~ Frogs and Blueberries ~

After a pretty hectic (and challenging) couple of weeks at work, Mike and I have just returned from an ace weekend in the mountains. Sometimes I am blown away by the culture here in Norway, and how different it is to the UK. One of the best things we’ve discovered so far is the ‘DNT’, or Den Norske Turistforening, cabins. DNT is an association that builds fantastic cabins on popular hiking trails all over Norway – so far they have 460 – which can be used by anyone for a nominal nightly fee. Some cabins are very basic: just a warm bed for the night; some are staffed and there will be someone there to cook you a hot meal at the end of your hike; the rest are halfway between. We chose one of the halfway cabins to walk to: Tomannsbu.

One of the views on outward hike.

I don’t like to paint a bad picture of the UK – I was born and raised in England and spent many happy years in Scotland – but the level of trust here in Scandinavia is so high compared to back home. The DNT cabins are unlocked to allow anyone to enter at any time. Tomannsbu was spotless when we arrived, clean and cosy. The food larder (in case you don’t want to heft your own food for the weekend on the 3-hour hike it takes to get to the cabin) was also unlocked and fully stocked with tinned food and a price list for each item. You pop in your name and bank details in a locked box so that DNT can charge you for your stay later. There is nothing to stop you spending the night without paying, emptying the larder of food and leaving the place in a mess. Yet, nobody does that here. There is always a certain percentage of any population that might take advantage of such a lovely system, and I’m sure it does occasionally happen here, but I know for sure that the percentage of bad apples in the UK is significantly higher.

Mike and I managed to finish work early on Friday, and drove up to Hunnedalen straight from the office. We were faced with a fairly steep climb up the side of a waterfall to begin with, and I immediately began to regret bringing so much stuff with us in our bags! When we reached the top of the first hill, the terrain flattened out for quite some time, and we began to really enjoy our hike. The scenery is quite similar to the Scottish hills, but on a much larger scale – and really stunning with the light running in time with the clouds over the valleys and mountain lakes. After two hours, we were about 2/3 of the way there, so stopped for some crisps and grapes by the side of the clearest body of water I’ve seen in ages – we were a few metres above the surface on the path, but we could see all the individual pebbles on the bottom. Along the way we stepped over scores of frogs ranging from a couple of centimeters long to quite gigantic in froggy terms! We passed a group of two mums and their 5 daughters who were heading in our direction, knowing we’d see them again soon once we reached our destination. 3 and a bit hours later, the cabin popped into view from behind a heathery hill – a welcome sight for sore feet and shoulders from our bags.

We were the only occupants so we chose a room on the top floor and changed into some comfier clothes for the evening before exploring our surroundings. The cabin was very traditionally Norwegian – wooden and cosy, with two wood-burning stoves for heat and a couple of Primus hobs for cooking. There were two small living rooms with soft sofas and lots of board games for the kids. A huge dining room lead off the kitchen, big enough to seat all of the 30 people the cabin was equipped to sleep. We’d brought up some leftovers from last night’s dinner with us, so we heated those up and opened a bottle of wine, too. The family of girls arrived and the kids were so excited to be on a sleepover in a cabin – they were lovely smiley little things that were too shy to speak to us and just listened as we chatted in a language different to their own.

After dinner, we lit the wood-burning stove and some candles and opened our books to read for a while. The cabin did have some electricity, fired by solar panels on the roof, but there was no need to use it. We headed to bed early, and found our room to be really cosy (it was above the wood-burner!) and comfy. We must have been asleep in seconds! When we woke up, the sun was out and Mike was brave enough to have his morning wash in the lake – brr! I just heated a basin of water on the wood-burner and threw it over myself on the balcony instead – much warmer :o) After a very chilled out morning, we were left alone in the cabin so we decided to head our ourselves to a nearby lake. While Mike fished I picked wild blueberries – I was much more successful than him and we came home with no fish but a bowl full of berries. On our arrival we discovered we had some new neighbours for the night – a group of two dads and their kids, and two men who both volunteered for DNT and who were up to do some odd jobs around the cabin. We spent another lovely night eating some great food that Mike cooked up and drinking wine by candlelight.

The next morning we woke to clouds hanging low over the surrounding hills, and after a very brief wash in the lake for me, and a sweep and mop of our room, we decided to head back to the car. The hike was a little more challenging on our return journey as, although it was dry for our walk, it had been raining heavily all night and the moorland was slick with mud. We both plunged into deep boggy puddles a few times on our way home! As much as I enjoyed the walk, I was awfully happy to see Viking (our Norwegian Volvo) in the car park at the bottom of the waterfall we had first walked up.

Mike and I split the drive home and then took turns to have a reaaaaaally long, hot shower when we got home. I made us salmon with dauphinoise potatoes for supper and we napped on the sofa as half-watched comedies played on the TV. A fantastic weekend and one we will definitely repeat in future.

K

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~ Gladmaten 2014 ~

Photographing Gladmaten.

Photographing Gladmaten.

Gladmaten is an annual food festival in Stavanger; the locals all get really excited for this one and now I see why! It ran from Wednesday to Sunday and I headed there 3 times over its duration. It was a great place to take some photos, so I had my Pentax out and hope to get the film developed this week. For now, I’ve posted a couple of iPhone snaps and an overview of all the lovely things we ate!

The harbour in Stavanger was transformed into a Mediterranean-feeling walkway last week, lined with lots of small – and some larger – stalls and tents selling every kind of food you can imagine. With everything from traditional Norwegian bakeries and fish restaurants to Indian, Italian and French cuisine, there was almost too much to choose from! The smells were incredible, the food visually appealing too, and the atmosphere happy and relaxed (despite the ongoing terror threat from Syria).

French patisserie stall.

French patisserie stall.

On Thursday I headed along with a couple of ladies from work. We sat in the sun and drank pink wine and champagne before enjoying some of the more traditional Norwegian food. I had a lamb fricasse which was absolutely beautiful, and one of my colleagues had a seafood platter. Mike joined us for a drink later and was nearly dribbling over Anita’s lobster, so we decided to head back again the next day.

A happy Mike and his iced shellfish platter.

A happy Mike and his iced shellfish platter.

After work on Friday Mike and I had a lovely meal (and a couple of cold beers) at Fisketorget, Stavanger’s fish market, which has a lovely restaurant attached to it. Mike ordered the shellfish platter, which came with crab, king crab, lobster, oysters and prawns. It was an order-by-weight dish, so he missed out the oysters and just took 200g of everything else… Which turned out to be quite a lot! He thoroughly enjoyed it, though. I had the “catch of the day”; a salmon dish that was quite frankly the best salmon I’ve ever eaten. Two beautiful pink fillets sitting atop boiled waxy potatoes, parsnips and a lovely seafood sauce, with salmon roe sprinkled over the top. I’m not usually a fan of caviar – my marine biology degree being the main reason I don’t like eating fish very much – but this was absolutely fantastic. I even tried a bit of Mike’s shellfish (crab: yuck, lobster: OK, prawns: surprisingly tasty but not worth the hassle of peeling).

Catch of the Day at Fisketorget.

Despite two lovely meals on Thursday and Friday, I was desperate to go round all the smaller stalls and have some of the little tasters they were selling for a few NOK. Saturday turned out to be yet another gorgeous day of sun – the 7th in a row with a temperature of 30-31 degrees C. We had a bit of a wander round the town, then back along the stalls. We tried a slice of pizza from Al Forno which was lovely (one of their restaurants is right by our apartment so we’ll have to try it one day), then a couple of dishes from one of the Indian stalls. I had green garlic chicken and Mike had a tandoori spiced chicken, then we shared a vegetarian samosa. All delicious, but Mike’s was definitely the winner – and the garlicky raita  and salad that was served on the side deserved a spoon to ensure every last drop was demolished.

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Samosa and grilled chicken with raita from one of the Indian stalls.

Stavanger is such a lovely city to host festivals in; the harbour is a brilliant central point and affords lovely views out to the mountains and North Sea, too. The city itself is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and incredibly arty and cultural. There are sculptures everywhere you look, and local graffiti artists have been allowed to spray huge murals on lots of the blank walls in the centre. One day I’ll do a post about them and take photos of my favourites, but for now, this one of a colourful lady caught my eye (and the eye of the little girl who is trying to copy her stance underneath).

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The locals here really dive into events like Gladmaten and I lost count of how many Norwegians at my work encouraged me to attend. I’m so glad that the “concrete” but “unspecified” threat from Syrian extremists on Norway that is forecast over the next couple of days did nothing to dampen the spirits of everyone who enjoyed the festival. That would be letting the terrorists win, and we can’t have that.

K

~ Weekend Sun ~

It’s been a wonderful weekend in Stavanger. 31 degrees Celsius, all-day sun and even the largest of the nearby lakes now warm enough to swim in! Mike and I cooked up some tasty food and spent time with friends; I thought it was a good time to start the blog I’ve been meaning to post since we moved over in March.

Mike had to work on Saturday morning, so while he was away I took myself off for a run. It was 24 degrees by 10.30 and although the first 3k went past quite quickly (I was on-track for a personal best!) the last 2k nearly beat me, and I finished at 36 seconds under my PB (32 minutes 43 sec). Very disappointing – all I want is a 30-minute 5k! After speaking to some friends who have been running much longer than me, the advice seemed to be interval training. The idea of intervals does make my heart sink a little, but I think it has to be done.
Once I’d recovered and Mike had arrived back home from the office, I baked a cake for our friend Andy as a belated birthday celebration and took it over to his house. We had a lovely walk in the forest at Brekko then a dip in Ålgård lake before heading back to Andy’s for a BBQ and a soak in the hot tub. Perfection.

Unusually, Mike had to head back into work on Sunday (neither of us has had to do much overtime since we started working here!) so I decided to go with him and help out. Having never worked in a workshop before I’m not sure if I was just a hindrance, but by late afternoon I felt like I’d had a workout! Mike’s not often in the workshop – his main job is business development – but he enjoys getting his hands dirty sometimes. We came home via the lake near our apartment (Stokkavaten) and washed some of the dust from ourselves in the water, then spent the afternoon sleeping on the decking in the sun.

Post-swim paddling at Stokkavaten.

Post-swim paddling at Stokkavaten

Excepting the part where Mike was working, this weekend was fairly typical of our life here in Stavanger and we had a really relaxing couple of days. I hope to update this blog fairly regularly with recipes, photos and other bits and pieces to record the kinds of things we get up to and the things we enjoy. That’s all for my first post for now, thanks for reading :o)

K