I had a birthday recently and decided to take myself to go see “Barbie”. I was hoping for some fun escapism. Well… it was entertaining but it was also a story of a major existential crisis. So I’m conflicted. Not sure I liked it. But Ryan Gosling was excellent as Ken.
I can be conflicted about birthdays in general. Some good, some bad. Some have associations I don’t care for. Some happy occasions.
My mother writes about the menu for my second birthday: hunks of cheese, slices of bananas with peanut butter dabs all on a toothpick, tiny buns filled with ground spam, graham crackers with honey butter, and then cupcakes with a candle on each, coffee and Koolade.
Sounds like an exotic ‘50s meal, doesn’t it?
My fifth birthday was memorable because the family had just survived a plane crash and landed at our final destination two weeks late – on my birthday. Another memorable one was in Lagos, Nigeria when my mother and I marked the occasion by opening a small tinned chocolate cake. They probably don’t make such a thing anymore…
In 1999, the last year of the millennium, I spent my birthday in France.
We stayed with friends in the suburbs who had a house and small yard and a son our son, Noah’s age. They were about a ten minute walk from the train in a nice little village with a pretty chateau. The first day was spent getting our new visas organized and trying to do some shopping. On Saturday we wandered around the left bank and then the four adults went out to dinner at a very nice kind of ‘new’ French restaurant. It was my birthday so we had champagne and wine and great food. Sunday was the boat ride on the Seine with the boys and then a walk through the Tuileries garden where there just happened to be some rides and of course Noah had to go on them.
We rented a car and on Tuesday left for Metz and the eclipse. Metz is a very pretty town right on the river. We scoped out the area on Tuesday and early Wednesday morning we headed out with the telescope, video camera and other cameras. We set up our camp in the middle of the Esplanade which is a nice park right by the river. The town had organized a big festival around the eclipse and so there were parades, music, etc. going on all day long. It was cloudy. During the first half of the eclipse we were able to see it off and on. But about 20 minutes before total eclipse it started to rain. We could tell when the total was, though, because it was completely dark. It was really cool. All the flowers closed up and all the lights came on and it was really night. Then during the second half it cleared up a bit and we were able to see more. Noah kept looking at the “moon” through his glasses. Nicholas got some good shots through his telescope. And I got a new umbrella. When we got back to Paris our friends who had gone 25 minutes north of Paris on the train said they had seen the whole thing perfectly.
From Metz we drove into Lorraine and the Vosges area. We stopped at the Haut Konningburg castle which is a huge restored castle on top of a mountain in the middle of the forest. You can see forever from it. It is really cool with a moat and drawbridge and inner yard. It would be very hard to penetrate it.
From there we wound our way around down to La Bresse which is in the heart of a big ski area and lots of mountains and forest. Really beautiful. Our hotel was very nice with a good restaurant. We drove all around the area and went hiking around a glacial pool where Noah spent the better part of an hour throwing rocks into it.
On Sunday (the day before Noah’s birthday) we took the boys to the Bois de Bologne to the big amusement park there and I think they went on about 20 rides. They had a lot of fun.
Our last day in Paris we had lunch up at Montmartre with all the tourists in town. It was kind of fun.
The Superior Hiking Trail runs 300 miles along the ridge line above Lake Superior from the southern edge of the lake to the Canadian border. The trail is managed by the Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA), located in Two Harbors, Minnesota. It can be accessed along the way from about 50 trailheads. Besides the Superior Hiking Trail there are several State Parks and the Superior National Forest where hiking trails abound.
The Superior National Forest is known for the million-acre remote Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness bordering on Canada.
We hiked along a small portion of the SHT, drove along the Gunflint Trail in the Superior National Forest, and explored the George Crosby Manitou State Park. The Crosby Manitou is a backpack only park with primitive campsites. Other parks in the area include Cascade River State Park, Temperance River State Park, Tettegouche State Park, Gooseberry Falls State Park, the Finland State Forest, and Judge C.R. Magney State Park.
The first day we took a hike along a part of the SHT and at one point came to a spot where a wooden bridge crossed a gulch. I sat down on the steps to rest for a bit and all of a sudden this blur of fur came running at my feet, bumped into them, ran the opposite direction, scrambled behind me and up the post of the bridge. By this time I was up on my feet, freaking out after having let out a bit of a scream. I looked up and saw it was a ground squirrel. He then proceeded to scold me by shrieking at me in a high pitched voice. I must have been blocking access to his stash. My companion was laughing his head off. Ahh… life in nature….
I spent a few days on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It is the largest fresh water lake in the world. It was pretty smokey when we got up there but cleared out after about a day. There was also a lot of fog in some areas. But always lovely.
Nine year ago I spent an idyllic week in a villa on Lake Como in Italy. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. It was transformational. This week Facebook keeps digging up photos of that week to show me in my “memories”. How thoughtful of them. (??) Anyway, I ended up picking out a few.
We had been to our school reunion in Lugano, Switzerland and five of us decided to extend the trip by renting a villa in Lezzeno, right on the lake. We took the bus to Bellagio. We rented a boat and cruised up and down the lake hovering at George Clooney’s place and the Villa D’Este hotel where people pay $1,500 to stay. We swung by the Villa del Balbianello where they filmed Star Wars. And watched sea planes land outside Richard Branson’s villa. We rode up the Funivia to Pigra and took in the view. A local chef fed us dinner. It was perfect.
I even made an attempt to copy that last photo in needlepoint form. The flowers surrounding the villa really impressed me.
An unforgettable time.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. Not too hot, sunny, not smokey. Very nice. Except for the occasional mosquito…
William O’Brian State Park, Minnesota St Croix Valley
I’ve been back a few days now and am slowly getting over jet lag. Starting to feel human again. Trying to adjust back to regular life. Reflecting on all I saw and did.
There were lots of things I liked about my Arctic Cruise and there were some I didn’t. I realized I am not really a cruise person. I kind of knew that already but thought a small ship would be more of an adventure and less of a “cruise”. I was right about that. It was an expedition. You never knew what was going to happen next. You never knew what the schedule would be, would we land, would we go someplace else, would the sun ever come out… The sea was rough and unforgiving. I spent a couple of days confined to my cabin.
Once I started on my seasickness pills I stayed on them. It saved me. As we went farther north, things calmed down a bit. Even though we had 24 hrs of sun once we passed the Arctic Circle, it was cloudy and kind of gloomy.
We kept going farther north in order to find more ice. We were looking for polar bears and they usually hunt for seal on the ice. Once we crossed 80 degrees north we had to head south again. We did find some cool ice, though. A lot of it was blue.
Svalbard was not what I expected. I thought it would be more flat. It was almost all mountains and fjords. It was difficult to hike around on land because not only was it steep, it was covered in about two feet of snow. This was the closest I got to a wild animal.
We were the only people we ever saw. It was empty and cold and kind of eerie. But beautiful and magical. The vistas were definitely awe inspiring. And when the sun finally did come out, it was beyond belief.
So, what didn’t I like? I didn’t care for the Zodiacs. Those rubber motor boats with 8-10 people on them zipping around the icy waters. They were tricky to get in and out of and they went so fast, I had to hold on for dear life. I was sure I was going to fall out of the thing. I thought I was the only one, but once I mentioned it, people acknowledged they would not ride with certain drivers, or they felt uncomfortable as well. However, most people, it seemed to me, were loving every minute. They had been on these tours before and planned to go on the another as soon as possible. Many had been to the Antarctic.
It probably didn’t help that I had just been through the third snowiest winter of Minnesota history. I was kind of sick of cold and snow. So maybe not the best idea to go when I did but this particular organization only does this trip once a year and I wanted to see the Shetlands and the Faroes as well. It was my only option.
So I didn’t like the Zodiacs, much. I didn’t really like being in a confined space looking at water all the time. It was two weeks. The first week was fabulous but it got kind of the same after that. We spent five days wandering around the fjords of Svalbard. Two would have done it for me. Now that I have been to the Arctic, I don’t really see a need to go again. Although I may have to go to Canada to see a polar bear.
But I’m glad I went. I loved the Faroe Islands. I loved the gorgeous views of the snowy shores and mountains and glaciers of Svalbard. I loved being in the middle of nowhere out of touch with civilization. No news, no idea even what day it was. The food was good. The company was generally good. I read two books. I learned a lot about birds, and sea mammals, and ice. And now I have been to the southernmost city in the world and the northernmost city in the world.
Here is a parting shot of Svalbard.
The night before we docked in Longyearbyen, Norway, we all toasted the Captain and crew and thanked them all for a wonderful trip. Earlier in the day I watched about twenty people take the polar plunge. They all survived.
Night or day the views were the same.
Once we docked in Longyearbyen, Norway we boarded a bus that took us to the airport. On the way we passed the entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
I had an uneventful overnight in Helsinki and it was on to London the next day. I opted for a slower pace and stayed in Windsor for my last few days abroad. The castle wasn’t open on the days I was there but I managed to see a few sights. It really is a lovely town. With Eton right next door.
Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Eton College was founded in 1440 by Henry VI. You will need $56,000 per year to send your teenage boy there. No girls, please.
From Jan Mayen we headed north and spent another two days at sea before pulling into Bergerbukta at the southern tip of Svalbard. We took a Zodiac cruise and saw a seal lounging on the ice. The next four days were spent traveling the coast and fjords of the island.
We spent some time enjoying the view of the Fourteenth of July glacier.
We hiked over deep snow in Ny London to an old deserted mining town. They thought they had found a fabulous deposit of beautiful marble and set up shop with about 70 people. When their first shipment arrived in the UK they opened boxes only to find rubble. Because of the climate there were tiny cracks in the marble and so it had disintegrated during transport.
We passed by an old blubber gathering and whaling station. We stopped at an old unsuccessful site where they were looking for gold deposits.
There were sightings of walrus, seals, Orkas, beluga whales, reindeer, lots of glaciers and tons of birds, but no polar bears.
At one point we were headed to the northern edge of Svalbard and came across some beautiful blue ice. On the fourth day we reached 80 degrees North. We were closer to the North Pole than to the Arctic Circle. Six hundred nautical miles to the North Pole and 807 nautical miles to the Arctic Circle.
The weather was cloudy, snowy, foggy, and a bit mysterious until the last day when the sun finally came out.