Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sheraton, Marriott or Fawlty Towers?

The Norwegian Hotel market is small in volume. As you enter, you will see the absence of a few striking features. No stars, no exclusive American hotel brands, and relatively high prices. But there are changes in the Norwegian market that may bring it closer to the mainstream international reality.

Marriott to build its first hotel in Norway

Sheraton hotels tried to enter the Norwegian hotel market some years ago, as they built their first hotel at Sandvika, 15 minutes away from Oslo. Sheraton never made it, and today there is a striking absence of Hilton, Sheraton, or Marriott hotels within the Norwegian borders. This is now to change.

The Marriott chain has entered the competition for the international travellers at Oslo International Airport, and intends to build three other hotels, one at Kristiansund airport, and two in Norwegian winter resorts, at Trysil and in Hemsedal.

Norway is today dominated by a number of large chains, as Choice / Quality, Rica, Scandic, Thon, Radisson SAS, as Rainbow hotels. There are also a large number of different privately owned and run family hotels.

The successful owner of the Choice Hotels, Petter Stordalen has his doubt on Marriotts timing and whether Norwegian customers are willing to pay for additional luxury offered by American Hotel brands. He is also puzzled by the location chosen of their hotels at Trysil and Hemsedal.

I agree with Petter Stordalen that the American idea of luxury not necessarily correspond to those in the Norwegian market. Having stayed at Sheraton and Hilton hotels abroad, I personally do not think that they offer value proportionate to the price you pay, and I think that many Norwegians would think like me. One wonders why they do not build in Oslo itself, offering its brand to the large numbers of international (and US) tourists that visit the Norwegian capital every year.

Still, as somebody that wants the opportunity to choose, I wish the Marriott welcome to Norway, but if the chain do not turn its prices down to a realistic level, and adapt to Scandinavian standard, I fear that they will loose out rather quickly.

Starring Norwegian hotels

Looking for a five star hotel in Norway? Well, you are looking in vain, as an official hotel rating system is non-existent in the national market.

This is about to change.

Work is now in progress to get Norway in line with most other countries. It is the Travel Industry organization NHO Reiseliv that has started this work, not without protests.

You would think that the large hotel chains, with all their resources would approve, and that they would welcome the rating system and work to get the best rating, in order to attract more customers. Surprisingly not. They obviously fear that they will not manage to defend the standard that they claim they have.

As one representative says (translated)

"- Such a star rating will only consider the hotels physical features, but would not take into consideration the human qualities, and service received during the stay, values we emphasize on. "(Bjørn Kovacs - Choice Hotels)

He has a point. I have stayed in five star hotels, that did not meet my expectations, and in a one-star hotels that did. It does not help that you get a star for air condition and a swimming pool, if you experience, as we did in Barcelona last year, that they turned the AC off during night, and the pool had not been cleaned for months. Still one thing does not rule out the other.

Protests or not, the work rating the around 1100 Norwegian hotels that will get their stars is now in progress. It will be interesting to see how this will change the Norwegian markets. I'll keep you posted.

Cheaper than Moscow and New York, more expensive than Hong Kong

The British travel agency business Hogg Robinson Group (HRG) has checked the average price of a business class room around the world. The two most expensive cities are Moscow and New York, followed by Paris and Dubai. The most expensive Scandinavian capital is Stockholm as number 6. Oslo is number 9, interestingly more expensive than Hong Kong.

Krakow has two best hostels in the world

60000 users at the site Hostelworld, has awarded the Hoscar for 2007 to Flamingo Hostel in Krakow. Krakow snatched the 2nd price as well, as Mam's Hostel was voted as the second best.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stuffed at Café André Citroën

First dinner in Fredriksberg. We had passed Café André Citroën on our way to Copenhagen city centre and was tempted by their menu of the day. We decided to go there for dinner. As we returned that same day, we experienced a fabulous but very large meal. We were, frankly, completely stuffed.

Location: BBBB

Located in Vesterbrogade in Fredriksberg, a busy city street leading into Rådhuspladsen in Copenhagen, within a half an hour walk for any living in Central Copenhagen.

Interior design and atmosphere: BBBB+

An interior with definitely a French feel to it. Walls in light colours, dark floors, oblong minimalistic lamps, furniture in dark wood.

Nothing at the table, neither glass, nor china, a naked and stripped down interior. Not the warm cozy haven for two tourist coming in from the rain.

Well seated, though. Sofas in dark leather and wooden chairs.

Price level: BBBBB

Two dry Martinis, shaken - not stirred, two entrees, two main dishes, one bottle of red wine and two bitters. Price: DKK770, a little under €100, and it was definitely worth the price.

Service: BBBBB

Great staff! Informal and efficient. A social experience as our waitress took very well care of us. It is always nice to see someone that genuinely enjoys their job, and she did.

Efficient. Drinks, food and wine arrived at our table within an acceptable time.


They had a recommended menu of the day. Creamy Jerusalem Artichoke soup and lamb shanks with rice, baked vegetables and a reduction made from dark Erdinger beer.

The food was truly amazing, the only problem was - it was too much of it!

I love Jerusalem artichoke and the soup was cooked to perfection, the pleasant sweetness of the Artichoke well balanced with salt and finished with cream, crunchy croutons and herb oil. The portion was extremely large, so there is something for the restaurant to consider. Ordering two dishes, serve less soup!

The lamb shank was an equally substantial portion. One large piece of meat, much rice, but all extremely tasty.

The lamb was lightly salted, cooked so tender that eating it offered no effort at all. The rice and vegetables was seasoned well enough no to offer too much competition to the flavour of the meat.

The Erdinger reduction was perfect. Using dark beer is a great idea. The sweetness and the richness complements the meat perfectly, as here at Café André Citroën

The wine of the house was a Monterosso Sangiovese Osco 2006, produced in the Osco region in Molise in South Western Italy.

It is made from the Sangiovese grape, important to the wine production in Chianti in Tuscany, recommended for pasta, poultry, pork and grilled meats.

In spite of being Italian, this wine, had a richness matching the strong flavour of the lamb. Wonderful red colour, nose of cherries and plums, and rich aromas of red fruits, soft tannins and oak. This as part of the wine has been aged in French or American oak barrels.

A perfect match.

Rating the Café André Citroën experience: BBBBB- (4,66 points)

Cold interior, warm staff, and excellent food at a very nice price. Huge portions!


Café André Citroën
Vesterbrogade 58
1620 København V
Phone: 33 23 62 82
Fax: 33 23 55 95

Easy and good food after a busy day

I am up at 5.30 AM every morning and arrive at the office at 6.45. This, as I am an early bird and hate working during the afternoon. Being up so early every morning means that I am often tired as I arrive home. Then I try to settle for easy food, without compromising on quality and taste. I have tried some brands and products, and I feel that some of them provide a fast, easy, good and tasty meal as I arrive at home. Here are that do's and don't s in my fast food diet.

The don't s

I have some sachets left with dried base for soups and sauces, and they are getting closer and closer to the "use by" date. That means that only dried stuff I use now are seasonings. I got fed up with dry bases for soups and sauces. Too salty and with too little taste. There are easier ways to get a good meal.

Another group of foods I do not buy anymore is canned ready made dinners. They are generally very boring, badly seasoned, contains too much salt. A bad choice.

Frozen ready made foods

The range of ready made frozen foods is getting wider. You may get ready made wok vegetables, soups, and pasta dishes. I usually find the creamed varieties to be better then the tomato based. A good homemade pasta dish with tomato sauce has a sweetness rarely found in frozen dishes.

I found a frozen pasta dish, penne with carbonara sauce. I poured the frozen mix in a large oven tray, sprinkled pepper a good portion cheese on top and baked it until the cheese was crisp and the sauce was heated through. The result was very satisfying, and lasted for two days.

Ready made soups

Earlier you had to make soups from scratch or from a soup base. I have told you about a range of soups from Knorr. I loved their Curry soup with coriander. Today I enjoyed a creamy Thai soup with coconut milk, chicken and lime leaves.

With a little single cream, sweet chili sauce, Cajun spices for additional heat and a few tiger prawns, makes this soup a delicious and easy dinner. Knorrs curry chicken soup and goulash soup are equally delicious.

Easy lasagna

Lasagna made from scratch is a real treat. You may settle for the frozen ones, but they are rarely good. But if you choose the right ready made tomato sauce, you can make your own with minium effort.

Buy the tomato based sauces from Barilla. They are exceptionally much better than other brands. Much taste, a creamy consistency, and a wide range of varieties. Buy the ones with Gorgonzola or ricotta. Heat up the sauce and add 300 grams diced boiled ham. For the lazy cook it is nice to know that some brands, e.g. Dolmio, also make ready made white sauce. For extremely lazy cooks this is an easy option than trying to make it yourself, but the home made is much better.

Use 50 centiliters white sauce. Pour a little olive oil in a medium sized, square baking tray, cover bottom with pasta sheets.

Pour half the tomato sauce over the sheets and sprinkle some grated cheese. Then cover with a new layer of pasta sheets, and pour half the white sauce and add more cheese.

Another layer of pasta sheets and the second half of the tomato sauce and more cheese. Then another layer of pasta sheets and top with the remaining white sauce and cheese. Bake in oven until cheese is crispy.

Easy pizza

Skip the frozen pizza. Buy ready made pastry, you find several brands in your local shop. Buy Barilla tomato sauce and spread on the pastry. Add prosciutto, fresh basil, sliced fresh mozzarella, oregano and olive oil.

So much easier than the frozen pizzas, and so much better.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Johannesburg - sights of Newtown

Newtown is the closest I have been to the city centre of Johannesburg. As a European I have heard much about the crime in the inner cities of South Africa. As I have already has stated, security must be a real concern for those traveling there. Newtown was, however not threatening in any way. After we had our lunch at Gramadoelas we saw a few sights.

Getting there

Here is a minute film giving you some impressions how it felt crossing the Nelson Mandela bridge and enter into Newtown. It felt like a downtown area, but is regarded as a suburb, located in region 8 of South Africas largest city. It is an area under renovation and many old buildings were restored back to its former beauty. As we were to drive to Johannesburg International airport, we were just given a short glimpse of what Newtown had to offer.

Museum of Africa

This magnificent building in bright colours housed the Museum of Africa. This museum was established in 1994 and has an excellent ethnological department. At the museum you find reproductions of huts, tools, and domestic tools, as well as equipment, arts and crafts from many of the South African peoples and tribes.

If I had entered I could have seen rock art similar to those I admired in the Drakensberg mountains showing the intensity and artistic quality of Bushman drawings and paintings.

The grim face of apartheid

This grey building facing the square in Newtown, is a grim reminder under what conditions the black population of South Africa once lived. As our host Arne told us, the industrial complex, that once used to be a power station, was kept going by cheap slave labour.

It is this past South Africa still tries getting to terms with, as the inequality between black and whites inherited from the racist regime still remains. The good thing are all the things the new democracy in South Africa has achieved in such a short time.

The Workers Library & Museum

This museum is located in what used to be the migrant labor compound in Newtown. This single-sex hostel was built between 1905 and 1910 to house 300 black men who worked at the city’s power station. It was turned into a museum in 1993 and it was declared a national monument in 1996.

A NGO, Khanya College, provides political and labor education incorporated the Workers’ Library and Museum in 2004.

Today the site is a chocking testimony of the oppression in the racially segregated South Africa. The old hostel is now turned into a heritage site to commemorate past and present labor struggles and the inequality that once was the very structure of South African political life.

This blurred building shows the sleeping quarters of the men that once lived in this hostel. They slept in large dormitories on hard wooden beds. Seeing those conditions, I am happy that this time is over.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sights of old Oslo

Oslo has been around for more than 1000 years, but much you see today dates back to the 20th and late 19th century, when Oslo grew rapidly in size. But if you look you may find some interesting remains. Here are a few not so known sights from Oslos history.

Aksiseboden (1830)

This anonymous grey building in Trondheimsveien, is no located in the middle of Oslos popular Grünerløkka area.

When it was built, it was located by the the main road to the city, exactly on the boundary of Oslo. When goods were brought in to the city from the rural area, aksise or city tax was charged before goods were allowed into the city. This tax was abolished in 1842, but the house is still called Aksiseboden after its former function.

Aksiseboden is located by the old gates of Tøyen Manor house with roots back to the 12th century. Read more here.

Kroghstøtten (1859)

Krohgstøtten was built as a poor house in 1859. The architect of this building was Christian Grosch, one of the most famous architects in Oslo. Some of his most famous buildings are the old university buildings (1854), Oslo stock exchange (1828), and the old building of the Bank of Norway (1830)

It was located by what used be the road through the old area of Fjerdingen, where there used to be a hospital for venereal diseases and a cholera cemetery. Today, the building of Christian Grosch, is what is left of a much larger hospital complex that was demolished in 1950.

In the attic room there is a small museum telling the history of Krohgstøtten hospital from the time it was built until the present day.

Oslo's oldest Hospital has roots back to a Fransiscan Monastery in 1290. Read more here.

The old Jewish Synagogue (1921)

The Norwegian Constitution of 1814 denied Jews and Jesuits admission to Norway. The constitution was changed in 1851, after the effort of the Norwegian poet and humanist Henrik Wergeland.

Early 20th century many Jews fled persecution in Eastern Europe and the number of Jews in the Norwegian capital increased from 343 in 1900 to 852 in 1920.

In 1921 this synagogue in Calmeyergaten was built for a congregation of Jews from Eastern Europe. It was in use until 1939. During the war the German occupiers ruined the synagogue. Since then it has been used as a Muslim school and a house for the Kurdish minority.

There are however plans for a Jewish museum in this building.

Location: Calmeyergaten, Oslo

Another Jewish sight - more on the old Jewish cemetery here on Enjoy Food & Travel

Tugthusmuren (1740)

In 1740 the authorities of Christiania (today's Oslo), built Tughthuset. Tugthuset was a workhouse for the undesirables of the capital. Those caught in fornication, theft, and other asocial conduct were to find their place in society through hard work, prayer, and physical punishment.

Tughthuset was a large complex with different buildings and even a cemetery. The main building was demolished in 1838 and the last buildings were used as a prison for women until 1900.

Now only the walls are left. When new buildings were built, the old wall was taken down stone by stone and incorporated in the new buildings.

Location: Hammersborggata, Oslo

The wall is incorporated into the great Italian restaurant Santino's. Read more here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fish Casserole Skagerrak

Fish Casserole Skagerrak is serious fusion food. Fusion between New England, Louisiana, and Southern Europe. Naming it after a stretch of sea between Denmark and Norway underlines the fusion bit. Whatever name you give a fish casserole like this, it is a perfect meal for a dark winter night. Sun and heat on your plate, as you wait for the hot Scandinavian summer!

As I improvise a lot, it is difficult to write a concise recipe, but I will try. To serve 3-4 hungry people you will need:

3 tablespoons of olive oil
100 grams streaky bacon, diced
1-2 teaspoon crushed garlic
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoon flour

15 centiliters Noilly Prat
80 centiliters stock, made from shrimps shells, one sachet Goya Sazon with saffron and herbs
10 centiliters cream (20%)
3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce

300 grams of shrimps, peeled
300 grams salmon fillet, roughly diced
300 grams wolf fish, halibut, cod or another white fish, roughly diced

Fry garlic and bacon in olive oil, until golden. Add diced pepper, onion, and celery. When golden, add flour and stir well. Pour Noilly Prat, and stock. Stir and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Add cream and chili to provide heat and sweetness.

Add fish and heat through and shrimps, just before serving.

What to drink?
Why not try a Sauvignon Blanc? A 2006 vintage, from the Zonnebloem Cellars in Stellenbosch, in the heart of the Western Cape in South Africa. Green-yellow colour, apple and citrus aromas. A rich tropical fruit character.

Perfect with my casserole!