Northern Europe − Summer 2018

To me, there are three important things in life:
  • HEALTH: Good health makes everything possible. I climb mountains; I eat light, healthy meals; and I avoid antibiotics in order to preserve my microbiome. But health isn't just physical − it's intellectual, emotional and spiritual. Travel keeps me intellectually stimulated, emotionally satisfied and (often) spiritually rewarded.

  • RELATIONSHIPS: Connections with others gives meaning to my existence. Without these connections, there’s no reason for our being here. I visit friends and family whenever I can. I send and receive about 15 emails/day. I write this travel blog in order to stay in touch with the folks I miss, like you. My relationships with all living beings are important to me, which is why I spend a lot of time outdoors.

  • TIME: I’m a miser with my time because time is finite and non-renewable. I do only those things that I want to do, or that I feel are worthwhile, such as ... maintaining good health, having meaningful relationships, and learning as much as possible. I don't know how much more time I'll have on our beautiful planet. With the time that I have left, I want to see and know every part of our world. This is why I keep traveling.
There are a few countries in Europe that I've never visited. I don't like sub-zero temperatures, so I'm using June and July to visit some places that freeze in January. Please join me on this adventure. I'll do my best to entertain you. If you have questions or comments, email me.

Iceland − 12 June 2018

As a visitor to Iceland, here are five useful things to know:
  1. Iceland is incredibly photogenic. There are fjords, glaciers, geysers and waterfalls everywhere. In summer, the pastures turn bright green. On sunny days, spray from crashing surf and waterfalls create rainbows.

  2. The best way to see Iceland is by car. You can drive 1330 km all the way around the island on a paved road, stopping at turnouts, viewpoints and trailheads. Iceland's Ring Road is the most beautiful highway I've ever seen.

  3. The best time to visit Iceland is early June when the weather starts getting nice. In June, the pastures are full of new-born lambs. With an almost midnight sun, you can explore and go hiking 24 hours a day. Tourism in Iceland has exploded in recent years, with most tourists visiting between mid-June and early September. Avoid the crowds by going in early June.

Iceland's Ring Road − click the map for more detail
  1. Traveling and getting around in Iceland is easy. Most Icelanders speak English, and they're all friendly and helpful. Iceland's highways are well-marked with plenty of scenic turnouts and information boards.

  2. Iceland is expensive. My personal measure of a country's cost of living is the price of a draft beer in a bar. That'll be about $10 in Iceland. To keep expenses at about $200/day, I stayed at AirBnB's and bought my beer at liquor stores.

I spent two weeks driving around Iceland and took thousands of photos. Posted below are less than 1% of them. Better than anything I can write, these photos will show you how beautiful Iceland is. You can zoom in on any photo by clicking on it. Click on the underscored hyperlinks to go to a site's official webpage.

The Blue Lagoon hot spring and spa

Eyrarbakki, a typical town on the south coast

Þingvellir National Park where the North American
and European continental plates diverge

The original hot-water Geyser after which all other geysers are named

Iceland's most famous waterfall

Secret Lagoon in Flúðir

Geothermally heated greenhouses at Friðheimar

Iceland's lambs are born in pairs in May

(a path runs behind this waterfall)
I was lucky with the weather. I had sunshine 10 of the 14 days that I was in Iceland.

My AirBnB cabin near Hvolsvöllur

Iceland's night sky at midnight on June 1st

Ancient sod cottages

Icebergs from Sólheimajökull glacier

Natural bridge at Dyrhólaey

Black sand beach and Reynisdrangur sea stacks

Mt Katla, elevation 1512 meters

Skógafoss, 62 meters high

The Ring Road on Iceland's south coast

Icebergs from the great Vatnajökull ice field

Kayaking in the Jökulsárlón lagoon

Fresh langoustine!

A fjord in eastern Iceland, seen from the Ring Road

Tulips in the French settlement of Fáskrúðsfjörður
I spent two weeks driving the Ring Road around Iceland. What worked for me was to stay for two nights at each of seven locations. This allowed me to alternate between a day of driving and site-seeing, followed by a day to explore the local area. I took lots of detours and hiked many trails along seacliffs and in the mountains.

Powerful Dettifoss, the greatest volume of any waterfall in Europe

The stinky mud pots at Hverir

The explosion crater of Víti (meaning "hell" in Icelandic)

The geothermal power station at Krafla

A cinder cone in the Mývatn region

The giant jagged lava field at Dimmuborgir (literally "Dark Castles")

Mývatn Nature Baths

My rental car, Lake Mývatn in background

Goðafoss (at 11pm)

Twilight on Eyjafjörður, Iceland's longest fjord

A church near Akureyri

Eyjafjarðarsveit valley, south of Akureyri

Hvítserkur, a basalt dike on the beach

Horses on Iceland's north coast

The road out to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The charming town of Stykkishólmur

Kirkjufell as I saw it (left) and the view on a sunny day (right)

Breakfast at
Fossatún Guest House

Ice stalagmites inside
Viðgelmir lava tube

Europe's largest hot spring
Deildartunguhver produces 180 liters of boiling water per second! Geothermal power plants produce 62 megawatts of electricity from the steam. 74 km of insulated pipe carry this hot water to towns between here and Reykjavik. The remaining hot water is mixed with runoff from a nearby glacier to create the delightful hot baths at Krauma.

Trolls were Iceland's first residents

Borganes sea port


Breath-taking scenery. Friendly people. Great accommodations. Fresh fish. Ease of travel. What's not to love about Iceland? If you can afford it, go! I'm glad I did.

From here, I have a one-way ticket to Dublin.

By the way, check out WOW Air for cheap tickets to and from Iceland.

A Celtic cross and emerald green pastures

Ireland − 19 June 2018

If someone were to give me a house − not likely, but bear with me on this − the first thing I'd do would be to see what I'd been given. I'd look everywhere, upstairs in the attic and downstairs in the basement. I'd open every cabinet and closet. I'd explore the garden, smelling the flowers and sampling the fruits and veggies. I might even climb a tree. I wouldn't be satisfied or feel at home until I'd seen the whole thing.

I feel the same way about our big, beautiful planet. I'm impressed − even flabbergasted (I like that word) − by the beauty, variety and complexity of what's here. And I'm not done exploring Planet Earth yet. Not by a long shot.

From Iceland, WOW Air flew me to Dublin for a bargain price of $89. At the Dublin airport, I rented a car and spent a week driving around this beautiful and historic Emerald Isle. The first thing I noticed is that Ireland is half as expensive as Iceland. Yay! Then, after I got used to driving on the wrong (left) side of the road, I personally verified that the country is full of friendly people and lively pubs.

Kilkenny Castle, built in 1195

Ireland has many castles. Some are ruins perched on windy hilltops and wreathed by wildflowers.

A few are like the one in Kilkenny, inhabited for centuries and restored to almost original condition.

I spent two hours on my self-guided tour of the Kilkenny castle. The Long Gallery located in the East Wing of Kilkenny Castle, was built primarily to house the Butler family's fine collection of paintings. Nice! If someone were to give me this castle (thank you very much) it would take at least a week to visit every room, staircase, tower and dungeon. And don't forget the 50 acres of terraced gardens!

Kilkenny was my first night in Ireland, and my first visit to an Irish pub. After that, I was hooked. Irish pubs are wonderful meeting places. From that night on, I visited an Irish pub every night that I was in Ireland. While spending my days site-seeing, I looked forward to tasty beer, a good meal, new friends and great music − usually accompanied by singing and dancing.

Traveling in Ireland is easy. All the sites are accessible by car or tour bus. As with my Iceland blog, I'm posting here only a small sample of the photos that I took. But you can't appreciate Ireland from photos alone. You must go there in person to hear the music, sing the songs and dance the dances.

The Long Gallery of Kilkenny Castle

A couple of lively pubs in Kilkenny

An evening inside a typical Irish pub

Rock of Cashel (aka St.Patrick's Rock)

Political messages and murals in Northern Ireland

The tasting room in the Old Bushmills Distillery
One of the regions that made a deep impression on me was Northern Ireland, especially the city of Derry. This is where the English started fighting with the Irish four centuries ago. Since then, the dominant English forces have drawn borders and passed laws to decide where people lived and worked, separating the Catholics from the Protestants. Like all conflicts, this is a struggle for power and money. Today peace has come to Derry and Belfast, but you can still feel some tension. Watching the World Cup in the pubs in Derry, no one cheered for England.

A trip to Ireland wouldn't be complete without a visit to a distillery. Old Bushmills Distillery was a highlight.

After a couple of drams of fine Irish whiskey, it was time to go for a ramble on the Giant's Causeway. For years teaching geology, I've shown pictures of this curious formation of columnar basalt to my students. It was satisfying to finally see this place in person.

Columnar basalt on the Giant's Causeway

The ruins of Dunseverick Castle on the north coast

My hosts at The Rocks B&B just outside Belfast
As I drove scenic highways through green hills and along the spectacular coastline, I saw darling B&B's every few miles. Sometimes I used the internet to book a room in advance. Sometimes I simply knocked on the door where there was a "vacancy" sign out front. Consistently, the accommodations were wonderful. I think the Irish invented the Bed & Breakfast.

Here are two of my favorites: The Rocks B&B
Athlumney Manor B&B

A typical Irish breakfast

The 5200 year old Passage Tomb in Newgrange
Long before the Celts came to Ireland, there were other settlers who came here for the wildlife, minerals and green pastures. Not much is known about these early Stone Age residents or their culture − except that they were builders. They built huge temples and passage tombs for their deceased that have lasted into the present. Archaelogists have shown that some of these tombs were built with astronomical alignments.

Ireland's passage tombs are 500 years older than Egypt's pyramids and 1000 years older than Stonehenge. The most impressive of these tombs is the Passage Tomb in Newgrange, just north of Dublin.

No one knows where Ireland's first residents went when they left, but I know where I'm going next. From Ireland, I've mapped out a rough itinerary from here to Berlin, where my son is living now. I've seen enough airports and airplanes. So, I plan to get to Berlin via trains, buses and boats. I'm going to book nothing more than about 24 hours in advance. I like traveling spontaneously and close to the ground. This should be fun.

Isle of Man

Island hopping is something you might associate with the Caribbean or the South Pacific. But you can also island hop in the British Isles. There are quite a few islands in this part of the world. Many have been inhabited for millennia. All of them have colorful histories and unique local cultures.

Island hopping involves travel by boat, which is a relaxing and comfortable contrast to most modern forms of transportation. In all, I enjoyed seven ferry cruises. The first was from Dublin to the Isle of Man, halfway between Ireland and England. This little island, which is about the size of Michigan's Isle Royale, turns out to be a charming, Victorian holiday destination.

The ferry from Dublin to the Isle of Man

Interior of the ferry − big seats, lots of legroom, large windows
Here are some fun facts to know and tell about the Isle of Man:
  • The people who live here are called Manx.
  • The Isle of Man is where tail-less Manx cats originated.
  • Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (aka The Bee Gees) originated here, too.
  • Although the Isle of Man is one of the British Isles, it's a self-governing British dependency − not part of the United Kingdom.
  • If you thought Ireland was full of elves and Leprechauns, look again at the mythology and folklore of the Isle of Man. Before St.Patrick came to the Isle of Man, all the inhabitants had three legs − hence the three-legged flag.
  • Folklore tells stories of how the Celtic sea god (Manannán mac Lir) would wrap the Isle of Man with fog when strangers approached so that they would lose their way or be wrecked on the rocky shores.
  • Theories abound as to why the flag of the Isle of Man is similar to the flag of Sicily.
  • The Douglas Bay Horse Tramway is the world's last remaining 19th century horse-drawn passenger tramway.
  • Since 1907, the Isle of Man has hosted the Tourist Trophy motorcycle race over its narrow mountain roads. This race has been described as 38 Miles of Terror and the world's most dangerous motorsport event.
With such an unusual ethnology, this island is worth at least a day or two.
A Manx cat

The flag of Sicily

The castle in middle of Douglas Harbour

A horse-drawn tram passes rows of guest houses


Another comfortable ferry took me to Liverpool where I caught a train to Cardiff, the capital of Wales.

Cardiff is a pretty hip place. Like many European cities, Cardiff has outdoor pedestrian malls throughout the city. Shops line the walkways. Victorian arcades lead off on both sides. The streets are full of shoppers in the daytime. The cafés do vigorous business until after midnight on warm summer evenings. Unlike other European cities, there aren't many tourists in Cardiff. So, the locals are happy to welcome a traveler. This is a city that I could spend more time in.

Downtown Cardiff, Wales
Cardiff's urban center sits between an ultramodern waterfront and a fortress whose foundations were laid by the Romans in 75 AD.

Since William the Conqueror, Cardiff Castle has been held by a royal procession of earls, lords and marquises. The last owners were the fabulously wealthy Bute family who controlled the coal industry of Wales in the 19th century. The Butes didn't hesitate to lavish millions to turn the castle into their gothic revival fantasy mansion. Today, it's a magnificent museum.

Cardiff Castle Keep and a trebuchet

Ladies having tea in the park

The carousel at Cardiff Wharf


Continuing through Great Britain, my next stop was Salisbury and nearby Stonehenge. My plan was to be at Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice.

But first, a word or two about transport: A rental car is great for exploring a place like Iceland with its natural wonders and remote trailheads. But you'll never meet anyone unless you get out of the car or pickup hitchhikers. Travel by bus, boat or train is a great way to meet people. In England and continental Europe, trains run frequently and can be booked last minute. Take the train and enjoy lots of legroom, convenient stations and modest prices.

Trains in England are fast and convenient.

Pubs on Market Square, Salisbury
40 years ago, my friend Will visited Stonehenge. He recalls "There were no sidewalks. No visitor's center. Just Stonehenge. Walk between the stones. Lie on 'em. Smile at them."
I made it to Stonehenge on the Solstice. Today visitors to Stonehenge on June 21st pay to camp in the fields with 10,000 others in order to see sunrise on the morning of the Solstice.

If you go to Stonehenge on the 22nd as I did, you'll witness the Druid ceremony at noon. A hush falls over the crowd. You'll hear only the wind, the birds, and the Druids chanting.

The Druid Solstice Ceremony at Stonehenge
Some things change. Some things remain the same. The magic of Stonehenge is still there.

Salisbury Cathedral, built between 1220 and 1258

Interior of the cathedral with the Peace Dove installation
The other remarkable site to visit in Salisbury is its cathedral. England is endowed with many stunning churches, but few have the grandeur or spectacle of 13th-century Salisbury Cathedral. The elaborate exterior is decorated with Gothic pointed arches and flying buttresses. The interior is somber and austere, designed I suppose to keep the congregation suitably pious.

The cathedral currently features thousands of paper doves to bring a message of peace and hope after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

I saw lots of tourists at both Stonehenge and the cathedral, including Prince Charles and Camilla who were visiting Salisbury to assure everyone that the city is open for business, and that there's no need to worry about Novichok

Of course, this was all before the latest news.

Prince Charles and Camilla in Salisbury


Eventually, I'm going to get to Berlin. There are many ways to get there without flying. If you have the time, I'd recommend the route I'm taking. My next ferry sails from Poole to Guernsey.

Guernsey ... what a charming place! Cobblestone streets. A busy harbor full of yachts and fishing boats. Spooky German tunnels built during WWII. Flower baskets hanging from lamp posts. Lively waterfront pubs.

You might associate the name Guernsey with cows. Sure enough, if you get up early in the morning, you'll see fresh milk on doorsteps − albeit not in glass bottles.

The castle at the exit from Poole Harbour

Pork pie salad − classic pub food

Fresh milk on the doorstep

The harbor at Saint Peter Port, Guernsey


The next Channel Island along the ferry route was Sark, an island I'd never heard of before. Sark's tourism office describes this island as "the crown jewel of the Channel Islands." Well ... maybe.

Sark is governed by Guernsey because it's nearby. The island is 5 km long and no more than 2 km wide. It's the sort of place that you can explore on foot, and so I did. There's no need for a car here, and the residents agree. The roads are the domain of horses and horse-drawn carts. Cars are prohibited.

The ferry from Guernsey sails to Sark three times a day.

Public transit in Sark

The narrow causeway from Sark to Little Sark is 60m above the rocks and the beaches below.
Sark reminded me of Mackinac Island in Michigan. but less developed. There are charming bed & breakfasts here, quaint shops and garden restaurants.

With no air pollution and no public lighting, Sark's night skies are brilliant with stars. The International Dark-Sky Association designated Sark as Europe's first Dark Sky Community, making Sark one of the few inhabited Dark Sky places.

Sark is a wonderful place to go for a hike, with trails along spectacular cliffs. This is another place I'd like to come back to, maybe to sit and write a book.

Sark Henge, built in 2015

Looking back from where I've come


The last of the Channel Islands on my ferry route was Jersey. Like the Isle of Man and Guernsey, this island is a self-governing British dependency. Yet it feels very French. At my hotel, there was as much French spoken as English. The restaurant menus were in French. On a clear day, you can see France just 20 km away. Still, the cars drive on the left and the currency is British pounds. Jersey is an amusing blend of England and France.

Of all the Channel Islands, Jersey is the most developed. It has international banks, a busy airport, stylish beach hotels and public squares with gilded statues and elegant cafés.

My hotel on the beach on Havre des Pas

King George II Square

The marina at Saint Helier, Jersey

Poisson avec haricots et asperges
I took one last ferry from Jersey to St.Malo. Tada! I'm in France. The rest of this journey to Berlin will be by train. Nice, relaxing, easy.


Believe it or not, I'd never been to Belgium until now. Sure, I'd passed through a few times by train, but that doesn't really count.

Like Iceland and Ireland, Belgium is another fun and easy place to visit. English is spoken almost everywhere. Prices are reasonable. The capital city Brussels is lively, elegant and engaging. Bruges, on the north coast, is an historic and charming medieval city.

Belgians are friendly. They serve delicious food and their beer is world-famous.

Brussels's medieval Grand Place
Brussels has clean streets, excellent public transit and wide pedestrian areas. Brussels is an ideal place for a city walk, with historic sites and cultural interest on every street.

I read that some guy in Washington DC thinks that Europe is "losing its culture". That guy has obviously never seen Brussels.

The Atomium, shown to the right, is an enlarged model of what the body-centered cubic iron crystal lattice looks like, magnified 165 billion times.

The Atomium, built for the 1958 World's Fair
My #1 destination in Belgium was Bruges. This strategic port was the queen of North Sea commerce from the 12th to the 15th century. I'd always thought of Europe's Medieval Period as being a rather "dark" time. Not true. The merchants of Bruges enjoyed an enlightened and sumptuous lifestyle by trading with all of Europe. By escaping the ravages of both World Wars, Bruges retains much of its old world charm and architecture.

Bruges' market square and its 83 meter tall bell tower

Horse-drawn carriages and step-gabled buildings

Napoleon's generals conferring on the night before Waterloo
My #2 destination in Belgium was Waterloo. The museums and battlefields gave me a sense of the events that led to this battle and its consequences.

While I was in Belgium, their team was still in the hunt for the World Cup. Pubs were the place to be on nights when Belgium played.

My friend Bart supporting his football team


Place de la Constitution, Luxembourg

View of Bock Casemates and the Alzette from the Chemin de la Corniche
Luxembourg is smaller than Rhode Island. It owes its existence to having been owned through the centuries by wealthy dukes and counts, enjoying the protection of a substantial castle fortress, and not being the focus of any of Europe's major conflicts.

Today Luxembourg is a financial center and banking hub. It's one of the three richest countries in the world by GDP per capita after Qatar and Macao. Luxembourg enjoys a very high standard of living − and has prices to match!

It's a pretty country, but to be honest there's not a lot here. I spent a quiet night here in a tidy hotel, had a delicious dinner, and then took the train to Germany.


I've been to Germany many times, even back when it was a divided country. This visit was purely social to visit friends and family.

My first stop was Cologne. I get goosebumps when I walk out of the main train station and look up at the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe. Its spires soar to 157 meters. During World War II, the Allies were careful not to bomb Cologne's cathedral because it was an easily-identified navigation aid.

The great cathedral in Cologne

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

In June, when touring Iceland in a rental car, I picked up a couple of hitch-hikers from Cologne. After sharing excellent adventures, they invited me to come visit them in Cologne. And so I did.

Personal note: Travel is one of the best ways to meet people and make new friends.

My second stop in Germany was Berlin. Forbes magazine says that Berlin is the best place to live and work in Europe. Here are 31 reasons why Berlin is the coolest city in the world.

I'm told that about 150 people move to Berlin every day. Most of these new Berliners are between the ages of 30 and 35 ...

... including my son Dan who moved to Berlin in June. He now has a 1-year student visa to study German.

Fellow travelers, Jana and Thomas

A remnant of the Berlin Wall in the Eastern Gallery

Visiting family is another good reason to travel. Seeing Berlin with my son was a fitting way to end my journey through northern Europe.

From Germany, I flew back to the US for some R&R at my cottage in Michigan. There will be new adventures soon. For now, I'll close with this thought:

2500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher Confucius is said to have said "Far better is it to have travelled 1 mile than to have read 1000 books." In spite of all the communication technology we have today, this statement is still true. When you leave your comfort zone, you discover the most about the world we inhabit.

But travel doesn't have to mean that you stop reading good books. Trains, planes, ships and buses are great places to relax and read. So travel! And take your books with you − in electronic form, of course, to reduce your luggage.

Goodnight from Lyz, Dan and me

Having visited about 135 countries, I'm often asked which one I like the best. I can't choose just one place, so I've nominated my favorites and posted a music video on youtube. Click here to see my Top 15. Click here to return to the world map. Feel free to email comments or questions.