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Monday, December 31, 2012

Norway, Presis

 

 

ST76 DEC19 021On a dinner recommendation of a college student, I make my way to Storgata 36. Navigating up a set of stairs I find myself at the entrance of Presis, a tapas restaurant and bar.

 

 

 

 

 

ST76 DEC19 025With dark wood furniture and soft lighting from table candles and cool chandeliers, the atmosphere of Presis is warm and welcoming.

I arrive shortly after the restaurant has opened and I am only the second table to be seated.

 

 

A refreshing ice cold glass of water is served and a pitcher of it is left behind which I appreciate. Although this is a restaurant best enjoyed as a group I am going to make the best of my dining experience by sort of eating like one.

Cured Reindeer, Grilled Artichoke Hearts, Fish Cakes and Salted Potatoes are ordered. As I wait for my main courses to be prepared a basket of warm toasted focaccia bread with an olive spread is served.

 

 

ST76 DEC19 031My first taste of a slice covered with the olive spread and I am ready to cancel my main courses.

I am prepared to just double or triple down on the focaccia.

 

 

 

If this is truly what is representative of the kitchen then my taste buds are in for a real treat.

Although there is only one waiter he is definitely efficient. He attends to new patrons even as he has the right timing to not neglect those of us that are already seated. I am impressed.

 

 

ST76 DEC19 036Presis Mixed Tapas

 

 

My main courses arrive and I have a bit of a dilemma, which one gets to grace my taste buds first. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach then a heart to the stomach should have the honors. Grilled to perfection, I swirl pieces of the artichoke in the light olive oil in which it is served and savor. Delicious!

 

ST76 DEC19 034Next it's the Fish Cakes which I first drizzle with fresh lime juice.

Although deep fried it is almost unnoticeable because of the light coating. Sampled with some of the Raw Salad (sliced carrots, apples and onions) on which it is served, my taste buds are delighted.

 

 

A fork through the Salted Potatoes is almost like putting a hot knife through butter. These are done perfect with just right amount of saltiness.

 

 

ST76 DEC19 032I save the Cured Reindeer for last. As a not too big a fan of sour cream except in cakes, it is the only dish that I would order slightly different next time.

 

 

 

Served sliced and topped with sour cream and onions, I thought the sour cream overpowered the cured taste of the meat.

 

 

ST76 DEC19 043Dinner is finished off with a large cup of passion tea as I watch the restaurant fill up with more patrons that I am sure will also have an awesome dining experience.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Vietnam, Beautiful Artist And Artwork

 

Our second day in Ho Chi Minh city is planned to start a little later than our first day. This time we have the opportunity to enjoy a splendid breakfast at Tan Hai Long which is included in the price of our room.

 

003Delicious fried rice, meats along with a bowl of fresh soup with shrimp and hot peppers and I am stuffed to begin the day.

 

 

 

 

Today, we are headed to visit Cu Chi Tunnels on a very affordable tour about US$8 per person. As with our tour the previous day we are picked up along with others and given another perspective on the history of Vietnam.

 

 

005As we did yesterday, we make a stop at a factory/tourist attraction where disable students use their talents to create some beautiful and awesome artwork.

 

 

 

 

These students are just some of the victims of the American military use of “Agent Orange” here during the Vietnam war. I have an admiration for them as I watch them at work using items like eggshells to produce masterpieces.

 

 

009Beautiful Vietnamese Artwork

 

 

004

It is heart wrenching to see some of insane effects of war on innocent people generations removed from the conflict.

 

 

 

 

 

Vietnam, The Next Vietnam Idol

 

 

VID02274Our tour of the Mekong Delta ends with an unexpected discovery. As we cruise the river one last time we are serenaded by possibly the next Vietnam Idol.

 

 

Thirty minutes later we are back where our tour begins and we are given an option for our return to Ho Chi Minh City. If as a group we are willing to pay a few extra Dongs we can take the Express Way back to the city and save about thirty minutes driving.

In a way I save everyone from having to make that decision and hope they did not mind getting back earlier than planned.

 

 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Norway, A Dark Day Afternoon

 

ST76 DEC19 001I wake up the second day in Tromso a little bit confused. With no alarm clock set from the previous evening, peering out my window with sleepy eyes I am not sure what time it is as I am looking at gray overcast twilight skies. A blink or two and I discover it is about 11 in the morning.

 

 

About two hours later night is falling as I begin a walk into the city center from the quiet neighborhood in which I am staying. However, there is still enough light to appreciate the beautiful winter landscape that I was not able to see so well yesterday during a true evening walk.

 

 

 

SAM Tromso 002Tromso Twilight Landscape

 

 

Pass “The World's Most Northern Brewery”, I am again walking through the main street of Tromso. The holiday decorations and the sounds of a street musician gives the atmosphere a special feeling. The spirit of Christmas is truly in the air.

 

NO Tromso Day 1 015Passing the Tromso library, on the other side of the city center I make my way towards a bridge that will take me to the one of a kind “Arctic Cathedral”.

 

 

 

Crossing the bridge the wind has picked up and with the chill it brings, I am doing all I can to keep my extremities warm.

My fast walking and finger curling comes to a stop as some of the views from the bridge have to be enjoyed standing still.

 

 

Tromso At 2pmOne Bridge View

 

 

 

NO Tromso Day 1 032Unfortunately at this time of the day the cathedral is not open to the general public and can only be admired from the outside.

 

 

 

 

As more darkness has taken over the afternoon the temperature has fallen considerably and it is almost a brutal walk back into the city center. There are buses that run to and from the “Arctic Cathedral” but I did not want to chance my life fate standing still in the cold waiting for one.

 

NO Tromso Day 1 043Back in the city center, I do what quite a few of the locals seem to be doing during this time of the year, I head for an indoor shopping mall. However, my motives are different.

 

 

 

I just want to escape the cold and warm up as I wait to go to dinner and then a Northern Light excursion.

 

 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Vietnam, A Village Bike Ride

 

 

2012-07-01 11 56 55Grabbing a few free bicycles after lunch, a “dare devil” group of us head off on a bike ride through the local village. With “Miss Saigon” and “My Blue Bonnet” I am hoping we will blend in like locals.

 

 

 

 

2012-07-01 11 57 19Mekong River Boat Traffic

 

Crossing a bridge I get a different perspective of the Mekong as I watch more boat traffic move up and down this significant waterway. One boat filled with fresh bananas passes beneath me, its motor making that unique sputtering “putt, putt” sound.

Navigating a village road that sometimes follows a branch of the Mekong and is lined with trees is so relaxing that it just makes me feel like singing. Now I know how Kermit felt doing the same thing through Central Park.

 

 

Vietnam, Time For Lunch

 

 

2012-07-01 11 47 27Having dispelled with deserts first, we are headed back down the Mekong River for lunch. Again, we get to witness life on the heart and soul of Southeast Asia.

 

 

We pass the local ferry as it is leaving its dock carrying a light load of passengers for less than about US$0.50 per person.

Other vessels traverse the brown waters of the Mekong some of them so laden with goods that they almost seem on the verge of sinking.

Although it sounds interesting, I hope one thing that is not on the lunch menu is water lily salad. We are told this plant that lines the river bank to prevent erosion is also used to make salads.

 

091About 35 minutes of cruising the river and we make our stop for lunch.

On the property of the restaurant one of Vietnam's hottest cash crop is being harvest.

 

 

We are told that due to its popularity the price per kilogram has increased ten fold. I wonder quietly why my broker still has me heavily invested in pork bellies.

 

 

092Vietnamese Lunch Plate

 

Our lunch is a typical Vietnamese meal with rice, meat, vegetable and spring rolls nothing special except for the plate of treats on the table.

 

 

2012-07-01 11 56 42As if an eyeball is looking at me when I break its skin, a few minutes later I am on the phone to Zurich, Switzerland.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Vietnam, Calling All Dentists

 

 

060Besides all the cool stuff I am learning about Vietnam by touring the Mekong Delta, I discover I might have at least one thing in common with the Vietnamese people, a weakness for sweets.

 

 

 

As we watch syrup and another sweet being made, our tour guide points out that being a dentist here might not be a bad profession.

 

 

2012-07-01 11 52 53The resourcefulness of different cultures is amazing to experience as I have learned so much about the many uses the Vietnamese have for coconuts and rice. Even the kernel of the rice is used to fuel a fire for cooking.

 

 

This portion of our Mekong Delta tour ends sipping some Jasmine Tea with me have some regrets that I did not have the stomach to try the Medicine Wine. Maybe next time.

 

 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Norway, First Night Tromso

 

After settling in, Samuel one of the owners of Home Sleep gives me a ride into town. He is headed to the marina to meet his brother-in-law a fishing boat captain who has a fresh halibut waiting for him.

For me, the weather is surprisingly warm although it is still cold with a temperature of about 36 degrees. Samuel explains that it is actually warmer up here because of the circulation of tropical winds from the Caribbean. An odd connection that I would have never thought about. It is actually warmer here than in Minneapolis, Minnesota!

 

 

ST76 DEC19 116A stroll around town and the streets although showing signs of holiday decorations are quiet for a Tuesday night.

 

 

 

 

A stop at the Radisson Blu to book a tour for tomorrow and I am disappointed that the booking machine does not work. A local restaurant for a dinner recommendation is also a bit of a failure as the desk clerk informs me that most of the restaurants in the city centre do not serve traditional Norwegian cuisine.

A stop at a local convenience store and it's a slice of pizza for K$20 that turns out to be pretty good. Meeting a local student here that is having what seems to me to be an oversized hot dog wrapped in bacon and I get the local dining information that I am looking for. He recommends a local Norwegian Tapas style restaurant that is popular with him and his other college friends. I am already three bites into my pizza and decide it's my dinner plan for tomorrow.

 

ST76 DEC19 103More walking around the town and along the waterfront I stare across the harbor at the lighted Arctic Cathedral as highlighted snow capped mountains tower in the background.

 

 

 

A stop at a local pub to end the night and at about US$11 a beer I am going to have to curtail my drinking or owe Capital One a lot of money by the time I get back home.

Prices at a local supermarket are a little better as I secure some items for breakfast or maybe a midnight snack. As I discovered on my ride into town it's an uphill climb back to Home Sleep. I could still catch a bus back for K$40 but the weather is still nice enough for a walk.

Although I forgot to drop some bread crumbs on the way into town with the help of a local I manage to find my way back home around midnight. The skies are still cloudy and I spend the next hour or so making plans online for tomorrow. I arrange a Northern Light Chase excursion for tomorrow evening K$720 but will have to wait until Thursday morning for my dog sledding adventure as there has been so little snow so far that it is putting a cramp on the dog sledding activities.

As I retire for bed another look from the balcony and although the skies are starting to clear all I see is one lonely star, no Northern Lights.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Norway, A Few Days Without Sunlight

 

 

ST76 DEC19 095After about twelve hours of flying I am at 69 North, 18 East in “The Land Of The Midnight Sun” except I am here to experience life without a few days of sunshine.

 

 

 

 

Arriving in Tromso I am met at the airport by my host for the place I will be staying over the next few days. After dropping off another guest at a different location, I am driven to a “Home Sleep” apartment in a local neighborhood.

 

ST76 DEC19 100Here I will be staying in a private room sharing an apartment with a family from South Africa.

Already I feel like I am having a more real Norwegian experience.

 

 

 

A few minutes spent chatting with my fellow guests and my excitement has already grown at all the possible fun things to do.

Door sledding tomorrow where I can drive my own sled, a Northern Light excursion, Skiing & Snowshoeing so much to do.

 

 

ST76 DEC19 117For now, it's a walk into town for dinner then maybe time to explore Tromso's nightlife as I wait for the skies to clear and hopefully some Northern Lights to appear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arctic CathedralThe Arctic Cathedral Across The Bay

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vietnam, Snap, Crackle And ….

 

 

074Having spent some time over the last few days on the brown and almost muddy waters of the Mekong River, what I am now looking at surprises me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012-07-01 11 54 09Mekong River Black Sand

 

I am standing a few feet away from a cooking wok type pot that is about one quarter filled with black sand that we are told is from the Mekong River.

This black sand is being heated with oil to about 180 degrees and will used to make our next sampling product, pop-rice. As rice is added to this black mixture and vigorously stirred we soon begin to hear the snap, crackle and then the pop as the black color disappears. The wok becomes filled with white pop-rice.

 

2012-07-01 11 54 38A few filter processes that involves a swinging sifter to remove the black sand which will be used again and I am sampling a handful of the warm, light and fluffy finished product.

 

 

 

Our guide then offers to take us back to Ho Chi Minh City but I along with a few others voice our opposition. I want to see and experience more of the Mekong Delta.

 

 

 

Vietnam, One Useful Nut

 

As a kid growing up in the Caribbean, the coconut has always been a sweet part of my life. From drinking fresh coconut water to enjoying homemade layered coconut candy, as an islander it is difficult to not have this nut be a part of your being.

 

2012-07-01 11 52 53However, it is on this tour of Southeast Asia and in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam that I learn so much more about the usefulness and commercial production of the coconut.

 

 

Did you know that in some countries (not in Vietnam) monkeys are used to harvest coconuts?

 

 

 

2012-07-01 11 53 39Coconut Purse

 

 

 

2012-07-01 11 53 14From coconut candy, that is not as good as the homemade one I grew up on and still enjoy as an adult, to ladies purses, they sure have found a lot of ways in the Mekong Delta to use this nut. It is almost insane.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vietnam, Rice Paper

 

Our tour of a Mekong Delta village goes from discovering interesting wines to learning more about a product I would associate with Southeast Asia. Our learning begins with sample tastings of the finished products then we head over to one corner of the large open air shop.

 

2012-07-01 11 51 46In this corner, “weighing in at less than 110lbs”, we find a lone woman ready to rumble as she is tending to a sort of boiling pot oven. Stretched over this pot is a silk type skin onto which a mixture of rice powder and water is poured.

 

 

 

 

2012-07-01 11 52 22Making Rice Paper

 

 

Our tour guide claims to have done this process for many years but needs a little help as he is trying to give us a demonstration. When he tries to remove the tissue paper thin finished product, it falls apart . Even he gets a laugh when I give him my Trump impression, “You're fired!”

 

2012-07-01 11 52 34In the end, his work is tasty dipped in soy sauce and he still gets a thumbs up from me.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Vietnam, Watch Out Napa

 

I believe it was the famous actor and director Orsen Wells who said in a commercial for a California vineyard that “We will serve no wine before it's time”.

 

2012-07-01 11 51 11As I stand over a jar filled with various snakes, a few scorpions and some chili seasoning thrown in for good measure, I wonder if Mr. Wells would have ever thought the time would be right to serve guests some Vietnamese “Medicine Wine”.

 

 

Although it has a nice “Aroma” and is offered to have great medical benefits this wine gives new meaning to the term, “full-bodied”.

Others accept the offer for free tasting of the “Medicine Wine”, however, I wait to sample the sweet “Banana Wine” which I am assured does not have “Backbone”.

 

 

Vietnam, Interesting Stuff In A Mekong Village

 

From a taste of honey, we make our way along a path through the small village located along the banks of the Mekong River. Occasionally we have to maneuver out of the way of a motorcycle or two coming down the path towards us whining at almost full speed.

 

2012-07-01 11 50 08This seems to be the normal around here as local families and kids pay no attention to these two wheel noise makers. Although we are on a tour, what we are experiencing and seeing is everyday life here not a tourist made up attraction.

 

 

 

 

2012-07-01 11 49 57Longan Fruit Tree

 

 

Along one side of our path are various fruit trees including the huge but “smelly” Jack fruit along with Longan fruit which I believe I sampled earlier in the trip. On the riverside of the path next we come across a batch of rice paper being made. Circular sheets of it are laid on a wicker stand to dry in the sun and we are told it can be edible if heated up in a microwave.

 

061Our next stop is one where I along with a few others keep our distance from sharing a possible crushing experience.

I am happy to just watch from afar as our guide and a few others handle a four year old python.

 

 

 

 

 

2012-07-01 11 50 53Elephant Ear Fish

 

Close up admiration of an elephant ear fish which is found in the Mekong River is a bit more comforting. It has Mick Jagger lips and is just as cool as The Rolling Stones.

 

 

 

Vietnam, From The Lips Of Bees

 

055Although our first stop in the Mekong Delta could have been a stinging experience, it turns out to be a sweet one instead.

 

 

 

 

At a shop along the Mekong River we get to sample various products produced by our busy friends including honey tea. Here we also learn about the health benefits of pollen and other extracts made from the never ending work of bees.

 

 

056Mekong Delta Bee Hive

 

However, the best experience of this visit is a pressing one as my finger is carefully guided into an active hive of bees.

A taste of honey (boogie, oogie). Nice, fresh, right from the lips of bees. Ummmmmmmm!