travel diary [norway in easter 2006]
i'm back from easter holiday and easter hasn't even happened yet (well easter sunday hasn't). i have stories to tell and photos to show but it's going to take me some time, for reasons that will hopefully become obvious as i go. just don't expect a fanciful description of the classic norwegian easter. it's more like me self-obsessing and moaning a lot, which is what you would be expecting, i suppose. so, my easter in norway:
it's the tenth of april and our bus is set to leave copenhagen at 10pm (something) and we're there in plenty of time but don't manage to take the back seat. my bag is packed with books, mp3 player, buns and whiskey - all the things you need for a thirteen hour bus journey. the route takes us through sweden, up the coast and then into norway. it's my first time in sweden and all i see is fog and darkness, perhaps the occasional highway bridge, city suburb outskirt or the tops of a theme park rollercoaster. sleeping properly while lying across two coach seats is impossible. everytime i 'wake up' i take a swig of whiskey and it helps about as much as glassjaw does. eight hours later we arrive in oslo and it's beautiful, the morning light turning everything mystical shades of blue and pink. that or it's the lack of sleep effecting my vision. we wander around, not wanting to wait in the bus station, and i'm perfectly dazed and confused. we look in a few bins and laugh at food labeled as 'freedom food' the in 7eleven. i'm not even sure how that works.
back at the station we wait for the bus and i need to sleep. but some cretin who's just trying to do his job, but shouldn't be, mistakes me for a hobo and tells me i can't lie down on the seats. i lie down on julie instead and now i am in people's way, but seriously, if he has anything more to say to me it wont be pretty. not at seven in the morning after a sleepless night. the whiskey made me dehydrated, so i drank water which made me need to piss, so apparently i have to pay 10kr to use the toilet. i would have been wishing for the guy to come back and give me more shit, but i was as good as passed out.
i can't remember anything of the bus trip up into the mountains, except wondering why it is i can sleep so well once it's morning. all those nights, be it from unspecified insomnia or a fever, lying awake and waiting for dawn to come and put me to sleep. i was out. then i'm rushing to put my boots on while staring out the window at a frozen river, half waterfall.
then off the bus, meet the parents, slip and slide up the snowy roads that lead from the valley and to the cabin, which is quite incredible. everyone should have one, and apparently most people in norway do. from the road a narrow path cuts through waist high snow and the half buried trees. the first thing i learn is to not stray from it. it may look like a solid path but it's still a foot above soil, and if the snow isn't compacted enough then your foot (and leg) will go straight through it. this is more annoying later in the week when there's no apparent difference between one patch of snow and the one that eats you up. without skis it's a nightmare and julie has to constantly help me up and out, back onto the path that everyone else seems to grasp perfectly. one time julie begins to shout "oh you can't walk there" and not a second later my right leg is completely immersed in snow, my right arm flailing around holding my camera and my left.. well i'll get to that later. i guess i didn't learn to stay on the path at all, but instead to be less surprised when it gives way beneath me. stupid snow.
so their cabin is a kitchen, lounge, two bedrooms, a washroom and a veranda out back that looks down into the valley. because of the trees all you can see is the snow covered mountain on the otherside, but on a good day it's more than impressive. there's an outhouse toilet and another smaller cabin that serves as guest bedroom - our cosy bedroom. the roof of the cabin is covered by what must be at least a couple of feet of snow. inside it's warm and smells good. it always smells good, these guys must have the best smelling cabin on the slope. the freshly baked sourdough helps enourmously,
it's beautiful outside. i've never seen so much snow, and actually i probably haven't. the air is so clean you can feel the toxins diffusing from your skin. and there is no sound, it's like being surrounded by egg boxes. no cars, no distant television or radio, no screaming babies and no french kids upstairs stomping on the floor. it's quiet enough to hear the snow falling. and despite how amazing this is all i want to do is sleep. so we nap and even if it had been all week it wouldn't have been long enough. sleeping never felt this great. but there's snow and life outside, and napping isn't what i spent 13 hours travelling for.
we walked up to the lake and strap on some skis and i try my best at cross country skiing. we stick to the tracks so it's not too hard. infact, aslong as i keep my balance there's nothing that can go wrong. going uphill is a slippy nightmare and once you fall it's frustratingly difficult to get back up. your cool is devastated. my cool. but the resulting downhill makes it worth it. bend knees, lean a little bit, stay on the rails. it's not exactly breakneck but novel enough for me to make excited girly noises. hard work though, and by the time we're done i'm about ready to collapse. the final downhill didn't help, i almost became bored of falling over and not being able to get up. like it was only a matter of time before i hurt myself for real. so i simply refused to ski any further. it wasn't even a proper track, not as far as i was concerned.
this was my first experience of skiing, also the easiest and least damaging.
back in the cabin all of the reds and blues are messed up. it shows you how serious a problem snow blindness is, and it's not even that bright outside. this disturbs me everytime we go skiing, but i have always liked playing around with my eyes. it's not as fascinating as the mccullough effect, but near enough.
we play globetrotter (a sleek and educational boardgame) then eat what can only be fairly described as a feast, before sitting down to watch crime drama - another norwegian easter tradition. luckily for me it's in english this year. we finish the wine and retreat to bed, making yellow snow as we go. also several times during the night (although i never did manage to get a photo of julie in the snow, naked but for her wellies).
despite the awesome sleep til late morning i still felt too tired for any kind of physical exertion. after breakfast our attempt at skiing failed disasterously (using the word rather lightly). the weather was harsh and the snow was coming down thick. this wouldn't have mattered but we'd rubbed the wrong wax on our skis. the fresh snow sticked to them in rough clumps. the combination of the condition's cold and annoying with my own hot and knackered was never going to work.
back at the cabin we cleaned the skis and cleared the snow from the veranda (snow that was as high as the window sills). the work slowly turned to play as we shovelled the snow off the roof, but the job never even got started, as jumping from the roof into the deep snow around the house was much more satisfying. that's how deep it was. we must have spent an hour frolicking in the snow, jumping and wading through it. and we didn't half make a mess of the lawn.
rather predictably, all this excitement was followed by a long nap and when i awoke the cabin was deserted. i felt i was the only person in the world. i could shout and scream and noone would hear. the snow and the trees give you the perfect illusion of complete isolation. it's a proper retreat from civilization, despite the dense clusters of other cabins completely surrounding you.
i throw some snow about and knock the icicles from the roof. i do this every day, and every morning they've grown back again.
the rest of the day is giving me writers block. so i think i'm going to ignore it, despite the lovely walk and pleasent funeral talk.
the next morning i was fully refreshed and ready for action, although that didn't include taking part in the creation of a trap to remove the mouse from between the walls in the washroom. i'd heard the irregular scratching and tapping the night before and mistaken the smell for damp. i went to use the outside toilet and as i sat there i could heard julie shouting at her parents. on my way back to the cabin (following the smell of breakfast) i noticed the crude bucket trap had been emptied of water.
over breakfast (eggs and warm buns with an assortment of spreads and cheese) we made plans for the day. we were to ski up to a hotel for waffles and then around the mountain. i found out too late i'd been tricked and we were to have the waffles on the way back. by the time we reached the hotel i was already tired and could easily have eaten several waffles, crawled into a dark cosy corner and slept for a couple of hours. not wanting to disappoint my girlfriend though (or start a waffle tantrum at her parents) i agreed to carry on with our route. i could go into details, about emotional blackmail and bullying, but the more i try and remove the blame from myself the less credible this will become. i was given plenty of chances to back out and go home.
one of my worst writing habits is changing tense. i'm do it right there in the next paragraph as i'm describing the exciting bit.
we climb further and further into the mountain and i'm sure this would be easier without skis. the next time i look up all i see is white. the people ahead of us look like they're floating in the sky. the only thing that distinguishes the horizon and the top of the hill is a single tree. once we've made it there is nothing to see but more white. we decide to turn back because i'm tired and this is crazy and i shouldn't have climbed that hill anyway. i guess this is the moment i've been trying to foreshadow, because the most exciting five seconds of my trip will also be the most painful. from where i stand, trying to get my stance right, you can't even see the bottom. you know the proverb "look before you leap"? well it only half applies here. the real problem is i have no clue what i'm doing. legs bent correctly, going at a safe speed down the hill. so far so good, right? leaning on the right leg, managing the corners, going a little too fast maybe. slowly verging towards having no control at all. then realising i wouldn't even go this fast on my bike. i think i've made it though, because there's the bottom and soon i'll stop accelerating. except when i do stop accelerating i stop altogether - to no miles an hour in no seconds.
i wish i could have seen it, but fortunately this wasn't quite the out of body experience that would've made that possible. i suppose you'll be wanting to read about bones cracking, skulls fracturing, ligaments tearing, bruises the size of melons and the colour of plums. he'll never play again. stitches, bandages and wheelchairs. i want to read that too, but it wasn't quite as dramatic as i'd have liked. if you'd listened carefully you might have heard a tiny voice from the snow try and shout "i'm okay". a little shaken but no bones broken. i say that, but it's yet to be confirmed. my left arm is useless and it hurts but noone likes a wimp. we carry on home but i can't balance and really don't want to resort to crying infront of my girlfriend's parents. so a brave face, and all that.
it doesn't help when i ski over what looks like a large and violent splattering of blood across the snow. whether it actually is or not doesn't matter. i try to make light of it and think of something funny. all it reminds me of is clubbed baby seals.
even if i wanted to i can no longer ski and we're 2km from the hotel where i want waffles more than i've ever wanted a waffle. a waffle has never felt the love that i was willing to give, if only i could take it right there and then. also a double brandy. but it's downhill all the way and walking isn't an option. so instead julie takes me down between her skis and at speed we slide down to waffle joy. apparently this is what you do with little kids, and excruciating pain has never been so much fun (actually it didn't hurt that badly). we even almost make it, before crashing on our bums infront of a corner we couldn't quite make. this girl is crazy and amazing, but i put my foot down and walked the rest of the way.
once back in the safety of the cabin my arm is inspected and diagnosed. i'm swollen and useless but not in urgent need of hospital. i'll drink to that, and we start to prepare dinner of curry and rice, with avocado to start. sitting down to eat i suddenly realise how exhausted i am, and i'm too hot in the steamy kitchen. much too hot, and maybe a little dizzy. i rest my eyes and can hear julie and her mum talking above me somewhere. "it's norwegian so okay to ignore", that was what i was thinking.
that's the moment i passed out. i didn't hear julie shouting my name or any of the other things that happened. then my head was between my knees and i was apologising for being a hassle, or trying to, and saying that i was okay. again. i could feel how pale i'd gone, the blood abandoning me where i needed it the most, and i was rocking a cold sweat. i was led to the sofa (once i said i could make it) where i lay for about half an hour. enough time to miss the lovely dinner we'd prepared.
i've never passed out before, so you must forgive me for finding this new experience so exciting. i had to laugh, it's just a shame it isn't so funny for the people who actually witnessed it. those scary few seconds for which i was totally gone. i'm happy i didn't ruin dinner though, y'know. julie handled the potatoes just fine.
the next morning my arm isn't as stiff but i still can't use it. it hurts like i've had twenty typhoid shots in my arm, and they wiggled the needle around when it was in there. but i've convinced myself there's no nerve damage or broken bones. it's just muscular, but a trip to the emergency room when back in copenhagen is essential.
while putting on my shirt i feel like edward scissor hands.
we spend the day sitting on the veranda playing myer and trivial pursuit and eating waffles (made with sparkling water to make them crispier). surrounded by snow and warmed by the brightest sun it is the perfect easter.
all too soon it's time to leave and we drive back down to the kiwi to wait for the bus. the journey back to copenhagen is much easier despite the pain of going the toilet, which is barely worth the effort. between the cabin and oslo is all mountains, lakes and rivers. trees and snow. you're looking for words like 'lush' and 'scenic'. it's a shame i missed it all on the way up.
in oslo we eat pizza in a restuarant full of english ("i'll never have leek on a pizza again") because apparently all the norwegians are up in the mountains. in the toilet there's piss on the seat and i bet the cleaner wishes the restuarant would stop translating the menu into english.
back on the coach we secure the back seat and have the whole last three rows to ourselves. the extra space is greatly apppreciated and i sleep well, but only until we reach sweden where two swedish girls get onboard and i'm punished for not touching wood. i said there were two, but until i opened my eyes i thought there were four of them. they talk incessently and i bury myself in my pillow, not daring to sit up incase they try to talk to me. the conversation wouldn't be worth having
me: sorry, i don't speak loud-bitch-on-the-back-of-the-bus. do you speak english?
her: yes / no (it doesn't matter)
me: well maybe you'd like to shut the fuck up then
this could turn into a pear and bear sketch but with two pears. it doesn't help that when
they do stop talking they break out their walkman with big black headphones that let everyone
know what they're listening to. and hour later i'm sick to fucking death of bad scandinavian hip hop
and am ready to kill. i know it's a coincidence that the music stops when i point out (albeit to julie)
tgat "every other cunt on the bus is trying to sleep". they get off at the last bus stop in sweden and
i have a little "thank fuck for that" party. they even left us cinnamon buns to eat while enjoying the
last hour of our journey in blissful silence.
so imagine how funny it is when i come back from the toilet and they're back in their seats. those fucks. i swear the people at the front of the coach can hear them. they even take bad mobile phone photos of each other as the sun begins to rise from behind the sea. isn't it about time they built guns into phones?
we're back in copenhagen and i revel in the beauty of the walk home. the peace of 6am. the glint on the gold topped church of our saviour. the strange light. the friendly all-night party guy cycling home, still high and mistaking us for tourists. the bliss of finally collapsing into bed and being happy to stay there until i hurt no more.
two hours later i crawl from the wreckage and hobble with emil to hospital. we look like a right pair, and although i recount my accident with conviction it still sounds ridiculous. the bruise speaks for itself though. i'm left in the waiting room wishing i'd bought my book. after twenty minutes a nurse leads me into another room and i wait again. i sit down by a trolley of medical supplies and wonder how they can be so trusting. i could have swolled three bottles of pills and stuffed twenty packs of needles up my ass before a doctor walks in and pulls a curtain across the middle of the room. behind it a woman yelps in pain as the doctor does unknown scary things to her arm.
it's another ten minutes before my own doctor arrives and she's suspiciously hot. the doctors in england aren't this nice, not even on the tv. when i look around all the doctors are hot. it's as if they'd drugged me at reception. or maybe i did stick too many needles up my butt. she asks me if i want to practice my danish and i politely decline. then i feel bad at how bad my armpits smell as she helps me remove my shirt. you try and wash properly when one armpit's swollen and one's unreachable. doctors are used to this i'm sure. it doesn't take her long to make me feel proud of my bruise and send me off to the xray department. i follow the red line into a lift and then stop at every floor before discovering which it continues on.
you already know how this ends. i'm shown the xray and my arm's clearly broken. a skiing injury, i'm such a fucking cliche. i tried my hardest to acquire copies of the xrays but it wasn't going to happen. i have a check up later this month when i'll mention that my osteopath in england will need copies, and will they please be able to sort that out? a sly plan courtesy of my mum. i'm given a sling and sent on my way.
outside the summer is firing up, doing it's first dress rehersal, and it's perfect tshirt weather. it isn't until a few days later that a tshirt wont cover my bruise.