I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday bird blogging

A song thrush, in Stockholm.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


A closeup of the waves in the fjord.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Urban poetry

Ceiling pipes in a store in Södermalm.

Living up to Södermalm's reputation as the hippest, edgiest, artiest part of Stockholm, this store was actually a complex, where a home goods shop adjoined a Swedish version of Hold Everything which adjoined a coffee bar. One store just flowed into another, and there were windows in the floor through which you could see people getting haircuts in one of the shops beneath.

But the space was still mostly raw, with an industrial feel, so there was a sense that all of these interesting places to shop just showed up one day, and might vanish again tomorrow.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Welcome to the working week

This is the tour bus driver from Bergen. Every time we stopped, he got out and smoked a cigarette, even in heavy rain.

The picture didn't really work for me until it occurred to me to try it in black and white. Now it looks quite Scandinavian, and captures the mood of that rainy morning.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday bird blogging

This is a jackdaw, a smaller member of the crow family.

Flocks of them mingled with the gulls on the wharves in Stockholm.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday reflections

Reflections from Oslo.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Urban poetry

Train tracks, near the main station in Copenhagen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday bird blogging

A magpie at Skansen.

I'm home, jet-lagged and wide awake at four am after one of those awful flights that make you vow never to leave home again.

My flight was at 9 am, and I got to the United kiosks a little after 7, where I made my first mistake, and  checked in. By myself.

Oh no! A horrified woman ran over. "You're not allowed to check in yourself!" And in fact every other kiosk had an employee hovering over the passengers, pressing the buttons for them. Since I was, in fact, already checked in, and had a boarding pass, a supervisor would have to be called to determine what to do with me.

A very nice woman led me to a bench at the side and asked me to wait. "You were just so clever, checking in by yourself, that we have to ask security what to do." Since checking in at a kiosk involves swiping my passport and tapping on a couple of buttons, I didn't think it was all that clever, nor did I see how unsupervised checkin posed a security risk, but I kept my mouth shut and sat down.

And waited. And waited. Eventually the second woman went over to the first, and pointed to me. Oops! She had obviously forgotten all about me. I had already been cleared by the mysterious security supervisors, and could proceed through security.

I now had only twenty minutes before boarding, so my plans for a nice breakfast and a little shopping were ruined, as there was another security checkpoint to get through at the gate. I bought a cup of coffee and a bottle of water on the way, and figured I'd buy something to eat once I was at the gate.

Oh no! After going through security checkpoint 2, it turned out that my flight was in a special waiting area behind still another level of security, an institutional little room with chairs and toilets and a vending machine, which ate 20 kronor without spitting out the bag of nuts that was my last hope for breakfast.  But it was just an eight hour flight, and they'd be serving us a meal in a couple of hours so I'd just have to suck it up.

Oh no! Apparently it was not going to be an eight hour flight. Due to very strong headwinds, we were going to have to land in Goose Bay, Newfoundland, and refuel. By the time we were sitting on the ground in Canada, the lunch was many hours in the past and apparently the plane was about to turn into an aviation age Donner Party, because there was an announcement every few minutes that yes, there would be another meal as soon as we were in the air again.

Which turned out to be a sandwich slathered in mayonnaise that I couldn't eat, and a bag of potato chips that I inhaled. I'm pretty confident that no one has ever greeted the sorry food options in the arrival hall at Newark airport with as much joy and anticipation as the weary passengers of United flight 69.

So ends another travel, and lovely though it was, I am happier than usual to be home again.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Well, Arlanda, and a flight home early tomorrow.

The ship docked back in Copenhagen this morning, and I had a long wait at the airport there, broken up by an urgent conference call to discuss a problem back in the office, and a problem at checkin when my carry-on was declared too heavy (it has my cameras and lenses and it's definitely hefty) and I had to reshuffle already bursting luggage there at the counter while impatient travelers gave me the evil eye. The bag wasn't any heavier than it had been when I flew the same airline in the opposite direction last week, but if someone at an airport tells you to do something for security reasons, you just shut up and do it.

Fortunately Copenhagen has a very nice airport since I had to spend several hours there and I did not start in a forgiving mood. The bathroom sinks have hot water -- such a simple thing, and it felt like such a luxury -- and the souvenir shops had some lovely samples of Danish design that tempted me to ignore the rule above and sneak some more weight into my luggage. There was a miniature of an Arne Jacobsen red plywood chair that couldn't have weighed more than a couple of ounces, but it was almost as expensive as the real thing, and if I'm going to spend hundreds of dollars on a chair, I ought to be able to sit in it.

Now I'm at the Radisson at Arlanda, the best airport hotel I've ever stayed in. You can literally wheel your luggage cart into the lobby, and the window in my room overlooks the terminal, and the runways outside, which is kind of fun. Imagine being comfortable inside an airport!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

At sea

Sailing back to Copenhagen, and our only sea day on this cruise.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

For a good time in Bergen...

Back to Bryggen

The tour ended back at the wharf. The weather had cleared a little, reverting to the alternating (and occasionally simultaneous) bursts of sun and rain that Northern Europe does so well. It was an opportunity to appreciate how beautiful Bergen really is.

Side effects

All of the rain in Bergen creates a lush thick carpet of moss on trees and rocks everywhere. It looks like something out of a fairy tale.

The monetary Middle Ages

This is where the cashier collects the fee for visiting Fantoft church.

I love the juxtaposition of the modern laptop and headphones with a cash register that looks like it's almost as old as the church. The original church.

More Fantoft spooky spires


Stave churches are medieval wood churches with plank walls, once common all over northern Europe, but now almost exclusively found in Norway.

Fantoft was built around 1150 near Sognefjord, and moved to Bergen in the nineteenth century when it was threatened with demolition. It survived another hundred years or so, only to be burnt to the ground in 1992, part of a string of arson fires committed by members of Norway's Black Metal scene, claiming retaliation against Christianity for building churches on sacred pagan grounds. One of the bands used a photo of the burnt church on an album cover, and the guitarist was eventually tried and convicted for several of the church burnings. (Just in case you ever make the mistake of thinking that everything is coolly rational in Scandinavia.)

 The church has been rebuilt; the irony is that while the small interior is full of curvy warm wood shapes, and a very stoic blue-eyed Jesus, the outside doesn't appear remotely Christian. It looks more like the Viking ships that are its architectural forebears than it does a Catholic church.


Another view from Troldhaugen

I doubt that these buildings were there when the Greeks occupied Troldhaugen, but I love these reflections.


Edvard Grieg's home, just outside Bergen. This is the view from the main house.

Our guide was very charming, and so very badly wanted for us to love Bergen as much as he does, but between his Norwegian accent and the drowsiness induced by the rainy day and the overheated bus, I couldn't always follow what he was saying.

For example, we drove past one of the royal palaces and he talked about the Norwegian government, and he kept making reference to the kingsvetta.  Which to my sleepy mind sounded like the king's sweater, and I couldn't understand why the king's apparel choices had any political consequences. I finally realized that he was saying king's veto.

Then he started going on and on about the Greeks, and I was even more confused since as far as I know Greece has never had much to do with Norway. Since we were on our way to Troldhaugen, I should have realized a lot sooner that he was saying the Griegs, not the Greeks.


The problem with Bergen is that, while it's perfectly charming, and historically interesting -- it was a major center for the Hanseatic League and the old warehouses still line the pier - it's not a fjord, and from what I can see, doesn't contain a single waterfall.

Plus it was still raining. It rains 220 days a year, according to our guide, and the joke here is that babies in Bergen pop out with umbrellas.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Photographer's dilemma

Which is better, a detail of yet more waterfalls, with the texture of the rock and the moss, or a long shot of the water falling from the heights?

Or just post both?

Mountain farms

Some of the farms we passed as we sailed through the mountains.

The Seven Sisters from sea level

The waterfall I photographed earlier from Eagle Bend, a lot closer and looking up rather than down.

Leaving Geiranger

Five minutes before the engines started up and we left Geiranger, the sun came out.

On the one hand, it was almost a taunt -- imagine some of the magnificent views we could have seen if the weather had just cleared up a little sooner.

But if the sunlight was rationed -- and in this part of Norway it might actually be -- then maybe this was the best way to use it after all, when we were sailing through the length of the fjord on our way back to the sea.

Those funny scallop shapes in the water are the ship's wake. The waters in the fjord are so calm and so deep that this enormous ship leaves only a sedate line of small stylized waves behind, instead of the usual great crashing and thrashing and spewing and spraying I'm used to.

Another outlook

From a different, much lower, lookout point on the other side of the fjord, here's our cruise ship (the one on the right) awaiting our return, with the fjord snaking around between the mountains behind it.

For a sense of scale

The weather had cleared a little by the time we were heading back down the scary switchbacks to the Geiranger fjord, so we were able to stop at the lookout.

I wish the weather had been clearer so the mountains in the background could be seen better, but I wanted to post this picture -- of the Seven Sisters waterfall -- anyway, because the ship sailing through the fjord at the bottom gives you some sense of how tall these mountains are, and how high they loom overhead when you're down in the water.

The pictures I've taken from the water just don't have anything to give that sense of scale, so although they show how beautiful the landscape is, they can't really capture the drama.


The farm has been in this woman's family for generations; she and her husband have run it for thirty years now.

And every day, she turns gallons of goat milk into cheese, stirring it in a huge vat over an open flame until it's ready to be packed into baskets or wood frames and cured. Farming isn't for sissies.

Even better than delicious leaves

Unfortunately you can't see the goat clearly in this picture but it cracks me up so I'm posting anyway.

Apples are apparently even better than leaves or grass, but the goats have to work harder to get to the good ones.

And speaking of goats

It turns out they don't like rain any more than people do. A herd of youngsters -- next year they'll breed for the first time and join the milk producers -- were in a field next to the farmhouse, and they were endearingly ingratiating. They begged to be hand fed leaves that were identical to the ones on their side of the fence, but I suspect they were just trying to get their heads under our umbrellas.

Turf roof

Near Storfjorden. We've seen a lot of these traditional roofs; they keep homes well insulated in the winter and they're easy to maintain -- when they start looking overgrown, you just put a goat up there to  prune it back down.

Lost in the fog

As I suspected, the scheduled tour was modified because of the weather; the mountaintop farm had closed early for the season, and we were going to be learning all about making goat cheese at a lower elevation than originally planned.

The rest of the tour went as scheduled though, starting with a hair-raising ride up a series of switchbacks to the top of one of the mountains, and then down again on the other side.

This is Storfjorden, or the Big Fjord, the main fjord of which Geiranger is just one of the branches. I usually think of myself as having a good sense of direction, but the fjords turn me all around. I can't get a sense of how they relate to each other on a map.

And this weather doesn't help. I have no idea which way anything is from here, and it's disorienting.


Instead of heading back out to sea after Ålesund, we sailed inland, up a series of fjords to the very end, where a village called Geiranger sits at the tip of the fjord with the same name. It's supposed to be the most beautiful fjord in Norway, but as we went through most of it overnight we couldn't see anything.

And this morning it's pouring, pouring, pouring rain, so I'm not sure how much of it we'll be able to appreciate after all.

There are mists trailing down off the mountains towering over us all around, giving a nice romantic gloominess to the day, which would be wonderful if I were just going to sit on the ship and drink tea and daydream. But I'm supposed to be visiting a goat farm at the top of one of the mountains and I'm guessing the tour is going to be seriously scaled back.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Scandinavje Hotell

One more detail -- I love the sweetness of this face adorning the hotel doorway.


There's nothing at all early 20th century about these chairs and tables pushed together outside a cafe.

I just liked the way they looked.

Jugendstil details

Even the phone booth gets in the spirit of Art Nouveau.

I love the grillwork on the building below.

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