What started out as a trip to Germany for a family event – a symposium honoring Adolf Weissler, Robert’s great-grandfather – quickly grew into a bigger trip encompassing Iceland and Scotland. The joys of retirement – no need to hurry home! This could probably be three posts, but we’ll try to do it in one.
Note: click any photo for a larger version. To skip the narrative and go straight to the photo galleries (especially if you just want to see the birds and scenery), click here. Also, if you’re interested in Liza’s food blog, click here.
We had visited Iceland last year, following a cycling trip in Germany and some time in Norway, for just a couple of days, enough for us to know that we needed to come back and spend more time. This time we flew into Reykjavik, collected our rental car, and immediately set out for Akureyri in northern Iceland, about a 6 hour drive with some stops. Probably a long drive after a flight and being jetlagged wasn’t the smartest idea ever, but at least the cold weather and wind woke us up whenever we got out of the car!
With Akureyri as our base, we explored northern Iceland, basically birding and whale-watching. A day out to Lake Myvatn included a stop at the lovely Godafoss waterfall, a visit to a bird museum, and a walk through the Dimmuborgir lava fields. Seeing Barrow’s Goldeneye, Long-tailed and Harlequin Ducks in breeding plumage was a real treat. A bouncy boat trip the next day took us out to Drangey, a sea stack featuring a steep climb up (steps with a rope, mostly) and in-your-face views of Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and other sea birds.
Our whale-watching that we’d booked out of Dalvik eventually left from another dock, where we barely had to get a mile from shore to see a number of humpback whales. We also spent the better part of a day on Hrisey Island looking for Rock Ptarmigan, which we finally saw after being surprised by a Snow Bunting near the ferry dock. We even managed a visit to a public thermal pool in Akureyri, not the full spa experience of Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, but very enjoyable. Last but not least we stopped off at Thingvellir National Park on our way back to Reykjavik, seeing where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
From Iceland it was on to Scotland for Liza’s Outlander Reality Tour. 🙂 It was fun visiting some of the sites used in the filming of the tv show, including Falkland (stand-in for Inverness), Blackness Castle (stand-in for Fort William), Doune Castle (Castle Leoch, home of the MacKenzies), the Culloden Battlefield, and Clava Cairns (the standing stones that inspired Craigh na Dun in the show).
But Scotland wasn’t all about Outlander, far from it. We had a fun day trip into Edinburgh (by train; we weren’t about to drive the rental car there), absorbing the history on display at Edinburgh Castle. Stirling Castle was also on the agenda, being where many Scottish kings and queens were crowned, including Mary, Queen of Scots in 1542.
We also spent the better part of a week in Grantown-on-Spey, most of it on a midweek birding tour with Birding Ecosse. While it was cold and wet for most of the tour (we seemed to have on everything we brought with us), we thoroughly enjoyed the time with our guide Dave Slater and another couple from Australia. And the cold weather simply gave Liza a chance to try some of the single-malt whiskys available in the bar at the charming Grant Arms Hotel (“the UK’s Wildlife Hotel”).
Leaving Grantown-on-Spey we continued across to the west coast to Oban via a scenic drive through Glen Coe. Out of Oban we had a full day, four island tour – Mull, Lunga, Staffa, and Iona. Lunga featured more puffins and sea birds; Staffa some very interesting basalt formations; and Iona an abbey dating back to 563 AD and is where the Book of Kells (now in Ireland) originated.
We finished off our time in Scotland driving back to Glasgow via Loch Lomond and the Trossacks National Park – just had to see the “bonny bonny banks”! This was also the day we visited Doune Castle, which besides being in Outlander, is more likely best known for Monty Python & the Holy Grail (think of the French taunting King Arthur).
From Glasgow we flew on to Berlin, meeting up with friends Mark and Joanne who had just completed a cycling trip in Tuscany and a visit to Rome. This was a delayed Berlin get-together, we meant to last year but the logistics got messed up. We had a good time at a couple of museums and hanging out in Prenzlauer Berg.
Next we took the train to Halle an der Saale (aka the city of Georg Friedrich Händel) for the Adolf Weissler memorial symposium and to spend time with family. Robert’s brother Rod and his daughter Rachel had flown in the day before (and we took Rachel on a walking tour of the Berlin Wall Memorial) and went on to Halle ahead of us. We did a day trip together out to Eilenburg (where Robert’s and Rod’s father Gerhard was born) and also to Leipzig.
The next couple of days were at the symposium at the Landgericht (court house) in Halle. Robert’s cousins Bettina and Wolfgang were there, as well as Bettina’s husband Torsten, and it was the first time Rod and Rachel had met them. The symposium was in German of course so Liza ran out of steam once the proceedings became more technical, but Robert persevered! It was particularly nice that all of Adolf’s great-grandchildren – all four of them – were there, and the organizers were very pleased.
Another goal while in Halle was to find the graves of Robert’s grandparents, Otto and Margret Weissler. (Adolf’s was visited during the symposium, at the nearby Getraudenfriedhof.) The graves had last been seen by Gerhard we thought in 1987 or 1988, and we feared that the sites had been re-used and the tombstone discarded. (Definitely something that would have occurred during the Cold War.) But the graves were located in the Nordfriedhof after Liza contacted the cemetery administrator, who actually said he recalled corresponding with Gerhard in the 1980s. Amazing! He didn’t tell us exactly where they were, only that they were visible from a main path, so we did a search pattern (kind of like looking for a downed plane at sea) in the cemetery until they were located.
You may be wondering, what, no cycling? Well, we did ride one day, rental bikes from the hotel in Halle, along the river bike path (Saale-Radweg). It was probably the hottest day of a tough heat wave, close to 100F, but it was good to get out.
From Halle we zipped over to Munich by a fast ICE train, and in addition to a couple of requisite museum visits and a quick visit with cousin Linda Wanerman at the airport, had a wonderful time with Hans and Lisa Prugger out in Pullach. No visit there it seems is complete without a visit to the beer garden at Grosshesselohe. Great fun.
Eventually all good things come to an end, and we finally had to head for home, via Reykjavik. All told we were gone five weeks, four of it out of the country. And we had a few misadventures, to be sure, including our VW Jetta needing servicing before we could drive home from LA; Avis sticking us for a damaged tire in Glasgow (now if they’d given us the compact car we asked for instead of the “free upgrade” to a Mercedes, maybe Liza wouldn’t have hit the curb); and Liza bouncing her rental bike off a wall and winding up in the cobbled street with some road rash. But all in all we had a fabulous time, and it’s getting easier and easier to think of being away from home for extended periods. Certainly not having to listen to American news was a big plus!
Again, to look at a few or a lot of photos, click here. Buddy Bison was along too; he has an album in the photo gallery. If you want to see just why Robert and Liza needed to go on a diet after this trip, you can visit Liza’s food blog here. (Full Scottish breakfast, anyone? Or a hog roast sandwich? Or schnitzel? Or … )