June 2015

On the Road to Iceland

We provision the vessel for the next voyage

Whoopee!!!  We’re off on new adventures, heading for Iceland and looking forward to an interesting journey.  

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The first step, of course, was getting to the tip of Jutland, in Denmark, the departure port for the ferry (can’t go to Iceland without taking La Tortuga, can we?).  Turned out it was a piece of cake.  We picked up the Tiger outside Amsterdam, spent a couple of days getting some service work done, visiting with American buddies Vicki and Mark who were wandering the area, and took off.  Quickly heading toward Hamburg, we first stopped off in Bremen to see the famous “Four Friends” statue, representing the Grimm Brothers’ story about the Bremen Town Musicians, along with a very nice Altstadt.  The cathedral has a remarkable interior, with graceful arches and lots of color to enjoy.  There is even a crypt with the original (ca. 1500) decorations on the walls.  It was a nice transition back into European culture.  Bremen has a very interesting Art Deco area; we explored it thoroughly, including a famous interior (now a fancy hotel) with a splendid spiral staircase we drooled over.

Heading into the big city environs around Hamburg, Rick remembered how many more black cars there are in this area than usually seen.  It seems almost every car is either Black, Grey or Silver; and of course the number of German-made vehicles is just astounding; an unscientific survey suggests a figure of over 75% German cars.  It’s really pretty impressive.

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In Hamburg we got to enjoy the quiet suburban way of life of folks who live within the city  environs but who are tucked away in quiet corners.  It was a pleasure to enjoy our friends’ garden in the sunshine and even have a quite yummy Italian dinner at the local bistro.  The rhododendrons are in full bloom up here, and are astounding.  Berit and Toni have hopes of joining us in Iceland (as they have before in Scotland and Turkey), but their international business travel keeps them hopping.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

After a day of visiting, Toni was off meeting other commitments, so we wandered into Hamburg for a day with Berit, checking out some pretty interesting stuff, including the bombed out church of St Nikolai, which was destroyed in the levelling of much of Hamburg as part of Operation Gomorrah in 1943.  The shell has been left as a monument to the high cost of war.  She also introduced us to her favorite crèperie, a very, very old hangout down in the harbor area, run by French from Brittany.  Très yummy.  Berit’s car is a two seater Smart, which required some creative folding to get Kathy to ride in the luggage area; she volunteered, honest.

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Berit, amazing lady, came up with a nearby Sunday afternoon car show for us all to go to.  The plan was to stop there for awhile, then Berit would go on home while we proceeded to cross into Denmark.  It turned out to be quite a hoot.  Typical for northern Europe, there were far more American cars (mostly from the 60’s) than anything else, but the variety was really quite good; everything from a Messerschmitt to a Ferrari with lots of goodies in between.  The model with the largest number of cars represented was, no surprise, the quite splendid 60’s Mustang, one of my favorites.  There were tons of people out and about, brats and beer to be had, photos to be snapped, and we had fun.  We waved goodby to Berit and headed up the hill.

Always moving north, we drove through the Schleswig-Holstein area, a quiet countryside filled with cows that had plenty of stuff to munch on.  Thatched roofed cottages were the word of the day.  We spent a peaceful night parked along a canal that runs between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea along the Nord-Ostsee Kanal.  This is a very busy canal, filled with huge container ships guided along by cute little pilot boats and sometimes shoved around by tugs.  Very entertaining, as was the extended family of about fifteen Canada geese  that included a number of goslings.  The entire area (subtracting the big ships) looked like a 17th century Dutch master painting; it just needed a wooden windmill to complete the picture.

In driving the area, we saw tons of STOP FRACKING signs along the road; we heartily approve. 

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 Our last fun pause in Germany was at the Emil Nolde Museum out in the middle of nowhere in the Breedstedt area.  It was really cool; he was a Danish expressionist of great drama and wild color.  I enjoyed it extremely.  Along with tons of paintings, his garden was in full bloom, reflecting all the bright paint I’d been enjoying in the museum.  A great experience. 

We were ready to cross into Denmark, but not before spending much of a day shopping for food to take to Iceland.  We’ve been told that you may have trouble finding what you are looking for in their stores, and also that the prices can be pretty steep.  (Late update: actually we’re not finding this to be so true.)  So we dutifully stocked up on staples, plus laying in a good supply of the good German coffee we like so well.

In Denmark we promptly stopped to pick up some wonderful pastries, which had not diminished in quality even slightly since 2012, the last time we’d been here.  Soon we met up with Scottish friends Malcolm and Susan, who had specifically chosen to bring their motorhome across the channel just now so they could spend time with us.  We all spent the night together just a short distance into Denmark.

First on our joint agenda was a stop in Jelling, to visit the lovely church there, enjoy the rune stones in front of it, and make (for us) a second visit to the museum.  We had enjoyed it so much on our previous visit that we were surprised to find that the museum had recently been completely redone, and it was a knockout.  We were blown away by the graphics, the arrangement of exhibits, and all the cool information.  Times have changed; the “new” museum strategy, when done right, is a pleasure to visit.  The museum at Jelling is about the Viking presence in Denmark.  It does a remarkable job of illustrating the politics and life of those times.

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Susan said she particularly wanted to see a museum further north featuring an ancient body exhumed from a Danish bog. It is the most complete set of remains of early man found anywhere. (Do not have more detail available on this which tells me whether he is the most complete in Denmark, or maybe in the whole world?  Can somebody fill me in?)  As a result of the total lack of oxygen found deep in a bog environment, this 2,000 year old body is clothed and still has both skin and hair.  It was recently moved into a new museum in Moesgard, a suburb of Århus (Denmark’s second largest city).  We finally located it after trekking (in convoy) through most of the downtown of this large city in order to get there (gee, thanks, Emily; way to go, girl!), and ended up only having 3 hours to visit this (again) superb museum, but we made the most of it.

Once more we must say how impressed we are with these new museums.  The lighting, the use of graphics and music and voice-over recordings to tell stories, along with filmed information in great detail — all this was wonderful and not just for kids, either.  The museum in Moesgard zeroed in on anthropology and really made you part of the picture.  Aside from “Bog Man” (as we christened our target), there were reconstructions of several early man remains that have been found worldwide, including “Lucy” who was found in Ethiopia.  The work done on this project was amazing.  These reconstructions were standing along a set of descending stairs, and you could investigate them closely and see their personalities.  We took lots of pictures of them; they were a real highlight of the day.

The museum was also showcasing a traveling exhibit of the ancient terra cotta warriors from the excavated site in China.  It was our first chance to see some of these figures close up, and we enjoyed the opportunity.  The settings were dramatic, informative, and we were delighted to see them.

We had good weather in Denmark; the lupine is in full bloom along the roadsides, mixing in with other wildflowers and almost smothered by the quickly growing grasses.  It’s lovely.  The four of us spent about an hour searching for a secluded, remote aire out in all this beauty; we may have been tired on arrival, but we sure appreciated our surroundings. This particular spot was on the edge of a field, heavy on sunshine and wildflowers, and even came with a protected “supper room” set aside for the use of overnighting campers.  There are several such aires in Denmark.  It seems they have been created by folks who either are or who have been motorhomers, and they welcome you to stop by and share their farm area.

We truly enjoyed our time with Malcolm and Susan; these are some of our favorite people.  We shared dinners and chatted away, discussing possible future travels together. After a couple of days,  they left us to see more of Denmark and then head on to Sweden.  Malcolm passed on to me his copy of one of the Icelandic sagas, complete with an excellent discussion of the Icelandic way of life ca. 1000 AD, which I am now using as a guide to learning about the people who lived there long ago.  It’s quite terrific.

After waving good-by, we headed further north into the Jutland area, with a goal of reaching Hirtshals the night before our ferry would leave for Iceland.  We had plenty of time, and stopped for a couple of days near Aalborg at the Lindholm Hølje, a cool medieval burial ground that dates back to ca. 800 AD.  I communed with the ancient stones and took pictures of the sheep munching away among them, while Rick took care of some business issues — leaving the States always creates last minute things to deal with, particularly when we’re about to head out into the unknown.

(And we really were about to head into the Wild White Yonder.  We didn’t know how well our electronics would work; could we even buy milk; was crossing the North Sea in a boat going to be a dreadful mistake; did we have enough warm clothes; you name it, I worried about it.)

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Trekking ever further north, we finally pulled into Hirtshals, the port for the ferry leaving for Iceland.  We had reached the top of the Jutland peninsula.  We arrived the night before we were to depart, found a spot for overnighting and a place to dump tanks and take on water in the morning.  It was mid-June, the evening sun was lasting until well after 10:30 at night, it was warm and sunny and we were ready!!!!

The next morning we got up early, took care of chores, and got into line.  Friends had warned us that it would be chaotic, and were they ever right on!  Those in charge had sorted us off into a separate area (along with bunches of others), presumably until some other folks had been taken care of.  Well, that was okay until certain travelers decided to hell with that and jumped into the line slowly funneling toward the customs booth.  Being good American do-righters, we hung back, but finally joined the fray.  Making it through customs (easy), we were put into a certain line for boarding.  Well, naturally we ended up being almost the very last vehicle to be loaded, and then they told Rick to be prepared to come down and help them out the following morning, because we were parked in front of a whole bunch of vehicles that were getting off at the Faroe Islands (the way-stop before getting to Iceland).  

Bottom line, we easily survived the 2-night voyage, nobody got seasick, the food was reasonable and our cabin just fine; we managed to keep from watching Spiderman 3 (or any other of the drivel being shown in the theatre at an astronomical price); and early the morning of the third day, hearing “Land-Ho”, we drove our jaunty Tiger down the ship’s ramp and sped off, seeking new adventures.  One of our first sights was fields of glorious lupine — “Wow we said, this is going to be cool.”  Little did we know!

We hope to learn a little Icelandic over the next six weeks, but in the meantime all we get is from the guide book:  Hvađ segirđú?  Allt fint — How are you?  We’re fine.  More soon!  

Rick and Kathy and La Tortuga, wondering where all the snow came from.

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