Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday 29 July - Dim Sum and Navy Pier

Today was a slow, hot day.  The Red line took us to Chinatown where we quickly found the Phoenix restaurant.  Dim sum was noisy in the large room and many of the dished were new to us or variations of familiar items.  It was good and a lot of fun.

We then walked along typical American city wasteland to catch the bus to Navy Pier which was very much as we had anticipated.  It is a glorified fun fair with lots of fun for all ages - unhealthy food and drink and silly souvenirs.  We walked around the outside to the end of the pier where the wind provided welcome relief from the high temperatures.  A 29 bus brought us back close to the hotel.

We had dinner at McCormick and Schmick's, a seafood chain which we found very good in New York.  It was equally as good here.
Gaspacho (Mary)/Crab with avocado and mango (Colin) was a good start and we both had the scallops which were very large, very fresh and cooked just right.
A bottle of Alvarino washed it down.  The server was attentive but not overbearing - an excellent meal.

It was cooler and we decided to walk back to admire some of the street sights such as the marquees and street decorations.

Saturday 28 July - Magnificent Mile and Family Wedding

Another very hot day again today.  With the morning to spare we took the Loop to Michigan and walked along the Magnificent Mile with its high end shops.  It has been compared to the Champs Elysees but we thought it better.  The Champs Elysees has similar stores but it is far more commercialized and tacky.  We tried to get back to the Loop on the Red Line subway but no train appeared and after 20 minutes we aborted the effort and caught a bus back.  Millennium Park was very busy in spite of the heat.  The magnificent stage created by Frank Gery is very impressive.  It looks similar to his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  Stunning architecture, presumably in the same titanium finish.  The Bean drew a large crowd.

The Bean

We took the L to the wedding and whiled away the time until the reception in a pub near the Merchandise Mart station.  The reception was held in the Millennium Club on the 66th floor of the Willis Tower.  I caused a minor problem with the security guard by presenting him with my passport as photo id.  I don't think he had seen one before.  There were, of course, excellent, but misty, views from this level. 
The reception was a lot of fun and the food was excellent - the steak was so tender it could be cut with a fork.  Unfortunately the sound was so loud as to make conversation difficult.  It was good to see Veronica and Marcus, now living in Washington DC, whose wedding we attended in Sebersdorf, Austria last year.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday 27 July - Chicago - Elevated and River Tours

Another very hot day today.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation put on a number of excellent tours of specific aspects of the city's architecture.  These are led by very knowledgeable volunteer docents who make the experience very worthwhile.  This morning we went on a conducted tour of the elevated railway stopping off at stations to discuss the features to be seen.  The CTA loop is very noisy indeed and the trains are not the best.  Many have wheel flats including one very noisy one indeed - it was right under the motorman and must have been very unpleasant for him.  Although parts of the structure have been renovated in recent times, several of the stations are in very bad shape.  Trains seem to arrive at random and there is nothing on the platform to indicate which train is coming next - one must look for the train color to figure out where it is going.
H. Washington Library station
Nickel counters at Quincy station
We started at the Chicago public library and made our way to Quincy which has been nicely restored to its original condition, there are several of the original counters above the ticket counter which counted the passengers' nickel to ensure no sharp practice.  From there we went off the Loop to Clinton, where the continual movements of METRA noisy locomotives made communication difficult.  The next stop was Madison which is in very bad condition and we finished at Adams.

We took this tour on special train on a Sunday morning when we were last here in 2002 but this time we used service trains which gave us much more flexibility.  The docent spoke to us by radio which was very helpful.

Chicago is famous for its deep dish stuffed pizza and we had to have one while we were here.  We went to Giordanos on Jackson (there are many locations throughout the city and suburbs).  While we waited foa a table Mary put in our order so it came quite quickly once we had been seated.  The starter salad was excellent as was the beer.  The stuffed pizza is about 3 cms deep and is filled with the ingredients, mostly in layers - onion, peppers and sausage on the bottom, then a thick layer of cheese and finally the tomato sauce.  We were not sure whether "stuffed" referred to the pizza or the eaters.  It was very good.

The Chicago river tour started at the other side of the loop and we didn't feel inclined to walk over there after a heavy meal and in the hot sun.  We took the elevated to have a look at the library.  This is reputed to be the largest public library in the USA.  The interior is not particularly impressive and the concourse seemed small and a little restricting compared to Boston or New York.

The Brown line brought us to the landing for the river cruise.  The CAF only sell tickets for the seats on the open top deck so there is plenty of room down below in the air conditioning.  To view the buildings one has to be outside and mercifully it was cloudy for most of the time.  The tour was good and the docent knew his subject but after a while the detail blurs.  The river has recently been upgraded from "highly toxic" to "highly polluted" but there is still a long way to go before people will be able to swim in the river.

About ten minutes before disembarking the sky went dark and there was rain for about two minutes.  Everyone tried to get down below.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wednesday 26 July - Chicago Art Institute

The flight to Chicago was quick and our bags came through in good time.  First order of business was to get 7 day CTA transit passes.  We will only need 5 days but it is still a bargain at $23.  Blue Line down town was a little slow but we weren't in a hurry.  The hotel, La Quinta, is good.  Found a TMobile store where I bought a prepaid sim card, unlimited voice, text and data 5 days for $20 including the price of the sim card.

We had lunch at the Italian Village which was pretty good (salmon/roast chicken breast) and very filling.

The Art Institute of Chicago is excellent but very difficult to navigate.  We spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we were. The French impressionists and American paintings were very good, also the Chagall America Windows, I was pleased to see a Monet of the Gare St. Lazare and Pisarro's painting of the Crystal Palace.  We were getting tired but had to see the exquisite miniature rooms depicting different periods and styles, all in 1" to the foot.
Monet Gare St. Lazare

Monet Water lillies

Grant Wood American Gothic
Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein
Marc Chagall America Window

Miniature room
A quick look around later on revealed some startling architecture.

Supper was a sub and a cupcake.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wednesday July 4 - Travel Oslo to Ottawa

We found out that the NSB Airport service was a bus half way with a transfer to a train so we decided to take the SAS airport bus from the nearby bus station which was direct and cheaper.

Oslo airport was an utter disaster.  There was a problem with the check in system and even after we had obtained our boarding passes and baggage tags from the machine the automatic system wouldn't recognize the final destination so we had to go to a human to get rid of our bags.  Like everything else in Oslo all the parts are there but they system does not come together - Oslo is seriously broken.

We had allowed ourselves plenty of time and had no difficulty in making the flight to London.  I had anticipated problems in getting through London Heathrow even though we were in transit within the same terminal.  However, we were through all formalities within 15 minutes of leaving the plane, including walking.  This gave us plenty of time (almost 3 hours) in the duty free area where we could relax, eat, drink and buy things.  A cheese and Marmite panini from Starbucks was the culinary highlight while a bottle of Welsh whisky was a good find).

The Air Canada flight to Ottawa started boarding 45 minutes before departure and the flight was the usual relaxed AC transatlantic hop we have come to expect.

Click here to see all pictures taken on this trip

This map shows our route.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday 3 July - Oslo

The weather forecast was warm and mainly sunny today.  We decides to take another 24 hour transit pass and use it to make a ferry trip in the harbour,  It was very pleasant just looking at the boats etc.
A ferry boat, route 91, is coming into the ferry pier.
Coming back we took a look at the Fortress then took a tram to walk through the Royal Gardens.

Mary wanted another look at the National Gallery so we spent a couple of hours there then came back to the hotel by tram.
Click below to see all pictures taken in Oslo
Click below to see all pictures of Norwegian railways
Click below to see all pictures of Oslo Trams

Monday, July 2, 2012

Monday 2 July Balestrand to Oslo via the fjords

It was rainy and cloudy this morning. The oyster catchers were out early working over the grass in front of the hotel. We left the hotel in good time and quickly found the 0830 boat to Flam. The lady at the hotel told is where it would be tied up.  The young lady crew person confirmed that this was the right boat but would we please wait while she and the captain had breakfast.  After some time the captain wandered off along the dock them went to the public toilet then came back and we went on board. There were only a handful of passengers and we left just a couple of minutes late waiting for another passenger who was a no show.
We left our bags on the dock while we sheltered from the rain.  A little bit like waiting for the school bus.
The trip back to Flam was accomplished in good time as we didn't have to pick up or set down. Flam was not busy at all as there were no cruise ships tied up.

Several large groups of orientals crowded the ferry to Gudvangen.  Rushing and pushing taking silly pictures of each other in silly poses and completely unaware of what they were looking at. To make it worse the rain came down and it was pretty cold.
Braving the wind and rain
The narrow fjord into Gudvangen was spectacular. It gets very narrow in places and we passed another boat at the narrowest part.

At Gudvangen we were directed to the bus for Voss which was pretty much empty.  This trip provided an unexpected surprise in the form of a series of hair raising switchbacks. The driver also made a couple of photo stops at spectacular waterfalls. This left us with over two hours to wait for the train to Oslo. We found a coffee shop where we warmed up.
Oslo train arriving at Voss
The train to Oslo arrived just a couple of minutes late and stayed that way all through to Honefoss - NSB cres have no interest in picking up time at stations.  The section from Myrdal to Finse is very high and there are evidently snow problems in winter.  There are extensive snow sheds and the railway is building more, in a couple of locations sidings have been built in the snow shed, in one case with a crossover.  This makes a great deal of sense to keep the switches snow free.

At Honefoss we had to transfer to the bus to get us to Oslo.  I ensured that we were on the first bus which was located in the exit from the platform - this had to be the first away.  The lady bus driver was very efficient and loaded the bags quickly so we were away within ten minutes of arriving.  Two women got on with dogs and we had visions of a dog fight but everything was calm.  The bus took about an hour to get to Oslo - parts of the road network are shut down for repairs.

So what could have been a very, very difficult day was accomplished on schedule (boat-boat-bus-train-bus).  It was a pity the weather wasn't better in the fjords - it was pretty good from Voss on.  The least said about the hoards of silly Asian tourists the better.
Click below to see all pictures taken at Balestrand

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday July 1 Canada Day in Balestrand

It was very quiet last night - except for the birds who seem to work long hours
The weather forecast was for rain but it was quite dry first thing.
Raindrops looked like diamonds in the changing light.
 After breakfast we walked out along the road south.  Many of the houses are decorated beautifully.
A patch of thistles added some colour near the water
A pair of oystercatchers had a nest on a chimney.  One was calling loudly to the other which was poking around on some grass.  Eventually, it flew down to the grass and its mate reluctantly, and noisily, flew back and sat on the eggs.
The mail boxes shelters were very ornate.  Several had shingled rooves.
But dominating everything were the continually changing patterns of light and shade over the fjord.  Every few minutes the scene would change and the light would present a completely different perspective giving the camera a good work out.

Back in town we admired St. Olaf's church
A visit to the aquarium was worthwhile

It now commenced to rain quite hard so we sheltered under a canvas while eating a Bratwurst with bread.  It was excellent.
Then the sun came out.
Then it started to rain again.
Then the sun came out.
We went out around 1800 and there was still some rain.
Dinner was at the smorgasbord at the Kviknes Hotell which was excellent although expensive.  We splurged and had a bottle of Sancerre.  The seafood in particular was very good, crab legs and many types of fish smoked, poached and pickled.  The cured and smoked leg of lamb was interesting but the main meat was roast reindeer.   As the meal progressed we could see more and more patches of sunlight.  A large tourist boat went out towards Bergen looking small against the fjord itself.
The Kviknes Hotell, reputed to be the largest wooden building in Scandinavia, was not so busy this evening - they only had four tour buses.  The dining room was easily able to cope.
Click below to see all pictures of Balestrand.