Category: Travel

Adventures and Misadventures.

The Art of Travel Photography

My son and I share a passion for photography, not a in a traditional sense, but in the sense that it gives us the opportunity to do something inappropriate and record it for posterity. For example, the following photo opportunity presented itself while we were in Paris a couple years ago.

This photo was taken using a cheap camera.

This poor fellow just happened to fall asleep in the wrong place and became a member of the family photo album.

A photographer is always looking for those special moments.

When taking a quality photo like this it is important to exercise a ninja-level of stealth. Some opportunities present themselves organically while others need a little bit of staging. My son spotted this next photo-op while we were walking through Versailles.

High Five

The key to good travel photography is a keen eye and the ability to see what the average tourist misses. How many people walked right by this statue without getting a high five?

Taking photos in low light can be fun also, but always be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for the opportunity to make those fleeting moments into treasured memories.

Low light photography has its own challenges

Always be aware of signs when composing your photo

The most important thing to remember when taking travel shots is to stay open to the possibilities presented to each each day. Almost all travelers have cameras, but not everyone is a travel photographer.

A travel photographer needs to have an eye for the absurd

Angry German Bakers: The Redemption

Pfullendorf, Ladenschild der Bäckerei Allgaier

The inevitable question arises, “If you were abused by German bakers, why did you keep going back?” While that is a fair question, it is a question asked by someone who has not been to a German bakery. German bakeries have very good pastries. While I was staying in Hamburg I found two friendly bakeries close to the our exchange home: there was a Dat Backhus and a small family run bakery within walking distance. So each morning I would get up, walk to one of the bakeries and order/point at a few of the pastries and then bring them back to the house for my family.

I discovered something interesting on these hunting/gathering journeys, Germans are very helpful when other Germans are not around. Now I don’t want to suggest something akin to a “Don’t be nice to tourists” campaign, but when I was in the bakeries by myself, and there were no other people waiting for service, the bakers took the time to explain to me a few of the things I was doing wrong. The first faux pas was the whole counting thing. If you want one Berliner then signal one with your thumb. Using your forefinger is apparently  confusing to Germans who might think you are ordering two of something when using your pointer finger.

At first I was a bit skeptical but after viewing several pictures of my favorite German celebrity, Dirk Nowitzki, I did notice that he does use the thumb when signaling that he just dropped a three-ball from beyond the arc. When an American basketball player gives the three-ball signal they inevitably use their first three fingers. So if Dirk, who has spent a fair number of years living in the US, still cannot break himself of the habit of using his thumb to count three-balls, the whole using your thumb to count as one must be pretty ingrained in the German people.

The next mistake I was making was getting in line before I was ready to order. Americans get in line to save a spot before ordering and may not even know what they want to eat before getting in line. If you would like to experience the German level of frustration go to a McDonalds drive through in the US. How it takes five minutes to order at a McDonalds is a mystery to me. It isn’t like the guy taking your order is going through the wine list or telling you about the specials, it is McDonalds! It is the same stupid menu almost everywhere you go in the world. It isn’t like you are going to pull up to a drive through menu and suddenly be confronted with a choice between carved turkey breast and alder smoked salmon.

My final mistake isn’t one that the bakers explained to me but one I discovered on my own. In the US we have regional differences, but for the most part we have a shared expectation of what is socially acceptable. In Europe these shared expectations are wildly different from country to country. I assumed that France and Germany would be very similar except for the language. When I looked at a map my brain said, “Look how close it is. I should learn how to say two German words so I can survive in Germany.” But once I was in Germany I realized that I was totally unprepared for the cultural differences, or what Ruby Payne would call the “unwritten rules” of the culture. These hidden rules are really at the core of how we view the world. Now prepare yourself for some wide generalizations. I think the German people are very friendly and helpful, but their priority or primary mode of thinking is task oriented. They want to get stuff done. They do not dilly-dally. They get joy from accomplishing tasks and they want everybody following the same rules they have to follow. If you try to do something different Germans are not afraid to let you know. Try walking on a bike path in Germany (the bike paths in Berlin and Hamburg are on the sidewalk and colored red.) If you are walking along and step into the bike path and there is a biker nearby Germans don’t politely ring a bell or say, “On your right.” No they give you the business. Shouting at someone in Germany is not personal or emotional, it is efficient. When Germans are out for a walk, they are walking, don’t try to say, “Hi” or smile, they are walking don’t bother them. Stay out of the damn bike paths unless you are on a bike and for God’s sake, if you step into a bakery know what you want. It is Germany, people have things to do. Tourists should be aware that the unwritten slogan for Germany is, “Welcome to Germany! Now get out of the way!”

Angry German Bakers: Lunch

Dat Backhus: HafenCity, Hamburg

This trip to a German bakery went badly. Usually I could soften this statement with an addition like: The trip to the bakery went badly, but at least I had a delicious, sweet pastry. When you end up with a cold fish sandwich you can’t really soften a bad visit to a bakery. How does one end up with a cold fish sandwich? Well, you order it because you saw a couple other people in line order one and assumed that it must taste good. Here is a word of advice for people traveling in Germany, local tastes may not match your own.

The journey to Dat Backhus had all of the usual foibles I force upon my family when traveling. I wanted to visit HafenCity and I really didn’t plan out much beyond the arrival in HafenCity. I like to explore, to allow myself the freedom to wander around and get lost, wandering aimlessly is not something my family enjoys. What did I know about HafenCity before arriving? There was a miniature world museum and the industrial docks were being turned into cool modern buildings. My plan was to arrive, go to the mini-world, find lunch and then look at the construction of the opera house.

We arrived near HafenCity and within ten minutes I managed to get us lost. It wasn’t like I was trying to get lost, it is something I am just really good at doing. To me lost is an opportunity to see Russians selling drugs out of a van, or to stroll through a private country club without knowing where I am, for my family it is simply a long walk with no end in sight. It took a little time to find mini-world and then it took a little time to decide whether we wanted to eat lunch before going to mini-world or wait until afterwards. I think my family thought we would get lost again if we tried to eat first, so we went into Miniatur Wunderland. Have I mentioned how much Germans love lines? Well, Germans love lines like Disney Imagineers love lines. What looked like a short line from the outside of the building ended up snaking around an entrance and then up a bunch of flights of stairs. We ended up in an empty room with about 50 other people. Then a teenage boy came out from behind a door and started yelling at us, at least that is what it sounded like. He was probably just speaking German loudly, but I felt like I had done something wrong. When he was finished yelling, a door opened and the crowd started moving through it. I waited and then asked the teenager if he spoke English. He did and all of my problems were about to be solved, that is until he told me that this was the line for people who purchased tickets on-line. Only Germans would wait 30 minutes in a line for tickets they already purchased: Germans and stupid Americans like me.

That was the final straw for my now famished family. We were not going to wait in line again, we needed food.

Now no one died on our long, meandering walk that ended at Dat Backhus, but some people were not happy with their husband and my father-of-the-year nomination was put on hold for at least six months.

There was a line in the bakery which I thought was a good sign because it meant the food was probably good and it would give my family the opportunity to get their act together and decide what we wanted to order. Unfortunately everyone in line was German and therefore had planned what to order around 8AM three days earlier. Before we knew what had happened we were faced with a German bakery worker who wanted our order. None of us were ready which is simply not acceptable in Germany. I quickly pointed at the fish sandwich, my daughter pulled the “I’ll have what he is having” assuming I had ordered something edible, my son ordered a couple pastries (which did not please the bakery worker) and my wife ordered something like soup. The Germans in line behind us were not pleased to see this typical American chaos in their orderly world and they expressed their displeasure by looking at their watches which I believe is the German equivalent of shouting “Hurry up!”

I did my best to gather our food, pay the bill (cash only in German restaurants) and then find a seat in the dining area designed by IKEA and Tony Smith. No one in my family was smiling. I felt like I had just gone through an unfortunate medical exam, my son had more confirmation that his father was really Clark Griswold, my wife was very quiet, and my daughter was crying because she had just ordered a cold fish sandwich for lunch. I ended up eating two cold fish sandwiches. My daughter ate some delicious German pastries.  It is times like this, that people like me, end up in places like McDonalds.

Angry German Bakers: Part 1

German Bakery

German Bakery (Photo credit: Alki1)

Where have I had my worst experiences as a monolingual person while traveling? This is an easy question to answer for me: German Bakeries. Now if you haven’t been to a German bakery or seen a German bakery you should visit one, but let me warn you right now that you better know exactly what you want and how to order because if you hesitate or do something wrong you will be in trouble. What kind of trouble? I’m not really sure because most of my German was learned by watching Hogan’s Heroes, but I will describe for you, dear reader, several of my experiences.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof: The main train station in Hamburg. My family was grabbing a quick breakfast before hopping on a train to Berlin. It was earlyish and there was a German Bakery in the train station that we thought we would hit before jumping on board the ICE train and heading to Berlin. Now in the US (I realize we were in Germany, but in order to explain my plight I thought I would explain the cultural differences in ordering food in Germany verses the United States)  in the US a family orders one at a time. I might say what I want, then my wife and so on, but I don’t think that is the routine in German. I say I don’t think that is the routine because I am not sure about the routine. I just know that every time we ordered like this we got a scolding.

Another mistake I believe we made was not knowing exactly what we wanted before we stepped into the little shop. It seems to be the cultural norm in Germany that you must know what you are going to eat for breakfast a solid hour before you step into the bakery. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you go into a German bakery know what you want before stepping into line and don’t start looking at the baked goods before you get in line or they will think you are an Italian trying to cut.

So, back to the train station, I step up to the counter and begin my ordering routine which has all kinds of problems: 1. I speak zero German and even a “Guten Morgen” doesn’t buy you too much sympathy. 2. Pointing at food in German has all kinds of problems. They really do use their thumbs like in Inglorious Bastards. 3. I am American. The bakery guy gave me about five seconds before he started scolding me. Believe it or not, I was scolded many times in Germany, most frequently in bakeries. I don’t blame the German bakers, it was my fault for not being fully prepared. After the scolding the bakery guy just walked away with his tongs. My family was confused. We really didn’t know what had happened, but the lady in line behind us apologized to us in English as if she were somehow responsible for the angry baker. She then stepped in and helped us get our order taken care of. Once we had our delicious baked goods my son conjectured that the reason the baker was mad was because he had to wear his sister’s pants to work. (The baker was wearing those Capri pants that German men wear.)

Tomorrow: The Lunch Bakery

Young Kids, Museums and Travel

When our kids were young we took them to London and Paris. There were people who asked, “Aren’t the kids too young to appreciate Europe?” Well, they may have been, but my goals were not to have them “appreciate” anything, I just wanted them to see the world from a different angle. I wanted them to have a mind altering experience early enough in life so they did not see the world as their enemy, which, in my opinion, is how many Americans view the world.

Now the trip did not always go smoothly, Emma might have been too young to care about the Elgin Marbles, but the trip did allow them to see the world is not a homogenized chunk of Home Depot, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Safeway strip malls crowding each American city. They came back to the USA with an understanding that things are different other places and that isn’t a bad thing. They tried new things and found out that “different” isn’t a threat to an American way of life that must be snuffed out. I believe that if more Americans traveled overseas, not just in military uniforms, the world would be a better place. Only 37% of Americans have passports. That statistic is probably skewed by economics (some people cannot afford to travel) but I believe there is a large group of Americans who never want to leave the country for any reason.

The trip also established two unintended consequences the first being that both of my children have the travel bug. I could not be happier. We went back to Europe with the kids in 2009. We visited Iceland, England, France, Germany and Denmark. Did the kids have a great time 100% of the time? No, but both of them are pleading for us to go back and see new places. You will not hear my kids say, “I hear the French don’t like us” or “What’s there to see in Iceland?” because they know that every place has its own magic. Now, maybe we could have established this idea here in the US, but if you travel much in the US you begin to see that corporations are doing a good job of making the American landscape all the same. Sure, Europe has some of the same problems, but the cultural differences between places is something that even the largest corporations cannot change.

The second unintended consequence of our travel is something more important and that is the shared memories of adventure. Some people have advised me to save money for the kids’ college years, but instead I have spent our money on travel. I have invested in memories instead of the future. Now this might be foolish but I don’t see the point in squirreling away nuts for the winter when those nuts have a pretty good chance of becoming rotten. Memories are investments also. They are the type of investment that always increases in value and my kids have memories they will be able to share with their families some day.

So, should you take your kids on a trip someplace far away before they are old enough to appreciate it? Yes, and then take them again, and again.

 

An Incident at Aquaboulevard

I’m not sure how many days of hot weather we had on our first trip to Paris, but what I do remember is that my daughter, Emma, had heat rash, our hotel had no air conditioning, and there were people dying from heat exhaustion all over Europe that summer. The heat was inescapable unless you stayed in one of the twelve buildings in Paris that had air conditioning. We spent one afternoon in an air-conditioned theater watching a cartoon version of Sinbad in French, no subtitles, no English, we understood none of it but it was two hours of cool air. We didn’t care about the movie; we just cared about air-conditioning. The movie ticket agent was suspicious, we spoke hardly any French, we wanted to buy tickets for a movie that was starting in an hour (“You cannot go in now”) and we were not in an area of Paris nearly free of tourists.

Our goal really was just to give the kids a little treat, they had been such good troopers with the heat and walking, we thought we would take them to a movie. The plan was to go to the theater, which was located in a large shopping mall, get our tickets early, eat lunch at the food court and then watch the movie. We would be inside during the heat of the day, the kids would be refreshed for the rest of the evening, and it was a good plan until we walked by Aquaboulevard. Auqaboulevard was a water park designed by Jacques Cousteau that sat alongside the mall. There were several places in the mall where you could look into the water park, and of course, one of the places just happened to next to the food court. If you are a parent you know how it went.

“Can we go in there?”

“We are going to the movie, we already have tickets.”

“But, I want to go in there.”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“I want to go now,” tears begin streaming down face.

“Maybe tomorrow, I will see how much it will cost. We could spend the whole day there.”

Did I want to spend a whole day in a water park in Paris? No, I really did not want to travel all the way to Paris to swim in a bunch of urine infested waters, but I made the mistake of saying, ‘Maybe tomorrow,’ which meant we were going to the water park tomorrow unless it cost a billion dollars. It didn’t.

The next day we trudged from our hotel to the water park. My kids were excited and I was actually looking forward to getting out of the heat and spending some time frolicking in the urine soaked waters of Aquaboulevard. (I am assuming the water is full of urine. I have no actual evidence of urine in the water other than the fact that kids pee in public pools all the time.)

We arrived at the water park and I began navigating the complex cost system of the water park. There was only one attendant who spoke a little English and so we did our best to figure out the prices. It turned out the least expensive route was getting a yearlong membership, which meant I had to fill out some paper work. I really had no clue what I was writing in any of the little boxes but I did my best and when it all looked done, we paid and began heading back to the changing rooms and here is where the day came apart. There was a red sign with a man wearing shorts with a large red X across it. Next to it was a green sign with a man wearing a Speedo, there was no red X on the Speedo, although, in my opinion there should always be an X on men wearing Speedos.

I stopped the girls from going into the changing rooms and went back to ask the English speaking attendant if our swim trunks were okay. They were not. We had to have Speedos. We did not have Speedos. We could not go into the park. Really? Really.

Cancel the yearlong membership, pull crying kids out of the entryway, walk back to the hotel through the heat, and feel like quitting.  Not a good start to the day.

We did manage to rally and find a great park nearby (see the video) and the kids had a great time there, but someday when I am 70 years old I will have revenge on Aquaboulevard: I will go there in a small white Speedo.

When You Lie to Your Kids

Here is the danger in telling your kids that carrying them in Europe is illegal: they might want to attack you. We had been on longer walks, but those walks were disguised by twists and turns (to be completely honest, many of the twist and turns were because we were lost.) This walk was supposed to be a nice stroll up the Champs-Elysees. Now you don’t have to stroll up the Champs-Elysees if you go to Paris, but be ready to explain your actions when you get home. For most Americans there are several places you must go when visiting Paris: Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame and Champs-Elysees/Arc de Triomphe. If you don’t see one of these places be prepared to explain why. You may not get accused of being a communist (although traveling to Paris these days has a way of coloring you pink anyway) but people will wonder why you didn’t go where they wanted you to.  I must admit I do the same thing when people I know travel: If you went to India, I will ask if you saw the Taj Mahal. If you go to China, I will ask if you saw the Great Wall. If you go to Australia, I will ask about Ayers Rock. Now I don’t really know where many of these famous sites are really located, but I will want you to see them so we have something to talk about.

A random friend will ask, “Did you go to that road where they finish the Tour of France?”

“Why, yes, we walked all the way from the fountains at Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.”

“You kids are so lucky that your parents took you to Paris and you saw all those famous sites.”

So the family stroll up the Champs-Elysees was a walk intended to check off a couple more locations, it was not intended on becoming the Bataan death march. I figured we would walk a bit, sit a bit, go into a shop or two, look around and then continue on until we reached the Arc. Unfortunately we managed to arrive in Paris during one of the longest stretches of hot weather in recorded history. People from the Northwest do not do well in heat, when it gets above 80 degrees we all begin complaining. So by 9 am it was already too hot for our poor bodies and we darted from shady location to shady location like vampires. We did take breaks but as we got further up the street it became more and more crowded but before too long the stroll had become a miserable slog. We trudged up the sidewalk slowly. Most of the tourists around us did not seem to be affected by the heat, they were probably from places like Spain and Italy where it gets above 80 degrees occasionally.

By the time we reached the Arc everyone in my family was exhausted. I wanted to walk to the top of the Arc; it is times like this when my family decides that traveling with me is not fun. I managed to talk my son into taking the stairs up to the top of the Arc, but our stay on top of the Arc was brief because there was no shade and my pale skin was beginning to turn an uncomfortable shade of pink. So, we went back down to the base of the monument I and sat there amazed at my ability to turn a fun outing into something akin to punishment.

Manna from Moo Cow

New Zealand 2007

Image by Szymon Stoma via Flickr

Who knows how old the meat was, but when meat is free does it really matter? I don’t mean you should eat old meat if there are worms in it, but if the meat has been frozen…then so what? It might not taste like you expect but life is full of adventures if you just let yourself get there. At least that is what my experience has taught me. Pass up an opportunity to eat free meat and two days later you might regret it.

Now I doubt that I would steal meat out of a freezer today, let me rephrase that, I doubt I would liberate meat left behind by tourists today, but at the time I was slowly running out of money and the meat was a risk I was willing to take.

My friend, Andy, and I had been touring New Zealand on our bicycles for about two weeks when we found ourselves at the Pauanui Pines Motor Lodge in Pauanui, New Zealand. We ended up there the same way we ended up everywhere else on that trip: dumb luck.

We left Auckland one day and just started pedaling southeast. We had no reservations anywhere, we had no general idea of where we would end up each evening, we just started pedaling and after it started to get late we would begin thinking about where we wanted to sleep. Most of the time it just worked out. We didn’t have a tent, we didn’t plan more than about two hours into the future and I must admit, it was one of the best trips I have ever taken.

The Pauanui Pines had little bungalows around the property with a couple beds, a television, a dining room table and a kitchen. We arrived just after the holidays so the place was nearly vacant and the rates were favorable.

So how did I go from staying at the Pauanui Pines to stealing meat? That is a good question. It happened on the way to the shower. Andy and I had a long day of swimming in the ocean, sunning on the beach and basically acting like bums, but even bums need a shower on occasion and so we grabbed our towels and headed over to the shower rooms. The showers were the kind where you drop in a ten-cent piece and then scrub like a madman hoping to remove all the soap and dirt before the water turns off. I believe there is probably some laboratory where they see how quickly someone can actually take a shower and then they set all of the pay showers to about ten seconds less than that.

Since Andy and I were super cheap I don’t think the time limit was going to affect us, if the shower turned off too early we would have just finished with a garden hose. On our way back to the bungalow we thought we should check out the clubhouse but once we got in the door we realized that it really was just a big kitchen for the campers with a few stoves and lots of table space. Two weeks earlier, during the holidays, I am certain that the clubhouse was packed with families, but on this evening it was just us.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of needing, I mean really needing, to look in unfamiliar freezers and there were two freezers in the clubhouse. I don’t know how Theodore Davis felt when he discovered Tut’s tomb, but I suppose he felt about as good as I did when I opened the first white freezer in the clubhouse. The freezer was packed with food. We checked the other freezer and it was also filled.

There are some people who would consider our next move stealing, but really is it stealing if someone leaves something behind? You don’t get arrested if you pick up a broken couch that is sitting alongside a road. You don’t get arrested when you find a twenty-dollar bill on the ground. Is it stealing if something is left for the good of humanity? Well Andy and I did not spend a great deal of time discussing the finer points of the moral dilemma before us. We each slipped a couple of loose hamburger patties into our towels and strolled back to the bungalow.

Andy and I had been surviving on potatoes, lamb sausages, barbeque sauce and beer for two weeks so it didn’t really matter to us how old the meat was. It might have been there for two years for all we knew, but hamburger is one of those beautiful meats that cannot be ruined, it is ruined as soon as it comes out of the massive grinder that combines all the crap they can’t chop into steak.

So, that evening we dined on two very well done hamburgers, I may not believe that hamburger can be ruined, but I do believe in cooking mystery food thoroughly. We ate those burgers with a generous helping of barbeque sauce and potatoes, and then began plotting our next shower. We certainly didn’t want to get caught hauling meat out of the freezer, but at the same time we did not want to pass up the opportunity to have a free meal provided by the generous people of New Zealand.

We showered twice a day. Our quick showers were always followed by hearty meals of mystery meat and potatoes.

The days were warm, the surf broke wonderfully, the beach was lovely, the few campers we talked to were friendly, but the showers were always exceptional.

A Good Lie to Tell Your Kids

Traveling with young kids can be a challenge. They are grumpy little people with short attention spans and not much interest in history or art. So when my wife and I decided to take our kids to Europe for the first time there were many challenges we had to overcome: How do you keep your kids entertained without spending the whole day at places like Chuck E Cheese? How do you avoid eating at places like McDonalds? How do you introduce your children to a world that will be vastly different than the one they are accustomed to? And how do you get from location to location without carrying them everywhere?

I wasn’t sure how I would overcome all of these challenges but I did decide right up front that I was not going to lug a stroller around London and Paris and I was not going to spend my vacation time like a pack mule carrying my kids from location to location, so I did what parents have been doing for centuries, I lied to my kids. It was a simple lie, a beautiful lie, and a lie I would suggest for any American family traveling overseas.

“Did you know it is against the law to carry children in Europe?”

There it is. One day, probably after carrying my kids around Seattle, this little gem popped out of my mouth. At first I really didn’t know how valuable this gem was but if you are a parent you know that carrying a 40 pound kid around for 20 minutes can be tiring, so carrying two kids around Europe for two weeks is not anything any parent wants to do unless they are some kind of super-parent who wants to brag about how great they are. I am not that parent.

Now some of you out there might be skeptical about how well this would work, but let me assure you that once we arrived in London we saw very few children being carried. Most people who live there take their kids in strollers and on the couple occasions we did see children being carried my children actually believed that the parents were breaking the law.

My kids walked everywhere. They were little troopers. They walked to the Tube station, they walked through museums, they walked long distances (okay, we did have to buy a lot of ice cream), but I did not carry my children. Did I have any guilt over this lie? Nope, not a bit. Were there any problems? Well, my daughter did get angry once or twice, but that story is for tomorrow.

The Flying Wiking

No one wants a taxi driver to laugh when you tell them where you want go, especially when that place is your hotel, or what you thought was your hotel.

When my family arrived in Iceland everything went reasonably smoothly, reasonably being defined by our travel history is arriving in the right place and not being lost. We got onto a plane in Seattle flew for 8 or 9 hours and ended up at Keflavik Airport at around 7am. We were a little tired, none of us could sleep on the flight, but we arrived on time, went and exchanged dollars for Icelandic Kroner and hung around waiting for a bus to take us to the Blue Lagoon (more on this place in another post.) We did the Blue Lagoon and then caught another bus to take us into Reykjavik. When the bus driver asked us where we were staying I said, “The Flying Viking, do you know where that is?” The bus driver laughed and then asked for the address. I tried several times to pronounce the street name. The Icelandic language is one of the greatest practical jokes in the world. There are about 50 letters (I might be exaggerating here, but it is my blog) and many of them I had never seen before. If you think German sounds like you are clearing your throat to spit, let me introduce you to Icelandic. One of my favorite jokes during our stay in Iceland was to ask for the crossword puzzle (a real knee slapper.)

So the bus driver acknowledged that the street in question existed and that I would have to take a taxi to get there because the road was too narrow for the bus. Now when you book your hotel from a computer in the Northwest corner of the United States and there are not 100’s of guides to Iceland waiting at the local bookstore…well let’s just say you might be tempted to take a risk and go for the hotel with great ratings and a low cost. Well, maybe you wouldn’t, but I would, so the Flying Viking it was.

The big bus drove us from the Blue Lagoon to Reykjavik, through what can only be described as the strangest countryside I had ever seen, like the moon covered with moss. We arrived at the bus station in Reykjavik and transferred our bags to a van.

“Vhere are you going?” the van driver asked.

“The Flying Viking.”

Van driver laughs, “The Flying Wiking? Do you hawe an address?”

“N:OEHfha;owug? NIEfuhl;a.ufg?” Finally I just showed him the alphabet soup of an address. “Do you know where this is?” I didn’t know Reykjavik was the size of a small American town but anyone who lives there for more than a week probably knows 1/4 of the people living there.

“Yes.”

So we drove through the outskirts of the town and then into the downtown area and finally we arrived at our location, a street of typical Icelandic houses. The driver got out and wandered around for a moment and then returned with a lady who had keys to the “Flying Viking.” She led us around a house to a shed/garage that had been converted into a guest house. I tipped the van driver and we pulled our bags into the shed. The key lady didn’t speak any English so she handed over the key and disappeared.

Now it is times like this when it is hard being the dad. There were bunk beds in our shed, but there was a small kitchen, a bathroom that smelled like rotten eggs (all the bathrooms smell like rotten eggs because of the thermal water used to power everything in Iceland) and there was a television that played one channel in English, one channel in Danish and one channel in Icelandic. The English channel was a 24 hour American Christian Evangelical one, full of bad hair and brimstone.

We were tired, staying in a shed and I thought we needed at least four days to see the best of Iceland, my family was not pleased.

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