COSTCO can be dangerous!

 

Now that I got your attention, I will clarify what I mean by “dangerous”.

My wife and I always shop at Costco. It is our favorite place to shop. We are there once or twice a week. We don’t want to miss anything that might catch our attention and calling out to us to buy. I always say: “If Costco does not have it, I don’t need it”. Sometimes we even go to Costco just to see what tasty treats they are serving that day. It’s our way of going out for lunch.

We have been living in our modest 1935 Spanish bungalow for a couple of decades and been looking at the floors, which need to be upgraded in both the dining room, kitchen and utility room. They are all connected as an open space. When my wife bought the house, she removed the flooring to expose the subfloor, but never replaced the original floor.

The subfloor was laid by craftsmen and it was a work of art and why cover up a piece of art? But being a subfloor, they had not used hardwood and over the years, the surface had gotten its fair share of nicks and bruises.

The time had come to cover it up.

So over the past year or so when we visited our local Costco store, we kept an eye out for flooring. But we never really found what called out to us! It is here that I want to make a disclaimer: we saw several laminated floors at Costco that was pretty nice, but I always managed to find a fault or two with the pattern or the dimensions. The truth be told, I knew it was me that had to provide the labor. So it became a conflict between me and the subfloor. I was determined to win.

 

Years ago, I was talked into removing the carpet and lay down a laminated floor in my sister’s kitchen and family room. An experience I will never forget nor will my body forget the agonizing soreness that lasted for days afterwards.

This experience is still foremost when I start looking at floors. Even to this date. Any excuse to change the subject comes to mind quickly.

On a recent trip to Home Depot to look at plants, we just happened to pass the flooring department. My wife stopped and took a serious look around. My brain went into immediate overdrive. I had to find a new excuse. Do I use the old knee trick again or do I use my back, which I hurt a couple of years ago, as an excuse But, in the long run, the best excuse is: “Let’s think about it!” Let’s look around some more.

I manage to get my wife back on track heading back to the plant department.

My day was saved yet again. No, my knees and back were saved, I told myself. Little did I know at the time, that my procrastination on covering the sub floor would run out or I was just running  out of excuses.

This is where Costco comes in. Remember I told you in the beginning that we go to Costco once or twice a week. Well last week was no different. Pushing the over-sized cart through Costco, I turned down aisle seven, while my wife went to look in the fruit department. Toward the end of the aisle what did I see but a new shipment of Harmonic Laminated wood floors. I took a scant look and hurried past continuing to the fruit department. But my wife was nowhere to be seen. Odd, I thought as I turned around and she was just coming around the corner from where I had just been. She was looking for me.

Ecstatically, she told me she had just seen the kind of flooring she wanted. If I didn’t want to put it in the house, she would find a contractor who would. Now being a man who consider himself a model man who knows how to do everything and after all I had done floor laying at my sister’s place, I blurted out that I would gladly do the flooring.

Excuse game over. Costco and my wife had won me over. There was nothing I could do.

We bought the flooring and I spend the next two days on my hands and knees installing it.

In the end no regrets.

The satisfaction of doing the work yourself make you forget any of the excuses I had come up with  in the past.

I wish we had done the floor earlier.

NEXT: Eating our way through France and Val de Loire.

 

 

Never, never again!

 

 

It is winter in Italy. Staying warm can be a challenge, especially when you don’t live here year round. We have always been amused with the Italian men, always outside cutting wood. Relax, winter is not coming for another six months. There will be plenty of time to split and saw that log! The fiddle playing grasshopper comes to mind.
When we left Italy on our previous trip we knew we needed wood for our next arrival. But that was not before the following year and beside spending 185 Euros on wood that would be laying around, seemed needless. We made sure we would have enough wood for the first week on our next arrival.

So here we are back in Italy. The first thing on the to do list was to get fire wood. We started the week looking for wood and to our surprise found none. No wood in the land of wood burning fireplaces! One place would get some, but nothing before the end of April. Others were plain out and would not have more wood before the end of the year. The situation looked dire. One place where we have bought wood before, told us they might get some wood, but not before the end of the week. So in broken Italian it was agreed to send emails to let us know what was happening.

As the pictures above illustrate, it appears that there is plenty of wood to be bought. But that is not the case. The wood you see, is not seasoned and will not be available for sale for another few months. Unseasoned wood burns very inefficiently and gives off a heavy grey smoke, whereas seasoned wood burns clean, or at least efficiently.

We went home and decided to do what we have seen the Italians do and that is to stock up on wood from around the property where they live. We decided to do the same. We went back into our little forest behind the house. Nobody had taken care of that stretch of land for years. There were dead branches, all sizes and lengths all over the ground.
We went to work transversing the near 25 degrees hill. We had attached a solid rope about 60 feet up the hill that was a tremendous help getting up and down. We would gather branches at every level and we would then push, throw or by any other means get the branches to the downstairs. Here we would cut them into wood stove pieces. We had bought an electric chainsaw to make the sawing and splitting of the wood easier. We worked through the weekend and by Sunday afternoon we were pleased with what we had done. We had amassed enough wood to last this trip and beyond.
We had beaten the odds! We had wood from our own forest to keep us comfy for the next four weeks.
Monday morning, another beautiful day in the Cencenighe. We had a few errands to make, so we took advantage of the good weather and headed out early. We tried to reserve Mondays for grocery shopping. So after stopping at the local ATM at Cassa du Risparmio Del Veneto, we proceeded to Kanguro, the largest and only grocery supermarket in Cencenighe. We also had a couple of errands in Agordo. They were quickly accomplished and we made it home for lunch in good time. After lunch, an espresso and some quiet time on the sofa.

We were just about to leave the apartment again to go for a short hike, when there was a knock on the door. We were not expecting anybody, so it must be the neighbor from downstairs. We opened ready to greet them. But it was not the neighbors! It was a delivery guy, which was apparent from his uniform. No, there were no balloons, nor fan fare. We hadn’t won the lottery.
The guy hands us a slip of paper, which we recognize from the last place we had visited last week, inquiring about wood. He was here to deliver! We were as shocked as if we had won the lottery.


After composing ourselves, we looked out the window and saw the huge truck with pallets of wood. One of them was for us.
Last year and the years before we had said to ourselves, never, never again will we carry wood up the hill to the house. And those times the tractor was able to get relatively close to the house. This time the delivery truck came with an electric forklift that could barely make it up the steep path. In fact, it stopped halfway. That was it.
Leave the pallet of 2 square meters of wood in the middle of the path for us to deal with!


Never, never again will I carry wood up to the third floor again. But leaving this brick of woods where it was, was no solution either. So let’s dump the wood on the side, so it is out of the way and we will decide tomorrow what to do.
We did empty the crate and carried it up and placed it behind the house, ready to be reloaded. In the meantime the neighbor from below us comes with his wheelbarrow and tells us to use that to transport the wood up the hill. By this time it is rather late, it is almost dark, but I do fill the wheelbarrow with about fifty pieces of wood, but leave it there for the next day.

The following morning I jump out of bed ready to take the “Never, never again” project head on!
I get one load up the hill and it starts to rain. Now, we have been here for over two weeks without a cloud in the sky, and now on this most crucial day of days it starts to rain. But what’s a little rain? I shouldn’t have said that. The rain now came down heavy. I had to stop working. I was sliding in the mud. So of all the days in a calendar year I hit the one day of the year when it rains in the Dolomiti.

To top off the one and only day it would rain and delay my work in getting the wood pile transferred to back of the house, it started to snow.
Of all the days in a calendar year it had to snow as well.
I knew that the neighbors were watching and making bets as to how many days, perhaps weeks it would take me to transfer the wood pile.

Between the rain and snow, no work was done that day.

It took the next two days, morning mainly to move the pile from the lower front of the property to the back of the house. Now you must remember and appreciate that pushing a wheelbarrow with about sixty pieces of split wood up hill is quite a task, wether you are in your twenties or over seventy. It is hard work. Pushing fifty to sixty loads can tire anybody.

On the third day after the wood had been delivered, it had been transferred to back of the house. The next door neighbor congratulated me on my accomplishment of having moved the pile in such a short time. Which proved I was right about betting behind closed windows.

I wonder if I ever will utter those three famous words again: “Never, never again”!

Cruising the Caribbean

 

There are many ways to cruise the Caribbean. We had little over a week to explore some of the islands, so we chose Windstar. They disembark from Philipsburg, St. Maarten, during the first two months of the year.

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We wanted to stay away from the large cruise ships and do something special so Windstar was the perfect choice. We booked a cabin on their flag ship, Wind Surf. The ship has a capacity of 310 guest. On this particular voyage there were 265 cruisers, many of them had cruised with Windstar before. We understood why as soon as we stepped on board.

From the first encounter we knew we were in for a luxurious trip. Service was excellent, and the food was excellent. This cruise was the best cruise we had been on.

Cleaning fish on St. Kitts, serving cold beers on Barbuda (small insert above) as well as cold beers in Roseau, Dominica

The day after we left Philipsburg we arrived at Barbuda, a small British island with mile long pink beaches. Yes, the beaches have a slight tint of pink coming from the coral mixed with the sand as seen in the picture below.

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Wind Surf as seen from the same beach.

Next stop on the cruise was Roseau, the capital of Dominica. We had been here before, but had not explored the island. Dominica is known as “The Nature Island of the Caribbean” due to its lush rain forests and varied flora. It’s a volcanic island and hot springs and pools can be found around the island.                                                                                                           Here the ship was in port and we could easily walk into town. We spend the morning discovering the narrow streets in Roseau. The many colorfull shops and the locals going about their business made the morning go fast. That afternoon we had booked a tour going into the interior of the island to see the rain forest and hot pools for ourselves as well as where Disney filmed parts of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Next on the itinerary was Pigeon Island, Saint Lucia. Here again the Wind Surf had to drop ancher in the bay  and a tender was used to transport the passengers back and forth between the ship and a small pier at the north end of the island. Pigeon Island kept the name even after the island was joined by a man made causeway with the mainland in the 1970s turning it into a peninsula. The former area of Pigeon Island was turned into a national park in 1979.

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Not to bore you with too much history, I would like, however to mention that Pigeon Island has a colorfull history dating back to 1550 when the French privateer, Jambe de Bois, used the island as a base for his raids on the Spanish Galleons passing by. Two centuries later the British constructed a fortress at the highest point to keep an eye on the French navy stationed in Martinique. Today it is a famous vacation spot and cruise destination.

Tuesday evening after sailing past the famous Pitons, Wind Surf headed due North for the French islands Iles Des Saintes.

Wind Surf Iles Des SaintesWind Surf in the bay of Marigot, Iles Des Saintes.

There are ten small island in all, forming what is known as Iles Des Saintes. Only two are inhabited with around two thousand people.  The group is part of Guadeloupe. As soon as you step off the tender you fall in love with this quaint island.

Both my wife and I looked at each other and as one said:”If we could turn the clock back thirty years, we would move here and live happily ever after”. This was a fairytale island! We spend most of the day walking around, pausing for a beer now and then. In the afternoon we decided to walk up to Fort Napoleon which was built in 1867 to defend against the British and the natives called Carib. Unfortunately the fort was closed in the afternoon. But it was still impressive to look at the masive walls.

Wind Surf left late that afternoon for Basseterre, Saint Kitts.

St. Kitts was different, somehow the British influence was very dominant. The island was “organized”, the streets were wider, with sidewalks etc. it was another beautiful island. We caught a tourist “bus” (see picture below) that took us along the coast and indland to an old sugar plantation. It was an informative tour and at the plantation, which is now in ruins, the driver offered beer, water and sodas. All included in the price of the tour, which by the way was only 20 Euros per person. I think I owed him money after the the beers we drank.

The last island we visited was St. Barths. The Swedish colony which has changed names a few times was last sold back to France in 1878. However the name of the main town was established back in 1786, or more precisely is believed to get its name between December 28, 1786 and February 9, 1787. Although no Swedish is spoken today, the legacy of the Swedish  colony which lasted from 1784 to 1878, can still be seen all over Gustavia in that all streets have Swedish names with the ‘new’ French names above.

IMG_0757Gustavia, St. Barthelemy.

Next day we were back in Philipsburg, St. maarten and had to say goodbye to Wind Surf and its incredible staff.

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All pictures taken with iPhone 6s and are not re-touched

OLD WORLD CHARM TWO

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Mont Blanc with a cloud crowning the top.
Traffic started to move slowly. We had now been sitting watching through the windshield the snow fall for over three hours. Since hundreds of cars had been parked fairly closely all in the same lane there were very little snow and moving ahead was not a problem.
We had planned on being through the Mont Blanc tunnel by no later than 6 pm and find a place to stay for the night.
That plan was now put aside. The new plan would be to stop if we saw something along the way. Perhaps the snow would stop by morning.
The highway was now leaving the valley and ascending into the Alps. After driving for almost an hour we finally came upon an exit. We decided to pass. The exit had not been plowed and what we could see of the streets in the dim light from the few light posts, it would be impossible to navigate with our car.
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We continued on the highway. With the many cars on the road, the snow had a hard time staying on the surface. The snowplows must have drenched the surface with salt.
Finally at around 10:30 we were within the last approach to the tunnel. This was the part of the highway I had feared the most. As you leave the main highway that leads to Chamonix, you are now on a steep two lane road for the final ascent to the toll plaza before entering the tunnel. To my surprise the road was clear of snow although the surrounding area indicated that an abundance of snow had indeed fallen during the evening.
There were few cars and passing through the tunnel went smoothly. It takes approximately fifteen minutes to pass through. On the Italian side the road was free of snow as well.
As you exit the tunnel and a few hundred meters is a small town called Courmayeur nestled up against the mountains. We knew there were hotels there so we promptly turned off the highway and into the turn leading to the cluster of buildings. Only to come to an abrupt stop in the snow.
We decided that I would put snow chains on the car and Joëlle would walk the fifty meters to the hotel and inquire about a room.
It just so happened that the first hotel was a lovely looking building , it was Hotel Astoria (www.hotelastoriacourmayeur.com)
In the meantime I am in the dark trying to read the instructions and getting the snow chains unrolled so they make sense. The temperature is freezing and does not cooperate with putting chains on tires at past eleven at night.
Joëlle is wondering what I am doing and I decide to leave the car where it is. After all it is at the side of the road.
The following morning we wake up to a beautiful sunny day. After a healthy and hardy breakfast in the hotel dining room, we decide to take a closer look at Mont Blanc.
The current chair lift runs just a few meters from the hotel. A new much larger gondola lift is under construction from the opposite side of the valley.
We are two of the few people without skies taking the lift. Oh, this is not a ski area with designated runs. These skiers create their own trails in the waist deep snow down the treacherous mountain side.
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We had a quick cappuccino before going in line to get up the as close as you can to Mont Blanc, without climbing the mountain itself. Since this was a “side trip” not planned ahead. I went up in my “street” clothes. Leather jacket, but no hat nor gloves. Let me tell you it was cold when you got to the top. That day a strong wind was blowing adding to the below freezing temperatures.
View from Hotel Astoria
There are three sections to get to the top. The first two are with a gondola.
When we got to the last stop, we innocently asked the gondola operator where is the next gondola?
Short answer:”There!”
He pointed to a door and stairs.
Yes, stairs!
Want to go to the top? Walk up the stairs.
The staircase is as cold as the outside at close to minus 15 degrees at over 3500 meters.
I can honestly say to you that I had to stop a couple of times to regain my breath. At one point I thought I was going to faint from lack of oxygen. There are 228 steps and that was the longest staircase I have ever encountered at close to a 35 degree angle. We eventually made it to the top. Steps or no steps, it was worth every 228 steps. See picture at top.
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The snow capped world at your feet. And there in front of us is Mt. Blanc, covered in white snow and a few clouds.
A magnificent view, that truly does take your breath away.
Most of the occupants in the gondola are skiers and they get off at the second stop. They jump the fence around the view point and make their decent.
No paths, straight down what is sometimes a 45 degree slope. Each skier finds his or her own path. This is what I call free style skiing.

OLD WORLD CHARM

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A gloden clock. A tower. A small village. Cobbled stoned streets and pathways snake through the ancient buildings, leading to the town square or the cathedral. They all lead to wonderful experiences. We stopped in Auxerre to enjoy a leisurely stroll in the old city as well as to find a place to have lunch. Asking around town, the decision was to go to “Salt and Pepper” which everyone recommended. The bar was upstairs as you walked in and the eating area was down a winding staircase. Not in the basement, but at street level at the back of the restaurant! We had just been seated before the place was invaded by the locals and soon was filled to capacity.

After a delicious lunch, we continued headed south to Mont Blanc. The weather report was mixed. Cloudy with a small chance of light snow. We are driving in the direction of Milano and Mt. Blanc is a huge saving both in time and money. To go through the Mt. Blanc tunnel is 45 Euros one way, but if you return within seven days the return fare is only 10 Euros. As we are getting closer to Macon where we will leave highway A6 and join A40, we pay special attention to the weather forecast.

We have been listening to the Autoroutes radio for any change in weather or if the tunnel is open or closed. During the winter months it is not uncommon that the tunnel closes for a period of time. The reasons can vary from snow plowing the steep grades leading to the tunnel on both sides, in France and Italy and  to accidents. The radio reports no closures.
Just to make sure, we stop at one of the many ‘Aire’ or rest stops. Here we talk to a friendly clerk, and inquire about the road conditions. She immediately calls the Mt. Blanc road service and she then informs us that the road is clear and everything is quite normal. Since we are still one and a half to two hours away from the tunnel, she assures us that if it should snow, not to worry because even with as little as a centimeter or two the snow plows will be out in full force. Highway A40 is also the main route to Chamonix and hundreds of motorists descend on the area every weekend and the road must be kept clean.

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We drive ahead as planned and everything goes smoothly. The traffic is moving and the road surface is clean. The few snow flakes that are falling do not stay. We pass a couple of snow plows parked along side the road. We presume ready to go into action if the snow starts to accumulate, which it is by now in the fast lane. A little further back, that lane was closed and everybody was asked to use only the right lane. The traffic ahead of us is slowing down and in the distance we see a few red lights. Those few red lights becomes numerous and traffic comes to a standstill. I see in my rearview mirror that the snowplows have moved into the traffic lanes and are now blocking all traffic behind them. It is illegal to pass a snow plow in France. Just then there is a news bulletin on the Autoband radio network. Several kilometers in front of us is a truck that is blocking the roadway. According to the announcer the truck passed a snow plow and jackknifed on the slippery road surface and is now blocking traffic. It is estimated that it will take two hours to clear.

Traffic is not moving, so even if there were an exit up the road a bit it would not have helped. As it happens there are no exits before where the accident is, so now there is nothing to do but wait. Just as well. The traffic in the opposite direction has come to a crawl. We learn from the radio announcer that there has been an accident on the west bound lanes as well.

IMG_0930Nothing to do but wait. Darkness has now engulfed the area and the snow is still falling.
Two hours have gone by. We are now counting snow flakes, but can’t keep up. The fast lane next to us is now a solid white blanket.
The hours are dragging by, the two hour mark to have the accident cleared has passed and we are looking at three hours and we are still at least an hour drive from the Mt. Blanc tunnel.

ONE TRIP AT A TIME

The Ring RoadThe Ring Road

Iceland, land of volcanoes, Vikings and Sagas. Everybody talks about Iceland. Everybody wants to go to Iceland and yet few ever fulfill their dream of going there. How do I know this? I am one of those who dreamed about Iceland. In fact I grew up looking at black and white pictures of Iceland and listening to my mother talk about her native land.

I dreamt of Iceland, I lived Iceland and yet it took me almost sixty five years before I would set foot on this volcanic island in the Northern Atlantic ocean.

This is my story of how I finally sat foot on an island that belonged in my heart. After all I was part Icelandic and this was the beginning of me when my mother was born in the remote village of Eskifjörður.

IMG_6840Jökulsárlón lagoon

I had returned to my native Denmark to look after the estate of my aunt when she died. It turned out to be a bigger job than I had anticipated and I was forced to put lot of her stuff into storage for a later day when I could return and decide what to ship and to where. So it was inevitable that I had to return at a later date to a storage unit in Copenhagen.

IMG_6705Skógarfoss

Returning to Europe in the months of June-July is not the time the airlines hand out “saver rates” but rather the the rates that makes you want to cry out “I will fly next year”! To find a flight that you can afford without going to your family for donations is a challange.

IMG_6650Going by horseback is not a possibility, but wait! Here comes the commercial! Icelandair is one airline that always flies  through Iceland and allow you to get off, stay a while and then continue your journey.

To be continued….

IMG_6613Gullfoss

Don’t forget you can purchase my Icelandic book: “ICELAND along the ring road” on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/iceland/id817935760?mt=11

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