Month: August 2015

Fjords, Food and Other Natural Features of Norway

When we reached Norway, the terrain changed literally. The wide paved roads, some of them red, with clear markings down the center were behind us, replaced by roads with potholes and no dividers at all, seemingly stretching for miles ahead. Earlier I had wished for Norway, at last bored with the manicured land and pretty red houses of Sweden.

Now I questioned the whereabouts of this unrivalled beauty yet to come.

‘You do realise the scenery will be same,’ Paul said, focusing on the narrow curvy road.

“Not hardly,’ I boasted remembering crossing the Florida, Georgia state line as a child, after a visit with my grandparents –one state’s smooth roads barely discernible underneath the car tires, while the other’s were rough and rocky, as if the car had a flat.

Just then some free ranging goats and elks wandered across the road. Admittedly, our Swedish guide had warned us about Norway’s unregulated sheep, some sleeping on the roads in areas mimicking hinterlands, but she had not mentioned this lot.

As we drove by cautiously, we knew it would be slow travelling onwards. Not only would we have to worry about hitting carefree sheep and incurring the sorrow of doing so as well as a heavy penalty, but also we would have to fret about elk, goats and possibly reindeer, too.

And so we tarried and even if I did need to make a stop, we kept moving. With Sweden’s lovely rest areas replaced by small Wc’s akin to out houses and coffee stalls, we began to truly understand the meaning of a layman’s pit stop. We gave them a miss and pressed on to Roros, a debatably charming former mining town in Norway, which was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in the 1980s.

Glad to be in the middle of somewhere, we ascertained that it was the farthest that I had been north ever, some 444 kilometer (276 miles) away from the Artic Circle, Here we saw day, even if it was dusty, stretch well into night until around 11.00 p.m.

Also, Roros was where we got our first taste of good Norwegian cooking at Vertshuset, likely the best restaurant in town. From then on dinner would play a key role in our experience in Norway with family owned businesses serving up home made meals replete with fresh, local ingredients, featuring bread to my detriment. Glad you remembered I’m gluten intolerant. I forgot.

Still, the best of food was yet to come in Denmark, but that is another story.

Admittedly, however, Norwegian cooking made up for the cooler atmosphere, particularly further north, not only in the air, but also in the people. There, even hospitality staff served with a cool curiosity and watched us suspiciously. In the guests, we saw an austerity and a preserved a way of life. To my mind, we fell into what I call the outsider trap, suddenly aware of our differences and wearing them like they were an inferiority complex. In Sweden we had worn who we are with equality.

In Roros, at breakfast, we walked into a chilly room filled with middle aged to elderly Norwegians. The waiter found us a place with two ladies who smiled demurely but who kept silent. Momentarily, there seemed to be an inherent defense for a way of life that would cast a spell on our holiday. But thankfully, as we drove further into the natural beauty of Norway, the spell lifted.

An overnight in the Lom region, where we had another lovely dinner at the Fossheim Hotel, would see us through the fog, metaphorically. From then on any fog we experienced would be as mystical and beautiful as the very fjords it hung over.

From crossing Sognefjell, Norway’s highest mountain passage, beginning our fjord tour, to driving through Hallingdal Valley to ending our scenic drive in Oslo, Norway’s capital, we witnessed exceptional beauty, from close-up waters surrounded by glistening mountainous rocks, some snow capped, to distant lakes, bordered by grassy, robust mountains.


Need I say more about the fjords, both Sognefjorded and Hardangerfjorden; they speak for themselves. But I will say that Norway’s most burgeoning tourist town, Bergen, was well worth the visit, if only to see Bryggen, the unequivocally beautiful Norwegian street, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, too. And then we went off to Oslo, the country’s capital. A smaller capital by comparison to many with a population of just over six hundred thousand of Norway’s five million people, Oslo is replete with character, culture and clean-cut folks, most of them seemingly with a clear conscious. Here is where I inadvertently left my reasonably expensive coat in the waiting lobby of a restaurant for two hours or more. I found it just as I had left it.

Never mind the surly taxi driver, who like the one in Stockholm over charged us or the young man in the cinnamon bun shop on the Bryggen, who wasn’t sure whether he should serve me or not. Norway is definitely off the beaten path and all the better for it.


THE FJORDS – Formed by glaciers during the ice age(s), Norway’s fjords are deep, narrow and elongated seas or lake drains, with steep land on three sides. Stunning scenery!

BERGEN – Norway’s most energetic city on the Fjord route. Bustling with lots to do and see.

  •  Bryggen – Pretty street with wooden houses – a UNESCO Heritage site
  • Funicular Ride – a train ride up to a high point over looking the city. Great views!

THE FOOD – Great restaurants, even in not so great spots, but fantastic at the likes of the Walaker Hotel in Solvorn!

INGENUITY – Engineering fetes all over the place in roads built in and over the mountains. The tunnels are built through the mountains and are complete with wi fi, roundabouts, etc.…the longest one we were in was 22 kilometers (13.5 miles).


RAMBLING SHEEP – As cute as they are, sheep should not be allowed to hold traffic hostage, particularly at the mouth of a tunnel.

RESERVED LOCALS – Perhaps there is a shyness rather than reservation, as of the five million people, only a fraction of them foreigners.

ROAD TOLLS – Somebody has to pay for the new tunnels and the new roads. Never mind! They do stop charging when the work stops.

POOR ROADSIDE AMENITIES – Fuel up in the city or you’ll be walking for miles and take a restroom break, too, or brave a roadside stop.


Sweden Exhibits Youthfulness, Despite Old Age

Until recently Freja (not her real name), whom I met when I first came to London 17 years ago, was all I knew about Sweden, her straw blonde hair, friendly smile,  ruddy cheeks; her eagerness to speak English; her proudness to be Swedish alongside her desire to be a part of the wider world.

Even after her boyfriend’s ex-wife of Afro-Caribbean descent referred to her as a ‘thing’, she responded with minimal upset as if she understood on some level the limitations of such thinking. It could have been just as easy to cry reverse discrimination and own the experience. Yet, she rejected it and got on with being Swedish in an evolving English country.

All those years ago Freja taught me all I needed to know about her country to enjoy a visit there—that Swedish pride, anchored in tradition, not only soars far beyond Nordic shores in its big brands–Ericsson, H&M, Electrolux, Volvo, SAAB, the Stieg Larsson books, and so on—but lives largely in its people, its very atmosphere.

From the warm welcome we received at Arlanda airport by our middle-aged lady taxi driver, who was pre-arranged by our tour agency, to the heartfelt farewell from the young man at our hotel, we felt a spirit of kindness, of willingness, and quite frankly of youthfulness.

Of course there were the anomalies—the calculating taxi driver, who doubled the fare while putting on a friendly face, and the surly waiter, who pretended to be deaf mute while serving us and chatted openly to others—but aren’t there always? Call them big city swindlers, as both incidents happened in Stockholm.

Never mind them and their limitations, we found Stockholm, in particular, youthful, very much a breath of fresh air in a world that can sometimes feel quite old and stale and is often trapped in racial and/or ethnic quagmires.

Surely, there are such predicaments in Sweden as in all cities, but with a largely indigenous population of just over nine and a half million people (more than two million of them in Stockholm); the attitude of acceptance for other ethnicities doesn’t appear to be a problem.

Also, most folks speak English. How superficial and selfish of me to report this happily, you might say. It’s not the only language in the world. Of course not, but the Swedes cracked the code years ago that their lovely Germanic language would keep them limited, thus from about aged seven learning English becomes mandatory, according to the hop on hop off bus tour we took in Stockholm. Really! Yes, we got with the tourist programme and weren’t disappointed!

Anyhow, English brings the Swedes together with visitors from as far away as Asia to as near as Finland, all of us greeted with a smiling ‘hey’ and it doesn’t stop there. Without a flinch, unless English is undeveloped or rusty such as in the countryside, people regaled us fluently with tales of history and explained menus and so on.

For example, our lady taxi driver prepared us for what was ahead Including the consistent pretty red houses, which date back to the 16th century. Then a special paint called Falu red was created and used in Falun in the copper mines in Dalarna. Nowadays, the red paint is used out of tradition up and down the country. Also, she mentioned the undulating manicured land, bubbling springs and placid lakes. In short, she described Sweden as a well-preserved country, yet a progressive one.

What she didn’t mention, however, was the fetish for old American cars, a theme we noticed around Sweden, town and country. Perhaps it is something to do with roots, as thick American accents were all over the place, namely the big cities.

America? Perhaps that’s why I took to Sweden so instantly. The hospitality there felt almost American. And like the good old USA, Sweden has much to offer and a few things not to be desired too, more than I can write about in one blog, hence the highlights and low lights, too.


STOCKHOLM – A world-class city with an old town heaving with cafes, shops and narrow cobblestone streets,  fabulous high-end shopping and varied museums–one of them, the Nobel Museum, which we visited.  

SALA SILVER MINE – A well-preserved mining village with guided tours of a mining shaft. Though it was cold and dark 40 meters below ground, it was a fascinating experience. But don’t forget walking shoes or boots.

GOTHENBURG – This is Sweden’s second city with petty canals and fun restaurants and home of the Avenyn, their street often referred to as the Champs Elysees of the South. Non mais belle!

OLD LINKOPING – An open-air museum, which shows what small town Sweden looked like one hundred years ago. A must see.

Low Lights:

Borlange – Not sure why we stopped in this town, except as a stopover. No hotels or restaurants of noteworthy calibre.

Gondolen – This is apparently one of the top restaurants in Stockholm but likely a tourist trap with good views of the city. Here is where we encountered the rude waiter and okay (at best) food.

In Stockholm, taxi drivers can legally rip you off because of zoning. Don’t ask me?

Hotels don’t necessarily provide a safe in the room, so on with the backpack, whatever your age and ability.

Next stop, Norway…stay tuned.



A Nordic Road Trip: What Were We Thinking?

For years now Paul has teased about taking a Winnebago across North America after retirement. Fat chance, I always retort, that is, if you expect me to come along. I can think of few things worse. Seriously!

Born and bred in the Southern USA, I’ve had enough of extenuating road trips, endless highways stretching from east to west and from north to south, and standard and some substandard roadside parks and rest areas. I’ve long taken to the skies.

Still recently, however, Paul and I drove about 3,500 kilometers (approximately 2,200 miles) around Sweden, Norway and Denmark, after flying to Stockholm, where we hired a trusted Volkswagen Golf for the tour.

What were we thinking? Paul, likely, in true British style had high hopes for more sunshine and less rain, a big desire for wild adventure and an eagerness for plenty of surprise. Not to mention his laid back attitude about our accommodation.

I, on the other hand, longed for above average accommodation, haute cuisine–even if I am darn near intolerant of all things yummy–haute couture and a destination  relatively close to Georgia, USA, preferably with a spot of sunshine.

I know. I know. Distance is all relative, but at least we didn’t head off to India, Africa or on Paul’s much talked about round the world trip. Make no mistake about it, I am game, well at least for the first two, but not now with my mother being seriously ill.

Anyhow in compromise we ventured into lessor known parts of Sweden, unknown and well-known parts of Norway, and hotspots of Denmark.

Having done little or no research for the holiday, unlike us to be honest, we faced plenty of surprises, pleasant ones for the most part. At the last minute, however, I picked up a copy of Lonely Planet, after a necessary trip to my orthodontist in Marylebone. After nearly 10 years, my permanent retainer had broken. With a new one fastened securely, I found myself leafing through the travel guide on my Uber ride home and briefly glanced up to respond to the driver’s curiosity about what I was reading.

Just before then my eyes had feasted on Copenhagen’s Noma, voted the world’s best restaurant for the last three years in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants guide. Thus, I told him Scandinavia in a rather irritated voice, knowing there was no chance we would get into Noma at such late notice. People reserve for months in advance to get a table there.

‘Don’t go there,’ he said. I closed the book and looked ahead in dismay. His dark eyes searched my face through his rear view mirror. ‘It’s not a good destination for brown people,’ he said, explaining that though he was originally from Iraq, he grew up in Denmark.

Having read earlier on the Internet what the street committee had to say about racism in Scandinavia, long after the tickets were booked albeit, my heart sank to its lowest degree again. What were we thinking?

But then I remembered all the racial matters going on in the world, particularly  in my home country. So I tossed the cynicism out the window and got thinking again about the pending holiday, all the opportunities ahead.

The excitement of exploration opened my mind and pretty much kept it accessible throughout the entire two weeks. Thus, I found the Swedish people youthful and accommodating, with the odd exception here and there, the Norwegian scenery breathtakingly beautiful, save for the few rough spots, and the Danish cuisine, delectable, even if it is over the top expensive, not to mention my refusal to admit to allergies and intolerances. Never mind, it was worth it. And I did a bit of my kind of shopping, too, in both Stockholm and Copenhagen.

In short I am pleased to say we have been there and done that, even though we didn’t get much sunshine or less rain for that matter. Not to mention the less than average accommodation in some spots. Would I do it again? Not a chance in full. It was too much to cram into the short period of time, only affording us one night in most places, albeit this was more than enough in a few cases. The point it is, however, the trip was exhausting, though exhilarating.

Besides, road travel is not my thing, remember. A different option would be to take the trip off the road and do it my way–fly!  Still we not only racked up miles but also awesome memories, too, memories to savour for years to come.

What were we thinking? And what did we discover? Find out more here on Stay tuned.