Monday, June 27, 2011

IN the next house...

Yes, stairs are too difficult, and since you can't usually get a house with one of those fire-poles to slide down, this will be the option we install in our next house. Besides, doesn't it look fun?

I think it will go perfectly in the Scottish castle I intend to buy when we finally win the lottery. What else are those round towers for?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lovely Norway

How predictable

Oh, look! The half-term governor has quit yet another high-profile gig. Apparently, the "lame-stream" media that she complained were always following her around and not focusing on all that important stuff in Washington...stopped following her around.
Amid diminishing media interest, Sarah Palin has quit her high-profile bus tour halfway through and returned to Alaska with her family, according to RealClearPolitics.

The move puts a damper on widespread speculations that Palin’s “One Nation” bus tour, which launched on Memorial Day, was a potential precursor to a potential White House bid for 2012. Palin never made it to her scheduled stops in the key primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Without an audience and media attention, she simply can't be bothered. And people actually considered her a viable candidate for president?

Don't worry, I'm sure we haven't heard the last of her. This next election season is going to be a treasure trove for the comedians, I bet.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hardanger Lefse

Oy! I almost forgot. Here's the recipe for the "sweet" lefse that we had at the Oslo Folk Museum, which we were told was common in the Hallingdal area.
Norwegian "mørlefse" (soft and sweet)
2 eggs
250 g sugar
125 g melted butter/margarine
1/2 liter buttermilk
1 ts baking powder
approx. 1 kg wheat flour

barley flour
butter, sugar, cinnamon

Mix eggs with sugar and butter, and stir into the milk. Mix the baking powder with some flour and stir into the blend. Mix with so much flour that the dough is easy to roll. Barley flour makes it easier to roll out the lefse. Bake the the lefse on a griddle or in a dry frying pan.

Lefse are fine to put in the freezer. Serve with butter, sugar, and cinnamon on top.
(Just a note, in the whole recipe, the word "lefse" was always in quotes. Not sure why. Also, the recipe is not clear, the barley flour is used to flour the worksurface and the rolling pin.)

This was very tasty, indeed, but very unlike the potato lefse that we are used to making. It it much thicker, for one thing, just shy of 1/4" thick, and was much more like a pancake in texture. Very, very tasty with butter, though!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pause in travel

Sitting in the British Airways business lounge at Heathrow, between our flights from Stockholm and to Denver, contemplating a glass of wine and eating ginger cookies.

What a great vacation.

I loved the old part of Stockholm, watching all the bicycle commuters in Copenhagen, the gently leaning medieval buildings in Helsingor and Ribe and Roskilde, the stunning scenery of the Norwegian Fjords, and the monumental architecture of St Petersburg. Nothing disappointed. We met some terrific fellow travelers, stayed with family who made us feel as if we were part of the family, stood on the subways with commuters in each city, and sat at sidewalk cafes to watch the people -- locals and tourists -- go by. It was spectacular.

My favorite thing? The Vasa Museum, I think. It was just so stunning and mind-boggling that I remember clearly the first moment I walked into the dimly list building and saw the totally unexpected and improbably ship. A close second was the fabulous little town of Ribe and the night-watchman tour around the old houses. Or perhaps, becoming part of the huge crowd in St Petersburg listening to the concert in the palace square that we could almost see.

My least favorite thing? Well, the floods that scoured southern Norway while we were there should be on the list. Fog and rain dogged us for a few days, but even with those, we were awed by the spectacular scenery. We had, for the most part, spectacular weather -- sunny nearly the whole time in Stockholm, sunny during every day in Copenhagen and rainy only at night, a beautiful sunny afternoon in Bergen, of all places, and even two hot days in St Petersburg. We're spoiled.

We ate a lot of street food (bacon-wrapped hot dogs are a favorite) and ice-cream cones while walking around the city streets, and bemoaned the fact that Scandinavia seems to shut down entirely at 6pm, so you'd better eat and early dinner or risk having to eat from the local gas station. We tried a few local specialties, but still managed to avoid pickled herring. We ate pizza far too often, but it was quick and good. We probably didn't drink enough beer, though.

But I'm ready to go home and sleep in my own bed. We're waiting for the announcement that they're boarding our flight (9 1/2 hours) back to Denver and should be home sometime around 7pm. We're both tired, variously achy and broken, and ready to be home!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back to Sweden

Travel day. Up at the crack of 9:00, breakfast, and off to the airport to fly back to Stockholm. We arrived at the hotel about 2pm and we've been lumping about and whining that we should do something this afternoon (beyond going into the airport concourse for an ice-cream bar), and that it's a lovely day and we ought to go out into the world to see something we missed...

..and so far, we've managed nothing. Well, not quite nothing -- we did repack and distribute the tchotkes that we have bought (including a boatload of Russian chocolate) into the various bags and such, and checked in to our flight.

Now we're sitting in the nice, cool hotel room in complete silence. Mark is playing his iphone bird-flinging game and I'm browsing the interwebs randomly. This may describe our entire day. Except we might actually get motivated enough to nap.

Tomorrow? Home. Airline flights all day, but home to sleep in our own beds.

Friday, June 17, 2011

St Petersburg 2

Lots of walking today, and as a result I am once again sunburned and my hair hurts a bit. Oy.

We met our guide, Katya, this morning and almost immediately changed her planned itinerary, since we had already seen the St. Isaacs cathedral last night and wanted instead to see Kazan and some other buildings. But, no problems, with just the two of us in tow, so off we went to get a walking history of St Petersburg, Nevskiy Prospekt, and the various bridges, palaces and museums.

Kazan Cathedral is a slightly smaller copy of the basilica in Rome (on purpose, of course) and inside it is a lovely building -- but it still used for Russian Orthodox services, which were in full tilt this morning. We heard the choir singing, and the long line of head-scarfed women standing to greet the priest. It was a quick visit, we didn't want to bother anyone. Katya was a little anxious because she didn't have a head-covering, so we bowed out quickly.

We walked along the canals to the Church on the Spilled Blood -- a fantastical array of onion domes, mosaic tiles and niches and alcoves on the outside and even more impressively covered over every inch inside with glass mosaics. It's stunning--the mosaics are so finely done they look as if they are painted, and they cover every interior arch and dome. There are photographs of the restoration work that was necessary after WWII (it took longer to restore the church, even though it had not been physically damaged much, than it did to build and decorate it when it was new). Included the photos is the picture of the artillery shell that was lodged, unexploded, in the main dome and only discovered during restoration in the 1960s. The exterior is actually not that much more detailed than the Russian Orthodox church we photographed yesterday (and boy, do I wish we'd been able to go inside that one!), but the interior is jaw-dropping.

Onward towards the Hermitage (Winter palace and a variety of other buildings).We walked around the stables and the Marble Palace and the various other buildings along the Neva river to the entrance of the museum. The mint-green and white painted facade is impressive (if a and a number of the state rooms in the main part of the museum are still intact -- and, of course, there is the art. To even glimpse everything in the collection would take 9 years, they say, and it's a 10km walk to even go through every single room in the four buildings that make up the state museums. So, of course, we can only hit the highlights -- impressionists, post-impressionists,Dutch masters, Spanish and Italian allegory, Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, Rembrandt, Titian, and da Vinci. And a dozen others that I can't rattle off immediately. It's an amazing collection (although I think there was some sort of weird attraction to giant vases from someone in the museum's past; there are a bazillion of the things.

I'm fascinated by the Dutch realist painters, and less impressed by Monet and Matisse and the like. Anyone who can paint a picture that I have to check twice to make sure it's not a photograph...that takes a level of commitment and talent that I can't even aspire to.

I only set off the alarms once, leaning in too close to see the delicate lace painted on a lady's dress in an 8x10 painting,I didn't actually touch anything, really! I might have breathed on it, though, which is more likely to be a horrible infraction.

We spent most of the day at the Hermitage. It's larger than the Louvre, which I thought was just enormous,and we only saw a tiny fraction of the art displayed, in only a few of the hundreds of rooms. I wish we could have stayed longer (or that it's open longer, so we could go back in after dinner and walk around more). It was interesting to go through with a guide, though, she was very well informed and really kept the place from being overwhelming.

Afterwards, we walked across the Palace Bridge and visited the Peter and Paul Fortress (and cathedral), on the original island where St Petersburg was founded (Rabbit island). The cathedral here is very plain, very simple, really -- and houses the tombs/mausoleums of most of the tsars and tsarinas. Surprisingly, the caskets for the all of these emperors and empresses are very plain as well -- white marble, gold cross, gold nameplate. With only two exceptions, really, the caskets (and they aren't really caskets, they have no bodies in them...what are those called? Eh, it's escaping me) are small and plain. Compare that to the almost grotesque over-wroughtness of the tombs of the scandinavian kings and queens, and it is even more notable. No giant four-poster altars with life-size statues or writing dragons and angels here. Just a gold nameplate.

We took the subway back to Nevskiy Prospekt -- not one of the really cool subway stations, but it was worth the trip just to ride the escalator down to the subway was, by far, the longest escalator that I have ever seen. The metros here are the deepest of any in the world (to get under the various canals and rivers) and it's impressive just to stand on the moving staircase and go down and down and down and down. The subway trains also move very fast compared to what we've been riding lately in Sweden and Norway. We're considering taking one of the red-line trains tomorrow, just to see the spectacular Art Nouveau stations - we'l see if we have time.

Had our anniversary dinner at a local restaurant called Gogol -- excellent food, attentive and very Russian service, and now we are completely done in. Bed, and possible sleeping late, are the only things we can manage, I think. We've been encouraged to get up at 1:25 to see the raising of the bridges, but I think we'll sleep through the alarm!

Tomorrow? Perhaps a quick foray out to see metro stations or one last glimpse of the buildings along the Neva, but we have a driver to get us to the airport at 11am and we're back to Stockholm.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

St Petersburg

St. Petersburg is a very cool city -- love the architecture, love the canals, it's been fun to just walk around randomly within the Strelka and people-watch in the parks and on Nevsky Prospekt. The fact that it's currently 11:30pm and it's light outside s if it were 11 AM is still a bit weird.

Great day, though. Started off a bit gray, but we were inside looking at overly-baroque palace rooms (tons of gold leaf, I swear) and then it cleared up and got sunny when we had a chance to go to the gardens at Peterhof. By the time we got back to the city at 5:30, it was a perfect sunny day, felt like it was noon, and we headed off into the city to look at stuff.

The palaces were really amazing, and definitely grand on an imperial scale. We spent a few hours in the presence of hundreds of pounds of gold leaf and silk wall coverings, all painstakingly recreated and restored to Tsarskoe Selo and Peterhof after the WWII. We saw some of the pictures of the palaces right after the war, and the Germans left them in utter ruin. Just brick walls, with caved in ceilings and floors, most of the walls crumbling and bombed-out. They destroyed everything. And yet, within a couple of decades, much of the palaces was rebuilt, restored, re-gilded, re-painted, re-everything'd. It's really quite amazing, considering the financial position of the USSR after WWII. But it was, apparently, a priority and they've done a truly fantastic job at both palaces. Using descriptions, photographs, and whatever they had managed to put into hiding before the palaces were taken over by the germans (they did manage to save a lot of the artwork, etc), they have a dozen or so rooms in eah palace completely restored. I guess it'snot really restoration when you are making reproduction stuff from scratch, but they were very careful to match what had been there. LIke I said, it's a roccoco-confection sort of place. Makes Versailles look quite plain, actually.

The Amber Room is a huge draw, too -- a large room entirely covered in amber mosaics and carvings. It's one of the most-visited rooms at Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, and it is a bit jaw-dropping. (No pictures, though, hmph). It is, of course, an entirely new Amber Room from the one initially installed in the palace -- the Nazis took the entire room away and it has never been seen again, our guide told us. When the Russians attempted to take down the panels to save them and hide them away, they fell apart and so they put their efforts towards other rooms that could be saved. Even knowing that it's all new (an opened in 2006, I think), it's pretty cool.

We visited Peterhof second,
and walked through the two parallel sets of rooms leading to the ballroom and reception rooms. If anything, this is an even grander palace, with rooms from each of the periods represented -- baroque and neo-classical, with oriental rooms and french-inspired salons. And the gardens! Mark says that he actually thinks they are more spectacular than Versailles, mostly because the huge fountains and canals and statuary are all up against the palace. The view from the garden terrace up to the main building is a collection of spraying fountains, dozens of bright gold-leafed statues, and terraced stone. It's quite impressive. The fountain - Samson and the Lion -- is the tallest fountain (In Russia? I'll have to look it up) and all the dozens of fountains in the palace gardens work without any pumps - they are all entirely gravity-driven.

We only had a half-hour or so in the gardens before we had to leave -- traffic is abominable in the city due to this conference, so we had to head back. It would be easy to spend a day there and see the various buildings and planned gardens in the huge park.

On the way out, though, we stopped to take pictures of this spectacular church. I have no idea what its name is, and other than the fact that its a Russian Orthodox church, I know nothing about it. It was just such an eye-catching thing that we had to stop!

We napped for a grand total of 30 minutes before I was too antsy and wanted to head out and look at things. The sun is out, everything looks spectacular, and we needed food, anyway.

St Isaacs Cathedral is half a block away - we walked over yesterday to take a look, so we went back today to climb up the 265 steps to the colonnade and walk around for some very nice views of the city. The church is technically a museum (it was a museum of Atheism for awhile, then that was moved to another building) and there are a lot of icons and paintings inside. But mostly, the inside is enough to gape at all on its own -- fourteen kinds of marble, soaring ceilings, a huge dome, and tons (probably literally) of gold both inside and out. The church is almost too big to see from the outside, hemmed in by traffic.

The streets are absolutely packed tonight, and so we decided that since tomorrow is our anniversary, so we'll have a nice dinner, today can be our McDonalds day (you know the drill, once in every country we have to eat at McDonalds, to see if things are weird), so we tracked one down and...oy! It was like Mosh-Pit McDonalds. Absolutely PACKED with people, ten or twelve deep at the six registers, people yelling and pushing and in general in complete chaos. We did manage to squeeze to the front to order our two Royale Cheeseburgers with fries ( it really is Royale Cheeseburger -- pronounced that way and written рояль чизбургер. )

We escaped with our lives, brown bags and diet-cokes clasped in our sweaty hands, pushing our way back out of hte building through the hordes coming in. We decided to risk drinking the diet-cokes, even though they're made with St Petersburg water, water that even locals boil before drinking it) - the filters and such should be enough. We hope. We've never had issues before, even in Egypt. I'll let you know. We're sticking to bottled water for drinking and tooth-brushing.

We walked back along the Neva river, admiring the buildings and the truly astounding number of people. Why? Ah-hah! There is a Sting Concert in Palace Square tonight. There are thousands of people streaming in to the square and lining every street nearby to try to get a glimpse. We pressed up against the barricade and watched -- the sound was good enough that everyone in the park could hear it. Very cool!

Still listening to the concert, we walked out along the river, across the bridge to view the canals and snap some pictures of the very cool buildings (mint green seems to be a popular color, and pale lemon yellow). We tried to walk directly back to the hotel, but we got stopped by one of the hundreds of police and militia (some with riot gear) who are out in force tonight for the concert, and had to loop around and try to get upstream to reach the street..I felt a bit like a salmon trying to swim upstream, but we did make it.

There are police of at least three different flavors out tonight, mostly trying to keep traffic moving, I think. The regular police, the militia/paramilitary group, and another sort--they have different uniforms and badges, but I'm not sure what everyone does. They manned the barricades and kept people out of the streets, but it was still a traffic mess. Lots of people partying tonight (with the concert and white nights), so we decided to retire relatively early -- and still didn't get back to the hotel until 11. And it's still bright outside. The sun doesn't set until nearly 11 and it's up again by 3-something. It never really gets dark. I can't quite get used to it.

Tomorrow? Meet our guide and go to the Hermitage, Peter and Paul Fortress, Church on the Spilled Blood and wherever else we want to go. Just walking, so we'll see where we end up!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Two of my favorite girls at my favorite place

Yup, still makes me giggle.

Добро пожаловать в Санкт-Петербурге

Welcome to St Petersburg!

Today was mostly a travel day, to get us from Stockholm to St Petersburg. Pretty uneventful, actually -- the hotel in Stockholm is storing our luggage so we can fly with just a small carry-on, and it's a short flight. Waited in long lines as passport control at the airport, but everything was in order and our driver met us at the arrivals hall to get us to our hotel.

Lucky thing, too -- while quite a few people do rent cars and drive in the city, the traffic is absolutely atrocious today. Tomorrow is the first day of the International Economics Forum (the name is something like that) and politicians and high-ranking people from all over the world are arriving...which means that streets are shut down while police (with sirens blaring) excort convoys of black Audis through the city to the hotels, and it's wreaking havoc with normal traffic in the city. Streets are one way, or closed off, or completely blocked.

I didn't mean to schedule is in St Petersburg at the same time,I didn't realize until after we'd gotten tickets and started visa stuff that the timing was bad. Well, not bad -- just busy. We aren't driving anywhere in the city after tonight, so we should be fine except for crowds at the major sights. Our tour company has already gotten tickets to the Hermitage and other main museums, so we dont' have to worry about getting in (apparently people who waited until later are having problems getting the scarce tickets since so many poeple are in the city.)

We checked into the hotel, which is half a block from St Isaacs Cathedral and a block off Palace Square, near the river and a block off Nevsky Prospekt. It's a very nice hotell and our room is HUGE. Seriously, we're going to feel like hockey pucks sleeping ion the bed in one end of the room and the windows at the other end. Oy -- we ended up in a deluxe room since that was all they had left (see conference, above) and it's very nice. We could play handball in here. I'll ask Mark to take some pictures in the morning.

We didn' want to go out right away since we'd handed over our passports to the hotel for registration, and even though there is a two hour timeshift to come to St. Petersburg from Sweden, we're hungry. The hotel has a restaurant (Baron) that is actually pretty highly rated, and they have advertised a Real Gypsy Folk Show with "an almost real bear" could we possibly pass that up?

The bear is stuffed, of course, but the live folk music was great and the food was excellent. We spent two+ hours dawdling over dinner, accompanied by Russian beer and (a slightly less spectacular choice) Russian wine. It was nice to slow down, listen to the very good music, and relax. We've been go-go-go- for weeks.

However, dinner over at 9:30 and it's still light outside so we took off from the hotel to wander around a bit. Walked around the block to the cathedral, and through the gardens along the Neva, and up Nevsky Prospekt a bit, then back along the canal (and through some streets that aren't facing "the world" and are a bit less polished) before heading to the hotel. I only got a little lost, but figured if we could find the Admiralty (by the huge gold spire) or the enormous bulk of St Isaacs, we could see the hotel from here. Hah!

Tomorrow? Tours of Peterhof, Tsarskoe Selo and Catherine's Palace (I think that's the third one). We're sharing a car/driver with another couple for the day,which is nice, and we'll have a day to ourselves on Friday for sightseeing in the city center (Hermitage, Russian Museum, etc).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cross Country

Our goal today is to get from Oslo to Stockholm. Yeah, the itinerary didn't quite work out perfectly, but I had the airline tickets and started the visa process before we swapped around the direction of our instead of looping around and ending up in Stockholm at the end, so leaving from there would make sense, we went round the other way and had a long drive from Oslo back to where we started.

Good day for driving, though -- foggy and gray. I fell asleep in the car almost immediately. Mark, fueled by several cups of coffee, was raring to go.

We drove to Uppsala to see the cathedral there, which is amazing.. and huge. It's the largest church in Scandinavia,e ven bigger than the cathedral in Trondheim (which was on purpose, of course). It's a brick church, not a stone one, so Trondheim still claims to be "the best". Mark says I should visit some of the big cathedrals in Germany and France before I'm too impressed by "the biggest". I can't even wrap my head around 500+ foot-tall towers, like at Cologne.

Just north of the modern city (which is a university town -- and college students everywhere are the same, I swear) is Gamla Uppsala, the old (original) town. We stopped to see the small stone church there (the oldest stone church in sweden, apparently) and got an impromptu organ concert. The organist was practicing, so we hung around a bit to listen. Just next to the church are three burial mounds that date from the Viking age.

The car goes back today, so we're staying at the airport, actually -- the hotel is part of one of the terminal buildings. Convenient, and surprisingly comfortable. We cleaned out the car, hauled everything up to the room to repack and winnow thigns down so we can have only carry-ons to Russia, Mark returned the car, and we're done for the day.

Tomorrow? We fly out to St Petersburg for three days. Hopefully we'll have wifi!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Oslo 3:On Holiday

I didn't realize that today was a holiday in Norway -- Pinse (whitsunday, or Pentecost). We had to look it up. We were walking along the main drag in Oslo and there hardly any people, and only a few of the shops were open...must be a bank holiday, we thought. Nope - national holiday where everyone in the city heads off to be in the countryside (which is why it was such an issue on thursday with the flooding).

Most of the tourist-y stuff is open, of course. We got up early to wander around the Vigeland sculpture park, which is absolutely gorgeous in the morning sunshine. it took only a few minutes for the tourist buses to show up, though; we managed to stay ahead of the hundreds of people who tended to stop at the tops of stairs and in the narrow gates. The park is really great, and the sculptures are oddly compelling -- as is the story of how it came to be: more than 20 years working on the project obsessively. The column--the centerpiece of the park--is fascinating. We even managed to get a picture of the crabby little boy, who is so popular that the bronze statue is rubbed shiny. My notes say that the rumor is that Vigeland gave the little boy chocolate and then took it away...

The tram loops around to the harbor again, so we hopped on and rode back to Akershus fortress and the military museum. Mark started out a bit 'meh' about it, but the exhibits on WWII are really, really good, with lots of photos and a collection of artifacts that the museum has just recently rediscovered and displayed. It was surprisingly absorbing.

There's not much exciting going on at Akershus fortress, to be honest. While it's still used for state events (they can host huge banquets, etc), the rooms don't have much in the way of historic details that make them interesting. There are some collections of period furniture, of course, but beyond that, the rooms are plain and undecorated for the most part. You can only get into the tower wing, so we walked through and back out to wander the grounds, which are open as a public park. The views out over the harbor are good, though, if you can see around the enormous cruise ships that are tied up just outside of the fortress. Seriously, those things are HUGE.

Once again, we were thwarted in our attempt to go inside the cathedral -- since it's a religious holiday, there are services all day and so popping in as a tourist is a bit gauche. We decided to walk up and down Karl Johan's Gata instead, and people-watch from one of the sidewalk cafes. There were only a few people, though --it had been much busier on Saturday, all seems deserted. We grabbed lunch at a deli and sat in the sun for awhile anyway.

We're driving back to Stockholm tomorrow, so an early start!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Oslo 2

Off to the Bygdøy peninsula today for boat museums -- which prompted us to try to figure out how that is actually pronounced (yes, we should just ask someone, but we have to do something to amuse ourselves on the metro...). Is it big-doy? Big-day? Buy-doy? Buy-day? I did look it up, btw, and it's big-deuh with that particular Norwegian o-sound. C'mon, I can still reduce myself to giggles pronouncing the Swedish town of Boarp, ok? I'm easily amused.

At any rate, we caught the early ferry today over to he Viking Ship Museum and looked at remarkable Viking ships and the stuff they have found in them. The ships here are burial ships--they were found as part of burial mounds with grave goods and funerary huts and the like. This is quite different from the ships in the museum in Roskilde, Denmark; those ships were sailing ships that were scuttled to protect the harbor, not buried carefully. Two of the ships are well-preserved and look as if they could sail off at any moment, the third is just the skeleton of a ship, a few ribs and keel. There isn't a lot of information about the ships, really, just a short blurb on each one. It's the "finds" wing of the museum that is fascinating, though -- tons of detailed wood work, funerary goods, decorations, goldwork, and mundane objects that were found in the ships (even after they'd been grave-robbed in antiquity). The museum is very stark, just a white-plastered cruciform building, like a huge church. In fact, that seems very appropriate.

It's a short walk to the Fram museum, which was a surprise. I expected a polar-exploration museum (which it is), but I didn't expect the whole ship to be there! They basically built a museum around the dry-docked Fram ship, intact. The three-story museum has dozens of placards and photos and "lantern slides" (I had to go look up what a lantern slide was) of the various expeditions to the pole. Images of the dogs, of the men on the boat, of the depots and sledges, accompanied by the diary entries from Roald Amundson. I was surprised to learn that they didnt' take a doctor on the voyage (and they were very pleased not to have needed one) and that they killed enough seals and walrus to store 210,000 lbs of meat in the various depots they set up for supplies. And, of course, that the decision to head to the south pole was a last minute decision aimed at stealing the thunder of Cook and Peary, who had reached the north pole. He didn't even tell the crew and his backers until they actually underway, that they were heading to the Antarctic and not the Arctic.

Clustered near the Fram are the Kon-Tiki museum, and the Norse Maritime museum, so we just rounded the corner to see the Ra II and a replica of the Kon Tiki raft that Thor Heyerdahl sailed (floated?) to Polynesia, and later to support his idea that the papyrus boats the Egyptians built were seaworthy. We watched a few clips of the 50's movie about the Kon Tiki, and looked around a bit at the various exhibits about common boat design and environmental concerns. It didn't grab either of us very much, to be honest, so we crossed over to the Maritime museum in search of lunch and ended up looking at the dozens of perfect ship models in the museum. I love the little ship models--some of the complicated ones came with a plaque describing who made it and how long it took, I can't imagine spending four years building a single model, complete with tiny pulleys and ropes. I don't really want to make them myself, but I d love to look at them. I love architectural models, too--those maquettes of historic buildings can keep me occupied for hours.

Oslo has a large "folk park", like so many of the cities here in Scandinavia--large outdoor collections of antique buildings moved to an open-air park, usually with costumed docents and various activities. Skansen in Stockholm is a huge one, and there are a few others scattered around. Norway has half a dozen, I think. This one is actually very well done and interesting, with the houses and outbuildings grouped in regional areas, so you can see a typical farmstead in Sedesdal or Hallingdal or Telemark. Information about the buildings is a bit thin on the ground (I imagine they have more people staffing the various buildings later in the season), but it's a great place to wander around on a sunny afternoon.

We even watched a demonstration of lefse-making at one of the farmhouses. We were surprised at the results -- it was thicker, sweeter, and more cake-like than what we consider "lefse". What we are familiar with is potato lefse, the thin potato crepes. This is 'sweet lefse' that was commonly made in the Hallingdal valley for celebrations-it's rolled out in barley flour and is more like a buttermilk pancake with butter, milk, and cinnamon. Yummy! We ate it hot from the griddle (over the fire!) and grabbed the recipe. We'll have to try this at home. We have all the right equipment, of course - the girl demonstrating it was using lefse-turning sticks that are just like ours. Of course, we aren't making them over an open fire on a flat cast-iron pan, so her process was far more difficult than ours is!

And, we saw a exhibition of folk dancing which had absolutely adorable little kids in bunads bouncing around in the traditional dances of the regions -- lots of clapping and stomping and kicking, whilst going around in circles. Some of the older couples danced the more complicated stuff, which we decided looked very much like the boys showing off for the girls, and the girls testing out each partner until they found one they liked. I've been looking online, too, for an answer to a very pressing question: why does the men's bunad have a huge leather patch on the butt?

Opting not to get back on the bus (earlier, we had a very exciting bus ride with jerky stop-and-starts as it barreled around this tiny neighborhood) we walked back to the ferry stop and cruised back to the main pier. Mark wanted to see the Armed Forces Museum, which was supposed to be open for another hour or so, so we walked through Akershus Fortress again and discovered that the museum is closed (no notice, so my little booklet must be in error). It was a lovely walk, though, with ice cream to make up for the missed museum. We walked back through the main part of town to the metro station, and back around to the hotel.

It was a lovely day--sat in the sun, walked around in the pretty recreated villages, had ice cream. Tomorrow? Up to the ski jump to view Oslo, out to Frogner Park to see sculptures, and a walk through some of the neighborhoods in town. At least that's the plan.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Oslo 1

Got a bit of a late start today (Mark apparently tried to wake me up at our normal time and while I said I was getting up, I apparently promptly fell back to sleep for an hour.) We're staying a bit outside of Oslo, but there is a T-bana station right outside the hotel, so we headed into the city this morning after breakfast. Convenient!

It's always a bit confusing the first time we try whatever public transport is in the city -- where to get tickets, how to handle the passes we have, that sort of thing. We've had city-cards in Stockholm, Copenhagen, and now Oslo that cover all busses, trains, trams, and metros. So we can pretty much get on and off as we need to, once we figure out the schedules. We used the metro all the time in Stockholm (it's a breeze), but we tended to walk more in Copenhagen since the stops didn't match up with what we wanted to do. Using the busses or metro in Oslo is a must -- we're pretty far out from the city center, too far to walk anywhere. I get a bit panicky about bus/train/tram travel (yes, I know, a grown woman with an irrational fear of public buses, mock me!) so knowing where things go and what the actual schedules are helps. Oslo relies much more on bus and tram connections than Stockholm did, so it's not just "get on the metro, get off when your stop comes up", it's "get on the metro, swap to this bus, get back on the metro...." so we spent
quite a lot of time deciphering the colorful systems maps. I'm still not sure about things.

We were a bit flummoxed by a tunnel closure that truncated the metro line we were on -- but we figured out the right bus to get on to make up the difference and walked around the National Theater. I'm glad we didn't try to walk from the metro station we got to -- Oslo is a big, spread-out city. While the central part of town is pretty small and easily walkable, there are outlying areas that are way out there. But -- we did get an impromptu concert on he train, with trumpets and drums.

The Historiske Museum here is great -- lots of Viking history and bits and bobs from the middle ages, including the doorways from a number of defunct stave churches. The best-preserved Viking helmet is part of the collection, along with tons of decorative pieces. I love wandering around the glass-box displays looking at pins and brooches and sword hilts; the museum attempts to connect it all together by theme: art and home and social customs. And, it's in a great old building!

We walked along the main street to the imposing (and controversial) Radhus -- a huge, twin-towered building that looks wierdly out of place in all the Neoclassical and Art nouveau buildings downtown...rather like a large soviet office block, to be honest. It was almost universally reviled by people in Oslo when it was built in 1950, but it does kind of grow on you. Inside, it's decorated with murals on almost every single wall that celebrate Norway. It looks very much like the city hall in Stockholm, we thought. Very familiar.

In the courtyard outside are wooden sculptures that illustrate some of the norse myths (also quite controversial when they were installed). We walked along the harbor behind the city hall so Mark could peer at the ships and then walked up to the Norwegian Resistance Museum, which is fabulous. It details the events that began April 1940, when Germany invaded Norway, using original letters, video, and artifacts to explain how the Norwegians resisted the occupation and how they actively sabotaged the german forces. It's fascinating (and I'm not usually one for WWII stuff) and really worth a visit. Very sobering, too, to realize how many Norwegians were sent to german camps and executed for refusing to cooperate.

We ducked into a rather authentic-styled Irish pub for lunch (yes, weird, but they seem to be pretty popular in norway, at least) for fish-n-chips and lamb stew and a pint. It's still pretty gray outside, and raining in intermittent spurts, so warm lunch and Guinness were a welcome stop. Kind of weird, though. Neither of us wanted a foofy lunch today, and while cafes and restaurants usually have great food, it tends to the foofy side -- lots of sauces and artfully arranged salads at lunch time. We've tried the popular open-faced sandwiches for lunch (they are common in all three countries) but it's been cool enough outside we want something hot, most days. Half the time we grab lunch at a stall somewhere and eat while walking or driving. Whoever thought up hot-dogs wrapped in bacon was a genius!

Mark totally humored me by going to the Architecture museum (I love the little models of buildings). It's a great space in an old bank building, and the current exhibits highlight new norwegian architecture (a lot of the viewpoints and tourist road stops have been designed in the last few years). I have to admit, I really don't get "modern scandinavian design". Perhaps it's a lot like modern art--either you get it, or you don't. I just don't see the beauty in some of these houses or office buildings; geometric boxes with random windows...nah, give me an overly Baroque apartment house in town any time, with ornate windows and curlicues everywhere, that I get. The avant garde stuff is interesting, but ultimately it's not homey to me, I guess. The exhibits did highlight the efforts to renovate and update building in the city, and we walked along Kongsgate to see some of them on our way back to the hotel.

For a Saturday afternoon, there aren't actually that many people around -- apparently it's a long weekend holiday, and the city residents all take off for the countryside, so everyone in town are tourists, like us. I have a feeling that Monday will be a bit more bustling and "normal". Of course, this is also the week of Norwegian Wood -- the huge rock concert series in Frogner Park. Eric Clapton kicked off the series this week. It attracts thousands of people, but I'm not sure where they were today - certainly not in the city center. I'm sure the park (and the campgrounds near it, etc) are crammed full of concert-goers tonight, though.

Tomorrow? Off to see the Viking ships and the Fram museum, for a start. It's supposed to actually be non-rainy tomorrow!

Adventure Girl returns

Mark reminded me to post the Continuing Adventures of Adventure Grrrl -- leaning over barriers, leaping over (short) fences, and risking death at every turn!

Here she is, leaning over the road barrier to take a picture straight down at Trollstigen, after leaping from the car at one of the passing places:

And here, hanging over the glass barrier at the Stegastein Viewpoint on the Aurlandsvegan road, looking down into the Aurlandsfjord.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wreaking Havoc

Miserable, oppressive, pouring rain all day has left both of us in foul moods -- we drove from Laerdal down to Flam, hoping things would clear enough to warrant taking the ferry into the fjords, but it was no use. The fog and clouds have melded into a gray mist that obscures everything, but we drove out on the Aurlandsveien road (high mountain pass between Laerdal and Aurland/Flam) anyway, hoping that the breath-taking views would be...well, visible.

Not really. We drove up into the snow fields and marveled at the snow-markers that are the size of telephone poles, but mostly we drove through the Generic Norwegian Scenic today: fog. The hairpin turns coming down into Aurland are quite fun, though. All of the guidebooks keep telling us that the Aurland pass, and the Troll's Staircase are "hair raising" and scary...nothing has been as hairy and twisty as the road up and down to Lysebotn on our first day in the fjords. Now that was hair-raising.

We passed through Flam -- it was raining hard enough that we could barely see the fjord, so we decided to pass on the ferry and the railway (which is part of the quintessential Norway-in-a-Nutshell tourist trip) and just drive long the fjord for a bit,then head towards Oslo. We did drive up the narrow road to Undredal to see the tiny stave church there (the smallest church in norway, they claim) and along the side of the Naeroyfjord for a bit before turning around. We headed south before the new Laerdal tunnel (25km through the mountain, replacing the Aurlands pass that we drove over this morning). A technological marvel, perhaps, but we drove south through the mountains instead.

At this point, we realized that the lovely scenic Oslo-Bergen route was not going to be very scenic. Why? Torrential downpours, floods, mudslides, and closed roads. Hah! Well, when we travel, we never do anything in half-measures -- rain? Sure! Bring on the worst rains in years! Rain a months' worth in two hours! Do it two days in a row! Yeeha! I'm seriously hoping that my weather-powers haven't short-circuited and caused massive chaos and havoc.

It's funny in a depressing sort of way. The mountain passes and views over the fjords would have been stunning, I'm sure, had we be able to see any of them. As it was, we had some great views of enormously swollen rivers roaring down into the farmland, and normally-sedate waterfalls shooting out from the mountainside to hit the rocks below. Most of the rivers -- usually blue or blue-green -- were brown with whipped up farm fields and full of broken trees and bits of other things picked up. We got stopped onthe road for about half an hour because a mudslide had blocked one of the lanes (there were TREES standing upright in the road, still embedded in the dirt) and the road was flooded in running water (usually only a few inches deep, if that) in a dozen places. Made for interesting driving, even if the grayness was wearying.

And it's supposed to continue raining tomorrow. They actually warned people who were planning on travelling out of Oslo to just stay put until the congestion eased up. And what are we doing? Driving across half the country. We did stop in Krodsherad, to look around the town where Mark's grandfather came from (neat railway museum, btw) before finally driving down into Oslo.

We finally arrived at the hotel in Oslo about 11pm. Mark is tired and crabby, I'm tired and crabby, and right now I have no idea what we're going to do tomorrow. It's going to rain, so nothing with a lot of outside wandering around, I think! We've had enough of walking around dampish.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Glaciers and rain and flooding!

We got an early start this morning to hike up to the Briksdalsbreen Glacier, which is a small arm of the huge Jostedalbreen glacier, just south of Stryn, where we stayed last night. The hotel was lovely, by the way -- breakfast was a bit meager, but nicely served and I even got to try BaconOst!

I loved the hotel--although I'm sure a lot of people would not like the old house, to be honest. It's a bit faded, and worn, and some of the decor seems right out of the Home Depot (the walls in the hallways are inexplicably paneled with pale wood, in 4 x 8 sheets), but everything is meticulously clean, and the rooms are quirky and interesting. We got the "Bridal Suite", since we were the only couple staying at the hotel; two small balconies, a sitting room off the bedroom, and an enormous bathroom across the hall. Definitely going to give them a good review on Tripadvisor.

I've been trying to do reviews for all the hotels we stay at, and I've got a list of the places we've gone, so i can rate them, too. The reviews on Tripadvisor were invaluable in picking hotels to stay, and prioritizing other things. And you know me, I never pass up an opportunity to share my opinions!

At any rate, we spent breakfast looking at the map and deciding how best to visit one of the many glaciers in the area. We decided on Briksdalsbreen, although we can't quite get up to the glacier face without having to swim, since it's reasonably close and doesn't require us to drive in a giant circle to get to a spot that's only a few miles from where we are -- just across the glacier, but a three to four hour drive. Oy.

We hiked up in the rain ahead of three giant busloads of Japanese tourists, trying very hard to stay out in front and not get engulfed in the horde. It's an easy hike, although by the time we reached the top we were soaked and then it started raining in earnest -- we snapped a few pictures of the blue ice (and unfortunately didn't get as close as we wanted to, since the glacier has retreated and we would have had to wade out into the shallow lake. We surrendered, and slogged our way back down. We were both soaked--my jeans were wet from hip to ankle and my shoes were squelchy. Fortunately we both have good rain coats and waterproof shoes. My shoes were soaked, but my feet were dry. We sat and steamed in the car and watched the continuing rain.

It was an easy decision to not do the fjord cruise up the Naeroyfjord today. It's one of the most scenic (it's the cornerstone of the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which we aren't really doing), but there is enough fog that everything is nearly hidden, and the rain is coming down hard enough to make things miserable. Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit better and we'll try again before we head off to Oslo.

Instead, we drove down along the fjord and a few lovely lakes to Laerdal and the Borgund Stave church. We drove alongside the river in Laerdal nearly the whole way and it's obvious that things are much, much higher than normal. Lots and lots of water, the waterfalls are shooting out from the mountainsides and the river is far over the banks (there's a park bench about 30 feet out into the raging torrent, and trees along the edge are in the water up to their leaves). We discovered that today, in the space of only a couple of hours, they got 44mm of rain--a whole month's worth--and blammo! Flooding. Most farm fields on the riverside hadn't been inundated yet, but there were a couple of places where the road was under a bit of water. It's pretty impressive..

The church is very cool -- Borgund is the best-preserved stave churches in Norway and it's currently wrapped in scaffolding as they replace wood-chip shingles and repair the lead flashing. It's rather jarring to see the bright pine shingles mixed in with the old, tarred ones on the roof. They're making each one by hand, as far as we can tell, so they match exactly the old, damaged shingles that they replace. Inside, it's tiny and dark; I was once again surprised by how small these churches are, and lit only by tiny round windows way up on the wall. Without a light (or flash),you can't see many of the details inside, including the inverted-viking-ship roof. We walked around the outside a bit, looking at the original posts that still hold up this church.

There's an interesting museum across the street from the church that explains how these churches are built, why they are so rare, and what is being done to save the few remaining churches in Norway. In 1650, there were over two thousand of them, two hundred years later, there were two hundred. Now there are 28 that still stand. We're planning on stopping at a few others on the way down to Oslo, just to see some more examples.

We followed the historic route (which was once a goat path!) back to Laerdal, alongside the still-rising river, stopping every few miles to walk out onto a bridge and stand in the spray. But we decided to call it a day and just check in to the hotel, eat at their buffet, and crash. The rain seems to have stopped, which is a good sign for tomorrow, perhaps, but now I've had too much food (and actual vegetables, which have been a bit lacking in our diet for the last week or so) and I'm lumping in the bed, watching tv, and listening to my stomach gurgle. Fun!

Tomorrow? Into Flaam (imagine aa = that a with the o over it) to take the train to Myrdal and, possibly, to cruise on the Naeroyfjord (on the car ferry, most likely, they are slow and easy!) if it doesn't pour down rain. Then, across to Oslo on the Oslo-Bergen road (at least some of the way!)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Over Hill and Dale

I woke up in a foul mood, and looking out at the fog which enveloped the hotel and the ferry and the rest of the world made my outlook on life even more miserable. Sure, another day in beautiful Norway, and all I'll see is FOG. Hmph.

I apparently was quite toxic for about an hour this morning, and the dismal breakfast at the hotel didn't help (the only criticism of the hotel, btw -- they were otherwise fantastic, but breakfast was quite awful) and I was in full-on Grinch Mode by the time Mark jollied me into the car to drive into Alesund proper and see all the neat architecture. I'm fairly certain I flounced out to the car and grumped. Not even the promise of good wienerbrod made me even remotely happy.

Don't worry, it's temporary, and gone by the time we had walked around the teensy little harbor in Alesund to see the perfectly planned town that Kaiser Wilhelm paid for in 1907 (nearly the entire town burned to the ground in 1904 and the program to rebuilt it was designed and planned as a completely cohesive, harmonious development.) Some of the buildings in town are really lovely -- Art Nouveau is not usually my thing, but the floral and geometric decorations are great, and some of the big old baronial-style stone buildings are quite cool. The main streets are lined with buildings that were designed by Norwegian architects and master builders -- all in stone and brick, to avoid the problems with fire that plague nearly every town in Norway. It's a rather fetching town, but I don't quite see the "planned" aspect of it, in most places. And, of course, modern (ie., 1960s) architecture has intruded quite rudely.

At this point, the sun finally peeked out and my crabbity moode evaporated with the fog. Of course, we still have no place to stay tonight, and I'm at least a little nervous that we'll end up sleeping in the car or in a hut somewhere without sleeping bags....but, we'll deal with that when we figure out where we're going to end up after today's adventures.

From Alesund, we drove over to Andalsnes and the Trollstigen -- Troll's Ladder, a windy road that climbs to the top of a mountain pass in eleven hairpin turns -- including a small bridge under the Stigfossen waterfall. The drive is actually not that hairy (the road down to Lysebotn was acttually much steeper and convoluted), but it's fun to do -- people in caravans (RVs) and even huge tour busses make the climb (10% grade) and eleven narrow turns...although most of them do just what we did: stop every half-step and leap out of the car to take pictures of the rock face and
waterfall and other cars and the steep drop-offs at every turn. It's not quite a game of bumper cars, but with everyone making stops at random, it can get interesting!

At the top, we paused to look back over the steep hill, and plunged down the other side to get on the ferry to pick up The Eagles Road down into Geiranger. Another eleven hairpin turns,and some absolutely breathtaking scenery of the Geirangerfjord.

At this point, we saw the ferry chugging its way into the fjord (past the enormous cruise ship which was belching out blue-ish smoke and hazing up the whole fjord) and decided that we'd try to catch it. Serendipity, of course -- but the car ferry here from Geiranger to Hellysylt is one of the most scenic trips on the fjords, according to a number of guidebooks, and we sort of tripped into it. Pulled into line in time for the ferry guy to sell us a ticket, drove on board, and we were off. The sun decided to disappear as we got on the boat, of course, but that didn't diminish the stunning views from the ferry of the waterfalls, farms, and cliffs on this small fjord. It's only a little over an hour, but it's a really impressive hour!

The sun peeked out again just enough for me to get one of those perfect mirror-image photos (well, about two dozen of them, really, I sat on the bank and clicked away for a few minutes) of the mountains, the trees, and the smooth, still water.

We did finally call and find a hotel for the night -- on our first try, which made me feel a bit better. We're staying at the Vinsnes Hotel in Stryn,which is just a bit south of the end of our ferry trip -- a lovely old turn-of-the-century hotel with all the quirks and creaks we've come to expect of an old house. It looks like a lovely place, I'll let you know tomorrow.

And tomorrow? We're not really sure. Probably a cruise on the Naeroyfjord and the Flam railway, but if the weather sucks, we may drive out east to see a string of Stave churches. We'll see!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

North to Alesund

Woke up early this morning to drive up the tourist road (E39) from Bergen to Alesund (and perhaps beyond). We started off fine, but almost immediately took some detours...which is entirely typical, we haven't ever gone straight anywhere on vacation.

It drizzled a bit this morning, but mostly stopped raining and the fog set in. Serious, pea-soup type fog that sank over the tops of the mountains and wreathed the fjords in clouds. It was impossible to tell how tall anything was, since only about a hundred feet was visible above the water, if that. The rest? Hidden in the dense fog. So, we should have known. Today was going to be a gray, fuzzy sort of day.

The drive to Alesund should take about six hours,including ferries. It wasn't half an hour in and we were ignoring the GPS and driving off into the hinterlands on a tiny road with a "scenic viewpoint" marked on it. Cool! A beautiful scenic! We drove 45 minutes out of our way to weave up a little, hairpin-turn road and the fog got more and more got harder and harder to see...eventually, we could see about ten feet in front of the car. Some scenic view!

We drove over an hour to see something awe-inspiring...and this is what we got:

that's mark, btw, standing about 15 feet away in the fog. Any further than that, and I couldn't see him at all. We drove on, and every time we'd read one of the road-turn offs that signalled a 'scenic viewpoint', we laughed all the harder. All the scenics are the same: gray, fuzzy, and wet. It wasn't until we drove back down to fjord-level before we saw anything at all in the fog! So yeah, sure, Norway is sooooo scenic...hah!

I joke, of course. Norway is jaw-droppingly gorgeous most of the time, and even in the fog, the fjords and mountains and valleys are pretty enough to cause accidents, with all the tourists stopping their cars by the side of the road to gawp. (Us included). The drive on E39 follows the coast some of the time, up valleys for others, and in general is a panoramic view of Norway all in one fell swoop. We spent a bit of time on the road much closer to the coast, turning off to towns with interesting names or with the little brown signs that signal a landmark or tourist site.

Lots of tunnels today. The Norwegians seem bent on replacing all the ferry services with bridges over or tunnels under the fjords. I'm a little freaked out by tunnels under the water, but after awhile, the uniformity of the tunnels is sort of reassuring -- they are all the same width, all the same height, only the length (anywhere up to 24km in some cases) is different. It's like they just plug in the Norway Tunnel Machine, tell it how far to go, and it produces this lovely tunnel like a worm eating a hole in an apple. Some are lined (we think with some sort of rubbery stuff) to eliminate the drips, and most are lit. I say most - there are some tunnels with no internal lighting. It's a bit disconcerting to drive into a dark hole in a rock face. Headlights are enough, of course, and it doens't appear to be related to the length of the tunnel--some short ones are lit up like a carnival right, some long ones are entirely dark and have only reflectors. Weird. It doesn't help that I forget to take off my sunglasses when we drive into tunnels, so I think they're black as pitch!

We kept taking little side-roads and detours to drive around this or that fjord or lake or see a waterfal...until we noticed that the countdown on the GPS had us arriving at our hotel at about 8pm, and we still had three ferries left to catch. We stuck to the standard tourist route from Forde on north to Alesund, we caught the ferry across the last sound just as it was leaving at 8:50 -- we drove on, the gate came up -- which saved us an hour wait for the next one. Actually, all day, we arrived just in time for ferries, we never waited more than about 10 minutes from the time we drove up to the time the ferry left. I think that this might be Mark's superpower.

Dinner was hamburgers bought from the stand at the ferry terminal. Not bad, actually, but not the first choice. We keep forgetting that most towns around here, even the large ones, roll up the sidewalks and close entirely by 6pm. A few restaurants may stay open until 8 or so, but cafes and everything else? Not a chance. Restaurants in Bergen were open until 1o, perhaps, and you can always find a Pizza-Kebab-Sausage joint open until 11 or even midnight in the bigger towns, but in most places...after 8pm, you are stuck with what you can eat from the gas station, if you haven't planned well.

And what it is with Pizza-Kebab-Sausage-Burger joints? They always come as one combo-restaurant here (and in Sweden and Denmark). Never just a pizza place, the menu will have various sorts of Kebab or Gyro on it, and three or four kinds of sausage (including one sort of long hot dog wrapped in bacon, and plates of fries with "chopped meat". There is an odd habit of eating pizza (with, say, ham and pepperoni and bacon on it), with piles of lettuce and a sort of salad dressing drizzled over the top. We can't quite figure it out, but we do chuckle at some of the combinations of toppings (cucumbers? lettuce? really?) . They must think we're weird for ordering just pepperoni. Ah, well.

Our hotel tonight was a brilliant surprise -- from the outside, it looks a bit sketchy: directly next to the ferry terminal (and I mean directly - you drive into the little parking lot directly from the ferry, the hotel is maybe 100m from the boat), and with a sort of washed-up, beach-front sort of look to it. We were a bit apprehensive, and the frazzled and slightly ditzy desk clerk didn't help that impression...and then we saw the room. Completely redone, big bed, couch, chairs, table, enormous bathroom, walk-out balcony. Absolutely BRILLIANT!

Tomorrow? Off to drive on twisty roads up and down mountain passes.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Just a few photos

Posted a few photos on Flickr, from the trip so far.

Regular, normal Bergen

...which means rain, and lots of it, apparently. My weather superpowers have failed. At 4am, there were a few wispy clouds, but by 7 it was raining. Ah, well. We have good raincoats and we aren't going to melt.

Our first goal today,though, is to get our laundry done. There is a self-service and drop-off laundry about five minutes away, we scoped it out last night. But, we missed the little sticker that said it opened at 12, and not at 10, so we walked back and joined the walking tour of Bryggen instead.

It's really interesting-- Bergen has a very long history of trade and fishing, and a big chunk of that was controlled by the German Hanseatic League. They populated the wharf, ran the trading, and in general defined society in Bergen up until 1754 or so. They dictated the rules about living arrangements in the wooden tenement houses -- including the rules about fire: as in, there will be no flames, at all, in he tenements. The only buildings allowed a fire or candles or lamps was the common house at the end of the alley (called the Shotstuene) where they ate communal meals and gathered for warmth in the winter. The Hanseatic museum is a preserved house for the apprentices, journeymen, and managers of the League; it's a fascinating building with surprisingly colorful decorations. The cupboard-beds for the journeymen and apprentices are tiny -- quite like sleeping in a small, coffin-like box. Ugh.

At the end of Bryggen is the Bryggen museum,which outlines the archeological efforts around salvaging and protecting the existing wooden buidlings. Its only been i the last fifty years that everyone agreed that they should be saved -- prior to this, they were a hazard, an expensive curiosity and most Bergen residents wanted them razed and repalced with "modern" buildings. Luckily, after the huge fire in 1955, the cultural finds and remains under the foundations were cataloged, analyzed, and renewed interest int he history of the area as Norwegian history (and not just german history) ensured that the stretch of buildings is conserved. It's cool to walk down the narrow alleys with the buildings leaning inwards, the third-story winches hanging over the shared path,andthe second floor galleries open to the weather. There are some huge new braces holding up a few of the buildings, and cables holding some of them together, but they are working to stabilize the buildings.

They build on the rubble of the fires, you see -- every time one of the buildings was destroyed, they simply pushed the rubble and wood into the harbor and built the new house on top of them. Now that the groundwater is seeping through to the wood foundations (instead of the flow coming from the sea, where the sea-water actually preserved them), the wooden piers and beams are rotting and the buildings are collapsing. They are hoisting up the facades and replacing the rotted parts under the water level. I wish they had more information about the restoration project, but only a single plaque on the wall and beams and cables are any hint of what's going on.

We ducked into one of the original common houses at the back of Bryggen for lunch, which was a collection of "norwegian tapas" (hey,their description, not mine!) -- small plates of traditional norwegian foods. We tried fish stew, akavit-marinated salmon and asparagus, smoked mackerel with apple compote, marinated sausage, potato salad, and bread with bacon butter. Yes, you read that right: BACON BUTTER. I had no idea there was such a thing, and it is delicious. It was an interesting (and eye-wideningly expensive) lunch, though. Although we've still managed to avoid pickled herring, or herring in any of its many forms. Hm....

We cannot get into Hakon's Hall, which is a shame. They have closed it for a music festival, so no one is allowed in whilethey set up. It's supposed to be a cool building. We did climb through Rosenkrantz's tower, although the really interesting part of the tower is the exhibition on Hakon's Laws -- the city codes and rules that defined where things could be bought and sold, how to buildhouses, how to handle crime, and how the city should be run. We made a quick walk around the bastions in the rain and then headed back to the hotel when we really started getting wet.

Rain I can handle, but when it's coming down hard enough that the fronts of your pants get soaked, it's time to call it a day and dry out. We're watching Will & Grace re-runs with Norwegian subtitles at the moment, and considering where to have dinner.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Bergen in the Sun!

(Mark has reminded me that our cabin in Stavanger did not have a grass roof, but the others surrounding it did,so I am correcting it)

Took off towards Bergen today, starting with three ferry trips and some jaw-droppingly gorgeous scenery. The E39 winds up along the islands with bridges, some really long tunnels (8 km! under water!) and a few ferries. The ferry bits are short, which is good, but it still took most of the day to get to Bergen. We actually considered taking the long way round the hardangerfjord, but we decided we wanted some time in he city with the sun shining -- which is a remarkable rarity; Bergen gets 280 days of rain a year. And it was a lovely day, almost hot. We parked the car out near the bus station and walked into the town center to find our hotel.

We're staying at Den Hanseatiske Hotell,which is in an old wooden shipping building near the end of the wharf. The floors tilt rather crazily, and there aren't any right angles in our room. We're tucked up in the top floor (which is lucky, actually -- tehre was a mix up with the reservations and we arrived to find they had no idea who we were. We got a room, though, so all is god) under the steep eaves, and while the room is tiny (and leans precariously to one side) it's actually quite comfortable. We've been boggling at the number of fire-sprinkler heads in the room (5), but in light of the history of Bergen in general -- they lose about half the city center every hundred years or so to fire--it makes sense. They are very serious about protecting the remaining stretch of buildings from 1702 (after a massive fire and "modernization" destroyed over half of them) and fire is a big worry.

Out and about in Bergen, we got the standard tourist photos of Bryggen -- all those red and yellow and white warehouses lining the quay. They are all tourist shops now, and artisans workshops in the alleys behind, and they are quite a bit smaller than I imaged they were, to be honest. A few have been replaced with five-story brick buildings, but a long strip of the original plank and post buildings remain.

We walked along the main harbour and through the fish market, and found the one remaining city gate (which is not so much for protection as it was for the collection of tolls) and Mark got to gawk at the big ships moored at the piers for awhile. We even found the laundry (which isn't open until tomorrow) and walked around the tiny domkirke (cathedral). Most museums are closed, so we just walked around the kings park and the lake, and meandered around with the rest of the people enjoying the rare sunshine.

Our room is above a pizza place, and the smell was good enough to convince us to eat pizza yet again (yes, we're in Scandinavia, but usually eating pizza for dinner. We find good places for lunch whenever we can, and then we're tired enough at night to just want something quick and hot. Pizza fits the bill, and the aroma was pretty good advertising).

But we did make a quick trip to see Fantoft Stave church, which is only a few kilometers from Bergen. It's not really an authentic stave church any more -- it was originally moved from some remote village, piece by piece, but the businessman who bought it had it "enhanced" with dragonheads and more decorations to make it more like the bigger stave churches near Oslo. Then, in 1992, it burned down and was completely rebuilt from scratch to the same specifications. So, it's a completely new reproduction of a changed-and-updated version of an original church. It's small, too -- mark assures me that most of them are really tiny. Somehow, I imagined them as much larger. But then again, I have a lot of problems with scale when it comes to old buildings.

When we finally crashed, it was after 11 and still bright outside. That is SO hard to get used to.

Tomorrow? More Bergen -- this time in the rain. We're going to see the Hanseatic Museum, the Bryggen museum (of the archeological excavations beneath the wharf), and the Shotstuen house, and climb Rosenkrantz's tower and Hakon's Hall. And shop. We have no souvenirs yet, which is par for the course.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


We woke up in our grass-roofed cabin to fog, although I was sure I saw at least a glimmer of blue sky. The tops of the mountains (well, compared to the Rockies, a bit smaller, but mountainous nonetheless) were wreathed in clouds and by the time we finished breakfast, it had started drizzling. Not exactly drizzling, really, more like misting.

We drove up the coast to Stavanger and arrived in time to see the sun come out so we could walk along the harbor so Mark could stare at all the enormous ships and I could wander in the old town part of Stavanger. On the western side of the harbor is a narrow hilly stretch of whitewashed clapboard houses on steep, narrow, cobbled lanes. It's set back quite a bit from the harborside now, but at one time it was the original quay and the captains and traders build houses here. We went to the Canning Museum, which is dedicated to the history of smoking and canning sardines -- one of the primary industries in this fishing town. At one time, collecting the labels for the various companies was a huge fad here in Stavanger (to the point where newspaper articles decrying the moral failings of the town's youth for stealing them were common). There's a restored film from the turn-of-the-century cannery showing the aproned and capped women sorting and packing the cans and nattily dressed young men manning the can-making machines. It was quite interesting -- although the hundreds and hundreds of rubber fish used in the demonstrations were a bit funny.

It's Saturday, so the streets are absolutely packed, and the "downtown" area around the harbor is just street after street of shops and we managed to arrive in time for the rock music festival -- indy bands were on stages all over the town, with competing guitars and amps, in English and Norwegian (and possibly German). We did find a book store so i could find a better map of Western Norway (the one I have is not particularly helpful -- 1:800,000 is too large to really navigate around here), but then we headed to the museum guaranteed to keep Mark enthralled: The Norwegian Oil Museum.

It's fascinating; I'm not even particularly interested in oil rigs or boats and I found it really interesting. From the history of oil driling and the impact on Norway's economy, to the various technical achievements in each successive generation of oil rigs and drilling. There are scale models of the history of oil drilling rigs and actual drill bits showing the evolution of things, and outside are three of the "modules" that make up a modern drilling rig, with exhibits on deep sea diving and safety.

Of course, we're halfway through our vacation, so i'm (predictably) tryng to get sick -- headachy and feeling warm. We found our hotel and checked in pretty early, but then decided to make another try at finding the Swords in Stone sculpture right outside the city. It's a huge piece on the shore of the Hafrsfjord and we missed it entirely this morning, despite a few u-turns. This time, we found it on the third try and walked along the beach to take pictures.

There are dozens of jellyfish in the water -- I would have thought it would be too cold for them, but I'm glad I didn't decide to take off my shoes and wade into the fjord to get the right angle for a picture!

We indulged our "once per country" McDonalds -- it was quick and easy and got us back to the hotel so we could both go to bed. The pickles are odd and the ketchup is , but otherwise things are the same. We keep hoping that we'll find a truly weird McDonald's...perhaps in Russia?

Our room at the Myhregaaten Hotel is lovely -- a wee bit small, but very comfortable and we're lounging in the bed watching a norwegian-subtitled version of Overboard (and, obviously, blogging).

Tomorrow? We've got the day to get up to Bergen -- I think there are a half-dozen ferries involved, it ought to be fun!

Squiggly Roads

Woke up to sun and immediately drove off along the coast -- The North Sea/Viking Road --that runs from Kristiansand all the way up to Bergen, where it becomes the Atlantic Road and wends its way up past Trondheim, at least. it's a gorgeous drive; not too many towns along the way that are larger than a few houses, but the tiny narrow roads wind around the lakes and fjords on the coast. We tried to pick roads with higher numbers -- the higher the number, the "less used" the road is, and often the more scenic, and took rv44 most of the way to Egesund before we started our way north to pick up the ferry in Lysebotn so we can motor down the Lysefjord

it's a car ferry, not a cruise, so it's a bit slower and while they have dubbed it a "tourist ferry" and there is a bit of narration done by the captain of the ferry, it's mostly just a slow, scenic trip down the fjord, which is extremely steep and lovely.

But we barely made it in time to catch the ferry, despite leaving whta we thought was a ton of buffer -- we intended to arrive at 2 for the 3pm ferry (when they only specify 20 minutes, really) but we had to drive up the Lysebotn road...a fantastic, looping, turning, narrow-hairpin-curve road that climbs up over the mountain and back down again to the ferry port. In about 10km. The road up is narrow and rather hair-raising, but it's the downward journey that really sets your teeth on edge --- the GPS looked like a clump of spaghetti, really, and you actually go through a tunnel at the end that backs up under the fiteen or so hairpin turns you have already done. It's wild. We had to wait a few times in the wide placesi nthe road for oncoming cars to pass, and had a few close calls with the narrow roads on the curves, but this is why mark drives and I do not!

We did make it, though, and boarded the ferry in plenty of time to enjoy the four hour cruise along the fjord. We sailed close enough to one of the waterfalls to feel the spray, and we even got to watch The Amazing Goat Rescue -- on one of the tiny coves, there are three goats. It's just a tiny triangle of land surrounded by steep cliffs, but three goats graze there near a small waterfall and they have been there for quite a while, i guess. Except today, they only saw two goats. A bit of searching revealed that one of the goats was way up in the rocks and had apparently become stuck in a narrow crevasse. The captain stopped the ferry, backed us up, and two of the crew went down in the rubber boat to land on the steep scree, clamber up to where the goat was stuck and pull her out. They don'tknow how long she'd been there -- probably at least since yesterday -- and the two men had to pretty much carry her back to the lower part of the little outcropping and get her into the grass. They said she didn't appear seriously injuried, and by the time they managed to get the boat back onto the ferry, the goat was at least eating the grass around her and appeared to be moving.

They had a bit of trouble with the dinghy -- Mark thinks they'lll be doing some emergency procedure drills in the future.

But, goat safely retrieved, we continued on. The ferry goes all the way to Stavanger, but it does make one last call in Lauvik, which is a bit closer to where we are spending the night, so we got off the ferry there and drove to our hotel for the night, Byrkjedelstunet. Our room i very comfortable, which a huge bed (with a single mattress, so I don't fall into the middle!) and we're in a set of buildings that have sod roofs, a pretty common sight around here. It's kind of weird to see grass growing on the roof, but it's used all over. It must work, or I assume they wouldn't do it any more, right?

After dinner, we drove back up the tiny twisty road to view the Gloppelsdura Glacier Scree -- a huge 100m thick clump of giant boulders that were knocked loose and pushed around by the glaciers about 10,000 years ago. They are impressively large, and Mark even climbed out intot he field so i could take a picture with some sort of idea of scale. otherwise, they could be tiny rocks by the side of the road, instead of giant boulders the size of busses. Or larger. We didn't know how deep the pile of boulders was, but apparently some of the holes we saw are really deep.
Tomorrow? Off to Stavanger and the search to do laundry, I think. Mark is really excited about the Oil Museum (and clean socks, I think).

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Across the water to Norway

We boarded the ferry today for the super-fast crossing from northern Jutland to southern Norway -- from Hirtshals to Kristiansand. It only takes about 2 1/2 hours with the catamaran, but oy, is that a big boat. At least a hundred cars and more than 50 motorcycles (probably more motorcycles -- there were droves of them!). Mark spent quite a bit of time out by the stern of the boat, watching the huge roostertail that the engines kicked up. I'm glad I don't get seasick -- it was a relatively smooth crossing, but the poor guy at a table across the way was sick from the moment he got on the boat, I think.

It's a public holiday in both Denmark and Norway today -- Ascension Day -- and most everything is closed. But we stopped by the Kristiansand Kannonmuseum, just in case, and they were open. It's a WWII german gun emplacement on the coast, controlling the narrow straight of the Skaggerak, so not quite my cup of tea, but Mark loved it. Poked around at the enormous gun (the largest land installation, it fires a 21cm shell) and the destroyed batteries for awhile. It was gloriously sunny, and the walk was nice.

There's a 2km long tunnel to a nearby island that we accidentally took (well, we drove through it twice, since we didn't intend to go to the tiny island). It goes under the fjord mouth. Yeah, my day is fabulous -- boats, which I hate, and then under the water in a tunnel. But we found our way and drove all the way south to the Lindesnes Fyr (Lighthouse) on the southernmost point of Norway. The weather was calm, so it wasn't as exciting as it apparently can get when the wind is up, but it's a lovely view.

I'm sure I'm going to say that about a thousand times per post -- it's a lovely view. Lovely! Gorgeous! Wish you were here! Beautiful-beautiful!

Seriously,though, this place is gorgeous. As we were driving on the very narrow and unmarked roads down to Lindesnes, we both commented on how it felt a lot like driving in Boulder -- rocks on either side of the road, curvy, twisty, hairpin turns, trees everywhere. Just here, there is water. Lots and lots of water. And views out over the ocean past the rocky coastline that nearly made us crash three or four times because we were gawking like idiots.

And in the first ten minutes we were in Norway, we reached a higher altitude than we've been in the last two weeks. Seriously, Denmark is f-l-a-t, with barely a rolling hill to block the view all the way to Germany; Sweden is more hilly, but the south is farmland and, predictably, flat. Norway? Up and down. We decided that the roads were obviously Scottish Roads.

Let me explain -- in Scotland, there seems to be a rule that the roads must be windy and curvy, or roll up and down, or both. It's consistent -- as if the crew got together before the job and the chief told them, "Ok, lads, we've got enough stuff here to build 200km of roads, but it's only 100km to Edinburgh. We've got to use ALL of the materials, or we won't get paid. Have at it!" For every kilometer the crow flies, there are 2km of road. It twists and doubles back, or loops out widely side to side, or it galumphs over the hills like a roller coaster ride. Or, in some really fun cases, it does both. The only stretches of road in Scotland that are straight are the ones that the Romans built.

Now, Ireland is nearly the exact opposite -- every single road connects two points directly. It's just that every single point is connected to every other single point directly -- it ends up looking like a deranged spider laid out the roads, since every single house is connected to all the neighbors by a path from door to door. No extraneous winding here, thankyouverymuch, no unnecessary detours. Just a web of roads that meet at odd angles and go everywhere. Ever been at an intersection with six or seven outlets? Irish Roads.

Norway has roads of the windey-up-and-down sort in spades. And these are the "good roads", our host this evening told us. We're in the south, in the valley town of Kvinesdal, and the south is where most of the people are, so the roads are wide, marked, and well maintained. I might argue with wide and marked, actually -- about half the roads we drove on today (on the way to perfectly normal tourist destinations, I might add) had no center line, and were barely wide enough for two cars to pass, and in some cases far narrower than that. Oh, there are two-lane divided highways, but they seem to change abruptly from a lovely wide boulevard to a roundabout and then to three little roads that hairpin their way into the woods.

It was a blast!

Our B&B for the night is a 1930s guesthouse that has been bought by the local church and run as a church meeting hall and still rents out rooms. It's a bit dated in terms of decorations, but the room is clean and large, and everyone is very friendly. We've got a really nice view out over the water (if you ignore the excavation for a garden right outside the window) through the two french doors.

We ended up at the only place open for food at 9pm-- a pizza place populated by every teenager in Kvinesdal, I think. Good pizza,though. Of course, it's now 11:08 and it's light enough outside that I could read a book. It doesn't get really dark until after midnight -- and the sunrise is officially at 4:30. We're getting used to sleeping in the half-light.

Tomorrow? Up and north to Lysbotn to take the ferry down the Lysefjord to Stavanger, and then backtracking a bit to admire the scenery. It's even supposed to be sunny!

We've got bees!

Apparently we have bees that have set up shop in our front yard -- enough so that Sandra (the woman who keeps our yard looking fabulous) called a beekeeper to handle them! I'm hoping they aren't all up under the porch.

Or if they are...they had better be paying rent. A bit of honey now and then would be nice. Assuming they are the honey-sort of bees and not the horrible house-eating sort of bees. Probably the latter. Oh, well.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Woke up this morning to crystal clear blue skies and a nearly perfect day. We don't have a ton planned today (well, yes, there are a lot of things on the list, but we aren't wedded to any of them). First up -- visit Ribe in the daylight and take some pictures of the absolutely charming town. We're about a 10minute walk from the town center, and we detoured a bit to see the island bastions that are all that remains of the "castle" at Ribe. Nothing much there, really, but earthworks and much later cannon batteries, but the little island site is raised up about 20' from the surrounding land,which makes it a veritable mountain in these parts.

From there, we walked through the town market (a few flower sellers and vegetable sellers, but mostly a car-boot sort of sale. Some interesting stuff, but we passed through and walked around the main part of town taking pictures. When they describe a town as "picturesque", this is the town I'll think of, I think. Huge cathedral in the middle of the town, a stolid brick affair in yellow and red brick; city hall, also of imposing red brick, and winding streets lined with houses and shops. I'll say it again, Ribe is adorable.

The houses mostly date from the 17th and 18th century -- some are actually labelled, which is neat-- and I'm sure there are others built on the foundations of older houses, but a fire in 1580 destroyed much of the town, so very little exists from before that. The town hall, though, was built in 1496 and the church dates from much earlier. There are a lot of half-timbered houses, and bole houses (which are also post-built houses, but with wood plank walls) in the town -- walk around any corner, on any curving street,and there are houses hugging the street, curving along with it, leaning companionably against each other or bulging just a bit into the road. Most houses are very well cared-for--a rule in Ribe is that anyone buying one of the old houses must actually live in it; no purchasing it for just a holiday home or a summer visit. Buy in Ribe, live in Ribe. It seems to keep everyone focused on maintaining the buildings, at least.

We crossed the three branches of the river (each with a dam) over to Ribe Vikingar, which is the museum associated with the viking history in the town. They are responsible for many of the excavations (including one which is ongoing right next to the church, which has discovered the oldest christian burial ground in Denmark and the foundations of 9th century buildings, along with a very rare find: a rune stone carved with a dragon head. Apparently that doesn't show up very often. it's an interesting museum, and the number of thigns they find every time they dig down a foot or two in someone's garden is astounding. A lot of cities here have "viking museums" , but not all of them can claim that most of the items were found in their very own town.

We walked back for quick look into the Ribe Cathedral, which is an interesting architectural hodge-podge that has been added to and upgraded since about 980. Parts are in red brick, parts in yellow, there's some stone work. Right now, the tower is entirely surrounded by scaffolding and they are repointing the brick and repairing the stonework. It's noisy business, and it means that we can't climb the tower to look out over the town. Hmph.

Lunch at Weis' Stue, a restaurant-with-rooms that is in one of the older buildings in Ribe. It, like many of the other old houses, isn't even remotely straight and square -- the second floor looks precariously attached, and falling gently over the front door, but there are four rooms upstairs to rent. I can only imagine that the floors slope just a bit.

We sat outside in the sunshine and chatted with a group of Welsh choir members while sharing a few beers and just basked in the lovely sun for a while before we packed up and headed out of Ribe to go north.

Mostly, we just randomly picked roads that headed N or NE and aimed in the general direction of Aalborg, where our B&B is tonight. We passed through Viborg, with its large cathedral, and stopped near Hybro to see the Viking round fort at Fyrkat and visit their viking village reconstruction. That was actually kind of fun; we arrived very late of course (stupid GPS!) and they let us in to walk around without charging admission, since they werei nthe process of packing up. We got to poke inside all the reconstructed buildings and wander around the farmstead for awhile before we took off up the hill to visit the fort itself. We're still trying to figure out just what the ring of post-holes around the inside edge of the earthworks was for (off to Google after this, I think) but it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and walking around the top of the huge turf-built ring was pretty cool. it's almost identical to the fort at Trelleborg, perhaps a bit smaller, but the details here are clearer and it's easier to see the organization of the longhouses in the center of the fort. Plus, the surrounding area is marshland and natural hills, as far as we can tell. I tried to figure out how they had the buildings aligned, while Mark walked on the walls, assessing the various attack options and pondering how easy/hard it would be to defend this fortified farm-stead. Typical. That's how all our visits to ancient forts and castles go.

Our B&B is near Aalborg, so we turned north once again and drove through the farmland, admiring the tidy farms and green fields as we barrelled along on roads that were weirdly reminiscent of roads in Ireland: just a bit wider than the car) and arrived at our B&B without incident (finally, the gps didn't lead us astray) by about 6:30. Back out the door again to find food, and we're back, ready to crash by nine. That's how most of the evenings go. We did go outside to admire the lovely view, but we've got to get up early and head to the ferry to Norway tomorrow. It's not until 11-ish, but mark is of the "better to be very early than a little late" crowd, so we need to head out of here to drive the last hour or so north and get checked in, etc. Checked the weather for southern Norway tomorrow,and it will likely be much like is has been here for two days (that is, warm and sunny!) but quite a abit windier. If the forecast holds, we might even get sunshine in Bergen while we are there! That would be nearly miraculous, this time of year. Nice, though.

Tomorrow? Ferry from Denmark to Norway, along the Viking Road on the southern coast to Kvinesdal and a few lighthouses along the way.