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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Thursday, June 24, 2010
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.
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.
|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
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.
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 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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.