30 June 2008

41 – Close but not quite the answer*

Woke up a day older today – I guess by this stage it doesn’t make a lot of difference especially since the party was at the weekend anyway. First present of the day was from Florence who brought in a just-dead bird at 4.30 am – meow! Things got better at 7 am when I got a geotagging device for my camera and a dvd from K; Rome-2 from my bro and some smellies from Katharine’s mums.

Boat arrived in the evening – had some fun and games with the guy who was delivering it. He didn’t speak any English (well this is Norway so I guess that's fair enough) so I tried to tell him to meet me at Ikea, “Ikea Store Svensk butikken uten byen” (Ikea the large Swedish shop outside of town!) he said "ja" (yes) then flashed straight past it and ended up driving a small car with a very large trailer through the centre of Bergen in the rush hour! Eventually tracked him down and got it in the water. Then went out for a play – its fast, very fast.

Then home for pizza and champagne in the hot tub! It’s a good birthday when you get to use all your new toys!

*Courtesy of Mike “Baldrick” Klym – if you don’t understand then you need to go back and re-read your Douglas Adams

29 June 2008

KarmaSotra Summer Party at the Evil Lair 2008

Busy week with lots going on in both jobs. Friday was Party Girl’s master exam which went well, she gave a great presentation and came away with a well deserved B. The examiner was Simon Knight who I haven’t seen for a long time. He came up on Thursday night and we had a great evening catching up.

Culmination of the week was my birthday/summer party on Saturday – lots of folks were away and the weather forecast was pretty dire so it didn’t look like it was going to be one of my better parties. As it turned out it stopped raining on Saturday and had a pretty good turn out. Very pleasant evening on the terrace, no dancing but the drinking went on until 2.30 and there was some hot tub action. So thanks to the guys that turned up and thanks for the presi’s.

Next morning woke up with a moderate hangover and it was raining again – summer in Norway!

24 June 2008

Life in Norway IV - Sacred Cows

Norway is one of only two countries in Europe where the responsibility at a pedestrian crossing lies solely with the driver. Consequently pedestrians can and do wander blindly into the streets while cars screech to a halt to avoid them. These people go to significant effort to launch themselves, from the pavement into the road without establishing eye contact with drivers and ignoring the fact that someone has just stopped for them. In fact it is exceedingly uncool to even acknowledge that the 1.5 tonnes of metal that has just been brought to a halt for your benefit even exists.

Scott pointed out that it was very similar to the "sacred cows" in India who drift amongst the traffic.

And now its official - at least its in the paper, Norway is the most dangerous place in Europe to use a zebra crossing. In fact more people die on crossings than anywhere else on the road. But don't worry, you and I are safe, we will instinctively look before we cross the road. Its that special breed of norwegain scared cow that is taking a hammering and bumping up the stats. And thats in a country where drivers are aware, driving slow and trying very hard to avoid them. God only knows what happens when they go abroad - it must be carnage

Anyway next time you drive through a Norwegian town and a "sacred cow" launches randomly into the road and avoids eye contact - just mooow at them, they have a short life expectancy

23 June 2008

New Toy

After 5 years of talking about it I have finally got a boat - well I haven’t actually got it yet but I have parted with the cash and should get it soon.

Surrounded by water, in fact living in an Evil-Lair that overlooks a fjord, it seemed rude not to really. I would love to own a sail boat, and hopefully one day I will. However, everyone I know who owns one seems to spend all their spare time fixing it, so I decided that was not for me. Nope, I was looking for something fast, with good hooligan potential and was not to bothered about comfort. Subsequently a RIB seemed to fit the bill.

After much searching I found this one - 18 foot, 150HP, top speed 45 knots and only just over my self prescribed budget. It was down in Kragerø which is on the south coast of Norway, half way between Oslo and Christiansand, just a short hop on the map. Plan was to drive down Saturday and have a look then drive back.

We left later than planned on Saturday and drove, and drove. Then we drove some more and realised that we were less than half way, so we drove so more again. One thing you can say about Norway - its f*ckin big! And, two things, the roads are crap. Add to that the shit, very slow driving, mixed in with the convoys of german camper vans (summer here is like 1940 all over again) and it takes a very long time to get anywhere. We spent about 8 hours just to get to the south coast and we already live in the southern half of the country.

The plus side of this tour was that it is very pretty! We had never really thought about exploring that part of the country beyond driving through in the winter to go to Rjukan. But it is actually really beautiful, we crossed the Hardanger and dropped down into steep rolling valleys with trees and lakes and trees and more trees, very pretty and very empty (apart from trees).

We arrived in Kragerø which was bizarrely covered in snow and meet Henning, the man with the boat. He explained that the snow was trucked in from the Hardanger for a ski race - yes a ski race on the longest day of the year when the temperature on the coast was 15 degs - only in Norway! He took us to see the boat.

The boat "did what it said on the tin", looked good, was fast and stable. Fiddled with the engine long enough to conclude that it was sound (at least I think it is - fingers crossed) and then agreed a price.

Celebrated with a meal by the water side in Kragerø - very nice spot, highly recommend a visit in the summer. Then we drove half way back, camped on top of Halkuli Fjell where it actually did snow on Sunday morning. Then back to Bergen.

Now I just have to figure how to get it to Bergen in time for my birthday party next weekend...

20 June 2008

Summer is over...

After 6 weeks of near constant sunshine summer appears to be over.
As we approach the longest day of the year its raining and looks set to stay wet

Even ended up climbing in doors on Thursday eve!

This place - when its good its great - when its bad its....

17 June 2008

Climbing - Shock horror!

Actually made it out climbing last weekend! K was back in the UK for a girlie shopping weekend so I got some school work done on saturday and headed out to Øygarden with Jamie and a couple of his friends on Sunday afternoon.

We went up to Utevegan, which was fairly busy but the tide was right out which meant that we could get to some of the routes I have not tried before. We climbed non stop, route after route until my somewhat pathetic arms gave up the ghost... Jamie then did a couple more, just to further illustrate that I am unfit!

Felt great to be out climbing - note to self: must get out more!

16 June 2008

Life on the Rift Margin

The island of Sotra lies on the coast of Norway just west of Bergen. Sotra is a magically place, it has a real island feel, similar to the Outer Hebrides or Lofoten but is within 15 minutes of the country's second city. I moved there because its close to the climbing, there is great kayaking on the west side of the island and because it reminded me of mid-Wales (its a sheep thing). I also ended up there because the evil-lear cost less than a very small flat in town, has tons of space and a great view.

Geologically the islands are made up of granite which is pretty old, very hard and great for climbing on. The landscape results from glacial erosion of a series of tilted fault blocks that represent the rift-margin of the North Sea - we are literally living on the last North Sea fault block.

The image below is from google-earth and unfortuantly the resolution is pretty crappy, but you can see the eastward (towards left) dipping footwall dip-slopes and the much steeper cliffs in the west that are the faults.

These faults and the scarp retreat cliffs associated with them form the climbing crags which therefore also face west, meaning that all the crags get the evening sun. Know if I were going to design a perfect island it would have west facing crags that got the sun in the evening....

It would also get a bit less rain!

15 June 2008

Watch out where the Huskies go....

Apparently its very difficult to relocate huskies from arctic regions such as Svalbard to lower latitudes once they get older.

Its simply because they are terrified of trees! They see them moving in the wind and spend their whole new, warmer lives convinced that something very very big is going to eat them.

I guess its all about what you are used to!

13 June 2008

Foo Fighters – Bergen

Not much to say apart from “total fuckin awesome”

10 June 2008

Sea Kayaking in a World Heritage Fjord - Gudvangen to Flåm

Aurlands Fjord and its neighbouring Nærøyfjord are the poster boys of Norwegian Fjords, along with their northern cousin Geiranger, they are the ones that feature in all the brochure and magazine articles; they are also a World Heritage site. Aurlands extends south from Sognfjord as and splits into two branches of an inverted Y. Sitting at the bottom of the western arm (Nærøyfjord) is the little town of Gudvangen and at the base of the eastern arm is Flåm. I have long wanted to kayak between the two and last weekend go the chance to do it.

The weather was stunning and the forecast was good, well as good as the forecast can be here, it changes on a daily basis. Katharine and I roped in Cecelia, Arne and Vibeke (the Sunmøre crew) to join us on the adventure. A two day drip, camping in the middle, should be an easy 50 km.

Friday night Chris Clark, or “farmer Clark” as he is now called since he bought 20 acres of Derbyshire’s finest, was in town. He came up and stayed at the evil lair and we drank beer, sat in the tub and put the world to rites. Interesting to discuss how perception and desire changes as you get older. We talked about how he is becoming more and more attached to his land and has less desire to travel. We also talked about cars, engines, girls and our respective experiences in academia – so everything has change! Was good to catch up.

Next morning woke up with a predictably bad head and we loaded all the gear, dropped Chris at the airport and meet the others, only half an hour late! Drove the 2.5 hours to Gudvangen and the weather was stunning, this was going to be a good trip.

Dropped the cars, loaded the boats and headed up the fjord. It was stunning, the water still has a mirror, the sides shooting 2000 m up, cut by long white streaks of snow melt water falls. Yep I could see why this was a World heritage site.

All was going well, it was Cecelia’s first time in a kayak so we kept an eye on her, especially when the big boats went past and created big bow waves. Arne was whizzing around like a Labrador on a day in the park and the rest of us just paddled leisurely.

Towards the end of the day, about 20 km in we grabbed the last on the fading sun on a small beach with a beer before crossing over to another very nice beach where we set up tents, light a big fire, cooked up pasta and drank more beer. Arne was a bit under the weather – claims it was the previous evenings pølser – which is quite possible!

Next morning the weather was a bit colder and the cloud had come in, a taste of things to come? We had a leisurely breakfast packed up and headed out. Great mornings paddling, awesome scenery, playing in the base of the waterfalls, taking pictures and enjoying being there. Rounded the corner into Aurlandsfjord and a small family of goats chased us along the rocky shoreline until the cliffs once again become vertical and they had to stop.

Further along we stopped at Stigen where a Californian couple live in a small house in a hanging valley 400 m above the fjord. We pulled in, the landing was pretty tricky and the boats had to be hauled out and suspended from a wooden beam. The difficultly was compounded by the fact that we were immediately mobbed by goats, hundreds of them, clambering over the boats, chewing everything, barging us and each other. At first it was funny but it rapidly got a bit tedious! Eventually the goats lost interest; we had lunch and then hiked up the side. From the base it seemed highly unfeasible that there was a path going up the near vertical sides, this didn’t get much better, even as we followed the well trodden path. Eventually it all became clear and we made the short steep climb to the farm house – amazing views but a long way to go to for the morning paper.

By the time we got back down to the boats the wind had seriously picked up. It was coming from the south, funnelling along the fjord and we were heading straight into it. It was hard work and the swell was picking up.

Everyone put their heads down and paddled in their own little world. Katharine stuck with Cecelia who was struggling quite badly. After about 3 hours we got within 1km of Flåm. The wind was now really strong and it was almost impossible to make any headway, but with no beaches there was nothing to do but kept pushing on. Eventually Arne, Vibeke and I regrouped in little sheltered bay to wait for the others, it was painful to watch their slow progress and you could see that Cecelia was very tired, but if they could get to us, she could rest and then their was less than a klick to go.

Then as I watched, her boat was twisted side on to the growing swell by a gust and she was flipped over. FUCK!

I went to help and with the wind behind, surfing on the waves, I was there in minutes! Got her hanging on the front of my boat and we tried to X rescue but she was too tired to lift her boat out of the water in the swell. So I just flipped it over and hauled her back in and we pumped it out. That’s not a recognized rescue but it has worked very well for me, twice.

Katharine had rescued her paddle but she was clearly too cold and too tired to use it and we were getting blown further back up the fjord. Stuck a rope on her and towed. It seemed like hours and it seemed like we were hardly moving, it was brutal but eventually we made the resting place and then around the corner to the beach.

Arne and Vibeke appeared and helped us land the kayaks before cancelling the rescue they had ordered! Some people from Njord turned up anyway made us some warm drinks and checked her over. Everything was fine and while I was grateful for them coming out I was also very pleased that we sorted ourselves out and had not required rescue. It’s much better to be self-sufficient than being another accident statistic.

After that the guy from Njord kindly loaded our boats on to is van and dropped us back in Gudvangen and we headed back to Bergen arriving at 2am. Very tired but happy for a good adventure.

The trip is stunning, I would recommend it to anyone, just pay a bit more attention to the weather! All in all a great weekend.

05 June 2008

New Bike

This summer I am heading on a bike trip across the middle bit of Aus. That's the empty bit, two thousand miles of off-road fun with my old mate Gareth and some of his friends.

Gareth just sent me this...

He has kindly gone out and bought me a bike - and not just any bike, but a KTM 450

Ever since I started riding bikes (25 years ago eek!) I wanted to own a ducati for the road and a KTM for off-road. Now, thanks to Gareth I have done both.

Now I just need to get to Aus and have some fun! It's going to be a mega-trip - watch this space


We are sitting on a yacht in a small bay surrounded by trees watching the sun dip behind golden clouds. Its summer in western Norway and never really gets dark. There is no other evidence for human existence beyond the five people sat on the boat. Scott strums his guitar while the rest of us lazy around, drink gin and tonics and unwind from another busy week. Tomorrow morning we will wash away the remnant hangover by diving into the chilly waters before heading back to Bergen via the southern tip of Sotra. Today’s sailing would have benefited from a bit more wind but this is a big boat and still makes good time and anyway we are in no rush to be anywhere other than out having fun and enjoying each others company.

Many years ago I saw an idyllic image in a travel brochure, showing a big sailing boat., moored in some distant cove. It was bathed in sun and the people looked happy and relaxed. Now I am in that picture...