Breaking news: the rain has stopped

In The Waste Land, a piece of poetry that I studied at school and still love today, T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruellest month, but to be honest, I’d never really agreed with him. For me, April was the month of spring, of new life, of warmer days and of shorter nights. Plus there was a birthday or two thrown into the mix; what’s not to like?

Perhaps though he just had the gift of foresight – April 2020 has been a cruel month indeed for a huge proportion of the world’s population.

Living in Norway, we have escaped the worst of the pandemic and life here is slowly returning to, if not normal, then a “new normal”: a situation that is perfectly liveable for the medium to long term, just different. My heart goes out to those who are suffering during these strange times and I hope that the second half of 2020 is kinder to all.

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One of Stavanger’s top tourist attractions, the oil museum has now been shut for months

Sam and I have been very fortunate: we have both been healthy, Sam has kept his job and is able to easily work from home, and our lockdown rules have been loose enough that we have been able to get all the fresh air that we need. We have seen no signs of panic buying and the shops have stayed fully stocked throughout, lending an appreciated air of calm continuity. The Norwegians seem to be a pretty stoic bunch; in general, they have just “got on” with it, complying with the measures with little fuss and little complaining.

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Messages of hope are displayed in many houses and shop windows

I have seen an awful lot written about how this situation can really highlight the important things in life, perhaps making us less materialistic and less consumerist. Perhaps this is true for others, but it not something that I’ve really felt at all. The two largest disruptions to my life (and in the grand scheme of world events these are so incredibly minor) have been not being able to see my friends, and not being able to use public transport to take us out of Stavanger and into the hills. In fairness, at no point did Norway stop people socialising, but it seemed slightly irresponsible to continue to meet up, so we didn’t. Public transport is still running, true, but the government asked that this was only used if essential. Although the Norwegians really value their time outdoors, I couldn’t quite justify hiking as an essential…

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Taken on the 7th March on (a very cold) Dalesnuten, this was the last hike we took before lockdown

Thankfully, after most people have stuck diligently to the measures, Norway has been able to lift many of the restrictions to the extent that we can now hold gatherings of up to 20 people in private residences and the vast majority of business have reopened. I have been able to meet several friends for walks or dinner, and it has been wonderful to catch up with them, albeit tinged with sadness as some have lost their jobs and will soon have to move back to their home countries.

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The bars and restaurants along the harbour are starting to fill up now that restrictions are being lifted

Due to the travel restrictions we haven’t left Stavanger since early March and I think it’s safe to say that we have now explored more of the city than perhaps really necessary! After four months of significantly above average rainfall, April has been much drier, with mostly sunny, clear days. It has been warmer too, with the temperature climbing into double digits for the first time since December (and the maximum temperature in December was only 10.9°C and 10.4°C in November. Brrr!).

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A rare day of warmth in mid-April brought an opportunity to dust off a summer dress

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Picnicking and reading by the fjord on a sunny April Saturday

Don’t be fooled though, summer still seems a long way off – yesterday we were treated to hailstorms, snow, and sleet, and with the wind chill factored in the temperature felt like 1°C. Definitely not time to pack away the down jackets just yet!

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Despite the increasing greenery, I’m still very grateful for my padded jacket!

Even with the cold, the longer days have been so very welcome. We have been treated to some beautiful sunsets, although I won’t be seeing them for too much longer as sunset today is at 10 pm and, not being a night owl, I am usually tucked up in bed by then. With sunrise at 5 am, the days already feel stretched out and there are still several weeks to go until the longest day.IMG_20200428_212243I’m not the only one loving the light. One of the benefits of treading the same paths over and over is that it’s easy to see spring unfolding right in front of me. Well, yes, it does seem very delayed, and there are still some trees without even the hint of a leaf, but most are now in their first flush, presenting their bright and delicate blossom or leaves to the world.DSC_1029

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The view over Stavanger from Ullandhaugtårnet on the 18th April

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And again on the 09th May. What a difference three weeks makes

As well as watching spring advance, we’ve also been able to appreciate more of the city. The sculptor Antony Gormley has created 23 life-sized cast iron figures that are placed at various points throughout Stavanger, and we’ve enjoyed attempting to find them all on our rambles through the city (there is a map that we could use, but where’s the fun in that?).

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Catching the evening sun outside the cathedral, this statue is one of the easier ones to find

Handily for exploring, there are 52 hverdagsturer, or everyday walking routes throughout the city, marked by red T signs. We still have several to go before we can tick all 52 off!DSC_1128We have also been scoping out some of the street art that decorates many of the city walls – some on public buildings and others on private residences. Some are displayed in prominent positions while others are tucked down side streets and narrow alleyways. Not all are to my taste, but they certainly brighten up a lot of otherwise plain walls.DSC_1102DSC_1043Staying with the ‘wall theme’, we’ve also made time to stop and read (and translate) the blue plaques that are dotted are around. I now know that within about 50 metres of our apartment lie two interesting (and rather juxtaposed) buildings: one the home of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the other a place where unfortunate criminals were put ‘on the wheel’ and publicly executed.

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Once a site of mediaeval torture, now transformed into a peaceful street

Although we’re missing our wilderness fix, there are strips of greenery in the city, including the Sørmarka forest where I was thrilled to find a population of red squirrels in residence. With their own nut-storage boxes set up for them, they’re in squirrel heaven and were very content to be the subjects of hundreds of squirrel-themed photos. The Norwegians thought I was mad, but having come from a country where red squirrel sightings are rare indeed, it was a real treat.DSC_1008In two days time we’re due an update on Norway’s travel restrictions, which may mean that we will be let loose in the hills once more. Until then, we are very content to continue exploring our adopted home, feeling grateful for the immense privilege to do so.DSC_1051DSC_1053

“Do you have any snow in Stavanger?”

By most accounts, South-West Norway is having a pretty bad winter this year. Or a good one. It really depends on whether cold weather and snow feature highly on your winter-rating scale.

There’s no arguing over the fact that the Stavanger region has had very mild weather, and the mountains are more dusted rather than blanketed with snow. For most Norwegians, this makes it a very, very bad winter.

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We’ve had some beautiful walks, but not a flake in sight

Our December was 2.5 degrees warmer than average, and January has been very much the same. Apart from a week of frosts in early November, the temperature has barely dipped below freezing and we’ve seen temperatures above 10ºC. Now I know this doesn’t exactly sound tropical, but it’s way higher than we were expecting and has pretty much been on a par with (if not warmer than) the UK.

The big downside of this mild weather is that it’s brought rain. A lot of rain. December was almost twice as wet as it should have been. It rained very nearly as much on one day in December as it did for the entirety of November! I’d love to say that January has improved, but it feels like we’re living under a permanent raincloud.

This has left the Norwegians feeling pretty disgruntled. As most people will know, winter sports are a really big deal here, and everybody is complaining about the poor conditions. However, the situation isn’t completely dire. For one thing, there is some snow on the hills, just not as much as usual. And for another, the ski season doesn’t really start until February and then runs until April (Norwegians tend to go skiing over Easter rather than Christmas) so there is still some time for us to have a blast of cold and a dollop of snow on the ski tracks.

Despite the somewhat disappointing conditions (we’re definitely not experiencing the winter wonderland that many people back home are imagining for us!), we have still managed to get out and experience a tiny taste of a traditional Norwegian winter.

Our first encounter with the white stuff was a bit unexpected. We’d headed off to Jørpeland (which we can now get to in 45 mins via the world’s longest undersea car tunnel, knocking 45 mins off the previous ferry-bus journey. Exciting stuff..!) and as we rounded the corner that gave us our first view of the hills we were quite surprised to see that they had been coated overnight.DSC_0950We decided to hike up to Øykjafjellet, on a route that we did for the first time back in August. We hadn’t done it since then, and it was great to have the experience of both seasons to compare and contrast. I’d really enjoyed the walk in the summertime, not least because of the abundance of wild blueberries that lined the path. No such luck this time around of course, but instead we were treated to fresh powder and beautiful views from the top. Øykjafjellet is only 492 m at the summit, but there’s nothing like a few inches of snow to slow you down, and it felt like a much longer walk than the one we’d done in summer. DSC_0957WhatsApp Image 2020-01-04 at 16.53.08Three weeks after our Jørpeland trip, we were off for a day of cross-country skiing training. The Norwegians love the sport to the point of obsession, and we were both really excited to give it a go and find out why. The training session lasted all day and was free; an amazing benefit put on by the Stavanger Chamber of Commerce for immigrants to Norway.84149997_10156754470572617_5650412451531849728_n

We were trained by a lovely couple who were unbelievably energetic and enthusiastic, as well as being very impressive skiers. We started off with learning how to fall safely, which should really have given me a clue as to how the rest of the day would go…

Once I got the hang of the movement, skiing along the flat was brilliant fun and although I wasn’t the fastest on the track I could certainly get around the course smoothly with no falls. Hills – both the ascent and descent – were a different story altogether! Try as I might, I just could not get the hang of it, and by the end of the day had spent almost as much time being horizontal as I was vertical!

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A rare upright moment

While I spent time in the remedial skiers group (thankfully I was in good company and was not the only one to struggle), Sam was busy having advanced lessons on how to glide. Although he found the downhills a bit challenging, on the flat he was flying along. He had an awful cold that day and was feeling thoroughly miserable so it was great to see him pick it up so well and enjoy it. WhatsApp Image 2020-01-25 at 18.27.44

We were skiing in Ådneram, one of the popular local-ish locations for Stavanger-based skiers. We were lucky to have just enough snow to practice on; usually the lessons are held on a nearby frozen lake, but this year it hasn’t iced over and we didn’t fancy water-skiing!

I can see why the Norwegians are so passionate about the sport. It allows anyone with the right equipment to see beautiful parts of the country that would otherwise be inaccessible for several months of the year. It’s really fun, even with the falling over that comes with being a beginner. And lastly, oh my goodness does it keep you fit!

It didn’t feel like hugely hard work at the time, but it was a good thing that I had no plans for Sunday as I could barely move! I ached in so many places that it was easier to list what didn’t hurt than what did! Thankfully, my muscles all seem to be back to normal now and I’m looking forward to having another go at the next opportunity that we get.

Hopefully the much-anticipated arctic blast will arrive over the next couple of weeks or so, giving us and the rest of the local population another chance to get out and enjoy all that a Norwegian winter has to offer.WhatsApp Image 2020-01-25 at 18.27.49

A Norwegian Christmas

One of my favourite things about living in a new place is having the opportunity to experience different cultures. I’ve always loved Christmas, but I’ve been particularly looking forward to it this year as although some of the traditional aspects of Christmas here are the same as in the UK, many customs are entirely new to me and I’m enjoying learning more about how the people of Stavanger celebrate.

First of all, just like in the UK, Christmas is a big deal. Decorations started appearing in October and a large number of houses were decorated by the end of November. In many ways, it really makes sense to me that it’s such a popular festival. Stavanger has historically been one of the most religious places in Norway and most people attend church in the run up to Christmas. Even considering it from a secular basis though, the loss of light is so significant that having a midwinter celebration to look forward to is very much needed.

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Taken just after midday on the solstice, this was the brightest point of the day

The decorations tend to be a little more understated than in the UK, and most buildings are decorated simply with warm lights, greenery, and a lit star in the window.IMG_20191221_163723.jpg

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IMG_20191221_163450.jpgOf course, there is always an exception…IMG_20191221_164731.jpgMost houses and businesses also have a nisse or two, and I’ve happily joined in with this custom!IMG_20191224_151833.jpgNisser are Norway’s answer to Father Christmas, who doesn’t make it to this part of the world. Traditionally like English brownies, nisser live in barns out in the countryside and protect the household and the animals, whilst also causing mischief if displeased. At Christmas, nisser deliver gifts, entering through the front door in the evening on the 24th and often staying for a glass of akevitt with the family.

A big difference here is that Christmas is celebrated in the evening on the UK’s Christmas Eve. This is because traditionally the Norwegian day ended at sunset rather than at midnight, so Christmas Day here begins in the evening on the 24th. Families gather for their Christmas dinner, and afterwards are visited by the nisser and can then open presents. We’re not too sure what people do on the 25th, but we’ll find out today! It seems that it’s a popular day for new films to be released in the cinema, so we expect to see more people out and about than we would in the UK.

For me, a highlight of Christmas is the food, so I was very interested to find out what was customary here. The main dish of the Norwegian dinner varies depending on the region, but in the west pinnekjøtt is the firm favourite. This is salted, dried, and sometimes smoked mutton, which is rehydrated by soaking for days on end to remove the copious amounts of salt, then steamed. Sam was served some as part of his work Christmas lunch, and said that he may as well have just stuck his head in the fjord to get the same salty effect. We went for a walk around the coastline yesterday afternoon, and the whole of Stavanger smelled of boiled mutton; quite a bizarre experience for someone not use to it!IMG_20191220_090159.jpgAlternatively, another western ‘delicacy’ is lutefisk. This is dried cod which is re-hydrated by soaking in water for five days, before being soaked in a solution of water and lye for another two days making the fish incredible gelatinous. As lye is toxic and corrosive, the fish must then be soaked for another five-ish days to make it edible, before finally being steam cooked.

Neither of these options sounded particularly appetising, so we eschewed the full Norwegian Christmas experience and opted for a chicken instead. Our nod to the Norwegian tradition was to eat on the 24th (although given the copious amount of leftovers, we’ll be having exactly the same again today. Oh no!) and we incorporated some swede into our side dishes as it’s one of the most popular vegetables here. One UK favourite that we missed out on was roast parsnips. It seems these are a relatively new import to Norway, and as nobody knows what to do with them they’re crazily expensive and hard to get hold of. The current retail price is £8 for a bag of three scrawny specimens – I don’t think so!!

Thankfully, moving from savoury dishes to sugary ones, things are much improved. The traditional dessert is risgrøt, or rice porridge, served with butter and cinnamon. This is so popular that a bowl is often left outside for the nisser, who are known to be partial to a bowl or two! A whole almond is stirred into the porridge, and the person who finds the almond in their portion wins a marzipan pig. This is another tradition that I’m more than happy to join in with! As only one of us in this household is a fan of commercially produced marzipan, the almond allocation in the porridge will definitely be rigged!IMG_20191224_153838.jpgAnother popular sweet treat is pepperkaker, or gingerbread. This is sold in huge tubs in the shops, but I was quite happy to spend an afternoon making my own.IMG_20191214_132521.jpgA local museum took it one (large) step further and featured a gingerbread village, with each piece constructed by local schools, businesses, and anybody else who fancied a go at winning the prize for the best building.IMG_20191215_142920.jpgIMG_20191215_143633.jpgAmongst all the newness, I’ve been pleased to keep up some of our UK traditions too. On a trip back to the UK in November, I made sure to stock up on mincemeat ingredients for the all-important mince pies. I also discovered that the cathedral was holding a Nine Lessons and Carols service in English on the 23rd which was a lovely link to the UK festive season and one that I very much enjoyed. Finally, just as in most of the UK, it’s most definitely not a white Christmas! The distant hills are dusted with snow, but here in Stavanger we’ve not had a single flake.IMG_20191207_134541.jpgToday we’re off for a long walk on the beach in Sola, followed by a second Christmas dinner. Wishing everybody reading a very Merry Christmas, wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing.

God jul!

Iceland: West Fjords Wilderness

When we decided to move to Stavanger, the number one thing that family and friends questioned us on was the weather. How bad would it be? Will there be snow? Does it really rain all the time?

So far, we’ve been pleasantly surprised and I’m glad to say it really hasn’t been as bad as we expected (I write this fully aware that the winter is yet to come, and I reserve the right to change my judgement on this at any time…) – yes, there’s more rain here than in West Sussex but it doesn’t rain all day, every day and so far it hasn’t been hugely cold.

What I’m struggling with more than the weather is the light. Sunrise isn’t until nine and it’s dark before four, but it’s not just the quantity of light that’s different, it’s the quality. The sun doesn’t rise too high in the sky, instead lingering on the horizon before making its hesitant ascent which is quickly replaced by a short slide back behind the mountains. On a clear day, the afternoons lengthen into one long, glorious sunset, giving a beautiful golden glow to our walks and a riot of colour in the skies. On an overcast day, the gloom just doesn’t lift. It’s not a permanent twilight, but it only feels like the ‘daytime’ that I’m used to for roughly three hours. So, while I acclimatise, what better thing to do than to look back over the rest of our June trip to Iceland where the days lasted all twenty-four hours and there was no gloom to be seen!

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The view towards the West Fjords from Hellissandur at 2.30 am 

My first post focused on the beautiful, but busy, Snæfellsnes peninsula, but the next portion of our trip took place in the more remote West Fjords, which we hoped would be tour bus free.

We were advised to head to Stykkishólmur and catch the ferry to Brjánslækur, with all opinions indicating that the drive was long, difficult, and offered nothing to see en route. However, after noting the typical Icelandic prices and the slightly inconvenient ferry times, we decided to ignore all advice and drive.

Our route took us past the much-photographed Kirkjufell before snaking eastwards across the top of the peninsula then turning north over the hills into the West Fjords region. I’m not entirely sure why this route is so maligned; we really enjoyed the drive. Yes, it was a long journey and the ferry would have been faster (although it’s not a huge difference), but due to the sailing times available we would have had to hang around for most of the day waiting for the ferry, so we actually reached Brjánslækur much earlier than if we’d waited for the boat. In terms of it being difficult, I suppose it depends on your confidence as a driver. Having grown up in Mid Wales, narrow twisting roads aren’t unfamiliar to us, and although some of the roads were gravel, as long as we took it relatively slowly there were no problems. I’d maybe hesitate before driving over them in the winter, but they were certainly not difficult at all in June. As for there being nothing to see, perhaps the guidebook writers were blindfolded or napping while travelling? How could anyone fail to enjoy the climb about the fjords, seeing the mountains stretch out into the distance, or drive across narrow spurs of land with steam from the hot springs billowing upwards on either side?DSC_0402 (2).JPGDSC_0405 (2).JPGPerhaps I shouldn’t shout too loudly about the drive as one of its pleasures was the peacefulness – no buses or camper vans here.

Our base for our stay was Bíldudalur, a small village that’s home to an active fishing industry as well as the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum which we sadly didn’t have time to visit.

After the long drive, we didn’t fancy spending much time in the car on the following day, so we decided to follow the road north from Bíldudalur until we came to somewhere that looking like a good stopping point for a walk. The track gradually became rougher and rougher until it was only really suitable for a 4×4, leaving us with a good excuse to abandon the car in a lay-by and continue down the road on foot.DSC_0419 (2).JPGWalking along together, the only sounds were the lapping of the waves on shore and the cries of the Arctic terns above; no traffic or other people to be heard. It was quite a surprise then, to find a tourist attraction at the end of the road.DSC_0422 (2).JPGDSC_0421 (2).JPGThe information sign told us that this was the former home of Samúel Jónsson, a farmer who upon his retirement embarked on a series of artistic projects, including re-modelling his house, building a church, and creating a number of concrete sculptures. For fifty years, they were left unprotected and at the mercy of the harsh Icelandic weather, but over the last twenty years or so they have been restored and now make up an open-air museum dedicated to his life and work.DSC_0420 (2).JPGI can’t say they’re entirely to my taste, but we enjoyed wandering around in solitude, until to our utter amazement, a tour bus came hurtling down the track leaving clouds of dust in its wake. The sightseers must have been disappointed (it was Icelandic National Day and so the museum was shut) as they didn’t hang around and left five minutes later, leaving us to the quiet once again. We took their departure as our cue to leave and continued on to the end of the valley, then back along the side of the fjord to our car.DSC_0427 (2).JPGDSC_0430 (2).JPGThe next day we headed off to the Látrabjarg cliffs, billed as a much-see destination in the West Fjords. Stretching for 14 miles along the most westernmost point in Iceland, the cliffs are home to millions of seabirds and promised a great opportunity to see and photograph puffins. Unfortunately for us, the winds were so strong that few birds were risking being buffeted about, and we certainly weren’t about to go peering over the crumbling cliff edge to spot any.DSC_0435 (2).JPGWe trudged for about a kilometre, keeping a wide berth from the edge at all times until finally we were rewarded with a view of a puffin silhouetted against the sea.DSC_0447 (2).JPGMission accomplished, we turned and made our way back to the car, deciding that the conditions were not great for a walk. We spotted a few more on our way back, all hunkered down and looking fairly miserable which I thought was perfectly understandable. It would have been lovely to see them in greater numbers, but I couldn’t blame them for keeping cozy in their burrows.DSC_0455 (2).JPGLeaving the cliffs behind, Rauðisandur beach was our next stop. The great expanse of rust-coloured sand extends over 10 km, and apart from the small cluster of people surrounding the car park and café, was completed deserted.DSC_0465 (2).JPGWe walked parallel to the sea for miles, deciding not to make our way to the shoreline. I think this is the only beach that I’ve ever stepped foot on without reaching the sea, but Rauðisandur is a huge beach with numerous sandbars and channels, and as we didn’t know the tide times we thought it better not to risk being cut off by a fast moving tide so instead stuck to the sands nearer the grassy banks where a safe retreat was assured.DSC_0471 (2).JPGOur long walk done, there was just one final stop remaining in the West Fjords before heading south to Reykjavik and our last two days of holiday. Iceland is famous for its hot springs, and I was determined that I would manage a dip in at least one while we were there. We’d driven past Reykjafjardarlaug on our way to our hotel, and it looked to be the perfect spot for our last evening in the West Fjords. There’s actually two pools here – one a hot spring that reaches 52°C, and the second a swimming pool heated to 32°C by water piped from the spring. The natural pool was far too hot for me, but the swimming pool was the perfect temperature for a leisurely swim.DSC_0485 (2).JPGContemplating the view from the pool, I decided that the West Fjords were more like what I’d hoped Iceland would be: wild, bleak, and quiet, full of space to explore. I thoroughly enjoyed our trip, but I’m not sure I would return. As tourist numbers in Iceland are increasing year on year, it’s unlikely that we’d have the same secluded experience again. Given the fantastic weather we had too, perhaps it’s best not to tempt fate and instead keep this is as a one-off visit, leaving the West Fjords forever undisturbed in our memories.

Autumn arrives

I’ve called this post ‘autumn arrives’, but it really should be autumn’s arrived; summer certainly seems to be a distant memory for us now.

We’re used to early September often being another summer month in the UK, but in Stavanger it felt very autumnal from the first week, and as we’d expected the season has come and will most likely be gone very soon. Even at midday the sun hangs low in the sky, giving a late-afternoon quality to the light.

The difference in the weather has surprised me, and I’m now definitely noticing how much closer we seem to be to winter compared to living in West Sussex (hardly surprising, I know).

Although the temperature has now dropped, we were treated to one last blast of warmth in late September which while not being hot was enough to have us in short sleeves – I suspect for the last time until some way through 2020!DSC_0652.JPGSam has a monthly bus pass to get to work, and we’ve recently found out that I can travel for free with him at the weekends on all local buses and trains making it easier for us to explore. Even better, the public transport system here just makes sense; buses, trains and ferries are all timetabled to work together so there’s minimal waiting around at stops, and as well as the buses being very convenient for getting around the city, they also go to the start of many local walks. This is so different to what we’re used to – we lived in the South Downs but if we wanted to get to the majority of the national park we had to drive, as there were simply no other options. Although using public transport here is not as convenient for us as driving would be – we are limited in where we can go, and I think eventually we will need to get a car if we really want to make the most of living here, for now we’re both just so impressed with how smooth and efficient it is to get around without driving.

Making the most of our essentially free transport, we hopped on a bus towards Dale and were dropped off in the middle of nowhere (but at the start of a footpath). We climbed in the shade up to Dalsnuten which overlooks Stavanger in one direction, and towards the wilderness of Telemark in the other.DSC_0657.JPGAlthough the sun was warm, the signs of autumn couldn’t be ignored. From the top of the next peak, Fjogstadnuten, it was clear that the summer was long over for the birch trees.DSC_0671.JPGJust two weeks later, the temperature has plummeted and our walk in Dale seems as if it were months ago. On Sunday we revisited Jørpeland, planning to follow another of the many trails across the hills.

We were expecting it to be cold, but I wasn’t prepared for the layer of frost that still covered the ground at 11 am.DSC_0758.JPGAs we climbed to Piggjafjellet, we found the path itself was frozen, with black ice coating the bare rocks. It was clear that the sun had lost the ability to climb above the hills and these paths will now most likely stay icy until the spring.DSC_0780.JPGDSC_0785.JPGDSC_0799.JPGThe walk itself was lovely, but bitterly cold – we ate our packed lunch in what I think is record time as I couldn’t bear to stop for long. We were both very glad of our down jackets, but I know that next time we return to Jørpeland we’ll be packing hats, gloves, and scarves!DSC_0793.JPGBack in Stavanger, autumn is less dramatic. The trees surrounding Mosvatnet (one of the local parks) are showing off their spectacular colours, particularly when bathed in early evening’s light, and the woodland floors are carpeted with fallen leaves. We’ve yet to have any snow on the nearest hills, although the furthest mountains are already capped with white.DSC_0734.JPGDSC_0727.JPGDSC_0674Soon, the trees will be bare and winter will take over, so for now I’m making the most of our first autumn here – particularly taking time to appreciate the daylight hours before they slip away. Hopefully it will be another month before the snow arrives, although I’ve been assured that Stavanger itself is spared the worst of the winter weather (although let’s face it, having lived in the south-east of England for the past five years, winter will still come as quite a shock to the system). I’m enjoying the ‘golden hour’ of light that seems to last all day, showing the fjords off to their best advantage – may it continue for several more weeks!DSC_0750

Iceland: In praise of going slow

After a few days of clear, mild weather, today is the kind of day where I don’t want to leave the house – not even with my raincoat and umbrella! The Norwegians are very fond of the saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” and while I have the deepest admiration for this attitude, I’m afraid that I would rather stay snug inside with a good book!

This means that I’ve spent part of my afternoon freeing up space on the camera by sorting out the many hundreds of photos that have accumulated over the past few months, including those from our Icelandic holiday back in June. They’ve brought back such happy memories that I thought I’d share some of them here; it would be selfish to keep these to myself, surely?DSC_0336 (2).JPGDespite being warned by every person, blog, and travel guide that we would be guaranteed at least some poor weather during our week-long stay (and despite a frankly well-deserved reputation for taking rainclouds with us everywhere we go!) we were so, so lucky with the weather which really helped us to make the most of the trip. We began on the Snæfellsnes peninsula before travelling up to the West Fjords and then heading back down to Reykjavik for our last couple of nights in Iceland. I have so many photos that one blog just won’t do justice to them, so I’m going to split into two posts with this one focusing on our first few days and then the second just on the West Fjords.

I’ve seen the Snæfellsnes peninsula described in a few places as “Iceland in miniature”, and although as this was my first visit I can’t comment on this at all, there was certainly a huge amount to see and do. We only spent two nights there but could have easily stayed for longer, and only saw a fraction of what we could have.

We began with a scenic drive from Reykjavik along the southern edge of the peninsula, stopping at Ytri Tunga for lunch where we were treated to our first sight of the (many, cute, incredibly fluffy, adorable – I could go on) Eider ducklings bobbing about in the waves. These, combined with the seals, and the view of the glacier-capped Snæfellsjökull volcano made for a very scenic break in the journey.DSC_0306 (2).JPGDSC_0327 (2).JPGWe only had one full day in the area, so we did what it seems most tourists do and followed the road that snakes around the end of the peninsula, connecting Hellissandur to Arnastapi. It felt very strange to head off down a narrow gravel track to end up a car park filled with multiple coaches, camper vans, and hire cars.

To be honest, parts of the peninsula were too busy for us – sharing wild spaces with hundreds of other people doesn’t hold much appeal. However, once we left the car park and walked more than 100 metres we left most of the other tourists behind. It seems that many of the coaches come daily from Reykjavik, travelling over two hours from the capital to embark on a whistle-stop tour, allowing just enough time to snap a couple of photos before shepherding the sightseers back onto the bus and off to the next location. This isn’t really the way that we like to travel and I’d rather take time to explore one place leisurely over an hour or two but not manage to see everything that there is to see than cram in as much as possible but potentially miss out on the experience of just being there.DSC_0369 (2).JPGThe place that really made me feel this way was Djúpalónssandur beach. It’s a stunning black sand beach, made infamous for being the location of the tragic shipwreck of the Grimsby trawler in 1948. The day that we visited was calm and peaceful, but there were many signs warning visitors not to get too close to the water as sneaker waves are very common here and can easily wash people out to sea. We pulled into the car park to be met with four coaches, and hundreds of people teeming over the pebbles, but soon saw that without fail, each person walked onto the beach, took a picture, and left. They will have got some beautiful photos as the beach is very picturesque, but for me there are two stand-out memories that I have of the beach, neither of which are scenery-related.

The first is that despite it being a sunny day, the wind was bitter, so I was wrapped up in a fleece and windproof jacket. However, when I reached down to feel some of the black ‘sand’ (more like polished pebbles than fine grains) I was delighted to find that it was incredibly warm to the touch; cue some happy sunbathing for about an hour, stripping down to our T-shirts to luxuriate in the unexpected heat.DSC_0381 (2).JPGWandering further down the beach, the pebbles gave way to pitted slabs of rock and columns of basalt, sloping down to the waters’ edge. We scrambled up one of the smaller columns, accidentally dislodging a couple of pebbles that had washed up to the ledge in a storm. To our surprise, instead of just falling onto the slabs below, the pebbles bounced randomly from rock to rock until finally coming to rest some distance from our column, as if playing a giant game of pinball. This quickly turned into a game for us – just by dropping a pebble off the side of our perch, could one end up in the sea which was roughly ten metres from the pillar? It was a game involving no skill, was absolutely childish, and entertained us for longer than I really want to admit, but the memory of that day and of that beach stands all the clearer for it. By no means do I want to preach to anyone about how to spend their time, but I have no doubt that my day would not have been anywhere near as memorable had we simply walked onto the beach, taken a photograph, then left.DSC_0372 (2).JPGPlaytime over, and onwards then to another beach along the route: Skarðsvík. In contrast to Djúpalónssandur, this beach has golden sands flecked with black from the basalt cliffs that flank the shore and is suitable for swimming for those hardy enough to brave it!DSC_0341 (2).JPGFrom the beach, there’s a small road that leads to the Öndverðarnes and Svörtuloft lighthouses. This track is off the main road that loops the National Park and so was much quieter (no coaches), but we also discovered a footpath across the lava field that was used for centuries to access the now-abandoned fishing station. We decided to follow in the fishermen’s footsteps and walk through the lava field to the cape, and this is something that I would urge anybody visiting to do. Perhaps not this walk exactly, but I found that spending time navigating through the almost lunar terrain gave a far greater depth of appreciation for the harsh landscape than could ever be achieved from inside a vehicle.DSC_0346 (2).JPGThe land is incredibly inhospitable – the rough lava tore into the soles of our boots with every step, and vegetation was limited to mosses, lichens and springs of wild thyme which grew in what limited shelter it could find along the cairn-marked path. Even on a mild summer’s day we were buffeted by the relentless wind, and I can hardly imagine the fortitude of the fishermen and farmers who endured the winter storms that lash this coastline. I was thankful that we were simply spending an afternoon wandering along the footpath, admiring the stark beauty of the lava field with the glacier ever-present in the background.DSC_0364 (2).JPGThere is far more to see in Snæfellsjökull National Park and certainly on the Snæfellsnes peninsula than we had time for. I think I could easily spend a whole week in the Park and still come away feeling like my trip was incomplete. It’s difficult to find a balance between trying to see everything a place has to offer (particularly when Iceland is not a cheap country to visit, meaning return visits often aren’t possible) and spending time thoroughly exploring individual locations. I understand the desire to cram as much in as possible; to see all the sights and not miss out on any of the spectacular scenery. However, I firmly believe that there is more to be gained by reducing the number of places visited, rather than racing from one viewpoint to the next at every opportunity. Instead, consider slowing down and taking the time to appreciate the view that’s right there. We may have missed out on some fantastic photo opportunities, but I think we gained so much more.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s visit Iceland – did you have a packed itinerary? Do you feel like you missed out on anything, or did you enjoy making the most of the variety that Iceland has to offer?

Summer in Stavanger

It’s coming up to three weeks since the move, and it still doesn’t seem real that we’re living here. As Sam points out, given how long we’ve been here for we could just be on a long holiday so it’s not particularly surprising that it doesn’t feel permanent yet. It doesn’t help that the majority of our belongings (or at least, the ones that we haven’t put into storage in the UK) are sitting in a warehouse somewhere near London instead of being en route to Stavanger. They should have been arriving this week but the shipping company has delayed the shipment until at least the first week of September, so it feels as if we’re camping out in our apartment.

We also haven’t been able to do much of the admin that we initially expected to do on arrival; we can’t open a bank account, register with a medical centre, or really do much of anything without a Norwegian ID and tax number; we can’t get one of those until we meet with the tax office, and the earliest possible meeting date is the 23rd August. Until then, we’re essentially just tourists which has left me with time to continue exploring the city – I am not complaining!DSC_0558.JPGDSC_0591.JPGWe were so lucky the first week we were here to have had glorious weather, and unsurprisingly it hasn’t stuck around… We’ve had at least some rain every day this week which is taking a bit of getting used to after living in the dry South-East for the last five years, although we’ve had a fair bit of sun too.DSC_0625.JPGDespite the showers, I’ve been out for a walk every day and already have some favourite spots. My preferred early morning walk is to Godalen beach although I’m still giving the diving boards a wide berth! A little further from the apartment, but within comfortable walking distance are the botanic garden and several lakes, along with various viewpoints around the city.DSC_0627.JPGDSC_0572.JPGOne thing I’ve been really surprised by is how many gardens there are in the city – there are flowers everywhere: masses of roses, honeysuckle, and sunflowers, but I’ve also spotted a few unexpected grapevines, complete with pretty impressive grapes (you’ll have to take my word for this, as I thought it was a bit cheeky to go poking my camera into other people’s gardens!). Perhaps Norwegian wine will become popular in few years?!DSC_0616.JPGDSC_0635.JPGWe’ve only had one trip outside Stavanger since my last post (unfortunately things like torrential rain and necessary IKEA visits have got in the way) which was a return to Jørpeland for a longer walk and for a chance to stock up on more berries. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many whinberries and blueberries in my life – heaven! Fingers crossed that our next exploration is just as successful 🙂

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New beginnings

I set up this blog in January 2017 to document the year as I attempted to complete Country Walking’s #walk1000miles challenge, amongst other various resolutions. I really enjoyed writing it, but only made it as far as October before fizzling out (although I did still complete the walking challenge and most of the other goals that I’d set for myself).

There have been many times since when I’ve decided to have another go, but a fully formed post has just not materialised in the last two years. I’ve been repeatedly reassured however that a blog can be set down and paused until wanted again, and happily for me this does seem to be the case.

There was no one great reason for stopping writing in the first place; partly (mainly?) laziness on my part, partly having other priorities for 2018, and partly because a lot of what we tended to do were the same activities. Now, there’s nothing at all wrong about repeating things that are enjoyed – for us, that meant cooking our favourite meals, walking our well-trodden paths, and gardening/foraging (which are by nature cyclical and repeating anyway). While I was quite happy to keep doing the same things over and over, I’m well aware that it’s a bit dull for anyone reading and possibly duller to continue to write about them, so the impetus to continue writing lessened.

I am a big lover of comfort, be that food, my surroundings, or my habits, and I wouldn’t say that I have a restless spirit by any means. However, over the past few months we’ve found ourselves perhaps a little too comfortable, slipping into more predictable routines month on month. So, in June we took the (possibly fairly drastic) decision to uproot ourselves from our cosy West Sussex village home and move almost 1000 km north-east to a city centre apartment in Norway! We’ve been very fortunate, in that almost as soon as we started to discuss “what’s next?” for us, Sam was offered a relocation to Stavanger. It took a surprisingly short amount of time to decide to make the move, and we arrived here at the end of July.DSC_0584 (2)1.jpgWe’ve only been here a week, and there is so much to learn (not least the language!), but I think it will be a positive move for us. For the past few days it’s just felt like we’re on holiday, but now that Sam has started work things will start to feel more ‘real’. So far though, Stavanger and the surrounding area has just been brilliant.DSC_0586 (2)1The city is historic and picturesque, full of the happy hustle and bustle that I find tends to occur in places with a small, tourism-heavy centre. This does mean that huge cruise ships dock almost every day, spilling their sightseers onto the cobbled streets for an afternoon or two.DSC_0564 (2).JPGI am in awe of these floating towns which hold roughly 6,000 occupants and dwarf the buildings surrounding the harbour, although the idea of being holed up in a windowless cabin at sea makes me shudder slightly.

On the days where there are no cruise ships the centre is calmer, and as nothing really opens before 10 am the mornings are particularly quiet.DSC_0577 (2)1DSC_0599 (2).JPGA short walk from our central apartment leads to a coastal path, which although not feeling remote, certainly feels a lot further from the city centre than it actually is. I spent a peaceful morning listening to the lapping of the waves against the rocks, enjoying the view of the mountains across the fjord.DSC_0625 (2)1.jpgI was also pleased to find that outdoor swimming is very much encouraged, although I think I’ll stick to my usual wading in rather than the plunge that it appears is expected here!DSC_0623 (2)1.jpgVenturing outside of Stavanger, a brief ferry ride leads to several walking opportunities. Unless we’re missing something though, there doesn’t seem to be much information about hikes until you’re halfway up a path. The day after moving in we hopped on a ferry to Tau and headed to Jørpeland following a vague Google maps suggestion that there might be a ‘Nature Path’ to follow. We found the (very nice) track and followed the river upstream, only to find a sign after an hour signposting to a whole host of walks, none of which are signed at the start of the trail!dsc_0542-2.jpgDSC_0548 (2).JPGThe weather was over 30 degrees (not usual for Norway!) so I didn’t fancy traipsing off up a trail to an unknown location, but it’s good to know how many options there are for future walks. Instead, we were quite happy to wander along the track, grazing on the wild raspberries, whinberries, and blueberries that we found along the way – bliss.DSC_0546 (2).JPGI originally started writing to capture my quite literal wanderings, mainly around the West Sussex countryside, and I’ve just enjoyed reading my final post of 2017 which is so full of contentment that it’s made me smile all over again. It’s a good reminder of the initial purpose of the blog – yes, I still would have remembered doing all the things that I’d written about, but not with the same level of detail and depth of emotion that the post gave me.

Now that we’re on a whole new adventure, I hope that my ramblings over the next few months can capture some of the excitement and novelty for me to look back on and enjoy in the future 😊

October Ramblings

Despite the shorter days I’ve managed to rack up over 100 miles in October – far more than September and only a couple of miles below June and August. Now, I’m not sure exactly why this is, but I’m pretty sure my ongoing love affair with autumn has something to do with it.100_2490 (2).JPG100_2449.JPGThere are so many reasons why I love autumn – the warm, golden light that seems so much richer than the bright summer sun; the food (see previous post!); the colour of the leaves; the glorious sunrises and sunsets; and also the last few weeks of warmth which are appreciated so much more when I know that they’re fast running out. Another – entirely personal – reason is that I’m so much happier than I was this time last year and it’s making such in a difference in the way that I notice and enjoy my surroundings.100_2558.JPGExactly a year ago, I made the brave/daft decision to quit a job that was making me extremely unhappy and then proceeded to spend the next three months happily digging a vegetable patch and spending as much time as possible outdoors while trying to decide what to do next.

Since then, I have been incredibly lucky to find a job that suits me so much better and it has made a massive difference to my general outlook on life. I’ve always spent a lot of time outside, but for most of last year my walks were spent dwelling on what would be waiting for me on Monday morning, or what went wrong the week before; I could have been in the most beautiful place imaginable but I would have been too bogged down in my worrying to really, truly enjoy it.100_2529.JPGWhat a difference a year has made! Last October I took a leap of faith and decided that I couldn’t – and wouldn’t – continue to be unhappy, and I have not regretted my decision at all. Autumn has traditionally been a time of thanksgiving, and over the past few weeks I have had time to reflect on just how much I have to be thankful for. I always chatter away when I’m walking, and I’ve recently taken to telling Sam (in great detail) just how happy I am on our autumnal strolls. I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a huge improvement on my relentless complaining, but he hasn’t asked me to stop yet!

I feel much more tuned in to my environment and the result is that I’m able to really make the most of whatever activity I happen to have chosen, whether that’s gardening, foraging, starting random crafty activities, or simply rambling along. I genuinely am so grateful for the changes that I’ve had the opportunity to make over the year, and for all of the people who continue to put up with my endless commentary on all of the above.

Thankfully, I don’t feel the need to make any drastic changes this autumn and so instead am simply taking a moment to appreciate all of the small things from over the past month that remind me of how important it is to aim for happiness every single day.100_2678.JPG100_2562.JPG100_2661.JPG100_2612.JPG100_2644.JPGTo everyone who continues to make life so wonderful – thank you. Happy autumn.

Feasts and foraging

Hello blog! Wow, it really has been quite a while since I posted anything – it seems that long sunny days and blogging just don’t mix for me. I can’t believe that my last blog was about our July holiday (although it has given me the perfect excuse to look through my holiday photos again…). Now that autumn has arrived, suddenly I have several hours of evening available that are perfect for sitting down to write – and good thing too, as I’ve built up quite a backlog of posts!100_2327.JPG100_2325.JPG100_2276.JPGI have always loved autumn, and even more so this year. Admittedly, the dark evenings aren’t so wonderful, but the fabulous colours, the crisp air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, and – most importantly – the food, really do make up for it.

Now that the weather has cooled, it seemed like the perfect time to recreate our Norwegian food highlight from July – hveteboller, or cardamom buns. These were a real treat for us on holiday, especially as they were one of the more affordable options available, and they proved to be equally enjoyable back in the UK. Sam found this recipe for cardamom buns with a cinnamon filling – not quite what we had on holiday – but so, so tasty, and very much appreciated last Monday morning!

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Cardamom-cinnamon buns: making Monday mornings infinitely more bearable

This sort of sets the tone for this whole post (if the title hasn’t already given it away). There is such an abundance of food in autumn, and I’m enjoying feasting on a variety of home-grown and foraged fare.

In the garden, the squash have finally been harvested after threatening to take over the garden, and although we didn’t get quite as many as we’d have liked, both the Blue Hungarian and the Burgess Vine are proving to have been well worth growing.

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KODAK Digital Still Camera

Blue Hungarian wedges cooked in Cajun spices (thanks to Sam’s Mum and Dad for the tip!)

 

The first few leeks have been enjoyed – again, we didn’t grow as many as we’d have liked, but we’ll be putting more in next year. In the greenhouse, the peppers are still going strong, although the early promise of aubergines did not materialise.

 

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From ‘field’ to fork in fifteen minutes

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Looking slightly nibbled, but there have been more than enough to share with anyone who wants a bite

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Sadly, these were infested with red spider mite shortly after this photo was taken, and we weren’t able to eat any of them

The courgettes are still cropping, although they are now on their last legs. We’ve been picking these since early June, so courgette seeds are definitely on the shopping list for next year.

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The overwhelming daily harvest of July seems a long time ago now

 

The hedgerows are now in their prime for foraging, and I’ve started carrying a ‘just-in-case’ bag on our daily walks. The freezer is crammed full of tasty berries and we’re enjoying making some new treats as well as our old favourites.

 

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Not very seasonal, but an absolute favourite so I couldn’t leave them out. Whinberries, bilberries, whortleberries, blaeberries – utterly scrumptious regardless of the name!

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Whinberry muffins topped with homemade muesli- one of our most-used recipes. Berries picked earlier in the summer but an excellent freezer-filler

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Elderberry sorbet, another early summer treat, this time a new one from the Hedgerow Cookbook. It has a gorgeous colour, tastes delicious, and is scoopable straight from the freezer

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Moving into autumn now, and we’ve collected bags of these in the freezer for future treats

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We finally managed to find an apple tree – hurrah! Some of these will be enjoyed tomorrow morning with homemade granola and Greek yoghurt…

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…While the others have already been scoffed with cinnamon scones and cream. Mmm

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And finally, the anticipation of winter treats to come

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After steeping overnight, the gin has taken on a gorgeous colour

Normally I wait for the first frost before picking my sloes, but we noticed that they’re starting to over-ripen and the frosts are still weeks away. So, this year I’ve decided to try them pre-frost (we stuck them in the freezer overnight which should hopefully simulate nature to a good enough degree), and will pick another batch if I can find any left in a few weeks time.100_2308.JPGWe haven’t yet found any chestnuts but hopefully they’re on the agenda for this coming weekend (providing I can find room in the freezer of course!). And after that, there are still plenty of leeks in the garden, with the parsnips to come in another month or so.

With all of this wonderful comfort food, it’s probably a good thing that I’m still sticking to my walking challenge, and have just passed the 900 mile mark, putting me in a great position to finish the #walk1000miles challenge ahead of target.

I will try and start posting more regularly again, but if it all goes quiet I think it would be safe to assume that I’m either outside foraging, or inside feasting. Happy Autumn!