Midnight Sunshine

I had enormous misconceptions about Norway before I went there – I confess this was my second trip but the first had been funded by other people and was work based. This was a very spur of the moment long weekend away to visit family who have re-located to the Stavanger area, so costs were kept to a minimum. The stories are true that it is pricey to dine out etc, but this was a great chance to get away and see something a bit different in early June when the days were so long. The weather forecast looked good (sunny and clear blue skies); the flights were amazingly good value (with Norwegian Gatwick to Stavanger at about £70pp) and we were booked into accommodation chez famille.
We arrived on the late flight into Stavanger and it was really mild – gone were the images of Norway being cold and dark, although I’m sure Winter can be pretty bleak. We left the airport and city behind and headed up the coast a little bit to my cousin’s house and without taking our bags in they suggested we go down to the waterfront. This was at about midnight and my body cried out for sleep but I was intrigued to see “the jetty”. I knew that they lived on the waterfront, but had no idea what it would be like. You couldn’t see too much in the semi-darkness of after-midnight but there was an incredible moon shining right over Stavanger city which we could see sparkling in the distance. A sense of peace descended – we were out in fresh Norwegian air, surrounded by water and mountains enjoying the moon. We stayed there until about 0230 – nobody wanted to move – this was something that we never get to see at home. It was heaven and we hadn’t seen it in daylight yet!
We awoke to the news of breakfast on the jetty! Hurrah! The sun was shining, the coffee was strong and breakfast had never tasted better. PJ Norway 2014 003I dangled my feet over the edge but couldn’t quite reach the water. We were sitting on the edge of a fjord with crystal clear water, mountains, rocky islands dotted around, boats merrily bobbing etc. Stavanger is the starting point for a lot of the fjord cruises but happily we saw no evidence of the cruise ships at all. I had packed my swimsuit and was tempted to jump in then and there but I had heard how freezing it was going to be and chickened out. The clarity of the water was such that you could see every crab, starfish and jellyfish intimately. Our neighbours came down to join us and in what I imagine to be “true Norwegian style” plunged straight into the icy water with what sounded like fluent cursing but in fluent English told us it was lovely and refreshing – yeah right!
We had many plans laid before us but I would have been really happy to stay exactly where I was with a book and just be in the middle of nature. It was so peaceful! Dutifully though we had to go and see some of the local area. First stop Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock – an “easy walk” so we were told. I made my excuses early claiming unfitness, general office lifestyle etc but was told again that it was an “easy walk” so we strapped on our hiking boots and Camelpaks and got the ferry over. (Easy walking in my mind doesn’t require Camelpaks, snacks etc). Anyhow let’s just say that I didn’t find it easy at all and managed about 1 1/2 miles before my lungs decided to stop working!
Much more to my style was cocktails on the harbour front in Stavanger town centre (averaging about £10 per drink). There were loads of people crammed into every outdoor space around the harbour – obviously the sun was creating a holiday atmosphere and red faces were sitting on boats, in bars and almost hanging from the rafters. We had dinner in a quirky old wooden restaurant on the waterside which resembled an old ship inside. It was possibly the best steak I’ve had in a long time although we could have been more adventurous and gone for reindeer or whale!
PJ Norway 2014 042
The following day was slightly overcast and perfect for fishing I was told so the boys went off in a little motor boat to catch us lunch and it was a feast of Pollock…Us girls sat on the terrace looking at the views, reading, chatting and watching the boys row back because they’d run out of petrol. Our friendly neighbour went out to rescue them after a while – lovely people these Norwegians. They don’t like to assume that you’re in trouble but only too willing to help. It probably comes from being quite outdoorsy folk – they all just seem so capable. The evening was sailing time – but there was no rush….Because the light lasts so long you don’t have to hurry anything, so after a meander along the shore we went sailing at half past 8 at night. No wind and very gentle but quite pleasant to be on the water in the bright sunshine – it could have been midday! We were gone for a couple of hours and there was our lovely neighbour to meet us and help put the boat away.
The following day after a communal breakfast with our neighbours and a spot of impromptu Beatles over the breakfast table PJ Norway 2014 133we headed for the old part of Stavanger – all white-washed and cobbled streets with beautiful photo opportunities especially with the white against the blue sky. We also covered the other side of the harbour with loads of pretty coloured streets and shop fronts, the oil museum (more interesting than it sounds!), gorgeous chocolate shops, the cathedral and park and a smashing pub for lunch. There is no shortage of places to choose from and whilst it is expensive, everything we had was large portions and amazing quality
We saw some further delights yet on the way back to the airport which we weren’t expecting at all. Norway to me is not a place with sandy beaches and yet there is the most beautiful stretch of sand at Sola just near the airport – it has a pretty nice hotel on the beach too. We also visited a beautiful church on a bluff which has crumbled down and rather than rebuilding in stone has been renovated with glass which opens out on to a lovely bay below – quite inspiring if you were listening to a sermon. There were also the 3 massive swords in the rock on another sandy beach which was packed with day trippers, kids with buckets and spade, people hunting the shoreline for shellfish.
In short there were enchanting surprises that gave us a weekend that seemed to last a month.  You have to try it – money be damned!
PJ Norway 2014 143

Blog Your Block

This is what came to mind on a pretty bleak, rainy walk along the beach where I live.  Written for The Daily Post writing challenge called “Blog Your Block”: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/blog-your-block/ 

The grey pebbles turned and twisted under her sturdy shoes. It wasn’t a pretty beach, she thought. Although there was a kind of pre-historic peace to the place, as if it couldn’t be bothered with day trippers looking to build sandcastles. Only a few fishermen and foolhardy sea gulls clung to the shores of the channel trying to catch a bite for dinner. The coastguard was watching like an ever present guardian angel and a few local inhabitants always had their kitchen windows focussed on the waterfront.

Strange plants grew which had developed around this harsh, salty, barren landscape. Nothing else grew but scrub plants. There were no trees so the wily, quick witted birds had built their nests in the stones and the scrub trying to avoid the footsteps of people and foxes.

When the wind blew people walked at a 45 degree angle and when the sun shone they lay flat out on the uncomfortable stones in bathing suits which were quite inappropriate for the area – more suited to a Caribbean island somewhere.

The rain was penetrating every layer of clothing and she kept her eyes fixed on the pebbles.  Occasionally a crushed shell came into view: a strand of mangled seaweed; discarded ropes; broken lobster pots – the plethora of driftwood which came ashore after a storm.   The tides changed with every minute bringing a new wave of stones and shingle but the landscape never changed.

Weekly Photo Challenge – A Work of Art

I did a post not long ago about how there was a distinct lack of creativity in architecture these days – we no longer seem to put in the effort and time to decorate our buildings as used to happen.  There are a few very talented people that keep traditional crafts alive but not enough.

My response to the challenge this week is from a trip to India that I did – my first one.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty and the colours everywhere.  In an abandoned palace in the middle of nowhere there were some amazingly colourful mosaics which caught my eye.  The walls were crumbling and there was nobody to prevent rot and destruction setting in but the mosaics still shone…that’s what I call a work of art!  Something that can withstand time, the elements and still be inspiring.



On the Move

As part of the Daily Post photo challenge entitled “On the Move”, I looked into the past.  I have been collating my family’s history and inherited the photographs from various people.  One common theme running through the photos is that we were a family of boat lovers – in fact my great great grandfather was a boat builder on the census lists.

The photos I have chosen show a different time when leisure time still had standards – even if you were on a boat!  The table-cloth and tea-pot came out; ladies wore pretty dresses and headscarves and you had a proper afternoon tea.  Very “Famous Five” with lashing of ginger pop for the children!

The first three are c. 1950’s with my grandmother looking the part of the “Famous Five” mother.

This lovely lady is my Aunt Win enjoying tea on the River Wey with her friend Polly c.1930.

Tea party on the Wey

Tea party on the Wey

And this is her husband showing us how to survive whilst “On the Move”…I think I prefer the ladies’ way of doing things!

Written for the Daily Post “On the Move” photo challenge. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/on-the-move/

My little Sunday afternoon idyll

Beautiful sea monsters

The seas around the Azores are teeming with life.  The deep waters are perfect for incredibly large whales including the elusive Blue Whale.  Sitting in your little inflatable speedboat your mind starts racing when you see the size of the creatures under the water.  Surely a whale in a bad mood could turn the boat over with a flick of his tail?  Stories of enormous sea monsters suddenly don’t seem so ridiculous after all.

Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) photographed...

Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fin Whales are the second largest mammal on Earth after the Blue Whale and we were lucky enough to see a small group of them.  They can grow up to an incredible 27 metres long and when they’re only about 100 metres away from you that’s not far in whale body lengths!  A glimpse of a huge jaw and an eye peered at us.  And if the biologist on the boat was right we only saw a third of him.  He was gone in a flash, hiding his bulk beneath the waves.  They seem like shy creatures… In 1916 RC Andrews called them “the greyhound of the sea…for its’ beautiful slender body is built like a racing yacht and the animal can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship.” (Wikipedia)

From the sedate grace of the Fin Whales, the Orcas were just there to have fun or so it seemed.  They leapt and rolled and dived along with the boat.  They examined us from all angles; they peered at us from underneath the boat and examine the engine up close.  Born entertainers – beautiful to see their characters in the wild.  The crew was incredibly excited to see them – apparently they are rare visitors to the area.  A lone male appeared in the distance and the females left their play time with us to go and join him.

From source: Two mammal-eating "transient...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a magical performance in the middle of the ocean.

Our trip was booked through Sunvil Holidays – www.sunvil.co.uk.  Whale watching trips can be pre-booked.

Where in the world…?

There is an air of mystery that surrounds the Azores. When you mention them, people tend to say “Where’s that?” There seems to be an air of mystery around them and once you have been there you kind of hope it stays that way. Often surrounded by mist and rolling waves you can imagine what sailors in ancient times must have thought as they stumbled across them. From the sea they must have looked like unapproachable lumps of black volcanic rock. But for those who persevered, a paradise awaited them.

The Azores archipelago (including the islands ...

The Azores archipelago (including the islands of Flores, Corvo, Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Santa Maria and São Miguel). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The nine Portuguese islands are located in the middle of the Atlantic ocean between Portugal and America. Discovered during the 15th century, it’s hard to imagine what those first sailors saw. Black cliff faces, the crashing Atlantic seas and untamed vegetation. Even now the vegetation grows so densely that I can’t imagine what it was like if it was untamed – it would have represented a jungle. The first settlers must have had a battle on their hands hacking their way through to create habitable areas to grow crops. On Pico for example (not visited on this trip but have previously seen) the vines grow out of the volcanic rock in very little soil.

Strategically, the islands were a perfect stopping point for sailors and traders travelling between Europe and the New World and the main towns were well defended against pirates. In more recent times the Azores became a lifeline for the Allies in the First World War who used Horta and Ponta Delgada as safe harbours. In World War Two the Azores joined the Allies late in the conflict but built small airstrips on several of the islands for the British and American troops. The Azores proved vital in protecting trans-Atlantic crossings from German U-boats. And although the loss of ships was large the arrival of the airstrips evened out the numbers and then turned those numbers into the Allies’ favour. Post war Santa Maria’s airstrip became a stopping point for transatlantic flights until planes were able to do the journey non stop.

The small and unassuming islands have an incredible history and so few people have heard of them. They don’t lend themselves to being shouted about – they are relaxed, quiet and an explorer’s paradise. The natural beauty is outstanding and you can feel like the first person to discover a crater/lake/rocky inlet. Imagine what those first settlers felt when they saw these things…


Our trip was booked through Sunvil Holidays – http://www.sunvil.co.uk.

Virginia Woolf Summer Events

Leonard and Virginia, as I Remember Them – Cecil Woolf
Friday 21st June 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Rodmell Village Hall

Cecil Woolf is the nephew of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. He followed in their footsteps by establishing his own independent literary publishing house in 1960. Among many other works, he publishes the Bloomsbury monographs, which celebrate the life, work and times of the members of the Bloomsbury Group. He was fourteen when his Aunt Virginia died, and had paid a number of visits to the Woolfs at Rodmell and in London. In this talk he will reveal fascinating insights into his time spent at Monk’s House, and his childhood recollections of Leonard and Virginia.
£10 – includes a glass of wine

Portrait of Virginia Woolf by George Charles B...

Portrait of Virginia Woolf by George Charles Beresford Deutsch: Die zwanzigjährige Virginia Woolf, fotografiert von George Charles Beresford (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Introduction to Virginia Woolf – Sarah M. Hall
Friday 5th July 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Rodmell Village Hall

Learn more about Rodmell’s most famous resident, with writer and editor Sarah M. Hall. Sarah is a prominent member of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, a regular contributor to the Virginia Woolf Bulletin, and author of Before Leonard: The Early Suitors of Virginia Woolf and The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury. £10 – includes a glass of wine

To the River – Olivia Laing
Friday 19th July 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Rodmell Village Hall

Shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year, To the River is the story of the Ouse, the Sussex river in which Virginia Woolf drowned in 1941. One midsummer week, over sixty years after the author’s suicide, Olivia Laing walked Woolf’s river from source to sea, resulting in a passionate investigation into how history resides in a landscape – and how ghosts never quite leave the places they love. £10 – includes a glass of wine

Monk’s House Garden – Caroline Zoob
Friday 2nd August 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Rodmell Village Hall

Caroline Zoob, celebrated textile designer and embroiderer, and her husband Jonathan, were the last tenants at Monk’s House, where they spent 10 years caring for the beautiful garden. 2013 will see the publication of Caroline’s book about the remarkable garden that Leonard Woolf created, and in this talk she will reveal fascinating insights into how it has changed over the past 94 years. £10 – includes a glass of wine

A new VW play

“A Knife In The Whale”, a play by Liz Jardine-Smith and directed by Dominique Gerrard will be shown at the Compass Theatre in Ickenham (Uxbridge) on 31st May. “Virginia Woolf spent her life seeking to understand her own mind. This new play explores the links between her creativity and the mental illness she suffered throughout her life.” http://www.compasstheatre.co.uk/index.php/events/a-knife-in-the-whale/

Leonard Woolf Society

An inaugural meeting of the Leonard Woolf Society was held in London on 24th May 2012. The date 24th May was chosen because it was the day of departure of Leonard Woolf from Colombo in 1911. A Symposium on Leonard Woolf is being held on 24th May at Room G37 Senate House, Malet St., London WC1; there is also an entrance from Russell Square. Time is 2.30 pm to 6.00 pm. Registration fee of £10 for the Symposium includes LWS membership for 1 year.