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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

  

The Sweetest Season: Summer in the Northwest

    I haven’t set the kitchen table in weeks.

    Each morning I wake up, pour a cup of coffee, open the back door and step out onto my patio. Usually it is cool enough to wear a robe or the heavy man’s denim work shirt I sometimes slip over my gown when I'm too impatient.

     Lunch might be a salad while I work at the big table on the patio or idle in the shaded corner of my backyard. Dinner is eaten late, on the patio again, just as the sun slips behind the trees on the horizon. After the meal I leash the dog and walk to Manito Park to take a stroll around the gardens, where it is always at least five degrees cooler and the air is thick with the heady perfume of flowers. Then, at night, after the dishes are done and the dog and the cats have been fed, I slip out the back door again for a few more minutes. I sit on the glider, pushing myself back and forth with my toes against concrete that still holds the warmth of the sun, and I mark the end of another day.

    This time of year, my living area is always turned inside out. I eat, read, relax, work and daydream outdoors. When my children were all still at home, before we moved out of the big house in the country and into the cottage in town, I set up a daybed on the patio. During the day they would sprawl over it, reading for hours, surrounded by newspaper comics, crossword puzzles, Barbie dolls, Breyer horses and empty Popsicle wrappers. At night, after dinner, after the last bit of daylight had faded, my youngest and I would lie down together on the summer bed. Often her sisters and her brother would join us and we would lie there like puppies in a basket, gazing up, watching the stars come out and the Milky Way spread like spilled paint across the black night sky. We pointed out the Big Dipper and called out when shooting stars streaked across overhead. We counted satellites. Sometimes we spotted the flash of the Space Station’s solar panels as it orbited, and once an owl startled us as it flew low and silently over the backyard.

    Eventually the others would wander off and the youngest would drift off to sleep in my arms. But I would always lie there a bit longer, breathing the shampoo-and-green-grass fragrance of her hair, reluctant to let her go.

    Finally, around midnight, I would rouse her and help her stumble up to her bed and then climb into my own.

    Anyone who has ever lived where the humidity chases the temperature up the thermometer and the mid-summer air—day or night—is as uncomfortable and heavy as a damp blanket, will understand the way I delight in the season here. I grew up in the South. Summer could be long and cruel. But here in the Northwest, where the season is short and sweet, mornings are deliciously cool, afternoons are hot and bright and the twilight is long and slow and luxurious.

    I can’t bear to waste a minute so I take my cup of coffee out to meet the sun and I’m there to watch the moon rise. And one by one these beautiful days go by while I sit and watch, and think of children whose hair smelled of green grass and lavender shampoo.


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: Where Will Your Third Life Take You?

    Walking through a covered passage in Montpellier, France, I noticed a number of people going in and out of one of the businesses and I asked someone what kind of shop it was.

    Oh, it is not a store,” she answered. “It is a place for Third Life education.”

    “Third life?”   

   “Yes, for people who are no longer working but who wish to keep learning.” She looked at the sign on the door.

   “Today, they are learning more about the computer.”   

   I realized the place was what we might call in this country a “senior center.”  Most of the people I could see through the window were in their 60s or 70s, a few younger, a few older.  

    I walked on but the phrase “third life” stayed in my mind. It struck me as the perfect description for the way we age.    

   We have no choice in our first lives. We adapt to the circumstances into which we were born—quickly learning some are luckier than others—and we navigate childhood, school, and nascent careers.   

   Our second lives are the years we spend striving and reaching. We make choices—some carefully considered and some with careless abandon. We face difficult decisions. We work, we climb, we search for a mate. Some of us marry, pair up or partner. Some of us have children and either settle down to raise those children full time or shoulder the extra burden of both career and family. These are the years we sleep less, worry more, spend too much, save too little.   

   And finally, the third life. The last child leaves the nest. We retire or simply get tired of the rat race and decide to change careers or cut back. For some, the job or marriage or status they thought they would have falls apart and they discover they can not only survive, they can thrive.    

   Finally, for the first time, bolstered by experience, emboldened by wisdom and motivated by the knowledge that time will not wait for us, we realize we have the freedom to thoughtfully choose the life we will live. We have a few regrets. We still have a long list of things we’d like to do and skills we’d like to master. We want to make a difference.  

    Some waste these years with bitter extravagance, angry and self-absorbed, consumed by old grievances and lost opportunities.   

   Not me.  What’s done is done.  The past is quicksand and the more we struggle the faster we sink. 

   I want to see my children launched and successful in work and matters of the heart. I want to be a part of my granddaughter’s life. I’d like to learn to make a souffle without the damned thing collapsing like a parachute on the ground. Like the men and women in the classroom in France, I want to keep up with technology, to get the most out of what it has to offer.    

   I want to, at least once, beat my husband in a game of Scrabble.   

   There are so many places I want to see while I still have the good health and opportunity to get up and go. Or, with glaciers crumbling, poles melting and forests burning, while they are still there to see.   

   I want to write something worth reading.   

   Somewhere between the next five minutes and the next 30 years, my time will run out and I’ll be done. My first two lives are already behind me. But instead of looking back and mourning the loss of my youth, I know to keep my eyes on the horizon. This third life is a gift, a reward and benefit for making it this far. I want to get it right.

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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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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