Youth-hostelling is usually a great ...
Trip Start Apr 01, 2001
89Trip End Ongoing
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Paul was not happy at being awakened from what little sleep he was able to get and he told this bloke so, in no uncertain terms. Then he pointed out that the snoring had continued, and that perhaps this bloke should check a little more carefully that he has the right person before slapping anyone else
For the rest of the night, not only did we have to put up with the snorer, but also had the "slapping man" pacing around the room muttering about how he couldn't sleep.
We travelled north through Sweden and into Norway on a Swedish train. Now... we had read that Swedish trains are "efficient, clean and comfortable" and perhaps our expectations were too high, but we were both disappointed when we got onto a tatty old train. The air conditioner vent over our seats was broken and made us feel as if we were in a tornado for the entire 8 hour journey, and the table was bent at such an angle that anything we put on it immediately slid onto our laps. Although this train was an InterCity, for which we had to pay a supplement, it stopped at almost every station. Trains in Ialy are better than this!
Oslo station is a casualty of the mobile phone revolution - it is the first station we have seen without public telephones! Having traipsed half way across Oslo, we found a phone and called the hostel for directions. The IYHF don't give you directios when they confirm your booking... They like to create work by making you call to find out how to get there when you arrive in the city.
We arrived at Oslo Haraldsheim hostel tired and hungry. The IYHF "Europe 2001" book says that "all meals are available", so we asked when and where dinner would be served.... "No dinner, just breakfast"... Damn IYHF!
Apparently you can buy a "Pitta-Pocket" individually wrapped frozen snack from reception and zap it in their microwave. This is classed as a "meal" thus entitling them to claim that "all meals are available". OK, so we are starving backpackers who have been living off of bread and tinned tuna for the last three months, but even we don't class a "Pitta-Pocket" as a meal.
We walked to a 24-hour grocery store and bought some real food to cook. At least the hostel has a kitchen. But, yet again, IYHF failed to deliver... In a hostel for 266 people the kitchen is equipped with just 4 electric cooking rings, one pot, one pan, one frying-pan, and dinnerware for about 5 place-settings.
In Norway you really need to get up and go for a run before breakfast. You certainly need an appetite for all that pickled herring with onion, beetroots, gherkins and strange sweet brown cheese.
We bought a 24-hour ticket for Oslo buses, trams and ferries and used it to visit almost all the tourist attractions. At the National Gallery we followed the crowds to Edvard Munch's "Scream". Tonya was more taken with his "Madonna" which hung beside it. It is a rather erotic painting and Tonya was imagining the response it would generate if it were to be hung in a church in Italy. The National Gallery also houses a few paintings by Van Gough, Picasso, Monet and other well known artists, but for the most part, the collections are of Norwegian landscapes by obsure Norwegian artists.
At 1:30pm we watched the Changing of the Guard at the Royal Residence. The guy who was going off duty looked ready for a few drinks having spent all morning standing in a sentry-box wearing a floppy toilet-brush in his hat, and having coach loads of Japanese tourists shove cameras in his face.
Determined to get full use from our transport passes we took a ferry to Bygdoynes which is where several museums are located. We visited the Viking Ship Museum which houses the world's two best preserved Viking ships from the 9th century, and peeped into the Fram Museum... through the windows we could see the Fram, the original Artic explorer ship from 1892. Then we moved on to the Kon-Tiki Museum which was the most interesting. We read all about Thor Heyerdahl's expeditions and saw his original Kon-Tiki balsa wood raft and also Ra II, the papyrus boat which he sailed all the way from Morocco to Barbados.
We took the bus out to Vigelandsparken which is apparently Norway's most visted tourist attraction and contains over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Neither of us had heard of it - Imagine if it was the USA or UK and visiting tourists had not heard of Disneyland or Buckingham Palace!
We arrived at Bergan Montana Hostel at 5pm and spent the evening there. There was an English school group there whose teachers were frantically marking a quiz the kids had done. They were awarded 2 points for each correct answer and one teacher was not able to total up the scores without borring my calculator! It says a lot about the quality of UK school teachers these days!
Bergen doesn't have much to see and we were glad we only had half a day in town. There is a street of brightly painted traditional wooden buildings called Bryggen that appears on every postcard, and a fish market which was full of Japanese tourists buying hundreds of dollars worth of lumpfish roe on their credit cards. They could at least have bought "real" caviar.
There doesn't seem to be much to buy in Norway other than:-
- Caviar... or lumpfish roe for cheapskates!
- Heavy knitted sweaters in bright, bold, Christmassy prints:
We are certain that the only people who buy these are those unfortunate tourists who mistakenly though that Norway would be warm in July, and arrived with only shorts and a T-shirt.
- Trolls: What is the deal with Norway and trolls?
- Viking hats: Yes Tonya had to fight with Paul to stop him buying one!
There is a trip called "Norway in a Nutshell" which costs a sweet fortune. Luckily a lot of the route is free, or at least half price, with an InterRail ticket - So we set off to make the journey under our own steam. We took the train from Bergen to Voss and spent the night at the hostel there. It is in a beautiful location, right on a lake, which would be heaven if only the sun would come out.
From Voss we had to take a bus to Gudvangen. We waited at the bus station with a couple of English guys. All four of us studied the HSD bus timetable and agreed that there would be an HSD bus to Sogndal at 10:50am which would stop at Gudvangen. We waited and waited. Itīs not like Norway for the bus to be late. Finally we asked a passerby and found out that the bus had been and gone... except it wasnīt an HSD bus, it was a coach full of elderly American women which was signed with destination "Lillehammer". We had watched this coach come in, and had assumed it belonged to an organized package tour. So, we had to wait for the 1pm bus. Luckily one English guy had a guitar with him which helped pass the time.
From Gudvangen we took a cruise on the fjord which was wonderful. The scenery was spectacular and the cruise commentary was fascinating. We saw villages of 14 inhabitants whose only form of transport is the daily boat! Imagine what it is like to live there in winter with snow for 6 months and 24 hours of darkness for 3 months! Unfortunately, it wasnīt long before the clouds rolled in and obscured our views. The heavens opened just as we were about to pitch our tent at Flam campsite.
Flam is basically a car park with a couple of cafes and supermarket dotted around it. Right in the middle of the carpark is the train station with a set of rail tracks which come down from the mountain and terminate at two huge bumper-barriers. This is one end of the Flam-Myrdal private railway.
We got on the train and an American guy got on too. He wanted to make sure he got a seat with a good view and he asked us "Which way do you think is forwards?". Are all Americans this dim, or is it just the ones that go travelling? Because we've certainly met more than our fair share of them.
The Flamsbana rail journey had some more great scenery, and even stopped at a waterfall to allow us to get off and take photos. The train then continued on to Myrdal leaving two American backpacker girls merrily taking photos of the waterfall. I hope someone thinks to take their packs off the train and leave them for them to pick up at Myrdal!
We had hoped to travel from Myrdal northwards to Trondheim, but we didnīt want to pay for a bus when we had an InterRail ticket, so we ended up going back to Oslo for a connection to Trondheim. This journey took 13 hours and we arrived in Trondheim at midnight. It was a strange sensation knowing how late it was, but being able to see. We got out of Trondheim as soon as we could - it was raining when we arrived, and still raining when we left. There was really only one thing to see - a church that charged NOK35 to enter.
We took the overnight train from Trondheim to Fauske with a load of Aussie backpackers who hung their damp washing all along the trainīs luggage racks to dry.
The sun was out and the scenery was stunning - for hours and hours we passed fjords dotted with tiny islands, forests, lakes, the odd wooden house, hills, craggy mountains and more waterfalls than we could count. We were tired but at 11pm the sun was shining so brightly and the scenery was so incredible that missing it by going to sleep would have been a crime. At midnight it was still light enough to read, although the sun had just dipped below the horizon. We stayed awake as long as we could just watching the scenery, but eventually we both fell asleep.
NORTH OF THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
At 7am we were woken up by an announcement over the train's loudspeaker that we were about to cross the Artic Circle. The scenery just got better and better the further north we went. There were hardly any towns... even spotting isolated houses was difficult.
Aside from seeing the Midnight Sun and doing some hiking around Narvik, the other thing to see is the LKAB iron ore docks. We did a guided tour which was fairly interesting... as far as docks go! It did give us a chance to chat to a local guy who explained what it is like here in winter. From the beginning of November to the end of February he does not see the sun! It is worse for him than others because he lives in a valley and the hills block what little sun there is. Apparently flat areas get enough sun to read a book outside for two hours at lunchtime, but after that it is too dark. No wonder Narvik is full of beauty parlours offering solariums for rent!
OK, so it's not just Americans that are stupid... we just booked a hostel in Beijing for July when we won't get there until the end of August! Duh!