Saturday, February 07, 2009

Enjoy Food & Travel heading south

When you read this, on February 7th, I am already in the air, heading from a very cold Norway to the pleasant climate of the Canary Islands outside Western Africa.

For those of you outside Europe, the Canary Islands are for Europeans what Florida is for Americans. Whereas Southern Europe may experience cold temperatures during the winter months, these islands have average temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius (68F) all year around.

My last trip was back in 1995, so it is really time to return. In fact I plan to do this yearly from now on, to escape the dark cold winter of Scandinavia. In fact so many Norwegians do like us - my sister and her husband returned from a week in Las Palmas last Friday, the capital and largest city of The Canary Islands. She had booked a hotel with a terrace facing the famous Canteras beach.

She experienced changing weather as Las Palmas is located on the north western part of Gran Canaria. Here you have far more precipitation than on the south of the island.

In fact the difference in temperature between Las Palmas and Playa del Ingles may vary as much as 5 degrees, and whereas the north is green and fertile the south is desert like, due to low precipitation and higher temperatures.

Playa del Ingles is located on the southern tip. The development of this resort was started in the 60's and it has grown into a large vital community with shops, restaurants, nightclubs, and a beach at the end of a mini desert made from sand from the Sahara.

There are large high rise hotel in hectic city areas, as well as bungalows along secluded roads. Playa del Ingles has so much to offer.

As I want to enjoy a walk on the wild side, we have booked a hotel close to the Yumbo centre. It is a regular shopping centre by day, but during evenings it turns into the meeting point for the gay crowd visiting Playa Del Ingles, as this resort is also a gay village.

So February 7th I am on my way. Due to my illness and my vacation, stories may appear more irregularly than usual. This as I work hard to finish stories in advance, that may appear automatically every day. As you have noticed, this unbroken chain has already been broken, as no stories were published February 4th and February 5th. As I have a serious back lag, fewer stories will be published during my vacation, but I promise to pay back through new, interesting stories from Gran Canaria.

So hasta la vista!!!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Beware - airports off the beaten track!!

As my sister and I arrived back from a Ryanair flight from Marseille to Torp/Sandefjord airport, some of the French passengers looked surprised on arrival and asked - have we really arrived in Oslo? Ryanair is one of many low cost airlines that do not inform the travelers that you may have to use considerable time from an airport off the beaten track to your destination.

This deception is even cunningly used in their marketing. Oslo/Torp, Frankfurt Hahn, and Paris Beauvais are good examples on how Ryanair market airports off the beaten track. When traveling by a budget airline, be advised to check exact where you travel to, as you may to add a considerable amount of time and money for transportation to the price of that cheap ticket. Here are a few airports off the beaten track.

Norway: Sandefjord Airport, Torp (Oslo - Sandefjord Airport, Torp = 86 km / 54 miles)

This airport is incorrectly called Oslo/Torp by several airlines. It is the 2nd largest airport in South Eastern Norway and serves the city of Sandefjord. It is the major hub for Ryanair in Norway and is located 86 km (54 miles) south east of Oslo.

Ryanair has services to 27 different destinations in the UK and the continent. Wizz air operates from Sandefjord Torp to 6 airports in Poland (4), Hungary (1) and Ukraine. Other airlines are Widerøe (5 domestic, 1 international flight) and KLM (1 flight to Amsterdam).

Around 1,3 million passenger traveled through Sandefjord Airport, Torp in 2006.

There are shuttle bus services to each flight. Be aware that you may use at least 1,5 hours maybe more, and be advised to check what bus that serves your flight. The main road out of Oslo is one of the busiest in the country, and may get congested during rush hour and during weekends.

See the official website of Sandefjord Airport, Torp here

Norway: Moss Airport Rygge: (Oslo - Moss Airport Rygge = 59 km / 36 miles) (Photo Johanroed)

Rygge airport is the newest airport and service the city of Moss and the greater Oslo area. It is in hard competition with Oslo airport and has struggled to get the attention of budget airlines , and both easyjet and Air Berlin has shown interest, but no services has materialized. The only major airline flying from Rygge is currently Norwegian Air Shuttle that operates 5 domestic and 17 (partly seasonal) flights to the UK and the continent.

In addition companies as Iberworld, SunExpress, Flynordic, Spanair, and Pegasus operates charter flights to Cyprus, Crete, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and Mallorca from Rygge.

There is public transportation from Oslo. You may take either a regional train from Oslo Central Station and further transportation by a free shuttle bus, or take an express bus from Oslo Bus terminal.

See the official website of Moss Airport Rygge here

Germany: Frankfurt Hahn (Frankfurt Hahn - Frankfurt Am Main = 120 km / 75 miles)

Frankfurt Hahn is off off the beaten track, as it is located close to the cities of Kirchberg and Simmern in Rhine-Palatinate. It is a major hub for Ryanair, and the budget airline operates 48 and domestic and international flights. Other airlines are Wizzair (1 flight to Poland) and Iceland Express (1 flight to Keflavik).

You may get from the airport to railway stations in Köln, Koblenz, Trier, Mainz, Frankfurt, Kirn, Idar-Oberstein and Saarbrücken where you can connect with Deutsche Bahn trains or local transport links. Check with the schedules before you leave to get the right connection.

See the official website of Frankfurt-Hahn airport here

France: Paris Beauvais Tillé Airport (Paris Beauvais Tillé Airport - Paris, Porte Maillot = 79 km / 43 miles)

I remember arriving in Paris in 1983 as a charter tourist. The Star Tour travelers landed at Beauvais airport. At that time it was a tiny airport and there was only a shuttle bus service from the airport to Porte Maillot, between La Defence and l'Arche de Triomphe.

It is a hub for Ryanair with 20 flights to European and UK destinations. Blue Air has one service to Bucharest and Wizzair flies to 6 destinations in Rumania, Hungary and Poland. 2 million passengers travelled through the airport in 2007.

You travel to Paris by shuttle bus or by train (4 km from airport) and the end point for the bus service is now as then Porte Maillot.

See official website of Paris Beauvais-Tillé airport here

United Kingdom: London Stanstead Airport (London Stanstead Airport - London = 40 km / 30 miles)

London Stanstead airport is maybe the largest airport mentoned here. In fact this major hub is the third busiest airport in the UK, and one out of four serving the Greater London Area.

Here Ryanair is the largest airline by far, with flights to around 110 destinations all over Europe. Besides Ryanair there are many other airlines operating from London Stanstead Airport to Europe, the Middle East and to Pakistan, and charter airlines operating services from Stanstead to different destinations.

Around 23 million passengers traveled through London Stanstead airport in 2008.

London Stanstead Airport is the airport with the best links to the nearest tourist destination with coach services and trains from the airport to London and beyond on a regular basis. I have traveled by bus as well as train. I found the coach service slow, and do recommend the train as a quicker and more comfortable way to get to London. When traveling to catch a flight from Stanstead, do allow yourself enough time to get there, as I find public transportation in the Greater London area rather chaotic with frequent delays and interruptions.

See official website of London Stanstead airport here

Italy:Orio Al Serio (Orio Al Serio Airport - Milan = 59,3 km / 37 miles)

One of my most chaotic airport experiences was in the year 2000, when traveling from Oslo to Orio Al Serio to explore Italy with a friend arriving at Milan Malpensa. The flight was operated by SABENA, and I changed flights at Zaventem Airport.

This is also a major hub for many airlines, Ryanair being one, with flights to all over Europe, UK, and Egypt. Around 6 million passengers was estimated to travel to and from the airport in 2008.

I had not checked transportation 9 years ago, and found the transportation to and from Milan to the airport very uncomfortable. I would hesitate today, if thing had not changed, but it luckily has. Now there are shuttle bus to and from Bergamo station and from here trains depart to Milan frequently.

Even though, I would hesitate to travel to Orio Al Serio, and would prefer Linate or Malpensa, the two other airports serving Milan.

See official website of Orio Al Serio Airport here

Spain: Girona - Costa Brava Airport (
Girona - Costa Brava Airport = Barcelona 91,5 km / 59 miles (Photo: Dantadd))

Girona - Costa Brava Airport is also called Barcelona Girona, in spite of the fact that it is the airport most off off the beaten tracks. I have personally not travelled here, but a former colleague told me that traveling from this airport to Barcelona may be challenging due to heavy traffic.

Girona - Costa Brava Airport is another Ryanair hub, and other budget and charter airlines will bring 4,8 million passengers to destinations in Europe and the UK.

Shuttle bus services will bring passengers to Barcelona, resorts on Costa Brava, and Perpignan in France. Travel time to Barcelona is estimated to 1 hour and 10 minutes, but delays due to heavy traffic may occur.

See official website for
Girona - Costa Brava Airport here

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Winter at Mount Fløyen

The best view of the city of Bergen is from Mount Fløyen, rising some 320 metres above the city centre. When staying there in November 2008, we had a very rare experience there, as we travelled into a winter wonderland. Why rare, you may ask? Because Bergen is Norway's rain capital, all year around also during winter.

The western coast of Norway has a very humid and mild climate. Here you might find a few people having palm trees outside all year around, as the temperature rarely go below freezing. As low pressures are queuing up in the Atlantic precipitation falls by the meter - as rain.

In November I left a cold Oslo, with no snow on the ground, to arrive during a strong blizzard. That weekend 20-30 centimeters fell in Bergen followed by strong winds. As I was joined by a good friend, we decided the next day to ascend Mount Fløyen by one of Bergens many great tourist attractions, the funicular bringing you from the city center up on the mountain.

It is an awesome experience as the ride up is not for the fainthearted, as it ascends along a very steep rail with a few stations. This as Fløibanen is not only a tourist attraction, but a part of Bergen's public transportation system, and people living in the narrow streets on the lower part of the mountain use it to get to and from the city.

The rail line is exceptionally steep, and for those not very comfortable of heights, the trains have large windows so you have all the view you need. Once up you get an exceptional overview over Bergen.

We certainly did, as the white snow reflected the bright white snow on the ground and the surrounding spruce trees. Small low clouds created a fascinating effect. From the plateau on Mount Fløyen we were able to see beyond the city as well, even getting the glimpse of the Atlantic outside.

Being there, you may treat yourself with a cup of coffee, coco and a cake or an open sandwich at the restaurant. We chose a traditional Norwegian waffle with raspberry jam and sour cream. Certainly something to look forward to before you descend back into Bergen city centre.

A trip up on Mount Fløyen is highly recommendable when visiting Bergen. I certainly got an experience I will never forget.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Informal dining off the beaten tracks - Eastman's Docks

The citizens of Seabrook NH would not automatically agree with my title, but as a Norwegian pedestrian dependent on a pair of legs and with a restricted budgets on taxi, Eastman's Docks is off the beaten tracks - or rather would be, if it did not happen to be a walk away from my cousins house, where I am a frequent guest. The food though is seriously good, so accessibility is one small drawback.

Location: BBB+

I want to apologize to the owners of Eastmans, as they are relations. The low score is due to accessibility rather than location.

The restaurant is located between Newburyport MA and Portsmouth NH, and you need a car to get there. This is an area where there are practically no public transportation.

The nearest train or bus is either at Newburyport (suburban line to Boston / Bus) or Portsmouth NH (Bus). If you rent a car, you drive along 1A towards Portsmouth. and stop just as you leave the barrier island at Seabrook NH Once you are there you experience an area of beauty.

The restaurant face the salt marshes that separates the barrier island on which the communities of Seabrook N.H., and Salisbury MA rests from the mainland.

The restaurant is located away from the ocean, sheltering it from the sea and you can enjoy a view to Hampton Beach and the marshes, that flood during high tide.

Interior & atmosphere: BBBB

This is certainly not the posh refined dinner, rather the interior of Eastman's Docks reflects the relaxed atmosphere at the beach. During peak season, it is packed with people. I usually visit around the labour day weekend, when Eastman's Docks close for the season, and most of the guests have left.

Eastman's has a rustic wooden interior. I usually prefer to sit outside with a view to the water. Here you can sit with the salt marsh as your nearest neighbour.

The are plenty of room around the table, and you are seated comfortably. This is however a place for informal dining. No table cloth, cutlery, or napkin. The table is stripped down to bare necessity. Here you get what is necessary when served.

Service: BBBBB-

As this is relations, I might get even better service than others, but friends that I have brought to Eastmans have loved the place.

This time I was the only person there, as this was the first weekend after end of peak season, and it was just around opening time. The staff here are genuinely clever, good at small talk, professional, and food is served quickly. Service at Eastmans is terrific.

Food: BBBB+

Eastman's Docks is a place I know very well, better than most other places, as I have dined during many vacations. They serve excellent steamers, fried scallops, and other specialties.

As my cousin was doing some of here work, I just ordered one starter, scallops with bacon with teryiaki sauce. Separately each one of these ingredients are scrumptious, crispy bacon, the discreet delicious scallops and the smoky sweetness of the teriyaki.

Presentation: The scallops arrived in a small heat resistant bowl, three medium sized scallops rolled in one slice of bacon on skewers.

Texture: Secret is not to overcook the mussels, and here by the sea, they certainly know how to prepare them perfectly, crisp on the surface, slightly under cooked in the middle. The bacon could have been a little more crispy, but I know how difficult this may be, particularly when you add a sauce as main seasoning.

Balance and taste: There are no great need of seasoning on a dish like this. The salt is provided by the bacon, and this is balanced by the delicate sweetness of the scallops and the teriyaki sauce. Teriyaki is one of interesting sauces good to provide sweetness to salted floods, as well as a characteristic smokey aroma that adds another interesting element to the food.

Beverage: BBBB+

What better to enjoy than a delicious cold Sam Adams to such a dish. The sweetness of the teriyaki may be difficult to match with a dry or semi-dry white wine. The mild bitterness of a beer is more suitable for a dish like this.

Rating the Eastman's Docks experience: BBBB (4,13 points)

Great food off the beaten tracks in New Hampshire. If you happen to drive along the 1A from Newburyport MA to Portsmouth NH during the summer season, a stop at River street is recommended.

Eastman's Docks
7 River St, Seabrook, NH 03874
Phone: +1 (603) 474-7063
See restaurant website here

Sunday, February 01, 2009

New official classification of Norwegian hotels from 2009

(Source: Dagbladet)
When traveling to many countries in Europe and overseas, you are met with official systems where hotels are classified with from 1 to 5 stars after a fixed system. The number of stars awarded depends on whether the hotel meets a number of different strict criteria as e.g. size and quality of room and indoor facilities.

Twinkle, twinkle little star! Norway has until now been without an official ranking of hotels. The Norwegian travel industry has claimed that a ranking system based on the European system would be too rigid and crude. The fear is that the classification will emphasize purely technical criteria, and that hotels with special, non quantifiable elements and with specific character or features would loose out in such a classification model.

All is about to change this year as the Norwegian Ministry of Trade has asked the Division of Tourism within the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) to establish a voluntary ranking of hotels as found in many countries in Europe.

The minister, Sylvia Brustad (labour), has personally taken the initiative to establish an official hotel classification system and is convinced that it will be make it easier for the customer in their choice of hotel.

The response from the industry have been mixed. The Choice group headed by the Hotel tycoon Petter Stordalen will, unless the system is compulsory, not join, whereas the Thon and Rica group have been more positive.

A Norwegian group has already established a voluntary classification system and 60 hotels have joined. Here are a few hotels that meet the criteria in different classes. You will find a complete list on (Sadly only in Norwegian).

Five star rating
  • Britannia Hotel, Trondheim
Four star rating
  • Fru Haugans Hotel, Mosjøen
  • Voksenåsen Hotell, Oslo
  • Sølvgården Hotell, Rysstad
Three star rating
  • Selbusjøen Hotell & Gjestegård, Selbu
  • Farsund Fjordhotell, Farsund
  • Hafjell Hotell, Øyer
  • Almås Hotell, Stord
The benefit for the domestic or international traveler depends on whether the industry and authorities creates a system in close cooperation with the hotel chains and individual hotels, and decide that the new classification to be compulsory for all hotels. This system should take into account other factors as well as the those you may quantify. If some hotels choose to join, but the large chains decide not to, the classification will loose much of its value.

En joy Food & Travel will keep you posted.