I am sitting in an Internet cafe in Oslo Norway, soaking wet (as if I had actually just jumped out of the ocean with my cloths on. However this wasn’t a cruel prank it was intentional; to write you!) Here is a run down of my long day, enjoy.
The train to Oslo is 7 hours from Bergen and leaves 4 times a day. I left at 10:28 am from the station and arrived at 5:32 pm. The trip is rated by Lonely Planet as one of the top 3 best train trips to take in Europe. It is absolutely breathtaking (as if I hadn’t seen enough beautiful scenery on my Nutshell Tour the day before!). The train headed south towards Oslo first climbing the mountains by going in and out of 180 degree cave tunnels. My ears popped about a million times throughout the trip which added to the fun of the day!
I saw three distinct geographic areas on my rail voyage. The first was on the way up the mountains which can be described as much like yesterday (many waterfalls and rapids with clouds hanging tightly over the caps of the mountain range.) Once at the top of the mountain (which is 5 miles in diameter so you really never know you are over 1500 meters above sea level) the most amazing little world exists. On the peaks of these mountains the smallest little villages coexist together, small hobbit houses covered in long grass. The entire area is in the clouds and seems like a mystical fog is constantly surrounding you. The mountains are covered in patches of snow and I counted at one point over 21 individual streams coming from the peaks down into the valleys which contain the reservoir ponds (which pour over the side of the mountain and create the beautiful waterfalls that I had seen from bellow). The rocks are the colour of grey elephant skin and the grass and foliage is as green as you can possibly imagine. I don’t think the word dry even exists here. Scattered across the top of the mountain range were many small little villages, with no sign of a McDonald’s that’s for sure. I often wondered how many hours it would take any of these people to actually get to a grocery store. In the center of the mountain range is a huge ski resort which I assume is a very popular spot when the snow isn’t melting. After two hours crossing the mountain we started to descend and the scenery drastically changed to what I consider a Norwegian Muskoka. I could have sworn I was right in the middle of Lake Joseph as there are huge shimmering lakes with many cottages with big docks fitted with kayaks, canoes and motor boats. The only difference was that this Cottage Country is home to huge wild swans paddling across the lake and mountains along the horizon which help to create a spectacular view (if only beer wasn’t so expensive it really would be like Muskoka!) As the train entered Oslo I spent about an hour passing through some of the thickest forests I have ever seen. Every few minutes the forest would fall behind me as I stared out of the large Plexiglas beside my window seat and looked on towards large pastures of crop land and cow and sheep farms. As I arrived at Oslo’s central train station the rain was pouring down and I had braced myself for the most expensive city in Europe, whilst running through huge puddles. And here I sit at 9pm getting ready to head to bed as I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow!
But before I run, some interesting facts…
A small pint of beer sells here for 75 kro or 10 euros or 15 dollars Canadian! Is this not ridiculous. I actually enjoy just knowing I am at the second most expensive city in the world eating bread with nutella and starving myself until I get to Germany where I intend on gorging on cheap beer and sausage!
Two amazing Europe Travel Tips:
1)Erasable pen trick: when buying a Eurorail pass you are supposed to pen in the date you are traveling and they just simply check to make sure that you have written the right day. Erasable pens become a lifesaver (says my new friend from Malmo Sweden). I am stumped as apparently they have not heard of erasable pens in Norway…they keep on giving me pencils…duh.
2) If you are buying train tickets when you arrive to each destination instead of planning ahead and buying a pass, make sure NEVER to buy your ticket from the man at the ticket counter! Find the stand alone kiosk at the station and buy it yourself. You literally pay about half the price buy purchasing on your own.
On my walk back to my hostel I walked past the famous Kirkeristen copper roof cathedral that can be seen from most of the town as it has a huge steeple with a rooster on the top. My room mates are all wack jobs. Two Korean men don’t say a word and plug in about 25 different electrical gadgets for recharging each night. I am on the top bunk of one of the two bunk beds and bellow me are the two men from Hong Kong. The joke here is that I have been introduced to an interesting Chinese custom. Farting. They seem not to mind letting one rip. They actually try to make them sound like a fog horn I truly believe and seem to think completely normal. I had a horn under my bed all night, courtesy of HK. To the back of the room was the 60 year old giant from Lillehammer Norway. He was literally a Viking in the flesh and snored as if he were made of thunder. My sleep was not the best to say the least…and I was woken up at 5am to the sound of the two silent Korean men yanking all their plugs out and putting MORE devices in for charging. They actually set their alarm to wake them up to charge more gadgets…crazy little men!
I was out of the hostel by 830am, glad to see that it was a sunny day (which means it’s cloudy but not raining). My first stop was the incredible Viking Ship Museum. The museum holds three of the most important excavated Viking ships in all of Norway. The largest is a staggering 80 feet long and 50 feet wide! The ships date back as far as 900 AD. They are all dark brown and can easily be mistaken for black. One of the ships is in shambles as it was a burial boat. The story is that Vikings believed in the after life and when a royal member of the clan died they would be buried in the bottom of a huge ship, sails lit on fire and set adrift into the ocean. It is fascinating what archaeologists have found on these three ships. Vikings were evidently believers in the afterlife as they prepared the souls for travel once in heaven. The boats were filled with many interesting things for the deceased to use on their spiritual journey in the heavens. Oars, cooking equipment, musical instruments, chests, and saddles were all found surrounded the dead remains of the infamous Oseberg Viking Queen (this specific boat has led to almost all of the knowledge we have today about Viking culture!) Grave gifts were also present including beautifully carved wooden treasure chests, carved ornaments/rattles and even animals (oxen, horses, dogs and even a peacock were found on board!) The Oseberg ship was also monumental for historians as it was and is the only collection of household Viking supplies in existence today. Beds, chairs and even ornate clothing were found bellow the main plank. Food preparation tools were also found which proved that Vikings believed in the need for food and drink in the afterlife. Two oxen were found slaughtered, dough had been placed in a trough, a large chest full of grain, wild apples and blueberries, herbs and buckets-dippers for churning milk into cream. I’d say the Vikings were rather prepared for a lonely feast on board once they hit heaven!
I then took a short walk up the street to the Norsk Folkemuseum which is Norway’s largest open air cultural museum (our version of a Pioneer village). There are over 500 buildings on the property that date from 1000 AD to present. The buildings were dug up and transported from all over Norway so visitors could see the different kinds of habitat used throughout the country. The Stave Church was my favorite and was located on top of a mountain (which was a bit of a pain to find to say the least). The church dates back to 1500 AD and is ornately carved and resembles viking-nordic architecture. There were several villages of hobbit houses (houses with grass growing on the roof) which I can no longer call hobbit houses as I know the proper name is Saga-stua. As you walk through time the entire atmosphere changes. I started at around 1000 AD walking through deep forests to find the little huts and then walked farther into time where I found myself standing in the middle of a courtyard that dated to around 1800-1900. The feeling under your feet was interesting as you knew you were moving through time as you progressed; forest twigs and dirt, gravel and wood chips, rocky uneven cobble stone streets and finally modern day pavement! Before I left the Folk Museum I took a leisurely walk through their cultural history display. The exhibition this summer focuses on Norwegian children’s toys which was rather interesting. I then walked around the story of the Sami. The Sami are Norway’s Aboriginals. They look very similar to Canada’s Natives and have an incredible story. FACT: the border of Norway and Sweden was created under the Lapp Codicil treaty that was created to protect the Sami so they could continue to use their traditional trade routes and pastures.
I then walked to the harbor and took a few pictures of all of the yachts and the ferry Colour Line Cruise ship. This ship leaves Oslo and sails to Copenhagen and Stockholm every day (an 18 hour cruise is a long one!). I took the bus to Frogner Parken a huge park located north of the city center. This park is Oslo’s number one attraction and as soon as I arrived I could see why! Within the park is the famous Vigelandsparken. Vigeland was an amazing sculptor who created this park by commission of the Norwegian government. There are over 400 sculptures in the park and each holds the essence of Nordic movement. The statues are bulky, not a Rodin bulky as the bodies are very spherical and accentuate the curves of the body. They are chunky as you would imagine; full bodied women and a Nordic masculine Viking male. A common threaded theme of these sculptures is movement, comedy and the family. Many sculptures show mother or father throwing a child (or baby juggling!) into the air while snapping his or her fingers in a jovial sort of way. Crossing the bridge there are 80 statues to your right and left and once across there is a huge fountain with a basin at the very top and 7 Viking men holding the basin up with the help of boulders. Surrounding the fountain are 48 individual statues with a central theme. All statues consist of a forest of trees and each is different depending on who or what is within the forest (flying babies, dancing women, a sulking skeleton etc…). Walking up the grand steps to the famous totem pole was a gitty pleasure. From the top you can see the entire park and most of the city of Oslo. The totem stretches into the sky and consists of a cluster of 320 intermingled Norwegian people reaching for the sky. I took an incredible amount of pictures as each statue tickled my fancy (Ms. Aunt Susan Dobson, Art teacher extraordinaire I have many picture for you to use next year for your students so you can finally properly explain the Scandinavian art concept!).
At around 7pm after a wonderful nap I walked to Oslo City (the capitals largest shopping center). I walked into a huge bookstore and finally found myself an erasable pen (it was 11 dollars Canadian, shudder). I then walked south to the main street Karl Johans Gate and found myself right in front of the entrance to Kontraskjaeret Fortress which stands on top of a huge cliff overlooking the cities harbor and the Oslofjorden. Within the fortress are lovely park benches to sit and look over the gardens as well as a nice little walk way on the outskirts of the fortress overlooking the dark blue mirror like ocean. At the far end of the fortress you can find Oslo Castela and the surrounding church. I sat here for a while staring at the one lonely guard holding a pike who had to ceremoniously walk 50 meters left then 50 meters right protecting I don’t know what. Talk about pointless jobs. I walked around the entire perimeter of the fortress and enjoyed the cool crisp ocean breeze in my hair as I walked back toward the city center.
I heard an odd noise and attempted to follow it (as any normal tourist would do). Low and behold I walked right into a huge party! At the very end of the fortress looking down over a cliff I could see at least 1000 people decked out in yellow and blue. Later I discovered that I had just arrived an hour before the live airing of the Sweden vs England football match! Prior to the game a famous Swedish band by the name of Bjorn Rostenstrom was playing the most eccentric Swedish folk rock I had ever heard. Bellow I stared at the many drunk Swedish fans who could barely stand up prior to the game even starting. It was 9pm and the game was about to start. The clouds were dark navy blue and the wind was getting a bit crispy. I initially sat beside two very drunk Norwegians who told me how much they hated Norwegians (pointing at themselves) as they are all boring. However they did say they love Swedish girls, as they have an affinity for strong Viking blond men…these guys were ridiculously funny. I then choose to move to the right behind one of the fortress buildings in order to get myself out of the wind and found myself sitting beside what would be my four lovely companions for the evening.
Sven and Ingrid from Sweden and their friends from Oslo Itisam and Tamara. Just before the game started the crowd went crazy as the DJ played Abba (Gimmie Gimmie Gimme a Man After Midnight). I was shocked to discover that Madonna had stolen parts of that song for Hung Up, and later learned that half of Sweden now hates Madonna for stealing what they hold dear; everything Abba. The girls told me more about the odd practice of Russing (which they just did a few weeks ago as they finished high school this year). They told me it lasts a total of 17 days and basically they all just get drunk and have parties with lots of food (peaking my interest at this point). In Oslo it is a tradition that each school year the students chip in money and buy a BUS and paint it on the outside and use the inside as a hang out and disco for the 17 days of fun (there are no seats inside its just a nice long dance floor. Each year the bus is sold to the next generation who paint it and continue the spirit of the celebration.
We ended up getting kicked out of the fortress at 9:30 pm as it is closed to the public, so we all ran to the nearest pub that wasn’t entirely packed so we could continue chatting and watching the game. We found the most amazing spot. The bars theme was evidently Viking lore. Masts, sails, crazy sculptures of dragons and other mythical creatures were found throughout the bar. I felt as though I was in the quintessential spot, with my new Norwegian friends, excellent. The game was intense as England got the first goal and then Sweden scored (the intensity of excitement in the bar when Sweden scored is impossible to put into words). It was tied and then England got another goal right near the end of the game which put much of the bar into a state of hysterics. THREE minutes before the game ended Sweden scored again and the place went nutts. I still don’t understand sports but I do recall early preschool lessons in body language; these people were happy. One of the girls from Oslo was really funny as she was wearing a Swedish jersey but also had an English jersey in her purse just in case! I understand why now because when we left the bar the streets were full of people screaming at each other (depending on which jersey they were wearing). I couldn’t help but laugh when a short fat Swedish fan came up to us incredibly excited and asked to dance with each of us. We were also verbally attacked by a couple of English fans in front of the Parliament as we were attempting to take a picture on our way back to the train station. During the game I had told the girls I was starving as I had only been eating water, bread, nutella and apples for the last 5 days. They surprised me before they left and took me to McDonald’s for a hot meal! I am laughing know just thinking about it, but I felt like it was Christmas! I have never enjoyed warm French fries and a 1/4 pounder to this extent…and probably never will again! On our walk back to the train station the girls wanted to take me down the street where all the hookers roam. I was shocked to discover that all the hookers actually look like secretaries! They look like business ladies I would never have guessed. The difference over here is that these people want this sort of profession (can I call it that?) It is not out of desperation, non of them are illegal immigrants or heavy drug users. Oslo is so classy. I bid farewell to my new friends and made it into bed by midnight.
The next morning I took the tram to the National Gallery. I really didn’t know what to expect as all I knew was Munch and his Scream. I was pleasantly surprised and now have a great appreciation for the Norwegian Artist. The Munch room is fantastic and he really had a great nack for diversity in styles. I gathered from his paintings that his younger sister became very ill when she was around 15 and died shortly after her 16th birthday. The scream is located near the end of this hallway as the pictures are sorted through time. It makes sense that Munch created the scream as in his head he was in a bad spot after his sister’s death. Many of his other paintings were very powerful. I noted that my favorite was after the Scream; a large oil painting that depicts a dinner party. Everyone dancing seems to be having fun and in the center of the dance floor is Munch, his face is dark blue and he seems to be very melancholy. He describes himself in place and colour. You can feel his anguish after the unfortunate events that unraveled in his personal family life. There are many Nordic artists I had never heard of but they paint with such power. Many landscapes of the fjords and depictions of Viking Mythology were painted with perfection. By far the most interesting area in the gallery was the modern floor. Scandinavian artists are the best modern artists I have ever seen. They aren’t redundant dots on a canvas or random lines on a page. They really do make you think and appreciate what they are trying to communicate. My favorite sculpture was a wood life size carving of a fisherman screaming in agony with his tongue sticking out to the sky as a large fish bites onto his hand. Two oil murals that I really enjoyed were titled; Castration and Madonna removes her halo.
The most fantastic of my discoveries thus far in Oslo would have to be right outside of the National Gallery in a park. A modern international art installation gallery can be found here. It looks like a large blue space station on stilts with a huge white construction tube coming out of its side and winding down towards the street. I walked up the tube and discovered “The State of Things: inspired by those within contemporary international design and craft who are posing questions about tradition, taste and expectations.” As you first enter the gallery you stop dead in your tracks as a magnificent “sculpture” can be found in the entrance. The sculpture is very odd and symbolizes the devastating use of nature for capitalist gain. The sculpture consists of half of a stuffed lion with huge gold and silver glazed rocks streaming out from its torso. Other notable pieces; a huge tidal wave that you can walk through (made of styra foam, plaster and glass). One of the artists was angry that the handicapped (in which there are 500 000 in Scandinavia) are never given the attention they deserve. Specifically this fashion artist decided to make a clothing line for those who find themselves daily in wheelchairs. The cloths were wonderful and matched the wheel chairs architectural and textural designs as well. In the center of the gallery you can find a mountain made of broken pottery and dishes and at the far end you can walk through an interactive jungle made entirely of Velcro and velvet!
On my walk back to the hostel I realized I needed to use up the last few krones I had in my pocket before I left early tomorrow morning for Sweden. I found an amazing Norwegian Sweater Warehouse that had amazing sales on since it is the summer (and apparently people don’t buy sweaters in the “summer” here even though it is still cold!). I got a nice Norwegian Blue and White Viking wool sweater worth 900 kro for 100 kro! That may just be the deal of the week! All I had left was a little bit of change so I found a cheap bakery and bought a 46 kro sandwich (cheap meaning 7 euro or 11 dollars Canadian!) This was the first food purchase I had made out of a grocery store all week and I devoured it with much zeal. The sandwich consisted of red onion, tomato, cucumber, dill, cream cheese, Norwegian Cured Turkey and spicy mayonnaise. In the afternoon I experienced a true blizzard of rain. It poured down like I have never seen before. As I finished the last few pages of the Da Vinci Code I took a peak out the window and the streets were full of ponds and full blown rivers!
I now had 11 krones left (and two bus passes that I sold to a man from Kansas for 40 kro) and spent them on the most luxurious snack. I traveled all over the city with my 51 kro and tried to spend them wisely. I entered the Kiwi grocery store and took some notes on interesting food trends in Norway. If you try to find the bottled water section you will be shocked to discover that about 90 percent of the water is flavored. In Canada we are just starting to see this trend as Nestle has made some offerings (which I loath). The company is called Imsdal and has many varieties such as Pear and Mint, Ginsing and Blackcurrent and Raspberry and Vanilla. Each of these bottles is 15kro PLUS they add 2.50 kro to each bottle as an incentive for locals to take advantage of the recycling scheme. All bottles and cans have an added tax such as this added so that people don’t throw recyclables in the garbage but rather bring them back to the grocery store to get a monetary refund. I left the store with 11.50 kro worth of red apples, this was the start of my “spend every last Norwegian Kronar adventure”. I then walked down into the heart of the city in search for a bakery. On the way I stopped off at the huge Sweater Shop which sells hundreds of Norwegian sweaters. I found the exact same sweater I purchased the day before for 100 kro for a staggering 1600 kro! I felt the need to repeat this in the same email simply to focus on my amazing bargain! I found a nice shop (Side Note; there are 7-11s everywhere in Scandinavia but they aren’t just convenience stores. They sell Chinese take out and gourmet pastries, who would have ever thought!). I purchased a Lunsjkaken which is a pork patty filled with vegetable. I also got some bright yellow Rostipoteter which are triangular shaped potato pancakes with bacon. After that lengthy purchase (I had to make sure I got good value for my money) I had a total of 4.5 kro left. I went to the little candy stand and put 5 Swedish berries in a bag. I went to weigh them and they cost 6.7 kro…DRAT I thought…so I sheepishly walked back and took a few out and returned with great glee to discover that my 3 Swedish berries were exactly 4 kro! A thoroughly satisfying food hunt was complete and I returned to my room to finish the Da Vinci Code and watch the sun finally spread through the clouds. I went to bed at 9:30 pm at which point the city was full of blue sky’s and it seemed like 1:00 pm on a summer day at home. I woke up today at 5:30 am to get to the train station for my trip to Goteborg Sweden on the west coast of the country. As I sat on a bench at the train station I looked to my right and saw a huge poster for Ikea advertising a blue eyed and blond haired family looking as happy as ever with their new furniture. As the rain fell away and the sun hit my face, I attempted to stay awake.