Out in Stockholm

Our visit in Stockholm was short and sweet, and that is how this post will be too!

We had a wonderful time in Stockholm!  Our first impression was an indication of what was to come.  We arrived in Stockholm late in the evening and stopped for some real authentic Swedish food at Pizza Hut (haha, please note the sarcasm).  It may not have been authentic, but our server was awesome and when I asked Tyler his favorite part about Sweden he said, “Teddy from Pizza Hut!”  When he heard we were from near Seattle he said, “Oh, Nirvana!” From there, he and Jeromy compared their 90’s music similarities (Rap and Grunge) and he talked about the changes in Sweden and how it compared to the USA where he had traveled quite a bit.  It was a fun conversation and he was an interesting  person!  When we left dinner Parker said, “I feel sad leaving…we will probably never see him again.”  Our visit started out great and continued from there.


Stockholm itself is a wonderful city made up of an archipelago of 14 islands.  Everywhere you look there are beautiful waterways all around.  We had fabulous weather while we were there as well so the whole city seemed to sparkle.

Since we had such a short time, we decided to be true tourists and do the Hop On Hop Off bus that takes you around the city and while taking you, there is a recorded tour of the places you are seeing.  You can hop on or off (hence the name) at any of the stops and another bus comes by every 10 minutes or so when you are done. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land in a new city and then decide where to explore further.

On the bus!
One place we found while we were on the tour was Grona Lunds Tivoli Amusement park.  Entrance to the park came free with our Hop On Hop Off bus ticket so we thought we’d check it out.  We all loved it!  The had some really scary rollercoasters but the best ride for me was the Eclipse or Giant Wave Swinger.  It was like the typical swing ride at the fair, but they brought you up to 400 feet and you went up to 43 MPH!  It was an amazing view of the city and so much fun!

Grona Lunds Tivoli Amusement Park
We had sooo much fun on the swings!
Only in Europe does the little kiddie ride have anatomically correct naked fairies …



Another fun stop for us was Gamla Stan, their old town and where the Royal Palace was located.  There were narrow streets with interesting shops to look through and delicious sweets to eat!  We had just eaten our homemade lollipops at a candy store when we stumbled across the best ice cream place in town…Oh well, I guess we will have to get both!

Just trying to fit in. How do I look as a blonde?
The only thing unique we really wanted to eat in Sweden was Swedish Pancakes.  We didn’t find them in any restaurants and as we investigated online, most people said they didn’t serve them much at restaurants.  I decided to remedy the situation by taking a trip to the grocery store and found some there, although we did finally see them at the airport on the way out of town.  It’s funny how it felt so nice walking around a grocery store and shopping for our dinner and breakfast the next day.  It had been awhile since we had a kitchen and it was nice to get groceries and cook for my family.  I really enjoy having an apartment or house and the cost isn’t always more and often is much less than a hotel.  While we don’t have the convenience of a concierge and someone making our beds, it’s so nice to have the extra space to spread out and a kitchen to cook in.

The elevator to our apartment
Luke and Parkers bed
One other fun thing for us is finding playgrounds as we wander through the city. It’s amazing how the boys could be complaining that they can’t walk another step and we will come upon a park and all of the sudden their energy is back and they are scaling playground equipment!  If you know us at all, you know my boys love to climb and play.  The playgrounds here are the perfect place to have them get out all of that energy.  Jeromy was even able to shoot some hoops with some local teenagers!

As we leave Scandinavia, I have a few thoughts if you are going to travel here.
You should come here!!  This is such an easy and safe area for an American to travel.  Almost everyone speaks English and in Iceland and Norway especially, nearly everything is in English.  Also, we rarely needed cash (everywhere took credit cards), which makes paying for things easier.  The food was good, and you could find almost anything you would want to eat.  I also always felt safe.  We were mainly in touristy areas, but I didn’t feel unsafe one time while we were here.

The only downside to traveling to Scandinavia is the cost (especially in Norway).  Things were at least double the cost of things in the United States.  In our one foray to McDonalds it cost $10 for Parker to get a McChicken!  If you are planning on traveling here, you have to go with that in mind or if you are cheap like me, it will drive you crazy the whole time.  Fortunately, we were prepared for it and this was one of the reasons we came here first.  Our costs will only go down from here!

In the end though, IT IS WORTH IT!  The beauty of Iceland, Norway, and Sweden was astounding and we just scratched the surface in the time we had.  I can’t wait to come back and spend more time exploring each place.  Jeromy and I both felt like we wished we had more time, but then again, there was nothing we would have cut out.  So we will just have to return!  When backpacked in Europe in college someone (I can’t remember who) gave me great advice.   They said that when you are travelling to a place you have to always think, “I will be back here again someday.”  Otherwise, you will find yourself running around trying to see everything, which is impossible, and you won’t truly appreciate where you are.  That was great advice and I’ve thought of it often these past few weeks.

Now we are off on a flight to Prague, Czech Republic!

Luke, ready to go!
The boys don’t mind having a two hour delay at the airport as long as they have something to do.

Highs and Lows in Norway

Norway was a place of highs and lows for us.  High waterfalls, high prices, high cliffs,and high dives were countered by some travel lows. Although, it started off pretty low, we managed to end on a high note in Oslo.

The first low is our own fault because we made the mistake of booking a red eye.  They always sound like a good idea, “We won’t waste a day traveling,” “It’s so much cheaper,” “We’ll sleep on the plane,” all things we’ve told ourselves and all found to be either not true or not worth it!  We didn’t leave Iceland until 1:00 in the morning and with the time change our flight, that was only 2 1/2 hours, landed at 6:00 am Oslo time.  

Flying in to Oslo!

We then went straight to the train station for a 5 hour train ride to Flam and then to Bergen.  Our train was delayed an hour but only by 3-5 minutes at a time.  So we had to wait out on the platform and would think, oh good, only 5 more minutes and we will be able to go…then it would be delayed again.  Imagine the frustration of no sleep, and that happening about 20 times in a row.  We had to laugh or we would cry!

Ordinarily this is the perfect time to hand over iPods so the kids could distract themselves in a way other than bugging one of their brothers, but as we went to do this, we realized that Luke left his iPod on the plane!  We actually had an extra old cracked one we brought just in case of this type of thing happening.  However, it only took a few more hours on the train and a switch to a new train for Tyler to leave his iPod on the train!  2 iPods lost in one morning and we haven’t even been gone a week…this was not a good start to our trip.  Those of you who know us well know that we love our sleep.  Part of the reason is that this is how we function on no sleep…not very well!  Happily, we were able to get Luke’s back from IcelandAir when we returned to Oslo and Tyler’s is in the mail and meeting us in Amsterdam.  At the time, we thought they were long gone.  A couple of boys had answered prayers to get those back!
So, we were on the train from Oslo to Bergen with a stop in Myrdal to go down to Flam on what is said to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world.  I will tell you that it was beautiful!  Everyone else slept through it.  Well, Jeromy woke up for the trip to Flam, but the boys missed it all except when we dragged them out for 5 minutes to see the waterfall.  I would have to say that although they missed some amazing scenery.  The were pretty impressive in their ability to sleep through anything!


Kjosfossen Waterfall on the way to Flam

We finally got to our hotel in Bergen, had dinner ($29 for a hamburger and fries for Parker!!  Norway is expensive!) then went right to sleep.  The next morning we were all feeling much better.  Well, everyone but Luke.  We decided to start the day with a little train ride around Bergen.   Luke is smiling in the picture below but he wasn’t about an hour later when he threw up in the train, then when he threw up hanging his head out the window as we drove around Bergen.  I don’t think it was a very good advertisement for the company with passersby staring at him as he puked out the window!

After the past 24 hours, we figured our kids needed a taste of something familiar, so we let them go to McDonalds (in the past something I would never do traveling).  I am realizing that if we are going to be gone a year, I am going to have to let go of some of the preconceived notions of how we should travel, and sometimes, just live our lives how we want to.  However, I’m pretty sure eating at McDonalds is always a low.

Jeromy and I brought us to the beginning of our highs when we ate from the local vendors at the fish market and it was delicious!  We all even tried whale jerky.  If you can get over the idea that you are eating whale, it wasn’t bad.  We really only had a sample though.

It only got better from there! In some ways it reminded me of the Pacific Northwest where we are from.  The fresh berries were delicious, and reminded me of home, as well as the gray skies!  And just like the PNW, when the sun came out, it took the beauty to a whole new level.

In the coastal areas in Norway near Bergen where we were staying, there are tons of fjords (long narrow channels of the sea surrounded by high cliffs usually formed by glaciers that have melted over thousands of years).  In fact, Bergen is located in a Fjord. We were able to go on a boat ride through the fjords to experience them up close and they were breathtaking.  We saw more amazing waterfalls than I could count, and beautiful small towns surrounded by high cliffs cut out by glaciers thousands of years ago.  The pictures don’t do it justice because it is so hard to show the grandeur through a camera lens.

We went to Bergen for the natural beauty, but the town itself is a treasure as well and also a UNESCO world heritage site.  We were able to wander the walkways of Bryggen, an area of Bergen that in about 1350 a group of Hanseatic merchants built and it continues, although having to be rebuilt over the years due to fire, to this day.

It’s said in Bryggen there isnt a straight line to be seen. All the buildings are so old and no electricity is allowed to fix anything! These stairs are a great example!
The boys favorite part of Bergen had nothing to do with UNESCO world heritage sights or natural wonders…they loved to play in the fountains!

OSLO

We left Bergen after a few days and all stayed awake for maybe not all, but most of the beautiful train ride back to Oslo.

Oslo is a wonderful place for kids.  Here are some of the reasons why.

  • Unexpected treats!  It started with getting to our hotel and them offering each of the kids a popsicle.  Right there it made it the best hotel they had been to!  They also had laundry facilities which was nice for us parents too!
  • Kid friendly museums! Oslo also has a lot of amazing museums.  We were only able to touch on a few but they were great, and very interesting and fun for the kids.  We started at the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History where we were able to see actual houses that had been relocated from different regions of the country.  Then we got a little more of the Vikings at the Viking Museum where we were able to see actual Viking ships from the 1100’s.  We ended at the Fram museum which has two full size ships that the boys could go on and explore.  The Fram (the name of the ship), was used in polar expeditions and they had a lot of interesting and fun polar expedition activities for the boys.
  • Random slack line!  We were just finished up from a long day of museums when what do we see randomly in front of a mural and The Nobel Peace Museum, but a slack line!  My boys love slack lines and quickly went over and lined up with the other tourists trying it out.  Since they had done them before the boys were pretty good and after only a few tries, Parker made it across.  Everyone was amazed and clapping.  Tyler, not to be outdone, kept trying and trying.  He does not give up easily!  Suddenly, a rainstorm came and we sought refuge under a crepe food truck’s awning (of course we had to get a Nutella crepe while we waited it out). Tyler, undeterred by the rain, continued trying the slack line.  Finally, clothes soaked through, he finally made it over.  He made me come watch so I could get a picture too!
  • Funny statues! Actually not all of the statues were funny, but the most famous statue in Vigeland Park is called “Angry Boy” and the kids thought it was pretty funny.  The park itself was an incredible work of art with over 200 statues by Gustav Vigeland in bronze, cast iron, and granite. To keep it interesting for the kids, we had fun acting some out!
  • Trolls!  Icelandic people had their elves and in Norway they have their trolls.  I thought it was crazy that they still kind of believe in these things, but then I remembered that my kids are absolutely certain that Bigfoot is real.  I guess we all have our legends that are more fun to hang on to than dismiss altogether.
  • Awesome Swimming Pools with High Dives!  The day we left we headed over to the local pool in Oslo and had a great time swimming there!  They had high dives and water slides and it was a welcome change for the boys from going to museums!

Overall, while there were many highs and a few lows in Norway, that is what you have to expect when traveling and it makes for better stories when you are done!  We ended on a high note and headed out of Norway on a 5 hour train ride to Stockholm, Sweden.


 

Out in the Land of Fire and Ice

“I LOVE ICELAND!” This was a phrase I heard Parker say at least 100 times while we were there.

 I may be jumping the gun here, but I really do think it will be one of the favorite countries we visit this year.    Parker even said he would want to move there, but the fun of 24 hours of sunshine we were experiencing while visiting is countered by 24 hours of dark in the winter!  Before coming to Iceland we didn’t know much about it.  I think the first time it came on most people’s radar recently is when, shockingly, they made it so far in the Euro Cup.  We became fans when we realized we would be there if they continued to win, but although they lost, we still had a great time watching the finals in a square in Reykjavik with the locals.

As we explored Iceland, we were amazed by its natural beauty and contrasting countrysides.  It was the perfect place to start our trip for many reasons, but there are a few that stand out.  They are, ease of travel, incredible hot springs, natural beauty, and a colorful Viking history.  Oh, and they still believe in elves…really.

Ease of Travel

Iceland is very easy to travel to which made it the perfect place for our first stop.  It’s a small country with a population of only 340,000, so driving around was easy with really no traffic at all.  We rented a car and drove all over with no problems.  Also, modern technology made it easy to navigate in Iceland which will continue in every country.  We could type a destination into Google maps and it would tell us exactly where to go!

The Icelandic language is ridiculously difficult to understand and read.

Fortunately for us, everyone we encountered spoke great English.  Also, at almost every restaurant we went to, they had English on the menus.  Even when we went to church they had a missionary translating the service into English for us!  It doesn’t get any easier than that!


Another thing that made it simple to travel is that they took credit cards everywhere.  We never even had to get cash out the whole time we were there!

Natural Hot Springs

Whenever someone asked the kids what their favorite part of Iceland was, they all answered the same.  The Blue Lagoon.  It was stunningly beautiful and said to be one of the top 25 wonders of the world.  The geothermal seawater comes up from 2000 meters below the surface and comes out at a comfortable 100 degrees.  It is full of silica, algae, and minerals that reflect the beautiful blue color and give it it’s healing properties.  It was so beautiful and relaxing, especially because we headed there right after our flight from Portland landed.  If every plane ride ended with a relaxing experience like that, there would be no complaints.


Throughout the country there are many other natural hot springs that locals go to on a regular basis.  They are generally just set up as pools and not as fancy as the Blue Lagoon.  We went to one of these later on our visit and the boys had a great time diving off the diving boards with the locals while Jeromy and I relaxed in the hot pools.  The people in Iceland will soak in the hot springs on a regular basis.  While at the local pool I met a man who said he goes every day after work and most Saturdays and Sundays.  From what I read, it seemed like this was very common among the Icelandic people.

Natural Beauty

It’s hard to put into words how beautiful nature is for the best of writers, and I don’t even claim to be a writer at all.  So, I will let the pictures do the talking.  Keep in mind, we were only in Iceland for 4 full days so we just scratched the surface of the beauty that is here.  We were fortunate to have great weather and it never got dark so we had long days of hiking and driving and hiking and driving.  The boys did great with the long days and our excitement of being there kept jet lag at bay.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland:  For millenia this has been a place of important historical and political significance for the Icelandic people
Thingvellir National Park
Gulfoss, Iceland
Gulfoss, Iceland
Gulfoss, Iceland
Strokkur Geyser.  Near Geysir, the original geyser that all others around the world have been named after.
Kerid Crater, Iceland
Myrdalshreppur, Iceland
Reynisfjara Beach (Black Sand Beach), Iceland
Skogarfoss, Iceland

Gljufrabui, Iceland
Luke and Jocey standing between the North American and Eurasian plates.  

Reynisfjara Beach (Black Sand Beach), Iceland with Dyrholaey in the background

 

Gljufrabui, Iceland

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Parker standing between the North American and Eurasian plates
Dyrholaey, Iceland
Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Vikings!

The history of the Vikings is full of war and pillaging.  A little violent for me, but of course the boys loved it all!  Vikings settled Iceland in the late 800’s AD.  Despite the common claim that Columbus discovered America, here they are proud to teach that the Viking Leif Erickson, born in Iceland, discovered North America (in modern day Canada) in about the year 1000 AD.  His wife is even said to have had a baby there, which would be the first European born in the Americas.  Click here for the article “The Viking Explorer Who Beat Columbus to America.”  We downloaded the audio version of “The Sea Wolves – A History of the Vikings” and listened to it as we drove around and went to two different Viking museums (The Saga Center, Hvolsvollur and Viking World Museum) which brought it all to life!

Where We Stayed

We stayed in a house we found through Air BNB in the Selfoss area of Iceland.  It was out in the country surrounded by farms and had a trampoline and a pond on the property.  It was a beautiful place to stay and it was nice to have a kitchen to make breakfast in the mornings before we headed out for long days of sight seeing.  We really liked being a little closer to all the main sights in the “Golden Circle” area and being near the ring road.  It saved us some drive time compared to if we stayed in Reykjavik.

The Food

Overall, the food in Iceland was great, although pretty expensive.  No, we did not try fermented shark, it is a traditional food here that is supposed to be disgusting even for Icelandic people.  We never even saw it served anywhere and we did NOT seek it out.  Our favorite meal was at a little café, Kaffe Vodlakot when we stopped to look at some Turf Houses (houses surrounded by dirt and with grass on the roof) that were being restored.

Selfoss, Iceland
 It was in an old house that had been restored as well. It really wouldn’t be considered a meal, they only served tea, coffee, hot chocolate, banana bread, and Icelandic pancakes.  We went in for a snack and ended up having the best banana bread we have ever had (Aunt Jenell’s excluded), hot chocolate and unlimited Icelandic pancakes.  The mother and son (the only people working there) let us know that it is Icelandic tradition that they don’t stop serving the pancakes until you stop wanting them.  With three hungry boys, that was a tall order, but they met it!  It was fun talking to local people about Iceland and feeling welcomed into their home.


Our other favorite food discovery was Applesin (Orange Soda).  My kids take full advantage of the free beverages on airplane rides!

We left Iceland feeling like we just scratched the surface of what it had to offer, which is probably going to be the case in most of the places we go to, but that is what is so exciting!  Knowing there is a huge world to explore and that we will never be finished exploring it!

Dixsons OUT!!

Dixsons out!  I’ve been waiting to say that for what seems like a long time now.  A lifetime of a love of travel has brought us to this point, but so has the past 6 months of planning, research, listening to travel podcasts (thanks Trav and Heath at EPOP), reading travel blogs and books, booking flights, hotels, and train tickets.  After all that effort, we are finally OUT of the USA, OUT in the world, and definitely OUT of our comfort zones!

We finished the last things on our list in the past couple of weeks before we left:

  • Sell car.  CHECK!  Hope you are enjoying the smurf-mobile Grindles!  Get used to everyone recognizing you around town.
  • Prepare and rent house.  CHECK!  We hope you love our home as much as we do Richeys!
  • Released from our callings at church.  CHECK!  We will miss you La Center Ward!
  • Switched to T-Mobile for cell service.  CHECK! They have terrible reception in La Center, but for $70/month we have two phones (we still have our old numbers if you want to text us) with unlimited texting and streaming data on most websites all over the world.  For anything else we have 12 gigs to use at fast speeds and then it just slows down.  We can also call anywhere for 20 cents a minute if we need to, but with Facetime and Facebook messenger, I don’t think we will need to use that too much.
  • Finish packing.  Check!  I was going to write a post about what we packed, but I thought I would wait and write one after a few months to see how we did.  The key is that we fit it all into our 5 backpacks and one purse!  I’m just hoping we picked the right things to keep in and the right things to leave out.
  • Eat at all our favorite restaurants one last time.  Check!  Blind Onion Pizza, Youskyme Teriyaki, Nuestra Cocina, Burgerville, and if I’m being honest we had 3 last times at our favorite ice cream place Salt-N-Straw.

  • Spend time with friends and family we love and will miss so much.  CHECK!  We went to Santa Cruz, CA for the annual Rhyasen reunion.  We had such a great time with family there and loved Santa Cruz!  


When we got back, we stayed in Vancouver at Grandma and Grandpa D’s house so we could focus on getting the house ready and spend more time with them. Thank you letting us crash at your place!


Finally we were ready to go, or at least as ready as we were going to be, and we headed off to the airport.


July 6, 2016 at 3:40PM our flight left for our first stop…Iceland!  Fortunately, it is a non-stop from Portland and only 7 1/2 hours.  The flight went great!  I have a tip for those flying with young children if you want to have a nice relaxing flight.  Wait until they are at least 5!  We have flown multiple times a year with our kids starting when Parker was 6 weeks old and I would definitely do it all over again.  I’m not saying not to fly, I’m just saying it won’t be very relaxing for you until they can sit and watch movies and play video games for extended lengths of time.  Children in the USA seem to be training for this though and by the time they are about 5, after getting through security, the flights are pretty painless.  Parker and Tyler even said when we were landing that they could have flown for longer!    I also kept some chocolate on hand to help calm us down when anyone was getting cranky or stressed (thanks for the tip Mom).  I have to admit, I had to bust it out before we even made it to our gate!  I think we were all a little on edge with the fact that we were finally leaving, and it was showing as we made our way through security.

As we flew further north, the scenery out the window was incredible!  Especially over Greenland.  Sidenote: While we were in Iceland we learned that Eric The Red named Greenland that way to encourage people to move there.  Maybe one of the first marketing tricks ever used!  As we flew we saw amazing mountains, glaciers, and icebergs.  Not much green, but stunning none the less.


Shortly after Greenland we flew into Keflavik Airport in Iceland arriving at 6:00am and our real adventure began.