Norway: Oslo and Bergen

June 5-10 2007

random trip report

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I get an invitation to talk at an IT conference in Oslo. This is a convenient chance to visit my old friends Nikolai and Kavitha in Bergen.

5-6 June

I fly from SFO to Oslo via Heathrow - uneventful except for the nightmarish hour-long security line in Heathrow.

Oslo is a harbor town, at the head of a large fjord, surrounded by pine-forested bluffs. It's a bit like Seattle but feels smaller. I take the train from the airport to the central train station. My hotel (Clarion Citadel) is nice but slightly funky, and the air conditioning doesn't work - a bummer because it's a hot day.

Fighting torpor, I take a walk through the pedestrian area, looking for sunglasses (mine disappeared). Oslo has what seems to be a system of free bicycles, which you drop off at special racks everywhere. Prices in Norway are shockingly high; 2-3X US equivalent. I get what claims to be gelato but is actually gross soft-serve ice cream. The hotel has a free dinner buffet which does me nicely. I borrow a fan from the hotel and get some sleep.

Random street scene

Thu 7 June

I walk a couple of miles to the conference venue, a converted textile mill along a small river. I give my talk up on a stage, like a rock star. It goes OK, though the audience is on the verge of sleep. I chat with my host (Morgan) about politics and religion, then walk back on a beautiful path along the river. Many Oslovians are out sunning themselves - lots of pale amorphous flesh.

Oslo has a lot of public sculpture, some of it a bit confusing.

Don't try this at home

Outside the train station

On Morgan's recommendation I head for the Kon Tiki museum, which is reached by ferry. I make some navigation errors, and do a LOT of walking.

City Hall

Ferries in the Oslo harbor

Rock sculpture donated by Eskimos to honor Roald Amundsen

The Kon Tiki museum (adjacent to several other nautical-themed museums) houses the Kon Tiki and the Ra II (or maybe copies of them) and a few exhibits. It's modest in scope, but I find it highly inspirational - Thor Heyerdahl was clearly an amazing person, who realized the essential human experience in several dimensions, and gained expanded awareness and a sort of enlightenment. He did a wide range of things, including studying the ecology and anthropology of Rapa Nui.



I return to town and reclaim my suitcase at the hotel. There's a sailing store next door, and I'm magnetically drawn to a French sailor's shirt, off-white with blue stripes. I buy it even though it's 398 crowns ($65).

I walk to the train station, and leave the 'Tech Camp' sweat shirt (from the conference) hanging on a light pole, a donation to the homeless.

I buy a ticket to the airport and get on a train that turns out to be an 'express' train requiring a different ticket. I complain and am given a complaint form.

The flight to Bergen is amazing - we go over a series of mountain ranges and fjords, with giant glaciers, steep ravines, and huge expanses of rock. My nose is glued to the window the entire way.

Nikolai picks me up. Apparently the current hot/sunny weather is unusual - Bergen gets 3X as much rain as Seattle. He and Kavitha live in a spacious, modern triplex at the base of a steep 1000' ridge south of the center. I have a much-needed beer.

8 June

I loll in bed, then ride Nikolai's bicycle up the hill a bit, looking for a trailhead. Then I ride into town, have a coffee, and poke around the Hanseatic League area by the harbor. It's all tourist stuff, and the combination of bright sun and sleep deprivation makes me weak and dazed, so I head home, stopping at the Museum of Cultural History near the University. It has exhibits on Viking archeology, Henrik Ibsen, religious art, miniature theater sets, and (oddly) the Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

Nikolai returns around 6, and we take the bus to the central plaza, meet Kavitha, and walk through an old neighborhood to an outdoor bar/restaurant on the water. We can't get a table, so we retreat to a typical Norwegian place downtown; I have grilled Gravlax and potatoes with mustard sauce - yum! Nik has the Hossenfeffer.

Me and Kavitha

Nik shows me the trailhead near his house, which crosses an old ski area, abandoned due to global warming.

9 June

Kavitha is organizing a 'blue weekend' for her office; this means they're taken to a series of surprises, in this case bowling followed by an overnight fishing trip, all lubricated with plenty of alcohol.

Nikolai and I drive 30 minutes NW of Bergen and climb Gullfjellet (Gold Mountain). The first Km or so is a XC skiing route with lights for nighttime skiing. Then the trail goes up a lush valley full of noisy birds, then up a steepening grassy slope, and finally a stretch of boulder-hopping and snow fields. It's a muggy day; I strip, Nikolai sweats. From the top there's a fantastic view spanning the ocean, distant snowy inland mountains, and nearby fjords. The route is marked by a series of 29 giant cairns (rather excessive in my opinion). It reminds me of a shorter and mellower Mt. Conness - satisfying and a good workout, but we're up and down in under 4 hours.

Nikolai points the way

Round cairn at the summit

Pinin' for the Fjords

We return home, watch the end of the French Open final, and prepare for a BBQ with Nik's kids Eirik and Hege. Nik prepares huge amounts of various meats (all of which is eventually eaten), and I make a potato salad which turns out surprisingly well.

Eirik has put on a lot of muscle since I saw him last. He's playing goalie on a semi-pro soccer team. He's the backup, but has been playing recently because the starter is injured. He has a match the next day, which unfortunately I'll miss. We talk a lot about training, sports psychology, and performance-enhancing drugs. Hege is working as a nurse and studying for an MS in nutrition. She also loves travel, has been recently to Mexico and Italy, and is about to go to Barcelona. She knows Thor Heyerdahl's grandson, who is currently repeating his grandfather's Pacific voyage. She plays team handball, and describes it as a cross between basketball and wrestling. She spent a year working at the Norway exhibit at Disney World. I ask them both about Nik's merits as a father. After dinner we listen to a song that Eirik wrote and recently recorded in a studio.

Nik and I have a nightcap and retire after 1 AM (at which time it's still fairly light outside). Could this have been a Perfect Day?

10 June

I fly Bergen/Oslo/Munich/SFO. What a great trip!!