You want lefse with that?

After a brutal red eye from Lihue, the story starts in St Paul, where sister Lynda picked us up at the airport and put us up for the night.  We hadn’t seen her for three years so it was nice to get together.  Carol came down from Hinckley to see us and we got an abbreviated tour of a park in her neighborhood.  How cool, to see twin fawns and their mom in the middle of the city.

in the morning before our next flight ….to Reykjavik, Iceland…..we visited a brew pub, the first all female brew pub in Minnesota.  Good beer.

The second red eye landed us in Iceland, where we immediately froze our tails while waiting for the bus into the city.  The latitude of Iceland is 64 degrees north and close to the arctic circle…….so surprise!  It was windy and in the 40s but we negotiated public transportation to make a side trip to The Blue Lagoon to warm up.  This iconic geothermal hot spring and glacial water pool is a must do in Iceland (read tourist trap) and the 100+ degree milky blue water revived us quickly.  Or at least long enough to get us to our hotel.  And of course the sulfurous odor of the geothermal waters is also quite stimulating!IMG_20160701_140928308

Iceland is wild and beautiful, however it has hardly any trees, we were told that they were mostly all cut down during Viking time.  Recent plantings grow slowly in that climate, so the trees that are there tend to be small.  Reykjavik is noted as a party city, which means partying goes on most of the night……this coupled with sunshine for 21 hours a day makes for short nights .  We were so tired though that it hardly invaded our sleep.

Since we only had a few days in the country, we took The Golden Circle tour to get an overview.  The tour lasted 6 hours and drove first to a national park that straddles the rift between the North American and Eurasian continental plates…..the scenery reminded us of Denali park in Alaska……very stark.  Pingvellir is the name of the park.

imageThe rift is separating about 1 inch a year, and there is  very noticeable chasm that delineates the two continents.  We continued to an area of hot springs and geysers.  Like Old Faithful, one would shoot up 30 ft into the sky every 5-10 minutes.  The term geyser comes from the gentleman who first described them…..in Iceland.DSCF1229

The last spot on the tour was a spectacular waterfall, Guillfoss, that means golden waterfall.   The mist provided a rainbow when the sun came out.  From that site we could see three glaciers in the distance.  All in all a day well spent.DSCF1240

It so happened that little Iceland (pop 330,000) had made it to the quarterfinals of the Euro Cup and the entire (almost) population of the country was either in Paris or Reykjavick to cheer the team on.  It was most unusual for a country so small to compete at that level, so everyone was a fan and turned out in force to watch on a big screen and cheer.image

Unfortunately, Iceland lost, but the partying continued throughout the night.  Note how light it is at 8 pm!

Other thoughts about Iceland – starkly beautiful; cold; windy; friendly people; good beer; great statute of Leif Ericsson; interesting Viking museum; great hotel breakfasts; and tons of beautiful Icelandic wool sweaters.  The latter not too useful for our lives in Hawaii!

On to Copenhagen, Denmark.

From the wilderness to big city….what a contrast!  Our hotel was located in the center of the old city.  We arrived in the airport and immediately took the Metro downtown.  We quickly became oriented, a major accomplishment since it seems that no streets run parallel in the city.  A perfect way to help with the orientation was to take a boat ride on the canals, then return on foot.

We loved Copenhagen, it’s an old city situated on a number of canals and our boat trip helped tremendously in becoming oriented, we then went back to several places that we saw from the boat.  One, in particular, was quite interesting.  Christiana is a community within the city that had been an abandoned military area that was “squatted on” by hippies in the 80s’.  It was considered a lawless, drug infested, dangerous place, and the city kept trying to oust the folks and clean it up.  Finally, in 2012, the city gave up and made peace with all the squatters by letting them buy the land to have their own government. It is all community owned and residents pay a nominal fee to stay.  The deal was that they had to make it safe, have sanitary facilities and no hard drugs.  It has worked quite well and it has become a tourist destination….there are a few “serious” rules.  No hard drugs, no photography….no running (that so that people don’t think you are running from the police).  On the other hand the smell of pot is ubiquitous, and a number of the vendors wear masks so as to be unrecognizable.  The “architecture” is eclectic ….brightly colored shacks, lean-tos etc. When you leave there is a sign stating “You are now entering the EU”.IMG_20160705_153118217_HDR

The overwhelming impression we got of Copenhagen was a beautiful old city and lots of walking.  We walked everywhere.  To the “Little Mermaid” the iconic symbol of the city, inspired by native son Hans Christian Andersen’s story.  It’s very small with tons of people from tour buses taking pictures.  It reminded me of Poipu Beach when a seal comes up.

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Copenhagen has a great food court, located in an abandoned paper factory along one of the canals, called Paper Island.  A fun place to get a bite to eat and a beer, or to watch the boats go by just outside.  The old warehouse is huge and vendors have driven food trucks in that are positioned in rows.  You can get almost anything your heart desires in food…loved it.  There were several hundred people there the day we were there.

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Copenhagen also had just built a pedestrian/bike bridge to get to the island that was closed for the first time when we were there, so we were among the first to christen the new bridge.  It’s actually quite an engineering feat, as both sides of the bridge retract from the center to allow boats to pass, and then close by slowly extending back out till the spans again meet in the middle of the canal.

Checked out the local beers in each place we visited.  In Copenhagen we also found time to tour the Carlsberg brewery. It seemed only fitting that we do this………IMG_20160715_182246801

One afternoon we were leaving our hotel and noticed a huge number of police in front of the hotel.   Seems that they had just captured a bank robber, who had stolen money from a van delivering money to a bank around the corner.  There was a lot of kicking and screaming, but fortunately no shots were fired, and the police eventually loaded the suspect into a police vehicle and left.

After a few days in Copenhagen, we boarded a train to Stockholm.  Trains are so dependable in Europe, every one we took was on time, but you had to be ready to move fast, they wait for no-one.  The countryside was flat without a great deal to look at, but we took a bottle of wine and sandwiches along to pass the time and before we knew it we were in Stockholm.  We took pictures of the countryside from the train, and surprising some of them turned out!   Looks a lot like WI!IMG_0069We had reservations at a hotel quite close to the train station and this time made the 3 block walk directly.  The hotel was very simple and somewhat stark without many extras, however, it came with breakfast, always a plus.  We were also very close to old town, giving us the opportunity to explore it, narrow streets with lovely old buildings on both sides.  IMG_0082The first full day found us taking a boat trip to explore the Stockholm archipelago.  This was a perfect orientation to the city and surroundings, it came with lunch and we had seats next to windows so we could check out everything along the way.  It appears that a majority of the residents have boats, there are miles of shoreline.  While in Stockholm we also went to the IKEA store – they provide free transportation from downtown, and the buses are packed with shoppers.

And it wouldn’t be Sweden without Swedish meatballs and lingonberries.  While the restaurant didn’t have any lefse, we managed to find it in the grocery stores.   Makes for a good snack on trip trips!IMG_20160711_192746361

After the boat trip, we explored Skansen, a historical recreation of Old Sweden, that included costumed participants showing the old ways of glass blowing, farming, spinning and knitting…..we even attended a swedish folk dance.  IMG_20160710_160256286IMG_20160710_161149634As long as we were on the island that Skansen is located, we visited the Vasa museum.  The Vasa is a restored sailing ship that was built for the king of Sweden in 1628 and that sunk 40 minutes into her maiden voyage.  It’s a huge ship, but very top heavy – it basically flipped over and ‘turtled’, killing numerous people.  It was rediscovered in 1956 and raised from the bottom in 1961 and has been restored as a major tourist attraction.IMG_20160710_133949927

This was all the same day as the boat trip so we crashed into our beds….. exhausted.  We covered miles walking in Stockholm as well as in all the cities we visited.  Of course, we had to sample the local beer there as well.  The last day we hiked up to the highest point in the city to get a panoramic view.  IMG_0092After Stockholm, off we went toward Oslo, Norway, observing the typical red houses, the rivers, and the beginnings of hills made the time pass quickly, along with another bottle of wine and sandwiches.  What a restful way to travel!

Oslo was not exactly what either of us expected.  It seems to be a mish mash of different architectural styles, but definitely the most modern of any of the cities we visited.  The opera house was a magnificent structure and the waterfront is being upgraded with many modern condos and museums as well as excursion boats and waterfront restaurants.  IMG_0119The old fort hangs on a cliff just off the new waterfront….. an interesting juxtaposition of old and new, however, there seems no overall architectural theme. IMG_20160714_165512293We spent several days touring Oslo, eating seafood, admiring thousands of wool sweaters, and generally playing tourists.

In Stockholm and Oslo there were quite a number of beggars, many appearing to be Middle Eastern but also Eastern European,   Oslo especially seemed to have many Eastern European beggars.

We had read on the travel guides about a tour called “Norway in a Nutshell” and had decided before we left Hawaii to check it out.  So we boarded an early morning train to central Norway with the intention of getting off in a place called Myrdal, a few hours toward Bergen, up in the mountains.  Our seats in the train faced a young couple, students in Denmark, she was Swedish and he was Norwegian.  After a few hours, we struck up a conversation with them.  The conversation was quite interesting, I asked them what language they communicated in.  They said that many words were similar but mostly they conversed in Norwegian.  The time passed quickly, as we reached higher elevations, we noticed more and more snow and fewer and fewer trees.  The young man pointed scenes that he remembered from childhood, when his family vacationed there in the winter. IMG_0124 A bicycle path wends through the pass next to the railroad line……it looked like it would be  a spectacular trip.  When we reached Myrdal, we disembarked to take a small train down to Flam on the Sognefjord.  This small train goes down, we were told, the steepest, non-geared train track in the world, starting at an elevation of 2844 ft to sea level.  It was a pretty spectacular ride, through tunnels and switchbacks to Flam. IMG_0146This is the Kjosfossen waterfall, a short stop on the way down to Flam

Flam is a lovely little town set on the shore of the fjord, with high cliffs rising on all sides.  We had reserved a cottage in Flam on the internet, but neglected to see exactly where it was located.  So, we started up a narrow road, pulling our suitcases …..destination cottage.  After 20 minutes or so with the road narrowing more, we stopped at a small shop to ask how much farther our destination was.  The proprietor, said quite a long way probably another mile, but then took pity on us and offered her husband for a car ride.  How nice that was!  We found this lovely little cottage, with a view down the stream of a historic church and up the stream of waterfalls, snow and the train track we had just come down.DSCF1438

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The view from the cottage, it would have been nice to spend a few more days there.

The next morning, the proprietor of the cottage shuttled us down to the fjord to catch the ferry.  It was raining but even so the fjords were beautiful.  We got in a very short line (we were early, as usual) to wait for the signal to get on when a huge bus load of Spaniards appeared and were allowed to get on before the general passengers.  Unfortunately, they filled up the heated indoor lounge on the ferry, and by the time the rest of us were allowed to embark, there were no comfortable, warm spots left.  Fortunately though we were inside the cabin, but didn’t have the comfy heated seating area.  Even so, the trip was wonderful, we made short excursions onto the deck, umbrellas up, to take pictures, then retreat back to a covered area to stay dry.  I must say, even with the rain, the boat trip was well worth the side trip.IMG_20160716_092346097_HDR

We got off at Gudvangen to catch a bus back up to the Oslo-Bergen train route in Voss.  We walked the gauntlet of tour buses to find the one we were supposed to be on, and found our bus just as it filled up.  After a few moments of panic, since we had a train reservation at Voss and the next bus wasn’t for another hour, we were relieved to see a second bus for the overflow.  This was serendipitous for our bus was practically empty, allowing us to switch back and forth to different windows to get views on both sides as the bus made the climb back up the mountain.  This was another trip up a winding road to the top, but it got us there in time to catch our train to Bergen.IMG_20160715_130642146_HDR

The train station on the Oslo-Bergen route

Bergen is the quintessential Norwegian city, second largest in Norway.  Neat rows of colorful houses lining the shore, exactly what you expect Norway to look like.IMG_0210 IMG_0214

Even though it rained and was cold (for us) 55 degrees the whole time we were there, we had a lovely hotel room, near the harbor, with a typical Scandinavian breakfast and we did enjoy the city……we even managed to stay relatively dry.  Bergen is a necessary stop for the different cruise lines, there were at least 6 large ships in the harbor when we were there.

Bergen has an awesome open air fish market that we indulged in as well as a pub with an overhang to keep the patrons dry outside.IMG_20160716_170318109_HDR
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Of course, we always have to sample the local brews and Vaagen Pub was a warm dry place to do so.Notice the infrared heaters on to keep the patrons warm.  Every outdoor restaurant throughout our trip had blankets on the chairs, so when you sit down you can wrap yourself up to stay warm.   And this was in July!

Alas, the trip was almost over, and we had to catch the bus to Bergen airport, fly to Iceland, on to Minneapolis and home.  We stayed in a little cabin close to the airport in Iceland, out on the steppe (at least it seemed so, since it was all lava rock and flat around us).  IMG_0226My sister, Lynda picked us up in Minneapolis, giving us an overnight to recover a little from jet lag and then on home the ext day.  Always good to get home.

Since returning, it’s been a whirlwind of activity, first was Koloa Plantation Days with races, rodeos, and a parade, IMG_0257 IMG_0264Many hours on the beach with “our” sealsIMG_0228We also returned in time to attend the Koloa Buddhist Bon Dance (shown below) and to top it off, the Hawaii Seniors State Softball Tournament was held the following week in Kauai this year and we were hosts. IMG_0272IMG_0277

Our team finished 4th in our division of 8, losing again the same team that beat us last year in the tournament.  Then we were battling for first place, and lost by 3 runs.   This year we were battling for third, and they beat us by 4 runs.  Maybe next year will be our year.   But everyone is friendly, as seen in the above photo of the combined teams.

Hopefully, things will settle down a little for a bit.

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