Oslo Norway – Vikings, Embassies and Old Friends

Viking Ship Museum - Oslo, Norway

The ride to the airport was uneventful. For 6 Euro, a shuttle service picked me up at my hostel proving the anxiety that I’d had over catching an early morning bus on a quiet Sunday unnecessary.

As the shuttle meandered its way through Dublin I noted how empty the streets were.  After a full weekend the city was finally at rest, recuperating and preparing for a new week.  The airport itself was fairly quiet, which was a relief.

The line to check my bag was short, as was the line through security, which left me ample time to find a bite of food before winding my way towards my gate.

The flight to Oslo was brief.  To be honest, I slept most of it – between jetlag and the late night I’d had the previous evening, I was in desperate need of a nap!

Rygge Airport is located some 40 km south of Oslo.  A small airport, we were the only plane present.  This was convenient given the size of the airport’s one runway, which we had to taxi back up after landing before we were able to get to the gates.

From there a bus shuttled us all to Oslo, where we went our separate ways.   After a quick pause to get my bearings, I set to the task of finding my way to Hildur’s place.  She’d given me an address and general directions, but getting oriented, judging landmarks, and weighing distances is never an easy thing when experiencing a new city/culture for the first time.

In short order I found the subway, figured out what ticket I needed and after a few missteps was headed in the right direction.  Before long I reached the National Theater stop and headed toward the surface.  Candidly, as the escalator dragged me towards the surface, I felt a bit like a groundhog leaving its hole.

Embassy Row - Oslo, Norway

I emerged in the middle of a beautiful greenbelt surrounded by old buildings that borrowed from French and German architecture – creating a unique mixture of the two. Then, with map in hand, I slowly spun about before guessing which direction I needed to go. Unfortunately, it ended up being up hill…toward a large palatial building in the midst of a giant park.  It was, as I would later learn, the royal residence.

The day was beautiful; warm with a few clouds in the sky.  Needless to say it was anything but what I’d expected.  In typical European form a lot of the locals were out enjoying the weather.  Most stripped down to swimming suits, sprawled out in the park, sunbathing, picnicking or barbecuing. It made for a welcome sight.

Feeling fairly confident that I was following my directions correctly, I wound through the park and up a side street before turning onto the street where I hoped to Hildur’s apartment.  To my surprise, I quickly realized I was walking down Ambassadorial Row.  Most of the buildings had unique architecture representing their home country and a diverse mixture of national flags flying from beautifully manicured front lawns.  Thrown into the mix were a few private residences, coffee shops, and B&Bs.

Ambassador's Row - Oslo, Norway

Before long I found the right address and tentatively made my way to the door. There I was stumped.  Unfortunately, while I had her number, I didn’t have a phone or her apartment number.  This was even more challenging because the buzzer had some 8+ last names, none of which I recognized.  Torn between randomly hitting the buzzer’s until I got the right one or backtracking and finding a phone – I made one attempt, then opted for the latter…Which came in the form of a small Korean convenience store where I borrowed the phone and picked up what turned out to be orange-flavored water.

A few rings and a quick conversation later, I was back on my way down Ambassadorial Row.   This time, with the right last name in hand I was quickly buzzed in and made my way up the winding staircase.  Reaching the top I re-connected with Hildur, an old college friend who I’d met a few years earlier while she studied as ASU.  We quickly caught up before striking out for a quick bite to eat and tour of the immediate area.

She explained, to my surprise, that one of the cheaper local foods was Sushi of all things and promised we’d try it at some point during my stay.  For the sake of convenience and price, however, we made a quick pause at McDonalds before heading to the park where I met up with one of her best friends/roommates and another mutual friend who was visiting from the west coast.

We spent an hour or so relaxing in the sun, enjoying the park, catching up, and getting to know each other before heading back to the apartment for a beer and to watch the evening’s world cup match.

After the game it was nap time.  Still fighting jet lag, I crashed out for an hour or two before waking up in time for a delicious home cooked meal.  Shortly after dinner Hildur’s boyfriend Sten got in. He had volunteered to give me a grand tour of Oslo the following morning.  We all spent the rest of the evening catching up, getting acquainted and sharing stories before turning in early – the following day promised to be a full one.

With the sun still up, I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head and slipped into delightful dreams of new adventures and far off lands.  It was 1 am.

Launching Ultimate Packing List .com

My last update mentioned a number of different projects. While most are still under way and keeping me terribly busy, I’ve completed and launched The Ultimate Packing List, which can be accessed through http://www.ultimatepackinglist.com.

I found myself regularly answering a multitude of questions for friends who were about to embark on their 1st, 2nd or 3rd trip abroad. More often than not I was able to contribute a lot, but left out important details – or found that they were too close to their departure date to act on some of the advice/suggestions I had to offer.

There are a multitude of great travel tip posts out there.  In fact, just about every travel blogger who’s spent any time writing has written up a tips and tricks post at some point or another.  That said, most have great information but are either too comprehensive (and have been turned into multi-page resource sites which are overwhelming) or too basic (and lack a succinct, yet comprehensive approach to delivering the tips and tricks needed).

Additionally, there’s not a one stop shop out there that streamlines finding and potentially purchasing hostel/backpacking specific gear. You can read through posts which randomly suggest (and even in some cases link to) various items they recommend but it’s usually scattered and leaves the travelers scrambling to claw together a solid list.  Which is a problem further confounded by big box stores which have too many options and completely unnecessary items.

My answer? Create a website with 3 basic pages. That’s it.  The K.I.S.S. principle in action – An extremely comprehensive travel tip post targeted specifically for 20-30 something travelers. A page to display videos outlining what and how to pack submitted by experienced travelers and a final page that interfaces with Amazon to deliver a storefront delivering rock bottom Amazon pricing on a very limited list of hand picked hostel/backpacking relevant and recommended items.

I’m currently looking for new packing videos and always open to travel tip or gear suggestions – so without further ado – hop on over, check it out and let me know what you think!

Amsterdam – Updated

After evaluating my options I decided to book a flight from London to Amsterdam instead of trying to deal with the ferry/train situation or wasting days going by bus. With Easyjet, Bmi, and Ryanair it’s amazing how cheap flying can be. Think Southwest – but sometimes even better. I made it to the airport by tube, got through customs and check-in without any hiccups and then enjoyed the brief flight down to Amsterdam. There I was relieved to find that almost everything/everyone was in/spoke English. This let me navigate around and find my way into the city proper without too much trouble.

The entire city spans out from the central rail station in oddly shaped rings with canals making wide loops mirroring the streets. It’s a pretty incredible layout – but also very confusing for something that seems apparently straight forward and symmetrical. The architecture is incredible. For whatever reason a lot of the older buildings have settled which results in all sorts of oddly leaning buildings meanwhile the cobblestone streets are beautiful and the canals – every turn you find yourself in an even more picturesque setting. Also, the leaves on a lot of the trees are starting to turn -or perhaps are always colored- either way it adds to the feeling. The canals are usually fairly quiet, with boats moored all along them everywhere you look. The boats themselves are pretty amazing. Old barges, small pleasure craft, odd little skiffs, you never know what you’ll see… if it’ll be halfway under water, or how it will be colored.

My hostel was located about a 5 minute walk away from the central rail station right on the edge of the red light district. To be honest, I think the street in addition to being where most of the hostels were, also was the gay district. There were some really…different shops along it. The hostel opened up onto the small pedestrian/bike street and behind it there was a large circular courtyard with a church in it. My room on the 2nd floor -which i shared with 9 or so other beds-opened up onto the courtyard…which was great, but also a bit annoying at times… go figure…the church had bells =) The hostel itself was a bit of a dump. They allowed smoking in it, so the entire place smelled like weed and while the beds were decent and the sheets were clean the walls had writing written all over them/carved into the walls. Perhaps the most comical part was the Bathrooms. The compartments were so small that one almost needed to open the door to sit down or stand up before shutting the door again…that or become some sort of super human circus acrobat.

It was also interesting seeing an active mini-cathedral on the fringe of the red-light district. On that same square there were several “coffee” shops and if memory serves there may have been an adult store or two. Wild contrast – but then again, that’s Amsterdam.

I spent the first part of the day proper after arriving exploring the architectural elements of the city. I basically just wandered around – got lost and explored. It was great. The winding streets, packed with people, with new sites and scents etc. were all pretty fantastic. The swans, the trees, the bicycles – that’s the other thing – there are bikes EVERYWHERE. There is one bike parking station in front of the rail yard that is the size of a 2-3 story parking garage – all full of bikes and nothing but bikes. In fact, the most dangerous thing about Amsterdam I think is the bikes and mopeds. They all have bells and just go roaring down the streets ringing them. God help you if you don’t move.

The red light district was intense…especially at night. You always hear talk of the doors/windows etc. but it really surprised me how many there were once the sun set and the red lights went on. Normal buildings you walk past during the day suddenly transform into a veritable art gallery full of flesh in all different types, shapes, and sizes. Definitely a different experience walking down those streets. Sometimes I felt like I was the one on display, not vice versa. With the girls staring you up and down, trying to engage you, even had a few knock on the glass to get my attention trying to get me to come over. No worries though, I didn’t browse the wares. Though there were times I definitely felt like Odysseus tied to the mast, as he passed the Siren’s isles.

In addition to deciding against a hooker, I also decided mushrooms didn’t really have any appeal or draw. A fact I only mention, because I don’t even want to imagine what y’all might expect from a 22 year old male wandering Amsterdam on his own. Any how – After exploring the red light district a bit at night, getting some food, and grabbing a drink I headed back to the Hostel and called it a night.

The first day proper consisted of walking and exploring. The day itself was overcast and misted off and on throughout the day. Nothing to fret about, but still enough to keep things cooler and make taking photos a PIA. I woke up, pulled myself together and then before I left the hostel started chatting with an Israeli couple traveling together and an American-or was it Canadian? girl staying in the dorm below me. She was traveling on her own before heading to London to work in the Fashion industry. Both being on our own, we ended up hitting it off and elected to meet up later that day to explore the nightlife. Two other Canadian girls (hairdressers actually) traveling in Europe before a conference in Greece also joined us.

After meeting each other and socializing a bit i struck off to explore the city. I wandered until I found some food (Burger King of all things) then continued on until I meandered past a 3 story sex museum. Three stories for 3 Euro seemed like a fair trade so in I went. The museum itself was pretty fascinating. Chock full of erotic carvings, photos, video, etc. from across history. When you look at modern social perception of pornography – it’s often – in the states at least, treated like some new creation that stems from modern perversion and technology. It’s funny how different the reality of it all is. From ancient oriental wall hangings that had a secret pull away front end that revealed hand painted porn to authentic Greek plates and vases that depicted sexual acts. One of the more bizarre was a sword that King Leopold had commissioned which had a man sexually engaged with – if i remember right a lion on the pommel. Hows that for a firm grip on something? The Museum also had a number of mannikins some of which were animated. It was an odd experience to say the least.

From there I had something truly unusual happen. As i explored the city, map in hand I got lost. Occasionally, I’ll get a bit off from where I mean to be as I wander, but this time I was 100% confused. No idea which direction was north, or what would take me weird. To be honest, it’s one of the first times that’s happened to me in years. It was an odd and humbling feeling. It wasn’t so much scary – as i knew i could always ask directions – as it was just eye opening. It was a new feeling, a new sensation. Definitely different than what i was familiar with. I can’t imagine feeling that on a regular basis.

Eventually I continued to wander until I figured out where I was – which as it so happens wasn’t close to where I thought I was. Oops. The downside of my lost wanderings was that I missed my time-frame for the National Museum in Amsterdam. The upside was I got to see a lot of the city, wandered through the flower market, and a book flee market. The wandering was beautiful, and in many ways I think I got more out of it, than wandering through another museum – Berlin’s better for that anyhow right!

After my wandering, I returned to the hostel, took a quick nap then headed downstairs to the pub under the hostel for a discounted meal (hostel owned) where I bumped into the first Canadian girl from earlier. We ate, then headed upstairs to pick up the others who had gotten then hands on some mushrooms earlier and were sobering up. They all finished getting ready and we headed out to the pubs – where we poked around and explored a bit. Meeting some locals, as well as some other travelers while relaxing, unwinding, taking in the sites and partying a bit. The night for the most part was a fun blur as we wandered between 4 pubs and spent some time out by the canals.

Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time. So, that’s it for now. Time to switch to another hostel here in Berlin for a night and to hit up the city! Did the national art and Bode yesterday. I’ll try for the wall and some other sights today.