December 2014 – Iceland

At the beginning of December, we flew to Iceland for a few days, in hopes of seeing the northern lights. We accomplished that part of our goal and developed some others as well.

  • Putting ourselves into a position to see the northern lights was a little like going on a treasure hunt. Our bus would drive to what they thought was a likely location away from the city lights. Then we would all get out of the bus into the freezing cold night and stand around looking at the sky. This happened twice, and all we could see was a few stars. At the third stop, however, the guides were all excited and started pointing out to us where to look. Sure enough, we saw greenish blobs in the sky which gradually morphed into streamers and then into moving curtains. An amazing spectacle.
  • Our most sensual experience was swimming in the Blue Lagoon. This is a man-made lake which is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant. The warm water is a milky blue color because of the concentration of minerals and is a wonderful, even cozy experience. As we were bobbing around in the water, the air was freezing above us, and snow was covering our heads with white flakes. Getting in and out of the water was a little tricky, but we enjoyed the experience anyway.
  • Iceland is known for its geothermal activity and natural beauty, and we saw lots of both on a bus tour of a small part of the island. We
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    Gullfoss Waterfall

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    Afternoon Sunshine with Trees in Iceland

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    Northern Lights in Iceland

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    The Blue Lagoon

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    Strokkur Geyser in Southwest Iceland

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    Susan and Denise at the Entrance to the Blue Lagoon

    watched as the geyser Strokkur erupted spectacularly a few times. This is good for tourists, but there’s another geyser nearby which is less reliable now but even more significant. Its name is Geysir. It was the first geyser recorded in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans, thus giving its name to this geothermal phenomenon.

  • In addition, we spent a little time in Reykjavik, which seems to be a charming and modern city, but our activities there were severely hampered by raging winds and icy sidewalks, both of which made walking extremely challenging. Normally, we learn a city by walking its streets, so we were disappointed that our experience there was so limited.

As we were leaving Iceland to come home, we didn’t have to discuss whether to return. We definitely will – when the weather is better. The people are warm and friendly, they seem to have a civilized society, and the land has an abundance of the rugged and beautiful natural wonders which we love.

August 2014 – Switzerland

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Oeschinensee near Kandersteg

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Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau from Niederhorn

At the end of July, we left for Switzerland, our favorite country in Europe. We spent the month of August in Wilderswil, which is a small farming/tourism community near Interlaken, in the Bernese Oberland. We found an apartment via the internet, which turned out to be just what we wanted in terms of location and quiet.

We enjoyed our favorite vacation activities every day. On clear days, we drove to a mountain town, rode a cable car or gondola to the top, and walked and walked and walked. The scenery is so amazing that we can never get enough of it. On rainy days, we boarded one of the incredibly reliable Swiss trains and traveled to Lucern or Bern, the Swiss capital city, where we took in the city sights. In both cities, we were able to visit museums with extensive collections of the paintings of Paul Klee, Susan’s favorite artist.

Here are some of the highlights of our stay in Switzerland.

  • Rides in several different means of mountain transport, such as cog railways, funiculars, cable cars, and gondolas. Aside from being engineering marvels, these “trains” give all riders magnificent views of the mountains, valleys, and lakes. At one mountain station, Denise took a ride on a half-mile zip line. What a thrill! She talked about it for days afterwards.
  • Walks along the mountain pathways, which are always clearly marked and well maintained. Usually, our mountain walks involve a stop at a mountain restaurant for lunch or a break. This, of course, allows us to sit for a while and take in the awesome views.
  • Boat rides on Brienzersee and Thunersee. These are the two lakes which Interlaken is between (Inter/laken means between lakes). Most days, we were able to finish our walk in the mountains and hop on a late afternoon boat for a leisurely ride.
  • Drives everywhere. Since we had a rental car, we were able to experience the amazing Swiss countryside from the roadways as well, particularly the drive from Geneva to Interlaken and an 81-mile drive which included the Susten, Furka, and Grimsel passes.

The Swiss have a way of making the incredible natural beauty of their country accessible to everyone. We would take this same trip again in a second.