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Fri, 25 Nov 2005
It takes a long time to get to Norway from California. After an 11-hour flight from San Francisco to London, I had a three-hour layover in London before the short (1.5-hour) flight to Oslo. I took a shower at the airport hotel, then hopped on a train to central Oslo and immediately climbed aboard the train to Bergen....which took another 7 hours or something like that. (If I had planned a little better at the start, I probably could have flown directly from London to Bergen). It all made for a verrrry looooong travel day, more than 24 hours from leaving San Francisco before I was able to check into my hotel.
Bergen is a lovely city, or at least the downtown area is. It includes what must be one of the smallest U.N. World Heritage Sites: a one-square-block area of 800-year-old wooden shops. I spent a couple of hours in the morning (it was a Sunday) wandering around, but must things were closed --- Sunday morning, off-season. Around noon I took the funicular up a steep hill at the edge of town, and found myself on an attractive overlook along with dozens of other people. Apparently (according to my friend who lives there) Sunday is hiking day for families all around the country. The miles and miles of paths above Bergen were swarming with day hikers like me, all out enjoying the fall colors and the fresh air.
I took a look at a map, chose a route, and set off, but I eventually started branching off in whatever direction looked the most interesting. The paths went to dramatic overlooks, through peaceful forests, and along wind-swept rocky ridges. At one juncture, there was a warming hut doing a brisk business selling soup and coffee. A chilly rain started up suddenly and lasted for half an hour or so, but no one was deterred; they just zipped up their rain jackets and pressed on.
After a few enjoyable hours of hiking, I wound my way down the hill and into town for an early dinner. (My body clock was so out of kilter, the time didn't really matter).
The next day I continued the "Norway in a Nutshell" tour by taking the train to a bus to a boat that took us -- me and a dozen passengers (on a boat that could carry hundreds) -- on a two-hour ride through the narrowest of Norway's southern fjords. We stopped in briefly at a few tiny towns, and passed several others that showed little sign of people about...although all of the buildings were in good repair. The concessionaire on the boat said that these little towns are shrinking, since there's not much employment and not much that is of interest to young people. These towns of 20-40 hourses jammed onto a little bulge of land next to a steep cliff were very picturesque, but I can definitely see why it would be hard to retain people; to me, it's amazing that some of these towns have been there for over 500 years, at more or less the size they are now.
The boat dropped us all off at the small town of Flam, at the end of a tongue of the fjord. Most of the other passengers continued on by railway, either to Bergen or to Oslo, but I was staying the night in Flam. Unfortunately I was too tired and jet-lagged to do a big hike in the hills as I had planned, so instead I rented a bike and rode to a town a few kilometers away, poked around a little, and then rode back. I was one of only about 20 tourists in town for the night, and was disappointed that there wasn't anything to do in the evening. If a pub were open, maybe with some live music, at least 20 of us would have been in there, I guarantee.
The next day I took the Flam Railway, a steep and scenic route, up to its connection with the main line to Oslo. It had been dark for most of my trip from Oslo to Bergen a couple of days earlier, but this time it was afternoon and I got to see the scenery. Lots of areas with forest (all in lovely fall colors), and lots of rather barren-looking rocky ground, sometimes with lakes or streams. Certainly a lovely country.
I spent Wednesday wandering around Oslo, by foot and by tram. I went to the Viking ship museum, which includes a couple of incredibly well-preserved Viking ships and is a must-see (although the exhibits were unimaginative), and the museum for the polar ship "Fram" (meaning "Onward"); this was the ship Nansen took on his trip across the arctic, and was later used by Amundsen for his Antarctic expedition. The whole ship is there and you can wander around in it; there are also some nice exhibits, although the English-language descriptions were rather short.
Thursday I met for a few hours with researchers at the Norwegian Building Research Institute. I described the work that my group does, related to building ventilation, and heard about the Institute's work in that area, and in others. I also got a tour of their impressive facilities. Afterwards I went to the University of Oslo to meet with the other members of the dissertation review committee, to discuss the dissertation defense (or "disputation", as they charmingly call it)...oh, I guess I forgot to mention, the reason I was in Norway in the first place was to serve on the dissertation review committee of Astrid Kristofferson, a doctoral candidate who had spent a year working in my group (though I didn't work with her myself). Astrid's advisor, Jan, kindly took me out to an excellent dinner on the waterfront that night
Friday was the day for the "disputation." First the candidate gave a one-hour lecture (pretty good) about the current state of affairs in designing and building low-energy-consumption houses in Norway. Then, after lunch, I gave a brief talk about the work in the dissertation, and posed some questions for the candidate to wrestle with. She partially answered my questions and then dodged the tricky bits, in a thoroughly appropriate and professional manner (they were hard questions). The other "opponent" then grilled her on a few more points. And that's it! Congratulations, Dr. Kristofferson! We all --- family, friends, committee --- repaired to a restaurant for a celebratory dinner.
Saturday, at the recommendation of one of Astrid's friends I spent the morning walking several miles along a river that runs through Oslo to the harbor. Sometimes it runs through little neighborhoods, sometimes through parkland...a very pleasant stroll. I got to central Oslo just in time (well, a little late) to meet Astrid and her friend at the "Frognerpark", which is sort of Oslo's Central Park. Very popular spot, and it holds the life work of a somewhat eccentric sculptor/designer. Astrid and I spent a while walking around, then drove out to her house for dinner with her, her husband, and their two kids. And then the next day, I flew back home.
All in all, it was a very pleasant trip. Norway is a lovely country, although stunningly expensive; Bergen and Oslo are both attractive cities that relate very well to their waterfronts, sort of like Vancouver or Seattle.Mon, 22 Aug 2005
Is Yellowstone awesome, or what?
I put up some photos (I suggest clicking on the "view slide show" button, to see them full-size). My impressions in a nutshell:
Overall, my brief trip to Portugal didn't give me time to see that much. By far my favorite part of the trip was my two days in Sintra, which I really enjoyed.Wed, 11 Aug 2004
We loved the Elk Prairie/Prairie Creek part of the Northern California redwoods. We did a fun mountain bike trip there, about 11 miles through old-growth forest and down to the coastal plain, where we saw a herd of elk that came grazing past at close range. We also had an excellent campsite in Prairie Creek State Park.
The Oregon coast was beautiful, nice to drive through and we also did some nice hikes there.
We stayed for a week at the "Spindrift Resort at Welbury Point" on Salt Spring Island (a.k.a. Saltspring Island), just inside Vancouver Island. The resort is a collection of small, simple cottages built and run by two nature- and animal-loving women over the past twenty or thirty years. There's a small herd of tame deer that spends all of their time roaming the grounds (and happily accepting food handouts), and a covey of quail, and several tame rabbits...it's quite charming. Once, while we were sitting out on the point looking over the bay, an otter came along just offshore, dove down and caught a fish, and then swam right in to the rocks in front of us, climbed out, and ate the fish! Pretty great.
We spent two weeks on the island of North Haven, Maine, where we easily filled our days by taking walks, kayaking, playing games with Juliet's cousins, biking around, etc. Several friends came up for brief periods, too, and that was much fun. We also went to the wedding of a good friend, Holly, who married a very nice guy, Rob, who we like a lot.
And now we're back, and getting back into the flow of regular life, which has _schedules_ and _things to do_ and so on. I'll try to get back to updating this web site more often, too.Mon, 03 May 2004
Why did I not appreciate the Potomac more?
Last week, though, Juliet and I were in D.C. for a few days, and we spent some time on the Potomac. Actually the river started out just as a place to give her her birthday present (really a "baseball bat" present, since I get to use it too), which is a folding kayak. This is a 17-foot-long two-person kayak that folds up into two (rather large) canvas bags; you can store them in your closet or even check them as baggage when you fly! My brother and his wife arranged to meet me and Juliet at a restaurant/bar overlooking the river; I arrived early, assembled the kayak (which I had bought on eBay and had shipped to my brother's house in D.C.), and shoved off. When Juliet arrived, my brother and sister-in-law pointed her my way, and there I was, paddling towards her with a bunch of orchids in the bow . Very romantic. Juliet hopped in for a brief paddle back to the put-in spot, then we all headed out to dinner.
Juliet and I intended to go out to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge the next day and spend a few hours paddling around, but that plan was aborted when, after a half hour of driving, we still hadn't managed to get halfway to the city line! (The traffic was incredible, far worse than San Francisco, or, for that matter, Manhattan the last time we were there). Instead, we drove back to the Potomac, assembled the kayak again, and went out for a quick jaunt, just about an hour total. That was nice, and we also noticed a lot of people jogging and biking along the towpath for the C&O Canal, alongside the river. So the next day we rented bikes and went for a bike ride along the canal and the river. We rode up to Great Falls, an impressive set of rapids about 14 miles upriver. The ride was very pretty, on a nice spring day. It's really amazing that this relatively unspoiled and almost completely undeveloped stretch of river exists in the middle of such a densely populated area. We owe a big thanks to the people who fought to keep the river corridor undeveloped in the 1920's, when there were plans to fill in the canal and build a highway in its place.
Anyway, if you're ever in D.C. and looking for a brief escape from the hubbub of the city, try a walk, jog, or bike along the C&O canal towpath.Fri, 24 Oct 2003
Nice place to visit...
New York is expensive!
OK, I know it's not really shocking news that Manhattan is a pricey place, but boy, if you haven't visited then you have no idea. Hotel, taxis, restaurants, a show, tips for this and that...wow. Now, it's true that you don't have to do all this stuff, and indeed, on previous trips I've stayed with my friend, cooked in his kitchen, etc., and spent no more than on a typical day at home. This time, though, we got a more typical visit-to-New-York experience, and now I see what people mean when they talk about how expensive it is. It is.
New York is exciting!
Yeah, NYC is expensive, but it's fun too. We went to see a fun, raucous show called "De La Guarda," sort of a cross between Stomp and Cirque du Soleil: lots of people doing acrobatic things, set to music, very visually exciting. The best part, strikingly cool although it's hard to define why, is two women doing a kind of running dance up the side of a wall, suspended sideways by ropes: feet on the wall, heads out towards the audience, sprinting upwards in big swooping arts. I thought the show as a whole could have used some narrative or some kind of theme---it a collection of separate pieces that didn't seem very unified---but it was still a blast.
We also ate some good food. One dish that I really liked, and already (mostly successfully) duplicated was from a restaurant called "Baraonda" on the upper east side, a relaxed but good Italian place with nice (I thought) brightly colored paintings on the wall, painted by some Guatemalan painter I believe. Anyway, the dish was "Sauteed artichoke hearts with pistachios, served on a bed of mache" or something like that, and by treating the description as a recipe I was able to duplicate it pretty well. Here's my version, which is very good but is not as good as their version:
Artichoke hearts with pistachios and parmesan
Ingredients: (1) Two 8-oz jars of artichoke hearts preserved in brine, without vinegar, drained. If they say "marinated", that's not what you want. Better, of course, would be to cook your own fresh artichokes and remove the hearts, but that's a lot of work; (2) About 1/4 cup shelled pistachios. ;(3) Pecorino or parmesan cheese, shaved (not grated); (3) olive oil; (4) salt, pepper, and butter if desired.
Lightly crush the pistachios with a rolling pin (just try to break 'em in half or so, but it's not really necessary), then put them in a small dish and cover them completely with olive oil. Let them soak for an hour or two (or much longer if you prefer, I think there's no harm in it). Dump the pistachios and oil into a hot pan and saute briefly, then add the artichoke hearts (cut 'em in half first, or split them with a spatula once they're in the pan). Saute until the artichoke hearts are nice and soft. I added about a tablespoon of butter at this point to make the dish richer, but it's really not necessary. Add a bit of salt if you like (I skipped it---my artichokes had been soaking in brine). Add plenty of pepper. You may need to add a little more olive oil as the stuff cooks. And guess what, you're done! Spoon the whole thing over a bed of "mache" (or just any ol' mixed greens), and put the shaved parmesan or pecorino on top. Voila! It's really quite good---who knew artichokes and pistachios would go together so well? The good thing is that there's nothing to overwhelm the taste of the artichokes, which in my opinion happens with most artichoke dishes other than good ol' artichokes-and-butter.
So...expensive city, but good food. What else? Central Park is very nice, really well maintained and landscaped, and just generally beautiful. I enjoyed strolling through it every day, and would have found the city oppressive without it. I know lots and lots of New Yorkers spend almost all of their time without a hint of nature, but to me it seems indispensable.
Chad and Sarah's wedding, which took place in the Chelsea Museum, was lots of fun. Nice venue for it, and their friends were very nice and entertaining.Mon, 23 Jun 2003
My last Poultry Days
I went to my first Poultry Days in 1987, and this one was probably my last. Over the sixteen-year span, I played at Poultry Days about eleven times. Back in the late 1980's (when the tournament had about 24 teams, I think), my Black Lung teammates and I would be happy if we won more than one game on Saturday...although one year, when the tournament was split into A and B divisions, we went 5-0 on the first day, in the B division. In more recent years, playing with friends mostly from California and D.C., we've usually been undefeated on Saturday, feeding into the A-division round of 16. Overall finishes since 1996 are: two finals losses, one semis loss, one quarters loss, and two pre-quarters losses (including this year).
Poultry Day is one of the very few tournaments that truly has a unique atmosphere. So many other tournaments are pretty generic: show up at the fields, play a few games, go to dinner at some anonymous restaurant, go to the hotel with your teammates, and then go out the next day and do it again. Poultry Days is different. Everyone camps on at the edges of the main fields in a tent city of thousands of people. Players eat the greasy chicken dinners under the tent at the Poultry Days festival, goad each other into trying to swing the hammer and ring the bell at the Mr. Sluggo booth, and---if they're lucky---get an autograph and a photo with "Miss Chick", the cutest seventeen-year-old in town.
Speaking of Miss Chick, I was pretty impressed by this year's winner. She and both Miss Chick runners-up were coaxed into playing a point at the Saturday Night "All-Star" game. Nobody covered them, and they ran up and down the field while people threw rather hard-to-catch passes in their general direction. Eventually Miss Chick caught one (the crowd roared) and threw a complete pass to a teammate (the crowd roared louder), and one team or the other finally scored. The runners-up then bowed out, but Miss Chick came out and gave it another try. And, let me tell you, she ran hard up and down the field, didn't give up, didn't wimp out...most of us were pretty impressed. It turns out she's on the track team and (someone said) the girls' lacrosse team. Good for her!
Which brings me to the conservative losers who object to Title IX, the government ruling that colleges must fund women's athletics at a level comparable to men's athletics. Some people (mostly men...maybe exclusively men) object, saying that fewer girls are interested in sports, so funding girls' sports at the same level as boys' sports is unfair to the boys.
These people are trying to spoil it for the rest of us. Don't they realize that now, thanks to Title IX, we get to see lots of fit, young women running around in their jogbras? And they want to take this away? Are they frickin' nuts?
Aaaaanyway, I had my usual good time at Poultry Days, and took the opportunity to say goodbye to some players I'm unlikely to see again, as my career winds to a close.
So, farewell to the Mister Sluggo booth, and Miss Chick, and the very lenient lifeguards at the municipal pool...and a special thanks to the organizers and volunteers in Versailles who somehow make it possible for a town of 3,000 people to host 1200 Ultimate players during the town's busiest weekend of the year.Fri, 09 May 2003
Italy: Rimini and "Paganello"