I sure got here to the train station in Berlin much faster than I thought I would. My flight was early, my bag first out of the machine, and then the bus to the station was right there waiting for me when I came out of the airport. I was here at the station over 2 hours before my train (which leaves at 7:24pm for Hamburg). One surprising thing that I didn’t expect was that there was no passport control coming from Norway to Germany. Norway is not part of the EU, but they are part of the administrative zone that controls such things, apparently. So from my plane landing to arrival at Berlin Hbf (the train station), it was maybe a total of 40 minutes. I have been walking around the station and love the design, even if it does have a touch of the overly monumental about it.
With all the flooding and replacement buses, getting to the airport was a bit of a clusterf*ck. The “system” of calling out busses and giving clear instructions is less than optimal. Still, I managed to get on a bus to Lillestrøm, then catch the train from there to the airport, where I sit sipping a beer and luxuriating in internet access until my flight leaves in an hour and a half to Berlin.
The first time we came to Oslo last week, it was all about getting the laundry done in the single day we had here. And our plans to see Oslo yesterday and early today were foiled by the floods. Alas, Oslo will have to wait for another time. Although I can’t imagine at this moment a circumstance that would bring me back here, one never knows where life will take us, do we? I head to the airport this morning to catch my flight to Berlin and from there a train to Hamburg, where I will have a temporary office for the next month or so. The trip we have been on has been absolutely incredible, and I am very thankful for all of it and the experiences we have had. Here are a few notes on things we have noticed in Norway and the region in general, or advice we have for the travelers coming after us:
– For some odd reason we can’t figure, it seems perfectly acceptable to the Norwegians to have level changes in the same room or when crossing a threshold. So for example, bathrooms may be a couple of inches higher than the rest of the room, or door jams may not be flush with the floor (as is the custom in lawsuit-averse/happy countries like ours). The number of times we have tripped here is notable.
– The best food by far is in Denmark, the worst is in Norway (where it is also paradoxically the most expensive). Even the couple of nice meals we had to treat ourselves were just so-so in Norway. We found that we could actually eat better and cheaper in Norway by going to the supermarket and buying some of the relatively inexpensive salamis and lox, cheese and wasa crackers of all kinds, and making sandwiches.
– On very many of our trips (especially with the flooding and alternative bus service yesterday), no one bothered to check our purchased tickets. If you are in Norway (and there is a natural disaster happening), you can probably get free transportation from Trondheim to Oslo.
– Throughout Scandinavia, we have noticed all beds made up with no top sheet, just a somewhat thick comforter with white cover that I have come to quite like, as it acts as both a blanket and full body pillow.
– You must dine early almost everywhere in Scandinavia. Nothing seems to stay open for dinner later than 10 or in very rare cases 11pm. Which is odd, because it stays light so god damned long here. At least you would think they would change hours with the seasons.
– Large breakfasts are the key to not breaking the bank here. Always opt for the breakfast when staying at a place that offers it, and eat as much as you can early. Take the hard boiled eggs and fruit with you.
– Don’t ask for directions in Norway. People have invariably given us bad or incomplete advice.
– For contemplating one’s mortality, nothing beats a cruise in the North Sea with people 40 years your senior.
Well, we had planned on being back in Oslo via a combination of early morning bus from Alesund to Andalsnes, then scenic train from Andalsnes to Dombas, with a final train from Dombas reaching Oslo at 3:11pm. But when we arrived at Andalsnes, a conductor from the NSB (the rail system here) informed us there there was no train, and seemed surprised we hadn’t heard about the flooding, since it was apparently so catastrophic. Trying to figure out what exactly to do next was a little difficult, as no one seemed to have all the info. The conductor kept saying we should go to Trondheim and try to get a flight to Oslo, but the few flights they have were all booked and expensive. Add to this the slight worry about staying too long in the north, because I have a non-refundable flight to and train in Germany tomorrow. We boarded a temporary bus with the conductor to Dombas, where we are now sitting in a train on its way to Trondheim. We will get off the train in Støren at 2pm and wait for the NSB replacement bus to Oslo at 4pm. This will add about 8 hours to our journey. On the upside it has been a rather dramatic adventure, especially the bus ride here, as the flooding rivers were all around us, very close up to the road even. At one point, we saw the entire side of a mountain, all the topsoil and trees, stripped bare leaving nothing but a slick brown surface. And most of the scenery has been gorgeous, if a bit difficult to photograph from a moving bus.
This is kind of a sleepy little place. And Josh and I can’t stop playing all the versions of this song in our room. Last night we went to the fancy restaurant in town, where Josh had reindeer steak and I had the cod (which this part of the world became famous for). It was all quite good, but probably not worth $140. Our server at the restaurant asked us at the end of our dinner why on earth we would come to a place like Ålesund, and we explained that we had wanted to take a different route back from Bergen. She looked at us with a mixture of pity and disbelief before wishing us well. It was raining today (from what we can gather, not at all a surprising event here) and so we borrowed rather nice umbrellas from the hotel and set off to walk around town. Apparently, the city is also known for it’s collection of Art Nouveau architecture, the result of the entire town burning to the ground and being rebuilt around 1904.
No, it is our scary present. Josh and I had decided to take one of the boat cruises to Alesund from Bergen, as the views were supposed to be quite nice and it was the only way other than by bus to arrive. We didn’t realize that we would be on such a large boat with people who are twice our age, and on a serious 14 day trip to boot. They have meals in the dining room while we eat salami and cheese sandwiches in our room. They are allowed to go on extra excursions while we stay on the boat. They listen to motivational speakers in the seminar room while we explore the many ugly decks of the ship. And they sleep while we take blankets and sit on the deck to bask in the midnight sun (such as it is with the rain and cold, anyway). Josh and I have never felt younger in our lives, as the average age on this ship I would estimate at about 70 or so. During the orientation where they were talking to the normal (full board) passengers about all of their possible eating times, they noted that people gain an average of 4-5 kilos on such trips. That didn’t surprise me much looking at this lot, as they hardly seemed the type to exercise much. They mostly sat on the upper deck, indoors, and stared out the window with a scary passivity. And when you add in how absolutely horrific the interior design of the ship was, the whole scene made me feel kind of melancholy. The weather was pretty bad for most of our day and a half long trip, but there was some pretty nice scenery along the way. We were only onboard for a day, but it somehow seemed like a lot longer than that. Maybe this is why older people take these long cruises; it makes life seem to last a lot longer than it otherwise would.
We spent one full day in Bergen, and I found it to be super charming. It has a lot in common with San Francisco, if you ask me. Although Bergen is several hundred years older than SF they share a hilly terrain, wood-slat siding on many houses and some odd street intersections that make them a bit similar. There are other differences of course, as Bergen tends to have much heavier timber constructions that are sagging with the years in a beautiful way, and layer upon layer of history represented in her streets and stories. Bergen is smaller and its harbor is really it’s center, out from which the city fans in all directions.
Well, we made it Bergen, and what a trip it was. The pictures tell the story better than words can (see below), but here are a few notes about the journey:
1. Jeez there are a lot of tourists around.
2. On one part of the Flam Railway ride, they stop at a waterfall so everyone can get out and see it, then dramatic music from some large outdoor sound system starts booming and a circuit party dance troupe starts performing their interpretive movements to it, coming into view and disappearing again from the cliff-tops. The only thing missing was a hit of E.
3. It was raining a bit and cloudy and cold, but this didn’t really bother me as it gave the fjords in particular a beautiful, mystical quality.
4. At one point we thought we might miss the bus on a part of our trip, as we were the only ones at a particular bus stop after a many people got off the boat. Josh was getting very nervous about it, but we ended up catching it.
5. There are a crazy amount of very long tunnels in Norway.
I use that expression all the time, and I believe in it wholeheartedly. The journey though life is the destination, and noticing it and being present is a recipe for greater happiness. That said, Josh has booked us on a doozy of a journey today that will take us on a train from Oslo to Myrdal (which we are on right now and which will last 4 hours, 42 minutes), followed by a trip on the Flam Railway (1:27pm), connecting to a fjord boat trip to Gudvangen (3:10pm), followed by a local bus to Voss (5:45pm), and finally a train again to Bergen (7:20pm, arriving at 8:34pm). For those that are counting, that will make for over 12 hours of traveling, with some supposedly spectacular views, although it is raining and the part we are on right now is not very interesting visually. And some sadist at the booking office put our reserved seats in the “family” car of this train, where we are surrounded by screaming children and diapers. On the bright side, I have headphones and internet.
Josh and I boarded an early morning intercity train from Stockholm to Oslo, arriving here some 6 hours later. The train had some climate control issues, and we were pretty sweaty by the time we arrived. Add to that that it was raining when we got here and had to make our way to our slightly hidden hotel. Once checked in, we realized we had no choice but to do laundry today, so made our way here to Cafe Laundromat, as it had been recommended to us by a couple of people. There was no price listing on their website, but since we really had no choice at this point, we came anyway. We felt like aliens arriving here, because it is really more of a bar that happens to have a few washing machines, which was lucky for us, because all of them (4) were free. We shoved our combined laundry into 2 loads for the not (at this point) unreasonable cost of about 14 dollars. But the 2 beers we had to buy to get change for the machines cost 25 dollars together, making them the most expensive beers of my life. They are tasty though.
UPDATE: I was wrong about the cost of laundry, apparently the dryer costs more the more heat you need. So ultimately, laundry will end up being around $35 in addition to the beer.
UPDATE 2: Europeans always seem to have trouble with technology that Americans take for granted, like mixing hot and cold water properly for a shower or drying clothes. They tend to hang dry, which is great when one has the time, but when one doesn’t it would be nice if they had a dryer that could get the job done in 30-45 minutes like we do. We are up to 2 full hours of drying at a total laundry cost of $48. Ugh.