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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Guadeloupe - A sojourn away from US politics, and even from English speaking people

Another day in paradise.  Or, ho hum, another day in paradise, as my friend once used to say when she lived and worked as an attorney in American Samoa, years ago. We adopted the phrase and use it still, whenever we are in a tropical place. I wonder if she still uses it too.
We are in Guadeloupe, a group of islands in the Caribbean that are a part of France. Loring and I have said, for many years, that our ideal life would be half our time in the Caribbean, and half in Paris.  That was when I was newly back from Paris, when we first met, and he had spent a good deal of time on a tiny island in the Bahamas working as the island’s caretaker, for the wealthy owner who lived in New York and only infrequently visited his island.
More than forty years later, I still think that could be an ideal life.  So here in Guadaloupe, a combination of France and the Caribbean, seems a worthy substitute.

A number of years ago, we spent a couple of weeks on Martinique, also a department of France, with the kids and my mother. I loved it, with its beautiful views, ruins of a city destroyed by a volcano, kind of a mini Pompeii, and the food and culture. 
We have only been here a couple of days. Wonderful so far, and I hope and expect we will like it as much as Martinique.

We’ve chosen two places to stay, for about a week each. We are now at the Touloulou, directly on the beach on the island of Marie Galante. We arrived at the airport in Pointe a Pitre early Sunday evening, on a direct 4 ½ flight from Boston, on, of all things, Norwegian Airlines. It is a fairly new, low cost airline that has expanded to the Caribbean partly because its flights in Northern Europe are in less demand in the winter. They only fly twice weekly from Boston, on Sundays and Thursdays.
We’d hoped to catch a ferry to Marie Galante Island about an hour and a half after our flight landed. But that, of course, did not happen.  We’d kind of expected it not to work, so were not too disappointed that it didn’t’ We stayed the first night in Pointe a Pitre, not far from the ferry dock, and took the first ferry the next morning.
In the taxi from the airport, the driver indicated the slow traffic and said “Carnival.” My immediate assumption was that he was referring to a cruise ship from the Carnival line. But he was actually indicating that a Carnival parade was happening that very night. Once we arrived at our hotel, we could hear drumming from our balcony, and decided to go check things out. 

Amazingly, as we walked toward where we’d heard the drumming, we heard loud sounds that sounded to me like firecrackers. Loring, though, thought it was the loud sound of people slamming dominoes on the tables in the park. Neither of us was right. Crowds lined the streets, so we knew more was coming. In a matter of minutes, a procession of men, with painted faces, strode down the middle of the street, chanting something we couldn’t understand, and cracking bull whips with almost every step. That was the loud sound.  Other groups followed, some women, some men, some mixed, all chanting, all with painted faces and bodies. I felt like I’d walked into the middle of a movie set.
It was all fairly low key, though, compared to other Carnival events I’ve seen on tv.  Nothing like the elaborate costumes and floats from other parades. And all around were teens hanging out, families pushing baby carriages, a few but not many tourists.
I’d read that Carnival lasts from January into March in Guadeloupe, culminating in Mardi Gras in early March. I’d tried online to see where events would be happening in the vicinity of where we were staying during our time here, but hadn’t found much. And then, what luck to stumble into the middle of it upon our arrival.  I don’t know if we will come across more in the next two weeks, or if the Mardi Gras part is much more intense, as I imagine.  But I’m not really sorry that we missed that ferry.

Yesterday morning we arrived here at Touloulou. I’d looked at dozens of places, most house rentals and a few low key hotels, when I stumbled upon this place, right on the beach. Partly, it was the name that caught me attention. Then, to add to the lyrical quality, the website is touloulou@wanadoo. I sent a message and got a message a day or two later from Jose.  He’s the owner and chef. His name is actually pronounced with a soft French J rather than the Spanish. 

It’s basically a beach restaurant and bar, with five little cabins. Three are like ours, one room with a bathroom, a small porch overlooking the ocean, a fridge and a coffee machine. Quite enough for us. WE’ve been eating our French bread and cheese, and drinking rum and sodas, and going out for one meal a day. The other two cabins are a bit larger and have a kitchenette and can hold four or six people I think. But they are a lot more money, although a kitchenette would be nice. Our cabin is 80 euros a night, which is just about 80 dollars too.
We have a beach right outside the cabin, with lounge chairs and an incredible view. But the waves are rough and there are rocks between us and the water. To go into the sea, we need to walk past the restaurant and parking lot and down a few hundred yards to the sandy and calmer beach. It’s beautiful, and public, and there have been a number of other people on the beach, but it is still fairly quiet. Most of the beach goers seem to be French, and I am guessing most of them are from mainland France, but am not sure. I haven’t heard anyone speaking in English yet. But a man I was chatting with yesterday, first in French, turns out to be Norwegian, so we soon switched to English. He lives half the year here, the other half in Oslo. 

The water here is fairly calm and shallow, just the way I like it, and I had fun floating around listening to music on my underwater mp3 player, my favorite toy.  I use it at the Y at home, but not sure I’ve ever used  it in open water before.  And this afternoon I briefly put it on my snorkel, which I haven’t used  in years.  I’ve never felt really comfortable breathing through a snorkel, although when I took scuba lessons a number of years ago I was much more comfortable breathing with a tank.  So tomorrow I hope to use my music gear and try to snorkel some more, and maybe venture out further from the shore.
This aftearnoon we had lunch  in town at a place called the Sol Levant, which is a combination restaurant, bakery, grocery store, and hotel. It isn’t much of a town, just a few shops, a few little restaurants and cafes.  We’d ordered food there yesterday, at the advice of our Norwegian friend, who told us you needed to do that. When we arrived, they had our food packed up to go. Turns out most people get take out. There was a small parade of people parking outfront and picking up their takeout food. But they quickly set us up at a table, told us to get our drinks from the grocery store cooler. 

After lunch, we drove further along the coast and through some smaller roads. There’s lots of sugar cane growing, some ruins of stone windmills that were used in the sugar cane production. In one place there was the ruin of an old moulin with trees growing up inside of it, and behind it, a row of modern white windmills. A nice contrast.
Then, back home and back to the beach for some more frolicking in the water. And then, back to the lounge chairs in the sand in front of our cabin.

Wherever we go, I like to search out books to read that relate to where we are. I found a couple of novels that take place here. Loring and I have each read one, and now we have traded. One is by a Guadeloupian woman who also, interestingly, has written a novel about Tibuba, the supposed witch that taught the girls of Salem their witchcraft skills. That wasn’t available on kindle, but we will have to check it out when we get back.  The other is written by a man, Timothy  Williams, who I think is British, but obviously is very familiar with Guadeloupe. 

In addition to the books, while we were looking into Guadeloupe, we read about a British tv crime series that takes place in Deshaies, our second destination next week.  It’s called Death in Paradise, and is kind of a drama/comedy, with a murder each week, sort of reminiscent of Murder She Wrote, which featured Angela Lansbury as a crime solver who figured out a different murder each week in a small fictional town in Maine.
Death in Paradise is also a fictionalized setting called Sainte Marie, but is entirely filmed in Deshaises. So it will be very interesting to see the actual place. The house we are renting there is right on the water, in the town, and we can actually spot in in some of the episodes. And we think the restaurant bar where a lot of the action takes place is the place next door to our house!

But before we get there, much more to experience here.
Well, it’s all of 7;30 now, and I could be ready for bed.  WE are kind of hoping that we understood Jose wrong when he told us they have music at the bar here, starting at 11pm.  He kind of chuckled when he saw our reaction and said, why, is that late for you?  Yesterday, Monday, when we arrived, we found out that the restaurant and bar are closed on Mondays. So we don’t know quite what to expect tonight, but will update later

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Back to Oslo, Terje's apt, a few museums, the Opera House, a wonderful reunion with my friend Maryna, parting thoughts...

After a visit to the folklore museum in the morning, we hit the road, heading back to Oslo for our final stop and last two days. We had booked a second airbnb apartment for our second stay, giving us a chance to experience two different neighborhoods of the city.

We’d originally told Terje, our host, that we expected to be at his place around 1pm. As it turned out, though, his prior guest wasn’t leaving until 3pm. So he emailed that we could get in at 301!  And, we would have been there exactly on time, except for traffic as we approached the city, and then, googled mislead us, routing us to a dead-end with train tracks blocking our way. It took us another 10 minutes to figure out how to get around the tracks to the building.

And there was Terje, waiting for us at the door, and very friendly and welcoming. This was his own apartment, and he was just heading out on vacation, to Denmark.  We were actaully the first ones to have booked his place, although someone else subsequently booked the two days before us.
His apartment was great, with a beautiful balcony with good view and comfy chairs. And we were so lucky with the weather, there and on our entire trip. It rained some days, but only part of the day. I think we had much more sunshine than is typical. We were able to spend time on the balcony there, and outdoors in every place we visited.

 Terje was a collector, of a number of things. Although his style was a lot more sparse (Scandinavian?) than mine. He had mini figures of various kinds in different places in the apartment, and a collection of rubber duckies. He also had extensive collections of comic books, vinyl, and cds.  All meticulously arranged. I felt compelled to leave him a little gift, and found it in a toy store. I got Loring to spend about 20 minutes in because the Nobel Peace Museum, right down the street, wasn’t yet open for the day.

I bought him a windup jockey on horseback. Of course, I got myself one too, but mine was a cowboy. I left it on his turntable, where I hope he will find it soon, but not immediately upon his return.

Those windups came in handy later that day, when we met up with an old young friend of mine, Maryna, and her husband and daughter. More about that in a minute.

So we headed over to the Nobel Museum. To me, the most interesting part was before we went in. Outside was a large poster of Matt Damon as Bourne, quite a juxtaposition with the museum building. I’d seen a sign outside the museum asking folks to post pix to their fb page, which I think I will do.Not certain they'll appreciate the irony, tough.

The museum itself was a disappointment, sorry to say. There was an exhibit about a German man, a journalist and peace activist, who was imprisoned in 1934, to an international outcry. There had been a movement to have him awarded the prize, hopefully as a way to highlight his situation and force the Germans to release him. He contracted tb in prison, and died while supporters were trying to negotiate his release. That was fairly interesting, although the presentation was pretty dry.

The permanent part of the museum was of all the winners of the prize. But it was strangely done, with screens popping on and off, I guess to attract your attention, but forcing you to wait until the info about the person appeared. And they were in no particular order, forcing you to look for the ones you wanted to see. Perhaps that was an attempt to make it more interactive and interesting, but it was more frustrating than  anything else.

After the Nobel museum we went to another, the Ibsen house and museum. Again, the exhibits were very unineresting, and sparse.  One exhibit was about the connection between the Beatles and Ibsen, something I had not been aware of. Apparently, the Beatles double album had been named A Doll’s House, the name of one of Ibsen’s most famous plays. But another band used the name before the White album was released.   Yoko had been very fond of Ibsen’s work, and introduced John to it. Most interesting of all was the implication that John’s look with the granny glasses and sideburns, was a direct influence of Ibsen’s. That was the only interesting part of the very small museum.

Ibsen’s apartment, which he and his wife lived in for eleven years, and both died in, was very interesting, though, and well worth a visit. They both died in the early years of the 20th century, and from then until recently, the space had been used as offices. Their furnishings and possessions had all been disbursed.

In the early 2000’s a group was forced to restore the apartment to its appearance in Ibsen’s time. Amazinly, they were able to retrieve most of the furniture, and to recreate things fairly accurately from photographs. It was a large apartment, and we were able to see most of it, all except for the maid’s room. And the kitchen was not completely restored, was still being worked on, which only made it more interesting to me.

There were just the two of us, plus one other woman, and the guide. She had lots of interesting stories about Ibsen the man, and his peculiarities. Of most interest was the anecdote about how Susannah, his wife, had threatened to divorce him if he didn’t have his character Nora leave her husband in A Doll’s House. This made me wonder if perhaps Susannah had been author of aat least some of Ibsen’s work, a situation not unusual in famous male writers' life stories. And what a irony, since the story is entirely about a woman’s quest for autonomy.

We’d arranged to meet up yesterday afternoon with my friend Maryna, from Czernowitz, and her husband and daughter. I’d met her eight years ago, in Ukraine, on my trip working to clear the old and overgrown cemetery there.  For those to whom I’ve not yet told the story – I signed up for a project to work in this cemetery knowing that my family had some connection to the city, but that was all I knew. As it turned out, when I started to look into the family history, just a couple of weeks before the trip, I found out that it was the city in which y grandmother, and my mother’s sister Clara, had grown up. My grandparents had left there in 1914, leaving my infant aunt behind with my great grandparents, planning to arrange for her to be sent to the US once they were established there. But WW I broke out, and it was not until 15 years later that she came to the US. By then, my grandparents had four more children, my mother and her three brothers. Clara of course had never met them, nor would she have remembered her parents. My mother had a clear memory of meeting her sister for the first time, a strange girl in old fashioned clothes who didn’t speak English.
Most amazing of all, my great grandparents were buried in the very cemetery that I was going to work to start clearing.

Maryna, who I saw for the first time in eight years yesterday in Oslo, was a local Czernowitz girl who heard about our project on the news. It was unusual for a group of foreign volunteers to be doing anything there, I’m sure, and the Jewish cemetery?!

She came to join our group. Several other local folks did, too, for a day or two,  but Maryna was athe only one who joined the group for the duration of our stay. She didn’t speak any English, the common language of the group, but that didn’t stop her from communicating with any of us. Several people in the group spoke Russian, which all Ukrainians do in additional to their own language, and helped to translate.

I had tried to find my g grandparents’ graves on one of the early days of the project. A Canadian group had previously taken photos of many of the graves a few years earlier, and I’d been able to obtain the ones of my relatives’ graves. But it was terribly overgrown and I got lost and entangled in stinging nettles and had an allergic reaction. And I’d decided I’d had enough, that I wouldn’t try any further.
But, on the second to last day of the project, one of the volunteers, Pedro, asked if I wasn’t going to try to locate the graves. I explained what had happened when I did, and also said that it wasn’t the reason for a the project, and I didn’t feel it was right to take other members of the group away from our project. That didn’t stop Pedro and four or five of the other volunteers, including Maryna, from immediately forming a posse to find my great grandparent’s graves.

So off into the bushes and brambles we all went.  I stopped at a certain place, not eager to break out in hives again, which had lasted, excruciatingly, for several days.  The rest of them plowed on, and within less than five minutes, a call went up that they had located them.

We were all gratified, and Pedro tried to translate what was written on the stones in German. Maryna, through Pedro, had a question for me. Would it be okay with me if she came periodically to maintain the gravestones? Okay with me? Are you kidding? I will never forget that question, and how touched I was.

So here we were, eight years later, looking for one another in the bizarre sculpture garden designed by Vigeland, in Oslo, then reminiscing as we wandered among the odd statues and the hordes of tourists posing with them.

In the meantime, Maryna has travelled quite a bit, worked as an au pair in Oslo, gotten married and become a mother, become proficient in Norwegian and English, and is going to go back to school. In Norwegian.

It’s amazing how you can  reunite  with someone you’ve only known briefly, and quite a while ago, and pick up as if you’ve known each other all along.
 She’s not the only one of our group with whom I’ve stayed in touch, or even the only one of seen again. I’ve met up with Sophie again, in Paris. She recently joined the UN group of peacekeepers in Mali. I hope she stays save.

And I recently saw Clare, in Boston. She’s from Australia, wound up studying Yiddish there, and now works for a Yiddish organization. She’s worked for the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts, and has a friend who’s a student at Vassar, and who knows my nephew Aaron.

And there’s several others with whom I am still in touch, and hope to see again at some point, from this project and from my other ones.

Well, after that digression, back to Oslo. We are on the plane now, heading home, about 4 more hours to go. This morning we walked through town to the Oslo Opera House and ballet. WE’d seen if from a distance before. It’s an impressive building, and one that the locals seem quite proud of. Although yesterday Sven and Maryna told us they’ve been having financial problems, it was quite an expensive project, and there’s been some contentious feelings about how much was spent.

We’d heard that the view from the roof of the building is spectacular, and it indeed is. Again, like at the Vigeland Park yesterday, there were hordes of tourists. Everywhere, from every angle, people taking pictures. Us unabashedly among them. You have the view of the harbor and fjord, the coast and traditional buildings of the city, massive amounts of construction, cranes everywhere. In recent years they have transformed what was old docks and warehouses to parks and buildings. There’s no question that in another five years the landscape will look completely different, as it no doubt does now from several years ago.

One of the newest districts is a business district called Barcode. When I first read about it I didn’t understand and thought it was something to do with bars. In fact the name derives from the idea that the lineup of buildings, each with its own distinctive architecture, resembles a barcode! 

We must have spent an hour up on the roof, or rather on the various facets of the roof, because it is all about angles and slopes and triangles. From one perspective I was reminded, by all the people clustered there, of people summiting a mountain. In their colorful clothes against the white slopes.
In the water just off the building is a glass sculpture that resembles an iceberg, and beyond it, a large white cruise ship docked, with another yet behind.

Parts of the building are marble slopes and walls, other areas are glass, others are textured concrete, to provide footing and keep folks from sliding. There aren’t many steps, but rather  ramps of jutting triangles in the floor surface.
From inside the building, the ceiling is what we were walking upon heading up the slopes of the roof. And we could see people peering down into the building through the glass surfaces, as others had no doubt seen us doing earlier.

Near the top, a seagull perched at a corner of the wall. It didn’t move as Loring got closer and took more photos. In fact, it was clearly posing. As we moved away, we saw others move in to take pictures as the bird remained. Surely it had once been tempted and training by people feeding it, but it no longer seemed to need that motivation. What was encouraging it to stay there and pose? The attention?

In the gift shop – lots of music and dance related stuff of course. Including batter stirrers with a musical score. Just as in the Munch museum with the Scream image. What is this about batter stirrers? A trend I have not yet noticed at museum stores in the US.

In a bin were a pile of well used pink ballet slippers, with a sign saying something like souvenirs,, not for use. 

I was tempted, I admit.

I peered around corners inside the building, hoping to find a view into the theatre itself, but no luck. I heard music, investigated, and discovered a film about a dance production of Swan Lake that had been created and performed there in 2014.  It was called “A Swan Lake” rather than just Swan Lake, and was clearly a different take on the ballet. 

  The film showed the performers building up to the premiere, rehearsing and talking about the work. Most impressive was a scene where they danced it a shallow pool of water on the stage, sliding, splashing, playing with the water.  We had come in after the film begun, so not sure what we missed. A different film aired afterwards.. But I’m sure that if I find out about another performance of the work, or even a filmed version, I will try my hardest to see it.
I also though,t having seen them perform in Boston recently, that the building would be an incredible space on which for Bandaloop to perform. They are an aerial dance group that dance on buildings. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if either the Oslo Ballet or Bandaloop have had this thought already. And oddly, in the Norwegian Airlines magazine here on the plane, there is a brief article about Bandaloop.

We walked back through the city to our apartment, stopping along the way for a snack/lunch in an old brick building that had formerly been a firehouse. Perfect last event to top off our stay. I had been mentally bemoaning the fact thatit seemed there were only pizza, hamburger, sushi, and kebab places along the way, when suddenly this placeappeared before us. They had shrimp sandwiches on baguettes ( the shrimp seem especially delicious here) and pastries and a delicious iced mocha. Loring thought it was too sweet. I said that was because he was thinking of it as coffee. He tried it again and decided it was much better than he’d previously thought. It is all a matter of perspective.
That is one of things I like best about travelling – the different perspectives it gives you, and how that changes you.

And now, a few last food related thoughts. We’ve read that pizza is the Norwegian national food, and it seems to be true. Apparently, next to the US, Norwegians are the largest pizza consumers per capita. And then there’s a brand of frozen pizza called Grandiosa that is supposedly a phenomenon on its own.  Something like the same with coffee.  This isn’t related to food, but I think they’re up top the scale on happiness too. Or maybe that is food related.

They have four meals a day. There is breakfast, lunch, midday, and then dinner. Dinner is light, sandwiches and such, and I think so is lunch. Midday is the big meal. It is actually at about 5pm.  I guess that is midday here, at least in the summer.

Pizza may be the “national” food, but my impression is that sushi is creeping right up there. It sure seems like there are more sushi restaurants than in the Boston area. Many of them are takeout.
Salmon, which is called laks, is prominent and not expensive. Shrimp, large and tiny, are popular too. We enjoyed the meals we ate out, but enjoyed the ones we cooked in our various airbnb accomodations just as much. Nothing better than a beer and some good bread and cheese, or salmon and potatoes, especially when paired with a view from a balcony or porch of a city or a fjord.  ( I surprise myself by thinking,pand saying, that about beer. It seems l I’ve come to a new appreciation of beer lately, either by circumstance or discovering better beers. Or maybe it’s just a matter of perspective.

So now we bid farewell to….I feel like I should let Loring end things here, as he begun this saga, with a few poetic words. But as he seems to be asleep at the moment, I’ll let it wait. 

A spectacular drive through the mountains and Jotenheim Park, the town of Fagernes, and the open air museum.

We left the hotel for a several hour long, stunning drive through the mountains. The road was narrow, and if a car approached from the other direction, one had to back up to the nearest pullout. There were incredible waterfalls all along the way. Loring’s photos and video from his hike the day before were amazing, but I have to say I think the views from the drive were almost as impressive.
We kept exclaiming at waterfall after waterfall, falling from enormous heights, and counting how many we could see at each wonderful vista. After a while, we stopped exclaiming, not because it stopped being amazing, but because it was constant!

The night after we left the Elveseter,  before we returned to Oslo, was our one unbooked night. We'd assumed there would be plenty of opportunities along the way, cabins if not hotels. We passed the Turtura, where we’d originally booked because the Elvester had been full. And when we eventually saw the turtura we knew we’d made the right choice in going for the Elvester.  

For one thing, as we came around the bend before the hotel, the hillside was covered with orange tents.  And the hotel itself was very modern, more like a ski lodge, which I guess it is, in winter. It was one of the original hotels in the area, but had burned down some years ago and was rebuilt in modern style.  And it was mobbed. There was a canopy and some people with a speaker system. I It appeared there was some kind of race going on, although we never did see any sign of the racers. I am guessing it was a bicycle race.  We didn’t stop to see the inside of the hotel,  It may well have a charm of its own. But I don’t think anything could compare to the ambiance of the Elveseter.

We drove the four or so hours we’d planned to without seeing much in the way of accommodations. Finally, in one town about 20 kilometers short Fagernes, we saw a sign for a bed and breakfast. I went in, and called out several times, but no one appeared.  A sign on the counter said that check in began at 4pm, and it was about 315. So we drove on, into Fagernes, thinking if we found nothing there we could always go back the 20k. 

There were two hotels in Fagernes..The fancier one, the Thon,  was, to our surprise, full. The clerk suggested the other hotel or “the camping”. The campgrounds usually consist of dozens, maybe hundreds, of RVs and some cabins.  We went to the hotel, which looked like it had once  been fashionable but had, as they say, seen better days.  The room was clean, but tiny and without much charm, and had two single beds. The bathroom and shower were in the hall and shared. Not my first choice, but we didn’t really want to backtrack, especially since we didn’t even know if the b and b had rooms available. And it was just for one night. So we took it.

We’d seen, on the way into town, a sign for a folklore museum, one of those open air museums that consist of a number of relocated old buildings. We walked over to it, at the edge of the town, only to find that it had already closed for the day, at 4pm. But, it was open the next day at 10am.

The campground abutted the museum. It  was kind of amusing to see the sea of campers adjacent to the  reconstructed old village.  We stopped to ask e if they had any cabins,  as we'd not yet payed for the hotel. They had only one cabin left, and said it was quite cozy and charming, and had room for four, plus a fireplace. Again, the bathrooms were outside, but adjacent to the cabin. So we took a look.  Loring had to duck down, because the headroom in the doorway was probably only about five and a half feet. And it was, indeed, cozy and charming. It had four bunk beds that looked like the bunks on a small navy ship. I couldn’t imagine Loring even fitting in one, much less spending the night in it.

So, as you might have guessed, we stayed at the hotel. And it was fine. Although I never figured out what the curtain that went halfway around one of the beds was for. It was reminiscent of the curtains that separate the beds in a hospital room. Privacy? 

Breakfast was included, and it was surprisingly good. Not quite as good as the two previous hotels, but plenty good. And, to my surprise, there was a large salmon fillet as part of the buffet. Seems to be plentiful in these parts.

The next day we visited the museum, which had  a few indoor exhibits, a permanent collection of costumes from the various regions, as well as a doll collection all made by one woman. Although as orders for her dolls increased, she had taken on several assistants to help create the embroidery on all the traditional garments, and one silversmith who made all the dolls jewelry. Jewelry was worn by both men and women, silver filigree brooches, necklaces, and more. The other exhibit was about a Norwegian  wooden stringed instrument called a langeleik.  What caught my attention were a couple of small marionette type puppets, with strings attached, that the musician would wear around a finger while playing, making the puppet dance. Later, we heard a young local woman play the instrument while a young man, both in traditional costumes, danced. 

After our visit to the folklore museum in  we hit the road, heading back to Oslo for our final stop and last two days.  

The wonderful Elvester Hotel

Several days later, at the wonderful Elvester Hotel in the mountains in the Jotenhiemer National Park.
How nice to lose track of the days and not be worried about it. (as long as we remember to get back to Oslo, and our next and last reserved stay, and then to the airport at the right time.

We chose our stays beforehand, except for one day, tomorrow night, which we have still not planned, and will stay somewhere between here and Oslo.

I’d originally chosen this hotel, the Elveseter, where we are now, because of both location and description, but then was disappointed to find out they were fully booked. So I asked if we could be put on a waiting list, not expecting much, and booked another place, also old, but which sounded more like a base camp for hikers and skiers, without the charm of this place. Happily, a couple of days before we left home, they came thru with a cancellation, and I couldn’t be happier.  Of course, the other place may be wonderful too, but we’ll never know.

The Elveseter was a farm for many centuries, and in the later centuries, the family began to take in guests. In a way, not so different from the farm on the fjord where we’d stayed the previous two nights, but on a much grander scale. The same family has owned it for “just “ the past six generations. When the woman at the desk was telling us about the history, she began to say it had been since the seven… and I thought she was going to say the 70s, ie 1970’s. But what she was actually saying was from the 1700’s!

There are 100 rooms here, and many of them, at least last night, were filled by the occupants of three large tourist busses.  There were dinner seatings at 7 pm and 8:30, and although I’d originally booked the earlier one, when the desk person suggested it might be quieter at the later, we switched. And were glad that we did. At 830 we were one of only five tables.

It was a set meal. The first course was a delicious tomato soup.brought to us in a tureen for us to serve ourselves.  I detected but couldn’t identify something else in the soup, perhaps peas?  I was reminded of the mashed peas in Oslo that looked and tasted like an extremely thick split pea soup. And also of one of my mother’s few recipes, which I now wonder where she got, which consisted of a can of Campbell’s tomato and a can of split pea, which I always liked and had made several times years ago. 

I asked the waiter, a cute young man who reminded me of Michael Cera, if he knew what was in the soup beside the tomatoes, and he said, he knew there was something else, but he didn’t know what it was.  He didn’t offer to find out, and I didn’t ask. But I think I’m going to try a homemade tomato soup with a bit of pureed peas, at home, and see what I come up with.

The rest of dinner was some kind of beef, like a well-cooked roast beef, in a gravy, with potatoes, and something that tasted like pureed parsnips, but pink, and some chunks of eggplant. Kind of an unexpected combination. Quite good. And, for dessert, a delicious flan. 

This morning, there was a breakfast buffet, and the place was bustling with all the departing tour busses and the other guests, mostly families. I heard a little British English, and another bit when some Scandinavian looking and sounding family used English to communicate with the waiter.  No Americans that I noticed.
The breakfast was quite a spread, scrambled, hardboiled and fried eggs, all kinds of meats, fish, and cheeses, jams and yogurt and granola, and watermelon.  Not quite as wonderful as the one at the Broneset Hotel in Alesund, but wonderful enough.

There was something that looked sort of like peanut butter, but in a block from which people were slicing thin pieces. It was near the jams, and I assumed it was peanut butter, but now I’m not sure. When I tasted it, it had more of a cheese flavor. I made a sandwich with it and jam for lunch, and just now ate it before I began writing, and am still not sure!

Today I am spending at the hotel while Loring has gone for a hike, probably a longer one than he did at the farm. Which is fine with me. I’m quite content sitting here reading, and writing, and basking in the sun.  There are a few guests around, and a few new ones arriving, and I am guessing that we will have another few busloads arriving later today.

It is warm enough that I am down to my last layer, a short sleeved blouse, having shed my two warmer layers earlier.

This place is beautiful, as were the other places we have been and driven through. Yesterday’s drive here provided scenic views after view interspersed with tunnel after tunnel some of the as long as 4 or 5 kilometers. And then the light at the end of each tunnel revealing each stunning view.  

WE spent two wonderful days at the hotel Elvester, with half board. There is room after room of public space, several with fireplaces, all replete with antiques and art.  I managed to spend at least a little time in most of them over the course of the two days. One, though, was my favorite, with several sofas by the window, overlooking a brook.

The day that Loring went for his several hour hike, I read and wrote. When he returned it was still early afternoon. And the days are long here at this time of year. The sun doesn’t set until 830 or 9pm, it doesn’t get dark until after 10 and never gets completely dark. The sky starts lightening again about 2 am.

The town of Lom, when we first came upon it on our way to the hotel, was a startling sight. After hours of pristine vistas it suddenly burst upon us, hillsides covered with cabins and hotels, and the center filled with shops and restaurants and people.  Loring described it as North Conway on steroids. It wasn’t, really, but did in fact seem like a smaller North Conway.  

When we returned, the following day, after Loring's mornng hike, Lom didn’t seem quite as startling. But it had certainly been jarring, coming suddenly upon it after so much quiet countryside.

There was a small geological museum there, which consisted of several rooms of gemstones from various parts of the world, and, of course, a gift shop. The shop had lots of stones from around the world, and a good number from Norway, especially the local area. They were mostly polished cabachons and pendants set in silver.  I purchased several small cabachons. Hopefully I have the cards to tell me what the stones are. They are mostly of a pinkish color, nice although I would have preferred the raw unpolished stones.

At the hotel we had half board, breakfast and dinner, and made sandwiches for lunch. The breakfast was a buffet, traditional Norwegian, with an assortment of breads, cheeses, meats, eggs, pickled fish, salmon, some fruit. It seemed like everyone, at least the folks we could see at the tables around us, made and packed up sandwiches. At the counter were large sheets of paper to wrap them in, as well as small sandwich size papers to separate the sandwiches, and brown paper bags to package them all up in. There was a sign that said to pay for the bags (not the food) at the reception.  We didn’t, and I wonder if anyone did.

Norwegians are fond of open face sandwiches, and I think the small papers were meant to separate each open layer, not each double bread sandwich, as we did. Either way, it worked. 
I did finally find out that the brown stuff I’d thought was peanut butter was actually a cheese, what they call brown cheese.  It did taste pretty good with jam, anyway. Now I wish I’d had the chance to taste more, knowing what it actually was.

The suppers were a set meal each night. The first night it was the meat I’ve previously described. The second night it was baked fish over sauteed spinach, and buttery mashed potatoes with tiny dark lentils. Delicious. And crème brulee for dessert.

The food was on the expensive side, as we’d expected. But not as expensive as we’d expected. The drinks were definitely expensive, about $10 a drink, including beer. ( on the contrary, a six pack in the grocery store was amazingly cheap, about $3.)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

First adventures in Norway - of fjords and more

Norway  is a land of many things. It has big mountains, elves, fjords, and some trees . (I did not actually write this sentence, Loring did as a test. But since he is so eloquent, I’ve let it stay.)

Here I am in a mountain cabin, up the hill from the house where we stayed last night, and will stay again tonite. We are five days into our trip. The first two nights we spent in Oslo in a wonderful apartment, and we will spend the last two nights back in the city, but in a different place.

We flew early our third morning to Alesund, a picturesque town on the coast, an hour’s flight from Oslo, and spend a night there in the hotel Bronuset. Rented a car there, and drove to where we are staying now. Only about 25 kilometers from Alesund, but a drive then a ferry then a drive along the coast on a one lane road. That’s one lane, not one lane in each direction. It was a perfectly good paved road, with small pullouts along the way for when a car was coming in the other direction.

The Oslo apartment, which we found on airbnb, was in a neighborhood described as Oslo’s Greenish Village. Don’t know about that, it wasn’t over trendy or chic, which was fine, or bustling with night time activity, which was also fine. We had a lovely space and a small balcony with a nice neighborhood view.

In our two days, we walked a lot, and visited the Botanical Gardens and the adjacent Munch museum. (that’s pronounced “Munk”, for the uninitiated, which I was until then.)  It houses the most of his paintings anywhere, which makes sense since he was Osloian(made that up). But only a portion were on view, since there was an exhibit that paired his work with Jasper Johns’. Johns was apparently quite enamored of Munch, and made many works inspired by Munk’s, many of which wouldn’t have been apparent without the accompanying texts. 

One which was especially compelling was a self portrait of Munch, titled self portrait between the clock and the bed. It had almost a van Gogh feeling to it. Lots of blues and yellows.  Next to it was Munch’s actual bed, depicted in the painting, which explained all the merchandise in the gift shop with the same, rust and black pattern.  And then on the other side of the bed, the Jasper Johns work, which I think may have had the same title as Munch’s, which was basically a lot of cross hatch patterning, which the curator’s notes explained that Munch had used and then Johns had explored, rather obsessively,  I would say.  He also spent years painting various versions of  a can full of paint brushes, also based on a Munch work that depicted the artist with a can of brushes. I could have done with more Munchs and less Johns’, but so it goes.

The gift shop also, of course, had much Munch merchandise featuring his famous Scream. A Scream batter stirrer?  But less than you’d find in an American museum.  I did consider the dishtowel, and the potholder, but resisted.

The Botanical Gardens, which we walked through for about an hour before heading to the museum, were lovely, gardens with beautiful scapes of flowers, and sculptures intermixed, a number of them made from woven willow branches, which bore so much resemblance to some similar sculptures now featured outdoors in Salem, Ma. That I was certain it was the same artist. But I was wrong.  This was a British artist, and the ones in Salem were by an American, neither of whose names I recall at the moment. I don’t know if one artist’s work is derivative of the other, or if branch sculptures are more common than I realized.
Also in the gardens was a hothouse depicting an Amazonian environment, with a number of those famous huge lily pads that you may have seen photographed with babies lying in them. The hothouse was constructed specifically to house the plants, sometime in the late 19th century.  There were also a number of other southern plants, including huge cacti of various kinds.  It was an interesting contrast to the northern environment surrounding us, and I can imagine the much greater contrast in the winter.

We walked next to the waterfront and fortress, and the nearby Contemporary Art Museum. The museum was in a former Bank of Norway building, and the contrast between the art and the guilded, terrazzo floored building made, again, for an interesting contrast.
Along the way we searched, seemingly endlessly, for a restaurant that I’d read about, that was inexpensive and featured typical Norwegian fare, unlike the many kebab, hamburger, sushi, places all over the city. Finally found it having circled it various times for close to an hour.

We had meatballs with potatoes and veggies, and reindeer meatballs with potatoes and mashed peas. I think I could detect a slight difference between the two kinds of meat, but not sure how I’d do in a ataste test.  I think the reindeer tasted a bit more like pork than beef.
When I say inexpensive, I mean inexpensive for Norway, which is not inexpensive to us Americans. That meal, with two beers, cost us about $50, as opposed to the probably double that it would have been in a fancier place.  But we don’t particularly like fancy restaurants, anyway, either at home or on vacation.

We had breakfasts at our apartment, yogurt and granola with raspberries. Yum.
One evening we went out for beers in a beer garden, very nice, outdoors with heaters, which we were just on the edge of needing. I have been getting into beer drinking lately, between here, Asheville NC where we visited recently, and home, where Loring and Max just finished working on the newly opened and highly anticipated Notch brewery, and we were invited to the “soft” opening.  Not sure if the difference is in the beer or in me, but I seem to have suddenly developed a taste for the stuff.

After a couple of days in Oslo, to which we’ll return for another two days at the end of our sojourn, we flew early the third morning to Alesund. We chose the town because of its description of being quite picturesque, and the architecture all in Art Nouveau stlye, due to a 1904 fire which necessitated most of the town being rebuilt.
Also, from Alesund it seemed a reasonable drive, over the course of five days, back to Oslo through a couple of National parks and some of the highest peaks in Europe. We’ve yet to find out if the drive is reasonable, but so far, things have gone great.
Yesterday, we arrived here easily after a short drive, then a 15 or 20 minute car ferry, then another short drive.  People visit Alesund from here as a day trip, but we’d decided to stay out in the country on a fjord and do Alesund separately first. I think we made the right choice.
The hotel in Alesund was described in Lonely Planet as one of the most charming in the country.  It was fine, and in a perfect location with a beautiful view, but not sure I’d go as far as the guidebook writer. It was built in what had been an old warehouse, and retained some of the original beams,  but not much more of the sense of the old building. And it was very dark, perhaps trendy but not all that appealing, at least not to me.

The room was classy but tiny.  So small that in order to get to one side of the bed you had to squeeze by the wall mounted tv, sideways. It did, however, have a wonderful shower which Loring declared the best hotel shower he’d ever encountered.  We each took two showers in the one night we stayed there, just to get our money’s worth.

The breakfast buffet was terrific. All kinds of meats and cheeses, as you’d expect, and delicious breads and flatbreads with seeds I’ve never seen before. And croissants and fresh fruit and eggs, fried and scrambled and hard boiled, and bacon.  And, my favorite, smoked fish, lox (laks) and another kind like whitefish, and herring in cream sauce.  And pickled veggies. I think we got our money’s worth there, too. No need for lunch that day, which was only yesterday although it seems longer ago.

We did a supermarket run on our way to here on the fjord, because we knew there was no place nearby to shop for food and we are spending two days here. So we loaded up on fresh fish, veggies, granola, chocolate and cookies, and beer. Last night cooked ourselves an excellent meal of some kind of fish that we didn’t recognize, reis, I think, will have to look it up. And tonite, more of the same, salmon this time, steamed in beer.  I’m not sure where I got the steamed in beer idea, or if I made it up, but it was good.
We’d asked our host, kjetl, if there was someplace that we could buy fish, but he said that usually people just caught their own.

So, now, I am sitting in a small cabin up in the hills, also owned by our host, which was about a mile’s hike up the fjord. I’m quite content here, with my tablet to write on, and a beautiful view, and my book by a Norwegian author if I get tired of writing.

And best of all, the sun has come out. I can hear the waterfalls rushing down the hill, and once in a awhile, the tinkling of the bells on the collars of the sheep.
Loring has continued hiking uphill, as far as he decides to go. The peak is about a three or four hour hike, roundtrip, and I can easily stay here that long, in this little cabin with its handmade furniture and woven textiles and amazing view.

Friday, August 14, 2015

From Midnight in Paris to some Sunny Afternoons in London: one long last post until my next adventure

In the airport lounge at Heathrow, heading home. We’re munching on the vestiges of our British snacks, meat pasties (that’s pah-sties, not pay-sties.) I remember one food chain in Boston used to serve them, I am thinking it was Au Bon Pain, although that doesn’t seem quite right.  But then they stopped serving them. They’re good, and I’ve just decided they bear a strong resemblance to knishes.

We had a very nice last half day in London, actually a very nice five days in all. Started off at the Tate Modern, a great modern art museum right on the Thames, in an old power plant or some such large industrial building. I’m wondering if it was in some way an inspiration to the guy who created Mass MOCA. It has some of the same capacity for large scale works, although they didn’t seem to be using it as such at present. The museum, and all, or most, of the London museums, are free, although they do ask for donations, suggesting about L4, or about $6, very reasonable. I wonder what percentage of visitors contributes. The museum seems to do quite well, they have had several times the anticipated yearly attendance, and are currently building an addition.

There is much construction all over the city.  The very friendly, chatty customs officer at the airport, and our cab driver into town, both told us how much London has changed in the last decade.
I don’t remember all this construction our last visit, which must have been at least a decade ago. The ovoid building people call the Gherkin is very impressive, especially in contrast to some of the old architecture around it. I wonder what the verdict is, if people generally like it or hate it.  I happen to like it, think it’s fun to come around a corner and get a glimpse of it. It looks rather like an alien spaceship just landed in the city. There are many more glass towers  with other unusual designs, and I get the sense that they are all competing to be the most innovative and daring in design. I saw a listing for some kind of exhibit or talk about the future of London architecture, and wish we’d had time to check it out.

We walked a lot, and took the bus a couple of times, and the tube once, in our five days. Loring strides quickly and I try to keep up, but get waylaid easily by an interesting building or store or plaque. It’s amazing that we didn’t lose each other during all of our walks.

I’d chosen an apartment in the Shoreditch area of East London, just a few blocks from the trendy Brick Lane. The street is bustling, and especially so this morning, on Sunday. Even at 10am there were throngs, and on our way back to the apartment, I mean flat, it was even more crowded. Brick Lane itself is a mix of vintage clothing stores, pastry shops or different ethnicities, and Indian curry restaurants. At each restaurant there are men trying to hustle your business.  In the neighborhood in general there is a mix of Muslim men, women, some in headscarves and some in burkhas with just their eyes showing, lots of children, and young white couples pushing baby strollers, or whatever they call them here. (prams?)

And graffiti, all up and down Brick Lane and most of the streets that came off of it. Some of it was good, some not so good. Iv'e seen a lot of street art in the last few months, in London and Paris, New York, Miami, and Havana.  I  must say I was most impressed by the graffiti I saw in Miami a couple of months ago. Not being nationalistic and hoping I don't sound like too much of a braggart. 
In medieval times, this was a Jewish area, from something I read on a tile wall produced by children from a nearby school documenting the history of the area. There was also a separate plaque, not part of the school project, that talked about Jack the Ripper and who he might actually have been. It did not say, however, if this was the area he stalked. Glad I was there in the bright sunshine, though.
Our flat was in a row of small buildings called the Victoria cottages. The Albert cottages were across the street.  They date from the 19th century.  

Our apartment had a bedroom, combined kitchen living room, a bathroom, and a small area with a desk in a kind of alcove. We were on the second floor, and the stairs leading up were quite steep and narrow, with a turn. Not a terrible problem, except that I am very leery of stairs and escalators, etc. since my recent mishap.  The windows overlooked a courtyard that the aribnb listing had described as a garden, one of the reasons I’d chosen that apartment.  To get to the garden you had to go downstairs, down three doors to a little alley where the trashcans are kept, then through another doorway into the garden. None of that would have been a big problem, but the garden wasn’t maintained, the chairs were covered in bird poop, and no one seemed to use it much aside from to hang laundry. But it did make for a nice view out the windows.

The bathroom was interesting. I’m always interested in bathrooms. The toilet and shower were the same space, with no separation for the shower. So when you showered, everything got wet, and then the floor was wet for a while too. And, I can’t say I’m a big fan of watching myself in the mirror while I am showering. Since returning, I’ve learned that it’s called a wet room.

In the five days we were there, we ate breakfast at home,  cooked dinner a couple of nights – frozen cottage pie, not bad at all, pasties the other night, and veggies. The difference between cottage and shepherd’s pies, I am told, is that the former is made with beef, the latter with lamb.
We were meeting my friend Kwan for Indian food one night, and so sought out pubs with traditional food for the other dinners. I now know what Scotch eggs are. One night I had what seemed a contemporary take, the other one that seemed more traditional. It’s basically an an egg baked into a sausage patty. My first version was made with pork and venison, and a duck’s egg. The other night was just regular sausage, and I assume a chicken egg. Both were good.

At the first pub there was a beer apparently brewed in the Bronx. We took a picture of me by the sign. But there was also a grapefruit flavored beer, and not being much of a beer person, tend to like the flavored ones, and am addicted to grapefruit. It was good, but one beer is about all I can handle, so I didn’t get to try the Bronx.

It seems that many pubs, all of which have beautiful signs and interiors, don’t serve food at all, are just bars. And I saw a couple that served Thai food, which seemed totally incongruous to me. But it all depends on the context, I suppose, and what you are accustomed to.

The several markets around  our area have a large number of stalls with clothing, jewelry, etc. and also a large number of food stalls. The variety is amazing, ranging from Japanese to Mexican (complete with very aesthetic display of yellow Old el Paso taco boxes, to Moroccan to Lithuanian.  As we approached, I noticed large numbers of people sitting on the curbs of the sidewalk. They were all eating food purchased in the market.

The quantity and size of vintage shops and stalls was amazing. I looked for a bit, then had to leave, feeling overstimulated and overwhelmed.  I’ve never seen anyplace in the US with this kind of quantity of vintage clothes.

During our five days, we met up with two old friends. One was Nicole, a Dutch woman who was one of the au pairs I supervised when she lived with a family on the North Shore a couple of decades ago.  She subsequently moved to London, married a Syrian man, converted to Islam. They lived in Syria for several years, then moved back to London.

 They have two young daughters,  who she brought with her. The plan was to meet at a fountain at Somerset House, a huge mansion that was once connected with the Britsh navy, and now is a cultural center. Nicole had never been there, and thought it would be a good outing for the kids, and it was. 

Only problem,  when Loring and I arrived, we couldn’t find the fountain. I went and asked a guard, who explained that it was in the courtyard, which we’d just walked across, but hadn’t yet been turned on for the day. So back out to the courtyard, and spotted a woman in a headscarf and two small girls, who’d seen us and were walking toward us. Just then, the fountain turned on, one of those splash fountains, and it covered most of the courtyard. The girls squealed and ran into the water.

Later, we went out to the large balcony that overlooked the Thames and had a nice snack bar, with beautiful French pastries.  We sat and talked while the girls blew bubbles and ran around in the sun, drying out their bodies and clothes. 

Nicole had planned to take the girls to the National Portrait Gallery, and we headed over with them. It seemed as good a plan for the day as any.  I have really liked that museum when I’ve been there before.

And there, an amazing thing occurred. There was an exhibit, a yearly competition for artists to submit portraits. I stood looking at one, unusual in that it showed a young man lying on the floor, back to the viewer,  not showing his face. I think of a portrait as a face, and this was interesting because it didn’t have one. I leaned it to read the information, and, lo and behold, the artist was from Massachusetts, and had just graduated from Gordon College, just a few miles from where we live.

But that’s not all!  Another woman viewing the picture looked at me and smiled. I smiled back, thinking we were sharing our mutual admiration of the painting. Then, a couple of minutes later, after I’d moved on, she came over to me in the gallery and asked if I was an art critic. I’d been writing down the artist’s name to look up later and maybe even contact. The woman who’d asked me, it turned out, was the artist’s art teacher at Gordon College, and a couple of years ago, she’d encouraged Rebecca, the artist, to enter this completion when they had visited London together with a group of students. So, an amazing double coincidence. One, that the artwork caught my eye, and two, that the teacher happened to be there at the exact moment I was viewing the painting. Added to the fact that the teacher and student had visited this very exhibit two years ago with a student group, and the teacher had encouraged Rebecca to enter the competititon.

Another day, we headed over to  two small museums we’d read about. First, the John Soane house. Soane was an architect and collector in the 17th and 18th centuries. He collected many things, but particularly Greek and Roman architectural elements, and they were arrayed all over the home, on every bit of wall space, on the floor, in nooks and crannies, many of which he’d designed himself. Loring said it was the first place he’d ever seen with more things on the walls than our house. A vast exaggeration, of course.  There were also many plans and illustrations of places Soane had designed, most of them monumental.  It turns out that Soane had students who came to the home to sketch many of the architectural artifacts. Although it’s hard to imagine too many students  being able to fit into the space at a time.

One room housed all paintings, one of which looked quite like a Canaletto , who painted both in Venice and in London. Those of you who are avid readers of this blog, if there are any of you, might remember my previous quest for Canelettos in Venice, only to find out that there were only a couple of them there. And then our subsequent weekend visit to DC because there was a big Canaletto exhibit. So to find here, in one of the lesser known London museums, actually two Canalettos, and for me to recognize one as his, was remarkable.

Next unusual museum, The Hunter Hospital museum, or something like that, was just across a small park from the Soane house.  It was a collection of medical specimens from the 19th century. It was fascinating but also kind of creepy. They were arranged in glass jars  on glass shelves on two floors. There were thousands of them, ranging from animal skeletons to human fetuses.  There was a section about ether, which mentioned Mass General, where the first anesthesized surgery was performed. And there was the examining table of, and information about Lister, who introduced anteseptics to surgery. And for whom, I assumed, Listerine was named.

Every day, we walked long distances,  between  6 and 10miles. You never know what you might stumble into. Interesting architecture and juxtapositions.  Really old buildings crammed between modern ones, some of them dating back to Elizabethan times. Yesterday we walked by a building that was part of Lloyds of London. It seemed it was just a branch bank, although perhaps it was more. There were tellers’windows, beautiful marble columns and artwork, and then also computer screens and ATM museums. The tellers seemed amused at our gawking, in a friendly way. On our way out there was a tv showing the news. It was Donald trump making one of his ridiculous statements. The guard and we chuckled and shook our heads together.

Just a few doors down was a very narrow little store, with a sign saying Twinings. It was the actual original Twinings tea store, and had been there at least a couple of centuries. They had all kinds of teas in tins, but also individual teabags from which  you could make your own selection , a minimum of 15, which of course I did, making sure to check each one for hibiscus, which has a very strong sweet taste that I don’t like, and which is an ingredient in many herbal teas. There were many more choices than are available at home, and I was pleased to see that there were quite a few without hibiscus!  Now I just hope I like them.

And then up, eventually, toward Covent Garden and the theatre district to the Harold Pinter Theatre, where we had matinee tickets for a musical about the Kinks called Sunny Afternoon. I had looked hard for a play that wasn’t a revival or a play that had originated on Broadway. This one had gotten good reviews and much of the story takes place in London.  I was able to get tickets in about the 5th row, in the orchestra, or rather the stalls, as they say here.

The play was terrific. I hope it makes it to Broadway. I didn’t really know that much about the Kinks, although I was familiar with most of the music they used in the play, which depicts their early years in the 60s and early 70’s. The play tells the story of the group’s early years, through the music.  It doesn’t feel like they forced the music onto the story, the songs work well to tell the tale. And since, as Ray Davies says at one point, the songs are about us, it makes sense, and that’s the whole point, I guess.  It just keeps moving, and is very well staged and choreographed. There’s a walkway up through the stalls, on which a lot of the action takes place, along with performers running up and down the aisles. I’m a sucker for a play that puts the actors out into the audience, I think it always adds an element of excitement and connection.

I was ready to wait for the actors by the stage door, but don’t think Loring thought I was serious. I used to do that regularly when I was in high school and went to Broadway matinees on my own.

After the play we met up with my old friend Kwan, whom I’d met perhaps a decade ago, on my volunteer trip to Transylvania, where we and a dozen or so others worked with kids from a social service agency for a couple of weeks.  I hadn’t seen him since, but we’d stayed in touch through facebook.

Kwan lives about two hours outside London, near Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, which he said is still (ie since Robin Hood’s time) a nice place.  He took the train in, and back home again, that same day. He has friends in London, and comes in periodically to visit.  What a treat to see him, and we were amazed that he spent four hours travelling back and forth, just to meet us for dinner. We had dinner in an Indian restaurant not far from the theatre.  Dinner was fine, but not better than Indian food I’ve had at home. Don’t know that I should expect it to be, but since London is replete with people of Indian heritage, and with Indian restaurants, I guess I’d expected more. The restaurant advertised itself as the oldest Punjabi restaurant in London, with four generations of the same family running it. I suppose that doesn’t necessarily mean better. Anyway, the main point was to visit with Kwan.

Kwan walked us over to Holborn station, where we took the tube for the first and only time. The second day there had been a one day tube strike, which didn’t really affect us. The busses still ran that day, and we did take one, although we’d thought they’d be terribly crowded, and I was in no mood to cram into public transportation after my previous mishap.  But they were not overwhelmingly crowded, although the streets were, with throngs of people walking home from work, and the ride was very slow.

That day, our friendly bus driver was very forthcoming about his disdain for the strike. The tube workers are unionized, the bus drivers are not, according to our bus driver, and the train workers also make about three times the salary of the bus drivers. And the work, as he said, doesn’t require the same level of skill as driving a double decker bus in narrow streets and traffic.  The tube workers are striking to prevent being put on different schedules as the new night service gets implemented.
Other London adventures -  on our last morning, before the West End show, we walked across the Millenium footbridge, near the Tate Modern, where we’d started out the first day, and then along the Thames. It seemed like everyone in London was doing the same. It was a nice sunny day, and I’d say it was a mix of Londoners and visitors.

We walked from the Tate up to the London Eye, the impressive Ferris wheel along the riverbank. Along the way, there were buskers, cafes, an art center, and a summer festival, which included a small artificial beach along the lines of the Paris Plage. We stopped to have our final meat pies at one of the many stalls and cafes.

Those busking included living statues, although the trend these days seems to be moving ones, so perhaps statues isn’t the right word, sand castle builders, (on the real sand at the edge of the Thames, not the artificial beach) and musicians.  There were signs with rules for the buskers, to relinquish the space after two hours if others were waiting to perform, to stay in the designated spots, etc.

  I mentioned toilets a while back, and that I had more to say on the subject. I’d read about some London tours called Loo tours, a tour of various public toilets in the city. It was started by an American woman who was frustrated by the lack of free public toilets, and wanted to share info about where you could find them. But she also got into the history of plumbing, which is very interesting.  So there was lots of info about the Romans, who did have plumbing systems, to the Middle Ages, when they dumped it out the windows, etc.  According to the website, she and her two employees do tours a few days a week, but there was also an audio tour. We weren’t available for one of the guided ones, weren’t even sure she still conducted them.  So we downloaded her tour yesterday, did a long walk before, and picked it up a few miles along. Some of it was interesting, especially the historical parts. But we ran out of time and interest partway in. I think it would have been much more rewarding as a live tour. It’s kind of hard to follow the directions, not because she didn’t do them well, but because we kept getting distracted by other things along the way, and also because we were trying to share one phone and pair of ear buds.

Our plane home didn’t leave until 6pm Sunday. We wanted to be there by no later than 4pm. And the ride in from the airport had taken 2 ½ hours through crammed city streets. We’d been told 2 hours by our airbnb host, and were incredulous about that, but it was an underestimate. So we knew we wanted to leave our flat by 1:30pm.

Our driver on the way in had given us his card, and said he’d give us “a good price” on the way back. Since we had no phone, we’d  borrowed Kwan’s at the restaurant the night before. Loring got the guy on the phone ok, but the next thing I heard, on Loring’s end, was “you’re leaving for Greece tomorrow morning?”  Which put us back at square A as far as a ride to the airport. We considered taking the tube after all, about which we were both hesitant given my recent debacle.  So we went walking, a last stroll through the neighborhood, which we’d planned to do anyway, hoping to find a cab we could schedule for later.

Out on Brick Lane we soon stumbled into a cab agency, with a bell to ring for an upstairs office. The man came down, clearly from his residence above, very friendly, and quoted us a price of less than ½ of what we’d paid on the way in. We didn’t hesitate, although I have a feeling we could have negotiated an even lower price.And chances were he wasn't licensed, but that's something we don't worry about much, having taken many unlicensed taxis in many countries.

So the rest of our last morning was a visit to Whitechapel  Gallery. We’d passed by it several times during our stay, but hadn’t had the right opportunity to visit until now. It was a great last event. There’d been some type of competition, and the works, all modern and in a variety of media, were on display. They ranged from video installations to sculpture to paintings. 

The trip to the airport took an hour, less than half the time as on the way in, although the driver had said an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half. That might have something to do with the much cheaper fare.  This was early Sunday afternoon, and the way in had been a weekday  afternoon.
The trip back was uneventful . That’s good, I’d had enough of eventful for a while.  Many exciting experiences, a near disaster mishap and then, another one, memories of sitting by the window or on the balcony, night after night, watching the Tower twinkle, and then, finally getting to share it with Loring. Lots of museums and monuments, and also many unexpected places and events stumbled upon. Seeing some old friends after a long time, three in all from three different places and times in my life.

And now here I am on my porch, finishing up this chapter of my travels. . I already read last Sunday’s Travel section. What’s next, who knows, but I’ve got a bunch of ideas.
I’ve got to watch Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris again(hate the man, loved the film) keep up my French, and figure out a way to get the Kinks’  “Sunny Afternoon” out of my head.

signing off, for now...

More music in the Jardins, Tombs of the famous, Monet's face in the lilies, Heminway's haunt, Polidor restaurant, and much more.

Loring arrived. His arrival as I imagined it did not happen.  He’d said his flight left Boston one and a half hours late. I had arrived, or almost arrived, at Rue Gay Lussac, after 11AM. I remember specifically, probably minutes before falling down the up escalator, worrying because I’d kept Pierre waiting over a half hour. Then again, shouldn’t he have known better than I how long it should take from the airport to the apartment? But, I digress.  Because of the above factors, I didn’t start looking from the balcony for Loring until 11 am. I was sitting just inside, at the window, and writing this blog, I believe.

I stood up to go to the bathroom, took a peek out from the balcony, and there he was, and had been waiting, for five or ten minutes already. I guess the pilot made up for lost time.
So what I’d envisioned for days, waiting at the balcony and seeing him emerge from the metro, never happened. Oh, well.

The first day, after a brief rest for Loring at the apartment, we set out on my potential planned itinerary for day one, the easy one, as I told him.  And we actually wound up doing everything I had tentatively planned. First, a walk through the Luxembourg Gardens, to Rue Fluerus, to pay tribute to Gertrude and Alice and entourage.   We’d heard music at the bandstand from the apartments, just as I had a week or two before,  and wound up listening to the group for a while before crossing the park. It was a Hungarian band, three brothers, a cousin, and one unrelated guy. I recognized one tune, something I had danced to in folk dances groups years before. Their website described them as reviving and playing traditional music that had been collected by Bela Bartok. But what they played sounded like a mix of traditional, jazz, and almost a klezmer sound. They were terrific. They had three tiny stringed instruments that we didn’t hear them play, but that I read were at the crux of their music.

We moved along, and across the gardens, to chez Gertrude.  Then back around the edge of the gardens to the Pantheon. It is a beautiful building with an impressive dome. The dome is currently under renovation, and is entirely covered with scaffolding, an impressive sight in itself. In all my many times in Paris, I had never before been there.  It  is right in my neighborhood,  and I  had walked by it, or at least seen the dome,  pretty much every day this trip. The Pantheon is famous for the many people whose tombs are in the crypt there, including Victor Hugo, Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, and many many others.  We spent some time in the main area of the Pantheon, and then headed down to the many corridors of the tombs. I recognized many names, some were people I knew of, many other names that I recognized from street names or metro stops.

We headed on, down the Boul Mich and across the Seine, passing by Notre Dame, and headed over to Paris Plage. I still find it quite whimsical, and love the fact that Parisians enjoy it so much.  Unfortunately, we got to the stage where they do tai chi in the mornings and have dancing at night, too late. I don’t understand why the music and dancing end at 8pm, when everything in Paris seems to go late, and it doesn’t get dark until after 10 pm.

Next day, we walked quite a bit and eventually headed over to the Arts and Metiers museum, which I thought that Loring would really appreciate, and where I’d tried to meet Matthew,  but where we’d somehow missed each other.  Loring did like it, to an extent, and I was happy to pay another visit, not having seen everything on the first time around. They have everything from models of old weaving machines to early flying machines to early tv sets to computers. But, as Loring pointed out, the tech displays, touch screens, etc. don’t seem very well designed, and don’t work well. Some of them don’t work at all. Ironic, to say the least, for a museum of technology. But I still like the old timey feel of the place, the beautiful wood and glass cases, highlighting the technology of the19th century when the museum was built, and of times before that.  And all the beautiful models, works of art themselves. 

I tried to be good and not schedule or suggest too many museums for Loring’s three days. Not the Louvre, nor the Orsay, nor many others, but did suggest the Pompidou and the Carnavalet (history of Paris) as well as the ones above.

I’d scouted around for restaurants that were authentic but not expensive. Neither of us likes stuffy gourmet restaurants, we both prefer little hole in the wall places.  There’s a plethora of sushi, Mexican,  you name it ethnic restaurants as well as the pretty decent food in the neighborhood cafes, where I’d had several meals.  I found one place listed as inexpensive that was not far from the apartment, and then walked right past it one day without having been looking for it.

So that seemed like the place,  atmospheric, old, not expensive, nearby. On Loring’s first day, we happened to walk by, and I pointed it out, saying we should go there our last evening. And we did. The name of the place is Polidor. It’s been there since 1845. I’d say little has changed in that time period. Most remarkable is the only toilet, a Turkish style. ceramic hole in the floor kind.

When I pointed out the restaurant to Loring, I noticed a photo of Woody Allen in the window. A a young American man standing outside the restaurant said to us, “Have you seen Midnight in Paris?”  And added, “this is where they filmed the scene where Owen Wilson meets Hemingway. He also told us that Hemingway had been a regular at the place, as well as other luminaries. I debated asking him if he’d paid homage  chez Gertrude and Alice, and now am sorry I didn’t mention it. Perhaps he already knew.

So I guess I can say I used the same toilet that Hemingway did. I think that might even be more exciting than seeing the bathroom at his house in Cuba, which I could only peer in at. It was beautiful, though,

The food at Polidor was perfect, just what I’d hoped, real old home style food. I’d planned on having the lamb, the special every Sat. and Sunday, but they were out of it. We’d come too late, said the waitress, who was also perfectly suited to the environment. So I had a turkey leg cooked with cabbage in a kind of stew, which was delicious. They somehow kept the skin crisp, I wish I knew how. It was too much to eat, so I asked her to package up the rest for me to take home. But she didn’t understand me, and tossed it. I was desolate. Next trip, I guess.

They had made a few concessions to modernity, although not with the toilet. There was a sign that said, No credit cards taken, since 1845. The modernity was not that they took credit cards, but that they had a modern funny sign, although they made it out to look old.

One day, as we walked along the Seine, Loring noticed a police boat rushing down the river. We leaned over the wall, between the booksellers’ stalls, to see. Within minutes another boat, this one filled with firefighters, pulled up. We watched for a bit, not seeing anyone in danger. Then we noticed, first a young woman in a bikini, then, a few minutes later, a young man also in a swimsuit,  at the edge of the water. The couple, and the officers, huddled there for five or ten minutes as we watched, trying to figure out what had occurred. Neither seemed terribly distressed, but they didn’t seem too happy either. As we were ready to continue on, officers brought over aluminum wraps for the two, the kind they give runners after a marathon. It seemed odd that after  ten or so minutes they were finally concerned about the couple being chilled.

 Our guess, finally, was that they had dove into the Seine, probably not allowed or a good idea, and then couldn’t  climb out. They also happened to be right at the stop for the tourist boat, which of course came along right then, although the tourists seemed only slightly interested.  We never did find out. I forgot to look at the paper the next day, just as I had forgotten to look for info on the demonstration I’d watched from my little balcony.
Later in the day were hot and tired after a lot of walking. We didn’t dive into the Seine, though.   We weren’t far from the Canal St. Martin, so headed there, thinking we’d find a shady spot to sit, But the shady side of the canal was already crammed with folks, and the sunny side was too hot, so we decided to move on.

 I thought of the Buttes Chaumont,  a park I’d been to once before when  I was with my mosaic group. So we headed there, our first and perhaps only time in the metro together. I hadn’t been using it much, unlike on other trips, and after mishap #2, when my hand got caught in the door, I wasn’t much fond of either metro cars or escalators.  But the Buttes are in one of the further out arrondissements, and at least I was tired of walking. We emerged on  one of the longest escalators  in the city. The Buttes were under extensive renovation, and were pretty crowded on this hot sunny day. We did find a shady spot, and both took naps. While lying half asleep, I heard an odd tinkling sound I couldn’t place. After a while looking, I realized it was vendors walking through the park, sellilng bottled drinks, and tapping their openers against the bottles. They did it in a restrained way, not when they were too near people, and not too loudly. The sound was in fact kind of pleasant. After seeing several, I realized that the men were not selling bottled water, as vendors do near all the big monuments and museums. They were selling bottles of wine and beer.  One more cultural difference.

We did go to another museum, the Orangerie in the Tuileries that is home to Monet’s expansive water lily panels, which the space was designed to hold.  They are definitely worth viewing every few years. Too bad my Museum pass was no longer valid, it was one of the places where the pass let you jump the line. Last time I was there I was on my own, and saw a very distinct image of Monet himself in one of the panels. I was curious to see if I’d have the same reaction now, several years later.  I sure did, as distinct as before.  I could envision  others too, but they required more imagination and were not as precise and didn’t look especially like Monet. I had previously convinced myself that this was Monet’s intentional doing, his little joke on viewers. But now I wasn’t quite as sure.

We went into the second room of paintings, and then returned through the first. I asked Loring to take my picture with Monet. Just as he did, another visitor gestured precisely outlining the place where I saw Monet’s face.   Loring is certain that the man saw the same image I see in the painting.  And just as I had convinced myself that I was the only one in on Monet’s little joke.  I have looked but never found any reference to Monet’s self portrait in the water lilies.

On the day we saw the rescued   stranded swimmers we walked through the Ile St. Louis, a beautiful little island in the Seine. I knew from various guidebooks that the supposed best ice cream in Paris, Berthillion, was there, but had never sampled it. Now it seems that every corner on the Ile, and other places too, serve Berthillon ice cream. I wonder if the original place still has the long lines that the guidebooks always described. So, even though it was still morning, it seemed that the time to sample Berthillon had come. We shared a two flavor cone, chocolate and mocha. It was good, but I have to say that the ice cream I had at Paris Plage was even better. Sorry Berthillon.

And that concludes the last stage of my Paris soujourn, three days with Loring to end the month. And we did watch the Tower sparkle, all three nights.         

Next, on to London…