8/21/2010

Oslo



Sven was kind enough to put me up for my first week in Oslo. Old friends from Ethiopia days, we've traveled together plenty before. His top-floor apartment, just a short walk from downtown, became my retreat until heading north. Aside from our Jotunheimen trek, Sven introduced Oslo's quaint city center, constituting a dozen blocks of turn-of-the-century, art nouveau high-rises filled with a mix of hotels, H&Ms and fast food chains. Later, he pedaled both of us on his bike to an outlying beach, complete with a diving board jutting out of the rocks. For sharing the same latitude as southern Greenland, the water was surprisingly warm. Not quite Italy, but easily swimmable.



In my few summer days in Oslo I caught up with old friends met around the world. Along with Christina (Addis), I checked out the Vigeland Park's giant stone stacks of grotesquely piled children and thick-set women. With Ty (Cairo) I walked the grounds of Akershus Castle, dating back to the late 13th century and overlooking the fancy new harbor. I also spent a few nights out with Timmy and his international crew of Poles, Swedes, Brits and fellow-Aussies. Timmy and I met in a grimy Bombay dormitory last spring. He's since made a comfortable new life for himself in Scandinavia, worlds away from the squalor in which we'd met. Not a bad place to live, Oslo.

Returning from the North, I slept on his couch for my last night in Norway, waking up just in time to catch my south-bound flight out of Torp.


8/19/2010

Bodø

Looking and smelling like I’d slept in the woods for three nights, I hopped off the ferry and wandered into Bodø. After restocking on bread and jam I headed for a phone. I planned to meet up with a friend I'd met at a Mohandiseen club back in CairoLynn has worked three summers on the Værøy/Røst ferry, and only gets to come on shore-leave from Saturday evenings until Sunday afternoons. It was Saturday evening. The town was small enough (or I stuck out enough) that she found me before I found the phone. Excited at having a conversation with a human being, especially one that I’d met before (only for a couple hours back in April), I let Lynn show me through the town and we caught up life outside Umm ad-Dunya. We ended up at her brother-in-law's place, sharing a typical Norwegian pizza dinner while discussing the events of 1463. A few drinks later, Lynn and I headed back through an icy drizzle to the bunks in her cabin. The next morning, along with Lynn’s niece strapped into the back of the car, the three of us from the night before took off the next morning to glimpse a small slice of Nordland.  We started at a place called Saltstraumen. It's the world's strongest tidal current, where every 6 hours 400 million tons of ocean water force their way up and down a narrow straight of just 150 meters, forming hundreds of giant whirlpools and maelstroms (which may actually be the same thing). We took in a bird’s eye view from a high bridge then found a fishing spot on the shore, not far from the biggest cluster of maelstroms. Through the mist the bare rocky Børvasstindene mountains slipped in and out of view far across the churning water. Only a handful of anglers were spread along the 3km length of the straight. Apparently it was a decent spot. In under half an hour I'd caught, killed and gutted three good-sized saithe, spraying their little organs on the rocks for the gulls. After forcing me to swallow a healthy dose of fish liver juice, Lynn and her brother-in-law guided me through the kitchen as we prepared a fantastic lunch out of the animals I'd murdered.
We parted at the docks as she boarded her boat later that afternoon. She headed into the Vestfjord as I wandered back through Bodø and out of town to find a camping spot. What I found, on the south coast of the peninsula, was a beautiful patch of grass, brighter and more beautifully saturated than anything photoshop could imitate, just a short walk from the rocky shore. After a cool, sunny evening with my book, I enjoyed a clear, dry night in my little tent.  
My couchsurfing host met me in his car right where I camped and we took off to his house on the north end of town. It was a perfectly clear day. Kees was from the Netherlands, living in Norway for the past three years with his Dutch partner, and turned out to be a refreshingly laid-back and genuine person/good photographer/fantastic host. After a coffee we unfolded his big map to make travel plans for the day. What followed was yet another physically demanding but incredibly relaxing day in the wild. We drove about 50km inland to start our hike in a range of alpine forest and meadows surrounded with smoothed, ancient peaks. Little lakes and rivers spread everywhere. Not another person was in sight. My newly acquired free shoes  from Oslo (thanks Sven’s brother!) sloshed with each step as the swamp reached my ankles. Where a small brook ran into s perfectly clear, shallow lake, we built a fire with wet kindling before not using it to cook our lunch. It was definitely among the most gorgeous and peaceful Arctic settings in which I’ve ever shared panini with a gay Dutchman.
We took a long drive in the afternoon, Kees kindly showing me to more of his favourite spots in the region. An empty beach strewn with oddly-striped rocks, a serene valley arching below a sculpted mashed-potato peak right out of Close Encounters, and a lookout point over Bodø. Kees practically ran for 40 minutes up the latter as I struggled to keep up. From high above the Vestfjord, the dramatic peaks of the Lofoten were stark silhouettes on the horizon. After our jog back down, I tried to enjoy my last night without darkness before saying goodbye to Kees, Bodø and the Arctice Circle the next morning. 

8/04/2010

La Spezia II

Two nights in La Spezia was too short. Visiting the Mannuccis seemed like visiting home. Alessandra and Letizia had bought a box of my favorite cereal and a packet of gatorade which they placed in the room I'd be borrowing. We caught up on the last months' events, shared a few fantastic meals, and, thanks to google translate, I convinced Letizia that I'd learned Italian since out last meeting. 

On our only afternoon together, Carlo drove us up the mountain behind Portovenere. A short hike through the forest we reached the sheer white cliffs that rise along the coast all the way up to the 5 terre. We reminisced about the adventures of Asterix as we wound back through the trees, views of Portovenere's old castle and cliff-top church slipping in and out of view below us. 

I promised I'd be back to La Spezia again one day before catching my train the next morning.