Norwegian Holiday - or Fjord Fiesta

24 Sept - 8 Oct 2012

random trip report

[Click images for large version and again for full resolution]

The annual BOINC workshop is in London this year. After the workshop I arrange to tour Norway in a rental car with my friend W.

Tue 25 Sept

From Heathrow I take the Picadilly line to Russell Square and walk to the nearby St. Athans hotel. W. arrives soon thereafter. We share a pasta dish at a pub (splitting dishes becomes our default, and it works out well). We take the tube to the river area and walk from London Bridge (generic - the original was moved to Arizona or someplace) to Tower Bridge.

Wed 26 Sept

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.

Thu 27 Sept

BOINC workshop. I talk first. Lots of good talks.

Fri 28 Sept

A few more talks, then hackfest. A group of us goes to an Italian place for dinner.

Arnaud, me, David, Travis, Joachim, Christian, Michael, Wenjing

Sat 29 Sept

We arrange to meet Joachim, David and Travis at Paddington at 9:30 to go to Oxford. However, we fail to notice that Euston and Euston Square are distinct stations, and this leads to some additional tube riding. Plus, when we get to Paddington, it's unclear how to get from the tube station to the train station. We show up around 10:20 and the other guys have gone.

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.

Port meadow in Oxford

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.

The banana split

We go by the Eagle and Child and the Lamb and Flag. I locate the old offices of, 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.

Sun 30 Sept

We take the tube to Victoria, then the train to Gatwick. We fly to Oslo (about 2 hours). We pick up the rental car, a white Ford Fiesta diesel.

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:

  • The printing process capriciously removed the first step from each page.
  • Although a small map is included for each turn, it shows only the local context. If you get lost, you're s*** out of luck.
  • Although distances are given, I can't remember the odometer readings reliably enough for these to be of use.
  • W is initially nearly useless as a navigator, although she improves considerably as the trip progresses.
  • Initially we don't have a road map. Mistake. The first couple of gas stations we stop at don't have one. Eventually we find one, and everything is way better.

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).

Mon 1 Oct

We set out for Kjeragbolten - a legendary rock suspended at the top of a thousand-foot crack in a cliff. We stop at a delightful place for lunch and see a rainbow.

Note the rainbow

One of a bazillion waterfalls

The Ford Fiesta. Nice car.

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:

  • There's suprisingly little traffic.
  • Except for the vicinity of Oslo, there are almost no divided highways. Everything is 2-lane roads.
  • Secondary roads, especially in the mountains, often narrow to about 1.5 lanes, with no median stripe. This means you have to be alert going around each blind curve, because another car might suddenly be heading toward you.
  • Many mountain roads follow the contours of the land. No rocks were dynamited in their making.
  • The combination of these factors makes the driving very fun, but also exhausting.
  • It also makes W car-sick, for which the only remedy is to go to sleep.
  • The radio stations are crap. Bring the MP3 player next time.

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.

Highland landscape

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).

Dinner in Stavanger

Tue 2 Oct

I get up in time for the hotel breakfast, which is paltry, and we head off to Bergen. We stop at rest area adjacent to a ferry dock and cavort around a little.

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.

Sun 3 Oct

W and I have discussions that keep us indoors most of the day.

Sun 4 Oct

We walk a bit around Bergen, visiting an old castle and a military history museum.

Hanseatic League guild halls

A museum of old houses - closed

Then we get back in the car and drive to Flam.

We stop at a rest area with stone picnic tables.

Skipping some rocks

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.

Kidney beans finally get used

We take a short walk in the hills above the hotel, and to the small harbor along the shore a bit.

Sun 5 Oct

The fjord is calm and beautiful in the morning.

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.

Graveyard by the Flam church. Most of the dead are named Flam, BTW.

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.

Sun 6 Oct

More discussions. In the afternoon we go to a castle and walk around the harbord area.

Why is this picture here? Look carefully.

City Hall in Oslo

FDR praised Norway during WWII, so they made a statue of him

This sunset wasn't all it might have been

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.

Sun 7 Oct

We drive into downtown Oslo and park. We're accosted by a pair of fresh-faced girls who ask if we've heard of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. I resist to urge to tell them what I think of their corrupt and putrid religion.

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.

Oh no! I left the oven on!

I have a print of this in my living room!

The Dance of Life

Detail of the above - kinda creepy

Self-portrait by Munch

A token Van Gogh

This Norwegian artist used very little color

Callipygian women

I'm sure there's an innocent explanation

Token Rubens

I like this guy

This sort of caught my eye

A huge, brilliant painting

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.

Sun 8 Oct

I take the 105 bus back to Heathrow. It's the usual gamut of loathsome luxury stores, with an attractive young employee in the door of each, like the hawker at a strip club. I have L1.37 in change, and in the end I break down and buy a Cadbury's bar from a vending machine for 80 pence. During the flight I read a good chunk of "The Jagged Orbit" by John Brunner, and do several Cox and Rathvon WSJ puzzles.

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