A Day of Bug Discovery

We have discovered 2 new bugs today, well, new to us.

This morning, we were outside in the yard for a while. It was one of our first warm days and I was wearing shorts. After a little bit, I realized I was feeling several little bites on my legs, but kept ignoring them. After a bit longer, I looked down to discover a dozen or more little black spots on the back of my knee and scattered down my legs. They looked like mud spots, but mud spots that stung! I believe I was plagued by the famous Florida “no see ‘ums”. They sure were annoying! I slathered on traditional bug spray, but they just kept coming. Just last week, I had seen a post on the internet debating the possible deterrents to these pesky little pests. Many on that forum suggested using Skin So Soft from Avon. In fact, I spotted a selection of small and large bottles of SSS at the checkout counter at the local Ace Hardware earlier this week. I wish now that I had thrown a small bottle in with my order that day. For today, our time out in the yard was cut short; we retreated into the house.

Our second bug discovery for the day was at bookends to the first. After dinner, Mom, Dad, and I took a walk along the beach. The tide was low and so was the sun. We noticed as we walked along that there were dozens of tiny, white, jumping bugs in the hard, wet sand just above the surf. They jumped in all directions, a bit like the crickets that get trapped in our garage back home. You never know which way it will jump next. It was entertaining to watch them jump away from us as we walked. Mom had on capris, so I asked her if she felt any of them bumping against her bare legs. Sadly, she did not. I consulted my handy, dandy reference book “Florida’s Living Beaches, A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber” by Blair & Dawn Witherington when we got back inside and discovered that our little white jumpers are aptly named beachhoppers!

Birding at Bald Point

It has been quite some time since I posted anything to my blog. For obvious reasons, my husband and I have not been doing any travel. But, we are currently in Florida for an extended bit of time, riding out what we hope will be some of the last months of the Covid threat. My Mom and Dad are also here staying with us. We are on Alligator Point, Florida. Part of Florida’s Forgotten Coast. It is calm and peaceful here. Not as warm and sunny as southern Florida, but it sure beats winter up north! From time to time, when we have an interesting adventure, I will try to post.

Yesterday, was warm and sunny, one of the first such days we’ve had. We ventured out to nearby Bald Point State Park. Rob and I had been here once before and seen quite a lot of shore and marsh birds, so we expected to see them yesterday. Such was not to be. We literally saw 5 birds (1 tall white one -too far away to identify) and 4 pelicans sitting on a spit of sand. So, not much in the way of birding for us, but we did enjoy watching mullet (fish – about 12 inches long) jump out of the sea in the sheltered curl of water near the fishing pier. The water here is quite tea stained (looks brown, just like a cup of tea) but at the very edges we watched hermit crabs amble along in the their stolen shells. When our shadows fell on the crab it would stop and retreat into the shell. Not sure how it could see the shadow, since most of its body was inside the shell even when walking around, but I guess it’s eyes must be located on the small part that is exposed. We also saw one bigger blue crab scuttling along in a little inlet. They are always so funny; looking like they are walking sideways.

Bald Point State Park has both beach access and trails through the brush/forest (not sure what to call it). After we’d had our fill of watching the sea life, we set off on the trail through the woods. The beginning of the trail was filled with scrub oaks, many covered in Spanish moss. I just love Spanish moss; it is so quintessentially Southern. As we walked, the terrain turned more toward low growing saw palmettos and bare, dead tree trunks. It was like a tree graveyard, beautiful in a sort of creepy way.

From various vantage points during our time at Bald Point we could see 3 distinct smoke trails off in the distance. They have been doing prescribed burns of forest land in the area, so we figured these were just 3 more. It seemed like a good day for it. As we walked toward the beach at the end of our walking trail, I caught a pretty cool shot of the smoke making a wave-like pattern in the sky as it blew eastward.

Scooting around San Diego

Monday, Feb 10

The rain continued throughout the night and into mid-morning.  There was a short break in the rain and Rob went out to get his daily donuts.  Since I didn’t eat a large breakfast this morning, I asked him to get me an apple burrito from Lucky’s donuts.  It’s a large tortilla filled with apple pie filling, deep fried, then coated with crunchy stuff. It’s huge, probably 9 inches long and 3 inches wide.  Boy, was it tasty, if rather crumbly from the crunchy outer coating.  

There was another break in the rain about an hour later, right around high tide, so I bundled up and ventured out to check on the status of the waves this morning.  They were nice and big, just like yesterday. I only stayed for about 10 minutes. There were still some sprinkles coming down, and I couldn’t really sit on the sea wall because it was wet from the rain.

Around 11:00 I was starting to get a little stir crazy and the rain was looking like it would end soon, so we ventured out for our last day of exploring San Diego.  We walked south along the Bay (we are staying on a narrow peninsula between the ocean and San Diego Bay. When we reached Belmont Park (the amusement park we checked out on Friday) it had started to sprinkle in earnest.  I had seen a little Mexican restaurant on the corner of Mission Blvd that claimed to be the best Mexican food in San Diego and was in the mood for a shrimp taco. We had good timing, by the time I had ordered and we sat down, it was fully raining outside. I took my time eating my taco – easy to do since it came out piping hot – and the rain was back to just a few sprinkles by the time we were ready to go.  While I was eating, Rob spotted a cute little bird (probably a sparrow) that had come into the restaurant and was hopping around the floor looking for crumbs. He seemed pretty comfortable there.

After lunch, we continued south, but along the ocean side.  We walked all the way to the end of the peninsula, a total of 2.2 miles.  It was pretty much the same all the way, but with different houses lining the boardwalk.  We started back, but our feet were already feeling tired. When we spotted a couple of Bird scooters (rentable by the minute via a phone app) we hopped on and scooted back up the boardwalk toward our house.  We had used this kind of scooters about a year ago in Austin, TX. It took me a little bit to get used to them again, but this time we got to ride on the boardwalk and not on city streets. And because the morning had been so rainy, the boardwalk was only just coming to life, so there weren’t very many people to dodge.  It was actually kinda fun to ride. And the beauty of these scooters is that when you are done you just find an out-of-the-way spot to park them and then just leave them for the next person who wants to rent one.

Back on our end of the beach we stopped at a surf shop for some Dippin’ Dots for Rob.  Then we headed to the Baked Bear for an ice cream sandwich for me and 2 chocolate chip cookies for Rob.  They make the ice cream sandwich right there for you, so when you walk in you are greeted by a display case full of about 10 varieties of cookies.  You choose your cookie (you can choose 2 different cookies for top and bottom). Then you choose from about 10 different flavors of ice cream. Finally, you can choose a topping to be smooshed around the outside of the ice cream part.  I chose 1 chewy butter cookie and 1 white chocolate macadamia nut cookie filled with salted caramel fudge ice cream surrounded by crushed Oreo pieces. As a sandwich, it was somewhat lacking – nearly all the ice cream smooshed out of it when I bit into it.  But, the flavors were great together and they give you a spoon to eat all the ice cream that falls out into the little paper boat that it comes in. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone visiting San Diego!

Gaming with the Gang

Sunday, Feb 9

As per usual, we began our day with a trip to Breakfast Republic.  Today I had the avocado toast. Just as yum as the other things I’ve had there.  Rob stuck with his usual bacon and then got a couple donuts at Lucky’s again.  

Unlike the previous days, the weather today called for rain and clouds.  The waves along the beach were much rougher. High tide was only a little ways off, so after we grabbed Rob’s donuts, I added a couple of layers (it was really windy and cold) and headed back to the boardwalk to spend some time watching the waves while the tide came in.  Rob was keen to stay indoors where it was warm. I sat on the cement wall that separates the boardwalk from the sand and just watched the waves crash onto the beach. I probably sat there for 20 minutes. I really enjoyed it! By the time I came back to the house, my glasses were coated in salt spray and my hands were nearly numb.

Our big outing for the day was a board game afternoon at our friend Christine’s house.  We played our all-time favorite game, Agricola, which we used to play quite a lot when we all lived in Boston, but none of us have really played much of lately.  It was such a nice trip down memory lane! Her friends, Lauren and Ron joined us later for a couple more games. We played Terraforming Mars and Bohnanza. It was a good time had by all.  My step count is considerably lower today (only 6500) but it was the perfect day to stay indoors while it rained outside and get some gaming in.

Saturday in San Diego

Saturday, Feb 8

We started today off exactly the same as we did yesterday, with breakfast at Breakfast Republic.  This time I had Mr Presley French toast (pb and bananas with bacon). Also very yum! Rob had his same order of bacon and then we walked to Lucky’s donuts for him to get a couple of donuts.

Our next outing for the day was to meet up with a friend of ours, Christine, from Boston who moved out to San Diego about the time Rob & I moved to Asheville.  We met her at Torrey Pines State Reserve. We, along with a lot of other people hiked up the hill, stopped at a few lookout points, and then down to the beach and back along the water to the parking lot.  At the first lookout point we spotted several dolphins making their way south. Rob got a good look with the binoculars. The scenery was really nice, with great views from the cliff tops up and down the coast.  We spent a lot of the time catching up with Christine. It was really great to see her after these several years. The walk back along the beach was just possible – the tide was going out, but at times some waves came in pretty far, so that we had to scramble onto the rocks below the cliffs to avoid the waves.  For the most part, we tried to stay out from the cliffs because rocks and debris often fall from their sandstone heights. In fact, as I posed for a photo in a little alcove under the cliff, I felt a small sprinkle of tiny rocks fall on my arm. We quickly took that photo and moved back away from the cliff, although nothing larger followed the sprinkle.

When we reached the parking lot, we parted ways with Christine and headed downtown to check out the Gaslamp District.  So named for the gas lamps that are still to be found. Today it is a several block area that is comprised mostly of restaurants and some shops.  I was hoping for more shops and less restaurants, so I wasn’t very impressed. We did, however, have some great ice cream at the Ghirardelli shop.  I had a raspberry sundae with house made hot fudge sauce and Rob had chocolate ice cream in a chocolate dipped waffle cone. Yum!

After the Gaslamp District we headed toward the water of the Bay just a few blocks away and stumbled across the Seaport District.  I found the Seaport much more lively and interesting. Here we found the shops (mostly touristy shops, but not just run-of-the-mill tourists shops) and still more restaurants.  There was a nice path along the water’s edge that we walked. The marina is there, so we ogled at the expensive boats in their moorings.

By this time, we’d walked nearly 18,000 steps for the day and our feet were getting tired, so we got in the car and headed for home.  We relaxed for a bit, then had dinner in the house. After dinner, the sunset looked kinda cool, so Rob suggested that we take a little walk along the boardwalk.  We haven’t been out after dark yet, so we set out to catch the last of the sunset and just take in the vibe along the boardwalk on a Saturday night. It was only 6:00 so there weren’t too many shenanigans yet, but the bars along the beach were packed and plenty of people were out walking.  Rob remarked on the number of couples sitting out on the beach. Sure enough, as far as the eye could see, all the people on the beach were in groups of exactly 2. The tide was out, so the waves were quite a ways out from the lights of the buildings, but that just made the white of the breaking waves stand out in a really cool way.  Our final tally step tally for today was 22,633.

Seals and Sea Lions in San Diego

Friday, Feb 7

Being East-coasters, we went to bed very early last night and woke up very early this morning.  I figure that’s fine. We don’t really need to adjust to West Coast time, we’re only here for a few more days and then have a really early flight home on Tuesday.  It will be easier to get up for the flight if we never really adjust to the west coast. So, we were up by 5:30 this morning and having a light breakfast in our rented house.  About 8:30 we set out for 2nd breakfast (as the hobbits would say) at Breakfast Republic, a hip little breakfast joint just a 7 minute walk from our house. Rob had bacon and I had a scramble with bacon, cheese, and ham.  The bacon was a little bit sweet, adding really nice flavor to the cheese and eggs.  

After breakfast we wandered out to the end of Pacific Beach Pier.  There are a few little cabins that you can rent like a hotel room at the beginning of the pier.  It could be kinda fun to stay in one of them, you’d definitely hear the roar of the ocean all night, since it is directly below you.  There were about 50 surfers in the water to the north of the pier, so we stopped and watched them for a bit. I could watch surfers for hours!  As we walked back to our house, we stopped at Lucky’s Donut House for doughnuts that we took home to eat. Rob was still hungry after just having bacon for 2nd breakfast.  

Our next destination for the day was the ocean-side attractions in La Jolla (pronounced “la Hoya”) just north of San Diego.  It was just a 20 minute drive. We parked near the Children’s Pool. This time of year, the protected sandy cove is closed to people so the native seals and their pups can beach themselves for some needed r&r and warmth in the sunshine.  They, and the sea lions a little further up the beach, spend 7-8 hours a day on land. It was so cute to watch the lumbering seals wiggle their way along the sand, blubbery bodies wobbling in the effort. They were, for the most part, very quiet, seemingly happy to just bask in the sun.  See YouTube video here.

When we tired of watching the seals, we followed the sidewalk north along the beach.  We admired the pelicans and cormorants as we walked. Shortly we came across a raucous section of beach filled with sea lions.  They are much noisier and much stinkier than the seals. As we watched, the 2 largest sea lions were barking and swimming around in agitation.  They eventually ended up next to each other, trying to bully each other out of the way, while also bullying the smaller sea lions, who quickly gave way.  Check out the video here. Sea lions have bigger flippers and so move with a bit more grace when on land and rocks.

Wishing to get away from the stink, we moved on a bit more quickly from the sea lions, continuing north.  Our next stop was Sunny Jim’s sea cave. According to the sign in the store, “In 1902, Prof Gustav Schultz (presumably no relation to me or Rob) commissioned two Chinese workers to dig a tunnel into the sea cave through the cliffs of La Jolla with the idea of charging visitors a few cents to enter.”  The tunnel they dug is still the same one we descended today. I was expecting the cave to be a bit bigger. The most interesting part was probably the steps leading down. The quality control on stair height was rather lacking; some were a short 4-5 inch rise, while others were more like 8-10 inches.  You really had to continually watch the steps and you stepped. The cave was kind of small, and the tide was mostly out, so there wasn’t a lot of water in it. It is clearly a favorite haunt of kayaking groups, as 2 separate groups lingered at the mouth of the cave in the few minutes we were down there to take our obligatory photos.  

After the cave, we continued a little further north on the cliff walk then headed into town to walk past a few shops as we made our way slowly back toward the car.  There were a few art galleries that we stopped in just to look around. My favorite were the photographs of Nathan Myhrvold. He had a couple different ones of the contents of a sandwich all separated out into the individual layers.  I especially liked the pb&J with bananas (see photos), but there was also a hamburger with the works and a pizza split into its layers. We also ran across a bakery with Donald Trump in a diaper cookies. Pretty funny. When we got back to the car, we headed for home to take a little siesta.  

As we drove along Garnet Ave, we noticed a guy running full tilt across the road and down the sidewalk.  We watched as we approached and realized that he was chasing a guy on a bike. The guy on the bike kept looking back to make sure the runner was not catching up to him.  I think we were witness to a bike heist! The runner sure looked pissed!

After an hour of so of siesta and we were ready to head back out.  The day was beautifully sunny with not a cloud in the sky. Temps were in the mid-60s so warm, but with a cool breeze now and then.  We have rain coming, so wanted to make the most of this nice day. This time we took the boardwalk along the ocean to the south. The tide was way out, so we walked for a bit on the sand near the water’s edge.  It was fun to check out the varied architecture of the houses that butt right up to the boardwalk. Some are old, with peeling paint and retro styling; others are modern with curved lines or dramatic balconies and tons of tall windows to take in the view.  Our destination was the Beaver Tails kiosk inside Belmont Park amusement park. We had Beaver Tails in Canada a few times; they are fried dough smothered in some kind of sweet spread and topped with candy (there are a few different flavors). Today I had the Avalanche, spread with cheesecake spread (probably just sweetened cream cheese) and topped with Heath bar pieces.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself. When we arrived, the Beaver Tail kiosk was closed. The guy inside said he’d be ready in about 10 minutes, so we wandered around and looked in some souvenir shops. 10 minutes later, we came back to the kiosk, only to find it still empty, but with signs of life inside. So, Rob talked me into playing some arcade games. This arcade is all digital; you load up a “credit card” with money and then swipe it to play the games.  Any tickets you win from games like skeeball and the like are digitally added to your card balance – no more watching the machine spit out a few or a slew of tickets. : ( We went to the guy and asked him to put $13 on the card (there was a special – pay $13 and get $16). He had some trouble with his machine, but the transaction finally went through. When we slid the card for our first game, Rob noticed that the card said we had $46. Rob had paid cash, so we definitely only paid $13.  Oops! Well, that’s a lot of arcade games. We played and played. Our final tally was enough to get a cute stuffed pig and 4 pieces of candy. Only now, as I’m typing this up, do I realize that we probably should have notified the guy that something had gone awry instead of just playing through all the extra credits. With our haul of booty, we made our way back to the Beaver Tails kiosk, which was finally open for business. I ordered my Avalanche and we sat down at a table and chairs shaped like ice cream to eat it.  I must say, the ones in Canada were better; this one was a little too thin and crispy. The toppings were good, but I missed the softness of those to the north.

Our walk back home along the boardwalk was a chilly one. But, in true California style, we were passed by multiple people on roller skates, roller blades, and skateboards. Many carried some sort of music player, so they could blast their music while rolling along. We heard rap, pop, and some 80s hair bands. So very California!

Soggy, but then San Diego!

Thursday, Feb 6

We had a bit of a rough start to this trip.  It was raining in Asheville and the gate we flew from did not have a jet way, so we had to schlep through the moderate rain from the terminal, up some stairs, and onto a soggy plane.  My leggings were wet enough when I got on the plane to make for a chilly start to the flight. The nasty weather continued throughout the flight, so it was pretty bumpy for the entire 35 minutes we were in the air to Atlanta.  We had a short connection, but easily made it to our next flight. After boarding, the weather turned even nastier. We sat and we sat, inching toward the runway, but often just sitting in pouring rain with the wind gusting enough to rock the plane while it was standing still.  We were nearly at the 3 hour limit for sitting on a plane not going anywhere when the weather cleared up enough for planes to start taking off again. We were about 15 planes back in the queue, but it was heartening to see planes taking off to our right as we inched forward. So, what would have been about 4.5 hours on the plane from Atlanta to San Diego was actually more like 7.5 hours.  A big shout-out of thanks to Mom and Ginger for helping me pass the time by texting with me. Thankfully, the sun was shining brightly when we touched down in San Diego.  

I had a window seat for once, because Delta had not saved our seat choices, so Rob was sat in the dreaded front row, (where you have to put all your hand luggage up in the overhead bin), while I was back in row 5.  For the last hour or so of the flight, I enjoyed watching the desert scenery below. I think we flew over Lake Mead, but I couldn’t see Hoover Dam, and over Las Vegas (I think). Slowly the land changed from desert sand and brown mountains to some cultivated fields, and greener forests with lusher vegetation as we neared the coast.

We discovered one final annoyance with the morning’s rainy weather when we retrieved our suitcase in San Diego.  It was pretty damp on the outside. A quick inspection of the contents as we put the suitcase in our rental car revealed that about 60% of the stuff was wet, not just damp, but actually wet.  Ugh!

We couldn’t check into our Airbnb until 4:00 and it was about 1:00.  So, we headed over to Balboa Park to check out the San Diego Model Railroad Museum and wander around a bit.  Balboa Park was originally set aside as a reserve in 1835, making it one of the oldest dedicated public parks in the US.  It held the Panama-California Exposition in 1915-16 and another exposition in 1935-36, leaving some interesting buildings within the park that today house several museums and performance spaces.  Surrounding the buildings are various green spaces. We only walked through about half of the park. The first thing we encountered after parking was a really cool tree with these great roots that crawled over the rocky ground like so many giant’s fingers.  If anyone knows what kind of tree this is, let me know. (See photos)

On our way from visiting the tree we passed a sign telling about the nudist colony that used to live and perform in the little ravine where the tree was.  During the 1935-36 Exposition, there was a nudist colony located here. According to the sign, “several times a day, the mostly female troupe conducted rituals to the Sun God.”  And “To enter, visitors were charged 25 cents, later raised to 75 cents, for unlimited observation time.” And “Conveniently placed knotholes in a wooden fence surrounding the upper rim of the garden provided a free peek inside.”  I would imagine this garden was quite a scandal in the 1930s!

Next, we stopped in the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.  Neither of us are great big model railroad fans, but it was interesting to look around.  My favorite parts were the little vignettes of car accidents. They just seemed like such a strange thing to include in what one would expect to be an ideal scene.

After the museum, we wandered toward the Spanish Village Art Center.  It is a collection of little buildings that are now used as artists’ studios and sales spaces.  The paving stones are painted in colorful tones, adding to the artfulness of the space. There were potters, jewelry makers, enamel workers, painters, glass blowers, etc.

The time had finally reached nearly 4:00 so we could head for our Airbnb and get our wet things hung up to dry.  We’re staying in a house that is about a block from the ocean, in an area called Mission. After getting our stuff hung up, we walked a bit along the boardwalk toward the local grocery store and got our first feel for the San Diego Mission beach.  There were a few surfers out bobbing in the sea, waiting for that perfect wave, although the waves weren’t very big. Lots of people were enjoying Happy Hour on the outdoor terraces of the few bars that dotted the section we walked. At the grocery store, we grabbed some dinner, then headed home.  With the time difference and long day on planes, we were in bed by 8:00.

Occupied in Oslo

Friday, Oct 25

I got up this morning and saw Ginger off to the airport for her flight home.  It’s just Rob and me for our last two days in Norway. Today is sunny (although also really windy) so we figured we’d best get out there and see some more of the city.  We decided to walk over to Ekebergparken. It is uphill from our place, about a half hour walk to get to the park. There are sculptures and other artwork scattered throughout the park, but it is mostly just a nice hill, covered in trees and paths, that looks down on the city from the east.  Most of the art was not to our taste, but I posted a few shots of some that I found more interesting on my Instagram and Facebook accounts.

We had lunch in the flat, then set out to explore the opera house that is located right across a small water inlet from us.  From the other side of the opera house one can walk up massive slanting white marble walkways that eventually form the roof of the opera.  It was pretty cool, but coming down was tough on the knees. From there we walked among a lot of construction and over a temporary looking floating pedestrian bridge to a supermarket to pick up some last minute chocolate that we want to take home. 

On the way back, Rob stopped to feed some ducks, seagulls, pigeons, and white swans in Middelalderparken.  All the birds were interested in what Rob was throwing (Cheerios), but the ducks were the only ones that ate any of it.  I watched as one pigeon picked up a Cheerio, then spit it back out. After a while, and after Rob and I walked down to the other end of the water, all the birds were eating his Cheerios, but then he was out. 

View from Ekebergparken

Out and About in Oslo

Thursday, Oct 24

Ginger and I headed out to the Viking Ship Museum this morning.  It houses 3 original Viking ships, all were discovered inside burial mounds and unearthed in the late 1800s/early 1900s.  The people buried inside would have been quite prominent among their people. All the ships have been reconstructed, although the 3rd one was missing to many parts that only about ⅓ of the ship is on display, the rest having disintegrated through the ages.  The other 2 were so well intact, that the museum workers reconstructed the few missing parts in order to display what the complete ship would have looked like originally. The first one that you encounter upon entering the exhibit is the most lavishly decorated Viking ship ever found.  And, indeed, it had some exquisite carvings along the keel, both front and back. See photos below. This ship was buried in a massive mound with 2 women (who may or may not have been queens). It was built in the year 820, and buried 14 years later. Buried inside with the two women were lots of things they would need in the after life, including a lavishly carved cart, several horses and dogs, combs, cooking utensils, a couple of beds, and lots of other things that I can’t remember.  Some of the items from the burial chamber were also on display. The balls of yarn (so they were labeled) looked like a cat’s hairball. Not sure how they figured out that was a ball of yarn. The ship that was in worst repair had a warrior buried inside it. They figure he died from battle wounds; his leg bone was cut entirely off just above the knee and he had several other cuts to his leg bones consistent with sword wounds. He had, among many other things, a game board and playing pieces buried with him.  There were large photos of the dig sites, old and black & white, since the ships were dug up around the turn of the 20th century. I thought it was interesting to see how the shape of the ship had sort of sunk into a flat version of itself through the centuries of dirt pressing down on it and decay of the items buried with the bodies.

After the museum, we walked around the corner to a little restaurant called Cafe Hjemme hos Svigers (which translates to “the home of the in-laws”).  Ginger and I both ordered sandwiches, which came shaped like three dimensional Viking ships. (See photos). We ate them with forks, as they seemed not to be the kind of sandwich you pick up with your hands to eat.  

After lunch we strolled (in the steadily increasing rain) among the shops along Karl Johans Gate – a central shopping district in Oslo.  One of the souvenir shops that we stopped in, called Universal Presentkort, had a little Troll Forest scene in the middle of the store. There were animatronic trolls and taxidermied animals, including a bear eating some berries.  

On to Oslo

Tuesday, Oct 22

I was awake a lot overnight, listening to the rain (and possibly sleet) crash against our windows.  The wind howled, and something metal occasionally creaked in the wind. All I could think was that if this lasted into the day, I would not want to go out.  Sure enough, the rain and wind have lasted all day. Every time I looked out the window I was more motivated to stay inside. We decided it would be a good day for a tv marathon.  Late in the afternoon, Ginger ventured out to grab one last reindeer sausage, but Rob and I opted to stay in. We were planning to walk to the train station tomorrow morning, but the forecast is for continued rain, so we went ahead and ordered a taxi to take us.

Wednesday, Oct 23

All went well with the taxi.  We arrived at the train station nearly an hour before our train left, but that made us feel good to know that we didn’t need to rush or scurry about in the rain.  We were all looking forward to this train ride; it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. I don’t know that I would go that far with my own description of it, but it did give a really nice overview of the various types of Norwegian countryside.  The first hour of our train ride was in darkness, but we had driven the same route a few days earlier when we came down from Kaupanger, so we didn’t miss anything. Almost immediately, Rob started to feel really sick from the motion of the train, so he spent most of the ride with his eyes closed, feeling pretty miserable.  Some Dramamine did help settle his stomach once it kicked in. The train took us past raging rivers (likely extra fueled by all that rain we had the day before), up to snowy mountains, past sleepy villages, and down into more fertile green valleys as we neared Oslo. It was a 7 hour train ride, so plenty of time to get some knitting done in between bouts of watching the scenery out the window.  I would recommend this train ride to anyone who only has a little bit of time to spend in Norway, since you get to see so many different types of terrain. There was a dining car; Ginger and I got decent pizzas for lunch. A note to future travelers: we sprang for the “Komfort” car, which was a little more expensive and had maybe slightly more leg room. It seems everyone else did, too. Our car was completely full.  We were in a set of four seats facing each other and a stranger was in the fourth. When Ginger and I walked through the regular cars to get to the dining car, they were nearly empty. One car had, literally, 2 people in it. I would have rather had the only slightly smaller seats and had them to ourselves, rather than have to ask a stranger to move every time I wanted to get up, and feel like our conversation was disrupting her work on her laptop.

On to Oslo.  It was a rare sunny day, so after we got settled into our last flat of the trip, Ginger and I set out to find Frogner Park to see the Vigeland statues.  Rob was still feeling a tiny bit off from the train ride so he stayed home. The park is huge, a really nice big green space in the middle of the city. The trees are all decked out in bright autumn yellows.  The sun was getting low by this time, so we didn’t get very good pictures of the lovely trees. The sculptures are scattered all around the park. They are all by one person – Gustav Vigeland. The metal and stone sculptures were all naked people in various poses, some serious, some silly, some joyous, some sexual.  Some were in fountains, some on plinths framing a bridge, lots on a giant monolith (stone pillar) that rises 46 feet high and has 121 human figures all wrapped around each other like snakes writhing in a pit. The most famous statue in the park seems to be the Angry Boy (I keep calling him the cranky baby). He’s just one among about 40 lining the central bridge, but there’s just something about his expression that the sculptor captured so perfectly that I think resonates with people.

For dinner, Ginger and I went to a restaurant called Fiskeriat.  When we arrived, we could see through the windows that it was tiny and completely packed.  But, upon further inspection, the queue for seats held only a few people, so we decided to wait.  Good decision on our part! Ginger had fish and chips, which she thoroughly enjoyed! I finally got to have bacalao.  When we were in Ålesund, I had read about bacalao and how it was a Norwegian national dish – especially known in Ålesund.  It is a soup that uses Norwegian stockfish (the dried cod that the north and especially Lofoten is known for producing) along with a lot of foreign Portuguese spices and garlic (hence the Portuguese name).  I was hoping to try it in Ålesund, but we were unsuccessful in finding a place to get it. So, I figured I needed to give it a try today when I saw it on the menu. It’s a tomato based soup, which isn’t usually my thing.  Really, it’s more of a stew with large chunks of the stockfish and potatoes, garnished with black olives and pine nuts. The soup was very aromatic, as soon as it was set down in front of me I could smell the paprika and other spices wafting up from the bowl.  Funnily enough, the red-orange color of the bacalao matched the sweater I was wearing. Bacalao is not my new favorite soup, but I’m really glad that I tried it. I was only able to eat about half of it, so brought the rest home and will have it again another day.  We also finally got a chance to try the Norwegian national spirit, called Akevitt. It’s distilled from potatoes and flavored with spices like caraway, dill, anise, and others. Ours also had citrus tones to it. It’s quite strong, so you just get a shot of it and sip it.  We shared the shot in a fancy mini-wine glass. I’m not much of a drinker, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but it was kind of nice, perhaps nicer to smell than to have going down. It definitely warmed the throat and cleared the sinuses.