Category Archives: Travel

Homecoming

Sunrise/sunset: 04:45/20:53. Daylength: 16h08min (Finnsnes)

Sunrise/sunset: 06:08/20:02: Daylength: 13hr54min (Winchester)

I flew out over the snowy mountains around Tromsø in the early afternoon on Thursday and at twenty past seven, I caught my first glimpse of the UK since December 2019.

Bottom corner of England from the air

As I flew over, I was struck by how green it all was. There were so many small fields, with hedges as their boundaries. There were also mansion houses scattered among the fields, dotted with swimming pools and tennis courts. It is so different from Norway!

As the wheels touched down, I found myself smiling, then there were tears in my eyes. Being back in the UK after so long was very moving. I love Norway, but there’s something very special about returning to my homeland.

Anna met me at Gatwick. It was wonderful to see her again. We bought marmite pinwheels and chilled raspberry mohitos from Marks and Spencer and had a mini-party on the station at Clapham Junction.

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I’m posting this belatedly, as the available internet for the past couple of days has made posting impossible. There are more photos to follow, but for now, I want to celebrate the memory of coming home.

Lillehammer

Sunrise/sunset: 06:16/ 19:32. Daylength: 12hr53min

This week I have been to Lillehammer, to take part in Den norske veterinærforening‘s fagdager. Den norske veterinærforening is the vets’ union in Norway. Fagdager translates as “subject days” and this was a veterinary congress with lectures separated into different streams for vets working with pigs, horses, small animals and (for me the most important) veterinary public health.

It’s a very long time since I have been to such a big meeting, and it was my first time in Norway. There were about five hundred people there, so it was the biggest gathering I’ve been to in a while as well. Having recently had covid was actually a boon. Had I not had it, I would probably have been much more wary of picking it up. I should add that I’m feeling very much better, which is a huge relief.

The trip has led to something of a cascade of emotions. I couldn’t help reflecting on the fact that I knew almost nobody. The veterinary world is a small one, both in the UK and Norway. Back in the UK, I worked for Vets Now, who run emergency clinics in the UK, and for several years I worked at their head office, and had contact with vets and nurses all over the UK. I also worked in a few different places and knew people from university. If I attended a big meeting in the UK, there would probably be loads of people there to catch up with. There was a party night on Thursday, and all around me, other people were doing just that. There were also random outbreaks of singing, including the Norwegian Toasting Song, which I came across for the first time at the Christmas Julebord back when I was working at Tu veterinary clinic back in Rogaland. In fact the only person I did run into was Dagny – Scary Boss Lady from Tu – who gave me a cheerful hug, but was naturally catching up with lots of people herself.

The food was good, though with five hundred people being served it took about three hours from the fish starter to the pannacotta dessert.

I travelled down with Astrid, who works in Storslett. We flew from Tromsø to Oslo and then got the train to Lillehammer. Both those things were something of a novelty, as was leaving northern Norway, which I haven’t done since moving here in August 2020. Coronavirus has turned me into something of a hermit. There was definitely a feeling of opening horizons, both from travelling, and from the lecture streams themselves.

One of the major themes in the veterinary public health stream was sustainability. I guess this might seem somewhat odd, as those two things don’t immediately appear to be strongly linked, but sustainability is something of a theme at the moment in farming, as it probably should be. The European Union is in the process of introducing its Farm to Fork Strategy (“aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly”) and because Norway is integrated with the EU (though not a member state) we will be taking on board some, if not all, of the new regulations and initiatives. Norway, as I have mentioned before, has more stringent rules on animal health and welfare than the EU, which it is unwilling to compromise to make food cheaper, or “competitive” as officials in the EU put it.

The most interesting lecture, from my point of view, was one which covered an interesting mix of discussion over the relative amounts spent preventing new variant CJD (BSE related prion disease) and coronavirus and whether insects might be integrated into the food chain in order to minimise the long term impact in the fight against BSE/prion disease.

Regarding the relative costs around the reactions to both diseases, it is difficult to estimate the price of lockdowns, but the argument was that the amount spent on fighting BSE was way over the top. Given the number of samples we take on sheep and cattle, but also on reindeer and even wild animals such as moose, the amount spent in the whole of the EU must be colossal. Given that there are still under 300 diagnosed cases of the new variant of CJD (which spread from BSE in cattle) in the world it does seem odd to still be spending so much. It can, of course, be argued that the campaign to prevent vCJD has been successful in terms of disease prevention. As always, it’s difficult to know, when looking at the cost of something where intervention HAS taken place, what the costs would have been had no actions been taken.

But the other side of this discussion was around the fact that the use of meat and bone meal from ruminants in food fed to other animals is still banned, and how these could possibly be used. The suggestion was made that perhaps what is currently mostly a waste product could potentially be used to feed insects, which would produce protein that could then be fed back into the food chain which is an interesting, if rather bizarre thought. We are living through astonishing times, where the world is changing incredibly fast, compared to what went on for probably thousands of years before the industrial revolution. Sometimes I wonder where it will end.

Anyway, back to the more mundane! I enjoyed the train journey from Oslo airport to Lillehammer. I took some photos from the train window. Apologies for the glass reflections. The days when you could open windows on long distance trains are long gone.

The hotel in Lillehammer was pleasant. I guess that if you’ve heard of Lillehammer, it’s probably because the Olympic Games were held there in 1994. I say the Olympics, because though in the UK and elsewhere, generally people refer to the Olympics and the Winter Olympics, here in Norway it’s the other way round. Here we have the Olympics and the Summer Olympics. Anyway, there was a ski jump just visible from the back of the hotel, and this chap was caught in an eternal gymnastic leap on my bedroom wall.

Picture of a ski gymnast on the hotel wall in Lillehammer

Because there were no flights back to Tromsø or Bardufoss on Friday evening, I spent the night in a hotel at Oslo Airport. I was greeted in the entrance by a red plastic moose in sunglasses, but the most pleasing sight greeted me in the room, and was much more down to earth. Most British hotels have a kettle in the room, but in Norway, it’s so rare that I actually took a photograph!

So now I am home, but going away has been a wonderful boost. Things are beginning to change and the world, which has felt closed in for the past two years, may be opening up again soon. And to that I say, bring it on!

Northerly: Day One

I am writing this from a hotel room in Honningsvåg on the island of Magerøya. Honningsvåg is the «northernmost town on mainland Norway» although technically it’s on an island, so arguably, it isn’t! It’s also one of the smallest cities in Norway, having been given its status in 1996, one year before legislation was brought in stating that Norwegian cities must have at least 5,000 inhabitants.

It’s very much the stereotyped end-of-the-road place. I am reminded of Scottish towns like Campbeltown, Stranraer and Thurso as they were when I was younger. Nowadays, I think most of those remote Scottish towns have caught up with the money to be made from tourism and are now filled with friendly cafes and upmarket shops selling highland-cow aprons and novelty fudge shaped like sheep droppings. But Honningsvåg is still utilitarian. The houses are scattered along the single road, with a few a little higher up the hillside. Though they are painted in different colours, they were built for practicality, with no thought for aesthetics. There’s a toy-shop with faded lettering. The main street is stippled with chipped paint and grey, harled walls. The harbour is charming though.

We drove up over three days, though we only spent three to four hours travelling on each of them.

Day one. We stopped off at the Sami shop on the E6 north of Bardufoss. I have driven past a few times, but have never stopped. I was surprised to find a fire in the tent, near the entrance. It was set in a fireplace with a well-designed chimney and was very welcoming. We might stop for coffee on the way back, but we were less than an hour into our journey, so we decided to push on.

It was a beautiful day as we drove along the sides of fjords and through mountain glens. We reached our desination: a cabin near Skibotn, which I had found on AirBnB. The cabin I had booked was very basic: two bunk beds and a stove, but happily it was a campsite where we were able to upgrade to a cabin with a toilet and shower. These campsites are very common in Norway. The cabins are designed to be slept in, by as many people as you can fit in the available space, and not much more. This was a typical example. There were three bedrooms, two with a bunkbed each and the other with a bunkbed and one very squashy single bed. There was a table and chairs, but nowhere else to sit. There were two electric rings for cooking, but pans and plates had to be borrowed from reception. Deciding quickly that we would eat out, we dumped our things and headed out to explore.

We passed through Skibotn without seeing anywhere to eat, but stopped to air the dog (translation from Norwegian) on a pebbly beach on the edge of the fjord. While Anna and Andrew skimmed stones, and Triar gambolled about, I investigated possible eateries on my phone.

There was a hotel nearby, which seemed like a possibility, so we headed back to the car and drove to it. It seemed deserted and somewhat surprisingly, there was an area temporarily walled off with what appeared to be a stage in the background. Sliding in through the gap, we made our way inside to ask about food. A couple of tantalising cup-cakes lay on what looked like the remains of a conference lunch, but there was nothing available right now. There would be later though. The stage would be in use for Guffstock! Guffstock being a small festival. Who was playing, we asked. Ove Schei was on first at eight, followed by a band called Royal Jam at ten. We’d not heard of either of them, but thinking back to the cabin and its lack of a sofa, we glanced at one another and bought three tickets for the evening.

We found some food at Circle K. Norway doesn’t have many motorways except around Oslo and there arek no service stations by the main roads. Instead, almost all the petrol stations serve hot food and lots of them have a few seats. Two pizzas later, we headed back to the cabin to wait for the evening’s entertainment.

Though the inside of the cabin was rudimentary, the setting was beautiful. We wandered along the valley floor, admiring the flowers and the river, and finding our eyes drawn upwards to the overhanging mountain tops and the tree-lined lower slopes, where the autumn colours were beginning to emerge.

We returned to the cabin and decided to play cards. I had bought a little box of games a couple of years back, when holidaying in Yorkshire. We opened it to find three sets of cards: Donkey, Snap and Old Maid. I had expected them to be basic, but functional. They were worse than expected: roughly cut with a tendency to stick together. We played Old Maid first and had fun, despite the unwieldy, badly drawn cards. Of course, I was left with the Old Maid card. Next, we looked at the rules for Donkey and laughed, because as I had thought, Donkey and Old Maid are the same game. We played it anyway, passing cards round, pairing them up, and teasing one another mysteriously about who had the Donkey card. We were well on through the game, before I noticed as I looked round the hands we were holding that there were only four cards left. I hadn’t been passed the Donkey card at any point, and had rather been wondering about it. I looked round again. Definitely only four cards.

I looked across at Anna, and then at Andrew, who was sitting on my left. «Does anyone actually have the Donkey card?» I asked.

Both of them shoot their heads and we grinned at each other. So not only were the cards badly made, but they hadn’t even managed to insert the essential Donkey card in the pack.

Despite not having heard of the bands, we had a wonderful evening. Rather than their own songs, both Ove Schei and Royal Jam played a lot of classic tracks and before long, we were clapping along. It’s a long time since we’ve seen any live music and here we were, outside as dusk fell and the sun dipped behind the mountains behind the stage. It was a wonderful end to the first day of our journey.

Ove Schei
Royal Jam

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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The city is stunning.

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

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

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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.

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

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I think this pizza was the best I have ever tasted.

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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!

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Tarte tatin… another stand out food moment.

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Down in the market… you smelled this stall well before you saw it!

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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.

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There were a lot of steps!

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

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Deep fried milk for dessert? Who knew?

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Better than bread and butter pudding.

But as always, every trip comes to an end.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This picture comes closest to showing the astonishing nature of the light that filters in.

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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.

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Looking out over the city.

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A long way down

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

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The food was fabulous

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We were presented with this at the end of the meal

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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.

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

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

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Fernando Botero’s bronze cat

We sat down and ordered some food.

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Meatballs in squid ink

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Venice in Spring

We visited Venice in Spring 2013, I have recently been looking back at the photos and wanted to share some of them here.

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Rooftops…

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…and a maze

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…from the bell tower of St Georges church.

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I was fascinated by the back-lane feel of these miniature canals.

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On the Waterfront

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Police, Venetian style.

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Who knew there were daleks as well as vampires in Venice?

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Grand canal from a gondola.

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Chaz’n’Saz

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The fish market.

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Buy one, get one free!

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And, of course…

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…the obligatory pictures of wonderful food.