Monday, July 30, 2012

Flåm and Flåmsbana railway

As I am back in Norway for holidays I thought I could do a few posts about some tourist destinations from my own country. In case you missed it and would like to have a look, I talked about the beautiful fjord of Geiranger the last time. And while I’m at it with the fjords, I thought I’d add another beautiful fjord destination, FLÅM


Just like Gerianger it’s a tiny little town with just a couple hundred inhabitants, but it receives about 450 000 visitors during the tourist season. It is also a busy cruice ship port like Geiranger.



Flåm is located at the end of Aurlandsfjord, an arm of the 204 km long and 1308m deep Sognefjord, the longest and deepest one.

via
The main reason Flåm is so popular, is the FLÅM RAILWAY, a 20 km long railway line between Flåm and Myrdal. The construction of the railway allowed a connection from Flåm to the Bergen Railway Line (Oslo-Bergen) when it opened in 1940.

What’s spectacular about it, apart from the stunning views, is what a great construction it is, considering it’s all built by hand (with an exception of two of the twenty tunnels), and also the fact that it has an elevation difference of 863 meters in just 20 km. This leaves the elevation rate at 1 meter per 18 meters, and it is the steepest standard gauge railway in Europe. 

More info and picture from http://www.visitflam.com/flam-railway/
  • Contruction started in 1924 and the railway opened in 1940
  • Hand construction was done by drilling up to 4 meters through the rock, and then filling the holes with dynamite and blasting.
  • On average, making the tunnels took between 116 and 180 man-hours per meter
  • One forth of the line runs through tunnels
  • Because of its steep gradient and picturesque nature, the Flåm Line is now almost exclusively a tourist service and has become the third-most visited tourist attraction in Norway
  • The line has 10 stations along the way 



Apart from beautiful scenery all the way, the biggest attratcion is the Kjosfossen station where the train takes a five minutes break so you can go out and admire the powerful waterfall, Kjosfossen, a big and beautiful waterfall with a total free fall of about 225 meters. 


In the summer season there is a Hulder singing and dancing in the waterfall! A Hulder is a seductive forest creature in Norwegian mythology, and the powerfulness of the waterfall and the dancing Hulder makes it absolutely enchanting! (Even for me, although I am Norwegian!)


Found a little video with the Hulder on youtube if you're interested:

Anyone been to, or heard about Flåm? 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Geiranger

I am back ”home” in Norway for a bit of holidays and I thought I could share some of my favourite spots from my own country now that I am here anyway. Before, I always wanted to go far away (aka abroad) to see new, exciting and different places when traveling, it wasn’t interesting enough to go traveling in my own country. But then I realized that it might be a good idea to actually see some of Norway too! I am from the eastern part of the country and there isn’t a whole lot of breathtaking nature, as what’s marketed in the traveling industry. So off I went to explore, and today I want to tell you about GEIRANGER. One of the classic ”must see” fjords, but really- it is worth a visit. 


Maybe I need to slow down just a little. Maybe you don’t know what exactly a fjord is? Don't worry, I’ll let you in on the secret. In few words, it’s a long and narrow inlet with steep cliffs or mountains, created in a valley carved out by glacial activity during the last or earlier ice ages. Most fjords are deeper than the adjacent sea, and the longest fjord, Sognefjorden, reaches 1300 meters (4265ft) below sea level. Above the water, the mountains rise up to 2000 meters.

Here, from Google maps, you can see how the fjord twirls it way from Geiranger to the sea.

    There are several companies arranging fjord-cruices and take my word for it- it’s worth it! Being out in a boat below these powerful mountains make you feel  very small! But it’s a good and awe-inspiring way of feeling small if you know what I mean.



    There are a couple of ”sights” along the way. One of them is the waterfall ”The Seven Sisters” (De Syv Søstre). The waterfall consists of seven separate streams and got the name because at a distance it could resemble the hair of seven women. The tallest of the seven has a free fall of about 300 meters.


    On the opposite side of the Seven Sisters, is ”the suitor” (Friaren) This waterfall is bottle-shaped, and according to the myth, the suitor is unhappy (and hence turning to the bottle) while he awaits the answer from his proposal to the Seven Sisters. (All seven of them!??)


    I don't remember the name of this one, but can you see the face in the rocks?


    Some facts:
    • Geiranger is a little town, located at the very end of Geiranger fjord in western Norway. It has a grand total of 255 inhabitants...
    • Every year, more than 700 000 people visit the little town and the fjord
    • Geiranger fjord is an arm of Storfjord, and the total length of these fjords from the coast is about 100 km
    • In 2005, Geirangerfjord was included among UNESCO’s world heritage sites
    • It's very beautiful. Go see it!

    Have you ever heard of Geiranger, seen photos, or even been there? 

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012

    Saints and Birthdays

    The other day after I had been out without my phone I had received a couple text messages with the Spanish word used for wishing a happy birthday. In one of them, my friend had even gone through the trouble of finding out what happy birthday is in Norwegian, and had written it in Norwegian and Spanish. Very thoughtful and very nice! It’s just that my birthday was in May...

    So - puzzled I thanked them so much for the messages, but kindly reminded them that my birthday was in May. It felt a bit awkvard. Didn’t want to seem ungrateful or anything you know.

    And then I got the explanation. It was my Saint’s day! Great. Uhm...  Knowing it was my Saint’s day didn’t help too much on my confusion though so I had to ask again, uncertain about what a Saint’s day was, and what it meant having one of those myself.

    Spain is a Catholic country and most new borns are given names of saints. Turns out there are a LOT of saints and every saint has ”a day”, and every day has several saints. For instance someone called Francisco (Or Paco ifyou prefer the handy shortcut), can celebrate his ”dia de santo” San Francisco de Asís on October 4.

    A lot of people celebrate the day of their Saint as if it was the birthday. Today, it’s the day of San Santiago, patron saint of Spain. So everyone called Santiago will be congratulated by their loved ones today.

    San Santiago el Mayor

     I also learned that some people get their name from the saint’s day on the day they were born. For instance I know a Manuel who were born on December 31. One of the Saints for December 31 is San Manuel!

    Makes the name choosing more practical... I think I would still prefer to be the one to choose the name of a new born and not let the calendar decide! But anyhow, it's fun and I got myself a Saint's day- who would have thought?

    Monday, July 23, 2012

    The turtle close to the cathedral in Barcelona...

    Back when I was studying Spanish at a language school in Barcelona, I had 5 hours of classes 5 days a week. One of these 5 hours a day were ”cultural studies”, where we learned about the artists, art and architecture of Barcelona.

    One of the things our teacher told us about, was the sculpture of a turtle, designed by Domenech and Muntaner in 1905, and located close to the Catedral de Barcelona. The myth said that rubbing it increased fertility... So depending on what were your wishes, she warned us to keep it in mind when visiting the turtle! I tried to find it back then (as it was our homework for the day), but I was so new to the city and in the end I couldn’t make much sense of her instructions.

    Some other day however, months later, randomly walking around there behind the Cathedral I came upon it by chance, or at least so I think. It is small, and not so easy to spot if you don’t know what you are looking for. 


    The turtle is actually part of an old mailbox at the Casa del l'Ardiaca-building from 1512.

    I googled it to find out more, but there isn’t a whole lot of information to be found. At one site I learned that  the turtle and the swallows are to symbolize the designers opinion of the postal service at that time: Supposedly quick as a bird but actually as slow as a turtle. Someone else says it brings luck to rub it.

    Either I still haven’t found the correct turtle, or our teacher was simply pulling our legs. Which gets me into thinking about expressions again. In Norwegian this one makes no sense at all. In Spanish neither I think. But there is a similar expression in Spanish which would be pulling our hair, which again doesn’t make any sense in Norwegian and I believe neither in English? I love how expressions can be completely confusing when they make absolutely no sense in other languages! Oh well, enough rambling from me for today! Have a lovely week everyone!

    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Costa Brava

    These days the heat in Barcelona is almost... unbearable for Norwegian me. I don’t seem to get used to what I would call extreme heat. Sleeping in 30 degrees C with a humity of close to 80% is just too much! And don’t even get me started on daytime temperatures! Air condition is not very usual in rented Barcelona homes and my home is not exception, so all I have is a fan. But the fan just blows the hot air around and it doesn’t always help a lot.

    So I did what many people in Barcelona and around Catalunya do in summer when the city heat just gets too much- I escaped some days to Costa Brava, and it was wonderful! 

    Costa Brava is the Coast north of Barcelona starting from Blanes (about 60 km. from Barelona) and going up to the French border. It’s filled with idyllic old white sea side towns and beautiful smaller and larger calas, which I think would translate to coves. The nature is truly beautiful and the sleepy seaside towns are so charming. It feels like walking around in one of those beautiful postcard-images!


    I also visited a couple places on Costa Brava last year, for instance Port Lligat and Cadaquésboth towns where Salvador Dalí lived and spent a lot of time. (In Port Lligat you can visit Dalí's house, where he lived from 1904 till he died in 1989. I did and it was a great experience!) 

    Beautiful Cadaqués
    From Dalí's garden in Port Lligat
    This time I explored the areas around Playta d’Aro and Sant Feliu de Guíxols and although these towns are bigger and more touristic (and thus lacking a little of that very charming personality), the calas around there are breathtakingly beautiful! 

    Platja Cap Roig

    Saturday, July 14, 2012

    The customer is always right! Or...?

    Someone in my close family owned a shop and when growing up I spent great amounts of time there. First just snooping around, looking at the things, smelling them, enjoying being  able to 
    spend so much time there. It was sort of magical. 

    When I turned 14 I was ’old enough’ to start working there myself, and from then on- every Saturday and holidays were spent working in the shop for years.

    In the staff bathroom, right next to the mirror, there was a note saying in big letters:
    via
    ...for us to always remember this important message. It was not just a message, it was the law of our shop. The customer was always right, no matter what. If a customer were to complain about something,, we would show them understanding and patience, and we would let them be right. Never ever would we treat them with nothing but respect, and the smile was very important. Kindness, understanding and respect 
    characterized our way of handling the customers.

    So... I grew up with this, and have taken it with me wherever I have been when talking to customers or being the customer myself. I am always friendly and smile when talking to staff at shops, public offices etc. I am always polite and respectful. It’s been a part of me my whole life and I guess that’s what makes it so difficult for me to handle rudeness and disrespectful behaviour without reason.

    I have found quite a lot of attitude here in Barcelona. Not the good kind. First of all, you are lucky if you get a smile back when smiling to shop assistants/clerks here. And just that is hard for me to fathom, if someone smile at me, I will automatically smile back. I could never give a grumpy face to someone who smiles at me...

    And  if you want to complain about something, because something was not done the correct way, or you didn’t get what you asked for- be prepared for a long and slow battle. I have now had enough experiences to be able to say that this is unfortunately more the rule than the exception. 
    And it took me some time to get to this conclusion, cause as I am programmed to think that respect and understanding is a given I thought I was just unlucky the first times.
     
    I have the feeling that as a consumer here, your starting point will most likely to be that you are always wrong. If you insist and are up for the battle, you might get somewhere, but most people won’t be up for such a long battle, and will get exhausted and think that in the end, it’s not worth the wasted energy and strain.
     

     Maybe this is just a cultural thing, and people simply don’t want or expect to either treat people (aka strangers) nicely or be treated nicely by strangers? I am not judging, I am simply observing the differences, and it’s something that is hard for me to adjust to.


    Maybe it’s simply the fact that I am a foreigner? I don’t have the sensation that most locals here love us foreigners. But I have also heard locals complain about the bad service you get here and 
    how difficult it is to make a complaint.

    I am talking about Barcelona, cause this is where I have spent the most time. Maybe it’s a big city-thing? People simply can’t be bothered to be friendly and it’s too much work to smile?

    As you can see, lots of questions and few answers. I would love to hear your opinions. 
    Whether you are a Spaniard with an opinion about customer service in general in Spain, 
    or a foreigner with experiences here.
    Or if I am just strange to expect to be treated with respect by strangers, 
    or even get a smile in return when I give out mine? 

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Boob-cheese!

    Haha! They sell cheese with the shape of a boob here in Spain! And it's not as random as you might think, cause it's called queso tetilla, where tetilla is the diminuitive of teta, which means boob, breast, tit - whatever you prefer to call it! 

    I love cheese, but I am a bit picky. I prefer cheese made from cow milk. In Spain they are big on using goat milk and sheep milk in cheese, and preferably a mix of all three. I have not quite gotten used to this, and I still prefer my cow milk cheese. So as queso tetilla is made of just cow milk, I had to give it a try now didn't I? 

    It's ok, but quite mild. (It wouldn't hurt it to have a little more personality and character, having the looks isn't everything!)

    Monday, July 9, 2012

    Sevilla!

    Ohhhhhh my goodness! Sevilla is very beautiful. I feel like I say this every time I have visited a new city in this country, please bare with me. This is simply a country filled with gorgeous cities!


    I think for many northern European citizens, Spain equals sun and beaches, and that’s also what most people look for when coming here. Which is understandable to a certain degree when you live in a country where it’s cold most of the year, I get it. But it’s such a shame, when the country has so much more to offer!

    Sevilla is the capital of the autonomous community Andalucía in the south of SpainIt is the forth largest city in Spain and its old town is the largest in Spain. The University of Sevilla was founded in 1505 and the city is about 3000 years old. As you can see, another city with lots of history- I love it!



    Walking around these old cities is almost magical, Sevilla is no exception. Narrow cobbled streets with beautiful street signs and flowers hanging off the walls. The beauty has no end, wherever you look and there’s another pretty building, plaza, cathedral etc. The architecture of Sevilla is quite influenced by the Moorish / Arabic culture, and just like other cities in Andalucía you can see the typical arches and beautiful carvings scattered around the city.

    Again, it hits me how very different Barcelona is from the south, and I can’t wait to see and learn more- Spain is very diverse and has a lot of personality! 

    And when I am talking about personality, look at this fantastic old bar!



    Just one negative. Spain is really hot in the summer, I am having some difficulty adapting to the extreme (in my eyes) heat in for instance Barelona. But Sevilla is even worse. It’s inland, meaning it’s a dry climate, and with more than 40 degrees C. and not even a hint of a wind it was too much for me, way too much. So if you are a bit sensitive to the heat like me I would recommend visiting Sevilla maybe September-October, or March-May. June-August is very hot. (And then November-February it can get quite cold.) Even the locals complain in the summer and stay inside in the middle of the day, having a siesta.

    What to see in Sevilla? (Apart from taking hours to walk around..) 
    • Plaza España - a very beautiful plaza. Located in Parque de Maria Luisa. Plaza España is a huge half-circle with buildings and bridges and a large fountain in the centre. On the walls around the buildings,  each province of Spain is represented by tile artwork. 
    Here Barcelona, via

    • The Real Alcázar: just by the Cathedral, and is a royal palace, originally a Moorish fort. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and a must when visiting Sevilla. Very beautiful. Construction started in 1181 and continued for more than 500 years. The Alcazar has beautiful gardens as well. Open from Monday to Sunday 9:30 – 17:00. Entrance fee:  €8 euros / Student: €2 You can read more about it on their website.





    • La Catedral de Sevilla and Giralda: was built from 1401-1519 after the Reconquista, where the city's mosque was. It's one of the largest of all medieval and gothic cathedrals and there's a lot of gold in there! It is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Giralda, the bell tower is also nice to visit. You can climb the stairs to the top and get great views over Sevilla. 





    Have you ever heard of Sevilla & have you been there?

    Friday, July 6, 2012

    The Green Parrots in Barcelona


    There are a lot of parrots in Barcelona! Urban legend tells that some of them escaped from Barcelona Zoo about 20 years ago, and that they have simply enjoyed their freedom here in Barcelona and reproduced a lot. Now they are all over the city and to me this is so exotic! In Norway, the only way to see a parrot is in a cage… 


    They make a lot of noise (A LOT!) and I have learned to distinguish them from other birds (quite easy by the way!) So now every time I hear them I look up and see them on rooftops, in palm-trees or eating seeds from trees and bushes. 






    Simply lovely and seing them makes me smile every time!
     

    Wednesday, July 4, 2012

    It's time to talk about food again... In Spain they are a bit more omnivorous than in Norway!

    I think foreigners might call Norwegian food kind of boring. Although, I must say I am not quite sure what is Norwegian food. All my life my food has been a good mix of food from all over the world and there has never been a lot of “typical Norwegian dishes” on my table.

    But still, we are a bit conservative maybe? For instance, fish and seafood is quite big in Norway (as would be expected from a country with a coastline of 25,148 km!) but we don’t have Octopus, cuttlefish, squid and the like, and most people wouldn’t even want to try it if having the opportunity... Same goes for snails. These kinds of foods don’t really exist up in Norway, I think it would be very hard to obtain, thus the strangeness in actually eating this for most Norwegians.

    We are also a bit conservative when it comes to what parts of the animal we use in our cooking. We are pretty happy with a fillet of some kind, maybe a cutlet and some minced meat. We are not big on using the ‘other’ parts of the animal. In Spain, they are! 

    So, going to a market here in Spain, especially a good one like La Boquería, is quite the adventure for Norwegian me. They sell so many things from animals that I have never even seen before! I have no idea how they prepare all this, and how it’s eaten, but I think I don’t really need to find out either…

    I am just observing, taking in the culture, as usual!!

    Wanna have a look at what you can find in the meat section in Spanish supermarkets or markets? I might warn you of "strong images" if you are delicate! (And this time I left the photos smaller, if you want to see a bigger image, click them!) Here goes...


    Pig-face minus the ears
    Marinated pig knuckles

    Tounges, stomach, size XXL pig knuckles

    Brains? And sheep(?)-head?

    Stomach/tripe, used to make Callos
    I try to always be open-minded when in a new country. I don't judge. I observe and respect other ways of doing things, and although this is not something I would eat, it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with those who would.

    But I have to tell a story about how I accidently tried Callos. 
    It was a lovely warm night, me and a good friend at a fabulous tapas bar in Poblenou in Barcelona. Lots of tapas were consumed, and lots of wine too. For each glass of delicious Spanish wine we drank, the more daring we became, to the point where we just asked the waiter to bring us something he would recommend from the extensive list of tapas. Out came a plate of something white, wobbly, swimming in some orange sauce. It turned out it was tripe, and lets just say it wasn't for me! The pitfalls of going for tapas in Spain!

    Have you ever eaten some of this? Opinions? 
    Do you know what's in the pictures? (Cause I don't!)