Friday, January 18, 2019


Okay, we have made it to Vietnam.

It even sounds weird to me, since I had no desire to come here when all-expense paid tours were being offered up by the US Government in the 70's.

We have only been here for perhaps 16 hours, but it definitely is memorable.

The arrival was by plane, Vietnam Airlines.  The Vietnam Airline experience was incredibly nice.  We went economy premium and I was prepared for "the jokes on me", but it was actually like US domestic first class.  Very roomy, reclining seats (not lay flat, put still plenty of room), they served meals and alcohol (always a plus while flying), very nice stewardesses and the seats included video screen in-flight entertainment.  I'm actually looking forward to our return flight on this airline.

They did park the plane on the tarmac and we had to "deplane" (I cannot look at the word without thinking of Fantasy Island) out in the heat.  It is a bit on the warm side here.  90+ degrees and the humidity is "just this side of rain".  Having said that, it doesn't feel too bad - not sure why.  Even my lovely bride, who prefers walk-in freezers and traveling in Winter climates, thinks that this is livable.

We were bussed to the terminal and then walked into the immigration room.  Okay, an official "we're not in Kansas anymore" moment.  There was a sea of people, a lot of them, standing in an enormous line, with numerous switchbacks.  The switchbacks ended up with your choice of the grocery store-like lines to the individual checkpoints, there were no helpful guides, you just went potluck - "that line looks like it might be fast" (it wasn't).  The pots at the end of the rainbow were uniformed immigration officials each glowering at the person in front of them.  It took a long time, particularly the glowering part.  We were in line for the better part of an hour.  It was not the friendliest introduction to a country (not that the US wins any points in that department).

Of course, once we made it out, everything was crowded, chaotic and pretty incredible!!!

We were met by an escort with our name on the placard (I thought it would be a good idea, and it was) who took us to the exit and the road and helped us into the prearranged, air-conditioned, car - God was in his heaven and all was right with the World.

The drive to our hotel was memorable.  It is hard to describe the magician-like driving performance that our driver put on.  There were thousands of motorized scooters and motorcycles, none of which followed any law (other than the law of physics and even that was more of a guideline), there were hundreds of other cars and taxis, and the road was not really a road, more of a crowded hallway with left and right sides being pretty arbitrary.  I "think" they drive on the right side here (as opposed to Japan, where we were surprised to find out they drive on the left side), but you really didn't see people adhering to one side or the other, the concept was more "go for an opening" and that opening did not have to be very large (and more often than not, was closing up at the same time we were heading in).  I was torn between the desire to close my eyes and cover my face to just wanting to see the rest of the movie and find out how it ends.

Somehow, we made it to the hotel.  The Villa Song is incredibly nice, set right on a river in the "Expat Part of Saigon - Division 2 - sometimes referred to as the "French Quarter.  Our room has two balconies, the bed is incredibly comfortable and the air-conditioning works (always a good thing).

We did have a surprise, however, that took a bit of the peacefulness from this place last night.  We were told that there was going to be a party at their restaurant on the veranda by the river celebrating the Lunar New Year.  Now, in SE Asia, they don't just celebrate an "Eve" or the "Day" - it's more of a "let's party till we drop" attitude, which lasts basically a month.  We had a late lunch on the veranda (we were the last people to be served before they closed the restaurant down to just the party folk who had prepaid (and we weren't invited)).  They were setting up the tables and chairs and they were setting up and testing the sound system.  The key tester (I'll just refer to him as the "Idiot") was excited to have the microphone and would say the Vietnamese equivalent of "1, 2, 3, 4 testing" constantly for close to an hour.  The Idiot also was apparently responsible for the music choice, which  was basically, 20-second clips of "Moves Like Jagger" - sung in English by a Vietnamese "Artiste" (emphasis intentional).   What I didn't realize at the time was that was pretty much the only song they were to play that night.  The locals seemed to think that was okay.  That tune must be like "Sweet Caroline" in the Caribbean - the official national song.

I fell asleep and slept through most of the party (though I had nightmares involving Christina Aguilera), but Karen assured me it was pretty much what we expected.  It did seem like a typical New Years' party where most of the people would stand around staring blankly, while the Emcee would yell something like "Is Everyone having a good time?  I can't hear you!!"  The rest of the crowd was drinking excessively - which is hard to argue with given the entertainment.

We were assured by the front desk that the music would stop at 10:30 - and believe it or not, it did.

I continued to sleep, but Karen was concerned because Jona and Claire were in flight coming to Saigon that night/early morning.  The went from LA to Shanghai to Saigon.  It took a "long time".  We were up to greet them (Karen, because she never went to sleep, me, because I woke up) and then went to bed.

Morning was very pleasant and peaceful here.  Well, mostly.  Across the river, there is a worker that has a large pile driver which I think he is just playing with.  It's not going now (about 8:30 a.m.), but it was going around 7 a.m.  It is very sporadic and does not seem to be done with any particular intent, other than making noise.  I'm thinking his ex-wife lives somewhere nearby.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Round Cape Horn - Twice!!!!

Something that few people have ever done, we have sailed around Cape Horn from East to West then we turned around and sailed from West to East!!!  Eat your heart out Captain Bligh!!!  Captain Bligh spent over a month with the Bounty "trying" to sail around Cape Horn.  He eventually gave up and went to Tahiti by going around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope - his crew was not amused.

Apparently, this is the first time that the Seabourn Quest has done this as well.

This entry is out of order, because we have been doing the typical cruise itinerary, eating, drinking and sleeping, punctuated by the occasional excursion.  There are more entries to come, but I have to have a break from all this inactivity.

We had some fantastic excursions to Antarctica itself, more on that later.  The place is a sea of cocktail ice overrun by thousand upon thousands of short waddly things in tuxedos - aka the "Penguin Set".  On the first excursion, Karen lost her identification arm-band (lovely purple one with Karen's name and room number) and we have had a picture in our minds ever since that outing that there is a penguin on board with the arm-band impersonating Karen and having all sorts of cakes, ice cream and cookies.

After four excursions to Antarctica we had to cut short the portion of the trip to Antartica as two of the passengers became ill.  The problem with being in a remote place like Antarctica (is there any other place like this?) is that it literally can take days before you arrive at a place where help can be provided.  We do not know exactly what happened, but we are fairly certain that one of the passengers did not make it.  A very sobering and somber experience.

We arrived a couple of days early to Ushuaia, Argentina, the Southernmost city in the World - sometimes called the "End of the World".

At Ushuaia, we had rebooked to an earlier date the prison/train excursion.  Ushuaia was originally a prison colony as it was a natural island and was remote from everything else (sort of like Devil's Island, Australia and Roseburg, Oregon).  Hardened criminals and political prisoners were lodged there.  The place was very dark, cold and depressing - the local guides seemed to love it as there did not appear to be any other reason for Ushuaia to exist and the prison has now been closed for close to 70 years.  The setting of Ushuaia is very beautiful, but the town itself is a bit on the used side of disrepair.  It is one of those places which appear nicer the further away you are - we are testing this theory by heading far away.  Ushuaia promises to be lovely when we return to Oregon.

Because of the change in itinerary, we ended up in the area of Tierra del Fuego with an extra day.  The weather promised to be fairly nice (for this area, winds around Cape Horn of 60 nautical miles per hour - lovely Summer's day) so the Captain told us we were going around the Horn.

We woke up early (around 6 a.m.) to the Captain telling us we were approaching the Horn.  We went from East to West first, so the Horn appeared on the Starboard side (and our cabin is on the Port side) so we went up to deck 10 at the bow of the ship to see.  I went outside, but the wind made it difficult to even stand.

At the Horn (well, technically, on an island near the Horn island), there is a permanent residence lighthouse manned by Chileans (part of the Chilean navy) who stay there for a few months at a time.  There is also a beautiful monument to the many sailors who have lost their lives at the Horn (thousands of ships have wrecked on the Horn) which is a huge metal sculpture of two albatrosses.  We made it all of the way around the Horn and then the Captain brought the ship around and sailed from West to East.  At that point, we went back to our cabin and were able to view the Horn from our private deck (where it was just the two of us and the wind was not as much of an issue).

The experience was amazing!!!!

Frankly, I thought that Cape Horn was named Cape Horn because of its shape.  We come to find out that it is named after a town in the Netherlands, Hoorn.  Who knew?

Buenos Aeries - a Heck of a Town

We met our friends, Roger and Helen, at the Buenos Aeries airport - not a mean trick where two couples are coming from the Northwestern United States and Southeastern United Kingdom.  We managed to get all of our luggage - which was an impressive amount (we had packed for the Antarctic and Summer in Argentina - plus fancy close for formal nights and extra clothes just in case) - and went to the van that was waiting to take us to the hotel.

The hotel was the Hotel Panamericano, an impressive older structure with numerous people to take your requests and sit on them for hours.  Our rooms were not ready, "but would be ready soon - possibly as early as the designated checkin" - which was four or five hours later.

We had just arrived on an overnight over-long flight (16 hours or so, but who's counting), so the thought of actually collapsing in a bed had not occurred to us.

Fortunately, there was a lobby bar in the lobby.  There were also lobby bar people waiting to serve us at the lobby bar in the lobby - or so we thought.  The lobby bar people at the lobby bar in the lobby apparently had other chores to take care of - like talking at the lobby bar, ignoring possible customers and just generally being lobby bar people in the lobby.  They rushed about like rooted plants, unaware of everything.

Finally, one of the lobby bar people in the lobby pretended he had noticed us and he oozed in our direction.  It took some time, but he eventually took our order and disappeared - for a long time.  He reappeared much later without drinks but with nuts, which seemed appropriate.

I went in search of a bathroom, which usually causes drinks to be delivered, questions to be asked, paging me on the intercom and other activity, but even that failed to bring anything.  The lobby bar person at the lobby bar in the lobby eventually showed up with the drinks.  We had those drinks and, even though our rooms were not yet ready (they apparently took a long time to prepare for people like us), the lobby bar person at the lobby bar in the lobby felt that his job was done.

Karen and Helen eventually went to the reception and demanded to see our rooms (or the manager, they were open for suggestions).  This apparently worked since as soon as you could say "I wonder if the lobby bar person at the lobby bar in the lobby has had an injury or is in a coma" we were given our keys and the bell hop person with our luggage woke up and whisked our luggage away (he sort of ambled, in an Argentinian hotel staff person - waiting for the union to go on strike - kind of way).

The room was just that, not quite worth the wait, but it had a bed and a bathroom, so it fit all of the requirements of a hotel room.  We freshened up (as much as possible) and met Roger and Helen to go in search of food.  We did have a very nice meal with a tango-show at a classic restaurant in Buenos Aeries, but this was not that night.

One of the lobby staff people recommended a restaurant close by (I know, we were insane, but we were tired and did not want to go very far).  We should have gone farther.  The place was like an Argentinian cheap diner, but without the class or good food and the service was glacial (probably getting us ready for Antarctica).  The restaurant did allow beggars to enter the restaurant and come to our table asking for money, food, clothes and possibly drinks from the lobby bar person - which was festive and nice.  It made us yearn for third world countries where they limit this activity to the streets.

We made it back to our rooms, which had managed to stay ready for us, and retired for the evening.  Karen said she did not feel well.  I told here we were lucky to still be alive after eating that food.

The next morning, Karen thought that staying in the hotel bed was preferable to anything she had seen the day before - she was even willing to relocate to a different country.  I ignored Karen's sage decision and ventured out with Roger and Helen to see the sights of Buenos Aeries - or "the City of Fair Winds" or "the City that Saint Mary Never Showed Up To".

We walked to a ticket booth for one of the ubiquitous "Hop-on Hop-off" Buses which have taken over the World.  Behind the glass was a ticket booth lady who took our order for three tickets and appeared to process it, and process it, and process it - Roger had been waiting for Helen and I at the bus - with people sitting on the bus waiting for us and a bus driver waiting for us.  The ticket booth lady in the ticket booth made the lobby bar person at the lobby bar in the lobby look like a lightning bolt.  Eventually, tickets were produced and we were shown to a different "Hop-on Hop-off" Bus - since the people and the driver from the first bus wanted nothing to do with us.

We were given little plug-in earphones which provided a commentary of the sights while the bus went through Buenos Aeries.  Actually, it provided a commentary of the sights you would have noticed if the commentary came faster.  True to the Buenos Aeries "provide as little service as slow as possible" - ethic, the commentary told you what sights you had just missed.

The city of Buenos Aeries is lovely - or rather - appears to have been lovely about 30 or 40 years ago.  It apparently became tired of being lovely and decided to see how long the buildings could remain standing if nothing was done to them for decades.

The driver took us around all of Buenos Aeries - I do not think he missed a single corner or street - while the commentary went on with "had you been aware of it, you could have seen the statue to Eva Peron which was constructed 50 years ago and has not been cleaned since, but we passed it about two or three blocks ago".

We tried to Hop-off the Bus and went to a bar for a beer.  This bar was actually a bit dingy on the outside, but quite nice in the inside and the bartender brought the beer and offered seconds - pretty impressive.  Of course, now we had to figure out how to Hop-on the Bus.  The Hop-on Hop-off Bus Company provided us with a map of Buenos Aeries which showed us quite clearly that Buenos Aeries was located in Argentina and the Argentina was in South America.  It was less clear on where you could Hop-back on the Bus - we started walking, waiting, walking some more and finally spotted a Hop-on Hop-off Bus which was leaving, but we figured that another Hop-on Hop-off Bus would appear and we were right - about 30 minutes or so later.

We made it back to the hotel after about five hours - Karen was about ready to send out an alarm at our absence.  I calmed her down and showed here the photos of our trip which convinced her for certain that she had not missed anything.

That evening we had a seriously lovely time at the Esquina Carlos Gardel - a classic old theater which provided a tango show which was quite spectacular, including a live orchestra, and a fixed price all-inclusive dinner.

The next morning we also went to the top of our hotel which had a pool and a lovely view of Buenos Aeries (which looks just fine from far away).  We agreed that we should have just stayed there instead of hopping on and off buses the day before.

We were off to the Seabourn Quest and Antarctica!!!!!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

To Buenos Aires

Monday - January 9:

So the day started with Karen asking, "are you going to wear the shirt you wore last night?"

I replied, "Yes, I'll change when we arrive in Buenos Aires."  How often do you get to say that?

The hotel shuttle driver got us smoothly to the airport, we glided through security (having, among other things, become one of the TSA permanent approved a month or so ago) and went to our gate.  The flight was non-eventful (though Karen would note that it did have some bumps).  We arrived at Dallas - Fort Worth on time and had a 3 hour layover (reduced from 6 hours through the involuntary changing of the original departure city from Portland to Seattle.

Since we had international business class tickets, we were able to gain entry to American Airlines Admiral Club (though there was a First Class Dining room which they did not allow business class riff-raff to enter, allowing only First Class people or real Admirals).  We comfortably spent the next few hours there.

We ambled towards are gate almost an hour ahead of time and were surprised to see that they had already got the boarding process in full swing, they had gone way beyond the "unfortunate people with young children" and the "people who need help they won't get", past those "lucky people who sit towards the front with seats that turn into beds" and "people who fly all the time so have lots of credits and people who own a military uniform" and they were all the way to the "tired, poor and hungry yearning to be free" - we boarded with them even though we were able to stop at the comfy seats while they just shook their heads at us with clear envy.

We snuggled into our travel forts, the only real problem being that the cocoon-like structures did not lend themselves to conversation between Karen and I.  Still, the seats were comfortable by airplane standards, making you feel like an astronaut readying for takeoff.

Since I was able to lie flat, I was also able to fall asleep (only waking up to the occasional bathroom trip and to answer Karen's inquiries as to whether or not I was asleep).

As we approached Buenos Aires they woke us up for breakfast.

At the airport, we were greeted by our luggage after an appropriate delay, made it through customs and then located our friends from the UK who had first suggested the trip now a year ago, Roger and Helen.

It was an amazing feat of coordination and luck, both couples arriving with all of their luggage from 6,000 miles apart (Oregon to UK) and traveling respectively about 7,000 miles each to get to Buenos Aires.

We had arrived!!!

The Barnums Off to Penguin-Land!!!

We are off on another trip!!!

Of course, it was a typical Barnum departure.  As the day of the flight neared, the weather worsened.  We knew that bad weather was a possibility, but had taken comfort from the early weather reports that said it was going to be the high 30's or low 40's.

They were wrong.

We were to fly out Monday morning, so it snowed and rained ice on Saturday which continued to Sunday.  Sunday morning, we received a helpful text message from American Airlines saying our flight had been cancelled, "if you need assistance, please call".  If we had had our own large jet to take to South America we would not have needed assistance, but I was short one large jet.

The lady on the telephone said no flights were leaving for Dallas, Texas (our first stop on the way to Buenos Aeries) on Monday and we had the choice of flying out of Seattle or waiting until Tuesday when a flight "might" be leaving Portland.  The word "might" caught our attention, so we decided to book the early morning flight from Seattle on Monday and figure out how to get to Seattle.

Cousin Ken had agreed to take care of the puppies while we were gone on this trip, the only problem was retrieving him from an icy hill.  That could wait until later, first to pick up a rental car from Hertz.

I walked through the snow, ice and slush through downtown to the local Hertz (the buses and Max were on "reduced" schedule - as in, could barely be seen).  There the initial question was "is this covered by insurance?" Apparently, 15 people had come ahead of me and all of them involved wrecks in the ice and snow with replacement rentals while their car was being repaired.  My thought was, "they're okay with us taking these rentals out?"  I normally pass on the collision-damage waiver.  This time I thought, what the hell, let Hertz fix anything.

I picked up the car, they had no 4-wheel drive SUVs or tanks, so I picked up the largest sedan they had - a Hyundai (I had been hoping for a Cadillac or a Lincoln).  I made it back to the Condo and transferred to the Explorer to pick up Cousin Ken.  The Explorer did just fine heading up the hill to get Cousin Ken and we made it back to the Condo where Karen and I finished packing, said a tearful goodbye to the puppies (they seemed fine, though Dolly was a bit concerned and was very needy with Karen before we left) and we were off!!  Well, almost off, first Karen said upon arriving at the garage, "you got a Hyundai?"  I think I said something like "Korea is lousy with snow".

The drive to Seattle was not too bad, considering the snow, ice, rain and poor visibility.

We arrived at the airport Hilton, settled Karen into the room and I took the Hyundai (still intact) back to Hertz, followed by a practice bus ride to the terminal, followed by a bus ride to the hotel.  My lovely bride asked me to bring up drinks from the bar on arrival (which I did) and had ordered up steak and wine from room service, so all was well.

We were ready to begin our trip!!!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Arctic Circle near Russia... again!

Gary finds himself in the Arctic Circle.... AGAIN!
This time it's for work in Kotzebue.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Friday, March 13, 2015

Driving in Norway

Norwegians are the most polite drivers I have ever encountered in the World.

In some ways, I'm surprised they ever get anywhere.  They do not drive fast, they are quick to yield to other drivers, and they are cautious to a fault.

Principally because of oil and gas revenues, Norway is a very wealthy nation.  They have put a lot of money into their travel infra-structure.

They have lights on almost every highway.  They have tunneled to a point where you wonder if it is a nation of moles.  They have huge bridges.  Since Karen does not particularly like tunnels and I do not particularly like heights (as in, really tall bridges that almost never, but occasionally do, fall down), Norway has covered most of our basic fears.  They have everything except extra lanes to drive in.  For the most part, Norway is covered in two-lane highways, brightly lit, which go all over the place through tunnels, over bridges and to the occasional ferry.

Norwegians are extremely polite.  As a result, they drive in lines, one behind the other, for miles, with no attempts to pass.

If we were actually moving at a decent speed, this would probably be fine.  However, the Norwegian speed limits were apparently set with peace and serenity in mind, not with the concept of actually going anywhere.  Of course, perhaps the real problem is that Norwegian speed signs can reduce people like me to the giggles, since the Norwegian word for "speed" is "fart".

Huge sections of the highways are posted for "farts" at 60 or 70 kilometers an hour.  Either of those generate comments from my lovely passenger like "why are we going so slow?"  Sixty kilometers an hour is basically like you have released the parking brake, but have not yet started the engine.  Seventy is only slightly better.

The ridiculously low fart limits are enforced by the liberal use of "traffic cameras" which seem to be placed every 10 kilometers or so (which translates to 6 miles, in a "who cares" kind of way).  There are warning signs that a traffic camera is coming, so a person like me could hit the pedal in full fart once he passes the camera and slow down when the next one is announced.  It seems like most Norwegians are not like me and they diligently plod along at "almost no kilometers an hour" as posted, so people like me are trapped in a perpetual polite Norwegian line of law-abiding citizens.

The tunnels are incredible.  They are all over the country and some are huge and go deep under the fjords.  Apparently, even more are coming.  On our travels, we went on the deepest car tunnel in the World, at about 1,000 feet deep and one of the longer car tunnels, at about 8 and 1/2 miles long (the longest is at an unbelievable 15 miles).  We also went into a tunnel that had a round-about in the middle of the tunnel, dividing it into two additional tunnels.  They are their own eco-system, with steam forming over your car windows, exhaust billowing around and your ears suggesting that a more natural environment might be more pleasant for all.  In many, but not all of the tunnels, huge fans are constantly trying to clean the air, usually only partially successfully.

The tunnels are not pleasant places to be.

When we are outside the tunnels, the views of the mountains, valleys, fjords and mountain lakes have been gorgeous!!!!!

Of course, farting along at 60 kilometers per hour, you have a lot of time to appreciate it.

Un-American Showers

In an earlier post from this trip, I described the classic half-wall/in a tub shower.  That is certainly one of the European favorites.

However, with newer-designed hotels, you sometimes have a "sort-of-enclosed" shower where glass walls come out from the bathroom wall and there is a glass door to enter the shower.

From a distance, they look lovely.

However, these showers were obviously designed by someone who either "didn't wash" or "only took baths" - he (or she) clearly had no interest in what it was actually for (apart from the concept that water is supposed to come down on one's head).

The first problem with most of these showers is that the glass door is of a size where if you are a three-dimensional person, with hips, stomach, thighs and similar parts, it is never clear whether it is better to pull the door out or push it in.  Either way, you have to move around like a circus contortionist to get around the door.

The second problem is figuring out how to turn the shower on and how to adjust the temperature.  A very common approach in Europe is that one knob turns on the water and the other knob (which you are desperately grasping for as the water falls on you which is either "Arctic cold" or "Hellfire hot") adjusts the temperature.  Sometimes it is clear, but more often than not it is more of a guess as to which knob does what.

The final problem is that the European shower designers have no concept of what a shower floor or basin might look like.  They don't care.  The glass doors and walls go almost, but not quite, to the floor, leaving a gap around the shower bottom which spills (literally) out into the bathroom. The shower floor, in the meantime, is flush with the bathroom floor, with not the slightest hint of a lip to discourage water from streaming out.  There is a drain, often in the shower, but it really doesn't matter where it is located since the floor is flat.  Water goes down the drain only if it happens to pass by it.  There is no urgency in this process and the water can move about the entire bathroom at its leisure.

Karen has told me several times that if I position the shower door in Europe exactly right (as in, not too far in and not too far out), then less water will spill.  Karen, while not a particularly patient person, can be very patient and particular when it comes to keeping things clean and orderly.  My problem is that I am a guy and I have no patience with these types of things.  My view is, get in, get it done and let the clean-up crew (which can be me) come in fix it later.  My other issue is, when I shower, I want the water to be hot and plentiful (as in, like a huge waterfall).  I rely on the trickle-down theory with respect to water and expect to disappear into the drain after that.

In Europe, this doesn't work as the drain is more of a leak, allowing a little but not too much of the water to leave the bathroom.

There is a lot about Norway (and Europe) that I love, but I am looking forward to my American shower!!!!!

Off at Trondheim, Visiting the Ancestral Home and Seeing Family

The Hurtigruten was a wonderful experience!  We had a lovely cabin, saw the Northern Lights, spent an enormous amount of time North of the Arctic Circle, met wonderful people and had some excellent food.

However, the boat was in constant motion, the buffets were becoming way too familiar and the prospect of disembarking was starting to sound more and more attractive.

Karen's family, on the Sagen side, originally came from a small fishing community outside of Trondheim.  As in, really, really small.  The family pretty much comprised the community.  Karen has been telling me for years (I dimly recall her mentioning it to me in high school) about her Grandfather growing up in this house, which still stood and was still in the family.  The interesting thing about this particular house is that it was originally about twice the size and at some point after her Grandfather moved to America the house was divided into two and one half was moved about fifty feet away.  So, unlike Lincoln's prediction that "a house divided against itself cannot stand", this particular group of Norwegians showed everyone that it could do just fine.  We don't know the story behind the split, but we have always assumed that it has to be a good one.

We had sort of an address, though it was a bit vague on whether the house was in a town and, if so, what town.  We also had photographs of what the house(s) looked like today.  We did have a map somewhere in our luggage, but we were relying on GPS.  With that, I booked us a room in Trondheim, a flight from Trondheim to Bergen after a night's stay and a rental car to take us to the family home.

We arrived on the about 6:30 a.m. in Trondheim, had a leisurely cup of coffee and a bite to eat, then disembarked from the Hurtigruten MSFinnmarken.  There was a taxi waiting for someone who had not arrived.  The taxi driver offered to run us over to the Trondheim Clarion Hotel and Congress, which was only a few blocks away, but a healthy walk when burdened with luggage and no porters.  He was a godsend!
Good bye, Finnmarken!

The hotel was very modern and lovely and the reception was great, particularly since at 9 a.m. they had a room ready for us!!  We dropped off our luggage, freshened up and then went down to pick up our car which Avis had personally delivered to us at the hotel.  I've normally been a Hertz-man, but I'll have to admit that Avis got my attention this time (I had called Hertz first, but they didn't have any cars, to which I said, "Why did you answer the phone?").

It took a couple of hours to get to the general area of the family home.  First, we had to get through Trondheim and then take a ferry.
Ferry to Saga

Then, we started driving in the lovely countryside.  At some point, we arrived at the largest highway construction site we've ever encountered.  The problem was that there was very little guidance as to where we supposed to go or which of the trucks were trucks just passing through and which ones were actually working on the site.  It is at times like this where I get a bit aggressive, assuming someone will tell me to stop if I cross a line somewhere.  Seriously, we just went around various vehicles, up and down large holes and across gravel and mud in the general direction of what appeared like it could eventually be a road.  No one stopped us, so we just kept going.

After about 6 to 8 miles of construction, we got back on a normal road.  It was shortly after that when our GPS lady chimed in and said "In two miles your address will be on the right hand side.  You will have to park on the 715 and walk to your destination."  Now this was not a message that we'd heard before from our GPS lady.  Karen knew that the place was remote, but our particular location at that time was missing something which we thought was fairly key for a fishing community, water.  We drove on and eventually the GPS lady started "recalculating", never a good sign.  We looked at each other in confusion, turned the car around and started heading back.  There was a side road near the place that the GPS lady seemed to like, so we turned down that road.  It was a single lane dirt road covered in snow and ice, so Karen made helpful observations like "Don't get close to that edge!"  "Don't get close to that edge either!"

We were nearing water, but it did not have the appearance of anything we had seen in the photos.  I saw a house way up on the top of an icy hill with a light on and decided we should ask for directions.  I pulled into the driveway and, fortunately, the owner of the home pulled in shortly after we had arrived.  He did not speak English well, though it was a lot clearer than our Norwegian.  Basically, he recognized the address, gave us directions to get back to the main road (including turning left at the huge cement truck which had overturned into a ditch), and where to go from there.  We drove back, following his directions and eventually Karen remembered the map.  Karen foraged through our luggage, found the map and we looked at it.  We had forgotten one important piece of information, the name "Saga".  We input that into our GPS and the GPS lady basically said, "Oh, that's where you wanted to go!  Why didn't you tell me that in the first place!!"

It was getting later, it was also starting to snow, and we were worried about heading back to the ferry before it got dark, but we pressed on.  We finally came to a lovely fjord that looked familiar and we came around a corner and saw the Sagen homestead exactly as we had seen it in the photos!  We had (and more importantly, Karen had) arrived!

 We found it!

 Looking in the window from outside.

Karen on the doorstep.

Sometimes in life, after anticipating something, it can be a letdown when it actually comes to pass.  Sometime, it can be exactly what, or better than, you were anticipating.  This was one of the latter.  We walked all around the grounds, peaked inside the windows to a view of the interior which was exactly like the photographs that Karen had been looking at for years, and just enjoyed feeling part of the family history.  During all this, the wind had picked up and it had started to snow even more heavily, so we had the added bonus of seeing the family home covered in snow!

When it was time to go, we decided to follow the coast route back rather than the construction route.  It was a beautiful drive through the snow and we arrived at the ferry as it was just finishing up loading, so we were able to just drive on board and not come to a stop.

It was a delightful day!!!

We stayed the night back in Trondheim, flew to Bergen the next day and started driving the Southern Coast of Norway (separate story to come).  A few days after that we arrived in Stavanger, which is a coastal town with a serious commitment to oil and gas development.  Old Stavanger is quite delightful, with little stone streets winding all over the place among a sea of old white wooden houses.

It was in Stavanger where we met up with a cousin of Karen and his wife (Jan and Anne-Breit) from the Sagen homestead side of the family (Karen's grandfather and Jan's grandfather having been brothers who lived in the Sagen homestead in the early 1900's).  We had a delightful traditional Norwegian dinner at their house (called "Sodd") and spent some time looking at an amazing array of photos from the Sagen homestead back in the early part of the last century.

Traditional "Sodd"
Anne-Breit, Jan and Gary

The highlight for us was a photo of Karen's grandfather at the Sagen homestead around 1961, standing with one of his brothers, Nils, who he had come with from Astoria to Norway for a visit, together with Jan, as a 7-year old, and others from the Sagen family.  The reason this was so memorable was that Karen had been talking for years about when her grandfather went to Norway when she was a child and her being very sad until his return.  To see a photo of him in Norway with someone who was actually there when her grandfather was there was one of those "full circle" moments.

The next evening, with Jan and Anne-Breit, we had a wonderful meal out at the Renaa Restaurant.  They claimed to have a 12-course meal, but I think they were miscounting, as I lost track somewhere around 27.  The portions, thankfully, were small, but there were so many portions that we were all crying "uncle" (or the Norwegian equivalent) by the end of the evening (which was 5 delicious hours after they served us course number 1).

Between our visit to the Sagen homestead and the delightful hospitality of the Stavanger cousins, we had a wonderful family time on our Norway trip!!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Finnmarken and Water Sports

The cruise up and down the coast of Norway had a lot of spectacular views and was generally an incredibly lovely experience.

We also had some huge ocean swells and a 24-hour period which included gale-force winds (70+ miles an hour with occasional "oh-my-god" gusts).  There were a number of times where Karen looked at me and asked me if I would go up and tell the captain to just "park the damn boat" for awhile until the storm had past.

Of course, I can (and often do) sleep through pretty much anything.  Karen, on the other hand, cannot.  At one point in particularly rough seas, Karen mentioned that she was concerned that I might have rolled off the bed.  From the look in her eyes, though, I suspect she would have at least got a good chuckle had I been tossed from my bed.

Karen did discover that our little windowless bathroom was most comfortable place for her in rough seas.  So, in particularly nasty weather, I could be found snoring in the bed while Karen was sitting in the bathroom waiting for the storm to pass.

When we crossed the Arctic Circle, there was an initiation ceremony which included a viking or a troll (recall that I cannot tell them apart) who would pour ice and water down your neck, followed by a drink.  How could I not take part in this ceremony?

Unlike the other Hurtigruten boats, the Finnmarken does have a pool and a couple of hot tubs.  I passed on the swimming pool, but a hot tub while cruising in ice cold weather was something I could not resist.  Of course, traveling in February, I had neglected to pack any swimming trunks.

Fortunately, the Finnmarken had swimsuits available.

Well King, it Looks Like This Case is Closed

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were comprised of forts and television before the parents got out of bed.  The living room was covered in a sea of blankets stretched across the sofas and lounge chairs, looking vaguely like a Bedouin village populated by midgets.

One of our favorite telephone shows was "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon", with his faithful husky dog, King.  Because this was the 1950's, they didn't actually have to go into the snow; we were just a couple of years after radio and were willing to imagine anything.  Sergeant Preston would walk into the cabin and a "poof" of white stuff would follow him from the outside, with a noise like wind, and we just knew it was cold, blustery and snowy outside.

I don't actually recall King ever pulling a sled.  It was probably a union thing and he was a Los Angeles husky, "Call my car, I don't do sleds."

As a kid though, you knew that old Sergeant Preston would hop onto his sled, yell "mush" or "heave ho" or "let's get going," and King would be off pulling the sled and the Sergeant over the snow after the bad guy in that show.  Spoiler Alert!  The bad guy was always the one guy in the cabin/bar/lodge who hadn't shaved and his plaid shirt might have a couple of wrinkles.  Everyone else was clean shaven and had neatly pressed clothes.

So, I was very excited about going on a DIY dog sled tour.

We were at the far North end of Norway, fairly close to Russia (which I understand is teeming with unshaven people with wrinkled plaid shirts).  A small group of us got off in an unpronounceable Norwegian port, lumbered into a bus and were driven through the snow and ice to the husky sled dog camp.  As a bonus, in addition to the husky sled dog ride, you could pick either a reindeer ride or a snowmobile ride.  We opted for the reindeer ride since we had separately booked a midnight snowmobile tour (which ultimately was cancelled because of gale-force winds, the problem with winter sports) and, well, it was a Reindeer Ride near the North Pole.

They herded us into a cabin where they outfitted us with winter gear, winter overalls, together with huge boots and gloves.  We basically looked like Stay Puft Marshmallow Men, but with fewer moving parts.

We left the cabin and followed our guide to the husky dog sled station, lumbering slowly in our outfits, like a group of Boris Karloff impersonators in search of a Frankenstein sequel.

The dogs were very lovable and excited!!  One thing was clear at that camp and a separate husky dog camp we went to later, they WANT to run and pull the sleds!  There was nothing more heart-rending than hearing the dogs who were tethered at their doghouses wailing at the sleds as they left.

We had a cute Laplander blond girl who was to be on the lead sled.  She gave us about ten seconds of instructions, "Here's de brake", then walked away to her sled.  Karen sat in the sled and I took up the helm, which was standing on the two narrow runners and holding onto the handle, with the "brake" (which was a thing that you stepped on to dig into the snow) between the two runners.  That was it, no reins, no gearshift knob, no steering wheel, nothing else.  My options were to "hang on" or "brake".  To turn the sled, you were instructed to lean a bit one way or the other, but that is basically like telling the end person skating in "crack the whip" to try and control everyone else, it doesn't happen.

When our guide went off, each of the teams of dogs and their sleds went bounding after them.  It was an amazing feeling, the wind and snow in my face, the dogs speeding along and me trying to balance on the narrow runners.  That is, until I came to a hill.

I'm just speaking from my perspective.  Our husky dogs may have their own blog where they are posting "You Should Have Seen the Huge Guy I Had to Tow Last Week".  However, what you don't see in the short husky sled videos is a group of huskies coming to a hill and sitting down, obviously waiting for a T-Bar to tow them up the slope.

Perhaps it would be different if I was a bit smaller, but I like to think of myself as a man of substance.  Apparently, the dogs thought so too as they stared back at me with that "you go first" look in their eyes.

So, to get up the hill, I had to step off the runners, yell a "gee haw" "mush" and generally pant, to get the dogs to start moving.  The trick here is to not let go of the handle or to let the sled start to go faster than I am able to go.  It was a distinct possibility that the runners would outrun me and at any moment my wife would be the head musher sitting on the sled without the benefit of brakes.

The first half of the journey consisted of what seemed to be a lot more "ups" than "downs".  Karen would periodically call back to me with "are you all right", "are you still breathing", "are you having a heart attack" to which I would bravely respond with pants and groans.

In fairness, these were not large dogs.  Karen, god bless her, suggested that larger or more dogs might have been able to pull us with less effort on my part.  She didn't give actual sizes or numbers, but at least there was the hope that a huge team of mutant dogs could be mustered for future sled rides.

Our guide did stop mid-way and come back to check on us.  I mentioned that our dogs were having a hard time on the hills (hers looked bigger and well-rested and I was hinting at a trade), but she assured us that the rest of the trip was going to be downhill.  Fortunately, it was.  All in all, it was a lot of fun, but it would have been nice if Sergeant Preston would have warned me about the challenges of sledding uphill.

After the dogsled ride, we hopped into a van and took a short ride to the reindeer camp.  Our guide was another Laplander.  He and his wife ran the reindeer side of the business, which was comprised of a few of the reindeer who got to pull the sleighs and a few hundred additional reindeer that they herded and as to which the Laplander said "we use all of the reindeer."  I remember an example of the difference between the words "involved" and "committed".  With a ham and egg breakfast, the chicken is "involved" and the pig is "committed".  The reindeer who were not involved in sledding were committed.

The reindeer sleigh ride was very relaxing and beautiful.  The Laplander led the lead reindeer on foot and guided us on a two-mile sleigh ride through a beautiful snowy valley.

We then returned to the cabin at the dogsled camp, put on our regular clothes and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee, some lefsa for dessert and reindeer stew for those of us with a sense of humor and irony.  Not everyone joined in the stew.