Jul. 25th, 2011

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So . . . it’s been a few days since I last blogged and time to catch up.  Except that I don’t really have time to do too much, because we’re in the process of docking at Stavanger, which is home to the not-so-world-famous Iron Age Farm, which, after the experiences of the last two weeks, will probably be a disappointment, at least to level I had built it up to be before we left the United States.  But we will see, I’m still going and it’ll still be fun, and I will bust my butt to get it posted tomorrow.

But I’m actually supposed to be talking about Tuesday, which was a day at sea.  We slept in, which means getting up at 8:00 instead of 7:00, though Becca did not wake up until much later.  We breakfasted and then hit the spa for a nice morning relaxation.

At lunchtime they had an ice-carving exhibition on the pool deck and barbecued salmon and halibut.  Becca finally crawled out of bed and joined us there and then immediately wandered off again to do teen stuff.

Chris and I both went to a presentation about Viking history that was surprisingly well-attended, but the lecture itself was weak historically and even more poorly presented.  But the powerpoint presentation worked, with no problems setting it up or keeping it going, which may be the first time I’ve ever actually seen that happen.

Chris and I split up, she going to a presentation and low-key sales pitch on amber, while I went to my second mixology class with Dr. Love.  We made dacqueris, margaritas and south Seas navigations.  Plus then, he talked about dry martinis and dry manhattans, and so we all had to sample those.  He told more off-color jokes and did some magic tricks.  The small group of us had a great time.

The old people then took a nap, squeezed in a game of Settlers and went to the formal night dinner (although we dressed down for it).  More nice, pleasant talking.  We’re going to have to find a way, once we’re back in the real world, to find time to dine and get some couples-only time.  That may be a challenge, but it’s something I’d really like to figure out how to do.

Becca was busy playing video games and we weren’t tired yet, so we went up to the Crow’s Nest and hung out.  Chris blogged, which I should have done too, but instead I read, because I’d hit that “unable to put it down” point in my book.  We stayed until Midnight, and since the sun was still out, we both thought it was a lot earlier.
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They had announced the night before that we would be arriving an hour or so late in Alesund.  That didn’t affect us, since we had no plans.  I woke up before everyone else, and showed up at the spa just as it opened.  The mineral bath was under repair, which was too bad, so I just was on the heated beds for 90 minutes or so, reading my Bernard Cornwell.

When I emerged from there, I ran into Chris at the pool deck and we ate breakfast together while we watched the ship pull into the harbor.  The town was very picturesque, having been re-built after a fire in 1902 or 1906.  It was re-built, not quickly and cheaply like so many others we’ve seen, but in a style that everyone there calls Art Deco, but that I would describe as Victorian re-imaginings of the historic past.  Lots of grey stone.  Tall, pointed, coppered roofs, dramatic arched doorways.  Cobbled streets with patterned stones.  Iron railings and balconies. Very pretty.

While we ate, we found out about a neat looking local attraction to try and see in the guide book: The Sunnemore Museum.  It was primarily an exhibit of rural architecture for the last 150 years, but the description in one of the guidebooks mentioned a Medieval Museum with it.  It was in a neighboring town, so it was going to be an adventure to get there.  And adventures are problematic, but we decided to give it a try.

We went down to our stateroom, woke up the girl and disembarked.  A block from the cruise terminal was a tourist office, so we went there and, after waiting in line for a while, I asked about getting to the museum.  She said it was easy (and that could have worried me, but it didn’t, I’m so trusting . . .) to take a bus and scoffed at me when I suggested taking a cab.  She had also just called a cab for the couple in front of me in line, and it was looking like a long wait to get one.  So all we had to do was walk to the bus station by the town hall, catch a 618 bus, and get off just after the bridge and we would be at the museum.

We had trouble finding the town hall.  We kept walking, following the direction the tourist office woman had pointed, and following her landmark (“by the construction”).  The big grey building we thought it must be turned out to be a shopping mall, but when we stepped out on the other side we saw a 618 drive by.  We followed it and got to it before it left the stop (there were _a lot_ of tourists trying to get on).  I did the smart thing and asked to make sure it went to the museum and the driver said that it did not.

Phew.  Close call.  Mistake avoided.

He had pointed back the way we came and said that we needed a stop on the other side of the street, a bus going in the opposite direction.  So we went back that way.  By now, the confidence that we could do this was waning and Becca was very frustrated and anxious.

We went around one more corner and could see off in the distance a group of shelters with benches.  That looked like what we wanted.  It was harder to get there than we thought, it being across a very busy street and there were few places to cross it.  But we got there, and there was even a 618 there waiting for us.  We climbed on, making sure that it was the right bus, and took seats.

The drive was nice with a great view of the fjord.  Our stop was easy to find and we walked down a long driveway to the museum. 

It was fabulous, with one of the best gift shops we’d seen so far.  They had a small exhibit on stone- and iron-age tools that was very nice.  There were some impressive gold armrings and two sword blades.  There was also an exhibit about rural dress in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

After the exhibits we wound up in the gift shop, where Chris and Becca both bought ice cream.  I got a coffee and a neat cinnamon pastry that tasted as good as it looked. 

We walked through the rest of the grounds of the outdoor museum on our way to the Medieval longhouse exhibit.  There were quite a few neat buildings all clustered around the shore of a large pond.  One of them was a small water-powered grain mill, that looked like it fully-operational (except that it wasn’t near any running water).  It was a huge thrill for me; I took lots of pictures. 

The Medieval museum was a large rectangular structure built over the excavation of a 12th Century longhouse.  There was just foundation left, with a lot of old timbers from which you could kind of imagine what the old house looked like.  But not really.  A walkway went around the perimeter of the excavation and it had a bunch of informational displays along it.  Talking about medieval life, the history of the settlement there, that kind of thing.

There was also a boat exhibit, that had a replica Viking ship and they were giving rides in a 19th C. fishing boat.  But we didn’t do that.  We spent a lot of krone in the gift shop.  Chris got the Thor’s Hammer pendant that she was on a mission to find on the trip -- a beautiful bronze one that she later got a nice leather braided necklace for.

We caught the bus back with no problems and walked back to the ship.  I let Chris and Becca re-board while I stayed in town for a while.  I had thought about going out to one of the islands where there was a Norman church and where Rollo, the founder of the Duchy of Normandy, was born, but it was a long way and the church was closed for restoration.  So instead I got a walking tour map of Alesund.

The tour wasn’t actually all that interesting, so I just wandered.  I was idly looking for an authentic Norwegian restaurant, but in that quest I would be unsuccessful.  I did find a neat church, a friendly cat, a glassblowers and best of all, an antique store.  Mostly what they had was turn of the century prints, housewares and maritime items, but they had a huge selection and I spent well over half an hour in there.

I met the girls for more Settlers.  Dinner was delicious, and I think I’m addicted to those strip steaks.  But we were all tired, me especially from the late night the night before and all of the extra walking, so we called it an early night.
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Thursday -- Flam and Viking Valley

When we woke up, we were already in port.  Chris and I got up and went to the Lido for breakfast as usual.  There were nice mountains out of the window, but nothing special.  When they announced that they were ready for us to disembark, we figured we’d step off, look around and see what there was to see before waking up Sleeping Beauty.

But when we stepped off of that gangway we were both stunned.  We’d eaten on the wrong side of the ship.  Here we were, at sea level, looking up and towering peaks 1200 meters above us, with spectacular waterfalls pouring down the mountainside, trees and flowers clinging to the steep walls, a cave tucked into the cliffside.  Absolutely beautiful.

And the town, at the cruise terminal, wasn’t a 100 year-old fishing village with run-down whitewashed shantys.  It was a tourist center, with a brewery, luxury yet low-key hotels, and lots of souvenir shops.  But they were all newly built, clean and beautiful to look at.

We went through all of the gift shops and then decided that we’d better go back for Becca, but not before standing on a bridge that went over the river feeding into the fjord.  The water was _so_ clean, so fast and cool and refreshing-looking.  So green, not from algae, but from the greenish-yellow stones that lined its bed.  The bridge was a little older and worse-for-wear, shaking whenever a car drove across it, but that water was so nice.

We went back on board and made Becca get up.  She did so reluctantly.  We wandered the shops again, and she kind of enjoyed that, but was back in her Oslo mood about not wanting to buy anything because she might find something better, but wanting to buy something because she might not find anything better.  She wanted a stuffed animal wolverine, but it was kind of spendy (even for Norway) and eventually she decided to skip it.

I though, found a gorgeous sweater/jacket that was almost exactly what I was looking for (one of my goals was to find a Norwegian sweater).  It was expensive, and eventually, after checking in all 6 or 7 shops found the shop that had for the lowest price and decided to go for it.  I’m sure none of my friends will like it, but :P  I do.

We took a little sightseeing tour for 45 minutes through the local countryside.  Lots more gorgeous scenery.  Very cramped spaces in the little fake train pulled by a tractor, that were hard on my legs.  We took lots of pictures, a lot of which didn’t turn out, but we had fun.  I think even Becca did.

After that, our plan was to go to the brewery for lunch.  It was super expensive (like everything, but especially food, in Norway) at 225 krone ($45) / person for a smorgasbord barbecue.  But when we got there they weren’t doing it.  I’m still not sure why, but we were too stunned (again) to ask.

The building was obviously a new construction, but it was done in the style of an old, Scandinavian stave church.  It was called the Æsir Brewery, and was all wood and reindeer hide cushions and antler chandeliers with a fantasy-medieval flair that was gorgeous.  We took lots of pictures.

Chris and Becca decided to retire after that and I, like the day before, decided to stay behind.  I took a tour bus through two 5-kilometer tunnels to Gundavag, where the Viking Village was.  Now, we had first seen a poster about this place in Oslo, a week or more before.  But I had noticed one of the tour vendor here had an excursion there and had tried to talk the others into it, but they weren’t up for it, so I went alone.

I napped on the 15 minute bus ride there.  There were two tourist shops there and a restaurant with a Viking theme -- long tables and embroidered chairbacks.  There was a small hotel with Viking-themed rooms -- swords and shields above the beds, artwork, that kind of thing.

The reenactment itself was across the bridge on a island.  They had a recreation of the Osberg ship (from the Oslo ship museum) and out in front of it was a guy very nicely dressed in period clothes and mail.  The village then had its own gift shop, where I bought myself a pair of bone dice, a wool-felt dice bag and a t-shirt for Chris.

I then gave the girl at the counter my ticket and she told me that the tour had already started.  I didn’t realize I got a tour, so I said that I didn’t mind joining the one in session. Karl, our guide, was good and he knew his stuff.  He gave the easy answers and then also talked about the controversies and questions because there is so little actual, reliable information about the Dark Ages.  He went so far as to criticize most of the tents at the park, because they were probably being used out of context.

And he obviously loved it.  His love of the period was clear in the care he gave to give accurate answers and to point out when he was making a conjecture.  His costume was awesome and took great pride in it,

But at the same time, I also got the strong idea that this was _his_ thing and he was talking about it because he had to or was asked to, or maybe even because he thought we might learn something.  But he didn’t think we would come to love it, or share his joy in it. 

Anyway, I had a good time, but not a great time, and soon it was time to get back to the ship.  The bus ride back was hellish, over-crowded, standing room only, with lots of over-tired children.  I made a swing back through the one souvenir shop and bought Becca the wolverine she wanted and got back on the ship. 

The girls had been planning to go to an origami class at 5:00 pm and it was 5:30 now, so I wasn’t sure if they’d be ready, but I walked by our regular Settlers table and there they were, just getting set up.  They both liked their presents and Becca really liked my dice and wished I had gotten her some.

We ate dinner that night together, and then Becca ran off to do teen things.  She wouldn’t get back until after we both had gone to bed.  I finished by second book of the cruise and settled in to get sleep for the next day which would be Stavanger and the place I’ve been dreaming of going for months: the Ullandhaug Iron Age Farm.

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