Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Monday 19th July 2010

It was a very familiar city to walk around. I think I had spent about five days here just three years ago and it all came back to me from the moment I started walking along the station platform on Sunday.

I went down for breakfast in the hotel. I was surprised to see how large the dinning room was and also by the number of people having breakfast there. There was a wide age range including families with small children and backpackers. It was hard to find a table. In fact when I left my empty cereal bowl and a partly drunk cup of coffee, I returned with the next course to find a family sitting there. They had put my coffee to one side and the bowl must have been removed by staff. I felt generous and said that I would find somewhere else to shift to, which I did with a little trouble. I did feel that they were pushing things a bit though.

The selection of food was probably the best I have had so far on the tour. There was more cheese, more meats, more cereal and fruit, more bread plus there were Danish pastries, which seemed quite appropriate considering that this was Denmark. And they were light and flaky, but they did have lines of sweet pink icing over them, which I am not a fan of. I think it makes them too sweet and is not needed.

Straight after breakfast I went for a short walk along the street in the direction away from the railway station. I discovered that although there were lots of tourists and commuters walking around and several respectable looking hotels, the area on the whole would be classed as 'seedy' . There were several sex shops with window displays but containing nothing which would really create objections for most people. There was a live sex show 24 hours a day advertised in a fairly run down building. Mixed in with this were cafes and convenience stores. One corner building had boarded up windows and looked a bit like a doss house judging from the characters who were emerging. In the middle of all of this was a Lutheran Church. The busy city traffic moved along the streets.

By the time I got back to the hotel, a small group of women had begun to hang out on the opposite corner. I had my own opinion of who, or what, they were.

So I got my camera and headed off to the station. I had a quick wander around and got the feel for leaving tomorrow. Then on and out the other side and I was facing the Tivoli Gardens. A queue had formed outside the gates waiting for opening time at 11 am.

However, I carried on and headed for the square in front of the city hall. There were some street works in progress and this did spoil the appearance of the place. It was a bit early for a sausage or hot dog from the couple carts there and I thought that I would come back later. In fact I never did and I never did have a hot dog that day in Denmark. But it had been one of the ideas I had based on memories of the previous visit.

Although it was only mid morning the tourist numbers were building up as I walked along the pedestrian mall leading off from the square. The shops did not seem any different to my last visit and they were very much tourist oriented. Further along and the type changed to more label stores and 'name' brands. These were larger and window displays were more shopping mall style – large glass panes with arty displays.

Here and there were small squares of triangles where streets intersected and extra space was created. Usually even the smallest extra street space and a cafe would have spread tables and chairs over it. In one 'square' although it was perhaps more round than square, the fountain steps were still attracting young people to sit together on them. Perhaps not as many as last time but it may have been different times of the day.

I went off on a side streets to visit the wonderful photographic shop that so impressed me and which I had checked out last evening. Now it was open and I went in to look around the stock. I had been especially interested in the Rollei 3000F, a very sophisticated single lens 35 mm camera. It looked like a small Hasselblad. It was heavier than I had expected but had wonderful sharp viewfinder. Unfortunately it was just the camera, but as it worked on batteries it needed a charger. The shop did not have the needed Rollei Quick Charger. Consequently there was not much use in taking the camera as you could not actually work it without charged batteries. A pity as it was a nice camera and very unique. I thought that the chances of actually being able to locate a charger on its own would be very unlikely.

Next I went in to the Lutheran Church which is attached to the Round Tower (Runde tarn). Last time in Copenhagen we heard some lovely organ playing in here but this time it was just the whispered voices of tourists. I had expected it to be cool as well but not so – it was warmer in the church than outside. This was one of those churches where pew row has a gate on the end. I don't know why this existed but I have seen the same set up in some other old churches.

I headed off along the branch shopping street towards the botanical gardens. I wanted to visit the Danish Film Institute which was across the road from the gardens. Actually I found it was opposite the adjoining park rather than the botanical gardens. I was hot and sweaty when if got to the building and was looking forward to a cool drink or coffee in the cafe there. BUT! There was a notice on the door stating that the cinema, cafe and book shop were all closed for the month of July.

Isn't amazing that a whole organisation would close down for that long. There must be tourists like me who want to call in and purchase books or DVD etc. Even watch a movie. In the end I bought some DVD from a retail store but I realise now that I already have one title and perhaps a second as well. I was deceived by them having different covers to the USA editions I have. But it was just on closing time when I bought the DVDs and I had to decide quickly. The one I know I have got is 'After the Wedding' but in Danish the title looks quite different. It was Anders in Stockholm who told me the translation into English and that was when I knew I had a second copy. Someone is going to get a free copy – perhaps a birthday present? Ha ha ha.

I carried on from the Film Institute and found a pleasant deli were I had a refreshing cool beverage at an outside table. This gave me time to look at the buildings across the road. They were several stories high and were in a sort of Middle Ages style. I spent a bit of time trying to work out if they were genuinely that old or just reconstructions of the style. I thought in the end, that they must gave been more recent. However they did look the part.

I followed the road along because this would take me to Nyhavn, which is were so many photos of Copenhagen are take. A row of traditional coloured multi story buildings, standing along a quay side. Various old boats are tied up along the quay and a continuous row of cafe and bar seating runs along in front of the buildings.

This is where many of the canal tours start. The have very low, but wide, electric powered craft each of which could seat about 100 tourists. There were several boarding ramps and from the numbers standing in line at each, I decided that the tour would be shorter than the wait. The lines didn't reduce by much. If anything they got longer as more tour buses brought fresh customers. It was interesting to have returned here and see how little had changed over the three or four years since I last visited the city.

Then I wandered back down the other side and crossed the park in the centre of a traffic round about. I was heading to Magasin, which is a large up market department store. Robyn and I had had coffee here last visit and I wanted to have a drink and a simple item of food. As I turned out, I tried a local cinnamon bun which was quite nice.

Looking around the shop, I wandered into the wine department to do my find and congratulate on having NZ wine exercise. Well right on the last shelf I found some NZ whites. Several Sarisen and some one other I forget. I spoke to the counter staff who knew all about Sarisen being one of the countries top film makers. I was impressed. I was not impressed by the fact that the ajoining grocery department had run out of sparkling mineral water though.

From here I walked slowly along towards the railway station. I did look into some of the shop windows but found it more interesting to watch the passers by. There were several buskers plying their trade. One was a magician who had a really practiced routine. He said that he travelled the world doing his street show. There was a large crowd around him watching. While I watched he was doing mainly card tricks and disappearing balls routines.

At one stage the crowd had to make room for the tourist street train to pass along. Most of the cities I have visited on this tour have one of these tourist 'attractions' operating. I know I would find it embarrassing to be driven around the streets behind a false stream engine. But it obviously suits some people as they always seem to have customers.

Along the road and another busking group was getting ready. They had a chalked out space to work in although I never actually saw their performance. What I did see was a black man who would pick a passer by and a walk beside or behind them imitating their walk or arm positions. He was pretty good at it and often the passer by did not realise that they were being copied – but the watching crowd did. He only worked within the chalked out square area. I think that he just building up the audience for the show to follow.

Scattered along the street were various musicians.

I was interested to be given a leaflet offering 50% discounts on meals on Mondays before 8 pm. It was not what I had been planning but I decided to take up the offer. It was a Texas type place and I had the pork spare ribs. I got a plate set down in front of me with a large strip of pork ribs and a little salad. Not a lot of meat but that is how spare ribs seem to be. I do recall having a spare ribs meal in Colorado where each rib was separate and placed into a pile on the plate. So I was a little surprised to find a different style and one were I had the job of separating the individual ribs. However, it was a filling meal and a reasonable price with the 50% discount. The restaurant was busy as lots of folk came in to take up the offer.

Then it was just a walk back to the hotel. It was still light and the streets were still crowded with mostly tourists I deduced.

On this visit I did not see so many cyclists with children in trailers behind them or in front. I did see some bikes going along with adults squeezed in the carrier space.

Back at the hotel it was time to do computer work to catch up on the blog and to talk to Robyn on Skype.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Oslo and straight away it was obvious that I was once again in a big city. This was the first large city since Helsinki nearly two months ago and although Bergen was a city, being only in the downtown area, it did not feel all that big. But the moment I stepped out onto the street, Oslo had a different feel to it.

There was more bustle, busy buses and trams and people everywhere. There were some high rise buildings near the station which had a sleek modern look to them. The hotel had 13 floors and was full. Yes, Oslo has the characteristics of the large urban area.

I picked up a copy of the city guide when I called into the tourist office on arrival. There were certainly plenty of places to visit or at least choose from. I went through and marked the venues that I thought I could be interested in seeing. Amazingly, many were free admission. The National Gallery for instance and the History Museum were free.

On day one my priority was to visit the Norwegian Film Institute to see it I could get some information but also to look at the film museum. I didn't take very long to find the building, just a couple of blocks from the tram stop. It was clearly marked and looked a little like a cinema entrance, which it partly was.

I met Christina Iverson on the front desk and asked a few questions about the production I had seen in Bergen. In just a few minutes I was seated beside her behind the desk checking out the information she was bringing up on the computer screen. She was extremely helpful and I now have more ideas of what I will write for SCRIPT about the director and the production itself. They also had a vacuum flask of free coffee on a table which was a nice touch. When I had finished behind the desk, I went into the Film Museum. Christina called in to say goodbye as she was heading off and offered to answer any further questions via email. I found other staff equally helpful. If this is typical of the the whole staff of the NFI then it is a very impressive organisation. During my visit they were operating on a skeleton staff as most were on holiday. But at least they were open. Later I was to find the Danish Film House closed for the whole month.

Before I left the NFI, I picked out a small selection of DVDs to purchase as well as a copy of a book on Bergman's film 'The Silence'.

Later on when I returned for the 6 pm screening of 'Orion's Belt' – a 1980's Norwegian movie, one of the staff came up and explained that they had only given me empty cases and they realised that I needed the contents as well. So they replaced the DVD's and that was all done before I had even had a chance to check them out. Most likely I would have just posted them home without checking inside. The next morning I found an email from Christina telling me of the problem but I think it is sorted out. Anyway they have been posted home.

The Film Museum was certainly worth a visit. Although it is centred around the history of film in Norway, it is still fascinating to wander around. The early exhibits are of items such as Mutoscope and all of the early mechanical devices for making small strips of pictures into moving pictures such as the Praxinoscope. Some you could even set going and so it was a bit interactive. They had a working example of the Edison Kinetograph which was a single viewer machine running short lengths of film. I am not sure that I have ever had the chance to see a working example before. So I did find the visit worth it even if only for that experience. I tried to take a video through the narrow slit the viewer looked through but I don't think it turned out all that successfully. I will have to work on it in my editing software and see if I can get the flicker removed. I do have one or two ideas to try out when I get home. I also liked the model of Edward Muybridge's set up to photograph a series of pictures of a galloping horse and which proved that at some point in the galloping, all of the hoofs were off the ground. The resulting strips of photographs were like the frames of a movie film.

There was a old silent cinema projection box set up, but only with a single projector. It was fairly similar to the old De Luxe cinema box in Lower Hutt, where I spent quite a bit of time as a small boy. On the other side of the wall were a few rows of old cinema seats facing a screen on which a video projector was screening recent Norwegian short films.

There were several locally made silent 35mm projectors complete with a handle to turn the mechanism and run the film. There were examples of the changes in sound film recording and several hand held 35 mm cameras which could be used by news cameramen.

There were several cases of models used in puppet animated movies as well as a TV screen showing some examples of these. There were some costumes from period movies and a display containing a still or publicity photo from every Norwegian movie up to the early 21st century.

While the museum was not huge in size, it did give a really interesting over view. I found the room related to changing censorship standards interesting and they were even screening a loop of examples of what had been cut from films over the years.

I was interested to notice that there was a steady flow or visitors through the museum, including some family groups. Not hundreds, but there was always someone or a family, moving around the displays.

It would be really great to have our film commission or the film archives set up a similar museum about New Zealand film history. I know that they have had a room containing a few examples and a screening room but there is the opportunity for so much more to be included.

The 6 pm screening of 'Orion's Belt' was interesting to watch mainly because it was set on Svalbard and having just been there, I could relate to the setting and to some of the dialogue comments. It was not the best film ever, just an enjoyable time filler. Never the less I have hunted it out on Amazon and have it on the way to home. A couple days later at the Fram Museum I found copies on sale. I could have saved the Amazon postage costs although I think the purchase price was higher at the museum. Not a large audience, perhaps 20. Admission charge was 50 NOK which was about the same as at home. However, here I understand it was cheaper than the commercial cinemas charge.

Today I also went for a tram ride. The single ride ticket is good for one hour, so I just stayed on the tram and went to the end of the route were it looped back along different streets to the city centre again. I was actually filling in time until the Film Museum opened. However, I did pass the park with all the sculptures which I want to visit. I spotted the lines of tour buses parked outside as well. However it was a large park and I am sure that crowds will not matter when I go there.

Back in the city centre I took the opportunity to visit the big Domkirke, the Lutheran Cathedral. It had some interesting paintings on the ceiling. I am always amazed at the way in which artists got paintings up onto the ceilings of churches and palaces. I assume that they must have been able to lay down to do the artwork above them. They were actually murals and were painted 1936 and 1950. The Domkirke itself was opened in 1697 although there has been a series of additions put in place since then.

There was a steady flow of visitors and the odd camera flash although flash was not suppose to be used.

The church had a large pipe organ at the back over the entrance doorway and the usual Lutheran plainness broken by the decorative raised pulpit and the wood carved altar. There were some narrow but colourful stain glass windows as well.
There are several national museums, each with a specific purpose. The Nasjonal Galleriet is a large building given over to exhibiting art. The main displays are of Norwegian and Nordic art, where landscape seems to dominate the subject matter. I think that is a natural reaction to the way the land so much controls the human activities. However, there are other subjects including a few nudes, portraits and still life subjects. This apparently Norway's largest art collection. In general it was an interesting over view. It only goes to 1950 so I guess that I needed to go to the Gallery of Contemporary Art to see later work – but I ran out of time.

There was a large temporary exhibition which again covered Norwegian artists. There were 87 paintings hanging in this and I think I read that they were from the private collection of one man – Sejersted Bodthker. Most if not all.

One highlight for me was to walk into a room and suddenly spot names I was familiar with. Here were the gallery's gems; Vincent van Gough, Monet, Matisse, Mondrian, Gauguin and Picasso, to name a few. Plus bonzes by Rodin and Degas. This was a very enjoyable time looking at the famous artists' works. In an adjoining gallery was a larger collection which tended to major on 16th and 17th century European art. In the early 20th century a Norwegian industrialist or brewery owner actually I think, decided that Norway should have the opportunity to see great works of art. So he quickly built up the collection, donated it to the gallery and the cost of building a special room, lit from windows above, to exhibit it in. That was exceedingly generous of the man and even today there was a steady flow of the public and tourists, coming to see it. I recognized a three of the artists names only; El Greco, Rubens, and – oh what was his name?

Of course most of the gallery visitors were coming to see room 24. Here were the Edvard Munch paintings. Most obviously was 'The Scream". This is said to be the definitive version, as he painted several and did lino or wood cuts and prints as well. This was certainly a powerful painting, smaller than I had expected and I suppose already familiar so that the impact was lessoned. Most of the other paintings were larger works. I was impressed by one of his first paintings 'The Sick Child' which had a roughness and grittiness unmatched by the other works on show. This was his remembering the death of his sister eight years earlier. Done when he was just 22 years old, it was the first or one of the first of his paintings to be exhibited. The style was not the currently accepted style amongst art critics and so it caused a lot of discussion and anger. Later at the Munch Museum I saw a 'more finished' painting of the same subject and thought that it had far less impact.

At the National Gallery I thought that his 'Madonna' was the one which held my attention the most. Until I saw a print in a shop window a couple of days ago, I had no idea he had a painting like this. In fact to be honest, I only knew 'The Scream', so seeing the range of his work was a process of discovery for me. No doubt that he was an important 20th century artist.

The same model appeared in another painting, 'The Morning After' which also had some power. 'Three Girls on a Pier' was another interesting work. Here I could spot some of the swirls and use of colour as was done in 'The Scream'.

Another strong large picture was 'The Sick Room' were the grief on the various faces seen seemed to indicate a recent death.

The National Gallery did not allow photography. However, the Munch Museum, which I hunted out the next day did. This despite having had 'The Scream' and 'Madonna' stolen a few years back – they were returned. I did have to go in through airport grade security though.

Several of, if not all, of the works at the National Gallery are also seen here in another painting of the subject by Munch. He seemed to have no problem redoing subjects in any medium. He was a good graphics designer and produced lithographs wood cuts and other forms of print making. Two of his lithographic stones are on display. Munch would pay the print maker large sums to get ownership of the stone rather than have the printmaker repolish the surface for a different print.

In his woodcuts he was worried about not being able to make the full use of colour as in his paintings. So he invented a technique of using a fine fret saw to cut up the carved wood block. He would individually apply colour to the various parts and then carefully reassemble the whole block and print it all at once, giving him a coloured print – well block colour anyway.

Munch Museum had a number of large portraits of various people, such as Friedrich Nietzche, on display as well as equally large self portraits. There were landscapes and a still life. It was interesting to see the range of painting styles which he had mastered. Obviously Munch was not a one style artist but a very talented multi facit artist. He was obviously as interested the big questions of life and existence as he was in exploring eroticism.

Over 60 years..." Munch developed his unique form, while exploring several different styles from Naturalism to Symbolism and Expressionism." (Museum leaflet)

Munch did some series of related paintings. The most famous is 'The Frieze of Life' This series has a room to itself and contains Madonna, The Kiss, Vampire Kiss, The Voice and Summer Night – plus about six more. Each is quite attention grabbing in its own right.

So this was another really worthwhile visit. The museum is a little off the beaten track and not that easy to get to. I had to work my travel route out carefully and it involved a swop from tram #17 to bus #20 at one intersecting point. Lots of fun doing it and finding that it worked out just fine.

The History Museum was next to the National Gallery. It shows Norwegian history over 9000 years. There is of course, Viking section and I was interested to look at the jewelry and treasures of the period rather than at the weapons. I did find a model of how iron was produced from bog deposits very informative and I did not know about the source or techniques used previously.

They had a section on Medieval Christianity with the ornate carved wooden door lintels from several old churches. The carving reminded me of Maori meeting house front panels. The had a reconstructed copy of a carving of the Madonna and the Christ child. The original is decomposing rapidly, so this copy was done using the medieval techniques and pigments in the paint. The highly coloured result is unlike anything you see in a museum where similar old carvings are displayed. However, this does represent the way the medieval church goers would have seen their carved and painted statues. And that was something I found very interesting as well.

This museum had a coin room displaying the history of Norwegian coinage and as part of this it had a model of the Trondheim cathedral mint – which I have seen the remaining floor of at that cathedral museum. As you travel, things start to link up don't they?

There were rooms given over to African. Arctic North American and East Asian indigenous cultures. There were some mummies from Ancient Egypt. I moved fairly quickly through these sections.

There was a temporary photo display showing life in a Bhutan Buddhist monastery.

What I did find interesting was a temporary showing related to Runic language and artifacts.
Runic was a communication system, well a language actually, which predated the development of old Norse. It was used in Scandinavia North Europe and in Britain. One source suggests it was used throughout Europe and that it most likely developed from Latin or Etruscan.

Much of the little I knew about it, related to its use on some of the standing stones I have seen in Britain. However here I also saw it used on household objects such as combs, on rods and on bricks.

It was obviously used in everyday Norway for a long period as there were examples of rude toilet type humor found written down somewhere..There are religious and magic examples, trade and graffiti . It began to exist side by side with the development of modern languages and influenced them and in turn, was influenced by them. Mostly it was dying out by the Crusades and plagues of the 13th century. Most of the existing inscriptions come from the late 11th century.

Vigelandsparken is Oslo's famous park with the statues. Here spread around the grounds are over 200 sculptures produced be Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). He was also responsible for the design and layout of the park grounds as well. So what we see here is his life's work. From the ornamental main gates a long pair of paths leads down to a bridge. This is lined with his statues in the same way that Prague's Charles Bridge is also lined with statues of saints kings and religious events. Here how ever, there are no saints or religious aspects which I could see – well perhaps I could come up with an idea or two but they may not match his intentions.

All the statues are nude and are both male and female adults and children. I wondered if they were produced today if the artist would be considered un-PC and I would suppose a controversy would break out. Mind you there may have been one with these but I do not know about that.

The statues are male dominant. By that I mean that they feature men holding children, men tossing children and such like. Then there are the ones where a male is lifting a female in various ways. In some they would need to be strong men or gymnasts to hold the position. Yes there are some of a couple standing happily together, or a couple with children together. Vigeland must have had a very fertile imagination to come up with the ideas and designs. I thought that over all it was a good display with a distinct unity of style and theme, yet they must have been made over a number of years.

Some of the children's toes have been polished to a golden colour by repeated touching from passers by. No other part of anyone's anatomy has been similarly polished. So why children's toes? I don't know.

All the statues along the bridge are metal, brass I think while raised up on a terrace are the carved marble or was it concrete works. There are several flights of steps each going up a terrace until the peak is reached. Here is a carved column on a base of steps. Radiating out like spokes on a wheel are rows each containing three sculpture pieces. I think each of these pieces was a group of figures. Some of children were a mass of tangled bodies mixed together like a rugby scrum.

However, it was the column which commanded attention. Perhaps 10 metres high, or perhaps even taller, this white column was composed of tangled interwoven bodies of male and female adults and children I think that they would all have been life sized. It was an amazing collection and like a tower of life reaching heavenwards.

In the distance was a great circle made up or inter twining bodies. This hoop like display was on a raised block base.
One further part needs mention. This was a large raised square pond with a equally large raised bowl containing a fountain. At each corner of the square pond there were sculptured trees with children climbing amongst the branches.

Around the outer walls of the pond there were a series of brass panels each about a metre square and showing some activity involving human figures. Looking closely at some of these I decided that there was a certain kinkiness in some of the scenes depicted.

Near by was a formal rose garden with plenty of roses, but most just past their prime.

It was early evening when I left to catch a tram. Around the park lawns there were lots of groups having picnics or BBQs with disposable fire trays. Everyone seemed to be so relaxed at the end of a hot day. It seemed to be a good place to bring families.

I had enjoyed my visit here and wondered about the sculpturer. What a fertile imaginative he must have had to come up with so many different poses. What a passion he must have had to have stayed on task for the years the project must have taken.

From the gates I looked back at the great white column glistening in the early evening sunlight. At the happy crowds moving around or heading for the gates. Only one tour bus was left waiting. I read that over one million visitors come here every year. I wonder how many of those arrive in a tour bus?

I decided to ride my tram past the hotel stop and have another of my tram sightseeing rides. I went to the end of the route and then hopped onto a returning tram. We passed through a number of small suburban areas with local shops and bars and cafes. Usually there would be a small park nearby. There were quite a few areas I would describe as 'scruffy'. A bit run down and in need of a clean up. A number of road works and construction areas also added to the somewhat depressed look.
However, it is a good way to get a cross-section of the city and tram rides do not cost very much at all. And riding in a tram is fun, a novelty for someone from a land without trams.

On the ride out I spotted an interesting looking cafe so on the way back that is where I left the tram. It was only a few blocks from the hotel. It was an organic based menu using local produce. I had perhaps the best veal ever with Sardinian red wine which was ok too. Turned out that the owner had spend six months in NZ a few years ago and she would love to return to do more travel.

One day I took the tram to the part of the harbour where the ferry boats leave from. My tram ticket was valid for the ferry as well. It was a ten minute to ride across the harbout to the part of an island where several museums are grouped. I was heading for the Kon Tiki Museum.

The Kon Tiki Museum is based on Thor Heyerdahl's epic sailing adventures. Inside they have a full sized copy of the Ra. Several papyrus bundles make up the hull and there is a small hut on top and a sail. It did not look like a vessel you would want to sail across the Atlantic in, yet they did on a second attempt. Kon Tiki was a flat deck raft made from balsa trunks which are light but can easily dry out and break up. It took 101 days to sail from South America to one of the Tahitian islands in 1947. I can remember my primary school going to the cinema to watch this movie in the early 1950's. At the time it won an Academy Award for the best documentary. That Oscar is on show at the museum, which I thought was something special.

Heyerdahl also spent time on Easter Island trying to work out when and who were its first inhabitants.

So for each of these three areas there are supplementary displays of photographs and diagrams. Downstairs there are reconstructions of Easter Island caves which you can walk through. Not a lot to see though. There is also a small cinema showing films about the expeditions.

Despite the museum's suggestions that he was a great researcher and explorer, my understanding is that he was and still is a controversial figure in anthropology.

Across the road is the Fram Museum. Here the building was constructed around the actual ship. The Fram is a famous polar expedition ship. It is perhaps best know as the ship that took Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen to the Antarctic when he became the first person to reach the South Pole. But it was used by other Norwegian explorers such as Fridtjof Nansen.
The Fram was specially designed for work in ice. The hull was wider and rounder than the usual ship and it was smooth. The idea was that when it was trapped in the ice instead of the pressure crushing it, it would slip upwards. That the theory worked is evident by it being on display 100 years and more later.

It was possible to walk around the ship at several levels. From the top level I was able to walk onboard. Several decks were open for inspection. I was struck by the small size of the cabins for the 'top people', but they had little luxuries as well. For example a small grand piano and a horn gramophone.

Earlier the Fram had spent three years trapped and floating in the Northern ice flow. I also managed to sail across the north of Russia. So it is a sailing and steam vessel with plenty of history.

I gave the Maritime Museum a miss although there were a number of boats floating in the sea beside the museum and the ferry wharf. I did not go off to see the Viking Ship Museum because I have seen Viking ships in a Danish museum.

Late one afternoon – well more like early evening – I took a tram back into town to hunt out a building of interest which I had noticed from a distance previously. It was on the harbour front behind the railway station. The building was impressive and was in fact the Opera House. This could become a challenge to the Sydney Opera House.
It was all made with slabs of white marble. There was a large courtyard whish sloped down to the water level. Marble terraces ran along both sides as well. From the ground level great marble sloping inclines ran up beside the auditorium so that you could actually walk right up to the flat marble roof. I walked up as many others were doing and looked out over the harbour. Everyone seemed in a happy mood and they were obviously enjoying the outing.

Inside was a large foyer with vertical wooded slats running floor to high ceiling. This would be an acoustic device. Rom the cafe I got a salmon wrap and a glass of chardonnay (which cost much more than the wrap but was nice) and sat on the terrace pretending that I was some rich dude living it up. Ha-ha!

I would love to have gone to a concert or opera in the auditorium but nothing was on and it was my last night in the city.

Other city points:
being given free cans of an energy drink by the National Theatre buildings. The featured ingredients on the can label were the bottom of the ingredients list. Water then sugar then caffeine where the main ingredients. Still it was an experience and if need be I would consider dinking one again. And looking around the small park by the National Theatre, I could see people of all ages sitting and enjoying their free samples as well.

Statues – there are statues everywhere. Many are of nude or semi-nude figures which are mostly female. It was easy down by the ferry boats to count over a dozen near by just by turning a full circle. Most of the statues look like they have been in place for a long time. Perhaps they have.
I also thought that it was a multicultural city with many Moslem women in long dresses and head coverings. They were often accompanied by several children and often had a baby in a pram as well. As I traveled around and walked to cafes near the hotel, I would often pass groups of Middle Eastern men standing or sitting around chatting.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I have been having this discussion with myself. What should I call photos taken from moving vehicles?
My existing thought is to call them "DRIVE BY SHOOTINGS", which I think is a pretty good title. But now I wonder should they be "Ride By Shootings". After all, I am riding not driving when I take the photos.



Wednesday 14th July 2010

At nine fifty am I was again at the Bergen railway station, this time with bag in tow. A quick visit to the deli and I had some yoghurt for breakfast and some food for later on the train. I was able to eat the yoghurt as I sat waiting for the train doors to be opened.

For this trip I was facing the direction of travel, but in one of the group of four seats at the end of the carriage. Quite soon an Asian family came and took up the remaining three seats, although it was obvious that one of their seats was across the aisle. Just before we departed the passenger booked next to me turned up and the man had to shift. No the lady would not swop seats as she did not like travelling with her back to the front. So this was our seating until Myrdal when the family headed off to do the Flam railway trip. For a few stations the facing seats were empty.

The route out from Bergen quite quickly runs into a tunnel or two or three and we leave the city behind. I must say that the Norwegians are a nation of bridge and tunnel builders. There are certainly many examples of them both – and I have been through a lot of them.

This trip I was sitting on the opposite side to arriving and yesterday's travel to Myrdal. So I was getting a different view of the countryside.

For the first forty five or so minutes after leaving Bergen we wound our way along fjord coastlines. Into a tunnel and out into a different bay or cove. There were a number of small towns some of which we stopped briefly at. There were also some much smaller groups of housing. Occasionally we past a factory or some type of industry but over all there did not seem to be much of this along the whole trip to Oslo.

We left the fjord and travelled along a pretty river valley for a while. Not a very wide valley and the mountain sides did tower up, especially as the valley narrowed. This quickly became yet another 'tunnel countryside'.

Not much in the way of farming as we recognize it although I am aware that there could have been some inside barns.

Soon we were back into the high alpine landscape. On this side of the train I began to see different water falls to what I had seen from the other side. Some of these were really magnificent with wide tumbling white water courses. Certainly Norway has some spectacular water falls.

We emerged from the Myrdal tunnel to see the tail end of the Flam train heading off. But then there was not meant to be a connection with that one. Standing at the station was a Bergen bound train waiting to move onto the single track we were vacating. Actually most of the line to Oslo was single track with passing loops, mostly located at a station.

Unlike the mist of yesterday, Myrdal was basking in brilliant sunshine and I got a quick glancing view down the valley before we moved into a tunnel. For the next 30 minutes or so we travelled through more alpine landscape. This had numerous cabins spread across the rocky out crops. Vegetation was largely tundra type. Moss, brown sledges and grass with just a few stunted scrub like small trees. There were small ponds and lakes. Interestingly, there were several formed cycle tracks with individuals and small groups of cyclists riding along. Most were on mountain bike but one man I saw was riding a small wheeled cycle which I thought was a folding commuters bike.

At one station my fellow passenger got off and I was just thinking it would be nice to have all the space, when three old ladies arrived. One very old and the other two could have been her old daughters. They fussed around quite a bit getting settled and they stayed on for the next few hours, right into Oslo.

Besides mountains, Norway is trees – large forests rolling across the landscape. I could watch the height of the trees vary with altitude. Also on the lower areas the tree species mix seemed to be greater. I spotted some great views of lakes in tree filled valleys but it was not easy to get a photo without a tree or two or three flashing past and creating a green blur just where the view was meant to be.

I looked down on the white water of a river in the gorge below and watched traffic wiz along the parallel roadway on the other bank.

We travelled through some wide flatter areas with large farms. Some times plastic tunnels over rows of vegetables. I was interested to spot that beside the tunnel, the plants also had a covering of clear plastic sheeting lying over them.

But the farm area didn't last long and soon we were back amongst the trees on a hillside.

And that is pretty much the overall story of the trip. Waterfalls, alpine, forests, lakes, farms, small towns. I did see a few cows all lying down in the grass and some sheep – less than a dozen – on some poor hill side grass. There were ploughed fields, evidence of hay and silage gathering and fields with grain crops growing in them.

Soon after 5 pm the express pulled into the Oslo Central station. I got some tram tickets from the information centre and checked which direction a north travelling tram would be heading in. Then off I went on tram 12 for a couple of stops.

Across the road from the stop was the sign Anker Hostel so in I went only to find that I should be at the Anker Hotel 50 metres further along the road. This was a 13 floor hotel which turns out to be in the Best Western chain. I had not picked that up when booking through Hostelworld. The desk clerk told me that the hotel was booked out and that was not uncommon because of its low price. It may be low priced but it is the most expensive stay per night for the whole trip.

I have a nice room on the fifth floor with ensuite. It is a comfortable sized room over all. It will do for the next four nights.


Friday, July 16, 2010



Tuesday 13th July 2010

The Flam Railway is pushed as a major Norwegian tourist attraction. Any tour programme seems to include it in the itinerary. It is incorporated in the Norway In A Nutshell tour programme.

So what makes it special? Well really it is the steepness of the track as it goes down hill from over 800 metres to sea level. In the 20 kilometres there are plenty of tunnels and bridges to travel though and over. The main attractions are that it links into the Oslo to Bergen train route and you have the opportunity to sail on the world's longest fjord.

So it has the potential to be pretty impressive but does it meet expectations?

I set out on the 10:25 am train from Bergen to Myrdal in a half empty carriage. The route we followed was the same one I had come into Bergen on but this time the timing was different as was the sunlight. Well sunlight didn't really break through that much as it was a dull grey day with low cloud around the mountain tops.

When we reached Myrdal about three hours later, there was low cloud around everywhere and some even swirled around the station platform. The timing of the downward train to Flam is such that my train just misses one departure and there is about an hour to wait before the next trip down. There didn't seem to be that many waiting but during the hour a couple more train stopped and crowds tumbled out including several tour groups.

Finally the train from Flam came up to our level and pulled into the station. Along the station were painted markers indicating where each carriage door would be. I did not stand near the tour groups and anyhow I had read the notice in the station about there being no reserved or allocated seating just pick one and enjoy the trip.

However, the reality was that carriages had reserved notices on their doors for groups coming up and immediately going back down again. Still I went into one of these carriages as did others. Of course these happy groupies had taken all the good seats and I had to find one that was left. At least it was a window seat. Unfortunately my window was to prove to provide good views of the rock face but not the of the valley which could be seen from the opposite side with all the taken seats.

I was rather annoyed about this as it meant that the tour groupies had had the good view up and down.

We did stop at one spectacular water fall and were able to get out onto a viewing platform. Up on the rocks a couple of dancers ( who may have actually been woman or else just guys in drag) danced to some music piped over a PA system on the rocks. I have no idea what the significance was and it was not explained on the train. If it was then it didn't come across clearly enough in the carriage I was in. As a result it seemed rather pointless although the falls were worth looking at.

Other than that the trip was really a bit of a let down and did not meet the expectations I had for it.

From time to time I did manage to see a view across the carriage but it was through other passengers' heads. I do not think that it was worth the cost.

Yes it is true that we went through tunnels were the trained looped around inside, yes there were bridges and narrow track space against the rock walls. And yes we did see some spectacular water falls and yes again we did follow a river down to the fjord.

But – I had already done all of this coming and returning on the Andalsnes rail trip. And the train had better viewing opportunities. So the reality was that the Flam Railway was not significantly better, more exciting or different to the Andalsnes trip. So my recommendation will be for people to do the Andalsnes trip. There is also a bit more to see in the town at the bottom than in Flam

In Flam there were two cruise boats in port – well one was moored with a lighter service. The main reason for coming was to sail up the fjord and do the rail trip. In fact my impression was that the railway is there to provide an attraction for cruise boat companies. They certainly dominated the service on the day I was there.

Rather than return up the railway as was my original plan because I could return to Bergen on my EuroRail pass, I decided to pay extra and take the express ferry service instead.

The ferry would take over five hours to get back to Bergen but its arrival time was not much later than when I would have got back on the train.

So the ferry service was mostly along the Sognefjord and then out along the coast, travelling between the low lying skerries which dot the coastal waters to Bergen.

Flam is at the head of a small branch fjord, the Aurlandfjord which quite quickly joins into the Sognefjord. This is the world's longest fjord or so I was told, but I have been reading and the suggestion is that it is the longest in Norway and the second longest in the world. It runs for 205 kms and is flanked for most of its distance by tall mountains with their step sides dropping straight down into the sea. They can drop 1000 metres of more.

I read that the fjord reaches a maximum depth of 1,308 m below sea level and that the greatest depths are found some way inland. So I guess that means some mountain cliff faces can be dropping over 2000 metres. Near its mouth, the bottom rises abruptly to about 100 m below sea level. This is still more than enough for any sized cruise ship to entre. The average width of the main branch of the Sognefjord is about 4.5 km.

Some of the mountain tops were cloud or mist covered and with the dull lighting, this gave the fjord quite a degree of mystery. There was quite a blue-grey colour about the landscape as well.

There were tributorary fjords joining up as we traveled along, some having quite wide entrances.

Spaced along the fjord were settlements of various sizes, but mostly small. Some were built on the slightest bits of flat land along the water's edge or where a small valley came down. At some of these places the ferry pulled in and dropped off or collected passengers. Mostly the number was small although at one settlement around 25 to 30 were waiting to board.

There were other ferry boats sailing around but these could all take on vehicles. Our ferry was passengers only.

So it was very interesting watching the cliffs and waterfalls pass by and each settlement had its own character as well. I did wonder what people did who actually lived her. What was the economic basis for being there? Some settlements had a road in and or out, so I assume that there was some road connection with areas away from the fjord.

So the pattern of sailing and calling in continued out into the skerries area. As we got closer to Bergen we past in the distance a big oil refinery based on the North Sea field, In fact at this point there was pretty straight forward sailing out into the North Sea.

Also as we got closer to Berg the population became denser with more housing spread along the coast line. In fact we sailed under three bridges of various sizes before we reached Bergen. Some of the passages we sailed along were quite narrow and the ferry slowed down.

Many of the settlements were very attractive and I sort of envied people living there. I thought that it would be an interesting experience to have the chance to live along the coast, often in tiny coves and perhaps the only home there. There were also some very attractive and large homes sighted, often with great views, especially when they were built higher up the hillside. On the other hand, looking at paintings of old Norway, some of these homes could well be centuries old, unchanged for decades.

Finally we sailed into the Bergen harbour and birthed across the water from the line of wooden houses. It was 8:45 pm. The ferry home was a good decision as there was always a space to take a photo of the view from somewhere on deck. I would happily do the ferry again, but I would be cautious about repeating the rail journey.

Thursday, July 15, 2010



Sunday 11th and Monday 12th July 2010

Each day dawned dull and grey with wet pavements, but sometime during the following hours, the sun came out and gave a fresh image to the coastal city.

Bergen is situated amongst fjords and islands. From the funicular hillside look out, many of these islands can be seen nearby. Ferries trace white lines across the water while here and there is the glimpse of high and low bridges joining islands to the mainland.

From the viewpoint it does indeed look a picturesque place to visit. What about the ground level view?

City Box Hotel is not right downtown, but it is close enough. The main good point is the three blocks or so to the railway station which I used coming and going from Bergen. It is budget priced coupled with good sized clean and comfortable rooms.

I head out with map in hand although having read it a few times I soon get familiar with my surroundings and directions become fairly intuitive.

The first place I located was a large pond or small lake just a block away. This is lille Lungeglard vann and it is part of a inner city park area. In the centre is an impressive fountain which was sending great jets of water skywards each time I saw it. Later I discovered a couple of smaller fountains in small garden ponds.

Dominating one end of the lake was a large stainless steel cube form. Each side had a different pattern of shapes, curves, hollows and protrusions. Each time I passed it the lighting was different and so the sides conveyed different effects. Quite fascinating actually.

At a guess I would put the height at five metres with each side at least that wide. Small children tried to climb it without success. Plenty of people were posing for photos in front of it. Consequently I had to wait a while to get my 'people free' photos.

Nearby was a large box frame standing up on one side. It was filled with earth and had grass growing around the edges and flowers blooming on the main sides. They had been planted to create a floral pattern. On the reverse were more flowers plus a metal rod sticking out and shaped like an umbrella handle.

In a neighboring flower garden was a large white door frame complete with an open door. A path of ground cover plants wound its way toward and through the door. Unusual, but in some ways compelling in its simplicity.

In a pond was a sculpture of of a worried fisherman in a row boat. On the boat's side were the hands of a sea monster trying to climb aboard. No wonder he was worried. Multiple jets of water played out over it from a fountain.

Other jets were playing out over a sculpture of a small nude boy standing in the middle of a pond. His face showed complete annoyance – even anger. I guess he didn't like the water splashing onto him.

Somewhere, near by a group were endlessly practicing their sneer drum beats. It was not actually unpleasant just loud and repetitive.

Carrying on, I arrived at the Torget, which is a waterside esplanade and runs along one of the harbourside areas. This is the tourist centre of the city. It is where the tourists from the cruise boats and the Hurtigruten naturally end up in. Unless they have joined one of the many bus tours from shipside. Close to the Torget are ferryboat births.

I was interested to find a variety of pleasure craft also moored around this section of the harbour. These included some large motor cruisers and large yachts all of which belonged to the wealthy or more likely the super rich. Most had registrations from Caribbean ports such as Georgetown and Kingston. However one very large yacht was registered in Douglas, which I took to be the Isla of Man.

Each boat was spotlessly clean with shoes left at the gangplank.

Part of the Torget was a wide mall with shops on either side, a fountain and statue in the middle and various buskers at work. One group was an accordion band, another a brass group from St Petersburg and then a solo country and western singer – who seemed to be popular with the passers by. He was doing a range of country standards, the others were playing short classical tunes. Short I suspect because it gave folk a quicker chance to feel they should donate.

Across the road from the harbour, there was a group of stalls selling all the usual t shirts and trinkets associated with tourist spots. Only the name had changed. All fairly tacky I thought.

Next to the harbour was the famous Bergen Fish Market. Now I must confess that I had assumed it would be a fish trading and auction market. In fact it was strait retail and straight grab the tourist kroner – or even tourist euro. Incidentally I noticed that the conversion rate for the euro varied from stall to stall. From 10 euro to 100 NOK right up to a conversion of 14 euro for 100 NOK. Someone was making money. Checking on line showed that 100 NOK = 12.50 NOK.

It was not even a bit like the Seattle Pikes Point Fish Market. No – this was largely stalls selling bread rolls of various sorts filled with shrimps or crab meat. There were paper plates of the same plus salmon with salad. They also sold king crab legs at a price (180 NOK a plate of a couple legs). All the legs had had the claws removed and these were sold separately.

It was possible to buy crab, crayfish and fillets of chilled fish from some stalls. There was also fresh and smoked whale. I tried the tiniest sample of smoked whale and thought that it tasted a bit like smoked salmon. The slabs of fresh whale meat looked quite dark, like a mature slab of beef.

Along from the fish stands were stalls selling fresh fruit with an emphasis on strawberries and cherries. I bought a punet of strawberries at 40 NOK which would be around $NZ9. They were also on sale in clear plastic tumblers at 25 NOK. The tumbler full of cherries were 40 NOK. I worked out that there were about 10 cherries in the container so at 4 NOK each, that would be just under $NZ1 per cherry.

Along further was a stall selling furs and they had full pelts hanging up at the front. I thought that the pelts had lovely colouring. One lot were coyote pelts. Inside the stall tent there were fur hats and scarves.

Along one side of the harbour are the famous wooden houses of Bergen. They seem to feature on any post card or calendar of Norway and Bergen. I really think that it was these buildings which brought me to visit the city. I wanted to see them for myself. I was not disappointed. They were what I expected. But what I had not expected was to find taxi stands in front of them and cafe seating and tables. That made if difficult to get the sort of photo I had imagined that I could take. How to get the buildings without the rest. Well one way was to shoot sideways along the street and compress them with a telephoto setting. But the next day I did get something more as I had expected by shooting across from the other side of the harbour.

I have been told that the original wooden houses had burnt down at least once in their history but had been rebuilt as they originally were. Certainly there was a really disastrous town wide fire at one stage and little escaped the flames that time round.

Beside the wooden houses are a series of brick versions of the same design. There are two groups with one group larger and more ornate that the other.

These buildings all give evidence to the trading history of Bergen. Centuries ago several north German coastal towns became major trading cities, united as the Hansa League. Because other European nations controlled trade into the Atlantic and beyond, these cities traded into the Baltic.

Although not in the Baltic, Bergen became a key Hansa trading centre as well. So the distinctive buildings in wood or brick are the merchant traders' homes. Today they all have shops on the ground floor and at least one has an upstairs museum. The shops are all aimed at tourists. That is of course what you would expect as the walkers from the cruise ships pass by here.

Carrying along the foreshore road I came to what looked like a castle. I guess that is what most cities would call it. However, here it was listed as two separate tourist attractions. First the Rosenkrantz Tower and secondly the King Hakon's Hall. There is also a cafe. Each museum and attractions seems to need a cafe. I didn't go into either but did walk around the grounds between the buildings. Being on a hill I got a good view of another cruise liner birthing. Behind the castle is a small park where crew were clearing up and dismantling a stage from the previous night's concert. So yet another town with a stage going up or down.

I enjoyed walking around many of the narrow side streets. Some had shops others just houses. On one corner I called into a Christian bookshop, although I was in before I realized that that was what it was. I did buy a CD or Gregg's music being played on his original piano. Gregg's home is close to Bergen and is now a museum. Of course you would expect that wouldn't you. The home of anyone with any claim to fame seems to be turned into a museum. It is an universal phenomena.

Just up that street I found a useable cafe called Cafe Magdalene and I noticed that it was run by the local Lutheran Church. If I had needed a meal than it would have made a useful venue.

Late one afternoon I found myself at the entrance to the funicular which is a popular attraction. I had sort of wondered about going up it but now I was actually here I thought that it would be a good way to fill in some time.

But first I just had to stop and observe a film crew packing up lights and gels and dolly tracks. I noticed a couple of men standing looking at what I correctly identified as the script. From the way locals were thanking photos of one of the men and getting his autograph it was obvious that here was a 'name'. So I took a few photos of the conversation and autograph signing. Then once they finished when up and introduced myself and asked for their names to go with the photo caption.

I was talking to Stockholm based director Stephan Apelgren, while the actor was a local favourite, Trond Espen Seim. They were filming the next in a long line of contemporary thrillers set in Bergen around a character called Varga-Veum (=wolf). I think this is number 7 in the series and are they very popular in Scandinavia. So I had a good chat and will do a paragraph or two for the next issue of SCRIPT.

Then it was a ride up the funicular and it was a good ride. Once we had come out of tunnels and got our first good view down onto Bergen the passengers all seemed to gasp and exclaim in unison. At the top there was a surprisingly large crowd standing and sitting just enjoying the view. Certainly it was a good day and you could see for many kilometres. I was pleased that I had made the trip up the hill. So to celebrate I bough an ice cream. This is only the second one I have bought during my travels, although I was given one in Trondheim but that was not very nice. This one was a trumpet type and I enjoyed it.

I have visited a local Vietnamese cafe across the road from the hotel for two evening meals. I enjoyed both and appreciated the fresh cooked vegetables. I think going there was a good choice especially as there is no kitchen facility at the hotel and only a microwave but no utensils other than cardboard coffee mugs. Like many I have encountered on the trip these carried the brand of hautamaki which I am sure is a New Zealand company owned by one of Brian Tamaki's brothers. But of course I could be wrong.