A must do when in Ålesund

“There is no point in going up.
It is way too slippery and you won’t see anything anyway!”

My colleague was talking about Aksla, Ålesund’s town mountain and view point. We had just arrived Ålesund after a long busride fråm Flåm and were about to check in to our hotel.

 

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AN EASY DECISION

We were staying at Scandic Parken Hotel, Ålesund, litterally on the edge of the park. What do you think was the first thing I noticed when opening the door to my room? Yes, a pretty good view up to that exact viewpoint.

I had been sitting on a bus for six hours that day, and travelled from Riga to Flåm via Voss the day before. The choice was easy; I had to move! I had been up there before and knew it was neither very long or difficult, but never in winter. Growing up in a valley with almost six months of winter after all, a bit of snow shouldn’t stop me from trying.

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418 STEPS

A small group of colleagues and I walked through the park. Everything was covered in snow and the sky was grey and foggy. We were all a bit curious of how much we actually would see from the top. And if we could make it to the top at all.

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Even though Aksla is only 189 meters above sea level, it’s still quite steep. Stairs and steps make it easier to walk up. 418 steps from the starting point in the park to be exact. Calculating 20 minutes to walk, admire the view and taking pictures along the way up should be enough for most people. If one for any reason do not want to or can’t walk up, it is possible to get there by car as well.

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On the top you will find Fjellstua café, a great place to stop for a coffee or lunch. Especially in summer when the outdoor terrasse is open. On sunny days you can see the spectacular Sunnmøre alps as a backdrop to the city.

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CLEARING UP

The further up we came the clearer it got. And the ice people had been talking about? It was not to be found. Only snow that was totally ok to walk on.

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It was like a winter dream; snow covered trees and roof tops, people in colorful parkas and the archipelago with the beautiful jugendstil city centre below us. Taking the chance to walk up was definitely the right choice!

Are you planning a visit to Ålesund? Do not miss this hike. It’s equally spectacular whatever the season you are here.

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A grey day in Flåm

Spotting for killerwhales and seals along the Aurlandsfjord, a heron landed on the rocks beneath us. We stopped and watched it for a while. It is something majestic and calm about those birds. Just like the fjord on a grey day.

FROM 400 TO 1.400.000 PEOPLE

Flåm is oh so quiet this Sunday in the end of March. It is almost impossible to understand that in only a couple of months this small village will experience the closest thing to mass tourism that you can find in Norway. It is located at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, an arm of the Sognefjord and not far from the Unesco World Heritage listed Nærøyfjord. In 2017 1,4 million people visited this small town with only 400 inhabitants. Most of these come between May through September.

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Tourism to Flåm is not a new thing though. It started in the mid 19th century when English lords came here for salmon fishing in the summer and eventually for hunting in the winter. A few decades later the first cruise ships sailed into the fjords, and the Flåmsbana railway made it easy to come here by train from Bergen or Oslo when the railway between those two cities opened in 1909. There is not a lot of salmon fishing going on today. What draws people to Flåm today is mainly the Flåmsbana railway, one of Europe’s most beautiful train rides, and fjord cruises to the Nærøyfjord. There are also lots of other activities to do, and you can even learn about how life along the fjord used to be.

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OTTERNES FARM

The grey weather put a stop to our skiing plans and there was too much snow in the mountains for a proper hike, so we parked the car in one of the several free parking lots in town and headed out for a walk along the fjord. After about five kilometers we come around a ness and see a cluster of old houses hovering above us up on the hillside.

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There it was; Otternes farm. One of few original cluster farms left in the area, after most got spread out in the late 19th century. Otternes used to be a cluster of four farms, and two of them was in use all up until the 1970’s.

As you walk between the 26 buildings on the farm it is easy to imagine life here in the 1800’s;

Kettle mooing inside the barns, sheep grassing outside, children playing hide and seek, men drying hay on the steep fields and women baking traditional flatbread on a fireplace inside on of the houses

Traces of settlement all the way back to 300 a.d. have been found here at Otternes, but the oldest building standing today dates back to the 18th century.

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We walked along the houses, admired the beautiful, old handicraft. Continued on through the small apple orchard. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be here in May when the fruit trees are blossoming! Sat down on a bench looking over to Flåm, the peaceful fjord and the dramatic mountains rising straight up from the water.

During summer season there is an entrance fee to visit the farm and you can join a guided to tour to get a better insight in how life used to be here. It is also possible to buy refreshments from the café on site. The rest of the year you may enter the farm for free, but note that all buildings will be closed and there is not much information to read. But hey, isn’t that the perfect opportunity to let your imagination roam free?!

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HISTORIC FRETHEIM HOTEL

Walking back the same way we got there, we realise that it’s not the day for whale watching. Not seals either, for that matter. Both can, however, be seen if you are lucky. Seals more often than whales.

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We check in at the historic Fretheim Hotel and get one of the ground floor rooms with garden exit were dogs are allowed. It is so nice being able to bring the furball along!

Taking in the panorama view from the glass tower, I have to admit the view is slightly more spectacular on a clear day… Like on the images above.

Soon we find ourselves in the fine dining restaurant, Arven, on the second floor. The waiter brings us a glass of malbec while we take a look at the menu. It is only two starters and three main courses to choose from, but I usually find a short menu a good sign that the chef knows what he is doing. Restaurant Arven focus on local and organic produce and purchases a lot of it’s meat from a nearby farm. Mouthwatering bread from Flåm Bakery accompany my wine. He gets some ok glutenfree bread, but soon conclude that he bakes better himself. We both choose a creamy fennel soup for starter and a Norwegian cod that is especially tasty in winter.

The soup, drizzled with olive oil, comes. Oh my… I am never 100% sure what I think of fennel, but this… This was something else. It was a perfect mix of tastes. The cod was good too, less traditionally accessorized with tomato salsa, green kale and smoked kale. It could however not match the soup.

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Picture from a clearer day

The portions were large so dessert was out of the question. I always choose starter over dessert! I really wished I’d had space for a plate of local cheeses though…

The day in Flåm ended with an evening walk on the hill behind the hotel. Looking at the starry sky and listening to rocks and ice bouldering down the mountains above us. Next morning we awoke to a blue sky and a full breakfast buffet.

Note: I work at Fretheim Hotel, but do not get anything in return from writing this post. It was a private stay to show the place to my boyfriend, and we paid for all services. 

 

Riga’s main sights in one day

A city of art nouveau, beer, food and culture. Riga is the perfect weekend getaway year round.

In February 2018 I spent three days in Riga on my own, and despite the freezing cold I managed to experience a lot of what the city has to offer. This is my guide to a perfect day of sightseeing Riga.

 

ST. PETER’S CHURCH

Staying at St. Peter’s Boutique Hotel just around the corner, visiting St. Peter’s Church was a rather obvious choice for me. But what is better than getting the bird’s eye perspective first thing when visiting a new place? When entering the church, take the lift 72 meters up to the second gallery, step outside and take in the 360 degree view of Riga. The church is easy to find with it’s 123 meter tall tower, and is open Tuesday through Sunday between 10:00 – 18:00 (from 12:00 on Sundays).

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BREMEN’S TOWN MUSICIANS

After admiring the view from the church’s tower, walk around the church to see the bronze sculpture of the four town musicians from the Grimm’s brothers fairytale. Bremen is Riga’s sister city, and the monument was given as a gift to Riga in 1990 with a political subtext. It is a humorous approach to earlier political stereotypes and Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika.

And hey, remember that rubbing the animal’s noses won’t give you luck, it only ruins the sculpture. The “rubbing for luck”-story is made by and for tourists and have no local roots…

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THE HOUSE OF BLACKHEADS

Next up is the the House of Blackheads, the city’s main symbol. The original building was erected in 1334 for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, an organisation for unmarried tradesmen. Most of the ornaments were added later on in the 16th and 19th centuries. It was ruined during the second world war, but luckily it was reconstructed in the 1990’s.

The Museum of the occupation of Latvia is next door, and well worth a visit to learn more about the country’s recent history.

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RIGA CATHEDRAL AND NEARBY SQUARE

Continue on and you will soon see a huge cathedral. Actually the largest cathedral in the baltics, built in the 13th century. It is open for visitors most days  and with weekly concerts year round you can also get to experience the 6768 pipe organ. The nearby square looked nice in winter, and must be the perfect place for a coffee break outdoors in summer.

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RIGA CASTLE

Further up along the river Daugava you will soon see Riga castle dating back to 1652. Unfortunately it is still under reconstruction after a big fire in 2013, but until it re-opens you can see it’s art collections at the Riga Bourse art museum.

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THREE BROTHERS

Take the narrow streets from the castle and soon you will bump into the oldest complex of dwelling houses in the city, the three brothers. The oldest is from the 15th century and the newest from the 17th century.

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THE SWEDISH GATE

Originally Riga old town was surrounded by a wall only a few entry gates. The Swedish gate is the only remaining gate today, and was built by the Swedes in 1698 when the Polish-Swedish war was over and Sweden took rule of the city. The gate gives direct entrance to the town centre from the barracks outside the wall.

POWDER TOWER AND JACOB’S BARRACKS

Walk through the Swedish gate to find a row of yellow houses known as Jacob’s Barracks. The barracks were erected in the 18th century, and was used by various armies up until the 1990’s. Today they house bars, restaurants and souvenir shops and are an important feature to the town centre. I believe it is much livelier here in Spring and Summer than on a cold February Sunday…

At the end of the street you find the last remaining powder tower from the town wall, originally a part of the city’s defence system with 18 towers back in the 14th century. The tower was restructured before it was included in the Latvian War Museum in 1940.

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THE CAT HOUSE

Remember to look up when walking the streets of Riga. There is something to see on every second building, but one that stands out is the one known as the Cat house. It was built in 1909 and has two black cats with curved backs and straight tails on its two towers. The legend has it that the wealthy tradesman who built it were denied membership to the Tradesmen’s Guild, and thus erected the two angry looking cats with their tails directing the house of the Great Guild. True or not, it is still a funny element!

BEER TASTING AT COLONEL

After admiring the colourful facades, head into Colonel Brew Pub & Restaurant for something to eat and drink. If you, like me, cannot decide which of the Colone’s self made beers to try, go for a round of beer tasting. You then get a glass of the light, the red and the dark beer to try. It was too much for me to finish on a lunch on my own, but I am oh so glad I didn’t just go for a glass of the easy light one! I definitely liked the red and the dark better.

BASTEJKALNS PARK

With new energy after lunch you are set for a longer walk. Start by walking through the Bastejkalns park and up onto the bastion hill. Such a lovely, quiet place that I wish to go back to in Spring sometime. Continue past the canal, which also were a part of the city’s defence back in the days and turn left.

ART NOVEAU DISTRICT

You are now entering Europe’s larges art noveau collection. Art Noveau (Jugendstil) gained popularity arund 1890. The style was inspired by natural forms and elements, especially flowers and plants, and was a reaction to the  academic art and eclectisism of the 19th century.  At the same time Riga was an important city in the Russian empire and a time of economic growth. The city grew fast and the ban on erecting masonry buildings outside the town wall had just been lifted (read more about the ban here). Between 1910 and 1913 between 300 and 500 buildings were built each year. Art noveau’s popularity decreased fast after 1914.

Walk along Elizabeth street to find the grandest examples, and enjoy all the different details on the buildings; flowers, faces, lions, balconies and towers. If (when!) going back to Riga, I want to take a guided walk in this district to get even more information.

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NATIVITY CHURCH

On your way back to the old town, stop by the Nativity church. the largest ortodox church in Riga, famous for its collections of icons. It was built in neo-byzantine style between 1876 and 1883 and stayed through both world wars before the Soviets turned it into a planetarium. Even though it was restored after the independence in 1991, people still say they are going to the planetarium when going to the church today.

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FREEDOM MONUMENT

On your way back to the old town, cross the canal on the Freedom boulevard and you will see a 42-meters tall monument. It shows a liberty statue holding three golden stars, one star for each of the three Latvian regions, honouring the soldiers killed during the Latvian war of independence (1918-1920) unveiled in 1935.

Following the Soviet occupation from 1940 it was debated whether they should tear down the monument or keep it. They decided to keep it to avoid a mass conflict, but daring to put flowers in front of it during the next 70 years was widely known to be a “free ticket to Gulag”. KGB’s main office in Riga had panorama views to the monument and would arrest everyone that tried. It is know just as much a monument for the freedom movement in the 1980’s as for the war of independence.

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THE LAIMA CLOCK

On the old town side of the Freedom boulevard you find the Laima clock. A popular meeting place for the Rigans ever since it was erected in 1924, so people would not have an excuse to be late for work. For the record; Laima is a Latvian chocolate brand.

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LATVIAN NATIONAL OPERA

When standing in front of the Laima, turn your head and you see the majestic Latvian Opera. The opera was first opened in 1883 but has been renovated adjusted several times since. The main hall can seat almost a 1000 people, it has a wide repetoire with operas and ballets shown several times a week from September to May. Read more about my experience at the opera here. 

FOLKKLUBS ALA PAGRABS

After a full day of walking, what’s better than grabbing a beer and a hearthy meal with the tunes of folk music? Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs is extremely popular by locals and tourists alike, based in a former wine cellar dating all the way back to the 13th century. They offer as many as 27 different types of Latvian beer and a menu that combines modern and traditional cuisine. Live music is played several nights a week.

If you are ever wondering if Riga has enough to offer for a weekend getaway, just stop. If you include all its interesting museums, the areas outside the town centre and a visit to Jurmala, Riga will keep you busy for at least a week!

What about a guided tour? Read about the tour I joined to the Moscow district here. 

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Riga's main attractions in 1 day

Escape Riga old town

We used to bring hats for all those Aussies showing up in slippers and jeans jackets…

The Yellow Free Tour of Riga is about to start, and as we are waiting for more people to join our guide, Agnes, is explaining why she is carrying an old yellow suitcase. It is 12 o’ clock on a Sunday and we are a group of about 15 people standing in the freezing February wind outside St. Peter’s Church. Luckily evereybody seems to have dressed according to the weather, because they had to stop bringing hats as they just kept dissapearing after the tours.

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INTRODUCTION
The Riga Free Tour leaves from St. Peter’s Church every day at 12:00, except on 25 December and 1 January. It is just to meet up and look for a yellow suitcase. The tour takes about 2,5 hours, starts in the old town but soon leaves for the Moscow district and is a great way to see something else than the main sights and get a local’s perspective of the city’s story. Just remember; nothing in life is free. The guides expects tips at the end of the tour.

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BREMEN TOWN MUSICIANS
If you already have had some time to explore Riga on your own, chances are you have noticed a statue very similare to one well-known in Bremen, Germany; the four town musicians from Grimm’s story about the Donkey, the Dog, the Cat and the Rooster. Bremen is Riga’s sister city, and the monument was given as a gift to Riga in 1990 with a political subtext. It is a humorous approach to earlier political stereotypes and Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika.

It is also just another example of tourists ruining a monument by rubbing it. It is a modern monument, and the story about good luck if you rub the animals noses has no local roots…

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MARKET AREA
Continuing towards the Moscow district our first stop is Spikeri, some renovated, old warehouses used for temporary exhibitions nowadays. It used to be a place for up and coming artists and a lively place to visit, before it became famous and the rent rised.

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Next stop is the Central Market, built in old zeppelin hangars and opened in 1930 and widely used for everyday shopping by the Rigan’s. From stalls outside you can get everything from clothes to mobile covers, and the main halls are separated into sections for meat, fish, vegetables and fruit and milk and bakery products.

We ditched the meat hall, in case there were any vegans or vegetarians in the group, but walked through the rest of the hangars. This is definitely one of the must things to see while in Riga!

JEWISH GHETTO
Today a museum well worth visiting, is a small area in the Moscow district where most of Riga’s Jews were relocated to in October 1941. You can read the names of 10.000 people who lost their lives here on the memorial wall.

The majority of these people were killed in two mass shooting in a forest nearby on 30 November and 8 December the same year. Later Jews from the rest of Latvia, Germany and other contries were relocated and forced to live in the ghetto. A dark time in Riga and the world’s history…

THE MOSCOW DISTRICT
Just around the corner from the ghetto museum, you find some of Riga’s last wooden buildings. Originally Riga was a city of wooden architecture, due to but after several big city fires throughout the years wood was not allowed in the city centre anymore. On the outskirts of town on the other hand, houses should be made of wood to secure the centre. That way the city people could see the fire when they were under attack and get ready for either defence or excape.

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Today there are only a few wooden buildings left, and most of them look like they are about to fall down. They are, however, an important part of the Riga’s history and are protected as cultural heritage. Organisations have started to renovate them during the last few years, but it takes time and money.

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The area is called the Moscow district because of its large Russian population and goes back as far as the 14th century. In the 1990’s the district was ruled by the Russian mafia, and a guide would not even think about bringing a group of tourists in. Riga still has a large Russian population, about 200.000 people, who faced quite a lot of discrimination after Latvia’s independence in 1991. Luckily, Agnes could tell us, things are getting better now, and the younger generations are tired of ethnicity conflicts.

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STALIN’S BIRTHDAY CAKE
Or the Latvian Academy of Sciences if you like. This majestic building and Riga’s first sky scraper, is a great example of Stalinist architecture and Socialist Classism. The work on the Academy of Sciences was started after World War II and was supposed to be a birthday present for Stalin, whom unfortunately died before it was finished.

The academy is open for public, and if you go up you get a great view of the city from one of the observation decks.

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ART NOUVEAU IN CENTRS
It is early February, light snow is drizzling from the sky and the wind just seems to get colder… We stop at the railway station for some hot chocolate to heat up on our way back to the city centre. Back on the streets we realize that five Belgian girls have left the group, and I am glad I am covered up in layers of wool, hat, scarf, parka and wool gloves underneath my mittens to always protect my hands from the cold. When visiting the baltics during winter it’s better to be warm than fashionable…

Centrs is a district known for it’s art nouveau architecture. We do not go all the way to the most spectacular areas, but got to see some grand buildings. Originally these houses were divided into large apartments for the wealthier, which during the Soviet area they were turned into shared housing for several families. One apartment could accommodate several families with a bed room each.

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FREE TICKET TO GULAG
Our tour ended by the Freedom Monument. A 42-meters tall monument honouring the soldiers killed during the Latvian war of independence (1918-1920) unveiled in 1935. It shows a liberty statue holding three golden stars, one star for each of the three Latvian regions.

Following the Soviet occupation from 1940 it was debated whether they should tear down the monument or keep it. They decided to keep it to avoid a mass conflict, but daring to put flowers in front of it during the next 70 years was widely known to be a “free ticket to Gulag”. KGB’s main office in Riga had panorama views to the monument and would arrest everyone that tried. It is know just as much a monument for the freedom movement in the 1980’s as for the war of independence.

 

 

First impressions of Riga

“What is that mountain-like building over there?”

The taxi driver laughs out load when I ask.

We, the taxi driver and I, had already managed to cover a lot of different topics on the short drive from the airport; from weather to our equally cool cats. His openess and friendlyness gave me great hopes for the next few days. Three days on your own can become boring and lonely if people are closed and unfriendly.

And I was correct; the building is supposed to look like a mountain, but clearly everybody does not agree on the amunt of money spent to build it. The National Library is the first building I notice on my way into the centre of Riga.

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EVENING STROLL
It’s and early February Saturday evening. After checking into my hotel I set out on an evening stroll. The first thing I see is the spire on St. Peter’s Church. A spire that will be my navigation point for the coming days.

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I walk with no other plan than to take in the atmosphere and find a decent place to eat, and the second attraction I bump into is the House of Blackheads.  As I continue, spending most of my time looking up on all the beautiful facades, I walk past most of the attractions I’ve read about; the castle, the three old houses called Three Brothers and the Swedish Gate.

I’ve seen and read about all of those sights in magazines, guide books and on Pinterest before. What fascinates me the most are the rest of the buildings. The narrow cozy streets, the open lanes and squares and how the wall decor is lighted up on every second building. I think I understand what my taxi driver meant about the city being more beautiful at night than day, but on the other hand I can hardly wait to see everything in daylight!

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Even though it’s Saturday night, the streets are quiet. On my walk I only passed a few other tourists with their cameras out, and some locals rushing to and from something. But I still felt completely safe wandering around on my own…

BEER & BURGER
Getting hungry, I soon understood where all the people were; inside all the warm and cozy restaurants! I had to try a few different places before I found a restaurant where I didn’t have to sit by the bar. I know a lot of solo travellers’ top tips for others travelling alone is to sit by the bar, but when eating alone I usually prefer the company of my book…

At Easy Beer & Burger I was directed to a nice, small table. The waiter handed me a menu and said he’d come back shortly to explain how everything works. Wait, what?! How difficult can it be to order a burger and a beer?? A few minutes later he was back with a menu and what looked like a credit card and points towards the walls.

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Apparently I can help my self with all sorts of local and international beers, wine and even make my own coctails. All I have to do is pick a choice of drink, find a glas, swipe the card I got and pour as much as I like. Nothing I’ve ever seen in a restaurant before, but oh so brilliant! Together with the best burger I have ever tasted, I sample some of the local beers.

SMILES AND FRIENDLY FACES
As I am finish my beer I get eye contact with the older lady at the opposite table. She raises her glas and smiles.

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On my way back to the hotel I pass a bar with a live band, people are gathering up outside listening and dancing to the music coming from the several speakers. I join them for a while before continuing towards St. Peter’s Church.

I am smiling too. Riga is already creeping under my skin. So far I have not seen a unwelcoming face. This is going to be a lovely few days!

A fourty hour road trip

“I need to pick up a car in Eastern Norway. Would you like to come with for the weekend?”

This was the text I got from my boyfriend the other day. I don’t even understand why he asked. When have I ever said no to something that could turn into an adventure?! Unlike him I’m always up for a roadtrip and the possibility to do some sightseeing along the way.

We decided on doing a round trip, spend a least one night and take everything else as it happened.

THE HARDANGER FJORD
Road constructions. You meet them everywhere in Norway, and probably in most other countries. Having to wait is usually a hassel when you need to get somewhere in time, but you have no other choice than to wait in line.

It is not that bad when you can take a walk to a fjord beach, spot lines for skiing in the mountains and watch apple farmers trim their trees.

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HUKELIFJELL
From Odda we continued up on mt. Haukeli. The car was loaded with two sets of skis and boots for both of us, but as we were already running late for the car dealer in Porsgrunn I had to admire the white landscape and spot for reindeer from the car…

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A NIGHT IN SKIEN
Skien has not been on my list of places to see in Norway, but it is definitely worth a night or two if in the area. It is one of the oldest cities in the country, and it used to be a wealthy town due to wood industry. Wood from the whole county of Telemark was transported down the Telemark canal to the port in Skien.

Thon Hotel Høyers offer nice rooms to a reasonable price in the midst of the town centre, with great service and a large breakfast buffet.

After a sunset walk along the canal and through the town centre, we shared a bottle of red in our room. Did you know that new cars come with a bottle of wine? We didn’t as this was the first brand new car any of us had bought… What if we were sober alcoholics? Luckily we’re not, and it was well appreciated.

If you like Indian cuisine, I recommend stopping by New Agra. Probably the best Indian I’ve had in Norway.

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THE MEDIEVAL VALLEY
Numedalen valley, between Kongsberg and Geilo, is also known as the medieval valley due to all it’s stave churches. Btw, after a few ours on the road the brand new car did not look as new anymore. And for the record, the pick up is the new one. The one behind is mine and not at all new…

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One cannot drive through the entire medieval valley without actually seeing a stave church, right?

Reaching Uvdal, the last village in the valley, I called him in the car behind; We were having lunch by Uvdal stave church. He didn’t have any other choice than to follow me…

A few kilometers from the main road the beautiful church loomed on hillside above us. A church very different from any other I have seen. It is a centre-column church, meaning it streches out from a column in the middle. Built in the last half of the 12th century and the main church of the area until a new was opened in 1893.

Being a Saturday in mid-winter we were the only ones there, and could walk around as we pleased. Our brought lunch was enjoyed on a bench in front of a medieval store house, and oh, how much I love blue sky and a sun that actually warms you up! The church, store house and multiple of other buildings are now a museum and I believe it is a populare sight in the summer.

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COFFEE AT UVDAL SUPERMARKET
Uvdal centre is a few kilometres from the stave church, it’s only a few small shops and a small supermarket that got “everything”. In need of coffee we asked the cashier if there was a coffee machine somewhere. It was not, but if we could wait five minutes she could put the cettle on. Five minutes later she filled up our large reusable mugs and denied any charge for it. That is when you know you are in a nice, small village!

The coffee may not have been the best we have tasted, but we still enjoyed it walking around the “new” church that opened in 1893. This one was a copy of the stave churches that we are used to.

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SUNSET SKI TOUR
The road from Uvdal took us up on Mt. Dagalifjell. This time it was him who called, now in front of me; “fancy a ski tour?”

It was a landscape i cannot remember to have seen on a mountain plateau before, and the thought had already crossed my mind. My car was loaded with two sets of skis for both of us, wouldn’t be stupid to drive all the way back home without using at least one of them?

We stopped, put our boots skis on and walked. Probably the best idea on the entire trip. We were still at least four hours away from home, and sitting in a car hour after hour is not the best thing we can do for our bodies.

The landscape was facinatingly flat and beautiful. The feeling of stretching out after a day of sitting was almost heavinly. So great that both of us smiled at the same time on a rare selfie!

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PEPPES PIZZA
The trip continued past Geilo, where we waited an hour for a pizza take-away that was supposed to take ten minutes. And yes, pizza. One of my big loves in life. First and probably last time my celiac, nutrition therapist suggests pizza. It was gluten free off course, but still… Anyhow, Peppes’ Pizza has a gluten free pizza that is almost as good as a Italian stone oven baked pizza.

Just make sure they cut it in slices if you are planning to eat it in the car…

My spectacular backyard

“Fancy a ski tour on mount Vikafjellet?”

My Sunday breakfast got interrupted by a text from my sister. The weather was supposed to be so, so, but neither the dog nor I had any better plans for the day.

Quickly I grabbed some lunch for both of us (the dog and I), packed some extra clothing and got in the car. The fact that my ski equipment live in my car during winter season makes everything easier.

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Short after we met up with my sporty sister and sister-in-law at a parking lot on Vikafjellet, a mountain plateau between Myrkdalen in Voss and Vik by the Sognefjord. We put our skis on and started the five kilometer tour towards our family cabin. Two happy dogs running in front of us.

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About an hour later we were sitting in front of the small cabin drinking coffee. Thanks to my sister. I always forget to bring a hot drink… The weather turned out much better than forecasted and we contemplated on going further.

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If we continued uphill another 30 – 45 minutes we would get a fantastic view over Myrkdalen and the surrounding fjord landscape, and from there we could ski downhill all the way to our farm.

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Blue sky, sun, perfect snow conditions and two happy dogs – why would we turn around to follow our own paths back?

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So we continued en route home. And boy, was I happy we did! The shades of blue and white that met us when reaching the top was breathtaking.

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This landscape. Can one ever get tired of it?

We continued down hill and returned home at the farm approximately 3 hours after leaving the cars behind.

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Soon to be there will be a ski lift going up here from Myrkdalen Mountain Resort. I have to admit I have mixed feelings about that, but as someone who has not actually lived in this valley since 2004 I don’t have anything I can say. For my sister as a local farmer and land owner it has a lot to say, on the positive side.

Anyhow, we will still be able to do the tour from Vikafjellet and home. The view over the valley, the frozen lake and mountain tops far far away will still be the same.

 

 

 

 

A night at the Latvian opera

Late as always, I am almost running through Riga old town. As google maps tells me I am getting closer I can see the beautiful winter decorations light up the park along the canal. And there it is; the Latvian National Opera!

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THE OPERA
Approaching this monumental building I have to stop for a moment, even though I am late. The Latvian National Opera was first opened in 1863, built as a part of a redesigning of Riga, located next to the city canal. Unfortunately the original building was severly destroyed in a big fire in 1882, but the architect in charge of the restoration followed the original design. It has been renovated and adjusted many times since, but always inn a way that would blend in with the original.

FINDING MY SEAT
As I got closer, I could see the small que of people on the side of the large columns. I lined up and a moment later I entered the hall. It was just like I had imagined. A gentleman scanned my ticket and pointed me in the direction of one of the stairs.

After leaving my coat at one of the cloak rooms, I was a bit afraid not to find my seat; the opera has nearly 1000 seats! But I didn’t have to fear, all entrances and seats were numbered.

OPERA AND FLIGHTS
I knew I wanted to experience a performance here even before I had decided on going to Riga. Mainly because I love culture, which can be hard to find in a small town like Voss. Secondly because evenings can sometimes be long when travelling solo, and it is nice to have some events scheduled.

With two tabs open in my browser, one with the opera’s schedule and Wizzair the other, I chose flights after when I could see something interesting. I ended up going the first weekend in February, seeing The Nutcracker on my second night in town.

DRESS CODE
December would probably suit better for this play, but then again; when is it wrong to see a classic ballet?! I would have loved to see Peer Gynt, but that was only played mid-week.

Well on my seat, I eventually started looking at the people around me. Suits and jackets, dresses and heels were to be seen everywhere. What I had read about the Latvians being serious about going to the opera. It is an event that at least most Rigans do once or more each year, and they all stick to the dress code. You could spot some of the other tourists by the outfit. I could not match the long gowns, but was glad I wore a nice blouse and heeled boots.

THE NUTCRACKER
The orchestra started playing, all noise dissapeared and I was mezmerized by the athmosphere in the room… The show was beautiful, but nothing extraordinary if you have seen some ballet before. But the athmosphere was incredible.

Just sitting in that beautiful hall with 950 other people, listening to the orchestra and watching the dancers in their costumes swirling and tip-toing on stage, was worth a lot more than the 10 euro I paid for my ticket.

THE KOLONADE
After one hour there was a break where you could go upstairs to get refreshments. I am not the one for long ques, so I rather spent the time viewing the main hall from different angles. Another hour later I was back out on the street, and strolled over to the Kolonade café, ending the night in a lounge chair with a glas of red, some decent pasta and my book. Just looking over to the opera now and then.

The Kolonade has a restaurant section on the first floor and a café upstairs. Next time in Riga I most definitely will visit the restaurant, but the café was cozy and could bring up the sommelier if wished.

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HOW TO
If you are planning a visit to Riga, do check out the opera’s schedule here. I recommend buying tickets in advance, prices ranging from 5 to 20 euros per seat. Were else can you get a okey seat at a ballet performance like this for 10 euros? Not in Norway, that’s for sure…

The opera is located in the old town, walkable from most places and quite easy to find.

 

 

Responsible tourism for dummies

Better places for people to live in…
…better places for people to visit

The tourism industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and is what we can call a two-edged sword. On one side it can benefit local communities by creating jobs and steady incomes for people where they live. Travelling can also teach us about culture and make us more tolerant to others. On the other hand, areas can be over-crowded in such an extent that local people feel squeezed out of their home town. And who is not feeling at least a bit guilty every time they board an airplane?

According to a survey conducted by AIG Travel 52% of the respondents believe responsible tourism is important. I have been interested in this topic for more than 10 years now, and am happy to see the increasing interest among people and businesses worldwide during the years. Just not as fast as I would have wished. Why?

The same survey found that 1 in 3 respondents found travelling responsible hard because they did not know how to start, and 4 in 5 did not know what responsible tourism encompasses.

Well, lets have a look at some easy steps that all of us can make when travelling. Even though the tourism industry itself should do its share, we can all do something to make the places we visit better for people to live in. And, believe it or not, that will improve your holiday!

 

  • LONGER HOLIDAYS

Instead of multiple shorter trips and weekend getaways throughout the year, plan an adventure! Go away for at least two weeks and learn to know the destination well. Are you travelling for work? Extend the work trip instead of going away on a private trip a month later. You may even save the flight costs.

  • EAT, SHOP & STAY LOCALLY

Have lunch and dinner different places around your destination, instead of booking all-inclusive. Have a buffet ever given you any great experiences? It may feel like a hassle if you are travelling with kids, but try to remember you own childhood holidays. I, at least, loved going out to eat, even though I usually ended up with spaghetti with butter or pizza margherita.

Do you really need that magnet and t-shirt that is made in China, and looks exactly the same in Crete as in Alanya just with other names? Buy your souvenirs at local markets and small boutiques. Find something that lasts, and that you want to use at home.

Stay at smaller, locally owned hotels instead of the big chain hotels. This will keep more of the money you spend in the destination, instead of sending it off to a big company abroad. If you feel like putting little extra effort, try to find out which hotel focus on local economic development, social development and/or environment in it’s destination. It is not very hard, most places today have good web pages.

  • USE A LOCAL GUIDE

Instead of using guides provided by the travel company, find a local agency that offer tours. These guides will often give you valuable local knowledge as well as history and culture. If you want to go on a group tour, pick a tour where they use local guides at the various places you visit.

  • SAVE WATER

Many of us are spoiled with a steady waterflow. At home it doesn’t occur to me to turn the water off when shampooing or brushing my teeth. But water levels in western Norway cannot be compared to dryer climates further south on the planet. Hang your towels up after use, you do not need to get them changed every day. Turn the shower in-between shampooing and rinsing, and the same with the tap when brushing your teeth.

  • ASK FIRST

Talk to people and respect that you are a visitor. If you want to take someone’s portrait, ask them first. Do you like being photographed by random people on the street? Do you want to go somewhere, but you are unsure whether it is private property or not? Ask first. You never know what will happen when you talk to someone, but risk about someone being angry is a lot smaller than getting a smile and a good story – even if you do not speak the same language.

  • RESPECT OTHER CULTURES

Read and learn about the destination you are travelling to, this makes it easier to accept and respect the differences that may appear. You do not have to travel far to find people behaving different from what you are used to. Germans and Brits probably find Norwegians quite rude; if we bump into you it is more likely that we say “oh, shit” than “oh, sorry”… To Norwegians out there; do not say that when abroad”.

Dressing is an important part of this, if the locals cover up – the least you can do is cover your shoulders and knees.

  • RESPECT SIGNS AND FENCES

Just because you are on holiday it does not mean that you can do whatever you like. Norwegians may want to walk wherever they feel like it because we have the law on “freedom to roam”, but that is not the case everywhere. While tourists coming to Norway may think they can walk and camp everywhere because of this law. Do not walk on farmed land, into peoples farms, garden etc.

  • KEEP TO PATHS

If you are in an area with lots of tourists, keep to the path where there is one. Lots of people in one place causes erosion. If there is a pond the path, try to jump over or get wet instead of walking on the side of it.

  • DO NOT GIVE ANYTHING TO KIDS

If you want to give something to kids at your destination, find a school or and organisation to go through. Kids begging for things, be it sweets or pens, are keeping them away from school. Or even worse, the kids are used for big business.

  • TALK TO PEOPLE!

This is when you get the great stories to tell everyone at home. You did not travel all that way just to talk to your friend, partner or family, did you? One of the things I love about travelling solo is that you just must talk to people now and then. Asking for directions or if someone knows a good place to eat may be all you need to start a conversation.

 

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Five Balkan favourites

After several visits to the region, there are five places that stand out from the others. Places that due to their nature, history, culture or people I will recommend everyone to pay a visit, and that I hope to see again sometime.

 

 

1. DUBROVNIK, CROATIA

Why: Even though Dubrovnik is packed with visitors during the summer season, it is an unbelievably charming city. It is definitely not a museum, people live their lives in the narrow alleyways. You get everything here: culture, history, beaches and great food.

How: Dubrovnik airport is 30-45 minutes drive from the old town. Are you coming from other places in the region, there are plenty og buses and ferrys scheduled for Dubrovnik every day during the summer season.

Tips: Wake up early and explore the old town before all the day visitors arrive. Eat breakfast on a street café together with the locals, and spend the rest of your day on Banje Beach with views to the city wall. When it gets dark it is time to go out for dinner, drinks and shopping.

 

2. MOSTAR, BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

Why: The picturesque old town, the insanly interesting history from medieval times until today. The bridge, which has been so important for the city’s history and culture throughout the times.

How: Bus from Dubrovnik, Split or Sarajevo.

Tips: Get up and about early and enjoy walking the bridge on your own, chat with the vendors as they open their stalls and have a tasty Bosnian coffee while you wait for the museums to open. Visit the two central mosques and admire the view from the minarets.

 

3. KOTOR, MONTENEGRO

Why: Well, I guess the pictures tells you everything you need to know. A medieval walled city by a fjord (sort of) surrounded by steep mountains, why would you not go?

How: Bus from Budva, bus or boat from Herceg Novi.

Tips: Hike the 1350 stairs up the fortress wall to San Djovani by dawn (yes, I am all for early mornings when on holiday). Going before 8:00 means you do not have to pay the €3 entrance fee, you are almost alone, can enjoy the sunrise and not worry about the scorching mid-day heat.

In the afternoon, rent a kayak and paddle along the fjord to Dobrota.

 

4. KORCULA, CROATIA

Why: Another fortified city, Korcula is like a mini-Dubrovnik only more chilled out.

How: By bus or ferry from Dubrovnik or Split (via Hvar). Going by bus you need to take a short car ferry from Orebic on the mainland.

Tips: Go there om September or May/June, when there are less tourists and a quiet athmosphere. Rest on the small beaches, rent a kayak or SUP and paddle around the old town during the day and cycle to the Zrnovi mountain villages in the morning og afternoon. In the evening do olive oil tasting and eat at LD restaurant. Continue to Bokar wine bar, where you have to try one of the owner’s suggestions of local wine. Or maybe his grandmother’s homemade grappa?

 

5. HERCEG NOVI, MONTENEGRO

Why: Herceg Novi is a beautiful city near the Croatian boarder, with spectacular views to the bay, old fortresses and lots of possibilities for daytrips by boat.  And there is no reason to get up early to explore (if you do not really want that), as it doesn’t get crowded. However, this city mainly got under my skin because of its people. Helpful, smiling and welcome.

How: Get there by bus from Budva, Kotor or Dubrovnik, boat from Kotor. Dubrovnik Airport is approx 45 min drive away.

Tips: Go here the first week of August for the Herceg Novi International Film Festival. There are only a few things that beats sitting on top of an old fortress watching great movies under the stars. Spend a day on one of the concrete beaches and venture off sightseeing when you get bored, or take a day trip by boat to some of the nearby beaches. The Blue Grotto, on the other hand, is not worth spending time on…

In the evening, eat dinner at Gradska Kafana before heading to Forte Mare for outdoor cinema.

 

 

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