Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sampling the U.K.-- Part 1: London, England

Last month, Sten was invited by the archaeology department at the University of Durham in the U.K.  to give a lecture about his research to the faculty and students.  We decided to tack a few days on either side of that professional commitment in order to see a little more of England. We started in my birth place, London, and chose to try airbnb for lodging as we'd heard good reports from others. (See for information about this.)  

Choosing from all the possible listings was a bit overwhelming, but I'd say we fared very well with the home we selected.  Our hosts were delightful, friendly without hovering, helpful, and interesting.  The room and bath in their townhouse was immaculate and tastefully minimally decorated.  We couldn't have been happier. Graham and Lev are the kind of people we'd enjoy spending time with regularly were we to live close by. Can you believe this is taken the end of January and the flowers are blooming?

For supper our first evening, our hosts recommended a wonderful restaurant in their Dalston-Kingsland neighborhood which has a large Turkish population.  Our first evening, we checked it out and ended up going back the next night.  They had a wonderful selection of interesting and delicious salads, soups, breads, and mains -- as they referred to their main courses.You could select any sort of combination at a set price.  For example, a main and two salads or soup and three salads. Here's a couple of pictures of some of the salad selection at Cafe Route as well as the delicious lentil soup I had one evening.  Perfect for a blustery English evening.

The next day, we planned to focus on seeing just a few things in central London.  First off was an exhibit at the Queen's Gallery Buckingham Palace  called Cairo to Constantinople -- Early Photographs of the Middle East.  In 1862, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) was sent by his mother Queen Victoria on a four-month educational tour accompanied by British photographer Francis Bedford. The exhibit documents his journey through Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece through the photography of Bedford. We found it fascinating to see how the region has changed since then. The first photo below is of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem; the second of Bethlehem.

 After leaving the exhibit, we took a turn around the gift shop. Fun to see all the British memorabilia.

And then we went to see what one can see of Buckingham Palace as a commoner.  It was raining and  windy, so not fun to stand there for very long.

Next stop was Westminster Abbey. Though I'd been there before, I hadn't had enough time to explore it to my complete satisfaction, plus we knew there was a Choral Evensong that we hoped to attend. The Abbey allows no photography inside, and I reluctantly complied.  (Here's a link to a video of the choir singing at the Queen and Prince Philips 60th anniversary service from Youtube: Believe me, we enjoyed having time to soak in the atmosphere of this cathedral/cemetery/history book.  And the evensong was absolutely glorious.  We sat in the Quire (yes, that's how the words for pews where the boys sit is spelled) next to a mother of two of the boys in the choir.  She comes every weekend to hear them sing. I can't say I wouldn't do the same. It still amazes me that these children live away from home at such an early age.

And finally, below are a few photos of sites right in the same area of the City of Westminster -- the red phone booths, Big Ben, the London Eye, and the Abbey.

Not too bad for one day of sight-seeing in London.  The next morning our fine hosts drove us to King's Cross to catch our train to Heathrow where we picked up a car for the next leg of our journey -- the Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-Avon. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Visiting Norway's west coast -- Fedje

Only a few times in my life have I really experienced "the elements" of nature.  Obviously, the elements are present every day of our lives, but what I mean is when their potential strength to overtake or destroy you can be felt. Visiting the island of Fedje was one of those times. 

Fedje (pronounced "fay-eh") is the name of a 7.4 square kilometer island,  a village on the island, and the approximately 125 islands and rocks mostly north of the island in the sea northwest of Bergen. Fedje is the most western independent community in Norway.   Its location in the North Atlantic provides it with very little shelter from the wind and the sea. One of Sten's colleagues lives there and invited us to visit him and his wife when we came to Bergen.  

We first drove north by car for an hour along the coast, taking the slower, winding, local roads because, as our host said, "You can take your soul with you." Arriving at the ferry landing to catch the boat to Fedje -- a half-hour trip into the Atlantic -- we began to feel the weather we were to experience most of our time on the island.  Strong winds were blowing and the rain beat against the windows when we left; however, by the time we were nearing the island, a rainbow appeared. The boat was tossed about as it made its way through many rocky islands, a salmon farm, and choppy waters. The two "old salts," Sten and our friend Kåre, spent some time seeing the views from the deck outside.  I found it almost difficult to stand upright in the strong wind.

Approaching the ferry landing on the island, your view of the main village is dominated by the church with its steeple.  There are less than 600 people living on the island. We learned that when any islander dies, the bells on the church steeple toll the next day for an hour to let everyone know the sad news. The island has an elementary and middle school (which houses a movie theater twice a week), a medical doctor, a helicopter, a grocery store, and no police force. It also is home to an important traffic-station for ocean-going boats or all sizes.

After a delicious comfort-food lunch of risgrot (rice porridge), our hosts took us by car to see around the island and the lighthouse, which is on the opposite side from the village of Fedje.  The lighthouse is on a tiny island of its own, right next to the main one. The winds were blowing incredibly hard and there were some hints of rain.  I was sure my hat was going to be blown off. Though it was cold and stormy, I found it rather exhilarating to be out in the weather.

Driving back from the other side of the island, we had another view of the church, this time lit up for the night.

Coming home to a warm house with a wood fire in the stove and a delicious supper on the table was more of a treat than usual after being outside. The sunset was like a flaming fire -- matching the wild outdoors.  After supper, we enjoyed good conversation, some knitting, and a new table game.

The next morning we planned to take a walk around the village.  Outside, the rain was again coming down hard, propelled by the same strong winds as the day before. However, our hosts had plenty of  protective, waterproof clothes so our plans weren't thwarted.  I've been for walks in the rain, but this was an on-steroids version of what I'd experienced before.  Any body parts or garments not under the rain clothes immediately became thoroughly soaked. The rain pelted your face head on, driven by the wind. Taking photos under these conditions isn't the easiest task, but here are the few shots I got.

Next to the church is a statue in honor of "the seaman's wife."  She held the family, home, and community together alone while her man was out fishing for their livelihood, often battered by the elements at great risk. Fishing was the reason people first lived on this island; however, there are almost none living there who make their living that way anymore. It mustn't have been an easy life.

Too soon, it was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland and the drive back to Bergen to catch our train home to Oslo. Visiting Fedje will be a special memory for years to come. Thank you, Kåre and Tone, for your wonderful hospitality and warm friendship.  We loved seeing this place so special to both of you.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Visiting Norway's west coast -- Bergen

Bergen is located on Norway's west coast and is nestled in the valley between and up the sides of seven mountains (though which seven of many in the region is still argued about). As a result, many homes are built on the hillside, making for good natural exercise experience and a particular charm.  The apartment where we stayed is close to Mt. Fløyen, to the north.  This mountain has a funicular  one can ride to reach the summit which has a beautiful panoramic view of the ocean, the city,  and the surrounding mountains. Here are a couple of street photos taken near where we stayed.

The day Sten was in meetings, I chose to revisit places in the downtown harbor area. I passed by the ubiquitous McDonald's, Bergen style.

One of the most iconic sites in Bergen is pictured below -- the old wooden buildings of Bryggen, along the side of the harbor. These were originally Hanseatic commercial buildings, but now they're mostly shops, galleries, and a museum.

Here's the view of the harbor on the other side of the street.

Bergen, being on the west coast, gets a lot of rain, though not a lot of snow. I've heard for years that it's the Gulf Stream that keeps it warmer than one would assume these northern latitudes to be. However, interestingly, it's not the Gulf stream itself, but that combined with the chaos of the sea waters that provides this warmth. (For an interesting report of studies that found this, see

It would seem that this day, the "chaos" causes rain that was coming down pretty steadily and winds that were very strong.  I found myself wanting to spend more time inside than out. I thought I'd explore behind the street front which faces the harbor.

Wandering behind these bryggen buildings,  I stepped into this gallery.  I like how they've adapted to the nooks and crannies of the old building's interior.

One of the Bryggen buildings houses a Christmas shop; another, a knitware shop.  I had to check them out too. Tempting, but pricey.

The next morning, we took the funicular up Mount Fløyen.  Though there was no snow in Bergen proper, there was a light layer on the mountain. Here's what you see from up there.  The second photo shows the tracks for the funicular.

Mount Ullriken to the east can be reached by cable car or hiking.  In the past we've hiked from there to Mount Fløyen -- a 4-5 hour hike.

The compulsory photo with the resident troll.

Since we had the time, we decided to hike down from the mountain rather than take the funicular again. During our hike we experienced snow, hail, rain, and, finally, sunshine.  Bergen is like that -- always something new to experience.

We had some hail, and you can see the rain in the West.

Minutes later, there's a rainbow and the sun is shining.

Soon we're down to where the houses begin again.  Time to head back to the apartment to meet our friend for the next leg of our adventure,  visiting the small island of Fedje -- Norway's most western independent community.