Into a Norwegian Artist’s Retreat

Here was an artist who did the Charleston jig. All in a bid to tell us how her Pointer got his name. The Pointer is a dog, lest you are in the dark, and a hunting hound that gets its name from its inclination to point its muzzle towards the game. Now imagine if you will this beloved mistress of Charleston, a grown-up woman imitating him, lifting her chin up and arms pointed into the air in a stance that looked like she was about to release an invisible arrow off an equally invisible bow. All of which was enacted to emphasise upon the stance of a Pointer.

That is how I knew we had landed a prize here, Els and her Pointer, Charleston. I don’t know how well Charleston does the Charleston but he has a name to live up to. And he has a mistress who is quite capable of teaching him the dance.

We had Els’ cottage to ourselves for four days. That red cottage with Homlagarden painted on its entrance, as you see in the lead photo, is stationed strategically by the fjords of western Norway in a village called Norheimsund.

This was our big Norwegian holiday after our weekend stint in Stavanger when we hiked our way to Pulpit Rock. My aim was to get our behinds to Trolltunga and sit on the troll’s tongue dangling our legs into the fjord below. But that was not to be because just as in Stavanger we struck lucky with the weather, even though the forecast was for thunder and showers, our second Norwegian break was made up of enough mist and clouds and drizzle and downpour to make our hiking shoes hang their heads in shame.

What is life if our best-laid plans are not to be, right?

We reached Bergen on a fine day in August last year, the clouds conspiring to create a fleecy white backdrop to our glee at stepping out of the airport to the sight of bright blue skies. A blue sky is such an elixir on any given day and billowing clouds are just the proverbial cherry.

Soon we were puttering down in our rented hatchback towards the cottage that was about an hour and a half away from the airport. We drove through tunnels cutting the length of incredibly lush hills, passed a herd of sheep serenely trotting down the roads and possibly out for their morning stroll – you will see in a later post that the Norwegian sheep are remarkably self-confident unlike their English counterparts, and left behind the occasional church nestled in valleys along with colourful black, red and yellow cottages dotting the landscape or tucked in beside placid lakes.

It made me rather musical. To trill out ‘My Day in the Hills’ ala Julie Andrews and trill I did till Adi asked me to switch to the phone playlist please. I harumphed and sat sulking. But it is difficult to hold on to a sulk in the face of such pristine beauty, the lakes glowing an emerald green in the shadow of those hills and putting me in mind of a mysterious mermaid about to emerge from those waters.

This is how we found ourselves in Norheimsund, bleary-eyed after our early morning flight but the view of the fjord from our cottage driving our cares away in an instant.

It was the quintessential Norwegian cottage on an organic farm where clutches of hen and plump turkeys strutted around a red coop of their own, mini tractors stood with blue hues of the fjord and hills merging into the background, patches of snow showing up in the distance and Els’ yellow cottage facing ours. Inside the red cottage, the entrance was marked by paintings by Els, the ground level housing her workshop along with a carpentry shop. Warm wooden interiors, a well-kitted kitchen with all manners of pots and pans that would make a gourmet cook smile like a shark, windows that looked out into the fjords and made us sigh. This was the perfect start to a Norwegian fjord hopping holiday. Along with the presence of Els, Charleston and his mother, Kaisa.

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Bergen
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A typical scene in Hordaland county
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Where the roads wind past hills and lakes
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Emerald 
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Morning Strolls
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Colour pops up along the lake

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Entering the village of Norheimsund

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Els’ farm and cottage

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Inside our cottage
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Charleston and Els
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Undivided adoration and affection
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The kind of view I could get used to
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The lounge
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The view we woke up to every morning from the bed

To Book the Cottage: Get onto Airbnb and type in Hordaland and Els. However Els does not always let out her cottage (because it is not quite that commercial) so book in advance.

How to Get There: Bag tickets for as less as £39 on BA and Norwegian Airlines to Bergen. From the airport, it is best to hire a car for your stay because it is easier and economic to drive around the county of Hordaland.

 

 

 

Grand Dame of the Amstel

Luxury is such a precious word when you dabble in it. But once in a while, maybe? Because who wants to develop a thick skin when it comes to appreciating the good things in life.

Adi and I are cost-conscious travellers. When you are passionate about travel and want to see as much of the world as we do, it is quite impossible to indulge in luxury in the true sense of the word (unless you have trust funds in place).

On that note you will, if you can imagine, feel the thrill we felt when we walked into the InterContinental Amstel. The five-star hotel as you can see on the main featured photograph is a beauty and sits on the river Amstel in Amsterdam. On a dull day when a fine mist hung in the air, we were at the portal of this old-world Dutch hotel. A doorman in a smart livery and top hat ushered us into a warmly lit lobby that was marked by classic white walls, high ceilings, glittering chandeliers and sconces. It radiated a sense of classic grandeur. The interiors were not of behemoth proportions because before it opened doors in 1867 its founder Dr Samuel Sarphati had fallen short of funds. He died during its construction. This man, a Dutch physician of Portuguese Sephardi Jew descent, was key to developing the city of Amsterdam. He was a philanthropist. After he came to understand the poor hygiene of the people while treating them, he set up projects to uplift them and the city at large. He set up a bread factory that would produce affordable but good bread and initiated an effective waste collection system. Let’s put it thus: Amsterdam owes him.

Back into the exalted lobby of the InterContinental Amstel, there is a bust of Sarphati inside to make you look up the unusual name of the gentleman. Though I did chance upon a ‘tabloid’ titled Amstel Times. An interesting way of putting out information about its 150-year-old history. Instead of gadding about it further, I shall let the photographs take you into the hotel.

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Rembrandt van Rijn. The Dutch master who lived during the 17th century finds mention in the hotel throughout. It overlooks a piece of land called De Omval that is known to have inspired Rembrandt’s sketches. There is even a Rembrandt suite in his memory.
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Rembrandt looks on as you enter the hotel.
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An old wooden staircase, high ceilings and pretty chandeliers mark a quietly elegant lobby inside the Dutch hotel. There are about 55 executive rooms and 24 suites, not a vast number, but what it lacks in number, it makes up for in style.
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The Amstel InterContinental was envisaged to be grander. With two more wings. But as it happens, the best-laid plans often go awry. Don’t we all know a bit about that?
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Guests’ scribblings. Post the year 1867 when it opened its doors to the public.
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George Clooney, Audrey Hepburn and Queen Elizabeth are a few personalities to have stayed here. Here you can see a Clooney doodle.
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The bar has a stunning view of the river. You can sit here and while away time with a pint of Dutch beer and just that view.
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And if you get fidgety after a few drinks at the bar you can always head out to the Jordaan quarter which is a few minutes’ walk away.
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The Wellness Suite. I scampered down mostly to dip into the wonderful spicy mix of seeds and nuts they put out with tea (basically, after I had a go, no one else did).
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A not-too-unhappy duo inside their suite.
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Into the executive suite that we were upgraded to. Look at that gorgeous wallpaper.
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An old-world decor can never fail to charm an old soul.
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Entry level rooms start around 300-400 quids a night. That is pretty much a standard quote all through the year.

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The hotel should not do too badly, says that smile.
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Yippeee, says mine.

Lastly, I have to mention the chief concierge, Aad van den Berg, who was lovely with his recommendations. He got us tickets for Anne Frank House which we had failed to book online because they happened to be sold out. Did I mention also that this was an IHG free reward night redemption at the InterContinental Amstel? Well then, let me say this that if you have a free reward night too and you are in this beautiful, vibrant city, you know where to look in. For me, it made me feel nothing less than a pampered princess.

The Little Corner Apartment, Budapest

In Budapest downtown, right in the heart of the action so to say, is a nifty studio accommodation deemed the Little Corner Apartment by its Hungarian owner, Bali. On a frightfully cold day when the sight of frosty fields and bare trees were a forewarning of what was to come our way – namely, hands that could not stray for a few seconds out of well-insulated gloves and feet that froze within the boots, however many layers of insulated socks you had on – we arrived on a quiet street just round the corner from the hip n’ happening Jewish quarter in Pest.

Now, Budapest is bisected by the river Danube into two cities. Buda is the uphill part of the city with its palace and wealthy residential quarters and Pest (the Hungarians pronounce it as Peshth) is the flat part but with a significantly upbeat vibe to it.

Passing by the ivy-laden facade of an antique shop and a couple of cafés, we were soon shivering outside the massive doors of a 100-year-old building. The owner of the apartment, Bali, took us in a fairly old-world elevator to what was going to be our home for the next four days. The doors opened in to an industrial chic space, done up thoughtfully by Bali and his wife, using eco-friendly materials.

Exposed bricks, distressed walls and cupboards were offset by a bright pop of colour in the shape of a red throw on the sofa-bed that stood at one corner of the apartment. My favourite touch along with the distressed look were exposed light bulbs hanging off roughly-looped wires. They made for an artless, and yet, effortlessly stylish look. It is one of my favourite design trends for the season. I hope it is not a fleeting one. Do you like the naked light bulb look as much?

A modest kitchen, loaded with an electric kettle (always makes my heart sing at the thought of getting my cuppa tea), basic cutlery and crockery along with a supply of tea and coffee, made our stay a happy one. The mini fridge had been stocked with a couple of bottles of beer and milk. A welcome note it was alright. We never say no to beer.

When I say thoughtful, I mean it. Beer apart, the apartment came with a small, pocket map that introduced us to the city with recommendations of what to see and where to eat. The way the locals do it, that is. In our wanderings around Pest, it was a useful thing to have on us. The best thing about the apartment is its location. We were located a few minutes’ walk from a major square in the city, Deák Ferenc tér (Deák Ferenc square) and from its famous assortment of ruin pubs in District VII.

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The drive from the airport to downtown Budapest. You get the picture. Lots of hot, sweet mulled wine to get us by.
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We put up in an apartment in this building which was about 100-odd years old.
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The double bed in the studio apartment.
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The adjoining relaxing couch with the red throw to brighten things up.
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I always loved returning to the apartment and seeing this lit-up window prettily waiting for us, promising us a wonderful time of thawing our cold bodies inside the warm apartment.

After long days of walking all around the city, beat and cold, when we used to return to the apartment, I was the happiest person alive. The temperature button on the heater would be cranked up and we would sit with cups of tea to warm up and make plans. On the last day in Budapest, after an early morning of romping around town, we got back and spent almost an entire delicious noon in there (we were kindly enough allowed a very late check-out). Because, let us admit it, at some times you need a break from the cold and precious lazing time even if you are travelling.

You can book the apartment through Airbnb and give me a thumbs-up after a stay here 🙂