Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Scenes at Sea

The sun arrived, the boat's internet connection is just about at dial-up speed, so some photos from yesterday after we returned from the excursion. The photos of the town are of the burg of Oksfjord; the others were taken between there are Tromsø. The one of the other Hurtigruten (MS Midnatsol) when we passed and the crew tried to excite passengers to take towels and wave at the other ship. No other captions necessary. As always, click on pic to enlarge.

One last photo, from Monday, our first day aboard and our first port-of-call after boarding, the town of Vardø.

On Top of Europe

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).

The weather was reasonably cooperative, i.e., it didn't rain and fog did not obscure the view from Nordkapp. Frequently, you can't even see the far point, according to our guide. Temperatures were moderate, though I still needed my new wool sweater and my rain jacket as a windbreaker. In addition to the view and the hotel Nord Kapp featured this monument dedicated to the children of the world; the large medallions were designed by children, which Jean Sue admires in this photo.

(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

Internet on Boat Slllloooowwwee

I'll post more when I'm able, but may not be able to post photos until
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

Bon Voyage

Jean Sue toasts the start of our Hurtigruten journey after we leave the dock in Kirkenes. Because we booked a mini-suite, we found Italian bubbly, fruit and chocolates greeting us in the spacious cabin.

I seem to have a nearly usable internet connection, so with luck I'll be posting more photos and text soon.

Not So Busy Kirkenes

At 10 a.m. today, the pedestrian mall in the center of Kirkenes was deserted. Even the 44F temperature was unseasonably cool. Last week it reached 70 in this Barents Sea city.

More Fiskesuppe

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.

The Road to Murmansk

We passed the turnoff for Murmansk, about 160 miles away, on our bus from the Kirkenes Airport to downtown Kirkenes. Tempting though it may be to visit the home of the old Soviet submarine fleet where derelict nukes go to irradiate their life away, we'll stay here in Kirkenes where the street signs are in Norwegian and Russia.

We'll be here overnight until our noontime sailing on the MS Trollfjord, our Hurtigruten steamer for the five-night trip south to Bergen. It took us three flights to get here -- Svolvaer-Bodø on Widerøe, Bodø-Tromsø on SAS, then Tromsø-Kirkenes back on Widerøe (which is an SAS subsidiary) -- but with plenty of time between connections (an hour and a half at Bodø, more than two and a half at Tromsø) we're not too worn out, i.e., Jean Sue did not immediately collapse into bed upon arrival.

There are worse places in the word for a layover than Tromsø; the airport is small, with about half a dozen jetways and about as many places for commuter turboprops, but it's busy with flights to Oslo every couple of hours, serving as an air hub for the most northern reaches of Norway. We watched the England-Germany World Cup match in the bar with about 50 other travelers. Bob continued his quest for tasting new aquavits: today it was  a Nord Norsk aquavit.

After the short bus ride to our hotel we took a two-block walk on the deserted, windy streets for a pizza and beer dinner (one small pizza, one beer = $40) at the Cafe Ritz, dead today but, according to the barmaid, a hot spot on Saturday night when exotic Russian dancers hold court in the second floor disco. Sorry we missed that! Oh, well, we can always head to Brooklyn's Brighton Beach section for some Russian nightlife, or even parts of Philadelphia's Northeast.

Quick impression of Kirkenes: it's an iron ore town, not unlike those around Lake Superior. An island railroad line shuttles ore to a huge plant, built just a couple years ago, overlooking the town square. It's a Sunday so maybe they're shut today. But it looks like the lifeblood of the town, processing ore for shipment to Norway and international markets. Although the history of industrial ore mining goes back more than 100 years, it briefly stopped because of market conditions in the 1990, but the government, wanting to maintain the community took over a majority of the ore company and reactivated operations.

I've got an internet connection tonight, slow but working, but am too tired to write much more. Because I'm not likely to have regular access to the 'net while aboard the Trollfjord (or have it at exorbitant cost), I may keep my jottings offline until I reach better/cheaper internet access.

See you then!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

About Our Rorbu

Originally, the rorbu was a bunkhouse for fishermen, and more than just a couple. Although some of the rorbuer here are of new construction ours (pictured above) is one of the originals, but extensively modernied for visitors like us who want to be comfortable. In the 19th century a rorbu this size would have slept up to two dozen of the fishermen who came here from all parts of Norway to partake in the winter cod season. Today our cabin is outfitted for six, though it would be very intimate in the two bedrooms and single bath with a full house.

Why winter? Because that's when the cod appeared in the relatively warm waters between the Lofoten Islands and the mainland and the surrounding seas. Sure as heck beat hanging around all winter in the Barents sea north of Norway and Russia. Just like snowbirds heading south from Minneapolis to Sarasota, the cod appreciate the temperature tempering effects of the Gulf Stream.

Our rorbu is one of a couple of dozen operated as Svinøye Rorbuer (the plural of rorbu) on an island that served as the original community of Svolvaer. In fact, Svolvaer's first store is occupied by the reception area, with shelves filled with goods from the early 20th century when the fish enterprises around here really took off.

Even today, bacalao from the Lofotens is admired, and eaten, around the world. Today, the only activities in the building are the rorbuer offices, its restaurant (which we will try tonight and is reputed to be the best around these parts), and bicycle rental. Oh, there's also a small laundry room where I washed a week's worth of clothing yesterday.

Inside, our rorbu is spacious and rustic-looking while offering most modern conveniences, from indoor plumbing (with hot running water) to a modern kitchen, satellite television and a dependable WiFi connection.

The kitchen/eating and living room are separate but flow together, as you can see in the photo showing Jean Sue enjoying a Varg Veum private eye novel (a series about a fictional former child welfare worker turned private eye in Bergen) while I stand in the corner of the kitchen taking the photo. Most of the windows in the rorbu open to the sea and mountains.

The bedrooms (we have two) aren't as spacious, but they work. This rorbu can sleep six. Each bedroom has a single bed and upper and lower bunks. Closet space, however, is nil, though there are some shelves, plenty of coat hooks along the bedroom and vestibule walls, and maybe eight or nine clothes hangers. We took advantage of the space offered by the unoccupied beds. The only other downside to the bedrooms are the beds: while we mostly slept just fine, despite the 24-hour light, the beds are not much more than a thin, efficient mattress on a platform. You better like hard beds, though Jean Sue found that putting one of the extra duvets between her and the mattress offered significant relief.

The entire cabin is well-heated, with controllable electric units in each room. Plus, the bathroom floor is heated -- that's quite common in Norway, for good reason. The other bathroom facilities, including stall shower, worked fine.

The kitchen is satisfactorily equipped, as you could gather from reading my Catching Dinner post. Given that eating out in Norway is twice as expensive as back home (I think I mentioned earlier that pizza and beer for two will set you back about $70) we took advantage of the kitchen. I sautéed chicken one night, made pasta with sufficient sauce for two more meals, reheated leftover pizza from last Sunday and, of course, made that fish. Thanks to the refrigerator we could buy soda, milk and beer at the supermarket rather than relying on 7-11 and Narvesen, the two major convenience store chains in Norway. Breakfast was a buffet in the Svinøya Rorbuer's restaurant: smoked salmon or gravlax, meatballs, sausages (more like little hot dogs), breads and rolls, ham, salami, cheeses, yogurts, fruits, cereals, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, juice and milk.

Overall, should you wish to visit the Lofoten Islands (and you should, you should) we wouldn't hesitate recommending Svinøya Rorbuer.

Island Monochrome

Although we had nearly two days of sunshine, the Lofotens are cloudy and rainy most of the time. This monochrome image depicts the reality.

Catching Dinner

After having one fishing trip canceled out from under me because city inspectors hadn't got around to looking over the boat (a likely story: they probably just didn't have enough people to make a trip worth the fuel),  yesterday afternoon I finally made it to sea in search of dinner. The 4 p.m. sailing from Solvaer's town square pier started under sunny skies. Indeed, the first 20 minutes of the eastward cruise were sunny and warm, though we could see rainclouds ahead.

Sure enough, by the time we reached our first fishing spot the rains had started. Everyone dressed in raingear, either the one-piece outfits with hoods supplied by the boat, or their own. My rainpants and jacket kept me pretty dry, and because the temperature was moderate even at sea I had no need for a newly-purchased "duck hunting" wool sweater.

I no sooner got my line to the bottom and a few feet up when I felt a tug. I steadily reeled in the line and brought my catch to the surface, the first landed on the boat that afternoon and what turned out, I'm pretty sure, one of if not the largest. Had we had a pool, I would have won twice! For someone who hadn't been ocean fishing in about 45 years I was as pleased as could be. Beginners luck, I told a fellow fisherman from Oslo.

He told me I had caught what I heard him say was a "Helle", but after going to the web I think I misheard him pronounce, "Hyse", which is haddock in Norwegian. That's certainly what I landed looked like: a nice, fat haddock. (It might have been a pollock or a saithe, a.k.a. coalfish, but the Norwegian words for these fish aren't even close in pronunciation to what my new fishing buddy said; in any event, they are also closely related to the revered cod, with similar though not identical tastes and textures.) Although we had no scale, the mate thought it weighed about two kilograms: at 2.2 pounds to the kilo, that's a nicely sized fish.

No one else seemed to be catching much at our first spot, so the captain told us to reel in the rods so we could try another hole. About 10 minutes later, just east of the island community of Skrova, about six or seven miles south-southeast of Svolvaer, I again dropped my line into the green-gray water. Once again, I landed a hyse as quickly, this one almost as big as the first. A few others were hauled in by others on board, as well as some small cusks. But the dozen sea anglers aboard caught less than a dozen fish, so I got more than my share.

The mate headed and gutted the fish, feeding the entrails (and some bread) to the gulls following us back to Svolvaer. Once back at our rorbu I trimmed the tail and fins so it would fit in the only ovenware available. Now I had to figure out the best way to cook it. Haddock provides reasonably firm texture, with nice big flakes. It can stand up to strong sauces and seasonings despite its mild flavor. My larder, however, is pretty limited. Half an onion was available, along with salt, pepper, and plenty of the individual servings of butter I had been absconding with from the breakfast buffet every day since arrival. That would have to do.

So I set the oven on 200 C (nearly 400 F) to pre-heat while I prepped the fish. The bottom of the oval baking dish got a coat of butter. More butter was placed under, inside and on top of the fish. Here's what it looked like before I remembered to add the sliced onions:

Of course, what Norwegian meal would be complete without potatoes. At the Mega Coop that morning I obtained three medium-sized new potatoes. They looked much like Yukon Golds and their color, once cooked, a nice yellow. Here's my cooked meal:

As you can see from the photo at right, I was a happy man. The fish, on the table three hours after I had hauled it out of the Lofoten sea, was as sweet as could be. The potatoes, oddly but very pleasantly, were also sweet-tasting. And both went well with plenty of butter, salt and pepper.

More About Beer

Here's a half-liter (500 ml) glass of Arctic draft I enjoyed on the brygge (pier) in Svolvaer before heading out on a fishing trip.

This single glass set me back 68 kroner, or about $10. Although alcholic beverages are taxed heavily no matter where purchased, the levies are considerably higher at restaurants and cafés. A 330 ml bottle of the same beer, a relatively inexpensive brew, sells for 13.40 kroner, or a little more than $2, in the supermarket. That makes a six-pack somewhere in the vicinity of $14-15. (I've corrected my earlier post about Shrimp and Beer to reflect more accurate beer pricing). A bottle of better beer in the supermarket would sell for nearly twice the price.  So, if you want to enjoy some beer in a parsimonious fashion while visiting Norway, it's best to buy it at the supermarket for consumption at home.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Midnight Sun on Gimsøya

Jean Sue's photo captures the esssence of the midnight sun on Gimsøya, an island in the central Lofotens. We traveled there, about 40 minutes from Svolvaer, to see the midnight sun from the north side of the archipelago, with the sun hanging in the north and illuminating the south. Here are some more photos.

Gimsøy kirke, with cemetery markers dating to 1806, located adjacent to the Gimsøystraumen, the waterway separating Gimsøya and Vågan.

Farmhouse near the kirke.

Jean Sue poses in front of the midnight sun.

Midnight golf at the Lofoten Links on Gimsøya

More golf

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shrimp and Beer

While Jean Sue enjoyed a good  book, I enjoyed shrimp and beer at this lovely setting by our cottage.

I obtained both vittles at the Mega Coop, the aforesaid supermarket in the local mall. The six-pack of Arctic Beer originated from Mack Brewing of Tromsø, the metropolis of the north. (We'll be stopping there during our Hurtigruten journey, including an excursion for a brief concert at its Arctic Cathedral, the most northern in the world.) The six-pack set me back about $15, more than two bucks a bottle. The beer itself, while no microbrew, is four or five notches better than Bud and compares well with my standard beer at home, Yuengling's Chesterfield Ale. For an easy-to-drink, inexpensive lager, Arctic Beer hits the sweet spot.

The shrimp (rekke in Norsk) were of the small, northern variety, much like those caught during the winter season in Maine. They sold for about $10 a pound, with heads on. Which is all to the better, so you can suck out the fat or whatever that tasty subtance is that we rarely find in shrimp sold in the U.S. I simply boiled them in salted water, drained and put them in the fridge to cool. Some potato chips and carrot sticks completed my al fresco treat. (The local cat population enjoyed a few shrimp heads, too.)

What I must take care is to give myself two hours to let my blood alcohol level subside. Even one beer is enough to send you to the clink in Norway. Here's what the U.S. State Department says about drinking in Norway:
Norway has some of the strictest laws in Europe concerning driving under the influence of alcohol; those laws prescribe heavy penalties for drivers convicted of having even a low blood alcohol level.  Frequent road checks with mandatory breathalyzer tests and the promise of stiff jail sentences encourage alcohol-free driving.  The maximum legal blood alcohol content level for driving a car in Norway is .02 per cent.
 In Pennsylvania you are considered over the limit with a blood alcohol level of .08 or more -- four times more than the Norwegian standard.

At Last, Some Sun!

The sun finally made an appearance on our seventh day in Norway as shown by the midday illumination on a portion of the Svolvaer fishing fleet.

This morning we drove about half an hour to Henningsvaer, an even smaller town (but still substantial by Lofoten standards). The town is built on a series of small, narrow islands connected by bridges and causeways, giving it the feel of being a sort of Scandinavian Venice. Like the Venice region, Henningsvaer even has a glassblower whose excellent wares are displayed for sale at a local gallery; we were just as impressed by some of the pottery. Jean Sue, however, observed that it's too early in our trip to be buying fragile items, nice as they were.

A bit of a to-do over our rental car put a crimp in the early afternoon, which I spent at a garage and Jean Sue at the local mall. I won't say any more about the car other than the issues are resolved.

The mall (where we did our grocery shopping Monday) is a compact, two-story building into which the management company crammed about a dozen and a half stores selling just about anything you'd need, with some degree of style sense. Jean Sue almost bought some slacks, but they weren't available in her size. There's even a kitchenware store that I found of interest, though nothing out-of-the-ordinary to buy, and quite expensive: imagine paying nearly $1,000 for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

This afternoon we're taking it easy. I'm outdoors using the WiFi connection (it's just as good inside -- it's just too nice a day to spend anything but the minimum away rrom the sun).

Because the skies are relatively clear, we thought this would be our best chance to see, literally, the midnight sun. So we're planning a trip late this evening to the western side of the island (and the other side of its mountains, known as the Lofoten Wall) to see what we came here to see. For that reason, Jean Sue is fitting in a cat nap. While she was napping, I did what I do best: eating. More about that  in the next post.

Midsummer's Eve: Let There Be Fire

The bonfire was just starting to build up when a German TV producer,
there with his crew to film the festivities offered to take this photo of  Bob

 There are two peculiarities about the Norwegian celebration of the longest day of the year.

The first peculiarity is the date. Without regard for the date of the actual summer solstice Norwegians always celebrate their Midsummer's Eve on 23 June. Why, I have no idea. It's not like they time it for the weekend -- this year the 23rd was a Wednesday.

The second peculiarity, which holds across Scandinavia, not just Norway, is the lighting of fires. It seems counter-intuitive to require additional heat and light on the longest day of the year -- indeed, there is 24 hours of daylight this far north. Then again, we do the same just a few weeks after the solstice with the Fourth of July fireworks' display in an attempt to do away with night entirely, if only for a 30-minute show of explosives.

The locals appear to have two Midsummer's Eve celebrations. One is held about 11 p.m. away from the shore where the town of Svolvaer meets its mountains. We went to what was undoubtedly the "family" event (no beer) on the small island where our rorburer compound is located, just across the bridge from the main part of Svolvaer. Starting about 6  p.m. a crowd that eventually grew to about 250 gathered at the clearing jutting out into the water, a local recreation area that included a few picnic tables and fire pits. While waiting for the pagan ritual to begin, many (including your correspondent) lined up to buy pølse (hot dogs), soda and rommergrøt.

Jean Sue stuck with the pølse, but I went for the rømmergrøt which is about as simple a dish as you could make: porridge. But it was perfect to fill and warm you up while waiting for the bonfire. The porridge is made from milk and cream, flour and sugar, to which once ladled into your bowl you add quite a lot more sugar, this time mixed with plenty of cinnamon. Simple stuff, but good food.

The crowd cheered when the fire-starter arrived at 7 p.m. with his large container of gasoline. I'll call him Odd, since that's a common Norwegian male first name, and fitting to his job last night. Odd had a red face, probably from being close to too many fires, yet if he was experienced it didn't show. He got much too close to the large pile of wooden rubbish saved for the occasion. When the fire sent out a tongue of flame, or at least a blast of heat, Odd jumped back, bringing on laughter from the parents and kids watching. But Odd was not laughing: his red hair, especially his eyebrows, had to be singed, as well as a bit on his arms. For the next 10 minutes, as he continued to tend the fire, Odd kept rubbing his brow and checking his arms. Occupational hazard, I imagine.

The fire was built by a pile of rocks on the shore (the rocks are just about everywhere, although a couple of sand beaches do exist in these islands), just above the high tide line. There was nothing nearby to catch fire besides the bonfire, and if it did threaten, a front-end loader from the nearby fish plant could easily push it into the water.

The setting was ideal, with a view through the fire to distant islands and, looking off to the other side, the Svolvaer Goat and its craggy neighbors. By the time the fire started to die down we were both happy we could celebrate Midsummer's Eve in the Lofoten Islands.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Fiskesuppe at Maren Anna, Sørvågen

Fiskesuppe is the local version of a soup found wherever cold-water fisherman reside. The fish and the milk are essential, everything else is (block that metaphor!) icing on the cake.

The version pictured above, while not unknown in Maine or Norway, is for the rich folk. In addition to the local cod, it's further enhanced by shrimp and a couple of mussels. A little leek and carrot slivers (and butter) finish this rich man's broth. The most famous version in Norway is Bergens Fiskesuppe, from the Hanseatic city Bergen (which we'll visit later in our trip). Just as renowned is the Lofoten version; I still haven't been able to divine the difference between the two.

More typically, the only animal protein in the soup would be fish, usually cod, though it could be made from any firm, white fish. Carrots would be typical, as would a little cubed potato, with some plain onion replacing the leek.

It would not, however, be thick like the typical "New England" chowder. Neither cream nor cornstarch thickener ever insult this soup. Even using half-and-half instead of whole milk would be pushing the envelope.

My own recipe would start with a cup of fish broth. (You could use bottled clam juice; it's better, and not at all hard, to bring shrimp shells with water to cover to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes and strain.) Meanwhile, onions are being gently sauteéd in plenty of butter until translucent (do not brown!) along with carrots cut julienne. All of this goes into a pot with a quart of whole milk, salt and pepper (white if you have it) to taste, perhaps a sprig of fresh thyme (don't overdo the herbs). Turn up the heat so the soup starts a very gentle simmer, at which point add a pound of cut-up fish. When the fish is cooked through (should only take 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness), place into bowls and serve; garnish with fresh chives or parsley, if you'd like. Serve with good, crusty bread.

The Road to Å

The villages of Reine (right) and Sakrisøy are along the route to Å

Tuesday we set out in the morning to find the end of the road. We found it in Å.

Å is the fishing village at the southernmost point you can travel on the E-10, the road which connects the main islnds of the Lofotens. (A couple other inhabited islands -- Røst and Værøya -- can be reached only by boat or helicopter.) From Svolvaer, the nearly three-hour trip  covers 128 km (80 miles) along roads which, the more southerly you go the more narrow they become. At least two or three times we had to backup our Opel by curves or one-lane bridges to allow other vehicles to pass.

Even in drizzle and rain the Lofotens offer magical views. Changing tides provide a shifting landscape. The fish racks for drying cod no longer are A-frames; instead, southern Lofoten fishermen hang theirs from flat-top structures which, except for the dried fish, could be mistaken for arbors.

Two small museums dedicated to the region's fisheries industry are located in Å. One, devoted only to the fish-drying process, we skipped. The second and larger museum was what was, essentially, much of the original village. Today it is the museum, a restaurant and a collection of rorbuer, the fishermen's cabins that dot the coast of much of Norway.

The Norwegian Fishing Village Museum, as it is formerly known, is small and only moderately interesting, even to me, who finds nearly anything about fishing industry riveting. Of the half-dozen buildings you can visit, the most interesting is the boathouse, where samples of the small rowboats used by the fishermen are housed, along with nets and every other item necessary for making a living from the northern sea. Of a bit less interest was the cod liver oil factory where, if you are a masochist, you could taste the product from which these islands derived so much of their livelihood.

(The cod fishery off the Lofotens peaks during the winter, when huge quantities of fish from the Barents Sea (between Norway and Russia) seek the waters off the coast hear warmed by the Gulf Stream. For a wonderful, absorbing account of the live in a remote Lofoten fishing village, I recommend reading For Love of Norway, a literary account (in translation) centered around the life of the wife of a fisherman in the tiny (and now abandoned) village of Mostand on Værøya.

We had hoped to have lunch at the Brygga restaurant in Å, since we regarded it as The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. They were closed for lunch, so we headed back north, stopping at Maren Anna in Sørvågen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Never Mess With a Viking Woman

Jean Sue gets into the spirit of the 9th century at the Lofotr Viking Museum on the central island of Vestvågøy. So did Bob, though he makes much too happy a Viking.

The museum's centerpiece is the reconstruction of a Viking long house on the site of the excavation. Inside, historic interpreters, in period garb, explain Viking culture and everyday life.

Not wanting to further brave the typically inclement Lofoten weather with an additional hike down to the water and the museum's Viking boat replica, we limited our visit to the longhouse.

Vågan to Vestvågøy

This bridge over Gimsöystraumle connects the islands of Vågan and Vestvågøy within the Lofoten archipelago.

It's About Fish

The Lofoten Islands may be broadening its economy through tourism, but fish is still at the heart of the community. Just a hundred feet or so from our cabin we found this worker taking cod down from one of the many drying racks near Svinøya Rorburer, the compound of cottages where we are spending our week on the islands.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Who Needs Stars?

Even when the skies are clear (a rarity) it's hard to see stars in Oslo in midsummer. Not because of ambient light from the big city. It's the lattitude and the tilt of the earth on its axis.

Just look at the clock.

The photo above was taken at the time shown, just three minutes before the "official" sunset, at Aker Brygge. No fancy processing in PhotoShop was made to make this image. Even though Oslo is in the southern part of Norway about 400 or 500 miles on the warm side of the Arctic Circle, the Sun hardly sets. (Fortunately, our hotel room has excellent drapes. I only wish it had better soundproofing; the party-hearty Norwegians and their bands have got the amps up to 11 in the nearby clubs.)

My walk along Aker Brygge reminded me that I was Way Up North and, after our flight to the Lofoten Islands tomorrow afternoon, won't be experiencing the sun setting for another week and a half. It will, however, hide behind some mountains.

Technically, the sun sets for a little more than five hours tonight in Oslo. But its light never disappears. What an eerie experience, walking along the restaurant-lined boardwalk on Oslo's harborfront late at night and feeling as though sunset will last forever.

Of course, maybe that's why Norwegians are partying until 3 or 4 in the morning: a pagan celebration of the sun which mostly disappears in winter.

Aker Brygge is both a transit and entertainment hub. It is from here that the city system's ferry network terminates, providing commuters with access to residential islands in Oslo Fjord. From top to bottom, Aker Brygge is lined with restaurants and ice cream stalls (more sweets!), ranging from McDonald's on the (relatively) low-cost end to Lofoten, reputed to be the finest fish restaurant in this capital city. The latter was certainly the most crowded of the restaurants.

Across the harbor from Aker Brygge is Akershus, the fortress begun in 1290 to protect this maritime city. In this photo, taken about half an hour before sunset, the sun bathes the structure in its last light while pleasure boats in Aker Brygge fall into shadow.

Norway's Sweet Teeth

Norwegians definitely have a sweet tooth and it's obvious wherever you go. Our hotel breakfast buffet featured two types of kringle, the Scandinavian pastry (really, Danish) that is the symbol of Jean Sue's hometown, Racine, Wisconsin. These kringles were a big flakier than those offered at Racine's bakeries; Jean Sue observed that a now-closed Racine bakery made them similarly.

I'd travel to Norway just for the breakfast. It features, to quote Ulla, the fictional Swedish secretary in Mel Brooks's The Producers, "many different herrings." The buffet in the ornate dining rooms at the Hotel Bristol featured herrings in tomato, cream and mustard sauces. Other fish on the table included fried mackerel (which I'll try tomorrow morning) and very good smoked salmon. Three or four different kinds of eggs with bacon; flatbreads, rolls and a variety of sliced breads; baked beans and Norwegian meatballs; ham, turkey,  cured beef and cheese; raw vegetables; yogurts with fresh berries and museli/granola options; cereals; fruits and assorted beverages made sure there was something for everyone.

To conserve Jean Sue's energy we dined in the hotel's lounge. Usually I expect hotel food to be overpriced and underwhelming, but that was not the case. Of course, it was no less expensive than any other place in this high-cost city, but the quality was excellent. Although it was not billed as one, Jean Sue enjoyed what was essentially an open-faced hamburger (pure beef) with delicious sautéed onions. I ordered the "roast beef" open face sandwich, which was finished on a grill or pan to a perfect medium rare (horseradish butter finish), with a typically Scandinavian over-mayonnaised potato salad. Crisp, fresh spring salad greens accompanied both plates.

Once again, dessert demonstrated Norway's passion and perfection when it comes to sweets. Jean Sue's "chocolate cake" had just the tiniest layer of cake at the bottom: otherwise it was all mousse encased in more chocolate. My "Budapest Cake" likewise did not fit the normal definition of a cake; it was a meringue roll filled with a creamy center accented by mandarin orange sections: light in texture, not at all cloying, and deep in fruit flavor.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Oslo Welcome

Oslo weather is much like New England's -- just wait half an hour and it will change.

For our first full day in Norway the weather went from intense sun prompting the shedding of outer garments down to your t-shirt, with glare reflected by Oslo's alabaster opera house, to downpours causing one to run for cover  to a tented, heated outdoor cafe by the harbor.

Jean Sue, fatigued by the previous night's travels (and dinner with Oslo friends - more on that below) avoided the fickle weather entirely with eyes glued to our hotel room's television, watching the royal wedding in Sweden.

Bob took his chances (and his rain jacket) to enjoy central Oslo, starting out with a visit to the Radhuset, the city hall where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held. The focus of this modernist block of a building is it's grand hall with its grand murals. Throughout the building, including smaller ceremonial chambers and meeting rooms, tapestries and murals offer an idealized version of Norwegian civilization, from fishermen and farmers to families nude at the waterside (and an interesting derivative of Monet's Bathers).

After a brief stop at downtown Oslo's only decent cigar store (close by to the royal residence: only a prince can afford the prices of those Cuban stogies) he took the tram over to the central railway station and, from there, the footbridge over the highway to the new opera house, every bit as much a civic monument as the Radhuset, but where the latter anchors the harbor as a massive red brick presence, the opera tries to float with white stone, glass, and ramps leading from water to edifice.

The angular opera house hardly soars like Sydney's, but its harborside placement inevitably will draw comparisons. Both houses appear to draw more attention for their architecture than the vocal doings inside the edifices.

The art extends to the harbor immediately offshore, where the inventive wreck pictured below provides contrast to the Oslo-Copenhagen liner. The metallic construction seems to be a gleaming, more intricate variation on the girder work of Mark di Suvero.

Dinner with Friends

Friday evening we dined with Dag and Synnøve Hoelseth. Jean Sue met Dag  few years ago through their common internet interest in all things royal, and we first got together in-person in March 2009 during our "long weekend" trip to Oslo.

Professionally, Dag keeps track of Norwegian legislation for this nation's equivalent of LexisNexis; his passions, however, are genealogy and the history of U.S. Presidents. One of his blogs is devoted to Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetary, another to Grant's Tomb.

Synnøve is an educator, about to become a full-time mom next month. One of the advantages of the Norwegian social system is that the state enforces -- without the need to nudge too much -- extensive paid leaves for new parents. Both Dag and Synnøve look forward to time with their daughter: name decided, but not to be announced until birth.

We met at a high-end Chinese restaurant in downtown Oslo, Tabibito, convenient to our hotel, Dag's office and the T-bane (subway) station, lingering for nearly 2-1/2 hours catching up and enjoying the well-executed dishes. My lamb with cumin and Szechuan peppers was excellent, but Jean Sues Kung Pao chicken was exceptional: highly seasoned with just enough sweetness to tame the flame. Desserts were even better, something I do not expect at a Chinese restaurant.