Archive for June 6th, 2009

Norway and Early Mornings

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

We left Sunday evening (05/24) just around midnight and headed north along the coast. The sunlight glimmered in the sky until almost 0030 and by 0230 it was starting to get light. By the time we stopped at about 0330, it was almost full light. We slept at a nice little rest stop alongside the road and woke up the next morning sorted through all our stuff getting Dan S’s things packed and all the stuff the rest of us were sending back to our families and friends via his mail service.

We set off north again a few hours later and made it to Norway soon, passing the border with no problem and then began looking for the nearest train station so that we could get the schedule worked out for Dan’s train trip to Frankfurt connecting through Copenhagen. Pulling off the highway, Matt talked to the first group of people we saw. About 7 or 8 older men sitting around a round table enjoying a lunch and it just so happened that one of the men lived right near the train station and was leaving just then, so he offered to lead us there. We followed him into Halden and and found the station. Chalk up another friendly European.

After we worked out the details, we happened to notice a pretty neat castle/fort nearby called Fredriksten and went and explored it for free. It was huge, and pretty neat. Apparently the castle had been there for centuries protecting the town and port of Halden. We had lunch outside the fort and then kept pressing north. Just before we entered Oslo, we found a large sign with lots of writing on it that described a toll to be paid, but there were no toll booths! Apparently, after about 10 minutes of trying to figure out the sign we decided that there were 3 ways to pay: You could have a special transmitter with your billing information (which we didn’t have) or you could go to a special place and pay (which we didn’t want to do) or you could wait and they would mail the bill to you. So, we went for the last one. I expect to receive a bill from Oslo, but to tell you the truth I’m not sure what to do with it.

Anyway, we drove into the city without much traffic our trouble and parked near a gigantic stone wall. We had no idea what it was but after walking for several kilometers we eventually came to a small gate and walked inside. Apparently it was the fort built to protect the harbor of Oslo and is now a museum and park. After exploring it for a bit we went into the city center itself passing the harbor (well-protected by the fort) on the way along with significant amounts of electric car parking–complete with electric cars parked.

Oslo did not impress us much with its architecture or its sculptures–we decided that there must have been a period in Oslo’s history where no one wore clothes and that was when all the statues had been made–but it did impress us with its weather. Everyone was outside sunbathing and it was the warmest day we had experienced on our trip, despite being the farthest north we had been on our trip so far. Dan, David, and Matt went and saw the city cathedral and the palace which were nice, but we’ve become a bit jaded by palaces and cathedrals. Really kind of a disappointing thing, but in in Europe it seems that every city has a cathedral and every other city has a palace so it’s hard to not feel like you’ve seen them all once you’ve seen the first 100.

I saw the city hall which was nice and wandered the streets a bit enjoying the nice weather and checking out the cool Nordic sweaters, the cheapest of which cost the equivalent of $300. A short time later we met back at the car and, after snacking on some apples, headed back south. We got into Gothenburg–where we had enjoyed the internet and a wharf the day before–that evening and Dan and I went to purchase his train tickets.

The information center closed 5 minutes early and we were there 3 minutes before the time it was supposed to close, so we were sorely disappointed and on our own to try to buy his ticket from a little Swedish kiosk. We did succeed, however, the entire time being offered advice by Johan, a Swedish welder who had apparently enjoyed a few powerful beverages earlier in the evening. He offered us advice on everything from where to stay–”You can stay in my garage! It’s free!”–where we should be visiting–”You gotta stay down south, man. It’s ******* **** up here. You gotta go to Amsterdam. That place is ******* awesome”–and how we should be entertaining ourselves–Ladies and Drink. We turned him down on all of his information, but he didn’t really pose a threat and was quite a nice fellow. He smiled and waved rather tipsily as Dan and I (tickets in hand) left the station entreating him to be careful on his way home.

Meanwhile, Matt had gone to check out the local U21 football game where the locals beat the opponents soundly. After the game, the crowds flowed raucously out of the stadium carrying Matt with them in their joy. Dan, David, and I waited for Matt and eventually he arrived having enjoyed the experience greatly.

We went out of town that evening and slept in a forest near the airport; Dan and I in the car and David and Matt in the tent. The next morning at about 0430 Dan and I left for the train station and I successfully dropped him off about an hour later. He cut quite the striking figure in his lumberjack jacket, shaggy head, and with a large Viking sword slung across his back in a duct-tape scabbard. I returned to the campsite and a few hours later was woken to some delicious Scott’s porridge Matt and David had prepared.

Daniel Z

The Fall of Denmark to Popcorn

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

May 22, I (Matt) self-consciously sang for the Kolles and the youth group on speakerphone and we made our exit with many heartfelt thanks, our sights set on Denmark. Our stomachs were full of delicious ice cream and dinner. Our car was roadworthy with new brake rotors, new oil, and new(er) tires. Our roofbox was securely locked to the top of the car. Our new friends were waving goodbye. As we left Bad Pyrmont, Ziegler summarized my thoughts in mentioning how refreshing it had been to enjoy the company of new friends, especially female friends. The four of us are good friends and all, but honestly, the testosterone levels are quite unbalanced.

Ziegler, the intrepid driver that he is, manned the helm into the night while we entertained ourselves until falling asleep. I woke briefly around 2 am as we pulled into a rest stop. We rose the next morning almost 30 km from the Denmark border. Eat a breakfast bar and we’re off. Denmark excited some of us more than others; for Ziegler it would be only his second country he would enter for the first time. It would be my seventh. My excitement is fairly constant here in Europe. Imagine our horror, then, when we missed the sign that signified the border. Undaunted, we chose to drive north and take bridges to Denmark’s Zealand island and Copenhagen, rather than ferry across the Baltic Sea. Still on the mainland, I was struck with the view from one bridge we crossed. While the guys in the car rolled their eyes, I blazed a trail through the woods down to the bridge. I got a few photos of the bridge, the river district and a carnival below, and some much needed exercise. Apparently walking along Danish roads is illegal because multiple cars honked at me. I gave the thumbs up back.

On the road again, we arrived in Copenhagen after crossing much more impressive bridges across the Baltic Sea. Shenk expressed disappointment in missing them, but he was subconscious in the backseat. We parked by a canal through downtown and David and I located an ATM machine. With cash we bought a pay-and-display parking ticket for an hour. We spent a little over an hour in the National Museum, a celebration of Danish history (and how far they have fallen). Whereas they once controlled Norway, Iceland, a fourth of Germany, and half of Sweden, they now kind of own Greenland. The fascinating museum traced the peoples of Denmark through prehistoric, stone, bronze, iron, and the modern (Christian) ages. Danes from the Stone Age (apparently 2.9 million years ago to 2,000-3,000 BC) were documented through the optimal conditions of the area’s bogs and burial mounds. People and animal remains have been pretty extensively preserved for thousands of years, down to clothing, hair, and the tools that define the age. With developments in tool production and trade, the Bronze Age and Iron Age lasted until around 800 AD. Then the cool guys showed up. Viking is the the Norse term for raiding, pillaging, vandalizing, plundering, and ravaging; as it became the Danish foreign policy, the amount of wealth in gems, gold, and silver skyrocketed. Going a viking meant placidly navigating the open seas, friendly bartering with the townspeople, capturing women’s hearts with passionate love ballads, and drinking large amounts of Diet Coke. Olaf the Viking was on a boat. And, as the youngster say these days, he was making bank. Then he got Jesus and both his people’s love for the ornate and their empire only grew. The museum regrettably closed at five, before I could uncover how they had lost all that land. Presumably, it was their forfeiture of the viking foreign policy. We all heartily agreed the exhibits to have been worth the money we paid (nothing) and more.

We returned to our car for an apple snack. The door had been left unlocked. Thankfully, the vikings hadn’t raided or even vandalized. Next we checked out the main walking thoroughfare, a broad pedestrian path down the center of the city, lined with shops. We were most surprised by the frequency of American stores. We would walk past a Burger King and another two blocks later and then another. Déjà vu or something. I kid you not, we passed four 7-11 convenience stores in a kilometer. How low the Vikings have fallen. Along the route, we passed a street performance of Native American music. Three men, two of seeming South American decent, were dressed in full fringed regalia, stomping and playing panflutes and drums to decidedly non-Danish music. It was just our luck to travel halfway around the world for some Native American music.

We made our exit into Sweden to camp for the night, less like Native Americans and more like backpacking bums. The Swedes have loose (read: awesome) rules on camping; it’s legal on public land as long as it’s done some ambiguous distance from private land. We stopped at a grocery store in Landskrona; David and Ziegler sought provisions. We had decided that we would need a bigger pot to cook soups for the four of us, and we hoped to find one there. They did, and it was cheap. Out of the pots, they uncovered one missing a handle on its lid and asked about discounts for inperfections. Originally 140 Swedish Krona (14 Euro), they paid 100 (10 Euro) for a gleaming new pot (sans handle). Besides a loaf of bread and vegetable oil, they also made another wonderful find: popcorn. I had joined them in the checkout line (after befuddling a clerk by entering the wrong way) and the three of us walk triumphantly from the store. On the way out we passed a bar and a dance floor. There a dozen Swedes were line-dancing to country music with 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots. America won’t stop following us. (As I type this, we’re driving through Dresden a day after Obama’s visit. Weird.) Following a long lane outside Landskrona, we found an ideal camping spot surrounded by trees and fields. To celebrate the new member of our group, we used the pot to cook pasta and our first toast per David’s suggestion. We retired after the satisfying meal, Shenk and David in a tent while Ziegler and I shared the car.

Sunday morning we returned to the town and a Catholic church. We could somewhat follow along with the same liturgical service though we couldn’t understand the Swedish sermon. As far as the Catholic services I’ve attended, it was a pretty welcoming of the four disheveled foreigners that morning. As we left, the priest thanked us in poor English for “worshiping together.” The small church also housed the largest amount of modern art we had ever seen in a Catholic church. Most was obviously symbolic if quite abstract. The art made me wonder if they were the products of a local artist or member of the congregation and reminded me of worship services at home. We drove on and spent the next ten or so hours in Gothenburg, taking turns borrowing local Internet access and maintaining personal correspondences. When not using the computer, we busied ourselves by reading, writing, exploring the city center, and cooking food. As our first major meal with the new pot, we prepared a feast. Near the car’s parking spot near a city canal, Ziegler set up the stove and cooked soup and our last bag of Ramen noodles. (Never fear, however, we restocked the other day, thanks to Shenk.) We also popped our first batch of popcorn. Delicious. Speaking of which, I think we should eat popcorn tonight . . . more on that later.