Svalbard: The most exotic place I’ve been in a long while

Imagine a place where cats are prohibited, as is dying, it’s polar night 24/7 several months a year, the streets have no names, carrying weapons are mandatory and permanent residents are still subject to alcohol rationing.

“Svalbard is almost a different planet.”

Thus said a hotel bartender in the hotel we were staying in in Longyearbyen while on Svalbard late last year, and the sentiment rings true to me.

It must be said that I was only in Longyearbyen for about 48 hours and attending a conference on science communication most of the time while there, so my experience of the place was limited - but it was still the most exotic place I’ve been for a very long time.

I had no idea you could find a place that was so different from the rest of Norway that is still technically a part of Norway, even though the Svalbard treaty limits Norway’s right to collect taxes there and there are other ways in which the archipelago operates under slightly different laws and regulations than the Norwegian mainland.

It’s polar night four months a year on Svalbard, and in contrast to a place like Tromsø, where you still get a few hours of daylight even in the darkest part of the year, it was just pitch dark all the time while I was on Svalbard.

Pitch dark and very quiet – only about 2000 people live in Longyearbyen (2654 at the start of 2016), where I was staying. As you might have heard there are more scooters than cars there, and even at the end of the main street in the middle of the city, where I was staying, it felt rather desolate.


At the same time, I felt I was surrounded by very powerful nature – the silence was not negative, just very different from what I’m used to – and it was a pity that it was so dark while I was there as I would have loved to see more of that nature. As it was, I only caught glimpses of it.

Perhaps because of the quiet and total darkness I slept exceedingly well on Svalbard, in fact I can’t think of any place in the world where I have slept better, but don’t think I’m cut out for living with polar night 24/7. However, I have promised myself to come back at a different time of the year when there is light (though I’m told that as well can be 24/7).

But those laws I mentioned in the intro?

A very unusual thing about Svalbard, at least to me, is how much it’s shaped by its history, and shaped by its unique nature and biodiversity status.

One of the oddest things about Svalbard is its alcohol laws, which I understand is shaped by its past as a mining settlement.

To this day, Svalbard has mandatory alcohol ration cards for permanent residents, a card that also serve as an identification card for permanent residents. Locals must present this card when buying beverages regulated by the quota system (beer, liquor, fortified wine) in shops such as “Nordpolet” (a state monopoly which also sells regular beer). Wine, apparently, was consumed by the governing classes when the quotas were introduced, so is not regulated other than by the vague term “in reasonable amounts”. But alcohol bought in bars and restaurants is exempted from the quotas.

As for producing alcoholic beverages on Svalbard, after substantial lobbying a new law was passed by the Norwegian Parliament as late as July 2014 which enabled Svalbard Bryggeri, the world’s northernmost brewery, to tap its first beer in August 2015 – brewed with glacier water. They make an interesting IPA (a bit too fruity for my taste), a nice Stout and a Lager (Pilsner) I didn’t sample.


Many of Svalbard’s companies had their own currencies until recently . In the old days, workers would get their payment in the companies’ own currency only, a currency they could use only on Svalbard, and the money would only be exchanged to Norwegian kroners when they left Svalbard for good.

Cats are strictly prohibited on Svalbard as the archipelago is home to abundant Arctic bird populations and cats pose a problem for the bird life.

The streets in Longyearbyen truly have no names,  they simply go by numbers.

Carrying a firearm is mandatory most everywhere on Svalbard, due to the threat of meeting polar beers, save in the center of Longyearbyen. If, as a tourist, you venture into an area where you may encounter polar beers, you must bring an armed guide.   


Wearing outdoor shoes inside is discouraged even in public buildings, so you’d better bring some slippers. This pertains even to hotels, museums and places such as the local university, and I was told this as well has its origin in the days when Svalbard was a mining settlement.

You cannot choose the colour of your house, houses must be painted in colours that compliment Svalbard’s nature and before you paint your house you must obtain a permission.

Dying has been banned in Longyearbyen since 1950 (!) because the bodies do not decompose (due to the permafrost), and pregnant women return to the mainland to give birth.

And this is but a few of the unusual things about Svalbard.

We were lucky enough to get a guided bus tour of Longyearbyen while there, with an excellent guide, and did get to explore a few museums and get the background story on key areas and historic buildings – even if it was pitch dark.

That, by the way, was probably the most exotic sightseeing I’ve experienced in a long time as well, in fact I’ve never done a three-hour sightseeing spent, save in the museums, driving through near complete darkness, but the guide truly was excellent.

So, I just must come back in one of the lighter months, perhaps come summer…


Ericsson employee set up his own "Hitchhiker's Central" on Facebook

This is pretty nifty: Paul Mathews, an Ericsson employee, was able to use a communication platform at the Swedish firm to enable those stranded without access to the internet to use their phones to post questions and messages to a Facebook page he'd set up to help passengers caught up in the recent flight chaos.

The text messages cost the usual rate but the user is kept up to date with replies for free thanks to the system. "The initiative is not connected to my employment but I am able to deploy the same technology that we export for external developers," he told The Local.

Mathews and his wife Helani manage the site, first set up when some US colleagues were left marooned in the Swedish capital amid the ongoing flight chaos, but he underlined that it is the users, now numbering more than 120, who keep it moving and make it it useful. Full story over at The Local.

I started writing about this issue due to my own experiences using's Hitchhiker's Central (Haikesentralen), but it's a fascinating topic. Not only because of my interest in editorial development and previous experiences from travel PR, but I really think this scenario reveals how powerful communication tools the internet offers and how out of touch too many institutions and companies are with this new communication landscape we live in.

It's not all that new of course, but the future has always been unevenly distributed and the volcano flight chaos, and subsequent transport crisis, just shows us to which extent this is the case.

In my last media report (link in Norwegian) I wrote that "If there is one arena custom-made to think big and fast at the same time, it's social media. The challenge here is that social media to a large extent is comprised of small niches and networks which could do with someone or something to connect it all together. A connection point is exactly what VG's Hitchiker Central has provided in the wake of the current transportation meltdown. But the tools to do this are so easy to use and readily available that it is far from given that this a role media will be able to occupy forever".

Mathews nifty "Stranded in Europe" Facebook page, and accompanying blog is one example of people taking matters into their own hands, and I'm sure there are plenty other, simliar examples to be found. In fact, here's another one, and I'm sure I could find other such initiatives if I did a bit of googling...

Norwegian government and travel industry launch (

About a week after the ash cloud from Eyjafallajökull started wrecking havoc to airtravel all over Europe, The Federation of Norwegian Commercial and Service Enterprises (HSH) has launched ( in collaboration with the Norwegan foreign department.

Unveiled yesterday evening, the new website is almost identical to Schibsted-owned's Haikesentralen (Hitchhiker's Central) - dubbed a "mini craigs list" by Jeff Jarvis - but enables professional tour operators, mostly coach companies, to advertise their routes in Norway and Europe for free. The site will only be up during times of emergency such as the one we're experiencing now.

It's a useful site. It would have been much easier if I could have found a coach company with a direct route to England and seats still available when trainer Colin Meek got stranded in Oslo last weekend than organising a private car via Haikesentralen. But isn't this too little, no routes I could have used are currently advertised there, and much too late?

I once worked as a PR for a government-owned destination marketeer so I understand why such collaborative measures take time to organise and get up and running. But this kind of institutional inertia is exactly what makes governments and big companies appear slow, incompetent and often irrelevant in today's media landscape, and that goes for many media companies too.

As Jarvis says: "What’s failing us, all in all, is our power structures, which aren’t built to think big and fast at the same time." 

Thing is, more and more of us have become accustomed to turning to our online networks when we need help or get stuck. Most of the time someone in those networks will respond instantly, or at least within the day. It will certainly not take a week before our calls for help are answered. The beauty of this is that the online tools we use to build such networks are there for governments and companies to exploit as well, and yet, almost eleven years after the blog went mainstream, too few governements and travel companies have fully done so.

As mentioned in my column this week (in Norwegian) several airline companies, such as KLM (in English), Norwegian, SAS, did make an effort to keep their passengers informed via Facebook and Twitter, and many passengers shared information that could benefit their fellow travellers here too. But it's a half-way house at best.

These tools and sites are so easy to use that there really is no excuse: one of my favourite places for travel updates during the ash cloud crisis was this Coveritlive bloog by Tnooz, which is nothing but an aggregation of travel related Twitter and newsfeeds and requires no techical know-how to set up.

However, whether we call it the internet age, age of social media, web 2.0 or what have you, the age we live in today requires a different way of thinking than when monopolithic media controlled most publishing platforms. When writing my column this week I was reminded of something Adam Tinworth once told me about how we need to move from seeing journalism as a product to seeing it as a service (in Norwegian). It would seem a bit strange, though not entirely out of sync with my own experiences, but perhaps that goes for the travel industry too?

My favourite reporting trips of the year

I had a zillion posts I wanted to blog this Christmas, but soon found I was in more of a contemplative mood once I got through all of the family business.

So, inspired by Lloyd I thought I'd sum up the year, if not month-by-month in pictures, at least with pictures from my favourite reporting trips this year.

Now, those who know me well might notice that I've included almost all my major trips out of town this year - save Skup in Tönsberg (we were travelling with a professional photograper) and London in February (had great talks with Adam, Richard, Per Mikael Jensen, got to work in what is now Alistair Heath's office, saw the insides of Google HQ London, attended a VRM meeting, met Doc Searls - but a spell of flu clouded my judgement and I only uploaded a few pics to the walled garden that is Facebook)- but they will also recognise this is the change addict/adventurer in me speaking (I'd say the only thing that makes living in Norway tolerable is going abroad every so often, and, as it so happens, I've seen precious little of Norway, so this year's opportunities to see more of the country has also been adventures of sorts).

Nordic Media Festival - Bergen

NordiskeMediedager08 017 

Save from the pictures from the price cermony, which are copyrighted, I came home from this festival with an awful lot of pictures of men in suits.

World Association of Newspapers' (WAN) Congress/ World Editors Forum (WEF) - Gothenburg

Interesting conference, foremostly for the great conversations I had after hours. A few pictures from Timothy Balding's talk on the glorious state of the newspaper industry here, and from the party here (I wrote a blog post from this memorable evening as well). But my favourite photo from the event - not for its technical brilliance, but for its expressiveness - is Reuter's Ilicco Elia explaining how mobile phones may be used for "pocket journalism" (this photo is copyrighted to


Kvinesdal Emigration Festival 2008


I took some 200 photos during my exotic weekend in Kvinesdal in July - where I covered the annual emigration festival for Viking Magazine (published by Sons of Norway, US) - and have uploaded some of them to Flickr, including pics of Hanne Krogh, Secret Garden, Bjøro Haaland and Ted Fosberg (more to follow in January).

The Global Investigative Journalism Conference (GIJC) 2008 - Lillehammer

GIJC08Lillehammer 0441 

Turned out investigative journalists make pretty decent musicians, or as Jude said: there might even be a correlation between investigative skills and musical talent. You can see the slideshow of my more informal pictures from the event here ( click on the photos for subtitles ).

Reykjavik (December)


A very sombre end to the year in Reykjavik, where I was parachuted off to do a story on how the financial crisis has affected Icelandic media (the Norwegian stories from that trip are here and here). I worked with a very competent photographer for the trip, Haldur Jonasson, formerly of both Nyhedsavisen and Frettabladid + haphazardly snapped a few photos myself (the one here and a few more at Flickr) - though I wish I'd had more time to explore the place with my camera. Everyone I met there were extremly accomodating and helpful, but in terms of the state of the media it was surreal: nobody seemed to know who actually owned the newspapers they worked for, everything was in a state of flux. 

Flying home

Rekjavik 064

Rekjavik 065

Delays, delays and more delays: due to snow and "challenging" weather conditions I spent the whole day travelling. But the delays meant I got to snoop around a bit more in the tax free, and once we got above the fog the weather at least looked wonderful. Click on the images for full size.

Stranger in a strange land


When I landed at Keflavik airport yesterday it felt a bit like Stranger in a strange land reversed: an earthling transposed to Mars, or perhaps the Moon. The barren volcanic landscape had a strange and captivating beauty, which I'm afraid this photo, snapped from behind the window of the airport bus, does a rather poor job of capturing, but perhaps I'll have better luck on my return trip (my flight over here was full and I ended up sitting in an aisle seat). I've never been to Iceland before and the weather here yesterday was stunning, too bad I had to spend most of my time inside. Today, when I will be out and about, it's raining, but still: a new world too me...

The problem with Scandinavian hotels

Sweden is by far the worst: I've yet to encounter a hotel there with tea- and coffee making facilities and ironing gear in the hotel room - and I've stayed in quite a few hotels there. Norway is pretty bad on this too, and while it's been too long since I've stayed in a Danish hotel to make any half-valid conclusions, I've had similar problems there in the nineties.

So what do you do when you, as me, get up in the wee hours to get out a few stories before the day starts and there's no way to feed your caffeine addiction, how do you wake yourself up enough to be productive - without having to run around town at 5am to find a place with coffee, electricity and wi-fi? 

Even the conference hotel I stayed at this weekend: no coffee, no ironing board, only a trouser presser (not very useful). Luckily a waitress in the hotel's restaurant saved me by providing me with this (see picture), but I can't for the life of me figure out why hotels in Scandinavia want to make it so hard for the business traveller. Incidentally, I believe Norwegians are one of the most coffee-drinking nationalities in the world, but I can't quite remember where I saw that survey... (as it happened, I wrote this post after only one cup of coffee, hence survey became sturvey etc - corrected 18:30)

GIJC08Lillehammer 014

On the streets of Skien

It was raining cats and dogs, not exactly the kind of weather you'd want to be out and about in, but just as I walked into the centre of Skien yesterday, a place I'd never been to before, I was approached by a weary looking guy with a worn leather jacket and an impressive camera:

"Excuse me, could I possibly bother you for just a few minutes. I'm a journalist from the local newspaper and was wondering if you could possibly answer a quick question for this vox pop about today's events," he said, and whizzed out a notepad from his pocket.

Me: "Events?" (thinking hard now, been buried in my deadlines before I jumped on the train in the last minute to get her, events?)

Local journalist: "Well, the minister's resignation, you know"

Me: "Aha!" (yes, I heard something about that, Åslaug Haga finally being forced to step down, on the radio at some point). "Okay, now I'm with you, but we have to strike a deal: you have to tell me where the venue I'm heading for is, and where I can grab some lunch on the way, and I'll try to say something sensible for your vox pop. If you really want to interview a fellow journalist, that is."

Local journalist: "Okay, where are you heading?"

Me: "For a conference at the Ibsen Centre"

Local journalist: "Oh, I thought you were heading for a funeral, all dressed in black as you are. What's the conference on?"

Me:"Open Source Software, it's the biggest conference of its kind in Europe I'm told." (black is actually very handy: suited both for the conference and the prize cermony in the evening, not expecting to find time to change for the latter) 

Local journalist: "Open what?"

Me: "Open Source Software, like Drupal"

Local journalist: "Brutal?"

Me: "Drupal. It's an online publishing platform, but I guess it is a bit techie: for the specially interested."

Local journalist: "Oh, now how about Haga. Do you think this story has been exaggerated and is out of proportion with what she did, or is it justified?"

A few words about practising what you preach rolled off my tounge. I said it wouldn't be such a big story if the Government she was a part of hadn't championed the regulations she violated (how very unoriginal, but my mind was on something else entirely), and I got my directions both to the venue I was heading for and a decent lunch place on the way. Value for value, I say...  


Here, there and back again

At some point I feared a re-run of my trip to Costa Rica in 99, when my luggage never got to San Jose with me, and I, for lack of anything better to wear, ended up donning the hotel bed sheets to a VIP reception.

But then I thought: at least I did get there. I did get to Bergen on my second attempt, and miraculously, to my relief, my luggage also managed to get there with me.

Now, I had never been in Bergen before, so I was quite excited about the prospect when I got up in the wee hours to catch the 07:15 plane there to cover the Editor's Association Spring Meeting and the Nordic Media Days on Wednesday last week.

A few Bergen-bound flights were kept on ground that morning due to fog on the West Coast of Norway, but our ballsy pilot gambled that it would all have cleared by the time we reached Bergen. Gambled - and lost. My first flight to Bergen was spectacularly unsuccessful and was forced to return to Oslo after circling over Bergen for about half an hour. That was the opening session.

And when I finally managed to retrieve my luggage there was a planeload of passengers from Warsaw waiting in the ticket queue to rebook their tickets before me. Luckily, I'm scarily good at throwing a civilised tantrum when forced to. I rarely loose my temper, and quickly found someone to convince of my VIP status who let me jump the queue and secure the last seat on the delayed 10:30 flight to Bergen (all bullocks of course, I'm not a VIP, but I needed to get to Bergen as it was the only way we had of covering the events that day).

Come to think of it, that VIP-business only works in the languages I master: it failed spectacularly in Costa Rica, where I finally did end up loosing my temper – to no effect, as the Spanish airport officers didn't get half of my English swear words – and I had to bring a Spanish editor friend to the airport the next day just to make myself understood (that took us as far as a middle manager's office, but my luggage didn't arrive until ten days later, just in time for my return trip).

(Charles lent his moral support. Early days
of digital cameras, hence the grainy quality)

It annoys me tremendously that it has to be this way: why isn't "you lost my luggage" or "you didn't get me where you promised me" enough, why all these games to get what you paid for in the first place?

Ah well, back to Bergen. I finally checked in to my hotel about 3:30pm, just in time for the editor's shrink session (some famous shrink talking about working together as a team), but decided that, for me, the bath tub would be more therapeutic and help ease my mind so as to be better prepared to cover the price ceremony in the evening.

However, I'm ashamed to admit that despite having two cameras in my bag, I somehow managed to come back to Oslo almost exclusively with pictures of men in suits, the notable exception being journalist Helle Aarnes, from Bergens Tidende. Aarnes scooped up the "Journalist of the year" prize for her series of articles on the Norwegian women who were stigmatised for decades after being romantically involved with German soldiers during the second world war.

For my return trip, I simply couldn't make myself catch that 9pm flight back to Oslo on Friday. Nackered from running around photographing men in suits and getting intimately acquainted with all the conference rooms at Grieg Hallen conference hall, I just had to catch a few hours of the Bergen sun and soak in the scenery while I had the chance.

So I opted for taking the train back the following day, which was a brilliant choice, perhaps not for my wallet, but certainly from all other aspects: hours of spectacular scenery and a very civilised restaurant section with leather sofas and panoramic windows.

It was also fascinating to see how the landscape changed as we journeyed from the Bergen and the West Coast, through the mountains to Oslo: from the sharp, jagged, dramatic landscape of the West, to the gently rolling hills of the East - growing ever more soft and rounded the further East we went. It made me think of Montesquieu's (and Aristotle's for that matter) thoughts on how the landscape and climate shape its inhabitants, which is a rather deterministic notion, I know, but not entirely far-fetched in my experience – in either case, that's the topic for another post....

Leaving England

Thanks to Virgin cancelling all its trains to Manchester and Liverpool on Saturday, I got to see a lot more of England than I intended this week.

In addition to my planned visits to the three L's (Lincoln, London and Liverpool), I also got to see vast amounts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Merseyside etc; spend a chilly hour watching trains go by in Sheffield (where I'd actually never been before) and travel past Stockport, Manchester, Warrington and Widnes on the last leg of the journey. Phew.


My last proper tour of Merseyside was when I interviewed Dr John Marks, also nicknamed Dr Drugs and Mr Heroin by international media as he was in charge of two clinics, Widnes and Warrington, adhering to the old British orthodoxy of prescribing heroin to addicts, must have been 1996 or so, but I saw a slightly different side of the region then than the view I got from the train window yesterday, so perhaps it was about time I got to see the region in a more traditional way.

Anyway, lots of travel and work in England this week, just landed in the land of the Midnight Sun now. Will be back with more media stuff in the morning...


(picture from Muswell Hill)

Lost my voice in Lincoln

Well, that's not quite accurate (it just rhymes better): I almost lost my voice somewhere between that delayed flight from Copenhagen, which didn't quite get me back home by midnight on Friday, and arriving London early Monday morning. But I've never been happier to land in England, as you've got over-the-counter medicine that works here (as opposed to Norway where everything you need to get thru the day with a flu, sore throat or just nasty cold, is either on prescription or not to be had):


So by the time I arrived Lincoln on Monday I wasn't feeling too bad. I gave a talk on blogging at the Uni there, together with the Press Gazette's eminent student blogger, Dave Lee, which was quite fun (at least I enjoyed it), but towards the end of my talk my voice just grew fainter and fainter (and even more husky than what it usually is). Still, good evening, and a nice dinner in the barge you can see just across the road here (by this time I was really starting to feel that I'd been up since 4am though, but luckily my hotel was just across the road, where the photo is shot from):


This morning I had a very brief tour of Lincoln Castle and Cathedral:



In the latter, they also keep an original copy of Magna Carta, hence the name of the pub across the road:


Welcome back to Oslo (or the dangers of relying solely on your newsreader for news)

I arrived the city safely from my trip to the coast, although at the wrong bus stop (must have been a new driver). Then, just as I was boarding the underground train that would take me from the city centre and home, a pickpocket unzipped my backpack and stole my wallet.

I only realised what had happened the minute the doors closed and the train started moving. I went back, but of course, no trace, no witnesses, so off to the police I went. When I finally did get home I was (almost) penniless, very angry (mostly with myself for not noticing) and decidedly thirsty, but had consigned myself to drinking tea and water 'til I could convince one of my clients whose payment is overdue to pay me (my budget for this week was in that wallet).

But no, the minute I stepped over the threshold I was greeted with the news that the city's drinking water had been contaminated, and when I got down to the mall I found that my last coins couldn't even buy me water: it was all sold out.

Of course, had I checked the national news this morning, like normal people do, I would have known about the contaminated water and might have decided to stay on in that lovely village on the coast, but no: I only checked RSS-feeds in my newsreader this morning. So I knew all the big and small media stories of the day in various corners of the world, the key financial and business headlines, a bit about what was going on in the lives of people near and dear who blog, a bit about the lives of bloggers I don't know but like to read, but I didn't have a clue about the contaminated drinking water in the city I live...

Wi-Fi (free) warning signal


I picked up this 'would have been very handy sign for hotels', or at least for their customers, from Virtual Economics (via David Black) just as I was sitting in a very posh hotel lounge fuming over the hotel's crap internet set-up.

Why is it that the internet set-up at fancy hotels tend to be as expensive as it is impractical, whereas less expensive hotels often have free wi-fi throughout? During my recent 10 days on the road, I would typically stay in a perfectly charming hotel where maybe the floors weren't quiet straight, and consequently the bath tub tilting slightly, but at least it would be clean, friendly and provide free wi-fi, in contrast to the posh hotels where I ended up using an amount similar to what I pay for my monthly broadband for two days of internet connection.

Not to mention how the internet-set up in the rooms was incompatible with the one for public areas (like in, impossible to read your newsfeeds over breakfast or lunch). It's the opposite of no-frills airlines: with these hotels the more you paid, the less you got – apart from straight floors, that is.

At least the posh hotels had gyms, my reason for choosing them in the first place, but I'd rather have free wi-fi and pay for a drop-in at a decent gym the hotel has an agreement with, than pay small fortunes for being online and get free access to gyms that resemble dumping grounds for equipment that was cool in the seventies. But I guess, with documentaries like this one from Panorama (via mediastandardstrusts' blog) hotels have a new excuse not to provide wi-fi in the rooms, and could even use the lack of it as a sales pitch: used to be 'smoke-free throughout' that heralded a truly modern hotel, now it's 'wi-fi free'... ?

And then the sun came out..

It's perhaps a bit unfair that I've had 'Rainy days in Brighton' on the top of my blog for the last few days. I've had amazing, summery days here as well, in fact more of the summery than the gloomy. The latter have been more conducive to my writing though: I mean, when you get days like these it's close to impossible to lock yourself to a laptop screen all day:


Rainy days in Brighton

Did I bring an umbrella? Nah, wouldn't have been much use in the wind anyway. A raincoat? Don't own one. Wellingtons? Would've taken up too much of my suitcase...

But Brighton is pretty awesome on rainy days as well: especially when you can sit, safe behind the windows, with your laptop, looking out on the turbulent sea. The storms you get in Brighton are quite unparaIleled my third cousin, who went to a boarding school down here some 30 years ago, often says, but when I lived here, ten years ago, storms were rare, and if it rained it was mostly just a drizzle.


I could go down on the beach, to the Fortune of War, a pub, which' interior gives you the feeling of sitting in a ship, and watch the waves hit the shore (picture below from sunny yesterday, a marvellous day in between two gloomy ones), or make it over to the Grand for some proper afternoon tea.


In the end I opted for the latter: a pleasant walk down memory lane, crap service.


A picture story, or why it's been a bit quiet here lately

I know it's been pretty quiet here recently, here's the explanation - mostly in pictures (note: a fair share of these are taken with my mobile phone camera, so not the best of quality, but click on them for larger versions).

Last week I was racing to get everything out of the way before I set out for a week long trip of work and holiday, and Thursday saw me getting up at 4am to catch my flight to Newcastle via Stavanger after only a few hours sleep. You can imagine my delight then, when I at last, for late lunch, was able to get this tray of delights delivered via room service to my ever so comfortable room in the west wing of the estimable Jesmond Dene House (which, I should mention, was a complimentary stay, courtesy of NewcastleGateshead Initiative):

The good things in life

That night we had dinner at The Newcastle United Football Club and were treated a show-round of St James' Park. Many of the older women lined up to have their pictures taken next to the shirts of Owen and Shearer (yes, the tour included a peek in the wardrobes), but I was rather taken by the strange ambience of the empty stadion:




While in NewcastleGateshead, we encountered a number of school classes making their way around town and were told that it was quite common for school classes to use the city as their classroom. Here's one of them, all the kids in deep concentration with the task of trying to draw the bridge:

Painting the town

After Newcastle, I was off to Ireland, on yet another uncomfortably early flight. My visit coincided with that of the Norwegian Environment Minister, so I stopped by Dublin Castle on Monday for the press conference following the meeting of the Norwegian, Irish, Icelandic and Austrian Environment ministers (on nuclear energy and the feared reopening of Thorpe, Sellafield). This is not my best picture from the event, but by far the funniest as everyone seems preoccupied with his or her own affairs:

Press conference, Dublin Castle

My real purpose with visiting Ireland, however, was to see two good friends who work as volunteers at an animal refuge there. Most notably, this place caters for monkeys who've previously been used for labratory research. The place is in the middle of the Irish countryside, so I could only dream of getting online and was cut off from the world for quite a few days, but as you see from the pictures, it was a very peaceful, tranquil corner of the world, where, frankly, the world seemed to fade into the background:

Rory looking after his monkeys

Monkey feeding I

Monkey feeding II

Buddha overseeing the Monkey delta

Marianne and Des at Glendalough

One of our excurisons went to the impressive Glendalough nature reserve as pictured above (and in the post called Timeout).

All in all a lovely trip, full of magnificent views and good experiences, but it was cold in the Irish countryside, smoking ban and all, or maybe it just was the effect of running around like a headless chicken for a while and then facing complete peace and quite, in any case I got ill, very ill, towards end of the stay, so that's another reason why it's been a bit quiet here and I still have all those emails left unanswered...

The Post-Holiday Dip

Spanish scientists have found that long holidays are bad for you. They can cause a post-holiday syndrome which sounds rather like a powerful post-lunch dip but doesn't only make you tired, it brings on depression and anxiety as well. The findings might shed new light on why Norwegians are so prone to depression.

The fact that we have one of the world's highest suicide rates has often been explained by our long and dark winters, but Norwegians also tend to have very long holidays – it's almost as if the whole country shuts down in July and the school holiday is eight weeks. Much too long if we are to take the advice of Professor Humbelina Robles Ortega:

"If our holidays last one month and our employer allows us to do so, we could take fifteen days first and another fifteen days later on. This will prevent anxiety and we will be under the impression of a longer holiday. Moreover, changes in habits won't be so radical and permanent and, therefore, re-starting to work won't be so traumatic.”

No wonder then that pupils tend to turn up at school around this time of the year feeling decidedly tired, depressed, de-motivated and unfocused – all symptoms of the post-holiday syndrome. Maybe it's not such a bad thing after all that I've only had the odd long weekend off this year.

(Link via Svenska Dagbladet and Medical News Today)

Remember to be yourself today

This neon-blinking, talking escalator greets me every day when I arrive and leave the underground station closest to my current assignment. When I stumbled off the train yesterday morning it told me something in the vein of "I used to have nothing, now I have a garden full of garbage," and on my way back from work yesterday it told me to "remember to be yourself today". The things politicians spend money on... I guess it's supposed to be an art installation of sorts, but it's a rather eerie way to start your day ... More on this later, in the meantime, here's a few pics:



Neon Hell

The sea beckons

The Skerries - Stavern

It's summer time in Norway: bet this place will be choked when I get there later in the day. Almost a third of the Norwegian population own or have access to a boat according to this article in Norwegian Dagsavisen. If another third of the population is lounging on a beach somewhere, it certainly explains why the streets of Oslo seem so empty these days...

""It is said that Norwegians are born with skiis on their feet, but if that is the case, the birth took place on a boat," Jan H. Syvertsen of the Royal Boat Association told Dagsavisen.

Leaving London


I left London just after the break of dawn, a wonderful time of the day to travel as the city is just starting to wake up and you get the streets and underground almost to yourself - give or take a few clubbers stumbling home and a few workers shuffling off to an early start. I did feel a bit dazed and confused by the early hour however, as the picture shows, but the journey back to Oslo left me ample time to wake up (which was good seeing how Oslo airport was completely clogged up with holiday-makers). Work's been mad for the last two weeks so many appologies to those I owe emails and/or replies - will get down to it once I've unpacked and unwinded a bit.