Thursday, July 13, 2017

Last Day in Norway - In Which We Roam the Neighbourhoods, and Must Say Goodbye to Europe. (We’re Already Pining For The Fjords…)


It’s fair to say that I have been known to judge a city on the quality of its thrift shops. In the UK, thrift shops have replaced regular shops and in the smaller towns and cities it is actually ridiculous how many thrift or ‘charity’ shops one sees in a city block. Here in Oslo I hadn’t seen any and was getting a bit judgy about that, until today when we walked for what felt like hours to the neighbourhood of Grunerlokka, (or something like that- I’m sure I’ve got it wrong but Norwegian is so confusing with all its different forms for nouns).

On our way there, we came across a cemetery.


I spent a few moments wondering if it was a thing here in Norway to adorn your grave with a bust of yourself like this fellow, who looks quite upset about the whole dying thing (I also don’t know why he isn’t wearing a shirt).


Anyway, just as I was going off about him, Terra said ‘Hey is that Edvard Munch’s grave?” Actually, she said ‘Edward’ but I knew what she meant. And indeed it was:


He looks quite a bit happier than his cemetery mate, and nothing like the subject of his famous painting, The Scream:

The Scream

This painting is meant to be a statement on man’s anxiety represented in nature, or something like that, but I like to think it was the result of an extended phone session with Shaw after his email went down.

Anyway, we didn’t get to see the actual painting (or any of them – there are numerous versions) but that was OK. None of us were up to an extended museum visit where one must vie for space with any number of selfie-stick toting bus tour tourists who are on a schedule that gives them exactly 7.4 minutes in front the The Scream before they must get back on the bus and show proof of having taken the required 67 pictures in front of said item of art, typically while holding their hands in an extended peace sign.

After paying our respects we carried on through the cemetery and emerged into a very quaint old neighborhood full of smaller wooden buildings some of which were built around this reflecting pool which we stood around and admired for some time.




The buildings got cuter and cuter until I felt like I was back in Bradford-on-Avon, except there were no village drunks out and about to entertain me.


We had read Grunerlokka was a great place to find independent businesses and also vintage stores full of Norwegian hipsters. In my mind there is a definite difference between vintage and thrift, and I would say this neighbourhood was more vintage. In fact, I almost wondered if I had stumbled onto a chain of vintage stores, they were all that similar. It seems that Puma t-shirts circa 1990 are a hot item here and there were racks and racks of them. Disappointing when all you want is a Norwegian Death Metal t-shirt.

Still we spent a happy couple of hours browsing and shopping and I, for one, was very happy not to see an H&M anywhere in sight.

This joy was short lived however when I learned that the girls were hoping to make it back to the ‘main’ shopping area before everything closed. So we headed out back towards town, me chanting in my head ‘No H&M, No H&M’. The neighbourhood was still charming until, after a few minutes, we crossed the tracks (actually it was a canal) and found ourselves in a rougher neighbourhood with homeless people sleeping on the streets and drug users shooting up in dark corners.


We also spotted our first Norwegian chavs up to no good on a street corner. Or at least that’s what I thought from afar but when I got closer they were actually quite polite and moved out the way with out insulting us. That would not have happened with proper English chavs.


Not really, Norway, not really. But ‘A’ for effort. So cute!

For a change, it started raining as we came back in to town so I dragged everyone in to the Cathedral for a quick look. It was beautiful:


I could have stayed in there for the rest of the afternoon but I think napping in the pews is probably frowned upon so it was back out in to the fray. I would like very much to tell you that I didn’t go to into H&M that afternoon but that would not be true. Fortunately, it was short lived pain as I think the girls sensed that I was going to lose my shit if it took too long. We walked back to our guesthouse in the rain, picked up dinner along the way, and spent the rest of the evening packing for the trip home.

For some reason, months ago, I had thought that it would be fine to fly Oslo – Paris on SAS (Such Awful Service) Airlines, wait in Paris 6 hours, fly Paris to Montreal (7.5hrs), run through airport to catch flight to Vancouver (5.5hrs) and then wait 2 hours for 15 minute flight to Victoria. We were up at 4:30am on Tuesday, and crawled into bed 1:30am on Wednesday, 30 hours later. The one redeeming feature of the trip home was that they did not serve Chicken in a Blood Sauce with Pasta Dots. I’m not sure what it was they served, and in fact I defy anyone to actually identify any of the ingredients.  At a certain point however all desire for food vanishes and sleep becomes the only thing you need. I think they do that by design, but that’s another blog post…

So that’s a wrap on the trip, folks. Thanks to my travelling companions Travis, Zoe and Terra for an exceptional time and thanks to you all for coming along for the ride.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Oslo Day 4 (?) – In Which We (and by ‘We’ I Mean the Girls) Go Swimming in the Fjord and There is An Angry Baby.


Have I mentioned yet how much I love Oslo? It’s big but not too big, diverse, architecturally interesting, and everyone here is outrageously friendly. As if that weren’t enough, today we found an amazing outdoor swimming complex built to allow Norwegians access to swimming in their beloved fjord whenever they like, weather permitting. The pools were our destination for the afternoon but first, it was time for bit of art.

The Vigeland Sculpture Museum is devoted to one of Norway’s most famous artists Robert Vigeland (not Edvard Munch – he has his own museum, that we didn’t go to because, well, I didn’t want a repeat performance of Zoe and Terra Vs. the Mona Lisa like we had in the Louvre a couple of years ago, so help me God). The museum sits beside Frogner Park, another beautiful urban park, where most of Vigeland’s sculptures are on display. In the museum, though, the entire artistic process is on  display, from his drawings, to his mould-making techniques, and models of his finished works.

Truth be told, I hadn’t actually planned to go to the museum, and had intended instead to go to his mausoleum, which is a work of art in itself. However, in Norwegian, one (‘Vigeland Museet’) looked just like the other (‘Emmanuel Vigeland Museet’), and so we ended up at the larger museum instead and spent a happy hour there admiring the art.

I found his sculpture to be refreshingly different; There were no blank-eyed Mother Mary statues here, holding their mal-proportioned baby Jesus. Nor where there any run-of-the-mill Kings on Horses or a partially draped Greek God holding a twig in one hand and a frog in the other, the symbolism of which is great, I’m sure, but usually fails to impress itself on my memory.

Here, Vigeland devoted his life’s work to exploration of the stages of life and the relationships between us, and even Zoe (typically a tough customer where art is concerned) was impressed:





These sculptures are the originals from which the moulds were made for the finished products that can be found in the park. One of his most well-known pieces is that of an angry baby. The story goes that he was in London when he saw a little boy having a fit. He quickly sketched him and then turned that sketch into a sculpture and then into a statue.


Out in the park, everyone wanted a photo with the angry baby.


Zoe and Terra decided to interpret the art in a more physical way:




For a second, I thought maybe this was the same two from the fountain in Copenhagen.

The walk back through the neighbourhoods was gorgeous as usual:



I especially enjoyed this store:


Aren’t the Norwegians cute?

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Europe in general for arranging to have the Linden trees in bloom everywhere we have been from the UK, to Denmark, to Norway. It makes walking the streets so much nicer.

Back in town, we saw a convoy of tour buses from Eastern Europe, all with hilarious things written on the outside. These two were my favourite:


I know I do, and it’s reassuring to know that BLAGUSS will help me reach them. Especially if my goal is to drive all the way from Latvia to Oslo in a bus.


I was a bit disappointed in Austria for this slogan. First of all, there’s no mention of The Sound of Music and secondly, they don’t sound excited at all:

Fritz: Not more Old Masters, please. Ve are sick of zem now.

Wolfgang (nodding head in agreement):  Could ve have some New Masters? Or even zom Middle Masters?

Wolfgang’s wife, Greta: Vat about Costco. Is zere a Costco?

Bus Driver: I’ve got some nice modern art, vould you like to zee zat?

All: No, no, Ve do not vant to see ze modern art!

Bus Driver: Are you sure? Zere are some gardening tools strewn on ze ground? I can show you a picture:


All: Ahhg, No! Ve do not vant to zee zat! Ahg, take it avay!

Bus Driver: Or zere is zis piece, vich I call Blue Vatermelon:


All: Please! No More! Fine, ve vill see the Old Masters AGAIN.

Greta: Vat about Ikea. Is zere an Ikea?

Bus Driver: Vy, yes, actually zere is! I vill drop you here and you just get on zat bus oer zere. Ok? I vil meet you here in 6 hours.


Art endeavours completed, it was time for a swim, even though it wasn’t exactly warm out. We set out to find the ‘bathing areas’ as they call them here, and ended up taking a circuitous route along the harbour promenade. We encountered many people fishing off the pier, but it didn’t look like anyone had actually caught anything, possibly ever. And if they did, they weren’t very big (the fish, not the fisherman) as everyone left their rods just sitting on the pier and wandered off to have a kaffe and speak jibberish (Norwegian) with their other fishing buddies. I guess this is what happens on a Sunday in Oslo. More power to them.


We eventually found the swimming pools on the other side of the Opera House, in a new development of condos and restaurants known as Soerenga. Actually,it’s not spelled like that  - there is a mysterious circle over the O, or maybe there is a stroke through it? I’m not sure right now..anyway it’s pronounced as if the first syllable is the most disgusting thing you have ever eaten, and the rest is as expected.

Apart from all that, it is a great place for a swim, or would be, if it were a bit warmer out. I’m not going to say it was cold exactly, but I did see Han Solo stuffing Luke Skywalker into a TonTon. There were other brave souls there as well, seemingly oblivious of the cold as well.





This body of water is the Oslo fjord, so it’s seawater, something Zoe forgot abut before jumping in. Bit of a shock to find yourself in salt water when you were expecting fresh – like taking a mouthful of vodka when you were expecting water, or so the look on Zoe’s face would suggest. Note the lifeguards in their parkas and shorts.

Terra went for an actual swim in the chop, which was also when the ferry to Copenhagen was leaving. Not to worry, I have the whole ‘drowning not waving’ thing down.



They must be from Canada.


All the condos here have their own swimming areas and docks. Needless to say, no one was in them as they were all tucked up in side by a fire under a pile of reindeer skins.


It was getting bleaker by the minute and we needed a warm up so we stopped at a cafĂ© where I signed over my first born (sorry Jacob) for a couple of hot drinks and a cookie. We were still quite far from home when it really started raining. I’m not going to say it was a flood, but I saw a couple of giraffes and a pair of sheep getting on to an old man’s boat.

On our way home, Zoe found a soccer ball in the bushes of our park and dribbled and juggled it all the way home. I think she may be the only girl ever to do that in this city if the stares of the locals were anything to go by.


Of course it was already 8pm or something like that so we called it a night, bought our corner store dinner for the night and retreated to our cozy guesthouse.

Last day of our trip tomorrow!

Thanks for reading,



PS – I’ve been pestering the girls to do a Guest Blog (which so far they have refused) but Zoe did acquiesce today and wrote these words for the few people who will know what she is going on about:

Hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen hen.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Norway Day 4–In Which We Leave the Mountains and Love Oslo


The Norwegians pride themselves on being a get-‘er-done kind of people. Need to get to Stockholm in the winter and all roads closed? Just put on your cross-country skis and stop whining. Lost in the woods and need something to eat? Just make yourself some reindeer moss soup and move on. Need a waffle hut at the top of a mountain? Done. There isn’t a lot of whinging here. The country is also swimming in oil and has managed their resources (mostly) well to the point that they are economically winning. Their expenses are less than their income, and imports are outweighed by exports. It’s also a highly socialist country with amazing welfare systems and benefits for its citizens including extended universal health care, minimum guaranteed pensions, livable wages and welfare, etc etc. Of course they pay for all this with high taxes, like a flat rate of 28% income tax for everyone (corporate tax is %25 but there is currently a move to reduce it by 1% to 24% which is being met with an outcry) and surtaxes for higher incomes as well. They charge a consumer tax of 25% on everything here also.

I wasn’t sure what I would find in Oslo in terms of diversity but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is not an entirely white city. We have come across ethnic neighbourhoods on our walks, and in the city centre it is possible to hear a variety of African languages and Arabic too. In fact the presence of refugees is noticeable here and I saw no evidence of anger or hate towards them. I witnessed a Syrian (?) family in a corner store where the young child translated Norwegian to her parents, who spoke back to her in Arabic. The little girl will likely learn English in no time as well making her fluent in no less than three languages.

The reason we were in the corner store is because we were getting some dinner. Our lunch the previous day rivalled the Copenhagen $90 lunch and so we were on rations in a bid not to break the bank. This city is by far the most expensive of any I’ve been in.

Anyway, that being said, there is much about Oslo that can be enjoyed without spending money – it is an architecturally beautiful city and we have spent much of our days here wandering the streets and admiring the gorgeous buildings, both old and new:




The most stunning building here, though, is the Oslo Opera House. We arrived in early evening and of course the sun was still high in the sky. It is possible to walk right up on to the roof of the building,which we did, although I was suffering from a kind of snow blindness due to all the white and light and was wandering around with my eyes closed trying not to fall off the edge.




Fortunately the inside was just as amazing and I didn’t need to continue acting out a scene from Little House on the Prairie where Mary has lost her vision.



On hot days, or if the mood strikes them, people swim in the fjord off the edge of the building. We just got as far as our feet.


We had once again lost track of time in the lightness of the evening and, in search of ice cream, came across a unique art installation on the harbour promenade that included, among other things, the world’s largest sauna:



When it’s not a sauna, it’s a bar and theatre space. There were a number of A-frame structures as part of this installation, all built after Viking Longhouses.



And also some little saunas in shipping containers with huge barrels of salt or fresh water that you could jump into after your sauna. Funky bars and food trucks completed the picture and we were happy to spend some time there people-watching.



It was now later than we thought but the place was still full of people and things to see on our way home, including this reminder that Norway is one of two whaling countries in the world, the other being Japan.


No, we didn’t try it.

The Royal Palace and surrounding park is right beside our guesthouse so we have been starting each day walking through its leafy green loveliness, and stopping periodically to have a giggle at the Royal Guard, who seem always to be changing. Zoe observed that their helmets are reminiscent of 1990’s hairstyles in which the pony tail was worn slightly to one side.


There was also a brief exchange between the guards which I am pretty sure went like this:

Guard 1: Anything to report?

Guard 2: No, Sir.

Guard 1: Nothing at all?

Guard 2: Well, I did find this spoon, Sir.

Guard 1: Well done, Centurion.

Guard 2: Thank you, Sir.

Anyway, they were quite charming, unless you got too close to the palace in which case they would march over and indicate, via semaphore I think given the wild flailing of arms that I witnessed, that an offense had been committed. The rest of the park is lovely and some how much nicer than our urban parks – more lush and clean.


This glowing cube is also the world’s coolest public washroom:


It was by now 3am or something like that and time for bed. More tomorrow including the angry baby statue and another dip in the fjord!

Thanks for reading,