Day: July 6, 2013

TSOJ: How I got a sunburn in Oslo.

When I got up this morning I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to see Vigland Park if the weather was nice and then I might go to the National Portrait Museum and see the special exhibit: Edward Munch he’d be 150 years-old this year if he hadn’t died. I’m not a big fan of special exhibits when I travel, because the paintings I really want to see are often taken off display. Anyway, I got up, ate 5000 calories of breakfast because it is included in my stay (if there is one piece of travel advice for everyone it is get a room with breakfast included.) Families this is doubly important because each meal you eat out can break the old piggy jar, and in Oslo, if you want to eat after your free breakfast you can, but I would suggest stuffing your pie hole.

Always, always, always get a hotel with a breakfast bar.

Always, always, always get a hotel with a breakfast bar.

I was out of the hotel by 8:30 and on my way to the closed Portrait Museum so I did what I always do, I began wandering. I wandered over to a Tourist Information office and soon had a plan. Visit the city hall, jam over to the museum, then down to the Opera House and then a bike tour.

Karl Johans street. Before anyone else is awake.

Karl Johans street. Before anyone else is awake.

City Hall in Oslo looks like it was designed my some Hollywood set director in an anti-utopian movie about the evils of Socialism. Since I am an anti-capitalist pinko, I kind of liked it from the outside. There is something about this form of architecture that is so impersonal and oppressive that it makes me feel even less significant than usual.

City Hall looking like a building from Marx's wet dream.

City Hall looking like a building from Marx’s wet dream.

There are some nice touches to the exterior of the building that give it a Norse flavor.

Astrological clock in a building from 1920?

Astrological clock in a building from 1920?

The Norse Mythology carvings around the exterior of the building were pretty cool. I like Norse Mythology, lots of violence and sex.

The panels running around the exterior of the courtyard had lots of Norse Mythology.

The panels running around the exterior of the courtyard had lots of Norse Mythology.

Inside the city hall was the cool stuff. Here is where they award the Nobel Peace Prize.

Inside the city hall was the cool stuff. Here is where they award the Nobel Peace Prize.

The true beauty of the building was inside. Huge murals covered the walls telling the story of the country. The history of Norway is complex, kind of like a soap opera but with countries involved instead of people. Denmark and Norway were inseparable, then they broke up and Norway started dating Sweden, but found out they were all wrong for each other and Norway decided to go out on their own. At least I think that is how it worked. There was some Nazi stuff in there too, and some elections for kings and an adoption as I recall. If you have come to this blog looking for accurate information about Norway’s history then you are in the wrong place. If you are looking for sweeping generalizations and inaccuracies then this is your spot.

Murals covered most of the walls representing portions of Norway's history.

Murals covered most of the walls representing portions of Norway’s history.

In order to really tell you about the history or symbolism of the murals I would have had to stop and read the descriptions, but instead I spent my time fighting for space with bus tourists. Bus tourism should only take place as a last resort, I say this as I prepare for a bus/train tour in two days, but if you have to do a bus tour realize how annoying you are as you blob your way through everything in order to stay on schedule.

More murals.

More murals.

Munch mural with naked people.

Munch mural with naked people.

This is as good as any time to talk about the Munch exhibit since special exhibits never allow photography. I don’t blame them for banning photography, but almost all the paintings in the exhibit were borrowed from the Munch Museum in the far away city of Oslo. Before I begin complaining full-time let me say what I liked: Munch’s career was more expansive than I thought, he has some really amazing paintings and his Summer Moonlight paintings were super. His slow move to dealing with the issues of isolation and depression were also interesting. The Scream might be the only Munch painting people are familiar with, but his blue self-portrait where he is smoking is even better in my opinion.

Let the complaining begin: I ended up stuck between four bus tours: Two Japanese tours and two American tours. I don’t know which groups annoyed me more, the slow moving Americans or the fast moving Japanese ones. (This is a lie, I hated the Japanese tours more, but I don’t want to sound too much like a bigot.) If I tried to move ahead of the packs the Japanese groups were soon gathered around me talking loudly in what sounds to me more like chickens squawking than an actual language. I know this is a horrible thing to say, I know I sound like a red-neck, I know I should be more tolerant, but THIS IS THE SUMMER OF JON!!! Let me look at a painting in peace and don’t EVER move in front of me when I am looking at a painting. Just because I am taller than you does not mean I should be ignored. If I am blocking your view, it is because I was here first and I will eventually move, I don’t mind standing next to me, but the next time a tour guide steps in front of me I am going to knock her straw hat off.

The slow moving American group can be summed up in one statement I overheard between a husband and wife, “His stuff just doesn’t do anything for me.” Hey, I know what you mean, but I don’t go to those museums and annoy people who do like his stuff. There is no rule that says you can’t stay on the bus and watch reruns of All In The Family.

Both groups need to follow this simple rule: When in a museum shut yer yap! Talk quietly, move respectfully, and understand you are not the only tourist on vacation– I am! (I am practicing using more exclamation points since I will be in Germany in a couple weeks.)

I am fascinated with city manhole covers. They really are unique, you just have to look.
After battling for an hour or so I decided to walk down to the Opera House and check it out. The main pedestrian street runs from the Royal Palace to the waterfront, so it is hard to get lost. Don’t worry, before this blog entry is over I will be lost.

Little girl riding a tiger, lucky little girl. Just outside the train station, I didn't take any pictures outside the bus station because I didn't want to get mugged.

Little girl riding a tiger, lucky little girl. Just outside the train station, I didn’t take any pictures outside the bus station because I didn’t want to get mugged.

The Opera House, like most of the things in Norway, was built with an emphasis on getting people to use it. Not an Opera fan? Well, how about climbing to the top of a really cool building and checking out the view?

Oslo Opera House.

Oslo Opera House.

Not too bad, I might have to come back and look inside.

Not too bad, I might have to come back and look inside.

These shades were made for walking.

These shades were made for walking.

After I finished the visit/hike up the Opera House, it was off to take a bike tour.

It looks like a child and parent met an untimely end here.

It looks like a child and parent met an untimely end here.

I showed up early and talked with the owner of Viking Bikes for a little bit and then he let me take a bike out for a bit until the tour started. I went down to the Opera House again, then over to a castle and then got back just in time to meet our group.

Viking Biking, English speaking tours of Oslo.

Viking Biking, English speaking tours of Oslo.

We started learning about the founding of Oslo, most of it had to do with fires and rebuilding until one of the rulers said, “I wonder if the city would stop burning down if we widened streets?” Seems like a no-brainer to me, but these things are always easier to figure out as a Monday morning quarterback.

The changing of the guard, or something.

The changing of the guard, or something.

We biked over to the fortress, watched some not too scary guys with guns march around for a bit and then walked around the tower walls. It was pretty cool, but security in Norway is not taken too seriously. People seem to trust each other, as crazy as that sounds. There were several times on the bike tour that we were right next to very important people and locations and there was zero noticeable security. I would think after that nut job set off a bomb in downtown Oslo and shot 70 kids on the island, that they might tighten up the bolts a bit, but maybe there are precautions in place that I am unaware of.

The fortress was easy to breach.

The fortress was easy to breach.

A memorial  for the executions by the Nazis. I think, it isn't in English.

A memorial for the executions by the Nazis. I think, it isn’t in English.

After storming the castle, we pedaled down by the water front and I wished that Seattle’s new waterfront design would come close to Oslo’s.

I signed a document that said I wouldn't do this.

I signed a document that said I wouldn’t do this.

The Royal Palace, guarded as closely as a box of cookies.

The Royal Palace, guarded as closely as a box of cookies.

We then headed to Froger Park. The Froger area is wealthy, but there were tons of kids walking through the neighborhood on their way to sun themselves in the Park. If there is one observation I can make about Norway’s people it would be that they don’t care what you are doing as long as it doesn’t interfere with what they are doing. People at work sit when they are not helping people, they check their cell phone messages, but when it is time to help, they are right there. They seem to have a relaxed attitude and independence that works.

Vigland Park.

Vigland Park.

Vigeland Park is amazing. I will only write a little bit about it and then let you check out the pictures. This Vigeland fellow was a sculptor and he needed a place to stay, so he made a deal with the city of Oslo that if they built him a nice house (a very nice house) he would fill their park with his statues. It was a win win. He got himself some nice digs and Oslo got the best sculpture park in the world. The statues are all nude so that they would be timeless and could always be enjoyed by everyone. I was so blown away by the park I did not get annoyed by the hordes of bus tourists.

Bridge of bronze statues, and a bonus shot of my finger.

Bridge of bronze statues, and a bonus shot of my finger.

The most famous of Vigeland's statues. Touch his hand for good luck.

The most famous of Vigeland’s statues. Touch his hand for good luck.

Silly Norwegians getting a tan instead of looking at the statues.

Silly Norwegians getting a tan instead of looking at the statues.

I like the tile work here, probably because I could not do this in 10,000 years.

I like the tile work here, probably because I could not do this in 10,000 years.

The picture below might need some explaining. The big tube is life, there is usually water pouring out of it. The men holding up the tub are not all sharing the load, some have a heavier burden (just like life kids), the work around the men follows the stages of life. So there.

Dudes holding up life surrounded by the circle of life.

Dudes holding up life surrounded by the circle of life.

Everything about this park is super nifty.

Everything about this park is super nifty.

The monolith has 121 figures, took 14 years, and is one solid piece of granite.

The monolith has 121 figures, took 14 years, and is one solid piece of granite.

There is a baby at the top, everybody else is squished.

There is a baby at the top, everybody else is squished.

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I’ll call this one: Pile of babies.

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Dog pile on Dad.

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Old dude section.

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Main gate and monolith.

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One of my fingers is always photobombing my pictures.

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My favorite.

My favorite.

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I like this girl’s attitude.

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I call this one swinging free.

After the park we tried to ride all the way back to the office, but the waterfront was crowded with people, who can blame them, if I lived in Oslo I would be down there too.

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Waterfront/Fjord restoration, it reminded me of Hafen City in Hamburg.

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Nobel Prize museum.

After we finished the tour and I realized I didn’t have any money to tip the guide I felt like an idiot, but I will go back tomorrow and drop off a tip. It was a great way to spend an afternoon and the next time you are in Oslo you should take a tour with Viking.

I then went back to my hotel and took a catnap. I figured I would head out to an area that runs along a river called Gronland. I heard it would be a good place to get a less expensive meal and would take me outside the tourist area. It certainly did. I didn’t take a map and before too long I was in an area that if I were driving I would lock the doors. Instead of stopping and asking for help, I did the smart thing and just kept moving like I knew where I was heading. It looked like I was heading for trouble, but I took a few left turns, walked fast and eventually ended up at the bus station which is not exactly Valhalla, but at least I knew where I was. All in all, I ended up not finding the river area and walking about five miles.

I headed back to my hotel and found a cheap meal right next door at a 7-11: box of noodles.
I then sat on a park bench and enjoyed a meal with some guy I didn’t know. The view of the Parliament building, the sunshine, the things I saw, even the box of noodles mad for a great dinning experience.

Dinner on a park bench with a stranger is a great way to end the day.

Dinner on a park bench with a stranger is a great way to end the day.

Parliament building, my dinner view.

Parliament building, my dinner view.

Nice face, look happy, it is the Summer of Jon.

Nice face, look happy, it is the Summer of Jon.

 

TSOJ: Final Thoughts on Iceland

I flew out of Iceland yesterday evening in what I would term a winter storm. Winds were blowing about 50 miles per hour, the temperature was no more than 50 degrees, rain was blasting the airport, and because it is Iceland we walked about 300 yards in the monsoon to get to the plane. Once aboard I wondered if the weather was great for flying and then I thought, “This is summer weather for these pilots, this is nothing.” I was right, we took off like we were flying on a clear summer day in Seattle. Two hours later I was in Norway where there are more trees in a square mile than the entire country of Iceland.

Iceland is one of the stranger places a visitor can go. The land is one part of the strangeness, the strangeness of the length of days, the strangeness of the language, the strangeness of the food, and then there is the people. The Icelandic people are friendly, but they also do not hide their feelings. They tolerate tourists because without the tourist dollar the economic hard times would be even more difficult. The stunted trees of the country symbolize the people best, hunkered down against a hillside just surviving the wind and storms that blow through the land. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of hope in life, they deal with it by gritting their teeth and pushing forward. There is a Nordic sense of doom hanging everywhere. Men tinker on their homes preparing for the 10 months of bitter weather, women knit thick sweaters and probably don’t own a light summer dress, and kids wear their jackets without complaint. Everyone knows that July is when they can relax and take a deep breath, but no one seems to do that, they prepare for the next storm. They avoid being too happy about the present and focus on preparing for the bleak future. This general attitude makes the financial crisis even harsher for a people who are far more focused on the future than the present. The moments of joy are always tempered by the reality of a fate that has been a part of the Nordic heritage since they began telling stories in their strange pirate language. Pirate is probably offensive the these Vikings, although Pirates and Vikings have a great deal in common Pirates never settled a country or carried a heritage for thousands of years. Icelandic lore (along with recent history to support the story) said the Reyjakavik was founded when one of the Viking leaders, Ingolfur Arnarson, tossed a couple logs overboard somewhere out at sea and followed them to land. Where the two logs landed is modern day Reyjakvik. Leaving the founding of a city and nation up to fate (or in this case two logs and the tides) is not something that one can celebrate as grandly as one can if you are escaping religious persecution like the American lore (less supported by history the further we get away from it) but it says a great deal about who the Icelandic people are, they have been tossed about by the sea, but they deal with it. There is not a great deal of whining in this country, there is the Sisyphean attitude, and as we all recall, Sisyphus conquered his punishment by being happy in his endless task. I think Icelanders would be happy being compared to Sisyphus.

Questions about Iceland and Icelanders:
Are there any actual laws related to driving in the city? I was never sure if while standing at a crosswalk if I had the right of way. Some cars would wait, others blew right through, some waved me to go and then nearly ran me over. Sidewalks were often used as auxiliary portions of the road. Many of the vehicles were built like many of the off-road trucks in the US: big tires, lifted off the ground, and large enough for me to believe the driver was suffering from some form of inadequacy.

What’s the deal with beer? I bought a beer at a supermarket and the checker told me that it wasn’t beer. He then informed me that you could only buy beer at the wine store which was closing at 6 PM. I think he expected me to stop the purchase of my beer and dash downtown to get “real beer.” I talked to the owner of the Micro Bar about the beer situation and he told me that light beer is simply beer with 2.25% alcohol content. You can buy this type of beer at a store, but beer with a higher alcohol content must be purchased at the wine store. I asked if Icelanders drank beer, because to me the stuff in the can was horrible, I realize that it was light beer, but it was bad light beer. The beer at the Micro Bar was good and the IPA that I had there was as good as any beer you can get in the US. The owner of the Micro Bar admitted that the best beer in the world right now is in the US, but he wasn’t sure he liked the way we sold beer because when he lived in the US be spent a lot of time drinking too much beer because it was readily available. Good think we Americans could care less about getting fat. I think the general attitude of Icelanders (and this is a sweeping generalization) is that if you are going to drink then you should drink until you fall down.

What’s the story with the alphabet? I don’t even know where to start here. The language is a complete mystery to me. Everyone speaks English because no one else speaks Icelandic. I don’t ever want to suggest that the language should go away because so much of what makes a culture unique is built into the language of that culture. I only said one Icelandic word the whole time I was there, “Tak.” Which means, “Thanks” and is the same word used in Danish, so I was able to thank people but there was an additional portion of the thanks: Fyrre, or something like that.I was not confident enough to even try but it sounded like Tak Fear to me.
The rest of the language did not seem to follow the rules associated to any language I know. Somewhere in the past the Vikings that came to Iceland decided to do their own thing when it came to the language. I think the language is based on runes and therefore more like a symbol based language than a phonetic one, so if there is no basis for phonetics there is no way for me to figure out what is going on.

Do I look like an Icelander? Most of the time when I ran into people in Iceland they started out by addressing me in Icelandic. In a country as small as Iceland they say that everyone knows everyone, so I guess my twin is running around Iceland speaking Icelandic. I know some of you are thinking, “Wouldn’t it be natural for people to address you in their native language?” Sure, but I witnessed most tourists being addressed in English first. When my family stayed in German for a month I had people talk to me in German many, many times. I can understand that, we were away from the tourist areas but I do look like a German, probably because my ancestors come from the German/Dutch area in the north. (Good looking, smart people I assume.) What’s the best thing to eat in Iceland? For a quick, almost cheap bite, I think everyone should hit the hot dog place and get a couple dogs with everything (three sauces, fried onions, fresh onions). If you want to make your mouth happy then you must eat Plokkfisker with black rye bread. The bread itself is so good that I almost bought a loaf to eat by itself. White fish, cheese, butter, onions and potatoes have never tasted better.

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