Tag Archives: norway

Coffee Time

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Towards the end of July I decided that I’d go caffeine free for the whole of August.  This was partly inspired by Dee removing processed sugar from her diet for July, and partly from January this year when I went without alcohol for the month.  I reckoned missing caffeine would be more difficult than missing alcohol – and I was right!  It wasn’t about just not drinking coffee, but not drinking or eating anything with caffeine in it, so “normal” tea and energy drinks like Red Bull were also off limits.

Normally I drink a lot of coffee, and I don’t drink the mild stuff.  Dee calls it “rocket fuel”, because I probably have 4 or 5 mugs a day (on average) of the strongest coffee I can find, always black and always without sugar. I don’t use a spoon to measure it out, just pour it in the typical Norwegian way. Having spent a week in Norway towards the end of July, where everywhere gives you unlimited refills, I was probably as caffeinated as I’ve ever been.

August 1st brought such severe headaches and flu like symptoms that I had to go to bed immediately after dinner. The headaches and symptoms faded over the next few days, but I probably only felt well after about a week or so.  I also felt permanently tired and worn out for the first couple of weeks, though perked up a bit after that.

So what did I drink instead?  It’s been quite warm so I had a lot of squash and / or fruit juice.  I also bought a number of speciality teas – I quite like the options provided by the Yogi brand – so had a lot of spiced chai, mint tea, fruit teas, that sort of thing. I enjoyed them, but probably not as much as coffee.

I made it to the end of the month in one piece, and hadn’t touched caffeine at all. I’m very pleased that I managed it, despite strong temptation from time to time.  Did I feel the benefit? Honestly, I’m not sure. The headaches had gone, and some of the cravings had also gone, but I love the smell of coffee so stopping off in a cafe while shopping was tough. I’m sure that my heart was glad of the break: I probably should have checked to see what my resting heart rate was at the beginning of the month and at the end.

During August I treated myself to a coffee grinder (I have always wanted to grind beans myself) and a cafetière, so I got up a bit earlier than usual on September 1st and set to work making my first “real” drink for over a month.  The image in this post is of that first cup, and it was worth the wait.  What I hadn’t bargained on was the headache that followed, and the feeling of being spaced out for several hours afterwards!  I only had one coffee that day, and only one yesterday, and am having one as I write this: whether I go for two in a day remains to be seen because I’m still getting a bit light headed as the caffeine hits me.  I’ll still drink the “special” teas as well though, because I did enjoy them.

The tracks of my years

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I thought I’d try to compile a playlist of songs that represent me, or that speak to me on some level, so here goes.  They’re in no particular order.

  1. Gone Cold by Clutch. Probably the first “new” band I’ve heard in a long time, though I’ve since found out that they’ve been going since the early 90s. I listen to podcasts a lot when I’m driving, and one work related podcast features this song as the intro and outro music. It has a lovely, laid back feel to it, with vocals which drawl gently through the opening lines, but which reveal more of an edge when singing the lines around the song title.  I think I am also pretty laid back most of the time, but can be steely as and when necessary.
  2. Doesn’t Make it All Right by The Specials. When you’re growing up in a pretty much exclusively white rural town in the Scottish lowlands, a song which is very much anti-racist sends a strong message,  This song combines one of my favoured music genres (ska) with a conviction that I felt strongly at the time and still do. Oh, and my favourite band, SLF, do an awesome version of it.
  3. Boogie Chillun by John Lee Hooker. Cut down, raw blues with a wonderful hook, this song is just brilliant. the lyrics, about a child’s desire to break free and get lost in their music at times exactly how I feel.  I go through peaks and troughs, and at their height I just want to be enveloped in listening to and playing great music.
  4. Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival. OK, I’m not entirely sure what a bayou is, and I’ve no idea what shoogling is (it’s one of the words in the lyrics), but this song has a similar sort of feel to me as number 1 above does.  It’s quite chilled, but at the same time full of a sort of restless energy which breaks out from time to time.
  5. Panic Song by Green Day. This song is not long, and it’s not complex: but the intro is nothing more than a build up of energy which eventually explodes into action. In a lot of respects, my anger is like that: it takes a long long time to build, then (and only very rarely) does it get released.
  6. Soul Man by Sam and Dave This mostly made the cut because a) the Blues Brothers did it, b) it’s a fab time and c) they say “play it Steve” (to Steve Cropper) and I am a Steve!
  7. Ballroom Blitz by The Sweet. Again, Steve gets a mention, this time in the intro, but I chose this because it was one of the first songs I remember by a band I used to really like. I think this and Teenage Rampage probably laid the path for me to follow in terms of melodic music with a strong drum line.
  8. White Noise by Stiff Little Fingers. As with The Specials number above, this is very much an anti-racist number, though oddly enough when it first came out radio stations refused to play it because it has a derogatory w-word in every chorus. If they’d checked the lyrics they’d have seen that it was protesting about discrimination for whatever reason, whether race, colour, creed or nationality. What a great message!
  9. In The Hall Of The Mountain King from the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg. I’m half Norwegian, half Scottish, and this is written by a Norwegian composer whose parents were Scots and has our hero encountering giants in their home.
  10. Donald Where’s Yir Troosers by Andy Stewart. This is a none too serious look at what it’s like to be a Scot from the sticks, and particularly when they venture down into the big city of London.  I’m a Scot who made the move from a rural part of the country away to England and to a big down. Oh, and if you want an Elvis impression, there’s one on here too – uh huh!

This was harder than I had expected, but I think I got there in the end. I hope you like the list!

Taking the plunge

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Many many years ago, when I was a teenager, I spent a summer working in Norway.  I had an understanding boss, and managed to arrange to have a lot of afternoon shifts, starting at 2 or 3 and finishing late in the evening.  This may not sound ideal, but it did mean that I could spend the morning and early afternoon hanging out at an outdoor pool nearby.

The pool was surrounded by a park, and was very popular with young and old alike.  As the weather was warm, it was great being able to jump in the pool to cool off, and this pool had something else – diving boards! Ranging from 1m to 10m high, and with no rules as to whether you could jump off or whatever, there was a lot of fun to be had.  Jump off the top board? Took me a while to build up to it, but no problem!

When I got back home, I remember going to a local indoor pool.  It had diving boards, but these stopped at 5m.  And you could only dive.  So I was standing there, trying to build courage, because jumping is easy, when a little lad who must have been half my age came up onto the board.  He looked at me and said “Yir feart, urnt ye?” [translation from Scottish – “you’re scared, aren’t you?”]

Of course, I had to reply “No”.

And (also of course) he then had to say “Go on then, dive”.

So I did.  And it was epic.  A proper Tarzan swallow dive. Which I nailed!  No belly flop for me, no sir!  And at that time, it was one of the most sublime things I’d ever done or felt.

After that first dive, the fear was gone and you couldn’t stop me: not sure how I’d fare now though!

The image at the beginning of this story reminded me of that episode, hence I thought I’d share it.

All aboard! Image #139

I’ve been away at a conference over the past few days, and am just catching up on life, including my “daily” posts.  Apologies that these have fallen by the wayside somewhat in recent weeks, but I reckon a new job and moving house are a reasonable excuse!

Anyhow, I went out for dinner in a pizza restaurant for a well known chain here in the UK (no, I don’t know why I’ve not just named them either) and noticed some rather fetching art, which included this:

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In case I’ve not mentioned it, Liverpool FC are my favourite football team, and the conference happened to be in Liverpool. Given my Scandinavian heritage, Dee has called me “the Viking” for several years.  The image for today therefore seemed incredibly apt.

Is there any artwork that “speaks” to you in a similar way?  If so – what and how?

Norway in a Nutshell – Part 2 of 2

So, having scaled the highest peak in Europe north of the Alps, what could be next, and what could top that? I had a couple of ideas which I hoped my friends would appreciate, and which I thought might keep excitement levels on a high. Continue reading Norway in a Nutshell – Part 2 of 2

Are we there yet?

Further to a couple of messages I swapped with another blogger this week, it occurred to me that distance and culture as well as geographical location can not only be inhibitors to travel, but they can also be a cause. It struck me that that is a contradiction, but I guess that life is like that. Continue reading Are we there yet?

Norway in a Nutshell – Part 1 of 2

Several years ago, two days after moving into my new house, two friends picked me up and we drove to Stansted for a trip to Norway. My friends had never been to Norway before and I had planned what I hoped was to be an epic “long weekend”! We flew into Bergen on a very rainy evening, and took a taxi to the hotel which we’d booked near the airport – it was nearly midnight so we weren’t going to go far!

For those who don’t know, Bergen has a reputation for being wet – the civic symbol is an umbrella : not really, but that’s a joke the Norwegians tell. I’ve heard tell of a tourist who asked a local youth whether it always rained in Bergen, and received the reply “I don’t know, I’m only 15”. To this day the friends I travelled there with and I always refer to heavy rain as “Bergening”.

The following morning (and in only light rain) we took a cab to the airport and collected our hire car. Once the formalities were over we hit the road, heading for fjords and mountains. You can’t avoid either when driving inland from Bergen, as the road either takes you along the edge of one or through the other in a series of tunnels.

Norway in a Nutshell was the slogan on many a tourist bus and poster – this trip was going to be all that and more!

After a couple of hours we arrived in Voss, which is a well known tourist spot, arguably more popular in winter than in the summer. Having had a look round the town and some coffee and pastries, we returned to the car just in time to talk to the traffic warden giving me a parking ticket. My very rusty Norwegian had led me to misunderstand the parking sign, and I still maintain that there was no ticket machine in sight so how was I to know? I went in to a nearby bank to pay my fine and found that it would cost extra to settle up in cash – that’s just strange!

Our journey then took us out towards and beside Sognefjord, the longest and deepest in Norway. We passed innumerable rivers and streams, and so many waterfalls of all sizes that we started to become blasé about them. We’d chosen to take a ferry from Gudvangen to Kaupanger along Naeroyfjorden, across Sognefjord and found that we had a long enough wait that we could have our lunch before getting on the boat. (I’ve mentioned previously that Norwegian ferries are a very efficient and cost effective method of travel.) One of my pet hates came to light during the ferry crossing: why do people insist on feeding seagulls, then get upset when the birds won’t leave them alone?

The further inland we got the lighter the rain became, and at some points we actually had sunshine! After a couple of hours we arrived at Kaupanger and drove off the ferry to continue our journey up into the mountains. As we climbed the weather started to close in again and the air became much colder, till we arrived at our high point for the day near Krossbu. We got out the car to look at the nearby lakes (which were mostly still frozen), glaciers and to walk on the vestiges of snow by the roadside. For travellers from the UK snow is quite exciting, and in summer it’s even more so!

The last bit of driving that day saw us arrive at Spiterstulen, a hotel in the heart of the Jotunheimen mountains about 1600 metres above sea level – that’s 200 metres higher than anywhere in the UK! (Jotunheimen is the “Home of the Giants”, and reputed to be where the biggest trolls live.) The hotel is run by DNT, the Norwegian Tourist Association, and we’d booked beds there. It has to be said that it’s unusual to be able to book beds or rooms at DNT places: normally you sleep where you can, and if that means in a mattress on the floor then that’s how it is. Think of them as a cross between Youth Hostels and bothies in the UK. After dinner and a quick beer, it was bedtime, as we had a big day ahead of us.

We were up early to find that the sun was shining, and that even at 0630 we weren’t the first to breakfast! We filled up on porridge, fruit, bread, cold meats and cheeses, and also made a packed lunch and filled our flasks with coffee. Our destination, and one of the main reasons for doing the trip, was just across the valley floor and up, up, up: we were headed for Galdhopiggen, or the “galloping hopping pig” as my friends called it. At 2459 metres, it’s the highest peak in the north of Europe, and we were determined to see the view from the summit.

The path is really well marked, as DNT trails invariably are, with a prominent red letter T painted at regular intervals to show the way, though to be fair on this day you could just follow everyone else. The sky was clear and the sun very strong as we hiked upwards, and in very little time we were high above Spiterstulen with stupendous views along the valley and up at the mountains around us. Initially the path was dry earth through silver birch woods, but it gradually became more rocky, then the rock gave way to smaller rocks and boulders, then we were weaving between patches of snow and rock outcrops, but always heading up. Numerous false summits appeared in the horizon above us, each one making us think we were nearly there. After several hours, and having made sure we skirted the steep drop down onto the Styggebreen glacier, a most welcome sight appeared: at the top of a steep snow covered slope, we got our first view of the hut at the top, and it wasn’t long before we were standing on the summit looking across what seemed like all of Norway. I’ve heard it said that you can see the sea, but I think that’s just wishful thinking! The skies had remained clear and snow covered peaks sketched off into the distance in every direction, the sun glittering and glistening off all that white expanse. Just as well we were wearing sunglasses, as snow blindness would have been particularly nasty up there. I used to work with a guy who was a keen climber: he’d been where I was three times and had never seen the view, so I was more than pleased!

I mentioned a hut: it’s actually a cafe and shop! Hot coffee and hotdogs were very welcome, and one of my friends bought a t-shirt which is only available from that shop – you can’t buy that design anywhere else in the world, even down at Spiterstulen.

The trek back down was almost as hard going as the route up, though we did find that for the snow covered slopes near the summit the best route down was to put on waterproof trousers and slide down – that was a lot of fun! We arrived at the bottom, still in glorious sunshine, at about 9pm. After getting cleaned up, we headed to the bar for a welcome couple of beers and to enjoy the view out along the valley. This was at the beginning of August and the sun hardly set, so it didn’t really get dark. It’s quite a strange experience if you’ve never seen that strange light that passes itself off as night before. And so to bed, tired, but happy.

We’d only been in the country 48 hours and had crossed its biggest fjord and scaled its highest peak!

Part 2 of this story, which covers the remaining couple of days, will follow shortly, so keep an eye out for it…