End of August I went on a fishing trip to a place called Espevær. It’s about 1 1/2 hrs south of Bergen, right out in the North Sea and consists of a larger island with many small islands surrounding it. The open sea is rarely tranquil and storms are frequent. But thanks to a sheltered harbor its been home to fishermen for many years and about 150 people still live there. The main island has a relatively lush interior, but you are never far from the sea.
Taking a stroll around the village only takes a few minutes and another 20 minutes takes you around the main island. The village signpost conveniently points to all the main attractions: the store, the cableferry that crosses the harbor, the old lobsterfarm (a big hangar where they raised lobsters), and the famous UFO ring. This mysterious print in the ground appeared one stormy night in the 70’s and is still visible on the field where a UFO may have landed, no other explanation has been found (yet).
This was not my first visit here, I had also been in here some 20 years ago with my family on a boat trip, but this time I went with a group from my neigborhood association. We stayed in an old cafe, recently converted to a large apartment. A boat was also provided and it was a real no-frills workhorse. So off we went to catch some fish. The catch was mostly lyr (pollock), but also a few makrell and a weird thin fish. The weather was not the best and it alternated rapidly between rain and sun all weekend, thanks to strong winds. Same winds contributed to rough seas and we were limited to fish in the shelter of the smaller islands. We had a local in the group so navigating the treacherous waters was not a problem. But I have never fished under such conditions before and got a taste of the real risk and hardship fishermen face in the North Sea. I am not sure the picture really conveys how rough the sea was, unfortunately I was using the iPhone and it doesn’t do movies. But I had to keep my arm around a pole to avoid falling over while taking this shot!
All in all an exciting trip.
Big Sky Country
Last weekend we went hiking in Rondane, a national park area a few hours north from Oslo. We hesitated a bit because the weather forecast was so lousy all week, but Friday morning we had blue skies and we set off. The drive took us through Lillehammer where we purchased some fantastic silk lakenposer at the local hiking association shop. The lakenpose is the preferred sleeping accessory for Norwegian hikers; a double sheet shaped like a sleeping bag, with a pocket for a pillow. The cabins all have beds with pillows and blankets, so all you need is your lakenpose.
Our base was Rondvassbu, a large full-service cabin, and we arrived just in time for a delicious trout dinner. Not only Norwegians make their way to the mountains, our table had both Germans and Swiss travelers. The place was pretty packed and we got beds in a room with a chronic bedturner and a guy who apparently really wanted to sleep outdoors since he decided to set the window wide open in the middle of the night when it was like -5C outside. At 7 AM there was too much racket to sleep anymore so I went out and snapped the sunrise on the peak behind Rondvassbu. Evidence of the cold night is still on the roofs; winter is always just around the corner in this part of Norway.
On day 2 we set out to conquer Storronden, a peak of 2,142 meters (coincidentally the peak right above Sabine’s head in this photo). It probably doesn’t seem so high compared to what you find in the Alps or Rockies but it’s fairly high for Norway, where nothing rises much above 2,400 meters.
The treeline in southern Norway averages around 1000 meters so when you get above that things start looking pretty barren. Soon our feet had to navigate a vague trail through a landscape of rocks. There is almost no vegetation here, yet we still spotted a lemming scurrying about among the rocks. My mind wandered…
The prevalent organism is Map Lichen, a thin colorful crust that grows on the rocks. This lichen is so hardy it can survive in the icy vacuum of outer space! We, on the other hand, are less hardy and when the weather turned and snow started drizzling we abandoned the peak and headed back to Rondvassbu for warm coffee. With little hope of improved conditions we returned home that evening. A short but intense late summer hiking experience. Takk for turen!
When in Athens
So I was the fortunate winner of an office draw for a free trip to Athens, to see of all things the Champions League soccer finals! And I’m such a huge soccer fan 😉 . It was a fun trip though, but seriously brief (only 2 days!). With one day practically dedicated to soccer there wasn’t much time to do other things. But I got a chance to visit that most famous of famousesses: Acropolis and the Parthenon.
It was raining when we arrived, and the Acropolis tour seemed in doubt. But Zeus smiled on us and the downpour ended promptly as we got off the bus. Guided by an expatriate Swede full of witty anecdotes we ascended the hill. Restorations are ongoing and the whole Acropolis has the feel of a building site, but it’s still impressive. The restorations are done with marble from the original quarry, but the new pieces look quite different in color. Fear not says our guide, a few years of Athens smog and they will be indistinguishable from the rest.
The view from the hill of the city is spectacular, a mixture of ancient ruins and dense urban growth stretches out in all directions. Our guide tells us that Athens has seen a lot of changes as a result of the massive efforts surrounding the 2004 Olympics: improvements in infrastructure and an overall clean-up of downtown areas has modernized the city, leaving some of its grimy charm behind. My limited impression is that it still feels different than the other European cities I have been to, a bit chaotic (traffic is pretty insane), more exotic perhaps.
Must not forget some words about the real purpose of my trip: to watch a soccer game! The teams competing for the cup this year were Liverpool and Milan, and both teams played well but Milan dominated much of the second half and the game ended in their favor without the need for extra time or shootouts.
Thousands of hardcore fans were conveniently seated on each end of the stadium, we had seats in the middle, and the sheer volume of the crowds was amazing. We had the obligatory streaker that ran out on the field during the game, having a blast for about 30 seconds before he was pummeled by security and booted from the stadium.
Practically every rooftop in Athens had one or more of these solar water heaters. Two panels, a tank of water, and lots of sunny weather probably saves Athenians a bundle on heating their hot water.
May is turning out to be travel month. First Cologne, then London, and now I’m on a plane to Athens (more on this later). London was purely holiday, 4 nights visiting friends and sightseeing. First time in the UK for me, was about time to see if all those British stereotypes are true!! Sabine has been a few times before so she was my guide, together with our splendid hosts Fleur, Ian, and Kerima.
We arrive late in the evening, first impressions are big motorways, vast suburban expanse, finely manicured lawns and housing developments. It feels vaguely like the US, yet a little more unkempt. And the houses are all built with dark red/brown bricks. Tired.
Next morning our hosts drop us off at the local train station on their way to work. We wait around a while to get off-peak tickets, trains are so packed during rush hour that you can save a bundle by going later. Trains are modern and streamlined, none of those old carriages where you had a door for each compartment that you always see in movies. We arrive at Waterloo Station, the largest in London with dozens of platforms and connections both far and near. The Eurostar arrives here from Paris, which apparently got one French politician upset, claiming it was “humiliating” for French travellers to arrive at Waterloo! Never mind they are moving it soon to the dreadfully named St Pancreas station.
We rush into the London Underground to get further into town. The “tube” nickname is quite appropriate: the dimensions of the corridors and tunnels are very much tubular, and the train itself is shaped to fit hand-in-glove inside the tunnels. It’s actually quite diminutive compared to other cities subways and feels somewhat claustrophobic, with the walls passing about 2 inches from the window. If you walk into one of the tunnels and meet a train you will be minced meat!
Surprising things about England #1: the British move on the left. I already knew they drive on the left, but was fascinated to see that they also walk on the left side. Trains run on the left side. Escalators, doors, etc anywhere with 2 directions of traffic they move on the left side. Londoner vs tourist showdowns are inevitable 🙂
This week work sent me to Cologne, Germany to attend Telestream training. I had a really nice room at a downtown hotel called the Dorint, a swanky 4 star locale. From my room I had a view of the cathedral and a roman-style building. I later learned it was a swimming pool open to the public! In the background you can see one of the city landmarks, the Colonius tv tower. Didn’t make it up unfortunately.
When our hosts one night invited us for a “traditional” German dinner, I imagined a giant beerhall, complete with lederhosen and lots of sauerkraut. But that didn’t pan out; instead we ended up at a small “artists cafe” called Kleine Glocke (small bell), possibly deriving its name from the street it was on (Glockengasse) and its diminutive size. “Artists cafes” are apparently where German artists disgusted with the large public beerhalls used to go for their beer and sauerkraut. We feasted on a wide range of local specialities, including horse filet (very good), blood sausage, (I heard it was very good), some squishy reconstituted potato balls (initially dubbed horse-testicles), aspargus soup, more potato dishes, and of course varieties of kraut. They also served beer but in surprisingly small 2cl glasses. The glasses were emptied so rapidly that the waitress had an almost constant job refilling the them. And since she did a good job at that the deceptively small glasses quickly led to a good mood around the room.
Speaking of aspargus, the giant white ones were in season and we received a generous helping at almost every meal. Good thing I really like them, enough in fact to bring a kilo with me back home. With all the security fuzzyness at the airport these days I decided to ask when I checked my bag if I could bring them onboard (would be a real crime to toss them at the security checkpoint ). This caused a lot of confusion and several employees had to be consulted before they determined that aspargus on plane is ok.
This machine looks like luggage storage for one bag, but somehow in Tardis fashion manages to ingest thousands of backpacks, suitcases, bags, whatever you place on the tray. Not only that but later you can swipe your card and it actually delivers your bag back. Amazing! 🙂 I picture a giant underground cavern populated by little elves that shuffle luggage around.