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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Filling the Bucket, Day 4 - On-Board the Viking Star

On the Norwegian fjords

Beautiful.  In a single word, beautiful.

The above describes the time in Eidfjord, Norway.  This is simply the most beautiful place I have ever been to in all of my life.  Rather than try to describe what I saw, I'm just going to share some pictures.

I probably took 71 pictures today, which for me is a lot.  Unfortunately, there is a limit to what I can put in a single posting.  None of them can adequately describe this place though so the above will have to do for now.

* * * * * *
A few other observations from the past few days:

  • Hamburgers.  Putting kernels of corn on your hamburger is a thing in Norway.  I kid you not.  I ordered a cheeseburger, sans the cheese (which I always do, as I've learned I can't say "please give me a hamburger" because cheese is practically assumed), but I forgot to tell them to also take off the corn kernels.  We're talking straight from the Green Giant corn kernels.
  • Roof Maintenance.  Something else that's a thing in Norway?  Goats of your roof.  Why goats?  Well, apparently using a lawnmower on your grass-seeded roof is a bad idea.
  • Norwegian vs. Swedish.  I asked a tour guide how the Norwegian and Swedish languages differ.  She said they were very similar, akin to the differences between English as spoken in the United States vs. the U.K.  She did say though that, according to most Norwegians, Swedes speak as if they have a hot potato in their mouths.  Not sure if that's a compliment or insult.  
  • Norwegian Rednecks.  There is an actual show called Norwegian Rednecks.  I kid you not.  Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to visit a Norwegian Walmart to meet some of these folks in person.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Filling the Bucket, Day 3 - On-Board the Viking Star

On the North Sea, in route to Eidfjord, Norway

Our third day in Bergen spent on a tour of the city, a museum trip and (for me) two walks.

(Center City Bergen)

(Simple, but yet pretty...the entrance to a restaurant in Bergen)

The Hanseatic Museum (link HERE) tells the story of how a bunch of German businessmen basically controlled trade over part of Northern Europe for hundreds of years.  It's interesting stuff and the museum would have been more engaging if it weren't for the fact that it was: A) Stinking hot and B) Filled with a gaggle of French tourists who blocked what were some fairly small passageways.  Between the stale air and the smell of 25-year-old codfish, I was about 5 minutes away from an asthma attack.  Anyway, we managed to outflank the French, something that history has shown to be entirely possible

Speaking of hot, our Day 1 in Bergen happened to occur the hottest day on record ever in the city.  Ever.  I think it was 90 degrees or something like that in a town where there is basically no air conditioning.  Why no air conditioning?  Because it's freak'n Norway, that's why!   A hot day in these parts is in the 70's this time of year.  

On the Water
I've never been on a cruise ship, so naturally, this is my first time actually seeing one head out of port.  It was, well, underwhelming.  I kind of expected the ship's whistle-thingie (i.e. the movie Titanic) to blow loudly as the ship pushed off of the dock, but alas, the actual event was far more underwhelming.  It just, well, started up and went.

What hasn't been underwhelming?  Actually being on the water.

Factoid:  While I have my share of quirks, two things that I am completely fine with...and in fact enjoy...are:
  • Small, enclosed spaces.
  • Being on it a plane, train, or (now) ship...while it's in motion.
Motion sickness?  I've got the opposite.  In fact, as I am writing this portion of the posting, the ship is rolling back in forth as we plow through the coast of Norway, on the North Sea.  It is, in a word, beautiful, in terms of how it looks, sounds, feels, and smells.

(I know, not scenic, but I'm trying to create a visual...)

(A more scenic photo, taken as we were heading out to sea)

Day 4 involves a more remote country in Norway, and potentially a hike to a Viking burial ground.

Book Review
As a kind of coda to this posting, I just finished Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace*.  I wouldn’t recommend the book, by the way, mostly because it’s something of a challenging read.  I had hoped it would be a kind of modern-day Hunter S. Thompson (HST) kind of thing, but where HST would take you on an ether fueled road-trip through bat country, the late Foster-Wallace makes you meander through a kind of disjointed jungle of observations about lobsters, porn conventions, political campaigns, and talk-radio.  For me, it was the literary equivalent of lead:  Pretty damn dense and not much fun at parties (I don’t like parties, by the way).  That noted I would recommend Foster-Wallace’s This Is Water, which is one of the best "read in one sitting" books out there, full of important stuff.

* * * * * *

(*) Speaking of David Foster Wallace, you can blame him for the annoying end-notes I sometimes use in postings.  He uses them quite frequently in Consider the Lobster, and while I love the concept, the execution left something to be desired, as in the paperback edition of the book they are very, very small.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Filling the Bucket, Day 2 - Norway & On-Board

Bergen, Norway

I've never taken a cruise before.  Insert excuse about growing up poor [here].  Anyway, this is something of a new experience for me.  Ironically, among three of the Albert brothers (the blogger, Rich, and Chris), I am the last to actually take a cruise.

Speaking of my (late) brother Chris, I was reminded of him twice (so far) over the past few days.  First, at the airport in Denver on Tuesday, I was looking for something to read and found a Rolling Stone special edition dedicated to interviews with Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones(1).  Chris was a big Stones fan, especially the later stuff.  In fact, outside of the band itself, I think Chris was the only one who could make that claim.  Had he been alive I would have given him the magazine, and I'm sure he would have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Second, I had always hoped to be able to maybe travel with Chris and his wife in later years.  When I think about losing him, that's what hits closest to home: Namely that there might have been a time together in the future when things in our collective lives were a bit less complex and we had time to maybe unpack so much of what happened to us growing up.  Anyway, I'll be thinking about Chris while onboard.

As we walked about Bergen, I was amazed at just how prevalent elements of United States culture(2) are in a place that's pretty far from home:

"Vil du ha frites med det?"(3)
  • Food.  You can easily get a hamburger just about anywhere in Bergen, including at the local McDonalds.  We've already established the fact that Philadelphia brand cream cheese has worked its way across the North Atlantic.  The BBQ ribs I had for dinner on the evening of Day 1 were fantastic.  Coke and Pepsi products are everywhere; just make sure you don't get the "Diet Sprite with Cucumber".  I guess there is an exception to every observed rule.
  • Clothing.  The seemingly odd juxtapositioning of someone wearing a University of Portland tee shirt while speaking a language that was either -
    • Polish
    • Russian
    • Klingon(4)
  • Music.  I've heard mostly American music playing in stores, etc.  Granted I did hear ABBA twice though, which is almost, slightly, kinda-sorta native.  We actually asked about the music while dining at a restaurant, as some horribly over-done Michael Jackson song was playing, only to be told: "we mostly listen to American music here".  
A good part of the day involved hiking.  There is a kind of mountaintop park in Bergen that is serviced by an inclined railway.  Now, this is the 5th inclined railway that I've been on in my lifetime.  Listed in order of scenic appeal:
  1. Mount Washington (just incredibly beautiful; a must-do for anyone in New Hampshire)
  2. Pittsburgh (very scenic view of the city)
  3. Bergen, Norway (short, but it goes through a cool  tunnel carved out of rock)
  4. Quebec City (short but worth it when you've already climbed your 87,897th step of the day)
  5. Dubuque, Iowa
No offense Dubuque, but you do get extra points for trying.

The view from the mountaintop was nothing short of spectacular.

(Bergen, from the hills)

While we took the railway up to the top of the maintain, we did walk back down.  Good idea on my part, save for the fact that I had a backpack ladened with a laptop and other assorted junk (most of which I should have squirreled into my suitcase, but so I digress).

(on the trail, back down:  those crafty Norwegians!)

(the Viking Star, our home for the next two weeks, from the trail)

(on the trail & beautiful)

I learned my lesson from that experience, although as I write this(5) I'm feeling no ill-effects; "getting older" reference will have to wait for another day.

(Bergen, and I suspect most of Norway, is full of interesting housing)

After the hiking and wandering around the city center of Bergen, it was time to get on the ship.

Viking Star
Dragging a sore back and a bruised head(6) to the port, we headed on board the Viking Star.  More about the ship can be found HERE.  I have to say that I'm impressed.  Between how clean everything is to the exceptionally helpful staff, this is a great place.  Then again I have nothing to compare this to ship-wise.

The other major event of the day was eating at something called the "Captain's Table"; no you don't eat with the captain, but rather you eat a fancy, themed dinner prepared by the ship's chef.  "Fancy" effectively means that I won't eat it, as my dietary preferences are, shall we say, limited.  The meal was, I think, 5 courses.  In theory, I could have eaten the main course, which was lamb, but I just can't bring myself to do that; I feel the same way about rabbit.  A lamb looks like something you have as a pet, not something you have for dinner.  Anyway, Ms. Rivers and her family, with which we are traveling, really enjoyed the dinner, which made the whole event worth it.

It was a good day.

Coda:  If there is a heaven, it likely involves sitting on a ship balcony, writing.

* * * * * *

(1) The band, not the magazine; I know, this gets confusing.

(2) I know, that's something of a contradiction.

(3) "Would you like fries with that?" in Norwegian.

(4) Unlikely, based on the appearance of the speaker.

(5) The morning of Day 3, local time.

(6) I banged my head on a steel cross-member of a tent at the local fish market. Yes, that happens with some frequency, re Tall and poor depth perception.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Filling the Bucket, Day 1 - Travel & Norway

Bergen, Norway. 

Modern airplanes are designed first and foremost for profit.  Actually fitting individuals comfortably into the airplane is a distant second.  Especially if you're over, say 6 feet tall.  So yes, I spent something like 8 hours with my knees either up at my ears or twisted into convolutions that would make a Fakir proud.  I know, first world problems.

The actual trip from Philadephia to Iceland (a.k.a. leg 1) was uneventful, save for the above reference contortions.  Luckily, I was seated next to Ms. Rivers, who doesn't seem to mind if I take up more than my allotted veal crate space.  Upon arrival in Iceland, we had about two hours until the next flight, which we used to sample the local airport food.  Note that all airport food is more or less the same, at least in terms of quality and taste.  That, along with the speed of light, are apparently both something of a universal constant.

The fight to Norway from Iceland was even worse than leg one.  Why?  Well maybe because I wasn't seated next to my wife.  Or maybe because I was in a middle seat, sandwiched between two very quiet teenagers (something of an oddity, to say the least).  In spite of myself, I did manage to get about an hour of the worst sleep imaginable.  Touching down in Norway I was able to unfold my legs, in a scene that probably looked similar to a butterfly unfolding its wings for the first time.

Two other related observations:

  • Most of the people in Iceland we heard speaking English speak it better than many native speakers in the United States.  I know, that sounds a bit extreme but spent 10 minutes listening to folks in a local WalMart and I think I'll be proven right.
  • I'm sure I managed to screw up the timing of the medication I take.  By way of back-story, I take medication for two chronic (but not all that severe) medical conditions, both of which require taking something in the morning and then in the evening.  What happens when you travel 6 hours into the future?
  • When you are in a Norwegian hotel and using their WiFi, Google all of a sudden comes up in Norwegian.  Their signal, their rules.

In spite of (likely) exhaustion, we did quite a bit of walking yesterday (or's confusing).  Bergen is a beautiful town. 

(the waterfront)

(an alleyway)

(St. Mary's Church, the oldest building in Bergen)

Speaking of universal constants, apparently, Philadelphia brand cream cheese is also something of a universal constant, as evidenced by what we found in a local supermarket:

It would be funnier if I actually ate cream cheese, but I don't.  Speaking of that general theme, most folks have to worry about gaining weight when they travel; me?  I don't think that's going to be much of a concern.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


As I noted in a prior posting (HERE), I'm getting ready for a long vacation, but that isn't happening until a business trip that I am currently on is concluded.  In fact, I'm writing this from a hotel room at 6:30am, near Denver Colorado.  Fortunately for me, the trip back home starts at about mid-day today.

Anyway, a few thoughts about traveling in general and specific to this trip are in order.

  • Belt.  I forgot to bring a belt.  I'd call it early dementia, but that's too easy an excuse.  The truth is that I wore sweatpants on the flight to Denver and never bothered to pack a belt.  What to do?  Well, fortunately, yesterday my pants fit relatively well.  Today, well, at the moment I'm using a binder clip to cinch my pants together.  That could be good for a laugh later today at the TSA checkpoint.
  • Panic.  Yesterday morning I woke up after probably not nearly enough sleep, took a shower, got dressed, and felt rather frantic.  I had plenty of time to spare, so I wasn't running late.  Oh, and my heart rate was about 103.  Things calmed down over the next hour.  I'm going to attribute that to introverted stress induced by meeting a large group of people for the first time and feeling as if I need to somehow prove myself.  For the record, yesterday was fine.
  • Dinner.  I am uncomfortable in work-social situations.  I always have been.  Now I've worked with lots of wonderful people in my life, so it's not the company I keep.  It's just that after a day of feeling as is I were "on", it can border on painful to have to continue to keep that pace up well into the evening.  For the most part in the past, I simply acquiesced and went along.  Last night I didn't and simply came back to the hotel, in spite of a few offers on the part of my new co-workers.  Maybe that was a bad idea, but I'm hoping that, from a larger work-karma perspective, I've done enough in my lifetime and am entitled to one or two passes going forward.
On that note, it's time to pack up and head down to get some breakfast.  The world is calling, whether I want to listen or not.  Here's to the wind at my back and safe travels in general for all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Of Buckets and Lists

I never really liked the concept of the "bucket list".  Like many things in my life, I think that goes back to my childhood, where, growing up, there wasn't enough money for seemingly frivolous things (such as pursuing a "bucket list").  What's more, I'll note that I hadn't been to Wilkes-Barre until my mid-teens, so world-travel didn't seem all that likely.  As I got older and the realities of career and family took hold, well, you know how it goes.

Fast forward to now, and within two weeks my wife and I start a trip where I truly get to do "bucket list" caliber stuff.  This is an adventure of almost two years in the making and marks the first time I get to visit another country(1).  In fact, this trip will take us to eight different countries(2) and will end in Stockholm, Sweden, a place that I've always wanted to visit ever since I was a teenage ABBA fan in the 70's.

(Image from Wikipedia)

Taking this much time off from work is something of a struggle for both Ms. Rivers and me, and just to make it even more complicated, I'm going to be in Colorado on company business up until the day before we depart for our journey.  Anyway, I'll end up burning off 60% of my vacation time this year on this one trip alone.  In the end though, what's the purpose of vacation time if you don't use it?

Making all of this even better, if such a thing were even possible, is that fact that we're going on this trip with my wife's parents and siblings.  As I've mentioned on this blog a few times, I'm lucky to be a part of her wonderful family.  And adventures are always best shared with family and friends.

In addition to becoming all worldly and stuff, I'm taking advantage of the travel to really take stock of a few things, which seems entirely appropriate as I stare-down the final 25% of my working adult life.  How frightening is that, by the way?  These ponderings involve questions such as:

Am I doing the things that I really want to do?  

What is it that I really enjoy doing anyway?

Am I truly working hard for the right things, or am I more like a dog simply chasing his tail?

Am I making a difference?  

Do I need to make a difference, at least at work?

Some of these questions represent a kind of luxury in action.  By "luxury" I mean that I have the luxury of being reasonably sure that I can work and meet my basic needs, without having to worry about, for example, hospital bills for sick children and teenager cell phone bills.  Been there, done that already.  Now?  Maybe I need to be thinking about working less for economics and ego(3) and more for reasons that are more important on a different level to me; see above.

Such deep, heady thoughts.

On a more practical note, I plan on doing six(4) things during the trip:
  1. Spending lots of time with my wife
  2. Walking...a lot
  3. Taking plenty of photographs
  4. Reading (I have a new book to start and a few to finish)
  5. Writing
  6. General pondering (see above)
Pretty much in that order.  I've basically got the whole Internet while traveling thing figured out already, so the hope is that I'll chronicle the journey in this here space.

Here's to safe travels, long walks, and the Nordic North.

* * * * * *

(1) Outside of Canada, which I've been to exactly once.  No offense Canada, but you kind of remind me of Minnesota.
(2) Nine, if you count a layover in Iceland.
(3) Ego as in "I should be a _______________ by now" in the corporate ranks.
(4) This list started as 4 things, but it keeps growing for some reason.

Monday, July 9, 2018

I Despise the Word "Bitch"

(As seen driving behind a truck in Pittston, PA)

I've never liked that word.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I have three daughters, and if I heard someone refer to any of them as a "b****" in front of me, well, I would do violence upon them.  Maybe I was just raised to respect people, women included.  Call me crazy, but the idea that's it's okay to refer to a woman as a female dog never seemed right to me.  The fact that this word has somehow become acceptable in modern society is sometimes bewildering.

I've seen women wear clothing that refers to the word "b****".  Maybe it's an example of taking ownership of a truly bad word.  I just don't though see how referring to oneself using a truly demeaning term is somehow empowering.  If anything, it's a kind of validation of a disrespectful word used to describe a thought that's even worse.  Granted, I know women that use that word with some frequency to describe themselves.  While I don't like it, well, that's their business and not mine.  I just think it's a horrible word (and this is my $10/year URL).

As a side note, and relating to the above photo, I don't hunt.  Why?  It's mostly because I have no desire to kill anything.  And a lack of depth perception makes the idea of me firing anything a risky endeavor.  If you hunt, well, that's perfectly okay in my book, provided that you do it responsibly and aren't needlessly cruel to the creatures you harvest.  Again, I get it:  The world certainly doesn't revolve around my opinions...but if it did...well, let's just say that "b****" would be gone, responsible hunting would be universally practiced and peanut butter would be banished (forever).

Monday, July 2, 2018

July 3, 2015

It's been three years (as of July 3rd) since my life took one of those kinds of turns to the "right" that we all only get to experience oh so infrequently.  Yet, while in some ways it seems like a lifetime ago, in reality, I'm basically left wishing that we would have had a lifetime by now.  Then I'm reminded that those who constantly spend their lifetime looking in the rearview mirror will inevitably end up crashing into something in front of them.

So here's the here and now, where I can truly say that my wife is my very best friend.

And that I will gladly take a lifetime to say that I knew her well.