Memories of Stavanger

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In 2006, one month after we got married, we moved to Norway (because one major life event in 4 weeks just wasn’t enough). We had never been to Norway before, but there we were with 4 suitcases and 2 new rings on our fingers. We arrived on a grey, rainy day in Stavanger, a small city on the Southwest coast.

Tall ship Stavanger

Three years later we left Stavanger with a toddler, a few more suitcases, and a deep love in our hearts for the city. It was truly a gift to live there for those few years.

I often think of Stavanger with a mixture of fondness and melancholy. I feel a strange heartache to think that it is all still there – our house, our street, our supermarket, the forest, the harbour – but I am not. Bizarrely, it seems to me that places that are dear to you should really freeze when you leave. It should all just pause and be preserved for when you return. I struggle to think that a city that holds such a place in my heart doesn’t hold me in the same regard; my absence doesn’t even register as a bit of a frown on the face of Stavanger. Gasp!

Harbour

This is crazy, I know. But not that crazy, right? Do you have places that you hope are just holding steady until your return?

Oh, but of course Stavanger is ticking along, as it should. And I will keep on loving it from afar.

There is so much to love: the cobbled streets of downtown that rose steeply from the harbour to the watch tower on the hill, the small tranquil harbour that somehow held enormous looming cruise ships, Gamle Stavanger (“Old Stavanger”) with its white wooden houses and cheerful flowers tumbling out of window boxes, the beautiful shops that adhered to the Scandinavian sensibility of effortless style, simplicity, and practicality with a quirky dose of fun.

Gamle Stavanger

Stavanger sign

Gamle Stavanger 2

Queen Mary cruise

Stavanger

I think about the Norwegian people who were fit and always so fresh-faced, who celebrated their national day by wearing traditional outfits called bunader, who valued family over work so much so that people would unflinchingly walk out of meetings simply because it was time to collect their child from school, who never balked at any weather but used every opportunity to get outside, who believed in the power of fresh air and would bundle up babies to nap outside in their prams.

People like our neighbours with their well-intentioned but unsolicited advice on everything from barbecuing to lawn maintenance, our Norwegian language teacher with her valiant effort to get us to say “Bare hyggelig” or “Jeg må gå nå” (any guesses?), or our midwives who proudly praised our choice of a Norwegian name for our baby.

May 17 Bunader

I picture the harbour where they held an annual food and wine festival called Glad Mat (“Happy Food”) at the height of summer that resulted in some of the best eating ever. There were vendors cooking over open fires, there were vintage boats serving cocktails, there was the French guy selling perfect creme brûlée in individual earthenware dishes, there was music and bunting, and the sky stayed light late into the night allowing everyone more precious time to taste and sip and be together.

Glad Mat

Creme brûlée

I remember the hills across the water just begging to be hiked on a sunny Saturday, beautiful trails through forests smelling of pine needles, clear pools of glacial water in the mountains and the way your feet ached as they soaked in the freezing water, the wild blueberries growing low and dense on the side of a hill.

Manafossen

Blueberries

I can still taste the Norwegian strawberries, too, so small, so sweet; the Skolebrød (“School bread”) – ubiquitous buns with a custard filling and a coconut topping; heart-shaped waffles with the heady fragrance of cardamom; the traditional, yet off-putting brown cheese that I happily and hungrily devoured in the hospital with my newly born baby girl swaddled next to me.

Boat house

I think of our cozy, but quirky house with its blue (!) toilets and wood-paneled walls. We had a backyard that was bordered by a beautiful forest and deer would visit regularly, usually to devour my tulips that had just emerged after a long, dark winter.  I also can’t help thinking of when I was accidentally locked out of the house in a torrential downpour by our 15 month old child. Hearing that bolt click closed was not a good moment.

Deer in yard

I remember winter days when the rain would come down in an endless drizzle and the sky would darken at 4:00 p.m, and I remember the lovely summer days when people would go to the beach in droves with their disposable one-use grills, and everyone would swim in the cold water until someone spotted a jelly fish and the kids shrieked. I also remember the poor boy who was stung by a jelly fish, and how his father propped him on the handlebars of his bike and cycled away to retrieve vinegar with his son screaming the whole way. Don’t worry – they were back 30 minutes later. You cannot waste a summer day in Norway!

Winter Hinna Beach

Coast

There is so much more about Stavanger that parades through my thoughts now and again from my favourite salad at Cafe Deja Vu to the resident swans at the pond behind the cathedral to the glass blower’s workshop to the funny shower curtains that were used to close off the alcohol sections at the supermarket after a certain time of day.

What an endearing, pristine place. If you have the chance, do go. As for me, I will remember it all with a smile on my face and hope one day that I can pick up where Stavanger and I left off all those years ago.

Winter Sola Beach

 

On churros and planking

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After Friday’s post I had the words eat, move, and learn on my mind over the weekend. How about you? Anything of note? Even just eating a bag of Doritos that you didn’t have to share? Or learning that platform sneakers don’t work on anyone? Do tell!

Good food is always part of my weekends and this one was no different. We went for Spanish tapas in Ipanema on Friday night, which is a bigger deal than it sounds like. First of all, international food beyond pasta or sushi is slightly difficult to track down in Rio, so I was positively gleeful to be going out for tapas especially to a place crowded with tiny tables and with legs of jamón hanging from the rafters. When the waiter offered me sangria as well, I felt perfectly transported to a softly lit table in Seville.

Venga restaurant

Behold the grainy greatness of iPhone photos!

Now, the fact that this restaurant was in Ipanema is of greater significance than you probably imagine. To get there from our neighbourhood we needed to take a taxi through the tunnels….the tunnels are like mythical routes through to the buzzing, attractive, shiny nightlife on the other side of the hills. No longer is it flip-flops in the food court of the mall; through the tunnels means higher heels, smaller purse, and an extra coat of mascara. Big time, people.

Ipanema

If I make it B&W, does that improve the phone photo? Um, no.

And it was worth it. The highlights were patatas bravas – golden cubes of potato drizzled with equal parts deeply spicy tomato sauce and cooling garlic aioli, coca – a crispy flatbread with wilted spinach and goat’s cheese, and churros con chocolate - lengths of fried dough dusted with sugar and cinnamon, then dipped into thick melted chocolate. See? Going through the tunnels has big rewards.

All that eating required a bit of counterbalance in the shape of hiking up a mountain. On Sunday we walked up Pedra Bonita (literally “Beautiful Rock”), one of many rocky outcrops that seem to bully the city towards the ocean.

Pedra Bonita signPedra Bonita is known for the hang gliders and paragliders who launch themselves off of it and drift down towards the beach. We weren’t insane, however, we were just looking for some exercise, so we followed the path up past the launch area.

Parachute

Hang glider

The trail climbed gently but steadily through the forest of bamboo and palms. Vines hung like thick ropes and twisted themselves around tree branches. A tiny monkey leapt around the canopy above us.

Bamboo

At the top, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view across the other hills to the Christ statue, along the coast with crescents of white sand, and out to the blue expanse of sea.

Pedra Bonita 1

View of Barra

We were also treated to a fascinating spectacle of people taking “selfies” (is it funny to anyone else that my auto-correct wants to change that to “selfish”). As far as I could tell the recipe for Pedra Bonita selfie success is hair swept over one shoulder while wearing an exercise leotard and planking. Huh.

Therein was my learning moment of the weekend – not about how to pose – but in how to just sit on the rocks that were warmed by the sun, how to hold two sweaty little hands because this Mama was nervous about the terrifying drop, how to squint at the view below and try to find our rooftop, how to gaze up at the birds rising in the thermals, how to feel the satisfaction of the climb in my legs….

Pedra Bonita 3

Of course I took photos (that view was begging to be captured in some way), but as I walked back down with my little family I felt strongly that the loveliest moments of my day didn’t happen through a view finder and didn’t have a hashtag attached to them.

Pedra Bonita 2

 

Eat, Move, Learn

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And suddenly it’s Friday. I swear I must be semi-conscious for periods of time. That is the only reasonable explanation as to how I blink on Sunday night and when my eyes open it is Friday morning.

To slow down a bit I have been gazing at these photos of our local beach in Rio de Janeiro. Normally, on a hot day it is a throng of bodies, bikinis, red umbrellas, ice cream vendors, and shrieking children. On this slightly overcast and windy day it was one long stretch of emptiness, quiet, and bottle green seas. I really prefer it that way. There is something lovely and bracing about the wind buffeting you, making you squint and grab at your hair, leaving salt on your cheeks and leaving your mind somehow clear.

Winter beach 1

Winter beach 5

Winter beach 4

Winter beach 3

Then there are these three 1-minute films that are simply delightful: Eat, Move, and Learn. Watch them if you have 3 minutes to spare while you wait for the kettle to boil or if you enjoy precision editing in films or if you love exotic food…or if you like to watch a cute guy walk towards you. To each his own.

 

How will you eat, move, and learn this weekend, my friends? Enjoy it all and see you on Monday! xx

“Better days are coming.

They are called Saturday and Sunday.”

~Author Unknown

Time to rethink Colombia

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Quick! What pops into your head when I say “Colombia”?

Valley Col

Okay, now try to think of something else about Colombia besides coffee and, you know, drug cartels…. Stumped? So was I until I visited Colombia, and holy moly, if that isn’t the most misrepresented country in South America!

For starters, Colombia has some scenery that will knock your poncho off: pale green pineapple fields, rows of banana trees propped up with bamboo poles, towering cacti, and rivers meandering through lush valleys. Add to that some killer empanadas and local people who never hesitate with a smile, and you have yourself a surprisingly great place for a holiday.

Evening sun

Pineapple fields

Bananas

We traveled with friends, one of whom is Colombian, and that no doubt helped us get the very best first impression of the country. During our two week stay, we spent one week in the coffee zone – a 9.5 hour (ahem!) drive west from Bogota. (Around 5.5 hours, the alternative of air travel starts to look real good.)

Banana trees

But, get this, it is worth the journey! The route took us up and over mountains, through eucalyptus forests, past tiny homes clinging to the steep hillsides, and under palm leaves the size of surfboards. We stopped often to stretch little legs (and big legs!) and, more importantly, to drink coffee, fresh juices, and nibble on hot empanadas sprinkled with a squeeze of lime. Roadside vendors often looked like little more than a shack with a couple of plastic chairs in the dust out front, but they cranked out some awesome food. You just can’t over think it.

Ponchos

Ponchos hanging from the rafters of a cafe.

Juices Col

We ate lunch at one of these dubious looking establishments where the “chef” was tending to various cuts of meat over a roaring fire, stopping occasionally to wield an axe and chop more firewood. Fresh lemonade blissfully quenched our thirst as we sat sweating next to the fire, waiting for our meal. When it came, we tucked into tender pieces of salty meat with floury yucca (a starchy tuber also known as cassava) and creamy crescents of avocado on the side. Much better than any boxed sandwich I would normally grab from a petrol station on the highway.

Roadside meat

We stayed at a farm up on a hill in one of the valleys. At the bottom of the hill was a wide, shallow river and groves of tall bamboo. Peacocks wandered around the farm’s property, rattling their tail feathers at each other (and being startlingly loud at inconvenient hours, truth be told).

River valley

Farm face

Ants

Hardworking leaf cutter ants.

Col cafe

Our days started with coffee and arepas which are addictively delicious corn pancakes. They are fried until golden and eaten with butter, salt, and chili sauce. You can add an egg, avocado, cheese, or even crispy fried plantain on top, but I liked mine simple and spicy.

We explored the local area during the days with trips to coffee plantations, petting zoos, and even a coffee theme park. It was fascinating, but the times that secured Colombia a place in our hearts were the evenings at the farm with a barbecue, bottles of wine, sleepy children, three languages around the table, and frogs starting their nighttime chorus.

Sunset2

Sunset1

 

“It’s ludicrous this place exists

and everybody doesn’t want to live here.” 

-Anthony Bourdain on Colombia

 

Last of the Summer Flowers

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Happy Tuesday, friends! And happy September! Yikes, that came up quickly. For some of you, this signals the melancholy end of Summer; for others, this is the long awaited beginning of Spring. Here in Brazil it is neither, sadly, because we have no distinct seasons. In Rio, September just means…less mosquitos? Some cooler days, but some really hot days, too? Halfway to Carnival??

Whatever September means for you, I hope it is a month that rises to the occasion and gives you many moments that feel oh so good. Here are a few photos to start you off on the right foot:

Double peony

Lavender

Bee

Wild roses

White peony

Garden path

Pink peony

 

“The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.”

- John Updike, September

Taking the bronze

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Have you seen this? It’s The Economist’s list of the top 10 cities in which to live.

City chart

Whether your city is on there or not, I think we should all just take a moment to notice that Canada is represented 3 times. Yessiree. (Also, high five to Australia, but apparently The Economist forgot about all the creatures that can kill you in Australia. Just sayin’.)

The beautiful city of Vancouver is right up there in 3rd place, and I can confirm, after a trip there this July, that it wholly deserves that spot. We were there for 3 days, but our first remark about how we could live there happened in the first 4 hours. Do you do that? Walk around after a particularly satisfying lunch and say things like, “We could live here, right? I mean, couldn’t you? Right? That was amazing tabbouleh. And plus, look at this place. Yeah, we could live here.”

Granville

The glory of our trip to Vancouver was not only in visiting a great city, but in visiting a great city WITHOUT our kids. All the parents out there can pause now and savour that.

Van street

Our kidlets are superb travelers and they go everywhere with us, which is exactly why a few days without them is so very sweet. And we really reveled in that. We stayed at a boutique hotel downtown where I didn’t have to think about where to put the roll-away cot, we went out for dinner at 10pm (!) where I cut no one’s food but my own, and we even went to a performance of the incredible Vancouver Symphony Orchestra where I didn’t have to sneak out of the row to take anyone to the toilet. It was freeing, people.

Orpheum theatre

We borrowed bikes from our hotel and cycled a portion of the Sea Wall which is a 22 km path along the Vancouver waterfront. We joined up with the path and followed it around the stunning Stanley Park. With the fresh sea air, the views of the city skyline, and the sound of the water lapping at the shore, it is quite possibly the loveliest place to cycle. Plus, I did the whole thing using only 2 gears which is my kind of “active”.

Sea wall

Stanley Park is truly a treasure – a huge forest with ancient trees and peaceful trails right next to the bustling city centre. It felt like a refuge…a refuge with its own brewery. Actually, that sums up Vancouver in a nutshell: a healthy  balance of an active lifestyle and gourmet indulgence. Oh, Vancouver, thank you.

Stanley Park

Totems

Vancouver is an extremely walkable city. This is a blessing because you will want to balance out all of the food you are compelled to eat while you are there. One place to fill your belly is at Granville Island Market. Wowzer, this place is a sensory overload of fresh fruit, tubs of bright pesto, savoury breads, sweet pastries, wheels of cheese, hot mugs of french onion soup, and hissing espresso machines. We went there after a big breakfast – a mistake that I still regret  - so all we could do was walk around admiring the incredible food and the beautiful artwork until eventually we walked enough space into our appetites for a singular golden pecan pastry. Sigh.

Granville fruit

But I will be back for you, fresh fish and chips! And maple fudge!

Van boats

We also ate at Salt Tasting Room – a unique restaurant which pairs cheeses and cold meats with top notch wines; perfect for late night nibbles. However, with its exposed brick and naked light bulbs AND the fact that it is down a dark lane called Blood Alley (I was sure it was the end of me), Salt felt a bit too cool for me. Luckily the food and wine were outstanding. Triple cream brie with local honeycomb has a mysterious way of making me feel at ease.

Salt menu

Cordova street

Rooftops

Van vines

Vancouver, for us, was the ideal combination of nature, culture, beauty, great food, and friendly people. Way to overachieve, Vancouver! I loved it all. I might not ever get to live there (I have a little problem with a place where people use umbrellas when it snows – I am sure you understand), but I will most definitely visit again to soak up more of this city’s wonders.

Maybe I will even take the kids….nah, they’ll end up eating all the maple fudge.

Van buildings

Van downtown

 

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.” 
― Hans Christian Andersen

Long Time Gone

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Well, I am not sure how this happened, but I haven’t published a post around these parts since October 2013. I am not certain, but I believe that leaving nearly 11 months between posts is breaking some kind of blogging rule…the rule of actually writing stuff, for example.

You know how it gets, though – you have good intentions and plans, and yet somehow the days pass by and nothing has eventuated. Like you and that plan to eat more chia seeds or to get rid of that pair of jeans that you bought one size too small. Y’know, it just doesn’t happen.

Mind you, I wasn’t being completely lazy during those 10 months. I was taking a lot of photos and doing some incredible traveling (and, let’s be honest, watching Jimmy Fallon clips on YouTube). The trips I took were so eye-opening and wonderful that I think you will want to get your own glimpse of these places, too.

I will try to share the very best of it with you because we all love to know that special places exist, not so we can put them on some bucket list, but just to know that beautiful parts of our world abound even if they are not right outside our window.

Places like these…

NZ Beach

 

Argentinian lunch

 

Colombian hills

 

Brazil beach

 

Alberta rocks

Now, if these places ARE outside your window, then congratulations..and also, whaaaat?! Open those curtains for criminy’s sake!

I hope you are all still out there and willing to stop by for a blog visit from time to time. I do hope that these last 10 months have been good to you, or at least civil to you, or maybe just that you have survived them? I am not sure where our standards should be.

Okay, let’s do this! You go give away those jeans already and I will get writing! xx