Its almost Christmas

We’ve been busy preparing for the onslaught of visitors that occurs between Thanksgiving and New Years.  Luckily, the seals haven’t been hauling out quite as much as they were a month ago, we’ve yet to determine what causes their cycles.  We’ve had wind and high tides along with the full moon, removing much beach sand…again cyclic, the beach at the Kiahuna Resort has almost disappeared.  The naupaka hedge is slumping into the ocean and the tombolo at Poipu Beach connecting the island to the mainland has disappeared.iecc-004  The last full moon of the year was spectacular, being on the beach after sunset looking towards the West.december-019K31, our big male hauled out at Kiahuna and, to the delight of spectators, decided to “take a leak” december-015K30, the big, scarred female also showed up on the rocks last week after a several month absence.

Kalaheo elementary school put on a musical variation of A Christmas Story at Kukui Shopping Center, substituting Auntie Scrooge for Scrooge as the main character.  It was very well done, amazing for 4th and 5th graders…..I have come to believe that most everyone on this island can sing ….these kids surely didn’t disappoint.  I went with Tree, Shannon and Amy (a good friend of Shannon’s).  Amy’s two daughters were in the cast.

Left picture shows Auntie Scrooge with the ghost of Christmas past and the right shows the whole cast. A festival of lights also decorates Rice Street (the main drag of Lihue) so  cars parade up and down the street to check them out.

Winter has arrived in Kauai, the nights have gotten down to the upper 60s and days, upper  70s.   The human body certainly adjusts to different temperature ranges, we are dressing in long sleeved shirts, jackets and long pant while the visitors scurry around in shorts, tank tops and bikinis…..one can always pick out the locals by their layers.  Its hard to remember what below zero felt like, and neither of us is eager to re-experience it.

Winter is also when we become Wall nuts and catch the sunset on the wall as well as look for whales.  The Canadians and the Snow Birds are just beginning to appear along with the whales, we’ve sighted several whale breaches and repeat Wall nuts at our spot on the Wall.  The same visitors come every year and we look forward to their return.  Some even help with the seals.  The lure of the Wall is to observe the “Green Flash”.  Many think that its a myth however, it has to do with the scattering of light just as the sun drops below the horizon and it lasts only a second or so.  Shannon has provided the proof.  This view was from the Wall a few days ago, for you doubters.img_0093

The week has produced few seals at Poipu, finally, at the end of the week, 2 seals appeared at Poipu, one on the island and one next to the vegetation.

 

It’s Thanksgiving …..hooray

It is so hard to believe that it is already Thanksgiving, how the time flies.  The first week started with Melanie’s departure and our volunteering again, this time to help with the Hawaiian Children’s Theatre.  We had attended Spamalot, one of their productions a few months ago and this time they were preforming “School of Rock”.  These young folks (they must be 18 or younger) are extremely talented and we enjoyed the play immensely.  We helped with the raffle, where people could buy tickets costing anywhere from $1-$20 to be included in a drawing for about 95 items.  The drawing took place after the last performance….the show went on for three weeks.  Charlie and I were there before the play and at the intermission to explain how the drawing works, thus we could watch the play for free.  Working the raffle enabled us to “invest” in a few tickets ourselves, luckily it paid off with a $100 gift certificate to a jeweler and a stand up paddle excursion for two, worth over $260.

The week was very windy and rainy and cooler than usual.  Winds gusting up to 40 mph were recorded.  The seals have been scarce all week too.  W06 came up one day and K31 another, neither of which we have seen recently and our old reliable, G22 hasn’t been seen.  We wonder why it can be so busy and then slack, could it be the wind?  or the higher than usual tides? This it what makes seal watching so interesting.  A few whales are starting to reappear, plus the holidays bring more tourists.  I’ve seen one whale breach but no blows yet.  We’re at the beach early every day, consequently we get to watch the sunrise at Poipu, awesome.  Every day is different.

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The culinary students at the college produced a “luau” this week, Laulau, Lomi Lomi Salmon, Fish Poke, Kalua Pig, Squid luau, Teriyaki steak, Poi and Guava Chiffon Cake were among the items featured.  The second week theme was Japanese, I am continually amazed by the talent these young chefs display.

The second week we picked up our certificates and went to Kapaa to cash in the jewelers certificate, however we made the mistake of going in the afternoon.  Not only was the traffic slow, but there was a crash next to Coco Palms that slowed traffic to a standstill.  It took us 1/2 hour to go two miles, after we passed the crash site it loosened up and we sped along as far as Lihue where again, we came to a complete halt.  This time it was a 2 car crash on the highway between Lihue and home.  This is always a problem, since there is only one road between each town and no alternate routes.  We crept along at about 3 mph until, at the 5 mile bridge we came upon the crash (after the police and ambulances had left).  It had taken us 1hr and 45 min to get home, a distance of about 20 miles.

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We don’t think that anyone was killed but the wreck looked awful.

It has rained almost every day for the past 2 weeks, quite unusual for it to last that long.  Still the visitors crowd Poipu beach, where there is almost always sunshine for part of the day.  The rest of the island, especially the north shore has been very cloudy, in fact the Hanelei bridge was flooded out.  We’ve have flash flood warnings for several days, but the problem is usually the north shore.

Even though it is 80 during the day, the evenings are now cool…..in the upper 60s.  Obviously winter is here!   We are preparing for Christmas.  For the first time since we arrived in Kauai, we have a “real” tree. I love the scent when I walk into the living room.  Also for the first time we have a short needled Noble Fir….much easier to decorate than our traditional White Pine.  Digging out our sentimental ornaments makes me happy.img_0444

Allie has matured enough that I can decorate all the way to the lowest branches, last year she denuded the bottom two tiers.  She does like to hide behind the tree though her second favorite spot is on the table.img_0448

The big group of us that gets together often, went to the Kalaheo Steak and Rib house Saturday night.  The restaurant often has music but this night they had a private party, consequently we had our own party.img_0450

Some friends from the east shore in Kapaa took a picture of the Super Moon  a couple of weeks ago and I’m pleased to share it, it truly captures the ambiance of the tropics at night.img_0449

I’ve been swamped

It has seemed that every time that I’ve started to catch up, something else occurs.  We returned from Scandinavia and left again to the mainland after about 3 weeks.  All the time here in Kauai we were so busy that I just didn’t take time to sit down.  Immediately upon returning we got caught up in little details and again didn’t get around to writing.  After opening scads of mail that had accumulated over the 3 weeks we were gone, I opened a letter from the Hawaii federal court telling me I was to report for jury duty (in Honolulu).  I thought that it was mistaken but I called the first week and I wasn’t on the list but I was to call in two weeks…..I still wasn’t supposed to report….finally…..on my Birthday….I called and was told I had a plane reservation  for the next day and I needed to report to the federal circuit court at 8 am and was to bring enough clothing for one week.  And so, at 6:20 Nov 1, Charlie dropped me off at the airport, I was off to Honolulu.  I discovered that federal trials in Hawaii need to have neighbor islanders available to balance the court.  It seems that many of our friends on Kauai have recently gotten court notices (Charlie has to call in right after Thanksgiving), but these are all for County court.

After a long day in a awesomely decorated Koa wood courtroom, I won the lottery.  Or maybe it was the booby prize.   I was one of 9 jurors selected for a civil suit involving a helicopter crash in 2011 on Molokai.  I was further informed that I should expect a 3 week trial, but would be able to go home on the weekends.  Charlie had made sure (the good planner that he is) that I was prepared with enough clothes, so I was prepared to stay until that Friday.  They put me and another woman from Kona in the Ala Moana hotel in Waikiki (we were the only neighbor islanders) and would pay us $40 per day and a per diem.  They would make all hotel and plane reservations for us.

The trial was very detailed and complicated legally, the land owner claimed that debris was left on his property and was suing the helicopter company for damages.  So it was tedious and it was stressful to concentrate on all the details, trying to remain neutral and fair.  Each evening my new friend and I would check out different restaurants as well as the huge Ala Moana Shopping center.  That part was a nice break from Kauai shopping.  The top of our hotel had magical views of Honolulu at sunset and at night.

We finally finished deliberation on Wednesday morning of the third week. Both parties were disappointed in the results, so we figured that we were fair in our conclusions.  I got a flight back to Kauai around 5 PM but my friend from the Big Island couldn’t get out until the next morning.  I felt badly for her but I was still pretty darned happy to get home.

In the meantime, we had a visitor from Madison, Melanie, whose dad, Jim Walker is a very good friend of ours.  I had tried to use her visit to get out of serving on the jury, and I was also scheduled to work the polls for the election, but neither excuse worked, I was a lucky winner….chosen 9 out of 50.  I did get to spend time with her on the days the jury was off and we took the opportunity to hike both the Mahulepu and Kalalau Trails.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the end of the Mahulepu trail, we observed a fire helicopter dipping a bucket into the ocean and dropping it up on a ridge towards Kipu Kai, we didn’t see smoke but he made numerous trips.img_0421

The famous Kalalau trail, on the north shore of Kauai, is an ancient Hawaiian route, an 11 mile strenuous hike on the Napali coast to the Kalalau valley.  Tour helicopters fly up and down the Napali coast letting visitors enjoy the trail without the exertion but we took the harder route.  Mel and I hiked the first 2 miles of the main trail whereupon we branched off, after crossing the Hanakapi’ai stream, and hiked up to Hanakapi’ai Falls.  This was an even more strenuous trail across slippery rocks and fording the stream several times.  Both of us emerged, after 6 hours, covered in mud and soaking wet.  Numerous signs along the way warn of dangerous surf and flash floods on the stream.  It had rained overnight so all the trails were muddy and slippery, and both of us slipped and fell several times, (me more than Mel).  The waterfall was well worth the hike and was made more precious because of the effort involved in reaching it.

We both were exhausted by the time we emerged at Ke’e Beach and were happy to get more water and indulge in a tropical smoothie at the fruit stand on the way back to Koloa.  We both were glad that we had conquered, at least part, of the Kalalau trail and also experienced the waterfall.

After our hike, the next morning dawned early, with my hobbling onto the airplane to fly back to the trial.  Ibuprofen was welcome, since each time the jury took a break, it was necessary to suppress the groans when I stood up.

It was fun to share our island with a young person, and she appeared to have a good time. She was an easy guest for she was quite independent and toured on her own quite a bit.  I recovered from the sore muscles and scratches from our hike by the time the trial was over.

We did have one interesting event this past week, a shark became entangled in a fishing net and perished over by the Grand Hyatt, we got the call and went down to take a look.  It was approximately 5 feet long, rather pretty, we weren’t sure what kind it was, one guess was Galapagos and another, grey reef shark.  So sad that nets could be left out to entangle sealife.hyatt-013

Luckily, the seals were not too active during my absence and I wasn’t missed too much.  Tree, Shannon, and Lynn were all back from summer on the mainland which helped on seal coverage too.

Charlie is now on a jury pool list next week, however, his is a county list and he wouldn’t have to leave the island.

With Mel here, we had the opportunity to indulge in some of the nicer restaurants on Kauai.  She likes sushi and fish so we had multiple excursions to dine.  We will both have to go on diets after her visit.

She flew over to Maui to watch the UW Badgers play basketball at a tournament, we considered going too, but I was ready to stay at home so we passed on the opportunity.

 

Kauai Marathon

The week was pretty slow because the seals stayed away, it’s hard to know why every now and again, they disappear for a few days.

G22 came up a couple of times during the week as did R339 and N30 (a pup born in 2013 that we had pup sat).  N30 was jumpy so we couldn’t get too close but luckily he stayed out on the island.

Unfortunately, we also were devastated when little gray cat, whom we had photographed on the car last week, was hit and killed by a motorist on Weli Weli, the street running next to our house. I found her in the early morning on my run down to Poipu.  Gray Cat and Snowball were the two feral cats that we had been feeding since we moved to Kauai, now both are gone.  The life of a feral cat is way too short…..we never did get either tame enough to adopt.

The big news also, was the appearance of two hurricanes.  Madeline who went south of us and Lester, who went north.  Nonetheless, there was a run on bottled water and we followed the hurricane forecasts carefully.  They did provide large surfs along with high tides, in fact the island off the beach at Poipu was closed off a couple of times.  Of course, that didn’t discourage some intrepid (stupid) folks from trekking across the chest-deep tombolo to harass the seals resting there.  It never ceases to amaze me how many people seem to be clueless about approaching wild animals.  Or about venturing out in ocean conditions that are dangerous.

So, the week was fairly quiet but on the weekend, the annual Kauai Marathon was held, and we volunteered at one of the water stops.  We were at the 12 mile and 22 mile point water stop.  This is an extremely scenic run, but also extremely hilly and the weather was pretty warm, about 85 degrees with no wind.  Hurricane Lester passing north blocked the trades for the day.

It was still entertaining, we had three hula dancers next to our water stop, dancing for the 5 hours we stayed passing out water and Poweraid.Kauai Marathon 2016 012

Note, the dancers are dressed in the typical male hula costume, though traditionally they might have the grass skirt without the white pants.

The male winner from Japan was at least 9 minutes ahead of the second runner at 12 miles and won handily.  The female winner was from Honolulu was also way in front and looked strong throughout.Kauai Marathon 2016 016

We volunteered at a water stop that was handled by a group of realtors, the same group that we had helped two years ago.

Down the road from our station a little bit, a group of native Hawaiian activists set up just for the marathon to advertise their anti government stand. There is a group of folks, many of which live on Kauai that are extremely anti-American.  They want all the islands to revert back to the kingdom of Hawaii.  The islands were “conquered” by a group of U.S. sugar barons and Queen Liliuokulani was deposed, so they do have a point, however, many of the most adamant activists draw unemployment or social security from the U.S.  I believe that, if America hadn’t annexed the Hawaiian Islands, Japan, Russia, or China would have.IMG_0087

Nothing is easy or clear-cut.

Monk Seal News

This week has been quite busy wth Monk seal activity, not because we’ve had many seals at Poipu, but because a new seal appeared on the island with a hook in her mouth.  The hook wasn’t swallowed, but had entered her mouth and the tip and barb had penetrated the side of her cheek.  This is serious but not life-threatening.  We were called to assist in the hook removal.  She was sleeping on a more remote beach within Kauai Coffee’s  plantation, which has restricted access.  So, we met Jamie (the NOAA) coordinator, Mimi (the DNLR coordinator) and Barry at the coffee company office to get permits to access the beach through their property.  We then drove down as close as we could to the beach, and then hiked down.  It’s been hot with no wind so it was sweltering at the end of the road.  We winded our way down through the scrub to the beach, where we regrouped, geared up and went through the protocol….the GAR that we were trained in a couple of weeks ago.  This is quite complicated, since the seals are protected by the endangered species act.  After the orientation, Jamie, Mimi, Charlie and Barry donned coveralls and gloves and we jogged down the deep sand to capture the girl.  We were lucky, she didn’t hear us coming so Jamie slipped the net over her head and after a struggle, pinned her down her head, Barry on the shoulders, Charlie on the back flippers.  Mimi approached the seal’s head, while I passed the instruments to her.  Mimi grabbed the hook (about 2 inches in diameter) with pliers and couldn’t pull it out  It was only hooked on the lip but it didn’t work, so I handed her the bolt cutters so that she could cut the eye out.  Success!   With both ends of the hook removed, we then proceeded to tag her.  Her official name is now 7GM.  Again, I was the assistant, handing Mimi the instruments needed to tag….the punch, the beta dyne, and the injector to chip her.  At that point the signal was given….let her loose and run away. 7GM laid there for a short time, looking dazed and then she turned to swim into the ocean.  The whole procedure from beginning the run and releasing the seal took 3 minutes and 53 seconds.  We have a awesome team!  We did get some credit from the Monk Seal Research Foundation (we are the Kauai Monk Seal Hui.)  This seal is probably only 3 years old, but she was a real fighter.  We had a had time holding her down, as she was twisting and rolling on us.   Good thing she wasn’t full grown, she would have been a real handful. If you click on the above link, it will take you to their site with a description of the procedure.

The hook that we removed (the 1KZ tag is shown only for size reference):

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Life in Kauai is certainly not boring.

Big news in Koloa is that the pedestrian bridge that was destroyed over 5 years ago has reappeared and is in place across the creek.  Or at least the new replacement bridge is now here.  However, access to it on both ends is blocked…….the ramp has yet to be built.  Typical of projects here on Kauai.  Also, big in the news this week is a meeting concerning the perpetual traffic jam in Kapaa going north.  Many times during the day, traffic crawls at 3 MPH.  It seems any solutions are way in the future, and of course there’s no money for the projects. The roads, in general, are not first rate.  A couple of days ago a crash on the main highway near the tree tunnel stopped traffic to the South and West sides for 3 hours….there are no alternate routes so whenever there is any issue, all traffic is stopped sometimes up to 5 hours, a real pain if you bought ice cream at Costco….bring along a spoon just in case.

Also, big news this week is that Obama has approved the expanded marine sanctuary in the Hawaiian Islands, the conservationist are very happy, but some local fisherman are not so pleased.  When you see the toll over-fishing has taken on marine life, I’m glad that it is happening.  The monk seals that are starving in the northwest islands illustrate the fishing problem well, this wee4 emaciated and starving seals to capture by NOAA staff and taken to Kona to rehabilitate them.

The end of the week found us with hardly any seals up, what a change!  We finished all kinds of projects that had been waiting for a break.  We still go down to the beach in the mornings and one morning we walked over from the parking lot to see a couple of fellows string a line between two trees and then proceed to tightrope walk.  What next in Poipu, just when we think that we’ve seen it all, then tightrope walking?  IMG_0295

We even took some time to drive to Kekaha to check out another beautiful beach that had way fewer people than our beach at Poipu.

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We’ve been feeding a feral cat since we moved here, Grey Cat is getting less jumpy and I think that she has adopted us.  We can’t touch her, but she no longer runs away when I feed her, she just hides under the car until I back off.  Not only does she hide under the car, but she also now sleeps on the car.

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We’re glad to feed her, and keep her from starving.  But she does sometimes drive Allie nuts, but coming to the lanai door and ‘talking’ to Allie on the inside of the door.  We have to be careful not to let Allie out!

 

Back to Paradise

We’ve been back from vacation for a couple of weeks and things have been just as busy as they were before we left.  Poipu beach has had the usual seals up most every day, that along with all the Californians on their last vacation before school starts, make for very busy and somewhat stressful times on the beach.  We both will be glad when school starts again on the mainland.  School has already begun on Kauai, August 1st.  Many of our regular seal volunteers are “off island”, the saying when folks are back on the mainland.  That makes us doubly busy, Charlie spent 8 hours on the beach one day last week, and I spent 6 hours the same day.

The NOAA ship that supports our program on the northwestern islands, stopped at Kauai on her way up to the northwest, dropping off Charles Litton, the Oahu medical head of the program and taking on Michelle Barbieri, the head vet.  It’s a really nice ship, although our coordinators jokingly refer to it as the “USS Nocango” (no-can-go).  I guess ex-Navy people look down on anything that isn’t Navy.   We “first responders” met at Salt Pond with Michele to get any questions answered and also to introduce us to something called GAR, the protocol to respond to marine mammal emergencies.  GAR stands for ‘green – amber – red’, which refers to assessing the conditions for interactions with seals.  We have been selected to be among the responders that can actually touch the highly endangered animals, although we still have to be finger printed and then clear an FBI search.  From now on, only the approved responders will be able to tag or be involved with any seal activity other than simple beach protection.  A couple of years ago, we were called to help with a necropsy of a stranded pilot whale on the north shore.  This week, we also disentangled a Green Sea Turtle that had monofilament wrapped around it’s neck and front flippers.

It’s been very interesting to become more involved with the Marine Mammal program.     One detail that we learned was the individual number of seals identified on each of the main Hawaiian Islands:  38 on Ni’ihau, 52 on Kauai, 42 on Oahu, 53 on Molokai, 13 on Maui, and 7 on the Big Island.  Ni’ihau’s number is probably low because access is limited.  On a fly over, the estimate was over 100 there.

We have taken some time on the weekends to indulge in some local events.  The local rep theater performed Spamalot, it was very funny and very well done.  We also, the same night, went to Pua Kea to see our favorite Senior Softball musicians, the crowd wasn’t very big, but it was still enjoyable.  It’s very informal – this week there were only 3 of the regular 5 guys playing.  It was still fun, Wes, the guy on the right, was joking around, saying that they were streaming live into Japan.  After most songs, he’s stare into a make-believe camera and speak Japanese.    IMG_0285

The weather has been phenomenal, the trades are back and the highs have been in the mid 80’s.  This month has also seen an increase in rainfall so everything is quite green.

I worked the primary election last Saturday, that is always fun to do since its a chance to see our neighbors.  Unfortunately, turnout was only about 35%.   Hopefully the general election will bring more voters.  The usual venue, the Koloa Neighborhood Center next door had been booked for a wedding, so we had to move the whole shebang down the road to the only place with enough room to accommodate all the paraphernalia, The Kauai Community Church.  Charlie didn’t help this year, because the poll workers are sequestered from 5:30 AM to 6:30+ PM.  He decided that a 13 hour day wasn’t desirable.   We’ve been unsuccessfully lobbying for the State to go to half day shifts. Charlie did make a Starbucks run for the workers mid afternoon.

We also…..finally……had our interview to maintain access to the Pacific Missile Range Facility.  That entails a background check every year, but it allows us to use one of the most lovely beaches on the island and dine at a Navy restaurant, Shenanigans…..a extremely pleasant place to eat.

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The view from Shenanigans, note Niihau in the background.

You want lefse with that?

Aside

After a brutal red eye from Lihue, the story starts in St Paul, where sister Lynda picked us up at the airport and put us up for the night.  We hadn’t seen her for three years so it was nice to get together.  Carol came down from Hinckley to see us and we got an abbreviated tour of a park in her neighborhood.  How cool, to see twin fawns and their mom in the middle of the city.

in the morning before our next flight ….to Reykjavik, Iceland…..we visited a brew pub, the first all female brew pub in Minnesota.  Good beer.

The second red eye landed us in Iceland, where we immediately froze our tails while waiting for the bus into the city.  The latitude of Iceland is 64 degrees north and close to the arctic circle…….so surprise!  It was windy and in the 40s but we negotiated public transportation to make a side trip to The Blue Lagoon to warm up.  This iconic geothermal hot spring and glacial water pool is a must do in Iceland (read tourist trap) and the 100+ degree milky blue water revived us quickly.  Or at least long enough to get us to our hotel.  And of course the sulfurous odor of the geothermal waters is also quite stimulating!IMG_20160701_140928308

Iceland is wild and beautiful, however it has hardly any trees, we were told that they were mostly all cut down during Viking time.  Recent plantings grow slowly in that climate, so the trees that are there tend to be small.  Reykjavik is noted as a party city, which means partying goes on most of the night……this coupled with sunshine for 21 hours a day makes for short nights .  We were so tired though that it hardly invaded our sleep.

Since we only had a few days in the country, we took The Golden Circle tour to get an overview.  The tour lasted 6 hours and drove first to a national park that straddles the rift between the North American and Eurasian continental plates…..the scenery reminded us of Denali park in Alaska……very stark.  Pingvellir is the name of the park.

imageThe rift is separating about 1 inch a year, and there is  very noticeable chasm that delineates the two continents.  We continued to an area of hot springs and geysers.  Like Old Faithful, one would shoot up 30 ft into the sky every 5-10 minutes.  The term geyser comes from the gentleman who first described them…..in Iceland.DSCF1229

The last spot on the tour was a spectacular waterfall, Guillfoss, that means golden waterfall.   The mist provided a rainbow when the sun came out.  From that site we could see three glaciers in the distance.  All in all a day well spent.DSCF1240

It so happened that little Iceland (pop 330,000) had made it to the quarterfinals of the Euro Cup and the entire (almost) population of the country was either in Paris or Reykjavick to cheer the team on.  It was most unusual for a country so small to compete at that level, so everyone was a fan and turned out in force to watch on a big screen and cheer.image

Unfortunately, Iceland lost, but the partying continued throughout the night.  Note how light it is at 8 pm!

Other thoughts about Iceland – starkly beautiful; cold; windy; friendly people; good beer; great statute of Leif Ericsson; interesting Viking museum; great hotel breakfasts; and tons of beautiful Icelandic wool sweaters.  The latter not too useful for our lives in Hawaii!

On to Copenhagen, Denmark.

From the wilderness to big city….what a contrast!  Our hotel was located in the center of the old city.  We arrived in the airport and immediately took the Metro downtown.  We quickly became oriented, a major accomplishment since it seems that no streets run parallel in the city.  A perfect way to help with the orientation was to take a boat ride on the canals, then return on foot.

We loved Copenhagen, it’s an old city situated on a number of canals and our boat trip helped tremendously in becoming oriented, we then went back to several places that we saw from the boat.  One, in particular, was quite interesting.  Christiana is a community within the city that had been an abandoned military area that was “squatted on” by hippies in the 80s’.  It was considered a lawless, drug infested, dangerous place, and the city kept trying to oust the folks and clean it up.  Finally, in 2012, the city gave up and made peace with all the squatters by letting them buy the land to have their own government. It is all community owned and residents pay a nominal fee to stay.  The deal was that they had to make it safe, have sanitary facilities and no hard drugs.  It has worked quite well and it has become a tourist destination….there are a few “serious” rules.  No hard drugs, no photography….no running (that so that people don’t think you are running from the police).  On the other hand the smell of pot is ubiquitous, and a number of the vendors wear masks so as to be unrecognizable.  The “architecture” is eclectic ….brightly colored shacks, lean-tos etc. When you leave there is a sign stating “You are now entering the EU”.IMG_20160705_153118217_HDR

The overwhelming impression we got of Copenhagen was a beautiful old city and lots of walking.  We walked everywhere.  To the “Little Mermaid” the iconic symbol of the city, inspired by native son Hans Christian Andersen’s story.  It’s very small with tons of people from tour buses taking pictures.  It reminded me of Poipu Beach when a seal comes up.

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Copenhagen has a great food court, located in an abandoned paper factory along one of the canals, called Paper Island.  A fun place to get a bite to eat and a beer, or to watch the boats go by just outside.  The old warehouse is huge and vendors have driven food trucks in that are positioned in rows.  You can get almost anything your heart desires in food…loved it.  There were several hundred people there the day we were there.

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Copenhagen also had just built a pedestrian/bike bridge to get to the island that was closed for the first time when we were there, so we were among the first to christen the new bridge.  It’s actually quite an engineering feat, as both sides of the bridge retract from the center to allow boats to pass, and then close by slowly extending back out till the spans again meet in the middle of the canal.

Checked out the local beers in each place we visited.  In Copenhagen we also found time to tour the Carlsberg brewery. It seemed only fitting that we do this………IMG_20160715_182246801

One afternoon we were leaving our hotel and noticed a huge number of police in front of the hotel.   Seems that they had just captured a bank robber, who had stolen money from a van delivering money to a bank around the corner.  There was a lot of kicking and screaming, but fortunately no shots were fired, and the police eventually loaded the suspect into a police vehicle and left.

After a few days in Copenhagen, we boarded a train to Stockholm.  Trains are so dependable in Europe, every one we took was on time, but you had to be ready to move fast, they wait for no-one.  The countryside was flat without a great deal to look at, but we took a bottle of wine and sandwiches along to pass the time and before we knew it we were in Stockholm.  We took pictures of the countryside from the train, and surprising some of them turned out!   Looks a lot like WI!IMG_0069We had reservations at a hotel quite close to the train station and this time made the 3 block walk directly.  The hotel was very simple and somewhat stark without many extras, however, it came with breakfast, always a plus.  We were also very close to old town, giving us the opportunity to explore it, narrow streets with lovely old buildings on both sides.  IMG_0082The first full day found us taking a boat trip to explore the Stockholm archipelago.  This was a perfect orientation to the city and surroundings, it came with lunch and we had seats next to windows so we could check out everything along the way.  It appears that a majority of the residents have boats, there are miles of shoreline.  While in Stockholm we also went to the IKEA store – they provide free transportation from downtown, and the buses are packed with shoppers.

And it wouldn’t be Sweden without Swedish meatballs and lingonberries.  While the restaurant didn’t have any lefse, we managed to find it in the grocery stores.   Makes for a good snack on trip trips!IMG_20160711_192746361

After the boat trip, we explored Skansen, a historical recreation of Old Sweden, that included costumed participants showing the old ways of glass blowing, farming, spinning and knitting…..we even attended a swedish folk dance.  IMG_20160710_160256286IMG_20160710_161149634As long as we were on the island that Skansen is located, we visited the Vasa museum.  The Vasa is a restored sailing ship that was built for the king of Sweden in 1628 and that sunk 40 minutes into her maiden voyage.  It’s a huge ship, but very top heavy – it basically flipped over and ‘turtled’, killing numerous people.  It was rediscovered in 1956 and raised from the bottom in 1961 and has been restored as a major tourist attraction.IMG_20160710_133949927

This was all the same day as the boat trip so we crashed into our beds….. exhausted.  We covered miles walking in Stockholm as well as in all the cities we visited.  Of course, we had to sample the local beer there as well.  The last day we hiked up to the highest point in the city to get a panoramic view.  IMG_0092After Stockholm, off we went toward Oslo, Norway, observing the typical red houses, the rivers, and the beginnings of hills made the time pass quickly, along with another bottle of wine and sandwiches.  What a restful way to travel!

Oslo was not exactly what either of us expected.  It seems to be a mish mash of different architectural styles, but definitely the most modern of any of the cities we visited.  The opera house was a magnificent structure and the waterfront is being upgraded with many modern condos and museums as well as excursion boats and waterfront restaurants.  IMG_0119The old fort hangs on a cliff just off the new waterfront….. an interesting juxtaposition of old and new, however, there seems no overall architectural theme. IMG_20160714_165512293We spent several days touring Oslo, eating seafood, admiring thousands of wool sweaters, and generally playing tourists.

In Stockholm and Oslo there were quite a number of beggars, many appearing to be Middle Eastern but also Eastern European,   Oslo especially seemed to have many Eastern European beggars.

We had read on the travel guides about a tour called “Norway in a Nutshell” and had decided before we left Hawaii to check it out.  So we boarded an early morning train to central Norway with the intention of getting off in a place called Myrdal, a few hours toward Bergen, up in the mountains.  Our seats in the train faced a young couple, students in Denmark, she was Swedish and he was Norwegian.  After a few hours, we struck up a conversation with them.  The conversation was quite interesting, I asked them what language they communicated in.  They said that many words were similar but mostly they conversed in Norwegian.  The time passed quickly, as we reached higher elevations, we noticed more and more snow and fewer and fewer trees.  The young man pointed scenes that he remembered from childhood, when his family vacationed there in the winter. IMG_0124 A bicycle path wends through the pass next to the railroad line……it looked like it would be  a spectacular trip.  When we reached Myrdal, we disembarked to take a small train down to Flam on the Sognefjord.  This small train goes down, we were told, the steepest, non-geared train track in the world, starting at an elevation of 2844 ft to sea level.  It was a pretty spectacular ride, through tunnels and switchbacks to Flam. IMG_0146This is the Kjosfossen waterfall, a short stop on the way down to Flam

Flam is a lovely little town set on the shore of the fjord, with high cliffs rising on all sides.  We had reserved a cottage in Flam on the internet, but neglected to see exactly where it was located.  So, we started up a narrow road, pulling our suitcases …..destination cottage.  After 20 minutes or so with the road narrowing more, we stopped at a small shop to ask how much farther our destination was.  The proprietor, said quite a long way probably another mile, but then took pity on us and offered her husband for a car ride.  How nice that was!  We found this lovely little cottage, with a view down the stream of a historic church and up the stream of waterfalls, snow and the train track we had just come down.DSCF1438

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The view from the cottage, it would have been nice to spend a few more days there.

The next morning, the proprietor of the cottage shuttled us down to the fjord to catch the ferry.  It was raining but even so the fjords were beautiful.  We got in a very short line (we were early, as usual) to wait for the signal to get on when a huge bus load of Spaniards appeared and were allowed to get on before the general passengers.  Unfortunately, they filled up the heated indoor lounge on the ferry, and by the time the rest of us were allowed to embark, there were no comfortable, warm spots left.  Fortunately though we were inside the cabin, but didn’t have the comfy heated seating area.  Even so, the trip was wonderful, we made short excursions onto the deck, umbrellas up, to take pictures, then retreat back to a covered area to stay dry.  I must say, even with the rain, the boat trip was well worth the side trip.IMG_20160716_092346097_HDR

We got off at Gudvangen to catch a bus back up to the Oslo-Bergen train route in Voss.  We walked the gauntlet of tour buses to find the one we were supposed to be on, and found our bus just as it filled up.  After a few moments of panic, since we had a train reservation at Voss and the next bus wasn’t for another hour, we were relieved to see a second bus for the overflow.  This was serendipitous for our bus was practically empty, allowing us to switch back and forth to different windows to get views on both sides as the bus made the climb back up the mountain.  This was another trip up a winding road to the top, but it got us there in time to catch our train to Bergen.IMG_20160715_130642146_HDR

The train station on the Oslo-Bergen route

Bergen is the quintessential Norwegian city, second largest in Norway.  Neat rows of colorful houses lining the shore, exactly what you expect Norway to look like.IMG_0210 IMG_0214

Even though it rained and was cold (for us) 55 degrees the whole time we were there, we had a lovely hotel room, near the harbor, with a typical Scandinavian breakfast and we did enjoy the city……we even managed to stay relatively dry.  Bergen is a necessary stop for the different cruise lines, there were at least 6 large ships in the harbor when we were there.

Bergen has an awesome open air fish market that we indulged in as well as a pub with an overhang to keep the patrons dry outside.IMG_20160716_170318109_HDR
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Of course, we always have to sample the local brews and Vaagen Pub was a warm dry place to do so.Notice the infrared heaters on to keep the patrons warm.  Every outdoor restaurant throughout our trip had blankets on the chairs, so when you sit down you can wrap yourself up to stay warm.   And this was in July!

Alas, the trip was almost over, and we had to catch the bus to Bergen airport, fly to Iceland, on to Minneapolis and home.  We stayed in a little cabin close to the airport in Iceland, out on the steppe (at least it seemed so, since it was all lava rock and flat around us).  IMG_0226My sister, Lynda picked us up in Minneapolis, giving us an overnight to recover a little from jet lag and then on home the ext day.  Always good to get home.

Since returning, it’s been a whirlwind of activity, first was Koloa Plantation Days with races, rodeos, and a parade, IMG_0257 IMG_0264Many hours on the beach with “our” sealsIMG_0228We also returned in time to attend the Koloa Buddhist Bon Dance (shown below) and to top it off, the Hawaii Seniors State Softball Tournament was held the following week in Kauai this year and we were hosts. IMG_0272IMG_0277

Our team finished 4th in our division of 8, losing again the same team that beat us last year in the tournament.  Then we were battling for first place, and lost by 3 runs.   This year we were battling for third, and they beat us by 4 runs.  Maybe next year will be our year.   But everyone is friendly, as seen in the above photo of the combined teams.

Hopefully, things will settle down a little for a bit.