Saturday, December 09, 2006

Green Christmas in Norway

No this does not mean Christmas tree lights are to be powered by windmills. It means Oslo is unlikely to have a white Christmas, so the experts predict. This time last year we were struggling to cope with nearly a foot (30cm) of snow. This year we are zipping and unzipping jackets to compensate for the sub-tropical temperature Oslo is enjoying at the moment. Well 8C is pretty warm for this time of the year in this neck of the woods.

An eminent Norwegian meteorologist is predicting the end of the white winter in Norway. The snow line is rapidly retreating northwards resulting in severe depression in the skiing community. Even though Oslo is frequently snow free the city is surrounded by much higher ground which until recently would have been covered in snow from the middle of October till May. Good skiing was within a 20 minute train ride or drive. But not at the moment, Norway is virtually snow free from Finmark in the north to Oslo in south.

The only place with snow at the moment is Hemsedal in the mountains between Oslo and Bergen. It's protected from the warm winds sweeping over the rest of the country. This weekend, it will host a European Cup skiing competition that had to be moved from St Moritz because of a lack of snow in the Alps. Although they are having to use snow guns on some of the lower cross country tracks.

One of the interesting results of higher temperatures is an increased rainfall. The Akerselver river that runs close to Torshove and through the centre of Oslo is swollen by all the extra rain. I was taking photographs to day at Sagen where there is a series of waterfalls and weirs. I have never seen so much water in the river, it is quite spectacular. Some of the riverside businesses are less than comfortable and are busy erecting sandbag barriers and other defences to fend off the effects of any further rise in water levels.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

On yer Bike

Considering Oslo is such a hilly city with dreadful roads an amazing number of people use bikes to get about. The combination of cobbles, tramlines and potholes you could lose a bus in makes for a cycling hell! Oh, and then there are the kamakasi drivers. Not surprisingly most folk use mountain bikes but there are still quite a few of those "Alo Alo" sit up and beg jobs around. One of the major downsides of this throng of two wheeled demons and dodgy road conditions is that cyclists seem to think that pavements and pedestrian areas provide a much smoother and traffic free alternative to the roads. This despite a serious effort on the part of the authorities to provide cycle lanes on many roads. It is a frightening experience having bikes flashing by on both sides whilst taking a leisurely walk. The river walk path is particularly hazardous. What ever happened to bells? Although someone told me that if the cyclists use a bell to warn of their approach they get even more abuse from the pedestrians!

The Oslo city kindly operates a public bike service. There are over a 1000 of them parked in special racks around the city and the outskirts. You need a special card to use them, this is available from tourist info centres, metro and railway stations. They cost 60 Kr (5GBP) for 24 hours but you need to leave a 500 Kr deposit. The main users of these bikes seem to be the local druggie/wino population, which is considerable. If you are going to hire one I would suggest you invest in a good lock and chain.

You can not help but notice the number of derelict bikes around the city.They range from brand new top of the range jobs which someone has obviously worked over with an allen key and a spanner, to the poor buggers who have obviously lost the key to the security lock, then there are those who have suffered some dreadful accident. I suspect others have belong to drunks who have forgotten where they parked them.

Here photographs of just a few I found on an afternoons walk:-

Friday, July 07, 2006

If this is a Blog what is a Photoblog

Blog - A weblog, which is usually shortened to blog, is a website where regular entries are made (such as in a journal or diary) and presented in reverse chronological order. Blogs often offer commentary or news on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic.
Photoblog - A photography blog, picture log or simply a photoblog, is a web application which contains periodic posts containing user-taken photographs on a common webpage. These posts are often but not necessarily in reverse chronological order, from the date when the photograph was taken.

I started this blog to kill the time when we are resident in Oslo. No decent TV or the toys I play with at home. I started to explore the possibility of starting a Blog to record my thoughts about Torshov, Oslo, Norway and anything else that came to mind. I really wanted to start a Photoblog but I could not get the Blog to look the way I wanted it so I thought in the meantime I would start Torshovblog. As you may have noted the blog is hosted by Blogger. A fantastically easy to use blog publisher provided by Google. The only downside as far as I am concerned is it is not a very good basis for a photoblog. Although it is very easy to upload photographs to Blogger. I compose the text in a text editor because I need a spell checker! I use a freeware programme called Text Pad but you could use Notepad, Wordpad or even Word. I just cut and paste the text into Blogger.

Whilst exploring photoblogs I came across another disincentive to going down that route. I came across a photoblog by a David Nightingale who just happens to live in Blackpool. I looked at Davids photoblog only to discover that the photographs I had in mind to publish on my blog, David had already published them, mainly shots taken in and around Blackpool and the Fylde coast. Not only that but his were significantly better than mine. I was utterly dejected. To make matters worse Chromasia had just been voted number one photoblog on the Internet and was receiving in excess of 3000 hits a day. Plus he obviously had a band of very dedicated fans who not only regularly viewed his site but many of them posted comments about his work on the blog. Was I to risk the accusation of plagiarism. Well no I wasn't. David's fans had already seen off a couple of other sites who had endeavoured to copy Chromasia's style. So I chickened out. It has to be said that even without plagiarism to emulate David's photoblog would be no mean feat. In the time I have been viewing Chromasia I don't think there has been a day when he has not published an image. And when you read his blog and see what obstacles he has had to overcome in achieving that amazing feat. It is unlikely that I could aspire to posting a photograph a day. And it is not just the daily posting David closely monitors the comments on his images and provides a constant stream of feedback both technical and intellectual. You just have to admire his dedication and commitment. However I live in hope and I am busily working away in the background trying to get to grip with the complexities of Pixelpost in the hope that I will eventually get my photoblog up and running.

UPDATE - 15th August 2006: I now have a rudimentary Photoblog up and running at Digiphotology. I ended up using Pixelpost which proved quite simple to setup once I got my head into gear. I don't think it is as potentially sophisticated as Movabletype but one step at a time.

If you are remotely interested in photography you really should have a look at Chromasia. I will be superprised if you don't become a regular viewer. If you are interested in Photoblogging the Internet is teaming with information, tools and advice. A quick Google will show up tons of stuff. Here are just a few links of interest.
Photoblogging with Blogger
Introduction to Photoblogs and Moblogs
PhotoFriday - a weekly photo challenge
Photobloggies - annual awards
Photoblog Magazine

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Life Drawing at the Little Red House

Well one thing I did not expect to be doing whilst here in Oslo was to take part in a Life Drawing class. No not as the model! We were taking a walk down the river walk from Torshov to Grunerlakka and stopped at the little red house. A traditional Norwegian wooden house that is now a cafe and art gallery of sorts. We were perusing the work on display when Mare (Marie), the lady or more correctly an aging hippie chick (OK old bird) who runs the place, started chatting. When she found out I was a frustrated artist she suggested that I should come along to her Life Drawing class the following evening. Well would you ever!

It turns out the Red House has an interesting history. It is situated on the Akerselve river just below the Beyerbroa bridge in an area known as the "Molle". So named because of the many mills that once lined both banks of the river. Some still remain down one side and now house a mix of trendy businesses and eateries. This is an area where the river drops very steeply providing the motive power for many water wheels initially and electricity turbines later. On the bridge is a beautiful statue by Ellen Jacobsen depicting 4 "mill girls" in memory of the incredibly young women who lost their lives working in what were mainly spinning mills. It turns out the little Red House was the kindergarden where these girls could leave their babies whilst they slaved in the mills. What is now the main room of the cafe/gallery was in those days lined with built in cribs for the babies.

But back to the Life Class. I duly turned up at 6.00 pm on Tuesday evening, In fear and trepidation I might add. Convinced I had bitten off more than I could chew and was about to make a complete arse (f you will pardon the figurative term) of myself. It turned out that this was to be a very select class just four of us and the model, Silvee, a mature lady of some 66 years, I was advised, with a very artistic body. That is the best way I can describe it. My other three colleagues were, Mare the organiser, no mean artist and two other ladies with unpronounceable Norwegian names.

I can only assume Mare was making more money than she was declaring to the taxman as she was drawing directly onto stretched canvases and she must have used half a dozen in the space of 2 hours. I had just an A4 sketch pad. A bit of a come down from my usual A1 size paper. At least I could use that as an excuse for my artistic short comings. It turned out that Silvee was an actress and long time artists model. She was currently taking the lead role in one of Ibsens many plays which are currently playing in Oslo. She proved to be a very good model, striking very interesting poses which changed every 10 to twenty minutes. Fast work was essential. I used a mix of pencil, charcoal and my trusty Pentel brush pen which on this occasion proved to be the weapon of choice. The brush pen created considerable interest with the others who were not familiar with it. Two hours passed very quickly. Just a pity I am going home before the next session. Never mind it was an unexpected and enjoyable diversion.

Some of the results of my Life Class



Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Akerselva River Walk Photos

On Sunday we explored a new section of the Akerselva river walk that I blogged previously. We took the tram to Kjelsas and walked down to Sagene. Kjelsas is almost the confluence of the river, at this point the river broadens out into a series of small lakes and is a popular picnic area with beautiful wooded surroundings and access for swimming and boating. The walk is a bit confused at the start and not very well signposted. The path follows a couple of underpasses under the railway and main road and ends up crossing a supermarket car park with no real guidence. However we managed. The route is gently down hill and follows the river quite closely. The route passes through a mixture of countryside and what where industrial areas but which are now mainly hitech, media and computer businesses including Microsoft Norway. There is a convenient watering hole along the way where they have built the new Oslo University Business School. A good selection of bars, cafes and shops surround a pleasant plaza on the banks of the river.

For more photographs visit

River walk statue
River walk sculpture

Weir Nydalen

Monday, July 03, 2006

Eggs is Eggs!

It started when I tried the Atkins diet, my quest for very large eggs that taste like eggs. The mainstay of my diet was 2 boiled eggs for breakfast. I have to say it has been a sad and weary search. As someone who spent the best part of my working life associated with the British Poultry industry I find it really sad to have to report that British eggs are CRAP. They are invariably stale regardless of where you buy them from. The shell quality is abysmal, invariably thin, porous, rough, and frequently misshapen. And as for taste well they don't or if they do it is usually of something not very nice. Then there is the current grading (size) standard. I like my eggs EXTRA LARGE. But they are very difficult to find in most egg outlets. One of the reasons is the strange weight grading ranges currently applied to eggs and the other is the mean way in which they are applied. Due to a quirk in the egg grading regulations an extra large egg can be the same size as a large egg. Eggs are graded as small, medium, large and very large. The weight ranges for the grades are as follows:-

Very Large - 73g +over
Large - 63 - 73g
Medium - 53 - 63g
Small - 53g +under

It does not take a genius to notice that a 73g egg could be both a "very large" or "large" now if you were an egg seller how would you distribute your eggs. Well I can tell you on a limited survey of eggs from Somerfields and Booths you get very few 73g eggs in the "large" category and you get few eggs much larger than 73g in the "very large" size. Now where do all the eggs larger than say 75g go? Well I know you can buy super large eggs at some farm shops but it does naff me off that in the average supermarket a very large egg is hardly any larger than a large egg and "Extra Large" eggs are rarely seen.

But size is not everything or so I am told! Flavour is probably more important when it comes to enjoying your chucky egg and toasty soldiers or is it shoulders? Say that fast!! As I have already said I have tried a variety of sources and have yet to find an egg that tastes like an egg should. Yet when we visit Spain, Tenerife, France or Norway the egg quality seems so much superior. I have just had 2 eggs for my breakfast purchased yesterday at the local supermarket. They were delicious, they actually had a flavour. A rich creamy yolky flavour which is hard to describe but you recognise it when you taste it. It goes with toast like strawberries go with cream.

The first thing of note about Norwegian eggs is they are WHITE, you don't get white eggs in the UK anymore, well not from commercial layers anyway. The British abandoned white eggs in the 70's when the poultry industry marketing hype convinced the gullible British housewife that brown eggs were better than white! White were considered to be "factory" eggs whilst brown were "farmyard" eggs, bollocks of course. They even charged a premium for brown eggs. A triumph of marketing over common sense or should tat be "bullshit baffles brains". Egg colour is genetic and does not have any relationship to quality. The other interesting thing about Norwegian eggs is they have really dark yellow yolks, like eggs should! When it comes to judging quality or flavour yolk colour can be a bit deceptive. Yolk colour is almost entirely related to diet. Commercial layer rations are constructed in such a way that the colour of the yolk can be pre-determined within very narrow limits and can be selected off a chart much like paint. Once upon a time this colour was derived from natural sources such as maize or grass. This is why true free range hens tend to produce yolks with dark yellow yolks. These days artificial colourants are used. There are three different agents used to tinker with the colour of egg yolk - canthaxanthin (E161g), citranaxanthin (E161i) and beta apo81 carotenal (E160). Lion quality mark guidelines - set up by the Egg Information Service for its members - do not permit the use of E161g. But the remaining 30% of British egg producers are at liberty to use this colourant.

So where do I get VERY LARGE eggs, with nice yellow yolks and bags of flavour without having to move to Norway, Spain, Tenerife or France? I don't mind if they are brown or white or any shades in between as long as they taste like eggs. Being fresh would be a bonus. Although, having said that an egg can be too fresh. If you are into hard boiled eggs they need to be at least 7 days old. If they are any fresher it is almost impossible to remove the shells without taking the white as well. Oh and another bit of trivia, in Torshov they sell eggs in 4's aint that quaint!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Dreaded Disposable Grill

Barbecuing is a popular Norwegian summer activity, nay obsession. As soon as the sun shows itself everyone in Norway charges out to buy a disposable grill (engangsgrill), some meat, sausages or fish at a supermarket and go to a park or one of Oslo's many delightful islands.

The downside of this activity is the air is pervaded by the stench of smoldering cardboard and paraffin which wafts along on the summer breeze. It is bad enough suffering the pong when you are out and about but it is utterly sick making if you have your window open to relieve the particularly stifling heat that we are currently enjoying. This weekend there has been no escape.

You wouldn't mind if these phonebook size aluminium foil contraptions did a good job. We tried them on one of our first trips to Oslo. The results were sad to say the least. Even if you follow the principles of good barbecuing and leave the charcoal to heat up for about 30 - 40 mins, the food still tastes of paraffin. That's assuming the food is cooked before the thing goes out altogether. Most Norwegians seem to stick a match in and chuck the bangers on straight away....ugh! Mind you most of them are cooking frankfurters so you would hardly notice the taste of paraffin and burnt paper. You do however see the odd food poisoning addict trying to cook chicken! Another downside is the multitude of little brown patches all over the Parks, where the grass has been scorched to death. It looks like a bitch on heat has been piddling everywhere!

In the popular picnic areas there are special bins for the disposal of these lethal devices. Despite this it is not unusual to find the distorted and charred remains of plastic litter bins all over the place. The other danger associated with this anti-social device is the ingenious and lethal wire frame provided to raise them off the ground (to stop you burning the grass) they are often left lying around in the grass waiting for the unwary to step into one and go base over apex! As I discovered to my cost on one occasion sh........t!!!

Allegedly Norwegians of a certain age, even wear a "barbecue suit" while performing this activity. A barbecue suit being a colourful tracksuit that is very comfortable and does not tighten when you bend down to check on the sausages. Married couples tend to choose matching tracksuits. I have to confess I have not noticed this strange behaviour myself but I shall keep my eyes peeled.

Lets hope the "engangsgrill" never catches on in the UK.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Priority from the RIGHT

It was when the taxi pulled out of a side road straight into the path of another taxi that I remembered Norway still observes that piece of traffic lore left over from the days of the horse and cart, PRIORITY FROM THE RIGHT. No not a political statement but an archaic driving rule which the French discovered years ago was one of the main reason for the high death toll on their roads. I remember French holidays which were frequently interrupted by a screech of brakes and a mouth full of profanity, as a 2CV emerged from a side road without slowing down, looking left or kiss my a....! Did you see that the mad French bugger nearly wiped us out!!!! Well I have to tell you the rule is alive and well and living in Norway.

Norwegians have scant regard for traffic rules at the best of time. The fact that they have the right to dive out of a side road in front of you is almost classed as sport. The rule is bad enough for local drivers but if you happen to be a foreign visitor the consequences can be bloody. The matter is made worse by the absence of any reminder signs. Taxi drivers are particularly bloody minded when it comes to enforcing this primitive rule. It would no doubt account for the large number of cars with a a row of dents along the right hand side. You have been warned. end priority

Monday, May 08, 2006

Picasa - Pretty as a Picture

Everyone knows that Google is everyones favourite search engine but how many of you have clicked the more>> link just above the search entry box? There are lots of interesting things to be found, STOP before you get distracted the link you need to follow is down at the bottom in the TOOLS section. One of the best FREE programmes on the net is PICASA.If you have ever struggled searching for your computer for thoise photographs you are sure are there somewhere. If you have sweated trying to remove Red Eye from your photos. If you have pissed everyone off by sending them a photo that took 2 weeks to download. If you ever wanted to turn a photo into a wonderful black and white masterpiece. Then you need PICASA. Googles fantastic free image storage/manipulation programme which installs at the click of a key on a broadband connection, needs no setting up and works straight out of the box! It works with W98 and XP and is very intuative. Even if you have Photoshop installed on your computer you will find PICASA much easier and faster to use for lots of photo manipulation and printing jobs. OK thats enough of the hard sell for now get PICASA now and try it for your self.

Go to Google, locate the more>> link which is to the righthand side and just above the box where you normally type your search query. Click the link and scroll down the new page till you can see the Google Tools section towards the bottom of the page or you could click here to go to Picasa directly.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Akerselva an Interesting River

Map of Akerselva routeAkerselva (Aker River) runs north, south through the centre of Oslo, a distance of 8 kilometres from its source at Maridalsvannet to Oslo harbour. It is flanked for almost the whole length by an excellent paved pathway that passes through the heart of what was Oslo’s industrial heritage but what is now a mixture of parkland and a major renovation area. The river tumbles steeply in parts, a feature which was utilised as a source of power by the many mills, workshops and factories that once flanked the river valley. Attracted by the abundant supply of water for power, industrialisation of the area began around 1850. The population grew rapidly from less than 30,000 to nearer a quarter of a million in less than 50 years. One of the first factories to be established was the Glads paper mill in the Sagene area of the city. It is believed the first mill to be powered by the river was established in the 13th century. There were many thriving saw mills operating in the 1700’s. The word Sagene is plural for word “saw”.

Factories, mills and workshops together with the accommodation to house the workers extended the length of the river. Many of the buildings have long been demolished. Fortunately, some of the grand old industrial buildings have been rescued and preserved. Buildings have been converted for a wide variety of purposes, including trendy designer apartments, IT businesses, design studios, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs and a variety of other businesses large and small.

PHOTO: ARASH A. NEJADThe Oslo students union undertook one of the most enterprising rescue projects. They acquired a non-descript concrete grain silo on the banks of the river and converted it into student accommodation. It is now a much-admired local landmark. There is currently a project underway to convert the massive Ringers Brewery into upmarket lofts and apartments.

The workers that flooded into the area were accommodated in a wide range of housing including the traditional wooded cottages and houses many of which date back to the 1700’s. Whilst many of these have long since disappeared examples of traditional buildings can be found scattered among the more modern accommodation. There are a few areas such as Maridalsveien and Sandakerveien where there are carefully preserved streets of these traditional houses. In Kampen a whole district of these attractive shiplap covered houses in their various neutral hues, has been preserved. The traditional housing gave way to more substantial brick and concrete dwellings as the population exploded. A typical example of the type of accommodation common in the area can be seen where we have our apartment. A quadrangle of 3 story apartments built around a communal garden area. Apparently when they were built they were almost self sufficient for amenities with communal laundry, kitchen, vegetable gardens etc. It is hard to imagine looking at the place today that when they where built as many as 10 people shared a small room.

In addition to the natural and spectacular waterfalls on the river there is evidence of mans intervention with weirs, sluices, mill ponds and other artefacts along the route all of which add to the interest of what is a spectacular and very interesting walk. During the winter months, the weirs and waterfalls freeze to form spectacular ice sculptures and cascades. Parts of the river are suitable for swimming and water sports. Canoe hire is popular in the and less turbulent, lower reaches. To sustain the weary walker there is a scattering of interesting cafes and bars along the way.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April Fools Day in Norway

In the UK, it almost certainly goes back as far as medieval times and possibly beyond. As it is essentially a folk event there are few historical records of April Fools Day.

One of the strongest candidates for its origin was the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Poe Gregory decreed that the calendar would start on 1st January. Because communications were a bit on the slow side in those days many folk continued to celebrate the start of the day under the old calendar on 1st April and so left them selves open to ridicule and the label of April Fools.

As The Norwegians are not exactly renowned for their sense of humour, it came as something of a surprise that they pulled an April Fools day prank on their Swedish neighbours. The newspaper Aftenposten published a story supported with full page adverts that tried to lure the unsuspecting Swedes into believing that due to the influences of the Gulf Stream they could enjoy Mediterranean holidays at "Playa Los Fjordos," where they could swim in fjords warmed up to tropical temperatures. Where, the water temperature had risen to a positively balmy 24C (75F). It is not recorded how many Swedes fell for the prank. It has to be remembered that the Norwegians and the Swedes have a similar relationship to the English and the Irish when it comes to Jokes.

Probably one of the most famous April Fools day pranks in the UK was the BBC’s report of the Swiss Spaghetti harvest. In 1957, the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. [View original video clip – needs Real Player].

All coyrights recognised

Friday, March 31, 2006

Free with the Duty-Free

Travellers arriving at the superb Gardermoen Airport, gateway to Oslo, will almost certainly have been warned that they are in for a period of alcoholic abstinence enforced by cost and restricted availability of alcohol in Norway. (You can only buy wines and spirits from Government controlled stores Vinmonopolet.) Although the winos littering the streets and parks don't seem to find the cost of booze or the absence of an off-licence on every corner a deterent.

It will come as something of a surprise to visitors to discover, as they enter the luggage hall, a giant Duty-Free store. Now isn’t that novel, Duty-Free in arrivals, eat your heart out Manchester. As you might imagine the store does a roaring trade. Dozens of disbelieving travellers stuff their trolleys full of booze and fags. The wine section does particularly good business. Hardly surprising when a bottle of what we would consider cheap plonk, £3.99 in Somerfields can cost you £9.00 in a Vinmonopolet. There may not be any wine at £3.99 in the Duty-Free but the prices are about 30% cheaper than in the wider world. I also discovered the cheapest gin anywhere at £6.00 a litre. You are supposed to be limited to 1L spirit, 2L wine, 2L beer, 250g tobacco, 200 fags and curiously 250 leaves of cigarette papers, although you would not think so from the look of most of the trolleys at the checkout. In addition to this unique perk Gardermoen Airport already has the largest Duty-Free store in Europe. Is that ironic or what!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Coffee or Tea

Norway Top Coffee Drinkers

Even without the aid of a single Starbucks, Norwegians managed to consume 41 tonnes of Coffee last year. That’s equivalent to 8.8 kg of coffee per head or 4 cups per adult per day.

It may have something to do with the price of booze that they need to get their stimulation from a different substance. I have to say Starbucks or no Starbucks I enjoy my regular daily Mocha when we come to Oslo. Oh and they haven’t heard of decaffeinated coffee!

More Tea Vicar

Tea consumption is also up, 4.5 million Norwegians brewed up an amazing 680 tonnes of last year, 5% up on the previous year. This is a statistic which I find rather surprising. Although you can buy Tetleys tea bags in Norway the content bears no comparison with an English Tetley tea bag. I think my grandfather would have described the taste as "horse s..t and tram tickets".

Tea bags are high on the list of illicit import requests from family when we are visiting. So take note tea importers, if Norwegians will drink 680 tonnes of crap just think how much they might drink if you put decent tea in the bags!