Neither Ken nor I had ever visited Norway, so we thought – why not now, since we are in the neighborhood? Well, southern France is closer to Oslo than California is. And we have a special reason to want to get to know Norway now because of our new friendship with fellow golfers Erik and Helen who live in Oslo. We met Helen and Erik on a golf course in Cannes this winter where they take regular breaks from the rigors of living in the north-country. As you can imagine, a little lunch on the Mediterranean can be a mighty pleasant antidote to a long, dark winter.
From southern France it’s about a three-hour flight to Oslo, if all goes well. For us the trip became a lot longer because of a plane delay. Our unexpected overnight stay outside of Munich, Germany led us to a small-town, once-a-year beer-garden festival right behind our hotel. Lederhosen and polkas, right? Nope – more like ear-splitting punk rock music, kids in American-logo tee shirts, and lots of cigarettes & beer. Oh well, we needed an early night anyway.
Expectations are so often based on misinformation. Not being much of a geographer, my idea of the world is fairly flat, the way you find it in a book of maps. I would do well to look at globes more often to get a clearer view of the real world I live in. I would then have been better prepared to see the striking resemblance between Oslo, Norway and Anchorage, Alaska; Bergen, Norway and Juneau, Alaska. If we go to Tromso, Norway next summer (a possibility) I now understand it will be like visiting Fairbanks or Barrow, Alaska – not that I’ve been to any of the far north outposts of any country. There’s a great Wikipedia site that gives latitudes and the major cities that fall within them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_by_latitude It was stunning to see how very wrong I was about so many of the correspondences. Who would have thought that Cheyenne, WY is at about the same latitude as Naples, Italy; or that Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Marseille, France are also at similar latitudes. I won’t bore you with the rest, except to note that San Luis Obispo and Rabat, Morocco share the same latitude. I like that – it’s cozy.
Back to Oslo. What a beautiful city. It sits at the head of the Oslo fjord and hosts major shipping and sailing activity as well as a thriving economic center. In both Oslo and Bergen we were treated with the site of a tall ship in the harbor. It seemed quite natural in the setting. Life is oriented to the sea, and to the forest.
Skiing is, of course not just recreation, but also transportation. It was a spectacular experience to go to the top of the famous ski jump, Holmenkollen in Oslo and look down toward the finish far below. A new adventure, possible on days less foggy than the one that greeted us, is to clip into a zip line that follows the exact trajectory of the ski jump and fly down the hill in a harness at 60 kmh. Yikes! Ken was itching to give it a try. Another day.
One of the highlights of our days in Oslo was a walk through Frogner Park where 212 granite and bronze figures sculpted by Gustav Vigeland are arranged throughout the many acres of land. It was a grey and drizzling day–not good for taking pictures. But I highly recommend taking a look at websites that show Vigeland’s sculptures. What moved me so much was not only the sheer size of each one – larger than life-size people, alone or in pairs, groups and masses – but the tender, joyful, aware, concerned, and deeply loving relationships between the figures: fathers and children, two older women in grief, lovers in a trance-like gaze, all intense, powerful, and filled with life. I could have spent an entire day in the park gazing and reflecting and walking, if only it had been warm with at least a little sun.
There were many wonderful sights throughout Oslo, and even though the Munch museum was closed to prepare for a big anniversary exhibit, we were able to see an excellent selection of Munch’s paintings in another museum. Very satisfying.
Helen and Erik suggested we might enjoy a trip from Oslo to Bergen on the Bergen Railway, a train ride that crosses the snowy Hardangervidda mountain plateau, with the highest point at 4,009 ft. We had a fascinating 12 hour day on the Bergen train, the Flam railway-small train down the mountains to a fjord, a boat trip up the fjord, a bus back up to the plateau, and back on the Bergen railway to finish in Bergen on the west coast. Traversing Norway this way gave us a good sense of the climate, the geography, and the beauty of this part of the country. What we had not appreciated until this trip is how huge Norway is. As Erik explained, if you tipped Norway upside down, it would reach well into Italy. Distances are long, population sparse, and life quite rugged.
Following are some photos we took along the way between Oslo and Bergen
Stops along the way down from the plateau to the fjord to see waterfalls and navigate steep terrain.
Did I mention that there are over 170 tunnels on this trip across Norway? It’s the only way to keep passages open year round for the trains. The length of the tunnels is mind-boggling.
And then onto the water in a sturdy boat for a couple of hours cruising the fjord in the rain.
Finally in Bergen a supper with friends from the train and a day of sightseeing. Again a tall ship anchored just outside our hotel window, next to a ferris wheel.
Home in Aix continues to include golf for Ken, with almost weekly tournaments, and sometimes a practice round for Ken and Karen together. One day recently we finally walked to Cezanne’s workshop, not far up the hill from where we live. Karen kept going a bit further to discover the wonderful “Painter’s Terrain” at the top of the hill where Cezanne painted many of his famous renderings of Mont Sainte Victoire. It’s easy to see how creativity flourishes here.
We are always amazed at our luck that we find ourselves in such a warm and welcoming community in Aix, with Monique, Dominique as our “hosts”, and neighbors from around the world, including Marianne and Bob from Cape Cod.
Our travel plans for June include a week in Italy with Monique and Dominique to see Charlotte, their daughter dance with the Italian National Ballet. Then we spend a week in Scotland anchored to the All-Scotland Men’s Senior Championship just down the meadow from the famed St. Andrews golf club. We’ll be looking into Karen’s Scottish ancestry on a visit to the Isle of Sky-the home of the Macdonald clan. There looks to be fabulous walking in in the mountains and along the coast wherever we go.
There’s always much more that we could have said – but it’s best not to try your patience. Feel free to write a note if you have questions or feedback on what you’ve read here. We always love hearing from you.
Bisous, from Ken and Karen