Fjaerland: An Enchanting Book Town

History of the International Book Towns 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” Or maybe not. Perhaps it was a “dark and stormy night” or even “once upon a time.” Whatever the inspiration, Richard Booth in Hay-on-Wey, Wales, founded the first book town in the late 1960s by turning abandoned buildings in his home town into second-hand bookstores. His success inspired other small towns around the world to emulate the concept. Fjaerland is one of those book towns, the first in Norway in 1995 and the eighth in the world at the time. This picturesque town is situated on the “iconic” Sognefjord, Norway’s largest fjord.

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Travel to Fjaerland and Fjordstove Hotel and Restaurant

Fjaerland, an enchantingly lovely farming  town of about 300 residents, is not easy to reach.  We took a 1 hour and 45 minute boat trip from Balestrand to get there, but the journey is as rewarding as the destination. The fjord reflects the mountains, clouds, and land resulting in mirror  images that intensify the beauty. Our final destination was the Fjaerland Fjordstove Hotel, a haven of hospitality and gourmet dining perched along the shore.

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When we opened the door to our modest, but comfortable, accommodations, I felt I had won the jackpot:  the book room.  An English teacher surrounded by books?  Quick.  Pinch me.  Is this a dream?

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An Introduction to Bård Huseby

Concerning dreams, meet our handsome innkeeper, Bård Huseby.  Norwegian born and college educated in the U.S., Bård gives nightly welcoming talks before dinner. Guests learn about the area’s history, the farm-to-table dining options, and recreational activities–hiking in the area, exploring the nearby Jostedalsbreen glacier, and discovering the varied book stores. The books hide in abandoned buildings, hang on the sides of buildings, and loiter along the fjord.

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Fjordstove Hotel owner, Bård Huseby, celebrates Norwegian Independence Day, May 17.

(Photo from Facebook)

Explore the Book Outlets

Come stroll with me as I seek the perfect souvenir to take home. This building held oodles of charm, but not a book I wanted.

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The cute factor here didn’t increase my chances here either.

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I also didn’t find success in more modest outlets.

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A freestanding book shelf didn’t yield a result, but it did reinforce the honor system for paying.  You choose a book and either leave the money in a drop box or go to the grocery store or visitor’s center to pay.

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The money-box in this outlet also didn’t get my krones; I am still bookless.

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I thought surely I could find what I was looking for in this shabby chic location, but surely (and sadly) I didn’t.

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Welcome to my favorite book outlet.  The turquoise bench called to me: “Connie, sit down and laze the afternoon away reading.” Big problem:  There were no books in English.  In fact, there were only a handful of English books in the town. Defeated again, on I went.

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The stroll continued past abandoned buildings now repurposed as book outlets.  Some of these structures hold more than just books.

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Is this an abandoned dog house or playhouse?  I don’t have a clue.

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I give this outlet an A+ for the creative use of an obsolete phone booth.

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Here’s my last chance, but this former office didn’t produce the perfect book either.

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Explore the Humor

Feeling rather hopeless, I walked  back towards the town center and noticed that Fjaerland has a sense of humor.  Need a pit stop?  There are restroom facilities next to the boat landing, so you don’t have to “stop, press, and squeeze.”

 

On down the road, I laughed out loud when I noticed a cow with spectacles staring at me from the top of a building.

 

Then I chuckled when I saw a quirky mannequin in mountain climbing gear scaling a house being renovated.

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Finally, this book outlet deserves accolades because of its humor combined with efficiency. You can search the bag of books, find one, put the money in the box, then sit on the shady bench and read to the affable man sculpted out of a log.

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Explore the Locavore Movement

At this time, I was still bookless, but I was no longer despondent.  It is impossible to be sad in such a cheerful, beautiful place.  Walking past the peaceful farms, I wondered if the produce I saw would end up on my plate for dinner.

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The cows and lambs may eventually find their way to Bård’s kitchen, too, because he showcases the locavore movement at his Fjaerstove Restaurant.

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The proof of Bård’s commitment is this lovely meat dish bathing in a red wine and beet sauce garnished with berries. The meat, vegetables, and fruit are locally sourced.  Only the wine is outsourced–from France, of course. Only the best will do.

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Perfection in Fjaerland

Are you feeling sorry for me about not finding a book on this outing?  Don’t be.  The next day, I checked out the bins and shelves of second-hand books in the visitors’ center. Ja! I found the perfect book to put into our guest room at home:  Mon Lille Sommer Sangbok (My Little Summer Songbook.) I don’t speak Norwegian, but even I could figure out this title.  Since this is a children’s book with simple vocabulary, I thought our guests might think it fun to try to guess the words.

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I was confident that we could decipher a few words from familiar songs like “Row, Row Your Boat” below.  Wrong song!  Google Translate showed me my error:  This song is about catching fish for the family, not about rowing a boat down a gentle, dreamy stream. Even though the book doesn’t translate easily, it still is the perfect souvenir from Norway’s premier book town. Like Fjaerland, this book sings the praises of the simple life with joy and humor.

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Back at the hotel, lounging on the deck surrounded by dignified mountains stately rising from the shimmering fjord, I salute the 300 residents of Fjaerland.  Bountiful books. Luscious cuisine. Spectacular scenery. You may be the luckiest people on Earth.

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Why I Attended the March for Our Lives

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February 14, Valentine’s Day.  The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, arrived at school with anticipation of gestures of love and friendship. Instead at the end of the day, they encountered a barrage of bullets blazing from an AR-15. Students fled from the halls, ducked into classrooms, hiding under desks and in closets. For an interminable 6 minutes and 20 seconds, the lone gunman terrorized the children and their teachers, indiscriminately shooting his innocent victims. Seventeen died; fifteen others were hospitalized.

Valentine’s Day will never be the same.  Gone will be the memories of fragrant flowers bought and shared, romantic texts surreptitiously sent, sweet treats from a favorite friend or teacher.  Forever will be memories of the incessant bullets’ rat-a-tat-tat-rat-a-tat-tat; the crushing fear and panic; the bloodied dead bodies of their friends and teachers; and for the fifteen survivors, the unfathomable pain of bullets ripping their young flesh.

MSD students’ reaction

The MSD students, fueled by their hurt and outrage, rose from the mayhem and carnage and ascended to being leaders for gun reform. Emma Gonzalez spoke at a rally in Ft. Lauderdale just four days after the massacre and criticized politicians and their B.S. for not doing enough to stop gun violence. Thus, a movement was born.

A short six weeks later, Emma and four other MSD student-activists are on the cover of the April 2 issue of Time magazine.  On March 24th, the MSD student group #NeverAgain and the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety organized and led a successful March for Our Lives rally in Washington DC that spawned supporting rallies all across the nation and world.fullsizeoutput_4339

The accusations

I attended that rally.  Why?  There are several reasons. One is as a retired teacher with thirty years of classroom experience, I had to go support those courageous, brilliant MSD students. They were not only terrorized by the shooter, but they are also being terrorized in the press and in social media. What has been said about them? Judgemental, erroneous remarks include the following:

  • The students are too young to have complex thoughts and to articulate them so well.
  • They are being manipulated to action by the liberal establishment.
  • They are actors, not students.
  • They are led by a “skinhead lesbian” and a “baldfaced liar” / “moron.”
  • They are not sincere in their efforts; they are looking for excuses to miss school.
  • They are trampling on the Second Amendment and want to ban all guns.
  • And the newest insult: a video of Emma supposedly tearing up the U.S. Constitution posted on Twitter by Gab, a “free speech social network.”
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My reaction to these accusations?

  • After teaching Advanced Placement Composition and Literature, which is a course of rhetoric that includes the persuasive argument; and coaching students in forensics, which includes competition in U.S. and Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking and Original Oratory, I know how knowledgeable students are about national and world issues.They do not need adults to tell them what to think and what to say, nor do they need adult actors to pretend to be them.
  • The Maine Republication politician running for office who called Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg names received so much criticism for his attack from both Republicans and Democrats that he dropped out of the race. Enough is enough.
  • Seeing the students in person, noting the passion in their message and the tears streaming down their cheeks, one cannot doubt their sincerity.
  • News outlets quickly jumped to Emma’s defense showing that the video was fake. The original animation, which had been doctored, is from a March 23 Teen Vogue story showing Emma ripping a target poster, not the Constitution.
  • Listening to the many students at the rally and studying their positions, I, like all that were there, know the following to be true:
    • The students want common sense gun laws, including requiring universal background checks, closing the gun show loopholes, and implementing digitized gun-sale records.
    • They want the age for gun ownership raised to 21.
    • They want guns to be kept out of the hands of the irresponsible and insane but kept in the hands of the responsible and sane.
    • They want the military-style AR-15 banned, not all guns.
    • They also want to ban high-capacity magazines.
    • They believe that these changes can be put into practice and still support the Second Amendment.fullsizeoutput_4344

A hopeless feeling emerges.

After I returned home from the March for Our Lives, I was checking news coverage on Facebook. Commentators on one conservative site wrote that the students want all guns banned.  I wrote that I was at the rally and no one ever said that. I had one person respond that he “found that hard to believe.” I answered that “I am not a liar.” Another person wrote that I am not a liar, but I am “sadly misinformed.” I was at the rally; they were not. Fruitless exchanges like this make me feel hopeless.

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Emma recites the names of her 17 killed classmates and follows with a period of silence.

 

Hope is restored.

Hope returns again when I reflect on the leadership of not only the Parkland students, but also the leadership of students from other cities desecrated by gun violence: Chicago and Newtown. Their overwhelming message is to use the power of the vote to elect politicians who will support the needed reforms and not kowtow to the gun lobby in return for money to run their campaigns. For their weapon, the  students have chosen  the vote, not the AR-15.

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To arm teachers, or not to arm teachers?  That is the question.

The student-led movement also supports arming teachers with the resources they need to teach, not arming them with weapons.  Let guns be in the trained hands of the professional security guards.  As a teacher, I also support this view, which is another reason I wanted to be at the rally.  The school where I worked for 25 years has to be in the top 1% in the nation for being an ideal teaching situation, but I still encountered the rare teachers who had short fuses and unstable personalities. I would have felt fearful for my students and myself knowing they were armed. I also encountered the rare students with short fuses and unstable personalities–ones who would be able to wrestle a gun away from a teacher and use it against him or her. We hire teachers, not Dirty Harrys.

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Voters want action.

Finally, I attended the rally to be counted among the legions of voters who are demanding that our elected officials enact meaningful legislation to solve this complex problem. Thoughts, prayers, and then politics as usual is not a solution. No one wants our leaders’ children to go through what the Parkland students and others have. The big question is however:  What does it take for our legislators to realize how serious of a problem we have and do something about it?

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Not a red state problem; not a blue state problem; it’s an American problem.

Trying to silence the children who have been traumatized by gun violence through bullying, name calling, and lying is not a solution to the problem either. American children deserve better.  How ironic that the Parkland students, not the adults of this country, have rallied the troops and are leading the charge in the war for common sense gun laws. They are the idealistic, committed brave generals we require.  Under their leadership, we all need to work together to make America safe again, so no child will ever have to say, “I don’t want to be next.”

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Writer’s Block: Why Dresden?

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About 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles recreate the Procession of the Saxony Kings.

Why have I been reluctant to write about Dresden, which I visited ten months ago?  The Florence on the Elbe is the awe-inspiring beautiful city of my paternal ancestors and a major player in World War II. Dresden’s place in 20th century history, however, raises a moral dilemma:  Were the Allies just in firebombing and destroying the city, obliterating historic architecture and museums, and most tragically, killing thousands of civilians as well as the Nazis?

A MORAL DILEMMA

My writer’s block comes from not knowing how to get my head around that moral dilemma.  Former RAF Warrant Officer, Harry Irons, reported that he was one of the bombers who dropped over 3900 tons of explosives on the city; his guilt haunted him for years. The issue is so complex, however, that no one even knows the exact number killed.  In 2009, the History Channel reported that between 35,000 and 135,000 people perished.  More current sources, including a BBC report on the 70th anniversary of Dresden’s destruction, state that the number was 25,000. Even if the lower number is correct, thousands died, mainly civilians. Was the attack a moral one?

JUSTIFICATION FOR THE KILLINGS

Justification for the attack,  Peter Rowe of the San Diego Union Tribune explains, is based on the following two points:

Where are railroad yards?  They are in the middle of cities, so bombing Dresden meant killing civilians. The Allies, according to the History Channel, not only wanted to disrupt communications, they also believed it was imperative to “terror[ize] the German population,” thus “forcing an early surrender.”

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A piece of the rubble from the Frauenkirche left as a memorial

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

Critics argue that the February 13, 1945, attack came at the end of the war when the Allies were the wrestlers on top ready to pin their savage opponents to the mat; thus, the bombing was unnecessary.  Rowe points out that argument is specious since the “aircrews, had no advance word of when peace would arrive” with Germany surrendering in May and Japan in August. The History Channel also supports critics’ views that while “no German city remained isolated from Hitler’s war machine, Dresden’s contribution to the war effort was minimal compared with other German cities.”

The truth still remains, however, that the Nazis were the first to firebomb cities; Warsaw, Rotterdam,  London, Coventry, and other cities were all victims. Their vampire-like thirst for the blood of innocents was insatiable. Their extermination of the Jews and other populations was barbarous and incomprehensible.  According to Dante’s Inferno, Hitler and his Nazi minions are incarcerated in Hell’s Circle 7, Ring 1, where those who wage war against their neighbors are immersed forever in a river of boiling blood and fire.  How appropriate.

Whether Dresden’s demise was necessary to topple the devil’s denizens will continue to be debated. Harry Irons, mentioned above, said  he has made peace with his conscience after finally visiting Auschwitz a few years ago and realizing that the inhumanity there could have been brought to England. Many still have no definitive answer for this moral dilemma.

AN ANSWER FOR WRITER’S BLOCK

I do have an answer for writer’s block, one I should have heeded months ago:  just start writing. I also have advice for tourists to Dresden:  realize that you are walking on holy ground. The city was re-built over the burned dead. All were not guilty. Some were innocents trapped in Hitler’s evil web.

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Under tourists’ feet lie the ashes of thousands of people incinerated by the immense heat and fire of the bombing.

THE FRAUENKIRCHE RISES AGAIN

Do go, however, to Dresden which is now re-built and re-stored to its former beauty. There you will see the Frauenkirche, the 18th century Baroque Church of Our Lady, Dresden’s symbol of the Phoenix rising from the ashes. This building lay in a nest of ruins for 50 years before it rose up and flew over Dresden’s skyline again.  The rubble was left as a war memorial until 1989 when private citizens in Germany and abroad started an action group to raise funds for the church’s resurrection. The project was an ecumenical one. In fact, the son of one of the pilots who dropped the deadly bombs created the gold cross on top of the church’s bell tower; the English city of Coventry donated the cross.

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The Lutheran Church’s Frauenkirche with the monument to Martin Luther in front

THE SYMBOLIC BLACK STONES

The Frauenkirche today is a testament to modern technology.  The architects and builders were able to construct the building using burnt stones from the rubble.  The result is an intricate jig saw puzzle of a project where the dark original stones pepper the light-colored modern stones.

The church’s website eloquently explains the effect of using the original stones: “The dark colouring of the old stones and the dimensional differences in the joint areas between the new and old masonry resemble the scars of healed wounds. In this way, the Frauenkirche will testify to the history of its destruction in the future too. At the same time, however, it is testimony to the overcoming of enmity and a sign of hope and reconciliation.” The building today is a testament to humankind’s belief that good will always overcome evil.

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The dark stones represent both the terror of the past and hope for the future.

OTHER RECONSTRUCTED SITES

The Frauenkirche is not a lone Phoenix; there is a flock of them since most of the city was obliterated. History Today reports that 27 of Dresden’s churches were either destroyed or severely damaged, including the Catholic Hofkirche, the Court Church. The Hofkirche had 12,000 parishioners before the raid; afterwards, there were only 500 who survived.  

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The Hofkirche’s spire points again to heaven.

Another notable resurrected building is the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, the Kunstverein. Its iconic glass dome is called the “Lemon Squeezer” because of its shape.

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The “Lemon Squeezer” dome rises up from one wing of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts.

THE ZWINGER 

Another risen Phoenix is the 18th century Baroque masterpiece, the  Zwinger, which held the electoral art galleries and library, showcased the court’s festivities, and displayed a garden and an orangery in its courtyard.

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The Zwinger Today

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Marcia and I are at the Crown Gate, ready to explore the Zwinger’s three museums.

OLD MASTERS PICTURE GALLERY

In the 19th century, one side of the Zwinger’s courtyard was closed, and the Semper Building was built to house then, as today, the prestigious Old Masters Picture Gallery.  Among its many well-known masterpieces, the most revered is arguably Raphael’s The Sistine Madonna.

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The well-known and well-loved angels rest at the Sistine Madonna’s feet. 

THE ROYAL CABINET OF MATHEMATICS AND PHYSICAL INSTRUMENTS

Also at the Zwinger is the Royal Cabinet of Mathematics and Physical Instruments, a museum devoted to the display of scientific pieces from the 16th to the 19th centuries. There are clocks, maps, globes, telescopes, and other mechanical gadgets that shaped the world of yore, making it the world of today. Clocks run from the fanciful . . .

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Bear with me while I beat out the time.

to the elaborate: Eberhard Baldewein’s Astronomical Clock from the late 1500s.

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This four-sided clock has beautiful, intricate details from every angle.

Mythical creatures snake around globes . . .

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Baroque Celestial Globe

while maps chart the known world of the time.

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Where are Washington, Oregon, and California?

THE PORCELAIN MUSEUM

The art gallery and science museum hold wonders, but the most delightful museum to me is the Porcelain Museum.  Who knew that hard china could elicit such warm feelings? The story goes that Augustus the Strong locked his apothecary in a laboratory until he could turn lead into gold, which he failed to do. He did, however, discover how to make white porcelain.  (The Japanese had kept their process a secret.)  Augustus loved this porcelain passionately, and we see his glorious collection today–a fanciful gathering of Meissen animals, birds, and flowers alongside inspirational Japanese and Chinese pieces.

Walking down the museum’s main corridor, I first noticed the artistic arrangement of Asian pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries.

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There are porcelain pieces here in perfect condition that are over 400 years old.

When I reached the end of the hall, however, and turned the corner, I let out a gasp of delight.  Perched on Chinese-style baldachins were life-sized white porcelain animals.

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Augustus the Strong’s Menagerie

I quickly rushed forward to get a closer look, realizing that the animals had  distinct personalities: proud, fierce, sedate, and so on.

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Where else would a king’s pets sit but on golden boulders?

I walked slowly around the display until I found my favorite. All mothers can remember days like this one.

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Mother monkey seems to have reached the end of her patience.

Other white critters lined the wall’s edges as shown in the mirror below. Overall. the room reflected an artistic elegance that was sophisticated and playful at the same time.

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The Meissen porcelain animals are something to crow about.

The artistry spilled out of the zoo and into the garden.

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You can’t touch the flowers, but you want to do so to make sure they aren’t real.

In the piece below, the animal world and the natural world co-exist with both humans and the gods. Augustus the Strong’s apothecary may not have made gold, but he left a new art form, one whose beauty has not diminished over the centuries.

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Equestrian statue of Augustus III

DRESDEN IS A BEAUTY

Dresden’s beauty has also not diminished over time, thanks to the dedication of all of those who helped in her reconstruction–both financially and physically. While her history may be tragic and still fuels the discussion about a moral dilemma, Dresden is not an old lady wearing a sad face and tattered garments.  Instead, through her rebirth, she is a modern gal, proudly wearing her hopeful cloak of reconciliation.  She deserves a visit.

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Your carriage awaits for your tour of Dresden.

 

The Lakewalk Along the Shores of Gitche Gumee

Not a lover of cold weather, I do not want to be in Duluth, Minnesota, in the winter.  The website 24 / 7 Wall St. lists Duluth as the fifth coldest city in our nation. The lowest recorded temperature is -39 degrees.  Brrrr!

The Lakewalk 

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The Lakewalk, Duluth

Traveling to Duluth in the summer instead of the winter changes that “Brrrr” to a “Bravo!” My morning started pleasantly at Canal Park where my husband and I explored the Lakewalk, a pedestrian and biking path that meanders 7.25 miles along the shore of Lake Superior, otherwise immortalized by Henry Longsworth Longfellow as Lake Gitche Gumee, The comfortable 71-degree weather was partly cloudy with a slight breeze and not a shiver in sight.

Aerial Lift Bridge

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Aerial Lift Bridge at Canal Park

Our research on the walk suggested that we start at either Canal Park or at Leif Erickson Park and the Rose Garden.  We chose the former, mainly because it was closest to our hotel.  We are glad we did because that site allowed us to view Duluth’s iconic landmark, the Aerial Lift Bridge. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see this massive structure actually rise up to allow ships to sail beneath it. Fortunately, we can turn to YouTube, to see this magic of 20th century technology happen.

The Lighthouse

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Duluth Harbor North Pier Lighthouse

Also of 20th century technology, but not massive yet impressive never-the-less, is the 36-foot tall Duluth Harbor North Pier Lighthouse. Built in 1910, this working lighthouse guards the entrance to the Duluth Shipping Canal. Visitors who walk from the Lakewalk to the lighthouse pier and up the steps can see the lock on the door facing the lake. Unfortunately, no weathered lighthouse keeper greets them.  The last one served from 1928 to 1940; today, the lighthouse is fully automated.

Sights Along the Walk

There is never a dull moment on this walk.  In addition to the natural beauty of  Lake Superior, there is a series of  ancient anchors in repose along the shore.

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One of several anchors along the shore

In addition, if you can’t find the banned locks of love on Paris’s bridges any more, you can find them on Duluth’s pier posts.

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Locks of love

Sculptures also enliven the area.  Some are in front of shops,  a few blocks from the Lakewalk,

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A sculpture celebrating family fun in the great outdoors

while others require you to exit the Lakewalk on strategically placed steps.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore this option.  If we had exited at Lake Place, we would have found Sister City Park and Enger Park and the sculptures gifted by Duluth’s Sister Cities. At the former park, there is The Green Bear from Petrozavodsk, Russia, and The Stone from Växjö, Sweden.  At Enger Park, we would have heard the mellow tones  of The Peace Bell, a gift from Ohara Isumi-City, Japan.

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Exiti the park at Lake Place to find the Sister Cities’ sculptures.

We retraced our steps 1.5 miles back to the car, which we parked in one of the many lots in Canal Park, an area that prior to 1985 was a rusting industrialized area whose waterfront was shut off to the public.  Visionaries have revitalized Canal Park into a vibrant venue that attracts nature lovers, sports enthusiasts, gourmets, and art afficiandos.

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The walk back to Canal Park

We relunctantly left the Lakewalk, but the serendipity continued. My favorite find was a fanciful fountain that spouted a lively spray on a sliding water nymph.

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A fountain of fun

Another surpise was a brick wall that heralded the work of sailors, past and present, reminding us of the influence of the maritime industry on Duluth’s cultural heritage.

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If walls could talk, what would these mariners say?

‘There are ample opportunities to both walk and shop until you drop. The revitalized waterfront also hosts a bevy of restaurants and shops from the familiar, like Cold Stone,  to the unfamiliar, like Antique Boutique.

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Just a few of the myriad of shops in the Canal Park area

Arriving back at our car, I noted that according to my Fitbit,  I had walked three miles roundtrip, which leaves almost six miles of the walk yet to explore. There is nothing left to say except the obvious:  “Bravo to Duluth!” We will return.

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The Best Free Thing to Do in Tampa

Put on your walking shoes and trek off to the best free adventure in Tampa.  You have two choices:  explore the Riverwalk or discover Bayshore Boulevard. Better yet, do both. Walk until your drop.  You won’t be bored.

Join me for a “speed walk” in Tampa through photos, starting at Riverwalk’s 2.5 mile pathway past the city’s best museums, parks, hotels, and restaurants. Being there at the end of a rainfall with the setting sun sneaking past the leaden clouds was a serendipitous experience. Reflections, refractions, rainbows, remarkable!

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Walking Bayshore Boulevard the next day, I experienced a different vibe from Riverwalk’s urban scene , as the 4.5 mile path winds parallel to the expansive Tampa Bay.   Prestigious mansions, sculptures, and wildlife (elusive the windy day I was there) provide non-stop entertainment along this route.

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If you are lucky enough, you will see another form of “wildlife”:  a pilot flying and landing the ICON A-5 Amphibian Aircraft.

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Tired of walking but want to explore some more?  Take a short drive to Ballast Point Park and enjoy the views from a bench on the pier and reflect on your two days of walking in Tampa:  Cost:  $0.0; Experience:  Priceless.

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Anti-Semitic Attacks Increase in USA: Don’t Forget the Lesson from Mauthausen Concentration Camp

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Birth to death is the natural progression of life. Unfortunately, this truism only applies to humans but not to attitudes. Bigotry, inexplicably, never dies, as evidenced by the rise in attacks on Jews and other minorities in America today.  Where are the lessons learned from the atrocities committed by the Nazis in World War II?

Take a metaphorical walk with me back to 1938.  The Nazis were constructing their death camps; Mauthausen,  a work camp in Austria, was one of them. While it is not as well known to most people as Dachau and Auschwitz, Mauthausen was a major concentration camp.

ALARMING FACTS

Here are a few of the alarming facts about Mauthausen:

  • This was a forced labor camp with prisoners working nine to eleven grueling hours a day in the rock quarry.
  • Malnourished prisoners were literally worked to death, carrying 100 pound blocks of granite up the 186 rough, slippery steps out of the quarry.
  • Sick prisoners were killed by being pushed to their deaths from the top of the quarry,  by being shot, or by being gassed.
  • Women prisoners were sent to work as sex slaves in a brothel set up here for the Nazi workers.
  • Not only Jews, but also Jehovah Witnesses, Gypsies, criminals, and homosexuals were imprisoned and tortured here.
  •  Of a total of about 190,000 people imprisoned in the Mauthausen concentration camp and its subcamps over seven years, at least 90,000 died.

Eleven million victims in total were tortured and killed in all the Nazi concentration camps.  This number is equivalent to eliminating  the population of both Los Angeles and New York City today.

NEW ALARMING STATISTICS

While these statistics are startling, there are new alarming numbers. NPR reported that since January 2017, according to the JCC Association of America, there have been  69 bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in 27 states and one Canadian province.  Bigotry, therefore, was not buried forever in Hitler’s bunker.  Like a vampire, it resurrects from its tomb to feed on the innocent.

MAUTHAUSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP MEMORIAL

While most bigots commit their crimes wearing a dark cloak of anonymity, the Nazis brought their hate into the daylight. Today, when you approach the Mauthausen Memorial, its idyllic setting belies the evil enacted there.

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Mauthausen Memorial today.

Visitors walk freely through the entrance gate, knowing they can exit at any time.  It is impossible not to imagine the prisoners’ panic when they entered this place, knowing they had no freedom to leave.

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Thousands entered here and never left alive.

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Visitors leave flowers to memorialize the victims and survivors in the courtyard bordered by the barracks.

THE SCULPTURES:  MENORAH AND BARBED WIRE FENCE

Bold sculptures dot the Memorial’s landscape to remind us not to forget the lessons taught here. In victory, a menorah rises majestically and decisively above the rolling plains.

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Israel’s memorial as well as being a menorah is reminiscent of the Tree of Life.

In contrast to victory, this sculpture sets on the cliffs above the infamous rock quarry, a reminder that bigotry is as cruel, painful, and  hostile as a barbed wire fence.

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This sculpture is the memorial from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

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Looking down into the quarry and at the 186 steps on the right the prisoners had to traverse carrying 100 pound pieces of granite.

THE SCULPTURES:  MOTHER GERMANY

To the right of the barbed wire sculpture is a mournful statue representing Mother Germany.

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On a wall behind her are the prophetic words written in 1933 by Bertolt Brecht, German poet and playwright. The English translation is the following:

“O Germany, pale Mother,
How your sons have hurt you
So you are sitting among the nations,
A thing of scorn and fear.”

This is a message for all nations and is applicable for the United States at this time.  This is our lesson from Mauthausen. We cannot allow the small minority who harbor hate in their hearts to speak for the majority of our sons and daughters who believe our country’s credo of “all men (and women) are created equal.”

OUR DEFINING SCULPTURE:  MOTHER LIBERTY

In fact, now is the time to be defined by our country’s own Mother Liberty who gloriously lifts her flame of freedom in a “world-wide welcome” for all regardless of nationality, religion, or gender. After all, our legacy is to be the land of the free and the brave, not the land of the bigots. We are better than that. Always have been; hopefully, always will be.

 

Cooking with a Master Chef in Prague: A Don’t Miss Experience

Calling Radek Subrt’s Cooking School in Prague a “cooking school” does it an injustice. It’s like saying  Prague is a just a city instead of one of the grand capitals of the world. Chef Subrt offers a grand world-class cooking experience not to be missed when visiting this iconic city.

MEET THE CHEF

This talented chef worked in notable restaurants in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.  His culinary journey also took him to the New York kitchen of Michelin award-winner, Daniel Boulud. In Prague he has established himself as a restaurant owner, a caterer, a cooking instructor, a television personality, and an ambassador for the high-end Miele appliances. In fact, he holds his cooking school at the Miele Experience Center in Prague.

ON ARRIVAL: CAN’T BEGIN EATING SNACKS AND DRINKING WINE TOO SOON

While our husbands were attending an aviation conference held at Prague Castle, my friend Marcia and I, unable  to get a cab, scurried on foot, dashing between raindrops to arrive at Chef Subrt’s class exactly at the starting time of 11 a.m. One other student, Jennifer, was already there. The chef enthusiastically greeted us, gave us black aprons with the Miele logo to don, and then, in a flash!, we had glasses of white wine in our hand, and trays of hearty  nibbles in front of us. Obviously, this course on cooking traditional Czech foods was going to be strenuous, and we would need sustenance to cook.  (It’s a good idea to leave guilt at home and bring rationalization to a cooking experience like this.) We couldn’t resist these beauties below:

  • steak tartare–artfully seasoned, the best I have ever had.
  • stuffed baby potatoes–it’s all about the cheese.
  • chicken  salad on crostini–with herbs sprinkled prettily on top.

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The tray of appetizers before the “real”appetizer.

THE APPETIZER:  SMOKED TROUT FILLET WITH HORSERADISH DIP AND COCKTAIL TROUT SERVED WITH A MIXED-GREEN AND HERB SALAD DRESSED WITH LEMON VINIAGRETTE

While snacking and drinking wine on the fly, we were immediately put to work.   Our efforts were clumsy, but watching Chef Subrt was watching a culinary artist at work. Preparing the salad for the smoked trout appetizer, he minced dill in a flash,

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and then stripped tiny, tender thyme leaves off their hard stalks.

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He had pre-prepared the trout filets,which he smoked with an innovative technique that doesn’t require a BBQ grill.  Here are the steps:

  • Line an oven-proof  skillet with aluminum foil.
  • Add a couple of cups of sawdust: oak, hickory, or any of the fruit woods would work.
  • Heat the skillet on the stove top until the sawdust starts smoking.
  • Place a rack into the skillet.
  • Place fillets seasoned with coarse salt and pepper and brushed with olive oil on top of the rack.
  • Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  • Put the pan into a pre-heated 350 degree oven.
  • Bake fillets in the oven for 5-6 minutes.
  • Take the fillets out of the pan and remove the bottom skin.
  • Trim the fillets with a knife to make rectangles.  Reserve the trimmings.
  • Plate, garnish, and serve.

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The chef places the fish fillets on a rack above the smoking sawdust while Marcia looks on.


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Chef Subrt surveys the perfectly cooked fish.


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Now that the fillets are cooked, the chef easily removes the skin from the fish.

The end result is poetry on a plate.  This dish is so much more than just smoked fish.  Here’s how he finished it off:

  • Salad of red chard, beet leaves, frisse, watercress, and dill.
  • A salad dressing of olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper.
  • A dip of creamed horseradish, sour cream, and salt.
  • A quenelle made from the chopped fish trimmings, cream cheese, sour cream,  shallots, chives, dill, salt and pepper.

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Using two spoons, I rolled the fish-cheese mixture to make the oval-shaped quenelle.

THE MAIN COURSE:  FALLOW DEER WITH CRANBERRY-PORT WINE SAUCE,  BREAD DUMPLINGS, AND ROASTED VEGETABLES

The entrée was a worthy successor to the appetizer. First, the chef showed us how to use muscle to whip egg whites by hand for the bread dumplings.

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Next, he assembled a misen en place to make the dumplings–a marriage of toasted bread cubes, whipped egg whites, melted butter, eggs, milk, and parsley. He then steamed the dumplings in Miele’s sophisticated Multi-Steam Oven for 15 minutes. When  it was time to serve, he browned the dumplings in butter in a skillet on the stove.

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The simplest dish, but a most colorful, delectable one, was the roasted beets, carrots, and celery root tossed with oil, cumin, cayenne, and sugar and then placed on a baking sheet.  The vegetable concoction roasted in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes. Chef Subrt reminded us not to discard the beet leaves, which are  delicious sautéed or in a salad.

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We also made the luxurious sauce for the venison, a mélange of vegetables, wine, cranberries, venison bones, wine, tomato paste, and butter.  The sauce was simmered, strained, and puréed, soon to be a silky burgundy bed for the venison.

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As he did for the fish, Chef  had an innovative technique to cook the venison tenderloin fillets. He added oil and thyme to a hot oven-proof skillet. He then seasoned the fillets with salt and pepper and browned them in the skillet. Here’s a new way to finish the cooking in the oven:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Place the skillet with the fillets in the oven.
  • Open and close the oven door until the temperature reduces to 195 degrees.
  • Leave the oven door closed and cook for one hour.
  • May leave the fillets in longer, and they will stay medium rare.

The advantage of this technique is you can start cooking the meat before you begin fixing the rest of the meal, so you don’t have to cook the meat at the last minute.  Also, you can’t over cook the meat.

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The meat is ready for the door to be opened and closed to lower the oven’s temperature.


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Perfectly cooked venison is ready for plating.


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Happy Chef Subrt puts happiness on a plate.

DESSERT:  BAKED APPLE PIE WITH VANILLA SAUCE 

The deliciousness is not over yet.  Dessert is the grand finale, and as any person who has ever made pie knows, the phrase “easy as pie” is a misnomer. This recipe for apple pie is the exception. It really is easy, but we weren’t given the exact measurements:

  • Peel, core, and slice apples (three slices per serving), but do not cook. Set aside.
  • Thaw store-bought puff pastry, cut into squares, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets.
  • Peel, core, chop, and sauté apples in a non-stick skillet on the stove until soft.
  • Add sugar and cinnamon.
  • Place a couple spoonfuls of the cooked apples in the middle of each puff pastry square, top with three apple slices, and fold the puff pastry edges to the middle.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

While the pie is easy, making the vanilla sauce, a classic crème anglaise, requires skill. You don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs in your sauce. The trick is to bring cream, sugar, and vanilla just to a boil, and then quickly whisk the  yolks into one-half of the heated cream. Then whisk in the rest of the cream.  Heat the mixture to 175 degrees, and it is done.

Yes, this is a hands-on cooking course. We helped with each course.  Here, Marcia is assembling the apple pie.

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After the dessert exits the oven toasty brown, Chef Subrt displays the perfectly baked pie slices.

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THE GRAND MEAL

Cooking completed, the chef called us into the Miele Experience Center’s elegant, modern, dining room where the smoked fish appetizer and a Slovenian white wine awaited us.

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With big smiles, we were ready to enjoy the fruits (and the fish, meat, vegetables, bread, and sweets) of our labor.

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The chef’s beautiful wife was with us too, assisting in the kitchen and being the wine sommelier. She poured a full-bodied Slovenian red wine that reminded me of Pinot Noir.

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The wine was the perfect complement to the wild game and its culinary accoutrements.

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While we ate, Chef Subrt was busy in the kitchen plating the dessert:  a spoonful of cooked apples and a slice of pie dusted with powdered sugar, both swimming in a pool of rich vanilla sauce.

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My, oh, my, just in case we were still hungry, a tray of decadent treats un-expectantly showed up.

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A tray of berry creams, brownies, and fruit tarts is a surprise treat.

THE AFTER PARTY

While the three of us were enjoying one of the best meals of our lives, the kitchen “magically” got cleaned up.  While cooking with Chef Subrt was a joyful experience,  cooking in a kitchen equipped with Miele’s latest, top-of-the-line appliances was a home cook’s dream.  The stove was an induction one, and I am now sold on induction cooking.  It offers the instant heat of a gas stove, the easy clean up of an electric stove, and the added benefit of speedy boiling.

I asked the chef about the round indentation on the stove top. He showed me that it held a wok.  He then placed a hot pad into the indentation, put the wok with some water in it on top, and turned the heat on high.  The water boiled almost immediately, and the hot pad did not catch on fire.  Welcome to cooking in the 21st century!

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We asked for a final photograph to remember this informative, fun-filled cooking experience, one worthy to be offered in one of the most exciting, beautiful cities in the world.  My final suggestion:  Travel to Prague, witness Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, and all the other wonders of this historical city.  Don’t leave, however, without a visit to Chef Rudek Subrt’s Cooking School at the Miele Experience Center.

Would you like to have this cooking experience?  Have you had one like it?  I would love to hear about your culinary adventures while traveling.

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