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Return with Us to Europe — September 2018

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Last Ship

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Godafoss in Iceland

We had no idea of the beauty that awaited us when we left port in Akureyri, far up the coast of Iceland. We had booked another tour for the day and before we knew it, we were treated to one wonderful sight after another. The “capital of north Iceland” sits on a fjord, and soon we were climbing towards higher ground. 

The best way to describe the landscape is gold. It is high season autumn and everything is in the height of color. I could breathe in the color because it was so intense. We learned that our ship was the last of the season and we had come at exactly the right time—cool, no rain, and color. 

The moss and lichen were in varying intensities of yellow green, and they grew on the volcanic rocks that poked up from the ground. The grasses were light yellow, and the low brush was gold. Large patches of ground blueberry were scarlet red, and the white-barked birch trees were deep gold. Occasionally, a deep red tree would “disturb” the symmetry of gold. The color swept up the hillsides and down into the valleys. It surrounded the lakes and the streams that were everywhere. The majesty of the color was only broken in the highlands where we rode around active volcanoes. Here, steam vents gave out an eerie feel. Indeed, when we stopped at the geothermal site with boiling mud pots and steam vents, we learned that it was the filming site of the last Star Wars movie. It was surreal as we walked amongst hissing steam rising from the vents and heard the gurgling of the 250*F boiling water and saw the multi-colored hot mud flats. Yes, the smell was surreal as well of pure rotten eggs from the sulphur, known locally as “Icelandic perfume.”

We loved the area around Lake Myvatn, the main filming site for the television series, “Game of Thrones.” Volcanic rock, “Christmas trees,” autumn gold and a beautiful meandering lake through the high hills combined for breathtaking scenes. (NASA also used this area to train astronauts for the lunar landing.) Close by was Godafoss, “waterfall of the gods.” Mighty and thunderous and with baby blue water the broad horse shoe-shaped falls plummeted down into a canyon, and a rushing river careened down the valley with more falls along the way. Volcanic rock protruded from the cliffs and volcanic islands dotted the river. It was a “wow” scene. 

Back on the Norwegian Jade, we will see the first evening acrobatics show and then go to sleep with beautiful images of the day dancing in our minds. I may set the alarm so that I can get up to see if the clouds and mists have cleared so that the northern lights can be visible. WEG 

Reykjavik

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Guilfoss in Iceland

The greenest and cleanest world capital is Iceland’s beautiful city by the sea. We spent two days at port and enjoyed every minute. 

Day One found Randy, Melisa, Kathy and myself on a private 13 hour tour of some of Iceland’s most iconic natural wonders. We saw mighty geysers; boiling and spitting mud in the ground; roaring and rolling waterfalls; green moss-lined landscapes and mountains; glaciers; fields of steam rising from deep within the earth; and valleys formed by glaciers/earthquakes/volcanoes. We walked in a ravine (the only place on the earth where this is possible) with the Eurasian tectonic plate to our left and the American tectonic plate to our right (we could reach out and touch each), realizing that should there be an earthquake we would be “squashed like a Junebug at a summer evening cook out”. We weren’t. We viewed the Blue Lagoon, created by waste from the nearby hydroelectric plant. Beautiful. Our guide, however, encouraged us to swim in the Secret Lagoon, the oldest mineral swim lagoon in Iceland. Lined with volcanic rock and filled with 98*F rich and natural mineral water that came from the boiling 212*F water spouts all around us, we hoped that the cold glacier water that was combined with the super hot volcanic water would keep flowing. The ambiance was exceptional—steam rising from the hot earth, geysers shooting upwards and cavities filled with loud boiling water, and we were there, floating in a lagoon cavity in the earth in the middle of it all. Randy and I made up a story to tell the ladies—I had to be the teller—that the smooth rocks on the bottom of the lagoon were filled with minerals and if you rubbed your face and body with them they would healthfully be absorbed. It ‘twas quite a sight to behold as “they took the bait hook, line and sinker.” 

 

We walked on volcanoes—“who knows when it will blow,” said the guide. Later, we saw a broad white steepled Lutheran Church in the rolling, green countryside. We asked the guide to drive to it. What a blessing! Not only was the church and setting wonderful, but inside a large choir was singing from the altar area, and we became the audience. How grand! The choir was made up of organ students from Iceland and Norway. At the conclusion, I introduced myself to the pastor of the church, and he introduced me to dignitaries from the Icelandic Church and to the Lutheran Bishop of Norway, who also happened to be the conductor of the choir. It was a taste of heaven in this majestic land! 

Day Two was Reykjavik. Randy had a mid-morning dental appointment to replace a partial that had broken on our trip. Melisa said the experience was amazing—clean, modern, fast, efficient. Then, we all met up at Reykjavik’s majestic Lutheran Cathedral, the Hallgrimskirkja. Constructed of white concrete, and with a soaring broad steeple, it is the iconic symbol of the city. We enjoyed viewing the beautiful pipe organ, and a soloist sang from the altar so that those inside could appreciate the fine acoustics of a solid and huge concrete structure. 

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The Norwegian Jade left port early today, and now we sail further north along the Icelandic coast. This island is filled with rugged natural beauty. We are thankful for the blessing of experiencing it. WEG 

Show Time with Randy

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Thursday night was Randy’s big night–a lifelong ambition came to pass. He was selected from the audience to be in Mistika, the illusionist’s performance on the big Starlight Stage on our cruise ship, the Norwegian Jade. Randy was spectacular as he mimicked the magician’s movements and antics. Randy danced and swayed as the magician had a coin fall out of his armpit and his ear into a metal can–the coin making a loud clink. For the finale, Randy swallowed the coin and sure enough he “pooped” it into the can. The audience roared and applauded. Randy hit the big time! 

Friday found us in Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands. We spent a leisurely day ashore in this quaint seaside village. It looked like Scotland, which it is. The Victorian buildings had a very Scottish character–stone with tall chimneys that had multiple vent pipes protruding even higher. We had decided against a tour to see the Shetland ponies that make these islands famous, opting instead for soaking in the ambiance of the area. It was a good day–another day of sunshine in the mid-50s F. 

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The evening found us eating a leisurely meal–an absolutely excellent meal in the ship’s steakhouse. I had shrimp cocktail as an appetizer, an iceberg wedge salad, porterhouse steak with green peppercorn sauce, au gratin potatoes, green beans and onion rings as the main course, and a caramel creme brule as dessert. Later, we enjoyed an interesting evening show–Claudio, the performer, stole items from people in the audience. He was an expert pick pocket. We watched in amazement as he stole suspenders off a man from under his coat; one poor passenger lost six items in about 20 seconds; we were wowed by one man’s loss of a sock on his shoe-clad foot. After verifying that we had everything still in our possession, we slept well. 

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Today is a day at sea as we cruise toward Iceland. We passed the Farrow Islands and the ship headed into a foggy mist only to re-emerge into sunshine. We are told that our weather has been phenomenal with calm seas for this time of year. It has been amazing. I walked the jogging trail on an upper deck while Kathy took a class on art surrealism and the Standly’s did their thing. Kathy loves the art auctions at sea and this afternoon she purchased a painting that reminds her of her sisters making music together and a metal painting from a budding artist. We will eat another grand evening meal, attend the Knights–London West End stage cast singers who unite as a trio for cruise entertainment in off season– and then we will get a good night’s sleep as we prepare for a big day in Reykjavik tomorrow. WEG 

Never Heard of It

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Alesund, Norway–I had never heard of it. Far up the western Norwegian Coast at the entry of one of the largest/longest fjords, this beautiful small city is a quiet gem. The center of the cod fishing industry, the old wooden city burned to the ground in 1904. It was rebuilt in a marvelous art nouveau style. The light-colored smooth buildings have corner turrets and wonderful painted stucco ornaments under windows. The rock-sided Lutheran Church is quite beautiful! The interior has hand hewed wooden benches with wonderful carvings. The altar area is rich in color with a stucco carved (3D effect) painting of angels and scenes of Christ’s life. Above the exit door are inscribed the words of Jesus, “I am with you to the end of the age.” The bells in the tower all have prayers inscribed upon them, to ring out the prayers. 


We spent most of the day in Alesund riding a small ship into the Hjorund fjord. The day was sunny with intermittent fog, making for magical vistas of the mountains meeting the waters. Patches of snow remain year round towards the top of the mountains, and at the end of September the winter snows will begin. The area today was a verdant green with fir and white barked birch trees climbing the steep mountain sides. Jagged peaks rose above low lying fog. The further inland we cruised, the closer the opposite sides of the fjord became. One could easily imagine the Viking villages that lay within the fjord before the 11th century, hidden from the outside world while the Viking raiders in their beautiful ships pillaged Europe. We cruised past the village where Rollo, the great Viking raider, was born. He was later to bring Vikings to settle northwest Frankia, known today as Normandy in France, and to establish the dynasty of the House of Normandy from which many European monarchs came. 

Alesund, Norway

Today was a day of imagination, inspiration and refreshment for the mind and body. It was God’s beauty at its finest…beauty which we were blessed to witness. WEG 

Arrested

 

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This will be a day to remember!

First, however, a little background. We boarded the Norwegian Jade on Monday afternoon after  a quick shuttle from our London hotel to the Southhampton port. Never having sailed on Norwegian Cruise Lines, we were more than pleasantly surprised with the modern and elegant ambiance of the Jade. A+ NCL. Kathy entered a drawing and promptly won a spa treatment. We were off to a great start. Randy tried to stack the deck on a liquor drawing, finding every available staff person to beg for tickets. I am pretty sure he had over 20, when the limit was two. Alas, cheaters never win! 

Day two was at sea–North Sea–on our way to Bergen, Norway. It was a fun day taking in the activities onboard and eating at one of the six specialty restaurants. (There are four other concept-themed restaurants with open seating.) The Brazilian Churrascaria was fabulous–twelve different meats, from beef filet to banana-wrapped hake to lamb chops, all excellently prepared. 

Day three, today, was port day in beautiful Bergen. The architecture is old style Norwegian with wooden buildings in dark colors. The fish market is active. You can walk up and point to a fresh fish, and they will cook it on the spot. Whale, reindeer and moose sausage are abundant. The old Lutheran churches in the old town are all under major repair and not open to the public at this time. 

We had a scheduled tour for the day with a private tour guide–it was just the five of us, Randy, Melisa, Kathy, myself, and the driver/guide. We were not going to be with the masses of cruise passengers and would see some places regular tours did not see. The trip was spectacular as we drove past large mountain lakes mirroring the mountainous hills that surrounded them. Waterfalls fell from heights above and rushing streams cascaded over rocks below. Better yet, it was a sunny day. We drove one curve after another as we wound our way towards the Hardangerfjord, a major fiord. We were just approaching a beautiful waterfall when a police car motioned us to the side of the road. They asked a lot of questions of the guide and asked us to get out of the tour van. We walked over to the waterfall and climbed upwards so that we could actually walk behind it. 

On descending, the police informed us that they believed the tour company was operating illegally. We were suspects, and the guide was to be arrested. It soon became a major investigation. We were separated and asked questions:”Did we know the guide–were we related to him?”; “How did we pay for the tour?”; “What proof did we have?”; “Why were we in Norway and for how long would we be there?” etc. Being the primary person in the group–my name was in the window of the van–I had to make a statement, recorded for trial. Yes, name and address and phone number. I was thinking the entire time–I am going to be on an Interpol list and lose my global entry pass. It was all so very formal, by the side of the road, and the process took two and a half hours. We were now famished, thirsty and a little stressed. We would not get to the fjord; our tour was over! Would we get reimbursed? How would we get back to the ship before it departed? Finally, the officers–who had been official but quite polite–told us they would call an area cab, but it would be awhile, since the driver was picking up grandchildren from school–yes, we were in a rural area. We would also bear the cost of the cab ride–$420. This would be an expensive day–a private tour guide, plus the cab fare. 

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Thankfully, a member of the tour company met us at the ship and paid the cab fare. They were legit, so we now wonder, what was that all about? We may never know, although I now speculate it had something to do with Randy–after all, he is the one who actually booked this tour.  Since we had a few hours remaining before the ship departed, we spent a lovely time in Bergen, walking the cobbled medieval streets of this one time major trade center as part of the Hanseatic League of European cities. Absolutely, it will be an adventure to remember! WEG 

Winged Bulls

 

The British Museum is one of the word’s great museums. It is brimming with artifacts from ancient civilizations–from the Rosetta Stone to the Winged Bulls of Assyria and many, many relics inbetween. We devised a fun game, “pick an antiquities statue that looks like you.” We decided that I looked like Pharaoh Ramses II!

 

Our morning at the museum was interesting and mind challenging–so much to absorb. We could have spent much more time; however, we were heading to The Service of Evensong in midafternoon at St. Paul’s Cathedral. We stopped along the way at a pub that was serving the Sunday national meal of roast beef and roast chicken with Yorkshire pudding. Tasty, but the pudding is really a puff pastry with absolutely no pudding inside.

 

Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St. Paul’s, is majestic, enormous, and beautiful. The dome is reminiscent of our nation’s capitol building. We enjoyed the pipe organ and vicar’s choir that provided music during the service. The echoes resonated throughout the nave. After service, Randy got busted for taking a picture–“We do not take pictures inside the cathedral.” “Whoops.” Being pious and having just finished worship in such a wondrous place, I warned Randy not to do it. It is obvious he did not listen to the sermon about being pure if we are to be salt and light for Jesus. Melisa justly put him in “time out.” 🙂

We enjoyed the British ambiance of walking along the Thames River and through Picadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square. The Square, flanked by the columned National Gallery, the Portait Gallery and high steepled pure white St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church and centered with the imposing column commemorating Admiral Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish navies in a battle off the Spanish coast, is a hubbub of activity close to the center of most sights and activities in London.  Tiring, we decided for a return to our hotel for the evening to pack and get ready for our trip to Southhampton in the morning. We took the tubes and marveled at the efficiency of the transportation system. Culturally and spiritually, it was a very British day. WEG

 

Chelsea Fans Only

 

Friday, the day we left Houston for London, was a “chicken with its head cut off day.” There was much to do at our Montgomery home before our adventure could begin. The flight was uneventful, thankfully, except as we checked in at the British Air counter, the attendent informed us that tickets had literally just become available for an upgrade at 10% of the regular cost. We took them.

Saturday, in London, was a quiet day of recuperation from the flight. The weather is fantastic–73 degrees with a slight breeze. Randy and Melisa are traveling with us, and we walked the streets of the Chelsea area of London where our hotel is located. There is a major tube station near the hotel so that we can easily zip around London while we are here. What we didn’t know is that we are close to a major football (soccer) stadium where the Chelsea team plays, and it was game day! Excited crowds were everywhere and the hotel area brims with pubs and establishments that cater to the football crowd. We were amused when we saw the signs on “The Goose” pub that read, “Chelsea fans only–ID’s will be checked.”

We found a different pub that was very “English” and just like one would imagine a pub to be. We enjoyed fabulous fish and chips–Randy had a fantastic hamburger. The fish was humongous and fried in a perfect beer batter. The beers on tap were more than sufficient. It was a wonderful first meal and start to our adventure. WEG

The Journey Begins–Time to Pack

We are at our Montgomery home, having brought much clothing from our Humble apartment, for the purpose of packing. Wayne is a basket case when it comes to packing, playing the “I don’t know how” game. Kathy is, as always, efficient and prepared.

There is much to do–errands to run, etc. on this last day before we depart for London and beyond. Wayne has worked hard to have everything at Lamb of God, Humble, where he serves as Interim Senior Pastor, in good condition while we are gone. We love the people in this wonderful Christian fellowship. Kathy has worked just as hard by his side.

So, while Wayne runs errands, Kathy packs and straightens the house for a long absence. It is, actually, a very exciting day. WEG

The Red Pagoda

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Kathy went to Tai Chi exercise one early morning on the deck of our river ship; I slept in! Kathy went to a lecture/demonstration of Chinese medicine, including acupuncture; I had a beer at the bar! Kathy went to a Chinese art class on snuff bottle painting; I walked the deck visiting with total strangers! Who do you think had more fun? We both went to the mahjong class to learn how to play this ancient Chinese domino game featuring Chinese symbols on each domino. Our Victoria Katarina Yangtze River cruise ship is comfortable, and the food, mostly buffet style, is plentiful and a nice blend of Chinese and American. Advertised as the only government rated five star cruise line plying the Yangtze River, we were pleased with the overall quality.

On this day we had the special treat of docking in Shibaozhai and taking the hike to the famous “Red Pagoda” in the city. China’s tallest ancient wooden structure, the Shibaozhai Pagoda, is a worship building combining Taoism and Buddhism. It is a weathered red color with a beautiful yellow entrance with wonderful carvings. Twelve stories tall, nine of them wooden, the pagoda sits proudly against a rock monolif on what is now an island. The island was formed because the Three Gorges Dam backed up the Yangtze River, and the pagoda would have been flooded. However, because of the historical significance of the pagoda, the government built a mini-dam around the structure, causing the island to appear. In order to access the island, a new swinging bridge was built from the mainland. About 600 feet long, the bridge’s wooden planks rippled and bounced as we walked across.

On the way back to the river ship, we enjoyed shopping at the market that lined the streets. A canopy of trees and fine Chinese entry gate were pleasant additions to the walk on a temperate but muggy day. WEG

 

 

 

 

 

The Gorges

The Three Gorges are one of China’s iconic geographic wonders and the main reason people take a cruise on the Yangtze River. Each of the gorges features towering forested peaks on both sides of the river. The mountains are close together causing the river to dramatically narrow. Steep rock cliffs mingle with deep green ravines that fall into the river. As we journeyed the gorges, mists swirled in the air and low clouds drifted amongst the mountain peaks. It was an ethereal experience.

At one point, our river cruise ship docked and we boarded a ferry boat for a ride on one of the Yangtze River’s 700 tributaries, the Shennong Stream. It was an adventure into an even narrower river experience. The scenery was dramatic, even though the ride was interspersed with rain. Along the way, high above us, we saw hanging coffins in natural cavities in the limestone cliffs. Placed there by the native tribe as a burial ritual for their dead, the coffins literally hung from the ceilings of the cavities. All we could do was observe them and wonder how they accessed such a steep place on a sheer cliff in the first place.

Back on our river cruise ship, we sat back and enjoyed the ride and the people who were with us on our China tour. WEG

Encore Life Re-Cap

Our Encore Life began in 2013 as we closed the fulfilling chapter of full-time ministry at Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, Texas. During the year 2013, we were privileged to travel in Europe and along the West Coast of our beautiful USA and had the joy of taking our grandchildren on a month-long adventure with visits to extended family and selected national parks. At the end of the year, we returned to our home in Tomball, Texas, and in 2014, we began fifteen months of God-blessed ministry at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Houston. As we returned to our home in Tomball, a life-changing decision was made to "right-size" and move into a 55+ community in Montgomery, Texas, where we could still be near our children, grandchildren, life-long friends, and our church. Following our move, we had the pleasure of sharing Europe once again with friends in travels during 2015 and 2016. Our travels in May and June 2017 introduced us to the wonderful people and spectacular geography of South America in Ecuador and Peru. In the autumn of 2017, we explored both the ancient and modern, the rural and cosmopolitan, wonders of China and the Yangtze River while being able to visit Kourtnie Kroll, who was ministering from Salem in Shanghai, and our niece, Joy Stuhr, a teacher in Beijing. During the summer of 2018, God called Wayne to experience the joy of ministering again as Interim Senior Pastor at Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Humble, Texas. We invite you now, dear friends, to follow us on another adventure of our Encore Life as we cruise the Norwegian, Icelandic, and Scottish coasts and experience northern France with our dear friends and traveling companions.