2005: Norway

Day Zero (Wed)

Flights frae Frankfurt and London to Oslo Torp; meet in Lindy's Bar; grimace and say Ooooooh at the price of the beer. Bus to Sandefjord; make our first stop at orienting shop. Local officials do not bother to hide their disbelief that anyone would come to Norway on a walking holiday at this time of year. Lone Ranger gives us his card, “for emergencies,” and demands ours in return. We wonder whether this is in case he has to inform our next of kin in the event, or because he wants to come and move in with us next year.

Walk through Sandefjord to Lisbeth's Country Cabin; this is twin-room guest house in building the size of a garden shed, interior modelled on bunks in HMS Victory, lucky we are very good friends (well, OK, not that good); dump stuff; whale and pike-perch; subsequently dump more stuff!; beer; bed.

Day One (Thu)

Briefly consider peeling off already sweaty outer garments inside a very beautiful church near Sandefjord station, think better of it and retire to the churchyard, much to relief of town pastor and members of mother-and-child group, who are obviously traumatised enough already. Get train to Larvik. Mess about and dilly-dally in town; tourist office and plan trip (more stunned disbelief and resolute shaking of heads).

Walk to Kaupang. Apparently Kaupang is Norwegian for Anticlimax. Vikings’ answer to Brigadoon.

Walk back; beer and lovesteak at Larvik station as small compensation for not having been able to find Norway’s most famous Viking settlement. Strapping walk to Stavern, make it just in time for supper;

Stayover with the Upper Sixth at Fredtun boarding school in Stavern. We pretend to be Irish, for simple reason that today is St. Patrick’s Day. Predictably, this pathetic lark is completely wasted on the pride of Norway’s youth, who are anyway more concerned with their own jolly japes, this being the last night before the hols. Declined head girl’s polite invitation for us to watch “The Last Passion of Christ” with the rest of the prefects (not your typical popcorn movie, but I suppose it was Easter). Instead, played table-tennis, billiards, Adrian had jolly old sing-along (by himself) up in the music room, even played Trivial Pursuit in Norwegian – here you had to guess both the questions and the answers - finally, bed. Sadly, but again predictably, the secret midnight feast up in the girls’ dorm failed to materialise, or maybe we just slept through it.

Day Two (Fri)

Mess about in Stavern all morning (just how can one spend an entire morning in Stavern??)

Adrian slips on ice at edge of harbour and very nearly falls into ice-covered water with full boots and pack and dies.

Adrian makes a daring bid for freedom here, but it proved to be unsuccessful as he was later caught by the local police in an extremely low speed chase.

An almost perfectly Norwegian lunch: very expensive beer and huge pizza in a local bar as we sit and watch the ski-jumping on TV. Within 10 minutes we are experts, and start to criticize the technique of the Latvians who fail to make 200m. Lucky it was a big pizza, as it was the last meal we had for about 2 days.

After lunch, we start off our walk by making perilous ascent of Stavern’s Minnehallen pyramid whatsit, a very appropriate beginning to what would be our Raiders of the Lost Ark walk. Actually, it is a war monument for the Norwegian servicemen who fell during WW2; not surprising there were so many, actually, as the path up to there is extremely slippy.

Walk first half of Kyststien coastal walk, as far as Brunvall Gard; say Oooooh, terrain is hard to walk on.

Pubs generally come in three varieties: pubs which are closed and don't sell you beer, these are the really bad ones; pubs which are open and do sell you beer, these are pretty good; but best and most satisfying of all are pubs which are closed, but which sell you beer anyway, out of the kindness of their hearts. This was a beauty, an unexpected find, where the owners were having a pint and sunning themselves on the veranda, and couldn't resist getting us one as well. This kind of beer tastes best!

Nearby, find a very nice apartment in a pine-clad holiday refuge, which is also officially closed, but opens just for us. Our hostess is a lovely lady, with a pleasing countenance marred only slightly by a flaring beacon of a pluke on her chin, which makes up for us not being able to visit the Svenner lighthouse, as we had originally hoped. Odin Lager and mars bars for tea; Lara Croft and bed, not necessarily in that order.

Half Time Gun Interlude

Guns come in all shapes and sizes, and there are lots hanging about around this Whaling Center of the World.

Here, Adrian uses a gun he finds to scuttle the largest ferry in Europe, which is cool.

While here, Peter has fun with a gun which we find in the lobby of a hotel, which was worth a visit.

More fun to be had with this one.

Even the museums have good guns, always worth quick bang!

But when its all said and done, they're not guns. This is a gun!

Day Three (Sat)

Second half of Kyststien to Helgeroa. The third last day, traditionally the one when hillwalkers have to sort clothes into two piles: filthy and filthy but wearable.

More miles on tough terrain. As we approached the most exposed outcrop we saw that the way forward across a huge rockpile was impassable, but the wily Norwegians had built a wonderful, wooden, exposed bridge, clinging to the outer edge of the rockpile and carrying the weary walker over the edge of the sea to join the path proper again on the other side. A nice touch, like something out of an Indiana Jones scene. Nothing could go wrong now.....

We had nowhere to go but up and over.

You have to appreciate just how bad the terrain was here. We are wearing very heavy backpacks that pull our weight backwards. (Or, for one hysterical moment: forwards. A particularly dashing leap by Adrian gave his backpack such impetus as to leave him perched bottom-up in a snowdrift.) Snow and ice covered the rocks, concealing 1 inch dips and 15 inch holes equally. We had each put our foot on the side of a rock under the snow and slipped off half a dozen times that morning. A bit sore on the calf muscles, but kind of funny most of the time. These tricks would not be forgiving up here.

The climb was mostly exhilarating, but not a little scary as we relied heavily on sure footing on the icy rock, the same icy rock that we had been sliding off for the past day and a half, but there are nice views from the top.

The final wee ravine to cross is only about 10 feet deep, but impossible to climb up the other side. Footing is too bad, and we cannot find handholds and footholds that work. After fully 20 minutes we are getting nowhere, until we have a brainwave: we don't actually have to cross the ravine, just to get down it, so why not just go down it. One reason why not, of course, is that it is full of trees, but why let that stop a good idea?.....

Success, and victory is ours. Its taken us an hour to travel about 100 metres, but we did pass Indiana Jones near the top after he had given up and was making his way back down, so a feat worthy of celebration.

Venue for our celebratory toast was to be the charming and idyllic coastal resort of Nevlunghavn. Packed with lusty nautical types, jovial pubs and street cafés. Or so we had excitedly envisaged. Perhaps it is in summer? Unbelievably, this town boasted a fishmonger’s, but no pub. In mid-March even the Korean fish wifie looked somewhat askance at us, as if we were something she had just scraped off her slab For now, we had to make do with a sit-down and a charity cup of coffee in the local grocer’s. We end up holding a full-scale picnic, right down beside the checkout, completely immune to the customers’ and shopgirls’ looks of growing disgust, as we proceed to finish off the complementary flask of coffee and drop crumbs all over the floor.

Err, this one is a bit of a mystery!

Enjoy the mythical beauty of Mølen. This is pebble country, biiiigggg pebbles, very impressive. Shame we have to plod on, really, but the trail beckons, and we have wasted much time earlier, nearly killing ourselves.

Tragically, Brian, the third member of our trip, was never seen again.

Finally, we make it to Helgeroa, end of the Kyststien trail and, from all accounts, very nice in the summer. We crash into the nearest pub, which, amazingly, is open and we immediately sink into a reverie over a well-earned pint or two of Regener’s liquid gold, which has become our favoured sup this trip, even at Norwegian funny-money prices.

Bus to Larvik. Stay at Hotel of Love (well, OK, probably The Golden Lion, the phrasebook is inconclusive on this one). Call in at a local pub and meet Ivor, who manages to be effervescent, friendly, menacing, awed, awesome, aggressive, nationalistic and tearful all within the 10 minutes or so we stay. Nice chap, although believe he might have been drunk. We tell the locals the name of our hotel, and in a wonderful moment, this dirty, drunken tramp, in a dirty, drunken bar, tells us with a grimace and a waving hand, that our hotel is, by his standards, very mediocre.

Reindeer meat in deserted restaurant served by Oriental; expensive nightclub; bed.

Day Four (Sun)

Train back to Sandefjord, dump bags at Lisbeth's; get bus up to Vesterøya peninsula.

Stop for a moment of nostalgia outside Ivor’s Pub.

Hike back via dramatic fjords, very Norwegian; feet and legs starting to die on me.

More astounding oddities of the Norwegian Countryside.

Much of the terrain makes for very difficult walking, especially those bits over the skog. Skog is a Norwegian word, and doesn't really translate out of the Norwegian, chiefly because this particular kind of terrain is only found in Norway, and it is therefore hard to describe. Skog can be best described by the two facts: it is called skog; it is where the trolls live.

Final up and down hill kills me below the waist.

Back to Lisbeth's. Maintained a tradition of these trips by seeking out Sandefjord’s 10-pin bowling centre, which is hidden away in an industrial estate a bit out of the town centre. Indulge in a game or two, followed by quiet pint of Guinness in a nice enough but completely empty English-style pub back in town. The place is allegedly mobbed in summer.

Day Five (Mon)

Up, dead legs. Last morning, this is the one when the filthy and unwearable pile of clothes from two days ago has to be reassessed, in order to find something to wear for trip back. Not normally a problem getting space on aeroplane.

Pooter aboot in Sandefjord

Make nuisances of selves in shopping centre, where – yet another tradition – we have some fun, pressing all the buttons on the whaling-theme elevator, thenceforth to run away. This time round we have some accomplices in crime, in the form of a bunch of old ladies, one complete with a zimmer, who are completely unfazed by our foolish antics and even give us encouraging smiles, winks and nods.

Visit whaling museum, excellent, somehow get into bizarre conversation with lady curator with suspiciously Brummy-sounding accent (probably another spy), who gives us insider tips about where to go “next time we come to Sandefjord”. Aye, that’ll be right!

Passed enjoyable half hour waiting for airport bus playing adult X-rated guessing games, such as “I phantasise, with my filthy little mind, something beginning with…”

Final photos, including this one of a Moose, a bald, ugly troll and Adrian, (the Moose is on the left).

Home to bed.