Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wrap it up

I didn't really post much this trip because most of the time I was in areas that had no internet, and when I did have it, I was pretty busy or pretty exhausted.  I squeezed a lot in during this trip in a short amount of time.

When reaching Narvik, it was so beautiful, as the train pulled into the station.  The last couple of hundred of kilometers was breathtaking, with large snowy mountains and deep fjords with the deepest steel blue water I ever did behold.  The young German mountaineer in the dining car was holding court and he informed us that this mountain range is actually part of the Appalachians in the USA.  Whether this is true or not, I have no idea, but it sounded interesting enough.

After offloading my things, I wandered around Narvik for a bit.  It is an interesting "city" but more like a fishing village that has now grown and modernized over the years.  Locals told me that Nazi Germany had a naval station there, and other interesting tidbits of information.

I had the one night to view the lights, and I was anxious for that.  The local people told me it may be possible that night, since it was supposed to become clear at midnight.  The lights usually were best viewed between 2 and 4 a.m., so I knew I would be in for a long night.

I stayed up like a sentinel on watch on the roof of the resort, waiting and waiting.  Nothing.  Around 2 a.m.  I saw what looked like a faint green glow in the sky, and I began to wonder if my eyes were playing tricks on me, because I wanted to see these Northern Lights, and they were a no show.  This glow of green kept pulsating and disappearing for the next 45 minutes.  Then, at around 3 a.m., the green lights grew and expanded, with a long green line forming in the center of the sky.  It pulsated and wriggled like a holographic snake, and then long, yellow pulsations and hints of orange and red came forward all at once.  It was beautiful and so exciting I was overwhelmed:  The lights had arrived!!  I sat and watched them for a minute or so, completely enrapt, and forgetting all else.  I felt such a strong connection to the universe at that moment, it brought tears to my eyes.  And, I totally forgot about my camera.  I snapped to it, and grabbed up my camera, and just as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone.  I had missed my opportunity to photograph them.  I sat there and laughed at the irony.

So, the crazy person on the roof, waiting for the lights to arrive like a acolyte waiting for a UFO, had missed the money shot.  I began to laugh and laugh, but I didn't care.  *I* had seen them, and nothing else was really important -- whether or not I photographed them was really not the point of the journey.  It was to personally witness them, and I had.  Mission accomplished.

The mountains of Norway

So, I was elated but tired.  I headed to bed and slept for about 4 hours, and then had to vacate and head back to the train station to go back to Stockholm.  I checked onto the train, and was shown back to a sleeping car, and I immediately fell asleep for hours.  The rhythmic rocking of the trsin put my to sleep like a baby, and I woke up and it was, of course, dark.  I headed to the restaurant cart, got myself a light meal and some dessert, and then headed back to my compartment, and just lay in the bed listening to the roar of the wind, and watched the snow swirling by at light speed.  The whistle of the train was the most soulful sound, calling across the long, empty stretches of snow covered land, out to the reindeer, out to the unknown denizens of that dark land, and every now and then there was the eerie yet comforting sound of ghost-like voices.  It sounded as if there were children laughing out in the darkness, and yet, that was a sweet sound and not something scary.  It was strange yet not in a bad way.  I listened a while, and then fell back to sleep.

I woke up and had arrived in Stockholm. The country side of Sweden is also very beautiful, somehow reminding me of home when I saw the pine trees that lined the farmlands.  I hopped off at Central Station, and immediately went and stowed my luggage and headed out.  I walked along the streets of old Stockholm or "Galma", and was very intrigued. It was very quaint and filled with people, and you feel the "Christmas" in the air.  It is "Black Week" in Sweden and Norway-- their equivalent to "Black Friday".

There was a choir of singers on the steps of one of the beautiful cathedrals, and they were singing very heavenly Christmas hymns, and I listened to them for a few songs, and then went to find a coffee and sweets shoppe.  This is not hard, since cafe and sweets are a Swedish specialty!  I tucked into a delightful little nook of a shop, and had a latte and a chocolate cake.  It was like a chocolate mousse with coconut shavings on it, and it was very good.  After sitting there a while and warming up, I moved on, going through the whole quarter in a loop, and trying to see as much as I could in the few hours I had there.  By around 2 pm, I had complete my tour, and headed back to the Central station to pick up my luggage, and head to my hostel.

The train ride from Stockholm to my hostel was almost an hour (I had made sure I took one close to the airport), and it was a really nice ride through the city and out into the suburbs of Stockholm.  I reached my destination, and stood there for a moment, confused.  Why had I been dropped off in front of an old Jumbo jet?  I looked across the street and saw the Radisson, and other chain hotels, and looked around again.  Great.  Where the hell was this place.  I stood there, disgruntled, for a moment, until I saw a young blonde guy with a backpack walke by.  He walked slowly up the path to the Jumbo jet, and then up the steps that led to the door.  It dawned on me suddenly, "Is THAT the hostel?"  I just started laughing.  "you've got to be kidding me!".

I walked up the path, and yes, sure enough, it was the hostel.  It was a converted Jumbo jet, called, duh, "Jumbo".  I knew I needed some coffee!  I stood at the bottom of the jet, and there was a cargo lift up.  I rode the lift, and came to the reception desk, that said, "shoes off please" and "Welcome".  The young lady at the desk was wearing a flight attendants' uniform.  She smiled warmly, and processed my reservation.  She then showed me to my "cabin".  I was delighted.  It was a most comfortable little room, with a very comfortable queen sized bed, overhead luggage bin, additional sleep space or storage above, a flat screen tv, and other little comforts, including a sweet smelling goosed-down quilt.  I was very impressed.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


So, it's been an interesting journey so far.  The central station in Stockholm is beautiful all decorated for Christmas.  The train ride from Stockholm to Narvik was long but what a ride...the wind howling outside in the vast stretches of tundra, the caribou in the snow, the beautiful little villages nestled into the snowy enclaves like something from a Christmas movie.  Just amazing.

It was tough initially.  I was overexhausted, and my plane had arrived late.  This caused considerable stress as I had to make it to city center and board within a half an hour, and that did not seem possible.  I shelled out the extra $35.00 for the high speed rail, and made it nearly to the minute.

After boarding, I was shown to a sleeper coach, with four other women in it.  I am usually shy of strangers, so this was another somewhat stressful thing, as I was assigned to a top bunk.  I considered sleeping out in the regular seating, so I would have easier access to a water closet rather than climbing over four other people, but the women departed suddenly after midnight to one of those barren, Arctic stops, and I was left on my own in blissful peace.

The next morning, we chugged along at top speed, winding our way from Sweden to the Norwegian border.  Some friendly German tourists, as well as couple from India, gave out advice as to where it was best to see the lights, but that would not divert me from our prescribed course.  The idea of being stranded on one of those lonely, frozen stations was terrifying.

So, we arrived in the town of Narvik in the early afternoon, and had several hours of sunlight.  The temperature was 6 degrees C above freezing, but reports said, "feels like -6".  It really didn't feel that bitterly cold, so we were able to walk around the city a little bit, but we didn't make it too far.  It wasn't the cold or wind, but the fact that the entire city was a sheet of ice!  Apparently, they had freezing rain before the train arrived, and the walking conditions were treacherous.  The idea of busting my ass in Narvik was not pleasant, and drove us into a Chinese restaurant, where we were able to enjoy a warm meal of Norwegian Chinese food, which is not altogether different from Chinese anywhere else.  A bowl of egg drop soup, that was somehow modified to include some chicken and corn in it (I know, sounds strange but was oddly good) and a steaming cup of green tea, and then back to the hotel to do a little catching up.

This area, actually all of Norway, is hideously expensive, and to make matters worse, there is a 25% tax on everything.  So, I will NOT be enjoying much of the food or anything else here, because I refuse to pay $75 for a small meal that doesn't even include some kind of alcoholic beverage, since I am a tea drinker.  Hell no.  It's just the principle of it.

So, that's it for now.  Waiting to see if Aurora shows up soon :-)

Friday, November 18, 2016


"Kiwi" by Hilary J. England, 
3" x 3" x 2" oil on canvas, 2016

Well, another fruit painting to add to my series.  I was a bit amped up today, because tonight I leave for the North Pole, so this helped to keep me focused and centered!  I am looking forward to the next week of Northern lights and the Polar Express, and then coming home and enjoying Thanksgiving!  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Marker

"The marker" by Hilary J. England
oil on canvas, 8" x 10" 2016
It's been a long few weeks, packed with excellent things, and the not-so-good, and the downright sad. All of this whirlwind of activity has left me a bit disoriented, as if I was rolled by a wave on the beach.  I am trying to get back to some semblance of normalcy again, now that the babies have all arrived, memorial plans are established, and my own health has been stabilized (hurt my bad knee) and I can just take a moment to breath. 

I was able to get outdoors for a little while and just settle and think.  I saw this scene, on the outskirts of the local memorial park, and it was peaceful and reflective and appropriate given that it was Veteran's day, and all that has ensued in the last few days with the Presidential election, etc.

It just felt good to be back to plein air working.  I have been pretty tied up with inside work, including working away on my Master's degree coursework, so things are pretty busy, and a moment to reflect is always lovely.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016


"Blueberries" by Hilary J. England, oil on canvas, 3" x 3" x 2", 2016
I decided to go out and do some plein air painting since today happens to be Election Day, and to be honest, I just don't want to think any more about this election -- whatever happens after I vote is out of my hands, so why get all worked up about it? It is beyond my control. 

So, I went to go drive to a nice spot and just do some painting in this gorgeous weather and lo and behold, I realized all of my gear is in my Subaru, which also happens to be out by my Dad, getting the brakes done.  So, rather than getting irritated, I decided to make lemonade from the lemons situation, and add to my still life collection of individual fruit paintings.

I found what's left of some decent blueberries on the bush (they were beginning to shrivel, but some were still nice) and decided that would be my next fruit.  I was able to get this one done pretty quickly, about an hour or so, and I still feel better than I would have if I had hung around all day like a wraith watching the Election debacle unfold on one of the those terrible news outlets.  So, it was a win-win all around for me.


Friday, November 4, 2016

A quiet moment

"A quiet moment" by Hilary J. England
18" x 24" oil on canvas, 2016

I finished this as a gift to someone very special to me, and these little people are very special too!. This photo needs to be adjusted, because there is a lot missing due to glare and well, just because it was taken on an iPad in crappy lighting.  I will rephoto it with my professional camera in the next few days.  It will be fun to compare the "before" and "after" photos.

I like doing off-beat "portraiture" because I find traditional portraiture absolutely boring...but that's just me, and not meaning to impugn anyone that adores it.  I just find it done over and over and over, and kind of sappy sweet or paintings that don't hold my attention.  They could be technically accurate, but for some reason, again, I find them boring.  I like trying to catch things a little more impromptu, like a moment in time that you can think about and smile and say, "Yes, I remember that day!" or "I remember when the kids were doing that!" or some such sentiment. 

I hope the gift is enjoyed :-) <3

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