2012 Iceland/Germany Saga

Jun 13th, 2012, 03:06 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,309
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!
annhig is offline  
Jun 21st, 2012, 08:15 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 139
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.
jgwagner4 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2012, 02:26 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,309
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.
annhig is offline  
Jun 25th, 2012, 10:57 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,309
an answer to the italian flag conundrum - the landlord of the pub sporting both flags turned out to be part italian.

i should have guessed really.
annhig is offline  

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