Californian First Impressions pt 1 of 2

Hello and happy autumn!

At first, I wasn’t so sure I was going to write a piece on my first trip to the US, but then I can’t endorse a positive only web page, so here are a few truthful thoughts on my recent US trip. This is the first of two posts of two, the second one is from Monterey Bay. Although this post started as a scornful description of what is described as one of Americas best cities, it ended up being mostly a post with… birds. As always. :)

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In the beginning of September I headed towards San Fransisco with David, my lab head and travel companion. The point of the trip was a week-long conference on deep-sea biology in Monterey Bay. Traveling across 8 time-zones does however mean that you should de-jetlag a few days before immersing yourself in other people’s science. Since I have never been to the US before and people seem to think San Fran is a great city, it was decided that we de-jetlagged in San Francisco. Rubbish idea.

San Fransisco is also known as Fog City (not nice fog, but grey fog), something that was very true the first two days. I found San Fran quite dull; the “vibe” wasn’t there for me and it felt impersonal and cold. I clearly prefer a city with people over empty streets (who would have thought). I feel that San Fransisco doesn’t offer anything you cannot find anywhere else (except if you are after hordes of homeless people, inhospitable cafes and restaurants and shit in the street - which you can also find many other places). I am still happy I got to sample American city-life for a few days, as it is easier to understand peoples ways and problems when you have seen it, even if it is from an outsiders perspective.

It wasn’t all awful though (big bonus for birds), and if you find yourself in this city, I did do a few pleasant things that shall be mentioned:

Angel Island:
Take a ferry from Fishermans Wharf to Angel Island. The island is a national park with a few trails that will take you around the island and offers good views of San Fran and the surrounding urbanisations and bridges (unless there is too much fog). The hike is easy and pleasant and if you like birds, raccoons and deer, you are very likely to see some. Take the earliest ferry and spend the day, last ferry leaves just after 16:00.

Walking around in the city:

Everyone will tell you there are mega sketchy places. Tenderloin (although many think this is the best cut of meat) district is not to be promenaded in after dark. I cannot comment on that as I was in bed long before 21:00 due to the jetlag (and perhaps also my distaste for evening activities). The homeless minded their own business and I found that they are much less pushy than many you encounter in Europe. During the day, we found that taking any staircase up a street was usually a good idea as the views and charming small streets are usually found up some stairs.

 Other bits:

There are sea lions on pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf. This is also a good place for viewing different species of cormorant, gulls and brown pelicans. If you enjoy photography and clichés, having a walk around the south side of Golden Gate Bridge is nice as the sun sets. The pelicans also come in from the sea in the evening and quite a few can be spotted.

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Four days were more than enough, and I was quite happy to leave. It is actually nice when you don’t mind leaving as you don’t have to be sad, especially when goodbyes are much a part of a regular month.

I hope you enjoyed the read, though it was slightly less positive than usual.

Love,
Inga

Holiday Above the Arctic Circle

Hello!

I hope everybody in Northern Europe has survived the heat! It is mad. When I travelled up from London, I left a lab that kept a steady 30 degrees (I cannot open the windows). Hoping it would cool down when I crossed the Arctic Circle I was disappointed, as the temperatures were close to 30. But all that sunlight meant amazing sunsets! Because of the light nights here (the midnight sun disappeared on the 21st of July) we quickly found out that we were better off hiking and exploring after 20:00 rather than before. The light for photography is also WAY better.

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We caught an afternoon plane from London to Oslo and had a three-hour layover before taking an evening flight to Evenes, being in Sortland with the airport express bus close to 2 in the morning. The sunset/rise was incredible and it pains me that I couldn’t get out of the bus to take photos.

To be honest, I have been feeling a bit ambivalent about this trip. The family summer house has been sold to a family member and we are likely never to visit again. It is sad to leave it behind, as it was the place my grandmother grew up, and also the place for countless blissful summers with close and distant family. It feels like a loss in many ways. So as a last goodbye-gift from the weather and nature gods, we had amazing weather for a whole week, close encounters with several eagles and plenty of sunsets! What a trip!

We started local with a trip to Hovden and Nykvåg. The drive from Sortland, through Bø municipality is pretty spectacular. First we had a little mooch around Nykvåg and met a guy who had my great grandfather as a primary school teacher. We then drove for 15 minutes to Hovden were we had a really pleasant dinner in Hovden. One of the other “fiskevær” (small fishing communities) called Nyksund used to be a favourite place to go 5 years ago. Now though, it is full of tourists and you have to wait 3 hours for a table at the restaurant and it has generally lost its rough charm. Lars Monsen (Norwegian Bear Grylls equivalent) had also brought the national TV station and lots of hikers there a few days before us, which made the idea even less tempting. Nykvåg and Hovden are therefore a nice alternatives.

The second day was very relaxed and we had a visit to the shops and a stop at the community house to get some Wi-Fi to re-run some scripts. We also took the boat out on the fjord and saw the eagles, two adults and two juveniles. They have managed to raise two chicks again this year, so I am most impressed with our local eagles. The evening was spent gutting and filleting 20 fish that my second cousin and his friend had caught. They got cod and pollock and 15 mackerels. It would have been plenty with 10 fish, but boys will be boys, and 20 fish are sure to impress.

On the third day of the trip the weather reached ridiculous temperatures and we decided that a ferry trip would be a good way of enjoying the sun as well as feeling the breeze. We headed down to Lødingen and with minutes to spare, got on the ferry to Bognes. We then drove about 40 minutes to Hamarøy where they built the Hamsun centre, about 10 years ago. The centre focus on the person and the literature, but also debates Hamsun's admiration for Hitler and his German support (though it should be noted that all his books but one, was written before 1936). Hamsun is a large part of the history of Norwegian literature, and learning more about him and his controversies was very interesting. One of the guides at the Hamsun Centre is a woman I went to school with, who also happens to be the daughter of my fathers co-worker. Norway is such a small place! On our way back, we took the Skutvik-Svolvær ferry, had dinner in Svolvær before driving back to Vesterålen, enjoying the beautiful light (I did a lot of droning).

The height of the trip to Vesterålen was probably the trip we made to Andøya. We drove out in the afternoon with a picnic basket filled with homemade fishcakes. We had a barbecue on the beaches of Bleik before heading up around 21:00 for a hike when the temperature was down to 25(!) degrees. The hikes we decided on is a 8 km hike roundtrip to Måtinden. It starts a little steep but then turns rather flat and lovely, brilliant if you are carrying heavy photo equipment. The light that evening was spectacular, and it ended up being one of those trips where I had to stop every 2 minutes to take a photo. It was breath-taking!

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When we arrived home from Andøya around 2 in the morning, there was still 25C outside and the uninsulated house was steaming hot. Needless to say, it was a night with bad sleep. The following day was therefore spent slightly more sedentary with a trip to a fish farm in Blokken and a hike cut short due to millions of biting bugs. Fish farms in Norway are somewhat controversial. They are immensely good for the economy and the food to flesh ratio is very good compared to other animal protein sources. However, they can have a large negative effect on the local ecosystem due to parasites and bacteria, overfeeding, escaping farmed fish, overfertilizing local fjords etc. I was hoping that this farm open to tourists would address such issues. Instead, I felt very much that they were glorifying and playing down their environmental impact, leaving all foreign tourists with an impression that industrial scale fish farming is totally environmentally friendly. They also serve whale meat. As somebody working with fish I wasn’t so impressed with our guides knowledge. Avoid.

In the evening we took the boat out for a last spin, and we were lucky to see one of the old white-tailed sea eagles up close from the boat! It really difficult shooting handheld from a small rocking boat in low light with a lens that has a maximum aperture of f/6.3 at 600mm (yes I am cheap, but the lens is also light)! I have been trying for many years to get good photos of these eagles, and FINALLY, on the last attempt ever, I got some real good shots.

Anyone owning a cabin knows that the last day of the summer holiday is spent prepping for winter. The biggest job we have is to take the boat up and the mooring. It is quite a lot of heavy work; the engine needs to run in fresh water for a while and shit needs to be oiled. The boat needs to be cleaned and stored. And then there is the house cleaning and packing of car etc that needs doing. We spent most of our last day busying ourselves with such tasks, and when the evening came we hosted one last grand waffle party with family and friends.

We headed north the following day starting with great weather in Vesterålen. We had a stop at Setermoen where a good friend of mine lives and then continued to Nordkjosbotn for dinner (PS, the food there is awful, but the people watching is great). We had a drone break in one of the valleys close to Lyngsalpene but thunder and lightning cut it short. As we started driving east into Finland, the thunder came from all directions, it was a shame as there were some great ‘dronable’ landscapes around.

Father and I arrived in Kilpisjärvi around 22 in the evening. After a day driving it is wonderfult to discover that the so-called hotel was actually a camping hut rather than a hotel, where you have to bring your own bedding and towels (not mentioned at the booking site). This also meant no breakfast. However, my father is a true magician, and found old tea in a cabinet and we shared an orange and some tea. From Kilpis, we had a  1.5 hour drive until we reached the promised breakfast-land of Karesuanto (Finnish side of Karesuando). I am not sure many people live there, but it has two grand souvenir shops (one with a café). Here, all food items are served with French fries and an orange wedge. The café also has 2 slot machines, but the local youth seemed to be queueing around these, so if it is slot machines you want to play, I recommend holiday in another town. If you are however after french fries, orange wedges and strange souvenirs, Karesuanto is your holiday destination. 

We drove through Finland in rain and grey weather which followed us into across the border and into Kautekeino and Karasjok. Somewhere in the Tana valley the rained stopped. 11 hours after we left Kilpis, we arrived in Vadsø. How lovely it is to arrive to a warm house and my lovely great-aunt Ellen, ready with dinner!

After a long hot period in the whole of the country, it was nice that Finnmark cooled down. 14 degrees the first day and light rain was perfect for cloudberry picking. We had a large family dinner and drank bubblies, wine and whiskey. Father came down with flu on our second day, so I went hiking with dad’s cousin Kirsti. If you want down to earth and cheerful hiking company, with patience for droning, Kirsti is an excellent choice.  On our second day we hiked up to their cabin on the Varanger peninsula, picked some cloudberries and scared the dog shitless (by droning). This shiba dog is scared of bugs, so a drone which sounds like a swarm of bees was a bit too much for the mutt. It was all good after the drone landed, some sniffs and barks at the drone and we could proceed.

The day after we had another droning day up Vestere Jakobselv. There is a beautiful canyon with a river popular with salmon fishers. The salmon are coming up the river to spawn, and we saw one salmon trying to get up a waterfall. We had plenty of breaks and the sun even came out for a second.

On my last day I took a trip out to Ekkerøy to the kittiwake nesting cliff. I am really bad at knowing my bird species, but I am alright at spotting. I was hoping to see some peregrine and gyrfalcons at the kittiwake cliff, but I couldn't see any.  The only enemies in sight were about 6 ravens close to land and one arctic skua out at sea. I encountered a few small songbirds and some waders on my way back, so all in all, good spotting for a short walk. When I got back, dinner was served and later that evening we looked through 15 minutes of the drone footage. The person who appreciated the footage the most must be grandma's siter Ellen. In particular she enjoyed the footage of places she used to hike but can no longer go, like around the family cabin. 

It was sad to leave as always, but that usually means you've had a good time.

Thanks for reading!

Inga

Lovely Days in Lisbon

Hello from the hot dessert of northern Europe (aka London)!

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It has been super hot the last few weeks, with a toasty 31 degrees in the lab. I have, however, managed to write a few words and edit some photos (around 100 to be exact) from my recent trip to Lisbon. My sister has been living in Lisbon as an exchange student for half a year, and I just managed to squeeze in a three-day visit before she left for Norway again. I think she has been enjoying herself, and many people have told me it is a cool city, but I didn’t expect much other than having a good time with my sister for a few days. I was in for a really pleasant surprise!


I flew in on a hot Sunday afternoon. It had taken me 2,5 hours to get to Stansted (I hate that airport) as well as never receiving my Stansted express tickets I ending up paying a double fare. Therefore, it was extra nice that it cost me little over a euro and 15 minutes to get from the airport to my sisters flat in Lisbon.

We started my visit by taking the metro to Cais do Sodré and had a quick peak at the Tagus river, followed by beers and tasty tacos at Guacamole on R. Moeda. I was then taken on a mandatory touristy tour around central Lisbon, ending up at the Castelo de St. Jorge, trying to find a neat spot to photograph the sunset. The secret viewing point my sister knew about was closed off for the day, so we walked the streets just south of the castle, exploring the annual Sardine festival. I am not mad about sardines so I stuck to people watching instead and having a casual Ginja in a chocolate cup. After walking for another hour I had been introduced to Lisbon cathedral, the tram, countless more streets and Cais das Colunas.

The following day I was introduced to Instituto Superior Técnico and its pastel de nata, and waved goodbye to sister’s boyfriend, who was heading back to Oslo. We then took a ferry over to Cacilhas because we were recommended a restaurant called Atira-te ao rio. The weather was great, we met a friendly stray dog and the restaurant look idyllic. The food however was not as good, and we were basically yelled at for not finishing the food (that has never happened before). It didn’t matter much though, because we were now on a quest to find Jesus.

There is a large Rio de Janeiro like Jesus statue overlooking a Golden Gate bridge copy, which links Almada to Lisbon over the Tagus. The views were supposed to be great at Miradouro do Cristo Rei (aka Jesus Christ viewpoint), so we set off to find Jesus. After a trip using a manned lift from the seafront up to the residential streets of Almada, followed by 20 minutes of uphill hike in 30 degrees we finally found Jesus. The views were good, but a 30 min walk back to the ferry wasn’t too tempting, so we got an Uber back to Cais do Sodré. Well back, we headed up to Barrio Alto to watch football and have a burger at A Cultura do Hambúrguer (the steak sandwich was real nice). One of my sister’s friends stopped by and we went off to a jazz club and watched a gig (sister’s boyfriend also came as his flight was cancelled, poor soul, Lisbon airport is the worst). I often feel out of touch with my  generation, especially because I hate staying up late and be out in town (and hate to speak when music is loud). After being ridiculed by sister’s friends for desperately wanting to go back at 1 in the morning, we finally headed home (I did however get praise from dear sister for being up so late without complaining too much).

 

Tuesday was the best of all the days. We took the train to Sintra around 1 o’clock.  Sister had been here 2 times before so I was skilfully guided around town. First stop: Quinta da Regaleira. Wow, what a place! It was just like walking on a set of a Lord of the Rings film. It is an estate from early 1900s, made to entertain the rich family of Carvalho Monteiro. It is an absolute clash of styles, towers, grottos, wells and hidden paths, overgrown with moss, an adult playground so to speak. I wish I could have captured this place better. After spending 2 hours walking around, we had a lovely sandwich at the estate café before heading back to the center in search of a tuk-tuk to take us up to Palacio de Pena. It is quite a steep walk up and lots to see up there so I highly recommend you save your legs and take a tuk up to the palace entrance (and buy tickets in advance).

The palace was great. Didn’t see any of the indoors bits, but we had a great time exploring the strange outsides of the castle. It is a brilliant castle, so eccentric and strange. Another clash of styles and colours, tiles, paints and towers. It is how I would have built a castle was I 10 years old. The grounds around the palace did not disappoint either. They are extensive. We walked over to the viewpoint over the castle to photograph it during sunset, but we had to wait a long time and got cold so we started heading back down early. We didn’t meet a soul, and it was clear the ground had been closed while we waited for the sun to set. We didn’t feel particularly rushed by that and had a leisurely walk down, exploring the ponds, bridges and towers on the way down. The exit was of course closed and we had to climb the wall (no problem). No tuks to take us down either, but the sun was setting beautifully and the trains back to Lisbon were still running, so no need to hurry. We walked down to the city center, partly on tracks and partly on the road. It took us a good 45 minutes with photography pit stops. We made the train to Lisbon with minutes to spare. Although Sintra is touristy, it was brilliant. I would love to come back very soon.

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Last day was mostly about moving dear sister out of her flat, but we also had time for a juicy burger at Ground Burger and a walk in Jardim Amália Rodrigues. The check-in at the airport was the slowest on the planet, but both planes to London and Oslo were delayed so it didn't matter. The airport has also invested in about 2 chairs, so we were stuck on the floor, but it didn't matter much either, as it was a super lovely trip!
 
Thanks for reading!

Inga

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Hong Kong Heatwave

Happy summer everyone (in the northern hemisphere)!

Earlier this year our colleague in Hong Kong asked if my London lab could come over to assist on a project that wasn’t going so well. Basically, for most professors working at universities you have to apply for grants to do your research. Life science research is very expensive and very competitive, much like a sport, where you always have to be the best in order to get money to continue your research. The funding bodies are governmental or private and receive shitloads of applications every year. In the grants you outline your aims and ideas and what you want to achieve with the money you apply for. In some countries you are given some slack if you cannot meet all your aims, in other countries you get penalised. The Chinese funding bodies are very strict when it comes to delivering on your grant goals.

 Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong Island


We flew over to Hong Kong to inject some of our circadian expertise in designing experiments and helping the PhD students getting some data to help the lab meet the grant goals. For me, early in my researcher career, it is very good to be exposed to other labs with different kinds of projects and techniques. Since you are short on time you also have to think on your feet and really engage in the project. If I do a good job, there might be a publication (publications are currency for scientist, nobody wants to hire somebody with a low publication count).

In HK we stayed with our colleague in his gorgeous flat out in the new territories. It has the most amazing views. Our colleague is also quite a party boy with a serious capacity for champagne. We always have a lot of fun with him, I have however promised that what happens in HK stays in HK, and it most of the trip has to remain a secret... Being in Hong Kong and being taken around by these expats is like catching a glimpse of a dying British empire. The mannerisms and the lifestyle is quite bizarrely inflated in comparison to how their life would have been in the UK. Anyway, enough about science politics and expats. 

 View of Hong Kong University of Technology and Science from our colleagues balcony 

View of Hong Kong University of Technology and Science from our colleagues balcony 

Here is a little summary of what I was up to when we weren’t in the lab:

Our first day in HK was pretty chilled (as in relaxed - the government had issued a hot weather warning). We were picked up at the airport by our colleagues and were immediately handed “road sodas” (which in this case was mimosas, although they are often cocktails or Champagne) before we headed back to his flat. The maid (everyone has a maid in HK) had made our beds and everything was in perfect order. After getting cleaned up we headed over to Sai Kung to have dinner and had a little walk around looking at the fish tanks in the seafood restaurants.

The following day was mostly spent in the lab with a trip out to the yacht club (not the fancy one) for drinks and dinner. Last year we were introduced to diplomats, this year we met the most successful barrister in Hong Kong. They are usually drunk, but friendly. 

Saturday was super hot, and we were going to watch rugby in Mong Kok. These bloody expat men are made of fucking plasma, and managed to sit in the sun and roast watching the game and drinking litres of beers. My delicate body needed shade and water on the other hand, and I had to upgrade to a shaded seat. Rugby is a bit difficult to watch live as its just usually a pile of men somewhere on the pitch, and you can't see the ball because it is under one of them. The last few minutes of the match was however quite exciting, with the Japanese team the Sun Wolves inching their way to victory over the South African team Stormers.

Saturday was also the day for the royal wedding. Post Rugby the boys took us to a pub to watch the wedding. Since none of us clearly knows anything about celebrities, we competed in who could name the most celebs. Nobody won.

Sunday was our ‘day off’ so we headed down town on the Hong Kong railway system called the MTR. Taking the tram up to the peak is one of the most recommended HK activities by Lonely Planet. IT IS NOT FUCKING WORTH 2 hours of queuing in the heat (DON'T DO IT). Take a cab or a bus up if there is a line. Or walk. The view from the peak is spectacular though, and there is a path you can walk down and ends up in the botanical and zoological gardens (which are free). 

After some ice creams we headed down to the docks passing central Hong Kong. Sunday is the official maid’s day off and they gather in their thousands. They bring food and have all day picnics in the streets. A lot of them were rehearsing choreographies making up little dancing troops, probably dreaming of a life completely different to the one they are living. There are over 330 000 women, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines working as domestic workers in Hong Kong. That means there is one maid per 20 inhabitants! A lot of them are treated very badly by their employers, but there is also a general attitude in the population that Filipinos and Indonesians are second rate citizens. 

In the evening we took the ferry from the island over to Kowloon. It has the classic Hong Kong skyline view. It was also approaching dinner time and we found ourselves in increasingly fancier areas. A day of walking in hot and humid weather is not good for your good looks, and we looked like drowned cats and probably smelled bad too. We tried our luck anyway at Hullett House and to our surprise they gave us a table! The food was great too.

Snaps from my phone of HKUST campus

 

Monday we were back in the lab, trying out stuff and were surprisingly successful. It was also the special occasion of our colleagues 60th birthday. He wanted to spend his day at the local pub which held a darts competition for anyone who dared to join. It ended up being quite a fun evening and I never realised that darts could actually be so engaging.

Tuesday was good workday and a quiet day at home after dinner. Wednesday was much like Tuesday, except I had to go into application mode for half of the day. We are applying for another expedition on a research ship called the Sonne. Our group of scientists decided they wanted to try and pound in an application for a trans-pacific expedition next year, so I had a few days to write an application on the behalf of our lab. I have really wanted to go on another research expedition to do more work on deep-sea fish so I really hope they will consider us!

Lung Ha Wan Country Trail

On Thursday our colleague flew to Shetland where he has his 60th birthday party, while we were left in charge of the house and the lab. Instead of working on Friday we thought we had deserved a day off. The new territories are really nice in terms of nature, but spring and summer is a bad time of year to visit because of the high temperatures and humidity. We decided that we should attempt a short hill walk regardless. (Spoiler alert, it was a bad idea). The Lung Ha Wan Country Trail looked like an excellent short walk for such a hot day. Not too much of a climb and not too far. Wrong. I struggled so badly to breathe walking up hill. The hot and humid air makes it feel like you can only use 10% of your lungs. To make matters worse for my ego, we met a lot of old people on the trail (not struggling). The only comfort my ego can find is that we were not passed by anybody, but that was probably more due to the fact that everybody was walking in the opposite direction to us. I have never been so wet from a hike before. We made it up and down, and to our delight, there was a kiosk selling ice cold drinks at the end of the trail.

In the evening two of the students took us out to Mong Kok to the ladies market and to eat Korean BBQ. It was surprisingly pleasant, and I love reading the names of the knock-offs they sell in the market, such as Clavin Keiln and Parda. To my surprise there were so many fake Fjällräven items. People keep saying Hong Kong is such a busy city, but I still find central London on a Friday way worse in terms of crowds than central Hong Kong on a Friday.

On our last day, we went all the way from Clear Water Bay over to the wetland centre at Tin Shui Wai. The wetland centre is adjacent to the famous Mai Po marshes. At Mai Po you have to apply for a permit to enter, while at the wetland centre, which is a proper built up place for families and tourists, you pay 30 HK dollars (3 euros) to get in. Late May is totally the wrong time of year to go to HK to birdwatch, but it was worth a try and we had some luck spotting a prinia chick being fed by its mother, mudskippers and some juvenile scops owls.

 

All in all, the HK trip was a success in terms of work, and I also got to see more of it this time. I would love to come back in the winter when the weather is cooler.


Inga

PS,
I got some really lovely comments on the last blog post which made me so happy! Thanks a lot for your kind words :)

Northern Norway Quality Time

Hello!

I know in the last post, if you read it, I made it clear I would write less and have more photos. With this post I am breaking protocol already. More text, less pictures but also a drone video! The thing is, I had such a wonderful time with my paternal grandmother's close family who I see rarely.

You don't have to read any of my soppy family time, as all the photos and the drone video (at the bottom!) can be viewed without reading a single word!!
 

 View from Galten, Vesterålen

View from Galten, Vesterålen

In the beginning of May, my dad and I went up to Varanger to celebrate my dad’s cousin Kirsti's, 60th birthday. By chance, it also coincided with a family get-together further south in Vesterålen. Although the distances in the north are small in terms of flights (but not by road), they are incredibly expensive. So we decided to ditch the plane and go for a two day cruise. Especially since my dad is 60 next year and has to start practicing pensioner life, we took Hurtigruten from Vardø to Sortland and in doing so, we got to see the northern most stretch of coast of mainland Norway. As a bonus for me, this was the last stretch of Hurtigruten that I have never taken before (I am practicing my cruise pensioner life already at 26).

 Vadso

Vadso

If you have been following me for a while you know I love the north of Norway. I have, however, spent little time here in the spring and winter, and I finally managed to take this trip to experience the Arctic spring. We started off flying to Kirkenes from Oslo and then catching a Dash8 across the fjord. My dad loves planes and is always mildly ecstatic whenever he gets to fly smaller models. As a bonus, for him at least, we landed twice, once in Vardø and once in Båtsfjord before we arrived in Vadsø. Whenever we are in Finnmark we always stay with my grandmothers's sister, Ellen. She is just amazing. So quick and witty, lots of dark humour and irony, and really up to speed with most things, especially considering she is 86 years old. And as a matter of fact, you tend to forget her age when you are around her because she really is super company.

 Greenfinch, Vadso

Greenfinch, Vadso


The first few days in Vadsø were busy with planning and cooking for the 60th birthday. The birthday was a success with celebrations continuing well into the next day. The next few days were filled with small hikes and lovely family dinners. The tundra and the light up here are very magical.

After 4 days in Vadsø, we headed for Hurtigruten in Vardø and set sail north, then west and then south. During the first day we reached both Båtsfjord and Berlevåg, and with 3°C and wind, it was pretty chilly to sit on deck and admire the views. The only reasonable thing to do was to jump into a jacuzzi and enjoy the views from there. People thought I was mad, but they probably thought it was cold and not a toasty 40°C.

Havnnes, Troms

The ship passed the northern most point of mainland Europe at 71° north, Nordkapp in the early morning hours. The first stop of the day, was in Hammerfest, the northernmost city in the world before continuing to Øksfjord. We had a beautiful day on board with quiet seas.

After dinner it was time to enjoy the jacuzzi again. A luxurious 8 degrees in the air made the steaming water a bit too hot. The views were still great, but as we are much further south and into Troms county, the mountains have changed from the low barren hills of the tundra to sparsely forested mountains with peaks. Still lots of snow!

My father is such a wonderfully considerate human and decided that we had to have a post jacuzzi cocktail, as he had observed that the bartenders looked like they had nothing to do. Maybe they would cheer up if they got to make us a cocktail. And of course, my father was right. The bartender was excited to make a cocktail, and he promised to make his very special rhubarb long-drink with homemade rhubarb cordial (it was good).

Somewhere between Finnmark and Troms

We reached Tromsø before midnight. There is a 2 hour stop in Tromsø and people go out to do all sorts of activities. I stayed in bed as I am no young whippersnapper anymore (not sure I ever was) and I need my sleep.

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We woke up to amazing weather again and scooped some pensioners getting a window seat at breakfast. Good start to the day. After breakfast we packed up and went out on deck. Dad had a wish of being in the jacuzzi as we went under the Sortland bridge. A rather peculiar request, but if you know Sortland, you also know being in a jacuzzi under the bridge is a special event. Although it only lasted a wee moment it was pretty special. 

We were picked up in Sortland in a stylish Saab 900i by my grandma's cousin. When we got into Sigerfjorden we were greeted by my absolutely lovely family who had made waffles and coffee. As it was such a great day, we made the most of it and my dad and I went for a hike up the local mountain. It is only 497 metres tall, but it is steep and straight up from the fjord, and I am in bad shape. However, the pain is always worth it as the view was breathtaking as always!

 Blokken, Vesterålen

Blokken, Vesterålen

The following day was spent shopping in Sortland and attending a local lunch gig. In the evening, we were hosting a “Cremant reception” for the rest of the family. I am used to do my bit of the preparation when there is a party, but with three strong women with each having 50-60 years more experience in hosting parties than I have, everything was already done before I had even started. My grandmas two sisters are so  funny, and I love how they banter with each other and with their cousin around the house. There is a lot of laughter, and it is simply impossible to be down when you are around these people. 

Last day in Sigerfjorden started with coffee in dressing gowns on the stairs outside despite wind and 14 degrees. I would call it chilly rather than nippy, however, as a southerner I have to show  character, and pretend to be toasty no matter the weather. In the afternoon, after some work, I went out with my father and his cousin for a short walk. We had a hike into the lower Blokken lake, before picking up none less than 3 copies of the local newspaper. You see, in the newspaper Ellen and her friend Selma had a two page spread where they were interviewed about their 80-year long friendship.

In the evening we had dinner and drinks with all the relatives. This part of the family has always been playing piano and singing at parties, so of course it was a bit of that. Although nobody in the family likes Eurovision, we still had a viewing of half of the songs with some witty commentary from the old sisters in the sofa. 

 Blokken, Vesterålen

Blokken, Vesterålen

Come Sunday and we had to leave. The landscape and drive to the airport is splendid, but I was sad to say goodbye to everyone. The flight to Oslo went fine, but when I went to check in for my London flight I encountered problems. SAS had stopped their free check in bag for frequent flyers, but did not care to inform their customers about it. Seeing as sending a bag would have set me back 600 NOKs per bag is was out of the question to fly with it. So, as the scorn and angry yet nifty person that I am, I took out a plastic bag, filled it with some stuff and sent my suitcase back with my dad in Oslo. To cheer me up, my mother came to keep me company and have lunch during my stopover in Oslo. 

All in all, I had one of my best trips up north. It was a gentle reminder to take time to spend with people you like even though you are too busy. 

Thanks for reading (or looking through the photos, or both). 

Love,

Inga

If you are interested in any of the places or want any tips, get in touch with me on Instagram at Jarlinga.

Drone video from the north of Norway! Thanks for Alcest allowing me to use their beautiful music! 

Andalusian Rendezvous

Hi!

I think it is about time we revive this blog.

To my amazement, the page is still visited regularly, sometimes as much as 20 times a day!
Last time I think I had too much of an ambition to write long and informative, which ended up taking too long. This time around I will focus on photos from my trips instead!

Spring has been a busy time for me, and last week I went to the south of Spain for a meeting with collaborators.

Photos from Cadiz

I usually always take a few days to go on holiday after meetings and conferences. I understand combining work and holiday is a “millennial phenomena”, as we don’t have much cash, but the desire to explore, and often travel for work. In this way, the destinations choose me more than I choose them, which has worked well so far.

I started off in Cadiz with the meeting I was going for, and lots and lots of food, all eaten too late in the day for my taste. After the meeting I took a day to do some birdwatching with Birding Tarifa (the guide was so good!) in the Cadiz side of Doñana national park. The day after we left for Granada, but a full bus meant 4 hours of extra time in Cadiz which was spent walking up and down the narrow streets. If I am to borrow the words of a New York ice-cream maker we met, Cadiz is beautiful without anything in particular that makes it striking.

Some candids of a few birds we spottet in Doñana

Naively we thought it would be easy to get to Granada from Cadiz. This was only half true. There is a bus twice a day, but they do fill up and the ride takes over 5 hours (alternatively a 7-hour train journey). On the bright side, you get to see some of the Spanish countryside.

Granada snaps


I spent two days in Granada exploring the narrow maze-like streets and of course the Alhambra. If I am to give one advice about Granada it must be to buy a ticket for the Alhambra at least 3 weeks in advance as they are impossible to get hold of at the gates. And be as early as possible!!!

Malaga snaps

I had planned on leaving for Oslo after Granada, so I also had one last stop in Malaga. The city was a bit of  a disappointment. It doesn’t really have anything that other cities don’t have except two nice fortifications. If you find yourself in Malaga, these forts are worth a few hours, and the bar/cafe found in the Alcazaba complex boast beautiful views over the city.

Alhambra photos
 

(Small apologies (only small) for the lack of symmetry in the photos that are supposed to be symmetrical. Either I should have calibrated the camera for the wide angle lens, or Andalusia has a lack of proper symmetry and straight lines in their architecture, I sort of hope for the latter)

Thanks for reading,

Inga

Australia - Summer Adventures pt 2 of 4

This is a post about the second leg of my journey to board the research ship RV Sonne. If you want, you can read part 1 about my 2 days in Hong Kong before reading this.

Part two of the journey went slightly smoother than the first part, with only one hour delay to our flight instead of almost 3 as well as staying clear of Hong Kong airport officials trying to take my temperature. We flew Cathay from Hong Kong to Perth, had a smooth transition through visa and immigration and later luggage check. We had no idea, but we were met by a driver at arrivals (this time no champagne though), as the lovely expedition organisers had sent a driver to take us to our hotel.


When we arrived at the hotel it was well past 1 in the morning, but it had been quite a while since we had eaten. Luckily we managed to track down the local McDonalds and it was all you expect of a McD’s at 1:30 in the morning; half naked youth sleeping in corners or stuffing their faces with fries, rubbish everywhere and a puddle of coke right in front of the counter. Needless to say we went for a takeaway.

The second day in Perth started with a really nice brunch at the botanical gardens. The botanical garden in Perth is more like a park/botanical garden hybrid as you don’t pay to go in and it doesn’t have any large glasshouses or anything like that. Rather, it has lots plants and wildlife local to the different climates you find in Australia. If you ever go to Perth I highly recommend spending half a day in this park keeping an eye out for the many pretty birds living there.

 

Later in the day we went down to Elizabeth Quay to get tickets for the Rottnest ferry and decided to go and buy some essential toiletries as we would be stuck at sea for 5 weeks with no possibility to nip out to get some shampoo or toothpaste. Perth is the only large city in Western Australia, so I expected shops to stay open to at least 19:00 in the evening. However, it turns out that at 5, everything is closed. It is probably easier to get a camel in small town Norway, than it is getting a toothbrush in Perth at 17:01 on a Saturday. However we did in the end find a very expensive pharmacist that had very expensive shampoo and toothbrushes.

As we walked back to the hotel just after 5 to drop off the most expensive toothpaste in the world, the streets were all of a sudden empty and nobody was out. This was slightly worrying as we still haven’t had dinner and wondered if EVERYTHING closed at 5, fearing we would end up at McD’s again. Luckily two places at Elizabeth Quay were open although I am pretty sure they closed half way through our main course gnocchi. It was good to be forced to bed relatively early though as the jetlag was still lurking.

On our third day we checked out early and had breakfast at Mount Street. I had tacos and cappuccino (seriously good breakfast combination if I say so myself) and David had concentrated sugar in the form of French toast soaked in chilli chocolate sauce. After recovering from the diabetic shock of the French toast we went back up to the botanical gardens armed with 600mm and 135mm and a hope to take some pictures of the colourful birds. However, it was too early in the morning for most of the birds to be out and we only got a few decent shots despite the large amount of fowl we had seen the afternoon before. Slightly disappointed that we hadn’t spotted a kookaburra again we had a slushie and walked back to the hotel. We then went down to the ferry that would take us to Rottnest Island but first we had to manoeuver through crowds in the heat with 30 kg of baggage each, as half of Western Australia had gathered at Elizabeth Quay to celebrate WA day.

 
However, none of the people that day were going to Rottnest (known as Rotto to the locals) so the ferry was empty except for David and me. Although we were the only passengers on board, we were given a detailed commentary on the expensive properties of the Swan River and associate marinas. When we got to Fremantle, we changed from a river boat to a larger boat for the short stretch of ocean we had to cross and soon found ourselves on Rottnest Island.  We had decided to visit Rotto because David had heard they had tiny marsupials there called quokkas. These little animals are only found wild a few places in Western Australia and mainly on Rottnest. It didn’t take long before we saw one poncing around near the beach.


Rotto turned out to be full of friendly tame quokkas and I was happy to find out I could walk around with a 35mm prime lens on at all times both shooting wildlife and landscape.  The galas were also easier to shoot compared to the mainland. Most people bike around the island, but you can get around in a day on foot. Walking around also gives you more freedom to explore paths and World War II bunkers hidden in the sand dunes. You have to bring water and some sustenance with you as there is no other shop around except the one you find in the main settlement. In the summer people go snorkelling in some of the bays but during the winter months the activity ceases. This island is great. If you ever go to Perth you have to visit Rottnest.  I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

After a night at Rotto we were shipped back to Fremantle. We found our hotel relatively easily and went out for some food. The brewery pub we were told to visit didn’t serve food at the time so we tried a place that only served meatballs. A bizarre experience. We called it an early night as we had to be ready at 8 the following morning to be taken to the ship and start the scientific expedition.


Thanks for reading,

Inga

Hong Kong - Summer Adventures Part 1 of 4

This summer I went on a research vessel that crossed the Indian Ocean for 5 weeks. We left from Perth in June and ended up in Colombo in July. Before all of that however, I had to make my way from London to Perth and we had a few days stop-over in Hong Kong (pt 1 of 4) and later a few days in Australia (pt 2 of 4). Here are some pictures and thoughts about my few days in Hong Kong. I never had time to put this up before I sailed out of Australia, but here it is, 6 weeks late.

When I was writing this, I was sitting in a Hong Kong flat with an eagle's eye view over the rolling green mountains and the sea. It’s about 3am in the morning and I am battling my jetlag. As a circadian biologist, I know that looking at a bright screen when trying to sleep is the worst thing you can do whilst trying to get sleepy. Sometimes you can’t help it though.

 View over HKUST Campus from the flat we stayed in

View over HKUST Campus from the flat we stayed in

David (my boss and good friend) and I are on our way to Perth, Australia where we will board the German research vessel FS Sonne. The ship will be loaded to the brim with biologists and geologists hoping to reveal some of the secrets of the Indian Ocean. However, before we started on this adventure, we had a 2 night stop-over in Hong Kong.

 Accommodation for professors in HKUST

Accommodation for professors in HKUST

The adventure started with a 3-hour delayed fight from Heathrow to HK. I am seriously bad luck for fellow passengers, as most of my flights are delayed. I have started writing down all the delays so I can do statistics on which flight, how long and why it was delayed so I can make more informed choices about the airlines I choose in the future (well, sometimes you don’t have a choice). For once it didn’t really matter, as I was so wound up and stressed after trying to wrap everything before leaving for 2 months. So I was quite happy just to sit and wait.

The flight to HK is about 12 hours (+2.5 hours on the plane prior to take off in this instance). I usually think of flying as quite mundane and like a boring “commute”. However, I have never flown a night flight before, and never a long haul flight so I was unexpectedly childishly excited about it. I barely slept on the flight, something I partly (or maybe fully) blame on my fellow passengers in front of me, which thought it would be great to shout loudly in Cantonese to their friends 4 rows behind us at fairly regular intervals from 2 am-5 am.

 
Sleep or no sleep, David and I made it to Hong Kong where we were met by fellow colleague Professor Andrew Miller at the airport. I was lucky enough to meet Andrew in London when he came in late 2016 as he is really a great guy. Andrew has a reputation for taking good care of guests with extravagant programs, involving a lot of alcohol. I mean, how often do you get picked up at the airport and then get served champagne in the car? My sister has something to live up to when she picks me up at Oslo Airport with her half-finished iced tea bottles.

We stayed with Andrew at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) campus where he has his lab. He has a great flat with absolutely magnificent views over the rolling hills and the sea from the balcony. I didn’t expect HK to be this green and lush.

 More campus

More campus

After a quick shower and a change (and another glass of bubbles), we grabbed a cab and went downtown. We had been invited to the Foreign Correspondence Club (FCC) for dinner and drinks by one of Miller's friends, a real character with lots of great stories. We hit it off straight away when he told me about his adventures in Norway in the early 90s. I must say I am impressed with any Singaporean Chinese who travels to Norway for the first time, to meet up with a business partner and client, and then ends up having to cross country skiing for 20 km (although being new to skiing which can be difficult if you have never done it before) to a client's cabin. Cabins and skiing is something many Norwegians pride themselves on and a foreigner that likes both is considered to be a match made in heaven. Although I do not think he went back to that cabin, they did business for many years after.

 The boys at FCC

The boys at FCC

The Foreign Correspondence Club was founded in 1943 in Chongqing in Japanese-occupied China. The club then moved to Nanjing as the struggle between Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao escalated, and later to Shanghai. In 1949 it was again relocated to Hong Kong. The FCC has been an important hub for war time journalists, especially during World War II and even more so during the Vietnam war.  It was very fun and interesting to get to visit such a historic place plastered with iconic photos, lonely old white journalists in the dark corners and young Chinese business men and women.

 Hong Kong view

Hong Kong view

We had a really nice evening with a bit too much to drink. As the FCC is a club for diplomats, business and media, we met a lot of colourful people, ranging from fellow UCL alumni to the vice consul from Canada. Quite the opposite of the dingy London pub clientele we usually frequent.

The vibe was really good and I think it was about midnight by the time we left. Now, we didn’t go home, but up Victoria peak to view HK by night as it was a relatively clear night. To be frank, I have very little recollection of what we did due to my overconsumption of espresso martinis, but I have vague memories that we walked around in a closed shopping centre for some reason. I also took a lot of photos without a tripod in the dark, which turned out very, very blurry. I do remember lots of laughing and a beautiful view. We had a great night.

The next day was supposed to be our sightseeing day at least in the morning. However, as we were hung over from the night before and jetlagged as hell, David and I decided to take it easy and take a humid walk around campus instead of making it down to the city. Later in the afternoon we went to a talk by one Andrew Miller’s PhD students followed by dinner at the HK Yacht Club with some of Miller's absolutely lovely lab members.

I had a really great time in HK. I am sad I didn’t get to see much of down town and take more pictures. On the other hand, I got to see the inside of a historic club most tourist and travellers will never get into. I wish we had stayed for a few more days, but flights to Perth were already booked and we had to be on our way.

 

Thanks a lot for reading,

Inga

Autumn updates

Sorry for being so quiet!

It has been a really busy autumn for both of us. Siv has been finishing her masters (she did amazing (no surprise there)) and Inga has been busy with her PhD. We thought we would give you a short update on what we have been up to with lots of photos and a promise to update more often in the future!

Inga's late summer and autumn:
I have been super busy with meetings and work.
After coming back from Norway in mid August, I have moved to a new place in London, been on a long Norwegian coastal trip topped with a meeting at the uni in Tromsø, meetings in Barcelona as well as another meeting in Bristol (puh). Aaaand I have started my PhD...

As many of you know, I am a molecular biology PhD student in London. The lab I am in work on circadian rhythms (body clocks) and use fish as a model organism to study the biology of circadian rhythms. Being from a country with huge changes in seasons and drastic differences in light from summer to winter, I am quite interested in how these extreme changes affects the circadian outputs in these animals. I am part of a relatively small lab that are looking to branch out more and do more fieldwork. That means more interdisciplinary collaborations and a lot of meetings with different people to make it happen. Its a tedious process, but I have been quite lucky to attend many of these meetings, which means I have travelled a fair bit this autumn. 

In mid September my boss David and I went to Tromsø in Norway to visit a colleague and learn more about how to do science on wild fish in their natural habitat. As David had never been to Norway before (which is strange, seeing as he is quite an natural history enthusiast), we went up the Norwegian coast from Bergen to Tromsø with Hurtigruten (Hurtigruten used to be a ship route for post, people and cargo since the late 1800s, but has become more of a cruise route these days. We spent a few days in Tromsø meeting up with some really cool people, and was shown around the university and their huge aquatic centre outside of town.  

A few days after coming back from Tromsø, we then went to Barcelona to meet up with a guy at the Consejo Superior de Invesitgaciones Cientificas (CSIC, pronounced 'sea sick' in English, hehehe) to learn more about videoing of fish (and thereby monitor rhythms) at different depths of the ocean. Although most of the time was spent in meetings, we had a day to snap some photos and see the sights!

Last but no least, I have also been to Bristol, where I went to the Wildscreen festival as well as meeting up with one of the photographers and an expert in fish telemetry from the University of Tromsø (missed him when we were there in September) to get some tips and discuss possible collaborations if we get a grant to go to Antarctica. 

Sivs autumn
As I had my master-thesis due 10th of September, this autumn was mostly filled with sitting inside writing and reading articles. In addition I moved in to a small and cosy apartment right at the edge of the city.
This last semester, being super-busy, there was little time for any adventures or travels.  I did, however manage to squeeze in some minor local trips.

Some photos from Nordmarka – forests located close to Oslo

 

Later this autumn, after I had handed in my thesis, I enjoyed a weekend at the mountains of inland Norway. The area offers a variety of typical Norwegian mountainscapes. We did a couple of nice hikes and enjoyed a very layedback norwegain hyttelifestyle. 

Late October Inga came home to Norway for a week and we got a small trip to her cabin, which is located in Hjartdal - Telemark, a two hour drive from Oslo.
Unfortunately we had quite bad whether, but nonetheless a very enjoyable escape from the city.

 

Thanks for reading!

S & I

Trip to the end of the world

In August I went up north east in Norway, to Vadsø to visit my family. This is a trip I’ve taken many times before, and a trip I will continue to make for the rest of my life. Very few people I know have never been up there, and it is a place lacking hordes of tourists (unlike Lofoten, Vesterålen, Trollstigen, Trolltunga etc). If you like endless wilderness, open tundra, reindeers, indigenous people, fjords and rivers you would like Finnmark.  It is a bit like Northern Europe’s miniature Canada.  Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?

In this post I have tried to gather a little information about this fine county and crammed in almost 50 photos taken late summer/autumn the last 5 years. I hope you find it inspiring!