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Trip Report 2012 Iceland/Germany Saga

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The Prologue

A bit about my family for my Fodor friends: My wife Deille and I have been married for 20 years. We met while I was stationed in Germany in the early 90s. Her family is still all in Germany and every other year we go back to visit them. We also have two daughters, Elisabeth who is 6 and Hannah who is 3. I started doing travelogues to share with family and friends about 10 years ago and eventually started posting them to Fodors. Hopefully you enjoy.

It is only a few more days before we depart on our annual family vacation and I thought I would provide you with a rundown of our plans and destinations for this trip.

This year’s vacation will feature two new destinations for me. The first stop will be in Iceland which has been on our bucket list for some time but only through coincidence did it make it onto our itinerary for this trip. The second area is Friesland, which is the region in the northern part of Germany bordering the North Sea. This is where Deille and her family spent their vacations for years when she was a child. She has always wanted to show me the area and now after twenty years of marriage we are finally getting there. In the past I have been resistant to the idea of going to this part of Germany. Having a huge interest in medieval history this area has always been far down the priority list for me, as it is not known for its castles or other medieval sites. Making my wife happy, however, is high on the priority list and she again made it very clear on our last trip that she wanted to share this area with the girls and I.

Getting to the point where we could actually leave on this vacation has taken many months of planning and preparation. When we started down the path of planning this trip we knew that we were going to spend most of the time in Friesland and that we could not leave until the start of Elisabeth’s summer break. It was this second point that made the planning of this trip such a challenge. Normally we have made the journey to Germany in the shoulder season (during the spring or fall), but this year we would be travelling in the high season. This meant that ticket prices would be much higher than I was accustomed to paying, even before high fuel prices came into the equation. My initial research into ticket prices towards the end of last year was very sobering. I knew that if I waited there was a chance that there might be some specials in February or March, but there was also the chance that ticket prices would also just continue to climb.

I initially looked into our normal favorites, British Airways and Lufthansa, but the prices were just too over the top to be considered. They were starting at close to $1500 per ticket. I have driven many cars that have cost significantly less than that over the course of my life, and while I was often taking my life into my own hands every time I got behind the wheel, I at least had decent leg room. I looked briefly at some of the U.S. based airlines including U.S. Airway, Delta and United (I did not tell my wife that I looked at United… but explaining why would increase the length of this already long travelogue considerably) but the prices were not much better unless we were willing to change planes more than twice with long layovers.

I decided to get creative and so I started looking at flights leaving from other cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, etc. It was in this way that I discovered that Icelandair was starting service out of Denver. To celebrate this they had some very attractive fares which, even after adding the flights between Phoenix and Denver, saved us a significant amount of money. The best part was that Icelandair has a policy of allowing stopovers in Iceland with no additional ticket costs. So we were able to plan a three night stay and see a bit of Reykjavik and the southwestern part of Iceland before continuing onto Amsterdam. From Amsterdam we will then make the three hour drive to our vacation house in Friesland. This is better than the 5 hours it would take us to drive from Frankfurt, so this turned out pretty good all around. Since I purchased the tickets I have not looked at prices again, as I do not want to know what they have done and if I made the correct choice to purchase when I did. This is a very good tip that I picked up off of one of the travel forums I frequent.

After arranging the flights we set about finding a vacation home to rent for the duration of our stay in Germany. We decided to get a large 4 bedroom house where Deille’s parents and sister can also stay while they are with us. It is very convenient to have her mother over in Germany to arrange deposits and such. We will be staying in a little town called Esens and we will be less than 5 km from the coast. We are not sure what every day will entail (hopefully naps will be common) but we plan to visit a few of the islands offshore, tour the cities of Emden, Oldenburg and perhaps Bremen, and I have plans to join a friend for a daytrip to Wolfsburg and a tour through the Volkswagen plant.

In addition to the planning we have done for Germany we have also prepared for our three nights in Iceland. We have reserved a family room at the “Bed & Breakfast Keflavik Airport” which I guess is really more of a hotel by U.S. standards than a Bed and Breakfast. They will provide transport to and from the airport and have also arranged to have a rental car waiting for us at the hotel. While in Iceland we plan to do a self-driven Golden Circle tour and spend a day doing museums in Reykavik. We are still in the air about visiting the Blue Lagoon as Deille has no interest in getting in the water. I guess this will end up being a game time decision, but then again when you are travelling with a six and a three year old all plans are always subject to change.

More to follow...

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    move over and make room for me.

    i want to join in your trip [report] too.

    do, do, do take your kids to the National Museum of Iceland. it's really great [and all signs and info in english too]. they will definitely like the dressing up bit, and you will like the rest of it.

    the Blue Lagoon i could take or leave, but the area south of Keflavik is very interesting with hot mud pools, strange lakes, and a generally weird landscape. you don't want to miss the golden Circle of course, but don't let the kids get too close to the geyser unless you want them to have a hot shower - our DS did and he did!

    I've been to lots of Germany but never to the far north, so I'll be interested to learn more.

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    We actually leave tomorrow. We will spend one night in Denver and will then be in Iceland on Thursday morning (6:30 AM local time).

    Thank you for the advice Annhig. We definitely plan to do the National Museum of Iceland. I think my plan for the day we arrive will be to drive south from Keflavik as follows:
    - Take 44 south to Hafnir
    - Then the 425 south and then west along the coast to Grindavik
    - Finally north along the 43 past the Blue Lagoon before heading back to Keflavik.

    This would be only a little over an hour of driving plus stops for pictures and such.

    If we are still going strong then perhaps we will head to Hafnarfjordur to check out the Viking Village.

    Depending on the weather we will spend Friday and Saturday with one day in Reykjavik and on day doing the Golden Circle.

    Nice to see you too Lavandula, I remember you as well 

    Isabel, when will you be there?

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    oh yes, DO do the Viking village. this is what i wrote about it in my TR and it doesn't do it justice:

    <,the most noteworthy building we found was the truly extraordinary Viking Village Fjourkrain, which doubles as a hotel, as well as a restaurant decked out as a viking dining hall. the wax tableaux of Viking life [rather better than the ones in the Perlan Centre, truth be told] which greet you are mere precursors to what is hidden within -the prows of boats, cliffs full of stuffed birds, life-size vikings...all in an immense hall which must seat at least 1000 people at vast tables.>>

    honestly, it was quite surreal. it looked as if it [the town ] might be a nice place to stay too - a few shops, restaurants, and this completely weird place.

    Having gone there last, i would prioritise it, to be honest. if you aren't going to the western fjords to see the cliffs full of penguins, trust me, this is the next best thing.

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    Chapter 1: Getting to the Island of Fire and Ice

    On Tuesday our vacation finally started, or at least the journey did that would take us to our first destination.

    We had an early afternoon flight from Phoenix to Denver on Southwest airlines. I have heard a lot of people complain about Southwest but I truly feel that they are the best domestic airline. Flying is never fun these days but I can always count on Southwest to get us to our destination with the least amount of hassle possible, and there seem to be fewer hidden fees and questionable measures taken by the airline to generate additional revenues. As expected the flight was easy and we were soon in Denver. After a quick shuttle ride to a Springhill Suites we settled in for our overnight and extended morning stay.

    Prior to our flight I had researched the restaurants in the area of the hotel so I would know what our choices were within walking distance. If you are unfamiliar with the Denver airport it is quite a ways outside the city and our hotel was situated in a cluster of hotels built to serve travelers coming in and out of the airport. The restaurants in the area probably have a fairly captive audience. Directly next to the hotel is a Ruby Tuesdays and next to that is an Italian place called DiCiccos. A search of the travel forums and Yelp provided very mixed reviews of this restaurant that had me quite confused; however, in the end we chose to go there, as many of the reviews were positive and we tend to choose independent restaurants over chains when we have a choice. As some of the reviews had stated the prices were a bit steep, but the food was good overall. Many of the negative reviews also complained about the ambiance but we found it completely enjoyable. The dining room is on three levels, with the upper two levels overlooking the main, ground floor level. It is done in an over the top classical Italian styling with one wall being used as a giant screen playing black and white videos of Frank Sinatra singing solo and duets with other performers of the 50s and 60s. The volume was at a level that was enjoyable and not overly distracting. After our meal we spent the rest of the evening relaxing.

    Our flight the next day was not until 5 PM and even with needing to arrive at the airport 3 hours early we still had the whole morning to burn. I arranged for late checkout and we were able to take the girls for a swim and then still have time to dry the swim wear in the onsite dryer. This worked out well and both girls had a good time. Catching the return shuttle to the airport was easy and check in at IcelandAir was painless. The Denver Airport is very nice and it was comfortable wait until boarding.

    I always dread transatlantic flights and despite the fact that we were only flying to Iceland (7 hours instead of 10+) this was no exception. Having never flown IcelandAir I was also unsure what to expect. After completing my first flight with them my impression is that their economy class is better than British Airways economy class but not as good as British Airways economy plus. As we boarded the airplane I noticed (and Elisabeth voiced) that there was an odd smell on the plane. It was not overbearing but it was also not the most pleasant smell, fortunately we quickly got used to it and then it was barely noticeable. The economy section on this plane used a 3 – 3 seating arrangement (meaning 3 seats on each side of the plane per row). I had reserved us window and middle seats in two separate rows, one behind the other. Elisabeth sat next to me and Deille and Hannah were in the row in front of us. The plane was completely full, but we both got lucky and had nice travelling companions in the aisle seats of our rows. This is the first time we have travelled with our children and not carried car seats onto the plane. Hannah used an FAA approved harness system called CARES (www.kidsflysafe.com) and Elisabeth, who is just over the weight limit for a harness, used the normal airplane seatbelt. This made getting on and off of the plane much easier than in past trips. That is not to say we left the car seats home. We still lugged them to the airport; we just checked them with the rest of our checked baggage.

    Actually we are travelling considerable lighter than our last family vacation. We are down to one stroller, and we no longer have to carry bottles, diapers or all of the other items that a very small child needs. That’s not to say that most other travelers would think we are travelling lightly… we are just lighter compared to what we have brought in the past.

    We did have one piece of bad luck that I suspect will add to the fun of this adventure (let me point out that this is fun used in the sarcastic sense). Before the plane even left the gate, Deille looked back and informed me that a crown she had on one of her teeth had just then fallen out. This is something that we will need to deal with before we return to Arizona.

    Despite the fact that the flight was several hours shorter than the Phoenix to London flight we have used in the past, I was still very anxious to deplane as we neared our destinations. 7+ hours camped into any area is uncomfortable, but I think even more so when it is during hours that you would normally be sleeping. I am a big man and I know that is part of the problem, but I cannot help my height. I recently read an article, although I cannot remember where, that airline seats are designed to meet the generic rear-end of a man as determined in the 1960s and how this is a major flaw in their design. First of all women tend to have (on average) a wider backside and people in general are larger than they were in the 1960s (not just the result of the obesity epidemic). Finally the airlines are all concerned about the size of the butt, but as the author stated, the bigger issue is shoulder width and airlines are not taking that into account as they shrink the room they grant us upon their planes. Anyways… sometimes I get off-track… we arrived in Keflavik at 6:45 AM local time.


    Chapter 2: The Settlement Period (If you get this Icelandic pun you are as geeky as me)

    After deplaning in Keflavik we easily made our way through passport control, retrieved our bags and then cleared customs. It was a real relief when I saw the young man holding up the sign with my name on it. He is the son of the owner of the Keflavik B&B where we are staying while we are in Iceland. The reason I was relieved to see him was that all the arrangements seemed too casual for me and I was not sure everything was a “arranged” as I normally prefer them. I had filled out an online room and car (they arranged the car rental as well) reservation form in February and received what appeared to be an automated reply with no confirmation number. I then sent an email directly to the B&B and after a second email I received a short reply that everything was good and that they would shuttle us to and from the airport. I then sent a reminder email a few days ago just to remind them that we were coming and to ensure they had our flight details (I provided them in February), and again I received a very short reply.

    The young man was very nice and the B&B is as described. I would actually just call it a hotel that serves a continental breakfast but regardless of the name it is working out very well. The building was actually a barracks on the old cold war era U.S. military base that was finally shut down a few years ago and it still has some of that barracks feel to it. The rooms are large and the price (especially for Iceland) is very good. I would not come here for a romantic getaway but it is perfect for a place to shower, sleep and store your stuff while you are out exploring the country. There are also some nice common areas where you can sit and relax. As I type this travelogue Elisabeth and I are sitting in one of the common rooms just down the hall from the room we are staying in. It is about 5 AM local time and we were done sleeping (dang jet-lag) and did not want to bother Deille or Hannah.

    We arrived to the B&B before 8 AM and they were kind enough to give us an extremely early check-in. Not wanting to take their hospitality for granted we intended to go and find a restaurant for breakfast but they insisted that we just eat breakfast here. This turned out great as we were extremely tired and really just wanted a nap which we took as soon as we had eaten something. The plan was to just refresh ourselves with a two hour nap and then start our exploration of the area.

    4 ½ hours later I awoke to what seemed a whole new day except it was already 1:30 in the afternoon. We quickly got dressed jumped in our rental car (a Toyota Versa) and headed on our way. The first stop was in town to get some basic supplies including something to hopefully hold Deille’s crown in place until we get to Germany. We found what I would call a small indoor strip mall. I would call it a strip mall rather than a just a mall because the types of stores are what you would find in a normal U.S. strip mall as opposed to a U.S. shopping mall. There is a grocery store, a pharmacy, a pet supply store and a little coffee shop. We grabbed basic supplies for a picnic lunch and some kind of glue for the crown and then started our tour.


    Chapter 3: Touring in a Haze of Jetlag

    The plan was to tour the Reykjanes Peninsula, which is the area to the south and west of Reykjavik. We started by going south of Keflavik along the western coast of the peninsula and it was along this stretch that we encountered the first of several areas that could almost be called lunar. The entire area consists of volcanic rock with very little if any vegetation. When vegetation does exist it is a sort of grayish lichen/moss with a dandelion or purplish flower here or there. The rocks are sometimes in roundish mound formations and at other times very jagged, sharp formations. We would go through this type of area for awhile and then suddenly the landscape would seem to soften and the ground would be covered with various green grasses and more dandelions or other wild flowers. In more than one such area we noticed that the locals had created golf courses.

    In one of the desolate areas we stopped and ate our picnic lunch. Deille and I thought the weather was gorgeous but the girls thought it was too cold and windy and quickly retreated back to the car. It was also during this jaunt south that we encountered the ‘bridge between two continents,’ which is a walking bridge across a small gorge. On one side of the bridge you are on the European tectonic plate and on the other side you are on the North American plate. Deille and Hannah walked across the bridge to get a better look at the gorge but I stayed at the car with Elisabeth. Eventually the coast line turned east and we followed it past the town of Grindavík, which is a salted fish production center in this area.

    Somewhere east of Grindavík we left the coast and turned north to go through the Reykjanesfólkvangur. I have no idea how to pronounce the name of this Icelandic national park but the scenery was amazing. I will post pictures, but I do not think they will do the area justice. I think to truly get the effect you must be present. The combination of the unique scenery with the feel of the wind and the unusual smells makes for an overall experience that you cannot hope to capture in a picture. The first site that we stopped at was called Seltún which is a cluster of hot springs. It is amazing to see the water bubbling up from the earth at temperatures above boiling generating large amounts of sulfur filled steam. We followed a small boardwalk around the site and got many great pictures. Other than the odor the girls really seemed to enjoy it as well. As we were leaving Elisabeth summed it up as being very interesting, very pretty and very smelly.

    We next passed Kleifarvatn which is a lonely lake with dark sand beaches and steep cliffs overlooking it. Apparently they have a monster not unlike the one reported to be in Loch Ness. As we continued north we ended up on a gravel road, which is very common in Iceland, before hitting the major road the runs along the northern coast of the peninsula between Keflavik and Reykjavik.

    Once we got to the road we turned right and headed east a short distance to the town of Harnarfjöður, where they have a Viking themed hotel and restaurant. The restaurant called Fjörugarðurinn is decorated Viking style, although it seemed very Hollywoodish to me. They have lots of Viking inspired art on the walls and round shields that look quite well used attached to the bar. Luckily the Vikings liked hamburgers and so the girls were able to find something they were willing to eat. Deille had a vegetarian plate (I am sure some Vikings are rolling over in their graves about that one) and I had a lamb dish fit for a Viking Chief. In general the food was quite good, but we spent more than we realized at the time. I had forgotten to check the exchange rate before we left but I knew it was over 100 ISK to a dollar. I discovered that it actually 130… our meal cost 15,650 ISK… I will let you do the math.

    Well, this is getting long and jetlag is starting to affect my thinking so I better try to get some sleep. We have now completed day two of our Icelandic adventure (touring Reykjavik) but I will have to make that installment later. We still have one full day here in Iceland before heading to Germany. Hopefully I will get another chapter done before we depart this interesting, beautiful and at times smelly island.

    If you would like to see some of the photos from our first day in Iceland I have uploaded them to http://jgwagner4.shutterfly.com/

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    Annhig,

    I read your travel report when we first started planning this trip and found it great an informative. I have been looking through some of it again these last few years.

    Our trip is limited to the are around Reykjavik and our children are much younger so we will not be doing a lot of hiking and such, however I am taking alot of your advice. We did the Viking Village the first day and we did the National Museum today (just too tired to complete that update right now).

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    jd - great start. i'm glad you found iceland's answer to disney - sounds as if you were less impressed that we were, but then we'd seen the Perlan Centre by then!

    looking forward to more!

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    Chapter 4: What is Þjóðminjasafn Íslands?

    Friday morning we awoke to a bright and beautiful morning! For me the first time I was conscious of this beautiful morning was sometime around 2 AM. I saw it again around 3 AM and finally gave up trying to sleep at 4 AM. Actually the beautiful morning was just a continuation of the beautiful day the night before as it never truly gets dark here this time of year… but nonetheless it was beautiful and when you’re in Iceland you can never count on such a beautiful day or so I am told. We have been lucky, as we begin our last full day in Iceland (it is Saturday morning as I begin typing this travelogue) it is again beautiful (but at least I did not notice it until 6 AM this morning).

    I think maybe it is time we hit a bit on some of the interesting facts that I have learned about Iceland in the last few months as I prepared for this trip:

    - This island is larger than Ireland, but has a population smaller than Tucson Arizona. Meaning that in all of Iceland there are just over 300,000 people.

    - Iceland was first truly settled by (mostly) Norwegian Vikings at the end of the 9th century, although genetic research of the population here has now determined that many of the initial women on the island were of Celtic origin. Most likely they were slaves captured in Ireland and sent/brought to Iceland.

    - For centuries people in Iceland often lived on the edge of survival (plagues, famine and natural disasters) and so the population hovered at around 60,000 until the start of the 19th century.

    - Some people in Iceland eat the equivalent of shark kim-che, showing that people will eat whatever they have to when they are starving. I have not seen any starving people since I landed and so I am wondering why they still eat it. I suspect it is just so they can gross out tourists and get them to try it as well. This tourist will not be trying it.

    - The only land mammal that lived in Iceland when the first Norwegians arrived was the arctic fox.

    - The language spoken in Iceland is still very similar to the medieval Norwegian that the first settlers spoke (unlike modern Norwegian’s who would not be able to understand their medieval ancestors).

    Friday was a day to learn more about the history of the people living in Iceland and so after breakfast (and a short nap) we headed to the capital city of Reykjavik to visit a couple of museums.

    The first stop was the National Museum of Iceland or in Icelandic the Þjóðminjasafn Íslands. This museum basically provides a timeline of the history of Iceland with artifacts and displays to help bring the history to life. The parts of the museum that we spent our time in were concerned with the early centuries of human settlement in Iceland from the settlement period (this might expalin my cheesy chapter title from the last travelogue) through Absolution (this is when Iceland booted out the Catholic Church and became mostly Lutheran). I think they have done a great job with this museum. The displays are set up very well providing a high level overview of each item and its history and then allowing a visitor to find out more if they are interested and have the time, which with two young children we did not. I did have an opportunity to listen to one of the recordings they call “Voices from the Past” which is where they have actors portraying people who lived in a certain period talking about their life and view of the world. I would have enjoyed spending hours listening to all of these but I guess that will need to be on a future trip when the girls are older and we all have better attention spans.

    They also have a room set up for children where they can try on historical costumes and armor, read books and play with other toys. We spent quite a bit of time in this room, with one parent watching the girls while the other went out to check out more of the museum. It was on one of these outings that I found the exhibit dedicated to the Bobby Fischer championship chess match against Boris Spassky in 1972 which took place in Reykjavik.



    Chapter 5: The Quest

    After leaving the museum we walked into the center of Reykjavik on a quest. The list of the great and important people who have visited Iceland includes Kings, movie stars, great chess players and even at least one President of the United States. This president would be Bill Clinton and the one thing he did while he was here that all Icelanders remember was eating one of their famous hotdogs which they call a pylsum (or something like that). Apparently Icelanders take their hotdogs very seriously and I decided I had to try any hotdog that was so good that a president would drag his security detail through the streets of Reykjavik to get. The name of the place is Baejarins Betzu and it is literally a trailer set on a corner behind another restaurant. As I asked locals for directions on how to find the place, you could see them get this certain look on their face (either is was because they love the place or because they are amused that another American is trying to follow in the footsteps of this legendary president) but they all agreed that the hotdogs from this stand was worth the visit.

    When I found the stand I had to wait in a queue behind locals in suits and tourists with cameras like myself, but I would agree that the walk and the wait were worth it. Deille and the girls might disagree. They serve hotdogs smothered in condiments, some familiar, some not and a few I could not positively identify. I know they put ketchup, raw onions and crispy onions on it. There was also some kind of sweet mustard, but beyond that I cannot tell you what else there was. We enjoyed our hotdogs on the only picnic table next to the stand with some other tourists and then headed on our way. I can now cross that experience off my list of must try experiences!



    Chapter 6: Blue Water and Wax Men

    After lunch we loaded back into the car and headed to the Saga Museum. This museum consists of wax figures that are dressed in period clothing and placed in scenes from the early history of Iceland. I really thought they did a great job reproducing the clothing with a lot of attention to detail. The girls seemed to enjoy it overall, with Elisabeth particularly fascinated with a witch torturing scene and with a figure of the last Catholic bishop moments before his execution by decapitation. It only took us a short time to go through this museum and if I really learned anything new today it was how quickly we can tour a museum with children. Still I am glad we made the stop and I suspect the children learned something as well… hopefully they will not have nightmares.

    After leaving the Saga Museum we headed back to our room in Keflavik where we took a short rest before heading to our final destination of the day called the Blue Lagoon.

    The Blue Lagoon is to Iceland what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or Stonehenge is to southern England. It is the one stop or site that most travel guides will tell you must be seen if you visit that destination. That means that it is guaranteed that there will be tour busses and over priced souvenirs flooding the entire area. Icelandair even arranges some of these buses for people from their flights who have a couple hour layover and it may be the only place in Iceland they ever visit. These are just the sort of places that Deille and I usually have very little interest in seeing, but at the same time we did not want to miss out on what might be a life altering experience. The other problem with the Blue Lagoon is that it is a spa destination and to really experience it you probably need to don a bathing suit and go soak in the waters for awhile. This was just not something that we were willing to do, especially with the children, but in the end we did decide we had to at least see it.

    The place sits in a field of jagged, black volcanic rock and a pathway is cut from the parking area to the spa with the natural walls on either side of this walkway 10+ feet tall. As you walk down this path you are unsure what you will find at the end, and when you finally find out it is a bit of a letdown. It is just a modern looking building with lots of glass. You can choose to enter the building and then pay your fee to visit the spa, shop the overpriced souvenirs in the shop, visit the restaurant and pay for high (even for Iceland) priced food or do as we did and skip the building altogether and go around a little walk way to the right of the door to the area where the overflow water from the spa ends up. The water still retains its bluish white appearance as it creates an otherworldly lake around the volcanic rock formations. Obviously many people venture back to this area as there are well maintained paths and a foot bridge, but it was very empty as we walked back there. You will just have to look at my pictures as I cannot adequately explain how interesting and weird it was. In the end we really enjoyed our visit to the Blue Lagoon.

    By the time we were finished at the Blue Lagoon it was getting late and we were hungry. We decided to try a seafood restaurant in Keflavík called Café Duus. It was very good and although expensive it almost seemed reasonable by Icelandic standards. We finished off our meal and the day with skyr which is an Icelandic traditional yogurt. It was very good and creamier than the yogurt we get in the U.S.

    I am completing this installment on Saturday evening here in Iceland, which means we have already completed out final day in Iceland and I am a day behind on my travelogue. It may be a few days before I get the final installment from Iceland completed as we will be very busy the next couple of days travelling to Germany and meeting up with Deille’s family, but be patient and I will be back.

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    Annhig, I read more about the Viking village and I found out that there are two different restaurants. I am not sure we went to the correct one. I also wonder if our experience was different because we got there just as the kitchen opened at 6 PM. We were litterlay the first table sat and it was empty except for us throughout most of our meal. I alos think there was our first chance to actually experience the high price of food in Iceland. Hearing about it and experiencing it are two different things. I am still glad we went.

    Bigtyke,we are staying at the Bed & Breakfast Keflavik Airport as opposed to the Keflavik B&B.

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    jg - thank you for posting all those little known facts about Iceland [which I vaguely remember from our trip] and for using the proper letters for the icelandic language - something i omitted from my TR due entirely to laziness.

    i have no idea which viking village you went to, nor that there were two of them. i think that my description was pretty accurate - there was what looked like a modern complex of buildings off the main street, with a hotel on one side, and this pub/village the other. by the entrance there were various tableaux of icelandic figures, and then the same inside, which opened up into the cavernous space I wrote about, which was decorated in Viking manner and with walls made to look exactly like the bird cliffs we had seen in the western fjords, full of puffins, guillemots, and gulls. When we went it was lunchtime and also completely empty - and i too remember the meal being pretty costly, but we were used to that by then.

    I do agree with you about the Blue Lagoon - we had a bit more time than you so we did in fact swim there, but it is a very strange place. Still, anywhere that manages to separate tourist from money so efficiently and pleasantly can't be all bed, can it?

    looking forward to Germany, as I'm sure as you.

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    Before starting my normal travelogue, I must make a correction/clarification to my previous installment. According to Deille I did not adequately express her enjoyment of our visit to the Blue Lagoon. While I thought it was very interesting, she thought it was great. I guess you could now add her to the list of people who would tell you that if you visit Iceland you MUST visit the Blue Lagoon, and this is without her even touching the water or entering the spa area.

    After several days of being without internet access I now have some limited availability via mobile broadband service with poor signal strength but I will try to resume my travelogues and get caught back up. Things should go quicker once I complete this last Iceland update as I doubt many people would be interested in the minute by minute activities of visiting with Deille’s family.


    Chapter 7: Mountains, Horses and a Þingvellir

    Saturday was our last day in Iceland and it was as beautiful as the first two days of our visit. Our plan was to get out and see the Icelandic countryside following the paths of so many tourists before us on what is known as the Golden Circle tour. The Golden Circle tour is probably offered by every tour companies in Reykjavik and probably accounts for more than 50% of all tours booked in the country (this is total speculation based on no actual facts). The tour seems to usually consist of visits to Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. From what we saw throughout the day these tours are made by bus, van and extended SUVs with huge tires that appeared to be difficult to enter or exit without risk of falling to an early death. Having our own car and a Garmin we set out to make our own day of it, which also seems to be a very common way of doing the tour.

    The first leg of the journey from our hotel in Keflavík to Þingvellir took us about 2 ½ hours and both girls slept for much of the way. They missed a very picturesque countryside as we drove through beautiful landscapes of green hills, cute farms and small churches. Little streams seemed to be meandering everywhere and the famous Icelandic ponies became more and more numerous as the day went on. These ponies are a pride of Iceland and according to our guidebook they rigorously protect the purity of the breed by never allowing a horse that has left the island to return.

    We reached Þingvellir just before noon and were impressed by what we saw. I was excited to see Þingvellir as it was the location of the AlÞing for centuries which was the first form of government for Iceland. The initial Norwegian chieftians who had settled the island decide in 930 AD that they would meet every year for two weeks to read and change the laws and to try cases as a sort of court. Of course it was also a major social gathering and market for the widely dispersed population of the island where marriage agreements could also be arranged. This continued until the local population decided to subject themselves to the Norwegian crown in 1271. After this the AlÞing still served as the main Icelandic courtroom until the late 18th century. Later Þingvellir became the center for Icelandic independence and today it is still the most important historical site on the island to Icelanders.

    Þingvellir is amazingly beautiful as it is located along the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates causing a rift valley due to the separation of these plates. Rugged rock fissures, small waterfalls and hardened lava flows make for a landscape unlike anything I have ever seen, although it did not seem alien like many of the other areas we visited. In one area there is a small church and a few other buildings, perhaps they were used as the court at one time but I did not see any documentation. While there were many people walking around the site but it is very large and it did not feel crowded.


    Chapter 8: The Geysir to Name all Geysers

    After leaving Þingvellir we headed towards our second destination of Geysir and along the way we stopped for lunch at a roadside grill in a little town called Laugarvatn. The food itself was nothing to be excited about, although it was not bad, but the service was wonderful. A very nice lady greeted us and then sat us down to look at the very North American style menu (meaning it was burgers, fries, pizza, etc.) but of course with very Icelandic prices. About that time the place got busy with people ordering from the counter and so she sent what I assume was her husband to take our order. The elderly gentleman did not speak great English but he was incredibly funny, joking with the girls. He really seemed to love talking to people and his antics made the entire experience great. It is amazing how service can make for such a memorable experience.

    As we pulled into the parking lot at Geysir we noticed the same rotten egg like sulfuric smell that we had experienced at Seltún on our first day in Iceland, although it never got as strong as we wandered the area. Geysir is the name of the largest geyser located at this site, but there are actually several smaller ones as well as many mud pots and areas were hot water just seems to be seeping from the earth. Geysir no longer erupts on a predictable schedule but it’s slightly smaller brother Stokkur does and we were able to see it erupt several times during our visit. Elisabeth kept trying to get pictures of it during eruption but was startled the first time it went off and then had camera difficulties with the new to her camera that she is using. After visiting the souvenir shop to get the girls small stuffed puffins as their Icelandic mementos we continued on to Gullfoss also known as Golden Falls.


    Chapter 9: Rainbow Waterfall

    Prior to our visit I assumed that Geysir would be the most interesting of the natural sites we would see and it was amazing; however, Gullfoss was the one that really took my breath away. I visited Niagara Falls as a child but I do not really have a clear memory of them, but if they are even half as beautiful as the Golden Falls then we will have to make a point of seeing them next time we are in upstate New York.

    Gullfoss is a double waterfall made up of water from the glacier upriver. You can see the glacier off in the distance and that in itself is incredibly impressive and beautiful. The falls generate multiple rainbows that even got Hannah’s attention. She was calling it the rainbow waterfall. Hannah and I only viewed the falls from a platform up near the parking area but Deille and Elisabeth descended stairs to get closer to the falls. Apparently the waterfall was almost turned into an electrical generating plant in the early part of the 1900’s, but was save by a local family who purchased the land and later donated it to the nation.

    After spending our time at Gulfoss it was time to start the return journey to Keflavík. I decided to go a different route that took us near Skáholt, which I will call a settlement because calling it a town or hamlet would imply that it was somewhat larger than it really was. Historically Skáholt is one of the most important places in Iceland as it was once one of two bishoprics on the Island. There are no original buildings but there is a church with a small museum in the basement that has a few artifacts including the stone coffin of one of the early bishops. You can also see where the foundations of the old living area for the bishops where there have been some archeological excavations.

    From Skáholt we continued southwest until we hit the ring road near the town of Selfoss. The ring road is the main route around the island and one day I will get back to Iceland to drive the entire road, but for this trip we just rode it back to Reykjavik where it connects to the road to Keflavík. We stopped briefly for dinner at a restaurant along the way (good but not particularly noteworthy… except we almost got locked into the shopping center where it was located… and the girls thought that was exciting) and finally got back to our hotel where we had to pack up for our early departure before getting some sleep.


    Chapter 10: Moving on to Germany

    4 AM came very early the next morning, but we got ourselves moving in time to get a bit of breakfast and then we were transported by the B&B to the airport less than 15 minutes away. I cannot give enough praise to the Keflavik Airport B&B for the service and value they provided. As I said before it may not be the most cozy or romantic place I have visited but the staff was wonderful, the location extremely convenient in relationship to the airport, the rooms clean and the breakfasts very adequate. Iceland is an expensive place, and in many ways the B&B was no exceptions but put into perspective I think it was the best value we found in Iceland.

    While Keflavík may be the main airport in Iceland it is still rather small in comparison to many international airports. Check in was easy and security fast and we quickly made our way to the gate to await our departure. We loaded onto the plane at the correct time and were all ready to depart Iceland when it was announced that there was a problem with the airplane and we would need to deplane. However, despite the problems that in other airports and with other airlines I believe would have taken much longer to resolve they soon announced that they had a new plane for us at a different gate, and we were off only two hours late.

    The 2 ½ hours to Amsterdam was easy, especially compared to the next 1 ½ hectic hours to get out of the Amsterdam airport (baggage claim, customs, car rental, etc.). After some minor discussions with Avis about the amount of baggage we had and the type of car we had requested in order to carry it all, they found us the vehicle we needed and we headed off on our 4 hour drive to Esens, Germany. Other than being long after an already tiring day the journey was uneventful except that we found a really interesting and good restaurant along the Autobahn near Gronigen in the Netherlands. The Restaurant called ‘Haje’ has a very green menu of items produced from locally produced organic and free trade ingredients. The food was very good, the décor very nice in a comfortable way and I thought the prices were very reasonable (however, I had just left Iceland so anything would have seemed reasonable).

    Well, I want to get this sent, so I will end this edition. My internet connection is not great so hopefully I will get this sent soon. I will write more later!

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    thanks, again, jg, for your very detailed report and the interesting historical details. we too did our own tour of the golden circle and were very glad we'd made that choice as we were able to spend much more time at the various sites as well as enjoying the little places round about.

    i don't know if you found it but at Skaholt there is a monastery which has been turned into a restaurant - it was one of the most reasonably priced places we found; also a hotel by a bridge that did VERY nice cakes and limitless refills of coffee!

    overall we found Iceland a rewarding place to stay but somehow i felt that I had to work harder than normal to find the best bits!

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    My wife is ready to go back to Iceland now, and we have not even got home from Germany yet. I think I want to wait a few more years until our girls are old enough to enjoy some longer hikes and outdoor activities.

    I saw that there was a restaurant next to the church, but we did not explore the immediate area any further. Hannah was asleep in the car, so I was the only one who got out and spent only around 15 to 20 minutes checking out the church and the archeological dig next door.

    I read a book on the history of Iceland prior to our trip (If you want the exact name and author I can provide them when I get home, but the author is Icelandic). So I knew the significance of the Skáholt and as we were passing close I did not want to miss the chance to see it.

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    As I start writing this installment of my travelogue it is Thursday, June 7th and we have been in Germany since Sunday. It has been rainy and cold here when compared to the sunny and relatively warm weather we had in Iceland and it seems a bit odd that it would be this way. I purchased a Vodafone USB DSL stick but the connectivity has been so bad that I have been unable to actually send the last installment of the travelogue. I think if the weather clears up I may get better connectivity or I will need to find an internet café or hotspot somewhere.


    Chapter 11: Establishing Ourselves in Our Temporary Home

    Our vacation rental home (called Ferienwohnung or Ferienhaus in German) is in a little town called Esens which is 4 km from the North Sea and so far I am really impressed with how nice our house and the town are. We have stayed in many Ferienwohnungen through the years and this one is probably the nicest. It has four bedrooms which makes it large enough for the four of us as well as Deille’s parents and sister. The table easily sits 8 and the kitchen is well designed and stocked with all the pots, pans and other implements we need to cook meals large enough for all of us. There are two bathrooms with showers and a utility room with a washer and dryer (a necessity with children). There is a detached party room and covered patio area that can also handle our group as well as additional guests that come to visit us. All of this and it is less than $100 per night.

    The town itself is not large but it is big enough to have a very nice shopping district. This is something that I really love about Germany and does not seem to exist in American towns anymore. During the day much of the downtown is a pedestrian zone meaning that cars are not allowed. There are lots of little shops selling almost anything you could need. So far I have discovered at least 4 bakeries where I can go and get our Brötchen (bread rolls) fresh each morning. We found a great Metzgerei where we buy meat and cheese each day with a selection and quality that I yearn for in the U.S. There are clothing stores, shoe stores, pharmacies, stores with souvenirs; I saw a store selling appliances and Deille found a store dedicated to yarns and other fiber products where she can restock her supply. There are so many more and the majority are little mom and pop operations rather than parts of huge chains. It is easy to look at a place where you do not live and only see the positives, but I cannot help but wonder if all these mom and pop shops are the way to promote a more healthy and robust economy.

    Already we have done our part to ensure that the economy here thrives. In addition to stocking up on our favorite food items from the local shops, we have purchased shoes for the girls and Deille, a SIM card for the phone, the Broadband stick and many other small items. We have also eyed some larger items that may need to come home with us and are discussing whether we ship our try to drag back in our luggage.


    Chapter 12: North Sea Watch

    On Monday we decided to head the short distance to the coast to check out the beach at the North Sea. The area, which is officially called Bensersiel, is still part of Esens proper but it is separated by a few kilometers of farmland. There are several hotels and cafes and it is obvious that this is a tourist destination. When we got to the beach and parked we could not see the sea because there is a huge seawall/dike along the entire coast. Once we got on top of the seawall I could not help but be impressed, despite the fact that the day was damp and dreary with a strong wind.

    From the top of the wall I could see a dock to the right that was quite full with a ferry and many private boats. On my left was a camping area, mostly full of camper trailers. Straight ahead was what I can best describe as a beach reception building and then beyond that the beach itself. We had to enter the beach area through the reception building where they check to make sure that you have paid your Kurtax, which is a tourist tax that helps maintain the beach area as well as the building. This tax must be paid by anyone staying in the area and is collected by the hotels, B&Bs and even the Ferienwohnungen. For our family of 4 the cost was 67 Euros and this was determined based on the length of our stay. We were provided with little cards that allow us access to certain areas, attractions and services. Without this card we would have needed to pay to enter the beach and to park near it.

    Just outside this building they have built a huge playground which the girls were very interested in playing at, but we were able to convince them to walk out on the beach first for a little bit. We arrived at low tide and when it is low tide at this beach it is really low tide leaving several kilometers of tide beach exposed. We were unable to even see where the ocean was as it was so far out from the high tide mark. In the distance we could see Langegoog, which is one of the North Sea Islands and I would not doubt if the low tide extended that far out. This is the island that Deille and her family spent their vacations on when she was a child and we plan to head out there later in the week or next week.

    As I walked along the beach ahead of the family, the wind blowing against my face, it did not take long to understand why some people love this area. Even getting only a few meters away from everyone else allows the wind to keep all other noise from getting to you. If you look out to sea or across the mudflats and you can easily feel like you are all alone. I am sure that the islands provide this sense of solitude even better. However, letting your mind wander is not always the most productive use of time and as I walked along the beach in my own world I could not help but think that this would be the perfect location for a Bay Watch reunion. It would be perfect because it is questionable how the ratings would be impacted if Pamela Anderson, David Hasselhoff and the rest of the cast were to once again don their swimming suits. With the way the wind was blowing and the temperature at this beach on this day they would be forced to be fully clothed and there would be no one in the water for them to save… maybe we should stick to activities that require that my brain be fully engaged in the future.


    Chapter 13: Disneyland for Car Enthusiasts

    Tuesday we spent the day doing more shopping around Esens and getting naps (I love naps). In the early afternoon our friend Sam arrived from the Netherlands. Sam is actually from Arizona but is currently doing some work near Eindhoven. We spent that afternoon with him and drove over to the beach at Bensersiel a second time to have coffee and tea. I also made soup to go with our dinner of Brötchen, cheese and meats and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

    On Wednesday, Sam and I took off for what promised to be one of the highlights of the trip for me. I have wanted to visit the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg for years. They have a kind of theme park dedicated to all of the brands owned by Volkswagen called the Autostadt. It was not a short drive, over three hours to get there, but it gave us a chance to talk. It was quite wet and rainy when we arrived and we probably parked in the most distant parking lot in relation to the main entrance but we eventually found our way in. After paying the entrance fee of 15 € per person we were allowed into the wonderful world of the Autostadt, which consists of 10+ pavilions (large buildings really). Each brand owned by VW has its own pavilion. There is also a pavilion dedicated to the history of the automobile with an emphasis on the Volkswagen brands, two towers where cars are stored and which are totally controlled by robots moving cars from one location to another. We spent hours in these pavilions, starting off with one called the KundenCenter.

    It is the KundenCenter where you come to pick up you VW if you have ordered it for factory pickup and I would love to experience this one day. I am not sure of everything that is done in this building, but it seemed that there were people waiting in neatly designed very family friendly waiting areas to be called via computer screens to certain docks. These docks were located below us and I could see people being given walk arounds of their cars, but was not allowed to go to these areas myself. There was also an accessories shop, and I believe you may have even been able to order cars here, as there seemed to be sales people although they could have just been people to answer questions. Here, as in all of the pavilions we went to everyone was very friendly… think Disney friendly.

    Of the brand pavilions three stood out, which were Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda. It was obvious that the most money had been spent on Volkswagen and Audi and both had very neat interactive displays. When we entered the Audi pavilion, we were given a glowing orb which we then customized by adding our information and preferences. When we held this orb up to special points on the displays it would activate the display and it would be in English for us. At the end we were able to use the orb to enter a trivia contest based on the information provided in the displays. I got a 100% but I guess I just won the right to be entered into a raffle. Perhaps I will soon receive an email that I have won an Audi key chain!

    After visiting all of the brand pavilions we headed to the Zeithaus, the car history museum pavilion. They had a 1979 golf that was very similar to the one I owned when I was in the military, except instead of M&M green it was orange. They also had a 1977 golf that was the same color of green as my old one. By the time we had completed all of the pavilions it was getting late in the day, and we had still not seen anything of the factory itself. We decided to head to the main entrance and discovered that the tours were over for the day and to do this type of tour usually required an advanced reservation. I felt pretty silly as this is something I am sure I could have easily determined on the website, but in the end we had a good time without a factory tour and it gives me a reason to plan a return in the future.


    Chapter 14: Farmers Market to the Farm

    Thursday morning we headed up the road to the town of Wittmund where we visited their farmer’s market. It was pretty small but we picked up some fresh fruit and vegetables as well as meats and cheeses. As we departed Wittmund, Sam left us to head back to the Netherlands. We came back to the house to give the girls (and ourselves a nap).

    After the nap we headed a short ways down the road to a working farm that provides tours aimed at children. The girls got to feed cows, and watch them be milked. They also saw sheep, calves, rabbits, chickens and guinea pigs. I was not impressed with the condition of the farm. While I realize that farms are usually somewhat dirty, this farm seemed unorganized, rundown and dirtier than normal. Despite my concerns, the kids really enjoyed themselves and seemed to especially like holding the rabbits and the guinea pigs.

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    I could not help but think that this would be the perfect location for a Bay Watch reunion. It would be perfect because it is questionable how the ratings would be impacted if Pamela Anderson, David Hasselhoff and the rest of the cast were to once again don their swimming suits. >>

    lol, they probably all need bath chairs and walking sticks by now!

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    I believe I have figured out the whole internet connection thing. I just have to go outside and the connection is not too bad. The problem is that it is usually not that comfortable just to sit out there as it is rather chilly, windy and quite often rainy as well. As I start this installment it is Sunday the 10th and we have been in Germany a week. I think only one day has had temperatures as warm as the three days in Iceland were. I have yet to wear a pair of shorts on this vacation but I am not really complaining, personally I will take this weather over the 110+ I suspect it is back in Phoenix.


    Chapter 15: Ostfriesland mit Kinder

    Rather than going day by day through the last couple of days I will just touch on the places we have been as much of the visiting with family and friends, which is a large part of what we are doing, probably would not be very interesting. Every day we try to do activities that the children will find interesting and we have actually found that there are a lot of options in this area. In addition to the great playground at the beach and the working farm tour I mentioned in the last installment here are additional places we have taken the children:

    Aquarium in Wilhelmshaven: While this aquarium was not particularly large I thought it was perfect for a couple of hour stop for the children to view the sea creatures. It was really neat to see how our two girls really enjoyed the place and the 15-year-old daughter of our friends also seemed to have a good time. In particular I thought the tank full of species native to the North Sea was interesting, but they also had sea animals from other parts of the world as well as a few non-sea creatures such as some small monkeys, birds and a crocodile. There was also an interesting looking indoor play area (with a separate fee) but we did not visit that. I noticed that boat tours leave from right outside the aquarium, but with how windy it was on the day that we visited I had no desire to be out on the sea.

    Haustierpark in Werdum: The entire town of Werdum, about 10 km from Esens, is worth a visit. It is a very cute little town with an antique windmill, the remains of a castle (seems to be privately owned) and many nice houses. However, if you have children the main reason to go to Werdum is the small animal park that is there. It is free if you have paid your Kurtax and the cost is minimal if you have not. The animals at the park are mostly ones that you would expect to see at farms such as goats, sheep, geese, donkeys, pigs, etc. You can buy little feed pellets to feed most of the animals. The place has an unprofessional feel to it but I mean that in a good way. I suspect that the community works together to maintain the place. It is very laid back and you can just wander leisurely on the paths. I am not sure we saw one person associated with the park while we were there. Even if we would have had to pay, it would have been on the honor system by dropping a few coins into a locked container. In addition to the Haustierpark, there are pony rides, miniature golf and a great little playground for children.

    Klabautermann Indoor Play Park: With the weather as nasty as it was during much of our stay I can understand how the area can support a pay-to-enter playground, actually several of them. Klabautermann is located in Esens and it is a great place to take young children (I would guess it would get boring for children older than 12) when the weather is bad and they need to get out and run off a bit of energy. There are all types of climbing structures with slides, trampolines, rooms full of balls, a mini-golf course, inflatable obstacle course, etc. Shoes are left in cubbies at the entrance and the floor is quite slick so after a couple of falls we opted to let our children run barefoot and wash them well afterwards. This attraction was not inexpensive, at 40 € for two children and 4 adults, but I think it was a good change of scenery for our girls.

    Phänomania in Carolinensiel: Carolinensiel is a small community on the North Sea that from what I experienced is mainly a tourist stop for people on their way via ferry to the island of Spiekeroog. On the Sunday that we were there all of the souvenir shops were open for business (it is not common for business to be open on Sundays like in the U.S.). We went to the town not for the shops or the ferry, but to see a children’s science museum called Phänomania and we were not disappointed. The museum is full of hands-on exhibits to amaze children and to entertain parents as they watch their children’s reactions. All three children (our 3 and 6 year olds and our friend’s 15 year old) loved the optical illusion that made it appear as if their head had been removed from their body and was sitting in a bowl. Hannah spent many minutes in an enclosed kaleidoscope both laughing and talking to her own reflections. Elisabeth had a great time in the bubble room until she fell into the bubble solution (not a design flaw but rather an issue with a girl who has to run everywhere).

    In addition to these there are many additional potentially interesting places for children that we will not have time to visit. Deille took the girls to an indoor swimming pool last Wednesday while I was at the Autostadt, and there are many more of these as well as outdoor pools but we have just had too many other things going on. It is obvious that this area has made it a point of providing options for families vacationing with children.


    Chapter 16: Rural Life in Ostfriesland

    During our last two trips to Germany we have really enjoyed visiting regional outdoor museums concentrating on the way people lived during past centuries in those regions. It was amazing how much the houses in the Black Forest differed from houses built during the same period in Westphalia. We were curious to do an Ostfriesland museum to see how the houses differed here as well. On Tuesday we got that opportunity when we headed to the Moormuseum in Moordorf and what we learned was quite unexpected. While not representative of all Ostfriesland, we learned that the people who lived in this moor in the 18th century were some of the poorest in Germany at the time. While many of the houses in the other museums had been small and cramped, even the smallest dwarfed the hovels that people were calling homes in this part of Ostfriesland at the time.

    The settlement of the moor was the result of an edict by Friedrich II of Prussia in 1765, but no support was given to those who moved to the area. The result was that the people lived in complete poverty trying to literally scrape a living by cutting peat and growing limited amounts of food. They built their houses from sod, clay and pieces of the peat. Brick and tile were only available for the wealthiest of families. In the museum’s main building they had examples of the household items that the locals would have had. There were also copies of letters from individuals asking for assistance that was never to appear, one claiming that he had served in the army for 40 years and was now unable to care for his wife or children.

    The museum also examined how peat (called Torf in German) was created in nature, was then harvested by the locals and how it was used after being harvested. The original settlers in the area would dry it out and sell it to the towns and cities to be used as fuel for stoves. After seeing all of this I think that given the chance I would have braved an Atlantic crossing and taken my chances in North America.

    Our trip for this year is starting to wrap up. We have two more days here in Esens with Deille’s family (yes, it took me 4 days write this installment… it is Wednesday now) and then we will be heading to Amsterdam to meet friends for one night before starting our journey home. At this point I suspect the last installment of this travelogue will come from Phoenix once we get home.

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    jg - thank you for your dedication in bringing this thoughtful and interesting instalment. you've brought a different dimension to trip reporting that I've really appreciated.

    and I'm sorry about the weather!

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    I started writing this while we were still in Germany, but then we flew home and I have been trying to get over jetlag while getting caught up at work and around the house. I finally completed it today. Hopefully you enjoy. I have posted more of the pictures from Iceland at my photoshare site (http://jgwagner4.shutterfly.com/), pictures from Germany will hopefully be up shortly.


    Chapter 17: When Orange Becomes Uncomfortable

    One of the biggest items in the news in Europe right now that you people in the U.S. might be mostly unaware of is Euro2012 which if the European Football (or as Americans say ‘Soccer’) championship tournament that is underway in Poland and the Ukraine. There have been allegations of the racist chants directed at black players and violence between the fans of the various teams. The largest was before the Russia/Poland match held in Poland. Apparently 5000 Russian fans marched to the stadium and a large number of Polish fans decided to show them how they feel about Russians marching through their streets. The result was that Polish riot police had to step in (I wonder which side they favored) and 200 fans were arrested and several ended up in the hospital, although I do not think the riot police were responsible for any of the injuries.

    Wednesday night there was another big match for two rivals that had more importance locally. Germany and the Netherlands, who both have good teams, were meeting to determine who will advance from their grouping. The reason this is of any importance to us is the unfortunate color of my jacket, which happens to be orange, the same as the Dutch national color. I also did not realize that the match was on Wednesday until we were doing our tour for the day, and I was also wearing an orange shirt and driving a rented car with Dutch plates. I say this tongue in cheek as I did not really feel that I was ever in any danger… had I been in Poland or the Ukraine and had the Dutch been playing one of their national teams, I think I would have been truly concerned.

    The result of the match was Germany 2 goals, the Netherlands 1. I do think I sensed some gloating smiles directed my way on Thursday as I walked around Esens. The only other fallout from the match that may impact us is that our friends we are going to meet in the Netherlands on Friday sent an email directly after the match suggesting that Deille may need to sit at a different table at dinner :)


    Chapter 18: The Correct Spelling is Langeoog

    Wednesday was the day that we finally headed to the island of Langeoog. In earlier installments of this travelogue I have spelled it incorrectly, but if you heard the word pronounced (something that I am unable to do correctly on a consistent basis) you would understand that there are opportunities for misunderstanding how it should be spelled. We got an earlier than normal start to get to the ferry in Bensersiel for the 35 minute crossing to the island. The ferry is fairly large and has two decks of indoor seating as well as a split top deck for outdoor seating. We found a table inside but then wandered up to the top to see the area better. It was a nice day in general, but we still needed our jackets as the wind coming off the water had a chill.

    After leaving the ferry we took the island train the short distance between the dock and the village, giving us a chance to see the interior of this long but narrow island. The island, which has around 2000 fulltime residents to support the up to 20,000 tourist at any given time that invade during summer months, does not allow cars. The fields around the town are the location of multiple horse farms that provide the power for the many horse drawn carts and taxis in the town. The other modes of transportation used on the island are bicycle and feet. It was interesting to see a construction worker riding a bike with a little trailer behind him containing his tools, including a small ladder. As we walked from the train station to the beach on the north side of the island we got a good look at the town, which is full of restaurants, souvenir shops, and places to stay.

    Once we reached the north side of the town there are some large sand dunes and beyond these we found the beach. As mentioned, the day was nice; probably the nicest of our stay on the North Sea, but it was still too cold to really swim. We decided to rent a couple of Strandkorb which are large wicker beach benches with attached umbrella like covers. You can position these to provide protection from the sun or wind. With this as our base we shed our shoes, rolled our pant cuffs up and in my case put on my “beachies” to explore the beach. “Beachies” are nylon socks with a rubber sole that we had picked up a few days earlier, and while kind of cheesy, I thought they worked great.

    The tide was in the process of going out and in this area, when the tide recedes, the beach extends several 100 yards. The area between the high tide mark and the point at which the water is hitting the shore is an odd mixture of areas hard pack sand, areas of mushy mud and everything in between. I set off to find out just how far away the water was and along the way I passed stranded jellyfish, small crabs that the birds had already eaten, shells and other debris that had been washed ashore. The blowing wind kept most sounds from reaching my ears and the sense of solitude was great, surpassing even the walk along the shore in Bensersiel earlier in our trip. By the time I reached the North Sea, the people back on the beach were really too far away for me to identify my family. I spent about 15 minutes just looking out to sea and then retraced my steps back to my family, where I discovered Elisabeth constructing a sand castle with her grandmother and Deille trying to keep Hannah from getting more than her feet wet.

    After spending a couple of hours on the beach we went back into town for lunch and then took a long dune walk through wild roses (called Hundsrose [dog rose]), Sanddorn bushes (the berries of which are used to make a very tasty jam) and many other grasses and such native to the island. At times the roses were taller than me on each side of the walkway. Eventually our walk brought us back into town and we stopped at a little ice cream stand for some great Italian Eis (as it is called here). We let the kids play in a great playground while we waited for our train and then headed back home. It was a tiring day, but I really enjoyed the entire day and I believe that I now understand why this area is so popular with Germans looking to relax. This day turned out to be the highlight of our stay in Germany for this trip and I hope to get back and spend more time there one day.


    Chapter 19: Time to Head Home

    Thursday morning was spent in Esens, packing, doing last minute shopping and relaxing a bit. My legs were pretty sore from all the walking the day before, making me realize that I need to find time to walk more at home. After a nap in the early afternoon we headed back to Bensersiel one last time to visit the indoor swimming pool, which the Germans call a Schwimmbad. I have written about Schwimmbads in travelogues on previous trips, and this one contained several pools. I think these places are great and the kids always love them.

    Friday morning we got up, ate breakfast and then loaded all of our bags for the drive back to Amsterdam. After saying our goodbyes we were on the road just shortly after 10 AM. The 4 hour drive was easy and we checked into the Marriott Courtyard hotel near Schiphol Airport at around 3 PM leaving us with 4 hours to burn until our last appointment of the trip with friends from Amsterdam.

    We noticed a small museum next door to the hotel but had no idea what it was about, but as we needed something to do we decided to walk over and check it out. The museum was called Historisch Museum Haarlemmermeer, and we were lucky to find such an interesting place located right next to our hotel. Basically, the museum is dedicated to the history of the immediate area, which was a large lake until the 18th century. This includes the land that is now Amsterdam’s international airport. The museum has displays and exhibits that show how the lake was drained using the technology of the day and huge quantities of human labor. It then describes how the land has been used since this time, showing the farming techniques and living conditions of the people of the area. It has a great section on World War II and how the Dutch resistance was active in the area and then finally a large section about the airport. We actually got through the museum fairly quickly as there was only limited information in English and the kids did not have the attention span to patiently allow us the time we would have otherwise taken, but it was still worth the time and small fee we invested.

    Dinner with our friends, Tamalene and Jasper, went very well at the Storehouse restaurant in the Claus Event Center which the Courtyard by Marriott is a part of. We chose to cook meat on a grill at our table and it was pretty good although the service was very slow. Jasper, who is Dutch, says that this is a common problem in the Netherlands as the servers get paid a decent wage and are not reliant on tips. Although this is the same as in Germany we have not really noticed anything less than efficient service there. Dinner went late and eventually Deille had to head back to the room with our girls as our friends and I finished up and settled the bill. We then went back to the hotel ourselves and sat in the lounge for a beer and some great conversation while England and Sweden battled away in the background as Euro2012 continued.


    Chapter 20: In Praise of IcelandAir

    Saturday morning, after a good breakfast at the hotel, we headed to the Airport for the journey back home. Navigating Schiphol Airport was less challenging than Heathrow in London and Frankfurt International Airport have been in the past, but it was still challenging and by the time we had dropped off the rental car, checked our bags, cleared security and found our gate we were pretty exhausted. The first leg of the journey between Amsterdam and Keflavik in Iceland went very smooth. As we arrived over Iceland it was very clear and we were able to see many of the areas on the Reykjanes Peninsula that we had visited only two weeks earlier from the air. I could clearly make out Kleifarvatn, Grindavík (we saw these in installment one) and the Blue Lagoon (installment two). Deille said later that just seeing these from the air gave her good feelings and again reiterated her desire to return to Iceland for another stay.

    Changing planes in Iceland was painless and soon we were onto the long leg of our journey, 7 ½ hours straight to Denver. Deille and Hannah were in the row just ahead of Elisabeth and me, and luckily we both had very friendly travelling companions in the aisle seats of our rows. Elisabeth had a nice conversation with the woman in our row telling her all about out trip. After a little while she quieted down and slept for more than two hours. When she woke up she told me that she was not feeling well. I assumed that she was feeling cramped up from sleeping in strange positions, but I was soon to learn that this was not the case. When she told me that she thought she was going to vomit and I quickly went for the seat pocket feverishly trying to find the bag to be used in just such an occasion, but unfortunately I was not quite quick enough. Although we got much of it into the bag, there was also a good percentage that ended up on all of us in our row. The flight attendants arrived almost instantly to try to assist us. Deille took Elisabeth off to put her in different clothes that she had thoughtfully packed in our carry-on (unfortunately we had not thought that I would need different clothes). The flight attendants and I got the seats and our stuff cleaned up, I cleaned myself up the best that I could, and the lady next to us decided to sit in a middle row seat a few rows ahead of ours for the rest of the flight. I felt terrible and I will definitely heed our little girls warning next time from a worst case scenario perspective next time. With just the two of us in the row, it did allow Elisabeth to stretch out for the remainder of the flight.

    The response by the staff of IcelandAir to this situation was just the icing on the cake when it came to the great service that the airline provided. All throughout our journey the airline went out of its way to make travelling with children a little easier. They provided complimentary kids meals as the first items of business once we were in the air on every flight. They provided activity books and colored pencils as well as blankets and pillows to the children. The in-flight entertainment had a good selection of children’s programming and they provided complimentary headsets. Adults had to pay for headsets and meals (I am not complaining as we knew this going in… and with the price of the tickets compared to other airlines, it was no big deal). There were complimentary strollers all over Keflavik Airport for anyone’s use while our stroller was checked with the luggage. Also, when there had been a problem with the plane in Keflavík on our flight to Amsterdam it had been dealt with very quickly and efficiently. Our first trip with IcelandAir will not be our last.

    We arrived in Denver worn and tired, but happy to be to our destination. After clearing customs and getting our bags (none were lost… that in itself says something if you have followed previous years travelogues), we caught the shuttle to the Springfield Suites and got a few hours of sleep before jetlag had us up again. After an early morning flight, we arrived back in Phoenix to 107 degrees… I guess I should not have complained so much about the rain in Germany.


    Wrapping it up

    Soundtrack for this Trip: It seems like every trip there is some song that becomes a sort of theme or that we keep hearing over and over again. This trip the song that comes to mind was one that sort of invaded many of the restaurants and places we went to in Iceland and by the end of our 4 day visit it had totally irritated Deille (but Elisabeth liked it). This song is “Euphoria” by Loreen, who won the Eurovision contest this year representing Sweden. Personally I thought that both “Party For Everybody” by Buranovskiye Babushki (which was the runner up from Russia) and “Never Forget” by Greta Salóme & Jónsi (the Icelandic entry) were better. All songs are available on YouTube or at http://www.eurovision.tv/page/baku-2012

    Liability: I started thinking about this in Germany when we were noticing how much better the playgrounds are there. It became clear when Elisabeth mentioned that they have removed the swings at her school because people got hurt. It seems to me that our attempt to make things safe has gotten out of control. I believe that we need to provide our children with some level of risk so that they learn to judge and determine what risks they are willing to take, and the potential consequences of taking those risks. Getting rid of lawn darts was probably a good thing. Removing swings, merry-go-rounds and teeter –totters from playgrounds is probably taking it too far. I suspect most would agree, but due to the litigious nature of our society school and park officials cannot afford to end up with a lawsuit because a kid decides to jump from a swing and hurts himself.

    Ship Souvenirs: This year we shipped by mail almost all of the souvenirs and gifts that we purchased. We have yet to receive the package, but it was much easier not carrying all of this stuff in our already heavy suitcases.

    I Love Mrs. Garmin: This was the second European trip for our Garmin Nuvi, and just like last time she performed very well. I made sure we had the latest map sets, but we did find a few areas where roads seemed to be missing; however, even in these cases she got us to our destination. We also carry a map, but having Mrs. Garmin on board adds to my confidence that we are heading the correct way. I also love that she has a time-to-destination feature.

    Travelling with a Three-Year-Old is not Wise: This was our second trip to Europe with Hannah and our third trip with Elisabeth, but it was the first time that either of them was three while we were travelling. My wife and I agree that while everyone talks about the terrible twos, for our children three is much worse. Hannah had moments on this trip that exemplified this. Luckily most of these happened in the privacy of our rental car or house. If we were planning the trip again I might postpone it a year until Hannah turns 4. The reality is that it was our own fault, as we totally messed up her routines and sleeping schedule.

    Final Verdict on Iceland: As should be obvious from this travelogue we loved Iceland. Visiting Iceland was something that was on both of our bucket lists, but I still think we were unprepared for what we experienced. Living in Arizona we are treated to some beautifully stark landscape, but for us Iceland went beyond even what we have here. Perhaps it was because it was so different from anything we have every experienced. We must also remind ourselves that we saw the island under probably the best conditions we could have hoped for, as it was sunny and mostly cloudless the whole time we were there. We will plan a future trip and Deille is even suggesting we try it in the winter so that we can experience the Aurora. This will need to wait for the children to be a few years older so that they can truly appreciate it as well, even if they are cold.

    Final Verdict on Ostfriesland: I did not really know what to expect but to be honest I did not expect a whole lot. In the end it was a much better destination than I would have believed it could be. There were no medieval ruins or sites to visit, but the area has other later period sites that I found very interesting. The region has also been tailored for relaxation and family vacations. I am sure the kids had a better time on the North Sea coast than they would have had being dragged through different castles everyday (there will be plenty of time for that when they are older). I will look forward to our next trip to Germany and will campaign for somewhere further south, but I would not be totally opposed to spending more time in Ostfriesland in the future. There were many travel forum suggestions for places to visit that we never got to.

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    hi jg - thanks again for your highly informative and thoughtful report. I've realy enjoyed being in your company on this trip.

    one matter that might interest you, there were no reports of trouble between the Ukrainians and English fans after the Ukraine v England match. the early problems seem to have evaporated overcome by interest in the football. we're all pleased about that, obviously.

    in Wells, where we are spending the weekend, quite a lot of places are flying English AND Italian flags. [not sure why - there doesn't seem to be a big italian population here, in fact, none at all!]

    but it's a nice thought.

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