After London I was going to visit an old exchange student who now lives in Bristol. I realized that Stonehenge was roughly en route and therefore could not pass up the opportunity to go and see it.
On the bus out of London I listened to all my London related music: There She Goes, which was what played in The Parent Trap when she arrives in London, and the soundtrack from Bend It Like Beckham. Urban sprawl slowly turned into the English countryside, and eventually I made it the Stonehenge visitor’s center.
Since I was in transit I had all of my stuff with me: a camera equipment backpack, and a small carry-on sized wheeled bag. Easy to manage, but still a bit of a strange sight. Luckily there was no prohibition on bags on the grounds, but there was no place to store them and I had to have them with me at all times. So I was the slightly hilarious person who walked with her luggage around Stonehenge.
There is a historical exhibit at the visitor’s center which gives you context and a good base of what we know about Stonehenge and the surrounding earthworks. The site had many phases of construction which ranged from about 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE. It's believed to be a ritual or ceremonial site, and is surrounded by different burial mounds and earthworks. The stones also line up with the summer solstice sunrise, and the winter solstice sunset.
I had heard so often from people that the stones weren't really that big and you couldn't get that close, and that really it was often a let down experience. So I went in with pretty low expectations and the mindset of getting to see some really interesting history. I was really pleasantly surprised then, because I found the stones pretty impressive, and at the end of the loop around the circle I felt like I still got to be quite close to the stones. It was really cool, and I was quite happy I had made the trek, even with all my stuff in tow.
I flew into the UK on April 11th to stay with my former DC roommate Sarah who now attends the London School of Economics. It was fantastic getting to see her again and catch up. When we lived together we bonded over Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and feminism and nothing has changed. We both gushed over the Harry Potter connections in London and soaked in all the wonderful Britishness of her new home. Sarah was in the midst of writing some major papers, so during the days I was on my own wandering the streets.
London is such a great city for street photography. The architecture, the traffic, the street art, but most importantly, the people. They’re everywhere and is such an awesome cross section of society. I loved people-watching and practicing my street shooting. Unsurprisingly I took a ton of photos, chasing the right timing, the right framing, the right focus, the right look from a stranger. So many things have to line up to get a good street photo, and I relished getting to practice.
I also used my time in London to seek out photography exhibits to both study them and seek inspiration. I found galleries, and museums to visit. There was a show on American documentary photographers and the difference between the 1930s style and the style that emerged in the 60s and 70s. I got to see a print of one of my Mom's favorite photographs, the one that got her into photography in the first place, Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. Comparing the work of depression era photographers to the quirky, offbeat captures of the hippie era was really fascinating. I liked aspects of both styles. Another show looked at the history of gender presentation, cross dressing and the transgender community since the beginning of photography. One exhibit followed Monsanto, the agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology company, and it's impact on farming, especially small farmers. That is a topic I am really interested in, and I liked seeing how Mathieu Asselin, the photographer approached the subject. He used photography along with mixed media to tell his story. There were television clips, seeds framed and hung on the wall, and farming documents.
I visited the National Portrait Gallery as well. They had a section on the development of different photographic techniques with stunning examples. Seeing that there were examples of women photographers who helped push the artistic use of photography for portraiture was really great. The collection included some early color photography techniques which were lovely and etherial. I also soaked in the all the paintings throughout the gallery. For my sister I went and visited Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Lastly there was the exhibit dedicated to the centennial of women winning the right to vote. All my visits to the museums and exhibits were motivating both artistically and personally.
Keeping on the theme of taking in the arts, I spent one night at the theater. The play I saw was called “The Ferryman” and was set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It was so, so good. I laughed, I cried and it stayed with me after I left.
I also spent a lot of time seeking out street art mainly in and around Shoreditch. It was fun to go and appreciate it as art, and to try to incorporate pieces into my street photography. From Shoreditch I took a double decker to Borough Market. I got the best seat right in the front row on the top deck, it's my favorite way to see the city. After strolling the market I made my way to Tower Bridge, walked along the Thames and back over Millennium Bridge. This lets out right at the Tate Modern, and seeing as it's free I had to go in. I love being able to enjoy and take advantage of museums.
My last night in London I went out with Sarah, and one of our other former DC roommates Jessica, who now also lives and works in London. We had a great time getting a few drinks and talking the night away.
Even though it was a fairly quick trip to London, it was so much fun. And I took an impressive amount of photos, even for me.
After a lovely time in the French countryside, Albine and I headed to her second home of Nantes. Her apartment is above a café in a cute neighborhood on a hill. From there we were easily able to walk to the city center.
We spent our days meandering the French streets, with me stopping often for photos, and Albine finding this very amusing. She started taking pictures of me taking pictures, and I would love to see this collection.
Albine was an excellent guide, always thinking of where to go next and what to see. I just let her lead me as we talked the day away. We walked around the grounds of the Château des ducs de Bretagne, a castle in the middle of the city. Albine told me the story of Anne of Brittany who was Duchess of Brittany in the late 1400s. She is celebrated even today as a guardian of Brittany, who defended it's sovereignty from France even, or perhaps because of, being the queen consort of France. Albine said it depends on who you ask and where that person is from if they think Nantes is part of Brittany. It is on the cusp, and apparently is a popular topic to dispute.
We saw the Nantes Cathedral and walked around the Île de Nantes. Everything was lovely and I enjoyed just being in the city with my friend.
Knowing me well, Albine took us to the coolest place to eat in the city, a brasserie called Le Cigale originally established in 1895. It is an ornately decorated building, with an interior so opulent it was like being in a painting. I had hot chocolate and a decadent chocolate caramel tart. The whole experience felt luxurious and indulgent, it was such a treat.
On my last day we made sure to go to a crêpe restaurant. I had both savory and sweet with a drink of cider, which I learned was the traditional accompaniment for crêpes. My savory crêpe was ham and cheese with a mushroom cream sauce, and the sweet was the simple and classic butter and sugar. They were delicious.
The whole trip flew by, but it was such a delight to spend time with such a wonderful friend in her beautiful home country.
When I moved to DC I met Albine at a Meetup and we quickly became friends. She is a fun, intelligent person and we can talk for hours. When she graduated with her masters though, she moved back to France. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to see her again in April this year and have a local host in her beautiful country.
Albine splits her time between Niort and Nantes for work. We started my visit in Niort, a lovely old town, and Albine's hometown. The first few days we actually took some day trips to surrounding towns. Day one we went to the coastal town of La Rochelle, one of Albine’s favorite places. She says it always feels like a vacation, and she was absolutely right. It's gorgeous and the smell of the saltwater adds a relaxing atmosphere to the already laid back French vibes.
That night we were discussing the genealogy research I had been doing. Albine wanted to know if I had any French ancestry and I remembered finding someone very far back. I went to look at my research and found on my paternal grandmother’s side, an 8th great-grandfather named Nicolaus de la Peine who was born in Bressuire, France in 1635. I tried very poorly to pronounce Bressuire, and once Albine finally figured out what I was saying she got super excited. Bressuire was only an hour away! We are going, she decided, and I happily obliged. So day two was spent visiting Bressuire, which happened to have a lovely palace. On the way back to Niort we also visited the village of Marais Poitevin, which is built around canals. It was a lovely day of wandering old streets and lively conversation.
We spent a few days in Niort, wandering the streets, eating at cafés and hanging out with her friends. It was a wonderful time.
The only other time I had been to France was when I was 16. It was so nice getting to go back as an adult, and to have a local friend show me around, (and order for me in French.) This time I was completely enchanted with France. It is so beautiful! I took so many pictures, even for me, haha. There were so many sparks of inspiration. And there was more to come. When the weekend came we headed to Albine's second home, in Nantes. Stay tuned for that in my next post!
I flew out of Oslo to end my Norway stint, which meant I got one last day in the city. With my time there I visited to the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. It is a collection of buildings saved and relocated to the museum from all over the country, and it was an amazing way to look at the history of Norway. The buildings are grouped into mini communities based on time and location. Everything from 1600s farm buildings, to 1800s suburban houses, to 1900s apartments, to a stave church from the 1100s. By being able to see and walk around inside the structures, which have been dressed with period artifacts, you could get an amazing window into the lives of everyday people. Each new room transported you to a different time. I particularly liked comparing how kitchens evolved because I love food history in general.
There was some last wandering of the streets. I went back and re-shot one of my favorite pieces of street art from the trip thus far: an anit-neo-nazi graffiti. While walking back to my hostel one last time I happened to look across the street just in time to see a little statue on the sidewalk. It was a cast of the Fearless Girl statue that had originally appeared opposite the Charging Bull statue in New York City, which I had gone to photograph last year. "What are you doing here friend?" I literally said out loud as I crossed the street. There are apparently several casts of the statue on display in different cities. What a perfect coincidence to stumble upon it, made all the more sweet with the fact that I was currently a solo woman traveler. She gave me a little bit of silent encouragement and motivation. On to more travel!
After Bergen I headed north along the coast to the tiny village of Vevring. It's about a third of the way up the country, perched at the bottom of a mountain on the edge of the Førdefjorden. The village has one shop, one post office and one elementary school with a total of 12 students.
While there, I got to know a local family. Dagmar, her boyfriend Stein-Torald and their daughter Viktoria live on Dagmar's sheep farm a little outside the village, in a little neighborhood called Stall Gryta. Dagmar's father, Magnar, lives in his childhood house, which is the next farm over and also where Dagmar grew up. The road and tunnels that lead to Vevring from Stall Gryta were built in the mid 1960s. Before that a boat was the main form of transportation instead of cars. The closest shop in the days before the road was directly across the fjord and so Magnar and his family frequented that village more than Vevring. It was interesting seeing how much a road can impact the lives and lifestyles of a community.
When she was 19, Dagmar bought her neighbor's farm and has been a farmer ever since. She now has a collection of sheep, goats, cows, ponies and horses. Both the sheep and cows are a mix of more rare breeds. Dagmar is trying to make her money off of only breeding and supplying these rare animals to other farmers instead of raising them for meat. She would also like to sell the natural colored wool from the old sheep breeds. As a knitter, it was great getting to know the sheep and understand the origins of wool. I even got to see the sheering of the sheep. I look forward to being able to buy rare wool from Dagmar and her beautiful sheep. Her relationship with them is really lovely. She really cares for them, and they obviously adore her.
While in Vevring the village celebrated Carnival and I got the chance to join in. Norwegians, I found, are a lighthearted people with a love of humor and having fun. The small community hall was decked out in a healthy dose of paper decorations and lights. Everyone was dressed in costume, and voted on which was the best. There was dancing and singing and general revery.
Before leaving the village I visited the Ausevika Rock Carvings, which are 3000 years old. There are over 300 of these ancient artworks sprawled across a section of rock right along the water. Deer, spirals and humans are all depicted and still clearly visible when not covered by earth. Unfortunately those that you can see are exposed to the elements and thus in danger of eroding away. There hasn't been enough money raised to build a structure over the rocks to protect them for future generations. Hopefully that will happen sometime in the future.
I left Vevring the day after Easter and traveled back across the country to leave Norway after spending more than 2 months there.
From Bergen I took a day trip into the mountains of the surrounding area. It started with a train ride and then bus to the tiny town of Gudvangen at the end of Nærøyfjord. I enjoyed some delicious Norwegian waffles flavored with cardamom and topped with strawberry jam.
From there I took a ferry through the Nærøyfjord and then on down the adjacent Aurlandsfjord. It was freezing and breezy on board but I was out on deck nearly the entire 2 hours, only going back inside for quick de-thawing stints. Being on the water was magical. The view was breathtaking, with the steep mountains jutting up out of the icy water. The ferry stopped at a couple amazingly remote villages along the way, which I loved getting to see. We traveled to the end of the second fjord, and finally docked at the town of Flåm.
The next leg of the journey was in a vintage train through the mountains to the town of Voss. The retro orange-y train interior was just as much a part of the delightful experience as was the spectacular view out the windows. We snaked high up into the peaks and back down. I loved being able to sit there and soak up the wild landscape. A final train ride from Voss back to Bergen finished off the wonderful day.
After leaving Grimstad I was back to traveling solo and headed to the west coast city of Bergen. This port town was founded in the 1000s and has always been an important center of trade for Norway. You can still see the old wharf houses, known as Bryggen, stand along the harbor painted in yellows, reds and whites, which are now a World Heritage site.
On my first evening I walked to the harbor from my hostel. I found an indoor market that sold mainly seafood and settled in right by the big windows overlooking the water for dinner. I had a salmon sandwich with lemon and aioli. It was super simple, but probably my favorite meal in Bergen. So fresh and so tasty.
The next day I visited the Bergenhus Fortress which stands at the entrance to the harbor. This was the location of the historical royal complex as well as military fortifications to protect the city. Bergen was once the capital of Norway and thus the seat of the king. I was able to enter Haakon's Hall, built around 1260, and used by the monarch for large gatherings. The wooden ceiling and roof have been reconstructed after the structure was damaged by a ship explosion in the harbor during World War II. I had the whole Hall all to myself for a time and it was incredible. What a powerful presence the space had, it was easy to imagine the feasts of Norwegian nobility taking place on the stones I stood on.
I also visited the Fortress Museum, which is entirely about the military history of Bergen and Norway as a whole. There was an incredible exhibit there about the underground resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II. Bergen was the heart of the resistance movement during the time, probably due to it's historically close ties to the UK through shipping routes. I spent a long time reading about the people who risked and sometimes gave their lives. There was a group who worked with the British Secret Intelligence Service forming a radio chain along the coast to pass along information of German construction, weapons and troop movements. Up until the D-Day invasion in France, Hitler had thought that an invasion via Norway was most likely and the German presence along the coast was continually built up and heavily fortified.
After the museums I slowly made my way through the twisting hillside streets of the city, taking in the architecture and street art of which the city has a really amazing collection of. For golden hour I rode the Fløibanen Funicular, a steep one track train, up to the top of the Fløyen Mountain overlooking the city. The view was stunning, as was the walk down.
Finally, I had dinner along the Bryggen at the restaurant Stuene. The fish was fresh and the atmosphere was cozy. Then I headed to bed to get ready for my day trip into the mountains the next day.
kaitlin k walsh
Adventurer armed with a camera.