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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.

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