July 17, 2017 – Anniversary in Sonoma

Happy Anniversary to us!

Well, here it is our 45th anniversary. Wow. We are fortunate to have such a long and happy marriage but I think we are well suited to each other and have worked hard over the years to keep our marriage a happy one. Now as oldsters we get as much pleasure in each other’s company as we ever did, maybe more so. We are both so interested in the world around us and now that we have the internet at our fingertips, our conversation never lags.

For instance, today we pass a truck loaded with sacks full of rice hulls. What are those used for I ask. John always has an answer and tells me that they are used for cleaning industrial parts. I google it up and tell him the myriad uses that rice hulls have. Now we are ready the next time rice hulls come up in conversation! This is the kind of fun with have.

Today we are in Sonoma Valley for a little wine tasting, a dinner at a favorite place, and an overnight.  Our first stop is at Jacuzzi Winery. They are quite busy for a Monday. We taste and buy a few bottles. We also stop in at their olive oil outlet and taste some olive oils and have our bottles refilled.

Jacuzzi Winery

John at the bar at Jacuzzi

Then it is on to Ledson Winery where I am looking for an old-style peppery Zinfandel. We enter their Addams family building and are met by a concierge. She leads us to a tasting area. I wonder if they do that to separate the wheat from the chaff. Having made the grade we sample some wine and buy a case. Annoyingly they do not give us the member discount that they promised as a lifetime perk of joining the club.

Ledson Winery

There are not many places to have lunch around here. We used to go to The Kenwood but as we pass it we notice that it is no longer in business. We settle for Cafe Citti and are pleasantly surprised with a tasty sandwich and a delicious chickpea side. We should have only ordered one since the portions are enormous and neither of us finish.

Smoked turkey and mozzarella on focaccia with chickpea salad

Lastly we go to Imagery Winery but I am not so much into it. I am tired and a bit sleepy from the big late lunch and the wine tasting. But John soldiers on and we buy a few bottles from them.

We are staying the night at the Best Western Sonoma Inn which is not great but has a wonderful location right off Sonoma Square. After a nap (for me) and showers we head over to Tasca Tasca for dinner. It is so nice that it is within walking distance. Here we have their tapas menu. It is great to be able to pick out a bunch of small plates and have a little dessert afterwards.

John’s five dishes are  bocerones, lupini beans, tripe, goat stew, and squid salad

My five are ceviche, gazpacho, foie gras terrine, squid salad, and blue cheese with apple

Dessert includes the super spicy piri piri chocolate ice cream, olive oil ice cream and some date cake and chocolate

We have had a lovely anniversary and I am looking forward to many more.

July 9, 2017 – Homeward bound

We take a boat ride and then a bus ride to Heathrow for our afternoon flight home. Since we are flying Virgin Atlantic we get to try their London lounge. It is very nice with even a menu and table service. It is a good thing that we decide to have lunch at the lounge in the airport because their food on the flight is inedible. We each have a vegetable korma.

Vegetable korma with rice and pappadam

Our flight is somewhat delayed taking off but makes most of the delay up during the flight. The seats are somewhat lacking in shoulder space.

John in his narrow cube

After an interminable 10+ hours we land at SFO. We get through Customs and Immigration in the fastest time ever, quickly receive our luggage, and Sarah is ready to pick us up. We arrive home before 7 PM, try to stay up for a while and crash around 9 PM.

We have had a good time on our trip but realize once again that touring with a bunch of people is not our favorite way of traveling.

 

July 8, 2017 – London

We pull into London early Saturday morning after a day at sea where our major activities were going to a lecture about the architecture of London and getting John’s cold better. It is a very noisy docking and if I had known how noisy our third deck suite was going to be I might have considered postponing the trip until a suite on a different deck was available. The anchor and lines mechanisms were right below us.

The itinerary for the day is different from what was scheduled due to a large Pride parade which is causing street closures. The new itinerary is the Viking will get us into London by boat and then the rest is up to us. We are fine with that and decide to visit the National Gallery which is right on Trafalgar Square and within walking distance of the Thames Clipper stop at Westminster Pier.

On our trip from the Viking Sea down the Thames we see many of the iconic buildings mentioned in yesterday’s lecture. Londoners have fanciful names for them.

The Armadillo and the Shard

The London Eye

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

There are a lot of people in London this morning and the numbers only increase as the day wears on. We take a less populated route to Trafalgar Square and pass by other iconic London spots.

New Scotland Yard

Her Majesty’s Horse Guards

Lord Nelson watching over the festivities in Trafalgar Square

We make our way past the throngs who are looking forward to a concert later and into the calm of the National Gallery. Knowing our museum stamina we decide to concentrate on an exhibition by Giovanni da Rimini and their collection of 13th to16th century art.

Giovanni da Rimini has mostly been overlooked (no pictures allowed)

Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian

After looking at the Exhibition and a century or two of other art, we stop for lunch.The service is very slow but our table overlooks Trafalgar Square and we watch the goings-on below. The lunch is worth the wait and is quite tasty.

John has roasted quail

My first choice was vegetable terrine but it met with a mysterious kitchen accident so I had potato dumplings (gnocchi) with chanterelles and artichoke purée

After some more browsing we head back to the Clipper through the crowds which have now become quite bevved up and are leaving their glass bottles everywhere. We are jostled quite a bit in our attempt to get through the parade attendees and I am happy to return to our ride back to the ship.

On the way back we see buildings on the other bank of the Thames.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

From left to right The Cheese Grater, the top of The Gherkin, and The Walkie-Talkie

The Tower of London

The Tower Bridge

Later we have dinner for the last time at the Chef’s Table. The menu (which we tried last night as well) is inspired by China’s Cantonese and Hualwang cuisines. It is really not very authentic but the chef has promised us a spicy dipping sauce tonight. (In addition to the pictures below there was also a coconut granita and a chilled mango cream.)

(Not very) hot and sour soup

Fried prawns with crispy garlic and chile – the chef makes a super spicy but delicious dipping sauce

Wok-fried beef with black pepper sauce and rice in a lotus leaf

The staff at the restaurant has been wonderful to us and the dishes have been mostly delicious. Everyone has been so welcoming that they would have been happy to see us every night. As is we had dinner there probably nine times. Vikesh, the manager, always had a table waiting for us next to a window.

Vikesh and John

 

 

July 6, 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland

‘Tis a wee bit misty as the Viking Sea plies its way toward our berth in Rosyth near Edinburgh. We are treated to passage under three bridges spanning the river, Forth. The first called the Forth Bridge was built in 1882-1890. Interestingly the steel Forth Bridge is contemporaneous with the Eiffel Tower which was built of iron. The Forth Bridge is still in use carrying rail traffic across the river.

The Forth Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The next bridge which is for car traffic was built in the 1950’s and opened in 1960. The final bridge is just finishing construction and its cables look like sails. It is due to open in September. It will be the new bridge for car traffic since it has baffles to cut down on the wind’s influence and the 1950’s bridge will be for trucks.

Two more bridges

Since this is Scotland, we are piped off the boat and onto the bus.

Piper

As we head into Edinburgh we get a little history about the place. Edinburgh is the capital and has around 500,000 people while Glasgow is the bigger city and has 600,000. The difference is due to the fact that Glasgow is on the Atlantic Ocean and Edinburgh is on the North Sea. Back in the day when they were deciding where the capital should be Edinburgh was more populated and prosperous because trading could be done all over the North Sea area while Glasgow fronted the unknown and more treacherous ocean.

On our drive we see a number of small, one-story houses called bungalows. It seems that people really liked the style of homes that they lived in India back when the sun was never setting on the British Empire. So they named the houses after the place where they lived. “Bangala” in Hindi merely means “of Bengal.”

 

Bungalows

We enter the section of Edinburgh called New Town because it was built outside the city walls. The houses are mostly stone of a yellow-ish hue. It has been found that cleaning the stone in the city makes it deteriorate even more quickly so much of Edinburgh is kind of dingy looking.

Typical houses in New Town

The Scottish Prime Minister lives in this block of houses

We pass by Holyrood Palace on our way up to an overlook. I cannot get a good picture though because Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip are visiting and security is blocking all the nearby streets.

At the overlook Edinburgh sprawls out in front of us and behind us are the remnants of an ancient volcano.

Overlook

We enter the Old Town which is somewhat more crowded together with a mishmash of architectural styles. They still have parks here that are for residents only and the key to the park can cost up to 15,000 Pounds!

Typical square in Edinburgh Old Town

The unattractive Parliament building where Scots are now allowed to legislate some of their laws

As we near our drop off point, Edinburgh Castle looms overhead

We now get dropped off for an hour and a half. We are not dropped anywhere historic but at the top of the Royal Mile which appears mostly to be a mile of schlock. I believe that once again the major function is to buy stuff. The place is overrun with tourists of every type.

Our major objective is to find a place to buy cold medicine for John, acquire more money from an ATM, and hopefully have a pint in a pub. I report success on all three objectives.

We find out that if  you want actual cold medicine going into the local chemist or Boots is not going to do it. We know from previous experiences that we want Day and Night Nurse. That is only available from a pharmacy. These shops tend to be smaller and have a green cross outside.

On the way to finding our cold medicine we pass the memorial to David Hume. John touches his toe and now we are promised . . .what? That our knowledge will only be founded  in experience and that our knowledge is either directly traceable to objects perceived in experience or resulting from abstract reasoning about relations between ideas which are already derived from experience? Well, duh, we already hold those views. Maybe we can pass the toe rubbing on to less empirical folk.

David Hume remarks to John, “Don’t waste my magic powers” (irony)

Next we see a memorial statue to Sir Walter Scott.

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott was a Scottish playwright, poet, and historical novelist.

The edifice behind Sir Walter Scott is the Cathedral of St. Giles. St. Giles was a hermit and his only friend was a deer. St. Giles protected the deer from an arrow shot by some royal hunters. It wounded the deer but mostly St.Giles protected the deer by taking the brunt of the arrow in his hand. He has become the patron saint of disabled people. He is one of the  Fourteen Holy Helpers.

Exterior of St. Giles

Interior of St. Giles

After the detour to the cathedral we continue the hunt for cold medicine. While John is looking in Boots (fruitlessly), I find some interesting foods to look at in the self-service case.

Has this chicken sandwich been sitting here since 1952?

We finally find the pharmacy, get directions to the ATM, and now the only thing to do is to toast ourselves at a pub in the Scottish capital. We finally find one with twenty minutes left and guzzle down a quick half-pint before heading to the bus and back to the boat.

The Castle Arms pub

John having a Bell Haven’s Best

The remainder of the afternoon is just rest time and we decide on room service for dinner. Our electronic connection explodes and we are without a lot of power in the room. We have a lot of workmen in the room for the next hour but it is finally corrected. We finish watching Roger’s match at Wimbledon, order dinner, and go to sleep.

 

July 5, 2017 – Orkney Islands

The first thing we notice is that the topography of the Orkney Islands looks different from the Shetlands. It is green with rolling hills and there is a lot of farming going on and cows grazing in the fields. We are told that these cows only live outside for half the year due to the harsh winters. They are housed in the big barns we see.

Prosperous farm and pasture land of the Mainland Island in the Orkneys

We are really fortunate to have this great weather again today. It is only in the mid-50’s but the sun is shining brightly. Our first stop is at the Stand Stones of Stenness. There is a lot of interesting archeology going on in the Orkney Islands which is covered with stone rings and grass covered burial mounds from pre-historic times.

We hop off the bus to take a look at the Stones being careful to watch where we step since the field is also used for sheep grazing. The stones are from the Neolithic period dating to around 3000 B.C. The circle of stones and its encircling ditch or “henge” are incomplete partly due to the fact that the landowner in the 19th century started smashing and toppling them in order to keep sightseers away. The site is now under protection by the Scottish government and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stones

Another stone

John next to a stone

Odd shaped stone

Mary by a Stone of Stenness

Next we drive by the Ring of Brodgar. This site is still being actively excavated. It has been dated as being from around 2600-2000 B.C. and originally had 60 stones of which 27 still exist. It was also encircled by a henge or ditch. The stones are smaller than the ones at Stenness averaging in height from 7 to 15 feet.

View of Ring of Brodgar

Another view

After seeing these sites we are dropped off in the picturesque town of Stromness. I think we are supposed to wander around buying things but it doesn’t seem like many on the bus are cooperating with the whole buying stuff scheme. We walk down several streets and take pictures. The architecture is similar to Lerwick with stone houses and businesses.

View of Stromness

Stone buildings of Stromness

Between two stone houses towards the sea – Stromness

Hotel and buildings fronting the harbor in Stromness

John is getting a cold so we spend the rest of the afternoon quietly in hopes that he will get better fast. Later we go to dinner at the Italian restaurant, Manfredi’s. Our meal is very good and we are tucked away in a corner where it is a little less noisy which is nice.

The basket of bread at Manfredi’s is assorted and plentiful (Note that John is busily taking notes, an endeavor that he is known for around the boat.)

Like last time, we both start with the octopus carpaccio

My first course is capellini with prawns

John has a snail risotto

We order a main course of grilled swordfish with extra vegetables. Even though we are splitting it, there is still 1/3 left over.

July 4, 2017 – Fourth of July in the Shetland Isles

Happy Fourth of July! Strangely, here in the U.K. they are not celebrating. Maybe because they were the losers?! We don’t mention it deciding to take the higher road. And speaking of who takes the high road and who takes the low and who gets to Scotland before whom, it is we who have arrived in Scotland. The Shetland Isles are part of Scotland but they have not always been. In 1468 the Danish king wanted his daughter, Margaret, to marry King James III of Scotland. But she needed a dowry and the king did not have enough money. He gave the Shetland Isles and Orkney Isles as a dowry to James III. Lots of place names in the islands are still Norse and the people there identify more with Norway (which was a part of Denmark at the time) than with Scotland.

As we approach the main city of Lerwick a little pilot boat draws along side to drop off a pilot for our trip into the harbor.

Pilot boat to direct us into Lerwick harbor

We are lucky it is a beautiful day. So often Shetland is rainy. It is not a very populated place  with a total population of about 70,000 people and almost half of these live in Lerwick. Our first look of the Shetlands is of a treeless landscape. The climate is so harsh, windy, rainy, cold, and full of salt spray, that trees and most plants have a hard time growing.

Our first stop on our panoramic bus tour of the Mainland Island is overlooking Scalloway Bay and the ruins of Scalloway Castle.

Scalloway Bay and the ruins of Scalloway Castle

Next are Shetland ponies! This is what everyone has been waiting for. The Shetland ponies come in mini, medium, and large but none can be over 42 inches at the shoulder. They were bred mainly for working in the coal mines of Scotland and Wales. Their short stature and stocky build made them perfect for hauling coal out of the mine shafts. The owner tells us that now a days it is hard to sell them and they can go for as little as 10 or 20 pounds. Everyone enjoys seeing them.

The little pony is six weeks old

This is a mini size Shetland pony

The black and white ones are all medium sized

This large black one just made it in as a Shetland pony since he is 41.5 inches

After oohing and aching over the ponies we get back on the bus to learn more things about the Shetlands. We pass a rock pillar called the murder stone. It has been dated to around 2 BC. According to a Scottish tourism site, “it is said that at the time that it was made, the Murder Stone was used to issue justice to murderers. If the offender could run from Law Ting Holm to the Murder Stone unscathed despite the efforts of the victim’s family and friends to stop him, he was pardoned of his crimes.”

The Murder Stone

Other photos from our bus tour –

Old Parliament building

The Shetland Isles have way more sheep than people (around 200,000)

A loch

Our bus!

We have been up for a long time since we had to go through Customs and Immigration at 6:30 this morning and our tour left early as well. When we finish with the morning’s activities it only 10:30 and not even time for lunch. We have a little rest and then decide that we will take the shuttle into Lerwick to find a fish and chips shop and lift a pint somewhere.

Grubby fish and chips place

Fried halibut and chips

No beer but we each got a nice mug of tea

Now it is time to find that pint of beer. We come across a hotel, The Queens, that has a bar entrance and settle in at the bar for a pint of Tennant’s and McEwan’s beer. There is even a TV screen and we ask the barman to put on Wimbledon – pretty perfect.

Queens Hotel (and bar)

John in his traditional beer pose

We wander around Lerwick for a bit and look at the distinctive stone buildings.

Lerwick’s distinctive stone architecture

When we get back to the harbor, John tells me all about the oil drilling ocean platforms and their escape pods. These enormous structures are getting ready to be towed out to sea.

Oil drilling platform

We are eating dinner at the Chef’s Table again tonight. It is the same menu as last night but worth eating twice. Before we head down to dinner we watch the pilot boat come along side of us and pick up the pilot before we pick up speed and head for the Orkney Islands.

Pilot boat coming along side of our ship to pick up the pilot

July 3, 2017 – A second day at sea

I do not mind these days at sea. It is nice to have a little extra time to do all the boatside stuff. John and I went to two lectures/demonstrations today. One was on the possibility of another Scottish independence vote and the other a cooking demonstration with the head chef making a salmon dish and risotto. Both informational sessions were interesting. We can also get all the port talks and lectures on our TV so if we don’t feel like getting dressed we can watch from our room.

Here are some pictures from around the boat –

Our cabin is on the third level and this is the view out of our front window. We cannot access this area and we never see anyone out here except for a guy who raises and lowers flags.

This is the atrium which spans several floors. There is a big digital display where they put up themed pictures. On the bottom floor there is usually a piano player or a string trio performing.

This is the Star Theater where they have shows and lectures. It is also the holding bin for people waiting to depart the boat. We are tortured with music almost exclusively from 1958 while we wait.

Here is a closer-up in the Star Theater where we heard the lecture on the odds of a second Scottish independence vote.

This is the display outside of our favorite restaurant. We had that dish displayed the first night we were here. They change the menu every three or four days. So far we have had most of the menus twice. Paul, the sommelier changes up the wine for us and the chef often does something a little different on our dinner the second time we have it. Vikesh, the manager, always saves a table for us.

Tonight at the Chef’s Table there is a new menu with a sweet and salty theme. It is really delicious.

Our amuse bouche is a tomato and watermelon gazpacho. At the bottom there are small pieces of watermelon and cucumber. The surprise is small pieces of feta that contrast nicely with the sweetness.

First course was grilled scallops with beets and passion fruit sauce. Delicious. We did not like the Albariño it was paired with so we had it with some French Chablis instead.

The palate cleanser was a prosciutto and melon granita.

The main course was veal tenderloin with pumpkin and red onion marmalade. Also very good. Vikesh came over to talk to me during this course and so it got a little cold.

The finale was strawberry and basil delight with phyllo shreds which we had with a late harvest chenin blanc.

So this is a really tasty dinner and we are having it again tomorrow night. The chef is going to do a little something different with the spices on the veal and Paul promises some interesting new pairings. It should be fun and delicious.

 

July 2, 2017 – Leknes, Norway (Lofoten Islands)

Today we put into the tiny port of Leknes in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. This area is pretty isolated and is home to fishermen and artist communities. It has a stunning landscape and white sand beaches. Here in the midst of summer the temperature is hovering around the 50F mark with rain spitting. It hardly seems like a beach day.

We head to the busses. Our stops for 10 minute photo ops will include two beaches and a fishing community. We head through a long tunnel to the other side of the mountain. The tunnel is only one lane. On the way back we will find out how vehicles going in opposite directions negotiate passage.

The beach that we stop at has beautiful white sand is mainly populated by sheep and tourists taking their 10 minute photo op. It is called Klipfisk or cliff fish beach. Our guide tells us not to go on the sand because it will be too big a mess on the bus due to its stickiness on our shoes. It is picturesque and beautiful and is really not what we would consider for typical beach activities.

White sand beach with rocks and mountains

Sheep enjoying the picnic tables

Heart-shaped rock art

We return back through the tunnel where we meet oncoming traffic. What to do. There are various pullouts and the cars respectfully move over for the bus. Our tour guide, Stephanie, remarks, “We are big. We win.” After the tunnel we stop at another beach. This one has been voted “the most beautiful beach in Norway.” It looks like a beach. It is raining. We stay on the bus.

Most beautiful beach through the bus window

Sometimes the camera wants to take pictures of the raindrops on the window instead

Finally we stop at Ballstad, a typical fishing community except a famous artist, Scott Thoe, has painted a mural on one of the buildings. Unfortunately we are not close enough to get a good picture of it. The little harbor is picturesque so I take a picture. Also a nice picture of John.

Ballstad fishing village. Part of the mural is visible on side of the large white building

Handsome husband shot

We return to the ship. They are running busses into Leknes center during the afternoon but we are told there is nothing open because it is Sunday plus it is raining. We have a leisurely lunch. We watch as the ship leaves Leknes, write the blog, and then get ready for dinner.

Tonight we are eating at the Chef’s Table and having the same menu as two nights ago. (See pictures there) It is still the best piece of cod I have ever eaten. It is so beautifully cooked that it is soft and gelatinous but still flakes apart. The women behind us are saying that it is undercooked which is totally not so. The only things that they have eaten are the salad on top of the carpaccio and dessert. I feel sorry for them.

We head back to the room where we watch an episode of Downtown Abbey, turn our clocks back an hour as we move into Greenwich time, and look at the midnight sun.

The midnight sun off the coast of Norway

July 1, 2017 – North Cape, Norway

Today we are docking at the northernmost stop in our journey, North Cape or Nordkapp in Norwegian. It is also the northernmost point in Europe and I am looking forward to it. We went to the southernmost point at the tip of the heel of Italy a few years ago.

The town is pretty weather-beaten. It looks like the people up here make a living throug extraction industries and fishing plus tourism.

The view of North Cape from our cabin’s porch

Fish hanging to dry

All aboard!

The landscape is pretty stark. There are still patches of snow and there are no trees. The hills are covered with grasses and bryophytes which make for good reindeer munching.

The arctic landscape. We are going to that plateau sticking out into the sea

Reindeer grazing

We make a sad stop where a Sammi, from the aboriginals of northern Norway, stands forlornly holding on to a reindeer and garbed in traditional gear. Bus loads of tourists take a moment to snap a picture and drop a few coins. I imagine it is worth it to him for the money.

Sammi and reindeer

We reach the North Cape and luckily the sky is clear here at more than 70 degrees latitude. There is a large informational building with a short movie, gift shop, restaurant, and other displays relating to the North Cape.

John at Nordkapp

Mary at Nordkapp

John inside the informational building with puffins

Mary with trolls

After looking around the building we take a walk outside where the wind is howling and it is quite cold. We view the northernmost monument and walk over to the edge of Europe. Then we hurry back inside and out of the cold.

John at the North Cape monument

Standing on the northern edge of Europe

The trip back to the ship is much like the way out except that the view is from the other side. I take some pictures out of the window.

Snowy landscape

More reindeer

Beautiful vista

Later in the afternoon we listen to a talk about power struggles in the Arctic Zone. It is interesting to hear how maritime law has evolved. Russia is now making a play to gain economic interest over half of the Arctic. The U.S. has no standing in this because we have bull-headedly refused to join the other nations with a coastal presence in the Arctic and sign a treaty which governs its use.

Dinner is supposed to be at the Italian restaurant, Manfredi’s. I am in my comfy clothes and really have no desire to get dressed and go out and interact. So we have room service which is more than adequate.

 

June 30, 2017 – Tromso, Norway

We dock this morning at Tromso. We disembark and go to our bus. The whole bus routine is getting old. When we were on the river cruise at least they let us walk around with a guide. Here we get on the bus and are told things by the guide and have a couple of photo ops. Tromso is not terribly scenic. It is, however, home to some 70000 inhabitants. It has a university which is the main employer of the town. Our guide is recently graduated from high school and tells us about various high school hijinks. She explains about the midnight sun and the northern lights and also about the blue time when the sun is just peeking over the horizon. Tromso has a lot of festivals in both summer and winter. It seems to be quite the party town.

Approaching Tromso with its picturesque snow capped mountains behind

View in one direction from our scenic stop

John gesturing toward the tarn in the other direction from our first photo op

Re-boarding the bus after our first stop we ride through Tromso and pass the memorial to Roald Amundsen, the great Norwegian explorer of the North and South Poles.

Quick shot from the bus of the Amundsen memorial

Our second stop is behind the maritime school on a hill overlooking Tromso harbor. They have two bridges. One is painted black and is called the black coffin.

Tromso harbor with bridge on the left

Memorial to WWII soldiers

After returning back to the ship we hang around for a while waiting for the lunch hordes to dissipate. We are not fans of the lunchtime stampede. We look out the windows some after lunch, I work on my blog, and then take a nap until cocktail time. Room service thoughtfully provides us with chips and wine. From our vantage point at the front of the ship we watch as the boat moves away from the dock and steams north to the top of the world.

Tonight there is a new menu at the Chef’s Table called Venice Carnival. It is mostly pretty tasty and as usual the staff are super nice. Our amuse bouche is a roasted pepper and tomato jelly with goat cheese latte foam. It is served with a Monserrat’s Chiaretto, San Silvestro Piemonte Italy. John says that it is a rose of the Barbera grape. The whole thing is quite delicious.

Roasted pepper and tomato jelly

Next we have a beef carpaccio with a fig and mustard vinaigrette. We decide there is a reason why beef carpaccio is served with shaved parmesan and lemon. It is because it tastes much better that way! This course is served with Villa Bagnolo, Sassetto Sangiovese de Romagna, Emilia Romagna, Italy.

Beef carpaccio with fig and mustard vinaigrette

For our palate cleanser we have a Bellini granita that is tasty.

Bellini granita

The main course is a cod fillets that is cooked to perfection. It sits on top of a Jerusalem artichoke risotto. There is some foam, a fried fish skin, and a totally superfluous Parmesan tuile. This is served with a Vlacanzjria, Cantina Gulfi Edna, I.G.T. Scilia, Bianco.

Cod fillet with Jerusalem artichoke

Lastly the dessert is what they call Mascarpone Passion. It has a thick jellied outer skin with the mascarpone inside, plus a layer of chocolate over a cake. I can admit that the mascarpone was good.

Tonight we sail north to finish the northward section of our trip with a visit to North Cape, the most northerly point in Europe.

June 29, 2017 – A day at sea

Today is a lazy day and we don’t even have room service deliver our breakfast until 8 AM! Nonetheless I wake up at 5 AM to get ready for the day. Our big plans are to look out the windows, sort our dirty clothes and give them to Von to have laundered, eat lunch, lie around, go to a wine tasting, have snacks, and eat dinner. It’s a tough life.

The cruise activity director is all abristle with myriad things we can do today. One thing is to put on a bathing suit, jump into a cold pool, kiss a fish, and get your nose painted blue. This is a ritual one does when crossing the Arctic Circle. We decline since the activity involves wearing a bathing suit, being with people, kissing a fish, and having our noses painted blue. Otherwise we would be all in!

We also have other exciting things to look forward to. There are some lumpy mountains called the Seven Sister Mountains (like the Seven Sister Waterfalls only mountains) and a mountain with a hole in it.

Here are some pictures of our “at sea” day.

First up is the famous mountain with a hole in it called Torghatten. We are looking out the window at this and there are a bunch of people sitting next to us who are asking all these questions about it to each other. I very helpfully Google it up and explain all about how it  was formed during the ice age and that there is a path up to it and you can walk through. I even throw in the folk lore fable about it. These people are totally unappreciative of my effort.

Here’s the fable – According to legend, the hole was made by the troll Hestmannen while he was chasing the beautiful girl Lekamøya. As the troll realized he would not get the girl, he released an arrow to kill her, but the troll-king of Sømna threw his hat into the arrow’s path to save her. The hat turned into the mountain with a hole in the middle. (Wikipedia)

Famous Norwegian mountain with a hole in it

Other exciting mountains include –

Seven Sisters Mountains

Sleeping soldier mountain (imagine that the left lump is a head in profile)

Then I took some pictures of interesting-looking mountains.

I call this one pug-nose mountain

Here is shark fin mountain

Vikesh and his crew have talked us into going to the wine tasting that is being held in the Chef’s Table restaurant at 4 PM. All the nuances of wine tasting are explained. We have heard all this several times before but the head sommelier, Jude, does introduce a few new ideas. Mostly it is too much talk, not enough drink.

Wine glasses waiting to be filled

We have our pre-dinner snack and discover that they have Downtown Abbey on the TV. We haven’t seen that in a few years so we start from episode 1.  Poor Lady Mary doesn’t realize her life is going to be pretty disastrous at the beginning, but we do.

Then we go down to have our second spice road dinner. Mmmm, even better than the first because my beef tenderloin no longer has weird spices on it. After dinner Vikesh shows us pictures of his cousin’s restaurant in Bangalore. The food and decor look pretty impressive. It is nice to spend a few moments where it is not just about us.

June’s 28, 2017 – Molde, Norway

We head off the ship around 9 AM after docking in Molde, Norway. This is the third incarnation of Molde. It was first mentioned in the sagas by Snorri Sturluson as the location of the Battle of Sekken in 1162, where king Håkon the Broad-shouldered was killed fighting the aristocrat Erling Skakke, during the Norwegian civil wars. (Wikipedia) The area’s settlement probably goes back much earlier than that, however. The town grew through the ages due to its temperate climate, an artifact of the nearby Gulf Stream. Then 1/3 of the city burned down in 1916. After rebuilding, the Germans bombed it with incendiary bombs and basically wiped out the city.

So there really is nothing quaint or historic about Molde. It’s a nice little modern town of about 26,000. We are stopping here to see the Romsdal Outdoor Museum. It is kind of a Norwegian Sturbridge village with houses transported from other parts of Norway illustrating life in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century.  We are greeted by children doing folk dances. The little boy is especially earnest in his dancing. Some of the dances are funny with girls vying for boys and making rude gestures at the other girls.

Interpretive guide at the Romsdal Outdoor Museum

Children walk in for the dancing

The little boy is the star dancer of the day

After the dancing we wander around and look at the various houses and exhibits.

Old Norwegian house

Woman baking Norwegian flat bread and making homemade butter

Dark interior of 17th century house

Loom in 18th century house

Mold for making gjetost, a caramel colored Norwegian goat cheese

In the 19th century house there is a mill shop for making barrels, furniture, and shoes

Lathe

Stove in the 19th century house

Decorative chest with date 1831 painted on

Another interesting aspect of these houses are their sod roofs. These are made by first putting down a layer of birch bark to water proof it and then sod. Plants grow on the roof and the goats go up on the roof to graze. Sod roofs last for 20 years before needing to be replaced.

House with sod roof

Close up of sod roof

And now our adventure begins.  The local guide on the bus says that it is a 10 minute walk back to the ship and that we can walk back or take the bus. Being intrepid adventurers we, of course, decide to walk back. We try to make sense of the little map we have been given and start out.  We know that as long as we are heading downhill we cannot go too far astray. Over an hour later we reach the ship. The directions on the little map are hard to fathom and so we decide we will just head toward our ship. Unfortunately it turns out that our sister ship, the Viking Star, is also in port docked up in a different location. So first we go to the Viking Star.  Nonetheless, unless you are some kind of Olympic race walker there is no way you are going to walk over a mile in ten minutes!

First we walk past the tennis courts which are red clay.

Then we stop to take a picture of the some of the 122 mountain peaks visible from here

Then we walk a long way to the ship that turns out to be not our ship

We do have some adolescent giggles along the way

Finally we run into some other people from our ship. However, it seems that we are all trying to follow each other! Just a case of the blind leading the blind. But it is lunch time and we have promised ourselves a hot dog from the grill so that’s something to look forward to.

Max-like hot dogs!

A woman with some lettuce leaves on her plate remarks to me, “that’s some hot dog!” I want to say shut up, bitch. But control myself.

We spend the rest of the day idling about. We have the room service team deliver some potato chips and wine and then sit out on our porch as the ship departs Molde, Norway. Goodbye, Molde, maybe now I can get “The Moldau” by Smetana out of my head!

Molde, Norway

Here’s our sister ship, Viking Star, departing in front of us. It is heading south and we turn north

Even though we have reservations at the Chef’s Table for tomorrow night and they will be serving the same thing again, we head to the Chef’s Table because Vikesh has told us we are always welcome. We love the team of servers, sommelier, and manager there. We are probably friendlier with them then anyone else on the boat. Tonight’s dinner is inspired by the spice route. The amuse bouche is a carrot and cardamom cream with an orange and star anise foam. It is very tasty and I am in too much of a hurry to eat it to take a picture. It is served with a Prager, Riesling Federspiel Steinriegl from Austria. I see in John’s notes that we think it is only slightly sweet.

Next we have a tuna tataki which is really good. The little dots are avocado and balsamic sauces, and the line of white stuff is a sesame oil powder made with tapioca.The tuna is coated with Szechuan peppercorns, coriander and sesame oil and served over a tiny brunoise of pickled carrots and cucumber. The wine has asparagus overtones but goes well with the dish.

Spicy tuna tataki served with Pudnto Final, Sauvignon Blanc, Bodega Renacer, Argentina

Time to cleanse our palates with a spectacular ginger and tarragon granita.

Ginger and tarragon granita infused with vodka and lemon foam

The main course is a beef tenderloin with four warm spices served with mashed purple potatoes and mushrooms. We have this with a Brunello di Montalcino from Castello Banfi, Italy. The wine is very good but I am not so keen on the beef. I find the spice rub which is made up of coriander, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika to taste odd. I try to cut around the rub but the flavors permeate the meat. I tell the server and the chef that I was not a fan and they promise to set aside a piece of meat for me tomorrow night that will omit the coriander and the cinnamon. They are so nice.

Spice rubbed beef tenderloin with mushroom and purple mashed potatoes

I am not usually a dessert fan but the apple tarte tatin is really delicious! Especially so when we add some freshly ground salt.  We have this with some Santa Cristina Vin Santo. The apple is spiral sliced and then reconstructed.

Apple tarte tatin with butterscotch calvados sauce

I am really looking forward to eating this menu again tomorrow night1

 

June 27, 2017 – Geiranger, Norway

Terrible sleeping night with rough seas last night. We are up in the middle of the night and spend some time mid-ship where the swells are not as apparent. Finally I talk John into thinking about the motion of the ship like sine waves and to relax himself and just go with it. We manage to get some sleep and towards morning the ship enters the fjord where everything is much calmer.

The Geiranger fjord is spectacularly beautiful as we head toward the little town of Geiranger with a permanent population of only around 220 people.  There are many more here today with lots of summer visitors and cruise ship denizens descending upon it.

View of Geiranger fjord

View of still water and steep cliffs of Geiranger fjord

One of many waterfalls we can see off the starboard side of the ship as we approach the town of Geiranger

Tiny town of Geiranger at the foot of the fjord

We disembark from the ship using tenders and board buses for a scenic ride through the mountains surrounding Geiranger. The ship looks smaller and smaller as we climb.

Our ship, the Viking Sea, is on the right of the two ships

Getting smaller as we ascend

The bus driver negotiates the many switchbacks on the road with real know-how but so many busses on these narrow mountain roads are kind of scary. Finally we reach an overlook and stop for some pictures.

From our overlook, the view back towards the mouth of the fjord with the Seven Sisters waterfall

There are so many waterfalls! This one crashes down next to the parking area.

John with clouds and fjord

Mary with fjord and waterfall

Next we negotiate our way back down the road and up another one which takes us behind the town of Geiranger.

At our first stop the town of Geiranger is far below in a beautiful setting

Our local guide tells us that this morning when she drove over the hill from her little town to Geiranger that the temperature was -4C and it was snowing hard at the top of the mountain but that the snow plows were taking care to make sure that the roads were clear. As we continue up it is hard to believe that it’s summer! We stop not too far from the top of the mountain at Djupvasshytta.

Partly frozen mountain lake

John by the lake

The snow is as high as me!

After returning to Geiranger we do a little shopping with the thousands of other cruise ship folk from the various ships that have called into this port. Our tour guide has assured us that without the tourists that Geiranger would not exist but you have to feel sorry for these poor citizens of Geiranger who must put up with this onslaught on tourists every summer. I know if it were me I would be pining for the when the sun disappeared for six months along with the tourists.

John and I enjoy a glass of wine sitting out on our little porch as our ship departs Geiranger. The beautiful Seven Sisters Waterfall is on our side of the boat now. As we pass  we can hear the roar of the water falling but it mysteriously enters the fjord with nary a splash.

Approaching the Seven Sisters Waterfalls

 

The Seven Sisters Waterfalls

Today’s on again, off again rain and clouds have cleared out and we are treated to a lovely ride back out of the fjord. We sit and watch this beautiful corner of the world go by as we have dinner at the Italian restaurant on the ship, Manfredi’s.

We both start with octopus carpaccio

My soup is porcini mushroom and John has pasta fagioli

I forget to take pictures of our main course (veal Marsala for me and mussels for John) but here is the dessert we chose. The orange supremes, whipped cream, and sauce were the parts we liked.

The Captain has promised a much calmer night tonight and we are looking forward to a good night’s sleep!

June 26, 2017 – Bergen day

We are not embarking until tonight and so today is our Bergen day. We are lucky to have gotten a head start on many people, by having seen many things in Bergen on Saturday. However, there are things we haven’t seen and so we are signed up to take the Bergen tour.

We have breakfast in our room which is nice because we can stay in our comfy clothes for a while longer. The breakfast arrives mostly cold and we will need to rethink our choices. After breakfast we are off on our assigned bus for a two hour overview of Bergen.

Our local guide informs us that we are quite lucky that it is not raining this morning as it averages five days of rain out of every week in Bergen. He also lets us know that this has been the rainiest June on record. So, yay, after being wet for the last two days we are able to enjoy merely overcast skies. We bus around Bergen seeing old and new things and then are treated to a view from a vantage point from an overlook of Bergen and the fjord on which it sits. We take the obligatory pictures.

Scenic view of Bergen

John at Bergen overlook

Mary overlooking

We have another stop downtown where we have a good vantage point to take a pictures of our boat and the Hanseatic district. Finally we stop near the Royal Palace where it appears that King Harold and his court are not home since the Norwegian flag is not flying from the top turret.

Hanseatic houses

Das boot

Halloo, King Harald, are you home?

We get lots of facts about Bergen and Norway in general and are back in time for lunch. We try to choose some healthy things from the buffet but I know that buffet eating is especially difficult and I find myself wanting to check out the pizza and have a bite of cookie at the end.

My lunch, sea bream and veg

John’s lunch, soup, sea bream, veg, and risotto

We have considered going back out but it is spitting rain, windy, and cold plus we have been up since 3 AM. Thanks, jet lag. So we take a nap instead and go down to the theater later in the afternoon for a talk about our next day’s destination, Geiranger. After an embarkation toast we head to the World Cafe for dinner.

Dinner tonight is a pale comparison of the first night’s dinner at the Chef’s Table. First of all it is really noisy. We find out later that the restaurant is really crowded due to its being lobster night. I have a shrimp cocktail and poached salmon and John has foie gras and a pasta with boar ragu. The food is fine but the experience is not great. We will have to figure out what is best for us.

My shrimp cocktail

Followed by poached salmon

John starts wth foie gras

Orcchietti with boar ragu for John

We head to our cabin for another night’s troubled sleep. Seas are very rough and being in the front of the ship exacerbates the motion of the swells. Sleep is hard to come by.

Mother’s Day – 5/14/17

Yay, it is Mother’s Day and the family is really on top of plans for a lovely day.! Of course most of our celebration involves food because that is how our family rolls. John, Sarah, and I drive over to Jon’s and the munching and reminiscing begins!

First, a family picture, it won’t be too much longer until Nathan is taller than I.

Pilats!

Sarah has made a bacon and cheese quiche and a Swedish tea ring. Both are delicious.

Quiche

Swedish tea ring

I bring a bowl of fresh fruit and Jon makes chicken liver mousse and pimento cheese.

Fresh fruit and chicken liver mousse and pimento cheese in foreground

I get a gift of fruit tarts from Nathan and Sam that they made from a recipe in their Harry Potter Cookbook.

Fruit tarts by Nathan and Sam

I also get flowers that Sam has picked out and cards from everyone. It is a wonderful day.

Flowers that Sam picked out

Cards!

December 6, 2015 – The birthdays

Where has the time gone!? Here it is another birthday. George and I are celebrating together as usual but we seem older and gimpier this year. I turn 67 and George is 72. We both have knee problems. It’s been a lot of birthday celebrations since I was 29 and he was 34.

This year we are spending the birthdays in Lodi. We are going to three wineries and having dinner at a place called Wine and Roses which is a hotel, event center, and restaurant.

I am expecting that wineries in Lodi will be garage-type affairs or maybe off the back of someone’s pick-up truck. But, no! The first place we go to, Oak Hill Farm is beautiful. The wine is tasty and the server knowledgeable.

Mary, Karen, and George in front of Oak Farm Winery

Mary, Karen, and George in front of Oak Farm Winery

 

George and Mary with vintage car (like us!)

George and Mary with vintage car (like us!)

Interior of Oak Farm Winery

Interior of Oak Farm Winery

We go to a couple of other wineries but they are more like my original idea of Lodi wineries. They appear to be repurposed  bungalows. The wine is just okay.

For lunch we stop at the Lodi Airport Airport Cafe. It has been suggested to us by the server at Oak Farm. It’s right on the runway of the local airport! It kind of reminds me of the Airport Inn in Red Bank. The fare is sort of upscale lunch stuff but my eggplant sandwich is greasy and the fries served with it are enough for three people. John munches some of them but there are still plenty left over.

Mary in front of the Lodi Airport Cafe.

Mary in front of the Lodi Airport Cafe.

Later in the afternoon we check into our rooms at the Wine and Roses Event Center/Hotel/Restaurant. After a little nap and shower we meet for drinks and dinner.

Karen and George in the bar

Karen and George in the bar

Mary and John in the bar

Mary and John in the bar

The food is good but is somewhat spoiled by a very noisy group who hover around our table shrieking, hugging and high-fiving each other. We are not the most popular people in the place when we complain. George and John are very annoyed and I am glad the whole encounter ended with no one getting punched!

Another celebration done.  Happy Birthday to us!

 

 

December 6, 2015 – Happy Hanukkah!

After getting all my Santas settled in their correct places, we moved on to Hanukkah tonight. John made some incredibly delicious latkes which were thoroughly enjoyed by us and by our next door neighbors. Indeed, the wafting smell of grease and frying potatoes probably had the whole vicinity wishing that had latkes tonight.  Happy Hanukkah!!

John’s recipe for Potato Latkes

(This is best done outdoors due to the lingering smell of grease and slickness of the floor after frying in the house.)

Ingredients:
5 medium russet potatoes
1/2 medium onion
1 tbs table salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs flour or matzoh meal
1 tsp baking soda
Lots of vegetable oil for frying
1/4 cup olive oil for frying
Important power tools are electric fryer (I use an electric wok) and food processor with coarse shredding disc.
Wash and dry potatoes; leave skin on.
Shred potatoes in food processor.
Shred onion in food processor.
Combine potato, onion, salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and flour/matzoh meal.
Add baking soda.
Heat frying oil mixture  to 375 degrees F.
Take a blob of potato mixture and press out liquid to make a 3 inch disk.
Slide into hot oil.  Make a batch of 6.  Fry until GBD.  Remove on rack to 275 degree oven.
Let oil temperature recover between batches.
This should make 3 batches of 6 latkes each.
Enjoy!

 

John with his fry station set-up (outside!)

John with his fry station set-up (outside!)

Sliding one in!

Sliding one in!

Frying disk of potato yumminess

Frying disk of potato yumminess

First night candles and latkes

First night candles and latkes

December 4, 2015 – Ethiopian dinner

Misr wat, atakilt, and faux injera

Misr wat, atakilt, and faux injera

Tonight I try to make an Ethiopian dinner much like we have at Zeni’s in San Jose. There is not a single person in our household who does not preface Zeni’s with mmmmm…Zeni’s!

I think my atakilt which is cabbage, potatoes, and carrots in an aromatic blend of spices is pretty good. Tonight I also made misr wat, spiced lentils. But one of the best things about Ethiopian food is that it is served on a platter lined with injera, their bread made from the ancient grain, teff.

I try making a faux injera with AP flour, rye flour, club soda and vinegar. Sarah and I try making it as a crepe but it doesn’t work out. Then we try baking it in a thin layer in the oven. It still comes out after 45 minutes tasting weird and not thoroughly cooked.

I think my Ethiopian-at-home adventure is over. The next time I want authentic flavored I will go to Zeni’s. Mmmmm….Zeni’s.

October 25-26, 2011 Pleasanton, CA to Benevento, Italy

Mary: Much like last trip, John will be helping with the blogging. I feel like a juggler with three blog balls up in the air. I am so glad that John is keeping Today’s Worry from dropping. If you are interested, there are also posts up today on The Adventures of Clark and Lewis and Dining Lite.

John: Departure day.. We awake at 4 AM, shower, finish our last-minute packing and run through our checklist many times before our friend George picks us up just before 6 AM. We have left some extra time to allow for traffic. There is no traffic, only darkness. We check in, rather on the early side and head to the Admiral’s Club for a pre-breakfast breakfast bagel.

Lewis peruses the menu

Mary: Today we seem to have a lot of pictures of Clark and Lewis and not too many of us or sights. This is probably because we look like zombies after the long flights and we really haven’t seen much except the inside of airports, the car and the hotel.

John: The flight to JFK is uneventful and gets in ahead of schedule. Mary even has a sleep. We settle down in the JFK Admiral’s Club and have some wine and munchies. Clark and Lewis enjoy the whole experience.

Yay, for snacks!

John: Next, on to Rome! The flight is good; we both get some sleep (a miracle). We land on time, breeze through immigration (no passport stamp, though), baggage claim, customs, and car rental. We’re on our way in record time.

We had landed in a light drizzle. As we drive south on the A1, the rain gets heavier. A few kilometers before we are to get off the autostrada, traffic stops. It appears that a truck has jackknifed across the road and cars can get by only on the right shoulder. This costs us about 20 minutes. Lots of emergency vehicles. We hope the truck driver is OK.

The big backup

John looks tired

John: We finally arrive at our hotel, the UNA Il Mulino, in Benevento. It’s in a converted mill complex, very new. Our room is large with plenty of closet space space and a fine enclosed shower. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful.

Mary: I am very impressed with the hotel. Our room is enormous. This is just a one night stop so I wasn’t trying for anything too exciting just clean and not too expensive.

Clark and Lewis are ready for bed

John: We have dinner at the hotel restaurant, Le Macine. We really do not want to have to drive anywhere else today. It’s a very good choice:

– tasty bread and exceptional fennel-flavored bread sticks.

Fennel bread sticks and bread

Mary: Just want to say that in the old pre-diet days we would have eaten all the bread and all the breadsticks and probably asked for more. We had a couple of breadsticks and a couple of slices of bread. The end.

John: – an antipasto compliments of the chef: sauteed calamari strips, fried artichoke slices, and garbanzo beans in a garbanzo puree.

Antipasto compliments of the chef

Mary: I cannot even tell you how good the fried artichoke chips were.

John: – a small rigatoni-like pasta with white beans and local cheese for Mary’s primo, and artisan tagliatelle with broccoli and mussels for John.

Plate of goo


John's primo

Mary: John made the better choice here. I had a plate of goo. It was okay. I tried to avoid as much goo as possible.

John: – grilled fish filet, (maybe bass), served with fried spinach, sauteed fennel and a wonderful cauliflower puree with black salt grains and local olive oil. Best fish I have ever had in Italy.

Our secondi

Mary: I think the fish was swordfish.

John: – for wine, we have a local 2008 Caudium Aglianico made by Masseria Frattasi. A nice light red that goes really well with all our courses.

And so to bed. Tomorrow, on to Puglia.

We stopped first at Jacuzzi Winery to make our wine club selections. This was followed by a visit to Robledo Winery and more selecting. Robledo is our newest wine club. The place has a nice story of an immigrant family who worked the fields saving up and buying land to grow grapes and make wine. Our final stop was a Imagery Winery to pick up another wine shipment. Having completed our wine chores by around 2 PM, we headed over the mountains into Napa and decided to have lunch at Bottega in Yountville. Since our quest continues to be finding the perfect calamari, we started with the calamari appetizer. Our first two requests for wine were unfortunately unavailable. The waitress suggested a white Italian white by Scarpetta. I like the pig on the label.