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Ed Boitano: Lewis & Clark Expidition

the Empress of the North showing its paddlewheel

A Journey Into History
A Look Back at My Favorite Cruise

By Ed Boitano

nce upon a time, the joke among those in the cruise industry was that the cruise vacation was something for the "newly wed" or the "nearly dead." I remember those jokes, as well as a time in my own life when I would be embarrassed to say that I was even going on a cruise. One day it occurred to me-how else could I see seven Caribbean island nations in eight days or explore a series of major Alaskan cities that are inaccessible by road in under a week? I quickly became a champion of the cruise experience. (Sure there was also the pampering, the shows and the endless buffets, but who was I to complain?) Today the cruise industry has exploded to such an extent that there are now options available for everyone from family-friendly and budget cruises to excursions that focus on history, jazz and blues, cooking, ecology, wildlife, and expeditions to places on the planet long considered inaccessible.

the Empress of the North on the Columbia River
Cruising the Columbia River on the Empress of the North

a painting of Sacagawea

Recently my 14-year-old niece demanded in her own special way that I name what was my favorite cruise experience. I finally succumbed, but explained to her first that everyone's concept of favorite is subjective. She in turn explained to me that I never refrained from saying the obvious. Sadly, the Empress of the North is now on hiatus, with an uncertain future. But my memories of this incredible voyage on the Columbia River still color my thoughts. So, here you go, kid; below is my story of my favorite cruise.

Her name was Sacagawea (Su-keg-u-wee- u), but few people know her by that name. In the massive eight-volume text, the ‘Original Journals of Lewis and Clark,’ Meriwether Lewis spelled the heroic Lemhi Shoshone woman’s name seven different ways, but never once Sacajawea (Sa-ka- ju- wee- a). William Clark kept it simple, referring to the 16-year old mother as either the ‘Injun’ woman or ‘squar.’ I found this to be an interesting piece of trivia. Of course, I like history. I also like river cruising on authentic sternwheelers, breathtaking scenery, luxurious accommodations and world-class regional cuisine.

portraits of William Clark and Meriwether Lewis
The Lewis and Clark Expedition - 1805

In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead an expedition across the continent to find the fabled Northwest Passage, which would connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, creating a trade route to America’s east. Between October 1805 and May 1806, Lewis and Clark led a courageous team of 33 men on the expedition.

map of Lewis and Clark's 1804-1806 expedition


Lewis and Clark with Sacagawea, detail from Lewis and Clark at Three Forks, oil painting by Edgar Samuel Paxson

Along with the French trapper, Charbonneau, his wife, Sacagawea, and their baby son, Jean Baptiste, they journeyed to what would become Washington and Oregon States. They failed to find the Northwest Passage, but in their epic journey discovered a land of mysterious native peoples, unique wildlife, lush coastal forests, fertile valleys, glacier-capped mountains and white-water rapids. They also discovered the trials of mosquitoes, storms, grizzlies, starvation, exhaustion, and skirmishes with the Blackfeet Indians. Never the less, against immeasurable hardships, they completed their journey, and following Jefferson’s request ‘to be his eyes and ears;’ they meticulously detailed everything they found in massive journals – regarded collectively today as a national poem for our young country.

Sacagawea served as an interpreter for the group and showed them eatable plants and other sources of nourishment. She also acted as a buffer when the expedition encountered potentially unfriendly native tribes, letting the people know that the group had come in peace. She traveled over 4500 miles by foot, canoe, and horse - all while carrying her baby on her back! Without her, the Lewis and Clark expedition might have failed.

the Empress of the North viewed from Hayden Island, Oregon with the Interstate 5 Bridge in the left background

Empress of the North - 2005

Seeing an authentic sternwheeler today on the banks of the Columbia River outside of Portland, Oregon, is a surprise akin to witnessing an Alaskan fishing boat meandering down the Mississippi River. But my eyes had not deceived me. The Empress of the North is one of only two overnight sternwheelers built to cruise American’s western waterways in more than 80 years. Owned and operated by American West Steamboat Company, the designers have blended the timeless elegance of the 1800’s paddle wheelers with state-of-the-art technology and all the modern amenities one would enjoy on a larger luxury ship. The three story high paddlewheel fully propels the vessel at a leisurely cruise pace of up to 10 knots. Another surprise was having what appeared to be all 84 staff members, clad in Mississippi steamboat attire, in front of the boat greeting guests as they arrived. With a capacity of 235 guests, that’s a 1 to 3 staff to guest ratio. It occurred to me that that was 51 more staff persons than on the entire Lewis and Clark expedition. Ours was going to be comfortable voyage!

Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia, a painting by C.M. Russell

Paths of the Explorers

On the Paths of the Explorers one shares in the bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark’s trailblazing exploration - quite literally walking where they walked and seeing what they saw over 200 years after their historic journey. In the seven-day adventure, one cruises nearly 1,000 miles round-trip from Portland. The waterways were the Columbia, Willamette and Snake Rivers. Not only do you cruise through history, but you also experience the breathtaking natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest and its numerous attractions.

John Borneman - Your Ship Historian

Reading the Lewis and Clark journal and seeing locations from their expedition is one thing, but to see it through the eyes of a historian makes it an even richer experience, particularly when that historian is John Borneman. Throughout the journey, Mr. Borneman points out campsites, expands on segments of Lewis and Clark’s journals, and provides a background to help you understand what the men were thinking each step of their journey into this unknown world. In his lectures, conducted in one of the ship’s lounges, he focuses on the human drama of the expedition. These insights are easily one of the highpoints of the cruise.

Coach Tour Highlights

Each morning a luxurious motor coach, with wheelchair access, waits outside the vessel to take guests to the day’s attractions. One of the stops is Multnomah Falls, a spectacular 620-foot-high waterfall, and the second highest continuously flowing waterfall in America. The group is given plenty of time for photos and to take the 30-minute roundtrip hike to the top of the falls, if desired.

For the engineer in the group, there is the Bonneville Dam Visitor Center, where one learns about the workings of the massive turbine generators behind this imposing hydroelectric power source. At the fish ladders, glass-viewing areas display migrating salmon in season.

Nez Perce teepees in Montana, 1871

An excursion to Walla Walla features tours of the Fort Walla Walla Museum and a local winery. One may also explore the Whitman Mission, site of an Indian massacre in 1847, where 11 settlers were killed. Actual ruts left by Oregon Trail wagons can still be seen.

For the thrill seeker, there is a jet boat excursion into Idaho’s Hells Canyon National Recreation Area -- the deepest canyon in North America. The boats slow down to allow viewing of ancient Indian petro glyphs, wildlife and unique landscape formations.

Later, a stop at the Nez Perce (aka Chopunnish) Tribe Interpretive Center gives one a perspective on the tribe’s fascinating history and culture.

smoke billowing from crater of Mt. St. Helens

A stop at Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument offers a great opportunity to view an active volcano, witnessing the continual geological process and the landscape’s evolution since the 1980 eruption. At the nearby Observatory and Interpretive Center, one may look directly into the crater with its steaming dome, and witness firsthand the destructive power and damage caused by this volcanic blast. Views of the mountains and the crater may vary due to weather and volcano conditions.

The journey goes full circle for a tour of Fort Clatsop, just outside of Astoria, where the Lewis and Clark expedition made camp during the bleak winter of 1805-06. Named for the neighboring Clatsop tribe, the original fort fell into disrepair in 1955, and a replica was built on the original site, following Clark’s own sketches. There is a Visitor Center with two theaters, an exhibit hall and interpretive programs.

Back on Board the Empress of the North

For those seeking a luxurious cruise experience, the Empress more than fits the bill. The vessel features two lounges, live showboat entertainment and the usual Welcome Aboard Cocktail Reception and Dinner Party with the Captain. Gracefully appointed staterooms feature spacious bathrooms, televisions with VCRs or DVD players. All staterooms offer sweeping river views, and most have private verandahs.

Northwest Regional Cuisine

If you’ve been disappointed in the past that your meals were not thematically consistent with your cruise destination, you will be pleasantly surprised by the cuisine on this vessel. The bounty of the Pacific Northwest is well on display in meals from the Empress’ kitchen. The chef uses fresh vegetables and fruits, locally raised meats and Pacific fish and seafood. Menus include everything from Dungeness Crab Cakes Benedict, herb rubbed Ellensburg lamb, and Tillamook cheddar cheese soup to smoked salmon, grilled halibut and scallops.

1999 $1 commemorative coin featuring the image of Sacajawea with her child

I found it curious that the journal said the Lewis and Clark group tired of eating the abundant salmon that swam in the pristine waters below them. At the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, where the group paused in 1805 and 1806, the Nez Perce Tribe introduced them to the eating of dog. Lewis and his men loved the flavor and began trading goods for live dogs. Clark, however, found this to be repellent, and made sure his own beloved pet dog was always within his sight.

Post Script

I had hoped one day to do the same voyage again, but this apparently will never be. Like most great art, my experience on the Empress of the North is now a moment out of time – but I will carry the memories of this historical voyage for the rest of my life.

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Let Ed know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for "Spokane, Pullman and the Palouse"

Loved the Spokane article – my mom was born there and my grandparents are interred there. Haven't been back in decades.

--- Nancy, Hawaii

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Feedback for "Norway's Fjords"

Hi Ed. I was just reading your great story about traveling through the Norwegian countryside and the voyage along the coast - sounds amazing. I’ve been to Oslo, but definitely would like to return to Norway one day to explore exactly what you wrote about.


--- Sasha H.

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Feedback for "In Search of Movie Locations In the Land of Aloha"

Mahalo for your article on Hawaii film locations. You should check out our new "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book" at:

--- Ed Rampell (Co-Author), Los Angeles, CA

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Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

--- Christian Louboutin, U.K.

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Cool site.

--- Donna Namaste', San Francisco, CA

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Great work as always.

--- S. Wyatt, Seattle, WA

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Hr. (Danish for sir) Ed,

Thanks so much for your article on Copenhagen, DK...loved it! Very well done actually I used to live in Christianshavn (just next to Christania) and Danish is my second language.

You really did a quite grand job and pulled me ALL of the way into your analogy and experience from my other home.

Just one detail that I thought might have been included.....the bakeries & cheese shops in the mornings in nearly every 5 or so blocks as they waft the incredible hypnotizing aromas of those amazing Danish specialties.

I most especially and absolutely love the fact that you included the "hyggeligt" element...wonderful!!

Another aspect of the Danish language that I have found interesting is that we only cuss to devil rather than the more typically religious icons and that love (elsker) is only very rarely used.

All-in-all you have me totally on your team and I will always look forward to your future writing.

Med venlig hilsen...(with kind regards).

--- Breeze

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Hi Ed,

Thank you for your article on the Cherokee Nation. I really appreciate the historical perspective and recognition of their contribution to American culture.

--- Nora Weber, British Columbia

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Another cool issue. You da' man. One question: Is that Mark Lindsay on the front page?

--- Brent, Seattle, WA

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This would be a fascinating place to visit. There is so much history within our reach that we don't often acknowledge in more than a token way. I am wondering if any individual or group has ever gone on a vision quest, or perhaps a memorial march, by retracing the path of the Trail of Tears? This would be a painful journey, for most, I imagine.

--- Sandra, Seattle, WA

Osiyo! From Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism: What a great description of Kauai! The pictures are awesome and I loved reading your travel report! Keep pushin' on!

--- Lisa Long, Tulsa, OK

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I'm getting hungry again just reading your article! It's hot today and I could really use a shave ice right now.

Hope you're having a great day!

--- Melissa, Honolulu, HI

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Thanks so much for sharing! Wow. The beauty even from the few pictures here and your descriptions is breathtaking... I can't even imagine being there for real! The food looks and sounds exquisite, I'm not sure my kind of exquisite, but I do like to be adventurous on occasion :).Quite the story there.

--- Emily, Boise, ID

Great pictures!

--- Anna Harrison, Palmdale, CA

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Tough job, Ed! Thanks for sharing.

--- Brenda Hughes, Richland, WA

Ed, Tim from the team of Jack and Tim - Star Clipper. Great trip. Always enjoy your postings.

--- Tim & Jack, Washington DC

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Hi Ed,

I really enjoyed your story on the Empress of the North. I was an Assistant Cruise Director aboard her in 2004, and you gave me a treasured walk down memory lane with her.You might know this, but if not .... you can cruise the Columbia again late this summer and early fall. The Empress' sister boat, the Queen of the West, was purchased by American Cruise lines and will offer a Columbia River itinerary which almost mirrors the one my Empress used to travel. Just thought you'd like to know.

--- Paul Penta, 2004 Assistant Cruise Director, Empress of the North, Copperas Cove, TX

Ed, you are by far the most interesting of all the Boitanos. Your coverage is extensive and captivating. It's a real treat to read your blogs. Your article on the Baltic Sea Nations is no exception. But don't get me wrong, the other Boitanos have their own charm and perspective. Thanks for all your articles. I can see it's a work of art. I just now noticed your Dog Quotes --- what a great collection! Keep up the good work. Keep on sharing your travels! This is better than the more popular travelogues.

--- Peter Paul, South Pasadena, CA

Hi Ed,

How's life? Hope all's well in sunny Cal.

Having just received the latest issue of the Traveling Boy newsletter I popped back over to your site to take a look around and came across this article which I had not previously read:

Loved it! First of all, this is a part of the world that I absolutely adore so reading about it is always a pleasure. Secondly, I'm happy to see you crossing things off your Buck with such gusto! Myself, I have already been to Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen, and Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Moscow are all on my Buck. After reading through the article I reminded once again why!

One of my favourite lines in the piece is:

"Granted, eight to twenty-fours in world-class cities like Helsinki and Tallinn hardly does them justice, but a sketch is always better than a blank canvas."

So very true. I'll take a sketch over a blank canvas any day! Besides, sketches often lead to full-blown paintings anyway.

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this story. Hope there are many more fun adventures awaiting you soon!


--- Ashley, Toronto

Thanks for a great trip, Ed - such a comfortable way to travel, particularly to several cities i knew very little about. I've had only one sea voyage - crossed to G.B. on the United States in the early 60s - no balconies, etc. on that ship, as she was prepared to be stripped down to carry troops in event of WWIII, but still luxurious in her own way.

Bumped into a documentary recently on PBS re the old lady who is now docked in Philadelphia, I believe with peeling paint on her sides and funnels and of course the interior stripped and auctioned off of everything...periodic moves to rehabilitate her, but so costly people back off. She was the largest and fastest - still is. Her record was 3 days crossing - we did it in a little over 5 (cruise speed I guess!). They showed regular passengers like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who happened to be on board when I was, as well as gazillions of stars who traveled on her. Charles Boyer was the only one on my crossing - we were alone in the library one time, but I didn't say anything. He looked immersed in his pursuit of a book. The Windsors were tiny little people, as was M. Boyer (and this comment from a 5'2" observer!). How's that for an ancient history lesson? Anyhow seeing the ship like she is now made me almost teary - surprised myself somehow.

--- Brenda Hughes, Richland, WA

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I loved this article!! Kept me in rapt attention, felt like I explored part of the world myself ;) nice way to start my day, sounds altogether amazing and unforgettable!

--- Emily, Boise, ID

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Great writing!! Reading, education and fabulous locations! All around WOWS!

--- E Dava, Burbank, CA

What a wonderful assortment of travel destinations. I have always been drawn to islands, and as a Pacific Northwesterner, dream from time to time about settling in the San Juans someday (like a lot of us here visualize for ourselves). Hopefully, travel will occur before this particular dream comes to pass. I enjoy reading about the connections you have with the places you write about. I will visit that fishing village in Norway, someday, just because of the photograph. Who wouldn't, after seeing it. Thanks, Ed

--- Sandee, Seattle, WA

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Another great edition!

--- CG, Central California Coast

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Hi Ed,

I sailed into Sooke on my way to port Ludlow from Portland, Oregon in my sailboat few years back. It was interesting port. The entry is snake like channel with local fisherman's local markers only to guide you into the port.

--- Larry, Portland, OR

Wow. I want to go to Vietnam! It's beautiful! Those are amazing pictures!

--- Archie, Pasadena, CA

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Kudos to Mark Twain. He knows how to honor a dog, and kudos to Cedric for all he was and still is and kudos to you for another edition of www.traveling Peace and Love,

--- Joel, Pasadena, CA

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Ed, I really enjoy your traveling adventures. Your stories are so well written and the photographs are amazing. Thank you for letting us in on your adventures. You bring the adventure to those of us who aren't able to go. Thank you.

--- Cheryl, Pismo Beach, CA

Amazing story and pictures. To think that 40 years ago we were all terrified at the prospect of going there... what a difference a few decades makes. Fantastic article!

--- Roger, Puyallup, WA

Thanks for your expert insight, Jeremy. Have you ever lived in New York? Don't tell me you are one of those tourists or former transplants. It's a very different experience when one lives here. Unlike Los Angeles, there really is a sense of community. New Yorkers love and care about their city... and, yes, their neighbors too.

--- Lisa - New York, NY

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NY sucks. It's now nothing more than a Disneyland version of its former glory. It city filled with tourists and transplants, and no longer the center of the universe. The WEST is the best. Everyone is moivng to the Coast. Even NY fashion designers check out the LA street scene before launching their new designs. Plus no one in NY knows real pizza. Take a trip to Naples sometime and try the real thing.

--- Jeremy - Los Angeles, CA

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The economic boom is what drove all the changes in New York. The mayors were in the right place at the right time, and to their credit, handled things well. It's easier to clean up the city and cut crime when you have more money to spend. The economic outlook for New York is bleak now with unemployment going up. Bloomberg already is short money and will be cutting services across the board. If things don't turn around, people may not be as friendly in a few years.The idea that New Yorkers are not nice is just a myth; people in L.A. are much more distant and shut-off.

--- Michael, Native New Yorker

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I think that overall, Manhattan has become friendlier in the last few years, not sure why but don't think Giuliani or Dinkins can take credit. There was definitely a surge of NYC solidarity following 9/11, and Giuliani was extremely popular during that period. When he supported Bush so strongly in the election that followed, his popularity plummeted, though. Bloomberg has definitely done a good job with making a lot of bike lanes, blocking off large areas of what was previously street and putting tables and chairs for pedestrian use. Not sure how this economic downturn will affect local attitudes, though....

--- Sue, New York

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This is the best. Keep them coming.--- Paul Ash

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Ed, thanks for putting the Holland button on your site.

By the way, your images really work! I opened the newsletter and was immediately tempted to click on an article. Love it. And also love the fact I can click on images in the articles to enlarge them. The short headline on the image makes me curious. Well done.

--- Bianca Helderman

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Thanks Ed, for this delightful view of this wondrous city! The first time I traveled with a husband to NYC years ago, it was for an Orchestral Conductor's conference. We lived in Newfoundland at that time, so you can imagine my shock of coming from isolation to the big apple!My heart began beating as I looked out of my hotel window at the figures of humans below, scurrying like ants, I was up so high. It wasn't the height, rather, the invisible buzz, that urgently beckoned me to go outside! But when I reached the sidewalk, the rush of pedestrians made me wonder "where's the party?" Friendly? Yes! I lived in NYC for 5 years with a later husband and loved every minute! Being an artist, I could not relax enough to paint, so I took up acting and worked with "Children In Need" a charity, instead and partook of everything NY had to offer from opera and Off Broadway plays and such to ballet and wholistic healings....a city full of everything one could imagine! I truly love NYC and years later am grateful to live in a quieter area of California so I may relax and paint and do my healing work...going back only to visit my delightful haunts. There is nothing like NYC!.

--- Yoka, Westlake Village, CA


Great issue. Well done. They keep getting better! --- Grace Conlee Micetich, San Diego, CA

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I loved all of the traveling news! It’s good to know you are still out there in the world. --- Judy Vincent


Thanks for getting me back on the Traveling Boy newsletter mailing list- I have missed it!

I do believe we need contributions of the ‘road less traveled’ in the US for those of us whose feet never leave the ground… Ahhhh… the Badlands... Two Medicine in Glacier… the Lava tubes in central Oregon… my next destination wish: Monument Valley.

--- Lorrie Sjoquist

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The photos and descriptions of this trip are wonderful. I love the idea of the slowed down pace of the train. Kind of a throwback to the "good old days." --- Larry Lombard, Puyallup, WA

I think you outdid yourself with the "Two Cities" article. I'm ashamed to admit that I knew so little about these two cities. I learned so much. Your article was jampacked with very interesting trivia. Surprised the Jazz greats and Walt Disney came from practically the same area. And those pictures --- especially the WWI museum --- what an incredible shot --- almost like out of somebody's Satyricon dream. Bravo!

--- Rod, Glendale, CA

What a great article! --- Michelle, Torrance, California


The photos are spectacular. I can envision many a romantic novel inspired by these majestic sceneries. Makes me want to do a little more research on Norway. John Lenon must have been one of the converts when he wrote "Norwegian Woods."
--- Peter Paul, South Pasadena CA

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Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to write. Indeed, Norway was paradise on earth, and I dream of returning again and again. You had a funny line about John Lennon being so inspired by the beauty of Norway that he composed the song, "Norwegian Wood." If I'm not mistaken, his reference to "Norwegian Wood" is just that: an inexpensive pine wood from Norway that was becoming popular in the UK. I did read somewhere, though, that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was inspired by Norwegian fjord trek.

Thanks again… and please keep writing.



Reading Peter's implication that "Norwegian Wood" was based on a trip that John Lennon took to Norway led me to do some research.

According to Paul McCartney at a press conference in Los Angeles: 'Peter Asher [brother of McCartney's then-girlfriend Jane Asher] had just done his room out in wood, and a lot of people were decorating their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It was pine, really, just cheap pine. But it's not as good a title, is it, "Cheap Pine"? It was a little parody, really, on those kind of girls who, when you'd get back to their flat, there would be a lot of Norwegian wood. It was completely imaginary from my point of view, but not from John's. It was based on an affair he had. She made him sleep in the bath and then, finally, in the last verse, I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as a revenge. She led him on and said, "You'd better sleep in the bath." And in our world, that meant the guy having some sort of revenge, so it meant burning the place down....'

Of course, just cause it's on the 'net doesn't mean it's true.

--- Jeff M, Tacoma, WA

Weird piece on Copenhagen (Cosy in Copenhaggen). Do you think now that Keefer’s in the slammer in Glendale for DWI he’s experiencing any hygge? I bet some of those jailbirds would like to see how touch he is.

--- Adam S., Glendale CA

I loved your intro and the way you set up the article. It immediately set the tone of an action-paced adventure. I imagined Annette as a spy in a trenchcoat feeding you top secret information. I'm surprised you didn't get lost. Do they speak English over there? Are the street signs in English? Does a GPS work over there?

I never heard of "hygge" but, like you, I think I've felt that sensation everytime the cold wind blows here in South Pasadena, CA. When I sit beside a warm fire, sipping my hot chocolate, I will remember this article. Thanks!

--- Peter Paul, South Pasadena, CA

Stay tuned.

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