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Published: September 3rd 2009
....this particular week the city was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway.
Motorhome News from Europe 23.
Norway/Sweden June 2005
Oslo, Norway, and on into Sweden
To the best of my knowledge, I have never seen a photograph of Oslo, so I had little by way of expectations when we arrived at the campsite overlooking the city, mid-morning. The E18 motorway runs straight into the City, through the tunnel under the centre and out the other side. Consequently, there is little traffic in the centre and it has a peaceful air, with wide streets and green parks everywhere. The pedestrianised main street, Carl Johans Gate, runs straight as an arrow about one and a half km from the railway station to the Palace, between smart shops, cafes and restaurants. Nothing like our chaotic Oxford Street!
We left Smiley at the campsite and took the bus into town, planning to have half a day walking to some of the sights and get our bearings. Oslo is a fine city, it’s very cosmopolitan, and though it has little of architectural merit the tidy modern ‘small town’ feel makes it rather friendly. There are regular, clean and un-crowded buses, trams and underground trains and hardly a car to be seen near
Changing of the Guard
the city centre.
This week in Oslo was rather special for two reasons. Firstly, it was Janice’s birthday and she was under strict instructions to enjoy herself, and secondly, this particular week the city was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway. To mark the event, there was a festival with a number of special events. We were able to get a taster on our first day there.
The changing of the guard at 1pm was spectacular; more than an hour of precision marching with the band playing, post horns sounding, bayonets flashing and the crowd, all 200 of us, smiling and applauding with gusto! The brochure also mentioned a Naval event in the harbour at 2pm, so we rushed off across the park in time to see a galleon sailing into the dock! The ‘Gothenborg’ is a full size replica of an 18C wreck discovered in Gothenborg, Sweden, (or Goteborg as it is shown on our map), and it moored alongside six or seven other tall-masters including some from Sweden and Poland, motor torpedo boats, a submarine and a destroyer of the Norwegian fleet. As if that’s
Changing of the Guard
not enough excitement for the day, we celebrated our special birthday with a fine meal and a few glasses (or was it more?) of the red stuff in the evening. Doubtless Sweden and Norway will both celebrate their Centenary of independence this year. The Swedish King and Queen were guests at the opening of the new Nobel Centre in Oslo this week.
All of Oslo’s museums are on a promontory just out of town and easy to get to by bus, or ferry which makes a lot of sense. The Norwegians are justly proud of their prowess at sea and for their feats of exploration. Amundsen, the first to the South Pole, (a month before Scott), features in the Fram museum, where this egg hulled wooden ship ship holds pride of place for its incredible journeys close to both poles. The Kon-Tiki exhibition has Thor Heyerdahl’s papyras Ra 11 and the original balsa Kon-Tiki, both quite remarkable. But most amazing of all, for me, was the Viking Ship Museum; these magnificent 22m wooden boats were rowed and sailed as far as the Mediterranean and the USA between the 9th and 11th centuries! I hear that some Norwegian tour operators
..arriving for the festival
are planning pillaging and raping holidays by Viking ship to the Suffolk coast next year; (oars and funny hats supplied).
Newspapers here are in Norwegian of course. It really does look incredibly complicated and I’d be quite surprised if anyone can actually read it. Perhaps that’s why they all speak English. There are some similarities between English and Norwegian. For example, skule, is school and it’s probably a better way to spell it. Likewise, syklist, resepjon and buss.
The road south from Oslo into Sweden runs alongside the coast and whilst we know we’re a bit late for the migration of birds from the south for which this area is renowned, we took a look at one or two of the hot spots mentioned in our ‘Where to watch birds in Scandinavia’. Disappointingly, the hot spots were only luke-warm, but that was to be expected. There were a few eider on the still water inside the hundreds of ‘bowler hat’ granite islands just off shore, a pair of mergansers, shelduck, common terns, a pied flycatcher, red-backed shrike, great spotted woodpecker and a few others, but nothing yet of ground-breaking significance. Never mind; a bit like golf, it’s always
a good excuse for a walk in the sunshine. We have seen one or two golf courses on our travels here and several practice ranges, but we have no regrets at leaving the clubs at home this time. On second thoughts, perhaps a seven iron would have been good for practice on the range!
There is a shopping centre for Norwegians just across the border into Sweden. Our first visit to a Swedish supermarket suggests that food is a bit cheaper, around the same as at home. Also, diesel in Sweden is around 72p per litre compared with 81p in Norway. By my reckoning, that makes the UK at 89p the most expensive place for diesel in Europe, so I’ll stop complaining about prices in Norway until we get back across the border sometime around the end of July. Our plan at the moment is to head across Sweden towards Stockholm, and then turn northwards, up the east coast, into Suomi Finland just below the arctic-circle. After exploring Finland’s northern National Parks we will continue northwards, possibly as far as Nordkapp, where we turn southwest once again through Norway down as far as Bergen. We depart Bergen by ferry
for Lerwick in Shetland on the 23rd August if the sea’s not too rough!
Both Sweden and Norway fly their flags and pennants with pride from flagpoles and rooftops in towns and villages. There is so much here that reminds us of Northern Ontario. The maple leaf is important there, and here too, alongside minor roads, mail boxes collect like ants, awaiting collections and deliveries for unseen houses hidden somewhere deep in the forest. Here, too, there are hundreds of pine fringed lakes and there was a group of about ten black-throated divers on the lake by the campsite at Ed, about thirty miles inland, right in the north of Sweden. These spectacular birds are now referred to as ‘loons’ in the bird books; the common name for the great northern divers across North America.
Outcrops of ice-worn granite known as rock slab extend like giant boulders inland some miles along this coast, up into the birch and spruce covered hills rising gently from the cultivated valleys. On the Norway side of the border there are burial mounds and stone circles from around 500AD; one in the shape of a Viking ship with 3m high stones fore and
in the shape of a Viking ship
aft. Farther south, in Sweden, we visited one of many sites with carvings on rocks dating back as far as the Bronze-age, 1000-500BC. We have seen Maori rock paintings in Kakadu and cave paintings in Lascaux in France and in Spain, but whilst there are many wonderful stone circles and suchlike in the UK, I don’t recall much artistic representation of this nature.
The classic picture-book image of Sweden is probably a brick-red farmhouse set on a hillside of buttercup meadows. Well, it really is true and it’s a common sight here! With little topsoil other than in the valleys, most of the open land and ample rainfall supports lush grasses rich in wild flowers for the livestock. The houses in the countryside here in northwest Sweden are indeed painted brick red, unlike the traditional white of the Norway coast we left behind.
Our first visit to the wilderness regions took us into the Trestiklan National Park on the border with Norway where we walked for more than four hours on rocky paths through rich pine and birch forest without seeing another soul. It rained off and on, but we enjoyed the exercise in an environment where
we are both at home. A lesser-spotted woodpecker greeted us with its magical call above our heads, crested tits darted through the trees and a golden eye dabbled in the water in front of us as we sat on the bank having our lunch. We walked on carpets of grey-green lichen and swathes of fresh bilberry through bright tipped spruce and cotton grass beside the streams. Elk are said to be around in the park but they stayed out of sight - or we had our heads down in the rain! The following day we had better luck and in addition to our first Swedish elk at Vanersborg’s ‘Algens Berg’, we also saw a pair of cranes striding gracefully across a cultivated field beside the road. Such an elegant bird. I must go and lie down. I’m not sure I can take all of this excitement!
Early one morning we left Smiley for a while and walked through the woods around the lake by the campsite at Vanersborg to look for birds. To our surprise an oil tanker appeared in the middle of the lake! The massive Lake Vanern is on the Gota Canal that runs right across Sweden
the tri-maran Nokia preparing to set sail
from Gothenborg to Stockholm.
Driving south through the countryside along the west coast we saw more horses than cows feasting on the luscious grass. From this we can make a couple of assumptions. Either there are a lot of riders in this country (perhaps there aren’t many buses), or, more likely, the cows are all locked up in the massive barns for most of the summer. Clearly grass is a valuable commodity and the white plastic rolls of summer’s first cut of hay lining the fields around the farms indicate expectations of another harsh winter ahead.
En route to Gothenborg we passed through the town of Trollhattan. We didn’t stop there, but Trollhattan is the home of Saab motor cars. Volvo also have a presence in town, but it might be aeronautics and not motors, I guess, otherwise they would be forever pinching each other’s staff! Every other car in Sweden appears to be a Volvo, whatever the age or condition. This is another country like Norway, where motorists are very courteous and generally they drive passively within, or just around, the very slow speed limits.
The picturesque island of Marstrand is a short ferry ride off
the coast just north of Gothenborg and we deposited Smiley in a secure car park and slipped over for a brief visit whilst the sun was shining. Across the short stretch of water it has the trappings of a remote nineteenth century whaling town somewhere off the west coast of North America. Tourists and sailors obviously come here in droves in the summer to enjoy the atmosphere amongst the smartly painted houses, pastel pink, sky blue, dusty purple and white, with fancy picket fences and many flying the Swedish flag. The harbour was full of fast yachts from Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Also there was the tri-maran, Nokia. We’re very taken with this piece of coast, but there’s a lot more to see and as Janice reminds me, we’ve a long way to go!
Tomorrow morning, the 15th June, will see us in Gothenborg from where you will hopefully receive this missive. For now, we’ll say our farewells. We spent all of last week learning Norwegian and now we’ll have to learn Swedish. What is the Swedish for goodbye?
David and Janice
The grey haired nomads
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