June 2008


June 12-13
Glorious warm day in NYC with plenty of time for pre-trip errands and fidgeting. We had a very early dinner at Dean's, then called XYZ for a rush hour trip to JFK. Arrived in good time and headed for the quiet business class check-in. There we got into a long revolting kerfluffle with American Airlines who ended up charging us each another $250 (on top of the 360,000 miles plus 40,000 miles, plus $250) to change our homebound flights after two phone reps had told us explicitly that we had infinite no-penalty rights to change. Awful experience. I can't wait to see AA go down.

Easy trip (though still seething) through security and up to the lounge. I was just settling in with a seltzer when I looked up to see Larry with Susan Braddock. Turns out she and Rick were taking four grandchildren to London for a few days. On our flight. And seated directly behind us. Small world.

Once on board our 9:20 flight everything lightened up. The 777 business seats are a dream with cubbies for your shoes, big underfoot storage, closed magazine rack, smart screen and table layout, AND a seat that folds out to 148 degrees, so close to flat that it's no never mind. Full size pillow, a stylish comforter, and an eye mask plus my Bose headphones so when wheels came up, I went down and out for six hours. Even Larry got a little sleep and a lot of rest.

Off at Heathrow on time at 9:50am and bid farewell to the Braddock crowd. We needed to get to the new Terminal 5 which opened in April to headline-making chaos. The transfer process by bus from Terminal 3 went pretty smoothly until we had to go through security again and found that the JFK Duty Free folks hadn't sealed the box so we were escorted downstairs where we planted the vodka in my carry-on bag and checked it on to Oslo. All ok in the end.

Had a lovely breakfast and respite in the bright, well-planned BA lounge, then climbed on our 12:45 flight to Oslo. The business class looked unappealing as we got on: 3x3 seats looking pretty cramped, but the flight attendants were lovely and gracious and the chicken Caesar salad was the best airplane meal I've had in decades. Into the striking Oslo airport which is full of lovely details like clear windowed jetways, wooden beams and handrails, light everywhere.

All our bags arrived safely and we strolled right onto the Flytoget airport express train into Oslo Central. Like a bullet train: clean, quiet and fast. Nineteen minutes later we were in Oslo. We looked around for information and our Rica Hotel. A guard gently pointed at a building – and huge sign – no more than 100 yards away. Home sweet temporary home. We have a great, large, quiet room looking out on a courtyard. Sitting area and deep tub and shower too. A brief rest, wonderful showers, then off to dinner around 7pm in showery rain.

We strolled Karl Johan's Gate enjoying street bands, outdoor cafes, and Euro-chain shopping until we got to the Parliament Building. The hotel had pointed us to a restaurant down on the water, but we decided to backtrack because we were feeling tired. Just off the main drag we saw Brasserie France which was superb. Welcoming, great food, and great service too. In English and complete with a respectful warning that we were tipping too much. Couldn't have been a happier dinner. Nice stroll back in full light at 8:30pm and crawled into bed.

June 14
Slept in until 9-ish then feasted on the hotel's breakfast buffet. Charming dining room with wood floors, clever framing around display areas, warm golden yellowy colors. All full of people who look like they're from the same family. Took the bags across the street for the 11:06am airport train where we ran into Dag and Maria. Good to see them. Smooth check-in though I was stopped and asked about the “sticks” in my carry-on: my crochet hooks! As long as I assured them I couldn't attach them to a handle I was ok. Onto the plane for a quick 1 ½ hour flight to Bodo.

Arrived to brilliant sun and barer landscape. The airport is modern, but modestly sized. We picked up our bags, were introduced to Patrick, another guest, and headed out expecting to find taxi or bus. Both seem to run sporadically at best, so in this era of wheelie-bags we walked the mile through residential streets then along the harbor to our small hotel in the center of town. Family run, tiny rooms, but cheerful and accommodating.

We dropped bags and headed up to see and photo a nearby church , monument to a priest killed during WWII occupation, town hall, mall, jugglers, sidewalk cafes, all in the brilliant clear sun and warmth. I walked the length of the dike surround the marina, then met Larry for a beer at a harbor side cafe. We basked in the sun watching incredible tricks being performed for an air show (after all, it's only a mile away!) Complete stalls, loop-de-loops, barrel rolls, corkscrew dives. Sometimes by a bi-plane, sometimes by fighter jets. Even one commercial plane that did a fly-by at a 45 degree angle. Thrilling. When the sun retreated behind some clouds the temperature dropped dramatically and we headed back to the hotel for a rest. No sign of John & Susie yet. Dag and Maria were heading back to the airport to meet the later flight carrying Patrick's wife, his bags, and, we surely hope, our friends.

The late flight did indeed bring bags and friends. Dag and Maria walked everyone in from the airport and delivered them. We said hello to John and Ann Tennant at the hotel bar, then dined with John and Susie before heading off to bed.

June 15
Up for 7am breakfast, then met the whole group at 8am. Patrick's wife Lynn, Liz from Calgary, Will and Cindy from Annapolis, and local guide Jonathan. Too long hanging about and introductions, then walked down to the ferry and boarded early, grabbing prime seating up front where Jonathan did an overview of the whole trip. Three ferry hours to Moskenes, then bags into a van while we bussed to A and the Norsk Fiskevaermuseum (fishing village museum). Guide Ottar is a professor and former museum head and was fun and very informative. Cod-drying and cod liver oil were explained in excruciating detail and then we rambled around the village happily. Beautiful brilliant day once we reached Moskenes, but windy.

At the end of the afternoon we vanned along to Reine and our rorbu cottages. We had a palatial cottage with John and Susie: two small bunk bed rooms, a large sitting room, large bath and shower, and a full kitchen. All wood and sunshine. We set up bar in front of the window and very soon guide Jonathan had joined us. Early and fun dinner with the group at the rorbu-complex restaurant, then out to still-sunglasses-light. I took a quick walk then folded up by 9:30pm or so.

Larry, John and Susie took to the duty free, joined after a bit by both Jonathan and assistant guide Brian. Evening began to show similarities to “Animal House” by the time I got Larry to throw them all out at 1:15am. Still bright sunshine.

June 16
Breakfast was painful for the house mates, but Larry and I got over to the buffet around 7:30am. The whole group gathered on the Reine dock at 9:30 for an intro drill, matching of spray skirts and jackets, all the gear. We launched from the dock, paddled out through a little culvert into Reinefjord and the Bunesfjord. Paddled about 5k through bays surrounded by 2000 foot granite peaks dusted with grass and rocks, through a little neck into a more inner area, around a point and along to the fjord end at a summer settlement of seven or eight houses. Out of the kayaks on a big flat rock, admired a bird's nest with eggs, then climbed up a trail to the ridge about fifteen minutes up. Startling sudden view of open ocean – North Sea – and a beach.

Wind fairly calm, bright sun, temperatures in the 50s. We had cheese and tomato and cucumber (and lox for those who wanted) sandwiches on the ridge, then lazed around or explored until about 3:30pm. Back into the kayaks with both a tail wind and current, a nice boost on the way home. Larry and I were successful in a double for the first time ever. (Maybe due to his paralyzing hangover?) Lots of fun though we tended to get way ahead of the pack. Back at our rorbu around 5pm to shower.

Dinner again at the restaurant up in the loft where I had lovely “weel,” quite different from the purported lamb a la cod liver oil of last night. Our table had a grand time with Patrick and Lynn urging Liz on to a performance of Gloria Gaynor”s “I Will Survive” accompanied by ringing water glasses.. Needless to say, much fun was had. Back to bed around 9:30.

June 17
The plan for a 5:30am wakeup was dumped due to questionable winds, so we slept in until 8 or so, breakfasted and had a leisurely van ride to Sund where we spent the morning wandering a “museum” and then enjoyed a demo from blacksmith Tor. Dined on pita bread and a lovely Greek salad before getting into the kayaks around 1:30pm. Paddled out of the harbor and along the inside of Kunna Island then headed across Skjelfjord, a crossing marked by moderate waves and current from our left – up fjord. Jonathan pointed us and told us to go which we did in brisk time, arriving spot on the other side, but way way ahead of the group.. Dag – with firm tone, but gentle words – reinstated the “never pass the guide' rule for Jonathan as well as us. Jonathan's style is not to go out ahead, show the way and set a pace. He's dropping back to be jolly, stopping to make cellphone calls, generally stop and go all the time.

On we paddled for a bit under cliffs with “Misty Mountains” ahead. We wasted a a bunch of time setting and towing fishing lines from the kayaks, yuck, and, of course, Larry was the only one to catch any fish – two – while I paddled us both from the front. We were paddling along rocky shore with no sign of town or harbor. Jonathan led us – at last! -- through a path between rocks, then a sharp left and there is Nusfjord, a cluster of rorbu and a cod liver oil refinery. High cliffs all around protecting the little harbor. Clear to see why UNESCO listed this spot. Reminded me also of something out of Tolkien tales, especially The Hobbit.

Unloaded at the dock and were met by Brian and beer. A good reward for a good paddle. Settled ourselves into our cottages for a little downtime before dinner at 7:30pm. This time the layout had John & Ann T in a first bedroom, a big living room with loft where Cindy and Will bunked down (or up!), then our bedroom at the far side of the common room.

June 18
Last night's dinner was lovely, but ended up with a plan for a 4am wakeup call, breakfast and kayaks in the water by 5:30am. All driven by tides and weather. Dag knocked and checked us awake at 3:50, we staggered off to breakfast which was a Swiss mix of instant oatmeal, fruit and vanilla yogurt. Then suited up in PFDs, spray skirts and gear ... when Dag came back and CANCELLED. Whitecaps on the crossing; too much too much. Back to bed until a second wakeup call at 10am. The double wakeup left all of us a bit off kilter. Early lunch then van to Ballstad, much confusion and into the kayaks at 1:30pm. Paddled through and along rocky “islands,” past a fish farm, under two white-tailed sea eagles until led by glory clouds into the harbor at Stamsund. Blissful shower, beer, fun drinks, talk and dinner. Easy overview of an easy day for tomorrow and so to bed.

June 19
Off from Stamsund at a very civilized 9:30am, then two and a half hours of paddling up the Rolvsfjord into a steady headwind. We'd do a straight paddle then hole up in the lee of a little rock “island” then paddle again to the next island so it broke it all up nicely. Finally came through a little “constriction” into a quiet bay and our lovely red rorbu at Brustranda. It's almost like cabins on our own private lake. We have two little bunk rooms, a big living area and windows, then a deck looking out onto the bay. Susie was saying that it's the first place she'd like to just stay put in for awhile.

Lunch of quesadillas, then half the group headed out to hike up three hours to a Viking site. We -- the other half – will follow in a couple of hours. Nice to have a bit of alone time. Jonathan recruited Larry to drive a borrowed second van. (Part of the decision process was his assumption that Larry could drive a stick shift – as if every single one of us, male and female, didn't have that life skill!) Around 3:30pm we headed out. The drive to Borg took about half an hour with the most notable sight being a small farmhouse near the road with a sod roof and a couple of sheep on the roof to keep it mowed. As soon as we reached the Viking site I was excited. There's a rounded hill with long views all around. An 83 meter (replica) long house is embedded in the crown of the hill. Sod walls go up about six feet, then wood and shingled roof above. Inside was a banqueting room with tables along the side that could be hung on the walls with attached iron rings, fire pit in the center, vented roof, skins hanging on the walls, a high-seat bench at one end, carved posts holding up the roof. At either end the house sloped down for drainage with a living and working room (looms, woodworking) at one end, and storage and barn at the other. It's set up as a “best guess replica” of how it might have looked and worked, rather than a museum of artifacts. I get more sense of the time and era and people out of the replica approach.

They now do demonstrations and we were charmed by a young German girl who is an accomplished woodcarver. She was in a wool shift, hand sewn leather shoes/slippers, and a felted overdress for warmth. she was very enthusiastic and showed all her tools (Larry: “We had the same tools on the farm.”) She then brought out a felted hood she'd made: wide draping collar, simple hood, long pointed “jester” tail. A bit later I became the happy owner of the hood, a wonderful way to please me and to applaud this young woman's work. Back to our rorbus in Rolvsfjord around 6:30pm for dinner at 7pm. Tide was out so we could use the stepping stone shortcut between the cabins and the restaurant. A fun dinner with whale stew and Norwegian meatballs as the two featured entrees. Sauna was available in the guides' cabin, but we opted for a quiet talk with John and Susie, then bed around 10:30pm.

June 20
Off in the kayaks around 10am paddling back out of the fjord and from island to island heading north. Calm as a zen meditation for a while, then a headwind picked up to interest us as we hopped from shelter to shelter. Pulled up on a little beach around 11:45 in spritzes of rain. The plan had beeen a long hard crossing of Gimsoy Sound, but conditions were tough so the choice was to stop or to paddle for another hour or so amongst islands. We called it a day along with Patrick, Lynn, Susie and Ann. Brian drove us on to Henningsvaer while the others lunched and got ready to paddle on.

We found our dorm-style rooms in an old fish factory (housing known as “sjohus” to distinguish it from the standalone rorbu) on the waterfront, showered and dropped like stones into deep sleep. Around 3pm we rallied and wandered the town having tea and coffee with Patrick and Lynn then strolling up and down. We all had a meeting about tomorrow's itinerary around 7pm where we learned that the others had actually done the long crossing against the headwinds, waves and rain. A real haul. The other Big news was that Maria's new book was featured in O magazine in an article titled “The Books of Summer.” I don't think Maria quite gets how ubiquitous Oprah is in the states, but she was thrilled and excited all the same. Down to an elegant meal at 8:30pm at Fiskegarten Then a quick look into the mountain climbers' bar (stodgy Norwegians and high priced booze). We decide that it looked like too much of a commitment and headed home and to bed.

June 21 – Summer solstice
Breakfast at 8:30am in the common room kitchen upstairs, then into the kayaks by 10:30am. Fog hanging low, maybe 500 feet, on the imposing mountains. Paddled through a strait under mountains, then began to get 3-4 foot swells coming at us from the right. Around a point and for the next stretch we were able to surf with the swells at our back. Both Johns (Trost and Tennant) were pretty wiped out from yesterday's crossing (which they felt a bit “bait & switched” into.) At 12:30pm or so we pulled in for lunch and all but Will and Cindy and the Viking goddesses Margaret and Liz pulled out. Jonathan, Dag and Maria paddled on with them. Brian took the rest of us straight into Svolvaer where we had day-room access to showers (yeah!) and luggage storage.

Larry and I then strolled around town, heading first toward the local church where we (almost) joined in a wedding celebration. Bride and groom and toddler children toasting with champagne on the doorstep, family and friends, many in traditional long skirts and vests, milling around, little blond kids in wool dresses and vests underfoot. We then strolled down to the harbor where we kept running into the wedding guests. We felt a bit like stalkers. Oddly, half the wedding party seemed to be in one bar with another contingent in a different bar. Maybe two not-so-compatible families??? Finally sat with our tea and beer savoring the last trip day.

Around 5p we headed over an obscure bridge to a great dinner in an old fish factory building, now a wood-lined upscale restaurant. The usual farewell speeches, then a brisk walk to the coastal cruise ship that will deliver us back to Bodo sometime in the early morning. Sailed at 7:30pm and spent the endless ride hanging out; some desultory conversations, some napping. Larry and I went out at midnight to smooch under the solstice sun – as did Dag and Maria.. At 1:30am this huge ship docked in Bodo and the group walked, wheelie bags dragging, the ten blocks or so to the Clarion Hotel where a brief, but well-deserved sleep awaited. The solstice did mean McFadden-like crowds of partying students on the streets, but they proved no distraction.

June 22
Up yawning and groaning at 7:30am to pack and breakfast. Met Liz, Patrick and Lynn in the dining room so telephoned for a taxi, piled all the luggage inside and sent it off while the five of us walked unencumbered to the airport. Bags awaited us in the vestibule, cab driver long since rewarded and off to his next fare. What a great world! Self-service check in was quick and easy, security smooth, and we were on our Oslo flight at 10:20.

Farewells at the airport with Liz, Patrick and Lynn then a quick train to Central Station followed by a seven or eight block walk with our wheelies to the First Millennium Hotel. We had a pleasant Indian lunch on Karl Johan's Gate, came out to rain and so went back to the hotel for a nap. Aaaaah. Woke up and headed out around 6pm to Vigeland Park via tram #12. What a civilized way to get around. The park, even in evening rain, was as moving as I'd remembered. All the ages of man, the relationships, the joy and woes. What a mind. Tram back to the hotel to await John and Susie. They came in and we headed out in rain around 9pm. Most restaurants seemed to close early on Sunday, but we ended up happily in an outdoor cafe under sturdy awnings and cozy heat lamps. Simple but just what we all wanted.

June 23
Breakfast then out with John and Susie around 10:30am walking down to the harbor where we jumped on the ferry to the museums at Bygdoy. Walking up the main drag we saw a van with a huge mastiff regally sitting in the driver's seat, calmly watching passersby snap photos. On to the folk museum which I loved again. Despite on and off rain, some of it heavy, we toured the stave church (13th C with 1580 interior), farm guest house and loft (1750), farm buildings of 1600 through 1750, and the newer town buildings. I could have stayed on all day, but we grabbed lunch at the cafe and bussed along to the viking ship Museum. Staggering: three boats circa 850, recovered from burial mounds. One an elegant pleasure boat – party barge! -- another a sturdier seagoing model, the third less complete.

Bus again to the Kon Tiki Museum which holds both the Kon Tiki raft (1947 Pacific adventure) and the Ra II papyrus boat from later Atlantic experiences. Turns out that Thor Heyerdahl was married to one of Trost's relatives – a maternal aunt or great aunt. But Thor H was crazy all the same! Exhausted by now, we ferried back to harbor central and had a beer in the sun/rain/sun outside the Nobel Peace Center, listening to a world music concert down the road. Tram back to the hotel for a shower. John and Susie were dining with cousins so we bid them farewell and went back to the Brasserie France where we sat outside and had another wonderful meal Early to bed before a painfully early start in the morning.

June 24
Up at 5:15 am (ouch), checked out, trundled our wheelies down to the station, just missed the 5:45, but easily jumped on the 6:05am airport train. Easy check-in, pleasant breakfast in the lounge, then onto our 7:50am flight to Heathrow. Another smooth transit between Terminal 5 and Terminal 3 then a smooth flight, albeit endless, home. Thank you business class Back in NYC in time for dinner at Dean's to symmetrically round out a wonderful trip.