After a long night of intermittent sleep in my seat, my first day in Norway dawned heavy, grey and misty. I had intended to spend all morning out on deck watching the scenery roll by but between the stifling effects of the mist and the frigid temperature of the air, I found little inclination. Under dense fog, the ragged edge of Norway strongly resembles the ferry route through the Gulf Islands. I did however cave and spend entirely too much money on a tiny coffee (a latte little bigger than a shot of espresso) and a bun. Caffeine addiction and budgetary prudence are rarely the most agreeable of drivers.
Fortunately, the closer we got to Bergen, the more exciting the scenery got and the less heavy the fog. I was alarmed by the sheer number of houses and towns out on these rugged islands, many complete with massive construction booms presumably building even bigger houses and towns. I admit however that, charming as the views may have been, I did not stay out on the deck to watch it. Having not had much sleep or food the night before I was in no condition to deal with the cold and wet conditions out of doors.
Arriving in Bergen, we found that our berth had been “borrowed” by a big old hulk of a cruiseship and so rather than walking into the terminal we went down to the car deck, boarded charter busses, and were bussed to the backdoor of the terminal where we hiked upstairs to reach the actual exit. As we had no security or immigration checks, I cannot imagine why we weren’t just dropped at the front door, but then who am I to judge. Either way, I made my way out following a friendly local and soon found my way to the Visitor Centre where I met my Tanzanian host who has been living in Norway on and off for over a decade. Let me just say that, though having Norwegian inclinations in any question of walking speed (that is to say wonderfully fast) he is also one of the very most chill people I’ve ever met.
After meeting a few of the housemates and getting settled in, I quickly succumbed to the call of Bergen’s seven encircling mountains. Now I can’t exactly tell you where I went but I know that I spent a lot of time on the highest ridges I could reach, I saw two beautifully serene mountain lakes (and a few other less perfect ones too), I visited two little hiker huts, saw a stunning little valley flanked by mountains still bearing small pockets of SNOW, and miracle of miracles, I resisted climbing a nice big lump of rock that probably would have taken me at least another hour when I’d already been out for nearly three. I also came back with soaking wet shoes, muddy hems, and an idiot grin on my face. You can make your own conclusions as to how closely I stuck to the trails.
Returning to my hosts house via the grocery store, the prices of which made me want to sob into my ham and nothing else sandwiches, I met another housemate and soon we were also joined by a pair of Slovak street performers. They are leaving Bergen tonight to drive to Oslo, hoping for better audiences. I feel like a language gap may have greatly reduced their vivacity, but I expect that they are fellows with many stories to tell.
Soon after, my host left for the evening and I was back out into town adventuring. I set out in search of the water but soon was derailed by an alluring raised patch of green lawns and stone walls. It turned out to be Sverresborg which is an old Norwegian fortification still owned by the Norwegian military but currently open to the public. I can’t see what military value it might have but it seems to suit well enough for young lovers and miscreants seeking a quiet place to pursue their ends.
Leaving the fort, I wandered along narrow winding cobbled streets which I presume must be a hold over from earlier eras, before reaching the picturesque Bryggen. It is truly impressive that all that wood has been maintained in it’s original shape since 1702. The buildings, the stairs, the balconies, the walkways, even the ground between the buildings is wood and because I was there late in the evening on a Monday, the place was nearly empty. I quickly decided to return the following day when I could enter some of the buildings and see what their innards had to offer.
Carrying on from the Hanseatic parts of town, I wandered down to the fish market where I could afford nothing but was intrigued to find a sign advertising “Moose & Reindeer burgers” I may have to have one before I leave Bergen. We shall see how well my will holds up. And then it was down through the city, following town squares and undulating streets past a myriad of pretty churches and hipster-filled wine bars and very hipster-flavoured (though at this hour no longer open) coffee shops. I suspect that the University has something to do with it, but Bergen is certainly a hipster haven. I suppose you have to balance out the cruise ship tourism with something a little less mainstream.
Once I got back to the house I was just chilling in my host’s room until I heard a knock at the door. At around 11pm his two Tanzanian housemates had just finished making dinner and wanted to know if I wanted to join them. Having never had Tanzanian food, I thought: why not? And am I ever glad I did. We had African cake (sort of polenta but not) with a meat and aubergine dish and beans cooked in coconut milk. Basically, you take a lump of the cake and mould it in your hands until it’s like a little scoop which you then use to scoop up meat or beans. It was delicious and we ended up hanging around the kitchen chatting, eating, and drinking beers until around 1am, which was far later than I would have thought I could stay awake after the relatively sleepless night on the ferry.
Tuesday I woke up lazily around half eight to sunshine streaming through the windows and wasted no time in getting out into the world. Unfortunately, however, Tourist Bergen does not wake up early in the summer and it seemed that nothing opened until 10. So I wandered around the Bergenhus fortress and ended up lounging in the sun for the better part of half an hour as I waited for the rest of the world to catch up with my morning energy. Once 10am arrived, I visited Håkon’s Hall in Bergenhus which is one of the oldest buildings in Bergen originally built around the 12th or 13th century. There wasn’t much in the way of explanatory text but it was an impressive building nonetheless with vaulted halls on both lower levels and a gorgeous gabled great hall at the top. The great hall had massive mullioned windows and a fantastic wood framed roof but the very best bit was the floor. Such an expanse of smooth, uninterrupted hard wood as I have not seen in a long time. Obviously my first and only thought was how I could contrive to dance a Viennese waltz there. The only answer I came up with was “marry a rich Norwegian dancer and have my wedding there” so probably never going to happen, but it’s definitely on my wish list.
After Håkon’s Hall, I headed back to Bryggen where I wandered amongst the houses a while before stopping at the UNESCO World Heritage Visitor Centre where I talked archival photos, historic change, and urban exploring with the friendly young fellow left to look after the place. I had intended to head to the Bryggen Museum next but on his recommendation headed instead for the Hanseatic Museum just down the way. Rather better equipped with explanatory text, the Hanseatic museum was an excellent glimpse into the strange and decisively German live of the Hanse Merchants, journeymen, and apprentices. Though beautifully decorated with painted flowers and designs and equipped with the most divine little glass enclosed work rooms for bookkeeping and other clerical work, the houses were all entirely wood and therefore no open flame was allowed anywhere near them. I would imagine that winter in Norway with no candles for light nor hearth for warmth would have been frightfully bleak. I cannot imagine any culture but that of Germany spawning such a unique league of bachelor merchants dutifully working away all over northern Europe. The museum also had a fantastic collection of seals including one from Riga, one from Dublin, and a variety of others from all over Germany and Europe as a whole.
Leaving the museum I was told that my ticket entitled me to also visit the Hanseatic Schøtstuene where the merchants were allowed fire and therefore spent all their leisure time and ate all their hot meals. Sadly this museum was less well equipped with explanation but was equally full of attractive furnishings and rich history.
Having fully explored the homes of the German Merchant class, I stopped by my first of Bergen’s church interiors: Korskirken. It was large and austere with white walls and dark heavy wood. It was not quite so much to my taste as the light rococo churches I found in Denmark but was still quite elegant and beautiful.
And by that point my stomach was putting up quite an almighty fuss so I stopped on the wharfside to conquer my modest sandwich of ham and suspiciously affordable (for Norway) avocado. I was rather alarmed by the sheer number of Chinese tourists that I saw passing by. It seems an awfully long way to come, but I would imagine that the promised of fjords and UNESCO world heritage sites plays some role in it all.
As the tourists began to thicken around the wharf I was off again, in search of the art district where I hoped I might slip into a gallery or two for free. I didn’t end up finding any art, but what I did find was ever so much better. Just on the far side of the city lake/fountain/park area, I stumbled across the Bergen Bibliotek. You can bet your boots I went in! And what I wouldn’t give to work there! I might have to learn Norwegian! It’s housed in a lovely old stone building but with ever so many internal improvements including a spiral staircase wending up through the middle of the building and so many many windows! Their collection was also admirably large including books in nearly every language, mass amounts of musical scores, instruments for patrons to use, and a gorgeous local history section which smelled like bibliophile heaven. It is a damn fine library in every sense of the word and I will now have dreams of magically learning Norwegian and getting a job there—but only for summers. I don’t think I would enjoy the winter here.
Floating along through a haze of book scent and happiness, I ventured past the unassuming little coffeeshop Blom which is the sister cafe to the one that an Irish coworker recommended as the site of his “barista exchange” a few years back. It was exactly as small and crisp as I would imagine a place specializing in filter coffees to be. Not wishing to completely blow my budget however, I elected to pass on by and save my shekels for Kaffemisjonen later in the day.
My next stop, St. John’s church was rather similar to my first church of the day. Though more ornate, it had the same dark stateliness that spoke of a weighty divinity more than an uplifting lightness. I used to quite like intricate, heavy church design but I think I’ve moved on to preferring things that stretch to the divine by an analogy to the sky rather than an appeal to the wealth of Rome. Fortunately my final church of the day, St Olaf’s or the Bergen Cathedral, would deliver on that promise if not in design then in atmosphere.
St. Olafs was perhaps plainer than any church I’d ever been in. All rough plastered walls and smooth carved columns with only three stained glass windows and two painted, and one carved altarpiece. Despite it’s arching white walls, the heavy dark wood ceiling and beams still loaned it that certain Norwegian gravity, but the visuals were nothing compared to the music. The organist, a small white haired man, spent the entire time I was in the church seated at his high perch picking the most wonderful range of melodies and harmonies out of the church’s massive Bremen organ. I am not certain that he wasn’t just practicing his pieces for Sunday but it was divine. I spent ages seated in a pew just absorbing. I think if Canadian churches had music like that, I might have felt rather more favourably towards Christianity.
When the organist finished his session with a thundering climax of sound and fury, I unfolded myself from my pew and headed off in search of coffee. I might have maybe planned my route because Kaffemisjonen was only a few minutes away and after ordering from a barista, encircled by trophies from barista competitions around Northern Europe, who moved with the gravity of a buddhist or perhaps un artiste, I found myself seated in the window with a latte and a slice of cake. We will not speak of how much that cost me, but suffice to say it was perfection. The carrot cake was moist and flavourful and bore the texture more of a pudding than a traditional cake. As if that wasn’t enough, it was topped by clouds of the most light fluffy cream cheese frosting that has ever been tasted. And then there was the coffee. When you’ve been drinking cheap hostel coffee you sometimes forget just how amazing coffee can be. I don’t even have words for what I tasted but the best I can do is say: smooth beyond belief, rich, and oh so damn perfect.
After an hour of reading and glorying in gustatory heaven, I wandered back to my host’s house via the local market full of expensive things that I DO NOT NEED (the mittens and socks looked so warm!), and found that by a delightful communication error, I had ended up leaving the poor man locked out of his room all day. Fortunately the blame was not all mine (I’d been given the wrong mobile number), but I felt all sorts of bad anyway. Couchsurfing is an adventure everyday. Greatly to my relief, we ended up making dinner together (which is to say I peeled potatoes and he did everything else) and had excellent conversation and even better food.
Come morning, my host was off to the airport for a trip of his own, and I was off to a hostel for my last night in Bergen. After dropping my wonderfully heavy backpack—I am quickly realizing that the best part of backpacking is the amazing lightness of being that immediately follows any opportunity to discard one’s backpack—I charged my phone and headed out again into a brilliantly hot, sunny day. I was on my way to see an old wooden rococo mansion but I have this terrible weakness for coffee and well it was sort of on my way… Obviously I ended up stopping and shelling out more kroner for another cup of coffee at Kaffemisjonen’s sister cafe Blom. I justify this indulgence by the excellent opportunity it gave me to meet the locals. I’d managed to pull the delightful coup of being handed a porcelain cup of coffee and yet having no empty seats available on the patio, but not to be forced indoors I decided to try the “is anyone sitting here?” angle.
Fortunately, my first quarry was waiting for someone but was intrigued enough by the rogue Canadian with coffee and an oatmeal cookie to grant me a seat. It turned out that she had worked as a special education teacher in Toronto for nine years in the 70s and I guess I reminded her of her young self. We sat and chatted about politics, environmentalism, life, and all that jazz for nearly an hour at which point her husband turned up. He is a medievalist at Bergen University but unfortunately was not very comfortable in English, so after a bit more conversation I decided to leave them to their coffee together and I schlepped off over the bridge to find my mansion.
Being me, I managed to turn up at the mansion over forty minutes before the next available tour so I ended up plunked down in the kitchen garden reading my book and baking in that glorious sun. When I did get to the tour, it was only me and my architecture student guide. She took me around the house restored to show various periods in it’s history of owners and occupants from room to room and my general impression was, everything is wood and nothing is real. I rather liked it better that way. The tragi-comic story of people so desperate to look grand and wealthy but so terribly ill equipped. As all these old buildings here it had wonderful soft wooden floors and an impressive set of marble tiles in the guest entry, but the bulk of the beautiful (if slightly garish) rococo effect, was precisely that, an effect.
Outside the house we met the two meat ducks Gentleman and Lady who are the most ridiculously large mallards I have ever encountered. They are so fat as to be unable to fly and they would dwarf their wild cousins by a factor of three at least. These two monstrous beasts share the grounds with a collection of statuettes, a 700 year old Norwegian rose which smells more richly and with more complexity than anything I have ever encountered before, a very tasty licorice plant, and the most elegant of little cats, Sylvia. Sylvia is a grey and white thing with long hair and the sweetest demeanour and allergies be damned I could have spent all day playing with her. Fortunately, I was on a tour of sorts so I was lead away before I could provoke my asthma to any too terrible degree.
My next stop was the oldest building in Bergen, the massive two towered Mariakirken. It was the German church back in Hanseatic days and had only just reopened after five years of restoration. With only a tiny bit of pride I shall say that I saw it on it’s first day reopened. Alas however, photographs were not allowed so I cannot share with you all all the beauty held therein. The altar piece was a stunning carved work in gold and lacquer depicting the virgin and child and the pulpit was a richly adorned bouquet of cherubim and graces. I think, of Bergen’s churches, it was the most to my taste. Not too dark, richly adorned but not to entirely covered in decoration, and still based on white walls and arched stonework.
Following my historic adventures I made another frightful journey to the supermarket, home of unspeakable prices and challenging decisions, and emerged with enough food to hopefully keep me going for another few days. The trickiest bit of travel is trying to ensure you’re properly fed without ending up bogged down by perishables or by weight. The meat, cheese, and random cheap vegetable sandwich is sustaining me well thus far but I suspect that any moment now I will lose my patience for a single additional slice of ham or salami.
In addition to my practical purchases I may have also bought a pack of Tunisian dates which I then preceded to eat in its entirety sitting on the edge of the town’s lake/fountain reading Daniel Deronda. If I was better dressed I dare say I might have cut quite an image, as it stands I probably looked a tiny bit homeless. Come cheaper climes I may have to restock my backpack with bottoms that aren’t either grievously oversized hand-me-down jeans, or my inexcusable leggings as pants.
I soon found that the wind off the water was counteracting the warmth of the sun and relocated first to the park next door and eventually to the harbour front market. And then at around 7, I decided it was probably time to leave off the sun burn hunting and head back to the hostel for dinner. My new Norwegian cheese was most pleasing, my lack of fellow youthful travellers to meet and potentially go out with, less so. It seems that in Scandinavia, the hostels are filled with families and the backpacking youth are either few, or very impressively camouflaged.
Either way, I found myself lurking about a hostel seemingly devoid of Canadians to celebrate Canada Day with and so headed out to watch the sunset. The sun set around 11pm which had me back to the hostel around half eleven still sorely wishing for compatriots to share my national day with. Instead, I ended up having one of the least patriotic Canada Days that has ever been. Somehow I ended up drinking Japanese whiskey with a young Minnesotan businessman, on a short vacation after a work trip to France, in a Norwegian hostel, being endlessly interrupted and annoyed by an attention seeking Colombian “diplomat”. The people you meet in hostels. Nonetheless, the whiskey was good, the business man was friendly and interesting to chat with, and the Colombian managed to somewhat counteract his over-enthusiastic self-marketing by dancing a bit of salsa with me. I can forgive all manner of social ills for the duration of a salsa song.
And then it was bedtime with morning dripping in shortly thereafter and me rising to a breakfast that bore striking resemblance to my dinner the night before. The joys of eating cheaply on holiday. My breakfast was also interrupted by the vivacious Colombian who requested and then ate the peel from my banana with lengthy descriptions of how healthy and delicious it was. Who am I to judge?
Once fed I attempted to charge a few devices and do a bit more planning but was soon out into the sun to find coffee and a comfy patch of sun to spend the day in. My first stop was a small nearby cafe called Aura where I drank coffee and ate “Success Cake” on the cobblestone street before the cafe. Success cake, apparently having no non-norwegian equivalent is rather like a macaroon, but the size of a pavlova, and with hazelnuts as the primary ingredient. Then top that with a custard rather akin to the centre filling of a Danish, only more liberally applied and you have Suksesskake. It was delicious.
As I was polishing off the last of my treat and caffeine, an Australian girl who I recognized from my hostel made her way over to the table next to mine to find some shade (I was happily in full sun) and we ended up chatting about all manner of things but mostly about travel. I am constantly running up against this idea that it is unusual for women to travel alone but I was glad to find that the Aussie, despite not being very used to it, was slowly finding the charms of answering to no travel partner and knowing that it was only by luck and your own ability that you have managed to decipher a subway system or find an amazing spot. Unlike the waffling, drifting creature that is yours truly, however, she had intermixed her solo travel with a number of tours. I do wonder if maybe you see more and learn more that way, but that curiosity has never been sufficient to induce me to pay exorbitant sums to be crammed into an over packed schedule with a whole herd of people that I may or may not take to. Can you tell how much I LOVE organized tours?
Sometime later after my coffee had been gone long enough to make me feel slightly awkward remaining, I slipped off to hunt down a park for purposes of sun worship and the Aussie took off to explore the mountains. I was tempted to go with her but laziness and my book won out and I soon found myself sprawled on a grassy knoll in a city park stripped down to shorts and a bikini reading. Had the clouds not rolled in and the breeze not picked up, I might have been there still. I do so love the sun! But of course the clouds did come so I picked myself up and prepared to leave, but not before witnessing the best damn summer camp idea I’ve ever seen! The kids were all garbed in colour coded medieval costume and equipped with foam swords, wooden staves, and all manner of other gear. Each colour was lead by an intrepid young university student and they appeared to be in some sort of adventure/battle/thing. As a child I would have loved it!
Taking a final cruise along the waterfront and back through Bryggen I made my way back to the hostel to charge my devices a bit more before the seven hour train journey to Oslo. I didn’t stay long. The vivacious Colombian had taken over the main sitting room with loud music, louder singing (which bore rather more resemblance to a bray than a tune), and generally aggravating everyone who was unlucky enough to pass through. Even from the smaller TV down the hall where we had all crammed ourselves, the general irritation was too much to be borne and so I headed for the train station. I ate a sorbet, sat in the sun, bought a coffee for the train and generally hung about for about an hour before my (now late) train decided to pull away from the platform.
Now I didn’t take any pictures from the train ride on the (perhaps misguided) principle that everything looks terrible in photos taken through glass from a moving vehicle. I may come to regret this.
We started our journey wending through fjords past quaint towns and step cliffs before we began out climb up to Norway’s high elevation plateau. We started to see little traces of snow in the mountains that surrounded us mixed with small villages and pristine lakes and then the mountains seemed to get smaller and the snow got thicker and by the time we reached Finse (at the apex of the railway’s elevation) everything was white and the lakes were not quiet, barely rippling panes of blue but instead fractured, frozen sheets of snow and ice carved open by searingly cyan run off streams cutting their way across lakes and down through the snow drifts. And all this, in JULY! I cannot even begin to describe the beauty, and I still feel that any picture I could have taken would not have done justice to what I saw, so you’ll just have to ride the Bergen Railway yourself!
On a more practical note, the train was equipped with what I can only describe as an internet based torture device. There was wifi, but it didn’t work in the tunnels. So the only times I wasn’t staring goggle-eyed out the window and might have maybe liked to work away on my computer, I couldn’t. Someday we will figure out how to manage transport tunnels effectively, until then, no phone service and no internet it shall be.
Seven hours later our frazzled conductor lead us into Oslo station only 7 minute late, having made up nearly ten minutes in the course of the journey, and I was pitched out into the world. Oslo is a strange city because, despite being completely safe, it does have a certain griminess which made sorting out transit at 11pm with a giant backpack seem just a tiny bit less than optimal. Nonetheless, I made it to my host’s house where we chatted, lost track of time, and then crashed with the goal of being ready to go by 8am the next morning so that my host could go to work (and I could get out of the flat).
By half eight the next morning I was unleashed into Oslo, where I began by wandering aimlessly until I stumbled across a coffee shop that met three critical criteria: hipsters (for the guarantee of good coffee), tourist-free (for the hope of good prices), and equipped with good people watching spots (to entertain me while I sat around waiting for the city to wake up and the attractions to open). My wander took in the river, some impressive alternative spaces, and a good bit of graffiti before I ended up finding a lovely little spot across from the Oslo Cathedral. I think they misheard my request for a single shot mocha because what I ended up with was a bowl of mocha. As in, there wasn’t even a handle, it was just a medium sized soup bowl full to the brim with coffee.
After my bowl of coffee and hazelnut pastry, I wandered off down cute little lanes, through market squares, and generally towards the water where I found the Opera House. It is an impressive bit of modern architecture all gleaming white and very clearly inspired by snow drifts, glaciers, and icebergs (in that order) and it has fantastic views of the city from the sloping, uneven roofs. Inside is equally impressive with massive walls of windows and natural textures but, I must say the bathrooms represent a classic instance of too much design and too little concern for people. [This is a great opportunity for those of you who don’t care about UX to skip ahead, just don’t bother with the next paragraph and move right along, I’m really only whining]
You entered the bathroom to an impressive granite textured everything which was impressive but which left me wondering where the stalls were. There were no breaks in any of the walls, but I did quickly identify the small metallic circles of the reverse sides of bathroom cubicle locks on the walls around me. The only question then: where were the handles. I tried pushing the door to no avail and began to wonder if maybe the circles weren’t what I had thought, but then I noticed that there were regular strips of metal running floor to ceiling at intervals along the wall. Not exactly a handle so much as a design feature but after a bit of enthusiastic tugging—the door was too heavy for my initial, tentative, if this is decorative I don’t want to pull it off attempt—I was finally in. Within the stalls, things were mostly as normal though they lacked a hook for hanging you coat, purse, etc which lead to me hanging it off the door handle. Back in the main bathroom, I then had to do battle with the hand washing equipment. There were sinks, very stylish sinks, and taps but no sign of how to turn the tap on. I naturally assumed that meant just put your hands under and go. No dice. But these sorts of motion sensor activated things can be finicky so I tried again. And again. And again. All before noticing the small motion sensor (a metal circle with three black dots) located far enough to the right of the tap as to render it impossible to activate the sensor by just putting your hands in the sink. So now I had running water but no soap. Turns out the soap was discretely hidden under the mirror and behind the decorative marble back splash so there was no way of seeing it unless you were three foot tall or on your knees. I guess if you go to the opera enough you “just know!” Fortunately the paper towel and the exit were easy enough to find, but I just couldn’t get over how very poor the user experience of that bathroom was! *ahem*
[I’m done ranting now. You can proceed to the next paragraph in peace.]
After the opera house, I wandered over to Akershus Fortress, another curiously still military-held piece of history in the middle of Oslo. There was a very modern sculpture exhibition and lots of nice places to walk, but soon I was off again to check out the parliament and the royal palace, both of which were sadly closed to the public (unless you took an expensive guided tour). They were all very grand but I had far more fun wandering through the embassies in the area from the barracks like monstrosity belonging to the Americans to the pretty restored historic townhouse inhabited by the Russians. There’s something so romantic about embassies, they always make me feel like a glamorous lady traveller of another era when only diplomats and business people were inclined to do much wandering about.
Passing through the embassies, I made my way down to the somewhat out of the way Norsk Folkmuseum. Now the Norse Folkmuseum is a massive thing with both outdoor and indoor exhibits spanning as much of Norway’s history as is possible and including a much sought after stavkirke, which is why I paid 120NOK for the privilege of a visit. But do not fear! It was entirely worth it. I spent all afternoon roaming through exhibits of photographs, portraits, church paraphernalia, folk art, historic housewares, and of course the open air museum full of buildings collected from all over Norway furnished in kind. It was hungry work and I definitely managed to mentally overload myself within the first hour. Which is how I ended up paying entirely too much for a coffee and a moose burger smørrebrod at the museum cafe. It was exactly as delicious as I had hoped and now all I can think about is how much I miss having a dozen packets of moose meat in the freezer.
After my restorative meal, I spent another 3 hours traipsing about looking at all the things including a demonstration of traditional music and dancing, a Norwegian Fjord horse (the smell of breathing difficulties for Brittney was everywhere but I just hugged my inhaler and hoped), and of course the famed Stavkirke. It was impressive to say the least. All wood construction with more rooflines and details that any a stone church! Even the altarpiece was painted wood and the high arching ceiling was a rat’s nest of beams and staves.
I left the museum utterly overloaded with facts and impressions and was more than a little glad for the hour long walk back into the city centre to sort out my skull before any further interaction. I also had to make another grocery stop but let’s not think about the expense that that entailed for now.
When I returned to my host’s flat I found that he had gone for drinks with friends in the park so I joined them sitting in the sun amongst all the lounging locals for a few hours conversation, beer, and music. As they were returning to the flat to pre-drink their way to pub time, I slipped away for a few hour’s salsa in Sagene (which is not pronounced the way I would have guessed). The dancers were mostly Cubano but I had some lovely dances, and was amused to find that even at a dance event with a cash box on a folding table, in Norway, has a credit card machine. These Scandinavians DO NOT carry cash. Ever.
Dance was wrapping up around 1am so I reconnected with my host & friends and ended up chewing the fat with a side of beer and pizza until about three. So I was totally justified in sleeping in until noon on Saturday! Or at least that’s my story.
Saturday was all together laid back. I only left the flat around one and then spent about four hours toodling about town. I began with a trip to the botanical gardens which have a massive Victoria water lily, lovely butterflies, and a wonderful little garden dedicated to traditional Norwegian garden plants (especially those with a scent) and which is aimed to provide comfort and solace to Alzheimer’s patient who can wander freely amongst the sights and scents on happier times. It really is a beautiful idea.
I then drifted through Gamle Oslo (Old Oslo) and the Old town, neither of which really bore much to be seen. Gamle Oslo is mostly just houses and apartment blocks bearing the signs of age but the paint of a brighter rococo sensibility while housing largely immigrants. There were kebab shops, and cafes of the more alcohol and food variety, but no where for a coffee. Likewise, Old town had neither coffeeshops nor tourist traps but only a few, slightly better kept old houses painted in bright contrasting tones. As I’d had no coffee that day, I found myself in a grocery shop buying cold coffee and another tasty (fattening) bun, before heading off into the Ekeberg Sculpture Park.
The paths were very steep but the view was fantastic and the sculptures were interesting if not altogether pleasing to me. There was one rather odd one planted into the hillside which played strange recordings and flashed confusing images from old TVs and a range of other screens. It was called Klang, which very accurately conveys the discordance that it created. There were some lovely ones including ‘Dance’ which was two undulating chromed poles twisting and rotating around each other in a continuous spiralling dance of light and movement. I also strolled past a dressage arena being built, a variety of historic sites, and a restaurant or two before I left the park and wandered back through the city to eat the cold Chinese noodle and cucumber dishes that I had prepared and left in my host’s fridge.
As a gasp of fiscal virtue after the expense of Friday, Saturday was a night in of doing laundry, relaxing and catching up on my blog.
Sunday morning, I crawled out of bed, fed myself and headed out to meet a salsa friend for a day of adventure. As I strolled down the empty streets of Oslo at 10am on a Sunday I realized that there were no Norwegians anywhere. The only people awake were tourists; not even the coffeeshops had woken up yet! Fortunately I did manage to find one that could feed my caffeine addiction where I sat and read until our appointed meeting time at the National Theatre. From there we strolled past the palace on our way to the Vigeland Sculpture park. It was full of interesting statues but I’ll admit they just weren’t my style. I like the refine classical sculpture that incises every detail and perfection of form. Vigeland’s are much more modern and rounded and probably human, but I miss the details and the platonic beauty. After that we were off through some of Oslo’s biggest shopping streets and eventually ended up on a bus and a train to reach the Holmenkollen ski jump and nordic centre. At the ski jump centre we learned that ski jumps are really bloody high and I declined to participate in the ziplining (some hung by their feet) that was occurring from the top of the jumping tower.
From there we took another bus and the metro to reach a chess tournament. Most of the players had finished for the day but those remaining were hunched over their boards like statues, barely moving but to shift one piece or another after several minutes of hard consideration, or to note a move down on their little game record. It all seemed very quiet and intense, but I had not the patience for it so we soon headed back to the metro to return to the city centre. Some further strolling later, past the oldest building in Oslo, a variety of little old houses, and a fancy, hipstery looking foodhall, I returned to my host’s flat to shower off the ick of the day and get ready for more dance.
Shortly thereafter I was dancing the night away with the friendliest bunch of Norwegian swing dancers. I was pleasantly surprised to find an excellent mix of dancers all of whom knew what they were doing! It wasn’t a big group but it was a wonderful group and I REALLY need to practice my west coast swing…a lot!
My last day in Norway was wet and cold which I am convinced was just the weather telling me it was time to leave. I spent my final few hours drinking coffee, eating raspberry jam filled buns, riding the ferry around Oslo’s Islands–you know you’re ghetto when you use a public transport ferry as an island cruise–and then getting a free guided tour through Oslo’s Customs Museum. And by then it was time to have my traditional transit panic and spend an hour waiting in the station where I noticed that, in this plastic mad land, even vending machines have a credit card machine on them. Only in Scandinavia. And now I’m on a train, hoping that Gothenburg brings better weather and more delightful adventures.
Soon to be in Sweden,