- 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.
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.
I sat down with myself, as I often do, in a chair in front of my computer and asked myself a few of the questions people have asked me since returning from TSOJ. This will be my final blog entry for a few months because I have a couple secret writing projects I am working on.
How did The Summer of Jon come about?
TSOJ happened through a series of fortunate events that I will not detail here in fear of boring everyone to death, but the main reason I was in Europe on my own was because I am not an understanding travel companion. My wife has endured a few of my trips and did not want to spend her vacation on a forced march across Europe. I am aware of my “problem” but I cannot help myself. If I am somewhere new I want to see everything, and, sometimes that leads me to avoiding things like food, rest, and bathroom stops. For example, when I did the Norway in a Nutshell and got on the wrong boat I did not eat for about 13 hours. I refused to pay for a boat hotdog and decided that I just wouldn’t eat. A personal decision like this is not always popular with my family members.
How did you plan your trip?
I have never used a travel agent and actually enjoy planning trips so I spent a great deal of time putting the pieces together for my trip. I always start with my airline ticket. I spent about a month watching airfare and trying to estimate when rates for the summer would drop. Flying from Seattle to Europe is not cheap, but Icelandair usually has the best rates and there a few oddities about the airline that made me finally go with them. The first oddity is that all of their flights go through Iceland (not that odd considering the name of the airline). You can chose to fly right through after a layover in Iceland, but why would you do that? A few days in Iceland is a great way to shake off the jet lag and there is no stranger place to visit. You can extend your lay-over and the airline ticket cost is the same as if you stopped for an hour. Iceland is expensive, but it has the best hotdogs in the world and has the world’s only penis museum.
The second oddity about Icelandair is that it is cheaper to fly open-jawed. My flight went: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Munich–Iceland–Seattle. Had I gone: Seattle–Iceland–Oslo, Oslo–Iceland–Seattle it would have been more expensive. I knew that I would start somewhere in Scandinavia and end somewhere in Southern Europe, so I went to the airline website and began plugging in dates and different flights until I hit one that would be as cheap as possible and allow me some flexibility in planning.
After I had the flight booked, I decided where I wanted to go in between my arrival and departure. This part of the planning is the most fun for me. I knew I wanted to go to Oslo, Prague, and Vienna, and I wanted to go back to Copenhagen and Berlin. All I had to do was connect the dots. Then I looked for the cheapest and most efficient way to go from point to point. (Fly if in Scandinavia, train if in the European main land.)
The final piece was then hotels. There are lots of affordable spots to stay in Europe, but I found that I could save a ton of money by staying in places with shared bathrooms. Some people may not like this, but here is a little secret: Most of these hotels have only a few rooms that share the bathroom, so it isn’t too bad. You will also have a sink in your room. I also make sure that breakfast is included in the price. You can get an inexpensive breakfast in Europe, but I like being able to pig out in the morning and breakfast restaurants are not on every corner.
If you were to re-plan your trip, what would you do differently?
I would trim a day off of Reykjavík and add it to my time in Prague. I would also take one of my Munich days and add it to Vienna. All of the places I went were wonderful.
Logistically, I would take earlier trains, or reserve a seat. Trains leaving after 10AM are filled with college-aged-backpack-wearing EuroRail users so there is always a battle for seating and the trains are crowded. An early train is less likely to have those EuroRail folks because it is before they are awake.
What were some of the highlights?
The Vigeland statue park in Oslo. Getting on the wrong boat on the Norway in a Nutshell tour. Eating Thai food in Berlin. The evening bike tour in Prague. Vienna…just all of Vienna.
What was the loneliest moment?
Good question. I can tell you exactly when because it was strange. I was walking along the waterfront in Copenhagen. There is a nice wide path that leads all along the waterfront to the Little Mermaid statue. It was a beautifully clear day and I had been on the road for about a week and a half. I was listening to my iPod and a Macklemore song came on. The song reminded me of my family and wished they were with me. I recovered by eating some ice cream.
When were you the most lost?
I don’t know. In Norway if you count distance, Copenhagen if you count time it took me to get back to a familiar place, and Munich if you count directional sense. I still have trouble understanding how I got so turned around in Munich.
Why do you get lost so much?
I have decided the reason I get lost when I travel is because there are no mountains around. Where I live it is easy to get oriented by looking at the mountains or ocean. Flat land confuses me.
What scared you the most?
Climbing the church spire in Copenhagen. I really did want to turn around and go back. I don’t know if I could go back and do it again. The afternoon bike tour in Prague was not for the weak-kneed either.
What was the strangest thing you saw?
I saw a lot of odd things, but in Copenhagen I saw dwarves ( not little people, but like Lord of the Rings dwarves). I don’t know how else to explain it but I went into a store in Copenhagen and there were people dressed in felt tunics and felt pants. The tunics and pants were embroidered with fancy designs. They had those pointy shoes with a bell on the tip and had little deer-antler knives tucked into their belts. They were not dressed up for some party, I could tell that this was the clothing they usually wore. It was like a time machine had dropped them into Copenhagen and they were trying to figure out what the hell happened. I wanted to take a picture so badly, but refrained because I didn’t want to get stabbed to death by a dwarf in a supermarket.
What is the dumbest thing you did?
Aside from getting on the wrong boat in Norway? Probably eating the sandwich in Prague that was “Mexican flavored.” Really, really bad choice. Oh, buying my day-glo shoes in Berlin could be considered pretty dumb, but I kind of like them now.
What is the smartest thing you did?
Before I left I would have to say buying my backpack/carry-on bag from EBags. It is a great suitcase thingy. Once I was on the road I think most of my choices were pretty good.
What’s the deal with bike tours?
There is no better way to see a city in my opinion. The bus tours are okay, but bike tours allow more freedom and it is a great way to meet people.
Will you ever have another SOJ?
I hope so, but who knows. I think people need to do their own Summer of ______________.
Don’t you think it was a waste of money?
Travel is never a waste of money. I will quote Thoreau, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”
Let’s end the interview like they do on Actor’s Studio.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
What turns you off?
What is your favorite curse word?
I don’t really swear. (I have just been informed by family members that I do swear.)
What sound or noise do you love?
Laughter, specifically the laughter of my family.
What sound or noise do you hate?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would like to get paid to write. I wouldn’t mind being a tour-guide.
What profession would you not like to do?
Anything where I have to sell stuff.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
That was funny.
- Final Thoughts on TSOJ (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- TSOJ: Bike Tour Of Munich, Free Shower Included (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- TSOJ: Munich – What to do? Let’s get lost. (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- TSOJ: Final Thoughts on Copenhagen (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- TSOJ: Prague – Aussies, Bike Rides and Dealing with Being Sick (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- TSOJ: A Trinity of Vienna’s Cathedrals, and Why is Siegfried’s sword so small? (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- TSOJ: Final Thoughts on Vienna (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- TSOJ: Vienna Has Excellent Drinking Water, or Does It? (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- TSOJ: Vienna’s Belvedere (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
- TSOJ: Berlin, like a local (that speaks no German) (joneekhoff.wordpress.com)
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.
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.
I am a George. There are Kramers, Jerrys, and a few Elaines out there, but I am a George. Now, I don’t mean that I act like George Costanza or want to be George Costanza, I simply mean that I enjoy humor that is uncomfortable. Kramers are people who like slapstick, Jerrys like observational humor or situational humor, Elaines are…I’m not sure of what Elaines are but I just started drinking coffee this morning and my iTunes update has me in a bit of a tither. (What happened to my interface? I am now going to have to spend ten minutes figuring out where everything is again. If you are reading this from a work camp in China my problem probably sounds minor, but let me assure you iTunes updates take a toll on the human soul.)
The Summer of George is one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld. George freed from all of his responsibilities, plans to spend the summer in self-indulgent activities. It is the fantasy of many adults and a fantasy that I will be living for a month this summer. I have taken on a few additional work responsibilities at the old salt mine and will be getting some extra cabbage at the end of December. I should take this money and invest it in green energy or find a PO Box in the Cayman Islands to send it to, but instead I am going to ramble. By yourself? Yes, by myself. Don’t you have a family? Yes, and they are encouraging me to go which either means they love me or they can’t stand me.
Where am I heading on my Summer of Jon? Well, since I don’t have airline tickets yet I will give you a rough outline: Reykjavík, Oslo, Norwegian Fjords, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Munich. I have been to a few of these locations before, but this time I will be able to travel “Jon style”: Cheap hotels, getting lost without getting in trouble with my family, eating occasionally, walking fast, spending zero time looking for bathrooms, and seeing at least ten sites a day. (You might see why no one wants to travel with me.) While the details are still up in the air, I did receive the first real evidence that this trip will be taking place: my suitcase.
I will be traveling for about 30 days and taking one carry-on bag. Is this foolish? Maybe, but it isn’t like I am going to be attending the Opera in Vienna in coat and tails. Now if someone wants to meet me in Vienna and take me to the Opera, I would be happy to send along my measurements, but what I want to see in Vienna hangs on a wall and isn’t going to care if I wear shorts and a T-shirt. What I want to see in Oslo is a painting of a dude holding his face standing on a colorful bridge. You don’t need to dress up to order the best hot dog in all of Europe. (Reykjavík if you were wondering. There are three reasons to stop in Iceland: the hot dogs, the Blue Lagoon, the countryside of Iceland.) This trip will be an informal, come as you are , event.
Let the planning for the summer of Jon begin. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!