Author Archives: Dennis

Norway

I keep meaning to write about my time in Norway, which was spectacular, but I haven’t really found the time. Now that I’m at home fighting against a bug, I had some time to collect my thoughts. So this won’t be a long post, but a quick recap of the most prominent take-aways. (Disclaimer; the experiences down below are based on my experience in the area around Ålesund.)

The first and most important thing that I took away from Norway is the profound sense of awe at how beautiful the countryside is. Previously, the number one spot for the most amazing country in the world in terms of beauty was Switzerland. The reason why Norway overtook Switzerland was the coastline. One of the things which I may have mentioned on here before is that the idea of living in a land-locked country is disconcerting to me. Sure, there are rivers and lakes aplenty in Switzerland, but it just doesn’t beat a coastline, especially a coastline like that found in Norway. The stillness of the deep fjords is just not something that can be explained in words, or captured in a photograph.

A close second was the absolutely phenomenal infrastructure. From the road network, to the system of ferries, to the nearly ambiguous 4G mobile connection, even in the most remote places! It turns out that when Norway discovered oil off their coast in the mid-20th century, they used a lot of the revenue to upgrade their country’s infrastructure. The country being so large, and thinly populated, it allowed people to live in comfort and luxury in pretty remote places.

Another thing that struck me was that a lot of restaurants closed their kitchens at 19:00 and closed their doors around 20:00. Some restaurants in Ålesund were more accustomed to tourists, but certainly outside of Ålesund it was considered really normal. This meant that we had to eat shitty pizza take away one evening!

That reminds me that everyone always talks about how expensive Norway is to visit, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Don’t get me wrong, it was, but it wasn’t as crazy as I was warned about. Food was probably the thing which was most expensive, comparatively. Inflated by 20% or so, I would say. I’ve been told that prices are a lot higher around bigger cities like Oslo and Bergen.

Lastly, we went to visit the Briksdalsbreen glacier. There is a 45 minute hike through a beautiful valley which leads up to it, and they have sprinkled a lot of different signs with information about geology, meteorology and climate disruption. One of the most impactful thing that they showed was how far into the valley the glacier reached every decade since 1860, when they started measuring. The closer you got to the glacier, the longer it took for another decade marker, showing just how incredibly fast the rate of global warming is increasing.

Here’s a few photos I made which completely don’t do the country any justice whatsoever:

Ålesund from the Aksla viewpoint.

Godøya, west of Ålesund. On the right lies Alnesvatnet, a lake on the island.

Runde island. The puffins are a lie.

The boat through the fjord from Hellesylt to Geiranger.

Edit: Luckily, Joasia and I went to Norway just before the tourist season started. There were some benefits (fewer tourists) and drawbacks (stark weather). Regardless, there were some early bird tourists, like us, and a lot of them arrive by cruise ships, which generally are the worst type of tourist. The stereotypes of the nationalities of tourist tends to be different depending on the place you visit.

In Norway, the stereotypes seemed to be as follows: Chinese tourists yell at one another, no matter how close they are to each other. Indian tourists FaceTime their family members whenever they come across something beautiful. (Ambiguous high speed mobile service, remember?) American tourists fall into one of two categories; either you came in on a cruise, and you’re just there for the gift shops, or you’re a twenty-something and you’ve decided to travel the country by bicycle.

Egremont to Blackbridge

Previously, the adventurers made their way from Bournemouth to Egremont on The Old Queen, a caravel carrying several passengers. Halfway through the trip a strange fog blanketed the entire river, slowing the caravel down to a crawl. The ship was attacked by several muck dwellers. Finally, another creature, stealthily moving through the fog appeared and tried to take Muirgheal away. The adventurers managed to defeat the creatures and discover that upstream, a woman in a bright blue cloak was observing the attack from a small boat. With the attack a failure, the woman departed.

Second Day, First Ride, Summer Flame, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waxing.)

The Old Queen slowly sails up the river, slowly winding around the low sloping hills of the Bourne valley while the wind soothes your scrapes and bruises. The afternoon sun glitters off the surface of the water as the first towers of a proud castle looms into view over the crest of an upcoming hill. As the caravel inches forward the rest of the castle, settled on a hill on the southern bank of the river, comes into view. It has high walls which obscure much of the castle. Two round towers, part of the castle’s wall, are standing guard on the river. Part of an impressive bridge juts out between them high above the river. It looks like it was destroyed long ago and now serves as a vantage point to survey the river.

Across the river a broken structure made of similar stones, commemorating where the castle once connected to the northern bank. Ferries now go up and down between the embankments, shipping people, cattle and goods across. An old, cobbled road still departs from the broken bridge, heading north for several hours to meet up with the Silesian road.

Over the last couple of centuries several thousand homes have nestled themselves in the shadows of the castle walls, expanding outward from the castle’s epicentre. Rows of water mills line the south bank of the river, directly west of the castle hill. White sails of tall windmills can be seen dotting the hinterland to the south. To the east of the castle hill a modest harbour allows for the Old Queen to dock.

For those of you who have travelled the countryside, the city of Egremont is a fair sized city, for those of you who only really know Kingsport and perhaps Bournemouth, Egremont looks like a quaint village.

Late in the afternoon, Egremont came into view. A castle sat proudly on the southern river bank, with several thousand homes spreading out into the hinterland from the castle’s epicentre. The caravel was docked at a modest harbour and captain Lorne began to arrange for the empty barrels he had been carrying for the Egremont coopers to be unloaded by dock workers. In the meantime, Lady Kathleen, her children, and her sworn sword Dame Idonia disembarked.

There was some confusion about how long the caravel would stay in port, but once it became clear that it would depart for Blackbridge within two hours, several of the adventurers decided to go into Egremont and find a place to eat. Ridley asked permission for her to join the adventurers, which captain Lorne granted.

Emrys remembered a tavern by the name of The Broken Bridge, where people were sitting outside in the late afternoon sun. Food was ordered and Luca used his magic to chill the cups of their ale. Ridley, who also had gotten a mug of ale, marvelled at the trick and enjoyed the cool drink. Meanwhile, Emrys was observing the conversations of the people around them and concluded that there had been a string of seemingly random killings in Egremont which had the otherwise cheerful people worried.

Eventually the adventurers came back to the harbour and found that a halfling merchant by the name of Travik had come aboard, together with loads of produce (e.g. potatoes, onions, leeks) which he was planning on selling in Blackbridge. Besides Travik, a trio of barbers had come aboard in order to travel upriver, as well as an exotic woman of striking beauty.

The Old Queen quickly went underway once everyone was back on board and it began to travel up the river Teign. The landscape changed from the fair fields of Fairfields, into the wooded area of the Riverlands. Both banks of the river became heavily forested.

During the trip, the adventurers had an opportunity to talk to some of the other passengers. Travik turned out to know about Pinefall because he had met Lord Destan when he travelled upriver several rides previous. When asked whether he had been to Pinefall, he denied, mostly due to the brewing trouble with a brigand group by the name of the Procyon.

Luca and Emrys took the opportunity to talk to the exotic woman, who was known as mistress Esmeralda d’Ortega, a Arroyan abjurer and representative of the Circle of Mages in Kingsport. Emrys explained that the adventurers had met another abjurer from the circle when the Lyrian queen had invited Emma to court in order to bless a well. She claimed that it was likely Dr. Arkenward, the royal abjurer. The conversation meandered a bit, but the adventurers managed to learn that Esmeralda was on her way to Blackbridge in order to take the Silesian road to Kingsport from there. She was to summon her mount there, which greatly interested Luca and mildly interested Emrys. She promised to show them how to do so once they arrived.

As the Old Queen sails further north up the Teign tributary the landscapes changes considerably from the fair fields of Fairfields. The golden fields of wheat make way for the more forested hills of the Riverlands. Both banks of the river become densely wooded and the occasional deer and fawn can be seen drinking at the water’s edge from time to time. Birds can be heard to chirp, coo and warble, echoing across the river valley.

The setting sun of the late hour of the day causes the wind to pick up, which provides some much needed relief from the heat. Ridley climbs down from the mast and goes to the rear deck to stand by captain Lorne and draw one of his thick arms around her, nestling into the crook of his arm. Roddy starts rubbing the ache in one of his shoulders, while Neiman keeps an eye out over the river from the front deck.

Occasional signs of logging can be seen along the river. In wide coves the long stems of oak and ash trees float, patiently waiting for barges to take them down stream to be worked in the saw mills at Egremont.

Finally, a large stone bridge comes into view, arching over the river where the Silesian road cuts through the forest. While impressive, the bridge is too low for the caravel to pass underneath. This is as far as the Old Queen will be able to take you.

On the eastern bank of the river, directly south of the bridge, the forest opens up to reveal the town of Blackbridge. Unwalled, consisting of perhaps a thousand wooden homes, all nestled close together on the soggy flats of the east bank, the town seems well camouflaged.

Half a dozen small, wooden piers jut out onto the river. They are barely large enough to dock a boat the size of the Old Queen, but captain Lorne expertly manoeuvres the caravel towards the dock, ordering the sails to be lowered. The boat is quickly tied to the dock and the dock hands start unloading the cargo unto the pier. Several ox-driven carts stand in the soggy, black mulch near the pier, ready to carry the goods onward.

The town seems to have taken its name from the bridge and the dark soil it connects on either side.

Once The Old Queen was docked on the small pier of Blackbridge the goods were unloaded onto carts under Travik’s watchful eye. Rickard and Willow of Allenham disembarked and walked into town to find lodgings. Emma and Astrid did the same while carrying the chest of valuables. James decided to join them while Emrys and Luca left to go to the bridge together with Esmeralda to watch her perform her summoning ritual. But not before Luca conjured up a little crystal flower for Ridley as a parting gift, something she was delighted by.

Esmeralda, Emrys and Luca found a secluded spot in the woods just off the Silesian road for her to perform her ritual. Surprisingly, it didn’t take her much effort to draw a swirling fog from all directions, which formed into the shape of a large stallion. Over the course of several minutes the shape started to gain more and more detail, until it spontaneously coalesced into a real, live chestnut stallion. Esmeralda explained that the stallion was a paragon she summoned from the Feywilde.

When Esmeralda bid her farewell and departed west down the Silesian road, Emrys and Luca went back to the dock and into town to find The Grove, the only inn to be found in Blackbridge. Once there, they had found that the others had already arranged for lodgings in a common room and some delicious food. The lodgings were simple and spartan, but the food was luxurious.

During dinner the adventurers learned that a contingent of crownsguard and knights had set off from the capital to escort an emissary to parlay with Lord Mirek Radowan, whose house had stood in open rebellion to the throne ever since the crown’s refusal to meet house Radowan’s demands for more forces to protect the eastern border.

There was little entertainment in the small, forest town, and so people decided to head to the common room in order to get some rest. Luca and Astrid remained behind in the main room, where Luca read and Astrid drank. They noticed a crownsguard come into The Grove and speak to Keogh and his wife Roswyn, the proprietors of the inn. After speaking to one another in hushed tones he walked over to the common room to find James.

The conversation was short, but spiralled out of control quickly. The crownsguard was captain Randall of the Blackbridge guard and wanted to know more about the dagger that James was carrying, claiming that similar weapons had been used in the assassinations of random people in Blackbridge. James explained that he had received the dagger as payment for services rendered by a man named Barnaby, operating an alchemy shop in Bournemouth.

James began to get annoyed when captain Randall insisted that James reveal his right shoulder, seemingly looking for a mark, or a tattoo which he found significant. When James revealed no such tattoo he insisted that James disarm and accompany him to The Black House. James refused. Captain Randall repeated his command and James refused again, insulting the captain’s intelligence on top of it. Clearly not a man used to having his orders refused he decided to take a more drastic approach in order to try and bring James to heel.

Luca and Astrid, who could hear the raised voices from the main room, came to investigate what the ruckus was about, while Emma tried to stay out of the conflict. Emrys on the other hand was trying to calm the situation by trying to get the captain to engage in conversation. The captain refused to do so and kept ordering James to disarm, which James refused to do. Eventually, James tried to flee the scene, afraid that the captain would attack him. Both Luca and Emrys started slinging spells at the captain, so when the captain pursued James who had run out of the inn, they decided they had probably overstayed their welcome too. Emma and Astrid stayed behind.

James lead the captain, who was wearing heavy armour and had no way of catching up with the fleet-footed rogue, on a wild goose chase through the town, eventually losing him and doubling back. He met up with Emrys and Luca who had tried to head towards the river through the forest. They decided to rest and come up with a plan.

Emrys, who was still afflicted by the strange, radiant glow coming from his eyes, decided that now that it was getting darker outside, he shouldn’t be trying to sneak around town, and so wanted to stay behind. James and Luca snuck back into town. They decided to head to The Black House to see if any search efforts were being organised and to figure out what had happened to Emma and Astrid, after James had discovered that they were no longer at The Grove.

Sneaking to the back of The Black House, they found a room with a closed window in which Astrid and Emma were in conversation with captain Randall and an known elderly woman. From where they were sitting they could only hear the woman’s side of the story, and it seemed that the woman was eager to talk to the fugitives about the weapon. James and Luca decided to knock on the front door of The Black House. The door was opened by a young guard who immediately recognised the fugitives and yelled for the captain. Before the captain could appear, James issued a demand to parlay at the bridge in one hour, before dashing off. Luca had to trouble keeping up with James but managed to get away.

Returning to Emrys they had explained what had happened and the three of them decided to rendez-vous at the bridge an hour later. There they found Emma, Astrid, the elderly woman, the captain and several guards. Emma and the elderly woman stepped forward and approached James.

When the elderly woman, who clearly spoke with authority, suggested that it was unwise to disobey the captain’s commands, James immediately objected, telling her not to start laying down the law. She kindly reminded him that she was, in fact, the law in Blackbridge, at which point he once again refused to accept the situation and decided to walk off. Luca, who had stayed back said that this wasn’t going to resolve anything. James gave Luca the dagger and let him deal with matters instead, believing that the authorities were looking to frame him for the murders which had plagued the small town.

Luca parlayed with the elderly woman, agreeing to hand over the dagger for divination by the town sage. If that would exonerate James, she agreed that he would be free to go, but James’ refusal to recognise the authority of the town guard meant that he was no longer welcome in Blackbridge. Luca wanted to be present when the sage performed his divination ritual, to make sure that the sage would speak the truth. And so a deal was struck.

May 4th, 2019, Remembering the Fallen

On the fourth of May we remember the victims and casualties of war in the Netherlands. We do that by obeying two minutes of silence at 20:00. I’ve always kept to the tradition, but over time the tradition has faded a little bit. Fortunately, it has seen somewhat of a resurgence of late. Last night, right before the Bill Burr standup performance in a large concert hall in Amsterdam, I saw several thousand people hold two minutes of silence. Everyone just stopped finding their seats, buying drinks and snacks, etc. You could hear a pin drop in that place.

(It seems I last wrote about it in 2011.)

Three Hooligans and a Bag of Beer

The other day I had dinner with Joasia together with a couple that she knows. We went to Van Kerkwijk, a lovely little restaurant in the centre of the city. Food was good, company was good and the evening was almost perfect. The only thing that was the fly in the ointment was the fact that there was an important football match going on, which was being projected on one of the walls of the restaurant. It was an unusual choice for the restaurant, since that’s totally not their vibe. I got the feeling that it was more for the benefit of the staff than the clientele.

When the evening wrapped up, we said our goodbyes and Joasia and I went to cycle back home. Halfway into our trip, we were crossing a busy street and saw that three young lads were walking on the bicycle path. They were walking three abreast and it seemed quite deliberate. Joasia circled on the left while I passed in between them, one on my left and two on my right. In doing so I passed by the one on my right quite closely and my steering wheel briefly touched a plastic bag he was carrying. His response was to reflexively push me away with the hand that carried the bag. The bag got tangled up in my steering wheel and ripped, spilling cans of beer all over the cycle path. Joasia and I kept cycling while the guys jeered at us and started tossing beer cans at us in anger. Later I found out that one of them had hit Joasia on the arm.

We came to a red light and stopped for it to turn green and I heard footsteps running up. I turned to see that one of the guys had came sprinted after us. He got right up in my grill and I told him to back off, shoving him back. He tried to kick me, but he was very drunk. I was wearing a bike lock around my torso and I was afraid he would grab it and use it to jank at me, so I took it off and held it in my right hand while using my left hand to keep him at bay. I think it startled him because he immediately accused me of wanting to attack him with the bike lock. I wasn’t going to, the lock is heavy and it’s easy to cave someone’s skull in, but I didn’t mind that he felt like I might.

The other two guys then came up, and I was worried I was going to have to fight all three of them. Luckily they didn’t seem in the mood to fight. One of them was trying to diffuse the situation, while the other was actually kind of angry, though not threatening. The two of them seemed less intoxicated. I was worried about the one who looked angry, since he was close to Joasia, who was calling the police as I was fending off the aggressive drunk guy. I kept angling away from him telling him to keep his distance, while simultaneously trying to stay close to Joasia, just in case one of them decided to make her the target.

In the meantime lots of bystanders were trying to prevent the aggressive guy from reaching me, which I appreciated. An elderly lady on a bicycle, a Spanish tourist and a security guard stand out, but there were more of them. The aggressive guy kept pushing himself past them and I kept feinting and eluding.

Eventually it seemed like the aggressive guy realised that it might not be worth it to fight me and he got convinced by his friends to stop. However, he then decided that we should shake hands. I told him I didn’t want to shake his hand because he was drunk and aggressive. After that didn’t work, he wanted me to give him a fist bump. He assured his friends that if I would just give him a fist bump he’d let it go. I didn’t change my mind.

At that point he was being pulled away by his angry friend. He then pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket telling me that he’d give me 200 euro if I would shake his hand (!?). I have seen people get attacked when lured into shaking someone’s hand after a fight died down, and I wasn’t going to be that person, not for any amount of money he would pull out of his pocket. Finally his friend managed to drag him away.

All in all this took a couple of minutes. Some of the bystanders gave us some encouragement and started to wander off. The security guard told me that I could use him as a witness if I wanted to press charges. Joasia and I decided to wait for the police who supposedly had been dispatched, but it took a long while for them to get there, probably due to the crazy football hooligans in the city. We decided to leave and cycle home.

What an end to the evening.

A Smiling Woman on the Bus

Today, as I was heading home, after a rough day at work, I saw a woman in the bus that struck me. She was probably around fifty, with a grey, pixie haircut and a very pleasant face. The first thing I noticed about her, is that she was wearing the same rain coat that Mounir has been wearing the last couple of months. Later, I noticed her basking in the early evening sun with her eyes closed, with a pleasant smile on her face. From then on, I kept noticing how she had a beautiful, permanent smile and looked “calm as a Hindu cow” all throughout the bus ride.

I don’t know if she is a happy and content person, but she certainly seemed like one. And the idea of her being a generally happy person without a care in the world filled me with happiness, too. And so I learned that happiness is contagious. Unhappiness, unfortunately, might be, too.

Thank you, smiling lady, you made my evening a slightly better with your contagious happiness.