Norwegian Holiday - or Fjord Fiesta
24 Sept - 8 Oct 2012
random trip report
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We locate the venue, and I talk with Christian B. and others. I attend the IDGF event and give a talk. A group of us goes to a so-so Indian place for dinner.
We go to Oxford anyway. We walk along a canal with houseboats. With the help of a fellow walker we locate Port Meadow and walk across it to The Perch.
This is now a hoity-toity place with a French menu. We are able to escape with a chicken sandwich for L12.
We re-cross the meadow and walk through Oxford, stopping at an ice cream place for a very yummy banana split.
We go by the Eagle and Child and the Lamb and Flag. I locate the old offices of Climateprediction.net, where I once spent a pleasant month.
Nearby there is a large area of gardens and grassy playing fields. Some old folks are playing lawn tennis. We stop and rest in the middle of a giant lawn. Two couples (probably stoned) sit down about 6' away from us and amuse themselves by casting hand-shadows on the back of W's head.
We talk through campus to the downtown area. A group of Muslims is protesting a recent film poking fun at Islam. I repress the urge to tell them about Life of Brian.
For dinner we split a deep-fried appetizer platter at a pub.
I was too cheap to rent a GPS; all we have are printouts of the directions given by Google Maps. These have several major problems:
We're able to locate our first stop - the Solheim Accommodation - only because I happen to see its hard-to-read sign (which actually says something else) as we drive by.
This turns out to be a very pleasant place, run by a couple. The husband is a pianist (classical and jazz) and choir director. He apologizes for the piano being out of tune. They pay the tuner with a free night at the B&B, and he hasn't shown up in a while.
The wife (Carli) directs us to the Good Neighbor restaurant, but this turns out to be fantastically expensive, so instead we get a pizza to go at the nearby Pizza Bakerei. This is also shockingly expensive (180 Kr, or about $30).
Unfortunately, due to bad signage, we've missed our turnoff for Rv336, so we end up driving an extra 45 min or so. We eventually stop at a gas station, get vague directions, and drive the 45 min again the other way.
Notes about driving in Norway:
The drive takes us through a highland area above the tree line, where the color palette is a bizarre combo of reds, ochres, and greens.
We pass through an area of cairns - thousands and thousand of them. I have no idea why.
Finally the road descends by switchbacks to a valley.
It's getting late so we pass up the side-road to Kjeragbolten.
The road dead-ends at the head of a fjord.
The plan was to catch a ferry from here to Stavanger. The ferry dock is here, and there are various buildings and motels. But it's a ghost town; there are no signs of life whatsoever.
We explore a little. The front door of a small hotel is open. The lobby is deserted. We go down a hall and try the room doors. They're open. The rooms are habitable but lack blankets.
We briefly discuss the idea of squatting in the hotel and hoping there's a ferry tomorrow. However, when I carefully examine a paper posted by the dock, I conclude that the ferry stopped running on 2 Sept - a month ago. Google failed to mention this, damn their eyes.
So, if we want to get to Stavanger, the only option is to retrace a large part of today's drive and go around to the south. So that's what we do. It's not as bad as I feared. We pull into Stavanger around 9:30 PM, and locate our hotel with some difficulty.
The hotel is functional but charmless (hotel rooms should not have bright fluorescent fixtures reminiscent of government offices).
Then we realize that in fact the road has ended and we need to take the ferry. We do yoga poses on deck and jump around a bit. I get irritated with W for asking me to take too many pictures, and she gets doubly irritated in return.
The drive to Bergen is extremely scenic.
We arrive at the Marken Guest House. It's on the 4th floor, and the elevator is ancient and smelly. The reception is closed - what the f***? One of the guests - a helpful French guy - says his credit card works as a room key. Mine doesn't. There's a phone on the wall. It connects you to a management company whose contract with the guest house has expired - no help.
A British couple is in the same boat as us, and have been there for an hour. They've been told that someone is supposed to come at some point. Someone mentions that there's a "terminal" on the 1st floor where we can register. The Brit and I go down there. There's no terminal, but a piece of paper posted outside suggests going to the nearby pool hall if reception is closed. We do so and - viola! - they have our room keys there.
Once this fiasco is resolved, the guest house is actually a nice place. It's a hostel - shared kitchen, laundry, etc. - with mostly private rooms.
W and I go in search of food. There's a Vietnamese restaurant, appallingly expensive. However, across the street is a grocery store and we get the makings for spaghetti with meat sauce. I cook. It's challenging because a) the stove doesn't get very hot; b) the supply of pans and implements is limited, and c) a group of Taiwanese is preparing a 6-course feast and is dominating things. But eventually I get the job done and we have massive plates of spaghetti with sauce, beef, mushrooms, and peppers.
The wife of the British couple joins us for a cup of tea and we have a wide-ranging conversation. Her daughter (32) is a well-known London painter who painted Maggie Thatcher at one point.
Then we get back in the car and drive to Flam.
We stop at a rest area with stone picnic tables.
The scenery is very dramatic. Many waterfalls run down the immense fjord cliffs.
This drive is mostly in Fjord country where it's not easy to build roads. So instead the Norwegians make tunnels. A significant fraction of the drive is in tunnels. The longest one is 25 Km. One tunnel has a couple of large caverns that are lit with psychedelic colors - a nice touch.
We arrive at Flam, a tiny place with a railroad station and a few small hotels. Our hotel is on the shore of the Fjord, and its balcony offers a spectacular view of the Fjord and the immense cliffs on each side.
There's a grocery store. W notices that, although meat in general is expensive, salmon is strangely cheap, so we get some and I cook it for dinner - extremely good.
We take a short walk in the hills above the hotel, and to the small harbor along the shore a bit.
We survey a map of local attractions. Strangely, there are few hiking options. We go for the most interesting-looking of these, which turns out to be along a paved road with switchbacks. We liven things up by taking a semi-trail through a forest and a farm, and then back to the road. W gets goat poop on her shoe and has a mild panic attack.
We return to the car and drive to Oslo. E18 is inexplicably closed at some point so we detour on the smaller 9. We stay at a large hostel in the outskirts of town. It has a shared kitchen. I make salmon with a huge amount of crispy garlic and mashed potatoes and steamed baby carrots.
I make fresh pasta with pesto and zucchini, together with leftover mashed potatoes.
Aside: hostel kitchens are a microcosm of human society. A surprising fraction of people are completely thoughtless, in various ways not worth going into here.
We go the the National Gallery, a small museum with paintings and a few sculptures. I really enjoy it. There's a whole room of Edward Munch. The other rooms each are devoted to a specific period and style, mostly Norwegian but with a few works by Picasso, Monet, Modigliani etc. It's small enough that you can look carefully at every painting in a couple of hours.
We get a ticket - Kr 500 - for parking in a handicapped zone, which I feel was not clearly marked. Dang!
We drive to the airport and go our separate ways - W to Paris, me to London Gatwick. My flight is pleasant except I'm seated next to a fat guy whose cologne is so strong that it makes me wonder if it conceals something.
I take the bus to Heathrow, then the local bus (105) along Bath Road to my hotel (Ibis). Note to self: they announce when the free zone ends. Get off there, and the Ibis is another 100' on the left.
The last time I was at the Ibis the check-in line took an hour. This time there's no line, just a delay because the guy mis-hears "Anderson" as "Henderson".
The Ibis has a reasonably-priced bar/restaurant. I get a burger and a pint of Foster's. Life is good, at least for the moment.