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Bit By Bit Spending some months in Europe. Let's see how it goes... Check ya later, Barry.

Norway (minus the Vikings but plus another a very important character)

USA | Sunday, 4 April 2010 | Views [649]

Our most successful overnight bus ride yet saw us into Oslo, Norway. Plenty of space, and limited stops. We slept most of the way. There is something about those extended rides, though, that makes one awfully thirsty. We had gotten into the habit of buying a bottle of wine before each journey, because we were unsure of another way to cope that worked out quite as well. So it seemed that the wine would lead to the thirst, but even the times we did not take some we woke up craving gatorade, scarfing what little gummy worms we had stashed at the bottom of a backback, clawing at our clothes, longing for a fresh breeze and a convertible top letting rain in.

Michael says that a few times on the drive he woke up terrified to find the bus careening down mountain passes with fog on every side and in front, making the world shapeless and void once again. He was so caught up wondering when our ride was going to fly over the edge that the only solution was to go back to sleep. Rebecca saw none of this, but she was the first to see the snow. Still the snow, on all sides. But what does one expect from Norway? Now, to see some Norseman, that would be great.

We got in a little before six in the morning, and couldn't figure out if we should show up at our room two hours earlier than the time we had put on the internet, or just wait in the train station. It didn't take us long to decide it would be better to at least give it a try at the Anker than to just sit in a freezing terminal, not yet open. Michael had started investing in finding places for us to stay before we actually got there, and it turned out to work exceedingly in our favor.

As we walked the streets, Michael leading us there successfully from the first go, we passed through a population primarily Middle Eastern. Turns out twenty percent of Norway's population is foreign, giving much-needed aid to the work force. Basically, we didn't get to see any Norseman. But what did we expect in a world fast becoming the same place everywhere? Suprisingly, as different as certain places can be, and with every country offering its own special something, everywhere is pretty much the same. It seems all men think the same, feel the same, and want the same thing, and this all has to do with what is best for them. So even though we were in Norway the building where we stayed was sandwhiched in a neighborhood full of kabab houses and places where women went to get their weave, christened such names as Angel's Afro.

As always, after a long night, we did not do much on arrival. We slept for a few hours, cleaned up, and hit the tourist office. We got set up with the Norway Pass, which is the card that allows free access to most attractions/museums, and public transport. Since we intended on seeing more in Norway than we had in the past, and it required much travel, the Pass was great. You can get them for every city, but doing the math to make sure they add up to what you really want to see is advisable. We even got a twenty percent discount at some restaurants. We also got set up for the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which consists of twelve hours of train/bus/ferry rides that take you through the mountains, and along the famous fjords, where waterfalls pour down from the peaks into the water below. While the journeying didn't sound that fun, we had to make the trip across the country anyway, so why not get a good eyefull while we were at it?

From the tourist office we walked to the Nobel Peace Center. It had barely come into sight before we comtemplated turning back. The fifth ever exhibit had been chosen to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama in tandem. It was called: From King to Obama. "I have a dream...This is our time". The displays were highly praising, reading headlines such as 'Rosa sat so that King could dream, King dreamt so that Obama could run, and Obama ran so our kids could fly'. We found this to be particularly humorous, especially in our current situation, as the private/corporate flight industries have all but gone under and it's virtually impossible to be a small business owner anymore. After the months of not being involved in politics, coming back into the scene just as the health care bill was passed, we struggled a lot with even wanting to return to America. Naturally, our family is in the States and there is no point in being separated from them, but every place we stopped along our journies became a prospective home. The exhibition was a salt on our wounds, making all of the sacrifice given on behalf of the country a waste, stripping pride from the title. How many times on our trip had we been embarrassed saying we came from America? The sympathetic shrugs we got from people, the unapologetic admitting that nobody wanted to visit what had once been the greatest nation on earth. Said nation which now lies in the shadow of a forgotten history. We want no part in it, but how do we get those years back? The redeeming moment of our time through the halls came in a few short lines from Hugo Chavez. A wall was set up with comments on Obama's nomination for the Prize, and the most rewarding was from a man Obama had spent months catering too. Mr. Chavez himself said that Obama didn't deserve it, he hadn't been in office long enough, hadn't done anything to deserve it. Thank God for one moment of sanity. Too bad it came from a communist. What does that say about our own leadership?

Having removed the political soapbox, we went from the Nobel Peace Prize center to the City Hall. Norway has more city halls than churches, claiming to be a government in love with its people. The City Hall in Oslo is one giant canvas, each wall, each ceiling, covered with bright colors, full murals reaching out towards each other, joining to tell ancient Norwegian legends and stories from history.

We visited the Viking Ship Museum the next day. It consisted of some glass cases with artifacts and three Viking ships that had been excavated already a hundred years ago, preserved in some spectacular blue clay since the first century. We learned about the shallower structures, manned by fifteen sets of oars, for leisurly travel on still waters. The more rotund boats, manned by sixteen sets of oars, were for the high seas. The Norseman were genius at boat building, and they were large and fearless people. They stole and plundered what they needed from others less fortunate, and ruled the seas. (As a side note: Viking is a term for any such seafaring folk from all of Scandinavia, while the Norseman are those Vikings particularly from Norway). All three of the ships we saw had been buried fully equipped with tools and riches for the dead who had been set up on their decks, ready for passage into the next world. It is assumed that the chests bearing the money and riches were broken into by grave robbers. We saw fine silk garments, thousands upon thousands of years old, preserved in that blue silk, and the only Viking cart in existence today.

As a side note, we have decided that children under the age of seven should not be allowed through museums. Their level of disruption, whether they are trying or not, is unbelievable. Who wants to pay an arm and a leg to go through a musuem to have youngsters literally running between the exhibits, pushing past people that are simply trying to do the musuem thing by actually reading the plaques and examining the artifacts? Who wants to listen to the toddler repeat the same thing over and over, and have it reverberate off the high ceilings and granite walls? It's understandable that parents want to see museums too, but the options are just not the same for those weighted down by their kids. First of all, if they had the decency to have some control of their offspring, that would be one thing. But you can only do so much to stop the crying baby, and any child older than that would hate the boredom! So a daycare system would be brilliant, or just leave them at home. We don't pay good money to be subjected to your family. Plus, why do people even take their kids on vacation? Okay, so the Carolinas is different, where you can play on the beach and have all sorts of fun as a family. But the historical kind of sight-seeing vacation is just not for the young ones. You might not agree, but be fore-warned, it takes a single little one to ruin an entire experience. And if you still don't agree and it winds up being your little one, than be fore-warned that every single silent individual is secretly judging you and hating your precious child.

From the Viking Ship Museum we went to the Kon-Tiki Museum. Although we had never heard of it before, it wound up being a very special place. It was founded in honor of a Norwegian by the name of Thor Heyerdahl who devoted his life to cultural and environmental experiments. Thor started out with his wife when they were freshly married, in their early twenties, being placed on a uninhabited island with no rescources in order to gather certain samples. They learned to survive off of the island itself, existing in a literal paradise for over a year. It came to an end when the natives learned how to brew beer, and the previous friendship was disrupted by drunkenness. The couple was actually forced to hide out on the beach for weeks until they spotted a passing ship. After much studying, Thor embarked on an expedition to Easter Island, which the natives from his paradise island had told him about. They had spoken of legends that intrigued Thor, and he set out to prove that individuals from South American could have crossed the sea on balsawood rafts and had cross-cultural interactions long before originally assumed. The balsawood raft he and his crew used is on display at the musuem, a marvelous sight, and what a feeling of accomplishment it must have brought. They lived on that raft for 101 days at sea, all of them from different religious and cultural backgrounds (another experiment to see if men from all backgrounds could work together and be friends). The raft was called Kon-Tiki, and it was Thor who brought about the TIki craze in America during the sixties and seventies. He and his crew spent some time on Easter Island, the least populated piece of land on the earth, and together they learned about the culture and practically became part of the tribe. They took casts of the Tiki statues with tons of dental cement, and even built one themselves, walking it across the island with rope like the ancients had done.

While this might seem to be unimportant information, the coolest part about Easter Island is the egg hunt. Every year there was race on the edge of the cliff, where the birds kept their nests, to see who would find an egg first. Whoever found that first egg had obviously been chosen by the gods to be the next leader. See the connection yet? It's the Easter Egg Hunt! Naturally, it would be done on Easter, because of Easter Island, which was named Easter Island because it was discovered on Easter day some time ago. Funny, we never wondered where the Easter Egg Hunt came from, until we learned about it.

At one point in the museum there is the option to take two ways through some mock caves, and Rebecca decided on the smaller, more frightening looking one. You can't see past the opening, and once you gather your breath and force yourself to take the first step, you have just enough time to become comfortable with the new surroundings, your eyes adjust to the dimmer light, and a machine sends a blasting hiss behind you, scaring the daylights out of you. So Rebecca gave a small outcry, and then beckoned Michael. She couldn't hear him very well, but he was chuckling nervously, trying to convince her they would meet on the other side. She berated him, insisting he join her, and not giving in to his request as to the cause of her fright. A few seconds later she saw a tentative white box floating before her, and she realized it was attached to an arm. A few more seconds and Michael's pale face followed, cast in the light from his iPhone. Despite his trepidation, he wasn't nearly as effected by the hiss as his wife, but she was still glad to have something to tease him about.

Anyway, Thor continued to hold more expeditions, and we are intrigued to read his books when we get home. As always, feel free to google this info as we are pretty certain something in our narrative is probably out of timeline, and could even be totally fabricated due to excitement in retelling one man's crazy and adventurous life.

We cut across the street from the Kon-Tiki Musuem to the Polar Expedition. It held the ship which went on three polar expeditions in the early 1900s. The museum was actually built around the ship, which had been pulled onto land. The building was about as cold as the polar regions, and we did not stay long. We only went to use our passes. Once again, we had an easy evening, relaxing for our long day on the morrow.

The Norway in a Nutshell tour was one hundred percent aweome, but the pictures we took really didn't turn out that well. The first five hours were on a train, full of skiers with all of their gear who got on and got off at the small stations we stopped at along the way. It was a winter wonderland outside, the snow blowing and coming down fast and thick. We stared out of our window at those standing on the train platforms, their hair quickly aging with the snowflakes. We watched the cross-country skiers, marveled at the random homes spread throughout the hills, half buried in drifts. We got off that train for a smaller one, particularly for the Nutshell tour. It took us another hour through the mountains, and we passed over tiny villages, fields outlined in rock walls which looked like they had been plotted by holding a string and dropping it over the territory. We went through tunnels that ran us along the clearest rivers and streams, fed by the many waterfalls. In some places the frozen-over falls were electric blue. At one point we stopped to take pictures of one particular waterfall, which had actually frozen over, but the snow hung in the air in large flakes, and it was enough to make us dizzy, make us wonder if we were upside down or right-side up, or inside of a snowglobe. It was the most beaufitul kind of snowfall, and not quite a snowfall at all, but where the snow came down from the clouds and came up from the earth and hovered in space, with us breaking up the most symmetrical kind of dance. In every portion of valley, or on any jutting of precipice, were the little towns, or clumps of pine trees. The truest of greens, those pines were, and the grass the most majestic of golds, everywhere complimented by the smudge and frame of the black cliffside, of the red house and barn. Those rivers that cut through the towns, shallow and slow moving, were of the clearest aqua marine, and you hoped with all your heart that they were full of children in the warmer days. Our two hour ferry ride us took us along the fjord, fed by waterfalls which dropped from teh cliff faces on either side of us.

We took an hour long bus ride to our final train. We were tired by then, and most people napped. The rest of us stared out the window, not getting quite enough. The trouble set in after we waited an hour for the train, and then when we got on the train we waited another hour, and an announcment was made that some woman was nice enough to interpret for us. Apparently all of the trains in the country had stopped since they had all lost radio communications. So this meant they were sending in emergency busses and we had another hour and a half on a bus to get to our hotel.

Well, we got there, and slept in late, and took another five hour ferry to the city of Stavanger, where we spent the night and got up at the crack of dawn, even before that, to get to the airport. It tooks us no more than twenty minutes to check in our bags and go through security, and we marveled at the efficiency of this foreign airport. The marvelling stopped there...

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