Category Archives: Holiday

Living the Norwegian Dream

Change can be fun. During the holidays, instead of working half my shift as an assistant, I worked fully as a vet. From being afraid to consult in a language that is not my mother tongue,  I embraced the reality. It was interesting to contrast the assistant role with the veterinary. When I started out so many years ago, I often wished I had become a nurse instead. The responsibilities weighed heavily. Nurses got to interact with patients almost as much as I did and that was the good part. Yet when it was removed, I found I missed the communication with the clients. The bond between owner and animal can be so strong that it can be difficult to fully know one without the other.

Change can be sad too. Jan-Arne lost his beloved dog Cara last week. How difficult it is to provide support to others when you are walking through devastation. And yet he held his head up bravely. He has always been dedicated.

On Thursday morning, Wivek greeted me with an unusual offer. Would I like to go into Sandnes in the evening she asked. The Sommerbåt was coming.

‘What is the Sommerbåt?’ I asked.

‘It’s a boat that travels round the coast of Norway in the Summer,’ she said. ‘They make a TV show in the places they land. There’ll be a concert,’ she added in a way that suggested that this, after all, was the main attraction.

‘What kind of concert?’ I asked, getting straight to the point, as usual.

‘Umm….. I don’t really know.’ Obviously she hadn’t considered this. It was just an occasion.

Pulling her phone out of her pocket, she pulled up a nugget of information. ‘Ole Aleksander Mæland is singing,’ she announced triumphantly.

It meant nothing to me. ‘Who is Ole Aleksander Mæland?’ I asked.

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I don’t really know. Wait a minute.’ I giggled as she flicked through Google once more. ‘He was on The Voice,’ she said finally.

I stood there for a long moment weighing up my options. I don’t know whether it is a purely Norwegian phenomenon, or whether it is the same in the UK these days, but this was not the first time that the main attraction at an event was a singer whose main claim to fame is that they appeared at some point on a TV talent show. That said, it was an evening out. There might be food. And with Wivek there…

‘Okay then.’ I said. ‘I’m in.’ To my pleasure, she looked delighted. We agreed to go into Sandnes to eat and that we would meet up with some of the other staff later.

And so it was, that at about six o’clock, Wivek and I walked into the Indian Tandoori Restaurant in Sandnes Sentrum. Marita was to meet us there and Jaqueline, who was working till seven, would meet us afterwards. As we entered, one of the waiting staff approached us.

To my surprise, she spoke in English. ‘Is there something you’re looking for?’ she asked Wivek.

This seemed rather bizarre as an opening and I listened with interest to see how Wivek would respond. What did one look for in an Indian Restaurant after all? A naked Hungarian Flamenco Dancer perhaps? Or a pirate ship in full sail? Eventually she spoke.

‘Maybe a table?’ she asked, with what seemed to me to be eminent reasonableness. ‘We will be joined by another person, so a table for three please.’

After a couple of abortive attempts to seat us at tables with only two place settings, finally we found ourselves settled at a table for four. With stomachs that were growling (after all, we had not eaten since the one-o’clock lunchtime meeting) Wivek and I showed remarkable restraint as we were asked several times if we were ready to order. Each time we politely explained we would rather wait for the final member of our party, though we did weaken at one point and order mango lassi (which came almost immediately and was delicious) and an Indian chai tea (which was also good, but for some reason took twenty minutes to make). After half-an-hour or so, Marita arrived and we ordered. The food came in due course and was delicious, truly worth the wait. It was then, lulled into a false sense of security by the excellence of the food and the efficiency of the delivery, that we decided to risk ordering more drinks. By this time, it was just after seven-thirty. There should be just enough time before the eight o’clock deadline for the concert. Anyway, the TV programme itself didn’t start until nine thirty and we might as well wait here until Jacqueline arrived.

The waiter approached. Dispensing (rather rashly as it turned out) with the offer of a menu, I asked whether it was possible to have a café latte.

‘Café latte?’ he repeated back with a smile. ‘Oh yes.’

‘I’ll have that then,’ I said.

‘Me too,’ Wivek chimed in.

‘Was your Chai tea good?’ Marita asked WIvek.

‘Yes, it was nice.’ Wivek nodded decisively.

‘I’ll have one of those then. ‘ Marita smiled at the waiter, who smiled back and disappeared.

While we were waiting, Marita’s phone rang. She answered and spoke for a few minutes, before turning and handing her phone to me with a photo of an x-ray picture.

‘It’s Jan-Arne,’ she said. ‘He’s dealing with an emergency. He wants to know what we think of this dog?’ Turning my head from side-to-side, I tried to address the image. A partial view of a dog’s abdomen, with obvious pockets of gas underneath the skin, it was very difficult to read exactly what was going on because of the angle it had been taken at. It can be very difficult to get a clear photo in a dog  that isn’t sedated. Gradually, handing the phone from person to person, we tried to talk Jan-Arne through the possibilities and how to approach the case.

Whilst the phone was back with Marita, the coffee arrived for me and Wivek. Somewhat to my surprise having asked for a latte, the cups arrived complete with tiny cartons of cream. A quick inspection under the foam revealed what I had suspected: a cup of strong black coffee. This is so much the norm in Norway that I wasn’t really surprised, or rather the presence of the cream was the only unexpected occurrence, because most Norwegians seem to shun the wussy addition of anything that would ameliorate the bitter blackness. Carefully adding all of the cream available, I tasted the cup. After all, it was coffee. It wasn’t worth making a fuss, so long as it was drinkable. The only problem being that it wasn’t. Even with the cream, it was still turbid and unpalatable.

The waiter seemed to be maintaining a careful distance. When he did approach to serve another table, he averted his eyes, perhaps because even though twenty minutes had passed, Marita’s tea was still conspicuous by its absence. Eventually he came over, carefully proffering Marita’s tea and I looked up at him.

‘I actually asked for a latte,’ I pronounced apologetically. It is still necessary for me to be apologetic over everything; even things that are not my fault.  I am British after all and anyway, it is the waiters’ prerogative to spit in the coffee of any person who complains too vigorously. ‘Do you actually do latte?’ This, because I realised the whole thing might just have been a misunderstanding.

‘Oh yes,’ he assured me. ‘We do lattes.’

‘Well in that case,’ Wivek said, ‘can you swap mine as well please?’

He assured us that he would and hurried away bearing the two cups.

Several minutes passed. Jan-Arne, having talked to me, was now discussing the situation with Wivek. It transpired that as well as the very sick dog which had been attacked, there were five more patients now sitting in the waiting room. For a moment, I thought that we should forgo the rest of the evening and rush back to help him, but Wivek had a better suggestion.

‘You should call Dagny,’ she said, having already gone through how to safely sedate a very ill dog. ‘And get back to us if you don’t get through.’ Of course, this made sense. Dagny was closer and could get there more quickly than we could and he needed help as soon as possible.

In the meantime, Kari-Gro had turned up. Kari-Gro used to work at Tu and has now moved to work in Stavanger. Our coffees turned up at around the same time. Despite having a layer of foam on them now, both cups and coffee looked remarkably similar. I tasted it. Wivek tasted hers at the same time as I did and grimaced.

‘Do you think this is actually different coffee,’ I said, ‘or did they just add a layer of foam to the old one?’ She looked down thoughtfully at her cup, then back up at me.

‘Really not sure,’ she said and tasted it again at the same moment I tried mine.

Unhesitatingly, we both reached for the sugar sachets in the middle of the table. Needs must, and to me it seemed unsafe to be seen to be quibbling any further. With three teaspoons of sugar added, the cup did become more-or-less drinkable.

The bill paid, and with Jacqueline now added to our party, we proceeded down to the docks. We had been held up so long, what with the coffee and the phone discussion that it was actually nine-thirty by the time we arrived. The eight o’clock concert was presumably past, but the TV programme was still to be broadcast, and this was show business. The after-party would surely continue for a time. With a feeling of anticipation, we joined the back of the large crowd gathered before the famous Sommerbåt.

Craning my head, I strained to see what was going on. For a fleeting moment, I caught a glimpse of distant people, one of whom seemed to be touting a cello, or possibly a double bass. It really was that far away. Wherever we stood, there seemed to be tall people in front of us. There were screens up on the boat and within a few minutes, the musical diversion, which I hadn’t heard, ended and the stage emptied. People at the front of the audience were clapping and gradually the sound spread backwards and the folk around us clapped along, a few enthusiastically,  some more tentative, as if, like us, they had no real clue what was going on.

I craned my neck again. The two small screens were kind of visible. Now and then some random sound would drift back over the heads of the crowd, rather like the yellow balloons which periodically floated up, accidentally set adrift by inattentive children. There didn’t seem to be anyone on stage now, unless you counted a small boy in blue, who seemed to have climbed up and was jumping up and down. There came a sudden flow of people from the front of the crowd though and we made space for them to pass before Wivek darted forward to take up the space.

More of the programme was filtering through. The TV presenters seemed to be interviewing local people.

‘How does it feel to work in a mountain-bike factory,’ they asked.

‘It was very interesting,’ came the reply, though more detail was again lost as the sound came and went. The small boy on stage had been joined by a group of friends. It dawned on me that the TV programme was not being filmed there, but somewhere out of sight on the boat and we were watching it via what we could see of the TV screens.

Another yellow balloon fluttered upwards with a gust of wind as somewhere or other, a young choir launched into a barely audible version of The Happy Wanderer. There wasn’t much to see on the screen so my eyes took a stroll around the audience that surrounded us. Smiling, if somewhat bemused, they sported warm jackets and scarves for this summer folkfest. The children in the choir paused for a second in their Val-Deris and the hesitant clapping began, only to subside when it became apparent the song wasn’t finished. At the end, the washy tide of clapping and the trickle of home-goers surged. Once more, Wivek made a push towards the front.

And now we could hear everything clearly. As I listened to a woman talking about making clay lamps, I wasn’t sure whether this was really so much of an improvement. Still the people around seemed to be enjoying themselves. In particular the baby in the arms of the woman in front of us seemed utterly enraptured by the sight of the white bead on the string of Jacqueline’s jacket. A woman strolled past hugging a golden retriever puppy. I looked up at the sky as the darkening clouds scudded across the patchy blue and this time a whole tangle of balloons was making a break for freedom. Catching my eye, both Jacqueline and Kari-Gro started to laugh.

We hadn’t been there more than half-an-hour when the programme ended and most of the remaining audience drifted homewards along the dock. We, along with the crowd around us who still hadn’t quite caught up,  continued to push forward, just to see if anything else was going to happen. There was no shoving, no frustration expressed at the smallness of the screens or the paucity of the speakers.They were all so patient. All of a sudden, the situation seemed utterly surreal. ‘So here we are,’ I said to anybody who was listening or perhaps to nobody at all. ‘Here we are, living the Norwegian Dream.’

On the way home, mindful of Jan-Arne and his five sick patients, I took a diversion into the clinic. As I drew up, I counted four cars and with mounting concern , I climbed out and went inside, imagining continuing scenes of carnage. But as I entered the waiting room, there was just one young couple pacing nervously. As I walked into the consulting room, I saw a small dog lying peacefully sedated on the table with Dagny and Jan-Arne bending over  it with Marita (obviously she had the same idea as me) helping. I looked on for a few minutes, watching as Dagny skilfully investigated the dog’s wounds while Marita  disappeared to get the theatre ready. There were enough bodies there, I decided. More than enough skilled hands.

And as I left them there,  that peaceful moment stayed in my head. The quiet discussion under the bright yellow lamplight. Three diverse people, working together as a team. Three colleagues had left behind their evening pursuits to come and help their friend: help an animal in distress rather than leave them struggling alone. And now I knew for certain what I was seeing.Here it was. The real Norwegian Dream.

 

This weeks picture shows Stella and Nila, who came to see Jan-Arne for their first vaccinations.

 

 

 

Plah! A Journey through the Jungle

Last weekend, I was in Oslo. Originally, the plan was to meet my friend and co-author of the Hope Meadows series, Victoria Holmes. Sadly, Vicky became unwell soon before the trip and was unable to come. Charlie very kindly joined me instead for the weekend. Vicky did ask me, however, to record the things I saw and the food we would have eaten. So here is one of my favourite meals of the weekend.

The venue: Plah Thai Restaurant, Oslo

Our waiter for the night was the delightful Sebastian. He was very friendly and spoke excellent English.

I chose the vegetarian option.

The starter came in three parts.

Kaho grab – rice chip

Light rice crisp with flavoursome herb topping

Miang kam – “betel leaf” with pomelo

The stuffed leaf was served on a delicious bed of toasted coconut. I had to stop myself from eating the lot, knowing there was so much more to come

Karipap – Southern Thai samosa with sweet potato and curry

I think this was my favourite part of the whole meal! Crunchy pastry with a delicious filling

 

Then there were four further savoury courses

Kao tod – Rice ball with cucumber and sour mango

Sebastian recommended the rice ball should be crushed, then eaten with the crunchy salad

Gaeng klo wan – Green curry soup with bitter eggplant, fresh bamboo and basil

This was hearty and delicious, with a slightly hot and sour taste

Taohoo – Crispy soft tofu with pepper chilli and coriander

The tofu was perfectly cooked with a wonderful crisp coating. Perfectly contrasted with the colourful salad

Gaeng deng pak op – Baked roots, kale and curry

This was marvellous: sweet chargrilled root vegetables, some soft, some firm, with a delightful curry sauce. Extremely satisfying

Then there were three parts to dessert.

Kanun lae saowaros – Jack fruit and passion fruit

Like miniature tasty smoothies

Som chon – Kaffirlime and pandanus granite

Flavoured ice. Sweet and refreshing

We were offered coffee. My cappucino was as beautifully presented as the rest of the meal

Kanom dok djok – “Rosettebakkels”

This was the most amazing presentation of the evening. The rosette biscuits came under a glass container which had been filled with steam to carry the aroma of the dish to us. It was lifted at the table. There were edible flowers and small chunks of chilli jelly in the glass cover.

The biscuits inside were equally beautiful

And now, all I need to know is, when can we go back! A fantastic evening.

 

Caledonian Canal – A Brief Foray on Loch Lochy and the Return to Base

Loch Lochy on a calm Wednesday morning: a beautiful place to drift as we ate breakfast, having passed down through Laggan Lock in the early light. It seemed less forbidding than the wide expanse of Loch Ness, though it is rumoured to host its own monster, Lizzie. Sadly she failed to make an appearance, so we had to be content with the scenery.

IMG_9927 (2)
No complaints!

We could only spend a short time there, as we had to return the boat on Friday morning, so we turned Eriskay VI’s blunt nose back towards Inverness.

I wish I could share with you the way the sun glanced through the trees that grew right down to the water’s edge and the grace of the swallows skimming through the shadows, but I can only show some photos and you will have to imagine the sense of peace that comes with being close to nature.

IMG_9932

IMG_9937 (2)

IMG_9946

Back in the delightful Loch Oich, the gentle ripples of our boat made wonderful patterns on the water.

IMG_9968

IMG_9971

Back through Cullochy Lock.

IMG_9976

After a second peaceful night at Fort Augustus, we headed back across Loch Ness.

IMG_9990
Leaving Fort Augustus
IMG_0004 (2)
The wind rose as we left the shelter of the narrow glen

We stopped at Urqhuart Bay …

IMG_0024 … and walked into Drumnadrochit, coming across some wildlife on the way.

IMG_0031

IMG_0037

By the time we returned, the weather was deteriorating. The last stretch of the loch was challenging as the boat, though comfortable and easy to steer on the calm canal, was not highly powered for ploughing through the waves.

IMG_0052

Still, we made steady progress. As we approached the entrance to the final stretch of the canal, I was amused to see this boat that made me think of Captain Flint’s houseboat in Swallows and Amazons.

IMG_0056

IMG_0059
Brooding light at Lochend

Of course, there is wildlife everywhere. I felt honoured to be visited by some ducks.

IMG_9981

There were families of them on the grass beside Dochgarroch lock where we spent our last night. It had been a wonderful four nights aboard. Some moments of hard work amongst the glorious scenery, but what remains with me is the peace I find when life is slowed to a walking pace and the modern world is temporarily out of view.

IMG_9918
A rowing boat on Laggan Avenue

 

 

Caledonian Canal – Fort Augustus to Laggan Locks

We have just returned from a trip on the Caledonian Canal. We hired a motor cruiser from Caley Cruisers (I would highly recommend them) for a four night trip. We started from Inverness and cruised the length of Loch Ness on Monday evening. I didn’t get any particularly good photographs that day, though there was a seagull following our boat most of the way, so I snapped him (or her).

IMG_9783

The light was grey and flat, though the scenery was beautiful. Therefore, I will start with day two, when we set off in the morning from Fort Augustus in Eriskay VI:

IMG_9796
Eriskay VI neatly moored on the left. 

I didn’t get a chance to take any photographs of the locking procedure at Fort Augustus. There were five gates in a row, six boats in each lock with us, and we had to pull her through using ropes, so I didn’t have a free hand for my camera, but here is our boat waiting to go through Cullochy Lock, which is not far from Fort Augustus.

IMG_9803 (2)
Coming out of Cullochy Lock with several other boats.

There were a number of swing bridges. I have several photos of the approach to Aberchalder Swing Bridge.

IMG_9805IMG_9807

IMG_9817

IMG_9818

IMG_9819 (2)

Then we were out into the very beautiful Loch Oich. The sun sparkled on the water, but in the distance, the glowering clouds cast their shadows over the mountainside.

IMG_9853

IMG_9847

IMG_9867

We called in at the ruined Invergarry Castle.

IMG_9878

IMG_9900

Through another swing bridge and we were back into the narrower canal. The trees crowded the banks, lending a real sense of isolation and peace.

IMG_9903

We are already back in Norway, but there are more photos to share. I will do so within the next couple of days. Hope you enjoyed these.

Oban, Dunollie and the Seals

We are currently on tour in Scotland. These photographs were taken in and around the Oban area – the first leg of a two week tour.

Robin MacDougall, chief of the DunRobin clan at Dunollie castle
View from the castle ruin

 

Flower of Scotland (well one of them)
Scottish summer skies
Flora MacDougall
Heading out to sea
The seal of approval
Dunollie revisited

And the last word to Robin DunRobin

DunRobin in his summer residence

Palazzi e Piazze – a Weekend in Genoa

Charlie and I have been fortunate to travel to Italy a number of times. On this occasion, we visited Genoa in the Liguria region.

We stayed on the converted fourth floor of an Italian Palazzo. We approached by taxi, which was a hair-raising experience through the tiny streets.

IMG_8719 (2)
We entered our room, to be greeted by this view from the window.

The ancient city of Genoa still hosts a thriving port and the narrow streets of the old town are filled with life.  Gilded churches abound. Prostitutes sit in doorways in the half-light. Threading our way through the maze of cobbled streets, we emerged from dim ravines into sunlit piazze.

IMG_8723
As always in Italy, it didn’t take us long to find a coffee shop. Drawn in by the fragrance, we entered and our eyes were caught by this original coffee machine from the 1950s.

We began to ascend, through wider streets, rising steeply up towards the mountains that embrace the city. Up and up, unable to see past the lofty buildings that scaled the hillside.

Then we emerged to wonderful views of the city and the sea beyond.

IMG_8730IMG_8726

IMG_8742
The city is stunning.

A night’s sleep and then we set off to explore some more.

IMG_8767
We sat and had coffee outside the Cathedral di San Lorenzo.

IMG_8902

IMG_8776
We were unable to resist…

 

At street level, the city is intense, occasionally to the point of seeming almost oppressive. Not so bad in the April sunshine, I found myself wondering how it would feel in the depths of January.

IMG_8805

But as ever, in Italy, food was not far from our thoughts.

IMG_8814
I think this pizza was the best I have ever tasted.
IMG_8843
Similarly, this lasagne was sublime. Because I’ve eaten lasagne so often in Scotland, I had never tried it in Italy. I now know this to have been an error of judgement!
IMG_8914
Tarte tatin… another stand out food moment.
IMG_8856
Down in the market… you smelled this stall well before you saw it!
IMG_8860
Another coffee beside the harbour. Just out of view, a row of millionaire’s yachts.

On the last day, we took the funicular railway up into the hills and walked back down.

IMG_8885

IMG_8895
There were a lot of steps!

And then we were back down into those narrow streets again.

IMG_8900

Deep fried milk for dessert? Who knew?

IMG_8916
Better than bread and butter pudding.

But as always, every trip comes to an end.

IMG_8918
Italian style, right to the end… in the airport lounge.

20th Wedding Anniversary – Barcelona

Again, this is a very belated entry. I wish I had posted sooner. These posts are the nearest thing I have to a diary and already, less than a year later, there are many details I cannot remember. Some of the more memorable things, I didn’t photograph. The rustic food we ate at Bar Casi was not aesthetically pleasing in a way that made me want to take pictures, but the friendliness of the owner, despite a significant language barrier made a lasting impression, as did the flavoursome bean stew.

The Sagrada Familia was, quite simply, the most stunning building I have ever been inside, mainly due to the warmth of the light that poured in through the stained glass, but also in the organic impression of the internal design. I have some pictures of that, but they don’t do it justice.

I’ll start though with the lovely gifts that greeted us on entering the hotel when we arrived.

img_7340
Twenty years – thank you Charlie

Although I describe the Sagrada Familia above as one of the most stunning buildings I’ve been inside, I have to confess that externally, I found the shapes of the towers disconcerting. I suppose it is difficult to adjust to unfamiliar shapes in architecture, though it did grow on me.

img_7344-2
Standing near the Nativity Façade entrance to the Sagrada Familia

 

At the time of posting, the Sagrada Familia is still only 70% complete. It was designed by Antoni Gaudi and has been built using donations. Because of its popularity, work is accelerating and it is hoped the building will be complete by 2026. I would love to revisit.

img_7373
This picture comes closest to showing the astonishing nature of the light that filters in.
img_7367
Looking upwards. The pillars are based on the design of trees. See also the photograph at the top of the page. I have no words to describe the intensity of feeling my visit inspired. Despite the number of visitors, it felt peaceful.

We went up the Passion Tower. Going up in the lift was easy, going down more disconcerting. Despite being relatively fit, my knees were shaking by the time we reached the ground. As well as views over the city, there were glimpses of parts of the construction that you would never see from ground level.

img_7385
Looking out over the city.
img_7409
A long way down

Later, we went out for dinner at Accés Restaurant. The staff could not have been more friendly.

img_7460

img_7435-2
The food was fabulous
img_7465
We were presented with this at the end of the meal
img_7468
I think the barman thought we were hilarious. We may have been very slightly the worse for wear at this point.

The following day, we went on a bus tour. We saw some other buildings designed by Gaudi.

img_7499
To me, this one looked a bit like a gingerbread house

On Sunday, we went to visit Botero’s bronze cat.

img_7509
Fernando Botero’s bronze cat

We sat down and ordered some food.

img_7525
Meatballs in squid ink
img_7520_1
Catalan patatas bravas

I was pleased as I watched, to see that Botero’s cat was one of the most interactive pieces of street art I’ve come across. Everybody seemed to want to touch him. Many went further and climbed onto his back, or boosted their children up onto his tail.

img_7535
I’m not sure he’s anatomically accurate, but he’s certainly a tom

There were trees lining the street and many parakeets flitting around.

img_7545
Monk parakeet

We then wended our way back to the hotel. There were many beautiful buildings. Sadly, this is where my memory fails me as I don’t recall the names of the places we found.

img_7550

img_7555

Sunday’s meal was less of a success. Charlie and I have a history of awful anniversary meals, which is astonishing, considering how much we normally enjoy eating out. I won’t mention a name, but we visited one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Barcelona, supposedly a real food experience. It was an experience, but sadly, for us, the food just didn’t live up to the hype. Still, it wasn’t quite as bad as the salt-flavoured soup and white sliced bread we once had in Bodrum. And unlike that night, we didn’t have to go for a second meal on the way home as we were still so hungry.

My last view of Barcelona is of something that intrigued me in the taxi on the way in from the airport, and caught a passing photograph on the way back.

img_7568-2
Montjuïc cemetery

I understand that in amongst all the graves and mausoleums set into the hillside, there are many fine examples of funerary art.

There are so many reasons to revisit Barcelona and spend longer exploring. A weekend was no time at all to do it justice. One day, we will return.