West Family Travels

Robert is a world famous travel writer with having pieces appear in National Geographic Traveler, The New Yorker and Cottage Life Magazine. Robert when he isn't travelling lives with his family in Edmonton, Alberta.
Living in: Edmonton, Canada
  • Day28

    Oil oil oil

    July 26 in Norway

    We have now spent two full days in Stavanger.

    We decided on the first day that we needed some exercise so we headed out of town 30 minutes to climb Mt. Dalnuten which is about a 1.5 hour return hike. From the top of the mountain which is only 400 metres one can get a spectacular view of Stavanger across a sound. We had missed the funicular in Bergen so this was to garner the same experience. We went swimming off a pier into the same sound we had been looking at to cool off when we had Finished the hike. The water was very cold and very salty. We avoided any jellyfish We got home early afternoon and chilled out until after supper when we headed downtown to the harbour where they were preparing for tall ships involved in a race to come over the weekend into the harbour.

    I think the two words that best describe Norway is oil money. Since the development of the offshore oil fields in the North Sea starting in 1969, the Norwegian economy has been on fire. Having now spent the last two weeks in Norway, I can attest to the affluence of the country. New housing, new cars, vacation properties, marinas filled with unused pleasure craft. Compared to the other Scandinavian countries Norway is expensive. Groceries and consumer items are double what they are in Edmonton. This is even more noticeable in Stavanger which is the centre of the oil industry. The number of high end watch stores in downtown Stavanger was on par with Switzerland. Being from Alberta we thought that a visit to the Norwegian oil museum was in order. I think Cheryl enjoyed it more then the military museum which is a tall order. It had tastefully done movies about how oil had changed Norwegians especially those working on the off shore rigs, interviews about the life and fears of oil workers on these rigs, movies about the divers who work on the ocean floors. There were all sorts of displays about the oil platforms and the drilling off shore. Those platforms are huge ranging from 50 to 250 metres in depth. There were also displays about the environmental effects of burning all this carbon. I think we were longer in the Oil museum then the war museum. I had an interesting talk with an attendant in the gift shop of how oil had effected Alberta which she said was similar to how it had effected Stavanger. By 2014 housing had become prohibitively expensive in Stavanger.

    When we were done we headed down to the harbour to check out the tall ships. The harbour was just packed with 3 and 4 masters. There were at least three large ships from Russia manned by Russian navel cadets. The kids were quite thrilled to be on a Russian navel vessel with real navel seamen who were conversing in Russian. There was also a tall ship from the Indian navy who had the most friendly crew. After an hour and a half wandering around in the sun we headed for home to chill out and start packing for our trip home.

    This will be my last blog of the trip. I hope you have all enjoyed following it. I have had some camera issues so I will try to post the photos later. Thank you Ross for all of your encouragement with this blog. Knowing that someone was actually reading it was a true motivator for updating it.

    Cheers Rob
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  • Day26

    Rain rain rain

    July 24 in Norway

    It started to rain Sunday night just as we started packing our stuff up to drive to Haugesund which is located half way between Bergen and Stavanger on the west coast. We really have been blessed with marvellous weather during the trip. It has been warm and sunny the majority of the time. Unlike Vancourvites, Norwegians on the West coast of Norway actually readily volunteer that it rains a lot here. It rained off and on for much of our trip. We took a ferry for part of the trip. The rain ceased so we could hang out on deck. The ferry seemed brand new compared to the BC ferries I am use to. Loading the ferries was a model of efficiency. We were away before I could get out on deck. The ferry was also very fast. BC ferries should check out. When we got to Haugesund, Cheryl stayed at the BnB while the kids and I went to the Viking museum. The Viking museum was at a site of prehistoric and Viking settlements from 3000 BC to 1300 AD. From this site the inhabitants had been able to control north south trade and had thus been very powerful. There was a good documentary movie about the site. There was a point and click English audio tour but I sensed all was not covered. Lots of old prehistoric and Viking nicnacs. After the museum we wandered through a sheep farm to a Recreation of a Viking farm. It was getting on in the day and all the historical actors were on there cellphones counting down the last 30 minutes before going home. One of them was good enough to break away from her phone to chat with us. Many people have unanswered questions about the Vikings such as how did they navigate such large distances without compasses. They didn't need compasses, they had cellphones.

    When I planned stopping in Haugesund it was mainly to break our drive down to Stavanger. As it turned out afterwards, I had a connection to Stavanger.Back in the winter when I was showing one of my neighbours what Air BnBs I had booked for my holiday he commented that his brother happened to live in Haugesund. Now my neighbour Bjorn is from Norway so if anyone I knew had a brother there it would have been him. I got in touch with Stein and he invited our family to their cottage or summer for a barbecue at his summer home on a fjord. It was 25 minutes east of Haugesund and away from the coast so it was less cloudy. The rain held off and there were some glimpses of the sun. We had a delightful meal of hot dogs. Norwegians love hot dogs but not sausages.In their grocery stores there are lots of hot dogs on the shelves, far more then Canada. I kid you not. Their cabin was on this beautiful fjord. After supper we went swimming off of rocks just by their cabin. The swimming was even more exciting as there were these white jellyfish one had to avoid. I swam across the fjord and when I got back, I had a skin irritation in my antecubital fossa. I had probably been stung by a jellyfish. Fortunately they are pretty harmless. After washing my arm off with salt water and about an hour of time the itch went away.

    We returned to Haugesund and it rained hard all night. I am sure the local were happy as there has been a drought here. We had hoped to go to some beautiful beaches today but when we woke up it was still pouring hard. My wife who has a penchant for military museums as many of you know from my previous blogs insisted on going to the military museum. As military museums go, it was excellent. Norway was occupied by the Germans in WW2. They hid there submarine bases in the fjords and built coastal defences all Germany's west coast. When they lost the war, they left all of their weaponry in Norway. There was a lot of German armaments, submarine material, information about the resistance and life in Norway during the war. My favourite item were shoes that were made from fish skins rather then leather during ww2 and a wedding dress made by a female resistance fighter after the war from an allied parachute drop. I think Cheryl read every word of the English booklet that described 90 different displays in the museum. I was happy to get out of the museum in 2 hours.

    We drove on to Stavanger. Another ferry ride and multiple bridges and Lon long underground tunnels connecting islands. The Norwegians infrastructure is pretty impressive. I thought the Swiss do tunnels well but the Norwegians seem to do them better and longer.
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  • Day24

    Pleasant Bergen

    July 22 in Norway

    We have now spent three full days in Bergen and although pleasant enough, it hasn't been as exciting as the Scandinavian capitals or as exciting as the Sognfjord. We did our own little walking tour of downtown Bergen best known for the Hanseatic quarter. This area consists of fragile wooden buildings from the 1700s built by German speaking merchants and traders. The street scape of these buildings has the quintessential Norwegic appearance of coloured buildings. In areas some of the wooden walls are quite bowed but that is understandable after 300 years. The German merchants have given way to Norwegian owned touristy stores. It was quite pleasant. We were also impressed by some of the massive cruise ships in the harbour. They were quite pleasant from a distance. For something completely different we headed out of town to the Ole Bull museum which was on a small island 30 minutes outside of Bergen. One had to take a small boat over to the island where Ole Bull had built his house. Ole Bull lived in the 19th century and was a contemporary and friend of Edvard Grieg and Henri Ibsen who also lived in Bergen. He was a virtuoso violinist who was the equivalent of Elvis Presley of his time. Reportedly he had fathered 40 children. He was also a Norwegian Nationalist when Norway was controlled by Sweden and he promoted Norwegian culture. When he died 30000 people attended his funeral . The house he had built was a cross between the Alhambra built by the Moors in Granada and a Orthodox Church. It was all built of Norwegian pine. There were trails all around the island, a beach to swim although the water was very cold and a look out tower. It kind of felt like the Norwegian equivalent of Fantasy Island. It was very pleasant. We spent the good part of the day there. Edvard Grieg the famous composer was also from Bergen. His house Troldhaugen has been preserved as a museum with a tastefully designed concert hall, gift shop cafe and another museum. It was located 8 minutes from our house so we stopped there twice to take in the atmosphere. One could walk down to the fjord and look into his composing hut. I think that since I played the Peer Gynt suite in the London Youth Symphony that this has been one of my favorite pieces. Having visited the house and Norway, I think that I have a better appreciation for his inspiration. We visited the summer Royal palace where the Royal family stays when they come to Bergen. None of them were around so you could wander the gardens and pretend you were the King. The Norwegians are much more relaxed then the English about their Royal family.The Royal Palace was very pleasant. We visited the Botanical Garden which was a disappointment. I think they were known for the Rododendrums. They had a lot of them but they had bloomed in June. The garden covered a large area. It wasn't as good as the Dovonian garden. They needed some more volunteers for weeding and deadheading. Our final excursion was to Bergen's open air museum representing Bergen circa 1870. It was quite pleasant. On the hour they had little 15 minute acting scenes recreating the past. The vignettes were in English and Norwegian. As everyone speaks English when one talks to the Norwegians, this was the most Norwegian I had heard. After 3-4 rounds of Kubbe which we had learned in Sweden we called it a day. The Kubbe game was very pleasant. I get the feeling that Bergen is the jumping off point for cruise ships heading north or people heading inland to the fjords. People typically spend a day or two here before heading out. Perhaps 2 days would have been enough but it was very pleasant.Read more

  • Day21

    Fjords, fjords, fjords

    July 19 in Norway

    Today we left our boathouse on the Sognefjord to travel to Bergen. As one of the big ticket items for the trip I had reserved a spot on the 10:30 am ferry from Kaupanger to Gudvangen. It was a 2.5 hour ferry ride through a main part of the Sognefjord and then down on of the even more scenic arms known as the Naeroyfjord. We were a 1 minute drive from the ferry terminal. The reservation said to arrive at 10:15. I was anxious to leave by 10 but some people doddled. When we showed up despite it being only 10:14, the ferry was almost loaded. I was the last car in the reservation line and I didn't think we would make it on to the ferry but they just squeezed us on. The trip was characterized by steep mountains rising up from the fjords to staggering heights. Occasionally dotted with farm houses now probably vacation properties by the water. It was just spectacular and well worth the cost. After completing the ferry ride we drove on to Bergen and we thoroughly exhausted when we reached our BnB. Our BnB is in a house with the world's steepest driveway requiring a 10 way turn at the top which is impossible to do if you don't precisely follow the owners directions. I know this as initially I attempted to improvise my own 10 way turn which pretty well got the car stuck at the top of the driveway.Read more

  • Day20

    Taking it easy for a day

    July 18 in Norway

    It started raining pretty hard yesterday afternoon and kept up all night. We had planned to do another hike today but it seemed unlikely that it was going to let up. I let everyone sleep in. The kids were pretty tired after the hiking. By 10 the rain had slowed so Cheryl and I went for a Canadian stroll around town and within 30 minutes the sun was out again and shining very brightly. In Kaupanger they have 5 and 3 meters diving platforms on the water. With the rain yesterday we had to take a miss on the platforms but with the sun out they really wanted to use the window to give the platforms another go. It was low tide so the platforms were more like 6.5 metres. This is pretty high. They actually talked me into doing it. It is a long drop. I talked with a local while watching the kids. I told that at home they would never have such an unsupervised structure as someone would get hurt. She told me that no one had ever been seriously hurt. I told her that we were just a bunch of worriers at home. We had a late lunch and there were some more showers. Videl came over with his kids and took my little ones fishing again and then towed them around on inflatables behind the little boat. It was very kind of him. Just when I thought things were going to quiet down another mega yacht came into the bay. Forever one. 54 metres long and owned by billionaire Bruce Grossman who was heir to the Mexican Coca Cola bottling group. It is interesting what you can find out on line. Chris and I went to check it out in the canoe. Just a beautiful yacht.

    With some time on my hands today I have had time to reflect on one of my colleagues dilemma. My colleague owns a vintage BMW. It is a wonderful looking car but unfortunately its time is coming to an end. My colleague has enjoyed the image and prestige of a European built vehicle but may not be able to afford a new one. I think though that this vacation that I have stumbled on a solution to my colleague's problem. We have been privileged to drive a Skoda Octavia station wagon since Oslo. Skoda is a Czech build vehicle which is actually built in Europe. No Mexican content here. It drives wonderfully and is probably much cheaper then a Mexican built BMW. My colleague would be the first to own a Skoda at the RAH. It would really improve his image amongst the staff parking such a car in the Doctors car park.
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  • Day19

    Hiking in the Sognefjord

    July 17 in Norway

    We have spent three glorious days here in the Sognefjord in our little boat house. It was sunny for the first two days and much of the third. Supposedly they have had no rain for a month which is typically the daily norm. Having exhausted the museums the first day it was time to do some hiking. I have been trailing my hiking boots through Scandinavia so I thought it should be time to put them to use. My right ankle is very weak from an old volleyball injury so I am always worried that I could roll it again. Therefore I really need to wear the hiking. One of my colleagues wives broke her ankle while hiking in running shoes a few years ago which has further increased my anxiety about not having hiking boots. For our first hike I chose one called Bjorahaug outside of a small town called Hermansverk. It was described as a Norwegian stroll which I thought would be a good warm up hike. It was only 1165 metres long. What I didn't realize was that the elevation gain was 500. It was a hike up the side of a fjord. I don't think I have ever hiked so steeply. It certainly did give me an appreciation of how steeply the sides of the fjords rise from the water. There were ropes in areas to help oneself up. At one point my son Andrew told me that he thought that his mother had fallen. I quickly backtracked to check up on her but she had just lost the trail and was calling us to see where it went.The kids had no problem. They must be part billygoat. The hike was rated as 70 minutes. At the 70 minute mark we were very high up but not at the top of the fjord. The trail started to go down before I suspect it would go up again. I was absolutely drenched in perspiration. After all that work I decided that I didn't want to lose any of the elevation we had worked so hard for. We stopped for lunch. The view of the fjords was spectacular. On a sunny day I think it looks prettier then the west coast of BC.

    After our warm up day, we decided to try something a little more difficult although we had set the bar pretty high the first day. We decided to do the Mount Molden which was a small mountain looking out over an arm of the Sognefjord. The arm is known as Gaupnefjorden. One can also see the glaciers to the north from the top. It was a longer hike with an elevation of 600 metres. We reached an elevation of 1116 metres. It was a pretty hard hike although probably not as hard and definitely not as steep as the warm up hike. We were well above the tree line at the top. The view from the top was even more breathtaking. When we were at the top we realized that there was a storm system coming in from the south. We were 9/10s of the way down when we were hit with a wicked rain storm. Gale force winds, snapping branches etc. We only had to walk 15 minutes in the rain. I wouldn't have wanted to be on the top of the mountain when the storm hit.

    Last night this huge yacht maybe 60 metres long came into our bay and stayed for 24 hours. It was owned by Jade yachts so I checked it out on line. People can rent this yacht for a week for 362k Cdn. Chris and I paddled a canoe out to it to check it out. I couldn't believe just how large it was.It was bigger then my house.
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  • Day18

    Sognefjord

    July 16 in Norway

    We drove from Oslo to Kaupanger on the 14th of July. We were right at the car rental place in downtown Oslo at 9 am to pick up the car. The process was painfully slow. I had gotten a very good deal on the car rental. 1200 Cdn for 13 days. They had told us the day before that a walk in rental for two days with drop off in Bergen would have cost the same amount. I think they wanted to scrutinize everything extra carefully as they could have rented our car to a walkin for much more. Finally after 30 minutes we got the car but not after realizing that Cheryl's license had expired in March. By then there was a massive line up out the door. I wonder now that the government isn't sending out notifications how many Albertans are driving with expired licenses.By the time we were done there was this very long line up of people behind me. We got back to the hostel by 10 and the kids were all ready for us. We packed and headed out of town and within 30 minutes we were at a standstill in traffic. After this our trip was punctuated by a long stop for groceries and an unsuccessful grocery stop. We drove over a mountain range with an elevation of 1200 metres before descending to the fjord. Travel time was an astounding 7 hours. My highlight of the trip was stopping at a gas station with some old volvos one which looked like from the early 70s which reminded me a lot of the Volvo my parents had bought in 1968. It looked good but was a terrible car always breaking down when on holidays and rested out very quickly. This early experience with Volvos scarred me for life. I don't think that I could ever own a Volvo.

    Our boathouse in Kaupanger is right on the fjord with a million dollar view. As soon as we arrived Videl the brother in law of the owner who has two children took my two youngest out on a boat with his kids fishing in their little motor boat out into the centre of the fjord. It is a little rustic by Muskoka standards but for us it is perfect. Kaupanger is very quiet and there are few tourists here. I have had two great sleeps here. The fjords are quite spectacular. The sides in areas rise quite sharply up from the water. It reminds of BC but it is different. Cheryl keeps saying that it reminds her of Saskatchewan but I am not sure how and I don't think she is being smart.The water is a lot less saline the sea water so It doesn't taste very salty nor does one's skin feel salty after swimming in it. It really doesn't even smell like the ocean. Yesterday we drove to a very picturesque town on an even prettier fjord called Solvorn home of the Walaker hotell a historic expensive looking hotel. We took a ferry across a fjord to Urnes home of the world's oldest wooden church. It was a 20 minute hike up to the church from the ferry. It wasn't a hike by our definition as we saw some girls doing it in flip flops.These old wooden churches are known as Stave churches as the old Norwegian word for the supports were known as Staves. This one dated from 1100 AD. It looks impressive now but probably looked even more impressive when it was built. There were wood panels on the outside carved with snakes and dragons which were felt to be from the 900s. It looked like celtic meets Scandinavian. We ate our lunch at the museum before hiking down and catching the ferry. We were all pretty hot by the time we made it to Solvern which fortunately had a beautiful swim area with platforms for jumping and diving off. We were all tired but had a good day. My son Chris said that he would have given it a 7.5/10 which by his standards is pretty good.
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  • Day15

    A day in Oslo

    July 13 in Norway

    The train trip from Stockholm went pretty well yesterday. We got in around 8 and successfully navigated the T subway system to the hostel. The hostel is very nice. The boys have a room for two and Madeline, Cheryl and I have a room for three with our own shower. We had a gourmet meal at the hostel of Ichi ban noodles which we had stocked up on in Sweden. We had been munching the whole train trip so we didn't need a big supper. It has supposedly been quite warm in Oslo this summer with temps of 29 degrees Celsius the last few weeks.Fortunately it cooled off over night and we all had wonderful sleeps. We didn't get to bed until 10:30. It was still pretty light out when we went to bed. There were people playing frisbee golf in a park beside the hostel. It really is the place of the midnight sun as it is so far north. Breakfast was included and was a wonderful spread not like the youth hostel meals I remember from my youth.

    We headed downtown on the T and visited the car rental place to make sure all was in order for our car rental tomorrow. We then took Rick Steves tour of downtown Oslo. My favorite part of the tour was the City Hall. A large Art Deco building build in the 30s. The front was covered in wood carvings of Norse mythology. Inside the central hall was covered in Art Deco murals. We wandered around a little and saw the room where they present the noble prize which has a spectacular view of the harbour. We then proceeded to walk around downtown Oslo taking in the National theatre, the parliament building which was less impressive then the city hall, the cathedral and downtown ttrain station which were all spread out principally along one street with a lot of high end shopping stores. We bought some groceries for lunch before heading off to Vigleland park on trolley 12. In 1921 an artist by the name of Gustav Vigeland made a deal with the city of Oslo that they would support him and provide a studio if he produced bronze and stone statues for the park.He produced 600 nude statues of men and women which were all gracefully arranged throughout the park. Some of the statutes dealt with the phases of life others dealt with the interaction of men and women. They were very beautiful. We spent a long time wandering around. It was a little sunny and by the time we were done viewing the sculptures we headed to a nearby outdoor swimming pool to cool off. It had a 50 metre pool and 1,3,5 and 7 metre pools. The kids were in heaven. I had hoped to make it to the National gallery to see the scream but we just ran out of time.
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  • Day13

    This is my second attempt at this entry. The first entry was lost when my iPad crashed. It makes me feel like I am at work and one's dictation gets lost. I am actually working on this on a high speed train to Oslo. One can watch the speed of the train and at times we have been doing 200k per hour which seems pretty fast but maybe not as fast as the TGV trains in France. Maybe someone could fact check this for me. We finished our stay in Stockholm on a strong note. We toured the Vasa museum which contains the Vasa ship from 1638 that sunk in Stockholm harbour within 40 minutes of it's maiden voyage. The guns made the ship too top heavy. Due to cold water, low oxygen levels from fecal matter and a low saline water, all of the wood and fabric on the ship and many non metal items were perfectly preserved. It was raised in 1961 and the ship and contents made the perfect tourist attraction. It is the most visited site in Stockholm. The ship is very large and all of the ornate wood carvings are incredibly preserved. This combined with all of the preserved nonmetal items including shoes and cloth made it a very interesting museum. We lasted about 2.5 hours which is pretty good for the West family. After the Vasa museum we headed back to Gamla Stan for Rob's quick tour of the old town. We started with theRoyal Palace where none of the Royal family live but was being over run with tourists. In fact the old town was all overuse with large bus groups following numbered ping pong paddles. We checked out some of the old church's which served the various nationalities of the merchant communities from the 17 and 18 century. There was an impressive statue of St. George slaying the dragon and the tiniest little statue of a boy looking at the moon. If you rubbed the boys head it would bring you good luck. We wandered the narrow streets of the old town trying to avoid the hoards of bus/ cruise ship tours. By 2:30 we had had enough so headed back to our BnB to make supper for some Swedish guests. Our friend Jennifer Klein's first cousin once removed Astrid and her boyfriend Oscer came over for supper. We made the quintessential Canadian meal of macaroni and cheese. It was a more luxury version compared to Kraft dinner. My children certainly enjoyed it and I think our guests did as well. It was nice to get together with them as it is always nice to meet the locals which when one is travelling one doesn't always get the opportunity to do. They also brought over a Swedish game called Hukke that we went to play at the park after supper.It consisted of throwing batons to try to knock down one competitor's blocks. After several spirited games we let them go home so we could start packing up for our trip to Norway today. After three transfers we made to Flemingsberg station in good time. Chris was very helpful figuring out where the commuter trains leftRead more

  • Day12

    The Stockholm archipeligo

    July 10 in Sweden

    Today we headed off to the Stockholm archipelago which consists of a lot of islands in the Baltic ocean which have summer houses and summer communities. We decided to head to the community of Voxholm which is about a 45 minute ferry from Stockholm. Enough to give us a taste of the archipelago but not long enough to get bored. The archipelago struck me as a Muskoka done Scandinavian style.Lots of large Swedish looking houses on islands. We got to Voxholm and did the Rick Steves tour of the town having an opportunity to see the quaint fisherman's cottages which have all been converted into multimillion dollar summer homes. We hung out at a beach with the locals for a while, visited a playground where Andrew got stuck in a child's swing and received a lot of funny looks from the locals. All three of us had to work to pull Andrew out of the swing. It was a very unusual situation but Andrew was pretty happy when we got him out. We checked out the castle before heading back to Stockholm on the bus. This island happened to be connected to the mainland by a bridge. Of course the kids didn't realize this until we were waiting for the bus.Read more

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