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Last November, my girlfriend and I took a trip to Denmark and visited the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. That was a great trip, and the ship museum was pretty great, but there were a couple things that we wanted to do, but which we couldn't because the ship museum doesn't operate them in the winter. For one thing, the museum has a collection of reconstructed Viking ships, including a full-size longship. These ships are usually docked in the harbor, along with some living exhibits of the construction and maintenance of these ships and the ropes and sails used to sail them. During winter, the exhibits are closed and the ships themselves are brought onto land and covered in order to prevent ice from forming and damaging the ships.

More importantly, the museum offers tourists the opportunity to go out sailing the reconstructed ships with a couple of museum guides. This service is also only offered in the summer due to weather restrictions, and we decided that we wanted to go back to Denmark so that we could sail a Viking ship!

Big Ben
Big Ben was the first of several Civilization
world wonders that I'd get to see.

She found affordable tickets to London, and we allocated two weeks to spend in Europe this summer. My dad also expressed an interest, and we offered to take him with us and pay for part of his airfare and lodging expenses as a combined Father's Day and birthday gift (his birthday is in May). We ended up deciding to take him to London, England, to Coppenhagen, Denmark, and to Munich, Germany.

London, Stonehenge, and Shakespeare

Our first stop was London, England on June 26th. We did some of the usual tourist things, like visit the Tower of London and walk by Parliament and Big Ben (one of several Civilization wonders that I would be visiting during this trip!) and Westminster Abbey. We also had fish, chips, and beer in a pub and started two week's worth of gluttonous eating! Despite walking 15 to 20 miles per day, I still gained 3 1/2 pounds during the trip.

The British Parlaiment building was covered with scaffolding, apparently being repaired or remodeled. This would actually become a recurring theme during this trip, as many of the places that we visited would be covered with scaffolding.

We visited the Imperial War Museum, including the Churchill Warroom.
I tried on some World War I-era clothing, which was very uncomfortable and itchy.

The second day (Tuesday), we visited the Churchill Warroom and the Imperial War Museum. I had previously visited the Imperial War Museum in Manchester during my trip to the U.K., so this time we got to see the larger museum in London. I was a little bit disappointed that the museum didn't cover British Imperial history prior to World War I. There were no exhibits about colonial British sailing ships. The museum starts with World War I, and then goes through World War II, the Cold War, and the War on Terrorism. It also included an exhibit on the Holocaust, which was interesting because the exhibit started on the top floor, and then descended to the lower floor as the exhibits shifted from persecution of the Jews in Germany to the full-blown "final solution" period. It was a clever bit of symbolism to descend into the fullest horrors of the Holocaust.

On Wednesday, we did a day-trip with a tour company to Windsor Castle, the Roman bathhouse in Bath, and to Stonehenge (another Civ wonder!). The tour was very enjoyable, but it was quite dense and a bit rushed. We had plenty of time to explore Windsor Castle (home of the English royal family), but we were very rushed at Bath. The Bath museum was also extremely crowded (which became a recurring theme during this trip), and we had little time to read all the information in the museum. The building that currently stands is a medieval reconstruction made by an English king, but the original Roman ruins still exist below. It was a fascinating place that gave us a small taste of Roman history to go along with our tour of Britain, Denmark, and Germany.

There's a lot of history in England: from ruins of Roman baths to medieval castles such as Windsor.

Stonehenge was much more relaxed, but we still had to rush through the gift shop, where I spotted some Stonehenge-themed board games. It was a chilly, wet day -- a perfectly English day -- but we walked around the site, and even walked up one of the hilly mounds to get a view of the nearby barrows. The visitor center also included a nifty, life-size, high-resolution, 360-degree video screen showing a time-lapse of an entire year from within the center of Stonehenge. You can't walk within the ruins (due to concerns of tourists damaging the site), so this was the closest I could get to standing amidst the monument.

You can't walk amidst Stonehenge, but the visitor center includes an immersive 360-degree video from the center.

Shakespeare's home in Stratford Upon Avon

Thursday we took a train to Stratford Upon Avon, where we had tickets to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Titus Andronicus. My girlfriend is an English teacher, so she was excited to visit Shakespeare's hometown and see the Royal Shakespeare Company. We visited the site of Shakespeare's home, the school in which he was educated, and other such sites. In the evening, we went to the Royal Shakespeare Theater to see Titus Andronicus, which was a modernized retelling of the classic (and tremendously violent and graphic) Shakespeare play.

RSC Titus Andronicus
Royal Shakespeare Company's
Titus Andronicus.

I had never seen (or read) Titus Andronicus before, but it's my girlfriend's favorite Shakespeare play because of the ridiculous violence. She says that it's not performed very often because it was one of Shakespeare's earliest (and not very refined) plays, so having the opportunity to see it performed at all -- let alone by the RSC -- was a real treat for her.

I admit I had a bit of trouble following along with the play at first. The first act moves very quickly, and I had trouble keeping track of everything that was said and all the complex relationships between the characters. The second half of the play slows down, however, and was much easier to follow. The murder and gang rape were also all pretty self-explanatory. The original play is about an ancient Roman general who seeks revenge on political opponents who raped and disfigured his daughter. This particular performance was the same exact play, but set in a modern-day authoritarian Italy. Once I figured out what was going on, I quite enjoyed it. I think I'm still more of a Hamlet / MacBeth guy though...

Going Viking!

sailing a Viking fishing boat
Sailing a Viking fishing boat.

From Stratford, we returned to London in order to fly out of Gatwick to Coppenhagen, Denmark in order to do what we came to Europe to do: go Viking! Saturday was our reservation to go sailing on a reconstructed Viking ship. Sadly, we didn't get to sail on the 30-man longship; instead, it was a smaller, 12-person fishing boat. The basic principles were still the same, just scaled down considerably. We rowed the ship out into the bay, where we were taught how to set the sail, how to steer the ship, and how to tack with and against the wind. We stopped in the water to have a sandwhich lunch, and spent the entire afternoon sailing and rowing around the Roskilde fjord.

It was a cold, rainy day in the fjord, but the experience was still fantastic. We all had to work in tandem to row and sail the ship, and it was tough to keep in sync with everyone else. The group sailing the ship weren't professional rowers or sailers, so we didn't get very far, but I think we learned a lot and had a good time.

Day two of our Viking adventures involved taking a day trip out to Sagnlandet in Lejre ("Land of Legends"), which is a "living archaeological site" It's a sort-of educational amusement park made up of recreations of historic villages. If you've ever been to a colonial re-enactment village in the eastern United States, then you've got a pretty good idea of this place -- except that Sagnlandet is Viking-themed. They had a medieval village, an iron-age village, a stone-age hut, and a paleolithic camp for visitors to explore. They also allow people to live in the villages for weeks at a time to examine how they live in an attempt to better understand how our iron-age projenitors might have lived.

stone age village
The park is home to "living archaeology" in this reconstructed stone age village.

The highlight of this expedition was the Viking weapon training session, which was like a little LARP session. Park employees provided us with foam LARP shields and weapons. They then taught us the concepts of the Viking shield wall and basic combat techniques with swords, spears, and long axes. They then split us up into two teams and had us perform a small mock battle in which each side set up a shield wall and then met for battle.

We did several battles with different sets of weapons. The first match was a simple shield wall shoving contest in which both sides tried to push each other's shield walls backwards. It was kind of like Viking tug-of-war. Then they gave us all swords and let us fight in the shield wall. Next up, they handed spears and pole axes to a few people on each side and did one last shield wall battle. I took a pole axe for this battle. I stood in the back line behind the wall swinging the axe over the front line to try to hit people on the opposing side.

We got to do some live-action role playing in a Viking shield wall.

Last up was a large battle royale in which everybody fought everybody. The rule was, if you got hit, you are "dead" and must sit down, but if the person who "killed" you gets killed, you get to stand back up and continue fighting. It was a very fun and tiring little game -- like a live-action Dark Souls arena battle.

The foam weapons are really soft, but also sturdy. I really wish that I could find the weapon supplier for this park, as I would love to get about 20 or so of their shields and weapons in order to have some more shield wall battles in the future. I bet it would be an awesome game to play in children's birthdays. Certainly better than Pin the Tail on the Donkey...

German beer
We drank soooo much beer in Germany.

Beer, pretzels, and Neuschwanstein

We only spent a couple days in Denmark before heading to our next destination: Munich, Germany. Here, we wasted no time, and one of our first stops was the English Garden's Beer Garden in the park in Munich. German beer is sooo good! I had something called a Radler, which is a lager flavored with citrus (in this case, lemon). No, it's nothing like that Coors Light Lime crap that we have in the States; this radler was amazing. We drank so much beer in our week in Germany, and it was all fantastic. I'm not much of a beer drinker (I usually prefer red wine), but had beer with almost every meal during my stay in Germany, and I'm going to miss it.

Our second day in Germany (a Wednesday), we traveled to the third Civilization wonder in this trip: Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. We took a bus tour to the castle. The tour took us to the village at the foot of the castle, where we stopped for lunch and then went on a bike ride to a lake at the foot of the castle, where we could all go for a short swim. After that, we hiked up the castle itself and took the guided tour. I was surprised by the fact that the interior of the castle isn't nearly as ornate as the other castles that I've visited (such as Rosenborg or Windsor). There weren't suits of armor and swords hanging on the walls, or many marble busts or gold decorations hanging from the walls or ceilings. Instead, the castle interior is painted with scenes from the operas of Richard Wagner. King Ludwig of Bavaria was a fan of Wagner and dedicated the entire castle to him. The result is pretty outstanding. This tour was fantastic, and I highly recommend that anybody who is interested in visiting Neuschwantein should check it out.

Neuschwanstein castle
Another Civ wonder: Neuschwanstein castle in the Bavarian alps.

The front entrance of the castle was covered in scaffolding for some restoration work, so I didn't get to see the main gate.

On Thursday, we took another day trip out to the alps to ascend to the top of the Zugspitze (the highest peak in Germany). Here, we got some astounding panoramic views of Bavaria, as well as bits of Austria and even Italy. My dad is a nature nut, so this was probably his favorite part of the trip. There's a cog-wheel train that goes through a tunnel all the way to the top of the mountain, where there is a huge ski resort with multiple restaurants, gift shops, and so forth.

It's too bad that the train has to spend much of its ascent in a tunnel, as it would have been great to have been able to look out the windows at the view. At one point, the train exited a tunnel to a lovely view of the lake and village below. I wasn't able to get a picture of it because it happened so quickly.

View from Zugspitze
The peak of the Zugspitze provides some immaculate views of the alps.

The depressing part: Dachau

Friday was a bit more of a somber day, as we traveled to the Holocaust concentration camp at Dachau. Very little of the original camp is left. After the war, the barracks were used as refugee camps, and then they were all torn down later. I guess the German government didn't think that anyone would want to keep such a place as a monument. Later, two of the barracks were reconstructed based on old photographs in order to act as a museum. It's not something that should be celebrated, but memorials like Dachau (along with Auschwitz, Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, Mormon Meadow Massacre, and other such places) are very important to maintain! Sites like this stand as a testament to the cruelty and barbarism of mankind, and as a stark reminder that we should never allow ourselves to follow this path again.

A day-trip to Salzburg, and back to London

Our next day was a bit more cheerful, as we took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria. My girlfriend used to play in an orchestra and loves Mozart, so we stopped by the museum at Mozart's home. We then went up to the Hohensalzburg Castle in Salzburg. The castle is on a hill and is reached via a small funicular train that goes up at bout a 45-degree angle. The train car itself is slanted at an angle to allow people to stand up in it. From the castle, you have a panoramic view of the city of Salzburg and the surrounding hills, and boy is Salzburg a gorgeous city!

This castle is an old medieval castle from around 1100 A.D., but it had been expanded and remodeled numerous times over the following millennium. The museum was full of exhibits about the castle's medieval history, as well as Austria's participation in the World Wars.

Salzburg castle
The castle in Salzburg lies on the top of a hill and is accessed via a funicular rail.

After Austria and Germany, we returned to London for a couple days before getting on a plane back home to Vegas. Whereas we had stayed in Air BnB places in the previous locations, we stayed at a hostel for the final nights in London. The Air BnB places were pretty good, especially the one in Munich. There, we stayed with a very nice family who stayed up late chatting with us about cultural differences and politics.

Anyway, our last two days in London were spent at museums. We hit up the London Museum of Natural History (the entrance to which was undergoing renovations, so we had to walk halfway around the building to find another entrance) and the British Museum before trying out the "London Dungeon" attraction.

The British Museum is quite impressive with a lot of exhibits of some very exotic artifacts including Egyptian mummies, Greek and Roman statues, medieval weaponry, and other treasures plundered from around the world by the former British Empire. The London Dungeon was also a pretty fun little interactive tour of London history. It took about 2 hours and included skits about Guy Fawkes, the plague, the London fire, Jack the Ripper, and so forth. I highly recommend it if you're ever in London.

British Museum crowds
It was very hard to enjoy the museums due to the crowds and lack of A/C.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the Natural History Museum. A lot of the exhibits were very simple and not very informative. About the only interesting exhibits were some cross-sections of dinosaur models showing their muscle structure and internal anatomy -- all of which is just speculation anyway, since we don't have any live dinosaurs on which to examine their muscles. The big problem was that these places were very crowded with tourists and school groups. I don't know why these school groups can't just schedule their museum visits during the off-season so that the places aren't as absurdly over-crowded during the peak. The museums were also obscenely hot and stuffy due to a lack of air conditioning. Which brings me to my complaints about the trip...

Not all went smoothly

First of all, I was disappointed by the lack of wall power sockets on the airplanes going to and from Vegas. Those were 10-hour flights, and I would have loved to have been able to kill the time on a Civ bender with my tablet. Aw well, I got to watch some in-flight movies instead. I checked out Get Out (which was quite good), the crappy Assassin's Creed movie, and Rocky Horror Picture Show.

airplane entertainment
I was hoping to get in a lengthy Civ bender on my tablet,
but was foiled by the lack of wall outlets on the planes.

When it comes to a lack of amenities, not having a wall plug on the plane for my tablet was a minor issue compared to the larger lack of an amenity that plagued us all during the entire trip: Europe's frustrating lack of air conditioning! The first week wasn't bad because we were staying in cloudy and rainy London and Coppenhagen. However, the week we spent in Germany, and the return trip to London were bright, sunny, and hot. Sure it wasn't as hot as it gets at home in Las Vegas, but it was humid, and the fact that buildings weren't air conditioned meant that there was no escaping the oppressive heat! In Las Vegas, it is miserably hot outside, but at least I know I can escape into my 75-degree house. In Europe, I couldn't do that. Everywhere we went, we were always hot and sweaty and uncomfortable.

Next time I hear about a heat wave of 90 degrees in Europe, I won't be rolling my eyes and thinking "Pfft, it's a hundred and ten here an Vegas!", and I'll have much more respect for what the poor sods in Europe are going through.

I have trouble sleeping when the temperature is above 80 degrees, and so I got very little sleep throughout the entire time in Germany. Compounding the problem was the fact that I suffered from allergy issues during the entire second half of the trip. I don't know what it was, but I was deathly allergic to something in Munich. My throat was itchy, my eyes were watery, and I was snifly and sneezing almost non-stop. It was like having the flu, but without the fever. Between the allergies and the heat keeping me from falling and staying asleep, I averaged maybe 4 hours of sleep a night in Germany.

drinks in Warsaw
We made the most of our stop in Warsaw.

Getting places, or failure to do so

A delay from Coppenhagen caused us to miss our connecting flight out of Warsaw, so we had to spend an unplanned night in Warsaw, Poland. The airline set us up with a hotel for the night and taxi service to and from the airport so that we could catch a flight the next day. The hotel was actually pretty nice and had an open bar, so we made the most of night!

We were also consistently frustrated by the German train ticketing machines. They would not accept our credit cards. Our cards worked everywhere else, but the train ticket machines refused to accept them. Further, the machines only accept coins, and not bills. We had the cash to get a 4-day tourist pass when we first arrived in Germany, but we weren't able to renew it for the last couple days of our stay in Germany, and we were forced to use the trains without a ticket because we didn't have 37 Euros in coins in our pockets. On our way back to the airport to leave Munich, we got caught by the ticketing agent and had to have a conversation with German federal police. Fortunately, they allowed us to go to an ATM at the airport to withdraw money to pay for the ticket (as well as a fine), so we avoided spending our vacation in German jail.

Out of the frying pan and back to the fire

Though we all enjoyed the trip, I was happy to return to my air conditioned home. I'm not sure if I'm too keen on returning to Europe in the summer, unless that continent starts installing air conditioning everywhere. I'd still like to visit places like Italy and Greece, but I imagine that they'd be even hotter and more uncomfortable in the summer. I'd also prefer to avoid the huge crowds of tourist season.

Stonehenge board game
I'll hopefully do some reviews of these
board games after I get a chance to play them.

Maybe next summer, we'll take a trip to the Canadian Rockies or something like that. We'd also like to visit places like Japan or New Zealand. Those places are much more expensive to travel to, and I don't think we'll be going there anytime soon.

In any case, I now have a couple pages worth of stamps in my passport, and I've enjoyed all my trips to Europe. The Viking activities in Denmark (sailing and LARPing) were probably the highlights of the trip. We also came back with a lot of cool swag: my girlfriend got herself a Viking drinking horn; I got some castle miniatures; we both got some shirts and other clothing accessories (scarves and ties); and I brought back a handful of board games. I got two Stonehenge games and a traditional Viking board game. I'll probably try doing a review write-up for them all after I get a chance to play them. All in all, I hope to make these trips more often.

And if you're thinking of your own trip to Europe, tickets from the States to Europe aren't as expensive as you might think they are. I highly recommend that you give it a shot.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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