Beer, Butts and Bathing Suits

There are waterfalls everywhere you look in Iceland. This is Skogafoss in the southwestern part of Iceland

Today (well, actually yesterday) we started our journey to a land not-yet visited by Carol and me—that being Iceland. As often happens on these kinds of trips, the flying was less than spectacular. Yes, you can dream of taking off on time, souring into the wide blue yonder and floating on clouds to your destination. But sometimes, like today, mother nature has other ideas—like a large storm front moving onto the east coast disrupting all the air traffic from Crap Apple Cove, Maine to Sopchoppy, Florida.

So while our flight from Tallahassee to Atlanta was fine and on time, the rest of the day was… shall we say…. Tense! Our flight from Atlanta to New York was delayed a half hour… no, make that fifty four minutes… no, now make it one hour forty seven minutes. Ever notice how precisely the airlines time their delays? Ok, now let’s make it two hours and 51 minutes. Now it’s to the point that we MAY miss our JFK to Iceland flight, so sit tight. New post – now delayed three hours twenty minutes. OK, now we will DEFINITELY miss the Iceland flight. But NO, I just get a notice that the JFK to Iceland flight has been delayed an hour. YEA! We’ll make it… or will we? So far we have changed gates five times in Atlanta while we’ve been waiting, but here we go again—another gate change and more waiting. We watch the empty gate until a plane pulls it.

There are fields and fields of these beautiful purple flowers throughout Iceland. These are Alaskan Lupine, introduces to Iceland in 1945

Great! At least we have a plane. Looks like we’ll make it on time. Then comes the announcement—”Folks, we have clear enough weather to fly, we have a plane, but the only thing we don’t have is a crew. If the crew for this flight is anywhere in the concourse, please come up to the podium”. So we sit with the other couple of hundred people and wait another half hour until we see a pilot show up. OK, one down, a few more to go. Finally after almost an hour, the rest of the crew comes walking into the terminal area to the cheers of all the passengers around.

It’s going to be close in New York, folks. Thank goodness I’ve been upgraded to seat 2A, so I’ll be one of the first off the plane. The plan is, if it’s feasible at all to catch the flight to Iceland, I’ll dart off the plane and run to the next gate to keep the door open until the rest get there. The plane lands thirty five minutes before our Iceland plane takes off. OK—doable. We taxi toward the gate… and stop… and wait… another five minutes gone. We move again… yes, I see the gate approaching. Then a hundred yards before the gate… we stop. After another long minute the pilot comes on and says we are waiting for the ground crew to come out and park us. Another few minutes go by but we finally get to the gate. It’s now fifteen minutes before our Iceland plane leaves (and they generally close the doors ten to fifteen minutes ahead).

So off I go! Fortunately we arrived at gate B33 and Iceland leaves at gate B20, so at least we are in the same concourse. Maybe… just maybe. So after a few minutes of full-out run with my backpack on my back, I do indeed arrive at the gate… only to find out they have not even started boarding. So… the moral of the story… just keep pushing on—it all might work out.

Nat and Frances join Carol and I at the Blue Lagoon

Our plan is to rent a car and spend seven days driving the ring road that circles the island of Iceland. Starting in Reykjavik, the capital city on the east coast, and driving counter-clockwise. So we pick up our Hertz rental and head out. The temperature is a pleasant fifty two degrees and the first stop is the famous “Blue Lagoon”. Iceland processes lots of thermal activity and hot springs owning to the fact that it’s basically a grouping of volcanoes. The Blue Lagoon is the best known and most popular of these. Many people make this a stop either on they way to or from the airport. I’ve even heard of people making a run to the lagoon between flights while passing through the airport. As a result, we see all kinds of interesting attire… a man arriving in a full three-piece suit… another arriving wearing a heavy coat on his top and nothing but a speedo below almost covering a robust bottom. So they lounge around the hot springs in fifty-some degree weather drinking ice-cold beer. Welcome to Iceland.

Today as we drive across the southern part of Iceland we encounter all kinds of terrain. There are vast areas of very flat, desert-like spaces with low scrub growing. Then we round a corner and come across tall mountains on the left and the North Sea on our right and we may feel like we are in New England someplace. Then it’s on to the green, green pastures with sheep grazing which reminds us of Scotland. Then, in another section of the landscape we feel we are on the moon. Large fields of lava rocks and lava flows are visible as far as you can see. In certain sections these are bare lava rocks and in others the rocks are completely covered in thick layers of green moss making this one of the most unusual landscapes I’ve ever seen.

Along this drive we stop various times to hike to thunderous waterfalls, take pictures of the thousands of acres of purple flowers, visit the earthquake and volcano museum, and enjoy some wonderful soup for lunch. Now it’s time to find our hotel for the night and we rely on our car’s trusty GPS which of course takes us off the main road onto a secondary road up past the school, around the bend, up the hill, unto the dirt road and up another hill until the dirt road ends at a group of barns and buildings none of which has our hotel’s name on it and none of which look anything like the picture we have of the hotel. Hum… There is another guest house near there, so we ask them and of course they know exactly where our hotel is. Just twenty two kilometers in the other direction. So much for the GPS!

We laugh through it all. After all, if you stop and think about it, the most memorable moments of traveling and those you talk about for years to come are usually about things that did not go perfectly or things that you did not expect.
So today has been a wide variety of sights and sounds and I had a very hard time deciding on a title for this blog. I finally zeroed in on the Blue Lagoon and called it—Beer, Butts and Bathing Suits!

Notice the basalt columns on the cliffs beside this black sand beach
These large pipes transport very hot water from the geothermal areas to the cities. All the heating of buildings is done by this geothermal energy
Notice the buildup of minerals in the Blue Lagoon
Bathing in the Blue Lagoon
The stairs leading up to the top lookout point above the Skogafoss Waterfall

Passau – Don’t Shoot that Cannon near the Church!

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Looking up along the Inn River which merges with the Danube River in Passau

Day 12: Nov 27, 2017 – Passau – Don’t Shoot that Cannon near the Church!

Last evening we docked in the city of Passau at about 5:00 in the afternoon.  Well, I say afternoon, but here in Bavaria at this time of year, it’s already completely dark by this time.  So before dinner we decided to take a short walk through town to stretch our legs.  There are lots of pedestrian streets here filled with shops, cafes and restaurants, but this was Sunday evening so most were closed.  A few cafes were open with outside seating and it was interesting to see local people sitting there on sheepskin covered chairs and blankets on their laps enjoying chatting and enjoying dinner or drinks.

But a little about Passau, located on the border between Germany and Austria.  Few cities in Germany enjoy a setting as remarkable as that of Passau.  It sits at the confluence of three rivers where both the Inn and the Ilz rivers flow into the Danube.  The city dates back some 2500 years but they had terrible fires in the 16th and 17th centuries, so most of it is rebuilt from this time.  For instance, a fire burnt three quarters of St. Stephen’s cathedral in 1662, but the main stone structure was saved.  The people were so happy they saved the cathedra that they decided to have a celebration and brought in a number canons to help in the celebration.  The canons were not aimed at the church, but it turns out that the concussion of the cannons being fired numerous times was enough to finish off the job—the walls crumbled.  The one end of the cathedral that was not damaged was built in Gothic style, but the rebuild of the fire (and cannon) damaged part was rebuilt in Baroque style and includes one of the largest organs in the world, with 17,388 pipes and 233 registers.  Now that’s an organ!

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Outdoor cafes are open in the evenings even when it’s in the 30’s or 40’s

Passau is still dominated by its original medieval ground plan—a labyrinth of narrow lanes.  So we decide this morning to walk many of them stopping in various little shops along the way.  One of Carol’s favorite shops, a paper store, is run by the sweetest little old lady, so Carol needs to stop by each time we are here.  We also pay a visit to the Passau Glass Museum, the biggest museum on European glass worldwide with over 30,000 pieces in their possession.  This museum, officially opened in 1985 by Neil Armstrong, is certainly a must-see for people interested in the history of glass in Europe.

After having another great lunch back on board the Crystal Mahler, we set sail for Melk.  Tomorrow we will connect with three small towns along the river – Melk, Durnstein and Krems.

Deggendorf & the Bavarian Countryside

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The Church of St. Catherine in Deggendorf is a great example of Baroque architecture

Day 11: Nov 26, 2017 – Deggendorf & the Bavarian Countryside

Today is a little bit of everything. We start by docking in the tiny town of Deggendorf. Seen from afar, Deggendorf is dominated by the Baroque towers of the two churches, as well as the medieval tower of its City Hall which was built in 1380 and rises up some 175 feet. When you get closer up, well, the town is still dominated by these things. Other than a few cafes and restaurants and maybe a few shops, there is not much else here. Since it’s a Sunday morning when we dock, there is nothing open. But the good news is since it’s a Sunday morning, when we get to the Church of St. Catherine, we make it for the beginning of a service and get to hear the grand old pipe organ in this cathedral. It’s very peaceful sitting enjoying the sound of the organ and seeing the fine artistry of the church with its splendid ceiling fresco dating from 1763.

Then it’s on to the Bavarian countryside where it looks a lot like central Pennsylvania farmland where we grew up. The roads are narrow and the trees are bare of leaves at this time of year but the grass is very green as we drive toward Passau. We go to the overview high above town on the opposite side of the river and as we are standing there enjoying the view, it begins to snow… and I do mean SNOW. It’s coming down fast and furiously, but we are all loving it. It’s certainly going to feel like Christmas is coming.

After we return to ship which is now in Vilshofen, we sail on down the Danube river and dock for the night in Passau.


Regensburg – Sausage, Sausage and more Sausage


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The kitchen at the old Sausage House

Day 10: Nov 25, 2017 – Regensburg – Sausage, Sausage and more Sausage

Oh what a fun day! We take off on foot to explore Regensburg. Carol hears there is going to be an organ concert and wants to go so we head to the church, but not everyone is so excited about an organ concert, so we deposit Carol at the church and head on down the street to do some shopping. But Carol catches up to us soon after the concert and we all eventually head to the “Sausage House”. I simply can’t come to Regensburg and not eat at the Sausage House.

The official name is the Historic Sausage Kitchen of Regensburg, and serves one dish only – sausage with sauerkraut. All you have to do is sit down and order Six, Eight, Ten or Twelve – meaning the number of sausages you want. It’s served with sweet mustard and WOW, is it GOOD!

This place is the oldest continuously open public restaurant in the world, having opened in 1146 AD with the construction of the Regensburg stone bridge. The kitchen serves 6,000 sausages daily.

After our lunch we head back to our ship to join an afternoon tour to… hold on… a sausage-making class! When we get back to the ship, I noticed a line of ship personnel unloading fresh goods from a truck into the ship. I went up to the deck to watch them unload all kinds of goods for the ship… two office chairs… stacks of lettuce and other produce… and… you guessed it – sausages.

At any rate, we head out for our afternoon excursion to the kitchen of a downtown restaurant. Here we proceed to make German White Sausage from scratch. We start with ground veal, ground pork, pork fat, ice, onions, parsley, lemon zest and spices. Then we grind these ingredients to a very fine mixture at certain temperatures. From there we feed it into pork sausage casings (see photos), tie it off, and throw it into the hot water.

After another drink or two the sausages are cooked and we get to eat them along with pretzels and sweet mustard. Ymmmmm

Finally it’s back to the ship and we set sail for our next port. It’s been a great day with lots of fun that we all talk and laugh about over dinner. Oh yes, one of the options for dinner is… sausage!

Nuremberg & Miles of Rock-cut Beer Cellars

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Some of the miles of beer cellars

Day 9: Nov 24, 2017 – Nuremberg & Miles of Rock-cut Beer Cellars

Today is a mix of various centuries in Nuremberg – from Medieval City to industrial times to Nazi rise & fall to Beer Cellars & air raid shelters. The Medieval Old City of Nuremberg is one of the best preserved in Germany with miles of old city walls and castle buildings and towers. It’s not only a great place to see the history, but also a good viewpoint to look out over modern Nuremberg.

Along with the old city we see some of the highlights of the WWI era in this area, including the Nazi parade grounds, the palace of justice where the Nuremberg trials were held and the Congress Hall – the huge, part finished building that Hitler was building to use one day a year for his speech to top party leaders. After seeing all of this, all you can think is “what a waste”.

We then move on to the main part of the old town with its main square full of shops and its narrow streets with their half-timbered houses. Certainly one of the highlights of the day is seeing the miles and miles of Rock-cut Beer Cellars. Originally, these rock-cut cellars were used primarily for the making and storing of beer. The first construction was in 1303 and then later, an ordinance of the Nuremberg town council dated November 11, 1380. It is decreed that anyone intending to brew and sell beer must have a cellar of his own, “ten feet long and sixteen feet wide. Well, they just kept cutting more and more from the rock below the city, until there are now miles of tunnels. During the devastating air raids of World War II, many citizens of Nuremberg found a different use as they sought and found shelter in the historic beer cellars.

Bamberg and the Christmas Markets

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Phil & Carol in the Christmas Markets in Bamberg, Germany

Day 8: Nov 23, 2017 – Bamberg and the Christmas Markets

YEAH… It’s time for our first Christmas Market today. In fact today is the opening day for the Bamberg Christmas Market so we definitely want to spend some time there.

But first I should tell you something about the city. Bamberg was established in 1007 AD and it embarked on some very ambitious building projects. Soon it was being called the ‘German Rome’ and ‘the city on the seven hills’, not withstanding the fact that it only had six hills. But no problem. They just gave one of the hills two names, so then they had seven hills. Now Bamberg did not have significant industry so was relatively untouched in WWII. Thus its Old City can boast an architectural heritage spanning a whole millennium. No wonder that all of it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has the required cathedral and rathaus (or town hall), but also all kinds of shops, pubs, breweries and now, of course, the Christmas Markets.

The Christmas Markets in all of these German towns and cities are typically located in the various squares around town and have a variety of local goods ranging from local foods to Gluehwein (hot, spiced wine) to craft items to hand knits goods to Christmas ornaments to… well, you get the idea. You can spend many hours in these markets. And the best of it is the atmosphere. All the locals come out to meet their friends, have a bite to eat and drink wine.

So, another day is gone and we’ve spent it with good friends having a good time. What could be better?

Wurzburg – A Quaint Old City on the River Main

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Walking the Old Stone Bridge into town

Day 7: Nov 22, 2017 – Wurzburg – A Quaint Old City on the River Main

Today we dock at noon and venture into Wurzburg on a SWAT – (Swartz Wandering Aimlessly Tour). This means we have no set agenda, just wander into town and see what happens. Since we didn’t take time to eat lunch aboard, our first stop in the city square at a walk-up kiosk for some sausages & fries. (Here you pay a deposit on the ceramic dish they put the fries in and then collect the deposit when you turn your dish back in.) There are a variety of sausages available.   Some of us get beef, some sausage, but I go all-out and get the big, fat beef sausage infused with cheese and wrapped in bacon. Ymmmm.

Then it’s off for some shopping and sightseeing. The girls are impressed with the various stores available here—everything from small shops to six-story department stores, so we investigate and pick up a few things.

Now from many places around town you can look up and see the Marienberg Fortress high situated high over the west bank of the river. In the USA we think of anything from the 1800’s as being OLD, but here in Europe something isn’t old unless it was built at least a thousand years ago. In this case, the first mention of the fortress that we know of dates back to 704 – that’s over 1300 years ago!