All Posts Filed in ‘Europe

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Train from Kiruna to Stockholm, Sweden

Now on the train down to Stockholm, an overnight train from Kiruna in the north. There is still some snow outside, but not that much. Up in Kiruna there was thick snow and the rivers were frozen, though some people have said that usually at this time of year Kiruna would be a lot colder. It was around zero, and to me felt quite cold, though with my long johns and long scarf I was okay, but apparently it would usually be ten below zero in mid-March. A Swedish guy on the train was saying there’s a definite change in the climate. We used to get really cold winters, but now we don’t any more. A French couple in the same compartment say that they don’t have winter in France any more.

On 2nd March I took the Hurtigruten coastal steamer from Bergen up the coast of Norway. They give you a 60 percent discount if you set off on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday. The 2nd was a Thursday. It was 22:30 when the ship left. By that time I’d had a look around. There was a swimming pool and jaccuzzi on board. It would be nice to have a swim but I hadn’t brought my swimming trunks. I’d have to buy some. Buying things in Norway is best avoided if you can help it. Norway makes Sweden appear cheap. Many Swedes go to Norway to work in the construction industry.

Last night a Chinese guy was questioning me and the French couple about political issues, such as our attitudes to George Bush (always the same question, always the same answer), and then he was asking me about the health service in Britain. He had heard it cost a lot of money to have health insurance in Britain. I told him it was free. If I got ill or had an accident I wouldn’t have to pay anything. But this friend of his was paying a lot, he said. I told him if I broke my arm I might have to wait 3 or 4 hours before I was seen to, and then he said yes, that’s what I mean. It’s fucked. So you have to pay to get treated quickly.

This morning he was asking me if Yankee is a term of abuse. If preceded by bloody or fucking then it can be, but not necessarily, I said, then the French guy talked about Yankees and Confederates. The Chinaman cut him off: I know my history! Chinese people don’t have specific terms for particular nationalities (like Frogs, Krauts and Yanks). All foreigners are foreign devils. What about the Japanese? They are the foreign devils across the East sea.

The Hurtigruten docked in Alesund at about midday and I headed for the shopping malls to get some swimming trunks. Alesund is not a very big town and there wasn’t a lot to choose from. Only one pair in one shop costing £25, so I got them, and then climbed 418 steps up a hill and looked down on the town. I must have come down the hill a different way to the way I went up, or done something different near the bottom, because the boat wasn’t where I thought I had left it. Because there is water on both sides of Alesund it’s hard to get your bearings. The alarm on my phone went off telling me I had 20 minutes to find the ship before it left. I climbed up a small hill, high enough that I could see where I was, and spotted it. It’s a big ship so hard to miss. Room for 1000 passengers, though I think there were far fewer than that onboard as we left Alesund.

fish in a fishing boat in Alesund, Norway

When you leave the ship you have to swipe your smart card, that also functions as the key to your cabin, and you have to swipe it again when you return, so I wonder if they would leave without one of their passengers. Their system must be able to tell when everyone is back onboard.

A supermarket sign in Bodø, Norway

I got off finally at Bodø, 3 days up from Bergen and just above the arctic circle. There was a cold Easterly wind blowing and the pavements were covered in ice. I stayed in a cabin on a camp ground on the edge of town. One or two of the other cabins were occupied on the first night I was there but the follow two nights I was alone. It was a 40 minute walk from the centre of town. The guy running the campsite seemed baffled as to why I wanted to stay there, but was quite pleased to take my money. He gave me a discount for the third night. When I arrived he asked if I was on my way to the North Pole. I had planned to get back on the Hurtigruten the following Thursday when I could get the 60 percent discount again and do the remainder of the trip up to Kirkenes on the Russian border, but after checking out accommodation possibilities in Kirkenes, and trying to get a Russian visa, I decided this was not such a good idea for the moment.

The process of getting a visa to enter Russia seems quite involved, and a bit of a rip off. First you have to get an invite, which the authorities will give you if you pay them £32, but they insist on faxing it to you, which is a problem if you’re not in one place long enough to receive a fax. Then once you’ve got the invite you can apply for the visa. At least I think that’s how it works. So I needed somewhere I could stay for a while without it costing too much.

When I had problems getting into Yankeeland in 2005 what eventually persuaded them to let me in was me showing them this blog. Perhaps I’d better not show this posting to the Russians. If I ever do get the visa I wonder if the Russians will photograph my retina and take my fingerprints like the bloody Yanks did. When you’re crossing a national border you have to give up all your rights if you want to get across. The nice thing about travelling in Europe is the only place so far I’ve had to show my passport was when leaving Britain.

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Bergen, Norway


Last night was my last night in Bergen so I went out. Bergen FilmKlub showed the Trollmann fra Oz – There’s no place like home, There’s no place like home, There’s no place like home. I think it was the first time I’d seen that film outside of the Christmas period. Then I went for a beer in a bar, then a hot dog (Norway’s favourite fast food it seems), then wandered along by the port and heard live music coming out of one of the bars. As I peered in past the doorman, seeing a room full of people deancing to a Norwegian rap band, a woman handed me a rolled up piece of paper. What’s this? She said some things, in Norwegian I think. I didn’t really understand, but eventually realized the paper would get me past the doorman, which it did. So I had a beer there and watched the rest of the band’s set, which ended before I’d drunk half my beer and the placed cleared out within five minutes. So I went to another bar over the other side of town (10 minutes walk away), a “rock bar” – a mural featuring the Ramones (or possibly some other band of people with long hair, but to me it looked like the Ramones), and posters with words like Metallica on them. In there I met the woman who gave me the ticket into the other place, and some members of the band. The woman was the aunt of two twin brothers in the band. They didn’t look like twins. One was married to a Brazilian woman who now spoke perfect Norwegian. When I told them I was getting on a Hurtigruten boat the following evening they tried to explain to me what Hurtigruten means. Fast window. Hurti means fast and gruten means window, but the way they were explaining it it was more complex than that. Gruten also means route. That made sense to me. I could understand why a shipping company might call itself fast route, but not fast window. It’s a joke the aunt said. We’re playing with words. Her nephew said that some words in Norwegian mean more than one thing. He also blamed the Vikings for the violent nature of the Bush family.

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Bergen, Norway

Breakfast is a help yourself to bread meat cheese and salad thing, along with orange juice and coffee. I almost forgot I haven’t paid for it yet. That’ll be 55 Kronas thanks. (About £4.50 thanks.) This is the hostel cafe. Black and white photos of musicians around the walls: The Animals, Chrissy Hind, Elvis meeting Nixon… There’s an Elvis clock with a swinging pelvis pendulum.

I was wrong about the heaters outside being on all the time. I think they only come on when you walk into the area. This is generally a good place, though not so good on recycling. They only seem to recycle glass jars and bottles, which you get money back on here. No paper recycling as far as I can tell. I’ll ask in a minute. I have a load of leaflets from the tourist office I want to get rid off, plus some writing books, but I don’t want to chuck them into a normal bin. Once you get used to recycling certain things it’s hard to exist somewhere where it’s not prectised.

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Bergen, Norway

Norwegian stew with dumplings. The only thing this cafe serves on a Thursday, so that’s what I’m having. Last night I went to see a film at the Bergen FilmKlub. It was a Hong Kong Chinese film called Dumplings about a woman who makes dumplings out of aborted foetuses. They’re supposed to be an elixir of youth. The woman making them is supposed to be 64, but looks about 25.

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Bergen, Norway

They now have the wifi internet fixed in the hostel where I’m staying, called Jacobs Appartments. A very nice place, with attached bar, good security (very important when travelling with laptop and video camera) but they have an outdoor terrace heated by bar heaters which appear to be on all day and all night, and the radiators in the dorm are left on all day, so very wasteful of energy. Norway has oil, so maybe energy is cheap here. Pretty much everything else is very expensive.

I’ve been here for a week so I’m not using my one month interrail pass, which is a bit of a waste. The trains to Oslo aren’t running due to a derailment last week, though I think there is a replacement bus service so I could get there if I needed to. Oslo is 7 hours away on the train, probably even longer by bus. This is quite an isolated place. It feels a bit like some places in Canada, particularly a place called Tofino on the West of Vancouver island. It also rains a lot here. There’s a 95% chance of rain every day. Or snow, though at the moment it’s not very cold. The sea and the gulf stream keeps Norway a lot warmer than you might expect, and I think even up in the very North it’s not really really really cold. Just talking to a guy from Mongolia who says it’s much colder in Mongolia than here. (You don’t meet many people from Mongolia usually, unless you happen to be in Mongolia. Then you’d probably meet quite a few. He’s been working up in the north of Norway, or about half way up, doing seasonal agricultural work in the mountains, the kind of work not many Norwegians want to do, he says.)

That’s where I’m planning on heading. There’s a coastal steamer that goes up the coast, from here up into the arctic circle up to the most northerly point in Europe. The prices are a bit steep, but if I head off on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday I get a 60% discount off the fare, though still have to pay for the cabin and for breakfast (which will be a help yourself buffet so with baggy clothes I may be able to walk away from breakfast with lunch and dinner as well.

I’ll have to do the trip in two legs to get the 60% discounts, so first leg is Bergen to Bodø, then I stay in Bodø until the following Thursday and then get another boat for the second leg up to Kirkenes, which is right up past the top on the Finnish border. Then I’m not sure. I probably haven’t got my moneys worth out of the interrail ticket, I’ve been travelling too slowly, so maybe it’s better to just take trains when I need them, look into some other kind of rail pass. A Norwegian was talling me you can get big discounts on train fares if you book over the internet a few days in advance. Britain seems to have the most expensive rail travel in Europe, and hearing the news just now perhaps the least safe as well.

Off to book the boat ticket now.

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Bergen, Norway

The train I took yesterday was derailed today by a mound of unusually thick snow. It fell off the tracks. Nobody was hurt apparently, but the line is closed at the moment. Just been speaking to a Norwegian guy who is stranded here. If you’re going to be stranded though, Bergen is a good place for it, so long as you have warm clothes. It was snowing last night.

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Bergen, Norway

Got the train from Copenhagen to Oslo last night. Went for a curry at the Punjab Tandoori. Very good and quite reasonably priced. Today I took the train to Bergen.