Oslo, Norway – 1st stop

Checked the oil, filled windshield wash, kicked the tires and stuck the key in the ignition. Hugged my mum, got behind the wheel and turned the key.

Let your friends know

On the road again
The simple motion woke up the equivalent of 210 horses and slowly the car rolled backwards out of the drive way. I waved a last time to mum on the porch in her bathrobe and rolled down the suburban street where I had grown up. Turned left and passed by the school where I had spent some of my teens, onto the highway and picked up the pace. Ahead the longest road trip of my life which Google maps had calculated to exactly 6868 km scheduled for 23 days in a ten year old car with 80000 km (50 000 miles) on the clock.

Good to go
I had thought of what lay ahead of me for years, the landscape I would encounter up there further North than I had ever been, the roads I would drive and even the music that would be the soundtrack to the landscape flowing by outside the window. It was all there in my head. In the back of the SUV raingear, Wellingtons, gloves and hat, 12 V water boiler, a cooler bag with food, mattress, blanket, changes of clothes and lots of camera gear. As the morning sun bathed the highway in soft golden light the RayBans came on as did Tom Petty the Heartbreakers and the cruise control.

Up the Swedish west coast the car rolled through yellow fields of rape seed, over hills and around towns in the shadows of spinning wind mills. I chuckled as I passed a truck with the text “Johnny Brottom” (“Fast Johnny”) a word play joke on Johnny Rotten so typical in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. The town was also the birthplace of the Volvo XC90 which would take me around the Scandinavian peninsula during the next three weeks. A ping from the sensor on the inside of my wind screen indicated that there would be a bill for congestion charges coming my way in the mail as I stuck to the highway thoroughfare. With the city in the rear view mirror I had reached the halfway mark of today’s distance. The traffic became sparse and the forested landscape followed the road. At the shopping center in Strömstad many Norwegians stopped to stock up as they got more bang for the buck in Sweden. Out of me they got only gas money and the cost of a burger meal for an early lunch.

Hello neighbour
As the Norwegian border approached I recalled my last visit to Norway during a hitchhike adventure in Southern Norway. I had been 19, miserable and needed a break. Then the rain had gotten the better of me and when I was invited to stay in a tent camp surrounded by Christian worshipers I just wanted to go home. Now however I had my own wheels, accommodation, could stay dry and choose my own company, so I had come up in the world. Without even thinking of it I crossed into the neighboring Nordic country over the tall Svinesundsbron (Svinesunds bridge).

An hour later the search for the centrally located hostel in Oslo was on but I got lost in the tunnels under the city and drove around for a while before getting my bearings straight along the grand Oslo waterfront. It was time to check the Norwegians out.

First up were their roots and what better place to feel them than at the Vikingship museum. A barn looking building with extensions housing three excavated Viking Ships and artifacts left with the ships. The ships were all burial ships and had been found nowhere near water. Instead it was believed (and fairly well proven) that the ships had belonged to prominent tribe members or chieftains and they had been buried onboard the ships together with artifacts and precious belongings. The best preserved of the three was named the Oseberg ship after the location of the find in 1905. The ship measure over 21 meters with a quarter of that in width, making is fairly stable. Fifteen pairs of oars, a mast of about ten meters and a sail of around 90 meters square could give the boat a speed of around 10 knots. With elaborate woodcarvings in the bow and stern of the ship it must have been a very precious belonging and prized possession. It was likely in use for more than 30 years before it was turned into a burial ship.

When it was found on the Oseberg farm the remains of 14 horses, an ox and three dogs were found. Perhaps the most precious belongings had been looted but remained was also was elaborately carved wooden carts and the remains of two women in woolen dresses. One of the women were probably over 60 and suffered from severe arthritis whilst the other was younger. It was quite obvious that one of them were very wealthy perhaps even Queen Åsa the grandmother of Fairhair (Harald Hårfagre) or as other speculates a shaman when she was buried in 834 AD.

What is obvious is that it took some serious guts to set off to cross the North Atlantic in an open boat like this, No cover, no cabin, no engines just the mercy of the winds and their own biceps. Really Gutsy.

Real Guts
Whilst the Vikings were crossing the North Atlantic perhaps South Americans were crossing the South Pacific to Polynesia using simpler means. The Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdal assembled a team to prove the point. Based on illustrations by Spanish conquistadores he roped together balsa wood, erected a mast and built a shelter onboard the Kon-Tiki raft before setting out on a 101 day transpacific journey. The original raft is on display at the Kon Tiki museum just down the hill from the Viking ships. However Thor did not settle for only one trip he did it again with Ra II (Ra I sank before the mission was completed), this time to prove that it was possible to sail and drift from North Africa to the Caribbean. Perhaps he thereby hurt a bit of Norwegian national pride as he proved that already 2500 years before the Viking Leif Ericson set foot in America someone else had done so leaving Columbus a distant third.

The rest of the afternoon was taken in around the Royal castle at the upper end of the Oslo aorta Carl Johan. The sun was shining offering locals and tourists alike Oslo at it’s best. Students played in the grass and Chinese tourists took selfies with the castle as backdrop.

Down by the waterline the view of the city is very different where glass facaded office buildings reflect the sparkle in the water of the Oslo fjord. The new Opera house named “snöhetta” (snow cap) invite to a walk on the roof and offer some of the best views of the fjord. The stark white marble stone roof contrast against an evenly grey sky as a chilling wind drift through. Then suddenly the sky cracks up and the sun warms chilled tourists. This is the Urban equivalent to “gå på tur” as the Norwegians say when they are off on a walk in nature. On the inside behind a large glass wall operagoers sip wine surrounded by warm wooden tones. They like I wait for the second act, mine is tomorrow.


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