show us ya fjord

I found this quote in Orlando by Virginia Woolf and it seemed like a good place to start…

´Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces. The shade of green Orlando now saw spoilt his rhyme and split his metre. Moreover, nature has tricks of her own. Once look out a window at bees among flowers, at a yawning dog, at the sun setting, once think ´how many more suns shall I see set´etc., etc. (the thought is too well known to be worth writing about) and one drops the pen, takes one´s cloak, strides out of the room, and catches one´s foot on a painted chest as one does so. For Orlando was a trifle clumsy.´

I sympathise with author and character. Except my painted chest is an oversized suitcase on wheels and I do not have a cloak (if only). I am not going to describe how beautiful Norway is. Look at the photos. Or come here yourself. Though if you do come to Norway, heed the following:

  1. Norway is super expensive. Coffee & cake $15. A room in a youth hostel at least $40. Average museum ticket $20. Finding out we´ve all been pronouncing fjord incorrectly…priceless.
  2. Norway expects you to be fit and healthy. They like steep and high things. And they have a thing for massive outdoor museums. To go from one exhibit to another at your average Norwegian museum, expect to walk at least 2 km. Seriously.
    2. a) If not outdoor, museums (such as the Nobel Peace Centre) are likely to have extensive computer based exhibits that take forever to navigate and are so shiny and over produced that they are difficult to get much information out of. I say back to basics people, back to basics! That said, the basics of the stuffed polar bears and seals in the Ålesund museum kind of distressed me…but I digress –
  3. Norway breeds pretty people. Prepare to feel short and round. I also recommend commencing daily massage of your cheek bones to make them higher. And find some way to grow skin like honey.

and now for a little narrative rambling…

I arrived in Oslo very early in the morning on July 7th. It was cold and raining and I was alone. I walked to my youth hostel on top of a hill (the first of many tall Norwegian items to scale) and felt a little lost and confused. You see, I have discovered that when I am alone my emotions work to far greater extremes (yes, yes, I am MORE moody). One moment – such as when I was sailing on a fjord in beautiful sunshine – I feel free and wonderful, an independant traveller taking on the world. The next moment, something goes wrong and I am useless, hopeless, disorganised. Lost… Devastated… And then, ooh! Something pretty! Isn´t life grand!

A high point was my arrival in Bergen, after a beautiful journey from Oslo. Alone, I was not ashamed when tears came to my eyes over the beauty of the town. I found out later that it rains 70% of the time in Bergen, but I missed this rain. I had picturesque sunsets, moseys across the pier and the frisson of walking through forest at midnight feeling alive and even like someone who may enjoy exercise just a little bit.

This luck and good fortune continued when I failed to catch a bus and instead climbed aboard the Hurtigruten (a word I am yet to master the pronounciation of). You can get a cheap ticket ship if you don´t book a sleeping cabin so this is what I did. I sat in a jacuzzi as we sailed out of Bergen, swam laps the next morning at 7 before disembarking at Ålesund. I should mention that this was one moment when it was truly wonderful to be a solo traveller. I felt like a stowaway, surrounded by middle aged German tourists, wandering through the deserted ship at 1am searching for a corner to sleep in. It was eerie and amusing and I imagined I was in a certain X Files episode set on an abandoned cruise ship…I imagine about 2 people who read this will actually know what I am talking about here…

But, my travels seem intent on forcing me to use the cliche of a rollercoaster because no sooner had I trumphantly disembarked in the art deco town of Ålesund* than my luck began to drain…

*Ålesund is built entirely in the art deco style because it burnt down in 1904. I know a lot about the places I have visited, about the leprosy hospital in Bergen, the sculpture park in Oslo, the 11th century church in Trondheim etc etc…but I figure if you want to know facts and history you can look at wikipedia. or come to Norway. so i am writing about me.

where was i…oh yes…a turn for the worse. So I lost my watch in Oslo and funnily enough one is not able to charge one´s phone when one is sleeping in the cafeteria of a cruise ship. So I set off from Ålesund to go to my couch surfing host´s farm in Slyngstad, without phone, watch, or her address. Kamilla was to meet me at 10pm. My bus dropped me off at a small bus stop beside a road, about an hour from the nearest town (or so it seemed) at 9pm. I sat. I read. I thought gleefully that this was all a big adventure.

Then it began to rain.

I became convinced that more than an hour had passed, that Kamilla wasn´t coming, that I was in the wrong place, that I would have to sleep in the Norwegian countryside. I truly started looking for the cosiest patch of scrub…

…and that´s when I started talking to myself. After 15 minutes or so of this I decided to hitch back to Ålesund. But before I could succeed a voice said “Excuse me but you are walking in the wrong direction.” Kamilla came and saved me from certain death by reindeer attack and so off I went to quite possibly the most luxurious couch surfing experience anyone has ever had.

I think I shall start a business pimping Kamilla as a tour guide. I am sure her parents won´t mind a few more house guests…
“Small cottage on farm next to fjord with own bedroom (with ensuite.) Personal host well versed in every aspect of her country´s language, culture and history. Willing to give lessons. In the schoolhouse built in 1895 that is on her parents´property. Complete with antique globe.”


Seriously though, I had such a good time. We picked blueberries from the side of the path (Kamilla says this is very common and unexciting but I don´t care). And we went hiking 3/4 of the way up a small mountain. (see note above, Norway hearts steep things). We watched Norwegian films and ate Norwegian food (though this was limited to a sort of porridge and chocolate because of my vegetarianism).

and then we went to a week long queer youth festival.
and it was awesome.

I am now in Lofoten, islands above the arctic circle famous for fishing, hiking and bicycling. So not really my ideal travel destination. But it is truly beautiful here and I´ve stayed in a lovely youth hostel that is in an old fisherman´s hut, dockside in Stamsund.

…and when I am alone walking along a beachside path near the foot of a mountain or rowing a small row boat or driving my rental toyota camry across yet another fjord…I just quietly practice counting to 15 in Norwegian.

I do prefer company, and look forward very much to seeing Liz in Edinburgh (after next week in Stockholm.) No doubt I´ll feel miserable again soon for I am catching an overnight train and I tend to end up in noisy carriages filled with couples chattering and babies crying and what sounds like broken hinges on the wheels. But I´ve heard Stockholm is very pretty so I´ll soon be gaily bounding through the streets taking too many photos and feeling on top of the world.