Wednesday, January 7, 2015

PARIS TRIP :)

A few days ago we returned from a trip to Paris. We spent New Years there and a few more days after that :) I will have pictures up very soon!--So do come back!!

Our 2 night, 3 day trip to France was a beautiful experience. While this would not be my first time in France, visiting Paris would be entirely new for me. This time, my husband and I became full-on tourists and took a tour bus with a savvy (yet chatty) guide. After our luggage was loaded into the under-belly of the bus, we were escorted from our lovely village in Germany to Paris, France. 

Paris was all I could have ever dreamed it to be! Going a-la-tour-bus style has its advantages—namely, your limited time is used very, very efficiently. An official tour trip will make certain that you see all the big sites of the city while also managing to get group rates for certain museums and events. Also, you needn’t figure out all the navigation, parking—which can become quite overwhelming and time-consuming if you don’t know what you’re doing. The city is so big and the throngs of tourists are so copious that, as a newbie, you depend upon a professional to be the arbiter of your travels.

The disadvantages of an official tour are:

  1. The talkative tour guide who disrupts you while you are trying to nap.
  2.  You are often pressured to go to venues (particularly for dinner) that are not always of your choosing and are often more costly (and less tasty) than if you had picked them out yourself.

Thankfully, we managed to figure out the Parisian subway and found our way from the outskirts of the city (our hotel location) to downtown Paris. Also, the subway was free while we were there.

The tour bus took us to all the major highlights of Paris which included: The Palace of Versailles, Notre Dame, The Louvre, downtown Paris, Arc de Triomphe, The Paris Opera House (with the famous Marc Chagall paintings on the ceiling), The Thinker sculpture by Auguste Rodin and also the Eiffel Tower (created by Gustave Eiffel in 1889)

 Of the major Paris attractions my two favorites were the Palace of Versailles and also, the Paris Opera house. I would highly recommend both of these! The Palace of Versailles was an outstanding, magnificent beauty that stands as one of France’s great treasures. Louis the XIV is someone who is regarded as incredibly ostentatious and led a life of untold decadence and someone who had a group of servants stand by to clap after he successfully crapped in his bedside commode.  By his decree he created a piece of architecture that will last for ages---bringing untold numbers of tourists that will perpetually enrich the country of France.

If you’re into sight-seeing and have a fancy for seeing thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of tourists all at once—the Louvre is the place to go! Also, if you’re into sculptures or paintings, you are in for a treat too. In addition to seeing riveting art works that span millennia and include glorious religious scenes and all manner of Biblical themes, you will come across an entire room full of people clawing their way to behold the most famous face of all—the Mona Lisa.




Friday, January 2, 2015

MY PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC ADVENTURE!



 Over Christmas we decided to take a trip to Prague, Czech Republic. We booked a Van tour to Prague which meant we would be driven to the city in a tightly cramped van with other travelers. We would stay in Prague for a 4 days, 5 nights. While there, we would be expected to plan our own excursions. Happily, this meant that we didn't have to do any sort of “Group Tours” with the other travelers in our van. Simply put: A ride to a hotel in Prague and then a ride back to Germany 5 days later. What a fantastic idea! Even better, my husband speaks enough Czech to get us around in a pinch.

video

My Video: Sculpture of Men Pissing on Czech Republic
(in front of the Franz Kafka museum in Prague)


Once arriving in the city of Prague, we secured our hotel room located at a Best Western in the heart of the city. It had a very spacious balcony that overlooked the entire city. After unpacking and checking out Bohemia from the roof-top, we decided to venture to the Charles Bridge.









 The dark of night cocooned us as we trekked our way to the Charles Bridge which spanned the chilly Vltava River. Saintly, yet ghostly stone carved statues perched along the sides of the bridge as if watching over the bridge and the city. Sans the thick swarms of tourists, the Charles Bridge at night has a mystical—almost surreal quality to it.  We next made a brisk walk through the central district and saw the famous Astronomical Clock and also the Christmas tree in the center of the square. Also present was a statue of John Huss. This brought me back to 8th grade where I first learned about the Protestant reformer and martyr who was burned at the stake by those wretched Catholics.



Astronomical Clock


After wandering around the city in the deeply cold and dark night, we decided to go out to dinner. The first restaurant we ate at—U Karla—offered classical Czech cuisine like duck, venison, rabbit, pork, chicken schnitzel, boiled potatoes, red cabbage, candle sauce with roast beef, dumplings, goulash, crepes with whipped cream and plum sauce for dessert---the list goes on. These items—especially the meats—happen to be some of my husband’s favorite fare.  Never having Czech food before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I was mightily grateful after trying Czech cuisine and would recommend it to anyone who isn't a vegetarian.

Goulash

                                                    Beef with Candle Sauce

Beer!!!!


 One thing that I've discovered about Czech food is its pungency. The flavors of Czech cuisine are intensely strong.  Vegetables—like beets, cabbage—are delightfully pickled to death. Perhaps an even more notable item on the Czech menu is the beer. Thanks to this country’s long-history of beer brewing, Czech Republic is the place to come just for the beer. Forget Germany; go to Czech Republic for a good, dark brew!  Delicious, mouth-watering, malty beers are sure to delight even the most scrupulous drinker. Some Czech beers, particularly the microbrews—are unfiltered and unpasteurized giving them a freshness that is insurmountable in flavor.

On Christmas morning we began our day with a buffet styled breakfast provided by Czech hotel staff. After consuming a decadent meal and then swearing off lunch, we found our way back outside, on this cold winter morning. Thankfully, many tourists were not out yet as the city still seemed to be in slumber.

We wandered over to Wenceslas square with the giant King Wenceslas monument in the smack of the shopping district. We then trekked our way over to the Jewish History Museum. We also entered a medieval Jewish cemetery that dated back to before the 1200’s. I learned a little about the history of Judaism. One of the museums showcased many preserved artifacts. For instance, an entire glass case featured Torah Pointers.


Jewish Graveyard dating before the 1100's
(near Jewish History Museum)

Me checking out a Gothic arch in the Jewish District of Prague


After discovering nearly the entire Jewish quarters of Prague we then embarked upon the Charles Bridge and found our way to the Prague Castle. The Prague Castle sits on the hill and seems to overlook the city of Prague. Here this Gothic Cathedral is built upon the ramparts of a very old castle. The cathedral, itself, is a feast of Gothic architecture endued with Gothic arches, flying buttresses and feisty gargoyles. Inside this Gothic masterpiece are brightly colored Biblical stories enmeshed in stained glass. One of the stained glass windows was designed by the famous Czech artist Alphonse Mucha.








All of the exquisite elements of the museum created a dramatic impression upon the throngs of tourists in the cathedral. They pushed their way to the statues of saints or the Virgin and child or to the giant crucifix on the wall.  Some travelers were praying in front of the statues and wall murals or the stained glass icons, others were simply gawking.


Overlooking Prague from Old Town, on the way to Prague Castle


                                 Downtown Prague, near the Municipal Hall

The weather was frigid during all of our meandering through the city. One afternoon we decided to visit the Franz Kafka museum. This museum detailed the life and work of the great literary genius. The darkness and sense of nihilism that pervaded Kafka’s writings seemed to match well with the dark lighting and depressing ambiance of the museum. My husband, an avid reader of almost all of Kafka’s writings, could more fully appreciate this museum than someone like me—a Kafka novice who once read “The Metamorphosis” over a decade ago. Walking through this museum, you could spy the other Kafka enthusiasts—not too different from those venerating the saints in the Prague Castle.

We also had to visit the Alphonse Mucha museum. Alphonse Mucha was a famous 19th and 20th century Czech artist who created lithographic, Art Nouveau style paintings (usually of young women) in earthy, natural scenes.  Plants, flowers, woods and forests were settings in many of Mucha’s paintings but the focal point was usually a lovely lady. His work, to me, had a uniquely 2-dimensional, poster look to it that I found to be visually arresting. He is now one of my favorite artists! We also learned how Mucha used his fame for the good of his country and worked to influence public policy during his time.

After our trip to the Mucha museum, we swam through the city of tourists and their selfie-poles to an underground dungeon where we ate lunch. In the early evening we also made sure to attend a classical Christmas chamber concert. A group of local musicians entertained a big crowd of us in an art-deco styled concert hall. Their cellos and violins played to the tune of Brahms, Dvorak, Bach and Mozart. I really enjoyed it when they played, “Hungarian Dance no. 5” by Brahms. Sadly, we didn't get to hear any of Smetana’s compositions.

We used the subway in Prague on many occasions. I highly recommend using the subway if it gets too cold during your stay in Prague—just know that you will be surrounded by only Czech people and not a single tourist. This is very nice! It is also helpful that my husband can speak quite a bit of Czech which helped us immensely during our travels.

One night we went to a traditional Czech beer hall—a venue patroned by almost all locals. Instead of offering dinner guests a table for two, you are seated right beside random strangers on long benches parallel to long tables; as if by magic, mugs of dark beer are dropped right in front of you. The beer hall was a lively, vibrant place where every 15 minutes a waiter comes by your table with a platter of shot glasses—urging you to take one after another. Baskets of rye bread are plopped on the table before you. The food we ordered was quite delicious! Another cool thing is that a very skilled accordion player comes around the long tables and will serenade you as you eat. I learned that Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption in the world per capita.

Across the Charles bridge is the Mala-Strana (little district) or “Old Town” where there are plenty of narrow, cobble stone streets. In this district, quaint, tightly packed gift shops loaded with Bohemian crystal, pottery and chintzy souvenirs are everywhere! Also present are plentiful kiosks scattered about offering hot mulled wine sure to enthuse any dedicated alcoholic or anyone else interested in a hot spicy flavored brew on a chill-to-your-bone day.


Charles Bridge



On the fifth day it was time to leave Prague. We made our way out of the city. The outskirts of the city were full of big-block buildings reminiscent of the former communist regime. Our trip was wonderful but too short. 4 nights and 5 days is not enough to experience this lasting jewel of Europe.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Wandering Thoughts...



I recently stumbled upon a quote, “The greatest hurdle to fortune is the desire for safety.” This quote was brought to my attention as I was reading through a magazine. A big business tycoon was offering some of his insights as to why he thought he was so (monetarily) successful. I began to contemplate this thought. As I thought about it more, this quote really seemed to ring true.

After all, one major reason so many of us keep from pushing forward with a project or idea is fear; the squelching, suffocating feelings of fear that can consume us and can ultimately inhibit our progress down the path of success.

What type of fear is this? It is the type of fear that tends to arrive when you find yourself stepping outside the boundaries of your comfort zone. When you realize…hey, wow…what if I take this step, if I make a move in this direction? You immediately become aware that this safe-sense that you have in your person—your ego—could be compromised, assaulted, hurt, diminished, never to be repaired again. You could even be looked upon as a failure. For some reason, we think of "failure" as final. 

This is a very fatalistic, do-and-die perspective. It is this notion that if something causes injury, it is permanent. If someone says something about you, you take it as a set-in-stone analysis or an irrevocable evaluation of who you are.

We all want to be safe in that we want the core of ourselves—our sense of self, our ego—to be protected from the scorn and derision of others. I guess the reason why we care to protect the central aspect of ourselves—our identity—is the same reason why we want to protect our physical body. We care about our (physical) survival.  Our ego must care about its survival too.

Why people choose to pick on others or find ways to inflict mental pain on others is one question. The bigger question that I ponder is: why do we even care when someone picks at us or insults us? Why does it feel bad when a group of people that we interact with physically every day tends to ignore us? Why are these things psychically/mentally painful at all? Perhaps these experiences feel bad because the other individual's appraisal of us—our worth—is less than what we happen to think about ourselves. This grates against our ego and we feel pain. The pain is obviously not a physical pain as when one abrades the skin, it is more of an emotional pain.

It seems to me that there are only a few options that one can take to keeping our ego afloat midst the efforts of other egos who are only trying to bring us down.

1. Just say “Fuck You”. My life is already insanely short. I’m not going to let you ruin what little time I have to enjoy my life.

2. Surround yourself with people who are worth your time and who you can gain knowledge from.

For the millionth time, I’m not writing about any particular personal experience I've had. I was just letting my mind wander after reading a quote from a magazine.


I see that some of you have shared this! Thank you Lorne, John and several others of you! I really appreciate this!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

Motorized Shopping Scooters for LAZY people too?



Digging through my journal entries...here is one from 4-5 years ago. I've found a bunch of these weird writings of mine.


My boyfriend—an able-bodied 29 year old--decided to rent one of those motorized carts during our outing to Ikea the other day. You know…those ones that you associate with either the disabled or morbidly obese?
His reason?  “I’m tired and my feet hurt.”

So my bf saddled the motorized cart and next informed me loudly-- in all manner of seriousness-- that he “Wanted to be the leader”.

He drove the cart around the store and I walked behind him, occasionally stopping to look at something and ask if he would stop. I noticed that bf was having a fantastically entertaining time on his cart—as if we came to Ikea for that reason only. He was plowing through the store at speeds that aroused the attention of almost every shopper present.

The store was a densely populated mess. Every nook and cranny of the Ikea maze was packed with people, each one interested in honing their organizational skills or looking for that perfect set of tea cups. 

At one time, my bf’s immaturity level rose and he started making circles around me in one of the wider isles. His reason? “I’m testing this thing’s angular momentum”.  To everyone else, his engineering inquiries looked more like the giddy nature of a 5 year old.

A few moments later, my bf saw a shelf that he was really interested in buying, but it was tucked away, in a space that was inaccessible to his motorized scooter.  So what did he do? He parked the scooter in front of the isle, jettisoned himself off the cart and swiftly walked right over to his shelf of interest.  Shoppers started to stare as if someone had just committed a grave crime. “Anyone can use these carts” he said in defense “They can’t discriminate against those of us who aren't disabled.”

During the latter half of our shopping trip my bf was swearing at his pedometer that he had purchased earlier that day because he “was trying to lose weight”. Sitting on the motorized cart in the middle of Ikea, my bf says angrily, ‘Why is this thing saying that I've only burned 1.8 calories?”. “Perhaps the pedo-meter is defective or maybe your use of a motorized cart is impacting your caloric expenditure.”  I said, matter-of-factly.

I must have mispronounced the word “pedometer” because everyone within a 12 foot radius started laughing. My bf says very loudly, “Renee, that’s an entirely different device. You’re pronouncing it incorrectly.”  More people chimed in with laughter.

I was happy to leave the store.



Monday, September 29, 2014

FAVORTISM, NEPOTISM is GOOD? "Against Fairness", Book musings


“The Utilitarian approach—the greatest good for the greatest number—can be pushed to its logical conclusion. The hardcore version asserts that it is more ethical to deny your elderly father expensive healthcare if that same money could be used to save ten starving African strangers.”
Stephen T. Asma "Against Fairness" 2013

“For Confucian thinkers, integrity is not synonymous with fairness or equality. Rather familial love and devotion trump all other duties and obligations. There is a natural hierarchy of values with one’s kin on top and Confucian culture enshrines, rather than denies, that hierarchy.”
Stephen T. Asma, "Against Fairness" 2013

"When a patient's vmpc (ventralmedial prefrontal cortex) is normal (healthy) they almost always answer the ethical dilemmas in favor of their favorites, not in favor of the majority. But if the emotional vmpc is damaged, the subject becomes extremely utilitarian (hyper-rational) in their responses."
Stephen T. Asma, "Against Fairness" 2013


When someone has the ability to change my mind about an idea that I have maintained a fairly rigid acceptance of, I get very excited! I am enthralled, even provoked with mental stimulation and the endorphin rush that comes with a challenging, thought-provoking argument. I love to read books by current authors who happen to be leading thinkers in the modern world. These are individuals who propose ideas that often counter the generally agreed upon systems of thought or “boxes of thought” as I like to call them

I am currently reading the 2013 book “Against Fairness” written by Stephen T. Asma. Asma is a truly brilliant thinker who challenges the reader to reconsider the idea of fairness. He suggests that we often like to pride ourselves as fair beings—individuals who not only espouse the doctrine of fairness but also like to think that we comport our lives in a manner of consistent fairness. In this book he attacks the idea that fairness is the most moral strategy for human beings and he seems to think that there are good things—virtues—that come from partiality and nepotism.

While we often attack government policies that do not execute themselves fairly, we rarely do this with the nepotism and partiality that is woven throughout Hollywood. Many famous people are only famous (and have high-paying jobs in the entertainment industry) simply due to the favoritism and nepotism that is major theme in this industry.  Many people have acting or modeling jobs simply because they know the right people—they have family in the industry. By its very nature, this automatically disadvantages those actors/actresses seeking employment who do not possess ties to this industry. Despite these facts, very few people protest and refuse to watch these movies when we know that partiality, nepotism and unfairness were part of the strategy that brought certain actors and actresses to the top. For this industry (hollywood) we are willing to throw out our devotion to egalitarianism—even when lots of money is involved (and many others are being disadvantaged).

We endorse systems of government and policy that attempt to work towards fairness—but in our day to day lives—we do no such thing. We definitely have our favorites!

Asma takes the side of favoritism over egalitarianism and offers cogent, extensively thought-out arguments in its favor. He also delves into neurobiology.  From the moment we (and other mammals) are born we have a disposition to favoritism. This starts with the very important human activities like bonding and imprinting. We are humans that bond with our mothers.  The bonding hormone “oxytocin” is released during lactation and plays a role in the infant bonding to the mother and vice versa. Bonding is the first element of attachment to a certain person (rather than another). This bonding tendency which is a major part of our early development is then extended out to our larger family (father, siblings) and then further out to our relatives etc. It is from this early nucleus of attachment where we get nuclear families, clans, tribes etc. In other words, favoritism and tribal tendencies tend to be a part of a healthy neurobiology.

Studies show that bonding with our mothers after birth is very important to being able to form bonded, attached relationships later in life.

Asma suggests that some of the good things that come with favoritism include: allegiance, devotion, attachment and loyalty.

While I am just midway through the book, I highly, highly recommend it! If you want a thought gripping read, choose “Against Fairness” by Stephen T. Asma. This is a short book but time consuming to read as it is dense with difficult ideas and pithy sentences.

Other quotes from the book:

“Unfortunately, children who are neglected in orphanages for more than this time frame (birth and 18 months) seem to arrive in their new families with the chemical bonding windows closed. It appears that these children will always have more difficulty forming strong attachments. Children’s brains are changed by the early presence of their parents.” and vice versa. Families literally prepare the pumps of emotional chemistry and smooth the pathway to later social connection.”

“Many kids suffer from attachment disorder, failing to seek comfort in others, even their own families.”



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My ADVENTURE in the ARCTIC (NORWAY)


Our trip to Norway was eventful and full of delicious surprises. This was my first ever venture to a Scandinavian country and I must say has been an enlivening and truly different European experience. Scandinavia has a flair that rivals the traditions and feelings evoked by mainland Europe.

My husband is a trip planner from heaven. He has cultivated a unique skill-set for finding out-of-the-ordinary excursions and manages to fill every moment of the day with wine festivals, art museum visits, chamber music concerts, jaunts to historic districts, hiking expeditions or a trip to the local aquarium. Thanks to his extensive knowledge of art, history, culture and tradition, he can always think of several meaningful sites to include on any vacation we go on. He outlined a glorious vacation for us during our week-long honeymoon in Norway.

Our first 2 ½ days we stayed in the city of Bergen—the 2nd most populous city in Norway. Bergen lies in the southwestern part of Norway and sits right on the North Sea. With high wooded hills that surround the city and an inner harbor that abuts the central district, Bergen is an unusually picturesque city. Large, brightly colored houses dapple the surrounding hills and city. Along the waterfront are bustling fish markets and also a covered area with many kiosks offering freshly grilled seafood platters to tourists or locals who wander the grounds. Everything is expensive in Norway. Seafood is plentiful here but it isn't cheap. A plate of grilled shrimp will cost you around $35. Without much consolation, a Big Mac at the local McDonald’s will cost you $17.  


Bergen Norway, the famous "Bryggen District" near the Hanseatic Museum we also went to.


On our first day in Bergen we went to a nearby art museum which included a free guided tour featuring notable Norwegian artists. A sizeable collection of Edvard Munch’s paintings were present. Our museum tour guide was superb. Not only did the paintings seem to grip her emotionally but she had a knack for uncovering many of Munch’s hidden devices used in his paintings. Many of Munch’s paintings were entrenched with elements of symbolism. Anxiety, depression and also an obsession with the FEMME FATALE seemed to be themes in his own life that were interwoven into the brush strokes of his paintings. Unfortunately, "The Scream" is not located in Bergen but in Oslo. :( 
We did get to see one of my favorites though, "Evening of Karl Johann Street".

The first evening in Bergen we attended a chamber concert in an old, stately Lutheran church. The musicians raptured the audience with the sounds of Camille Saint Saens and Edvard Grieg.  The cellist—a rotund, flamboyant German—seemed to emote and throb in synchrony as he played his musical piece to perfection. I highly recommend ending a vacation day in Norway with a classical music concert like this; it is a feast to the ears!

Our hotel in Bergen was lovely. It was probably the most affordable hotel and conveniently located in the heart of the city. My favorite part was the free Norwegian buffet breakfast that lasted until noon. The breakfast buffet showcased a variety of hearty, freshly baked breads, yogurt, cold cuts, cheeses and smoked salmon. Large plates of sliced bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers seemed to be a Norwegian breakfast staple. I always loved getting the crepes and smothering them with homemade strawberry preserves (grown fresh from the agricultural village of Valdal) and butter.

Our 2nd day in Bergen was full of new and exciting treats including a visit to the Edvard Grieg museum. We also attended a piano music recital here. The young pianist played the music of Grieg. We learned that some of Grieg’s compositions were inspired by baroque music. Indeed, some of his work seemed to have a baroque style to it.



Our 3rd day we were ready for the Hurtigruten cruise. Our cruise came packed with added adventure options. We chose two excursions on our four night cruise. Our first excursion was a bus trip that took us up the zigzaged treacherous Trollstigen road all the way to the top of the mountain where we had spectacular views of the most famous fjord—the Geiranger.  This area of Norway was also famous for its troll sightings. To my dismay, I learned that only children are able to see trolls (or act like them).





Our bus tour drove us all over the mountains and the countryside that the surrounded the Geiranger Fjord. The landscape was some of the most dramatic I have ever seen. Tall, 1,500 meter mountains jutted out of rocky outcroppings and formed craggy, rugged mountain tops. Pastures of the brightest green sprinkled the land to the ecstasy of grass munching sheep, cows and goats. Rivers from melting glaciers weaved their way through the enigmatic terrain. Every once in a while a stone bridge made of neatly placed cobbles could be seen arching over a river or stream. I thought of these as little troll bridges. Other interesting sightings included many houses with grassy roof tops. There were also classic red barns in the sparse countryside. (I learned that only 3% of Norway’s land is available for agricultural use).


Geirangerfjord, along the Trollstigen road

                                                    
Several of the planned stops along our bus trip were at restaurants and gift shops. This seemed almost clandestine—as if to urge us tourists to spend our money there. At one stop, we entered a lodge-style restaurant nestled in the core of the mountains. It was cold and wet outside and the Norwegian afternoon snack of warm baked waffles with cream and local strawberry preserves hit the spot! I must say I grew quite fond of the Norwegian snack of waffles and strawberries during our trip.

The following day the cruise ship plowed its way through the Arctic Ocean and upwards, through the Arctic Circle.  Large, granite rock cliffs jumped out of the land and formed much of Norway’s mountainous coastline. Small patches of farmland with green pastures and even some yellow grain fields could be seen scattered among the low-lying areas of coastline.



Some light reading while on the ship. 


When the light hit the ocean water a nearly translucent cerulean blue emanated forth. Even from our seat on the cruise ship, we could observe waves crashing against the rocky cliffs that formed Norway’s coastline.


Ornes, Norway





Breakfast on the cruise ship was a chance to indulge in some of life’s most glorious fare. Not only was the variety of food overwhelming, the setting was unmatched. During breakfast you could look out the window and witness the changing scenery of the Arctic and Norway’s radical coastline while sipping coffee or plunging your teeth into toast coated with Nutella. If that wasn’t enough, you could serve yourself heapings of fruit, vegetables, fish, crepes with strawberries and all the other typical breakfast food imaginable. The only problem with a cruise ship breakfast is that you are allowed to keep going back and serve yourself infinite amounts of food.

I had never been inside the Arctic Circle before, or even a cruise ship, but I felt this adventure yielded the intensity and surprise that could not be achieved in other locations.

 Visiting the Lofoten Islands in the Arctic Circle was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. While on this island we went to an ancient Viking longhouse where we partook in a traditional Viking feast with Vikings, dressed in typical Viking garb. This made the event very fun and seemingly realistic.

The Viking feast was rustic but very tasty. We were given plates of savory herbed lamb meat paired with a cloudberry preserve. Chalices full of Mead were offered, one after the other! Root vegetables and something that appeared to be barley-style gruel were added as tempting side dishes. After the filling meal there was group dancing, singing, laughter and happiness.

ANCIENT VIKING LONGHOUSE


LOFOTEN ISLANDS, countryside


Inside the Longhouse



MEAD with a Viking feast :)  SKAL!!!!

A viking leads us in prayer to the Norse gods Thor and Odin before we eat our food. 


                                               video
VIDEO of VIKING praying  to the gods :)


When our Viking field trip was over, we headed back to our bus. We were given an extra tour of the Lofoten Islands. We even got to see a wild moose chomping on arctic tundra.  By 10pm we were back at the cruise ship which was anchored at the Island’s harbor in the city of Svolvaer.

At 11:30pm that night our ship brought us into the famous Troll Fjord. It was cold outside, not crisp, it was cold.  The Troll Fjord was unduly narrow with high walls of rock that appeared to dive straight into the frigid Arctic Ocean. At this point the Captain of the ship advised everyone to purchase a “Troll Toddy”. This is a hot tea spiked with Rum—a concoction that trolls apparently drink. Since we were headed through the Troll Fjord, “It might be nice to have a troll toddy to go along with the ride” he gushed. Like tourists being suckered, we succumbed to the suggestion and bought troll toddies to drink while going through the Fjord.

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, I always enjoyed dining on the cruise ship. While I was entertained by the changing arctic scenery I found it most pleasurable to sit by a loquacious geriatric couple from Canada and another couple from Australia.  Dining with well-traveled tourists and exchanging discussion while one-upping each other on countries visited is always a mature way to handle any civilized discourse over brunch.

We spent our final night in Tromso, gateway to the North Pole. We were finished with our cruise and would spend a day and night here. Tromso is one of Norway’s northern-most cities and resides at 70 degrees latitude.  This city features the famous “Arctic Cathedral”, the northern-most brewery in the world and also Polaria, the northern-most aquarium.

Polaria was awesome. We got to see bearded seals being trained and all sorts of starfish. We also learned a lot about the Svalbard archipelago.  The brewery turned out to be very fun. The bartender was a Tromso native—born and raised—and was quite amiable. He pulled up a chair and told us all about city of Tromso and about the famous Tromso polar bear hunter from the 1930’s who killed more than 700 polar bears and would frequent this very bar. He told us all about Norway and was excited that we chose Tromso as one of our honeymoon destinations. We asked him how much bartenders make in Norway. He told us that if he was to covert the amount he made in NOK to dollars per hour, it would be about $30 an hour (tips are not expected in Europe as they are in the states, so this is without tips).


POLARIA: aquarium in Tromso, Norway


Arctic Cathedral in Tromso

The northern-most bar on planet earth. 70 degrees latitude.
Tromso



 Fun facts I learned about Norway:

  1. Norway is NOT part of the European Union.
  2. Norway is part of NATO
  3. After the discovery of petroleum in 1969 Norway has become one of the richest countries in the world.
  4. Before 1969, Norway was a very poor country with over 42% unemployment. It was during that time that many Norwegians moved to the US.
  5. Norway is a leading producer of oil.
  6. Just 3% of Norway’s land is used for agriculture
  7.   Prices in Norway are high—McDonald’s Big Mac is about $17 a small container of yogurt at the convenience store is $6.
  8. One of Norway’s exports is Frozen Pizza.
  9. The AVERAGE SALARY per month in Norway is $5000 EURO. (when NOK is converted to Euro)