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Michael’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Location: Nordkapp, Norway

MapEntry 35 - Norway (20th May - 29th May)

It's been a whilse since I updated, but a lot has happened, and there is plenty of video to keep you interested... hope you enjoy. Photos soon I hope.

By now everyone on the bus had a serious case of EARWORM, with our day song 'Oh My God' by the Kaiser Chiefsbeing played at the start of everyday. Saturday we had a long drive to our camp 50 minutes from Oslo where our Viking games took place. We were placed in 4 different tribes and had to produce a tribe name, history and chant. After presenting to the Viking council
(tour guide, cook and driver) the games began around the camp fire. The games included a hammer throw, 2 relays, an egg toss and a sack race. At this stage the I started using the term glorified school camp to describe the accommodation, meals and some of the activities we were taking part in - certainly not the spew and screw that Contiki has been branded in the past. Although that was totally expected given our remote locations. In the end, a few drinks (Hypnotic mixed with cheap Champagne... don't ask) were enough to keep us interested in the games, and Clint and I had to represent our teams for the presentations to the council. Should probably have made use of the video camera for these moments of comical genius - though they were few and far between!

The camp fire, and drinks, kept us warm till it went dark. You could safely have been playing golf till probably 1030pm, and the twilight lasted till about midnight. There was no need for torches to get to the toilets, the sky remained light enough to walk there unassisted. It was one of the rare times that the shit rainy weather actually stayed away from us for most of the night. The following morning the shit rainy weather was back and we headed to Oslo. First stop was at the Holmenkolen Ski jump, used in the 1952 Winter Olympics - prior to winter and summer Olympics being offset by two years. It is safe to say that it takes massive balls to launch yourself off that jump... MASSIVE! We walked to the edge of the jump and all stood in awe at the distance markers on the side of the landing area that started at 60m and went up to 119m before going below the water line. Later we found out that the record was 136m set earlier this year, and the water is actually 25m deep and gets emptied every September. The museum there was great with heaps of skiing history and examples of the development of ski technology - the Norwegians consider themselves the founders of skiing.

We then climbed to the top of the ski jump, which was enough to make you wonder why anyone's would ever want to jump! The site of the city would have been awesome if it weren't for the clouds and rain.

Now, I imagine that Oslo is far from a raging city at the best of times, with only 500,000 odd people, but on a Sunday, it's dead.

We first stopped at Vigeland Park, which is a part of the much bigger Frognerparken, just on the edge of the city. The section of the park is full off life sized granite statues created by Gustav Vigeland, over 200 of them in total, depicting the circle of life. All statues are naked, and range from babies, children, adults and the elderly in a staggering array of emotions. Then we headed into the heart of the city and grabbed some Maccas. Now the cost of living here is expensive, but this is ridiculous. Five guys all got Maccas, and not heaps of it, and it came to just under $88 AUD! My medium McChicken Value Meal cost me $16.62 AUD.

Then we walked to the Akershus Festning, elevated on the eastern side of Oslo harbor giving some nice views of the rest
of the city. Within the gardens is the Akershus Slott (palace), but we didn't bother heading inside.

We then walked to the National Gallery for one reason only. Inside was Edvard Munch's, the best known Norwegian artist, Scream. It's a wavy painting of a guy on a boardwalk, with his hands on his face and mouth open in a'd know it if you saw it. Anyway, we joke that it was drawn after a guy walked out of Maccas and say the price of food. Inside was also a self portrait of Vincent Van Gough, complete with missing ear.

From here we headed out to Bigdoy peninsula and another Viking ship museum. Three Viking ships had been pulled ashore, upturned, and used as burial chambers. The blue clay they were buried under preserved them extremely well. Afterwards we headed back to the city center for dinner and Clint and I split a
large pizza ($35.59AUD) before heading back to the camp. A pretty quiet night with most people coming together for a couple quiet drinks and some cards.

An early morning, and most of the day was spent on the road heading to Andelsnes, through Lillehammer the home of the 1994 winter Olympics. We stopped at the Lillehammer ski jump, which wasn't as impressive as the one at Holmenkolen, but we were allowed onto the landing area and that was good just to walk on it and get a feel for just how steep it was.

We had lunch in Lillehammer, which to my surprise was really only one road, and by now it was raining pretty heavily. After lunch we headed for the best activity to date - bobsledding.

Of course, the weather has been shit, but not to the point there is still snow in the area, and in the off-season, they run wheeled bobsleds down the track. Our sled, consisting of 3 of the biggest guys on the tour, was by far and away the heaviest, so we went last hoping to post a winning time.

I walked the length of the 1171m track and watched a few of the other teams come past... Man it looks fast. The first one to come past actually sounded like a plane as it approached, and I looked up to see the plane, only to have the sled fire past me. We perfected the take-off technique (you're strapped in and
everyone else push starts you) then imparted the knowledge to the team pushing us. The second last team posted a 67:74, the best to date, and team Pimp My Sled flew down to post a 66:97, for an average of 63km/hr, max speed reportedly over 100km/hr and pulling upwards of 4g. The track record is 61 sec flat with
professional starters and a dry track. More importantly, the video camera survived the trip, and the view over the drivers right shoulder was recorded for eternity.

We drove on to our next destination, Andelsnes, and the rain finally subsided and the sun came out. What a welcoming. The camp site we stayed in is wedged in the valley between two lots of mountains, still with snow and ice on them, and has the most crystal clear blue water creek running through it, filled with
water running off the mountains in the form of waterfalls as the snow and ice melt. A great place for our tour group photo, but of course, there was a case of BLINKSYNC.

The only catch being, Clint, Mark and I got stuck in a caravan, whilst everyone else got cabins.

That night we made use of the good evening weather, and set up a bonfire after dinner. Sitting round the fire, one of the ice ledges in the mountains broke and the ice showered down the mountain, looking like someone had opened the valve for a damn releasing a shower of water. The sound was incredible and the
ice came rushing down the side of the mountain and came to rest on the rocks about 2/3rds of the way down into the valley. My first every avalanche, to add to my first earthquake. This all happened at 1130pm, and was seen clear as day, the sun not setting till after midnight.

Tuesday started the same as most days had - with the sound of rain on the caravan roof. Given that we were going on a boat cruise in the Geiranger Fjord, it wasn't the start to the day we were looking for. The whole length of the drive the rain continued to pour down, and it continued as we boarded the boat.

That didn't stop people shoveling down their lunches and heading outside to see some of the most amazing scenery.

The fjord had the most amazing aqua colored waters, 300m deep, with sheer cliff faces up to 1600m high on either side, covered in the last parts of melting snow for the season. This of course lead to the most amazing series of waterfalls depositing more fresh water into the fjord. The fjord we were in is the second largest in Norway, and extends 85km from the port out to the Atlantic Ocean, cut out by the glaciers at the end of the last ice age. Looking more like a Japanese tourist by the minute, I took near on 60 photos in half an hour, but the old Olympus won't do the scenery justice.

Back at the port we wandered around the souvenir shops for a while and I tried on some of the local clothing!

From there we headed to the local supermarket to grab some beer. Now the drinking has been minimal so far on tour, and this will explain it perfectly. I bought a six pack of Norwegian beer for 150 kroner, which at yesterdays exchange rate equated to $32.42 Aussie dollars. That's a bit too rich for me, and that
was from a supermarket, I'm too scared to go into a pub to see the price of a pint.

From there we headed back to our camp along the Trollstigen Pass - the scenery in this part of the world just keeps getting better; and for once the rain was welcome! As we headed to the pass, the snow topped cliffs got closer and closer to us, to the point when we were surrounded on either side by snow. Soon after the only thing not white was the road we were driving on, and the snow was packed window high on either side of the bus. Then it happened, the rain became snow and EVERYONE on the bus turned off their mp3 players (even the PODDICTS), put down their books and was staring out the window. Even the 'new friend-maker' Clint's gameboy was given a rest. The bus stopped and we piled out for a massive snow ball fight - cabin (ok, caravan) fever had set in, and it didn't take much provoking to get me to snap... Reminiscent of a tackle I once made on court 3 at Kilsyth basketball stadium!

We piled back on the bus, everybody's clothes soaked through, and the rancid smell of stinky shoes with wet socks filling the bus... But it was so worth it!

From there we headed to the actual Trollstigen Pass. The road winds down the mountain in a series of the steepest, tightest, hair pin corners I've ever seen. We stopped halfway down for another photo opportunity, with a huge waterfall from the melting snow above us running down on one side of the road, under the bridge, then back down the hill on the other side of the road, and the road winding back and forth below us. It was officially the most picturesque day of my life... All you photographers out there, book your tickets now!

After a rain filled dinner back at the cabins, we headed to the bar and I 'savored' my $32 six-pack whilst playing cards. A few of the boys appeared to have been denied KITCHEN PASSES by their misdus. We celebrated Andrew's birthday and he got a cup-cake; apparently full cakes are too expensive. As most people left, Edmund, the owner of the camp, joined us for a couple drinks
and brought out some chips and smoked pork sausage - actually quite tasty!

Around 1am we called it quits and I walked back to the caravan under the fading sunlight! We were seriously looking at going out to get in 9 holes golf at 930pm if it hadn't been raining! The rain did have it's advantages though. When we woke up today, the mountains on either side of the camp looked as though they
had been lightly dusted in icing-sugar! And the rain had finally stopped! We heard another avalanche as we ate breakfast, but it must have been on the other side of the ridge, as we couldn't see it.

We headed up to the university town of Trodenheim, stopping on the way at a town called Dombas. At 940am it was a warm 3 degrees, but dry and still, so it was very comfortable.

The drive was beautiful with the whole area having been covered in a fresh snow dump, just a week prior to summer! People referred to feeling like they were in Narnia, which I have never seen, and again the scenery was phenomenal. The train
track set a beautiful black and white picture, and as a red locomotive sailed through, everyone's eyes were drawn to it, as it was the only piece of color on the horizon. Wish I'd had a chance get some photos here, but the tour must roll on...

We arrived in Trodenheim early avo and had a few hours to wander around this university town. Different people used their time in different ways, but we started setting up for our 1 night only tour of Trodenheim and Clint AKA Mike Lowery was in true old school form trying to find the places to go on a Wednesday night during the exam period. Luckily, the following day just happened to be a public holiday, so there was a chance we'd have a crowd.

We found ourselves in a shopping center and Clint continued to ask every gorgeous girl he saw where the best place in town would be.

We had heaps of ideas, then one girl in a shop (selling New Era baseball caps for $110 AUD, told you Norway was expensive!) said she and her girlfriends were going to 3 different bars - that pretty much sealed the deal.

We went back to the hostel, got dressed up, and went out to our optional dinner at Dolly Dimples all you can eat pizza and then for a game of bowling. The pizza was good, the bowling sucked (well I did anyway!). From there, Clint, Matt, Simon, Scott (AKA Jim from Jim's Mowing cos he keeping cutting grass) and I headed out to the pubs marked on our map by the shop keeper. At 1015pm it was apparent that despite Clints efforts we'd been stood up, and headed back to the center of town to catch the coach back to the hostel. In a last second decision, Matt, Scott and I jumped off the bus and decided to try and find a place worth visiting in this town.

We finally found a couple of clubs that had been mentioned to us during the Day Tiger Tiger and Rio. There were a few more clubs in the immediate area, but I walked up to Rio and the two girls standing out the front, figuring they were 'door bitches'. They were in fact the only 2 patrons of the club at this stage (about 1115pm) but between them and the bouncers, we figured there was no cover charge, beers were only $5.50AUD and it was due to fire up between 12 and 2am. We headed in and watched the club slowly fill up.

I headed to a couple of the other clubs that were filling up quicker, but they had $11 and $18 cover charges, plus more Norwegian typical beer prices of $13.20 each. Then I wandered down to Tiger Tiger and they had no cover charge, and the
dancefloor was packed - beer was still at $13 though. For the rest of the night I bounced between the two clubs, and soon realised that was what the locals were doing as well. Rio finally packed out around 230am, and by 330am everybody was out on the street, with all the clubs having closed. After talking with locals
for almost an hour, we headed back to the hostel, walking home in the daylight that never left all night. We were in bed about 5am, and on the road by 7am, so most of the Thursday was spent sleeping on the bus, waking briefly for our 15 minute stop in the town of Hell. I can officially say I've been to Hell, and next year when I get home I'll say I've been to Hell and back. There were no
souvenir's, but I reckon there's a market for "My friend went to Hell and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" t-shirts, and a Hard Rock Café Hell T-shirt.

Our next destination was at Mo-I-Rana for two nights in the middle of nowhere. Our cabins were on the side of a river, and we had a nice big bon-fire to keep ourselves warm. A bunch of local 16 year olds joined us and brought us some local booze and taught us a bunch of Norwegian words. Again it started raining,
and we finally headed to bed, wet and smoky.

Friday was Lil's 20th birthday, and was supposed to be one of the best days on tour, but unfortunately 'weather' issues screwed us over. We were supposed to go to Svartisen Glacier for a picnic lunch, but the 'weather wasn't good enough'. We later found info out that the glacier doesn't open till June, independent of weather conditions, so we were never gonna get to go. Instead we went and explored the underground caves in the area at Gronligrotta. Most of the avo was spent not doing much, accept playing a bit of soccer, and we took a brief trip to the Arctic Circle Center, which sits on the imaginary line that separates the
arctic circle and the rest of the world. Lil got her birthday muffin, and again that night it rained, and most people spent the nights in their cabins. We had people come and go in the cabin, and I drank my $11.50 beers from its 1.25Lt plastic bottle - sooooo classy!

Saturday was the second longest day of the trip, with an early rise and late arrival to our destination of Ramfjord. We stopped briefly in Narvik, a place so far removed from the rest of Europe it seems weird that the town and area was under Nazi rule during WWII. The Nazi's knew they were going to need huge supplies of iron ore, so they took over the mines in northern Sweden, and in
turn Narvik, the port town in Norway that the railway from the mine extended to, in order to ship supplies back to Germany.

We arrived in another incredibly picturesque setting for the night on the Ramfjord fjord. Pretty soon, and number of us had scoped the facilities and changed into our swim wear. Simo and I headed down first, then I ditched the thongs, ripped off the T-shirt and ran hell for leather at the water.

Ten paces in and the water seemed deep enough to dive, and cold enough to numb you the second you hit the water. The chill of the water a you hit it head first was instantaneously paralysing. To make matters worse, the spot where dived was at a ledge, and when I went to put my feet down, there was nothing. I
felt myself sinking, looking up, trying to get my arms to swim and my legs to kick. On my way out I passed Simo coming in, and immediately started feeling warmer. The water temp, just below 5 degrees Celsius, was so much lower than the air, your body actually didn't mind standing around, but I dried off, had a
shower, and got warm again quickly. In the end 6 guys and 6 gals took the plunge out of the 46 on tour.

Sunday we took off on what is officially the longest day of any Contiki tour schedule, worldwide. The day starts with a 630am departure, and ends at just before 4am... Damn. Most of the day is spent driving, with a breath-taking stop at Gildetun in the morning, and lunch at Alta,exploring the open air museum of
rock carvings by the Sami people (similar to Inuits) dating between 2500 and 6000 years old. At around 4pm we arrived at the campsite in Hammerfest. Setting up camp and making dinner on the cards, and around 7pm we headed off for our 3hr party ride to Nord Kapp. All liquored up, we had the music cranking all the way along the road.

Nord Kapp is the northern most point of Europe, and in summer the sun simply skirts the horizon, rather than actually setting. Only 8% of the visitors to Nord Kapp are lucky enough to see the 'midnight sun' due to almost constant cloud cover. With our tours shit run with weather we figured there was no chance
of seeing the sun, but at our lunch break, the sun came of for the first time in more than a week, and everyone had their fingers crossed.

As we travelled along the winding roads, the mood of the bus continued to change with the weather. As the clouds set in the party atmosphere became more sombre, then as we drove out of the clouds, cheers would go up through the bus. When we finally arrived at 10pm, the weather was holding out, and we realised we were above the clouds. The clouds were actually sitting somewhere between the top if the cliffs andvthe water of the Artic Ocean below.

By midnight the sun was low on the horizon, but still well above the clouds. It was so incredibly beautiful, and made the last week of shit weather so much more bearable. We then took the bus back to camp, arriving at about 315am, in full daylight and all had a great sleep. I slept so much I missed cooking duty for breakfast...oops!

We head for Finland tomorrow, so more info on that soon.