Monday 13 July 2015
Long day today travelling to Oslo by rental, a Seat Leon. Yes that is a car with a peppy little 1200 cc motor. Only drama was locating Europcar in Stockholm (typical – their addresses are inadequate) and the long wait because their computer was down and the clerk was exceptionally slow. Why don’t Europcar provide proper street numbers and maps for both their pick-up and drop-off points? Don’t assume local knowledge.
The countryside today is naturally forest with areas that look as if they have been cleared and planted, mainly with barley or wheat. Villages with dark red wooden homes with small windows dot the landscape. The highway is great in Sweden (mainly 4 lanes) and the traffic moves quickly. Not so good when we cross into Norway and the speed limit is only 90K with many speed cameras.
When we get into Oslo we struggle a bit – so easy to miss a turn. The satnav, which we could not otherwise do without, is occasionally too slow with instructions or not specific enough on a turn. Miss a turn and often you don’t know immediately. As soon as that is detected, “she” should indicate as such and go to re-calculating. Often you can self-correct and save a lot of circuitous stuffing around.
We are given no street number for Oslo Apartments so when we arrive shortly after 4pm we have to travel up and down Sven Bruns Gate until we happen to spot the apartments in small letters on a door. The door is locked, there is no reception. Eventually we find a small notice board with a phone number and are able to make contact with the help of a Swedish gentleman who has exactly the same problems. Then we both have a lot of trouble in following the directions and he has to phone again before eventually finding their office at Tullins Gate 6. No suggestion that they would come to the apartment with a key. Talk about customer service. Although five floors up without a lift, the apartment is spacious and comfortable or we would have booked into the Radisson next door and demanded our money back. If they are serious about their clientele, why don’t they provide a full address and instructions for getting into the apartment? Just too much hassle and we would recommend travelers avoid booking with Oslo Apartments.
After one of Lilly’s combos, delicious dumpling dinners plus meat and veg, we go for a stroll through the Royal Palace grounds and on down past the University of Oslo, National Theatre, City Hall and Nobel Peace Centre to the port. Lilly takes many pics. It is cloudy and a bit chilly although many of the locals are wearing light clothing. The restaurants along the waterfront are full. One of the many Oslo museums is at the end of the “peninsula”, the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art. This is an impressive looking structure. Designed by the renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, it is made up of three pavilions that reside under one distinctive glass roof, which is shaped like a sail.
Tuesday 14 July 2015
We decide to drive around today because there is not too much traffic, Lilly’s knee needs a rest, and we have to pay for parking anyway. We start with Vigeland Park, an 80 acre park named after Mr Vigeland, a Norwegian sculptor who lived between 1867 and 1943. It features more than 200 bronze and granite sculptures in a beautiful park grounds with waterfalls and rose beds. Interesting nude sculptures of fairly solid men, women and children in various poses. Vigeland Park is open 24 hours and entrance is free.
Next stop is the Viking Ship Museum. The Vikings were undoubtedly master ship builders and some of the most famous Viking ships are on display at the centre. The ships were discovered over 100 years ago in an embalmed state in clay burial mounds. Two of them have been restored and one has been pretty much left in the state it was found. Quite remarkable that so much of the original framework has survived for about 1200 years in the ground. In each case it appears the ships were used as burial containers for special people. One was a grave for a Viking Queen, who was buried with all of her belongings to smooth passage into the next life. The Gokstad was a war ship and dates from around 890. It is thought that this was used as a burial for a great man, some of his bones were found aboard.
I know nothing about Norway’s history so here is a summary of the main developments: In the Viking Age from the 8th century Norwegians started expanding across the seas to the British Isles and later Iceland and Greenland. Christianization took place during the 11th century. Norway entered the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Sweden in 1397. After Sweden left the union in 1523, Norway became the junior partner in Denmark–Norway. In 1814 Norway was ceded from Denmark to Sweden. Norway declared its independence but was then occupied by Sweden. Industrialization started in the 1840s and from the 1860s large-scale emigration to North America took place. In 1884 the king appointed Johan Sverdrup as prime minister, thus establishing parliamentarianism. The union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905. From the 1880s to the 1920s, Norwegians such as Roald Amundsen carried out a series of important polar expeditions. Germany occupied Norway between 1940 and 1945 during the Second World War, after which Norway joined NATO. Oil was discovered in 1969 and by 1995 Norway was the world’s second-largest exporter. This resulted in a large increase of wealth.
Not far from the Viking Ship Museum and down at the waterfront we find three further “museums”. The Norwegian Maritime Museum (about Norwegian maritime history), the Kon-Tiki Museum (featuring Thor Heyerdahl’s crossing of the Pacific in 1947) and the Fram Museum (dedicated to the story of Norwegian polar expeditions). Although I would like to see all three we have neither the time or energy today to see any of them so we press on. We nosy around the local area Bygday (suburb?) in the car. This appears to be a wealthy area with many upmarket residences on large blocks. Lilly snaps away.
Next stop is the Akershus Fortress originally built around 1300 as a residence for the royal family and to protect Oslo. This is Norway’s most important medieval monument although it was apparently re-built in the 17th century in renaissance style and further added to in the 1930s. Which parts of it date back to 1300 I am unsure. In the 1700 and 1800’s it was a prison. The fortress is still a military area, but is open to the public daily until 21:00. The Norwegian Armed Forces Museum and Norway’s Resistance Museum can also be found there. Some members of Norwegian Royalty are buried in the Royal Mausoleum in the castle. They include King Sigurd I, King Haakon V, Queen Eufemia, King Haakon VII, Queen Maud, King Olav V and Crown Princess Märtha.
We are intending to take a mini cruise ticket where you can hop-on/hop-off at Bygdøy, City Hall and the Opera House but have run out of time. We drive back to Sven Bruns Gate, park our car, have a quick snooze in the apartment and walk to the Historical Museum Hours 11am to 5pm. We have half an hour to see three floors. We walk through two floors in that time, really only time for a cursory glance at the exhibits. Make a mental note to look further into the Sami, Laplanders and Inuit. There are mummies in the Egyptian section dating back to about 800BC and we are in awe of Viking age bones found in a ship that date back a mere 1200 years!
(Wikipedia say of the Sami people, traditionally known in English as Lapps or Laplanders, that they are an indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Kola Peninsula of Russia, and the border area between south and middle Sweden and Norway. The Sami are the only indigenous people of Scandinavia recognized and protected under the international conventions of indigenous peoples, and are hence the northernmost indigenous people of Europe. The Inuit on the other hand “are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska.”)
Later we wander and have dinner at TGI Fridays, tasty but expensive. Lilly reminds me my one glass of beer is $16 and the steak is 349NOK or about $58, both about double what I would regard as acceptable.
Not so impressed with Norway. Car tolls are everywhere, we have yet to ascertain how much they are as cameras record our movements and we will be charged. Notwithstanding the tolls the roads are in bad shape. Same thing applies to toilet facilities. They charge as much a Euro, toilets are few and far between and when you can find one, it is smelly and pretty ordinary. Norway is notoriously expensive – they rip into the tourist for every little thing. Some aspects of Oslo are attractive, but it won’t be on the priority list for a return visit, unlike Sweden.
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Before we leave Oslo we stop on route for photos of the Opera House, completed in 2007. Lilly is not so impressed with the place but the best angles are from the sea and it does look ordinary from the road.
On the way south today Marstrand is our must-see for the day, as it is for everyone else on the planet. We struggle to find parking and finally get lucky not too far from the ferry. Some people walk a long way. This place is Sweden’s version of France’s St Tropez as the playground of the rich and the celebrities. It is not hard to see why. The whole settlement looks expensive and well maintained, (some with really beautiful gardens) even if many of the residences are just holiday homes. Both before the village and at the village there are many marinas. Great place to have a home except for the cold. Even today, probably one of the warmest for Sweden, we take our jackets because it is chilly in exposed and windy areas.
We buy a takeaway lunch of shrimps and salad and take the ferry across to the island. Hard to find a seat to eat lunch but we do eventually and then take the steep climb to Carlsten’s Fortress.
This stone fortress was constructed during the reign of King Carl X of Sweden to protect the surrounding province from hostile attacks. Initially it was just a square stone tower, later in 1680 it was reconstructed and replaced by a round shaped tower. Inmates sentenced to hard labor added to it and it was not until 1860 it was reported finished. The fortress was attacked and sieged twice falling into enemy hands. In 1677 it was conquered by the Danish and in 1719 by the Norwegians. Both times the fortress reverted to Swedish control after negotiation and treaties. It’s an impressive structure, somewhat spoiled by quite a large and more modern brick building constructed right bang in the middle of it.
We take the secondary road across country towards Gothenberg. The surrounding countryside is beautiful. There are many modern homes built along the sides of the valley floors, the main valley floor being wide and preserved for cropping. Floor?! At one point our GPS pipes up quite casually “In four miles board the ferry”. Pardon? Sure enough 4 miles later we drive straight onto a ferry without any human intrusion or payment, wait a few minutes and after 100 metres across the river and along with perhaps 30 other vehicles, drive off and are on our way again. As we disembark, GPS tells us to “drive off the ferry”.
At Gothenberg we have booked a bed and breakfast for one night. We arrive about 4:30pm. It is easy to find but not easy to find our way into the place. Fortunately a young bloke on a motorcycle comes along and provides all the solutions. He is also fixing the WIFI so we will have access later. Plenty of rooms in this large 3 story home but we have to share bathroom facilities which I did not realise. Anyway not too much of a hardship, we are here for one night, it is pleasant and there is a kitchen upstairs and breakfast included tomorrow.
In the early evening we drive into Gothenberg, Sweden’s second largest city with a population of 550,000. This is a university city and the birthplace of Volvo in 1927. The traffic is light and we have no problems driving around. We park at one point on the inside of the canal not far from the main street (Kungsportsavenyen) and with the aid of a friendly French boke and his wife (he strokes the machine – we would bang or kick it – which we all laugh over) we entice a parking tab from the ‘automatic’ machine. We wander around the city and along the canal/river and a shopping centre. The canal is very pleasant, tree-lined on the outer perimeter. By devious means we drive through the older area of Haga which otherwise seems to be car-free, should we be here? Have trouble later finding a place to park in our BnB residential area. The workers have returned home.
Thursday 16th July 2015
The motorway between Gothenberg and Malmo is four-lane all the way. We travel almost uninterrupted at between 110 and 130 depending on the limit. The Swedish motorways and roads are first class and toll-free. Unlike Australia there are no sly cops with radar lurking out of sight. Mind you, neither are there the cowboy drivers on the roads. Many cars whizz past us but the roads feel safe, even if some are driving much faster than the limits. The further south we go the more orderly and prosperous appear the farms. Mostly cropping like wheat/barley, not many fences and not many animals.
Malmo is directly across from Copenhagen. We can see the Øresund Bridge between the two from our hotel window. According to some sources the bridge is Malmo’s number one “must see” so after a snooze we take the car to Bottle Island (my name for it because it is shaped like a bottle) and along the seaside of the island take snaps of the bridge. Won’t be possible from the train to do that tomorrow I don’t think. This bridge is the longest in Europe. It is double-track railway and motorway, across the strait between Malmo and Denmark. The bridge runs nearly 8 kilometres from the Swedish side to an artificial island in the middle. From there a 4 km underwater tunnel runs to the Danish island of Amager.
We drive towards the next attraction, the Turning Torso. We drive past a huge car park full of guess what. Must be some attraction I say to myself. We stop and find a beach equally full of people. Hardly anyone is in the water, bet because it is freezing. But its warm out and most folk are sunbathing. The Turning Torso is a residential skyscraper in Sweden and the tallest building in the Nordic countries. But it’s not just the height that is amazing, it is the fact that it twists as it rises. We take snaps of this crazy building which cost twice as much to construct as estimates and nobody bought the units so the owner has had to rent them out.
Storotget and Lilla Tang are squares in the centre of the city. Restaurants and bars occupy every inch of the perimeter of the latter. Everyone in Sweden is drinking and dining out today. It is warm and holiday time. To Swedes I guess it is baking hot.
We try booking the car in from 5:15pm and finally leave the keys with some place at 6pm. Driving around trying to find the place drove me bananas. No signs, no access, no road to it, a real shocker and totally unprofessional at the Malmo end. We asked a cab driver who pointed us in what appeared to be the right direction but there was just a locked steel gate. We drove around trying to find another access. Finally got somebody from Dick Smith’s, a nearby address, who kindly showed us where to park the car. He said many had the same problems. There is no Europa office at Hyllie Rail Station only a representative and they weren’t interested. I was angry and gave them a piece of my mind but it was all water off a duck’s back. 45 minutes of our lives in frustration. Not the end of the world and in my haste at the last I left my jacket behind in the car! Fortunately, Lilly was up to going back in and retrieving it. Car hire companies need to get their act together by at least having a map showing drop-off points and office points and if they say they have pickup and drop-off times, they should have professional staff on the spot. Put some signs up for goodness sake.