Mediterranean Cruise, then On to Norway!

Independence of the Seas

May 1, the port of call was Cagliari, Sardinia. We opted to head to town for a walk, and found ourselves in the midst of an annual Mayday tradition that goes back 352 years in Cagliari – the Festival of Sant’ Efisio – the first of which (352 years ago) was said to have been responsible for the end of the plague in Sardinia. The inhabitants of the island decorate oxcarts with representations of regional plenty (fruits, breads, flowers, grains, baskets, pottery) and village-specific costumes, and form a parade around the town of Cagliari, which ends with a 4-day procession of the Saint to a village up the coast and back to his place in the Cathedral. It was one of those “National Geographic” moments that we’ll savor for a long while.

May 2 found us at Civitavecchia, the port city of Rome.  Expensive as it is, I talked Dale and Linda into joining the “deluxe” 10-1/2 hour excursion – the same one that Suzanne and I did last summer.  In reality, if you’re only going to be in Rome a short time, seeing the biggies is, I think, the most important thing to do.  That having been said, though, we didn’t take into consideration that in Europe, May 1 is a holiday.  The Vatican was closed on Saturday, and would be closed again on Monday, so who knows how many hundred thousand people were in line outside on this particular Sunday – and inside St. Peter’s Basilica, it was a madhouse of a crowd, so much so that the guide was told to keep our group moving.  Dale just held his camera up over the crowds and kept snapping pictures – don’t know if he got any good ones.  But seeing the vastness of St. Peter’s, the majesty of the Sistine Chapel, and major historic ruins on every streetcorner was worth it.  Here they are at Trevi Fountain, wishing their way back to Rome!

Livorno was the port call on May 3, so we just booked a shuttle bus to take in Pisa and Florence on our own.  I know I wrote about it in last summer’s entries, but the place is mythical.  Not just art, but GREAT art everywhere — and a wonderfully walkable old quarter that just begs for picture after picture.  To top it all off, there was a bit of a national market going on in the main square, with food, wine, and craft exhibits from all over Italy.  Just had to grab a few pictures, taste a few samples, and wish like crazy I could spend a few months here…

Cannes was the fourth port day in a row, and as we were visually and physically overwhelmed from three straight great days, we opted to take the water taxi in and just stroll, looking for a place for lunch. Ole was able to get free for a few hours so he joined us. Cannes was getting ready for the film festival, with tents being erected all over the marina, yachts pulling in, and in general, the town getting spiffed up. Looking for a bathroom, we wandered into the casino at the exhibition center, where Linda promptly won 60 Euros on a slot machine, but, seeing as how she doesn’t read French, couldn’t figure out why the cashier only gave her 4 Euros. My rusty French interpreter skills were called upon (never thought I had the language skill to argue casino winnings!), all was set right, so we wandered over toward the market for lunch — moules frites! Haven’t had those since we were in Pornichet!

Boy, were we happy to have a sea day! Then we called at Cadiz, and took a tour over to Jerez for the sherry tasting and a glimpse of the Royal Spanish Riding School. We went to the school first, and as it was a Thursday, there was no scheduled show. Instead, we got a private tour of the stables, a peek into the rehearsal where we were fortunate enough to be able to see a few horses dancing, and a chance to walk through the exhibit of riding costumes and an elaborately poured taste of sherry. It was a bit disappointing, as our look at the rehearsal was so short.

But it all got better at Gonzalez/Byass, home of Tio Pepe sherry. I enjoyed that tour so much last summer, I thought it might be fun to share it with Dale and Linda. This time I learned something, though, I hadn’t seen last time I was there – there is a legend about mice who live under the casks taking a liking to sweet sherry. Apparently a workman saw a mouse lapping up a spill, so every day he left a little snack and a glass of sweet sherry for the mice – but had to build them a ladder to get to the glass. Don’t believe me? Here you go.

We had two cold and rainy sea days back to Southampton, where Dale and Linda left to spend ten days in London, and Ole signed off the ship May 9.  While we were aboard, we discussed our bi-annual Norway trip, and as he had heard some bad news about an elderly aunt and cousin, we opted to go immediately to Norway instead of back to Panama.

We arrived in Oslo on Saturday, then took the train to Halden to visit Andreas in his little flat.  After a nice two-day visit, we flew from Oslo to Bodo, then took the high-speed boat up to Gjaeroy.  As much as we cursed the work back in the summer of 2007, when we arrived we were glad we had done it.  The fence Ole and Petter built then has kept most of the sheep out, and after just a couple of days of good weather, Ole had the last 50 meters finished.   And the brush we cleared two years ago hasn’t dared come back!

Gjaeroy, Norway

We’ve never been here together this early in the year, and the weather has been outstanding for 66 degrees North/13 degrees East.  Daytimes in the high 60’s with clear blue skies, little to no wind, and a sun that slides sideways around the sky, dipping below the horizon for just about two hours each night.  The weather allowed us to work a little, fish a little, and generally enjoy life in this part of the world.

Solgunn in Norlands Bunad

May 17th is Norway’s Independence Day, and a very big deal for everyone.  We joined the celebration at the church, then the parade to the school for a day of eating, games, and stories.  After watching the 17th of May Parade in Ballard and Poulsbo (Washington) and comparing it to what happens in little towns all over Norway, it’s quite a different holiday in the home country.  First of all, the parade is not something you watch – it’s something you join.  Second, the festivities are more for the children than anyone else, with ice cream, games, and stories geared to teach the children their history.  And third, it’s a chance for women to show off their bunad, the local costume many girls get for confirmation at age 15.  What impressed me about being with the residents of this little island this time, though, was that many of the 76 local people approached me to speak English – that didn’t happen when I started coming here 20 years ago.

Picnic on the Beach

The 18th was so fine and fair, we went with the little 14-foot skiff (4 hp motor) around to a bay for our traditional outdoor picnic – complete with driftwood fire and shirtless sunbathing – it must have been all of 78 degrees!


The next visit was a sad one.  Ole’s last surviving aunt, Marit, died the day before we arrived back in Norway, and the 19th of May we gathered with Ole’s family for her funeral, in nearby Tjongsfjord.  After the funeral, we opted to stay a few days with his cousin Aud and her husband Eilif, at their summer cottage in Velanfjord.  As always, we thoroughly enjoyed their company, the view, and fine conversation.  This time it included time indoors around the woodstove, as the weather turned too cold to spend much time down by the boathouse.

Ole has asked me several times if I would consider spending more time here.  I must confess, it’s beautiful.  But when the wind shifts north, it’s easy to remember we’re on the Arctic Circle – and as we’re offshore, on an island, we’re the first land any wind from the west hits – and that usually brings rain.  If we were to spend more time here, we definitely need to invest in some infrastructure – communication, internet connection, satellite tv or radio – as well as upgrade the house, which hasn’t seen much upgrading in its 50 year history.  All of this to tell you that the weather shifted, and we’ve had almost a week of blustery, rainy weather, which makes it a bit difficult to get out and do any yard work, much less travel across the fjord for an internet connection and groceries!  Frankly, we’ve had better infrastructure on Emma Jo!

Speaking of internet connections and infrastructure – while we’re here, we cannot get connected from the house, much less the island.  We need to travel across the fjord about 15 minutes to, of all things, a guesthouse/inn called Klokkergaarden, run by an ambitious and capable young woman named Malin – who transformed a former parsonage turned sheep barn into a charming tourist destination here in Rodoy Community – much to the surprise of the older local residents who said it couldn’t be done.  She’s been the subject of many business articles in the Norwegian Press, up to and including a nomination for Norwegian Businesswoman of the Year.  When we’re here, we try to get over at least once for a meal and a chat, bringing the computer with us – and Malin is kind enough to let us check email.

Another wonderful visit was with Ole’s cousin Lyder and his family (see pictures above) for a dinner of moose stew and some lovely companionship with his wife, Solgunn and their children Gunnar Haakon, Anne Marie, and Ole Kaspar, who’s a bundle of three-year-old energy.  We were treated to a musical serenade of a song Lyder wrote to commemorate this island (Gjaeroy), and will be travelling next weekend to see a concert put on by the local school children and organized by Lyder, their music teacher.

We’re hoping the weather turns back to at least partly cloudy, so that Ole can finish coating the roof of the house and repairing some fascia boards to keep the place tight and dry until our next visit.  One can only hope!

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