Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Scottish Isles & Norwegian Fjords: June 5

June 5: Copenhagen (briefly), Amsterdam, Boston
We had to have our bags ready outside our room no later than 6:30am, so I got up early for some final packing and a brief Pilates & yoga workout in the cabin before going to our final onboard breakfast.

Mom and I had managed to sort out all of our Euro cash the day before so that we could distribute appropriate gratuities to several of the staff who had been particularly attentive: Husni, our cabin steward; Yana, the maître d’ in La Boussole; Avish, a waiter in La Boussole who called us “Jodi and Mum;” Ghyslain, the maître d’ in La Licorne; and Raphael, the sommelier who had led the wine-tasting. We also left a lump sum of gratuities to be equally divided among the entire 140-person crew, as that is the standard process onboard (reminds me of how tips were shared when I was a barista at Starbucks many years ago).

Since Le Boréal is a small ship, we could dock right near downtown Copenhagen, which was a lovely area and near the site of the famous mermaid statue, which was quite a bit smaller than we had expected.

We reclaimed our passports at the Reception Desk and disembarked at 8am.

All of our bags were waiting out on the pier, so we confirmed our luggage and then climbed aboard the coach to the airport. We had a brief but lovely tour of downtown Copenhagen, and this is now definitely a place to put higher on the priority list for a visit with Mr. E.

The Copenhagen airport contained some surprising sites, including a big blue Lego elephant and a sports bar with an affinity for Boston teams!

Our flights back to the U.S. were on time and uneventful. Mom had requested wheelchair assistance for the entire trip, which meant that we were on the express path through most of the journey, especially when dealing with customs and immigration. The Amsterdam airport has a particularly well-organized fleet of little 6-passenger jitneys to take folks around the enormous facility, and we were very impressed with how efficient the process was – much better than here in the States with Delta.

All in all, it was a great trip, although I’m still feeling some of the effects of being in constant motion, as even on dry land it seems as though we’re still rocking a bit!

Scottish Isles & Norwegian Fjords: June 4

June 4: Sailing the North Sea to Copenhagen
Another sunny morning greeted us as we continued sailing through the North Sea, most of the time with very little to see out the window except the smooth ocean waters: 
Today was our day at sea, and we started with a presentation on medieval literature by Charlie McQuarrie, our Smithsonian Study Leader. Both Mom and I decided to skip the next lecture in favor of a short snooze in our cabin, and we then attended the pre-lunch lecture on the “Geopark Concept” by Markes Johnson of Williams College. Lunch was in La Licorne on Deck 2, where we managed to snag a table for ourselves towards the back and could just relax and watch the water flowing outside rather than trying to make conversation with other folks.

After lunch, Mom started packing and I started snoozing again – I think the motion sickness medicine I took a few times had a noticeable drowsy effect on me! We then headed up to the Observation Lounge on Deck 6 so that I could use up my Internet minutes, and I had a bit more success with the connection dependency and speed this time, probably because we were closer to land since we were traveling through the sound between Denmark and Sweden.

In the late afternoon, we headed to the Main Lounge on Deck 3 for “Musical Tea Time” (tea, coffee, and snacks accompanied by the ship’s pianist) and then attended the final lecture of the day and the tour, presented by John Meffert of the National Trust on the topic of Viking emigration. Apparently, this gentleman is renowned and has quite a cult following for his study tours, but I was not a big fan of his presentation style and certainly would not want to be in one of his groups!

I had enough time to hit the treadmill for 30 minutes while Mom got ready for the evening, and we attended the Captain’s Farewell Reception in the Theatre on Deck 4 before joining the rest of the Smithsonian group for a gala dinner (i.e. set 5-course menu) in La Licorne. The vegetarian menu was quite lovely, but I don’t think Mom was quite as much of a fan of her animal menu, as it was very rich and a bit too heavy.

Back in the cabin, we finished up our packing and went to sleep. Smooth seas all night!


Scottish Isles & Norwegian Fjords: June 2-3

June 2: Shetland
We arrived this morning in Lerwick, Shetland, and the boat stayed “alongside” (at dock) all day until the afternoon.

I saw some of the usual regulars in the Fitness Center this morning before Mom and I had breakfast and headed off for our morning excursion.

At this pier, we were able to disembark via gangplank again rather than tender ashore, which made the leave-taking process a bit easier. Our guide for the day was Pat, a native Shetlander who had left the Islands only to complete her post-secondary education and then returned to Shetland as a teacher. We began the day with a brief tour around Lerwick, the capital of Shetland. I recently finished reading Raven Black by Jane Cleeves, which is set in Shetland, and Pat pointed out a cluster of people near one of the building in central Lerwick who turned out to be part of the crew filming a movie or series based on this author’s works.

Our scenic drive to the southern site of Jarlshof provided some lovely views of the Shetland landscape and local animal inhabitants, including seals lolling about on the beach:

Jarlshof is another archeological site, right on the coast, that includes remains of buildings from several different time periods. Unlike at Skara Brae, we were able to walk in and among the structures at Jarlshof to get a closer look:

One particular corner apparently helped to shelter a local aviary resident:

The field next to Jarlshof contained some of the indigenous Shetland ponies, including several young foals:

Being here in the spring means that we’ve seen the early flowers in bloom throughout our tours along with lots and lots of young animal offspring of sheep, horses, and cows. I think I’m getting obsessed with the adorable baby lambs, even with they don’t present their best view to spectators!

When we returned to the ship, I took advantage of our being alongside for several hours to go for a 30-minute run around Lerwick before joining Mom for lunch. I then still had about an hour to spend walking around the nearby shops, and I got a great photo of our ship at dock, including a close-up of our cabin window (middle window in the bottom image):

At the same pier was docked a very distinctive black and white ship, which turned out to be a floating hotel, aka floatel, that typically serves as housing for workers associated with the various energy companies on Shetland.

Once I got back to the ship, I went to the second of three lectures. This was about the Wilson Cycle of the Proto-Atlantic Ocean (e.g. the shifting configuration of the oceans and continents) by Markes Johnson of Williams College. Mom had attended the first lecture on climate change by Caroline Karp of Brown University while I was out exploring and shopping, but she opted to nap afterwards. We both then went to the third and final lecture of the day, which was about the Northern Lights and their significance, presented by Mark Moldwin of the University of Michigan, whom we had actually met the very first day at the Glasgow Airport when we were waiting in the Arrivals Hall for our group transfer.

At this point in the day, the ship had left Lerwick and entered the North Sea for the open water crossing to Norway, and I was basically completely out of it from about 6:15pm at the end of the lecture until 6:15am the next morning once we were safely cruising smoother waters. Major seasickness for me the entire time, and I could barely left my head off the pillow while we made that passage. Luckily, Mom wasn’t similarly affected, so she was still able to move about despite the rolling waves – very carefully, however, given the unsteadiness of the ship! She was very solicitous in trying to take care of me, but the only true cure for such a condition is to wait it out until the water is calmer, which didn’t happen until the next morning when we got closer to Norway and entered the fjords.

Despite the unhappy ending, this was my favorite portion of the trip so far. There was just something that I really loved about Shetland, at least the parts that we got to see. I’m sure the gorgeous weather was part of the appeal, along with all of the baby animals and lovely scenery along the way.

June 3: Bergen, Norway
I woke up feeling much better and eked out some time on the treadmill, enjoying the scenic views as we navigated into the Norwegian fjords on the way to docking at Bergen.

Once again, we used the gangplank to leave the ship, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative as it had been, and our guide indicated that even the natives were starting to get fed up with the unusually cold and wet weather that had been lingering in May and now June.

We had a short tour through the downtown and historic area of Bergen and made a stop to visit the Stavekirk, a church made through stave construction that includes interlocking planks to form the walls with no nails necessary:

Interestingly, even though this was a Christian church, the ornamentation includes some rather pagan figured and sculptures, such as the dragons featured above. Our guide explained that this was likely a way of "hedging your bets" as folks started to adopt Christianity but didn't complete give up their previous beliefs and objects of worship.

Our main destination for the morning was Troldhaugen, home of famous composer Edvard Grieg and his wife, Nina. Our guide took us on a short informational tour through the house, and we also had a chance to listen to some of his music in the Visitor’s Center. Mom and I stayed in the warm café for coffee, and she told me about her long-time affinity for Grieg’s music, particularly his dances and operas, which started back when she was 13 and her sister took her to the old Opera House in Boston for a performance of Grieg’s “The Song of Norway.” This outing left a lasting impression on her, especially the music, and she later bought sheet music for some of his works and learned to play them on the piano. For Mom, this shore excursion was certainly one of the highlights of the trip, and she purchased a CD and a few mother mementos at the gift store to take home.

Once we were back in Bergen, our guide led a short walking tour in Bryggen, the restored port section near the old Fishmarket.

 Mom and I opted to do a bit of souvenir shopping instead, since it was still quite rainy and chilly and the cobblestone streets were a bit tricky to navigate. We then joined the group back on the bus to return to the ship for lunch, where I had a very unpleasant garlic incident and had to hurriedly leave La Boussole on Deck 6. Mom and one of the staff followed me back to the cabin, where we had a rather impromptu lunch.

At that point, it looked as though the rain had stopped, so I decided to bundle up and brave the cold temperatures to take a 30-minute run through downtown Bergen while Mom relaxed back in the cabin. I had just enough time afterwards to shower and change and return to the touristy area for a bit more shopping, and Mom took care of our VAT refund through the service offered onboard in the afternoon.

The ship was due to depart at 5pm, which was also the time for a wine-tasting gathering for which I had registered. In the meantime, Mom and I headed to the Main Lounge on Deck 3 for some coffee and snacks, and Mom got to watch the boat leave port during the time that I was in La Licorne with about 20 other passengers to experience the dégustation led by the ship’s wine steward, Raphael. Mom also attended the evening lecture on Vikings by John Meffert, the National Trust study leader, which she really enjoyed.

My wine event started with a blind tasting of two Sauvignons. One was a Sancerre Blanc “Les Caillottes” by Pascal Jolivet, and the other was Frontera “Concha y Toro” from Chile. Not surprisingly, I preferred the latter (Mr. E and I have often found that I prefer wines from the New World whereas he has the more classical Old World palate and enjoys the French offerings instead). Our third white was a Premier Cru “Fourchaumes” from Domaine Laroche in Chablis. We then had two reds, “Les Fées brunes” by J.L. Colombo of Crozes Hermitage (100% Syrah), and “Clos Bernarde” by Famille Meulnart from Cotes de Provence (blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre). According to Raphael, the latter included some grapes from the Bandol region, which Mr. E and I visited during our wine tour adventure with Pat when we spent Thanksgiving week in Provence several years ago. The tasting concluded with a rose (Cinsault) “Les Conviviales” by Château Mas Neuf from Languedoc Rousillon.

The wines were accompanied by some small bites, specially prepared by the chef in consultation with the wine stewards. When I arrived and saw the platters, I of course asked about the contents, starting to explain about my food allergies. The gentleman greeting and seating folks immediately mentioned garlic and then referenced the lunch incident from earlier in the afternoon, so apparently I’m now a somewhat infamous passenger, at least among the restaurant staff!

After the wine-tasting, I met up with Mom again for dinner in La Boussole, where we enjoyed a lovely conversation with two other Smithsonian folks whom we had not really met before. We then turned in for the evening, hoping that the whole night and next day entirely at sea would be relatively calm and tolerable.