Riga, Latvia

 

Heading south out of Estonia we crossed into our second Baltic country, Latvia (Lithuania will be our third) to be met by a Morgan tour!

Latvia has an amazing history of belonging to other countries: the German Crusades stayed a while (1200 ->), then the Swedes in 1621, with a bit going to Poland at the time, the Russians in the 1800s (Riga was once the second largest Swedish city and then the third largest Russian city!) followed by independence in 1918. However the Russians arrived back in 1940 (when Russia and Germany divided up northern Europe), the Germans 1941-44, then the Russians again until the second (or is it third) independence in 1989 with the break-up of the USSR.

On to Riga. Set on the Daugava River, which allowed it to trade and become a Hanseatic City, Riga grew into a wealthy, walled, medieval city. And guess what, it’s a UNESCO heritage town. We are seeing a few of these; and enjoying them.

Ros found a great hotel right in the old city. Arranging parking was a hoot: “the parking is off site and an attendant will come around and drive your car to the parking lot”. Well…. we weren’t too keen on that and nor was the parking attendant who took six photos of the car and then ran away! Fortunately the hotel had a small court yard and could fit two cars in there and offered this to us.

We walked out and straight into a display of two meter tall bears, over 140 of them, each painted by a respected painter from the different countries represented (Ken Done for Australia). The bears were United Buddy Bears that travel around the world to raise money for children to ensure they have ‘better lives’. Starting in Berlin in 2002, the Exhibition travels around the world promoting “peace, international understanding and tolerance among the nations, cultures and religions of this world”. The bears were in Sydney in 2006, at the Opera House.

Sights on the streets included the town hall and the Blackheads House. Not heard of Blackheads? A Hanseatic guild for unmarried German men (as they were not allowed to mix with the locals). These boys went one further than everyone else: they dragged a pine tree inside for Christmas and decorated it. They started a bit of a tradition! These old cities have many churches (these medieval towns sure do churches well – they are often cheek by jowl) and 3 or 4 cathedrals (one for each brand). across the river the new town has a library that (sort of) reflects the Balckheads house!

Our hotel had a roof top restaurant so we dined there the first night, looking out over numerous spirals and decorated roof tops. The food was excellent and our waiter encouraged us to sample the local firewater, Black Balsam, made from a concoction of herbs such as wormwood, ginger, balsamic oil etc. It came in different varieties (we had a few too many) with different flavourings to add to the taste! (Ros: For those of you familiar with Waterbury’s Compound, the original was very reminiscent of this childhood medicine, but about four times the strength! The one flavoured with blackcurrent was palatable, but a bit like vegemite – an acquired taste!)

As Riga was originally built on islands (as it seems are all the cities we have visited) it still has a canal running off the river and around the city so we took a boat trip. This is an interesting and relaxing way to see the city, docks etc.

We also ventured outside the old city to visit the most amazing collection of art nouveau buildings, constructed between approximately 1890 to 1912. Look up and see the amazing decorations on the over 700 buildings (we are told – we certainly saw a lot): there are geometric designs, mystical beasts, screaming masks, flora, goddesses (often with long braids of hair strategically placed) and numerous different external materials (often on the same building).

 

As part of the attraction, one building’s apartment has been redecorated in 1910s style. We noticed that some of the features were similar to our ‘Edwardian’ or Federation style house at home.

An advantage of travelling in Europe at this time of year is sport! Watching the Tour de France, Wimbledon, the Open and World Cup semi finals and finals live while having dinner and a beer is great. (Did you hear about the Englishman and Frenchie who met in a bar before the semi finals. The pom said to the frog: we are playing Croatia on Wednesday. The frog says: that’s funny we are playing them on Sunday! And the French did in fact play [and beat] the Croatians on Sunday!).

Overall a great time in Riga, enjoying days of no driving and wandering interesting, cobbled streets and alleyways while stopping in outdoor restaurants for coffee and beer in the warm 25oC plus temperatures.

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An Estonian Summer Holiday

We picked for our next few nights the places that Estonians visit for their summer holidays and followed them south west to the Baltic Sea.

Leaving Tallinn I tried to capture a few photos of the Soviet / more recent buildings.

First stop across on the ferry were the two islands of Muhu and Saaremaa off the coast with ideal Roadster driving on tree lined roads, along coast lined with beaches, some even with sand!

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Ros booked a great hotel located in an ancient manor dating from the 15thcentury Danish times with parks and gardens overlooking the reed covered shore of the Baltic. In the 19thcentury, Baron Axel von Buxhoeveden of the Russian court improved the manor and the park, however in 1919 be was assassinated and his wife fled. It fell into disrepair and has recently been restored as a fancy hotel and restaurant.

We spent the afternoon driving around the island of Saaremaa, stopping at some windmills, a meteorite site (big hole in ground with a ridge around it),

visited the castle in Kuressaare

and then drove to the beach at Tuhkana, accessed along a track through a forest. Unfortunately no waves, and indeed it was still ankle deep 100 yards out, however, as it was very cold, this was not too much of a problem.

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Oh, and a familiar sign to Australians!  Apparently a local has started a zoo and one of his big features is, you guessed it, kangaroos!

The final tourist spot for the day was the Orissaare football pitch: Why? Because it has an oak tree in the middle of the pitch that the tractors in 1951 could not remove, so it was left there. Players simply play around it!

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A drink beside the sea under the umbrellas watching the world boat by, followed by a delightful dinner in the manor overlooking gardens bathed in the evening twilight.

A late start and back onto the ferry for our one hour drive to Parnu, Estonia’s premier sea side resort. Long sandy beaches running away into the distance greeted us, with bars, floaties, many children, sailboard hire and mud baths to attract the locals.  However, a point here: who is a local? In one car park we sighted cars with number plates from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Germany and France (and Australia!).

The centre of Parnu has a pleasant ‘old town’ with lots of old wooden buildings. Also, we came across a small park where a brass ensemble were playing when we arrived. The ensemble was comprised of all saxophones, including one altosax.

Down then to the Baltic playground of sand (cold) water and (no) waves, but plenty of bars along the beach. I actually found a beer that I could not drink: matured in oak foeders which allow oxygen to be added to the process resulted (unsurprisingly) in an oxidised flavour that was unpleasant. The very kind barmaid when I returned to the counter and said I just could not drink the beer gave me a new (pilsner) for no cost.  Just shows you want a good looking guy can do!

Dinner was a bit of a surprise: we still don’t know what the sausages Ros bought were, but they sure tasted good as we watch an amazing Wimbledon match: Anderson and Isner 26:24 games in the fifth set!

We did a bit of a back track the next day as we had been told about a car museum and decided to visit it as it has a display of Soviet vehicles.  We were not disappointed. The stories beside some of the cars where most interesting:

  1. The M14 limousine used by very important people which Gorbochov decided was too proletariat and so he decided to insist production ceased, destroy all plans and dies and even destroy all the scale models which were for sale!
  2. The Soviet army decided that the BMW R71 model bike was just right for their purposes so they arranged to buy six, via a Swedish intermediary, and had them shipped to Russia where they stripped them down and reverse engineered the design and built their own.
  3. The Lada 4WD that we know in Australia was also known in New Zealand, mainly because the Soviets did not have enough cash to pay for the dairy and meat purchased so they sent Ladas instead.
  4. Then we had the adds on the wall and the real thing:
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Tallinn

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A two hour ferry ride took us from Helsinki in Finland, to Tallinn in Estonia. The ferries in this part of the world are incredibly efficient. They arrive, unload and reload in record time. This particular ferry leaves Helsinki at 10.30am and we had been advised by Ann and Ranou that booking breakfast on the ferry was a good idea. So we did. Not only did this ferry unload around 400 cars and reload around 400 cars in 1 hour, they also boarded some hundreds of foot passengers. They also cleaned the ferry and set out a buffet for 250 people! On board was also a cafeteria, for those who did not book the buffet, plus a Burger King! And I am not sure what else.

Arriving in Tallinn we headed straight for the hotel to drop bags before setting off to explore the Old Town. As cars are not allowed into the centre of the Old Town we were grateful to Jonathon, the hotel General Manager, who came and collected bags for us then went back and directed John to the secure parking not too far from the hotel. Then, he had one of his reception staff track down a tyre place (yes, a second flat tyre) and John spent some of the afternoon getting the tyre fixed. I spent most of the afternoon outside a coffee shop, in the sun, blogging!

When John arrived back we wandered around the narrow, winding, cobbled streets of the Old Town with its lovely pastel coloured buildings before heading to a restaurant recommended by the hotel for dinner. Great food. We have had some seriously good food on this trip!

The highlight of any stay in Tallinn must be the beautiful Old Town which survived WWII virtually intact. This is a very rare occurrence, as any town which got in the way of either the Germans or Russians pretty much ended up flattened.

The cobbled central square, originally the town market place, (and still used as one today) is always bustling with people, many of whom are dressed in period costume. Many of the buildings date back to the medieval period and are today beautifully maintained. The Old Town is yet another UNESCO heritage listed site.

One building on the square, dating back to the Medieval period, has always been a pharmacy. By 1442 the pharmacy was onto its third owner, no one is entirely sure when it first opened its doors. In 1583  Johann Burchardt bought the store and a descendant with the same name ran the shop up until 1913 – ten generations all. Today it is still a pharmacy and many of the fittings date back hundreds of years. The more exotic, old world medicines of frogs legs etc are, however, not for sale.

We visited the Town Hall which has gone through an extensive and rigorous restoration and this is carefully documented and on display in the attic. The building itself and its history are fascinating.

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There were beautiful replica tapestries on display which had been specially commissioned for the building. The originals are carefully preserved elsewhere.

Atop the Town Hall, the weathervane is a replica of this little fellow who was installed in 1530. He now resides in the museum, out of the weather!

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The town walls are an imposing presence and are being carefully rebuilt or restored wherever appropriate. The defensive towers are still very much in evidence.

On one excursion outside the old city walls we came across about two dozen flower sellers and the roses came from Ecuador! As we learnt on our South America journey Ecuador exports millions of flowers, particularly roses, each year.

The Old Town is dominated by Toompea Hill where originally the German nobles lived when Tallinn was a Hanseatic City.  From here you will find excellent views looking back over the old town (where the Estonian artisans lived) as well as to the church spires which dominate the town. Toompea Hill hosts two of the city’s churches, the Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral, with its onion domed roof, and St Mary’s Lutheran Cathedral.

We visited the basement of the town’s KGB headquarters where the basement cells are open and document the atrocities committed by the KGB during Russia’s occupation of Estonia. The pursuit of power by some nations, their need to control every aspect of people’s lives and their inhumanity to anyone who dared looked askance at their regime continues to appal me. There are simply no words.

We had dinner on the second night in a restaurant where the wine cellar was as important as the food. The young waitress’s knowledge of wine and the care with which she decanted it and served it were exemplary. The wine and food and service were all excellent and we had a fabulous dinner sitting under an archway in the sun watching the world go by.

Tallinn was a deliberately slow visit as we needed to get our heads around some forward planning and we also needed some down time to catch up on the blog and some admin! This city is really a ‘must visit’ if you are wandering through the Baltic countries.

We enjoyed the old town so much that every time we thought that we should venture out and see come of the ‘city’ we only ever got as far as 100 mts beyond the gates and decided that was enough and turned back.  It was so peaceful inside (albeit the cruise ships of people following the tour leaders’ banner did take some of the tranquillity away at times) wandering down windy lanes, pocking into courtyard restaurants or just sitting in one of the many restaurants on the town hall square having a beer, or rubbing the nose of this statue, for luck, of course.

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Helsinki: Part 2

We ventured out to Suomenlinna the next day: it is a fortress built over 6 islands started by the Swedes in 1748 when they occupied Finland and were in control of much of the Baltic (Denmark etc) and concerned about the proximity of Russia to their eastern capital of Helsinki. So much for doing the job, while the guns pointed to the sea, the Russians arrived by land and in 1808 the fort surrendered to the Russians after 2 days (was the Commandant bribed by the Russians?) and then it became a Russian Fortress. And today it’s another UNESCO site – we are seeing a lot of these!.

The Russians ran it for a while. However in 1855 the British (with the French – they were on the same side at this point) bombed it because of the Crimea war. Yes the Crimea war, where Russia exerted its influence over the crumbling Ottoman Empire and this gave enough concern to the British to give Russia the heads up in the Baltic. I have previously said that through our trips I learn so much geography (where countries are) and history. So this nicely ties into our Silk Road trip with the Russia / British stands offs during the Great Game in Central Asia: Britain wanted to ensure that Russia did not impose itself on its jewel of India, while Russia wanted to increase its influence south.

And hence the Crimea war, as Britain was supporting the Ottomans to keep Russia away. And now we have the endgame: the bombing of Suomenlinna!

The British didn’t move the Russians out, allowing the Russians to enhance the defences of the islands, however no action has been seen since. Finland obtained control at independence in 1918 and then used it as a prison. (Finland had a civil war for a year: the whites -v- the reds with the whites winning and hence quite a few reds ended up on the island).

After the military left in 1973 it became a major recreation area of 80 hectares with 800,000 visitors a year who enjoy the history, the open grass land (locals with picnic rugs were prevalent) and the mixture of museums.

We joined a guided tour, well worth it as the guide was a university history student and a great source of information who filled in a lot of gaps for us. He pointed out the various fortifications built over the 300 years of use, from 5 meter thick stone bastions around the edge, further inner and outer walls, the cement reinforced soil mounds built by the Russians and the differing cannons used over the ages.

Our guide informed us about Augustin Ehrensvard who was the original builder of the fortress.  not only was he a builder but also dealt with the politicians to ensure a supply of money (and soldiers to build).  he is honoured with a big tomb in the middle of the islands.

Ros and I then split up before catching the ferry back to Helsinki, she went to a toy museum while I wandered for a while and ended up at the Vesikko, a WWII submarine now on land and set up as it was when last used with a crew of 20.

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[Ros: the toy museum was absolutely fascinating as you could wander around at your own pace with a 24 X A4 page document which told you what you were looking at, which manufacturer made the toy, where the toy fitted into the history of toys and how it fitted into the society of the time.

Often, the toys had been donated and came with stories of their own. One in particular I remember. The tiny teddy just to the left of the number 37 in the bottom of this picture was the ‘very special’ toy belonging to a little girl. When travelling by train she accidentally dropped him in the spittoon (this in an age of tuberculosis). Mother, however, grabbed the little bear and immediately wrapped it in newspaper and then a shawl till they got home. Once home the bear was thoroughly washed and disinfected. He survived the ordeal, however he did lose some of his lovely hair in the process. The granddaughter of the little owner donated the bear to the museum.

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Another donated bear came with all the accessories, all of which had been made by the mother and grandmother throughout the years, and these included not only clothes but things such as a suitcase for travelling, a potty and a clock etc.

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Beautiful dolls house rooms featured in the museum and I particularly liked the two rooms where the family dog can be seen eyeing off the food on the table.

One fascinating exhibit was of ‘poor dolls’. These were basically bought dolls heads (often only made from papermache) which were then given home made bodies and clothes. These dolls tended to disappear just before Christmas to turn up again on Christmas day with a new dress!

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A really fascinating toy was the Finnish Posti game. This was a boxed set, in miniature, of everything the post office then sold. It enables children to play at being a Postmaster!

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I would dearly have liked to buy the information booklet as the wealth of information in it was fascinating and threw light on not just the toys, but also the social mores of the era in which they were produced and when I emailed and asked for a copy I was generously sent one.]

That evening we were invited to Rauno and Ann’s house, 20 minutes out of Helsinki, for a BBQ with members of the MG Car Club of Finland. Although first we had to change another flat tyre!

Ann and Rauno have a fleet of MGs: a TB MkII (not many made) a couple of Bs, a Midget and a modern TF. (Rauno also has a beautiful 1929 Chevrolet). Due to his interest, Rauno has a pit in his garage and we were able to give Goldie a grease and oil change and general check over.

A delightful night in the evening sun with outstanding smoked salmon, reindeer sausages and to finish, the Finnish Easter special: Mammi, made of water, rye flour, powdered malted rye, seasoned salt, and dried powdered Seville orange zest. As they say, a vegemite moment, however with sugar and cream it was amazing. We were again to be grateful for the fellowship of the MG family. A thoroughly pleasant and enjoyable evening. Thank you Rauno and Ann.

A drive in the evening twilight back along the coast to our accommodation, ready for tomorrow’s ferry trip across the Baltic to the next leg of our journey, Estonia and the Baltic States.

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Helsinki: Part 1

A sad farewell to Mike and Kay as they left early to drive to Helsinki to catch a ferry back to Holland and Shiraz’s garage before returning home for the arrival of grandchild #2.

Without the driving force of another MG couple, we had a slow start, including dropping a box at the post office to be sent home: hopefully we will not need the mittens and long johns any longer.

A delightful drive to the nearby Kerimaki to see its ‘giant’ church which is capable of holding 5,000 people (claim: largest wooden church in the world). Built in 1847 when the town’s population was 12,000, the Reverend felt that half the town’s residents should be able to attend church at the same time. It’s big, with over 1.6 km of pews!

Next a cup of coffee by a lake with flowers nearby.

Off then to Punkaharju both a town as well as, and more importantly, a road built on sand dunes (now covered in pine trees) that crosses numerous lakes and was historically one of the roads used by the Russians to travel to Savonlinna. Did I mentioned that we are now closer to St Petersburg than to Helsinki? And that Russia controlled this part of Finland on and off over the centuries. The road is not long, but it crosses from island to island and winds its way through and across the lakes.

A last stop on the way to Helsinki, Porvoo, an old wooden town on a river with delightful cobbled streets and wobbly alleyways.

Why make a decision when you can have both an ice cream and a beer.

Helsinki is a great and easy to town to visit. Ros arranged a BNB just north of the city, a close 15 minute walk or an even closer tram ride. The first day there we were a bit slow to start: a walk through the market

Followed by a look at a few churches.

The Lutheran cathedral and the Orthodox cathedral 

And then really only managed the harbour cruise around the islands that surround Helsinki. Two hours in the warm sun hearing about the history of Helsinki and the fort of Suomenlinna (more on this in next post), plus the yacht club (on an island), the embassy district and the zoo (with wallabies!).  Plus the pier where locals can come and wash their carpets and leave out to dry!

Again, Helsinki is a city of islands, waterways and boats. The most impressive of the boats are the ice breakers used during winter to keep the ports open. Look closely at the photo and you can see that the back of the boats has a V shape with fenders: this is to allow the following ship to get right up close so that it can follow the ice breaker before the ice closes up!  And at the other end of the scale: the swimming pool.

A goof-off afternoon with Ros shopping (Ros says – ‘it was just so good to do something very untouristy and pretty normal!’) and coffee drinking while I watch England beat Sweden in the quarter final. I asked the locals next to me if they supported Sweden as it’s a neighbour, however the response was that Sweden controlled Finland for 200 years and so maybe not!

Dinner in a bit of a touristy restaurant, however delightful food (selection of fish and a good size hunk of lamb for mains)!

Savonlinna

From Hiekkasakrat we set out in the direction of Savonlinna, our next stop. The sun is shining and we stopped along the way for a picnic lunch with one of the most beautiful views to keep us entertained.

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Since arriving in Finland, John has worked at getting us off the major roads which are often single lane and filled with traffic. It is easy to get stuck in a queue. The secondary roads, which often closely parallel the major roads, carry much less traffic and are far more scenic.

Finland is a land of lakes and forests. The trees are felled in spring, trimmed and left beside the road for continuous collection throughout summer. So, piles of logs are a common sight along the roadside.

These roads abound with piles of logs awaiting collection as well as trucks, stopped on the roadside collecting them or on the roads transporting them. The countryside is very green and old, red barns dot the landscape.

Arriving in Savonlinna we found our accommodation, a townhouse a little out of the city centre but in a very relaxed neighbourhood. After settling in (and putting on a load of washing!) we headed off to town for a reconnaissance walk so we could make decisions about what to do the next day. Walking along the lake shore it was impossible not to stop and take photographs of the beautiful peoples in the park gardens.

There is a very old castle in Savonlinna, Ovalinna, which has a long and interesting history. It is perched on an island and is virtually unassailable.

The building of Olavinlinna, castle of St. Olaf, began in 1475. The Danish-born founder of the castle, knight Erik Axelsson Tott, decided that a powerful fortification should be built to protect the strategically important Savo region. The castle was supposed to repel Russian attacks from the east and to guarantee the control of the Savo region for the Swedish Crown. The history of Olavinlinna is a mixture of medieval arms clashing, cannons roaring and every-day chores inside the security of the castle’s thick walls.

Whereas in the past it has been the scene of the defence of Savonlinna, today it is the setting for the town’s annual, month long opera festival. The pictures we have taken show the huge tent structure which is erected in the main courtyard of the castle and which for the duration of the opera festival, dominate the castle skyline.

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This is a very old castle with long defensive passageways and gun emplacements, twisting stairways and towers. The castle also has a chapel with a tiny organ. The chapel is often used for weddings, with the reception held in the great hall.

One interesting feature of the castle is the long drop, as we would say in Australia. In this case it truly is a ‘long drop’! The protrusion on the outside of the tower is the toilet, or long drop. The next photo is the inside of the toilet and the third the view of the ‘long drop’.

The town also has a vry interesting museum which details the history of the town and the importance of water and boats to this twon and region. I have included a map of the area to give you osme idea of just how much water abounds here.

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There was also an interesting exhibition by a local artists of a whole host of boats made from anything he could find which suited his purpose, even a dried fish head!

Boats have always played a major role in the life of this town and one of the old steam boats is still running today. The boat is captained by its current owner who uses it for tourist cruises around the waterways surrounding Savonlinna. John and I went for the cruise which was pleasant, despite the weather, and certainly gave you a good understanding of the extent of the waterways surrounding the town. We found a little room on the top deck which no one else seemed interested in inhabiting. The open air deck was deserted, not surprising considering the weather.

We did get to go down into the boiler room. A very confined space but entirely original, including the engine and the means of communication between the captain and the engineer.

Boats along shore lines and boat houses dominated the view as the lovely old steam boat wove in and out of the myriad islands in the lake.

This was our last night with Mike and Kay so we went to a lovely restaurant on the waterside for a celebratory/parting dinner. The food was excellent. In fact, we have had very good to excellent food in most of the restaurants we have eaten in. (What we forgot, was a farewell photo of the four of us!)

 

Continuing South

Today we continued south stopping at the sea side village of Oulu for sightseeing and lunch. John had selected this town as it had a harbour side market including food stalls and a pretty walk across bridges to different parts of the town.

After the constitutional we selected a tented restaurant and chose a plate of meat (elk meat balls and reindeer sausages) and a plate of seafood (salmon and local whitebait) with potatoes two ways to share.

On then to the Finish seaside resort of Hiekkasakrat, a long sandy beach with a newish holiday development: a 550 site caravan park + 98 cabins, indoor swimming, ropes course, golf course and around 1,000 very neat houses set among the pine and silver birch trees.

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I just had to take a picture of the town sign and a barn in a field all on its own.

 

 

Rovaniemi

Down the N4 towards Rovaniemi and Santa Clause (more on that later).

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First some more reindeer photos (last chance, no more south of here).

Our first stop was the town of Sodankyla to see two churches: why churches? Well, when the Nazis retreated in 1944 the commanders were issued with an order to destroy everything (scorched earth policy), however the commander in Sodankyla disobeyed the order (later he was shot) and did not destroy the wooden Vanha Kirkko and its newer stone church.

Vanha Kirkko is wooden and was built in 1689. It is now a little leaning, although various renovations and repairs keep it intact. It is still occasionally used for weddings and special services in summer.

The newer stone church was built in 1859 and is very large. In its heyday it could hold 500 people (not so many now with fire management etc).

While there we were delighted to meet Johi who was able to provide us with much information about the church and the town, plus some Finnish history:

  1. Finland only gained independence from Russia in 1917 (prior to Russia, Sweden controlled Finland)
  2. At the commencement of WWII Finland was targeted by Russia who wanted to regain the country plus build naval bases there. The so called 1939 Winter War between the two countries was bitter and eventually ended with Russia gaining a foot hold.
  3. To stop further Russian aggression Finland aligned with Germany as it was able to assist in keeping out the Russians.
  4. When the non aggression pact between Russia and Germany was broken, Finland now found itself on the same side as Russia and the local army was now informed that they must attack their previous allies the Germans!
  5. In some places the Fins and Germans had developed a close tie, so initially there was a phony war until Russia threatened to return again and ‘finish the job’.
  6. And so the Germans left, going west (ie into Norway to be evacuated by sea).

Following the war, Finland retained its contact with the Soviets and hence held a semi neutral position between the west and the east. Eg the government played both sides and hosted various east / west meetings. The Helsinki Olympics in 1952 helped to establish Finland as its own country and it finally turned west by joining the EU in 1995 and was one of the founding members of the Euro in 2002. However there is still a strong Russian influence in Finland (signs are now trilingual: Finish, English and Russian) and the two countries have strong trading ties as well.

Morning tea beside the river.

On then down the road to where the Artic Circle (66o 33’ 45”) runs through Napapiiri and welcome to Santa Clause Village, complete with a full time Santa for knee sitting, the Santa Clause Post Office (you can arrange for a letter from Santa to be sent just before Christmas) and the Christmas gift shop full of all the essentials for Christmas.

While we passed on knee sitting some considerable time was taken in the shop.

And setting up the car photo.

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The evening in Rovaniemi allowed us to walk to the river, where the locals were swimming on this blissfully warm day, have a drink in the main street and enjoy food and wine on a balcony over looking a car park (well we did try to find a prettier sight but that was all we could find!)

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So now back into the warm south!

It all about the Sami

Two days of emersion into Sami culture.

As we left our digs near Nord Kapp and needed to take a few more reindeer photos and we finally had the morning tea stop in the sun beside a fjord: after days of drizzly weather where road side stops were at a premium, today we enjoyed tea with a view (even if it was still only 8oC).

The Sami people are the original inhabitants above the Artic Circle of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia and their lives revolved around the reindeer.

The Sami domesticated reindeer 1,000 years ago, however they still follow the annual migration of the reindeer into the highlands in spring, returning in early winter. Reindeer are now all owned by the Sami with children as young a 2 months owning their own reindeer! At the winter round up the reindeer are sorted into family ownership groups and new born ear tagged. Each person has an ear tag pattern involving a complex pattern of straight cuts, circles and loops with often a family resemblance down through generations.

The Sami have some help with modern aids: the skidoo has taken the place of reindeer drawn sleds, the outboard motor oars on the fishing boats and military size landing boats now transport the reindeer across fjords that previously they had to swim! However lassoing the reindeer still continues (to select a new born for ear tagging or moving into another herd) and we had plenty of opportunity to try our hand!

Along then to the Norwegian town of Karasjok to walk around the Norwegian Sami Parliament building (only meets 4 times a year and not open very often as a result) and visit the Sapmi Sami centre. Seeing traditional huts (a pointed tent with poles and covered with animal skins, a lavvu or turf covered huts, a gamme), lassoing lessons and reindeer feeding and feeding ourselves. Presentation on clothing and then a video on Sami culture, with the main take away being that they believe that the norther lights are their ancestors coming back!

On then to the delightful town (pop 550) of Inari in Finland (blink and you miss the border) set on Lake Inarijiarvi and a delightful AirBNB chosen by Ros with views over the lake and room inside and out to spread out.

Inari is the home to the Siida Museum, an excellent museum about the Sami plus the geology, topography and seasons of the land above the Artic Circle.

Ros and I spent 3 hours looking at the indoor displays before heading outdoors to an outstanding display of village and buildings.

The inside displays included a room with information about each month of the year, including the number of hours of daylight (June: 24, December: 2), the activities of various animals (bears hibernating in winter, birds flying south or small marsupials living under the snow), the changing flora plus then how the Sami live in each season. Also included is how the Sami have adapted to change while still keeping their old traditions.   A further display was about setting up the museum itself, founded in 1959 and opened in 1963 with the new building opened with much fanfare 20 years ago. Much of the objective of the museum was displaying the Sami traditions in order to keep them alive. It does.

Outside the buildings were all original, some still with the furnishings of the last inhabitants when they left 60 years ago. The larders were ingenious: small huts on top of a single pole so that the wolves etc could not access the food with a notched stick nearby for the people to use to climb up.

After a recuperative coffee and cake we then set out for the next sight, the Pielpajarven Kirkko, a wooden church 4.5 kms along a bush track erected in 1760. We wandered between lakes and glades with photogenic scenery of trees, rocks and many lakes.

The church is still open and used once or twice a year (eg midsummer) and was originally built as the summer church of the Sami population: ie this is where they brought the reindeer in summer and camped here as well.

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The area served as a market, however other than the church and a shelter shed, there is nothing but alpine fields of spring flowers there now. An outstanding walk with a great end.

So we have spoken about reindeer: they are all around. Fences in the middle of the walk with gaps for people covered with a tarpaulin for people to walk through. And of course along the roadside.

I should mention our dinners in Inari: first night at the Aanaar restaurant in the Kultahovi Hotel, rated (they say) as the 10th best restaurant in Finland. We dinned looking over the rushing waters of the Juutua River watching anglers bringing in trout as we ate reindeer and trout! My meal was a 5 course deal (Ros helped by eating the second entre) including a amuse bouche of lichen dusted with shredded reindeer (the reindeer eat lichen), a salmon and trout roulade, reindeer and its pasture (roasted reindeer smoked with pine needles, reindeer blood dumplings, lichen seasoned with lingonberry, Lappish potato purée and dried lingonberries) and bark boat (pine bark ice cream, cloudberry sorbet and cloudberry juice) served smoking for dessert! Oh yes, plus an angelica palate cleanser before dessert!

The second night we had a BBQ (the house had grounds) which Michael set up and cooked 3 varieties of sausages (reindeer, smoked reindeer and chorizo with cheese and something green). BBQed eggplant and mushrooms to complete the meal: so great to be outside in warmish weather with the sun shining.

And on the point, the sun did not stop shining. While Mike and Kay drove to a nearby hill to watch the sun not set, I walked outside to the lake and took the necessary midnight photo of the sun over the lake. Google has a bit of a problem as the phone was saying sun set at midnight and then the sun still up and then a sunrise immediately after. I guess the computer cannot handle not having a sunset each day.

A great town with everything coming together: accommodation, food, culture and a bush walk.

Nordkapp

Nordkapp is the northern most point of continental Europe and definitely the most northerly point of our journey through Scandinavia. Once we reached Nordkapp we would be turning south again.

We went a long way south on our South American journey, to Ushuaia at 54°48’7 S, however, Nordkapp is a long way further north at 71°10’21 N.

Leaving Alta we headed north, eventually leaving the trees behind and drove along winding, treeless mountain roads which stretched before us in the misty atmosphere.

However, there were reindeer! Our first close sighting of reindeer on the trip.

People want to go to Nordkapp because of its position, and they have been going as tourists for centuries. However, now the busloads come and so facilities are needed. There is a huge centre here with a bar, café and restaurant and, of course, the gift shop! There are two cinemas, one, the Cave of Lights, like a surround sound experience through the four seasons at Nordkapp and one taking you on a journey through the countryside and the fantastic landscape here. There is also a post office so you can send your postcards with a special Nordkapp stamp and frank. Everything you need, in fact!

The Kong of Siam (Thailand) visited the Cape in 1907 and there is both a monument to t his and a Thai museum here. A tunnel in the facility connecting the main building to the Cave of Lights has dioramas of important events in the history of Nordkapp as well as a fabulously realistic display of the birds which live here. I was fascinated, particularly by the eider ducks and the puffins.

We also visited the northernmost chapel in the world, a rather simple but beautiful and peaceful retreat.

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Outside the building are two main structures: first, the globe under which you take the obligatory photo to show you have been here.

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The second is a beautiful sculpture installation, Children of the World was unveiled in 1089. Nordkapp has been the setting for the awarding of the annual Children of the World Prize which is presented to an organisation or project that works to improve the conditions of life for children. This is a very beautiful and moving sculpture which was started in 1988 when author Simon Flem Devold randomly selected seven children from seven countries – Tanzania, Brazil, USA, Japan, Thailand, Italy and Russia — to visit the North Cape to dream of “Peace on Earth“.

During their seven day visit, each of the 8-to12-year-old children made a clay relief symbolizing friendship, hope, joy and working together. In 1989 the reliefs were enlarged, cast in bronze and erected in a semi-circle outside the North Cape Hall.  A “Mother and Child “monument by sculptor Eva Rybakken points toward the seven disks.

The other obligatory photo is beside the 71° N sign.

The weather could have been kinder! It was kinda cold and kinda wet, as these photos show! However, all in all a fun experience and Goldie, Ros and John can now say, “We have been there”.

One legacy of Nordkapp was a flat tyre! We picked up a nail taking the above pictures, changed it in record time, all 4 of us were out and helping, and then had the tyre fixed in the nearest town, luckily we had a spare tube, while Mike and Kay shopped for the evening meal.

We were staying in Snefjord that night, a little out of the way with the closest restaurant 40kms away, so we had decided to cook for ourselves. Mike had bought what he though was fully prepared reindeer stew, though when he opened the bag it was simply chopped reindeer meant. Not deterred, Mike produced a fabulous reindeer stroganoff and we dined like royalty.

Snefjord was rather remote and the local people appeared to be reindeer hearders. Lots of reindeer roamed the village.

Alta

We are still driving north, today to Alta (70 degrees North) our last stop before we run out of land!  along the way there were magnificent views and it must get snowy up here with the number of snow fences and ploughs beside the road, left alone the possibility of wild life.

We had to leave early as we have two ferries to catch that only run hourly and then 3 hours to Alta

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and we wanted to be there in time for the 2 major attractions: the Northern Lights Cathedral and the Museum with prehistoric rock carvings.

The Cathedral is new, however covered in titanium in really glistened in the sunlight (yes we had some) and beautiful interior lit by the vertical lights and windows.

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The Museum is outdoor and highlights the rock carvings on the surfaces carved 2,000 to 7,000 years ago. There are about 6,000 figures discovered in 1970 under the protective covering of lichen. the oldest were further up the hill from the fjord – on the basis that originally they were made at water level however the land has risen since they were made and hence the ones closer to the shore are the more recent.

The early archaeologists cleaned the rocks with alcohol and then painted the carving red! Probably not something that would be done today, but certainly making it easier for the tourists to see. The more recently discovered carvings were not painted and needed a keen eyes to be seen.

Reindeer hearding 1,000s of years ago is much the same as today.

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Warm reindeer rugs that seem to generate heat.

Alta is a ‘nice’ little town. Only small (about 2,000) with trees and bush all around (plus the compulsory fjord). The main street is pedestrianised with the church at the end. We found a local restaurant and had yet again a smorgasbord style meal of lots of little tastes including reindeer, whale, prawns, stockfish and differing local vegetables.

Tomorrow’s forecast is looking better: rainy during the day with sunshine overnight!

Tromso

On the drive to Tromso we stopped at a Sami roadside stall: big tent, open fire, lots of things to buy and reindeer soup. The Samis are to original inhabitants of the north of Norway, Sweden and Finland. They have their own ‘parliament’ and like many indigenous people are allowed to life by some of their historical traditions. Reminded me a bit of the Inuit in Ontario, Canada who have their own stalls appeal to the travellers.

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Arriving in Tromso was a bit confusing as the city is on an island connected to the mainland by both a bridge and a tunnel – but the tunnel has a corkscrew at each end to get it deep enough which is quite disorientating when trying to keep one’s bearings. Further, 4 blocks back from the waterfront runs a parallel ridge below which is a tunnel the length of the city with 4 or 6 cross roads intersecting it with underground roundabouts. The GPS we have do a very good job when underground: they attempt to estimate where you are and give directions, but if you are a little slow the instruction for each roundabout tend to get confused. One day I spent 15 minutes in the tunnels popping up in may strange places before I gave up and followed the water front home!

A bit of a drive around and dinner together in the apartment (El Paso ingredients are available in many parts of the world!)

The morning saw John set off the play golf on the Tromso Golf Course, labelled as the northern most golf course in the world. When the GPS took him to an industrial estate he reverted to google maps and discovered that the course was actually 50 kms (about an hours drive) away and as it was raining, windy and only 6 degrees C I gave up!

Fortunately the next day we drove past the course and he was able to snap a few photos, even if he didn’t get to play on the northern most golf course. PS in Ushuaia he missed playing on the southern most course in the world because he only found it on the last day!

We then headed off to the Polaria, a presentation about artic animals and sea life. We watched the seal show where 2 bearded seals and 2 harbour seal preformed for their fish dinner.

We wandered through the aquariums of Artic fish and other marine life: starfish, seaweed, anemone and sea urchins.

This was followed by coffee out of the cold: we were not acclimatised yet, we couldn’t bring ourselves to sit outside with cushions and blankets!

Some sights, including the Rocket kiosk and church.

Next visit the Polar Museum about the exploration of the Artic and the ‘race’ to the pole. It included history of seal hunting with great diorama of 1800s practices and winter trapping (again with a diorama).

We completed the circle having seen the Fram in Oslo: details of Fridtjof Nansen who in 1893-1896 attempted to reach the north pole by taking the artic explorer vessel the Fram by freezing her into the artic ice and then waiting for the drifts to carry the vessel towards the pole. Didn’t work!

Unsurprisingly there was an outstanding presentation on Roald Amundsen and his expeditions to both the north and south poles plus his flights into the Artic.

A smorgasbord dinner by the fjord and then followed by a midnight concert Artic Cathedral.

It is midsummer, the sun never sets (if it can be seen at all behind the clouds) and we all rugged up to hear the concert. Leaving the Cathedral after midnight in daylight (no need for headlights driving home) needed our heavy jackets++ as it was 6 degrees C.

How can people actually live in this climate?

 

Lofoten Islands

An early start from Bodo in order to catch the 7am ferry for a 3.5 hour trip to the Lofoten Islands.

The Lofoten Islands are a string of islands offshore that owe their existence to cod fish! For over 1,000 years fishermen have caught cod during the January to March season when the fish migrate to spawn. It is not just the catching of the fish for which the Lofoten Islands are known but also the processing and drying of the fish into stockfish that is exported.

It is these stockfish that allowed the Vikings to make their extended voyages: the fish will last for years and can be eaten dry like biltong or soaked in water and reconstituted. The history of Bergen included stock fish, as the Hansiatic League was set up in Bergen for the purpose of trading goods for stockfish brought south from the Lofoten Islands. Currently 80% of the stock fish is exported to Italy and the rest elsewhere, plus the heads are exported to Nigeria and added to chilis and peppers to make a high protein food.

As a result of the dependence on fishing, the islands are a series of cutesy villages set out over the water with fishing boats set among the poles supporting the houses.

We started at A, the southernmost town on the island of Moskenesoy and discovered that we were not the only tourists out on this wet and windy day: the car park (yes a special car park for the visitors) already held 15 busses and numerous cars. Oh well, we knew it would be busy so make the most of it.

A highlight was the Torrjishmuseum, a privately run museum in a former fish warehouse that explains the processing of cod (or Torsk) into stock fish from landing to packaging.

 

Interestingly, it is run by Steinar Larsen who personally greeted us on arrival, issued us with an English guide and ensured we could find our way around and then upstairs for the included coffee and biscuit plus documentary on today’s fishing.

A film followed showing how fishing is still undertaken today, but with many controls following the almost decimation of the fish in the 1980s.  each boat is restricted in its area of fishing and the times of day it can fish.

Surrounding the village were many drying racks holding not just the fish bodies but also numerous heads. It only takes a few months for the fish to dry, the low humidity combined with the (almost constant) wind ensures that the regular sprinkles of rain are dried off quickly and the fish turned into stock fish.

We then started our drive north along the island chain. And a chain it certainly is. We crossed from one island to another along a series of 23 bridges and causeways plus 2 very deep tunnels. Most of the time we were driving along a road squeezed between the sea and soaring hills.

Next stop was the Krambua restaurant for lunch (well we did leave at 6:10am) where local seafood was the go. I (John) selected the smoked cod which took me back to Mum’s cooking when we used to have smoked haddock, I think. The same flavour with flaking flesh and sauces.

On northwards with many photos stops as the sun finally peaked out from the clouds and lit up and turned the water a deep blue and highlighted the red of the buildings (yes 90% of countryside buildings in Norway are really this colour red).

Next stop the village of Nusfjord, another village set around a tiny harbour with stilt houses built over the rocks and into the water. The village is now dominated by tourism with over 40 small cabins available for rent plus a few stores and cafes.  some of the foundations were a bit suspect, however the boat house did house an ancient fishing boat.

One more stop before we headed to our night’s accommodation, the Viking Museum built on the site where in 1981 a farmer’s plough hit the ruins of the 83 metre long dwelling of a Viking Chieftain. The recreated long dwelling contains the incidentals of daily life in a chieftain’s house. All explained by traditionally clothed guides and artisans who happily describe the areas of the house and daily life. One lady was weaving leggings, another weaving clothes while 2 men were making soft moose leather shoes and carving a 2 metre high entrance. We missed the chance to have a Viking meal, however the fire was still warming the main room of the building where the chieftain had his high chair.

In the main building were video presentations about the discovery and unearthing of the site plus background on who the chieftain might have been and more details about how Vikings lived.

A very difficult 3 hour drive followed in constant rain and driving wind. On these narrow winding Norwegian roads the top speed limit is 90 (but rarely seen) and 80 out of villages and 50 in villages. The locals appear to be very observant of the speed limit and also seem happy to trail along behind a car going slowly. Perhaps because there are few stretches of double lane (perhaps 5 km over the entire 200 km trip) and few lengths of straight roads between the curves along the fjords.

However, the destination was remarkable: the Sandtorgholmen Hotel, set on a narrow stretch of ocean over 4 buildings with the oldest (the dining room) dating from 1850, while the rest were built in the early 1900s after the 1906 fire! The main three storey accommodation building (pic below) was moved 200 mts in 1916 using greased logs, ropes and horses. Apparently it was still being lived in during the move!

The hotel boasts a delightful hostess, Madeline, (the owner’s daughter) who was receptionist, waitress, guide and breakfast check out. She is on duty from 7 till 11: the hotel is open for 10 months and in January and February the family decamps to Thailand! Dinner of cod (what else), elk stew, moose and home made meat patties and traditional fish soup all washed down with a really great local beer. Followed for John with another mum reminder: rice pudding!

Route 17 – the Coastal Road

From Trondheim we headed north to Route 17, the Coastal Road, or as it is known in Norwegian, Nasjonal Turistveg Helgelandskysten. This road was to take us through some 650 kms of spectacular scenery, though on this first morning it was, unfortunately, raining.

This route will take us, for the next three days, through offshore islands connected by ferries, tunnels and bridges and through small villages. We joined the road in the south at Hoylander and will finish the drive at Bodo in the north, where Route 17 finishes. As well as all the islands we travelled across, there was always another island just offshore – reputed 14,000 of them!

Driving this route is all about the scenery and what we saw along the way, so I am going to let the photographs pretty much speak for themselves.

The scenery along this route revolves around fjords, waterfalls, snow capped mountains, a glacier or two, bridges and ferries.

Route 17 exists as disconnected pieces of roadway are connected by ferries (we were to use 6 of them) and innumerable bridges. The ferries are incredibly efficient and always run to schedule. Unloading and loading including collecting the fare (which can be paid by credit card in even the remotest locations), even if there are fifty or more cars involved, usually only takes minutes. Many of the smaller ferries have bows which pivot up and then the loading ramp comes down. Once loaded, the ferry begins its journey while the loading ramp is raised and then the bow is lowered.

The fjords dominate the scenery, there is simply water everywhere, and waterfalls plummet down hillsides to the fjords below. We have also sighted glaciers along the way, huge sheets of ice ‘pouring’ down towards the fjord below. In some area the fjords are spanned by elegant and soaring bridges. And, so the journey continues, across water by ferry or bridge.

Tunnels also abound. On the trip from Foroy to Bodo a section of road led us through a tunnel 8 kilometres long. At the end of the 8 kms we surfaced for 50 metres before diving into another tunnel, this one 1.9 kms long. We surfaced again, this time for approximately 100 metres, to drive into yet another tunnel of 2.2 kms in length! Tunnels also run under fjords. Sometimes tunnels exit straight onto bridges. If it is raining the tunnels provide a respite from the rain!

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Wherever you have water, you have boats. I have no idea how many small craft exist in Norway but it must run into the hundreds of thousands. Every village and town has a harbour of some kind or size and this is filled with boats. Small villages, small boats. The harbours of towns, such as Bodo, berth substantial fishing fleets.

Wherever there are boats there are boatsheds. These dot the shores of the fjords and lakes and add a domestic note to the natural scenery.

I particularly liked these two with the sculpture of the fisherman if front of them.

We have passed through many small villages on this route. Many of the houses have grass roofs. This one has a resident goat who ’obviously’ keeps the grass mown. This same house had a beautiful flower filled letterbox.

Old barns and farm implements are a common and attractive feature of the landscape.

These villages all have a church and the architecture is very distinctive. All are white weatherboard and then they have a distinctive colour trim. One church investigated more closely by John while we were waiting for a ferry had a beautiful and extraordinarily neat graveyard. Then John discovered why, gardening tools are provided by the church and are there, hanging on the side of the shed, for anyone to use.

Road signs here are, of course, different to those we see at home. We have seen many, many ‘Look out for moose’ signs, though we are yet to see a moose. The other sign we have seen a couple of times is this: you can guess its meaning!

It is summer in Norway. The temperature is similar to Sydney’s winter temperatures, though is getting colder as we travel further north. 10° – 11°C seems to be the top day time temperature as we travel Route 17. However, the Norwegians act as if this is a 30° plus day. T-shirts are the order of the day for some, including our BnB host in Nesna, Dag. Summer brings with it fields of simple wild flowers.

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The sun did come out one morning and so Goldie’s top came down for a section of our journey. Lovely in one respect, but pretty cold! We were lucky that, as we crossed the Arctic Circle on the ferry between Kilboghamn and Jektvik, the sun shone!

Our most pleasant night’s stay on this route was with Dag and Rigmort in Nesna. They made us feel incredibly welcome and the apartment, which is the ground level of their home, was beautifully appointed and equipped. When we asked Dag where we could buy some fish to cook for dinner he promptly provided us with some beautiful cod he had caught himself. He unhooked then from the veranda lintel where he had been hanging them for a day or two before eating. He also showed us his dried fish, which he had caught and dried for later use. You can eat this, a bit like biltong, but like vegemite I think it is an acquired taste!

The fresh cod, which Michael, pictured in t he kitchen above, turned into a soup (starter), crumbed nibblets (entrée) and finally pan seared fillets was simply delicious and a reflection of Michael’s expertise in the kitchen. (He has been a chef in an earlier life). I got to engineer the accompaniments: fresh broccoli and snap peas with toasted pine nuts; roast vegetables (sweet potato, potatoes, yellow pepper, eschallots, tomotoes and fennel); and of course a dessert, apple crumble with sultanas and a topping made from toasted muesli mixed with Rigmort’s marvellous stewed fruits. A pretty fantastic meal.

While staying in Nesna, John captured the moment of sunset at 12.44am, followed some 16 minutes later by sunrise at 1.00am!

We were fascinated by the Norwegians enthusiasm for their gardens: flowery annuals sprout form the garden beds, vegetable patches full of seedlings (we are a bit early for the produce) and numerous automatous lawn mowers making their way around the grass. Each has its own ‘base station’ where they return for a charge when getting low before returning to trim the lawn day and night. So common are the mowers that the rabbits continue to nibble grass while they wander by.

On the road to Bodo we visited an old fort built by the Nazis during their occupation of Norway during WWII. There are still very visible remains of gun emplacements, old guns, old buildings of various kinds and a bunker which also housed the field hospital.

At the end of day 3 we finally reached Bodo with its huge fishing fleet and a harbour foreshore designed for strolling along.

 

 

Yet another great road + Trondheim

Despite the drizzle we set out undaunted for the next ‘National Tourist Route’: the Atlantic Road.

While only 12 kms long, The Atlantic Road connects the island of Averøy with the mainland via a series of small islands and islets spanned by a total of eight bridges over 8,274 meters.

The road was opened in 1989 and includes a visitor centre and walk way out to a view point to admire one of the sweeping bridges. We could well image the road on a stormy day with the waves crashing over the bridges and road. We scored a calm day and really enjoyed the views and drive.

The road was opened in 1989 and includes a visitor centre and walk way out to a view point to admire one of the sweeping bridges.

Along the way we noticed the number of buildings / shelter sheds / bus stops with grass roves.

 

we stopped at a church and noticed that the graves were neat and tidy and then saw the gardening tools hanging on the nearby shed.

From here we drove to the third largest town in Norway, Trondheim (pop: 190,000) in time for a walk around the canals and old town. Set on an island (like every city we have visited in Norway so far, Trondheim has retained the 18th Century character (despite the WWII Allied bombing as the Germans made the city their northern naval force base). The old city is set along the banks of the Nidaros River with the buildings in different colours and once were warehouses with cranes extending out over the river.

We expect they are all now apartments, with many flower boxes in the windows.

We walked through the ‘trendy’ restaurant part of town (where we returned later for dinner) to the cathedral, which has a bit of a story: It is built over the burial site of Saint Olav, the King of Norway in the 11th century, who became the patron saint of the nation, and is the constitutional location for the consecration of the King of Norway. It was built from 1070 to 1300, and designated as the cathedral for the Diocese of Nidaros in 1152. After the Protestant Reformation, it was taken from the Catholic Church by the new Church of Norway in 1537. It once had a huge diocese, extending across Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and even the Orkney Islands and parts of Sweden! Further in 1708, the church burned down completely except for the stone walls. It was struck by lightning in 1719, and was again ravaged by fire. Major rebuilding and restoration of the cathedral started in 1869, initially led by architect Heinrich Ernst Schirmer, and nearly completed by Christian Christie. It was officially completed in 2001.

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Ros then visited the shops: a pair of HH wind proof / water proof pants were in need (well after all its been less than 9 degrees C for the past few days and we have a further 1,500 kms north to travel to Nor Kapp.

Dinner in a trendy local restaurant: Burger & sushi, mussels (Michael again!), duck tacos and fish (cod & salmon) and chips with local beer and (yet again) Italian Barbera.

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Driving in Norway

There is plenty to do in Norway, however it is the beautiful landscapes which are mesmerising. Norway has made driving through these landscapes a national tourist attraction and there is a government department which is responsible for developing these roads and the tourist industry which now flourishes around these roads.

Leaving Bergen we headed towards Loen in order to stay within reach of the next days excitement: Trollstigen. The landscape between Bergen and Loen is dominated by waterfalls, farmland and villages. And cruise ships, big cruise ships! Cruising seems to dominate the waters of Scandinavia and we are starting to see cruise ships where we did not expect to find them. Bergen, Oslo, certainly. The end of the fiord at Loen and Geiranger? Well, no, but yes! Only one ferry today before we arrived in Loen in the drizzling rain. Unfortunately we have not been successful with the weather with a little rain for the last few days turning the fjord side morning tea / lunch stops into café visits! however that has resulted in the waterfalls being very big!

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Our accommodation in Loen is in a camping ground, however Kay has upmarketed us into a 2 bedroom cabin with views over the lake. The water is aqua blue as it is melt from the glacier above the town, apparently quite a tourist highlight as we see many busses coming down (on the one lane road) in the afternoon. Despite the attraction, tiredness and apathy (after all we will did see some amazing glaciers in Chile!) meant we settled in for a glass of wine and a walk along the lake.

Ros cooked up a storm of pasta and trimmings. It was my turn to buy more wine, however we discovered that the town of Loen did not have a government controlled liquor outlet (called Vinmonopolet) so replenishments needed to wait until the next night when Mike made that the first stop. We had heard that wine is expensive in Norway, however we have found that while it might be a little more than in Australia it is not so pricey that you worry. Perhaps 20% more than Sydney. Likewise in restaurants we might be paying the equivalent of $50 for a standard bottle so certainty not the $100s of dollars we were lead to believe.

While looking for wine in Loen, I dropped into a restaurant / bar on the dock where a cruise ship was tied up. I got talking to some of the passengers: 2,500 guests and over 1,000 crew! And this was a small ship! The trip they are on sounds great – the ship cruises up different fjords each day – and when the cabins on level 10 are so high up, the views must be fantastic. We saw the same ship the next day in Geiranger and while drove 55 kms over the hills, the ship had sailed over 200 kms out of Nordfjord to the sea and then back into Geiranger Fjord.

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Now for the absolutely best day of the trip so far: winding along the side of fjords, climbing up over mountains with 15 switch back corners, across snow swept high plains (yes snow balls were thrown) until we arrived at a look out 600 metres above the town of Geiranger on the Geiranger Fjord.

An amazing view looking down on the town and at the three cruise ships anchored in the fjord below, looking like little toy ships.

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A cup of tea was called for while we admired the view. Eventually we had a 2 minute gap between the numerous tour busses to park the cars for the compulsory photo and even then we almost had 2 motor bikes as well.

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Down 7 hairpin turns into Geiranger and another 10 up the other side, with another look out on the way.

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Across the high plains again and then to the even more exciting highlight, the Trollstigen, 11 hairpin bends dropping 850 metres down the mountain side with a 1:12 gradient with two dramatic waterfalls cascading beside the road. The road literally disappears over the side of a cliff. Further the road is surrounded by mountains named: Kongen (“the King”), Dronningen (“the Queen”), Bispen (“the Bishop”)

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The road was opened on 31 July 1936, by King Haakon VII after eight years of construction by men using picks and horse drawn carts. Clearly since then improvements have been made including some widening, but even now passing oncoming traffic can be a squeeze.

John took Goldie for a drive down and back up. Unlike when Clarkson got to drive the road I had to content with sightseers slowing for a picture and the inevitable German motorhome. Despite this it was exhilarating to actually be on the road that we had heard so much about as one of the great ‘MG roads’ to be driven.

Norway has made an outstanding effort with its ‘National Tourist Routes’ where service centres are built with lookouts and excellent facilities. This one was built over the river with ponds of water in front of the floor to ceiling glass, a timber fire, warm food (read soup!), comfy chairs and cheerful staff. Outside the gift shop (!)a board walk to a lookout perched out over the cliff face from which the full magnificence of the road can be seen. Almost as impressive as the road is the lookout: attached to the rock face made from steel allowed to rust the colour of the hills and glass providing a view from the floor up of the road and valley winding away in the distance.

Back down again and Fraena for the night’s accommodation in a cottage looking out over the sea. Weirdly the lounge room had no furniture (I expect that the owner used for yoga classes) so I dragged the dining room chairs in a circle around the panoramic window and opened the wine. Into town to the recommended local student restaurant for hamburgers and beer.

 

 

To Bergen and Bergen

As we left the Fossli Hotel we drove to a viewing site opposite the two waterfalls which thunder down either side of the hotel. Together these falls are Voringsfossen and the Vorignfoss waterfall itself drops from the plateau 182 metres into the canyon below. and also to photograph the grassy roofs of houses which are so much part of this landscape.

Then it was a drive along yet more fjords and mountain sides to Bergen.

In some respects I am sorry I did not keep a record of the number of tunnels we have travelled through in Norway and the distances travelled. Most tunnels are kilometres in length, four to six plus kms is not uncommon. Often you come out of one tunnel to almost immediately dive into another. Also, tunnels contain intersections with roundabouts!

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And not only tunnels, but bridges galore, and sometimes bridges which fill the gap between tunnels. Often with on or two parallel to the road we are on. In a country with many fjords, rivers and steep hills, the only way to move goods and people is by building tunnels and bridges.

Or ferries. So far we have clocked up eight and we know in the next few days there are nine more to come.

Norway is a land of fjords and lakes and the trip to Bergen took us along lake and fiord edges and through pasture land. There is evidence everywhere of recent harvests with white plastic coated rolls of winter feed sitting in fields everywhere we travel.

Arriving in Bergen we headed straight to the Tourist Information centre for city maps and suggestions as to what we might see. We parked in the old town, Bryggen, and walked along the waterfront and through the fish markets. The fish markets are mentioned in every guide to Bergen. You can go here and choose your seafood and have it cooked for you while you wait. Each individual stall has its own seating area, some more upmarket than others. We had assumed we would eat here one night, however a local from Bergen who we had chatted to in Oslo was less than enthusiastic and when we had a close look it did appear that a relatively moderate serving of seafood was accompanied by a lot of lettuce and bread. A very interesting area to walk through, however, with some fascinating fish on display including giant crabs and a monkfish, which has to be the ugliest thing we have ever seen!

After chatting with the girl in the tourist centre we set off for our accommodation, rather a feat to find it as the Garmin wanted to take us up one way streets or through pedestrian plazas or wanted us to make left hand turns where no left hand turn was permitted. Pretty frustrating, but eventually we got there. The apartment was great with very plentiful and generous breakfast provisions, but it was up three flights of narrow twisting stairs, great fun with suitcases. The young man who let us in did, however, help with this which was very kind of him. He also recommended a restaurant for dinner, rather than the fish market and only 2 mins walk from the apartment.

The colourful wooden houses of the Bryggen old town make one of the iconic photographs of Norway and they are certainly very attractive.

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After settling into the apartment we wandered back into the harbour area to view these old buildings and caught the funicular up to the top of the hill which dominates that area of the city.

The area around the restaurant and funicular station is ‘maintained’ by eight goats. They have electronic collars which vibrate then finally give them a small electric shock if they go too far beyond their designated boundaries. They learn quickly not to stray.

The views were spectacular, with the city stretching away along the fjord in one direction and up a large valley in the other.

There are huge parklands at the top of the funicular with walks and children’s playgrounds and a restaurant in a beautiful old building. We were a little perplexed by one particular sign we saw in the park.

We enjoyed a drink in the sun in front of the beautiful old restaurant building with a view of the city laid out before us.

Then we took the funicular back down into the old town. Here we wandered along the waterfront looking at the old buildings and exploring some of the twisting and narrow alleys which are part of this area. Most of these buildings date back to the fire of 1702, although the building pattern is from the 12th century. The levels of these buildings are quite fascinating: you can see when walking down the alleys, that the levels inside the buildings are quite irregular. This becomes more evident when you visit the Hanseatic League building which has been concerned in virtually a totally original state.

Also along the waterfront during our visit were this year’s entries into the Norwegian International Wood Festival where 17 teams from 14 countries, having been given 11,000 metres of wood and 24,000 screws, spent 5 days constructing a ‘sculpture’ reflecting the theme Climate Change. These sculptures were fascinating and we spent some time strolling among them. My favourite (Ros) was titled, Whale Bones. (far left, below)

That first night we went to the very local restaurant recommended by our host. Great decor, very friendly waiter and very good food and a most enjoyable evening.

The next day we set off for the Hanseatic League museum. This is housed in the original building, dating back to 1704, one of the old wooden buildings in the Bryggen district and probably the most authentically preserved both inside and out. The Hanseatic League was a trading association which covered much of Northern Europe from 1100 to 1450. The building showed how a trading house such as this worked, with rooms for apprentices (8 to a room and 2 to each single bunk bed), journey men and master as well as offices, reception area and sorting and storage rooms.

The main trading commodity was wind dried fish which would last for up to 15 months. Interestingly, dried fish in these times is equal in GDP terms as oil and gas is today to the Norwegian economy! Below are the scales used to weigh the fish as well as examples of wind dried fish which were hanging in the museum: absolutely no smell.

 

A fascinating and remarkably informative museum and one well worth visiting, especially as it was Bergen’s position as the most northern Hanseatic League trading centre which ensured its prosperity.

We then walked along the harbour front admiring some of the beautiful sailing ships dock here, along to the old fort, though this was closed for a function, then back along the water front and through bergen’s beautiful plazas and parks to the KODE museum.

KODE is a series of four museums each focusing on specific collections. John visited two of the museums while I opted for one which focused on the Rasmussen Meyer collection, with the houses period rooms used to display furniture and artworks as well as the works of various Norwegian artists including an extensive collection of the works of Edvard Munch which Meyer collected throughout his lifetime.

John particularly enjoyed the paintings by Nikolai Astrup.

We both, individually, took a picture of the ‘Troll sitting, wondering how old he was’!

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Dinner that night was a real treat. The restaurant Cornelius is famous for its setting as well, cantilevered over the sea, as its use of locally caught and sourced seafood. What is caught that day is cooked that night. You are picked up by the restaurant ferry at a pier in Bergen Harbour and then a 25 minute scenic ferry ride late you arrive at the restaurant.

The restaurant does a five course degustation menu including crab, white fish and other various fishes with names we could not convert to English. With matched wines and part of the night is a tour of their extensive cellar which stretches back into the bedrock behind the building. The meal was excellent, with courses of delicious seafood, as were the wines which were interesting as well as we were unfamiliar with most of them. An unforgettable night.

As the return ferry docked, Bergen harbour side provided an absolutely dramatic and fitting backdrop to our night.

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Three days in southern Norway: Part 2

After a refreshing sleep we headed off on one of the many amazing drives in Norway, Hardander Route along route 13 beside fjords and mountainsides.

Cool, but despite this Ros agreed to lower the roof so we could take in all the fantastic views along the way.

Morning tea was beside a fjord on a jetty chatting to locals and lunch in Odda, again beside a fjord. Get the message: amazing scenery and we are just starting to touch the fjord region.

The area also has many waterfalls, we are lucky to be here in Spring wham all the snow melt cascades down the mountain sides.

 

A couple of ferry rides plus visiting an old water driven mill and a stone bridge.

 

Our night’s accommodation is in the Fossli Hotel, originally built in 1881 when there was no roads up to the high plateau (horses dragged the materials needed to build the hotel). Even now the road up is amazing: many tunnels, one a complete cork screw winding 360 deg as it climbed up 120 metres followed by a higher tunnel that then overlapped the lower one.

The hotel is situated at the innermost end of the Hardanger Fiord in the beautiful Hardanger mountains. The hotel overlooks the highest waterfalls in Europe. The magnificent Vøringsfoss waterfall has attracted the Kings and Queens and, writers and musicians of Norway and Europe to stay at the Fossli hotel for almost 120 years. Edvard Grieg wrote his Opus 66 at the Fossli Hotel.

Although now a bit shabby, the hotel had its own class: ball room, snug, dining room, lounge room, games room and creaking floors and rattling doors. Currently set up with 1960s furniture there is a certain ‘occasion’ to staying there!

Magnificent view from the hotel over the two waterfalls: a delight to be there in the evening after the tourist busses left and we could sit outside in the evening sunlight (ie anytime until 10:30pm) with a quite ale enjoying the view and listening to the gallons of water thundering over the falls.

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Dinner in the hotel (no where else!) with local salmon, lamb and trout server by super friendly staff. Indeed the gentleman that checked us in, then became the bell boy, then the matre d’ and then the server.

We parked in front of the hotel and were again fascinating how many people stopped to take photos, leaning on the cars and stopping us to ask if we had really driven all the trips shown.

 

 

 

 

Three days in southern Norway: Part 1

From Oslo we headed south towards the ‘Norwegian Riviera’ a variety of towns on the Baltic Sea favoured by the Norwegians for the climate and beaches. Mike found the delightful town of Arendal for a lunch stop were we huddled into a restaurant overlooking the bay as the rain gently fell in the balmy 14 deg C! We couldn’t sit in the outdoor seating as the gentle breeze resulted in a wind chill of even lower temperature. Inside however we had a local meal of fish soup and open prawn sandwiches.

Time then to move on to the supermarket as tonight we will be spending in a cabin by Lygen Lake and 10 kms from any civilisation.

Mike surprised us all with his shopping and prepared a 3 course meal of restaurant quality, all prepared over a wood burning stove and gas hotplates.

The cabin is ‘off the network’: no power and no water or sewerage and certainly no internet. Mike cranked up the generator, turned on the gas heater and lit the wood stove to keep us warm. Over night it dropped to about 5 deg C: and this is summer.

I have spoken tongue in cheek about the weather: really it has been quite warm when the sun is out, but when clouds appear, the temperature immediately drops. Everyone walks around in shirt sleeves with a parka or fleece at hand. It gets quite busy with jacket on / jacket off! We have been told that last week the temperatures were up to 35 deg C, although that was exceptional. The days can be warm, but nights are always cool – without the sun it all goes chilly.

A beautiful drive up into the mountains to get to the cabin. There are a lot of trees in Norway. They seem to sprout anywhere: on the rooves of houses and bus stops, at the entrance to road tunnels, beside the road.

I expect that there is so much wood that even when timber is clear felled, the land is just left bare and new trees grow with no encouragement.

Next day we had a drive to Preikestolen (or Puplit Rock) to walk out for 2 hours to the amazing rock standing 600 metres above the fjord below.

No safety railings, no rangers and seeing people sit on the edge with their feet dangling over was scary.

We took pictures of each other on the edge: John crawled to the spot and barely moved while Ros was gamer and even did a little jump. With the wind blowing one felt that a stiff breeze could roll you over. Apparently only one person has dropped off and that was 30 years ago.

 

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The walk was hard: we climbed over 400 metres and the path was pebbles and laid rocks. That night we were too tired to cook and too tired to eat out, so pizzas it was.

To Oslo and Oslo

We only had on stop on the drive from Stockholm to Oslo and that was to visit the castle in Orebro. This was a very pretty town with cobbled streets and some interesting buildings. However, the main feature of the town was its castle, medieval in inception but added to over succeeding generations until its present configuration which dates back to the 1900. The castle provided a wonderful excuse for a morning coffee and cake stop!

In Oslo Kay had selected an apartment in the ‘high class’ end of town, just behind the palace and within walking (or a short tram ride) distance of the city highlights. Dinner downstairs, outside in the evening twilight while enjoying the local beer. Kay and Ros enjoyed delicious crab salads.

The next day we walked towards town via the Royal Palace. Talk about relaxed! Yes, there were guards at each entrance but they would talk to you if you wanted some information or directions. And you could wander around the perimeter of the building with impunity. No fence at the front of the palace, though there was a fenced garden at the rear of the building, facing the very public park. A far cry from Buckingham Palace.

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We then walked down the length of the main street and finally found our way to the harbour. The day was threatening rain, so we decided to the indoor museums first and hopefully the rain would clear.

At the harbour we bought ferry tickets which would take us to the Bygdoy Peninsula where both the Viking Ship and the Kon Tiki Museum were located.

The Viking Ship Museum houses three Viking ships which were originally used as burial ships. People of importance, men and women, were buried in a ship and sent on their farewell journey accompanied by accessories for the afterlife. The museum is most famous for the completely whole Oseberg ship, excavated from the largest known ship burial in the world.

Other main attractions at the Viking Ship Museum are the Gokstad ship and Tune ship. Although the Gokstad ship had been looted, when it was finally excavated the following were found accompanying the deceased: a gaming board with counters of horn, fish-hooks and harness fittings made of iron, lead and gilded bronze, sixty four shields, kitchen utensils, six beds, one tent, a sleigh and three small boats. Also found in the grave were twelve horses, eight dogs, two goshawks and two peacocks.

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Additionally, the Viking Age display at the museum includes sledges, beds, a horse cart, wood carving, tent components, buckets and other grave goods.

The three boats on display were significant in size and gave you a good appreciation of just exactly how a Viking ship looked.

From there we visited the Kon-Tiki Museum which mainly focuses on the successful voyage from Peru to Polynesia of Thor Heyedah and his crew on the Kon-Tiki raft. Ost people know the story or have seen the movie as this was an amazing voyage and one which has been well documented in various genres. However, visiting the museum, seeing the balsa wood raft and looking closely at how this amazing feat was accomplished was truly fascinating.

Also on display in the museum is the reed boat Ra II, built by the Amyara people of Lake Titicara, which Heyedahl used to cross the Atlantic in in 1970. As we had visited the Amyara people of Lake Titicara on our South American odyssey in 2015, this was an especially interesting display, especially as we had visited the Amyara people in 2015 and ridden in a reed boat.

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Then back on the ferry to visit the Renzo Piano designed Astrup Fearnley Museum of modern art. We visited this museum principally because of the building itself and the surrounding sculpture park, but we also enjoyed many of the exhibits in the museum. I was a little bemused by an artwork which looked like clumped brown and black blobs. It turned out to be thousands of flies which had been all just stuck together. (Though I might well have missed something here!) First, catch a few thousand flies!

My favourite was the enormous book case filled with books made mainly from copper and lead. Not bed time reading material!

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The building itself is beautiful, made mostly of wood with huge sail-like glass arching rooves. There are three building which make up the museum and the glass rooves act as a connecting and unifying structure.

From here we caught a tram to Viegland Park, the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist. It is one of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions.

The unique sculpture park is Gustav Vigeland’s lifework with more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron. Vigeland was also in charge of the design and architectural layout of the park. The Vigeland Park was mainly completed between 1939 and 1949.

Most of the sculptures are placed in five units along an 850 meter long axis: The Main gate, the Bridge with the Children’s playground, the Fountain, the Monolith plateau and the Wheel of Life.

The whole display is fascinating, however the monolith dominating the highest point in the path and the sculptures depicting the various stages of life which surround it are by far the most compelling. The monolith rising to the sky and writhing with figures of people of all ages struggling to reach the top is mind blowing. How, prior to the age of digital 3D did someone produce the designs which allowed a team of sculptures to produce this extraordinary work. This sculpture was carved in one piece (hence the name Monolith), but it was first modelled in clay, and then cast in plaster in three parts before the final statue was actually carved.

Then we headed back into the city to visit the Opera House. This building is amazing approachable and accessible. Long sloping foreshores slope down and into the water, like a sloping beach, allowing Olso residents to come here to sunbake and swim. The roof, also, is totally accessible with carefully graded slopes leading you up onto the highest section of flat roof from where you can take in the vista of Oslo city and admire the floating sculpture She Lies, made from sheets of glass and metal, which turns with the tide and reflects the sun from its myriad facets and faces.

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