Archive for the ‘journeys’ Category

Norway in November – Nordkapp

April 5, 2016

Day 6 of my voyage on the Lofoten

The English seafarers of the sixteenth century were amazing people of great courage. Even so, how surprising that they reached so far into the Arctic Circle.  So Nordkapp has been known for centuries.  Surveyed in 1553 by the captain of the Edward Bonaventure, North Cape is the northernmost point in Europe – or so they thought at the time.  In fact the real northernmost point is close by: the neighbouring Knivskjellodden point, a little to the west, actually extends 1,457 metres (4,780 feet) further to the north.  From Nordkapp, one can look out over the Barents Sea, a name remembered from that childhood fascination with names and facts, and a part of the Arctic Ocean: a name to conjure with.

Nordkapp – a snowy, bleakly beautiful headland that the sea and the winds and storms have roughed out of solid rock -marked with a globe.

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Volcanic cliffs jutting into the sea – with an image of the world standing proud.

 

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To the West, the slightly more northerly point.

At last we have found good snow in this remarkably mild winter of 2015.

But who would want to quibble, after all. Between the two points there are scary crevasses – don’t worry: there was a good fence between me and those cliffs. The sunset light you see here, gently altering, lasted from well before midday onwards through the short afternoon. Pinks and apricots are the light palette of the sky, above this harsh rock and snow.

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The cliff has jagged inlets – mini-fjords, I guess – dramatic in their abruptness.

 

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We all took one another’s photos by the globe.  It seemed like the right thing to do.

 

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On the steps of the North Cape globe: a pair of sandals and a message.

The sandals speak to me directly – I can’t help listening to them – they ask me to take them further on their journey around the world – I wonder whether anyone else will feel that responsibility. . . .  and I leave them there.   For now.

I wonder how far they have come.  Remember the gnomes in Amélie? who sent all those postcards?  It felt like that.

travelling gnome

Given that I’m inclined to address inanimate objects anyway (and emphatically not in a twee way) I knew that it was me they were speaking to.  But, for Pete’s sake, I’m on holiday: fresh responsibility is the last thing I want.  Maybe someone else will adopt them, and I’ll be off their hook.

It’s getting colder, and a low inviting building might offer coffee.

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Sunrise. Or is it sunset?

In fact, inside there is a sophisticated visitor centre, with good coffee and a café; displays about Arctic bird life;  a kind of son et lumière response to the changing seasons of the Arctic Circle;  a film of the Northern Lights (which last I missed – ran out of time).  Perhaps I’m not going to see any Northern Lights at all – but I don’t mind that.  I know better than to set up great big goals for myself.

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Inside the visitor centre: someone has a sense of humour.

I ran out of time then because I was transfixed by simplicity: a narrative series of posters on a wall – the story of the naval Battle of Murmansk.  They call them the Arctic Convoys here, but for some reason I know them as the Murmansk Convoys. The Arctic Convoys and the sea battle when the Scharnhorst was sunk with nearly all hands.  I was moved to tears, reading it, and thought of my father.  How he cared about it all so much and tried to tell us the detail, even in the sixties.  How little I grasped then, or bothered to grasp, back in the day.  But now the terrible story, the awful courage and the dark, cold deaths – I weep for them all, long gone.   Here, at Nordkapp on a clear calm day, it was suddenly poignantly easy to imagine those big fierce vessels in the black dark in a force ten gale, violently and blindly beating towards one another through huge waves, with their appalling firepower and blazing hellish explosions.  When the Scharnhorst went down into those terrifying December seas, only 36 men were saved out of her entire crew of nearly 2,000.

Shaken by maps and facts, I heard the call go out for the bus, so I seized the last moments, as I always will.  This time I lumbered out, crunching the snow, and salvaged those sandals from the steps of the globe: the image of a unified and generous world.

Day six held much, much more – I’ll continue it next time.

 

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Day Five closes: on the MS Lofoten

December 11, 2015

A pale day.  Low, pale grey cloud, a pale shine on the sea.  Only a thin line of darker land lies between cloud and sea.  These are the colours dogs are supposed to see.  On the fore-deck we are transporting Christmas trees still: surprising in their intense, rich green.  In this pale wide world, how startling, how precise and welcome they look.  Maybe I can forgive this ritual execution, after all.

Thrum, thrum.  Everywhere on the boat comes that soothing deep heartbeat of the huge engines.  I feel that nothing can ever go wrong while they are beating.  Through the heavy doors to the interior, spectacularly out of place in this iron landscape, a glowing nugget of gold-brown warmth.

Things are under control.
Drowsy.
Drowsy.

Very tired.  Hard to find a place to be alone.
Cabin.
Sleep.

Day 5 – Finnsnes and the Gisund Bridge; Tromsø and the unmentionable Huskies

December 7, 2015

We stopped at a couple of places in the night – I could hear strange rattling, screaming and grinding sounds from my cabin, but I decided that we were most unlikely to be sinking, and went back to sleep till breakfast.
A steadily changing readout near the upper lounge shows the bearing (the white line) and the planned route (the dotted red line). It also shows the speed in knots, as the water pounds behind us.

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Norway has so many lovely bridges across sounds, across fjords – lots of places.  This is one of the finest.

a distant view of the Gisund Bridge from the ship

A distant view of the Gisund Bridge from the ship.  I liked placing that delicate tracery next to the lumping steel in this image – a trick of perspective, of course.

 

Two large dark birds - but what are they? Cormorants abound around there.

Two large dark birds – but what are they? Cormorants abound around there.

Running across smooth sea into Finnsnes.

Running across smooth sea into Finnsnes just after eleven am: the sky is pinker, and the Lofoten is as punctual as you could possibly imagine.

A short half hour in Finnsnes gives all of us passengers the chance for a quick walk on the dock, while the loading and unloading takes place.

Cargo waiting for loading. it's raining in Finnsnes

Cargo waiting for loading. It’s raining in Finnsnes with a fine drizzle.

Those little lamps in the windows are characteristic of many Norwegian houses.  I asked one guide what it was about, and he told me that it harks back to old times, when a person out in the open in winter would freeze to death unless they saw a light, a haven.  Nobody would turn a stranger from their door.  Still, today, the custom of keeping lighted windows persists even in the cities and towns.

Huge tractor tyres line the wharves as fenders - this is what makes the screaming, dragging noise, as the ship comes alongside. Clamking occurs in those places where the anchor goes down. (I didn't see that happen.)

Huge tractor tyres line the wharves as fenders – this is what makes the screaming, dragging noise, as the ship comes alongside. Clanking occurs in those places where the anchor goes down. (I didn’t see that happen.)

 

Here follows one of my little symphonies of adoration for the Lofoten, the most beautiful and wonderful ship for a sea voyage ever.

MS Lofoten

2015-11-15 10.31.17

 

Bridge, boat, wharf.

Bridge, boat, wharf.

 

fine lines of the bow.

 

Bowline, bridge, shore

Bowline, bridge, shore

blue light, portholes, reflection

blue light, portholes, reflection

I believe my cabin is somewhere below that waterline.  I know I can hear the waves and the wash beating past in the night.

we move towards the Gisund Bridge

we move towards the Gisund Bridge

- going -

– going –

-going -

-going –

 

a strange effect of the evening light - around 2.00pm, approaching Tromsø

evening light on snow and low cloud – around 2.00pm, approaching Tromsø

We have a four hour stop in Tromsø.  (Morten the Tour Guide gives the name impeccably clear pronunciation: the ‘r’ is well rolled, almost a syllable in its own right, the final is ‘er’ as in Bodø.)  

Some of us had booked to see huskies.  It was dark, with icy slush.  Two hundred dogs were kept on short-ish chains in outdoor kennels.  And my God, how it did stink!  These dogs are kept for the sport of sled racing, in which ‘mushers’ try to cover long distances at great speed.  They are not actually Huskies, but a mixture of Alaskan Husky, greyhound, German Pointer, anything that will be both fast and enduring.  Some collie.  It’s not really a breed as it doesn’t breed true, and though I asked, I couldn’t get a proper answer about the principles of the breeding.  This was the moment when my cultural tolerances started to waver.  OK. It’s a different world, harsher climate, where survival is crucial.  OK, Huskies happily bed down in snow. But I still think that a chained up pack of two hundred is problematic.  The photos (for once) look worse than the reality, partly because my camera doesn’t cope very well with low light. We didn’t meet the owner, who is called Tove: bizarrely the same first name as Tove Jansson, the wonderful Finnish writer and creator of the gentle Moomins.

Easier to get a photo of the puppies

Easier to get a photo of the puppies: they were pretty cheerful and friendly – and better lit.

They are fed on fish – hence the unimaginable stink.

some border collie in this one I think

Some border collie in this one, I think.  Very cute.

 

another pup - they all have names

Another pup – they all have names.  Yes – we did try to smuggle one home.  It would never have worked out.

I don’t think the Moomins would have treated Sorry-oo quite like that, though.  Wait for a later post, where you will see a proper Husky. (Siberian?  Alaskan? – I forget.)

Day 4 – We Cross the Arctic Circle

November 29, 2015

Day 4.   14th November

(My Son Will’s Birthday – I think of him from time to time all through the day)

Each day on board is measured from midnight to midnight, and each evening one can pick up a sheet from the Recepsjon, which tells us the programme for the next day: ports of call; mealtimes; objects of interest on the way and in the towns; excursions and their timings.  MS Lofoten is stunningly punctual – she covers over 4,000 kilometres on each 12-day round trip, arriving strictly on time at every location.  Our collective jaws drop at the thought and we consider our own late trains.  It’s not just in Britain – by now I have befriended quite a few Germans and a couple of Americans – and they, too, are amazed.

By Saturday I have properly discovered how to get myself awake in time for breakfast.  And oh boy!  what a breakfast!  It is a vast smorgasbord involving hot food – sausages (various), eggs (different every day), beans but not as we know them; cereals – muesli, two kinds of hot porridge (plain and fruited).  As well as that there is salad, pickles, cold meats, fish of different kinds every day, several versions of wonderfully fresh bread and breadrolls (they must bake on the ship, working in the small hours) plus pastries.  Oh, and I nearly forgot the range of orange and mysterious fruity drinks; yogurts (fruit and natural); jams and marmalade; several kinds of milk to pour on the cereals; and the healthy wedges of oranges and melons.  At the same time kind waiters circulate with big pots of tea and coffee, endlessly topping up one’s cup.  No wonder the average weight gain on the voyage is said to be 4 kilos (more than half a stone to you and me).  They told us that very jovially several times in the first few days – almost as if they are proud of it.  So, just don’t start me on lunch!  On the dot of ten, they all vanish from our beck and call, and start stacking away the remains of the breakfast: as clear a signal as you’ll ever be given that it’s time to finish up and go.  The white paper napkins for breakfast are everywhere replaced by navy blue paper peaks: the napkins for lunch.  I know enough to scuttle away, smoothly, of course, as befits a conscientiously maintained dignity.

I was even up in time to take a few photos as we came into Ørnes (pronounced Er-ness, with a clear ‘r’ sound). You will have noticed by now what a joy it was to me to collect Norwegian pronunciations and words.  It was a huge help to have the regular tri-lingual announcements over the PA system, first in Norwegian, then in English, then in German, made by the remarkable Tour Guide, Morten Sagen, who I believe was himself Swedish.  With immense precision and politeness, information and advice were delivered in his light, polite voice.  Place names names articulated instructively. First time round, it was all guesswork about the message in Norwegian, then the English, if you missed it in English, chances were you could catch it in German.

Logs and the fork lift device on the fore-deck

Logs and the fork lift device on the fore-deck, heading towards  harbour.

 

 

The amazing line of mountains behind the town

An amazing line of mountains behind the town – they make me think of Bund cake, every time.

 

same mountains, different angle - the light is sunrise, I guess, at around 9.15am

same mountains, different angle – the light is sunrise, I guess, at around 9.15am

I took this photo for the extraordinary pinkish light: still approaching Ornes harbour.

I took this photo for the extraordinary pinkish light: still approaching Ornes harbour.

We pause for just a quarter of an hour at Ørnes.  Long enough to step off the boat for a brisk stroll and a sticky-beak around at the loading process, and then back on again.  Gloriously, it’s Christmas trees that they load onto the fore-deck.  Are we heading for a place where fir trees don’t grow?

The loaded about eight of these, extremely neatly and quickly.

The loaded about eight of these, extremely neatly and quickly.

We crossed the Arctic Circle in the night (well – about 7.30) and the air is detectably sharper.  I do some washing, change into the wonderful lined walking trousers that Sally recommended, and become detectably fresher also.  (This is not destined to last long – wait till I tell you about the huskies!)  On deck, it’s time to start wearing the full kit: winter coat, woolly hat,  gloves and the heavy walking boots.

Three little dark birds with black backs whizz past, close to the sea.  They are smaller than the cormorants: I think they must be razorbills.  Next comes the ‘Arctic Circle Ceremony’ – someone dressed as King Neptune in a scarily grotesque mask comes to tip ice water down people’s backs – a kind of hilarious christening into the Arctic.  People laugh and scream and jump around a lot.  Sorry – not my idea of fun.  I stay well back, and when it all looks like becoming riotous, retreat to the rear lounge.

Tour Guide Morten Sagen, far right, complete with microphone

Tour Guide Morten Sagen, far right, complete with microphone.  Chairs are for the ‘victims’ to sit in.  They did get a shot to drink, after the ice water down their backs.

 

King Neptune.  I think that's the captain on his right.  Behind him two nice German friends I met much later - she is called Christiane.

King Neptune. I think that’s the captain on his right. Behind him two nice German friends I met much later – she is called Christiane.

Soon after lunch we come into Bodø, capital of Nordland, population 50,000.  (It’s another lovely word to say: Berduh – something like that, maybe between that and Boder). We have two and a half hours here: time enough for a coach trip to see the Maelstrom (this one is called the Saltstraumen).  The tide has to flow through a very narrow passage between two parts of the fjord, so going in and coming out it moves at great speed, and gets tangled up, causing a series of whirlpools.  Very dangerous, but also a very good place to fish: what a combination!

apricot sky and the bridge over Saltstraumen: towards 2.00pm

apricot sky and the bridge over Saltstraumen: towards 2.00pm

 

sky and mountains

sky and mountains

 

Saltstraumen in the Arctic light

Saltstraumen in the Arctic light

 

Saltstraumen again

Saltstraumen again

 

the stark line of mountains behind the Maelstrom

the magical outline of mountains behind the Maelstrom

Those mountains are amazing: so stark and strong.  Made of stern, ancient stuff.

What the mountains are made of.

What the mountains are made of.

 

water pounds past - too fast for my camera

water tumbles and flicks past – too fast for my camera

 

frothing black dark water - we plough across the Vestfjord

frothing black dark water – we set off across the Vestfjord

 

churning sea - and a glimpse of the polished wooden rail

A glimpse of the polished wooden rail; a churning sea – mesmerising. 

Crossing the Vestfjord involves three hours crossing the open sea – the Lofoten takes on a spacious, gentle rocking, and I’m coming to know what people mean when they say that a ship is alive, that it is like an animal.  A big, gently creaking animal that accommodates its environment.  It fits with the sea, moving with it, using it to move onwards.

 

 

 

Close of day 3 – no photos on the Lofoten

November 27, 2015

Day Three – continued

You can’t photograph the feel of the engines – a thrum and gritty rumble that’s different in the various parts of the ship.  Here in the ‘bar’ (not really a bar – more a cosy lounge towards the stern of the boat) there’s an additional rattle intermittently from the woodwork as something – maybe a window – jars slightly on its fixings.

We’re moving faster, purposefully, and the engine is really working.  It’s a reassuring deep note calling to some place in the body’s core that lies below the heart and above the guts; right at the very bottom of the lungs perhaps.  Something, as they say, visceral, but I want a more primitive word, not that Latinate form.  What pre-industrial sound, I wonder, does it echo from out of our ancestral past?  – And so – and so – here I sit quietly in the bar, feeling the ship, looking out across the cold, late-afternoon sea, still as still here within the broad fjord.  I’m hoping to see orca, but I guess I’m just not clocking up the hours of looking that would earn me that.  Not ‘earn’ – it’s not a transaction – there’s a moral overtone: that would deserve a glimpse.  So I go out on deck, where the water looks a jewelled deep dark green and rather less still.  Fjords are not necessarily so steep, it turns out: they can be wide.  Fjords are full of islands and small rocks that show a dark tip above the surface.  Everything out there looks a bit like a living beast rolling its fin through the water, just for that moment before it’s quite obviously not moving at all.  Another rock.

And so now I am seeing imaginary orcas, turning in the turning waves.  They only occur here and there, for even imaginary orcas are scarce, and difficult to spot.  But I can look at the night-time sea surface and feel happy – they are underneath, they are there.  It’s just that I don’t see them.  In this way, I am well content, and I go back in through the heavy doors, to dinner.

It turns out that I am dining with the white witch of the Corriebrechan: her name is Alison.   Her husband is called Donald.  She has special powers, but she laughs and twinkles so much when she tells me this, that I think she is just teasing.

Alison - the charming Scottish friend from Tarbert

Alison – the charming Scottish friend from Tarbert.  Here she is knitting, as all good witches should. (I took this photo on the last day – so it’s out of sequence here.  One doesn’t take snaps of new acquaintances.)

The evening wears on, and decisions become difficult: coffee? bed? booking a wake-up call?  I go outside, where I love to be on deck, watching the sheer weight of water pushed aside, pushed aside, pushed aside endlessly by the Lofoten, and feeling the fresh, sharp cold.  I want to stay and keep looking but my legs are tired and want to give way, so it’s bed and book time.

A Sea Voyage – Day 2/3 and a Map

November 26, 2015

Evening of Day Two

I’m looking through the window as these mountains darken under a sky still pale blue.  Clouds are mountain-coloured and drifting as we move steadily on, crossing a darkening sea, blue-grey, but still lighter than the mountains.  As the dark comes down I can see a double image – warm gold wood and glowing lights.  My own face – self portrait serious – is coming gradually clearer in the glass.  A row of trivial curtains hangs itself, petty, across the massing outlines, as they become darker, more separate, more other.

Our cosy glow thrums forward, soft, safe, civilised.  Waves of German language wash gently behind me and I can pick out the odd word. “Ratten verlassen das Schiff,” I detect, and they chuckle.  I smile too, into the window, turned away but surely visible.  Moomin hills lump back at me.  No orcas.

– and now our reflected interior is prickled over with Christmas lights, strung for us all unknowing by the mountainside’s houses.  It’s a little early for Christmas, but the shards of light look celebratory.

– Darker yet.  The German speakers emerge as four ghosts sitting behind me – something glitters from a woman’s gesturing arm: she is quiet, emphatic, “Das stimmt aber schon.”  One man draws a huge square in the air; the other speaks little but very deep-voiced.  A second woman, barely visible, says almost nothing.

I should go and Dress for Dinner – playing safe: a little bit smart but not too much.  I overdo it.

——————————————————

Day Three – Trondheim and northwards.

(No photos of Trondheim, and no memory either – maybe I was asleep?)

Dark sea, light sky, lighthouse.

Dark sea, light sky, lighthouse

 

 

moving cloud, distant rain

moving cloud, distant rain

 

Sunset, cloud and sea - half past one in the afternoon

Sunset, cloud and sea – half past two in the afternoon – Kjungskaer Fyr (Lighthouse).

I miss the mussel-tasting in the afternoon – out on deck, watching the sea and the sea birds. Perhaps.

Day 3 ends with Rorvik – by which I am fast asleep.

——————————————————–

I think you’ll be needing a map of Norway.  Here we go:

Norway Cruise Map

 

 

 

MS Lofoten – a sea voyage in pictures – day two

November 26, 2015

Day Two – 12th November.

Lofoten (the vowels are pronounced as a midway point between Lerferten and Lofoten) is an old ship, built in 1964 for the Hurtigruten (Fast Route) line.  Norwegian seems to use a slightly back version of ‘r’, so it’s very easy to say ‘Hurtigruten’ – I say it a lot.  I think it a lot too, now that I’m back home.
It’s a rough night – we are rolled about, and I sleep deeply in my black-dark cabin below the water line. Too disorganised to put my watch anywhere visible, I emerge too late for breakfast, shower queasily with some difficulty, fighting the rolling that staggers me from side to side in the cubicle.  By the time I’m dressed, though, we are in calmer waters.

 

A little after ten in the morning - stunning scenery as we run close to land.

A little after ten in the morning – stunning scenery as we run close to land.

 

- and what clouds!

– and what clouds!

 

houses line the banks, clinging to the shore line.  Those mountains are solid rock, and I think it must take blasting to create buildable ledges on them. I included a bit of the boat for verisimilitude - you'll find I do that a lot.

Houses line the banks, clinging to the shore line. Those mountains are solid rock, and I think it must take blasting to create buildable ledges on them. I included a bit of the boat for verisimilitude – you’ll find I do that a lot.  I love to put little edges of boat into my pictures – fragments of framing.

 

Clouds coming up grey from the west.

Clouds coming up grey from the west.

 

Rock, snow and cloud.

Rock, snow and cloud.

 

A little after eleven we slide into port at Alesund.  (pronounced Orlessnd - the u barely exist, almost a schwa vowel, but tending towards 'i')

A little after eleven we slide into port at Alesund. (pronounced Orlessnd – with a diacritic over the A; the u barely exists: almost a schwa vowel, but tending towards ‘i’).

 

At Ålesund we had a couple of hours to spend walking about the town and climbing the steep flight of steps up the hill in the middle of the day.

Bronze (?) statue of a fishwife at Alesund - where there are complex waterways.

Bronze (?) statue of a fishwife at Alesund – where there are complex waterways.

- and charming houses.  This slanting light was at about 12.30.  The town was rebuilt in Art Deco style after a disastrous fire in the early 1900s.  It is a marvel.

– and charming houses. This slanting light was at about 12.30. The town was rebuilt in Art Nouveau style after a disastrous fire in the early 1900s. 

 

 

To climb the hill above the town you mount 400-odd steps.  I managed quite a few - the view from there was quite stunning enough.

To climb the hill above the town you mount 400-odd steps. I managed quite a few of them – the view from there was quite stunning enough.

Not long before two - our departure time - we scuttled back to boat - and saw thia amazing piece of construction under way.  It's a replica of a turn-of-the-century fishing boat, designed to be a floating museum.  All the real ones have long disintegrated - nobody realised they might be of interest, I guess, when the newer, better designs came along.

Not long before two – our departure time – we scuttled back to boat – and saw this amazing piece of construction under way. It’s a replica of a turn-of-the-century fishing boat, designed to be a floating museum. All the real ones have long disintegrated – nobody realised they might be of interest, I guess, when the newer, better designs came along.

 

The workmanship was stunning, and the wood utterly beautiful.  Such a huge piece of timber for that massive keel.

The workmanship was stunning, and the wood utterly beautiful. Such a huge piece of timber for that massive keel.

 

 

Comedy signs on board a Norwegian ship

November 25, 2015

Some Barkerian impulse directed me to photograph these signs, found on the Lofoten on the first day.  I’d been awake all night and travelling all day – that’s my excuse. I gave up making fun of foreigners after that, I promise.

the first word probably means 'boat' ???

the first word probably means ‘boat’ ???

2015-11-11 15.49.31

Interesting location – visible as you come up the stairs, of course.

2015-11-11 15.45.46

 

Lofoten carries the post between coastal and island towns - some of them very small.  You can post a letter on the ship and have it stamped with the ship's own postmark.

Lofoten carries the post between coastal and island towns – some of them very small. You can post a letter on the ship and have it stamped with the ship’s own postmark.  A few days later I noticed that the flag flying at the stern has the word ‘post’ on it – they have a contract with the government, I heard.

 

View from the deck of the Hurtigruten sign, and of cargo being loaded - dark already at a quarter to four in the afternoon. That fork-lift device is amazing - so delicate and precise in managing odd, clumsy, and heavy sizes and shapes of goods.

View from the deck of the Hurtigruten sign, and of cargo being loaded – dark already at a quarter to four in the afternoon.
That fork-lift device is amazing – so delicate and precise in managing odd, clumsy, and heavy sizes and shapes of goods.  They carry all sorts of things – lots of construction materials, fresh fish in ice in big plastic boxes,  barrels of oil, even damp cardboard boxes.  Some are lifted down into the hold under the foredeck, some just rest on the deck.  At every stop something comes or goes: a load of Christmas trees was moved northwards.

 

 

makes me think of whales

This shape makes me think of whales.  There are lots of pictures of ships on the ship.

 

Note the name of the Captain!  A very nice man. We asked if he was any relation to the explorer. His answer was clever and ambiguous.

Note the name of the Captain! A very nice man. We asked if he was any relation to the explorer. His answer was clever and ambiguous.

 

Millau Viaduct

August 19, 2015

Large structures are wonderful things – almost magic in their ability to stay up, to support remarkable weights with slender concrete and metal clusters.  And surely I am not the only person to see and know their wonder: people come from miles away, continents away, to look at the Humber Bridge.   The Sydney Harbour Bridge; the Forth Bridge: we have made them into symbols of our identity.  To drive over, or to walk along one of these giant structures feels very special, and it is a thrill that thousands share. Pictures and photos are marvellous, surely, showing us fabulous views of these mythic structures in all weathers, under cloud, at sunrise; at sunset; at all times of day. but apparently pictures are not enough.  Seeing the Millau Viaduct for real has been on my bucket list for years, ever since I saw a poster of it in a bar in Aigurande.  Over the years, the poster faded away to monochrome blues and I still hadn’t been to see the real thing.  I’d never been to the South of France either.

Faugères is a wine-making area in the Languedoc – and the foodie side of the family were staying there this summer for a while.  I could join them for a couple of days – and my first thought (it’s true!) was that I could go there via the Millau Viaduct.  I booked a room at random in Millau, to overnight en route.  From le Chézeau in the Berry to Faugères in Languedoc-Roussillon is three hundred miles straight through the middle of France, across the whole of Creuse, Aveyron, the Puy de Dôme, the vast and lovely Auvergne.  A library of writing would scarcely begin to describe them.  France has had a massive drought this year, and the road went over a rocky, heathery-looking landscape as dry as Australia, across mountains covered in surprisingly green scrubby trees: holm oak, pines.  It needed a slow traveller to appreciate all this properly, not a driver on a fast motorway, but even at a motorist’s speed it was thrilling, overwhelming – so many surfaces I could scarcely begin to scratch; so many lives needed to come back and be there in it all. The rock faces demanded painters, and the dark blue hills showed rich Mediterranean colours.  With vast viaducts the A75 takes its giant steps across the Massif Central, over the hills and across the deep gorges of Southern France.  They soar, scoffing at the efforts our ancestors had to put in to move across the land.  In this hyper-real, intense world the road descended, wound, climbed – on and on. Surely the real one, the big viaduct I came for, must spring into view soon?  Surely it would leap its famous sails at me around the next corner, fully formed and huge?

And then, far off across the steeps of rock and green, like the dream of a ghost or a drift of spray from a fountain: a fray of white in the far distance.  My heart leapt in shock, struck with a kind of passionate delight.  All the images of the viaduct – varied, familiar – in all their beauty, are as nothing to that moment: my fragile and unrepeatable view of the distant object.  A longed-for thing, so tiny and unexpectedly delicate amongst the hugeness of mountains and cliffs.  Yet how aspirational and full of hope.

Ten miles on or so, Millau too was deep in drought.  My hotel turned out to be a sheep farm, producing milk for Roquefort cheese, with bed and breakfast rooms and a restaurant attached.  La Borie Blanque. The sheep were in sheds, off the barren pastures and living on hay.  Birds in the trees were squawking and scriggling as  the dusk fell; and behind me a dog was panting.  In front, fields that earlier looked dry as dust turned golden-optimistic in the slanting sun.  In the distance again, a sideways glimpse of my viaduct.

2015-08-11 17.38.37

Signs of Berlin

July 11, 2014

Berlin’s atmosphere felt really positive and welcoming – and then it was even better.  I started to notice the signs.  Some stressed the power of goodwill, or of collaborative effort.  This is a Grabbeallee sign.

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I think it says (with thanks to Val for sorting my version out):

 If no one does anything then nothing is done
If no one dares anything, it stays as it is
If you don’t move anything, nothing will move.

And wrong will never be right
And lies will never be true
Whoever has the courage to fight
Will triumph over danger

If nobody says anything nothing will happen

Time is so precious
And much shorter than we think
You can make time
Each day is your gift

If nobody says anything nothing will happen

If nobody says anything nothing will happen

It must go further.

                                                          Stop watching us
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I saw that sign (with it’s slightly paranoid close) on the way to the local Bäckerei – whose sign came to represent a great deal to me in just two days: good food, community kindness and warmth.  And so the sign en route also seemed immensely comforting and friendly in itself.

 

On the first day in Berlin, I walked about the nearest area – down to the Bürgerpark in Pankow, an easy stroll.  The Bürger are the citizens – those who live in the Burg (the town or city) and though it feels cognate with  the French bourg and bourgeois it doesn’t seem to have quite the same implication of social pretension.  It’s more inclusive.  I hope.  The park was full of people enjoying the autumn sunshine – I will put the cyclists, the dog owners and the people wearing green in later posts, since I have decided on this slightly resistant (not to say Borgesian) method of documenting my Berlin delights.

Nope sorry – can’t resist the temptation – here’s a man wearing green –

green trousers

 

Now back to the park:

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It’s another celebration of the achievements that individuals have made by collaborating, and I think it says:

The citizens of Pankow have enabled the planting of the flower beds.
(Then it lists the firms that have contributed money.)

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We were staying at the Yogitel, where the entrance sports another interesting sign:

Not your usual Hotel greeting.

Not your usual Hotel greeting.

Here is the English version:

Who are we?

In 2007 we decided to create a safe place, where people could be supported in finding their eternal essence, and so live their potential in health and joy.

From this decision, with the support of many, the Triguna Zentrum was established in Tschaikowskistrasse.  Here: 15 families live

  • a yoga centre offers more than 30 courses a week, various workshops and three different kinds of training;
  • guest rooms are available;
  • a kindergarten cares for 24 children;
  • therapists of various kinds practice;
  • a community café is being started.

 Why Triguna?

The name Triguna can be found in many Vedic texts and indicates the three states of being: rasai, tamas, sattva (broadly translated: physical, mental, spiritual).  We gave the name Triguna to the Centre to show clearly that for us it’s all about these three basic energies.  We want to support all visitors and inhabitants of this house to come into balance and to live in balance.

From the very first day therefore we have focussed on diversity, and created a place where freely creative teachers and health practitioners meet interested seekers and seek the interested, and find one another.

Marvellously, one can stay overnight at the Yogitel for 12 euros, sleeping on a sofa in their common room.  (We didn’t do that – but it felt welcoming – like a bit of the Old Days.)

 

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There’s a limit to how far you can get on foot. – I had to wind up my courage to launch upon the public transport system.  But I needn’t have worried: it turned out to be limpidly clear and easy to manoeuvre.  So I jumped on a tram to the Mauerpark.

a tram on Grabbeallee

a tram on Grabbeallee

In a previous post I showed you lots of dogs in the Mauerpark. This post, though, is about signs.  (If I can just control myself long enough . . . .)

 

Towards the end of our few days in Nieder Schönhausen, another lovely sign blossomed in the window of an empty shop near the Bäckerei:

notice 2

“Very soon a children’s and young people’s bookshop will open here.”
You don’t  need me to comment on that one, now do you?

The glass reflects Andrew, taking the photo, and the crossroads – and although a proper photographer might see reflections as a flaw, I must admit I like the way they record the event.  I suppose the bookshop must be up and running by now: let’s hope it’s a success.

There are more signs to come – another day.


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