136. The best beggar in the world

Spotted in Norway, where the dole is higher than the average wage in NZ, so probably more of a gag (especially if you take note of his expensive sunglasses). I still thought this guy was great though!

Probably just a cheeky backpacker who 5 minutes earlier had his eyeballs popping out of his head when he looked up xe.com on his iPhone and saw the exchange rate.

123. Suksesseterte

Suksesseterte is the name of (in my esteemed opinion) the best cake in the world. *That I have tried. And based on the amount of cake I’ve eaten lately I think I’m getting pretty well qualified to judge! I stumbled across this cake at a market in Tromsø. I’m fairly sure this stall was manned by the Real Housewives Of Tromsø. It was also the most overstaffed market stall I’ve ever seen! A casual stroll by and we were swamped with women offering samples, free fruit and coffee and looking very proud of their creations. One cake sample in particular was very delicious and the price for a whole one incredibly reasonable (compared to every other item of food in all of Norway). On reflection they were probably selling their goods below cost, not to mention the free fruit and coffee, but they seemed to be having the time of their lives and they were probably all married to rich engineers on norwegian oil rigs anyway.

After informing me he had “a bit of a sweet tooth” my travel buddy Ryan wolfed down half the thing in a very short space of time. I can’t fault him though, because it was amazing! Suksesseterte loosely translates to “Succsess Cake/Tart.” It seems to only feature on Norwegian sites too, and while they claim it is a morning tea staple, it doesn’t seem to have made it across any borders. Suksesseterte consists of a base made from almond/hazlenut meal, icing sugar and egg whites, and a topping made from a deliciously unhealthy amount of butter and egg yolks, giving it the yellow colour. It is therefore a relatively light cake, though unlike Ryan I still found it difficult to eat too much in one go.

I have tried to track down the origins of the name, but to no avail. Perhaps it comes from the success of getting it right, or that one is probably doing pretty well at life to be making cakes with expensive core ingredients like ground almonds. Or maybe it is used by housewives-to-be to succsessfully lure in a husband. My host family certainly seemed suitably impressed when I gave it a go at home!

I umm-ed and aaahhh-ed about sharing this recipe, thinking maybe it could be a closely guarded secret and I could whip it out as my party trick. But ultimately it was too good not to share, plus a quick google search and some translating provides a few recipe options to anyone else keen to make it. I also feel a bit bad about my exam-induced blog neglect, so here it is as a consolation prize. I thoroughly recommend giving it a go if you are out to impress! Also, it has the added bonus of being gluten free, so I now implore every single person who reads this and has a gluten intolerant friend to make it for them. They’ll love you forever! Plus I can guarantee they are well sick of the classic fallback Mediteranean Orange/Almond Cake.

My version was actually a Not-Quite-Success-Cake as I used margarine instead of butter so the topping didn’t quite set properly, so I don’t recommend that substitution. But it was still delicious and gives me a great excuse to try it again! I also mixed hazlenuts and almonds, instead of just almonds, to give it a but more of a chocolate-y taste. That one was a successful adaptation.

A slightly runny topping and decorated with cocoa instead of chocolate sauce, but not one bit less delicious!

Base:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 50g ground hazlenuts

Topping:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 125g sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
  • 150g butter

Mix the icing sugar and ground nuts. Gently fold the egg whites into the mix. Pour into a 24 cm (diameter) mold, and bake at 160°C for 30-35 minutes. Leave to cool completely (otherwise the topping melts too much)

Stir together the egg yolks, cream, sugar and vanilla sugar. Warm over a low-medium heat until the ‘custard’ thickens. Cool and stir in the butter. Leave aside to cool until it solidifies.

Place the bottom on a serving dish and spread over ‘custard’. Garnish with chopped pistachio nuts or dust with cocoa powder. Alternatively you can make a pattern using chocolate sauce by making parallel lines with the sauce, then using the end/handle of the spoon make a line cutting across the lines one way, then back the other way. That’s probably a terrible explanation of how to make the decorations as used in the original one I tried, but I’m not sure how else to describe it!

121. Kiwis in Kiwi

There’s a chain of supermarkets throughout Scandinavia called Kiwi (well so far I’ve seen them in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. I can’t remember if I saw one in Finland). It’s even coloured green like the fruit is meant to be! I’m not entirely sure if there is meant to be any kind of link with New Zealand, but that doesn’t stop me from finding it incredibly novel!

In Oslo, Ryan and I decided we would go buy some kiwifruit and take photos of Kiwis with kiwis at Kiwi. But somewhere in with all the products displayed in fascinating ways to make you forget your original objectives and go on an impulse buying spree, we came out with cookie ingredients instead of kiwifruit.

120. The Coolest Cemetery I have Ever Seen

Whilst trying to find out if we could go ice skating in Tromso I stumbled across this really cool cemetery, and I’m not even trying to be punny because there’s snow everywhere. I really like how all of the gravestones had lanterns for candles and lots of them had little birds on them. It would look amazing in the evening with them all lit up.

Ever since Ryan Hellyer posted photos of a snow covered cemetery in Oslo I can’t help but think every time I see one that he is right, there is something really peaceful and beautiful about cemeteries covered in snow.

119. Hunting down Santa

The first sign we were getting close to finding Santa was the photo of him above, seen on the wall of the Mack’s Brewery. Obviously he had been drinking there very recently. Makes sense, being the closest brewery to the North Pole and all.

Later on, I spotted what clearly must be where he gets his groceries and homewares and thought maybe I could bump into him there.

I ran into one of his reindeer. I couldn’t work out which one, but it wasn’t Rudolf. He was no help though.

I swung by his house, but he wasn’t home.

So then I thought maybe I’d catch him at Church

But alas. Despite all of the signs he had been there, I didn’t manage to find him anywhere. Rumour has it he holidays in Hawaii around this time of year.

117. Tromsø Gallery of Contemporary Art

While the Northern Norwegian Art Gallery had some really beautiful paintings, the Gallery of Contemporary Art was, well a whole lot more conceptual and a whole lot less beautiful. It was one of those galleries where thoughts like “what on earth were they thinking?!” and “am I missing something here?” go through your head. One of those galleries that makes you think “either this artist is batshit crazy or I’m really stupid.” It reminded me very much of this most hilarious article from Vice.

The gallery largely consisted of screens playing loops of people going about the mundane business of their lives to the sound of random ticking noises. There was even one of a woman sitting staring out the window. I stupidly fell for it and thought that maybe something was going to happen, but alas. So I was sitting there watching some woman sitting there watching nothing. The most exciting part of it were the giant scultpures of drugs. But only because they involved bright colours. It was literally a giant modern art cliche. And my response was something like this:By the end of it I wondered if the whole place was just taking the piss. Thank god it was free!

116. Sexist Beer

Tromso is home to the world’s northernmost brewery – Mack’s Brewery. I thought that was a little coincidental, given there’s a Mac’s in New Zealand, where you’ll also find a (different) brewery laying claim to the world’s southernmost brewery in the thriving metropolis that is Invercargill.

Anyway, the Brewery tours weren’t open on the weekend but the bar was, so we decided to pop inside for a warmup drink around 1 or 2pm. And it was one of the more interesting customer service experiences I have had, all thanks to a man I like to call  “presumptuous bartender.”

He probably thought of himself more as some kind of beer oracle. As we walked up to the bar, we asked him for a couple of pints of Arctic Beer. Mostly for the novel name. The rest followed something like this:

Presumptuous Bartender: No you don’t want that.

Harriet: I think I do, I just ordered it.

Presumptuous Bartender: You can get that anywhere in town, have one of the beers that can only be sold here.

Harriet: Let me guess, they are more expensive?

Presumptuous Bartender: Well this one here (points to main beer on tap) is our award-winning beer, much better than Arctic Beer.

Ryan (sensing a scene): OK I’ll have one of those then

Harriet: Ok fine me too.

Presumptuous Bartender: No you (points to me) can’t have that one. You can have the ladies beer.

Harriet: The what?! And why can’t I have the other one?

[Note: I really don’t like being told (as opposed to helpful recommendations) what to order. And I really really don’t like being told I can’t have/do the same thing as a male for no good reason, so this guy was really grinding my gears]

Presumptuous Bartender: This one has won awards too, and girls seem to really like it. It is slightly lighter blah blah trivial beer stuff

Harriet (getting irritated and wanting to sit down): OK fine just give me your sexist beer then!

Presumptuous bartender: [has the audacity to look offended]

Sexist beer to the right

114. The Northern Norwegian Art Gallery

Norway is sitting on top of a whole lot of a whole lot of oil, and as a result, apparently too much cash is a problem for the country. Oh the audacity to call that a problem! A golden quote from 1997 election period: “The only problems we have are luxury problems,” says Oeystein Stephansen, head of economic research for the Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken in Oslo.

One of the solutions to this so called “problem” of what to do with its 11% surplus (other than save most of it, not only sheltering the country from the GFC but allowing it to buy up a whole lot of cheap stocks), is a whole lot of funding for the arts. In Tromsø, a tiny town way up north in the middle of nowhere, I visited 4 different art galleries and there were plenty more! The Northern Norwegian Art Gallery was my favourite, and there were some really amazing and beautiful paintings from famous Norwegian artists throughout history.

113. See the Northern Lights

Seeing the Northern Lights was pretty much the only thing on my bucket list. Probably because it is so rare to be in a position to see them, and even then it isn’t a guarantee. As for the rest of the Bucket List? Well that seems to be a constantly growing list of things I say “sure, why the heck not?” to.

When I got a Scandinavia Eurail Pass, I thought maybe I could use some of the days on it to venture somewhere north and see the lights. As it turns out, Northern Finland, Tromsø in Norway and Iceland are the best places to see them. I picked Tromsø, and naively thought I could take the train there from Oslo. As it turns out, the train ride is like 28 hours or something ridiculous. Plan B: Norwegian Air. By that stage I was obsessed enough with the idea of seeing the Northern Lights to start seriously stretching my budget.

As it turns out, Norwegians treat domestic flights just the same as international ones, and airport security stole all my liquids, including expensive cosmetics and drinks that we’d bought for the weekend. Bastards.

More challenges to the Northern Lights adventure included discovering that you don’t just wait until nightfall and look up (much to my surprise). You generally have to join some sort of overpriced commercial tour and get out of the city. The one we picked was about $150, to jump in a minivan and “chase” the Northern Lights (coincidentally, it was called the “Chase the Northern Lights Tour”) there was hot chocolate and cake though, which was a slight comfort. The driver takes you to places where the sky is clear and sightings have been reported, which gives the highest chance of seeing the lights.

It is a real gamble whether or not you will see them, especially when there is flight booking involved. Joanna Lumley apparently spent 2 weeks in northern Norway trapsing around trying to see the lights and came up with nothing. In order to boost our chances we went for the whole weekend, giving two possible nights to see them.

By the time I arrived in Tromsø, after 5 days of seeing the weather forecast get steadily worse as it got closer to our arrival, I was resigned to the fact that we probably weren’t going to see them, but hey, at least we tried. I was also insanely jealous of my friends who had gone a few weeks earlier and have THE most amazing photos, as though they are photoshopped. Its like they put their faces on a postcard. We had actually considered that same weekend, but there was a full moon and we were attempting to make a scientific guess as to when we would best see the lights, so picked one a few weeks later. As it turns out there was a massive solar storm on that original weekend. Murphey’s Law.

On the tour we drove almost all the way to the Finnish border and as it turned out, we did get to see a faint snippet of Northern Lights activity afterall, and I was most proud of my bear-grylls photography skills, fashioning a tri-pod out of a rock and a tea cup, and fiddling with the settings on my $90 camera. It’s still a terrible photo, but they told my I’d never get anything on my little plastic Canon! Take that, cynics.

Also, the lights don’t actually look green in real life. More of a pale white-ish glow. Those postcards are very misleading! The giveaway is in the overexposed colours of everything else and the pale blue sky.

My friend Ryan had a much more fancy camera, and here are the photos he managed to take:

And finally – “stop taking photos of me you wierdo!” – I was clearly way too excited by the whole thing. We may have also been the only people on the tour to take beers along. I thought it was a brilliant idea, given the huge amount of standing around in the cold waiting for things to happen.

109. Tromsø

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Tromsø, a set on Flickr.

Tromsø is about as far north/close to the north pole as one can reasonably get, short of chartering planes and other such expensive activities. The aim of the game was to see the Northern LIghts, which was pretty much the only thing on my bucket list. As it turns out, seeing the northern lights is quite the gamble. You can see from the photos that the weather changed very quickly in the two days I was there. My friend Ryan who accompanied me explained something all scientifical about wind currents and weather phenomena that make Tromsø so liveable despite being so far north but I forgot the details…

Tromsø actually reminded me a great deal of Queenstown in New Zealand – beautiful views, a picturesque wee town, that whole ski-bum feel (although there were only a few cross-country ski routes around, not actual mountains) and absolutely exorbitant prices – the Tromsø economy is probably also designed to rip tourists off. As if Norway wasn’t expensive enough already! A great money saving tip though is to stay in the cabins at the campground. So much cheaper, and accomodation is per cabin, so the more friends you have, the better. It was essentially the same as a hostel, apart from a short walk through the snow to the bathrooms.

Two days really was a long time in Tromsø. We managed to tick off every reasonably priced tourist attraction, and then got to the silly stage, which involved tree climbing and pretending I was Rose on the bow of the Titanic. There were some very cool looking “tours” that included things like staying in a Sami tent and going dog sledding, ice fishing or eski riding in the snow, but just getting to Tromsø was stretching my budget enough. If you have the money, there are some very cool experiences you can have there. Otherwise, it was a great little town to check out.