Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Saint Jørgens Hospital Bergen

A monument from a lost time

Today, leprosy is a disease connected to the poor countries in the third world. If you had visited Bergen a century ago, you would have discovered that it had a considerable number of people suffering from this disabilitating disease. The Saint Jørgens Hospital in Bergen is a stark reminder of all the tragic lives lost due to leprosy, and did you know that a Norwegian doctor discovered the cause of this illness?

Saint Jørgens hospital goes as far back as 1400. It is situated in the area Marken in Bergen city centre. Here you see the main quarters where the leprosy sufferers lived and worked. They worked in the large hall and on two floors along the hall, there were numerous small rooms where one or two people stayed for much of their tragic lives isolated from their friends and families.

The Norwegian doctor Gerhard Armauer-Hansen made is ground breaking discovery of the leprosy bacteria in 1873. In fact his name is much more famous outside Norway's borders than in the country itself. It is in many countries still called Hansen's disease.

A visit to the museum is highly recommended and you may get tours in English telling you a story going back only a century, but from a completely different world from where we live today.

Saint Jørgens church

The church dedicated to Saint Jørgen (Saint George) is the oldest building at the hospital area. It was rebuilt in 1706 after the fire that raged Bergen city centre four years before.

It is built out of wood, from large, cut tree trunks, as many buildings built in the country from the period and earlier. It is a tiny building, with a simple and beautiful interior.

The men and women suffering of leprosy lived in an isolated area where people lived from cradle to grave. They had their own community far away from the world outside its walls.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A trip to Norway's southern tip

This weekend I travelled down to our summer home, close to Arendal on the south eastern coast of Norway. Here my family has lived here for seven generation and our history in this house goes back to 1773. This is my hideout, far away from the city. I travelled with good friends and we enjoyed good weather, and I will give you a report on how you may enjoy a weekend by the seaside in august.

I stay in this old house between the small town of Tvedestrand and the larges city of Aust-Agder county, Arendal. This area called Sørlandet (The South Country) , with its numerous small islands, is a favourite destination for holiday guests during the short and hectic Scandinavian summer.

Nobody knows how old this house may be, it probable predates 1600, meaning that parts of this structure was built during the reign of Elizabeth I of England and the colourful king Christian IV of Denmark and Norway.

My kitchen is a rather small, and impractical room, dominated by an enormous fireplace and baking oven. This house has in fact two kitchens, one for regular cooking and this room used to bake and do heavier kitchen work.

First day we did the easiest thing, bringing large Greenland prawns, and enjoyed the seafood on Danish rye bread and lemon and mayonnaise. It tasted delicious with a dry white wine, Jurassique 2005/2006, a chardonnay originatin in Burgundy, as the August sun poured in the windows of the dining room.

A visit to Arendal, the Venice of the north

Saturday we enjoyed the day in Arendal, the once so wealthy maritime city dating back to 1528. Being the oldest city on the south eastern coast you find a large number of old buildings, as this, dating back to 1658.

I always bring my guests to lunch at Lindvedske Hus, Arendal Art Society, an old 18th century house with a fabulous restaurant as well as galleries displaying contemporary works of art. Here you can get sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, good coffee, beer and wine. The best place to drink the brew from the renowned Nøgne Ø (Naked Island) Breweries. Sadly this time they were out of many of the brands I like, but you could get Imperial ale. Be aware, though, it contains 16% alcohol.

I chose my favourite, the tuna sandwich - actually a tuna melt with cheddar, and as there was no local beer, I chose a Weltenburger blonde, a great German brew that you can also get in a dark variety. As I forgot my camera (it was, in fact lost all the time) there are no snap shots from our lunch, but believe you me - go there and enjoy their sandwiches.

Saturday - a whole fillet steak for dinner!!

I rarely buy a whole fillet of steak. Why? I often find the cheaper cuts taste better, well prepared, and I have experienced several times that this prime piece of beef has been tough.

But this time I bought a fillet, weighing 960 grams or 2 pounds. The idea was to prepare it whole, serve it with (frozen) dauphinoise potatoes, caramelized onions, baked asparagus and Bearnaise sauce made from scratch with tarragon from the garden.

Be sure that you seal the whole fillet properly as I did, and allow it to rest before you place it in a hot oven (200C or 400F) for 10-15 minutes.

If any of you guests do not like it medium rare, the tip opposite the Chateaubriand will be well done at this temperature and the Chateaubriand itself may be quite bloody, but that is the way I like it.

And the veggies? I love gratin potatoes and asparagus baked in the oven, but to such a dish you need a rich sauce - and that is where the Bearnaise sauce comes in.

The Secret is in the Sauce - the Art of making Real Bearnaise

For those of you concerned with your cholesterol or if you are on a diet, the Bearnaise sauce is out of bounce. For the rest of us, harakiri gourmets, this rich sauce is the perfect company for a fillet steak or another piece of impressive red meat.

Making Bearnaise is an art, and the artiste here, is Bjørnar, currently an officer but with a varied working experience including serving as a cook in the UK.

"A Bearnaise sauce is simply an egg yolk, a shallot, a little tarragon vinegar, and butter, but it takes years of practice for the result to be perfect," wrote the restaurateur Fernand Point (1897-1955) in Ma Gastronomie.

But Bjørnar had the skill, the sauce ended up on our table, saffron coloured, with the aroma of fresh tarragon from my garden. And the steak was tender, you hardly needed to use a knife.

And now to something completely different - Moscow Mule!

Moscow Mule! Great stuff!! Ice, Absolut vodka, lime-juice and ginger ale served with a thins slice of raw cucumber.

This was a completely new experience, very refreshing, interesting with a distinct taste of cucumber.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

The contrasts of Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand

By guest writer Per Koch

Chaweng Beach is a small city on the island of Koh Samui (Ko Samui) on the south-east coast of Thailand. It is a tourist destination that says a lot about the strange and wonderful contrasts of Thailand in general.

You could say that it is a city of three parts:

1. The beach

The beach is a piece of a tropical paradise, "just like in the movies". Fine grained sand, coconut palms, and clean, warm, water.

One waiter at our hotel did complain that there now were too many hotels at the beach according to her taste, but for those of us who had not been there before there was still ample space.

Besides, most of the hotels have their own beach side restaurant, giving you a large number to choose among.

You can take a long, nice stroll up along the coast and enjoy the sights.

Note that the lagoon at the northern end is not good for swimming. It is too shallow parts of the year. A five minutes walk further south, however, you will find excellent conditions for bathing.

2. Chaweng Beach Road

Chaweng Beach Road runs parallel to the beach, most of the hotel bridging the space between the breach and the city (or village) itself.

Chaweng Beach Road is the main tourist territory, together with a few smaller side streets in the southern end of the city.

Going from the beach to the Road is like going from tropic tranquility to South-East Asian chaos.

If you are looking for picturesque villagers playing boccia with their donkeys between medieval white chalked houses, Chaweng Beach is not for you. Go to Provence, Tuscany or Rhodes instead.

No, Chaweng Beach is full of "pimps" trying to sell you tailor made Armani suits and a large number of shops selling "real fake Rolexes" and counterfeit CDs and DVDs.

It is a one way street, so the traffic is not too bad, but the sidewalks are narrow and full of entrepreneurs, so do watch where you are going!

Then there are all the girls. "Massage, sir, massaaaaage". The last A is pronounced with a nasal tone not found in regular English.

Actually, most of them are not prostitutes, but regular masseuses working in a large number of open windowed saloons down the street.

Then again, some of them are. Late in the evening you can even see some of Thailand's katoeys (transsexuals), advertising for shows and more intimate services.

Then, of course, there are a large number of bars, cafes and restaurants, catering for all tastes.

There are even a MacDonalds and a Burger King for the faint at heart, but going there would be a shame indeed, for there are so many excellent places serving delicious Thai food.

(And yes, many of them serve more than decent European food as well.)

3. The Thai City

Behind Chaweng Beach Road you will find the streets where the Thais live.

For a Norwegian it takes some time to getting used to the fact that you do not necessarily need a lot of walls to build a home. It is never, ever, cold in Koh Samui.

In some cases, however, the lack of walls reflects abject poverty, a side of Thailand never shown in the tourist brochures.

The hidden beauty

The city itself is far from beautiful. Some of the new shopping centres (selling genuine Adidas T-shirts, not counterfeit ones) have clearly seen the hands of proper architects, but the rest of the city is definitely not a wonder of modern city planning.

The lamp posts are like birds nest of electrical cords. No wonder there are power outtakes from time to time.

However, when you are starting to get a grasp of Thailand, you will be starting to see the city's charm, which is all caused by the Thais themselves -- beautiful, generous and friendly people.

The secret is to let it all flow by and enjoy the hustle.

And if it all gets to much, you can always retire to the beach.

My wife Susanne and I vistied Chaweng this summer. We have put up more pictures from our Thailand trip.

See also Susanne's article on her Chaweng Beach cooking course here at Enjoy Food and Travel.

Koh has more info on the island.

Per Koch is co-editor of The Pandia Search Central and has his personal blog over at Aviana PK.
Photos by Per and Susanne Koch.