Finding Ireland: a Primer for North American drivers

My friend, Barb Beck and her husband Vince, who live in Spokane, Wash.,  took a trip to Ireland in February 2014. Apart from the beautiful countryside, they found the high cost of eating out was bad enough, but driving there was “a total nightmare.” Here’s her diary:

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Photo by Barb Beck

Day 1:  We left Spokane at about 7 a.m. on Feb. 3 on our way to Denver.  Denver is NOT my favorite airport at all  as it seems that every time I have to go through there somehow, I get delayed, and this time was no exception.  We got there and saw that there is a 2 1/2 hour delay to NYC because of the snow.  Originally, we were supposed to have a four-hour window in NYC to get from LaGuardia to JFK to fly to Dublin. I started calling Aer Lingus (Irish Airlines) to find out what we should do. They refered me to the travel agent that booked our trip.  The travel agent suggested that we re-book  for Tuesday night.  We finally took off for NYC and got there at 6:15, and still had a few hours.  It took 45 minutes to get our luggage at LaGuardia.  I once again called Aer Lingus and the agent re-booked us for Tuesday (out of the goodness of their heart with no fees involved). So…..by the time we got to JFK,  they tried to get us on our original flight but the gate was closed so now we had to spend an extra night in NYC, which meant missing our pre-booked one-night in Wicklow.  Continue reading

Postcard from Austria/Italian border: beware of Route 110

Austrian Alps tram

Austria offers the most beautiful scenery. We stopped and took a tram up the mountain for a great view. Lana Rodlie photo

Austrian tram 7

Little farms dot the hillsides. Lana Rodlie photo

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A scene right out of Sound of Music. Lana Rodlie photo

Italy mountains

Route 110 may look like a regular road on the map; but don’t go there unless you are really accustomed to driving in Europe. Lana Rodlie photo

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The scenery was breath-taking, if you could take your eyes off the road. Lana Rodlie photo

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This was likely the last car we saw as we ventured on towards Tolmezzo. Lana Rodlie photo

This really should be titled: If you’re not going to take my advice, don’t ask.

By Lana Rodlie

“You’ll want to take the road to Villach,” the Tyrolean attendant at the gas station told me when we stopped to fill up at Lienz near the Austrian-Italian border. The GPS in the Ford Fiasco we rented in Frankfurt was no help – it only spoke German.

“But what about this road down here through Tolmezzo?” I asked, pointing at Route 110 through Kotschach-Mauthen. It seemed shorter and closer to the place in the Province of Udine, where my cousins lived.

 “You’ll want to take the road to Villach,” the Tyrolean repeated. “My English no good and so no explain why. Just take road to Villach.”

Since we’d been through Villach on our last visit, we wanted to take a different route – different scenery.

“Oh, what the hell,” my husband said. “Let’s take this Route 110. The map says the road is paved. So how bad could it be?”

I should stop right here and point out that it was ME who insisted on asking for directions. And it was my husband’s decision not to follow the Tyrolean’s advice.

As we ventured onward and upward into the Italian Alps, the lack of other vehicles on the road should have been our first clue that the Tyrolean may have known what he was talking about. But the road seemed fine, at first. My husband had learned to drive on Norwegian roads and we’d driven over Trollstigen a number of times. Trollstigen is a treacherous piece of highway in Norway’s fjord district that hasn’t improved much since the Vikings. Continue reading

Viking search – A house at the North Pole

 

Our "cabin at the North Pole."

Our “cabin at the North Pole.”

Well, it isn’t exactly the North Pole but 66.33 degrees N. – the Arctic Circle. Actually, we are not right on the Arctic Circle but you can see it from here.

Why do we come here? For that you have to understand the Norwegian psyche – and I’ve been married to a Norsk for 35 years and I’m only beginning to get it. Dan is a  former cargo ship navigator who I stole from the sea, literally; but then we spent the next three-and-a-half decades jumping back and forth between Canada and Norway. Continue reading

Land of Midnight Sun: Helgeland

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The Seven Sisters mountains are actually on an island. They rise about 1,072 meters and tower over the landscape all along the coast. Lana Rodlie photo

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Midnight sun. Lana Rodlie photo

Helgeland is that section of Northern Norway where the postcard pastures of green valleys give way to stark barren mountains of rock. These massive mountains stand frozen in time, like petrified remains of giant gods, once worshiped as harbingers of rain, fish or thunder. Millions of islands are sprinkled along the coast. As an old Norwegian saga goes – God molded the mountains out of clay and then shook his massive hands, leaving the clay bits – big, small, connected, alone, distant, close – all growing hard in the midnight sun and reshaped by millions of years of washing by the sea. At various points in time, ice glaciers carved through the granite like giant grindstones. Trees on these islands are small and spindly; branches knotted and gnarled, as if shivering from the cold wind. Low bushes sport various berries: tyttebaer (a smaller version of cranberries) and moltebaer (a kind of wild blonde raspberry). And then the mushy green moss which covers everything from walkways to roof-tops, like a warm blanket. It’s an unforgiveable landscape which accounts for the toughness of the Norwegians. I mean if they could eke out a living on these barren rocks, they could live just about anywhere. Continue reading

Life beside a Norwegian sea: Kristiansund

Sunday, Aug. 31, 2013

IMG_2597We are sitting in Dan’s brother’s boat, somewhere off the coast of Kristiansund, a city of about 15,000 roughly half-way up the Norwegian coast in the district of Møre og Romsdal. We are not far from town – in a bay just outside the oil industrial park. Dan and Ove are fishing, pulling in mackerel so fast, they can hardly get their lines back in the water. We were hoping for Sei, my favourite, but there aren’t any here. They would be below the mackerel, I’m told. Sei is known as bluefish or Boston bluefish in North America but the North Atlantic stuff doesn’t get exported there. At least, I’ve never seen it; and I’ve been looking for it for 35 years. Continue reading

Making history: sailing with Color Magic

 

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Sunrise over Germany – as seen from the upstairs bedroom in the home of Dan’s cousin’s son, Tobias and wife Bianca’s. Lana Rodlie photo

After a quick two-night visit with some relatives in Germany, we’d scheduled ourselves on the Color Magic – a cruise ferry from Kiel, Denmark to Oslo, Norway.

We were told it was about a four-hour drive to Kiel from Hildesheim. Dan wanted to be there by noon so we would have lots of time to find the dock, gas up on cheap bensine and make it to the ship before the gate closed at 1 p.m.

But south of Hamburg, we ran into a huge roadblock. For miles, traffic on the Autobahn was being converted from three lanes to one lane and around a detour. Hence, we were stuck in it for over an hour.

At 10:30, we were still south of Hamburg but figured we just might make it once we got around the detour.  The GPS wasn’t helping as it did not have any alternative route on its map. We could only watch for signs indicating “to Kiel” and hope for the best.

The first such sign at the “ausfarht” showed the exit was closed.

Crap.

We had no way to know how long we’d have to travel for the next exit. So we carried on, watching the clock and hoping for the best.

Finally, there was another exit. But it too was also closed due to construction. And we were forced to remain where we were – and guess what – the road we were on was under construction and we were once again slowed to a crawl.

At that point, we resigned ourselves to driving to Sweden; for as far as we knew, we were more than two hours south of Kiel and the gate to the ship would close before we could get there. Continue reading

A German castle for the taking

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Schloss Marienburg. Lana Rodlie photo

Germany is flat. At least, that’s how we saw it. And unless you drive off the Autobahn, you won’t see any of it.

About 20 kilometres south of Hannover is the town of Hildesheim; and another 15 kilometres to the northwest into the countryside, on what appears to be the only hill in Germany, is a spectacular castle.

Since Germany is such a modern cosmopolitan place, one has to look up and wonder: who put THAT there? Continue reading

Walking through the past in Bergen, Norway

The Gateway to the Norwegian Fjords is a beautiful blend of the medieval and modern

By Lana Rodle

Bergen harbour 2

Bryggen, as seen from the harbour. Photo by Lana Rodlie

First published in the May/June 1993 issue of Cruise Travel magazine; photos in the original article were supplied by Jan Strømme. Photos here were taken by Lana Rodlie in summer 2010.

One of the reasons we North Americans love to travel to Europe is not just to experience the differences in culture and architecture, but to also experience, firsthand, a way of life from the past. With nearly a thousand years of history, Bergen, Norway, is a perfect city to take a walk through time.

Called the Fjord Capital, Bergen is one of the largest cruise ports in Scandinavia with more than 150 cruise visits per year. Continue reading

The Bottom at the Top of the World: diving in Norway

by Lana Rodlie

First published in Viking magazine in August 1993 with current updates.

Photography (in the original article) by Nils Aukan

Atlantic Highway has a weird curve to counteract North Sea storms – photo by Lana Rodlie

There they are – the seals, hundreds of them, basking in the sun, lounging on the rocks, playing with one another. But the perfect view is just out of reach – unless the photographer shifts into a precarious position. Nils Aukan straddles the boat`s railing, trailing his bare foot in the cool water, and leans out, taking picture after idyllic picture.

Suddenly Aukan realizes he`s not the seals`only afternoon visitor; and instantaneously, brings his leg bck in the boat as killer whales speed like torpedoes toward the seals – and him. Aukan pauses just long enough to count nine whales before surrendering the area.

“They came out of nowhere and went for the seals,” he says. Ì don`t believe the whales would have gone for me, but in that terrific speed, I am not sure they would see the difference between a seal and a diver.”

Continue reading

Land of fish and Vikings: Norway’s Helgeland

Midnight Sun over Herøy.

Midnight Sun over Herøy.

First published in Viking magazine, March 1993 with current updates and photos.

Helgeland refreshes, revives and replenishes visitors to its island shores.

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The Seven Sisters mountains.

Helgeland is the cool ocean breeze spraying salty mist over the massive rocks that jet out of the sea. It’s the rough tiny islands harboring low-bush tundra mosses and cloudberries. It’s the giant seabirds following the fishing boats homeward in hopes of feasting on some discarded entrails. It’s the home of sagas and legends, trolls and Vikings.

Helgeland, incorporating more than 12,000 islands, is bordered by Sweden to the east, Nord-Trondelag to the south and the Saltfjellet Mountains to the north. Located halfway up the country, it is the geographical center of Norway and is a special hidden treasure few tourists have the pleasure of experiencing. If you’re looking for a place to escape the “civilized” world, this is it. Continue reading