Wednesday, August 8, 2018



After a 1500 mile drive, we arrived in Calgary two days before our scheduled tour.  Calgary is a dynamic, growing city of 1.5 million.   It is famous for the Calgary Stampede, the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth".  Essentially, it's a Western show with concerts, rodeos, cowboys, etc.  Even chuck wagon races.  For 10 days in July, everyone in town gets in on the act, donning Stetson hats and cowboy boots.  We missed it by a week.      

We had a free day in Calgary.  What should we do?  We perused the brochures and decided to visit Heritage Park.  This is a theme park focusing on several periods in Calgary's history, from the 1860's to the 1920's.  It contains over 180 attractions and exhibits.  It is not an amusement park, but rather a historical theme park.  You start with an overview by riding a steam train around the perimeter of the park. 

Near the entrance of the park, the first thing you see is Gasoline Alley.  We old folks remember that as a long gone comic strip going back to the 1920's.  This is a large building on three levels displaying vintage cars, gas pumps and signs, mostly from oil companies.

Adults and even school kids dressed in period dress.  The kids were in day camps and encouraged to dress up, and they eagerly did so.  Many of the girls wore long dresses and little hats as they would dress if they grew up on the prairies.  Heritage Park is the Canadian Williamsburg.

The Canadians relocated old wooden houses and stores from all over Canada and brought them to the park.  One unexpected find was the one room prairie synagogue.  Jews from Eastern Europe came to the prairies to become farmers.  They weren't allowed to own land in Europe, so this was a new opportunity. 

The Canadian dollar is relatively weak compared to the American dollar, so we found the park and other Canadian attractions to be affordable.  In Canada, take 25% off the stated price to convert the cost to American dollars. 

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.  We did go shopping on a warm July morning before we were scheduled to meet our tour.  We drove to the huge indoor 250 store Chinook Mall. I sought out Hudson Bay Co., a Canadian department store which is now owned by the same company as Lord & Taylor.  The Hudson Bay Co. is the oldest company in Canada, dating back to about 1600.  It used to own at least half of the land in Canada.    As a kid, I always wanted a colorful yellow, green, black, red and white striped Hudson Bay wool blanket.  The weather was very warm, and we didn't want to schlep around a large blanket.  The $170 (Canadian) cost was reasonable--we saw the same blanket for far more in the Canadian Rockies.  I instead purchased a brightly colored striped scarf which I can wear next winter.  Scarfs and blankets are popular in Canada where the temperature gets down to -40 in the winter.

We met our tour group at the Calgary Airport (YYC).  We were the only ones of 35 people on the tour to drive.  We parked at the Hampton Inn, where we stayed,  near the airport and boarded a comfortable motor coach driven by our Canadian driver, Duane.  Not all the seats on the bus were occupied, so we could stretch out. 

The bus took us on a tour of Calgary, mainly in the downtown area.  Downtown Calgary is vibrant with modern skyscrapers.  These high rises are architecturally unique modernistic structures, many with all glass exteriors.  Vacant land everywhere is being developed.  We found the city to be very clean.  We were told it was safe to walk around.

We visited the beautiful Peace Bridge spanning the Bow River.  The 428 foot pedestrian and cyclist bridge resembles a finger trap puzzle with interlinking metal chains.  The unique thing about the bridge is that it has no piers in the water--for ecological reasons.  The bridge was built in Spain, shipped to Calgary, and assembled, apparently by a puzzle enthusiast.  It was opened in 2012.

On the first night of the tour, we stayed at the International Hotel in downtown Calgary where we were given an opportunity to walk around the city.  In July in the far North, the sun doesn't set until almost 10 P.M.

Our room at the International was a capacious 3 room suite with a dining room table and 6 chairs.  The bathroom, on the other hand, was about the size of a broom closet.  The 3 creaky elevators were ancient and small.  We had to wait in line to use them.   


Cardston was originally settled by Mormons from Utah led by Charles O. Card who named the town after himself.  The Mormons erected a huge temple in town.  Cardston is also the home of the extraordinary Remington Carriage Museum.  We didn't expect much, but the museum was a pleasant surprise.  The 63,000 square foot museum possesses the largest collection of horse drawn vehicles in North America.  We're talking carriages, wagons, buggies and sleighs.  Hansoms, landaus, broughams, buggies and cabriolets, 270 of them.  The museum restoration shop is constantly busy restoring vehicles not only for the museum but for other carriage enthusiasts.

The carriages were collected by Don Remington who began his collection in 1954.  He donated them to the Province of Alberta in 1987.  They needed a suitable building to house all this stuff, so the Province agreed to build the museum in 1993.  They added vehicles from other collections also.

Horse drawn carriages dominated the era before horseless carriages.  The most valuable vehicle displayed was the handsome hansom carriage once owned by Alfred G. Vanderbilt.  The reason it is so valuable is that the Vanderbilt family offered to buy the thing back and offered something north of $500,000. 

The two most prominent carriage makers of the era were McLaughlin and Studebaker.  Studebaker went on to build cars that looked like rocket ships in the late '40's and 50's.  I once owned a Studebaker Lark convertible which was a great car.  It was a compact car but the driver's seat was relative high so one could see the road very well.  I used to drive like a cab driver, so that car was handy.  McLaughlin later merged with Buick.  The early models were called McLaughlin Buicks, but the McLaughlin name was eventually dropped.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's before cars were widespread, carriages were pulled by horses.  The problem with carriages was that in big cities, horse manure tended to pile up on the streets.  They had to plow the stuff to the curbs where it was piled high.  Disease was prevalent.  Cars won out because they were considered cleaner than horses. 

Two formerly famous people hailed from Cardston.  On the main street, we passed the Fay Wray Fountain.  I couldn't get a photo because the bus was going too fast.  Fay Wray, from Cardston, was the female star in the original King Kong movie.  The fountain was built to commemorate Ms. Wray's return to Cardston in 1962.  A large metal plaque honoring (?) King Kong was installed in 1993 on the 60th anniversary of the film.  Wray was one of the first Hollywood "scream queens". Other than King Kong, she appeared in about 80 more films, most of them horror films.  She was offered the role of the elderly Rose Dawson, played in her younger life by Kate Winslet, in James Cameron's Titanic, but she turned it down.   Ms. Wray died in 2004 at age 96.

The other famous person was George Woolf, and the museum has a good sized exhibit honoring him. In case you don't remember Woolf, he was the jockey who in 1938 rode Seabiscuit to many victories.  He was called the "Ice Man".  In the movie Seabiscuit, Woolf was played by Gary Stevens, a currently active jockey who regularly rides in the Kentucky Derby.  Both Woolf and Stevens are in the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.  Woolf died young at age 35 when he fell off a horse during a race.  He suffered from Type 1 diabetes, and it appears he became dizzy and lost his balance.


In Fort MacLeod, on the way to Waterton National Park, we were treated to a horse show in a large outdoor arena next to the log fort.  The fort is a reproduction of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police post, so visitors can see what it was like.   The original fort, called Fort Whoop-Up, was built in 1874, shortly after the RCMP was formed.  It lies next to the strangely named Oldman River which flows through town.  This river has nothing to do with the song from Show Boat; it was named after a guy named Oldman.   But it does keep rolling along, eventually draining into Hudson Bay.

If you've ever seen the Lipizzan horses in Wadsworth, IL, this show has many similar features.  The horses are ridden by high school and college kids wearing scarlet Mountie uniforms demonstrating their horsemanship on quarter horses. 

Next to the arena is the Mountie museum.  We learned all we needed to know about the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  The Mounties always get their man--well usually.  There are also exhibits honoring the First Nations (known as Indians in the U.S.) and Metis who were of mixed race.  A question was asked:  "When did the Metis come to the area?"  The answer:  "Nine months after the Europeans arrived."


On the outskirts of Waterton National Park is the magnificent Prince of Wales Hotel, located on a windswept bluff overlooking the beautiful Waterton Lake.  On our trip through the Rockies, we were to see several such blue glacier fed lakes.  The hotel is a classic from a bygone era.  We went outside to see the lake better and walked into a tornado--or so it seemed.  My hat blew off, and I foolishly chased it into the tall grass.  In retrospect, I could have severely injured myself running downhill--at my age.  But I recovered the hat.

The area around the hotel is famous for its wind.  Winds of 75 mph are fairly common.  This was a major challenge when they were constructing the hotel back in 1927.  The roof blew off while they were building it.  Although the weather was sunny when we visited, the wind gusts were extreme.  I've experience that kind of wind at two places, Mt. Washington, NH where they once had 231 mph winds, and at Cape Horn in South America where I had to cling to the mast of the ship to avoid being blown away. 

We stayed two nights at a hotel in the Village of Waterton.  Waterton is a fairly small town with an active night life.  There are only about three commercial blocks.  I counted 4 ice cream shops in a 2 block stretch.  We ate at Zums, a restaurant recommended by Duane, our bus driver.  Zums claims to have the best fried chicken in the world.   I wouldn't go that far, but it was very good.  The promise of good fried chicken was enough to get us inside.  The mozzarella sticks were delicious also. 


Waterton and Glacier Parks are contiguous to each other.  The parks together are called Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  We learned that there are other peace parks.  A couple years ago, we visited the one north of Botteneau, North Dakota, adjoining Manitoba.  You can stand on the U.S.-Canada border and nobody will ask for your passport.  However, on this trip, we entered the U.S. on the main road at the port of entry, and the customs officer boarded the bus and examined everybody's passports.   On the Canada side there are big signs prohibiting transporting firewood from the U.S. (to limit the spread of Dutch elm disease).

The scenery, of course, is spectacular.  We saw snow capped mountains and blue lakes.  Forest fires had devastated the park last year, and extensive areas are covered with dead trees standing bare.  From an ecological standpoint, forest fires aren't necessarily bad, at least in the long run.  The fires give new life to smaller plants which take over the ecological niche and eventually give way to new trees.

The main predators in the park are the grizzly bears which largely keep out of sight.  If a hiker encounters one, it is recommended that he make loud noises or carry bells.  You can't outrun a grizzly--they can run as fast as a racehorse.  Grizzlies are more dangerous than black bears.  The ranger told us that if you see bear tracks, look for its droppings.  The difference in poop between a black bear and a grizzly is that the grizzly poop has bells in it. 

On the "jammer bus", we drove up on the Going to the Sun Highway to Logan Pass on the Continental Divide.  Triple Divide Peak, near Logan Pass is the unusual situation of the Continental Divide, divided three ways.  On one side, the rivers flow to the Pacific, one side to the Atlantic, and the third side to Hudson Bay. 

To cut down on the traffic, they encourage tourists to board the "jammer" buses  which hold about 20 people.  We tried to do that ride a couple years ago in June, but the road was closed by drifting snow.  Glacier Park has many glaciers, but not like farther north in Canada.    The ranger explained it is important to distinguish between a glacier and a snow field.  Generally glaciers are on mountain sides and the gradually move down and are replenished at the top by more snow.  By definition, glaciers cover at least 25 acres.  As you can imagine, they don't move very fast--about the speed of Congress, maybe a few feet each year.  Many of the glaciers at Glacier Park are gone (melted) or greatly reduced because of climate change. 

Back in Waterton, we took a boat ride on the glacial Waterton Lake which straddles the U.S.-Canada border.  The border is well marked by a strip of land on the 49th Parallel.  A treaty between the two countries requires that that strip be cleared of trees.  We crossed the border on the boat, but there was no passport check.   The guide pointed out an eagle perched on the top of a tall tree.  It didn't move, so I was not sure if was a real eagle or just a prop.  We never found out.

The parkland is considered sacred to the Blackfeet, Salish and Kootenai tribes


On the way to Banff, we spent several hours and ate lunch at Bar U Ranch National Historic Site.  We learned about the history of ranching in Alberta in the early 1900's in the wide open spaces.  This is a working ranch.  They raise horses and even have a herd of bison.  The friendly guides wore cowboy clothes.  We visited the barn, the blacksmith shop, the leather making shop, and even watched them churning butter.  

Nearby is the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, an appropriately named World Heritage Site. The First Nation tribesmen were somewhat hesitant to hunt buffalo directly using only spears.  Getting up close and personal with a 2000 pound bison is dangerous.  The Indians were clever.  Over a period of time, the tribesmen would herd a few animals until they had the number they wanted.   Then they would stampede them over a cliff.  The rest of the tribe was stationed at the bottom of the cliff where they would skin the dead buffalo and gather the meat and skins to provide for the tribe.  Other tribes in the West did the same.  We later saw sites in Montana and Wyoming used for the same purpose.   


We stayed the next 3 nights in the City of Banff at the High Country Inn, on the main street.  Banff got its name from Banffshire in Scotland, the ancestral home of the head of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Banff looks like many other tourist towns.   In the commercial area, one can find many t-shirt shops, ice cream stores, art galleries, etc.  We've been to Jackson Hole, Gatlinburg, Bar Harbor, etc. and the towns look exactly the same except for the surrounding scenery.

Banff has about 8000 permanent residents.  They won't let you move there unless you have a job and a place to live.  You don't see panhandlers on the street. 

Overlooking the town is the massive Fairmont Banff Springs hotel which is impressive indeed.  It was originally built by the railroad in the 1890's to lure tourists.  The hotel is a labyrinthine maze of rooms and halls on 17 levels on a mountainside.  We ate dinner at the Italian restaurant at the hotel.  The waiter handed us a dinner menu with three choices.  The choices were wild boar cannelloni,  grilled vegetable polenta stack or smoked halibut Tagliatelle.  None of them sounded appetizing, and each was about 35 bucks.  It was downhill from there.   Soup or salad was extra.  We asked for a more comprehensive menu, and the waiter brought us one for our table of 6.   We passed the menu around and ordered off the menu.  .  The food was expensive and reasonably good, but probably not worth $50 per person.  But we're talking Canadian dollars, so maybe it wasn't that bad. 

The railroad advertised heavily to induce Eastern folks to take the train and have a place to stay in a thinly populated area of the country.  The National Park was established in 1885 but was mostly wilderness for 30 years or more until roads were built.   The roads were constructed during World War I by immigrants (POW's?) from enemy countries, Austria, Hungary, Germany and Ukraine who were held in internment camps.

The scenery in Banff is spectacular.  The bus drove up the Icefields Parkway alongside the Continental Divide, so we were looking at rugged mountains, numerous glaciers and icefields.   The melt from Bow Glacier flows into a beautiful blue lake which is the source of the Bow River which flows through Calgary.  We didn't see a lot of wildlife other than small animals like squirrels and chipmunks.  The larger animals were taking the day off.  The government built several wildlife crossings over the superhighway.  These appear as attractive overpasses with trees and grass on top.  I'm not sure how they steer the animals to use them.  I see them as necessary, as we almost got hit by a grizzly bear crossing the road in Colorado a few years ago. 


Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park is the most visited glacier in North America.  We gathered at the visitor center to ride a Sno-Coach to the glacier, about a mile away.  This large bus with oversized tires creeps up and down the road to the glacier.   The gravel road has a very steep 18 degree incline--try that in the snow.   The ice is 1000 feet thick, and you can drink the melting water. The glacier is almost 4 miles long and covers more than 2 square miles.  Because of a warming climate, it is receding at about 16 feet per year.  In the past 125 years, it has receded almost a mile.

Walking on a glacier is like wading through a Big Slushy from 7-11.  It is very slippery although I didn't see anyone fall.  But people do.  Because the surface is slushy, you might not get hurt, but you'll be wet.  You do have to watch out for crevasses which can be 20 feet deep.  People have fallen in and had to be rescued.


Lake Louise is a world class ski resort, and we got to ride the ski lift to the top of the mountain, about 3000 feet above the valley floor.   In the summer, everything is green.  On the way up, we saw a grizzly bear foraging in the meadow.  The bear sighting was unexpected, and I didn't get a good picture.  Near the top of the mountain, it started raining and then sleeting.  When the sun came out, we had a breathtaking view of the beautiful Lake Louise far below in the distance.


The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is another grand resort hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It was originally built in 1890, but after a couple of fires, the current building was built in 1911.  Lake Louise, with its blue green waters was called by the local Stoney Indians, "the Lake of Little Fishes" in their native tongue.  The surveyor working for the railroad, Thomas Wilson named the lake Emerald Lake.  He was later overruled by the authorities who named it Lake Louise after Queen Victoria's fourth daughter (she had 5 girls and 4 boys), Princess Louise Caroline Alberta. Fortunately, her last name wasn't Saskatchewan.  Overlooking the lake is Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier.

The water in this glacial lake is very cold.  We shivered as we watched crowds of kids as well as a Labrador Retriever, oblivious to the cold, frolicking in the 38 degree water.

The hotel was and is a magnet for the rich and powerful.  Hollywood shot several feature films there including Springtime in the Rockies, starring Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda.  Betty Grable was famous for her cheesecake, or so we were told.  Despite her Carmen Miranda warnings, we once visited her museum in Rio de Janiero.  Other stars who flocked to the hotel included Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Christopher Reeve and Angie Dickinson, as well as Queen Elizabeth, Queen Margrethe of Denmark and King Hussein of Jordan.  King Kong was not invited.

There are posted signs instructing the throngs of tourists not to enter the hotel unless you're a guest, especially to use the bathrooms.  We disregarded them because we wanted to see the inside of the hotel and maybe do some shopping.  Heck, I've been kicked out of classier places than that.

One notable shop we visited in the hotel was Art of Man, selling Native American art works, carvings and sculptures.  A carved jade grizzly bear was tagged as $95,500.  It hadn't gone on sale yet.  That's Canadian money, so its much cheaper--maybe $70,000 American.  I asked the manager if I could get a discount if I buy two.  Show me the money! 


Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.  The facility has been converted to essentially an amusement park where you can do a slo-mo version of Olympic downhill events.   In the summer, the park offers mountain biking, zip-lining and snow-free versions of the bobsleigh and the luge.  The chair lift brings you to the top.

The luge is a 5900 foot downhill ride with 50 twists and turns.  Unlike the Olympic version, you can use the brakes and steering mechanisms.  You won't be careening downhill 80 mph on your back, but it's a fun ride anyway.   Those pesky insurance companies don't want anybody getting hurt.  You can buy tickets for the luge for $16 for one ride or $24 for 3 rides.  They also have family packages.

The 1988 Winter Olympics were notable for several reasons.  For one thing, the weather didn't always cooperate.  Calgary can get bitterly cold or it can be warm in the winter.  In 1988, they experienced Chinook winds coming down the mountain, raising the temperatures to a mild 63F.  Skiing is supposed to be in cold weather.  It was the first Olympics where they had to make artificial snow.

It was also notable for showcasing the popular, myopic British downhill skier, Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards.  They even made a movie about him.  Edwards was a regular guy who was working as a plasterer making about 6000 British pounds a year.  He barely knew how to ski.  He came in last by a wide margin.  The public gave him an A for effort.  Average people could relate to him, and his income went up to 10,000 British pounds per hour for a personal appearance. 

They had to change the rules because of him.  Previously, every country had the right to send at least one athlete, but the athlete didn't have to exhibit any prowess in the event.  To avoid embarrassment in the future, athletes must now meet certain minimum competition standards to participate.   At least the Jamaican bobsled team put in a respectable performance--the two man team finished 30th out of 41 competitors.  They made a movie about that also.

NEXT:  Road Trip to Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat--Highlights of Saskatchewan     

Thursday, May 24, 2018


Prominent on my bucket list is the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington state.  Before you have me committed, let me explain.  This was the scene of perhaps the greatest flood in world history, the Biblical Flood, if you will.  Planetary scientists are interested in this area because the dry channels resemble those on Mars.  

Near the end of the last Ice Age, a wall of water up to 1000 feet high came pouring down the Columbia River basin at a speed of 65 mph.  The flood carved out the Grand Coulee valley and thoroughly cleaned up Washington (which wasn't called that at the time).  It created enormous potholes and ripples as much as 50 feet high which becomes evident when you view the landscape. 

There have been several theories of how this happened.  The most generally accepted one today was proposed by the geologist J. Harlan Bretz about 100 years ago.  For many years, scientists in the geology establishment thought the guy was nuts.   For the establishment, the accepted orthodoxy was uniformitarian--that all changes in geology occurred slowly, over many eons.  Bretz turned this theory on its head. 

Bretz worked diligently compiling evidence, and eventually he won over most of the non believers.  By 1979, Bretz was mainstream, if you will.  For his achievements, he was awarded the prestigious Penrose Medal, the highest award of the Geological Society of America.  

The scenery in this area west of Spokane is certainly unusual.  Once can see enormous boulders weighing many tons strewn around the area like they were thrown out there.  They do not match the rock types that surround them.  These rocks are called glacial erratics, foreign to the area.  Erratics can be transported hundreds of miles by glaciers, or in this case by ice-rafting from the flood.

In most areas the topsoil was stripped from the land.  The underlying rock is volcanic basalt which is easily chipped away by the action of water.  The U-shaped valley is framed by thousand foot cliffs on either side.  In some areas there is a small stream in the middle. In other areas, the valley is completely dry.  The stream could not have created that valley.

Bretz's theory is that during the last Ice Age, an ice dam blocked off the ancient Lake Missoula in present day Montana.  The lake contained as much water as Lake Michigan.  The climate got warmer; the ice melted; the ice dam broke, and, of course, all hell broke loose.   According to Bretz, "the channels run uphill and downhill, they unite and they divide, they head on the back-slopes and cut through the summit; they could not be more erratically and impossibly designed."

The less accepted theory was propounded by author Graham Hancock who believes that the ice sheet was hit by a large meteorite (asteroid) which caused a sudden melting of a large area of ice.  Now it's possible that both theories can be true because new evidence shows there have been many such floods in the area.  That would indicate that the ice dam broke on several occasions. 

We saw evidence of this on our visit to Dry Falls, south of the Grand Coulee Dam, where the cliffs were terraced.  That indicated that slabs of basalt were stripped off at different times by different floods.   For several weeks, approximately 12,000 years ago, Dry Falls was as spectacular as Niagara Falls. 

This area is off the beaten path, and you won't see busloads of tourists blocking your view.  The starkly beautiful scenery is worth the trip. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018



You think I'm making this up, but I got in trouble with the police while looking for Dick Putz.   There's a story behind it.

Dianne and I took our annual road trip last year, this time to California for our grand-daughter's graduation.  We left Chicago on Friday morning and made it to St. Cloud, Minnesota by dinnertime.  We checked into the local Holiday Inn, and I leafed through the tourist magazines to determine if anything in St. Cloud was worth seeing.

The article on Dick Putz Field  caught my eye.  With a name like that, I wanted to see it.  You may recall the movie Grumpy Old Men with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Matthau's character said over and over to Lemmon's character, "You're a putz". 

Dick Putz Field, built in 1971, is a historic baseball diamond once home to the St. Cloud Rox of the Class C Northern League.  When that league folded, it became home to the St. Cloud River Bats of the Northwoods League, a college development league.   This place is deep in the bush leagues, but we were determined to find it.

Dick Putz himself was a legend in town.  He was a long time sports official and booster of amateur baseball in Minnesota.  He had his own weekly radio show, the Dick Putz Show (of course), in which he provided a roundup of the day's scores and highlights.   Among his achievements were his service as president of the Minnesota Baseball Association Board and a member of the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.  He died in 1990 at age 61. 

We drove around town (never asking for directions) to visit the field and get a picture of the sign.  As it turns out, there isn't one.  Naturally, we got lost.

I needed to make a U-turn and got impatient at a long red light.  There was no oncoming traffic, so I just made the turn.  The squad car was right behind me, and the officer probably couldn't believe his good fortune.  He turned on his flashing lights.  I was guilty as hell.  The young officer came up to my car and asked where we were going.  I told him "Dick Putz Field", but I can't seem to find it.  If I had said that to a cop on New York or Chicago, I would have been taken to the slammer.

The officer took my license and went back to his car to check if I was wanted for anything.  He came back and said he appreciated my honesty and let me off with a warning.  He also gave me directions to Dick Putz Field.  Dusk was settling in, and I wanted to get there quickly.  We went by the field a couple times but weren't sure it was the right place because there was no sign.  So I never did get that photo.


No, I'm not talking about the football team.  In Alexandria, Minnesota is a giant Viking statue and also a museum containing a Viking runestone dating back to 1362.It is called the Kensington Runestone. This is a great story.

An expedition of Vikings came to Minnesota long before Columbus, and while part of the group went off hunting, ten of their comrades were attacked by Indians (they were not called that at the time) and massacred.  The hunters came back and found the carnage and carved this runestone commemorating their fallen comrades. 

"Eight Gotalanders (Goths) and 22 Northmen on (this) acquisition journey from Vinland far to the west.  We had a camp by two (shelters) one day's journey north from this stone.   We were fishing one day.  After we came home, found 10 men red from blood and dead.  Ave Maria save from evil.  There are 10 men by the inland sea to look after our ships fourteen days journey from this peninsula (or island).  Year 1362

The farmer who owned the land, a Swedish immigrant named Olof Ohman discovered the 202 pound stone while plowing his field in 1898.  The writing on the stone was Medieval Norse.  The farmer took the stone to the authorities, and for many years, everyone thought it was a hoax.  The farmer had only gone to school for a few weeks and could barely read English, Norwegian, or any language, let alone Norse Code.   If proven genuine, the stone is worth millions.  Ohman sold the stone for 10 bucks to a historian in 1911. 

The farmer and his family were ridiculed by their neighbors for many years.  Gradually over a long period of time the poor farmer's family was vindicated, and today many scholars believe the runestone is genuine.  However intense controversy still remains among archaeologists and Norse scholars.  The Smithsonian Institution in Washington displayed the stone for several years in the 1950's, but removed it from public display amid the controversy. 

My nagging question was that if the Vikings were settled in Newfoundland, how did they wind up in Minnesota, over a thousand miles away?  The museum showed a  documentary film describing how the expedition from Norway came down Hudson Bay and down through Lake Winnepeg in present day Manitoba.  Minnesota is not that far away.

Whatever the case, the runestone is an interesting exhibit, but the controversy probably won't go away anytime soon.

Sunday, March 11, 2018



In our quest to seek out the best fried chicken in the country, we rolled into Forrest City, Arkansas just in time for lunch. We're not food critics or gourmets, but we know fried chicken when we taste it.  We left Chicago early in the afternoon the day before, a frigid January 9th.  The temperature hovered just above zero.  We were happy to head South, anywhere South.

We've been to Forrest City once before, last year, and it was memorable enough to return.  The restaurant is the Old Sawmill Inn, located in a sprawling shopping center which had passed its prime 20 years ago.  From the looks of it, maybe it was a Cracker Barrel in its previously life.  It is located a block or two from Interstate 40, about 50 miles west of Memphis.

Forrest City is named for Confederate General Nathaniel Bedford Forrest who built a railroad depot there after the Civil War.  It you watched Forrest Gump, you would also know that General Forrest also founded the Ku Klux Klan and was the Grand Wizard , or whatever you call the top dog there.  There is no statue of him in Forrest City although there is still a 25 foot statue in Nashville on privately owned land.  That statue has been repeatedly defaced and shot at, but always repaired.  The statue of Forrest in Memphis was removed in December, 2017.

The lunch is served boo-fay style, with the juicy legs, thighs, breasts and wings piled high in a stainless steel pan.  Nearby, you can help yourself to mashed potatoes with delicious white chicken gravy.  Oh, they have other stuff on the buffet, but I wouldn't drive miles out of the way to eat it.

Several weeks later, on the way home, we ate a late lunch at the Dixie Truckers Home, a truck stop in McLean, Illinois, about 50 miles north of Springfield, on Interstate 55.  We hadn't eaten there since last August when we drove down to Red Bud, Illinois to view the solar eclipse.   Every time we drive to St. Louis or beyond, we make an effort to eat their world class fried chicken.

The best we ever had was about 25 years ago at a road house near Paducah, Kentucky, but we've never been able to find the place again. There is a website listing the best fried chicken in each of the 50 states, but the panel and I have our disagreements.  On our next road trip, we'll try to hit some of these restaurants.   In Illinois, the website likes Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, IL., southwest of Chicago.  We'll have to try it.

Our immediate objective was to drive to Del Rio, Texas, on the Mexican border  to visit my old college buddy, Ron.    He has a factory on the Mexican side, in Ciudad Acuna, and he gave us the grand tour.  We crossed the border a couple times and drove along the border wall, a high fence stretching for miles.  These are workingmen's cities, and there really aren't any decent restaurants in the area.   Del Rio was the home of Judge Roy Bean, the law West of the Pecos.  We visited his grave inside the Western frontier park devoted to his life and times.

On the way to Texas, we stayed in Hampton Inns--Marion, IL, Sulphur Springs, TX, Del Rio, and later Alpine, TX, Phoenix, AZ, Yuma, AZ.  Hampton Inns  are part of Hilton Hotels, and by our accumulating points, we can stay in a Waldorf Astoria for a few days, as we did a couple years ago in China.  Hampton Inns are nice; they serve warm cookies when you check in, and they give you bottles of water or chips and then a free breakfast the next morning. 

After leaving Del Rio our next objectives on the road were Phoenix, AZ, and then Los Angeles to meet our cruise ship to Hawaii.   I'll describe below some of the interesting places we visited on the way and back. 


Driving through the desert in California on the way home, we were running low on gas.  Gasoline is expensive in California, and we were trying to make it to Arizona or Nevada before we ran out.  We were about 20 miles to empty on the gas gauge, and there are not a lot of gas stations on that stretch of Interstate 10.  Finally, in Essex, CA, in the Mohave Desert, we saw a large sign advertising gas.  We exited and pulled into the station.  Regular gas was $4.99 per gallon, more than double the price in most of the other states we visited.  The deal was PAY FIRST INSIDE THE STATION.  They posted a big sign explaining that it cost a lot of money to bring gas out to this remote area, so don't complain.  Apparently many people thought they were being gouged and did complain.  Hence, the sign.  I bought 20 bucks worth--4 gallons, enough to get us to Nevada.  Even in Barstow, a fairly large town, the gas is well over 4 bucks a gallon.   The only place we saw in California with reasonable gas prices was on an Indian Reservation about 10 miles west of Palm Springs.  Apparently, the Indians are not subject to California taxes.    One other thing, Arco stations do not take credit cards, only debit cards or cash.    I don't use debit cards. 


On Old U.S. 66 in San Bernardino is a McDonald's museum which is not recognized by the McDonald's Corp.  The reason is that it was founded by Dick and Maurice (Mac) McDonald who, when they sold the company to Ray Kroc, neglected to include the original location in the deal.  This free museum is a historical treasure. 

The McDonald Bros. purchased this location in 1940 when they opened McDonald's Barbecue Restaurant which featured 20 female carhops and a menu serving barbecued ribs, beef and pork sandwiches.  Hamburgers were secondary, but after a few years, the brothers discovered that 80% of their sales were burgers and fries.   In 1948, they took a huge gamble and closed the barbecue joint and remodeled the kitchen to cook only hamburgers and fries.  They pioneered fast food with the "Speedy Service System".  They reopened December 12, 1948, serving 15 cent burgers and 10 cent fries.  It started slowly when customers drove up looking for the carhops, but eventually, the crowds returned and the store started doing a land office business.   They sold huge volumes of milkshakes to wash down the burgers.  That prompted the brothers to purchase Multi Mixer machines from Ray Kroc. 

A few days later, on the cruise ship, we saw the Michael Keaton movie, The Founder, and we came to the realization that each side was trying to screw the other.    In 1961, Kroc gave the brothers a handshake agreement that he would pay them 1% of the profits in perpetuity, a deal that would come to be worth billions and maybe even trillions.  Of course he didn't pay.  After the written contract was signed, Kroc discovered to his chagrin that the original location was not included.  Kroc made the brothers change the name of the restaurant.  It became the "Big M", a name without the same pizazz. The furious Kroc then opened up a McDonald's store down the block, specifically to put the McDonald brothers out of business.  The original building on the site was demolished in 1972, but concerned neighbors prevented the wreckers from tearing down the sign.

The museum today is owned by a guy named Albert Okura who purchased the structure at a foreclosure sale in 1998.  His office is in the same building.  Okura owns 25 Mexican chicken restaurants and also the town of Amboy, California, population 20 , in the desert on Old 66.

You can't miss the place--in front is the huge McDonald's sign built in 1948.  Over one million sold. 
Inside, you'll find the Multi Mixer sold by Ray Kroc to the brothers.  Hundreds of vintage photos and memorabilia make this a destination worth visiting.

An artist was painting a mural on the outside wall of the building.  He is a Mexican guy from the South Side of Chicago, and we talked about the old neighborhood.  The mural has been a work in progress for quite a few years, and many guest artists have weighed in.  The walls have cartoon characters like Archie and Jughead, the Simpsons, the Peanuts characters, Bugs Bunny, etc.  The cartoonists all know each other, and this artist is friends with them.

I bought a new t-shirt and wore it out of the store. 


About 6 miles south of Old Route 66 and Interstate 40 in Arizona is the meteor crater.  It is located about halfway between Flagstaff and Winslow, Arizona. We've visited it twice in the past, the last time about 20 years ago.  But recently they built a new museum next to it.  The museum includes the Astronauts Hall of Fame which lists, in chronological order, all the U.S. astronauts going back to the early 1960's.  Starting in 1964, the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA have conducted astronaut training in the crater, which resembles the moon topographically.  Scientists knew that  the moon was pockmarked with millions of craters from meteorites, asteroids and comet impacts.  They were interested in what materials would lay on and beneath the lunar surface.  When the astronauts landed on the moon, they could collect material on ejecta blankets similar to the area around the Meteor Crater.

The age of the crater is estimated at 50,000 years, and you wouldn't want to be standing there when the meteorite hit.  We're talking about a large iron-nickel meteorite about 150 feet across, weighing hundreds of thousands of tons, hurtling though space at 26,000 miles per hour.  Within seconds, it created a crater 700 feet deep and almost a mile across, ejecting millions of tons of rock (ejecta) all over the desert for miles around.  You can see the outcroppings to this day along the access road.

There are other smaller fragments scattered around the area.  These had split off when the meteorite passed through the atmosphere.  The meteorite itself does not exist--it was vaporized or melted from the heat of the impact.

The Native Americans in the area, of course, were familiar with the crater, but the first written report was made in 1871 by a guy named Franklin who was a scout for General Custer.  For years it was called "Franklin's Hole".  Nobody was sure what it was, and the chief geologist of the U.S. Geological Survey did some field work and concluded it was volcanic in origin. 

In 1902, Daniel Barringer, a Philadelphia mining engineer became interested in the site as a source of iron.  He became convinced that a meteorite was buried there.  He purchased the land containing the crater from the government.  He then spent the next 27 years digging, in a quest to find the giant iron meteorite.  He drilled down over 1300 feet to no avail.  The drill bit broke.  The project ran out of money, and they finally gave up that exploration in 1929.

The Barringer Family still owns the land  but negotiated a long term lease with a local rancher to manage the site to attract tourists and research scientists.  The rancher formed a corporation, Meteor Crater Enterprises, Inc. for that purpose.  Modern techniques have pinned down a fairly accurate age of the crater, 50,000 years.  Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, the former Chief of Astrogeology at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, AZ. proved beyond any doubt that the crater was indeed the result of a giant impact event, and he calculated the size and speed of the object.    Dr. Shoemaker is a respected astronomer who has several comets named after him. 

We walked around on the rim, but didn't go down into the crater.  At my age, climbing back up a 700 foot wall is a very bad idea.   The crater is very beautiful in a surreal way, as the late afternoon shadows fell over the walls.    We inside to watch a movie called Impact! The Mystery of Meteor Crater, and we absorbed all we needed to know.   Then, after 20 years, I finally got my t-shirt. 


Dianne always wanted to take the Beverly Hills tour of the movie stars' homes, so we signed up for it.  We spent the night at the Best Western Hollywood which is an experience in itself.  The walls are festooned with movie posters and autographed photos of movie stars.  I got a nice selfie of me with Marilyn Monroe who still looks good at age 91.  Her large poster is on the wall of the elevator along with John Wayne and James Dean.   We ate dinner and then breakfast in the hotel coffee shop where many of the patrons look familiar, but I don't know who they are. 

The tour began behind Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  It is next door to the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards are held.   We rode in an open van up Mulholland Drive where we got a good view of the iconic Hollywood sign on the mountain.  The sign, built in 1923, originally read "Hollywoodland" which was a real estate development there.  In 1949, the last 4 letters were taken down by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to promote the city, not the real estate development.  The letters are 45 feet high and 31-39 feet wide.  It was originally built to last a couple of years, but by 1978, it had deteriorated and had to be restored to its former glory. 

The Walk of Fame starts in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theater and now consists of 2600 stars on the walkway, now stretching for several blocks.  New stars are being added periodically.  Many of the people honored I've never heard of.  The honorees come from the entertainment industry--the five categories are radio, television, movies, live performances and recording. 

To get a star with your name on it, you have to be nominated, and the sponsor must pay $40,000.   That weeds out schleppers like me.  The individual must be connected with the entertainment industry.   For some, the connection is pretty tenuous.  As you'll see, it doesn't have to be a real person.    The honoree is required to make a public appearance at the dedication.  Some stars don't want the obligation and choose not to comply.  For example, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood and Julia Roberts have declined to be so honored. 

Some people I wouldn't expect have stars, like Paderewski, Pavarotti, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, two presidents, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, Governor Schwarzenegger, and Princess Grace (Kelly).  .  Lassie and Rin Tin Tin have stars and even Godzilla, but not King Kong (his creator has a star).    Thomas Edison is honored, but not Philo Farnsworth who invented television.  There are two Harrison Fords--one was a silent film actor.

A lot of people have two stars, one for radio and one for television.  Jack Benny and Tennessee Ernie Ford have three.  So does Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin  and about 30 others.  Heck, Gene Autry has five, one for each category. 

During the 2016 presidential campaign, some knucklehead defaced the Trump star with a  swastika, using a magic marker.  He drew it backwards which was not the German Nazi symbol but rather an ancient American Indian symbol.  I expect the perpetrator didn't know that.  It was cleaned off by the time I saw the Donald Trump star.  Prior to that, a guy named Otis who claimed to be an heir to the Otis Elevator Co. tried to remove the Trump star with a sledge hammer and pickaxe.   There are cameras all around, so they got pictures of him.  He didn't know that the star weighs about 400 pounds.  He was charged with a felony and got 3 years probation. 

Once the star is there they won't remove it.   So Bill Cosby's star is still there.  Same for Kevin Spacey.  Harvey Weinstein and O.J. Simpson weren't on there to begin with. 


Taliesin West, on the outskirts of Scottsdale, Arizona, was the winter home of the famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).    He purchased it in 1937 and lived there until his death.  It is the campus of the School of Architecture and the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  The school awards Masters Degrees in architecture.  In the summer months, the school meets at Taliesin East, or rather just Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin.   We have visited both.

The Wright family was of Welsh descent, and they named the home after Taliesin, a musician, poet and priest in Welsh mythology. 

We took the guided tour of the house.  They have another tour of the outside grounds which covers 620 acres of desert, but we chose not to take that also.   Maybe next time.

The house was built in Wright style to blend in with the desert environment, using local rocks and other materials.  The site is a National Historic Landmark, and is on the list to maybe become a Unesco World Heritage Site.   It is maintained by the architecture students living there.  They do all the work and eat together in a communal life style. 

Wright was a feisty guy.  In the 1940's the government decided to install overhead power lines in the area which would be visible from the house.   Wright complained, on aesthetic grounds to no avail.  He went so far as to call President Truman to intervene.  That didn't work either, so Wright moved the entrance to the rear of the building. 

Wright's personal life was an example of truth being strange than fiction.  In social mores, he was about 75 years ahead of his time.  His first wife, Catherine, or Kitty, bore him 6 children until he deserted her in 1903.  He ran off with their neighbor Mamah Cheney.  Cheney's husband had hired Wright to design their house.  Wright saw Mrs. Cheney and said "Mamah Mia!"  She said "Mr. Wright is Mr. Right."  Shortly thereafter, the two departed for Europe to live in sin.  In those days, divorces were difficult to obtain.  Mrs. Cheney had to stay in Europe for two years before her husband would grant the divorce on the grounds of desertion.  Wright's wife was not impressed, and she never did grant him the divorce.

Then came the

fire.  In 1914, a male servant from Barbados, Julian Carlton, killed 7 people with an axe and burned down the living quarters of the Wisconsin home.  Among the victims were Mrs. Cheney and her two children.  Carlton tried to kill himself by drinking acid, but he lingered on for several weeks at the jail hospital.

Wright finally got his divorce in 1923, but was required to wait a year before marrying his mistress Miriam Noel.  That marriage failed within a year when he discovered that Noel was addicted to morphine.  Then came the Russian connection.

While still married to Noel, he met Olga Hinzenburg at a Petrograd Ballet performance in Chicago where she performed as a dancer.   Within a year, she and her daughter Svetlana moved in with Wright in Wisconsin, and in 1925 the couple had another daughter, Iovanna.  Meanwhile, in 1925, Taliesin burned down again, this time because of crossed wiring.  Wright had it re-built as Taliesin III. 

In 1926, Hinzenburg's ex-husband sought custody of his daughter, Svetlana.  He went to the authorities, and the cops arrested Wright and Hinzenburg for violating the Mann Act (transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes).  Remember, he was still married to Miriam Noel.  The charges were later dropped, Noel granted the divorce and Wright married Olga in 1928.  They remained married until his death.

Olga's daughter, Svetlana, married William Wesley Peters who lived at Taliesin and was later its director.  Unfortunately, she was killed in an auto accident in 1946.  Peters later married another Svetlana,  the only daughter of the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.  Peters was Svetlana's fourth husband.  Her first lover got 10 years in a labor camp in Siberia.  Despite this, young men kept coming around to court her.    She married her first husband despite Stalin's disapproval.  Stalin refused to ever meet him, but at least the guy didn't wind up in Siberia.  Fortunately for the later husbands, Stalin died in 1952.

Svetlana No. 2 called herself Lana Peters and moved into the Taliesin Fellowship with Peters and their daughter Olga.  After awhile, communal living didn't agree with Svetlana 2.  Believe it or not, she detested the "communist" lifestyle at Taliesin and ultimately she and Olga left Peters, beginning their personal odyssey.   The two moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, then to Russia, then back to her ancestral home in Tbilisi, Georgia (hint:  it's not near Atlanta), then to England and finally back to Wisconsin where Svetlana died in 2011.


Many of the people from our cruise took this opportunity to visit the Pearl Harbor memorials.  All of those excursions were cancelled earlier in the week when the politicians shut down the U.S. government, but they worked things out and the memorials opened again.   We have visited the memorial once before, so we didn't book an excursion.

We walked around Honolulu from the harbor to the government complex.  Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii.  The traditional capitol building is the Iolani Palace which is now a museum of Hawaiian history.  It was replaced as the capitol by the new, modernistic, capitol building in 1969, located next door.    The Iolani Palace is one of two Royal Palaces in the U.S.  The other is also in Hawaii, the Hulihe'e Palace in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.   The iconic Iolani Palace was built in 1879 in American Florentine architecture.  Aside from being a museum of history, the building has a lot of history in itself.  The last Queen of Hawaii was imprisoned there in 1893 when the monarch was overthrown.  When the U.S. took over in 1898, the building became the state capitol.

In Hawaii, we explored museums and learned much about Hawaiian history.  The British explorer James Cook "discovered" the islands in 1778.  He named them the Sandwich Islands after his sponsor, John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich.   Captain Cook got embroiled  in a dispute when the locals "borrowed" one of his boats, and got himself killed by the natives.  Several years later, the Hawaiians, led by King Kamehameha I, used European style weapons to unify the islands under one rule.  Up to that point, each island had its own king.  The islands became prosperous because of their
agriculture and strategic position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.   


Our cruise visited Oahu, Maui, and Kauai.  Our last stop was Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii.  It is pronounced "hee-lo", not "high-low" like the grocery store.  We were whisked from the harbor in a van to the airport where each person was WEIGHED.  In a 7 person helicopter, they have to distribute the weight evenly.  Then a computer determines where each person will sit.  There is no first class.  If you weigh over 270, there is a $100 surcharge.  Fortunately, we were OK.  Two people sat next to the pilot in the front row, and 4 of us sat in the back row.  Dianne sat by the window, and I sat next to her.  The pilot was experienced.  He had flown combat HUEY's in Viet Nam. 

The chopper took off and flew over the vast lava fields at an altitude of less than 1000 feet.  I could clearly read the control dials on the dashboard.  Essentially, the entire island is lava fields, but the recent ones are more pronounced because they are not covered with vegetation.  We flew over the National Park.  We had signed up for the chopper ride because we had concerns whether the  government would shut down the park after the experience on Oahu.   By now, it was, of course, open. 

We flew in low over the active Kilauea Volcano where the lava in the crater glowed bright orange.  The chopper came in at a 45 degree angle to the ground.   It was scary, but exhilerating at the same time. 

The big island of Hawaii is the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands and the only one with active volcanoes.   The other islands are also volcanic,  but due to drift of the Earth's mantle, are no longer sitting over the hotspot in the Earth's crust.  The oldest is Kure Atoll, 1500 miles to the Northwest.  Mauna Loa volcano is considered the  tallest mountain on Earth when measured from the ocean floor to the peak.  The mountain is several thousand feet higher than Mount Everest. 

Then there is Loihi, an active volcano about 22 miles Southeast of the big island of Hawaii  It has been erupting fairly constantly for about 400,000 years, and it causes swarms of earthquakes which are felt on the big island.   The summit of Loihi is 10,000 feet above the sea floor but 3200 feet below the level of the ocean.  In another hundred thousand years or so, it will emerge as another Hawaiian island. 

Loihi is being closely studied by scientists worldwide  An amazing discovery is that the superhot vents (over 200C) of the volcano, 4000 feet below the surface, are the home to millions of microorganisms, especially iron oxidizing bacteria.  Scientists are researching these archaea extremophiles to determine if any lessons can be drawn.


After our helicopter ride, we leafed through the Chamber of Commerce literature in Hilo.   We came upon the Pacific Tsunami Museum. We found that Hilo gets inundated by a tsunami about every 10 years on the average.  The city was completely destroyed in 1946.  They experienced another biggie in 1964 when a magnitude 9 earthquake hit Alaska.  The same quake caused a tsunami in Crescent City, California which we visited several years ago. 

We used to call them "tidal waves", but they have nothing to do with the tides.  Scientists decided to adopt the Japanese name "tsunami" because Japan gets hit by them quite often.  The word means "harbor wave" in Japanese. 

The museum had exhibits and photographs of each of the many tsunamis that leveled Hilo over the years.  In every case, they were caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions thousands of miles away.  A 9.6 magnitude in Chile in 1960 caused an 80 foot wave in Hilo, 10,000 miles away.  These walls of water move across the ocean at incredible speeds, up to 600 miles per hour. 

Ships can sail through them on the open sea without incident.   The waves slow down as they approach the shoreline,  but they build up in height.  The waves level everything in sight and kill thousands of people who cannot get to high ground in time.    Tsunamis are deceptive.  Often, up to a half hour before the wave hits, the water on the coast draws back for miles.   Curious people come out to view this, and then they get swept away when the water comes back.  Also deceptive is that tsunamis come in several waves, minutes apart.  Often, the later wave is the most destructive.

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are the most common causes of tsunamis, but there can be other causes also.  For example a meteorite hitting the ocean can cause a tsunami.  If one were to hit the Atlantic Ocean, New York, Miami or Boston could be inundated under a 100 foot wall of water.  That did happen in Lisbon, Portugal in 1755 due to an underwater earthquake.  The highest recorded tsunami occurred in 1958 in Lituya Bay, Alaska--a 1700 foot wall of water.  It was caused by a landslide.  Only two people were killed in this thinly populated area. 

The Indonesian tsunami of 2004 was caused by a 9 magnitude earthquake.  A section of the seafloor the size of California suddenly lifted 30 feet, displacing enough water to kill 280,000 people, many of them Western tourists in seaside resorts. 


In the waters near Maui, we took a catamaran ride to go whale watching. Humpback whales migrate between Hawaii and Alaska.  The best time to view them in Hawaii is January and February when we were there.  It was mating and calving season, and there were lots of whales.  Although they are considered endangered, there are an estimated 10,000 whales in the Hawaiian Islands.  The whales are as big as the boat--they are 45 feet long and can weigh 50 tons.  They are difficult to photograph because you don't know when they will surface.  A whale will surface, and by the time you can focus the camera, the whale dives under water again.   Maybe the best way is to take a video of an area and hope a whale emerges.  


If you always wanted to know where all the garbage in the world turns up, look no further than the gyre in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where the currents converge.   The result is a garbage patch larger than Texas, and maybe larger than the Continental United States.  It is difficult to measure precisely because most of it is composed of small plastic particles that break down to smaller and smaller pieces and wind up eaten by fish and other marine life, particularly sea turtles and albatrosses.  On the Midway Atoll, about 20 tons of plastic debris wash up on shore each year and significant amounts are eaten by the birds. 

Because the particles are small, the garbage patch is difficult to detect by aircraft or satellite.  If you are sailing through it like we were, you might not realize it.   There are no islands of trash--it is more like a soup with plastic particles.

The Pacific garbage patch (gyre) is not the only one in the world's oceans.  You also have them in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  The bottom lie is you probably don't want to eat sea turtles or albatrosses.  And think about that when you throw out the 2 liter plastic bottle of Coke.

Friday, August 11, 2017


It was our fourth time in Russia.  We've visited the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific Coast and now the Arctic Coast of Russia.  Before the trip, I told some Russian friends that we were going to Murmansk.  They said, "Why would you want to go there?"  Precisely!

Murmansk is the largest city in the world north of the Arctic Circle. It is located on the Kola Peninsula, not far from Norway.  It is closer to the North Pole than it is to Moscow.  Murmansk is a city of 300,000.  The population used to be 500,000.  When people were no longer forced to live there, they voted with their feet.   The sun does not come up for 2 months in the Winter and it gets bitterly cold up here--the January average temperature is 5F (-15C).  In January, the mercury can dip close to -40F (-40C).  Despite that, the port remains relatively ice free, even in Winter because of the Gulf Stream.

Murmansk is a relatively new city.  It was founded in 1916.  Czarist Russia needed a seaport beyond the reach of the German Navy during World War I.  The city was called Romanov-on-Murman.  "Murman" or "Nurmann" was the Russian word for "Norman" or "Viking".  The Vikings had sailed to this area 1000 years ago.  When the Red Army took over, a couple of years later, they changed the name to Murmansk. 

Our ship docked opposite the huge Soviet era nuclear icebreaker, the Lenin, written in Cyrillic letters.  Not John Lennon, but Vladimir Lenin.  The Lenin can cut through 10 feet of ice.  It sails to the North Pole and takes tourists there.  A friend we met on the cruise, Doug from British Columbia actually did take that cruise.  He told me that several times, the ship got stuck in the ice, so it backed up and rammed through it.  He even took a dip in the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole.

Murmansk serves as the headquarters of the Russian Northern Fleet and is a major nuclear submarine base.  To keep the sea lanes open in Winter, the Russians keep 4 nuclear powered icebreakers in the Murmansk harbor.  This is an extremely busy commercial and industrial port, but not known for its scenery.  It is the end of the line on the Kirov Railway from Moscow and St. Petersburg.  We saw many long fully loaded freight trains from the South.

The most iconic sight in Murmansk is the enormous Alyosha Monument honoring the Soviet soldiers of the great Patriotic War, which we call World War II.  This monument is on a hill with a panoramic view of the city.  It is a 116 foot tall sculpture of a brooding soldier dressed in Winter gear with a rifle slung over his shoulder.  It is the second tallest statue in Russia.  It was built in 1974 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the defeat of the German forces in the Arctic.  It contains the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  On the 60th anniversary, in 2004, they added the Wall of the Hero Cities, memorial plaques and capsules containing dirt from the various "hero" cities on the plaques--Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad and others.  Although the names are written in Cyrillic letters, I could generally decipher them because they have some similarity to Greek letters.   Many Russians celebrate their weddings at the Monument despite the usually bad weather.

There are many languages spoken in Murmansk. We're talking Russian, Ukrainian, Azerbaijani, Byelorussian, and Georgian. but not English.    Dianne is from Georgia, but the Georgian they speak is not the Georgian they speak near Atlanta although Southern Russians do speak with a drawl.

The Murmansk landscape is dotted with dozens of huge Soviet era apartment complexes as far as the eye can see.  In the U.S., these would be called "the projects".  They are drab, gray stone buildings, many with peeling paint.  In Russia, they call them Khrushchevs, after the 1950's and '60's Communist Party leader who ordered the construction.  They are obviously not luxury living, but the Russians don't expect much. 

Before they were built, many Russians lived 3 families in one apartment.  Apartments were scarce because the city had suffered extensive destruction from the German bombardment in World War II. Khrushchev kept the people happy by giving them their own apartments.  Some of these buildings are now being replaced by modern apartments.  I didn't see any single family homes, and I asked our guide about that.    She told me that many Russians do live in single family homes, presumably in the suburbs.

Murmansk does have many of the amenities of Western cities.  We drove past the huge indoor Volna Shopping Mall which has the only McDonald's I saw, the Northernmost McDonald's in the world.  '  A Big Mac in Murmansk costs only about $1.53, less than a third of what it would cost in Norway.

Murmansk has a sister city, Jacksonville, Florida.  That one floored me.    During World War II, much of the allied aid to Russia came by way of Jacksonville.  After the War, Jacksonville sent medical equipment and trained Russian doctors.

We had a nice lunch at the modern and upscale Park Inn by Radisson Hotel in Murmansk.   We ate blinis which are pancakes with fruit and brown sugar.  They also make blinis filled with caviar, fish, melted butter or sour cream.  Russians eat a lot of caviar because they get it locally.  I stayed away from the borscht. 


We visited the statue of the local hero, Sergei Kirov.  It stands in front of the Palace of Culture, also called the Kirov Palace.  Kirov was Stalin's right hand man, a loyal Communist.  He was appointed the head of the Communist Party in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).  Kirov was a party guy as well as a Party guy.  He was a hard drinker who lived the good life and perks of his office.  He was popular with the Party cadre, even more popular than the austere Stalin.   Not good.

The Party faithful considered him a reformer, and his influence continued to grow.  Indeed, Kirov gave a speech at the 1934 Party Congress advocating a more relaxed approach in the future.  Apparently he forgot to clear that with Stalin.  The Central Committee elected Kirov with just 3 negative votes.  Stalin received far more negative votes, and those who cast them were probably never heard from again.  Working for Stalin, if you're not totally in agreement with him, that's not good for one's career.  Kirov may have had some indication when he was starting to not get invited to certain Politburo meetings.

Kirov was assassinated in December, 1934 at his office under suspicious circumstances.  All indications were that the assassin, who was later executed, was hired by the NKVD (secret police) on Stalin's orders. Kirov normally had a 4 to 8 guard security detail, NKVD people.   For some reason, on the day Kirov was killed, the bodyguards were all out to lunch or nowhere to be found.  Indeed, after the assassination, Stalin personally interviewed the killer, an unprecedented event.  Then Stalin had the guy's whole family executed. 

This event touched off the Great Purge of the 1930's in which many of the Old Bolsheviks were arrested and executed.  The first thing Stalin did to usher in the Great Purge was to disarm everyone--all Party officials carried weapons, distributed by the Party.  No longer.  There was no Second Amendment in Russia.   After the arrests, the prosecution in the show trials charged these people with "complicity" in Kirov's murder.  They were all forced to confess.  Several years later, all the NKVD agents on Kirov's security detail were also executed because they knew too much. 

After the assassination, the Stalin regime portrayed Kirov as a hero.  Many places were named after Kirov.  There were the cities of Kirov, Kirovohrad, Kriovakan, Kirova and several Kirovsks.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kirovakan, in Armenia reverted to its original name, Vanadzor.  Kirovabad, in Azerbaijan similarly reverted to Ganja.    Azerbaijan also removed the massive Kirov statue in Baku in 1992.  In the Ukraine, it took a little longer, until after the Crimean crisis.  Then the Parliament following its de-communization laws changed Kirovohrad to Kropyvnytskyi in 2016.  The Ukrainians didn't much like the guy.  He was in charge when more than a million Ukrainian farmers, the Kulaks, died of forced starvation or were executed in the 1920's. 

The Murmansk statue was built in 1960 when Khrushchev rehabilitated Kirov.  Today, many things, at least in Russia, are named after Kirov--streets, railways, factories.


The other thing worth noting about this God forsaken area is the nearby relic of the Cold War, the Kola Superdeep Borehole.    During the Space Race, the U.S. and the Russians were also competing to see who could drill the deepest hole into the Earth's crust.  Ultimately, the Russians prevailed on this dubious distinction, and science did learn many new things about the world under our feet.

The hole is located a few miles outside Murmansk, and you'd need an all wheel drive vehicle to get there.   This 9 inch diameter hole goes down 7.5 miles (40,230') into the Earth.  It took 24 years to drill it--longer than it took to travel to Pluto.  At that depth, the rock had been thoroughly fractured and saturated with water, a totally unexpected finding.  The temperature of this superheated liquid water was 180C (356F), far above the boiling point.  The scientists finally had to stop drilling because the high temperatures at the bottom caused the rock to behave like plastic, and the drill could not proceed any farther.  The plan had been to drill down to 15,000 meters (49,000'), but the intense heat destroyed the drill.

To me, the most interesting discovery coming out of this project was the microfossils--the preserved remains of 24 species of single cell marine plants--plankton.  The rocks in which they were found are 2 billion years old.         

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Dianne and I recently took a trip to the Arctic.  It started with an 8 hour plane ride, Chicago to London.  We looked forward to 11 days in which it never gets dark.   On the plane, I sat with a middle aged black music professor taking a new job in London and a Hasidic Jewish rabbinic student with 5 kids.  His wife lives in London.  This motely group of characters made for some interesting and stimulating conversation which made the time pass quickly.

The cruise ship was docked in Dover, about a 2 hour bus ride from London.  Shortly before we got to Dover, we passed the exit for the Chunnel to Calais, France which is only 20 or so miles across the English Channel.  When we arrived at the port, we could clearly see the famous White Cliffs of Dover.  Hundreds of locals were fishing off the pier, facing the beautiful White Cliffs.

The Pacific Princess went full throttle across the rough North Sea which is known for its terrible weather, and it didn't disappoint.  This was our second trip across the North Sea, and it hasn't gotten any better.  We're talking huge swells.  The ship made its way through the heavy gray seas against 40 knot winds blowing down from the Arctic.  From time to time we passed oil drilling platforms which have made Norway a wealthy country.

Our cabin was freezing, and we then realized that we still had the air conditioning on.  The sliding doors of our cabin didn't keep out the cold winds--it was still drafty.  We were queasy for a couple days.  Many other passengers must have been also because they didn't come down for dinner.

We especially like exotic cruises to destinations like the Arctic because most of the passengers have similar interests.  Most have traveled to other exotic locations worldwide, and we get ideas to add to our bucket list.  For example, I was reading the most recent Jean Auel book about Stone Age people, and we expressed an interest in visiting the Lascaux Caves in France which are famous for the primitive wall paintings of mammoths and other extinct animals.    Several people on the cruise have visited there and reinforced our desire to see the caves. Also, I spoke with at least 2 families who traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow by way of Ulanbaatar, Mongolia.  I'd like to try that also, but Dianne is not keen on that idea. 


Our first port was Bergen, a seacoast city of 300,000.  This was our second trip to Bergen.  It is a quaint and beautiful old city, with colorful 18th Century houses framing the waterfront. The city was founded hundreds of years ago as a port of the Hansetic League.  Don't confuse it with the American League or the NFL.  The Hansetic League was a network of merchant guilds and their cities, mostly German, which formed a trade association.   For over 3 centuries in the Middle Ages, the Hansetic League was very powerful and wealthy, dominating the Baltic maritime trade.  It had its own legal system and even armies for protection and aid.

The Hansetic League Museum, built in 1704 overlooks the harbor.  UNESCO has designated it a heritage site.  To visit it, I had to climb a narrow, rickety and dimly lit staircase to the third floor to see a trading room, a merchant's office, sailors' bunks and tools, instruments and maps of the Hansetic network.  On the lower level of the building were the storage and processing rooms for fish and cod liver oil.  The various period items were collected from surrounding farms in the Bergen area.  They don't have a Norwegians with Disabilities Act, so there was no elevator, escalator or ramp to get to it.  Dianne couldn't climb the stairs, so they refunded her admission fee. 

Nearby, we visited the outdoor market, called the Torget (not the Target)  where we saw displays of every type of fish.  The most popular in Norway is laks, which we know as smoked salmon (lox).  The Norwegians don't normally serve bagels with it.

As a seaport city, Bergen is very cosmopolitan.  I was surprised by the number of Chinese and Thai restaurants.   It was lunchtime, and I found a vendor cooking Spanish paella with local seafood in a large wok like bowl.  It was delicious. 

Norway is very expensive.  At the Torget, they have a bathroom for tourists at the information center.  You have to pay 10 kroners to use it, about a buck and a quarter.  Do I pay the buck and a quarter or do I suffer? 

We decided to see the city on the bright red On-Off sightseeing bus.  On our previous trip to Bergen, we walked around downtown and took the funicular railway up to the top of Mt. Floien where our lunch was a $17 cheese sandwich.  (see KENSUSKINREPORT August 21, 2011).  This time, we saw the concert hall named after hometown composer Edvard Grieg.  There is a museum devoted to Grieg.  You can visit his villa, his cabin and even his grave.  We didn't do so. 


Trondheim is world famous for hosting the Winter Olympics.  They have a ski slope where you can downhill ski even when there is no snow.   Tourists flock to see it.

We were blessed with a mild sunny day.  We were told that it was the sixth day this year when the sun was shining.  Hey, it was the end of June.  Most days, it rains.

The shuttle bus from the pier took us to the magnificent Nidoros Cathedral, the most iconic sight in Trondheim.  It was build over the burial site of St. Olav, the 11th Century Norwegian king who is the patron saint of Norway.  He was killed at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, and the construction of the cathedral was begun in 1070.  There must have been a problem with the permits, because it took 230 years to complete.  During the Reformation in 1537, the Lutherans kicked out the Catholics and took over the cathedral.  It is used for coronations of Norway's kings. 

The building has been ravaged by fires several times over the centuries although the stone walls remained intact.  The current restoration and rebuilding was begun in 1869 and finally completed in 2001.  The main architect was a guy named Christian Christie who was not related to the New Jersey governor.  Christie had made a name for himself restoring many medieval monuments in Norway.  He died in 1906, and they finally completed the work 95 years later.    Construction can be a slow process. 

We walked around town and saw the other iconic site, the king's official residence, called Stiftsgarten.  At 43,000 square feet, it is one of the largest wooden buildings in Scandinavia.  The building has 140 rooms.  Across the street, we visited the courthouse and city hall where several weddings were being performed.  The colorful murals painted on the courthouse were quite interesting, depicting 18th century barristers.

To see how normal residents live, we visited a hardware store and a supermarket where the prices appeared to be about 50% higher than in the U.S.   When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.  We then found our way to the indoor shopping mall downtown, The Trondheim Torg and visited the McDonalds. 

The main industry of Trondheim other than fishing, is copper mining.  We could have taken a tour of the mine but decided against it.  I've visited coal mines, and it can't be than much different. 


We continued North, past the Arctic Circle to begin 11 days for us where the sun never set.  We crossed 75 degrees latitude, the same as Northern Alaska.  Some showers were in the air on this July afternoon.  We thoroughly enjoyed the spectacular mountains and glaciers along the Norway coast. We left the top of Norway and journeyed several hundred miles across open sea in the Arctic Ocean to the Svalbard Archipelago at a latitude of 78 degrees and change--about 800 miles from the North Pole.  Needless to say, it was cold.  About 60% of Svalbard is covered with glaciers.  There are no trees.  Where the land is not covered with glaciers, it is covered with green lichens.  Reindeer and caribou graze on it.

We docked in the principal city, Longyearbyen, a town of about 2000.  This town was founded in the early 20th Century to  serve the nearby coal mines, some of which are still operating.   Most houses and buildings are brightly colored prefabs with pointy roofs.  Houses are built on stilts because you can't dig a foundation in permafrost.  I was told that 70% of the households consist of 1 person.  Most are scientists staying temporarily.  When it's dark outside for over 4 months, people get depressed and want to leave.  They come back in the summer.

Longyearbyen can be dangerous.  It's not street crime they are worried about--it's polar bears.  The city maps have a warning sign:  "Highlighted area.  Safe for walking about without an armed guard."  Back home on the South Side of Chicago, that is normal, so I didn't think anything of it.  The danger is the polar bear who sees you and thinks it is dinner time.  The gun laws  are the opposite of most places.  In Longyearbyen, all residents are required to carry a high powered rifle at all times because of the polar bear situation.  However, they are required to check their guns at the door when entering a retail establishment. 

The island archipelago is called Svalbard, and the largest island is called Spitzbergen which means "jagged peaks".  It was discovered in 1592 by explorer William Barents, and they named the nearby Barents Sea after him.  It is part of Norway, but Russians live there also.  More on that later.

Spitzbergen's other claim to fame is the Global Seed Bank, officially called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is buried in an abandoned coal mine in a sandstone mountain which is usually covered by snow.  It is 430 feet above seal level in a geologically stable area.  Even if the ice caps melt, presumably it will stay dry for a few thousand years. 

The facility was built in 2008, and is funded by the Norwegian government.  The purpose is to keep a supply of plant seeds, "spare" copies if you will, of food crops in the event of loss of seeds in other gene banks during a large scale crisis, e.g. Nuclear holocaust elsewhere in the world.  As I learned, there are 1600 seed banks scattered around the world.  These crises often occur as a result of mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts and natural disasters.  The seed bank in the Philippines was damaged by flooding and later destroyed by fire.  The seed banks in Afghanistan and Iraq were lost completely. 

I went to see it, but they won't let you in.  This is sensitive stuff, so it is well guarded.  Not as much as Area 51, but guarded nevertheless.  To get in one would have to go through four sets of locked doors. 

When we were there, we saw construction equipment around the entrance, but I got a photo.  There had been some water damage in 2016 because of heavy rainfall, and the government is making improvements which include waterproofing the tunnel walls and digging drainage ditches.  There are four layers of protection for the seeds, and the water seepage only reached the first layer. 

The guide told me the vault contains about 2 billion seeds in Tupperware containers, actually, in special 3 ply foil packets, heat sealed to exclude moisture.  One thing you won't find there is genetically modified seeds, prohibited by Norwegian law.  The storage rooms are air conditioned to a frigid 0 degrees Fahrenheit--about the same as your freezer at home.

Most of the time, the Global Seed Bank takes in deposits, and it is free to end users.  The only withdrawal so far was made by Aleppo, Syria.

After visiting the Global Seed Bank, as it were, my tour continued a few hundred yards down the road.  We began a hike up a 1000 foot mountain dotted with small niveous glaciers.  There is no path, and most of the climb is on jagged rocks.  We forded a stream where I got my wool socks wet in the icy water.  We hiked up a slippery glacier, and it was cold and windy.  About halfway up, I couldn't go anymore.  I was afraid I would die of a heart attack.    Fortunately for me, it is illegal to die in Svalbard because the graveyard closed to new business 70 years ago.  The bodies don't decompose in the permafrost.  If someone dies illegally, the body has to be shipped to Norway for burial. 

The guide walked me down the mountain, on the same rugged terrain, but downhill.  A young man named Mats brought a van to take me back to the ship.  I bribed him to take me into downtown Longyearbyen instead, about a mile and a half from the ship.  That turned out to be a good move.

I visited the post office, the small shopping mall, the supermarket.  Several of the stores in town are outfitters and tour guides.  They sell polar bear rugs, seal skins, and reindeer skins.  There are lots of sled dogs, but you won't find any cats.  They are banned, to protect endangered Arctic birds.  If you're planning to hike to the North Pole, this is a good place to start.    "Clothing gear for your expedition."  They do have a Radisson Blu hotel, as well as a couple other hotels.  They have restaurants you wouldn't expect, like Arctic Tapas and sushi. If you want whale stir fry, you can get it here--to go.

I walked back on the road toward the ship.  On the way back, I came upon the Svalbard Brewery, so I went inside.  The beer is brewed with glacier water.   The offered me all the beer I wanted, but I don't much like beer.  Most things in the Arctic are expensive, but alcohol is relatively cheap because there are no taxes.  You can even play golf here, but the course is inside a Quonset building. 

Every year, on March 8th, the residents celebrate shortly after Noon when the sun comes out--for the first time since October 25th.

Dianne took a different tour in Svalbard, a catamaran ride to the Soviet era town of Pyramiden, named after the pyramid shaped mountain outside of town.   She was enthusiastic about the 30 mile boat ride because an enormous gray whale was sighted, larger than the boat.   Her group snapped many photos.  After their adventure, they were warmly greeted at the dock.

The story behind this is that until 1920 the Svalbard Archipelago was not a part of any nation.  Then, the U.S., Britain, Norway and a few others, but not Russia, executed the Svalbard Treaty which granted Norway sovereignty over the area.  The treaty granted the signatories equal rights to develop and pursue commercial activities in the islands.   Within a few years, Russia and over 40 other nations signed the treaty.  In 1927, the Soviet Union purchased the Pyramiden area and acquired the rights to develop the coal fields there.  They established a model community there analogous to a collective farm.  Today, that community is a museum with a window into how workers lived during the Soviet era.    In 1936, a state run coal company, Trust Arktikugol, assumed responsibility for the mining operations of Pyramiden and also Barentsburg, about 60 miles away.

During World War II, the Soviets poured money into this barren area, constructing drab, Soviet style apartment blocks as well as a hospital, a hotel and a recreation center, plus the obligatory statue of Lenin.   The coal mines were not profitable, but the Soviets liked having a presence in the West.  Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russians had other priorities, and the subsidies dried up.    Morale went down, but the crowning blow was the 1996 crash of a chartered Arktikugol plane which killed 141 people, most of them family members of the mineworkers. 

Finally, in 1998, the Russians abandoned the place, lock stock and barrel.  Today, it is largely a ghost town although a handful of workers live there, for limited maintenance and to guide tourists.  Recently the Tulip Hotel reopened for the Summer months only, to serve the tourist trade.  Most of the buildings are locked to prevent vandalism and theft of artifacts, which has been a problem.  You need special permission to go inside.  Dianne's group had lunch at the hotel and they were given a guided tour of the recreation area and the post office. 


We celebrated the Fourth of July at sea.   There were no fireworks because the sun didn't go down.  Tromso is known for its spectacular Northern Lights, but you can't see them when it doesn't get dark.  Tromso is a city of 68,000, the largest Norwegian city north of the Arctic Circle.  It is located on an island near the North Cape of Norway.   It faces beautiful snow capped mountains. 

We explored the city and found there is a lot to see in Tromso.   A short walk from the pier, we came upon a statue of the great Arctic explorer, Roald Amundsen--with a disrespecting seagull perched on his head.  Tromso was the staging point for Arctic expeditions in the early 20th Century.     

Tromso has an aquarium, the Polaria, a world class facility in modern architecture.  We arrived in time to watch the keepers feed the 4 seals.  They do this twice a day with large crowds of tourists jostling for space by the rail.  It was explained to us that seals need mental stimulation, and the attendants throw out small basketballs into the water.  A seal really can balance a ball on his nose.  Then they showed us a panorama film about Arctic wildlife in Svalbard.

Next door is the MS Polstjena, a whaling and sealing boat which was in service until the 1970's.  I donned earphones and heard the whole story as I clambered over the boat.   The voice described seal hunting in great detail, more than I needed to know.  The boat could bring in 3000 seals during the two month Spring hunting season off the East Coast of Greenland. 

I climbed into the control room, the living quarters, and the small kitchen.  Up to 10 men would stay in the hold, pretty much all the time.  The guide explained that between the seal oil and the unbathed sailors, it smelled pretty bad down there.

Nearby, just down the street is a statue of Ludwig Mack who started a brewery in Tromso in 1877, and it still operates today. It wrongly claims to be the Northernmost brewery in the world, but I visited the one in Spitzbergen, hundreds of miles to the North.  Although we didn't take the tour, they charge based on how many tastings you want.  It is $20 or so for two tastings and about $35 for four tastings.  If you're really thirsty, it's probably a good deal.

Tromso's other must see sight is its modernistic A-frame Arctic Cathedral, built in 1965.  I saw it from the ship but didn't visit because it was on the other side of the bay across a long bridge.  In town we walked to the wooden Tromso Cathedral, built in 1861.    The city has only 350 Catholics, but two cathedrals.  Pope John Paul II visited in 1989.

On our way back to the ship, prominently displayed in the city part was the unexpected (to us) monument to honor the 20 Tromso Jews who were forcibly removed and killed in 1943.  Their names are inscribed--5 members of the Caplan family, 5 more of the Shotland family, 3 Sakolskys, Smith, Klein, Resnick and a couple more.


The ship sailed on to Honningsvag, about 30 miles from the North Cape.  This town is not a big deal, but what IS a big deal, at least to Europeans, is the North Cape, the Northernmost point in continental Europe.  The town has a little over 2000 people, but several things about it were interesting to us. 

This area of Norway is called Finnmark County, and the native people are called the Sami.  They have their own separate languages.  We know them as the Laplanders, although the Sami people in Norway consider the term Lapp to be insulting.  Not so much in Sweden and Finland.   They are famous for raising herds of reindeer, and Norway does not allow anyone but Sami people to herd reindeer.  These nomadic folks are of European origin, and they have a 10,000 year history in the area.  The UN considers them as an "Indigenous People". 

You'd think they could have gone somewhere warmer, but they thrived in the North.  Like many other native peoples, they faced struggles when the Norwegians tried to stamp out their language and culture and make them Norwegians.   They were treated as second class citizens by the Norwegians for years, especially in the early 20th Century, but with pressure from the UN and other countries, they are OK now although they don't yet have casinos. 

The downtown area of Honningsvag is about two blocks long and is called Little Chicago.  There has to be a story behind that, and we were determined to find out.   There was a lot of competition between whalers and fishermen, and it heated up into a major bare knuckled brawl in 1904.  According to locals I spoke with, the violence inspired the locals to think of Chicago.  Some things never change. 

One establishment we didn't visit was the ice bar.  That is crazy to us.  It is cold in this area, so who would anyone want to visit an ice bar.  We had visited one in St. Thomas.  They turn the temperature down to 27F.   They hand out parkas, mittens, and scarfs.  To us Chicagoans, 27F is not that cold, and certainly not cold enough to wear a parka. 

In the local bakery, we ordered a "Lille Chicago" which turned out to be a chocolate mousse cake.  It was very rich and sweet, and we could only eat a few bites.  We walked down the street to the market where we bought some Pringles for about twice what they charge in Chicago.  On the ship, we had met a retired man named Harold who had once been the product manager of Pringles when he worked for Procter & Gamble.  I learned everything I wanted to know about Pringles and then some.  For example, it only worked with Idaho russet potatoes--Maine potatoes didn't work well.  The problem for him was that between McDonald's and Procter & Gamble, there weren't enough Idaho russets.  Harold had to meet with the potato king Mr. Simplot himself to work it out.  Then they had to come up with new technology to make each chip precise and also to properly space the chips in the cardboard tube so that it didn't look like the box was only half full.  So I bought a box just to see for myself. 

At the museum, we learned about the seafood industry.  Everyone in Norway eats fish and seafood--its the main industry.  They brought in king crabs from Siberia.  These critters are 5 feet across and weigh 25 pounds.  They are an invasive species, so the government encourages catching and eating  them.  The locals run crab fishing safaris for tourists. 

The town of Honningsvag exists for tourism.  During World War II, there was a major battle nearby, and the city was completely destroyed except for the church.   Today, hundreds and maybe thousands of people visit the town daily.  They board dozens of tour buses for the drive to the North Cape.  Many others drive their campers up the narrow two lane road which is open only in the Summer months except for a couple hours daily in Winter only for convoy driving.   They get a lot of snow in Winter.   At the North Cape they have separate parking lots for buses and for cars and campers.  Hordes of people milled around, taking photos of the sheer cliffs and the monuments.   Many of these people brought small kids in strollers over the rough ground. 

It was cold!  We visited on a sunny July day which is apparently a rare event in the area.  Strong winds off the Arctic Ocean brought the wind chill into the single digits (Fahrenheit). Our guide said they get 15 sunny days a year.  But then, for three of the months, the sun doesn't come up and it is dark all day.  The Gulf Stream moderates the temperatures somewhat, and the ocean does not freeze over, but it creates huge snowfalls each Winter.

The scenery at the North Cape is spectacular.  The rocky cliffs overlooking the Arctic Ocean are more than 1000 feet high.  There are numerous glaciers on the aprons.  Nearby, herds of reindeer and caribou graze on the slopes. 

The Norwegians built a modern facility, North Cape Hall, to accommodate the crowds of tourists.  they get 200,000 visitors a year.  It has everything you could want--a movie theater, post office, cafeteria, museum, a large souvenir gift shop, and it is on multi levels.  In the cinema, we watched a 15 minute video depicting the seasons.  On the North Cape, there are two seasons, Winter and Spring.  July is considered Spring.  Then Winter comes back with a vengeance.

The large globe monument is the symbol of the North Cape at 71 degrees latitude.  Thousands of visitors photograph it each year.  People come to see the Children of the Earth monuments--circular clay reliefs molded by 7 kids from different nations in 1988 expressing their creativity.    These reliefs were then cast in bronze and framed by granite.  They stand outside the North Cape Hall.   Next to that, as part of the exhibit, is the full size Mother and Child sculpture by Eva Rybakken.  The Children of the Earth organization awards an 18,000 Euro prize each year to a person or project who has shown compassion or helped suffering children in the world.  It is presented at North Cape.  Another monument is an obelisk overlooking the cliffs which honors King Oscar II, the sardine guy, who visited the North Cape in 1873.


Farther down the Arctic Coast are the Lofoten Islands with beautiful green mountains  rising starkly out of the sea.  This area is dotted with small fishing  villages and dairy farms.  People live in colorful houses overlooking the fjords. 

The Lofoten Islands are famous for the Maelstrom, the strong tidal current which occurs twice a day.  The tidal currents can reach speeds as high as 20 mph.  The water currents funnel through a narrow channel between two islands. The unusual shape of the seabed with a shallow ridge amplifies and whirls the tidal currents.   The effect would be comparable to water draining down a sink or bathtub. 

The Maelstrom is the subject of countless literary works and films.  Edgar Allen Poe's Descent into the Maelstrom and Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are two noteworthy works, but they greatly exaggerate the effect.   In Poe's story, two fishermen are swallowed by the maelstrom and one miraculously survives.  The Norway Maelstrom is even mentioned in Melville's Moby Dick.   As a practical matter, although small craft can be in danger from the swirling waters, large ships are not. 


Geiranger is a town of only 180 permanent residents although a few thousand more come each Summer to work in the hotels and B & B's.  The town is nestled between a mountain and the fjord.  Our ship sailed several miles up the winding fjord amidst magnificent scenery.  The fjord, with sheer rock faces on both sides, is a UNESCO world heritage site and is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Most visitors to the area take the trip to the summit of Mt. Dalsnibba, 1500 meters (4757') which overlooks the fjord.  The two lane road to the top is winding, to say the least.  There is no center line.  It has 35 switchbacks each way.  Navigating that road in a tour bus takes special talent.  The road is closed in Winter  because of avalanches, but it is dangerous in Summer also because cars are competing with the tour buses.  If you veer off the road, it's a 2000 foot drop. 

The nearest hospital is in Eidsdal, 2 1/2 hours away over another road, the Eagle Road, open in Winter.  Don't get sick in this part of the world.  In Geiranger, the doctor comes every Wednesday. If you get sick on Thursday, you're in trouble.

On the lower levels of the road, the view is breathtaking.  As we got higher up the mountain into the clouds, it was raining, and on the top, it was snowing, not unusual in July.  Traffic was gridlocked at the top, with probably a dozen tour buses and a thousand or so people squeezing into  a small gift shop and lined up for the rest rooms.  The view up there is amazing, at least on a clear day, as we could tell from looking at the postcards.  With the snow and the clouds, we couldn't see much.

What we could see is that at and near the peak, somebody laboriously piled rocks resembling trolls on thousands of flat rock surfaces.  Trolls are uniquely Norwegian.  Sweden and Finland have other stuff like dwarfs, elves, etc.  I thought about the children's story about the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

The mountain has hundreds of glaciers and waterfalls, large and small.   The road runs alongside a raging alpine river, a white water rafter's dream.  Actually it's not--nobody could survive the rapids and waterfalls. 

About halfway up is Flydalsjuvet, a giant overhanging rock.  Many tourists climb out on that rock for photo ops.  It's a 2000 foot drop down the granite cliff.  I didn't go out there.  I remembered the Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire.   It used to be the state symbol until one day a few years ago, when it broke off and tumbled into the valley.  No sir!  I did get a lot of good photos.

On the way down, we stopped for tea and a Danish (a Norwegian?) at the beautiful Djupvasshytta Lodge by the shores of a deep blue glacial lake, Djupvatn Lake.

Our guide was a co-ed from Lithuania with a good sense of humor.  This was her Summer job.  She told us of the legend of the Seven Sisters and the Suitor--waterfalls.  The suitor was determined to marry one of the seven sisters.  He proposed to each one in turn and was rejected each time.  Maybe he should have gone on the Bachelor show.  The discouraged suitor turned to the bottle, and none of the Seven Sisters ever married.  Good story.

This area is also famous, at least in Norway, for its pizza.  You've all had Norwegian pizza, right?  Pizza Grandiosa, produced in this area, is Norway's most popular frozen pizza. 


For our last port in Norway, it was a sunny, mild July day.  Haugesund is a fairly large town of 36,000 in Southern Norway.  Historically, it was considered the birthplace of Norway when King Harald Fairhair and his Vikings united the country in the year 872. 

Today the main industries in Haugesund are a herring factory and a plant that makes oil rig equipment.  We walked around the commercial district which has a pedestrian mall and an enclosed shopping mall.  One block has many restaurants with un-Norwegian names like Tony's Pizza and Rabinowitz's CafĂ©. 

We found an ice cream store and stopped in for milk shakes.  Well, the store takes no credit cards, no Euros, no British or American money.  Only Norwegian kroner, about 8 to the dollar.  Frustrated, we left the store and came upon a bank a block away.  I went in and exchanged dollars for kroner.  The two shakes cost 98 kroner, and they were delicious. 

The tourist guide said we could visit the Scandic Maritim Hotel and see a 22 minute film about Norway on the wide screen.  It was along the fjord, several blocks from the commercial area, but we walked over.  On the way, near the harbor bridge, was a store called "Shabby Records", a name created by a marketing genius who probably got fired.  Apparently they sell classic phonograph records.  We finally got to the hotel, and the desk clerk showed us into the auditorium.  We were the only people there, so we could make as much noise as we wanted.  We thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

After the film, we walked up to see the town hall which claims to be the world's only pink city hall.  The impressive neo-Classical 1931 structure overlooks a large park and a fountain.  What we found interesting about Haugesund is that the city was built according to a plan, a quadrature system with parallel and perpendicular streets, unusual for Europe, but then the city is only about 150 years old.  The corner houses on each block are architecturally stylish, with towers and turrets of Classical, Swiss and Jugend styles.