As a scientist I am indeed only an ant, insufficient and anonymous, but I am stronger than I look and part of something that is much bigger than I am. Together we are building something that will fill our grandchildren’s grandchildren with awe, and while building we consult daily the crude instructions provided by our grandfathers’ grandfathers. As a tiny, living part of the scientific collective, I’ve sat alone countless nights in the dark, burning my metal candle and watching a foreign world with an aching heart. Like anyone else who harbors precious secrets wrought from years of searching, I have longed for someone to tell.
~ Hope Jahren
Reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was eye-opening for me. My father was a scientist and, like many children, I didn’t have much of a grasp on what he did all day. I knew he was researching chicken viruses in a lab at the university. Sometimes he would take my sister and me to work and I noticed all sorts of lab equipment, especially a special light he used to examine chicken embryos in their shells. I knew every couple of years he would be stressing about whether he would get funding for another couple of years. (He always did.) Once I tried to read his PhD thesis, but it was like trying to read a foreign language.
In this book Jahren, who studies plants, introduced me to the concept of curiosity-driven research. The scientist sets up and runs experiments to investigate whatever she happens to be wondering about. Any “real-world” applications of the results are not immediately apparent or sought. Collecting data is pure joy for her. She adds to the volume of scientific knowledge and leaves information for future scientists to make use of in their own research.
Now I get what my father was doing all those years! He may not have made any dazzling discoveries but he was an important ‘part of something that is much bigger than he was.’ Hope Jahren gives a very enlightening look into the everyday world of scientists, in words all of us will understand.
I’m pretty sure these pictures were along Aurlandsfjord, as I mentioned before, I’m not certain when we left Nærøyfjord and entered Aurlandsfjord…
What I love about the picture above is that you can see a woman in a blue jacket peering into the window of the church. 🙂
Our first glimpse of Flåm from the fjord. The Norwegian Star cruise ship was still there, dominating the landscape. Our hotel was the brown building to the right of the ship.
We were back in Flåm now but our day was not over. We picked up our bags at the hotel and boarded another ferry, this time a high-speed ferry which would take us to Bergen via Aurlandsfjord and Sognefjord in five and a half hours!
After we took our bus through the mountains we emerged in the tiny village of Gudvangen, located at the end of Nærøyfjord, which is an arm of Aurlandsfjord, which in turn, is an arm of Sognefjord. Getting off of our bus we immediately boarded our ferry for an eleven mile ride on Nærøyfjord.
Nærøyfjord is named after Njord, a Norse god associated with wind, seafarers, coasts, and inland waters. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and if I had to choose, this may have been my favorite part of our whole trip. The scenery was spectacular, and even though it was raining for most of our ferry ride we were spellbound.
I wasn’t quite sure at what point we left Nærøyfjord and entered Aurlandsfjord so I’m posting these pictures together, and, I’m splitting them into three posts so this post won’t be unbearably long. However, they are in the order they were taken. It was difficult deciding which pictures to use, but I think I managed to cull the cream of the crop for my readers!
I couldn’t get over how tiny the houses seemed sitting at the base of the mountains. The mist and clouds offered a heightened sense of drama. And as we were learning about Norway, there was always another waterfall to be seen as we sailed on. On the shores we also saw small villages, farms, sheep and goats.
It is steep and deep, shallow and wide, wild and gentle. Nærøyfjord is a 18 km long branch of the worlds second longest fjord Sognefjord (204 km). It is only 250 metres at the narrowest, and more than one kilometres at the widest. The depth varies between 10 and 500 metres. The surrounding mountains are up to more than 1400 metres high.
Morning light in Flåm, Norway, looking off the balcony of our hotel room. (above) Morning is my favorite time of day and this particular morning we did not have to rush off to catch a train or a ferry or a bus so we could enjoy a a few leisurely hours in the village before our next adventure.
While we were eating breakfast by a picture window, enjoying the view of garden, fjord and mountain, a cruise ship very slowly pulled into port! Then we could barely see the mountain over the top of it! Cruise ships are amazingly large – Flåm was such a tiny port I am sure it couldn’t possibly accommodate more than one of them at a time.
We boarded a small bus to take us through the mountains to Gudvangen. This is the entrance to Flenja Tunnel (above) which is 5,053m long. (16,578′). We came out of it for only 500m (1,640′) before entering Gudvanga Tunnel, which is 11,428m (7.1 mi) long, Norway’s second longest road tunnel.
Next stop: Ferry ride on Nærøyfjord from Gudvangen back to Flåm.
After we got off the train at Myrdal, we got onto the Flåm Railway (Flåmsbana), “a steep railway taking you past spectacular waterfalls, in and out of snow-capped mountains and ending up by the Aurlandsfjord.” The little village of Flåm is 2838′ (865m) below Myrdal and the train ride took about an hour.
There was a stop along the ride where we were allowed to get off the train and take pictures of the Kjosfossen Waterfall. Both ends of the train were still part way in the tunnels. Norway seems to be the land of tunnels and waterfalls, and presumably, trolls.
The total fall is 738′ (225m). In the picture below there is a woman in a red dress who came out of nowhere to sing and dance for the passengers. She gives a little perspective about the size of this magnificent waterfall.
Apparently Norway is home to nine of the world’s 20 highest waterfalls. High or low, we found them cascading out of the mountains everywhere. No matter how many we saw they continued to dazzle us with their allure.
When we arrived in Flåm, we checked in at the Flåmsbrygga Hotel and then had a scrumptious Viking-style dinner at the Ægir Brewery & Pub. It was very late when we headed for bed, yet it was still light out. The picture above was taken from our hotel balcony and was the last breathtaking scene I savored before falling asleep.
In winter I get up at night And dress by yellow candle-light. In summer, quite the other way, I have to go to bed by day.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson
(A Child’s Garden of Verses)
On May 23rd we took the Bergen Railway (Bergensbanen) from Oslo (altitude 75′, 23m) to Myrdal (2,844′, 867m). The line crosses the Hardanger Plateau of Norway (Hardangervidda) at 4,058′ (1,237m) above sea level.
All these pictures were taken through the window glass from the train. Some by me and some by Tim. The scenery was so utterly breathtaking we took turns trying to capture it on camera and then sitting back to enjoy the panorama for a spell.
I was starting to get the feeling I was unprepared for the weather on this trip. Many passengers were bundled up in winter clothing and some got off at various stops carrying their skis. Apparently Norway was also having a late and cold spring.
Little did we know that there had been an avalanche the night before which was blocking the track between Myrdal and Bergen. No one was hurt. It didn’t affect us, though, because we were getting off in Myrdal. But I think everyone going to Bergen got off in Myrdal, too, and made the next train ride down to Flåm more crowded than it otherwise might have been.
As dreamy as the scenery was, when we got off the train at Myrdal Station it was startlingly COLD!!! Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for the next train.
In 834 two important Viking women were buried in the 72′ (22m) long Oseberg ship (below), which had been built of oak around 820. The deck and mast were made of pine, and the ship could be sailed or rowed by 30 people. It was decorated with elaborate wood carvings of animals.
After examining the ship from below we climbed some stairs up to a viewing balcony so we could see the inside of the Oseberg.
Then we went around the corner to another viewing balcony and saw the Gokstad ship, which was built around 850. After about 50 years of exploring and raiding a rich and powerful Viking was buried with it.
Also at the museum were displays of artifacts found buried with the ships, but they were behind glass so it wasn’t possible to get clear pictures. It was pretty awe-inspiring imagining what life was like back in the 800s in the Viking Age. Much more information can be found on the museum website: Viking Ship Museum
My mother and her parents loved to travel but were afraid of flying. During my childhood we never flew anywhere so I didn’t notice this and it somehow never came up in conversation. It didn’t even occur to me when I was 15 and my father was offered a job in Greece and my parents decided to move us there. We traveled across the mighty Atlantic Ocean on a cruise ship, the TSS Olympia, from New York to Athens, with a stop in Haifa, Israel.
My first flight on a jet, from Athens back to New York, was memorable. It was just me and my sister, nervous and holding hands for most of the trip, on my 17th birthday, on a 747, shortly after the Greek army had deposed Col. Papadopoulos in a bloodless coup. Our parents were to follow us a couple of weeks later. The perimeter of the airport was surrounded by tanks, reminding us of the fear we felt at dawn weeks earlier, when we awakened to the sound of tanks rolling down our street and military music playing on loudspeakers.
We were in the middle of a row on the plane and did not get to look out the windows. There was a stop in Rome, but we didn’t have to get off. However, when we landed there my ears started to hurt, a sharp, stabbing pain. The pain subsided a bit as we flew on to New York, but returned with a vengeance when we landed there. I didn’t fly again for 34 years!
My mother made a dear friend in Greece, a Canadian woman named Carol who was married to a German man, Ernst. Mom overcame her fear well enough to fly to Lebanon with Carol & Ernst and my father, and to visit Carol & Ernst when they moved to Germany, and to Ukraine with my father and his sisters to visit the land where his parents were born.
My grandparents remained fearful of flying. When they came to visit us in Greece, to economize, they sailed on a freighter that accepted a few passengers! It was a rough and tumble passage, and I loved listening to their stories about their adventures on board. Grandmother died without ever having flown, in spite of her son’s repeated efforts and offers to take her up into the sky. He was a pilot, after all.
When Grandfather was 90-something my uncle persuaded him to fly from Cape Cod to Florida to spend the winter down there with him. Tim & I met Grandfather and his physical therapist at the airport to see him off. The captain was the son of the physical therapist, who had kindly arranged everything, and he came out personally to welcome my grandfather and then pushed his wheelchair onto the plane himself as we waved goodbye. Right then and there I decided that if Grandfather could face his fear so late in his life, I could do so as well.
Grandfather’s physical therapist also had made him a sandwich and put it in a zip-lock plastic bag. When my uncle called me that night he told me that when he asked Grandfather what he thought about the flight, Grandfather went on and on about the zip-lock bag. He had never seen one before and was marveling at the technological genius of its design! Never did say much about the flight itself!
Finally, my opportunity to try flying again came along when I was 51. Larisa, Tim and I flew down to Florida to visit his stepdad, who was dying of cancer. Much to my surprise, I loved it! Being a dreamer without much aptitude for logic, science and technology, I found myself in awe of the human minds who had figured out how to fly and it still seems like nothing short of a miracle to me every time we take off or land.
And the curve of the world passed With all of that flying Above the mighty ocean Now we all are arriving
Grab the carry-on baggage Join the herd for the mad run Take a place in the long line Where does everyone come from?
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve flown in the seven years since, sometimes even by myself, to Florida, Georgia and North Carolina to visit family. It’s still a thrill! So last month Tim & I boarded a Delta 737 in New York and flew to Frankfurt, Germany, our once-in-a-lifetime trip to visit his brother and sister-in-law and to visit Venice and Norway with them. Seven international flights in a month!
It was dark for the flight over, and uneventful. But I had a window seat and a flight tracker so when we caught up with the light over Europe I got to see all the fields and forests in Germany as we began our descent. Some fields were bright yellow – I later learned these were growing rapeseed. After we landed it took us less than a minute to go through customs.
As we shuffle on forward As we wait for inspection Don’t be holding that line up At the end lies redemption
Now I’m stamped and I waved through I take up my position At the mouth of the canyon Saying prayers of contrition
A few days later we took a cheap flight on a budget airline, Ryanair, to Venice. It was cloudy so I couldn’t see anything, and it was definitely a no-frills, sardine-in-a-can experience. On the trip back to Germany three days later, however, the sky was clear and we flew over the Alps, much to my delight! It was amazing looking down on those snow-capped peaks.
Please deliver my suitcase From all mischief and peril Now the sight of it circling Is a hymn to the faithful
Forgive me my staring For my unconcealed envy In the hall of arrivals Where the great river empties
A few days after that trip we flew from Frankfurt to Oslo on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). Even the inside of the plane had that Scandinavian feel, light and airy, you could even see through under the seats. After a magical week in Norway, we flew from Bergen to Stockholm, and on that flight, out of the blue, I got such a sharp stabbing pain in my nose, cheek and temple that tears were squirting out of my eye. At first I thought it was a sudden migraine, but I suspect there was something off with the air pressure. It brought back the memory of the ear pain flying home from Greece all those years ago.
We changed planes in Stockholm and then flew back to Frankfurt after having the best Swedish meatballs ever, right there in the airport restaurant. And unfortunately the pain came back on that flight, too.
Its hand carts and quarters All the people it carries To be greeted with flowers Grandfathers and babies
The friends and relations Leaping over hemispheres Transcendental reunion All borders vanish here
A little over a week later I took a 12-hour Sudafed before boarding the Delta flight from Frankfurt to New York, just in case. Not sure if it was needed but there was no pain on the return flight home. I love Delta because it has a flight tracker at each seat. I was able to identify the English Channel, Great Britain, the Irish Sea, Ireland, and stateside, my beloved Cape Cod, as we flew over. We also flew over Nova Scotia (thinking of Sybil then) but I couldn’t see the land there because of the clouds.
Too bad customs was overwhelmed when we arrived after having such a great flight. It took us almost two hours to get through the maze of lines and scanners and official agent desks! I’m glad my sister and brother-in-law did not give up waiting for us to appear through the arrivals door!
We are travelers traveling We are gypsies together We’re philosophers gathering We are business or pleasure
We are going or coming We’re just finding our way To the next destination And from night into day
~ Mary Chapin Carpenter
♫ (Transcendental Reunion) ♫
It’s good to be home. We continued to receive pictures of Katie in our email almost every day while we were gone. Thank you, Larisa! I have thousands of pictures to go through and many posts to write about this trip which I will get to, even if it takes me all summer. We went to the nursery to get flowers for the balcony and nasturtiums for Zoë to nibble on. We ate at our favorite restaurant and went down to the beach. Tim went to the eye surgeon yesterday and we found out that he will definitely have to have cataract surgery for both eyes in July. At the same time the surgeon will fix his astigmatism so he may not need glasses for the first time in his 62 years! That will be something else indeed… Life returns to normal…