Sjokoladepiken (literally The Chocolate Girl) is without a doubt the girl of my dreams. She provides warmth, comfort and safety from rain and wind alike, melting my heart with excellent coffees, exquisite chocolate delicacies, and of course wine. Very important, that last part: a good selection of wines can chain me to a café throughout the afternoon and well into the evening (as was the case on this occasion).
Sjokoladepiken’s story begins with Arne’s Confectionary in Stavanger, dating back to 1933. The business was renowned for its homemade chocolate, cast in unique moulds the proprietor brought back from his travels in Europe. A couple generations later; Sjokoladepiken is a café as well as a confectionary (each with their own location), and continues to provide the local population with both conventional and experimental delicacies.
What confounds me time after time with Norwegian cafés is how much, well, time I can spend there. I sat with two friends from school and six hours passed in the blink of an eye. Sure, the company was excellent and we had plenty to talk about, but the sheer quality of the chocolates, coffee and atmosphere was enough to keep me contentedly in my place while playing catch-up with my old friends.
Oh, Sjokoladepiken – I only have eyes for you.
Would you like some coffee with your records?
I woke up bright and early on Monday morning to meet my good friend Aleksi for a coffee – the only chance we’d have, before I had to catch a bus North. Of course, we ended up where coffee-drinking musicians in Sandnes always end up: Ivar Skei.
Ivar Skei, Sandnes
Ok, this is an odd one. Ivar Skei was originally a wristwatch repair shop, started by Mr. Skei himself in 1918. As times rolled along, he kept receiving requests from customers for record player reparations and gramophone needles. A small part-and-equipment import expanded, and today Ivar Skei is a full-fledged record shop, run by Ivar’s granddaughter, Liv Reidun. An extensive selection of popular, classical and fringe music is available on both CD and vinyl, not to mention song books, guitar strings and various equipment for novice and professional musicians alike. Anything they don’t have, they’ll order.
Upon entering the shop we’re greeted by the friendliest of a regular and well-routined staff, offered coffee, a place to sit and the opportunity to catch up. I’ve been coming to Ivar Skei since I was a young teenager, and I’m still blown away every time by the grand hospitality of what appears to be a simple record shop. Being in no position to compete with conglomerated chains, Ivar Skei has and always will focus on service, selection and the importance of a relaxed, friendly environment – this is music we’re talking about here, after all.
I’ve dropped some serious coin at Ivar Skei in my time; however on this occasion I saved my pennies for a place in Bergen that might be the only comparable match to Ivar Skei’s qualities (more on that to come). Regardless, Ivar Skei will always be my home away from home within the Sandnes district; I can never keep myself away from it for too long.
Follow the coast:
Moving on: early evening settled and I found a bus that would take me up the coast to my old friend Kennet. Kennet’s family home is in the Karmøy district; a strange yet tranquil piece of Norway’s coastal, rural culture. There’s evidence of Viking societies dating back to the Stone Age, and its position on the coast has given it a millennial history of sailing, fishing and export. The population is scattered, and upon acquainting one family, one quickly branches out – despite the distances and somewhat isolated atmosphere, people keep in touch here through both social and familial networks. A well-knit community indeed, I thought as I paid £25 for a hamburger menu and a milkshake. Oh, Norway.
Somewhere between Stavanger and Kopervik, Norway (I believe)
I met Kennet as a teenager and visit his family home on Karmøy frequently. Every time I’m greeted with open hospitality and encouraged to sample the latest local ‘thing.’ I always happily oblige. This time I was offered a bottle of Hardanger Cider. Not many Norwegians associate cider as an alcoholic drink of any considerable strength or merit, so I was surprised and intrigued. As it turns out, the cider was from the Hardanger Cordial & Cider Factory in Ulvik, Norway. I discovered that brewing apple cider has been a custom in the Hardanger district since the 13th century. I can’t say the cider itself struck me as anything particularly unique, but it was interesting to find a small piece of brewery culture I wasn’t expecting on my travels in Norway.
Kennet and I had no trouble polishing off the bottle of Hardanger cider; it was the perfect accompaniment to Hnefatafl, or Viking chess if you will. I’d heard of this game before, but never had it in front of me. I’m not a huge board game fan, yet was keen to give this game a chance. I’d heard good things.
Hnefatafl has been around for about 1600 years, yet no standard set of rules has survived, hence a variety of ‘tafl’ games are to be found. The uniformed characteristic is an odd number of squares on the board, with the centre being reserved for a king. What I found most fascinating is the asymmetrical nature of the game. Unlike most board games, teams are not set up mirroring each other – there’s an attacker and defender; roles are defined from the start and strategies develop accordingly. Rules of movement and engagement are quite simple, yet there’s always more intrigue around the corner as circumstances are constantly changing as the game develops, and losing pieces doesn’t necessarily need to be a disadvantage.
Morning coffee in Karmøy
The game was good, the drinks were good, but Kennet and I managed to curb our enthusiasm: we had a road trip to embark on the next day – a stretch of coast to conquer.