Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
The thing that comes to mind when I think about Norway is the classic Monty Python sketch, Pet Shop. In the sketch, John Cleese enters the pet shop to complain about a Norwegian Blue parrot which he had bought, which he has just discovered is deceased, demised, pushing up the daisies. That’s somewhat simplified, but rest assured that it’s much funnier than my lame explanation!
One line that I always remember from the sketch is Michael Palin’s hapless shopkeeper trying to explain that the parrot wasn’t dead, it was just listless because it was ‘pining for the fjords’. That kindled an interest to visit these aforementioned Norwegian fjords, famed for their beauty and grandeur, and so K and I decided to split our time in Norway between the capital of Oslo, and the township of Alesund located in what I think of as ‘fjordland’ in the North-West of Norway.
Alesund is just stunning. No words can describe the sense of calmness and serenity that even a usually uptight person such as myself feels when you stand on top of a mountain looking out over the calm ripple of the sea and snow-capped mountains in the distance. While we went in winter and many of the usual sightseeing cruises had closed down for the season, you can still take the public ferry for a two and a half hour round cruise of the nearby islands, passing ten-house villages on tiny islands, dwarfed by mountains.
It felt particularly magical that we were staying slightly outside of town on top of a mountain. While this made it a little more difficult to get to and from our Airbnb studio at the start and end of the day (a hike up a muddy trail at the end of the day in the dark isn’t that fun!), it did mean that we got to wake up to unobstructed views of the fjord. Eating breakfast by the window watching the sun rise in fjordland is an experience I’ll never forget.
Alesund is probably best experienced in the summer months, when you can take part in various sailing activities around the island. Still, keen skiers will always find a good ski slope in one of the nearby mountains in winter. In the few days we were in Alesund, we skipped going to the ski slopes, but did enjoy visiting the Jugenstil museum and exploring the town centre, as well as dropping by a local Christmas fair. One rainy afternoon, we stopped into a cosy café called Nomaden for lunch and to warm up and dry off.
It was just after lunch time and the café was beginning to quieten down. In a place where the daylight hours are from 9am to 3pm, it’s no surprise that people manage to pack a lot into those six hours, and don’t sit to linger over a cup of coffee! The café itself was only open for about five hours as well, just demonstrating how the Norwegian lifestyle changes to adapt to the season. I’ve no doubt that they’re open much longer during the summer season!
I ordered a Krydra Tomatsuppe med kjotdeig for 88NOK, or about $15 AUD. This was one of their daily specials, a spicy Mexican-style tomato soup with minced meat, chunks of capsicum, and topped with sour cream and nachos. It was the ideal meal to help warm me up after fighting the rain outside, and the thick-cut buttery toast was perfect for dipping into the soup to help bulk out the meal. The small spicy kick that it had was a nice change in our diet as well, as chilli doesn’t often seem to make an appearance in Scandinavian cooking!
K ordered a Pastasalat med Bacon og Kjotbollar for 99SEK, a warm pasta salad with bits of bacon and little chunks of meatballs. With a creamy dressing and little bits of sun-dried tomato, this made for an extremely filling, though not perhaps the healthiest meal – less of a pasta salad, and more of a sauce-less pasta. The wedge of orange served on the side with the buttered toast was an interesting addition. I couldn’t tell if you were supposed to squeeze it on top of the pasta salad as a dressing, or eat it after the meal as a palate-cleanser. We settled for the first option, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference to the taste of the salad.
When we walked into the café, their glass cabinet full of cakes caught our eye. This was the case for every other diner as well – many people seemed to come to the café for a coffee and a cake, rather than a full meal as we had. Needless to say, a slice of cake each was needed!
K ordered a cake that was enticingly titled ‘tropisk aroma’, which the waitress described as being a traditional Norwegian cake with cinnamon and nutmeg. When we asked our Norwegian friend Stine about it later, she had never heard of it before so I suspect it may be a regional specialty of fjordland. I quite liked the buttery spiced cake which tasted very festive and reminded me of Christmas, but I was less of a fan of the coffee cream icing as I don’t like the taste of coffee. K, a coffee lover, very happily ate most of the cake as a result.
I had a slice of the Eplikake, or apple cake with some whipped cream and syrup on the side. Now this was much more to my liking – supremely light and fluffy with delicious chunks of sweet spiced apple throughout and a sticky caramelised apple topping. Just the way an apple cake should be made!
I highly recommend Nomaden in Alesund as a great little cosy café where you can stop in for a coffee and a slice of delicious home-made cake. The main meals aren’t bad, but the highlight is definitely the cake. With extremely reasonable prices for the area and Norway overall, it won’t break the bank and it will let you experience a little bit of what the Danish call ‘hygge’ – a feeling of warmth and cosiness that makes you truly happy.
I can’t wait to return to Norway and explore more of its beautiful wild natural landscape – next time in summer when more of the country is accessible!
Nomaden is located at 10 Apotekergt in Alesund, Norway.