All posts by maristravels

There are still some countries I haven't seen and some things I haven't done and won't do now (like trekking in Nepal) but I've covered a fair bit of the globe as a traveller. I've been a professional travel writer, blogger, and photographer for some years now, love cinema, theatre, books and art. I try to cover these subjects in blogs when they crop up in my travels. I live in the UK and these days I travel mainly in Europe and Asia.

SILENT SUNDAY

The bells were ringing when I took this photo in Stresa in Italy, a few years ago, so it was a Sunday. In the garden it was silent but outside it was a typical Italian Sunday, the animated passeggiata, the queues at the gelateria, and the family groups, grandparents to babes in arms, all out to enjoy Sunday.

Stresa, Italy

NARVIK – City in the Arctic Circle

National Museum of Narvik

I didn’t know what to expect of this Norwegian town that saw so much horror during the Second World War, a horror made worse I suspect, by it being inflicted on a neutral country. I found that the war had left a deep scar on Narvik, at its most evident in the Museum devoted to the conflict and in the many statues dotted around the town.

Lying just 137 miles inside the Arctic Circle, and like Andalsnes encircled by mountains, Narvik is one of the world’s most northerly towns, but warm North Atlantic Currents and the mountains that shelter the town ensure relatively stable and high water temperatures even in winter. Unlike the Arctic Sea, the Norwegian Sea is ice-free throughout the year which means that Narvik’s naturally large port is always negotiable; this allows boats of virtually any size to anchor.

This was The Old Post Office, originally a farm workshed in Narvik.  Built in the late 19th century after the coming of the Ofenten railway it was used as a Post Office for about ten years from around 1888.  This grass-roofed building is all that remains of the old farm which was pulled down in the mid-50s to make way for offices.   The old Post Office, owned by the Ofenten Museum, was restored in 1991-92 by the Narvik Adult Education Centre.

Although known to be inhabited since the bronze age little was known about the inhabitants of Narvik until the port was developed to receive the ore from Sweden’s Kiruna and Gallivare iron mines in 1883.

Today this town, grown rich on its iron-ore industry, is a quiet place, but it was the iron-ore plus the advantages of its deep sea port that were the cause of its being invaded and subjected to a blitzkrieg that flattened the city in 1940.

Torvfontene by Finn Eriksen and is dated 1940-1945. Known as Mother and Child it is another peace sysbol

A brief history of Narvik’s role in the war.

Poorly armed, neutral Norway became the first victim of the war in western Europe in April 1940. Neither the Allies nor Germany respected Norwegian neutrality and both sides wanted to get their hands on the iron ore mined in northern Sweden and transported to Narvik. Both Britain and Germany were a also aware of the importance of the town’s deep port and both had been pressuring Norway’s strict neutrality since early 1940 when they realized how important this ore was to the war effort. By April, both sides were hastily preparing forces to land in Norway (Britain had earlier sought to interrupt the flow of iron ore by mining the sea lanes) but Germany got there first.

A full scale invasion was launched on 9 April 1940 and in a series of attacks, the Germans seized Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. Despite initial gains and losses on both sides, the poorly equipped Norwegian and Allied troops were outnumbered and outgunned and by 2nd May most had been withdrawn. Fighting continued at Narvik until Germany invaded France and Belgium, after which the remaining 24,000 Allied troops were evacuated for use elsewhere. Before they left, the troops destroyed the port and the railway and blanket bombing by Germany followed. The town was re-built after the war, which accounts for its somewhat bland appearance today, notwithstanding one or two outstanding buildings.

The above image is Narvik’s National Freedom Monument, a mirrored triangle by Espen Gangvik, a gift from the Norwegian government  to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation in 1945. The inscription reads “For peace and freedom. Thanks to our allies 1940-45. Thanks to those who fought.” Made of high polished steel it is 59 feet tall and is located in the town center near the War Museum. Two more views of the Monument are below.

Narvik would appear not to have a lot of English-speaking tourists – although all the people in the town with whom I had contact, spoke the language perfectly – because there was little information in English about the statues and monuments, and the inscriptions on the statues were only in Norwegian. In fact, the tourist office assistant apologised charmingly about this fact, saying with a smile, “We have a long way to go yet, but we are trying”!

In 2005, the mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, took initiative for the worldwide organisation ‘Mayors For Peace’, and Narvik was one of the municipalities that joined. Akiba donated a stone from the zero-point field Hiroshima as a gift to Narvik. The stone from Hiroshima was unveiled on august 6th 2006 in conjunction with the new monument “Peace is a Promise of the Future”. Both monuments are placed in the town square of Narvik.
This is the monument ‘Peace is a Promise of the Future’,
a sculpture by Håkon Anton Fagerås.

I bought an guide book in English from the Tourist Office, and as it was raining outside I put it straight into my bag. Not until much later did I find that it wasn’t in English, but in Norwegian! So, I got most of my information by stopping young people in the street and asking them: they were fine with the translations but not so good with the history!

This is Lille Petter by Jozef Marek. I couldn’t find any information about this sculpture, but his face is haunting and I’d love to know the story.

And here are a couple of very modern pieces, make of them what you will. The white one really has me puzzled.

I wouldn’t like you to think that Narvik is only about past war history, there is a lot more to do there if one has time. The great disadvantage of a cruise is the lack of time allowed to explore the places one stops in, en route. Narvik is teeming with things to do and places to go – apart from the War Museum where you can spend half a day at least.

Bandstand in centre of town

What To Do in Narvik

There are City Bike Rides on electric bikes with a guide, city walks with or without a guide, climbing and trekking in the mountains which surround the town, and of course, the world’s most northernmost animal park, the famous Polar Park, opened in 1994. Home to Norway’s large predators such as bears, wolves, and lynx, as well as deer, moose, reindeer and muskox, all in their natural surroundings, you can easily spend a whole day there seeing and interacting with the animals in their near-natural habitat. Add to this, dog-sledding, husky wagonning, snowmobiling in the winter light and you can see that Narvik offers the visitor a tremendous amount of things to do.

View over the harbour and snow-capped mountain.

The very brave may fancy some ice-fishing, and best of all perhaps, the fantastic cable-car ride to the Narvikfjellet Restaurant at 656 m, which is the perfect starting point for hiking, skiing, northern lights hunting, snowshoeing and tobogganing. From the upper cable car station you get a panoramic view of the deep fjords, the historic iron ore harbour and Narvik city, which makes the cable car ride an experience in itself, much like the one I did in Andalsnes.

Sjømannskirka, a Catholic church by the harbour

But I didn’t get to do any of these! I spent too long in the fascinating Museum of the War and then got so engrossed in chasing up the names of the artists who did the carvings that I missed my chance to visit the Polar Park. The weather turned nasty, it began to rain so the cable-car was out as the mountain top was covered in black clouds, so there was nothing for it but to adjourn to a warm coffee house and find some inner sustenance in the form of venison sausage and mash served with a local beer.

The Fall colours are magnificent

So, I’ll go back to Narvik one day, maybe in summer time, to do that cable-car ride, to get up close and friendly with a wolf, cuddle a husky and come face to face with a growling brown bear. And to get some better photographs on a day on which the sky won’t be black!

Windswept and cold, I may look lost but I don’t think I’ll have much bother finding my way home from here.

All photographs by Mari apart from the header one with the white deer, which is courtesy of Narvik Tourism.

Sculpture Saturday

Sleeping Child by By Håkon Anton Fagerås.

This sculpture of a sleeping child is said to symbolize Norwegian optimism, survivability, and future life.

The design incorporates a separate pedestal, a rock from Hiroshima’s ground zero given earlier to Narvik by the mayor of Hiroshima. One of three peace sculptures in Narvik it was dedicated in 1956, 1995 and 2006 to remember the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

ÅNDALSNES – Land of the Trolls

I should have blogged ages ago about my June trip to Portugal but eye problems meant that computer work was frustrating.   Then a couple of weeks ago I went on a Fjord cruise with a friend, despite not being a lover of cruising, mainly because it left from my local port of Southampton.  The cruise was similar to a summer one I’d done a few years ago, but this autumn/winter one promised different views of Norway’s fjords.

The tranquillity of the fjords

To mark my return to blogging, I thought I’d start, not with Portugal, but with Norway, and not with the cruise, but with my time on land and one of the delightful towns we visited.

Andalsnes Harbour with Mountaineering Centre in foreground
Small marina in Andalsnes

First up was the beautiful Romsdalsfjord and the town of Åndalsnes, located beneath towering snow-topped mountains at the mouth of the Rauma River.  Its privileged position has made this Norway’s mountaineering capital, a centre for hiking, trekking and all season climbing in the impressive mountains that surround it, Romsdalshornet, Trolltinden and Vengetindan.

Early morning entry into Andslesnes

Entering the town in the early morning I was struck by its small size, it looked more like a village than a town, neat little white houses clustered around a small harbour (but a deep one that can accommodate large cruise ships which bring tourists all year round) hemmed in by snow-capped mountains. 

Looming up from the middle of the town was a building of such modernity that one immediately knew that this was no ordinary town: anywhere that had such an outstanding piece of architecture just had to have a lot going for it.

As the sky gradually lightened, I became aware of movement above the town and noticed gondolas travelling to a nearby mountain from a dark garage-like building beside the modern one.  Things were looking better and better.

Gondola House (Black building)
Mountaineering Centre

The very modern building turned out to be the Museum and Mountaineering Centre, something of which the town is very proud, understandably so, as not only is it a design of total modernity but it has Norway’s tallest indoor climbing wall, it offers various activities, and the full mountaineering history of the region is on display .  If you want to get fit, or just to ensure you are adequately prepared for the hike ahead, you could try the 210-metre challenge, or any one of a number of the challenging climbs that are available there.  People come from all over Scandinavia come here just to use this climbing wall. 

But if you’re not into climbing, or like me, not into that type of physical activity, there’s the Romsdalen Gondola right next door which will take you all the way up to the top of Nesaksla’s summit where you can walk around the top and look with delight at the magnificent scenery all around you: or climb further up to gaze on even more fantastic views of rivers, lakes, snowy mountains and tiny figures climbing up the mountain below.  On the summit, the Eggon restaurant awaits with great coffee and freshly cooked Norwegian food sourced locally.

I choose the latter and spent a wonderful day just pottering on top of the mountain and watching the hikers struggle up and down the rocky face of the ridge opposite.  Below were lakes, rivers and the town of Andalsnes itself, and what seemed little pockets of cultivated ground.  The weather changed hourly it seemed, and went from dark and stormy to incredibly bright and sunny – but it was always cold.  

That’s where the wonderful mountaintop restaurant came into its own with nourishing food, great coffee and a selection of cakes to die for.  I’m talking saucer-sized pancakes with hot sour cherries topped with whipped cream and chocolaty things that I just had to refuse or I wouldn’t have made it down the mountain again.

I could have headed for the Romsdakstraooa steps and climbed all the way to the top of Mount Nesaksla, 708 metres above Romsdalsfjord, for the same scenic views but although I love snowy mountain tops and awesome views, I gave this one a miss as I’m well past my mountain-climbing days! 

 Andalsnes is buzzing both summer and winter.  It’s a perfect base camp for anything from mountain hiking to summit hikes, long treks with stunning vistas of the Romsdalsfjlla mountain ridge, or leisurely car, coach or train journeys through some of the most wonderful scenery you will ever see. 

Trollstigen by ©Ivans Utinsns, Photographer (Visit Norway)

The town is a transport hub, being the final stop on the Rauma Railway which offers a scenic two-hour journey considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful train journeys (Lonely Planet, 2022).  It follows the course of the Rauma River as it descends into Lake Lesjaskog along which it forms many magnificent waterfalls, travels through lush valleys and mountains and crossing over the famous, natural stone Kylling Bridge with a dramatic view of the foaming river below.

Rauma Train Station (with Gondola) ©Leif Johnny Olestad, Photographer (Visit Norway)

That’s enough to tempt me back: that and the sour cherries on pancakes with cream!

All photographs used in this blog are mine, apart from the two which I have credited to the respective photographers, and Visit Norway which gave me permission to use these images.

Next stop NARVIK, occupied by the Germans during WWll where there is a Museum devoted entirely to its place in that war.

Pull Up a Seat – September 2022

I don’t know if the challenge is still going and I can’t seem to find a recent post from XingfuMama, but I thought I’d post this one anyway.

I’ve posted today on Southend-on-Sea but I didn’t include this picture in the piece as I thought it would be nicer as a stand alone picture. The seat in the picture is one on Southend-on-Sea Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world at 1.34 miles.

The wrought iron detail is fascinating, covering as it does the Victorian/Edwardian era clothes, boating, building sandcastles, and the donkeys which were used to give rides on the sands. Not too comfortable on which to spend a long time, but pleasant enough for a short stop on the way to the end of the pier.

Southend-on-Sea

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A Day on the Pier at Southend-on-Sea

Once a place where Kiss-me-Quick hats were almost as obligatory as a fistful of ice-cream from the famous Rossi’s, Southend-on-Sea is now a City and looking to become a proper grown-up resort.

Sunday excursions to Southend-on-Sea by train were our big break from the workplace when I lived and worked in London way, way back , so when the opportunity came to experience a day out in that fondly remembered place, my one desire was to once again walk the 1.4 mile Pier.

Southend-0n-Sea Pier
Amusement Park by Southend Pier

There wasn’t time to do much more because we had to fight our way to the end of the pier in a gale blowing off the North Sea, a bad-weather day that kept most people off the Pier apart from a few fishermen and a few intrepid walkers. The train still runs down the pier and we caught it back to the town (I can’t get used to calling it a city when there is a beach and an amusement park in front of me) when the clouds really turned black.

From the town there is a lift to the esplanade (photo above) but for those who don’t mind a climb and some extra leg-work, the walk down the slope past cafes, shops and ice-cream parlours is quite pleasant or there is a way down incorporating steps and platforms.

The kiosks and entertainment spots I remembered on the Pier are no longer there, just a vast expanse of boardwalk leading you to the end. So, here are just a few photographs of the Pier at Southend-on-Sea on a rainy, windy, day, when some flashes of blue lit up the sky to make us think the weather was on the change but it wasn’t, it was just nature teasing us.

Looking Across to the Kent coast from the end of the Pier

And when you’ve taken it all in, the views to Southend, the views across to Grain Island and the Kent Coast and the grey waters of the North Sea, then head for the modern tea-rooms, or sit on the steps as many do to enjoy the last rays of the sun, on the end of the longest pleasure pier in the world.

Tearooms on Southend Pier

Some people say that the Blue Plaque to Laurel & Hardy, on the pier, says all you need to know about the place, but it’s got more, a lot more, going for it, not least great restaurants and lovely people.

We caught the train when we saw these clouds approaching!

Recommendation: I was lucky enough to be taken to a decades-run family restaurant noted for its seafood, and if you need a recommendation I can say without hesitation that I had one of my best meals, ever (middle skate with brown butter if you’re asking) at

Tomassi’s, 9 High Street, Southend-on-Sea SS1 1JE. Open daily until 7 pm. Phone 01702 435000

BABY ELEPHANTS ARE GORGEOUS

Just a day or two old

I was going to keep this one for mother’s day but I realised I’d forget all about it by next year so I thought it best to post it now.

It’s one I took when I was doing some work with the Elephant Help Clinic in Phuket many years ago. The baby elephant is wearing a lei because she’d just been blessed by the monks from the nearby temple.