Thursday, January 19, 2012

Nazi Forts in Norway

Unlike the Swedes, the Norwegians fought the Germans in World War II. It did not take long for the Germans to defeat Norway, but the Norwegians take great pride in the extent of the underground warfare that continued until the end of the war. We visited a museum dedicated to just that in the Oslo castle complex overlooking the harbor. Designed to force visitors to walk all the way though (like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC), we were able to learn the story through photographs, newspaper clippings, and dioramas with sound effects. They include the story of Vidkun Quisling who cooperated with the Nazis and ruled the collaborationist government for them. His name has come into common usage to mean traitor.
Posters from the Nazi fort in Bud

Norway was perhaps the most heavily occupied nation in Europe with one soldier for every eight Norwegians. The Nazi force included at least 6000 SS officers. None of this prevented the Norwegians from mounting a resistance movement intent on destroying Nazi fortifications, their heavy water plant and helping captured Allied soldiers get to England.

The Germans built a string of forts along Norway’s coastline. Convinced that the Allied invasion would come through Norway, they  wanted to be ready. We saw two of these forts on our travels, the first was during a lunch stop at Bud. Lunch was a nice piece of salmon. The view from the fort location shows why the Nazis chose this location.
We took a tour of the site before lunch. Our tour guide was much too young to remember anything from the Cold War, let alone World War II. Nevertheless, he did know the story. During the tour we were able to see where the Nazis lived and worked. While not a glamorous outpost it was certainly better than being on one of the fighting fronts, especially better than the Eastern Front where soldiers had to fight both the Russians and the cold. 
 Most of the grunt work building the forts was done by slaves brought in from Eastern Europe. They were fed enough to survive, barely, and provided enough clothes to act as a covering, but not enough to protect from the cold.
Working Clothes
The second fort we saw was at Unstad in the Lofoten Islands. This is so far north one wonders what the Nazis were thinking. Even if the Allies invaded that far north it would have taken months of fierce fighting to get anywhere close to Germany. We did not enter this fort even though tours were available. By this time, we were more interested in other aspects of life on the Lofoten Islands today. Nevertheless, it is an interesting example of the lengths to which the Nazis went to protect the Norwegian Coast.
Unstad coastline
Fort Unstad

Monday, January 16, 2012

Food and Drink in Norway

I imagine that most tours are like the one we did through Norway in that they like buffet meals, especially for breakfast. We only had one sit-down dinner on the tour: the first evening in Oslo where we got to meet the others who would be traveling with us. After that every evening meal was a buffet and while they were good and offered good variety, only one would be worth repeating. That was our second night on the road at Loen where we could have our meat, fish, or fowl cooked to order. Marit told us we would be impressed and we were. The cuts were excellent and then perfectly grilled. Otherwise, our dinners were nothing to write home about.
Our hotel in Loen

Breakfasts were another story. Much like what one pays $15 - $30 for in the US, these included anything you might think is appropriate for breakfast: omelets cooked to order, sliced meats and cheeses, a variety of fruits, varieties of breads you slice yourself, sausage and bacon, etc. We saw several folks making sandwiches to take for lunch. Given the price of eating out in Norway, we could understand why. Often, we just skipped lunch. Every hotel we stayed in included this in the price of the room with one exception – which, of course, was also the most expensive one in Svolraer, Lofoten. Ironically, Norwegian Cruise lines could take a lesson on how to do a breakfast buffet.

One interesting lunch was our first on the tour in Osterbo, a beautiful rustic resort in the mountains. Marta explained that when we stopped, we would be able to have a marvelous lunch of soup, bread and cheese for a 60 Kronor – a nominal price in Norwegian terms. Marit explained that there would be no paper bill. We were just to pay on the way out. The honor system is, “How we do it in the mountains.” The soup was an excellent tomato and there was plenty of bread and cheese.
 Osterbo Camp

North of the Arctic Circle, we only saw one sit-down restaurant. All the others were set up for you to find a table, take the number to the bar and order there.

Drinks were very expensive and often left something to be desired. $15 for a glass of wine and $8 for a beer was the standard rate. Norwegian beer is good although I missed having a strong IPA. Linda soon discovered that if she did not specifically ask for something dry, she would get something very sweet.  Wine is not for the connoisseur. At one of the restaurants we ate at in Svolvaer, it was behind a woman who asked for a red wine. The bartender asked if she preferred wine from Australia, Chile, or Italy. Surprisingly, she knew the answer.
 Svolvaer Restaurant

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kohunlich - Mayan Ruins

Kohunlich - Mayan Ruins

On our recent cruise to the Western Caribbean we visited two Mayan sites. The first was Kohunlich, about a two-hour bus ride from Costa Maya, Mexico. Here we visited the usual homes, temples, and ball field and were entertained and educated by our guide about the uses and purposes of each of the buildings. Kohunlich is not one of the big sites on everyone’s list to visit like Chichen Itza or Tulum. It is a bit further from the main tourist areas and not as well known, having been discovered only 34 years ago. We chose to tour there because it was one of the few interesting excursions from Costa Maya, a rather small village recently added to cruise ship itineraries. The only other people we saw during our three-hour stay was another cruise ship tour and a couple from Germany in their rental car.

One gets an idyllic sense of the place even before entering the actual ruins. The road leading to the entrance is though a lush growth of Cohoon palms which give the site its name. Cohoon is a word of Belizean origin Mayanized as the name of the site. Once in the ruins the idyllic feelings continue amidst the palms, bushes, and grassy landscape. Most of Kohunlich has been lightly excavated and little has been rebuilt to its original condition. 

When rebuilding, the workers begin with dark cement to delineate the difference between original and rebuilt. That shows clearly in the apartment house.

The ball field is usually a big highlight because of the game’s association with human sacrifice. In at least some instances in the later years of the civilization, losing team members appear to have been sacrificed. It also may have been used as a surrogate for war or boundary disputes. Playing the game must have been tough since the ball weighed nearly ten pounds and in some games had to be advanced by using the hip. 

The Temple (Pyramid) of the Masks is the big attraction here with its six giant stucco heads. Built around 500 AD, the masks were covered around 700 AD so they are still in excellent condition. The only way to get a good view of them is to walk up the uneven steps.
 I was surprised upon reaching the top that the room was so small and had no back door. I had expected and hoped to be able to see the view out the back. Evidently used only by the priests, the room would hold no more than ten people. We were not allowed to enter. 

We did get a pretty good view of the surrounding countryside.
 The second site we visited was part of a jeep tour we took from Cozumel. The main attraction was the snorkeling at the end of a road on the less-developed southern tip of the island. After some nice smorkeling, we stopped at a Faro Celarain, a lighthouse with a nice little seafaring museum. 
 Of most interest, however, was the nearby Mayan hurricane early-warning system. As you look at the photo, note the holes in the mini-tower. When the hurricane winds hit the island of Cozumel, the holes (there were four originally) would create a horn-like sound loud enough to be heard on the mainland giving the residents about 15 minutes of warning. In some ways this is even more remarkable than their calendars.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Terror in Norway

We arrived in Oslo about five days after the killing spree that made worldwide news. While certainly a traumatic  experience for the Norwegians, their response seemed quite different from what we are familiar with in the US. 

The two pictures show the damage at the Government office buildings where eight people died. You can see the blown-out windows, but otherwise there appears to be little damage. Note the lack of policemen and the simple chain-link fencing. There was no military presence with sub-machine guns and other accouterments of war. Moreover, these were literally the only police we would see during our entire three weeks in Norway. What we did see we're massive flower displays as we traveled, especially around Oslo. 
The immediate aftermath of the shooting showed none of the hysteria we would expect here. The immediate area was cordoned off and evacuated, but buses and the subway continued to run. The airport road remained open even as cars were searched. The Prime Minister's response was that the proper answer to violence was more democracy and more openness, quite different than the USA-PATRIOT Act and its increased police powers here in the US.

The only inconvenience we noted was the Billy T concert we attended. We had seen Billy and his band at the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival in July and were looking forward to seeing him again when we got to Oslo. The bar where he played was literally right below our hotel window. Since the concert was supposed to be in the street, I was looking forward to getting a couple of pictures from that perspective. Because of a large memorial service held that same afternoon at a nearby church, Billy had to play inside and the only picture  then shows what might have been.  
Marit, our guide did talk about the killings to some extent. She explained that while the maximum penalty available in Norway would be less than 20 years, the perpetrator would spend the rest of his life incarcerated in one place or another.  She also said there were no headlines in newspapers or TV showing him.  Norwegians did not want to add to his infamy.

As we traveled around Norway, we saw flowers in every city commemorating those who died. Because most of the killing took place on an island that a political party used by the Labour Party as a youth camp, every community of any size in Norway was affected. Four funerals took place the day we were in Trondheim, over a week after the killings. They were so late because the government investigation was absolutely thorough in examining each and every death for the upcoming trial. Even three weeks later we would still see flower memorials above the Arctic Circle. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Troll Fjord in the Lofoten Islands

The fjord is so narrow that the Hurtigruten and other tour boats nearly scrape the sides when they venture inside. It is a fjord which implies a dead end, so the only reason to go there on one of the big boats is to show off to the passengers. Our trip was on a much smaller boat with room enough for only 30 or so passengers.
Our regular style worked here again. After breakfast we walked over to the embarkation point, paid our money and walked on board the boat almost as it was leaving the dock. The weather was cloudy with rain in the forecast, but we chose to forgo the rainsuits. That turned out to be a mistake as we were sitting outside and it did rain. After getting wet, we decided to put on the rainsuits. Linda had no problem, but the large size barely made it over my shoulders. At least it kept me dry. 
The ride to Troll Fjord was uneventful. We did drop off a group of cyclists who were planning to ride back to Svolvaer. We had quite a bit more room without the group and their cycles, something we would appreciate later. 
We arrived at Troll Fjord in fog, barely able to see the power plant in the distance. Norway has many of these type of power plants which send the water down tubes to the generators. This avoids the scars caused by damming rivers, but still leaves room for controversy about the ugliness of the huge pipes running down many Norwegian hillsides and the resultant loss of waterfalls.  

One of the few disappointments of the Norway trip was the lack of birds. But we did see two special birds on this trip. The first were the black guillemots playing in the fjord. Swimming, flying and sitting on the edge of the cliffs, they did a good job of showing themselves off.  
We even saw some trolls.  

 The excitement was yet to come. On the way back to Svolvaer, we stopped to do some fishing, if you can call it fishing. The tools consisted of one pole and four hooks with some bait. The mate dropped the line and immediately pulled it out. First case brought up two fish, the next only one, but it was a big one that went home with someone. Five fish later we were again underway. 

When we got to within a half hour of Svolvaer we again slowed and the mate began to feed the gulls with treats, not fish. We actually thought that was the point, but shortly the real star appeared on the horizon.  

When the eagle approached, the mate threw a fish out and the eagle swooped down to scoop it out of the water. I got a couple of good pictures, but not the great one. In the process, I did learn more about the camera and proper preparation. Next time will be better.

Oh yes, the Hurtigruten is a fleet of ferries that ply the route from Bergen to the very top of Norway. They have twelve boats on the six-day route stopping at each place the same time each day both directions.