Ol’ Blue Eyes in Norway

I was sure I’d written about my day with the huskies a few years back but I’ve trawled through my posts and can’t find it, so here it is – maybe first time round.

Ol’ Blue Eyes – Husky

It was when I read Jo-Jo’s blog, Snow Capped Memories of Lapland, and she described how

“…the dogs were much smaller and less fluffy than the pet huskys I know. Strong and lean and frisky – like highly attuned race horses just itching to take off…” that I had a vivid recollection of my day with the huskies. I, too, was surprised that the huskies were lean and much smaller than I had imagined but I was told that these are the real working dogs of northern Norway, not the heavily fur-coated ones we see on TV and films.

We had made the 25 minute journey from Trondheim for a day with the huskies at TROMSØ VILLMARKSSENTER, located on Kvaløya (the Whale Island), one of the biggest adventure companies in Norway. The centre offers dog sledding trips and northern lights safaris, lasting from 4 hours to 5 days in the winter (Nov 1st –  April 30th) and kayaking trips and mountain hikes in the summer (May 1st – Oct 31st) the main focus being an authentic wildlife experience with the help of their 300 huskies.

Tove Sørensen, the owner, founded the centre in 2006, the year in which she competed in the world’s longest dog sled race in Alaska, the Iditarod, and in which she won the “most inspirational musher” award. She has over 20 years experience with dog sledding and when we met her in 2018 she had already competed 16 times in the European longest dog sled race, Finnmarksløpet.

Just to prove it was summer

Although our visit was in June it had been raining for some days and the place was a morass. It rained all the time we were there and it was very cold forcing us to don all the warm clothes we had brought with us.

Despite the cold however, we all had smiles on our faces because the huskies were so friendly and welcoming, jumping up and covering us in mud, demanding cuddles and trying to get as close as they could. They were like children, burrowing into your arms and resting their heads any place they found, your neck, the crook of your elbow, inside your coat, all the time demanding you pet them. You ventured near them at your peril – the peril that is, of being licked to death and covered in dirty paw-marks.

All were small, all were lean, and the heavy rain had flattened their coats so that hardly a hair stood up. Each one occupied a kennel to which it was chained but they all looked contented and were obviously well-fed. The puppies were adorable but refused to wake up while we were there. I was told they need a lot of sleep when they are young. They start training when they are six months old and are taken out for 1 hour a day to start with, increasing in half-hourly increments until they can join a main sledding group.

One blue eye keeps an eye on the sleeping puppies

You can see from my photographs how wet it was that day and how bedraggled the dogs and their visitors looked. I was lucky enough to be wearing trainers but some of the sandal-clad visitors fared badly, one or two slipping in the mud.

Reindeer skins for sale in the on-site shop

Should you fancy a trip to see these lovely, friendly huskies, details are below. There is a small cafe on the site and a shop selling ethnic garments (wooly hats, scares, mittens, gloves, boots, skins and suchlike), you get a chance to see an excellent film about huskie sledding and racing, and you can, of course, stay overnight.

Phone:+47 77 69 60 02 Mobile: +47 91 38 74 56 email: mail@villmarkssenter.no

 Adress:   Tromsø Villmarkssenter Håkøybotn,   9100 Kvaløysletta

Web:  http://www.villmarkssenter.no

Phone+47 77 69 60 02 Mobil+47 91 38 74 56 Fax+47 77 69 60 39

Email: mail@villmarkssenter.no

DIJON – More Than Just Mustard

Mention Dijon and you think of mustard, right? But did you know that the bulk of the mustard seed is now imported from Canada, due to worldwide demand for the spicy condiment.  And that the mustard comes in pink, green, black, and tawny-yellow – the gritty one as the kids call it – the one we are most familiar with.

Medieval Dijon

There’s no doubt that the town lives on its mustard: virtually every shop sells the stuff. It’s the obvious souvenir to take home and the best shop for this is the well known and signposted, La Boutique Maille. The shop-owners have made it easy to find the mustard by laying a easy to follow Dijon shopping trail, just follow the brass owls laid into the pavements and you can’t miss a mustard shop! Or if you are there at the weekend, visit the Friday and Saturday markets where stalls selling the hot stuff offer intriguing flavours like Strawberry and Orange.

Dijon is more than just mustard, however: it is one of France’s great Museum cities and what’s more, all of them offer free entry! It is a medieval town with some wonderful architecture, and as the capital of Burgundy it is an ideal base for touring this famous wine region. There were over 100 hotels there at my last count as well as a number of B & Bs and some lovely “chateau hotels” tucked away in vineyards in the area of Beaune and Chablis.

Palais des Ducs and Museum of Fine Arts

Palace by PhillipedeDijon – Pixabay

This lovely old town many of whose buildings date back to before the Renaissance escaped heavy bombing during the Second World War. Some of the buildings are now Museums (the town offers seven in all) and among them is the Palais des Ducs famed as much for its interior as for its exhibits, and home to the magnificent Museum of Fine Arts one of France’s oldest museums (1787).  In its 50 rooms of priceless treasures dating from antiquity to modern day are fabulous works by Yan Pei-Ming, Monet, Manet and other renowned artists, along with jewels of 15th century funerary art, the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless – extraordinary, lifelike statues held up by incredibly detailed Mourners.

Gargoyles on Church of Our Lady of Dijon by Christine Dautin, Pixabay

You could spend an entire day in the Palais des Ducs but I would recommend giving some of the treasures there a miss and exploring more of what the other museums and churches offer. Don’t miss the exterior of the Gothic Notre Dame de Dijon, its gargoyles never fail to raise a smile, although they are rather high up for good viewing.

Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne

One of my favourites and I would suggest that if you can squeeze in a visit to the quirky Museum of Burgundian Life you won’t be disappointed.  The reconstructions of 19th and early 20th century Burgundian shops are really special  – millinery shops, photographers, pharmacists and others, all filled with bits and pieces from the day.

Chateau on the Hill

Le Consortium

A contemporary art venue in a former Cassis factory, Le Consortium houses more than 400 pieces dating mainly from the 1970s. It’s something rather different and the selection gives food for thought.  Le Consortium publishes around 50 art books a year and if you like books you should not miss this shop with moveable bookshelves and reading area.  

Maison Millièrre

This half timbered house dating to 1483 is not strictly a Museum but it is well worth a visit.  Built 9 years before Christopher Columbus discovered America it has featured in the film Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu. It’s courtyard is filled with plants and frescoes and there is a tea room and wine bar downstairs and a restaurant upstairs plus a shop selling local products and souvenirs. Find it at 10, rue de la Chouette, right by the magic owl of Dijon!

The Hospices de Beaune

Hospices de Beaune

Not far from Dijon and a must-see is the Hospices de Beaune dating back to the late Middle Ages whose Gothic architecture is considered to be one of the best examples of its time. Originally founded in 1443 as an almshouse and hospital for the region’s poorest people, it is one of the country’s most important historical monuments with its massive courtyard, turrets, colourful roof tiles and the vast, echoing interiors of the Room of the Poor.  

Beaune – Les Hospices

There are other museums worth a visit and if time allows the City Library is recommended, but I choose the above because visiting them still allows time for strolling in some of Dijon’s parks as well, like the elegant Garden of the Fountain Creek Ouche and the Gresilles Park which are within easy walking distance and have picnic lawns.

Dijon is one of those perfect places that offers food for the soul as well as the body, a compact, accessible town right in the rich heart of the major vineyards of Beaune, Chablis, Macon, and Fleury.  Kir is the drink associated with the town, a drink composed of the blackcurrant   liqueur Cassis and white wine (purists insist on a Sancerre) and available at any bar and restaurant.  The ultimate though, is the Kir Royale, the same Cassis but this time served with the sparkling white wine of Burgundy, a Cremant which many people prefer to champagne. 

Cellar entrance at one of the Vineyards in the region

Saturday (Christmas) Sculpture

This should have gone up on Christmas Day but I didn’t schedule it for the correct date. Better late than never, this iconic statue surely needs no explanation. Not my photograph, unfortunately, but it’s one most people will understand.

In Memory of the Football Match between enemies on Christmas Day, 1914

Sculpture Saturday

I am indebted to my London friend, Steve Moore, who gave me this picture of a sculpture by Peter McLean, erected in 1991 along the Thames Path. It shows the spirit of a Pilgrim Father looking over the shoulder of a young 1930’s boy reading a magazine. 

I’ve seen the sculpture and it is a truly wonderful piece of work. The detail in the work is terrific and repays time spent looking and reading it.

A Night at the Opera

It is 10.00 pm and I’m standing outside the walls of Lucca waiting for the coach to take me to the Opera. My modest attire stands out among the Italians who are, as usual, dressed to kill, the bling, puffery and beautiful people determined to show la bella figura to the world of music. We are on our way to the annual Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, a celebration of Italian grand opera dedicated to the maestro of emotion and the town’s favourite son.

Our coach arrives and twenty minutes later we arrive at Torre del Lago in a tropical storm which is whipping the waters of the lake into white froth and making music in the palm trees. It doesn’t bode well for the open-air performance of Madame Butterfly tonight.  No one seems to be worrying, though.  Lambrettas buzz between cars and coaches, incredibly glamorous couples link arms and head for the restaurants and bars, and a couple of policemen, rain dripping off their smart blue capes, blow whistles and wave their white-gloved hands cheerily at the crowds.

Image by Marco Pomello at Pixabay

On the way to the open-air Theatre we pass the composer’s villa from where he conducted  his illicit affairs and from where he exited in his super fast cars and we saw the lake on which he loved to hunt the wild fowl.

The skies are darkening but the rain seems to be slacking off. ‘No problem’ seems to be the consensus, just a shower, it will soon blow over.   Nevertheless, the ticket collector gives everyone a plastic poncho as we take our seats before the overture to the opera.   There’s a cool breeze drifting across from the lake.

Overture over we settle down to watch Madame Butterfly:  everyone has joined in humming along with the orchestra but no one seems to mind so I join in too.  I think “This is what it should be like, why can’t we do this at the Garden, or the Coliseum” before realising why we can’t (can you see the glares, the pursed lips, hear the hssts, the shushes)?  

This is not at all like an opera performance back in the UK but it is certainly akin to the one I’m familiar with from E.M. Forster’s “A Room with a View” or was it “Where Angels Fear top Tread”?   But in Italy, especially at outdoor performances, the enjoyment of the opera-loving Italians – even the jean-clad teenagers – is both vocal and loud.  Torre del Lago is a more intimate setting than some open-air opera venues in Italy and people are talking together as if they’ve known each other for years, swapping sticky cakes and coffee from flasks.

All operas have drama but Butterfly has more – it has romance, race, class, opposing cultures, unrequited love, betrayal, and a tragic death.  It is beautifully costumed, the hero in his white naval uniform is dashing, and Butterfly herself is perfect in voice and movement – especially the way she uses her fan.

Image by Rosalie from Pixabay

Puccini’s emotional music always makes me cry.  My tears start during the overture as the plaintive notes hit my heart, but this time we have the rain which dampens my emotions somewhat. 

As the music swells and the drama unfolds, so the weather undermines our engagement with the stage.  Hoods up and enveloped in rustling plastic we try to keep our spirits up.  We know we should leave but we can’t tear ourselves away.  Then, as Cio-Cio-San (Butterfly) launches into her big aria, the lead violin gets up and walks away, taking his violin with him.  The rest of the orchestra look on, unsure, then slowly, the second violin gets up and does likewise and then a steady trickle of musicians abandon the orchestra pit and follow.  Cio-Cio-San continues her aria (I’ve started so I’ll finish) but eventually she gathers up her skirts, picks up her fan, and leaves the stage.


So, we didn’t get to see the big death scene.  We didn’t get to see Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton’s return with his new American wife, or the desolation of Cio-Cio-San and her servant, Suzuki: the skies opened, the rain poured down and the management said they would have to close.  We all ran for our transport back to Lucca.

Does it sound like a bad evening?  It was one of the best evenings I’ve ever had at the opera. I shall never forget that performance of Madame Butterfly and the warm feeling of being among people who had opera as background to everyday life, people who loved the art form passionately and above all, people who weren’t afraid to laugh and cry openly.

Restaurant on the Lake at Torre del Lago

10-Day Photo Challenge: 9

Nominated by my namesake Marie, at Hops, Skips and Jumps for the 10 Travel Photos in Ten Days challenge, this Challenge involves posting one favourite travel picture for each day and nominating ten bloggers – that’s 10 travel pictures and 10 nominations in ten days. Lucky there’s no text required so I may make it to Day 10 despite Covid and Christmas.

I can’t publish tomorrow so I’m hoping it’s OK to post two today, so this is my second, one hour or so after the first.

As it is Christmas Day I nominate all WP photographers who have a favourite photo they’d like to post.  I hope one or two can find time to join in the challenge. If you do decide to join us, please ping me back and let me know, but there’s no pressure to join if you can’t manage it.

One Big Shanty Town

10-day Photo Challenge: 8

Ooops! I think I missed one.

Nominated by my namesake Marie, at Hops, Skips and Jumps for the 10 Travel Photos in Ten Days challenge, this Challenge involves posting one favourite travel picture for each day and nominating ten bloggers – that’s 10 travel pictures and 10 nominations in ten days. Lucky there’s no text required so I may make it to Day 10 despite Covid and Christmas

It’s hard to decide whether I like a picture because I think it is good or because it reminds me of happy times – sometimes it’s both and that’s a plus.

So today I nominate Linda at meanderingmyway and I hope she can find time to join in the challenge. If you do decide you can join, and I hope you can, please ping me back and let me know but there’s no pressure to join if you can’t manage it.

The Evening Catch

There’s Something About a Martini

Dry Martini

For Jo-Jo at My New Life at 50

There’s Something About a Martini

by Ogden Nash

There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini;
I wish I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini,
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth —
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.

Cheers, and a Happy Christmas.