rashbre central: July 2014

Thursday 31 July 2014

penguins in the rain

No puffins today, it was penguins instead.

It wasn't the original plan, but when we arrived at the harbour, the guy explained that the small boat was cancelled. He didn't mention the weather, but I think it was a factor. We've been having 30 degree plus sunshine everyday, but today we've got lashings of rain.

It's okay, he said, there'll be a boat tomorrow. And good weather.

Instead, for a rainy morning, we thought we'd check out the nearby Jugendstil exhibition, which explains that after the entire wooden city of Alesund burned to the ground in 1904, it was rebuilt in stone and brick in the Art Nouveau style.

Ten thousand people lost their dwellings in one night and the city took three years to rebuild from the ground up.

The young architects built to a set of designs that created what is still a well-preserved central area in the Art Nouveau style.
By midday, there was a small break in the cloud, but it still seemed like a good idea to do something else which wouldn't get us too wet, hence the penguins, which were among the extensive line-up at the nearby aquarium.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

puffin post

A combination of road, ferry, bridge, tunnel and walking to the little island of Runde.

This is known as bird island because the sheer rock cliffs are homes to many species including, notably, the puffin. The basics are that herring swim south to spawn creating huge tonnages of eggs on the sea floor. They reckon the weight of the spawn is larger than the weight of the entire Norwegian population. The number of herring means that with sensible fishing, the Norwegians could eat herring every day of the year (I know).

The miniature herring start back north right past Runde where the puffins with their young are on the lookout for food. Herring have a tough life, hunted for by many seabirds, killer whales, the puffins and man with huge trawler nets.

It gives the puffins a hard time too, because the annual quantities of herring passing by need to arrive at the right time for the puffins with their young. Too late and the young puffins don't get fed. Despite the challenges, the ams puffins will return in the same pairs to their prior year nests on the island.
We ventured high onto the cliffs, but the areas where the puffins were most visible was out of bounds because of the season, so I'll make do with the footage below:

We did see many other birds including the angular gannets diving into the water to spear their prey, but I guess the puffin wins the P.R. vote.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

a serpent and some vertical farming

We hopped another small boat along the Geraingerfjord. We'd just seen the scar in the face of Valldalfjord from the battle between Saint Olav and the serpent around one thousand years ago.
The boat had its own commentary and did mention (King) Saint Olav, but the main emphasis was on farming.

The old fjord farms are a cultural monuments in Norway and some are now preserved with UNESCO world heritage status. They are located in really out of the way places down by the fjord, or high up on rock shelves. These farms would be a small patch of ground, some goats and perhaps a cow providing subsistence living. Beautiful settings but a tough lifestyle.
Farming as an industry has declined in Norway, despite the area we were in being famous for strawberries and other fruit. I looked at the sheer sides of the fjord and mused. I'm no farmer, but I thought the idea would be to get flat ground so that the livestock could stay attached? Just looking at the waterside landings, the access would then be hundreds of feet of sheer climb. Not exactly 'can you help me bring the shopping in?'

The stories told included farms requiring access by ladders with a side benefit that the ladders could be withdrawn when the tax collector paid a visit. In one case a big boulder overlooking the farm was so unstable that the farm was declared too dangerous. In another area the ground was so steep and treacherous that the children were tethered to prevent them from straying or falling. We didn't see any tethered children, although we did see tethered cattle grazing in another field.

Monday 28 July 2014

island hopping

Today we are around Ålesund and decided to do some island hopping. The area has both fjords and sea islands.

There's plenty of travel options and we've somehow mixed bridges, tunnels and ferries together to get around.
The Norwegians have some long tunnels through the mountains, but also deep tunnels that wend their way under the sea. Some use a sort of spiral construction to get the necessary depth as they take us from one pretty area to another, and I keep hearing that Groove Armada track in my head with Patti Page singing about dreaming of salty air and quaint little villages here and there.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Top Gear Tesla moment in Norway

I noticed an unusual car whilst we were staying at the wooden hut.

An adjacent hut had a sort of Jaguar-looking sporty car parked outside, except it wasn't a Jaguar. I'm used to seeing most fancy cars around London, so I assumed this was a Jaguar with a slightly plastic-fronted body-kit makeover.

Then, the next day I saw another one. Same shape, but white instead of red. I was mildly intrigued.

It was when we were in a temporary stopping place by the Vinmonopolet the next day that I realised what I was seeing. There was a row of pseudo petrol pumps and another one of the cars. It was a Tesla. An electric car recharging from a special high power charger.

The frequency of sightings made me think that the area was perhaps a factory or special test facility for the cars. To see three in a couple of days seemed unusual. Then I saw another three on our next journey. All the Tesla Model S.

It turns out that this Tesla car is the top-seller of all cars in Norway. It beats even the usual Ford Something. In fairness, it's a small population, and only needs about 1,500 cars to be top of the pops, but it is still noteworthy that a premium-priced electric sports car is achieving this. One reason is the huge Norwegian price incentive because it is electric.

In Norway, a mid-range VW Golf costs about double the UK price because of Norway's taxation. I should maybe mention that a glass of beer is about £10/$16 so there's a general price hike on many products in any case.

Move upmarket with cars and a midrange petrol BMW 5 is around US$100k-120k. So in the middle/upper market the Norwegians look closely at the huge tax relief on a high performance luxury 5 door electric sports car.

The Tesla would be around $220k in Norway if it had the same taxes applied as for petrol cars, but becomes about the same price as the Beemer because no tax is levied. Add the Norwegian fringe benefits for electric vehicles of no toll road charges, driving in bus lanes, free parking, free ferries and only about $700 of fuel (electricity) per year in a car with a 220-320 mile range. No wonder well-heeled Norwegians have created a 5 month waiting list for the car. And no wonder I'm seeing them daily when driving around in Norway.

Norway sells around 12% electric cars already although it is harder to explain how it is selling more than twice as many Tesla as, say, the conventional Volkswagen Golf.

Curiously, the styling isn't ground breaking, probably more like what one 'expects' a sports car to look like, rather than something from science fiction. I guess that's just the packaging for the market and will no doubt evolve as people become used to the idea of EVs.

There needs to be critical mass and developed infrastructure for EVs to work and the Tesla may be a start, although there's still a pretty steep entry ramp even with the circa $130k per car Norwegian subsidy.

Saturday 26 July 2014

to find that I was by the sea, gazing with tranquility...

We wandered outside to get something to eat and on the way back spotted one of the working ships that ply the Norwegian coastline, just as it was manoeuvring for departure. Called Hurtigruten, they have no direct connection with the Donovan lyric above*, except in my head.

There's something far more interesting about a proper ship-shaped ship turning, compared with the more commonplace RoRo car ferries. You know - pointed front and curved back. We watched as it executed a 180 degree turn in the space of a 10 Kroner coin, before disappearing into the distance. About ten minutes later, its sister ship appeared in preparation for a similar transition.
* Hurdy Gurdy Man

watching for the Hurtigruten at Molde

We've left the little hut on the side of a valley, after a delightful couple of days, which included trip along a winding route where the trolls live.

This evening I'm watching a huge sea bird flying across the expanse of another fjord and I gave up counting mountain peaks when I reached 112. Without moving my head I can count 25 peaks right now, and I'm not even close to the window.
We've crossed back to the western fjords, to a small harbour town called Molde, which we reached by a ferry crossing and then a drive through a deep tunnel under another stretch of water.

We decided the view at our location is so good, that we'd sit with a drink, rather than wandering off into the town. Later, a couple of ships from the Hurtigruten pass by here on their way from the south to the very northern tip of Norway.

Until then, here's a hastily grabbed video from the window. No editing, so it will be a bit rough.

Friday 25 July 2014

great things are done when trolls and mountains meet

This time we're in the area officially regarded as the home of Trolls. They decided to throw a few thunderbolts around and sprinkle the land with rain, just as we arrived.
P7250669 - Version 2
Of course, it was only playful, and they were simply improving the view for us so that by the time we arrived at the fjord, there would be a suitably mystic appearance. The trolls themselves were hiding; they don't come out in sunlight, because if they did, they'd turn to stone.

Thursday 24 July 2014

we decide to stay in a little hut in the valley

Tonight we’re staying in a little wooden hut in the valley. It’s on the way north past Lillehammer and looks like the sort of place the three bears might live.
I checked though and there’s no porridge, although I did spot some tasty hjemmebakeri kaffemat which we’ve eaten without getting any ominous taps on the door.
It makes quite a contrast to the place we stayed a couple of days ago...

Wednesday 23 July 2014

mud is the new black

The little French car we're using has been showing off its adaptive paint scheme over the last day or two.

I guess it's a feature of some of the terrain, which has included the Peer Gynt Way, which is a lengthy drive across beautiful countryside on mainly lightly made roads. It's a toll road and at one point required us to stop, fill out a form and then post money through a kind of letter box.

It's been a similar experience with the local shop, where we wrote a note saying what we'd taken, to be charged later.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

unexpected events at the Astrup Fearnley Museet

Sometimes you just don't know what to expect.

I first noticed Elmgreen and Dragset's work when they exhibited on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Officially called 'Powerless Structures, Fig. 101', I'd describe it as the golden boy on an plywood rocking horse. It simply subverted the idea of a great leader on a horse in such a prime location.

At the fantastic Astrup Fearnley Museet, here in Oslo, there's a whole collection of Elmgreen and Dragset's installations, which start disarmingly in the entrance to the main site. They've taken over a downstairs area which I guess is normally the way to the restrooms and created something of a makeover, innocently disorientating everyone who ventures into the space.

The neon lit 'Amigos' sign give a hint and expressions start to change before everyone experiences somewhat more than expected, creating a whole extra level of mannered accidental and humorous participation.

Then into the main exhibition, via what seemed to be the remnants of a gay disco bar after a particularly wild party.

Further along, there was plenty to see and challenge and enough space for the show to have room to breathe.




let's have a look in the courtesy drawer


I know it's a bit silly, but here's the contents of the courtesy drawer in the hotel. Fresh shirt, cufflinks and all manner of other items.

The adjacent minibar makes these items look like positive bargains.

Monday 21 July 2014


Today we're crossing the mountains in the southern part of Norway. It's a seven hour train journey between Norway's two main cities of Bergen and Oslo, and the route crosses the Hardangervidda, which is Europe's highest mountainous plateau.

It's a modern, smooth, quiet train, once the bustling backpackers have all found their pre-assigned seats, before we leave Bergen. We later discover that there's even a kids' carriage, complete with an expansive play-area.

There's 182 tunnels on the route as well as climbs and the skirting of further mountains draped in the remains of summer snow. Yet outside temperature is 34 degrees on part of the journey. 'Costa del Norge' as the headlines say in the local papers.
At this time of year, there's plenty of people out biking the extensive trails in the middle section of the route. We've started at the western end ahead of a couple of days to wander Oslo.

Sunday 20 July 2014


We found ourselves adjacent to a Viking brewery last night. It meant today we were well positioned to take a small boat along the fjord. At our first destination we stumbled upon a Viking encampment, with folk cooking food from smoky fires, practicing archery and following the nine noble Norse values.
We still had some distance to cover and took a local bus along twisty hairpin roads, not least to retrieve the rest of our clothes, which have been stashed away in a locker somewhere at the other end of a fjord.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Almost midnight sun

We've been through snow today. Not huge amounts, but it is surrounding us. The light packing for this part of the trip means that I don't have a computer until I get back to our base camp, so this blogging by mobile phone will have to suffice.

We've been heading north to the extent it was still light at 2330 yesterday. It was actually kind of light at midnight, but I'd say the half past eleven was a more convincing case.

Because we are in a deep valley tonight, I am pretty sure the darkness will come earlier. And then tomorrow we'll be on board a ship for a nine o clock departure.

Friday 18 July 2014

dance along a coloured wind

We are in Bryggen at the moment, with narrow alleys dividing the ancient wooden buildings. We're staying close to the water's edge, ahead of the arrival of the tall ships which will begin to congregate for the festival in a few days time.

We've also wandered the higher area around the town, where we could look down into varied fjords and see how the sky is held in place,.
Tomorrow we'll head further north, travelling very light, with just a pocketful of spare clothes.

Anchors aweigh, men, heave away!

Wednesday 16 July 2014


I managed to replace the busted communication gadget before packing for some power down road trip time.

We have set the direction to north-east. To the land of bilberries and crinkly-edges.

I doubt if we'll see Slartibartfast, although it might be like another planet.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Monday 14 July 2014

one more cup of coffee for the road

coffee time
We finished the meeting and did the usual thing of heading away to discuss the next steps. Friday we ended up in a Turkish restaurant. Börek, yaprak dolması, meze and şiş tavuk. Today was simpler. Caffe latte.

That'll do nicely as my last meeting for a little while. Hit the tube and make plans to get out of Dodge.
Find a mainline train.
Then a suitcase.
Thank you, Travelpro
And maybe even a backpack.

Sunday 13 July 2014


So Germany won it.

I looked back to my original percentages which had Germany fourth. My calculations ran probabilistically as Brazil, Argentina, Spain and then Germany, with Argentina at 18% and Germany at 12%. That's three of the top four, but a different end result.

That curious Brazilian defeat messed up my speculation, and the Dutch jumped ahead compared with my percentages which had them pegged with the same chance as England. Unlike England, maybe the Dutch switched off the engines on their return plane?

The post match 'knowledgeable with hindsight' commentaries are running as I speak, but I can't reach the remote control to mute it. I find the general Fifa sleaze takes the edge off this whole competition.

That and my statistics didn't work.

Just like my broken gigabit switch which means I don't have much internet access at the moment.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Mind the gap

Yes, a few days of non-blogging.

I've been working pretty much non-stop right up to Sunday midday.

I shall have to recreate a weekend next Tuesday and Wednesday before I turn my attention to the Summer.