John’s birthday celebrations. 9/14/18

Unlike me John does not usually get a five-star multiple event birthday celebration. But at the end of his sixth decade I think he deserves it.

We start out with a visit with Jim and Eileen Kendall, our old friends from Massachusetts days.  Eileen goes out of her way to provide us with a lovely lunch and we all toast John a happy 69th birthday.

Eileen and Jim on a recent Alaska cruise

After lunch we slog through some heavy traffic up to Healdsburg for dinner out and an overnight at the BW Dry Creek Inn. The rooms at the Dry Creek Inn where we have stayed many times before are in need of a total refreshing but it is only one night so it is not a big deal.

I have made reservations at The Brass Rabbit for dinner. I am thinking that this will be a nice fine dining place on the Healdsburg square. But no, it is really more like a bistro and although the food is good the atmosphere leaves something to be desired.

In the morning the birthday boy and I stop at Stonestreet Winery for a tasting.  They have great Chardonnays and although the tasting fee is steep ($40 pp) we go for it. At least they comp the fee if you buy wine. (Which of course we do.) Their wines are great!

John is front of Stonestreet Winery

Tasting

Sculpture out in front of Stonestreet with Geyser Peak in the background

It is a long tasting so we decide to stop for lunch before returning home.  We have lunch at Taylor’s Refresher for some mediocre hamburgers but great onion rings.

Our last birthday celebration is at the Smoked Pig in Fremont with the whole family. The adults enjoy the food while Alex and Sam do not. It is hard to find someplace where everyone will be happy. But it is good to see the family and now John has been thoroughly celebrated.

Happy Birthday to my sweetie!!

A Sephardic New Year’s Celebration. 9/10/18

Last year I discovered that for Rosh Hashanah there can be more than apples and honey. The Sephardic celebration has a whole array of symbolic foods. This year we try to combine them into a cohesive side to our main event which is Instant Pot braised boneless short ribs with vegetables and mashed potatoes. Sarah also takes the traditional challah and makes personal-sized onion and poppy seed rolls.

Plate with symbolic foods and rolls

On the plate are butternut squash with pomegranate seeds, dates stuffed with goat cheese, the ubiquitous apple, pickled green beans with cannellini beans, spinach, and our interpretation of a ram’s head – hard boiled eggs made to look like heads. The rolls came out a little on the pale side but were delicious nonetheless. Here’s a look at the inside.

Interior of roll

If all these foods are not enough, John makes delicious boneless short ribs in the Instant Pot and I mash up some potatoes.

Boneless short ribs, mashed potatoes, carrots, butternut squash cubes with pomegranates, spinach and a onion and poppyseed roll

We have such fun telling jokes and making puns about the food. (This is apparently part of the tradition) and wish each other a happy and sweet new year!

A few days after arriving home. 9/7/18

It is a few days after we arrived back in the U.S. The flights home seemed pretty easy and even the 10 plus hours from Copenhagen to San Francisco went by relatively quickly. Sarah was at the airport to pick us up and we are busily struggling with jet lag. I slept until 4:30 AM today, so I am making progress.

Jet lag from Jasmine Tea blog

I just finished reading through what I wrote and I can tell you that without this blog I would definitely forget stuff. John and I were just trying to remember what the bathroom looked like in Oslo with quite a bit of trouble. And John remembers everything! So even if you do not want to have a blog, having a travel journal should be a must! The nice thing about a blog is that you put your pictures into it and it helps with the remembering. I have been doing this for about 13 years on WordPress and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t just have to be for vacations as you can also chronicle birthdays, holidays, and any other event that is important to you.

Writing Apps and Blogging Tools for Today’s Writers and Bloggers | 2018

Of course I am probably a little obsessed. I also have a food blog that I write everyday. I have about 80 followers who occasionally will say they like something I have written or have a comment. For me it acts as a food diary and dinner inspiration. So if you think I put too many food pictures in my travel musings, this other blog is full of food only!

For instance, here is a picture from the post about dinner last night.

Vegan chickpea, vegetables, and ditalini soup/stew

I’ll be posting more travel later this year when I celebrate my birthday in Italy.

 

Bonus post – Bergen, Norway. 9/3/18

I did not think I would have time to write another post until we got home but I forgot about the five hour layover in Copenhagen. Plus the WiFi in Copenhagen airport is much faster than it was on the boat.

In Bergen we spend much of our time packing and getting ourselves together. We have to put our luggage out in the hall at 10PM tonight and so you have to plan what you need and what you can do without.  But we do have time for a little walk around Bergen and have a local lunch.

The first thing we see on our walk is a statue of Snorri Sturluson. Snorri Sturluson’s writings provide information about persons and events in Northern Europe during the 10th and 11th centuries. He grew up in Iceland and in his writings is information about the discovery of Vinland.

Snorri Sturluson

Passing by Snorri we take a look at St. Mary’s Church. We were interested in looking inside the last time we were in Bergen but inconveniently someone was getting married.

St. Mary’s Church, Bergen, Norway

The construction of the church is believed to have started in the 1130s or 1140s and completed around 1180, making this church the oldest remaining building in the whole city of Bergen. It was at least party destroyed a few times by fire but was always rebuilt.

Drawing of Bergen from 1580 with St. Mary’s Church (Item C)

Unfortunately no photos of the interior are allowed. There are some pictures on the internet though. It has a very fancy altarpiece which must pre-date the Reformation. It is all full of saints and decoration which would not have played well with the strict Lutherans. The Church was under the auspices of the Hanseatic League so escaped becoming a ruin.

Altarpiece of St. Mary’s (photograph by Morten)

There is also an interesting painting from 1676 which has a very Protestant point of view.

Protestant and Catholic praying

If you look closely at the figure on the right you will see a humble man. From his mouth you see a red line going directly to heaven. He is the Protestant. Next to him is a richly garbed man. His red line goes to the Virgin Mary and the saints. There also lines to interests-money, trade, revelry and more. We asked the woman at the desk about it and she told us it was to show that Protestants could talk directly to God while Catholics had to go through intermediaries and their attention was diverted to worldly matters.

After seeing the Church we head over to a favorite restaurant of ours, Bryggeloftet og Stuene. They are famous for their fish soup.

Delicious fish soup

John enjoying a Hansa beer

After lunch we walk along the historic district and enjoy the sunny-ish day. In Bergen it rains 5 out of every 7 days so we are lucky in the good weather.

Old Hanseatic buildings in Bergen

With our packing done we go down to the Chef’s Table for one last meal with all the people there that we have gotten to know. Tonight’s dinner has a Scandinavian theme.

Reindeer consommé with reindeer ravioli

Salmon five ways (really delicious)

Beet granita

Lamb with potato and cabbage (cabbage too strong)

Cloudberry soup with panna cotta and sesame ice cream with a sesame tuille

Then it is goodbye to everyone and off to bed because we have to get up at 2:30 AM!

Pining for the fjords. 9/2/18

Today we are in Eidfjord, a picturesque little town in fjord country. It is so small that there are no traffic lights and are ship parked in front of the hotel here totally blocks the view of the fjord for anyone staying at the hotel.

We take a short bus ride to Hardangervidda Nature Center to learn about fjords and the flora and fauna of the area.

Hardangervidda Nature Center

First we are treated to a short movie showing the beauty of the region and then we go out to explore the exhibits.

John communes with a moose

Across the street from the nature center is a restaurant and the requisite gift shop. They have a novel way of keeping the grass growing on the roof under control.

Goat on the sod roof of the restaurant/gift shop

Fall is coming to this part of the world.

Colorful leaves outside the nature center

On the way back the mountains are reflected in the fjord.

Mountains and fjord

We are back just in time for lunch! The World Cafe is quiet today because most of the excursions left later than ours. As usual we end our lunch with an oatmeal raisin cookie.

Oatmeal raisin cookies

There is not much to do in the town of Eidfjord and even less so today as it is Sunday. I take the time to catch up on my blogs, look out at the mountains and fjord, and concentrate my efforts to try to shake my cold before the long flight home.

We have a really big balcony and we put it to use watching the ship get ready to depart and photographing the beauty of the area as we depart.

Getting ready to cast off the lines

Goodbye little hotel! Sorry we blocked your view all day.

Leaving Eidfjord

Departing

Since our cabin is in the back we only see where we’ve been

We pass under this bridge. Both ends of the bridge connect to tunnels

Bridge behind us

John finally finds a waterfall. It has been so dry here that most of the water courses have no water in them

We think about going down to dinner but I really do not feel like getting dressed and eating fancy food. Plus I am trying not to infect my fellow passengers. So we order room service and I get a hot dog. It is weird.

Hot dog with super spicy mustard, ketchup (which I told them I did not want), and relish in a not-hot-dog bun

We go to bed early which is a good thing because around 12:30 AM the seas are so rough that things are clanging around and we are buffeted around for the next four hours.   We have to spend a portion of our time in the North Sea and it is way rougher than the Baltic Sea or the fjords.

P.S. The title of the blog today, Pining for Fjords, is a reference to the Monty Python sketch, The Dead Parrot.

Black gold. 9/1/18

As we pull into Stavanger, Norway a strange sign greets us.

Houston, Stavanger’s sister city

It seems that Houston is Stavanger’s sister city.  Truthfully the only place in Houston that I have been is the airport and that is not a fond memory. Well, maybe they are sister cities because they are both ports. However, the little port of Stavanger is nothing like the busy gulf port of Houston.

Maybe it is because they are both the fourth largest city of their countries. But there is hardly a comparison.
Houston, TX. Population: 2,296,224
Stavanger, Norway. Population: 121,610

No, they are sister cities because like Houston the oil industry is the backbone of Stavanger’s economy. In 1969, a new boom started as oil was first discovered in the North Sea. Stavanger was chosen to be the on-shore center for the oil industry on the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.

With our guide we take a walk around Stavanger.

Charming houses near the harbor from the time when fishing was the main industry

12th century cathedral

Canning museum

“Most colorful” street

Our last stop is the Oil Museum.

Oil Museum, Stavanger, Norway (stock photo)

Inside we learn all about the oil industry in Norway. There are displays about how oil is created, mock-ups of oil rigs, drill bits, and a rather bleak movie. In the movie the son of one of the original oil platform workers goes to visit his father after not speaking to him for twenty years. During the ride to his father’s cabin there are flashbacks to his childhood. He thinks about all the ways that oil has ruined their idyllic country life and made them want “things!” He also realizes that all the money that Norway has now also is a good thing bringing everyone in the country great security. The film ends with father and son sitting side by side looking out at nature and not speaking to each other.

For all the “we are the happiest nation” (which Norway says is them and not Denmark) they surely make some depressing films.

So Norway is busily raking in the 78% taxes on the oil profits while becoming more and more a green energy nation. They are not interested in using the oil but have no problem with selling it. Each Norwegian’s share of the profits works out to about 1.5 million NOK. (8 NOK to $1 USD). This sum is put into a trust for the good of the Norwegian people and a percentage is spent every year for their benefit.

Later we enjoy the sail away from our balcony.

Sailing away from Stavanger

Dinner tonight at the Chef’s Table. Our menu is called Xiang and is inspired by Cantonese and Huaiyang cuisine.

Amuse bouche – a gingery hot and sour soup paired with a Sauvignon blanc and semillon blend

First course – fried prawns with Gavi di Gavi from Piedmont Italy

main course – wok-fried beef with a Brazin zinfandel

On our own. 8/31/18

We decide today to go off on our own for the short time we will be in Aalborg. We are feeling the pressure of being herded around in groups where we only get to see a quick smorgasbord of what a town has to offer. It feels rather adventurous and slightly radical to duck the groupthink and act independently.

We head into town with the plan of catching a taxi out to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art. Avoiding the tour groups we find a taxi with a pleasant driver who takes out to the museum.

Old town center in Aalborg, Denmark with Viking tour group on the left

The first thing that catches my attention is an outdoor installation of clothes apparently drying on clothes lines which give the impression of Tibetan prayer flags. The point of the prayer flags is not to send prayers to the gods but to send positive messages out to people everywhere. I am feeling pretty positive that this is the right place for us to visit today.

Outdoor installation at Kunsten Museum called Bird on a Wire by Katrina Kaikkonens

Inside we are met by the pleasant ticket seller who gives us the low down on the art and its arrangement in the museum. On our way to see the exhibit, The Power of Color, we stop to admire a painting by Max Ernst, a co-founder of the Surrealist movement in Paris in the early 20th century. These birds on a dark background have a madonna and child vibe to them.

Bonjour Satanas, Max Ernst, 1928

The main indoor exhibition is named The Power of Color. The premise being that without color there is no art and that art can be distilled down to formless works of pure color and still communicate with the viewer.

I wish I had taken a picture of the information plate next to this painting. It reminds me a lot of the work of a friend of ours work. The faces morphing into petals and the splashes of color are very reminiscent of Alison Kendall’s works.

From the exhibition The Power of Color

27 Problems, John Korner, 2005

I really enjoy this sculpture done by French American Artist Niki de Saint-Phalle who has made these colorful creations called the Nana sculptures. I could swear I have seen this Big Nana somewhere as a logo to an event or tourism.

Big Nana, Niki de Saint-Phalle

Another favorite is Two Watchers V by Lynn Chadwick, 1967. It reminds me of the Three Sisters (or Gossips) rock formation in Arches National Park.

Here are a couple more we enjoy –

Saint George and the Dragon, Olaf Rude, 1918

#20 Chinese Girl

Finally as we are walking out we see out the window a group of high school kids goofing around like kids anywhere (except maybe blonder.)

Danish school outing to the Kunsten Modern Art Museum

The nice lady at the desk calls a taxi for us and we are whisked back to the town center and after a stop at the local church we are back at the boat before it leaves without us. We have had a lovely morning on our own.

Later we have dinner at Manfredi’s, the very mediocre Italian restaurant. Everyone raves about it so there must be a lot of bad Italian food in their hometowns. I start with a Caprese salad thinking it will be a safe choice.

Caprese salad which tasted fine but way out of proportion

John likes his lemon and rosemary risotto especially with the addition of olive oil

My chicken Parmesan – big and dry

John’s mussels-sent the first lot back because they were way overcooked

But we have a nice chat with the restaurant manager and a couple glasses of grappa and finish a pretty good day.