Sunday, August 31, 2014

Icelandic Adventures (Part 1)

When Abby and Jack decided to make a stop in Iceland on their way to visit us in Germany, it took us about 2 minutes to agree to meet them there for a quick weekend trip.  We found a super cheap flight to Reykjavik, but it meant arriving 2 days before them.  So we had a few days to explore on our own.

We spent our first few hours checking out the town of Reykjavik, and most importantly a delicious bakery (Sandholt) that Kristin found on the main shopping street.  The town was small, but well-kept and filled with cute stores for window shopping. There is a new arts center on the harbor and a church that is the architectural  centerpiece of the town. 

Iceland recovered nicely with a cool arts center after building this (interesting? weird? beloved?) church.

After filling our tummies with pastry, we headed north toward the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (which Kristin called the Snuffleupagus Peninsula the entire time).  We chose to take the long road there (avoiding a tunnel) and were rewarded with a beautiful drive full of amazing and diverse landscapes.  

Matt wishes he was this guy salmon fishing.

Kristin wishes she wasn't this girl on a conference call.

We stopped along the way at the cute town of Borgarnes for lunch at the restaurant at the Settlement Center.  (We learned quickly there are not a lot of food options in the off season, so when you see something good, you eat!)  The restaurant was fantastic and was located in the oldest surviving building in Iceland.  Like every place you ate in Iceland, they filled us with delicious bread and yummy Icelandic butter in addition to a fabulous meal.

Along the peninsula was an area known as a playground for seals, so we decided to take a quick look.  After about 20 minutes of searching, we were ready to give up.  Then we realized that all the lumps we thought were rocks in the water were actually just really big seals.  We decided to walk in that direction to get a closer look.  The seals got a bit too inquisitive for us after a few minutes and started to follow us along the rocks, so we took off in a hurry.

Our last stop of the day was at a natural mineral spring that was bubbly from all of the minerals and left the surrounding soil red because of the iron in the water.  Matt was excited to fill up his water bottle.    

We set out bright and early the next morning to check out the rest of the peninsula, including the glacier that dominates the western end.  Ok, it wasn't exactly bright -- everything was covered in a deep layer of fog, so we could only see up a few hundred feet.  We spent most of the day hoping the clouds would part so we could get a view of something spectacular.

We stopped a few times along the coast to check out the scenery.

Matt decided he wanted to climb an old lava flow, so he went up, up, up and Kristin stayed a bit lower and picked wild blueberries instead.  The parts with the moss were pretty stable, but the broken lava made for a pretty treacherous climb.  But great views for Matt from the top.

We stopped at a few random overlooks along the coast to look at some weird rocks.

We decided to get adventurous and head inland towards the glacier.  These guys were skeptical of our choice.

And the weather took a turn for the worse, which didn't add any level of confidence to our decision to abandon the main road.  It was getting a bit cloudy, rainy and cold ....

But we managed to navigate the gravel road and find the glacier.

Yes, Matt was so warm he ditched the coat.  Kristin was freezing, as always.
We are 99% sure this sign meant we were not allowed to take our rental car on this road.
And definitely not a 2 wheel drive car. Matt denies all responsibility and enjoyed the hell out of the drive.
We were thrilled to be able to see the glacier despite all of the fog.  It looked amazing and blue, especially compared to the electric green moss that has grown over the lava.

The moss was such a cool color, and only grows in cool, volcanic climates.  It is very spongy to walk on and covers everything with a thick mat.  It was nearly all of the vegetation we saw in Iceland.  And we even got to see a bit of sun while we were near the glacier.

We grabbed some quick soup for lunch at the only nearby fishing village and waived goodbye to the glacier.

We stopped at the largest town on the peninsula for some snacks (more pastry) and to catch a cool view of the harbor.

Yes, that's the whole town.  
A quick stop at some basalt columns, and it was time to head back to Reykjavik to pick pick up Abby and Jack at the airport.

We were excited to continue our Icelandic explorations with them!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Quick Day in Munich

Welcome to Munich.  Please take a picture with our lion.
Living in Stuttgart means some amazing day trips are just right around the corner.  This weekend we spent a long Sunday in Munich getting to know the city -- walking for miles and eating as much as possible along the way.

We started our trip at Marienplatz.  In Stuttgart.  After a 2 hour and 15 minute ride on the Deutsche Bahn ICE train, we arrived in Munich.  And a short walk later we were at...Marienplatz.  In Munich.  The Munich version looks a whole lot different than the Marienplatz steps away from our front door.  

This is not Marienplatz in Stuttgart.
Marienplatz is the main square in Munich.  Most of the buildings were badly bombed during WWII (um...sorry?) but have since been reconstructed in their original styles.  We were lucky enough to arrive on time to watch the glockenspiel in the Neo-Gothic new town hall, which puts on a show at 11 o'clock every day.  Over about 10 minutes, the song and figures tell two tales: one of a royal wedding, including a knight losing his head in a jousting match and one featuring the coopers (barrel makers) dancing through the streets at the end of the plague.  

And by new, we mean originally built in the late 1800s.

In the middle of the square is the statue of the Virgin Mary.  The cherubs are using swords to attack the enemy (a.k.a. Protestantism in the form of a snake).
Southern Germany is Catholic country

The old town hall looks very new since it was completely rebuilt after WWII.  St. Peter's Church stands behind it.      

The next stop was the Hofbrauhaus, a 5,000 seat beer house and probably the most kitschy thing in Munich.  The food and service were passable, but Matt had a good time practicing his liter beer drinking for Oktoberfest.  
Matt thinks of it as training

We then hit the Viktaulienmarkt.  It is a huge produce and food market located in the center of the city.  Unfortunately (like all markets and stores in Germany) it is closed on Sundays, but we are looking forward to visiting and eating the next time we are in Munich.  We at least got to stop by the square's maypole, which celebrates local artisans (and honors Reinheitsgebot, Bavaria's pre-1500s beer purity law). 
Is having your maypole up in August like having your Christmas lights up in March?
We spent a few minutes at the Asam Church, built by the architect Asam brothers as a living advertisement to their church building skills.  Gaudy as it is, they threw every trick in the book into a 30 foot wide townhouse.  And it shows.
This church has a lot going on.

And then we ate more.
Not pictured:  The sorbet and cookie Kristin also ate.

We checked out the Frauenkirche (unfortunately partially covered in scaffolding) and some other pretty buildings along the way. 

And a Michael Jackson memorial where fans continue to maintain a shrine to him outside of the hotel he stayed in while performing here.
The totally unrelated statue on top is for Franco-Flemish Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus

It was a beautiful day in Munich, so we decided to wander through the English garden in the northeast part of the city.  
Spot the naked sunbathers.  FYI - they're all old men.

The most amazing sight in the park was watching surfers ride a standing wave in one of the canals, hundreds of miles from the closest ocean.

We also took the chance to visit the Chinese Tower beer garden for some more beer and food.
Sorry for the blurry food picture.  The camera was more interested in the guy in traditional garb.

A quick stop by the Odeonsplatz and the Max-Joseph-Platz and it was time to catch our train home.

Our feet were tired, our stomachs were full, but we definitely enjoyed getting to know Munich.  We can't wait to return and explore more next month.