Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
Spectacular scenery took center stage as we traveled north: part of the way by ferry on Sognefjord and part of the way by road, passing farms, forests, small villages, going further into the land where mountains come down to the waters edge and cataracts spring nimbly down the rocks. On our trip from Bergen to Oslo, we passed through 89 tunnels, some of them more than once.
We enjoyed remarkable weather during our entire tour. Our guide mentioned several times that everything looked different in the bright sunshine, including the shimmering Briksdal Glacier.
A history professor who lives near the hotel gave a before-dinner talk that evening, explaining that, at the end of the last Ice Age, glaciers covered nearly all of northern Europe, down to the middle of Germany and across the Low Countries and northern France . The people who followed the receding glacier are today’s Norwegians.
His main point is that Norwegians have always been tough and ready to work hard, which is clearly true. It also seems that if you scratch anyone of northern European heritage, you’ll find a little Norwegian. Speaking of work, someone asked about the local system for mowing and storing hay. We drove the next day to a very old, very exclusive, family-run hotel on Geiranger Fjord, where we had a lovely lunch and explored the hotel. It reminded me a little of the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport,
Oregon, except that rooms at the Union Hotel are named for people who actually stayed in them, including authors Conan Doyle and Isak Dinesen (real name: Karen Blixen.) My favorite room was named for Claus Helberg, Norwegian resistance fighter and mountain guide best known for carrying out Norwegian heavy water sabotage during World War II. We’d heard about him from our professor the previous evening. Kings, queens and a pope enjoyed staying there, too.
All our meals were delicious, by the way; these few were especially notable. The Lapland appetizer plate, my entire meal at Saaga evoked a landscape far the city: bear, elk, reindeer… The most memorable element of our meal at Vodka Room #1 was the smooth, full flavor of the vodka and the warm glow it induces.
As we’ve said for years, it seems impossible to get a bad meal in Italy. What Gary found unusual in Piemonte was that it’s almost impossible to find anything cooked with tomatoes–at least, not pasta with tomato sauce.
We savored several aspects of the flavor of Torino when we walked through the city’s arcades to La Taverna dei Mercati.
The restaurant is a series of rooms opening out onto a patio. Our table was in the front room, near a large framed manuscript on which was printed the entire Purgatorio section from Dante’s Divine Comedy. The restaurant owner talked to us several times and agreed that Gary was right: one could only read the text with a magnifying glass. He said they tried hanging one near by, but it kept disappearing. The agnelotti, by the way, are a delicious regional specialty; similar to ravioli, but stuffed with a mixture of pork and veal or lamb and served with sauce from the cooked meat.
I liked the fancy plaque in a lobby we passed returning to our own hotel, proudly announcing “Mozart slept here, January 14-31, 1771.