Saturday, September 19, 2009

The old stone buildings at Bryggen

The Hanseatic League settled in Bergen
, Norway's second largest city, already in the 14th century. Their main settlement was at Bryggen in Bergen an architectural treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although the present buildings are rebuilt after a large fire at the beginning of the 18th century, they reflect an architecture and a way of life going back to Medieval Times. Some of the buildings at Bryggen are built in stone, and they are older as they survived the large fires.

There are a few stone buildings at Bryggen, and they are located at the back . All the stately merchant's houses facing the port, were built in wood and burnt down several times during the history. The present buildings were built in the early 18th century.

Some of the back buildings were built in stone, possibly due to the fact that they were used to store values that needed to be secured better.

The origins of most of these buildings are shrouded in mystery. Some look outright Medieval as the stone building above with its Romanesque style door opening.

Other buildings are more easy to date accurately. This old sign tells the story of another of these buildings.



Over the sign you will see Arendt Meiers initials, the coat of arms of the Bergen Hansa, a dried cod fish with a crown. The second sign may be the "bumerke" a personal mark for Arendt Meier.

More on Bryggen in Bergen

Bryggen - where time stands still

More on UNESCO Heritage Sites

Read more on UNESCO heritage sites at Enjoy Food & Travel

Read more on UNESCO heritage sites on Susi's Souvenirs

Friday, September 18, 2009

Expensive Boston area hotels

I just have admit it; Boston is a high cost location, particularly if you want to find a hotel to stay in. I just checked on a few hotel booking sites what I would have to pay for a room at the evening of my arrival there in September. There were many low cost hotels - but they were far outside the downtown area.

I will arrive at 6.35 PM EST, i.e. 12.35 AM CET, in the middle of the night, European time. To go directly to a hotel for a good night's sleep before you travel on, would have been so good - but not in September 2009. It is absolutely not worth it.

There were many hotel rooms available from $80. None of them were in the downtown area, but in suburbs as Dedham, Norwood, Saugus or Revere, and you would need to have a car to get there.

Boston is an expensive city, even compared to capital cities as London or Paris. In these two capital cities you will find good downtown hotels for under $100 a night. To get a room in Boston you will have to double the price.

I just have to give up the idea of a night in Boston. For let's face it - for $200 I may get other, more awarding experiences during my journey.

I will have to find my northbound C&J Trailways bus leaving Boston Airport 8.10 PM, get my luggage on board and sit for an hour arriving at Newburyport Bus station 9.10 PM. There I will be met by my cousin and I will stay in her house for five days.

More on Lenox Hotel

On the picture above you see the sign of the prestigious Lenox Hotel, with the John Hancock Tower -Boston's tallest building, in the background. It was built in 1900 by the hotelier and impresario Lucius Boomer. When it opened, the Lenox was the tallest building in Boston. It is located in the busy Back Bay Area of Boston.

Since then, the Lenox has been an institution, and many influential people have had the hotel as a temporary Boston home.

The Saunders family took over in 1963. They have made a series of meticulous restorations and improvements including one in 2003 that earned worldwide recognition for historic preservation and design.

The Lenox has now reinvented itself as a luxury Boutique Hotel. If I had chosen the Lenox as my home for the night from September 17th to September 18th I would have had to pay from §245 for a Classic Room with a King or Queen sized bed up to §2000 for a Back Bay Suite, i,e. two room suite with 42 flat screen- surround-sound- airbath . Wouldn't that have been fun?

See hotel website here

And here is a taste of Lenox from Youtube.

More on Boston hotels

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grill Martell House - lukewarm and kitch

Grill Martell House was more or less representative of the restaurants found on the Yumbo centre at Playa del Ingles. That, and the fact that the food was served luke warm, made this a culinary experience I would not recommend to a serious foodie. The sad thing, though, is that there are so few good alternatives.

Location: BBB+

Grill Martell House is located on one of the levels of the Yumbo centre, one of quite a few shopping centres catering to the crowd of tourists that visit the Canary Islands to enjoy the pleasant climate through the year.

The only good thing with the Yumbo is that it is easy to get there, the bad thing is that it is sadly uncharming, especially if you go to one of the restaurants further down on its levels.

Service: BBBB-

You know what to order as there are no lack of menus on English, German or French here. The service itself is normal in this overcrowded tourist machine – OK! You did not have to wait long to get your food, but there are no local charm shown to the guests.

Interior and atmosphere: BBB-

I would call the Grill Martell House interior (if you could call the terrace we sat on that) kitchy. A large number of posters on the wall showing what food to expect when ordering. A large number of slightly uncomfortable tables and chairs very close to each other. One large slab of marble in the shape of a fountain looked sadly misplaced as it stood close to our table.

Food: BBBB

I ordered Sole Walewska – a dish that would suit any Polish Countess. This dish from the old world would, if properly served, be made from a number of expensive ingredients.

The main ingredient is supposed to be poached fillet of sole with crayfish or even better, lobster, garnished with black truffle, glazed with a cream & cheese Sauce (with sherry or Cognac) and mashed potatoes.

I had a good feelings that the truffles would be missing at Grill Martell House, considering the price and lack of ambiance.

I was pleasantly surprised when it was served. It looked decent, and when I tucked into it, I found fish was well prepared, sauce and mashed potatoes creamy and smooth, and prawns perfectly cooked. I had no idea when it had been cooked as the mashed potatoes was nearly cold and the sauce was not properly heated. But the Sole Walewska was not the worst meal to order, I suspect.

Wine - Vina Sol 2007: BBBB

This wine is produced by the major producer Miguel Torres. It is made entirely from Parellada grapes and is recommended to fish, seafood and poultry.

It had a fresh yellow colour, a pleasant fruity flavor with pear, apple aromas and a hint of grass. It was served freezing cold and was a good choice to the fish.

Rating the Grill Martell House experience: BBB+ (3,59 points)

Hardly a place that would please the noblesse, or ordinary food lovers, for that matter. The only decent thing was the food, and it would have been even better if it had been warm.


Grill Martell House
35100 Playa del Ingles, Grand Canary, Spain
Phone: +34 928 76 77 93

Other restaurants at Playa del Ingles

More stories from Gran Canaria

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Swiss croissants - breakfast for champions

I love croissants for breakfast. Crispy puff pastry with or without filling. Most often you buy croissants filled with chocolate. My favourite variety is Swiss croissants with Dijon mustard, ham and cheese. I made them for breakfast July 18th, a sunny summer morning.

If you are really brave, you can make your own puff pastry. As a lazy cook, I buy mine, frozen or fresh. I had a packet of freshly prepared croissants from Sarah Lee.

In the US they have different pastries produced in the same way as the one from Sarah Lee. Here you can get cookies, French bread, cinnamon rolls, or even biscuits squeezed into a soft can. The best known brand for this range of products is the Pillsbury Company.

They are so easy to use. Pop open the can, roll out the dough and cut along the perforated lines and you've got six croissants. You can bake them there and then, but I love to make my own twist to it. Here is one. As this way of preparing the pastry has a definite Cordon Bleu feel to it, I have called it Swiss Croissants.

Swiss croissants (serves three)

You'll need
1 package croissants (makes 6)
Dijon mustard
6 slices ham
grated cheese
1 beaten egg

Open the package of croissants, divide the croissants. Place triangles on a greased baking tray.

Add on a good portion of Dijon mustard, cheese and one slice of boiled ham on the pastry., then roll into the characteristic Croissant shape.

Brush croissants with beaten eggs. Add more cheese on top (optional).

Bake in a medium hot oven (200C / 400F) for 20-25 minutes until the croissants is golden. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 14, 2009

36 hours in Oslo with New York Times

New York Times has recently visited the Norwegian capital, and made their own 36-hour tourist trail through the city. They remarked on Oslo as a high cost destination. High costs should not be a surprise for journalists located in the Big Apple. You may have to pay double price for hotel accommodation in NYC compared to Oslo, and I have bought beer and wine on Manhattan as expensive as anywhere in the Norwegian capital. Let's face it - it is with NYC as Oslo, you have to know where to go - and I certainly think New York Times visited a few very expensive tourist traps on their way.

They had to admit, that Oslo, after all, had much to offer the tourist, and recommended a path through the city. As a citizen of this rather provincial capital, I saw their recommendations and I asked myself whether I would have followed in their path if I had two days in Oslo. If I had a solid bank balance, I might, but there are so many places to visit that would be as nice, and would cost far less than the NY Times' recommendation.

1. Would I visit The Royal Palace? I would!

In my mind the view to yellow empire-style palace at the end of Karl Johansgate, Oslos parade street, is one of the most beautiful I know.

I honestly did not know that The Royal Palace was open to public, and I have never had a visit to this prominent building. I am very happy that New York Times told me that we could see the interior of this great sight.

The Royal Palace in Oslo was built in the middle of the 19th century as the residence for the Swedish king, that remained head of state until the union of the two countries was dissolved in 1905. Now it is the main residence of King Harald V and Queen Sonja.

If it is not open when you visit, you are strongly recommended to watch the change of the guards and then take a stroll in the beautiful Palace gardens.

2. Would I take a drink at Kafé Onkel Donald? I would not!

Kafé Onkel Donald is a trendy downtown café catering for the young, trendy crowd. You find will places like this everywhere.

Where would I go? I would recommend Summit 21 Bar on top of the Radisson SAS Scandinavia Hotel. From here you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city in a relaxed atmosphere. If you would like to head for a place with atmosphere, book a table at Lorry an old artistic tavern with a great atmosphere, and an impressive selection of beer.

3. Would I use NOK 1600 on seafood at Solsiden? I would not!

What a ridiculous sum of money to use on seafood! Do as the locals do - indulge in fresh prawns and sip to a glass of white wine or a pint of beer.

Order a bowl of fresh prawns or an open sandwich at Herbern on Aker Brygge instead. From here you will get the view to the Medieval fortress and even better; you would spend 1/2 to a 1/3 of what you would use at Solsiden.

4. Would I visit the new Opera House? I most certainly would!!

The white marble coating the new Opera house makes it look like an ice berg as it makes up a part of the planned new water front of the Norwegian capital.

The new Opera House is designed by the Snøhetta team and is a architectural marvel in Carrara marble, glass, and wood.

You can walk along the water or climb up on the top to admire a magnificent view of Oslo. Inside the lobby you will find an elegant bar / restaurant where you may take a drink while being there and give you time to study the elegant interior.

See story on Oslo's new opera house here

5. Would I pay NOK 230 for a guided tour on the fjord? Nope!

The Oslo Fjord has a great number of small islands easily accessible by boat during summer. The NY Times chose to take a guided tour and paid NOK 230 per person.

If you buy a day pass (NOK 60 / $10) or a week pass (NOK 200 / $35) at Oslo public transportation service, you will not only able to access all public transportation within the city, but also get access to the number of ferries taking tourists out to the many small or larger islands in the Oslo Fjord.

Bring you swimming gear, and jump on a boat to the beautiful Hovedøya Island. Here you can go for a swim and admire the ruins of the old Cistercian Monastery founded by British friars 900 years ago. Beware of wood ticks though!!

6. Would I eat seafood at Lofoten Fiskerestaurant? Maybe!

A restaurant visit to the more exclusive fish restaurant at the upscale Aker Brygge area may end up a costly affair. It once used to be a wharf, now you find bars and restaurants in any categories, from McDonalds to TGI Friday's to exclusive eateries. Aker Brygge is worth a visit, but there are places to enjoy a good dinner elsewhere. Try Dagens Fisk (Fish of the Day) at Lompa, located on Oslo's East End. It will cost you less than $30 and it tastes great.

7. Would I visit the flat of Henrik Ibsen? I certainly would!

No Norwegian is more famous abroad than Henrik Ibsen. This 19th century playwright shook the establishment with shocking contemporary dramas. The flat where he and his wife Suzannah lived from 1895 to 1906 has been converted to a museum, with the poets furniture set in a contemporary interior. I am ashamed to say that I have not visited this sight yet.

See story on the grave of Henrik Ibsen here

Read story on Imperial Tramontano where Ibsen wrote his famous play ghosts

8. Would I try the reindeer at Engebret Café? I most certainly would!

Engebret Café is one of Oslo's oldest restaurant. It has been in business for over 150 years, and is located close to Akershus, Oslo's medieval fortress. I have had an exquisite dinner here, in a charming old interior in a 200 year old house. The old world does not come cheap, though. Café Engebret charge you a good sum to dine here.

9. Would I take a night cap at Aker Brygge? Maybe?

I recommended Aker Brygge to indulge in tasty Norwegian prawns. If you want to enjoy a night cap why not try one of the courtyards of old Oslo. Café Celsius has an outdoor serving in the yards of Rådmannsgården, an old building from 1626. Another place for a romantic drink is Stortorvets Gjestgiveri, a 18th century inn at Stortorvet. Or you could go to Oslo's East End to sit in the backyard of Asylet (the Asylumn), an 18th century building with a long and intriguing history.

See story on old and new taverns of Oslo here

10. Would I see the artworks of Edvard Munch and other Norwegian artists? I certainly would!

Edvard Munch is famous for his dramatic art, and some of his artworks are on display in the National Gallery, but most can be admired at the Munch museum at Tøyen, on Oslo's East End. You are also advised to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Astrup Fearnley Museum.

See story on Edvard Munch's childhood home here on Enjoy Food & Travel

11. Would I see the Vigeland Sculptural Park? I think it is a tourist trap!

Everyone that visit me from abroad have to see the Vigeland Sculpture Park. I personally find that the megalithic vision by this Norwegian sculptor reflect the "Zeites geist" of a time to be forgotten, a time of Stalinism and Fascism. But I just have to accept that I am hopelessly out of touch with the reality, as most tourists find it irresistible.

See story on Vigeland Sculpture Park on Enjoy Food & Travel

Some remarks on the NY Times Basics

How to get to Oslo from the US

Non-stop flights from Oslo to the US are operated by Continental (Newark - all year), or US Airways (Philadelphia - seasonal, stops October).

I personally prefer Icelandair's service (From JFK to Oslo, over Reykjavik).

See why I like this way of traveling to the US

Traveling from Oslo Airport to downtown Oslo

Taxi will cost you a fortune. The airport express train is very convenient but pricey, and runs up to six times per hour. You may take an ordinary train service from the airport and pay close to half the price. Another inexpensive alternative is the shuttle bus.

See more on Oslo Airport here

Accommodation in Oslo

The New York Times recommended two hotels. First Grims Grenka was nominated as one of the top designer hotels last year. With prices starting at around USD 270 you will enjoy a sleak interior and trendy people.

The newspaper’s second choice, Thon Hotel Opera, has a prime location by the Oslo Central Station and the new operahouse, and has lower prices. For those of you on a lower budget, there are cheaper alternatives.

At Bed and Breakfast Frogner, a small B&B with a prime location, you will get single rooms from NOK 695 and double from NOK 895. This intimate little hotel has a prime location on the affluent west end close to the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

At the inexpensive Cochs Pensjonat you can get a room at even lower prices, starting at NOK 460 for a single and NOK 660 for a double room. These budget rooms have no TV and has bathroom and shower in the corridor. The best rooms start at NOK 610 for a single with refrigerator, water kettle, shower and TV. The price of a double room in this category is NOK 820. Cochs Pensjonat is located in the trendy Homansbyen area, close to the Royal Palace.

You can see more on their prices and online booking here.

On the story 36 hours in Oslo

See full story in New York Times here

View NY Times Oslo tour with alternatives in a larger map

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New non-stop flight Oslo - Arbil, Iraq

Do you want a flight to a place off the beaten tracks? Then you will be able to flight non-stop Oslo to Arbil, the capital of Northern Iraq, from September 16th 2009. For those of you that would consider this as a possible destination, I may warn you that Iraqi Kurdistan is still considered to be an area to be avoided. This according to the travel advise to tourists issued by the Norwegian foreign office.

It is the Swedish air carrier MCA Airlines that will have one weekly flight from Oslo to Arbil, with a stop at Landvetter international airport in Göteborg. Along with one or two adventurous Scandinavians, the main group of travelers will be the large group of Kurdish nationals that has settled in Scandinavia. There are also an increasing number of business travels from Scandinavia to Iraq.

Arbil is the third largest city in Iraq, and is an ancient city with an impressive city wall and old historic buildings. It looks like an intriguing place to travel to in more peaceful times.

The flight will take around six hours, including the stop at Landvetter. You will be served a hot meal on your way with beverage. You are allowed to bring 30 kilos of luggage.

(Photo: New Arbil Airport c/o Koosar)

New service from Enjoy Food & Travel

View International non-stop flights from Oslo Airport - status August 2009 in a larger map

On special maps you find non-stop flights operating from Europe to the largest Norwegian airports. Here you have non-stop flights from Oslo Airport to destinations in Europe, Middle East, Asia and the United States.

On these maps you will find markers that display status on different non-stop flights to Norway. A red marker means that flights is seasonal and not in operation or that an earlier non-stop flight has been canceled. A green marker shows that there is a new non-stop flight planned to this destination. A yellow marker means that there a seasonal flight still operating to this airport. An airplane button means that service is in operation all year around from one European destination to Oslo international airport.

Non-stop maps now available for following airports: