As of yesterday, I am in possession of a super-short Berliner hairdo. Think Mike Myers as Dieter from Sprokets on Saturday Night Live ("Now's ze time on Sprokets ven ve danse"), only curly.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
As of yesterday, I am in possession of a super-short Berliner hairdo. Think Mike Myers as Dieter from Sprokets on Saturday Night Live ("Now's ze time on Sprokets ven ve danse"), only curly.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Spent a fantastic few hours yesterday at the KaDeWe Department Store Food Hall. This place is unbelievable. I have never seen such a huge selection of foodstuffs in one place before. The array of items on offer and the variety was just staggering. I think I started hyperventilating a little with sheer joy at being surrounded by so much wonderful food!
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Berlin may not be the most beautiful city in the world, but it certainly is a fascinating one.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
We had a quiet, rainy day today.
It started out at the Hardangervidda Nature Center near where we are staying.
This center is devoted to the animals and flora of the Hardanger Plateau.
The museum begins in a small IMAX theatre where you watch a 20-minute movie complete with scenes of local beauty shot from a helicopter. Because of the IMAX quality, there are those wonderful stomach-dropping moments as the camera sweeps you over a waterfall and into a deep crevasse.
The rest of the exhibit was small and very sweet, consisting of many dead, stuffed animals like arctic foxes, reindeer, and lemmings all artfully posed on cotton-ball-snow with patches of glue still visible. It must have been made in 1950.
After that, we went to the tiny town of Steinsto and the Steinsto Fruit Farm. Though only about 34 miles from Eidfjord, it took us over an hour and one ferry ride to get there.
It is just impossible to get anywhere quickly here. This may be why everyone walks so much; it winds up being faster.
The farm stand was a little house which held a small café on one side and a small shop on the other selling apples, pears, plums, jellies, and their famous apple pies. This farm has the reputation for making the best apple pies in the region, so we went to the café to sample a slice.
It was indeed very good, somewhere between a cake and a pie, and we ate while looking at the rain falling over the gorgeous scenery. We also bought a pie to bring home.
Today was a significant day not only because we ate pie, but also because I had my first driving lesson in a manual car. Well, technically my second lesson since Steve did give me one lesson in Charlotte in his Honda S2000, but I stalled repeatedly and the lesson ended in tears, so I’m not sure it counted.
I got the tears out of the way this time right at the beginning; don’t ask why I cry, I just do. It’s part of the anxiety thing.
Anyway, I managed to pull away in first gear, drive around the parking lot, and come to a stop several times. I only stalled once when I stopped because I thought the clutch was all the way in but it wasn’t.
Here is the strangest part: I felt like I had completely forgotten how to drive. It makes no sense because everything else is the same, you’re just adding the clutch and gear stick, but somehow it threw everything out of whack.
I was driving around the parking lot in first gear shouting “what do I do? What do I do?”
There was just something about adding the new elements that made everything else feel like new, too. I think part of it was that all of a sudden, my left leg was having to do something. Normally it just hangs out there against the seat, the door, the little foot-rest thingy.
It naps, it has a snack, maybe a smoke. It doesn’t get involved. But suddenly, it was having to do something. It was having to not only do something, but it was having to do something independent of the right leg, but it had to coordinate with my right leg and hand. Suddenly, everybody was getting involved.
When it came time to stop, I jammed the clutch in, which would have been fine, but my right leg and left leg felt that they needed to be doing the same thing, so when the left foot pushed in quickly, so did the right foot. So we had quite a few very sudden stops.
And while all of that right leg, left leg, right arm craziness was going on, my brain was saying” steering….what the hell is steering?” It really did feel like starting from square one.
Tomorrow we’ll see if I can make it into second gear.
Wish me luck.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
I have to say that after our beautiful spot at Melkevoll Bretun, this is a little bit of a let-down. We are right on the fjord here, which of course is beautiful, but I think it’s not quite what we were expecting.
In the guide book, Eidfjord is described as this beautiful town that is a major draw for cruise ships and 500,000 visitors a year. With that in mind, I think we were expecting a lively small town, with shops and cafes.
It is, however, absolutely dead here. There are two grocery stores, three or four hotels, a cafeteria-type store which sells hot dogs and hamburgers…and that’s it. Above all, there are no people around at all, so it’s a bit ghostly.
Today we drove to the city of Bergen. Bergen is only 95 miles from where we are, but the roads are all so winding and slow that it took us almost 3 hours to get there. And the tunnels…I have never been through so many tunnels in my life!
We actually counted them on the trip home, and in the 95 mile trip there were 46 tunnels! That gives you an idea I guess of just how mountainous the region is. After a while you can’t go around, or up and over anymore, you just have to go through.
Bergen was quite the opposite of Eidfjord-it was full of people, shops, restaurants and cafes. There is a great fish market there, with loads of stalls selling shrimp, crabs, lobster, and all varieties of smoked fishes.
We shared a fish & chips and it was heaven! Then we followed it with cappuccinos at a funky café.
We also visited a cool one-room museum, called The Theta Room. This room was the meeting place for a group of Norwegian men ages 19-22 who spied on the Germans during World War II and passed the information along to the British.
The woman who was telling us about the museum and Bergen during the war told us that she was living in Bergen with her family during the war, and she remembered Hitler’s birthday in 1944 when a ship full of explosives blew up in the harbor, shattering windows everywhere.
She remembered her mother brushing her hair just before the explosion, and then remembered standing in the midst of glass and ashes afterward.
This was a pretty amazing memory and would have been even more haunting were it not for the fact that she looked to be about 55 years old. Her face was almost unlined and her dark brown hair looked to be her natural color.
So either she is the youngest 70-year-old woman in the world, or she has a slight memory from when she was about four years old and remembers some of what she related to us, and had the rest filled in by her parents with such detail that the complete memory has become her own.
Either that or the next tour group, in addition to the ship-went-boom story was also going to get a very detailed account of how she was captured and held aboard The Death Star where she was forced to watch her home planet, Alderaan, be destroyed right before her very eyes.
As you can see, this part of Norway may not have the glaciers and waterfalls of our previous location, but it has other photo-worthy items to keep a very immature lady happy.
“Photo of the fjord? No thanks. Photo of the fart-sign? You betcha!!”
My parents must be so proud….
Yesterday we left our wonderful Melkevoll Bretun and headed south to the town of Eidfjord.
Along the way, we stopped in Vik at the wonderful Hopperstad Stave Church. Norway loves its Stave Churches, and this one dates back to around 1140, which in and of itself is pretty fantastic.
From the outside, it looks terrifically like a Viking ship, and something about that deep dark brown wood and the shape of the church in general against the green of the mountains rising up around it and the dark cloudy sky was just haunting.
A fun fact I learned: the wood of the church doesn’t rot because it is actually standing on top of a stone foundation, and therefore has no actual contact with the ground.
I am used to seeing churches in Europe that are equally as splendid and elaborate inside as they are outside, with high vaulted ceilings, intricate carvings, stained glass windows and massive organs.
The inside of this church, however, was simplicity itself. The ceilings were indeed high, but the inside space was surprisingly small compared with how it looked outside.
There were a few very old paintings, but apart from that, the space was bare. No seating, no windows, just a small very simple altar, and that was it.
I am a big fan of large, beautiful, fancy churches and temples, but there was something quite moving I thought about the simplicity of the whole structure. I am not really a religious person, but it made me think about what this church said about these people who built and used it, and about different people’s ideas were of what was needed in order to be able to commune with God.
To me, the Hopperstad space seemed to suggest that for them, it was more about who they were with, what words of prayer were spoken together, and what was in their hearts and minds than what was in the space of worship.
These are the sheep. The Norway roads are full of all manner of barnyard animals: sheep, cows, goats. Now this in and of itself isn’t unusual for such a landscape, what is unusual is that the sheep, cows and goats all just hang out in the roads. They walk across them, they walk down the middle of them, they sit on them, sometimes they even lie down with their heads on the pavement, right where a front tire would normally travel. And the cars just slow down and go around them.
These animals are fearless in the face of tour buses and caravans. If people stop their car to take a photo of them, they approach the car as if they have been waiting for us to arrive for hours and are just delighted to see us. Either that, or they're just wondering if we happen to be edible.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Behold…the worst looking and tasting birthday cake in the history of the world.
I wanted to do something nice for Steve’s birthday, since it was, as I mentioned, a big one. Being where we are in Norway at the moment, there is no wonderful restaurant to take him to, no bakery from which to buy a stellar cake.
My mother used to make these wonderful birthday cakes for us when I was growing up. Made from scratch of course, but she would cut the cake into shapes and decorate them so that they looked like whatever was our favorite thing of the moment: a rocket ship, a Smurf, etc.
I knew I couldn’t make anything from scratch here, or make anything that would be that creative, but I thought I could at least make him a pretty and delicious birthday cake.
At home, I love cake-mix cakes from the grocery store, so I thought I would give it a go here. In the store, I had to ask two very tall Norwegian guys to translate the directions on the back of the mix for me, so I would know what I needed to add and how much of it.
The problem was that the units for the water and butter that I needed to use were in deciliters. Now I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of a deciliter before, and I had absolutely no idea what to make of it. Add to this the problem that in the cabin, the measuring cups were in ounces, milliliters, and grams. So that was no help.
I went online and the conversion from deciliters wound up as 10 ounces of water and 6 ounces of butter. That seemed like an awful lot of melted butter to me, but oh well.
Right off the bat, it just didn’t seem right. I used only about half of the butter because it just looked too liquidy after all the water. But the batter just didn’t taste right. Normally I love to lick spoons and mixing bowls clean, but one taste of this one and I had had enough.
Well, I thought, maybe it will taste better once it’s cooked. It smelled all right as it baked, and so I was encouraged.
After it cooled I made the icing, which was nearly flavorless and a bit runny.
Then I wrote “Happy Birthday, 7” on the cake (7 is my nickname for Steve). I wish I could tell you that this message was written by either the four-year-old or the goat next door, but alas, I cannot. That disastrous scrawl is mine.
In my defense, I didn’t see until way too late the little attachment in the bottom of the box which would have allowed the gel to come out of the tube in a thin lovely line. I was just squeezing it straight out of the large opening, so it was like writing with a tube of toothpaste.
The other problem, as you can see, is that when I was testing the cake for doneness, I stabbed it so many times in the middle that I created this deep crevasse into which most of the icing and the “H” and “D” eventually slid.
As evidence of his love for me, when Steve looked at this cake, he gave a smile like it was the most wonderful cake he’d ever seen, though his expression could simply have been the beginnings of hysterical laughter, hard to say. He even had me take his picture with it, God bless him.
Then, we tasted it. We took one bite, and we tried to pretend that it was good. We tried another bite, and made a gallant effort to pretend it was at least edible. Then we took another bite and just gave up.
It reminded me a little of a Passover cake, if anyone has ever had one of those mixes. But even that assessment I think is generous.
This mix was clearly made by a people who have never actually tasted cake before. And why should they? They’re far too busy climbing mountains and running up glaciers to bother with cake.
I’m not sure what the chocolate flavoring was that was added to the mix, but let me tell you it was not cocoa.
It was kind of like eating a cake that was made from a leftover mashed potato, with some ground up tree bark added for flavor.
This was not exactly what I wanted to serve my hubby on his birthday, but we laughed about it, and I promised him something lovely in Italy to make up for it.
We found an old Ritter Sport chocolate bar which had melted in the car and then reformed, so we ate that instead.
Happy Birthday, Steve!
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
(Photo to left is the view from the front of our cabin, where we eat our breakfasts and dinners)
Steve, wanting something a bit more strenuous, went on what was billed on the map as an “intermediate, 2-3 hour hike up to a farmhouse-with-a-view”.
About 200 meters into it, he began to question the wisdom of his decision. Though the map had mentioned a “steep bit” at the end of the hike, right from the beginning it was essentially a vertical climb up dirt and rocks.
Brave man that he is, he made it about an hour-and-a-half into it before deciding that he’d better turn back. Not before a Norwegian man in the late sixties had sprinted past him, whistling a happy tune.
Norwegians, at least in this area, seem to be insanely fit. This is probably why the average life expectancy here is 105. Or something like that. It seems to be a very peaceful existence out here. Very simple and basic; a lot of tourist-related work, and farming.
We asked someone local about the lack of fish in the grocery stores, and he responded that with only 4.5 million people in the entire country, and so many parts of the country being small villages having extremely small populations, there just isn’t the demand for it; and the price of getting it from one place to another would far exceed any sales numbers. Plus, he reminded us, around here, if people want to eat fish, they just step outside and catch it themselves.
Yesterday, Steve and I went for a hike up to Brenndalsbreen, another local glacier. There was a pretty steep incline for the first 45 minutes or so, but we had some beautiful views along the way. After a while, the trail went further along into the trees, and then along the glacial run-off-rapids. The trail then became nothing more than rocks in the trees.
Steve was able to discern the path by the trees that had been cut down, and periodic small piles of rocks left on larger rocks. He felt pretty sure that those were Norway’s version of trail markers, but I couldn’t shake the fear that those rock piles were deliberately and randomly left by some crazy Norwegian hunchback (or a troll; they love trolls here) who runs around the woods in the middle of the night, leaving random rock-piles to confuse hapless tourists, all the while rubbing his hands together and laughing maniacally.
Another thing about Norway trail-makers: in addition to just out and out lying about how hard the hikes are, they give you no help at all once you’re on these trails; no signs, no arrows, no white marks on trees. Nothing. You’re just on your own, with your life in your own hands. That would just never happen in the US-there would be way too many lawsuits.
The problem is that here, I think they just assume you’re smart enough to figure it out for yourself. No one makes that mistake in the old US of A, that’s for sure!
In the end, though, Steve was right, and we made it to the rocks near the glacier and the roaring water. I must say the end of this hike was a bit of a let-down, and the view of the actual glacier was a bit off to the side and hard to see well.
Regardles, it was a fun hike, and my heart rate monitor says that I burned 1500 calories, so bring on the Kaviar Tube!! I am completely addicted, by the way, to the Kaviar in a tube. I have no idea what’s in it, and since the ingredients are in Norwegian, they will remain a mystery. But I love it. I am going to have to figure out a way to get some in The States.
Maybe that can be my new work venture: importing the Kaviar tube. I don’t know about you, but I’d buy it.
Reminder: Tomorrow (August 18) is a big birthday for Steve. If you think of it, drop him an email, or post b-day wishes here in comments section. He'd love it!!!
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Yesterday we went on a beautiful guided kayaking tour along the Geiranger Fjord. Here is a picture of the fjord as seen from the road above before we drove down to where we were set to launch. This photo has been taken by everyone who has ever been to Norway. And I guarantee if you ever go to Norway, you will take it, too.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Currently we are staying in an area of the Western Fjords called Oldedalan. It is almost impossible to find on a map, and in fact, we couldn't even find Oldedalen on Google Maps, but the town of Olden we could find, and that is about 24km from where we are. I cannot really even begin to describe how beautiful it is here.
We left Lillehammer on Monday, the day after visiting the wonderful Maihaugen, otherwise known as the Norwegian Folk Museum. I confess to not exactly understanding why it is called a folk museum, unless it’s kind of their way of saying “Hey, this museum, it’s about Norwegian folk!”
So-called folk museums I have visited in the past seemed to contain a lot of raggedy furniture, and freaky straw-stuffed dolls with no eyes.
This museum was not like that at all, however, it was more like a visit to Plymouth Plantation or Sturbridge village, one of those “living” museums, where the whole shebang is outdoors, and you walk along wooded trails by ponds and fields through a collection of houses and villages., complete with farm animals and actor-villagers in costume who pretend they’ve never heard of a television before.
In the Norway version, the houses were either from the 1700’s or early 1900’s. I confess to being a total geek and loving these kinds of museums, though I know it’s just because they feel like a movie set.
You can often pick up a few interesting tidbits along the way, like what Norwegian flatbread is made of (potato flakes and sour milk), and that is sucks to be a milkmaid. I say this because on the rather warm day we visited her at this museum, she was stuck in a very small, very hot stone room, wearing far too many layers of clothes plus bonnet, and churning butter with movements so vigorous they made my arms burn just watching. I suppose for her, if she does that churning on a daily basis, her arms are probably used to it, and I bet she’s one hell of an arm wrestler, don’t let the bonnet fool you.
Anyway, we left Lillehammer on Monday, and after 45 minutes in the car realized that we had left our passports in the hotel safe, so we turned around and went back for them, thereby turning a four-and-a-half hour day of driving into a six-hour one.
The drive however, was amazing, as the scenery just seemed to get exponentially more spectacular the further we went toward the Western Fjords. The surroundings went from Vermont on steroids, to Maui meets “Lord of the Rings” on steroids, and the scale of it is just not to be believed. I have included some pictures, but photos just don’t seem able to capture the scale of the place.
I will say that Norway seems to be home to some truly terrifying tunnels. On the drive here, we went through two of them in pretty rapid succession, and by the end of the last one both Steve and I were breathing into paper bags. Since Steve is normally a pretty unflappable guy, I realized that these tunnels really must be as scary as I thought they were.
I have never been particularly nervous in tunnels before, but something about these was just freaky. For starters, they are really dark and narrow, with only dim yellow lights above at rather sparse intervals. There were no lines on the road, so it was really hard to tell how close to the sides of the tunnel the car actually was. This was really scary when massive trucks and tour buses would come barreling towards us out of the pitch darkness.
The other freaky thing was that the walls of the tunnels weren't covered with any sort of concrete, so there was just the jagged, dark wet rock shining out at you. It even smelled dank in there. Never before had I been so aware of the fact that I was driving through a mountain. It really felt like being in the belly of the beast.
Both of the tunnels we went through were about 4km long, which was just too long for my liking. Apparently there is one that is 15 miles long somewhere around here.
I guarantee to get me through that I will need some serious sedatives. Or for the milkmaid to bash me over the head with her churn-handle.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Instead of going to Oslo, we opted for Lillehammer until Monday, and I must say I am glad we did.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Here are some shots of our lovely Landhaus St. Urban Hotel.
If you are wondering why it looks like there’s no one there….it’s because there is no one there. And when I say no one, I mean NO ONE!!
On Monday the receptionist informed us that Tuesday and Wednesday were their Days of Rest, and that the kitchen was closed. She also informed us that we could just take our key to open and close the main door to the hotel.
It began to occur to us that it was everybody’s day of rest, not just the kitchen staff’s, but then we thought, well surely they can't just leave us alone in the hotel. But sure enough, Tuesday morning, they gave the remaining guests breakfast before they checked out, cleaned the rooms and everywhere else, and locked the door behind them.
There were no other guests staying, so we had the entire hotel to ourselves all day yesterday and all night. I sort of couldn’t believe how trusting they were: the kitchen door remained unlocked, as did all of the booze at the bar. They trusted us to lock the door of the hotel behind us when we came and went.
It was kind of cool having the run of the place, and at the same time a bit eery. It was hard for me not to look down the long hallway to the rooms and imagine those freaky blond twins from The Shining standing there holding hands saying “Come and play with us, Danny. For ever. And ever. And ever.”
Not to mention the freaky naked woman in the bathtub.
Today we start our drive to Norway. We will miss Germany. The people here have been the friendliest of anywhere on the trip, the Schitzel has been delicious, and the drivers are all excellent.