We really only had a day in Seoul because of the delay in leaving Russia. It was a pity as we had been looking forward to spending a few days there and exploring some of the city, and Greg had been hoping that we could get up to the DMZ. I think we managed to make the most of our one day, though.
We stayed at Itaewon, which is the nightclub area of Seoul – lots of restaurants, bars, clubs and street food. We arrived on Friday evening and it was very busy, noisy and colourful. The next morning it wasn’t quite as busy, but still full of life, with lots of things to look at and interesting places to explore. We walked down to the river via some side streets, calling into a supermarket on the way for a browse and a cold drink. It was hot and humid and we needed to go back to the air conditioned apartment for a rest after that! And that was how we spent the rest of the day – go off and do something, ,then head back for another rest. It takes a while to get used to humid weather.
We visited the War Memorial of Korea in the afternoon – a very impressive outdoor display of planes, tanks, weapons and other memorabilia, with exhibits, artwork and sculptures. It was well worth visiting and we could have spent longer there, or gone back to see more if we’d had more time. We caught the subway back to the apartment and thought it was very efficient, fast and cheap, it reminded us a lot of the Singapore metro system. We were interested to note that the subway stations are a long way underground and designated as shelters in the event of …. you know what I’m talking about.
Later on, we got back on the subway and went to Myeongdong, which is described as a ‘hyper-shopping area’. Oh yes indeed. Streets and streets of neon-lit shops, and people, and street food, and noise. Mostly women’s fashion, cosmetics and beauty products. It was good to see it at night when it was a bit cooler, and the streets were all lit up.
We had walked past a Korean BBQ place just near the apartment we stayed at. I forgot to find out if it had an English name, but it is opposite the school on Usadan-ro and whenever we went past it was full of people. Even this morning when we went past on our way to catch the airport bus, there were people there. So we ate there and it was great! Plenty of food, cold beers and a helpful waitress who must have realised we didn’t know what we were doing, so she took over and cooked our meat for us.
It was a good last day of our holidays, and Seoul is now on our list of ‘want to go back to’ places.
A Russian T-34 tank used in the Korean War at the War memorial
Sunset in Seoul
One of the many packed shopping streets at Myeongdong on a Saturday night
I bet you thought it was always cold in Siberia. Yep, so did I. And, a tiny confession here, I thought it was always snowy. But we’ve just spent the day wandering around Irkutsk wearing shorts, singlets and sandals, and the forecast for the next few days is Fine, with top temps of 27 – 29C. It’s late summer here, even though it’s only the middle of August. Trees are starting to change colour, flowers are going to seed and the local produce market is full of vegetables I associate with autumn at home – tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini. It’s a short summer, and a very, very long, hard winter. Food preserving is a big thing here. The market had quite a few little stalls that were selling jar lids, setting agent and other bits ‘n’ pieces.
So, we’ve spent 2 nights in Irkutsk, staying in an apartment attached to the Irkutsk Hostel. We’re going to Lake Baikal today and will spend a couple of nights in a cabin at the Derevenka Family Hotel at Listvyanka, then on Thursday we’re going on the Circum-Baikal Railway, which is a day trip that goes around part of the shoreline of the lake, along the old Trans-Siberian route. We’ll be back in Irkutsk on Thursday night, at the Irkutsk Hostel again, and get back on the Trans-Siberian train on Saturday night.
See you in a few days!
Judy coping with the Siberian weather at the market in Irkutsk
We’re on Train 002 Rossiya: Moscow – Vladivostok. We caught the train from Platform 2 at Yaroslavsky Station at 1:50pm yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. Trans-Siberian trains always leave from Yaroslavsky Station, from platform 1 – 5 at the eastern end of the station. The nearest metro station is Komsomolskaya. Train departure times are displayed on a large board at the near end of platform 2, so it’s not really necessary to go into the railway station to get information. Platform number is only displayed 40 minutes prior to departure, so if you get there earlier, you just need to wait until closer to the time of departure.
The day before we caught the train, we did a ‘practice run’ from our apartment, changing metro lines and trying to work out the best places to stand so that we could get on the metro trains with all our luggage and the least amount of fuss. When we caught our first metro train in Moscow, we hadn’t realised how quickly the carriage doors close, and we both got stuck between the closing automatic doors – thankfully a local passenger who was already on the train helped us prise the doors apart! We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to Yaroslavsky Station with our gear, and during our practice run we had found a good local supermarket so that we could buy water and food for the trip. The station was full of people arriving, leaving and generally milling about, which was a bit of a relief because the day before we watched 2 police harass 2 travellers for their ‘papers’, which seems to be a common occurrence at railway stations, but best avoided if at all possible. More people means we’re less likely to stand out as tourists or targets. So we got Greg settled with all our bags and I went across to the Billa supermarket on the other side of the busy road outside the station. Access is via an underpass near Lenin’s statue in the car park to the east of the main station building. There is also a smaller supermarket east of the car park, which mainly sells cooked & pre-packaged food and drinks especially for train travellers.
The Billa supermarket has a good range of food and drinks & I bought bottled water, bread, apple pies, long life milk, breakfast cereal, instant mashed potato and noodles. The 2 men in front of me in the checkout line bought several bottles of vodka (?!?), and the woman behind me had lots of styrofoam trays of cooked pancakes, dumplings and salads. When I got back to the station, Greg wasn’t where I had left him, and of course I immediately thought the police had taken him away, but he had moved because he’d been waiting near a garbage bin and all the smokers congregated there. We got lunch from the cafe/takeaway place just near platform 3 – wraps filled with chicken and lettuce/tomato or cabbage/carrot. The service is fast, the food tastes good and the woman who served me spoke English.
The train was at Platform 2 around 40 minutes prior to departure, so we gathered our bags and walked down to our first class carriage, No 7. We have a 2-berth cabin with 2 bench seats that become beds, with a table in between. There is storage space under the seats, and there’s also a storage compartment above the door. The padded headrests of the seats lift up and have small shelves for a bit more storage. There are reading lights at either end of each seat, and a power point under the table. Greg bought a triple adaptor so we can plug in our small fridge, USB charger, computer and other electrical paraphernalia. At one end of the carriage there are 2 toilets with handbasins, at the other end near the carriage attendant’s office is a samovar, so hot water is always available. As far as we can tell, there is no shower. Good thing we’re only on the train for 3 days to Irkutsk, not going the whole way to Vladivostok (6 days) in one go. We do have a good supply of baby wipes.
So, we’ve been on the train for almost 24 hours. We have crossed 2 time zones and travelled 1500 kms so far. Our guide books (The Lonely Planet Trans-Siberian book and Bryn Thomas’ Trans-Siberian Handbook) both mentioned that it was possible to buy food on station platforms when the train stopped, but so far we haven’t seen any. The carriage attendant sells a range of drinks and snacks, and there is a dining car on the train and we’ll probably end up having a meal or 2 there. We went and had a beer there last night. On the second part of our trip, from Irkutsk to Vladivostok, our meals are included; for some reason we couldn’t just buy first class tickets, we had to pay for ‘services’ – meals – as well. The first class compartment isn’t full at the moment – there is an American couple who are also travelling to Irkutsk, then going on the Trans-Mongolian route to Ulaan Baatar, and several other people have hopped on and off the train at various stops.
The second class cabins are the same as ours, with 2 extra bunks over the bench seats. And then there are the 3rd class carriages, which have 54 bunks in an open carriage, arranged into open compartments of sets of double bunks at right angles to the windows on one side of the carriage, then a walkway, then double bunks arranged alongside the windows. Apparently the bunks at either ends of the carriage are best avoided (toilets at one end near the higher-numbered berths, smokers near the carriage door at the other), and the lateral bunks are short, so no good for anyone taller than 5’5″ and people keep bumping into them as they walk past.
Our Trans-Siberian train trip, Day 3
The Russian railways all work on ‘Moscow time’, so train departure & arrival times, and on-train & railway station clocks are all set to whatever the time is in Moscow. The timetable in our carriage has all the arrival and departure times for the whole Moscow-Vladivostok journey. Yesterday we were running a bit late, so our time at each station was shorter than stated in the timetable. We’ve read a few cautionary tales of people getting left behind, and there’s no warning when the train takes off, so we’re very careful about getting back on the train as fast as we can. Each time we stop, we make a quick dash for the nearest station kiosk to see what they were selling. Late yesterday afternoon we got lucky and found a shrinkwrapped (!) loaf of bread at one kiosk and some drinking yoghurt and filled bread rolls at another. The woman at the second kiosk did her very best to try and pretend I didn’t exist, by restocking and moving items around on her shelves, looking out the window, peering in the fridge and carefully avoiding any eye contact whatsoever, but when more customers lobbed in, she had to finally give in and sell me some stuff.
This morning when we stopped at Barabinsk, we hit the jackpot – babushkas (grannies) selling their baked goodies and berries up and down the train. They were also offering furry Russian hats, scarves and a range of other non-essential items. Greg spotted a supermarket nearby and dashed off to get us some beer and chocolate, and I bought some bread rolls on the platform. Next time I’ll try to be quicker and get some pancakes as well. We rushed back onto the train, leaping onto the nearest carriage ‘cos we couldn’t see anyone else on the platform and we thought it was about to depart, and then sat there for another 10 minutes. A little old lady with a box full of berries sold Greg a cupful at the carriage door. There were a few strawberries on top, but most of them are plump, ripe raspberries. Yum.
We are now in Siberia, and it’s a mixture of flat grassy plains (steppes) and forest, electricity sub-stations and with an occasional village or larger town. We just stopped at Novosibersk, the capital of Western Siberia, population 1.4 million, and the 3rd largest city in Russia.
3 days (73 hours to be precise) on a long-distance train trip is long enough. We are stopping for almost 6 days in Irkutsk, and Thank Heavens for that! Doing the whole 6-day train trip in one go would be very trying – no showers, limited food choices and only occasional stops of 25 minutes or less. I’d strongly recommend anyone doing this trip to at least stop for a couple of days somewhere along the way, for a chance to walk longer than a few hundred metres at a time, to wash clothes (and yourself!), to get a better night’s sleep and for probably a whole lot more reasons that I can’t think of at the moment. The beds on the train are only 55cm wide, so if you’re used to the luxury of a wider bed, even turning over in such a narrow space requires some thought and planning.
Even on the train, we have people coming and trying to sell us stuff. A guy came into our cabin and tried hard to sell us a battery-operated massager thing, then a while later a woman did the rounds with scarves. Closed doors are no deterrent and they are very persistent, so after that for a while after we left each station we would lock our cabin door
A video of our train trip. You can view it on Youtube in HD if you follow this link
No 2 train pulling into the station in Moscow
crowds waiting at the Moscow station
1o minute stop at Perm
loading more water at Perm
triple adaptor to power all the electronics – the train cabin has only one power outlet
The samovar in the corridor proving all the hot water
there are kilometre posts all the way, this marked 1650km from Moscow
the marker for the border between Europe and Asia
babushka selling hats on the train
Marlinsk Station at night
We passed and got passed by lots of freight trains transporting oil
We’ve just arrived in Irkusk, Siberia, after 3 days on the Trans-Siberian train. I’ve written a bit about the trip so far, and Greg has taken heaps of photos and videos, and we’ll post some soon. But while we find our legs again and get used to the floor staying still and not rocking from side to side, here’s a post from Greg’s mum & dad, Fay and Ron, about a trip they did to Russia in 1980.
Memories of Russia 1980
Judy emailed us, wondering if we would like to reminisce on our trip to Russia in 1980, comparing it to their trip 2013.
So here goes.
We were in the UK to visit the relations, and had arranged a trip through Europe, called Russia, Poland and the Northern Capitals, cost $1,220 each, included dinner and breakfast along the way.
In July 1980 we left London for Harwich and embarked on the D.F.D.S. SEAWAYS for Esbjerg in Denmark, day two and three Copenhagen, and day four embarked on a ferry to Sweden, reaching the capital Stockholm in time for dinner. Day five spent sightseeing in Stockholm. Later that day we were driven to Norrtalje for the overnight crossing to Finland. Sightseeing in Helsinki our sixth day where we toured the bustling capital.
Then eastward to Russia:
First have to explain the times, we were arriving in Russia just before the 1980 Russian Olympics, several nations had banned athletes from attending the Olympics due to Russia invading Afghanistan. Australia did not send a full team to the games. Americans did not send a team.
We arrived at the border of Russia to overbearing custom people, there was only 18 of us in the coach (which could hold 44) many had cancelled because of the Russian situation.
They kept us in customs for four hours, went through everyone’s personal luggage, I had heated curlers, they took them apart, all books were searched through methodically. Small dogs were let loose in the coach; rods were put through the bodywork. Later they let us go.
Next Leningrad, now called St Petersburg, where we were taken by coach sightseeing and then to the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, a cemetery for 500,000 people. These people died during the siege of Leningrad, by the German army during World War 11. We walked down past this vast cemetery, to the monument where we found many Russians stood crying. A heart stopping moment to see such sorrow thirty six years after the siege ended.
In the evening we were taken to a performance of ballet at the spectacular Kirov Theatre.
Day nine we were driven to Novgorod where we first learnt you could only shop in Berioska shops, special shops for tourists. Shops in Russia at that time were not good; we see many queues outside premises, which to us did not have much displayed.
Hotels were unique as well. On every floor there were security, a lift in the Novgorod hotel could not be installed because the area left for it was not correct shape. Also food, we were served chicken which was so tough you couldn’t eat it. And we were served with caviar one time, which was a memorable moment.
In Novgorod we see young children led along holding on to a long rope, we see older children guarding the tomb of the unknown warrior, which apparently they performed this duty every day.
We learnt about another custom, brides on their wedding day they came to the memorial to honour the dead.
In the streets woman swept the roads with birch twig brooms, they were older woman and wore aprons and scarves.
In Russia there was not much traffic, mostly looked like government cars, few private. People did not speak to you; one place a man spoke in English but quickly moved away when security came into view. Not a happy country.
We continued on to Moscow where we did the usual sightseeing Red Square, huge queue for Lenin Mausoleum, we did not go in. The Kremlin and St Basil Cathedral, Tretyakov and Pushkin art galleries and the amazing Pavilion of Scientific Achievement.
The special thing we did in Moscow was to visit the Moscow State Circus in their permanent home, I would say circuses do not come at the top of my list to go and see, but, the Moscow State Circus, what can you say, it was amazing, never seen anything like since.
The journey through Russia continues past huge housing estates, high rise, ugly places, no landscaping.
We see paddocks were people lined up in a long row were cutting corn with scythes.
Saw woman washing clothes in creeks.
We stopped to get diesel on our way to Minsk, 150 litres the cost two cartons of cigarettes, the driver had them under his seat.
During our long travels through Russia we came across many block houses with armed guards.
So you can see how 1980 behind the iron curtain was different compared to 2013.
When we were leaving Russia we had to give roubles we had back.
Into Warsaw Poland, we learnt quickly how they all hated the Russian people.
Still behind that Wall, taken to a hotel in East Germany, built by the Swiss and run by them, the best hotel we had been in.
Taken around to see the wall, Brandenburg Gate and the gigantic Soviet memorial.
Next day out of Russian hands through Check Point Charlie, with more security checks underneath the coach they used mirrors. Into West Berlin, like another world entirely, shops packed with goods, and happy people.
Well, we’re not in Scandinavia any more, and I’m not sure what is the most confronting – the masses of people everywhere, the huge volume of traffic, the scammers, the almost total absence spoken and written English language or the strange (Cyrillic) script. The most obvious is the Cyrillic script. In countries that use the Latin alphabet, I can usually have a go at working out what’s written, but not here. We’re staying just off Nevsky Prospekt, the main historical (and touristy) part of St Petersburg, and there are bits and pieces of written English around, and we haven’t got hopelessly lost or ordered the wrong thing off a menu …. yet!
We got into St Petersburg airport late on Tuesday evening and I made the stupid mistake of assuming the guy standing next to one of the official taxi booths was a taxi driver. Well, he had a Taxi ID card around his neck and a Taxi sign on his car …so he drove us to the address we had for the hotel we’d booked and then demanded 4 times the official fare. A bit of back and forth – he refused to let us get our bags, we refused close the car door and wouldn’t pay him any more money. He eventually gave up, let Greg grab the bags while I waited in the car, then he jumped out, grabbed his magnetic Taxi sign off the car roof, ripped the home-made Taxi card from around his neck and zoomed off. At least he did drive us to where we wanted to go. But then the real fun began. The hotel’s address was Apartment 65, 136 Nevsky Prospekt. We had the right number, but where the hell was Apartment 65? We wandered up and down the street for a while, hoping it would magically appear. A young man coming out of a nearby shop asked us if we needed help – why, yes we did! He was from Siberia, but was visiting a friend who lived locally and they took us down a long courtyard/lane to the street behind NevskyPr, into another courtyard and showed us where to ring the bell for the hotel. We would probably still be hunting around, 2 days later, if those young people hadn’t helped us.
So, we’re staying down one end of Nevsky Prospekt, and at the other end of the road is the Hermitage Museum, almost 4kms away. In between is one of the main railway stations, quite a few monuments and places of historical interest and many grand-looking buildings which have shops on the lower and ground floors, and then either more shops or apartments on the upper floors. A century ago, NevskyPr was a long, wide boulevarde, and those grand-looking buildings were huge private residences. I can imagine horse-drawn carriages and the well-heeled classes of Petrograd promenading along to the theatre or to an audience with the last Tsar in his Winter Palace, which is now part of the Hermitage.
We went to the railway station to organise our train tickets to Moscow (fast train on Saturday morning), then continued walking up NevskyPr, marvelling that even the McDonalds, Subway and Burger King signs are in Cyrillic. There is a lovely small park with a statue of Catherine the Great, and the flower beds are at their best at the moment – floral designs planted out with begonias, verbena and other bedding plants. The National Library is next door, but it didn’t seem to be open to the public.
We wandered off Nevsky in search of lunch and found a little cafe that had a selection of hot dishes keeping warm behind glass. We hung back to work out how to order, then as luck would have it the customer before us ordered what we wanted (shaslick and potatoes) so we just made gestures that we’d have what he was having. It came with cold cucumber soup, salad and a cup of hot water with 2 sugar cubes. It all tasted good and we were feeling pretty happy that we had successfully ordered our first meal in Russia when I got stung by a wasp that had somehow crawled down the back of my t-shirt. Ouch! I wasn’t really feeling up to much more sightseeing after that, so we hopped on a trolley-bus back to the hotel, calling into a nearby supermarket for a packet of frozen peas (to use as an ice pack on my wasp sting) and some medicinal beers.
Later on, we went and ordered pizzas from a little place near the hotel, and more beers. The local water has traces of giardia in it so we’re drinking and cleaning our teeth in bottled water. And drinking bottled beer!
McRussian – McDonalds on Nevsky Prospect
Catching a Trolley-Bus on Nevsky prospect. The Trolley Buses get power from overhead electric lines
We are staying in Espoo, home of Nokia and the second-largest city in Finland. It’s actually just an extension of Helsinki. We are staying in another Airbnb apartment and you can have a little look at it here. Nice 1 bedroom apartment on the 3rd floor of a 4-storey apartment building, bus outside the door, shops and railway station about 10 minutes walk away. We’re here for 5 nights and will put the car and ourselves on the ferry back to Stockholm on Saturday night.
We decided to go into the city and have a look around today. It was overcast this morning but the forecast was for a fine day with temps in the low 20s. That’s double the maximum temperatures we had while we were within the Arctic Circle!
So … even though there’s a bus outside the door, we walked up to the nearest railway station and dithered around for a while working out where we were headed and how much it would cost. As Espoo is in Zone 3 of the local train network it was going to cost us 4.5 euros each. So we thought it might be cheaper on the bus and headed to the nearest bus stop where we boarded a bus and paid …. 4.5 euros each. Okay, so now we have all that worked out. We’re going to Tallin, in Estonia, tomorrow for the day and we wanted to check where the ferry leaves. The ferry terminal just happens to be near an open air market that I wanted to visit, so that was all rather good planning, or luck.
The market stalls are all selling berries, currants, cherries, peas and new potatoes at the moment so we bought some little new potatoes and peas still in their pod for dinner and strawberries and raspberries as well. I was interested to see that fruit and vegetables are sold by volume here, so I bought a litre each of peas, potatoes and strawberries, and the raspberries were already in a punnet. There were also a lot of stalls selling cooked food, with little tables and chairs set up. We went to a seafood stall close to the water where Greg had whitebait, fried potatoes, vegetables and salad, and I had prawns, fried potatoes etc. All freshly cooked, all delicious.
We wandered around to the ferry terminal and collected our tickets to Tallin, then did a modified walking tour of the main points of interest in Helsinki – the Lutheran Cathedral, the National Library which is currently closed for renovation, Pohoisesplanadi – Helsinki’s equivalent of the Champs Elysee and the highlight of our walk - Temppeliaukio Kirrko (The Church of the Rock), a 1960s church hewn into solid rock. A really simple but magnificent space, with a glass and copper dome and a beautiful organ. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos, but if you click on the link above there are some good photos with the Wikipedia article.
We caught a train back to the apartment, partly so that we could experience the full gamut of Helsinki public transport, but also because we couldn’t work out where the heck to catch the bus back out to the suburbs!
Buying fruit at the market
More market stalls in Helsinki
Its not a disease! The common name for Street food vans everywhere but Australia
Picture taken of Tromso from our hotel room at about quarter past midnight. The sun is still up but hidden behind mountains
Eating Rudolph – Reindeer steaks
We spent last night in at the Scandic Hotel in Tromso, our first night in a hotel on this trip. It gave us a chance to hang wet washing all over our very own bathroom and walk around in bare feet without worrying about them getting cold and wet, and only unpack a couple of small clothes bags rather than half a ton of camping gear. Such a difference from last year in Portugal and Spain, where we spent every night but one in hotels or the very occasional auberge. The hotel is a few kms out of the town centre, close to the airport. It has a great view of the fjord, and looks across to ‘the mainland’ and the mountains beyond. Most of Tromso is on an island, including the town centre, the airport and the university. It connects to the mainland via a very impressive bridge.
We went out for dinner last night, to Aunegarden. It’s a cafe/restaurant in a beautiful old wooden building that spent most of its long life as a butcher’s shop. There are lots of rooms and little nooks and crannies. We were taken along hallways past a couple of other rooms that were set up for dining, to a room with 4 or 5 tables and a lot of large old photos of downtown Tromso that were probably taken early last century. The menu had lots of choices, but we were really only there for one thing … the reindeer. Anyone reading this with young children, please don’t tell them we ate one of Santa’s helpers!. It was a fillet of reindeer, served with mashed potato, red cabbage and lingonberry sauce and it was delicious! Lean, tender and not too ‘gamey’. The meal cost as much as the hotel room, but we both really enjoyed it. Best (and only) restaurant meal we’ve had in Norway.
But then! We walked around the main streets of Tromso for a while – lots of lovely old wooden buildings and interesting things to look at … got back to the car and found a parking ticket on the windscreen. For $150. Damn. I had paid for parking and mis-read the instructions. I thought it was free after 9pm, but actually the rate is reduced overnight. So I paid until 9pm, and we got the ticket at 9.30. Annoying, expensive and a good lesson to read instructions properly even if they are in another language. The worst thing about it is that the only way to pay is to do a bank transfer. I spent ages trawling the internet last night trying to find out if I could pay online with a credit card, but couldn’t find anywhere to do so. I have found out which bank is on the bank transfer details and we’ll go to the Tromso branch today and hopefully I’ll be able to make an over the counter payment.
On the bright side, we stayed up late enough to see the sun at midnight … well actually it was on the other side of the mountains, but it was definitely still there, shining.
Yesterday, our second full day in Oslo, we decided to see a few more things on the ‘What to do in Olso’ lists. We drove into the city because Greg had purchased a wireless broadband modem and it hadn’t been registered properly when he bought it, so he took it back to Netcom shop for them to sort out. We found parking on the street surprisingly inexpensive, ranging from $1.60/hour to $4.00/hour depending on where we wanted to park, and we found empty spaces with no trouble. We didn’t venture into any parking stations, so I’m not sure how much they cost.
First tourist stop of the day was the Viking Ship Museum on Bydgoy Peninsula, which is also home to several other museums and 2 beaches. Every major Scandinavian city we’ve visited has a Viking museum, so we thought we’d better go and see one. This one was excellent with just enough (and not too much) to see, and we were surprised that the entry fee was just $12. The museum has 3 Viking ships, which were all pulled ashore and used as burial tombs for people of high rank. They were all buried at least 1000 years ago, and then unearthed in the late 19th-early 20th century. In addition to the ships, a lot of Viking artifacts, tools, implements, 3 sleds and a carriage were unearthed from one ship which contained the remains of 2 women, one of whom was thought to be a queen, the other thought to be her maid.The Vikings believed that the dead needed to take things with them to the afterlife and provided everything they could think of, including horses and other animals. I did wonder if the maid had been dead or alive when she was buried with her mistress. You can read more about the ships and their contents here. As most of you would have guessed by now, we’re not great museum-goers, but this one was really good and I’d strongly recommend it to anyone visiting Oslo.
Next stop was Vigeland Park, a very large green space near the city centre that showcases the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland. There are over 200 granite and bronze sculptures depicting people at all stages of life, doing and feeling a wide range of activities and emotions. We sat under a row of trees and ate lunch and did some people-watching. There seem to be a lot more (mostly) women out and about with babies & toddlers in pushers here than we see at home. I guess it’s a combination of good weather and a generous paid parenting scheme.
And so on to our last touristy thing for the day, up to the hills just above central Oslo to see the beautiful old timber Holmenkollen Hotel and the terrifyingly high Holmenkollen Ski Jump, where the annual World Ski Jump Championships are held in March. The Ski Jump is also used as a concert venue.
Dinner last night was what our Lonely Planet guide tells us is Norway’s national dish - Grandiosa, a brand of frozen pizza. I think they were only partly joking. Those things are stacked up high in every supermarket we’ve visited. We bought one, but when we went to heat it up, of course it wasn’t as big as the box, so I nipped down to the Kiwi supermarket on the ground floor of this apartment building and bought another one. They tasted fine, although it’s a long time since I’ve had a frozen pizza at home.
Viking Ship, this ship was thought to be a ceremonial ship for calm waters
This Viking ship was a strongly built serious ocean going craft, the boards are riveted to the hull with iron rivets.
We got brave and caught a bus into the city centre this morning. In every country we’ve ever visited, we have managed to navigate our way around the train or subway system without too much trouble, but have been wary of catching buses because we don’t know where we’ll end up. However the apartment we’re staying in is not close to a train station, and the bus is right outside the front door. Buying tickets was a bit tricky – they are available from newsagents, convenience stores and automatic ticket machines for a lower price than on the bus, but we tried 2 supermarkets and a service station near the apartment and none of them sell bus tickets, so we had to buy them from the bus driver.
On the way home we got them from a newsagent near the bus stop in town and paid $6 each.
We did some sightseeing and got some stuff done – exchanging $USD for Norwegian Krone, bought a mobile broadband modem so we can access the interwebz while we’re travelling around Norway. We visited the very modern Oslo Opera House, which is made of marble and glass, and has a very impressive timber ‘Wave Wall’ inside that provides access to the upper levels of the building. Great views of the city from the roof, which is apparently a favourite sunbaking spot on warm days. We didn’t see anyone sunbaking there today, but as we saw plenty of people out and about in the sun yesterday, the Opera House roof may have been standing-room only.
We walked up the main shopping mall and dropped into a Subway for some lunch. $20 for a foot-long roll with a drink and a biscuit. We shared, and I noticed other couples doing the same. We haven’t been sticking to our 5:2 diet where we eat just 500 – 600 calories for 2 days of the week, but we seem to just be eating less than usual anyway. I guess our bathroom scales will tell us the truth when we get home.
I had read about Litteraturhuset, the House of Literature, and it sounded like an interesting place to visit, so we walked along the side of the Royal Palace park to reach it. Not quite what I’d expected, it has a large outdoor cafe with a small bookshop inside, and apparently literature-related talks, workshops and debates are held there. Lovely old building, though, and on the way there we did find Norli, a large bookshop with a good range of English-language books and I even found a couple of cookbooks by Aussie celebrity chefs – David Thompson’s Thai Street Food and Christine Manfield’s Tasting India. Jo Nesbo’s latest book Police is prominently featured in all bookshops at the moment – hardcover Norwegian language version costs the equivalent of almost AUD$80 …. and most places have it ‘on special’ for $70.
We walked through the Royal Palace Park and went past the Royal Palace on our way back towards the city centre. The palace is undergoing renovation and the surrounding area looks like a building site. There were quite a few beggars around the shopping centres and in the shopping mall. More than we have seen in other major Scandinavian cities.
Our last stop today was Nor Brothers supermarket at Storgata 34. Our Lonely Planet guide recommended it as a good place to get reasonably priced groceries and good quality fruit and veg. And it was! Excellent bananas for $1.40 per kg, fresh bread for $2 per loaf (the cheapest we’ve seen elsewhere starts at $4), a whole room full of different rices and lots of interesting imported food. We bought a few things and plan to go back on our way out of Oslo. We realised as we were leaving that there was a whole 2nd floor that we had missed! So we have to go back.
The bus trip back to the apartment was easy and it dropped us right outside the front door to the apartment block.
We have a new mission – to find Norwegian hand-knitted sweaters in a Fretex (Salvos) shop. We’ll let you know how we go.
The Roof of the Oslo Opera House with the skyline of Oslo in the background
Timber Walls at the opera house
The Glass walls of the Opera House. The glass has no other supports, it has glass beams at right angles to give strength
Jo Nesbo’s latest book on sale in Oslo, but don’t worry its on special, normally A$80, but now a steeply discounted A$70
Norwegians in Oslo in the Royal Palace park, getting their gear off and getting some sun. Its summer, its 22C, summer might be over tomorrow!
After our bicycle adventure yesterday, we decided to spend today, our last full day here, walking and visiting some places we had cycled past yesterday. There were a couple of things on my ‘must eat in Denmark’ list too, including smorrbrod (Danish open sandwiches), ice cream and Danish pastries, which are called ‘Vienerbrod’ Viennese Bread here.
We had ridden past Christiania on our way to Noma yesterday. It’s a hippy commune located on an abandoned 41 hectare military camp, with lots of DIY houses, a small marketplace selling everything from rainbow clothes & jewellery to hashish and dope (no photos please!). The houses range from converted shipping containers to modern timber dwellings and lots of the army buildings have been repurposed as cafes and apartment blocks. I thought there would be more evidence of self-sufficiency, but apart from one wind generator and a lovely raised-bed vegie garden, it all seemed to be kinda suburban, with electricity meters and people bringing their shopping home from the local supermarket. The commune is spread across a couple of canals, with grassy areas for people to sit, and that was lovely, like a little haven in the middle of the busy city.
We found an ice cream shop and had scoop in a waffle cone for morning tea – chocolate for Greg, hazelnut for me … *waves* to our neighbour Hazel!
Next on our list was Nyhavn, a very touristy area along a canal lined with yachts in the water, and restaurants on the waterfront. Hans Christian Anderson lived in several places along this canal. We didn’t bother about going to see the Little Mermaid because we haven’t heard or read anything that has been positive. Everyone reckons she’s too small, overrated and not worth the effort. However we did wander along to Amalienborg Slot, the royal palace where one of Australia’s most famous exports, Princess Mary, lives with her family and other members of the Danish royal family.
By then we’d seen and done as much as we wanted to, so we found a sandwich shop and had lunch. Around $15 for 2 huge filled bread rolls and a small open sandwich with egg, tomato and pieces of some kind of fish.
Eating Waffle cone ice cream in Copenhagen
A bike lane in Copenhagen. A kerb separates the bike lane from the road.
Judy outside a fellow Australians home in Copenhagen, hoping for an invite in from … Princess Mary