- There may be no greater evil in the world than bus tourists. (Okay, this is a huge overstatement, but hear me out.) Bus tourists bring out the worst in mankind. This is a fact. Confine any person in a group and then let them free in an area with a limited amount of time to see whatever it is that they have come to see. Not only do these people now feel it is their duty to cut in line, push their way in front of polite people (me…at least 35% of the time), and cause everyone to act like John Snow crushed beneath a pile of dead people. Now the important question is: “Does the bus make people act this way, or are people who take bus tours naturally predisposed to step on your face to see the top of the ski jump?” This is a very chicken and egg philosophical argument that I will leave up to my readers who come here for the brilliant philosophical wonderings…men in prison who google searched “mob mentality.”
- The Norwegians say, “There is no bad weather, there is only bad clothing.” Okay, I want to update this saying to “There is no bad weather, but there can be if you are packing for a vacation during the SUMMER!” Come on Oslo! Give me a break. Let me see the sun shine with dry shoes.
- I would believe that is impossible to get drunk in Norway, but I have seen a number of men who were very, very drunk in public. These men must be millionaires because any form of alcohol in Oslo costs as much as a new Tesla. Norway has a way of forcing people to act in a more healthy fashion, they tax the hell out of anything they don’t want you to do. A beer at a bar costs between $10-$20. So if you want to get your drink on in Oslo be ready to take out a second mortgage.
- Like many major European cities there are a good number of Romanian beggars on the streets. My wife and I have been fascinated by the beggars outside of our hotel. The hotel we are staying in is near the main train station and our breakfast restaurant overlooks the main square of Oslo so we have been watching the interactions of the beggars with interest. Now this may make me the worst person in the world, but I want to understand what is going on with these groups of people. I did a little research and read a few articles and then watched the people while I ate far too much for breakfast. According to the articles these Romanians have traveled to Oslo to beg, they earn about 200 Kroners a day half of which they send home (200 K is about $25 US), they live in large groups in small apartments, there are a number of NGOs assisting the members of the community who are homeless, and they are not organized by a mafia type organization they are primarily extended family units who are looking for a better life but don’t have job skills or language skills to get jobs. The news articles were split pretty evenly that these people were either evil or just victims of unfortunate circumstances. I suppose a truly compassionate person would talk to them and find out, but I don’t want my wallet to get stolen.
- There is a national conspiracy to make people walk in Norway. I’m serious. Yesterday, I went to Holmenkollen, a big ski jump on the hill above the city. It was pretty cool and had a train stop called Holmenkollen so one would assume that the train stopped right next to the ski jump. You’d be wrong. The train stopped, we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked until we arrived at the ski jump. It was steep, and far too long to call the train stop Holmenkollen, a better name would have been Kinda Near Holmenkollen But Really About 2 Kilometers From Holmenkollen. Now, Holmenkollen isn’t the only example. Every metro stop is about five city blocks from a tourist attraction. You must walk, or catch a bus. The museums on Bygdoy (Fram, Kon Tiki, Viking, Norwegian Outdoor Folk Museum) are all spread out to make you walk to get to all of them. Could they all have been put right next to each other? Yes, certainly. This might be why there are so many bus tours in Oslo because fat people want to see stuff too. I don’t mind walking, but when the weather has been rain followed by heavy rain, followed by wind and rain, I start to get a little grumpy. I do believe there is a national conspiracy to make people exercise, there are signs on public transit of bad people playing video games or watching television and good people jumping off diving boards and skateboarding.
- Norwegians know how to do breakfast. The breakfast spread at my cheap hotel has smoked salmon, baked salmon, eggs with bacon, 10 types of fresh bread, fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, sausage, liver paste (terrible), coffee, tea, 10 types of fresh juice, cheese, sliced meats, salad bar…it is insane. For a country where eating costs $25 a meal, this excess of breakfast foods has turned me into a pig and I’m not sorry.
- Locals dress in a very neat and fashionable way: Tight pants, slim cut shirts, and fancy haircuts. Tourists stick out in a crowd. For example, I’m the only person in Norway wearing a checkered fleece shirt.
- Outdoor folk museums sound like fingernails scratching on a blackboard to me, but in reality they are pretty cool if you give them a chance. The folk dancing is still pretty lame, but it brought out a million dollar idea: 1980’s Folk Museum. Think of how awesome it would be to visit the 1980’s. Instead of meeting a young lady churning butter you could talk to some kids plunking quarters in a Space Invaders game in a video game arcade. Or, you could visit a family watching Miami Vice on a 25 inch television. You could buy Wham albums at a record store. There would be phone booths, day glow clothing, big hair, and MTV would play music.
- American city halls suck. The city hall in Oslo is an attraction. I can’t even imagine visiting any city hall in America and getting wowed. LA? No way dude. Seattle? Do we even have a city hall? Portland? Only if you like Portlandia. We need to take some pride in our public buildings. America’s motto shouldn’t be: ” We built that under-budget and on time.”
- No matter where I go I end up hating the people in museums. I show up ready to see paintings and by the time I get to the second room I’m already mad at three groups of people: The Bus Group, who move together; The Clueless Guy, who stands in front of every painting I want to see; and the Guy Who Takes Pictures of all the paintings using a flash. I should learn to take a deep breath and relax, but I can’t. If I ever get in a fist fight in my lifetime it will be in an art museum.
Today’s manhole cover comes from the capital of Denmark and one the world’s happiest cities. Why is Copenhagen one of the happiest cities in the world? According to the Danes it is because they have low expectations and therefore their expectations are usually met. This is why I am generally happy with myself. Okay, let’s take a peek at how Copenhagen keeps people from falling into the sewers.
I will start with the items that I am certain about, which should not take long, and then I will venture off into conjecture. Item #1: Someone should probably learn how to spell Copenhagen. I know there isn’t spell check on manhole covers, but come on “København.” That isn’t even close. If you are going to write words in English at least learn how to spell. The only other thing I can really say about this manhole cover is that the city might have been established in 1857, at least that is what I think “Ke afløb” means. It could also mean that the city was underwater for 150 years because the rest of the manhole cover looks like some kind of hippie Atlantis thing is going on.
Let the guessing begin: There are three buildings portrayed on the manhole cover and none of them are going to meet the building codes in modern day Copenhagen. The walls are not straight, the windows are off-center, and there are fish swimming on the walls. Is the city underwater? Well, then explain the rain, it can’t rain underwater. Are the fish swimming in the air? Or are these just paintings on the side of buildings? Whoever designed this cover must have been spending too much time in Freetown Christiania smoking left-handed cigarettes.
If I were to look at the cover with a symbolic eye I would say that the three buildings represent the three nations (Denmark, Sweden, Norway) that took turns bossing each other around in the olden days. The center building must be Denmark because it has the largest fish and the largest flowers. The one on the left must be Norway because the country is a little fatter than Sweden. The building on the right has to be Sweden because the fish looks drunk. (There is an interesting triangle of drunkenness in the three countries. Ride a ferry between the nations and you will find that the boats are really just floating liquor stores designed to sell beer and alcohol duty-free.)
Five of the six flowers on the buildings appear to be poppies. This must have something to do with the opium trade. I’m not sure what it has to do with the opium trade, but there could be no other explanation. The one different flower appears to be in the Denmark tower and it looks a little like a royal flower, or it could be a thistle. Maybe there are lots of thistles in Denmark because they don’t want to use weed killer because they are so environmentally friendly.
In the water below the three towers are little fish that look like the American cheese snack crackers we call Goldfish. They could also be those snack fish known in the United States as Swedish fish, I am certain they don’t call them Swedish fish in Sweden though, they are probably called Red Chewy Fish Candy. In Denmark they probably call them Drunken Fish. (Side note, I knew a child who ate a lot of these Swedish fish and then threw up. I asked him if he was practicing ‘catch and release.’ The child did not think it was a good joke. I still think it is a pretty good one.) The little fish look like they are having fun, so they must be Danish fish without very high expectations. They aren’t smiling, but they are jumping in the water and it doesn’t get much better than that for a fish. I imagine a fish’s life is a bit boring: the weather never changes, you can’t take a nap, wi-fi connections underwater are pretty spotty, and everything pretty much tastes the same.
Okay, your brain is probably pretty tired by now, learning new things can wear you out, so eat some Swedish fish and take a nap.
Today’s manhole comes from Bergen, Norway. If you live in the United States you probably just mouthed the words, “Where?” Well, Bergen is either the second or third largest city in Norway. (I was about to do some research to find out which it was, but since I live in the USA where we only keep track of who is number one, I decided to leave it up to the rest of the world to figure that out.)
Other pseudo-facts about Bergen: It rains two thousand days a year, it is on the Western Coast of Norway, tipping in Bergen is difficult if you don’t remember the exchange rate. (Sorry about that waitress at the pizza place. I thought it was a good tip at the time.)
Okay, enough education for today, let’s look at the manhole.
No, this is not photoshopped. I know you don’t believe me because Bergen has never had a sunny day since the dinosaurs all died, but let me reassure you, I have not done anything to alter this photo.
On the right and left side of the manhole are dual images of two suns that have rain drops falling from them. Either that or Bergen was founded by really big Daddy Long Legged Spiders. I know fans of the movie Chariots of the Gods will probably think that these images are evidence of space aliens, but if space aliens were going to establish a colony here on Earth they would go some place with sunshine.
In the center of the manhole is an image of Bryggen (which is some kind of historic area of Bergen). The three-pointed rooftops of Bryggen (four if you count the one hiding behind the sails of the boat) are as poorly constructed on the manhole as they are in real life. The building codes in Bryggen allowed houses to be built right on top of each other. This was done so that when one building caught fire all of them would burn to the ground. These fires were the only way for people to get dry and warm. (They certainly were not going to get dry inside these poorly constructed buildings.)
Just behind the images of the buildings of Bryggen are the local castle and Haakon’s Hall. The castle is the one that is already bothering you if you have OCD. How hard is it to line up windows? Apparently very difficult in the wind and rain of Bergen. I can only assume the reason the windows are not lined up was because no one would ever look at the building from the outside since it is always raining and they would have an umbrella blocking their vision. This mismatched widows probably wouldn’t bother you if you were looking out into the daily downpour. Haakon’s Hall is the other building. (Is it possible I have these two buildings mixed up? Yes, get over it.) The hall is where everyone would go when Bryggen burned to the ground every six months. It is a big hall. I can’t imagine how bad it smelled in there with all those Vikings with their wet furs and dried fish. It probably smelled like a dog who rolled around in wet fish guts.
The rest of the image behind Haakon’s Hall is one of the seven mountains surrounding Bergen. There is a funicular that goes up to a view point where you can see the rain clouds at more of an eye-level. It also looks like there is a gondola lift from there to a Chinese Pagoda. Why is there a Chinese Pagoda on top of a mountain in Norway? Maybe Bergen has a sister city in China, or maybe it is the spaceship the aliens left behind. The background of clouds and sun/moon were put there just to fill space, no one in Bergen has ever seen fluffy white clouds or the sun. The manhole cover would look pretty blank with one big grey cloud in the background and I’m glad the artist fictionalized the image to give it a happier appearance. Anyone who lives in Bergen probably needs images like this to keep them from jumping off the Chinese pagoda.
The final image is a large sailing ship. It has ten little sails instead of four big ones because Norwegians believe in the the saying, “It isn’t the size of the sail that is important, it is how they use the wind.” It is also very cold in Norway and sails have a tendency to shrink when they get cold and wet. It appears that this ship is sailing in the harbor, but if you look closely you will notice that the water has probably filled the streets and the boat is taking a ride down the main drag.
Good job, Bergen! Nice manhole cover!
Manhole covers say a lot about a city, or at least they say something about a city. Most manhole covers are boring utilitarian objects placed over holes to prevent the general public from falling into a sewer and dying, but some cities have taken a few extra steps to make their manhole covers into something more than just a round piece of metal.
Our first manhole cover comes from Oslo. First take notice of all the crosses surrounding the round stuff in the middle. There are a lot of crosses. These could either be there for traction, or they could be saying something about Oslo. I really don’t know because this is an inaccurate guide, not an accurate one. Next, notice the four stars surrounding the dude in the middle. These stars are Amazon’s rating of the city. (Some of the people gave Oslo four stars because it is far away from the USA. Others gave Oslo four stars because it didn’t have a McDonald’s on every corner. I believe most people take one star away from Oslo because of the cost of a beer.) The guy in the center of the manhole cover is holding either three really big arrows, or three crutches with sharp ends. If he recently twisted his ankle because there was a woman laying in the road (which appears to be the case) then they are crutches. If they are arrows then it is probably saying something about power or archery. There is an outside chance these could also be darts used on a really big dart board.
In his right hand he (let’s assume he is the King) is holding what appears to be a really large washer (not the kind you use to clean clothing, but the kind that is used to hold nuts and bolts tight). The washer is an ancient symbol of things getting too loose. When the King of Norway (who at the time was probably the King of Sweden or Denmark, because Norwegians were using big arrows as crutches instead of using them to shoot Swedes or Danes) thought things were getting a bit too loose in Norway he would pull out this big washer and say, “Ongy, bongy, dingy, wingy, lingy.” (Rough translation: Things are getting too loose, it is time to tighten up and start behaving.) Then the loyal citizens would stop acting so crazy and become more orderly. I can think of a few countries that could use the big washer these days…I’m talking to you Netherlands.
Hiding just behind the King are two lions. These lions are trying to eat the city stars but because the King is sitting on them they cannot. This symbolizes the power of the King to keep Oslo a four star city. If the King were to disappear, then Oslo might drop to a two star city, one star if the lions are really hungry.
Beneath the King’s pigeon-toed feet, is either a lady or some sea creature that looks like a lady. This is where knowing a little about Oslo’s history would probably help, but research is not happening at 5:30 in the morning. One thing can be certain, the King’s feet smell. Look how the lady/sea creature’s face is turned away like she is trying to catch a breath of fresh air. This might be because the King had a tough job and his feet would sweat.
Finally, take notice of the most disturbing aspect of the lady/sea creature: her feet/fins. There is nothing there, her legs just end. I know feet are hard to draw, or in this case hard to design, but the artist could have fixed that problem pretty easily by putting shoes on her feet, or swim fins. The artist wisely hid her hand from the viewer by having it tucked under her side, had the artist planned ahead he/she could have tucked those difficult feet behind one of the city stars.
Norwegians have a great deal to be proud of. Before traveling to Norway, I thought of Norway as that cold place where people cross-country ski. It is that place, but it is also a country that has much more to be proud of than Olympic Gold Medals in the 10,000 meter cross-country race. I leave Norway knowing the country a little better and understanding the people a little more, but knowing that visiting the two largest cities in no way makes you an expert. With that said, let me begin with my wild speculations about Norway.
I ran into several Americans along the way and heard the same cliché used to describe the country of Norway: Cradle to grave Socialism. The catch-phrase seems to be an American code for these people share more than then should. I think many Americans believe that Socialism is evil because it leads to other social evils like equality. I’m no expert on how to make a country great, but I do know that Norway does many things better than the US. Sure they have a natural resource in vast oil fields, but they also protect their wild lands with a fierceness that borders on Texas sized pride. They are taxed at a high level and the country is uber-expensive, but they get a lot for their “cradle to grave” whereas Americans think they are getting a bargain. American costs are spread out differently and the burden is heaviest on the poor, not because they pay the most but because taxes in America aren’t always taxes. Medical coverage in the US is a privilege and not a right, and even those of us who are lucky enough to have medical coverage find out that our coverage is shrinking while our costs are increasing. Our dollar for dollar cost of medical coverage is the highest in the world.
In Norway health is taken seriously and exercise is a national obsession. The US is obsessed with sports watching, Norway is obsessed with sport participation. This sports participation is encouraged in multiple ways. There are bike/skiing paths all over the place. On my bike tour of Oslo the guide said that during the winter there are skiing paths in the hills that lead to restaurants in the woods and that families will ski to these restaurants and have a meal. The paths are lit so they can be used at any time in the winter. The entire idea is to get people out of the house and exercising. You will not find too many overweight Norwegians which in the end drives down medical costs and increases a national happiness that cannot be measured in a dollar amount.
There cannot be a better place in the world to be a kid. If I were a kid anywhere in the world, I would want to be a Norwegian kid. Kids are celebrated here. I would guess that 20% of all stores in Norway are stores for children. I have heard a few kids crying on long trips (these could be American kids for all I know), but everywhere I have gone kids have things to do. On the train there was a whole car devoted to families with young kids. There was a little play room and the kids were in there messing around while the parents sat outside. Kids are allowed to run around and be kids. They can climb on stuff, they can lay down in the aisle on a boat and take their shoes off and their parents don’t rush in to make them behave. It is like the whole country decided at some point that the most important thing in the world is happy kids because happy kids become happy adults. In the old church I went to in Bergen there was an area in the church for kids to play IN THE SANCTUARY! I can imagine the disapproving looks this would get in the US where well behaved kids means quiet kids. I don’t know how the Norwegian state assists with families, but I would bet one Oslo beer that both mothers and fathers have significant time to spend with their children in the first few years of a child’s life: paid time away from work for mom and dad, built-in paid vacation for all jobs.
There might not be a better country in the world to be a woman. Equality here is real. The number of women I saw doing “men’s jobs” surprised to me, and women represent a large percentage of politicians in Norway. Men can be stay-at-home dads and women can be rock masons. The only place I saw only men was with the King’s honor guard, but that was a small sample on one day, so I don’t know if it is an accurate observation.
Adults are allowed to run. How often do you see American businessmen running? Maybe in an airport like OJ, but most of the time adults not wearing running outfits and jogging shoes are seen as weird in the US. Disagree with me on this one? Well ask yourself if you saw an adult running down the road what would you think? I know what I think, “Is he escaping the from the cops, or is he running from imaginary demons?” In Norway, I saw many adults run little bursts and they didn’t look like they were running from someone.
Norwegians have a real problem with liking bad folk singing. In Oslo the most popular street performer was a guy singing John Denver songs. Hearing a guy sing Country Roads with a Norwegian accent just did not do it for me. (Remember, John Denver once gave me $5.) I don’t want to beat they guy up too badly, but if he were a street performer in America no one would give him money or listen to him. In Bergen, there was a duo singing folk songs by the waterfront and there was a huge crowd. They actually sang Sweet Home Alabama. SWEET HOME ALABAMA! People from outside of Alabama should never, ever sing this song. First off if you dropped a Norwegian in the middle of Alabama they would have a heart attack. Second of all, the song was written as a response to Neil Young’s song Southern Man which was about racist problems still alive in Alabama due to slavery. Now I know that Sweet Home Alabama has a great little guitar lick and is great little jam, but I’m with Neil Young on this one: The Southern United States should not be celebrating their “heritage” and Norwegians should not be singing this song.
Every Norwegian driver thinks they are a rally car racer. Maybe it is because there is no snow on the roads, but they like to drive fast, turn without braking much, and stop and start abruptly. I saw rally car racing on the television a couple times in Norway, and I didn’t watch much TV. As I sit here in the airport I have seen multiple airport vehicles tearing around like the driver was in a Vin Diesel movie. I suppose when you drive in the snow most of the year, driving on bare pavement makes things too easy, so Norwegians like to spice it up by driving like stunt men and women.
Norway has the lowest percentage of people practicing an organized religion. (I think this information comes from Jo Nesbo books. By the way, Jo Nesbo fans, there is a new Harry Hole novel out in Norway and in five years you may be able to read it in English.) Often times people equate religion with ethical behavior, other times people equate unethical behavior with religion, but Norwegians strike me as very ethical people. They make all appearances to care about other human beings and their society does what it can to balance the scales of injustice. There is a greater balance between rich and poor here than any other Western country and the people are proud of that fact. I’m pretty sure there is a lesson to be learned from these heathen Vikings about what it means to love your neighbor.
The human brain is amazing and my brain has been challenged by one specific item in Norway: Doors. My brain usually works pretty well when it comes to looking at a door and knowing whether it is a push or pull situation, but in Norway I got it wrong almost every time. If I was supposed to push, then I was pulling. If I was to be pulling, I was pushing. I don’t know what it is about the construction of the doors in this nation but there is an optical illusion taking place with the vertical lip of the doors. I never realized I take in so much visual information before opening a door. My little brain got fooled so often that I began to “do the opposite” of what I thought I should do and this actually worked. I probably looked like someone confronted by a door for the first time as I stood there waiting for the information wash through my brain, but at least I stopped pulling my arm out of socket. Doors are also hefty numbers here, weaklings are going to die in the cold during a storm. The winter must blow some cold strong winds, because most doors weighed a metric ton.
Norwegians love building train tracks and tunnels. The option of building around something never seems to occur to them. There is a child-like playfulness when it comes to tunnels, some tunnels are built just because they want to poke a hole in something. It might have something to do with their national fascinated with trolls, but I’m not sure. It could also be that they just like a fun challenge. Whatever it is, they sure get a kick out of drilling through a mountainside. They also love their trains, steep trains, fast trains, high-altitude trains, and just regular trollies. If you like trains, then Norway should be on your list of countries to visit.
Bergen may be the greatest city in the world for wandering. Many of the streets are so narrow that a baby strollers can’t fit down them (imagine a city built like the aisles at Walmart except there are no people on electric scooters). The lanes twist and turn up and down the hillside in an organic way that only can be explained through an examination of the human condition and history. You will find none of that here. You will find sweeping generalizations about Bergen that have not been researched and are based on two days of visiting.
I began my day like I begin all days during The Summer of Jon (TSOJ) eating a free breakfast at my hotel in a way that can only be described as over-indulgent. Today it was one hard-boiled egg, three pieces of thick toast, two of those hard rectangular crackers that are only good on long hikes or slathered in so much jam you can no longer see the cracker, three pieces of ham, three pieces of salami, nine pieces of cheese, three glasses of orange juice, four cups of coffee, and a pile of pickles and cucumbers. I rolled away from the table ready for the day and had a loose plan: see some stuff and don’t spend any money.
I thought getting lost to start the day would be a good way to go. I find getting lost to start off gets the old directional karma going in a super positive way, so I took a step out of the Pension where I am staying and ran into my first problem of the day, it was raining. That’s okay, I live in the mighty PNW and a little rain is not going to melt me. I zipped up my rain jacket, put on a little beanie hat, and noticed the rain was just falling a little, like baby rain, the kind of rain we call spitting. I took a left turn, went into the narrowest alley/road I could find and proceeded to wander for about 30 minutes. When I emerged from the bowels of the twisty little streets I noticed the rain had changed from spitting to what we call raining hard. No problem, I pulled on the hood of my raincoat and tightened the strap around my neck, I was not going to let a little rain spoil my only full day in Bergen. By the time I reached Bryggen (the oldest section of an old city) I had changed my plan from: see some stuff and don’t spend any money, to see some stuff that is inside and therefore have to spend some money.
I wanted to see Rosekranz Tower anyway, so I meandered through the old city buildings stopping in shops to look like I was going to buy things, but what I was doing was trying to dry off. Bryggen is really cool. It is a World Heritage Site, so it isn’t just some place that I like, other people who really matter like it too. I was tempted to buy a picture of an old oval Norwegian calendar, but I knew I would squish it somewhere between here and Munich so I decided to do what any lazy American would do, look for it later on Amazon.
The last 200 meters between Bryggen and Rosenkranz Tower was unprotected and the rain was coming down in what we in the mighty PNW call “sideways” rain (notice how easily I use the metric system now that I have been in Europe for a week). I made the slog through the waves of rain and eventually figured out how to open the door to the castle. (I have had some challenges with Norwegian doors, but that is for tomorrow’s post.) Inside the tower were two nice ladies dressed in traditional Norwegian outfits who informed me that I could not buy the Bergen Card (a card that allows admission to most of the museums in town for a reduced flat rate) at the tower, but the card is available at the Tourist Information office. The kind lady in the funny dress was about to show me where the office was, but I knew where it was, it was about 10,000 meters away, around the harbor. Now, a walk along the harbor is probably nice 50 days a year in Bergen (rainiest city in Norway) but today was not what most people call a “nice” day. It was a rainy ass day.
To make a long walk short, I got there, I could feel my socks getting wet and I knew it was time to implement project “keep Jon dry.” This was going to be a challenge since I was now at the other side of the city from the tower. I took out a soggy map, found the first place I could find that looked dry and interesting and headed to Domkirken, a large church that would be great for drying out. Say what you will about churches, but there are not too many places where a guy can go sit by himself and not look like a weirdo. Fortunately, I showed up just as the organist was warming up the big pipe organ. He played a lot of ominous music, it wasn’t like he was playing music to sing to, it was the soundtrack of my day, dark and brooding. I sat there for a good 45 minutes listening to Liberace tinkling the old ivories (the keys could be wooden in this church, but saying Liberace tinkling the old wooden ones sounds a little obscene) before I decided to make a dash for my next location. As soon as I headed toward the door a group of Italian tourists came flooding in to the sanctuary like a slow moving tide of Green Bay Packers running a half-back toss. I maneuvered my way out, practically sprinted away from the church, here is where someone who might have been watching me the whole time I was hanging around the church might draw some interesting conclusions about my internal life, I’m talking to you NSA. Sits for a long time staring into the distance, suddenly gets up, plows through Italian tourists, and dashes into the rain soaked streets of Bergen.
I made my way back through Bryggen, stopping to look in the same stores I had looked in before, and eventually found the Bryggens Museum. This place was great. The heat was turned on, they had a place to hang my jacket, and there was a coffee shop; there was also a museum exhibit about some stuff they dug up. I don’t like these types of historical museums because I am usually not surprised by any information that is presented. Oh, they died early because they lived in filth and had to survive by eating lots of potatoes… I will admit, after I got over the fact that I could get warm and dry, I began enjoying looking at some of the stuff. The boats they built back then were impressive. The early adventurers and sailors had to be brave beyond belief, but I suppose if you lived in a shack the size of a bathroom with 12 other people, and shared a toilet with the whole block, maybe being on the high seas in a boat that could go under at any moment isn’t the worst choice you could make. I also saw some shoes that had little runic symbols carved into them, the craftsmanship and creativity of humans has not changed over time, we have just improved our tools. There was also a letter on a stick of metal. The letter was not translated so I will do the job for you: “Dear Mr. Johnson, Thank you for inquiring about our room to rent. There is space for you, but you must share the room with 11 other Vikings. There are four beds each four feet long. During the winter months you will be expected to provide your own pelts to keep you warm. There is a 10 dried cod damage deposit, and your monthly rent will be 5 dried cod. All electrical, HBO/Showtime, WiFi, and a rock pillow are included in your costs.” I think it said something like that.
I dinked around the museum until I felt a nap coming on, so I headed upstairs to the cafe to get a coffee and waffle. The coffee was lovely, dark, and deep, but the waffle was a little thin thing that I smeared with jam and some white stuff. I thought the white stuff was cream, but I wasn’t too sure so I just moved it around until the jam took over and made it into a little sandwich. It was good. I listened in on four old guys talking loudly in Norwegian a table away and wondered what they were talking about. I assume they were talking about the youth of today and politics, at least that is what I expect all old people to talk about. These guys looked old enough to be in WWII so they could be talking about how they resisted the Nazis.
After the coffee and waffle sandwich, I finally made it to the tower. My Bergen Card was already soggy and limp, but the kind lady in the funny dress gave me directions and told me to watch my head because “some” of the doorways were short. I don’t want to quibble with her use of the word “some” because I am the person who can only speak one language, but “some” would mean that there would be a few that would be short and the rest would be easy to pass through, this was not the case.
If you have a friend who is slightly claustrophobic and you would love to play a joke on them, bring them to Rosenkranz Tower. The tour started in the basement. I am not claustrophobic, but once I was in the basement my little heart was doing some pitter pattering. I saw a little room just off the basement and even though my mind was saying, “Don’t go in there” I went in there. It was a little dead-end room about the size of Orson Welles’ colon. It also smelled a little like Orson Welles’ colon. (I don’t really know what Orson Welles’ colon smells like or why his colon came into my mind as a comparison, but I’d bet 10 Icelandic Kroner’s that it smelled like this little room.) This little room was the dungeon. Well, that made perfect sense. I would never, ever, ever want to be stuffed in this room with the gate closed. The best thing about being in this room was that for the rest of the tour no matter how steep, or narrow things got, I could always remember that I survived the dungeon and I would somehow make it through the tower in one piece. To be honest, I had a great time messing around. I was by myself almost the entire time and this allowed me the freedom to act like the immature idiot that I truly am. Eventually I ended up on the rooftop, which in my pictures does not capture the scariness of the place. I may not be claustrophobic, but I do have a fear of falling from high places especially places that are wet, slippery, and in Norway. I made it all the way around the tower and then headed back down. There were a few more rooms, a hidden toilet, and then I was back where I started. I headed back into the summer monsoon and saw a sign that said, “A free cup of coffee or tea with your ticket in the cafe.” Well, free always has a ring to it, so I headed that way.
On the way to the cafe, I got distracted by a sign that said, “Hakonshallen.” Free coffee is one thing, but Hakonshallen is even more appealing. I followed the sign and soon found myself in a huge hall, it was this dude name Hakon’s hall. This hall was built around 1250 and was the biggest building in Norway. I think there are malls in Norway that are bigger now, but the hall was still amazing. The hall was used for lots of daily King stuff, but eventually (1500) the hall was just used to store stuff. In 1680 somebody restored it and then redecorated in 1910-16. Unfortunately in 1944 a German ammunition ship exploded in the harbor. The hall caught fire (this is the kind of history I like: stuff burning) and was damaged badly. The walls survived because they were about five feet thick, so they rebuilt the wooden part of the hall and now use it for ceremonies again. The white tapestry on the northern wall was a calendar of the important Catholic holidays and events which I liked a lot. I need a calendar that big to keep me on track.
My time at Hakonshallen was well spent, but it came to an end and it was time to make a decision, project keep Jon dry was not going well and my next stop was the Leprosy Museum which was a good distance away. I decided that since my Pension was about halfway there, I would stop at the Pension and change my socks and pants so I would be dry for the Leprosy Museum, you do not want to be soaked while walking through a Leprosy Museum.
After I got my new dry outfit on, I found the Leprosy Museum. I thought this place would be a hoot, it wasn’t. This church in Bergen became a kind of lepers colony for Norway. Of course they did not know what caused leprosy, they thought it was because farmers were too dirty (really, that is what they thought at first.) For a long time the people with leprosy were just housed in very bad conditions. A report was published about how terrible conditions were and things got cleaned up some, but conditions were never humane. There were some pretty graphic things on display that I don’t need to share, but by the time I was half way through the museum I really wanted to wash my hands. I really, really wanted to wash my hands. I started thinking about the hand sanitizer I left in my room back at the Pension and wished I could just scrub my hands. It is my typical response to anything germ related, but it also says a little about how I was unprepared for what I was going to see. It is one thing to laugh off leprosy as a disease of the past, but it is another thing to see pictures of humans who were suffering and mistreated because they were unfortunate. It is times like this when I realize how lucky I am, and how selfish I am. Whoever put this museum together did it with an emphasis on the human tragedy of the people affected and the attempts to solve the cause.
I left the museum and headed to three art museums bunched together by a park. I have never been a fan of realism when it comes to art, but Norway has some nice stuff to paint so I liked the paintings of the mountains and fjords. The best part of the trio of museums was that there was a Munch wing in one of the museums and I could take pictures so bite that Munch’s 150 Years Special Exhibit in Oslo. By the time I got through all three museums it was getting late, so I walked through the Torgallmenningen street and looked at what I guessed was a fisherman’s memorial. I have a respect for people who make a living as fishermen. It is not an easy job, and it is dangerous. I don’t want to even think about what winters are like on the seas outside of Bergen.
My last stop was a quick one, I rode the funicular up to the top of the hill over-looking Bergen. It was rainy, the view was bad, and I was joined by a group of cruise ship tourists. I took some quick pictures and headed back to my room.
Bergen is certainly worth a visit and it has been a good couple of days, but tomorrow it is off to Copenhagen. Weather reports are promising!
The summer my family spent in Hamburg finally put me at ease when traveling by train. German rail is efficient, organized, and wonderfully easy to use once you understand the charts, tracks, cars, and system. Norway seems to have many of the same characteristics, but there is also the “if you have questions, just ask” kind of attitude. Now this works for most travelers, because we do ask questions, but I was not in question asking mode today because I had my little paper that told me where I was going and how I was going to get there. So I journeyed forth fully confident that only a moron could get lost on a trip like this. Let’s meet our moron: He is a tall, 40+ (heavy on the plus) year-old man with travel experience. One would think on a tour built for people who are in their 70s he could manage not to get lost, well you’d be wrong.
Let’s start at the beginning. I needed to be at the train tracks by 7:30, breakfast started at 7:00 and it took about 15 minutes to go from the hotel to the train station, so I shoveled a lot of food in my fat pie hole in fifteen minutes, had I known at the time it would be last meal of the day I might have filled my pockets with bread. Anyway, I got to the train station early because I am an experienced traveler who knows what is going on. I took out my ticket, looked for a seat or car number, did not find one and assumed it was open seating. Finding a good seat as a single rider is easy, so I sat back and relaxed. When the train finally arrived, I hopped on, found a great seat and readied myself for the ride from Oslo to Myrdal. The first part of the journey was to take four and a half hours; I had to change my seats three times because I cannot read. #1: Older couple shows me their ticket, I assume they have reserved a seat, so I move. I have reserved seats before, but it usually comes with a surcharge so I assume it is just because they are dumb and paid extra. Pay attention, Dear Reader, and find out who the real idiot is. #2: Train conductor comes to check tickets, I hand mine over like the pro I am. He says I am in the wrong seat. He then shows me the second ticket in my pack of three, it has a car number and seat on it (Vogn: 3, Plass 20). Any person with a working knowledge of Norwegian (that means people other than me) knows that means car 3, seat 20, in my defense the rest of the ticket has the important words translated into English. So I go back to find my seat in car three, I see it, it is a window seat and there is an elderly lady sitting with her stuff on my seat. Her son says she needs her space (he was joking, but I let her have the spot and sat down up front in an empty seat). #3: A family gets on the train and says, “You’re in our seat.” I tell him that I know where I am supposed to be, stand up, tell grandma to move over and sit down. It ended up being a pretty good seat. Claudia, the old lady, was celebrating her 80th birthday by taking her family on this trip. Claudia spoke with a heavy German accent, so when I asked where she was from and she responded, “Auburn, Alabama” I thought I had misheard her, but she repeated it and I finally clued in that she could possibly be from Germany, but now lives in Auburn. I eventually did hear a Southern accent mixed in there with her German twang, but that was after we were BFFs. I ended up sitting next to about half the family as they all moved around. There was Claudia’s daughter, her husband (retired Air Force), their son (attending private school in Montgomery, second largest private school population per capita in America behind only Jackson, Mississippi. When people find out you are a teacher they talk to you differently. Had I been a lawyer I never would have found out about the terrible condition of schools in Alabama.) I also met Mike who lives in Bonn, his girlfriend, and Mike’s daughter. They were very nice people and tolerated me. I had a nice conversation about the Munch exhibit in Oslo, found out Claudia lived in Chicago, and that her first husband was an Engineering professor. Her second husband was a doctor. She outlived both of them, and from the looks of her, she might outlive me.
As the train climbed into the highest plateau in Europe (according to retired Air Force son-in-law) the views from the train were just what I had expected, spectacular. I also found out no one knew the German word for plateau, darn shame that Germans don’t have a word for that geographical fixture. Had we known this during WWII many lives could have been saved by hiding troops on plateaus. The Germans would order an attack on that flat piece of land way up high and something would definitely be lost in translation. It is these types of observations military historians need to spend a little more time on.
Eventually we ended up in Myrdal, which is like one of those alpine train stations that are very cute because it is one of those cute alpine train stations. I set up camp immediately right next to the big number 9 painted on ground, because I knew it was open seating this time. (The numbers usually indicate where the train will stop. These are the prime locations for anyone wanting to elbow their way to a good seat.) I talked to a guy from California, who said the left side of the train was best, he was right. This set this guy up in my mind as an expert. The little train ride down to Flam was unbelievable. I do mean outstanding. Just gorgeous. The only difficulty was that the lameos who sat on the wrong side of the train kept trying to take pictures on my side of the train. It did not bother me (this is true) but the young Russian couple sitting next to me was really put off by it. The girl went into what I would describe as a silent tizzy and stopped taking pictures altogether and did a lot of eye rolling and crossing of arms.
When we got down to the valley floor we had about 45 minutes until our boat boarded, so I sat around doing nothing. The California guy said that boat #2 was ours, so I moved down that way a little bit, I didn’t think there would be too much competition for seats on the outside and I was right. I got in line, handed my ticket to the Captain, he said, “Norway in a Nutshell?” I said, “Yes,” then he waved me on to the boat. I went up to the top of the boat, got a seat and got ready to be dazzled. The fjord tour was great. I took 10,000 pictures, and was having a great time. I didn’t see Claudia’s family anywhere and hoped they got on the right boat (they did, funny enough.) About two hours into my journey the California guy said, “I was just talking to the Captain and he says we are on the wrong boat.” This is information that I did not want to hear. Thought #1: How much is this going to cost me? Thought #2: Now what? Thought #3: I’m an idiot. (This should have been thought #1.) The California guy did have more information, “The Captain said we can just stay on the boat all the way to Bergen.” Now, this seemed a bit odd since the Norway in a Nutshell package is a well planned trip of trains, busses, and boats. If everyone could just stay on the boat, why wouldn’t they? I asked the California dude when we would get in and it turned out that by staying on the wrong boat we would arrive before the group I was supposed to be with. I would also get to cruise through the Norwegian islands at no extra cost. Had I planned this trip it would cost a lot more. Now, here is where I began to love the relax attitude that Norwegians have. If I had made this mistake in Germany or France, they would have let me off at the next stop and I would be on my own. In Norway, “Oh well, you are an idiot. Take a free ride through our beautiful islands.”
I ended up in Bergen a half hour ahead of time, and got to my Pension before my tour group arrived in town. Sometimes being an idiot is golden.
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.
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.
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.
There are some nice touches to the exterior of the building that give it a Norse flavor.
The Norse Mythology carvings around the exterior of the building were pretty cool. I like Norse Mythology, lots of violence and sex.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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?
After I finished the visit/hike up the Opera House, it was off to take a bike tour.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Top Ten things I am looking forward to during The Summer of Jon
10. Eating three hotdogs each day while in Iceland at Bæjarins beztu pylsur.
9. A full day at the Blue Lagoon. (Slippers and robe included.)
8. Seeing Munch’s The Scream.
7. Spending some time in the Danish Design Museum
6. Visiting the Carlsberg Brewery
5. Taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour.
4. Touring Potsdam on bike
3. Walking though Vigeland Park (Froger Park) in Oslo.
2. Vienna’s outdoor evening concerts/movies at city hall.
1. A full day bike tour of Prague.
Top Ten Concerns/Fears/Obsessive thoughts
10. The exchange rate. There is going to be some weird money on this trip. The Icelandic Kroner’s current exchange rate is about 125 to 1. This sounds good, but I don’t want to have to use skills from my Algebra 1 class in 1850.
9. Angry German bakers. I could avoid German bakers altogether but then I would have to avoid German baked goods…not gonna happen.
8. Being on time. I will show up to the airport three hours before my flight just like I am told, but once I am on the road I don’t want to spend time waiting.
7. Italians walking slowly.
6. Italians cutting in line. Okay this can be anyone cutting in line. Getting off the ferry in Victoria last week I purposely stepped in between a family that was cutting in line knowing that they couldn’t pass through customs as two groups. There is a line people! Get in the line or I will get all Clint Eastwoody on you. (Not the talking to a chair Clint Eastwood, but the Clint that stares into the sun and spits on stuff.)
5. Heat. I am a delicate flower and heat will make me wilt.
4. Not being able to speak the primary language of any country I am visiting. Yes, I am going to assume everyone will speak to me in English. My multiple years of Spanish class will probably not pay off in Iceland. Actually, my Spanish is only good for laughs these days.
3. Being stuck someplace where they play Techno music.
2. Being stuck on the plane next to someone who wants to talk too much.