A Travellerspoint blog

Then Came the Sun...

sunny 22 °C

When we arrived in Stavanger we battened down the hatches and were preparing to spend the day watching Hurricane Helene's rain slashing against the hotel's windows, but we woke to a gloriously sunny morning. Helene was running late and the only clouds on the horizon were two giant cruise ships that had sailed into port before dawn...
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So, after a typical Norwegian breakfast, we dashed down to the harbour and jumped aboard a boat heading for the fjords before the city became swamped with cruise passengers. And what an amazing day we had sailing the Hogsfjorden and Lysefjorden...
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Norway is renowned for its fjords: long, narrow seawater inlets with near vertical rock walls that chop up the coastline and make road and rail travel virtually impossible. So, school buses are replaced with school boats and the happy kids gave us a wave as they sailed to class...
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With a perfectly clear sky and unseasonably warm temperatures in the 20s it was smooth sailing all the way as we passed idyllic islands...
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...and marvelled at the magnificent formations in the cliffs high above us. This is known as 'Pulpit Rock' in English...
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...while the heart-shaped pale patch in the centre of this cliff is, we were assured, the stone heart of a troll whose love for a human woman had been unrequited...
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This is a troll...
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We had seen many of these characters hanging about outside tourist shops in Stavanger but, unlike the Norwegians in general, none of them were particularly friendly or communicative. It turns out that since the 9th century trolls have lived in crevices and caves in isolated mountains and have never been very fond of humans. Apparently there are families of trolls living in the caves in the fjord cliffs and they drink from the many freshwater waterfalls like this one, named Hengiare, in the Lysefjorden...
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However, this is Norway, land of sagas, legends and myths, so we took our guide's stories with a pinch of salt. Also taken with a pinch of salt are canned Norwegian sardines, and Stavanger was at one time the country's canning capital. Some 80% of Stavanger's population worked in the fishing industry until oil was discovered in the North sea in the 1960s. Now the canneries have all closed. However, the last one standing has been turned into a museum. The museum is in the heart of the old town and is surrounded by narrow streets of quaint wooden houses, all painted white...
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The museum curator, an Englishman, was extremely informative and the first thing we learned was that we had been deceived all our lives. Canned Norwegian sardines are not sardines at all: they are humble sprats. When the industry began in the late 1800s the Norwegians guessed that people preferred the tasty little Mediterranean fish so they simply packed the plentiful local sprats in olive oil and called them sardines – and, seemingly, no one ever knew the difference. Here's an antique canning machine from 1908 that our guide was still able to operate...
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Hurricane Helene eventually breezed past us in the night and left clear skies and warm airs for our morning cruise north to Bergen. However, severe storm Ali is currently lashing Scotland and is expected to hit us this evening. By then we will be safely tucked up ashore in our Bergen hotel and planning more excursions deep into Norway's stunning fjords.

Posted by Hawkson 06:57 Archived in Norway Comments (6)

A First Taste of Norway

rain 20 °C

It's raining in Stavanger today but we're not surprised. Although we usually try to follow the sun there is never a guarantee of good weather in these Nordic climes. We are hoping for better weather tomorrow but the old city of Stavanger is a maze of narrow cobblestoned lanes full of quaint wooden houses and warehouses that have been converted into shops, cafes and restaurants. We can therefore find plenty of places in the dry and masses of food to keep us going...
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The dreary weather has given us an excellent reason to sample the Norwegian cuisine. First stop – a bakery offering all manner of delicious breads and pastries...
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You may have heard that Scandinavia is expensive so, for starters: 3 teas and three sweet buns, (because our friend Christine is travelling with us throughout the North European part of our trip), cost us $37 Cdn. While this delicious, though fairly basic, plate of farmed salmon and boiled potatoes...
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...set us back $40.00 each.
Hotels, taxis and excursions are equally expensive but one good thing about the prices is that almost no one uses cash in Norway. Everything is paid for on credit card – even for the smallest bar of chocolate - so you simply don't notice how much you are spending.

While Stavanger is the capital of the Norwegian's North Sea oil enterprise it still retains some charming old buildings along its waterfront. The ancient beams of the Skagen restaurant are a reminder of the skills of the shipwrights of olden days...
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The remnants of Hurricane Helene seem to be headed our way in the coming days so it looks like we will be sending more time checking out the interior of the many quayside restaurants...
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It's a hard life on the docks in Stavanger!

Posted by Hawkson 12:08 Archived in Norway Comments (5)

On the Trail of Odin and Athena

overcast 15 °C

It’s mid September and the changing colours tell us that it’s time to start packing up our island home and setting off on another adventure. Although we live on the edge of one of the world’s most expansive rainforests, and look out over the cerulean Salish Sea towards the permanently snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, this summer’s perpetual sun was sometimes dimmed by smoke from more than 600 forest fires. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and we were rewarded with some magnificent sunrises from our kitchen window....
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We also had many sightings of whales, sea-lions, seals, otters, vultures and eagles, and this morning, as we prepared to leave, a huge school of dolphins swam right past our front windows. This is one of the many eagle-eyed raptors that we saw on a daily basis as they surveyed the beach below us hunting for prey...
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Thanks to the wonders of laser surgery James now has eagle-eyes and was able to create this colourful ratatouille dish for one of our summer parties...
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But, when it comes to colour, Sheila surely took the prize for creating this beautiful quilt for a very special person...
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Summer was a busy time with several family visitors from the U.K. along with trips to Vancouver, Victoria and Campbell River. One trip to Government House in the provincial capital of Victoria was especially memorable as we went to witness long-time friend, Joyce, receiving an award from the Lieutenant Governor for forty years of community service. Here is Sheila and Joyce at Government House following the award ceremony...
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Our garden suffered this summer through four months of drought with temperatures close to 30 degrees but James, with the aid of members of his woodworkers guild, was able to add a colourful addition to the Japanese Garden...
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And here is the finished Torii gate...
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Now the rains have come to our little Pacific island and it is already snowing in the mountain passes, so we are taking off to explore lands steeped in ancient mythology. We will start in Scandinavia, the land of Vikings, smorgasbord and wooden longships. From there we will wend our way south to the Aegean sea in search of some late autumnal sunshine and the home of Athena. But first a quick stop in our native England. Come with us as we go in search of Odin, and his Greek cousin, Athena.

Posted by Hawkson 12:44 Archived in Canada Comments (4)

Los Colores de Sudamerica

rain 8 °C

Our journey to the end of the world and back took us through an amazing kaleidoscope of colours that began with James and his son, Ian, swimming with the sharks in the warm aquamarine seas surrounding the Galapagos Islands...
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Their next adventure was zip-lining high above the verdant canopy in the tropical cloud forest of Mindo, Ecuador. It was there that they encountered thousands of flambouyant butterflies...
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The South American continent is vast and it is some 15,00 kilometres from our home in the North Pacific to the tip of Patagonia at the other end of the world. Our first stop together was in Peru where 65,000 indigenous dancers and musicians in their brilliant costumes took nearly 24 hours to dance their way through the streets of Puno, more than 12,000 feet above sea level on the shores of Lake Titicaca...
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The perpetual sun that followed us to the end of the world and back warmed us as we visited the floating Uros islands on Lake Titicaca and shone on the brilliantly painted reed boats of the Aymara peoples - and from there the colours just kept getting more vibrant. First there were the stalls laden with all manner of carnaval paraphernalia on the chaotic streets of La Paz, Bolivia, followed by the incredible reflections on the surface of the salt flats in Uyuni...
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And then to Valparaiso, Chile, where elaborate murals adorn almost every building in the old port city...
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Following the tree lined avenues and boulvards of Santiago we headed to southern Patagonia where this solitary king penguin was showing off his brilliant plumage to his black and white megellanic cousins. We imagined him saying, "O.K. Clear the runway. If Wilbur and Orville could do it..."
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The starkly white Perito Moreno glacier of El Calafate in Argentina led us on to our next stop, Buenos Aires, where the parks and gardens were festooned with blossoming trees. But then the vineyards and leafy avenues of Mendoza drew us back to the Andes. From Mendoza we headed north to Cordoba and then on to witness the incredible vistas of the Iguazu falls...
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Next stop, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the colourful favelas that festoon the hillsides. Sheila couldn't resist buying this shawl on the beach at Copacabana for our dear Cuban friend, Lourdes...
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For the statisticians: this journey of 75 days took us more than 24,000 miles (the earth's circumference at the equator) by a total of 29 flights. We stayed in 27 hotels and guesthouses and ate in more than 150 restaurants. Now we are back home for the summer – just one bed and one restaurant and time to plan our next adventure in this wide and wonderful world. But first, a big thank you to all the terrific people who helped us along the way and listened patiently to our garbled Spanish. After several years of trying we have finally grasped sufficient so that we no longer begin each conversation with, “Hables ingles?” (Do you speak English?).
A special thank you to our very good friends in Cuba – Leyani, Osvedi and their sons in Vinales, and Las tres amigas, (the three friends); Lourdes, Marisol and Rita in Havana. Muchos gracias to them for their kind hearts and incredible generosity, and thank you for coming along for the ride. We hope to see you soon on our next Blissful Adventure somewhere in this wonderful colourful world. Adios for now.

Posted by Hawkson 16:56 Archived in Canada Comments (8)

Cuban Friends

sunny 28 °C

Daily life for Cubans is a challenge, yet they are among the most generous and warmhearted people in the world. Here we are enjoying dinner with our friends Lourdes, Marisol and Rita at a restaurant in Havana...
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And this is Sheila with Heather, a childhood friend from England, in front of Revolution Place and the images of Che Guevara and Jose Marti – two of Cuba’s most admired figures...
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We met up with Heather at the end of her tour of Mexico and Cuba. Touring is easy and relatively inexpensive for foreigners in Cuba and it is easy to overlook the difficulties and privations suffered by the locals. Shopping for even basic foods like flour, butter, cheese, coffee and tea, can be a frustrating, time consuming, and sometimes a fruitless exercise. However, there is a thriving black market, (known here as ‘the black bag’ (bolsa negra)). For instance: there were no eggs in the stores but we saw dozens of people carrying trays of eggs like this...
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We then discovered that each tray cost just $1.30 (about a pound) off the back of a truck. Anyone with a few dollars could buy hundreds of eggs and make a tidy profit by selling them individually for a few cents to friends and neighbours.
In the face of 60 years of American blockade, and numerous attempts by Washington to destroy their economy and morale, the Cubans have become incredibly ingenious at keeping old machinery running. We were in Vinales at the time of the annual carnival and were surprised to see American fairground rides from the 1930s still going strong...
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Even the portable toilets looked like leftovers from World War II...
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Thousands of battered yank tanks from the 1950s, with more than a million miles on the clock, ferry locals around Havana for 50 cents a time, while a ride in one of the superbly restored cars from the same period is reserved for tourists with deeper pockets...
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The streets of Cuba are filled with old cars that would be on the scrap heap almost anywhere else in the world, but here they are incredibly valuable. Imagine having to pay nearly $20,000 US (14,000 UK Pounds) for a 1980 Lada. Yet, despite the inconveniences and shortages the Cubans know how to enjoy themselves. These are our Vinales friends, Osvedi, Leyani and their two sons, treating us to a pizza lunch...
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After a couple of months of daily sightseeing and travelling throughout South America our ten days in Cuba were spent simply relaxing with friends and practising our Spanish. We are now home. The temperature has plummeted by more than 20 degrees and spring doesn’t seem in a hurry to arrive – a good time to reflect on our summer in the Southern Hemisphere. .

Posted by Hawkson 15:33 Archived in Cuba Comments (2)

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