Norway Trip (vii) : Norway in a Nutshell

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railway / travel / vacation

In order to see more of Norway, we organized a self-guided tour with Fjord Tours – the Norway in a Nutshell. They book everything for you and organize so that you can pick up train tickets from the railway station. Hotels are booked (but you pay for them when you stay). The tour is Oslo → Bergen → Oslo, which can be organized in numerous ways to suit whatever time period, and interests you have. We chose the following itinerary:

1. Oslo → Bergen by train (five nights in Bergen)
2. Bergen  → Voss by train (overnight in Voss)
3. Voss → Vanhalsen by bus, boat and train (overnight in Vanhalsen)
4. Vanhalsen → Oslo by train

This seems to be an extremely popular tour. The only thing I would have to say is that there are components of the travel which could be better organized… but the small issues we had were more to do with the train seating arrangements.

In hindsight this was likely not the best plan as the trip back to Oslo used a whole day, then we stayed overnight at a Scandic at the airport then flew back home… two much travelling in a 2-day period. I would almost do the tour in reverse, or spend an extra night in Oslo at the end. I’ll be posting more on each part of the trip shortly.

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Norway Trip (vi) : Dining out in Oslo

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food / travel / vacation

Read any blog, or watch any YouTube video about vacationing in Norway, and everyone will tell you it’s expensive. It is… well, mostly the food. Hotels are not unreasonable, and in light of the fact that it usually includes breakfast are a real deal. And we aren’t talking boring North American style hotel buffets. Eat well at breakfast and it allows you to have a smaller lunch, and then dinner, which will likely cost the most. Breakfasts in the Scandic hotels are monumental. Here is breakfast at the Scandic Victoria:

Breakfast at the Scandic Victoria

A wide variety of meats, and smoked fish, fruit, a dozen types of bread, cereal, yogurt, and hot food. They have lactose-free, gluten-free and diabetic options as well. The food was even better at the Scandic Oslo Airport on our last morning in Norway. They had a make-to-order pancake bar, and a super assortment of smoked fish, and fruit.

Breakfast at the Scandic Oslo Airport

For lunch it is best to pick up one of the great sandwiches available throughout the city (practically anywhere). Some of these are classic Norwegian rolls with shrimp. There are also numerous hot-dog places, which are as inexpensive as NOK 39 (C$6). Dinner can be expensive, but there are reasonably priced options out there. Expect to pay anything from NOK100-130 for an appetizer, NOK120-300 for a main, and NOK90-130 for dessert. A bowl of mussels in wine cost NOK170 in Bergen (C$27). The first night we dined at Olivia, which is a chain of good Italian eateries. The next night we ate at Cafe Skansen.

Cafe Skansen (top), and Solsiden (bottom)

Visiting a Nordic country, one has to eat seafood. Below the cliffs housing the Akershus Fortress, is the restaurant Solsiden, which serves incredible fresh seafood. I had a risoni and asparagus dish with monkfish (which is a really ugly fish – but tasty). On our final night in Oslo we ate at a small restaurant near the National Gallery called Elias, mat & sånt. Great atmosphere and exceptional food. I had the reindeer stew, and a cloudberry cheesecake for dessert.

Elias, mat & sånt

Note, that reservations are always a good idea, especially for popular restaurants. Here are some prices of dishes and beverages we had whilst dining in Oslo:

Monkfish and risoni – NOK 225 (C$36)
Fish soup – NOK 208 (C$33)
Salmon – NOK 252 (C$40)
Pasta carbonara – NOK 192 (C$30)
Napoletana pizza – NOK 145 (C$23)
Cloudberry cheesecake – NOK 99 (C$16)
Venison stew – NOK 264 (C$42)
Vegan burger – NOK 194 (C$31)
Bottle, Coca-Cola – NOK 45-50 (C$7-8)
Green tea – NOK 39 (C$6)

A note on tipping. Norwegians are paid well (as with most Europeans), so you don’t have to tip. Having said that, when paying the bill in a restaurant, you are either (i) given a paper bill with a “TOTAL” line, or (ii) you will be required to input the total in the card machine. Tipping 10% is not a terrible idea.

Norway Trip (v) : Oslo museums

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museums / travel

Using the Oslo Pass, we saw a bunch of museums. The first day we saw four, which might seem extreme, but they were closely bunched together. We took a boat trip across the bay to Bygdøy, which is both a quick and scenic way to get over to the museums. First stop was the Norsk Folkemuseum, the open air museum. This museum provides a fabulous insight into the way people lived in Norway in the past. It is a journey from urban Norway to sod covered wooden buildings. It’s an amazing place to see the classic wooden houses found in the Nordic countries.

Right next door, a 5-minutes walk away is the Vikingskipshuset, or Viking Ship Museum. The museum contains three excavated viking ships. The Oseberg Ship, built circa 820AD,  was found in 1903 in a burial mound on the farm of Lille Oseberg at Slagen in the county of Vestfold. The Gokstad Ship, built it 890AD, was found in 1879 in the Sandefjord municipality. The Oseberg ship, is exceptionally well preserved, and contained numerous artifacts which are also on display in the museum. The third ship, and the first Viking ship to ever be excavated, the Tune ship was found in 1867 on the farm of Nedre Haugen on the island of Rolvsøy, near Fredrikstad.

A little further along, closer to the boat rides second pick-up point, there are three museums. One of the museums is the Kon-Tiki Museum, which seems out of place, until you realize that it explores one of Norway’s greatest explorers – Thor Heyerdahl. Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific Ocean on a balsawood raft, Kon-Tiki, in 1947. He later completed further journeys with reed boats, Ra, RaII and Tigris. A fascinating museum, and well worth exploring.

The final museum we visited on that day was the FRAM museum, which explores the voyages of the 19th century polar ships. Housed in two A-frame buildings, the ships Fram and Gjøa tower above everything – and you can explore the depths of Fram, which is unlike most museum ships. Gjøa was the first ship through the Northwest Passage, and Fram, reputed to be the strongest wood ship ever built to withstand the crushing forces of ice, travelled to both North and South poles.

One museum we didn’t visit is the Norwegian Maritime Museum. It’s right next to FRAM, so if you have time it is likely worthwhile visiting, as it explores Norway’s long-time affinity with the sea. If art galleries are of interest, then head off to the National Gallery of Norway. If there is one well known Norwegian painter, it is Robert Munch, who pioneered the Expressionism. The National Gallery is home to the original of his most iconic work of art, The Scream. The National Gallery also has a pastel version of The Scream, whilst other versions of the masterpiece can be found at the Munch Museum.

There are many more museums in Oslo to visit, but only so much can be done in four days. For those interest in Munch, there is the Munch Museum, there is also The Museum of Architecture, the large Museum of Contemporary Art, Natural History Museum, and the Oslo City Museum. More than plenty to do.

Cooking simple ribs

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recipe

Summer is the time for BBQ. Now although people have been cooking meat over fire for literally thousands of years, the term barbecue  is derived from a form of cooking that originated with the Taíno people in the Caribbean. Eventually it found its way to the American colonies, and established itself in the BBQ belt, from the east coast to Texas and Kansas City. There are four distinct BBQ traditions – Carolina, Texas, Memphis and Kansas City. Each is different, both in the techniques used, and the meat which is barbecued. For purists however the humble pig is likely the ultimate BBQ cuisine (this could be because the pig can be eaten snout-to-tail?). Of all the parts of the pigs that speak BBQ, ribs do stand out – maybe that’s why we have rib-fests (but not snout-fests)?

Of course there are literally thousands of recipes for ribs, so it’s hard to choose one when trying to make them at home. The first task is choosing the type of pork ribs: spare ribs, or baby back ribs. Check the Kitchn guide for distinguishing between the two. There is no difference between the terms baby back ribs, and back ribs (or loin ribs). They are sometimes called baby because they are shorter than spareribs – they do not come from piglets. They come from the place on the pig where the ribs join the spine, after removing the loin. Spareribs on the other hand are meatier ribs cut from the belly. I like to use baby back ribs because they are quite tender, and easy to cook.

Once you have chosen a rib, you have to wade through the myriad of (i) rubs, (ii) sauces, and (iii) cooking methods. Smoke or no smoke? Wood or charcoal? (or yikes – gas!) It’s hard to choose, but when doing it for the first time, it’s best to go simple. Ribs can be cooked very nicely in an oven, and finished on the BBQ. Here is a recipe for a Kansas City-style rub:

Ingredients

1/3 cup  brown sugar
 1 tbsp  paprika
  1 tsp  fresh ground pepper
  1 tsp  salt
  1 tsp  chilli powder
  1 tsp  garlic powder
  1 tsp  onion powder

Mix all the ingredients together and set aside. This makes about enough for two whole racks of ribs (a rack is 10-13 ribs). Remove the membrane on the back of the ribs, pat the ribs dry, and cut them in half. Sprinkle the dry rub over the ribs, and pat it to make sure it adheres to the ribs. Then put the ribs into a zip-lock bag, and refrigerate for 6+ hours (or overnight).

When you are ready to cook them, pre-heat the oven to 275°F, and line a backing tray with aluminum foil. Place the ribs on top, and add a covering layer of foil, sealing up all the edges. Bake in the oven for about 2 hours. When the ribs are ready, give them a coating of the rib sauce of your choice, and throw them on the BBQ for 2-3 minutes. For the ribs above I used “Northern Spy Apple Butter Roasting Glaze“, from Canadian company Wildly Delicious. Hot or sweet, there are so many sauces to choose from – I didn’t want overly wet and uber sweet ribs.

There are literally infinitum ways of cooking ribs, but if you are starting out this recipe works great. You can of course experiment with your own rubs, and make your own sauces, or trying smoking using cherry or apple wood. Foremost, buy good quality ribs – good tasting food always starts with good quality products. There are also a abundance of books on BBQ, but before you buy any, check the local library to find the best book that suits your style of BBQing.

 

Last day in Montreal (Nov.2017)

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Montreal / travel

The most interesting places in Montreal, are away from the downtown, and Old Montreal. Yeah sure, see them, and then broaden your horizons and head to the less touristy neighbourhoods. Every neighbourhood in Montreal has a personality, and most are accessible via the the Metro. This trip I probably walked more than 10km in three days, and saw a bunch of Montreal. The weather wasn’t fantastic for photographing, a bit too overcast, but it wasn’t raining, and I got to do lots of walking. This trip I spent most my time traipsing around Quartiers du Canal, which takes its name from the nearby Lachine Canal (which incidentally was drained this visit). This area includes the Montreal neighborhoods of Griffintown, Little Burgundy and Saint-Henri.

The last morning in Montreal, and I headed back down to Little Burgundy (Petite-Bourgogne). Most of the restaurants and shops can be found walking along Rue Notre-Dame Ouest towards Atwater market. I had a morning coffee and treat (instead of breakfast) at Patrice Pâtissier. There I found two of patisseries I love to eat most : Kouign Amann and Cannelé. So incredibly delicious. Hard to describe.

After “breakfast”, I walked further along and dropped into Lola Petite Bourgogne, a store with local artisans products. Lots of incredible things.

Finally on to Atwater (which is technically on the edge of Saint-Henri) to pick up a can of amber maple Syrup (C$5.50 – you can’t go wrong). I would have picked up more things, but the lack of refrigeration on the trip home was an issue. Foie gras anyone? After heading back to the B&B, and checking out, I still had some time before the train home, so I walked down to Griffintown, an area with lot of new condo-buildings, but thankfully not the sort you see in TO – much better designed, and an integral effort to blend the new in with the old (not just perform Facadicide as seems to be the norm in TO). Walk far enough and it takes you to the basins that sit in front of the “Farine Five Roses” mill, a great vantage point to photograph it.

 

 

Day 3 in Montreal (Nov.2017)

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Montreal / travel

On the third day I headed over to the Stewart Museum on St. Helen’s Island (de l’île Sainte-Hélène), a short walk from Station Jean-Drapeau. This is a small history museum with artifacts from the discovery and settlement of Quebec, and some special exhibits. The island was pretty dead, apart from a bunch of squirrels who seemed to have already gorged themselves on their winter stores (climate change = weirder winters = overfed squirrels), and at least one fox. Seems not much happens on the island in the in-between seasons – except they are building a huge amphitheatre next to the biosphere.

I took the metro back over to Beaudry Station, to check out some mid-century stores on Rue Amherst, but alas it seems they have moved elsewhere, replaced by cafes, hair salons and the like. So then began my walk back up towards the plateau. I weaved in and out of side streets, checking out the two-and three story houses, many of which are pretty cool looking.

On the plateau I stopped for a coffee and croissant at Cafe Reine, which just happens to be across the road from Au Pied du Cochon. I haven’t eaten there in years, and the only indication that it is the restaurant is the small menu in a window on the side, there is not restaurant signage. If you truly want an experience eating things that relate so well to food in Quebec – foie gras, pig, duck, maple syrup – then you must try this place. And while we’re on the subject, here are some other places to try (although I haven’t tried them all, because reservations are sometimes hard to get)…

> Manitoba – “a taste of the forest in our plates, a taste of nature in our glasses, wood, rock, wind.”
> Joe Beef – classic good food (you just have to book a good amount of time in advance).
> Foiegwa – Yeah you guessed it, you can get a side of Foie gras with anything on the menu it seems. Restricted to over-18s (that and I couldn’t get an online reservation for only 1?)

I kept walking via back streets up to Mile End. I did a bit of exploring on Rue St-Viateur, home to one of the classic Montreal bagels shops – St-Viateur Bagel. I didn’t buy any bagels, but did have one on the train on the way into Montreal – nothing quite like a good Montreal bagel! St-Viateur is also home to one of the four Comptoir 21 fish and chips restaurants.

Dinner was a much “lighter” affair, after two excellent nights dinner, I decided to have fish and chips at Brit & Chips. They were pretty good, I had the cod, which had a batter containing the slightest hint of maple syrup. As good as Olde Yorke Fish & Chips back home? Maybe not so much.