Archive for August 2012

Old Dutch Masters

August 5, 2012

We were fortunate enough to have a peek into Holland’s past, and I want to share it with you. Although we sailed into Amsterdam, we drove up to Enkhuizen (stopping for an excellent lunch at De Tuynkamer in Hoorn) to the Zuiderzee Museum. It’s a museum that you reach by boat, and sailing in we saw lots of cool watercraft.

Once at the museum, which shows no paintings, no sculptures, I was struck nearly speechless. This is another of those preservation museums, where houses and buildings that show life as it was have been assembled, so that you can immerse yourself in the past.

What we saw there convinced me that the Dutch who lived during the mid-19th century had mastered the art of gorgeous living. Typical activities like drying and smoking fish

are probably just as beautiful today as they ever were. But the recreated village, as a whole, was a tone poem of color and texture that made us want to move there now, to live there then. I’ll show, not tell. Such beauty needs no commentary.

See what I mean? I’d show you far more, if at-sea satellite Internet weren’t so slow, and so costly. For now it’s time to close that little Dutch window, and look forward to England. Rough seas, heavy swells, that’s what our Captain announced. Dramamine, said I.

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Norwegian Nutshell

August 2, 2012

We definitely adored Norway. It’s pure and pristine and wild and wacky, all in one. It was never really on my radar before we visited four Norwegian port towns, but now it decidedly is, and I’d happily spend more time there. Here’s a little combo plate of Norwegian delights, for your delectation, in no particular order.

On the food front, which I’ve been neglecting lately, Norway is all about the fish. Even the famed Spanish bacalao is made from Norwegian cod.

The fish market in Bergen was bursting with gorgeous fish, both fresh

and dried.

They’ll even cook for you right on the spot, although we felt like sitting down for an indoor lunch.

This restaurant in Bergen looked alluringly trendy, but instead we opted for

the reassuringly homey Restaurant Dampen, where I fell in love with the music of Siri Nilsen,

and had one of the hugest and most delicious bowls of mussels of my life.

At the opposite end of the food pyramid, in a grocery store in Aalesund, I walked into a ballroom-sized refrigerator case, which held all of the store’s perishables, including these tubes of cheese, in flavors like bacon and pepper, tomato, jalapeno, and taco.

But taco-flavored tube cheese wasn’t Aalesund’s biggest surprise. That honor went to

this not-so-giant egg, in which in 1904 4 men spent 5 months, bobbing and being battered, from Norway to Boston, just to prove that lifeboats were a worthy concept.

Think about it: 4 men, 5 months, crossing the Atlantic, in this.

The same museum reminded me of the not-so-distant day when you had to be an artist to make photographs, none of the point, shoot, and post foo that we resort to today.

A pretty view over Aalesund,

and one over Bergen from the top of Mt. Ulriken. Much is made of Bergen’s funicular, but we accidentally took the cable car instead, and were rewarded with these splendid views,

in addition to being greeted at the top by these friendly sheep,

a little parking place to leave your dog,

and a hardy post-Viking guy changing out of his long-sleeved shirt, because after all it was Norwegian summer, even if it was windy and cool.

Back at sea level we admired the Norwegian architecture

and pondered the sad fact that no matter how lovely Norway is, no matter how useful Shel’s bit of Danish and my few words of Swedish are,

we’ll never be able to afford to live there. It’s a place to return to, though, and I hope we will.

One Fjord For All

August 1, 2012

If you’re only going to see one fjord, let it be Geiranger. It’s utterly awe-inspiring, even if we did have to get up at 6:30 in the morning to worship its full majesty.

How in the world did they build this little farm, perched hundreds of feet up on the sheer rock face above the fjord, next to the Seven Sisters falls? Not to mention how in the world was it possible to live there, back in the day, no power, no phone, no Internet, no road, no car, no nada except the pure awesomeness of total isolation in a splendid place.

Coming into the tiny town of Geiranger, population 250, on a ship carrying 2000 people. We weren’t the only tourists in town, though, as there were campers and cars with license plates from all over northern Europe, and as far away as Italy and Estonia.

Specially for the tourists, I suppose, there were lots of weird foods in the Geiranger grocery store.

We weren’t having any, but we did buy some delicious elk sausage that accompanied our happy hours for a couple of days afterwards.

High above the fjord at the idyllic and 300 year old Herdal Mountain Farm,  we admire the sturdy Norwegian fjord horses, as well as the goats that make the milk for their caramelized gjetost, a sweet brown goat cheese often found in the US under the Ski Queen label. The animals spend their summers on the mountain,

and the winters 10 kilometers downhill in pretty little Norddal,

where the gravestones in the little churchyard have individually planted flower beds.

On the way back down the 11 hair-raising hairpin turns of the mountain road, we stop to admire the wakes of the boat traffic in the fjord down below. I’m not sure that the Vikings have anything on our bus driver, for sheer bravery. Those hairpin turns are enough to freeze your blood, even in summer, and the road is open all year. But not for us, as we’re headed south, staying in Norway for another couple of days before sliding down towards Amsterdam.