Friday, July 16, 2010
Shortly after leaving Loen we spied a good omen for our journey: the rainbow, here only moderately enhanced for viewing by Photoshop.
The journey from Geiranger to Ålesund required us to first ascend the Eagle Road, a series of 11 switchbacks from sea level to where the Eagles fly. Lots of turnouts for gawking along the way.
Half an hour out of Ålesund it was time to board another ferry, then onward to our next stop.
Herewith, some additional photos from the day's scenic journey:
Our Hellsylt-Geiranger ferry's twin, heading to Hellsylt.
Waterfall into the Gerainger Fjord
The lower switchbacks of the Eagle Road wind their way up.
A Hurtigruten makes its way on the northward sail to Kirkenes from Geiranger.
Jostedalbreen, Europe's largest glacier just a few miles inland (a distant view of one of the glacier's arms is seen in this view above from the village of Jølster en route to Loen). If you don't want to bother with a winding car or bus trip you could take a quick helicopter tour. One left every 15 minutes or so from the hotel's lawn.
Our one-night stay at the Loenfjord Hotel was marked by lots of celebration among a couple of tour buses worth of Spanish visitors. They crowded into the bar to watch the Spain beat Germany, 1-0, on a header in the 74th minute. Given that celebration, it's hard to imagine the festivities the following Sunday when Spain beat the Netherlands for the cup.
Varg Veum is Norway's Philip Marlowe, the creation of Gunnar Staalesen, one of the current crop of Scandinavian mystery writers drawing attention. Veum's office is located on Strandkien in Bergen; indeed, his address is the same as our Bergen Hotel, the Strand. His statue reposes in front of the entrance where many visitors (including Jean Sue) repose also. And Veum drinks his favorite aquavit, Simers Taffel, at the hotel's bar, Femte I Andre, where I enjoyed the same quaff.
The bar's name is a bit of a word play, the Norwegian version of Abbott and Costello's Who's On First. When we first stayed at the hotel 15 years ago it was located on the fifth floor. With The Strand's remodeling, the bar is now on the second floor. In translation the bar's name would be Fifth on Second. The bar includes a fake door marked as the office of Varg Veum.
Veum's detective exploits frequently center around children, since before taking up private eyeing he was a child welfare worker. (He was asked to leave because he was too inquisitive in investigating the causes of his charges' situations.) Only two of the novels in the series are available in English translation (list them here), and they are hard to come by; I ordered one in advance of the trip from amazon.uk, and purchased another at the Norli bookstore chain in Norway.
We learned about Veum last fall through the International Mysteries series broadcast by one of the minor public television stations in Philadelphia, WYBE. (The series is distributed by mHz Worldview network and also includes films featuring Sweden's Wallendar, France's Maigret, as well as detectives from Germny and Italy. This past week the only four Veum films made have been rebroadcast at 9 p.m.; tonight it's The Woman in the Refrigerator).
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Writing about the supermarkets reminds me of a food stop I made in Oslo to a small shop near Radhuset: Fenaknoken.
The shop, which I discovered on our long weekend in Oslo in March 2009, is owned and operated by a father-son team, Gudbrand and Eirik Bræk (the photo was taken during that visit).
The Braek’s are proud to offer what they consider the best of artisinal cured meats to be found in Norway. Although they do not do their own curing, Eirik cooks fresh meats, including carbonnade (basically, meat loaf) and roast reindeer, which is as rosy and flavorful is a good roast beef. When I stopped by during our Oslo visit this year Gudbrand offered a taste of smoked whale: not high on my list, but it would be an interesting addition to any charcuterie plate.
But it’s the salamis (I tasted a goat salami), sausages (pølse), and cured meats that star. Just as on my previous visit, I walked out of the store with some fenalår, cured lamb leg served boneless and thinly sliced, a sort of lamb prosciutto, only slightly drier and smokier. It’s meant for out of hand eating, or perhaps over a single thin slice of hearty bread. A 50-gram purchase set me back 38 kroner, or about $6 for a little less than two ounces, or roughly $50/pound.
Fenalår can be found in any supermarket, pre-packaged and vacuum sealed. It's pretty good, too. But what the Bræk's offer is a superior product and not much more expensive that the version found at the Mega Coop.
Gudbrand also showed me a split smoked sheep head (the skull and meat, not brains or eyes), asking what I thought it was. My first guess, because of the indentations, was split beef heart. There’s not much to eat on it; an entire split head will serve two, he said.
Here's a lunch I made during our Lofoten stay from fenalår and reindeer salami purchased from Fenaknoken:
In Svolvaer I was a frequent visitor to the Mega Coop, Coop being a chain (I was told government-owned, but I'm not entirely sure about that) with varying size stores depending on the needs of the community. In Svolvaer (as in Rørvik and other towns I visited) it was located within the Amfi indoor shopping mall.
The importance of fish is obvious from that section of the supermarket. According to one of the desk clerks at Svinøya Rorbuer the Mega Coop is the best place to buy seafood, the only better being the fish sold by a vendor who irregularly appears at the town square. I purchased half a kilo of rekke (shrimp) to cook in our cottage and can vouch for the quality.
While the fish department was staffed for special orders and personal service, all the meats were pre-packaged, including cold cuts. Likewise the potato, shrimp and similar salads came pre-packaged.
Although the depth of selection is limited (you won't find six brands of toilet paper) the breadth was more than adequate, the shelves stocked for every need.
After multiple trips, I wonder how much home cooking Norwegians do. The aisles were filled with convenience foods, including the Toro brand which Sonia Wallace said provides the base for an excellent fish soup. (I'm dubious about that.) Mexican appears to be big.
As in American supermarkets, beverages took up considerable space, especially beer. As previously noted, it's a lot less expensive to buy your beer at a retail store than at a bar or restaurant: you save about 50 percent. All the popular Norwegian and many some international brands were available.
For more interesting beers you have to visit Vinmonopolet, the state wine and liquor monopoly. (Just like Pennsylvania!) On its shelves I spied some great Belgian beers at about the same price I'd pay in Philadelphia (NOK 50, or about $8, for a Westmalle Tripple, as an example). Most of the inventory was devoted to wine, though there were plenty of distilled spirits, especially cognac. Not nearly as extensive was the selection of aquavits: maybe a dozen, just a few more than you'd find at many bars.
Besides the remnants of Hanseatic traders Bergen's greatest claim to fame is that it was the home of composer Edvard Grieg. Though trained in and aspiring to the German tradition his music is clearly associated with Norway. There was even a Broadway musical in the 1940s based on his music, inexplicably titled Song of Norway.
You probably known at least some of his music, including selections from Peer Gynt Suite, especially Hall of the Mountain Kings.
On our previous trip to Bergen we obtained tickets to the Bergen Symphony Orchestra playing in central Bergen's large concert venue, Grieghallen. That program, however, did not include any Grieg compositions (it did feature a Shostakovich cello concert played by Michael Sanderling with the orchestra conducted by his father, Kurt.)
I rectified the lack of Grieg music from the previous trip by booking tickets for a recital at Troldhaugen, Grieg's home on a hill overlooking the water just outside the city. A 10-minute bus ride and five-minute walk from the parking area led to Troldhaugen's museum, the recital hall, and home.
At the Sunday evening program I attended (July 4) pianist Sandra Mogensen interposed pieces by Grieg and Ravel to mixed success. Some of the juxtapositions worked, others did not. But her mastery of the material and the instrument was evident, and even those combinations that did not work held interest.
Grieg's house, built in the 1880s, includes a grand piano in the parlor, which is occasionally used for very special recitals (with hard to get tickets). I commend to you Leif Ove Andsnes's records of Grieg's lyric pieces made in this room on this piano.
Fløybahnen, Bergen's funicular railway, is both a tourist attraction and means of commutation.
The paired cars (the red one goes up while the blue one comes down, and vice versa) traverse the 1,050-foot Mount Fløyen where nature trails, picnic tables and a restaurant await.The view, when weather permits, is wide and wonderful: all of central Bergen, the university district, Bergen's harbors, the hills, the inlets and nearby islands. Even in cloudy weather (so long as the clouds don't descend to the top of Fløyen) the view is worth the round trip.
The cars make three or four intermediate stops for commuters, since the hills surrounding central Bergen are residential zones. Like all funicular railways, the cars are paired, with the weight of each one providing balance on the funicular. Therefore, the intermediate stops are also paired: when the red car stops for passengers at the second station from the bottom, the blue car stops at a station from the top. A sign along the wayside warns downhill travelers not to disembark when the first stop is made: when the car going uphill stops at the first intermediate tation, there's no corresponding station in the downhill direction.
The Fløybahnen is now on its fourth set of cars since it went into operation in 1918. The first generation lasted from the funicular's opening until 1954; the second generation cars from then until 1974; the third set until 1994 when the current set went into service.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Norwegians love their hot dogs, known here as the pølse (POLE-sah). Here it's the lamb version, adorned with curry sauce (really a curry-flavored mayonnaise) and fried onions (the type you'd put on top of your Thanksgiving stringbean and cream of mushroom soup casserole). It was quite delicious.
While they seem expensive at 45 kroner (about $7), they still represent good value. Each pølse weighs in at 150 grams -- more than five ounces, about the same as my favorite domestic dog, the five-to-a-pounder from Best Provisions of Newark.
Pølse are ubiquitous in Norway, though I didn't see any other stall devoted to the sausage during our month-long trip. Every "kiosk", however, offers them.
The kiosk is essentially a convenience store, with the big brands throughout Norway being Narvesen and 7-11. (Yes, 7-11: same logo design as back home.) Kiosks are essentially walk-in newstands, selling everything you'd expect as well as soft drinks and limited sandwich and fast foods. When I was in a pølse mood and not in central Bergen I went for Narvesen's bacon-wrapped dog.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
The Hanseatic structures are responsible for Bergen's categorization as a World Heritage Site. We skipped touring that area on this trip because we covered the area 15 years go on a private tour conducted by Jean Sue's friend Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen, who was teaching once a month at the University of Bergen when he wasn't at his regular post at the University of Aarhus in Denmark.
It should be no surprise that the local brew is Hansa beer.
It is also renowned for its fish soup. In most places, fish soup is a simple affair. Combine fish stock with milk and/or cream, sweat some onions and maybe carrots and/or celery and add them to the broth, maybe some potatoes, and finish by adding fish. Not so in Bergen, at least among the purists. The ingredients are the same for Bergen's fish soup, but everything from the selection of the proper fish to its cooking and serving can become an involved ritual. Just read Alan Davidson's account in his classic North Atlantic Seafood.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Such was the case Saturday night on the island of Radøy, a 75-minute ride from Bergen where Jean Sue's cousin Sonja Wallace and her husband George hosted a reunion of all available cousins, including Elin Kvalheim (she married into the family!) who requested the stogie from my stash sometime well after midnight.
Sonja and George, who reside most of the year in London, occupy the old family homestead, "Johannes's Hytte" in the community of Kvalheim on Radøy. It was a wonderful setting for a party, with a large deck with a view of the fjord through a new cut in a stand or trees, no rain and even a fair amount of sun. Much of the evening (and morning) was spent out-of-doors.
behind Uncles Bernhard and Inge and Aunt Berthe
Cousin Leslie Kvalheim and his wife Gry picked up Jean Sue, her cousin Sharon Sliker from Racine, Sharon's friend Chris from San Diego, and me shortly after we arrived at our hotel in Bergen after our Hurtigruten voyage. (We had first met Leslie and Gry two summers ago when they were traveling between New York and Chicago and all points in between and stopped in Philadelphia for a brief visit.)
Because Norwegian laws regarding driving and alcohol consumption (see an earlier post) are notoriously stringent, a number of cousins who lived on the island arranged for a taxi to chauffer them home when the drinking was done, (And there was lots of drinking; though no one was close to fall-on-the-floor drunk, all were feeling very high as the evening became morning.) Others from farther afield brought SUVs or caravans (a.k.a. RVs), including Leslie and Gry and Leslie's brother Jan Terje Kvalheim and his wife Maibritt.
Sonja and George graciously invited Jean Sue and I to use their spare bedroom overnight. Sharon and Chris, however, were relegated to the sofa bed in the living room. Which mean that, unlike Jean Sue and I who excused ourselves shortly before 2 a.m. for some sleep, they had to wait for the party to end. Which normally would be about 4 or 4:30 a.m., George informed us in his distinct Glaswegian accent. Sonja, feeling sorry for the weary Americans, cleared out the house by 2:30 so Sharon and Chris could get at least some shuteye.
All managed to arise well before noon where we consumed leftovers for breakfast that put to shame any of the hotel buffets we've had in Norway. Afterwards, Lesley, Gry, George, Sharon, Chris and I took a stroll down to the water through a park on land that Johannes Kvalheim gave to the community.
Here are more photos from the party and our walk.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Once ashore we'll take the bus to our hotel, the Strand, stash our bags, freshen up then call Jean Sue's cousin Leslie and his wife Gry for a ride out to Radøy for the family reunion.
A few words (or more) about the food board the Trollfjord. Good and plentiful.
Although I'm sure it doesn't compare to the huge cruise ships plying the Caribbean and Alaskan waters, I enjoyed all our meals aboard the MS Trollfjord.
Breakfast was a typical Norwegian hotel buffet, with many different herrings (and a few other fish, like mackerel and sardines thrown in), eggs (usually scrambled, another hot egg dish which varied, hard and soft boiled eggs), breads and cheeses, cold cuts, breakfast sausages (which are more akin to cocktail franks), meatballs, fruit, yogurts, cereals, etc. Today's variation were some crepes with blueberry preserves.
The lunch buffert is even more plentious, with at least two hot entrees (one is always fish, the other usually some sort of meat -- I had delicious roast lamb one day) with vegetable and potato sides, cold meats and cold cuts, cheeses, salads, more herrings, soup, breads, etc. And the desserts. Sweet, but not cloying, almost always light in texture if not in calories. There would always be a couple mousse-like puddings, a couple of different cakes, various berry sauces, tea cookies, fruits.
Unlike the other meals dinners were served at assigned tables (we had a two-top so didn't have to make conversation with strangers). Fish was served three of five nights: arctic char, cod loin, and a triple whammy of halibut resting atop salmon with an accent of gravlax on top. Always served with delicious steamed potatoes and interesting vegetables. Reindeer steak greeted us the first night, and breaking up the fish nights was one dinner of a roast sirloin. First courses ranged from soups (potato leek once, fish soup another time), marinted reindeer, gravlax, etc. Desserts could be cheesecake, fruit soup, panna cotta, ice cream cake.
If, for some reason, the dinner menu did not appeal (you can consult the week's dinner menu soon after boarding) you can request an alternate, though I highly recommend going with the flow.
Other than water, you'll pay extra, of course, for beverages, whether it be soda, wine or beer. And at normally high Norwegian prices, though not any more so than you'd pay at a land-based restaurant: $10 for beer no matter where you go, unless you buy at the supermarket. A glass of wine was abut the same price. Half-bottles of wine started at about $40, full bottles at $60 and up.
You won't go hungry, and what was even more astounding was the quality. Even if you don't like fish, you've got to eat it here. Norwegians depend upon and thrive on fish and, after a couple of milleenia, they've learned how to cook it. Firstly, it's fresh. Secondly, they cook it through but never too much. Even the fish on the buffet wasn't overcooked. Yesterday for lunch had a piece of saithe cordon bleu, saithe being a cod-family member (also known as coalfish). It was crisply fried, and maintained the crispness on the buffet; the interior was meltingly tender, juicy and tasty.
Of course, I immediately go for the herrings at breakfast and lunch. At breakfast they offer a plain pickled herring, another in mustard sauce, another in tomato sauce. At lunch the herring is served in three different sauces: matjes (sweetish wine sauce), curry, and sour cream.
Summary: When you travel the Hurtigruten, don't fear the fish.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Fireboat and fireworks from small craft greet the arrival in Rørvik of the MS Polarys for Hurtigruten Day. Taken from the stern of the MS Trollfjord as we pull into berth.
Below, crowd greeted the two boats' arrival on the quay. I estimated about 350-400 came out for the celebration, which included a pretty good band (the singer, to the right of the mayor, did a lively Joe Cocker take).
The only event of note was mid-evening when the MS Trollfjord arrived in Rorvik along with another Hurtigruta, MS Polarys. We were met with fireboats streaming water, dozens of small craft lighting smoke flares and launching fireworks and, on the quay, brass bands and about 500 cheering Rorvikians -- all because it was the "birthday" of the coastal steamer service. The mayor even made a speech snd awards were presented to both Hurtigruta captains.
Photos to follow when there is a better Internet connection.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Mountains along the coast within an hour's sail from Oksfjord. Photo taken Tuesday.
Late Wednesday afternoon, having reached the northern portion of the Lofoten Islands, the MS Trollfjord entered its namesake, the short but very narrow Trollfjord. Just about every passenger aboard elbowed for space on the sundeck or the panoramic viewing lounges in the bow to what the fjord walls close in on our ship.
As we returned to Svolvaer, this time aboard the MS Trollfjord, we were greeted at the harbor's breakwater by this classic fishing town statue. It seems that every substantial commercial fishing center in the world has a similar statue of the fisherman's wife scanning the horizon hoping for his safe return.
Midnight sun worshippers on the deck at midnight, catching the rays.
It is as if the mountains nest the clouds on the Lofoten Islands, here a mid-evening view south of Stamsund. Below, the "Lofoten Wall" of mountains about 10:30 p.m., beautifully obscured by clouds
Yesterday was sunny and (relatively) warm, so Bob took to the sundeck's jacuzzi. After briefly returning to the cabin to change he spent most of the rest of the day and evening on deck, taking in the sun and balmy (low 60s) weather. Jean Sue took the photo after lunch while we were docked in Sortland in the Vesterålene islands.
Our second excursion on Tuesday (after recuperating from the North Cape early rise) was to a midnight concert at Tromsø's Arctic Cathedral.
Six buses whisked us through the center of Tromsø across the bridge to the cathedral's site on a rise overlooking the port and into the midnight sun. A magnificent presence!
The 45-minute concert ranged from Bach to traditional Norwegian music (particularly Hardanger fiddle), a bit of Bach -- and of course Edvar Grieg -- and some church music. One setting in particular, the Te Deum (Laudamus te) by contemporary Norwegian composer Henning Sommerro was deeply moving as sung by the soprano, Bodil Onsøien, with a rich, dramatic delivery in which even her whisper carried through the cathedral's interior.
Alas, a couple of the other musicians weren't up to her standards, the trumpeter in particular, who couldn't carry out an entry attack to save his life. That took nothing away from my enjoyment of the entire program, however, and I reflected over the music, and a busy, enjoyable day, over an aquavit upon retun to the Trollfjord.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
One last photo, from Monday, our first day aboard and our first port-of-call after boarding, the town of Vardø.
After our first night on the MS Trollfjord (a rough one in open sea, the Barents Sea) we arose at 5 a.m. yesterday in order to make the 6 a.m. land excursion to Nordkapp, Europe's most northerly point.
Although we missed lunch at the restaurant at the end of the universe in Å, we made it for breakfast at another restaurant at the end of the universe, in a branch of the Rica Hotel chain. (Breakfast included many different herrings).
(As always, click on a photo to enlarge it.)
Four buses set out on the excursion from our stop at Honningsvag: one where the guide spoke in Norse, two where the guides delivered their spiels in both German and Norse, and ours, for Francophones and English speakers. We would rejoin the ship in Hammerfest.
After about an hour and a half at Nord Kapp we headed down the peninsula for a brief stop at souvenir shop operated by a Sami family. The patriarch posed in full indigenous regalia, along with one of his reindeer. Here are a couple photos.
With one stop, it was nearly a three-hour bus ride to meet the MS Trollfjord in Hammerfest, which boasts it's the most northerly city in the world (Honningsvag, one-third its size, disputes the point). Today, Hammerfest is enjoying an energy boom as a a center for liquefying and shipping the natural gas found offshore.
After a quick stop at the Mega Coop to pick up some soda (at half the price they charge on board) we rejoined the Trollfjord and set sale, heading south to Tromsø.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
after we've arrived in Bergen this weekend.
In the meantime, quick update.
Excursion to Nordkapp this a.m., Europe's most northerly point, then
continued by bus to rejoin our ship in Hammerfest after quick stop to
visit Sami trinket shop and take photos of Sami in full dress with his
reindeer. Kinda like seeing Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
Scenery from boat is everything we hoped for and more. Sun even
cooperated this afternoon so I tried the sundeck jacuzzi while
watching snowy mountaintops.
Tonight we will be going to midnight concert at Tromso's Arctic
Cathedral. Supposed to be great place to see midnight sun.
More later, maybe with pix.
Monday, June 28, 2010
I seem to have a nearly usable internet connection, so with luck I'll be posting more photos and text soon.
This brief post is a bit out of order, but I had to note the meal we had Saturday evening, our last at Svinøya Rorbuer, and its restaurant, Børsen Spiseri -- Stock Exchange Restaurant according to Google Translate, but probably more accurately as Warehouse and Store Restaurant, because that's where it's located, in the warehouse behind the original store, now rorbuer reception area.
I started with fish soup, here a richer version (though by no means as thick as the typical New England style chowder) made with full cream, with a few pieces of salmon joining the cod, shrimp and potato. What set it apart was a shot of Pernod.
For mains, Jean Sue ordered the halibut served with spring vegetables, including fennel. I went for lamb loin, cooked medium rare, served with french green beans. Both were accompanied by a delicious potato which seemed to be mashed with another veggie, then sautéed like a croquette, but without breadcrumbs.
Desserts were quite nice (pictured at the bottom of this post). Jean Sue ordered the fresh fruit salad topped with caramelized meringue, vanilla ice cream and a sprinkling of pistachios. I went for the cloudberry yogurt panna cotta, which would have been perfection had the cloudberries been put through a strainer: the large, very hard seeds ran counter to the silky texture of the panna cotta.