June 2-3, 2024 Tunnel Vision

June 2-3, 2024 Tunnel Vision

Sunday, ahhhh… a day of rest, or so they say. We started off the day with breakfast at the hotel where Kathy chugged down some coffee in hopes that the caffeine would wake her up. Another sleepless night in Norway unfortunately was the result of a hot room and a multitude of rowdy parties in the local area. Kathy had tunnel vision at that point; all she saw was the coffee pot and nothing else. Dave on the other hand enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before we headed off to church. Unfortunately Dave again had issues with Google Maps only seeing that it said St Olav, not St Olav Catholic Church, and we again meandered along before asking a gentleman for directions. Happily he spoke English, which seems pretty common in Norway, and we were soon off. We had the unique opportunity to have mass conducted by an actual Cardinal of the Catholic Church. It was First Communion for the kids and they were pretty honored to have an actual Cardinal give the blessing.  He was the Arch Bishop of India. We felt pretty blessed to be part of their special moment, especially since the mass was in English!

Next stop was to head back to our car and begin our journey to Stavanger, Norway, a city on the coast of the country. Lest you think that Kathy had the only tunnel vision that day, it seems that it started the trend of seeing tunnel after tunnel. Norway has tons of tunnels and we must have driven through at least 50 tunnels on our 7 hour trip to the coast, including one that was 8 miles long and went under the Atlantic Ocean. Dave had been anticipating a scenic route along the coast, but was not as lucky as he hoped.  The car GPS had them driving through the middle of Norway, and through the mountains.  To compensate us for the longer travel times through the interior of Norway, the GPS directed us through an area that still beautifully in winter, complete with deep snow and lakes still frozen over. Of course, there were also many roads barely wide enough for one car, much less two cars passing each other. And the switchbacks were also fun to drive in a rental car! Finally arriving, we found our hotel easily enough, parked, and set out to find some dinner which was easier than we anticipated….yes we had tunnel vision – we only saw the restaurant across the street and looked no further. At this point the only thing on our mind was how quickly can we fall asleep as tomorrow at 07:00  we have a hike scheduled to go up to Pulpit Rock.

‘Nuff said about sleep, because it did not really happen for either of us.  The blanket was the size of a twin blanket which covered a queen bed and the two skimpy pillows were not conducive to either of us sleeping. Unfortunately morning came all too early, but luckily we had a full breakfast and were soon eagerly anticipating the day…..until the rain came. Our anticipation, now a bit “damper”, still didn’t curb our enthusiasm for the day to come. Soon we were on our way with our hiking guide to Pulpit Rock, one of Norway’s most iconic hiking spots. The hike was really like walking in a tunnel, with the fog, rain, and wind, we could only see so far in front of us. Unfortunately the weather condition and terrain got the best of Kathy…and she was so close the top! She was done though; with a throbbing ankle, she parked herself on a rock and sent Dave and the guide, Benedicta, on their way to conquer the mountain.  She was happily resting while they were happy to see Pulpit Rock – at least some of it through the fog. We have excellent pictures of Dave on the rock surrounded by fog, a bit eerie to see.

Tragically, while we were there, a gentleman slipped off the rock about 150 yards from the plateau and plummeted 200 yards to his death.  We did not witness the fall, but the rescue helicopter flew overhead about 10 minutes after we started back down the trail.  Both Dave and Benedicta immediately recognized that something bad had happened.  Our guide found out about the death when her boss texted her to inquire if the accident involved her guests.  We had to take a selfie as a proof of life for her boss. It is sad to think about how you can have so much anticipation and fun planned only to have such a tragic outcome. We are sure that at some point we crossed paths with the person’s hiking party and we exchanged greetings.  Taking a secret horse trail back, we bypassed much of the rocky ups and downs that were Kathy’s downfall, literally, which helped ease her trek back down the mountain.

Finally back in Stavanger, we had dinner- “American pizza” – and then just relaxed. It was a nice day all and all, at least for the two of us. Tomorrow we head off for another hike – or at least Dave will, as Kathy is going to wait at the restaurant at the bottom, drink coffee, and wait for Dave and our guide.

June 4, 2024

Morning already? Despite the fact that the sun is up 04:30 is not morning, it is still night in our neck of the woods. Oh well. Scarfing down some quick breakfast we waited for our guide this overcast Tuesday. Today’s hike for Dave is Kjeragbolten.  Kathy, despite her best intentions, was advised by the professional hiking guide to head back to the hotel room, as the restaurant at the base of the Kjeragbolten trailhead will be closed and she will have nowhere to wait.  No arguments from Kathy and she trotted back to the room and lay down to wait for morning to come. Dave, on the other hand, began the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead with the guide, Helga, Helga’s dog, Oregon, and another hiker, Shimmie, who is from China but getting her PhD in Sweden. The hike crossed three rocky mountaintops, was level in some areas, and included some really steep uphill sections that required the assistance of chains before they made it to the top.  The winds blowing at the summits were ferocious and knocked Dave back a few times.  At the destination, Dave bravely shimmied around a narrow ledge to step onto the famous boulder (or “bolten” in Norwegian)  wedged in between two cliff faces where he did a bit of yoga before coming back to meet the guide and Shimmie (who opted to watch from a distance).  Now it was time to head back down to the base of the mountain in order to head “home.”  If you have done much hiking, you probably already know this, but sometimes the hike down is way harder than the hike up.  Dave did his best imitation of Batman as he held onto the chains while lowering himself down the steep, and now wet, mountain side.  It started to rain during the last mile, so the conditions became wet, cold, and pretty tough and by the time he reached the van he was soaked through and ready to get dry and warm. Unfortunately he still had a two and a half hour ride “home”. Oh well, at least he is sitting in the van and can relax for a bit while they make their way back down the winding roads of Norway.

Kathy, on the other hand, opted for something totally different.  After a relaxing morning of a couple cups of coffee, she put on an ankle brace, laced up her tennis shoes and started the “arduous”  task of strolling along the waterfront and occasionally wandering into a store to do a little window shopping. Never breaking a sweat and not once getting sprinkled with rain drops, she enjoyed the afternoon spent wandering the village. Soon she was ensconced in the room listening to her book and waiting for Dave to get home safe and sound.

Finally……….he got home and instead of interacting with Kathy, he decided the best choice was to shuck his wet clothes, pop some Vitamin I (or ibuprofen for the uninitiated), hop into a warm shower, and then shut his eyes for a few moments, or more.  Gazing at him as he snoozed Kathy, was just happy he was home safe and sound, especially since someone had passed away after falling the day before on the same hike we had just completed.  After a much needed rest he was ready to go find some dinner. Of course, since Dave is now Norway’s new equivalent of the rain god, it soon started to rain on us, then pour, and then drizzle. Luckily we found a nice dinner, relaxed with a gyro (that was not so much a gyro as barbeque pork that was spicy, with to Kathy’s dismay, no pita bread.) Oh well, soon we were headed back to settle in for the night and just relax. Tomorrow we head to Odda and as we look forward to another day in Norway.

June 1, 2024 Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe catch a tiger by the tail…..

The trip started out eventful: first a quick trip to the airport the night before to “fix” the tickets. Unfortunately due to a mess up by the airlines, we were not able to check in to our flights. Apparently the first leg of the journey was in not in any of their systems. Thankfully, it was fixed and we managed to yell, so they had to “let us go.”

The flight long was not as long as some others we have been on recently, and we did manage to catch some zzzzz’s, but not many.  Finally in Norway, we breathed a sigh of relief… once we get to the hotel,  we can get caught up on some missing sleep… that is, if we can get out of the car rental parking garage. We found our rental car – a Toyota Yaris – loaded the luggage, piled into the car, and then programmed the GPS unit. Pressing the “start” button, it didn’t start… didn’t start… still didn’t start… woo hoo started!  but then stopped… then didn’t start, then didn’t start. Shucks!! Kathy saying maybe you should go ask….. really? Asking is for amateurs.  Finally it started. Dave “maybe the battery was low” and Kathy then Googled a video of how to start a Toyota Yaris….  found out the car is a hybrid, and apparently it doesn’t sound like it is starting when it actually is.  Being a hybrid, it starts off in electric mode, so the gas engine doesn’t turn over.  Who knew?? We tested that theory out once arriving in Oslo. Yep, silent! Google was right!

Finally finding our hotel, we headed out to explore and have dinner. Not much else to be said about that.  We found a nice restaurant along the water that had a “sharing” menu and we shared a quesadilla and a carne asada, along with a summer salad complete with pickled watermelon. Our agenda was an easy going night for tired travelers.  Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Tomorrow dawned bright and early and we were raring to go! Breakfast at the hotel, and then we were off to grab the tiger by the tail…almost. Instead Kathy hopped on the tail of a huge bronze tiger statue and swung her legs while we waited for our “free” walking tour. We managed to hit many of the highlights on our list, including the brand new public library (shaped like an iceberg!), the Oslo Opera House, the Akershus Fortress, Karl Johans Gate, a floating art exhibit in the harbor, a 400 year old restaurant, the city hall, and the music festival going on today!

The tour conveniently ended by the City Hall where we stopped in and walked where presidents, dignitaries, and countless Nobel Peace Prize Winners have stood to be awarded their prize. Feeling the awe of the open area with its beautiful painted walls was an amazing experience. Interestingly, Oslo is the place where the Nobel Peace Prize is given, while Stockholm is where the other Nobel Prizes are given.  We then headed over to Nobel Peace Center next door and then on to the Royal Palace where we watched a changing of the guard ceremony. Not as solemn as Washington, DC, not as formal as Buckingham Palace, and definitely not as fun as the one in Athens Greece, it was still interesting to watch, with about half of the guards being women. This would be our 5th time watching a changing of the guard ceremony and we have now seen it in 5 different countries, Italy, Greece, US, England, and now Norway. Next on our list was to find the statue park called Vigeland Park, famous for its large fountain and hundreds of sculptures. We walked, oh yeah we walked some more, yet some more at about 20,000 something steps we found it at the top the hill. It was worth every step. Wandering through the statues we joined others who looked in awe, or maybe some perplexing looks or gasps of what some of the sculptures were depicting. We just chose to enjoy the artistic creativity of the statues –  leaving the questions about whom, why, or what for another day.  We encourage you to visit the link to see all the different sculptures and let you decide whom, why, or what for yourselves. The Vigeland Park have over 200 sculptures… | Vigeland Museum and Park

Deciding we should head back to the hotel, we walked back down the mountain, Dave navigating by Google Maps which kept us running in circles we finally found our hotel. After the experience of listening to Google Maps, Kathy is not surprised Dave didn’t want to ask Google how to start the Yaris. Good thing one was right!  Luckily, we stopped for a quick burger at “The Flamme Burger” along the way so we had plenty of energy to make the journey back to the hotel to rest up.  They had the best onions rings we have had in a long time!

Things to know about Japan

Things to know about Japan:

  • There is no smoking allowed on the streets. Very few people in Japan smoke, but if they do, they have to go into the designated smoking rooms which are in all of the train stations and even in sections of each city.
  • You should consider carrying a small hand towel. There are no air dryers or paper towels in most public restrooms.  Many Japanese carry a small towel to dry their hands.
  • Speaking of restrooms, we have not found a toilet yet that is for the technologically faint of heart. All of them have at least 8 buttons.  Fortunately, most also have a flush handle on the side.  Don’t press the wrong buttons without being seated or you will enjoy a shower as well.  The shower is only for your derriere.  Most of them have enough English (and diagrams!) to avoid too many problems.
  • Although Japan has a reputation for being expensive, we have found that most food, and even souvenirs, is pretty inexpensive. Even the ubiquitous vending machines charge less than one US Dollar for things like a bottle of Coke.  And the vending machines sell many, many types of beverages, as well as some food, coffee, and even alcohol and cigarettes, although these last two are not common.
  • Bowing is very common. It is a way to say hello, goodbye, thank you, and excuse me (and we’re sure many other things.)
  • Japanese people do not usually exchange money hand-to-hand. They have a small tray where you put your money and into which the vendor puts your change.  They take credit cards in most, but not all, places.  Many places are also automated where you put your cash into a slot and it will count down how much is still owed.
  • A wet towel (nice, heated, cotton ones in fine restaurants and smaller, packaged ones at other places) are provided prior to each meal. The expectation is that you need to clean your hands prior to eating.
  • Japan is very clean. And that is pretty amazing considering it is very hard to find a garbage can anywhere.  The reason for the lack of trash bins goes back to the sarin gas attacks on Japanese subways in 1995.  The domestic terrorists placed the chemical weapons in garbage cans.  You can still hear and read warnings to today’s passengers to be on alert for unattended packages.  I guess the lesson here is the same as for hiking in the wilderness:  Pack it in, Pack it out!
  • In every city that we have been to so far, every sidewalk has yellow ridged tiles in a line. They are also in every subway station and at airports.  There are also round dots at places like street crossings and at the bottom of escalators.  When I asked about them, our guide said that they were for blind people to help navigate their way around.  We actually did see a person using them.  What a great way to include them so they are not shut in.

Better late than never

04/13/2024 Better late than never

Our last day in Japan saw us visit Miyajima Island, a small island off of the city of Hiroshima.  The island, known for its iconic giant “floating” torii gate, is a short ferry ride from the mainland. Meeting our guide, Chiyo, for the second day in a row, we headed off to enjoy our last full day in Japan.  The trip to the island started like an episode of “The Amazing Race”, as we were walking, taking a bus, then a train, and lastly a ferry.  By the time we reached the island, we felt we hit almost type of transportation available in Japan. Coming off the ferry, we immediately set off to see the giant torii gate. The gate is so iconic, that recently the G7 summit was photographed in front of the gate. G-7 Leaders Group Photo at Miyajima Shrine | C-SPAN.org . We, on the other hand, had our photo taken – just not quite as picturesque as was the G7 summit photo.  We then took the two gondolas up to the top of the island mountain.  The clear skies and bright sunshine afforded us the opportunity to see for miles and miles. What a great way to end our last day.  Heading back down, our guide dropped us off in the middle of nowhere at a sandwich shop and washed her hands of us. Being navigation experts now, we managed to find our way out of the maze of streets to the dock where we found a ferry. Luckily, it was the right ferry and we headed off the island.  We then hopped on a trolley and rode it back into the city. Disembarking, we headed off to our hotel and plopped down in the room, sighing in relief. Yes, we did it all on our own! (Okay, Google maps and asking many people lot of questions aside!) Heading to the executive lounge for a few canapes and wine for Kathy and water for Dave was a great way to end our day. Tomorrow we head home and we are preparing for the long flight and the process of adapting to the time change.

Two-fer!

04/10-11/2024 Two-fer

Today’s post is all about the last two days: yesterday and today!  Yesterday can be summed up pretty simply, last bullet train, last hotel for the trip, and last few days in Japan. We found our last train going from Kyoto to Hiroshima without too much problem, but we did have to ask a couple of times for direction.  Seated, we chilled and enjoyed the quick trip to the coast of Japan. Arriving in Hiroshima, we took a taxi to the hotel and dropped our luggage off.  Then we were off to explore the surrounding areas. We discovered a park and walked the beautiful paths and tried to discover what the various statues were.  The pedestals were there, but the bronze statues were missing.  Google Translate did not help, as we just got “bronze statue”, but no names attached. Heading back to our last hotel we breathed a sigh of relief: the bed was not on the floor! Nor was anything low as we are on the 22nd floor with an amazing view of the islands and the Pacific Ocean.  Deciding that a day of rest would be a welcome relief, we ate at the hotel.  We did head out to after dinner to find a pharmacy to get Dave some medicine for his unrelenting cold. Just down the block was a HUGE grocery store and we wandered to the pharmacy where we had some issues with a failure to communicate.  Dave showed the pharmacist a Google-translation for “Do you have decongestants?” Instead of something for the nose, he got eye drops.  Do people in Japan have problems with their eyes becoming congested?? Going back, we tried again and we think he now has the right medication!  Settling in, we tried to sleep, but that proved as difficult as getting the right medication.  Tomorrow, though, is another day!

Look! It’s tomorrow already and we are awake!  We also had our breakfast, and it was more recognizable. Kathy had awesome French toast with maple syrup and whip cream – yep she is happy!  Dave is, too, as he found some granola cereal and juice. The only issue was the hordes of people.  Many of them were part of a tour group from India, and they had little sense of space. Meeting our guide, Chiyo, for the next two days we started our last tours of the trip. The private tour saw us head towards the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  We visited the grounds and the museum that honored the victims of the first atomic bomb used in human history and reminds us of the importance of peace. The visit was solemn and sad and the pictures and stories told a horrendous story about death, survival, and hope for peace.  We were glad we went and the museum was reminiscent of the 9/11 Museum in NYC with its somber story told so that we may never forget.  It was very interesting to see the A-bomb from the Japanese perspective.  We then took a bus and a trolley to visit a traditional Japanese garden.  We soaked in the tranquility of the location in juxtaposition to the epicenter of the bomb blast.

Having the afternoon free, we found lunch which was quite interesting and good. While our sandwiches were pretty typical, dessert was chocolate bread with whipped cream and bananas for Kathy and chocolate bread with whipped cream and strawberries for Dave.  It was an interesting dessert and Kathy is all about trying to duplicate the dessert when she gets home. Rest, relaxation, another walk will round out our day. Tomorrow we visit Miyajima, our last iconic stop on an unforgettable trip!

ADDENDUM:  We just had dinner here in Hiroshima and it’s worth writing home about, or at least adding to our post for the day.  We can’t tell you the name of the restaurant or the style of meal we had, but it was a hoot.  We ordered a 70-item buffet.  They leave a little tablet with you and you scroll through and check the items you want brought to the table.  Once you are ready, you submit your order.  A few minutes later, out it comes, ready for you to cook it over the gas grill in the middle of your table.  Yes, that’s right, you cook your meal at your table.  They do have a little bucket of ice.  This is for outting out the fire if it gets too bad.  We ordered things like kimchi, sweet potato w/ honey and butter, big toro Kalbi, pork skirt ShioTare, basil chicken, chicken with pepper & Garlic, and beef toro Kalbi with Shio Tare.  Oh, yeah, and for a vegetable…an onion.  It was all very delicious!  Our compliments to the chefs.  A perfect way to end the day.

Shopping Trips

04/09/2024 Shopping Trips

We had a free morning, at least time wise, but we are determined to find our home souvenir. During our travels abroad, we have bought a cuckoo clock from Germany, brass and glass lanterns from Venice, Italy, an African mask from Zimbabwe,  place mats from South Africa and Peru, hand painted tiles with our name for our house from Spain, spoon holders from Turkey, and a hand tied Egyptian rug from, you guessed, it Egypt. Today we headed off to a stone quarry store where they make stone lanterns for gardens, Buddha statues, and gravestone markers, to find a lantern for our garden. After a 2 mile walk, we finally arrived at our destination.  We perused the selection and opted for the less expensive and portable option that will be a nice addition to our butterfly garden.  (We decided against the $560 lantern which required shipping, more than doubling the cost!)  We are sure our children will have the time of their life cleaning out our home, wondering what the heck were we thinking, after we pass. The store owners made sure it was safely wrapped with lots of padding and fashioned handles for us to use to carry it on our travels. The lantern will not be transported in the luggage hold, but hand carried from Kyoto, Japan to Lockport, NY.  Feeling accomplished, we raced back to the hotel to drop if off before walking another 1.5 miles to Kyoto Station to begin our afternoon tour to Nara. Bonus, we got our exercise heart points today!

The tour with Sunshine tours started out chaotic and confusing. When we checked in, we were given stickers indicating we were to be in “Bus #2”. We followed our guide who said “Bus #2 this way.”  We got on the bus.  Then, they said we were on the wrong bus and so we got kicked off the bus.  The staff took a few minutes to figure out what to do before they told us to get on another another bus.  The guide there called off names, but not ours, so she kicked off that bus, too.  The staff could not figure out how to rectify the fact that our names were on one sheet, but not the sheet that the guide had for that bus and her bus was full.  They finally got us on a third bus which apparently was the charm. Finally on our way, we settled in for the 45 minute drive to Nara. Nara is home to both a Shinto Shrine and a Buddhist Temple and famous for its “friendly” deer. The deer mill about, waiting for a cookie from the tourists who delight in feeding them.  It was kind of like a large, unfenced petting zoo. Kathy opted to buy some cookies to feed the deer. Completing the obligatory bow to the deer (who bow back like good Japanese), she fed a deer. She then turned to feed a different smaller deer when the big brute bit her on the thigh.  Chicken that she was, she just tossed the rest of the cookies to the deer from a distance and vowed to NEVER FEED THE WILDLIFE! Learning her lesson, she instead focused on viewing the beautiful shrine lined with its ancient stone lanterns.  What made the area different from the others we had visited were the 1000 stone lanterns covered by moss, as well as the ancient cypress trees.  Since the time that the shrine and temple were built in the 8th Century, no trees have been cut in the area and hunting the deer has been illegal.  We then began our journey back to Kyoto on the bus.

For dinner, Kathy and Dave tried a new restaurant called the Royal Host.  Stepping inside and getting seated, we had the sensation of being at a Denny’s restaurant in America.  Even the menu was Denny’s-like and we ordered the “meat and green” meal, which was some roast beef on top of a thin layer of mashed potatoes and a salad.  It was good comfort food.  The piece de resistance was the strawberry “sundae”, which had the teenager in the booth next to ours very jealous.  Finally sated, we went back to the room to get ready for our last train ride of the trip.  We were heading to Hiroshima the next day.