Sunday, 12 December 2010

My new apartment in Norway!

Hi guys - so as you know by now - I am as of Friday a proud home owner for the first time- yeay!!!  I saw it on Wednesday, put in a bid on Friday morning, and by the afternoon, the apartment was mine! Of course, it wasn't so simple - a bidding war was involved! The Norwegian system is quite interesting, but more on that later. I will move in in mid January which is actually just in time for me, as I need to be out of my current apartment by the 20th of January.

The apartment is quite spacious - 75m2 with a lock-up storage room and underground parking space and has two bedrooms. It was built in 2002, so everything is working as it should. Over the past weeks I looked at a number of these older wooden building of which Stavanger is famous, but you get chills reading the condition reports - there always seems to be something wrong - from termites (!) in the basement, to problems with moisture and drainage, to thin walls,... that we thought no, we don't bother anymore with this and rather look at something more modern and safe.   

Here are a couple of photos of my new apartment. Of course it comes unfurnished, so need to think what I should do there - any suggestions?

View of the building. My apartment is at the center bottom.

Another view of the apartment building

This is a common swimming area in summer

The bridge connecting 6 or so islands to the mainland

Its a quite but trendy area

A water feature in the garden behind my apartment

View from the patio. Area for a gas grill in the summer.

Patio area with covered area for sitting

Living room with large windows

TV area

Door to patio opens out from living room

Open plan from kitchen to dinning area to living room

Dinning area


Dinning area and kitchen

Main bedroom
Sliding mirrored built in wardrobe

Second bedroom or office


Shower and washing machine

Floor plan

Position of my apartment relative to city center (the V-shape area)

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Hike to Månafossen

Today I joined a hike to Månafossen  which is a waterfall located at the head of Frafjord, about an hour from Stavanger.

This is a view from the bus on our way there. I was feeling pretty car sick as the road snaked around the mountain.

From the parking lot to the viewing point is only about a 15 minute hike, though there are lots of loose stones and some steep places with steps and chains. Its an amazing site once there though - its considered one of Norway's most beautiful and magnificent waterfalls. The waterfall has a free fall of around 92 meters. 

Here are links to two videos:

Afterward we hiked further up the hill, and into the valley behind towards the hut you see in the picture below, where we had lunch. As you can see, summer has not quite arrived yet. 

Finally we headed back. Not a difficult hike overall, but a nice one with some good company.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Biking time

I've decided its time to get healthy and since the free Statoil bus is not running during the Easter break, its also a good way to save some bucks! So out with the bike and on with the 13km ride to work!

So down I went to the basement in all my gear, only to discover my tires were completely flat - damn! So now I had to go looking for a pump to buy. After buying one and pumping the wheels I then remembered I didnt have a lock for my bike. Now I know I'm in Norway and only riding to work, and there is an underground garage, but I still feel pretty paranoid to leave my bike unlocked (as one of my colleagues does). So for a second time it was off to the sports shop to buy a lock - a huge reinforced monstrosity of a lock - but now at least I could rest assured my baby would be safe.So much for saving bucks....

Getting to work was the next challenge. 13km is quite a distance and knowing which turn to take is not always straightforward. Luckily for me I asked another biker who was heading in the same direction, so could just follow. Its quite a scenic route going out of Stavanger and around the Hafrsfjord which is a stretch of coast, before heading past some farmland and then into the industrial area called Forus where Statoil is headquartered. As one bikes along the coastling you come across the Three Swords Monument which is quite striking:

The three large swords stand on the hill as a memory to the Battle of Hafrsfjord in around 872, when King Harald Fairhair gathered all of Norway under one crown. The largest sword represents the victorious king, and the two smaller swords represent the defeated kings. The monument also represents peace, as the three swords are stuck in the hill to never be used again.

On the way I came across a BMX course and since it was the weekend I thought I would give it a try. Check out my video here

Unfortunatly, there was also pain. As I was heading home I went down a steep street with a sharp turn at the bottom. It would have been fine but for the small stones that are put on the ground when it was snowing to improve grip. Now however, these same small stones make it very slippery and as I came around the corner, my back wheel slid out under me and I went skidding along the road (luckily a rather quiet back street). It was quite a hard landing, but it was only my arm and leg that scrapped along and I didnt notice much at the time. However, when I got home at took my shirt off, this is what greeted me:

Quite nasty looking! It was actually a small hole! As I didnt have any detol or bandages at home I had to go to the emergency clinic to have it cleaned up. What a sweat! But Im glad I did since now it is looking much better.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Ski trip to Sauda

Today I joined a colleague on a ski trip to a resort called Sauda. I had to get up  quite early as the ferry left at 8am from Stavanger and took about an hour and a half to get to the mouth of the fjord, where we changed onto a bus. The half hour trip wove its way up the mountainside with spectacular views of the fjord below. We got to the resort at around 10am but is was about 11 before we actually got on to the slopes due to an excruciatingly slow process at the ski rental shop (I will definately buy my own ski's for the next season).

Although the slopes are not as high as ones I have been on in Switzerland, they are just about right for my level of experience. There are around 5 different ski trails - the longest descent around 6 kms. Also as one comes down, you can catch a glimpse of the fjord below which is quite stunning.

After about 4 hours of this I was really starved and greedily got the biggest (and most unhealthly looking) hamburger there was with x-large fries and coke. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I could only manage around half of it. Goes to show my eyes are always bigger than my stomache!

It was time to hit the slopes again for another couple of hours until 16:00 when the last busses began to depart. Overall a great trip!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Movie time

Today I wanted to experiment with linking my blog to some videos I have posted on YouTube. Its great to be able to combine the strengths of Blogger, Picasa and Youtube. Enjoy!

My Stavanger apartment

Stavanger city center

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Socialism rears its (ugly) head

It seems tax shocks run in the family as I just got a tax bill for around R35k! Can you actually believe that?!! I almost fell backwards off my chair! And what is to blame for this? - scandinavian socialism thats what!

Ufffhh! Well, good news is that it should decrease somewhat next month as it is still taxing me at 50% (the default rate until your papers have been processed at the tax office) and they included some stuff from Jan that wasnt included yet, but my new tax rate is not much lower at 45% Then the other shock is that the "free" appartment is not exactly free. I must in fact pay 1% of annual salary each month as the minimum transition rent, and in addition pay tax on the "benefit", being the difference between what the landlord charges the company and this amount I paid. So effectively I pay around 65% of the rent amount which is pretty high since business apartment rents are always very inflated.

What I cant understand how this country is swimming in all the oil money, yet taxes are set at such a ridiculous level. Which business would set up shop here? I can understand they dont want to overheat the economy, but its not even that everything else is cheap - quite the opposite - food, clothes, rent - everything is expensive.

So what does the taxes get used on?? That is hard to find out - mostly from what I can see into a grey area called social grants. Ok, so the healthcare is apparently mostly free (excluding dentists who are expensive), schools are free and there is like a year maternaty leave and an array of child benefits, plus I bet there is a lot of unemployment benefits. Thing is - personally I dont get the benefit of any of this - so why must I pay for it? Isnt it more fair, that those that use the services (hospital, school), pay for it (or at least a larger percent).

Some would say that is is simply the price to pay for a "harmoneous" society, where you have the "right" to a good life, where no-one is poor (not many rich either), and everyone has equal chances (or so is the idea). As we know, in SA, it is precisely this huge wealth "gap" which creates the conditions for crime and consequently the violence that goes with it. So is the "harmoneous" society worth its price, or is the nanny state the route only to an entitlement culture and to a people that shun any personal responsibility?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Field trip to Kårstø

Today was pretty amazing. I joined a field trip to the Kårstø gas processing plant about an hour north of Stavanger. About 15 of us went in a bus which included a ferry trip as the complex is on an island. The first thing that we could see were the burning gas flares (actually done only when there is maintainance work)  and then you notice the huge size of the complex - its Europes largest export port of Natural Gas Liquids and the worlds third largest. Over 500 shiploads of the stuff is exported each year.

So what actually happens here? Well, basically rich gas from a number of offshore fields is piped in to the complex, and is then fractionated in tall towers into propane, butane, isobutane, naphtha and ethane (which, if I can remember correctly, go into making a huge number of products like plastics and as fuel in cars, jets and camping stoves). What was really interesting is that the propane is actually stored in two large caves drilled into the mountain. The water surrounding the halls turns to ice, creating a natural "fridge"in which it is stored.

After the briefing, we got to dress up in safety overalls and hardhats, and then got taken on a tour of the complex. We got to see the central control room - a nerve center filled with huge computer screens, from which all operations are managed. I was surprized that although it is very industrial, it is also very neat and tidy. Also I had no idea how they could keep track of which pipe does what as there are literally hundreds of pipes all over! We then were shown the 658km long Europipe II which transports gas to the continent via Germany. The diameter of pipeline is around 107cm and can transport up to 24 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year! Its an amazing sight to see this pipe which transports the gas that heats hundreds of thousands of homes as it actually dissapears into the ground.

The important part for me was to see the Naturkraft combined cycle gas-to-power plant which is one of the projects I will be working on. Its a 420MW plant which in simple terms will operate when the electricity price is greater than the gas plus CO2 permit price.

After that, we had a very satisfying lunch and then it was time again to catch the ferry back to Stavanger.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Central vacuuming???

You may have heard of central heating before, but have you ever hear of central vacuuming?
Well, me neither...

I must admit I was quite sceptical, when, having informed the housing department that I had found a vacuum cleaning pipe in my wash room but no actual machine, they told me to look for a hole in the wall into which to insert it. I was seriously thinking there was something missing in translation there, but nevertheless, I decided to humor them and look for this "hole-in-wall" (like who would actually put a hole in the wall...). I searched everywhere, and was beginning to think they may have been pulling my leg, when, lo-and-behold, behind the TV I found a socket in which the end of the vacuum cleaner pipe fits! hahaha! who would have thought. The on/off switch is on the head of the pipe, which as you may guess, is quite a long pipe that can get around the whole house. You learn something new every day!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Around Stavanger

I finally managed to unpack and arrange everything, so this is my first “free” weekend. Since the weather was so great today (still snow and ice on the ground, but beautiful sunshine) I decided it was time to do some serious exploring. Below are pictures from the town (I walked really far as you can see!). You can find my full set of pictures on Picasa by clicking here: Picasa Pictures