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memories of Iceland, Germany and Estonia

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S: From Reykjavik to Roskilde (via Russia): European Mega-Wander 2012 vol. 1

BC: Memories from: Iceland, Germany and Estonia

FC: From Reykjavik to Roskilde (via Russia): European Mega-Wander 2012 vol. 1

1: July 8th, 2009

2: So it's April 21st and we're in Iceland! We're got the car, and the plan is to do the "Golden Circle," a series of three sites (Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss) of immense importance for Iceland's cultural and natural history.. We're tired (after the all night flight), hungry (Icelandair doesn't feed you), and feeling the first signs of the vile contagion that will plague us throughout this holiday. However, look at the day God gave us! I'm reminded of the purity of air and light that I experienced in Orkney. Onward therefore to seize the day.

3: The Golden Circle | One of Icelandair's promos for "Unique Iceland" said: "The most amazing thing about Iceland is not its awe-inspiring glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls and geothermal fields, but that there are over 13000 km of roads to take you deep into this uncharted wilderness.." Dad's comment when reflecting upon our first day was that "surely we had driven them all." Looking at the map above it should have been a straightforward thing to get from Reykjavik to Thingvellir, but look at the road map of the National Park that confronted us when it became necessary to leave the main road!

4: ...However, there was beauty along the way, and Thingvellir at the end of all the twists and turns and dirt roads. Thingvellir's importance to the natural history of Iceland is as the place where two oceanic plates meet. The visible rift is where the world is literally pulling apart. Here the rocks formed a natural backdrop as if on a stage, useful for amplifying the orators of Europe's first democratic parliament (11th century). ...hence the great cultural importance of this site as well. One of the early decisions of that parliament was to adopt Christianity as Iceland's national religion, a position it still holds.

8: Great Geysir is the original geothermal blowhole that gave its name to geysers around the world. Geysers are caused when geothermally heated water gets trapped beneath cooler groundwater. Gradually the hot water builds enough pressure to erupt and so force its way out. Great Geysir used to spout up to 80m until some tourists in the 1950s , in an attempt to force an eruption, threw some rocks in it and interfered with the water's path to the surface. Now the star of the geothermal field is a geyser called Stokkur. It doesn't erupt to as great a height, but it is wonderfully faithful, rarely requiring its spectators to wait more than 6 minutes between eruptions.

10: Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble | Something's happening here...

11: There she blows! | Back down the plughole

13: Not the rainbows and blue skies of the laminated placemats for us today at Gullfoss, Iceland's most famous waterfall, but I'm not sure the grey mists aren't more enchanting.

16: The Edelstar Horse farm near Selfoss offers an alternative way to travel the Golden Circle. We stopped in to admire Iceland's native equine breed, but continued by car to the Golden Circle.

18: Icelandic horses and randomly billowing bits of land soon became familiar parts of the passing landscape. These, as well as the church opposite, are from near Selfoss.

21: Reykjavik

22: Our accommodation was in Reykjavik and Dad chose to explore the capital on foot during our second day, rather than be "cooped up in the car for another interminable day of driving." He was suitably impressed with the opera house and other buildings of unique Icelandic design. The main pedestrianised shopping street boasts a smart array of shops, galleries and nightclubs. The church pictured above is the principal landmark as its steeple can be seen for miles around.

23: April 22: No two ways about it...driving from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon and back in one day is a dawn-til-dusk undertaking. Trouble is I had seen pictures of the unearthly scenery to be found amid the serious ice of Vatnajokull (the world's largest glacier) and Jokulsarlon (the lagoon where chunks of the glacier calve off), and nothing was making me leave Iceland without a glimpse at these amazing phenomena. The drive passed through the small town of Vik, famous for its beach with three detached bits of sea cliff snuggling into the cove like a three masted pirate ship. It also passed through the lava fields and ashen desert created by the 2010 eruption of Eyafjallajokull. The lichen has already given the lava a fuzzy coat and could make anyone see why half the population of Iceland hold a serious belief in elves. Was the long drive worth it? I think the pictures speak for themselves!

24: It sounds idyllic to live beneath a waterfall, but from the photo top left, it seems these folk live with the prospect of the mountain falling or eroding down on them (if not erupting!)

25: This little red roofed church with geese on the lawn caught my eye going and coming. I don't know where it is exactly -- seems like it should be in a William Carlos Williams poem

26: My habit of taking pictures while driving tends to alarm passengers. On my own, I could snap away to my heart's content.

27: There's the glacier, Vatnajokull, coming into view, but everything in the foreground is a desert of volcanic ash. When the wind sweeps it across the highway it is as much a visibility hazard as blowing snow.

29: A landscape made for the little people, full of elven evidences.

30: ...Or just lichen covered lava for the unimaginative

31: Some more of those bonny Icelandic horses.

34: Vik

35: Principally I used Vik as a comfort stop and a place to get gas (diesel actually, and it amazed me I could travel this far and still have half a tank). A lot of coaches were stopped in Vik, apparently for the same reasons. | Vik's main claim to fame is its coastline with these distinctive rocks, and Vik Woolens, recently sold to another company, Icewear.

36: Svinafellsjokull Glacial Lake | Faerie castles herald another unearthly place. So still! This is where they filmed the opening scene of Batman Begins. The glacial lagoon at Jokulsarlon (following pages) is where they filmed the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Diies

38: Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Eight amateur explorers and our intrepid zodiak pilot (bottom left) go in search of the "Ice" in "Iceland."

53: A tour by catamaran is also available, but somehow the zodiak felt more adventuresome. Top right are a nice Bulgarian couple who offered me a place to stay when I come to Budapest!

56: 11.23pm. It's why they call it the land of the midnight sun. | Dad is glad to see me back safe as I roll into the hotel in Reykjavik about midnight. We're flying out again at 7.30, so just a few winks!

57: and I flying to Paris, from whence I begin a week's perambulation across Europe, reunit-ing with Dad in Wismar on May 1. I am excited about seeing Paris, but long for a few more days in Iceland, at least enough time to visit the | April 23 | A last look at the lava fields and the clean lines of Icelandic architectural design on the way to Keflavik airport. Today Dad and I separate, he c catching a plane to Frankfurt, from whence he will travel by train to Wismar | Blue Lagoon. Next time!

58: P A R I S

59: I have compiled another photobook covering the part of my holiday taken apart from Dad. This was my first visit to Paris, where I spent three nights, followed by 2 nights in Paris and three nights in Prague. A week would have been insufficient to see what any one of these great cities had to offer. As it was, I had to promise myself a return trip, especially to Paris where the quantity of museums far outstrip one's endurance to trudge through them. My accommodation in Paris was a low cost hotel, the Hotel Appi, on Rue St. Denis, Paris' historic red light district! It was not all that could be wished, but it gave me the requisite hours of shut-eye to tackle the city for three very full days. The day I arrived I visited Sacre Coeur and had an outstanding gourmet supper at a restaurant in Montmartre. The next day was taken up until evening with a trip to Versailles. The three palaces, and extensive grounds are the size of a small town. Back in Paris, I cruised the Seine at sunset and saw the main sights along the river: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Musee d'Orsay and Le Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe lies at one end of the Champs Elysee which was also seen bathed in its night-life flavour. The next day was my day for seeing museums: Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages which houses the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, Musee d'Orsay and Le Louvre. My flight out to Vienna the following day (the 26th) left early, so purchasing the museum pass again would be good value for all I had left unseen: the catacombes and cemetery at Mt. Parnasse for example. The Parisienne way of life, kicking off the day with a cafe au lait and crossant, using the city's efficient metro and making use of the early evening before taking a late dinner is attractive. Paris can be cold and rainy, and was during my time here, but it did not dampen my enthusiasm for this Grand Dame of European capitals. | April 23-26

60: For about 60 dollars I was able to catch a flight from Paris to Vienna and be there 2 hours later. My accommodation was in a private flat, an excellent room for 19 euroes a night. My two days in Vienna were spent exploring the innenstadt, the old baroque churches, especially the Stephansdom, and the estates of the Hapsburgs like the Belevedere which houses Vienna's best collection of Klimts.

61: Vienna | April 26-28

62: Prague April 28-May 1

63: Arriving by train from Vienna (4 hours), finding my private home accommodation (25 euros a night) by connecting metro and tram was fairly easy. The next day I got oriented in the old town with a free walking tour. Starting from the astronomical clock and Jan Hus Monument in the old town square we walked through the Jewish quarter, across the Charles Bridge and into the Mala Strana (new town) and up to the Hrad (castle). It remained for me to retrace these steps at my leisure, taking the whole morning of my second day to tour the Jewish synagogues, museums and cemeteries. On the evening of my second night I took in a marionette performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Mozart premiered the opera here. The Tyn and St. Vitus churches are the most important of the city, but I enjoyed seeing the Bethlehem Chapel, the 15th century purpose built protestant preaching hall where Jan Hus was pastor and where Thomas Muntzer preached. On the Mala Strana side of the bridge there are novelties like the John Lennon Wall and the Kafka museum to visit. Taking the funiculaire to park at Petrin is also a good way to escape the tourist crush and live like a local. Perhaps the best thing about Prague is its cheap and excellent beer.

65: An 8 hour train ride from Prague brought me to Bad Kleinen, about a half hour from Wismar, where the whole family came to pick me up. May is a lovely time to be in Wismar with the cherry trees on the Claus Jesup Strasse a riot of blossoms and white asparagus in season. Dad had had a week already visiting with the family, so two days was about right for me to put Hanna out catering to a second guest. I enjoyed walking around Wismar, which I am getting to know quite well through my several visits. I had never visited the Georgan Kirche before or the Marien Kirch Turm which is a kind of museum to Medieval gothic construction methods. On May 3rd Klaus brought us to Lubeck by car from whence there is an efficient 4 hour direct train connection to Copenhagen. This put us in our departure port for the cruise 24 hours ahead of time to avoid the unforeseen. | Wismar: May 1-3

67: The Georgan Kirche sustained heavy bombing during WWII and was left in ruins during the communist era. Restoration work has made considerable headway, but there is still much to do. The funds for the time being have dried up, so it remains a place where art exhibitions and classical concerts are held, but it is not a functioning church. There is lovely play of light through the tall clear gothic windows upon the pillars and transept floors. | Georgan Kirche

71: The Furstenhof is a civic building near to the Georgan Kirche. It has lovely medieval friezes showing the life of leisure and revelry. It was the place where the city fathers would entertain their important guests, a kind of city hall reception building.

76: Lovely White Asparagus! During this holiday I took a copy of Tante Hanna's Spargel Suppe recipe. I hope I can recreate this delicious soup, though I shall have to make it with the green variety. The trip to Copenhagen was interesting. The train goes right on board a ferry for the crossing to Denmark. Danish customs officials came on board the train with sniffer dogs as we neared the border. Whereas crossing most borders in Europe is noneventful, Denmark still feels itself as a different entity than the EU. Immediately on board the ferry when prices changed from euros to Danish crowns they also increased by about 50%

77: Our Baltic Cruise | May 4th | May 13th

78: Berlin | Our first stop on the cruise was Warnemunde, whence our bus tour left for Berlin. Dad's cold was too bad to go on this one.

79: Left: Unter den Linden and the Victory Column. Right: Humbolt University, Hitler's 1936 Olympic stadium and other civic buildings. | May 5th

81: The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, with its glass a donation from Chartres, it is an important symbol of Germany's reconciliation with the Allies.

82: This mosaic in the Kaiser Wilhelm church shows all the kings and nobles of Prussia paying homage to Christ, the king of kings.

84: Memorial Museum to those Germans who died resisting National Socialism

85: Our guide, Shawn, shown here on the right, had lived in Berlin for 12 years, having originally come here from Wales to study History at the University. He brought us to this museum primarily for the free use of its toilets, but it looked like an interesting one to return to when one had more leisure to visit the city properly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's story is remembered here as is that of von Staffenberg, Hilter's would be assassin, who was executed on the spot where this museum is built.

87: Memorial Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

88: The Tiergarten (Berlin's Central Park) and the Brandenberg Gate. The four horses once stolen by Napoleon, have the goddess of Victory driving her quadriga (four horse chariot).

90: Right: Berlin's central train station. | Above: Europe's first traffic light. Originally the lights were changed manually. Right: One of Berlin's three opera houses. As a city divided Berlin often has such amenities in duplicate or triplicate.

91: Two of the more novel ways to tour the city are by beer bike -- the tour participants can cozy up to a portable bar while a hopefully sober driver plies through the city streets with this monstrosity. Alternatively you might fancy a Trabant safari. Trabants were the only cars available in the former East Germany. While no one wants to return to those days there is a phenomenon called "Ostalgia" which has created quite a market for the kitsch that was produced and familiar in the former East Germany.

92: Check Point Charlie | There is a museum here telling the history of the Berlin wall.

93: After WWII Berlin was divided into 4 parts: East and West German, American and French. Checkpoint Charlie was the crossing point for American and Russian military personnel. | Throughout the city where the Berlin wall stood is marked by a double row of bricks.

94: This is one of the two remaining pieces of the Berlin wall that was purposely left in tact. In this open air museum visitors can ponder the people who lost their lives trying to escape oppression in East Germany. The building visible opposite was the headquarters of the airforce during WWII. Later they became Stasi offices. The foundations that remain are those of the Gestapo.

95: The Topography of Terror

96: Reichstag

99: Right: the synagogue rebuilt after allied bombs destroyed it.

100: At Sea | May 6th: at Sea

103: At Sea

104: Arrival in Tallinn, Estonia | May 7th | This beautiful medieval walled city may have been my favourite port on the cruise. It would be nice to visit it again when cruise ships did not dump 6000 extra people within its small old town.

108: Cats are a sort of a town emblem in Tallinn. It is because in the middle ages they were thrown down this well to avert famines and plagues. The other city emblem is Toomas, the archer who sits atop the town hall as a weathervane. He was a peasant who won the right to compete in archery competitions (a nobleman's sport) and became a people's hero. the oldest pharmacy in Europe is found in Tallinn's old town square.

109: The small window in the apartment below was supposed to once have been rented to the devil. The people of Estonia are a superstitious lot. On the other hand they have a strong Lutheran heritage evinced by the town's historic churches. The Holy Ghost church over the page is a typical church for this region, similar to churches in other Baltic nations such as Denmark. Ancient family crests and shields hang in another church, the Domkirche, which is Tallinn's oldest. Our six hours in Tallinn consisted of a 3 hour guided walking tour and 3 hours on our own. The wifi opportunities were not plentiful and the food we found not spectacular, but we managed a computer break over lunch. Then Dad returned to the ship and I went shopping. The woolen wear was irresistible.

114: Memorial plaque to those Estonians who were deported to hard labour in Siberia, during the communist period

116: Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

120: The old town square. The tall towered building is the town hall. The long haired woman is our guide, Tina.

127: When our guide finished the walking tour she dropped us off at a gate further from the ship than the one where she had picked us up. She estimated 15 minutes to return. It was more like 45. And somehow I got into the terminal for local ferries rather than the cruise ship terminal. I was the last passenger to board the ship and we were 10 minutes before departure. The police had already been to see Dad in the room, which alarmed him as you can imagine. It was not a splendid memory to take away from Tallinn, but the rest of the time spent there was very good.

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