There is almost nothing more inspiring than Norway’s towering mountains and jaw droppingly spectacular fjords.
Here are a few photos that might tempt you into visiting this rugged Nordic country with its staggeringly gorgeous scenery.
1) Molde is the gateway to the Troll Mountains. We travelled on the famous Rauma Railroad and saw incredible scenery.
2) Lysefjord. Taking a small craft, motor out from the historic town of Stavanger through Lysefjord, to view the Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) from below. The day I was there, mountain goats were clambering on the steep hillsides as well.
3) Bergen. One of the most called at cruise ports in Europe, old Bergen, with its fish market and ancient wooden buildings, is atmospheric and intriguing. Definitely take the cable car to the top for spectacular views.
4) Flåm. This tiny harbour at the mouth of the Aurlandfjord fjord is most known for its world renowned railway. This engineering marvel travels up to Myrdal station at the top of the mountain, passing Voss waterfall on the way, and, ultimately, connecting with Oslo.
5) Stalheim Hotel for panorama views of Nærøydalen. Over one hundred years old, the panoramic views from the Stalheim Hotel are spectacular. Only a half hour drive from Flåm, the hairpin turns on the road from the hotel down to Nærøydalen valley below are death defying.
6) Tysfjord and Vestfjord and Lofoten Islands. Every autumn the killer whales and herring swim up the Tysfjord and Vestfjord. Nature safaris are organised to see this annual event. The Lofotr Viking Museum at Borg is not to be missed. You can take a short cruise on an historic Viking long boat as well as seeing a recreation of a Viking longhouse.
7) Lofoten is known for the old fishermen’s cabins (rorbuer) that have been restored and turned into modern accommodation for travellers.
8) Nordkapp. By cruise ship, you will call at Honnigsvej and then take a coach to the northern most tip of the European Land mass. You will see reindeer and Sami up here.
8) Kvaløya (the whale island) for Villmarkssenter. Tove Sørensen’s centre for huskies is a must visit. There are about 300 dogs raised here exclusively for sledding.
Café Football opened last December in Stratford’s Westfield Shopping Mall and offers football terrace food – but with a difference. Owners Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs have brought in chef and restaurateur, Michael Wignall, to turn football grub into gastro pub fare.
Menus at Café Football organise food into the shape of football formations, there is a display of Ryan Giggs’ boots and lots of kitsch football slogans thrown in for good measure. Desserts include the pistachio-garnished Chocolate Turf, and Wignall’s Half Time Orange – which is citrus parfait, orange jelly and butterscotch sauce.
Main courses have equally kitschy names. The Wizard Burger is lamb with harissa sauce, while The Special One is a grilled chicken burger with goats cheese. Side orders are suitably good including very flavoursome chunky chips. For something more unusual try the Asian slaw, while the green beans get a thumbs up from me.
Bruno, our waiter, is just one of the enthusiastic staff at Café Football. Julia in the Sweet Shop is equally excited to explain all about her goodies. I order a scrumptious caramel salted ice cream and a dark chocolate sorbet with a shot of plantation rum for hubby. Decadent!
Café Football wants to be known as a restaurant, not a sports bar. And you might be fooled by the interior as there are so many TV screens inside. But, none the less, it is a great night out and you can wash down your grub with beer or with a very decent bottle of California Viognier.
So get booking quick for the World Cup! See you there.
Café Football, The Street Westfield Stratford City London E20 1EN
Ricky, originally from Panama and representing Miami Culinary Tours, took me and two couples out to experience some fantastic South American cuisine at his favourite haunts around town.
Stopping first at Bolivar Fusion Restaurant Cocinas & Tragos (661 Washington Avenue) we sipped a Colombian ‘Repajo’, a mix of soft drink and Aquila beer used as a hangover cure. We then tried an exceptional cerviche, which uses lime to ‘cook’ the Sway (white fish). I particularly enjoyed the delicious fried empanada accompaniment. Leaving fusion behind, we popped into the corner patisserie for a wonderful, decadent churro. Think doughnut, but the Latin version.
It was then onto the beach to try more culinary gems and enjoy walking along Ocean Drive right next to the sand. South Beach was built during the 1930’s and many of the surviving Art Deco buildings have been preserved and are on the National Register of Historic Places. The only change is that many of them have been painted in pastel colours called Tropical Deco. South Beach was the ‘American Riviera’ during the 1950’s and Jackie Gleason kept interest in the town going with his weekly show broadcast from here, the ‘Sun and Fun Capital of the World’, a phrase he coined himself. After that the area went into serious decline and it has taken many decades to bring it back to life.
Polo Norte Cuban Restaurant was our next stop where we tried strong Cuban coffee (Colada). Similar to espresso but already sweetened, it is a big favourite among the locals. We were served appetisers of Fried Plantains dressed in a Mojo Sauce. This was before the main course which was baked plantains with shredded pork and Chimichurri Sauce. I will come back to this restaurant for more of this lovely carnitas dish.
We sniffed around the wonderful smelling family owned Charlotte Bakery which was started in Santiago, Chile in the 1960s by Gladys Jofre. It then moved to Venezuela and ended up in South Beach Miami in the 1990s much to the delight of the neighbourhood. Everything here is handmade and freshly baked and their empanadas are one of the shop’s favourite items.
Across the street from Española Way is BLOCK Pizza which claims to use a sourdough that began 300 years ago in Sardinia. The sourdough or Mother Dough comes from the Italian phrase ‘Pasta Madre’. All of BLOCK Pizza’s dough is taken from the original dough that is fed every day. The family who run BLOCK Pizza have carried on this tradition and took the oath to care for the dough and use it wisely.
The tour is topped off with real Italian gelato from Milani Gelateria on 436 Española Way. Lower in fat than ice cream and not frozen, it is a superior alternative to the dairy variety.
What a treat to have an insider’s view of the fabulous Latin culinary scene in South Beach. I can’t wait to go again.
‘Watch out for Manatees’ says the sign next to the balcony where I am having lunch. I am eating at Made to Order and am perched on the edge of a canal network where folks are lazily paddle boarding and kayaking. To be surrounded by heat, palm trees, mangroves, water and boats is nothing short of awe inspiring, especially after coming from grey, rainy London.
The restaurant next to a non-descript Inn is in Tavernier, just south of Key Largo. The main highway running through all the Florida Keys is bordered by trees, often blocking views of the water. But as soon as you are off the tarmac and going out toward the ocean or bay sides of this strip of road, you are rewarded with beautiful mangrove ‘swamps’ and intricate waterways. It is simply breath-taking.
Have also had a fantastic evening meal featuring ‘Hemingway style’ Hogfish (cooked with Japanese breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese coating) and a terrific clam chowder at Sundowners in Key Largo. With a deck overhanging the bay, it is truly a stunning setting to watch the sunset. Hence the name! As I grab my camera to photograph the scene from my perch right on the edge of the water, I freely admit the card has been taken out to process other photos. The picture above is from the Sundowners home page.
I guess because I grew up in a southerly part of the United States, California, my parents were never interested in taking us to another southerly place. Perhaps because we had moved from Canada in the late 1950’s, the timing had something to do with it. My mother, in particular, was horrified at reports of lynchings taking place in the South. I still remember her talking about it. That might be a big reason why we never visited Florida.
Its a shame because it is the perfect spot for a family holiday. Incredibly safe (no one locks their doors) with many hotels that are peaceful and secluded.
Krrwaaack! That must have hurt. The alligator lurched forward trying to get the proffered marshmallow secured on the end of a long stick. Its body thwacked into our swamp boat and those on board shrieked with fear and delight.
Apparently, these puffy white round sweets look just like duck eggs to a gator and are a favoured snack. That must be why these animals will do just about anything to get at them.
About 45 minutes outside of New Orleans and its famous French Quarter is the Pearl River in the St. Tammany Parish. This is Louisiana Bayou country and where the name ‘backwater’ must have come from. It is full of wildlife and in a two hour tour we will see snakes, spiders, turtles, blue heron, alligators and even wild pigs.
I am staying in New Orleans to uncover some of the food stories that the French Quarter is famous for. And in Cajun tradition, there are several dishes that feature wild animals. One of these is turtle soup. It is made with a rue (or gravy), turtle meat and then topped off with sherry. A very flavourful and rich dish. I had a feeling that seeing turtles out in the swamp might make me think twice about eating turtle soup!
Captain Eric takes our assembled group out in a motor powered boat. We quickly found out that it could reach some pretty decent speeds but also slow down and get us up close and personal with the indigenous animals.
The Cypress trees growing out here are incredibly resilient and the swamp is also full of wild irises, wild yellow roses and flowering lily ponds. So it really is a remarkable sight in the spring.
At first we spot, of course, turtles resting on logs and protruding roots at the river’s edge. But as we go deeper and deeper into the swamp and slow down our pace, we soon come across a variety of snakes. None of them are the poisonous water moccasins, which were once a deadly force of nature out here, but it is eerie just the same. Perhaps our most interesting encounter was with wild pigs.
A mamma and her brood appeared when Capt. Eric shouted out to them. I know that these creatures are very big but the others were shocked at their size. But when mamma came swimming out to us to get a snack, there was genuine shock amongst the guests that a wild pig could even swim. The piglets are adorable but they stay on shore waiting for their mamma. One is white around its middle and has a black head and a black behind and has been nicknamed OREO.
I do love wild animals but I could certainly see how people could be put off by seeing, for instance, enormous deadly spiders crawling around in the undergrowth near the boat!
What is also incredibly interesting is the fishing shacks right out in the middle of the swamp. The local parish even get electricity out to these folks. We did notice that several of these properties are now perched on very high stilts. Changes like this happened after historic storm Katrina came raging through here 10 years ago.
If you are ever out on Louisiana or New Orleans you would be missing out on something special if you didn’t take a tour to Bayou country. It will be an unforgettable experience.
Seeing the Shard from the river certainly has the ‘wow’ factor. Particularly at night.
I am gliding past the newly opened Shard on the Westminster, one of City Cruises sharp, little vessels. The tallest building in Europe soars into the sky and is lit up like a proverbial Christmas tree. I’m on the open deck with the wind blowing through my hair and the turbulent current of the Thames churning below me; the expression ‘ it’ll knock your socks off’ (to steal an American favourite) comes to mind.
City Cruises transport in excess of two million people a year on London’s world famous river. And has recently reported its strongest year to date in 2013 with growth over the previous year of 22%. Apparently, the 2012 London Summer Olympics have really put the city on the map as far as tourists are concerned.
And there really is something atmospheric about travelling up this historic waterway at night. Seeing the Houses of Parliament, palaces and bridges aglow is quite stirring. The Tower of London, The Shard, Big Ben, Canary Wharf, The Globe Theatre and, perhaps most astonishing, St. Paul’s Cathedral are all visible from the river and within a short distance of each other. And it is certainly relaxing taking in major tourist sights without having to jostle with other people for the privilege.
A great way to see these sites either day or night is on one of the City Cruises vessels that navigate the river at any time and in all weather. OK. It is mainly for tourists or for folks who would like a meal and entertainment thrown in with their sightseeing. But, many people just enjoy being on the water and find it a relaxing way to travel
This year City Cruises will have a new Thames Circular Cruise, which is a bit like a hop on, hop off tour bus if I understand the idea. The Circular Cruise will take passengers all the way to Greenwich to see the Cutty Sark and Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO world heritage site. And the cruise line have acquired another jet powered 315 horse-powered Rib named Blue Thunder, available for booking from March. This is entirely different experience; all speed, thrills, bumps and jumps. The great thing is that these boats run 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So, anytime you fancy a spin down the Thames…
Who could have guessed what a bit of ash can do? But then, it was more than just a ‘bit of ash’ when Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, erupted in 2010. The eyes of the world were on the tiny frozen country when this volcanic eruption filled the skies with dust and debris. The ensuing ash cloud managed to stop air traffic in our bit of the Northern Hemisphere for over a week.
The now infamous ash cloud has literally put Iceland on the map. This is only the second year this young (geographically speaking) country has welcomed tourists during the winter. The incoming numbers are extraordinary. Along with the desire to see the Northern Lights (it is a good year for this peculiar solar phenomenon), the other attractions high on visitor’s agendas are visiting the Golden Circle (Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir) and going on sea-going expeditions.
The folks who work in this trade are grateful and can hardly believe their luck at this turn of fortune. There are only 320,000 inhabitants in all of Iceland; 180,000 of them live in or around its capital and many of these depend on tourism to make a living. Icelandic life is also very much influenced by the sea and always has been, with fishing being its largest industry.
So the other thing tourists are here to experience is the wild life and, particularly, sea life. Whale watching is another extremely popular activity for visitors.
I am staying on the the harbour, at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina. There are multiple jetties just around the corner from my hotel and boats are ready to take sightseers out on Whale Watching Expeditions ad infinitum.
The juxtaposition of enormous whale watching adverts situated right across the road from converted fishing stations, now restaurants, is intriguing; because these restaurants offer Minke whale on their menus. How can two such opposing ways of viewing one animal co-exist? Live side by side?
A young man I met, by chance, at my hotel shared his thoughts on the subject with me. He has grown up in Iceland but also spent time living in Central Europe. He and other Icelanders find it shocking that they are judged for whaling and for eating whale. In their view, Icelanders are very restrained in the number of animals slaughtered. Of about 4,000 whales, a non-endangered species he pointed out, a mere 150 are killed each year. He also explained that they see the whales as potentially destroying their economy and needing to be culled. Iceland’s number one export and industry is fishing and whales eat tons of fish in any given day. So they are in direct competition with Icelanders for resource. I actually can see his point. He then goes on to explain that Icelanders see whales as big dumb beasts, not beautiful animals. This description makes me squirm.
I try to explain that Icelanders, perhaps unfairly, are being ‘tarred with the same brush’ as other countries that break the International Ban on Whaling. That includes Japan and the Faroe Islands.
I have met and spoke with the Head of Public Diplomacy on a trip to the Faroe Islands about three years ago. This person vehemently defended The Grind (the mass killing of entire pods of whales at one time). A pod of whales is driven into a bay by small fishing boats and then harpooned by the fishermen in the boats and the people on shore. “Our people have hunted like this for centuries”, he stated. “How can the rest of the world criticise us when they have killed off their own indigenous animals?”
I understood his argument. In the United States, buffalo herds that roamed the Great Plains in their hundreds of thousands were nearly hunted to extinction. The same was true of the Pacific Coast’s Southern Sea Otters which have still not recovered, as a species, from intensive hunting. In the 1920s, they were thought to be completely extinct.
But the bloody pictures of The Grind are hard to shake and hard to forget. I can’t think of anyone that isn’t repulsed by the photographs that are circulated of an entire bay red with the blood of slaughtered wild animals. It certainly gives pause for thought.
I said goodbye to my new friend, but not before we had a rousing discussion about economics. Iceland has always been isolated, historically, and islanders’ attitudes develop without much influence from the outside world. These people have always been self-sufficient. The rest of the world did not come to their rescue in times of trouble. Now the outside world is arriving en masse, they are finding it a bit difficult to understand our perspective on many issues, particularly whaling.
Perhaps with a bit more discussion and mutual understanding, we will each eventually come to appreciate each other’s viewpoints.
It is a crisp cold day and the sun is glistening off fields blanketed with fallen snow. About an hour’s drive from Weimar, and after a sodden winter in the UK, it is magical traveling under piercing blue skies with stinging, fresh air hurting my lungs. This pain is good.
We are on our way to an ancient Thüringen forest in Central Germany – between Mühlhausen, Bad Langensalza and the Wartburg city of Eisenach. It was a Soviet military base in the not so distant past. After WWII, Stalin’s Red Army gained control of Eastern Germany which became the German Democratic Republic. This enormous beech tree forest, and its peripheries, were used for military exercises with barracks and administrative buildings scattered around its perimeter.
It was a ‘no-go zone’ for anyone other than the Russian army.
This 7,500 hectare forest is now the Hainich Nature Park. It is probably as near to primeval forest as you can find in Europe and, when it became a nature park in 1996, had not been impacted by humans for fifty years. This has allowed nature to return and flourish.
Not only is there dominant beech trees but also 30 other species of deciduous trees all competing for their place in the forest. 49 species of mammals including wild cats, middle spotted woodpeckers and 15 types of bats reside here.
But the piece de resistance in Hainich Nature Park is the remarkable Canopy Walk. The top of the Canopy Walk Tower is 42m high and the vista extends for miles and miles. We are very lucky as the park’s director, Manfred Großmann and his team have opened the attraction for us to experience. At every level, as you walk up, there are ‘arms’ of walkways that extend out into the forest. In the winter, with the entire forest covered in snow and ice crystals, it is inspirational. The views…stunning.
We also visited the Wild Cat Village in Hütscheroda which opened in April 2012. This centre is so popular, particularly with domestic tourists, that there have been 55,000 visitors in 2 years. The information centre offers brochures, a cinema and also features exhibits. It is also associated with an ambitious project to create ‘Green Corridors’ that connect forests in Germany and even other countries so wild creatures have more freedom to roam.
The enclosure for the captive wild cats (about 1/4 mile walk from the information centre) houses four males: Toco and Carlo from Germany and Franz and Tosca from Switzerland. As these cats are being fed, they can never be returned to the wild. The keeper skins the mice to make it easier for the cats to eat, thus coining the term ‘Naked Mouse’.
In the afternoon, I was thrilled to visit a very old medieval walled city. Mühlhausen is famous for its two market squares, each with imposing churches – St. Blaise (Divi Blasii) and St. Mary’s. Mühlhausen was also famous for being the epicentre of the Peasant Uprising of 1523 – 1525. Supported by Martin Luther’s right hand man, Thomas Müntzer, a resident of Mühlhausen, many of the peasant’s demands were ideologically similar with changes coming about with respect of the Reformation.
Our group enjoyed an impromptu organ concert given by the organist of St. Blaise on an instrument inspired by the one played by J.S. Bach in this very church. It was unfortunate that we each had to be given a blanket to cope with the perishing and bitter cold. Even as the sun slipped away, and the temperature dropped, it was a fascinating place to visit.
It was a visit to the town’s City Hall, built circa 1300, that was quite breath-taking. Steeped in history, there is a late Gothic mural depicting the town’s first council that is captivating. The archives, in the basement of the building since 1615, have daily correspondence of the city starting from 1382. The oldest book written in German, a law book from 1213, is housed here in the archives.