Sunday, December 18, 2005

Norwegian Christmas Traditions

Santa Claus in

The differences in Christmas traditions between countries is quite fascinating. None more so than the differences between an English and Norwegian Christmas. Sad to say compared with Norway the traditions of an English Christmas for many folk have been hi-jacked by commercial interests. By comparison it is delightful to discover that for many Norwegians Christmas (Yule) still retains many of its traditions. As we discovered a couple of years back, two of the interesting traditions are, they celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve and eat strange alternatives to Turkey, but more of that in a moment.

For many Norwegians Christmas begins on 13th December, the shortest day of the year, with the celebration of Santa Lucia’s (St Lucy) Day. According to legend, Lucia was burned at the stake in Syracuse, because she refused to deny her Christian faith and marry a pagan. In her honour, a young girl, traditionally the youngest daughter from each family but elsewhere the blondest girl available, is dress in white robes and red sashes, and wearing a crown of greenery and long slender glowing candles. They may lead a procession round the house or carolers through the street, church or school. Lucy is the only saint celebrated by the Lutheran Swedes, Finns, Danes, and Norwegians, in celebrations that retain many pre-Christian elements of a midwinter light festival. The delightful practice of using candles and tea lights to light up the home, cafe and restaurant tables and bars, shop fronts and almost every where else you could put a candle is widespread.

In some areas it is traditional to cut your own Christmas tree, Surprisingly for a country covered in Christmas trees this is a tradition that was imported from Germany in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It can also happen in England but unfortunately it is often the one that someone has just erected in their own garden! The tree is not normally decorated until Christmas eve. The traditional decoration is small home made candles but the practice is now considered too dangerous.

Santa Claus (Julenisse), in Norway is a mix of the German St Nicholas and the Norwegian Nisse. Nisse was a mythical character who looked after the farmland and buildings. It was important to make sure he was rewarded for his duties by leaving out a bowl of porridge and a glass of beer in contrast to the English Santa Claus who prefers mince pie and glass of sherry or whiskey (In truth he would probably prefer a vindaloo or a kebab. Julenisse is helped by a team of mischievous elves who have taken over the name Nisse.

A still popular tradition, particularly with our grand daughter, is the baking of a wide variety of cakes and biscuits including julekake (with raisins), kryddekake, delfiakake, rosettbakels, fattigmann, smultringer, goro, silkekaker, pepperkaker, kokosmakroner and sand kager. Most of the biscuit recipes are not unlike ginger bread. If you are not up to making the spicy dough yourself you can buy it in the bakers or supermarket ready to roll out.

Of particular interest is the brewing of special Christmas beer, "Juleøl", There are over 50 varieties, one of my sons friends has produced the ultimate grown up Advent Calendar in which the daily surprise is a different "Juleøl" rather than a chocolate Santa Claus. The beer tends to be a bit like an English barley wine and can be as strong as 9% alcohol but the commercial varieties are not as strong being limited by law to less than 5% alcohol if they are to be sold in supermarkets.

For visitors to Norway the most curious Christmas tradition is their choice of food. Our traditional turkey is replaced by a variety of alternative the choice of which may depend on which part of the country you are in and whether you are in town or country. Our first Norwegian Christmas dinner comprised Lutefisk, mashed peas (mushy peas), rendered lardons (thick fatty smoked bacon), red potatoes boiled in their skins. The fat from the grilled bacon, is poured over the potatoes. Norwegians remove the skins before eating the potatoes but I like to leave them on. Despite the rather bizarre treatment of the fish I found Lutefisk to be delicious. Pinnekjøtt and yellow turnip This was followed by "Pinnekjøtt" - salted lamb ribs, literally translated as "twig meat".

This was served with yellow turnip, we would call it swede but that is a bit non-pc in Norway, could be construed as cannibalism and more potatoes. All washed down with adequate quantities of Aquavit and "Juleøl".

Lutefisk [loo-te-fisk]- this is cod fish treated with wood ash or lye (which is essentially potassium chloride) during this treatment the fish swells and becomes like jelly, after which it is dried. Before it can be cooked it is soaked in repeated changes of water to remove the chemicals.

It is great to be in a country where the natives still uphold their traditions. No fear of the Norwegians changing the name of Christmas lights to Winter lights. Such has been the demand for traditional Christmas fare there is a danger that some seasonal delicacies may be in short supply.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas Beer in Norway - "Juleøl"

Modern Scandinavians would say they celebrate Yule, while the Vikings "drank Jul". And a key part of "drinking Jul" - today as in the year 1000 - is brewing special Christmas beers.
In Norway alone there are more than 50 kinds of Juleoel, or Christmas beers, ranging in strength from 4.5 to 9.9 per cent alcohol, brewed just before the holidays each year. They are darker and more flavourful than regular beers.

In Viking times, Helge Soerheim said, people thought drinking themselves into a stupor on holiday beer and other alcoholic beverages would create a euphoric connection with supernatural forces. And failure to get drunk at a Viking feast was an insult to the host, implying that his alcohol wasn't good enough. Because modern Jul is generally a family affair, today's Scandinavians are more moderate in their "drinking Jul". But the old Viking toast - "to a good new year and peace" - still echoes in the modern Christmas wishes of the North, Soerheim said.

Even after Christianity made inroads, brewing Jul-time beer remained a serious matter. In medieval times, every farmer was required to brew Christmas beer or risk fines and worse. "Everyone had to make two batches of Christmas beer a year, one for themselves and one for guests, or be fined three riskdollars," Olaug Flakne, 31, Norway's only female brew master, said, referring to the currency of that day. "If they did not do it for three years in a row, their farms were taken away, and, if they were also not Christian, they were expelled from the country," she said at the brewery on the outskirts of Oslo.

In old times, Norwegians used whatever was at hand, from juniper berries to tobacco, to flavour the beers. But under the Beer Purity Act of 1516, which was repealed in 1994 but is still heeded by Norwegian brewers today, only malt, hops, yeast and water can go into beer. Ringnes, Flakne's employer and Norway's largest brewery, alone makes 3.3 million litres (nearly 870,000 gallons) of Christmas beer, in 18 varieties.

Not everyone is happy about the connection between Christmas and the brewing of beer. In the 1960s, the Christian Sobriety Society demanded that the name Juleoel, or Jul Beer, be banned. The national brewers' association, however, successfully countered that Jul has nothing to do with Christmas or Christianity but stems from Viking times.

Other Christmas traditions appear to have been passed down from the Vikings. Many believe the "Julenek," a sheaf of grain Norwegians place outside for the birds each Christmas, stems from the Vikings' Jul offerings to their gods. Others say it may have a later origin, such as sharing Christmas bounty with all creatures.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Where the hell is Poulton le Fylde?

St Chads Church
Where the hell is Poulton le Fylde? If you live in Oslo that is probably a very fair question, I shall try to explain.

The town of Poulton le Fylde is located in the North West of England in the county of Lancashire. Situated about 5 miles (8 Km) inland from the seaside town of Blackpool between the river Lune in the north and the river Ribble in the south, in a coastal plain known as the Fylde. The population is approximatly 20,000.

The town gained its name from Skipool, a tributory of the river Wyre, which lies less than a mile to the north east of the village. The name Poulton was created by combining the Old English words Pol, for pool or creek, and Tun, meaning a farmstead or enclosure. Thus the name signifies "settlement by the pool". In 1842 the suffix 'le-Fylde' was added with the advent of the "penny post" to distinguish the village from Poulton-le-Sands, a community further north, since renamed to Morecambe. Built on one of the few low hills in the western part of the Fylde, Poulton le Fylde became an busy medieaval, market town and important port on the river Wyre.

The village name appears in the Doomsday Book (1086) one of the 60 villages of Amounderness. The village is centered on St Chads church, dedicated to the seventh century Saxon Bishop. A church is thought to have exsisted on the site before Norman times although the fist record is dated 1094, recorded by Roger de Pitou a Norman knight who had been granted the district of Amounderness following the Norman conquest. The present structure is from three different periods, the oldest section being the tower dating from 1638. The main part of the church was re-built between 1751 and 1753 although some parts of the walls are of an earlier origin.

Map of the Fylde
Poulton le Fylde street map

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Wet Sunday in Oslo

Well it is Sunday the last day of our visit to Torshov, we go home tomorrow. I had hoped to post a selection of photographs of the locality but the past few days have been grey and wet and today is no exception. In fact today is double crap as it is misty as well. I have only taken a few photos and they are hardly worth posting. So what else can I post?

I was listening to BBC Radio 2 on the Internet on Friday, as I have been doing most days. I have to say the Internet is the ex-pats best friend in so many ways but most of all as it allows us to listen to Wogan in the morning, Jeremy Vine at lunch time , Johnny Walker in the afternoon and most important the Archers in the evening or best of all you can listen again at anytime. As I said I was listening to Wogan on Friday morning. For reasons best known to the BBC it was being presented by Johnny Walker, who has to be the best DJ on radio 2 but that is another matter. We were about 15 mins into the programme and Johnny played a hilarious track entitled Jose Murino's half time talk. Apparently this item was composed by a group of Irish radio presenters and is not available commercially. At the end of the track I thought, I wish I had paid attention to that it sounded hilarious. I also wish I had recorded it. It was now Sunday, I checked the BBC website for "Listen again" and as luck would have it Wogans Friday show was still available and sure enough about 15 mins into the programme was the Murino track. How can I record it?
HiQ streaming audio recorder
A quick google revealed a number of audio recorders, most were commercial or shareware programmes, not expensive but I was looking for something free. The suggestions were to look for a Streaming Audio recorder rather than a straight recorder. I had a look at the News groups and searched for BBC radio streaming audio recorder. The first in the list was looked promising Quite an interesting set of posts but the gem was a link in the last post for FREE Hi-Q Recorder This is a fantastic piece of software that will allow recording from any audio source as an MP3. To record the BBC stream all you do is start the BBC Player and as soon as your programme or track cue's press the record button on HiQ and you are away. The software has all sorts of useful facilities including a timer but I have not had time to check them out yet.

Sunday Lunch
Traditionally we take the family out for Sunday lunch, they choose, we pay. All we knew it was a restaurant down Grunerlokka way. Turned out to be the far side at Schous plass, yes for all you Liverpudlians, the home of Scouse, more of that later. A long walk, 30 mins later and a bit damp we arrived at a magnificent granite building, that was previously a bank. Shades of downtown Liverpool. The place was called SUDOST, should have an umlout over the U, very interesting interior, big roaring fires, Long oak tables as well as individual ones, a cafe at the entrance and the old strong rooms as the wine store. Very quaint. The menu was limited, I had the special, neck pork with beetroot, excellent. Irene had grilled cod, Lill, red snapper and Andrew crispy duck, the universal verdict was excellent, well cooked and very tasty. Good bisto style food. The girls had white wine, a Chablis and Andrew a red, not sure what, I had beer. Sweets were creme brule x 3 and autumn fruit compote, again all excellent. Service was very good considering the place was busy. The only downside was the bill, with 10% tip, came to NKR 1600 (£145), I have just finished washing the pans! Sounds expensive! You have to remember the wine cost as much as the meal and there is 25% VAT added, phew!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Have you heard the one about the Moose?

In the world of Journalism a top story would be described as a "Man Bites Dog" headline. In Norway you would have to change that to "Man bites Moose". As we do not have them in the UK, Moose, that is, you may find it difficult to understand what an important role the Moose plays in Norwegian journalism. For example when a Scotsman was asked "What do you get with a 2 ton Moose" his reply was "Bloody big holes in your skirting boards"! Ask a Norwegian and what you get with a 2 ton Moose you would still be there 3 hours later listening to the answers. In Norway the Moose grabs more headlines than Jorden, Sharon Osborne or Georgie Best!

The most recent Moose headline in The Aftenposten was on 17th October 2005, "Moose attacked moose statue" A family in the coastal Telemark town of Bamble had erected a statue of a moose in their garden, but a pair of the real Moose showed their dissaproval and broke the interloper into several peices. "Moose regularly visit the garden but they'previously they have just eaten our apple and pear trees," Tveten, the statues owner, said.

On 12th October the Aftenposten had another Moose headline: "Moose collisions hurt most" Apparently Norwegian motorists hit over 3,000 of these creatures a year and always come off worse. Norway's insurers pay out about NOK 100 million (£9 million, USD 15.3 million) a year for animal-car collisions, most of them involving game - moose and roe deer.

One of the best headlines has to be " 'Dead' moose attacked hunter" A hunter's worst nightmare came true for 68-year-old Arne Aurdal after shooting a moose in the forest in Gausdal. Aurdal is considering giving up the sport after being beaten black and blue by the mortally wounded animal, though he survived thanks to a bit of quick thinking.
Aurdal, had taken the moose down with his first shot. He moved in to finish it off. Suddenly the animal reared up, I threw myself onto his horns, he said. The moose thrashed around in a frenzy, after what seemed an eternity but was less than a minute the giant, 300kg, animal crashed to the ground, leaving Aurdal black and blue but thankfully alive. He is keeping the massive antlers as a memento of his near death experience.

No wonder they leave big holes in your skirting boards.

I found over 50 Moose related headlines in Norweigian newspapers without really trying, here are a few for the really dedicated Mooseologists!

Moose set off on long-distance swim
Moose closes tunnel
Moose spark traffic trouble in Trondheim
Moose rings twice
Expanding moose population spurs calls for more hunting
Moose attacks laundry rack
Landowners see gold in moose hunting
Moose breaks into grocery store
Norway's annual moose hunt
Moose on the move!
Flying moose lands on car's roof
Drunken moose alert in southern
Norway Moose move proves fatal
Moose pose record-high traffic threat

Vital Statistics

Moose can be found in Canada and northern parts of America, northern parts of Europe (Scandinavia, Russia) and Asia (Siberia, Mongolia, Northern China).
Life span: 15-25 years
Weight: 550-700 kg (1200-1500 lbs)
Body length: 2.5-2.7 metres
Moose are herbivorous mammals, the largest of the deer family.
The Moose population in Norway is about 125,000

Friday, October 28, 2005

Ryan Air to Oslo (Torp)

Should we try the cheap and cheerful route to Oslo from Liverpool to Torp (Oslo) operated by Ryan Air? We regularly fly to Oslo via BA from Manchester, by and large we have been happy with the service. The primary attraction of the Torp route is the price around £40 per person compared with £130 per person with BA, The first problem is Liverpool airport is in Speke which is not as easy to get to as Manchester airport for us. Probably the biggest problem for me is Torp is 150 km and a 2 hour drive south of central Oslo. What is it about Ryan Airs pathetic grasp on geography Torp can hardly be described as Oslo! Travel to and from Torp is by regular coach service which links to the flight. Mind you Gardemoen air port is 50 km away fro Oslo ciry centre but at least they have a 19 min train link.

The other problem is I don't really like doing business with companies that think customer service is a joke and charge extra for toilet paper. There is an additional potential problem. Ryan Air don't like passengers taking luggage with them. As we are usually laden with Red Cross parcels when we travel to Oslo we could end up paying more in excess baggage than the BA fare.

I have read a couple of bad luck stories in the news groups. One was about missing a flight because of a traffic accident on the Oslo - Torp road, one of those things I suppose. The other was a bit more disconcerting, passengers were delayed 48 hrs because a flight was diverted because of fog. They spent the time in the cafe, the only place open at night. Ryan Air don't do hotels etc. The irritating fact was the plane was diverted to Oslo's main airport 100 km away but Ryan Air would not transport them there and the plane returned to UK empty. How b....dy irritating is that.

I sound as though I am talking my way out of saving a load of dosh. I think my fuse is too short and my blood pressure to marginal to be a Ryan Air "customer".

Sleeping with the Enemy

After 60 years of shame, misery and discrimination the Norwegian government has decided to officially forgive the 14,000 women described as “German Whores”. These were the women who at the end of the war where arrested for fraternising with the German army and for giving birth to their children. The Nazis who occupied Norway for 5 years actively encouraged their soldiers to have affairs with local women, part of the SS plan to enrich the “Aryan” gene pool. At the end of the war the "tysketöser" where denounced as traitors by the puppet government of Vidkun Quisling and many were sent to labour camps.

It is estimated that over 12,000 children were born from these liaisons. They were separated from their mothers and suffered unbelievable abuse in homes and lunatic asylums. There mistreatment was justified by the authorities because they where considered to be a danger to the state and are still considered a threat.

One of the most well-known "tyskerunge," or "German brat", is Anni-Frid Lyngstad, the brunette singer from the 1970s group, Abba. Her mother, Synni, had an affair with a German soldier and fled to her native Sweden when they were ostracised in their village in northern Norway. Synni died in the late 1940s and her daughter eventually met her German father when she was in her 30s.

After the war the Norwegian government paid a war pension to all citizens who remained true to "good national principles" during the Nazi occupation. The "tysketöser" were excluded until now. The Norwegian government has decided to pay the dozen or so remaining women their belated pension, which will not be backdated. A group of the “war children” have been fighting for the justice and compensation in the “European Court of Human Rights”. One of the children, now 63, explained how when she was 10 the local villagers branded her with a swastika on her forehead.

Other links: Unique Quisling interview found

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Smoking Ban

"Welcome to Norway. The only thing we smoke here is salmon"

Norway banned smoking back on 1st June 2004 following a protracted debate much the same as is taking place in the UK at the moment. The principle thrust of the Norwegian governments case for banning smoking was the Health and Safety of workers in the hospitality industries. Not surprisingly there were objections from all and sundry. It has to be remembered that Norway already had a compulsory no smoking policy in all offices and public buildings. Restaurants and cafes already had designated no smoking areas. Prior to the ban 30% of Norwegian men and 29% of women smoked despite the cost of a pack of cigarettes being in the region of 62 NKR (£5.50). Although it is noticeable how many Norwegians, including many women roll their own fags. The ban followed heavy pressure from restaurant workers' unions who claimed their members had a higher incidence of lung cancer than other workers due to the effects of passive smoking.

Following the ban Norwegians could only smoke in their own homes or outdoors. There were the inevitable claims of doom and bankruptcy from the hospitality industries but more than 2 years on ingenuity has triumphed. The first thing to appear were a variety of out door extensions to cafes, bars and restaurants ranging from chairs benches, window ledges with cushions to major out door seating areas. To cope with the harsh winter temperatures, breweries helped out by providing free or subsidised gas heaters and blankets. One ingenious bar owner bought up a redundant petrol station and changed it into an open air bar under the old garage canopy.

I must say from a punters point of view, as a non-smoker, I find eating and drinking out a much more pleasant experience than back home. It is surprising how people have adapted to the situation. Watching a football match in the pub is interesting, The place empties at half time whilst the smokers charge outside for a quick drag, it makes it easier for the non-smokers to refill their glass! The only down side is eating and drinking outside during the warmer weather. The smokers get their own back by blowing billowing clouds of smoke in your face.

The Norwegian government are claiming the ban as a great success, better than they had hoped for. The grim forecasts of widespread bankruptcies in the pub, bar and restaurant sector have so far proved unfounded. As anticipated there has been a marker improvement in the health of those working in the hospitality industries. Public reaction has also been better than expected. In a survey three out of four Norwegians were pleased with a tough new anti-smoking law. They say they're still patronizing bars and restaurants, even if they can't light up. One of the unexpected results of the ban is a 3 fold increase in restaurant customers dodging off with out paying their bill after slipping outside for a smoke.

It looks as though the UK government is making a meal of its' smoking ban legislation. It is hard to see how anything but an outright ban on smoking in all work and public places will work. Particularly as the primary justification for the ban, is worker health and safety. The segregation proposals did not work in Norway so it is hard to see how it would be any different in the UK. One thing is for sure, the smokers days are numbered, more and more countries states and cities throughout the world are introducing smoking bans, restricted tobacco advertising and in some extreme cases a complete tobacco ban.

27th October 2005 - UPDATE: Ministers Scupper All Out Ban On Smoking

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Winter has arrived in Oslo

First snow Torshov 25 Oct 2005While the Journo's in the UK speculate about how hard winter it is going to be in Britain, winter has arrived in Oslo. There was a flurry of snow on Sunday but today, Tuesday 25th October we woke up to winter. It has snowed all day producing close to 3 inches (10 cm). From the look of the satellite feed on the Intellicast weather site, the source of the snow is the same front that is dumping large amounts of rain on the UK. The forecast suggests there could be snow for the next couple of days.

So how are the locals coping with the sudden arrival of winter? Most motorists were caught well and truly unawares. It is normal practice to change your tyres as winter approaches. You fit either soft rubber snow tyres or less popular, mainly because you have to pay an extra tax, If you have a car in Norway you own two sets of tyres, summer and winter. The problem is changing them when the weather catches you out. As a result the tyre depots were working overtime, long queues quickly formed outside most of them. The early callers were the taxi drivers. Most taxis use studded tyres during the winter. This is mainly to allow them to maintain the mandatory 2G cornering speeds on Oslo’s many cobbled streets! The use of studded tyres in Oslo is discouraged, they destroy the road surfaces, one reason why Oslo still has a large number of cobbled streets and because they encourage faster driving speeds. In addition they claim that the abrasion of the road surface creates a health hazard due to people breathing in the particles. However it seems you can not win either way. There is now a move to have the composition of the soft tread winter tyres changed because they contain carcinogenic chemicals.

You would think Norwegian kids would be blasé about snow but there they where making snowmen and belting each other with snow balls. At least they are dressed for the weather. The younger ones wear these “all in one” waterproof boiler suit outfits that allow them to throw themselves around whatever the weather. It is noticeable that footwear fashion this year has changed from UGG boots to fancy welly boots.

National Statistics

Amazingly Norway is the top ranking country for drug related crime at 987.1 offences per 100,000 people. This compares with 214.3 in the UK. They have the highest coffee consumption at 10.7 kg it person compared with 3.0 kg in the USA and only 1.2 in the UK. Must have something to do with the long bleak winters.

Hardly surprising Norway have won 263 winter Olympics medals, more than any other country . This compares with 26 in the UK who are ranked 17th in the world.

Interestingly Norway donated more aid to the Tsunami Disaster, per capita than any other country, $57.71 per person, compared with the UK who ranked 19th with $5.42. But then Thailand is the top holiday destination for Scandinavian countries. We were in Oslo at the time of the Tsunami disaster and just everybody was collecting money for the disaster appeal.

If you want to bore your mates silly down at the pub, check out the fascinating web site at

Monday, October 24, 2005

Egalitarian Society

Cafe Lilleborg
In addition to being rated the best country in the world to live in, Norway is rated as being the most prosperous country in the world according to the United Nations. The source of this prosperity is of course North Sea oil. Norway is the third largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia and Russia. Yet Norway has the worlds most expensive petrol. You would think that with all this prosperity Norwegians would be enjoying a low cost subsidised lifestyle instead of the highest cost of living in Europe. Why? Well apparently the prudent politicians are saving up for the day that North Sea oil runs out. The fund currently stands at £103 billion equal to £22,000 per Norwegian citizen. Sounds a lot but it amounts to less than 6 months salary for the average citizen. Mind you it is a damn sight more than the British Government has salted away on behalf of its citizens.

Another contributory factor to Norway’s high rating is its egalitarian society and generous welfare system. Following 5 years of Nazi occupation egalitarianism was considered by the people to be the way forward. It is the equality in society that makes Norway attractive to Norwegians not to mention the burgeoning numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers. In society where few people are desperately poor and overt wealth is frowned upon it may come as a surprise to discover that a bus driver earns a similar salary to a Doctor, around £2000 per month. Visitors to Oslo may find it a bit hard to believe that there are not rather fatter salaries around from the number of BMW’s, Mercs and Range Rovers to be seen on the streets.

Norwegians are frequently asked how they survive the high cost of living in a country where beer cost over a fiver a pint and petrol costs nearly as much as computer printer ink! The answer may have something to do with the fact that most do not have to pay out for private pensions, health insurance and choose to send their children to state schools. They don’t spend much on food if the absence of fat Norwegians is anything to go by. They seem to cycle everywhere despite the hilly terrain of much of Oslo and spend the weekends cross country skiing.. This may have something to do with why the population includes a large proportion of healthy octogenarians. At the other end of the scale mums enjoy 10 months maternity leave on full pay or 12 months on 80% pay. On a topical UK note, dads can share this leave on a pro rata basis. Incidentally you have to be 67 before you get your pension which is equivalent to two thirds of your highest salary.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Oslo Facts and Figures

Oslo was named Christiania, then Kristiania, before adopting the name Oslo in 1925
Capital of Norway
Population: 507,467
Elevation: 56 feet above sea level
Average Annual Rainfall: 29 inches (74 centimeters)
Average January Temperature: -3 degrees Celsius
Average July Temperature: 18 degrees Celsius
International Dialing Code: 47
Currency: Norweigian Kroner
Exchange rate: approx 11.5 NKR to 1 British Pound (23 Oct 2005)
Average cost of a coffee: 25 NKR
Average cost large beer: 50 NKR
International Airport: Gardermoen

Gardermoen Airport

Autumnal Leaf

Autumnal Leaf

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Quaint things about Oslo

Tea lights

  1. Candles outside shops. Some shops have them all year round but usually this is a winter thing. Shop keepers trying their best to set fire not only to their own premises but to everyone passing by. Occasionally there will be a really serious gas or paraffin fired blazing torch. You need to keep your wits about you if you want to avoid a singed bum! It is a delightful sight on a dark winter afternoon.
  2. Candles everywhere. To light the long winter nights and even the long summer days you find candles and tea lights everywhere particularly on your table in bars cafes and restaurants. I think it is a delightful touch particularly on the dim winter days.
  3. Shops do not put their Christmas decorations up until beginning of December. Unlike the UK where Christmas starts at the begriming of October!
  4. The all year round Cafe culture. In the winter Cafes and Bars supply blankets to cover your knees if you want to sit out side. You can't beet drinking a cold beer when it´s -10C with a warm blanket wrapped around your knees.
  5. You get the best Cafe Mocha in Oslo cafes.
  6. Norway is NO SMOKING. You have no idea how delightful it is to watch Liverpool spanking Chelsea (well you can dream) in an Oslo city centre bar which is smoke FREE. The smokers are very well trained and nip outside for a quick drag at regular intervals and top the nicotine at half time. The only problem is during the summer months when non smokers want to sit outside. This is a chance for the smokers to get their own back by blowing smoke in your face!
  7. Ethnic food shops, particularly Greengrocers. Oslo and its environs are well supplied with corner shops and ethnic establishments of all sorts. Some of the best are the Greengrocers one of the best of these are the Sultan shops, they sell a vast range of fresh fruit and veg and other exotic merchandise.
  8. You can check the salary of your neighbours or any other Norwegian citizen, including the King on line. Oh, that means the King can check your salary as wel of course. How democratic is that.
  9. Craft Bread. It is a standing joke that Norwegians only eat stale bread. It is true that an average Norwegian loaf can last the best part of a week and has a similar consistency at the end as at the start. But there must be more Kraft Bakeries around Oslo than there are Boulangeries in Paris. We have enjoyed some of the most delicious fresh bread ever. The biggest problem is most of the loaves look the same. One of our favourites breads is Gulrotbrod (Carrot bread) apart from being very tasty it has the advantage of not turning into a brick within 24 hrs.
  10. Limited choices in Norwegian supermarkets. Oslo has lots of small and medium size supermarkets but as far as I am aware there is nothing to match the size of even an average size Tesco store. There is a raging controversy that four companies control the main supermarket chains in Norway and they are accused of restricting choice by charging placement premiums for stocking products in prominent positions. The result is that some manufacturers are refusing to cooperate, Procter & Gamble for instance have refused to supply disposable nappies. There is also a policy of stocking home produced products for example Norway grows all their own strawberries, can you believe that. All down to poly tunnels and cheap electricity apparently. Nice strawberries though!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Norway Best Place to Live in the World!

For the fifth year in a row the UN has ranked Norway the best place to live in the world. The benefits of North Sea oil and a generous welfare state are two of the attractions. Although mention the benefits of North Sea oil to the average Norwegian and they will look at you with a blank expression. In Oslo the infrastructure is crumbling, if you think UK roads are bad you should see Oslo streets. Taxes are some of the highest in Europe and the cost of living is 30% higher than the European average. A pint cost around £5.00 and if you fancy a Guinness it will set you back £8.00. You can buy beer in a supermarket but you can only buy wine and spirits in the "Vinmonopolet"; the State Liquor Store. Cheapest wine is about £6.00 and the hard stuff about 3 times UK prices. Yet despite this deterrent to buying alcohol Norway has a high incidence of alcoholism and drug abuse. The evidence for which can be found littering the many open places throughout the city. As a regular visitor to Oslo for about 8 years I must say that apart from the horrendous cost of living. I enjoy my visits to the city and find it generally very attractive, with one major disappointment, GRAFFITI. I have never seen such wanton vandalism of any city as the graffiti artists and mindless Taggers visit upon Oslo. I know most cities suffer from the problem to a greater or lessor extent but Oslo must be the graffiti capital. I suspect the problem is not confined to the Oslo only from what I read it is a particular Scandinavian disease. I am familiar with the mantra of the dedicated graffiti artist many of whom are far from being children. Many of them are gifted if misguided artists. It is unfortunately the younger element who wish to imitate the activities of their heroes but do not share the artistic skills and have to limit their activity to mindless tagging. They take great pleasure in defacing anything they can reach. Nothing is sacred. Their activities are not confined to paint and markers but to scratching and cutting. It is an outrage the damage they have perpetrated on the windows of public transport, brand new trains and buses mindlessly defaced.

COMMENT from Dagbladet
Graffiti has been a constant problem for the Oslo underground, but things have taken a turn for the worse, with passengers threatened by youths bent on destroying property. Graffiti and trashing are becoming a major problem, with a noticeable impact on the general public. Graffiti is part of an extremely individualistic global youth culture whose roots are to be found in the prevailing social conditions and winds of ideology blowing across the world’s social landscapes. But they also present a challenge to those responsible for maintaining law and order. It is a commendable that the Nordic railways, subject to constant harassment, have now joined forces in an effort to combat the problem. Creative young people should have other outlets. Regardless of the nature of the problem, however, society cannot accept the destruction of our common environment by a few.

Graffiti is destroying what is otherwise one of the most attractive cities in Europe, lets hope the perpetrators turn their undoubted talents to something more rewarding or less anti-social.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lucy´s Birthday 20th October 2005

Please can I have a peice of cake. Lucy 1 yr old

In traditional Norwegian style Lucy´s first birthday was celebrated with chocolate "kaka" (translated as cake) for breakfast. Not quite as acceptable as egg and bacon! But Lucy was delighted as was Cora, which is all that matters.The only problem is 6.00 am is too early to celebrate a birthday, even Lucy´s although she is normally awake at that time. We have still not recovered from our early flight so shall forgo the early start and wait for the official birthday party on Sunday for our "kaka". Lucy has asked that I pass on her thank you´s to everyone who sent her a card and or present. She responded to the singing of "Happy Birthday to you" by squealing and clapping, I get the impression she knew what was going on. I have to say Lucy has been a little love, very easy to look after. She appears to understand everything we say, which is amazing considering we only speak to her in English. Bi-iligual at 1 year old a bit humbling to say the least.

The day started with a temperature of 2C with drizzly rain which turned into rain as evening approached. Temperature rose slowly to 7C. There is supposed to be a chance of snow Friday or Saturday. Looking forward to the sun on Sunday.

Visit to Oslo 18th October 2005

Fog over Gardemoen airport
Why have BA changed the Oslo flight from 10.00 hrs to 6.55 hrs? I just hate having to get up at 3.00 hrs. If I wanted to get up at that time I would have become a milkman or a the presenter of the Today programme, similar qualifications required! I was on the Thirlwell Viaduct before I freed my eyes of sleep bogies. We used the same Chauffeur parking service as last time, works a dream and it is the cheapest option I have found, £70 after discount for 14 days, not bad. We had booked in online, changed our seats and printed off the Boarding Passes so we just had to check the luggage in, one bag was 27 kg but no comments. I have to say I am a big fan of the BA web site, works a treat.

It turned out we were on the little Embrair 145 for this flight, hardly surprising as there where only 25 passengers. Flight time was just 1 hr 45 min, 30 min less than scheduled. Had a weird flight, the plane was rolling from side to side for most of the flight most sick making. The approach to Oslo was spectacular as always, enhanced by the bright low morning sun. What appeared to be low cloud filling the hollows turned out to be FOG! The captain updated us with weather conditions in Oslo, temperature -3C brrrrr, with FOG, he added that he was going to make an approach to Gardamoen but that we should be aware that he may have to abort the landing at the last moment. In which case we would probably head for Stockholm, 4 hrs from Oslo by express train. I am delighted to say he landed perfectly if not a little gingerly on the slippy runway.
Usual efficient operation once we had landed, luggage waiting. We took advantage of the unique Gardamon facility of a Duty Free store in the baggage hall. This rather confirms the schizophrenic attitude the Norwegians have towards alcohol. Needless to say the locals are like kids in a sweetshop, they clearly like their Brandy if the contents of most of the baskets are to be believed. Incidentally Gardamoen airport has the largest Duty Free shop in Europe if not the world!. It is also the longest laminated wood construction in the world, not bad for a city with just twice the population of the Fylde (529846). We walked straight on to the Flytog, the super fast rail link to Oslo central station in just 20 mins. Brilliant, on time clean and with loads of luggage space. Why can`t we have trains like this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Erika Nissens Gate

Erika Nissens gate was named in 1914 after the Norwegian pianist and teacher Erika Røring Møinichen Nissen (1845-1903). She was famous for her interpretation of Bach and Beethoven and gave many concerts in Scandinavia , Germany , Switzerland , Netherlands and France. Erika Nissens gate runs between Agathe Grøndals gate and Lammers gate. I bet that one does not come up in the pub quiz.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Where the Hell is Torshov

Torshov is a suburb of Oslo about 4 km NNE of Oslo centre. The name Torshov comes from Tors Haug (Thor's Hill), as this was a place where rituals connected with the god Thor (from Norse mythology) were carried out. Torshov is one of Oslo's jewels - this is an exquisite area for walking, with a very different feel from that of the rest of Oslo. To date we have not witnessed any strange goings on but there are a few odd folk in the area!

It is one of the few parts of this city built with an architectural plan, and has many open spaces and parks. Two things you should see while you are at Torshov are the Ox (Bull) Fountain (Oksefontenen) on Hegermanns plass, and Torshovparken with its fountains, sculptures and pavilion. On New Year's Eve this is one of the places where people gather to set off their fireworks. We were lucky enough to witness this New Year 2004/2005, it was like the outbreak of World War 3. There is a spectacular view of a large part of the city and Oslo Fiord. Sometimes there are outdoor concerts and theatrical performances in the park bandstand.

The river Akerslava runs through the area, directly south into the Fiord. There is a fantastic paved walk the length of the river right into the centre of Oslo. The river falls quite steeply in places over rapids and many dams built to provide water and power for the many industrial premises that were established in the area. The geography makes for spectacular ice formations during the winter months as the water and spray are frozen into ice sculptures. Many of the traditional industries, brewing, milling paper making etc have moved away to be replaced with more modern businesses, restaurants bars and attractive apartments. As an alternative you can follow the river northwards passing through some of Oslo´s hi-tech industrial and University parks and campuses, to its source at lake Maridalsvannet. A trek we have yet to complete. As is the case throughout Oslo living accommodation and industry are closly intermingled.

We have an apartment in Erika Nissens Gate, a road opposite the entrance to Torshovparken. A delightful spot, well endowed with trees and open spaces and conveniently situated for access to the city as a whole. Trams 11, 12 or 15, or bus 30 will take you from Torshov to the centre of Oslo and bus 20 provides access across town to places such as Frogner Park and Major-Stua, a large shopping area. It is also possible to walk into the centre of Oslo by a variety of interesting routes in about 20 minutes. Walking or using public transport, tram, bus, metro or train is one of the pleasures of visiting Oslo. Although you would be well advised to avoid travelling a peak times unless you are into playing sardines.