“It’s the unpredictability of the predictable that keeps life interesting.”
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard
“Or is it the other way around?”
- Internal babble while driving, clink-clink-clink, Steve Carcano
Day Twenty-Nine – July 17th
It is with great sadness that we must return the Fiat 500. We like it so much we discuss getting one back home. Seriously. I believe it is small enough to qualify as a moped in the States but it does have two doors, a roof and a back seat (sort of, it kind of fits two small children). It will certainly keep those wacky golf carts that people are driving on PCH in their place.
Teri does a quick provision trip to the grocery and I stay back with the kids to pack up and get ready to motor. With a full kitchen and much needed rest and recuperation we are finally off to see the Zuiderzeemuseusm.
This is another walk around open-air museum about Dutch life but this one has a twist. It is on an island and we need to take our first ferryboat to get there. The wind is blowing, it’s sunny but there is still a nip to the air, big three mast sailboats line the harbor, a dyke is busy raising and lowering boats onto a canal, pretty much everything is in it’s place, right where it has always been and right where it belongs.
We spend the rest of the morning exploring the houses and store fronts of the village: there is a sail maker, a carpenter working on wooden shoes, a fisherman looking after smoked herring (we get one and eat it bones and all!), milking a pretend cow at the dairy, much touring of rooms of the folks that lived there. The structures have been relocated to this site from all over Holland - most are from the 1600-1700s – though life appears to remain much the same here regardless of the century.
After lunch we decide to head North again, this time crossing a big dyke (no snickering please) that separates the salt and fresh water. It is 30km long, 100m wide and straight as an arrow. The winds are gusty and howling and the camper jumps around a bit fighting just to get across.
We enter Friesland on the other side. This neck of the woods has remained independent of the rest of Nederland in mind and spirit for centuries. This is God’s country. Incredible coastlines, miles of wheat blowing in a steady wind, tree lined drives, a lot of sheep and very few people. It makes you want to get out of the camper and just stand there and breath.
Unfortunately there is not much to do with two kids in Friesland (they fail to see the joy in standing around breathing in good clean air and looking at the scenery) so we drive straight into Germany and head to a campsite outside the town of Oldenburg, the town my father’s grandfather is from. The campsite is a bit sketchy, mostly long timers with fishing gear and guns but the bathrooms are clean, the owner is nice enough and we need to get off the road.
Day Thirty – July 18th
This is another exciting day! We get out early and drive into the town of Oldenberg. My great grandfather is from here and I have all of his original paperwork tracing his journey from Oldenberg via Bremenhaven to Ellis Island in 1885.
It is a strange experience to see where your family hails from. I keep looking at people to see if they look like me or for the name Nordbrock to see if any of the family still remains. You want so much to have some kind of destination: a definitive point of reference to shape the experience. But in the end, it’s impossible. All you have is a sense and a feeling from being there, and for me, that turns out to be enough.
As we drive onwards I notice that we are surrounded by farmland growing acres of green vegetables yet none of it seems to find it’s way to the Germany dinner tables. I can’t imagine what they do with it all. They should eat more greens: it would improve their lifestyle considerably.
The new GPS takes us down all kinds of small and out of the way roads to get to places. At first I was worried we would be taking direct routes and bypassing much of the small towns and villages but it seems we find ourselves more and more on the small single lane roads (one lane for both directions). It could be that we are simply well off the beaten path but it sure is a nice way to see the countryside. Once you trust the GPS technology the confidence allows you to relax and you can use the drive time to open up and exercise the mind.
The main port of Bremenhaven is not what I expected. I pictured a cluttered town with narrow streets spilling into a harbor and dirt and old worn clothes and big old wooden docks and factories and smokestacks and seagulls and wind and waves and people and traffic and….
Instead it is open and big and broad, with wide streets and great old buildings and a towering church spire and sunshine and wind and seagulls and hardly any people…
It is a working port with a clear sense of self. It is proud and experienced but not arrogant. It stands testament to the 7 million people that sailed from there: both my and Teri’s great grandparents among them.
If you are interested in your family history and they sailed out of Germany please come and check this place out. The experience is worth the trip. They take you on a journey, giving you a real passengers identity and allowing you to follow along with them from check-in on the German side to landing on Ellis Island in New York. Plus, at the end of the tour you can look up your family members in a massive database and see when they sailed. The place rocks.
Eventually we head out and find a campsite in a small town on the way to Hamburg. An old lady manages it and she does not speak English. Instead she yells everything at you as loud as she can to help you understand better. It’s comical. She is yelling and we are nodding and carrying on completely different conversations. For some reason she is convinced I understand her and she goes on and on, laughing, telling jokes (I think), giving detailed instructions on doing laundry, pointing at her watch. It is a great treat to be so involved and have absolutely no idea what is going on. It’s a good metaphor for this life on the road.
For dinner we walk across the street to a Greek restaurant and order up a platter for two. A mound of meat arrives. There are all kinds of meats, likely from all over the body, in a big pile covering a few vegetables hidden on the bottom of the dish. My first bite is some kind of soft buttery liver thing. The second may be chicken or pork or possibly goat. By the third I am resigned to giving in to the situation and experiencing a true German Greek meal. Maybe we should become vegetarians.
Honestly the meal is delicious and the people very kind. Soon, after a huge bowl of ice cream for Adele, we are home and in bed to a good nights sleep.
Day Thirty-One – July 19th
This is a logistics day. We are headed to Hamburg for much needed supplies. Our route takes us on small country roads winding through the German countryside. It is warm and sunny and more beautiful around every turn.
We spend time driving 15Km per hour behind tractors pulling bales of hay or wagons full of grain. We must slow down in each town, which makes any kind of rhythm impossible. Or maybe it has a rhythm unto itself as each town is spaced roughly a days walking distance apart.
The homes are all made of brick. I read that post WWII they rebuilt everything in brick because all of the timber homes were pretty much destroyed by bombs. The world wars still linger in this part of the world. And their impact is subtle at times and almost confrontational at others.
Here, describing something as pre-war has a whole different meaning than when used to describe a full service doorman building on the upper West Side.
When I camped here as a kid with my family in the mid-1970’s WWII was still very new and fresh, less than thirty years had passed by. The 20 year olds in 1945 were in their mid 50s then. Forty some odd years later another generation is at the helm but you still get the sense that the memories linger and cut close to the bone. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it is so hard to imagine how not one, but two world wars started here in these small towns and villages of Germany. What were these people thinking?
Hamburg, the largest port city in Germany, is easy to get around and filled with big open streets all merging into the heart of the city. We drive the HOW right into the city center, park illegally for an hour or two, and achieve our main objective: finding the English language travel bookstore to stockpile our Denmark/Norway/Sweden books. We are in and out. I regret to say we did not eat hamburgers in Hamburg.
Tonight we are camped in Wikinger Campingplatz Haithagu on a harbor overlooking Schleswig, a small town in the far corner of Germany.
Day Thirty-Two – July 20th our one month on the road anniversary
The reason we are in Schleswig is for the Viking museum that just happens to be across the street from the campground. We walk over in the morning and get our first look at the Vikings.
The museum is a great introduction. The inside section covers the broad strokes of Viking rule and the history of the town we are in, once a center for all Viking trade in the region. The other section is a working village with several small thatched roof huts and a few larger ceremonial buildings. The kids eat it up. We all get Viking beads in the village to make bracelets that will carry the Viking spirit with us at all times. From now on I have asked the family to address me a Thor.
For lunch we head to the small town of Gluckspel on the German/Dane border. Parking is a bit of a challenge at first but it all eventually works itself out. Once we are on foot we find the “floating castle”. The guidebook claims it appears to float in a lake. Actually it is a really big moat built along with the castle by one of the powerful families in the 1500s.
We have fun wandering around the inside, complete with a dungeon. Outside something is lurking in the moat. As we watch the gentle ripples near the edge of shore a huge animal, maybe fish, maybe not, slithers and splashes right in front of us. It is big, maybe ten feet long or so and makes splashes far enough apart that it appears to be big enough to eat us. We all freak. The bets are some kind of eel, snake, dragon, catfish and/or a Backyardigan sea monster. We will never know for sure.
After lunch we cross into our seventh country and arrive in Denmark. Where are all the people? The road is empty save for a few cars and a random truck or two. The surrounds remind me of driving the Jones beach causeway on Long Island. It is flat, surrounded by fields of grass and you can sense the ocean is right around each bend (even when you can’t see it you can feel it).
Being typical Americans we drive straight away to Billund and expect to camp in Legoland for the night. It has been on our agenda since day one and is a focal point of the first part of the trip. We are quick to discover that this is where all the people are. Legoland is sold out. I believe all of Europe has decided to take a “stay-cation” this year and come here to spend their Euro dollars.
Flights are flying in from Ryan air, the campsite is over booked, all of the hotels are sold out and people are everywhere. This Legoland is more like Disney World in Florida. It is big and sprawling, swimming in a mass of humanity. It is a bit overwhelming so we leave and head to another campground in the town of Gist .
We need Kroners. It cost of hundreds of them to register and get a campsite. Since we don’t know the exchange rate we have no idea what things cost and money seems to be flying out the door. I think is cost 360K. Sounds like a lot. Can’t we all just get along and put the Scandinavians on the Euro?
By 10p everyone is settled into bed and I am up at the campsite office on a weak Wi-Fi signal paying bills and catching up on the travel log. The camper is making a strange clicking sound that is cause of some concern. It is a 2010 model so everything should be fine but we decide to get it checked tomorrow just in case - before the trip way up North.
With that in mind we are all set for an early start and a great day at Legoland!
Day Thirty-Three – July 21st
click-click-click-click-click-is that the engine-click-click-maybe it’s a rock in the tire-click-click-no it’s coming from under the hood-click-click-should we stop-click-click-I will call over when we park-click-click-click-click-click
We arrive in Parking Lot 2 around 10:30a and wait twenty minutes on line to pay for parking. Oh, no. Then we get on a line to by tickets so we can stand on another line to get in. So does the rest of Europe.
Once we get inside we have a wonderful time. Being park veterans we know to start in the back and work your way forward, going against the grain. We walk right onto the castle ride, Adele and Teri catch the big roller coaster and Vince and I ride the spinning water boats. Then we wait a bit, but not too long, to ride a new laser ride. By 1p we have tackled three of the big rides and scouted out much of the park.
We spend the day playing in the fountains and the water park, wandering around the Lego mini-land (much better than San Diego), eating ice cream, getting a hair weave and shopping. At one point we snap a photo by the driving track I can remember riding when I was a little kid. It is fun to be back in the same place with my kids. Even though it is way overcrowded, Legoland is still a magical place for all.
click-click-click-is this the place-click-that it says in the Fiat book-click-to go to for the noise-click-yes-click-but the guy says they closed 10 minutes ago-click-he says to come back at 8a-click-click-click
We move on to our campsite in Horsen. It is beautiful. We have a site on a big field with a great playground and in easy walking distance to every thing. The Campsite is on the beach, out on a point and it has a constant gentle breeze. What more can we ask for?
Vinny makes friends at the playground while Adele and I make our Viking bracelets and Teri tackles the laundry. Eventually we eat and do dishes and get to bed. By 11p the gentle breeze has turned to a light rain and the cool air rolls in off the sea.
Now this is Denmark.
At one point during the day Teri asks me, “What did we do yesterday?” We both look at each other and realize neither of us can answer. We have no idea what day it is (date or day of the week), only a vague recollection of the time of day (the number of hours of daylight distorts everything) and now we have short-term memory loss on recent activities. This is either really good or really bad, I am not sure which.
Day Thirty-Four – July 22nd
Here we sit at Fiat repair with notice of a 6-day layover to replace a ball bearing that is wandering around aimlessly in the “clutch compartment”. Apparently they need to replace the entire “gsbootenbearing” in the “vedansiasian” or else the “cluchenossen vill becaputon” Uh huh, and you can tell all that from just listening to it? Not even peeking under the hood? “Yah, yah, vee oderismaten clushenossen” So, we can’t drive it? “Nine, no, no, no (hand motions for steering wheel), capouten”. Ahhh, perhaps we can drive around until the part comes in? “Yeah, yah, yah, 10km oodly” So, no overnights to Kopenhaven? “Ha, ha, ha!” But we live in it: this is our home! He looks at me like I am nuts. “Gosputen Hotel en Hoousoon!” For SIX DAYS?
Communications are extremely difficult and everyone is passing off responsibility. We sit in a parking lot with no support from the outside, no way to contact anyone because the cell is not working, no home, no car and no idea what comes next. That about sums it up in a nutshell.
Crisis management is one of the great opportunities in life. If it goes well, catastrophe is narrowly averted. If it does not, you slip into the abyss.
We decide to take responsibility. We go to indoor play park, Teri takes the kids for three hours of running and jumping while I attempt to sort of logistics, we finally get a rental car, pack and move our stuff over, drive to Odense only to find the hotel in town is un-acceptable, we drive on to Nyborg and end up in a classic Scandinavian hotel that sits in the woods, on the ocean, with a pool, hot tub, and tennis court, and it feels like we are the only ones here, there are huge winds turbines seemingly floating on water on the horizon, and the biggest bridge we have ever seen going so far off it fades in the distance, we swim and sauna, get dinner at an Italian place, listen to music in the town square, find a very rare Fairy catching rock on the beach (one with a hole in it), go to bed in down comforters and pressed sheets, and I end the day doing one of my favorite thing in life – writing, in the nooks and crannies of great hotels.
You tell me – narrowly averted or slipping into the abyss?
Day Thirty-Five –July 23rd.
After a good nights sleep in the feather beds (well, for some of us, Adele took over my bed before I even got there and I ended up hanging off the side of the couch with Vince kicking all night long), we have a fancy buffet breakfast in the formal dining room. Maybe it’s not the best place for noisy kids as we notice the other guest huddling quietly in the corners. “Wake up! The Americans are here!”
We swim and play another set of tennis before driving over to our latest castle de hour, Oversigtskort. Apparently this is on the Top 1,000 Places to see before you die “bucket list” and with very good reason. It is spectacular. Not great, but spectacular!
There’s the castle, still used by the owners mind you, a tree top sky walk, the enormous hedge maze (like in the Shining), the largest doll house in the world, lots of armor and swords, a motorcycle collection, planes, trucks and cars, a doll collection, a fantastic play ground, stables, cannons, moats, fancy gardens and acres upon acres of perfectly manicured lawns.
We spend five hours here and could have spent another five. It is one of the highlight family stops of the trip to date. So different and distant from our experience two days ago in Legoland.
At lunch Vince continues his unwillingness to eat anything with the rest of us and acts out so much I need to remove him again from the table. He is way off kilter and it is driving the rest of us nuts. The behavior has deteriorated to the point that we now resist eating out if possible. This was fine with the camper but it’s not working with the car/hotel combo.
For dinner we do the only sensible thing and take the kids to a bar. We should have thought of this earlier. No one cares what anyone does in a bar. Plus, the trough urinals are fascinating to an almost four year. He can even lie around under the table on the dirty floor and tell his “fart’ jokes with the rest of the kids. Bars are family affairs over here and it works out great. Adele learns to play cards, Teri puts a few back and I get my first Diet Coke with ice in over a month.
All in all it is a nice way to wrap a very busy day.