Stuck on the Island

It’s small island time at least once per year for me. So this time I wanted to go to the island of Zamami, about 50 km west of Okinawa’s biggest city of Naha, which is on Okinawa main island.
There are three possibilities per day to get to the island, twice with a speed ferry, once with a slow ferry. The only same day possibility was to take an early flight to Naha, then move to the port and take the afternoon speed ferry to Zamami.
I arrived in clouds and rain and went by taxi to the port, but the taxi driver was already saying, probably the ferries don’t go, it’s too choppy out there.
He was right, there was a sign at the ticket booth at the port saying, none of the ships had been going that day. Ugh… I quickly checked booking dot com and found a good priced hotel close to the port and the taxi driver brought me there.
The hotel turned out to be quite new or renovated and the room was astonishingly nice for the last minute deal price.
I had been in Naha once during my student times in Fukuoka a staggering 24 years ago. The other times I’ve been to Okinawa I only passed through Naha. Of course I hardly remembered the place. But the one place to go to is the Kokusai Douri, the International Street. It’s a pretty long shopping street and off it branch several shopping arcades as well.

The one thing I remembered about Kokusai Douri was that there were dozens of what was then called “army surplus” stores. These shops sold old military uniforms and whatever other kind of military stuff. There is a large US army base in Okinawa, which the locals hate. The US gave back Okinawa to Japan only in 1972 by the way.
These army surplus stores have all but disappeared. I found only one single lonely shop selling military clothes and gas masks and stuff like that. All the military shops were replaced with harmless souvenir shops selling tinker and food specialties. Well, I surely prefer that to the military crap.
At 2:30 in the morning that night I was woken up by a nasty alarm on endless repeat: attention, a fire has broken out in the fifth floor, please evacuate the building immediately. The recording was in Japanese and English with teeth grinding alarm sounds in between that were blasting your ears off. Since I saw nothing and smelled nothing, I was not very freaked out and took the time to put on socks, pants and two jackets before leaving the building with my purse and computer. Some hotel guests had been more freaked out than me and stood there in their pajamas freezing. It was raining again and windy at around fifteen Celsius. Three fire trucks and the police came in one mighty commotion.

At 3:30 they called the alarm off. The very nervous night manager stood in the breakfast room and thanked the guests for their cooperation and that thanks to us the fire brigade could check everything so quickly and efficiently and sent everyone except for floor five back to bed. I was on floor four of the ten story building, luckily. No clue when the fifth floor was allowed to return.
In the morning the front desk showed signs around that a guest had tampered with a fire extinguisher and the case was now investigated by the police. Oops 😉 seems like a drunken dude will not enjoy the rest of his stay in Naha.

The End of an Era

I’ve been going to the Yamaha music school for around thirteen years out of my eighteen in the greater Tokyo area. Maybe it was even fourteen years. I started out with drum lessons, which I picked up again after having gone to drum lessons in Germany for a while too. But, after two or three years, my drum teacher suddenly passed away. I think he got only around 65 years old. Next up were around seven years of vocal lessons. Last but not least, around four years of piano lessons. I just quit those piano lessons last Thursday and thus ended an era of some thirteen or fourteen years of music lessons. Wow, that’s been a long time.

Why did I quit? I quit drum lessons because the teacher died of course, but I could have gone to another drum teacher. I didn’t because of lack of practice opportunity. Japanese houses (and German houses neither) aren’t exactly large or soundproof. Going to a studio for practice is costly and also time consuming.
Singing I gave up because I cannot sing what I’d like to sing – heavy metal. My voice just ain’t made for that 😉
And now piano. Even though I have a keyboard at home and have the opportunity to practice putting the thing on low volume, the amount of practice needed to play like I imagine I want to play is so large that again lack of time is the killing factor. Writing takes the priority and I am not willing to sacrifice writing time for piano practice time.
Another thing was that the music center I went to the past two years after moving to Yokohama, is a pain to get to (train ride into the opposite direction from home after work and fifteen minute walk from the station), which contributed to the lack of motivation to go.
Well, the keyboard still stands at home and if I feel like playing, I can 🙂

Of course already new plans are in the making, not concerning music but for my not-getting-any-younger body. The New Year 2019 resolution will be to go to yoga or pilates or something like that to counter the stiffness of advancing age! Gosh, how terrible that sounds! LOL. It feels kinda odd to not have any music lessons anymore in the future, but hey, I shall of course practice something I am pretty good at concerning music and that is head-banging! 😉

Paying for Energy

I just saw the Bohemian Rhapsody movie and it left me with this urge saying – when’s the next concert I’m going to? 😉 It will be only in two months when the Finnish melodic death metal act Wolfheart will come to Tokyo. When was the last concert I went to? That was German power metal band Primal Fear exactly one month ago. Before that I saw my new favorite band Insomnium, Finnish melodeath as well, in Switzerland. The Bohemian Rhapsody movie made me jittery – wanna bang my head and shout to bands I like or love! 😉 Music is one of the most powerful and wonderful things humans have invented. The energy music gives people is amazing. Music and also dance of course are much more let me call it “primeval” than reading books or looking at paintings, because they make you move. Well, not all music of course, sitting at a classical concert just listening is not very active. Such “passive” music does not appeal to me at all, I want stomping and shouting and head banging ;-). Music also brings like minded people together. It’s magic.
But: to survive as a musician or any kind of artist these days is not an easy thing (well, it has never been). Apart from the “real fans” of a band who buy CDs or Vinyls for their collections, most people use whatever streaming services (myself included). It’s quite shocking how little artists get paid per stream. This article here gives some insight in case you are interested.

It’s the same for books of course, you need to have a hell of a lot of downloads on Kindle to put bread onto the table.
I cannot understand people who want things for free. Art, whatever art it is, gives us so much and people want it for free? If artists cannot survive by what they make with their art, then who does that help? There still seems to be this illusion out there that artists make shitloads of money. Some, very few, big names do, yes, but those people are maybe 0.1 or whatever percent of those who produce art, which is one of the greatest sources of energy and joy in our lives.
I might be writing books, but music is the thing where I get most of my energy from and I’ll hella continue to support my favorite bands by paying for what they produce and I hope others will do so as well. Go out there and pay our artists! Thanks!

Writing Progress Report

I haven’t posted a book progress update in a while. So here is one. The fourth Dome of Souls novel is all but ready. It’s proofread, I have a cover, only thing I need to do is to format it and start the publishing process.
Under my pseudonym, I also have a cover for the latest beast and it is ready and currently at the proofreader. Once I get it back, I have to make the final changes and then that one will be good to go too.
So what’s keeping me from doing the final steps of the fourth Dome of Souls novel? The fifth one! 😉 I’m in the process of writing its first draft and it’s been going very smoothly and quickly and I’m already at 75,000 words. I expect the beast to have between 90,000 and 100,000 words in the end, so not much more to go. I’m pushing for the completion of the first draft to stay in the nice and steady creation flow it is in now. While Dome 3 = Jeronimo and Dome 4 = “title to be announced soon”, took a while to write, Dome 5 is like Dome 2 = The Anatomy of Anarchy, it practically wrote itself, because the story was all very clear in my head already.
It was and is a great pleasure to be writing Dome 5 due to this “the book writes” itself aspect. I’m at it for seven weeks now and I suppose the first draft will be finished after ten weeks or so. That would be my second quickest time ever for finishing the first draft of a novel, the fastest being and probably remaining “To Mix and To Stir”, the second Hagen Patterson novel, which took me a mere five weeks to write.
I’m always talking about the initial drafts here, the self-editing etc. process is so much longer than the first draft. “To Mix and To Stir” remains the fastest book also in the department of the overall process including self-editing, and editing/proofreading by someone else. To Mix and To Stir came out nine months after I started with the beast.
The pseudonym book coming out soon is the second fastest. Since I suppose it will be ready in January or February, it took/will take 13 or 14 months from writing to putting it out there. So far so good! I better get back to Dome 5, because I am itching to finish that first draft :-)
Dome 4 will probably come out in January or February too, once I get around to formatting it 😉 Cheers!

Hanazono Shrine Festival

There is a festival (matsuri) every day of the year somewhere in Japan, when local shrines or temples celebrate whatever they deem worth celebrating. Yesterday, I went with a Japanese friend to a festival at the Hanazono shrine in the middle of Shinjuku, called Tori no Ichi (literal translation of that is “bird market”). There are no birds around though, but small or big “Kumade” = “rakes”. These rakes are heavily decorated and come along in tiny version for 2000 yen (~ 15 Euro) to giant arrangements that probably sell for half a million yen (~ 4500 Euro). Since all pieces are handmade, there might be similar ones, but not one is completely like the other and the big ones are truly unique pieces.

Now why would you want to buy a huge, decorated rake worth 4500 Euro? These rakes are supposed to bring you luck for your business. You first go to the shrine, which is hidden behind thousands of lanterns and ask the resident god that your business shall thrive, then you go to the stalls and look for a rake of your desire and adequate to the size of your purse. You put the rake into your office or home and hope that it calls luck to your business, until you go again in November of the following year, throw your old one away and get a new one.

Not all of the rakes but many are designed around the animal whose Chinese zodiac turn it will be the next year. Since next year is the year of the wild boar, many had figures of those inside the rake.
The Hanazono shrine is not the only one with such a rake market of course, but it seems to be the biggest or one of the biggest in Japan. It’s quite impressive to walk through the rows of color explosions.
I bought a little rake off of a guy who looked like he was a hundred years old 😉 and shall hope that it will help me to sell a few more books next year 😉 It’s a bit of a funny wild boar, because it sits upright and calls luck (and money) with its paw like a “Maneki Neko” (a cat) whose job that usually is and on top of that it holds a dragon ball in the other paw (there are tons of interpretations about the dragon balls, they can represent power, water (good harvest) or simply the dragon’s treasure). Now if that maneki neko, dragon ball wielding wild boar won’t bring me luck then I don’t know what will 😉
Apart from the rake booths there are of course tons of stalls with food and sweets around to create a proper festival atmosphere. The Hanazono Tori no Ichi comes along with one other specialty, the old style Japanese version of a “tunnel of horror”. It was not allowed to film or take photos inside. This is definitely a dying art and I wonder how many performing troops are still out there. A narrator announces the weird people and monsters, then actors jump on stage performing a short act. They had a “crazy office lady” who was stapling herself with an office stapler. A group of wild guys was eating dry ice, a girl was drinking burning wax and spewing fire, a guy with a long needle through his cheek was dragging a cart around with it and the highlight was a “wild woman” who was eating live worms on stage, yuk yuk yuk! 😉 It was interesting to see this and it gave a bit of an insight into what happened at such festivals two hundred years ago.
I guess I have to go there now every year. Because I have to throw away the boar end of 2019 to get a rake with a rat, since 2020 will be the year of the rat 😉

A Flash Visit to Switzerland

I’ve been to Switzerland a couple of times in the late 90ties due to business trips, but I’ve never been there privately. Because of a certain concert, I found myself flying to Switzerland over a prolonged weekend. The target being the city of Luzern. I flew to Zurich and Luzern is just an hour away by train. Some trains go even directly from Luzern to Zurich airport and I arranged things so that I’d be able to go directly.
Wherever I looked, Switzerland was super clean and seemed super rich, people are well dressed, everything is well maintained and orderly. While in Japan you have one or the other “shack” in between the proper houses and while in Germany things often look old (depending on where you go) Switzerland seemed like the land of milk and honey, or rather the land of milk and chocolate 😉

I do freely admit that Swiss chocolate is my favorite in the world 😉
Luzern is a rather small city and you can easily visit its major sites within one day, which I did. The city is one of the plenty at the Vierwaldstaettersee, whose English translation is oddly simply Lake Lucerne (while the real meaning of Vierwaldstaettersee is lake at the four wooded cities). Since the lake is rather big, it influences the weather and it was cloudy to foggy the whole time I was there. The wooden bridges over one of the rivers that feed the lake are one of the main attractions and were busy with tourists, notably the noisy Chinese tourist group type that can really get on your nerves. I guess for them Switzerland is like one giant fairy tale Disney Land. Apart from the two bridges, I liked the city wall towers a lot, which allowed you to get a nice overview over the city, but the highlight is clearly the dying lion statue, which is truly moving and sad.

On my second day in Luzern, I did a bigger tour starting with a boat ride on the lake. Since it hung in clouds and fog it almost felt like going to sea.

The boat brings you to a town called Alpnachstad and from there you can take a quite dramatic funicular railway up the mountain of Pilatus. The lake lies at a height of about 400 meters above sea level. At about 1000 meters the train broke through the clouds and the steel blue sky above you and white clouds below you were quite a sight to behold.

Pilatus itself is 2100 something meters high. At the top is a big hotel and massive viewing platforms with restaurants, souvenir shops and anything you might need. From the highest spot you have an excellent view over the Swiss Alps and it all looked pretty much like out of a picture book, especially with the ground hidden in thick clouds.

Usually I’m the ocean and not the mountain type, but that was a great sight to behold, especially also because you didn’t need physical effort to get up the mountain, just money (the Pilatus roundtrip costs over 100 Swiss francs). There were plenty of hikers around though, who did the effort to walk 😉 You then go down the mountain on its other side with two different gondolas and it was kind of sad and also spooky to be leaving the sunshine and to go back to gray and cold weather beneath the clouds.

The trip to Switzerland was short but intense and maybe I’ll be going there again for another gig some time in the future 😉

Paid Sick Leave? – Not Everywhere…

I like Japan and also working in Japan is not the worst thing in the world, but one thing really sucks… there is no paid sick leave. I am sick right now, having the shingles and I even got a doctor’s certificate stating I’m off until the 7th of November. Unfortunately that certificate is worth exactly nothing.
Of course I’ve been sick before. When you have a cold or an upset stomach or something like that you take some of your paid leave days. Once I ran out of those paid leave days when I got the flu and had to take something called “multipurpose leave”, which is unpaid. You get so and so many days of this “multipurpose leave” depending on how long you work for the company.
Now is the second time I will have to take the unpaid “multipurpose leave”. I asked our HR and the doctor’s certificate is worth nothing. It does not entitle me to any form of paid sick leave, since there is none. I would need a doctor’s certificate if I’m out for more than seven business days (so far it’s six), because apparently you can be laid off? Get a warning? Dunno… if you are absent for more than seven business days without a certificate. But under seven business days this piece of paper has zero benefit or meaning.
There is a button with “absence due to illness” in our attendance system, the mean thing about that button is that if you use it, your “attendance” sinks below 100%, which means that you get less bonus payments etc. So more or less nobody is using this button. If you are on paid leave or unpaid “multipurpose leave”, your attendance rate remains at 100%, which guarantees your full bonus payments.
(In Japan you get a base salary and a “bonus” twice a year, whose amount depends on how well your company is doing. The yearly bonus payments vary between “nothing” to up to six additional “months” worth of pay, so it can be a lot and you don’t wanna miss out on that.)
So, happy Europe, where you get paid even when you are sick. This is not a matter of course in some other parts of the world.

Shimoda Trip Report

I’m flying all over Japan for island hopping but so far I’ve never been right next door. Just 140 km away from Yokohama, at the tip of the Izu peninsula, lies the town of Shimoda and it’s supposed to have an “island feel” to it, but so far I never checked it out. So, finally, over the October weekend where even my company takes off and observes a national holiday (usually we are collecting national holidays to take them in a row in January, May and August), I went by train to Shimoda. (With the Shinkansen to Atami and from there with the Izu-kyu line down the coast to Shimoda). The ride takes only 2.5 hours from Yokohama. Arrived at Shimoda, I jumped into a taxi to take me to my hotel, which was four kilometers from Shimoda itself at the district Shiramaha that was supposed to have a nice beach. The hotel came along with a privately bookable outside hot spring and so my tattooed self could even book the onsen for later. But first to the beach. The sand was a bit crazily distributed over the beach, presumably due to the typhoon that passed through Japan the week earlier. But all in all this was a lovely beach with surfers enjoying some moderate waves.

I didn’t stay too long at the onsen due to two creatures sharing it with me, two monstrous spiders hanging at the walls. Uhhh… I was sitting in the (anyway too hot for me) water and praying the monsters would not move 😉 When I checked out the next morning, I expected to have to go by taxi back to the station to lock up my luggage to be free for exploration, but the super kind landlady of the hotel offered to drive me to the station for free. Not only that, she even worked out a plan for me what to see during the day and ended up waiting for me at the station, while I locked away the luggage and then took me to the aquarium at the very tip of the town. What a nice service. The aquarium turned out to be quite interesting and a bit symbolic for the entire rest of the town. Shimoda is what I call very “Showa”. This refers to the Showa era of Japan under the Showa emperor, who passed away 1989. The whole town and the aquarium as well were blooming in the bubble economy times of Japan in the early 80ties. Ever since not much development etc. has happened. The aquarium encircles a natural bay and the captured dolphins have the “privilege” to be swimming in actual ocean rather than a basin, but apart from that the entire facilities of them aquarium are at least 40 years old if not more. To compensate for that, they let you get pretty close to the animals.

After the aquarium I walked back to town by the sea side, discovered an abandoned hotel that you could just walk into and then boarded a tourist boat for a twenty minute ride around the harbor. Last but not least I rode with a gondola to the top of the nearest mountain from where you have a magnificent view over the Izu islands and Shimoda itself. I’ve been to several of these islands already, notably Izu Oshima and Niijima.

It was a great weekend trip, but Shimoda won’t be my place of choice for retirement plans. It’s too “Showa” and does not have the “Pacific island” feel after all that I love so much ;-). I’ll get “Pacific island” feel again over new year, when I will explore the next island(s). This time the target will be Zamami, just right next to Okinawa main island. Cheers!

How to not Behave on an Airplane

I had horrible neighbors on my latest long haul flights from Tokyo to Frankfurt and back in September.
To Frankfurt my neighbor was a guy of about 30 and an American.
First of all he kept on messaging with probably his girlfriend, since hearts flew around. As the plane was about to lift off, I said, “excuse me, Sir, but I think it’s time to switch to airplane mode.” He gave me a devastating look, finished his message, then switched to airplane mode and thrust the phone into my face. “Here you go.”
Pfff. Five minutes later he says. “I usually hate it when people tell me what to do, but I respect it that you had the “guts” to address a total stranger about this.” Um, what? He tried to engage me in a discussion about that non-airplane mode was allowed for a while but now it’s restricted again and blah. Then he kept quiet. Later on he fell asleep while I was standing (because of my back) and working on the computer. He kinda woke up, grabbed the water bottle that lay on my seat, probably thinking it was his and put it into his lap. Uh?
I sat down again and next he jerked around and poured cold coffee all over my seat and my pants. I got the cabin attendants to help me with wipers and what not. He looked around irritated, then ignored the fuss and did not even fuxxing apologize. Great, thank you.
Last but not least we had seats at the kitchen section where you can prop up your legs. He did so too, but with his shoes on and that’s how the wall looked like by the end of the flight… (I took the pick while the dude was on the loo)

On the way back to Tokyo I had an about 70 year-old Japanese woman sitting next to me. It was a night flight, but I cannot sleep on planes and as usual was working on the computer. They turned the cabin light off and I switched on my individual light. “NO!” The woman barks at me and points at the light. Jeez, okay, okay, I put it out again. Then she calls the cabin attendant and tells her to tell me to turn off my computer because it’s too bright. Cabin attendant: “Um, no, I cannot ask her to do that. Why don’t you use the mask you were given?” Woman: “I can’t have that thing on my eyes, it’s too warm. Ask her to turn off the computer!”
The cabin attendant comes around to me. Unfortunately there is no other seat available, maybe I would work in the kitchen until she has fallen asleep? That was fine by me, because it gave me another opportunity to stand (I can’t sit for long because of my back). The cabin attendants were then all super nice to me, giving me juice and chocolate and thanking me constantly for being so cooperative. I had to move from the middle kitchen to the back once, because they laid a completely drunken guy onto the floor of the middle kitchen after he barfed around (hopefully not onto his neighbors………) and I was happy that I only had a bitchy old woman for a neighbor and not a barfing dude who can’t hold his liquor… when I eventually returned to my seat, the nasty old woman was asleep.
Such are the joys of long haul flights! Ahhhhhh… I’ll have another one next week, but it should be the last one of 2018 😉

Iceland Report – Part 5

Whale Watching and Some Other Comments
On my last day in Iceland I had prebooked a whale watching tour in the morning and the plan was to do some last shopping in the afternoon and to pack the suitcase. 
I did whale watching in New Zealand and in Japan at the Ogasawara islands. Both times were very successful with several whale sightings and seeing rear flukes when the guys set out to dive. Luckily the sun shone even in the morning, but there were strong winds. Strong winds = waves, baby! I went to the harbor and the boat didn’t look very big.

At the check in they asked me if I wanted sea sickness pills. Okay, lets take them, the tour operator must have a reason for offering them for free! There were maybe twenty people on a boat that could accommodate 50, so that was a good number. Among them was a group of 6 Chinese adults, the rest was European or American. Out we went, and my it started rocking. At first we went fast and I stayed below deck because of the spray. When we slowed down, I went on deck and stayed there for the period of whale watching time. Three of the Chinese went on deck for five minutes, then one man was getting sick and reached for the barf bag. After that none of the Chinese was again seen on deck 😉 It did rock pretty badly and it was impossible to catch the moment of the only whale we saw surfacing on camera.

It was a minke whale apparently and it swam with the boat for a while but presented only its back and some spouting and no rear fluke for diving either. From that point of view this was the least successful whale watching I attended so far. Which is okay though, since I was very lucky the other two times and its animals and they don’t show up when you want them to. Another two people reached for the barf bags apart from the Chinese and also I had a moment of feeling not so super well, but the tactics to look at the horizon worked for me and I didn’t get sick. I went below deck again for the fast boat ride and splashes when we returned to the harbor and found the Chinese sprawled and looking not very good over a group of benches below. Poor guys and girls! I admit, I was happy to be back on firm land and promptly went back to my dear Harpa again for my chocolate croissant and tea 😉 After that a final round of shopping and bag packing and that was it. 

Despite the shitty hotel and the ridiculous prices, I thoroughly enjoyed Iceland and greatly recommend it as a destination (if you have the money). I wonder how long the Iceland boom will last. Since it is now the main source of income for the place, I hope for them it will. Apart from the unfriendly hotel staff I did not encounter a single rude Icelander, all the restaurant and tour staff were very friendly and welcoming. 
Looking at the barren landscapes it really makes me wonder what life was like there a hundred years ago and before that. The funny guide of the lava cave tour said we Icelanders have basically been starving all the time before roads and planes came to the place. They lived off fish and sheep. They ate everything of the sheep, head, feet, innards, balls and all. There is a cold water shark species living around Iceland. It has no kidneys somehow and its blood and meat are poisoned. If you let a dead shark rot for a bit, the poison becomes ineffective, then you dry the meat somewhat and eat it. It apparently tastes as disgustingly as it sounds. How desperate for food do you have to be in order to find out how to make this shark meat somehow edible? The vikings who settled there were tough brothers and sisters. Then the cold in winter and the dark. It’s dark for 21 hours a day in mid winter. It never really really gets warm. Would I want to live there? No thanks. But is it beautiful? Oh yes! I am wrote my report on the plane back to Tokyo, moving from 64 degrees north to 35 degrees north and half around the globe. Even if it’s a bit hot in Japan in the summer, my, do I prefer my lush sub-tropical islands in the south that burst with green and woods and oceans you can get into without dying of hypothermia after five minutes! 😉 Cheers! 

Iceland Report – Part 4

Blue Lagoon and Snaefellsnes Peninsula
On my Blue Lagoon day it was raining in Reykjavik in the morning, oh what a surprise 😉 I went again to the Harpa, which had become my favorite hang out spot. The Harpa is the concert hall of Reykjavik, built during bubble times and quite an impressive building.
I checked it out on my first day and also watched the comedy show there about “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes”. They had a nice cafe where you could get a chocolate croissant and a cup of tea for “only” 10 USD. Then it was time to board my bus to the Blue Lagoon. I had decided to try out that tourist trap on my first day in Reykjavik, looking for short stuff to do in afternoons. I also wanted to compare it to the plenty of Onsen (hot spring) I know from Japan. Not a single Onsen in Japan though costs 100 USD to get into… yes, ladies and gents, that’s the price of the Blue Lagoon. And not in a single Onsen in Japan do you have to wait for 45 min to be let inside despite having a reservation. It’s funny also that you have to go inside in a bathing suit instead of naked. Well, thus it’s easier to mix the boys and girls. Of course I didn’t bring a bathing suit, but you could rent one for 7 USD. Not that bad considering the other prices. 

Your 100 USD ticket to the Lagoon contains a towel, a free first drink and a free face mask. Nevertheless, 100 USD, you gotta be kidding me. What I liked about the place was its size, the pool is pretty damn big, and also the water temperature of only 38 degrees agreed with me. Japanese Onsens always have the tendency to be too hot for me. It was nice, but it’s not worth 100 USD, which doesn’t include the 40 USD bus transfer from and to the place by the way. It’s about 45 min away from Reykjavik. After the bath, I walked around outside through blue water ponds and rivers next to the spa, which was nicely bizarre.
All in all the Blue Lagoon is, as expected, a rip off. Well, been there, done that and had the most expensive bath of my life 😉 But I also appreciated the place, since I didn’t need to shower that night in my horror hotel and could use their functioning hair dryer, hahaha 😉 
Then it was time for the last full day tour I had pre-booked, a drive around the Snaefellsness peninsula, which leads away from Route 1 and I thought it would be a bit less crowded than the main sites. That was indeed so and it was a nice ride, but the driver was rather terrible. He was telling us stories from the Icelandic Sagas befitting to the places we drove past or visited, since it was at Snaefellsness where the Vikings first landed. His stories were okay, but he was talking NON stop! I have never heard anyone talk so much in one day. His story telling style was also not the best, a bit repetitive and he kept coming back to the same points over and over. Anyway, the dude saved me a visit to the Saga museum. The sites were a bit less spectacular than the Golden Circle or the Glacier Lagoon, but nonetheless beautiful. The main mountain, Snaefellsjoekull, with a tiny glacier on top, kept unfortunately hiding in clouds.
Another famed mountain, the Kirkjufell, which was apparently used in GoT, also kept its top in the clouds.
We had rain in the morning as so often, but sunshine in the afternoon. Cliffs with hexagonal formations much like the Giants Causeway in Ireland were the highlight of the tour and great to look at, but all in all this was the least spectacular of the three long tours I made and unfortunately tainted by the endless flood of babble coming out of the guide guy.

Iceland Report – Part 3

South Coast and Glacier Lagoon
The longest trip of my Iceland visit was the journey to the glacier lagoon and back. That tour happened with a big bus and thanks to having no neighbor that was indeed much more comfortable than a smaller bus would have been, since there were long stretches of driving to be done. The tour follows the route No. 1, which is the only road encircling the entire island. It leads past the famous Eyjafjallajoekull, which erupted in 2010 causing havoc for Europe’s flights due to its ashes. I am by now to 70% able to pronounce the name 😉 

The mountain has a glacier on top and it looks quite mystic when clouds, ice and black rock mingle. We got off at a small waterfall with a camping ground next to it. OMG, nothing could make me stay in a tent in that wet and cold climate.

On the Golden Circle tour I met a couple from Spain who were planning to bicycle around Iceland within 15 days on route 1. Route 1 has 1332 km = they have to do 88.8 km in a day. OMG! I hope they are / will be okay.
The bus drove on on route 1 through the strangest landscape I’ve ever seen, a giant lava field over 50 km wide with nothing but moss covered lava. In a way it looks like one of the circles of hell. A cold desert with nothing but moss and razor sharp rocks.

Then it starts to get interesting with a speck of white in the distance, which is the goal of the journey, the many tongues and arms of Iceland’s biggest glacier Vatnajoekull. The more significant glacier arms each have their own unpronounceable name. It’s humbling to drive past this vast mountain massive and it looks like all that ice was about to crush down on you and bury you. You become very small next to this glacier. I don’t know if the glacier of the glacier lagoon is the biggest tongue in total, but it was most certainly the biggest tongue that the tour drove past… Man, this glacier is big. The photos do not express its majesty and vastness. A hundred years ago, the glacier ended in the sea. But the earth got / gets warmer and warmer and the lagoon formed accordingly.

The glacier is calving and melting and the icebergs float around in the lagoon before they drift out to sea through a small opening. It’s a bizarre and magical landscape and I have not seen the likes of it before in my life. I did a boat tour on the lagoon with an open boat and then walked on the eastern shore to the ocean. The waves and the tide break up the icebergs floating out and send them sometimes back onto the beach. The sand is volcanic ash and pitch black and the contrast of the white icebergs on it is bloody amazing too. Despite the cold, I could have stayed there for many hours, but alas, we were allowed 90 minutes before we had to go back. Of what I have seen of Iceland this was the most impressive place. 

On the way back we got into a rain shower over the lava desert. At its end is the village of Vik. We stopped there for dinner and I went down to the beach for a few moments, another black sand beach in stormy conditions with these great rock formations in the water. The rain comes sideways in Iceland, you don’t bother with an umbrella. I took it with me on the trip but did not use it, since it does not help. 

The last stop of this tour was another big waterfall with much less water though than the Gulfoss of course, and there was the option to walk behind the waterfall, but I refrained from that.
It was already 20:00 in the evening and we started the tour at 7:00 in the morning. some of the bus travelers did the hike behind the waterfall and came back soaking wet. No thanks 😉 We were back in Reykyajiv at 22:00. 
It was a long but very impressive day.

Iceland Report – Part 2

Golden Circle and Lava Tunnel
I spent my first day in Iceland exploring Reykjavik, but it’s a small city of maybe 200,000 people and there is not that super much going on there or to do. They have a few museums, but it doesn’t feel like museum time when you go to a country like Iceland. You do tours tours to the nature sites. Although, during that first day in Reykjavik, I stumbled across a comedy show of an hour entitled “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes”. That sounded intriguing, so I bought a ticket for it and it was fun indeed. An Icelandic comedian tells you (in English) some fun things about being or becoming Icelandic with nice sarcastic spice and it was well worth the entrance fee. But back to tours: The most common tour is the so called “golden circle” tour to the famous geyser and the Gulfoss waterfall and the Thingvellir national park. 
I did that tour on a small bus, and we started with a small crater, then a small waterfall.

The first official highlight was the geyser. The original geyser has gone dry by the way, but next to it is its little brother that spouts every few minutes. The big geyser spouted only every half hour, but was admittedly bigger. There were more people than spouts present, of course.

While we left Reykjavik in rain, we had sunshine since the small waterfall. In the sun, without wind, it actually got nicely warm, the only time it was warm in Iceland 😉 The geyser is funny but with too many tourists not a breathtaking spot. I found the Gulfoss waterfall much more impressive. Now that’s a decent waterfall, nice and big and gushy 😉

Despite all the people there that’s a sight worth seeing and the people’s noise gets drowned out by the waterfall anyway. In the distance you could spot the Langjokuell glacier, a magnificent sight in the sun and I would have loved to get closer, but that was not on the itinerary.

Next up was a short visit to some Icelandic horses, which were for a very long time the only form of transport for the locals. A farmer put “horse candy” for sale, some dry food stuff and I fed this lovely guy here and he nibbled his nuggets skillfully from my hand 😉

The last stop was the Thingvellir national park, a fantastic valley with yet another waterfall, a rift where the island is breaking apart and a magnificent lake. A beautiful day well spent with some breathtaking nature sites. 

I had wanted to do “nothing” between the prearranged long bus tours, but there is a bit too much of nothing in Reykjavic and during my first day while exploring the town, I decided to book some additional smaller afternoon tours for my days “off” and I’m glad I did so. I would have gotten bored without those activities. The first smaller trip was thus a cave tour through a lava tunnel just 45 min away from Reykjavik. That day was the weather-wise worst day of my stay. It rained the entire time, but who cares for that in a cave. It wasn’t the most impressive cave I have seen in my life, but the guide was hilarious (he had lots of funny comments and a very dry humor) and the cave was wide and not scary and easy to climb. It was a great short trip and another day well spent.

Iceland Report – Part 1

After Waken 2018 and a family visit for a few days seeing my sister and my dad, I set out again for adventure. This year the target was the fulfillment of a long harbored goal – I went to Iceland.
Before I will report on the plenty of nice stuff = the tours that I did, some general remarks of how I perceived the place. Iceland looks rich, very nice houses, well maintained, loads of new construction happening. They all must earn fortunes though, since the prices are ridiculous. A proper sandwich? 20 USD. I kid you not. A liter of water? 5 USD. I kid you not. A pizza, small salad and a soft drink at a food court like place = not a proper restaurant? 35 USD. A plate of pasta in a filthy side walk place? 20 USD.

All guides said that Icelanders hardly ever go out eating and I am not surprised. The hotels?…?? I had a lousy small room with a bed, a desk, one chair, a TV, a small open clothes rack, and a super filthy bathroom for 150 USD a night, no food included. The only thing good about the place was that is was right in the middle of town and yet quiet. The room was not cleaned during the entire week of my stay. The “room service” did nothing but empty the trash and give me new toilet paper, there was dust everywhere by the end of my stay. One guy at the reception was rather friendly, another lady was close to rude. They gave me a hair dryer that nearly exploded in my hand when I switched it on. Flames and smoke spewed out and I barely managed to switch it off before something bad happened to me.

The Icelanders are smart, they are using geothermal water for heating and showers. But the hot water in the old hotel (a building from the sixties maybe) stank so much of sulfur you could gag. The water felt soapy and was pretty disgusting. The shower was so hot it almost boiled you even at the coldest setting. And the stench… unbelievable.
All tour guides said, oh you can drink the cold water, if you let it run for five minutes. Admittedly the cold water didn’t stink, but I didn’t trust the old pipes of that filthy hotel and relied on the expensive bottled water for drinking and even for teeth brushing. The heating in my room wasn’t the best either. I had the radiator on at highest setting the whole time and it was just bearably warmish. I kept my yogurts and butter close to the window since there was no refrigerator. They didn’t change the bed sheets the whole week and I got fresh towels only once. I have never paid 150 USD per night yet for such crap. But – they can afford their shitty service, since a decent hotel costs you well over 200 USD the night and even youth hostels are pricey. They can also afford to rip people off like that because people keep coming. One guide said that in 2017 there were 2.3 something million visitors to an island with a population of 350,000 people. Wow. And they are coming for a reason, because, yes, the scenery is absolutely beautiful and stunning. 
With the amount of money I spent on tours, food and also some souvenirs, I can only afford to buy food and toiletries for the next two months or so, hahaha. But it was worth it. I wouldn’t want to miss this trip despite the shitty hotel and the horrendous costs. 
And despite the weather. I was actually lucky, since there was no long-lasting heavy rain during the three big trips I made. The only day where it rained non-stop was the day I went to the lava cave = I was inside even on the tour 😉 Also on my Blue Lagoon Day it was raining in the morning, but I was in bed 🙂 The other days were good, hardly any rain and even some sunshine along the way. Even if the sun shines though, it’s cold in Iceland. I was very happy that I dragged a winter coat along with me. Especially when there is wind, it’s quite fresh and it never got over 15 degrees air temperature. More in the range of around 10 degrees Celsius.

Despite the prices and everything, I might return to Iceland one day – in winter! 😉 Because it’s on my bucket list to see northern lights – aurora borealis one day and in winter it hardly ever gets below minus 20 in Iceland thanks to the Gulf Stream, while in other Scandinavian aurora viewing places it’s more like minus 40??? If I go in winter it will be only for two or three days though, in a better hotel also, paying the price, since in winter it’s only daylight or rather twilight from 12:00 to 15:00 – the rest is darkness. Yet unimaginable for me, but that’s what a local told me. Some pics as teasers in this report and next up will be more details about the tours I did 🙂

Wacken Open Air 2018

This year marked my fourth trip to Wacken and it was remarkable in so far as that I went for the first time alone without my trusted English buddies and oh miracle there was no rain! Zero rain, nothing, niente! Who would have thought that to be possible? Instead it was hot as hell and dusty beyond measure 😉 I suppose that ideal weather for Wacken does not exist 😉
Since I am not staying in tents under any circumstances 😉 I had chosen a hotel package including bus transfer. 
How cool that I already met two Japanese girls in havy metal gear on the plane to Helsinki, who were having the same destination. Even more remarkable was that one of the girls bought the same hotel package as myself. We shared a taxi to the hotel and thus the arrival in the tiny town of Bad Bramstedt was nice and smooth. 
The daily commute to the holy ground was a bit longish unfortunately, since the bus took an hour, partly over an hour, to get there. Also, there was only one bus to the holy ground and one bus back, no alternative, apart from expensive taxis. 
Wacken was as epic as always. The atmosphere is unbeatable (I heard Hellfest is the same or even better, but I’ve never been there yet.) Wait, there is another unbeatable atmosphere, the one on the boat (70,000 tons of metal) but that is quite a different pair of shoes. In Wacken, where 75,000 fans are gathered, it’s just the amazing atmosphere of being on the holy ground that you breathe in with the dust or drag with your boots in vase of mud 😉

Since the bus was arriving too late for some bands, I bluntly asked around on the Friday morning whether anyone was willing to share a taxi with me to get to the holy ground earlier. Turned out asking was a good idea, since I found a couple from Romania staying at the same hotel, but without the bus transfer package but their own rental car. They were so kind to take me along and I made it in time for the desired concert 😉 I saw a ton of bands of course (23 to be exact), hung out with excellent people and had a great time despite the dust and resulting nose trouble from the middle of Saturday.

My band highlights were Amorphis of course, then Alestorm and Ensiferum in the first rows (if at the side, away from the surfers), but also Nightwish was fabulous, as well as good old Judas Priest and Helloween. A new discovery was Behemoth from Poland, I have to check out more about them. It was the first time that a black metal band “spoke” or appealed to me. Then two re-discoveries, the smaller band Diabolo Boulevard from Belgium and Children of Bodom. I actually saw Diabolo Boulevard on the boat (70,000 tons) and liked them there too, but now they reconfirmed that they are worth looking into. Children of Bodom I saw once at Loudpark but they didn’t impress me so much then, this time I found them to have much more impact on me. Very interesting was Arkona from Russia, who played on the Wackinger Stage. 

I found myself rather often in the headbbanger tent and at the Wackinger stage this time. During my first two Waken tours, I hardly ever left the infield (where the three big stages are), but this time I was in the tent as much as never before. 
The busses back in the night were a bit too late for my taste, on the Friday and Saturday they only left at 2:00 in the morning, brining you back to the hotel at 3:00 respectively. (The busses to Waken left at 12:00 every day and got there around 13:00 or later, due to traffic). The busses already arrived around 1:30 though, so at least you were out of the evening cold for a while. Yes, cold! When it’s over 30 during the day and drops to 15 at night that’s cold, especially when you come from a more humid climate where it never gets much below 23 during the night in summer.
It was a great Wacken tour this year and it was interesting to experience it with the bus tour package, but I’m glad that next year, I’ll be back with my English buddies and their car, which makes you more independent. Our lovely hotel in Buesum is also closer to the holy ground than Bad Bramstedt. Tickets are ordered, hotel is booked, we are ready for the big 30th anniversary of the holy ground! See you in August 2019, rain or shine.