Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Red Sea diving adventure




















By guest writer Lena Holmstrøm

An anonymous brown envelope arrived in the mail. Padded brown envelope with no clues as to who sent it or the contents inside. Just my name and address in printed letters and a few stamps. As I ripped it open a CD fell out and I found a letter beginning with "Dear diving buddy,"... Suddenly a fresh breeze caught my hair, the smell of salt water filled my nostrils and a large smile appeared on my face.


One week of warm Egyptian sunshine, in clear blue waters, surrounded by beautiful fish, enjoying good food, entertaining companions and maybe an encounter with a rude turtle. Yes, in retrospect, I definitely found the turtle rude, being male of course. It made its way across my swimming path, sizing me up, then continued on his planned course, whether I was in the way or not (the picture has no relation to the rude turtle in question).

On board around the clock


So, what’s a live aboard? You - live - on board - a boat, where you are diving, relaxing and are served meals four times a day. Well, only three meals actually (if you're careful about details or hungry...).

The fourth is a snack or afternoon tea. Nothing like the British colonial style tea that leaves you full for the better part of a day, rather a few tiny bags of crisps and brightly colored Egyptian cookies, the latter packed with additives, artificial coloring and synthetic taste.

Apart from the snack, living on board gives you the ultimate diving experience. Equal to a five course meal with good wines served at an excellent restaurant. And yes, as the restaurant, it will cost you an arm and a leg, but by God it's worth it!

Dive briefing


On board, a bell will sound four times a day for a "dive briefing". Don't be late, if you want to avoid one whole week of friendly harassment. Be on time- hardly easy when the guide reschedules the briefing 30 minutes ahead of time with no prior notice.

Briefing is one of the essential parts of diving. Where to go, what to see and how to do it - basically getting to know the waters. You may miss out on a possible frog fish because you didn't pay attention, and that is simply stupid. In worst case the lack of attention may be lethal if you didn't grasp important facts as currents, planned course, depth and possible dangers.

Time to hit the water

Time to hit the water? No, you'll need some equipment. When diving from a boat your equipment is firmly placed in one spot, usually in a plastic crate (being tidy with your equipment and not leaving it lying around is a must). On this particular boat you never had to change air tanks, as the air was filled in the tanks in between diving sessions.

This is essential; because it means you put your BCD (the "life vest") on the tank only once, never taking it off for a full week. Very efficient! Any project manager would be proud of the logistics.

Some diving gear experiences

Before we move on, let us talk about renting diving equipment. There's only one thing to say about this - bring your own gear.

I have been to Egypt on diving trips four times, but do I follow my own advice? No. Gradually I have built up my own diving gear, though, after some quite funny experiences. In retrospect those are:

Fins and boots: Once I was given fins meant for kids and calm waters. That would not have been a problem normally, but I had an interesting experience while diving with these fins: The current was so strong one dive that some of the divers had to crawl along the bottom to getback to the boat. (you do not dive against the current normally, it simply appeared from the wrong direction that day...). The barracuda was nice though, as it studied us as we flew by before we could turn back.

Dive computer: Get a good and modern dive computer. This is just a sharp remark to my partner Christian who ended up in a pressure chamber in Bergen a few years before we met, and that is nothing to be funny about.

Regulator and BCD: My new investments may include a regulator (the thing you breath in) and perhaps a BCD. This as the high pressure hose on the regulator broke just before a dive, due to faulty or no maintenance. This usually doesn't happen under water but just after you put the air on before you hit the water. If it should happen under water you will suddenly hear a large pop behind your head and the water will start to boil with air bubbles. A part from the fact that the air disappears quite quickly, you need the calculating calm nerves of a airplane pilot during a Hudson river crash to calmly look around for your buddy, swim over, taking his octopussy (here; not James Bond, but the reserve regulator), cutting the air in the now almost empty free flowing tank (to avoid rust, like I care!), and calmly make your way to the surface, hopefully not too far from the boat. Diving may be a risky business!

Another argument for having your own regulator is the fact that most diving centers will do almost anything to make you pay extra for alleged damages to the equipment. My most expensive experience being a broken mouthpiece (the thing you put in your mouth). This is a piece of silicone that is easily broken by divers if you bite too hard. In reality half of the times the mouthpiece is already broken when you get it.

If you think it's no big deal because it was broken from the start and the mouthpiece is not very expensive you could not be more mistaken. When the equipment is turned in, it is suddenly scrutinized down to the molecular level and the diving centre will charge you an appalling sum of money for something that might cost only a few euro. And if that wasn't enough, they will often be quite rude if you claim it was broken from the start.

Jumping in

Finally it is time to hit the water! Your equipment is on, the buddy check is in order and you jump in - straight over the dive site. Great!! No transportation, no long distances to swim against the waves on the surface, just straight over the point.

On and off you are transported a short distance in a dingy to the dive site, but these trips are often quite short. The most ridiculous drop being just a few feet away from the boat. From where we were, we could actually see the wreck on the bottom but the guide seriously put his head in the water to locate the exact position.

This could have been a real Kodak moment.

Heaven is under water

Are you one of those that look up to the skies to see heaven? Let me tell you a little secret; heaven is under water. What will you find when submerged? Large schools of brightly colored fish all around you, fantastic visibility, beautiful corals and if you're really lucky a rude turtle. If you're even luckier you might see dolphins.

My personal favorite though are underwater slugs with tinted patters as if decorated by Miró. Parrot fish are the hooligans of the reefs, brutally (and loudly!) crushing corals with their strong jaws while the rest of us do our best to even avoid touching the vegetation... Crocodile fish lying on the bottom trying to avoid being seen, three meter long moray eels swimming by, looking annoyed at the commotion, triggerfish banging their heads into anything that might hide something edible and loads of sharks. Haha, just kidding! I have never seen a shark and frankly I never want to. To see sharks I recommend Animal Planet.

Good grub for divers

You are served good food on board. Rice or pasta, two types of hot vegetables, one salad, and either fish or meat, bread and often tsatsiki (cacik). It's usually the same food for lunch and dinner, but at dinnertime they add soup and a dessert.

Don't be concerned by the chicken, it is deep fried and safe to eat. The fresh vegetables look tantalizingly good but are probably rinsed in the same water you avoid brushing your teeth in, and may cause infections.

At breakfast you are served bread, yogurt, pancakes, eggs, cheese and a meat product you're supposed to put on bread. I have to admit that I'm not adventurous enough to try this meat product.

And remember to drink lots of water, even though the still bottled water is lame and plastic. Dehydration may cause problems anywhere, especially while diving, add a hot summer holiday and you're in serious trouble.

Some added bonuses

Spending one whole week with people just as crazy about diving as you are is absolutely fantastic. When I came back from my first diving adventure I described it as meditation.

You live, eat, breathe diving for a full week and clear your head completely of your everyday life leaving you almost newborn when you return. On this picture everybody is trying to take the best shot of the Egyptian sunset. Isn't it strange that people all over the world are crazy about sunsets and that we always look just as silly trying to catch the moment.

Then a little tummy talk, here; whether you haven't been to the loo for a week or whether you run to it every ten minutes. Being on holiday my friends and I have a common understanding about the need of digestive health - we talk about it. This means describing everything from consistency to color using figurative "work-arounds".

By now you're either disgusted to the point of nausea or laughing out loud - depending on whether you're with us or against us. But frankly you cannot address the subject too often, because catching a serious stomach flu may ruin your holiday. So what can you do about to prevent digestive problems?

There are pills available packed with billions of lacto bacteria, recommended for those of you leaving for exotic destinations. I have, however, yet to find any medication who will help apart from giving you a funny stomach before you even leave for the airport. So be prepared, for any circumstance! I do not go anywhere without a large bag of prunes and diarrhea tablets.

And while at the chemists - do remember to buy pills for sea sickness that also tackle nausea. But first and foremost do clean your hands regularly or clean them with wet wipes, use disinfectant and never put your fingers in your mouth. This sounds almost like teaching a child good manners, but not putting your fingers in your mouth is actually difficult to remember - how do you eat bread with a knife and fork?

Post scriptum

This picture shows my partner Christian when he was going to brush his teeth. In doing so he announced "I´m keeping it open while I´m in here!" It, being the bathroom window and open to relieve us from the humidity in the cabin. A moment later a large wave rolled in through the window, leaving him soaked from head to toe. Now why do I enjoy this moment of my boyfriends discomfort? Well, I had recently closed the window because of the waves.... Anyone thinking they can stop the force of the Red Sea by just looking will prove to be wrong.

Lena Holmström is Swedish and has lived in Oslo for over 11 years. She is currently working at the Norwegian cancer registry as a project manager. She moved to Norway with her two friends after finishing nursing school and none of them has seen the need of moving back over the border yet. She is a bit sadistic with her boyfriend's discomfort...but what a Kodak moment that was!!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Holworthy Hall - Harvard college anno 1812

When walking around Harvard University area, you are struck by the amount of early American architectural history in one place. I decided to write on some of the buildings on the campus built during three centuries.

One building from the 19th century is Holworthy Hall, enclosing Harvard Yard. Here is a short story found on a memorial plaque on the house.

HOLWORTHY HALL BUILT WITH THE PROCEEDS OF A STATE LOTTERY 1812
NAMED IN HONOR OF AN ENGLISH MERCHANT
SIR MATTHEW HOLWORTHY WHO IN 1681 GAVE 1000 POUNDS THE LARGEST GIFT RECEIVED BY HARVARD COLLEGE DURING THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

Holworthy Hall is a large red brick building still used as a dormitory for first year students at Harvard College. It has a superb location close to Harvard Square and is surrounded by large trees and green lawns.

Holworthy Hall has been the home of several famous Americans as the writer Thomas Bulfinch, the TV presenter Conan O'Brian and the billionaire Howard Hughes.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Christmas grub at Holbergstuen

(Reviewed November 23rd 2009) Holbergstuen and Wesselstuen are restaurants named after two famous Norwegian literates. Baron Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) was born in Bergen, whereas Johan Herman Wessel (1742-1985) was born in the Eastern part of Norway. These two were closely connected to Denmark as well, as Norway and Denmark in their time were in a political union. This connection to two cultures are reflected in the interior of both restaurants. They have a distinct Danish atmosphere, and these two restaurants are one of very few places where you get decent Danish open sandwiches.

Location: BBBB+

Holbergstuen is located at Torgallmenningen, Bergens main square, a large beautiful open space marking the centre of Bergen.

Here there are no needs for buses or any other public transportation. A perfect place for those depending on their legs to get to and from the restaurant.

Service: BB

We arrived as the restaurant opened. We discovered that they were under staffed as several had declared ill. This did affect the service seriously. The waiter was nice, but that did not help much. We waited for a very long time for our food to be served.

When arriving at the table, the food was terrific and normally this would mean full score. In this case I choose to uphold my low score for service, as the long waiting time is the result of staff, rather than the preparation time of the food.

Interior & atmosphere: BBBBB-

The interior reflects that this is a restaurant with a Danish character. Dark and rustic are keywords. Here you find baroque style chairs with embroidered seats. Large brown beams and panels, leaded windows. You feel you are brought back to the times of the poet himself, to an old Danish tavern.

The tables have bright white table cloths - a strong contrast to the dark mysterious interior. Holbergstuen has a beautiful interior that enhance the culinary experience.

Food: BBBBB

We ordered a traditional Juletallerken - a Christmas plate - pork rib with crackling, Vossakorv - sausage from Voss, potatoes, red cabbage sauerkraut, and thick brown gravy.

Beautifully presented - a stilleben of sausage on the side, a large heap of brilliantly ruby coloured cabbage with a decent piece of rib on the top, resting in a puddle of light brown gravy.

Texture was perfect. Potatoes firm, but cooked through, sauerkraut with a good crunch, deliciously tender pork rib with crispy crackling my mother would have approved of.

Good balance of tastes, sweet and sour cabbage, balanced by a well seasoned sausage and the most remarkable sauce. It had the distinct flavours of Christmas spices, you could nearly taste a piece of gingerbread. Still, it did not taste of pudding, as the spices enhanced all the other aromas.

This was the ultimate Christmas plate, and if you visit Holbergstuen in November, as we did, see if they have this dish on the menu. If so, you are recommended to try it.

Beverage: BBBBB

And what better to drink than a pint of cold local brew, the Hansa beer and one shot of akvavit. We chose a glass of Gammel Opland, one of the many delicious varieties of this spirit based on potatoes and spices. The beer was icing cold, fresh and was with the akvavit the perfect choice of the traditional Christmas dish.

Rating the Holbergstuen experience: BBBB+ (4,24 points)

A great place for a bite of traditional food in a rustic interior. in downtown Bergen. Extraordinarily delicious Christmas plate highly recommended by Enjoy Food & Travel. Sadly the rating could have been so much better, as the service was appallingly bad.

Address:

Holbergstuen

Address: Torgallmenningen 6, N-5014 Bergen
Phone: + 47 55 55 20 55
Fax: +47 55 55 20 51
E-mail:post@holbergstuen.no
Website: www.holbergstuen.no

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Few culinary highlights at Playa del Ingles




















Playa del Ingles is a great place for those of you that want to enjoy sun, sand, and sea. For those of you looking for a great culinary experience, there are few culinary highlights to talk of.


Eating and drinking good food and wine is an essential part of any vacation. If traveling to Barcelona, Paris, or London you may choose from a large number of different restaurants, and you usually experience a few culinary moments that make you tick.

I expected to have a few good culinary memories from Playa del Ingles, but I ended up rather disappointed. Two memorable meals were all we got. The other restaurant served the same unadventurous food. You should expect more, on an island with fresh fish caught in abundance and vegetables are grown under the generous North African sun.

There are good restaurants everywhere, and we should have done some research, before we left. I will write my reviews here on Enjoy Food & Travel. Most of the places we ate, are hardly worth mentioning, but a few are. Here is a list of restaurants that will be reviewed here on the site.
  • Martell House Grill – traditional menu. Sole Valewska was decent, but the service was terrible
  • Red Cow – Irish / English restaurant. We should have chosen the British food, as their lasagna was nothing to talk of
  • Great World – Chinese restaurant with a four course dinner where the rice was classified as one dish (!), the rest was boring
  • Den Danske Kro – one of our highlights. Do try the Danish Open Sandwiches. They are extraordinarily good. Decent wiener schnitzel, but the béarnaise sauce was without taste
  • Sakura – Japanese restaurant. One favourite during our trip. Elegant interior, good noodle soup and duck Japanese style
  • Windsor Garden – boring pizza, boring restaurant
  • Restaurant Ola – Swiss restaurant with great service but food lacked proper seasoning
  • Cactus Eck – beachside restaurant. Great starter, pizza without taste
We also visited Puerto de Mogán and Las Palmas during our stay. At Puerto de Mogán we had a great lunch at La Lonja, and we ate traditional tapas at La Pena, located by the Canteras Beach in Las Palmas. Those meals were in a completely different league than those offered to us at Playa Del Ingles. So here is one piece of advice. Sit down for an hour at the internet before you leave to find those hidden culinary pearls.

I wish we had.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Air Berlin to open flights from Oslo to Berlin


















I love Berlin, and I am very happy to see that more airlines are to fly from Oslo to the German capital. From April 24th Air Berlin will start flying from Oslo.

Air Berlin was voted the best low cost air carrier 2009 by readers of the travel magazine Wanderlust. Air Berlin has grown to be the second largest airline after Lufthansa, and has extended it flights beyond Europe, to America and Asia. Air Berlin is one of few budget airlines that offers free food on their flights.

From April 24th the airline will open its first service from Oslo. It will fly Monday to Friday. It will leave 10.35 AM from Berlin Tegel and arrive 12.10 PM, and return 12.55 PM to arrive at Berlin Tegel 2.30 PM.

Let us hope that Air Berlin will succeed where Germanwings had to give up two years ago. They experienced very little interest for their flights from Oslo to Hamburg, Berlin and Cologne from Norwegian travellers. As Norwegian air shuttle has daily flights from Oslo including Fridays and Saturdays. The fact that Air Berlin will not fly during weekends may effect the interest from those (including me) that travel during weekend.

Sterling back to Oslo

The Danish airline went bankrupt October 2008 in the aftermath of the Icelandic financial meltdown. The remains of the airline, including the brand name, was bought by the Cimber Air.

Sterling had flights from Oslo to several European destinations. Much of this network was taken over by Norwegian Air Shuttle after the bankrupcy.

From March 3rd Cimber Sterling will re enter the Norwegian flight market, as the company will start two daily flights from Oslo to Billund Airport. The company may, according to its Information director Signe Thorup, start flights from Oslo to Copenhagen.

I will keep you posted..... (photo: 54North)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Muren anno 1561




















Bergen is, in my opinion, the only Medieval city in Norway. As most of the buildings have been built in wood, few of them go more than 300 years, but the Medieval streets are still there, with a large number of older stone buildings. One of these is Muren, that was built by a Danish noble man 450 years ago.


You find this memorial plaque one one of its wall. It gives a short story of the building.

"MUREN erected 1581 by the "lensherre" Erik Rosenkrantz as the main building in his private manor. The vaulted gate formed the connection between the inner and outer part of the old Strandgaten. There have, from the 1600s, been small shops in the vaulted cellars, that today are the oldest shops in the city."

Erik Rosenkrantz was born 1519 at Tørning in Denmark. He was one of the descendants of the powerful noble family at Losna in Sogn. He was the kings representative in Bergen from 1560 to 1568. He resided at Bergenhus fortress, and he built, during his time the impressive Rosenkrantztårnet, a large keep.

Muren was however his private house, and you may today do your shopping in the same rooms as the citizens of the old city have done for over 300 years. Intriguing, isn't it?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

One thousand visitors a day - Thankyou, Rahway NJ!!




















I check my statistics daily. I am eager to find out how many of you that have visited Enjoy Food & Travel, and which country you live in. This is the advantage of an English blog, you are a part of the Global Village. I have had from 75-150 visitors a day, but February 6th all that changed. That day 736 visited Enjoy Food & Travel, and the following day the counter hit 1159 visits and nearly all were from Rahway, a city in New Jersey, and it did not end there.


My knowledge of IT is still so basic that I still regard this global community as an extraordinary thing. The fact that there is a server in a small city in New Jersey has sent 3900 visitors to Enjoy Food & Travel makes me curious. If any of you from Rahway would give me the source to this traffic, I would be most grateful.

And then Austin TX took over

The heavy traffic fizzled out February 9th and then February 12th heavy traffic from another, and much larger city took over. From February 12th to February 25th a server in tAstin TX has sent 3480 visitors to me. The same mystery is unsolved - why? I am still curious.

So if there is anyone in Rahway or Austin that has visited me recently, do leave a remark on my website.

Enjoy Food & Travel - read all over the world'

Until last fall, I subscribed to feedburner and was given exact location to each server. Thren I reported to you with the location on a map and with statistics. Since I changed to Google analytics, this has not been as easy. I am pleased to say that my statistics tell that more people further away are reading my stories.

In February more than 10 000 visitors (thanks to Rahway and Austin) will have visited Enjoy Food & Travel. February 21st one reader at Nuuk on Greenland browsed through my pages, and earlier I had a visitor from Afghanistan. In fact I have had visits from 97 countries and territories the last 30 days. I think that is so great.

Send me a story?

Who are you, what do you prepare for dinner, what is you favourite restaurant, and what is there to see where you live? I would love to know your story. The easiest way is to send a mail to johnsen.tor@gmiail.com, and do enclose some pictures.

I am looking forward hearing from you!!!