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Home Planet

Archive for September 2013

Travel: The Private World of Monet’s Garden at Giverny

 

   To enter Monet’s private world you must first walk through a dark tunnel under the busy road that separates the house and front garden, the Clos Normand, from the famous water garden. Yes, that water garden. The place with mysterious, reflective, pools and graceful willows whose branches hang low over the water, where the elegant wisteria-covered Japanese bridge frames the view of the beautiful water lilies Monet painted time and again. 

 

   In Monet’s time, he could walk out the front door and cross a small footbridge to reach the gate, but tourists are another matter. With all the grace of migrating wildlife, they are a hazard on what is now a busy road, so the tunnel gets them safely to a space that draws hundreds of thousands each year.

 

   Stepping out of the tunnel and into the filtered light of the water garden is to step back in time. Thanks to the archivists, benefactors and a team of gardeners who have worked to restore the garden, the landscape is not much different than it was when the painter was there, when he walked the winding paths or sat on a bench to study the play of light and shadow on water. Turn a corner and the view is somehow familiar. You have the feeling you have been here before. 

 

   Monet’s gardens are as much a masterpiece as any canvas he created. He did not move into a house in the Normandy countryside in 1883 and simply settle down to paint what was there. Instead, he approached the land around the house he continued to improve and enlarge the way he created each painting, methodically, with layers and and an obsessive attention to color and light. He set out to create the garden he wanted to paint and it soon consumed him.

 

   As I strolled—I was there in early September, just after the height of the tourist season, and there were fewer people sharing the paths with me than might have been a few weeks before—I marveled at the construction of what surrounded me. What seemed to be a riot of plants was as carefully thought out and orchestrated as the brushstrokes on one of his paintings.

 

   Vine-covered arches over the central path, thick with trailing nasturtiums, frame the entrance to the farmhouse creating a vanishing point at the front door. Giant dahlias, with blooms as big as cantaloupes, towered over me. The garden welcomed me. It embraced me.

 

I stopped to watch one of the gardeners, almost hidden by the plants as she crouched to remove spent blooms, and a passing guide noticed. We chatted for a few minutes and then she said something that stays in my mind.

 

“For Monet the garden was not about any one flower. It was about the effect, the way the colors and textures and light worked together.”

 

   He called it painting with nature.

 

   Monet never stopped working. At the end of his life, his vision clouded by cataracts, his focus narrowed to the water garden. He built a studio for the purpose of painting large canvasses of the water lilies that covered the mirrored pond. The paintings that still hang in the Orangerie in Paris today.

 

   I have been to France a number of times, I’ve gazed at his work in museums all over the world, and yet I’d never visited Monet’s gardens just 50 miles from Paris. I’m sorry it took me so long to get there.

 

 

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Travel: Feasting on King Crab in Kirkenes, Norway

   When I choose a port excursion while on a cruise, what they’re going to feed us on the excursion is usually not my first priority since food is more than plentiful on most ships. I almost always opt for some kind of unique experience I couldn’t have anywhere else, but the King Crab Safari in Kirkenes, Norway, a small waterfront town only 30 kilometers from the Russian border, offered as a Hurtigruten excursion, was intriguing. And not just  because it promised a feast of fresh crab.


    I was there in August, but the water can still be dangerously cold. First we had to put on heavy insulated suits, designed to protect us from the cold waters of the fjord if we were to fall in. On top of that went a life jacket and we were given gloves to wear.  After we were all suited up we boarded the boat. Instead of seats we straddled benches, holding onto the safety rails in front of us as our guide pulled the boat out onto the fjord and picked up speed.


    While touring the coastline and listening to the history of the area, after skimming swiftly over the surface of the water and moving slowly along the  cliffs where we could see the remains of a Nazi bunker from the German occupation of Norway during World War II, we stopped to check one of the numerous crab baskets that sit on the bottom of the deep fjord. Our guide attached a hook to the basket and used a motor to pull it up from the bottom. As it broke the surface we could immediately see the basket was filled with some of the biggest crabs I’ve ever seen. (Those that weren’t absolutely massive were thrown back to grow in the cold, dark water.)


    We pulled up to what looked like a small fishing shack on the shore. The small house, just big enough for the long table that ran from one end to another, was the place where we would have our meal. Our guide unloaded the dozen or more giant crabs from the trap and began to prepare our dinner while we settled around the table on benches covered with skins and pelts.


    When they were done, steamed to perfection, the giant crab legs were piled onto platters and placed on the table. The meal was simple: fresh King crab legs and slices of good bread. There was butter for the bread and lemon slices to squeeze over the crab if we wanted it. That was all and it was all we could want. 

   
    We turned on the platters of crab legs like we were starving. For a few minutes all conversation stopped and everyone around the table concentrated on getting to the delicious crabmeat in the shells. We ate until we could not hold another bite.  

   Fresh, simply prepared and served, the meal was good enough to be added to my list of favorites. There was no fancy dining room. No music. No upscale atmosphere. And the view of the fjord through the small windows reminded us with every bite that we weren’t just having a meal, we were feasting on a real Norwegian adventure.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
 

  

Travel: Cruising the Coast of Norway with Hurtigruten

 

This is not cruising the way most Americans think of it.

 

There is no giant video screen flashing images of oiled sunworshipers sprawled on lounge chairs on the top deck. There is no driving, thumping, music always in the background. There is no casino and no Vegas-style entertainment.

 

The bar is a sedate corner, surrounded by deep, comfortable chairs and wide windows. The restaurant serves three good meals a day and there are occasional surprises such as fresh local shrimp steamed and delivered to the ship by the fisherman and then served to guests by the chef. But, unlike the floating party palaces that come to mind when most Americans think of cruising, there is only one star attraction on Hurtigruten ships and that is the view of Norway. Any season, and in the deepest part of summer, any time of the day or night, everything revolves around the stunning landscape.

 

I boarded the Hurtigruten ship Midnatsol in Kirkenes and for the next week we moved south, along the breathtaking coast of Norway.

 

It was August but the sun was still hanging over the horizon far into the early hours of the morning. The sky was never completely dark. Even knowing I wouldn’t sleep as well as I would in a dark room, I still didn’t close the curtains in my cabin. Instead, I surrendered to the midnight sun. I hadn’t flown across the world to dream. I kept my camera near the bed and when I woke, usually when we made short stops at small ports along the way, I frequently picked it up to snap a photo of the window. Small towns, jagged  peaks, brilliant skies striated by dramatic clouds, the view changed constantly but it was always beautiful.

 

For 120 years Hurtigruten Coastal Cruisers have been steaming up and down the Norwegian coast delivering people and goods to the cities and small towns that dot the coastline. And, as if the physical landscape is not breathtaking enough, the seasons add their own drama. In the winter snow covers the rocks and trees and the Northern Lights wash the dark night sky with colors that flicker and dance. In the summer the midnight sun takes over and one day becomes another without a sunset and the water is a smooth as glass.

 

Hurtigruten passengers are an interesting mix of travelers—mostly European and mostly German—and locals hopping from one port to another. Early one morning a young Norwegian woman and her newborn son boarded, saying goodbye to her husband as she traveled to introduce the new baby to her parents a few hundred kilometers away. We shared a quiet corner as she nursed the baby and I sipped my first cup of coffee of the day.

 

In the afternoon I stood on the bow, the wind on my face, chatting with two women from Chicago. They were on the trip of a lifetime, taking a voyage they’d dreamed about and saved for, and they told me it was everything they’d hoped it would be.

 

At night, my server told me she had family in Washington State (Interestingly, there are more Norwegian Americans than there are Norwegians) and she was hoping to visit them in Yakima and Spokane this summer. I gave her my card.

 

 

During the journey there were excursions to sights and attractions in the larger towns and cities. I traveled to the North Cape and watched Reindeer graze on the mossy rocks near the top of the world. I took a small boat to the Vega Islands and learned about the unique and complex industry of caring for the Eider Ducks and harvesting the down the females leave behind. I rode a gentle Icelandic Pony along the beaches of the Lofoten Islands, on the spot where Vikings launched their ships.

 

When we docked at Bergen at the end of the cruise, yet another UNESCO Heritage site, I was sorry to see the end of the line. That night, in a dark hotel room when I should have been able to sleep, my head was too full of images; dark mysterious fjords, small red cottages sitting on a rocky shoreline and fiery skies over a sun that never quite set.

 

My trip down the coast of Norway wasn’t a cruise the way most people I know think of cruising. It was something much harder to find. It was an authentic travel experience, making a journey the way people have been doing for more than 100 years.   It was everything I hoped it would be.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Travel: Family Travel Gives Children the Gift of Independence

 

 

   As we were driving across mountain passes and through a wide Montana valley to take her to college, my youngest daughter sat in the back seat, surrounded by the boxes she’d packed. The three of us fell into a familiar and comfortable pattern, with her teasing us, making us laugh, as the miles flew by.

 

   For a moment I managed to forget that we were taking her to leave her, to start her new life as a college student. I forgot that with her went our last child, leaving us with an empty house. I forgot that I have no clear idea of what comes next. For a few hours It was just the family off on an adventure. There was an easy affection in the way we spoke to one another and all of the stresses and irritations of the last few months disappeared.

 

   When we got to the campus we checked her into her dorm. We hauled the boxes out of the car and shopped for what else she would need. We went out to dinner and then shopped some more. We unpacked the books and bedding and keepsakes she’d taken with her, plugged in the small refrigerator, put her clothes in the closet and we were done. I realized she was being very patient with us but she was clearly ready to be on her own.

 

  Moving to college is a journey into the unknown, but watching my daughter I realized she was uniquely prepared for this new life. She is no stranger to foreign places. 

 

 I reminded myself that this is the girl who ran ahead, turning around to tease me for being a slowpoke as we climbed the Great Wall in China. This is the girl who stood up to and challenged the arrogant and vaguely threatening transit officer who bullied us in Prague. This is the girl who didn’t let the man on the flight to Budapest get away with taking an aisle seat that wasn’t his; he was in her father’s seat and she made him move. This is the girl who lost her way for a few minutes in Rome and managed to find us on her own before we even realized she was gone. This is the girl who led us through Vienna and this is the girl who ordered our meals on our last trip to Paris—in passable French—and who, judging from the way she walked blocks ahead of me as we moved around the city, would clearly have preferred to been there on her own.

 

I didn’t think of it at the time, when I was planning vacations and saving for tickets to faraway places, but our travels did more than open her eyes to other people and other lands. She came back from each trip with confidence in herself. She may not know it’s there, but I know she’ll find it when she needs it.

 

She may be anxious and a little unsure now, college is a big leap, after all. But I have confidence in her. This is the girl who can find her way.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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