Vicki's Norway

Oslo, Norway—June 28, 2009-07-05
Munch Country, yes, Oslo was his home, and it is home to two of the four Scream paintings. We bought another 1 day card so we had another marathon 24 hours. However, the highlight was first the Munch Museum and then the National Gallery of Art. The Munch Museum has hundreds of paintings but it is especially famous because it is the Museum from which the Scream was stolen in the 90s. They have since super increased security and we had to go through the only metal detectors we have been through in all of Scandinavia. The Scream in the Munch had too much blue/green on the face—it is not my favorite. However, the gift shop was tremendous. I restrained myself to only a key chain—which will make a fine Christmas tree ornament and a bookmark. I actually had several of the items there. I was very interested in the book on Scream parodies if anyone is looking for a Christmas gift idea. The National Gallery had my Scream so I fought through the Japanese tour bus group and got up close and personal—it was tremendous. Mark had to take my picture with the inferior Scream as the National Gallery didn’t allow photos.

Photography varies with every place—very few allow flash but many allow regular photos. It is always a disappointment when no photos are allowed as there is no way to remember all the marvelous things that you are seeing. We couldn’t possibly buy a guidebook for every palace and museum even if we were wealthy, at least not without a book trailer. That brings up possibly the major flaw in our trip—sensory overload. Travel is highly intensive living even at our slow pace. At this point I can’t remember the German palaces vs the Denmark vs the Swedish—we skipped the Norwegians and the Finns have never had their own royalty thank heavens! But Mark is taking lots of pictures and hopefully his blog will help us remember most of it. I figure just organizing the pictures will take up the first five years of the nursing home. Pity our captive slide show audience.

Voss, Norway July 5, 2000

Before I forget I just want to mention how boring the 7 hours drive from Stockholm to Oslo was--all pine trees, rolling hills and lakes with very few houses let alone villages. It was pretty for the first hour but after that—those of you who have driven across upper Minnesota or southern Canada north of the Great Lakes will know what I mean. These are not even old growth forests—not when people have been living here since the last ice age! Anyway one quickly saw why the Swedish immigrants felt quite at home in the upper mid west.

In contrast, Norway is a scenic wonderland and we have been to some awfully wonderful places before. First we drove through Lillehammer of 1994 Olympics fame. It is really a tiny city—not half as large as Missoula, at the end of a gorgeous huge lake and right at the beginning of the big mountains. Spent the night in the parking lot outside the Olympic skating venue along with about 9 other “free” campers. Then we turned west into the big mountains that run all the way to the west coast and fjord country. I’m sure Mark will describe his big hike, but we basically drove for two days through country much like the Beartooth Highway—except more of it. Wild, desolate and just entering mid spring, even though it is early July. We are so far North that treeline stops at about 3000 ft. and even the 4500 ft. peaks look like the Alps with all their snow and some of the largest glaciers in Europe.

The last two days we have driven over the wet-your-pants highways with dozens of hairpin turns, impossible drop offs, and large tour buses passing you on a 1 lane road with pull offs. Rick Steves advises passengers not to scream until actually hit or having left the road. I was able to comply but have ground about an inch of enamel off my teeth. The views were worth it though, especially when the mountain pass area ended and we stopped to gaze at the Sognefjord 4000 ft below us. It was truly one of the amazing sites of my life. (However, today when we started down another of these crazy roads and we passed a sign saying 18% grade ahead, we both decided that turning around was the best thing to do and we would just have to miss that waterfall.)
By the way, though Norway is absolutely wonderful, both Mark and I are constantly seeing things that remind us of similar sites in Montana. Okay, Montana doesn’t have fjords but it has drop dead scenery that can hold its own against almost anywhere else we have been.
July 10, 2009 Geiranger, Norway

The past few days we have driven through the fiord area and it has been wonderful. Last night though as we drove to the top of Djupvasshytta (quite a mouthful) at about 5,000 ft the whiteout moved in. We had followed 5 tour buses to top of a steep, winding toll road and we were determined to wait for the view to clear. Which it did, at least for a few minutes, and it was magnificent as you could see all the way down to the fiord at sea level. I was unwilling to drive back down in the whiteout so we stayed the night and gave up waiting for the clouds to lift at 10 this morning. I decided to stay in the back of the camper and read on the way down as my nerves are shot. I can deal with winding roads, steep roads, drop offs with no guard rails. What I can't deal with is one lane winding, steep roads with two way traffic including tour buses! The tunnels have also been interesting as we have probably passed through over a hundred in the last 3 days, some as long as 6 miles. They are not normal tunnels—they have s curves, they go up (10% grade), they go down (8% grade) and they also can be 1 lane with two way traffic—and none of them have lights. So my nerves are a bit frazzled and I keep demanding Mark not to go over 10 mph. We are now at a campground at the end of the fiord and will wait for tomorrow to take the sightseeing cruise and then the Eagle's Road up the mountain as the weather is supposed to be better.

Right now outside our window is a huge cruise ship. Cruising the fiords is very popular and great for people who can't get around very well as you can see all the beauty from the deck. I talked to a man from San Diego who was on a 7 day cruise through 7 fiords and they were loving it. I have no idea what that costs but given the prices of rooms and food here, it is probably cheaper than doing it by car. Write to me. Vicki

 Hetta, Finland-- July 20, 2009

We just left Norway an hour ago, headed south to Paris. We loved Norway and could have spent another 3 weeks easily. We decided to go north to the Lofoten Islands which have to be one of the most gorgeous places in the world—see Mark's blog for pictures and details. Then when we found out my cousin wasn't going to be in Brussels for us to visit, we decided—what the hay—let's go to the North Cape. A place we had never heard of before 2 weeks ago, but it is the furthest northern point in Europe and a very popular destination for Europeans. (Be sure to look on an atlas and see how amazingly far north this is!) It was a mere 600 miles round trip out of the way, but then we knew we would never get this close again. It also allowed us to stop at another Unesco World Heritage Site—the rock carvings in Alta. Both were really cool, and tonight we are wild camping again and staying up till midnight to see the midnight sun. At the Cape last night, we could only see the midnight sun reflection due to the constant cloud bank over the Arctic Ocean. But given that it was the Arctic Ocean that is to be expected.

For those of you interested in the practical, we have wild camped the last 10 nights, staying for free at roadside pullouts and parks. Usually there are several other campers and even tenters, but not always. This is a huge wilderness area and very sparsely populated mostly by the Sami (Lapplander) people. Staying for free has been especially important as it costs about $150 for every fill up—or $ .30 a mile for diesel. We haven't had much in admission prices but that has been balanced out by the cost of the ferry boats. The Arctic Menu featured here of reindeer stew, cod, salmon also hasn't been that attractive—we haven't eaten out at all basically since the smorgasbord on the ship to Helsinki. Dinner for two would be at least $100 for a very basic meal. At the ESSO station they are having a special—two hot dogs and a small coke for only 49 kroners--$7.50.

I did have lunch at Burger King a few days ago—double cheeseburger, med. fry and small coke for $10. I asked the counter girl what she made-- $20 an hour. To start a person would make no less than $15. So that puts the prices into perspective. Basically a minimum wage worker in the US would have to work about 50 minutes to pay for that meal in the US and have no health benefits and probably no paid vacation or sick leave. In Scandinavia they would only have to work 40 minutes and get free health care and a month's paid vacation plus sick leave. That is why they have such an overall high standard of living and very little crime or poverty. Of course, they probably don't have the percentage of really high incomes that the US does because taxes are so high to pay for all the benefits. So basically the “socialism” that many in the US are so afraid of just means that the rich have a little less so that there isn't any poverty and all who work have the dignity of a living wage. Awful isn't it? I will get off my soapbox now.

It is 2200 miles from the North Cape to Paris where we pick up Rebecca on July 29 so we have to hustle.