Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Now what? Let's check out Greek Fest 2013.

Well, I'm bored.  I feel like a rudderless ship floating in a sea of inactivity.  I know Lori will disagree but I still think the assignment is a harder adjustment for the non-working spouse.  I covered the adjustment difficulties going over on a previous post and now I am again adjusting to a new routine.  Lori has work and the kids have school so they are back in their routines but once the house was in running condition and my To Do List quit growing I started having more free time on my hands.  Not every day mind you but I still had a lot of free time to burn.  You can't clean, job hunt, run errands or work out ten hours a day every day so eventually my time started piling up on my schedule.  I'm also not planning vacations anymore or blogging every week so my daily routine is still in flux.  A little bit of an unsettling feeling at times but I'm sure it will pass once I am into a routine.  Not travelling to different countries anymore is a real downer as well which doesn't help my mental mood.  We were excited to come home and see everyone but after a few weeks that euphoria passes and it's a little depressing thinking of the sights, sounds, and tastes that we experienced (and may not experience again for a long time).  I honestly can't say that I miss much about the day to day living in England however.  Obviously I miss the BHC lunches and seeing the ex-pats but I have to admit when I reread my Repatriation blog post that my experience wasn't as negative as the blog post sounded.  It wasn't my intention to sound so negative so hopefully I didn't mislead people on how bad the experience was for me.  For Lori... let's not go there.  Apparently the roller coaster ride of feelings that accompany this assignment don't end once you set foot back on US soil.

I've been Chicken Little-ing about my trusty point and shoot camera the last few months of our adventure but now it doesn't matter.  Lori bought me a Nikon D3100 DSLR with 18-55 mm and 55-200 mm lenses a couple of weeks back.  Yeah Lori!  It was on sale in Target so she picked it up for me, ain't she swell?  I still don't know how to use it but it sure is nice.  Now to do some adventuring to try out the different features.

School started again for the kids.  Kalle is in 6th grade this year and Karl is in 9th grade so each one entered a new building and different class schedule with their classmates which is good.  The classes they were able to take is about what I figured they would be.  They were both in the AP or advanced curriculum when we left and after testing for the AP curriculum when we returned they didn't get into the AP classes.  They did qualify for some pre-AP classes (between general education and AP courses) but schooling in England is basically crap.  Or maybe I should be thankful for the excellent Brownsburg school system where they will be spending most of their formative years.  

First day of school in mid-August.  Not yeah.  (One of my first pictures with my new camera, sorry for the fuzziness.)
First day of school in England doesn't seem to be two years ago already.  But it was.
A couple of weeks ago we had our welcome back party.  Lori got together with some of our neighbors to plan/invite the bash/bashers and it turned out great.  We had about 65 people (including children) show up to share the warm and sunny Saturday with us.  Thanks to Rod and Steph, Kevin and Kathy, and Frank and Darby for the fun party.  We had three yards to let the kids run around in and K&K were generous enough to let the kids play on their club house so with all of the kid games, club house and three yards to run around in I think there were a lot of tired kids that Saturday night.  Thanks to everyone who showed up; especially Wes, Paul and Jeremy for the acoustical performance which was a hit with the lucky people who stayed late.  I focused on enjoying the party instead of documenting it so no pictures, sorry.  For my BHS classmates, Tom Dompier and his family showed up.  Tom moved to Indy just before we left so it will be nice to spend time with him, Jen and T now that we are back in town.  We all had a great time and were again reminded how lucky we are to have the friends, family and co-workers (okay Lori's co-workers) that we have in our lives.

Another fun part of party weekend was seeing the Fosters and Stines.  The six of us were all at Michigan Tech at the same time but didn't all know each other.  The girls were all part of a group of trouble making ne'er-do-wells but the guys didn't know each other.  Needless to say we always have a good time and try to see both families multiple times a year as we are all within a few hours drive of each other.  Another fun weekend together but I stayed up way to far past midnight both nights and ended up being sluggish most of Sunday as my body reminded me of my age.  My spirit is still willing but my body is just not able any more.

The rabble rousers.  Nothing a big tree and roll of rope can't fix, right Uncle Rick?

Some names to go along with the faces, from left to right; Tammy Foster, Lori Seppanen, and Christy Stine.  The trouble makers.

More names and faces, from left to right; Jim Foster, Jay Seppanen, and Dan Stine.  And the good guys.
Since we have spent most weekends around home I've been itching to get out and about.  Enter Darby who forwarded us the 40th Annual Greek Fest in Carmel flyer.  Lori and I loved Greece so we decided to check it out.  Plus I need to start using my DSLR to figure it out.  We ended up going on Saturday and spent a couple of hours there.  Admission was free since it was the 40th year so at least we got what we paid for.  Overall the festival was kind of small with about twelve tents in the church parking lot.  All but two of the tents were food tents so we were a little disappointed in the Greek displays.  We did try the food and tour the church so it was an okay stop but I don't think we will be going back any time soon.

Ahhhhh Santorini, we miss you.  Oia is on the left while Fira (and the winding donkey trail road down to the new port) is in the middle.  Our hotel was on the right side just before Akrotiri.  The island in the middle is the remnants of the volcano that is credited with starting the story of Atlantis.  I forget what the name of the island on the bottom of the picture.

Lori's buddy the pelican overlooks the windmill and the blue domed, white washed buildings.

Dana Johnson Pic - Saganaki (fried cheese) and pita bread.  It tasted great, the peppery spice on the cheese was just enough to add flavor.  This and the church artwork were the only items that reminded us of Greece, the rest of the fest was more Greek imitations than memory awakening reminders.

Kevin Coleman Pic - The beer was from Cyprus.  C'mon Greek Fest, you can do better.

Inside the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church listening to the guides tell us about the church and paintings.

They brought seven Greek painters over to paint the church walls and ceiling.  Beautiful artwork.

The painters used the egg yolk painting method to paint the interior.  I forget the specifics but the egg whites and yolks are separated, the yolks are combined, a small amount of egg white is added to the yolks, then the color is added and stirred.  Expensive and time consuming but hard to argue with the results.

And one more for the art lovers.  Note the old city walls of Jerusalem behind the scene.
The altar area.

The dome.

A small painting, just as crisp and distinctive as the walls.

Looking at the center of the church.  Not all of the walls are painted so the Greek painters probably will be making a return journey.

The outside of the church and one of the fest tents.

Dana Johnson Pic - My Greek salad on the left and Lori's hummus on the right.  Both dishes were disappointing.

The church in the distance on our way to the car then home.  We opted to pay five bucks and park on the grounds instead of searching for the free park and ride lot.  I've spent five bucks on more foolish things, for example I used to pay five bucks for a flat, bitter, and warm pint of beer back in Merry Old England.  This was a much better deal.  

A Carol Seppanen Book Update - Our stop in Florence made such a deep impact on me I read Inferno by Dan Brown and am now reading The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated by Allen Mandelbaum, 798 pages.  The Divine Comedy is considered a classic and now that I am reading it I understand the Florence artwork better but it is a difficult read.  For one it was written in the early 1300's and covers his perceived injustices with the people and times so most of the references are new to me.  Mandelbaum does an excellent job explaining the references in the Cantos but most of the late 1200's Italian events and people are beyond my scope of knowledge.  An interesting read overall but it can get confusing and plodding at times as he literally skewers his mortal enemies.  The book details Dante's walk through heaven and hell as guided by the poet Virgil and is split into three sections - Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso.  Right now I have read through Inferno and am well into Purgatorio.  The book can be quite graphic and imaginably torturous to the condemned at times so I can imagine that it caused quite the controversy when it was published.  Not sure which is worse, a scorned woman or a scorned writer.  I know, I know... it's a woman.

And finally Lori is happy.  Relieved might be a better word actually.  I will be gainfully employed next month when I start my Project Engineer job for a local engineering consulting company.  New company but similar job to what I have been doing the last ten or so years so there shouldn't be any surprises.  I took most of July off from job hunting so I can't complain too much about how long it took me to find a job.  It will be nice to feel like a contributing member to society again and it will be even nicer to be a two income family again but I still am a little sad to say goodbye to my work at home and travel every six weeks life style I became accustomed to while in the UK.  I think I may be the only one missing the travel though.  The kids don't want to go ANYWHERE while Lori only misses the international vacations.  It was fun while it lasted but I knew life would run us down again eventually.

Until next time,

Thanks for listening,

Monday, 22 July 2013


Well, where do I begin?  I don't have any idea so I'll just start blathering on about whatever thought passes through my head.  Our trip back to the US was almost uneventful.  We flew back to Gatwick from Iceland, met Brandon to pick up our luggage, and went to Heathrow for our final night in England.  We ate and repacked our luggage and by then it was late so we settled down for the night and another early morning flight.  We had four huge checked bags and six carry on bags of various sizes that we carried onto the plane.  We were pretty excited standing in the Heathrow gate area when the airline (United) announced they were checking bags free of charge due to the full plane.  So we checked the two biggest carry-ons we had and boarded the plane.  We made it to Chicago where we were greeted with hot air pushing its way through the terminal doors and into the terminal vestibules which combined two of the things I missed most in England - hot summer days and air conditioning.  After a few hours in Chicago we boarded our Indy flight and were home in a couple of hours.  The house was in great shape and all of our neighbors were complimentary of our renters in spite of our worthless Carmel based rental management company.  Not to get too negative but the last straw for us was when the plumbers they (rental company) called proposed to change out the sump pump because of all the "problems" they were having with it.  This is after $800 we spent the last two years on it and we had finally had enough.  So Lori called and told them no more of those plumbers and had her father check the sump pump.  Turns out the sump pump had to be repositioned inside the crock so the float would stop sticking on the side wall.  And the back up battery needed water.  Needless to say we were less than happy which led to another conversation with the management company but that was our only issue with the house so I think we were lucky overall.  We were not so lucky with our checked luggage however.  When we checked the two bags in the heat of the moment at Heathrow we forgot that one of the bags had some of our money in it.  When we arrived home and started emptying the bags Lori noticed a coin bag was open and coins were all over the inside.  Turns out someone had gone through the bag and stole Icelandic Kronor notes and Lori's new 5 Euro Note from a plastic bag and also rifled through Kalle's wallet and stole her pounds and an iTunes gift card.  Needless to say we were nuclear but after a couple of weeks of the run around from TSA we will probably never be reimbursed for those items.  Lori finally got through to Chicago TSA and they denied it at first; secondly said they had video footage of checking 1 pieces of luggage, and it had Kalle's name instead of Lori's; and thirdly said they didn't have any record of checking any of our other suitcases (even though we had the TSA tag in all 6 bags).  Really TSA?  You don't think that someone stealing items out of luggage isn't smart enough to do it out of the camera's eye?  Long story short, no proof of it happening...so no admission of theft...so no reimbursement.  Even worse I spoke to another Rolls employee who had two authentic football shirts stolen from her luggage and she wasn't reimbursed for those either.  It even makes me mad as I sit here and type this three weeks later.  We are trying another route to recover the money but have extremely low expectations.  Really, really, really upset with Chicago TSA which is where we think it was stolen as the luggage was plane side loaded in London and taken from the airplane to luggage carousel in Indy, so there wasn't time for anyone to search it other than Chicago.  I guess the politicians aren't the only crooks in Chicago.  The pounds and iTunes card are only money so that isn't as big a deal as the Icelandic and Euro notes which we will probably never be able to replace.  We should have remembered and swapped the money to a carry on bag in Chicago before rechecking the bags but oh well.  Hopefully someone reading this will benefit from it and save themselves the pain and aggravation of being robbed by "airline security".

Other than the stolen money the return home has been beyond awesome.  Our neighbors are great, one of them gave me a "care package" our first night back so I would have cold beer (thanks Kevin) and another neighbor cooked out for us on our second night (thanks Frank and Darby).  Throw in Mark and Rod (and Frank again) who supplied trucks and muscle to empty our storage units and our neighbors rock!  Our house still has a few rooms of boxes in it but most of our stuff has been unpacked and placed in its spot.  When we came back the kids and I hung around for the weekend then went to the UP to see my parents and other friends/family members.  We were there for about a week and had a great time catching up with everyone but unfortunately the vacation had to end.  Fortunately for the kids and I, Lori had most everything put away from our weekend storage unit trips so the house looked somewhat organized for a few days until we emptied out the units.  Kalle had a funny comment after the units were emptied and our house was full of boxes and containers.  She jokingly said maybe we should go on vacation again.  I laughed and told her I was going to tell her mother.  The really funny part was that I had the same idea!  Oh well, reality had to slap us eventually.

Some differences in living in America vs. England.

  1. Commercials, commercials, commercials.  I miss the every half hour commercials breaks in England.  They seem to be every fifteen minutes here unless you are watching a sporting event in which case they are every ten minutes unless you are watching the end of the game when they are every two minutes.  I didn't convert to world football (soccer) during our stay but I loved their running clock concept.  No time outs and the game only stops at the end of the half.  Even ice hockey has the time out concept down but then they wreck it by having commercials during the periods.
  2. America and everything in it is HUGE!  Wide roads, clothes washer and dryer (I would estimate our laundry load sized have tripled or quadrupled since moving back into our American house), even our showers are huge (I washed my hair our first morning back and didn't hit my elbows on the shower walls for the first time in two years), even laundry baskets are big, restaurant portion sizes (ugh - not good), and everything is spread out here (we were a half mile walk to Littleover village and a mile and a half from Mickleover village while here we are about three miles from Brownsburg town).
  3. Air conditioning is pretty nice in the summer.  It doesn't typically get warm enough in England to justify the cost so I understand why they don't have it but it sure does feel nice to be outside in the blazing sun then walk into an air conditioned house.  I read that almost 800 people have died in the current week long England heat wave which tells you how well prepared they are for hot weather.  The story also said it has been above 86 F for six straight days which was extreme heat compared to our time there.
  4. Lots and lots of variety in America.  Automobiles, food (peanut butter and beer styles for example), TV shows (seemed to be a lot of crime/mystery and reality type shows in England), and services options to name a few examples.
  5. LOVE LOVE LOVE parking in America and not hunting down the parking meter to feed coins or stepping out of a pub/restaurant to feed the expiring meter.  Parking in general is great with all of the wide and available USA parking spaces.
  6. I don't think I have had to cross the center line once to miss a row of parked cars here.  In England it is so common that it is written into their driving laws that if you need to cross the center line to avoid a parked car and there is oncoming traffic you are supposed to stop in your lane short of the parked car, let the oncoming traffic pass, then proceed past the parked car and into the other lane.
  7. I complained a lot about the food and beer in England for good reason - it tasted horrible.  But it did make me think about food in America.  Why does it taste so good and why does it stay so long in the fridge?  Food spoils in the fridge faster in England so what preservatives and other artificial junk is in our food?  England doesn't allow Mountain Dew in the country because of its ingredients but it is a top seller in America.  So what are we putting in our bodies every time we drink a Dew?  Food preparation in England restaurants was a lot of boring but healthier sandwiches like bread, meat, cheese, butter and chutney or bread, rocket, butter, egg and mayonnaise.  Bland but natural and healthy except for the butter which was on EVERYTHING.  Cooked food was a lot of fried like fish and chips (I don't get the fascination with fish and chips, they were just greasy tasting fried food IMO) which was not good for you.  They also seasoned their food with salt and pepper instead of herbs and spices which is not good for you.  Overall the food was good (in terms of natural ingredients) and bad (in terms of fried, butter and salt) which has really made me think about my diet in America.  I plan on paying more attention to the foods I make and eat here so we'll see how long that lasts, hopefully the rest of my life.
  8. Beer was just awful.  Cask Ale is the overly dominant type which means the majority of the available beer is usually a touch below room temperature, flat and bitter pint glass of disappointment.  There also were a lot of lagers there but I just got tired of them.  Jokester Lori suggested I quit drinking beer when I would complain to much - isn't she funny?  After ales and lagers was cider in terms of popularity.  I had one by mistake and had a couple more during the assignment to give it a chance but cider is not for me.  Stouts and porters were available every once in a while and IPA's haven't dented the English beer market yet so I was pretty excited to move back home and have some choices again.
  9. England does a great job of embracing and preserving its past which means castles, manor houses, nature and landmarks are all available and interesting to tour.  On the flip side their chokehold grasp on the past is not so great when it comes to technology, services or what the rest of the world is doing.  In America it feels like all the companies are in a competition to come out with the fastest, smallest, best, etc. gadgets while the status quo is fine in England.  This is especially common with our services experience.  Eight weeks to fix a clothes dryer and a week without hot water (which supplies heat and hot water through out the house) was ridiculous.  Granted you may have to pay extra in America to get a service person to come out sooner than their normal schedule allows but there is still that option.  In the past we have had problems with our American services and after complaining to the company they would send out the "A-Team" of the service technicians.  In England they just take your name and file it.  I do want to note that not all American services and technology is great and English is horrible, it is just the mentally, or maybe culture is a better word, of the countries.  I think it is because of the competitive free markets resulting from the capitalist economic structure of America.  England has a socialist economic structure so most people depend on the government or cooperative businesses to help them out or when something needs to be done.  One particularly frustrating part of living over there was everyone complaining about the poor services but everyone just accepts the slow and poor service, no one is able to change it.  Down with The Man!  Americans seem to work at making life more convenient or easier while in England they just accept life as it is.  Lemming down!  Lemming down!
  10. I won't even go into how disappointing the schools were there.  Thankfully the kids have time to catch up to the rest of their US classmates.  I do believe that they are much more enriched from the whole experience than if we had stayed in America for two years.  Living in a foreign country for two years, making new friends, and adapting to a strange environment are all great life skills for them to accumulate at this stage in their lives.  Plus they experienced different country's cultures, currencies, food, sights, sounds, world treasures, etc. first hand which is irreplaceable.  I don't have any regrets from doing the assignment, only frustrations which are just small radar blips in the big picture.
  11. Everyday living in England was tough at times.  We spoke the same language but the customs and culture are different.  Other than our Washington State neighbors we didn't do much with the neighborhood.  Here you go and talk to the neighbors and vice versa whenever someone is out, go out socially with them, get to know them after a while, etc. but over there it was more of a cursory "hello, how are you" chat so we never got to know the Brit neighbors very well.  It was also a difficult transition to go from working full time to not working at all.  Running errands, doing the housework, taxiing the kids, writing the blog, researching trips, and working out was just not as fulfilling for me as when I hit a milestone or accomplished something in my Indy job.  A very difficult transition in the beginning as the non-working spouse is the support system for the kids and working spouse as they get settled into their new lives.  It gets better over time but the feeling of fulfillment is lacking.  Until it was vacation time in which everything we saw was worth the pain and frustration of everyday life abroad.

Some items I am struggling with right now.  Holy Crap Batman do we have a lot of junk.  We keep unboxing and putting away and unboxing and putting away and unboxing... and I can't stop thinking "do we really need all this stuff?".  We are all guilty of the crime but after living with minimal extras for two years I can't help but feeling a bit materialistic.  Car buying.  So, so, so many options here - where to start?  Putting a dollar limit on the car price doesn't help as there are still a ton of options.  We may have to limit our search to a manufacturer in order to find something.  Of course it doesn't help that I am still job hunting (means a lower cost vehicle) and our month long rental is a brand new spacious Ford Edge SUV (not a lower cost vehicle).  I bet you can guess what kind of vehicle Lori wants.

I have adjusted physically to living in the US but not mentally.  The five hour time difference is a little weird for me.  This week I've woken up and turned on the Tour de France and British Open only to realize it is in the afternoon there already.  Lunchtime here is quitting time there and I was just there a few weeks ago which I can process but it just seems weird.  Driving on the right side of the road however was an instant adjustment which felt natural from the first time I sat behind the wheel.  It took a week to adjust to driving in England and for a few months afterwards it was in the back of my head "drive on the left, drive on the left" while I haven't even thought about driving on the left here.  I also miss the vacations already.  Our homecoming was much better than I ever expected with our friends and family but the other day I saw an artwork picture of the Eiffel Tower and it made me a little sad.  Lori and I want to continue travelling internationally but the assignment is financially draining so it will probably be a few years before we can afford another vacation.  Mentally I am still on the "vacation every six weeks" plan but reality has definitely sunk into my thick skull.

Travelling had a strange effect on me - as we travelled I felt sheltered growing up in the US.  Every time we travelled the residents spoke very good or pretty good English and I don't know a second language.  There were a couple of place where we momentarily struggled - cab drivers in Jerusalem and some Zagreb spots - but for the most part we did not encounter any language barriers.  Obviously part of it is due to the size of the US, I think I have seen about half of the states from a quick mental count but a lot of that has been work related or pre-marriage travel so as a family we have only seen a few states.  Compared to the Brits we knew however we were easily jet setters.  I only met a few families there who travelled internationally with Spanish islands/coast, France, and the US (New York or Florida mainly) being the most popular destinations.  I even met people there in their forties who had never been to Wales or Scotland.  That's only a three or four hour drive!  Heck, when we lived in downstate Michigan we had to drive nine and a half hours to see my parents and we never left the state.  And Michigan isn't even a top ten state ranked by area.  In England you can drive from Land's End in southwestern England to John o' Groats in northern Scotland in fourteen hours per Google Maps.  Such a small area, I don't understand why the Brits don't travel the UK.

In all we visited twenty-five countries, except Lori who only tallied twenty-four, on our European adventure.  In an ironic twist of fate she missed Portugal which is the only trip she mostly planned.  Our list of the other twenty-four countries is Iceland, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Vatican City, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Germany, Greece and Israel. We also did get to Asia (Israel) so if you count America we actually have been to three continents in the last two years.  Not to shabby I think.  For the trips we developed a system.  Lori and I picked the transportation and lodging (still don't think the Tel Aviv hotel was THAT bad although it didn't have a hair dryer) while I planned the itinerary based upon feedback from the family.  Or what was usually the case I picked what I thought would be a little something for everyone as I found out my customers were better at providing feedback AFTER we toured something as opposed to BEFORE I scheduled the tour.  But I enjoy a challenge so it was only mildly frustrating when I picked a clunker like Museum Day in Munich.  We will NEVER do Museum Day again.

My top three trip places are the Greek Islands, Jerusalem and Dead Sea, and Rome.  I feel that if you can only go on one European trip in your lifetime it has to be Rome.  If I had to pick a single unique experience it would be sitting down in the Dead Sea and just floating.  Second tier trip places were Switzerland, Paris, Stockholm, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  My favorites cities in addition to the above are Bath (England), Florence (Italy) and Mykonos(Greece).  Lots of fun cities and fantastic memories but those stand out as special to me.

My top sights or memories in no particular order: pick any church in Rome and the artwork is amazing except St. Peter's Basilica which is an artwork masterpiece, the gilded gluttony of Palace of Versailles, visiting my cousin's house in Veliki Jadrc, Big Ben sparkling in the sunshine, seeing the Eiffel Tower in person was mesmerizing, Dachau was moving, and the post cards views of Mykonos and Santorini.  I would be remiss here if I didn't mention the Better Halves Club lunches (you'll do great running it Laverne) and Bull's Head ex-pat get togethers which gave me a much needed reminder (and fun) of home.  Also need to thank the Freys who were our companions on many outings and nights in and/or out.  Not only was it great to have another family with the same age children around to occupy them, the adults always had fun.  I will also miss mine and Steve's occasional pub crawls as they are still on assignment across the pond.  I guess we will have to continue those nights when they return.  Extra thanks to Steve who answered my blogging questions in the beginning then became a sounding board and advisor on travel plans.  Feel free to enjoy a few more English Cask Ales in my memory Steve!  I'll enjoy anything but an English Cask Ale in your memory.  Enjoy your remaining time there Freys, we are looking forward to our next outing when your assignment ends.

As for the rest of the sights, how can I count them or recall all we learned?  Famous authors (Dante, Rowling, Dahl, H.C. Anderson, Shakespeare), musicians (Mozart, Beatles, Sibelius), artists (Picasso, Gaudi, Dali, Michelangelo and the rest of the TMNT, Bernini, Warhol), houses (Chatsworth, Casa Dante, Mozart Birthplace, King David's in Jerusalem), churches (Holy Sepulchre, York Minster, St. Peter's Basilica, St. Gallen Cathedral, St. Paul's Cathedral, La Sagrada Familia), artwork (The Thinker, David, Mona Lisa, Rembrandt's Night Watch, Sistine Chapel), museums (Vasa, British Museum, Louvre, Rijksmuseum, Yad Vashem), castles and fortresses (Neuschwenstein, Tower of London, Conwy Castle, Akerhus Fortress in Oslo, Suomelinna Fortress, Castle of St. George in Lisbon, ), structures (Arch of Constantine, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, Parthenon, Pantheon, Leaning Tower), natural beauty (Peak District, Golden Circle Tour in Iceland, Greek Islands, Norway coastline, Giants Causeway), bridges (Bridge of Sighs, Tower Bridge, Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, Rialto, Ha' Penny Bridge), beer (anywhere but England), food (Greek salad and fish [stuffed tomatoes and peppers for Lori] in Greece, Croque Monsieur in Paris, sauerkraut and sausage in Munich, pasta carbonara and tiramisu in Italy, apple strudel in Croatia, Belgian waffles, airy mountain meringue of deliciousness in Salzburg), world currency conversions (US dollars, GB pounds, Euros, all the different kroners, kunas, shekels, Thailand Baht), travelling between time zones, European geography (at the expense of US geography as I don't think either child could list all 50 states), English history (at the expense of US history), a couple million statues, the different building architecture styles (Amsterdam's Shel Silverstein looking canal buildings, Paris' and Lisbon's triangular buildings, England's charming old Tudor and Cotswold houses, Scandinavia's efficient and plain styled residences, Greece's Cliffside white walls and blue roofed houses), and everything else that slips my mind now.  Such a great adventure.

On the other side of the coin is the disappointing sights: Stonehenge (a must do IMO for the history but still a downer), Cork including Blarney Stone, Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Mannekin Pis in Brussels, and White Cliffs of Dover (although everyone else we know liked it so maybe we were just sabotaged by the weather like in Venice).

Would go we back to any of the countries?  Maybe but I don't think so right now.  It isn't related to the countries as our memories range from very good to great in all of them.  Even Amsterdam with all of it drugs, sex and cut tulip stems is a better memory now for me.  The canals and buildings along the canal were great as was the food, NEMO, Old and New Churches, and Ann Frank House so there was some fun for us there in retrospect.  But now these past two years had stirred curiosity in us to see the rest of the world.  Japan, Australia, South Africa, Egypt, Easter Island, South American ruins, and Russia are all on our list as are about twenty other places.  Heck even cold and boring Canada would be nice to see again.  (JK eh Dana.)  That doesn't even count the US places we want to see - Niagara Falls, New York City, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Utah, the Rockies, Seattle area, Mount Rushmore and plenty more.  That being said if I had to make a top five list of re-do's it would be Jerusalem, Veliki Jadrc (would love to go back there one day), Greek Islands, Rome, and Paris.

Once was enough for some countries.  Denmark (okay sights but very dirty city), Netherlands (kind of conflicted as Amsterdam had high highs and low lows), and Spain (Barcelona was a little disappointing but I think any place immediately after Rome would be so I need to add an asterisk to this entry).  But even those places had good memories so I can't say we had any bad trips, only some low points during a few trips.

How have we changed?  I certainly feel more cognizant of other people - their nationalities, religion, customs, etc. - then when we left.  England did feel less judgmental in both personal opinions and biased media coverage so I will miss that part of life.  We came back for the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial and the omnipresent media coverage was extremely annoying.  I also feel that we will travel more on weekend trips (once we are settled and have a few dollars to our name again) and hopefully national and international trips (once we have a lot more dollars to our name).  I am glad that we went on the assignment as it allowed us to experience life in another country which will hopefully have a lasting effect on the broadening of our personal horizons.  Especially the kids as the world keeps getting smaller so I think it is very likely they will have an international aspect to their job so when that time comes I want them to have the "no problem, been there done that" attitude when the times comes.  I did not turn into a world football fan however, I just missed American sports more as the assignment wore on. 

I don't plan on continuing my blogging career but haven't made a final decision on it yet.  Some people have suggested I continue to cover local sights and compare how those day trips compare to England and I may do that once we are settled in.  Lori and I plan on getting around the area more since there is a lot here we haven't seen a lot of yet - Brown County, St. Louis, Louisville, Nashville, Chicago, etc.  Lots to see and do around us now that our eyes are open.

And finally, a massive thank you to all of the readers who have followed us on our adventure.  Writing the blog started out as a way to keep in touch with our relatives at home and has turned into our European adventure travel journal so Thank You to everyone who took a little time out of their day to check in on us.  Once I realized people were actually reading it I started putting more attention and detail into the final product which I am thankful for since this will be the account of our time in England.  The blog turned into more work than I anticipated but it really turned into a labor of love.  And I have all of you to thank for it.  Your kind words and complimentary feedback meant a lot to me so I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. 

Until next time,

Thanks for listening,
The Seppanens

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


I'm back blog fans,
It's been a few weeks since I've been standing on English soil.  We are still unpacking, setting up services, figuring out A & B, and settling our affairs and will be doing so for a few more weeks but I'll take a short break to cover our final trip before heading back across the pond.  We decided to squeeze in a trip to Iceland on the way home for a couple of reasons - Lori still had vacation time and we still had money in the bank account.  So off we went to London to drop off our big luggage at my buddy Brandon's flat.  (A quick note - for the sake of cleanliness I will do a repatriation post after this Iceland post but will chronologically skip over a bit to keep this post only about Iceland.)  Thanks to Brandon for meeting us for dinner and also storing our luggage for us.  Not only was it great to meet him once again for dinner at a very good Thai place we encountered a pleasant surprise...

Trappist on tap!  Thinking of my ex-pat mates Doug and Jeff who stopped at a Trappist brewery during their Belgium trip.  Maybe the best beer I had on tap while in England.  I probably could have stayed for about 10 more but an early morning flight was calling us from Gatwick so we walked back to B's flat and piled into the car for the drive to Gatwick.  We put in the Avis rental return post code which brought us to Gatwick and everywhere around Gatwick but not to the return place so we just gave up and drove to the hotel... where we drove past Avis which was total dumb luck.  Even better was our hotel was walking distance from Avis so we were set for the night.      

Sunday Day 1 - On Sunday we awoke early and walked to the WOW Air terminal to find out we could have slept in for another 30 minutes.  Apparently they only open the check in desk 1.5 hours before the flight so we had a little line time before checking in which wasn't bad.  The bad part was sitting on the plane for 45 minutes after boarding because a lady checked in for her flight but the system didn't catch her for some reason.  They didn't explain the whole confusion but it had something to do with her and her daughter having the same first and last names.  But finally we were in the air.  It was an uneventful flight except for one memorable item - as we descended everyone was looking out the windows to see the landscape.  We have done a few flights in the last two years and I flew a bit in previous jobs and I can not remember one other flight where everyone was trying to see out the windows.  I was in the aisle seat so didn't have an opportunity to take any pictures - sorry.    

The view of Keflavik from our Flybus ride into Reykjavik, the world's northernmost country capital city at 64 degrees and change North latitude.  Or just under the Arctic Circle which explains Iceland's resident glaciers.

Icelandic lava fields which was a common sight on our rural drives.

Another common sight, a lone house backdropped with a barren landscape.

I booked the Reykjavik Excursions Flybus to take us from the airport to our hotel.  It cost a bit extra but I have found out that landing in a foreign country and getting frustrated, exasperated, and/or lost trying to find our hotel isn't worth saving a few bucks.  So after our bus ride to the terminal we boarded the minibus to our Radisson Blue Saga Hotel.  And we arrived fresh and ready to roll.

It was late afternoon by the time we checked in and decided to explore Reykjavik.  I didn't have a lot planned but did want to see Hallgrimskirkja since it was out of the way of the other sights.  My plan was to buy the Reykjavik Welcome Card (RWC) and use the public transportation to save our feet but was met with a couple of obstacles.  One - the RWC was not sold at the less than helpful Iceland tourist office at the airport, even worse the worker occupying the booth hadn't even heard of the RWC.  (He may have been overmatched for his job - he couldn't help the person in line before me either.)  Two - public transportation in Reykjavik wasn't very convenient.  The buses did run but didn't run often enough for us to use it.  Even worse was when we bought the RWCs for the adults I bought two bus passes for the kids.  There's 70 bucks I donated to the public bussing authority.  Fortunately the city was small and we were only a half an hour walk away from the center so we made do without the buses although I was a tad unhappy about buying passes I never used.  We did come out ahead on the RWCs though so those were a good deal.   

On our walk to dinner it was pretty easy to spot the church.  Gotta love the easy to see attractions.

It was also easy to find Tjornin (The Pond) on our walks.  The Pond (Wiki link) was the edge of the old town at one point and is now a nice place for a stroll.

We wandered towards the church looking for a place to eat and finally decided on one, Sjavargrillid (Seafood Grill) which ended up being rated #3 on TripAdvisor for Reykjavik.  You can read the website here.  It tasted very good and was pretty expensive but our additions of starters, drinks, and dessert tacked onto the final bill.  Even still, I have to admit it was a little of a shock to see the almost 29,000 Icelandic krona bill.  Iceland was very expensive so this was our only meal with starters so our other meals were only around the $100 USD mark.

Dana Johnson Pic - My starter of Minke Whale, polenta, mushroom, popcorn and hollandaise.  I like to try different foods as we travel but felt bad the next day when I saw a bunch of signs telling you not to eat whales.  Oops.  It tasted okay but nothing special I thought.

Dana Johnson Pic - Link Fish, a local white fish, cauliflower, couscous, portabella mushroom, and sauce which was very good.  Not sure it was worth the price but it is nice to splurge once in a while. 

Dinner is over and Hallgrimskirkja (Wiki link) was open late so we trekked up the street to check it out.  The church is newer, built in the late 1900's, so it didn't have the history I enjoy in some of the churches but it still makes many top churches of the world lists.  The exterior design was interesting, the architect designed it to resemble a lava flow which was neat but the interior was the typical plain Scandinavian décor.  Nice place but not one of my favorites.

Native son Leifr Eriksson (Wiki link) standing in front of the faux lava flow.  We'll be above the clock at the windows soon to overlook Reykjavik.

Looking down the nave.  There was a choir practicing so we didn't get to see the altar area.

The organ was impressive however.

And the requisite stained glass picture.

In the church tower overlooking the picturesque harbor.

Looking inland.  Most rooftop views in larger cities are quite ugly but with Reykjavik's colorful roofs and clean streets I rather enjoyed looking over the city.

Looking towards The Pond and the Atlantic Ocean.  Our hotel is straight out past The Pond.

Looking towards downtown Reykjavik.  The harbor is where our whale watching tour started the next day.

Vinland is by Newfoundland in Canada.

Last view of Leifr and Hallgrimskirkja.

One unique part of Iceland was how you could be in a residential area but still feel like you were out at camp.  This is overlooking The Pond as we wandered around after the church.

A statue depicting Out of The Night (book link).  Related to the oppressiveness of communism and Iceland's independence.

Kevin Coleman Pic - Viking Classic on tap, very nice.

Kevin Coleman Pic - Pilsner is light beer in Iceland.  I enjoyed the Scandinavian beers on our trips and Iceland was not an exception.  More beer!

We also had the pleasure of experiencing summer on the Arctic Circle in the nighttime.  At 10:30 PM it was almost as bright as it was at noontime.  The weather forecast said sunset was 12:04 AM the next day and sunrise was 2:56 AM that same morning but what we didn't realize at first was a setting sun doesn't mean it gets dark.  It actually didn't get dark AT ALL overnight while we were there.  Once the sun set it was a little less bright but light still streamed into our room 24/7.  We ended up staying up later than usual because our bodies felt tricked by the light.  I went to bed around 1 AM the first couple of nights and Lori didn't sleep at all the first night.  Put this on our "Never Done That Before List."

Monday Day 2 - Monday was our whale watching and puffin island day.  (We purchased our Welcome Cards and bus passes this morning then discovered the buses don't run often enough for our schedule so we hoofed it half an hour to the harbor.  Fail.)  Lori in particular was excited for whale watching but it ended up being a learning experience.  When you think of whale watching you think of these pictures with the whale tails coming out of the water close to the boat.  Well, not so much in real life.  In real life you search the water for three hours and only see about five whales.  The website does have a disclaimer about the open ocean and searching for whales in the wild but we were expecting a little more than what we saw. 

Approaching puffin island, the first of our letdowns on this tour.

Some puffins floating in the ocean.

This is as close as we were to the island as the boat distresses the puffins and this is their breeding ground so the boat stayed here about five minutes then we went out to search for whales.

Close up of puffins standing guard.

Puffins flying around the island.

And this is what whale watching looks like.

A whale!

This was a "WOW" from our whale watching guide.  It didn't look like much to me but he sure was excited about how close it was to the boat.  I thought "this is close?" which explained a lot in hindsight.  Unfortunately Lori was down below getting her weather suit on and missed it.   

The same Minke Whale blowing.  I found it to be difficult taking pictures as you can't see the whale through the small camera screen so I had to zoom in the camera a little, point it to about where I thought the whale would surface, and then look for the whale with my naked eye.  Once I spotted the whale I snapped a picture and hoped I captured the whale in the picture because the whales would only surface for air instead of swimming on top the water.  As you can see I captured them but not very well.

Lori and Kalle opted for the weather suits which warmed them up.  I stuck with a blanket while Karl opted for the suit also.  The highs were in the mid 50's F every day which is typical in the summer but it gets colder after being on the ocean for a while.  

Final sighting.  About five whale sightings in three hours.  We were all disappointed in the tour but now we know how to research them better should we decide to try whale watching in the future.  The tour was a bit boring but the boat guide was entertaining which helped the experience. 

A Sea Gannett fishing by dive bombing into the ocean.  We saw quite a few fishing but I didn't see any come up with fish in their beaks. 

After the tour ended we checked out the small whale watching center before stopping for lunch.

Minke Whale baleens.  The guide explained to us there are two types of whales - toothed and baleen whales.  Toothed whales (like Orcas) bite and eat their food.  Baleen whales like Minke Whales open their mouths and take a gulp full of water.  The food (like plankton) stick to the baleen plates, the whale pushes the water out of its mouth, then swallows the food.  On the right is the outer side of the baleen plate where the food sticks and it felt like a horsehair brush.  On the left side is the inner side of the plate and it felt like hard plastic.  
The boat on the right was our tour boat.  The boat on the left was the whale watching center.

For lunch we stopped at a place called the Volcano House which had some rocks/minerals, a small café, and a short video on Iceland volcanoes.  The lunch was okay and we decided not to watch the video but I did like the volcano mineral rock specimens.

Jasper (Wiki link).

Stilbite (Wiki link).

Calcite and Chalsedony.

More Jasper.

Our next stop was Reykjavik 871 +-2 Settlement House, a Viking long house from 871 or 872 AD.  This continued our disappointing day as the house details were sparse at best, mostly foundations.  There were a few info boards which helped make it slightly more interesting but it was a pretty quick stop. 

One of the two books used to document the history of Iceland.

The other book which documents the history of Iceland.

Very different description from today, thanks mostly to the volcanic activity.

Be prepared to be under-whelmed...


I found this interesting since most places we have toured have some sort of religious artifacts but then I considered the Norse pagan gods and funeral pyres of the times and it made more sense.

We'll see evidence of the layer later on.

Final view of the house.  Hard to see but in the middle is a four meter (thirteen feet) long hearth which was uncommonly long per the literature.

Read below.

See above.

Model of the Settlement House.  One interesting fact from the info boards is the house was accessed by the entry door and on the opposite side of the house would have been the garbage and toilet area door.  However, they would only use the back door for going to the bathroom or bringing out the garbage or coming into the house from those areas.  It was not used as a second entry door like houses are today. 

Also in the museum was a small room describing the post volcano development of Reykjavik.

Picture of Reykjavik from 1783.

The New Enterprises built up Reykjavik.

And I thought only America had a short history. 

Model of Reykjavik in 1786 showing the New Enterprises shops.

We'll see a statue of Skuli Magnusson later.

Our next stop was Domkirkja i Reykjavik (Lutheran Cathedral).  It has been a sacred site since 1200 AD but the existing church has been in place since the late 1700's.  You can read more about it here.  Once again it has the typically understated Scandinavian décor with white being the dominant color.  

Looking down the nave towards the altar.

The pulpit.

Altar close up.

Looking back towards the entrance.

And the exterior.

Interesting art display as we walk around town.

Plaque close up from above.

The English Pub, a restaurant we opted not to eat at for obvious reasons.  Reykjavik seemed to have the most varied cuisines per capita in all of our travels.  Icelandic, English, Italian, French, American, etc., we saw a lot of different cuisines in town.

Interesting ship in dry dock picture.

After more walking (and complaining of walking) we made it to Vikin, the Maritime Museum (link).  The main draw here was that it was included in the Welcome Card which meant free entrance.  The museum was semi-interesting.  

A large area was about Seamen's Day, an Icelandic celebration of the lives lost at sea dating to 1938.

I thought this was fascinating.

Seamen's Day info.

Another part of the museum was about Iceland's fishing industry.  Here are some drying fish.

Read below.

For above.  I wonder how long to get the fish oil smell off of the sailors after wearing the pants every day for weeks and months at a time.

A four person rowboat from 1907.  This was a typical fishing vessel for a few hundred years.

Here the museum starts describing the evolution of Icelandic fishing.

Another fish drying picture.  Is it just me or is that an awful lot of fish?

The industrial evolution brought trawlers to Iceland in 1892.

Trawler model complete with net.

In 1947-52 new trawlers twice as big as existing trawlers arrived in Iceland.

Modern day fishing boat models.

The future - stern trawlers.

There was also a small section on pensioners - retired fishermen who couldn't live by themselves anymore but were still somewhat able to care for themselves.

1950's retired fisherman one room housing.  I am standing in the small vestibule which included a small closet and a small dresser.

Dana Johnson Pic - For lunch we stopped at a fish and chips place.  This is my Greek salad and fish.  It was a good tasting meal and under $100.  Bonus!

Dana Johnson Pic - Icelandic fish and chips.

We found Skuli Magnusson!

Our final stop was at the City Hall to see...

the topographical model of Iceland.

The orange area is Reykjavik and the bottom on the picture is where we went whale watching.

The model.  The white caps are the glaciers.  I would be standing in the Norwegian Sea as I took the picture.  Reykjavik is on the opposite side of the model.

Some interesting residential architecture on our walk to the hotel.

Tuesday Day 3 - Tuesday we did a rare thing on our vacations - we went on a tour bus ride.  Tour buses have the ups (you always see the highlights, you get a knowledgeable guide, you don't need to worry about transportation) and the downs (no control over the sightseeing schedule, you see everything in a big group) but for us they are more downs than ups so we typically avoid the large touring groups.  This time we decided to try it since we thought the ups outweighed the downs.   

The Golden Circle Tour itinerary.

Snow filling in the hills.

A common sight on the bus ride - barren landscape, many hills and low hanging clouds.  You can also see a few raindrops on the window which threatened us most of the day until the skies finally opened up.

Hills in the clouds scenery.

Our first stop was Nesjavellir, one of the many geothermal areas we saw on the trip.

The thick steam clouds identify the small geothermal power station locations.

And the pile of tourists pour from the two coaches.  A couple of stops later the coaches split up so the crowds weren't as bad but this is easily my least favorite part of tour buses.

Loved the views though.  Reminded us of Scotland.

One of my many pictures from inside the coach.  This one turned out okay.

Thingvellier National Park (Wiki link) is on the list one of my favorite travel guides - the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List.  More of a "communing with nature feel" here than a "cornerstone of democracy feel".  This is the location of the world's first democratic parliament in 930 AD convened by the Vikings.  Put another entry in my world's first or world's top "whatever" site book.

Beautiful scenery but the place was actually selected since it was a major crossroads back in the day.  Iceland only allows two homes here, one is the Prime Minister's summer house and the other is a top church member's home if I remember correctly.

Tour bus low point - EVERYONE wants the same picture.

Or you can just wait a bit or move down the trail to capture a bunch of strangers in front of the cool rock path.

A little bit of everything Iceland has to offer here - a small stream, grassy and rocky landscape, mountains, snow, hovering clouds and sunshine.  All we need is a spewing volcano and the picture is complete.

We followed the waterfall sound to this small waterfall and pool.  The guide said this is where women who were sentenced to death were drowned.  The men who were sentenced to death were hanged in a different area.  She didn't know why the condemned where killed in different areas or ways.

I just liked this picture of the rocky wall for some reason.

This area is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet so we crossed back and forth between them all day.  Lori and I thought that was a great experience but I don't think the kids grasped the significance, maybe they will in later on some geology class.  The fissured rocks pulling apart is caused by the tectonic plates moving away from each other per our guide.

More scenery.

And back on the bus.  The moss covered lava fields were common on the rural drives.

The clouds are not looking very promising.

I found these houses nestled in the woody foothills picturesque.  Old school subdivisions I guess. 

Dana Johnson Pic - Lamb stew was great, chicken Panini was good, Coke was Coke.

After lunch (not looking for lunch spots is another tour bus advantage) at the only restaurant in 100 square miles we checked out Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall).  You can read the info board or the Wiki link.

I guess we have to go to Niagara Falls now to see how they compare.  We really like Gullfoss. 

The post falls gorge and rising mist was neat.  All we missed here was the sunshine.

It was loud and mesmerizing to stand by the falls.

Looking down the second falls and gorge.  Gorgeous!  (Get it?)

Final shot of the falls from the top.

Glacier in the distance, Icelandic horse by the cars.

Teresa Robinett Pic - These guys and gals needed hair cuts.

Next up on the tour was Geysir (Wiki link), the namesake for all of the other geysers.  Geysir is a Norse word meaning "to gush" per the link.  The original Geysir isn't gushing anymore but we did get to see Strokkur (the churn).

The original geyser is dormant now.

We also had a preview of the Blue Lagoon.  The color of the water is from the silicates concentration per our guide.  If you look at a glass of this water it would be clear but put enough of them together and they turn blue.

Strokkur erupting.  We actually stayed for three eruptions per our guides advice.  Prepare for your picture on the first one, take your picture on the second one, and enjoy the third one.  I lucked out and captured this on the first eruption.

On the second eruption - The water starts to bubble when it gets ready to erupt...

then is pops up before erupting...

you can look at the first picture to see an eruption as I was to close to fully capture this eruption...

and then the water sucks back into the ground.  Very neat experience.

Geysir info board.  A visit to Steamboat at Yellowstone National Park would be great also.  Add that to our US vacation list.

Landscape view around the geysers.  The ground was almost hot around the geysers which is why vegetation doesn't grow there I guess.

And cute Little Geysir doing its best to imitate big brother.

By now it is early afternoon and the clouds just gave up and it pours for a short while.  Thankfully we were done at the geysers so we only got wet running between the tourist shop and the bus.  By the time the bus arrived at our next stop the sun was out so we ended up being pretty lucky.  Our next stop was Domkirkjan i Skalholti (Wiki link).  The existing church was built in the 1900's although the site dates to the 11th C and is important somehow to Iceland's religious and political history.  I didn't get the connection since there weren't any decent info boards explaining the significance but I guess we can say we've been there now. 

Requisite stained glass picture.

Jesus mosaic behind the altar.  Looked much better in person.

View of the church looking towards the entry door.

View looking towards the altar area.

A model of a middle ages church.  Check out the natural insulation.

Inside the bare bones church.

The sun is really starting to break through the clouds now.

I liked the threatening clouds in the background.

And here comes the sunshine as we ride to our final stop.

Easy come, easy go.  Fog surrounds us as we drive to a geothermal power plant.

By now we are getting tired of riding and decided not to go inside the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant museum which included a short video and some other displays.  Instead we had a caffeine snack and checked out some more rocks as did another group from the bus.  I'm kind of glad that we didn't go in since everyone came out in about ten minutes and nobody seemed impressed by what they saw.  This stop kind of felt like an add-on stop, like maybe the power plant was a tour sponsor so it was required to stop here.  Maybe we should have gone into the tiny museum but we just didn't feel like it so we dawdled around until it was time to load up and push off.

How can I not capture the Volcanic Bomb?

And this just looked weird.

The outside of the power plant.

A final moss covered lava field pic on the way back to Reykjavik.

Interesting clouds over the harbor as we were dropped off from the tour.

Walking past the back of Domkirkjan as we decided where to eat dinner.

Kevin Coleman Pic - The Gull was good but I preferred Viking.

Dana Johnson Pic - My pasta, chicken, mushroom, black pepper and sauce dish was very good.  Another good meal which was typical of our choices; good but not great tasting. 

For dessert that night I opted for Icelandic sorta yogurt called Skyr.  I ate it every morning at breakfast because it tasted great and was high in protein.  Protein packed yogurt in vanilla or blueberry flavor, how can I pass it up?  Typically not my dessert choice but I loved this so much I couldn't get enough.  It tasted like a thick yogurt, consistency of a super dense thick milk shake but airier than ice cream.  Strange but great IMO. 

It's after 9 PM now so we are back to the hotel.  It darkened a little bit more than this after midnight but not much.  I should have taken a midnight picture but didn't for some stupid reason.  Gaaaa, such a travel newb sometimes!

Perlan (The Pearl) which was a small complex which included a 360 degree rotating restaurant on top of the city hot water tanks which was out of the way and screamed "touristy" to me so we skipped it.  

Hallgrimskirkja is pretty easy to find.

Wednesday Day 4 - Our last full day in Iceland was planned a relaxed day spent around Reykjavik with a possible half day tour thrown in.  But the weather had other ideas and it rained all night and morning forcing us to go to Plan B.  Plan A was to visit a local thermal pool (our RWC gave us free admission to the seven city thermal pools and one was a few blocks from our house) in the morning then let the afternoon come together but the rain scrapped that plan.  

Dana Johnson Pic - Really good breakfasts at the hotel.  Egg, American bacon, cucumber, red pepper, potato, Skyr, juice and pots of coffee.  And this was about a fifth of the buffet.  I could have eaten about ten plates of American bacon and Skyr. 

Since the weather wasn't cooperating we lazied our way through breakfast and decided to check out the National Museum of Iceland when the forecast showed rain most of the day.  It was a short and wet walk there but it was a perfect place for a Gilligan tour (for those that remember Gilligan's Island theme song).  The museum was three story and chronologically set up which was easy to follow.  Plus it was included in the RWC so the adults were free and under 18's were free.  What a deal!

Iceland's culture is a little behind other places as pagan times date to 1000 AD while European pagan times date to late Roman times, specifically Emperor Constantine who legalized Christianity in the 330's AD.

Thor!  This figure is dated to about 1000 AD.  He is thought to be holding Thor's Hammer.  Or he is about to give some poor kid a swirly.

The footprint of the boats used by the Norse who settled Iceland.  Amazing when you consider that EVERYTHING they brought with them had to fit in the boats.  Families, grain/food, tools, livestock, crew, etc.

Remember back at the Settlement House when they mentioned the earth's layers?  Here a sample of Iceland earth.  The bottom right wording says 870 AD which is the Settlement House era layer.  The dark layers are the volcano eruption layers.

I knew this already but seeing a horse skeleton in a grave is still a bit creepy.

Not sure if Teresa wants to claim this pic or not.  The man is on the left and the horse is on the right. 

I guess women went to the kitchen of Valhalla?  Just kidding, just kidding.

Stick church structure that probably only interests me.  Read more below.

Church terminology for the interested.

Jay Seppanen Pic - Final pic of my buddies, <sniff, sniff> I'll miss you guys <SOB>.  It's a medieval door post for the interested.

A 1200 AD Romanesque cross of Christ carved from birchwood.

1500 AD Flemish altarpiece from Ogur, West Iceland.

Mark Elliott Pic - Here's a 1400 AD drinking horn for ya buddy.  (Big shout to Mark and his pickup for all his help in emptying our storage units.) 

Read #9 below.

For above.  Now you say Peace be with you to the person next you and shake their hand.  Interesting how traditions change.

Read below.

See above.

Read about St. Olav below.

For above.

Aren't the English and Germans always sticking their noses everywhere? JK Brits and Deutsch.

The Black Death hit Iceland as well.

The narcissists kill me.  Read about them below.  We have seen a lot of these on our travels.

For the picture above.

This cracked me up.  I was pulling up the rear in the museum and ahead of me Lori comes out of a side room laughing.  She walked in on Karl trying on the above kit and gave him good natured grief about being a teenager in the kids area trying on the play clothes.  And he replies something like "that's nothing mom, the guy before me was in his sixties".  I guess the child in us never goes away.  So I had both kids try on the Viking kit but KK's picture didn't turn out as well as KJ's.

And it's still raining outside which means we aren't done in the museum yet.  Thankfully they had interactive computer games that occupied the kids (including Lori) while I took my time exploring the top floor.

Read below, pretty interesting I thought.

For above.

A triptych memorial plague.

We also stopped in an Icelandic gilding room which was okay.

For above.

I wish more museums had these wall sized info boards displaying the museum highlights.

Mark Elliott Pic - Now that's a drinking horn!

For above.

View down one of the rooms.

Read below.  The punishment sections of museums are always a little creepy.

For above.

A whalebone carving from 1600 AD, this was about four feet tall.

I'm mad at myself for blurring this picture of the smithy door.  Smith's would brand their door with all of the branding irons made there, effectively advertising their work which I found to be interesting.

A single family and single room home for poorer families, read about it below.

For above.  They lived in these houses until the 1950's - WOW!

Yes it is as small as it looks.

Info board 2.

The Icelandic flag predecessor, read about it below.

For the picture above.

The Icelandic flag that led to their own national flag.  We read a little more about it later.

Our hotel through the raindrops.  Nice place even tho it was a bit away from the action.

Skuli helped develop Reykjavik while Jon led them to independence.

For the curious.

They had this luggage conveyor belt with some items depicting the different eras.  The Nazi bunting (thanks Tara Schetzel) and gas mask are from the WWII era when the Nazis occupied Iceland.

The only "weapon" invented by the Icelanders per the board.

Close up of the board above.

1980's games reminded me of Karl as he endured a month without his Xbox thanks to our move and vacation in Michigan.  He did survive though.

Another room at the museum was a old photographic exhibit with some interesting pieces.

Foreign tourists in Reykjavik, circa 1870.  I guess tourism has a long standing tradition in Iceland.

For above.  Interesting that an enterprising photographer thought to sell the photos as souvenirs.

Geysir from 1874, read more below.

I guess photo editing has been around for a while.

Dana Johnson Pic - Since it was starting to clear up but not quite stopped yet we stopped for coffee and a snack.  This blueberry cheesecake type dessert was great.

For the picture below.

The impetus for Iceland's own flag.

Check this out!  Karl spied this when signing the guest book - I never thought I would see another family with a Karl and a Kalle.  How awesome is that?

Now that we are done at the museum and it has stopped raining we walked to the town center since it would have been quicker to walk to town then wait for the bus to come by.  Good thing we are experienced travel walkers.  For lunch I was looking for a famous hot dog stand named Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (has its own Wiki page) which has been frequented by world leaders like President Clinton.  It has been in business since 1939 so I figured it would be easy to spot (along with the help of a satellite map) but no.  We walked all the way down the street its address was on and found all the surrounding addresses.  No luck so after a bit I gave up and we ate at a decent American place.  We left there, stopped at a bank to exchange some Icelandic money and stopped at a shop.  As soon as we left the shop and walked a block... BAM!  There it is.

No hot dog with everything on it for me.  Bummer.

So we walked along the water towards some hippie sculpture.  Check out the wrinkly water.

The kids next to Solfarid (Sun Craft).  Also called the Sun Voyager (Wiki link), it was commissioned and built to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik.

The Hofdi House (Wiki link) where Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev met in 1986 to discus how to end the Cold War.  Which led to a mini discussion on what was the Cold War with the kids.  Curiosity leads to learning - I win again kids! 

While walking around Reykjavik to burn the rest of the day we saw this graffiti.  I have really started noticing street art since Barcelona - nothing compares yet but I am still looking.

A skate park filled with street art.  I read about it while spending time in the hotel room one evening and it is being decided if it is an artistic center that needs to be preserved or just a run down area that needs to be torn down.  There is even a couple of rules on the artwork - you have to finish what you start and you can only put your design over an existing design if you think yours is better.  Kind of cool I thought.

Our final stop of the day was at Vesturbaejatlaug, one of the city outdoor thermal swimming pools.  Instead of going here to start the day we ended it here.  It was set up like a typical city swimming pool - a huge pool with one section for swimming laps, a section for messing around, and a kiddie section.  This also had four hot tubs with temperatures ranging from 36 C (97 F) to 42 C (108 C).  The pool was warmer than most pools I have ever been in but not warm enough when a hot tub is available.  So I spent most of the time in the hot tub while Kalle stayed in the pool.  Lori and Karl moved between the tubs and pool with Karl even checking out the steam room.  A fun stop overall. 

Dana Johnson Pic - We didn't feel like walking half an hour to find a restaurant so decided to eat at the hotel bar.  The meal was average except for the two chicken dishes - one a chicken breast salad and the other shredded chicken nachos.  The chicken that came on both dishes was cold, yes cold, chicken wings which had to be skinned and deboned to eat on the dishes.  Long story short - we mentioned it to the bartender which led to them giving us a free dessert tray because they ran out of the proper chicken.  I enjoyed the strawberry cake and cream but avoided the chocolate bar while Lori ate the fruit.  The kids tried a little of everything.  

Thursday Day 5 -  Our final day included a trip to the Blue Lagoon (link), a geothermal spa by the airport.  Iceland has a lot of geothermal pools and spas but this is the most famous.  We followed the travel forums advice and booked another Flybus ride to the airport and combined it with a stop at the spa.  Weather wasn't great especially when it started raining towards the end of our stay in the pool but I can easily see how this would be an awesome stop on a clear winter day.

Welcome to the Blue Lagoon, a spa in the middle of a rock jungle.

Blue silicate water outside the spa.  Almost like a scene from Lord of the Rings.

Water and rock close up.

Just outside the spa, the clouds are about to start spitting on us.

The outdoor spa.  Not a great weather day but we still enjoyed it.  I didn't want to bring my camera out because of the weather so this is my only pic of the spa.  Basically you pay to enter the spa, change and shower in the locker room, enjoy the pool areas, then shower and change again.  We really enjoyed it in spite of the weather, I think it would have been awesome in the wintertime.  The water was hot tub temperature with some areas being warmer and some areas being cooler. 

After the spa we went to the airport, flew to London, collected our luggage from Brandon (thanks again B), checked into our hotel, and flew back home the next day.  Since this post is long already I will cover a couple of items from that trip on my next post.

Jay: The nature/landscape was different than our other vacations which was great, geothermal spas were good.  Sites were a little disappointing.

Lori: Liked it all but it was wet and expensive.  Whale watching would have been fantastic if we had seen whales up close.  Geothermal spas were good.

Karl: The sights and activities were different than our other vacations which was good but most of it was disappointing.

Kalle: Golden Circle Tour was cool, whale and puffin watching was disappointing.

And my final Facial Hair of the Month, the Chin Guard, ends the run.  I started doing the Facial Hair of the Month as a lark but it turned out being a joke on me.  It was fun and ended up being more work than I expected but it was meant as a light hearted blog feature so I hope everyone enjoyed it more than Lori.  Some nights I went to sleep fully expecting to be woken up in the middle of the night with Lori pinning me down about to clipper off my face.  Her favorite FHofM was when I shaved everything off the month I had a couple of job interviews.   

It's great to be back on USA soil!  (Thanks for adding to my inappropriate tee shirt collection Dan and Christy Stine - you guys rock!)

The skies over Indiana as we fly between Chicago and Indy.  Almost home!

I will write another repatriation post so I will cover our homecoming and the differences between England and America in it.  Right now our house is still a box filled mess, we only have one car, and I'm still "retired" so I need to "get crackin'" on some of those items before I can write that post.  I will do my best to get it out next week.  Thanks for being patient and I'll talk at y'all soon.

Thanks for listening,