Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Viking Taxi

Aaron has spent a lot of time on Google Earth looking at mountains in Norway. One of the places he hoped we would go is the famous diving board rock lookout, but unfortunately it is inaccessible in the winter. We found that there is an alternative, man-made lookout above Aurland, close to our home-base in Flåm so we called a taxi to bring us up. Our taxi pulled up, predictably a Volvo, and I looked in to find a long-haired, beard-down-to-his-lap cab driver. Boy did he looked like a Viking! Shortly into the drive we discovered that he is in fact a Viking chieftain for the region. At the moment he is between Viking re-enactment jobs and is driving a taxi. Only in Norway do you get an out of work Viking driving you around in a taxi. As you might expect, it was awesome having a Viking taxi driver and also quite scary. I think that accurately describes Vikings in general, awesome and scary. He pointed out Viking burial mounds along the way. He showed us an amazing photo of himself in his Viking garb. He told us of his Viking plans to build a Viking village funded in part by Ted Turner whom he had spent a day rowing Viking ships. He gave us his Viking business card and then scared the pants off us driving at breakneck speeds up narrow, steep, icy winding roads. When we started up the mountain, the road narrowed to only one lane and the steep drop into the abyss was a little unnerving. Jason asked meekly, "um, where is the other lane for this road?" At which point we learned this was in fact both lanes and that Vikings don't need two full lanes up mountain roads. Though he did acknowledge that things got dicey in the summer with the tour busses. Further up the mountain, the road was blanketed with snow but the speed of the car remained unchanged. From the back seat I wondered if these were my last moments on earth, but then became distracted form my fear looking at the farms perched on these impossibly steep slopes. What in God's green earth are they farming up here? These people are ridiculously tough and their livestock must be in Olympic shape. In spite of my worries of sliding off the road our Viking driver never lost traction and delivered us safely to the overlook. The views were spectacular but with the icy wind and a cough-y kid, we didn't last long. On the way back to the village we had our Viking driver drop us off at a 16th century farm. He knew the owner and tried calling her to see if she was around to show us the place and make us waffles, but unfortunately she wasn't around. We explored on our own and then walked the mile and half along the fjord back to the village. After lunch we boarded the Sonjefjord Ferry at 3:00 for a trip through the narrowest fjord in the world to Gudvangen. We bundled in all of our clothes and watched gorgeous scenery pass by in the twilight. In Gudvangen we hopped on a bus and then a train which brought us to Bergen on the western shore of Norway.

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Monday, November 25, 2013


Isaac was an amazing trooper and we were able to stick with our original plan to hike while in Flåm. The cold Norwegian air invigorated his Viking blood and we walked through the valley filled with picturesque red and yellow farms. Through lightly falling snow we climbed steep slopes to a waterfall with gorgeous views over the valley. In the evening we went to the Ægir Brewery or as we like to call it, "The Viking Restaurant!" Built in the style of a small stave church, we opened huge wooden doors and were welcomed by a round fireplace surrounded by wooden benches covered in sheep skins. Hands down, this is the coolest restaurant we have ever been too. At the bar, our friendly Irish bartender helped us navigate the menu. I ordered a smoked reindeer salad, Jason got leg of lamb, and the boys got venison burgers. The adult Vikings washed the Viking fare down with Viking beers and the smallish Vikings drank apple ciders. Afterwards we relaxed around the crackling fire soaking in the earthly Valhalla (minus the endless fighting) before reluctantly leaving to get our sick kiddo to bed.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Train to Flåm

We got up dark and early the next morning, inhaled a quick breakfast and dashed off through the dark, with a sick Isaac, to catch our 8am train into the mountains. We watched how the countryside gradually changed from green pastoral fields to mountains, white and frozen. At Myrdal, we stepped out into the snow and boarded our next train to Flåm. The Flåm Railway was built in the late 1800's and is crazy, steep and curvy....one of the steepest railroads in the world. As Isaac snoozed in and out of a fever-y sleep, the rest of us enjoyed spectacular scenery as we descended down the mountains into Sonjefjord before disembarking in the tiny village of Flåm where we would spend the next two nights.

Click here for bad photos shot through the train window for a little glimpse of the Norwegian countryside.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Viking Ships

The following morning Jason woke me at 8am. I had floated in and out of sleep as screams and loud music had pulled me in and out of consciousness all night long. In my bleary brain, it couldn't possibly be time to wake up. I was absolutely positive that he had it wrong...it must be 4:00 in the morning. I made him re-check the time. To my dismay, it was in fact time to wake up and we all pulled our exhausted bodies out of bed. We were rewarded by a decadent spread of Norwegian breakfast foods...cocoa-sprinkled salmon, smoked mackerel, caramelized Norwegian brown cheese, pancakes, breads, fruits, nuts, smoothies and bottomless cups of tea and coffee. Many cups of tea later, with bellies full, we were ready to roll. We hopped on a bus headed for the Viking Ship Museum, home to three Viking ships recovered from burial mounds around Norway. Traditionally Vikings buried people of importance in huge mounds large enough to contain their ships and all of the things they'll need for the after life. The ships in the museum, and all of their belongings, were packed in clay which preserved them amazingly well. I have to say, this was one of the most amazing museums we have ever been to. Upon entering the hall we were greeted by the double-dragon-headed Oseburg ship dating from 834 AD. She is 65 feet long, 15 feet wide and her elegantly curved bow and stern were intricately carved with swirling dragon heads. With a relatively low free-board she was designed for coastal cruising as a pleasure craft. The next room contained the impressive, beefy, ocean-going Gokstad ship dating from 890 AD. The Vikings had made some dramatic improvements over the years, and measuring 76 feet long and 17 feet wide, this ship was fully seaworthy, ready to cross any ocean. Let the Viking age and pillaging begin! The next room held treasures found within the burial mounds...elaborately carved sleighs, wagons and beds, Viking tent posts, cooking utensils, etc. All weaponry and valuables had been looted long ago.

Next we visited the Folk Museum, home to over 150 historic buildings that have been transplanted from around Norway. We saw how Norwegians from all walks of life lived throughout history. We saw Oslo suburbs at the turn of the century, where children started smoking at age 5. We learned that Oslo did not have widespread indoor toilets until after 1952 and saw firsthand a double-decker outhouse, something I had never imagined existed. I would have always chosen the top floor. We saw log buildings from remote farmsteads that drove home how dark my ancestors existence must have been surrounded by dark wood with tiny windows in a place that hardly sees daylight for a large portion of the year. We saw a pagoda-like 1600's era stave church which was even darker inside than the tiny cabins. We saw a traditional Sami winter dwelling and learned more about the reindeer-herding people of the north. We saw how lefsa was traditionally prepared over a fire. We eagerly slathered our portion with butter and gobbled the warm goody down in the chilly air outside as the sun began to set at 3:30. After a quick rest in the hotel, we ate dinner at a quaint little cafe where Isaac ordered moose stew....a perfect ending to a chilly day.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013


After two weeks at home we learned that Jason needed to be in Atlanta in two weeks for a meeting and in Brussels the week of Thanksgiving for another meeting, so we decided to plan a trip to Scandinavia. We spent the next two hectic weeks planning and reminding people that, yes, we were aware that it was winter in Scandinavia. One of the decisions we made in planning this trip was that we would leave Pika behind for the very first time. We were all very sad about this but agreed it was probably in her and our best interest. Jason's mom valiantly stepped up to the plate to take on the job of taking care of our nervous, anti-social, bitey chihuahua. I'm pretty sure this secures her a spot for sainthood. So off we flew to Atlanta to visit the great-grandparents and for Jason's meeting, chihuahua-less. We spent a couple of days visiting with family and resting before our flight to Oslo.

We arrived in Oslo at 9:30am very jet-lagged and discombobulated. We had a series of follies as we worked our way from the airport to our hotel. We missed our first train by just seconds. We caught the next train, but when it came time to get off we gathered our stuff quickly and then stared dumbly at the door, waiting for it to open.  In a stroke of genius, I saw the open button and hit it, but it was too late. The door opened half-way, then closed and the train was in motion again. We managed to get off at the next stop and we all piled into an elevator with one other person. The doors wouldn't close so we all piled out thinking maybe it was over its weight limit. The doors closed abruptly and down it went. We had success with our second try. On the next train platform we had to buy a new set of train tickets to get us back to the stop we had just missed. Once we got off at our train station, dazed, we wandered back and forth, back and forth trying to find the street to our hotel. Once at the hotel, they informed us that according to their computer, we were supposed to have checked in the day before. Luckily, I had an email confirmation with the correct dates and they gave us a room. At this point we were starving and in serious need of caffeine so we stumbled into the hotel restaurant and dug into the sandwich and cake buffet. At this point we knew that Norway is expensive, but we did not have a good handle on the kroner to dollar exchange and ended up spending $250 on sandwiches. Oops. At least they were fancy sandwiches in a fancy restaurant. With full tummies and fully caffeinated, we hit the streets.

Jason navigated us to Akershus where we soaked in views of the Oslo harbor before taking an audio tour through the 1300's era castle. Afterwards, we circled back up the overlook at least three times, for reasons I do not think I will ever understand. The ultimate goal was to watch the early sunset over the water but I haven't a clue why we circled so many times...I suppose a byproduct of our jet-lagged state. At any rate, we had a lovely time watching as the sun sunk lower and lower in the sky until it disappeared behind the horizon at 3:40. At this point we wandered through the dark streets past a mixture of ultra-modern and traditional European buildings back to our hotel for a quick shower and rest before dinner at a Vietnamese-French restaurant. We all collapsed into bed at 8:00 where we fell asleep in spite of the loud music and screaming that emanated from below our window until 3am.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Coming full circle.....

After arriving back in Seattle, we spent a hectic weekend cleaning the boat and getting her ready for winter. All through our eight-week long journey the sausages and beer at München Haus in Leavenworth had been calling our names so we said good-bye to Marinero and drove across the Cascade Mountains to finish off our trip where we had started. After knocking off a quick hike in gorgeous fall colors, we went back to München Haus to satisfy our craving. Huddled in warm coats, we sat upstairs and watched the sun set over the mountains as we gobbled down our hearty German fare.

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Princess Cove to Port Townsend

The following day we went for a lovely hike on Wallace Island where we came upon an old cabin that had been completely covered with wooden signs that boaters had made and left behind as proof that they had been there. We spent some time checking out the artwork and made plans to make our own for our next visit. When we got back to the boat we set out for Bedwell Harbor, our final stop in Canada before heading back into the U.S. Here another downpour set in and the following day Jason had a hard time coaxing us out of the boat to keep him company as we motored back into the U.S. We did, however, have an unexpected visitor just after we crossed the border. We watched as a Coast Guard boat raced towards us at an astonishing speed. They flagged us down, asked us a series of questions, decided not to board our boat and let us continue on our way. We checked back into the U.S. at Friday Harbor where we ate a yummy dinner before anchoring in Griffin Bay as the sun set. The next morning we set out early through Cattle Pass where we saw stellar sea lions and porpoises out hunting for breakfast. We arrived in Port Townsend just before lunch allowing us time to relax and eat good food for the rest of the day. Our final day on the water was gorgeous. We had all forgotten how beautiful Puget Sound is, flanked by the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, and with Mount Rainer looming in the distance. We're lucky to have such an amazing home port.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I pity the fools.....

When I look out at the ocean on windy, wavy, rough days and see a sailboat, I think to myself, "I pity the fool out on a day like today." On this day....we were the fools. The day after the storm we were worried that it may be too rough to head out into the Strait of Georgia, but we were eager to get home before another storm hit. When we checked the Coast Guard info, the waves were reported at only two feet and the wind was only fifteen knots. Not so bad, we thought. So we let our eagerness get the upper hand of reason, and after pushing two 60-70 foot logs away from the boat, we headed out thinking we could turn around if was too rough. Things got rough immediately after we left Snug Cove with waves hitting us erratically from all sides, including large swells, ferry wakes and reflections off the surrounding cliffs. We figured it must be at its worse because we were in the convergence zone of the Strait of Georgia, Howe Sound and the Frasier River and maybe things would calm down once we got fully into the strait. One choppy, uncomfortable-kinda-green hour later things were not better, just different. Now we had six to eight foot, steep, white-capped and breaking waves pounding us from the south at three second intervals and we had to make a decision...keep going or turn back? Neither felt like good options. I was in despair. Oh how I wished we had never left. What kind of morons head out to cross the Strait of Georgia the day after a major storm that shut down the beefy BC ferry system? We plowed forward as we weighed enduring the ugliness we had just gone through again or braving the horrendous waves ahead. Sailboats are designed to be under sail...it smoothes out their motion when you lengthen the waterline and stop the rolling so Jason suggested we raise the mainsail in hopes of calming the motion down. I whole-heatedly disagreed because there was no way that I was going to allow Jason out of the cockpit onto the heaving decks. We agreed to raise only the jib since that can be done from the cockpit. Jason turned into the wind and the boat bucked wildly as the waves slammed into us. When Jason raised the jib the boat gave a horrendously violent lurch as the sail filled and the motor pulled us forward at the same time into the trough of a huge wave. Seawater crashed over our bucking boat and hit Jason full in the chest and face. He sputtered as he regained his footing (thank you, Grandpa, for the harnesses) and shook the shock from his face. I lost it at this point and shrieked, "This is completely unacceptable!" At this point, I was shaking, white and terror-stricken. Jason set our coarse and beat into the twenty knots of wind, staying on his knees through tacks to stay stable. Things were extremely uncomfortable and we were all green so Jason checked the charts and tidal current predictions and chose a different destination that would decrease our angle to the wind and the waves in hopes that it would help. It worked. Things were not at all comfortable now but at least the boat was surfing down the waves instead of hitting them straight on. Our decision was made...we would proceed forward. My coping mechanism was to shake and stare straight ahead, catatonic, while Jason adopted the strategy of not looking off the high side of the boat, where watching the spray and immense white-cap waves on the march towards us struck fear into his heart. The kids doused their fear with a dose of game boy to distract them from the violent lurching of poor Marinero. Poor Pika just shook violently down on our bed. After a few hours things calmed down a bit as we entered Gabriola Pass. As luck would have it we arrived right at slack water, where we were able to sneak through and duck into the safety of the Gulf Islands. We all breathed a sigh of relief as conditions dramatically improved. We all marveled at how these improved conditions of three foot whitecaps and twenty knot winds would have made us nervous in the past, but after what we just went through, it was a cakewalk. We enjoyed a leisurely sail down to Princess Cove on Wallace Island and the sunshine even tried to break through. When I tried to drop the anchor (notice I said "tried?") it wouldn't drop because the violent action of the morning's proceedings had tossed our thousand pounds of chain around so much that it was all jumbled with the lower portions riding on top of the upper portions. I held our position at helm in the narrow cove while Jason heaved the chain out inch by inch. We've had rough days before but this was by far the most violent and scary day on the water so far. I sincerely hope we never repeat it. Maybe days like this are why sailors are so partial to rum?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Smugglers Cove to Snug Harbor

It's good to properly plan out times and distances when picking a departure time on a sailboat, especially when a storm is looming in the forecast...and normally we do properly plan this, but this time...well.....maybe not-so-much. At this point we were feeling maybe a little exhausted and maybe a little tired of the rain (which had started back up) so we were a bit lazy and complacent about getting out since we thought our destination was only three hours away. We raised our anchor around 1:00 and set sail in the Strait of Georgia towards Snug Cove on Bowen Island. We beat into the south wind only making about six knots. Progress was slow and we began to fret about our arrival time. When Jason studied the charts closer he discovered that, at eight knots, we would arrive at our destination in five hours which put us in after dark. At this point it became painfully clear that we would not reach our destination if we continued under sail (and we definitely needed to make it to Bowen Island to take refuge from the storm that was due to hit the following day) so we reluctantly turned on the motor and tucked away the sails. After a long day on the water, we watched the sun set as we motored towards Snug Cove just across Howe Sound from the city of Vancouver. By the time we reached our cove, it was pitch black. Following our GPS we inched our way through the dark into the tiny cove. As we entered the harbor we put Isaac on the bow with a big flashlight to help light the way and navigate us to our spot on the dock. We successfully landed without incident and tied up. Though nerve-wracking, it was utterly magical coming in to this aptly named "snug" cove at night. Low-lying clouds shrouded the mountains that marched up from the water and lights from houses on the hillside twinkled through the blanket of fog.

With most of its land set aside as park, Bowen Island is a haven across the water from Vancouver. Our original plan was to spend time hiking the trails that cross the island but, with an overexposure to sogginess in the recent past, the the sirens of the warm coffee shop emerged triumphant and we spent the day snuggled in warm places trying to stay dry. The following day we felt compelled to take a ferry across the sound to Vancouver to explore the city though none of us were too enthusiastic given the wind and the rain. What we really wanted to do was stay in the boat and play Isaac's new board game with mugs of hot cocoa. But....since we were there...we reluctantly left the warmth of the boat to board the ferry. As the ferry pulled away from the terminal we watched Marinero with the chihuahua nestled inside grow smaller and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. The wind howled, waves crashed and the boys' coats flapped violently as we crossed the water. When we got to the other side we boarded a bus and 45 minutes later were deposited in downtown Vancouver. Our goal was to eat at a yummy Chinese food restaurant and then hit a museum. We walked a half mile through pouring rain and sat down to eat, soaked to our skin. We noticed the conversations around us centered around the storm and overheard one man say that the ferries may stop running. Upon further investigation we found out that, indeed, the ferries were poised to close in the afternoon as the storm ramped up. Doh! We were a ferry ride away from the boat and our chihuahua! We finished lunch as quickly as possible as tears ran down the boys' face from the onion-chopping action in the kitchen and hustled to the nearest bus stop. We arrived to the ferry ticket office in time to get back to Bowen and as I was line-hopping for the best position, I turned around to see Jason with a news camera in his face. I watched as he told the newscaster that we needed to make it back to our boat on Bowen Island to rescue our chihuahua. A super-hero, with a super-story indeed! Luckily we were not stranded, made it back safely to Pika and now have a story about the most-expensive, most-difficult lunch ever. As we ate dinner at a restaurant that evening the wind and rain lashed the winds and the walls shook. On the walk back to marina I watched as a wooden shed was lifted by the wind and thrown over a fence. The slippery docks lurched and rocked under our feet but Marinero kept us safe as the wind howled at thirty knots in our snug little cove. Out in the Strait of Georgia, just a short distance away, the winds were raging at seventy knots. Thank goodness we were not out in that.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Squirrel Cove to Smugglers Cove

With another big storm looming in the forecast we decided to hightail it south. First we knocked off a quick hike among the old-growth trees in Squirrel Cove before setting sail. We welcomed the much-missed sunshine with open arms and basked in its glorious warmth as we lazily sailed to the little Swedish village of Lund where we tied up to a dock for the night and visited Nancy's famous bakery. The following day we enjoyed another day of sunshine before we tucked into the teensy-tiny Smugglers Cove named for its history of hiding sailors with illegal cargo such as alcohol or Chinese workers. It's uber-narrow entry makes it almost impossible to see from a distance and nerve-wracking to enter. After the anchor was dropped and our stern was tied to shore, Isaac dropped our crab pot in hopes of crab dinner. After being skunked so many times, he pulled it out after dinner to find a dungeoness crab of appropriate size. Jason excitedly boiled a pot of water and cooked him. I cried. But everyone agreed he was delicious.

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