Mag's Adventures in Norway (and Elsewhere)

Tom Magliery, September 1993

Hello all. As most of you know, I recently had the opportunity to go to Bergen, Norway, to present a paper at a conference (the 1993 IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages). After the conference was over I spent another few days (plus intervening travel time) in Europe -- one day in Stockholm, Sweden and two in Germany, where Lisa happened to be sent at the same time for her job. This is the story of all my adventures.

23 August (Monday)

Rode Amtrak to Chicago, leaving at 6:30am. Had 5 hours to kill in O'Hare. Ate some pizza, bought Jurassic Park to read on the plane.

The plane was a Boeing 767-300. I was in row 14. There was no row 13. When there was not something like a movie showing on the screen, they would display alternately a map showing our current position with a little computer graphic, and a screenful of information such as groundspeed, time in the air, distance to destination, and outside temperature. Fun facts: The plane took off at about 195 mph, and cruising speed was around 585 mph, at around 33000 feet. The air temperature at that altitude was (it said) around -60 or -70 Fahrenheit. I don't know if that included wind chill, but I suspect not, because the display would register temps like 40 or 50 when we were at lower altitudes but still moving pretty fast.

24 August (Tuesday)

We landed at DeGaulle airport in Paris, and I only had about half an hour to make my other plane (to Oslo), since the first one left late. To get to the plane we rode on an elevated bus thing -- the whole body of the bus would rise up to the gate, pick up people, then settle back down for the ride out to the plane, where it would lift us back up to meet the door of the plane.

Smokers got a bum rap on this plane. They said "rows 5-7 and 19-20 are reserved for smoking". But there were no rows 6 and 7.

When I arrived in Oslo I discovered that, unfortunately, my checked luggage (one bag) was not clever enough to make the changeover in Paris as efficiently as I did, so I had to fill out a form to have it sent on to my final destination.

Oslo is quite beautiful from the air. Norway is quite beautiful from everywhere. By the time I finished writing my postcards, I had run out of adjectives. I think I used "spectacular", "incredible", "beautiful", "awesome", "awe-inspiring", "gorgeous", "breathtaking", and "amazing", among others.

In Oslo I rode a shuttle in to Central Station where I would catch the train to Bergen. I had a little while, so I walked around central Oslo a bit. I found a McDonalds, where a Big Mac cost about $6. (I didn't eat any Big Macs in Europe.)

At this point I have a note to myself (what, you think I remember all this stuff?) that says "Bus 37". I'm not sure what it means. I suppose I saw a city bus that was from the "37" line, but there must have been more to it than that, or I wouldn't have written it down.

Got on the train, finished Jurassic Park, looked at the scenery. Mountains, fjords, lakes, waterfalls, forests. Seven solid hours of it. Words fail me. My pictures don't do it much justice either. (I actually only took a couple from the train, but lots more in the days to come -- around 200 by the end of my trip.)

After arriving in Bergen (around 8pm or so by now), by Murphy's Law I located the bus terminal where I would catch a bus to my hostel about 5 minutes after a bus had gone by, and about 45 minutes before the next one. But I finally got there and checked in. Two of my three roommates were also there for the conference (Ludwig, from Darmstadt, Germany, and Ian, from London). The third was another German who was on vacation with his girlfriend.

I called LG in Germany and let her know where she could reach me. She would call me the upcoming Saturday, when she got where she would be the following week, so I could find her when I went there.

My luggage arrived at the hostel about an hour later. It had flown, instead of taking the train to Bergen. It probably wouldn't have enjoyed the scenery as much as I did anyway.

25 August (Wednesday)

At this point, I should share a nice quote from information I read before my trip:
As it had been raining ever since she arrived in [Bergen], a tourist stops a young boy and asks him if it always rains here. "I don't know," he replies, "I'm only thirteen." ... Of all the things to contend with in Bergen the weather is the most persistent and predictable, raining heavily and relentlessly even in summer.
I also heard from somewhere else that Bergen gets around 160 inches of rain a year. On this day, however, there was no rain. Bright blue skies with highs in the 60s. Great photography weather. :-)

After breakfast at the hostel, we rode the bus into town to the SAS Royal hotel, where all the conference stuff took place. Opening keynote speaker in the morning, and numerous presentations of papers began. There were about 120 people present, from 17 countries. Kai (one of the organizers of everything) could name all 17 countries when I asked him once, but I couldn't remember them all. (US, Norway, Germany, England, France, Italy, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, ... nope, still can't do it.)

They fed us lunch, and after lunch we had a short walking tour through some of "Old Bergen", a section of tightly-packed older wooden houses packing the mountain nearest the hotel. We also went by Mariakirken, St. Maria's Church, which is the oldest building in Bergen, dating from the late 1100s.

More presentations in the afternoon.

In the evening we had a reception at Håkonshalle (actually, the 'a' in Håkon has the little circle over it, but I don't know how to write that), a huge meeting hall built by the King of Norway in 1247-1271. At the time, Bergen was the capital of Norway, and was for a long time one of the major merchant centers of Europe. [The parenthetical remark predates the HTML form of this story. As you can see, I do know how to do the "a with ring" in HTML; but I'll leave in the parenthetical remark (and more later) for historical accuracy.]

After the reception I walked around a bit, taking more photos (making the most of the sunny day), then went back to the hostel for the night.

Fun facts: Bergen is so far north that there were very noticeable astronomical differences. The sun didn't set until around 9:30pm, even this late in summer. It also never got very high in the sky. (One result of this is that the light was always very good for photography -- having the sun relatively low makes the light "warmer" or something.) Also, the North Star was WAY up high in the sky, and the visible constellations were (obviously) somewhat different than in central Illinois (or anywhere else in the US, save Alaska, for that matter).

26 August (Thursday)

Breakfast at hostel, conference all morning. Lunch at a Konditori (bakery, more or less) with another conference guy, Mike (from Liverpool). Conference all afternoon.

Had an hour or so of free time, so I walked through the Bryggens Museum, which is a small museum of local history right by the SAS Royal. It was neat to see some of the stuff, such as some building ruins (in place) from very old Bergen, but most of the information was in Norwegian, so I was frustrated occasionally at not being able to know what I was seeing.

Not a drop of rain today. It was the second straight day of constant sunshine and blue skies, with temps again in the 60s.

At 5 we met for what was billed as "banquet and social evening" on the conference agenda. They were careful to warn us earlier that we would not actually be eating until at least 8 or 8:30, but they kept the plans for the evening a secret.

First we piled onto buses (three of them), and then headed across town, where our first destination was the home of Edvard Grieg, the composer. This is a place I had thought I might visit during my free time the upcoming Sunday, because it sounded interesting. I was pleasantly surprised (especially because now I was seeing it for free :-).

Grieg lived in Bergen, at this house called Troldhaugen (hill of trolls or something like that), for the last 22 years of his life, until 1907. This year, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of his birth, they've been having festivities, such as regular recitals at a little recital hall at Troldhaugen. Tonight they had one presented just for us. Very nice, very relaxing.

Next we headed further out of town, to the southeast. Our next stop was a little mountain farm-turned-museum, where we were free to wander about the mountainside for a while. I wandered WAY up a trail until I cleared the woods, and had a great view of the valley below. While contemplating the splendor I heard honks on the bus horns and had to scamper back down the trail.

Next we stopped at the ruins of a kloster (where monks live) from the 12th century. There I "died" -- they had graves lying about, and I got in one for a photo.

Finally we ended up at a hotel on a fjord at Osoyro, where we had our banquet in view of a glacier some 30-40 miles away (by my map; I'd hate to guess more accurately, but it looked closer to 40...). Of course, there were still mountains, lakes, fjords, etc., all over the place.

When we got back to the hostel that night, we had a different fourth roommate, who was already in bed when we arrived. I spent a while going over my presentation before turning in.

27 August (Friday)

Breakfast at hostel, left for town. Fourth roommate was still in bed. We never saw anything but the top of his head. (We assume he was male, but technically speaking, we don't know that either.)

More conference in the morning. Another lunch at the conference, and another walking tour, this time through the Hanseatic area of downtown Bergen, an area which was populated largely by Hanseatic merchants (Germans) around the 17th and 18th centuries. Lot of old buildings and lots of stories.

After lunch was my presentation. It went pretty well. Afterwards a few people came up and expressed interest in learning more about our stuff. A couple people also told me I did a good job, which made me feel good.

There was just one more session after that, and then the closing remarks, and then the conference was "officially" over, although about 50 of us would be together all day Saturday for the "post-conference tour".

Ian, Ludwig, Mike, Josef (another German) and I got together and walked up the mountain (Floyen) right beside the city center. (Bergen is actually surrounded by 7 mountains. Ulriken is the name of the one the hostel is on.) The vertical distance of Mt. Floyen was about 320m, but the path was long and not steep, and we took our time. We sat around at the top, had a drink, chatted, viewed scenery, then walked back down.

Oh yeah, this was the third consecutive day of beautiful sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s.

In the city center there was a crane set up for what they called bungee jumping, but it wasn't exactly jumping. They'd hook you up to this harness at the ground, then winch up the cable so it stretched out the cord, with you still attached to the ground, and then they'd let you go to fly up and bounce up and down a few times. Looked amusing, and somehow (I'm not sure why) seemed safer than bungee jumping, but not worth $30. We passed.

Ate supper at what I think was a Norwegian fast food restaurant, Ola's Inn. Had reindeer stew, which was basically a very peppery stew with big chunks of presumably reindeer meet. Not bad.

Went back to the hostel after supper; had a new fourth roommate, from Sweden. We chatted a bit about Sweden and stuff. He had been camping and hiking for two weeks in southern Norway.

28 August (Saturday)

After a frantic breakfast at the hostel, Ludwig and I raced to meet our group at the train station and catch the train for our tour. We first rode the train to Myrdal, where we had a little break before our other train, so we walked around the mountain a little.

Fun facts: When you hike or camp in Norway, you don't have to carry drinking water, because it's safe to drink the water anywhere. There's no pollution, and the water is always cold enough that there are no nasty bacteria. Kai said it's funny to see tourists being careful to go back to their hotels to get drinking water; they don't realize that the water coming out of their tap is untreated mountain runoff.

Fun facts: All electric power in Norway is from hydro plants; and they sell power to other countries. They have so much rain, and so many mountains, streams, melting snow, etc., that they never want for water or water power.

Meanwhile, this was the FOURTH consecutive blue-sky sunny day, although it was a little cooler, maybe with a high around 60. Kai was sarcastically apologetic at times that it was not raining for us. We all were impressed that they had managed to coordinate not only the various conference events, but beautiful weather as well.

From Myrdal we rode on a train down into a valley to Flåm (funny 'a' again). This train ride is renowned as having one of the steepest descents in the world. The tourist guide says the train has five separate sets of brakes, each of which can stop the train by itself. Of course, there were waterfalls galore along the way. The trip is also renowned as one of the world's most beautiful (listed in the top five in two different Eurail books I read).

In Flåm we had lunch, and then Ludwig and I walked around a bit before we all got on a ferry for a ride along the fjords (up one fjord and down another). Along the way we passed Styvi, which is the smallest community in Norway with its own zip code. Its population is 3. We also saw zillions more waterfalls, mountains, and (from a distance) another glacier.

At one point I remarked to Ludwig, as we passed yet another waterfall in the boat, that if you picked me up from central Illinois and plunked me down on this boat in this fjord in front of this waterfall I'd be awestruck, whereas now it wasn't really too much of a thrill. I took a picture of that one anyway, though, since we had made it a conversation piece.

At the end of the ride (I forget the town name) we got on a bus and headed for Voss (which we had passed through on the first train earlier). This ride first took us up the steepest mountain road in Norway, with an average grade of 18%, and a maximum of 23%. Compare that to the major warning signs you see in Colorado saying "6% grade" or "8% grade". They made us split into two buses, because they were afraid that the one bus, with an automatic transmission, wouldn't be able to carry us all up the slope.

We stopped at a couple places for taking pictures (one hotel overlooking the Flåm valley, and a big waterfall further on), and eventually made it to Voss, where we had supper. From there we bussed it back to Bergen. As we came into Bergen (around 10:15pm), it started to sprinkle, and Kai said "Sorry about the rain, but I want to remind you that we DID intend to be home tonight by 9pm."

At the hostel I had a call from LG telling me where she was in Germany, and we made plans to meet up on Tuesday.

29 August (Sunday)

We (Ludwig and I) slept in, meaning we didn't get up until around 9:00. (Ian had left around 5am because he had an early flight back to England.) After a leisurely breakfast and packing, I took my stuff to the train station and stored it, then met Ludwig and Josef at a museum downtown to see an exhibition about Grieg's life.

Today it rained, and I got an impression of what Bergen is apparently usually like. Still pretty, just grayer, and you can't see the tops of the mountains. I also got the opportunity (finally) to make use of the rubber boots and rain jacket that I had so dutifully packed.

After that Ludwig and Josef headed for the airport (flying back to Germany), and I headed for the train station. Although my Eurail pass meant my ticket was paid for, I hadn't made a seat reservation yet, and I was sad to discover that there were no open seats for the train to Oslo. Problem was compounded by an airline strike by the Norwegian airline SAS. However, I spoke to the conductor (fairly standard practice, I gather) and waited, and a seat opened up shortly before departure. Sadly, it was in the smoking car, but it wasn't too bad.

Along the way I did puzzles in my GAMES magazine, looked at the scenery (less of which I could see in the rain), and saw the coolest full 180-degree double rainbow I've ever seen.

By the time we got to Oslo the rain had stopped. I didn't have much time in Oslo, though. Made reservations for the rest of my trip -- Oslo to Stockholm that night, and Stockholm to Copenhagen to Hamburg to Frankfurt (3 separate trains) on Monday night/Tuesday.

For the Oslo-Stockholm night train I was at first in a regular car, but for an extra $20 I was able to move to a sleeping car. This was quite cool -- a little room all to myself with a bed and a sink. I settled in happily.

30 August (Monday)

Today was power tourist day. I resolved to do as much of Stockholm as I could. I had breakfast at the station (the train arrived at around 7am), and then bought a "Stockholm card", which is a tourist card that gets you free admission to a large number of museums and other attractions, free local bus rides and boat tours, and various other goodies.

Unfortunately, it was rainy and cold (50ish) all day, but power tourists are undaunted by weather. Further unfortunately, Monday is the day when many museums are closed. However, a number of the biggest attractions were open -- more than enough to get my money's worth out of the Stockholm card (and besides, power tourists would be happy just to walk around and look at the museums).

Did the Vasa museum. Fun facts: The Vasa is a warship that Sweden built in 1628. At the time it was the largest warship in Europe, with 64 guns and 450 men. Unfortunately, it was tall and skinny. On its maiden voyage a gust of wind caused it to capsize and sink right outside Stockholm. The king was terribly displeased, but the master shipbuilder had died a year before, and the only other person to blame could be the king, so no one was ever punished. The masts stuck up out of the water, and when some distinguished visitors came to Stockholm sometime later, the Swedes whacked them off below the water level, so they wouldn't show as an embarrassing reminder. Several attempts to raise it back then failed, and it was forgotten for centuries. In the late 50's an archaeologist found it again, it was raised in 1961 (an impressive feat in itself), and after many years of restoration work, they built a museum around it.

Did a 2-hour boat tour. A welcome respite from the rain, and I got to see some stuff around town that I probably wouldn't have. Heard lots of neat stories. One of the things we saw was a hill where there was a crash of a plane at an air show recently. I think it was a new Swedish fighter plane that was being displayed to the public. Something went wrong, pilot ejected, plane crashed on hill missing thousands of spectators by not very much distance at all. Miraculously, no one was killed or even seriously injured. Made a nice hole in the woods on the hill though.

Our tour guide told her stories in both English and German (since there were some Germans on the tour). It was funny to hear that; I could pick out enough of the German (it helped to have the English to compare) to tell that she would say part of a story in one language, tell the whole story in the other language, and then finish the story in the one language. This way both sets of listeners could know what was going on before the boat was past whatever she was talking about. Well, I was impressed anyway.

Did Skansen. This is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Northern Europe, or so I gather. It is a big park with houses and other structures moved there from all over Sweden, some dating back centuries. The intent is to represent all Swedish heritage with them all. There are also animals -- all the animals native to Sweden. Almost no people were there this day, due to it being a non-tourist day, and a cold rainy one at that. All the animals were out and about (in their pens) though, except the otters. Seals, elk, bears, wolverines (hadn't seen before), some kind of deer that I also hadn't seen before, reindeer, owls, ...

Did Kaknas Tower (Kaknastornet), which is the tallest building in Scandinavia. It's a big broadcast tower with an observation deck up near the top. Viewed the area. Might not have done the tower if there had been more museums open. There were at least 3 or 4 I would have liked to see.

Headed back to the train station. Had a shower (for about $3). Had Swedish meatballs (Köttbullar) for dinner, and waited for my night train to Copenhagen. Had a couchette car, which means you're in a little room with 6 beds, stacked 3 on each side. I was in with a family of 4 Italians (I think) who spoke no English, so we didn't talk much. I had a good sleep, though. I missed the ferry crossing; I'm not sure where it was, but there must have been one. I expect it was much like the one in the next paragraph.

31 August (Tuesday)

Awoke to the conductor saying "25 minutes to Copenhagen". Had a quick train switch. Was in 1st class car the rest of the day. Big seats, more room, etc. A little bit out of Copenhagen we got on another ferry from Denmark over to Germany (Puttgarden, specifically). They put the whole train (6-8 cars or so) on the ferry. I stood down by the doors when we docked -- they bring the boat down a narrow channel that guides it in place, and then have these big cables that they use to attach it to the dock right in line with the train tracks. Pretty nifty.

Uneventful (but FAST) ride to Hamburg. Another train switch, another 1st class seat. (The adult Eurail pass automatically gives you a 1st-class ticket, but sometimes 1st-class seat reservations aren't available.) Started reading The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. Uneventful (but also FAST) ride to Frankfurt.

Arrived in Frankfurt at about 5pm. Lisa was staying at the Hotel Brucke (this and all further "Brucke"s actually have an umlaut on the 'u', and the 'o' in "Morfelden" has one too), 8 An Der Brücke, Mörfelden-Walldorf. If I had known what I was doing (as I do now), it would have taken me from 30-45 minutes to get to her hotel, depending on how long was the wait for the next train from Frankfurt central station. Of course, I didn't know what I was doing, so I had an adventure instead.

First I rode a train out to the airport, because I knew that was right near where she was. Asked a bus driver how I could get to Mörfelden-Walldorf; he studied the schedules, and I had missed the last bus, but I could catch a train. To catch the train, I had to first ride back a couple of stops toward Frankfurt, then switch trains. No problem. Got to Walldorf about 6pm. (Walldorf is a few km south of Frankfurt, and Mörfelden is a few km south of Walldorf.) Looked on the Mörfelden-Walldorf map at the train station, and did not see An Der Brücke. Called Lisa at the hotel, told her where I was. She didn't know where the train station was in relation to the hotel, so she said take a taxi. But I (foolishly) decided I wanted to get there without using a taxi, so I checked the map again. After all, both Mörfelden and Walldorf are very small towns, so the hotel had to be an easy walk from the train station. This time I found Brückenstraße, which I figured might be the same as An Der Brücke. (Anyone familiar with German street names should be chuckling at this point.) But Brückenstraße was in Mörfelden. Caught the next train down to Mörfelden (20 minutes later). Walked about 7 blocks to Brückenstraße, found number 8 a few blocks further down. It was a house. An old lady happened to be leaning out the front window. I asked her (in English) if she knew the Hotel Brücke, but she said (in German) "mumble mumble Amerikanisch mumble mumble", and pointed to the house next door. Sure enough, next door down was a Plymouth Voyager with Colorado plates. These folks had never heard of the hotel. They called their friend Wolfgang from across the street, and he called the hotel (I had the number), and (after animated German chatter with someone there) found out where it was. It was in Walldorf. They were quite kind to give me a ride there. I arrived at the hotel about 8:10. Lisa was quite surprised to see me arrive with a couple of strangers in a van. :-) (Strangers, indeed. It occurred to me in retrospect that I never found out their names, except for Wolfgang.)

LG and I had supper in a cool little Italian cafe at the hotel, and spent a nice evening together.

1 September (Wednesday)

I vaguely remember Lisa getting up and going to work at some point. Today I really slept in -- till 9:30 or so. Ate breakfast at the hotel, sat around and read more of Hotel New Hampshire.

Called Ludwig (Darmstadt is about 20km from Walldorf), and made plans for him to come up and "do something" with me and Lisa in the evening. We had discussed the possibility back in Norway.

Set out for the train station, to ride into Frankfurt for some touristing. I didn't know where the station was, but I could see the tracks from the hotel, so I just took a street that paralleled them, and sure enough, the station was just down the road a bit (about a 15 minute walk -- if only I had known).

After asking a lady in the station what was the German word for "ticket" ("Fahrkarten"), I was able to use my rudimentary knowledge of German (one year in high school) to communicate to the non-English speaking station clerk that I wanted a day-ticket for the train (allows unlimited travel on local trains for a day), and I felt quite proud of myself.

Rode into Frankfurt, visited Romer (the town hall, built sometime several centuries ago and still used), Kaiserdom (a church nearby), Paulskirche (another one), some Roman ruins from the 1st century, and the Museum of Modern Art (just because it was nearby, not because of an excessive interest). There was some pretty interesting art, though; some stuff by Andy Warhol that I recognized, too.

Sunny, cool weather while I was in Frankfurt, so the only rain I encountered the entire trip was in Stockholm, and half a day in Bergen.

Rode back to Walldorf. Was able to communicate with the German clerk all by myself again; asked if the Tageskarte (the specific term for the day-ticket) was good for today only or 24 hours. Was pleased to find out it was 24 hours, which meant it would get me to the airport tomorrow as well.

Walked back to hotel, called Ludwig and told him I was home. Read some more. Lisa arrived. Ludwig arrived, a little later. We decided to go to Heidelberg, about 100km from there. Headed out on the autobahn. We only went around 120-130km/hr (that's 70ish mph), and we weren't the slow ones, but there were many cars whizzing by that looked like they might be going twice that fast.

Along the way we stopped at Frankenstein castle, whose name reputedly inspired Mary Shelley for her novel. (It wasn't scary, though.) In Heidelberg we went to another castle, and then went out to eat. Ludwig translated the menu for us.

Went back to the hotel, packed for the trip home. Finished reading Hotel New Hampshire, against my better judgment (sleepwise, and something-to-do-on-the-trip-home-wise). It was a good book, though.

2 September (Thursday)

My plane was to leave at 7:30am, and if you account for the walk to the train station, the various necessary trains, and getting to the airport early, that meant I had to be up WAY early. My 4am wakeup call arrived at 4:40 (apology accepted, but only because I was half asleep and not thinking clearly enough to give him a smart answer). Missed the intended 5:06 train, but caught the 5:30. It turned out fine after all, because the airline check-in counter didn't open until 6:20.

Stopover in Paris was longer this time, but still not long enough to do anything but sit around the airport. At this point I began to have a stomachache that would last the entire flight home. I had a 5-hour wait in Chicago for my train to Champaign (four if you take out an hour for riding a train from O'Hare to downtown); at least I got feeling better during that time.

I was kind of hoping that my bag would have gotten lost in Paris, so that I could have it flown to Champaign on its own, and not have to carry it around Chicago and on the train. No such luck, though.

On the train to Champaign I heard a guy with an accent several seats behind me talking about the plane crash in Stockholm. When I heard him saying he had pictures, I had to go look. He had a sequence of photos that he had taken at the air show: the plane, the plane with a little explosion for the pilot's ejection, the pilot flying through the air (no parachute yet), the pilot flying through the air (with parachute), and finally a couple of pictures of a huge billowing cloud of black smoke behind a very large crowd of people. Pretty impressive.

The story gets better though. We got to chatting, and he said he was going to Champaign to visit some friends who were from Kansas. More amazing still: they were from Lindsborg! Bill and Ann Larson, who own a restaurant in Lindsborg, and whom I knew to be currently living here in town (I've run into Ann a time or two). Turns out he (Roger Somethingorotherson) lived in Lindsborg for a few years while playing football at Bethany, and worked at the Swedish Crown (the Larsons' restaurant). After he visits the Larsons here, he's going to Lindsborg (with perhaps some other places in between). I'll probably get to see him in Lindsborg in October, if Lisa and I get back there to visit as planned.

With that small world story, and pouring rain in Champaign, my long trip came to an end, although it would be followed the very next day with a trip to Houston for PMac and Katie's wedding, but that's another story...

Tom Magliery