I’ve often wondered what goes into writing a travel guide book. I mean where do you even start?

David Nikel knows, having recently completed Moon Travel Guides‘ first Norway edition.

I chatted with him about what goes into producing one, as well as picking his brains on holidaying in Norway.

David Nikel pic

CAN YOU TELL ME A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF? HOW DID YOU END UP IN NORWAY AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN THERE NOW?

It’s said that people move to Norway for the money and stay for love, or move for love and stay for the money. I fell into the first category! I moved to Oslo in May 2011 in my former life as an IT contractor as the money on offer was 50% higher than in the UK. Less than two years later I really liked the country, I had met someone special, but I hated the job. So I took my hobby writing and turned into my job.

WRITING A GUIDE BOOK MUST BE QUITE DAUNTING? WHERE IS THE VERY FIRST PLACE YOU START WHEN EVERYTHING IS A BLANK CANVAS? WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT WRITING IT?

There were many points when I thought “why did I do this!?” but the end result made it all worthwhile.

This was a first edition guidebook, which isn’t so common these days as most guidebooks have most major destinations covered already. While starting from scratch is daunting beyond belief, there was a significant outlining process before I was given the contract. This gave Moon confidence in me, and meant I didn’t start with a complete blank canvas, and could properly plan my research trips.

The most difficult aspect of writing the book was striking the right balance between entertainment and information. There’s nothing worse than a dry guidebook devoid of any personality, but at the same time people turn to guidebooks for facts. It was also quite tricky to put myself in the shoes of a first-time visitor, as I have lived in Norway for several years. I took the opportunity to ask fellow travellers I met along the way what questions they had. This helped enormously!

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HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO RESEARCH THE WHOLE COUNTRY?

This is a difficult one to answer as I had travelled extensively before starting the book research, having written about Norway on my own blog and for magazines and websites for several years. So I had a lot of the background information already. The actual process of taking trips and writing took around 12 months, with a further six months of editing and answering questions from the editors after that.

NORWAY HAS A RATHER FIERCE REPUTATION FOR BEING EXPENSIVE. AS A TOURIST WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS TO SAVE MONEY?

Planning in advance. This goes for the obvious, such as buying train and plane tickets at least a week before travel, right through to planning meals. If you know roughly when and where you are going to eat, it can bring the cost tumbling down. Indian, Chinese and Thai restaurants tend to offer the best value in most towns. Traditional Norwegian food is expensive pretty much everywhere.

If you are planning a road trip, avoid chain hotels and plump for one of the countless cabins (called hytter or rorbuer) around the country. They are basic but great value, and often come with kitchenettes so you can prepare your own meals. If you’re in Norway for a week or more, the savings here can really add up.

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WHAT WOULD BE YOUR IDEAL ONE-WEEK SUMMER ITINERARY FOR A FIRST TIMER?

The classic journey is Oslo to Bergen on the train, or by car. The train is one of the world’s most famous journeys, and with good reason. You soar over a mountain plateau and see snow on the ground even at the height of summer. Connect to the Flåm railway for a beautiful trip from the mountains down through the valley to the shore of a fjord.

Bergen can be uncomfortably busy in the summer so Stavanger and Ålesund are good alternative choices, especially if you have a car. Both cities are within easy reach of fjords – the Lysefjord and Hjørundfjord respectively – so you won’t be missing out.

WHERE IS YOUR SECRET-SPOT IN NORWAY THAT YOU’D (ALMOST) LIKE TO KEEP FOR YOURSELF AND WHY?

Lofoten’s recent popularity probably disqualifies it from having a secret tag, but outside of July it’s still relatively quiet. The islands are simply stunning, with cute fishing villages surrounded by granite mountains soaring from the ocean. The only downside is the fishy aroma. The fishing industry is still important to the local economy and racks of drying cod are a common sight across the islands!

My other tip is the UNESCO World Heritage site Røros. The central streets of this tiny former copper mining town is like something from a fairytale, especially during winter when snow is guaranteed for months on end. Despite being hours from anywhere, the town remains a thriving community thanks to its focus on sustainable tourism and local food production.

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MAYBE YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE FAVOURITES, BUT IF YOU DID, WHICH HOTEL DO YOU LIKE BEST IN NORWAY AND WHY?

I much prefer to stay in cabins as the value cannot be beaten, but if I had to choose a hotel it would be the Scandic Nidelven in Trondheim. Most of the rooms overlook the river and marina, while the hotel’s breakfast has picked up a dazzling range of awards. For me breakfast is one of the most important parts of a hotel stay, and so many hotels in Norway offer the same basic buffet of bread, ham and cheese. By contrast, the Nidelven offers chefs who cook omelettes or a stack of pancakes to order, and even a barista.

HAVING LIVED THERE FOR A WHILE NOW, WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TRAIT ABOUT NORWEGIANS? IS THERE ANYTHING THAT STILL PUZZLES YOU, PERHAPS MAKES YOU HAVE A WRY SMILE?

Norwegians are generally quiet and reserved, so it can be really difficult to get to know them. The one exception is when they’re out on the hiking trails when they turn into the most outgoing, friendly people on earth. The Norwegian love of the outdoors lifestyle is well-documented (there’s even a word for it, friluftsliv), so it’s almost as if that’s where their true selves are hiding. The funny thing is, if you bump into the same person a week later in the city, they’ll probably be silent once again. Maybe a slight nod of the head if you’re lucky!

Norway

VISIT NORWAY

The answer – obviously – is DestinAsian magazine, which features two of my articles this month. One on east London’s favourite hipster hang out, and the other on the Aurora Borealis.

Click below to enlarge, or even better, buy a copy next time you’re passing through Hong Kong or ShanghaiDestinAsian Shoreditch Jpeg

DestinAsian Northern Lights JPEG

Seeing the Northern Lights – the Aurora Borealis – is pretty bucket listy for most people. And with good reason. The time I saw them in Norway ten years ago I promptly burst into tears!

I recently interviewed scientists from Alaska, Finland, Norway and Iceland about ways of improving your chances of seeing them when on holiday next winter, and the results of what they had to say appeared in the travel section of the Telegraph newspaper recently.

Click >>> here <<< to read that online

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I live in Finsbury Park, North London – it’s very up and coming apparently. We now boast a Subway sandwich shop AND a Costa Coffee. So there!

But take a 10-minute magical journey away from the mosque, the abandoned Lidl bags, the drunks and the permanently-flooded intersection outside the Twelve Pins pub, across lovely Clissold Park and you enter, almost Narnia-like, a magic kingdom of indie record shops, non-chain clothes stores and organic cafes, where people wear Birkenstocks with pride and children are pushed proudly in their designer prams by their Guardian-clutching parents: Stoke Newington.

Clissold Park

And it’s here you’ll find 32-year old Ole Martin Hansen, who’s just your average 6ft 6″ Norwegian salmon smoker and musician, so I popped across the park last week to pick his brains on a variety of subjects including his top tips if you’re heading to his homeland.

Ole Martin Hansen at his smoke house in Stoke Newington

Where are you from in Norway?

I’m from the north but grew up near Stavanger in a place called Sandnes, which I called “Sadness” because it’s very industrial. I found people there are very small minded whereas London is great in terms of its multi culturalism.

How did you end up here?

I was studying and playing music – I’ve played the accordion since I was five – and set up an experimental music workshop in Stavanger just jamming and working with bands, but I had a friend who was in London studying Sound Arts at the London College of Printing, so I came over here to do that. Surviving as an artist in London usually means 30% work for your art and then 70% work just to pay the rent so I decided to do something 100% that I wanted to so I could fund my own art in the future, so here I am and it’s been nearly three years now.

The smoking room at the back is an old boiler room from the 50s, which was completely filled up with garbage when I first got here, but it’s connected to a chimney so I thought this was the perfect space for a smoking chamber. I had a budget of £300 so it was kind of mission impossible but I went for it. It’s very close to art – you have to be creative and use all your skills.

My great grandfather used to smoke salmon in Kirkenes and my grandfather, who was an engineer with the mines up in the north, he took over and my chamber is the same design as his.

He believed the salmon should hang in the sea air and sway in the wind for 12 hours. As they were still therefore moving he reckoned they weren’t completely dead so there was something happening to their protein and the enzymes. It’s a beautiful thought, and maybe it’s not the case, but I think it adds to the story and the experience. When something moves there’s energy being added to it so I’ve started playing Edvard Greig and my own little jams to the salmon when they’re hanging.

I’m smoking several tonnes of salmon a year and sell to restaurants, directly at markets such as Broadway Market and shops like Melrose and Morgan and Daylesford Organic and elsewhere. It’s all in hand-wrapped packs, which takes a lot of effort, so it’s all about aesthetics and being tactile. And then there are private orders from all over the world, as far away as Kuwait.

The salmon is sourced from a family-owned farm in the Faroe Islands – from people who care what they do and how the salmon are treated, the wood chips are from Denmark and the salt comes from Guérande in France.

Lofoten Islands

Where are your favourite places to visit in Norway?

I love Lofoten – it’s the Alps of the north, so beautiful. The people are great, the scenery is lovely. You can go fishing and catch your own cod, poach it with wild garlic and butter and serve with potatoes and then just fall asleep. Just rent a rowing boat, you’re guaranteed to catch fish. And if you don’t fancy that, try lamb and cabbage – just layer lamb, then cabbage, lamb, then cabbage, and simmer away – delicious. And in summer the berries are amazing.

We’re very lucky in Norway to have a huge network of cabins, run by a non-profit organisation, the Norwegian Trekking Association. All based on trust. Leave them as you’d wish to find them. No mobile signal. After a week you don’t want to come back. I’d definitely recommend those.

A network of cheap cabins for hikers and tourists across the country - Norway? Yes way!

Where’s your favourite place to travel?

I go down to Biarritz in France but my favourite favourite place has to be Istanbul. It’s such a great city – you’ve got the sea, the Bosphorus, the islands, the wooden houses, all the history, and of course loads and loads of culture.

Takk Ole!

wwww.hansen-lydersen.com , www.visitnorway.com, www.norwegian.com

Ole plays Edvard Grieg and his own musical jams to his salmon while they're hanging.