Follow by Email

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Last days in Paradise (with a nod to Death in Paradise, the murder mystery series)

Two more days to go, and we have been enjoying every minute. Our days have settled into an easy rhythm m, as sojourns in tropical places tend to do. Wake up, read our books, (with Guadeloupan themes) and or the Boston Globe online on the porch, go out for a morning or an afternoon drive to another part of the island. There are a few touristy things to do here, and then a few more that we’ve decided probably aren't worth it.

The Botanical Gardens, just a few k’s up the road, are definitely worth a visit. The walk through the park takes about an hour, although it really isn’t very big, and twists back and forth within a small space. It is designed so that you are not aware, with the thick vegetation, that you are repeatedly doubling back on yourself. The trees and flowering plants are stunning. Most fun, for both kids and adults, all of whom were laughing gleefully, was the aviary containing the lorikeets, a kind of parrot, I believe. For a half euro, you could get a small amount of sugar liquid in a cup, and almost immediately, birds would alight on your arm, hand, and head. Everyone was shrieking in delight and taking photos. And the enclosure was large enough that the birds had ample space to fly. Unlike some of the larger parrots in smaller cages elsewhere in the park.

As I am writing this, the prelude to the inauguration is being live cast, and I have been toggling back and forth between the two, writing for a bit, watching the ceremonial events a bit. I’ve seen many of the dignitaries arrive, the Carters, the Bushes, the Clintons, Ruth Bader, now the Trump offspring.  I am beginning to feel sick, but not sure if it’s the events or the two chocolate croissants I downed a little earlier this morning,

The juxtaposition of the events on screen and my current reality are so jarring, surreal. Part of me doesn’t want to watch, part of me can’t stay away. Loring has no  desire to watch, and has gone off in our kayak for what he called his protest paddle.
When he comes back, probably an hour later, I am full into it, watching the processional, listening to the commentators, although they are hard to hear over the waves while I’m sitting here and writing on the porch. Perhaps not a bad thing.

I watch the speeches, the swearing in of the vp, by the loathsome Clarence Thomas, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and then finally the swearing in of the new president. It still seems so hard to believe, maybe because of the still difficult- to- absorb circumstances, maybe because of my current situation sitting on a porch overlooking the ocean in my sarong and my own current dreamlike reality.
I find Trump’s speech more reserved and somewhat statesmanlike than I expected. I want him to continue to be a buffoon, for people to laugh at him and him to react with his typical thin-skinned retorts.  So I am not happy that he appears almost normal and delivers his speech fairly well.

 Just as the speech ends and the commentators begin their immediate assessment, my tablet is out of juice and goes blank.  But not before I hear them, in agreement with each other, saying that Trump could have gone conciliatory but chose to go hostile, insulting all of the former presidents present. So much for my take on things.  I’ll be home in time on Sunday to read the pundits in the Sunday Glove.
We have one more day here, tomorrow, Saturday.

It’s now Saturday am, nearly 10 am.  We’ve already read the paper and had breakfast -fried eggs and a baguette between us.  I can’t think of anything much better than sitting on the porch overlooking the ocean with a fresh baguette from the bakery across the street.  That was probably our last baguette. We leave here early tomorrow, before dawn, to catch our 8am flight home. It’s about an hour’s drive to the airport.

Loring said he had two goals for today, a swim and getting gas so we have enough to get back to Pointe a Pitre.  I said I had two also, going swimming and finishing the baguette that we were in the process of eating. So have already accomplished one.

Actually have a couple more – one is to finish the book I’m reading, a murder mystery that takes place in Guadeloupe. The other is to try to remember enough about knitting to get started on the scarf I was planning to knit while here. It should be simple enough, since I picked the easiest pattern I could find. But nevertheless I am having trouble and keep ripping it out and starting again. I knew if I ever was going to get another knitting project going, it would be in a place like this. But even that may not be enough for me with my very limited knitting skills.

We have stopped at a number of different beaches along this part of the island on our daily driving excursions, and most have been beautiful.  Many were crowded with cars but didn’t feel crowded once you were on the beach. Most had one or several beach restaurants. One, Plage de la Perle, was supposedly where the lead character in Death in Paradise has his beachfront shack. I assume that is a set, not a real cabin. But many of the sites in the show are in actual places in town. And did I mention earlier that our landlord told us that in one of the episodes they broke down the door of our house?!

Most of the beaches have had waves too strong for me to want to dip more than my toes in. The best swimming, or rather floating, is right in front of our house. There is no beach, just some rocks to climb over, but the water is calm and clear, and I can float and listen to my music, and watch the little fishies swimming around me. And the bottom is sandy once you get over the first rocks.  Loring of course has gone out for long swims daily, and has found pieces of a shipwreck (modern, not old) and seen a very large turtle twice.

Yesterday we used one of the kayaks (there are two) for the first time. We went out past all the moored sailboats, and up to the point that marks one end of the harbor. We’ve had views all the time of sailors coming in their dinghies to the dock right by our house here, and trying to figure out what their sailing lives are like.

One day we drove to the Maison de Chocolat, a small museum/shop that demonstrates the process of extracting the cocoa seeds, drying them, them pulverizing them. We got to taste them at each part of the process, culminating in a tasting of very rich, but not overly sweet, hot chocolate. It was delicious. Even Loring, no hot chocolate fan, admitted he liked it. I would suggest visiting as long as your expectations aren’t overly high. The rum museums, of which there are several, we decided to forgo. We’ve been to a couple before, in Havana, no more than a tourist trap, and in Jamaica, which actually was pretty interesting.

Most of the towns we’ve been in, including here in Deshaies, and on the other island, Marie Galante, have been quite small. Deshaies is nearly the biggest one, with its dozen restaurants, couple of grocery stores, and half dozen tourist shops. We did, however, drive into one town, near the Cousteau  underwater  reserve, that was just packed. On the road into town, there were cars parked along the side a good ways out of the town, and people walking down the hill to the beach. Nowhere to stop in town at all. You’d have to drive around for a while, like looking for a spot Manhattan or Harvard Square. It was at  PLage Malendure, between Bouillion and Pointe Noire. We’re not sure what the reserve consists of, I guess a protected underwater area, and the source for a lot of diving and boat excursions.

The other side of Guadeloupe, Grande Terre, is the more developed and more touristed part, many resorts, etc. Not sure how much I’d like it, probably not much, but it would be interesting to see it if we were to return. 

Sainte Rose, though, to the north and around the top of the island, was more interesting and more of a town. Many of the shops seemed to cater more to locals than tourists. They were setting up a grandstand and a stage for some event, but no indication of what. (Update – after our return I watched  the video,  which had been broadcast on local tv, of a very large and long Carnival parade.)

In our own town, as we drove back, there were police blocking off our street, the main street of the town. We at first thought it was some kind of parade, perhaps Carnival related. Lots of men in suits and women in elegant white dresses, a few with umbrellas, or rather parasols,  for the sun. It reminded me a bit of Alvin Ailey’s famous ballet, Revelations.  Before long, we realized that it was actually a funeral.

We’ve tried to take some of the back roads outside of our and other towns, although most of them only lead to housing, and often don’t go through. Some of those areas have fancy villas, others more local housing, and some a mix of both.

I haven’t been able to find much in the way of local handicrafts. Even in the tourist shops it seems most of the merchandise is from elsewhere, tin wall decorations from Haiti, beach clothes from Sri Lanka, etc. We drove down one road where a sign had said Artisan Village. Only as we approached did I remember that artisan could mean workshops in the sense of carpentry shops, mechanics, etc.
I saw one sign on the main road that said Artiste in Bois, (wood) and we drove, higher, up into the hills, until we came to a small clearing with  a house and a couple of young guys leaning against a truck. I asked about the artiste, which didn’t seem to register, then said sculptor, and he nodded his head, right there. Just behind us, under and behind all kinds of vines and plants, was a mailbox with a small wooden bird on it, and beyond that, a faint view through the vines, of a house. We walked in, on a narrow boardwalk made of scavenged wood. There were a couple of rooms, both half open like many buildings here. And then a man, who seemed to fade half into his jungle -like surroundings, emerged. He wore beige camouflaged shorts, and most of the rest of his body was covered in tattoos that blended in with his clothing. His hair was in long grey matted dreadlocks that also appeared to blend in with his clothes and tattoos.  All around were sculptures of various sizes. Around the two rooms were a number of platforms at different levels, connected with more walkways of salvaged wood. Most of them looked close to caving in. One platform had a “bar” of a few bottles and glasses, and a table. Another had a table for eating, for he apparently also cooked for visitors. The highest platform had an impressive view of the countryside. I would have loved to have taken his picture, but didn’t want to offend him.  He told us he’d lived there for 35 years. We didn’t get his name or more info about when he cooked and how long in advance we would need to arrange a meal. We’d have to go early in the day, for it was not a road we’d want to navigate in the dark. And as today is our last day, doubtful we’ll make it. (Although we did discuss it.)  I’d sure like to find out more about him, and would try to look him up if we ever were to return here.

Sunday morning, on the way home. We woke before dawn today, drove  the 40 minutes to the airport, then spent about 15 minutes in the still dark early am  trying to find the right parking lot in which to leave the rental car.  Luckily we’d left more than ample time, were one of the first to arrive for our flight.  I couldn’t find anything I would want to use our last few euros on, so we split an expresso with the change and saved our last 10 euro bill for our next trip in the EU.

 All told, we ate four dinners in retaurants in Deshaies, and one lunch on Plage de la Perle, (the one where Death in Paradise’s head detective has his shack) I wish I had known that before we visited there so I could have looked to see if the building actually exists.)

At the plage restaurant I had  oussauous, which I think translates to crayfish, a little larger than large shrimp. We were literally “toes in the sand”, as some of the ads for restaurants and villas say here. There were three resident cats, and I fed them parts of the shells. 
Mostly, we ate at home, three dinners, and lots of breakfasts and lunches. Our lunches were mostly   bread, cheese, and cucumbers,  and our breakfasts ranged from meusli with yougurt and bananas, to eggs with fresh baguette, to chocolate croissants.  We found that, although we enjoyed all the restaurant meals, we actually liked cooking and eating on our own porch best.
When asked in the past whether I’d return to a place I’d visited, I’ve almost always said yes, but then there are so  many other places  I’d like to go. This time I already feel like I’d like to go back, even before we left Deshaies. There are only two other places I can recall feeling that strongly about, Paris, and the Bahamas where we visited repeatedly in the 70’s, to a small private island where Loring worked for the owner. Funny, two of them are places where there is virtually nothing to do, but where the days feel rich and full. And Paris is, well, Paris.

Perhaps my urge to return to Guadeloupe is somewhat connecting to the political situation at home. It feels more necessary to escape, now. But it feels important to be there, too.
There’s only one place I’ve seen that might be better than the one we stayed at. Both of us agree  that being right in town, and also right on the ocean,  and able to walk across the street for baguettes and croissants and fruit tarts, is a pretty unbeatable combination. There are dozens of stunning looking villas with pools and spectacular views, but they are up in the hills, not in town.  The water here is so calm and clear, I could just float around for hours with the fish. I love being in the water but am a timid swimmer and don’t like being in strong waves. When Trip Advisor popped up on my screen a few days ago with “Still considering a trip to Deshaies?” (amusing since we were already there)  it showed a place with a view like ours, in the middle of the town, but with more colorful furniture and a bedroom that opened right onto the porch. We identified it, as there are not many houses right on the water.  It’s just a few doors down, on the other side of the town dock, above one of the restaurants.

I’ve already got my eye on it for next year!

Friday, January 20, 2017

More from Guadeloupe, days in Deshaies

A week later.  I have been too busy doing nothing to write before now. We are now ensconced at our second Guadeloupe location, in the town of Deschaies on one of the main Guadeloupe Islands.

The Touloulou, where we’d spent last week, was just about perfect, a tiny cabin, consisting of bedroom, bathroom, porch, with  coffeepot and small fridge, right on the beach. Lounge chairs in the sun in the sand right beyond our porch, and another plus a hammock in the shade of a tree.
Our porch here, in Deschaies, is literally bigger than our whole bungalow was at the Touloulou.  But I am not complaining. Didn’t need any more. We’d rented a car at the ferry dock, and glad we did.  There’s no tac tacs, the communal truck cabs like in Haiti, Jamaica, and other places we’ve been, We probably could have located cabs, if we’d had a phone or known how to. 

This way, we were able to go into Capesterre for groceries, etc and able to explore the island. In the five days we were pretty much able to cover the whole island of Marie Galante, including a bunch of dirt roads. It isn’t very big. 
The beach was beautiful and just a short jaunt past the restaurant that was part of it, and the parking lot. Loring actually swam the whole way, both directions, while I walked and carried the towels, kindles, snorkels, and his glasses. 
I confess that one of the factors in choosing the place was the name.  I found out near the end of our sojourn that Touloulou is actually the name of a particular crab, with red body and black legs.  Much more lyrical than “crab.”

We only ate one breakfast and one dinner at the restaurant there. Partly because we were happy with bread and cheese and simple meals from the Sol Levant in town. Partly because we’d not realized that the restaurant was closed on Sunday, and on Tuesday, and for breakfast only if you told them the day before. We had actually done that, but the message somehow did not get from owner “Zhose” to the woman who seemed to be really in charge. As she told us the next morning, when she was surprised when we showed up for breakfast, don’t tell him, tell me.
We said we’d just go into town, but she insisted on making us breakfast. “You’re not in a hurry, are you?” And of course we weren’t. But we did get a bit fidgety waiting the half hour or so. It was juice, a fresh fruit cup, coffee, regular and chocolate croissants, and fresh bread. Enough, but  for the 12 euros we’d expected a bit more, like eggs.  A hefty price ( a euro and a dollar are pretty much equivalent at the moment) especially when the dinners were only about 17 or 18 euros. They were, by the way, delicious. Loring had a ceviche like meal, forgot what it was called, and I had a fish curry.
We encountered no Americans, and very little English, the five days we were there. Did meet a Norwegian man the first day, and an Italian one the last night. And Zhose spoke a fair amount of English. Mostly it was French vacationers we encountered.

Here in Deschaies we’ve run into many more tourists, still primarily French. But last night, at the restaurant next door to our house here, the folks at the table next to us were speaking very American English. I contemplated asking where they were from, but then hesitated to do the American compadre thing.  Then as they stood up to leave, I decided to ask anyway, just as Loring noticed, and pointed out to me, that one woman was carrying a tote bag from the Brookline Booksmith!  Perhaps  not quite as remarkable a coincidence as it seemed, since they immediately asked if we’d come down on the ridiculously cheap Norwegian Air flight, which just recently commenced service from Boston and a few other cities, Washington, New York, and Baltimore, I believe.  But still, the only Americans we’d encountered in a week and two different islands. 
So here we are in our second location. I think we’ve picked pretty well. Some French visitors who were also staying at the Touloulou told us it was the only place directly on the beach in Marie Galante.
And here, in a much more modern, much more expansive place right on the water, although not on the beach, in Deshaies. Loring has already swum across the small harbor from right outside the door, and I imagine he will do that each of the days we are here.

There is a restaurant on either side of us, and we were a bit worried it might get loud and rowdy at night. Not a problem so far. The outdoor tables at each were reserved last night. But not a big problem as we have the same view from our own porch. It was a bit loud at lunch today, but don’t imagine it’s going to be much of a problem, if any. There are people who keep coming right along side of our porch from the restaurant to get a better view, but it’s just amusing, not really a problem.
We’ve only encountered one snag so far. When we arrived on the ferry back from Marie Galante yesterday, we could not find the car rental place, although there were several others. We asked at one, and he told us they were not located there, but in Deshaies, where we were heading. He pointed  us in the the direction of the bus terminal, a short walk away. One person there told us first that we’d have to take two busses, then said there was an express bus coming in a half hour. While we were waiting, I noticed in the small print on our reservation something about someone meeting us in the ferry terminal  next to the pharmacy. Well, we’d never gone inside the terminal, all the passengers including us exited alongside of the building, and I assume that’s always the route. So maybe the car guy from Deshaies isnlt any more familiar with the ferry than we are. But I guess it’s our fault, not reading the French directions carefully enough. We assume the guy from the agency really had been there, and left. Loring did run over to the ferry terminal once I’d read that, but no one was there, a half hour after the boat came in.

And when a bus pulled up that said Deschaies, I asked about the express, and the driver told me that there was no express, that hers was the only one going there. And a very slow local it was. A cab did come up to us while we were waiting for the bus, and said she’d ask how much it would be to Deshaies. After 10 or 15 minutes waiting on the phone, she came back over to say it would be 70 euros.  I thought that was too much, although not unreasonable, just too much for us to spend, especially since by then the express bus would be along shortly. (not.)  She was very nice and friendly about  it.
And then the bus ride itself was fine, though slow. We went down the back streets of every village, which gave us a glimpse of the place we might not have had otherwise. It’s only a 40 k drive, probably an hour directly, probably an hour and a half or more on our bus.

Deshaies isn’t very big, and the bus dropped us off just a couple of blocks from our house.  The owner was there waiting for us, even though we were at least an hour later than we’d said we’d be. He had a plate full of fish fritters to welcome us, along with a pineapple and a large bunch of bananas, some rum, some fruit juice, a few other things. This place is really well equipped and modern. There’s two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a shower so fancy, with multiple showerheads, that it startled Loring and he prefers the less fancy one. There’s a large living room and a dining room. The kitchen has more appliances than I’ve ever seen in a kitchen – coffepot, hot water heater, keurig, toaster, blender, microwave, electric juicer. 

The living and dining rooms are almost superfluous. The only time and reason to use them, in our opinion, is when it’s too hot and sunny on the porch.

Our bedroom is air-conditioned, but it’s programmed to only work from 8pm to 6am. Which is no problem.
Right now, we don’t have a car, but are fine without it for a few days. It was even hard to find the car rental place here in Deshaies. It was closed by the time we arrived, and closed today, Sunday. We are just hoping there will be a car for us tomorrow.

If you are reading this, we have room for a couple of you, even three or four (there’s a futon in the living room) , to come join us. This is a serious proposal! The fares were ridiculously cheap when we booked ours, $89 one way and $149 the other, I think. It might have been even a little less on the return.  One hitch – they only fly twice a week from Boston, Thursdays and Sundays. We return next Sunday, the 22nd.  So if you are up for a long Caribbean weekend, let us know!

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.