A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: mljjs

Edinburgh and on to London

semi-overcast 18 °C

Got to Edinburgh airport to find that the car rental centre was about a km walk away. With our luggage you need to rent a car to get to the car rental centre! Really long delays at the Europecar counter whole had booked with, but no customers at all for the others.

Finally got away after a number of disagreements with counter staff at the car rental provider and a manager who clearly had no intention of ensuring that we were happy customers. We weren't and he knew it. Have used Avis so far this trip and they have been great.

Finally got to Melville Castle later than planned but what a place. Built in the 1700's this castle is set up really well.

Louisa was worried we may be late for tattoo as we were delayed at airport and Edinburgh traffic was terrible. Got to castle at 6:00 and arranged for 6:30 sitting at restaurant. Had to be away by 7:30pm. We had been in non-English speaking countries for last 4 weeks and Louisa felt it necessary to make the waiter and waitress aware of our need to get going by 7:30pm. Louisa took a minute to get out the following;

"We......have .....T...a...tt....oo ...at 9:00.....so.......need .....to....be.....out of.....here....by 7:30!

Yes madam of course was the response in perfect Scot English.

Had some Black Pudding due to the "when in Rome" Philosophy. Not bad actually.

Big crowd, spectacular show. Highlight for me was the Swiss Drummers. Their precision and routine where they swap drumsticks, share their drums all without missing a beat was fantastic.

Precision likewise with the American riflemen, when their rifles are fixed with bayonets and they are swinging and throwing their rifles around and a guy walks straight through them.

Manly-Warringah band was playing on the night. Must have been a huge thrill for them.

Rain held off fortunately as it had pissed down beforehand and the forecast was grim. The announcer went through the list of dignitaries and countries represented in the audience. There would have been at least 70% of the crowd from out of UK. He then drew everyone's attention to a guy in the crowd, the spotlights honed in on him and then he proposes to his girlfriend! He was in the cheap seats too, poor form. Not sure what she said but they sat together through the show.

Edinburgh the next morning to check town out with Jacinda who can come up by train...with a bag that we had left her in London when we took off to Scandinavia. This time though she had filled it with bricks! Could hardly carry it. Checked it into station lockers while we wandered around.

Bought some Anderson tartan, saw some sights and then went back to pick up the bricks and get back to the castle where our car was. Had been a fatality on a bus route which meant our bus was not getting through in the direction we wanted. Had to walk about 2km to catch a bus that would work. Did I mention the bricks? Could have left the thing on the sidewalk for the afternoon as no one could steal it.

Felt the obligation to check out a distillery before we left Scotland and the closest was Glenkinchie. Never heard of it but was beautiful. Very helpful guy there educated us in how to make Scotch. £4 for the tasting and chat. Great value. Tasted about 5 different scotches, working our way to smokier brews. Bloody wonderful.

Plan was to spend 3 nights working our way back down to London. First night was to be somewhere near the Lakes District. Got to Carlisle and called it quits as it was 7:00pm due to our late get away from distillery.

Carlisle hasn't got much going for it but found a great pub with well priced drinks and food.

Noted that their breakfast was priced at £3, full deal with bacon, eggs, tomato, baked beans and hash browns. Hotel breakfast was £10. Too easy.

Got to breakfast next morning at 8:30 to see a couple of tables already in to pints, but breakfast was good.

Windermere or Hawks Head was our destination for lunch. Beatrix Potter territory so was looking forward to some rabbit for lunch.

Lovely small, old towns enroute, and one pub we walked through had been around since 1612. Big sign on one of the doorways saying, "Bend or Bump". Half of this beam had been worn away by foreheads. Doorways were about 5ft tall!

In this pub there was an old collection of porcelain mugs and jugs hanging from the ceiling. In Australian outback it is bras and knickers. I like Australian outback pubs. You can also get a stubby holder in Australia. Have not seen one on our tour to date.

Unfortunately there were markets in every town we went through so once again we were a little behind schedule. We were heading to Liverpool to catch up with Davy and his family and stay at their little cottage. This cottage was built in 1650 and very nice....but it should be mandatory to wear a hard hat when staying there. In two days, if I smashed my head once, I smashed it 30 times....usually followed by some cursing from me and laughing from anyone else nearby.

John dragged me against my will to the local pub called the Black Bull whilst everyone else freshened up at the cottage. Nice place but of course one pint turned into three pretty damn quickly so we raced back and set off for a nice dinner in the middle of town.

Our original plan was for one night here, but getting in when we did and with recommendations from John and Delia Smith, we took up their offer of staying a second night and doing Davy Tours the next day. They believed that Liverpool deserved a little more attention and they were so right.

We went and saw Anfield the next morning, followed by Strawberry Field gates, and the Liverpool docks. Went into the Liverpool shop that is under the Kop, tried to find a Chelsea shirt. The ladies there weren't much help, and just gave me a weird smile. How about a Chelsea scarf then? Nup, same smile. Chelsea drink bottle? Nup, same smile. Could not believe it.

Then on to The Cavern. This is the place where The Beatles made their name and we had a great time there. There was a guy playing Beatles songs and the audience was right into it, so we had a pint and joined in the fun. This place is underground and very close. It was quite warm down there but the atmosphere was sensational.

I handed my camera to Jacinda and went to the gents. I came out and there was Louisa on stage with the guy, all set to sing Imagine with him. I left Louisa in the hands of Jacinda and Davy for one minute!!!

When you see the list of people/bands that have been on that very stage, and there was Louisa. Apart from the Beattles, there has been Chuck Berry, The Who, Rod Stewart, Status Quo, Rolling Stones, Queen, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Oasis, Bo Diddley, to name a few. The guy did bring that to Louisa's notice a number of times to try and build some nerves, but I think Louisa was passed that. Just working on Louisa's stage name and I think it will be Lou Lou.

The guy really made a good time of it and Louisa did very well. The audience was very involved and it gave us the excuse to have a few more pints and soak up more atmosphere. This was 3:00pm in the afternoon by the way, and the place was going off. Being underground and no windows, it really felt like it could have been 3:00am.

Went to the Black Bull for a few drinks with John and Delia. Davy was getting his hair cut for the second time in a fortnight! We stayed on for dinner and then walked back to the cottage. Had a great time in Liverpool and one day may be able to scrounge a ticket to Anfield for a Liverpool home game. Maybe they'll sell Chelsea tops then.

Dropped the car off at Heathrow with 30 minutes to spare and then noted that we hadn't filled the tank up. Petrol here is about £1.20 and Europecar will charge us double that. The guy there was helpful and gave us directions, but the clock was ticking and there p%^%#}{£^ wouldn't hesitate to hit us with an extra day's fee for being 5 minutes late. They tried to charge us £15 per day for Sat Nav! Can buy one for that! Also told us that they don't supply spare wheels....it isn't compulsory. If you get a flat, you'll need Driver Assist, @ £5 per day!!!! WTF?

Anyway we got back with some time to spare and then headed on to our London accommodation. The reception guy informed us that he had "a lovely room for us". We asked for the wifi password and he said that it isn't complimentary, but£9.95 per day. Louisa and I arced up immediately and in his hands he had 5 complimentary 24 hour tokens...."but don't tell anyone". Geez.

Our room is 14 sqm and the double bed doesn't fit in properly. You can only get into it from one side. I know the rooms are 14sqm as that is what the lady said to me in reception when I asked for a new room. They were full and the only room available was an Executive Room.....for an additional £78 per night. Yeah right. Anyway, she agreed to ship in a fridge which was some consolation.

It is well situated and close to Jacinda and railway station.

Off to cricket at The Oval next morning. Bad weather predicted and Australia need 4 wickets. Following day is expected to rain all day. If we get 0 - 10 overs we get a full refund ($100 tickets). If less than 25 overs we get 50% refund. We ended up getting rained off at about 13 overs and met a member who brought us in to the members so we could drink pints in shelter and get a feel for the history of the place. Very old pavilion, but it feels pretty cosy.

Huge difference between Lords and The Oval members dress standards. Lords will let any member in who can prove their membership and wearing suit and tie. The Oval will not let anyone in the their members pavilion unless they are wearing pants! I was wearing shorts and sandals and asked the member we met, whether we'd pass dress regulations. He looked at me with this weird look as though I was thinking that my shirt didn't match my shorts.

I noticed at the ground that one of life's main principles was being broken. If you give the piss, you've got to take it. I was busting for one and had to walk half way around the ground, past 8 bards, to find a toilet! These guys are happy to give it but not take it!

The Barmy Army were singing timely songs like, "Singing in the Rain" and Yellow Submarine". All in good fun but when the players went off for rain there was a massive ovation.

So the Aussies came out a couple of hours later and knocked the Poms over in around 22 overs. Happy days, 50% refund.

Back to a nearby pub for a Sunday roast dinner, and I am still walking through doorways hunched over as though I am about to smash my head again. Probably a good 2ft clearance standing upright in these places, but I refuse to hit my head one more time!

Went and did the Buckingham Palace State Room Tour yesterday. The palace is only open to the public for around 4 weeks a year when Lizzie is at Balmoral. Fairly grand type of pad.

Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms. These include 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. The total floor area of the Palace, from basement to roof, covers over 77,000 square meters.

There are 1,514 doors and 760 windows in Buckingham Palace. All windows are cleaned every six weeks to keep them clean. There are 40,000 light bulbs.

The largest room in the Palace is the Ballroom, where Investitures and State banquets take place today. It is 36.6m long, 18m wide and 13.5m high. It was opened in 1856 with a ball to celebrate the end of the Crimean War. Table settings are exactly 46cm apart and there is a measuring implement to make sure that the President of Wherethefarkarewe isn't asked to sit at a place that only has 45.95 cm. Every setting has seven wine glasses for water and the various different varieties of wine!

The dinner plates were made in 1837 and silver guilted. Do not break one!

Anyway, heading off to airport. 6 weeks went far too quick.

Posted by mljjs 04:51 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

France - Normandy, D-Day, French Drivers

sunny 18 °C

First thing I want to say about France is that, geez they know how to recoup freeway costs through tolls. There are no e-tag type toll points so you need to pull up and queue if necessary. Some are manned, some are credit card enabled, but they appear as soon as you reach top gear at what seems to be km intervals.

We had to hit the panic button on several occasions as it wouldn't accept our cards and everything is written in beautifully fluent French. We googled the bloody things overnight and it seems that on some tolls you take a ticket and pay nothing, but you present that ticket at the next toll and it will tell you how much you owe. If you don't present the ticket then it assumes full toll. I think we have paid for the whole damn tollway.

The other thing is their driving. Soon after leaving Charles De Gaulle airport we noticed the optional use of indicators but the right foot is used with great effect. Cars loom on your backside from nowhere and fling out to overtake like Sebastian Vettel and fling back in your lane so quickly that the arse of their car wipes the insects off your front bumper.

Similarly, when they are merging from a laneway onto the tollway that you are on, they are gunning it so hard that they almost roll their car, and they aren't stopping so you had better flee into another lane or jam on the brakes! Speed cameras are rare but always occur with warnings and flashing lights, 110kmh limits mean 130kmh, and the 130kmh limits mean flat stick.

Once you have that all understood, you are a fleeting chance of getting your money back on the car rental.

As we only had 4 days in France and all of it in the country, we didn't have to deal too much with traffic. The main difference between driving in Australian country and French country (apart from the side of the road that you drive) is the number of small/tiny towns that you have to go through. Speed limit is 50kmh through the towns, and 90kmh immediately as you leave it. You have got yourself to 90, when you see the next town looming.....drop to 50, then up 90 as you exit the town and then the next town hits you.

The houses in the country are built right on the road. I mean right on the road to the extent that if you don't do the Hecter Road Safety Cat process of looking to your right, look to your left and look to right again when you exit the front door, you'll be a statistic or an emblem on the bonnet of a Peugeot.

On two of our restaurant meals we noticed tables of 12 or more people, and both tables all the guys at one end and all the ladies at the other. Aussie BBQ style. Good to see this on the other side of the planet. The difference though is that nearly everyone smokes. In between courses they'll all get up and go outside for a smoke. In one restaurant even the kids went out with them for a puff.

Geez, everyone here seems to smoke. On a warm night it would have been nice to sit outside and enjoy the night, but someone will light up next to you and totally spoil the experience. In some places it it seems to be tolerated to smoke at the door!

Which brings me to the Ando Burger Index.

Burger hunting in country France reveals that the ABI in France is 181. (Interesting number for the Frenchies). This places it only ahead of Norway....like what country isn't!!!

Australian ABI 424
Iceland ABI 200
France ABI 181
Norway ABI 152

The facts:
Average Australian monthly wage: $3,396 AUD Plain burger is $8 ABI = 424.5
Average Icelandic monthly wage: ISK 292894 ($3,000 AUD) Plain burger is $15 ABI = 200
Average Norwegian monthly wage: NOK 34,604 ($5,792 AUD) Plain burger (Mushrooms, Onion and Bacon) is $38 ABI = 152
Average French monthly wage is $3,350 AUD. plain burger is 12 Euros (18 AUD). ABI = 181

Disappointing result really, as the prices in France for alcohol are sensational. I was like a kid in a lolly shop when I visited the supermarket on our first evening to get necessary items. I went to the grog section and saw an extensive supply of beer and wine for prices that had me doing handstands down the aisle. A Chilean red that we had been drinking in Norway for about $90 AUD as it was the most affordable/drinkable red, had a price tag of 4 EUR....$6 AUD......more handstands and this time I nearly took out a row of croissants on display as I didn't quite get my landing right.

So back to the Chateau which was our accommodation for two nights and wake Louisa up for dinner who was having a nanna nap. When she saw what I brought back she was a little surprised that my notion of necessities may have varied a tad from hers, but before she could get a word out I had cracked a bottle of red open and I was in to my booty. Not hard to crack a bottle open here. They have a bottle opener on our room key ring holder. Love the French already.

The purpose though for our fleeting visit to France was to focus on the WW1 and WW11 battlefields. What a bloody disgrace to see so many graves, not to mention the walls that contain the names of hundreds of thousands more who's body was never found! The memorials and cemeteries all seem so quiet and are so well looked after. It is chilling and emotional being at these places that were deemed to be so important strategically that the powers were willing to offer so many young lives.

On our first day we focussed on the WW11 sites around Normandy that contain all the landing sites of D Day 6th June 1944. The French houses here have the flags out of the U.S and France in honour of their liberation and you do get the impression that the U.S. were the only people to take on the Germans in Normandy.

Commonwealth personnel, nearly all British and Canadian, outnumbered the Americans on D-day. Of the 156,000 men landed in France on 6 June, 73,000 were American, and 83,000 were British and Canadian, while the Commonwealth naval contingent was twice that of the Americans.

Air-support operations - often overlooked in the success of D-Day - sustained significant losses: Between the 1st of April and the 5th of June, 1944, the Allies flew 14,000 missions losing 12,000 airmen and 2,000 aircraft.. 127 more planes were lost on D-Day.

There were five beaches, codenamed, from east to west, Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah. Casualties varied widely. On ‘Bloody Omaha’ where around 4000 men were killed or wounded, one American unit landing in the first wave, lost 90% of its men. On Gold Beach, by contrast, casualty rates were around 80% lower. I was a little surprised at how flat Omaha Beach was. The hills behind the beach were very tame and not the cliffs that I was expecting.

When we were at Omaha Beach (site of Saving Private Ryan) it was low tide....very low. I walked 800 steps from the water to the edge of the beach. Fortunately there was very little machine gun fire....well actually there was no machine gun fire but I was wondering what the tide was on D Day. Sure enough, the planners were particular about the timing of D-day. They wanted a full moon, with a spring tide. They wanted to land at dawn on a flood tide, when it was about half way in. That meant there were only a few days that were appropriate. June 5th was chosen but it had to be delayed 24 hours for bad weather. With 80lbs on your back, you probably wouldn't want to have to swim or run too far!

All the beaches are conquered in the minutes which follow the attack, except on Omaha Beach where the American troops are nailed on the ground by intense fire. It is only at the beginning of the afternoon that this beach is secured. The allied losses reach 3.000 soldiers: killed, missing or captive, 2.500 just on Omaha Beach.

Despite all the intense planning, not everything went according to plan. On the night of the invasion only around 15% of paratroopers landed in the right place. One poor bloke called John Steele ended up tangled in a church spire on a church in Sainte-Mere-Eglise thick with German troops miles away from where he was supposed to be dropped. He had to watch from there while most of his mates were picked off. He was shot in the foot and acted dead for hours but was captured. He has returned to the village many times since and they still have a parachutist hanging from the spire.

At Point-du-Hoc the U.S. Rangers had been assigned the dangerous task of scaling the highest cliffs in the area, about 100ft where major artillery was stationed that could knock out both Utah and Omaha landing parties and ships.

The assault force was carried in ten landing craft with another two carrying supplies and four DUKW amphibious trucks carrying the 100 ft (30 m) ladders - requisitioned from the London Fire Brigade. One landing craft carrying troops sank and all but one of its occupants drowned, another was swamped. One supply craft sank and the other put the stores overboard to stay afloat. German fire sank one of the DUKWs. Once within a mile of the shore, German mortars and machine guns fired on the craft.

These initial setbacks resulted in a 40-minute delay (there goes the element of surprise) in landing at the base of the cliffs, but British landing craft carrying the Rangers finally reached the base of the cliffs at 7:10am with approximately half the force it started out with. The landing craft were fitted with rocket launchers to fire grapnels and ropes up the cliffs. They had trained with this equipment at Isle of Wight but always dry....they were now very wet! Most of the grappling hooks fell short of the distance required to easily scale due to the additional weight of wet rope.

The Rangers scaled the cliffs and the Allied destroyers USS Satterlee and HMS Talybont provided them with fire support and ensured that the German defenders above could not fire down on the assaulting troops. The cliffs proved to be higher than the ladders could reach. There are still massive craters at the top of the cliff where the shells had landed, though now they have lovely grass on them and goats grazing. A tad different from June 1944!

Off to the Somme tomorrow for more madness.

Posted by mljjs 02:59 Archived in France Comments (0)

Oslo

sunny 23 °C

We arrived in Oslo after our 5 hour train trip that took us through some elevated towns with plenty of snow and Norway views.

Our cab driver was complaining of "rush hour" traffic at 3:00pm and it took so us over 30 minutes and $50 to get to our centrally located hotel. We later learned that the core business hours in summer Oslo are 8:00 till 15:00. They work harder in winter to make up their hours and work 8:00 till 16:00! They have a 37 hour week over the year and every hour worked beyond 37 is to be taken as leave in lieu of extra hours worked. And EVERY worker gets this benefit. The average Norwegian has 49 paid days leave per year, including public holidays due to the leave in lieu arrangement! I want to work here!

Whilst there was a lot of traffic at 3:00pm for the cabbie to negotiate, 80% of Oslo's traffic is underground. They have an eight lane highway running directly underneath the city. Oil money can do these things.

The restaurant/bar life all happens in the docklands type precinct that is very well set up. We checked out the restaurant menus at about 10 restaurants but they all told the same story. Best you can say is that the meals are good value....compared to the drinks menu!

The next day we walked around town till 1:00pm when we had a bike tour booked. I was in need of a haircut so enquired at the a notably empty Frisor venue as to how much a clipper cut....no. 4 would be. The lady got off her seat, put down her magazine and said, 390 NOK. This is around $65 AUD. I walked out and she picked up her magazine and sat back down on her fat arse.

Anyway, the bike tour was good fun and a great way to see the sights of Oslo with a knowledgeable guide.

We saw the harbour, City Hall (where the Nobel Peace Prize is presented), Royal Palace, and a sculpture park. Largest sculpture park in the world, done by one artist (Gustav Vigeland) though he did have some assistants. He has sculptured all the figures with little hair, no clothing and very little expressions. This was supposedly not to date the sculptures so they will still be relevant way in the future.

City Hall is the most boring and ugly building ever built, but inside it is spectacular. The murals are fantastic. Our guide offered us the opportunity to pee in the same toilet as Obama did, but it was early in the trip so we moved on. Interestingly, we were a couple of kms from the hall at 2:00pm when the hall bells rang out to the tune of John Lennon's, Give Peace a Chance.

We noted a lot of people swimming and diving off the dockland's structures. Apparently the water is often 23 - 25C due to Gulf Stream currents.

On one of the viewing points we could see Oslo's giant ski jump in the hills above the town. After the tour we jumped on a train to go and check it out. The train dropped us a few stations above the jump and we walked down through the forest to get to it. It was a nice walk and many serious mountain bikers were doing the same thing from the train station. Motor cross helmets and full on protective clothing. These dudes were serious and basically dropped straight down from the platform and through tight, steep tracks they went! Never to be seen again.

We got to what we thought was the big ski jump because it was, well a bloody massive ski jump but it turns out that this is only the out of season ski jump. Still as high but has carpet where it should be snow and sprinklers come on before some goose jumps. There are ruts for the skis to stay in as the jumper scoots down the ramp, accelerating at rate of knots that I could not keep up with a camera.

I was just amazed how high the jump was from where I was standing. I was standing about 80% of the height of the jump start. When I saw a guy approaching me with skis, helmet, goggles, and a padded suit I asked him if he was going to jump. He looked at me as if to say, "WTF do you think I am going to do with this crap?"

Anyway, he put the skis on, grabbed the starting arm that he sits on, keeps his skis parallel with the run till he is ready.....crosses his chest 3 times, kisses his fists, confirms with his coaches that they are ready at the observation tower, and unfortunately they are.

Whoosh, off he goes with amazing acceleration, and then he leaps from the jump with skis in a V position and he is in the air visible from where I am for seconds and then disappears. He disappears just long enough for you to think that he has landed on his head, and then you see this dot flying at a million miles an hour on the artificial turf below, pull up before the fence. WOW, and I a just watching. I cannot imaging what it would be like in the suit. Then he speaks to his coach and jumps on a chairlift to do it again. Is that a penalty? This is something that you do once and in the event you survive you move on to the Running of the Bulls or shark diving, not do it again till you break your neck!

We saw a couple more jumps and the common factor in all these guys was that they were late teens early 20's, and they have not even seen a gymnasium. The heaviest part of them and their attire would be the snow flake that may end up on their ski. Perhaps it is the nervous energy sitting so high above the ground knowing you are going to soar 140m, and all going well, land on your feet, in front of 30,000 spectators in the stadium....yeah stadium. Apparently for the World Cup Final, which this venue holds every 4 years , 250,000 people hit the place!

Whilst walking around the venue we could see a lot locals exercising by hopping up the stairs, riding bikes up the mountain and down the mountain at 100kms and hour. We read a warning sign to avoid roller skiers as they have limited ability to stop...WTF, then this guy comes screaming down the hill on roller skis! These guys are mad! It might explain their prices.

So we are now leaving Norway. What a great place for views and activity. Apparently only the Swiss come here and not talk about the exorbitant prices' but you know, I reckon it is almost worth it.

Posted by mljjs 16:21 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Bergen

rain 14 °C

We have had two stays in Bergen. One was just for a night before heading off to Flåm, and the other was for two nights after Flåm. We stayed in the same hotel both times.

Bergen is a lovely city, whose wharf architecture hasn't changed since 12th century. Bryggen, which is the old city on the wharf, has these wooden houses painted yellow, red or white with narrow "streets" running between them that are only 2m wide. These wooden houses burn down every century, the last time was in 1702. They don't muck around here. If there is a fire it wipes out the whole village! They then rebuild it the same way it was, but just a little closer to the water as over the past millennium, the water has receded.

So as Bryggen couldn't be bothered altering it's buildings, the city has now been heritage listed.

Bergen's main produce over the years has been dried fish. You wouldn't believe how much of the stuff they have traded. To me fish rots if left out for more than 5 minutes, so these people leave it out for weeks or months, watch it dry, then sell it. The producers would rip off the merchants by leaving semi dried fish in their bundles, thus delivering a greater weight than what the merchant thought he was getting.

Little did the producers know that they were being ripped off as the merchants weights were overstated. We know that now as these weights still exist and it is clear that most of them are significantly out.

When I was fishing in Geiranger, the crew were offering me some dried fish....literally a 40cm dried fish that they were pulling apart and hoeing in to. I declined at first, but I normally adopt the "when in Rome philosophy" so caved in. It was also free and when in Norway, don't knock that back! That was about 6 days ago and I still have the disgusting taste of fish sinews in my mouth. It has the texture of tree bark and I wish it tasted like tree bark.

The route from the Bergen train station to our hotel is about 250m according to Google maps, though that is from the nearest end of the railway station and we had to walk from the middle of the station. Louisa's main form off luggage is a roller suit case, mine is a back pack. We both have a smaller backpack each as carry on luggage. What you find when you get to Bergen is that the. streets are paved with millions of cobblestones.

Some of the cobblestones are small, around 3cm x 3cm and there are about 2 million of these between the station and the hotel. I know as I counted them. There are 1.5 million of the10cm x 10cm variety laid out 20 in a line to make the road.

Now Louisa's suitcase weighs between 22kg and 23kg and I can tell you that the natural predator of a roller suitcase is the 3cm cobblestone. You can see roller suitcases running for their lives, unattended, back into the railway station when they see these cobblestones.

Judging by our experience, the life expectancy of a roller suitcase weighing 20kg, over 3cm cobble stones is about 250m. It had the living, well suitcases, belted out of it while dragged across these blighters. Towards the end I had to carry Louisa's as it was surely about to disintegrate and spew Louisa's lingerie around the streets of Bergen.

We are hoping the suitcase life expectancy is restarted each trip and not cumulative!

On our first real morning in Bergen where we had the entire day to check out the sights of the place, Louisa looked out the window and saw some sunshine. The previous night was quite balmy so we were hopeful of some nice weather. Louisa looked up the local weather forecast for somewhere nice and found that it was going to be a sunny 23C. We dressed in shorts, T-shirts and took to the touristy sights of Bergen.

It appeared to be pretty chilly outside, windy and raining, but we soldiered on knowing that weather forecasters are never wrong. I did overhear a conversation that morning between Louisa and her mother and Louisa did mention "Trondheim" more than once but without context so I wasn't too alarmed.

When we were sheltering in a coffee shop out of the elements, we both had a Norwegian newspaper and the only thing in the entire paper that we could understand was the weather section. It was there that "Trondheim" was mentioned again but this time I had some context. We were in Bergen, Louisa had had a mental blank and thought we were in Trondheim. This had a little to do with the delta between the weather we were in, and the weather that was forecast.

Bryggen, and especially their lovely old wooden dwellings, is mostly occupied by souvenir shops and restaurants. This is where I get to the boat people, or as some people might say, cruise liner patrons. The bloody MSC Spendida that berthed 50m from our lovely balcony in Flåm, was stalking us. It was berthed at Bergen and it's payload of boat people were smashing the souvenir shops. It was mayhem again. These cruise ships like the Spendida, carry 4000 passengers. The passengers are cramped up in their luxurious ship, but when it is docked they spew everywhere like an over ripe zit, in groups of 50 or more, following a crew member with a sign in their hand to keep them together for part of the journey.

They have rattled off 326 camera shots before they get off the gangplank, normally photos of trees, water, seagulls, more trees, gangplanks, statues, buildings, clouds, cracks in the pavement, their partner standing in front of a tree, their partner standing in front of a statue, their partner walking off the gangplank, their partner taking a photo of them and basically anything that moves or doesn't move.

They then hit these souvenir shops in droves. This is not the time to be souvenir shopping. They have no concept of personal space and will cut into queues and hip and shoulder you away from the "SALG" bin.....my Norwegian is really coming along! There will be no apology or even acknowledgement that they have delivered the best shirtfront since Stan Magro got Jezza all those years back.

The time to hit the souvenir shops is when these boat people are summoned back to their boat caves, much like Morlocks. They have free food on deck and do not miss their dinner time, so that is when it is safe to move around souvenir shops, museums, and markets. Sometimes you can hear the loud ship horns summoning the Morlocks back to their base. This is the opportunity to go about your holiday in peace and quiet.

The weather hadn't really improved and we took some refuge in a McDonald's store to get a quick cheap bite....well that was the plan. I have never been so nervous carrying Macka's on a tray as I was in Bergen. $40 for a medium and small burger meal!! The pressure of carrying such a large purchase, up stairs on a McDonalds' tray was almost too much to handle.....having said that, I should have thrown the lot as it tasted quite ordinary.

Off to Oslo from here, if our suitcase can tolerate the cobblestones. Oslo and Bergen is much like Melbourne and Sydney. Intense rivalry exists between the cities since Oslo assumed the capital city of Norway from Bergen in 1814. Looking forward to it.

Posted by mljjs 15:06 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

F is for Flåmin' Fjords

overcast 14 °C

We arrived in Flåm on the scenic railway via Flamsbana which is a spectacular train journey offering panoramic views of the Norwegian fjord landscape.

Flamsbana is one of the steepest train lines in the world on normal tracks, where almost 80% of the journey has a gradient of 5.5%

The train journey runs through steep mountains, waterfalls and about 20 tunnels. In the span of an hour, the train takes you from the snow capped mountaintop at Myrdal station on Hardangervidda, 863 meters above sea level to ocean level at the Sognefjord in Flam.

Myrdal is also a station on the Bergen railway, which means that Flamsbana corresponds with the trains on the Oslo - Bergen line so we caught a train from Bergen to Myrdal but the changeover was total chaos.

People all cramming on to one carriage with heaps of luggage and attendants not advising patrons where the seating was available, meanwhile the train is honking and the station attendant is whistling. We had luggage on the train but we were out of it trying to find a carriage we could fit on....more honking, more whistling and we basically just jumped on a carriage like hobos as we couldn't afford to be separated from our luggage. 10 minutes later we found a carriage with three people on it up the front!

National Geographic Traveler Magazine has named the Flam Railway as one of the top 10 train journeys in Europe and Lonely Planet named it the best train journey in the world in 2014.

The fjords offer waterfalls bloody everywhere. At least three in every view, dropping at least 800m, that eventually you just take for granted. Any "waterfall" in Australia is generally marked as a tourist attraction, found on postcards and travellers are advised to drop by. Waterfalls that may have a 20m drop and are about 5 - 10m wide are must see attractions. We don't even pull a camera out when on the fjords unless it is 800m. Truly spectacular stuff.

We stayed in a great hotel on the water in Flåm, and about 150m from where our 3 day kayak trip departs.

We got there at 9:30 for introductions and set up, with a weird fog sitting a couple of meters above the water. There were 6 pairs of kayakers in double kayaks and three guides in singles.

Water temperature we are told is10C. Recovery practice was freezing. After practicing on land, we fall out of our kayak, then rip off spray skirt, retrieve paddle, brace kayak, Louisa tries to get in while I stabilise the kayak, Louisa eventually gets in and puts on a paddle float, I then climb in, pump water out, hand the pump to Louisa while I put the paddle float on my paddle and away you go. All the time wet and cold. Got certification though. You should certified for doing this!

Packing the kayaks was interesting. They give you a number of dry sacks to put your gear into. 1 for stuff that you will only need at camp, one for gear that you may need at lunch break, and one for accessible items like sunscreen etc.

You just get into a frame of mind that it will all fit, when they give you your tent and the food that you need to pack into your kayak! Where the hell is this stuff going to fit??? You have two small storage compartments at each end of the boat, and a little room under or between your legs. I had the rudder pedals so these needed to be unobstructed otherwise we would be spending 3 days doing circles around the boathouse.

They teach you about packing fundamentals such as dismantling the tent so that you can stuff it into corners and compressing your waterproof stuff bags and sleeping bags. You also have to stuff your sleeping bags and mattresses into thick garbage bags before putting them in their sacks. Believe it or not it all fits....just.

We had lunch and then off we went to our first campsite, up the Aurlandfjorden for approximately 10 km. There was still some fog around but the water was still and we had heaps of waterfalls spitting at us. Didn't take long for shoulders, wrists, elbows and hands to start feeling sore....which is a bit of a worry 30 minutes into a three day paddle!

We had been told the correct technique for paddling that involves torso rotation, pushing the paddle with one hand and pulling with the other, but what would they know? The symptoms that come with incorrect technique involve, sore biceps, sore wrists, sore elbows, ......OK so maybe there is something to this technique thing.

We are called to form a raft by a guide roughly every 45 minutes or so to get the group back together, check our maps and confirm next section which may include a crossing of the fjord to avoid shipping lanes. We would also take the opportunity to share snacks around and the guides would tell some stories or history relevant to where we were in the fjord.

Often the stories would involve Trolls in some way or another. These poor old Trolls seem to get blamed for everything. One mountain formation was apparently formed by a Troll's angry butt as she got pissed off with the things and tried to pull the mountain down but slipped and fell into the mountain across the fjord!

A troll is a supernatural being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In origin, troll may have been a negative synonym for a jötunn (plural jötnar). In Old Norse sources, beings described as trolls dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves, live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings.

Later, in Scandinavian folklore, trolls became beings in their own right, where they live far from human habitation, are not Christianized, and are considered dangerous to human beings. Depending on the region from which accounts of trolls stem, their appearance varies greatly; trolls may be ugly and slow-witted, or look and behave exactly like human beings, with no particularly grotesque characteristic about them.

Trolls are sometimes associated with particular landmarks, which at times may be explained as formed from a troll exposed to sunlight (e.g., Risin og Kellingin). One of the most famous elements of Scandinavian folklore, trolls are depicted in a variety of media in modern popular culture.

As I mentioned earlier the scenery is so spectacular that you can take it for granted. Staring up at these 1000m cliffs that shoot up from the water, which is in itself up to 300m deep, is damn spooky. There is snow on the top of most cliffs' and for every cliff there would be at least three waterfalls. The water is crystal clear, and we see seals, porpoises, mountain goats, and an eagle and even saw a weasel. I call it a long skinny rat, but it looks like a mix between, rat, squirrel and ferret.

Camp is great and we quickly unpack our kayaks, get our tents up and get into dry gear. What a comfort dry gear is, along with the added pleasure of being upright on land. The organisation that we are paddling with is all about "Leave no trace" camping. This is all very admirable and something that we always try to do when camping, but this mob takes it a little further.

We have bags for organic and inorganic waste. Not even the organic waste is to go in the fire (we had a very small fire going at one point on the first night but damp surroundings made it difficult to get any real heat going). I thought onion waste would be an eligible item to go in the fire but that too had to go in the bag.

Toothpaste spit has to be spread as if spouting like a humpback whale. At least we didn't have to spit into the organic, or would that be inorganic, bag.

We were woken at 7:30am by our lead guide Marta, singing a Polish hymn. Have to say it is probably the best way to be woken in the morning. She had a great voice and just walked through our camp singing like a bird. Lovely.

When breaking up camp and our tents are packed up, we have to "fluff". Yes, we had to learn how to "fluff". I know some of you may have been engaged to fluff in the past, but it was new to Louisa and I. This involves fluffing the grass that your tent was covering during the night. You bend over and scrape the flat grass with your hands till it is standing more upright and you would have trouble even knowing a tent was there 10 minutes earlier. There you go, "Leave No Trace" camping.

The second day starts in Aurlandfjorden and we turn left into the World Heritage listed Nærøyfjorden. This is a much narrower fjord and is spectacular....again. Whilst I am really happy with our photos, thee is no way that photos can do this place justice. You cannot replicate the size, ruggedness, beauty, and the power that millions of years of glaciers took to carve out these fjords, and expect a photo to convey it appropriately. Happy to have a crack though!

We had several fjord crossings to negotiate, one of which Louisa and I were lead. There is a particular formation that involves left and right flanks, leads and followers. This is all due to keeping us in a tight bunch so that we don't ram too many ferries and cruise liners. I don't like the chances of a 4000 person cruise ship weaving its way around 9 kayaks!

The next camp was in a beautiful spot (you would be hard pressed to find a shitty one) right in between three big waterfalls. The one behind us was particularly angry, and about 30m away. I was told that they get turned off at midnight, but on this evening the guy in charge must have called in sick as it raged all night. Not a bad thing, as whilst it was pretty angry, it was peaceful sleeping so close to it as well.

We went for a short 40 minute walk from camp to a Viking burial mound. Nowadays it is basically a very large pile of rocks but it is confirmed to be an ancient Viking burial mound and Viking artefacts have been removed and taken to a museum in Oslo. A helmet and sword were two such items removed. I was just treading very quietly doing my best not to wake big Erik up. I figure he would be pretty grumpy after 1200 years. He was obviously an important Viking to have such a large mound. Apparently he could ask to have his horse and wife knocked on the head to go into the after life with him...now that is a new meaning to, "for better or worse"!

More Polish hymns in the morning at7:30, then we fluffed and got on our way. We had a relatively short paddling stint of around 6 km and we were all feeling the pinch a bit. This brings you back to paddling technique and there is something to it. Due to the aches and pains I spent a lot of time concentrating on technique and the pains disappeared.

After spending a few minutes sitting back in our kayak making a genuine attempt at just taking in what we were paddling in and through, it was time to bring the kayak to shore. We got into our final destination, Gudvangen, for lunch and packed things up for the 20 minute car back to Flåm. Took us three days to paddle the 30km and we drive back in 20 minutes. Mind you, this involved driving through the 13th longest car tunnel in the world, 11.2 km!

There are tunnels everywhere in this place and very impressive tunnels at that. I suppose we're lucky we have the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Norwegians would build a tunnel to Lorne. There is a tunnel we paddled past that was built to service a small town of 18 people! The government wanted the town to continue and realised that without better access to it, it wouldn't. So they built a bloody tunnel to it. Apparently the contract that this tunnel was built on, was worth the paper it was written on. Imagine that, paying for a tunnel to be built rather than paying for a tunnel not to be built. They're pretty smart over here in Norway. In Melbourne we don't build a tunnel because 18 people don't want it....

Back to our nice hotel in Flåm, this time our balcony was on the other side of the building with lovely views across the small harbour. Hot shower was welcome as Louisa was getting on the nose a bit. Beers with our guides and a few other paddlers in a Viking bar next to our hotel was a great way to finish off an experience that will not be forgotten in a hurry. Bloody fantastic.

Did I say beautiful views from our hotel balcony? Well the next morning Louisa opened the blinds to reveal a little "runabout" berthed about 50m from our bloody balcony. The MSC Splendida, all 333m of it. 66.8m high. 4000 passengers and 1,300 crew. There goes a quiet morning in Flam!

http://www.msccruises.com.au/au_en/Ships/MSC-Splendida.aspx

More on these boat people and a couple of Ando theories on them in next instalment!

Posted by mljjs 05:38 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

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