Oslo, Norway

So, we decided to take an excursion that took us on a brief site-seeing tour of the city before stopping in Vigeland Park to see some of the sculptures by the artist Gustav Vigeland.  On the way to the park, we drove on the road called “Valhallveien” where Edvard Munch was walking when he had a panic attack.  As a result, he painted the famous painting entitled “The Scream” in 1893.  We also had a chance to see the building where the Nobel Peace Prize is presented every year.  We learned that the Peace Prize the only Nobel Prize that is not presented in Sweden.

Upon getting to the park, our guide took us to many of the famous sculptures and discussed his background and fascinations with the phases of life. Let’s just say that his artistic judgement on what warranted a sculpture was a little strange, but I’ll let you form your own opinion after seeing the sculpture photos.

Afterwards we went to the “Christmas House”, located outside of Oslo. Quite frankly, we were a little disappointed in this part of the tour.  The Christmas House was underwhelming and we were caught up in quite a rain storm.  Looking back, I wished that we had more of a chance to see downtown Oslo.

 

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Flam/Stavanger/Kristiansand, Norway

This trip began with a short flight up to Copenhagen. We were excited to finally be able to see the city from outside the airport as our only other time there was to merely catch a flight down to Frankfurt.  This chance was but a short one, however, as we only got to take a cab from the airport to the cruise terminal.  Fortunately, the ship came back to Copenhagen later in the trip and we were able to see some of the highlights.  More about that in a later post.

Our first stops onnorway-flag the cruise were in three small towns off the Norwegian Coast.  Kim had always wanted to see the fjords and so we made sure to at least have a chance at admiring them first hand.  Due to the short time we spent in each of these small towns, I’ll combine them all into one post.

First up was Flam, which is located on the Aurslandfjord, and was our first taste of Norway.  Unfortunately, much of the trip up the fjord took place in the middle of the night and so we didn’t get to see as much of it as we would have liked.  Of all the places we visited, this was the farthest north.  We were approximately 400 miles below the Arctic Circle.  For our day there we went and walked around the small town before eventually taking a tour that brought us to a small hotel up on the side of some cliffs where we had a chance to see a lot of the surrounding regions.  Afterwards, we took a very steep and curvy drive down to Tvinde falls.  Overall the day was very relaxing, but we were definitely aware of the significant cost to everything.  Just for a t-shirt, you’d have to part with about 40 – 50 dollars.  Needless to say, we don’t own one.  That evening we got to see some of the fjord as we set sail, but we didn’t get to see the spot of the fjord that were really narrow with the high cliff sides.

For both Stavanger and Kristiansand, we took time just to walk around the towns as there was really that much to do.  They were both quaint, but took approximately two hours to see everything they had to offer.

 

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The Baltic & North Seas

Hello all.  We just got back from a trip up north where we had a great time sailing the high seas and seeing new places.  Over the next few days/weeks I’ll be posting on some of the places we stopped.  As a teaser, below is a picture of Tyler our first night on the cruise dressed to impress.

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Munchen, Germany

We just took a trip down to Munchen (German pronunciation for Munich) with our friends the Williams’, and had a rather pleasant time.  Personally, we found Munchen to be much more enjoyable than other cities like Berlin, but the weather probably had a lot to this.  It was nice to finally see the city as we have driven past it more than a few times on our way down to other areas in Bavaria.

After the morning drive up, we spent the first afternoon just walking around the in the heart of the city.   There were plenty of things to occupy our time and we finally wound up eating in the Augustiner Brauhaus.   As expected, the food was pretty good.

The next day we made our way over to the Nymphenburg Palace, which was the house of the Bavarian aristocracy from the mid 17th century.  Ludwig II was born here, and later built the three other well-known castles to include Neuschwanstein.  That evening we ate at the Hofbrauhaus, which is the largest and most popular beer house in Munchen.

Our third day we drove out of the city to the Chimesee Lake to see the Herrenchimesee Palace.  This was the last of the palaces built by Ludwig II, and was his tribute to Versailles.  The inside was truly impressive, and so it was unfortunate that visitors are not allowed to take pictures inside.  In true Ludwig style, he had the castle completed in five years and yet only spent ten days there.  We spent some time walking around the island and had a bite to eat before heading back into the city.  That night we walked around the English Garden.

On our way back home we stopped at the Dachau Workers Camp that is located right outside the city.  Living in Germany, I think it’s sometimes easy to forget some of the tragic things that occurred here in the not so distant past.  Visiting Dachau was certainly a sobering experience, but was one that I am glad we had.

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Nazareth & the Sea of Galilee

On the second day in Israel, we pulled into the Port of Haifa and first visited the Baha’i Gardens that provide a very nice view of the entire port area.  Next, our guides then drove us over to Nazareth.

Upon first getting in the town, we stopped off in a bakery where our driver mentioned that it had the best baklava he’d ever tasted.  Sure enough, we tried some and it was absolutely delicious.  We bought a few pieces of one variety that had a large amount of pistachios on the inside.  I think I could have eaten the stuff until I got sick… was really good.

Mosaic_floorWe then walked up to the top of the hill where we visited the Church of the Annunciation.  The church is built upon the caves where the original inhabitants of the town would have dwelled.  The building’s courtyard was decorated with tons of murals from countries all over the world with their visions of what Mary would have looked like.  Inside, we went down to see the spot traditionally held as the locale of Mary’s home.  On the way out, some ladies stopped Kim.  At first she thought the women wanted her to take pictures of them, but instead found out that the women wanted to take a picture with her.  They were really amazed at Kim’s hair color, and I have a shot where Kim was posing with them.

Afterwards, we boarded the bus and drove towards the Sea of Galilee.  We made one quick stop to try a local store that was known for its spices and dates.  As for me, I tried one of the local wheat beers and thought it to be pretty good.

We stopped quickly for a bite to eat and then made our way over to the Sea of Galilee, where we stopped at Capernaum, the Church of the Multiplication, and the traditionally held spot of the Mount of Beatitudes.

It was rather strange to think how close we were to both Jordan & Syria while driving around the Sea.  This day was certainly a long one, but, together with our previous day in Jerusalem, made the entire the trip worth while.  We all had a good time and really liked visiting all the sites in Israel.

For those that look at it, I updated the Google Earth map with the points we visited this trip.

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Jerusalem & the Dead Sea

One of our reasons for making this trip was to get a chance to see Jerusalem again, and also make it to the Dead Sea.

To save a little money we hired a local tour provider rather than going through the cruise line.   Unfortunately, one of the people that was to be on our tour was held by Israeli customs officials, so we didn’t get a chance to leave until an hour later than expected.  After what seemed to take an eternity waiting, we were finally off on the 2 hour drive from Ashdod to the Old City.  We made a quick stop on the Mount of Olives to take in the view of the city and get some pictures before heading down to the Garden of Gethsemane.  From there we went into the city and walked through the Christian, Jewish, Islamic Quarters before taking a stop at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The tour then took us over to the Western (Wailing) Wall before getting back on the bus to make our way to the Dead Sea.

Temple_MountThe drive to the Dead Sea was quite an interesting one.  Over the course of the 20 miles trip we went from an altitude of 2600 feet above sea level to 1384 feet below sea level.  Our guide mentioned that for every 330 feet we went down, the temperature increased by 1 degree Fahrenheit.  We also noticed the change in vegetation of the course of the ride while driving through the Judaean Desert.  By the time we reach the area of the Dead Sea basin the plant life was all but missing.

Before heading into the Sea, we had to stop off for lunch in the town of Qumran.  This is the location where a young shepard found the Dead Sea scrolls.  The food was egregiously over priced and disgusting, but it was cool to be able to see the hills of Qumran.

Finally, we made it to the small resort area on the shore of the Dead Sea and it was pretty cool to be at the lowest area on the planet that is above water.  We each took turns going into the water and trying to sink ourselves.  However, we quickly found out that this was an impossible task (just as we had heard from others).  The water was so dense that you simply floated on top.  The journey from the shore out into the deeper portions was quite difficult as the mud was thick and the salt crystals below were very sharp.  We each took the chance to rub the mud on our skin and could definitely notice how soft it felt afterwards.

The highlight of the day was the drive down to the Sea and our time spent in the water.  Definitely glad we took the time to make our way over.

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A Visit to the Eastern Mediterranean

At the end of November we took a 10 day trip to hit some spots in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Really, the main reason we went was to see some more of Israel as we had only been to Jerusalem and Bethlehem previously.  This time around, we had the following itinerary: Athens, Greece; Kusadasi, Turkey; Antalya, Turkey, Ashdod, Israel; Haifa, Israel; Limassol, Cyprus; Crete, Greece.  We were also supposed to stop on the Greek Island of Rhodes, but bad weather kept us from making port.

I’ll separate the trip into three posts: Ashdod, Haifa, and everything else.  Because most of the other ports were not really exceptional, we saved most of our money for seeing as much in Israel as we possibly could.  This left us to walk around at the other spots at our leisure just to see what was in the local area.

Of all the spots we hit (outside of the Israel stops), Cyprus was probably our favorite.  We took the shuttle to downtown Limassol and walked down the shoreline for a while before looping back to see some of the shops.  It was then that we happened upon a place that had fish called “garra rufa”, where we saw two people sitting with their feet in tanks of water.  We were intrigued and so decided to give it a try ourselves.  The sensation was very strange, but I think we all found it neat to try at least once.

Here are a few pictures from some of the stops not in Israel:

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