Norwegian Sea Travel Reality Check

Oh boy, rough seas last night and this morning. I now carry a special baggie in my jacket pocket at all times. I thought I was kickin’ it at first, and then, suddenly, I was not.

We are docked at the town of Ålesund and I am taking advantage of the relative calm to be able to even look at my iPad screen. I could have disembarked for a few hours, but there’s an icy wind I prefer not to spend time with. Plus, that special baggie deal. Maybe I’d feel better on solid land, but I like having my comfy bed nearby as a prone position with eyes shut is my new best friend.

Some good news: using the laundromat on the boat is free, which is a huge surprise considering the high cost of everything else on board. In between washing and drying I roamed the deck in search of photo opportunities, but it’s a bit dreary out there. These shots might help you decide whether or not to take a winter Norwegian cruise. They are also a good example of the Blue Hour.

There’s hope for a display of the aurora borealis in a night or two. Wish me luck.

Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.

Bergen and boat (I mean ship)

I took a short walk around Bergen this morning including cruising the Christmas market. Oddly, the piped-in Christmas music was all in English, including Hawaii’s Christmas contribution, Mele Kalikimaka. What a trip to hear that 6,791 miles from the islands.

My walk was short because although my new REI jacket kept me cozy, there was a wind off the water that sliced at my eyes, making them tear up like crazy.  The clerk at my hotel said that happens to her too, which somehow made me feel better.

While I waited for boarding to open, I chilled in an upscale hotel lobby that featured a jazz trio playing more Christmas tunes – a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon waiting to board a boat in search of fjords and northern lights, I must say.

So, once on the boat, I discovered a) my cabin has a large window, but a window that people walk by, so I will be on display during the trip, and b) the least expensive option for purchasing wine for the duration is to buy a package deal at the discounted price of SIXTY DOLLARS PER BOTTLE. Looks like I will start my yearly alcohol fast early. Also, I have further concerns about the vegan situation: the first meal was a buffet featuring ten zillions types of meat, including the highlight, goat heads; when I asked about a vegan offering, I was pointed to the tray of gooey cheese lasagna.  Therefore, for dinner I had potatoes, broccoli, olives, pickled beets and salad. Perhaps besides the wine fast I can food fast.

I’ve already attended the obligatory safety demonstration (including admonitions to use the ubiquitous hand sanitizer dispensers – in fact, one is not allowed to enter the dining room without cleaning one’s hands) and heard the sample major-bummer sirens. I snooped around the boat, going everywhere not blocked off. And now the engines have begun rumbling – almost time to head into the night!

Here are some photos of Bergen and the boat. Two posts were sent out today because I was without internet for a bit (the horror!).  Posts will be daily as long as I’m on the boat, and as long as the expensive WiFi works.  Then a rest until my next adventure, where ever that may be.

(The Trump reference below – sorry, not authentic enough for a wall.)

Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.

OMG, SNOW!

Anyone who regularly knows snow won’t appreciate how excited I was to see it after landing in Oslo. I haven’t felt buoyant joy like that for far too long. The Norwegian customs agent was a young woman, and either she is new on the job or my wired, sleep-deprived, ecstatic self scared her: she stumbled in her questioning of me several times (she did not believe I was traveling alone). Come to think of it, I might have scared others at the airport (and train station and hotel!) with my snow enthusiasm; in retrospect, it probably wasn’t news to them that it was snowing . . .

Okay, so, yes I was blissed out to be in snow, but there was also the reality of waiting for the train in 30 degree weather and then walking from the train station through mushy snow and up icy stairs with my too heavy (winter clothes!) bags. However, Osloans (Oslonians?) are not at all deterred by the weather; there were thousands and thousands of them out and about, even eating and drinking in outdoor cafes, even at 2:26, 3:49, and 4:17am. Yes, that old devil of travel time adjustment has its claws in me,and sleep was a stranger; my body kept asking things like “Is it 4:30 in the morning today or 5pm yesterday?”

In preparation for this trip I tried to learn basic Norwegian, but I hit a thick and sturdy wall, and then gave up entirely when I learned English is widely spoken. And it is, but it is definitely not widely written, which my mind did not consider, so I’m doing lots of guessing sign- and menu-wise.

There is a wonderful variety of how people keep themselves and their babies warm in the chilly temperatures, including fur lined carriages. That said, I have also seen people in shorts.

One reason I decided to take this trip was the promise of vegan food in the hotels and on the boat. However, so far the concept of vegan food as translated by these places is different from mine: one concierge proudly showed me the corner devoted to “vegan” foods, with its large “Gluten-fre” sign over some bread and crackers and tray of broiled fish. Uh oh.

The seven-hour train from Oslo to Bergen is famous for being one of the most beautiful train journeys on the planet. Unfortunately, last three hours (from 4 to 7pm) were spent in darkness, what with the solstice approaching, so that’s sad, but I came at this time of year for aurora borealis viewing, which is ideal when the solstice is approaching, so I can’t have it both ways. Anyway, I’m pretty sure we went through lots of tunnels during those last hours, at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Arriving in Bergen, it was a balmy 2C (that’s about 36 in American) and snowless. Surprisingly, so far the cold is not crushing me like I expected it would, but I suppose I should give it time.

After checking in at the hotel, I asked for a glass of wine, telling the bartender I’d bought a quinoa salad for my dinner, so, you know, to it pair the wine correctly. After handing me a glass of a French red, the bartender said, not unkindly, “I hope you enjoy the evening with your quinoa and wine,” and as I walked away I thought that sounded so pathetic for a Saturday night, but then I remembered I’m being pathetic in frickin’ Norway, and I felt a little better.

By the way – and I’ll need to check this for sure later – but I think Norway brings my list of countries visited to 28. Only about 166 to go!

Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.

The blotches are snow on the train’s window.

This [Eclectic] Place Called California

I left my clear, bright SoCal valley one morning a few days ago to once again attempt a trip to the north, and as soon as I crested the grade out of the moisture-deficient valley, boom, heavy rain began. For hours I battled a dumping so heavy it was difficult to see cars in front of me. Then, when the rain ceased, I passed through the area of the recent Santa Monica fires, the scent of smoke still strong in the air, the hills turned to charcoal. Sobering.

As I made my way further north, I revisited Santa Barbara, where, 45 years ago, I traded a ragtop VW for a plane ticket to Hawaii. Later, I spent the night in the near-perfect (and correspondingly expensive) town of San Luis Obispo. I left my hotel early in the morning (it was very cold, and I realized I am going to have it hard in Norway) to walk a few miles to the lively and beautiful downtown.

I imagine living there.

A few more miles north, I dropped into a winery where I tasted many wines, and then bought many wines, you know, as host gifts.

I then spent a few days in Oakland visiting family; we accidentally witnessed the community Christmas tree lighting at Jack London Square. Oakland has a lot to offer, but it’s a bit rough for me. On my way still north, I cruised the small town of Crockett where I lived decades ago, and was nearly overcome by feelings of lost chances. This was sobering in a different flavor.

Eventually I made it to Sonoma, more family visits, and daily hikes. In Bodega, we were met by a bitingly cold wind that sliced at my ears and made eyes water so much I couldn’t see; yet another hint of what might come in Norway. Thankfully we found a warm, lovely, nearly-deserted beach to walk on for hours, and then tromped through a forest of stately redwoods.

California is something else.

One follow-up to my previous post: back in Palm Springs I met someone who feels kinship with coyotes, calling them “elegant gentlemen.” But she added, “That is until you see them catch their live dinner.”

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the photos. You may have noticed I find beauty in vegetables . . .

Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.

Coyotes!

Many years ago, in Greece, I met a staff writer for The New Yorker.  I asked for advice on writing a book about my travels, but he told me, “Don’t write about travel; write about living in Hawaii. That’s what people are curious about.”  What?  I was so discouraged.  Who would want to read about ordinary life in Hawaii?  But I think finally I get it: life on the continent is not at all like life on a speck of cooled (or flowing!) lava, where everyone knows everyone, or at least her calabash cousin; where creatures evolved like no other place on this earth; where the idea of a place (mai tais, orchids, and happy natives) has nothing to do with its reality.  Yes, California’s desert is spectacularly different from my old Hawaii rain forest, but that’s just a minor distinction in the scale of things.  

Anyway, something makes my jaw drop every single day in this expansive and bright-skied California valley, like the other morning when two coyotes slunk across the dirt road in front of my rental car.  When I stopped to watch them, they too stopped, peering over their shoulders at me: all of us checking each other out.  When morning commuters came barreling down the road, filling the air with dust, the two canines conferred with each other, and then trotted off, blending into the brush.  Goodbye!  Have a good day!  Hope you find some water to drink! 

(So yeah, no coyotes in Hawaii. Hawaii has only one native mammal: the hoary bat.  Being in the center of an ocean does that.)

The desert’s blendy-ness is a bit of a problem for showing it off in photos, that and its grandness.  The coyotes melted into the background – can you see one in the photo above?  A photo of a mountain range that is splendid in the here and now is reduced to a fraction of its imposing power in just a few square inches.  Please, use your imagination to feel the magic.

I visited Joshua Tree National Park the day after Thanksgiving, imagining many people would be too busy shopping to visit, but no, it was crazy busy there.  I arrived about nine a.m. but already parking lots were full, and stressed-out Park employees were frazzled and barking orders: “No! The parking lot is closed!  You have to turn around! Move along!  LEAVE!” So I did, after driving around for a while and snapping what shots I could from the roadside.  As I exited the Park, a Ranger ran after my car; “Show me your pass!” he shouted. What? Upon leaving? Why?  Because the line to enter is so long, he replied.  Huh.  The poor park employees: they were in for it – as I drove out, I passed a line of stopped cars almost two miles long waiting to enter, and then saw hundreds more driving towards the entrance on my way down.  People are really gonna get yelled at today, I thought.

See the photo below of the young man meditating on top of the rock?  It took some serious scrambling and a few leaps for him to get there.  He was still there about two hours later on my way out of the park.  I worry that he got a sunburn, lost in his nirvana.  

And, yes, listening to U2’s Joshua Tree while in the Park is perfection.

Live all you can.  It’s a mistake not to.  

16% Humidity and Tortoise as Pet

Today there was a mere 16% humidity in my little dwelling, even measured next to the jungle of plants I bought because The Internet told me they would add moisture to my surroundings. 16% is, um, rather dry. My nose and throat and eyes and ear channels are angry with me. However, I have had tremendous success with the wide assortment of glop I spread all over my body and the cotton gloves and socks I wear to sleep at night in order to to combat the cracking of my skin.  Back in Hawaii, I ran three dehumidifiers throughout my house to fight the wet. At least in my little room here in the desert I only run one humidifier. Oh the resources we humans employ to change environments to suit us.

Yet – in spite of all that fussing – the outdoor weather is near perfect: big, bright skies; warm breezy days; and clear if rather cold nights. Just the 360 degree view of the valley’s mountains is worth the price of admission. And it’s super quiet, except for the daytime watery wupwup of the quail in the yard, the cawcaw of the raven couples who tumble lovingly in the sky above my head, or the wush of the roadrunners dashing to their important business; and except for the nights the live Mexican bands play their bouncy music or the hippies down the street bongo the night away.

Those hippies keep a tortoise for a pet, and its pen is situated along the road for all to enjoy.  On the day I took the photo below, the tortoise was playing? chasing? in love with? the dog in the pen.  I have no idea, but it was a sight to see.

I had lunch at a small and crowded restaurant today, and a man and a young girl wound up sharing a table with me.  I’d noticed a Hawaiian design on the man’s shirt, but the logo read OCC, which I assumed had to do with nearby Orange County and the design was a riff on a Hawaiian theme.  With the close proximity, we began a conversation, and no, it was not an Orange County shirt, it was an Oahu swim club logo: my seatmate was from Hawaii.  What are the chances?  We chatted and established, by Hawaii cultural law, who our mutual acquaintances might be (there were a few).  And here’s a funny thing: when we parted ways, I, without thinking, flashed the shaka sign, something I would never, ever do back in Hawaii.  Funny how 3000 miles can alter behavior.

I visited the aptly named Sunnylands botanical garden today.  The plots of native and drought-resistant plants are arrayed in precise and orderly rows – no random explosions of color or shape as found in nature – similar to the hundreds of orderly subdivisions that have been imposed on the monochromatic sands of this desert. This area is nothing if not controlled and managed.  That is until one day: the San Andreas fault rests just beneath the roads and malls and manicured lawns. I think about the San Andreas fault daily, about the ensuing chaos of earthquakes, which is weird, and probably a remnant of my Shaking Summer of 2018.

If you wonder about the last photo, for some odd reason the desert garden gift shop offered patchwork hippos for sale.

Note: one regret of leaving Hawaii: losing easy, abundant access to fabulous avocados. To those I left behind in Hawaii: cherish the avos.  You may not know how lucky you are.

Request:  I’m having a heck of a time trying to decide about a vehicle purchase for my future gambols across North America.  Today I test drove a new Honda Odyssey, the 12th vehicle I’ve checked out.  All of them have had flaws: too many miles on the odometer, too low MPG, too short for me to sleep in, too complicated for me to manage.  The Odyssey’s only flaw seems to be its cost. Your chiming in would be greatly appreciated.

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Live all you can – it’s a mistake not to. Just ask this hippo.

News Flash: Desert life is different from rainforest life

So yeah, I knew things would be different in the desert, but I keep being surprised.  In my old home in Hawaii, 90% humidity was a dry day.  Here in the desert, laundry hung on the line is fresh and dry in 20 minutes, as opposed to taking so long to dry at my old place it often had to be rewashed.  And there’s the skin situation: mine is so dry, not only are cracks forming on my fingers (even bleeding!) and my sinuses so parched (even bleeding!), I can no longer use my thumbprint to log into my Iphone and Ipad.  I mean really – changing finger prints? This was definitely unexpected.

Surprises aside, it has been a very pleasurable first few weeks in my new life.  Southern California has so much natural beauty, I fear for my life: the other day I motored over a mountain and nearly drove over the edge a few times so enthralled was I!  (I also fear for my life in the unfamiliar arena of freeway driving: 70 mph is considered slow-poking it.)  The sunrise in the valley I am in is sublime; sunsets can be spectacular (see above).  The desert changes colors by the hour; there are ten billion types of cacti; and the land is loaded with birds – a wonderful surprise.

My search for a vehicle/RV has taken me to many areas of SoCal, and the quality of life is so diverse: from pristinely manicured neighborhoods with roads named after movie stars to rusty, dusty cow towns with their own brand of lowbrow artistry.  As I am new to these woods, I have been depending on Google maps to find my way, and, boy have I been sent on weird (if gorgeous) paths.  Once I was directed to drive through a gated Indian reservation, where the security guard just said, “Nope” and showed me how to turn around and get myself to the mega mall I was seeking.  Google maps also sent me on an “alternate route four minutes longer” that turned out to actually take hours longer and led me up the sides of mountains where camouflaged men with guns, arrows, and huge bushes of beards eyed me with wariness: mine was the only white compact car amongst numerous muscular pickups (driving really fast) on curving, forested roads with “ICY” and “CHAINS REQUIRED” signs, and not one bar on my phone to seek further directions.

Back in Coachella, my friend sent me to a nearby yard sale for items for my new digs, and in my usual nosiness I asked the seller where she was moving; “Back to Hawaii,” she said.  Turns out she has property a few miles from my former home. We’re trading places.

On a recent quest to check out RVs for sale, I passed a sign indicating the Pacific Crest Trail, and this sent a thrill through me, although I do not intend to tackle that hike.  It’s just so famous and so storied, I was stoked to actually see a trail head.  This venture also took me to Oceanside on the night of its night open market, which was much larger than Uncle Robert’s in Kalapana and with a completely different vibe.  And although there were several food trucks with Hawaiian themes, I have to report that not one of the workers I questioned was from Hawaii.

After Oceanside, I checked out a vehicle in Pacific Palisades, which happens to be a ridge away from one of the terrible California wildfires.  However, in the tony town I had (a fantastic) lunch in, well-dressed patrons sipped their teas and chatted amiably, seemingly without concern for the nearby destruction.  But it did affect my plans: the spreading smoke caused me to cancel my trip to Northern California.  Here’s how my Bay Area brother described the severity of the smoke: You can look directly at the sun.

Anyway, here are some photos for your enjoyment.

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Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.

Live all you can. It's a mistake not to.

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