Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Springtime and Hovedøya

Spring has come to Oslo, though it's not always very warm yet. The wildflowers in the woods are blooming,  some of the plants in our own apartment's garden have opened up, and the trees have the feathery new leaves and blossoms of new life. I just love this time of year.

When the sun shines on the water, it sparkles in a different way than in the winter.  I think it's the angle of the sun that makes the difference. People waiting for the bus when the sun is shining close their eyes and face the sun, soaking it in.  There were a number of sunbathers and swimmers at one of the boardwalks downtown the other day too.

Sten is waiting for the King's cows to be put out to pasture where he walks to work every morning.  The grass is getting long enough to give them some excellent grazing.

The 17th of May is Constitution Day in Norway -- a huge national day of parades, picnics, and parties.  From locals I understand that many winter clean up projects and even building projects are planned to be finished for that day. Sten loves to go and check out the progress.  This is right across the street from the Opera House.  The buildings in the photo are called The Barcode.  Can you see why?

The boats that bring people from in front of the City Hall (Rådhuset) to Bygdøy (where many museums are and where our apartment is) have started up again this month.  We take the boat rather than the bus frequently.

Street musicians are more prevalent than during the colder months, though I have to say some have been around all winter.  This group was worth stopping to listen to.  They were great.

This one man band was amazing.  He sang when he wasn't playing his horn.

One weekend the plaza in front of the City Hall was covered with large tents.  Turban Day was happening, along with sales of Indian food and crafts.  If you wanted to stand in the long lines, you could even get a free turban wound by a turban-wearing expert.

One recent Sunday we took a ferry ride to the island of Hovedøya in Oslofjord.  We were delighted to learn that with our month bus passes the ride was free.

The island used to be home to a Cistercian monastery in the 12th century. though it was closed down before the Reformation.  The remains can still be seen.

Two cannon batteries were built to defend Oslo  during the Napoleonic war, and on the high points of the island gunpowder storehouses were located for defense in the mid 19th century.

Today, the island has no village and thus no car traffic -- just beaches, walking paths, a marina, and lots of private spots for people to sit, read, relax, and picnic.  

Individuals, couples, and families set themselves down in spots they've discovered to enjoy the day in the sun.

Time to head home.  Here's a view of the cannons from the ferry.

Oslo residents love a sunny day.  Can you believe all the people out along the waterfront? 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Vignettes of Vietnam -- Part 4: Sa Pa

My last weekend in Vietnam, I travelled 7 hours northwest by the sleeper bus to meet Aren in Sa Pa close to the Chinese border.  This city is in an area where there are many ethnic minority groups living in villages amongst rice paddies in the terraced mountain sides. The largest group is the Hmong people; others are the Dao, Giay, Pho Lu, and Tay. March is close to the rainy season, and the humidity is quite high, which means the air can be misty.  However, there's a mystery and beauty in the mist.

I didn't realize how large bamboo can grow.

I'm amazed at all the work it has taken to terrace these hillsides for rice paddies and all the work it takes to maintain them.  The bamboo is sometimes used to pipe water to the fields.

This woman was selling raw sugar cane for a snack.  I hadn't ever tried it before, and found it to be quite tasty though very fibrous.  One chews for the sweetness and then spits out the fiber.

Some local water buffalo, corralled for the night.

These next few photos are taken in the town of Sa Pa where there is a large market area where women from the villages set up stands to sell their colorful wares.

Another use for bamboo is as a case for a regional, tasty, sticky-rice dish You peel off the bamboo and then dip the rice in a salty peanut mixture as you take each bite.  

I thought this presentation of a watermelon drink was fun.

At the Sa Pa tourist bureau, some of the village women demonstrate their fine embroidery skills.  They do beautiful work.

From Sa Pa, Aren and I first hiked to the closest village -- Cat Cat.  I took very few photos there because it seemed so made for and overrun by tourists that it felt a bit like being in Disneyland and exploitive of the local people. From there we hiked several hours, beyond where cars can drive, only the ubiquitous motor cycle or scooter.  The views were magnificent and the air so clean.

All the animals were with babies this time of year, and totally free-ranging.  We enjoyed seeing the little animal families.

These piglets were the sweetest things.  They were tiny and very cute.

Most of our hike was climbing uphill, so coming down was a relief; however, the last stretch was a long, steep climb into Sa Pa.  Some entrepreneurial locals offered to give us a ride up the steep stretch -- for a price.  As it was starting to rain, we took them up on it.  Aren snapped this picture to save the moment for posterity.

Our day of hiking ended with a delicious meal in a charming restaurant run by a Norwegian immigrant to Sa Pa.  He features local delicacies made by a Vietnamese chef as well as hosts cooking classes in the regional cuisine. His decor is Asian with Scandinavian influences.

This part of Vietnam was full of mountainous natural beauty.  I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience it. Thank you, Aren, for being such a good host and for your great company and thank you Eddie, whom I mentioned in the last post, for being such a helpful and available travel agent.