Friday, 28 September 2012

Norway III: The Emperor’s Cairn

Norway Part I: “New” Old Oslo
Norway Part II: Arctic Train


So last you heard I’d arrived in Bodø, northern terminus of the Norwegian train network and bonafide arctic city. I’ll be honest, it didn’t look like much. Having been bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, it’s largely a testament to the influence of uninspiring cheap Swedish housing “1960s-style”.

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So, I made the snap decision to spend the one day I had there trying to leave, well, in a way in any case. The surrounding foothills were spectacular so I put on my hiking boots, packed up some nuts, carrots and yoghurt, and set off. I knew that the further (and higher) into them I went, the more likely I’d be to get incredible views of the islands to the west.


SPOLER ALERT: I WAS RIGHT! And what was supposed to be a snappy 5k wander up to a minor peak of 366m turned into a day-long exploration of the beautiful nature along the way.  I took every opportunity to be side-tracked, enchanted and led astray by little pathways and abandoned houses and glimpses of water through trees.

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At long last I arrived at the peak which is known as Keiservarden. This means “Emperor’s Cairn” and refers to Emperor Wilhelm the IInd who went hiking in the Norwegian mountains in the late 19th century.

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What makes this coincidence even more perfect is that Kaiser Wilhelm undertook this expedition only three years before the novel I was reading at the time was published. I truly felt in the 19th-century-German-aristocratic-explorer zone (if that even is a zone), complete with derpy jump photo at the summit.


It was a spectacular day. What made it even more perfect was that the solitude and silence of the woods and the mountain didn’t make me feel lonely, but independent; the physical exertion made me feel not weak, but strong. Long story short, hiking is bloody great and I’m really looking forward to doing it more in my future travels.

Next time -
Fun rhymes,
Good times.


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Norway II: Arctic Train

Norway Part I: "New" Old Oslo

At the end of my fourth day in Oslo, I said a warm goodbye to Tone and Ben, and got onto the overnight train to Trondheim, which is a seven-hour journey about a third of the way up Norway’s coast. Though it was certainly not the most comfortable night of sleep I’ve ever had, it was an interesting enough experience, and the complimentary blanket kept me happy enough. The bulk of the journey north was still to be completed though, as in Trondheim I changed trains in the foggy morning and boarded the ten-hour train to Bodø.

Altogether, that’s a seventeen-hour train journey... And a breathtaking one at that.

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I spent the day intermittently napping and taking photos of the increasingly barren and beautiful oustide. Tired and insecure in my ability to speak Norwegian, it was an exercise in peace and solitude, and one which I found trying at times. Yet it was all worth it to be able to cross one thing off my bucket list – I was about to spend a night north of the arctic circle, on a level with Greenland, The Northwestern Passage in Canada, and the Siberian steppes.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Norway I: "New" Old Oslo

My plane landed on Saturday afternoon in a world of green fields, red houses, blue skies and soft September sunshine. I'd been on the go for ten hours, and my journey wasn't quite over yet; I had one more bus journey ahead of me before I could finally claim to have arrived at my destination: Oslo.

Colourful Oslo

Ah, Norway!, in all its sing-song-languaged, birch-carpeted glory, with its familiar-but-strange culture and strange-but-wholesome food. I've been in love with it for a good decade - it predates even Iceland, can you believe it? - ever since the Stavanger, the Bolvangar and the Svalbard of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights seduced me back in Primary School. Oslo, however, has nothing of the wild and unkempt "Norroway" which Lyra, the book's main character, gets lost in. It is a strange city, and, in the words of Ben (who you'll hear about more below), it's not one for tourists.


“Industrial” Oslo; beautification of the old working-class district.

I'd found this out the first time when, three years ago, my Mum and I made the fatal mistake of going straight from Stockholm to Oslo. Stockholm is more tourist-friendly even than Paris or Prague (cities which I love), and is in fact more akin to New York in the sense that everything you could want to see in a short visit is to be found on two islands, though with the noticeable difference that in Stockholm these are both about the size of Central Park, making them much more compact - and prettier - than Manhattan and Staten Island.


The Botanic Gardens

Oslo, not so much. Most tourists will arrive at the train station, go to their downtown hotel or hostel, spend a couple of days walking up and down the main street, visiting a few museums and art galleries and, if they're smart, the Frogner park with its lifelike Vigeland statues. They'll return home disappointed and warn all their friends not to go to the town with the overpriced food, empty streets and ugly, domineering skyscrapers which people downtown Oslo (and which you can see in the photo above peeking up behind the botanical gardens).


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Sight, sound, smell and – knitting? of  Oslo

I pity the fool. I was the fool, and I pity past-me. You can forgot downtown Oslo - literally. Follow one of the broad or narrow streets up the hills which hug the bay and you'll discover a world with the Baroque grandeur of Munich, the cafe culture of Paris, the slapdash architectural aesthetic of London and a sincere charm all of its own.  Little wooden houses with treehouses in the garden and hammocks on the veranda neighbour industrial factories converted into modern apartments. Cafes and eatieries jostle for space around the many green squares where families picnic, and through it all there's a wild river - complete with waterfall - which tumbles past an alternative artisan market down into the Oslo fjord.


Thanks to Tone, a pen-friend turned real friend, and her French boyfriend Ben, this is the Oslo I came to know in the three days I spent there. They're an interesting and funny pair of people with a humbling warmth and seemingly bottomless generosity with their time, their food, and their chocolate. We watched Norwegian movies and British sitcoms, played board games and card games, and spent a lot of time talking about languages, family, travel and plants (Ben has an incredible green thumb) over lots of cups of tea.

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At home” in Oslo

A more happy and relaxing start to my Norwegian holiday I could not have wished for.

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P.S. Apologies for the terrible formatting. I blame the computer.