Tag Archives: Europe 2011

New Books, Travel Memories, and Soup

I bought a couple George Orwell books from a used book store in town, Down and Out in Paris and London, and Homage to Catalonia. The copy of Down and Out In Paris and London I think is neat because of its old fashioned adds that include, among others for Jiff shaving stick, Cadbury’s, and a journal evaluating the ongoing war effort (the book is dated 1940).

Reading the book reminded me of being down and out so to speak in Cinque Terre (Monterosso al Mare to be specific) and Copenhagen. I guess it wasn’t that harrowing in the end but it gave me a glimpse into another kind of life that I am fortunate not to have to live day to day. It increased in me the feeling that it is criminal to allow people to live in such a way. However, it made having a comfortable bed with a great view over Corniglia even better after spending a night on an outdoor train platform with trains in transit blasting through every five minutes. It also reminded me of talking all evening with two Frenchman and and young woman from San Francisco at the hostel in Bergen. I talked quite extensively to the older of the two men, who was probably in his late 30s or early 40s and from Paris, about Orwell. It’s funny how I remember so many of the details of the conversation and where each of them was from, what they did etc, but do not remember any of their names. Meetings were a significant part of the travel experience. These conversations went on for hours at times and would being quite engaging, leaving me with a feeling of actually knowing the person. Afterwards we parted ways, and will likely never see each other again.

 

It is now getting into soup season. I’m sure everyone likes soup, it is such a versatile food that can be pretty much whatever you want. I personally enjoy having a simple pureed soup in combination with a sandwich or salad (non pureed some, due to the different textures in the soup I think are better soup to having with some some fresh bread). Today I made a green pean with mint soup, with sauted onion and garlic, soy milk, dried peppermint, green peas and salt and pepper. And to go with it, open faced tomato sandwiches on homemade English muffins. I spread hummus on the muffins, put the tomato slices on, topped with a pinch of salt and pepper, fresh oregano, a few drops of olive oil, then got them hot in the oven.

 

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Bergen

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After staying a few nights in Oslo I took the train to Bergen, on the west coast of Norway for a few nights there. Bergen is a nice city but it was the first place on my trip that I had to adjust plans due to bad weather, supposedly the norm for the city. Bergen’s smaller than Oslo and I think because of that you notice the presence of tourism a lot more than larger Oslo which has a lot more non-tourist stuff going on. But even though you could tell tourism was much more of a focus in Bergen I still thought it was a nice city with just a short hike taking you out into some beautiful natural scenery. Most of these pictures here show the old town of Bryggen, a UNESCO world heritage site featuring old wooden buildings and alleyways that were originally built on a wooden wharf (since filled in with concrete). One picture was taken through the train window going from Oslo to Bergen where the train gets up to about 1200m, passing through ice-fields where it was snowing quite hard before dropping down to sea level at Bergen. Another picture shows the city of Bergen from Mount Fløyen, and a sign on the route down that I thought was funny. I will have more pictures from the hike up Mount Fløyen in the next post.

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Oslo’s Waterfront

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It was suggested to me that when in Oslo I should check out the city’s opera house. Thinking it wouldn’t interest me I decided I would pass on it, but I happened by it when walking elsewhere and decided to check it out and it was actually pretty cool. It has a roof with all sorts of slants and angles, running right down into the water, that you can walk all over. It’s neat and offers a good view of downtown Oslo and Oslofjorden. After checking that out, I went over to Akerhus Fortress which is a medieval castle (construction started around 1290 according to Wikipedia) that was later renovated to be used as a military fort. Currently it’s used a museum and it is situated next to the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, explaining the guard with an assault rifle in the one picture. I also passed by the Noble Peace Centre.

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The King’s Garden

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When Tim took me on a bit of a walking tour through Oslo one of the notable sites we went through was the King’s Garden, a fenced in garden area behind the royal palace. Supposedly only open to the public at certain times I guessed I lucked out because it was open and I was able to go through both times I went by there. Even though I think monarchies (even constitutional ones) are ridiculous and a manicured park isn’t as nice to me as a truly natural environment, I appreciate good green spaces in urban environments. Oslo seems to have a lot of greenery and nice parks which I think is important for the health and happiness of it’s inhabitants and probably makes for an overall more sustainable city. I was really bothered by the lack of green space in some of the cities in southern Europe, as much as I like cities for the culture they provide I can’t imagine living without an escape from them and good parks offer a a way to feel like you’ve gotten back to nature a little if you don’t have the opportunity to actually get out. Later in the day after taking these pictures I went to a vegetarian restaurant called Vega (I think) and had all-you-can-eat vegan buffet for 99 kroner. Almost everything was vegan and I ate way too much, remembering why I avoid all-you-can-eat. So here are some pictures of the royal palace, the garden, and a couple nearby streets.

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Vigeland Sculpture Park (Frogner Park)

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Today I’ll start posting my pictures from Oslo, broken into a few different posts. I really liked the city of Oslo. Being the largest city in Norway and the capital gives it an urban an cosmopolitan feel but since it is quite small (the greater Oslo area being only about 800,000 I was told) it has a sort of quaint small city feel, I’ve read in travel guides that people say one of the best things about the city is how easily you can leave it and be out in the forests and hills. Th small size also makes almost everything within a reasonable walking distance. One thing I’ve always disliked about Toronto is how it’s surrounded by suburbs, meaning to get out of the urban/sub-urban areas you have travel quite far, most likely by car. Also, I didn’t feel like anywhere I went was really touristy there, which was a nice change from some of the places I had been. The city is attractive and everything seems very clean, well-maintained and efficiently run. And out of everywhere in Europe Norwegians are probably the most polite drivers as well as being the most proficient in English (everyone seems to speak it fluently, similar to the rest of Scandinavia). On the downside everything is really expensive, if you live there it would be a worthy trade-off for their high wages, generous social security system and overall high standard of living, but as a tourist it hurts.

This group of pictures is from the Vigeland Sculpture Park, contained within Frogner Park, both being free public parks. The sculptures are the work of Gustav Vigeland who also designed the layout of the sculpture park. Frogner Park is older and was layout by someone else. As well, on one of the hills visible from the park one can see a quintessential Norwegian sports culture… Oslo’s ski jump.

On a side note, it is also sad to hear about an untimely and horrific loss of life, but I think the recent shooting and bombing in Oslo is doubly sad because it happened in a place that I think is generally seen as an example for the rest of the world to follow. It also hits closer to home because I have friends that live there, and I myself was there not that long ago.

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Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre (five lands) was my final stop in Italy before moving on to Lugano in Switzerland. Cinque Terre is both a national park and a UNESCO world heritage site along the rugged Ligurian coast that is probably the most known for the terraces covering the steep hills that drop into the water, five lands referring to the five villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore that are spread along the cost of the park. There does appear to be another village inland but still within the park but it doesn’t seem to be considered one of “the” Cinque Terre towns.

Coming into nearby La Spezia my train from Rome was late and so I missed my connecting train to Corniglia where I was going to stay in a hostel. I wasn’t able to get on a later train for over an hour, it was now after 11pm, and when I did I ended up missing the stop for Corniglia. Not knowing where I could stay now I just decided to stay on until Monterosso al Mare, the northern most CInque Terre village, because I knew it was the largest and most touristy so I hoped to see some place to stay. I arrived there close to midnight and everything was shut down for the night, giving up on trying to find a bed, I attempted to sleep on a bench in a shelter on the town’s train platform. It being a small town station, no trains stop there through the night, and the place was empty of people. It does have trains in transit going through it though, so every ten or fifteen minutes a train would come roaring through, blowing the door on the shelter open, which would then slam shut again. It would suffice to say, I didn’t sleep at all. Early in the morning, I left on the first train I could take to go to Corniglia and went to the hostel to secure a room for the night. I enjoyed being up and around in the early morning despite the rough night because the place was quite beautiful and tranquil before the all the day trippers came into the towns.

So on no sleep, I partook in one of the Cinque Terre’s most popular activities: walking the trails that connect the five villages. The walk started out with an short stint along a gentle paved trail connecting Riomaggore to Manarola. But the fun really started on the walk from Manarola to Corniglia. The main path that is lower down and closer to the sea was closed so I had to take a longer route that went up and around, through the famous terraces where the locals grow grapes and olives predominantly to produce the wines and oils the area is known for, as well as other fruits and vegetables for personal consumption. This portion of the hike was great, the views were amazing and there were few people out due to the early hour and the fact that I was on a secondary trail because the main one was closed. I stopped for lunch in Corniglia where I ate a freshly made pizza marinara in the town square. Despite being on a bench in a busy town square I was so tired I kept falling asleep and knocking my head against the concrete wall behind me every time I would nod off. Despite this, I continued on to Vernazza, but this leg of the hike was not as enjoyable because I returned to the main trail which by that hour was packed with people. I didn’t bother walking to Monterosso because I had seen it already and it didn’t have the quaint feel of the other towns. And I was really tired.

I returned to Corniglia by train, and just hung around the village for the rest of the evening. Mornings and evenings were definitely the most enjoyable times to be there as mid day there are a lot of day trippers that come in on boats, meaning the small streets of the towns and surrounding trails are packed with people. But in the evening most leave, making the village feel much more relaxed and letting one wind down and enjoy the surroundings. Overall, despite the rough first night Cinque Terre was an enjoyable stop and well worth it.

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Leftover Gimmelwald pictures.

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Here are the final few pictures from Gimmelwald, just some pictures of scenery and buildings from around the village. Worth noting, the one sort of large building pictured is the town’s school house where they teach all grades (and teach them three languages while in the process). This was one of my favourite stops of the trip, really different from any other place I stayed in many respects. It was the most secluded place I stayed, had the fewest tourists, the quietest, the freshest air and cleanest water. Basically it was the place where the state of the natural environment has been the most preserved, a challenge given the population of central Europe. I think it is taken for granted how much easier it is to find untouched nature in Canada, as even in the Swiss Alps, it seems much harder to find places out of reach of development or cultivation.

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