Thanksgiving in Tigard

A little late posting, but better late than never. Was just having too much fun since Thanksgiving apparently and had no time to post.


This year, I decided to forgo the “usual” Thanksgiving dinner with the usual suspects in Portland (family/family friends and their kids, now mostly “adults” in their 20s… time flies!). Also, I can’t really eat the typical thanksgiving foods anyways, due to my body’s hostile response to certain organic molecules.

The decision took its course based on the challenge from a close friend’s parents: why don’t you make us a dinner that you can eat in its entirety and that is delicious and we can’t tell it’s xyz-free. To be specific: no egg, no dairy, and no gluten. Challenge accepted…

Not to be a complete spoiler, but I even surprised myself in how good everything turned out, of course not without help of my minions…C,D, and G. (names not published for anonymity)

The first step was to brainstorm dishes. I wanted to include seasonal vegetables, like mushroom and pumpkin/squash. Apparently they have good vitamins and minerals we need with the cold-sunless season coming up, among other reasons. Here’s the final list:

Drink:
Mulled Wine

Appetizer:
Curried pumpkin Soup
Mixed Pumpkin Seed and Currant Salad

Main Course:
Mashed potato-carrot
Vegetable Medley
Turkey with Cranberry-orange sauce

Dessert:
Mini Cheesecakes
Chocolate Mousse

The day before Thanksgiving, I had to figure out what order all these things should be made in. It was almost like a programming problem. Here are all the things to consider:

  1. Time to make dish
  2. How much time after making it would it have to either
    1. Sit before it was good (for something like cheesecake to solidify)
    2. Be eaten before it would cool down and be no longer good to eat unless reheated
  3. What kitchenware was needed, or appliances that were shared, so the dishes couldn’t be worked on simultaneously.
    1. In some cases at all (where it was on the stove and there’s no more space, or there was only one large enough pan, etc.)
    2. other cases only for part of the preparation (i.e. need of food processor for one of the steps of dish).
  4. Who was making the dish (even I can’t be making 4 dishes at once, at least it would be difficult…)

Considering all the above, here is how the list played out, with some overlaps with multiple people helping out.

  1. Turkey
  2. Mini Cheesecakes
  3. Cranberry – Orange Sauce
  4. Soup / Salad
  5. Mashed potato – carrot
  6. Mulled Wine
  7. Vegetable Medley
  8. Chocolate Mousse
  9. Mulled Wine

(Yes I’m an engineer for those of you wondering…and yes, I was very serious about this. All or Nothing. Just to make it more difficult, I biked from Portland to Tigard, carrying part of the food I was going to use. Not crazy at all. Nope. The glass bottle of maple syrup survived my fall on the icy road, not to worry. )

Here are all the pictures from the process:

Cheesecake Crust made of ground dates and hazelnuts in muffin tin
Cheesecake Crust made of ground dates and hazelnuts

Cheesecake no-cheese filling made from cashews, coconut milk, agave, and lemon juice
Cheesecake no-cheese filling made from cashews, coconut milk, agave, and lemon juice

Mini cheesecakes filled with cashew filling and spiced with a variety of flavors: strawberry, banana-rum, raspberries, and moreMini cheesecakes filled with cashew filling and spiced with a variety of flavors: strawberry, banana-rum, raspberries, and more

Homemade vodka tonic with some festive cranberry mixer to improve the mood while toiling in the kitchen
Homemade vodka tonic with some homemade cranberry mixer to improve the mood while toiling in the kitchen

Caramelizing onions as first step to sautéed veggie dish
Caramelizing onions as first step to sautéed veggie dish

Chopping Green beans for the veggie sautéChopping green beans for the veggie sauté

Finishing touches on the green bean-mushroom-onion sauté, simmering on lowFinishing touches on the green bean-mushroom-onion-asparagus sauté, simmering on low flame

Mashed potatoes and carrots with coconut oil and spices. A south french twist to regular mashed potatoes Mashed potatoes and carrots with coconut oil and spices. A south french twist to regular mashed potatoes

Leafy green salad with tomatoes and pumpkin seeds
Leafy green salad with tomatoes and pumpkin seeds and walnuts

Mixing mashed pumpkin and curry-coconut soupMixing mashed pumpkin and curry-coconut soup

Soup ready to eat, garnished with roasted pumpkin seedsSoup ready to eat, garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds

Boiling Cranberries for an unsweetened sauce experienceBoiling cranberries for an unsweetened sauce experience

Food processing boiled cranberries with a fresh orange including the peel. Adds a bitter taste to the soft sour cranberries
Food processing boiled cranberries with a fresh orange including the peel. Adds a bitter taste to the soft sour cranberries

This turkey was incubating in the oven at around 170F since the day before. We had to increase the temp towards the end to kill any remaining bacteriaThis turkey was incubating in the oven at around 170F since the day before. We had to increase the temp towards the end to make the outside perfectly crisp

Finely Chopped bakers chocolate from Trader Joe's to be melted for second dessertFinely chopped bakers chocolate from Trader Joe’s to be melted for second dessert

Accidental art with chocolate. It is ready to be mixed with tofu and coconut milk for the vegan mousseAccidental art with chocolate. It is ready to be mixed with tofu and coconut milk for the vegan mousse

Mousse almost ready: just need to press go!
Mousse almost ready: just need to press go!

Chocolate Mousse garnished and ready to be devoured. There's a separate stomach for dessert, right?Chocolate mousse garnished and ready to be devoured. There’s a separate stomach for dessert, right?

All ready to eat, five hours later. yumm :)All ready to eat, five hours later. yumm 🙂

The table is set, freshly cut linen courtesy of C. All about presentationThe table is set, freshly cut linen courtesy of C. All about presentation.

Mt. St. Helens – the Edible version

This was a journey requiring 1 hour of shopping, 6 hours of mixing and baking, and 1.5-2 hours of decorating. The idea came out of a weekend getaway in the enchantments. On the drive home, a two hour discussion then turned into reality: a cake in the shape of the famous Mt. St. Helens. It even included spirit lake, the logs, and certain contours around the area. Besides that, all the ingredients except for the tan-sand colored frosting was home-made. The base material was made of a sponge cake, the same as what the Hungarian Dobos Torte is made of. Here is the time-lapse in pictures:

First rough cake-looking part. This will be the main mountain.

Image of one of the thin layers. Kind of falling apart but it will be used!

The frosting I made – It is a mixture of coconut oil and semi-sweet chocolate chunks from trader joes

Spirit lake being created…

Cutting out contours for the glaciers

Bird’s eye view of the contoured mountain. Looks like a mess without frosting and cover up.

Closer image of contours

Frosting starting to be applied

Almost finished, only the vegetation missing now.

Finished! (not the best quality…) this is when we presented it to the birthday boy. Maybe next time I’ll put an explosive in the crater or some dry ice or something.

The birthday boy was really happy for the cake. real man hug 😉

Reykjavik

Monday. My second to last day in Europe. I stayed at a hostel that night, woke up sort of late, then took some time to find an indoor bouldering place which ended up being closed till that evening. Then I decided to hit up one of their many thermal pools. The one I chose seemed to be pretty sans-tourist for which I was glad. I followed the ritual of dipping in the most scalding hot pool, then jumping into the most ice cold one, and back and forth until my skin felt like a tough smooth rubber. Then I found their steam room, and repeated the process for around one hour. Leaving the pool I felt immeasurably refreshed, but also kind of lazy.

Walking around, I found a bus that took me back to the hostel to grab my climbing stuff. At the Bouldering gym, I found some interesting people, one of whom was a Polish girl who had been living in Iceland since January, and loves it. I asked her why, and she said – because it is sunny in the summer all the time. And in the winter I asked? She said the dark is worth it for the eternal sun, and the contrast is amazing actually. They had the weirdest rating system, which was sort of like the V system in the USA, but it was more about the setter than the rating – almost like following the books of a certain author, you get used to a certain style of routes and know better what they are.

Also, not sure what was up with the huge pile of mattresses in the corner of the gym.

That evening I met up with yet another guy from couchsurfing.com. He and I had been chatting over the network, and I had called him a couple times. That night we finally met at one of the main bus stops. Instantly, we clicked. He had the most interesting eyes, the kind where you can sort of look into the soul and feel that there’s something real good in there. He was in his last year of studies to be an educator for disabled children, but taking the summers in Iceland to work as a glacier tour guide. He had been trekking around the island for the past two weeks as a vacation from his job using hitch hiking as his main way of transport. He was probably down to his last fifty Euros as I sensed while helping him around a Bonus (a grocery store chain). Then I invited him to come to a tour with me at 8pm – the “haunted tour” of Reykjavik. Only after I had told him the story of myself as a poor student in France and how people had helped me out monetarily, did he agree that I pay the price for him. In this case, it definitely felt great to give something rather than receive.
So we dropped his stuff off in my room and then went for some dinner, just in time to run over to the start of the tour. Except that I had marked the wrong place on the map. By the time we found the start point, the tour had already started, and no one knew which way they went.
We had worked so well together so far that I thought it would be fun to go hunt the tour down and take part in whatever was left of it. So we looked for clues: the website had three locations identified by words and two pictures. One of an “elf stone” (we found it),:

the other of the “oldest cemetery in Iceland”, and a third about the Parliament Park. We wandered around for about half an hour, finding the first two of the three things, until we stumbled upon a tour-looking group. Bingo! Found them! It was a really cool feeling, the two of us cracking jokes about our successful search and then about stuff the tour guide was saying. All in all, it was a good tour, but I did sort of freeze my butt off by the end of it. The day was coming to an end, so after grabbing a warm drink, my new friend and I walked along the bay as the sun was setting around 10pm, ending up at a statue of a Viking boat.

Eventually I had to stay goodbye as he boarded his bus that night, but I did so with a heavy heart. He was one of the best people I met on such random and spontaneous notice during my trip. In the end, I now do have a friend in Krakow, Poland where I know I’ll be welcome 🙂

Poor Man’s Land

Aka: Lanmannalaugar. The Icelandic language looks impossible, but it is actually quite simple, they are just lazy to put spaces, so the language stuck that way. Some words I found common to Norwegian, for example “Takk” is thank you in both languages.
Poor Man’s Land was our final destination for the short weekend trip. The Icelandic native Ka (Name altered for anonymity), two other girls he had picked from Couchsurfing, and I arrived here Saturday evening. Along the way, we had taken a detour to a waterfall and a natural steam vent that smelled like eggs.


Every turn we took, I was seriously thinking, this is like an entirely different planet!
If I were to rename this place in the Highlands of South Iceland, I would name it “the meeting of colors”. Taking a 360 turn, looking out at the barren land and hills from the base of the cabin and camping area, it was like god had taken a modern art painting course and just splattered rock, ash, mud, sand of all brilliant colors in all directions.

After settling in the cabin, I went for a midnight hike in the eternal twilight, meeting a corralled group of Icelandic horses along the way, then switchbacked my way up a green ridge the color of my army green pants.

Once I got back down, I woke Ka up and went over to the natural hot springs just a hundred meters from the cabin. There, we joined other bathers some of which were from Switzerland, France, and Russia. I got to speak some more French, and swim around in the steaming waters that mixed with cold. Interestingly, the top layer was usually hot, and bottom strikingly cold in comparison. In order to keep comfortable, I had to constantly keep moving the water around me as to mix the two.

Around 2am, I retired back to the cabin to find my thin sliver of spot between two random men who were snoring. I’m really glad I brought earplugs!
By the time I woke up the next morning, the sun was high in the sky. The two girls and Ka were still asleep, so I just sneaked downstairs and outside. I couldn’t resist exploring some more, so I headed up the lava field just behind the cabin.

Hopping around on the rocks and moss, I ran into some snowfields, one of which exposed a larger ice cave. Against my “better” judgment, I went inside knowing full well it could easily collapse if someone decided to walk over it. The inside was jaw dropping, water dropping from the top, the snow/ice filtered through this deep turquoise light from the outside world. Taking a couple of pictures, I emerged back out, then went down to meet the rest of my group for breakfast.

After taking a four hour hike around during which we went a different way than originally Ka had intended (I knew it the whole time, but wanted to take the harder way so I kept my mouth shut), we jumped back in the car, forged the river and drove all the way back to Reykjavik, but not without finding a herd of horses galloping across the road

then stopping at another waterfall near Voss. By this time, Ka was pretty tired so he asked me to drive back the remaining two hours. I felt honored that he trusted me with the car and their lives; in the end they all said I was a good driver and was actually surprised that I could drive stick as well as I did, given that I’m American and all. Well, backing into his narrow driveway was probably the hardest part, but I did manage to pull it off.

Couchsurfing the Icelandic Way

At the Tegel airport in Berlin, I was messaging this man who had contacted me through Couchsurfing.com. He said he was going on a trip to south Iceland from Reykjavik and didn’t want to go alone. I was kind of skeptical and a little bit worried because he had no references yet on the website, and so I had no idea where this would go… but I took my chances. And I’m glad I did 🙂
There were a lot of questions in my mind – what if he flakes (he said he would pick me up from the airport), what if he ends up being a freak or sex offender… However, this was an opportunity to go visit a part of Iceland I would not see otherwise, as he was a local and would know places to go that the tour buses wouldn’t. That is exactly what I was looking for.

Ich bin ein Berliner

That is apparently what JFK said back in the day to sympathize with the people of Berlin. This city is German in so much that the buses and trains run on time. Exactly on time. But everything else seems to be a mix of all of Europe all in one city. It is a mixture of everything, everyone, everywhere. From walking around, it didn’t seem to be anything like other metropolitan cities such as London or New York for example. The biggest difference I saw was that it was completely integrated as opposed to segregated. Perhaps this is due to the peoples’ wish to be the opposite of what was during the draw of the iron curtain and the Berlin wall. Since then, although still very conscious of the fact, the city has transformed itself to a vibrant, busy, and youthful city. To one who comes from a city of 200k, this city of ~2 million was overwhelming, and something I only started to get used to when it was time to leave. While here for three days, I:
– Learned no German, because everyone speaks English; I even got tired of asking “Sprechen sie English;” it was purely out of formality.
– Tried the Curry Bratwurst Sausage before I even realized it was a “thing,” but it did hit the spot. It was my first meal in Berlin, that with fries. Healthy as f*ck.
– Satiated my need to climb going to a bouldering club, meeting a couple of people in the outside bouldering arena. Their rating system is in colors, which was the first one I saw of its kind like that. What if someone is colorblind?
– Stayed at a hostel where the first two nights, my roommates where 5 girls from Buenos Aires. I definitely got my dose of super short shorts, thongs hanging to dry in the windowsill, and really fast Spanish! They were super nice though, definitely the “peach personality” (Google peach vs coconut cultures). The second day, they even invited me to go with them on some tours.
– Sauntered around on the largest abandoned airport-turned-park watching kiteboarders and windsurfers on wheels, walkers, bikers, rollerbladers, bbq-ers, yogis, slackliners, troublemakers, lovers and their mothers as the sun dipped lower in the sky, illumiating long blades of grass.
– Tried a Koren BBQ food truck type thing for dinner while chatting to a Businessman and a Danish man. Food was delicious!
– Spent all Thursday night at a club, first hanging out with some locals and a painter from Chile, then dancing with two Dutch guys in a dark, smoke-filled room thudding with hard Techno music, till the sun came up. Then caught the 4:35 am U-bahn back to the hostel– which was speckled with passengers going to work in the morning.
– Discovered that the spy museum on the map was a lost quest; perhaps it was spying on us, but the museum was nowhere to be found. The guide at the Dali exhibit exhaled impatiently when we asked where it was, saying that it did not exist even though it was marked on the tourist map.
– Biked around Berlin with a wonderful tour guide who rolled us through the Holocaust memorial, locations where the wall was still up as a historical artifact, a couple of guard towers, the school of Law where history held a huge book burning, the Brandenburg Tor – the gate behind which the wall passed, Angela Merkel’s office, the largest train station in Berlin, the parliament building, and the American Embassy which was in fact vacated while East and West were divided as it was on no-mans-land. I’m probably forgetting some other landmarks…
– Walked along the East Side Gallery, finding some of the famous panels you can see in guidebooks.
– Made friends with an Indian whose wife also works at Intel. Small world!
– Went to a picnic by the canal with the Berliner couchsurfing community where I met more French people, pretended to be visiting “my sick grandmother,” to get into the hospital to pee, chatted with an Australian girl and a charming German programmer with whom I ended up walking back to the train at 11:30pm just catching the last train back to the Mitte.
– Slept in until Noon on Thursday
– Tried to find some free outdoor yoga meetup, but since I couldn’t find them, I ended up joining a random group of three guys doing Chi gong style Tai-chi in some park by what looked partially like a slum.
– Hung out with a thirty-some year old American “mad” physicist who kind of ended up to be a weirdo that wouldn’t stop talking and chain smoking/beer drinking. He had just finished up what must have been a really stressful and hard project in Hamburg.
– Took the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Bus, Walked, Biked.. Only swimming/boating is missing from this list.
– Checked out “Checkpoint Charlie,” the outdoor historical landmark of the third checkpoint within the American sector. It looked pretty “real” with a guard building, “American” soldiers holding the USA flag, the famous sign saying “You are now leaving the American sector…” in English and Russian. I later found out that of course the setup was all fake, even down to the sign; only the frame around it was the original.

I suppose that’s a lot in three days 🙂 “tschuss”!

John the Shoemaker

(names altered for anonymity)
I dedicate this blog post to the person who, above all, made my trip to Aurland not only enjoyable, but also connected me emotionally to the “spirit” of the Fjords. The grandeur of the place inspires awe and demands humbleness, leaving space for only a certain small group of people to inhabit the area year round. I would describe John in appearance and personality as the most harmless pirate you’d ever meet – he corrected me – “ah but a land pirate…,” as he owns a van and no ship. I had to restrain myself, but always wanted to say that he should dress up like Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean.
I met him Thursday night while relaxing with a glass of wine on my AirBnb ship. The night was one I will remember, and absolutely not what I was expecting when I booked the AirBnb. In short, I was at one point in the night in a taxi, sitting between one very drunk and one lesser inebriated Norwegian man, on the way to a pub that wasn’t actually open as we found out. Later on when the sun was coming back up, John essentially saved me from having to take care of the first drunk man, which of course I wouldn’t have minded too much (in fact, I was laughing about the situation more than being annoyed), but I did want to get some sleep in before the day began (the day of Sport till you Drop – see previous blog post).
Friday night, John was keeping watch over Mads’ ship; it is then when I met Mary, who is his coworker. In a shoe factory. That is so cool! So on Saturday, John showed me the factory (I got a private tour), explaining all the steps to make the AurlandSkoen shoe. It was absolutely fascinating to me, all the machines and materials needed to start from a rolled sheet of leather to a finished shoe. He even glued my personal shoes – the soles were separating a bit – and it is still firmly glued to this day.


After this very special experience, we picked up Mary who had been taking a bit of a nap, and drove to the town next to Flam called Gudvangen for the local Viking Festival.

Although the historical Vikings are no more, the festival and its setting was probably the closest I could get to the Vikings. They had a little village set up and were selling quality items like bows and arrows, wooden spoons carved by hand, the most creamy honey I have ever tasted, metal encased wooden boxes, among many other things. The atmosphere was also very much as if I had been transported back into the middle ages – there were guys wrestling in the grass, girls playing jump rope. The only point amiss was the row of toi-toi potties along the side of the site. At one point, I realized that it was actually quite difficult for me to make out the “vikings” from the visiting Norwegians. Under a larger shed, there was a viking band playing the most interesting instruments… which then brought the village to dance just as we were leaving. Looking up around the valley, the memory of tumbling waterfalls over jagged wild peaks hidden partially by floating blanket-like clouds, is still etched vibrantly in my mind.


On the way back to Aurland, which involved going back through over 14 km of tunnels and maybe 4km of open road, we stopped in Flam to eat a delicious soup at a familial restaurant, then bought food to make a salad for the second course.
Sunday morning, as I was looking out at Aurlandsfjord through my porthole one last time, I wondered what I would do before the 3pm ferry. I was already feeling a bit sad to leave the town, the ship, and most of all the people in this town. John had said we should rent kayaks, but as it was getting late and he wanted to make one last trip to Undrethal, he instead borrowed the fishing boat of the neighbors for an hour.

The trip to the next town over took over 20 minutes. We were laughing a bit – there’s no way we would have made it over there kayaking in time to get back, even if we were Olympian kayakers. Once on shore, he showed me into a grocery store. I was a bit confused… why not take a walk around the town or something instead. But then he ferried me to the back of the store where there was a little goat cheese station set up – goat cheese made locally in the town. We sampled through the 2 month old, the 4 month old, 6 month old and 2 year old cheese. I am no cheese expert, but this cheese was good. And then the shopkeeper pulled out THE cheese. It was brown like caramel; he explained it had a special process that produced this color and resulted in a slightly sweeter tasting cheese, specially made here in this little village. It was the most interesting cheese I’ve ever tasted; I didn’t hesitate buying a little bit with the thought to gift it to someone back home.
On the way back, I inhaled the fresh air once again, deeply, while surveying the walls towering over me; it had been four days, but this mighty nature never ceased to impress me. It was only a large wave that threatened to throw me out of the boat that interrupted my meditation. Looking towards John, his lips curled up in a smile sharing my emotions. I cannot describe fully the gentle kindness and caring these people showed me throughout my stay. It was like I had known them for ages. They just had this calm, nurturing, positive vibe, souls of real warm people wanting to share their culture with me.
As I boarded my ferry to Bergen Sunday afternoon, I stared out at Aurland and the valley I had known to call “home” for five days, including the only small cruise ship sitting in the harbor. I just had this feeling that I could only look, but take no pictures, like it would be disrespectful; the valley demanded attention, and really made me feel vulnerable and small in comparison. Cold wind in my hair, causing goosebumps on my arms, I just breathed it all in, vowing to myself to return one day.

Sweat till you Drop


Friday started out really sunny… finally! It was perfect because I had booked a Kayak tour in Flam. So, I got a ride with the French couple staying on the ship. We were in kayaks of two; I was paired with a Swedish guy. The group was really international from South Korea, Sweden, USA, Australia, and Germany. During the tour (which was sadly not long enough to fully enjoy the sun and amazing scenery), I learned of many things, including that an enemy ship found its way into the Fjords during WWII and the people of Flam got them to abandon their ship by hosting a big party, thus allowing the national guard to put dynamite into the hull and blow up the ship. The shipwreck is still underwater thus making it a prime place for scuba diving. Even though the Fjords are directly connected to the sea, the water was not salty due to all the glacial water pour off the mountains.

After this kayak trip (from which I was sore for a good number of days!), I decided to rent a bike – except that I forgot my ID. So – they gave me the bike in exchange for my credit card. With the bike, I went back 7km all the way to Aurland to get the ID, biked back to Flam, then told myself that I’ll go part of the way up to Myrdal which is 20km long, over 1000 m elevation gain trip one way. But of course, me being me, I push myself all the way to the top, where there were still large snowy patches. This trip is one I feel silly describing by words, since even the pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of nature. It is like biking up the road to some water-queen heaven. At one point I told myself I won’t stop at every waterfall to take a picture, only every other one, which then had to be switched to every third one. After all, I had a deadline of 10pm to return the bike. It took around 3 hours to get to the top, partially biking, partially pushing the bike (especially at the top “death path” of 180 degree hairpin turns of insane steepness – I lost count how many there were after about 7 or 8). And of course, taking tons of pictures.

I passed no other biker going up, and neither did anyone else pass me going up. There were others biking down, presumably from the train station at the top, but it seemed no one else was crazy enough to do the uphill journey.

Well I was. And I’m glad I did it. Even though I ate dirt on the way down, getting a bit carried away with my ability to navigate hairpin turns at high-ish speeds. My right knee paid for it in blood, and left thigh in bruises. Something also happened to my left ankle as I couldn’t move it for about 30 seconds, but I must have sent some insane healing energy towards it because after a few minutes of resting it up on a rock, I couldn’t feel any pain anymore and could move it no problem.

By the end of the day, I had biked over 55km, with 2000+ m elevation change, and kayaked for 2 hours. As soon as I returned the bike, I sat down right there, and ordered a nice wild caught salmon with potatoes and salad from this “Green norWay” food cart. I must have worked off like 4000 calories that day. Then it started drizzling, but I was still 7km from my ship-cupboard room… and I was pretty sure the last bus was gone. So I either hobble back on foot, or… hitchhike. Thankfully after standing in the misty bog by the side of the road for about 15 mins, a Polish-Norwegian couple picked me up and dropped me real close to the port. On the ship, I found out that a new couple had joined us, from Portland, OR. What a small world, and… Ahhh… what a Friday 🙂

The Cruise Ship


When I arrived, I realized Flam was more of a tourist village that accommodated a lot of Chinese tourists and older people, aside from the hostel that had no more space. So I’m very glad to have booked a room in a ship in the neighboring town. When I arrived to Aurlandsvagen, it took very little time to find this ship. But it was much more amazing than I expected. I still can’t believe I was the inhabitant of this max-100 person cruise ship. They usually take it to the north on 2-3 month adventures. The owner, Mads is a quirky Norwegian man who has seen much of this world, I found out later. He even has been part of a reality show that follows extreme and professional athletes when they jump out of airplanes and off of ski jumps, fly parachutes and squirrel suits.
So I was assigned to the room called “The Post Office”, probably the size of a small walk-in closet. But it was exactly what I needed – little bed, sink, mini table and enough space to change. I even had a small porthole to view the Fjords! So worth the $90/night 🙂

In the end of the day, I took a hike which kind of turned into me getting lost, then un-lost, finding some random sheep (they always seem to come in threes), a cascading waterfall and incredible views. My original plan was to try to hike to the top, but I hadn’t really checked the topography and I ended up on a slope that was around 35-40 degrees, full of rocks and impassable areas. I had to turn around, but I did manage to get about halfway up. On the way back, I could feel myself just turn into a sort of marshmallow, barely able to put one foot in front of the other.

Hanging out with some of the other inhabitants of the ship – similarly booking this lodging on Airbnb – I was once again able to practice speaking French since both families on board were from France. Thursday we go on a cruise to Sogndal and back in the same day. I offered to help, and I was put in charge of making soup and pasta for the tourists coming over from Sogndal to Flam – approx 16 Spaniards. Should be fun!!

Train Ride to Flam

The transition from the weather in Oslo to what I found in the largest Fjord of Norway – Sognefjord. In the morning I was a bit of a zombie as I hadn’t slept much, butbecame more alert as soon as we started passing through the higher elevations; the vegetation went from tall pine trees to snow patches, and smaller shrubbery then more open rocky areas. As we climbed towards Myrdal, the landscape really began to get completely snowy, like it was winter! At Myrdal, I stepped out of the train to wait for the transfer Flamsbana, and really had to put on my coat; It was barely 7 degrees C!

The Flamsbana train is one of engineering miracle – the track descends over 1000 m in elevation in just 20km. In some parts of the track, the declination is 55deg! The valley we passed through was incredibly magical, full of many waterfalls and windy roads. The train was full of tourists; at one stop we stopped literally between two tunnels, each end of the train in either, and a huge waterfall to the right of the train. Everyone had their cameras, go-pros out documenting this incredible view, amongst a bit of shower from the effect of the waterfall. A couple minutes later a Norwegian mystical character came out of a small castle in a red dress and “sang” and danced to music. It was very strange; apparently she’s the goddess of the waterfalls who lures men with her beauty and they never return.