Tuesday, January 10, 2017

GETTING FROM POINT A TO POINT B



Taking Uber is definitely the newest and best way to get around when you need to get from point A to point B and don't want to drive your car.  We use Uber to take us to and from the airport, which happens often.  Before Uber we either relied on the understandably infrequent generosity of friends to drive us, or we reserved a multi-passenger commercial shuttle van that picked us up three to four hours before our flight, which most of the time required that we get up at some god-awful hour in the middle of the night.  Then, depending on how many other people were also taking that same van, we either twiddled our thumbs arriving too early at the airport or we became very anxious because a confused driver started going south to San Jose International instead of north to SFO.   That awful I-might-miss-my-plane feeling is what makes my blood pressure rise, so until Uber came along, we reserved a luxury Town Car from a limousine service, which ensured a reasonable pick-up time, plus a comfortable drive on cushy leather seats while listening to soothing classical music on the way to the airport.  We didn't have to scramble for a good seat in a multi-passenger van, but most of all we didn't have to listen to mindless chatter or whining kids.   But even though we were really comfortable and relaxed, that fancy-ass limousine cost us nearly a hundred bucks one way!  

Although I was a bit nervous the first time I clicked the Uber icon on my mobile phone,  the service has been very reliable, at least in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, and in the DC area where I often need transportation to the airport.  I should comment, however, that we have never used Uber when traveling outside of the United States and probably wouldn't try it,  unless we were in a country where English is the first language.


Fortunately we've had good drivers with clean cars that seem to run fine.  We've never felt unsafe, nor have we had an experience where Uber didn't show up on time.  After I click on the Uber icon, the location service on my device notes my pick up location, and very quickly I receive a reply from a driver who is usually close by.  I text him or her back to confirm exactly where we are waiting; this is important at the airport, where our location can be confusing.  


Recently a long flight from Washington, DC, which was delayed 4-hours, meant landing at SFO in the pouring rain at 2:30 in the morning.   After we got our checked luggage, I clicked on the Uber app and plugged in where we wanted to go.   Then we went outside the terminal  and stood on the sidewalk waiting with a dozen other fliers who too were staring intently at their brightly lit device screens waiting for confirmations from their drivers.  


Ding Ding !!!!   Henry in a black Toyota Camry will be arriving in 5 minutes, I read on my small screen.  Other people began eyeing license plate numbers as a long line of cars slowly cruised by.  Our Henry pulled up promptly in a fairly new car and helped us load our luggage in the trunk.   Once we settled comfortably in the back seat, Henry began chatting us up and asking polite questions about our recent trip. "Where you guys coming back from at this hour?" he said in a jolly booming voice.  "Was this business or pleasure?"  "Pleasure," we struggled to answer in a coherent way, since our internal clocks told us it was really 5:30 in the morning, and we badly need sleep after having been awake for nearly 24 hours.   Despite our apparent exhaustion,  Henry continued to tell stories and ask more questions, and before long we are pulling into our home driveway and feeling very wide awake.


Talking to strangers is not a problem for me--to the contrary, as most of you know--but even Bruce, who is generally pretty quiet, engaged in a conversation with Henry because he was so nice and had interesting stories to tell.  He drives for Uber more for fun than money, although it does help pay his daughter's tuition in private school.  He starts driving at 2:00 a.m. at the end of his night shift as a public transit mechanic,  and he stays behind the wheel for two or three hours before going home and getting some sleep.   "Driving helps relax me from a physically demanding job," he said,  "I'm an outgoing person, and this way I get to talk to some pretty interesting people who otherwise I would never meet.  And besides the freeways are generally quiet at this hour too, which is another reason why driving helps calm me down."  He went on to say, "Some people go home, fix a cocktail and watch TV, but that's not me.   I get in my car,  turn on my Uber driver app, and start talking."  


Henry was not the first Uber driver we met who was doing this gig as a second job.  In fact, we've met only one person who drives for Uber full time.  A young fellow who works at my beauty salon and is just getting his hair cutting business underway also drives for Uber.   He says it's not a high paying job, but the extra income in his off hours helps meet expenses while he builds up his clientele.  We had a female Uber driver just one time, but we've had drivers from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Vietnam, and Texas.   We always enjoy talking to drivers who come from countries we have visited, like Morocco and Ethiopia.  Strangely enough Henry was our first Native Son of the Golden West! which means born and bred in California.


What prompts this post about Uber is because I want to share a funny story written and posted on Facebook by my very good friend. 


He is a 30-something entrepreneur, a  PhD, who has founded a couple of  successful startup companies here in Silicon Valley and is currently a CEO of a brand new startup that already employs twelve people.   He hails from the United Kingdom, and is the only individual I know personally who drives for Uber.   I found his recent Facebook story so amusing that I asked him if I could share this with you on my Biker Chick Gone Crazy site.  He didn't have a problem with my sharing it, but asked if I would keep him anonymous so that none of his friends or employees would find out, even though he did post it on Facebook.  So, I will honor his request.  Here's a very funny Uber story written by my friend whom I will call Bob.  
 

I've been moonlighting as an Uber driver for about six months now.  Whenever I have to drive to San Francisco or to Silicon Valley, I turn on the app and use the destination filter to pick people up along the way.  I normally hate driving, but I'm now a little addicted to picking people up on Uber.

After tax, car maintenance and gas, the money is probably around the minimum wage, so I'm not doing it for the money.  But I'm an extrovert and love meeting new people.  I am someone who has hitchhiked a lot around the world, and I normally pick up hitchhikers whenever I can.  I love the interesting conversations I have with the people I meet.

Last night, I attended a fancy dinner on UK biotech policy hosted by the British MP Lord Prior, for the JP Morgan Healthcare conference (happening next week in San Francisco).  After the dinner ended, I waited a few minutes before I turned on the Uber driver app to make sure I didn't pick up someone I'd just had dinner with.

Off I went.  "Tonight I'm a real chauffeur," I thought as I'm actually wearing a suit and tie!  After picking up four party goers and dropping them off at a wedding reception, I picked up another three people.  Two of them had British voices, but I could not see them.  The people were deep in discussion so I didn't say much.  As one of them continued to talk, I thought to myself, "I know that voice!" and I looked again in the mirror and realized it was a Palo Alto venture capitalist that I know.  I suddenly didn't know what to do.  Did I say hello or shut up?  I decided that this was too funny to keep quiet so during a pause in the conversation, I said, "I don't know if I should speak up or keep quiet but we know each other," and she replied, "Hi Bob, you know I thought I recognized your voice when I got in."  It turns out she was with two other colleagues going to the same conference.  She introduced us and we exchanged cards (I keep a stash in my glovebox and go through a lot).  It turns out that one of the other passengers was also having dinner with Lord Prior on Monday, and he promised to pass on my regards (!).  As we parted, he commented that I embodied the entrepreneurial spirit of the Bay Area.  I said "this isn't normal actually," and he replied "Are you kidding, this is the Bay Area, it's totally normal."  

So, if you have considered using Uber to get from point A to point B, I encourage you to try it since it works really well.  All you do is download the free Uber app on your mobile device and put in a credit card number so that no money is exchanged at the point of service.  And who knows one day if you are riding with Uber somewhere here in the Bay Area you might be in the back seat of a car driven by my good friend Bob, the PhD, CEO, entrepreneur turned Uber driver or Henry the public transit mechanic.  Either way you will experience excellent service and be highly entertained. 


Friday, December 16, 2016

THE DAY OF THE DEAD

When I was a little girl, a fish monger working behind the counter at our local A&P handed me a gray blob on a sheet of waxed paper and dared me to eat the slimy thing raw, and I did.  It was no big deal and I've enjoyed oysters on the half shell ever since.   Last month when I was in Oaxaca, Mexico for a photography workshop around a celebration called the Day of the Dead, my friends goaded me into eating dried grasshoppers and ant larvae, and I did.   I must admit that the crunchy bugs didn't slide down my throat quite as easily as the raw oyster, but to creep out my friends I told them that my throat was feeling scratchy because the grasshoppers were trying to crawl back out.   Eating a raw oyster or dead grasshoppers was no big deal.   But what is a really big deal is the annual celebration in Oaxaca called Dia de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead.  During this three day celebration  (10/31-11/2),  Mexican families gather to celebrate the life of dearly departed family members and relatives whom they miss dearly.  Maybe these individuals died generations ago or perhaps as recently as within the last year, but to the people left behind, it doesn't really matter when their family members died.  What's important is how much they are still revered,  always remembered, and forever loved.


WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAMPLE SOME DELICIOUS GRASSHOPPERS? 

MINCED OR WHOLE (AND THEY ARE NOT JUST FOR TOURISTS)



The first time I heard about Dia de Los Muertos was around Halloween time when my stepdaughter Nikki made herself up to look like Frida Kahlo and went to a celebration of life at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in LA.   Back then I assumed that Dia de Los Muertos was the Mexican equivalent of our Halloween, but I had that completely wrong.  Dia de Los Muertos is not Halloween at all.  The Day of the Dead is an ancient tradition that is genuinely observed, celebrated and preserved.  It is a festival of life, an opportunity to remember the dearly departed and loved ones in life.  It is also a chance for people to get in touch with deeply rooted traditions that are devoted to the cycle of life.  At the heart of this sacred time are beautifully crafted altars and shrines that pay tribute.  It is a time to bring faith, family and history together and value this ancient custom.  



NIKKI DRESSED AND MADE UP TO LOOK LIKE FRIDA KAHLO


When I visited Oaxaca a few months ago, I was part of a six-person photography workshop organized by Master Photographer David Coleman of Redwood City, California.  David, who grew up in Mexico City, is not only fluent in Spanish but is also very comfortable in the Oaxacan culture.  In addition to teaching us great street photography skills,  he made our experience very special and personal because he knew how to best relate to the Oaxacan people,. This made our taking photographs of the locals extremely comfortable.  He also introduced us to some amazing food!

  Dia de Los Muertos is not a mournful commemoration, but instead a happy and colorful celebration, where death is not frightening or strange.  It is considered part of life.  During the day there are parades in the streets with multiple marching bands, and groups of families pushing baby carriages and little tykes riding high on their fathers' shoulders.   Many people paint their faces in ghoulish designs and wear brightly colored costumes.   At night most of the cemeteries around the city are alive with music and laughter.  The graves are surrounded by aromatic marigolds and incense, which is offered in abundance in a candle lit setting, where souls are illuminated from the shadows of death.  These handsomely decorated altars are a way to pay tribute to loved ones with photographs, mementos, fruit, cookies, and jugs of mescal, the local alcoholic drink made from the agave plant.   
















On the first night we visited the Panteon General San Miguel, which is a traditional-looking cemetery with hundreds of engraved marble tombstones of different sizes spaced closely together in a haphazard way.  The cemetery is surrounded by a large wall, which serves as a columbarium with small candles exposing the names and dates of dearly departed.   


COLUMBARIUM WALL AT PANTEON GENERAL SAN MIGUEL


Because Dia de Los Muertos is heaven (pardon the pun) for photographers, there were many of us at the cemetery on our first night, but fortunately we didn't get in each other's way.  I wandered around by myself for a while hoping to find the perfect photo op but truth be told I was also making sure not to get lost.  Eventually I teamed up with Ed, a fellow photographer, and David and that's when things began to get interesting.  Someone who dressed exotically and identified herself as the Black Widow appeared and seemed anxious to be photographed.    Because of her relevant dress and enticing manner, we initially took the Black Widow to be a woman, but over time we began to think that maybe the Black widow was a man.  Either way she/he seemed to enjoy the attention  and surprisingly she didn't ask for any money.  A rather large crowd gathered around her, mostly to gawk as she paraded around and struck a variety of different poses, but only a few of us were actually taking pictures.  I was so enthralled by this magnificent opportunity that I failed to check the settings on my camera so despite at least fifty or sixty clicks, all I got was pretty much a bunch of  blurs.  Of course, I didn't know this until the next day when I downloaded the images on my computer,  but by then I was out of luck.  The Black Widow image below was taken by Master Photographer and my coach David Coleman.  So, readers, I'm curious.  What is your take from looking at the picture?   Man?  Woman?  






My favorite cemetery for night time photography was Panteon de San Felipe, which we visited around 9 p.m. on our last night and took pictures until midnight.  Walking into the cemetery lit almost entirely by thousands of candles took my breath away, and rather than the stark marble tombstones we had seen the night before, the San Felipe graves were pretty simple,  and in some cases just a mound of dirt adorned with a small wooden cross.  But what set San Felipe apart from Panteon General San Miguel was the imaginative and creative ways the family plots were decorated.  Almost all were bordered by tall tapered white candles, and the graves were either covered or outlined with beautiful marigolds with their vibrant color and pungent scent.  I read that the Mexicans believe that these special marigolds will help guide the spirits to their alters.   



THE GRAVE OF ANTONIA GUERRERO




Reader, you may find this hard to believe from the expressions you see on some of these faces in the photographs, but we were, for the most part, welcomed warmly into people's personal space,  as if we were members of their family.  Women tending the graves of their late husbands or mothers looking at photos of their late children beckoned us to come closer, to pay tribute and take as many pictures as we wanted.  Clever David Coleman brought a newly-released Polaroid-like camera, which enabled him to take photographs and share a hard copy on the spot with family members as a memento of this celebration.  What a genius idea.   As his students we benefited from this act of kindness and not only were we permitted to take more photographs, we were also treated to home-made cookies, fruit breads, and other delicious pastries, and in a few cases some people even poured us small tastes of mescal, a home brew that gave us a glow all our own.  



LOST IN MEMORIES 


PAINTED FACES IS PART OF THE ALLURE





AN ELABORATELY DECORATED GRAVE WITH A 7 FOOT TALL CALACA (MEXICAN 
SPANISH FOR SKELETON)




Oaxaca, Mexico is a special place, not only for Dia de Los Muertos but for other holidays as well.  This artistic city is blessed with a flair for the creative:  famous for their black pottery, beautifully woven fabrics, and colorful painted wood carvings of animals, all works of art that are valued and collected around the world.  And then there is the food, which is not what we consider Mexican here at home.  Because of the unique ingredients (in addition to grasshoppers and ant larvae) used to make Oaxacan food, it should be considered gourmet, whereas in the United States what we call Mexican food is really Tex-Mex.



WITH  NO TIME FOR SHOPPING, I ADMIRED THESE BEAUTIFUL CRAFTS FROM A DISTANCE
(I KNOW.  SO UNLIKE ME)


THIS CHEF IS PREPARING A LUNCHEON FEAST THAT COST $23 TO FEED SIX HUNGRY PHOTOGRAPHERS 

Hopefully, next year I will return to Oaxaca to observe and photograph one of the strangest celebrations of all called, the Night of the Radishes.  On December 23rd people from all over the valley bring to the zocolo (town center) their largest homegrown radishes which have been lovingly carved into sculptures representing almost anything and a little bit of everything.  Oaxaca is also known for its flavorful chocolate and its rich ice cream,  two of my favorites foods.    I'd even return for another taste of the crunchy grasshoppers.  The ant larvae I'm not so sure.




 IF YOU USE YOUR IMAGINATION AND YOU LOOK CLOSELY, YOU WILL SEE THE ANT LARVAE IN THIS IMAGE


THERE WERE ONLY SIX OF US IN THE WORKSHOP BUT THERE ARE EIGHT FIGURES HERE.  GO FIGURE.



The adventure continues ........................






   







Monday, October 17, 2016

A GHOST TOWN CALLED BODIE

Abandoned towns exist all over the world, but few of them are considered a bonafide ghost town like Bodie.  This deserted, but once booming, gold mining town in the1880's is hidden deep within the hills east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, 13 miles off Highway #395 in California.  Considering that next week is Halloween, it seems timely to share my photos and tell you a little about our recent visit to a deserted place that entertains approximately 200,000 visitors a year.  This was my second visit to Bodie.  I don't remember the first one very well because it was at least 40 years ago after a challenging backpacking trip in the Sierras that totally wiped me out, leaving me little patience and no energy or interest in exploring a ghost town. Besides I didn't believe in ghosts.  I only recall that we had to drive 13 miles off the highway on a dirt road that felt like it hadn't been attended to since the 1800s.   My second trip last week was very different, definitely more meaningful and certainly more interesting and exciting.   Over the years I've heard a lot about Bodie, and the eeriness of the ghost town totally absorbed the photographer in me, unlike the first time when I was too broke to own a camera.





YES, 3 MILES ON A VERY BUMPY DIRT ROAD









This visit was different because now 10 of the 13 miles of the access road are paved.  This meant we only had to drive three miles on a dusty washboard with deep ruts and potholes.  The nicely paved road made our drive in much faster and certainly more comfortable.  I'm pretty sure that 40 years ago we were the only people visiting Bodie at the time because it was not well known like it is today, now that it is a California State Park and a National Historic site.   Last week when we reached the end of the road and the town's entrance, we came upon a gatehouse where a ranger collected a small fee, handed us a map and brochure, and directed us uphill to a paved parking lot where there were also important amenities like flush toilets.  He also said we had two and a half hours before the park closed, which seemed like plenty of time for us to explore the abandoned town.   There were a few visitors like us exploring the streets, peering into windows, and in some cases going inside some of the houses where remnants of the past were visible in paint-faded furniture, moth-eaten mattresses and broken doors that hung loosely, many unhinged.  Almost everyone had a camera.



MAIN STREET



NOT FOR SALE

Bodie began as a mining camp, following the discovery of gold in 1859 and was named after Bill Bodey,  one of the four prospectors who discovered the gold but never got to see the glorious rise of the town because he perished in a blizzard just a few months after establishing the camp.  The mining of gold and the glory of Bodie waxed and waned over the next ten to fifteen years, but in 1876 a profitable deposit of gold-bearing ore was discovered, and Bodie was transformed from an isolated mining camp to a wild west boomtown.  By 1879 Bodie had a population of approximately 5,000-7,000 people.  As a bustling gold mining center, Bodie offered many services of a larger town, such as a Wells Fargo Bank, a volunteer fire department, a brass band, a railroad and a well-used jail.  At its peak, 65 saloons lined main street which was a mile long.  Murders, shootouts, bar room brawls and stagecoach holdups were regular occurrences in Bodie.  There were hundreds of bearded miners, who came to town to seek their fortunes in the gold mine but spent their nights in the saloons, looking for quick money or simply getting into trouble and landing in jail.  Many of them looked like this old timer whose photo I took in the historic gold country town of Columbia just off Highway 49.



AN OLD TIMER WHO PROBABLY RESEMBLES THE FORTUNE SEEKERS OF BODIE



LISTING TO THE LEFT SLIGHTLY



THE BEAUTY OF DECAY


Living conditions in Bodie were crude and primitive, but the people in town were generous and kind, which helped Bodie thrive during the tough years, when gold became harder to mine and fortune seekers moved to other boom towns, hoping once again to get rich quick.   These changes eventually turned Bodie into a family-oriented community, as evidenced by the construction of the Methodist Church, which still stands, and the Roman Catholic Church that later burned down.  Despite the decline, Bodie had permanent residents through the early years of the 20th century even after the fire in 1932 that burned down 70% of the town.



METHODIST CHURCH STILL STANDS


















The title of ghost town was given to Bodie in 1915 when auto travel was on the rise, and people from all over came to visit after reading a story about the abandoned mining town published in the San Francisco Chronicle.  













In the 1940s the threat of vandalism faced Bodie, but the family who owned much of the town's land at that time hired caretakers to protect and maintain the town's structures, but no restoration had ever taken place.  





Bodie is now an authentic wild west ghost town, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and a State Historic Park in 1962.  Bodie is called a ghost town because it is preserved in a state of arrested decay.  This means that structures are maintained but only to the extent that they will not be allowed to fall over or otherwise deteriorate in any major way.  In addition new roofs, the rebuilding of foundations and the resealing of glass in window frames does help to preserve the town from natural decay.   After the 1932 fire, only a small part of the town survived, with about 110 structures.   


Bruce and I hurriedly walked the deserted streets of a town that was once bustling with activity, and while initially two and a half hours seemed like sufficient time to enjoy our visit, we left feeling a bit disappointed and frustrated because there was so much to see and so many photographs to take that we could have spent the entire day.  It goes without saying that we are hooked on Bodie.  Bruce and I will return in the spring, after the snow melts, so we can negotiate the steep mountain passes required to reach the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and have another magical experience of the spooky ghost town called Bodie.


EASTERN SIDE OF THE SIERRAS





Wednesday, September 28, 2016

HOW TO EAT A LOBSTER

Just as I smacked my lips after eating  a succulent piece of meat from the claw of my boiled Maine lobster, I heard a shrill shriek in a highly-prized Maine accent come out from my dear friend Billi's mouth.   "Who the hell dumped the knuckles in the bucket?"  Billi questioned, as she stared directly at me.  "Yikes, I guess that was me," I said in a somewhat guilty-sounding voice.  "I forgot there was some lobster meat in there."  





Once Billi discovered I was the culprit, she silently branded me a lobster-eating neophyte, a beginner, a rookie who didn't know how to tackle this pre-historic-looking, boiled-to-death monster that sat on my paper plate.  I did nothing during our feast to convince her of a time during my growing up years in New England when I attacked and ate a Maine lobster with gusto, like a pro, but I admit it has been some time since I rolled up my sleeves, put on my bib, and dismembered a marine crustacean.   Since our lobster feast was the centerpiece of our special one-day reunion among five very good friends from high school, I didn't want to embarrass myself, but I guess I kind of did. 

With apologies to Billi, whose father was a lobsterman, by the way, I retrieved the pristine knuckles from the bucket where I had tossed them because I didn't think they were worth the effort.  But now that I had them back on my plate,  I started with the lobster cracker first, but moved on to using the small pick fork which did most of the work, which wasn't easy.  To be honest I only got a few bits of flaky meat out of the knuckles, so when no one was looking, I dropped the bits in my bowl of melted butter,  and figured I could fish them out at the end.  I watched with envy as my friends slurped and sucked the juice and small bits of meat from every part of the lobster, including the knuckles, but I didn't know quite how to begin. 





Next I attacked the tail, which everyone knows holds the glory and is the tastiest part.   I twisted the tail off, carefully removed the three or four fan-like tabs and, just like my mother taught me, I pushed my fattest finger into the now-opened end, and voila, the chunky tail meat slipped out the other end in one nice big piece.  Just as I started to dip the lobster meat into my melted butter and take my first bite,  Billi grabbed the tail from my hand and spoke to me sternly once again.  "Pam, you don't eat that stuff," she said, as she tore away the red fleshy-like substance covering part of the tail.  Once she removed the red sheath, she deveined the lobster with her bare hands, like one might devein a shrimp, something I had never seen performed on a lobster before, but I watched and prayed that after she finished the job, there would be something left for me to eat.  "Here," she said, as she handed me the macerated tail, "but remember, never eat the red stuff."  Up until now my other Maine born and bred girlfriends, sat around the table engrossed in their own lobsters, but as Billi's comments grew louder, they turned to me and almost as if they had practiced in unison proclaimed  We never eat the red stuff -- whatever it is.    What is it anyway?  Eyeballs?  digested food?  female eggs?  the bladder?  No one was really sure, but they all agreed that you don't eat the red stuff.   By the time Billi finished cleaning my lobster tail, it looked pretty small, but after I dipped it in melted butter, and took my first bite, it didn't matter.   I was in bliss.  






After I finished the tail and wiped the melted butter from my chin,  I started to pry open the body of the lobster, and that's when I heard Billi's stern voice once again.   "No, No, No.  That's not the way.  This is how you do it."  Using both thumbs,  Billi broke open the carapace of the lobster and exposed a display of white flaky innards, which can be tasty, but, like the lobster knuckles,  it seemed like too much work to separate the meat from the cartilage.  Actually, I hoped to find the tasty green stuff,  the squishy paste that is called tomalley, and I did. I found lots of the delicious green stuff.  I have never wanted to ask anyone what tomalley really was for fear that it could be something horrible, like digested food, but when I looked up the spelling, I learned the awful truth.  Tomalley functions as both the liver and the pancreas of the lobster.  Now I think eating the liver and pancreas of a lobster sounds terrible, just as terrible as eating digested food, but I have always loved the green stuff.   Now that I have read the details on Wikipedia, I'm not sure whether I will eat tomalley ever again because I learned that tomalley often contains toxins and other pollutants, which possibly can give off a number of negative health effects if eaten in large concentrations.  Fortunately since I only eat a whole lobster once every couple of years, I doubt I have to worry, but on that special day with my girlfriends in Kennebunkport,  I ate two whole Maine lobsters and lots of tomalley.





After the table was cleared,  Billi placed a large home-made blueberry pie and a bowl of vanilla ice cream on the table for us to share.  Mainiacs, as people from Maine are called,  know that after consuming a lobster (or two), the tastiest dessert is a piece (or two) of fresh blueberry pie topped with vanilla ice cream.  Those tiny Maine blueberries are superior to blueberries grown anywhere else on the planet.





The lobster feast was the edible portion of a very special day-long reunion among five good friends who graduated together in 1961from Gould Academy, a boarding school in Bethel, Maine.  The non-edible portions of our day were non-stop talking, considerable introspection, some true confessions, and just a tiny bit of good clean gossip.



L-R LOUISE, BILLI, SANDY, PAM AND HILDA


The Adventure continues...............

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A PHOTO FEAST IN NORWAY'S LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN

If you ask a traveler to name a favorite place to visit,  the Norwegian fjords are often mentioned because of their dramatic and extraordinary beauty.  Once Bruce knew that a hip replacement was in his near future, we decided to see the fjords in Norway, and traveling by small cruise ship seemed like the ideal way to do it.  After researching the internet and talking to friends, we chose a two-week itinerary on the Seabourn line, embarking and disembarking in Copenhagen, Denmark, and traveling through the Fjords as far north as the North Cape, which is above the Arctic Circle.  We stopped at different ports in both directions and had four scenic and reading days at sea, which we enjoyed. Thanks to the ship's small size, we were able to get deep into many fjords, even managing a 360 degree turnaround at the head of the very narrow Trollfjord. 

The following are photographs and commentary from our trip, including a series of images of the Norwegian section of the EuroVelo, a network of popular bicycling routes throughout Europe.




ONE OF MANY BEAUTIFUL FJORDS


A day in Sognefjorden and the fishing village of Flam

"Do you live in Flam?" I asked the woman sitting next to me on the train, as we started our ascent to Myrdal.   I figured she must be  local since she carried a lunch sack, and while the rest of us stared in awe at the amazing scenery around us,  she seemed rather bored. She said she lived in Flam but worked on top at Myrdal, where she rented bicycles to tourists, who preferred descending by bike rather than the train.  That's when I wished I'd researched more extensively on the train ride before buying our tickets in advance because biking down a mountain road surrounded by gorgeous alpine scenery seemed more appealing to me than returning by train.  The Flamsbana Railway, an engineering wonder, is one of the steepest train lines in the world, where almost 80% of the journey is at a gradient of 5.5%, taking you from ocean level at the end of Sognefjord in Flam to the scenic mountain top called Myrdal.  The train travels through twenty tunnels, and there are stunning waterfalls and multiple viewpoints. 






FLAMSBANA RAILWAY, A 20KM LONG ENGINEERING WONDER, STOPS IN MYRDAL





A VIEW OF THE TRAIN FROM THE TRAIN








SOGNEFJORDEN FROM STEGASTEIN VIEWPOINT, FLAM 

Bergen

Surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords, Bergen is a charming city, well known as a major northern outpost of the Hanseatic League, a 13th century trading group based in the city states of Germany.  At its height the League had over 150 member cities and was northern Europe's most powerful economic entity.  Bergen's oldest quarter runs along the eastern shore of the harbor with rows of colorful gabled buildings dating from the Hanseatic era.  Most of the day we explored the inner city, visited one of several museums and walked the wharf where we took photos in the fish market and watched performers doing their thing on city streets.


COLORFUL RESTORED HANSEATIC TRADING BUILDINGS ON BERGEN'S WATERFRONT




THIS STREET PERFORMER ATTRACTED MANY TOURISTS
COOKING UP SOME VEGETABLES AT ONE OF THE OPEN FISH MARKET RESTAURANTS



Alesund

In 1904, a massive fire burned the fishing village of Alesund. When the city was rebuilt, the Art Nouveau style of architecture was flourishing in Europe, and today's visitors to Alesund enjoy a city of concentrated Art Nouveau beauty. Spread over seven different islands and connected by bridges and undersea tunnels, Alesund relies on its fishing industry and provides cod and cod liver oil to Europe and the rest of the world.  It is also a favorite stop for tourists who either visit by car or by cruise ship, like we did.    We spent most of the day on foot exploring the picturesque town,
marveling at the elegant designs and geometric forms, but we opted to take the Hop-on Hop-off bus to the Aksla Viewpoint rather than walking the 418 steps.


BEAUTIFUL ALESUND FROM AKSLA VIEWPOINT (if you look to the left you will see the Seabourn Quest)




Lofoten Islands

Draped across the turbulent waters of the Norwegian Sea, an archipelago called the Lofoten Islands sits far above the Arctic Circle, which this time of year means 24/7 sunshine.  Arriving at the port of Solver, we rented a car and explored some of the bridge-connected islands, indented by numerous inlets and fjords.  With blue skies and a few puffy clouds, we were offered an unobstructed view of a beautiful landscape with majestic mountains, and small fishing villages where you could stay in old fishermen's cabins and eat stockfish, made from spawning cod.  


ONE OF MANY ROCKY INLETS AMONG THE LOFOTEN ISLANDS



A REAR VIEW


With our ship's onboard credit, Bruce and I decided to sign up for one of the pricey excursions.  Although this meant setting our alarm for 4:30 a.m, the opportunity to photograph puffins and other seabirds was too tempting to pass up just so we could sleep in.



A CLOSE-UP VIEW



THE NORTH CAPE (NORDKAPP)

Barren and rocky with not a tree in sight, the North Cape (or Nordkapp as it is called by Norwegians)  is a destination that many travelers brag about so they can say they traveled to the furthest northern point in continental Europe.  Although 200,000 visitors come to Nordkapp every summer, very few Norwegians actually live there year round, except for those people involved in a very robust fishing industry about which I will write a separate post.   Despite its remote location and small year-round population, the government has constructed the most amazing highway system with not a single pothole or frost heave.  From our car we could see miles and miles of empty paved roads that stretched out way beyond us.  We often saw more bicycles on those roads than cars.


DRIVING THE NORTH CAPE LANDSCAPE




TOURISTS GATHER AT THIS MONUMENT AT NORTH CAPE, WHERE THE SUN NEVER SETS FROM MID-MAY TO LATE JULY


When exploring by car,  it seemed we were always buckling and unbuckling our seat belts so we could get out and take photos.  Often we talked to the locals who lived in fishing villages, and we enjoyed chatting up self-supported cyclists, when they stopped by the side of the road to take a break.  All of the cyclists  with whom we spoke were Europeans from cities like Amsterdam, Munich and Vienna.  We never met any American cyclists, although I'm sure they were there.   These cycling athletes were touring Scandinavia and riding the EuroVelo I circuit for 30 to 60 days, all the way from their home in Europe to the North Cape.   In Norway this demanding endeavor is at least a 2500 kilometer  bicycle adventure that only the most physically and mentally fit cyclists can undertake.  It requires biking long distances daily and carrying heavy gear in panniers and packs attached to their bicycles.  This is known as self-contained cycling.   One man we talked to said he was carrying 65 pounds.  Another cyclist we saw taking a break and puffing on a Lucky Strike admitted she didn't smoke very often.  How anyone doing a ride like that could even think of smoking--even infrequently--just amazes me.


The following five images are two cyclists we saw riding above the Arctic Circle near Nordkapp.  I wish I could tell you that these photos were me biking with a friend, but you would know it wasn't true because I'm not blond nor could I pass for 50.  But truth be known, self-supported bike touring has never been something I've wanted to do, especially at this stage of my life.  Instead  I would prefer that someone transport my gear, and serve me delicious meals.  Taking a hot shower at the end of a long day in the saddle would also be required, and I've never been comfortable on the ground in a sleeping bag unless I had a blow up mattress which would be another heavy item to carry on a bike.   No one would call me high maintenance, but the moniker of princess might be appropriate when it comes to self-contained, multi-day bike tours.  



CYCLING THE EUROVELO 1 -- 2500 KILOMETERS IN NORWAY





IF THIS WERE ME I WOULDN'T BE SMILING




THIS IS WHAT IS MEANT BY SELF-CONTAINED




CYCLNG ON TOP OF THE WORLD AT NORDKAPP


THE END OF A LONG DAY IN THE SADDLE



And so I say so long to the beautiful land of the Midnight Sun.





The adventure continues..........