Homesick blues (not subterranean)

Day 46. Friday 28 June. 

What to do with a full day – our flight isn’t until 10.25 PM, although D for a while (until T pulled him back into line) was planning our trip to the airport based on a morning flight. It’s been a long trip.

We still had our 24 hour Big Bus ticket, so eventually decided to use it to get to Sausalito, a small town of about 9,000 on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Big Bus Red Route crosses the Golden Gate and then returns to SF: the trip into Sausalito is by another bus that provides a circuit of the area Green Route -– for an additional price, of course.

There was another queue to join to get on the bus. One gentleman appeared and lodged himself in front of us, continuously gesturing to others in his party further back to stay where they were. This continued as the queue moved forward, until that time when we would be included in the next group to board, which is when he moved and his group butted in ahead of us. D had had enough after 6 weeks of this, and told him brusquely to get back in the queue where he belonged. ‘But they’re family’ was the response. D was not in the least bit interested, and said so. When we got to the bus, the interloper stood back to let us on ahead, so D signalled a lone American woman who had been behind us and also therefore gazumped, to come forward. A small victory.

Sausalito’s charm is that it is relatively unspoiled, with the tourist strip confined to the ‘front road’ and it’s on a warmer aspect of the bay. A stroll after breakfast along the waterfront took us away from the main tourist precinct.

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Lots of very expensive watercraft and a few interesting ones (not the one pictured, which we think would look good moored in the Derwent River).

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The bus driver on our return trip mentioned one modelled after the Taj Mahal, the owner spending about $2 million dollars to replicate that icon after a visit to India where he fell in love with it. Lots of rooms and bathrooms, and a cellar, and it stays moored where it is.

On the return leg to the pick- up point, the bus driver commented on the heavy traffic on the bridge, caused partly by cars trying to take a short cut but instead creating congestion. And they kept coming. He offered instead to drop everyone off on the SF side of the bridge – as long as we didn’t tell anyone about this unauthorised route deviation. Even so, it was slow moving, and we arrived just as an almost empty Big Bus departed the stop. Needless to say, the next bus was full – no spare seats. By this time the waiting crowd was getting a bit edgy. The next bus turned up, also almost full. A couple got off and the driver was happy to let everyone on, with people standing in the aisle, or sitting on wheel arches. Part of the charm of the Big Bus tours was the constant, zany patter of the conductor/driver. In each journey, stories and jokes were told, the monologues interspersed with the  loud belly-laughing of the speaker, and all the while, the speed of speech and the accents of the Afro-American speakers meant that only half was intelligible. The good cheer of all the tourist workers we encountered was admirable.

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Friday rush hour at the beginning of a weekend when SF would be a ‘sh..heap’ looked ominous. George, the airport taxi driver would be escaping the city for the wine district of Napa but for our airport trip he was very communicative, and spoke almost non-stop for the 45 minute journey. Politics, the health system, California’s demographic  (it’s Chinese), Silicon Valley workers, ‘all medical & pharmaceutical research in that valley’… ‘the guy in that car on our right , I’ve seen him in Tenderloin and he’s a crack dealer,’… He seemed well-informed, perhaps because he’d had a previous career in the corporate world. He must have done well: he said he owned the taxi licence, which had cost him a quarter million 15 years ago! T was a bit perturbed by the hands-free approach to driving (off the wheel, that is) and George’s frequent turning around to introduce us to his next topic.

Getting to the airport early means waiting for 4 hours to board, but it also meant we avoided long queues at check-in and security, both of which were remarkably short.

Our next post, the final for this trip, will hopefully just be a postscript saying: home safely.

Firsr the book, next the movie:

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Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

Day 45. Thursday 27 June.

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Mason Diner for breakfast (D really wanted to have the diner experience, to better understand the Reacher novels), after waiting in the hotel restaurant for far too long & ignored. Mind you, it took a good 15 mins to get a seat at Mason’s; but it was a very substantial start to the day (3 attempts at a cup of hotel room tea, in the coffee maker had failed!).

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The day evolved: T had thoughts of getting seats for an evening show Once, but that was abandoned when the only seats available were back row and not together. We decided that a hop on & off bus tour would be a good way to get a city intro, so if we were clever enough, we could get a 24 hour ticket in the late morning, to last through Friday as well.

Why do we feel the need to do the tram ride thing? It is the ‘thing to do’, it will take us to Fisherman’s Wharf, and we can then pick up the bus tour. Good concept, but the queue to get the tram!

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Well, we stood, crept to the boarding point (45 mins), bemused/discomfited by the histrionics of the guy predicting that Jezebel will take us to hell among other threats concerning our souls – the Jehovah’s Witness trio standing quietly next to him were in ignore mode: if we don’t look it’s not happening.

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Beggars and homeless are commonplace, as are folk talking to themselves or gesturing – a bit confronting but not in the least threatening, and blithely unheeded by locals and visitors alike.

The tram ride was really about the conductor and his interaction with passengers who hadn’t paid or who had the wrong tickets, all part of the performance.

Fisherman’s Wharf bustled in its grime and glitz. A coffee stop at Boudin’s bakery extended into a tour which consumed and fascinated us for a couple of hours, taking in the museum and bread production…the bakers, the machines, the story…

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Along to Pier 45 and the WWII naval vessels (a submarine and the last surviving Victory ship) and then Pier 39 where the sea lions barked, fought and rolled and dived for the crowd. The loser in the fight ended up in the water: the victorious sea lion seemed to look to the crowds for applause!

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Pier 39 was mostly cheezy and just a bit sleazy…But there were some other amusing distractions: two characters dressed up as Trump & Kim Jong Un, and a multi-instrument (all at the same time) musician. And a little girl and a little dog couldn’t care less about everything else going on around them.

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Around 4pm we boarded the BigBus tour and the afternoon breeze had become VERY chilly. On the top deck, the views and commentary were great…across the Golden Gate, back into town…

Past the Town Hall, site for a couple of weddings.

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The city is proud of it’s colourful recent past – particularly the beatnik and hippies revolutions of the 60s, notably the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’.

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And is also staunchly for Gay Pride – a leader in recognition of gays dating from the 1970s. We will regretfully miss the Gay Pride March through the city on Saturday, in which 1 million are expected to participate.

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Another interesting sign was the one about home loans: didn’t this precipitate the GFC?

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For dinner? Chinatown and the hard decision: where to start? With spruikers shoving menus at us on the footpath (sidewalk). A restaurant offering a sampler of dim sums…and now we feel like a pair of dumplings.

Old angels young angels feel alright
On a warm San Franciscan night

And a last thought: we’re not sure whether the juxtaposition of the two signs was deliberate!

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Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair 

Day 44. Wednesday 26 June.

0439 hrs.  An apartment room in Oslo:

‘Are you awake?’

‘Of course I’m bloody awake!’

‘Might as well have a cup of tea then.’

‘Yes.’

Tram 17 to Oslo Sentrum, outside our front door, departs at 0543 hrs and we’re on it, with 2 minutes to spare. Not alone, but definitely not crowded. D relaxed, T resigned.

Fast train to OSL is similar – no fuss and 3 minutes to spare. This has been so easy – if you except the interrupted sleep! D relaxed, T resigned.

First flight to Helsinki is a short hour or so, and we’re still (barely) human. Then there’s the five hour wait in Helsinki, mercifully shortened by an hour thanks to a time zone change. D relaxed, T zombie. D calculates that this is an 18 hour journey – just to San Francisco airport.

Boarding was slightly weird: passing through a Yes/No questioning (we passed) but there was no check whether our answers were honest. Are you a terrorist? No. Pass. An elderly couple (and really elderly, not elderly like us) were separated: he went into one pen without a problem, she was returned into a security checking area (what did she answer?) and then went pen into another with a gate between them. Eventually resolved and they were reunited.

Boarding was announced and the rush started. What is it about the need to get there first or early? Access to the overhead lockers? Status? The plane won’t leave without you. Saw soething similar today in Union Square.

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On board, then a wait for transit passengers delayed. So what was the rush for? D relaxed, T resigned.

The flight was 11 hours, and easy enough, but of course it seemed longer.

D gave up trying to find the train link into the city which had seemed so simple online, and went for a taxi – an unusually uncommunicative driver until close to the hotel when a simple question hit the on switch and then he was full bore. San Francisco (according to him) has a population of only 900,000 or so but is full to bursting with visitors because it is the friendly city, with inter-racial harmony. From there he got on to the Spanish, Chinese and Indian diasporas, the Mexicans fleeing poverty…….and just a passing mention of Trump, unusually neither for or against.

Arrived at Handlery Union Square Hotel at 19.30 hrs – twenty four and a half hours after walking out of our apartment in Oslo. Knackered.

A short walk up and down a couple of those famous hills in search of milk for tea. After the comparative quiet of Oslo, SF was bustling, raucous, slightly tatty. There were conspicuously more beggars and a wide range of unusual characters and races. Traffic boomed , sirens and horns blared, loud music blasted. And the sky was dirty. We took our confused bodies to bed.

Munch ado about nothing

Day 43. Tuesday 25 June. 

Our last day in the Scandinavian ‘sommer’…grey, then a gentle rain – fitting perhaps for some sad but expected news from home. D, having optimistically believed the forecast and gone out without a jacket of any kind, later succumbed and bought a second umbrella. A tram ride – again using the great public transport system – through a culturally more diverse part of town to Sofienberg and then via the Botanic Gardens to explore some Oslo art: the Munch Museet and its Exitexhibition, as it gets ready for a move to a whole new building on the waterfront.

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The exhibition was as much about the history of the current building, its shortcomings, politics and the 2004 theft of The Scream& The Madonna, as it was about Munch’s art of people and for people and the museum’s philosophy of accessibility, education etc. We knew nothing apart from the ‘screaming icon’, so it was terrific to learn about the enormous body of work Munch produced and his varied skills. Interestingly, in film footage from 1963 (opening of building) a young girl walks through the exhibition space with her mum(?) eating an icecream! T is taken by the technique of creating an image from colour stripes (The Scream) and loves the way Munch lets his bare canvas comes to the fore as a ‘textured white’ colour in its own right; but the highlight for her is Munch’s drawing/printing skills. The sick child is her favourite.

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D has got the map (it’s correct for a change) & tram routes sorted so that the next stop is a ‘garn’ shop. T wants to find that missing colour for her knitting project. She’s decided that the knitting re-start will be a ‘sideways thing’ with colour stripes running vertically (after admiring a cardigan, worn by a French passenger on Nordlys) and has googled an appropriate retail spot. The ever-patient D finds things to amuse himself, mostly just observing daily life, while T chats to 3 women at Verbitt Garn Oslo (Weathered Yarn Oslo).

IMG_7987One woman is stitching: mending a vestment from the local church and conversation proceeds about ‘spirituality education’ today, where people find their ‘church’ etc. The other 2 women share their knitting techniques with T and comment that the Scandinavian system of knitting-in-the-round does not wear as well as the British system of knitting in sections and then stitching pieces together. They offer coffee and chocolate (theirs goes cold during the chatter) but then T sees D peering through the window (D: after 40 minutes!). It’s time to go….well, not actually immediately.

Conveniently, a local tram back into town continues on to allow  us to get off for a short harbour side walk to visit the Astrup Fearnley Museet. By now that second umbrella is proving its worth. Much of the contemporary collection leaves D wondering: are they really taking the piss? He’s pretty sure they are, even if they don’t mean to and really believe the guff they’ve written to explain their motivations. But several items in the latest acquisitions section resonate: the de-commissioned fire hoses, now called Gees Americanreminds us of Fiona’s printed firehoses from 2004. The traditional smocks-on-hessian collage is wonderful.

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Library V-II by Liu Wei is a standout installation made from books – and see how you can actually peer down the alleyway.

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One had an impact on both of us – titled ‘Close of Business’ – about small business.

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Then, in the second building of this gallery, the woodblocks of Anselm Kiefen were favourites for T (especially the piece with little Theo in the forest), while Damien Hirst’s works using butterflies, and flies (larvae) in resin were tops for D – however, the carcasses of sheep (arranged as symbols of crucifixion) and cows (cut longitudinally in half) preserved in formaldehyde didn’t really resonate.

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After a day of Oslo gallery art, it was back to the tram stop at 5pm rush hour in the rain…and another two images of Oslo ‘street art’ to complete the day.

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Tomorrow we fly via Helsinki to San Francisco – it will be an early start and a long day.

 

Oslo redux

Day 42. Monday 24 June. 

Yes, Monday morning means garbage truck calling!…same as home. A list of things to do in next 40 hours…starting with a fight with the apartment stove, the reason we choose apartments is to be able to self-cater as much as possible and now that we have the squeezable olive oil, there should be no stopping us…BUT.

Vigeland Sculpture Park was a wonderful start to a day focusing on humanity and the bonds we all share. The sculptures, capturing the physical and emotional contexts of humans was terrific and a number really resonated. The park was very much a ‘peoples’ park’ and on a beautiful summer day, there were plenty of them.

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And who was the model?

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When T ventured to the toilet block to find that….yes, one pays (the plastic card should be exhausted after this trip…we’ve needed no cash at all), she was surprised to find that the young man attending the payment table had doubled as the baby-minder of a very small infant in a pram outside the block while the mum took her toilet stop.

And no respect for non-military statues, either!

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Next stop was the Nobel Peace Museum, where a gorgeous young guide escorted a small group through the history and selection process of the annual awards and a focus exhibition on the two joint 2018 Peace prize winnersfor their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.

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Nadia Murad is a young female Yadizi from Iraq, whose work was on ending sexual violence as a weapon of war (having been a victim) and Denis Mukwege who is a gynaecologist/obstetrician from the DR Congo has specialised in treating the female victims of war crimes and advocating for them. It was a very confronting topic, handled excellently.

After this visit, we could not face the Holocaust Museum, opting instead for a quiet sit down at the Nobel Museum café, where we observed the bustling of humanity and a delightful scene in which a younger woman was teaching an older how to ride the electric scooter. After several back & forth rides with both women on the scooter platform, the younger one got off and the older was shepherded to independent riding. After 30 mins they seemed pretty pleased with their success.  The watchers in the café spontaneously applauded, much to the delight of both riders.

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Wandering back to the tram stop took us right past a second-hand ‘vintage heaven’ shop (UFF) that T had located in this morning’s research. ‘I’m just after…’she announced and D sat patiently on the front step for a couple of hours as T explored. Success! Just the thing for a grandaughter’s upcoming birthday!

And as we waited for the tram, the crowd just quietly swirled past, as it had all day: on foot, on bicycle, on scooter, on moped, in prams, on shoulders, hand-in-hand……. For all our comments on ‘social isolation’ or aloofness there is also an overwhelming sense of security and safety.

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In a week’s time…

Day 41. Sunday 23 June. 

Bags packed and left for collection at midnight; out of the cabin by 8 AM. After breakfast T had a farewell chat with Elizabeth, who is staying on for the return trip, then wandered into the Admin area, there to chat with the Indonesian lady D had interacted with. A long talk ensued: both agreed that Norwegian (perhaps European?) people were very reserved, and it was difficult to easily engage, avoiding eye contact, rarely a ‘Good morning’ or an acknowledging smile, something that she had found hard to adjust to when she moved to Norway ( 9 years ago & held up her ring finger): she’d cried for a year. ‘I’m a hugger’, she said. ‘Me too’ said T. So they did. T later sent D in for a hug and he did too. And as we were checked off the ship, with an electronic ’goodbye’, D & T both got another hug from her, no doubt to the astonishment of the Norwegians/Europeans!

Jostle for position to get off the ship, jostle for position to get on the shuttle bus, jostle for position to self-check in, jostle for position to clear security – sit down and wait: was it really necessary to gain that extra position in line? Jostle for position to board, jostle for position to disembark, then wait for baggage to appear….aaargh! Grumpy old man again – yep – but we expect that it’s more a tourist characteristic, which does sometimes seem to bring out the worst in folk, rather than the local population who are invariably polite and accommodating.

Express train and tram to apartment was efficient and easy (we knew pretty much what to do after previous visit just a couple of weeks ago), check in was smooth: time for a beer.

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And that was pretty much our day. But, we did have a chat with a young Aussie chap getting into the lift at the apartment. He’d come to Oslo to study, decided it wasn’t for him (the study?) but hanging out here for the summer was a good plan and now he’s waiting on a working visa so that he can stay for 12 months. He’ll teach science, he said. T was a bit surprised that it was so easy, especially in Scandinavia. Yes, the winter is awful (3 months of dark depression) and the midnight sun is ‘overrated, but he needed ’a break from home’ and he’d had a terrific time walking in the high plateau from Oslo to Bergen, overnighting in huts. Now he’s couch-surfing till the visa comes good…they’ll always need science teachers in Svalbard (dark depression for 6 months, thought T). There’s probably a love interest somewhere in the story. He confirmed T’s comment on generally bland (to our taste) & limited range of Norwegian food (and was even more critical… in the food markets it’s poor quality ‘fresh’ and he was missing the ‘Asian flavours’). Sunday retail closure is odd but transport infrastructure is excellent…’ that’s what socialism delivers’ was his final comment before rushing away with a ‘sorry, have to go…’ departure.

This time next Sunday we’ll be in Canberra.

To the end of the earth

Day 40. Saturday 22 June. 

A birthday missed but not forgotten. Apparently the England cricket team didn’t deliver the right present either – or perhaps they scrambled through? Haven’t heard a result as yet.

Focus today is North Cape, a 40 minute bus ride from the wharf at Honningsvag. We will stop there for 3.5 hours and there are a number of other excursions available: bird watching, fishing villages, and a mountain hike.

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To be exact, North Cape is not quite the furthest north connected land point in Europe – the honour seemingly belongs to a headland a bit to the west, across a fjord from North Cape.

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The tour guide later explaining that the connecting tunnel to Mageroy island meant that both were considered to be mainland. We will have to follow up on that: ‘The Englishman who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain’ sort of story?

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The day looked dry and there was even sunshine (and so there should be for midsummer!), but we were taking no chances, so had some wet weather protection just in case. The guide was chatty and mostly clear enough but for a brief moment T thought she heard him referring to the crowds moving away, so we should expect a good time on the cape, despite there being several huge cruising ships docked. As we climbed higher, the view became more problematic, with the wind blasting and misty cloud racing low. Then T realised the pronunciation and the ‘crowd moving’ was ‘cloud moving’ and while it was certainly moving, it was increasing.

The wind chill factor was extreme: we were looking for that one person – there’s usually one – who was in a T-shirt, but today the closest was a young girl in a T-shirt and cardigan, dragging after her parents looking unimpressed, albeit quite fashionable. We did a mandatory and very quick tour around the outside features snapping some photos of the mist before scurrying inside to check out the indoor offerings that had been enthusiastically endorsed by our guide: the story of the sinking of the German Navy’s ‘Schaarnhorst’ in WW II, the ‘furtherest north’ Chapel, the Thailand King’s postal service and the film on the North Cape.

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The ‘Schaarnhorst’ display was simple but an effective telling of the story, including of course the significant Norwegian input. The chapel was small and basic – appropriate for its use. We didn’t get to the Thai story, but the film, featuring the midnight sun, the landscape, the Aurora Borealis, the landscape, the industry, the landscape….was terrific.

So on to the bus for the return trip. The guide spoke most of the way about the Sami people, and some of the issues that they face. We’d been aware there were some historic and current issues because we’d watched the SBS series ‘Midnight Sun’ but were unaware that they hadn’t been recognised officially until 1990. The guide’s parents were Sami, and he noted that until recently there was a sort of shame in belonging, so much so that his parents and grandparents tried to hide their background, refusing to speak Sami and advising him to do the same. It sounded a bit like having convict ancestors in Australia, or an aboriginal heritage, until very recently. He was, however, one of the protesters in the 1980s fighting for change and cultural recognition, while his father was at the same time arguing to let things be. It seems that the difference in opinion didn’t lead to a family feud.

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Back on board…….eventually.

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We took advantage of the bright afternoon to venture into the hot tub on Deck 6 and we did need to regularly stand to cool the torsos. The rest of the afternoon passed with sunshine, wind and the ship dropping off and picking up cargo & passengers. The countryside is beautiful but bleak. We were intrigued by the small communities we passed by wondering, amongst other thoughts, what their social life was like with such geographic isolation.

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The deliveries are quick, with a side-opening ramp and gangway and a forklift shifting back and forth (tyres, bags of cement, gas cylinders, pallets…). Kjollefjord is typical of the little ports along the way.

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The wind turbines are a mixed environmental (save the world) blessing as birds get caught in the blades and the mobile homes are also mixed blessing as they impact the environment as well as the economy.

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Into the evening and the water is a bit churny, as we are outside the protection of the islands. The crew point out another ‘church’ feature: two rock formations called ‘The Church’ and ‘The Chapel’. They apparently have special significance for ‘good luck’ for the fisher-people and the Sami. We were, unfortunately and usually, the last in the line to get a photograph, so missed out on the spectacular views that some others were able to get many shots of (yes, grumpy, irritated old man).

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We sit by a big window, D with a beer, T with her unknitting (having decided that the single strand recycled yarn is probably not strong enough, and that 2 strands would be much safer…so a week of knitting becomes balls of yarn once again).

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As we sat in the bistro area, D conducted another experiment, this time not involving beer. As people passed by he attempted to engage eye contact and then a nod and/or the Norwegian hello ‘hi’ (pronounced somewhere between ‘high’ and ‘hay’). Not sure how many wandered through, but he scored only one who maintained contact, smiled and replied ‘hi’, one who didn’t look away immediately and almost smiled, one who looked shocked, and everyone else whose gaze immediately slipped away, sometimes almost seeming embarrassed. D has discounted that it may just be him, but it is a possibility! It has been interesting that despite this reluctance to acknowledge, when people have been directly accosted they have been more than happy to engage and help.

We haven’t bought the full catering package, so tonight’s meal is the filled rolls from the breakfast buffet (with the Cassalero Diablo smuggled aboard) . We’re hardly starving! It’s been a slow boat ride to Kirkenes, with fabulous scenery and has provided a tiny insight into the culture of  this seafaring people. And meeting Elizabeth, the English widow of a tea grower (the one D escorted on Day 1 of this cruise), an elderly solo traveller from Kinloch in Scotland, was an extra treat. Elizabeth has a daughter who emigrated (a good move) to west of Mackay (Qld) some years ago and Elizabeth had stories to tell from her visits there. And today, she spoke of her son who skied from Bergen to Kirkenes (4 months in winter), then kayaked back and wrote a book of his adventure. Elizabeth is happy to be doing the route with Hurtigruten.