Norway 2011: Flying home

I got up early and had breakfast and finished packing.

I went down to the town centre to get the Flybussen. It wasn’t due for another half hour, so I went down to the harbour for a bit before coming back to the bus stop to find it populated by men who’d been fishing and sounded like they were from Somerset.

I got to the airport, checked in with the machine, scanned my own passport and took my bag over to be handed in. The man behind the desk decided I was Norwegian and gibbered at me until he scanned my luggage tag at which point he suddenly realised why I’d been looking so blankly at him.

That left me with three hours until my flight went. I went outside and down by the waterfront to take photos of the spectacular view. It did mean crossing a road where there were no crossings but I survived, in both directions.

I sat and read Sherlock Holmes until my gate was announced, got through security without being searched and then sat and read some more until I could get on the plane.

Nice view, nice flight, arrived in Oslo a couple of hours later. I navigated my way to International where I had my passport checked, bought something to drink with my last few Norwegian coins and got on the plane. Only they’d changed my seat at the last minute. You might think, if you were an airline, that someone who’d checked in online twenty-four hours in advance and chosen a seat right at the back next to a window might have done so because they wanted to see out. Therefore, why not move them so they’re in a middle seat right over the wing? That seems like a perfect choice!

And then no sooner were we in the air than the unpleasant lady sitting on my right decided to close the blinds for the entire flight. I have never hated a flight more, or an airline. I did ask why I’d been moved and the hostess just said “Oh, I don’t know if we’ve even got 25 rows”. I do not enjoy flying blind.

At Heathrow, I collected my luggage which had managed to change planes and not get lost somewhere in Scandinavia and walked the three thousand miles from T3 to Central Bus Station where there was no food and I had to sit and wait for over an hour.

The coach was too hot, the heating was broken, there was a small mutiny up the front which involved yelling at the driver who yelled back. And I do not like the blue LEDs that lit up the entire coach. We all had the overhead fans on but it didn’t really do a lot. At Ringwood, the driver got up and did something inside the overhead locker at the front which may house the heater controls – useless if you can’t get at them while driving – and I think he must have switched the heating off altogether because without the heat, the overhead fans soon began to feel very very cold.

And then I got home.

Rate this blog entry

Norway 2011: Midnight Sun at the Arctic Cathedral

I sat with the bus timetable for quite a long time, debating what time to go up the mountain.

I eventually settled on the 22.22 and went down to the main square to wait for it. Despite everthing I’d been told, the bus driver does not sell cable car tickets. We had a quick five minute hop over the bridge, then a quick trip around the houses on the other side and the driver stopped at the cable car and I jumped off.

The first problem was figuring out how to get in. I went to where there were people standing around (discussing how trees are made of aspirin) but there didn’t seem to be anywhere that sold tickets. I asked them. They said they had no idea because they’d been up there for dinner as part of a tour and hadn’t had to buy tickets. They also seemed surprised that someone should want to go up the mountain so late at night.

I went round the other side of the building and found the ticket man. He sold me a ticket and two minutes later, I was in a cable car.

Unsurprisingly, it was freezing at the top. It’s almost as far north as the European mainland goes, it’s nearly eleven at night, on a wet and windy night and I’m up a mountain. The view was great, right over Tromso Island, there’s the airport, there’s the arctic mountains in the background, there’s a faint glow where the sun would be if it wasn’t so cloudy.

I did not stay up there for an hour and a half. I took the next cable car back down where I discovered it’s surprisingly warm back on the ground. The next bus wasn’t for nearly half an hour, so I decided to do the ten minute walk back to the Arctic Cathedral and decide from there.

When I reached the Arctic Cathedral, I discovered that the clouds were thinning out. There were patches of blue sky. I decided to wait the forty minutes until midnight there and see the sun. The Hurtigrute boat was coming in and so I got to see it coming under the bridge.

The blue sky gradually appeared nearer and nearer the sun. I took regular photos. At midnight, it was unfortunately hidden by clouds a bit but I did see a lovely Midnight Light in the Sky. And I got a magnificent photo of the Ten To Midnight Sun.

There are summer concerts in the cathedral so at midnight on the dot, it emptied out and I was suddenly surrounded by people also taking photos of the glowing sky. Then a bus turned up containing lots of people for an unadvertised midnight concert. There were dozens of people walking across the bridge, under the bright light. The idea of walking back at midnight is a lot less scary at midnight than it is when you think about it during the day.

I waited, hoping the sun would reemerge and I could get a Ten Past Midnight Sun photo but it didn’t, so I headed back. Odd how that bridge seemed so scary on Sunday and it’s now very normal to walk across it. It’s 1,036 metres long and I’ve walked across it in various directions five times now. That’s 3.2 miles I’ve walked over that bridge in the last two days. I got back at about 00:45 and went to bed.

Norway 2011: Tromsø

Today I had my breakfast in the restaurant next door (because that’s where this hotel serves its breakfasts), came back up to my bed for another hour or two and then went out into Tromso. It was very damp and quite cold. Last night I saw a Eurospar supermarket just down the road so today I went in there. They have cheddar cheese! Cathedral City cheddar cheese!

I went down to the TIC where I was told that the last bus from the cable car definitely leaves at 00:15.

I prowled the town until I found the souvenir shop which I’d seen yesterday but temporarily lost and I bought a Norway flag badge for my blanket and a Viking ring.

Then I went up the back of the town in the hope of emerging into something that wasn’t city. No luck. But I did find the Polaria centre, just as the rain really started bucketing down. I may or may not have bought another duck. Just the one.

I went back to the hotel to eat my bread and cheese and stayed there for a long time. It was pouring with rain and while the setting is spectacular, Tromso is not hugely exciting in itself.

When I heard a honking down in the fjord, I went to visit the Hurtigrute boat – the Polarlys, which I saw sailing out of Trondheim on Saturday. Then I wandered down to the left of town and found myself walking over the bridge again. Because it’s very exposed up there, it felt far windier and rainy than it did on solid ground. I was very glad I’d practised walking over it in nice weather yesterday because it would have been terrifying doing it for the first time in that weather.

I sheltered under the pyramids of the Arctic Cathedral and then got my photo taken there to compare and contrast with yesterday’s sunny photo.

Then I had to walk back over. It was so wet! I stopped briefly in the bookshop, as I always do, in the hope of finding Mrs Pepperpot in Norwegian and then retreated to the hotel. I’ve had two cups of “chocolate milk” from the machine downstairs, which both turned out to be very hot chocolate. I thought I pressed the wrong button the first time, but no. I have watched Echo Beach, Top Gear (the one where they pretend to be 17-year-olds) and now Live at the Apollo – Jason Manford hosting and Michael McIntyre on next, so it’s time to switch the TV off. My arms itch like crazy. They’ve been soaked in cool water but it hasn’t helped.

I am going up this mountain tonight and departing the moment I’ve taken my photo of the sun. I am more or less packed and ready to go. Perhaps I will go as early as possible so as to be able to look at the mountains on the other side of this island.

Norway 2011: Midnight Sun in Tromsø

Last night I didn’t go to the cable car. I didn’t go to the Arctic Cathedral either. At 11.35, I dragged myself down to the harbour to see the Midnight Sun so I could go to bed.

The southbound Hurtigrute boat was in (the fourth in my collection) and its name…. Midnatsol.

The sun wasn’t visible from the harbour. I kept walking and discovered that it’s not really visible from town at all. I had to get somewhere reasonably high. The bridge. I headed out of town, got to the bridge at 11.56 and then ran up the bridge so as to be able to see the glow behind the mountains at midnight and take a photo of my watch. I did run up the wrong side of the bridge so all the photos are off the glow behind all the railings but never mind. Today I will go and visit the TIC and find out if there’s some kind of special deal. Otherwise, I think I’ve concluded that it’s not especially scary walking over that bridge at night.

Norway 2011: Trondheim to Tromsø

Today I set my alarm for 7am, with the intention of finishing packing the little bits and having breakfast before being on the bus at 8.15. I packed. I read my book for a while. At 7.30 on the dot I went downstairs only to find the breakfast room locked. I looked at the signs and discovered that on Sunday, breakfast doesn’t start until 8am. I can’t eat, get my stuff and be outside on the bus in the space of fifteen minutes. No breakfast for me today 😦

I got the bus up to the airport. Checked in at the automatic machine. Well, I actually checked in yesterday so all I really achieved was printing out a label for my bag. I took it to the bag drop and the lady there asked if I would like to fly on my fingerprint instead of a boarding card. Obviously! I put my finger on the scanner and then went off through security, since there didn’t seem to be anything else to do on that side of the aiport. Two flights without being searched at security! I am doing well!

I sat for over an hour in the airport. I could have had breakfast and got a later bus. I also discovered that Norway has stolen all my money and I had to use one of the money machines. The first one offered me sterling, Euros or Swedish kroner, which was a surprise. The next machine offered Euros, dollars or Danish whatever-they-spends. The third machine was the only one that had the currency of the country it was actually in!

At the gate, I scanned my fingerprint again. It recognised it! It said “Welcome. Please enter turnstile” and then it printed out a receipt with my name and seat number on it. I don’t think there was anyone else on that plane who was still staring at their finger by the time they were sitting down.

Off we went, out into the fjord. I could see Munkholme and Trondheim just up the fjord as we ascended, then everything vanished in the cloud. Less than an hour later, we were descending again. Turns out my plane thought it was a bus. It stopped off at Bødø where three-quarters of the passengers got off and maybe three new ones got on. It was the most spectacular landing I’ve ever seen. Chunks of rock sticking up out of the fjord, rocky islands everywhere, blue-green water, snow-covered mountains everywhere… I don’t care what Bødø is like, I’d fly there again just to see the view as we come in to land.

Then we were off again, over more mountains. Mountains with a proper knife-sharp ridge on the top and snow all over one face, lakes, rivers, cliffs, narrow winds winding along the edge of the land. And as we got further north, I could see mountains everywhere, all poking up out an ocean that went on forever and it looked like I’d flown right to the edge of the world. It was amazing.

I got out of the airport without seeing anyone official. Not a soul has seen my passport today. I got the bus, got my ticket and we drove off. Within five minutes we were in a tunnel. Not just a tunnel – a tunnel with junctions! I have never seen a roundabout underground and this one had two! I got off when the driver shouted “Thon Hotels!”. Found myself lost. I wandered around, asked people where the hotel was and eventually was pointed in the right direction. My room is much bigger here. I have a double room with a proper ceiling and a massive bathroom and two lots of towels and BBC Worldwide on the TV and you have to put the door card in a slot inside the room to use any of the lights (that one got me at first. Great room, pity it’s so dark).

Then I went out. I’d already realised it was too warm here to need my coat and I put my big shirt in my bag. I very quickly discovered that I’d got off the bus in precisely the right place but it just happens to be just around the corner where I couldn’t see the hotel. All of fifty yards away and I’d really taken the long route to get to it. I also very quickly discovered how hot it was. I went back to the hotel, abandoned all my warm layers except a t-shirt and put on the sandals that I thought I’d been far too optimistic bringing.

Tromsø is lovely. It’s surrounded by great white mountains and arctic blue sky. I wandered, I took photos and then the Arctic Cathedral on the other side of the fjord caught my eye. It’s one of Tromsø’s very few tourist attractions and I intended to visit it. It was only about 2.30 in the afternoon so I went for it. It’s on the other side of Tromsø’s harbour bridge. It’s massive. The map seems to think it’s over a kilometre long and it takes twenty minutes to walk. It’s very very high and it’s quite wobbly and it’s quite breezy up there. Looking at it, I couldn’t understand why it needs to be so high but I have now seen photos and I get it. They didn’t bother with lifting bridges or swinging bridges or anything like that here. They just made their bridge high enough that even the biggest cruise ship can just go underneath it. Apparently, at its highest, it’s 38m (125 feet). The side panels have gaps about four inches high so when you creep close to the sides to take photos through the wire, you can see right down to the water below. A Hurtigrute boat was coming in and that made for some lovely photos against the snowy mountains.

So I saw the Arctic Cathedral. It’s made of eleven triangles, each slightly bigger than the last, just overlapping. Inside, the gaps are filled with clear glass so it’s very light and airy and the east end is a big triangular stained glass window. It’s not actually cathedral, it’s just a local church but it’s still quite spectacular. It was quiet when I arrived but five minutes later, so did a coach party and then it was packed.

The clouds were coming over, so I decided to get back over the bridge before it started raining or got really windy. Back in the city centre, I took my time coming back. I came past the Hurtigrute boat – the Nordnorge. The very same one I saw in Trondheim on Friday morning. Which means that the one I saw yesterday morning as I was about to leave Munkholmen – the Polarlys – should be arriving tomorrow afternoon. On the way back, there was a fire engine busily at work on the junction just around where the bus dropped me off. But the cafe joining the back of the building was still open and packed out and people were still stopping at the traffic lights next to it, despite the water pouring down. And there didn’t seem to be any smoke or any fire damage. In fact, the more I stared, the more it struck me that the water jet looked very straight and narrow, like a pressure washer and that there was a lot of moss on the pavement. I’ll be going back later on or maybe tomorrow to be sure but it did look a lot like the fire brigade and their cranes and hoses were being used to give the roof a good scrub.

I stopped at the Spar – still surprised so many food shops are open on Sunday. I got some mini hamburger rolls – the seeds are messy – some Norwegian Jarlsberg cheese slices – tastes sort of like cheese but there’s something sort of… foreign about them – some chocolate milk and some cheese noodles which seem to be thin nobbly Wotsits. I picked up a map and a bus timetable in the TIC and took them to reception here. I told the nice man that I wanted to go up the cable car to see the Midnight Sun. He checked what time it closes – 1am. No problem. (I already knew that). What about the buses? I’d already figured out which bus I needed to get but the timetable was no use as I had no idea which stop is which. The nice man marked on a town map where I get the bus from and then on the timetable what time the buses leave. Then he turned the timetable over to find out what time the buses come back and found that the last one is quarter past midnight. Which is no good. I can either ask if there is a later bus or I can walk back. It’s about 45 minutes and it won’t be dark. I’ve already done half an hour of that walk today. The cablecar station is only 15 minutes walk from the Arctic Cathedral. And I’ve walked over the scary bridge. And it won’t be dark. But it’ll still be the middle of the night. What to do, what to do?

Norway 2011: Munkholmen

Today, once again, started with a lovely breakfast of bread rolls and apple juice and this time I made more of an effort to notice what else was on offer. Slices of watermelon, huge chunks of pate, pouring yoghurt in all flavours, rings of pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, muesli as well as the stuff I managed to notice yesterday.

I was at the jetty by ten, ready to get on the boat. The sky had cleared and it was warm and sunny. I had a nice trip out on a ferry to Munkholmen. It was the first boat of the day so the island wasn’t yet unlocked. It’s a tiny little chunk of rock out in the fjord, surrounded by unclimbable stone walls and only one entrance.

Inside there are little cottage-like buildings which were apparently prison buildings back when the place was a prison. I spent a very pleasant two hours circling the island (takes about twenty minutes to do a whole circle, even if you walk really slowly and keep stopping to sit on the picnic benches and look at the view. It’s miniature.)

I saw two Hurtigrute boats go out – one the big modern ferry I saw yesterday and one much more what I’d imagined. I saw oystercatchers (which make the most incredible whistling squeaking noise) and grebes (which make an “ooooh!” noise) and eventually worked out how to get onto the beach. It’s a little grey beach with shells and rockpools and it’s lovely.

Then I came back, walked through town a bit and came across my church. And behind it, Amnesty International were celebrating their 50th birthday and there was a band playing. I sat and listened and filmed five songs. They were great – sort of like if Them Crooked Vultures were Norwegian teenagers and had a trombone, ukulele and accordian.

Then it was back to the hotel for food before I went out again. I went back down the pedestrianised shopping streets where I came across a concert band. I heard the last thirty seconds of something nice, found a place where I could get an unobstructed view to film the next piece – and it was Colonel Bogey!

I meandered down to Ting again, bought my Moomin bowl (and will not be doing any more shopping in this country!) and then, since it was sunny, went back down to the harbour. Despite being surrounded by water, it’s surprisingly difficult to get at the fjord here. Everywhere’s harbours or marinas or in some way, the seafront is inaccessible. But down by the harbour there’s a lovely view. I sat on a boulder and took photos of Munkholmen, the fjord and the mountains until it started to rain – that heavy droppy rain that generally doesn’t last long. I came back via the Garden Hotel.

I intended for that to be all I did today but then I decided to go out again, this time heading west towards the hospital. It was founded 13th September 1277 and is bright pink. I went down by the fjord, or as close as I could get, then back to the river, across a bridge, along the south bank of the river. I met some ducks who are friendly enough to get out of the river and climb up the bank to come and say hello. I walked down to a pretty yellow bridge (I have now crossed every bridge in this city) and then I wandered the back streets and go lost. Not properly lost. There’s a limit to how lost you can get in a city this size. I found my way back to the main street and then went to the square to take a photo of the friendly lady statue.

Tonight I plan to have a shower (they cleaned my room today. Took away my towels. Didn’t give me any more. I had to go to reception and plead for some), pack and then go to bed. My plane leaves at 11.05am tomorrow. That means I have to be up early and be waiting for my breakfast when it opens at 7.30. I have my boarding card – there is a computer with printer downstairs, so I checked in up here, emailed the boarding card to myself and printed it when I came in earlier. I have even looked up the bus times. It leaves – from right outside the door – at 8.15 or 8.45. Now I just have to find out how long the journey is so I can decide which one to get.

(And also, that rash I had on my hands in Lithuania? All the way up to my elbows here)

Norway 2011: Trondheim 2

I am cross because I just spent the best part of an hour writing this and it decided to sign me out. I am not rewriting it properly. You don’t get any of the detail that was in the original.

I kicked the low ceiling at least four times last night, as expected. It hurt.

I had a nice breakfast of bread rolls, as much apple juice as I could drink and a little chocolate cake while I read a Norwegian newspaper called the Aftposten. I couldn’t read much but I could at least see what was in the news – the price of the dress Kate wore to meet the Obamas is apparently relevant to Norway’s interests. Also available was meat, both hot and cold, cheese, fruit, dried fruit, nuts, cereal, orange juice, milk, tea, coffee, lots of jam, white eggs and lots and lots of various types of bread. This is somewhere where I will definitely be returning for breakfast.

After breakfast I went down to the harbour, looked at the boats and the station, then went along to the docks where there was a big shiny red and white ferry. I went to the seafront where I could see the fjord and Munkholmen, tomorrow’s trip, hopefully. I came back into town via several bridges, lots of flats and a shopping centre. I found shops where you can buy canoes, hiking boots of all shapes, gas barbecues, Moomin plates, decorative coat hooks, rubber ducks, books in English, comic books and swords. I resisted the temptation to buy Roald Dahl in Norwegian but may have bought ducks. I passed the Radisson Blu Garden Hotel, which is built in the style of the wooden warehouses it apparently replaced. Every other one is a big glass greenhouse and presumably all the rooms overlook these gardens, rather than the outside world.

I came back to the hotel to shelter from the drizzle and to eat some bread and cheese and then I went to the cathedral. It’s very nice and has quite an intimidating front and a little man lurking in the doorway in his lovely red robes and his trainers very visible underneath.

From there, I crossed a bridge and wandered by the river, watched the swallows do acrobatics above the water, found a little secret shingle beach, crossed the Old Town Bridge and took the obligatory photos of the colourful old warehouses. It was very pleasant. It was still grey but the rain had mostly stopped and it was beginning to brighten up and it was nice to wander along the river, looking at the cathedral on the other side, the various birds, the trees etc. Then I walked back to the cathedral along the north bank of the river, past the Pilgrim Centre and back to the hotel via the cathedral, the theatre and the shopping centre that is apparently behind and below the hotel as well as next to it.

Tomorrow’s plans are to visit Munkholmen, which is an island out in the fjord which has been used as an execution site, a monastery, a prison, a fortress and a customs house. Trondheim is very nice but it’s also tiny and I’ve seen pretty much everything. Kristiansten Fortress, which is the Sight, doesn’t open until next week but I can see the outside of it from my window. I also may well buy a Moomin bowl to go with my mug. There doesn’t appear to be very much in the way of either Vikings or trolls here.

Norway 2011: Trondheim

The coach trip up to Gatwick was uneventful, apart from the man in the seat behind me who grunted and sighed every ten seconds for the entire four hours.

Check-in was uneventful.

I had breakfast in Giraffe – toast and orange juice – and then went through the brand new shiny gate to security – there are lots of machines and you scan your own boarding card just like on the Underground – obviously, there were many people who had major trouble doing this.

Security was slow because the machine wasn’t working properly but I achieved getting through without being searched and then escaped into departures where I found Dixons and spent five minutes playing with an HTC Flyer (which is *beautiful*) before setting off for my gate. The plane was delayed ten minutes but we got on – big queue because as usual, the people in the front few rows were determined to get on first and spend forever putting their luggage away and blocking the aisle completely. Most of the flight was uneventful but as we descended over Norway, fields and pine trees and mountains and lakes became visible and as we came down over Trondheim, there seemed to be nothing but water with big rocky cliffs around the edges. I knew we weren’t actually going to land in the fjord but I hadn’t realised how close the airport is to the water – we were almost skimming the surface and it turns out the runway does slightly stick out into the water so even when we were nearly touching the ground, we were right up against the fjord.

Got through border control, got through baggage reclaim, found my bus, got on it, bought a ticket (doesn’t need validating!). The journey was lovely – 20 or so miles of pine trees and water and the occasional lump of bare rock and four tunnels. The first tunnel was Hell Tunnel – very long, quite dark and had at least five phone boxes in it. Out in the fields, there was farmhouse after barn after farmhouse – all rectangle, wooden, painted dark red and straight out of Mrs Pepperpot.

Obviously, there had to be a slight misadventure with getting to the hotel. In this case, I hadn’t realised there was more than one Thon Hotel in the city – I jumped off at Thon Hotel Gildevangen, not Thon Hotel Trondheim. I took my reservation inside, told the lady at reception I seemed to be in the wrong place and how do I get to this one? She gave me directions – turn right, turn left, follow that road until it ends at the main square, turn right again. There’s a statue. 8 minutes walk. Foolproof. I walked along the seafront – I now know exactly where to go in Trondheim if you want to buy a drysuit or a rubber dinghy – and followed the road round to the main square and there was the correct Thon Hotel.

It’s exactly as hostelly as I should have expected but it’s nice. My bed has a sloping ceiling over it which slopes so low I’m likely to kick it all night. The windows have clips so they only open half a centimeter but the clips are very easy to undo and there are hooks outside so you’re clearly allowed to open them wider. My view is mainly the roof of the shopping centre next door but behind that, there’s a nice church (which doesn’t just dong, it plays music on its bells. If I’m in at 6 tomorrow night, I’ll try to film it) and behind that, I can see the city on the hills.

I went back outside to find some food. There’s a supermarket in the shopping centre, literally two doors down and they have bread. I have cheese slices although they’ve apparently suffered during their flight. Never mind, there’s not enough real cheese in them for much harm to be done. I have chococolate milk which I’m trying to drink slowly over a few days and I have very strong sour cream and onion crisps which I’m probably not going to have finished before I get home because they are so very oniony.

I had a quick look down the road. There’s a McDonalds between the hotel and the supermarket. There’s a Burger King round the corner and next to that is another bigger supermarket. I went down to the harbour, took a photo of a drain cover on the way – no doubt the Norwegians don’t even notice them but I do – and tomorrow I’ll go and explore properly.

Rate this blog entry