American Southwest Family Vacation

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Sunday, March 25, 2001

Europe Trip 2001 Summary

This page getting a tune-up (June 2015).

Links and stuff will go here.


Advertisement

Related Posts:

Advertisement
Share:

Saturday, March 24, 2001

Reykjavik, the Smoky Bay City

23 Mar 01,
Reykjavik, Iceland
I slept in until 10am when the bright white sun became too hot & bright to bathe in its rays any longer. We got lunch at a fish & chips shop around noon. It was delicious. After some wool shopping (I found a dark gray sweater for 7,600 ISK, and I’ll be getting around 1,500 ISK back from taxes.) It’s hand made and so soft. From the shops it was out to the Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal pool—the water in the geothermal plant runs off into the area where we’re allowed to swim.

The parking lot at the Blue Lagoon
Welcome to the Blue Lagoon


It's mineral water, don't get it in your eyes.
The water was a nice 40°C and the air was just below 0°C. On the other side of the perimeter wall of the swimming pool, the temperature is somewhere around 70°C. The water was salty and milky from all the minerals. It’s a stark contrast to the black lava fields surrounding the lagoon. We stayed for about three hours, mostly soaking in the pool. I wrote and sent off most of my postcards before we drove back to the hotel where I napped.
After being so relaxed, it was hard to get up and dressed for dinner at Perlan (the Pearl), a restaurant under a glass dome that sits on top of large metal cylinders on the top of a hill by our hotel. The floor was rotating one full revolution every two hours. Since it was McG’s birthday, we were able to get the wait staff to bring him a ‘Happy Birthday’ plate.
The candles were glass fiber cubes soaked in different chemicals to make them burn red, orange, and green at the end of metal sticks. The waiter then lit off what must have been the Icelandic equivalent of a mini-Roman candle. It burned so brightly that the lights in the restaurant seemed to go out. McG was covering his face from the sparks that were shooting out at him. Happy Birthday!

For dinner, I had a ginger salmon and some assorted apple desserts. When asked for my drink choice, I requested a glass of the Gewurstiminer Reserve. I was informed that they usually don’t sell it except by the bottle, but the waiter would look for an open bottle. He asked me “If I do not find an open bottle, I will come back?” I replied: “If you don’t find an open bottle, you don’t need to come back.” My companions joked that I had just dismissed our waiter for the evening. He returned with the glass of wine and some bread. Way to stand my ground, eh? After dinner, we thought about going out to the clubs, but the –10°C air caused a joint decision to retire for the evening. We dropped the rental car off at the Hertz near the hotel and walked—at one point ran—back to the hotel. That warmed us up just enough. Lights out was at 11:30pm.

24 Mar 01
Reykjavik, Iceland
Woke up around 10:30am, cooking in the sunlight. The walls looked blue because the light was so bright. We checked out of the hotel and caught a cab into town to kill a few hours before our bus left for the airport.

Yesterday, the lake wasn't frozen
Today, the ducks walk on ice
Lunch was soup at a place called Apotek. We visited the Cathedral and the Leif Erikson monument.
Hallgrim church & Leif Erikson
We walked back to the hotel after stopping in some galleries of local art. Caught the 2:30 bus to Keflavik International, where we arrived at 3:15pm. I used up my last kronur on a hamburger, gifts, and licorice.
Art at Keflavik International Airport
The flight home was fairly uneventful. I saw Greenland from my window, watched “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and watched the sun not set. Hopped into a cab after clearing customs.

Related Links:
Share:

Friday, March 23, 2001

Driving around Iceland's Golden Circle

Suðurland, Iceland
Awoke at pre-sunrise 7am, showered and watched the sun rise over a hill by the hotel. We rented an Opel Astra and headed out around Suðurland, also known as Southern Iceland. I drove the car up to Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir), which is a park on the divide of the American and European tectonic plates.
The Continental Divide?
We got out and walked around. McG had the ‘courage’ to try to walk over a frozen stream, and would have been successful had his last step not plunged through the ice. His pants leg was about 4 inches of wetness that began to freeze in the 0°C air.
I can't get over how the blue sky only shows up in the reflection
Þingvellir
We saw the building where Iceland’s early settlers founded a parliament in AD 930, the world’s oldest surviving national assembly. Andy then drove us over to Geysir which, when it goes off, is twice the size of Old Faithful. On the way, we took a gravel road marked “Impassible”. Big pot holes, 14° slope down, going through the middle of nowhere.




If we had gotten stuck, we’d have to walk what remained of the 16km to civilization.Geysir didn’t go off while we were there, but Strokkur, the more regular geyser (every 5 minutes) nearly scalded us while we were considering whether or not to pass downwind of it.
Strokkur
One of the guys asked “How long until it goes off?” I looked down at my watch and replied “In a few minu…” But before I finished the sentence, the steaming water shot out of the ground only 30 ft away from us. A near miss! We drove up to Gullfoss—literally, "golden falls"—moments after the Golden Circle tour bus pulled up to the Geysir lodge.The waterfall was huge. The parts that weren’t frozen were forced to flow faster thru the parts that were. We were able to get right up next to the water. Without tourists anywhere, it was like we discovered the falls ourselves.
Gullfoss, looking upstream 
Gullfoss, looking downstream
Frozen mist at Gullfoss
The rare photo of Greg
Rainbow at Gullfoss waterfall
Icelandic horses on the drive
That's some red soil
We left Gullfoss for a black sand beach on the south side of the island. It was really windy and also isolated. The small berm between the beach and the town made the stretch look very surreal.
Black sand beach at Eyrarbakki
 
We drove back to the hotel and napped a bit. At around 10:30 or 11pm, McG and I went out to see what nightlife there was on a Thursday night. Neither of the popular clubs were open, so we ended up at a pub filled with ex-pats. The live music was mostly American: CCR, Eric Clapton, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As McG doesn’t drink and I was driving, it was Pepsi all around. We got back to the hotel around 1:30 am and our clothes held on to the cigarette smoke we’d been stewing in. My voice was really ragged and I was good and tired.

Related Links:
Share:

Thursday, March 22, 2001

The Land of Fire and Ice

Amsterdam, Netherlands
I woke up around 7:30 am, showered and dressed. I lay back down for a while before I went downstairs for breakfast at 9:50am. Theoretically, breakfast stops being served at 10. It was your standard fare of bread, croissant, and yogurt. We caught a cab to the train station, and a train to the airport. Planes, trains, and automobiles. I had McD’s for lunch to use up the last of my gulden. We boarded the 1:20pm flight and sat on the ground for over an hour due to snow delay. Apparently, it doesn’t snow that much here.

At 2:30 I was watching the snow slide slowly down the window. It was so thick that there was only a dime size hole to look out of. It didn’t look like it was still snowing, but our flight was pushed back until 3:10. We left the gate at 3:45…two and a third hour after we were due to. The woman I sat next to on the flight was a writer, and almost scolded me for not keeping my journal updated because my travel companions discouraged it. So much of this journal was written afterwards, but I've tried to retain as much detail as possible.

Reykjavik, Iceland
We arrived at 6:45 pm local time in Iceland, which is 7:45 in Amsterdam. I used an ATM to pull out 10,000 ISK, or about 111 USD. A shuttle bus from the airport took us straight to the hotel. It was about 8 pm when we went to the Hotel Loftleider for dinner. I think we all went with the buffet, which consisted mostly of fish. We looked into what to do tomorrow (the delayed flight caused us to arrive after the travel places had closed. The ‘Golden Circle’ looks good, but there are a lot of shopping stops en route. It looks like renting a car is more cost effective and gives us greater mobility and freedom to do what we please. We’ll have to wake up early (7am) because Iceland seems to be an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ kind of place.

Related Links:
Share:

Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Rendezvous in Brussels

Maastricht, Netherlands
Woke up a couple of times but got out of bed around 7am. Ready to go at 7:40. My train leaves at 9:10. I did the scheduling on a touch screen computer in Dutch. That train should put me into Brussels at 11:10 after a change at the border in Liege. I walked back across the St. Servaasbrug, the main pedestrian bridge between Maastricht and the Wyck district, where the train station is.
As I was doing so, a part of the bridge was elevated to allow a barge thru. The bridge was designed to allow people to cross even as the boat was passing under. I walked up the inclined ramp and the bridge lowered while I was on it, so I walked off a flat bridge.
Despite wandering some streets on the Wyck side of the Maas, I was still an hour early for my train. I changed USD 40 to 1600BFr, or about 1 USD to 40 Belgian Francs. To sit and stay warm, I bought a sandwich in a brasserie in the station. I have about 20 minutes before the train departs. I charted my train ride from yesterday, and at Sittard I could have walked into Germany, and once in Maastricht I could have walked into Belgium.

Brussels, Belgium
The stoptrein entered Belgium and the only reason I noticed was because the ticket guy had a different hat. I flashed my passport and he kept walking. My first impression of Belgium is that the people are small in stature. On the plus side, the signs and announcements are in French, which is at least a little more familiar to me than Dutch. I had about 5 minutes to figure out just which train (IC) would take me to Brussels-Midi. It was more than enough time. I should arrive around 11:07, giving me enough time to drop my bag in a locker before meeting up with the roomies.

Sure enough, I arrived at 11:07 give or take a few minutes. I knew that Andy and McG would arrive from Paris on the Thalys, so I went to the platform and met them there. We dropped our bags in a locker (I’d made change from the bills I exchanged in Maastricht). The locker locks as soon as you close the door. I think it’s related to either a pressure sensor in the locker, or maybe some circuitry on the direction LCD. So we crammed all our stuff (they bought pots and pans for gifts and our kitchen) and we hit the streets of Brussels.
We wandered North from Brussels-Midi to the Grand Palace. Had Belgian waffles for lunch around 12:30 or so. It took half an hour to find an ATM. From there we walked by some lace stores and tapestry places. Basically stumbled upon Mannequin Pis, the little urinating boy that became a city emblem.
We then walked in a northerly direction until we came up to the large garden palace thing. The garden was under construction, but we saw a set of trees whose limbs were woven together and supported in a lattice like form. Walking along the road that circles the city, we stopped at a hotel to ask where a chocolate shop might be found. The receptionist told us there was one right across the street, another down the road, and another…etc. We bought around 12 dollars worth of chocolate for the trip back.

Because the trains for Amsterdam leave at 42 minutes past the hour, we wanted to catch the 3:42 train. This is mostly because Brussels wasn’t really that interesting. We did see a bus to NATO but that wasn’t even all that interesting.
We were close to the station and rapidly running out of time. The train was an IC, in theory a fast train, but it had many stops on its trip description.

We made for the train, but since there was so little time left after pulling out bags out of storage, there just wasn’t enough left to see if we could get on the inarguably faster Thalys. After stopping in a number of little stations, we ended up stopped for 15-30 minutes (or at least it felt that way) outside of Antwerp for rail construction. We made it up to Rotterdam before an announcement came on telling us that we’d have to change trains. So we got out only to find that our new train was delayed 20+ minutes. We got on another train that went up thru Den Haag/Leiden/Haarlem until we finally made it to Amsterdam Centraal.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Our cab to the hotel was a Mercedes and very posh. The dash was filled with enough electronic gadgets it felt like a spaceship rocketing thru a city with no descernable roads. Most of the ride was along the tram rails, but those branched left and right, almost like a video game diving thru a mineshaft. We made it to the hotel without incident, then got dinner at Brasserie Bark’s, where I managed to order one of the specials written in Dutch—grilled swordfish. We got back to the hotel around 9 or 10 and watch an English movie on TV. So lights went out around 11pm.

Related Links:
Share:

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

The Treat of Maastricht

Rotterdam, Netherlands
Woke up to snow (a few flakes) at 7am and had breakfast at the hostel. I was on the metro at 8 but the train was having a problem with the doors and I figured the announcement in Dutch translated to “leave” so I led the group getting off the train. We all got on the next one and I made my way down to Delftshaven, where the pilgrims left on the Speedwell, before transferring to the Mayflower in England. I visited the restored 18th Century windmill and got a couple of photos.

It was just 8:30am, and I walked over to the Euromast which opens at 10. I was there by 9am, at which point I weighed my options. My time in Maastricht will be limited and I’ve seen a large part of the Rotterdam skyline already. Not to mention the fl15 ticket to get up to the top of the Euromast. I walked back to the hostel and was checked out by 9:30. A Metro ride to Centraal station allowed me to catch the 10:15 train to Maastricht, via a train change in Sittard. The Sittard bound train is an Intercity and pretty comfy. Switched into a stoptrein, slower, but only took a few minutes.

Maastricht, Netherlands
I arrived in Maastricht and got a ticket for tomorrow. It’s freezing rain here, too. I strolled along the Maas until I reached the Botel, a boat that’s been converted into a hotel. I didn’t have reservations, but they had rooms anyways.
From the Botel, I proceeded to the Helpoort—the ruins of what once used to be the city walls. The streets here are the stereotypical narrow, brick-laden, European streets that bend and wind through the old part of town. I got weinerschnitzel for lunch with a glass of Wiecz Witte, an unfiltered Maastricht beer.

More strolling, I saw the Vrijthof, where Sint Servaasbasiliek and Sint Janskerk sit side by side across the square from where I grabbed lunch. On the north side of town, there is a statue of Johannes Petrus Minckelers, who invented the gas light. The statue has a gas-fed, flaming rod, which seemed a bit unusual.
See the flame by the lightpost?
I also stopped into Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek, which has parts dating before 1000 AD and may well be built on the foundations of a Roman Cathedral.

I got back to the Botel near sunset and was going to go out for dinner but was more tired than I was hungry so I laid down. During the night I could hear and feel the barges passing as my bed slowly rocked.

Related Links:
Share:

Monday, March 19, 2001

This could be Rotterdam, or anywhere

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Woke up to a roommate’s alarm at 9:30 am. Everyone seems to have made it back ok. I checked out of the hostel at 10, took the tram to Centraal Station and ditched my bag in a locker while I went out looking for lunch and internet. I couldn’t log in because the store had technical difficulties.
Lunch was a falafel at a hole in the wall by Escape. I walked back to the Niewemarket (the shopping street) and passed a Scotsman playing bag pipes.
I used my time before meeting Nathalie changing the fl100 note into something usable. To make sure I knew exactly where we were meeting, I walked around the station. We met up a few minutes before schedule. I had pulled my bag out of storage and her train had arrived with time to spare. We got our tickets and were on our way to Rotterdam.
Rotterdam, Netherlands
It only took an hour to get to Rotterdam (via Schipol). We walked thru some shopping areas on the way to the hostel. Most of the Netherlands shuts down on Sundays, with Rotterdam and Amsterdam being the only real Sunday shopping places.


The hostel turned out to be right next to a Metro station. After checking in, I got the same room I had reserved for a third of the price—I had reserved an entire double room, but since there were many open rooms I told them that I only needed one bed, not a whole room. I asked for a lower rate, from the fl148 2-man room and they gave me a bed in a 2-man room, fl40. Anyways, I dropped my bags and we walked over to the Euromast, which closed early today, 4:30pm not the posted 5pm. We walked over to the Erasmusbrug, Rotterdam’s signature bridge.
From there, we walked back towards the city center looking for dinner (preferably Dutch pancakes or green pea soup). Ended up at Coconuts, a very American/ Floridian feeling pub (playing dance music like the Venga Boys, among others) that we later discovered didn’t take credit cards. We ordered some Italian pasta dishes and a huge ice cream sundae for two.
After dinner, we went back to the train station and talked until her train left. I picked up some more cash at an ATM and bought a new strip ticket. The system is really convenient, as I’ve used the same strip in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, for Metro and trolley fares.

I used the strip again on the Metro to get over to Lieuhaven to get some night pictures of the Erasmusbrug. I walked along the riverside until I turned towards town and walked up to Blaak station and Overblaak where I saw the famous cube houses. Interesting but not well illuminated, due in part to the fact that they are people’s actual residences.


Jumped on the Metro back to the hostel at 9:30 or so. I’m planning on hitting the west side of the city tomorrow and be on my way to Maastricht by noon.

Update: When The Beautiful South's song "Rotterdam (or anywhere)" came out, it reminded me of just roaming around the city by myself.

Related Links:
Share:

Featured Post

End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

Honest Post Reports