Friday, September 06, 2013

Norse saga. Part V – Norwegian Blues

Friday 16 August

Pining for the fjords
The rain started just as we arrived at the railway station. It was just as well we weren’t late, as our reserved seats were very much at the distal end of the train. This would have offered photographic advantages, had the rear window not been befouled and filthy. It’s a seven hour trip from Oslo to Bergen, but the journey passes through some spectacular mountainous scenery and glacial valleys. I’m given to wonder what the occupants of the tiny houses dotted all over actually do for a living, outside the tourist season. There were several nutters in the 8°C rain on mountain bikes.

Photo opportunities were distinctly limited because the train’s windows didn’t open and raindrops obscured the view of the low clouds obscuring the mountains.

Mountains and lakes in the rain from the train.
Low clouds and rugged scenery.
However, we rolled into Bergen as the rain just about stopped. It’s better to spend a wet day on the train than in attempting a walking tour.

After a meal that in my case included a pleasantly gamey and slightly chewy whale steak (they were fresh out of panda), we ambled down to the harbour and booked tomorrow’s fjord cruise. Good weather was forecast for tomorrow: I was hoping that this would hold true.

It seemed that schools, or at least universities, were back on Monday, so the town centre was populated by students in fancy dress. Even the hotel had a sign apologizing about the noise of boisterous undergrads in the street late at night. We scored a room whose window didn’t open to the street. The Place to Be seemed to be a nightclub just up the road where there was a massive toga party, if the huge queue of students in bedsheets was anything to go by. Not a single toga in evidence; plenty of chitons and exomides sported by hardy Norwegians clearly very used to standing around half naked in chilly weather.

Saturday 17 August

The alleged good weather seemed to comprise dull and overcast with spots of rain. Bah! Nevertheless, we boarded the MS White Lady, which set off on its fjord cruise spot on schedule at 1000. The upper deck had a retractable Perspex canopy that was predictably not retracted, leaving only a small space at the stern for up to 100 passengers to crowd and take photographs. Most seemed content to sit in the warm on the lower deck and either look out of the windows or play with their smartphones. I resisted using the GPS on my own phone until we were well on our way back to Bergen.

The sun fought a losing battle with the clouds, only appearing for a couple of minutes, whereas the rain was much more successful. Still, between showers I got some pictures of some of Slartibartfast’s award-winning work. The scenery really is stunning.

One of the countless waterfalls.
Fjord view.
Vike church. This is just about as far north as I have ever been.
(Flying over the North Pole doesn't count.)

Looking north along Ostresundfjord.
The cliff continues at the same angle underwater to a depth of several hundred metres.
Looking south along Ostresundfjord
Lonely house. Bet they don't get troubled by many door-to-door salesmen.
A longer cruise may have been a realistic option had the weather been better, but it looked as if most of the sightseers were glad to get off the boat after just over four hours.

Next came shopping in the ancient wooden Bryggen area, the oldest part of Bergen (reconstructed on the twelfth-century foundations after it was burned to the ground in 1702.) The place is all wonky and wobbly, and looks more like Diagon Alley than anything else. Beloved Wife added to her Christmas ornament collection, and then we walked back through the open market and I picked up a pack of sausages: Venison, Whale, Moose, and Reindeer.

Bryggen, or possibly Diagon Alley
Then a little bit of shopping in Bergen’s department stores, where shop assistants were helpful almost to a fault, and back to the hotel with our booty.

Neo-classical atlantes and caryatids adorn many old buildings all over Scandinavia. Here's one of each, clearly caught taking showers.
As the weather had by now improved a little, we sauntered around the old part of the town and eventually found the bottom end of Bergen’s famous funicular railway. It starts with fun and goes up from there. It was windy at the top, but the views were excellent. The souvenir shop was full of the same old tat available at all souvenir shops in Scandinavia: Vikings, trolls, silly hats with antlers, anthropomorphic reindeer, and pelts and antlers from real reindeer.

The funicular railway.

Funicular time-lapse, viewed from the top.

Winter is Coming.
Down the funicular again, and another wander around Diagon Alley and some more shopping, before we discovered a café on an upper floor that had decent views of the harbour but glazing to keep out the wind, rain, and fishy aroma. I had reindeer patties; Beloved Wife chose Norwegian meatballs.

And then we fell into the arms of Morpheus. 

Sunday 18 August

Aargh, rain! Stair-rods all the way from the hotel to the railway station. Just as well, then, that we were able to do our fjord trip and funicular ride yesterday, when the sights were actually visible.

As the train climbed east, the weather tried to improve. I was repeatedly frustrated when trying to take photos of the glacial valleys because, every time I hit the shutter release on my camera, the train dived into one of the countless tunnels. This happened on repeated consecutive occasions. It certainly didn’t feel like a coincidence.

The weather at Finse was completely rain-lashed and foul. Finse, elevation 1222m, is the highest point on the Norwegian (and possibly the entire Scandinavian) rail system. The place is inaccessible by road. Scott (of the Antarctic) and his team trained here.

Nobody stops at Finse except hardy mountain bikers and hikers, military types doing Arctic training, and the cast and crew of Star Wars “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.” Yes, in the winter the place was and is the Ice Planet of Hoth.

Mountain bikes to rent. Only the deranged need apply.

The sixth planet in the remote Hoth system is just there, on the right. Known locally as the Hardangerjøkulen glacier
On 18th August 2013, the outside temperature was 6°C.

The weather improved as we headed east, down the mountain towards Oslo. We were treated to some glorious views of huge valleys, lakes, fjords, clouds hanging among the trees in the valleys, and on one occasion a full double rainbow.

Seven hours after setting off, we rolled into Oslo station and found our hotel. Then we grabbed a bite to eat and activated our unused 24-hour public transport cards to explore Oslo’s suburbs by tram. Beloved Wife really didn’t fancy a chilly evening ferry ride. Maybe tomorrow: I’d discovered that our train didn’t leave until 1300.

Monday 19 August

Tram to the Town Hall, which is where the ferries dock and, incidentally, where we listened to Beethoven’s Ninth a few evenings previously. Our 24-hour passes would be good until 2110, so we took the ferry over to the Folk Museum and Maritime Museum stops, but didn’t get off. I was glad I’d previously taken pictures of Oslo fortress because today there was a massive cruise liner docked right outside the fortress, obscuring all views of and from.

We got to the train ridiculously early and boarded. Ended up chatting to an American who was funding her three-month tour of Europe by transcribing the scribblings of the first four US presidents plus Benjamin Franklin into text format. We chatted and offered possibly useful hints regarding where to go and what to see.

The train went as far at Gothenburg (Göteborg in Swedish) where there was about an hour to locate the next train that would take us to Copenhagen. We ran into the same American traveller, and unfortunately a couple of unruly children whose mother seemed incapable of understanding the fundamental meaning of “quiet carriage”. At last she got out and took her noisy brats away.

It occurred to me to check where the train would stop in Denmark. The train would stop at the airport on its way to Copenhagen central, but crucially would also stop at Ørestad, a few hundred metres from our hotel. I saved about half an hour of train and metro this evening, and a further 30 minutes tomorrow morning. A celebratory beer was called for in the hotel bar. Such a pity the room was so basic, minuscule, and with uncomfortable bunk beds and a dysfunctional internet.

Tuesday 20 August

Appallingly early start in order to ensure a timely arrival at the airport. The hotel breakfast was mediocre.

I should note a hard landscaping detail: rough granite flagstones look great and offer excellent skid resistance when wet or icy, but they’re appalling to drag wheeled suitcases along between the station and the hotel, and back again the next morning.

We got airside and tried to obtain our tax refunds on goods purchased in Norway and Sweden, only to be told that the receipts would first have to be stamped by Customs on groundside. This differs from the UK where all this tax refund business has to take place airside. I sent Beloved Wife without any luggage back into the depths of the airport. She was sent from pillar to post in an obvious attempt to avoid paying any refund of VAT, but eventually succeeded and reappeared with a receipt. Huzzah!

The flights were pretty much uneventful. At Dubai airport, the taxi rank has been moved.

And when we got home, one of our rickety air conditioners refused to fire up. Chasing the landlord: something else to add to my ‘To Do’ list.

Welcome back to reality.

Post Script

If we’d booked individual train and ferry tickets on line, cost would have been around $1261. Our EuroRail passes, plus reservation fees, plus cabins on the ferry came to $1168: marginally cheaper, but with Ultimate Flexibility.  We actually used seven of our eight allocated journeys. I guess you pretty much have to max out the ticket in order to make it financially worthwhile.



Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

What a delightful series of posts, the right mix of words and photo's, thank you very much.

Grumpy Goat said...

I aim to entertain. Thank you.


The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.