Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #6, Honnigsvag (Nordkapp)

We docked in Honnigsvag with Viking Ocean Cruises, and unfortunately had our first really bad day of weather. I know that we had been substantially lucky before this, given Norway’s preponderance of rain.

 

Honnigsvag Dock When We Arrived

 

As we traversed the countryside it appeared we wouldn’t experience good weather, as our views from the tour bus continued to reflect the rain falling. The further we drove it seemed the more it rained.

 

Crossroads Inland in Honnigsvag

 

When we stopped for the Sami souvenir shop the weather mysteriously cleared up enough to where we didn’t’ need our umbrellas anymore. The Sami people also (Saami) are an indigenous people of Northern Europe occupying Sapmi. The Sapmi area includes portions of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Their lifestyle was controlled by hunting, fishing and trading until the late middle ages. This is when the current framework of the Nordic countries was organized.

 

This young man was not only a local guide who told us about Sami culture, he was also an entrepreneur with around 5,000 head of reindeer. He herded the deer back and forth through channels between islands for summer grazing. He explained how they make use of the entire animal, not just the meat involved. He was definitely a very hard working young man!

 

Sami Entrepreneur

 

The Sami people have lived in partnership with their neighbors for centuries. For the last 200 years there have been many compelling changes in Sámi culture, politics, economics and their kinship with their adjoining cultures. This has been especially true during the latter half of the 20th century. Rivalries broke out over the development of a hydroelectric dam. The announced deal created a major disagreement, as the man made lake generated from the dam would flood the Sami village of Maze. It also would have had an adverse impact on the Sami’s reindeer migration and wild Salmon fishing.

 

Mounted Reindeer in the Sami Souvenir Shop

 

In the fall of 1979, as building of the dam was ready to start, dissidents executed two acts of passive resistance at the construction site located in Stilla. Demonstrators sat down on the ground and impeded the equipment. At the same time, Sami activists began a hunger strike outside the Norwegian Parliament. They were charged with disobeying laws against rioting. The various Sami families of people ended all cooperation with the Norwegian government. Two Sami women even traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s blessings.  In 1982 the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government, at which point all opposition to the power plant ceased. The construction of the Alta Hydroelectric Power Station was completed by 1987.

 

Reindeer Fur Coat and Other Products in the Sami Souvenir Shop

 

Norwegians were arrested and incarcerated for the first time since World War ll.  It not only succeeded at placing focus on environmental issues, but also on Sami rights. In the end the acts of civil disobedience by the four leaders, Alfred Nilsen, Tore Bongo, Svein Suhr and Per Flatberg (information leader), resulted in each being arraigned with encouraging illegal acts. They were later given fines (10 000 to 20 000 Norwegian kroner) and levied with suspended prison sentences (60–90 days).

 

 

Rock That the Thai King Chulalongkorn Helped Build Nordkapp From

 

In 1907 a king from Siam traveled through Europe and wanted to visit Norway. He was received warmly by King Hakon and Queen Maud when he arrived. This marked the beginning of a friendly relationship between the Siam/Thailand and Norway. The king’s impression of Norway was recorded in several handwritten letters. These letters were later published in a book titled Klai Ban (Far from Home). His thoughts still inspire people of later generations in many ways.

 

He then made his way north to Nordkapp and carved his initials and the year visited in the largest bolder on site. Praya Chonlaut had brought engraving tools but the landscape was too barren except for this one huge boulder. The carpenter and sailors started smoothing the rock. The king drew his initials and the Arabic numbers for 1907. Then the team of five men finished the engraving in no time. Without King Chulalongkorn’s contribution Nordkapp may have never been established nor the North Cape complex built.

 

King Culalongkorn Museum in Underground Nordkapp

 

King Chulalongkorn established the hierarchical system of monthons (political circles) in 1897 in Siam. This had a major impact, as it ended the power of all local dynasties. Central authority was now spread all over the country through a committee of intendants. Local rulers did not cede power willingly. All these rebellions were crushed in 1902 with the city rulers stripped of their power and imprisoned.

 

Memorial Bust of King Chulalongkorn of Siam

 

The construction of railways in Siam had a political motivation, The intention was to connect all of the country and maintain better control of it. In 1901, the first railway was opened from Bangkok to Korat. In the same year, the first power plant of Siam produced electricity and electric lights first illuminated roadways. Both were historical models for the region.

 

Plaque for Thai Museum at Nordkapp

 

The king was known for several actions while he was ruling, but Chulalongkorn was best known for his abolition of Siamese slavery. He associated the abolition of slavery in the United States with the bloodshed of the American Civil War. His last accomplishment was the establishment of a plumbing system in 1908. The King died on 23 October 1910 of kidney disease at the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall in the Dusit Palace, and was succeeded by his son Vajiravudh (King Rama VI).

 

Book of Letters from King Chulalongkorn in Regard to His Visit to Norway

 

The royal Equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn was finished in 1908 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the king’s reign. It was cast in bronze by a Parisian metallurgist. Chulalongkorn had visited Europe twice, in 1897 and 1907, the latter visit to cure his kidney disease. Chukakongkorn University, founded in 1917 as the first university in Thailand, was named in his honor. On the campus stand the statues of Rama V and his son, Rama VI. In 1997 a memorial pavilion was raised in honor of King Chulalongkorn in Ragunda, Sweden. This was done to commemorate King Chulalongkorn’s visit to Sweden in 1897 when he also visited the World’s Fair in Brussels.

 

St Johannes Underground Chapel in Nordkapp

 

As we walked through the halls of the underground domain we discovered a unique chapel, “St Johannes Kapell Chapel”. It was very inviting and comforting with its unusual attributes. There was seating for 15 people and is a popular place for weddings. It happens o be the world’s northernmost ecumenical chapel.

 

St Johannes Underground Chapel in Nordkapp

 

The European long-distance trails or paths are a network of 12 long-distance hiking trails that crisscross through all of Europe. They offer more than 34,175 miles of great hiking and every single E-trail or E-path runs through a few European countries, providing the chance to explore country, culture and traditions. One of these numbered long-distance hiking trails, the E1 – with more than 4,350 miles the longest and the first, runs from Europe’s Northernmost point the North Cape all the way down to Sicily. This trail provides a hiker’s challenge par excellence! The marker above signifies its beginning at North Cape.

 

International Hiking Trail Marker
North Cape, Italy
June 4, 2013

 

I will never forget my visit to Honnigsvag Norway with Viking Cruises and the unbelievable wind, as I approached the globe on the point of Nordkapp. It was almost hurricane strength and I was trying hard to stay upright and not crawl on my hands and knees to reach the globe. Once I reached the point it was all I could do to hold my smartphone and not have the wind blow it away. The views were extraordinary and I thankfully had a railing to wrap my free hand around. My DSLR camera was another matter. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had to embrace a railing with one hand and your camera with the other hand, but it is definitely hard to accomplish. Thankfully everything worked out.

 

Nordkapp Globe

 

North Cape or Nordkapp is a cape, not a peninsula on the northern coast of the island of Mageroya in Northern Norway. It is located in Finnmark county, Norway.  The E69 European Highway has its northern end at North Cape. This makes it the northernmost point in Europe that can be accessed by car and makes the E69 the northern most public road in Europe. The cape includes a 1,007 foot cliff with a large flat plateau on top.

 

Obligatory Norwegian Troll in Nordkapp Hall

 

Nomadic Texan at Nordkapp Hall with a Norwegian Troll

 

From this plateau visitors, weather permitting, can watch the midnight sun and views of the Barents Sea to the north. North Cape Hall, a visitor center, was built in 1988 on the plateau. It includes a bistro, restaurant, post office, souvenir shop, a small museum, and video cinema. The North Cape is northern Scandinavia’s most popular travel destination, for good reason. The North Cape is a monumental natural experience, along with breathtaking views, unusual climate conditions, the impressive cliff itself and the fact that one is standing at Europe’s northern end.

 

View of Barents Sea from Railing around Nordkapp Globe

 

The steep cliff of North Cape is often (mistakenly) referred to as the northernmost point of Europe, located approximately 1,307 miles from the North Pole. To be accurate, the neighboring Knivskjellodden point, just to the west extends 4,780 ft farther to the north. The North Cape is the point where the Norwegian Sea, part of the Atlantic Ocean, meets the Barents Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. The northernmost point of Europe including islands is hundreds of miles further north, either in Russia’s Franz Josef Land or Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, depending on whether Franz Josef Land is considered to be in Europe or in Asia.

 

View from Railing around Nordkapp Globe

 

Nordkapp – The North Cape Horn has always been a well-known an important point of orientation for all boats and ships. The rock has had a great variety of names and it was only in the mid 16th century that it was given the present name. The Midnight sun can be seen from 14 May to 31 July. The sun reaches its lowest point between 12:14 am and 12:24 am (00:14 and 00:24) during those days. In 1943, the Battle of North Cape was fought in the Arctic Ocean off this cape, where the Nazi battleship Scharhorst was eventually sunk by gunfire from the British battleship HMS Duke of York  and torpedoes from the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Stord, and other ships of the British Navy.

 

Children of the World Bronze Sculpture

 

The “Children of the World sculpture was started in 1988 when author Simon Flem Devold, a well known Norwegian writer and friend of children, randomly selected seven children from seven countries – Tanzania, Brazil, USA, Japan, Thailand, Italy and Russia — to visit the North Cape to dream of “Peace on Earth“. The children stayed with families in the fishing settlement of Skarsvag on Mageroya island, At the nearby North Cape they spent a week creating their own motives in clay.

 

Children of the Earth Disks

 

In June 1988, seven boys and girls from as many countries on several continents converged on the cliff to create reliefs of clay with motives reflecting their creativity and emotions. The youngsters who in this manner demonstrated the congenital desire of children everywhere to have a good time and be friendly toward each other, were Jasmine from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, Rafael from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Ayumi from Kawasaki in Japan, Sithidej from Bangkok in Thailand, Gloria from Jesi in Italy, Anton from Murmansk in the (former) Soviet Union and Louise from New York City, USA. From the very beginning, they were called The Children of the Earth.

 

Children of the Earth Disk

 

The first child made “an African man”, the second modeled a self portrait. The third made “a beast of the past”, the fourth modeled “a lady with bow in rain and sunshine”. The fifth created a bird of peace, the sixth an image of Christ. The last child had wanted to make a cat, but ended up with a man with a hat and beard. The project was followed through daily broadcasts on national TV. All seven children experienced great fun with no linguistic or other barriers.

 

All Seven Children of the Earth Disks

 

Including the 30th annual ceremony in June 2018, The Children of the Earth Prize has been awarded to a total of 27 individuals (20 women and seven men) and seven organizations. The prize (3,45 million NOK in all), has been given to nine projects in Africa, seven in Europe, four in Asia, four in Central America/The Caribbean, three in South America, three in the Middle East and one in Norway.

 

Barn av Jorden, Children of the Earth Disk

 

In 1989, the original clay reliefs were cast in bronze, framed in granite and erected permanently on the the North Cape plateau. Along with the lovely bronze sculpture “Mother and child”, created by artist Eva Rybakken, they now form a harmonious entity – The Children of the Earth Monument.

 

 

Rainy Day at the Bus Terminal

 

We left Nordkapp and began our ride back to the ship. Along the way we saw several places of business and houses of citizens living in Honningsvag. Of course the rain continued and we ran out of time. All my photos were then shot through rainy windows of the bus, My apologies.

 

Rainy Day at the Construction Headquarters

 

Rainy Day in the Neighborhood

 

Finally the wonderful Viking Sun loomed ahead and we returned to the ship cold, wet and hungry. The good news was we had several experiences in this far northern section of the world that we will remember forever!

 

Viking Sun Docked in Honnigsvag

 

Onward across the Norwegian Sea to Scotland and the Shetland islands. I couldn’t wait to see the miniature horses that this area is know for. Little did I realize how many other attributes the islands had!

 

 

 

 

*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #5, Tromso

We were lucky enough to sleep in this day and had a later tour into Tromso, named the Panoramic Tromso. We met at 9:55 AM. Tromso is filled with exceptional structures and genuine charm, in this island setting of green meadows. We met our local guide and drove through the city known as the “Gateway to the Arctic”, a starting point for many Arctic expeditions. Tromsø possesses the largest concentration of wooden houses in northern Norway. These homes were built there until 1904, when wood construction was banned for fear of fire. Throughout the city, we saw classic architecture blended with contemporary buildings, including the stunning Arctic Cathedral. With its soaring white roof line, it has been compared to the Sydney Opera House.

 

View of the City from the Viking Sun

 

We had room service for breakfast and this was part of our view from or balcony. I love photographing cities from the ship when we stop at ports. It’s usually a unique angle that most people who visit aren’t presented with. The church steeple was obviously my focal point and Tromso was definitely more populous than Geiranger or the Lofoten Islands.

 

Ski Slopes and Local Street Art

 

Another view from the Viking Sun with Tromso’s ski slopes in the background above the city. Of particular interest to me was the very cool street art mural along the dock. I thought it was fantastic. Love when we have plenty of time to scope out the cities from our ship prior to going ashore.

 

RIB Tour Boats from the Viking Sun

 

One of the optional tours for the more adventurous souls was a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) tour of local waterways. You ride through the protected waters around Tromso. All the while viewing the region’s animals including Eagles possibly. Besides riding at warp speed, as evidenced by this photo, participants learn about the history of the city and see porpoises swimming in the harbor. Binoculars are very useful if you take this tour.

 

Joker Convenience Store

 

I love seeing unusual store names, architecture and decorations in cities, much less entering and taking a look at their products. I have to ask, would you really feel comfortable purchasing food goods from a store entitled “Joker”? I don’t think I could without breaking out in laughter.

 

Cemetery with World War Veterans Interred

 

Nazi Germany invaded Norway on April 9, 1940 unexpectedly. Regardless of Allied efforts the entire country was occupied by early June. All affiliated activity afterwards was restricted to special ops and raids. Air support for the Norwegian resistance groups was supplied by Commonwealth forces until Germany left in May of 1945. Even though are no Commonwealth cemeteries, many Allied sailors and airmen are buried in public cemeteries and churchyards. Many of these servicemen perished delivering supplies from the UK to north Russia around the North Cape.

 

By 1942 the fleets were being attacked heavily by German air bases in north Norway, U-boats and other German vessels stationed in Norwegian waters. The graves of many of those who perished are interred at the Tromso Cemetery. The graves of many who died at Hammerfest and Kirkences have been moved to Tromso from Artic ports. Also entombed are a number of Merchant seamen from the SS Chumleigh. It was bombed and ran aground at Spitzbergen in November 1942. Many of the crew died of exposure later on. The Commonwealth plot at Tromso, the most northerly in the world, contains 37 burials, three of them unidentified.

 

Wooden House in Tromso

 

Wooden House in Tromso

 

As we toured Tromso I was fascinated by the array of wooden houses, picket fences and gorgeous plant life. I can only surmise the continuous rain helps vegetation retain its green luster. Everything looks so healthy and alive with flowers and new growth. If it didn’t get so cold in winter and the cost of living was less it would be a fine place to retire.

 

Tromso Street Art

 

Regardless of which city, country or locale I am in I always notice street art quickly, especially if it isn’t tagging or trash. This art above is interesting because it depicts a group of small children playing in a tree with a cat and dog. I guess my only issue are the claws of the fowl holding on to the board. That seems a little scary.

 

Bibliotek Public Library

 

The main library building is located in the Fokuskvartalet area in the center of the city. The main street “Storgata” and the Cultural Center are within 55 yards from the library, which is also part of a complex containing the Town Hall and a cinema. The library collection is housed on four floors and a top gallery and shares the building with the City Archives. Because of its convenient situation and spectacular architecture, the library has become a natural meeting place for the local citizens, and a “must see” experience for tourists. The vision of the library is to be a model library in the region of northern Norway.

 

Bibliotek Public Library

 

In 2006 the library was declared the Best Service Enterprise in Tromsø, an award given on behalf of the citizens of Tromsø. In 2008 the library was nominated as one of three for the award of “Library of the Year” in Norway, while in 2009 a general poll voted the Tromsø Library the best public library of the year. The building is constructed under the original roof of the old Fokus Cinema. The cinema was designed by the architect Gunnar Bøgeberg Haugen. Construction began in 1969 and the cinema was opened March 16, 1973. The extraordinary roof’s structure is based on the Mexican architect Candela’s structures, usually named as a Candela shell. Formed as four bowed arches it makes an hyperbolic paraboloid form.

 

Bibliotek Public Library

 

The Northern Lights planetarium show is a documentary and a stunning full-dome visual, featuring the Aurora in science, history and myth. It is shown at least once a day. All planetarium shows and entrance to the Science Center – hands on science for all ages are included in the admission fee. The Northern Lights Planetarium was the first planetarium in Norway open to the public. It is now the planetarium at Nordnorsk vitensenter, the Science Center of Northern Norway. They have daily all-dome shows about and with northern lights. They can also show constellations and journeys through the solar system and the distant galaxies.

 

Northern Lights Planetarium

 

The planetarium is located on the Tromsø campus of the Arctic University of Norway. The Planetarium has seating for 95 people under a 40 feet dome. The Planetarium is the largest in Norway. In the fall of 2008 the Planetarium was upgraded with new digital projectors from Sky-Skan. Ole Christian Salomonsen created his own Northern Lights universe at the Science Center of Northern Norway in Tromso. The city of Tromso received the world premiere of this film.

 

Thanks to the 3D dome theater at the Science Center Planetarium in Tromso, guests can now experience the Northern Lights as if they where standing just beneath it. The film also portrays Sami and Inuit people who tell their stories and their interpretations of what the Northern Lights have meant for their lives over the centuries. Salomonsen has been recognized internationally for his unique photos and films of the Northern Lights. But he is clear that this is the best he has ever created.

 

Circle K Convenience Store

 

Before my life as a travel blogger I was in the Convenience store business, in the operations and marketing end of the spectrum. I worked for Circle K stores for ten years and only left when they sold the Texas market. I was asked if I wanted to transfer to Phoenix, but declined as my family had moved enough over the years. Seeing this store brought back great memories of all the terrific people I worked with.

 

Tromso Turnabout Tunnel

 

One of the more unusual facets of Tromso is the Tromsoysund Tunnel. It is an undersea highway tunnel which runs under the Tromsovsundet strait. It connects the island of Tromsova with the mainland suburb of Tromsdalen. The tunnel is part of European route Eo8, whose northern end is on the island. It consists of two tubes with two driving lanes. One tube is 2.2 miles long and the other is 2.1 miles in length. The lowest point in the tunnels is 335 ft below sea level, and the maximum grade is 8.2%. The two tubes are linked by 15 service-tunnels.

 

Tromso Turnabout Tunnel

 

The tunnel opened on 3 December 1994 to relieve Tromsøya’s only other mainland connection, the Tromso Bridge. The bridge had been plagued by severe traffic congestion for more than a decade. The tunnel is located to the north of the bridge, on the island side. It emerges just below the University of Tromso and the University Hospital of North Norway. Both are major sources of traffic between the island and the mainland. On the mainland side it emerges at Tomasjord which is centrally located between the densely populated suburbs of Tromsdalen and Kroken.

 

Tromso Turnabout Tunnel

 

 

Tromso Bridge View

 

The Tromsø Bridge is a cantilever road bridge in the city of Tromsø. It is located in Tromsø Municipality in Troms county, Norway. It crosses the Tromsøysundet strait between Tromsdalen on the mainland and the island of Tromsøya. The bridge spans 1,132 yards and it is roughly 125 feet to the surface of the water below. Construction began in 1958 and it opened in 1960.

 

Tromso Bridge

 

Tromsdalen Church, also known as Ishavskatedralen (The Arctic Cathedral) was dedicated on November 19, 1965. Architect Jan Inge Hovig succeeded in creating a masterpiece. The church was partially motivated by the Opera House in Sydney Australia. Because of this, it has been called “The Opera House of Norway”. Despite its nickname, it is a parish church and not, in fact, a cathedral as it is commonly called. The church is an Evangelical Lutheran within the Church of Norway, and should not to be mistaken with the Tromso Cathedral. The Artic Cathedral is a landmark visible from the Tromsø Sound, the Tromsø Bridge and when landing at Tromsø airport. Construction began in April of 1964 and was completed in 1965. It is made of Cast-in-place aluminum-coated concrete panels. The 11 aluminium-coated concrete panels on each side of the roof produce the cathedral’s form.

 

Artic Cathedral

 

The main entrance on the western side is surrounded by a large glass facade with a distinct cross. The incredible glass mosaic on the eastern side was supplied in 1972. The glass mosaic is one of artist Victor Sparre’s most distinguished works. It depicts God’s hand from which bursts three rays of light: one through Jesus, one through a woman and one through a man. The mosaic pieces are 1.1 inch thick, so on sunny mornings the work becomes almost completely translucent. When the midnight sun radiates from the west, however, the colors become passionate and intense. During the dark months, the complete mosaic is eradicated although you can still see it from the exterior. The glass mosaic dates back to 1972 and was not actually a part of the architect’s conception. The original objective was to use common glass in the east wall as well. Strip lights have been arranged between the 11 layer panels that make up the walls and when darkness falls, the exceptional blueprint of the church is clearly conspicuous from all parts of Tromsø. The exclusive chandeliers of Czech crystal are inspired by icicles and advance the distinctively cool look. The Arctic Cathedral is a beacon in the town, for churchgoers and for travelers in the north.

 

The oak pews, the large prism chandeliers, the altar rail and pulpit are the most compelling fittings, all of which are in a style that agrees with the cathedral’s passion and simplicity. The church acquired an organ assembled by Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri in 2005, with three manuals, pedal, 42 stops, and 2940 pipes. It replaced the old opus nr. 12 organ delivered by Vestlandske Orgelverksted, Hareid, which had 22 voices and 124 keys. Midnight concerts are now held in the Arctic Cathedral all year long, often including the five choirs of the congregation. In the summer, however, the church is even more available, as the congregation is excited to welcome guests to midnight sun concerts featuring professional musicians. These concerts start just before midnight, so subsequently the audience can step out and enjoy the midnight sun. This has to be a thrill to the 600 people the church seats.

 

Statue of Running Girls in Tromso Park

 

As we headed back to the ship the bus passed this statue in a park of two girls running. I was enamored by its beauty and thought I would share this photo. It was a rainy day, but I was able to capture it through the bus’ window. Strangely enough when I looked it up on the Internet it was difficult to locate. I’m not sure if it’s new or what but it basically has no history.

 

Tromso Business District

 

A scene from the wet streets of Tromso as we headed back to the ship and dinner. I loved the solitude this photo displayed and the reflections in the standing water.

 

Fabulous Sailing Ship in Tromso Harbor Across the Tromso Bridge

 

 

Tromso Marina

 

We finally arrived back at the harbor and walked back to the ship. Thankfully the rain had ceased and all we had to be concerned with was stepping in the large puddles so as to not soak our shoes. Onward to the next port of Honnigsvag and what an adventure lay before us. I had no idea what lay ahead and how adventurous our next port would be!

 

 

 

 

 

*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #4, Lofoten

As we sailed into the port of Leknes with Viking Cruises, this magnificent church was on the shore and caught my eye. Lofoten (Norwegian “lu:fu:tn”) is an enclave of islands and a long-established district in Nordland Norway. It is infamous for its astonishing rugged mountains, protected bays and a pleasant summer conditions. Even though it’s located within the Artic Circle it encounters a warmer than expected temperature range.

 

Small Community with Church on the Way Into Leknes

 

The Lofoten Islands were settled approximately 11,000 years ago and the earliest archaeological sites are only about 5,500 years old, at the period from early to late Stone Age. Agriculture, livestock, and significant human habitation can be traced back to the Iron Age or roughly 250 BC. The islands extend from Norway’s coast into the Norwegian Sea or approximately 118 miles. These waters were outstanding for Norse communities and the waters have produced massive quantities of Cod as they spawn in the waters around the islands. 

 

Viking Tour Guide Lollipops

 

Every tour begins with what regular passengers label a tour guide with a Viking lollipop. This way whether you are wearing a headset or just listening close by you can always locate your specific guide as they each have their own number. This was actually the first time I was able to capture this equipment in a photograph. I thought it unique.

 

Lofoten Welcoming Troll with the Nomadic Texan

 

Of course as soon as I turned around we faced the obligatory Norwegian troll portside. Kim and I were novices in Norway and weren’t aware we would encounter a myriad more of these adorable creatures. Seriously how can you not love each and every troll you have seen, if you are following my posts? We each took our solo portrait with the Lofoten troll and moved on.

 

Kim with the Lofoten Welcoming Troll

 

We had occasion to witness several fish drying racks as we toured Norway. They were discussed in our pre-port discussions and we drove by a few outside of Bergen.  Stockfish is unsalted fish, especially cod, dried by cold air and wind on wooden racks along the shorelines. They are called “hjell” in Norway. The drying of food is the world’s oldest known preservation method, and dried fish has a storage life of several years.

 

Cod Fish Drying Rack

 

We drove over a back road under construction and were stopped at the island’s only stoplight. This light dictated which one way traffic could proceed across the one-way bridge. It was kind of hilarious give traffic patterns in major cities all over the world. Finally we proceeded to a wharf type area with various boats, ships and structures surrounding the harbor.

 

Ship in Village by Grocery Store

 

Village Houses Across Bay from Grocery Store

 

Along the harbor was what I am guessing is the only grocery store within miles beside a ship maintenance facility. I try to explore grocery stores in every country I visit since I was in the industry before. It’s always amusing to see the offerings and prices. It gives one a feel for what items appear to be important to cultures and which ones don’t. The conversion rate for Norwegian Kronor to US Dollars is ten to one with a Kronor equaling about $.10 in US currency. The blue labeled Cruesli on the middle shelf is $49.90 Kronor or about $4.90 US Dollars. That seems reasonable to me.

 

Village Grocery Store Muesli Section

 

The brownies on the top shelf are $68.90 Kronors or about $6.89 in US Dollars. This seems rather expensive. Of course being located in a remote area probably motivates one to purchase this type of goods. It looks like Toro has a monopoly on sweet cookies and treats.

 

Cookie Section at the Village Grocery Store

 

Beer in Norway has up to 4.7% alcohol or has to be purchased in a state owned Vinmonopolet. Beer between 3.7% and 4.7% ABV (alcohol by volume) is taxed at an astonishing 22.4 kroner per liter, while beer above 4.7% ABV is subject to 5.01 kroner per percentage point per liter. These rates are applicable to all alcohol, which goes a long to explaining why spirits are so expensive.

 

Village Grocery Store Beer Section

 

I walked by the fruits and vegetables aisle and saw something I have never seen before. Remember I’m from Texas and we eat peppers with just about everything. Depending on the dish, mild peppers may be used or extremely hot ones depending on who you are cooking for. As I walked down the section I spied these red peppers that I thought were a red Chili peppers. Lo and behold they were actually Paprika peppers. I can honestly say I have never seen these prior to this cruise. I have used the spice forever, but this was a new phenomena to me.

 

Village Grocery Store Paprika Peppers

 

 

As we left the harbor we encountered several groups of wooden row houses. It’s fascinating to me since they are in different colors, but don’t necessarily line up in the same color or have a pattern for rotation. I do think they are well constructed and appealing to the local masses. We saw similar housing in Bergen and afterwards.

 

Village Wooden Row Houses

 

We then moved on from the small community of row houses and drove into the countryside. This was on the way to the lakes with “beautiful” beaches the tour guide told us about. Of course we were all wearing jackets and sweaters but what the hay! This house particularly appealed to me with its cellar door on the front side. I am not entirely sure if this was for storing canned goods or a place to ride out severe storms. The ones my paternal grandparents had was used for both actually.

 

Country House in the Lofoten Islands

 

We then passed this group of Sea-houses on stilts. They are called Rorbus in Norway. A family, couple or individual can lease them and fish directly off the deck of their house. absolutely ingenious in my opinion. Most offer either shared kitchens and bathrooms or private facilities. They have apartments also which have seating areas for relaxation, and all have great views. The bedrooms have between 2-4 beds, while the apartments have 3-6 beds spread across multiple bedrooms in each apartment.

 

Pier Houses Called Rorbus Locally

 

Once we left the area with the Sea-houses we came upon this view as we headed into the “beach” areas. It was a beautiful country road with hardly any room to pass. At times the bus driver amazed me with his skills and knack for forecasting oncoming traffic. I’m not sure how this was accomplished.

 

Country Road to Lake Region of the Lofoten Islands

 

Then we came around a corner and I thought I was in the Caribbean. The Haukland beach lay before us and it was truly gorgeous. I don’t know if my photo does it justice. I seriously wonder when the temperatures warm up how people manage to swim in the cold waters. The bay was very protected and hardly any waves were present. Probably a great place for snorkeling, if underwater fish are present.

 

Haukland Lake Beach near Leknes

 

We only drove by this beach and didn’t stop for taking outside photos. The bus driver did halt his driving for a minute or so in order to take a few photographs of these wonderful beaches through the buses’ windows. On the way to Uttakleiv beach we passed this guard house below that the local ranger inhabits according to our tour guide. I’m not sure I could really live in such a desolate place. Of course if you consider the tourists that visit daily it might not be all that bad.

 

Beach House Near Uttakleiv Beach

 

Then Uttakleiv beach appeared and it was gorgeous also, but had a multitude of large boulders on the side. The stone appeared to be either a lava product or some type of granite. The entire side of the mountain appeared to be of this substance and over the years erosion had chipped away and strewn stones and boulders down the side and into the ocean.

 

Uttakleiv Beach Near Leknes

 

Uttakleiv Beach Near Leknes

 

One of my favorite photos was this naturally sculptured heart shaped rock at Uttakleiv Beach, along with a heart formed with small stones from the beach. When they were combined it was a very romantic gesture in this old man’s opinion. I have always favored romanticism in human beings!

 

A Naturally Sculptured Heart Shaped Rock at Uttakleiv Beach with a Manmade Heart of Stones

 

This plaque on the beach represents a very important piece of Norwegian history of this portion of Northern Norway. In 1814 the long distances meant that Northern Norway was not represented at Eidsvoll. Eidsvoll is mentioned in Old Norse manuscripts. In the 11th century, it became the site of court and assembly. Elections were held, but everything happened too late for anyone from the north to join the National Assembly.

 

Uttakleiv Beach Plaque Near Leknes

 

Christian VIII was the King of Denmark from 1839 to 1848 and, as Christian Frederick, King of Norway in 1814. During the dramatic events of 1814, the whole of the northern part was in constant deficit with regard to knowledge on what was going on in political Norway. The long distances and a problematic postal service brought news only weeks, or months, after the proceedings themselves. When ballots were cast all over the country for a constitutional assembly, the distance became crucial for Northern Norway. The messages reached Nordland, Troms and Finnmark too late for anyone from there to show up in Eidsvoll. Keep on reading and my next post will be in reference to Tromso.

 

 

 

 

*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #3, Geiranger

I have traveled many places over my 56 years of traveling this world. I have to admit that none have been as strikingly gorgeous as Geiranger was with Viking Cruises. Obviously never having been to Norway and beginning with a Bob Dylan concert, I had no idea what to expect as we sailed into this small port in Norway. We cruised from Bergen north and along the coast we were close enough to see many structures and small communities such as this below. I have an 80 to 200 zoom lens for my Sony camera, so it was nice to pull these small towns into view.

 

Coastal Town Between Bergen and Geiranger

 

Along the coast we passed so many waterfalls it was staggering. I’m guessing it was about 6:00 AM to 6:30 AM and we were having breakfast in our room with room service I believe, or taking advantage of the in room coffee maker. I couldn’t believe how stunning the coastline was. I’ve never seen this amount of waterfalls located close to each other including our many visits to Hawaii.

 

Waterfall on the Way to Geiranger

 

Just as we began to enter Geiranger Bay we passed this small village on the corner. I love European architecture related to farming and small townships. It brings back memories of my youth and helping on my Grandfather’s farm in Kansas. That was most assuredly very hard work, but there is a rewarding feeling when you complete this type of physical labor. I had no way of knowing as we turned into the bay what lay ahead or how beautiful the bay and Geiranger Fjords were going to be.

 

Small Town Going Into Geiranger Fjords

 

This would be our first of several Tender experiences while aboard the Viking Sun. I have to be honest and say how unsettling my thoughts of riding these water taxis into shore were. The mind plays games with one and I was concerned I might be claustrophobic or become seasick by the rocking of these small boats. My fears were soon belayed as the process was totally organized and without issue.

 

Tender to Shore in Geiranger

 

There it was. Geiranger Bay appeared to be a very lovely port and one that photographers would drool over. How little did I realize how oversimplified my thoughts were. Each evening prior to the various ports, the cruise director and ship operations managers would convey their knowledge and views of each port we would be touring the next day. This was invaluable to Kim and I as we combined this with the daily newsletters to resolve our plans for each days’ itinerary.

 

View of Geiranger from the Viking Sun

 

The primary focus of their talk for Geiranger was the eleven switchbacks that everyone riding the buses to the top would endure. I was actually fearful that the constant turning might make me sick to my stomach. I am very hesitant to ride in the back seat of an automobile, especially on very warm days. I tend to become deathly sick at my stomach. We disembarked and went ashore without any unpleasant consequences.

 

Moose and Whale Sausage for Sale in a Geiranger Gift Shop

 

We had to wait a few minutes for our tour bus and for the guides to set up. We decided we should visit the gift shop and see what was available. With thoughts of stuffed animals for our two year old grandson we entered the store. To our surprise it was filled with different Norwegian foods and the traditional wool winter clothing from Dale of Norway. Their designs are fairly well known throughout the world. I was dumbfounded to discover the shop sold both Moose and Whale sausage. I am comfortable experimenting and tasting new foods, but without a method of maintaining refrigeration we couldn’t think about buying any moose sausage. I don’t think I could eat the whale sausage!

 

Faux Fur Hats for Sale in a Geiranger Gift Shop

 

Given the pricing, which in all cases was extreme, I am pretty sure the fur accessories were all faux goods. As a rule in Norway goods of all kinds are very expensive as Norway has the fourth highest cost of living country in the world behind the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Switzerland in that order. We were astonished by the pricing structure in this country.

 

Seven Sisters Waterfalls

 

After maneuvering several switchbacks in the bus we stopped a pullout and were able to take photos of several waterfalls. One of the more popular set of falls is the “Seven Sisters” waterfalls. They are among the most photographed waterfalls in Geiranger Fjords. They have a fall of over 800 feet a year. Legend has it that that the “Seven Sisters” were all unmarried, and the waterfall on the other side of the fjord has been called “The Suitor” after several unsuccessful attempts to court the sisters. The Seven Sisters falls are about 6.5 kilometers or four miles west of Geiranger and are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Waterfall Around the Fjord from the Seven Sisters Waterfalls Pullout

 

This support under a free flowing waterfall near the Seven Sisters Waterfalls, was very interesting with its platform that flowed over the glass structure. It was constructed to insure soil erosion was kept to a minimum. I thought it was unique and warranted a photograph and inclusion in the blog post.

 

Queens Chair

 

Queen Sonja of Norway is the wife of King Harald V since January 1991. The Queen was awarded a chair to recognize her work in Fjord tourism with both personal and private visits to this area. This is highlighted in the verbiage on the chair’s plaque above. She and I have something in common. We have both sat in the chair only once!

 

Geiranger Bay from the Queens Chair Overlook

 

Queen Sonja is a passionate mountain hiker and HM Queen Sonja’s Panoramic hiking trail was named in her honor. This is one of her favorite hikes in the Hardangerfjord region. The trail is in the soaring mountains between Kinsarvik and Lofthus. It offers magnificent fjord views. The hike is both long and difficult with an extreme decline in to Lofthus. You will walk through forests, mountains and plush orchards. Follow the dirt road from Røte up to Heng at 750 meters above sea level. From here the trail is marked with blue Ds, The Norwegian word for Queen is Dronning.

 

View from the Higher Up Geiranger Fjords with the Queens Chair on the Right

 

From the Queen’s chair we drove a little farther up the mountain. We stepped off the bus and walked to an overlook. What I saw literally took my breath away. It is, without a doubt one of the most magnificent views I have ever seen. Looking out over the Geiranger Fjord bay was mesmerizing and I definitely knew this was a special place. I fought to keep my emotions under control. I know that everyone who has experienced this view will agree. It rewards you with a memory of a lifetime. I think I was actually drooling all over my beard at one point. I will never forget the view!

 

Ice Pools on Top of Geiranger Fjords

 

Ice Pools at the Top of Geiranger Fjords

 

We drove another few minutes to the top of Geiranger Fjord where a cafe and gift shop exists. We finally were above the tree line and the snow was evident across the mountains of slate. Behind the cafe was a frozen lake with beautiful waves of ice and snow combined. Hopefully it is translated through my photos. It was gorgeous, if not blinding!

 

Ice Pools on Top of Geiranger Fjords

 

As we were sailing to Lofoten, the cruise director made an announcement. She told us to look to the Starboard side and grab our cameras. We were passing this globe, which represents the Artic Circle. I was thrilled to have captured the moment with my zoom lens. The small structure alongside the globe is a lighthouse I assume. We passed several of these along the coast of Norway. I would not want to navigate these treacherous waters without the aid of lighthouses after dark.

 

Passing the Artic Circle After Geiranger Fjords

 

There is a ceremony on cruise ships that initiates one into the Blue Nose Society as is illustrated below. You have to get into the freezing water and emerge having a blue slushy concoction placed on your nose. After a bad experience exiting a Sauna in the Men’s Spa and getting into the mandated freezing water I declined. This act almost caused my second heart attack and I didn’t want to take any chances.

 

Blue Nose Ceremony for Crossing the Artic Circle

 

I may have not communicated this well enough, but this particular port was definitely one of my favorites on our Into the Midnight Sun cruise. Onward to Lofoten home to breathtaking jagged peaks and sheltered bays!

 

 

 

 

*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #2, Bergen

We spent our first evening on board the Viking Sun attempting to learn our way around the ship. The first day we remained in Bergen and took the included tour of the city. The city was founded in 1070 by King Olav Kyrre and was named Bjørgvin, which means “the green meadow among the mountains”. We boarded the tour bus and drove around the city watching closely as wooden housing complexes like the one below rolled by. We discovered very quickly how good the tour bus drivers were. Several times we were approached on basically 1.5 lane roads and our bus driver would pull to the side or pull out in a passing area. How they knew there’s an issue ahead is beyond me. I do know that once Kim was rather nervous and she had the window seat as normal. She leaned in to me on one extreme dance with the edge of the road and a 500 foot dropoff. I’m sure that would have helped a great deal if we had fallen over the side of the hill.

 

Traditional Wooden Hanseatic Housing

 

Bergen (Bryggen) became Norway’s capital in the thirteenth century, and from the end of the thirteenth century became a Kontor, or a foreign trading post of the Hanseatic League, along with the London steelyards, Ipswich, and Bruges. The Hanseatic League lasted until 1789 and Bergen enjoyed absolute rights to arbitrate trade between Northern Norway and abroad. It was the largest city in Norway until the 1830s when Christiania, now known as Oslo overtook Bergen in population and business. What’s left of the wharf Bryggen, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, even while suffering numerous fires.

 

This was in addition to a Dutch cargo ship explosion during World War ll. The ship was carrying 120 tons of explosives. It transpired during the German occupation and 150 people died as a result. This was along with a large quantity of historic buildings near the harbor that were damaged beyond repair. The colorful wooden houses located throughout the historic district are gorgeous. They were traditionally painted red, yellow and white, as were buildings in farming lands or fishing areas where incomes were lower than average. This is why so many barns in the country side were traditionally painted red.

 

Mount Floyen Funicular

 

After touring the outskirts of Bergen we arrived back at the base of the Mount Floyen Funicular. These modes of transportation up the sides of mountains are quite common in European cities I’ve learned. What is a Funicular you ask? The dictionary states the following: Noun: “Also called: funicular railways, railway up the side of a mountain, consisting of a counter balanced car sat either end of a cable passing round a driving wheel at the summit”.

 

The Floibanen funicular in Bergen is 2,769 feet (844 meters) long, scales 991 feet (302 meters) in altitude up the side of Mount Floyen and carries over 1, 800,000 passengers annually. The railway was constructed in 1918. The track has a slope that varies between 15 degrees and 26 degrees. Two passenger cars carry 100 people each. The cars are named and painted, with Blamann being blue and Rodhette painted red. Our ascension was non-stop, but on the way down we paused two or three different times to take passengers on and let a small number off. The entire track has six stops and are used frequently by locals living on the mountain side. In addition there are two kindergartens on the mountain. In the summertime and during rush hours only certain departures will stop at all stops.

 

Gift Shop and Restaurant on Top of Mount Floyen

 

The funicular railway is one of Norway’s most famous attractions. The trip starts from the city center, just 150 meters from the Fish Market and Bryggen. The exciting trip up to the mountain is a magnificent experience in itself. At the top we found one can enjoy the spectacular view of Vagen bay and study the cityscape in detail, along with the seaward approaches and fjords surrounding Bergen.  There were a plethora of hiking trails and walkways that led all over the mountain. We couldn’t actually involve ourselves in this activity as we had a limited amount of time on the top. A restaurant, cafeteria, souvenir shop and playground is located on the very top. If you plan on hiking and taking in the lovely flora and fauna you need to catch the funicular on your own and fully explore the trails and vegetation on Mount Floyen.

 

Flora and Fauna Atop Mount Floyen

 

We were able to take a few minutes and traverse several small trails. I was enamored with the ferns and how green everything was on top. These Boston Ferns, as we call them in the United States were simply superb. They looked quite healthy and had obviously soaked up some of the 200 plus inches of rain that Bergen receives every year.

 

Kim and I Atop Mount Floyen Overlooking Vagen Bay

 

The view from almost one thousand feet up is stunning to say the least. I took several photos from the top and managed to persuade a young lady to capture a selfie of Kim and I with the Vagen bay in the background.

 

Moumt Floyen Goat

 

Fløyenguttene (The Fløyen Boys), the Goats on Mount Fløyen, are cashmere goats, and help keep the mountains free of unwanted plant life. The goats spend each winter at Askoy island outside of Bergen. Come Easter each year they are transported back to Mount Floyen. There, along with the Bergen Coastal Association they make an effort each year to maintain the island free of underbrush and undesirable forest growth. The six billy goats are called “Elvis”, Smaen”, “Boots, “Festus Gilde”, Flekken” and “Alf”. They were born in 2011 on Radoy, an island in Hordaland county, Norway. All were all castrated when they were babies. First and foremost they were bred to clear vegetation. They like to keep each other’s company and mostly stay together as a herd.

 

The goats have been on Mount Floyen since 2016 where they have become accustomed to human contact and don’t shy away from selfies. They seem to love being scratched and petted by all ages. The goats are restricted with the use of modern Norwegian pasture technology, a virtual fence for grazing livestock. If you visit, the authorities ask that you not feed the goats as they receive their nourishment from the mountain greenery.

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Mount Floyen Troll with Kim and Myself

 

We discovered this Troll on Mount Floyen. It was to be the first of many we encountered on our cruise. Little did we know their popularity throughout Norway. A Troll is a class of being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In Old Norse sources, beings described as Trolls dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves. They live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings. The term Troll has been applied to the jötnar, the Ice Giants of old.

 

After riding the funicular back down Mount Floyen we went to the Schotstuene or one of the Hanseatic Museums, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.. The museum tells the story of the Hanseatic League and how they survived and thrived for 400 years in Bergen (Bryggen). There is much more to Bryggen than colorful, old wooden houses and being a popular tourist spot. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Bryggen is in fact a true cultural treasure, wholly unique in a global context. Nowhere else in the world can boast even one wooden house dating back to the Hanseatic period, yet the ‘City of Seven Mountains’ has managed to preserve a whole district, consisting of no less than 62 buildings.

 

Schotstuene Museum Desk from the Hanseatic Period Assembly Room

 

The Museum offers a perspective on the lives of the Hanseatic merchants and their unique trading networks. A visit to Schotstuene or the merchants former assembly room will give one a sense of how life played out during this part of the fourteenth century in Bergen. One can purchase a tour ticket that begins in the Midthuset and continues through the narrow corridors of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Thus taking you back through time and finishing at the exhibition space in Scotstuene, the world’s last remaining Hanseatic assembly room.

 

There are several tours daily in the summer period until September thirtieth. Tours start from Midthuset and last around thirty minutes. Fires and candles were not allowed in the buildings where the merchants worked because of the obvious risk of fire. This is why each of the buildings at Bryggen had a schøtstue or shared assembly room, each with an adjoining cookhouse (kitchen). The former Hanseatic assembly rooms at Bryggen are the last surviving example of their kind anywhere in the world.

 

Hanseatic Assembly Room

 

Hidden under one of the assembly rooms you’ll find what might be Bergen’s best-kept secret: a rare medieval ruin. Dating from around 1280, the ruin has been put on display below a glass floor and is the subject of a special exhibit. The displays at Schøtstuene offer a look into both the Bryggen World Heritage site and the Hanseatic League. Work to restore the museum’s largest artifact, the museum building, has begun. The building is 315 years old and once served as the merchants’ trading hall. Severe damage means the bulwark needs to be replaced and substantially protected for forthcoming generations. This is a very long process, anticipated to take until 2024, as the construction is being carried out using old craft traditions. One can gain an insight into this impressive work thanks to one of the new displays at Schøtstuene Museum.

 

The Shotstuene Hanseatic Museum

 

The German merchants first sailed into Vågen bay in the fourteenth century, and their presence was to have a huge influence on the city. The universal Hansa network reached across many countries and made Bergen one of the largest cities in Northern Europe during this period. Their trading activities meant the Hanseatic merchants were instrumental in shaping the economic, political and cultural development of the Nordic countries. This was in addition to large parts of Europe, all over several centuries. Bergen was the last outpost of the influential Hanseatic merchants. Bryggen was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979, and now stands as a dynamic tribute to a bygone trading culture.

 

Vagen Bay with Bergen Highlighted

 

The city is now an international center for aquaculture, shipping, the offshore petroleum industry and underwater technology. Bergen is a member of the Nordic Smart City project and maintains a national center for finance, tourism, media and higher education. Bergen Port is Norway’s busiest in terms of both freight and passengers, with over 300 cruise ships arriving each year bringing nearly a half a million passengers to Bergen, a number that has doubled in the last 10 years. The tourists are primarily from Germany and Great Britain. Next up is my post on Geiranger, one of the most gorgeous spots on earth, in my humble opinion!

 

 

 

 

*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #1

Bob Dylan Concert outside our hotel window

Prior to this cruise our experience with Viking was only on a River Cruise. Since I have a tendency to become very ill at sea, I was considerably nervous about this sailing. We flew into Bergen and had a reservation at the Thon Orion Hotel. As we checked into our room, I noticed there seemed to be a concert stage outside our hotel window and it made me nervous about our sleep. When we went downstairs to dinner I asked what hours the concert would play. The nice desk attendant replied from 8:00 PM until 10:00 PM and I was happy. Kim asked who was playing and the desk attendant replied Bob Dylan. I nearby fell over. We hurried through dinner and went straight to our room. We had a ringside seat to one of my favorite musicians. As the concert unfolded we realized we wouldn’t be able to see him as the setup was back under the roof in case of rain. That didn’t stop us from listening to a really great concert with many of his oldies played. He played a couple of encores and stopped just in time for the crowd to leave as the rain began pouring down.

Traditional Viking Cruise Life Preserver

The next morning after breakfast, we took a taxi a couple of kilometers away to the boarding area for Viking. It was starting to rain pretty well by the time we were ushered inside the welcome tent. As we had not been on an Ocean cruise with Viking we weren’t familiar with the procedures and more than once sought help from the staff. We showed our passports and they were taken in exchange for a room key that enabled us to enter our room, board and disembark the ship for tours and use as a general access method for all areas of the ship. After going through security just like at airports, we decided to tour the ship and found several items of interest aboard the Viking Sun. First was a globe on the Explorer’s deck that was gorgeous and accurate in design. Along side of it was a telescope to view the incoming ships and ports, also beautiful in overall look. In addition there were several libraries on multiple decks for your reading pleasure. This was a nice benefit since the ship was literally outfitted with a plethora of reading areas.

Gorgeous Globe on the Explorer Deck
Telescope to View the Oncoming Ships and Ports

After the Explorer deck we ventured outside to the sports area where we found a multitude of games to capture our fancy. A very nice Bocce Ball court, Table Tennis, Miniature golf, Shuffleboard, along with a fantastic watering station in case you become dehydrated. If by chance you just wanted to get a little sun, there were many areas to sit and sun yourself. I thought Viking had done an outstanding job with this deck.

Miniature Golf

The inside section of this deck in addition to the libraries included board games such as chess, backgammon and many other challenging pastimes. Also shown were relic replicas from the Vikings including a stone axe and a model ship. Many items were represented for your viewing pleasure. Also noteworthy is the second deck which was equipped with all sorts of electronic games and a Scrabble board or two. We thoroughly enjoyed this deck many times, especially on sea days.

Viking Axe
Replica of a Viking Sailing Ship

After reviewing the various decks and grabbing a bite of lunch we were let into our room. It was significantly larger than I had imagined. Our luggage had already arrived and was laid out for our unpacking. The room accessories included an umbrella large enough for us both, a pair of binoculars for shoreline viewing, slippers for venturing to the Spa, wonderful Freyja toiletries and a set of Wireless Tour Guide radios with one ear piece rather than the normal two that we were used to. We prefer the single now.

Twin Beds

Next to the beds was a working and seating area. Included were two large lounge chairs, a coffee table, a working desk area and a 42″ TV for catching up on Viking news, information about our specific tours and weather forecasts. The weather during our cruise was extraordinary. This region usually receives rain 181 days a year in Oslo and 270 days a year in Bergen with it being the tenth highest rainfall city in the world. We were definitely lucky to have sunshine most days.

Lounge Chairs

The desk area included free soft drinks, tonic water or club soda, nuts and several Toblerone bars which just happen to be one of my favorites, so they were constantly stocking the candy. Although there were two luxury restaurants on board, a wonderful buffet restaurant, a great burger bar for lunch next to the pool and we opted for room service on several days, generally at breakfast. It was wonderful and one can order 24 hours a day at no charge. Great omelets I must say!

Desk Area with Refrigerator

Notice the balcony off the desk area. Every room on-board is equipped with a fairly private veranda. We love having a morning coffee outside when weather permits. In addition we both had wonderful, size appropriate bathroom robes that we used many times, visiting the fantastic spa on board. Whether for a massage as I had, a facial as Kim had, the wonderful steam baths, saunas or the unique Snow Room. I thoroughly enjoyed the sauna and steam room, but jumping into the freezing water afterwards wasn’t my cup of tea. I thought after being in the steam room for several minutes I could handle the cold room, but I only lasted about 20 seconds I believe. Don’t laugh until; you experience this Scandinavian tradition!

Closet with Robe and Dresser.

If you notice the dresser has several drawers. My dresser as shown was equipped with four drawers. Kim’s dresser was right around the corner and also had four drawers. This was more than adequate for our needs. The hanging closet to the left was supported by two more closets adjacent to the entrance door. Needless to say a couple has adequate room to store a cruise worth of clothes. We were settled in and ready to tour Bergen the next day and learn about this charming city. Let the cruise begin!










*** Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking Ocean Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #7

 

I haven’t kept up with my Photo of the Day series lately and have had a few medical issues, a first grandson born, with a trip to Japan to see the little guy and I thought it was time to get back in the saddle so to say and start producing again. I love Viking River Cruises and can’t talk enough about this great company. Their service, staff, tour guides, on-board staff and food is without reproach IMHO! So without any further adieu here we go with another Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day.

 

Szechenyi Chain Bridge

 

The Szechenyi Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge that spans the Danube river in Budapest Hungary. It separates the the two cities of Budapest with Buda on the west side and Pest on the east side. It is one of the most photographed bridges to my knowledge in Europe and perhaps the world. It is located on the Buda side near Gresham Palace and on the Pest side near the Castle Hill Funicular that leads to Buda Castle.

 

It is constructed of cast wrought iron and stone. At a length of 1,230 feet, a width of 49 feet it remained in place until World War II. When the Germans retreated they blew it up on January 18, 1945. Only the towers remained. The bridge was rebuilt and reopened in 1949, one hundred years from it’s original opening.

 

The bridge is was designed by William Tierney Clark in 1839. It was a replica of sorts of Tierney’s earlier Marlow Bridge that spanned the River Thames in Marlow England. It was the first permanent bridge in the Hungarian Capital when it opened in 1849, directly following the Hungarian Revolution.

 

A few cool facts in regard to the bridge’s popularity. A Hungarian stunt pilot actually flew upside down under the bridge in 2001. The stunt has become a habit in the Red Bull Air Races of today. It is featured in the following movies, I Spy, Au Pair, Walking with the Enemy, and several other generic Spy movies. Katy Perry uses it in her music video “Firework”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Azalea Trail #1, The Tyler Rose

If you were a young man who grew up in Texas, there was only one thing that was drilled into your head at a very young age. No matter your physical acumen, character or intelligence quotient, it was football that filled your thought. One dreamed of being a hero and scoring the winning touchdown, from an early age. When I was around nine or ten years old I put my first helmet on and just knew I would be the next Frank Gifford or Lenny  Moore, both NFL All-Star running backs. I also had a passion for the University of Texas and all that was associated with that fine residence of higher education, in the great state of Texas. So it should be no surprise that Earl Christian Campbell, “The Tyler Rose” was someone I admired, even though he was five years younger than me.

 

Earl grew up in Tyler Texas and led the John Tyler High School Lions to the State 4A championship in 1973, which at the time was the largest classification in the state. Earl soon signed with the Longhorns and became my favorite player of all time. Earl was a two time All-Star at The University of Texas, won the Heisman Trophy in 1977 and many more awards. Earl then became the first pick of the 1978 draft by the Houston Oilers. Earl was a five time Pro Bowl selection and MVP Three years, Offensive Player of the Year four times and NFL Rushing Champion three times. In 1991 he was elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame.

 

J.T. Barrett, Earl, Samaje Perine and Trevone Boykin

J.T. Barrett, Earl, Samaje Perine and Trevone Boykin 2014 Nominees

 

The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, announced in 2012 by the Tyler Chamber and SPORTyler, recognizes the top offensive player in Division 1 football who also exhibits the enduring characteristics that define Earl Campbell: integrity, performance, teamwork, sportsmanship, drive, community and tenacity; specifically tenacity to persist and determination to overcome adversity and injury in pursuit of reaching goals. In addition, the nominee must meet one or more of the following criteria: born in Texas and/or graduated from a Texas High School and/or played at a Texas-based junior college or four year college. The finalists will be selected by broadcasters, commentators, journalists, fans and former winners. The finalists will be brought to Tyler for The Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award Banquet. “All my life, all I wanted to do was be an athlete. I kept God in my life and surrounded myself with good people. I am humbled by this award named in my honor.” Earl Campbell The first year’s winner was Baylor Quarterback, Bryce Petty. In December of 2014 Trevone Boykin Quarterback at TCU, became the second winner.

 

Ron Franklin with Trevone Boykin 2014 Winner

Ron Franklin with Trevone Boykin 2014 Winner

 

Earl has always been a magnificent individual and I have met him several times. Once at Rooster Andrews Sporting Goods in Austin, where he signed three miniature helmets for my three sons. On each helmet he asked me their names, so that they would have a “personalized” helmet. The man has been more than successful in life and still had time to chat with me and talk about our cherished Longhorns. He made me feel like we had known each other for years. I think when they write out the definition of class in the dictionary, it should just say “Earl Campbell”!

 

Christian Campbell (Earl's Oldest son), Trevone Boykin, Earl and Tyler Campbell (Earl's Youngest son)

Christian Campbell (Earl’s Oldest son), Trevone Boykin, Earl and Tyler Campbell (Earl’s Youngest son)

THINOPTICS Product Review and Contest

I am not sure how many of my followers use readers or glasses, but my wife has two or three pair and can never find them. I lay my glasses down all the time and can never remember where I left them. I think it is a common issue, maybe more so among the mature audience.

 

Cell Phone Case and Universal Pod

Cell Phone Case and Universal Pod

 

 

A little while back I was contacted by a company making a new product that seemed to think they had a resolution to this age old problem and asked me if I would test the product and do a review. Their concept was to attach the readers to the back of a cell phone case, which I thought was a great idea.

 

The name of the company is THINOPTICS and I said yes I would be glad to sample their product. The glasses also come in a Universal Pod Case, which I ordered.

 

Universal Pod Case

Universal Pod Case

 

One takes an eye test on line if you aren’t aware of the strength you need and you can receive a pair that fits your needs. The first thing I noticed was how small the Universal Pod was and how easy it was to carry. I did not order a cell phone case, as my Samsung Galaxy Note is huge and they haven’t developed a case for that phone yet. They have an I-Phone and an normal Android case.

 

 

My Glass Case Against the Universal Pod

My Glass Case Against the Universal Pod

 

You get to choose between clear and black frames. I was astounded that my choice and strength actually gave me better vision than my prescription glasses. The last two times I have visited the Optometrist, he has given me two different prescriptions and neither one was good. Time to switch Doctors I think, especially after getting my new THINOPTICS.

 

Clear and Black Frame Option

Clear and Black Frame Option

 

The company was also nice enough to allow me to offer a contest for my followers and I have two coupons for a free set of readers. I have two questions from the web site for you.

 

1) What are the names of the four people in the various videos, in the testimonials on the web site. First correct answer receives a coupon for one free pair including shipping.

 

2) What are the 5 reasons Thinoptics can be returned (defined on the web site). First correct answer receives a coupon for one free pair including shipping.

 

To qualify, the answers need to be submitted on a comment, at the bottom of the blog post. Only one free pair per family. Best of luck to all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of The Day #31

Toilet Paper Vendor

Toilet Paper Vendor

 

One of the more strange things you run into on the streets of Cuenca are toilet paper vendors. They have large baskets and simply walk from store to store or even sell to passers by, if they are in need. Most of the public restrooms are not equipped with toilet paper and I would guess people walking buy the rolls for safety!

 

 

The store operators obviously use it in their facilities. It is a very common sight to see these individuals rolling along, selling their paper. The first time I saw this I was taken back, but I guess door to door delivery saves walking and gas!

To “Cuy” or Not to “Cuy”

I have traveled to Ecuador several times before and have always decided not to try the food that is indigenous to the area and a staple item on the Inca’s diet. The last time Kim was with me and out of respect for her feelings I didn’t partake. This trip I couldn’t wait to dive into this delicacy and learn from the Master, Chef Patricio from Restaurante Corvel in a cooking class. I have to admit I was a little tentative and wasn’t sure if the Cuy would taste gamely or not. I was a guest of Mio Tours and looked forward to this opportunity, since way before I left the states. The restaurant has a Approved rating by the Rainforest Alliance for his work in organic foods and growing a myriad of his own products. 

 

Tomato Tree with Fruit in Garden at Restaurante Corvel

Tomato Tree with Fruit in Garden at Restaurante Corvel

 

We arrived in the midst of a overcast sky and were soon not disappointed as it began to drizzle and full on rain later during the cooking class. Chef Patrico the owner and head Chef welcomed us to the restaurant and immediately placed a chef’s hat and apron on yours truly. As I had a minor scratch on my finger I also put on a set of gloves to protect the wound from infection. I may be the most OCD individual you have ever run into when it comes to food, the holding and the preparation of all the digestible ingredients.  I am a fanatic about date coding and look at every item I purchase or handle to insure I am eating appropriate foods.

 

Chef Patricio and the Nomadic Texan in the Beginning

Chef Patricio and the Nomadic Texan in the Beginning with the Avocado Ceviche

 

We immediately went to the area of his restaurant that Chef Patricio teaches his classes. I wanted to be a good student and carefully listened and obeyed his instruction. First up was the avocado ceviche in which we mixed avocados, chili peppers, oil, lime juice and a little onion if I remember correctly. I was enchanted by its flavor and it got my taste buds working.

 

Chopping Potatoes for Cream of Potato Soup

Chopping Potatoes for Cream of Potato Soup

 

We then proceeded to start the potato soup that this restaurant is famous for and as I cut the potatoes Chef Patricio added garlic and onions to a ceramic dish that was heated. This allowed the two items to caramelize and gel prior to adding the liquid similar to Aji in taste. Aji is a form of salsa in Ecuador and is more mild than salsa in the US. I stirred the concoction as Chef added the other items (potatoes I chopped, heavy cream and Italian parsley). I then was transferred to the Cuy as the soup cooked over a low heat.

 

Stirring the Onions and Garlic for the Potato Soup

Stirring the Onions and Garlic for the Potato Soup

 

The assistant chef Rosa placed the Cuy on a stick made for cooking over an open flame and is what they refer to as BBQing the Cuy. One sits and continuously rolls the Cuy to ensure its cooked through and through and the skin does not burn. This is a more tiring process than I thought. Additionally one has to fan the coals that the Cuy is cooking over and I must say I had a difficult time doing both. Rosa stepped in and helped me with the fanning. This process goes on for about an hour or so.

 

Thank you Rosa for Your Help

Thank you Rosa for Your Help

 

 

The Cuy Right Before Removing It From the Fire

The Cuy Right Before Removing It From the Fire

 

 

By the time we rotated the Cuy on the stick to cook it evenly my arms were worn out! After the soup had stewed long enough and the Cuy was done Chef Patricio loaded it all on a platter. This included the Cuy, an avocado, potatoes that had boiled by themselves and a little spice added over the fire and a dish he made while the Cuy was cooking that you find at many Ecuadorian restaurants called “Mote Pillo”. Mote Pillo consists of hominy. scrambled eggs and parsley all stirred together. it is quite tasty and I recommend it.

 

A Meal Made for an Incan King

A Meal Made for an Incan King

 

We sat down to eat. Our first course was the magnificent potato soup that Chef Patricio made and it is a meal in itself. Chef added Queso Fresca and Avocado to the soup as it was served and I couldn’t finish it. It was fantastic, but heavy. I was very full and hoped that I had room for the Cuy. My first bite was from a leg and I immediately lost any reservation I had. It was very tasty and as cliche as it sounds, it tasted like dark chicken meat (thighs and legs). I ate my half and our guide Efrain ate the rest including a portion of the cabeza. I inhaled the meat and a few inner organs that some might not eat, but I find rather good like the heart and liver.

 

Chef Patricio Drowns the Langostinos with Scotch and Sets Them on Fire

Chef Patricio Drowns the Langostinos with Scotch and Sets Them on Fire

 

Chef Patricio then brought out his famous Langostinos and I had no room left. I did manage to eat one and they are still as delicious as the last time I ate them at Restaurante Corvel. I had to stand up and stretch and let out my belt. It has been a long time since I ate such a rich meal and so many items. I was so full I almost couldn’t breathe! The cooking classes are a new offering from Chef Patricio and well within expected parameters, when you understand the meal is included. I hope that all my friends in Cuenca start attending these classes and sampling the 5 star food at this place. I compare the quality to any fine dining establishment in the states and wish Chef Patricio well. I will be back!

 

Finished Product--Langostinos--About 4oz Each!

Finished Product–Langostinos–About 4oz Each!

 

Photo of the Day #13

My Favorite Soft Drink In Ecuador "Inca Kola"

My Favorite Soft Drink In Ecuador “Inca Kola”

 

 

The first time I saw this I was petrified it was filled with illegal substances and would not set well with my mature body. I rarely drink soft drinks at home, but have to indulge when I see a bottle of this South American drink. Funny its produced and distributed by Coca-Cola, who as we all know had Cocaine in its first products, as an elixir that would cure all issues.

 

One can only find this in South America I am told. It does refresh my system and is fully carbonated. I drink it mostly after large meals in Ecuador. It has a unique flavor and sets well with my digestive track. Give it try if you are exposed to it. You just might like it!

The Hat

Before I came to Toronto for the TBEX conference, I wrote on my social media platforms that everyone should look for me with my hat, my white beard and my Hawaiian shirts. I figured that there would not be too many old geezers that had this “look”. Little did I know that my Panama hat would become an institution in my life. This was my first experience mingling with the elite of the Travel Blogger world and I wanted to try and meet as many of my new “online friends” as possible. I encouraged all to introduce themselves, as I wanted photo ops and truly like meeting new people face to face.

 

Nomadic Texan & Miret Padovani (http://flaneriefeminine.com/) from Zurich. A Lady Blogger with Fabulous Talents

Nomadic Texan & Miret Padovani (FlanerieFeminine.com) from Zurich. A Lady Blogger with Fabulous Talents

 

 

I really had no idea what to expect at TBEX or what the experience would teach me. I did know that I wanted to gain as much knowledge about traffic, SEO and building my brand as possible. Looking through the options on the first day I selected all the business topics from the various categories (HHMM maybe my background had something to do with this-Ha!). Of course I waited too long to get to the opening session and was frantically trying to locate the room, when I discovered and icon in the business, Johnny Jet was also a little lost. We teamed our brilliant minds together and eventually found our destination (after I mislead him–not a good start to my first meet up with Mr. Jet)!

 

Trey Ratcliff Was Phenomenal

Trey Ratcliff Was Phenomenal

 

The opening keynote by Trey Ratcliff blew me away. This young man of StuckInCustoms is a phenomenal photographer and has vision issues in one eye. When you look at his photography you will be amazed. He was wearing his new Google glasses and told us all the finer qualities and attribute of the glasses. I was in awe! As I was  leaving the opening session a young man approached me and said “Hi Mike”. I was a little lost, thinking about my first breakout and did not recognize him at first. Turned out to be Will Castillo a friend and blogger I am trying to help out. You can follow him at IWillTravel and he is a very interesting young man, who loves South America almost as much as I do! Between the opening session and my first breakout no less than five bloggers came up and said hello. One even had me wait to meet her Mother! All because they saw “The Hat” from across the room.

 

A Slide from Ted Murphy's Presentation

A Slide Stating the Blogger’s Value to Direct Marketing Organizations

 

I headed out of the session to my first breakout “Brands, Blogger & Dollars” given by Ted Murphy. I wrote two pages of notes (I am still trying to decipher a few words–my writing is atrocious) and discovered I should have brought a tablet or I-Phone and recorded the breakouts. I couldn’t write as fast as they talked! In essence Ted’s most important factors in dealing with brands or sponsors are the following; 1) Quality of Content, 2) Relevance to Industry, 3) Personality, 4) Engagement and 5) Traffic. Ted also focused extremely deeply on the FTC guidelines and what is acceptable and what isn’t. He stated we all need to read the guidelines for sponsorship. Who knew? I was extremely excited at the information learned and stepped out to head toward my second breakout. This time it was six or seven bloggers that came up and introduced themselves and I got a few photo ops. They saw “The Hat” from across the room again. See the pattern starting to develop?

 

William Bakker from Think! Social Media-Brilliant Man

William Bakker from Think! Social Media-Brilliant Man

 

My second breakout was with William Bakker of “Think! Social Media” and his topic was Lesson Learned: “Working with Bloggers & Destinations”. This young man energized everyone in the room, even though his dutch accent was pervasive, we could interpret his talk. He gave a myriad of facts and again I couldn’t keep up and write fast enough. Did you know the #1 social media platform for determining travel is Facebook. People trust their friends feedback more than any other source.

 

William Tells Us What They Look For in Blogger Trips

DMO Take-Aways For Blogger Trips

 

William stated that bloggers are “Content Creators” or Story Tellers and we must be authentic, and honest, if we desire credibility in the profession. He gave us Think’s blogger requirements on their selection process for press trips: 1) The blogger has to value the destination of Think’s trip, 2) What is your reach-Size of Audience, 3) What are your audience demographics, 4) What is your influence in a niche (Twitter & Facebook Activity), 5) Do you have a connection to other Influencers 6) What is your Quality & Style, 7) What is your speed of communication, 8) What is your level of technology & tools use, 9) Do you have a Personality.  I could have listened to him all day, but had to grab a bite to eat.

 

Will Castillo of IWill_Travel (Your Eyes are Supposed to be Open Will)!

Will Castillo, of “I Will Travel” (Your Eyes are Supposed to be Open Will)!

 

Will had offered to buy my lunch and I am not one to turn food down! I told him at lunch that he needed to find an item like “The Hat” and establish his brand. We talked about various travel topics and it was time to get back.  After lunch I had pre-selected my friend Stephen Oddo of Walks of Italy breakout and thought I would give him a hard time. His title was “Where’s my ROI? Campaign & Strategies in Digital Marketing”. Stephen stated “Marketing is the practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from another product”. Prior to the start of the third breakout, one of my closet online friends Jill of Road Warrior, came running up to where I sat and gave me a hug. She saw “The Hat” from the back of the room. So my design or symbol became “The Hat” without any conscience effort on my part. It just transpired!

 

Stephen Oddo from Walks of Italy

Stephen Oddo from Walks of Italy

 

 

Stephen stated you do this with 1) Personality, 2) Set standards and follow them, 3) Be Consistent, 4) Develop a Positive Reputation. He also said that blogs are the third most influential digital resource for purchasing travel. He stated 50% of travelers changed their minds based on what they read on trusted blogs. Wow! Had no idea “The Hat” had this much responsibility!

 

Janice Waugh, publisher of Solo Traveler (http://solotravelerblog.com), the blog for those who travel alone and author of The Solo Traveler's Handbook (http://thetravelershandbooks.com) navigating Speed Dating

Janice Waugh, publisher of Solo Traveler (http://solotravelerblog.com), the blog for those who travel alone and author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook (http://thetravelershandbooks.com), navigating Speed Dating

 

Time was flying by and my first experience in Speed Dating was staring me in the face. Was I ready. Had I gathered the correct statistics. How hard could it really be? I soon discovered. We had 10 minutes for each date and it became a whirlwind of activity and discussion and just as you got to know the vendor it was time to change and move on. This was one of the two hardest hours I have ever worked in my life. Not physically, but trying to give my presentation and communicate my niche and brand was extremely difficult in under 10 minutes. I was worn out and the night hadn’t even begun, for “The Hat”!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homes of Hope…Epilogue

In my life I have accomplished my fair share of success and have always tried to display compassion for my fellow human beings. Some say I am naive and living in a dream world, but it is my dream world and you are free to leave, when you feel compelled. My life has been a dramatic roll-a-coaster and I have had my peaks and valleys for sure. Getting on the plane to go with Sean and Chris I had no idea what I was getting into or how the trip would effect me. I just knew I was headed for some valuable time with my sons and that can never be a bad thing in my book. It is so rare these days, now that they are grown men, to find time and successive days to spend together. I jumped at the opportunity when Sean inquired if I wanted to go to Rosarito Beach and help build a house.

 

Welcome to My World

Welcome to My World

 

I was not prepared though for the experience and how it would change my life, my outlook on volunteering and the maturity displayed, by my two youngest sons. I have been to Ensenada and Rosarito Beach before, but it was a while back. I was not ready for the mecca of condos and house that had sprung up, not to mention new businesses. It was kind of a cultural overload at first. The massive construction initiatives and a great deal unfinished were everywhere.

 

Chris and Sean

Chris and Sean

 

I have traveled abroad and visited many countries that have issues with housing their population. The worst being the cardboard shanties outside of Kowloon, where immigrants from then Red China, swam the channel and landed on the free shore. It made me sick to my stomach. I was ill equipped for the living conditions we found in Tijuana and had to look away, when I realized in this day and age human beings still lived in squalor just to survive. A very esoteric feeling came over me at our arrival the first day and I was determined to do what I could physically to help this family.

 

Lifting a side wall

Lifting a side wall

 

I have not worked consistently that hard in a very long time and at the end of the first day I fell, literally into the bed. When the alarm went off the second morning I feared I wouldn’t be able to pitch in and complete the house, as my entire body ached and longed for rest. After breakfast and the inspirational talks given at YWAM/Homes of Hope it became much easier and I knew, no matter how I felt, I had to help finish the house. The ceremony after completion and the lunch was tough to go through and it was an emotional and heart wrenching moment.  When I told Reina I was glad she did not have to worry about getting wet any longer from her roof leaking we both started sobbing out of control.

 

The Team at the End of Day One

The Team at the End of Day One

 

We had time to shower and take a look at the beach and grounds, after we finished the house. I took a few photos of the beach and hotel since I wouldn’t have time to actually use the facilities. We then drove to the camp. Dinner was an excellent buffet again and we ate and sat waiting for the next item on the agenda. Dennis called each team up to the front and had each member state to the complete group how we felt about what had transpired over the past two days. Listening to others and especially my two sons, was an awe inspiring epiphany in my life. I could not contain my emotions and balled like a baby trying to get my words out to the group. I had no idea on Friday when we left Austin that this project sponsored by Defender Direct, my son Sean’s employer, would effect me this deeply. I was not composed at all. I grabbed a napkin and wiped away the tears and tried not to embarrass my sons, but this weekend and the project was a life changing phenomenon for me.

 

On the Pier Looking Back at the Hotel

On the Pier Looking Back at the Hotel

 

Horses on the Beach

Horses on the Beach

 

The next morning we grabbed our luggage and took the bus back across the border to San Diego and our flight home. We had about three hours to wait uin the airport and grab lunch, but mostly we just sank in our chairs and tried to rest and in the boys case, lay on the floor and nap. I thought and thought about the circumstances that brought me to this point in my life and felt I had done something good for a change and it wasn’t just write about places and destinations. I had perspired and worn myself out constructing a shelter, that this family would treasure for a long time to come and I met a team of people that wouldn’t let the hard labor, the sun or the lack of energy stop them from helping this family. I will do this again!

 

Three Tuckered Out Young Men... Brad with Chris and Sean laying on the Floor at the Airport

Three Tuckered Out Young Men… Brad with Chris and Sean laying on the Floor at the Airport

 

JOHN LENNON
“Imagine”
A Partial Quote of the Lyrics

 

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Homes of Hope…Day Three

The alarm went off at 6:00 AM again and this time I struggled to get out of bed. My bones were weary from the prior day’s efforts and I had to quickly down a couple of cups of coffee, in order to get this old man going. We all lined up outside and prepared to go to the camp again for breakfast. Chris came up without Brad and it appears Montezuma had rared his ugly head at Brad. Brad was unable to make day number two and had to be left alone to fend off the evil spirits, in his hotel room. The buffet was set up when we arrived at YWAM/Homes of Hope and this time sausage was added to the menu, after only bacon the first day. I was never so glad to see it. I needed the protein for the day ahead.

 

Sean and Chris at breakfast! HHmmm!

Sean and Chris at breakfast! HHmmm!

 

After breakfast and our morning round of updates and instructions, we jumped back on our bus and rode to the house site. We circled up and listened, as Colby gave us the details of the second day and assigned tasks. He stated that after an hour, volunteers would accompany the family to Wal-Mart and purchase items they needed and could use in their new house. Sean raised his hand and went to Wal-Mart about an hour after we started work. Chris climbed back on the roof with Brody and had to finish the plywood. Throughout the morning they continued with adding the felt and then finally the shingles to complete the roof.

 

Dora the daughter on their way to Wal-Mart

Dora the daughter on their way to Wal-Mart ,That is paint in her hair

 

I was given the detail or trim work and it is an very precise process with the 1×2 lath wood. Not to mention you have to balance on a ladder, to do the top of the wall trim (after falling the day before I was nervous). This trim was substituted for our normal tape and floating and the seams were all covered with wood. The remaining exposed sheetrock was painted! We kept getting in each other’s way and I truly think I got about half the paint wound up on my hands, arms and face as I touched and grabbed for balance. It was a little frustrating, but had to be done this way, to complete the house inside within the time allotted. Sean took the camera to Wal-Mart with him, so I have very limited photos of the second day of work.

 

Sean helping Dora decide

Sean helping Dora decide

 

Sean took the job of babysitting Dora the family’s daughter and told me later that Alberto and Reina had never shopped at Wal-Mart. Both became very emotional as they went for their first visit. They weren’t really sure what was what and had to be coached and directed to items that would be of benefit. Sean personally bought a bicycle for Dora and when I discovered this it stirred my feelings. After all Sean thought, why shouldn’t she have a bike? Sean said he was very touched during the entire shopping experience and was only sidetracked by trying to keep up with Dora.

 

Sean and Chris putting the bike together

Sean and Chris putting the bike together

 

They got back earlier than we thought and rode around a few minutes to let us finish the house. When they arrived, we emptied the supplies, groceries and few toys inside the house. While they were gone shopping, we setup a new bed set, a propane oven and a dining table and chairs for their use purchased by Homes of Hope from Ikea. We then set up lunch, which Reina made partially. In addition to the pre-made sandwiches we had her tamales, frijoles and salsa. I couldn’t eat enough of her fabulous tamales. We ate outside their new house and discussed our efforts.

 

The family ate first

The family ate first, The Tamales were in the big pot…Yum!

 

After lunch we circled and each said a word or gave a thought to the family and had our wishes translated by Felipe. I have never been prouder of Chris and Sean in my life. They both stated very impassioned, prophetic phrases and when it came my time I stated I was glad that Reina’s wish of not being wet any longer was coming to fruition. Reina started crying and I couldn’t control my emotions and burst out crying also. It finally came time for Alberto to speak and he teared up and thanked us profusely for building their new house and providing shelter for his family. We gave them the keys and let them go in for a few minutes and then knocked so as to be their first guests. It was a phenomenal ceremony and allowed everyone to express themselves.

 

Alberto and Reina brought to tears during the ceremony

Alberto and Reina brought to tears during the ceremony

 

We presented them with a photo of our group. The words on the photo expressed the house was given with love in hearts and a desire they would cherish their new home.  We left and waved our goodbyes and headed for the hotel, with time left to shower and explore before the final nights activities. I was ready and was literally all worn out. I had no energy left, as we boarded the bus I looked back and knew that in my 63 years I had never done such great volunteer work.

 

The first thing they hung on their walls

The first thing they hung on their walls

Hell Yes I’m From Texas

Yes, I am a Native Texan through and through. Although I may not be as boisterous, as some Texans you have met, I am deep down very proud of my heritage and the state I was born in.Screw You We’re From Texas” by Ray Wylie Hubbard, applies to a great deal of our populace, but we all aren’t crass individuals.

Some people think we are the most obnoxious characters on the planet. Others think we are just downright “friendly”. We will, in most cases wave and say “Howdy”, if we pass you on the street and offer up a handshake. Just the way we were raised.

We are an uncommon crowd, with more pride in our state’s formation than most. “Remember the Alamo” is a phrase that everyone around the world knows freely and associates with the creation of Texas. Generally, we tend to let everyone know our history and the fact that we are Texans. We are a proud bunch.

 

Recently I had the pleasure of showing our CouchSurfer from Australia our state Capitol building in Austin. He is an architect and quickly fell in love with the historic structure and all its glamour. It had been ages since I roamed this wonderful building’s halls and thought it would be nice to re-visit the Capitol.

As we entered the grounds Allan Flynn (The Australian CouchSurfer) was awestruck and started taking photos rather quickly. I think he was attracted to the beauty and we stopped read most of the historical plaques from statues and objects on the grounds.

I learned a few tidbits, that I previously was unaware of. Like the cannons outside the front doors, were actually used in the Texas Revolution and the Civil War. I also discovered the Artesian well constructed in 1889 is still functional. Who knew?
We tagged along on the tour, which I highly recommend and visited highlights, like the Rotunda, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Allan noticed things that I wouldn’t see in a hundred years, from his architecture training.
His observation about the marble floors and the first step on all the staircases blew me away. The first step is shorter than all the rest, as the current floors were applied over the old floors and made the gap to the first step shorter. The floors were installed in the 1930’s and the Capitol was built in the 1880’s.
I personally was drawn to all the ornate brass placements on the doors, the hinges, the elevators and the door handles. It was awesome for a native Texan and I did not remember these from my last visit. I must have taken right at 100 photos and you can see them all at this link
We walked extensively around every floor, trying not to miss anything, That would be impossible though. The Capitol is such a large conglomeration of hallways, rooms and extensions, you might have to spend an entire week in the structure, to see it all.
We finished the tour and exited the building. A surprise awaited as Lady Liberty approached us and asked if we desired a photo. Of course I took her up on it! I even got to hold the torch!
I never cease to be amazed of what Austin has to offer and how our state’s history is depicted in monuments, government buildings and the various museums around town. “Hell yes I’m from Texas” and darn proud of it, if I say so myself! Safe Travels!

The Grand Dame of Congress Avenue

We recently had a CouchSurfer from Australian and what would a good tour of Austin be, without showing our guest the most beloved institution in downtown Austin. As an architect, he was drawn to the enchanting offerings and antique accoutrements of this grand building.

I personally, absolutely love historical architecture and am drawn to structures I deem worthy of my humble attention. One such building “The Driskill Hotel”, exists in my home town of Austin Texas. Its been around for approximately 125 years and was constructed in 1886 by a cattle baron named Jesse Driskill. Its western motif is attractive and appeals to everyone’s virtual Cowboy side!

It is a member of the Historic Hotels of America and has a very illustrious past. President Lyndon Baines Johnson used it at every level of his ascension from Senator, to Vice President to the Presidency in 1964, for political gatherings. The iconic hotel has catered to many politicians, businessmen and the occassional movie star over the years.
The Driskil Grill, its award winning restaurant, has been recognized by Zagat in the Top 25 Hotel Restaurants and the Grill has received many associated honors through the years. Its current menu really isn’t that expensive and I know for sure I would have the Duck Confit or the 16oz Ribeye, if I was dining at the Grill.
The hotel is outfitted with many retro and western themed furnishings and one can’t help but take a vast amount of photos, no matter how gauche this may appear. I certainly recorded my visit with an array of appealing items and am pleased to share them. If you find yourself in Austin, you cannot afford to bypass a visit to this established hotel and view the assorted relics. I promise you will not be disappointed!
Safe Travels and Saludos!

One Door Opens Another

I am entirely sure what attracts me to historical architecture and aged facilities. Maybe my own rapidly aging element is effecting my current construction cravings. As everyone knows, I am truly enamored by the city of Cuenca in Ecuador and visit as often as possible. Every visit one of my primary agendas is the photographing of the old doors, which still survive in El Centro, or the old part of the city.
On our last trip in March I took so many photos of old wooden doors that my wife Kim started locating prospective shots and identifying candidates, before I could see them. I always gravitate to these doors and I am not sure what the fascination is, but I can’t stop. I take hundreds of door shots each time I go somewhere with history, especially Cuenca with its 500 plus years of existence.
The beauty and craftsmanship that went into these doors originally, with limited tools slays me and I can’t wrap my hands around how much time it took, to create these masterpieces. I drool over these pieces of art. I am sure many will debate me on calling them art, but in my eyes this is what the doors are.
At this point I have a trip scheduled for the month of August and I couldn’t be more delighted. I am sure once again I will walk the streets of El Centro, find doors not yet photographed and add to my collection. Kim says I am approaching enough photos to publish a book. HMM? Hadn’t thought of that, but it might not be a bad idea. Safe Travels and Saludos mi amigos!
*Mio Tours is a sponsor of Nomadic Texan and compensates me for this ad. Don’t forget to mention “Nomadic Texan” and receive a 10% discount from all their tours in Ecuador.

Making My Own Birthday Dinner

If you will recall I was scheduled to attend a Longhorn baseball game at the Disch on my birthday with my middle son. He fell sick with what I would guess was food poisoning from our dinner out the night before. A bad case of Lobster being mishandled. At least that is our guess.

I know how to cook fairly well and decided that I wouldn’t let the “Curve Ball” get me down and would make the most out of my day by cooking one of my favorites and my family’s favorites. Chicken Enchilada’s were on the menu and I was drooling with anticipation.
I evaluated my needs and jumped into my car and visited the local HEB. The one in Cedar Park that isn’t going to charge for bags. The city of Austin passed a new law and no business can give out plastic bags anymore without charging the customer. Environmentally I understand it, but what if I forget as I tend to do more lately and don’t bring my own bags in for bagging. $$$$
I digress. I purchased the necessary ingredients missing and went home and started cooking, chopping and prepping. I love this part. I was drooling by now. The enchiladas only take about 45 minutes of baking at 350 and I had heated the oven prior to loading the two huge 9 X 12 glass baking dishes in the oven. The two dishes make about 30 total.
Why was I cooking so much when it was just going to be three for dinner? Oh yeah. I can freeze the leftovers and eat them down the road. Along with the enchiladas I decided a good pot of beans would go well and sliced fresh peaches.
I must have checked them 10 times and was about to go crazy. Finally they were ready and I pulled them out of the oven. My they looked decent that evening!
I couldn’t wait to sit down and start eating. After all I was foregoing dessert in order to puerco (pig in Spanish) out on Chicken Enchiladas. I couldn’t wait to dive in and almost finished by the time Kim and her sister sat down to dinner.
I had to go back for seconds knowing there was ample food! After inhaling my first two I added a third and devoured it before they could handle their first ones. Kim kept saying how bad she felt that I had to cook my own birthday dinner. What she doesn’t realize is that I love to cook and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my birthday! Then it was siesta time! Adios!

How Much Does Your Underwear really Weigh???

 

Today Kim and I were talking about getting our luggage out of the rafters in the garage and starting the process of loading our suitcases. The conversation turned to underwear and Kim’s needs.


Kim: Can we wash clothes while we are in Cuenca?
Me: There are no facilities in the hotel, but I am sure we can find an inexpensive laundry near by. Why do you ask?
Kim: I don’t think I have enough underwear.
Mike: So…Why don’t you go buy some? They can’t weigh that much. Besides… you can take out one pair of the many shoes you are taking and replace the weight of 12 pair of underwear!
Kim: How many days are we going to be there?
Mike: We will be gone for twelve days.
 
I surfed the Internet and worked my Facebook and Twitter pages and responded to a few “Comments” from blog readers and thought the dilemma was resolved.
 

 
Kim: Do these pants look okay?
Mike: You know I am not going to answer that, as I will not win with either response.
Kim: But…They are kind of beach pants and we are not going to the beach.
Mike: Just pretend!
 
I worked the Internet thing a little more and saw that Kim was getting her clothes laid out on the bed and ready to pack.
 
Mike: Why are you taking four scarves?
Kim: I have to match scarves with blouses!
Mike: So…Do we need to go shopping for your underwear?
Kim: Oh no…I have enough underwear.
Mike: I thought you needed more.
Kim: No I have plenty.
Mike Then why did you say you needed more?
Kim: I was only talking about my favorites!!!
 
Mike (to himself) I will never understand!

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Amateur Traveler Episode 471 - Travel to Austin, Texas



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