storiesthataretrue:

Visiting Detroit and meeting Da Bears.

Originally posted on Gemma Tarlach:

Driving back to Wisconsin after several days out East visiting my mom, I realized hey, I don’t think I’ve ever been to Detroit. It’s probably the only major American city I haven’t seen.

Well. Let’s change that.

Armed with suggestions from my Icepeep (and Detroit native) Brian as well as a few other friends, I tried to cram as much sight-seeing as I could into a single full day.

Unfortunately, my first stop was the zoo.

Let the three-hour delay begin.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no complaints about spending a good chunk of the day at the Detroit Zoo. It was great. It was in the 30s and had snowed a little overnight, and I think I was one of about ten visitors in the whole place.

You’ve heard of gorillas in the mist? I give you flamingos in the snow.

A lot of the warmer climate…

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storiesthataretrue:

Happy Halloween, everyone…for a special holiday treat and to show my appreciation for your support, please wander on over to GemmaTarlach.com for a brand new ghost story. Thanks! (And don’t forget to follow GT.com if you enjoyed following Stories That Are True, since I’ll be posting new content exclusively over there.)

Originally posted on Gemma Tarlach:

It’s that most wonderful day of the year (second only to tomorrow, when Target has its post-Halloween clearance sale!). To celebrate, and to thank everyone who supported Plaguewalker, especially through the media blitz and area readings of the last week, here’s a ghost story I penned. Enjoy.

 

Everyone Knows

This really happened.

Ghost tale tellers are like fishermen and lawyers, always swearing their whopper is for real. But I can guarantee this story is true because I was the one running down a night-black gravel road in my pajamas, too scared to look over my shoulder.

I had a summer job in college as a public health intern in northern Canada. Part of my job was to take the coastal ferry from one tiny fishing village to the next, delivering stacks of pamphlets and posters reminding the locals not to drink and snowmobile, or to get their children…

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Why You Should Stop Reading This Blog

Don’t worry, I’m not giving up on chronicling my travels and oversharing. But, although it took more than three years of adventures nearly pole to pole, I have finally used up all of my image storage space here. WordPress would like me to subscribe to rather pricey additional storage on an annual basis, but that seems silly when I’ve got loads of space not being used at my other blog, GemmaTarlach.com.

So…thank you for reading Stories That Are True. It will remain up, including all the images, and I may occasionally post text-only tidbits. But starting today, all my meaty posts, travel-related and otherwise, will be over at GemmaTarlach.com.

If you’ve been following STAT, as I call it when scribbling my to-do list, please consider following GT, which will include some posts about my fiction writing (but not that many, because between you and me, I find writing about my writing as much fun as waiting in line at the DMV).

I’ve just posted the first STAT-ish update over there, in fact, and if you need any more incentive to check it out, three words: imaginary polar bears. Oh yeah.

Thanks for reading, for following, and for commenting over the years. I hope you’ll continue to do so over at my not-so-anonymous blog.

There and Back Again

It’s been an exciting couple weeks for me, including but not limited to outhouses, lighthouses, small boats, big ships, the Barents Sea and a growing fondness for salty black licorice.

(Sidenote: you know you’re taking to Norway when your last thought before falling asleep is “oh, tomorrow I’ll be in Sortland and can buy more of that great fish liver paste!”)

One thing the last two weeks has not been great for is Internet access. I’m hoping that changes soon, as I have a ton of photos to post of more water and rocks as well as the northernmost town, the northernmost fortress, the northernmost city, the northernmost church and on and on…also, there will be polar bear taxis.

For now, however, let me leave you with words we should all keep in mind:

Norway’s Area 51

“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker.”–Mrs. Hurst’s opinion of Elizabeth Bennett, Pride and Prejudice

Traffic jam, Vesteralen-style

My whale safari plans scuttled and the clouds low and brooding, hiding the mountaintops I’d hoped to hike, I declined the offer of a borrowed bicycle (because the end result of cycling for me is usually acquainting myself with the nearest acute medical care facility). Instead, I did what I do best. I walked.

I headed out along the Strandgata, or Beach Road, out of Andenes and toward the community of Bleik, famous for its 2.5km-long white sandy beach and for overlooking Bleiksoya, the “bird mountain” as I’ve heard it called.

Bleiksoya is a spire of rock, jutting up from the waves off the coast of Andoya, that is home massive colonies of puffins, gannets and other birds. According to my map, it was about a nine mile walk, one way, from Andenes to Bleik.

Sure, why not.

The rain and winds came and went, but it was an easy, flat walk. And how great it was to walk, just walk, something I haven’t done in a long time.

Note low-profile tunnel entrance. Housing extraterrestrials is clearly the only explanation.

Nearing the halfway point, I passed an array of antennae behind a fence, with a small building flying a German flag. Well, that’s interesting. Across the road, the mountain rising above me was also fenced off, with signs warning me that it was a military installation and off-limits. A dark tunnel mouth offered a tantalizing suggestion of Secret Stuff.

Antennae and a German flag. Very suspicious.

A little further down the road, I passed a rocket launch site.

Rockets for research. A likely story.

Clearly this is where Norway keeps its UFOs and captured aliens.

Of course, I have no shred of evidence to support that, but then, “evidence” is passe these days, especially online, and just because I don’t have evidence doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Craggy pinnacles of Sostran

Andenes is, after all, home to the Andoya Air Station, which has Norway’s only surveillance squadron. There are civil defense bunkers and mysterious berms all over the village. And the rocket range is one of the world’s busiest “sounding rocket” launch sites…sure, “sounding rockets”…nice cover story, Norway.

Rainbow over Andenes (lighthouse on horizon is where I started my walk). Near the rocket launch site.

After rounding the spiky headland of Sostran and catching a glimpse of Bleiksoya and Bleik, still a couple miles ahead, I saw something else: black skies descending.

Bleiksoya (island at right) and a change in the weather

I decided to turn around and made it back to the hotel moments before the downpour that’s lasted most of the afternoon. The skies are clearing again, however. I think it’s time for a walkies. I’ve only done about ten miles so far today.

 

North Country Girl

Sunset over Andenes on the island of Andoy, Norway, 300km/190 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The northernmost point I have ever been.

Aside from that being one of my favorite Pete Townshend songs, it’s the truth. I’m an upper latitudes kind of girl. And at this moment I sit in a place further north than I have ever been: 69 degrees 18′ 51″ N, to be exact, nearly 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Saying goodbye to the Lofotens on the Fiskebol-Melbu ferry

I left the Lofoten island archipelago today to head north to a neighboring cluster of islands known as Vesteralen. One of the many things I love about Scandinavia: no matter where you are, if the Bussruter says the bus will show at 1230 hours, at precisely 1230 hours it comes rolling around the corner. One bus ride, ferry ride and second bus ride later, I arrived at Andenes, at the northern tip of the island of Andoy.

Love that clear arctic light. Andenes church.

Turns out the hotel I booked online was not quite as centrally located as advertised. I asked the bus driver as I was getting off where it was and he said “It is long way. I will drive you.”

Well, okay. So he chauffered me all of about 500m to the hotel.

I’d come to Andenes in hopes of getting on the last whale safari of the season. It was supposed to be today, but high winds had postponed it till tomorrow. Alas, when I checked into my hotel, the guy at the counter not only greeted me by name (I suspect I am the only person staying here) but added that the whale safari people had called to say they were very sorry, there would be no whale safari tomorrow, either, and that they were giving up and just shutting things down for the season because the weather forecast was so dreadful for the next several days.

The hotel guy added he was also very, very sorry for me.

He seemed surprised when I shrugged and told him it was okay. It was weather. I understood.

Plus I’d seen some delicious looking mountains on the drive in. If it was too windy to head out to sea, I could still go for a hike.

“You do not mind the bad weather?” he asked, still wary.

I explained that I had spent 20 months in Antarctica. I’m used to Mother Nature changing my plans for me.

And yes, it would have been cool to see a bunch of whales (Andenes is the nearest human settlement to some of the richest feeding grounds in the world for several species), but I’ve seen whales in Newfoundland and Labrador, in western Norway and Stewart Island in New Zealand, even in Antarctica from quite a long distance away and, perhaps most memorably, in Tasmania when a gigantic humpback whale found our boat extremely interesting and swam straight for us.

Plus…have I mentioned I am farther north than I’ve ever been? That alone is a thrill.

My hotelier buddy recommended a couple good walks for me and also said he was going to find a bicycle for me to borrow to get me to the trailheads faster. I was too touched by his helpfulness to mention that I have a very high crash rate on two-wheelers, so I just smiled and nodded.

Andenes Lighthouse

After leaving my bags in my spartan but clean and functional room, I took a stroll around town. It was as dead as Svolvaer, but did have an assortment of cute buildings and a nice bench on a jetty where I sat and indulged in my obsession with bizarre potato chip flavors. Tonight’s new taste sensation: Jovial Chili. Extra bonus that the brand was “Traktor.”

Verdict: pretty much the same as the sweet chile chips I’ve had in New Zealand. Why, by the way, are American potato chip flavors so boring?

The view from my bench on the jetty. I absolutely love the light here.

Back in my room, I watched a documentary on Syd Barrett and caught up on the news. My friendly hotelier pal also gave me the free password to the hotel’s wifi so I could bypass the pay-per-use router. Sweet. Whatever tomorrow brings, it will bring it to me farther north than before, and that is achievement enough for me.

When Hitler Came To Town

I don’t usually find reasons to grin in World War II museums. But then, I don’t usually see informational signage like this:

I spent several hours yesterday at the Lofoten Krigsminnemuseum, the Lofoten Wartime Museum, in non-bustling downtown Svolvaer. When the volunteer who was staffing it noticed I was actually reading the signage and not just cruising through like the five other tourists who came and went during my time there, he came over and started chatting and pointing out things I might have missed.

And believe me, it was easy to miss stuff.

Tons o’ stuff and enough informational signage to satisfy even me

The museum is actually the obsession of one man who has set about, over some 40 years, acquiring what is believed to be the largest private collection of World War II memorabilia, uniforms and everyday items in the world. It’s all crammed into half a dozen rooms in a 19th century building right next to the busy bus station lonely central bus stop.

Norwegian WWII Bunny Boots!

Now, when I hear things like “world’s largest private collection of mostly Nazi memorabilia,” I get a little nervous. I don’t want to be supporting, in any way, any sort of nutball yearning for the days of the Third Reich.

The Norwegian uniforms were worn by the prettiest mannequins

So I am pleased to report that I saw no sign of a pro-Nazi bent to the collection. If anything, it was tremendously even-handed, which is not something I can often say about museum collections tackling difficult issues (I’m still vexed with Liverpool’s International Museum of Slavery for implying North American colonists were the only people ever who engaged in slavery anywhere anytime, completely skipping over, oh, I don’t know, Arabs, Vikings, Egyptians, Romans, and so on, and so on…).

The less attractive mannequins were stuck with the German uniforms. I did not know mannequins could have cystic acne.

Anyway, I loved the focus on ordinary items made and used in extraordinary circumstances, such as shoes made from paper or POW handicrafts like a guitar made of matches and decorative sword made from the leg of a chair and a soup bone procured from the kitchen.

Decorative sword made from a chair leg and soup bone by a Norwegian POW in a German camp in Poland. The belt is made from cigarette packet cellophane.

There were numerous uniforms from all sides as well, some with incredible stories. Divers retrieved a German sailor’s shirt from a wreck off the coast of Norway and the museum’s collector spent five years trying to track down its original owner, whose name was stitched inside the shirt. The man had spent time in Canada as a POW and then settled there after the war. When he was finally located and contacted, he replied with a Christmas card filled with a shaky old man’s hand, offering warm greetings and noting he had some photos he could send to supplement the display.

Salvaged German sailor shirt with card and photos from original owner

Yes, the museum had the cyanide capsule container that “may have been the very one Hitler carried!” and also some unexpected illustrations of Disney characters believed to be done by the failed-art-student-turned-Fuhrer himself (apparently, Adolf was a bit of a Disney maniac and particularly enjoyed the movie Snow White).

One of the illustrations found hidden in a frame purchased at auction and believed to be the work of Adolf Hitler.

But most of the collection was focused on how the people who lived through that era in northern Norway–local resistance fighters, innocent children, German soldiers, Russian and Serbian POWs, Croatian prison guards, hapless fishermen–endured.

In case: paper shoes “not for the wearing in rain” my guide helpfully noted. On top of case, jar of greenhouse-grown tobacco from the 1940s. The volunteer staffer opened it and it smelled fresh. Not sure I believe it was that old, but if it was, wow.

Aside from the overall focus of the collection, I loved the English translations on the signage. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not mocking the translator. Sure, there were errors, but no more than the average Facebook post from a native English speaker. But there was often a jauntiness to the wording that just tickled me.

All that and bad teeth too…what a guy.

And that was a good thing, to have a little levity, because reading for hours about the conditions endured, the savagery exhibited by some and the pain suffered by others, really could have been depressing otherwise. I found the line “man’s blind indifference to his fellow man” from “Willie McBride” running through my head over and over, as well as imagery from the attacks on Western embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa.

We as a species never learn, do we?