A Travellerspoint blog

Norway

A Flavour of Norway

sunny 16 °C

Considering the size of Norway, its capital is so small it is barely a speck on the globe, yet, as we discovered, it packs quite a punch for tourists. Even the weather was on our side as we walked its spotlessly clean streets and well kept parks and gardens. Despite its northerly latitude, Oslo's gardens are still blooming with roses, dahlias and cosmos. However, knowing that it can get bloomin' cold here in winter, we questioned the Norwegian's obsession with nakedness...
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This statue is outside the Nobel Peace Centre at the harbour, but almost every statue in the city appears in a state of undress. More than 300 nudes by Norwegian artist Vigeland line the avenues of Frogner park...
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There were no nudes in front of the royal palace – in fact, there was no one in front of the palace when we visited apart from a lonely guardsman at the front door...
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Although the royal standard suggested that King Harald V was in residence, we walked right up to the palace – no gates; no walls; no security barriers of any kind. Oslo seems to be a very safe and peaceful city today despite the horrendous massacre on July 22, 2011 when right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Brevik, killed 77 people with bombs and guns.

Oslo is a very modern city because the old wooden city was destroyed by fire in 1624. The new city, called Christiania, was built in brick and stone around the harbour fortress and renamed Oslo in 1924...
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Oslo has carefully preserved its past in numerous museums and, by relocating some of its older houses, together with buildings from other parts of the country, to an outdoor Folk Museum on the Bygdoy peninsula. This farmhouse is more than 300 year old...
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... whereas this 'stave church' dates back some 800 years to the height of the Viking era...
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Stave churches, built entirely of wood and supported by massive log pillars known as stavs, were once common throughout Scandinavia, but few survive today. The decorated timber interior of this church is most impressive...
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We also visited the Nobel Peace Museum and in the Henrik Ibsen museum we saw the apartment where he wrote many of his plays in later life...
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And then we went to the National Gallery to see the original version of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch...
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This priceless painting has been stolen twice and recovered, and a later version by Munch was sold in London for $120 US million in 2012.

Norway has been a delight in all respects except one – how on earth can anyone afford to live here?
So what does it cost? A lunchtime bowl of carrot soup with two slices of baguette in Eidsfjorden cost us $30 Cdn. each. You can expect to pay $30-$40 for breakfast, $10-$15 for a cappucino, $30-$60 for a light lunch of soup and sandwich, and a 2 course dinner without drinks costs a minimum of $70.
Day trips on the fjords including bus/train transfer cost $300 per person per day – plus a further $40 for a short taxi ride to the bus station in the rain. (Taximetres have $20 on the clock before you start).
And the hotel prices? Well, you get what you pay for, but start at $200 Cdn a night.
However, we have not seen or spent a single krone or ore here. Norway is rapidly becoming a cashless society so our credit cards have taken a hammering. After 9 days here we are officially museum'd out and bankrupt. We have had a most memorable time in Norway and are now on our way to Sweden where where our ship awaits on the docks in Stockholm.

Posted by Hawkson 11:30 Archived in Norway Comments (7)

All at Sea with the Vikings

sunny 18 °C

Norway is a land of myths and legends, it is also the home of some of the greatest adventurers and explorers the world has ever known. This is a Viking longboat that was built more than 1200 years ago...
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The Oseberg took 32 Norse oarsmen to row, although it could be sailed in the right conditions. and it was more than 90% complete, though flattened, when it was discovered underground nearly a century ago. The woodwork and ornamentation is in amazingly good condition especially as the entire ship was used as a burial sarcophagus for two, (presumably aristocratic), women...
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The Norsemen or Vikings, as they were later known, populated many countries during the Middle Ages and had colonies as far away as Newfoundland, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. There were two Norse kings of England and the Normans were actually Norse descendants. (Who knew?). Some other things we discovered at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo is that Vikings didn't wear horned helmets and they didn't push their dead out to sea on burning boats: they buried important people in their boats, together with their dogs, horses, carriages and all manner of grave goods for the afterlife. Several of these perfectly preserved burial boats from the 9th century have been excavated. This is the largest – an ocean going vessel called the Gokstad...
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In addition to the perfectly preserved Viking longships, Oslo is also home to a number of other historic vessels including the Fram...
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The Fram is a ship that was built to withstand the crushing weight of Arctic ice, and more than a hundred years ago it took Norwegian explorer Fridjof Nansens closer to the North Pole than any man previously. However, the Fram is best remembered for its role in taking Roald Amundsen and his team to Antarctica where, in December of 1911, he became the first man to reach the South Pole - a feat equivalent to being the first man on the moon at the time. It was thrilling to visit this iconic ship and to be able to walk around the decks and cabins in the footsteps of Amundsen.
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His original nameplate is still above his cabin door...
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The Norwegian Amundsen had beaten the ill-fated Englishman, Capt. R.F.Scott, to the South Pole by just a few weeks, but this wasn't his first accomplishment. Between 1903 and 1906 Roald Amundsen and a crew of just six were the first to circumnavigate the Arctic by way of the fabled Northwest Passage in this ship – the Gjoa...
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It was also thrilling to visit the museum dedicated to one of James' boyhood heroes, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdhal. Heyerdhal suffered hydrophobia following a near drowning as a child, yet he led an ocean-going expedition to prove that the original inhabitants of Polynesia had arrived on bamboo rafts after fleeing persecution by the Incas in south America. Who has not heard of the Kon- Tiki expedition? Well – here is the actual bamboo raft that Heyerdhal and five crew sailed seven thousand kilometres across the open Pacific from Peru to Polynesia...
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This remarkable, though possibly foolhardy, voyage began on April 27th 1947,and lasted 101 days. Heyedhal became a hero who went on to build more rafts of papyrus and reeds to show how ancient peoples navigated the world. This is Ra – a papyrus raft that almost crossed the North Atlantic, and nearly killed him and his crew...
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Heyerdhal never gave up his determined quest to prove his generally unaccepted theories of world migration. He could have been right but, in the end, DNA has conclusively proved him wrong – the Polynesians came from Asia.
Tomorrow – more fascinating facts and interesting sights from Norway's delightful capital.

Posted by Hawkson 10:11 Archived in Norway Comments (7)

Of Rainbows and Waterfalls...

sunny 20 °C

Every weather forecast told a different story as we planned our boat trip to the Hardanger, Sor and Eid fjords until we decided that we might be in Bergen until next June if we waited for a sunny day. So, with raingear and umbrellas, we set off to make rainbows from the raindrops...
When the skies are grey
and the sun doesn't shine
When dark clouds scud
and wild winds whip the brine
All you need is a rainbow or two to brighten your day...

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All was not gloom. Three storms in as many days might have dampened our spirits, but it sent water cascading out of the mountains in a myriad of spectacular waterfalls. They cut silvery slashes through the forests and threatened to wash overboard the tiny villages of whitewashed wooden houses that cling precariously to the edge...
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It's only September, but snow is already blanketing the mountain tops and we caught glimpses through the clouds from time to time as we sailed deeper into the fjords...
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Every turn of the ship's wheel brought a different view, but the relentless rain washed out the colours and kept us inboard until we spotted a huddle of ancient huts that were weathering alongside birch trees in their autumnal mantles...
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And so, our fjord days are over and the pretty city of Bergen, and its persistent rain, was behind us as we travelled eastwards on the train to Oslo.
We have been bowled over by the helpfulness and friendliness of every Norwegian we have met so far and Christine made instant friends with this little chap on the train...
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Blue skies were on the horizon as we climbed higher into the mountains on Norway's scenic railway from Bergen to Oslo...
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The alpine railway took us alongside the swollen rivers that were dashing headlong to the fjords and out into the North Sea...
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The seven hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo took us through a picturesque gallery of landscape art rivalling any created by the great masters. Fjords, rivers, lakes and waterfalls streamed past us in a constant flow, while mountains, forests and picture-perfect villages flashed by like alpine postcards as we slipped from tunnel to tunnel, climbing higher and higher until the snow began to fall as we neared Myrdal...
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And then we carried on upwards until we skimmed the very edge of winter at Finse...
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It's all downhill from Finse to Oslo but the skies cleared and there is sunshine in our future. However, we are not done with the storm-laden North Sea quite yet. We are just taking a respite as we head eastwards to Oslo and then to Sweden and the Baltic before slipping south to the westerly coast of Denmark.

Posted by Hawkson 12:23 Archived in Norway Comments (5)

A Rainy Day in Bergen

storm 12 °C

When we arrived at our Bergen hotel we were delighted to be upgraded to a harbour view - until we looked out of our window...
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We are not complaining: we did the research; we knew the odds. We had read the annual precipitation accounts from the Norwegian met office saying... “A lot of rain falls in Bergen in the months of: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December.”
With Hurricane Helene out of the way we hoped for smooth sailing, but severe storm Ali whipped over from Scotland during the night and stripped branches off the trees, slashed rain at our windows and knocked out the power... It reminded us of home. However, we woke to patches of blue and a good day to catch up on Bergen's history in the many museums. First stop – the Hanseatic Museum housed in some of the traditional warehouses that line Bergen's ancient quayside...
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Some of these imposing wooden buildings were erected in 1702 following a devastating fire, although many were destroyed by another inferno in 1955. Most are filled with touristy trinkets and reindeer hides today, but in earlier times they were stacked with enormous quantities of dried cod awaiting shipment in exchange for grains, textiles and other products controlled by the Hanseatic League. While many of the buildings have been reconstructed in the past 300 years the displays of dried cod in the museum are real enough...
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The Hanseatic League was a group of North German businessmen who, between the 12th and 17th centuries, hired a mercenary army and and seized exclusive control of all manner of trade in the Baltic and surrounding countries by treaties, agreements, (or sheer bloody force). The Hanseatic merchants dominated international trade and built great warehouses where their staff both lived and worked in an exclusively German environment. The owners kept tight reins on their businesses and men and the workers were forbidden from fraternizing with the locals. They had their own meeting rooms...
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and slept in cupboard bunks like this...
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The trading agreements were always in favour of the Hansa (an old German word applied to bands of merchants traveling between the Hanseatic cities), because they had the biggest guns and the most money...
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These traditional wooden warehouses soaked in fish oils were fire hazards and were eventually replaced with robust brick buildings like this...
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...before the league eventually collapsed when sovereigns and parliaments got fed up by being pushed around by a rich and powerful neighbour. (Note to Donald – history always repeats itself).

Norway has the highest standard of living in the world, (hence the highest prices), and, while much of the revenue comes from oil, fish is still a major export. The Bergen Fishery Museum is housed in ancient fishing wharves where we learned a great deal about the industry's history and today's salmon farms. Norway exports more than a million tons of farmed salmon a year and fish is on every menu here. And so, to lunch at the quayside fishmarket where the seafood rolls are stacked high with crayfish, shrimps and smoked salmon, ...
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And this giant monkfish didn't look at all happy...
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So far we have dodged the worst of two storms, but storm Bronagh is now on the horizon. Will we still be happy if the sun doesn't shine when we cruise the fjords again? Only time will tell.

Posted by Hawkson 03:36 Archived in Norway Comments (5)

Then Came the Sun...

sunny 22 °C

When we arrived in Stavanger we battened down the hatches and were preparing to spend the day watching Hurricane Helene's rain slashing against the hotel's windows, but we woke to a gloriously sunny morning. Helene was running late and the only clouds on the horizon were two giant cruise ships that had sailed into port before dawn...
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So, after a typical Norwegian breakfast, we dashed down to the harbour and jumped aboard a boat heading for the fjords before the city became swamped with cruise passengers. And what an amazing day we had sailing the Hogsfjorden and Lysefjorden...
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Norway is renowned for its fjords: long, narrow seawater inlets with near vertical rock walls that chop up the coastline and make road and rail travel virtually impossible. So, school buses are replaced with school boats and the happy kids gave us a wave as they sailed to class...
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With a perfectly clear sky and unseasonably warm temperatures in the 20s it was smooth sailing all the way as we passed idyllic islands...
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...and marvelled at the magnificent formations in the cliffs high above us. This is known as 'Pulpit Rock' in English...
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...while the heart-shaped pale patch in the centre of this cliff is, we were assured, the stone heart of a troll whose love for a human woman had been unrequited...
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This is a troll...
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We had seen many of these characters hanging about outside tourist shops in Stavanger but, unlike the Norwegians in general, none of them were particularly friendly or communicative. It turns out that since the 9th century trolls have lived in crevices and caves in isolated mountains and have never been very fond of humans. Apparently there are families of trolls living in the caves in the fjord cliffs and they drink from the many freshwater waterfalls like this one, named Hengiare, in the Lysefjorden...
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However, this is Norway, land of sagas, legends and myths, so we took our guide's stories with a pinch of salt. Also taken with a pinch of salt are canned Norwegian sardines, and Stavanger was at one time the country's canning capital. Some 80% of Stavanger's population worked in the fishing industry until oil was discovered in the North sea in the 1960s. Now the canneries have all closed. However, the last one standing has been turned into a museum. The museum is in the heart of the old town and is surrounded by narrow streets of quaint wooden houses, all painted white...
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The museum curator, an Englishman, was extremely informative and the first thing we learned was that we had been deceived all our lives. Canned Norwegian sardines are not sardines at all: they are humble sprats. When the industry began in the late 1800s the Norwegians guessed that people preferred the tasty little Mediterranean fish so they simply packed the plentiful local sprats in olive oil and called them sardines – and, seemingly, no one ever knew the difference. Here's an antique canning machine from 1908 that our guide was still able to operate...
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Hurricane Helene eventually breezed past us in the night and left clear skies and warm airs for our morning cruise north to Bergen. However, severe storm Ali is currently lashing Scotland and is expected to hit us this evening. By then we will be safely tucked up ashore in our Bergen hotel and planning more excursions deep into Norway's stunning fjords.

Posted by Hawkson 06:57 Archived in Norway Comments (6)

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