Sunday, 8 November 2009

Summer 2009: Travel report no. 51.

Summer 2009: New jobs. Life in Lier. Finn’s Christening. Visit to Træna. Geocaching.
Travel report no. 51.
For corresponding pictures see Picture Gallery no. 51.

Written by Stein in Havana, Cuba. November 8th, 2009.

Diana and I sailed White Admiral safely into Hemingway Marina, Santa Fe, just east of Havana one week ago. We had left Rio Dulce, Guatemala, 30th September, and journeyed along the coast of Belize and Mexico and across the treacherous Yucatan Channel to anchor near Capo San Antonio, Cuba. It happened to be after sunset, in pouring rain, not our usual practice, but the full moon was of intermittent help and for once we had excellent charts, few reefs to avoid and an off-shore wind. After the bucking and the beating across the Yucatan and one very uncomfortable night, it was true bliss to lie still and feel safe again… That was on October 26th. Our tempo up the Central American coast was a lot faster than normal. We encountered some minor problems en route, but we did avoid the dreaded hurricanes. Good friends from Scotland, Anne Johnstone and Alastair Balfour and their son Adam, sailed with us for two weeks in Belize when we re-visited two of the outer atolls, but more about that in our next report.

New jobs and new routines.

Summer 2009 in Norway involved a major change of routine as we now live in a flat in Lier near Drammen, conveniently situated between our son and two grandchildren in Oslo and my mother in Veierland. Our living area is a lot less than we were used to during our 27 years in Kristiansand, but is much more compact and practical and beautifully located on the east coast of the Drammen Fjord; we never get enough of the sea! Diana and I both started work in new hospitals. I had my baptism of fire in the Drammen Cardiology Section on April 27th. In February I had been for interviews and met some of the staff, but could not get proper access to their data system for security reasons, so as I was plunged into full-time work on the morning of 27th , I had to get an office, ID-card, keys, clothes, passwords and in a 20 minute tutorial from a busy colleague learn a new data system relating to case-notes and to X-rays (two separate systems!) while doing a working ward round - on my own. (Apart from a nurse, who in Drammen does not have access to the same systems and could not help when I repeatedly got stuck...) The last straw was that for the first 2-3 days I could not dictate, but had to type or hand-write every note, letter and summary. So during these first crazy days I spent a lot more time in the hospital than at home. The reason for this unintended rough start was apparently staff shortage, but I suspect they just wanted to test an old dog?!
At any rate, both my patients and I survived, and I soon became very fond of my new work-place and a number of skilled and friendly colleagues, and with 10 km to cycle each way there was the added bonus of exercise just getting to and fro work!
When Diana started one week later in the Eye Dept, Tønsberg, they had set aside three days for her to be tutored into gradually acquiring new skills. Even so, she also found a new data system tough going. Strangely enough, Drammen and Tønsberg belong to the same, large health administration as Kristiansand, but a lot of local routines and technical solutions vary tremendously.

Finn’s Christening and Jude Law as Hamlet.

Torp Airport near Sandefjord (known internationally as” Oslo Torp” although 110 km south of Oslo!) and the affordable services of Ryan Air is also quite near us now, and we had two memorable week-ends in London during the summer. First in early May for Finn’s Christening, a day of sunshine and many friends and relations gathering to celebrate a happy boy now duly named Finn Theodor Hoff Chambers. As Elisabeth & Co were busy moving house, Diana and I stayed with our good friends, Yvonne and Jonathan in Greenwich. Apart from providing several excellent meals, they also treated us to an opera experience.
In July we were across again spending more time both with Elisabeth, Hugh and Finn, now settled in a family-style house in Chiswick, and with our youngest son Robert, presently also living and working in London.
But the main occasion this time was taking Hugh and Elisabeth to see “Hamlet”. One of our favorite actors, Jude Law, did a brilliant interpretation of Shakespeare’s famous drama. This actor is not just good-looking - we were impressed! These popular theatre seats were booked by Diana on Internet one year earlier, and at that time we did not know that Robert also would be in London, otherwise we would of course have secured an additional ticket.

Family and friends.

My mother moved out to her cottage at Veierland this summer a little later than usual; at 93 her legs are not so strong, and Diana and I, mostly I, went there quite regularly to help with maintenance and shopping. Fortunately, she also has some obliging cottage neighbors that provide both help and security.
Our grandchildren, Hedda and Johan joined us regularly both in Lier and at Veierland. They are like me fascinated by nature and living things and can now name a few new flowers and butterflies, including the rare Swallowtail, and they never seem to tire from just pottering on a shore looking for pretty shells.
The sad aspect of moving is losing regular contact with good friends, but we had a belated gathering of some of them as a sort of house-warming party in the middle of July. Fortunately we also have very good, old friends, Dagmar and Christian living in the same house. Christian and I share a passion for kayaking and regularly go for before-breakfast paddles together; another bonus of a sea-side flat.

To the Træna islands of Lovund, Husøy and Sanna.

Like last year, Diana had arranged time off from hospital to work in an eye practice in Mo I Rana in Nordland County. Halfway through her four weeks I flew up to join her for a long week-end around August 1st. Like last year we travelled out to some of the thousands of islands in the Helgoland archipelago that are still inhabited. This time we went to a cluster of islands known as Træna, a couple of hours by ferry out from the coast. The first boat took us via two other stops to the island of Lovund, an old fishing community with about 200 inhabitants. Here we did some hiking in light drizzle. We also climbed a mountain-side littered with large boulders, a protected breeding site where puffins gather in huge numbers every summer. These sea-birds are expert fishers and can be seen returning to their chicks at top speed carrying a cluster of sardines in broad, colourful beaks; beaks that have given them the nick-name of the Parrots of the Arctic. They often have to zig-zag their way back to their burrows due to attacks from gulls and skuas; hawk-like sea-birds that have specialized in stealing their catch and any chicks that are unprotected.
We left the car at Lovund and took a fast catamaran to Husøy further north, and as the sky cleared we walked through the charming village to the only guest-house open all year. After dinner of whale beef (I normally do not eat red meat, but there was no menu alternative, and I have to admit that it was very tasty!) we had a walk in the clear and still evening. As we now were virtually on the Polar Circle just south of N 67°30’, the sun was still shining from the north as we went to bed at 11.30 pm.
North of Husøy, and separated by a narrow channel with several fish farms, lie the spectacular island of Senna. For the 15 min trip there we joined three other visitors and hired a small boat to taxi us across. Senna is a small island with three impressive peaks where nesting sea-eagles, Norway’s largest bird, have made a come-back in recent years. We saw several of these majestic birds hovering beside the cliffs. At the foot of the two easterly peaks and behind the small bay on the south side is a cluster of idyllic houses. Most of these houses are now only used in the summer, but a couple of hardy, elderly folks still tolerate the isolation and the tough winters. The bonus is a closeness to untamed nature and wild-life that city-dwellers cannot imagine. But when they are gone, so is an unbroken habitation that goes back 6000 years: When most of main-land Norway was still covered in ice, stone age humans were living in a big cave on western Sanna called Kirkehelleren. Archeologists are of course fascinated by all the finds in Kirkehelleren, but in recent years also musicians have discovered that this natural gothic cathedral is a unique theatre. In July each year Husøy hosts a music festival, and for one of the concerts the audience gets into boats, go across to Senna, hike on a rugged path from the beach to the cave to sit on stone benches and listen to music in a breathtaking setting. And with typical Nordland attitude, concerts are never cancelled, but boots, oil-skins and hot drinks may be required!

Birkebeinerrittet 2009.

Keeping fit is a bit of an obsession I have, according to my nearest, and I try to do something that is physically a bit challenging every day, whenever possible. And I enjoy it – most of the time! Jogging is no longer a good idea, unfortunately, I suppose all the asphalt-running Diana and used to do wore out our knees prematurely, but I can still enjoy rowing and kayaking, biking and skiing. Every year I try to take part in a couple of rowing regattas and one off-road bike race, the 90 km long Birkerbeinerrittet. It was Martin who first introduced us to “Birken”, as it is known, and everybody else in the near family has taken part at least once, apart from Diana. She has in the past done several triathlons, which includes cycling, but only on even surface, her balance is not good enough for this rally which includes surface of rocks, roots, mud and water. With all this cycling just back and forth to work I was getting good basic fitness. But in early August, on the way home from work I was run down by a car and suffered a set-back. The bike was a complete write-off, I had lots of abrasions and bruises and a very sore left knee. (And that was my good knee!) That knee problem did not stop my daily activities, rowing was still no problem, but cycling was painful and my final preparations for Birken were not like I had hoped. Still, on 29th August (my birthday) Martin and I started with 16.000 others in groups of 2-300. I took me nearly 5 hours; over an hour more than last year! Mind you, most people who completed took half an hour more than usual as it was the wettest, coldest, windiest and muddiest ever! (Excellent stuff for masochists; I’m already looking forward to next year!)

Vienna Rowing Masters 2009.

Like I was used to in Kristiansand, Drammen Roklubb is also conveniently located close to my work-place on the east side of the town river. And Drammen is also where my main double- sculls (2x) partner since 1993 lives. - Hans Petter Rasmussen is probably an even more keep-fit fanatic than I am, and does about as much rowing as it is possible to fit in. Having a daughter in California he rows a lot over there too, and when competing in Masters (veteran) events rows for the American Occoquan International. So when we took part in World Masters in Vienna in early September I also I had to row for Occoquan. We were hoping for a replay of 1993 when we on the same venue won our heat in 2x, but this time we had to settle for a 2nd place out of eight boats. Annoyingly, in 1x (single sculls) I had the same result both in my own age group (60-65; F) and the younger group (E). But lack of a victory does not stop me enjoying this annual event of more than 3000 rowers from more than 40 countries. Among the large group of Norwegians were also people I have rowed with back in the 70’s and even in Glasgow in the late 60’s. (Helge Refsum started studying medicine at Glasgow although he finished his degree in Oslo.) And Vienna is a city with lots of wonderful sights. The final banquet in the City Hall was worth the meal for just seeing the venue!

Friends, relations and reunions.

We have already had a number of visitors in Lier. Some old friends we enjoyed seeing again were Sandra Cairns and Fiona Roberts, Diana’s old school friends, with Sandra’s husband Robin from Glasgow, Andrew Fraser from Switzerland with his Norwegian mother-in-law Bjørg Guttormsen, and Kari Boye Young all the way from Pitcairn with her daughter Anette, now living in Oslo where she works in a hotel. Kari had visited us 10 years ago, but we had not seen Anette since on Pitcairn in 1986 when she was four!
Elisabeth, Hugh and Finn had a long week-end partly with us, partly with Eli in Veierland. And Robert came and stayed with us the last week before we left for Guatemala, drove us to Torp and was quite happy to have the car and the flat for himself when we left!

We have also been pleased this summer that our son Martin has developed a new serious relationship. It was at a 20 year school reunion in Kristiansand in the summer that he met Tonje Horntvedt and discovered what a delightful person she is. After a holiday in Sicily they decided to join up more formally, and by now Martin’s flat in Oslo has a much more feminine touch! Tonje’s parents we have known for many years, especially her father, Bjørn. Apart from being a delightful person, Bjørn was also a computer expert responsible for the data systems when we were in private practice, and was always willing to help when we had PC-problems at home or on the boat. (Sadly, he died in 2006 of ALS, an awful illness.) Among Tonje’s many good features we happily notice how well she gets on with Hedda and Johan.

Having Fiona, Sandra and Robin visiting us and being interested in some sight-seeing made us have a closer look both at our own Drammen and at Oslo. Thanks to them we have now finally visited the new Oslo Opera, and are duly impressed, have also had a fresh look at the naked granite people of the Vigeland Park, and have admired the three Viking ships at Bygdøy. Historian Fiona knew more about the Vikings than I did! These big ships and their fascinating funeral cargo were excavated from different burial sites in south Norway; the Gogstad ship was found in a big mound close to my childhood town of Sandefjord.

2009 was the year for school reunions not just for Martin. Diana met with classmates from Hutchesons Grammar School from 47 years ago in Glasgow, Sandra and Fiona among them.
And I had a 50 year reunion in Sandefjord with 22 of the original 27 who graduated from class 7b, Sande Skole in 1959. At that time Norway had only 7 years of compulsive schooling at the “Folkeskole”. Most of us carried on with more education, but two of the boys took jobs at sea as soon as they finished at the age of 14!
Our reunion started at the school, still standing and in good condition, and with our class photo still on the wall. We then visited the grave of our dear teacher, Georg Buøen, before walking in beautiful weather down town to the Whalers’ Room of Hotel Atlantic. Here we had a genuinely nostalgic evening in a maritime, indeed nostalgic setting. Whaling, especially in the Arctic, was an activity we are now happy to see abandoned, but for more than 60 years it was the main reason why towns like Sandefjord and Tønsberg prospered and became major shipping centres.


Andrew Fraser may live in Switzerland, but is still very much a Scot at heart. He is my oldest friend from Glasgow University, we met at Auchendennan Freshers’ Camp on the banks of Loch Lomond in October 1964, a couple of days after I first arrived to get prepared for the medical studies. Since then we have had some good times together. Diana and I may have seen a lot of the World, but Andrew is a true globetrotter and has seen even more. And he loves travelling to really remote, often uncomfortable places, usually involving lots of walking. A small Indonesian island, the Himalayas or a geothermal area in the interior of Kamchatka, to name a few. With his wife Anne (a Norwegian!) he is also an enthusiastic Geocacher. We had heard from them of this activity briefly a year or two ago, but when he came to see us with Bjørg in Lier he gave us detailed information and introduced us to the excellent Internet site. Briefly, Geocaching is a non-profit hobby of finding hidden items (caches) using a GPS. The finds are of varying size, but all have a log for signing in addition to registering them on Internet. The caches are often located in places of beauty or historical interest, and may involve a lot of hiking and searching. Sometimes riddles are thrown in for an extra challenge. The activity originated in USA and of the nearly 1 million caches hidden in the world, most are found in the States. But it has spread a long way and when Diana found out that there are a few hidden caches in Mo I Rana, and as walking the Rottweiler Charlie daily is part of the deal when she takes over both eye practice, house and dog, she thought geocaching would give her an extra incentive. This proved to be an interesting hobby, and by now we (mostly Diana) have made more than 40 finds in different places including Træna, Lier, Veierland and Belize.
Hand-held GPS’s are forbidden in Cuba, so this is unfortunately not the place for Geocaching, but wait till we get to Florida in March next year! Meanwhile if you check you may get hooked, too!

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