The Prison Camp in La Thuile


At one end of La Thuile, away from where most tourists would wander, is the remains of a prison of war camp. There are a few worn signs, which are all in Italian, so I photographed them and typed them into Google Translate. It seems that the camp was in use during both wars, and the prisoners worked in the local mines. During the second world war, prisoners came from Yugoslavia. I’m not sure who they would be, though I have read elsewhere that Jewish prisoners were used as slave labour in Italy, for things like keeping the mountain passes open, and in mines. I guess it’s possible they were also part of the camp in La Thuile, and used in the mines here.

There’s not much left of the camp, and it’s hard to see whether the buildings were barracks for guards or dormitories for prisoners. Most of the buildings are on private land, so it wasn’t possible to get very close. Below are some photos, and the translation of the information signs. It’s hard to glean many facts from either.

Translation of Prison Sign:

First World War

Already during the First World War it is known that over 50 prisoners of war were employed in the work of the mines. In 1918, “the 31 prisoners of war were awarded a wage of just under 1/3 of the normal worker, ie 3,400 lire per day. By making a downward calculation it is possible to establish that, at the end of the First World War, the prisoners of war who find employment in the anthracite mines of La Thuile amounted to about one hundred units. They were guarded by military personnel and housed in special barracks in the Villaret region.”

Unfortunately there is no other news, it is not known where they were housed, where the special barracks were, but the presence of prisoners and their work in mining are attested in the first as in the second world war. Surely it was a place near the mouth of the mine, perhaps the place was already this … [sic]

Second World War

The set of buildings that insist on this area were born between 1941 and 1942 when the Cogne, “for exceptional needs, had to undertake the construction of barracks for housing prisoners of war, militarized workers from the army and military surveillance personnel at the concentration camp for prisoners” who will work in the mine. The building project is dated November 1941 and the request for the concession is presented by the Cogne Society to the Municipality of La Thuile on May 28, 1942.

The document shows that the constructions are “partly carried out and partly to be carried out. […] These are temporary barracks raised to a single floor above ground and will be built in timber with walls covered in” Eraclit or Populit “slabs. 2 cm thick, plastered, with a roof covered in Marseilles tiles on a timber frame.” The camp consists of the dormitories, the refectory, the prisons and a small infirmary inside the fence as well as the building for the guard, offices and lodgings of the Commando, non-commissioned officers and troops. From military archive documents it is clear that this is the camp for prisoners of war called Campo P.G.N. Porta Littoria.

The opening date is not known but on 1 March 1942 there are 250 ex-Yugoslav prisoners of war, more precisely 131 Serbs, 113 Montenegrins and 6 annexed Italians; in the following months the number and the provenance will be constant. The P.G. 101 and a mandatory work camp in the mine. The prison camp was closed on August 8, 1942 ‘following the cessation of use of labour by prisoners of war in the mines of the Soc. in Cogne.

Consequently, they are probably sent back to the camp, where the interpreters return. It is therefore open for a few months, a part planned on the south side will not even be built. [sic]

***

If you happen to know anything about the prison camp, please let me know. It doesn’t quite fit with the beautiful village in the Alps that is La Thuile today. I suspect in a few years, all remains will be removed, as the new houses being built are gradually getting nearer. LaThuile is beautiful, but I wonder what secrets it holds.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day.
Love, Anne x

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Best Lunch Date, Ever…


I have just had the most amazing lunch. Not the food perhaps (though there was nothing wrong with it) but the venue? Wow! We have just arrived home, and I have a slight headache (you will understand why in a minute) and I am bursting to tell someone.

We had lunch at the top of Mont Blanc!

Preparing for the descent.

It was such fun. First we drove to Courmayeur. Well, strictly speaking, first we went to the local Pharmacy in a panic because we read on the website that it was essential that we wore the correct type of face-mask—but after that we drove to Courmayeur. We followed signs for the cable-car (the funivia) and there was plenty of parking underneath. Italy seems to do parking very well (either that, or we have been very lucky so far).

There was then some confusion, with a ticket office, and several different queues which didn’t seem to lead anywhere and no helpful signs, and loads of people. We had already bought our tickets online, so we joined a line that looked promising, and managed to get the piece of paper we needed to walk up to the cable car. I don’t like heights (as you know if you read my blogs regularly) so I was extremely pleased to find a seat, in the middle, where there was hardy any view through all the standing passengers to the scary plummet as we ascended the mountain. Hardly anyone wore masks, I think only the foreign tourists, who had also read the website, were wearing them. The website should perhaps be updated (I write this in August 2022).

The cable car stopped midway. There were amazing views, and paths you could walk along, a little botanical garden, and deckchairs. The deckchairs were full of lounging bronzed people who had stripped down to their underwear. I don’t think any will make the cover of Vogue, so I will spare you a photo!

We then caught another car up to the top of the mountain. Again, not too scary if you kept your eyes shut the entire time. It was crammed full of tourists, and athletic looking people with climbing gear, and dogs. I love that in Italy, dogs are welcome just about everywhere.

The top of the mountain had various viewing platforms, but we went straight to Bistrot Panoramic. It sits on top of Pointe Helbronner (which I understand is one of the peaks of Mont Blanc). The views were amazing. The restaurant walls were glass, and the seats were transparent, so wherever you sat there would be views. We were slightly early, and managed to have a corner table. After a quick gin and tonic, this was fine, and I rather enjoyed it. I had some red wine too to prepare for the descent (hence the slight headache now).

The meal was a set menu: a potato dish (like Dauphinoise potatoes but with bits of ham), a soggy-bread-and onion dish (nicer than it sounds) and a vegetable soup over pasta dish. We chose a mushroom dish and a sausage in tomato sauce dish, to accompany the cheesy polenta (which all went together very well, but would have been not great alone, as the mushrooms were a bit slimy and the polenta needed more salt). Dessert was apple cake (which was apple pie!) and tiramisu. We finished with coffee. All very nice, and when put together with the view, completely fabulous.

The table next to us had a huge dog curled up asleep. Next to the door of the restaurant was a bowl of dog water. I now plan to return, with my dog (maybe not Kia, as she’s a bit old now and would snarl at everyone).

We spent some time taking millions of photos, then went back to the car. As lunch dates go, it was perfect.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

And we saw Maria!!!!
Thanks for reading.
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The Best of Days, the Worst of Days…


Today has been a mix of highs and lows. Mostly highs, so I will start there.

As you know (if you read my blog regularly) we had booked a house in Italy for the summer, but popped home after a couple of weeks to attend my niece’s wedding. After the wedding, we returned to La Thuile for the rest of August. It felt like coming home as we drove from the airport, past ‘our river’ that races through the valley, to the view of ‘our mountain’ with the glacier that reflects all the moods of the sun.

Anyway, today I suggested that we should go to a café for an espresso (which is one of my favourite things about Italy—sipping a coffee in the sunshine, somewhere beautiful). Husband suggested that rather than walk to the nearby café (‘our café’) we should try somewhere new, on the other side of town.

He directed me along lanes, through the park next to the river, up narrow streets. We arrived at a pretty building next to the river, with a family sitting in lounge-chairs in the garden. At our arrival, they all jumped up, assured us that they were open, and the man showed us to a table in the shade. He then disappeared.

I looked around. On one side was the river, on the other was mountains—all very pretty, perfect for a leisurely coffee. The man then reappeared, carrying cutlery and glassware, and a basket of fresh bread. He smiled welcoming as he set our table. Lots of eye-contact between Husband and I, neither of us spoke. The man hurried away.

Now what? The man was so welcoming, the bread looked freshly baked, dare we say that we only wanted a coffee? Husband said we should just order something small (we already had dinner reservations for the evening at ‘our restaurant’). The man reappeared with the menu, and we chose a couple of dishes. Neither of us understand much Italian, so it was a bit random. What arrived were platters of cheese and meat, which went perfectly with the house wine. We finished, an hour later, with the espresso that we had come for. It was all very unexpected, and very lovely. A good time.

After our lunch, we discussed what to do, as I have hurt my leg and can’t walk far. Husband suggested we went ‘up the mountain on the cable car.’ I knew this was something he really wanted to do, and we had just enjoyed a lovely lunch in the sunshine, so I agreed. I hate heights. It was even worse than I imagined.

The ‘cable car’ is not a cable car, it is a chairlift—designed for skiers in the winter, and mountain bikers in the summer. I watched the chairs as they flew down the mountain, turning at the bottom, slowing for passengers, then continuing back up the mountain in a continuous loop, never actually stopping. I saw a few people nearly getting bonked when they stood up but didn’t move out of the way quickly enough, and I tried to learn from their mistake as we joined the line of young men with bikes. We fed our tickets into the machine, and stepped forward. A man appeared from his cubicle and hovered near the emergency-stop button. We stood in place, the chair arrived behind us, we sat back, a bar was lowered in front of us, and we rose towards the sky.

I decided it would be best to keep my eyes shut. This worked fine on the way up. It felt like flying, I could hear birds and smell the pine trees, and the temperature grew gradually cooler as we rose. We reached the top, Husband yelled at me to let go of the safety-bar, a man hovered near the emergency-stop button, I leaped off the chair, remembered to hurry to the side, the chair sailed past me and I was on solid ground. All great. I felt rather pleased with myself, and enjoyed looking at the views and watching the young men as they raced down the mountain on their bikes. Then we decided to go back down. Then it all went wrong.

As we fed our tickets into the machine, the man emerged again to hover near the stop-button. Obviously we looked incompetent. The chair swept behind us, I sat, the bar was lowered, I shut my eyes and pretended I was flying. Then Husband (who I have now forgiven) mentioned that the safety bar was raised and lowered by the passengers—in other words, him. That felt very unsafe. If you have a fear of heights, you will know that the fear is connected with falling, and the belief that somehow you might fling yourself over the precipice. I am not scared in airplanes, because I cannot fall out. I am terrified on cliff edges because I might fall over. Now I was being told that if I lifted the bar (yes, I know that this was entirely in my control and wouldn’t happen, but fear is not rational)—if I lifted the bar, I would plummet to my death. I took deep breaths. Then Husband mentioned something about the view below, and fool that I am, I opened my eyes. I was not flying. I was suspended on an insecure chair, miles above ground, with nothing but a moveable bar between me and certain death. My heart stopped, I thought I might vomit (pity the mountain bikers below!) and I started to shake all over. I think I whimpered.

For the next few terrifying moments we sailed through the air. I shut my eyes and prayed very hard and tried not to think about how it would feel to fall. Then we arrived. The same man hovered near the emergency button (they didn’t seem to do that for anyone else!) and I managed to stand, to move out of the way, to walk to the nearest bench. I didn’t speak. Somehow, I survived. But it was bad, very bad.

I hope your day is full of good things, and that you cope with the bad things calmly.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Italy: Angry Ice Creams and Absolute Beauty


Italy is beautiful. There are many beautiful places, but I have a personal favourite—do you?

You will remember from last week’s blog that we went to Italy for a couple of weeks at the beginning of August (returning for my niece’s wedding on the 18th, but you will have to wait until next week to read about that!) We stayed in LaThuile, which is a ski resort in the winter, and in the summer is a village of musical-box log cabins, and window boxes full of geraniums, and hot, hot, sunshine. The whole family plus partners came, and we had a happy time of reconnecting.

The Italian Alps might be the most beautiful place in the world. Even better than Scotland (which has some amazing scenery). I’m not a great lover of cities; I love big skies, and rushing rivers, and mountains, and trees (so Iceland wasn’t really my taste). Some of the mountains were still topped with snow, and snow is always exciting, even when it’s in the distance. (My family will correct me here, and tell me it’s not snow, it’s frozen glacier, but you know what I mean.)

We visited many beautiful towns and villages, and walked up mountains, and through mountain passes, and along valleys. There was a lake, high on a mountain pass. The water was so blue, and the sun was so hot, it was tempting to swim. Only the dogs were actually in the water, humans knew it would be freezing. As we walked round the lake we could hear the clonking bells of cows, and there was a herd of them with curved horns, drinking from the lake.

We visited Aosta, with its Roman remains and cobbled streets and carvings of wood. It was full of tourists when we were there, and there was a rain storm with huge drops of water soaking us all.

My dad played an accordion, so I loved this sculpture.

My main memory of Aosta is the ice cream parlour, where I had a stand-off with the assistant! The shop was busy, and while we stood in line we watched a man bring trays of chocolate-dipped lollies, and vats of fresh sorbet and creamy ice cream to refill the display. The counter was pretty, with fresh fruit, and coloured ices, and cones. But I also watched the girls serving, as they touched the money and credit cards, scratched an itch, then served the ice cream without washing their hands. I decided I would have an ice, placed in a cup with a scoop (no contact with those hands). All was going well, until I saw the assistant pick up a straw (touching the part that goes in the mouth) and place it in the ice. When it was my turn, I reached up, and took my own straw from the pot.

The assistant glared at me, and told me I shouldn’t touch. (Somewhat ironic.) I explained that I had only touched my own staw. She continued to scold me, then tried to add a straw from her own dirty hand. I told her that I did not want her straw, I already had one. I did not want a straw she had touched.

Oh the fury in those eyes! She returned to serving the rest of our order, glaring at me as she dolloped scoops of ice cream into cones. I have never been served ice cream with so much hatred! It did taste very nice though.

We also walked in Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, strolling beside rivers and waterfalls, staring at huge rocks left by glaciers. Very pretty.

But there is one place more beautiful than all the others. You can walk there from LaThuile, but two hours is about my maximum for an enjoyable walk, so we drove up the winding road from the town, turning onto a track before we reached the hamlet of Cappella di San Bernado. The track was very narrow, with hairpin bends, the valley falling steeply away to one side. Not a comfortable drive. I was glad when Husband announced he wasn’t going any further, and parked on a slim patch of grass next to the track. If a bus came, we’d be in trouble. But it wasn’t the sort of place a bus would go.

We walked. The track rose gradually, gently taking us further from the valley floor. We could see a river, and guessed the speed of it. There were trees below, dwarfed by the distance between us, dark green pines clinging to the side of the mountain. Patches of grass were dotted with brown mud, dug out by marmots which scampered away when they heard our voices echoing round the valley. (I must say, I will never ever manage to see much wildlife, because my family is so noisy!) Streams trickled from the rock next to us, forming puddles before trickling down to join the river. As we stepped over the puddles, clouds of blue butterflies rose, dancing around us like a host of fairies with blue and gold wings. We could see cows with their clonking bells in the distance, and beyond them, beyond everything, there were the mountains, watching. It was truly beautiful.

I hope you see some beauty this week. Try not to annoy any sales assistants though! Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Clonking bells wherever there are cows.

Before Italy…


We went to Italy for a couple of weeks. It was a variation of the trip we planned for 2020, when we rented a house in the Italian Alps for a few months, just to see how it would be to stay somewhere beautiful for a while. That trip was cancelled—another victim of the Covid lockdowns—so when the same house was free for the beginning of August, we booked it.

I arrived exhausted, mainly due to the last days of July. It had been busy—much too busy to call the wasp man, so I told Husband that we had a nest, and he said he hadn’t seen any wasps, so neither of us phoned the wasp man. Which was a mistake, but we’ll come to that later.

Sisters

You will remember my sister was staying? Well, she returned to Canada on the 30th of July, so we all met the night before for a barbecue at my brother’s house. To say goodbye. I hate saying goodbye to my sister, she’s a part of me, there’s some strange physical bond, and Canada is much too far away. When we returned from our family trip to Cromer (see an earlier blog) I had to make lots of scones, because all the ones I had made previously were eaten by my sister, and me, and various relatives who came to see my sister.

The dog also had to go into kennels, and I hate that now she’s so old, just in case…

Anyway, I survived saying goodbye to both of them again, and there was no time to think because the 30th was a whirlwind of making beds, cleaning the house, preparing meals for stray children (who aren’t children any more, but you know what I mean) when they arrived. In between time, I flung items of clothing in the general direction of a suitcase.

At about 2pm, my eldest son arrived from Vietnam. He’d been working there, managed to dislocate his leg, and had to be collected by taxi from the airport (because no one else was free). He hobbled in on his crutches, looking all tired and relieved to be in England, and thin. I don’t think he’d eaten much and he’d done a lot of trekking through jungles. When confronted with a tired thin son, mothers like to cook. I was busy, so cooked a frozen pizza (but the thought was there). Younger son carried the suitcase upstairs, I put a load of Vietnam-dirty clothes in the washing machine, then smiled a welcoming smile as our first visitors arrived.

At about 2:30, all my in-laws arrived for a cream tea to celebrate my parents-in-law’s diamond wedding anniversary. We had put up bunting, and decorated tables, and it was sunny so we could sit outside (with the wasps—you remember them?) Everyone seemed contented though, and it was a happy celebration.

At 4pm, people left, and I had time to clean up (mostly) and then fold the clothes that I had thrown towards the suitcase, packing them properly. I cooked dinner for the family (they all came back for the wedding anniversary and to come on holiday). I was asleep within minutes of going to bed. But only managed a few hours because the taxi arrived at about 4 am. Then off to the chaos of Gatwick.

I will tell you about the joys of travelling with someone in a wheelchair in a later blog. Italy will have to wait too, otherwise this will be too long. We returned yesterday, ready to attend my niece’s wedding (another fun celebration I expect) and I will leave you with a few pictures of Italy, simply because it is beautiful.

Hope your week goes well. I will tell you about the very best place in Italy next week. Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Holiday with the Sibs.


Holiday With The Sibs

I went on holiday with my siblings. It’s the first time in decades that we have all been together, without our spouses, for a few days of reminiscing. If you follow my blog, you will know that Uncle Frank died a few weeks ago, and my cousin wrote to say that she was taking her mum to Cromer. My other cousins all agreed we would try to be there at about the same time, and on a hot July weekend we met in Cromer.

Cromer is where my family always went on holiday when I was growing up. Set on the North Norfolk coastline, I have many memories (not happy ones) of horizontal rain and wind that was always cold. Always. The sea was rough and grey, and I learnt to swim in it, gulping salty mouthfuls as the waves washed over me. It’s a wonder I didn’t die of typhoid. I believe it’s a lot cleaner now.

We used to camp, which is not my favourite thing. This time my siblings and I stayed in a hotel—The Cliftonville—with Mum and Aunty Margaret. What fun! The hotel looked on the website rather like an old people’s home, but it was cheap, so we booked it anyway. When we arrived it was under renovation by new owners, and it was all rather lovely. I thoroughly recommend it if you visit Cromer, very comfortable and the staff were amazingly helpful.

My relatives however, camped. Some were in caravans or motorhomes (the older generation) and some were in tents. We all met up each day on the beach in Runton, at the bottom of the ramp behind the big black rocks. The weather this July was hot—I don’t think I have ever been in Cromer when it is hot. The beach was full of families, and dogs, and old ladies in deckchairs. You could tell the regular visitors, because they sat behind windbreaks, a tradition borne from experience. But they didn’t need to, any breeze was a welcome break from the sun.

We sent the days simply talking; remembering past events and people, reliving happy moments. Cromer hasn’t changed much, but there were a few new things—like goats (bagots) which now live on the cliff edge, and the steps to Granny’s caravan have now washed away, and so have the steps to the picnic field, so the routes down to the beach are fewer, and people willing to walk can have a private pitch between Cromer and Runton. The military pillbox on the beach has sunk, we used to be able to go in there when we were young (it always stank though). The boating lake has gone, and most of the shops have changed owner, and Banksy has painted a picture on the concrete wall.
But our own graffiti was still there—we carved our names in wet concrete 40 years ago, and you can still see the shape of the letters, though Bessie’s[1] footprints have worn away over time. The slot machines were still there, and many ice cream shops, and the painted beach huts, and the fishing boats, and the pier.

A Banksy picture, a bit washed away but still pretty cool!

We popped in to one of the many antique shops, and found shelves of old books and stacks of papers from before we were born. I bought some from 1936, but my brother did better because he found some from the war which describe the liberation of the camps. They were only £2 each, and I wished I’d bought more. There were commemorative mugs, and medals which were shockingly cheap—only a few pounds for a medal marking 15 years in the red cross during the war.

We ate fish and chips, and ice creams, and walked along the pier—because you have to do those things in Cromer whether it’s sunny or raining. It’s nicer when it’s sunny. Actually, everything was fun, especially the talking. There we were, three pretty-old-now siblings, reliving our past. Not something that happens very often, but definitely worth making time for.

Then I returned home, to find out how Husband had coped with the chickens and ducks and cats and dog. All was well, and I tried to thank him, and to explain what we had done for the weekend, but I couldn’t really, there wasn’t much to tell. We had just talked.

Thanks for reading. Hope you find something nice to talk about today.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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[1] Bessie was the family collie dog, and she ran all over the wet cement when we wrote our names. She died in 1985.

Anne E. Thompson
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Reykjavik Holiday Diary 3


Friday June 10th

I needed recovery time after the trip to see the puffins (see last blog for more details). I did absolutely nothing all morning, except a quick trip to the supermarket. I realised that many of the vegetables and fruit are grown in geothermal greenhouses. The heat is pumped up from underground, all that the plants need is a bit of light, and tadaah! Icelandic strawberries are a thing. According to my sister, Icelandic chocolate is also a thing, so I bought some to give as gifts when we get home.

We drove to see a recent (2021) eruption at Fagradalsfjall, about an hour from the city. The volcano had been dormant for 800 years, though the geologists had guessed it might erupt when they started measuring new activity. I expect being a geologist is rather an essential job in Iceland. The puffin island has a whole town that was covered by lava in the 70’s, which has now become bit of a tourist attraction. I’m not sure what it must be like, living somewhere that you know is relatively unstable. Perhaps you simply don’t think about it.

As we drove towards Fagradalsfjall I could see the mountain, it looked as if a giant had tipped black oil all over it, lines of black running down the sides. We parked in a grey gravel carpark, and began to follow signs. But the walk to the lava was long and steep, so we gave up.

Drove to where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. This is so not something that I understand—I remember the theory, that the earth is covered in massive plates of rock that are moving too slowly to see, and that when they rub against each other we get earthquakes—but faced with two walls of rock, my head cannot quite link the two. The area looked like a moonscape. More grey rubble.

We saw more hot springs, and a lava cove with great waves crashing onto them. Iceland is fascinating, but there’s nothing cosy about it.

Waves crashing over lava.

Saturday 11th June

Spurred on by the excitement of seeing tectonic plates meeting, Husband suggested we drove ‘The Golden Circle.’ This is named after a waterfall, and is a circular route (obviously) that passes a few major highlights. It’s an 186 mile loop. I worried about whether there would be toilets, and decided not to drink anything all day.

First stop was Thingvellir National Park. (This is an anglicised spelling, as it actually begins with a strange p/b letter.) The park has the first parliament (which we didn’t see) and another rift valley between plates, which was very dramatic and was used in The Game of Thrones. We saw Oxararfoss waterfall, plus some toilets and expensive parking.

We drove across the plain, with snowy mountains in the distance, while Husband muttered about the speed limit. At Haukadalur geothermal field we saw all the interesting hot springs/bubbling mud stuff that we have seen previously, but slightly bigger and better organised in terms of paths and signs. I stayed on the walkways this time. There was also a geyser, Strokkur, which erupted every 10 minutes. It was a large pool of water, steam floating on the surface, and it sort of ‘lifted’ for a moment, before erupting in a giant plume of boiling water. Amazing.

Click on the image to see the video.

We finished our drive at Gullfoss, the ‘golden’ waterfall. It was huge, a great mass of water tumbling into a valley.

There were carparks, with toilets, at every stop, so dehydration was unnecessary.

Hope you have all that you need today. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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I tried to learn 2 Chronicles 7:14 while in Iceland. How much of it have you managed to remember? Read it again to refresh your memory:

(NIV)

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

(OHB)

וְיִכָּנְעוּ עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר נִֽקְרָא־שְׁמִי עֲלֵיהֶם וְיִֽתְפַּֽלְלוּ וִֽיבַקְשׁוּ פָנַי וְיָשֻׁבוּ מִדַּרְכֵיהֶם הָרָעִים וַאֲנִי אֶשְׁמַע 

מִן־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶסְלַח לְחַטָּאתָם וְאֶרְפָּא אֶת־אַרְצָֽם׃

(CCB) 

而这些被称为我名下的子民若谦卑下来,祈祷、寻求我的面,离开恶道,我必从天上垂听,赦免他们的罪,医治他们的土地。

anneethompson.com
*****

Reykjavik Holiday Dairy 2


Day Three: A Walk From Hell

Woke early, had coffee, read Bible. Then went for a run (my first mistake of the day).

Grabbed a packed lunch (well, a bag with bread, cheese, a knife, tomatoes and some biscuits). Drove to ferry terminal. We were off to see the world’s largest puffin colony, and I was excited. This was why I had come to Iceland. The tourist shops were filled with photographs of the cheery little birds with their colourful beaks, and plastic models, and fridge magnets. Now I was going to see thousands of them. It was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

On the drive we saw flat plains with mountains in the distance, black rubble, steam rising from the ground, colourful houses, blue lupins everywhere and spectacular waterfalls. There were sheep, and horses, but we didn’t see any cows.

At the ferry terminal, all the cars were parked on an area of gravel, but there were no spaces. A line of cars was waiting to board the ferry, but we were going the cheap route and leaving our car at the terminal. (Second mistake of the day.) Husband decided he would ‘start a new line’ and abandoned car between two rows of neatly parked vehicles. We would return to either a new line of cars with ours in the middle, or wheel-clamps. I hoped it wouldn’t be the clamps.

Caught the ferry from Landeyjahafnarv to Heimaey, one of the Vestmannaeyjar islands. (Do hope that spelling is correct, and don’t ask how they’re pronounced!) We saw black sand, and choppy water. Didn’t see a whale (though I am sure they were there). As we drew into port we sailed close to cliffs pock-marked with white, each one the nest of a sea-bird. It was incredibly windy on the boat.

The ferry terminal was slightly confusing, and we weren’t sure where to go, but Husband had the puffin colony marked on Google maps, so we followed the route out of town. (Third mistake of the day.) I knew it would take about an hour—a long but comfortable walk. What I didn’t realise was that the strong wind from the sea would continue, with powerful force, blowing against us the whole way. The cross-winds were immense, blowing me across the road (luckily very few cars) and pushing against me as I struggled up the hill out of town. I thought it would improve as we left the port, but it didn’t. In some places the gusts were even stronger. Every step was a fight. I seriously doubted if I would make it.

Nearly dead. Walking to the distant mountain on the right.

About half way, I informed Husband that there was a distinct possibility that I might die of exhaustion. He checked his map, and said there was a much-less-good puffin lookout a bit nearer than the completely excellent one that we had travelled especially to Iceland to see. He didn’t mention that I had forgotten to bring both binoculars and a proper camera with a zoom lens, but he was probably thinking it. I didn’t have the energy to discuss it, and on I plodded, blown off-course with every step. Husband carried all my stuff, and offered frequent rests, but it was still incredibly difficult. I felt real envy as taxis and mini-buses passed us.

We made it to the lookout shelter. There were lots of puffins, but they weren’t very near, and without either binoculars or a camera zoom, we couldn’t see their bright beaks. It was still fun to see them, and after I had recovered, I was glad that I had come.

Each puffin mates for life, and we saw the couples working together. They made their nests in burrows on the cliff edge, it looked like a rabbit warren, with one puffin standing at the entrance and the other flying off for food. We saw flashes of their rounded tummies as they flew past, and their distinctive black and white feathers. But not really their beaks.

Probably not the best puffin photograph that you will ever see.

After our picnic lunch, Husband (nervously) reminded me that we had booked to go back on the ferry that left in an hour. I made no comment, saving my energy for another walk-from-hell. The wind was no less on the way back, and neither way was it behind us, it simply blew (blew is such a feeble word, it heaved and shoved) across us and around us, pulling at our coats and hats and pushing us when we walked. I staggered back to the ferry, made it in time, and sat, huddled on the deck, every muscle limp. I remembered the car, and decided that if the wheels were clamped, we would leave it, and buy a new one. I was much too tired to negotiate with an Icelandic carpark attendant.

Luckily, the car sat in the middle of a new row of cars. We drove back via Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. I stayed in the car. Husband went to look, and reappeared with a box of donuts (this is why I love the man).

Next we stopped at Hveraldalir geothermal area, and the donuts had revived me sufficiently to leave the car. There was a slightly run-down walkway, and information signs, and a strong smell of sulphur. No one else was there. We couldn’t see where the walkway started, and my legs were too shaky to walk far, so I nipped across the mud. Big mistake. In fact, it was fine, but a short distance further, the innocuous-looking mud was bubbling. A foot in boiling mud was probably not a good idea. (I remembered my daughter had explicitly warned me about things like this, I should have listened.)

All very interesting. We saw steam vents, and boiling mud, fumaroles and pools of boiling water. The sulphur/rotting eggs smell was overwhelming. But a very cool place to visit, and it was free. I stayed on the walkway on the way back to the car.

Dinner at the lamb burger place again, too tired to be creative. Went to bed exhausted.

Thanks for reading. I’ll tell you about our whale-watching trip in a later blog.

Hope you don’t make any big mistakes this week. Take care.
Love, Anne x

The verse I tried to learn while in Iceland was 2 Chronicles 7:14.

How much have you managed to remember? Read it again to refresh your memory:

(NIV)

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

(OHB)

וְיִכָּנְעוּ עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר נִֽקְרָא־שְׁמִי עֲלֵיהֶם וְיִֽתְפַּֽלְלוּ וִֽיבַקְשׁוּ פָנַי וְיָשֻׁבוּ מִדַּרְכֵיהֶם הָרָעִים וַאֲנִי אֶשְׁמַע 

מִן־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶסְלַח לְחַטָּאתָם וְאֶרְפָּא אֶת־אַרְצָֽם׃

(CCB) 

而这些被称为我名下的子民若谦卑下来,祈祷、寻求我的面,离开恶道,我必从天上垂听,赦免他们的罪,医治他们的土地。

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?

anneethompson.com
*****

Reykjavik


Reykjavik Holiday Dairy

Day One: Arrival Day

Unpacked our stuff at the Airbnb, then went to find a supermarket. Everything is very expensive, and as we speak no Icelandic, it was quite an adventure. A man overheard us debating the milk, and kindly showed us which one was semi-skimmed (yellow top). I later overheard some Americans trying to find ‘half-and-half’ and mistakenly picking up baby-milk. “That’s breast-milk!” one exclaimed, which made me laugh.

Wandered round the waterfront. The air is cool and clear. There seem to be a lot of tourists, a lot of gay couples, lots of Viking stuff, a lot of pink hair. The painted houses are rather cheerful. They have big blank windows, which I don’t understand in a country that has constant summer daylight (when I would want thick curtains) followed by almost constant winter darkness (when I would still want thick curtains). I find it confusing; the houses and shops look the same. Sometimes I think I’m looking into a café window, and I realise I’m watching a bloke cut his toenails in his lounge!

Viking Stuff

We ate lamb burgers in Fjallkonan, a buzzing restaurant full of chatty people. Excellent food, comfortable chairs (it matters!) It cost £60 for two burgers, one beer, and a sparkling water. Not a cheap city.

Day Two: Drive from Reykjavik

Terrible night’s sleep due to constant daylight. Need to invest in some eye-masks. Got up 6am, read Bible and had coffee, dragged Husband out for a run.

Showered—it stinks of sulphur. The hot water is pumped straight from the ground, which makes incredibly cheap heating/hot water systems. But it’s smelly. Hoping I get used to it; holding my breath for the length of the shower was a near-death experience. Maybe will buy an oxygen tank and mask when I buy the eye-mask (though Husband is bound to make comments). However, the cold water in Iceland is good, very pure, and perfect for drinking straight from the tap. Don’t waste money on bottled water in Iceland.

Decided to go for a drive as the weather forecast is wet. Driving here is fairly easy as long as you remember which side of the road to be on. Good quality wide roads (not like the warrens of Madeira). There are several gravel/unmade roads, but our hire car agreement doesn’t allow us to use those (for which I am grateful). We drove towards Glymur Waterfall, stopping to eat a picnic lunch on the way. Husband made comments about the bread knife (I don’t like making sandwiches, easier to do it at the time). Ate looking at black mountains with white patches of snow.

Drove NorthWest to Kolbeinsstadhir. (Icelandic is a bit like Welsh, every word is crammed full of consonants.) Stopped to look at some thermal water. It was shut, due to Covid, but we ignored the sign and walked up anyway. There was a hot spring, which was piped, so looked a bit like someone had randomly put a tap in the middle of wasteland. There was steam. Husband was more impressed than me.

We saw several herds of horses. Icelandic horses are a thing. They are classified as horses (though I’m pretty sure they are ponies really) and they’re very pretty. If you remove one from Iceland, it’s not allowed back, which keeps the line pure. Some restaurants serve horse meat, but I like to think the beauties I saw were kept for riding.

Beautiful Icelandic Horses

We got home about 4:30pm. I saw lots of very flat plains, black mountains, spectacular waterfalls, and thousands of blue lupins. But not many trees. There’s a saying: “If you see three trees in Iceland, you’re in a forest.” Or a joke: “If you’re lost in a forest in Iceland, stand up!” I guess repeated lava flows doesn’t encourage long life for trees, and the earth below the surface is too hot for deep roots. There were trees, but not many, and none were ancient. I still prefer Scotland for scenery.

Dinner at Messinn. I started with a dirty plate, and was then given a sticky menu, so not a great start. But they served traditional fish stew, with potatoes and vegetables and hunks of lava bread. Lava bread is good. It’s rye bread, and the dough is cooked in a pot in the hot ground. I thought it tasted a bit like malt loaf but without the fruit, and it was nice with butter and a cup of tea. But they also chuck lumps of it into their fish stews.

Thanks for reading. In my next blog I’ll describe the most difficult walk of my life, going to see a puffin colony. Hope you have a good week.
Love, Anne x

The verse I tried to learn in Iceland was 2 Chronicles 7:14. Have you managed to remember any? Read it again to refresh your memory:

(NIV)

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

(OHB)

וְיִכָּנְעוּ עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר נִֽקְרָא־שְׁמִי עֲלֵיהֶם וְיִֽתְפַּֽלְלוּ וִֽיבַקְשׁוּ פָנַי וְיָשֻׁבוּ מִדַּרְכֵיהֶם הָרָעִים וַאֲנִי אֶשְׁמַע 

מִן־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶסְלַח לְחַטָּאתָם וְאֶרְפָּא אֶת־אַרְצָֽם׃

(CCB) 

而这些被称为我名下的子民若谦卑下来,祈祷、寻求我的面,离开恶道,我必从天上垂听,赦免他们的罪,医治他们的土地。

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?

anneethompson.com
*****

‘Iceland is Beautiful,’ they said…


‘Iceland is beautiful,’ they said… ‘Iceland is my favourite country in the world,’ they said… ‘You’ve never been?’ they said, ‘You should plan to visit.’ So we did.

I prepared for our trip by watching Icelandic films, hoping to learn the odd phrase and perhaps see a little of the culture. This was a mistake, as I mostly watched crime films. I therefore stepped off the flight, entered the arrivals hall and was confronted by a line of serial killers holding name placards. Luckily we had rented a car, so avoided all the psychopaths and edged our way to the Avis desk. Avis had queues of people, very little space, and lots of signs about wind (the weather version). Wind is a thing in Iceland.

Known as the land of ice and fire, it should also be called the land of blue lupins. They were everywhere, lining the roads, growing on ancient mounds of lava, covering every hill and plain. Iceland in June is blue. Blue and grey. People told me that Iceland is beautiful, and it’s true that many parts were, but there’s an awful lot of grey. As we drove from the airport the landscape reminded me mostly of the groundwork when a new motorway is being built —mounds of grey rubble. Volcanoes are not tidy, and Iceland was produced by a string of eruptions. I guess there’s no point in clearing up the lava flow, so it sits there, pretending to be builder’s rubble, until the lupins move in to cover it in blue.

We rented an Airbnb in Reykjavik. This turned out to be wonderful, a converted printing works that consisted of one huge room filled with plants and nicknacks, with separate bedrooms and bathroom. It was used in the Netflix series Sense8, though most of the furniture was different.

Reykjavik is more town than city, with mostly wooden houses covered in colourful corrugated iron. It has clean streets, happy people in weird clothes (though to be honest, I think the clothes of most people younger than me are weird) and high prices. Iceland is expensive. The city also has a harbour, and a huge church (which looks like a cathedral) high on a hill, seen above the city. 

A cool church building, towering over Reykjavík.
Pretending to be a Viking, outside the big church.

We were told that in June, it would only be dark for a few hours each night, between midnight and 2 am. This was a lie. I got up in the night to check, and it was never dark. Slightly gloomy perhaps, like a grey day at home, but never dark. I took a photo for evidence…

No streetlights needed: 2am and definitely NOT dark.

The June weather was cold, but not freezing. I needed a warm sweater and a coat, but not a ski jacket (which is lucky, as I don’t own one!) A woolly hat is fairly essential, not so much for warmth but more for hair control. Husband declined repeated offers to borrow a hat, and the hair style wasn’t good. As I said, wind is a thing in Iceland. 

We saw some amazing stuff while we were there, but I’ll tell you about our trips in another blog. Is Iceland beautiful? Beauty is very subjective, and I never really saw past the grey rocks, the black mountains, and the lack of trees. Especially the trees. Most other people have a different view, so I’ll leave you with some pictures and you can decide for yourself.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

I try to learn a little more Hebrew whenever I run (it helps take my mind off the pain!) In Iceland I began to learn 2 Chronicles 7: 14. You could try to learn it too?
*Note to Mother: Please learn the English version and we can make another Facebook video!
I will add it to the end of each Iceland blog:

If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 

2 Chronicles 7:14

וְיִכָּנְעוּ עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר נִֽקְרָא־שְׁמִי עֲלֵיהֶם וְיִֽתְפַּֽלְלוּ וִֽיבַקְשׁוּ פָנַי וְיָשֻׁבוּ מִדַּרְכֵיהֶם הָרָעִים וַאֲנִי אֶשְׁמַע מִן־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶסְלַח
 לְחַטָּאתָם וְאֶרְפָּא אֶת־אַרְצָֽם׃

Thanks for reading. Why not sign up to follow my blog? anneethompson.com

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