Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Sammi country, Norway and Copenhagen

[After side trips to Chiang Mai and Singapore, Macktastic has returned to battle the never-ending post...]

Taking a short flight to the very north of Finland, we took a long ass bus...further north to Saariselke. On the way,we stopped for a "Sammi Experience". As in we experienced drinking tea in a hut with costumed people. I think they were actually Sammi people, but it's kind of cheesy. Like me walking around in a cheongsam doing a teacup dance (yes, it happened, no, there's no photos). They are the indigenous people of those parts and their original job is herding reindeer, but like many indigenous people the world over, they also fill tourist itineraries.

Official Cruise Outfit

After our last night in Finland, we crossed over to Kirkenes in Norway, for the 6-day Hurtigruten cruise which would take us down Norway's western coast to Bergen. It's touted all over their literature as THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VOYAGE IN THE WORLD. It's more like THE COLDEST VOYAGE IN THE WORLD, but I'm not one to mess with people's copy.

It began as a postal ship serving the people of northern Norway who would be cut off without it in winter. Now it carries cargo and tourists daily from each port. So it's a very nice way to travel, but it's not one of your huge commercial cruises with 24-hr buffet and rock-climbing wall. I had a conversation with a Norwegian at Herrang about it:
Me: I went on the Hurtigruten.
Norwegian: ohhh the HUER-ti-groo-TEN

Me: umm yep.

Norwegian: Which ship did you take?

Me: The Nordlys.
Norwegian: ohhh the NAWRT-liss

Me: You know it??

Norwegian: Sure, everyone knows them.

Me: You've been on it then?

Norwegian: Nah, too expensive.
Me: ...

The expense is because well, it's Norway, but really you can't outsource this kind of product to Asia:

Stunning Midnight Sun at Tromso

Awe-inspiring Trollfjord

Beyond-charming fishing villages

Drool-inducing Chef onboard :D

Sadly, the voyage did come to an end, but happily it was in the bustling port of Bergen:

Bryggen in Bergen!

'Bustling' is such an old-fashioned word, but I think it's right. Bergen has a World Heritage Site in Bryggen-a collection of the old buildings that they used to process fish through. The town centre is pretty much wall-to-wall heritage buildings though, and has a backdrop of seven mountains. It's basically a fairytale.

Which is why it's not hard to imagine that Bergen's most famous son is the composer Edvard Grieg who wrote the classic Morning Mood. If you think of dawn breaking and birds chirping and rainbows and morning dew, that is the music of Bergen you're hearing in your head.

We only had one night there though, before we set off to Oslo via the super scenic Flam railway.

But though the views that we got whilst speeding through the mountains was spectacular, it was what happened inside that stuck with me. Getting to our seat had been a real bunfight. Once the doors opened, it was like a very fancy version of the scramble in musical chairs, except with a lot more Japanese tourists armed with pointy umbrellas.

Luckily for us, we got in the same cabin with a Spanish group. Particularly a Spanish padre, who decided to serenade one of the aunties on the tour. The whole cabin joined him in "Guantanamera", "La Bamba" and a very passionate rendition of "Besame Mucho". Love when stuff like that happens :)

After hopping off the Flam Railway, there was another long-ass scenic bus journey to Oslo. Which disappointingly, looked like this:

This is where I slag off Oslo:
Oh man, we at Macktastic thought we could say we heart Scandinavia, but Oslo is standing in the way! Maybe it was a bad hair day for Oslo, but the whole of the city centre was under construction. Was a big disappointment after super-slick Stockholm and happily-neat Helsinki.

Wickipedia says it's the "fastest-growing Scandinavian capital. The increase is due, in almost equal degree, to high birth rates and immigration". I'm from Australia, I am a big fan of multi-culturalism, and until Oslo, thought it'd be a good thing for everyone.

Now, I'm not so sure. The rest of Norway, and Scandinavia for that matter, was safe, clean, well organised and had very few street people. Oslo in contrast was more like New York-grotty, chaotic and security-challenged. It doesn't feel like the rest of Norway at all, which was kind of sad.

I can't recommend skipping Oslo though, because it has one saving grace, and it's pretty big. Vigeland Sculpture Park is part of an 80-acre park and is more than 200 scultpures, plus a monolith and a fountain. It was sculptor Gustav Vigeland's lifetime's work and the monolith (that's in the background of the pic) was finished just before his death.

The sculptures are all human figures and when you walk through it, the experience is of seeing the entire gamut of emotion and relationship from birth to death played out in bronze and granite. I am so in love with this place. I think I could have spent the whole 2 weeks here and it would have been worthwhile.

See more of the stunning figures in my Oslo pix.

We got rushed out of the park to be on the ferry to the last stop on the tour: Copenhagen in Denmark.

Copenhagen was the most fun place of the whole trip for me. I'm sure it didn't have anything to do with that I could wave goodbye to the tour, and was finally free (!) The accoms came down quite a few stars. Actually all of them. But, post-ye olde tour and pre-Herrang, I'll be ever grateful to Copenhagen for giving me some awesomely awesome days there. So a big TACK for that, and a big SORRY! for causing those biking accidents on the streets :p

For the full set of pix of eeeevvverything, go here.

[Macktastic promises not to harp on anymore about Scandinavia now. No, really. I really mean it]

No comments: