufu

Made up of approximately 2.3 million blocks of limestone, each weighing around 2.5 tonnes on average (and as much as 15 tonnes), the Pyramid of Khufu originally stood just over 481 feet tall. Plundering of its smooth outer casing reduced this to a mere 451 feet high (!), yet it remained the tallest artificial structure on Earth until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

The Pyramid of Khufu, for thousands of years the tallest artificial structure on the planet

The Pyramid of Khufu, for thousands of years the tallest artificial structure on the planet

It’s hardly surprising the Great Pyramid of Khufu was one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. And the only one still standing.

Me on the Pyramid of Khufu (don't tell anyone!)

Me on the Pyramid of Khufu (don’t tell anyone!)

Immediately south of the Great Pyramid is the second of the Giza pyramids, built by Khufu’s son, Khafre. At first sight, the Pyramid of Khafre appears taller than that of Khufu. However, this is an illusion resulting from the fact it is built on slightly higher ground.

Pyramid of Khafre

Pyramid of Khafre

The Pyramid of Khafre from near the Pyramid of Khufu

The Pyramid of Khafre from near the Pyramid of Khufu

The most striking feature of the Pyramid of Khafre is that a remnant of its outer casing still survives near the summit. This really gives you a feel for what all three pyramids must have originally looked like.

The top of the Pyramid of Khafre, with almost intact casing

The top of the Pyramid of Khafre, with almost intact casing

Southern face of the Pyramid of Khafre

Southern face of the Pyramid of Khafre

The final pyramid at Giza belongs to Khafre’s son, Menkaura. Originally standing 228 feet tall, the Pyramid of Menkaura is less than half the height of the Great Pyramid, built by his grandfather, Khufu. That said, there’s no denying the youngest of the three Giza Pyramids is still an impressive structure in it’s own right.

The Pyramid of Menkaura, with three Queen's Pyramids behind

The Pyramid of Menkaura, with three Queen’s Pyramids behind

The northern face of the Pyramid of Menkaura, showing the scar where the Sultans of Cairo tried to dismantle it in the 12th Century

The northern face of the Pyramid of Menkaura, showing the scar where the Sultans of Cairo tried to dismantle it in the 12th Century

The Pyramids are surrounded by the ruins of a whole host of associated buildings, temples and monuments, including several much smaller pyramids (known as Queen’s Pyramids). Together, they mark the northern end of the UNESCO World Heritage Site inscribed in 1979 under the title Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur.

Mastabas (tombs) and other buildings beside the Pyramid of Khufu

Mastabas (tombs) and other buildings beside the Pyramid of Khufu

One of the Queen's Pyramids, beside the Pyramid of Khufu

One of the Queen’s Pyramids, beside the Pyramid of Khufu

One of the Solar Boat pits alongside the Pyramid of Khufu

One of the Solar Boat pits alongside the Pyramid of Khufu

Building (temple perhaps?) to the north of the Pyramid of Khufu

Building (temple perhaps?) to the north of the Pyramid of Khufu

Queen's Pyramids associated with the Pyramid of Menkaura

Queen’s Pyramids associated with the Pyramid of Menkaura

Sadly, my time at the Pyramids was very limited, due to the constraints of the tour (which is why I normally avoid bus tours, but very occasionally you have to bite the bullet). On the one hand, this means I have A LOT of unfinished business at Giza, and in Egypt as a whole. On the other hand, I still count myself extremely fortunate to have spent even a short amount of time at these astounded structures.

Entrance into the Great Pyramid of Khufu - next time!

Entrance into the Great Pyramid of Khufu – next time!

Of course, even the briefest visit to Giza would be incomplete without a stop at the Sphinx. But I think I’ll save that story for another day!

Next door neighbour - Cairo from the Pyramids

Next door neighbour – Cairo from the Pyramids

Tourists beware! This looks like so much fun...

Tourists beware! This looks like so much fun…

...But we were informed there are a lot of unscrupulous sorts at the Pyramids, including many of the camel owners...

…But we were informed there are a lot of unscrupulous sorts at the Pyramids, including many of the camel owners…

...Although the camels themselves are still kinda cute

…Although the camels themselves are still kinda cute

This post was inspired by Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is Three Items or the Number Three, and also the photo themes Old-fashioned from Ailsa (of Where’s My Backpack?) and Buildings over 4 stories tall from Ed (of Sunday Stills Photography).

The Pyramids from the western viewpoint

The Pyramids from the western viewpoint

If you also love places rich in natural beauty and historic significance, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Posted in Adventure, Africa, History, Jaspa's Journey, Photography, Travel, UNESCO World Heritage Site | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

The Hills of Valparaiso, Chile – UNESCO City of Colour and Steps

In the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries, Valparaiso was the most important port on the Pacific coast of South America. However, the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, changed all that.

Valparaiso Bay from Baron Hill

Valparaiso Bay from Baron Hill

As Valparaiso’s commercial significance faded, its economy also suffered. Ironically, this resulted in the survival of an incredible amount of the colonial architecture from the city’s heyday, which might otherwise have been replaced had the port prospered.

In 2003, a significant portion of the historic heart of Valparaiso was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This includes sections of the upper town, the lower town and part of the actual port.

The port and hills of Valparaiso from the sea

The port and hills of Valparaiso from the sea

The lower town, or ‘Plan’ as it is sometimes called, is built on the flat, partially reclaimed land between the cliffs and the port. This allowed the lower part of Valparaiso to be laid out in a very regimented fashion, with straight streets and impressive buildings.

View of the lower town from Artillery Hill

View of the lower town from Artillery Hill

But for me, it was the upper town on the hills behind that really captured my imagination. The winding streets, interconnected with steep stairways and crammed with colourful buildings have a old-fashioned charm with which the orderly lower town simply can’t compete.

Baburizza Palace on Alegre Hill, which is within the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Baburizza Palace on Alegre Hill, which is within the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Concepción Hill is also part of the UNESCO WHS - the yellow building with the red roof is our hotel

Concepción Hill is also part of the UNESCO WHS – the yellow building with the red roof is our hotel

A closer look at our lodging, the Grand Hotel Gervasoni

A closer look at our lodging, the Grand Hotel Gervasoni

The houses on Concepción Hill cover every colour of the rainbow.

DSC_0989DSC_0980And many of them are pretty steep.

DSC_0984DSC_0991DSC_0989DSC_0730DSC_0732Although it is possible to find level-ish ground… if you follow the contours.

DSC_0951DSC_0960DSC_0990But eventually you have to face the stairs.

DSC_0733DSC_0734

A local boy showing that you don't always have to use the steps!

A local boy showing that you don’t always have to use the steps!

The houses of Concepción Hill often provide a canvas for local artists.

A new mural being painted

A new mural being painted

DSC_0973

This piece of 'street art' (pun intended) was one of my favourites... especially the way it continued across the actual street...

This piece of ‘street art’ (pun intended) was one of my favourites… especially the way it continued across the actual street…

...and into the gutter

…and into the gutter

Although many of the buildings are colourful works of art all by themselves.

The Brighton House

The Brighton House

The Atkinson House

The Atkinson House

Even the poorer areas outside the area covered by the UNESCO designation are a riot of colour.

DSC_0681DSC_0712

Grand old houses along Avenida Gran Bretaña (Great Britain Avenue) on Playa Ancha Hill

Grand old houses along Avenida Gran Bretaña (Great Britain Avenue) on Playa Ancha Hill

DSC_0702DSC_0701Thanks to Antonio and John of AFIServices for being our guides and showing us around this amazing city. I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to be returning next February!

Hopefully I'll get to stay in the Grand Hotel Gervasoni again...

Hopefully I’ll get to stay in the Grand Hotel Gervasoni again…

...And enjoy this view each morning

…And enjoy this view each morning

This post was inspired by the photo themes ROY G. BIV from Michelle (Daily Post), Old-fashioned from Ailsa (Where’s My Backpack?), Street Portraits from Yvette (guest on Lost in Translation) and Jo’s Monday Walk.

While you’re contemplating the charm of Valparaiso’s hills, not to mention all those steps, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Pachacámac & Pantanos de Villa, Peru: Archaeological Marvel & Wildlife Refuge

On our second day in Lima, our guides Vanessa and Marek introduced us to two completely contrasting sites, within a stone’s throw of each other, on the south side of the city.

After battling through Lima’s early morning traffic, we arrived at the Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge, an oasis of lush green vegetation and inviting ponds. The 650 acres of the protected area cover a variety of marshland habitats close to the coast.

Looking across the Laguna Principal at Pantanos de Villa

Looking across the Laguna Principal at Pantanos de Villa

IMG_2644Pantanos de Villa provides a safe haven for over 200 species of local and migratory birds, not to mention a whole bunch of other animals and plants.

Vultures circling above

Vultures circling above

IMG_2642IMG_2643

Guinea pig trails (I wanted to see a guinea pig, but no luck)

Guinea pig trails (I wanted to see a guinea pig, but no luck)

The marshlands, which exist in the valley of the Rímac River, used to be much more extensive, forming a barrier between nearby Pachacámac (see below) and Lima. During recent years, expansion of the poorer areas of Peru’s capital, have seen the wetlands drastically reduced in size. Thankfully, Pantanos de Villa is now protected by law. Fingers crossed it survives!

The suburbs of Lima across Laguna Principal

The suburbs of Lima across Laguna Principal

Lets hope they get no closer

Lets hope they get no closer

Our second stop of the day was at the world famous Pachacámac Archaeological Complex. Although just 6 miles away, after the relatively moist and cool freshness of Pantanos de Villa, stepping out of the car at Pachacámac was like entering an oven. Gone were the tempting lagoons and abundant reed beds, replaced by the full-on blast furnace of the desert.

Panorama of Pachacámac

Panorama of Pachacámac

Just to prove I was there!

Just to prove I was there!

'Acllawasi' or 'Mamacona' complex (Inca period 1470-1533 AD), reconstructed in the 1940s

‘Acllawasi’ or ‘Mamacona’ complex (Inca period 1470-1533 AD), reconstructed in the 1940s

Pachacámac was the most important temple in this part of South America for almost 1500 years, after it rose to prominence in about 200 AD. Archaeologists have found evidence of occupation in adjacent Lurín Valley dating back to 1800 BC.

Calle Norte-Sur (North-South Street) is today over a quarter of a mile long and up to 13 feet wide

Calle Norte-Sur (North-South Street) is today over a quarter of a mile long and up to 13 feet wide

Calle Norte-Sue to the right of which are the 'Pyramids with Ramps' (Ychma culture 900-1470 AD)

Calle Norte-Sue to the right of which are the ‘Pyramids with Ramps’ (Ychma culture 900-1470 AD)

'Pyramid with Ramp No. 1'

‘Pyramid with Ramp No. 1′

Making the adobe bricks that will be used in the conservation process

Making the adobe bricks that will be used in the conservation process

'Palace of Taurichumpi' in the south-east part of the Pachacámac site (Inca Period 1470-1533 AD)

‘Palace of Taurichumpi’ in the south-east part of the Pachacámac site (Inca Period 1470-1533 AD)

The town of Lurín encroaching on Taurichumpi

The town of Lurín encroaching on Taurichumpi

Residential buildings

Residential buildings

Within the awe-inspiring 1150 acres of the Pachacámac complex are more than 50 monumental structures. A sacred site of pilgrimage, it was said to be home to the Pachacámac Creator God. A succession of local peoples held authority over the temples and its associated city until the arrive of the Inca in around 1450 AD. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors spelled the end for Pachacámac.

'Old Temple' (Lima culture 200-650 AD)

‘Old Temple’ (Lima culture 200-650 AD)

'Painted Temple' (Lima, Wari & Ychma cultures 200-1470 AD), partly covered for protection

‘Painted Temple’ (Lima, Wari & Ychma cultures 200-1470 AD), partly covered for protection

The murals on the protective walls illustrate some of the designs on the Painted Temple

The murals on the protective walls illustrate some of the designs on the Painted Temple

Looking up the (long, hot) hill towards the 'Temple of the Sun' (Inca period 1470-1533 AD

Looking up the (long, hot) hill towards the ‘Temple of the Sun’ (Inca period 1470-1533 AD

Eastern side of the Temple of the Sun

Eastern side of the Temple of the Sun

Southern side of the Temple of the Sun

Southern side of the Temple of the Sun

It’s hard to imagine two places so close together, yet so dissimilar in every way, than Pantanos de Villa and Pachacámac. Thanks to Vanessa and Marek (who’s a trained archaeologist, by the way) for introducing us to them.

View from the Temple of the Sun across the mouth of the fertile Lurín Valley towards the Pachacámac Islands

View from the Temple of the Sun across the mouth of the fertile Lurín Valley towards the Pachacámac Islands

Seaward-facing side of the Temple of the Sun

Seaward-facing side of the Temple of the Sun

Heading back down the hill along the eastern side of the Temple of the Sun

Heading back down the hill along the eastern side of the Temple of the Sun

This post was inspired by Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is Two Very Different Items.

Panorama of the Pachacámac Archaeological Complex from the Temple of the Sun

Panorama of the Pachacámac Archaeological Complex from the Temple of the Sun

Pachacámac, with Lurín in the distance

Pachacámac, with Lurín in the distance

If you also love places rich in natural beauty and historic significance, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Iceland In The Off-Season

If you’re exclusively a sit by the pool of an all-inclusive resort in the sun sort of person, then Iceland probably isn’t for you. However, if you love the great outdoors and a bit of adventure then you should definitely book your trip today!

I briefly visited Iceland in September 2011 and had a blast of a time. At that time of year there weren’t very many other visitors around and it often felt like we had the entire beautiful island to ourselves. Even the rain didn’t dampen our spirits – although it dampen pretty much everything else at one point or another!

The landscapes of Iceland are a lesson in extremes. On the one hand you have the tectonic activity of the Mid-Atlantic ridge creating and stretching new land into existence. As a consequence, there’s also a glut of geothermal activity. On the other hand, there’s the icecap and glaciers of the central mountains, inexorably wearing the island back to dust.

We arrived in Keflavik airport early in the morning, picked up our hire car and headed straight for the bridge between two continents, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are slowly moving away from each other.

Bridge between two continents (Europe on left, North America on right)

Bridge between two continents (Europe on left, North America on right)

Our first geocache on Iceland

Our first geocache on Iceland

Keeping warm, Icelandic style

Keeping warm, Icelandic style

Dante woz 'rer

Dante woz ‘rer

The rest of the morning and a chunk of the afternoon were relaxed away at the Blue Lagoon natural spa. The grey skies, spots of rain and chilly air made its geothermally-heated waters all the more appealing.

Messing about at the Blue Lagoon

Messing about at the Blue Lagoon

Misty times at the Blue Lagoon

Misty times at the Blue Lagoon

That evening we explored the stark but charming capital of Reykjavik on foot. Along the way we tried some rather ‘unique’ foods, including Hákarl (cured shark meat that, to the uninitiated, smells and tasted like rubber soaked in pee) and smoked puffin (which was much more appetising). We also tried whale, which I felt bad about and wouldn’t make a habit of, but nevertheless decided to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik (notice the blue bits in the sky!)

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik (notice the blue bits in the sky!)

Sólfar - alegedly means Sun Voyager... although that requires some imagination - in Reykjavik

Sólfar – alegedly means Sun Voyager… although that requires some imagination – in Reykjavik

On our second day we did a circuit of Iceland’s Golden Circle. Along the way we took in the dramatic Gullfoss waterfall, the hot springs at Haukadalur (that include Geysir, from which we get the word geyser) and Þingvellir, site of the World’s first parliament.

Some Icelandic locals

Some Icelandic locals

Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall)

Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall)

Geysir - the original Geyser (now dormant)

Geysir – the original Geyser (now dormant)

Strokkur (churn), Geyser's upstart neighbour

Strokkur (churn), Geyser’s upstart neighbour

Laugarvatn Fontana pool and steambath

Laugarvatn Fontana pool and steambath

Laugarvatn Fontana - great view from the pool

Laugarvatn Fontana – great view from the pool

Bread baked geothermally in a tin , just six inches below the surface... no, really! (And it was good!)

Bread baked geothermally in a tin , just six inches below the surface… no, really! (And it was good!)

Getting soggy at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) - looking across the rift from the North American Plate to the Eurasian Plate in the distance

Getting soggy at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) – looking across the rift from the North American Plate to the Eurasian Plate in the distance

The last full day we spent on Iceland included a couple of hikes. The first was into the hills across the bay from Reykjavik. The second was across the moon-like landscape of a massive, ancient lava flow to Sturtshelir, the longest lava cave on the island. Along the way we also got to see a bunch more geothermal sites and waterfalls, not to mention the remote Icelandic home of Erik the Red.

Hiking near Reykjavik (which is across the bay in the distance)

Hiking near Reykjavik (which is across the bay in the distance)

Fresh mountain stream

Fresh mountain stream

Is it just me, or does it look a little brighter?

Is it just me, or does it look a little brighter?

Deildartungsguhver (!!!) the fastest flowing geothermal spring in the World

Deildartungsguhver (!!!) the fastest flowing geothermal spring in the World

Hraunfossar (Lava Falls)

Hraunfossar (Lava Falls)

Crossing the Hallmundarhraun lava field to get to Sturtshellir (we'd already driven over 6 miles across the flow)

Crossing the Hallmundarhraun lava field to get to Sturtshellir (we’d already driven over 6 miles across the flow)

Sturtshellir (Sturt's Cave) is almost a mile long

Sturtshellir (Sturt’s Cave) is almost a mile long

Langjökull (Long Glacier) icecap, the second largest in Iceland

Langjökull (Long Glacier) icecap, the second largest in Iceland

Húsafell - what passes for a forest in Iceland

Húsafell – what passes for a forest in Iceland

Reconstruction of a Viking long house at the site or Erik the Red's home

Reconstruction of a Viking long house at the site or Erik the Red’s home

We were underground for much of our final morning, having decided to do some geocaching in a couple of caves to avoid the rain. This wasn’t a particularly well thought out plan, of course, since the rainwater had to go somewhere. And most of it seemed to go down the back of my neck.

Getting muddy in Selgjárhellir

Getting muddy in Selgjárhellir

Sue doing the hard work in Selgjárhellir

Sue doing the hard work in Selgjárhellir

Rich getting soaked again...

Rich getting soaked again…

Still, we might have left Iceland a bit wet, but we also left very happy. And itching for the day we can return, no matter what the season!

"Can we go to the airport now, please?"

“Can we go to the airport now, please?”

This post was inspired by the photo themes Off-Season from Krista (Daily Post), Wet from Jennifer (Jennifer Nichole Wells) and Beautiful from Dale (Spun With Tears).

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