Borestranden: Take Two

Monday 30 September 2013

Back in February, Joe and I drove South of Stavanger to check out Borestranden.  Even in the winter, bundled in parkas and toques, the beach was gorgeous.  The massive sand dunes and the clear, blue water were impressive and we vowed to make our way back in the summer.

Mid-July, the sun was out and so were the people.  The parking lot was packed so full, we wondered if we'd even find a spot.  As we made our way along the uneven, wooden path over the dunes, the long, sandy beach stretched for miles on either side of us but surprisingly, there were only a few children playing in the sand.  We wondered where all of the people who had left their cars had went - were we missing something?

The beach is windy.  Really windy.  Despite the clear skies and sunshine, that wind brought quite a chill right off the North Sea.  As we lugged our cooler and towels to find a spot, it became evident where all of the people were.  Behind each sand dune, we'd notice the top of a head or a leg stretched out on a towel.  One man had his head wedged between 2 sand dunes and his body outstretched on the beach.  Others had climbed up the other side of the dunes, with no view of the water whatsoever but stretched out to suntan nonetheless.  There were hundreds of beach-goers at Borestranden that day but you had to search for them.

Eventually, we found our own little bunker that offered some respite from the wind.  We watched the kids, completely unfazed by the wind, playing along the beach and a couple of very talented kite surfers fly and glide in and out from the shore.

Exploring Stockholm

Thursday 26 September 2013

This post has been a long time coming.   It's been started and filed in drafts multiple times but for some reason, every time I opened it, I stumbled over my words.  But, today is the day that I'm finishing it whether it's awkward or not.  Bear with me.

Sweden's capital city, Stockholm, is known to be a beautiful Scandinavian city and a mecca for good design.  Home to just over a million people in the greater region who reside on 14 islands, the city is clean, efficient and surrounded by an abundance of water and green space.

I mentioned earlier that prior to visiting, we didn't have a lot of expectations for the city.  Being a resident of Scandinavia, we expected to find a similar feeling and aesthetic to where we call home and while there were definitely commonalities, Stockholm surprised us in the best possible way.
After visiting Vasa Museum, we walked and walked and walked.  We perused the streets of Gamla Stan, stopping for lunch and then crossing over to Södermalm.  There we visited the Photography Museum but feeling tired, we rushed through the exhibits to get to the top where we enjoyed a latte and a rest with great views of the city.  We continued on in search of Oliver Twist, a spot known for it's great selection of beers (it didn't disappoint) before returning to Östermalm.

Sunday, both Joe and I were dragging our feet, exhausted from a busy few days so we jumped on one of the many boat tours first thing in the morning.  We sat back, listened to the audio guide and and took in Stockholm from the water.  It definitely allowed us to see more of the city than we had seen on our walks but the boat was not ideal for taking pictures as the minimal amount of outdoor space was taken before we even boarded.  

Afterwards, we hoped to browse a few shops but most were closed until the afternoon so we took respite from a brief thundershower and ate lunch before having to return to the airport.  A couple of weeks prior to our visit, SAS changed our return flight taking away 4 hours of exploring time which was disappointing as it would have allowed us just enough time to see Skansen Open Air Park as well.

Where we ate...
+Our favourite meal was at Pa & Co, a small restaurant located just down the street from our hotel.  The food was fresh and delicious and the service was nice.  There are only a handful of tables so make sure to make a reservation.
+We also had a great dinner at Nalen - I quite enjoyed the Swedish meatballs.
+For lunch in Gamla Stan, we found a great table in the sun at Brasserie Le Rouge.
+Both nights, we capped the night off with great cocktails from our hotel bar, Story Bar.

*A big thank you to blog reader Kiki who sent along some great advice to help us explore her city!  We were thankful to have an inside edge on what to see and do in the city!*

The Norwegian Open-Faced Sandwich

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Norwegians eat everything with utensils.  I'm talking hamburgers, pizza, french fries and sandwiches; yes, they are all eaten with a knife and fork.  Have you ever eaten a hamburger piled high with fixings with a knife and a fork?  It's not easy.

Utensils make sense for the Norwegian Smørbrød.  This open-faced sandwich is found everywhere in Norway.  The sandwich is generally one piece of homemade bread with mayonnaise, aioli or butter and an array of meats, cheese and vegetables piled on top.  Smoked salmon is common as is beef, shrimp and your standard, processed lunch meat.  Higher end restaurants and cafés will get creative, offering unique and quality ingredients but simpler options are always available at buffets and cafeterias.  In fact,  the sandwich section at Joe's office cafeteria is the most popular.  Loaves of bread sit where one can slice off a piece and then small plates with different toppings can be chosen to make one to your liking.

I can't get enough of these sandwiches.  My favourite to date was found in the Spring at a local restaurant - delicious homemade bread with a healthy layer of garlic aioli was topped with fresh greens, red onion and perfectly tender slices of beef cooked to medium sat on top.  Following in a close second position would be one I threw together for dinner last week.

Inspired by this Bruschetta Chicken recipe, I decided to make my own smørbrød.

Bruschetta Chicken Smørbrød


6 small tomatoes, chopped
1/2 small red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
handful of fresh basil, chopped
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp EVOO
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

-Mix all ingredients together in bowl, cover and put in the fridge until you're ready to assemble the sandwich.  There will be enough to make 3-4 sandwiches.


2 (or however many you need) chicken breasts
good bread (I used an organic, whole wheat with grains loaf but anything will do)
aioli or mayonnaise
salt & pepper

-Season the chicken breasts with salt & pepper and cook completely.  I used my tenderizer to flatten them out a bit to help them cook more evenly and then cooked them in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil.  BBQing would be great too.  
-Slice and lightly toast the bread.  I like to slice the loaf on an angle making the pieces longer and I toast them in the oven on broil.
-To assemble the sandwich, spread the aioli on the bread followed by a couple of pieces of crisp lettuce, the cooked chicken and finally, the bruschetta.
-I served it with a small side salad but it is great on it's own too.
-Consumed the Norwegian way - with a knife and fork!

Bon appétit.


Joe and I are off on another adventure so I might be a bit slow to respond.  You're more than welcome to follow along on Instagram!

Zinio Magazine Subscription Winners

Sunday 22 September 2013

We have a winner... or 9 winners!

Congratulations to...






Chee Yong Hsia




Check your emails!  Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Travel Planning - Flights & Hotels

Friday 20 September 2013

Last week, I talked about our long range travel planning but today we get to delve into my favourite part of the planning process - booking flights and hotels!

Booking flights and hotels are usually done concurrently and it's often a mess of dozens of open tabs in my Safari browser and notes scrawled across my notepad.  We're always trying to make the most of our time and of our money and because we're semi-flexible with our travel dates, we can rearrange for the best possible outcome.

1. Flights

Unless there's a hotel we're extremely keen on staying in, the flights are booked first.  (If we're planning a long stay in one location (Mauritius, Santorini) we might choose a hotel first and then work with the dates it's available.)  Generally, we want the shortest amount of travel time for the least amount of money.  Our time is valuable, so we don't mind spending an extra $100 to avoid an 8 hour layover but we're not willing to pay thousands of dollars over the low cost option to make it work.

Our travel dates are always flexible.  Joe really only works around one other colleague so even if we schedule to take Thursday & Friday off, if the flights work out better Saturday through Tuesday, we'll shift as we need to.  This can save a lot of money and result in better flight connections.

My search always starts with a multi-booking site like Expedia, Kayak or Skyscanner.  They are great tools to quickly get a look at the general flight costs.  Usually, the cheapest option is a bit of a milk run but it doesn't take long to scroll through.  This is also where I shift between all of the possible date combinations.  I'll start to see which days are best to fly on in terms of cost and connections.

Once I've zeroed in on the dates, I'll cross reference the best flights I've found through various platforms.  I'll go directly the airline as well to see if it's better to book through them.  For the last few flights we've scheduled, Expedia came through as the cheapest.  In fact, we saved a couple hundred dollars booking our flights to Istanbul through them versus the exact same itinerary through the Turkish Airlines site.  Do note, budget airlines like Easyjet, RyanAir & Norwegian do not partner with multi-booking sites so you must check with them directly.  In Stavanger, the only budget airline available is Norwegian so I always do a quick check before finally booking.

We tend to fly with Star Alliance.  Canada's most comprehensive international airline, Air Canada, is a member so it often works out that we take them home.  In Stavanger, Lufthansa & Scandinavian Airlines have a large presence and they often tend to be our best options when traveling.  We are also a part of their loyalty program and both of us have near or over 100 000 miles each to use towards free flights. If you're a frequent traveler, sign up and start accumulating now!

2. Hotels

I'm a little bit nuts about hotels.  Some people are willing to cut corners to save a little money on accommodation - I am not one of those people.  I like nice hotels.  Ideally, we like to find smaller, boutique style hotels known for great service and a good location.  The best location for us is just outside the main tourist area.  Something that's close enough to walk to the sites but far enough away that we can escape the crowds when we need to.  I tend to think you get more for your money as well.

Again, I start with a multi-booking site.  This gives me an idea as to how much we should budget for a hotel.  Hotel costs really vary depending on location so our budget varies as well.  It wouldn't make any sense to use the same budget for Paris that we do for Edmonton, Alberta.  Afterwards, I start the actual research.

I keep a travel bookmark folder on my computer so if I happen to come across a great hotel online, I'll tag it in there for later.  I will also go back to my fellow bloggers who I know have traveled to that particular city and who have a similar travel style to me.  Personal recommendations are best but it's important to keep your travel style in mind.  A budget travel blogger may rave about a particular hotel but it might not fit with my style or needs.  I'll also head on over to Condé Nast and do a search there as well as they often feature new and unique hotels.
TripAdvisor is open ALL THE TIME during the hotel booking process.  It gives me recommendations to check out but mostly, the reviews give me the information I'm looking for.  I particularly look for comments on the location of the hotel but also the overall quality of the property.  It's not the be-all, end-all for me as there are always reviews that sway it's ranking, etc. but I find if I read both the good reviews and the bad, I'll have a realistic idea of the hotel.

I've also used Mr & Mrs Smith, a luxury, boutique hotel site that keeps a database of 'Smith Approved' accommodation in various locations.  While many are quite pricy, there are usually a few options in the mid range suitable to us.  Blog reader, Caterina, recommended Splendia which I'm also keen to try out and after Casey's recommendation, I've perused TabletHotels.

I'll usually generate a list of the top 3 hotels that fit with our criteria and then start checking their availability and costs across the various platforms.  I often find the main hotel sites give the best rates (and sometimes they'll offer things like free airport transfer with a booking) but occasionally, Expedia will have a 25% sale or one of the other sites will have a promotion.  It pays to check them out.  

A few things to note when booking hotels:
+Keep an eye on extra costs!  One hotel may advertise a cheaper nightly rate but you'll pay extra for WiFi and breakfast.
+Check out their promotion pages.  There's often 'Stay 2 nights and get the 3rd for 25% off' or similar deals!
+If you know you most definitely won't change your booking, go for the 'Pay Upfront' option.  It's often substantially cheaper!
+When looking at hotel photos on TripAdvisor, make sure you look at the 'Traveler Photos.'  They're bound to give a more honest portrayal than the professional photos posted by hotel management.
+If you're curious about a hotel that someone has blogged about, send them an email and ask specific questions.  Most of us are happy to give our honest thoughts to help you out as long as we have time.

Do you have any go to sites or resources for flights and hotels?


Also, you have until Sunday at Noon CET to enter to win one of nine digital magazine subscriptions via Zinio.  Details here.

Exploring Stavanger's International Street Art Festival

Wednesday 18 September 2013

On Sunday, Joe and I ventured over to the Storhaug East neighbourhood to check out Nuart, an annual international street art festival held in the area.  Nuart started back in 2006 and has featured over 80 different artists from 20 different countries in its short existence and it's said to be one of the premier street art festivals in the world.

The event is hosted by Tou Scene, an old brewery turned Art factory in Stavanger's edgiest neighbourhood (which is also undergoing a massive revitalization project.)  The warehouse is massive and it loomed over us as we followed the signs guiding us to the beginning of the exhibition.  A handful of raw rooms featured different artists who had come to Stavanger specifically for this festival.  (If you're into Street Artists, this year features Martha Cooper, Aiko, Dal East, Dot Dot Dot, David Choe, Faith47 among others.)

Each room housed different works with completely different moods and the segregation allowed for an element of surprise as we rounded the corner.  My first time visiting the exhibit, I had no idea what to expect but I was blown away.  Joe and I continually bantered back and forth with, "Oh Wow," and "This is so cool!"  While it's impossible to pick a favourite, I was particularly intrigued by Lithuanian artist Ernst Zacharevic who paired his painting with actual 3-dimensional objects.

It wouldn't be a Street Art festival without actual Art on the streets.  The majority of the pieces can be found trailing from Tou Scene all the way to Stavanger Sentrum.  The festival organisers have created a map available at the warehouse to guide you.  Sunday happened to be a very windy day so I picked up the map and am anxious for the perfect conditions to head back to explore the rest.  Apparently, an artist also took over the control tower at our international airport which I'll be looking for when we depart on our next trip.

For someone who really knows nothing about Street Art (but regularly appreciates it on my travels,) I found Nuart to be an eye opening experience.  It's fascinating to be surrounded by such talent and it left me yearning to spend a little more time learning about it.

Nuart runs from September 7 through October 20.
The exhibit at Tou Scene is open Tuesday-Friday from 12:00-17:00 & Saturday-Sunday 11:00-16:00
Admission is Free
Check out the program for different events.

The Promo Video is below...

NUART 2013 PROMO from NUART on Vimeo.

Read magazines? I've got the perfect App!

Monday 16 September 2013

As has been evidenced on this blog, I'm a reader.  My Kindle saved my sanity in Gabon where it was impossible to find books or magazines in the English language and particularly difficult to order any with no working postal system.  Magazines were still problematic and only purchased in airports after leaving Central Africa twice a year.

I would have been ecstatic had I known about Zinio.

Zinio is an online database for magazines.  There are literally thousands in practically any genre you could hope for from The New Yorker, to Car and Driver, to Conde Nast Traveler, to US Weekly and Vanity Fair.  I currently hold a subscription to Harper's Bazaar UK edition.  Here's what I like about it...

+The app is FREE and it is FANTASTIC. (It was named Best iOS magazine app!)
+There are a ton of free articles to read even if you don't purchase anything on the site.
+Subscription prices are reasonable but you also have the option of purchasing single issues.
+Your magazines are available on all of your devices.  I can read from my computer or iPhone or ideally, a tablet.
+When you live abroad or travel a lot and have limited access to reading materials in your language, Zinio is a great, inexpensive option to keep up with favourite magazines.
+The app is always with me - if I get stuck in the waiting room at the doctor's office and only have medical pamphlets in Norwegian at my disposal, I can pull out my phone and pick up right where I left off.
+Reading on my phone is not as terrible as I expected.  The app includes a 'Text' option which leaves the page view and brings up only the text on the page.  It makes it really easy to read an article without zooming in and scrolling around.
+Many different magazine editions are available to you - Harper's Bazaar UK, USA, Argentina, Arabia, Taiwan, Russia, India, Mexico... the list goes on and on.
+There are daily deals to check out too!

Zinio is offering you, my readers, 9 FREE magazine subscriptions.  Yes, NINE!  Nine of you readers will win a free subscription to any magazine in the Zinio database - the odds are pretty good!

This giveaway is open to any and everyone.  

You don't have to be a blogger, you don't need to be on Twitter and you don't need to have BlogLovin.  Email subscribers, this means you too can enter!

Here's the details:
+Enter the contest by leaving ONE comment telling me which magazine you'd subscribe to if you won. (When choosing, note the number of issues in the subscription as those vary by publication. Also note which devices the magazine is compatible with.  Vanity Fair wasn't available on my iPhone.)
+One entry per person.
+Contest closes Sunday, September 22th at Noon, CET.
+Winners will be notified on From There To Here and via Email.  (Please make sure you leave your email address in your comment!)

Good Luck!

*Zinio provided me with 1 free magazine subscription but of course, all opinions are my own.*

Elections Abroad: Stark Contrasts Between Two Expatriations

Friday 13 September 2013

{Left} Riots in Port Gentil, Gabon, 2009.  Photo via AFP
{Right} Elections in Norway, 2013 Photo via NTP ScanPix, Fredrik Varfjell

Monday marked the Norwegian parliamentary election.  Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg attempted to defend his reign as leader of the country against the ever-more popular Conservative party and it's leader, Erna Solberg (and a handful of other parties) although ultimately failing making Solberg Norway's second female Prime Minister.  As expats in the country, we hardly noticed election happenings.  Of course, ad campaigns were evident but obviously, never in English.  A few flyers made their way into our mailboxes and funny enough, alcohol was banned from being purchased in the shops on election day but that was the extent of the direct impact on us.  As we awaited the results Monday evening, I realized the stark contrast between our experiences of elections abroad as expatriates.

While in Gabon, we witnessed one national election.  For weeks in advance of voting, we were aware of what was taking place.  Cars with loudspeakers drove through town with someone sitting in the front, passenger seat spouting propaganda and platforms loudly through the streets.  We'd see ad campaigns albeit quite different than those in developed nations.  All media is government controlled and with the majority of local population living in poverty, advertisements on TV and the Internet were not the main form of communication.

The year before we arrived in our equatorial home, national elections sparked intense rioting in Port Gentil.  Infamously referred to as 'The Problems' by expats and locals, when Mr Bongo claimed a win continuing to keep his family in power since 1969, the opposition, based in Port Gentil, violently objected.  They believed the election was rigged and many pointed fingers at France, their former colonial power, and its oil company, Total.  The French Consulate was set ablaze and the Total Compound, residence and offices for it's foreign workers, was attacked.

What did this mean for expats?  Well, many families were evacuated via boat to Libreville.  Others were evacuated from their homes to larger boats who then dropped anchor in the ocean well away from the riots and any civilization.  Smaller companies, ours included, moved their expats to the Port which was then blocked off by the French army.  When order was restored a few days later and things calmed down, life in Gabon returned to normal for locals and expats alike but the damage would be evident for years to come.

When the elections came around while we were residents, precautions started early.  Our companies would send out bulletins with the latest news and forecasts.  We'd be advised as to their emergency evacuation plans and told to limit our mobility for the days leading up to and after the elections.  We'd stock up on food, water and gas in the event that we became trapped inside and we'd hope for the best.

This was one of those times where being an expat was scary.  The uncertainty led to fear and anxiousness as we've seen so often lately, it doesn't take much for things to turn quite violent.  Thankfully, the elections that we were present for remained peaceful and calm and our preparations and worry turned out to be unnecessary.

When I came across the first headline on Monday, I realized how oblivious I had been in terms of the entire Norwegian election.  I knew it was coming and while I generally keep up to date with current events, I hadn't done so this time around.  Abashed at my lack of awareness, it became apparent that the Norwegian election seemed to align with the plethora of stark contrasts between our two expatriations.

More information about the result of Norway's election can be found here and fellow blogger, David, wrote a great post with some election details and opinions found here.  You can also read about the 2009 elections in Gabon and the subsequent riots here and here.

Travel Planning - The Long(er) Range Plans

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Since leaving my job as a teacher to live overseas, I've become our personal travel agent.  As you know, we travel pretty frequently, particularly since moving to Europe, and with large amounts of time on my hands, I've become the principal trip planner in our relationship.  I can whittle away hours upon hours researching and I like to think that I've become quite good at planning a trip whether it be a weekend city break or a week long holiday in the sun.

In any case, I thought I'd share a bit of my process with you.

Step One: Long(er) Range Planning

Our long range travel goals generally follow the calendar year to align with the distribution of Joe's holiday days.  (He currently is allotted 20 paid holiday days per calendar year.)  There are quite a few behind-the-scenes things that we're required to take into consideration when planning to use his holidays which I think are pretty common to most people with a salaried/contract position.  (Things like time of year, when colleagues are taking holidays, the spacing of said holidays, etc.)  Aside from those, we remain flexible in our schedules as we're only working around one job and no children.  These plans loosely start to take shape as we enter the latter half of one year, in preparation for the following.

1. The Big Trips

Generally speaking, we tend to do 2 big trips a year.  A big trip usually takes more than 3 holiday days and often, but not always, is further away from where we're calling home.  The first big trip put on the calendar is a trip home, to Canada.  Scheduling that transcontinental destination often revolves around other things going on like a holiday or a wedding or a family event.  We don't physically book anything quite yet but we'll make sure time is reserved for Joe at work and we'll throw the trip into a month on the calendar.  

Later on, when things are more definitive, we'll iron out the details in terms of amount of days off needed and actual travel dates.  As part of our expat contract, we are allotted 1 return flight each to our home location and those are always booked through the company travel agent.

The second big trip often ends up being loosely scheduled in next.  Sometimes, we don't have a definite location chosen, sometimes we do but we try to space out longer trips and if we can, overlap with bank holidays.  This year, we scheduled holiday days for Joe around the May bank holidays in Norway well before finally deciding to spend the time in Greece.

2. The Little Trips

Little trips are rarely scheduled more than 2-3 months ahead of time.  We try to work around our larger trips and plan for long weekends in other countries throughout the entire year.  We keep a running record of holiday days that are still available and try to split them up and schedule things bi-annually.  As the summer is winding down, we currently know that we have 5 unused vacation days and are hoping to schedule 2 more long weekend trips after we return from Istanbul.

3. Locations

This is always the trick - so many places to see, so little time.  Broadly speaking, we're open to traveling just about anywhere so our location lists are usually more about what is most coveted at that particular point in time rather than where we'd actually go.

Travel locations fall into 3 very fluid categories: Weekend Trips, Longer Trips, No Holidays Necessary trips.  Weekend trips are usually cities that are at the top of our must-see-while-living-in-Europe list and they're often cities that we really feel need more than a 2 day weekend.  (Past trips include Berlin, Prague & upcoming, Istanbul.)  Either there's a lot we hope to see and do there or they're a little further to get to and often, more expensive in terms of flight costs.  Longer trips are basically the Big Trips that were described above.  (This year included Canada & Santorini.)  No Holidays Necessary are locations that are quite easy to get to from Stavanger.  It's possible to fly practically direct Friday after work and return Sunday night within reasonable cost.  (Recently, Stockholm, London & Oslo.)

These categories are constantly amended.  Sometimes new locations are added and they often move throughout the three headings depending on how we're feeling or what we're learning as we go.  When we're looking to schedule a trip, we'll ponder the destinations on our list and weigh them against a variety of factors (time of year, flight costs, local events, etc) usually causing something to fall into the frontrunner position.

I see a real benefit into keeping our plans and schedule loose.  You never know what might come up and it's nice to not feel restrained by a rigid plan.  Perhaps there's a concert or event we want to see or a flight deal randomly comes up or a friend comes to visit or Joe has a conference or training in another country - we're free to rearrange as we see fit.

Next, I'll get into the booking details but for now, I'm curious - how do your long range travel plans look?

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