Category Archives: Holiday

Honningsvåg and Departure

Anna and I visited the small Nordkapp Museum on the afternoon of our last day in Honningsvåg. It concentrated mostly on relatively recent history, though it was fascinating to see that being close to the ocean meant that trade routes here allowed this distant arctic region to be colonised early as the ice from the last ice age retreated, long before other regions which nowadays would be considered as hubs for movement and trade.

There were one or two snippets about women, which interested me on a personal level. I am always fascinated by pioneering women. For example this small plaque celebrates the first local paper on Magerøya, which the notice tells us, was written by two ladies.

Witchcraft in the village of Kjelvik seems to have been more strongly ranged against men than women though. Interesting as in other parts of the world, it seems to have been women (and particularly older women) who were targeted.

There was a large exhibition about the war and its after effects. I was aware that the far northern regions of Norway were devastated at the end of the war when the Nazis retreated, and I had wondered whether Honningsvåg was so far away and so remote that it might have escaped being burned to the ground. It seems that it was not. Of course that makes sense. In these days, where road and air travel tend to dominate (at least in my mind) it requires a complete adjustment to understand that in both near and more distant history, boat travel was one of the most significant ways of transporting people and goods. This was especially true around Norway, but also as it connects more distant parts of the world. Of course many goods continue to be transported by boat, but it doesn’t predominate in the news unless something goes wrong. But any harbour town must have been particularly useful to any invading forces, and therefore at risk.

It seems all of Honningsvåg was burned with the exception of the church, which I regret not visiting. The rebuilding effort was rapid. Some had fled to caves in the hills, others returned from evacuation to start again, and those who did so apparently slept in the church.

There was also a filmed interview with a man who had been born in Finnkongkeila, which was a busy Sami fishing village to the east of Magerøya. It too was razed in 1944, but due to the lack of road access, and because of the steep slopes that lay behind it with the high landslide risk, the Norwegian authorities decided it would not be rebuilt. The idea of having the place, where you had lived your whole life just disappear, burned and then gradually overtaken by nature, is so alien that I can scarcely imagine it. Here’s a photograph of Finnkongkeila before it disappeared.

We also read a lot about the local fishing industry and the related trade in dried fish. I was interested to find out that though stockfish is dried and exported in huge quantities, the local dish is actually boknafisk, which is only semi-dried. I had noticed it on the menu in the restaurant we had eaten in the night before, and so of course I had to go back and try it. It was really very good.

I was going to write that our holiday disaster struck the next morning, but given what I’ve written about so far, I shall temper it to say that a mild bump in the road reared its head the next day. I had heard coughing from more than one other guest during breakfast the previous two mornings at the hotel. So it should perhaps not have come as a surprise when Andrew came to us first thing and told us he had a sore throat and perhaps the beginnings of a cough. I confess I wasn’t too much worried about his health (he’s been a school throughout the pandemic and we’ve been through several rounds of colds) but I was concerned about the logistics. Hotels in Norway are not cheap, and the idea of stopping and getting a test locally, then waiting for the results was not appealing. We were due to check out anyway, and so Anna and I went down to breakfast (and took Andrew up some very tasty chocolate croissants). We discussed the situation afterwards. Andrew was already feeling a bit better, and there was still a chance he was suffering only from a flare-up of his allergies and so we decided to head down to Alta to the cabin we had booked there, and then reassess the situation.

It was only three hours or so, but I was rather sad to be leaving Magerøya so soon. Andrew seemed to be feeling better and we stopped once or twice on the way to get some fresh air and enjoy the scenery. Triar went for a run on a little beach at Repvåg, where I found these two very weathered benches under the sullen sky.

And then we were back into the amazing slate-dominated landscape with its weathered stones, its disconcertingly angles layers jutting towards the sky .

The cabin in Alta was tolerably comfortable. It had a small TV tuned to the National Geographic channel with a sign that sternly informed us that we mustn’t touch the settings. By nightfall, it was obvious Andrew’s cough was not a resurgence of allergies, but definitely something more, and so we decided that we should try and get a test the next day, then find out whether we would be permitted to drive home, or should wait in the cabin until we got the results.

Friday then, was rather sad. We had arranged to have two nights in Alta as there were things we wanted to do there. Our neighbours had recommended the bathing park and I very much wanted to go and see the famous rock paintings and carvings. Instead, Andrew slept for much of the day, while Anna and I sat on poorly padded wooden benches and watched a series of documentaries about aeroplane crash investigations, airport drug smuggling and some rather Top Gearesque programmes about a man who refurbishes classic cars. The wifi was awful, so other pastimes were not really possible. I had hoped to write a blog update, but that wasn’t really possible. Anna and I did take Triar out for a walk in the (fungi-filled) woods, alongside a sortie to the shops and to a local takeaway but that was the extent of our day in Alta.

I was impressed with Alta’s coronavirus test station. Our local version involves going into an old school building, where masks are not compulsory, and standing in a queue of blue dots set two metres apart. I’ve long thought it must be a wonderful hub of infection as everyone who has a cold is meant to get tested. In Alta there’s a drive through tent outside the health centre and drive through we did, shouting replies to the man in protective clothing as Triar barked in Andrew’s ear from the back of the car. We asked about travel and he told us that so long as Andrew stayed isolated in the car and wasn’t too unwell, there was no reason not to head home the next day.

And so abandoning our possible plans for a last night in Vollan or possibly Tromsø (fortunately I had nothing booked as I was sure we would find something and wanted to keep things flexible) we made a run for home last Saturday. It was a six hour drive, and though we stopped to buy food and drinks from garages, we were not really able to take much of a break on the way. We stopped a few times to look at the scenery, which was dominated in part by the sheer numbers of berries growing on the ground and on the trees, and in part by the weather, which was mostly good overhead, but with glimpses of cloud capped mountain tops and distant rain-filled valleys.

I arrived home feeling tired with a rather dry throat. I was still hopeful that this might have been due to a long drive and the car’s air-conditioning, but I woke up on Sunday with a raging cold that has seen me spending most of this week in bed. Andrew’s Covid test was negative, as was mine, but I was definitely not able to go back to work. I’m still coughing away as I write this and feeling fragile, but I will try to work (from home) tomorrow and hopefully things will gradually return to normal. Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed the journey to the north with me. Next time we venture north I’d like to take more time to explore Alta and Magerøya, and perhaps go on a detour to Hammerfest and Karashok. There’s still so much of northern Norway left to explore!

Magerøya and the North Cape

Slightly belatedly, I’m going to take you though the last days of our adventure in two instalments.

There’s something of a controversy over the North Cape (Nordkapp), which in truly Norwegian style, is unfolding gradually. Scandic, who owns many hotels in Norway, invested heavily in a visitor centre right up on the cape where they have sub-leased the land from the municipality. It boasts a wide-screen video system, an underground tunnel with exhibitions about Nordkapp’s history, a coffee shop, conference facilities and a restaurant that seats two hundred and fifty people.

However, rather than charging people to go into the centre itself, for many years Scandic had set fees for the car park outside that were widely considered to be unreasonably high. Presumably this was more lucrative than taking payment only from those who wanted to go in and see the exhibition. Had it been a 50-100kr charge for a car ( a little under £5-10 or a little over 5-10 US$) with an additional fee for going into the centre, I should imagine it would have gone unremarked, but it seems that for a long time, the so-called parking charge also covered entry to the visitor centre and started at a much more painful 260kr (back in 2017) for the car and driver, plus a 40kr charge for each additional passenger.

This caused a divide in the local community. On the one hand, the centre created a great many jobs for local people. On the other, charging excessively to stay outside and look at the scenery comes into conflict with the Norwegian “friluftsloven,” which is the state law that guarantees public access to public lands, which Norwegians justifiably value very highly.

It was only in July this year that a complicated court case ruled that Scandic could for now, no longer charge parking fees for those visiting the cape. The downside for us is that they are now charging 260kr per adult to go in the centre. I discussed this with Anna and Andrew on the day we arrived in Honningsvåg. The centre sounded good to me and I half felt that having come all this way, it would be exciting to have the full experience, so though the price was steep, had they both wanted to go, we would have done. But somewhat to my surprise, they both felt quite strongly that Scandic had behaved in a way that was against what Norway stand for. Both of them said that they would be happy to visit the cape without going into the centre.

I proposed an evening visit, once the centre was closed. I wasn’t sure whether there would still be pressure to buy tickets on arrival, so though the sun would be below the horizon, we decided to go around ten in the evening.

It was a beautiful drive, though the road is precipitous in places. I was glad it was dry and though the temperature on the tops was a chilly 3°C there was no chance of ice. We stopped to admire the sunset as we approached the cape itself.

I was amazed, as we arrived at Nordkapp, to see how many camper vans were parked there. Other travel sites had warned that there might be crowds, but the days of the midnight sun were past for this year and I had wondered whether it might be quiet, but the vans were lined up along the edges of the car park, taking advantage of the wonderful views of the sea and coastline to the east.

There’s something of an irony over the battles for Nordkapp. The view above shows the Knivskjellodden peninsular. If you look carefully at the map, it stretches a little further north than Nordkapp itself. Nordkapp is where the road ends, whereas to get to Knivskjellodden you have to hike 5km. We had considered it, but as I was the only one who’d brought my walking boots, we had decided against it. Still, the globe monument at Nordkapp was a great photo opportunity and it really did feel very much like the end of a journey to look out over the Barents Sea to the northern horizon.

On the drive to and from Honningvåg to the cape, we had noticed a few side roads and we decided that the next day, we would explore them. And so after a pleasant meal under the striking artwork in the Arctic Hotel breakfast room, we set out to explore.

We drove north west out of Honningsvåg until we came to a junction just after a huge bend in the road. The first thing we noticed as we descended the steep road down to Kamøyvær was the massed seagulls on the cliffside and along the roof of a building above an inlet where there was a fish farm.

The village itself was like something out of a fairy tale. A row of brightly painted boats lay in the quiet waters of the harbour and colourful wooden houses were scattered around the bay.

As I stood taking photos, Anna quietly nudged me. From behind the building in the photo, a herd of reindeer were emerging. They carried on getting closer and closer and I thought they would peel off up the hill, but to my amazement, they carried on coming towards us, right into the centre of the village and, to my delight, cantered right past. One or two of them stopped to graze in the space between the houses.

We watched them wander off and then feeling cheerful, climbed back in the car to drive on to the next side road. This time, we turned left off the main E69, heading towards the more distant Gjesvær on the western side of Magerøya. It was a longer road and took us over rather barren moorland, where we stopped to let Triar out for a bit of a wander. I’m not sure whether it was the freshness of the air he was enjoying, or if it was the scent of distant reindeer on the wind, but he seemed to be very cheerful.

Anna lifted him up, and I took a photo of them together against the wonderful blue and green backdrop.

Feeling happy to have taken such a pleasing shot, I thought it would be nice to get a picture of Andrew, so I asked him to take Anna’s place and this is what I got.

Fortunately, as Triar has been taught from his earliest days that being held up in odd positions usually means food, he was unfazed.

We carried on, down past rocky outcrops and ruffled lakes and came out on a plateau that looked out over Gjesvær and the islands beyond. Sadly we had no food. Who wouldn’t want to have a picnic here?

One thing we noticed as we headed down each of the side roads was that there was a barrier at each end which can be closed in winter when the snows come. Though it looks benign in the August sunshine, the island must be a very different place in winter.

We had coffee and ice creams at the little bird sanctuary building in Gjesvær, and then drove on to our third and final destination, Skarsvåg. There we found another picturesque harbour and, somewhat to our surprise, a small factory, behind which was piled huge bags of sea salt, presumably all ready to be shipped off to wherever they are processed and sold.

And so, our whistle-stop tour of the island complete, we set off back to Honningsvåg and the hotel, where Andrew stayed in and Anna and I went off on a visit to the little museum that stood on the dockside. But that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Northerly: Days Two and Three

We drove on from the campsite at Brennfjell and paused briefly to get in contact with Birgit. I had intended to organise a visit, but the last weeks before we set out had been so full that I’d forgotten. Luckily she was in and we called in for coffee and a tour round the animals, which included a new puppy, some new pigs and this gorgeous foal.

Heading north from Storslett, the sky was grey as we drove up onto Kvænangsfjellet. This section of the E6 road is often closed in winter. Its austere beauty was enhanced by the clouds which swathed the mountains and we stopped for photos, just as the road began to drop back down towards the sea.

I hadn’t managed to find accommodation for the night in Alta, but after a couple of unsuccessful queries in hotels, we managed to find a very cosy cabin at Solvang Camping, a little north of the city. This was a more modern version of Norwegian camping: a single room with a bunk bed and a sofa bed, where we sat and watched the movie Bølgen while eating leftover pizza and chocolate chip cookies. Having slept soundly, we rose the next morning and set off towards Nordkapp.

The scenery changed again as we drove along the coastline. Jutting cliffs overhung the road, grey slate layers, unevenly weathered, sometimes slanting at crazy angles against the sky.

I had expected a bridge over to the island of Magerøya, but instead there was a seven kilometer tunnel, dropping to 212m deep, under Magerøy Sound. The scenery here was different again: a tundra like landscape, bereft of trees. Streams tumbled down steep mountainsides and rocky pools lay in the hollows. And though the journey had been beautiful, it was a relief to arrive in Honningvåg and check into the hotel.

After resting for a while, we took Triar for a walk. He had been very patient in the car, but the scent of reindeer woke him up. They are everywhere on Magerøya. Wonderful to see.

Linken and Tromsø

Sunrise/sunset: 03:50/ 21:51. Daylength: 18hr1min

Today we head north again. We will be spending tonight in Skibotn and the night after, who knows where? I made the mistake of looking up the coronavirus map yesterday and saw that the north of Norway is currently lit up like a viral Christmas tree, but hopefully that and the hairy-legged northern mosquitos won’t trouble us too much. Anyway, back to this week’s news.

On Monday, Ann, Ammar and I headed out for a walk after work. We climbed a hill called Linken. I’ve been very interested to see how rapidly we have left summer behind. We had just arrived this time last year and so I missed those wild and exuberant months, where the abundance of life thrust its way into every crevice. The change arrived almost as soon as the sun began to dip below the horizon again. At the start of the summer, there was a delay. In my head, those long, long days should have brought warmth and growth, but it took time for the land to recover from the long hard winter. Now we have plummeted into autumn. The trees are only just beginning to turn, but the forest floor, so recently dominated by lime green ferns and brightly coloured flowers, is now filled with berries and mushrooms.

Ammar made the most of the blueberries.

The view from the top of Linken was mostly obscured by trees, but I managed to take a couple of photographs.

On Thursday, Anna and I drove to Tromsø so I could sit my citizenship test. I spent last weekend and took most of a day off during the week to revise. I learned a few odd facts along the way. I hadn’t realised the Viking period lasted only about 250 years. Somehow, it has always felt like something timeless. And who knew that Norway’s highest mountain is Galdhøpiggen at 2,469 m (8,100 ft) above sea level? I told Anna and she pointed out that translated, it’s name means Crazily High Peak. One has to wonder whether the map maker asked one of the locals and received a rather tongue in cheek reply, which then was preserved for all time by officialdom!

The test is thirty six multiple-choice questions and I knew I was reasonably well prepared, but because of the deadline (an appointment with the police at the end of August) I needed to pass if I didn’t want to delay my application any further. The test was meant to take up to an hour, but in the event, I was finished after only eleven minutes. I wondered whether I ought to scroll back and check my answers, but the woman who was checking our proof of ID had just arrived at my desk. I wasn’t sure what the protocol for finishing was, so I asked her and then went ahead. Walking up the stairs to get my results, my heart was in my mouth, but as I walked back down, my heart was singing. I don’t know what my mark was, but I had passed and that was all that mattered.

Having driven all that way, Anna and I spent some time exploring Tromsø. First off was this wonderful book (and toy) shop that we found tucked away in a little yard down near the docks.

I’m a sucker for all things Harry Potter, and so I was delighted to see some fabulous memorabilia.

There was a reasonable sized English section (albeit sci-fi dominated) and I took the chance to buy four Terry Pratchett books. Only a few weeks ago, I was thinking that I almost never read anything new, but now I have plenty of reading to look forward to.

We wandered around the docklands area for a little while. I don’t know much about Tromsø’s history (a topic for another day perhaps) but it really did seem to be an eclectic mix of old and new and definitely had some quirky elements.

We also found a pub. I’m not sure I’ve actually been in a pub in Norway before. There isn’t a pub tradition here in the way there is in the UK. This one had a very British feel to it and Anna and I immediately felt at home.

Anyway, I’ll have to go now and get some breakfast. The car is packed already and I’m feeling in a holiday mood. Thanks for reading. See you all very soon!

Dog in a Bog

Sunrise/sunset: 03:14/ 22:29. Daylength: 19hr14min

I am looking forward to my holiday. It’s only a week away, and somehow until now, it seemed distant, but now it’s almost upon us. Not that we’re going far afield. Coronavirus has seen to that. But it seems fitting, given that this past week has been the anniversary of my epic drive from the southern tip of Norway to here, that I will be heading north once more, this time to Nordkapp. Our accommodation will be mixed. The first night will be in a tiny cabin with four bunk beds and an electric hob. I haven’t managed to book anything at all for the second night. Everything seems to be full, but we’ll take the tent and hope it doesn’t rain. Then we’ll be staying in a hotel while we explore Nordkapp. I had hoped to spend a couple of nights in a lavvo, which is a Sami wigwam. We found one on AirBnB and I quickly booked it, but my request was sadly rejected after twenty four hours with the succinct explanation “holiday”. I will keep my eyes open for it reappearing though. Despite the fact that it would undoubtdly be inhabited by the unexpectedly vicious Northern Norwegian Mosquitos with their huge evil fangs, I still find the idea very appealing.

On Thursday next week, I will be sitting an exam. I applied for Norwegian citizenship last year and happily filled in the section that said I had passed an exam in Norwegian social studies. I thought this was covered by the Norwegian course and exams I sat ten years ago when I first came to Norway, but I recently discovered that the rules had been changed and now everyone who wasn’t schooled in Norway has to take a test. As soon as I’ve finished writing this, I shall start revising. A lot of the subject matter is based on things I have experienced, such as the inner machinations of the health service and workers rights. But some of the questions on the mock test I took were very specific and rather obscure so I’d better get learning. My appointment with the police is on the week after I get back from my holiday, so I only have one chance, unless I want the whole thing to be delayed even more. I feel like getting a Norwegian passport will mark both the end of another journey and a new beginning.

Ann and I went out for another walk yesterday. Last week, we had a walk, followed by fish and chips. This week, Ann came over to mine and we went for a walk on Senja. I took her to Ånderdalen, of course. It’s still my favourite walk. But Ann, it turns out, has some books about walks in the area, so now we are planning more. In the meantime, I will spam you with the usual Ånderdalen imagery of pale ghost trees and mountain vistas.

Triar found both a bog to jump in (when does he not?) and a Burned Sausage of Unknown Origin, secreted in the barbecue close to the shelter at the highest point of the circuit. Ann very quickly prised his jaws apart and rescued the sausage, which was definitely a sausage and not the more traditional hot dog. The civilised Norwegian habit of providing both a grill, and the wood to burn on it at the end of a pretty walk continues to please me. I must get into the habit of taking matches, whittling knife and food with me more often.

Anyway, I must go and study. Procrastination won’t get me very far. Hope you will all join me on my journey next week. And in the meantime, a toast from Senja. Cheers!

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.

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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.

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

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Back through Cullochy Lock.

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

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Leaving Fort Augustus

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The wind rose as we left the shelter of the narrow glen

We stopped at Urqhuart Bay …

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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.

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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.

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Brooding light at Lochend

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

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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.

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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).

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We called in at the ruined Invergarry Castle.

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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.

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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